Air-Minded: the FAA and the 737 Max

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Boeing 737 Max (AP photo)

I’ve been thinking about Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash and why the Federal Aviation Administration was the last national regulatory agency to ground Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

I mean, here’s the second fatal 737 Max crash in less than five months, a death toll standing at 346, and evidence emerging that the Ethiopian crash might have resulted from the same sort of uncommanded flight control anomaly that brought down the Lion Air 737 Max off Indonesia last October. That was more than enough to cause nations around the world to ground the plane until Boeing comes out with a fix, but not enough for the FAA … until yesterday, when Trump saw which way the wind was blowing and directed them to do it.

There’s a problem with the FAA not many people outside the industry understand, a problem poorly covered by the media: the conflict created by FAA’s dual role to regulate the aviation and air travel industry while at the same time promoting and encouraging it.

I listen to NPR every morning on our bathroom radio. Lo and behold, this morning NPR brought on Daniel Elwell, the acting administrator of the FAA, to talk about yesterday’s 737 Max grounding. The interviewer brought up the very issue I’ve been thinking about, the FAA’s conflict between regulating and promoting the airline industry. To my astonishment, Elwell declared there is no conflict, that the dual mandate went away 30 years ago after the Valujet crash in Florida, and that the only mission of the FAA today is to ensure air safety.

The NPR interviewer didn’t press him on that statement, but it didn’t sound right to me, so I engaged the cyber. And guess what? It isn’t right. Here’s a mission statement, taken from its own website:

The mission of the FAA is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. The role of the FAA Airports organization in meeting this goal is to provide leadership in planning and developing a safe and efficient national airport system to satisfy the needs of aviation interests of the United States.

And here’s a partial list of the FAA’s major roles and responsibilities, also from faa.gov:

– Regulating civil aviation to promote safety
– Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology

“Satisfying the needs of aviation interests” and “encouraging and developing civil aeronautics”? The conflict’s baked in.

Acting Administrator Elwell mentioned the Valujet crash in Florida. The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, is the independent government agency responsible for determining probable causes of transportation accidents and making recommendations to improve safety. But here’s the deal: the NTSB can only make recommendations. It can’t enforce them. That’s up to the FAA, which doesn’t have to (and often doesn’t) implement NTSB recommendations.

Aircraft cargo hold fires have always been a grave danger, sometimes resulting in fatal crashes. Way back in 1988 the NTSB issued a recommendation that airlines install smoke alarms and fire suppression systems in cargo holds. The FAA didn’t act on that recommendation until the Valujet DC-9 crash in 1996 (23 years ago, not 30), when oxygen cannisters improperly stowed in the cargo hold caught fire, bringing the airplane down in the Florida Everglades, killing all 110 people on board. Even then, the FAA gave the airlines until 2001 to retrofit their fleets.

Acting Administrator Elwell is right in that the FAA got a severe spanking over that decision, but the decision stood and the FAA’s charter didn’t in fact change. The conflict is still there, encoded in the FAA’s DNA.

“Regulating civil aviation to promote safety” says ground the 737 Max until Boeing fixes it.

“Satisfying the needs of aviation interests” and “encouraging and developing civil aeronautics” says to consider the impact grounding the 737 Max will have on Boeing and the US airlines that fly the aircraft.

Wikipedia says it another way:

The dual roles of encouraging aerospace travel and regulating aerospace travel are contradictory. For example, to levy a heavy penalty upon an airline for violating an FAA regulation which would impact their ability to continue operating would not be considered encouraging aerospace travel.

The system isn’t broken, necessarily. It’s functioning as designed. There’s nothing evil or wrong with considering the impact regulations will have on the industry being regulated … so long as people aren’t getting killed, that is.

Before you condemn the system, consider that if the NTSB had its way, we’d have to strip naked and endure cavity searches before boarding, then sit in backward-facing seats with webbing holding us firmly in place. Just before takeoff, we’d pull breathing hoses and masks down from the overhead and strap them on as the passenger cabin filled with impact-absorbing foam. If we were lucky, it’d still be warm. Carry-on baggage? Forget it!

Also consider this: air travel is not only the safest form of transportation, it is overwhelmingly so, and getting safer all the time. The FAA, along with the NTSB, plays a major role in ensuring the safety of the flying public.

p.s. If I were running the FAA, I’d ban carry-on baggage effective immediately. Count your lucky stars the only thing I run is this blog!

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Air-Minded: First Flights

Everyone has to start somewhere. Do you remember your first airplane ride?

Travel by air, at least in the USA, is now so common that as of 2015, 81% of Americans have flown, with Europeans close behind (worldwide, though, the numbers are far smaller: Boeing’s CEO claims fewer than 20% of the world’s population has ever been on an airplane).

I don’t know the numbers (or if they even exist), but I’m willing to bet that in the mid-1950s, fewer than 10% of Americans or Europeans had ever flown. That’s when I had my first airplane ride. It was a big deal, a true rite of passage, an experience I remember vividly more than 60 years on.

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Seaboard & Western Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation at Idlewild, July 1959 (photo: Mel Lawrence)

My father was a sailor in WWII. I was born in 1946, when he was out and going to college on the GI Bill. Dad put on a uniform again in 1951 or ’52, this time as an Air Force officer. I don’t know for sure (and he’s no longer around to ask), but I think he’d flown on military aircraft during and after the war. In 1955, when I was nine, Dad was transferred from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The flight over may have been old hat to him, but it would be a first for my mother, myself, and my three younger sisters.

Boys of my generation* were raised on stories of aviation heroes like Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle, and Charles Lindbergh (our parents knew about Lindbergh’s embrace of Nazism leading up to the war, but they didn’t talk about it and it certainly wasn’t taught in school). No exception, I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation over our upcoming flight. I thought the day, like Christmas, would never come. Come it did, though (I remember Dad telling me we arrived in Germany right after the American occupation ended, which was in May of 1955, so our flight was probably a month or so later).

We traveled by train from Saint Louis to New York City. After spending the night in a hotel with other military families on overseas orders, we took a taxi to Idlewild Airport, where we boarded a Seaboard & Western Super Constellation for the flight to Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany.

Boarding, I was hit with the smell of the Connie’s cabin. Unlike the cars, trains, and buses I’d ridden in, the Connie smelled clean, with a slight chemical overlay, probably from the fabric on the seats (to this day the smell of the cabin is the first thing I notice on boarding an airliner). Being the oldest child, and the only son to boot, I naturally got a window seat. What a thrill it was when those engines started … you could feel them turning over, one by one, and the rumble bleeding into the cabin was sensory magic. And takeoff? I couldn’t believe how loud those four engines were at full throttle. I stayed glued to the window from liftoff to cruising altitude, and pretty much for the rest of the flight. Halfway over, stewardesses rounded up all the kids and took us up to the cockpit, where I thought I’d died and woken up in heaven.

Our flight took off in daylight but we quickly flew into darkness, and I was fascinated by the blue flames coming from the engines’ exhaust. After the Connie’s cockpit, those flames were the coolest thing I’d ever seen, and I doubt I slept a wink.

The piston-engined airliners of the era didn’t have the range to fly nonstop between the East Coast and England or Europe and had to make refueling stops along the way. Our flight landed and refueled at Gander, Newfoundland, then at Shannon, Ireland. Intermediate stops included, the flight lasted nearly 18 hours. I can’t find a map of the old air route between NYC and Rhein-Main, but this Air France map from 1947 comes pretty close, and shows the transatlantic stops at Gander and Shannon:

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An 18-hour flight with intermediate refueling stops would be considered a grueling ordeal today.** To the nine-year-old me, it was a magic carpet ride. Did I know I was flying in the Golden Age of air travel? Of course not. Even the cramped seats of today would have seemed huge to me then, and the dinner and breakfast those glamorous stewardesses served were the best meals I’d ever eaten. Not to get all Titanic on you, I felt like the king of the world.

Without much effort, I can recall the constant roar and vibration of those engines and their big three-bladed props. I thought it was cool then. It would drive me crazy now. We didn’t fly that high, either. Today, jetliners cruise above all but the tallest anvil heads, up in the 30,000- to 40,000-foot range, but the piston-engined airliners of the 1950s rarely flew above 20,000 feet, where there’s still plenty of weather and turbulence. I didn’t get airsick but my sisters did, along with many of our fellow passengers. Barf bags may stay hidden in seat-back pockets for months or even years today. Not back then!

Full disclosure: when we flew home three years later, I puked continuously across six time zones (it was the only time I’ve ever been airsick, and as with the first flight another unforgettable, though ghastly, experience). That flight, too, was on a Super Connie, and followed the same route in reverse. I don’t remember the airline, but it, like Seaboard & Western, was probably one of the lesser-known carriers chartered by the government to transport military personnel and their families to and from overseas assignments.

Military families like ours, traveling on government orders, must have made up a significant portion of the flying public in the 1950s. Seaboard & Western flew a lot of us in those days, but how many people remember S&W today? The company started in 1946, carrying cargo with former military C-54s. By the time of our 1955 flight to Germany, it was operating a fleet of passenger- and freight-configured Super Connies. From 1961 to 1980 it operated as Seaboard World, continuing to conduct charter freight and passenger flights for the government. In 1980 it merged with Flying Tiger Line, another international carrier doing a lot of government charter work, and lost its corporate identity. Flying Tiger itself was swallowed by Federal Express in 1988. Follow this link if you’d like to read more about Seaboard & Western’s history.

*I mentioned boys of my generation and our fascination with flight. This morning I asked my wife, a first-year Baby Boomer like me, if she remembered the first time she flew. “Not really,” she said. I’d chalk this up to cultural gender differences, but not all boys were raised with their heads in the sky either, and flying (as hard as it is for me to imagine) may not be the most important thing in their lives. Still, I bet a lot of us, of both sexes and of all ages, remember our first flights. I hope you’ll share your own stories in the comments.

**I have to mention a more recent 18-hour plus flight with intermediate stops, because a few still operate in this day and age. In 1989, then an Air Force officer myself, I was posted to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. I flew from San Francisco to Honolulu on a Northwest Orient DC-10, then from Honolulu to Guam on a Continental DC-10. After a short layover in Guam I boarded what must have been the oldest surviving Boeing 727 for the Continental Air Micronesia flight to Naha Airport on Okinawa, with an intermediate refueling stop at a small island near Truk Lagoon. We boarded the 727 via the aft air stair and sat in the back of the cabin, which held a few rows of seats. The forward part of the cabin was configured for freight and separated from the seating area with wire mesh. The cargo up front, which we could see, smell, and hear, included crates of live pigs and chickens (that was cool with me, though, because I had my daughter’s parrot Skipper in a small cat carrier under my seat). Flying was old hat to me by then, but that flight … especially the last two legs with the islanders’ livestock … is another cherished memory, and my only regret is that I wasn’t able to share it with my wife and children, who came over two months later on a Flying Tiger 747 via a more direct route.

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Erin Go Get a Job

300px-BoilermakerI quit drinking 12 years ago this month. I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay on the wagon, so I didn’t mark the calendar. Anyway, whatever the exact date, I’m at or near the 12-year mark. An even dozen. Half a score plus two. If sobriety is a child, mine is finishing 6th grade. If sobriety’s a marriage, mine is giving its spouse silk & linen.

I don’t miss drinking, not even a little. I love waking up clear-headed and feeling good. The three best things I’ve done for my physical and mental well-being have been, in order, marrying Donna (53 years ago), quitting smoking (40 years ago), and quitting drinking (12 years ago.) Did I mention I’ve been sober for 12 years?

Tobacco’s an actual physical addiction, and quitting smoking remains the hardest single thing I’ve ever done. Christ, I still miss it. When I quit drinking, I feared that too would be hard. To my surprise, it wasn’t. I didn’t experience withdrawal, and by the third month the temptation to drink was gone. I spent a good part of my life partying and drinking with fighter pilots and even harder-drinking Hash House Harriers. Chronic, lifetime alcoholics? I know hundreds of them. Every one of them has tried to quit, and most of them have failed. I know I was and am one of them, and can’t explain why it was so easy for me. Somehow I dodged the alcohol addiction bullet. Lucky me.


The more I see and hear of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the more I like her. She’s a breath of fresh air. I was really struck by a tweet she posted last week:

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She’s right. Most of us understand that the representatives and senators we elect work for us, and not the other way around, but our understanding is academic and when it comes down to it we bow and scrape as if they are our betters. We need people like AOC to remind us they’re not, and that they’re there to serve us. Of course in real life most of them serve other masters, the ones that line their pockets … I hope AOC and the other new faces on Capitol Hill can resist the lobbyists and keep their independence.

Her point about the dignity of work resonates with me as well. I was a commissioned officer in the US Air Force and flew jet trainers and fighters. I had a second career as a defense contractor, training USAF fighter pilots. I’m not puffing myself up when I say the work was glamorous and rewarding. Later, though, I did work most people would consider menial, several steps down from what I’d done before. Driving school buses. Delivering RVs to wealthy customers. Transporting disabled patients for the VA. And I was okay with that.

Because it was honest work, just as important as what I did before. I tried to take as much pride in those jobs as I did in flying fast movers and training pilots. The experience taught me to never look down on people who work in the service industry. If you’re doing something people need, it’s not menial or beneath you. Don’t disparage honest work.

I’m going to go right on disparaging elected officials who’ve forgotten who they work for, though.


A couple of days ago Trump was in Alabama, signing bibles. That struck a lot of observers as sacrilegious, and probably it was, but not to the evangelicals who lined up to get his autograph, some of whom say he’s been sent by god to make America white again or whatever. But anyway, some of the bibles he squiggled on were military challenge editions. That’s a new thing to many people, at least from what I see on social media. Here’s an example from Facebook:

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One commenter suggested the bible on the right is “a special edition with supplemental material relating passages to military service.” Another observed that it’s sized “to fit in the pockets of military uniforms.” Another described it as a “free (propaganda filled) version you can get if you are in the military.” Here’s one I liked: “At various points it challenges you to live up to the military actions of Biblical characters. Like King David going out and collecting 200 foreskins in the book of Solomon.” My absolute favorite, though, was this: “Trump’s words are printed in red.”

But here’s the deal. In the military, challenge coins and emblems are objects given to members of certain units, often elite ones. If you’re given one, you’re expected to carry it on your person for the remainder of your military career and be able to produce it when challenged by a former or current member. Someone walks up to you and whips one out, you’re supposed to whip yours out in return. If you lost it or left it at home on the dresser, you buy the bar. That’s the challenge.

I carried several unit coins and emblems over the course of my career. I know exactly where my US Special Operations Command coin is, in case some snake-eater drops by the house: it’s in the drawer with the cufflinks and tie tacks.

In real life few of us continued to carry challenge coins once we left the units that gave them out, but we were proud to have them. I never heard anyone complain they felt pressured to carry one. A bible, though? You know damn well there’s pressure involved, particularly with the inroads evangelicals have made in today’s military. In my day no one gave a shit I was an atheist. No one ever so much as hinted that church attendance might advance my career (well, maybe a little toward the end, but I never took it seriously). But today? I don’t know.

All I can is I hope Mickey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation are on the case.

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Knuckledragging in Las Vegas

I cross-posted this from my Hash House Harrier blog. As a hasher, I belong to a motorcycle hash kennel, the Knuckledraggers. I founded the Baja Arizona chapter, and a few days ago rode with members of the Las Vegas chapter. I’ll leave it to you to figure out the hash names and terminology.
—Paul Woodford (aka Flying Booger)

Pick’n’Flick and I drove to Las Vegas for our grandson’s Eagle Scout induction ceremony, and I decided at the last minute to trailer the motorcycle. The scout ceremony was Saturday, which left Sunday and Monday to go riding.

Sunday, Nose Candy (KDH3 Las Vegas) and I (KDH3 Baja Arizona) rode the north shore of Lake Mead out to Valley of Fire State Park and on-on to Overton for a late breakfast. We were accompanied by Nose Candy’s boss, Just Mark. It was a spirited ride, and by spirited I mean 80 mph the whole way, with occasional excursions up to 100 mph. It’s been a while since I pulled the ton, and I think maybe this was the first time I did it with a fellow Knuckledragger. Thank G we didn’t get caught … that would have been a hell of a ticket!

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Lake Mead: Nose Candy, Flying Booger, Just Mark

Nose Candy rides a fancy-pants BMW, and of course I was on my Goldwing. Just Mark was on a Harley, and surprisingly pushed the thing even harder than I pushed the Wing, including the 100 mph dashes. I must say I was impressed. We need to get that man hashing so he can become a Knuckledragger too.

On the way home Nose Candy and I stopped in Boulder City for on-afters. The old downtown section was full of bikes and riders, but this ride stood out and we decided to pose with it for photos. We later met its owner (who looked exactly like the kind of guy who’d ride it), Grizzly from Apache Junction, Arizona, right up the road from me. Another potential recruit!

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Boulder City: Nose Candy with Grizzly’s ride

Monday Nose Candy and I went riding through Red Rock Canyon with Have Shit Will Travel (KDH3 Las Vegas).

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Red Rock Canyon: Nose Candy, HSWT, Flying Booger

Just for fun, here’s a short GoPro video of the three of us doing a water crossing leaving Red Rock. Scoff if you will, but water crossings are a big deal in the desert, and qualify as shiggy.

After riding the Red Rock loop we hooked up with another Las Vegas Knuckledragger, Alcoholiday, at Bonnie Springs Ranch. We wanted to see Bonnie Springs again before it’s gone … the old lady who owned it died and her heirs have sold the property to developers. They’re tearing it down this month and a few months from now it’ll be a gated McMansion community. Las Vegas grows like a cancer, and I won’t be surprised to see casinos in Red Rock Canyon some day.

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Bonnie Springs: HSWT, Nose Candy, Alcoholiday, FB

Not a bad KDH3 outing. Now to see if I can hook up with some potential KDH3 Baja Arizona members in Sierra Vista and Bisbee!

More links: GoPro videos are on my YouTube channel, and you can view screen grab images from those videos on my GoPro Stills Flickr album.

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The Eagle Has Landed

We’re just home from Las Vegas, where we attended our grandson Quentin’s Eagle Scout induction ceremony, held at the regional Scout Council on Saturday, March 2nd. Here’s the proud lad making his acceptance speech, flanked by equally-proud parents, our son Gregory and daughter in law Beth.

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As part of the ceremony, scouts and their parents traditionally prepare table displays of achievements, ribbons, and medals. Donna offered to help by making a banner with a mesquite wood frame, a project she worked on up to the last minute and then some: she and Beth finished lacing the banner to the frame the morning of Quentin’s ceremony. The mesquite branches, by the way, came from our back yard … Donna went out back two weeks ago and cut them off the tree. We’re talking Pioneer Woman here. I was impressed (and still am).

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Gregory stayed up the night before preparing a fruit platter for the reception, even hand-carving a Boy Scout emblem into the rind of a watermelon. Don’t tell anybody, but I’m pretty sure he carved Quentin’s Cub Scout pinewood derby race cars too, back in the day. Of the whole family, I had the least to do, which is probably why they put me in charge of taking photos.

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Part of my original plan was to put the Goldwing on the trailer and tow it to Las Vegas so I could go riding with Gregory on his fancy-pants BMW. Somehow I got the idea Donna was in a time crunch and had to get back to Tucson right after the ceremony, so I almost talked myself out of bringing the motorcycle. But then Donna said she wasn’t in a hurry, and I loaded it onto the trailer after all. We drove up Friday and spent Saturday doing scout stuff, leaving me all day Sunday and most of Monday to ride with Gregory. Here we are on Sunday, somewhere on the north shore of Lake Mead, bound for Valley of Fire and Overton. The other gentleman in the photo is Mark, Gregory’s boss. I know, I know, never mix work with pleasure, but Gregory said it was cool (and in fact Mark seemed quite a nice guy, despite the Harley).

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Monday, after an afternoon ride to Red Rock Canyon and Bonnie Springs Ranch (which I’ve probably seen for the last time, since it’s been sold to developers and will be torn down later this month), Gregory helped me load the Wing on the trailer for the drive home. Did I mention we brought the doggies along? We did, and they had a great time. Here’s Donna with Maxie and Mister B at a rest area on the Hassayampa River near Wickenberg, Arizona, halfway home. You can see the bike on the trailer in the background.

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A pleasant trip, a great achievement for our grandson (and his parents), and some spirited riding in lovely desert country. Donna and I have been taking road trips together almost since we married, 53 years ago, and we both love doing it. Good thing for us, the doggies love riding in the car too!

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Hawk-a-a-a!

Our auxiliary dachshund, Maxie, was attacked by a bird of prey! And she has the scars to prove it!

Two nights ago, as Maxie settled in to her spot on the dog couch, Donna noticed fur sticking up on her rump. Looking closer, we saw missing hair, crusted blood, and wounds on the skin underneath, some fairly deep. We cleaned her up as best we could, and Donna took Maxie to see our friend Mary Anne, who used to work for a vet. They shaved around her wounds and Mary Anne said it looked like a hawk or an owl had tried to fly off with her. In the morning, with better light, we could clearly see the mark of a big talon on her butt. Here she is the night of the attack, and again the next morning.

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It’s a good thing Maxie’s overweight. She probably owes her life to that. She seems to be healing up well, and carries on as if nothing had happened. I’m happy to say she still goes outside to pee and poop … we were dreading having to train her to use a litter box indoors.

On to less-stressful doggo news: a couple of weeks ago I posted a photo of Mister B to Instagram. We were out on a walk, and he was on his leash.

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Later that day I had a new follower, a guy from Norway who posts photos of his dachshund, Reinert.

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First thing I noticed was the leash. Looking at the Norwegian’s account I saw Reinert was on a leash in every photo. So I looked back at my Instagram photos of Mister B. Yes, he’s always on a leash as well. Since we have that in common, I followed the guy from Norway back.

He must spend every waking moment walking with Reinert, because he posts three to four photos of him daily. I can’t hope to keep up with that, but carrying my iPhone and taking photos of Mister B is now part of our daily walk ritual.

By the way, notice the Norwegian’s hashtags? I guess, as my comment spammers keep telling me, I have a lot to learn about search engine optimization. I usually just settle for #dachshund, but I’m starting to use another one as well: #Mister_B. Youthful fans of Anthony Broughton are going to be so confused!

Social media, forsooth. Tell you what, I’m getting far more out of Instagram and Twitter these days than Facebook, which … with the exception of a few friends who still take the time to write actual newsy posts … features little more than lowest common denominator copy & paste crap.


My barber was watching Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee this morning, so there was no way I could miss it. The part I saw was dominated by Republican congressmen grandstanding on Cohen’s past crimes and general sleaziness, painting him as a liar and non-credible witness. Cohen calmly responded to each of these attacks, pointing out that he’s already confessed to those crimes and is in fact going to prison for them, and is telling the truth now out of remorse.

My barber and I agreed: you’re not going to find any witnesses from Trump’s inner (or even outer) circle who aren’t sleazebags, who weren’t part of one coverup or another, who aren’t themselves guilty of crimes. I don’t know about the remorse part (revenge seems far more likely), but I believe Cohen’s telling the truth now. What he’s saying certainly fits with everything else we’ve learned about Trump and the people around him.

The 30 minutes of testimony I watched at the barbershop is enough for me, and I don’t plan to watch any more of it. In fact I think I’ll skip Rachel Maddow and the other MSNBC pundits tonight, because they’re just going to rehash what Cohen’s saying this morning.

No matter how damning Cohen’s testimony, it isn’t going to result in Trump’s impeachment and ouster. That just isn’t going to happen. When Trump said he could shoot a man on 5th Avenue and get away with it he wasn’t kidding. And I gave up on Robert Mueller a long time ago … he isn’t going to uncover anything much worse than Mr. Cohen has already revealed. I’ve been saying since November 2017 I don’t expect Mueller to indict Trump, based on the fact that Mueller comes from the same FBI leadership cabal as the two-faced James Comey who, never mind anything he’s said or testified to since, deliberately torpedoed Hillary Clinton just a few days before the election.


Not everyone will get the title of this post. It’s from a childhood memory of Blackhawk comics, a series about an elite unit of fighter pilots doing battle with evil around the world. Hawk-a-a-a! was their battle cry.

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Snow Day

Woke to the sound of rain pattering on the skylight over the master bedroom bath. Twenty minutes after friends on the northwest side of town began posting snow photos to Facebook, we started to see flakes mixed in with our falling rain. When the rain turned to solid snow I posted a few photos and short videos of our own, commenting that it wasn’t sticking and was unlikely to. Now it’s time to eat those pessimistic words … here’s the view from our home office window:


See the birds? I doubt they’re as thrilled with the weather as we are, but hey, free breakfast. The dogs took one look outside and decided the call of nature can wait. Now it’s a contest to see how long they can hold it.

Tomorrow’s supposed to be sunny with temps in the mid-50s, and that’s good because I’m scheduled to lead a motorcycle ride to Tombstone and back. I want to take two-lane back roads, but that route goes over a high pass in the Santa Rosas, where snow and ice is likely to remain. There’s another route, mostly freeway, but at least it’s lower. Flexibility is the key to airpower, they say. Motorcycle rides too. Which is to say my go/no go decision will have to wait until tomorrow morning.

Donna and I are driving to Las Vegas next Friday. I was going to trailer the Goldwing so I could take a day ride to Death Valley with my son, but I’m rethinking it. Yesterday a big section of I-40 near Kingman was closed for snow and ice. There are several snow- and ice-prone passes between here and Vegas, and pulling a trailer’s starting to seem like a bad idea. I can always hop on the motorcycle and ride up solo later in March or possibly April. As with tomorrow’s ride, we’ll see.

This has been your weather report from snowy Tucson, Arizona.

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Chili Today, Hot Tamale

Sunday was primo, with highs near 70°F. I took the motorcycle out for a spin, no destination in mind. My right knee is still a little stiff (I had knee replacement surgery last July), so I often try to think of what I can do to be more comfortable on long motorcycle rides. It has crossed my mind, more than once, that Harley baggers have forward-placed floorboards. And so I found myself pulling into the H-D dealership parking lot on the northwest side of town. Guess I had a destination in mind after all.

I sat on a couple of Electra Glides and found the riding position surprisingly cramped. Which is odd, since I owned a Glide before buying the Goldwing I ride today, and always thought it a comfortable ride. Anyway,  I guess I’ll be sticking with my faithful old Wing a while longer … it really is the roomiest of all the big touring bikes.

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The knee, by the way, is not a show-stopper. It smarts when I first try to bend it 90°, so I have to sit on the motorcycle with my right foot on the peg for a minute or two before I take off riding. Once I get going it’s okay. I shouldn’t say this, but it’s really bad when I’m driving a car and have to pull my knee up and back to get to the brake pedal … I’m finding myself using my left foot on the brake, something I was always taught (and therefore taught my children) not to do.

I think I need a consultation with my orthopedic surgeon and a referral for more physical therapy … I’m sure there’s some kind of stretching and bending exercises I could be doing to get my new knee working properly. At least I can walk without pain again.

It was just chilly enough Sunday that I turned the motorcycle’s heated handgrips on, but a light jacket kept my upper body warm enough. Monday dawned much as Sunday had, and I almost rode the bike to Pima Air and Space Museum. The weather forecast called for lowering temps and rain, though, so I took the truck instead. And boy am I glad I did.

I took this photo around 10 AM, just as the weather began moving in and temps started to drop.

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Monday was President’s Day, so there were lots of children at the museum. This young couple spent part of the morning chasing their little girl around the outdoor exhibits, and it made me happy to watch them. They went indoors just after I took this photo, but I couldn’t.

My volunteer sidekick and I were outdoors all day, driving the museum’s open-air trams, and by the end of the day we were cold-soaked. The museum has a school bus to use as a tram on cold days, but the staff got greedy and sold too many tickets. The bus, you see, only holds 28 paying passengers, while the open-air tram can carry nearly 40. We probably should have refused to drive the last two tours of the day, but we sucked it up and now I fear we’re both in for head colds.

Today is just like yesterday, minus the clouds and near-freezing rain. Clear but just as cold. There’s only one thing to do on a day like this: cook chili and cornbread. It’s dinnertime now, and I can’t wait to tuck into this:

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