You Can’t Read That!

32740918_2135111856772840_4688908619876401152_nYou Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

YCRT! News

Another in a long line of dead white male writers whose work would make today’s college students squirm (if anyone still read him): “And where science has not reached, men stared and feared, telling one another of the wars and pestilences that are foreshadowed by these fiery signs in the Heavens. Sturdy Boers, dusky Hottentots, Gold Coast Negroes, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Portuguese, stood in the warmth of the sunrise watching the setting of this strange new star.” —H.G. Wells, “The Star” (1897)

Is anyone worried Facebook will cave to right-wing media pressure, as they did two years ago when they quit curating their news feed and allowed the MAGAs to fill it with propaganda? I am. Of particular concern: conservative members of Congress are adding to the pressure.

Federal prisons have abruptly canceled a policy that made it harder and costlier for inmates to get books.

A bill working its way through the California legislature would ban the advertising of anti-gay therapy. The religious right claims it’s an attempt to ban the Bible.

I don’t suppose it’ll come as a surprise that student newspapers at Christian colleges are heavily censored. Some student journalists are beginning to fight back.

An editor, along with two other senior editors, resigned after his employer, the Denver Post, spiked his editorial about censorship at that newspaper.

I think this long and convoluted American Library Association position paper against librarians “purposefully omitting certain books and content from library collections due to personal bias opposed to professional judgment” is mostly about pulling books by authors at the center of #MeToo sexual harassment and abuse complaints. Is this actually a thing? Apparently it is.

“I feel like someone is pushing an agenda on these little kids … I love Battle of the Books; I’m a huge advocate. That’s why when ‘George’ came on the list I was like, ‘Why? Why did they do this?’” In Oregon, school districts are pulling out of a statewide school reading challenge because a book about a transgender child is on the list.

From a NYT essay titled Why “Fahrenheit 451” Is the Book for Our Social Media Age: “As the virtual world becomes more dominant, owning books becomes an act of rebellion. When a printed book is in your possession, no one can track, alter or hack it. The characters in my film have never seen a book. When they first encounter a library, the books are like water in a vast digital desert. Seeing, touching and smelling a book is as alien to the firemen as milking a cow by hand would be for most of us. The firemen are transfixed by the books — but they still have to burn them.”

Lori, a fan of YCRT! on Daily Kos, writes to ask a favor: would I mention her dKos Readers & Book Lovers group book club, and its upcoming read “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco? I would.

A young adult book titled “The Hate U Give” has been the target of recent challenges and bans, and has featured in several recent YCRT! columns. I decided I’d better read and review it:

YCRT! Banned Book Review

hate u giveThe Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
3_5

First of all, what’s “The Hate U Give” about? Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Now for my review.

I’m not going to try to say anything profound about the racism that permeates our society. Angie Thomas does a fine job laying it out. Nor will I say much about the plot, since it’s well covered by the blurb.

This is a book young people need to read—young people of all races and economic status. I tend to assume young people are as up on current events and history as I am, and that’s a mistake. How many young people followed the story of Trayvon Martin, or the protests in Ferguson after the police killing of Michael Brown? How many young people have ever heard of Emmett Till? How many middle class white kids really understand there is a separate justice system for people of color?

“The Hate U Give” brings it home in a relatable way, because teenaged students are the primary characters of the novel, and they’re the ones who tell it, through the voice of 16-year-old Starr Carter.

Why am I, an admitted elder, reading YA? Because this YA novel has been challenged and banned, and I think we’re only seeing the beginning of organized attempts to keep young people from reading it. The first ban went down in early 2017 at a high school in Katy, Texas, where an administrator pulled the book after parental complaints (it was later put back on the shelves, but students now need their parents’ permission to check it out). The book was pulled again at a middle school in Springfield, Missouri, early this year, and as far as I know has not been returned to the shelves.

In keeping with the long-established pattern of attempts to keep social issue YA literature out of classrooms and school libraries, opposition to “The Hate U Give” centers around bad language, sex, and racial epithets. As with other banned YA books I’ve studied, though, the real reason is uncomfortable subject matter, always. YA books with LGBT themes or characters, for example, are almost universally challenged and often banned. So are YA books that challenge authority, especially if those books have a racial theme.

You don’t have to look any farther than reader questions and reviews on Amazon or Goodreads to see the proof of that. Here are actual questions Goodreads users have asked about “The Hate U Give”:

  • Does this book teach something new or is it worth reading? I’m hoping it doesn’t capitalize on social/political/racial issues just for attention.
  • Is this a good book? I feel like many African Americans are more inclined to follow popular trends today than ever. Clearly this book came out when all the race polarization stuff is happening, and I just want to make sure this book has actual factual sense in it, or just another book capitalizing off current events.
  • Is this book something that inspires people to hate police officers? I have a police officer (someone who is a good person) in the family. I try and keep my middle school child away from the news that talks about all the awful things being done to police offers. I don’t want him reading something that is going to make him think his family member is awful just because of his profession.
  • Is this book essentially a fictional story advocating the Black Lives Matter narrative where police are the villians? Would you say this book is biased in favor of the BLM narrative?
  • Is this a good book? I feel like many African Americans are more inclined to follow popular trends today than ever. Clearly this book came out when all the race polarization stuff is happening, and I just want to make sure this book has actual factual sense in it, or just another book capitalizing off current events.

Their questions make it clear they have no intention of reading the book. Most people who have read it love it, but not all. Here are some selections from negative reviews on Goodreads:

  • BLM [Black Lives Matter] is still cancer and if this book shows your brain on BLM, you’re going to get arrested and be miserable for the rest of your life for thinking rioting and burning shit solves anything. If anything, this showed me even more how ridiculous BLM is ?. BLM has done more harm than good in terms of racial relations and police relations, and has even caused an increase in crime in places like Chicago because police patrol less for fear of being called racist if they arrest a black person.
  • A lot of people have been saying that they do not see the police hate in the book that I saw. And I do understand that. It was not a specific “scene” or sentence, I just felt that it was very one sided. Yes, her Uncle was an officer, but besides that there wasn’t really many positive things about police.
    Also, for a book against racism, it had a lot of racism in it.
  • The title ‘The Hate U Give’ is supposed to indicate the hatred that white people direct at blacks, but throughout the entire novel Starr and her friends are making hateful and racist comments against white people and specifically white cops.
  • Another thing that really bothered me was the obvious hate towards police. Officer Cruise was doing his job. Khalil didn’t follow directions and opened the car door, the police officer mistook a hairbrush for a gun, and he shot. It wouldn’t have happened if Khalil had listened to the police officer. Here’s a question for you: Did you know that this has happens to white people too? The book acts as if this only happens to black people. And when he doesn’t get indicted for doing his job, they have a riot in the street and start burning buildings and blowing up police cars. This is unacceptable.
  • Another thing: Jesus isn’t black. If you’re Christian, you’d know that he is from Jewish descent, and therefore he is not black. Historically, he may have been tan skinned, but not black.
  • I HATED the way that all of the white characters were portrayed. I HATED how criminals, YES I said criminals, were portrayed as victims.

It’s not bad language. It’s not sex. Complaints about the use of racial epithets come closer to the truth: discomfort with talking about race; opposition to change; anger over negative portrayals of white people; the authoritarian mindset that police are never wrong and the oppressed should mind their place and learn to get along.

These are the same reasons books like “Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” are challenged and banned.

The young are our only hope for change. That’s why the young need to read this book.

Finally, a few words about my rating. One feels obliged to give any social issue YA novel as high a rating as possible, but I can’t honestly put Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” on the same level of excellence as YA fiction like Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Ship Breaker” or M.T. Anderson’s “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation” series. From me, 3.5 stars is a very good rating. This, too: I’m an adult (actually a senior) reading a book targeted at middle and high school teens. If I were the target, I’d give it all the stars.

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Air-Minded: Literary Influences (Wait, What?)

A friend sent me a link to astronaut Scott Kelly’s New York Times op-ed, “How Tom Wolfe Changed My Life.” It’s a wonderful tribute to a great writer, but if, like me, you aren’t a subscriber and are limited in how many NYT clicks you get each month, here’s the part that grabbed me, where Kelly describes the influence Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” had on his own life and career:

In 1982, I was on my way to flunking out of school, with no particular ambition but to party with my friends. I was in line at the campus store one day when a book cover caught my eye — I picked up the book while I waited in line, and by the time I reached the cash register I was so engrossed I bought the book and took it back to my dorm. By the next day, I had finished it and had found my life’s ambition: I was going to fly military jets off an aircraft carrier, become a test pilot, and maybe even become an astronaut.

 I had known these pursuits existed before, of course, but Tom Wolfe’s prose brought them to life in a way that spoke to me as nothing else had before. As a terrible student with severe attention problems, I was a poor candidate to achieve any of these goals. But I had achieved them, and I wanted to thank Tom Wolfe, who died on Monday at the age of 88, for the part he had played in my life by sending him a photograph of myself holding the book in the space station.

In 1979, the year “The Right Stuff” was published, I’d been flying jets for the USAF five years, first as a student pilot, then as an Air Training Command T-37 instructor pilot, then as a fighter pilot, flying the F-15 Eagle. Tom Wolfe, though I’d devoured everything he’d written up to then (from “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” (1965) to “Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine” (1977), played no part in my becoming a military pilot.

Unlike Scott Kelly, I had not merely known the pursuit of flying military jets existed before, I’d grown up dreaming about it. But like Kelly, I too had literary influences. Mine were Charles Lindbergh and Joseph Heller.

I first read Lindberg’s autobiographical account of his 1927 transAtlantic solo flight, “The Spirit of St. Louis,” when I was 12 years old. It was the 1950s, and Lindbergh was still a hero … at least to schoolchildren, who were never taught about his embrace of Naziism in the years leading up to WWII, nor his racism and anti-Semitism, nor his bigamy (the details of which, to be fair, didn’t come out until long after his death in 1974). Lindbergh may have been a dethroned has-been to my parents’ generation, but to mine he was still an unsullied hero, and I was far from the only young boy who began to dream of flying after reading “The Spirit of St. Louis.”

Dreaming of flying is one thing; beginning to believe it’s a possibility is quite another, and it was not until the late 1960s, part-way through college, that I read Joseph Heller’s great novel “Catch-22.” It was a revelation: Yossarian and his fellow airmen were men in their early 20s, as I was then, very like me and my friends. From that point on, the possibility of flying military aircraft was no longer an out-of-reach fantasy but an actual option. Yes, I knew “Catch-22” was anti-war satire, but the flying portions of the novel were well-researched, realistic, and accurate (Heller himself had lived it, after all, which made the satire even more biting). The dream had become a possibility, and just a couple of years later I signed up with the Air Force.

When “The Right Stuff” came out, I read it immediately (and have read it at least two more times since). What impressed me then, and now, is how right on Wolfe was about the life and culture of military aviation. So many get it wrong, but in virtually every detail Wolfe nailed it: the training, the feel of flying high-performance jets, the egos, the wives, the fraternity of hot-shot military aviators. Based on my experience in the Air Force, I’ll stick my neck out and say he nailed the space stuff too.

On that, I’ll quote Scott Kelly again:

I didn’t entirely understand, when I was a kid reading “The Right Stuff” for the first time, that in a sense Tom had invented the idea of the astronaut by writing about the Mercury 7. He taught us how to read their identical crew cuts and enormous wristwatches, their rakish smiles and indomitable swagger, their “Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving,” their endless pool parties at Cape Canaveral, racing their Corvettes along the highway testing their luck and believing themselves (incorrectly) to be “equally gifted in the control of all forms of locomotion.” By the time I became an astronaut myself, the culture had changed — the astronaut corps was more diverse and less debauched, but some of the swagger remained.

Godspeed, Tom Wolfe, and thank you, Scott Kelly.

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Paul’s Book Reviews: Mysteries, Thrillers, Young Adult Sci-Fi

“Out of the blue and into the black is what they called going into a tunnel. Each one was a black echo. Nothing but death in there. But, still, they went.”

—Michael Connelly, The Black Echo


black echoThe Black Echo (Harry Bosch #1)
by Michael Connelly
3_5

In an earlier review, I commented on the differences between Elmore Leonard’s literary character Rayland Givens and the Rayland Givens of “Justified,” the FX television series. Now I feel obliged to comment on the literary and TV versions of Harry Bosch (the TV series, titled “Bosch,” is on Amazon Prime).

I knew the TV Bosch before I met the literary one, but had no trouble adjusting between the two, since TV Bosch is so faithful to literary Bosch. When I read the book, I pictured the actor who plays Bosch on TV. The personalities match. The stories, if I’m not assuming too much from the first novel in the series, generally match. Offhand, I can’t think of another TV series that is so similar to the books that inspired it … “Game of Thrones,” maybe?

“The Black Echo,” the first of 20-some Harry Bosch novels, is a good intro, especially for readers who knew Bosch on TV before they came to the books. It fills in Bosch’s background and explains why he’s considered an outsider in the LAPD. It’s not always necessary, but in general I recommend starting any series of books with the first one.

These are police procedurals, and though the crimes are complex, Connelly doesn’t make their resolution tricky … Bosch unfolds cases methodically, using old-fashioned shoe leather and diligent detective work, and if there are twists, the reader can see them coming a block or two away. I don’t mean to suggest the crime Bosch solves in this novel isn’t exciting … it’s a good read.

In this first novel, Bosch comes across as a bit of a cold fish, a little less sympathetic than his TV counterpart, but I’m assuming his character grows in later novels. Yes, I will continue to read these novels. They’re straightforward and good; LA noir without LA noir’s excesses (like drug addicted or alcoholic protagonists, always a turnoff with me).


never go backNever Go Back (Jack Reacher #18)
by Lee Child
3_5

In this, the 18th Jack Reacher novel, we return to the present day. Reacher finally hitchhikes to the DC suburbs of northern Virginia to meet Major Susan Turner, current commander of the elite MP unit he once led, a journey he started four novels earlier. But he has to wait a little longer, because he’s walked into a minefield sowed by a crooked military cabal, with Turner jailed and inaccessible, and Reacher himself threatened over past transgressions he doesn’t remember. Weirdly, rather than throw him in the brig, the Army puts Reacher back on active duty.

Okay, enough spoilers. You know what happens next, or you should if you’ve read the previous 17 Jack Reacher novels in order. Which I have. I will merely say Reacher doesn’t disappoint. Nor does Susan Turner, once we finally meet her.

Somewhat disappointingly, there’s only one personality to go around between three main characters: Reacher, Turner, and a fourteen-year-old girl named Sam. They are all so much alike one might almost think Lee Child was being a little lazy. They are all Reacher, right down to habitual phrases they utter under stress. That is one small negative mark against this installment.

Speaking of habitual phrases … in an earlier Reacher novel, as the deadline to defuse a terrorist threat neared, Lee Child ended each chapter with a countdown: “twenty-one hours to go,” etc; in another each chapter ended with a variation on “Jack Reacher. Cocked and ready to fire.” In this one, chapters end with Reacher telling himself or others that the odds on the next coin toss are fifty-fifty … but somehow it never is fifty-fifty, because Reacher always guesses right. But you knew that was going to happen.

This novel ends with a standalone short story about the 16-year old Jack Reacher, passing through New York City on his way to visit his older brother Joe, a cadet at West Point. Guess what? Reacher was his fully-formed adult self as a teenager. Once again, one might think Lee Child is being a little lazy.

But all in all, fun times.


personalPersonal (Jack Reacher #19)
by Lee Child
3_5

I have to hand it to Lee Child for having the courage and integrity to be different. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, if I recall correctly, gets laid in every novel. As does every other thriller hero I can think of. Jack Reacher doesn’t, which means he’s not a total stereotype, which means his creator isn’t a total tool.

By now you will have guessed Jack Reacher remains celibate throughout “Personal,” in spite of working with two very eligible women, one of whom at least is his equal in bravery and tradecraft (Travis McGee’s women ran toward the damsel in distress end of the scale, decidedly the weaker sex).

This is another in the Jack Reacher series where he crosses paths with Army brass he used to work for, who send him and a young CIA sidekick to Paris and London, where the story of this novel unfolds. As is the case with most Jack Reacher novels, the story unfolds in a familiar, well-worn manner: Jack stays one step ahead of developing events and is the first to sense that things are not what they appear to be; Jack kicks some righteous ass; Jack zeroes in on the mastermind behind a complex conspiracy; Jack finishes up in a closed room with the mastermind, explaining details the reader may not have fully grasped.

By now, I welcome a new Jack Reacher novel as I would an old friend. Unless it is the odd clunker, the novel comforts me, and I will be sad to reach the end, because as good as most of them are, they’re not good enough to read again.


king zenoKing Zeno
by Nathaniel Rich
3_5

I was struck by how strongly this novel resembles the period novels of Dennis LeHane: “The Given Day,” “Live By Night,” to mention just two. Both authors place their characters in American cities in the early 20th Century, acting out stories in front of a backdrop of historical events. In “King Zeno” the backdrop is New Orleans in 1918, and includes the crossover of jazz music from black society to white society, the devastating Spanish flu epidemic, the mystery of a serial killer (the Axman, who in real life was never caught), and the construction of the very canal that decades later failed and flooded great parts of the city.

The cast of characters includes New Orleans policemen, an up-and-coming jazzman named King Zeno, and the mother and son of a Mafia family trying to become respectable by building the canal. The characters are a blend of fiction and fact: there was no King Zeno, but there was a young Louis Armstrong. The Axman mystery was never solved, but here the axman is identified and killed.

The novel’s a bit of a slow read at the beginning but picks up by the second or third chapter. Some readers may be put off by Rich’s attempt to put period slang in the mouths of his characters (I’m certain the slang is accurate and well-researched, but it’s jarring to hear jazz called jass, as it apparently was in 1918). Others may be put off by a white author trying to write convincing black characters, but I have no issue with that and I think Rich pulls it off reasonably well. His description of the desperate lives of King Zeno and his friends is certainly grim enough, and probably right on the money … they could work only the most menial of jobs, and for almost nothing (jazz, for a lucky few, was about the only avenue of escape).

It’s a good story, somewhat marred by contrivance and melodrama, particularly in the way Nathaniel Rich uses his fictional characters to connect unrelated historical events, giving those characters important roles to play in those events; but even more so by the heavy-handed ending, where all the characters converge in a gruesome climax.


still watersStill Waters (Sandhamn #1)
by Viveca Sten
3_5

A murder mystery set on a small Swedish island not far from Stockholm, nicely translated into English. It has a sort of English summer garden mystery feel (or more precisely a “Midsomer Murders” feel), in that the good guys—Thomas the policeman, the young cops assigned to help him with the murders, and Nora, a childhood friend who helps Thomas solve the case in an amateur way—are Nice with a capital N. The location, a small island Swedes love to visit during the summer, is nice too.

The mystery is nice in that the whodunit is not immediately obvious to the reader; Viveca Sten drops just enough clues so that we’re carried along with Thomas, his fellow cops, and Nora, not getting to the reveal until they do.

The bad guys, of course, are not so nice, and as clues drop an evil conspiracy begins to take shape, but in the end I was surprised. The surprise was not contrived at all, as it is in many mysteries, but organic to the story in a way that holds together, a very human way. And that’s nice too.

Although in the end the crime is solved, Viveca Sten leaves a few things up in the air. What will become of Thomas and Carina? What will Nora do about her asshole of a husband? Is Nora the one Thomas should be with and not Carina? Grist for Sandhamn #2 and beyond.

Overall, though, maybe a little too nice. The book more than held my interest, but I missed the grittiness and depth of other Scandinavian mysteries. Once you’ve read Stieg Larsson, niceness in a Swedish mystery is not what you expect.


thousandth floorThe Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)
by Katharine McGee
2_0

In a recent blog post, Mimi Smartypants recommended some books. Among them was a young adult science fiction title: “The Thousandth Floor.”

Mimi’s been blogging since 1999 (!) and is one of the best & brightest voices on the net, so when she recommends books I pay attention. This one sounded right up my alley. I’ve read some excellent YA sci-fi, and the hook of “The Thousandth Floor,” a literal 1,000-floor residential skyscraper in a future New York City, reminded me of the water-conserving vertical arcologies the wealthy and powerful inhabit in Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Water Knife,” and the community towers built below and above a flooded Manhattan in Kim Stanley Robinson’s “New York 2140.”

The sci-fi hook of “The Thousandth Floor,” however, turns out to be mere backdrop for a teenage romance novel. There’s virtually no exploration of how such a densely-packed tower society might function, what impact gargantuan vertical arcologies would have on surrounding cities and society at large, no speculation on the kind of economy that would make such communities self-sustaining.

Instead we get a pack of idle rich teenaged parasites being petulant and selfish, mooning over who’s sleeping with whom, popping drugs and guzzling alcohol, scheming to do their enemies in. Cecily von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl” kept coming to mind, and I noticed other reviewers had the same reaction.

One positive note, though: Katherine McGee doesn’t make a big deal of her characters’ sexuality (which in at least one case many readers will find shocking); she presents them doing what they do, refreshingly free of negative or cautionary commentary.

For now I’m going to assume Mimi Smartypants had not started reading “The Thousandth Floor” before recommending it. Because I believe we think alike, and I most certainly would not have.


red sparrowRed Sparrow (Red Sparrow Trilogy #1)
by Jason Matthews
0_0

No rating; did not finish.

The opening chapter, describing a CIA agent evading capture on the pre-dawn streets of Moscow, wasn’t half bad. The second chapter, introducing the evil Russian spymaster and his henchman, was so-so.

Then came the third chapter and the introduction of Dominika, the Red Sparrow. I at first hoped Matthews was lampooning the widespread inability of male writers to create convincing female characters, but no, he was demonstrating that very thing.

Another reviewer summed it up: “… virtually every paragraph about the heroine mentions how sexy she is. Then she goes to sex school to really sex up her sexiness.” It got worse with his description of Dimitri, the Russian oligarch in the sexy sparrow’s sights, with lavish details about his brand-name apparel, cigarette lighters, wristwatch—even his French cologne—and his state of horny. As in “Dimitri Ustinov sat across from her, humming with horny.” What really stopped me, though, was Dominika’s “synesthesia,” her ability to read people through astrally-projected colors, which reminded me of a hippie-era movie I once saw where special effects hacks had added fuzzy colored halos around characters to represent their “auras.”

I kind of liked the oddball touch of ending chapters with recipes for meals described therein, as irrelevant to the story as they may have been, but everything else was so awful and shallow and predictable and stereotyped I couldn’t go on.

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Road Trip After-Action Report

We’re back from a weekend in Las Vegas; in addition to visiting with our son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, we picked up a used car from an old friend who wanted to help our daughter Polly out. We and our two dogs drove up together Friday; Monday we drove home in separate cars, one dog riding shotgun in each.

The weekend encompassed Mother’s Day, and Donna had a great one, well deserved. Besides getting to visit the kids, she went out with Beth and Taylor for a manicure and pedicure, topping it off with high tea at a health spa (where they were attacked by a flying patio umbrella, saved only by granddaughter Taylor’s quick reflexes). Gregory and I, meanwhile, took our old friend out to breakfast, then drove the donated car straight to Big O Tires, where it got new rubber and brakes (no such thing as a free car!), then on to Terrible Herbst for a thorough cleaning. Donna said it drove fine on the way home to Tucson, which included freeway speeds up to 80 mph.

Some family photos from the weekend:

IMG_5761

Beth, Gregory, me, Donna

IMG_5785

Our granddaughter Taylor

IMG_5775

Gregory with Polly’s new car

IMG_5766

Three generations: me, Quentin, Gregory

And a few more:

IMG_5751

Admiring my son’s ride

IMG_5781

I raised a smoker, it seems

IMG_5753

Mr. B trying to de-stress

One of our dogs, Maxie, is a Las Vegas veteran, having made the trip several times now. Mr. B, who loves nothing more than riding around town in the truck with me, now has two eight-hour rides under his belt, and I’m delighted to say he’s a good traveler.

He seemed a little stressed over staying in a strange house with other dogs, though. He followed me around Gregory’s house, never leaving my side lest I abandon him there. When I sat on the couch he’d snuggle against my leg so he’d wake up if I made a move. Poor guy. I’m sure that comes from having his first human up & die on him.


Driving home yesterday I kept the radio on Sirius, listening to music, and didn’t check NPR until almost home. That’s when I heard American and Israeli spokesmen blaming Palestinians for killing and injuring themselves by standing in the way of IDF bullets, and how sorry we should feel for the Israeli troops who were forced to shoot them. I listened to Jared Kushner, speaking at the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, describe the dead and wounded—many of them children—as “part of the problem, not the solution.”

It reminded me of all the other times pursed-lip white authority figures have made similar pronouncements over the bodies of unionists, civil rights marchers, slain black people whose only crime was minding their own business when a cop happened to be around, Native Americans who resisted having what little bit of land they had left taken from them for the oil, and a million plus Iraqis murdered for no fucking reason other than George W. Bush wanting to show up his father, and I just want to ask The Man if anything is ever his fault. It’s a broken record; he trots out the same blame-the-victims rhetoric every goddamn time.

No, I don’t have anything enlightened to say about Israel and the Palestinians. Sorry if you were hoping I was leading up to a solution. Not sure there is one.


A guy I haven’t seen in years befriended me this morning on Facebook. The first post of his I saw was an approving link to that New York Times op-ed everyone is making fun of, the one that blames liberals for making Trump’s base deplorable by calling them out on their deplorableness, implicitly arguing they’re only that way out of spite. As if they weren’t a bunch of know-nothing incestuous racists before.

So I commented: “If only someone hadn’t told young Hitler his ideas about Jews were deplorable, the Holocaust would never have happened.” His response? “Bolshevism and Natural Socialism are the two left feet of the far left!”

Natural Socialism? I don’t think this particular Facebook friendship is going to keep on truckin’.

See what I did there?

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It’s All a Racket

War_Is_a_Racket_(cover)Like most Americans, I was raised to believe my country was not corrupt. Of course it is and always has been, because human nature makes corruption inevitable. I’m thinking about corruption in light of news that a Korean aircraft manufacturer paid $150,000 to a shell company set up by Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer. A huge contract is in the offing: the US Air Force plans to spend 16 billion dollars on a new advanced trainer, and the Korean company is one of the bidders.

When you’re talking about 16 billion dollars, 150 grand isn’t even a penny, but what did that 150 grand pay for? Another woman’s silence about a night with Trump? Probably. What else could such a paltry amount buy, when it comes to the movers and shakers who run our country today? A first-term congressman from a small state would kick you out of the office if you offered such an insignificant bribe. But a grateful adulterer in the White House might remember your company when it comes time to award a major defense contract.

In the 1930s, General Smedley D. Butler went around the country giving a speech titled “War is a racket.” The tough old Marine was talking about war profiteering and corruption, but he could equally well have said “Government is a racket.” For decades now, bribery has been the ticket to closed-door meetings with congressmen and senators, who have tweaked the rules to make it legal (you and I can be prosecuted for participating in bribery, but Congress gives its members immunity). Now the presidency has become a pay-to-play operation as well, with Trump and his senior advisers openly in violation of the emoluments clause, asking for and accepting kickbacks, and I fear we’ve passed a tipping point, that one day soon we’ll wake up to realize our government is no different than the one in Ukraine.

In other countries you’re expected to bribe police if they stop you, and to offer a payment in order to get a civil service job. We’re not there yet, but does anyone seriously think Trump would give the slightest shit if government agents further down the pecking order started acting like he does? Has he done anything about his most flagrantly corrupt cabinet appointee, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt? I rest my case.

I worry about this Avenatti guy, who almost overnight has morphed from the attorney representing Stormy Daniels to an unofficial Robert Mueller, uncovering huge financial and bribery scandals involving Michael Cohen and linked to Trump. He won’t say where his information comes from, or how a lawyer working for one single woman suing Trump for trying to silence her could possibly access the financial records and banking details of other lawyers, and lately I see Avenatti’s face on TV every night, seemingly on every news show (indeed, almost a co-host on MSNBC), and I think the whole thing is going to come crashing down.

Not that I don’t want to get the goods on Trump, but when I see Avenatti on TV every night, I see a self-aggrandizing con-man taking full advantage of the moment, no different from the politicians he says he’s trying to take down, and I think his comeuppance will only strengthen Trump.

People get way too excited about Avenatti and Mueller. They’re not going to take down Trump. Trump could kill and eat a baby at this point, and Republicans in Congress will protect him. We have to turn Congress blue in November, then get off our asses again in 2020 to vote Trump out of office. That’s the only way it’s going to happen.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the corruption at the top takes a long time to seep down to our level, and our day-to-day interaction with city and state officials, the DMV, and traffic cops. But if we don’t reverse things over the next two elections, it will.

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The End of the World As We Know It

Facebook challenge posts: gussied-up “pokes” or unsolicited invasions of privacy?

So of course yesterday, when for the first time a friend challenged me and not someone else, I jumped on it with both feet. I’m doing a “seven-day book challenge” thing where you post covers of books you love and, with each post, challenge different friends to do the same.

It’s the last part I hate, the chain mail aspect of it, which I have to believe most of my friends hate as well. Plus, which seven? I’m tempted to give my friends a break and instead challenge Facebook celebs: Stormy Daniels, Crusoe the Dachshund, Sarah Palin (“Which books do you read?” “All of them, Katie!”)


The Upside-Downs who celebrate the unelected president’s cowardice, racism, treason, and overall assholishness at last have a superior moral justification* for abandoning the values civilization is based upon. Such behavior is “very common among celebrities and people of wealth.” Well okay then!

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* “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” —John Kenneth Galbraith


Going back to books, I’ve been posting book reviews on Goodreads since 2011, and for two years before that on Virtual Bookshelf (RIP). But I don’t review every book I read, like for example the ones I rotate in & out of the throne room: short story anthologies, David Sedaris essays, and the like. I have at least a hundred classic science fiction short stories and novellas on my Nook, most of which I read as a teenager and now re-read from time to time: I don’t review those either.

Anyway, I wanted to mention the throne room livre du jour, “The End of the World,” a collection of apocalyptic science fiction stories by generally well-known authors of the 19th and 20th centuries, ranging from Lord Byron to H.P. Lovecraft. I’m halfway through, and so far most of the stories attribute the end of life as we know it to comets and asteroids, though one involved a mad inventor and the unintended consequences of manipulating “ether.”

Then, this morning, this cell phone video greeted me on Twitter:


A grown-ass man in a fucking biker shirt picking a fight with high school students protesting gun violence. Wanna guess who he voted for?

Tell you what, planet-destroying asteroid, you can’t get here quick enough.

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Air-Minded: PASM Photoblog XI

If you follow me on Facebook and Instagram you know I post Pima Air & Space Museum photos every Monday. That’s the day I work at PASM as a volunteer docent, driving and narrating tram tours. Between tours there’s often time to take photos, and if I get enough bars on my iPhone I’ll post them on the spot.

Here are some of my most recent Monday at the Museum photos:

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Fairey AEW Mk. 3 Gannet

Our Gannet shows the effects of sitting outside in the Arizona sun, but it’s still an imposing sight (and my favorite ugly duckling). This was the Royal Navy’s airborne early warning radar version of the Gannet; other versions were used as anti-submarine aircraft.

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Western Electric APS-4 Airborne Search Radar (1943): check out those vacuum tubes!

The APS-4 was a pod-mounted airborne search radar for airborne interception and air-to-surface-vessel applications. It was first used by US Navy F6F Hellcats and F4U-2 Corsairs, later by RAF Mosquitos. Post WWII, it saw service with the Royal Navy and Swedish Air Force. I can’t find any info on its capabilities, but imagine its range was extremely limited, probably in the neighborhood of five miles. I base this on my knowledge of fighter/interceptor aircraft radars of the late 1940s and early 1950s. If any readers know more, I hope they’ll post clarifying comments.

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Vought F4U-4 Corsair

The Corsair, as noted, was one of the aircraft to carry the APS-4 radar during WWII, mounted in an underwing pod. A similar podded radar was fitted to the TBM Avenger, below:

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General Motors TBM-3E Avenger

One of the docents I work with claims his first flight as a Navy aircrewman was on a TBM. Avengers served on with the Navy after WWII in training and carrier onboard delivery capacities, but were retired in the mid-1950s, so I’m a wee bit skeptical. We both agree on one thing, though: the Avenger is enormous, and must have seemed even more so when it was introduced in the early 1940s.

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Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Oscar)

No radar here. Just two nose-mounted machine guns and an iron sight. Agile and fast, it surprised American and allied fighter pilots.

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Korean War adversaries: MiG-15 and F-86 Sabre

When the Sabre and MiG first went on display I wrote a talking paper on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two fighters for my fellow docents. I just got around to posting it here last week, and yesterday revisited the exhibit to take a fresh photo.

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The obligatory Monday museum selfie

When posting Monday at the Museum photos to Facebook and Instagram, I usually include a selfie (because, hey … Facebook & Instagram, am I right?). This is yesterday’s, taken in front of the main entrance. Note the hat: although I wear it religiously, it’s not enough to protect me from the sun … just ask my dermatologist.

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Friday Bag o’ Brimley

brimley bagI’m not going to be coy: my blood sugar started inching up a few years ago; this year it crossed a line and my doctor says I now have type 2 diabetes. At my age I’m probably in for the duration.

It’s totally on me, of course. I couldn’t feel guiltier if, after years of unprotected anal sex, I’d contracted AIDs. I couldn’t feel more shame if I’d gotten hepatitis from mainlining horse with a dirty needle. I judge people whose diseases are the wages of sin. Now you can judge me.

But then I’ve always been one to come down hard on myself for weaknesses of body or mind. The weakness in my case is my love of good food, and, over the past few years, a sweet tooth I never had before.

Time to pay the piper. Diet, medication, exercise. Forty years back, I quit smoking (the hardest physical addiction I’ve ever overcome). Eleven years ago I gave up alcohol (easy by comparison). I can do this too. The good thing is I’ve been losing weight, and other than sore joints (I need to have my second knee replaced) have been feeling great.

TMI? Well, it’s my blog. I don’t do a lot of self-confession here, but I try to be honest.


Donna and I went to the Goldwater Range with a group of air museum docents a couple of weeks ago, where we watched a flight of four F-16s from Luke AFB practice bombing and strafing. The friend who organized the trip took some great photos, far better than mine. I’ll share two here:

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Nickel Two on a strafing pass (100 rounds per second coming out of the gun, and one is visible if you look hard)

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Our group in front of the range tower (Donna and I are on the right, last row)

There were outdoor speakers on the range tower and we were able to listen to radio calls between the F-16 pilots and the range officer. The Vipers, out of Luke AFB in Phoenix, used the “Nickel” callsign, the same one I used when I flew 555th TFS “Triple Nickel” F-15s on the same range in 1978. The 555th left Luke for Aviano AB in Italy in the 1990s, but it remains a part of Luke AFB’s legacy, which must be why they still use the callsign. I’m pretty certain the pilot in my friend’s photo, above, is Nickel Two, the one female pilot in the flight. Kinda hard to tell with the helmet and mask, though.


I sat down at 7:00 AM to check Google News for the latest headlines. Now it’s 8:30 and I haven’t walked Mr. B yet. Here he is yesterday, smelling the flowers. Such a refined gentleman.

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Wild rosemary grows everywhere in our neighborhood, and he loves to sniff that, too.


Much as I hate the Kims and the horror dystopia they’ve created in North Korea, I’m (naively?) encouraged by yesterday’s meeting between Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in. Bootlickers are already talking up a Nobel for Trump, who as far as I can see is piggybacking on something started by North and South Korea (and encouraged by China) months ago, but bootlickers gonna do what they do, and I’m trying to keep an even keel here at Paul’s Thing, so I’ll just say this: fuck Trump.


One of our dearest friends retires today and we’re having her over for dinner. I’m making Salade Niçoise with ingredients I bought yesterday: Boston lettuce, small potatoes, tuna, Greek olives, anchovies, Roma tomatoes, green beans, hard boiled eggs, and a vinaigrette. If I skimp on the potatoes, dinner should be well within the parameters of my new diet. But here I am thinking of myself when I should be thinking of our friend, finally able to enjoy the fruits of her lifelong labors. Congratulations, Mary Anne!

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