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God I hate crowds, and even though cold and rain kept yesterday’s attendance down, it was still too crowded for me: this huge collector car auction (is it the hugest?) is like Disneyland for geezers.
I drove this year, chauffeuring my friends Chip and Ed, along with Ed’s visiting sister Davida. By taking advantage of valet parking, we were able to drive right up to the main auction tent. Once inside, we grabbed lunch. Unfortunately I also grabbed a nasty cold from the coughing lady in front of me in the food line. It didn’t hit until the drive home. I prayed it was merely a sore throat from talking too much, but this morning had to face the truth: it’s a full-fledged winter cold, and I am now on Dr. Oz’s Sudafed & Kleenex diet.
After lunch, we split up to pursue our own interests. Chip, like me, loves to photograph cars. We started at opposite ends of the auction grounds and later met up in the middle. Ed and Davida were mostly there to look. And so much to look at: not just collector cars but new cars too, and airplanes and motorcycles and speedboats and garage accessories. There seemed to be more football field-sized display tents than in past years; so many that I didn’t have time to visit them all.
My interests run toward classic cars of the 1950s and earlier, and as you can see I have a special place in my heart for microcars.
It was difficult to get a clear field of view on an entire car: the crowds were such that someone was nearly always between my camera and the car I wanted to photograph. I was able to get a few, but most of my photos were detail shots, like this:
The photos here are a teaser, meant to entice you into visiting my Barrett-Jackson 2017 photo album on Flickr. I hope you enjoy it.
I’ve said this before: I may skip Barrett-Jackson next year. I’m not agoraphobic, but I do get terribly antsy when I’m packed in a tent, no matter how big is it, with thousands of other people. Next weekend I’ll ride my motorcycle down to the resort town of Tubac, where there’s an annual classic car show on the golf course. I honestly enjoy that show more … being out in the open makes all the difference.
“Page took the record that was playing on the turntable off without asking anybody and put on Jimi Hendrix: long tense organic guitar line that made him shiver like frantic electric ecstasy was shooting up from the carpet through his spine straight to the old pleasure center in his cream-cheese brain, shaking his head so that his hair waved all around him, Have You Ever Been Experienced?”
The Vietnam War taught my generation to see war reporting for what it is: bullshit. As the reality of the war gradually became clear, we realized everything we were being told was propaganda: the light at the end of the tunnel, Charlie’s beat and he knows it, made-up body counts. Nothing’s changed. Those of us who lived through Vietnam believe not a word from Afghanistan, Aleppo, Mosul.
Today’s war reportage is even more propagandistic than the reportage from the Vietnam War. Journalists are embedded with military units, tightly controlled, not free to move around the front or rear lines; they pass on whatever meaningless statistics and talking points they’re given. In Vietnam, reporters could be free agents if they wanted to break free of their military minders, who were too busy to pay much attention to them anyway. Michael Herr and a few others did just that.
Some describe Herr’s war reporting as “disciplined gonzo.” I agree. His writing is personal without being self-centered: above all, he was a reporter. During Herr’s time in Vietnam, he wrote for Esquire (hardly an underground countercultural rag, but not a willing funnel for pro-war propaganda either), and several short pieces appeared there. Nearly a decade after returning from Vietnam, he wrote “Dispatches,” and later contributed to two major Vietnam War movies, “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket.” I mention the movies to remind you that you know Herr’s work even if you never read “Dispatches.”
The experience of reading “Dispatches” in 2016 is no different than than it was reading it in 1977, the year of its publication. It’s as fresh now as it was then. It is, quite simply, the best book written about the Vietnam War, and remains the benchmark for war reporting today.
Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail
This is an outstanding history of the Misty FAC (forward air controller) squadron and its pilots during the Vietnam war, a legendary unit active for just three years, from 1967 to 1970.
I’ve been reading up on the air war in Vietnam. When I went through USAF pilot training in 1973-74, my instructors were pilots who had flown in Vietnam. Some were River Rats, some were former Raven FACs, some had been Wild Weasels, some were returned POWs. During my subsequent flying career, these men were the operations officers and commanders I flew for. My first F-15 squadron commander (a man who later attained four star rank and served as USAF chief of staff, Ron Fogleman) was a Misty FAC.
Every Vietnam war aviator I’ve known speaks of the Misty FACs with admiration. Officially known as Commando Sabre, the Misty FAC squadron was part of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Phu Cat, flying two-seat F-100Fs. Misty pilots were “fast FACs,” flying single-ship missions over North Vietnam in search of high-priority targets for Air Force, Navy, and Marine fighter-bombers, going after those targets themselves with the minimal ordnance they carried when no help was available. It was a high-risk mission with a daunting loss rate. There were 157 Misty FAC pilots. Of that number, 34 were shot down. Three of that number were captured and held as prisoners of war. Seven were killed.
Misty was an all-volunteer unit, recruiting highly experienced pilots who wanted to do more than bomb dirt. Newman and Shepperd (himself a former Misty FAC) describe the day-to-day operations of the unit, going into detail on specific missions, especially those where pilots were shot down … some rescued, some taken prisoner, some killed, some to disappear altogether, their fates still unknown.
When I write about flying, I try to convey the experience and environment without condescending to readers by over-explaining the minutia of aircraft and procedures. If the writing is good enough, readers will figure it out. Newman and Shepperd do this masterfully. As an experienced fighter pilot, I was enthralled. At the same time, I won’t hesitate to push this book on friends who know nothing about aviation or the military.
The authors fill in as many gaps as they can, describing the experiences of unit pilots who were captured and moved to prison camps in North Vietnam, the heroic but doomed escape attempts made by some of the POWs, the reactions of pilots who watched their brothers being shot down and the extraordinary efforts they made to cover downed aviators until rescue could come, the heartache and anger they felt when enemy gunners kept the rescue helicopters at bay and their brothers were taken or killed.
I particularly appreciated the attention the authors paid to the wives and children of the Misty pilots who were declared missing in action. They were not to learn if their husbands and fathers had survived and been taken prisoner until the final peace treaty was signed in 1973. For those whose loved ones did not come home with the POWs, hope, fear, and frustration might last a lifetime.
I have to say, this is one of the best Vietnam air war books I’ve read.
Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #3)
In my review of the first book of this series, “The Three-Body Problem,” I said this:
“… I wondered if a novel like this would be written in the USA or UK today … in many ways it’s old-fashioned, even Asimovian (though not as sweeping as Asimov’s Foundation trilogy).”
Now that I’ve finished the final book of the trilogy, I’m forced to retract that comment. Liu Cixin’s vision is far more sweeping than Asimov’s. If I had to search for a touchstone to compare it to, I would cite Olaf Stapledon and his seminal SF novel “Star Maker”: it’s that grand in concept.
Naturally, extrapolations based on quantum physics are plot devices in science fiction, and Liu Cixin’s SF is no exception. While I loved “The Three-Body Problem,” the same plotting techniques began to irritate me in the second novel, “The Dark Forest,” and in the final novel one fantastic (and oh so convenient) deus ex machina follows another at such a rapid pace it’s like going from a standstill to light speed, then on into uncharted, unknown dimensions … giant leaps, each one coming faster than the one before. Along with that, the plotting becomes obvious. Of course this would happen, and then that, and then this. In other words, I thought the end of the trilogy was highly contrived.
So why four stars, one of my highest ratings? Because this is old school SF, masterful old school SF at that. It’s full of wonder and grand visions, and if the plotting is contrived and obvious, show me a classic SF story where it isn’t. Reading each book of the trilogy, I felt like a kid again, huddled under the covers with Asimov and a flashlight, mumbling “wow” and “far out” into the night, unable to stop flipping pages.
Radio On: A Listener’s Diary
I finally worked my way backward to Sarah Vowell’s first published book, “Radio On: A Listener’s Diary,” written when she was in her mid-20s. A one-year diary, it’s a near-daily recounting of her reactions to what she listened to on the radio during 1995: top 40, talk, drivetime, alternative, country, religion, farm reports, underground, NPR, 20-watt college stations.
Naturally, a lot of what she listened to was news and opinion, and as an aside, I was struck by the political similarities between one Democratic administration (Clinton) facing the rise of a Republican Congress and another (Obama). But back to the book:
Of all Sarah Vowell’s books, this might be the one I most favor. It is the most personal, the most unpolished, the most honest. I too have lived with radio as a constant backdrop, and I too have pondered the importance of radio in our lives. I’m considerably older than Sarah and never listened to the music she favors, but her diary compelled me to get on YouTube and listen to several of the artists and tracks she mentioned as being important in her life. I was a long-time listener and fan of NPR, Garrison Keillor, and Car Talk, only later in life growing weary of the repetitive blandness; Sarah disliked and distrusted the whole crew from the get-go. Starting into her diary my thought was “Okay, we’ll agree to disagree”; by the end, it was “I quite see your point.”
As I said in a review of one of her later histories, I’ll read anything Sarah Vowell writes. I feel I know her better after reading “Radio On,” and that was more than worth the experience.
Killing Floor (Jack Reacher #1)
I read a long article about Lee Child and the Jack Reacher series in a recent New Yorker. Since the same magazine had previously introduced me to such brilliant writers as Patrick O’Brian and Tana French, I decided to read one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers.
Reader, I inhaled it. That’s not to say Lee Child is a brilliant writer. He is what most of us would call a hack. But how refreshing it is, once in a while, to read a first-person, reasonably well-plotted and action-filled thriller where the bad guys get what’s coming to them and justice prevails.
I was reminded of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, which I likewise inhaled in the 1980s. There are plenty of hard-boiled detective tropes, not a little Sherlock Holmes, and plenty of Hulk. You can criticize the plot for being contrived and unlikely, but you can say the same thing about most action-hero thrillers. I like Lee Child’s plain language and direct writing style. The pages turn almost of themselves.
Yes, I will read more. This is pretty good stuff.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks
Three-and-a-half stars for Jason Arnopp’s writing and the semi-epistolary style of the novel, which I enjoyed.
If I were rating Jack Sparks himself, I’d give him something in the minus range: Just as in real life, I loathe fictional drunks and druggies, no matter how important they may be to the story. Jack Sparks is both, and even without the addictions he’s contemptible. He’s the classic unreliable narrator as well, but even the most gullible reader will see right through him. I kept wishing for him to get the comeuppance he so richly deserved (satisfyingly, he does).
If I were rating the plot, which is centered on the supernatural, I’d go with two stars, entirely for selfish reasons: ghosts and devils are not my thing. Still, there were interesting moments here and there, spaced in such a manner that I kept reading.
If you can stomach a self-centered douche like Jack Sparks and you have a taste for the supernatural, you’ll probably find this a fun read, as many other reviewers did. Not my thing, though, and as for the humor so many other reviewers mention, it escaped me.
Well, doesn’t he seem nice?
Strangely, a number of people think the man who tweeted this does seem nice, even when he’s grabbing women by the pussy or plotting with Vladimir Putin. More than 62 million of them, as a matter of fact. Some are friends. Some are family. What to do?
I once ended a twenty-year friendship with a man who, one day out of the blue, told me he wanted to load Mexican immigrants onto cattle cars and ship them back over the border, topping it off with a rant about putting Obama in prison for falsifying his birth certificate. I never knew he was like that; if I had I wouldn’t have befriended him in the first place.
We all have lines we’re not willing to cross, not for friendship, not for keeping peace within the family. Some of my “whoa!” moments include a guy I thought I knew well nudging me as a twelve-year-old girl walked by, then whispering “I bet she’s tight”; a co-worker casually telling me to “hire some niggers” instead of buying a new lawnmower; a married couple Donna and I both liked turning on us for not being as interested in money as they were; a fairly senior military officer telling me a president he didn’t like would never be his commander-in-chief.
It’s that last one I’m thinking about today, because now I’m the one who can’t and won’t accept a president. In my military career I served under many presidents, some whose political views I opposed, some whom I would not have wanted as friends. They were not evil men, though. None of them displayed the overt racism, willful ignorance, and lack of character Mr. Trump seems so proud of. With Trump it’s not politics, it’s values. It’s good versus evil.
Trump is going to test many friendships. Donna and I are agonizing over our friendship with a woman who, over the past year, has come out as a full-fledged Trump supporter. In her eyes he can do no wrong. We’ve been friends for years, but this is a side of her we didn’t know. And by now it’s not a side, it’s pretty much become the whole her.
Most Trump voters will tell you they reject his negatives (as if racism and fascism can be described as mere “negatives”). I don’t doubt Trump supporters come in various strengths, from those who simply can’t vote Democrat and thus vote Republican, all the way up to people like my former friend, the one who can’t wait for Trump to declare open season on Mexicans.
Like attracts like: we seek out people who share our values as friends. There may be one or two friends in my circle who secretly admire Mr. Trump’s lack of character, but if they do they hide it well; apart from our woman friend I’m blissfully ignorant of their proclivities. Ditto relatives who beat their wives or wear white robes: if I have any, I don’t know about them.
Most Trump voters I know think he’ll behave better in office than he behaves now. I won’t turn my back to them, now or after their inevitable disappointment. Still, even the most tepid Trump voters saw the man’s true character emerge over the course of the campaign. They knew what they were voting for, and whether they like it or not they’ll always have the stink of that vote on them, just as Germans of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation have the stink of Hitler and the Nazi Party on them.*
Oh, we’ll manage to get along. We’ll nod politely when spoken to. We’ll continue to do business with, and work with, those on the other side of the line. There are too many of them to ignore. But we will never forget where our personal moral lines are drawn and we won’t cross them, even for friends and family.
So to true friends and family, to those I love, to those who strive to live up to the moral values we were raised with and want to make this a better world for everyone, Happy New Year!
*Yes, I am familiar with Godwin’s Law, that bit of internet wisdom from the early days of Usenet, which goes like this: “If you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.” With Donald Trump and the “alt-right,” however, we’ve come to a time when such comparisons are not only inevitable but apt.
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