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April 2016
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Never Read the Comments

I follow a retired Royal Navy aviator on Facebook, not because I know him but because he posts fascinating photos of older military aircraft, many of which he flew during his career. He typically says little about his photos, but his followers post comments, and up to now I thought they were an informed and experienced group.

Yesterday he posted this:

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Dear lord, the comments. Here are a few to give you the general idea:

  • They will soon be drawing maternity benefit and leave the industry!
  • Is this another April Fool’s joke?
  • Oh bloody hell! Hold on to something!!!
  • No worries, a bloke will be driving the tug that backs them off the stand.
  • Plenty of knobs to hang the handbag on.
  • On this flight, it is no longer called the Cockpit. Instead, it will be referred to as The Box Office.

I learned early on, with regard to other aviation-related Facebook group pages, to avoid interaction with other members, because very few of them have any flying experience or background. But I was shocked to see so many Beavises & Buttheads among this man’s followers.

The distilled wisdom of the internet age comes down to four words: Never Read the Comments. I knew that, I should have known better, I read the damn comments anyway. Shame on me.


Jerking Knees and Pedicures

I’m conservative when it comes to big things like morality and personal integrity. Lesser things too: grammar, punctuality, neatness. I have no use for those who don’t live up to positive societal values, the important ones that help us work together to make life better for everyone. I reject those who want to bring us all down to the level of the lowest common denominator, those who say crap values are equal to good values.

Lately, in addition to my basic conservatism, I’ve been experiencing some knee-jerk reactionary moments, and I’m a little concerned about it. Is it a natural part of getting older, or the onset of something worse?

Case in point: Muslim immigration. I mentioned the other day that if Europeans close the door to future Muslim immigration in the wake of repeated terrorist attacks, I would not condemn them. God knows some Muslim immigrants have given Europeans plenty of reason to distrust them. Similarly, I don’t reject Israel for its harsh actions against Palestinian terrorism, and I won’t condemn the Turks for their hostility towards the Kurds. I have not walked in their shoes and don’t know both sides of the story.

I’m beginning to think putting Muslims who want to come to the USA under the magnifying glass isn’t as wrong-headed as I first thought. This doesn’t mean I’m a Trumpite. If anything, it means I’m a Clintonite, because I suspect that while Hillary publicly says the correct & conventional things about Muslim immigration, as president she and her administration would actually be cautious and conservative about letting large numbers of Muslims … young single men in particular … into the country. Just as President Obama and his administration has been.

And there you have it, the latest jerk of my conservative knee.

Speaking of Turks, my pedicurist Semra is one. Somehow this morning we got to talking about terrorism in Europe, and I hinted at my willingness to take a harder look at allowing large numbers of Muslims into the USA. That’s all it took, and she was off: I’m Muslim but I’m a Turk, not an Arab; you can’t trust any Arab; they’ll eat breakfast with you in the morning and kill you in the evening; ask any Turk and they’ll tell you. I’m not fully clear as to whether she was condemning all Arabs or just Muslim Arabs, but it was quite a tirade. Sadly, at the end of her rant she said Trump was the answer. I decided to keep my thoughts about Clinton to myself.


Trailer Trash (with Money)

Just when you think a presidential candidate would be trying to say something intelligent about the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Donald Trump is sending out nasty, insinuating tweets about a rival candidate’s wife. And this interview with Washington Post editors? Lord almighty:

RYAN: You [MUFFLED] mentioned a few minutes earlier here that you would knock ISIS. You’ve mentioned it many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troop in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?

TRUMP: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…

RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?


TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?

A child in a man’s body: Tom Hanks in Big—the Reaver version. Ted Cruz is a Christian dominionist zealot; John Kasich ditto. Good thing Hillary already has the election sewn up. She does, doesn’t she? She’d better.*

Yesterday, on Facebook, I shared a link to a satirical petition to allow the open carry of firearms at the Republican convention. The way things are shaping up, the tree of liberty would definitely be well-watered in Cleveland, no? Today I clicked on that link, and it’s not satire! I should have known. Now I’m going to go sign the petition!

*No, I didn’t mention Bernie Sanders. Nor did I mention the other Democrats and Republicans who have dropped out. I think he’s done and will get around to admitting it soon.

Belgium? Seems like everyone knew an attack was coming, including the intelligence and law enforcement agencies that could have stopped it. Now that we’re beginning to see how large this particular terrorist cell was (and may still be), the government’s failure to infiltrate and stop it is shocking.

I don’t think any government can do much about lone wolf terrorists, but this was an organized ring, and its leaders and bomb makers had carried out a major attack in Paris just a few months before. The French (and other nations) had been working closely with the Belgians to root them out. That they failed so utterly is deeply disturbing. I will not be surprised if the current government of Belgium falls over this.

I hope ISIS isn’t working under the impression that Europeans are soft and lazy. Europe is the home of bloody wars and purges, and if it turns against Muslim immigrants over this and other recent terrorist attacks, it won’t be pretty.

Knock on wood, since the big terrorist attacks in the USA, the UK, and Spain, those nations seem to have been doing a good job staying on top of and preventing organized groups from carrying out other attacks (lone wolves no, but no one wants to live in the kind of police state that would be required to stop them). I think that years from now, when such things are no longer classified, we’ll learn just how effective our current administration has been in tracking and stopping organized terrorism. You hear that, Obama? Keep it up—one Belgian-style slip-up and you’ll be handing the White House keys over to a certain short-fingered vulgarian.

Okay, got that off my chest. Our friend Dick Herman flew out this week to visit and take in the Pima Air & Space Museum. We had a great time catching up with each other, and I loved showing him around the museum. Couple of selfies, one at the museum, one outside our neighborhood coffee shop:

IMG_0147 copy IMG_0150

Donna and I became fast friends with Dick and his wife Sheila (who passed away last year) when we were stationed together in the Netherlands, where Dick and I flew together. He’s beginning to come out from under the shock of his loss, and he’s writing again.

Our daughter Polly’s on the second day of her new job as a cashier at the neighborhood Ace Hardware store. We’re crossing our fingers and toes once again, hoping this job will take. Ace is a good outfit to work for, by Tucson standards, and she’ll have a future with the company if she wants it. So far, she’s excited and motivated. We’re just plain excited.

Cooking club snuck up on us again. It’s tomorrow, Saturday, and this time it’s a grilling cook-off. We’re hosting, and I’m going to fire up the gas and charcoal grills for the other members. For our part, Donna’s getting a brisket and two racks of spareribs today. I’ll rub the meat this afternoon and smoke it tomorrow with charcoal and mesquite (of which there’s plenty … we still have most of the tree we chopped down four years ago, nicely aged now). Setting up and cooking with my Fortress of Smoke™ is one of my favorite things—I don’t get to play Smoke Soldier nearly enough!

As you may have noticed in one of the selfies I posted above, I’m still keeping my forehead covered. Yes, another week of cleaning and dressing it daily; another week sans motorcycle. On the other two-wheeled front, the insurance company tells me it has everything it needs on my stolen bicycle claim and I should expect something shortly.

That, for now, is all the news and opinion fit to print. More soon, including an Air-Minded photoblog on my recent morning touring the restoration department at the air museum.


Air-Minded: Bitchin’ Betty

With the recent retirement of Boeing employee Leslie Shook, there have been a number of media reports about military aircraft aural cockpit warning systems. Leslie Shook is the voice behind the aural warning system in the F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft; Hornet crews affectionately call her “Bitchin’ Betty.”

Why is this newsworthy? I think it’s because the media seek any excuse to repeat mild profanities like “bitchin’.” Notice, though, that the NPR report I linked to above bleeps out the offending word. One TV news reporter I watched got such a case of the tee-hees she almost couldn’t go on, and another TV talking head actually said the words “Witchin’ Wetty” while making air quotes.

joan elmsThis is not Leslie Shook. It’s actress and singer Joan Elms, the first Bitchin’ Betty, though they didn’t call her that then: in the 1960s she was known to supersonic B-58 Hustler flight crews as “Sexy Sally.” Joan’s taped voice alerted Hustler crews to critical information and emergencies demanding immediate action: her warnings included phrases such as “weapon unlocked,” “hydraulic system failure,” “check for engine fire,” “nose too high.”

Wikipedia names Kim Crow as the first woman to provide digitized cockpit voice warnings to military aircrews. That’s true, but it’s a truth hinging on the word “digitized.” Joan Elms was of the pre-digital age, recording her warnings on old-fashioned magnetic tape. To my knowledge, the B-58 Hustler was the first military aircraft to employ aural cockpit voice warnings, and Joan Elm’s was the voice behind them.

The digitized voice of Kim Crow was my Bitchin’ Betty, the aural warning system in the F-15 Eagle. When I first flew the Eagle in 1978, Bitchin’ Betty said only a few things: “warning,” “engine fire,” “overheat.” Additional voice warnings were added over the years, and by the mid-1990s Bitchin’ Betty could recite an extensive litany of cautions and warnings. I can’t find an audio clip of my Bitchin’ Betty, but here’s a YouTube recording of F-16 Fighting Falcon voice warnings (General Dynamics, the F-16’s maker, used the voice of Erica Lane).

YouTube Preview Image

When Sexy Sally started warning B-58 Hustler crews about engine fires in the 1960s, it was a major innovation, and using a woman’s voice was considered a brilliant stroke: human factors researchers thought a woman’s voice—rarely heard on the radio and never on the intercom—would cut through other chatter and get the crews’ attention. This belief prevailed in my day as well, probably because flying military fighters was still a male-only occupation.

I always had doubts about that, though. For one thing, by my time many FAA and military radar controllers, both on the ground and in the air, were women. Women flew the tankers we refueled from and the C-5s ahead of us on final, forcing us to go around to avoid wake turbulence. You heard their voices all the time; there was no longer any novelty to it. For another thing, there were times Bitchin’ Betty spoke right into my earphones and I didn’t hear her, especially in the heat of an engagement or dogfight. I didn’t know she’d spoken until I reviewed my own cockpit videotape during debrief. The times I did hear her, I’d already seen the master caution light, felt the unusual thump, or heard the strange noise that always seems to accompany a mechanical failure.

Today, I understand, some commercial and military aircraft manufacturers use male voices for aural warning systems. They probably work just as well, and I’m sure the aircrews have colorful nicknames for them as well.

Is Bitchin’ Betty any kind of big deal today? Military aircraft, ships, tanks, and for all I know trucks have had Bitchin’ Betties for decades. So have commercial airliners, and I hear some general aviation aircraft as well. Ground-pounding civilians too are used to aural warning and guidance systems, witness Siri and automotive GPS. If you tell me voice systems used by regular people on a daily basis leave military systems in the dust, I will not be surprised. Heck, I can select Morgan Freeman’s voice on my Garmin when I get tired of listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I don’t think they can do that in any military jet, not even the F-35!


Sunday Bag o’ Moto MX

I rode my Goldwing to Ed’s place Friday for some necessary maintenance: rebuilding the forks, which had begun to leak fluid through the oil & dust seals. It’s a messy job—forks are covered in road grime and full of black oil—but the rebuild procedure is straightforward and theoretically one shouldn’t be able to screw it up too badly.


Just getting at the forks is a big job

The aftermarket fork kit I ordered off the internet consisted of bushings, O-rings, and seals, but did not include instructions. That wasn’t important since we had a shop manual, but even with a manual it’s possible to put the seals on upside down. I knew this because when I ordered the kit I read the customer reviews, where one guy explained the problem and said the secret is to install the seals number side up. And sure as heck, the new seals had numbers on one side.


Ed seating the seals with a special tool

Well, helpful reviewer guy was right about the oil seals, but dead wrong about the dust seals. Ed happened to have a Honda fork rebuild kit on hand, and by comparing the factory and aftermarket dust seals, we managed to install mine correctly.

Then, once the forks were back on the bike and the front wheel and disk brake calipers re-installed, I noticed a solitary bolt on the floor.


The bolt from hell

The bolt, which we had obviously missed, held a brake line clamp up against the inside of the left fork. It looked to Ed like all he needed to do was position the clamp with the fingers of one hand while screwing the bolt in with the other hand, but it turned out to be impossible—impossible, that is, until Ed and I took the front wheel off again and loosened up the disc brake calipers, and then it went right in. That one bolt added an extra hour and a half to the job, but eventually we finished up and I rode home. So far, so good: nothing’s fallen off the bike and the fork seals are doing their job. Here’s to not having to do that for at least another 50,000 miles!

Not that it’s not fun to work on my bike, but rebuilding those forks took it out of me. To get down to the level of the wheel, brakes, and forks, we had to kneel or sit on those little shop stools you see in the top photo. Whenever I got up to grab a tool I found I could barely move. It probably would have been better if I just stood all the time, but you can’t do that when everything you need is down on the floor of the garage. Ed’s my age but still spry, and I envy him that. I have one rebuilt knee and one that needs to be rebuilt, and it’s really hard for me to kneel or squat and then get back up again. It could well be my orthopedist installed my seals upside-down!

Ed, by the way: a great and true friend! Years ago, when my first headlight burned out, I couldn’t figure out how to replace the bulb, so I asked for advice on an online Honda Goldwing forum. When you post a question, your name and location are visible to other forum members: a few minutes later a guy responded, saying he lived in Tucson too and would be happy to show me how. That guy turned out to be Ed, who lives just two or three miles away. I’ve been doing all my motorcycle maintenance with Ed since that day—in fact Ed does most of the wrenching while I fetch tools, but Friday he let me use his torque wrench to properly tighten the front axle nut (45 foot/pounds), so I’m slowly gaining his confidence!

Speaking of true friends, here are two more of mine, eyeballing me from the couch by my chair:


The stare

The stare, of course, is a daily dinnertime occurrence. Most nights the cat is there too. Unless we have company, the couch belongs to the pets; if you look close you can see the carpeted ramp we made them start using after Schatzi hurt her back jumping on and off the sofa.

Yesterday, while recovering from Friday’s exertions, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices had cried out in protest and were crassly insulted. I feared something terrible had happened. Then I logged onto Facebook and discovered Donald Trump was in Tucson. My body started aching all over again.

What I need now is a good motorcycle ride. Just as soon as my forehead heals and I can wear a helmet again, that’s what I’m going to do.


Erin go Bragh

IMG_3051I quit drinking in 2007, nine years ago. I can’t remember the exact day, but it was in March, so I’ll celebrate another anniversary of sobriety with this post.

I’ve made a few bad decisions, but generally I’m a good person who works hard and tries to do the right thing. My one true regret is drinking. For 30 years, from my 20s through my 50s, I was drunk or buzzed nearly every evening. Looking back, I’m amazed I accomplished as much as I did, and wonder how far a clean and sober me might have gone.

For 24 of those 30 years I was in a hard-drinking profession, flying fast jets for the Air Force, but that’s no excuse. I wonder how my old buddies are doing today. Some, I know, are still hard drinkers. Some, like me, have probably quit. I hang around with Hash House Harriers these days, even though I’m no longer a good fit. Younger hashers drink like crazy; the survivors … the ones my age … still drink, but not as much as they used to.

Well, there’s nothing I can do about that now, and hey, better late than never. I’m one of the fortunate ones: Demon Rum turned his back on me the moment I turned my back on him. I haven’t missed his company at all. I sometimes joke I’ll start drinking again on my 80th birthday, but honestly I have no desire to.

Most alcoholics have a far harder time quitting than I did. Many can’t, or won’t. The disabled patients I worked with at the VA hospital were older than me: most of them still drank heavily, often at great cost to themselves, some to the point of losing their families and everything they’d worked for. And then they kept right on drinking.

The inset photo, by the way? Our garbage can after a recent sweep of our resident alcoholic’s room. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about, and am probably more qualified then most to talk about it. Yes, we’re working on it. Every day.

IMG_0118So what else is new? Not the big white bandage on my forehead. The wound from my recent skin cancer surgery is slow to heal and the dermatologist says to keep dressing it daily for another week, then come in for a second followup visit next Tuesday. My barber had to cut around it this morning, since the bandage goes right up against my hairline.

There’s not a lot of green on that shirt, but there is some, so never let it be said I’ve forgotten Saint Patrick’s Day. My family roots are English and German; undoubtedly there’s Irish blood mixed in with that of the English ancestors. Donna’s almost equal parts English, Italian, and Irish. Anyway, we’re all Irish today, right?

Speaking of Saint Patrick (and small towns), a shirtless young man stepped out in front of me on Speedway Boulevard as I drove home from the barbershop this morning. I had to come to a full stop to keep from hitting him, and as soon as I did he stepped out of the way and waved me on. I thought he was mental, but when I got home and checked into Facebook, there was a photo of the same kid being interviewed by Tucson’s finest. The Facebook post says he was drunk, not mental. Well, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning!

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Tomorrow is fork rebuild day at my friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed’s garage. Next week our old friend Dick will be here, and of course I’m taking him to the air museum. We were going to drive to Las Vegas for the last weekend in March, but that’s been postponed to the last weekend in April. As before, we plan to tow the motorcycle behind our truck. I’ll go riding with Gregory while Donna visits Beth and the grandkids. The Laughlin River Run is that weekend, so I guess it’s inevitable Greg and I will go mix it up with the Harley crowd. You can bet I’ll be packing.

I have lately avoided saying anything overtly political. But today I’ll break my streak and say this: Hillary, it’s not just vital you win the Democratic nomination and go on to defeat whichever racist grandma-starving no-nothing authoritarian the Republicans put up, it’s an existential necessity. Rest up and get ready for the fight of your life!


Air-Minded: CAF Museum Photoblog

Our son, who lives in Las Vegas, turned 50 last week. Since he had to be in Phoenix yesterday for a business meeting, we drove up to have dinner with him. I’ve been wanting to visit the Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field in Mesa, so we left Tucson in the morning and spent part of the afternoon there.


Selfie with a Stinson Reliant

The CAF is a national organization dedicated to preserving and flying warbirds, primarily WWII aircraft. Chapters, each with its own aircraft, are located at airfields around the country. At one time CAF stood for Confederate Air Force … unlike some sports teams, organizers saw which was the wind was blowing and changed the name, probably 20 years ago now.

The chapter in Mesa is more of a maintenance and operations facility than a museum. By operations, of course, I mean flying: you can arrange a ride on any of several aircraft in their collection. Of course you can also just ogle the airplanes, as we did.

Here are a few photos from yesterday. You can click on the individual photos to see the full sized originals on Flickr. You can also click here to view my full CAF Museum album.


F4N front cockpit






Stinson Reliant cockpit




Lockheed Vega






Rockhopper RIP

I should have known better. Yesterday I volunteered at Pima Air & Space Museum’s booth at the Tucson Festival of Books, which was held on the University of Arizona campus. I knew parking would be a hassle, so I rode my bicycle. Sometime during the morning it was stolen.


My beloved Rockhopper (sob)

I found a bicycle stand within sight of our tent and secured the bike to it with a cable lock threaded through both wheels and the frame. When my shift was over and I realized it was gone, I literally did a double take, closing my eyes and opening them again in case I’d overlooked it the first time. Nope, it was clean gone, cable lock and all.

Fortunately for me, Polly answered her cell phone and was able to come get me. When I got home I looked up the serial number and filed an online police report with the City of Tucson, then called USAA. We have a $500 deductible property policy with them, so I’ll be able to get about half the bike’s cost back. This morning Donna, always the miracle worker, was able to find the sales receipt, which I scanned and emailed to USAA. Apparently I bought the bike in January 2010 … I hadn’t realized it was that old; it still felt new to me. Maybe I’ll be able to replace it with a less expensive model, this time with 29″ wheels.

I’ve learned the truth about cable locks: they’re no good. I didn’t want to carry the weight of multiple U-locks (you need at least two: one to go around the frame and the front of the rear wheel when you lock it to a post or bike stand, another to secure the front wheel to the frame, because the fuckers will steal that out of spite), but I guess I’ll have to suck it up from now on.

And yes, I’m watching for the Rockhopper to show up on craigslist, either here or in Phoenix, but so far I haven’t seen it. My friends are telling me to check pawnshops, but do you know how many of those there are in this town? Forget it, it’s gone.

Gone, but not forgotten. It was my bashing bike, the one I used to set and ride Hash House Harrier trails, and I’ll miss it terribly.