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© 2004-2018 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Tuesday Bag o’ Sound & Fury

DUvS4Q3VwAAxOq0Are you watching the state of the union speech tonight? Yeah, me neither.

I can’t stand listening to Trump’s unfounded boasts. I can’t stand listening to his schoolyard taunting of anyone not named Putin. I can’t stand listening to him take credit for things another president accomplished, or his constant denigration of that president. I can’t stand listening to him take another poke at Hillary Clinton, whose crusted-up frying pan he’s not good enough to scrape clean. I can’t stand listening to his fucking voice.

Do my feelings toward Trump help me understand the stupid-ass tea party racists who couldn’t stand President Obama? Perhaps.

I saw one of those giant-font pass-it-on posts on Facebook this morning. It said: “If Mueller asks Trump ‘did you try and fire me?’ and he answers ‘no,’ then Trump is guilty of perjury. If he answers ‘yes,’ then Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice.” I have to say, it reminded me of the wistful posts we saw during Obama’s presidency, holding out hope that when the truth came out about Obama’s Kenyan birth, every law, executive order, and judicial appointment he’d signed would be revoked. That was never going to happen, any more than Trump will ever be held accountable for perjury, obstruction of justice, treason, racketeering, or rape. Nope. Tax evasion, maybe … one can always dream, right?

The difference is, the charges against Obama were without foundation and motivated by racism; the charges against Trump are in most cases demonstrably true (and in the remaining cases highly likely to be true) and motivated by love of country and hatred of corruption. So yes, my contempt toward Trump helps me understand others’ hatred of Obama or Hillary or whoever … but not to relate, not to shrug and say “I guess both sides are guilty.” No. One side is guilty. Fuck Trump. The American people elected Hillary Clinton by a nearly 3,000,000-vote margin. He is not our president.


Some squirrelly shit went down at the air museum yesterday. Most volunteers come in at 9 AM and sign in on a computer located in a trailer next to the administration building. When I clock in Monday mornings there are usually 8-10 other volunteers in the trailer, grabbing coffee and exchanging greetings before going to work. A friend and fellow volunteer comes with his wife, who is also a volunteer … he works the trams with me and she greets visitors out front. Yesterday, she briefly hugged another volunteer, an old-timer who’s been at the museum for ages. They’re friends, and none of us (or so I thought) even noticed the hug.

Twenty minutes later, as my friend and I were getting the trams ready for a busy day, the older volunteer came out to warn us of trouble brewing. Apparently one of the other volunteers in the trailer that morning had reported the innocent hug to management. Sure enough, a few minutes later we saw the older volunteer walking with our supervisor between hangars, and she was doing all the talking. We were too far away to hear what she was saying, but he was missing afterward.

I know there’s some tension between museum management and the volunteers, but I’m generally unaffected and can afford to ignore it. This, though, has me worried … it seems a major escalation, and I wonder what’s behind it.

So perhaps you’ll understand my unsettled state when I came home yesterday … home to a swimming pool full of debris from Monday’s high winds, home as well to a chronically unemployed 42-year-old daughter who was supposed to be at Home Depot on her first day of a new job, but was instead sitting in the family room with the TV on as if nothing had changed. Reader, forgive me, for I voiced my concern.

I asked Polly why she wasn’t at work and learned I’ve been the victim of yet another game of telephone: Polly doesn’t know when her first day is going to be and I must have made up the idea she’d told me it was Monday. Or maybe Donna had told me she was starting work yesterday, and Donna had made it up. Like all the times she’s told us she had an interview on this day or that day, only to clarify when this or that day came and she was camped out in our family room watching animated sitcoms that it was actually an online test or some such. We sure do misunderstand a lot of things she tells us … you’d think we’d learn.

As if that wasn’t enough, I made additional comments about the pool. Our pool guy comes on Monday, and I knew he’d been here because the pump was on, something he always does (normally it runs at night on an automatic timer). Not only was the pool full of debris, the crawler was plugged with twigs and one of our extendable poles was laying on the bottom. I used another pole to fish it out and then realized the skimmer basket from the first pole was missing. It was a mess and I couldn’t believe what a half-ass job the guy had done. So I made the mistake of asking Donna about it.

Turns out the high winds had blown the cover of our outdoor fire pit into the pool. The pool guy tried to fish it out but couldn’t, so Polly did, using the pole that somehow later wound up at the bottom. Donna had been out there too, helping clean up all the crap the wind had blown around. So the two of them were sensitive about the pool and anything I had to say about it, and of course the entire unpleasant homecoming was my fault.

Well, one good thing: I wore the new hat to the museum yesterday. The wind was even worse there than it was here, but the stampede strap worked and I didn’t lost the hat. I’ll take my blessings where I find them, however small.

IMG_5234It’s a new day. A new leaf, a new page, possibly one day closer to Polly starting a new job and being able to pay her own rent. Things are looking up.

I got a haircut this morning, which always cheers me up. I took Mr. B for a walk, which ditto. Donna fried leftover polenta with eggs for breakfast, and I got a little blogging in. Later today I’ll take Mr. B for a ride to the car wash and a visit to the wild bird store for a big bag of seed.

The wind is no longer blowing, and would you believe it’s 80°F outside? I’m beginning to suspect the February cold snap, normally the last gasp of winter in southern Arizona, will be a no-show this year.

Donna tells me our son Gregory is thinking of riding down on his motorcycle in March, then going on a ride somewhere with me. It’ll probably still be too cold to go north to Flagstaff, so I’ll have to put some thought into possible routes and destinations. San Diego? Albuquerque? Mexico? Tell you what, San Diego sure sounds nice!

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Tubac Car Show 2018 Photoblog

A couple of firsts this year: one, Donna came along (and on the motorcycle yet); two, my first-ever Twitter meetup.

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My favorite thing about this car show, held every January on the golf course at Tubac, Arizona, is parking my motorcycle on the green next to the first row of show cars. Cagers (car drivers) have to walk in from remote parking lots, but the organizers want us front and center, and our bikes wind up being part of the show. I was surprised this year when Donna and I were the first bikers to arrive (the two Harleys you see next to our Goldwing came putting in five minutes later). When we left a couple of hours later, there were two rows of motorcycles, and dozens of car show visitors checking them out. As Donna and I were saddling up, two spectators came up to ask questions about our Goldwing, and I gave them a quick tour. One wanted to know about my engine covers, which made me think he was a fellow Goldwinger who has lost a few, and might have been thinking about “borrowing” mine when we walked up.

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I favored the ’55 Lincoln Continental Mk II behind us, but Donna went for the ’57 Chevy

I mentioned the Twitter meetup in my previous post. We had exchanged cell phone numbers beforehand, and that’s how we found one another in the sea of visitors at the car show. Our new Canadian friends, Les and Mary Ellen, live in Peterborough, Ontario, and winter over in Green Valley, just a few miles north of Tubac. We went to lunch after the car show at a trattoria in Tubac, where the hostess kindly took a photo of the four of us together.

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Delegates to the first Canada/US Car Show Summit at Melio’s Trattoria, Tubac, Arizona

Sometime in March we’ll meet again at the air museum, along with a former RAAF fighter pilot friend of theirs, and I’ll give them a tour. Les tells me their Aussie friend flew two of the aircraft types at our museum, and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about them.

The car show seemed awfully crowded this year, but that may be my nascent agoraphobia speaking. I skipped the annual Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale this year because the crowds have grown too immense. I don’t want to give up this show, which, like another favorite car show, the one at Tucson’s St. Gregory Academy in October, is held outdoors in a lovely setting. But damn, it gets harder every year to take unobstructed photos of cool cars, what with spectators obliviously stepping in front of my camera and then just standing there. But I keep trying. Here are a few of my favorites from yesterday.

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1933 Pontiac

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1953 Airstream

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1955 Sears Roebuck Allstate scooter

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So that’s where they went!

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Selfie with a ’61 Crown Imperial

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Grandfather Estes always called ’em Pee-Ewwicks

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Our hands down favorite

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’42 H-D WLC, Canadian version of the WLA

The rest of yesterday’s photos are in my Tubac Car Show 2018 album on Flickr.

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Orcs in Hats on Twitter

My stampede string came and I attached it to the new sun hat. It’s western, braided leather with silver tips, and pretty long. I’m trying to figure out the best way to wear it when it’s not snugged up under my chin on a windy day. Should I loop it over the brim with the free ends hanging down the back, let the entire affair hang down my back like an Argentinian gaucho, or stuff it up inside the hat? Any suggestions from my style-minded friends?

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A Canadian who follows me on Twitter is wintering over in Green Valley, Arizona, and he and his wife plan to meet us at the car show in Tubac tomorrow. Twitter! People who read my Air-Minded posts on this blog and Daily Kos have come to the air museum to meet me before, but a meetup via Twitter will be a first. A serendipitous first, one I’m looking forward to.

I use Twitter differently than* Facebook. There, my “friends” are people I actually know or have at least met. I never look at the news feed; Facebook, for me at any rate, is purely social, a place to catch up with friends and family. Twitter, on the other hand, is one of my primary news sources. I know only a handful of those I follow there. Most are people I’m never likely to meet: working journalists, writers, experts in various fields.

* Yeah, I know: “different than”=bad, “different from”=good. I make an exception here because “I use Twitter differently from Facebook” comes across all grammar nazi.

So anyway, Donna’s riding with me to Tubac on the motorcycle. It’s not often I can talk her into getting on the Goldwing: once a year tops, some years not at all. She’s riding this time because I told her motorcyclists get to park on the golf course right by the show cars and don’t have to walk half a mile from the parking lot like the cagers do. She’s not big on car shows, but she loves meeting new people.

I’m just back from my morning walk with Mr. B, who has taken to shitting twice on his outings. I was unprepared the first time; now I carry two poop bags in my pocket. He hasn’t befouled the house since the last of our holiday company left. Donna attributes his earlier “accidents” (me, I say he did it on purpose) to over-excitement. Polly occasionally drops by, sometimes spending the night in the spare bedroom, but Mr. B knows she’s family and stays cool.

Speaking of Polly, a month ago Quik Mart cut her working hours drastically, then totally. We had to pay her rent. Now she’s starting a part-time job at Home Depot, but of course it comes without benefits, and she’ll have to find a second job or move back in with us. Companies that employ part-time workers want absolute freedom to schedule their work hours, which makes it nearly impossible to balance two service jobs at once. I don’t know how anyone manages in today’s economy. Wish she’d have listened to me years ago and joined the military.

Speaking of Twitter, someone suggested this morning that Democrats lost voters because they didn’t stand up for unions when they were under threat. How the hell did we manage to lose labor unions? Inaction, that’s how, and not just on the part of the Democratic Party … American workers didn’t fight to keep what they had and now everything sucks and people like my daughter, a woman in her 40s, have zero security and have to make do with multiple part-time jobs.

The trend today, from what I see on the news and read on Twitter, is for citizens to get off their asses, run for city, state, and federal office, and wrest control of the country back from the Orcs. People are doing it, but it’s not for everyone, alas. Here, Wikipedia suggests an alternate and strangely appealing path:

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But back to the Orcs: is it not perfect that this woman is the face of the Trump administration?

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I’m tempted to superimpose the lyrics to the theme song of the 1960s sitcom “That Girl” over this photo and post it to Twitter (I’d probably get a bunch of new followers!), but I have to control those impulses. None of us can help our looks (though smiling helps some) and god knows I’m no prize.

Oh fuck it.

Diamonds, Daisies, Snowflakes,
That Girl
Chestnuts, Rainbows, Springtime …
Is That Girl
She’s tinsel on a tree …
She’s everything that every girl should be!

Sable, Popcorn, White Wine,
That Girl
Gingham, Bluebirds, Broadway …
Is That Girl
She’s mine alone, but luckily for you …
If you find a girl to love,
Only one girl to love,
Then she’ll be That Girl too …
That Girl!

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Air-Minded: Air Museum News

IMG_5161That’s my friend and fellow air museum volunteer Loc Ho, departing this week for his first aeronautical engineering job at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. I’ll miss this sharp young man.

When he first started volunteering at Pima Air & Space, Loc Ho was an engineering student at the University of Arizona. He looked me up because he’s a great fan of the F-15 Eagle and wanted to learn more about it, and we became friends. Lately he’s been working in restoration, where he’s been keeping me in the loop on what’s happening in that secretive department. Now I’m losing my eyes and ears, and will have to find other ways to get the news.

Since my last foray into the fenced-off resto yard, the museum has issued several “be no” messages to volunteers, as in “There will be no unauthorized visits to restoration by no-account docents, especially those driving purloined golf carts.” I can take a hint, guys. Until the next time I think no one’s looking, that is.

This photo, in accordance with current PASM guidance, was taken from outside the restoration yard fence:

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That’s one of PASM’s newest acquisitions, an F-16C formerly assigned to the Arizona Air National Guard (the huge aircraft behind it, a B-52D, is getting its Vietnam War-era camouflage refreshed). The Viper appears to be missing its afterburner, and much remains to be done in terms of stripping and painting. When it’s ready to go on display, I assume they’ll park it near the museum’s F-15, which itself recently came out of resto with new paint, and that means they’ll have to move a lot of USAF fighters around to make room for it. Good, more grist for the blog!

Speaking of grist for the blog, I wonder when we’ll get a B-1B Lancer, an F/A-18E Super Hornet, an F-15E Strike Eagle, or any of the remotely-piloted aircraft currently in use: a Predator, a Reaper, a Global Hawk. Ten years from now, will PASM have an F-22 Raptor, an F-35 Lightning II, and a C-17 Globemaster III? Seeing as how there are only 20 of them, I doubt we’ll ever get a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, and unless the county grants us more acreage there’s no place to park a C-5 Galaxy, but I can’t for the life of me understand why we don’t have an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, or even an old U-2 spy plane, especially seeing as how U-2s were once based across the street at Davis-Monthan. Guess I’ll find out when everybody else does.

That’s the latest news from Pima Air & Space, where all the docents are learned, all the planes are authentically marked, and all the visitors are special.

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Stampede String

UntitledMy old cloth sun hat, the one I wear while volunteering at the air museum, has given up the ghost. After multiple washings to remove sweat stains, the brim no longer holds its shape: one side flops down to my eyebrow while the other juts up, giving me the appearance of a deranged Aussie.

I decided to visit a proper hat store and get one that’ll not only hold its shape but resist sweat stains, and this is the one I picked. Those of us who work outdoors at the museum are encouraged to wear brimmed hats for sun protection, but there the guidance stops. Guidance or no, outdoor docents settled on white hats. I’ll break ground with a tan hat, but at least I’ll be able to say, if challenged, that it matches our uniform pants.

I wore bling on the cloth hat: miniature USAF pilot wings, a little gold F-15, my International Society of Air Safety Investigators pin, and the like, but with the new hat I’m going clean.

I’m not wearing it tomorrow because it doesn’t have a chin strap. I can’t bear the thought of seventy bucks’ worth of hat blowing off and rolling around in the dirt. I should’ve asked the haberdasher if he had accessory straps but didn’t think of it until this morning, so I looked online. Turns out they’re called stampede straps, and yes, Amazon sells ’em. By next week, the hat’ll have a strap and I’ll be in business.

UntitledIn hat-related news, I bought a replacement visor for my motorcycle helmet, one with a secondary dark visor that flips up and down. Riding from Beatty to Yuma a couple of weeks ago, I was looking into the sun all day. The visor I had at the time was clear, so I wore sunglasses inside the helmet. The trouble with that was they felt like they were digging into my nose. When it comes to glasses I’m like the princess with the pea; they can be light as a feather but after a while I feel the weight pressing down.

My son rode with us that day and he had one of these double visors on his Arai. Now that I have one too I can say it’s a great improvement. All motorcycle helmets should come with them. I wonder how many riders and drivers have crashed due to temporary sun blindness. It was a huge issue flying fighters, especially in a visual engagement, and I often wished for three hands: one for the throttles, one for the stick, and one to put between my eyes and the sun.


I like this. Nancy’s still got it.

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I could rant and rave about Trump and his first year in office, but plenty of intelligent and insightful people already are and I have nothing new to contribute. Just this: he’s not going to be impeached. Nor will he be brought up on criminal charges by Mueller; nor is it likely he’ll stroke out and become incapacitated. No Republican in the House or Senate will take action against him, and since they’re in the majority, no Democrat can. In addition to having a majority in both houses of Congress, he has the Supreme Court in his pocket. He literally can “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and get away with it. It’s tribalism run amok, which explains why evangelicals stick with him through scandal after scandal, and will still support him even if the Russian hooker videotapes come out.

The one shot we have is to vote that tribe out and put ours back in charge. Our tribe is larger. We can flip Congress from red to blue in 2018, then vote in a Democratic president in 2020. Until then it’s survive and resist. Tell you what, if we don’t vote in 2018 or 2020, then fuck us, we deserve whatever we get.

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You Can’t Read That!

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

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YCRT! News

  • A federal judge has ruled that Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies classes (and the associated wholesale banning of books in the Tucson Unified School District) was motivated by racial discrimination, a potentially lethal blow to the ban. I say “potentially” because as of now the ban is still in effect. Stay tuned.
  • “The word that he didn’t understand was, ‘masturbate,'” Hampton said. “I was like, ‘What are these kids reading?'” You’ll never guess … oh, wait, yes you will. Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” takes another bow, this time outraging protective parents in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Recent attempts to remove “The Handmaid’s Tale” from a Pennsylvania high school’s summer reading list prompt a well-written editorial in support of teaching banned books.
  • All copies of a highly-regarded young adult novel, “The Hate U Give,” have been pulled from school library shelves in Katy, Texas, after a parent complained about vulgarity. The censorious parents, apparently, are totally cool with the book’s subject matter: the extrajudicial murder of a black teenager by police.
  • M.K. Asante’s memoir, “Buck,” was removed from the reading assignment list at a Baltimore, Maryland, high school after a parent posted excerpts on Facebook, prompting a flood of complaints to school administrators. No word on whether administrators end-ran the district’s challenged book review process, or if the district even has such a process.
  • One Million Moms takes aim at Scholastic, one of the world’s largest publishers of children’s books, for “publishing and promoting pro-homosexual and pro-transgender books for children.”
  • Here’s an interesting interview with a “porn shop” librarian.
  • Speaking of porn and libraries, balancing patrons’ rights to view what they want on library computers with other patrons’ wishes not to be subjected to open displays of pornography is, in the words of this report, a “tough needle to thread.”
  • Should libraries be required to include dangerous books in their collections? Is there such a thing as a dangerous book? What about “The Turner Diaries,” “Mein Kampf,” “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”?
  • Not much has been said about how the Federal Communication Commission’s suspension of net neutrality rules will affect the nation’s public libraries. But it will, as this ALA editorial points out.
  • I guess it’s okay for high school journalism students to learn about television by broadcasting news to other students over a closed-circuit network, so long as they don’t report news that might make adults uncomfortable.
  • By now everyone has heard about the Trump administration directive banning the use of seven words and phrases in Centers for Disease Control reports. It may seem funny at first glance, but it is in fact an existential threat to science.
  • Speaking of Trump administration attempts to censor information it doesn’t like, the Department of Health and Human Services is withholding over 10,000 public comments critical of its proposal to roll back regulations on funding religious and faith-based groups.
  • Under a directive going into effect in New York, families and friends will no longer be allowed to mail packages or books to prisoners. Instead, they will have to order items from a limited number of authorized vendors, which will then deliver packages to state prisons. Only 77 books are currently available through these vendors: one dictionary, one thesaurus, five romance novels, 11 how-to books, 14 religious texts, 21 puzzle books, and 24 drawing or coloring books.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

golden compassThe Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1)
by Philip Pullman
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I finished Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy several years ago, before I started this banned book column, before I’d gotten in the habit of reviewing books. I didn’t need a paper trail to help me remember them as the best young adult adventures I’d ever read, so when “La Belle Sauvage,” the first book of a new Pullman trilogy, “The Book of Dust,” (which builds on the first one) came out late last year, I made sure to read and review it.

This is from my recent review of “La Belle Sauvage”:

“I was literally breathless when I finished the book. How long has it been since I’ve read anything this gripping and engaging? A while, for sure. Oh yes, I read lots of thrillers, and they all have gripping plots, but I always know some bozo like me wrote the book. With Pullman, I forget about the bozo behind the book. When Malcolm’s excited, I’m excited. When he’s frightened nearly out of his wits, so am I. This is how it was when I first discovered my love of reading as a child, when a good book could sweep me off my feet. That Pullman can do that to me as an adult is … well, it’s genius, is what it is.”

You will understand, then, why I am now re-reading (and this time reviewing) the original “His Dark Materials” trilogy. This is my review of the first novel, “The Golden Compass,” which will be followed by reviews of “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass.”

When I first read the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, all three novels were being challenged and in some cases banned from school reading lists and libraries around the country, and were listed on the American Library Associations’s list of frequently banned and challenged books for 2008. As a matter of fact “His Dark Materials” remains on the current ALA list, compiled in 2016.

Objections to the novels center around the books’ portrayal of organized religion. In the world of “The Golden Compass” and the other novels of the first trilogy, the church–very similar to our world’s Catholic church–is strong and repressive, acting in opposition to the values and morals most of us are raised with, manipulative and controlling, more than willing to embrace evil in order to preserve and advance its power. This of course puts organized religion in a bad light, and since the books are meant for young readers, they were and are considered a threat by the Catholic church and religious right conservatives.

My take: the hero of “The Golden Compass,” Lyra Belacqua, is the living embodiment of morality: pure and good in action and thought. Everything she does, knowingly or not, is in direct opposition to the cruel schemes of the Magisterium and the Oblation Board; i.e., organized religion. Philip Pullman claims to be an atheist, but I think he is not that dogmatic: his humans–and only the humans–have dæmons, very near to souls.

My childlike delight in reading these novels has less to do with the books’ message on religion and morality (which which I quite agree) than with the pure joy of reading a grand adventure. A meticulously crafted and detailed alternate world, so like our own yet so different. The beguiling Lyra Belacqua, a heroine no reader can ever forget (or get enough of). Hairbreadth escapes, armored bears, journeys by river and sea, visions of alternate universes in the Northern lights, witches, cliff-ghasts, Mrs. Coulter … and most of all, the dæmons. I totally get Iofur Raknison, King of the Panserbjørnes, who wants nothing more than a dæmon of his own, and my dachshund Mr. B, my constant companion, is no doubt wondering why I’ve started having long one-sided conversations with him.

As to the novel’s “young adult” label: yes, Pullman’s trilogy is meant for young readers, but the books are written at an adult level (by which I mean not just Pullman’s vocabulary but the sophistication and complexity of his ideas), and are as good as the best mainstream fiction. If these novels had not been labeled YA, I would never have known.

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Ridin’ & Writin’ & Fixin’

When I returned from the Death Valley ride earlier this month, I uninstalled the helmet-mounted Bluetooth comm system I’d put in for the trip and sent it back to Amazon for a refund. No, I’m not that big an asshole … the unit was defective. I may get something to replace it, or I may not. Around town I wear a half-helmet with speakers mounted in the ear flaps. With that I can listen to NPR or music while I’m putting around, and that’s good enough for now. The cord that connects the helmet to the motorcycle was frayed, though, and a couple of the wires had broken, so I rode down to J&M Motorcycle Audio yesterday to buy a new one.

J&M is set up like an auto parts store. You ask for what you want from a guy behind a counter. He goes to get it, enters your info into a computer, then hands you your part and a receipt. When he asked my name and I told him, he gave me a look and pulled a magazine out of his inbox. This magazine:

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Which he then opened to this page, already marked with a paperclip:

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And I said, “Yeah, I wrote that.”

“I know,” he said. “We all read it.”

So how about that? People who know nothing about this blog are reading things I’ve written. I submitted two stories to Wing World last fall, each about the motorcycling misadventures of my friend Ed, and they published them both in the January issue. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you probably already know the stories, because I first posted them here on Paul’s Thing. They’re easier to read on the blog than on a screen grab, so click away:

I have a copy of the magazine itself, but the two photos above should be enough to give you the idea. I’ll just say this: as when I used to write for Harrier Magazine, it’s nice to see my own stuff in an actual glossy-paper magazine.

I spent some time with Ed this afternoon, replacing an engine side cover that blew off on the last leg of our Death Valley ride. I told him about the guy at J&M, and how he said everyone there had read the stories. Ed saw the stories when I first wrote them for this blog, and it was his idea for me to submit them to Wing World. He gets partial credit for the first one, because I could not have written it without his assistance … I wasn’t there, as I was for the second story. Read them and you’ll understand.

About that engine side cover: I’ve lost four of them over the years, all at speeds over 85 mph. They’re held on with plastic pegs which fit into rubber grommets, an iffy proposition. My latest replacement cover, which I bought from a guy on eBay after getting home from the trip, didn’t have foam padding on the inside, and looking back I’m not sure any of the others did. Ed pulled the same cover from his bike and it had a foam lining, so we cut some rubber to fit and tried it that way. The lining seems to help the cover fit more snugly. That should cure the coming-loose problem, but we added a velcro strap as a last-ditch safety, a sort of tether secured to the foot peg mount at the bottom and fastened at the top to a velcro pad glued to the the cover. You can see the strap sticking up from the bottom of the cover, just above the foot peg:

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No, it’s not pretty, and if I had a newer bike I might have looked for a more elegant solution, but having bought several replacement covers to date, at prices ranging from 50 to 100 bucks each, I’m going with what’ll work. Or at least what I think will work … I won’t know for sure until the next time I pull the ton!

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Paul’s Book Reviews: YA, Mystery/Thriller, Memoir, SF

Then it started to rain, so she went inside and made some coffee and did what she had never done in her life: tried the newspaper crossword. “What a stupid exercise,” said her dæmon after five minutes. “Words belong in contexts, not pegged out like biological specimens.”

— Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage


la belle sauvageLa Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)
by Philip Pullman
4_5

I devoured Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy several years ago, enrapt from beginning to end. I hadn’t realized, before that experience, how rich “young adult” fiction could be. Afterward I sought out good YA fiction and science fiction, finding authors and series to love, but all this time what I’ve really been waiting for is more of the world and characters Philip Pullman invented in his original trilogy.

It’s been worth the wait. It all came back, from the first page on: dæmons, alethiometers, Gyptians, Oxford, the witches of the North … and then a reference to Lyra, then Lord Asriel, and then, chillingly, Mrs. Coulter. To my delight I realized “La Belle Sauvage” is a prequel to “The Golden Compass,” with a child protagonist as fascinating and believable as Lyra Belacqua in the earlier works (Lyra, as mentioned, is here too, this time as an infant, along with her infant dæmon Pantalaimon).

The protagonist, this time around, is the 11-year-old son of a couple who run an inn just upriver from Oxford. His name is Malcolm Polstead, and his dæmon is Asta. The adventure starts in the first chapter, when mysterious guests ask Malcolm about the priory across the river and the nuns who live there. It soon becomes known that the nuns have taken in a baby. The baby is Lyra, and sinister forces are determined to snatch her. As in the “Golden Compass” books, the sinister forces are sent forth to do their dirty work by the Magisterium, aka “The Church.” Saving Lyra from the Magisterium’s clutches falls to Malcolm, and good lord it’s a hair-raising tale.

I was literally breathless when I finished the book. How long has it been since I’ve read anything this gripping and engaging? A while, for sure. Oh yes, I read lots of thrillers, and they all have gripping plots, but I always know some bozo like me wrote the book. With Pullman, I forget about the bozo behind the book. When Malcolm’s excited, I’m excited. When he’s frightened nearly out of his wits, so am I. This is how it was when I first discovered my love of reading as a child, when a good book could sweep me off my feet. That Pullman can do that to me as an adult is … well, it’s genius, is what it is.

My understanding is that Philip Pullman actually started working on what became “La Belle Sauvage” before writing the “Golden Compass” trilogy in the early 2000s. He returned to “La Belle Sauvage” two or three years ago, and it’s meant to be the first installment of a new trilogy, “The Book of Dust.” There’s no publication date for the next two books, but in the afterword to “La Belle Sauvage” Pullman says the next one will jump ahead two decades, and feature Lyra in her 20s.

I cannot wait, but I must.


moxylandMoxyland
by Lauren Beukes
3_5

Apart from initially downloading a Swedish-language version of “Moxyland” to my Nook, then having to go through the thrash of correcting my mistake with B&N, this book was a pleasure to read.

I had earlier read Beukes’ “Broken Monsters,” a police procedural with supernatural plot elements set in the American city of Detroit, and compared her favorably to the writer Mo Hayder. There’s nothing of the supernatural in “Moxyland.” Instead there is an oppressive regime against which young people resist and rebel, using technology, and I am reminded of William Gibson.

“Moxyland,” Beukes’ debut novel, is set in South Africa, Beukes’ own country. Its young characters try to survive in, work around, protest, and even topple the repressive corporate security state SA has become. Set in the near future, it’s full of fascinating (and chilling) cyber extrapolation. One example: cell phones the police can remotely “defuse” (think taser) you with, or, perhaps worse, disconnect from the grid, rendering you an unperson, unable to communicate, use transportation, make social or commercial transactions, even access your own apartment.

Some reviewers see racial apartheid in Beukes’ near-future SA, I did not. Her characters, black and white, are socially & personally connected; the repression is all-encompassing, directed at citizens of all races. The apartheid I see in “Moxyland” is between the privileged–those who live relatively cushy lives after signing on to work for life with corporations–and everyone else.

The main characters, as mentioned, are connected, but I had a hard time figuring out how and as I read on it wasn’t getting any clearer. Halfway through, I took a short break to read some reviews of “Moxyland.” In addition to clearing things up, it enhanced my enjoyment of the rest of the novel. I do not think this would have happened with a Gibson novel: he’s somewhat better at crossing Ts and dotting Is for dummy readers.

Still, a very impressive novel, and I will certainly read more by Lauren Beukes.


thud ridgeThud Ridge: F-105 Thunderchief Missions over Vietnam
by Jack Broughton
3_5

I remember reading “Thud Ridge” in 1974 as I was going through USAF pilot training, trying to get a feel for what flying fighters in combat was like, since I so badly wanted to become a fighter pilot myself. At the time, the very tail end of the air war in Vietnam, single-seat fighter pilots were the manliest men in the business, and that’s the kind of pilot we all wanted to be. A few of us made it.

Today I volunteer at an air museum. I saw a copy of “Thud Ridge” on the docent library shelf and took it home to re-read. Forty-plus years hasn’t changed my appreciation of the book much. I was a little less patient with Jack Broughton’s complaints about the restrictive rules of engagement that exposed American aircrews to needless danger, but only because he was repetitious. The complaints are entirely valid; Broughton and other warriors who spoke out against the restrictions were right, and I am not at all convinced, after a 24-year career flying single-seat fighters myself, that things have changed all that much since Vietnam.

I read the book then for its descriptions of aerial combat; these remain the most gripping parts of Broughton’s tale. Again, little has changed, and with experience I can now fully appreciate just how dead-on Broughton was. And macho? Good lord. Yankee air pirates and steely-eyed killers. If you ain’t a fighter pilot you ain’t shit. That’s what you read this book for and that’s what you get. I will never not admire anyone who flew the F-105 in combat.

At one point Broughton mentions singing “Mary Anne Burns, Queen of All the Acrobats” with other pilots in a squadron bar and I haven’t been able to get that great old song out of my head since. Excuse me while, re-energized, I go back to work on my memoir!


tool of warTool of War (Ship Breaker #3)
by Paolo Bacigalupi
3_5

I’ve been waiting for a follow-on to Bacigalupi’s earlier YA novels “Ship Breaker” and “The Drowned Cities,” and it’s finally here. I devoured it in two days and wish there was more, but at least the stage is now set for a fourth installment, so I’ll be patient.

The principle characters of the earlier novels, children and teenagers of a near-future world profoundly changed by pollution and climate change, ruled by warlords and corporations which rose with the fall of nation-states, populate “Tool of War,” which is set a few years on, the children now teenagers, the teens young adults. They are survivors, now wiser in the ways of war, power, and corporate politics.

The main character in this book (also present in the earlier novels, though in smaller roles) is an augment, a human with spliced tiger and hyena genes, incubated in a tube and raised in a creche, trained in warfare and obedience. He is the Tool of the title, now breaking the chains of genetic subservience and striking out on his own, seeing himself as new kind of human, no longer a servant.

Here’s a relevant paragraph from my review of “Ship Breaker”:

“‘Ship Breaker’ is killer good: a young adult adventure set in a post-environmental disaster, post-nation/state world where powerful clans control global trade conducted by sailing ships and dirigibles, and society is divided into two classes: the very rich and the very poor. It’s a Margaret Atwood Oryx & Crake scenario on steroids, and like Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi has rich narrative and descriptive powers: you can see the world of the shipbreakers on their oil-stained beach, you can feel the rust and sharp edges on the steel plates the breakers pry off their beached oil tankers, you can hear the hammer blows and the pop of forced rivets, you can smell the fuel oil and sweat. There’s nothing theoretical about Bacigalupi’s writing, nothing that requires page after page of dry explanation; his fictional world is immediate and gripping, fully revealed through the context of a kick-ass story, all but real.”

Here’s another relevant paragraph, from my review of “The Drowned Cities”:

“I really should list this as a banned book and beat the rush, because when the helicopter parents who have challenged ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ see the darkness here, they will surely put “The Drowned Cities” on their target list.

Relevant how? Because some of what impressed me so in the earlier novels is missing or muted in this one. The lives of the young protagonists are less gritty and feral. The physical world is less threatening and immediate, though there are intriguing elements, as in the islands and arcologies of Seascape, the former Boston. The exciting feeling of reading something those who want to limit our knowledge and control our thoughts might try to ban or burn is absent as well. It’s as if Bacigalupi has damped the fire that burned in the previous novels … only a little, mind you, but it’s noticeable.

Hella good still, some of the best YA science fiction around, and I’ll be there for Ship Breaker #4.

p.s. Many of the ideas and concepts explored in the Ship Breaker series come from Bacigalupi’s masterful adult science fiction novel “The Windup Girl.” Another of his adult novels, “The Water Knife,” inspires parts of the future world revealed in “Tool of War.” Any fan of Bacigalupi’s YA fiction should read his adult fiction as well.


the lost onesThe Lost Ones (Quinn Colson #2)
by Ace Atkins
3_5

I’m reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels in order, and now that I’m two books in with Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson, I may as well read these in order too.

Lee Child and Ace Atkins write character-driven suspense thrillers featuring strong men with military backgrounds. Each new Lee Child novel puts Jack Reacher in a new location with new bad guys. Ace Atkins is going for something different, as far as I can tell from reading the first two Quinn Colson novels: Quinn is the sheriff of Jericho, Mississippi, and the supporting characters are people we got to know in previous novels. Quinn Colson is a little less hard-headed and a little more emotional than Jack Reacher. Otherwise the similarities in these two characters should guarantee that a fan of one will enjoy reading about the other.

I enjoyed “The Lost Ones,” particularly in that it finishes a story introduced in the first novel, a childhood memory of running away and living off the land in the forests of northern Mississippi. We learn here what really happened, and there’s significant emotional growth, not only in Quinn, but in his sister Caddy, who was rather a villain in the first novel.

Good escapist reading with plenty of action and memorable characters. I plan to stick with Quinn Colson.


gone tomorrowGone Tomorrow (Jack Reacher #13)
by Lee Child
3_0

Still plugging away at the Jack Reacher series and have now finished the 13th installment.

This one takes place in New York City, and Lee Child offers so many geographical details I was tempted to call up a street map of Manhattan on my iPad so I could trace Reacher’s wanderings around the 14th and 17th precincts and get a feel for directions and distances between the subway stations, parks, and hotels where the action takes place.

Reacher is riding the subway into the city late one night when he sees a woman fitting the profile of a suicide bomber, one who appears close to detonating herself. Which doesn’t make sense, because it’s the middle of the night and there are only five other passengers on the car. He confronts her and she kills herself with a pistol, pulling Reacher into a complex conspiracy, which, as always, he reasons out on his own and thwarts at the last bleeding minute. Yeah, Jack Reacher novels follow a formula, but they’re almost always good reads.

“Gone Tomorrow” is not the best Jack Reacher novel, but it is far above some others. Lee Child sometimes writes the novels in the first person, sometimes in the third person. This one is first person, so we’re in Reacher’s head all the way through. I think the first person novels are somewhat limited, because we never back away for a larger view of what’s going on. It’s a good thing Reacher is Sherlock Holmes smart and willing to share his thinking with the reader.

My Kindle doesn’t give page numbers, but rather indicates % read. I was past the 75% mark before Reacher had sex with the woman working the case with him, in fact the only woman he has sex with in the entire novel, and only the one time. That was notable, and now I have to read the rest to see if there’s one where he remains celibate.

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