Paul’s Thing

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February 2016
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You Can’t Read That!

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

Roma - 2012

Hitler’s Mein Kampf has an interesting history in Germany: a best-seller before WWII, it’s been banned in that country since 1945. Until last week, that is, when the copyright expired and it entered the public domain: Germans can now read it again.

By a strange coincidence, so too has Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl (a book with a history of challenges and bans in the USA). You can now freely read the full text online. In the original Dutch.

A public outcry (warning: autoplaying video at the link) over a high school teacher’s attempt to familiarize students with the artistry of Arabic calligraphy forced a Virginia school district to close its schools for a day. I wonder if the teacher might have gotten away with it had he or she chosen a non-religious sample of Arabic for the lesson … asking students to hand-copy the Shahada, “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God,” seems like asking for trouble IMO, and inviting female students to wear Muslim head scarves to class really put the icing on the cake.

Right up there with the threat of catching Islamism from tracing Arabic calligraphy, of course, is becoming a witch through exposure to Harry Potter. This has long been a fear in the USA; now British parents are catching up.

Last month a Philadelphia high school removed Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from its curriculum after 11th grade students complained about the N-word. After hosting a forum of students and faculty, the principal issued this brief statement: “We have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits.”

Student journalists at the Steinmetz School in Chicago wrote an article about school bell changes. The principle directed them to pull the article, then followed up with this email to Steinmetz teachers and counselors: “Scratch Journaism [sic] for next year. We will not be offering it anymore. There will be no more Steinmetz Star. I’m still deciding what to do with it for the second semester.” The Steinmetz Star has been in print for 81 years. Hugh Hefner, who as a student wrote for it in 1944, still provides financial support to the paper. Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of this story.

Conservative state legislators in Florida have introduced bills that will, if enacted, grant taxpayers the right to formally challenge school materials, give challengers the right to take school boards to court over unsatisfactory decisions, and increase representation of parents on textbook selection committees. The bills also declare that “all instructional materials used in the classroom” must “[p]rovide a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues” and be “accurate and factual.” These bills seem similar to bills proposed in Kansas and other states, and I would not be surprised to learn they were drafted by conservative activists of the American Legislative Exchange Council, as I have suggested in earlier YCRT! posts.

History repeats itself, at least in Boise, Idaho, where conservative parents once again called the cops on teenagers handing out free copies of Sherman Alexie’s locally-banned young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Well, hey, at least we don’t live in Hong Kong, where booksellers who sell books banned in Mainland China are being “disappeared.” Other booksellers are taking the hint and pulling politically sensitive material from their shelves.

After all that, I could use some happier news, couldn’t you? How about this: Rosemount, Minnesota, has decided to keep Gayle Forman’s young adult novel Just One Day in school libraries, ruling against a formal challenge filed by parents of a middle school student.

Also amusing: Lake Superior State University’s 41st Annual List of Banished Words. If only!


Fixing the Holes in the Net

If you’d told me I’d ever agree with anything Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s executive vice president and spokesman, said, I’d have thought you were crazy. But then my conservative niece from Missouri posted this video on Facebook, and after reading her comment on it I decided to see what the man had to say.

YouTube Preview Image

My niece’s comment was something on the order of “Our background check system is hopelessly broken.” Before I watched the clip I took her to mean we shouldn’t have background checks at all, an argument I hear all the time from Second Amendmenteers. And honestly, based on things Wayne LaPierre has said in the past, I thought that’s what he’d be saying in this clip.

But in her comment, my niece quoted this line from LaPierre’s speech: “If you cast a net and the fish swim through the holes, you don’t need a bigger net. You need tighter holes.” That’s odd, I thought. My niece, and Wayne LaPierra too, were undermining their own argument. If you’re a fisherman with a bad net, you don’t give up fishing, you fix your net. You don’t throw out a broken gun background check system, you fix it! And that’s what I said in my reply to her post.

This morning I got around to watching the clip, and to my surprise that seems to be exactly what LaPierre is saying: fix the system, make it tighter. I have to apologize to my niece, because that’s probably what she meant as well.

Yes. Add the names of convicted felons and violent offenders (wife-beaters, child abusers, etc, the sort of people on social welfare and child protective agency lists) to a no-buy list and use that to screen gun sales. By the way, I deliberately use the words “no-buy list” because it sounds like Homeland Security’s no-fly list, which is similar, in place, and being enforced.

LaPierre lays the blame for the broken background check system on politicians, who shy away from letting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms prepare a list of what he calls “prohibited buyers.” But those same politicians didn’t hesitate a New York minute when they authorized DHS to prepare and enforce a no-fly list. Gee, I wonder what the difference is? Could it be NRA money and campaign contributions?

See, in my heart I still believe what the NRA wants is no background checks at all. I believe that if BATF did prepare a no-buy list the NRA would howl bloody murder. But here’s Wayne LaPierre, on the record, supporting a far tighter system of background checks. Does he really mean it? Apparently politicians aren’t quite ready to take him at his word. And neither am I. As for my niece, I think we’re on the same page … let’s get to work on that no-buy list. Let’s sew a new net.

Here I need to interject a quick reality check. Yes, I know that if there were a gun no-buy list that included convicted felons and violent offenders, there’d be enormous pressure to expand it. People who already have six or more registered firearms, say, or anyone known to be a member of the Klan or a militia. Anyone ever committed to a mental health care facility. Members of outlaw biker gangs. Anyone with a gang tattoo. The homeless. Muslim-Americans. African-Americans for sure, and, what the hell, let’s throw in people with Hispanic last names. The whole system would quickly come crashing down, because every racial, social, and economic group in America would be clamoring to deny guns to everyone else. That’s why the real answer, the only one that will actually work to curb gun violence, is to ban personal possession of almost all firearms, à la Britain and Australia.

Good thing I’m not the king, eh? ‘Cause that’s exactly what I’d do.

But I have to live in the here & now with you and everyone else, and guns are a fact of life in the USA. I think President Obama is doing what he can do, given reality and the constraints placed upon him. I wonder, though, why he didn’t issue these executive orders right after Sandy Hook. He was in his second term then, with nothing to lose politically. Well, better late than never.

Yesterday I exchanged thoughts on President Obama’s executive orders on gun control with a friend on Facebook. Here’s part of our conversation:


I’d be interested in your thoughts concerning the President’s recent actions on gun control. I read the White House summary and found most of it refreshing (the content, not so much the rhetoric). Enforcing existing laws, adding personnel to programs needing them, money to update the existing NICS database, etc.

The mental health thing I have mixed feelings on; there should be a threshold where people are considered dangerous but restricting/depriving civil liberties without due process concerns me. And I don’t know how I’d go about fixing it frankly. Doctors should be doctors, not law enforcement officials. But who is going to make the call? And where is the line going to be drawn?

When I was in 8th grade and my parents were divorcing, my mother thought it best all the kids see a therapist to help us through the ordeal. In those days, insurance would not cover a psychologist, but would a psychiatrist (the latter having an actual medical degree in those days.) So should my sisters and I be on some sort of no-gun list?

I’d like to see the existing laws enforced more vigorously. Lock up violent criminals, make room for them by letting the non-violent drug offenders out (and while we’re at it, let’s just concede the war on drugs, it didn’t work on booze. But that’s another rant all of its own).


I’m all for Obama’s executive actions, even if they are mostly symbolic, because symbology is important and a message needed to be sent—to the courts, to congress, to the American people, and to the NRA.

You know I’m a gun owner, and I would not willingly surrender mine. But then again, I don’t have assault- or military-style weapons, just a couple of handguns. I had a hunting rifle and a shotgun, but sold them (now wishing I’d kept the shotgun for home defense, but I guess I can always buy another).

Keep & bear is important to me, but so’s driving a car, and I don’t mind having to be tested and licensed for either. I don’t think registering gun owners and their weapons violates the constitution in any way. And just as we suspend the constitutional rights of convicted felons when it comes to voting, we shouldn’t hesitate to keep them on a list of people who cannot legally buy or possess firearms.

Dealing with crazies is a far tougher issue. Who will certify people as mentally unfit to possess firearms? The VA does so now with vets, but what about civilians? There are so many people with depression, yet 99% of them get along just fine, holding down jobs and marriages and so on. If I were one of them, I’d be very leery of any talk about putting me on a list.

It seems to me the right’s entire argument boils down to “if registration won’t stop a single bad guy from getting his hands on a gun we shouldn’t have any laws at all,” which is contemptibly stupid and not worthy of a response from sensible people.


The H-Bomb of Justice

12507206_10153813812887346_7008463598947942620_nIf you know me, you know I obsess over North Korea and the Kim regime. Probably because I spent some time in neighboring South Korea, sitting air defense alert at Osan Air Base and running trail near the DMZ with the Seoul Hash House Harriers. The closer you get to the 38th Parallel, the spookier it gets, and once you’ve been there you can never forget it.

I decided to read what the DPRK is saying about its H-bomb, if indeed it really has one (experts so far say seismic data indicates a partially-successful A-bomb, similar to those they’ve detonated before).

I found the following article on the Korean Central News Agency site. The site is set up in a way that prevents anyone from linking directly to individual articles, so I had to cut & paste what you see below.

It’s not as bellicose as most KCNA articles, and it lays out, in relatively sane language, the Norks’ rationale for wanting an H-bomb. But there are still some amusing and uniquely North Korean turns of phrase, such as “world progressives are shouting hurrah while the hostile forces are making screams.”

The sad part is that even now, translators are busy rewriting this in Persian.

KCNA Commentary Lauds Successful H-bomb Test in DPRK
Pyongyang, January 8 (KCNA) — The DPRK succeeded in its first H-bomb test.

Having an access to H-bomb by its indigenous efforts and technology, the DPRK fully demonstrated to the world the development of its nuclear force on a higher level and proudly joined the advanced ranks of nuclear-weapons states.

Its access to the strongest nuclear deterrent marks a great event in the national history spanning thousands of years.

The world progressives are shouting hurrah while the hostile forces are making screams.

The H-bomb test conducted by the DPRK was a measure for self-defence to thoroughly protect the sovereignty of the country and vital rights of the nation from the daily-growing nuclear threat and blackmail by the hostile forces and reliably guarantee peace on the Korean Peninsula and security of the region.

History proves that powerful nuclear deterrence serves as the strongest treasured sword for frustrating outsiders’ aggression moves and protecting peace and security of the country.

When the U.S. desperately pursued the policy of the Cold War against the former Soviet Union after having access to nuclear weapons through the world’s first test for explosion of A-bomb, the latter could stand up against the former because it had access to nuclear weapons without delay and conducted a H-bomb test in the year after the former carried out H-bomb test, thus putting an end to the era of the U.S. monopoly of nukes.

The then U.S. President Eisenhower in a press interview deplored that the Soviet Union’s access to H-bomb caused new problems in the security of the U.S., reluctantly sending a message representing the U.S. intention not to fight a war with the Soviet Union.

It was a bitter lesson drawn by the situation in the 21st century that a country should possess nuclear weapons without fail to protect its sovereignty and dignity under the present international political order in which a jungle law is in force.

The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Gaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programs of their own accord, yielding to the pressure of the U.S. and the West keen on their regime changes.

The U.S. and other imperialist big powers are interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states and making weak countries their scapegoats through their high-handed military actions.

The U.S. nuclear threat and blackmail against the DPRK have steadily increased since the 1950s.

The U.S. has staged large-scale joint military drills every year. It has worked hard to ignite a nuclear war against the DPRK by amassing its nuclear strike means including nuclear carrier task force and nuclear strategic flying corps in south Korea and the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula.

It is due right of the DPRK to cope with the moves of the U.S., chieftain of aggression, to start a nuclear war against the Korean nation.

High-handed and arbitrary practices can never work on the DPRK.

It is as foolish an act as wishing to see the sky fall to demand the DPRK scrap its nuclear program and halt its development, unless the U.S. rolls back its outrageous hostile policy toward the DPRK and imperialist aggression forces give up their infringement upon sovereignty by use of force in the international arena.

The DPRK is proud of having access to H-bomb of justice.


Thursday Bag o’ Cautious Optimism

cautious optimismParents of adult children should be able to relate to this: our 40-year-old daughter Polly left her boyfriend in late June and moved in with us. It’s just until she gets back on her feet, we told ourselves. Since then she’s been employed three times: once for two weeks, once for two days, once for a single day. In between she’s been on her laptop, submitting electronic applications and emailing copies of her resume. We resolved, over the holidays, to lean hard on her to get out and knock on doors—not electronically but physically—and to lower her sights; in short, to find work and start contributing to the household economy.

The bag says “exercise cautious optimism,” and that’s what we’re doing now. Today is Polly’s first day at job number four. Her new gig is keeping the books for a used car dealership near the air base. Full time, decent pay. Apparently this guy’s record-keeping and financial management is a mess, but he’s been in business for years, so we don’t think it’s a fly-by-night deal. Now the question is, can Polly keep this job? We’ve learned not to start popping champagne corks too soon.

As I write she’s walking out the door to drive to work, spiritually wreathed in mental waves of cautious optimism from her mom and dad. It wouldn’t hurt if you, dear readers, kept your fingers crossed for her, too. Thanks!

Here’s another short video, this one a blooper reel from the motorcycle ride my son and I took a week ago, me on my Goldwing, Greg on a rental Harley. Just outside the little mining town of Superior, Arizona, I pulled over so we could swap bikes. Greg got on my bike but couldn’t remember how to start it. I shut his bike off and walked over to show him how to start the Wing. Once Greg was squared away I couldn’t figure out how to get the Harley started, and he had to walk over to talk me through it. Eventually both bikes were running again and Greg took off with me in pursuit, assholes and elbows on the unfamiliar Harley: how do you shift this thing, where’s the brake, why does the windscreen shake like it’s about to fall off? A comedy of errors captured on my Christmas GoPro.

Comedy of errors

More to come in future posts.

As a fan and supporter of President Obama, I’m pleased to see questions being raised about whether Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are eligible to be president. Eligibility requirements are set forth in Section 1 of Article Two of the Constitution:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

Donna and I are natural-born citizens of the USA. We happened to be living in Germany when our son was born, but there’s never been a question about whether he could be president some day: he too is a natural-born citizen of the USA. Ditto George Romney, born in Mexico to American parents, who ran for president in 1968. Ditto John McCain, who ran in 2008, born to an American military family in Panama. Being born in another country is not the issue, it’s the citizenship of the parents.

Cruz seems iffy to me. He was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father, so there’s room for debate. And I hope there is, because I simply don’t like the guy. Rubio was born in the USA but his parents were Cuban. I always thought, as with US-born babies of undocumented immigrant parents, that if you’re born here you’re automatically an American citizen, so I think Rubio’s case is less shaky than Cruz’s.

Still, it’s amusing how the media always—always—goes nuts over citizenship questions. They did it with George Romney; they did it with McCain; they did it with Obama (who has a rock-solid claim to eligibility, being born in the USA); now they’re doing it with Cruz & Rubio.

I follow a few aviation groups on Facebook and Tumblr, mostly for the historical aircraft photos and videos members post, some of which give me ideas for Air-Minded posts of my own. Last night the owner of one of those groups put out a call for writers, and I responded. If it turns out they want contributors to write for “exposure” rather than cash, I’ll withdraw. After all, I’m already writing for free, and as my writer friends say, you can die of exposure.

So far, no response. But I’m cautiously optimistic.


2016: Is This All There Is?

Donna, bless her, gave me a GoPro camera for Christmas. Naturally, I checked it out that very day, so I’d know how to work it on New Year’s Eve, the day my son and I planned to ride to Globe, Arizona. Here’s a short clip from the New Year’s Eve ride: it shows Greg and I pulling out of a gas station in Winkleman and starting to ride up the Gila River Canyon (he’s on the Harley; I’m following on my Goldwing).

Salt River 1

About the ride: I rented the Harley from a local motorcycle rental business, after first making sure the owner didn’t mind coming in early on New Year’s Day so we could turn the bike in. The price was right and the bike was cool, and we’ll probably rent from him again.

It was plenty cold the morning of the ride, just above freezing in fact, but by the time Greg and I stopped for breakfast north of Tucson we were ready to peel off our sweaters and switch to lighter gloves. Later, once we got up in the hills, the temperature dropped and we suited back up after lunch. From Globe, rather than retrace our route back, we looped through copper mining country and the little company towns of Miami, Superior, and Kearney. We were home with a little daylight remaining, and Greg took Beth and Quentin for rides on the Harley—but not before Schatzi got her turn!


It was great having our whole family together again—all of us, that is, except our granddaughter Taylor, who is 21 and had to stay in Las Vegas to work. Our last photo op was this morning, just before the Las Vegas Woodfords headed back home in their new Mercedes.

Polly, me, Donna, Quentin, Beth, and Gregory

Oh, did I mention the Mercedes? Talk about being one-upped by your own progeny!


Well, it’s just us and Polly again. We’re taking the tree and outdoor lights down tomorrow, and then we’ll be back to normal, ready to get on to 2016.

There are more video clips to come, and photos too, so do check back. I promised to start working on a book this year, so I may not blog as much as I have been, but by no means am I giving up on Paul’s Thing.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Say What?

Hate to end the year with a rant, but this made me see red:

megyn crushed copy

It was posted to Facebook by a man I used to fly with. It takes a certain level of brain power to fly a jet fighter. It takes adherence to a shared set of values to be a military officer. I wonder what happened to my former colleague.

Let’s revisit the debate in question. Megyn Kelly, during the first GOP debate, mentioned Trump’s long record of denigrating women and asked him why women voters should trust him now. He tried to shut her down but she stood up to him, reciting a list of things he’s publicly said about various women. Trump attacked Kelly on social media afterward, and then went behind her back to Roger Ailes of Fox News, crying about Kelly’s “unfair” treatment of him. Ailes, while publicly supporting Kelly, apparently put behind-the-scenes pressure on her to take an unscheduled 11-day vacation.

That’s how I remember it. What Megyn Kelly had the balls to do fits my definition of “professional journalism,” and we need more of it. Trump’s underhanded, no-balls response to Kelly basically proved her point.

There has to be something drastically wrong, intellectually and morally, with anyone who could think Trump won a victory in that first debate and “crushed” Kelly. Whatever that wrong thing is, it’s beyond my understanding. Are right-wingers really so far gone and lacking in American ideals that they think being a bully and a coward is something to admire?

What I do understand is that anyone who would proudly post stuff like this has inverted values and is unfit to sit at the table with decent people. Woe be it unto us if we stay home on election day and let this rabble take over.

Or, as my former colleague and I used to say back in our Air Force days: “Fuck you. Strong message to follow.”


Favorite Reads of 2015

A friend asked me to list the best books I read in 2015. I record and review the books I read on Goodreads (43 of them in 2015). Looking over this year’s list, I realized some top-rated books meant more to me than others. They are the books that left lasting impressions and made me think. They are the books I raved about to friends, sometimes even to strangers.

So here they are, my nine favorite reads of 2015: two memoirs, a non-fiction adventure story, four science fiction novels, and two mainstream novels. Click on any book cover to read my Goodreads review.

west with the night shadow divers skyfaring
the water knife river of gods three body problem
station eleven this is how cassada


Christmas Photoblog

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