Paul’s Thing

blogprofile Paul's Thing is your one-stop destination for Paul. Need more Paul? Click here!
November 2015
« Oct    

Air-Minded Index



Paul’s Tree-Reading

Paul’s E-Reading

Paul’s Book Reviews


Paul’s Daily Kos Diaries



© 2004-2015 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Squeezing Ambergris


The new trailer’s home, parked behind the new fence we had built to screen it from view. I’m fighting the urge to hook it to the new truck and drive around for no reason. There’ll be plenty of occasions to use it, and soon.

Donna says I’ve had my birthday and Christmas, not just this year but all the ones to come. I’m like the guy who wins the lottery and says screw this monthly stipend noise, I want the money now, all of it.

When I was going to college in Sacramento I worked at a gas station. The business next door rented travel trailers; they’d bring them to us to have the wheel bearings greased. We were always greasing trailers, and I got the impression it’s something you have to do often if you own one. So I asked about it when I picked up the new trailer. Every six months, they said. Back in the day that meant jacking up the trailer, removing the wheels, using a special tool to pull the bearings, swishing them around in a bucket of gasoline to wash off the crud, then repacking them by hand with thick axle grease—a dirty, time-consuming job (but one that always made me think of Ishmael squeezing ambergris in Moby Dick). Oh, boy, I thought. Then they showed me how it’s done these days: you put a grease gun to a fitting in the middle of the hub and squeeze a little in. No jack, no lug wrench, no bucket of gasoline, no dirty hands. O brave new world, that has such convenience in it!

Donna leaves Monday for Las Vegas. She’ll be there from the first to the tenth of November, watching over our grandson while our son and daughter-in-law vacation in Hawaii. I’ll be home with Polly, who starts a new job at the local school district today. She’ll be working in the cafeteria at a high school less than a mile from our house, which’ll be great for the time she’s still in our house, but the goal is for her to find her own place as soon as possible—she’s been with us four months now, after all, and we’re all ready for her to be on her own again. I don’t imagine she’ll find anything affordable in this neck of the woods, but who knows? A lot of people have casitas, small “mother-in-law” houses, on their property, and surely some owners rent them out. Friends of ours who live just down the street have one. It’s not for rent, but they’ve allowed us to use it a few times when our son and his family come to visit.

On November 12th, two days after Donna returns, I’m taking off on a four-day motorcycle ride to Death Valley, via Calexico, Lone Pine, and Lake Havasu. Thank goodness it’s cooled down.

Speaking of which, we had to close our windows and sliding patio doors yesterday because it was too cool. It’s also been raining like hell, and we’re hearing snow forecasts for the mountains (in fact it already has snowed in Flagstaff). It’s going to be a hard winter. Hard on people, I mean, but good on the land and water tables. I hope. Don’t want to jinx it before it happens, so just forget I said anything about it, okay?

I didn’t watch the Republican debate on CNBC this week, but I caught parts of it later on other news channels. From what I saw, this debate didn’t seem all that different from previous ones. The moderators probably were nasty and over-focused on the horse race, not the candidates’ ideas and policy positions, but they did ask some intelligent economic policy questions (which the candidates “answered” by attacking the media). Afterwards there was much moaning and groaning, not just from the candidates but from the Republican Party, about the hostility of the questions and the fact-checking by the moderators (who were live-Googling candidates’ statements and claims as fast as they could type on their iPads and smart phones). Huh. If you espouse hostile policies and make patently fraudulent claims, you should expect hostile questions and call-outs, am I right?

I’m sure the GOP candidates would rather be in the Fox News bubble, answering softball questions from sympathetic moderators, free to lie without being challenged or called out. I think we’ll soon see them, starting with Trump and Carson, demanding that kind of kid-glove treatment. If they’re not demanding it already.

We usually avoid parties, but we’re going to a Halloween party tonight, and in costume to boot. Donna’s going to be Tippi Hedren, with felt crows in her hair and on her clothes, and I’m going be be an identity thief. I’ll have to let you know how that works out!

My birthday’s tomorrow. I’ll be 69. I’ve already celebrated (truck/fence/trailer, remember?), so I have no plans beyond making a nice dinner and handing out candy to the few children who typically ring our bell every year. Sunday morning we’re taking our bicycles downtown for Cyclovia. Next week I hope to get Polly’s Ducati running again and put it up for sale on Craigslist.

It’s a nice time of year. I’m always happy when fall rolls around. And I love sharing my birthday with Halloween, which really should be a national holiday, don’t you think?


Tuesday Moto MX

A sure sign of getting old is confusion over repurposed abbreviations. I no longer know what people mean when they say CRM or CSA—or even CIA. I used to teach CRM—crew resource management—to USAF fighter pilots, but that’s not what computer people mean by CRM. People tell me they get their veggies and fruits from the CSA, and I want to ask if they have Confederate flag stickers on their cars. CIA? Well, you can look that one up in the Urban Slang Dictionary yourself.

MX apparently stands for many things, but to me and other USAF veterans, it stands for maintenance. Moto, of course, means motorcycle. So that’s what I was doing this morning, a bit of moto MX, repairing damage I did to the Goldwing over the weekend, when I scraped a hole in the coolant reservoir trying to get the bike off a rental trailer.


The coolant reservoir I wrecked

I was able to make the short ride over to Ed’s house without overheating. Ed, as regular readers of my blog know, is my riding buddy and moto MX guru. It just happened Ed had a spare coolant reservoir on hand. We R&R’d the reservoir and fixed a couple of unrelated problems while we were at it. R&R, I see, has multiple meanings as well, but in this context it means “repair & replace.”


Ed getting ready to R&R

I ordered a new coolant reservoir, along with an aluminum belly pan, an aftermarket part designed to protect the reservoir. Judging by the different kinds of belly pans you can buy for the Goldwing, I’m not the first guy to knock a hole in a reservoir! As soon as the parts come I’ll go back to Ed’s garage to bolt on the belly pan—and give him the new reservoir so he’ll still have one in stock.

Yesterday, when I turned in the rental trailer, I told the guys there about the problem I had getting the Wing on and off it. They knew about that particular problem and had a fix for it: welding a six-inch extension to the end of the fold-down ramp. They said they’ve done it for several Wing and Harley owners, and that it works, so I picked out a new trailer and gave them a deposit. They’ll add the ramp extension, do the title & license, and have it ready Thursday. Before I drive the truck over to hook it up I’ll putt over on the motorcycle to make sure it goes up and down the ramp without scraping bottom—then give them a check for the balance.

We’ll break in the new trailer by hauling Polly’s Ducati over to Ed’s to get it running again. Already planning a spring drive to Farmington NM with the Wing in tow, a good launch point for a Four Corners ride with Donna on the back. Whoopee!


Trailer Blues

Our daughter Polly’s possessions are still at the ex-boyfriend’s house in Ajo, Arizona: furniture, kitchen stuff, clothes, the lot. Since she’s still with us and doesn’t yet have a place of her own, the ex has been allowing her to keep her things there. Polly found another job, this time with our local school district. She starts this week, so maybe she’ll find an apartment soon and finally be able to get her stuff back.

Remember the Ducati motorcycle I gave her? We decided to rent a trailer and bring it back from Ajo this weekend, along with her bicycle, important papers, and some clothes she needs for work. Our plan, now that she has our old Lincoln and no longer needs the bike, is to sell it. Perhaps the money from the sale will cover the up-front costs of renting an apartment … that’s our hope, at any rate. After she’s on her own again, she can rent a U-Haul truck and go fetch the rest of her things. She’d better hurry, though. I get the sense the ex is getting impatient with the current arrangement.


You may also remember we’ve been looking for a trailer for our motorcycle. Donna and I thought the trailer we rented for the weekend was perfect and we were all set to buy one just like it, but last night a question disturbed my sleep: will our Honda Goldwing, considerably longer and lower than Polly’s Ducati, clear the apex of the angle between the ramp and the trailer bed?  This morning, seeing as how the rental’s still hooked up behind our truck, I decided to find out. The answer is no. No it won’t.

The Goldwing scraped a bit when I rode it up the ramp. I figured it was grounding on the frame or the folded center stand and didn’t worry about it much. Once on the trailer, the Wing fit perfectly. But when I tried to push back out of the trailer and down the ramp, it grounded hard. I had to plant my legs firmly, pull up on the bars, and rock the motorcycle back and forth to get it over the hump. I managed to do it, then took a look underneath to make sure I hadn’t damaged anything.

Sadly, I had. The Wing didn’t ground on the frame or the center stand. It grounded on the plastic coolant reservoir behind the engine, which is now dripping. I’ll have to replace it with a new one, along with all the coolant, before my mid-November ride to Death Valley. And I’ll have to find another kind of trailer, so the search starts again from the beginning. Oh well, at least I didn’t do more damage than I did, and thank goodness I checked before plopping down money on a trailer that wouldn’t have been compatible with my motorcycle.

The drive to and from Ajo is a boring one. It’s a copper mining town, but the open pit mines are shut down and the main employer today is the Border Patrol, which has a large station nearby. Polly’s ex is a BP agent, which is why they were living there. Ajo’s a long way from anywhere: Tucson is two hours east; Phoenix two hours north; Yuma two hours west. Puerto Peñasco, a resort town by the Sea of Cortez in Sonora, Mexico, is only an hour south, so there’s that at least.

Friday night, before our weekend misadventures, Donna and I went out to dinner with Ann and Ross, here from Australia for a few days. We met at a new-to-us restaurant, the Wild Garlic Grill. Great food, but like all restaurants these days very loud. Ann’s American and we had a hard time understanding everything she was saying, let alone Ross, who’s Australian. I’m sure it was difficult for Ann and Ross to make out what we were saying as well. We managed, though, and had a great time catching up with one another in spite of the racket. In fact, we wound up closing the place down … when the waiter took this photo of us at the bar, we were the only patrons there!


I’d planned to ride the motorcycle today, but since I broke it will stay home instead. Seems like a good day to make a pot of chili, and maybe Polly can make corn bread to go with it. Here’s the chili I’ll be cooking today, if you’d like to try making some yourself … I’ve tried many chili recipes over the years, and this is the one I’ve settled on. Tomorrow I’ll take the rental trailer back, and while I’m at the trailer place will see if they have something more suitable for our low-slung motorcycle. If not, it’ll wait. My priorities now are selling the Ducati and fixing the Goldwing.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful weather. Cooler temperatures are here at last. The air conditioner’s off, the sliding doors and windows are open, there’s a slight breeze wafting through the house, and it’s heavenly.


You Can’t Read That!

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

Textbooks confiscated from Tucson Unified School District classrooms, January 2012

Banned Books Week Commentary from Friends & Foes

Can you parse this Banned Book Week letter to the editor? I can’t make heads or tails of it!

An attempt to ban a book can be a good thing. It causes us to learn what it’s about; perhaps an idea. George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm,’ completed in 1943, found that no takers among publishers due to its criticism of the U.S.S.R. Nobody dies from reading a banned book, or do they? Are you proud and excited because you’re reading a banned book?

Redstate: “Banned books” are a lie told by leftists to feel good about themselves.

Another letter to the editor: ALA’s use of the term ‘banned books’ seems a little disingenuous.

Slate Magazine: Banned Books Week Is a Crock.

Book Riot: Dear Slate: Banned Books Week Isn’t a “Crock.”

Jackie Delaney: Is Banned Books Week Still Necessary?

YCRT! News

New Jersey school district bans, then unbans, John Green’s Looking for Alaska. School superintendent, upon receiving a single parental complaint, overreacts by banning the book; later, after school district review, is forced to reinstate it. Looking for Alaska, an enormously popular young adult title, has been here before.

YCRT Banned Book Review

the boy came backThe Boy Came Back
Charles Knickerbocker

The book:

The Boy Came Back is about characters in a Maine seacoast village during the Korean War. Most of the men of the town are veterans of WWII. They and the rest of the townspeople have had enough of war and are eager for peace and prosperity. The trouble in Korea, which keeps those who know they won’t have to go glued to the radio at Joe’s Beer Garden, is otherwise kept at arm’s length.

A young man with a history of juvenile delinquency, now a war hero from WWII, returns to town after a years-long absence. He has different names, but everyone calls him The Boy. He brings with him a wife. She too has a name, but everyone calls her The Girl. The Boy suffers from what is today known as PTSD. He gets in vicious fights but otherwise keeps to himself.

The Girl takes a troubled middle-aged man with a sexless marriage, Dr. Snow, under her wing (by which I mean she fucks him). The Girl’s act of mercy saves the marriage of Dr. and Mrs. Snow, and for them at least life improves. For everyone else, not so much. The village heavy, Lea, a small-town bully and the cause of many of The Boy’s problems in earlier life, goes after The Girl. The Boy kills The Girl, then Lea, then disappears.

The Boy Came Back is worth reading for its portrayal of American attitudes toward the Korean War alone; overall it’s engagingly written and stands the test of time. I don’t know how well it sold initially, but once it became notorious as the object of a book-banning witch hunt, I’m sure sales soared. Today it’s forgotten and out of print, and I had to search out a used copy from Amazon in order to read it.

The witch hunt:

The novel was published in 1951. At the time, Illinois’ state library program distributed books to rural communities through public schools. In October, 1953, a teenaged girl borrowed a copy of The Boy Came Back from the state library distribution point at her high school in Richland County. The girl’s mother read it, confiscated it, and turned it over to County Sheriff Jesse Shipley. The sheriff wrote a letter to Governor William Stratton urging that “the guilty persons be prosecuted and that the legislature conduct an inquiry into the matter.” The sheriff went on to condemn the book for its “communistic intent of attempting to lower the morality of American boys and girls.” The school superintendent of Richland County, Loren W. Cammon, also got involved, writing to the state librarian and including this description of the novel:

Without a doubt, it is the worst form of reading material I have ever seen in a high school. It is lewd in every sense of the word. I strenuously protest having such immoral reading material issued to the schools of Richland County.

Illinois state library personnel apologized, saying they made a mistake in including this adult novel in its shipment of books to the high school distribution point in Richland County. By then, though, the witch hunt was in full swing. In November, 1953, Illinois Secretary of State Charles Carpentier, presumably under orders from Governor Stratton, publicly rebuked Helene Rogers, the state librarian, ordering her to remove all “books of a salacious, vulgar or obscene character” from circulation. Other conservative politicians jumped on board, demanding the removal of “sex education” books from libraries and schools.

Rogers, noting that “if we acted on [the order] as it stands we would start with the Bible,” and without informing the state library advisory committee, began pulling all books not on a core list of suggested titles for library collections. By the time Rogers’ purge came to the attention of the press in December, 1953, she had removed between 6,000 and 8,000 books from state libraries, including popular novels by authors Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, and Mickey Spillane.

In mid-December, 1953, Secretary of State Carpentier’s hometown newspaper, the Moline Dispatch, broke the story, which quickly spread. Illinois was held up to national and even international ridicule. The Washington Post called it “the Illinois Book Controversy.” Other papers, and some public officials, decried “witch hunting in the libraries.” Public opinion in the state turned against the book-banning, and the governor and secretary of state were forced to backtrack. Governor Stratton issued a clarification: while child readers should be “protected,” adults should be able to “read what they want.” Secretary of State Carpentier tried to lay the blame on state librarian Rogers, saying her “overzealous and wholesale withdrawal of hundreds of books from general circulation goes far beyond protecting school children in the selection of reading material, and has the tendency of making [my] original intention appear ridiculous.”

In January, 1954, Carpentier ordered Rogers to restore all the withdrawn books (including The Boy Came Back), but with this stipulation: he insisted Rogers “make it impossible for school children to obtain smut or objectionable materials from the Illinois State Library.” Rogers’ response was to stamp controversial books with the label “this book is for adult readers.”

Stamping books did not quell the controversy. Newspapers as far away as Great Britain carried news of the book stamping, one writing that “they are not burning books in the state of Illinois, they are putting ‘red flags’ on them.” In February, 1954, Carpentier said the incident had “turned into a comedy of errors,” and that he was “ready to climb the walls over this thing.” In March, 1954, on the day librarian Rogers was to appear before the state library advisory committee to answer questions about the book purge, she suffered a stroke and never was able to testify about her role in the scandal.

Echoes today:

Wow, things have certainly changed for the better, have they not? No, not really. Things haven’t changed much at all, and this is why I get mad when people suggest we no longer need a Banned Books Week in the USA.

One year ago, in 2014, Highland Park, Texas school administrators began red-flagging school library books and books used for class reading assignments that were not on an approved list of titles deemed “safe” for high school students to read. Regular readers of my YCRT! columns know that parental demands to red-flag or completely remove controversial books from school libraries and classrooms occur on a weekly basis in the USA. Regular readers also know that school administrators often cave to these demands, either placing books on restricted “parental permission only” lists or removing them altogether.

In February, 2015, the Kansas senate passed SB 56, which when signed into law will allow for the arrest, prosecution, and, if found guilty, imprisonment of teachers and school administrators found to have taught anything considered harmful to minors, including controversial works of literature. At this point it’s anyone’s guess what “harmful to minors” means.

In 2012, Arizona became a national and international laughingstock after banning textbooks, novels, and plays (including Shakespeare’s The Tempest) taught in Mexican-American studies classes, eventually backing down in embarrassment and reintoducing the banned books. Mexican-American studies classes are still banned in Arizona, I should note, derided and ridiculed by white supremacist Arizona politicians in the same McCarthyite terms used in 1953 to describe The Boy Came Back as communistic and revolutionary in purpose, pushing principles that lie outside Western civilization.

As for Illinois, state politicians and fearful civil servants still willingly engage in book-banning, witness the 2013 banning of the graphic novel Persepolis from Chicago public school classrooms and libraries, as well as a follow-on attempt to find and punish the teachers responsible for its adoption in the first place, a witch hunt ordered and carried out at the highest levels of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

Differences between then and now? Not that many, it seems to me.

Reference Sources:


Air-Minded: Story Time

I recently reconnected with boyhood friends from Laramie, Wyoming. Okay, we’re senior citizens now, but we’re still friends. One of them, Dave, read some of my Air-Minded posts and decided to forward me this story. I think it’s worth sharing, so here goes:

My brother Jim graduated high school from Benson Polytechnic H.S. in Portland, Oregon, in 1957. He had learned sheet metal work and soon became an automotive body man, and was a damn good one, doing things the old fashioned way, with lead as the filler, none of that new plastic putty for him. But that wasn’t what he really wanted to do. He had learned to fly in Laramie, which was one of the toughest places with its 7,200 foot elevation and constant gusty winds. He wanted to be an air traffic controller, so he joined the Air Force and became a controller. He saw duty at several places in the US, including Truax field in Wisconsin and Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota. He also spent a lengthy tour in Vietnam, and three years in Izmir, Turkey. Not a career man, he got out and went to work for the FAA at Eugene, Oregon. He was fired during the big strike that involved almost all controllers (he wasn’t part of the strike), and it took a couple of years to become re-hired as a controller. During those years he opened a body shop and made more as a body man than as a controller. He finally retired from the FAA at age fifty, and then decided that was too early, so he became a contractor, working the non-FAA tower at Bellingham, WA.

Jim came to visit me in Laramie, and told me he would get there on a Wednesday. He called from on the road on his Honda Goldwing, and said he would be in Tuesday night. I said “Great,” as the next day was Cheyenne day at Frontier Days and I had a half day off. I told him I would take the entire day off, and that Wednesday was the day of the air show. We agreed we would go to the air show, so he could see the Thunderbirds, as he thought he was going to miss seeing them at his usual air show.

We got up early, and drove over the hill, found a place out on College drive to park, and watched the Thunderbirds. Good show from a good vantage point. I asked if he wanted to go to the airport and see some of the static displays. He said sure.

While there, we visited with the pilot of a P-51, out of Idaho I think. That pilot seemed to think that he had talked with Jim when Jim was controlling airspace at DaNang, or Pleiku, in Vietnam, and the pilot was flying an F-4 Phantom.

On the way home, Jim said “I’ve got to tell you my own P-51 story.” He said “There was this old boy by the name of Bill Anders who comes through Bellingham occasionally.” Bill made no bones about it, he did not like Boeing tower at Seattle, but he liked the guys at Bellingham because they knew how to handle high performance aircraft. Bill had made a deal that when he was coming through Bellingham, and flying one of his old warbirds, he would take one of the guys from the tower for a ride.

A friend of Bill’s had bought a Russian Yak, a tail dragger, and the tail wheel was not retracting properly, so he had talked Bill into flying chase plane, to see if he could spot why the wheel wasn’t retracting properly. That was the reason for the trip to Bellingham.

As it turned out, that day Bill flew his P-51 Mustang, and it was Jim’s turn for a ride! Bill came in to the tower and visited, asking Jim what his favorite old aircraft had been. Jim replied “I liked the F-89 Scorpion,” as he had gotten to ride in the back seat in one several times when Jim was at Truax field Wisconsin.

Jim asked Bill what he flew, and he replied that he had worked for NASA for fifteen years, so he flew most of what they had.

Bill’s Mustang had had the fuel tank removed from behind the pilot’s seat, and a second seat put in with stick and pedals, but no brakes or flaps, so you couldn’t take off or land from the back seat, but you could fly it.

He threw Jim some coveralls, and they loaded up and took off. After a little bit, Bill asked, “Do you want to fly it?” Jim said sure, and took over. He said he was amazed that the controls were no heavier than a Cessna. A little while later, Bill asked “Do you want to do some aerobatics?” Jim said sure, so they did some loops and rolls, and finally came back to the airport.

Some of Jim’s church group was at the airport seeing someone off on a mission, or welcoming someone home, and they saw Bill and Jim get out of this P-51 Mustang.

A couple of weeks later, after church one Sunday, a commercial pilot in the congregation came up to Jim and asked “How did you ever get to ride in that Mustang?” Jim, being Jim, tucked his thumbs in to his chest, and said “I didn’t just get to ride in it, I got to fly it!”

The commercial pilot said “No, what do you know about Bill Anders?” Jim replied that he was some old retired Air Force guy. The pilot said “No, he was the guy who took the picture of the earthrise from the far side of the moon. He was the LEM pilot on Apollo Eight.” Jim said, “Well, he told me he worked for NASA—he didn’t tell me he had been to the moon and back.”

This was a fond high point in my Brother Jim’s life.

The coveralls were from Apollo 8, with the figure eight patch showing the path around the moon.

Well, you can bet I looked up Bill Anders and Apollo 8. Bill was a USAF test pilot who was accepted into the astronaut program in 1963. He participated in the Gemini and Apollo programs, but his only spaceflight was aboard Apollo 8, the second manned Apollo mission, the one that orbited the moon in December 1968 (though without the Lunar Module, which wasn’t ready). Anders did indeed take the first photo of the whole earth, and yes, I still have my copy of the Whole Earth Catalog with that famous photo on the cover.


And here’s General Anders in his Mustang:



Car Show Photoblog

The annual Tucson Classics Car Show was Saturday, held on the grounds of St. Gregory’s Academy. It’s one of two local car shows I try never to miss (the other one’s in January, on the golf course at Tubac, a resort town south of Tucson). The Gregory School (as it is now known) is an ideal venue for an outdoor car show: the campus is green and shady and there’s plenty of nearby parking. October can be iffy; you never know ahead of time if it’ll be cool or still hot. We were lucky this year with overcast skies and a few early-morning sprinkles, but not a drop fell on the cars or the spectators while I was at the show, which was most of the morning. The cars, of course, were gorgeous.

panorama_3 copy

Muscle cars and Corvettes dominated, but I’m more interested in antiques, classics, and oddballs. There were plenty of each for me to obsess over, including a few interesting motorcycles.

I posted 87 car show photos to a Flickr album, and you can click here to see them all. I’ll post a few thumbnails here to whet your appetite; click on any of them to see the full sized originals at Flickr.

IMG_1728 copy IMG_1748 copy
IMG_1755 copy IMG_1767 copy
IMG_1791 copy IMG_1739 copy
IMG_1723 copy IMG_1797 copy


I Know, Let’s Have a Debate!


We watched the first Democratic presidential debate this week. Judging by the wealth of post-debate comments posted on social media, we weren’t alone. Most of us who sat down to watch already knew our own favored candidate would win, and funnily enough, that’s exactly how it worked out.

I’m no different. I favored Hillary Clinton going in, and when it was over felt she was the most presidential person on stage. Bernie Sanders had some great moments, but most of his home runs were emotional—the audience cheered loudest when he advocated revolution. Hillary spoke as an experienced politician, aware of the limits of presidential power and very much on top of how government actually works. Bernie proposes a people-power takeover; Hillary knows how to work the system and who to call. I’m a practical guy, so she’s my candidate. Easy peasy.

From what I’ve seen on social media, those of us who watched the debate were impressed with its overall positivity. It wasn’t all cheap shots. The candidates talked policy, not politics, and every time the moderators tried to get them to trash one another they shut the moderators down. They kept the focus on how they’d fix what’s broken and improve peoples’ lives. I think even some Republican viewers were impressed.

By the way, I once met one of the candidates in the debate. Some time in 1987 I flew to DC with a three-star general to give briefings to Pentagon officials on how the military measures combat readiness. James Webb, then an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, was one of men we briefed. The general told me beforehand Webb was a war hero from Vietnam and that he’d been wounded in action. As for me, I knew he’d written a couple of war novels, but that’s all I knew. I’ll tell you what, though, the second I shook his hand I knew he was a man of strong principles who would stand by them come hell or high water—he absolutely radiated probity and purpose. I wasn’t sure I’d like everything he stood for, but I felt great respect for him. Nothing I saw during Tuesday’s debate changed my early impression. I don’t think he’ll stay in the race much longer, but if Hillary decides she needs a crack-the-whip VP, she could do worse than to pick Jim Webb.

There’s still a long time between now, the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions, and the election. Anything could happen. That, you’ll be happy to hear, is more than enough political commentary for one blog post.

So how about Playboy, then? No more centerfolds? I haven’t looked at a Playboy in literally decades, so I don’t know what they mean by “nude” these days. There was a time when a glimpse of a woman’s breasts was a big deal, and that’s the Playboy I was first exposed to as a teenager. Along with everyone else, I watched Playboy become more explicit as competing magazines like Penthouse and Hustler pushed the limits.

Religious conservatives always called Playboy pornographic, even back in the comparatively innocent T&A-only days. I always scoffed at that sort of egregious mislabeling. Porn is the depiction of actual sex acts, right? But I guess it can be argued that magazines like Playboy started the process that gradually brought us to today, when actual porn is just a click away. We don’t like to admit it, but the stats convincingly prove the internet really is all about porn.

I recently read a nonfiction book about a series of campus rapes at a state university. Reading details of the rapes, what angered and depressed me was how often drunk frat boys tried to duplicate sex acts they’d seen in porn videos, often seriously harming their passed-out victims. These young men grew up watching porn and had totally false notions about what women like. No one ever told them porn isn’t real, or that some of the things you see in videos are not only painful but can cause lasting injury.

I don’t blame Playboy for mainstreaming porn, but I do wish porn wasn’t so pervasive today. Most adults can watch porn without trying to act out everything they see, but some can’t, and I think it’s a particularly bad way for young men and women to learn about sex, because it creates so many unrealistic expectations.

Well, now I’m all uncomfortable, and I hope you are too.

Pima Air & Space Museum was invaded by former USAF aviators and crew chiefs yesterday, and many of them were on my tram tour, forcing me to play it straight—they’d have called me out if I strayed too far from the facts.

Although the USAF retired its last F-4 Phantom II fighters in the 1990s, workers at the Davis-Monthan AFB Boneyard later converted several lower-time F-4s into QF-4s, remotely-piloted target drones. As part of this program, DM kept a small cadre of pilots and back-seaters on hand for test and delivery flights. Every now and then Tucsonans would hear a roar that hadn’t been heard in years, and look up to see a Vietnam-era Phantom flying overhead.

Word had gotten out that two manned QF-4s would take off from Davis-Monthan, just across the street from the museum, at one o’clock yesterday. Former F-4 pilots, back seaters, and maintainers—some from as far away as Phoenix—showed up to watch. Most got there in the morning and spent their time exploring the museum and taking tours, but around twelve-thirty they started gathering outdoors. Many of them climbed up a little hillock by the museum’s main entrance, the better to see the Phantoms fly. It was really fun to see those old guys up on their hill, as excited as children. And damn it, at a quarter to one I remembered I had to drive to the base to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, forgot about the impromptu airshow, and missed the excitement. Fortunately, someone from the museum was on the hill with a good camera, and posted this photo:


And that’s not all. Members of USAF Pilot Training Class 65F held a reunion at the museum yesterday. Class 65F went through training at Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma, which is where I learned to fly nine years later (we had a different class numbering scheme by then; I was in Class 7405). So a bunch of these guys and their wives were on my tram as well, and it turned out I knew a couple of them from my flying days.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that when I pulled up to the main hanger at the end of the tour, this very tough audience gave me a round of applause. Ahem. I’m pretty proud of that.

Finally got around to watching the season two opener of Fargo, the Coen Brothers-produced TV series based on the earlier Coen Brothers movie. We loved season one, and it looks like season two will be awesome as well, but I was a little disappointed to see some lazy and predictable clichés in the opening episode. One was the character at the bingo hall, clearly playing the same role John Goodman played in another Coen Brothers movie, The Big Lebowski. Another was the ditzy housewife who drives home with a dead guy (she thinks he’s dead, at any rate) draped over her hood, his head sticking halfway through the windshield, but at least that bit was based on some real-life hit & run cases. That’s all I have to bitch about, though. I know I’m going to love it, and thank goodness the summer TV doldrums are over.


Tuesday Bag o’ Yaks

According to a tweet from China’s Xinhua News Agency, troops patrol the border area in Xinjiang Province, where elevations exceed 14,700 feet above sea level, astride banthas.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 11.08.29 AM

This reminded me of our trail scouting adventure Sunday morning, when Donna was forced to dismount to negotiate a steep mountain pass at 2,600 feet above sea level. A bantha would have made short work of that crag, let me tell you.


We were scouting trail for next Sunday’s Pedalfiles Bicycle Hash House Harriers ride, which will start and end in our neighborhood. Now that we have a trail for our friends, all that remains is to set up the logistics.

Speaking of rides, the next mini-gypsy tour is Death Valley, second week of November. I’ll travel with a couple of Goldwing buddies and overnight in Lone Pine, California, and Lake Havasu, Arizona. I considered peeling off for Las Vegas after Death Valley to spend a night with the kids, then riding home by myself the next day, but Donna and I are driving up later in the month for Thanksgiving, so I’ll hang with the hoodlums this trip.

No doubt all right-thinking Americans will tune in the Democratic presidential debate tonight. We’ll be watching, if for no other reason than to see how the candidates hold up under questioning and attacks. I’m not betting on Joe Biden coming in, and will be surprised if he shows up at the last minute tonight, but what do I know? I haven’t paid much attention to the news today. I think Joe will definitely step in if Hillary stumbles, but I don’t expect her to do that.

With apologies to fellow travelers everywhere, Bernie ain’t doin’ it for me. What kind of socialism does he bring to the race that Hillary doesn’t? I’m assuming, of course, that by “socialism” we mean centrist policy proposals, which is mostly what I hear Bernie saying. I think Hillary has staked out some positions to the left of Bernie, not that you can trust any of these birds to keep a campaign promise. But it comes down to this for me: Hillary can and probably will win; Bernie can’t and won’t.

There’s always the second season opener of Fargo, taped last night to watch later. If the debate proves too tedious, I know what we’ll be watching instead.

It should be obvious to everyone now that the House Benghazi Committee is a partisan sham, created for the sole purpose of digging up dirt on Hillary Clinton, the only Democratic presidential candidate the Republicans truly fear. My question is this: why didn’t the Democrats on the committee speak up sooner? Okay, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democratic member, has been sounding the alarm, but what about the rest of them? And what about their boss, Nancy Pelosi?

They knew what was going on when Darrell Issa chaired the first investigation. They knew what was going on with the second and current investigation, the one chaired by Trey Gowdy. It’s well known they didn’t want to be a party to either witch hunt, but Nancy Pelosi ordered them to. Why didn’t Congressional Democrats speak up sooner? Why did they wait for that idiot Kevin McCarthy to spill the beans? Would they be speaking up today if McCarthy hadn’t spilled the beans? I wonder. There’s some evil going on here we haven’t even scraped the surface of. And I say fuck the lot of them, Democratic and Republican congressmen alike. Except for Elijah Cummings.

You know who I’m sorry for, though? Not Hillary Clinton, who has weathered worse attacks. No, I’m sorry for Bradley Podliska, the Army reserve officer and Benghazi committee staffer who took his concerns about the partisan nature of the investigation to Congressman Gowdy. You can probably guess what happened when he tried to change things in-house, going through proper channels. Right, Gowdy fired him. So now he’s going public.

Maybe he never heard what happened to Scott Ritter. Ritter was the former UN weapons inspector (and former Marine officer) who went public after Bush and Cheney ignored UN reports that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Oh, brother, they got him good.

If I were Bradley Podliska, I’d be very careful who I chat with online, and I’d take an industrial demagnetizer to all my hard drives now, before law enforcement “discovers” child porn on them. And then I’d hop on my bantha and head for the mountains.