Paul’s Thing

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July 2016
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© 2004-2016 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Race War? Not Yet, Real Americans.

A big problem with American gun culture is how much of it is driven by racism and fear of—or eagerness to engage in—race war. I started thinking about this Thursday night, when live reports about shots being fired during a protest march in Dallas began popping up on Twitter. Within minutes of these initial reports, when people were still saying four gunmen on top of a parking garage were taking coordinated shots into the crowd, a former US congressman posted this:


He quickly deleted the tweet, but several readers took screen shots while it was up. Here’s a guy eager for race war. Based on minimal information, hysterically reported and mostly wrong, he takes a read on the situation and knows who’s responsible. He’s itching to start shooting black thugs. Just as soon as he finds him some brave Real American white knights to lead the charge while he hides behind them.

It’s best to cool your jets when mass shootings happen. Initial reports are almost always wrong. Friday morning I said on Facebook I’d resist reacting to thuggish posts about the shootings in Dallas. I had former Congressman Joe Walsh’s tweet in mind. At the time Walsh posted it the shootings were still going on and the gunman or gunmen (no one knew) could have been anyone, even ISIS-inspired terrorists trying to take advantage of the confusion created whenever there’s a big protest march (adding to the confusion, about 20 open-carry assholes were participating in the protest march, rifles strapped over their shoulders … it’s a miracle they all weren’t shot dead on the spot by the police).

Now we know the death toll is six: five police officers and the gunman. Nine others, seven cops and two civilian bystanders, were wounded by gunfire. We now know there was just one gunman, not four. And he was shooting on the ground, not from on high in the parking garage. The parking garage is where he was eventually cornered, then killed after a lengthy standoff.

Even this information may change. Dallas police arrested three other suspects, and as far as I’ve been able to determine, they haven’t released them yet.

I’ve heard Muslims say, whenever there’s a mass shooting, they pray the shooter’s name doesn’t turn out to be Ibrahim, and I know what they mean. I hoped the Dallas shooter wouldn’t turn out to be a black man gunning for white cops, and then he turned out to be just that. The attacker, according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown, was “upset about the recent police shootings” and “said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” Which, in the minds of Joe Walsh and other mouth-breathing racists, means the entire Black Lives Matter movement wants to kill whitey, so grab your guns boys. And you black guys? Don’t you dare grab yours, because everyone knows gun rights are for whites only.

Fraught times. But we’ve been here before. We’ve always been here, from the days of slavery and fears of slave uprisings to the Jim Crow era to the Black Panthers in Oakland in the 60s and 70s.

You know, it’s possible to hate how police kill black men, women, and children for minor crimes or no crimes at all, and still hate cop killers. It’s possible to support the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, and at the same time support the men and women in law enforcement.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 11.08.18 AM

Who says it has to be one or the other, that if you support the cops you have to STFU about them killing black people left and right? The Joe Walshes of the world, that’s who. And fuck them.

An interesting side issue is growing concern over the method used by Dallas police to kill the gunman in the parking garage. When it became clear he wasn’t going to surrender and that sending police in after him would likely result in more policemen getting shot and possibly killed, they rigged explosives to a remotely-controlled bomb removal device and maneuvered it close enough to the gunman to set it off and kill him.

The media’s been calling the device a robot, and yeah, that’s what these things are commonly called, but they aren’t robots and good reporting should make that clear. Uninformed and credulous people, based on what I see on social media, are already making Skynet comparisons and wondering about the morality of using such a devilish device.

Science fiction robots (which, sadly, some people need to be reminded don’t exist) are autonomous machines with artificial intelligence capable of acting on their own: the murderous robot from that Will Smith movie, Optimus Prime from Transformers. Actual robots, the kind that exist today, are the sorts of machines used to make automobile engines and frames, devices programmed to do repetitive tasks with minimal human supervision.

A bomb disposal robot is not a robot, per se; there’s a live human controlling it, telling it where to go and, in this case, when to detonate the explosives it’s carrying. It’s just a tool, and I don’t see any moral issues with its use. The guy wasn’t going to surrender, he was still armed and presumably had plenty of ammo remaining, and additional policemen might have been killed if they tried to take him by hand. I don’t have any issue with the police killing a perp in a situation like that, and it’s not like they didn’t try to talk him down first.


Wednesday Update: Hash Fish, Sex Slaves, Extreme Carelessness

13590316_10154273758782346_8746335793582958839_nThis is a hash fish emblem. It’s a Hash House Harrier thing. We once bought a dozen, giving some to friends who are also hashers but keeping several for our own cars. Two of my motorcycles and at least six of our cars and trucks have sported hash fish. Currently every vehicle in our garage and driveway has one. The one in the photo, which I just put on Donna’s new car, is our last.

When I posted this photo to Facebook last night I commented that running out of hash fish means we’ve officially bought our last car. I said that because when I tried to order more hash fish a few months ago my order was cancelled, so I assumed the hasher who used to sell them was out of business. He piped up in the comments, though, to say he’s still selling them, so maybe I’ll buy a couple more. I don’t have one on the motorcycle trailer, after all, and at the rate Donna’s wrecking cars who knows how many more we’re going to need before they put us in the home and take our keys away?

The basic fish emblem, sometimes called the Jesus fish, originated with fundamentalist Christians, who feel they own it and are offended by the proliferation of sacrilegious variations people put on their cars. I was at a stoplight once when a guy got out of the car behind me, walked up to my driver-side window, and asked me if that was a beer in the fish’s hand. I said it sure was, and started to explain hashing, but he turned away in a huff and stomped back to his car. That’s when I decided to put hash fish on all our cars.

Things are quiet now that our grandson Quentin is back in Las Vegas. Polly’s working at Ace Hardware, Donna’s going to sewing classes, I’m doing my volunteer thing at the air museum. It’s too hot outside to consider doing much else, so we’re catching up on our reading. Speaking of which, if you’re looking for a good beach read, may I recommend M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts?

I periodically notice our 20-year-old cat doing new things. She never did new things until she was about 18, when she started sleeping in the bathroom sink. These days she can’t jump, so no more sink. She sleeps on a towel on the floor of the guest bathroom, except for when she’s prowling in the dark, yowling like a banshee getting a root canal. Lately she lays down next to the dogs on the couch and naps with them. This morning I found her stretched out in front of the water bowl, almost as if she was trying to keep the dogs from getting a drink. That would be very like her.

Have you been paying attention to the civil suit a woman is trying to file against Donald Trump and the financier Jeffrey Epstein, claiming they raped and sexually abused her over a period of days in 1994, when she was 13 years old? This is lurid stuff: according to her, a procurer working for Mr Epstein talked her into attending a party where she might meet people who could help her get started in a modeling career. The party was hosted by Epstein, who introduced her to Trump and then kept her as a sex slave. Over a four-month period both men raped and sexually abused her, after which Trump and Epstein threatened her and her family with bodily harm if she ever talked about it.

She finally came forward earlier this year. Her first attempt to file a suit was rejected, but now she’s filed again in a different state, this time with a corroborating eyewitness to back up her claims: the very woman who was Epstein’s procurer (Epstein, by the way, is a convicted sex offender who once served 13 months for soliciting girls as young as 14 into prostitution). The statute of limitations for sex crimes ran out long ago, but the woman is claiming duress as the reason she couldn’t come forward sooner: the threats Trump and Epstein held over her and her family.

Damn, that’s serious stuff, if true. When someone is accused of a decades-old sex crime, it’s nearly impossible to nail down facts, and the accused almost always is given some benefit of doubt. Which probably explains why this woman’s allegations about Trump and Epstein aren’t plastered all over the front page of the New York Times or leading the nightly news on CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, MSNBC, CNN … oh, I’m sure you see where I’m headed here. If Hillary does something even slightly questionable, it leads. If Trump is accused of rape, it’s crickets.

Do you ever wonder why that is?

People (by which I mean some people) seem disappointed Hillary Clinton wasn’t frog-marched off to jail, her hands manacled behind her back, through a gantlet of jeering Republican congressmen, Bernie Sanders supporters, and Donald Trump brownshirts. But they may be forgiven; that’s what the media led them to believe would happen, after all.

Personally, I think FBI Director Comey hit her pretty hard, characterizing her use of personal email to conduct official government business as “extremely careless.” There’s your sound bite, GOP. You’re welcome.

Although we’ll never hear the end of this email thing, I don’t think it’s hurt Hillary’s chances in the election. Her supporters will remain loyal and she should win handily. Where it’ll hurt her is down the road, once she’s president. I fully expect a new round of congressional investigations, this time focused on email rather than Benghazi, to dog her throughout her presidency.

The bigger question is whether a GOP-majority congress will be more willing to work with President Clinton than it has been willing to work with President Obama. I suspect not. Her use of a personal email server to conduct State Department business will be the excuse, but any other excuse would do. You know what, though? Even with Congress blocking, undermining, and sabotaging him at every step, Obama got some major shit done. I think Hillary will too.


Saturday Bag o’ Dryness

M028Up early this morning. Took a shower, toweled off, put on clean dry clothes, went outside to clean up dog poop and replenish bird feeders. Note to birds: no disrespect intended. Note to self: next time, shower after outside chores are done.

You guessed it: a muggy morning in Tucson. You all know the delightful feeling of breaking into a sweat the moment you walk outdoors. It’s why, after nine straight years of living in the tropics (Florida, Okinawa, Hawaii), we moved to the desert (Las Vegas and now Tucson). Even here, though, there’s a monsoon season. Enough of that. I’m back indoors, the AC is working well, and my T-shirt’s dry again.

My latest book review column just popped up on the Daily Kos website. I started cross-posting selected Paul’s Thing entries to DKos in 2012, ones DKos readers might find interesting: political* commentary, posts about airplanes and aviation, posts about books. On DKos, posts are called diaries, a name dating back to the early days of web logs (which were often described as online diaries).

My book review and banned book diaries appear in a DKos sub-group called Readers & Book Lovers, where I have a regular publication slot: Saturdays at 9:00 AM Mountain. Not that I post book diaries every Saturday at 9 AM—I’m nowhere near that prolific a reader or writer—but that when I do submit a new book diary it goes into a queue and doesn’t publish until the next Saturday morning rolls around. If I submit two at once, I can designate one to publish next Saturday morning, the other to publish a week or two later. My political and aviation diaries publish as soon as I click the submit button, just as they do on this blog.

*Yes, I said the P-word. Daily Kos is a lefty site and makes no bones about it. My politics are generally left, but I’m socially conservative and pro-military, and some of my gung-ho go-to-war aviation diaries upset sensitive DKos readers (I take some joy in that). Otherwise, left is my side of the political spectrum, and like DKos, I’ve never made any bones about that.

Lefty that I am, though, I have a question: am I the only one who thinks the “T” in “LGBT” doesn’t quite belong? As the cut & paste crowd on Facebook is always saying, let’s see who reads this.

Donna loves her new car. I parked it in the garage yesterday and resigned myself to leaving the two-year-old truck in the driveway. I wonder if the homeowners’ association will let us build an awning alongside the garage. Hate to see a good paint job start to peel, and boy do you see a lot of that in the Southwest!

My dermatologist found another basal cell carcinoma. It’s in the corner formed by my right eyebrow, the upper side of my nose, and the inner edge of my right eyelid. Donna hates the scars I bear from previous skin cancer surgeries, and since this one is so close to my eye I asked for a referral to a dermatologist who specializes in something called the Mohs technique. I’m to have it removed later this month, and with any luck the scar will be tiny and my eyelid won’t be affected. I hope my regular dermatologist won’t hold this betrayal against me. Sure, he’s a professional … but he’s also human.

Our dog Schatzi is curled up on the pillow on the desktop, right by the keyboard. I’ve been in blogging heaven the past hour. Every blogger should have a desktop companion.

There’s another bicycle hare & hounds ride on the horizon, and it’s time for me to track down the designated hare and remind him of his obligations. Other than that, there’s not a lot on my plate today … I should be able to catch up with some reading.

Stay cool and dry, wherever you are, and may your air conditioner never falter!


Magic 8 Ball Says: “Escape While You Can!”

Okay, I’ve got it now. When I need a new car, I must first spend a week comparison shopping. When Donna needs a new car, she gets to drive home the same day with the first one to catch her eye.

If you read about Donna’s accident, you know we’ve been waiting for the final verdict on her old Trailblazer. After the insurance adjuster’s initial examination, it seemed we’d be able to have it repaired. Once the car was on the lift at the body shop, though, he found significant additional damage: it needed a complete new frame in addition to the front-end damage he already knew about. That put it over the limit and USAA totaled it. We got a certain amount of money for it, and that became the down payment on a replacement car, a one-year-old Ford Escape.


Donna’s new wheels

I have zero issues with Donna’s choice. I wanted the decision to be hers, anyway, and this car makes perfect sense: it has just 14,000 miles on the clock, it’s economical yet peppy, it has all the bells and whistles, and most importantly it has a level floor in back, ideal for the heavy sewing machines Donna schleps to workshops and classes. Turns out I fit in it quite comfortably, too.

So now the real fight is on: who gets to park in the garage, me or her? My truck is worth more; her car is newer. What’s the answer, Magic 8 Ball?

As if I didn’t already know. 😉

Just back from an appointment with my Turkish-American pedicurist, who passed through Istanbul Atatürk Airport a week ago. She predicts we’ll soon have terminal entrance security checks at US airports, like those at Turkish airports, credited with preventing the terrorists from killing many more people. I’m sure she’s right … I remember people warning about the vulnerability of American airports in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, pointing out that if terrorists want to kill a bunch of people, the best place to set off a suicide vest bomb would be in the crowded lines to the ticket counters, where there is no security at all.

Reports are now coming in that the flight data recorder from Egyptair Flight 804 indicates “possible lavatory and avionics smoke” prior to the crash. Retrieved wreckage apparently confirms this, with evidence of “high temperature damage and soot.” Fire on an aircraft in flight is like fire on a ship at sea: there’s no place to go to escape from it. It’s a horrifying scenario. Not that it makes any difference to the dead, but I wonder if the fire was started by someone sneaking a smoke in the lavatory.

Speaking of the dead, did you know that over 30 million users died during the first eight years of Facebook’s existence? Over 400 Facebook users pass on every hour, over 10,000 daily, over 312,000 every month. Based on those stats, I have to conclude using Facebook is far more likely to kill us than suicide bombers or airliner lavatory smokers.

My personal policy is to defriend the dead on Facebook, but I usually wait a couple of months before pulling the plug. I can’t offer a solid rationale for that other than to say I try to do unto others as I’d have them do unto me, and that I hope my social media memory won’t be instantly snuffed out when my time comes.


Paul’s Book Reviews

“People tend to think of military science as strategy and weapons—fighting, bombing, advancing. All that I leave to the memoir writers and historians. I’m interested in the parts no one makes movies about—not the killing but the keeping alive.” — Mary Roach, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

gruntGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War
Mary Roach

As with other Mary Roach books I’ve read, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. And I know a bit about the subject matter—the military science of keeping soldiers, sailors, and airmen alive, healthy, and at their peak; in my case, aviation medicine and physiology. I flew fighters for the USAF, so I know all about altitude chambers, the infamous Nazi experiments of WWII our present-day cold water survival charts are based on, the improvements we’ve made over the years in ejection technology.

Mary Roach didn’t get into the aviation side of military science with this book but she did explore in detail such topics as military clothing, footwear, rations, armored vehicle technology, diarrhea and dysentery, the unique injury patterns associated with IEDS and other explosions, submarine escape systems, and sleep management—not often appreciated as critical subjects by anyone other than soldiers who have to perform in, and stay healthy in, extreme and dangerous environments. Her trademark humor is very much in evidence, and one simply cannot stop turning pages. In case you can’t tell, I love Mary Roach and will read anything she writes.

gold fame citrusGold Fame Citrus
Claire Vaye Watkins

The best book I ever read about water and the American Southwest was Marc Reisner’s nonfictional Cadillac Desert, which spawned several fictional treatments of waterless desert rat societies, usually set in the not-too-distant future. Paolo Bacigalupi, for example, has written some excellent stories on this theme: the short stories in Pump Six and the novel The Water Knife. So too has Hugh Howey (Dust). I’m partial to these stories, and to thinking about the future of the Southwest, because I live in Tucson, Arizona, right in the heart of it, and was a Mojav in Las Vegas before that.

So I know Claire Watkins’ landscape. I’m part of it and it is part of me. I was delighted to see her mention of Cadillac Desert in the acknowledgements. She not only knows the history of the region and its tenuous water supply, she’s intimate with its geography (I’ll be crushed if I find out she’s not a Mojav herself).

It’s her skill at characterization that elevates this novel to the ranks of serious reads. We think we know Ray and Luz after the introductory chapters. We’re not even close. Later we see Levi’s Armagosa colony and think we know what’s going on, but we’re seeing it through Luz’s eyes. Once we see it through Ray’s eyes, we realize we’ve been hoodwinked. And Ig? Enigmatic to the end.

Some chapters are realistically linear. Some are stream of consciousness. Some verge on poetry. Some, which appear dryly encyclopedic, turn out to illusory (reminding me of Borges, which is high praise indeed). Every page of Gold Fame Citrus pulls. Can it be true Claire Watkins was 30 when she wrote this?

too like the lightningToo Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota #1)
Ada Palmer

I write book reviews and post them to my blog, Daily Kos, and Goodreads. Perhaps because of this, publishers sometimes offer to send me pre-publication books in exchange for reviews. Tor offered me a pre-release copy of Too Like the Lightning and I agreed to read and review it.

Ada Palmer’s concept of a 25th century world is an interesting one, and I expect most readers will find plenty of food for thought here … if they can get past the narrative hurdles she places in their way. I didn’t object to the flowery Age of Enlightenment writing style she gives to her narrator, Mycroft, but I found other aspects annoying and frustrating, and struggled to finish the novel.

Quickly back to the concept, though you can learn just as much about it from the publisher’s blurb: 400-plus years from now, the availability of hypersonic transport that can move individual citizens anywhere they want to go, and get them there in a hour or so, has made nation-states obsolete. People live in multi-racial clusters of of like-minded friends and associates, and these groups, or i-bashos, manage the multifarious aspects of a nearly-utopian, post-monetary global society. Into which various potentially destructive forces are introduced, and thereby you have a story.

Here’s my big problem: the author’s use of neutered and gendered pronouns. In Palmer’s future world the inhabitants have desexualized language by using generic or neutral pronouns (them/their) to refer to one another in formal speech. They still use gendered pronouns (he/she) in informal speech, intimate settings, and their own inner thoughts, but sometimes not even then, and there were characters I couldn’t identify as male or female. The conceit rings false, and moreover is terribly confusing.

The narrator, Mycroft, is inconsistent in their (to use Ada Palmer pronouns) use of pronouns: referring to characters with neutered pronouns but occasionally identifying them as male or female, never identifying other characters’ genders at all, sometimes even using she/her for individuals later identified as male, or he/him for females. Why? I’ll let Mycroft take a stab at that:

Art thou certain, Mycroft, that thou appliest thine own formula correctly? Here thou describest silks and embroidery, curls and ribbons, pleats and skirting, and appliest ‘he’? I know the name Dominic Seneschal, and know too there are breasts beneath that taut waistcoat, that the thigh and pelvis which the coat’s high cut displays are very much a woman’s. …

Innocent reader, I take comfort in your confusion, for it is a sign of healthy days if you are illiterate in the signal-flags of segregation humanity has worked so hard to leave behind. In certain centuries these high, tight boots, these pleats and pony tail might indeed have coded female, but I warned you, reader, that it was the Eigthteenth Century which forced this change upon us, and here it stands before you.

There. Get it? Are you satisfied? Well, I didn’t get it, and I am not satisfied. Unless Ada Palmer’s actual point is that no matter how sophisticated we become we will forever be obsessed with sex and gender, I’m unsure what she’s saying.

Less annoying but still intrusive: the people of 2454, whatever their gender, are multi-lingual. Although Mycroft mercifully records their conversations in English, quotations are bracketed in different ways to indicate which language is being spoken ( “…” “…” «…» ‹…› „…” »…«?…?) Let us be thankful Thomas Pynchon never developed a quotation mark fetish. He’d have been insufferable.

To my mind, Ada Palmer’s linguistic and typographical playfulness got in the way of a good story. I enjoyed the concept but was frustrated in the reading.

guests of the kremlinGuests of the Kremlin
Robert G. Emmens

Robert Emmens’ B-25 ran low on fuel before any of the other Doolittle Raid aircraft, and, after the Raiders bombed Tokyo and headed for China, he and his crew broke off to fly to the nearest “friendly” airfield, which happened to be outside Vladivostok in the USSR. The USSR not being at war with Japan, the five American airmen were interned for a little over a year, eventually managing to escape.

Guests of the Kremlin is an interesting tale about a little-known side chapter to the famous Doolittle Raid, filled with insights into life in the Soviet Union during WWII. I read it in bits and pieces, putting it aside when library books I had on order came in, since those had due dates and this one didn’t.

The introductions by Sacripante and Sloan, added in 2007, are sloppily written and filled with factual errors. That is not the case with Emmens’ memoir itself: written after WWII and originally published in 1949, it is lucid and well-written. I point this out in case you find a copy and are tempted to quit reading before you finish the introductions. Press on, the tale itself is well-told.

Guests of the Kremlin seemed a straightforward account of Emmens’ crews’ internment: the living conditions and domestic arrangements at the four different locations where they were held; how the Russian officers detailed to supervise and feed them behaved, as well as the Russian women who cooked and cleaned for them; their frustrations in trying to contact American embassy personnel; their attempts to learn and speak Russian; their nightly newscast sessions, trying to deduce what was really happening in the war from misleading Moscow Radio broadcasts … all very interesting.

The end of the book, however, made me reassess it in its entirety. In the last few pages, Emmens recounts their escape, with the aid of a smuggler, from a border town in Turkmenistan into Persia, suddenly stopping at the point where they contact the British consulate in the first city they reach. Not a word about how the British got them out of Persia, much of which was under Russian control. But that is not what bothered me. What bothered me was the book’s final paragraph:

This is the Russia we saw. This is the Russia which exists today. That these descriptive lines should ever be used to picture life in these United States is unthinkable. And yet, communism, like a malignant scab on the skin of the world, is spreading north, south, east, and west. FIGHT IT!

Emmens’ memoir was published in 1949, after the USSR had transitioned, in the American public’s mind, from a wartime ally to an existential enemy. The final paragraph is uncharacteristically bombastic, utterly unlike the rest of Emmens’ narrative, an undiluted dose of early Cold War propaganda. I suspect Emmens’ end message was part and parcel of the post-war years.

The memoir’s abrupt ending, and especially the final paragraph, prompted me to think about Emmens’ earlier descriptions of the towns and the people in the different locations where they were kept during their internment. Looking back, Emmens never failed to describe cities, towns, and villages as run down, crumbling, and dismal. Whenever he described Russians, he invariably depicted them as sullen, filthy, starved, clothed in rags, and barefoot. This was in sharp contrast to his descriptions of his keepers, who were decently dressed and reasonably well fed … I should have seen the propagandistic ending coming a mile off.

beacon 23Beacon 23: The Complete Novel (Beacon 23 #1-5)
Hugh Howey
Sorry to say I was disappointed in this one. Like other Hugh Howey “novels,” this is a collection of previously published serial installments.

I really got into Howey’s earlier Sand and Silo story collections. I think the difference was that the worlds Howey set up in Sand and Silo were more detailed and believable, as outlandish as they were.

I never felt the space lighthouse in Beacon 23 was anything more than a metaphor. The lighthouse operator’s interior monologues got old in a hurry. The science fiction felt hastily called in (gravity panels you can turn on or off with a switch; space cargo ships moving at 20 times light speed colliding with asteroids and leaving salvagable wreckage behind … gimme a break).

Overall this is second rate stuff, no comparison to Howey’s earlier work.

Blast from the Past (and I Do Mean Blast)

spySpy (Alexander Hawke #4)
Ted Bell

A dear friend—super-smart, a voracious reader who is a member of Amazon’s book reviewing staff—told me I should read something by Ted Bell. Perhaps I picked the wrong novel. Or maybe she had a different Ted Bell in mind. The Ted Bell who wrote this potboiler is a third-rate Clive Cussler, his hero Alex Hawke even less dimensional than Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. When cars speed away in this novel, they fishtail under acceleration. So too do motorcycles, boats, airplanes: all vehicles must fishtail! The plot relies on a familiar racist right-wing conceit: the “reconquista.” Dirty brown Mexicans are invading our country, hoping to reconquer territory lost in the Mexican-American War. This dire warning (if only someone would listen!) is repeated at least 20 times throughout the novel, almost verbatim, by different characterss. There’s an abundance of military techno-babble as well, all of it firmly in the realm of fantasy. Clearly, Ted Bell is unfamiliar with the realities of warfare, where things don’t ever work as advertised. Nasty stuff. Sloppily written nasty stuff.


Saturday Bag o’ Brexit

IMG_0786 copyQ, our grandson, has been here the past week, bunking in our home office. I barged in this morning to check email and update the blog. While I was at it, we took a selfie.

It’s been a domestic week, watching young people’s stuff on TV (Battlebots, which was too frenetic to endure; Zootopia, clever and cute), hauling Q to and from Desert Museum camp outings, taking care of household business (which yesterday included jump-starting the truck and driving to the corner auto parts store for a new battery … you already know about our more serious car trouble). Before barging into Q’s room just now I replenished the outdoor bird feeders and raked up dog poop in the back yard. Busy busy busy.

Q flies home tomorrow. We’ll miss him. I’m arranging another motorcycle mini-Gypsy tour in November and will see him again when I pass through Las Vegas. Actually I may be overnighting in his room, since I’m planning to meet up with my son Gregory, Q’s dad, who’s coming with me on the motorcycle trip. We’re going to an aviation museum in Chino, then to Lone Pine, then through Death Valley back to Sin City. Donna hasn’t decided whether she’ll come along and stay in Vegas while we’re riding. If she does I’ll trailer the Goldwing from Tucson to Vegas and back home again; if not I’ll saddle up and ride the entire route.

They’re putting solar canopies over visitor parking at the air museum. I don’t think the volunteer parking lot will get them, and that’s a shame. Every outdoor parking lot in the Southwest ought to have solar covers. I wonder what Hillary’s position is. I’d love to see federal solar panel incentive programs for homeowners come back. Neighborhood association be damned, it’s time we all put solar panels on our roofs.

I’ve been on the phone with Barnes & Noble. Q gave me a B&N gift card for fathers’ day and I used it to buy three e-books on my want list. I haven’t used my Nook reader for at least two years, ever since I started using Donna’s Kindle (which weighs less and has a longer-lasting battery). Since I switched to the Kindle I’ve been getting all my e-books from Amazon. Thanks to the gift card, I’m back with B&N and the old Nook, but there’s a problem: the e-books I bought won’t download to the Nook.

B&N says it’s because when I updated my default payment credit card it didn’t take (after using the gift card, I still owed a buck and some change). Which is odd, since on the “my account” screen on our desktop computer at home, the new card shows as the default. After assurances the problem will be fixed and still unable to download the books, B&N is now sending, gratis, a replacement Nook, a newer & better model than the one I have. Huzzah!

Another thing I did this morning was to write a review of the book I finished last night. Looking at the log I see there are six new book reviews in the can. That’ll be my next blog entry, another installment of Paul’s Book Reviews.

I don’t know what to think about Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. Maybe there are some things that shouldn’t be put to a popular vote.

You’ve heard of the Doomsday Clock, where midnight is nuclear war and the hands of the clock move closer to or farther from it depending on the geopolitical situation? I’m picturing a clock where midnight is labeled “Germany starts another world war.” With a strong EU the hands never got closer than 11:45 PM … now it’s 11:55. I’ll wait to see what happens. And not look at our 401K!

I can’t do a damn thing about politics, racism, and ignorance. All I can do is try to make my little corner of the world a kinder place, and disassociate myself from the Thunderdome rabble. When it comes to that lot, I’ll take Einstein’s advice: “Make believe all the time that you are living, so to speak, on Mars among alien creatures and blot out any deeper interest in the actions of those creatures. Make friends with a few animals. Then you will become a cheerful man once more and nothing will be able to trouble you.” A more elegant way of saying to keep your own council and not get caught up in the tumult of mobs and the delusions of conspiracy theorists.


Magic 8 Ball No Use at All (Updated)

magic-answer-ball-extralarge-74501When I blogged about our automotive history a few weeks ago, I thought it’d be years before we had to buy another car. I may have to update that post.

Donna called yesterday afternoon. She had drifted off the road and hit a cactus. After ascertaining that she was fine, my second question was whether she hit a saguaro. Saguaros are endangered and protected; you’re in a heap of trouble if you mow one down. Nope, just a prickly pear. Dime a dozen, those.

Donna said she was going to stop at our mechanic’s shop on the way home because the check engine light had come on momentarily. That was a bit of new information; more new information came to light later. The mechanic put the car, our 2007 Chevy Trailblazer, on the rack and said we’d better call our insurance company. It wasn’t just a cactus, there were also some rocks. Big rocks. Apparently the damage underneath is extensive. He said it wasn’t safe to drive, but Donna drove it home anyway.

The car looks okay if you don’t count the fresh collection of Arizona pinstripes, a missing rear view mirror (more new information!), and tires bristling with cactus spines, but I haven’t crawled underneath. I don’t know the car’s current value, but if the cost to repair it is more than it’s worth, USAA will write if off as totaled. Magic 8 Ball says Outcome Uncertain; the appraiser’s due by in about an hour.*

Polly drove the old Lincoln to Phoenix today for yet another interview with an HR outsourcing company. She just got home and said it looks good, but the man who interviewed her is not the final decision maker. She may need to drive to Phoenix again for more interviews, a scenario we now know well. We were planning to give Polly the Lincoln, but Magic 8 Ball says Not So Fast.

Meanwhile, grandson Quentin is at a Sonora Desert Museum-sponsored summer camp on Mount Lemmon. That’s actually a bit misleading … there’s no permanent campsite, like the ones I went to as a kid. They spent all day Monday with the animals and plants at the Desert Museum and slept that night in one of the museum buildings (it being too hot to camp under the stars as originally planned). Today they’re hiking on the mountain and camping overnight up where it’s cool. When I dropped Quentin off at the pickup point this morning I instructed him to say hi to the bears and mountain lions and not to forget they can smell our fear. I think he has another day and night somewhere else with this moveable camp, but I’m not clear on where. The lad flies back to Las Vegas this weekend, only to leave a day later for a “real” summer camp in California with his Boy Scout troop.

I went back to my regular dentist after dropping Quentin off this morning, and now have a permanent filling in the tooth that got the root canal two weeks ago. I’m getting little electro-metallic twinges, the kind you get when a bit of foil wrap sticks to a candy bar. They tell me that’ll pass soon. It had better.

I’ll close with an unrelated observation: I’ve learned not to talk about Game of Thrones to strangers. Thousand-yard stares, every time. I thought everyone watched GoT!

* The appraiser’s here now. Says a frame cross-member is missing and one of the wishbone struts is bent. Says the frame is a little bent as well, and the oil pan, while not visibly leaking, has fresh oil on the outside and probably a hairline crack. He’s iffy on balance between what the car’s worth and what it’ll cost to fix it: the engine has to be pulled to install a new cross-member, for example, and that’s major money.

For now Magic 8 Ball remains ambivalent … isn’t it always?

Update (6/23/16): The adjuster said the car’s worth fixing, so we got a green light to start work on it. It’s at the repair place now and we have a rental to use while it’s being worked on, covered by USAA (less our $500 deductible, of course). I drove it to the garage this morning and it was barely drivable … I’m surprised Donna didn’t call for a tow truck right after she hit those rocks on Monday.

Update (6/29/16): Bad news. The adjuster called again, and the car has been totaled after all. Driving by later to remove the license plate and look for any additional personal items we may have left in the car. Looks like we’ll be shopping for a replacement car.


Air-Minded: My Aviation History

I recently updated older posts about the cars and motorcycles that have been part of my life. I thought I’d written a separate post about the aircraft I’ve flown, but when I went looking, it wasn’t here. I found it eventually … on Facebook. I don’t know why I never included it on my own blog. It’s time to fix that.

As with the car and motorcycle posts, the photos in the first version of my airplane post weren’t very good, so I went looking for better ones. Some of these new photos are my own; a few are generic photos from other sources. Click on any of them to see the full-sized originals on Flickr.

I was 23 years old the first time I flew an airplane. It was 1970, and one of my college professors had invited me to go up in his Piper J3 Cub. We took off from a grass strip south of Sacramento, California, and once airborne he gave me the controls and talked me through some basic maneuvers. I liked it. Flying seemed like something I’d like to do more of some day. Probably not too many medieval lit professors can afford to own an airplane today, but this gentleman did, and I’m forever in his debt.

J3 Cub

Piper J3 Cub (photo:

1782024_10152223438352346_1360471244_nIn the spring of 1973, when I was teaching in Glasgow, Montana, I enlisted in the Air Force. The air war in Vietnam was winding down but the replacement aircrew training pipeline was still running at full capacity and the USAF needed pilots. I took the pilot aptitude test and passed a flight physical, and started OTS (officer training school) that summer at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas.

Part of OTS, at least for the pilot candidates, was a flight screening program. FSP was conducted at Hondo Airfield near San Antonio, and consisted of flying lessons in the military version of the Cessna 172, the T-41 Mescalero. I soloed after ten flights, as did half my classmates. The other half washed out: some for lack of aptitude, some for chronic airsickness. After Hondo, it was back to Lackland to finish OTS. I graduated as a butterbar (second lieutenant) in September 1973.

T-41 Mescalero

Cessna T-41 Mescalero (photographer unknown)

Donna and our son Gregory, who stayed with my parents in Missouri while I was at OTS, joined me at Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma for undergraduate pilot training. I was in UPT Class 7503, the third class scheduled to graduate in fiscal year 1975. UPT normally lasted a year, but partway through training our class was suspended, then restarted several weeks later with a different number.

What happened was the shutting down of the Southeast Asia replacement aircrew training pipeline. Vietnam was over and the military suddenly had a huge pilot surplus. During the stand down we were detailed as gophers to different organizations on base. The USAF had two choices: send the trainees home or initiate a RIF (reduction in force) to get rid of pilots it already had. The decision broke our way: the USAF decided on a RIF, and many of our instructor pilots were discharged.

We started flying again, now as members of Class 7504. Each class was allowed to design its own shoulder patch; ours was four aces overlaid with 7503, the 03 crudely crossed out, a scribbled 04 sewn above. Air Training Command almost vetoed that patch but eventually allowed us to wear it. Instead of finishing in September 1974, we graduated in December. We started with 60; 40 of us made it all the way through.

So what did I fly in UPT? Two jet trainers, the Cessna T-37 Tweet and the Northrup T-38 Talon. The Tweet was the primary trainer, the Talon the advanced one. We started in the Tweet, mastering takeoffs and landings, aerobatic maneuvers and recovery from unusual attitudes and spins, flying at night and under the hood, executing non-precision and precision approaches, filing flight plans and navigating cross-country, flying formation.

After six months in the Tweet we moved on to the Talon, polishing our skills in a supersonic trainer designed to fly like the Century-series fighters then in use. We trained in the era of the “universally assignable pilot”: the idea was that by teaching everyone to fly a fighter-like aircraft, any graduate could go on to fly the most demanding aircraft in the USAF inventory (the USAF had only mixed success with that; they do it differently these days).


Cessna T-37 Tweet (photographer unknown)


Northrup T-38 Talon (photographer unknown)

1939966_10152223437122346_1415074041_nOn graduation day in December 1974 we put on our blues and stood on the parade field, then pinned on our wings. Donna pinned me; my father and grandfather were there too. That night we put on our dress uniforms for a formal dinner at the officers’ club, then marched one by one into a back room, where the training wing commander finally revealed to us what we’d be flying for the Air Force.

Traditionally, the top ten percent of graduates got to choose from the list of assignments, and in those days we all wanted fighters. I was number four in my class; due to the post-Vietnam drawdown there were only three fighters available. All three had been claimed by the time my name was called.

994792_10151660216747346_172065665_nMy destiny turned out to be Air Training Command and the Tweet: I’d been picked to be an ATC instructor pilot, assigned to the 8th Flying Training Squadron right there at Vance AFB, where I was to train students to fly the T-37. My tour with the 8th FTS was to last, after two months of pilot instructor training at Randolph AFB in San Antonio, three years.

I admit was disappointed at first, but after PIT at Randolph and the first few months back at Vance AFB, the assignment began to grow on me. Over the course of three years I trained dozens of young men to fly. I got good at it, and before long I was a check pilot, evaluating students who had been trained by other instructors. I stood nervously by the runway supervisory unit while my studs flew their first solo patterns around the airfield, washed a couple of failing studs out, fought for others who stumbled but had potential, took pride in the ones who did well and moved on to the T-38 phase. Donna and I decided to have another child: the instructor pilot life was a stable one, with no temporary tours of duty and only occasional weekends away during the cross-country phase of training. It turned out to be a great first assignment, and it led me to fighters after all.


Solo formation training in the T-37 (one of my studs on the wing)

Just before the end of my time with Air Training Command, an ATC instructor pilot from another training base got a coveted Tactical Air Command F-15 assignment. This was unheard of; the Eagle was still new in those days and only experienced fighter pilots were selected to fly it. But in February 1978 this one guy got in, and then with our group, ATC instructors coming up for reassignment in March 1978, the dam broke: six of us were selected for F-15 training. We knew the Air Force was taking a chance on us and that we’d be under intense scrutiny. We worked hard to do well. We succeeded.

Before we could start flying the F-15, though, we had to go through fighter lead-in training at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. This was a two-month program designed to teach the basics of air-to-air and air-to-ground maneuvering and weapons delivery. As with PIT at Randolph three years earlier, I went to fighter lead-in by myself and lived in bachelor quarters on base. We flew modified T-38 trainers called AT-38s, capable of carrying and dropping small practice bombs. This was a kind of flying unlike anything I’d done before; tons of fun but also dangerous and hard, demanding total concentration.

Up to this point, every USAF aircraft I had flown, including the AT-38, had been a two-seater. We occasionally flew them solo, but almost always a student or another pilot was along for the ride.


AT-38 at Holloman AFB (photo:

996856_10151660214612346_1887872541_nWhen I finished lead-in in July 1978, Donna and the kids and I rented an apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, where I was to go through F-15 training at Luke AFB. My classmates were the other five former ATC instructor pilots mentioned earlier.

Our RTU, or replacement training unit, was the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron (aka the World Famous & Highly Respected Triple Nickel, “largest distributor of MiG parts in Southeast Asia”). F-15 RTU was the hardest training program any of us had gone through, multiples tougher than pilot training. Yes, we had some initial instruction on basic fighter maneuvers from our AT-38 lead-in training, but none of us knew anything about radar or electronic countermeasures or air-to-air missiles; none of us had ever air refueled; none of us had ever pulled 7+ Gs in a dogfight … none of us really knew anything at all. It was like drinking from a firehose for four months. I struggled to keep up; I think we all did.


My F-15 RTU class at Luke AFB in 1978

Our first few flights in the F-15 were in B models, the two-seat version of the F-15A. After our instructors were certain we wouldn’t kill ourselves, we flew single-seaters, our instructors flying alongside in another Eagle. There was a lot of academics and a lot of simulator practice, but also lots of flying. About a month in, we learned where we were to be sent. Three of my former ATC instructor pilot classmates and I were going to the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron Wolfhounds at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, an F-4 Phantom II unit scheduled to convert to the F-15.


555th TFS F-15A at Luke AFB (photographer unknown)

644092_10151234214502346_288312173_nAfter three months at Luke, we four Soesterberg-bound newbies were joined by our future squadron-mates, the experienced F-4 pilots from the 32nd TFS who’d been picked to fly the F-15. Coming from the F-4, they only needed to complete the “short course,” a dozen flights in the F-15. They showed up as a group just as we entered the last month of the “long course.” It was a fantastic stroke of luck to train together and get to know one another before setting off for the Netherlands.

After Luke, we went to Langley AFB in Virginia for a month of top-off training in overwater operations and NATO procedures; there we first flew our own 32nd TFS jets, fresh from the factory in St Louis. When we finished at Langley the experienced pilots flew the new jets over to Europe. The rest of us arrived on commercial flights, settled into the Dutch communities around Soesterberg AB, and got to work.

This is a photo of Steve Spencer and me flying over the famous windmills of Kinderdijk. Spence is lead and I’m on the wing. Bob Williams, the McDonnell-Douglas factory photographer, took the photo from the back seat of an F-15B model flying alongside.


32nd TFS Eagles over Kinderdijk (photo: McDonnell-Douglas)

1016099_10151660204112346_1995651026_nHalfway through the Soesterberg tour I became a two-ship flight lead, then a four-ship flight lead. In 1980 we swapped our slightly-used F-15A models for brand-new F-15Cs, an improved version of the Eagle, and I got to lead a four-ship across the Atlantic to turn our old jets in, then fly new ones back across the pond. Near the end of my tour I qualified as an F-15 instructor pilot; this enabled me to land a follow-on assignment to the 43rd TFS Hornets at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, another unit about to convert from the F-4 Phantom II to the F-15 Eagle.

At Elmendorf we flew older F-15A models, some of them the same jets I trained on at Luke AFB a few years before. I was the second F-15 pilot to arrive in Alaska, and it was a few months before he and I even had jets we could fly. Eventually, though, we did, and it was a fantastically fun assignment, especially intercepting Soviet aircraft above the Arctic Circle and over the Bering Straits.


Me leading a four-ship of 43rd TFS Eagles from Elmendorf AFB over Denali (photo: McDonnell-Douglas)

1044207_10151660204107346_2083684006_nIn 1985 the USAF sent me to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, then on to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida, where I flew a desk for US Special Operations Command. That tour ended in late 1988, and it was time to return to the cockpit. The USAF wanted to send me to Iceland for a two-year tour flying F-15s, but another F-15 pilot asked to swap a three-year assignment in Japan for my Reykjavik slot and I jumped on it. Japan had always been on my bucket list.

After requalifying in the F-15 at Luke AFB, this time in the short course, I went to Okinawa to fly F-15Cs with the 44th TFS Vampires at Kadena Air Base. Donna stayed in Tampa to sell our house, then joined me in early 1989. While at Kadena I was chief of wing plans, then the training division. I flew training missions from Kadena two to three times a week, interspersed with alert deployments to Osan AB in Korea, deployments to the Philippines (until Mount Pinatubo covered our base there in ashes), and toward the end of my time there a fantastic three-week deployment to RAAF Darwin to fly with the Aussies.

Kadena F-15C

44th TFS F-15C Eagles entering the landing pattern at Kadena AB (photographer unknown)

1044853_10151660230247346_452830573_nIn 1992 we left Japan for Hickam AFB in Honolulu, Hawaii, and a tour as chief of flight safety for Pacific Air Forces. At PACAF, I supervised flight safety programs at our bases in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and Guam, as well as our training detachments in Australia and Singapore. While there I oversaw the investigations of several major aircraft accidents, something my F-15 accident investigation experience at Soesterberg and Elmendorf had prepared me for. As chief of flight safety, I flew as an observer in all the different aircraft assigned to PACAF, traveling around the Pacific to inspect flight safety programs at our bases.

Upon leaving Hickam in 1995 we went to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. My assignment this time was to a non-flying position, supervising contractor activities on the Nellis ranges. I realized my flying days were over, and retired from the USAF in July 1997. All total I have a bit more than 3,000 hours flying time: 1,000 as a T-37 instructor pilot, nearly 2,000 as an F-15 pilot, the rest divided between my student pilot time in the Tweet, the Talon, and the AT-38.

I mentioned flying in a variety of USAF aircraft, but it was observer time and I was not at the controls, so I won’t include those aircraft here. I did get stick time, including landings, in two other fighters, so I will include those. Landings count, right?

The 32nd TFS hosted a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-104 unit for two weeks in 1982 while their runway in northern Germany was being resurfaced. I wrangled an invitation to go flying with their commander in one of their two-seat F-104Ds. He basically gave me the stick after takeoff and let me fly to and from the range. Entering the traffic pattern at Soesterberg an hour later, I was surprised when he didn’t take the controls back. I expected him to do so at any moment, but since he hadn’t I kept flying as if I knew what I was doing. He let me fly it all the way to touchdown, not an easy thing to do from the back seat. After landing he popped the drag chute, which could only be done from the forward cockpit, and took over. I’ll say this about the Zipper: its wings are so small it doesn’t react to turbulence like the big-winged F-15. Trim it up and point it, and it flies through the air like an arrow. What a blast.

CF-104D Starfighter

Canadair CF-104D Starfighter (photo:

Years later, during a PACAF flight safety inspection trip, I flew an F-16 two-seater at Misawa AB in northern Japan. The Viper pilot in the front seat flew us to the range, dropped a few practice bombs, made a couple of strafing runs, then handed me the controls on the way home. Once again I kept waiting for him to take the aircraft back and land it; once again I flew a back seat landing in an unfamiliar aircraft. I thought I’d really like the isometric side-stick control of the F-16, but I didn’t … I missed the big tractor-like center stick of the Eagle. Otherwise, ditto in the blast department.

F-16D Misawa

Misawa AB F-16D (photographer unknown)

I haven’t mentioned civilian flying time. Other than that one hop in a Piper Cub I didn’t fly civil aircraft again until I was a T-37 instructor pilot at Vance AFB. I thought I might as well get some FAA ratings in case I decided to go to the airlines some day, so I got a commercial pilot certificate from a local flight school at Woodring Airport. Later on I became a certified flight instructor, taking my FAA check ride in a retractable gear Cessna 210, a fancy airplane I could never afford to rent on my own. Occasionally old friends from California would come visit us in Enid, and I’d fly section lines down to Oklahoma City to pick them up in a rented Cessna 152, which I could (barely) afford.

The owner of the flight school at Woodring Airport at one point bought a Great Lakes biplane trainer and I was the first person to enroll in his aerobatics course. I thought I knew all about aerobatics as a T-37 instructor, but the USAF didn’t let us fly negative G maneuvers in the Tweet, so a lot of what I learned in the Great Lakes was new to me. When I finished the course I was not just a CFI but an aerobatic CFI, and the flight school hired me as an aerobatic instructor. I made a little extra money on weekends taking civilian pilots up in the Great Lakes to teach them outside loops, hammerheads, and snap rolls. Negative G maneuvering is exhausting. Let me also say landing a taildragger is a hell of a lot different from landing a jet with tricycle gear. Have you ground-looped a taildragger? I have.

Great Lakes

Great Lakes Sport Trainer (photo:


great lakes_1

Me getting ready to take a paying customer up in the Great Lakes

Donna and I loved every assignment and tried to get the most out of them, both professionally and personally. We enjoyed our time in Enid. While at Soesterberg we traveled all over Europe, plus trips to England and Scotland. We fished, skied, hunted, and camped in Alaska. We made Japanese friends in Okinawa and took side trips to Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore. We loved the laid back island life in Honolulu. Even though our days in the USAF were counting down to zero, we settled into Las Vegas, a surprisingly great town to live in, and had every intention of planting permanent roots there—that is until civilian opportunity knocked in Tucson, Arizona.

Above all, though … at least for me … were those wonderful flying assignments and those beautiful airplanes. I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat. Hemingway said it best:

It is appearances, characteristics and performance that make a man love an airplane, and they, told truly, are what put emotion into one. You love a lot of things if you live around them, but there isn’t any woman and there isn’t any horse, nor any before nor any after, that is as lovely as a great airplane, and men who love them are faithful to them even though they leave them for others. A man has only one virginity to lose in fighters, and if it is a lovely plane he loses it to, there his heart will ever be.