Paul’s Thing

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May 2016
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You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.
trump reading
YCRT! News
In the last YCRT! I mentioned a Canadian comedian who is being investigated by a Quebec human rights commission over a joke. Well, get a load of this: a German comedian is being prosecuted for mocking Turkish President Erdogan. And no, not in Turkey, but in Germany. His prosecution was authorized by no less a figure than German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In Battle Creek, Michigan, a substitute teacher was terminated for uttering the word “vagina.”
Good news from Northville, Michigan, where parents had challenged the use of Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye in a 12th grade AP English class. The school district, after review, is keeping the novel in the AP curriculum.
Contrast this with the actions of the school district in Henning, Minnesota, where after a single parental complaint about the graphic novel This One Summer, the book was summarily removed from the school library. The difference? The Michigan school district has a formal policy to follow when books and study materials are challenged. The Minnesota district doesn’t.
In Rainier, Oregon, copies of It’s Perfectly Normal, a children’s book being used in a 6th grade sex education class, were inadvertently left on a table in the school library where they were seen by 4th grade students. Parents are now challenging it and other books used in the sex ed curriculum.
From the excellent Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge blog, an essay on the first book to be banned in America, Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan, published in 1637.
The American Library Association has released its list of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2015. Topping the list is John Green’s young adult novel Looking for Alaska, frequently mentioned in previous YCRT! posts.
Looking for Alaska has lately been under siege in Marion County, Kentucky, where a parent described it as “filth” in a formal complaint, saying assigning it to high school students would encourage them “to experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol and profanity.” Local book banners didn’t just want Looking for Alaska removed from the high school curriculum and library, they wanted the 12th grade teacher who assigned it fired. After a contentious school board meeting, at which teachers, librarians, and outside anti-censorship groups testified in favor of the novel, the board elected to keep Looking for Alaska in the curriculum.
In honor of this small but important victory, I’ll conclude this YCRT! post with my previously-published review of Looking for Alaska, along with a recently-released video recorded by the author, John Green.
YCRT! Banned Book Review
Looking for Alaska
by John Green
From a previous YCRT! post:
“’How can I raise my child in a Christian home when he is required to read about this?’ That’s what a parent said about John Green’s young adult novel Looking for Alaska. The local paper described it as a book about ‘kids gone wild with porn, sex, drugs, alcohol, and death at a boarding school.’ Sadly, the school board took the book off the required reading list for AP English.”
Looking for Alaska is a coming-of-age story, one of the best YA novels I’ve read in a long time. Published in 2005, it won multiple awards for fiction and youth fiction, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Printz Award. It’s on advanced placement English reading lists in high schools all over the country, and is exactly the kind of book intelligent teenagers want to read. Not only that, it’s the kind of book intelligent teenagers will recommend to their friends. It’s about them, after all. It captures perfectly the intensity of their inner lives, their allegiance to friends, their curiosity about the world, their first adventures into adult pleasures and vices … including, of course, sex.
The story is narrated by Miles, aka Pudge, a loner who transfers to a private Alabama boarding school. For the first time in his life he finds himself among like-minded kids, bonding with a small group of male and female students who share his love of reading and curiosity about life. He begins to share in their more adventuresome activities, including smoking, drinking, sneaking out at night, and pulling memorable pranks.
John Green gave Looking for Alaska an interesting structure. The climax of the book—the kids’ devastating introduction to the starkest adult experience of all, the death of a beloved friend—happens in the middle. Miles’ narrative, which reads like a diary, counts down to the climax with chapter titles like “One Hundred Days Before,” then climbs up from there with later chapters like “Fifty Days After.”
Looking for Alaska is beautifully written. Even as a 65-year-old reader I felt the tug of wonder and anticipation I once felt as a teenager—and I too fell in love with Alaska. That’s good writing.
So what’s the deal with parents wanting this book banned? Referring back to the newspaper article I linked to above, that particular school district notifies parents ahead of time what books students will read in advanced placement English classes. Books with mature themes are supposed to be asterisked so that parents can notify teachers if they want their children to read other books instead. In this case, Looking for Alaska was not asterisked, and parents did not know ahead of time their kids would be reading a book that mentions blow jobs.
Okay, I can see that. I read the book, and there is indeed a short passage about a blow job. If I had a 12- or 13-year-old, I’d probably squirm if I knew he or she was reading this book. Older kids, though, like the high school students in question? No problem, at least with me. There’s nothing erotic or pornographic about that brief passage, and oh by the way do you remember what your and your friends obsessed about back in high school? I’m willing to bet cigarettes, booze, and sex—especially sex—were as high on your list as they were on mine.
But it’s not just one school district, or one group of outraged parents. Looking for Alaska has been challenged again and again, all around the country, whether or not parents had the option to choose other books. Conservative book-banning sites like do their best to whip up religious groups and concerned parents, misleadingly conflating the mere mention of sex with pornography, then taking the lie one step further by claiming that pornography is being forced upon innocent 12-year-olds by subversive teachers.
I’m going to insert here part of another reader’s review of Looking for Alaska, a school librarian with direct experience of one of many attempts to ban the book.

The media specialist that I worked with purchased this book for the middle school library. The library lady (at-the-time) was fanning through the book, when the words “blow-job” jumped off the page and slapped her in the face! From there it just spiraled out-of-control and the book was scanned for every “f” word and sexual act that could be found. Needless to say a big book cleaning (banning) took place and a group of closed-minded people were able to remove 60 books from the library. All of these left the shelf without going through any proper consideration. I have the list of books. I’ve been reading them a few at a time. I’ve been slowly adding some of them back to the library, but this time they are flagged in the system. A permission slip with information about the book is printed out and signed before a student can check out any “objectionable” book. I have no respect for the media specialist, (he no longer works for the school … yippee). He never fought for any of the books but even more important, he had no idea what he was ordering. I would NOT put this book in the middle school, but it did not stop me from allowing my 13 year-old son to read this before me.

Here is John Green himself, discussing Looking for Alaska and some of the many attempts to ban it:


Road Trip Photoblog

Last Thursday Donna and I loaded the truck and trailer and drove to Las Vegas for a long weekend with the kids and grandkids. Polly didn’t come with us, so not all the kids (we did bring the doggies along, though).


Loaded up

In the truck, out of sight, are our first bicycles, the matching hybrids we started out with ten years ago, on their way to a new home with our son and daughter in law. The motorcycle? Well, duh … it was the weekend of the annual River Run in Laughlin, Nevada, and my son and I planned to participate. For me, it was mostly a motorcycling vacation; for Donna, a chance to see our family and do a little sewing with Beth.

The trip up was fantastic, an eight-hour drive through some of the prettiest parts of Arizona and southern Nevada. The new trailer was great, rock solid under tow, the anchor points and ramp a perfect match for the Goldwing. The dogs, as always, were excited to go, and once we got to the kids’ house they fit right in with their other family.


Doggie potty break in Wickenburg AZ



Dinner with Gregory, Quentin, and Beth

Gregory picked up his rental BMW Friday. We planned to ride to Laughlin Saturday, the last official day of the River Run, but it rained heavily until two in the afternoon, too late to ride down. We rode out to Blue Diamond and Red Rock late in the afternoon, and had to ride home in a heavy downpour as the last big thunderstorm cell passed over Las Vegas.


Gregory giving Quentin a ride on the BMW

Luckily, Gregory was able to extend the BMW rental through Sunday, which turned out to be a perfect day for our ride. We left Las Vegas early, stopped for breakfast at the little airport-slash-casino at Cal-Nev-Ari, then rode over the hill into Laughlin.


Admiring a Piper Tri-Pacer at Cal-Nev-Ari

Although River Run was officially over, there were still plenty of motorcyclists on the road and in town, even a few vendors still open for business. I looked at a leather vest, hoping to find a steal, but when I put my hand in the pocket there was a hole in it and it dawned on me for perhaps the millionth time you get what you pay for. Gregory bought a sleeveless biker shirt, the only one he could find that didn’t have a Harley on it. Oh, did I mention out of the hundreds of motorcycles we saw on the roads in and out of Laughlin, all but three were Harleys, and two of the three were our own rides?


Gregory with his swag in Laughlin NV

Here’s a short GoPro video of us leaving Laughlin:

5_1_16_4 (Converted)

We rode home via Searchlight, Nevada, then down the hill to Nipton, California. From Nipton we took I-15 back into Nevada and Las Vegas. A nice day’s ride.


Hotel Nipton



Nipton Trading Post

While we were riding Donna and Beth went out for manicures, then did some sewing together. Now Beth is talking about coming down to do a little more sewing with Donna, and our grandson Quentin is starting to plan his summer visit. We got to spend some time with our granddaughter Taylor, and even had a lovely dinner with her, which is rare since she works odd hours at a local gym. I wish Polly had been able to come with us. It would have been nice to have our entire family together again, at least for an updated photo. Well … maybe this summer.

Poor Schatzi got into her host dogs’ food the first night and ate so much she was bloated and listless the entire time we were in Las Vegas. She perked up when it was time to drive home, and now she’s fine. Next time we’ll make her wear a muzzle!


Schatzi suffering from gluttony

The drive home on Monday? Every bit as great as the drive up. Gregory helped me get the motorcycle on the trailer and we were on the road by eight. The doggies are veterans of the Tucson-Las Vegas run and sense when we’re getting near our favorite rest stops.


Donna, Gregory, Buc, and Piper

We’re home now and everything has been put away. Our dogs love to go on road trips, but they love being home again even more, and I guess we’re a lot like them. Donna’s gone to the commissary to stock up on food, Polly is working in the garden, and I’m about to wash the rain and road grime off the Goldwing.

If you want to see more photos and videos, visit my photostream on Flickr. p.s. I didn’t bring the big DSLR on this trip … all the photos were taken with my iPhone.


Definitely Something

mosescharltonhestonOn Monday, one of the other air museum docents told me we had Amish visitors. I said something like “Really? Amish?” and he said, “Well, they’re definitely something. Maybe they’re Mormons.” I was bemused. Don’t the Amish consider museums frivolous? And unless a pair of them in neckties show up at your front door, how do you know you’re in the presence of Mormons?

I figured it out when I walked from the volunteer office to the main hangar. Our “definitely somethings” were Orthodox Jews: men in dark suits with beards and sidelocks, modestly-dressed women with headscarves. The men also wore religious garments, none of which I could name (but which I looked up later: kippah, tallit, tzitzit).

The head of one family, with his wife and children gathered round, engaged me with questions about the museum and some of the exhibits. I was going to ask where he was from, but didn’t. Probably Tucson, because in past years I’ve seen other Orthodox families, dressed the same, walking to services at local synagogues and the JCC, and now that I think about it, usually in the spring. Well, yeah … it’s Passover, which this year is celebrated from April 22nd to the 30th.

If we know so little of other religions, is it any wonder we’re confused about transgenderism as well? Would I recognize a trans person? I think probably I would, but maybe not. Do I know any trans people? I don’t think so. Obviously I’m not qualified to offer opinions on the subject, which means of course I’m going to.

In the past I’ve made fun of social progressives who say it’s silly to worry about straight men posing as women to invade women’s toilets, showers, and changing rooms. This in spite of regular news reports of straight men hiding under outhouses, drilling holes through restroom walls, setting up concealed cameras and two-way mirrors in locker rooms and showers. Of course they’re gonna try dressing up as women to perv in the women’s room, if they haven’t already.

I’ve also tried to understand the concerns of social conservatives. I think a key reason for the current bathroom hysteria is that so few of us know any trans people. The only trans people we’ve ever seen are the “shemales” featured on porn sites, and if that’s what transgenderism is I can understand the hysteria!

Are there real trans people? People who live as the other sex but who are not predators or perverts? Sure there are. No one knows how many, but a guess is around 700,000 in the USA alone, about the population of Washington DC. Some are trans men, some are trans women. They exhibit the same range of sexual behavior as non-trans men and women. Most trans people, I gather, do not undergo sexual reassignment surgery, but in all other respects live as the gender they psychologically are.

When it comes to public restrooms, most of us would never know if a trans person was in the adjacent stall. As for showers and changing rooms, I’d be very surprised if there’s a single trans woman … a woman with a penis, if all this coded language has you confused … who wants to shower or change in the open with other women, or vice-versa. I don’t think trans people are any kind of threat, in any setting.

The guys who hide under outhouses, peek through holes, and conceal cameras? They’re the threat. They’re not trans people, they’re garden-variety pervs and peeping toms. What are the odds of falling victim to one of them? Far higher, I think, than the odds of ever having any kind of problem with a trans person.

Prince is still all over Twitter and Facebook, so I’ll add to what I said earlier. I was dismayed to learn he had an addiction and probably died because of it, but there are people out there who reacted to Prince’s death by reveling in reports he died of an opiate overdose, and that’s different.

Most of that reaction is racist. The holier-than-thou types are quick to call Prince a junkie, but they never said a thing about Rush Limbaugh’s oxycontin addiction. Some of the negative reaction, though, is the result of being told all our lives that drug addiction is evil, and that being addicted to opiates is the ultimate form of human depravity. And now we expect everyone raised with these values and beliefs not to say anything when famous people die from drug abuse? It doesn’t work that way, certainly not in the USA, where we’re also raised to believe everyone is equal.

I’m a boomer. My musical tastes were formed before Prince broke onto the scene, so I’ll admit I didn’t fully get his music or style. But I know millions loved him, and I respect that. I’m sorry he’s gone. I’m dismayed at how he went.

It’s time I did some work outside. We’re driving to Las Vegas tomorrow to spend a few days with our son, daughter in law, and grandchildren. I’m bringing the motorcycle so that Gregory and I can ride to Laughlin for the annual River Run on Saturday (he’s renting a bike in Vegas). So as soon as I’m done here I’m going to hook up the trailer, put the motorcycle on it, and get it all strapped down for the trip … we want to drive away first thing in the morning. When we get to Vegas we’ll leave the trailer and motorcycle at the kids’ house and drive the truck to our hotel. Oh, we’re bringing the dogs too. They’ll stay at Greg’s, where there are two other dogs (that hotel is looking better all the time). Polly’s staying home with the cats.

So. Time to wrestle with the trailer and motorcycle. Don’t know if I’ll be able to blog again until we get home, but I’ll post updates and photos to Facebook and Twitter. See you soon.


Saturday Bag o’ Tweets

twitter bagI tweeted Rachel Maddow last night. She’d just run a segment on John Kasich opposing statehood for the District of Columbia because DC voters are Democrats. It was kind of funny that Kasich would come right out and say so, and made me think of my father’s one-man battle to have the mule named the Missouri state animal: my dad wasn’t the first Missourian to propose the mule, which had in the past been opposed by Republicans in the state legislature worried that people would confuse it with the donkey, symbol of the Democratic Party. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. My dad, by the way, ultimately succeeded.

But back to Rachel and my tweet. Yes, her segment on Kasich and DC statehood was funny, but I know from experience there’s more to it than that. What I said to her was “Dem congressmen are against DC statehood too, Rachel.” Naturally, Rachel didn’t respond, nor did I expect her to. But someone who describes him- or herself as a DC statehood supporter and reporter did, eventually at great length (30 responses and counting). By saying what I said I branded myself as a pro-tyranny, anti-democracy liar, a malicious disenfranchiser of DC, a picker of the “Jim Crow side of history.” I particularly relish my opponent’s last two shots:

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 1.50.08 PM

Here’s the thing, though: the District of Columbia is a company town, and the company is Congress. The Constitution, in Article I, Section 8, Clause 17, sets it up that way: “The Congress shall have Power To … exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such Dis­trict (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Con­gress, become the Seat of the Gov­ernment of the United States. …”

Which basically means Congress runs DC, and it runs DC in such a way as to protect its interests and to its own benefit. I learned about all this in the 1980s, when I spent a lot of time at the Pentagon. While I was there I learned about a thing called United States Army Military District of Washington, which directly benefits from the fact that DC is a protectorate of Congress, and is kind of a Mini-Me to Congress.

There’s a lot of vested interest behind keeping DC under the control of Congress, not only among Republican legislators but Democrats as well. The way my Pentagon buds explained it to me, if the District of Columbia were to become independent or be granted statehood, its citizens would inevitably begin to vote in favor of their own interests, and thus against the interests of Congress. What Congressman, in either party, would ever countenance such a thing?

True, there have been DC statehood movements and proposals in Congress, all backed by Democrats (never Republicans). A bill granting statehood to DC passed the Senate in 2009 with a 67% vote. The Democrats were the majority party at the time, and I think they all voted in favor. The bill was, of course, filibustered and defeated by the Republicans. What I’m saying is, it was safe for Democratic senators then to support the statehood bill, because they knew the Republicans would filibuster it. If the world ever turns upside down and a majority Republican Senate passes a DC statehood bill, I’m willing to bet the Democrats will reverse themselves overnight and filibuster it.

So what else am I in trouble for? Having negative feelings about the death of a pop star who, it is beginning to emerge, died either from complications of an earlier opiate overdose or possibly from a subsequent OD. I wouldn’t say anything outright condemnatory about Prince, who is literally mourned by millions, but even mentioning drugs in connection with a beloved-celebrity death has become an implied slam, evidence of a negative outlook on life, an anti-social act.

Strange how a drug addiction everyone I know would be utterly frantic over if it were happening to a son, daughter, spouse, parent, or friend, is all oh-let’s-move-on-we-don’t-talk-about-that-sort-of-thing when it’s a celebrity or an entertainer. To my mind, that’s some horribly classist thinking.

Obviously it’s time to lighten up here at Paul’s Thing. To that end, I rode down to Park Mall this morning to watch a regional police motor officer competition. Here’s a short iphone video of some of the shenanigans going on today:

IMG_0392There were solo competitions, slow riding contests, events involving two- and four-ship formations of motorcycles, even an event where two motorcycle officers had to ride side by side, tied together with a length of string. Points off for putting a foot down or dumping your bike. It was a total hoot, and hundreds of people came out to watch and cheer. Police motorcycle teams came from as far away as Albuquerque and Las Vegas, and of course cities and towns all over Arizona.

Harley-Davidson, interestingly, no longer dominates police fleet sales, not by a long shot: there were easily over a hundred motorcycles there today and only three or four were Harleys. The new favorite appears to be a toss-up between three other brands: Victory (which you see in the video above), BMW, and Honda. I saw a few Kawasakis as well, but I think they were older ones, no longer in production.

IMG_0391 copy


IMG_0375 copy


IMG_0382 copy


IMG_0378 copy

Lonely Harleys

It was good to mix it up with fit, motivated young men in uniform (I purposely pretended not to see the few very overweight motor officers in attendance) … I felt the same way about flying fighters for the USAF back in the day … and now I’m lusting for a pair of those over-the-calf black leather boots.


Air-Minded: Cookin’ with Gas

fuel gaugeOne day in 1978, while learning to fly the F-15 at Luke AFB, I was out on a basic fighter maneuvers training sortie with an instructor in another Eagle. BFM is dogfighting: you go at each other, trying to get on the other jet’s tail in order to gun it down. We’d been fighting for what I thought had been only a few minutes when my instructor radioed “check fuel.” I glanced at the gauge and saw I was below bingo … considerably below.

Bingo is the amount of fuel needed to safely return to home base, and varies depending on the distance to the base and whether you need an extra pad of fuel if the weather’s iffy and you might have to divert to an alternate. Since it was a beautiful day and our working area was just 40 nautical miles from Luke, bingo that day was around 2,500 pounds* of fuel remaining. I was down to less than 2,000. Another minute or so with both engines in full afterburner and I’d have flamed out. My life flashed before my eyes. I yanked the throttles to idle and called “knock it off, two’s bingo.”

If I remember correctly, min fuel for the F-15 was 1,500 pounds, and that’s a number that doesn’t change. If you’re in the landing pattern when you hit 1,5o0 pounds, you’re supposed to declare min fuel and tower is supposed to give you priority to land. If you hit emergency fuel while still airborne, 800 pounds, you’re supposed to declare an emergency and tower has to clear you to land immediately.

I landed with a little less than emergency fuel. I shut one engine down as I exited the runway to make sure I’d make it all the way back to the chocks. The jet was so light the landing gear struts were fully extended, and when I stepped off the crew ladder I almost fell on my ass because there was an extra foot of air between the bottom of the ladder and the ramp. My heart had been in my mouth all the way back. I never declared min or emergency fuel. I never told my instructor how badly I’d misjudged my fuel state. I haven’t told anyone until now. It was a vivid learning experience, one of those things you never forget, and you can bet I never did anything like that again.

When you’re flying fighters, or any kind of aircraft, fuel is everything. You have to know not only how much fuel you have remaining at any time, you have to know how far you can go on it and how much you’ll need if things turn to shit and you have to divert. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a short training flight in the local area or part of a multi-jet package flying a long overseas deployment with air refueling tankers as escorts, fuel is never far from your mind.

F-15 fuel diagram

F-15 fuel system diagram

The F-15’s fuel system is pretty simple. The C model, which I mostly flew, carries about 13,500 pounds of fuel internally. As you fly, fuel is transferred from tank to tank by boost pumps, always back toward the rearmost tanks, the ones that directly feed the engines. If you take off with just internal fuel, the wing tanks run dry first, then tank 1, and when you get down to just the fuel remaining in the feed tanks it’s probably time to land.

Usually, though, F-15s carry additional fuel in external tanks. The jet can carry up to three external tanks, two on underwing pylons and one on a centerline pylon. Each tank holds 600 gallons, or about 3,900 pounds of fuel. In my day we generally flew with a centerline tank, bringing our total fuel load up to 17,500 pounds. Today it’s more common to carry two wing tanks, bringing total fuel up to over 21,000 pounds. When you deploy you carry all three external tanks and take off with a fuel load of over 25,000 pounds. The external tanks are pressurized, the wing tanks slightly more than the centerline, so that the wing tanks run dry first, then the centerline, and only then do you start to empty the internal tanks. Pilots call external tanks bags, and an Eagle with three external tanks is called a three-bagger. External tanks can be jettisoned for combat, of course.

clean f-15C

Clean F-15C (no external tanks)


F-15C w/3 external tanks

You don’t see it that often, but the air-to-air F-15C can also carry conformal fuel tanks, those long canoe-like blisters you see on either side of the air-to-ground F-15E Strike Eagle’s fuselage, just below the wings. Each CFT carries 4,900 pounds of fuel. Strike Eagles always fly with CFTs, and occasionally external fuel tanks as well, but the Eagle usually does not. Still, it can, and F-15C squadrons sometimes load them so that maintenance can practice putting them on and taking them off, and for pilots to get the feel of flying with them (they fly great, by the way). A full load of fuel in an Eagle with CFTs and no external tanks is over 23,000 pounds.

F-15C with CFTs

Loading CFTs on an F-15C

keflavik F-15C with CFTs

F-15C w/CFTs

Both types of F-15, the single-seat air-to-air Eagle and the two-seat air-to-ground Strike Eagle, can be loaded with CFTs and external fuel tanks. For either airplane, this results in a fuel load of over 35,000 pounds (if you’re curious, that’s 5,400 gallons), and that, combined with the 28,000 pound dry weight of the F-15C Eagle, brings its total gross weight up to 63,000 pounds (the Strike Eagle, considerably heavier to begin with, would weigh even more). That much weight, while technically within limits, puts a hell of a strain on the landing gear, so when configured with CFTs and three external tanks, standard practice is to take off with the external wing tanks empty to keep weight down, and not take on a full fuel load until airborne and hooked up to an air-refueling tanker.


Israeli Strike Eagle (Ra’am) w/CFTs & external tanks

Whether you’re flying a clean jet with no external tanks, or a fully loaded three-bagger with CFTs, what kind of mission you’re going to fly determines how long you can stay airborne. If you’re just ferrying your jet from point A to point B, flying at a speed that gives you max range, you can fly a hell of a long way. If you’re going out to fly BFM and you’re going to be at full grunt during each engagement (and there’s no air refueling tanker available), you might be landing 45 minutes later. Those afterburners burn fuel at an amazing rate.

I won’t pretend to know what Strike Eagle aircrews do on a typical training sortie, but the day-to-day peacetime mission of the Eagle is training for aerial combat. You fly to a working area and fight, most of the time in full afterburner. The typical F-15C combat training sortie lasts from an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half. Of course whenever air refueling tankers are available you top up between engagements, and missions are correspondingly longer. If your working area is close to the home drome and the weather is good, you can set your bingo bug (a pointer on the fuel gauge that triggers an audio warning when the needle gets down that low) at 2,000 or 3,000 pounds of fuel remaining. If, as when I was based at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, the working areas are 100-200 nautical miles away and divert bases even farther, bingos were often up around 8,000 pounds.

Every time I flew an overseas deployment, our Eagles were configured with three external tanks. We’d join on a cell of KC-135 or KC-10 tankers at a point along the route where we still had enough fuel left to get back to where we started if the tankers weren’t there, or if there were problems with the tankers passing gas. After we took turns topping up, the tankers would then stay with us to within a few hundred nautical miles from our destination. On a typical flight from Europe to the USA, we’d each refuel five times and the flight would take about 10 hours. Without air refueling, I once flew a three-bagger from Holloman AFB in New Mexico to Langley AFB in Virginia and landed with plenty of fuel remaining. Flying with CFTs or external tanks, making it all the way from California to New York without air refueling would be a stretch, but you could easily do it with CFTs and external tanks.

Fuel is relative, depending on what you’re doing with it and how far you have to go, but it is never not important. When you’re flying, it’s not like you can take the next exit and gas up, or let the tank run dry and coast to a stop on the side of the road. Speed is life? True, if you’re flying fighters. But fuel is life, always, no matter what you fly.

*Military and large commercial aircraft measure fuel in pounds, not gallons. The reason, I’m told, is accuracy. The mass and volume of a given amount of fuel changes with pressure and temperature, but not its weight. At the altitudes and temperatures where jet aircraft operate, gallons are a less accurate measurement of fuel remaining than pounds.


Tuesday News & Linkage

The morning routine: our critters get us up at 5 AM, whining for their breakfast. Donna gets up with them to start the coffee. Once they’ve eaten and taken their morning potty break, they join Donna for some lap time. I want to emphasize that this is not a posed photo. It’s what I see every morning (I did agree not to show Donna’s morning face, on pain of death).


Ever since I started volunteering at the air museum, I’ve been a Wednesday guy. Now, since so many snowbird volunteers are going home for the summer, Monday is undermanned and I’ve been asked to switch days. I know all the Wednesday people, but the Monday folks, so far, are strangers. Yesterday, riding in for my new Monday shift, I passed another guy on a Goldwing. At a certain point on the way to the museum, down by the Air Force boneyard, there are only so many places traffic can be going. The guy on the other Wing was still a few car lengths back, and by then I’d figured out he must be a Monday volunteer too. Sure enough, we pulled into the staff parking lot together and had a nice chat about our bikes. Sadly, he’s a snowbird too, and yesterday was his last day before going back north for the summer. I won’t see him again until November. Too bad … there are plenty of Harley guys in this town, but not many Wingers. Maybe I’ll be able to ride with him next winter.

I’m still tweaking the new bicycle. So far I’ve gone through two handlebar stems, trying to get the bar a little higher. It’s not yet as high as it needs to be: I can ride comfortably for a mile or so, but then I have to sit up straight for a while, with just my fingertips on the handgrips. The next step will probably be a different handlebar. I replaced the pedals with a set I found online ($80 at the bike shop, $25 on Amazon) and am really happy with them. Even wearing bike shoes, my feet were slipping off the stock pedals, but they slip no more. I got a good ride in with some friends on Sunday.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to keep the bicycle from being stolen. After Sunday’s ride we went to a local pub for lunch. I secured the bike to the rack on our truck with a cable lock threaded through the frame and front wheel, then a U-lock clamped to the frame and rack, with an additional cable threaded through the U-lock, rear wheel, and saddle. Not to mention the lock securing the bike rack to the trailer hitch, so they can’t walk off with the whole kit & caboodle.


I parked the trunk as close to the pub’s front door as I could, and got up twice during lunch to go check on it. “This is ridiculous,” I kept thinking. When I got home I posted this photo to Facebook. My friends scoffed at my feeble attempt to defeat the thieves. Cables don’t stand up to bolt cutters, they said, and even U-locks aren’t much of a deterrent. They want me to buy an expensive chain made of unobtanium, but I’m on a budget and it’s going to have to wait.

I probably won’t watch the New York primary tonight. Same old same old, talking heads yammering about numbers. I’m sure the instant CNN calls the winner it’ll be on all channels, no matter what else I might be watching. Maybe the safest thing’ll be to turn off the TV altogether and have a reading night.

By the way, I find it dispiriting to see so many friends on the left going after Hillary Clinton with the same lies and slanders wielded by Republicans lo these many years. I hope she does well tonight. #I’mWithHer, as the kids on Twitter say.

Last week a Facebook friend linked to a gossip column item about an anti-Planned Parenthood politician whose 16-year-old daughter is pregnant. My friend’s intent was to expose a right-wing hyprocrite, and I get that: perhaps the politician will have the decency to shut up now. But damn, by naming the politician, whoever wrote the gossip column—and all the people who gleefully linked to it on Facebook and Twitter—also named the daughter. Any slut-shaming troll who wants to make that girl’s life miserable can now look her up in the phone book or on social media. I’m pretty sure no mom or dad who has a daughter would ever post a link like that, and I’m certainly not going to share it here. Besides, by now can’t we all safely assume any Republican politician is a hyprocrite, and likely some kind of pervert, when it comes to sex?

And then there’s this: John Kasich Prompts Firestorm after Telling Female Student Not to Go to Parties Where There’s a Lot of Alcohol. I do not think John Kasich is a “nice guy.” He’s an anti-woman religious zealot, no different from Ted Cruz, eager to impose his brand of Sharia law on the rest of us. But look, anyone who pretends college drinking isn’t a huge problem, who refuses to acknowledge the direct link between drinking and campus rapes and assaults, is either working for the liquor industry or willfully ignorant. What Kasich told that student was what any father would tell his daughter. It came across as talking down, and that’s unfortunate. He could have made the same point without seeming to insult women who are concerned about sexual assault. But as much as I dislike the man, I can’t fault him for speaking the truth.

Here’s an article that should be passed around: Trucks Are Getting More Dangerous and Drivers Are Falling Asleep at the Wheel. Thank Congress. My first post-military job was as a traveling flight safety instructor, driving to USAF bases all over the western USA in an RV converted into a mobile classroom. I was nodding off at the wheel all the time, frightened I’d kill myself and the other instructor who traveled with me. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I started nodding off at the desk job I’d moved on to, that I went in for a sleep study and discovered I had sleep apnea. I look at truckers today and see me a few years back. Accidents involving big trucks don’t get the attention they should from the media, probably because of industry pressure. If you drive on an interstate with heavy truck traffic, as I do when I travel between Tucson and Phoenix on I-10, you really need to keep an eye on trucks and buses … they work the hell out of those drivers, who don’t make money if they don’t cheat on the rest rules.

I’m starting to work on an Air-Minded article about the F-15 Eagle’s fuel system. I’ve got my Dash-1 out and have uploaded some relevant photos to Flickr. What I’m saying is goodbye for now … there’s work to do!


Friday Bag o’ the Beast

beastbagAs cynical and jaded as I’ve become, headlines like this still induce rage: A Black Man Brought 3 Forms of ID to the Polls in Wisconsin. He Still Couldn’t Vote.

As a boy, my sense of justice was acute. I threw tantrums when I thought mom or dad treated me unfairly. Apparently I’ve never gotten past that. Knowing elected officials are turning people they dislike away from the polls makes me want to throw bricks and Molotov cocktails. You talk about injustice, voter suppression is injustice in its purest form.

Whether it’s Republican-controlled Phoenix reducing the number of polling places from 200 to 60 for the recent presidential primaries, or red states setting voting ID hurdles impossibly high for poor, student, and minority citizens, it’s fundamentally unfair. It goes against every value we hold dear as Americans. It’s wrong.

How can we ensure every adult American gets a vote? National ID.

Some say national ID is the Mark of the Beast and will bring on end times. Such people are idiots. Some say national ID would encourage massive voter fraud. Such people are Republicans, and they are motivated by racism. Some say national ID would result in every one of us being part of a government database, subject to constant monitoring. Such people have a point, but that train left the station a long time ago.

We’re on our way to national ID with something called Real ID. These are state-issued driver licenses and ID cards that comply with federal Real ID standards (all but nine states currently comply). The next step, to my mind, is a federal law that says if you have a Real ID driver license or identity card, it will be your national ID. It’ll be all you need for proof of identity, for any purpose. Once you go through the hoops necessary to obtain that national ID, you can put your birth certificate away … you’re done with it. Every child born in the USA from this point on should receive a national ID along with a Social Security number; those of us already alive should only have to register once.

The whole idea of American citizenship is that every citizen is enfranchised and equal before the law. When every citizen has some form of national ID, and all cities, counties, and states are required to honor it, there’ll be no more bullshit voter ID requirements.

National ID, along with motor voter registration and voting by mail, would put an end to other un-American Republican tricks, such as closing polling places in poor and minority neighborhoods. I was furious when I saw those photos of mile-long lines of people waiting to vote in Phoenix a few weeks ago, but at the same time I couldn’t help wondering why those folks hadn’t registered to vote by mail, as any Arizonan easily can. I’ve voted by mail in every election since 2008, and it works like a charm.

Let me just add one more thing to this discussion: one of my middle names, Quentin, is spelled “Quinten” on my birth certificate. On my driver license and military ID it’s spelled “Quentin.” Why? Because when I apply for different forms of ID I spell it right. On several occasions I’ve had to prove my citizenship by showing my birth certificate along with other forms of ID … to join the USAF, to go to college, to get a VA home loan, to get a passport … and no one has ever said “Hey, it says here you’re Quinten, but here it says you’re Quentin. Get out, you vile imposter!”

I’m white. The guy in Wisconsin is black. Any questions?


Breaking In the Bike; Monetizing the Blog

IMG_0275This weekend: breaking in the new bicycle. Yesterday I rode through the neighborhood, swinging by the Saturday open-air market and stopping at the library and a car show; today was the spring Tucson Cyclovia. There are two Cyclovias, one each in November and April, different routes every time. Today’s route was from Himmel Park near the University of Arizona to the Lost Barrio, an old warehouse district that has been gentrified, and back.

I had the roads to myself Saturday but most definitely not today: in spite of low clouds and the threat of rain, huge crowds were out for Cyclovia: riders of all ages and abilities, many attempting to ride six or eight abreast through chokepoints where two abreast would have been one too many, weaving around, inexplicably stopping, making sudden U-turns, or alternatively breaking from the peleton to the imagined cheers of Tour de France spectators. And children? Good lord … and I was making allowances for them, unlike most other riders.

But forgive me, I’m making it sound awful and it wasn’t. I had fun. There were activities and vendors and food trucks everywhere along the route, and even though the threatened rain materialized it came down only here and there and wasn’t bad: I slipped on a light windbreaker and was fine. I kept looking around for friends, hashers, and bashers (bicycle hashers), but didn’t have any luck until Darrell (who is all three: friend, hasher, and basher) caught up with me on the return leg.

It didn’t happen if there aren’t photos, right?

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From left to right: Saturday at the car show; Sunday 1) in the Lost Barrio, 2) on 3rd Street with Darrell.

I stopped at the bike shop on the way home for a minor adjustment to the rear derailleur, which wasn’t downshifting cleanly, and to see about raising the handlebar. They tightened the cables and ordered a replacement stem that’ll bring the bar up about an inch. If I want it any higher I’ll have to order a new bar, one with a bit of a buckhorn bend. I’ll ride for a while with the extra inch and see if it makes the difference. Overall I’m happy with the new bike and looking forward to a longer ride with my Trail Trash friends next Saturday.

A woman who writes children’s books befriended me on Facebook and Twitter. I know she’s an author because on both accounts she goes by H____ J_______, Author. I think she befriended me because I’m a fellow blogger, but I’m willing to bet she’s never read mine. Nor do I read hers, mainly because this is the kind of thing she blogs about:

She says her blog is about her life, as is mine. But the content on her blog is almost entirely composed of posts with titles like Be a Data-Driven Blogger, Reasonable Blog Automation for Shameless Self-Promotion, and Why Not Follow Me on Instagram Too?

It seems as if her life is about monetizing everything she does, and she’s relentless about it. The post she linked to today is about composing Buzzfeed-style clickbait subject lines for blog posts, articles, tweets, and emails. Why? To drive up traffic and make money. Click here to find out how.

I don’t get it. I’m searching my memory for a single Facebook or Twitter post that has revealed anything personal about H____ J_______, Author, and coming up blank. You can’t build a friendship, even a Facebook “friendship,” on posts about monetizing your online presence.

Well, if Jesus comes back and visits the modern-day temple of Facebook, he’ll be shooing lots of H____ J_______, Authors out the door. Me? Keep your money. Just drop by my blog and read. Leave a comment once in a while so I know you’ve been here. If I ever do get off my ass and write a book, well, okay, you can buy that. But you’ll never be expected to call me P___ W_______, Author.