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June 2017
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© 2004-2017 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Videos and Switches and Beards, Oh My

New links on the left sidebar: you can now see what I get up to on TwitterInstagramFlickr, and YouTube.

Speaking of YouTube, I edited the GoPro videos from last week’s motorcycle trip and put several short clips on my YouTube channel. Here’s one of the eleven videos I uploaded:

You can check them all out here.

Still experimenting with GoPro placement on the motorcycle. I have mounts on top of my helmets, but you get a lot of wind noise on the soundtrack. For these videos I used a mount on the right handlebar. On a ride through Death Valley last November I positioned the mount so that the camera was out in the wind to the right of the windscreen. Great videos, until I took a bug smack in the middle of the lens, and as with the helmet mount there was a lot of wind noise. This time I positioned the handlebar mount so that the GoPro was behind the windscreen. I like this position better, but when the sun hits the windscreen at the wrong angle you get glare, and every scratch and bug spot shows. The sound is different: more engine/transmission noise, less wind roar. Some day they’ll make a tiny camera that’ll mount inside the face screen of a motorcycle helmet. Shit, they probably already do … but I doubt I can afford one.

My cruise control kept disengaging on last week’s motorcycle trip. Cruise control on a motorcycle? You damn betcha. Ask any long-distance rider … it’s a wrist saver. As in your car, microswitches here and there will disengage it: there’s one on the rear brake pedal, the front brake lever, and the clutch lever. The culprit was the clutch lever: a bushing was worn and the lever was loose, tripping the microswitch every time it wiggled. My friend Ed has a new bushing in his cabinet of Goldwing parts, and I’m going over this afternoon to put it in.

Ed’s still recovering from the second round of surgery to repair the retina in his right eye. I’ll try to keep him from getting elbow-deep in my motorcycle today by doing the work myself. I worry about contributing to eye strain, or putting Ed in a position where he has to move his head up and down … I think he’s supposed to keep his head, and his eye, still. It must be hell for him.

On last week’s trip I started to obsess over my goatee. Whenever that happens I know it’s time to shave it off, and that was one of the first things I did after getting home Saturday afternoon. Here’s my new look, a selfie I took Monday in front of a new display at Pima Air & Space Museum.


As with my face, what’s in the background isn’t all new. The Air Force Thunderbirds F-4E Phantom II has been in that corner for several years, but the Navy Blue Angels F11A Tiger was added over the weekend, just out of restoration with fresh paint and markings. Behind the two planes are cabinets of memorabilia from the two aerial demonstration teams.

I was in Las Vegas last week; Donna heads up tomorrow. She’ll be there for our grandson Quentin’s middle school graduation, and will fly home Sunday.

That’s the haps. More soon.


Gypsy Tour Photoblog, May 21-27 2017

In the end, there wasn’t enough saddle time to justify calling last week’s ride a gypsy tour. It was meant to be, but as the date approached, plans changed.

Originally I was going to ride from Tucson to Las Vegas, then hook up with my son and a hashing buddy for a three-day ride through Nevada and parts of northern California. Jim, the hasher, rides a Harley. Greg, my son, was going to rent a Goldwing. We planned to spend a night in Carson City, get up the next day for a ride around Lake Tahoe and down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas to Lone Pine, and on the last day putt back to Vegas through Death Valley.

Then, the week before our trip, Greg found the proverbial motorcycle of his dreams on Cycle Trader. The mission changed from motorcycle riding to motorcycle purchasing and fetching. I put my Goldwing on the trailer, hitched it to the truck, and drove to Las Vegas on Sunday, May 21st. Monday Greg and I drove the truck and empty trailer to San Luis Obispo. We arrived in mid-afternoon, checked into a hotel, and headed north to Templeton, where the seller lives. We checked out the bike, a 2014 BMW K1600GT. It was everything the seller promised and more, and Greg closed the deal. I drove back to the hotel on Highway 101 while Greg rode the BMW down Highway 1 to Morro Bay and eventually back inland to San Luis Obispo and the hotel. The next morning, Tuesday the 23rd, we loaded Greg’s new ride on the trailer and hauled it back to Vegas.


My Wing leaving Tucson


Greg closing the deal

We weren’t sure if Greg would have a license plate on the bike, but as it turns out, when you buy a used vehicle in California the tag stays with it (it’s different in Arizona, and maybe Nevada too), so Greg and I were able to go riding after all. We headed to Utah and Zion National park on Wednesday and overnighted at an old-school roadside motel in Hatch. Thursday it was twisty mountain roads to Cedar Breaks National Monument and over the still-snowy summit to Brian Head, then back to Cedar City and finally down into the heat and home to Vegas. Friday we hooked up with Jim and his Harley for a ride to Goodsprings and the infamous Pioneer Saloon (while the three of us were together we decided to take another stab at the Carson City/Lake Tahoe/Lone Pine/Death Valley ride in September). Yesterday, Saturday the 27th, I trailered my bike home to Tucson.


Loading the BMW


Zion National Park


Somewhere in Utah


Snow in the mountains

Greg’s first motorcycle was a 500cc Honda Ascot he bought in Tampa, Florida in the late 1980s. More recently, whenever he and I went riding, he’d be on a rental Harley, Indian, or BMW. Of all the big bikes he’s rented, the BMW six-cylinder models have been the most impressive (to me too), but he didn’t think he could ever afford one (I know I can’t). This bike was a smoking deal, and I’m hopeful that in a year or two I’ll find a smoking deal on a newer Goldwing, and maybe Greg and come with me to trailer it back to Tucson.


Jim & Greg in Goodsprings


Hashers & motorcycles, oh my!

A BMW, wow. Greg asked me if he was supposed to wave to other riders. I said no, when you’re on a Beemer you sneer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a full-face helmet. Other riders will get the message.


Greg working on his sneer

Click on any of the thumbnails in this photoblog to see the full-size originals on Flickr. Click here to see the entire Gypsy Tour May 2017 Flickr photo album.


Air-Minded: Influencing the Future

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 3.11.48 PM

In 1979, when I was stationed at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, Prince Claus and two of his boys came to visit. I was on air defense alert that day with Jim Kellogg. We were pretty sure the Dutch would arrange a scramble for the royal family. Sure enough, the klaxon went off and five minutes later Jim and I were taking off in full afterburner.

An hour later we came back to land. By then I’d forgotten all about the royal visit. I’d also forgotten a NOTAM I’d read that morning, alerting pilots that the last taxiway was closed. As I rolled toward that taxiway, still at a good clip but thinking there was plenty of runway remaining, I suddenly remembered we had to turn off early. The next-to-last taxiway was just ahead, so I stomped on the brakes. I stomped too hard and the tires blew. My jet bumped to a stop as the Dutch tower controller came up on frequency to tell the world Alpha Kilo Zero-Two had fouled the duty.


Alpha Kilo 01 & 02 flying over Kinderdijk, 1980. I’m flying tail #091. Photo: Bob Williams.

The prince and the kids were still on base, riding with my commander, Colonel Al Pruden, in his staff car. Less than a minute after I raised the canopy and shut down the engines, they rolled up to the scene of the crime. I was still strapped in the cockpit as Colonel Pruden, Prince Claus, and two tow-headed boys emerged from the staff car to survey the damage. After a leisurely walk around my jet, my boss looked up at me and said “How do you like your new callsign, Skid?” Or possibly “Way to go, Skid.” I can’t remember the exact words, but I do remember it was the first time I heard the tactical call sign I’d use for the rest of my flying career.

But back to Prince Claus and the kids. At the time of my command performance, Queen Juliana was still the Dutch monarch. She stepped down in 1980 and her daughter Beatrix, the wife of Prince Claus, became queen. Queen Beatrix stepped down in 2013 and Willem-Alexander, one of the tow-headed boys who so solemnly surveyed the carnage of my sudden stop on the runway, became king.

I’ve told the story of Prince Claus and my blown tires before, but had forgotten about the boys. This morning, when I read a news article about Willem-Alexander’s flying career, the memory came back. I can see those boys now, alternately looking at my shredded, smoking tires, then up at me, high above them in the cockpit. I hope I played some role in sparking Willem-Alexander’s interest in aviation. You never know who’s watching, do you?


Wednesday Bag o’ Moto


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The motorcycle trip my son and I have been planning has undergone a metamorphosis. Gregory’s been looking for a motorcycle, and now he’s found The One: a 2014 BMW K1600 GL (that’s it on the left). It’s in San Luis Obispo, California.

The plan now is for me to drive my truck and trailer to Las Vegas on Sunday. Greg and I will drive the rig to San Luis Obispo on Monday, check out the bike that afternoon, spend the night at a hotel, then strap it to the trailer and haul it home to Vegas Tuesday.

My Goldwing will be on the trailer when I drive up Sunday; it’ll stay in Greg’s garage while we’re fetching the BMW. I’m hoping Greg and I will be able to go riding afterward, Wednesday to Friday … we don’t have a destination in mind, but we’ll think of something. Maybe an overnighter to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, parts of Route 66. I’ll trailer myself and the Goldwing back to Tucson Saturday.

We’d originally planned to ride through Yosemite, but the road will most likely still be closed for snow. We can try again in September; it’ll be open then for sure, and it’s a ride both of us want to take.

My motorcycle buddy Ed, he of the detached retina, has suffered a setback. He was recovering slowly at home from eye surgery, but during a follow-on checkup a new retinal tear was discovered and he had to go under the eye knife (gaah!) again. This time his eye is wrapped inside the socket (shudder), and will have to stay wrapped until the retina heals, if it will.

Not only is Ed uncomfortable, he’s worried he may not get his vision back. I’m worried too … I’ve been helping him write up the story of how the retina detached while riding home from Bike Week in Daytona, trying to keep it light, but honestly there isn’t much light in any medical emergency. Still, things could be worse: two days ago one of my wife’s dearest friends took herself to the hospital because she felt shitty. Surprise! She has advanced-stage leukemia. When it rains. …

The finish line of my one-man “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” marathon is in sight. I’m a little more than halfway through the final season, trying not to watch more than one or at the most two episodes each night, stretching it out. I started taping and watching “American Gods,” but am quickly losing interest. I’m not entirely sure what people see in Neil Gaiman; personally I think he’s coasting on earlier successes. It has become fashionable to say one hates “The Americans,” but I still love the series and never miss an episode, even when they’re draggy. “Better Call Saul” is, I think, working too hard to be a prequel to “Breaking Bad”; I liked Jimmy McGill better in the first two seasons, when the stories didn’t converge. “Fargo” is as good as it’s ever been, but unobservant dope me didn’t realize Ewan McGregor was playing both Stussy brothers until the loser one shaved off his moustache in order to pass as the successful one.

We pay Comcast a hunk of money every month for basic cable and HBO. Add Amazon Prime and Netflix, which we pay for as well, and our entertainment budget is stretched to the limit. We just can’t afford Hulu on top of everything else. Therefore, I didn’t get to see their adaptation of Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” and I’m missing their adaption of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I loved the Stephen King book, and I think I loved the Atwood, but just to be sure I’m reading it on Donna’s Kindle. I thought I read “Handmaid” in college, but since I graduated 15 years before Atwood wrote it, maybe I just thought I’d read it. In any case, I’m interested in the book’s history at the hands of those who would ban or even burn it, and once I finish it I’ll write a review it for my banned book column.

Now, though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m about to crack open the sixth Jack Reacher thriller, “Without Fail.” I started out strong on these novels, but by the third one I was beginning to see how hackish and cheesy they were, and after the fifth I needed a break. People keep telling me how good they are; if number six is as awful as the ones just before it, I will officially wash my hands of Lee Child and his taciturn hero.


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Our pool guy flaked out on us months ago. We tried to keep the water healthy but it got away from us and the pool filled with algae. We’ve hired a new pool guy. He drained and refilled the pool, cleaned out the gunked-up filter our old guy apparently lied about servicing six months ago, patched up the grout around the tiles, and repaired a crack in the pool deck. It now looks as good as new, but of course we’re out another hunk of money. You can be sure we’ll use the hell out of it this summer!

That’s the haps. More soon.


Sharing Secrets

trump putinWith regard to the unelected president sharing sensitive intelligence with high-ranking Russians during an Oval Office visit, I admit to mixed feelings. Trump is a deeply stupid man and therefore dangerous, and to this day I don’t understand how he could possibly be in the White House, especially after losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes, but …

The intel he shared, if the reports I read today are accurate, was about a developing ISIS terrorist threat involving explosive devices disguised as electronic devices of the kind people commonly carry aboard airliners. The threat could be carried out against any nation ISIS has a beef with: the US, Russia, France, England, you name it. Serious shit, indeed, but here’s the thing: the world has known about this new threat for weeks, ever since the TSA announced a ban on laptops and tablets aboard flights bound for the US from certain Middle Eastern countries.

I’m old enough to remember President Carter, in the last days of the 1980 presidential campaign, announcing the development of the B-2 stealth bomber. There was no valid reason for spilling the beans on what was, at the time, a compartmented code-word program only a few high-ranking defense and military officials had been read in on. The only possible explanation for Carter’s action was that it was a last-ditch hail Mary pass to give him a leg up against Reagan, who was kicking his ass on national security issues. At least Trump can claim to have a more selfless reason for doing what he did.

That is if you believe what he said this morning on Twitter:

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

We know enough about Trump at this point … hell, we knew enough about him more than a year ago … to know he’s trying to obscure a baser motive. When he blabbed to the Russians he was showing off, bragging about how much he knows. But that doesn’t make the argument about sharing critical information on terrorism and airline flight safety invalid, and when push comes to shove, that’s the argument that’ll get Trump off the hook.

I’ve had some exposure to compartmented code-word intel: I was read into a few programs, then read out when I retired from the Air Force. I can tell you that the information itself is often innocuous and widely known. What intelligence agencies are trying to protect is the source of the information. When sources are compromised, the flow of intel from those sources usually stops. Worse still, there have been cases where hostile powers, after leaks of sensitive intel, were able to figure out how the information was gathered and then track down and kill the men and women who got it. That’s the worst case. Usually, though, sensitive intel is compartmented in order to avoid embarrassment. Israel might find out something about ISIS from contacts in Syria, but wouldn’t want the intel to be made public because it would reveal that Israel has been working with Assad, a sworn enemy. Now that’s just a hypothetical example, but it’s kind of what I think is going on here … the intel about ISIS threats Trump was briefed on, and then shared with the Russians, came from a country that doesn’t want to be revealed, and now Trump has blown their cover.

As I mentioned earlier, anyone who paid attention to the TSA’s ban on laptops and other large electronic devices on airline flights bound for the USA from certain Muslim countries, originally announced in March, knew right away the ban was in response to a specific threat. Clearly, we have already shared intel on that threat with allied countries, because many of them imposed bans of their own. So was there really a humanitarian reason to share this intel with Russia, which was already well aware of the preventive actions we and other countries had already taken? No. Trump was just showing off. He can’t help it, because he is a child.

If you’re thinking the Republican majority in the House or Senate is going to authorize any sort of investigation or censure of Trump, you’re living in some kind of “Bernie would have won” fantasy world. About the only thing Trump could do to get impeached at this point would be to go on nationwide TV and say “black lives matter.”


Paul’s Book Reviews: Science Fiction, Hit & Miss Thrillers

“Am I a person or a weapon?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis. “You are a person,” Rachel tells him.

“But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

— Jeff VanderMeer, Borne

by Jeff VanderMeer

The “Southern Reach” trilogy sold me on Jeff VanderMeer. I’ll probably read anything he writes and I’m not sorry I read “Borne,” but I must warn you this book is a descent into hell, a demented nightmare of crawling, bleeding and wounded, through suffocating tunnels, ravening creatures with toxic claws in pursuit, food and water a fading memory, every object, every living thing, out to kill and eat you. The diseased and ragged third-world orphans who pick through mountains of rubbish to find things to eat and barter? They’ve got it knocked compared to the inhabitants of VanderMeer’s City, who dare not poke their heads aboveground lest Mord swoop down upon them.

I could follow the history of VanderMeer’s dystopia to a point. Rachel remembers a childhood on the run from rising water, ecological disaster, and war; then there’s a blank and here we are in the seventh circle of hell, civilization gone, no hope anywhere, the end of humanity looming, and how did we get to this point? Because of the Company? Because there’s a giant flying bear? I like a little more world-building in my dystopias, frankly.

I never understood why Rachel is called The Scavenger. In the ruined City, who isn’t? Mord the bioengineered bear is faintly ludicrous; Borne, whatever he/she/it is, seems a more likely horror of bioengineering. The title character is perversely relatable, the novel’s most engaging character. VanderMeer fleshes out Wick and Rachel toward the end of the novel but I don’t think it contributed much to the story. He offers Wick and Rachel a small respite from the terrors of the City at the end, but the overwhelming sense of humanity dying in the ruins of a dead city on a ravaged and poisoned planet is not that easily dispelled.

A downer, for all that it is brilliantly written.

new york 2140New York 2140
by Kim Stanley Robinson

I love the first half of “New York 2140.” It has everything going for it: a great SF premise (ways humanity might respond to global warming and sea level rise), engaging characters from different walks of life, fascinating historical Big Apple trivia, kidnappings, sabotage, treasure hunts, high finance, a budding affair or two … and then in the second half, so much more of the same it begins to wear, and you find yourself skipping over paragraphs, particularly the ones written by the unnamed and intrusive “citizen,” lecturing on ecology and finance and systems of government.

The various crises and subplots, all related, lead to upheaval and revolution. KSR has a justified hatred for the way the US government mishandled the financial crash of 2008, where the bankers won and the rest of us lost our shirts. In KSR’s 2140, NYC teeters on the edge of a similar crash, one that will topple international markets in its wake. The six or seven main characters function as triggers for the crash, helped by a fortuitous hurricane; the same cast of characters also prepare the roadmap for a post-crash revolution, this time one that will result in a win for the people, not the bankers.

By the way, it’s astounding how much city dwellers of 2140 know about what happened in 2008, way the hell more than anybody now living knows about the Civil War or even the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but hey.

The first half of this novel is so good it should carry you, as it did me, through the excesses of the second half, and yes, I’m talking about buried chests of gold and polar bears on the bridge of a blimp. I had fun reading “2140,” and I liked most of KSR’s pie-in-the-sky revolutionary ideas, though I wish he hadn’t gone on quite so long about them.

vanishing actVanishing Act (Jane Whitefield #1)
by Thomas Perry

I was burning out on Lee Child thrillers and a friend recommended Thomas Perry. I looked at the average reader ratings of Perry novels on Goodreads and was encouraged to see they were all four-star-plus. I picked “Vanishing Act” because it has a female protagonist and is the first in a series featuring that character.

I’m not disappointed, but I’m not wildly enthusiastic either. I feel the need to talk about the novel’s ending, so you can skip this review if you’re one of those who won’t read a book if you know what happens.

Jane Whitefield is a native American who lives her heritage. She’s an accomplished scout and tracker, well versed in skills learned from her father and tribal elders. She uses these skills to help clients assume new identities and hide from their pursuers. At the end of this novel, she calls upon Seneca lore and woodland skills to track, Hiawatha-like, a bad man through the forests of upstate New York, paddling a canoe when she can and portaging it along deer runs when she can’t. She eventually polishes off her prey with a hand-made arrow through the throat and a bop on the noggin with an improvised stone war club. I was a little disappointed she didn’t scalp him as well.

Yes, conjuring up a native American character who solves crimes and rights wrongs with ancient skills is contrived, but I didn’t mind that so much as all the explication. You see, Jane figures out complex mysteries in her head, and there’s actually not a whole hell of a lot of action apart from two brief scenes at the beginning and the chase through the woods at the end. Mostly she chews over events in her mind, figuring out what must have happened to cause A to lead to B, etc, and that’s how the plot unfolds, page after page of meticulous explanation.

I had to make an effort to plow through all that, the entire middle section of this novel, but I’m glad I did, because although I enjoy poking fun at the climactic canoe chase, I quite enjoyed the final chapters. The chase was tense and gripping, though I didn’t doubt for a minute Jane would get her man.*

Honestly, though, I’m not going to commit to reading another Jane Whitefield novel. I may try one of Perry’s other novels, “The Butcher’s Boy” or “Metzger’s Dog.”

*Seriously, those of you so fast to raise the alarm over “spoilers,” isn’t the fact there’s an entire series of Jane Whitefield novels kind of a spoiler in itself?

we are legionWe Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse #1)
by Dennis E. Taylor

Too easy. Too easy to revive a cryogenically-preserved brain and turn it into code; too easy to transform a personality into a ship-borne artificial intelligence; too easy to scoop molecules from space and fashion them into minerals; too easy to replicate infinite numbers of immortal Bobs; too easy to 3D print anything one’s heart desires; too easy to fashion virtual reality human bodies to live in so that one can enjoy the five senses (and if so why not build an Eve or two?); too easy to terraform worlds; too easy across the board.

Add plenty of geek culture references to TV shows, movies, and manga trivia, keep the characters flat, and you get Science Fiction Lite. “We Are Legion” reads like a TV screenplay; sadly, not as good as SyFy’s “The Expanse,” not even as good as USA Network’s “Colony.”

Pluses: a stab or two at space opera, a sweeping vision, and toward the end a scary encounter with an advanced intelligence that paves the way for a sequel.

I couldn’t help noticing all the rave reviews on Goodreads. Nevertheless, I think serious science fiction devotees, those with an appreciation for science and a grounding in the classics, will be slightly disappointed.

running blindRunning Blind (Jack Reacher #4)
by Lee Child

I’m reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels in order. Up to now they’ve been reasonably well-plotted page-turners. This one, while still a page-turner, was not so well plotted, and was a disappointment overall.

My main objections come near the end with the introduction of a suspicious character who, it turns out, has nothing to do with the story. Lee Child, in his earlier Jack Reacher novels, never introduced so much as a stray dog’s hair that wasn’t critical to the plot, let alone an entire character. When you fail Chekov’s gun test, it really stands out.

Another annoyance, more noticeable in this novel than in the previous three, is Reacher’s long-winded explanations of how he’s figured out parts of the mystery. These are related in conversations with his FBI sidekick, always after some new plot twist. I thought I remembered more showing and less telling in the previous books, but I may be wrong. Reacher, the normally taciturn man of action, becomes a blabbermouth whenever Child is too lazy to weave explanations into the action. I said in my review of the first Jack Reacher novel that Child is a hack but an entertaining one. In this book, his hackishness is more pronounced.

Also, too, I figured out who the murderer is very early on. That hasn’t happened before, either. I hope Jack Reacher recovers from this career setback.

echo burningEcho Burning (Jack Reacher #5)
by Lee Child

Ack, this one’s worse than the fourth Jack Reacher novel. I love the idea of the Jack Reacher character, but I’m coming to hate the cheesy tricks Lee Child uses to unravel the villains’ nefarious schemes. In this one, for example, Reacher magically figures out that a missing attorney must have been waylaid and killed by professional assassins, then moved “more than one mile but less than two” from his abandoned Mercedes. Not only that, Reacher somehow knows to tell the searchers to look for the body on the left side of the road. Shortly afterward, he works out that the assassination team is made up of three persons. How? Because that’s how he did assassinations when he was a military policeman.

I always wondered what Army MPs were doing when they weren’t busting black marketers or rousting out homosexuals. They were assassinating people! Folks, this is just bullshit. Jack Reacher is bullshit. He doesn’t have to be, but Lee Child … at least in the fourth and fifth Jack Reacher novels … has made him that way. And I hate it.

Equally disappointing, the fourth and fifth novels end in classic “closed room” mystery fashion, with Jack Reacher making a speech, telling the bad guys how he cracked their plot. And then the power goes out. And in the darkness, a shot! I was excited about the Jack Reacher novels at first, but now I worry that if I re-read the first three novels, they’d be about the same.

I’m taking an extended Jack Reacher break. Number four wore me down. Number five broke me.

Did Not Finish

escape clauseEscape Clause (Virgil Flowers #9)
by John Sandford

I picked this off the “new books” shelf at the local library. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I decided to give it a try. The characters didn’t engage me and the writing seemed tailored to an audience with basic reading skills. The author does a weird thing by including detailed descriptions of snacks and fast food meals eaten by Virgil Flowers as he drives between crime scenes. If that’s meant to be a hook, it doesn’t hook me. As soon as the library notified me the book I wanted was in, I abandoned this one.


You Can’t Read That!

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


Photo © Warwa on Flickr

“The purpose of our elementary schools is to teach writing, reading and arithmetic, not to encourage boys to wear dresses.” “Jacob’s New Dress” pulled from 1st grade curriculum in North Carolina after teacher complains to state legislators.

Arizona school district pulls “The Kite Runner” from high school English curriculum, disallows it as optional independent reading. School district insists it’s not a ban, oddly replaces it with another frequently-challenged book, “Of Mice and Men.” Or not so oddly … no Muslims, no rape scene in Steinbeck’s book.

Full text of American Library Association’s “State of America’s Libraries Report 2017,” which includes the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2016” list (in line with a trend often commented on here, the first five books on the list have LGBT characters).

Librarian speaks about attempts to ban Allison Bechdel’s graphic novel “Fun Home” and Craig Thompson’s “Blankets” from a Missouri library ten years ago, and how it impacted her career. That seems baitish, so I’ll save you the click by telling you here it didn’t.

Here we go again. Wisconsin parents challenge Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” One complaint: “Unfortunately the message of this hope is literally drowned out by the shocking words of profanity, sexual innuendo and violence.” Uh huh.

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” repeatedly banned and challenged since its original publication in 1985, has emerged as the unofficial dystopian novel of Americans fearful of the direction things may take under Trump. Note to self: re-read and review in a future YCRT! column.

“Florida lawmakers want to make it easier for parents and residents to challenge school textbooks. Depending on who you ask, the bill is a slippery slope towards book burning, or a step towards community control.” Has anyone considered the fact that many conservatives view book burning and community control are one and the same?

Study of Texas teens finds no connection between reading banned or challenged books and mental health issues or delinquent behavior.

A Canadian school has forbidden students to talk about the Netflix TV series “13 Reasons Why.” A Colorado school district banned the book outright. Note to self: add to Netflix watch list.

If a white artist paints a dead black boy, is she merely profiting off black suffering? What’s behind calls for an artist to not only remove but destroy her painting of Emmett Till.

Disinvited speaker writes about the cancellation of his scheduled speech on censorship to students at an upstate New York high school.

University of Alaska Anchorage resists community pressure, refuses to remove painting of Captain America holding severed head of Donald Trump from public display.

American University gets out ahead of potential complaints by warning fraternity not to “appropriate culture” by holding a “Bad(minton) and Boujee” party.

“Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech.” Are students at Wellesley College no longer taught logic or English?


Short Enough?

cfgi outletThe first thing I do in the morning is glance at the LED clock in the bathroom. Yesterday it was blank; the GFCI outlet it’s plugged into had popped (I had to look up GFCI just now: ground fault circuit interrupter) and the little red button wouldn’t reset. A contractor is pumping out our swimming pool prior to cleaning and refilling it and there are extension cords on the patio. I put on a bathrobe and went outside to unplug them and check the fuse box on the north side of the house. Nothing was obviously wrong, but still the button wouldn’t reset.

I get antsy when things aren’t right, but yesterday it was worse: I felt overwhelmed. Wrongness everywhere, and I powerless in the face of it. Of course the real problem was Schatzi. I was and still am gutted by our little dog’s death, the one real thing wrong with the world, the one real thing I’m powerless to fix.

It rained yesterday and water had gotten into one of the contractor’s extension cord outlets. Once it was dry the GFCI reset. The problem was fixed but I was still upset and unable to focus. The low spell may have passed overnight. Hey, I’m writing, and that’s more than I could have done yesterday.

I try not to rant about the unelected president, but my rage keeps boiling over. Yesterday’s firing of James Comey is another in a long line of lines too far. Comey should have been fired for politicizing the FBI and using its resources to throw the election to Trump, but that ain’t why Trump fired him and everyone knows it. Comey’s FBI was the one federal agency investigating Trump’s ties to, and collusion with, Putin. Attorney General James Sessions, who promised to recuse himself from the FBI investigation, unrecused himself yesterday by giving Trump cover to fire Comey, and Trump the coward jumped on what he thought would be an easy way out of his troubles.

I’ll keep this short. One of the first times I mentioned Trump on this blog was in December 2015, shortly after his underhanded attack on Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. During the first televised GOP candidates’ debate, Kelly called him out on his long record of demeaning and mistreating women. Trump went behind her back to Roger Ailes, then the head of the network, lobbying to have her fired or at the very least punished. As you may recall, Kelly was forced to take a long leave of absence, and today she’s working for another network.

Trump’s a coward, and of all his flaws—the lack of character and absence of values, the racism, the colossal ignorance, the worship of celebrity, oh I could go on and on—Trump’s cowardice was the first thing I noticed about him. To this day cowardice is the first thing I think of when I think of Trump, and it was fully on display yesterday.

Those of us who lived as adults during the last months of the Nixon administration mercifully didn’t know how bad things were, but as we learned later, things were very bad indeed: Nixon wandering drunk through the corridors of the White House, mumbling about Jews and threatening nuclear attacks, so unhinged his own chief of staff had asked military leaders to check with him first before acting on launch orders from the president.

One thing we should all know about the Trump administration by now is that things are invariably worse than they seem and that our darkest suspicions probably fall short of reality. You can take anything said by Trump, Sean Spicer, or Kelly Anne Conway and assume the exact opposite is true. Things are bad indeed in Trump’s White House, and they’re about to get worse.

We need an independent special prosecutor to carry on the investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia and collusion with Putin. The FBI (and the entire Justice Department) is now clearly off the case, and the House and Senate investigations were never more than a joke.

Last night one of my Arizona senators, the Republican Jeff Flake, said this on Twitter: “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it.” As with John McCain, my other Republican senator (who tweeted “Removal of Director Comey only confirms need for select cmte to investigate Russia’s interference in 2016 election”), his statement falls far short of calling for a special prosecutor. I responded with this: “Treason is afoot, and I pray my Arizona senators will put country before party. Appoint a special prosecutor now.”

If we put enough pressure on them maybe there’s hope the Republicans will do the right thing, as they did after Watergate. There’s a treasonous coward in the White House, and he needs to be gone.

There, short enough?