Another Nickel on the Grass

Throw a nickel on the grass, save a fighter pilot’s ass.I disagreed with most things John McCain stood for as a politician, but although I consider myself socially progressive I was also a career military officer and that informs a lot of my thinking. If I held public office half my socially progressive brothers and sisters, probably more, would hate my guts. So I try to be understanding.*

John McCain was a fighter pilot, moreover one who was brutally tested in the service of his country. I admire and respect everything about that. His Navy aviator brothers may have a different tradition, but I’m Air Force, so I pay him honor across the aisle by throwing a nickel on the grass at news of his passing.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Throw a nickel on the grass, save a fighter pilot’s ass.
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Throw a nickel on the grass and you’ll be saved.

This morning went by quickly. I was up a little after six. By seven I’d walked the dog and poop-patrolled the back yard. I spent the next 20 minutes catching up with email and news, a heating pad on my right leg and knee to loosen it up for the gym. By nine I was home from Anytime Fitness and hungry. Donna and I rode the motorcycle to Franks & Franciscos (don’t blame me, that’s how they punctuate it), a little breakfast place with a degree of local fame, one we unaccountably had never been to before. The photo will give you an indication of F&F’s ambience:

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Another indication is the signboard out front: “Elegant Dining Elsewhere.” Breakfast was very good. They do lunch as well, but breakfast is the main thing. We both liked it and will certainly be back.

The photo’s shit, and I apologize for that. Don’t know about you, but whipping out a camera and taking pictures of strangers in crowded places seems rude to me and I don’t like doing it. So I took this shot furtively while pretending to look something up on my iPhone. In the age of selfies and social media my notions of right and wrong might strike others as hangups (another area of understanding re McCain).

Donald Trump and I are about the same age. He doesn’t have any hangups. So what’s wrong with me?

I wore an older Knuckledraggers shirt for this morning’s breakfast run. The old shirt has the dreaded words “motorcycle club” under the Knuckledraggers logo and is thus no longer to be worn in public; a new shirt, I’m told, is on its way. Meanwhile, Donna’s embroidering a Goldwing emblem on another shirt. It wasn’t ready in time for today’s ride or I would have worn it instead. Here’s a short video of a test patch coming together on her embroidery machine:

Later today I’m grilling ribs to go with Donna’s coleslaw. It looks to be a good Sunday, followed by a full shift at the air museum Monday. Later in the week Donna’s going to Phoenix with a friend and I’ll be in charge at home. Which means squat, pretty much, but at least I’ll be able to catch up with some of the streaming TV shows Donna doesn’t like to watch with me.

In change of the TV … that’s me these days.

*An understanding which emphatically does not extend to politicians who avoided military service.


You Can’t Read That!

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


From Time Magazine, Dec 20, 1948

YCRT! News

Why can’t kids just read Officer Friendly coloring books instead? South Carolina Cops Have Thoughts On Your High School Reading List. Here’s more on the same subject: “Union says depictions of brutality in The Hate U Give and All American Boys promote distrust of police and ‘we’ve got to put a stop to that.'”

High school administrators across the country are silencing student journalists who report on sensitive subjects. While we’re at it, here are nine other recent school controversies making the news.

“See the little faggot with the earring and the make up”: 40 banned and censored songs. Here’s more on the ongoing battle over censorship of music.

Related: six films that were cut or banned.

I’m confused. I thought some of Judy Blume’s books had already been made as movies (“Tiger Eyes” and “Forever,” to name two). Maybe she wants to know which other Judy Blume books you’d like to see on the big screen.

Self-appointed library censors strike again, this time in Detroit.

University administrators cave to public demands to censor or remove campus art? Oh, do tell.

Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: “The death-pit for civil liberties is usually found in a combination of fringe/unpopular people or ideas and a national security emergency.”

A librarian begins a story with this: “About two years ago, I wanted to get in on the Drag Queen storytime trend.” Dear American Library Association: are you sure the Drag Queen storytime trend is the hill you want to die defending?

YCRT! Banned Book Review

This is an older banned book review, first published here in May 2015. Since few readers visit the YCRT! archives, I periodically repost older reviews in new YCRT! columns. —Paul

mausMaus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)
by Art Spiegelman

I’m new to graphic novels and memoirs. I confess I’ve looked down on them in the past, equating them with comic books, to me a lesser form of literature. But I’m trying, and I must say I thought “Maus” was very powerful, perhaps even more powerful than if it had been written as a traditional memoir.

The outline should be familiar to everyone by now: Art Spiegelman, who has a touchy relationship with his father, coaxes him into telling the story of his life in Poland after the Nazi invasion, right up to the point where he and Spiegelman’s mother are captured and shipped off to Auschwitz. Sequels to this first volume follow the family’s experiences in the camps, but I have not yet read those.

Famously, Spiegelman depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs. The technique seems simplistic, but it is effective.

I knew very little of the lives of Polish Jews before they were rounded up and sent to the camps. The seemingly inexorable process whereby the Nazis, aided by sympathetic and anti-Semitic Poles, first imposed travel and commerce restrictions on the Jews, then took over their businesses, then moved them into ghettos, then began to starve them, then began to round up those over 70 years of age, etc, is as horrifying as anything I’ve read in more traditional accounts of the Holocaust. Spiegelman’s families of mice, struggling to get along and feed their families while trying to believe the latest outrage will be the last one, that things can’t possibly get any worse, are far more sympathetic in graphic form than they would be as mere words on paper.

Yes, I will read the sequels. I have come around to seeing the worth of graphic novels and memoirs.

“Maus” has been the target of would-be censors and book banners. Even though”Maus” won a Pulitzer and universal praise, some Holocaust survivors objected to the depiction of Jews as mice (or rats, as some claim) as degrading and dehumanizing. Some Polish readers took their representation as pigs as an ethnic slur, especially since pork and pigs are considered unclean in the Jewish faith.”Maus” was unsuccessfully challenged in Oregon in 2009 as being “too dark” for younger readers and too insulting to various ethnic groups. More recently, in 2012, a Polish-American library patron, upset over the depiction of Poles as pigs, tried to have the book pulled from public libraries in Pasadena, California. Most lately, I read, “Maus” has been removed from Russian bookstores … not because of mice and pigs, not because it’s “too dark,” but because it has swastikas in it, and swastikas are banned in Russia.

Adult graphic novels make some adults uncomfortable. As simple-minded as it may sound, I think the cause of their unease is the thought that children will be attracted to what look very much like comic books, then exposed to dark and sexual adult themes and subjects. It doesn’t take much to push those who think this way to the next step, the idea of eliminating these graphic novels from libraries, schools, and even bookstores.

To date I’ve read (and reviewed) three graphic novels that have been the subject of challenges and bannings: “Fun Home,” “Persepolis,” and now “Maus.” In all three cases it struck me that without the drawings, none of these books would have been targeted. You can write about a young girl realizing she’s gay, but if you draw a picture of her and another girl in bed together (“Fun Home”), you’ve crossed a line. You can write about life in Tehran under the Shah and then the Ayatollah, but if you draw a dissident being whipped (“Persepolis”), you’ve gone too far. You can write about the Holocaust, but if you draw Jews as mice and Poles as pigs (“Maus”), you’ve dehumanized your subjects and no one should be allowed to read your book.

Source links on various attempts to ban “Maus”:


Thursday Bag o’ Updates

2018-08-22 10.06.21That’s my physical therapist, Jenny, who has put me through the paces for the last time: stretching, bending, climbing, riding; she who encourages patients, and me in particular, to work through the pain and get better. You know what? I’m going to miss her.

From this point on I’m on my own with home exercises and a local gym membership … but thanks to Jenny I know what I need to do.

When I got home from the final PT session yesterday I pumped up the mountain bike’s tires and rode up and down my cul-de-sac. Nothing to see here, folks, just another milestone on the way to recovery, important to me and probably no one else. The first few pedal strokes were Ow! Ow! Ow! painful, but after I stopped and raised the seat an inch it was like “Okay, I can do this!” Time to call the Trail Trash back together and schedule some Saturday morning rides!

That’s in addition to scheduling the inaugural ride of the Southern Arizona Knuckledraggers Hash House Harriers, set now for Sunday the 23rd of September. Yes, I launched a new chapter of the KDH3 motorcycle club (note to self: quit using words like “chapter” and “motorcycle club” … 1%ers look on it as encroaching on their turf) and am trying to get area hashers who ride motorcycles interested in a program of monthly outings. That’s more of a hash thing, and I’ll be writing about it at the Half-Mind Weblog, my outlet for all things hashing.

So what do I think about this week’s “bombshells,” the Manafort verdict and Cohen’s guilty plea? I think the two developments, along with Congressman Duncan Hunter’s indictment, will give Democratic Party candidates in upcoming elections a powerful message: the massive top to bottom corruption of the Trump administration and of the Republican Party in general is not only un-American but is hurting the country. Do I think it will bring Trump down? No I do not. The only thing that will is a massive voter turnout. A turnout to turn them out.

NPR (along with most of what we call the mainstream media) has turned its platform almost entirely over to Republicans and administration apologists, who defend Trump no matter what happens. As I listened to Morning Edition earlier today, I heard their strategy coming together. And it’s about what you’d expect: “What, are you crazy? Impeach Trump now that the economy is booming and we’re all making so much money?”

I don’t know about you, but my financial situation hasn’t improved over the past four or five years, and to me the economy doesn’t look one damn bit different than it did under Obama.

Mark my words: if it comes out, as I suspect it will, that Russia, with the approval and cooperation of Trump and key figures in Republican congressional leadership, physically altered voting results in the key states that put Trump over the top, literally stealing the election from Clinton, nothing will change. Until we vote the fuckers out.

IMG_6223This is Mr. B last night, curled up next to his dad. The tongue is his version of REM sleep. Today is his 10th birthday … we have his medical records and so we know his date of birth. It’s a different story with Maxie, who came with nothing. We think she’s a year or two older than Mr. B, but we don’t really know.

Mr. B came to live with us last October, so we’re coming up on his first anniversary with us.

Donna gave Maxie, the auxiliary dachshund, a thorough going-over this morning, followed by a bath. I’ll be doing the same for Mr. B when I finish this post, whether he likes it or not. All part of the tick prevention program. As a reward, I plan to take them both to the feed store later this afternoon. I might even let Mr. B pick out a toy … he goes for the squeaky ones.

More soon!


Another Milestone

14405057103_ddd075e3b3_o copyIn my previous post I waxed enthusiastic about getting back on the motorcycle after a long break and a new knee. Not so fast, said the moto gods. When your bike sits in a hot garage all summer, the battery croaks. Fortunately I have a trickle charger and this morning, after applying a heating pad to my knee to loosen it up, I swung a leg over the Wing and rode to the gym for a workout on the stationary bike and the leg machines. All of which was great.

So I’m back on two wheels, if you don’t count real bicycles. I probably could have pumped up the mountain bike and taken it for a spin when I got home this morning, but I think I’ll wait until tomorrow to try that.

My final hospital physical therapy session is tomorrow, followed by a last visit with the orthopedic surgeon’s PA. Then I’m on my own, which is where the local gym membership comes in … I’ll be following the same exercise routine that worked for me after my first knee replacement, 5 1/2 years ago.

Did I mention how happy I am to be counting down these milestones? Yes!

But now we have to deal with ticks. Mr. B has always been a tick magnet, and I just assumed he was picking them up outdoors. I have observed that boy dogs rub up against the bushes they pee on. Girl dogs don’t. Mr. B, our boy dog, gets ticks. Maxie, our girl dog, never does. So you can see how I came up with that theory about boy dogs and ticks, right?

Turns out I was wrong. Maxie started getting ticks too. This morning Donna called an exterminator company she’d done some work for (she embroidered their company uniform shirts), and they told us what’s really going on—Mr. B brought ticks home with him from the dachshund rescue place and they laid eggs. One of their guys is coming over this morning to look our house over. We already know we’ll have to wash all the bedding, dog toys and beds, and the afghans and blankets the pups like to curl up on. Checking each dog over at least once a day will be our new routine. It’s a good thing we love ’em.

My Knuckledragger buds, Jim and Ed, had a fraught journey home after their weekend in southern Arizona. They rode back to our house from Bisbee Sunday morning, meaning to load the bikes on Jim’s trailer and head home. Jim would be dropping Ed and his bike off in Kingman, then driving the rest of the way to his own house in Las Vegas, an 8-hour drive plus the delay in Kingman.

The moto gods weighed in once again. One of the trailer tires had gone flat over the weekend. Jim and Ed mounted the spare and pulled out of our driveway at 11:30 AM. My phone buzzed five minutes later—the spare blew just down the road from our house. I got in my truck and drove to where they sat on the shoulder of Catalina Highway. Ed stayed with the bikes while Jim and I went looking for a tire shop open on Sunday. None were, but Jim remembered that Wal-Mart sells utility trailer tires already mounted on wheels, so we made a beeline for the old super center, where indeed Jim found two mounted tires.

2018-08-19 12.53.18

Jim with the new Wal-Mart wheels

When we got back to Ed and the trailer, though, it turned out the wheels the new tires were mounted on were just slightly different in depth, with the result that the new tire rubbed against the inside of the trailer’s fender struts. Fortunately, Jim had the right tools, and they were able to take the fender off and shim it inward with washers to the point where the tire didn’t rub. I wasn’t able to kneel down with them to wrestle with nuts and bolts, what with my stiff knee, but I was able to make a run to Ace Hardware for extra washers. By 2:30 PM the job was done and they were ready to drive home.

2018-08-19 13.22.17

Ed & Jim working on the trailer fender

I joked about following them at least as far as Phoenix just in case, but in the end they made it home with no additional problems. Quite late, but at least it was still technically Sunday. You know, if I’m not careful, word’s going to get around my part-time hobby is rescuing stranded motorcyclists.

One quick update before I sign off: the exterminator came. He doesn’t think we have an infestation, just a few ticks here and there. He told us what to do and we’re off on a tick-killing mission, and you know what? I think the pups know what’s going on and will be happy to hold still while we check them over every day. They are good citizens, after all.



milestonePassed another one this morning. A milestone, that is. I lowered myself down prone on the concrete garage floor to pump up the rear tire on my motorcycle (the Goldwing’s non-removable saddlebags won’t allow me to do it any other way). I got down and up without assistance.

Hey, don’t scoff. That was a biggie. My 5 1/2-year-old titanium knee had to bear the brunt of the kneeling and standing back up again, of course, with liberal use of my arms to raise and lower myself, but still. The newer (38-day-old) titanium knee cooperated pretty well, and will only get better from this point forward.

An even bigger big-time biggie awaits: I’m riding the motorcycle to book club this afternoon. It won’t be a long ride, just a couple of miles each way, more of a break-in cruise than anything else. But first, I’m going to spend 20 minutes with a heating pad on the new knee to work some of the stiffness out.

That’s another milestone, heat. Until yesterday, I’d only iced my knee. At Friday’s physical therapy session, Jenny put hot towels on my leg before sending me to the stationary bicycle, and what a difference that made … I pedaled like a madman and almost think I’m ready to tackle an actual bicycle. She said now that the swelling is gone heat is an option and can be part of my recovery. Good to know. One more hospital PT session to go and I’m on my own … home exercises and Anytime Fitness, the same routine I followed in 2013 with my left knee.

You probably think I’m overly fixated on getting back on my motorcycle. But riding again after knee replacement has always been one of my priorities. Over the past several months my right knee had gotten so bad I knew I couldn’t put surgery off much longer, but I had plans and scheduled the surgery with those in mind. One of those plans was to start a Tucson chapter of the Knuckledraggers Hash House Harriers motorcycle club by the end of August. It’s beginning to look like I’ll be able to meet this self-imposed goal, and I’m excited about that.

I started the first hash motorcycle club, the Harriers MCH3, in 1998. There were over 200 members at one point, but they were dispersed all over the world and it was almost impossible to get anyone together for group rides. I founded a chapter in Tucson and we rode monthly for a couple of years, but it’s been dormant for a while now.

A friend in Texas (Gaylord Focker, one of the original Harriers MCH3 members by the way) started another hash motorcycle club two years later: the Knuckledraggers MCH3. He inducted me as a member and I rode with the Knuckledraggers on one of their first runs, to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. Since then several active Knuckledragger chapters have formed around the country, with regular rides, get-togethers at interhash events, even patches. Gaylord got the club chartered with the American Motorcycle Association. At some point he must have had a run-in with some 1%ers, because the “MC” disappeared from the Knuckledraggers patch. But the point is Gaylord and friends were energetic and got things done with their club that I should have done with Harriers MCH3, and that’s why I’m starting a Knuckledraggers chapter in Tucson. And proud to be doing it.

Two Knuckledraggers from the Las Vegas chapter came down for the Bisbee Red Dress Run this weekend, Have Shit Will Travel and Pedi-File (sorry about those rude hash names). They trailered down (the pussies), parked in our driveway, and took the bikes from here. Here they are at our house Thursday afternoon, heading out to Bisbee.


L to R: HSWT & Pedi

And that’s yet another reason I decided to pump up my tires and ride today. Knuckledragger solidarity! I wish I’d been up for a ride down to Bisbee, but that’s a little ambitious. Maybe in September.

Donna’s in the kitchen making gazpacho for another hashing-related get-together tonight, our On-On Gourmet H3 cooking club, which is over at Joystick Cowboy’s house on the other side of Tucson, halfway to Phoenix almost. But I haven’t been out much since the surgery in July, and I’m ready to do things again, and with that and the book club in a couple of hours, I’m feeling back in the swim.

More soon.


Paul’s Book Reviews: Fiction, SF/Fantasy, Cheap Thrills

“Sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”
— Jesmyn Ward: Sing, Unburied, Sing

sing unburied singSing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

From the Faulkner novels I read in college to Ace Atkins’ paperback Quinn Colson thrillers today, I can’t recall a single Mississippi novel that hasn’t centered around grinding poverty, hopelessness, beaten down ignorance, superstition, racism, lynchings, tangled cross-racial family ties, and (after Faulkner) the infamous slave labor/prison farm called Parchman. This is emphatically the case with Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing.”

You will forgive me if I do not sing Mississippi’s praises, because I have neither seen nor heard of any, and never want to pass through that benighted state again (I did, twice, driving to and from an Air Force staff college in Alabama, where my most vivid memory remains a road maintenance crew taking a lunch break at a freeway rest area, white workers at a shaded picnic table, black workers sitting in the sun in the bed of an orange highway department pickup, and that was in the late 1970s, for fuck’s sake. You can take the Deep South and shove it).

So you’ll understand why I found “Sing, Unburied, Sing” a singularly depressing read, despite the striking lyricism, even genius, of the vision of an afterlife given to Mam on her deathbed, a vision I badly want to believe myself. Jesmyn Ward’s writing is beautiful; her subject matter sad almost beyond bearing, so sad I wanted to abandon the novel at several points in the opening chapters.

I persisted, though: first, because I was in charge of picking my book club’s August selection and this is the one I picked; second because when the story of Riv and Richie at Parchman finally began to unfold, the novel was impossible to put down, as good as anything Faulkner ever wrote.

My 3.5 star rating means it’s very good, but you need to prepare yourself for a downer. Please don’t be tempted to view the white and black characters Jesmyn Ward creates as creatures in an exhibit about race and poverty. By the novel’s midpoint you’ll hate some of them, but you will also realize they’re real, as real as any of us.

bleak harborBleak Harbor
by Bryan Gruley

I was offered an advance copy of “Bleak Harbor” in exchange for a review. I agreed on the strength of the book’s description, though I didn’t know the author, Bryan Gruley.

“Bleak Harbor” is a tightly-plotted mystery set in a small Michigan town, and you know what they say about small towns … there’s more going on beneath their placid surfaces than anyone will ever know (I don’t know Michigan and am not qualified to say whether Gruley captures some of its essence, but his descriptions have the feel of authenticity).

“If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.” Gruley clearly takes Chekhov to heart, wasting not a single word on irrelevant detail. Every house, street, dock, and bar in Bleak Harbor, no matter how casually inserted into an opening chapter, is sure to come back into play later. More importantly, the ever-expanding cast of characters (just three to start with, but by the end a couple of dozen) are pistols hanging on the wall as well, with secrets, hidden motivations, and surprises in store.

As each new plot development unfolds, the mystery deepens, the list of possible culprits expands, and the suspense increases. I was pulled along by a string of surprising (because unexpected) revelations, but never once felt played. Even though the mystery is complex and multi-layered, it doesn’t feel contrived. The characters’ flaws make them more human. Are some details of the mystery stretches? Sure (Danny remaining undiscovered in the attic of an abandoned house despite searchers combing through it multiple times, for example), but in general the twists and turns Gruley throws at us are believable. At the end, over the course of three or four very short chapters, Gruley ties up loose ends in a very satisfactory manner.

One more thing: my advance copy is labeled an “uncorrected proof.” I didn’t see anything that needed correcting. No typos, no mistakes. I wish my uncorrected proofs were half as good.

I don’t always say this about authors who are new to me, but now that I know Bryan Gruley, I plan to read his earlier work.

night schoolNight School (Jack Reacher #21)
by Lee Child

I’m nearing the end of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. One to go, “The Midnight Line,” and then I’ll have to wait for “Past Tense,” scheduled for publication in November 2018. There may be some short stories and novellas, and addicted as I’ve become, no doubt I’ll soon be searching those out.

“Night School” takes us back to the mid-1990s. Jack Reacher is still in uniform. He’s detailed to a special FBI/CIA/NSA group investigating an emerging terrorist threat, a threat no one yet knows the shape of, although the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 had given US and European security agencies a pretty good hint.

Major Jack Reacher and Sergeant Frances Neagley head to Hamburg, Germany, to try to find out exactly what a mysterious American has promised to sell a group of Saudis, Afghans, and Yemenis for $100 million. And if possible prevent the sale and break up the terrorism ring before it can do any damage. A tall order? Pfft. Jack Reacher fans know better. Especially when he has Neagley at his side.

I really like the novels that take us back to Reacher’s Army days, probably because I have a pretty good grasp of how the military works and can appreciate it when a novelist gets it right, as Child does. That said, this particular novel is more of a police procedural, somewhat lacking in the street brawl department (though Reacher does get in some good licks against resurgent Nazi skinheads). Still: excellent writing, a suspenseful plot, and plenty of action to keep the reader going. Some great supporting characters, especially a high-ranking Hamburg policeman named Griezman, a character who reminds me of Police Inspector Bruno Wolter in the German TV series “Babylon Berlin” (which I’m streaming on Netflix and you should be too).

I began to anticipate the shape of the threat in the last third of the novel, and was not surprised when all was revealed … then again, not disappointed either. I had been hoping, in the early stages of the novel when the looming threat could have been anything, that Lee Child was writing about the beginnings of Al Qaeda’s 9/11 plot. Child went in another direction, but a realistic and feasible one, based on weaponry left over from the early days of the Cold War in Germany. That is as close as I want to get to the plot.

Major Jack Reacher, U.S. Army, is a slightly different character than Jack Reacher, drifter. He’s working under, and with, groups of highly skilled people, not out there all on his own. But then again, each Jack Reacher novel has its own flavor. I liked this one. A lot. And I think other Jack Reacher fans will too.

zoo cityZoo City
by Lauren Beukes

I previously read and reviewed Lauren Beukes’ “Moxyland” and “Broken Monsters“; now for “Zoo City.” The three novels differ significantly: “Moxyland” a Gibsonesque near-future novel of a South Africa where technology has been applied to repression; “Broken Monsters” a police procedural (with supernatural elements) set in Detroit; “Zoo City” a trip through the underbelly of Johannesburg with a lovely conceit about “animaled” people, an echo of one of my favorite young adult sagas, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

Yes, I liked it. I like everything Lauren Beukes writes. I feel bad for even bringing this up, because maybe it’s more me than Lauren, but despite the vast amounts of research she puts into the physical settings of her stories, I felt the Johannesburg of this novel was more a collection of place names than an actual place … I wasn’t convinced I was ever there, and in fact could have been anywhere. And I really wanted to get a feel for what is, to me, an exotic place I’ll never get to experience.

My problems with place felt insignificant next to the main character and narrator, Zinzi December, who is relatable and convincingly real. I note other reviewers describe her as a junkie. I would describe her as someone who once did a lot of drugs but now only occasionally relapses … she’s motivated, she gets things done, and these are not junkie traits. I wanted to know more about how she was responsible for the death of her brother, and never really learned, but here and there throughout the novel were wonderful little asides that helped me visualize how murderers become “animaled.” And I really loved Sloth.

Although I associate 419 scams with Nigeria, one such scam is an element in this South African narrative, and it fits. Not only that, the villainous types who lure Zinzi into helping with a missing persons case (and you know anyone who has a Marabou stork as a familiar is a baddie) turn out to be scammers too. In fact, nearly everything Zinzi December gets pulled into in “Zoo City” turns out to be a scam, and she is amply punished for her part in the defrauding of an American couple.

The climactic scene at Odi’s lair (and what else could you call it?) are as horrific and unputdownable as anything I’ve recently read (and once again, as I mentioned in my review of “Broken Monsters,” reminded me of author Mo Hayder). I took my time with this novel, with breaks for surgery, recovery, and physical therapy, but once I got three-quarters of the way in I put everything else in my life on hold and read, mesmerized, straight to the end.

I’m guessing all editions have it, so if you do read “Zoo City,” press on past Lauren’s acknowledgements at the end and read the short essay she wrote about researching the highs and lows of Johnnesburg a few years before writing this novel. It explains a lot.

takeoffTakeoff (Seth Walker #1)
by Joseph Reid

Downloaded as a freebie from Amazon Prime on the strength of the blurb, which said it would appeal to Jack Reacher fans. Since my Jack Reacher gauge is getting close to E (I’m up to #21 now), I figured I’d better start branching out.

This was a disappointment, though. Although Jack Reacher is every bit the fantasy figure Seth Walker is, I believe in the one and not the other. “Takeoff” is too thin to be a real thriller. There’s just not much here, and what there is is too far-fetched. Hero Seth Walker is far-fetched too, the James Bond of federal air marshals, vastly overqualified for his job. Max, the damsel in distress, is a stereotype, as are the tattooed gang members after them.

The story should have ended with the first chapter, when six of the aforementioned tattooed gang members ambush Seth and Max with machine guns at LAX, but Seth, alone and armed with only a handgun, kills four of them and escapes the remaining two. With one arm protectively wrapped around Max the whole time. In any scenario approximating real life, Seth and Max would have died in the initial exchange of fire, and it probably wouldn’t have been an exchange since the gangbangers poured out of their SUVs with submachine guns drawn, while Seth had his thumb up his ass.

I nearly put the book down halfway though, when the author subjected me to a dogfight between two helicopters and a single-engined Cessna, with Seth firing on the helos through an open cabin window. He knocks ’em both out of the sky with the same handgun (or maybe a shotgun, which is even more implausible). But I hate to be a snob just because I’ve been in a light plane before when Joseph Reid clearly hasn’t, so I kept reading.

Tell you what, Seth Walker is damned incurious. Reid lays out clues and details for the reader, but unaccountably Seth misses them all. Within a page or two of meeting Max we know she’s a druggie; Seth doesn’t work it out until halfway through the novel. Another thing about Seth: every time he figures out who’s the mastermind behind the plot to kill Max, he turns out to be wrong. Which doesn’t get him or Max killed, though it should. Instead, Seth regroups, goes on to identify and confront the next mastermind, who turns out to be innocent, and on and on, several times in a row, sort of like the pre-commercial cliffhangers in TV action dramas.

In the end, when Seth finally identifies and nails the real mastermind, and little Brittney, sorry, Max, escapes the clutches of her addiction and becomes a happy well-adjusted teenaged girl again, you feel like you’ve just sat through a Hallmark made-for-TV movie; i.e., empty, deflated, unsatisfied, not believing you wasted your time on it. Jack Reacher never leaves me feeling that way.

danger risingDanger Rising
by E. D. Richards

No rating; did not finish.

I downloaded this title from NetGalley in return for a review. I’m sorry to say my review is a negative one: I tried, but was unable to wade through “Danger Rising,” which continually put me off with lazy science fiction and bad writing.

Here’s how we know we’re in the future: the numbers are bigger. Pods whisk people through subterranean tunnels at thousands of miles per hour. Suborbital flights? Don’t even ask. Surface level hypertrains cruise at 800. Freeway traffic moves right along at four or five hundred. If you’re in your 70s you’re middle-aged. Oh brave new world.

Some of the science fiction is so implausible you can’t even call it that. Fantasy or magic, maybe, like the system of pipes injecting lubricating gel between the earth’s tectonic plates to prevent earthquakes. Subterranean tunnels connecting points around the globe, not merely cities but also scientific outposts in Antarctica and the Arctic, remote and isolated stations with single-digit populations. That’s a lot of tunneling. Global warming? No problemo, we’ll freeze an ocean to bring the temperature back down. It felt like an Elon Musk fever dream.

I couldn’t decide whether “Danger Rising” is a romance with a science fiction backdrop or science fiction with a romance backdrop. It wasn’t worth the effort to press on and find out.

And what an effort … an effort to read, that is.

“He was still considered young at sixty-five, but his body sometimes lets him know it is time for an infusion of StemRejuve targeting his arthritic joints and aging organs.”

“Dan really cared about the Chilean team he worked with down here, although Jorge Mendoza, the southern hemisphere lead, was becoming a proverbial thorn in his side.”

“Screaming in agony, the ground beneath him shook all the more.”

“Jane didn’t let the interruption phase her and proceeded without missing a beat.”

“Biting into a fresh beignet, the white powdered sugar on top of the fried doughy pastry fell from her lips onto her chin.”

If I have to explain the various errors in the selected sentences, well, that’s not worth the effort either. Was this manuscript edited at all? Did Mr. Richards ask anyone to proofread it first?

I thought it interesting that the author places the blame for the climate disasters leading to the future world described in “Danger Rising” squarely on the Trump administration, but even the most rabid Trump hater (and I am one) would have to admit the responsibility goes back much farther than that. Still, it was amusing to read Mr. Richard’s interpretation, and it’s one that will displease many readers.

Sorry, but that’s the only positive comment I can offer in this review.


Air-Minded: Grand Theft Airplane

Last night an airport employee commandeered a Horizon Air Q400 twin-turboprop airliner at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.


Horizon Air Q400 (photo:

He got it started, taxied to a runway, took off, and flew around Puget Sound before crashing on an island (he died in the crash, of course). He was followed by a pair of F-15s that had been scrambled from Portland, Oregon. Meanwhile, all traffic in and out of SeaTac was placed on emergency hold.

I started seeing posts about it on Twitter as it was happening, and continued to follow the story there as it unfolded. The first media reports didn’t begin to appear until after it was all over, one to two hours later.

I understand the young man was not an aircraft mechanic but a ramp worker, and that he took the plane from a maintenance area. It may not have been fully fueled, because in some of his radio calls to ground controllers he mentioned low fuel. It blows my mind the guy was able to get airborne at all, let alone start the engines or figure out how to work the radios and talk to air traffic controllers.

The details will come in time. Point is, he did it.

Sometime in the early 1990s I was at a party and a guy asked me what I did. I told him I was a USAF pilot. He told me, with a straight face, that as an enlisted Marine on Okinawa he had once stolen a C-130 Hercules, flown it around the pattern, and landed it. The whole time, as I looked for an avenue of escape, I was thinking “You’re lucky you’re not dead.” And also: “If you actually did that, you’d still be in Leavenworth.”

Trained pilots steal planes. There’s a market for stolen aircraft, often in drug running. There’s a story out there about a former American Airlines Boeing 727 that was stolen in Africa, never to be seen again. But again, the thieves were almost certainly trained 727 pilots and knew what they were doing.

It’s a whole ‘nother thing for an untrained person, a non-pilot, to swipe an airplane. When the guy at the party told me that whopper about taking a C-130 for a joy ride, not only did I reject his story outright, I would have said such a thing could never happen. But I would have been wrong. It has happened.

Yes. And not just last night in Seattle. In 1969, an enlisted crew chief at an American air base in England impersonated a pilot and took off in a C-130, headed for the States. Now granted, this guy worked on C-130s and knew the type well; still, the Herc is a big, complex, four-engine aircraft meant to be flown by a crew, not one person. It’s remarkable he was able to take off, but he did. Once airborne he got in radio contact with controllers and even set up a radio link with his wife in the US, but crashed in the English Channel. Some believe he was shot down by USAF fighters.

Nor has he been the only non-pilot military troop to steal a military airplane. There have been at least three others, and we’re only talking about the US military. Who knows what may have happened in other countries?

I want to come back to the F-15s that intercepted and followed the stolen airliner around Puget Sound last night.


One of the two F-15s scrambled last night (photo: Russell Hill)

I’ve been scrambled on many an intercept mission (including one against an unidentified bogey that turned out to be a Korean Air 747 over the Bering Straits), but I never had to shoot anyone down or follow an intercepted aircraft until it crashed. I imagine the pilots who intercepted the stolen plane last night are relieved they didn’t have to shoot it down and that it crashed in an unpopulated area, but I also imagine they had a restless night afterward, and I feel for them.

Just as I feel for the military pilots who were scrambled, far too late, in a botched response to the hijackings on 9/11. Not because they were scrambled too late to do anything, but because had they intercepted one or more of the hijacked airliners before it flew into a building or crashed, they would have had to make an enormously fateful decision: to shoot down an airliner full of innocent people, with even more potential casualties on the ground below. I am thinking, too, of the three separate sets of F-16 pilots who in 1999 were scrambled to intercept and follow PGA golfer Patrick Stewart’s chartered Learjet from Florida to South Dakota, where it ran out of fuel and crashed, killing all on board (the cabin pressure had failed during the Learjet’s climb to altitude and all on board were unconscious or already dead from lack of oxygen).

Such a thing would haunt you. I know it would me.

But kudos to North American Air Defense Command and the US Air Force for getting its shit together after the horrible failures of 9/11. Those Portland Eagles were on it last night, and I take great pride in that.


Friday Work in Progress

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 12.25.59 PMAnother outpatient physical therapy session this morning, this time including stairs. Not exercise stairs, mind, real ones. My therapist, Jenny, walked me through hallways to an interior staircase at the south end of the building. Without using the handrails, I went up and down the stairs three times.

Jenny continues to tell me I’m ahead of the curve for recovery from a knee replacement, and I’m beginning to believe her. Stretching and bending exercises followed, then ten minutes on the stationary bicycle. Oh by the way, today marks one month since they sewed me back up.

I’m not ready to ride a real bicycle yet, or even my motorcycle. I still have to work up to pedaling a full rotation with my right knee. A slow stroke almost to the top, reversing, doing it again, then maybe one or two full rotations backward—only then am I ready to pedal forward; every over-the-top rotation accompanied by sharp pain, gradually subsiding over the course of several minutes.

If I tried this on a real bicycle—without two strong men to hold me up—I’d fall over straight away, probably landing smack on my titanium kneecap. Patience is called for. As for the motorcycle, I can lift my leg over it, but with my feet on the pegs I’m too uncomfortable to ride any distance. Yet more patience is called for. My goal of restarting a local MC may have to slip from late August to mid-September; ditto Saturday morning bicycle rides with our Trail Trash friends. But I’ll get there, and it helps to keep reminding myself I’m ahead of the curve—thanks, Jenny!

I’m hosting my book club Saturday a week, and that night we’re meeting our cooking club friends at a member’s house for a hot weather menu. Donna makes a mean gazpacho, but that’s what everyone else plans to make, so we’re considering bringing Vichyssoise, which we’ve never made before. Nor have we ever tried it. Our fallback will be French onion soup, which of course is served hot, but since it seems all the other members plan to bring cold soups, it might be a welcome treat.

I voted in the Arizona primary election yesterday. I’m registered as a Democrat and yet they sent me a ballot, so perhaps voter suppression isn’t in full swing yet. I have hopes for the mid-terms in November, but don’t want to get ahead of myself. Authoritarians, though outnumbered, reliably vote. Progressives? I think a lot of us will turn out to vote this time, but I fear many won’t, and I’ll believe in this blue wave when I see it.

Speaking of authoritarians: these two Trump rally assholes in the “I’d rather be a Russian than Democrat” t-shirts?


p.s. Are you too seeing a mixed message on those shirts? Yes, the words say one thing, but isn’t that a Democrat donkey puttin’ some whoop-ass on a Republican elephant? These people are truly idiots.

It’s clear these two think of themselves, despite their t-shirts, as patriotic Americans. As better Americans than you or I. Educated people would describe them as “authoritarian.” That’s because educated people know what the word means:

1 : of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority (had authoritarian parents)
2 : of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people (an authoritarian regime)

Trouble is, when we do that we’re talking down to the stupids, who don’t know what the word means. They think “authoritarian” refers to a person of strong will, a leader, a person who exudes authority. They think it’s a good thing.

The ancestors of these two shitbirds ran to Halifax to join their fellow British loyalists the day after American revolutionaries exchanged gunfire with the Redcoats at Lexington and Concord. And they have the nerve to think they’re better Americans than we are? They’re the opposite of Americans. They’re bootlickers and lickspittles, waiting for a Putin to lead them, just as their forebears kneeled to King George.

So here’s a proposal, educated people: stop describing MAGAs as authoritarian. They don’t know what that means. Start describing them as authority-worshippers. Maybe that’ll penetrate a few shells.

Long as I’m on a roll, here’s a tweet from @NPR, posted on the anniversary of the white supremacist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia:

One year ago, a car rammed into counter-protesters during a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Activist Heather Heyer was killed.

Excuse me, Heather Heyer was murdered. And unless it was a Transformer or one of those Uber self-driving cars, a driver was at the wheel. A driver who deliberately rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, then backed up over the bodies of Heather Heyer and dozens of other victims in a vain effort to escape.

I don’t know what NPR’s problem is. They’re not just wording things in the passive voice. They’re whitewashing murder. Okay, maybe it’s premature to label the driver, James Fields Jr., a murderer, being that his trial is still two or three months away, but the world knows an act of murder was committed. It’s a fucking fact. Why bend over backward to turn it into a he said/she said “both sides do it” story, NPR?

Liberal press, my ass.