Tumbling Bill Panton, RIP

Bill Panton, aka Tumbling Bill, passed earlier this week. Bill was an Englishman, a long-time Hash House Harrier who lived and hashed in Malaysia and the United States. He started hashing in the mid-1950s with Kuala Lumpur H3. He later founded the Washington DC H3 (1972) and Bangkok H3 (1977). All the original hash founders are gone; Bill was one of the very few surviving veterans of the second generation, those who started hashing in post-war Malaysia, back in the days when KLH3 was the only hashing club in the world.

I was fortunate to have met Bill and even more fortunate to have hashed with him: once in DC with the club he founded, and once in Tucson when he visited the club I founded (to which Bill gave his blessing and pronounced good … one of the proudest moments in my hashing life).

100-0001_IMG copy

Bill is fourth from the left in this photo, taken on a Monday evening several years ago in Tucson, Arizona, at the weekly running of the Pima County Traditional Hash House Harriers.

In the hashing world, Bill will be remembered as the father of the Hash House Harriers Genealogy Project*, which traces the origins of every known club and chapter back to “mother,” the Kuala Lumpur H3, founded in 1938. A considerable part of hashing’s history might have gone down the memory hole without the inspiration and hard work of Bill Panton, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for preserving it.

On On, Tumbling Bill, and here’s to a life well-lived!


*The Genealogy of the Hash House Harriers is currently maintained by the Hash Heritage Foundation, another of Bill Panton’s projects, an organization run by a board of trustees (all hashers) dedicated to the preservation of hash heritage and the rebuilding of the original “hash house,” the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur.


Saturday Bag o’ Sleep

7a339c13421ddf246d522a680c8d602aThis morning I looked back on some early blog posts. One of my first was about sleep apnea. I don’t know if any of you are starting to have trouble staying awake and wondering whether you have sleep apnea, but if the shoe fits, here’s my advice: get a sleep study referral from your doctor, and if it turns out you do have it, get a CPAP machine and use it faithfully every night.

I’m pretty sure I’ve had sleep apnea all my life. From the first days of our marriage, when we were just 19, Donna worried about my snoring at night. When I flew fighters in my 30s and 40s, squadron mates who had to share quarters with me on air defense alert complained of it as well. But here’s the thing: it never bothered me during the day, so I didn’t worry about it. Turns out that’s because I was young and had the stamina to get through the day on very little sleep.

That changed when when I hit my 50s. I started nodding off during the day. At the wheel, at my desk, during meetings … anywhere and any time. My boss thought I had narcolepsy and told me to seek treatment. Once I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I was able to get a CPAP machine (most insurance plans cover CPAP machines and supplies, and so does Medicare when you get older).

Tell you what, that CPAP cured what ailed me. I know people have a hard time getting used to wearing a nose mask at night, but you’ll get eight hours of honest sleep, and if you were as bad off as I was, it’ll change your life. I’ve been using one since 2003. I still marvel at how great it feels to wake up in the morning fully rested and refreshed … probably because until I was in my 50s and started using a CPAP at night, I’d never known the feeling.

Long as we’re at it, here are a couple of other senior living how-tos. Donna decided, way back in the early 1990s, that from then on any house we bought would be single story. At that point I’d been running daily for several years. My knees were still good, but Donna must have known something because they’re shit now, and I’d be hating it if I had to climb or descend stairs several times a day. One more thing … you may get to a point in life where you’ll want to replace the toilets in your house with ones that are a little taller (“comfort height” is the industry euphemism) and have elongated bowls. One reason, as with stairs, is knees. The other is butts that have grown larger with age.

Maybe your knees are still good and you can fit in the same pants you wore when you were in your 20s. If so, know that I hate you.

Years ago it hit me that libertarians won’t be happy until people can once again smoke wherever they want, and that realization put everything in perspective for me. Now, it’s becoming increasingly clear that what right-wingers & MAGAts want, when you strip everything else away, is society’s blessing to openly use racial and ethnic slurs. Not that they ever quit using them in private.

I recently shared some thoughts with a friend about volunteering at Pima Air and Space Museum. I still love what I do there, but I’m increasingly put off by an “us versus them” vibe between management and volunteers. It’s probably always been there, but it seems noticeably stronger now than before.

We recently discovered the museum is advertising for a boneyard tour guide. Boneyard tours are currently conducted by a team of volunteer docents who each come in one day a week, much the same way it works with the team I’m a member of, the docents who drive and narrate tram tours on the museum grounds. Boneyard tour docents will be sent packing if the museum hires a full-timer to do it instead.

They’re not advertising, but I suspect museum staff must also be considering replacing my team of volunteers with one or two paid workers. We used to worry the museum would make a recording of the tram tour narration and ask us to merely drive as the tape plays, adjusting our speed so that the tape matches the planes we’re driving past. Museum staff must know we’d all quit if that came to pass … I certainly would … so paying one or two workers to do it instead might be an attractive option for them, so long as they didn’t have to pay too much.

Honestly, the message we volunteers get, louder and clearer by the day, is that the museum doesn’t like depending on volunteers and would rather not have to deal with us. I’ve never heard of any large museum getting along without volunteers, though, and that gives me some comfort. Still, there’s negativity in the air, and most of us agree we’re not having as much fun as we used to.


Thursday Walk o’ Shame

walk of shameOh my, one of my fellow docents stepped it in. Again. From an email sent yesterday to Pima Air and Space Museum volunteers:

“Over the weekend an incident happened at the museum concerning a breastfeeding mother in public. We are sharing this information to keep you informed. … It is against the law to ask a mother to cover up or move elsewhere to breastfeed. If another guest is uncomfortable with the mother breastfeeding in public and would like to make a formal complaint, please refer them to guest services in Admissions.”

And here I thought talking about Trump’s redesign of Air Force One livery in front of museum visitors was fraught with peril. Oh, wait … talking about Trump in front of museum visitors is fraught with peril. Seeing a mother breastfeeding her baby and minding her own business isn’t perilous at all, unless your head’s so far up your ass you decide to make it your business. I can’t believe a fellow docent could be so patriarchally arrogant, so ignorant of the law, as to pull a High Sparrow on a breastfeeding mother and try to force her to do the Walk of Shame, let alone that he would think she was doing anything wrong in the first place!

On second thought, given the “heartland values” of some of my museum colleagues, yes I can. I can probably name at least a dozen who’d have done exactly what this docent did. No, I don’t know who it was, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was the same tram docent who saw a visiting Orthodox Jewish family in traditional attire and rushed into the volunteer break room to warn the rest of us the Mormons were out in force that day, or the volunteer who warmed up the audience for my F-15 Eagle presentation with a sexist joke.

Somebody shoot me if I get that way.

p.s. Donna breastfed our firstborn in the mid-1960s. Mostly at home, but occasionally in public, as all breastfeeding mothers must. I don’t remember anyone ever making a big deal over it.

For years now I’ve said that any attempt to round up and deport undocumented aliens living in the USA would come down to cattle cars and concentration camps. Earlier this week, Trump announced that Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents will begin removing millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally, and start doing so next week … three days from today. This is exactly the scenario I’ve always feared a racist administration would try to pull off.

We haven’t started loading people onto actual cattle cars yet (so far it’s been Border Patrol buses), but a network of concentration camps is already in place, with plans to open even more. Yes, calling facilities where we hold tens of thousands of civilians without trial “concentration camps” invites comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis, but that’s what they are. Right now we’re using the camps to hold would-be immigrants caught coming over the border. If Trump gets his way, before the end of the month there’ll be even more camps, this time to hold millions of people who’ve been living in the USA—many for years, generations even—pending their deportation by force.

There aren’t enough Border Patrol buses in the world to haul away the numbers of people Trump’s talking about. You’re goddamn right, we’ll use cattle cars. Considering the widely-reported conditions inside existing detention facilities, I suspect our cattle cars won’t be any nicer than the ones the Nazis used: bare floors and walls, no food, no water, no toilets, people jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder.

Yesterday a liberal MSNBC pundit, Chris Hayes, joined the debate over whether or not to invoke the Holocaust by using the phrase “concentration camps.” Here’s the waffle he posted on Twitter:

“Last comment on this: ‘concentration camp’ is an extremely charged term and I get why many people are, in good faith, uncomfortable with its application for Godwin’s Law purposes among others. So let’s just call them ‘detention camps’ and focus on what’s happening in them.”

To which no less a person than Mike Godwin*, the very man himself, had this to say:

“Chris, I think they’re concentration camps. Keep in mind that one of their functions *by design* is to punish those individuals and families who are detained. So even the ‘charged’ term is appropriate.”

So what happens now? Are we going to sit around and let it happen? It’s sure starting to look that way. The longer Trump and his deplorables dominate the national debate, the more it becomes clear that just as in Germany in the 1930s and 40s, a third of Americans would happily see another third rounded up and removed … while the other third watches.

*Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”


Tuesday Bag o’ Hot Takes

D9Rw7IzW4AEoJcLSaw this on Instagram and copied it. Now to send it to my children so they can repost it every Father’s Day until my giant ego and I die, at which point we’ll no longer give a shit. That’s a photo of Robin Olds, by the way, one of the all-time archetypal fighter pilots.

Speaking of Father’s Day, mine was jim-dandy. Our son Gregory sent me a die-cast model of a Honda Goldwing, an exact match of the one I ride, right down to the color. I placed it prominently on my toy shelf in the home office. Our daughter Polly remembered to wish me a happy Father’s Day, which was both pleasant and unexpected (no snark … I was sincerely touched).

I was allowed to spend a little money on Amazon, where I ordered a new wood bead seat cover for the truck. It came the very next day and is already installed (the old one’s on my home office chair, presently being sat upon). Donna, who never stops reminding me how much she hates smoked meats, let me set up the Weber and smoke a turkey breast and a pack of weisswurst over mesquite. I thought it turned out great, and Donna did a convincing job of pretending to enjoy her dinner (okay, now I’m snarking, but just a little).

We topped off Father’s Day by watching Three Days of the Condor on streaming TV, then, once it was dark and somewhat cooler, driving to the corner Dairy Queen. We took the doggies and shared the small ends of our single-scoop cones with them. A great day all around.

A few days ago I wrote about Trump’s proposed paint schemes for new Air Force One aircraft. I’m a docent at Pima Air and Space Museum, where we have a former Air Force One painted in the blue & white livery introduced by the Kennedys in 1962. I always stop in front of that plane and tell the story of how Jack, Jackie, and designer Raymond Loewy came up with the design, but lately, in light of the news, I feel obliged to mention that a new design is on the way.

Yesterday, I realized what a minefield this topic is. A visitor sitting behind me in the tram started peppering me with questions, and it quickly became clear he was trying to trap me into saying something about Trump … whether positive or negative I can’t say. Either way, he wanted to stir up trouble. And either way, it’s a road I can’t go down with visitors.

Until now, I’ve been able to avoid saying Trump’s name in front of museum visitors. The closest I ever come is when I say the “current president” flies on Marine Corps helicopters. But it seems impossible to talk about a new paint scheme for Air Force One aircraft without mentioning the name of the only person who’s pushing the idea.

How to talk about anything Trump-related without offending someone? I’m not sure it’s even possible. Maybe I’ll just play it safe and leave the entire subject alone.

I saw this on Twitter yesterday, the start of a thread posted by Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I don’t know if his survivor status played a role in getting him a slot at Harvard, but never mind, the college withdrew his acceptance after learning of racist and anti-Semitic comments Kyle posted to social media two years ago, a few months before the shooting.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 11.03.14 AM

Several young Parkland survivors have been in the news, most speaking out as impassioned advocates of gun control. Kyle is a conservative pro-gun exception with a large right-wing following, but that doesn’t appear to be the reason Harvard withdrew his acceptance. You can read some of the posts Harvard objected to here … I’m not going to quote them because they’re too offensive even for me.

Long story short, Kyle says he’s grown in the two years since he posted that shit. He was 16 then; he’s 18 now. In his thread, he explains how his views have changed and matured over the past two years, and asks if Harvard believes people can change, as he has … but just as you begin to feel some sympathy for him, he throws this turd in the punchbowl:

Throughout its history, Harvard’s faculty has included slave owners, segregationists, bigots and antisemites. If Harvard is suggesting that growth isn’t possible and that our past defines our future, then Harvard is an inherently racist institution.

I don’t know how you react to that, but my reaction was instant and strong: he blew it right then and there. Kyle’s not sincere. He’s not being honest. His views haven’t changed. I wouldn’t want him going to school with my grandchildren. Or yours.

Did you have a moral compass when you were 16? Most of us did. I was a right asshole in many ways, but I knew racism and anti-Semitism was wrong and I never would have said the kinds of things Kyle said … not merely said but shouted out to the whole world. I grew up around kids who said shit like that. I didn’t hang with them, but they were there, the deplorables of the 1960s. Not one of them was college material, let alone Harvard.

Nope. Sorry, Kyle. Tell you what, though, it might not be too late to apply for a scholarship at one of those evangelical institutions down South. Or you can skip higher education entirely and become a Fox News anchorperson.

Speaking of Twitter, one of the people I follow there is an alt-media personality named Xeni Jardin, long associated with the website Boing Boing and an occasional guest on cable news, where she talks about social media and tech. Here’s something she posted that caught my eye:

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 9.37.18 AM

The New York Times piece she linked to is here, or you can click on the graphic above to link to it. I realize very few of you subscribe to the NYT and can read the entire article. I can’t afford a subscription myself, and could only read the first paragraph before hitting a paywall. A friend who subscribes sent me a text extract* of the article, and after reading it I’m down with Xeni’s take: “This article does for alcoholism what Gwyneth Paltrow does for cancer wellness.”

My friend, the one who sent the text of the NYT article, is a moderate drinker, very much in control of himself. He knows I no longer drink and wanted to know what I thought after reading the article. I’ll share with you what I wrote in reply:

I’ve been following reaction to the article on Twitter since early this morning. One of the more interesting comment threads was started by Xeni Jardin. She’s a recovering alcoholic who still goes to AA meetings. Many of the people who responded to her are likewise AA, but not all. There are other ways to quit and people who’ve taken those roads are represented in the thread too. You can read the thread if you want (and in any case, Xeni is a good follow).

My own comment to Xeni, posted a few moments ago: “Yes. If you drink, you drink. AA wasn’t part of my journey, but knowing I must not have even one drink was & is. People who know they need to quit will seize on this article as an excuse not to.”

Some folks can get away with light drinking and never fall into heavy drinking. Seems to me you & your wife fall into that category, and I admire you for that. Twelve-plus years back I had to face two facts about myself: I wasn’t in control of my drinking, and I needed to quit totally. Drinking less was not an option. It turned out I had the willpower to quit on my own, and I thank my lucky stars for that. Most people need support, which they get through programs like AA.

We both know lots of people who’ll look you in the eye and maintain they’re in control. They tell us if we could see them in their regular lives, when they’re not actively drinking like they are at the moment (which coincidentally is every fucking time we see them), we’d know they never touch the stuff. Well, we both know they’re lying. They know it too.

Lots of people will seize upon this article as an excuse to put off doing what they know they must do. They’ll go to one of those alcohol-free nights at a bar and convince themselves they’ve turned over a new leaf and are now “mindful drinkers,” like the photoshopped young drunks they used to illustrate this pernicious piece.

I keep coming back to what Xeni and I and most of the people on Twitter are saying … it ain’t quitting if you don’t quit.

*The full text of the NYT article, minus graphics and ads, is below the fold if you want to read it.


Air-Minded: Singin’ the Jackie Kennedy Blues (Updated 6/20/19)

So yesterday, Donald Trump finally gave us a glimpse of the paint schemes he’s considering for new Air Force One aircraft.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 8.00.55 AM

I was prepared to hate anything he came up with, but I have to say these designs aren’t bad. I mean, given Trump’s garish notions of what constitutes good taste, he might have decided to follow a previous president’s lead:

VC-118 Independence

Yes, that’s Harry Truman’s old ride, The Independence. Admit it, you wouldn’t have put it past Trump to come up with something like that, now, would you? I know a lot of us feared he was up to something even worse:

air-force-one-remodel (1)

Actually, I’m sorry I posted that image. Don’t want to give him any ideas.

Every Monday at Pima Air and Space Museum, I stop my tram in front of an airplane formerly used by two presidents and their families, the Kennedys and the Johnsons, and explain how we got to the Air Force One livery we all know today.

VC-118A Liftmaster

VC-118 used by Presidents Kennedy & Johnson


VC-25 used by current presidents

Here’s the short version of the story: prior to the Kennedys there was no standard paint scheme for presidential aircraft. Roosevelt’s Sacred Cow was polished aluminum, as were Eisenhower’s Columbines. Truman’s Independence was a one-off. The first jets added to the presidential fleet in 1959 were white with red noses and tails. The VC-118 in the left photo, above, was silver and white when Kennedy took office and began using it as an Air Force One. The one thing early presidential aircraft had in common was prominent “U.S. Air Force” lettering above the cabin windows.

The Kennedys moved into the White House in January 1961. The first designated Air Force One jet (SAM 26000, the famous plane we all think of as the “Kennedy Jet”) was going to be delivered in October 1962. That gave JFK and Jackie almost two years to plan what it was going to look like. They hired an American industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, to help them with the design. Loewy was primarily responsible for the famous two-tone blue and white paint scheme, but JFK and Jackie worked with him every step of the way, and the current livery (seen in the photos above) still bears their touches: the gold stripe down the side was Jackie’s (as was the interior design of the Kennedy Jet); the switch from “U.S. Air Force” to “United States of America” was JFK’s (he even picked the typeface, similar to that used on the Declaration of Independence).

The Kennedy Jet was delivered on schedule in October 1962. The old silver & white VC-118 currently on display at my museum was repainted with the new design, and every Air Force One aircraft since has worn it. If you want to read a more detailed version of this story, click here.

I know I’m supposed to oppose Trump’s redesign, and until I saw the sketches he unveiled yesterday I did. Partly out of fear he’d insist on something tasteless, partly out of general opposition to everything Trump does and is likely to do, partly because Trump has repeatedly described the blue of the current Air Force One livery as a “Jackie Kennedy color” … and, indeed, partly out of my personal respect for the legacy left us by our one true royal family, the Kennedys.

Trump’s motives may be entirely partisan, but nothing stays the same, and it isn’t written down anywhere that Air Force One can’t have a new look. Each of the four new designs he showed yesterday is conservative, understated, and dignified … the exact virtues of the Kennedy design I talk up to museum visitors. Like the Kennedy design, these new designs include the presidential seal, “United States of America” lettering, and the American flag on the tail. It’s hard to tell from a fuzzy television screen grab, but there might even be a gold stripe between the blue belly and the red running down the middle.

And honestly, who can argue with red, white, and blue?

Update (6/20/19): Today Voice of America White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman was able to take a photo of a model in the Oval Office and post it to Twitter. The model has a gold stripe between the blue belly and the red stripe running down the fuselage. I thought I’d seen it in the earlier, fuzzier image shown on TV, and now I see it’s definitely there. Maybe a part of Jackie’s Air Force One legacy will live on after all.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 6.01.39 PM


Here Comes the Sun

IMG_0446My 20-year-old flag shirt is starting to disintegrate and I haven’t been able to find a replacement. Oh, there are lots of flag shirts out there, but they’re of the garish in-your-face, USA-love-it-or-leave-it, these-colors-don’t-run variety, the kind NRA gun-humpers wear to Walmart, all flag and barely any shirt. I want something subtle. Something like … or exactly like … my beloved old shirt.

You don’t need to hector me about the Flag Code. I know the flag should never be worn as clothing. I learned that way back in Cub Scouts. There’s a line you shouldn’t cross, but I don’t believe this shirt, with its small flag motif, crosses it.

As a patriotic American, living and working in America, speaking American English, a voting citizen who drives around in a big American pickup truck with Arizona plates, I never felt the need to remind my countrymen I’m one of them. I don’t put flag decals on my cars, and the only time I fly the flag from the front porch is on Flag Day and the 4th of July.

Speaking of the 4th, this is the shirt I’ve been wearing to our neighborhood parade and potluck brunch for two decades. I’d like to replace it before this year’s parade, less than a month away. I’ve tried Amazon. I ran a search for “patriotic men’s shirts” on Google. So far I haven’t been able to find anything that doesn’t cross my Flag Code red line. Can anyone steer me to a source? The comments section is open!

Our cool spring lasted longer than normal, but it’s gone now and the brutal southern Arizona summer has begun. Over the past few months I’d gotten into the morning routine of enjoying a cup of coffee while checking email and looking in on Facebook and Twitter, not walking Mister B until eight or eight-thirty. That schedule is no longer operative: the pavement’s too hot by then. Coffee and connectivity will have to wait. This morning Mister B and I were out the door by seven. He isn’t sure he likes the change. Neither am I, but we’ll adjust. We’d better, because that’s how it’s going to be from now to October.


Since 1997, a succession of dermatologists have cut at least 20 basal-cell and squamous-cell skin cancers off my face, head, and neck (I stopped keeping track when fresh scars began to cover old ones and I could no longer accurately count them). The damage was probably done in my ignorant youth, and new skin cancers will appear no matter what I do now, but even so I take preventive steps. I put strong sunblock on my face on days I work and play outdoors. I wear sun-blocking hats, and a full-face helmet with a UV-blocking visor when I ride the motorcycle. At least on the motorcycle, I always cover my arms, no matter how hot it gets.

My air museum uniform shirts have short sleeves, though, and when I’m there every Monday, driving visitors around in an open-sided tram, my arms take a beating. Knock on wood, I’ve never had a melanoma, but something tells me my arms are prime territory for one.

Last week I ordered a pair of handsome SPF 50 slip-on sleeves. They came a couple of days ago, and I wore them to the museum yesterday. As you can see in the photo, they have thumbholes so you can roll them down over the backs of your hands. That detail makes them look like something you’d see in a hospital ward, or one of those old science fiction movies about invisible men. I felt foolish wearing them but if anyone noticed they didn’t say anything or stare, so I guess this is my new outdoor look.

Donna and I enjoyed the first four seasons on “Luther,” which we streamed on Amazon. The fifth season just started, but it can only be watched on the cable network BBC America, which, to my horror, has ads! We weren’t even five minutes into the first episode when up popped a long commercial break, crammed with ad after ad, and I realized I’ve grown so used to streaming shows on Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu that I’ve become totally spoiled, spoiled to the extent that commercial breaks can ruin even a good show like “Luther.”

Part of my problem is a snobbish notion that anything associated with the BBC (or PBS) should be commercial-free. If “Luther” aired on NBC or any of the big American networks, the ads wouldn’t have surprised me and I might have been able to overlook them. I didn’t know it before but do now: BBC America ain’t the BBC. It’s just a crappy American cable network airing BBC content … with ads. Well, fuck that. I’ll wait a year or two until season #5 makes it to Amazon, and watch it then.

Speaking of snobbish notions, I’m reading Neal Stephenson’s new novel “Fall, or Dodge in Hell.” I’ve gotten to a section where he describes an America that has self-segregated along educated versus uneducated lines. Four college students on a cross-country drive have entered a heartland backwater they call “Ameristan,” where people base their beliefs on (and get all their news from) social media hate memes (educated Americans, having realized the harm social media had unleashed on society, turned their backs on it years ago, but the rubes and deplorables continued to cling to what they know). I’m not doing it justice, but if you’ve ever tried to reason with a chemtrailian, anti-vaxxer, or QAnon believer, you know the split not only exists, but is hardening day by day.

Ameristan, where you’re not a patriot unless you’re constantly trying to one-up all the other patriots. Where the only good shirt is a flag shirt.


The Master Mind at Work

The Master Mind*, a very stable genius, tweets:

Along with nearly everyone else, I’m confused. Did Trump just pull the plug on NASA’s program to return to the Moon, a program he previously supported? Does Trump believe the Moon is part of Mars?

Those who try to make sense of these things have learned to look at the time stamp on Trump’s tweets, then check to see what was on Fox News earlier in the day. This segment, with Neil Cavuto interviewing a NASA spokesman, aired about an hour before Trump sent his tweet:

A charitable interpreter would say what Trump meant was that NASA should focus its public relations campaign on the Mars mission and talk less about the necessity of first returning to the Moon. To frame, in other words, returning to the Moon as part of the Mars mission.

A charitable interpreter would assume Trump grasps the necessity of returning to the Moon and setting up a sustainable base there, a base that will serve as proof-of-concept for a long mission to Mars, a base that will eventually be a staging area for Mars missions. After all, wasn’t it just last month that Trump asked Congress for an extra $1.6 billion so that NASA could accelerate the return of astronauts to the Moon? If Trump considers returning to the Moon important enough to push for doing it by 2024 (while, should he “win” a second term, he’ll still be in office and can claim credit) instead of NASA’s original 2028 target, how do we reconcile that with yesterday’s tweet?

There’s just no way charity works here. Trump doesn’t know what he wants. He sees something on Fox News and starts thumbing away on his iPhone. Maybe he realizes he won’t live long enough to claim credit for going to Mars, and the air’s going out of his balloon. I think his enthusiasm for manned space missions in general, never mind missions to the Moon and Mars, is right up there with his enthusiasm for repairing the nation’s infrastructure, which he’s going to get to any day now. Right.

In fact, I don’t think any Republican administration, given what the GOP has become, will ever get us back to the Moon, never mind Mars. But that’s a topic for another post.

What disturbs me more about Trump’s tweet is the part at the end where he tells NASA to focus on “Defense.” NASA’s mission is to “Drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of Earth.” That last bit is a watered-down substitute for “to understand and protect the home planet,” a phrase purged from the mission statement by the Bush administration in 2006 to stop NASA scientists from warning about the effects of human-caused climate change. NASA still gets to think about how to defend the Earth from extinction-event asteroids headed our way, but that’s not what Trump means. He’s talking about the military use of space—shooting down enemy satellites, putting nuclear missile launch platforms into orbit, and the like—and clearly pictures NASA as part of his planned Space Force. NASA employees, if they want to keep their jobs, can’t challenge Trump on this.

And now a related development, also from yesterday: the White House blocked a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony warning Congress that human-caused climate change could be “possibly catastrophic.”

I watched the fifth and last episode of the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” last night, the episode featuring the state trial of the men who were in charge of the nuclear plant and were responsible for blowing it up, the episode where it becomes clear to viewers how and to what extent the Soviet Union (and its successor government in Russia) covered up what actually happened.

And I’ve got to tell you, I’m having trouble seeing much difference between the USSR’s handling of the Chernobyl disaster and the USA’s handling of the unfolding climate change disaster.
*The title of this post was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1928 science fantasy novel “The Master Mind of Mars.”


Air-Minded: Taildragger Tales

I wrote this post in 2014. A reader who knew both of the men I wrote about left a comment this morning and I decided to move Taildragger Tales back to the top of the blog. —Paul

I found some faded and blurry photos of the Great Lakes biplane I used to fly, and, as old photos always do, they brought back memories.

great lakes_3

Who’s that behind those Ray-Bans?

In 1977, while I was an Air Force T-37 instructor pilot at Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma, I started a civilian flying training program at the local airport, thinking I might want to fly for the airlines some day. The fixed base operator at Woodring Field, Bill Sellers, ran a well-regarded flight school, and I earned my certified flight instructor rating in one of his airplanes. A month after I became a CFI, Bill added a Great Lakes biplane to his stable and decided to offer a course in aerobatics.

I was Bill’s first aerobatic student. After finishing the course I went to work on the weekends as one of Bill’s CFIs, teaching aerobatics and earning the occasional paycheck from the back seat of the Great Lakes. Snap rolls, outside loops, Cuban 8s, hammerheads, you name it … I flew many of these maneuvers in the T-37 at Vance AFB, but doing aerobatics in an open biplane, with my head out in the breeze, was another order of fun altogether.

great lakes_2

About to teach a student some aerobatics

The Lakes demanded your full attention on landing. As a taildragger, its center of gravity was behind the main gear, and if you didn’t work the rudder to keep the tail behind you it would try to get out in front. Swapping ends in this manner is called a ground loop. It’s an ever-present danger in taildraggers, especially during crosswind landings.

One day during my checkout program, Bill Sellers’ son Rusty, who was my instructor that day, decided he’d better land the Lakes himself since tower was calling a 13-knot crosswind, right at the plane’s limit. Sure enough, he ground-looped it. It happened in the blink of an eye, but I remember having time to think “Thank god I didn’t do that!” Bill Sellers was waiting for us with death in his eyes as we taxied up to the FBO a few minutes later, fabric hanging from the bottom of a bent wingtip.

Well, that was embarrassing, but hardly life-threatening, and Bill had the wing repaired in no time. The second time something bad happened in the Great Lakes, I was at the controls, oblivious to the danger I was in.

I was still in training, this time with Bill as my instructor. He was in the front seat pretending to be a student while I practiced teaching how to do snap rolls from the rear seat. A snap roll is a violent maneuver … “snap” is exactly the right word for it. You yank the stick all the way back and slam in full rudder in the desired direction of the roll. The plane whips into a fast roll, well in excess of 360 degrees a second, and halfway through you slam in full opposite rudder and full forward stick to snap it back into level flight. I probably did five snap rolls, one after another, until Bill and I were both happy I had the maneuver and teaching technique down. After practicing some other aerobatic maneuvers we flew back to Woodring Field.

Aerobatic maneuvers are hard on an airplane, even one designed for aerobatics, so I always gave the plane a good look-over afterward. That day, walking around the front of the Lakes, I noticed a half-circle gouge on the front of the engine cowling, right behind the propeller spinner. It looked like the engine had twisted to one side during flight, allowing the back of the spinner to rub against the cowling. “Bill,” I said, “what’s this?” We unbuttoned the engine cowling and took it off, and discovered to our horror that two of the four motor mounts had broken during our flight, probably from side-to-side forces generated while I was doing snap rolls.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that big a deal. Trust me, it was. With two motor mounts broken and doubled stress on the remaining two, another snap roll might have caused the engine and propeller to rip away from the front of the airplane. If the spinning prop didn’t chop up a wing … or the two guys sitting right behind it … the sudden absence of several hundred pounds from the nose would have turned the Great Lakes into an unflyable basket of wood and fabric, and we’d have certainly had to bail out … if, that is, we could have freed ourselves from the tumbling wreckage.

Bill and I were very quiet after that post-flight inspection. By the following weekend Bill had had the motor mounts replaced and the cowling repainted, but neither of us ever practiced snap rolls again, and I didn’t teach them once I was an instructor myself.

great lakes_1

One life down, an undetermined number remaining

Like cats and their proverbial nine lives, pilots have an allotted number of close calls. Not nearly as many as cats get, though. Some of us get only one, some get three or four. Once you use them up you’re gone. I’m one of the lucky ones, because I’ve lived to tell about three close calls. This was the first one. I’ll tell you about the other two some day.