November 2014
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Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Tuesday Bag o’ Ballots

vote bagThank you, Google Images! Click on the inset image if you’d like to see it larger.

I wasn’t old enough to vote for JFK, but I remember watching the Nixon/Kennedy debates and talking up the far more charismatic Kennedy with my junior high school classmates.

I came of voting age shortly before the 1968 presidential election, in which I voted for happy warrior Hubert Humphrey. We were in California then, but I don’t remember who was on the ballot for Congress … Reagan had been elected governor the year before, so he wouldn’t be on the California ballot again for three more years (I didn’t vote for him when he came up for re-election).

I’m ashamed to admit I skipped a few mid-term elections over the years, but I vote in every presidential election, and I did vote in today’s mid-terms, two weeks ago by mail-in ballot. Seriously, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t vote by mail. No hassles with voter ID, no lines, no sweat. You can take as much time as you need with your ballot, checking different candidates’ records and reading up on propositions online before deciding which circles to fill in. I love it.

This time around, at least in certain GOP-controlled states, voting won’t be easy for some, specifically elderly people, students, blacks, and latinos. A lot of elderly people don’t have the correct forms of ID to vote; ditto students, blacks, and latinos. Red state voter suppression is aimed at groups who traditionally vote Democratic, so I don’t know why they’d clamp down on the elderly, who usually vote Republican, but I guess their discriminatory intent would be too obvious if they let old white people vote without the right kinds of ID while turning away everyone else who’s in the same boat. Or have Republicans found a way around that by now? I suspect they have.

Florida tried to discourage traditionally Democratic voters during the 2012 presidential election. Florida voters refused to be discouraged; many stood in line for hours. I hope voters show the same determination this time around, but you know what they say: people just don’t bother to vote in mid-term elections.

Every year I remind my friends to vote, and every year I do it with a straight face, even though all evidence indicates the only “votes” that count are campaign contributions, PAC money, and industry bribes. It’s not always easy to keep a straight face when telling people their votes count, but hey, we elected Obama twice, and judging by the reaction we surprised and dismayed the people who thought they were in charge. That gives me hope.

Everyone says Republicans will take the Senate today. It’s true that voters have a record of turning against the president’s party during the final two years of his second term. That might well happen again today, but what if it does? Congress will continue to do nothing? We should be used to that by now; what’s two more years of the same? Of course if Republicans do wind up in control of the House and the Senate, they’ll be under a lot of pressure to pay up on all their promises to repeal health care and impeach Obama. Ain’t gonna happen, but they’ll have to try.

I’m not even all that annoyed with Democrats who’ve given up on their own party; too many Democrats in Congress have shown themselves to be chickenshit opportunists, in that respect no different from their Republican counterparts, and every bit as much on the corporate take.

I wish we had a parliamentary system and a multitude of parties. I’d vote Democratic Socialist or straight Socialist if I could, probably Green as well. Here, it’s winner take all, and both parties are right of center; in Europe there are many choices, and if the winning party doesn’t have enough votes to rule outright it has to make alliances with smaller parties, thus giving those who vote for smaller parties a say in government. I guess that’s my main beef these days, feeling I don’t have a say.

But still … stymieing the plans of candidates who, if elected, would try to privatize Social Security, repeal Obamacare, turn Medicare into a voucher system, tell women they can’t make their own reproductive decisions, kill off labor unions, and take away your right to vote if you’re brown … well, that’s still a pretty powerful say in things, isn’t it?

Do vote, please.

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You Can’t Read That!

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

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YCRT! Mini-Rant

In my previous YCRT! post I ranted about a dangerous idea gaining momentum in conservative and religious circles: requiring schools or publishers to put advisory ratings or content alerts on books that might be assigned to elementary and secondary school students.

As always, I find myself lagging the fight—they’re already doing it in a Waukesha, Wisconsin school district, where, just as I feared, administrators seeking to avoid confrontation with angry parents are taking the easy way out by automatically “red-flagging books that deal with sex, rape, extreme violence and brutality, and animal cruelty.”

Here’s another school district, this time in Texas, doing the same thing in a slightly different way, preemptively banning books that appear on the American Library Association’s “Most Frequently Challenged” list. Why, that’s even easier than scanning for content alerts or parental advisory labels, which do not yet appear on most books—just go to the ALA website and ban any book on the list, easy peasy!

I’ll say it again: preemptive book banning will be the result wherever this idea takes hold. Decision-makers will stop reviewing contested books for educational worth; they’ll rely instead on lists and alerts and before you know it anything even potentially controversial will be forbidden in classrooms and school libraries.

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I wonder who determines what age the slider stops on?

About the scale: it’s from Common Sense Media, one of the leading providers of parental advisory ratings.

The call for content alerts and advisory ratings plays out primarily at the elementary and secondary school level, but it’s spilling over into colleges and universities in the form of demands for “trigger warnings,” a particularly insidious foot in the door for preemptive censorship. The American Association of University Professors, for one, regards trigger warnings as a threat to academic freedom.

This tide is far from cresting, and I expect to be doing my best to help fight it for some time to come.

YCRT! News

In my state, Arizona, already infamous for banning books, a suburban Phoenix school board has voted to literally cut pages out of an honors biology textbook. The pages in question refer to abortion. A state statute requires sex ed or biology textbooks to “give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.” The textbook in question seems to do exactly that, but apparently mere mention of abortion as an elective option will not fly in sunny Arizona.

This may not be news to YCRT! readers, but a leading British paper, The Guardian, has picked up on what it calls “the recent rise in efforts to get books banned that cover poverty and social class.”

One thing guaranteed to get textbooks, novels, graphic novels, or memoirs banned from classroom use is homosexuality. In Maine, the barest hint of The Gay was enough to cause school administrators to cancel a high school production of the play Almost, Maine.

Lest you think book banning and censorship in America is confined to schools, grown-up adults in New York City are protesting and denouncing the Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera about Palestinian terrorism. The Met has not canceled the actual performances, but has bowed to public pressure by canceling the planned international simulcast of the opera to movie theaters.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

glass castleThe Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls

Oh my gosh, I couldn’t put this book down! I read it straight through in two evenings; I’d have stayed up to dawn to finish it the first night if I were younger and didn’t need my sleep. That’s how readable this memoir is.

Walls’ memoir is divided into roughly three parts: the first covers her itinerant childhood in Arizona, California, and Nevada, from the time she is three until early elementary school age. The second deals with her family life in a poor coal mining town in West Virginia, lasting until she finishes the 11th grade, at which point she tears herself free of her family and strikes out for New York City to make her own life (the third part).

Reviewers always comment on what a rough life the Walls children had, living with a self-absorbed and mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father. If anyone in this vale of tears has whining rights, it is Jeannette Walls, yet she never does, not once. She describes the good and the bad of her life dispassionately and with clarity, and, especially in the first part of the book, conveys what it is to be a happy kid, oblivious to the hardships she has to endure, oblivious to her parents’ shortcomings (and rarely will you behold parents with so many of them).

I had a normal family life, but I knew kids with lives like hers when I was growing up, so I believe everything she says. I don’t think she embellishes the hardships one bit.

I actually frightened the dog while I was reading this book, exclaiming out loud as horror after horror unfolded. In the second part of Walls’ memoir, she describes how she began to see the truth about her parents, and how, though she still loved them and felt loved in return, she realized what awful parents they really were, finally confronting their utter uselessness. I quit talking out loud during this part of the book, because that’s when things got serious.

Were this a novel, one might expect a more dramatic break from her family in the third part, accompanied by some sort of moving denouement or confrontation. But no, this is a memoir. Jeannette merely moves away and makes her own life, one that has turned out to be quite successful. She continued to see her parents off and on while her father was still alive, she still sees her mother, she remains close to her siblings. It’s life, and she resolves herself to it, as we all must.

What can I compare The Glass Castle to? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the obvious answer. I loved it, I was moved by it, I couldn’t put it down.

Since The Glass Castle’s publication in 2005, a number of high schools have assigned it in advanced placement English courses. Since the memoir is frank and graphic in places, describing alcoholism, prostitution, and sexual and physical abuse, schools generally offer alternate reading choices for students who aren’t ready for real life. Nevertheless, parents from one side of the country to the other have repeatedly challenged The Glass Castle, trying to have it banned for all students.

The complaints revolve around Walls’ use of profanity, alleged (I didn’t see any) criticisms of Christianity, and the aforementioned accounts of sexual abuse and prostitution. I’m happy to say that teachers and school administrators have, for the most part, defended keeping the book on AP English reading lists, but it keeps popping up in the news as different parents in different parts of the country continue to try to have it banned. One teacher responded to a parental complaint with these words:

“I chose the text because it is commonly taught in AP Language and Composition classes as part of a memoir unit. Teachers and critics have praised the memoir for Walls’ honest account of positive life experiences as well as difficult incidents, citing her resilience and success in spite of such challenges as inspirational.”

I am not the only reader to find the memoir inspirational: The Glass Castle spent 261 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. In its first two years, over 2.5 million copies were printed and sold. It’s been translated into 22 languages, and has received the Christopher Award, the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and the Books for Better Living Award.

My life is better for having read it, and I wish I’d been able to read something like it when I was surrounded by kids just like the Wall children when I lived in Laramie, Wyoming as a junior high school student.

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Air-Minded: Coffins

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Enter the museum, if you dare … bwa ha ha ha ha!

Earlier this week the Pima Air & Space Museum stayed open late for its annual Halloween Fright Night, an event for kids. When I went in yesterday to lead my weekly walking tours, the Fright Night decor was still up, so I asked another volunteer to snap my photo by this macabre diorama.

bat patch copyThe coffin and bones are what drew me to that display. From 1989 to 1992 I flew with the 44th Fighter Squadron, aka the Vampires, at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Our patch (left) featured a vampire bat, the first flight of the day used the Bat 01 callsign, and the guest of honor at Friday night post-flying roll calls was Colonel Joe Vampire, a life-sized skeleton mannequin dressed in a flight suit and helmet who lived in a coffin like the one in the photo, propped up in a corner of the squadron ready room and after-hours bar.

Ah, esprit de corps. Where would we be without it?

I read today of the passing of Colonel Jack Broughton, the F-105 squadron commander who was court-martialed during the Vietnam war for trying to protect one of his young pilots by destroying gun camera film showing him strafing an off-limits target: a Russian ship in Haiphong Harbor. I read Broughton’s Vietnam memoir, Thud Ridge, and always admired the man, though at a distance. To my regret I never met him, but I did fly under majors and lieutenant colonels who had as lieutenants flown Thuds downtown under Broughton’s command.

I was happy to learn today, looking up background information on my old squadron, that my Vietnam-era Vampire predecessors flew F-105s out of Korat and Takhli in Thailand. Wow. A double dose of esprit de corps.

You know, those guys … the Jack Broughtons of the Vietnam war … may have been political troglodytes, ranting and raving that LBJ and McNamara cost us the war in Vietnam and put American aircrews’ lives at risk by micromanaging rules of engagement, ingress and egress routes, and an ever-changing list of targets we could and could not attack, but god damn it, they were right, and I can only imagine what their spirits think of the restrictions being put on our air campaign in Iraq and Syria today.

baka-diagramI’ll close with a few photos of Pima Air & Space Museum’s Ohka “Cherry Blossom” suicide bomb trainer, a literal flying coffin. This item, a spoil of war from a defeated Japan, was first studied by the US military and then put in storage (as you can see from the photo, much of it is still crated). Eventually it was given to the Smithsonian, which in turn loaned it to us. It currently sits in one of our back rooms, awaiting reassembly and restoration. The terms of the inter-museum agreement say it has to be stored and displayed indoors; we’re waiting for a new hangar to be built on the museum grounds before we put it on display.

The Ohka was a rocket-powered suicide bomb, a desperation weapon adopted near the end of the war. The Japanese would hang it underneath a bomber, which would fly as close to the American fleet as it dared before dropping it. Once released, the Ohka kamikaze pilot would glide until he picked his target, then dive and fire the rocket to accelerate to 500+ mph on his final approach, presenting a difficult, hard to track target to naval anti-aircraft gunners.

The standard Ohka had a single seat and a large warhead in the nose: our Ohka is a two-seater, a training variant discovered in Japan after the surrender. Presumably flying a rocket-powered bomb required a different skill set from that needed to fly conventional airplanes, necessitating a ride or two in a trainer first. In these models the warhead was replaced by water ballast and a forward cockpit for the (no doubt very brave) instructor pilot. After a training dive, the instructor and his student would glide to a nearby airfield and land on skids welded to the bottom of the Ohka. I’m going to guess the instructor handled the approach and touchdown; there wouldn’t have been much need to teach the student kamikaze pilot how to do that.

Cherry Bomb Restoration

Ohka “Cherry Blossom” trainer in storage

I wrote about our Ohka before, and I sneak into the storage room from time to time to see if they’ve worked on it or uncrated any additional parts. Wednesday, I discovered a new tail section, wings, and canopy sitting on a pallet, wrapped in plastic:

Cherry Bomb Restoration

New wings, tail section, and canopy

I can’t believe these are factory originals; I think they were fabricated by our restoration shop to replace the heavily-damaged original parts. In this photo, you can see the original tail section, much the worse for wear:

Cherry Bomb Restoration

Original damaged tail section

Hey, Ohkas weren’t built to last. The crates, on the other hand … don’t these photos remind you of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they’re putting the Ark of the Covenant into that enormous underground warehouse of precious and wonderful artifacts? Doesn’t that give you a bit of a Halloween vibe? It does me.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Comments Are Open (Again)

Dear Paul’s Thing Readers,

Comments are open again, which means you can weigh in on posts here at Paul’s Thing without having to register and log in.

I started requiring commenters to register and log in a few years ago after comment spammers discovered this blog. That got rid of the spammers, but it discouraged discussion from real readers. I’ve installed some anti-spam plugins, which I hope will fend off most of the comment spam. If any gets through, I’ll manually delete it.

I don’t yet know how effective these plugins are. There’s a possibility they might block some of your comments, especially if you write about things like discount sunglasses or boner pills. Stay away from subjects like that and you should be fine!

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Hey, Baby

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I thought this video, which has been widely shared on Twitter, would be all over Facebook by now, but so far no one in my small circle of friends has posted it.

Too often, when women try to explain the sexual harassment they experience on the street, fending off or trying to ignore comments and cracks, men, though they may not say it out loud, think “Girl, if you’re not talking actual assault or rape, I’m tuning you out.” It’s a lot more effective to show it in action, as this video does.

I was going to post it to Facebook myself, because I think it’s a good teaching tool (Jessica Williams recently did a Daily Show segment that makes the same point about sexual catcalling, and I was going to post it too), but then I started overthinking it, as usual.

If I post it, as a man, will I look like one of those creeps who take women’s studies classes as a ploy to get laid? If I forward it to women I know, hoping they’ll post it so I can share it, will they see right through me?

Then I read an article in Slate pointing out that out of ten hours of footage, whoever put it together edited out catcalling white men and left only men of color. So it’s a racist video, and now I’m a racist because I didn’t pick up on that the first time I watched it, no doubt because my inner racist saw those dark-skinned men hey-babying that woman and subconsciously thought, “Well of course, they were all raised in primitive cultures where boys are valued over girls.” Now I’m an awful person just for thinking about posting it!

Like I said, overthinking. Watch the damn video, guys, and try to understand what women are telling you.

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Evil Twitter, Saintly Dogs

evil twitterI’m souring on Twitter. It’s still of use as a check on breaking news, but god, so many assholes piling on other assholes. It’s not just #gamergate: the other day I read a long series of tweets that seemed to be accusing actor Rainn Wilson of being a rapist. That was news to me, so I Googled it: apparently Wilson is a rapist, if by “rapist” you mean he once tweeted a date rape joke that fell flat, and is making some videos with a man who was once accused of rape by an ex-girlfriend (I’m not going to link to any of this he said/she said stuff).

Author John Grisham is in the Twitter crosshairs for saying something in support of a friend accused of downloading porn videos with underaged women in them. Date rape accusations against Bill Cosby are making the rounds again. OMG and what Twitter veteran can forget the steaming heap of abuse Woody Allen was buried under, the hatred directed at singer Michelle Shocked, or the poor PR lady who tweeted an AIDS joke as she boarded a flight to South Africa only to land 12 hours later and learn her company had reacted to the Twitter firestorm by firing her?

In Orwell’s 1984, the Two-Minutes Hate was a daily event. On Twitter it’s constant, its targets shifting from minute to minute. What the hell is with all this self-righteousness? Haven’t we all done things we wouldn’t want dredged up and hurled at us on social media?

I wonder how many more of these “recent converts to Islam” are going to go on the attack in Western cities? It occurred to me, watching the news from Ottawa last night, that young white men with Muslim-looking beards can from now on expect to be profiled and treated as potential terrorists. And dark-skinned men with Muslim beards? Katie bar the door!

Well, enough of that. Our daughter Polly dropped by this morning to pick up her bicycle and take it back to Ajo with her. I gave her a bicycle tire pump and a motorcycle nose wheel stand she can use when she changes the oil in her Ducati. Not to worry, she still has tons of things in our garage. As every parent of adult children knows, they’re not really gone until their stuff is gone too!

When Polly got here, before we knew she was here, the dogs saw her through the window and ran back to the office to let us know it was Polly! Polly! Schatzi normally barks, and so does Maxie, but this time Maxie was so excited she whined. It’s the first time we’ve heard her do that. I don’t know why that seems important enough to mention, but it does.

Speaking of kids, we’ll spend Thanksgiving with our son, daughter in law, and grandson in Las Vegas. I’m not sure if our granddaughter Taylor will be there too … I hope so … and according to Polly this morning, she’ll be there too, with her boyfriend David.

Photo on 10-23-14 at 11.31 AMMy swollen black eye is slowly getting back to normal. The cut under the bandage is vicious-looking, T-shaped, an inch-and-a-half across, and deep. I could post a photo of it, but I don’t want to turn the blog into a charnel house. When the stitches come out Monday I’ll have a nasty mark on my cheek, like those German university students of old with their fencing scars.

The first two days I couldn’t read. The swelling left a narrow slit to peer through and my left eye could only look straight ahead. When I put on bifocals to read the left eye saw through the top while the right saw through the bottom. This made for an unpleasant double vision so I watched TV instead since I could do that without the glasses. Now the swelling is down some, I can probably start reading through my glasses again. As for working on my blog, the monitor, like the TV, is far enough away that I don’t need glasses to see it.

Donna’s scar is pretty impressive too, but should heal without leaving a mark. She’s convinced her nose is crooked now, but I don’t see it. I think she’ll be fine. Man, the things they didn’t tell us about getting old!

The dogs have have smothered us in affection since we came home with our faces cut to pieces. I’m going to reward them with a car trip to Eegee’s for a sandwich and some fries. Yes, they get to share a little bit of my lunch, and I’m honestly not sure which part they like better, going in the car or helping me finish off the fries.

Back now. The answer appears to be c) both of the above. In heaven, doggies ride in cars and eat whenever they want, and damn I hope that turns out to be true.

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Tuesday Bag o’ Woe Is Us

Two weeks ago my dermatologist decided he didn’t like the look of a spot on my cheek. He snipped off a sample and sent it to the lab. It turned out to be a basal cell skin cancer, so he scheduled me for an outpatient procedure yesterday.

When I told Donna I had to go in on Monday, she said, “Me too.” Donna sees a different dermatologist—hers too had found a basal cell growth and had asked her to come in on Monday to have it cut out. Donna’s appointment was in the morning; mine was in the afternoon. Here’s what we looked like afterward:

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Donna has a one-inch vertical cut on the tip of her nose and I have a horizontal cut below my left eye. Stitches galore for each of us; those will come out sometime next week.

It’s odd we’d go through the same experience at the same time, but there it is. We’ve both been told to take it easy for a few days, to avoid bending over at the waist lest it put strain on our cuts, to sleep with our heads elevated. So we’re taking care of each other, and the dogs are pitching in too. They took one look at us and knew we needed love and affection. As we all know there is no more supportive friend than a dog, so it’s a good thing there’s one for each of us.

Donna’s had suspicious moles removed before, but I think this is the first time she’s had something cut out from underneath her skin. I’ve had five or six subcutaneous basal cell cancers removed, so this was old hat to me. The procedure itself is pain-free (if you don’t count the injection of the anesthetic), but the aftermath is unpleasant. My left eye is black and so swollen I can barely see out of it. Curiously it’s worse with my glasses on, but I’m sure once the swelling goes down it’ll be better. Donna’s not having any trouble with her nose, or at least none she’ll admit to.

I probably should say “Kids, use your sunblock and always wear a hat,” but I’m not certain I believe that’ll keep you from getting skin cancer if you’re prone to it in the first place. Oh, sure, it has to help—I’m religious about wearing hats outdoors, and I try to use sunblock when I go hiking, bicycling, or motorcycle riding—but I know I’m going to keep getting these things anyway. All my sisters are getting them too.

I see my dermatologist three times a year. He always finds several keratoses and freezes them; about once every two years he’ll find a basal cell growth and cut it out. Donna’s way behind me on that score, and I hope she never catches up.

Anyway, we’re fine. The big wrappings are off now. By Halloween we should be back to normal, or what passes for such, and when the neighborhood kids come to the door we won’t be nearly as scary looking as we were yesterday.

Question of the day: what do people who don’t have medical insurance do?

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Air-Minded: a Cars & Planes Photoblog

Back-to-back car shows this weekend. Saturday’s show was an annual event at St Gregory’s Academy; Sunday’s was at the Pima Air & Space Museum. As car shows go, the air museum event was a small one, but it gave me an excuse to combine a motorcycle ride, a photo session, and a visit to the museum.

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At the Pima Air & Space Museum entrance

The cars on display at the museum were primarily early Fords, Model Ts and Model As. Some of their owners parked them in the shade under aircraft wings, which wasn’t ideal for photography, but I had a great time trying to get clear shots of all of them. I wish the cars had been of the same vintage as the aircraft on display—wouldn’t it be fun to see a 1949 Cadillac parked under the wing of Eisenhower’s Lockheed Constellation?

Well. Here are a few photos from yesterday’s visit to the air museum. The rest are in my Cars & Planes photo album on Flickr.

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