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Air-Minded: Planes of Fame Photoblog II

On a motorcycle trip in April 2015 I visited and photoblogged the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, Arizona. The Arizona facility is an annex of the main Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. This time around I pointed my Honda west toward Los Angeles and dropped in on the main facility.


View of aircraft awaiting restoration from one of the main display hangars

As with the annex in northern Arizona, the main Planes of Fame Museum in California is more than a collection of aircraft and artifacts on display. It’s also a working maintenance and restoration facility, and many of the aircraft at Planes of Fame have not only been restored to flying condition, but are actually flown on a regular basis.


Boeing F4B-1


North American F-86E Sabre


Curtiss P-40 Warhawk


MiG-17 Fresco


Boeing P-26A Peashooter


Seversky AT-12 Guardsman


Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet


Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket

The prettier aircraft are displayed in hangars, but many others sit on the ramp outside, while unrestored aircraft are crowded into what can only be described as an airplane junkyard. Now I don’t know about you, but I find junkyards fascinating, and airplane junkyards? I was in heaven.

chino pano_1

Vought F8U-1 Crusader


Unknown (T-6 Harvard?)


Hispano HA-200 Saeta


Lockheed F-104G Starfighter


Boeing B-50A forward fuselage


A-4 Skyhawk cockpit section


QF-100D drone, slightly used

These are just a few of the photos I took during my visit. Click on the thumbnails to see the full sized images on Flickr. Click here to see my entire Planes of Fame Chino photoset.


Feeling Flattered

I love what I do at Pima Air & Space Museum, and always try to give visitors as good an experience as I can. So it was especially nice to get this note from a member of the museum staff who took two out-of-town visitors on my tram tour yesterday afternoon:

Hi Paul –

I just want to reiterate what I said yesterday. You did a fantastic job with the tram tour. My gosh, it’s the best I have taken!! My friends thoroughly enjoyed it so much that they wanted me to pass on to you how impressed they were with your tour. Vern, especially, was taken aback. He’s retired from the United Nations and was in the Navy. He really wanted to visit PASM and Dee ended up enjoying it as much as he did. They were visiting from California.

I really loved your tour because it was amazingly informative (I learned so much from you!!), and your sense of humor and personal experiences were a huge plus!

Thank you so much for your wonderful tour yesterday, Paul!

My best,



Early on Election Day, I got on my motorcycle and headed out on a six-day trip. I knew I’d hear no news until arriving at my first night’s destination, but was confident that by then Hillary Clinton would be on her way to a landslide victory, a blue Senate sweeping in with her.

So here we are, one week later. The motorcycle is parked in the garage and I’ve finished unpacking. Now I have time to organize my thoughts about the election. Here’s the rough draft:

Something went wrong. Very wrong. Sure, you can scoff and say what’s wrong is that my side lost. You can remind me that what I’m feeling now is exactly what Republicans felt when Obama trounced first McCain and then Romney. I get that, but there’s something different about this election.

For one thing, as of this morning, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead over Donald Trump is almost 800,000. Some predict that by the time all the ballots are counted, Hillary’s lead will be even more lopsided. Yes, I understand America doesn’t elect presidents by direct popular vote, and that Electoral College votes can result in the candidate with fewer popular votes coming out the winner. It’s happened four times before, and this will be the fifth.

I keep seeing “get over it, the American people have spoken” messages on social media. Well, yes, the American people have spoken … we elected Hillary Clinton! How is it that 800,000 of our votes (and potentially a great many more) don’t count?

Every election, cynics say “why bother, voting’s a crock.” We tell them they’re wrong, that every vote counts, and we point to tight elections in the past as evidence. But what about the election of 2000, when Al Gore finished with 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush and still lost? And what about this one, where the loser’s popular vote lead is likely to go well over a million? How can we tell the cynics they’re wrong when in fact they’re not wrong? Their votes turned out to be literally worthless!

The authors of the Electoral College may have envisioned eventualities where the candidate with fewer popular votes would win. But did they in their wildest dreams foresee candidates with popular vote leads in the hundreds of thousands, even millions, losing? I think not. When the Electoral College was set up, it was a perversion designed to protect the institution of slavery. It is a perversion today, negating the will of American voters.

As for Trump, I will not accept him as my president. Does that sound childish? Too bad, it’s my turn to hold my breath and turn blue. It’s time we give the Republicans who refused to accept Barack Obama as their president tit for tat. That’s part of my reaction, but mostly, it’s this:

Trump is a nasty piece of work. His character is bad and the badness goes down to the bone. He’s stupid and racist (but I repeat myself). I will never forgive him for his leading role in the birther campaign against President Obama. Beyond that, I’m repulsed by his day-to-day dishonesty, lack of empathy, misogyny, vindictiveness, cowardly behind-the-scenes bullying, and money-worshipping anything-goes-if-it-benefits-me attitude. The fact that he thinks of himself as a “star” and holds anyone who is not a wealthy celebrity in contempt makes my skin crawl. Trump’s values are the antithesis of the religious and moral values I grew up with and tried to inculcate in my children.

Do I hope the Democratic minorities in the House and Senate will resist, undermine, and sabotage Trump the same way the Republican majorities in Congress did Obama? Yes I do. Do I hope we filibuster the shit out of him? Yes I do. I know what Trump would say to me and anyone else who voted for Clinton: fuck you. I say it right back: fuck you, Mr. Trump. You are not my president and never will be.

Trump is going to try to govern as an autocrat. The Republican-controlled Congress might just play along with him. One writer at the New York Review of Books offers some rules for surviving in an autocracy, and I’ll paraphrase them here:

  • Believe the autocrat. Trump’s not going to seek common ground with those who opposed him. He’s not going to change. All the horrible suggestions he made during the campaign? He meant everything he said and intends to follow through. We have to resist, and resist hard.
  • Don’t be taken in by small signs of normality. The media is all-in for downplaying Trump’s racism and anti-Semitism, but don’t fall for it. There’s nothing normal about any of what he represents.
  • Institutions will not save you. We can’t count on the Democratic minority in Congress to resist Trump, as I suggested above. If history’s a guide, they’ll cave. The FBI, as we have seen, is partisan. We the people have to resist, and the massive protests we’re seeing in American cities today is a good sign we will. Join the ACLU if you haven’t already.
  • Be outraged. Going along with resisting the “normalization” of white nationalism and anti-American values, we have to keep our outrage alive. Once again, there’s nothing normal or acceptable about what’s happening today.
  • Don’t make compromises. Look at Ted Cruz. Don’t be Ted Cruz.
  • Remember the future. This presidency is going to be a disaster, and we’d better be prepared to take the reins again. Keep the faith and plan ahead.

To the safety-pin brigade: I hear you. We’re going to see a lot of unleashed hate in the coming days. I don’t believe half the stories floating around on social media, but some of them are no doubt true. Years of Limbaugh and Hannity, and now Trump, have given the haters permission to come out of the closet. I hope I have the courage to step in if I see it happening. I hope you will too.

To the conspiracy theorists: I never thought I’d join you, but something about this election stinks. Along with GOP redistricting, gerrymandering, and voter suppression, there’s more than a whiff of Russian manipulation of electronic vote results in a few key states. I’m not saying Putin had his thumb on the scale, but I can’t help thinking he might have. I’ll just leave that there for now.

What can we do? Get on with life, of course, but resist the government we voted against. Don’t let the propaganda machine lull us into complacency. Keep our anger alive and focused. When they call us tantrum-throwing babies for protesting, tell them to fuck off, we the people voted for the other candidate. Keep the faith. We’ll be back some day, and it may be sooner than we think.


Something Better to Think About

2013-05-09 09.26.08Good thing I voted by mail, because Tuesday, November the 8th—election day—I’m heading out on a five-day, three-state motorcycle trip. As always, the closer I get to a mini-Gypsy run, the more it occupies my thoughts, to the point where everything else is pushed aside. Good luck, Hillary … this supporter has voted and moved on to more important things. With four whole days still to go, I’m already fussing over clothing, extra boots, and riding gear. Pondering which helmet to wear. Making sure the tie-down straps and bungee cords are where I can find them Tuesday morning. Anticipatory agitation? Oh yeah.

I’ll meet my friend Dave at a Costco near the I-10 freeway at 8:30 AM Tuesday. Dave has a touring BMW, so we’ll be evenly matched for the 400-mile ride to Las Vegas, where we’ll spend the night at a motel in Henderson. My son Gregory will meet us for dinner that night, then join us on a rental Indian Wednesday morning for a half-day ride to Chino, California. After we check into our Chino motel I’ll spend the afternoon at the Planes of Fame Museum, continuing my episodic cook’s tour of aviation museums.

Thursday morning the three of us plan to ride Highway 395 north to Lone Pine, California, and a side trip to the Manzanar Internment Camp. Dave did graduate work on Manzanar and its impact on surrounding high desert communities, so we’ll have a built-in tour guide. We’re staying at the Dow Villa, a historic Lone Pine tourist motel with big 1950s-style rooms.

Friday morning we ride west to east through Death Valley, which my son Gregory, a Las Vegas resident, has unaccountably never visited. Leaving Death Valley we’ll take the road to Pahrump, Nevada, then over the Spring Mountain Pass back into Las Vegas. Dave plans to keep riding, all the way back to Tucson, but I’m going to spend the night, and possibly two nights, at my son and daughter-in-law’s house in Henderson. They’re throwing a birthday party for Quentin, my grandson, on Saturday, and I don’t want to miss it. I’ll ride home to Tucson solo late Saturday or Sunday morning.

I’m bringing the big DSLR camera for airplanes in Chino, a selfie stick for the iPhone, and of course the GoPro for the ride through Death Valley. I’ll have to tote an extra motorcycle jacket for my son to use. Don’t know if I’ll have room for my extra rain suit, so Gregory may be out of luck there. Maybe, though, I left it at Gregory’s house last time we rode together. Chances are we won’t need rain gear, but you never know, and that’s why I keep some in the saddlebag.

If I don’t get much blogging in between now and then, at least you’ll know why, and (I hope) understand. Motorcycling, as flying once was, is a big part of my life, a source of excitement and anticipation. Sure, there are safer hobbies. But they suck.

Wish me luck, okay?


Wednesday Bag o’ Genes: a Birthday Photoblog

This post is all about me. Me, me, me. But hey, at least you’ll see some photos to break up the monotony!

I turned 70 on Halloween. I remember, as a kid, calculating how old I’d be when Halley’s Comet came. The year would be 1986 and I’d be 40. I couldn’t imagine either number: 1986 was impossibly far in the future, and it defied reason I’d ever be 40. My parents weren’t even that old!

And yet Halley’s Comet did come, along with the once-distant future and my 40th birthday, and now by gosh I’m 70. Well, if Father Time was determined to force a 70th birthday on me, I might as well make the best of it, right?

I’d always been curious about my genetic makeup, so this year I mailed $99 and a tube of spit to Ancestry DNA, hoping the results would arrive in time for my birthday. The report came back several days ago and I sat on pins and needles waiting for the 31st so I could open it. Here it is:

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 7.45.51 AM Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 8.26.36 AM

The first Woodford arrived in the New World before the Pilgrims, or so I’ve been told. I figured the longer my forebears had been here, the greater the chance one or more of them might have strayed from the path of righteousness, wink wink nudge nudge. Alas, there are no traces of African or Native American blood in my veins. I’m whiter than Wonder Bread. Ancestral Woodfords, I’m disappointed. Where was your sense of adventure?

The DNA test was a present to myself, along with the bat-resistant hummingbird feeder I had to return when Donna angrily informed me I’d spoiled my birthday surprise: she was giving me the identical feeder.

On the big day I woke up and read the DNA test results, shared them with Donna, then sent copies to my four sisters and our son. An hour later I was off to Pima Air & Space Museum for my weekly volunteer shift. I had some extra time between tram tours, so I dropped by the B-17 hangar:

IMG_1854 IMG_1858

I posted the B-17 selfie to Facebook, along with a snarky comment about finally finding something older than me to pose with. I should have posed with one of the other volunteers, because they’re all in their 80s. That B-17 was built in 1945, it turns out, and is only one year older than me!

Halloween night I grilled steaks while Donna distributed candy to trick or treaters. After dinner I unwrapped the hummingbird feeder, a three-pack of new undershirts (white like me!), an Amazon gift card from a friend (with which I bought a couple of Kindle books), and a check from my late father’s wife Lois (which will probably go toward more books). The nicest surprise, by far, was a visit from our daughter Polly, who brought along her boyfriend Joel for us to meet. Here’a photo of Polly with the hummingbird feeder, and another with Polly and Joel:

IMG_1878 IMG_1882

I went by my friend Ed’s the morning after: he discovered a nut and washer on the garage floor after we worked on my Goldwing last week, and fortunately remembered where they were supposed to go. After Ed and I put the missing hardware back, we decided to put a couple hundred miles on our bikes and ride to Willcox, near the Arizona/New Mexico border, for lunch. Here’s Ed buttoning up my bike, then the two of us by the train station in Willcox:

IMG_1885 IMG_1895

Home from Willcox, I hung the new feeder outside our home office window, where I can watch it when I’m sitting at the desk. The old feeder had openings at the bottom and at first the hummingbirds were confused … they hovered around it but couldn’t figure out how to get at it. This morning, I see, they’ve cracked the code:

IMG_2818 copy IMG_2817 copy

Honestly, if I’d known how nice this birthday would turn out to be, I wouldn’t have dreaded it so! Fellow Baby Boomers, if you’re not there yet you soon will be, and I’m here to tell you 70 is not the end of the world. Hang in there!


My Not-So-Secret Ballot

14671301_10154586362552346_593686883525546378_nFor me, voting was a slam dunk—with the exception of two ballot items, Pima County Treasurer and Arizona Proposition 205.

The incumbent county treasurer, a Republican, is running unopposed. After the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, led by a cabal of serial philanderers, I vowed never to vote for another Republican. I meant it and have kept my promise. I looked online for possible write-in candidates and didn’t find any, so after considerable thought I wrote in the name of my friend Ed, a retired Tucson businessman and well-known community figure.

Now you may ask yourself, if he’s a retired businessman, wouldn’t he be a Republican? Yes he would be, but he’s not running for office as one, and moreover I know his heart’s in the right place. He’s a great supporter of local charities, and his views on immigration are as progressive as my own. Rush Limbaugh would call him a phony Republican. My vow applies to bona fide Republicans, not phony ones.

Arizona Prop. 205, if passed, will legalize recreational marijuana. Businesses selling marijuana would be licensed and regulated. Sales would be taxed at 15%, with revenues going to schools and health programs. I believe the proposition is modeled on the one passed by Colorado voters a couple of years ago.

I don’t like it. I think alcohol is an insanely destructive scourge. It destroys individuals and families. It’s a huge burden on taxpayers, law enforcement, and society overall. How is legalized marijuana not going to be more of the same? And that bit about the money going to schools and health: what a crock. As with state lotteries, the promise is an empty one. Sure, some of the new tax revenue will go where they say it’s going to go, but since lawmakers look on it as “windfall” money, they’ll simultaneously pinch off regular budget allocations, and school and health funding will remain the same overall or even decline.

I don’t like alcoholics and I don’t like stoners, and my instinctive reaction to Prop. 205 was “no way.” But the war on drugs is doing more harm than good, and in the end I had to come down in opposition to laws restricting individual freedom. After serious self-examination, I voted yes on Prop. 205. Let the stoners sift themselves out of productive society; it’s none of my business, and there aren’t enough jobs for everyone anyway.

Donna went with her instincts and voted no, as will most Arizona voters. Legalized marijuana won’t come to Arizona anytime soon, but other states are embracing it and eventually it’ll happen here too.

In unrelated news, I put a new battery in the Goldwing and now it’s ready for a Death Valley ride in November. New footpeg rubber inserts too … the motorcycle looks brand new with them.

A week ago I went to the wild bird store to buy seed. I asked about our bat problem—they drink up all the hummingbird nectar—and the lady said it won’t be a problem much longer because they fly south to Mexico for the winter. I did not know that about bats, probably because I’ve never seen one fly in a straight line for more than a second. Apparently they do, though. But then she said there was a new kind of hummingbird feeder bats can’t get their tongues into, and I bought one. I felt bad about spending money on something without talking it over with Donna first, but then I told myself I have a birthday coming up and was allowed to buy myself a present.

So I brought it home and left it on the kitchen counter. Donna came home an hour later, saw it sitting there, and thought I’d unwrapped the birthday present she bought me last week: the exact same feeder. It must be true, what they say about couples who’ve been married forever: they know one another too well! I took the feeder back to the store and will wait for my birthday to put out the one Donna’s giving me.

In the meantime I’ve hung an old feeder—very much not bat-proof—where the new one’s going to go, just outside the home office window where I can keep an eye on it when I’m blogging. The hummers have found it, and so have the lesser goldfinches, and they’re already fighting over it.


That’s one of the finches on the feeder, with a hummingbird having a snit nearby. They do the same thing to me, the hummers, when I take the feeders down to refill them.

I sent a tube of spit to one of those DNA analysis companies, and my results are in. They sent the report via email; it’s waiting in the inbox. Since that too was a birthday present to myself, I won’t read the report until the 31st, my actual birthday. Pretty sure I’ll turn out to be what everyone has always told me I am, mostly English with some German blood, but won’t it be fun if there’s a surprise in the report? My four sisters are anxiously awaiting the information, which I’ll share soon.

Thirteen days to go, fellow voters. Tell you what, vote by mail if you still can. It beats hell out of standing in line.


Criminalism Is the New Birtherism

Bring-out-your-dead.jp_During October’s visitor onslaught, one of our guests came packing a cold. She passed it on to Donna, then her own daughter, then me, then another guest. The only one to escape was our granddaughter Taylor, whose visit coincided with the weekend Typhoid Mary was away on a side trip. Donna’s better now, as am I. Our other guest, now home in Florida, is busy coughing, blowing her nose, and infecting Tampa Bay. Vectors for plague, we humans.

This morning I put the Sudafed, Flonase, and Afrin back in the medicine cabinet, then put out the amoxicillin so I won’t forget to take it Monday morning before seeing the dentist about my sore tooth (taking antibiotics before medical and dental procedures is a must when you have an artificial joint).

A couple of days ago I employed my toothache as an election season metaphor. A hacking, snot-filled cold would have done just as well. Which brings me to the third and last debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Unlike seemingly everyone else, I wasn’t shocked when Trump refused to say he’d accept the results of the election. Remember the first Republican debate, when the moderator asked all 16 candidates to pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee? In case you forgot, Trump refused.

Nor was I shocked when Trump praised Putin and rejected the conclusion of 17 national intelligence agencies that the Russian government is trying to interfere in our presidential election. He’s been doing that all along, too.

Lately he’s taken to calling Hillary Clinton a criminal. That should shock me, but it doesn’t. What it does is dismay, because it telegraphs what Trump and his faction of the GOP will do when Hillary Clinton takes office.

Here’s part of what he said during the third debate:

So let me just give you one other thing. So I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people—tell you one other thing: she shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s crooked—she’s—she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it’s rigged, because she should never—Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.

No one challenged or questioned that statement. I understand why Hillary didn’t rise to the bait, but someone should have waved the bullshit flag. Sure, people who hate Clinton call her a criminal, but that doesn’t make her one. There’s been no charge, no trial, no conviction. On the contrary, her actions with regard to Benghazi, the deleted personal emails, and “so many other things” have been exhaustively investigated—by the press, by Congress, by the FBI—and no one has turned up anything criminal. The FBI, for goodness’ sake, actually exonerated her.

If you can get on the national stage and slander your rival as a criminal based only on malign wishes and rumors, then isn’t turnabout fair play? You wanna talk criminal, Trump’s facing a trial for raping a 13-year-old girl, and he’s in the middle of an actual trial for defrauding Trump University students. But his rival is taking the high road, letting Trump hang himself.

Trump may not be conventionally smart, but he’s cunning, and I’m beginning to see the strategy behind calling Clinton a criminal. Trump was a major player in the birther attacks on Obama, an important part of a GOP campaign to thwart a Democrat president. Because of birtherism, a significant number of citizens and elected officials never accepted Obama as a legitimate president. Trump is telegraphing the outlines of the campaign he’s going to lead against Clinton after she’s elected: call her fitness for office into constant question with charges of criminality.

Just as President Obama has, President Clinton will weather the storm. But what about you and me? How will America be affected by another four to eight years of insinuation, questioning, undermining, and obstruction at the highest levels of government? No wonder so many people lose themselves in West Wing reruns, a far more appealing reality than the one we actually live in.


Paul’s Book Reviews

“like many families, everyone wandered around like children in a funhouse—they could hardly see one another around the corners, and what they could see was completely distorted.”

– James Hannaham, “Delicious Foods”
delicious foodsDelicious Foods
James Hannaham

Seems like everyone wants to talk about the most interesting character in the book: Scotty, the personified voice of Darlene’s best friend, crack cocaine. That’s understandable: Scotty’s the devil on Darlene’s shoulder, an engaging incubus (but one who never shuts up).

Scotty sets this novel apart, but what reverberates most strongly with me is the echo of “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel about the horrific conditions and exploitation of immigrant labor in the meat-packing industry.

Slavery never went away, even in the West, even in the USA, but there aren’t many contemporary novels about it. From sweat shops to prison gangs to sex trafficking to the forced agricultural labor described in “Delicious Foods,” slavery is all around us, preying on impoverished immigrants and minorities, rigged so that almost no one can ever lift themselves out of it. Importantly, the slavery described in Hannaham’s novel is based in fact. Indeed, I suspect the author’s main purpose was to write about forced agricultural labor. In an LA Times interview, he said this:

[These farms are] something that I feel like nobody knows about and everybody ought to know about: The fact that this sort of thing has been perpetrated in our modern era, that there are these people who will victimize people who are already being victimized, and spirit them away to these places and make them work for no money, and keep them on drugs the whole time.

Also note he didn’t name his novel “Darlene,” “Scotty,” or “The Boy with No Hands.” He named it “Delicious Foods,” and I’ll never eat another watermelon without thinking of it.

A lot of the novel is written in dialog, through the voices of Darlene, Eddie, and of course Scotty. Hannaham has an Elmore Leonard-like gift for this and it is not off-putting in the slightest. I have a congenital aversion to magical realism and there’s a trace of it here in the handlessness of Eddie, who manages to escape Delicious Foods in a car moments after both his hands are sawn off by a drunken crack addict with a circular saw, somehow managing not to bleed to death ten miles down the road but to make it all the way to Minnesota, somehow figuring out how to pay for and pump gas (and where did the money come from?), and I won’t even speculate how he managed to go to the bathroom or pull up his pants afterward, but never mind, Eddie makes it and even prospers.

If from this review you get the impression this truly awful tale of slavery and addiction and hopelessness is also funny, well, you’re reading me correctly. But it is humor at its blackest.

“Delicious Foods” is an unexpected surprise: important, moving, mordantly funny; in addition to “The Jungle,” I frequently thought of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.”
underground railroadThe Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead

It wasn’t hard to accept Whitehead’s conceit of the Underground Railroad as an actual subterranean network of tracks, trains, and secret depots, built and maintained by abolitionists to convey escaping slaves northward. Nor was it hard to accept Whitehead’s other ahistorical conceits: an antebellum South Carolina that harbors escaped slaves and attempts to educate them while at the same time sterilizing females and injecting males with syphilis; next door a North Carolina that has outlawed black slavery in favor of indentured servitude by Irish immigrants, in effect outlawing black people altogether; farther north an Indiana where black freemen and escaped slaves are briefly allowed to buy property and run businesses, then slaughtered for being successful.

Some of these things happened, though much later than the pre-Civil War setting of this novel; some were never more than the harebrained ideas of Back-to-Africa movement leaders … but together they paint important aspects of the slave experience in America, and surely that is a good thing for us to understand.*

The net effect of Whitehead’s wide-ranging excursions from actual history, though, is to make Cora, the slave at the center of his story, less a person than an allegorical figure. I never took her for more than a paper cutout, there to illustrate the horrors of slavery and the courage of the few who escaped it. So too the plantation owner; so too the bounty hunter; so too the various figures connected with the underground railroad.

There are many novels about slavery in America. Most of them are pretty damn good. This one is a little made-for-TV-ish, shallower than I expected, and I didn’t fully connect with it. Three that I heartily recommend are Lawrence Hill’s “The Book of Negroes” and M.T. Anderson’s “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party” and “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves.” Have you ever read the grandmother of them all, Harriette Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”? You really should, you know.

*The New Yorker, in its review of “The Underground Railroad,” points out that the actual network of abolitionists and sympathizers we commonly call the Underground Railroad did not exist in the southern slave states, only in the north, and that very few southern slaves actually did escape, with or without assistance from that network. Most of those who achieved freedom bought their way out of slavery and remained in the southern states. In the north, to America’s eternal shame, federal law treated escaped slaves as fugitives, and helping or harboring them was not only illegal but harshly punished.
palace cobraPalace Cobra
Ed Rasimus

I’ve been reading up on the air war in Vietnam. I flew USAF fighters for 24 years but never saw combat. It’s a hole in my experience. Ed Rasimus writes about flying they way I try to, in a way that explains things simply to readers who don’t share a military or aviation background, yet authentic enough to hold the attention of those who do.

This is Rasimus’ second memoir of the Vietnam air war. He served two 100-mission combat tours there, the first flying single-seat F-105s in the late 1960s, the second flying the two-seat F-4 in the last year of the war. This memoir covers the second tour; I’ll probably read the earlier memoir soon, since my own background is in single-seaters.

I was most impressed by Rasimus’ honest, straightforward approach to discussing his marriage and sexual activities while away in Thailand. Most aviators turned writers are too prudish to cover this aspect of the fighter pilot life.

I was also impressed by how well Rasimus integrated the larger story of the Vietnam air war, the decision-making and strange restrictions imposed by political and military leadership, by writing about it as it affected the men he flew with. No polemics, no rants, but the kind of knowledge military pilots would have had to understand to do their job, because higher level decision-making had a direct impact on how Rasimus and his peers fought the war: fighter pilots and backseaters were the ones taking the war to the enemy in North Vietnam, and the effect of restrictions was immediate, severe, and often fatal.

Another Goodreads reviewer commented that anyone interested in pursuing a career as a military fighter pilot would get a lot out of this book. I think that’s a good point. Sure, much has changed. Then again, not much has changed at all. The lieutenants and captains who lived through Vietnam were the majors and lieutenant colonels running flight training and fighter squadrons in my day, and everything we did was based on what the USAF had learned in that war. That generation is living in retirement now, but when I myself retired in 1997 the USAF (and the fighter pilot business) was still modeled very much on the way we did things in Vietnam. Add lessons learned in Desert Storm and subsequent campaigns, and I bet it’s still much the same.

A very good read, and I’m looking forward to Rasimus’ earlier memoir.
dark matterDark Matter
Blake Crouch

This one’s sort of a science fiction mystery, centering around the simultaneous existence of many realities, each one branching off another, and a scientist’s attempt to find and return to his own reality and the people he loves, after his abduction by … well, one mustn’t give it all away.

I enjoyed the book, but I’m not absolutely raving about it. Some of the alternate realities were interesting and I wish Blake Crouch had spent more time exploring them. I thought the convergence of Jasons (you’ll have to read the novel to find out what that’s about) in the final section was interesting, but didn’t find it as mind-bending as other reviewers seem to have. In fact I thought the resolution a bit too easy, a bit too contrived.

It’s a very fast read, though you may find it dragging a bit toward the end. I did, but only because I sensed how the author was going to wrap it up and was impatient to find out if I was correct. I resisted flipping ahead, though. Most of the author’s themes have been explored in other works of science fiction, and in the end I didn’t think any new ground had been broken. I was entertained, not blown away.
broken monstersBroken Monsters
Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes, at least on this, our first encounter, reminds me of Mo Hayder.

Which is to say I’m very favorably impressed by the writing in “Broken Monsters.” As with Mo Hayder, Lauren Beukes’ characters are sympathetic and well-drawn; her villain twisted and grotesque, horrific almost beyond imagining. That leaves the plot, which teeters between believability and fantasy. Without getting into detail, “Broken Monsters” revolves around a Detroit detective, her teenaged daughter, and a cast of supporting characters swept up in a series of ritualized killings. The killer isn’t merely satanic, he’s under the control of a supernatural force, which is where the fantasy comes in.

Normally, when an author slips into fantasyland, I’m done, but Lauren Beukes was good enough to keep me flipping pages. That’s because her non-supernatural characters, everyday people going about their lives and jobs, were so realistic; because the detective and police procedural aspects of this novel were so convincing. That’s because the Detroit she depicts is the Detroit I remember. I was willing to swallow the supernatural bits and finished this thriller in almost record time.

Next for me: Lauren Beukes’ “Moxyland.”
razor girlRazor Girl
Carl Hiaasen

This is the Carl Hiaasen I remember from early novels, having fun with improbable plots and eccentric but likable characters. He’s back in form after recent disappointments, which is to say if you fondly remember “Strip Tease” or “Native Tongue,” you’ll be more than pleased with “Razor Girl.”

As for this latest novel, what can be said? Florida Man and Florida Woman take on reality TV, con artists, and the Mob. It’s a hoot (see what I did there?).