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October 2017
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© 2004-2017 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Paul’s Book Reviews: Fiction, Thrillers, Sci-Fi, & a Memoir

“It wasn’t for trash, my bookshelves would be mostly empty.”
—Paul Woodford, unpublished memoir

the great passageThe Great Passage
by Shion Miura

Clearly, I’ve been reading too many mysteries and thrillers, where every new object or action introduced into the story comes back later in some significant way. In real life … and Japanese novels … the second thing does not necessarily follow.

Just one example: at several points in the story, Nishioka brags about how easily he could move in on Kaguya, the woman loved by his seemingly timid co-worker Majime. He finds a love letter to Kaguya on Majime’s desk, reads it, and makes a copy. Aha, I thought, he’s going to do something awful with that copy.

Not so. Nishioka stays out of Majime’s way, and the copy doesn’t come into play until the epilogue, when Nishioka and Kishibe, the woman hired to replace Nishioka after he transferred to another department in the publishing house, read it together in a strangely affecting passage that moved me deeply.

Is it coincidence I read and loved a non-fiction book about the making of dictionaries, Kory Stamper’s “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries,” just last month? As a word lover, I learned much from Stamper’s book. I have to say I learned at least as much about dictionaries from Miura’s novel (have you ever thought about the paper dictionaries are printed on?). Along the way I learned a great deal more about Japan and the Japanese, the language and the people.

Mostly, though, I was swept away by a beautifully-told story about people passionately dedicated to their professions and to one another. This is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland

A collaboration, and I’m hard-pressed to guess which author wrote which parts, though I note that overall the novel has the feel (and heft) of a solo Stephenson epic.

The difference with this epic is the combination of the supernatural (witchcraft and magic) with near-future science fiction (the cryogenically-cooled isolation chambers that allow magic to be performed in a non-magical world).

Fantasy and the supernatural have little appeal for me, but the matter-of-fact way Stephenson and Galland mix magic with science, along with believable contemporary characters, the inevitable bureaucracy growing around what started out as a shoestring operation to explore the possibilities of magic in the modern world, and a cast of witches and anachrons brought forward from past eras, make it palatable. In fact, this is a most enjoyable read, and despite the novel’s 700+ page length, I breezed right through it.

It’s written in epistolary style, consisting of journal entries; in-house D.O.D.O. message traffic, taped conversations, and directives copied from the organization’s server; letters sent to a spymaster by an Elizabethan-era Irish witch; diary entries written by a scientist’s wife (who turns out to be a witch herself); and a fascinating Viking epic titled the Lay of Walmart.

Also, too, I liked Stepenson and Gallande’s take on messing with the past: with great persistence you can change small things, but if you seriously threaten the future, you’d better be ready to run.

“The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” is a blast to read, at once playful, funny, and suspenseful … an ambitious task for any author, but Stephenson and Galland pull it off.

The Hard Way (Jack Reacher #10)The Hard Way (Jack Reacher #10)
by Lee Child

I’m working my way through Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers in order. “The Hard Way,” #10, is up there with the best of them (my favorite so far has been “The Enemy,” #8), and a long way above the worst of them.

I like Jack Reacher best when he’s interacting with military and ex-military criminals, people who share his background. Lee Child seems to put in a good amount of research on military organization, missions, and weapons, so perhaps the military-themed Reacher novels are his favorites too. “The Hard Way” is one such novel, with Reacher taking on a crooked group of special operations mercenaries and besting the best of them.

Standard Reacher; happily, he stays more in character in this novel than in some others. I noted Lee Child ending chapters with one-line flourishes not seen in earlier novels: “Reacher, walking alone”; “Reacher, armed and dangerous”; “Reacher, armed with a mirror on a stick.” These effectively sum up chapters and despite their theatricality, I like. Reacher, kicking ass.

So far, too, this novel has the tightest ending, and I predict other readers will like the last line as much as I do. Number 11 already on order from my local library.

The China SeaThe China Sea
by Richard Herman

I preface all reviews of Dick’s novels by saying we flew together in the USAF and have been friends for more than 35 years.

I enjoy Herman’s novels, which are often (though not always) military thrillers featuring USAF pilots and aircraft. “The China Sea” focuses on geopolitics and covert military operations, with a cast of mercenary special operators and computer hackers working undercover to foil China’s plan to expand its domain to the South China Sea and Taiwan.

I’m sure he does it for sound commercial reasons, but the woman characters in “The China Sea,” though Herman sets them up as professional special operations and cyber warfare experts (recruited because they are the best in the world at what they do), could have stepped off the cover of a 1950s men’s magazine. Bechdel Test? They flunk, bigly. The cyber expert, an Australian named Alexandra, is so jealous of the rival teamed with her boyfriend she’s unable to do her job at a critical moment and has to be set straight by one of the Big Strong Men. The BSMs, of course, are fucking everything in sight and cheering one another on with catchy phrases like “Duty calls!,” unaffected by womanly doubts and emotions. Compared to the strong female characters in previous Herman novels, these were … disappointing.

This is strictly on me, not Dick Herman: I had trouble with one male character, a South Korean assassin who in the opening pages takes a long-distance shot with a sniper rifle to kill the wife of North Korean’s leader. Later he shoots and kills another woman, a spy; later still, a politically-connected man. None of the victims have any inkling they’re about to be killed. The assassin is written as one of the good guys and we are supposed to feel sympathy for him, but my sympathies don’t extend to professional assassins, no matter which side they’re on.

The story, though, zips along in satisfying fashion, and if Herman leaves a thread or two hanging at the end, that’s because he’s clearly planning a sequel. I’ll be there to read it when it comes out.

When the Eagle SoaredWhen the Eagle Soared
by Donald Delauter

This is a memoir by one of my former commanders. I read it in short segments over the course of the summer, primarily to compare and contrast what he experienced while learning to be an Air Force officer and fighter pilot in the 1950s & 60s with my own experiences in the 1970s. I also took notes for the writing of my own memoir, a project I work on between distractions.

Don Delauter is a good man, and he was a great boss. It was fun to read his observations on a long and fulfilling Air Force career. His memoir will be of primary interest to fellow Air Force officers who served with him, were stationed with him, or who flew with him, all of which apply to me.

“When the Eagle Soared” is self-published and it shows in the occasional typo or eccentrically-spelled word, but Delauter’s conversational tone carries you along, and he has a gift for explaining technical things to a general audience. I learned from it and enjoyed reading it … and I’m looking forward to the promised memoirs a few other men I served with (just as I hope they’re looking forward to mine).

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an EyeThe Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium #5)
by David Lagercrantz

By now everyone knows David Lagercrantz is writing continuation novels based on Stieg Larsson’s original Millenium Trilogy, so I won’t comment on that. In my review of Lagercrantz’ first, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” I said this:

“I think Lagercrantz has successfully recreated the main characters from Larsson’s previous novels. He has also crafted a great set of villains and an appropriately elaborate plot, and in these aspects this novel seems a worthy continuation of the Millennium series.”

I went on, however, to say this:

“… my affection for Mikael and Lisbeth (and many other familiar characters from the first three novels) carried me through some clumsy, wooden passages. Lagercrantz takes shortcuts by stepping in as omniscient narrator to explain large sections of the backstory.”

I can’t say much different about Lagercrantz’ second attempt at a Lisbeth Salander novel. His main characters are still faithful to Larsson’s originals. His plot is complex enough to be Larsson-worthy. Still, something seems missing this time around. I can’t put my finger on exactly what, though.

For one thing, this novel seems short, though by page count it compares to Larsson’s originals and Lagercrantz’ first continuation. The omniscient narrator seems more intrusive, so to be fair I pulled a copy of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” off the shelf and it turns out Larsson relied on that technique as well. Still, something seems missing. It’s almost as if Lisbeth and Mikael have become ghosts, going through the motions in an animatronic afterlife. The immediacy and impact of the originals, and even Lagercrantz’s first continuation novel, are gone.

This is a sign I’m losing interest and getting ready to move on, but Salander and Blomqvist still exert a pull, and I will read the next Lagercrantz continuation. If my reaction then is what it is now, I will indeed move on.


You Can’t Read That!

02f/25/arod/15291/p2900_003You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

Many schools and school districts in the United States have adopted procedures to follow when parents or community members demand the removal of books from classrooms, school libraries, and reading lists. Challenged books are reviewed by committees, which recommend retention, removal, and/or alternative titles. Again and again, though, school administrators bypass these procedures, sometimes after only a single complaint or challenge.

Such is the case in Mississippi, where the vice president of the Biloxi School Board took it upon himself to pull “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the 8th grade English curriculum after students had already begun reading it. The reason? “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books.”

The American Library Association listed “To Kill a Mockingbird” as number 21 on its list of the top 100 most challenged & banned books between 2000 and 2009, so the Biloxi ban is just the latest in a long series. People who want it banned typically cite its themes of incest and rape, its frank depiction of deep South racial division, and the use of the word “nigger.”

After years of compiling banned book news roundups, though, I’ve come to believe cultural warfare plays a greater role in book challenges and bans than anyone cares to admit, and is front and center in the latest assault on “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s hard to prove, because book-banners rarely acknowledge political motivations, disguising the real reason for their opposition with complaints about “bad words” and “dark themes.”

I’m thinking about creating a “culture war” category for some of the book-banning and related events I pick up on in the news and share here, cases where such motivations are clearly in play. Here’s a prime example, a news report of white nationalists terrorizing a book fair in Houston during Banned Books Week:

Together, they raised their arms in a salute of “Sieg heil.” On Sunday, September 24, about 25 men in masks and balaclavas descended on an anarchist book fair in Houston. The group call itself Patriot Front and is loosely affiliated with Vanguard Front, a fascist organization that includes Heather Heyer’s murderer, James Alex Fields, as one of its members. They rushed the door of a multicultural community center, igniting a pair of smoke bombs.

Another example of cultural warfare is the by-now obligatory annual attack on Banned Books Week. This year’s starts off with a bang:

Of all the fake holidays competing for attention on our calendars and social media “feeds” these days, far and away the worst is Banned Books Week, that annual festival of cloying liberal self-satisfaction beloved by people who like the idea of reading more than they do actually sitting down with Edward Gibbon or even Elmore Leonard.

Yes, our annual festival of cloying liberal self-satisfaction is over, but here’s an intelligent Banned Books Week wrap-up outlining some of the earlier-mentioned culture war aspects of attacks on books. It includes this chilling quote from the chief executive of the UK’s Index on Censorship: “In 2017, we can read what we like but there is a different kind of censorship in operation, not coming from the state but from an outraged public. We really need to be aware and wary of it and we’re not, sufficiently.”

Another Banned Books Week wrap-up tackles common arguments for and against keeping certain books out of the hands of young readers.

Since 2013, graphic novels and illustrated books have come to represent almost half the titles on the ALA’s annual “most challenged and banned” lists. Part of the reason is the growing popularity of graphic novels; part of it is subject matter, which often addresses sexual and gender identity.

The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books, per Barnes & Noble.

Five Tons of Books Seized in Vice War! From the New York Public Library, a fascinating history of Anthony Comstock and the The New York Society for the Prevention of Vice and the Society to Maintain Public Decency, created in the 1870s to stifle the flourishing traffic in what Comstock viewed as pornography: sexually risqué books, adventure stories for children, and tawdry pamphlets and pictures.

Was Dr. Seuss a racist? Work from his early career suggests he was; later in life he expressed regret for what he characterized as “wartime propaganda.” None of this, to my mind, excuses the boorishness of the school librarian who rejected a donation of Dr. Seuss books from Melania Trump, smugly informing her in a letter that Dr. Seuss’ children’s books are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”

A parent complained after an Atlanta area high school gave health class students a quiz about sexual preference and gender identity. Local media fanned the flames of controversy but the school stood firm, pointing out that parents were informed of health class subject matter beforehand and given opt-out instructions.

Banned books your child should read.

“There are always going to be people and always have been people who feel that other people, not them, but other people need to be protected from encountering those words.” One of America’s most famous librarians says our battle over banned books is far from over.

Sometimes book banners and self-appointed censors don’t have the patience to file formal challenges. Instead, they take direct action. This guy reminds me of an Air Force pilot I used to sit air defense alert with, who taped over the ready room’s Betamax of “Debbie Does Dallas” with “1941.”

I normally post my own reviews of banned books here, but I saw this review of Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath” and wanted to share it with you, since it illustrates an aspect the culture war I’ve been addressing in this edition of YCRT!, politically-motivated attacks on books about class, oppression, and rising up against authority.


Mr. B

This is our newest family member, Mr. B, riding home with us yesterday.


Mr. B is a 9-year-old brindle. We think he’s a standard, somewhat on the smallish side but in any case considerably taller and longer than our mini, Maxie.

We were gutted when Schatzi died, but after a while started thinking about getting another dog. We at first  thought we’d start over with a puppy, a female dachshund like Schatzi. We signed up with Sahauro Dachshund Rescue, hoping they’d get a young dog in, but they actually get a lot of seniors, and the more I thought about it, adopting a senior dog seemed like the right thing to do. I saw Mr. B’s photo a week ago, felt a pull, and well, here we are.

Yesterday morning we drove to the rescue house in Catalina to meet him. He seemed to like us right away, and even to know we were there specifically to see him. There were 30 dachshunds running around, but Mr. B sat at our feet the whole time we talked with the lady who runs the rescue. He was a one-family dog who lived with an elderly couple. The husband died some time ago, and more recently the wife, so he was homeless. Friends turned him over to the rescue lady, along with all his bedding and food and dishes and toys.

Mr. B’s two to three years younger than Schatzi was when she died earlier this year, and he plays with all the sprightliness of a puppy. He’s curious about us and Maxie and his new home, but doesn’t seem the least disoriented or upset. He and Maxie played hard yesterday, and they’re still getting along well. We gave them both baths, checked Mr. B over for ticks (found one), and watched them claim sides on the dog couch in the family room.


I know boy dogs mark territory, and that’s the first thing Mr. B did when we got home … outdoors and in … but I think he’s gotten that out of his system now. He slept in his own bed at the foot of our bed, but at some point in the night realized Maxie was up there with us and wanted up too. Our bed is pretty tall and Mr. B seems like a jumper, so we’re not going to let him sleep with us just yet.

I’m also closing the doggy door at night one he’s done his business and is ready for bed, at least until we get a pool pet alarm or a fence.

I put Schatzi’s old pillow on my desk this morning and invited Mr. B to sit with me, and look at that, he said okay. Here he is, on alert for coyotes and other yard invaders.


It’s our lot in life to be heartbroken and happy at the same time. That’s how I’m feeling today, missing our darling Schatzi, elated over how well our new little boy is settling in.


Catch-Up Wednesday Post

We have Throwback Thursdays and Follow Fridays, so why not Catch-Up Wednesdays? Gosh knows I have some catching up to do.

Last week’s visitors, Terry and Judy, motored up to Phoenix for InterAmericas Hash and we had a quiet weekend to ourselves. Monday our friend Angie, also a hasher, came down after InterAmericas to spend a few days with us. Polly emerged from seclusion to say hi to Angie, and here’s the proof:


Nice selfie stick, eh?

Angie and another friend who, like her, used to live here but has since moved away, Theresa, founded Tucson’s bicycle hash eleven years ago this month. I’m haring Sunday, but Angie flies home Saturday. She’s going to borrow Donna’s bike tomorrow and ride the route I have planned so I can at least tell everyone an actual founder scouted our anniversary trail. And, I hope, blessed it.

That’s Thursday. Friday we’re going motorcycle riding with my friend Ed. Since we’re planning to take curvy roads through the Santa Rosa Mountains south to Sonoita, Patagonia, and Nogales, I’m bringing the GoPro.

Donna and I still have stuff to put away in the home office, but there’s no hurry now. It’ll be done when it’s done, and there’ll be photos to prove it.

Speaking of photos, here’s the latest critter news from Casa Paul:

IMG_4264 IMG_4266 IMG_4213

The termite inspector came around Tuesday morning and Donna asked him about the small holes in our driveway. We thought they were tarantula holes, but he told us they’re kangaroo rat burrows, little bitty hoppy mice who come out at night to hop around, who can go their whole lives without drinking liquid water—they get moisture from the seeds they eat.

Javelina are another story—when they’re not knocking over garbage cans to get at the treats inside, they’re looking for water. The herd in our neighborhood come around at night when people run their drip irrigation systems. When they visit our house, they root up the wet dirt under the tree outside our office window. They’re not nocturnal, exactly, but during the day they stay hidden in the shade and you rarely see them. The single female javelina in the last photo is an exception (in more ways than one, since they normally forage in family groups).

We do love the things we see through our windows!

Last night we learned the Las Vegas police have revised the timeline of the recent mass shooting, now saying the hotel security guard was shot several minutes before the gunman opened fire on concert-goers, not afterward as originally claimed. The hotel is questioning the revised timeline, but Donna and I both focused on one part of the story, namely this:

The revised timeline raises questions about whether better communication could have allowed officers to respond more quickly and take out the gunman before the attack. It remains unclear if police ever received a call for help from the injured guard.

We’re thinking the hotel sat on it, hoping to contain the situation, for squalid Amity Island town council-type reasons. We’re thinking the hotel didn’t call law enforcement until the massacre had begun, when they could have called it in a few minutes before the asshole started shooting at the crowd below. Would those few minutes have made a difference? Probably not, but if it turns out hotel management did delay calling in the security guard’s shooting there are going to be hundreds of lawsuits.

As predicted in my last post, arguments for press censorship, specifically as it applies to criticizing Trump, are beginning to circulate. I speculated those arguments would take one of these general directions:

  • The president can’t lead the free world if the media is constantly belittling him at home
  • Look, we all know he takes criticism personally, so how about you in the media lay off so he can do his job without distractions
  • Now that the country is at war with _______, national unity is required and we must reluctantly impose press censorship for the duration

And now, just a day later, we see it beginning:

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 9.48.26 AM

I know, I know, the Washington Examiner’s a right-wing rag, but you watch. Kellyanne Conway’s already out there warning us that continued attacks on Trump are being closely observed by world leaders. A strategy is emerging, and we can only hope the media is prepared to resist. Keep an eye on MSNBC: as long as Maddow, Hayes, and O’Donnell keep their prime-time slots, we’re probably okay.


I Know You Are, But What Am I?

“All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”
— J. D. Salinger

Well, isn’t someone a wee bit sensitive?

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 8.04.34 AM

I’m not reading this anywhere yet, so it may be I’m the only one thinking it, but here goes:

As Trump and his court crank up the volume of their attacks on “fake news,” their actual agenda is increasingly clear: they want news that makes Trump look bad suppressed, possibly even outlawed, like they do for dictators and royalty in other countries. They can’t come right out and say so because even they know any such proposal will be seen as un-American, but I bet they’re working on a more palatable rationale and we’ll see Fox News and right-wing “thought leaders” advancing it soon.

Try these on for size:

  • The president can’t lead the free world if the media is constantly belittling him at home
  • Look, we all know he takes criticism personally, so how about you in the media lay off so he can do his job without distractions
  • Now that the country is at war with _______, national unity is required and we must reluctantly impose press censorship for the duration

The last one, of course, is the one we should all be losing sleep over.

Hope I’m wrong, but I can envision some media outlets sucking it up, telling their journalists and commentators the good of the country must come before criticism. After last night, though, listening to Lawrence O’Donnell spend an entire hour relishing the sound of the word “moron,” pronouncing it “mo-ron” like Stork in Animal House, I’m pretty sure MSNBC at least will resist … until Trump persuades its owner to fire certain troublesome hosts.

Sure, I know that sounds paranoid and overwrought, but tell it to Megyn Kelly, who was forced to take an involuntary 10-day “vacation” from Fox News after asking Trump hard questions during the first Republican presidential candidate debate in 2016.

Who needs the media anyway? All they ever do is suck up to power (Christ, just look at NPR). As individuals, we can criticize and belittle the Moron in Chief all we want on our blogs, Facebook, and Twitter … oops, not so fast!


Wednesday Bag o’ Thoughts & Prayers

22154451_10155721283547346_5518414775075912992_nI was going to title the post “Wednesday Bag o’ Guns,” but is there anything to say about the continuing carnage that hasn’t been said, that doesn’t come across as empty and ineffectual? Nothing I can think of. If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough to convince lawmakers to stand up to the NRA, nothing ever will be. Our best hope now is for me to be appointed king. I will take the guns away. You can count on it.

A year after 9/11, the Justice Department obtained video surveillance tapes suggesting terrorists were targeting Las Vegas casinos. Local authorities were informed, but no alert was issued because the casinos didn’t want tourists scared away. I blogged about it at the time, and wondered afterward why such an obvious target for terrorism had never been attacked.

Now it has been, and the terrorist turns out to be a white guy with no known terror group ties (so far, that is, but I can’t stop thinking about the fact that he lived in Mesquite, not far from the Bundy Ranch). What’s to stop someone else doing the same thing?

Meanwhile, here’s something a friend posted to Facebook during or right after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Rumors like this always spread during a terrorist attack and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just a natural phenomenon, but still interesting:

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 6.24.47 PM

Think about it. Can you recall any mass shooting where, at some point during coverage of the attack, we weren’t told there may be multiple shooters?

Not wanting to see Spain weakened or torn apart with internal strife, I was iffy on Catalan independence, but after the Spanish Guardia Civil attacked voters in Barcelona I’m all in, and so are the Catalonians.

I understand Trump tried to phone Franco to congratulate him and apologize for any American tourists who might have gotten in the way of Spanish truncheons and rubber bullets, but upon being informed Franco’s been dead for decades he fired the staffer who bore the bad news and retreated to the throne room to tap out rage tweets.

I have a solution to the thing that’s tearing my country apart, namely black athletes kneeling during the singing of the national anthem to protest the wanton killing of innocent black men, women, and children by police across the country: how about black athletes find some other way to protest, one not involving the national anthem? Could they maybe stand in a circle at the end of the game, bow their heads, and raise their fists into the air? That would make everyone at Fox News happy, right?

Sure it would.

I’ve been trying to get into Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened.” I bought the book after reading excerpts where she addressed problems with the campaign and her reaction to the bewildering election of the losing candidate.

So far … and I’m several chapters in … what I’m reading instead are thanks to staff and campaign workers who struggled alongside her, individually singled out by name and fondly recalled, like some ultra-long version of an Oscars speech.

This is disappointing. I find myself flipping ahead, looking for the chapter where she finally starts writing about important things. I’m taking this as a signal it’s time to move her book to the “reading episodically” shelf and re-open a neglected novel from the same pile, David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.”

Magic and Magic User (aka Judy and Terry), old hashing friends from our days on Okinawa, are visiting. They’ve been on a long road trip that will culminate this weekend in Phoenix and InterAmericas Hash. We went to the last IAH in Portland and decided to skip this one, even though it’s next door, even though many old friends will be there. We’ll have to be content seeing the friends who are dropping by before and after, and anyway, I’m haring a bicycle hash trail two Sundays from now and need to get out and scout a trail this weekend while the rest of the hash world is busy in Phoenix.

Here’s a shot of us with our friends at the air museum, where they checked out my tram tour on Monday:


We didn’t finish putting everything back in the home office before they came, and we’ll be busy with other things for the next week or so, so no “whole room” photos yet. I did add another flying memento to the I-Love-Me wall, just for balance, and put my flight helmets on top of the bookcases. The rest of the room is Donna’s to decorate.

IMG_4202 IMG_4205


Friday Bag o’ Contrariness

Not quite ready to show off the renovated home office, but here are a few progress shots:


Wall unit reinstallation


Wall unit & Murphy bed in


I-Love-Me wall done


Bookcases restocked

I spent the morning putting paint, painting supplies, leftover floor planks, and tools back in the garage. Sweaty work, since all the really heavy and bulky stuff had to be lifted up into the rafters, so I’m beat. Donna got the guest bedroom emptied out and cleaned … the first of our InterAmericas Hash company arrives Sunday, old friends from Okinawa now living in the LA area. They’re stopping for a few days on their way to IAH; our friend Angie is stopping by after IAH on her way home to Tampa.

Tonight we’re going to try to burn old papers in the back yard. We have a portable fire pit with mesh sides and a cover, which we hope will keep ashes from going everywhere. I’m worried neighbors will call the fire department. We’ll start with a handful of papers so if it turns out to be a bad idea we can stop.

I have only slightly mixed thoughts about Hugh Hefner. I rarely comment here on the passing of famous people, but Hefner seems to have had an effect on nearly everyone, and nearly everyone has opinions about him. My initial reaction was, hey, he did a lot for working writers. I admired him for providing financial and editorial support to his old high school student newspaper in Chicago, right up to the end. Most of the initial comments on his passing were positive. The “Hefner was an abusive creep who exploited women” comments starting appearing soon after.

Donna and I … and many others in our Hash House Harrier circle … knew Donna Rheinhart, the “Lady in Red,” a former Playboy bunny, a seemingly well-adjusted and happy person who never said a bad word about Hefner or Playboy, at least in our presence. This morning, on the recommendation of friends, I read a long article about one of Hefner’s favorites, Dorothy Stratten, murdered by her husband in 1980, just as her acting career was taking off, a woman who had been lifted out of obscurity by Hefner and Playboy and by all accounts totally fine with her new life.

When I was a kid, girlie magazines and the whole idea that women would pose for them nude seemed, I don’t know, kind of sleazy and whorish? That ended with Hefner and Playboy. He made it respectable and mainstream, and all in all I think that’s a good thing. As far as I know, the women who posed for Playboy, who worked as bunnies in the Playboy clubs of the 1970s, who lived in and around Hefner’s mansion, did so willingly, and I bet most of them were happy to be part of that scene. You can say they were exploited and didn’t know any better, but your argument falls flat with me. I’m sure Hefner had his dark side, but who the fuck doesn’t? I’ve never heard him described as a peeping Tom pussy grabber, at any rate, and there’s one of those in the White House (not only a peeping Tom pussy grabber, but a man accused of using a 13-year old girl as a sexual slave).

There are lots of men who are worthy of my hate. Hefner was never one of them.

As for black athletes kneeling during the national anthem, I’m not the least bit confused. They’re protesting the wanton killing of black men and women by police across the nation, and protesting injustice is an honorable thing. Kneeling during the anthem is a form of patriotism, the kind that says “let’s make our country live up to its promise.” It doesn’t dishonor the flag or show disrespect to those who serve, as Fox Nation would have it. In fact, the more right-wingers play the patriotism card, the plainer their racism becomes.

Kneel on, brothers, and I’ll kneel with you … as long as you promise to help me get back up again afterward.

Related … and it’s a topic I’ve touched on here before … is the debasement of heroism in popular discourse and the media. Forced patriotism at athletic events has been around for a while, but bumper sticker support for the troops really started during Desert Storm. Today, it’s gotten to the point where virtually everyone who wears the uniform is described as a hero, and those heroes are invoked whenever disgruntled white racists want to score points against blacks who speak out about injustice, and oh by the way if being a hero is as easy as signing up, why don’t more young people do it?

Men and women in uniform know what heroism is, and they know serving two tours in Afghanistan doesn’t make them heroes. Heroes save comrades’ lives while under enemy fire, laying down their lives to protect others. Empty talk and bumper stickers debase the concept of heroism.

I flew and worked with several Vietnam War POWs during my career, good men who experienced hardships and torture I can’t even imagine, but I never heard any of them call themselves heroes. They were shot down. They suffered at the hands of the enemy. Returned to freedom, they put their lives and careers back together and moved on.

smugA Washington Post headline this week read McCain: Trump has never apologized for saying he was ‘not a war hero.’ I never heard John McCain call himself a war hero, so I read the article to see if he really did. Not according to the article, he didn’t. True, during the campaign Trump said McCain was “not a war hero,” and Trump has never apologized for that, but that’s not what McCain is complaining about. His complaint is that Trump disparaged his war record. Looking for a click-worthy headline, the reporter put words in McCain’s mouth.

Still, John McCain is often called a war hero. I think about the POWs I know and wonder what McCain thinks about that. All the POWs I know were aviators, as was McCain, and all were tortured, some of them horribly (which was certainly the case with McCain). They all resisted, as best they could. McCain in fact is famous for turning down special treatment offered by his captors after they discovered his father was a serving Navy admiral, insisting that any breaks he got be given also to his fellow prisoners, and that’s awesome, even heroic. But does he think of himself as a hero? Knowing these other men, I doubt it.

One thing I’m certain of, though, is that John McCain thinks of himself as a man of honor. He absolutely was during his imprisonment, say what you will about his later political career, and I honor him for it. It must sicken him to be disrespected by a shitweasel draft-dodging blowhard like Donald Trump. If I were him, I’d sabotage Trump at every opportunity, and I kind of suspect that’s what he’s doing with the time he has left.


21st Century Hardships, Part the Fourth

The baseboards are in. The wall unit and Murphy bed go back in this afternoon, and with that we’re done with contractors. We did the painting but they did the heavy work. Because the walls and carpet had been damaged by an air conditioner leak, our homeowners insurance covered a lot of the work.

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The color’s off in the first photo because of the sunlight coming through the window, making the baseboards appear green. They’re actually white, as in the second photo. Eventually, we’ll replace the mini-blinds you see in the first photo with wooden slat blinds.

Over the next few days we’ll move the bookcases back in and start replacing all the junk we cleared out to make room for the work. Company’s coming Monday and we may not be quite done, but they’ll be staying in another room and it shouldn’t be a problem.

I quit doing large group motorcycle rides several years ago. Big events like Christmas toy runs attract once-a-year riders who have only the shakiest idea of how to ride, let alone ride in groups. On my last toy run, almost ten years ago, two inexperienced numbskulls in front of me locked their rear brakes and collided. They both went down, forcing me to jink up onto a sidewalk to avoid them. My next-to-last group ride was a poker run put on by the American Legion Riders, a more experienced group, but the ones I got stuck behind didn’t understand the concept of riding staggered in a single lane and kept weaving back and forth. On top of that, they drank before the ride started and then drank more at every stop along the way. And did I mention the joys of being stuck behind a Harley with straight pipes?

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Idiots and drunks are why I don’t do group rides, but I made an exception for Sunday’s Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. The DGR is an annual charity event supporting prostate cancer research, with rides in cities around the world. Here in Tucson, at least 70 riders made donations and came to the ride, most in suits and ties, many on vintage bikes. The organizers did a great job. The route was close to 80 miles long, a big loop around Tucson with a mid-point stop, a van to carry extra gear and water and coffee, even rent-a-cops riding ahead to clear intersections.

The high point of Sunday’s event, for me anyway, was being with experienced motorcyclists who know how to ride in groups. Watching the escorts leapfrog ahead to clear intersections so we could cruise through red light after red light was a gas too, but holding formation with riders who know how to do it was the best thing.

Naturally I took the GoPro along and edited some short compilation clips afterward. I’m trying to load music onto the clips so it’s not all engine and wind noise. I can do it on my desktop, but when I upload the clips to YouTube the music isn’t always there. Copyright and licensing, yadda yadda. YouTube offers generic instrumental tracks you can add for free, but they’re pretty blah. Here’s one YouTube allowed me to load with my own choice of soundtrack (Going In the Right Direction buy Robert Randolph & The Family Band).

With that, I’m unplugging again so the wall unit people can do their thing. If I can remember where the wires and cables go, I’ll be back online later today.