Whinge-Bag Friday

IMG_5954Progress report (or lack thereof): the skin graft isn’t taking. I feared that might be the case, and now the dermatologist has confirmed it. He cut off the top layer, which was scabbed over, yesterday morning. He said we might have to try another. After he left the room I asked the nurse practitioner what would happen if we didn’t. She said I’ll eventually grow new skin and it’ll heal. I said that’s good enough for me. I don’t want to endure another skin graft, because if the first one failed there’s no reason to think a second attempt will work out any differently.

So this is the face I’ll show the world, likely for the rest of the summer. My morning routine will include removing yesterday’s dressing, soaking and cleaning the wound on my nose as best I can, swabbing it with vaseline, and putting on a new dressing. I’ll have to see the nurse practitioner weekly (as I have for the past month).

A good part of July will be down time anyway, because I’m having my second knee replaced on the 10th. The museum knows I won’t be in for three or four weeks afterward. My nose might as well heal while my knee does. My goal is to be recovered, nose and knee, by the end of August. I’m laying in a stock of books on the Kindle. And who knows, I might get some writing done.

35628366_10156419504167346_7928081256967831552_nNot that I’m going into hiding, just planning on taking it easy while I care for my nose and do physical therapy with the new knee. I went in Monday for my volunteer shift at the air museum. With a white nose poking out beneath dark sunglasses and a big floppy sun hat, I must have looked like the Invisible Man … but everyone was cool with it, or at least they didn’t point and laugh.

Three more museum Mondays remain before knee surgery, and I plan to do them all. Tomorrow there’s a book club meeting, and in the evening company’s coming over. I won’t be out and about for a couple of weeks after the knee surgery, but the nose? Pffft. People are just going to have to get used to seeing me like this. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. It is what it is.

Well, that’s enough whinging for now. Let’s talk ticks.

Mr. B gets ticks constantly. Maxie never does. A mystery? Not really. Mr. B pees on bushes, brushing up against them in the process. Maxie squats over the ground. I’m pretty sure that explains it. The nurse practitioner at the dermatologist’s office, who used to be a vet tech, told me to try a topical ointment called Frontline. You rub it between your dog’s shoulder blades once a month. The local feed store wanted $52 for three month’s worth so I ordered it from Amazon, which sells it for $35. Chewy.com, where we get our dog food, sells it for $60, but it’s a six-month supply, so really only $30. Hoping it helps … but we’ll continue to check Mr. B over daily, as we have been doing. And Maxie too, just in case.

I mentioned friends coming over tomorrow night. It’s our cooking club, coming out of a long coma. We’re going to prepare and devour entrées from Reuben’s Restaurant, a famous (no longer in business) California institution: shrimp scampi and sautéed artichoke hearts. Apparently these were enormously popular menu items back in the day, with websites and forums devoted to reconstructing the recipes. We’re also making a watermelon salad, rice pilaf, and having strawberry shortcake for desert.

Mr. B is by my desk in his office bed (as opposed to his bedroom or family room bed), chasing something in his dreams. Muffled little barks, twitching paws. Donna’s out shopping for tomorrow’s dinner. Polly’s at work. A quiet day. Enjoy your quiet days … you never know how many you have left.


Crossing Lines

crossing a lineDonna visited a friend last night. Despite a mutual agreement to avoid politics, conversation turned to the administration policy of taking children from would-be immigrant parents crossing the southern border of the US. Her friend … not for the first time … came down hard on the racist MAGA side: it serves them right; the kids are being used as props to garner sympathy; ask any Border Patrol agent and they’ll tell you the “parents” abandon them in the desert as soon as they cross over; it’s all part of an orchestrated plot to make Trump look bad, and so on. Donna came home angry and sad, and … not for the first time … said her friend was no longer the person she thought she knew and that she didn’t know if she could see her any more.

We faced a similar dilemma last December, when a couple we’ve known for 20 years invited us over for dinner. These friends have always been staunchly conservative, but more on the “country club Republican” end of the scale. Or so we thought. We were horrified when they turned out to be Trump supporters; going out on a limb for him on Facebook before the election, then voting for him, then continuing to vocally support him through all the horrors of his first year in office. Here’s what I wrote then:

But here’s the thing: they voted for, and support, a cowardly bully and sexual predator, a man whose only values are wealth and celebrity, a man intent on cashing out everything of value in America in order to enrich himself and his cronies … a loathsome racist who, when Nazis took over an American city, chanting against Jews and blacks and killing a woman who protested their presence, literally took the Nazi’s side. How do you rub up against shit without getting the stink on you?

I went on to recount a personal experience that still sickens me, thirty-plus years later:

I’ll never forget the time a young girl, 12 or 13 … about the age of my own daughter at the time … walked past a restaurant table a friend and I were having lunch at, and my friend winked and said “I bet she’s tight.” I’d only been shocked like that once before, when I was a teenager myself and, out of the fucking blue, a middle-aged guy across the aisle of a Greyhound bus leaned over and offered to suck me off in the toilet. That time I changed seats.

I wish I could say I got up from the table and walked away from the man who, out of the blue, revealed himself to be a pedophile. I can say I never spoke to him again.

Lumping Trump supporters in with pedophiles may have struck some of my readers as over the top, but the comparison comes back to me in light of what’s going on today with Trump, Justice, Homeland Security, the Border Patrol, and Immigration & Customs Enforcement. I was shocked to learn a person I thought of as a friend was a pedophile; I’m just as shocked to hear friends and acquaintances defend the violent snatching of children and infants from parents trying to escape poverty and violence, and the incarceration of those children and infants in cages and concentration camps.

Last December, dinner was postponed and we were able to put off deciding whether to continue socializing with our Trump-loving friends. Now, though, a line has been crossed. Friends and acquaintances who still defend and support Trump are now former friends and acquaintances, and forgiveness is not in the offing.

Up to, say, inauguration day, Trump voters could reasonably claim they liked his policies but rejected his racism and nationalism. If they still support Trump today they can no longer claim exceptions. They’re all in. They crossed the red line. They done rubbed up against shit and the stink ain’t ever coming off.

Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em all.

This isn’t “politics.” This isn’t progressivism versus conservatism. It’s Morality 101. Sadly, though, the political process is our only hope of changing things. God damn it, friends, I know Democrats are spineless and uninspiring, but we have to vote the Republicans out this November.


Paul’s Book Reviews: Essays, Nonfiction, Thrillers, Science Fiction

“The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.”

— Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

slouching towards bethlehemSlouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays
by Joan Didion

I was at Sacramento State during the years Didion wrote the essays in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” By 1970, when I started grad school, her book had become a hit and everybody was reading it. Everyone but me, it seemed. Did I not want to be like everyone else? I don’t know. I was as steeped in the life and lore of California as anyone. I was an English major, a person who took good writing seriously. I wanted to read Didion. I just didn’t get around to it until 2018.

At this distance, Didion’s essays lose their topicality and urgency. What’s left are photos in time. Mostly what’s left, though, is good writing. Which in itself is reason to study Didion, particularly if you aspire to write well yourself.

She probably wasn’t thinking about the reactions of readers forty or fifty years in the future when she wrote the essays in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” but for what it’s worth her California matches the Golden State of my memories: the insularity of Sacramento and Central Valley life, the pull the state once exercised on Americans’ imaginations. Her sharp observation of, and Werner Herzogian commentary on, post-Summer of Love Haight-Ashbury fully justified the book’s dramatic title, but it was all so long ago.

I was surprised by how much of herself Joan Didion revealed in these essays. She can seem a bit cold, but she is undeniably there in everything she writes. She was a revered figure in Sacramento, particularly on the campus of Sac State, and many of my friends and professors had met her. Even though I never did, I always felt a connection to her, and if she still reads reviews, I want her to know I finally got around to reading her and learning what I had missed.

by Annalee Newitz

I liked “Autonomous” a lot, even though if left me with questions.

Annalee Newitz has created a near-future world profoundly changed by a shift from government to corporate power, mass population relocation, and climate, but the bright young things at the cutting edge of technology are prospering, and all in all it’s rather an exciting world … unless you’re an indentured human or bot.

I wanted to know more about this world than “Autonomous” offered. What we get is just a tiny slice, that occupied by the biohacking/pharma/international-property-rights-enforcement sector. That’s enough, fortunately, to accommodate a good story (for which I refer you to the blurb, above). I had fun reading it.

I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief, though … not the way I always can when I read a William Gibson novel, or one by Neal Stephenson. I kept asking questions.

How did Jack come to own a submarine? Even in the context of the world of “Autonomous,” a sub seems like something only a major corporation would own. If a private citizen has her own, many many other private citizens must have them too, and they’d be bumping into one another. An unspecified event led to the apparent collapse of the United States and there’s been a major population shift to Canada and its Northern Territories, which have become temperate. But if the Great White North is now temperate, wouldn’t the equatorial regions of the world be uninhabitable? I mean, that’s the actual arc our current world is on, no? And yet here is Casablanca, with plenty of water and a burgeoning population of techs and wealthy corporations. Like I said, questions.

And then there’s artificial intelligence. When science fiction writers ask me to believe in AI I want some remotely-possible technology behind it, not some vague “oh, we invented AI fifty years ago and now there are humanoid bots and mechanical robots who can think and act all on their own and I’ll even throw in one of each as major characters.” I accepted these parts of “Autonomous” the same way I’d accept magic in a fantasy novel, but I would much rather have had something I could believe in.

I think the author was attempting something daring with the sexual relationship between Paladin and his/her human partner, which I found interesting but not provocative. I thought something similar was going to happen with the former indentured sex slave Threezed and the female humanoid bot Med, and was vaguely disappointed when it didn’t. Or did it?

Well, I want more of this world, and I hope Annalee Newitz revisits it in a future novel. What I read feels like part of a longer work, something on the order of one of Gibson’s trilogies, and yes I do mean that as a compliment.

speed of soundThe Speed of Sound (Speed of Sound Thrillers #1)
by Eric Bernt

I’ve been in a distracted mood, unable to focus, the result of a series of minor medical procedures and the recovery time after each, so I’ve been reading easy-to-digest thrillers. All very lowbrow, I’m afraid, but even in airport book land, some books are better than others.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller-with-a-science-fiction-hook. It’s well written, has engaging characters, and zips from one action scene to another. It’s almost impossible to put down once you start reading, despite the silly sci-fi premise, about which the less said the better.

Well, on second thought I will say a bit about the premise. If you read the book’s blurb, you’ll say “no way.” But two or three chapters in you kind of halfway begin to swallow it, the idea that sound waves keep bouncing around in enclosed spaces and can be retrieved (even decades later). Your acceptance is helped along by the quality of the narration, the speed of the action, and a set of believable villains. In the end, you don’t care that the science fiction hook is a flimsy one.

That’s how I felt, anyway, and you know what? When the sequel comes out next year, I’ll probably read the damned thing.

make meMake Me (Jack Reacher #20)
by Lee Child

My 20th Jack Reacher book, and the 20th in the series.

There seems to be more of an evolution in Reacher’s character in this novel than in previous installments. Some reviewers point to his stronger-than-usual attachment to his female co-protagonist, Michelle Chang, but we’ve seen that before. Remember the Army major he traveled cross-country to see over the course of three earlier novels?

No, it’s middle age catching up with Reacher. He suffers a rifle stock blow to the head and this time he doesn’t get over it. It catches up with him a few chapters later. Reacher staggers. Reacher falls down. Reacher is momentarily helpless. Reacher goes to the hospital! Never mind that he gets back up again and dispatches the bad guys, this is a big deal. Age and weakness have been introduced and now I have to read the next one to see what happens.

Oh btw, the bad guys in this one are really awfully horribly no-good nastily bad, and deserve everything Reacher, Chang, and the hogs do to them. Never again will I feel safe or at home in a small midwestern town.

p.s. The Kindle edition I read, and probably other editions as well, contains a standalone short story at the end, this one about a case Reacher worked as a major in the Army, also involving his brother Joe Reacher (whose death was central to the plot of the first Jack Reacher novel, but who appears in later flashback novels). It is an excellent story, probably the outline for an abandoned novel.

river in darknessA River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea
by Masaji Ishikawa

Some historians have claimed that at one point in the 1950s or early 1960s it was anyone’s guess whether North or South Korea was more likely to succeed and provide a better life for its people. This is right about the time Masaji Ishikawa and his family were persuaded to leave Japan, where they were part of an unloved ethnic Korean minority imported as cheap labor before and during WWII, and emigrate to North Korea, where they instantly became part of a hated, persecuted, doomed-to-life-at-the-lowest-rungs-of-society minority.

From the frying pan into the fire. The historians I mentioned were full of it. North Korea under Kim Il Sung was every bit the hellhole it was under Kim Jong Il, and later still, under Kim Jong Un. Ishikawa’s memoir makes George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984” look like a Harry Potter story. It’s the grimmest, most hopeless, grindingly depressing thing I’ve ever read, and knowing what I know of North Korea from other accounts written by people who made it out, Ishikawa’s every word rings true.

I recommend this book to anyone tempted to go gaga over the latest rumors of peace or to uncritically swallow the media campaign to humanize Kim Jong Un. If you want to know how the Kims, the whole cursed clan, really treat their people, read what the escapees have to say. Devastating almost to the point of unbelievability … but as I said earlier, the more you learn about NK, the more you have to believe what Ishikawa has to say here.

time wasTime Was
by Ian McDonald

I loved McDonald’s “The Dervish House,” “River of Gods,” and “Luna: New Moon.” When I heard of “Time Was,” published this year, I ordered it from the library, surprised to see they had only paperback copies in circulation. Well, no wonder … this is a straight-to-paperback novella, possibly a long short story, perhaps (I’m hoping) the outline of a future novel.

It opens strong; McDonald sets the stage with some of his finest, most lyrical writing. The out-of-business bookstore and the odd collection of scavengers picking over unsold volumes to sell on eBay pulled me in; the mysterious letter found tucked inside a book of poetry offering a vivid glimpse of life on England’s “invasion coast” during the Blitz … this was great stuff.

By the third or fourth chapter the writing became less evocative of times and places, more pedestrian and businesslike. The story was interesting and continued to pull me along, but I was disappointed to spend so little time with Tom and Ben, the two characters the book is nominally about; “Time Was” is far more about the historical hunt for Tom and Ben, who appear in old photos, letters, and movie clips, always at a remove. I got to know the bookseller quite well, but he just wasn’t that interesting … until the end, when he becomes very interesting indeed.

As I said, “Time Was” seems more of an outline than a finished work to me. I enjoyed it, and will come back to it gladly if, in a year or two, it becomes a proper novel.

bone musicBone Music (Burning Girl #1)
by Christopher Rice

No rating; did not finish.

I wrote these preliminary comments after reading the first four chapters:

“I’m looking at Goodreads reviews of ‘Bone Music’ and am pretty sure someone’s figured out how to game the system: the first seven (!) reviews are five-star raves. If anything, this is a one, one and a half star effort (also an effort to read, with long & tedious dialog chapters between action chapters). I doubt I’ll even finish, but we’ll see. Consider this a placeholder for now.”

I plowed on for another few chapters, making it to the halfway point. “Bone Music” kept getting worse, with not just single dialog chapters between action chapters, but two, then three, then four dialog chapters in a row, chapters in which characters argue about what they’re going to do next. I found myself skipping ahead, first one page at a time, then several at once, looking for someone to finally get around to doing something, anything, my god quit saying the same things over and over already!

The premise (you can quit reading now if you’re going to start whining about spoilers, because my intention is to so spoil this one for you so that you don’t waste a minute actually reading it) is that a 110-pound woman can take a pill and turn into Hulkette for three hours. Okay, I’ll go along with it, I thought to myself, but then she steps onto the interstate and stops a speeding 18-wheeler with her fist. Unless that pill, in addition to giving her super strength, gave her the mass of a 100,000-pound boulder … well, I’d had enough. I won’t even mention the helicopter extending its skids prior to landing because that might be a detail only an aviator would choke on.

It’s crap. I wouldn’t even read this shit in comic book form.


Owies: a Progress Report

I was going to call these “before” and “after” photos, but really they’re both sort of “in the middle” selfies.


June 5, 2018


June 14, 2018

You couldn’t see the basal cell skin cancer on my nose, but the dermatologist did (along with a squamous cell cancer on my left temple). I go in every four months, and on every visit he burns a few pre-cancerous areas off my face. NBD, right? But about once a year he’ll find a basal or squamous cell carcinoma which must be cut out. I’ve been seeing him since I came to live in Tucson in 1998, so that’s a lot of cutting … all, to date, on my face.

I took the first selfie, above, the morning of my recent surgery. I took the second this morning. The big wad of gauze and tape in the first photo covers a skin graft, which in turn covers the hole on the end of my nose where the cancer was. The donor skin comes from behind my left ear, which explains the gauze and tape there. The patch on my left temple covers fresh sutures from the other skin cancer surgery. The dressings on my neck and temple came off a day later, but I had to wear the nose dressing nine days straight, doing my best to keep it clean and dry, adding new tape as old tape unraveled … which made it look more like the mummified nose of Karl Malden every day.

This morning Tish, the clinic nurse practitioner, took the old dressing, cleaned up my nose, and covered it again … this time with a quarter-sized bit of gauze and less tape, as you see in the second photo. For the next week I have to take the dressing off every morning, soak the skin graft area with a wet cotton ball, put on some vaseline with a q-tip, and tape it back up. That’s much better, because while I still have a big white schnozz, at least it’ll be fresh tape every day, nice and clean. The other one was getting to look like an old gym sock.

When I go in next Thursday I hope we’ll see progress on the skin graft. Right now it’s horrifying to look at, much larger than I expected (about the diameter of a nickel), with nastiness all around the perimeter (that’s what I’ll be trying to soak and clean off with wet cotton balls every day). But Tish (by far my favorite person at the clinic, by the way), says that’s what skin grafts look like at this stage of healing, and that the scars from the other surgeries are healing up nicely. I have a feeling I’ll be wearing some kind of dressing or bandage on my nose for a while to come, so I’d better get used to it.

Yes, before you ask (because everyone does), the procedure on my nose was Mos surgery. I had hoped the area to be cut out would be small enough not to require a graft, but that wasn’t to be, so here we are. My first skin graft. I sincerely hope it’ll be the last. So far no melanoma, and may it stay that way!

The big floppy sun hat in the second photo? And the shades? You won’t catch me outdoors without them now, no siree! This has not been an experience I want to relive.

You kids wear your sunblock, you hear?


Air-Minded: Fitting In


In the wake of Captain Tammi Jo Shults’ masterful handling of a catastrophic engine failure on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, stories about her history as one of the first women to fly F/A-18 Super Hornets for the U.S. Navy were everywhere, including one published on May 2, 2018, by the New York Times Magazine and passed on to me by a friend.

That article is what prompts me to write this post, particularly the interviews with female military aviators, expressing what it was like for them to enter what had been, except for a brief period of time during WWII, a male-only profession.

In case, like me, you’ve already consumed your quota of free articles and find this one blocked by the NYT paywall, here are the quotes that registered with me:

Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, USMC F/A-18 pilot: “There were just so few women. You would think we would band together, but a lot of the time, we just wanted to fit in, so we didn’t. We didn’t even know I was the first. We deployed as a squadron to Afghanistan. It really wasn’t until after the first couple of missions that someone said, ‘Hey, I think you’re the first woman to do this in the Marine Corps.’ And then we just sort of dropped it. I didn’t really pat myself on the back. We were in war. We were busy.”

Major Kyleanne Hunter, USMC AH-1 Super Cobra pilot: “Should we have made a bigger deal of what we did? Because that might have highlighted it. Has it been to the detriment of the American people that we allowed some of these stereotypes to persist because nobody knows we were there? It’s almost a Catch-22: We never want to be highlighted, because we’re just another pilot. I don’t want to be a ‘woman pilot.’ I want to be a Cobra pilot.”

Major Lisa Clark, USAF B-52 navigator and B-1 pilot: “I had no idea until I got to the assignment that I was going to be the first. I just tried to keep my head down and do a good job. It was an honor. I just wanted to blend in and not draw attention to myself. I think I put more pressure on myself to do well to fight this idea that women are just a distraction.”

Lieutenant Colonel Teri Poulton, USAF KC-135 and C-17 pilot: “I graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1992 and started pilot training in late 1993. Nobody could pick fighter pilot, because we were women. It did change after that. They offered people a chance — men and women; they were really short on fighter pilots. Most of the time, my survival technique was to keep my head down. I did plenty of jabbing back at the guys, but I just wanted to be not noticed. I never spoke up about my service. But I would say to the women going through now: ‘Don’t make the mistakes I made. You have way more influence than you think you do.’”

Major Monica Marusceac, USMC AV-8 Harrier pilot: “There were really no other women at all — no one to talk to. I always worked very hard to fit in, and in the process of trying to fit in with your peers, you lose a little bit of yourself. I almost felt like major officers were afraid to mentor me. I get it, and I totally want to prove my worth, but I think everybody gets to where they are because someone was thoughtful about their careers and their assignments. I was just happy to hear a positive outcome of a female being in the cockpit because I feel like it takes five of 10 positive stories about women in combat or women in aviation or women in crisis to show how women are good and calm.”

I touched on some of this a few years ago in an Air-Minded post titled Women & Military Aviation. As a man, everything I know about women’s experiences in the military is second-hand, so I was happy to read these women’s comments, which confirmed my earlier observations.

Here’s what I wrote back to the friend who sent me the NYT Magazine article:

Re the article you recommended, I well remember the attitudes of the early woman fighter pilots I met then (and now): they were there to fly and refused to make anything of being a woman … as the article notes again and again, they kept their heads down and did their jobs.

In my earlier blog piece I made up the statistic that women comprise about 5% of the pilot force. The NYT article says 6%. Pretty close, and I don’t know that anyone knows why, since women make up almost 20% of the total military officer force otherwise.

Among the female fighter pilots I have met is Martha McSally (now the congresswoman from my district in Arizona), back when she was a young USAF captain flying A-10s, one of the first women to log combat time. In my post-Air Force career as a defense contractor training fighter pilots, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with a few others: two A-10 pilots and an F-15 pilot (at the time a new lieutenant in one of my former Eagle squadrons). One of those A-10 pilots is a good friend today.

The early resistance to women aviators in the military went away pretty fast once they started flying. Most of the currently-flying male military pilots I talk to accept the women they fly with as equals, and the women are doing just fine, holding their own with anybody.

Culture change? When I went through pilot training in Oklahoma in 1974, our academic instructors would flash Playboy pinup photos every five slides to keep our attention. We’d end the flying day singing dirty songs in the squadron ready room, then head to the stag bar at the O’club to drink beer and watch strippers. When I moved on to fighters, whiskey replaced beer, but otherwise it was more of the same (squared if anything). I think things are more restrained today (no more strippers, anyway), but the hard-drinking, hard-partying culture of the fighter business is essentially unchanged.

The first woman military pilots knew — or quickly learned — what kind of culture they were getting into, which explains the “keep your head down” ethic they embraced (and probably still do since their numbers remain so small).

One of the woman interviewed for the NYT Magazine article, Monica Marusceac, the Marine Harrier pilot, said two things I want to come back to: “There were really no other women at all — no one to talk to,” and “I almost felt like major officers were afraid to mentor me.”

I reached out to my friend Michelle “Xena” Vestal, recently retired after a 20-year career flying A-10s for the Air Force, to ask if she’d look over and share her thoughts on this and my earlier Air-Minded article, and she agreed.*

On the “no other women” topic, she pointed out that while woman pilots comprise 5-6% of the total pilot force (not just fighters but bombers, cargo, tanker, trainer, helicopter, reconnaissance, and support), when it comes to fighters the numbers are tiny: women made up less than one percent of the fighter pilot force in 2004; today their ranks have almost doubled: they’re getting close to two percent. Then she said this:

Well, when you are one of one there isn’t much to band together! The rare two times that my assignment overlapped with another female in the unit, we were in different social and professional circles and did not become besties. … I had an amazing experience with the wives. They were my great and dear friends throughout my career and welcomed me with open arms into their wife network from the time I was in FTU [initial A-10 training]. I speak both languages (boy and girl) and often ended up finding myself in a sort of liaison role and even went so far as to give “pilot academics” to the ladies to help them better understand what their husbands are talking about and what their daily flying activities entail.

That, too, tallies with my own observations. When Donna and I were stationed at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, we became friends with a KC-135 navigator. All her fellow aviators were men; Donna and the other F-15 squadron wives we introduced her to became her circle of woman friends and she felt less isolated as a result. I’m not putting words in her mouth; she told us that on more than one occasion.

We didn’t call it “mentoring” when I was a new F-15 pilot, but one of the old heads in my first Eagle squadron — Major (later Lieutenant General) Jeff Cliver, an F-105 Thunderchief pilot in Vietnam and later one of the initial cadre of Air Force F-15 pilots — took me under his wing and saw to it I learned to fly a fighter: first as a good wingman, then a two-ship flight lead, then a four-ship flight lead and instructor pilot. I may not have survived the pressure cooker of my first F-15 assignment without his mentorship and I owe him a lot. Not surprisingly, Michelle was mentored too — by male pilots:

Mentoring doesn’t have a sex. That being said, it would have been amazing to have another female fighter pilot to look up to and guide me in those isolating times and thoughts and share perspectives. We were just so few and far between that it wasn’t feasible.

A significant portion of the military officer corps (in my time and now) is politically conservative. Sexism, and even worse, racism, is all too often part of that package. Think, again, about the fact that women make up just 5-6% of the military pilot force (and less than 2% of fighter pilots) when their representation in the total force is closer to 20%, and this may be a reason why. Now think about black pilots, whose numbers are even smaller: about 2% of the total military pilot force (likely far less in fighters), as opposed to 16% of the total force.

You can only admire the courage and determination of those who step up to all that, knowing what they’re getting into. You can only pray things are getting easier as these women (and these black aviators) continue, over and over again, to prove their worth.


* Michelle sent six single-spaced pages of notes and comments, and I was able to incorporate only a tiny fraction of what she had to say here. I hope to share more in future Air-Minded posts. Thanks, Xena!


Friday Bag o’ Outrage

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.05.22 AMUp & at ’em. Shave, shower, walk the dog, give the blog a goose before grocery shopping with Donna. Tuesday morning I’m having a skin cancer removed from the end of my nose. The nurse at the dermatologist’s office says the procedure will probably include a skin graft, which means my entire head will be wrapped for eight days minimum. For the first few days of this miserable mummified existence Donna will be away at a sewing retreat, so I’ll be making my own meals and today’s grocery shopping expedition is mostly for me.

Oh by the way, if the dermatologist does have to graft skin over my nose, it’ll come from behind my ear, not my ass. Just wanted to make that clear, because I’m already hearing butt-hair-growing-out-of-your-nose jokes and they’re getting old fast.

Hashing friends from Honolulu are dropping by in a couple of weeks. Since Polly’s still in the guest bedroom, we’re putting them up at a friend’s mother-in-law house down the street. This morning I’m alerting other former Honolulu hashers in Tucson so we can do the pau hana thing one night. Of all our Air Force postings, Honolulu was hands down the best. I loved every day there.

With regard to the c-word, Samantha Bee should have known using it to describe a Trump family member would have immediate repercussions. I used the c-word on this blog several years ago and overnight lost a friend who had been a devoted reader. Of course I was talking about Sarah Palin, so my use of the word was entirely justified, but still. How many readers can a small-time blogger like me afford to alienate?

The back & forth on social media has been depressing, the more so because it’s so predictable. If Roseanne had to lose her show for making racist tweets, then Sam Bee has to lose hers for calling Ivanka Trump a c*nt. But Ted Nugent called Hillary one! Well, Hillary called us deplorables! Oh yeah? Just wait till the Apprentice tapes leak, with Trump spewing n-words and c-words. Und so weiter, et cetera, ad infinitum. I’d say it’s time for another break from Twitter and Facebook … if MSNBC and NPR weren’t just as bad!

Thank Zog for DVRs and streaming TV. We’re not binge watchers, but when the news is in a stupid cycle, as it is now, binging on The Americans on Veronica Mars is what gets us through. I expect I’ll be doing a lot of that next week while Donna’s off at her retreat.



Old Fords at Udall Park

A friend invited us to a Ford Model A owners’ meet at a local park this morning, so we went over and took a few photos. The cars and trucks on display were a mix of Model As and Ts, some restored to better than new condition, some showing hard use (I think I liked those best). We had a nice time talking to the owners and sharing their picnic breakfast. We rode our Honda Goldwing to the meet … it’s a treat when Donna wants to ride pillion with me, and I wish we could do it more often.

As always, click on the images to see the full-sized photos on Flickr. And yes, I wore my Bullwhip hat, à la Indiana Jones … it seemed like the perfect morning for it.

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Eighty Thousand Gnocchi in Three Key States

how-to-make-gnocchiSo far, it’s been a quiet Saturday morning. I have yet to replenish the bird feeders, but most of the outdoor chores are done and Mr. B has been walked.

I feel I should update my blog and newsletter privacy policies and send every reader an email about it, but I’d have to write a privacy policy first and that seems like work. Meaningless work, as meaningless as the flood of GDPR privacy policy update email in your inbox and mine. I had to look up GDPR: it’s the General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in the European Union this week, and I guess GDPR, through international consumer trade laws, somehow affects us on this side to the Atlantic as well.

Polly’s Saturn is missing a hubcap. Donna believes in the “broken windows” philosophy of crime prevention, which she put it into words when she asked me to find a replacement: “A car with a missing hubcap invites trouble.” You know what? I agree with her.

While we were online looking up Saturn parts, we ordered a couple of kitchen tools for Donna’s cousin Diane. One, a gnocchi board like the one in the picture, was less than $5, about what it would cost to mail it to her. It shipped free with our Amazon Prime membership. Shipping alone, never mind streaming TV, has more than paid for that membership. What’s not to like? Trump better not mess with it, or … well, I was going to say he’d have a consumer riot on his hands, but realistically I know the fight’s gone out most Americans. We’ll just roll over and accept it as the new normal, as we have adultery, corruption, and a stolen election.

Speaking of which, I keep revisiting a post I wrote on November 15, 2016, a few days after the election, and this paragraph in particular:

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.

“Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election,” now says former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians. … To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point.” I didn’t know how right I was back in November 2016, but I could smell the truth, as could anyone who followed the news and had a lick of sense.

If you can stand one more Trump-related thought, I’ll share my concern over his current attack on civil service protections and unions. Given what we know of Trump’s obsession with loyalty, it should be clear his real goal is to purge the civil service of “disloyal” federal employees. I’m not just talking about face cards, the agency heads he keeps firing and replacing in search of more submissive and compliant ones; I’m talking about the ranks of SES (senior executive service) and top-level GS (general schedule) employees, maybe even farther down the career ladder than that.

I have a friend in the foreign service, fairly senior in his career track and certainly in the upper- to top-level GS ranks. I’m worried for him. I’m pretty sure I know where his heart is, and it’s not with the current administration. I hope he’s been careful in what he’s said in the open and on social media, because I’m willing to bet MAGAs (Make America Great Again types; i.e., Trumpites) in every federal agency—State, the VA, HUD, Energy, Interior, you name it—are taking note of co-workers’ loyalties and political beliefs and passing lists of names up the line. You know it’s true.

It’s a short skip & a jump to the military and the loyalty of officer and senior enlisted ranks. I don’t even want to think about that, but I bet some day soon my brothers and sisters in arms will have to face some ugly truths.

Of course day-to-day citizens are judged on their loyalty as well, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to make sure the national anthem is played at every public event, and to note who’s not standing. I’m know I’m sounding more paranoid by the minute, but enforced conformity has always been a central value of the authoritarian right, and the authoritarian right is definitely feeling its oats these days.

I mentioned Joseph Heller’s great war novel “Catch-22” in a recent post, and I want to share this excerpt, because it nails an essential element in the MAGA mind.

Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that “The Star-Spangled Banner,” one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.

You watch. There’s nothing too petty, too douchey, or too small for our “president,” his lackeys, and his loyalists to do.

We need to get some fight back in us, and soon, before it’s too late.