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Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Getting There


This photo of Donna and me was taken 49 years ago today. We were at my folks’ apartment in Wiesbaden, Germany, where we had just come after getting married by a German justice in a civil ceremony at the city courthouse.

A lot of things have happened since, but we’re still in love and together, and that’s something. I’m even starting to think we might make 50.

Happy anniversary, Donna!


Family Thanksgiving Photoblog

Donna and I spent most of Thanksgiving week in Las Vegas, Nevada, visiting our son Gregory, daughter-in-law Beth, and grandson Quentin. Taylor, our granddaughter, stayed in Seattle for the holiday so we didn’t get to see her this trip, but our daughter Polly and her boyfriend David drove up from Ajo, Arizona, so we were almost all together. Photographic evidence? Sure:


L to R: Polly, David, Quentin, Beth, Gregory, Donna, Paul (dogs: Maxie, Buc, Schatzi)

We drove up on Tuesday and checked into our hotel. We usually sleep at a hotel near the kids’ house, but spend our days and evenings with them, shopping, cooking, eating, going to events. Polly and David arrived Wednesday evening and stayed at the house, sleeping in Taylor’s bedroom. Our dachshunds, who came along for the trip, played musical beds at night … everyone got to sleep with Schatzi or Maxie at least once (except us, since they can’t come to the hotel).

Wednesday was grandparents’ day at Quentin’s middle school, and I must say we had a blast. Quentin’s parents worried not many grandparents would come, but we had to park a quarter of a mile away and the place was packed with olds like us. Q is very proud to be in his first big-kids’ school, where he has to walk around the campus to attend his classes. He gave us a great tour; at one point I insisted we duck into the library for a quick banned book check (Q’s school passed, and I had a nice chat about banned books with the school librarian).

I don’t know where Donna and Beth went shopping (praise Gog, they didn’t insist on my company), but they came home with plenty of stuff. Gregory took me to a luxury theater to see Interstellar, which we watched from recliners. Thanksgiving day we watched Gregory smoke a duck while Beth prepared the traditional turkey and side dishes; it was a lovely repast. During a break in the cooking I was able to pose everyone in the back yard for family photos.

On Friday, while Donna and Beth braved the crowds at Costco to get copies of the famous (?) cookbook given out only on “black Friday,” we lads went to a car show at the LV Convention Center, followed by lunch at what must have been the best Vietnamese pho place in town, judging by the crowds of Vietnamese-American families waiting in line.

Saturday Donna and I drove home with the doggies and are now enjoying a relaxing Sunday. Here are some thumbnails (click on ‘em to see ‘em bigger).


Ocean view from the hotel


Comfy theater seats


Traveling dogs


Banned book check


Quentin the cellist


Beth’s Thanksgiving table


Beth, Quentin, Gregory


Pit stop @ Nothing, Arizona


The Land of Curdled Milk & Honey

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Sometimes I wonder what it’s like on Conserva-Earth, where this nasty woman lives. Do young couples elope because they hate each other? Does the water smell vaguely of urine? Are surfaces coated with a thin layer of grime? Does everyone carry? Are pimples considered marks of beauty?

Who are their role models? The Walton family? Rush Limbaugh? Wealthy white hit & run drivers?

I like it here on Normal Earth, where if I want good role models, I need look no farther than this family:



Light Bloggage Mode

NAT001ADDonna and I are driving to Las Vegas tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with our son Gregory and daughter in law Beth. And our grandson Quentin, of course. Not sure whether or not our granddaughter Taylor will fly down from Seattle; guess we’ll find out soon enough. Our daughter Polly and her boyfriend Hank should be there too, so we may be able to freshen up our family photo album.

Yes, we’re bringing the doggies, who got baths for the trip today, but the cat’s staying home with the house-sitter.

I’ll blog if I find time and inspiration. Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends!


You Can’t Read That!

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


Photo © Ruth Orkin

YCRT! News

I mentioned this Arizona story in a previous YCRT! post. Conservative school board members and parents in Gilbert, a Phoenix-area suburb, decided to cut (literally, with scissors) pages mentioning abortion from an AP biology textbook. In the November elections the conservative school board members were given the boot, but since they remain in office until January 2015 there’s still a possibility they’ll carry out the snippage. No problem, said Rachel Maddow, we’ll put the pages in question on the MSNBC website for anyone to read. Go, Rachel, go.

In a refreshing change from the way these things usually go, Alaska parents are challenging four elementary school history textbooks they feel are too sugar-coated.

That said, “both sides do it” is such a cliché, isn’t it?

Peter Sellars says the United States is flirting with censorship. He should know: the opera he directed, The Death of Klinghoffer, was partially censored by the Met after widespread protests.

The race to the bottom: a high school principal has directed teachers to obtain signed permission slips from parents “… for all books that are being challenged by district parents, have been listed on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Challenged Book List in the last decade or have been flagged for parental permission by the district’s literary selection committee.”

A parent in Pennsylvania challenged Jodi Picoult’s Ninteteen Minutes as inappropriate reading for high school students. Instead of looking for the book’s title on the ALA’s Top 10 Challenged Book List and automatically banning it, school administrators reviewed the book, held a meeting with members of the public, and elected to keep it on the school’s reading list.

Peachtown Elementary School in Aurora, New York, issues a manifesto: American History Should Not Be Sanitized.

And speaking of unsanitized American history …

YCRT! Banned Book Review

peoples historyA People’s History of the United States
Howard Zinn

Read a representative sample of comments on Goodreads or any book review site and you’ll appreciate how polarizing A People’s History of the United States is. Readers tend to fall into two exclusionary camps: lovers and haters.

Zinn’s history has been the target of censors and book banners from its publication in 1980 to the present day. The ongoing controversy over A People’s History is what motivated me to read it.

As a child I believed my country was exceptional. That’s what I was taught; that’s what the adults I looked up to believed. Victory in WWII was still fresh and the economy was booming under Eisenhower, at least for families like mine. When I was still very young my father joined the US Air Force and we began to move around the country. I was exposed to families who were not like the ones I saw on TV, families who experienced a different American reality from the one I was taught. At an age when I was politically aware enough to know segregation was wrong and could not last, my father was stationed in Virginia and I was sent to a whites-only school. Shortly afterward I gave up believing in fairy tales and god. I started reading on my own, a habit I never successfully broke. I protested our early involvement in Vietnam, packed clothes and food for the Freedom Riders, helped a friend obtain conscientious objector status, joined SNCC. American history, to me, had begun to look not all that different from the history of any other country.

Which is to explain that I knew at least some of the untaught history of the USA before I ever picked up Howard Zinn’s book. Nevertheless, the factual information collected here is shocking. Even for an old cynic like me, the accumulation of sordid details is depressing. On and on Howard Zinn goes, relentlessly rubbing our noses in American history as it was experienced by the Indians, indentured servants, black slaves and freemen, the poor, the landless, the unprivileged, women, child laborers, the bottom 50%. Zinn frankly admits this was his express purpose in researching and writing A People’s History; if you accept his premise — that it is just as important to study history from the point of view of the oppressed as it is from the point of view of the oppressors — then everything he relates in this book follows. But damn, it’s depressing to try to digest it all at once, even if you appreciate the importance of what Zinn was trying to accomplish.

So it’s no wonder to me why an entire political camp — the American right — rejects Zinn’s book. The history it recounts, starting with the very first chapter (Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress; a chapter that is so shocking and disturbing that I suspect many conservative readers never progress beyond it) is incompatible with a belief in American exceptionalism. Or fairies. Nor is it a wonder to me that many on the American right would attempt to suppress this book, purge it from schools and colleges, and call for it to be banned outright. The attack on Zinn and his book follows familiar lines: the author is an America-hater and a Marxist; A People’s History is praised by Hollywood celebrities, championed by leftists, and taught by subversives; Zinn’s interpretation of history is meant to weaken American minds and pave the way for implementation of United Nations Agenda 21.

In 2009 at North Safford High School in Virginia, A People’s History of the United States was challenged as “un-American, leftist propaganda,“ even though it was not the primary textbook in that school’s AP history class and was taught alongside an article titled Howard Zinn’s Disappointing History of the United States, critical of Zinn’s book.

When Howard Zinn died in 2010, Indiana’s then-Governor Mitch Daniels emailed the state’s top education official. “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away,” he began. He went on to demand that A People’s History be hunted down in Indiana schools and suppressed: “It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?” In 2013, Daniels, now president of Purdue University, defended his earlier attempt to ban Zinn’s book from Indiana schools: “We must not falsely teach American history in our schools.”

In 2012, the Tucson Unified School District banned several books from local high schools. Prominent on the list of banned textbooks (still banned as I write this review) is A People’s History.

Just this year, in 2014, conservative school board members in Jefferson County, Colorado, proposed sweeping changes to the AP history curriculum. I do not know if Zinn’s book, or parts of it, is being studied by AP history students in Jefferson County, but the statements of the conservative school board members make me think Zinn’s book is on their target list: “Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials, and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority, and respect for individual rights,” reads the proposal, presented by conservative board member Julie Williams. “Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

Needless to say, I do not adhere to the conservative camp when it comes to the suppression of thought or the denial of historical fact. Zinn’s history helps fill in the gaps in our education and gives us a necessary insight on American exceptionalism as it was experienced by the people we’d just as soon forget. I think it makes the thoughtful student a better and more patriotic American, able to appreciate how much we have actually done to wrest control of our country, and our history, from the one percent who would otherwise be totally in charge. But that’s just me.

With all that said, Zinn’s history, though well-written and researched, is a tough one to read, and might overwhelm people reading about the less savory parts of our nation’s history for the first time. It’s hard not to say to yourself, once or twice per chapter, “Gee, Zinn, would you lighten up a little?”

For further study: a few links relevant to the banning and suppression of A People’s History of the United States:


Friday Bag o’ Regrets

bag of regretsCan I say I regret what’s going on with Bill Cosby without everyone interpreting it to mean I regret what’s happening to Bill Cosby?

What’s in it for the women coming forward with their accusations? At this late date they must know Bill Cosby isn’t going to be prosecuted. They must know there’s no chance of suing him successfully; any evidence is long gone and at this point it’s she said/he said. They must know there’s no possibility of financial recompense.

That, plus the sheer number of women coming forward and the consistency of detail in their allegations, is enough to convince me they’re telling the truth.

To conclude there’s nothing in it for Cosby’s accusers, though, is wrong. There’s justice in it. These women, who were not listened to before, are being listened to now. What Cosby almost certainly did to them can no longer be ignored or brushed over. Cosby’s punishment may be late, but it’s very real. His reputation, if not destroyed, is at least badly damaged. Not that he needs the money, but he’s going to have a hard time finding work in his last years. New comedy shows have been called off. Cable stations are dropping reruns, which will impact royalties. He’s probably down for the count.

What I regret is the extra-judicial manner in which justice is being done. Maybe a Twitter feeding frenzy was the only way to bring Bill Cosby to justice, but I’m torn. If you read my blog, you know what I think of Twitter witch hunts. There have been a lot of them, and they can be vicious. Just ask Michelle Shocked. Or those who have lost jobs or been hounded out of the public arena after the screaming banshees of Twitter turned against them.

Sure, there’s always been a court of public opinion. Once in a while, in the days before Twitter, the court would exact justice. O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, but the court of public opinion held him guilty and he was under constant pressure and scrutiny as a result. Eventually it caught up to him and he’s in prison for an unrelated crime that might not have landed him there if it had not been for the court of public opinion and a near-universal sense that O.J. was part of this nation’s unfinished business.

Michael Jackson was tried by the court of public opinion, but his fan base stuck by him and he survived, unlike O.J. I wonder if Michael Jackson, were he still alive and sleeping with young boys, would survive a trial by Twitter.

Bill Cosby himself had a brush with the court of public opinion in the pre-Twitter days … the rape charges have been around a long time … but like Michael Jackson, he survived. Until Twitter, that is. Now he’s been charged, tried, and found guilty, and his remaining friends and backers are running scared.

Social media, and especially Twitter, has in my opinion supercharged the court of public opinion. There’s not much time for reflection or a sober consideration of the known facts these days; the administration of punishment is swift and merciless.

Who among us, I always ask. Who among us has lived a blameless life? Who among us could survive the kind of shit storm Bill Cosby is weathering now?

As I write, conservative operatives are no doubt beating the bushes, trying to flush out new Clinton accusers. Who still cares about Bill Clinton’s reputation? Well, people who want to stop Hillary sure care. If any women come forward, you can bet they’ll be extensively interviewed on Fox News, and social media campaigns might just shift the tide of public opinion against Clinton, who in spite of past accusations is still loved … but you could have said the same thing about Bill Cosby two weeks ago.

Who else, rightly or wrongly, will become the victim of a social media witch hunt?

Is this really the way we want to administer justice?


Tuesday Bag o’ Gotcha

gotcha bagDriving to the gym this morning another driver and I arrived at a four-way stop at the same time. Since I was to his right he waited for me to go first. The reason both of us knew what to do is because we were taught the rules about right of way.

Everyone knows the right of way rule that applies at four-way stops and uncontrolled intersections, yes? If two cars arrive at the same time, the driver on the left yields to the driver on the right. Easy peasy!

Not so fast.

Here in Arizona, state legislators thought they’d improve on the basic rule. They added a little embellishment: if you’re in a parking lot or at an uncontrolled T intersection, the driver going straight has the right of way over the driver who’s planning to turn.

This may have seemed a common-sense improvement to the lawmakers who passed it, but it takes a simple, easy-to-understand rule and opens it to interpretation, always a dangerous thing. Most Arizonans interpret this embellishment to mean that drivers on main streets have right of way over drivers on cross streets. Granted, normally there are yield or stop signs at intersections like that, so there’s no question over who goes first. But when the intersection is uncontrolled and two cars get there at the same time, who gets to decide which street is the main one and which is the lesser one? The more aggressive of the two drivers, usually.

And what about out-of-state drivers who don’t know about our locally modified rule? Gotcha. I say don’t monkey around with basic traffic rules. The whole idea behind right of way laws is to keep them simple and universal so that we all know what to do when there’s a conflict. That’s not the case in Arizona, where what you think you know about right of way laws could put you in the wrong.


At the gym this morning the TVs, as always, were set to Fox News. The big deal this morning was a video clip of this Gruber fellow making a crack about the stupidity of American voters. Fox ran the clip three or four times during the hour I was at the gym. Most political insiders share Gruber’s view of American voters, in my experience. So do I, frankly, and I don’t exempt myself. Sure, you’re not supposed to come right out and say it, but doesn’t Fox News’ success depend on the stupidity of its viewers? Oh, well, it’s another gotcha moment for the right. They’ve had a string of them lately.


This is long, but that’s because as gotcha stories go it’s a complicated one. You may know some of the background, or you may not. I’ll try to summarize:

Early in 2013 ago a journalist named Caleb Hannan set out to write an article about a miracle putter that had been generating a lot of buzz on the pro golfing circuit. The inventor was an MIT-educated aeronautical physicist who had helped design the B-2 stealth bomber, a woman named Essay Anne Vanderbilt (yes, one of the Vanderbilts), Dr. V for short.

Hannan asked for an interview. Dr. V’s emailed response should have been (and probably was) the tipoff that all was not as it seemed: it was written in the kind of stilted, thesarus-encrusted English uneducated people use when they want to sound educated. Nevertheless Hannan was impressed when he met her, describing Dr. V as “a striking figure, standing 6-foot-3 with a shock of red hair.”

As a condition to her cooperation Dr. V insisted Hannan write only about the putter and the science behind it, not about her. But during his research certain things didn’t add up and he began to dig deeper. He discovered Dr. V had never attended the schools listed on her CV. She was not a PhD, not even a college graduate. She had never worked in the defense industry, let alone on the B-2. Nor was she a Vanderbilt; the name she was given at birth was Stephen Krol, and yes, she had until recently been a man (and was the father of two estranged children). She became Essay Anne Vanderbilt in 2003; since that date she had filed various lawsuits against former employers and had attempted suicide at least once, in 2008. People who had encountered her in the past, some knowing her as a man, some knowing her only as a woman, a few knowing her as both, described her as a con artist with a violent temper.

When Hannan confronted Dr. V with the information he had unearthed, she threatened to sue. In October 2013 he learned Dr. V had attempted suicide again, this time successfully. His article, Dr. V’s Magical Putter, was published in Grantland Magazine in January 2014.

The article was initially praised and widely linked. After a week, though, public opinion began to turn against Hannan and Grantland Magazine. The issue was the outing of a transexual who clearly didn’t want to be outed, and whether the threat of that outing was what drove her to kill herself.

There’s no debate over the other facts Hannan dug up, or whether he should have written about them: Dr. V was a fraud, and exposing fraud is in the highest tradition of journalism. But Dr. V’s sexual identity was irrelevant to the fraud, and moreover was her own, and Hannan should have left that part of the story alone when she asked him to.

Hannan’s article, and the controversy that erupted in its wake, was big news back in January. A lot of the criticism unfolded on Twitter, where Hannan was condemned and ostracized. Many of the people I follow on Twitter are writers and journalists, and to a person they strongly felt Hannan was wrong to expose Dr. V’s transsexuality, even posthumously.

When I read Hannan’s article, I got the impression he had not intended to write about Dr. V’s transsexual identity, but that after her suicide, fearing he may have contributed to it, it became an essential element in a far more personal story, which was why he … and Grantland Magazine … decided to run with it. I think I’d have run with it too. I’m absolutely certain any other magazine would have published it as well. But I’m not the arbiter of Caleb Hannan’s fate. That would be the witch hunters of Twitter, who love to play gotcha.

In October Rolling Stone ran a new article by Hannan, this one about college kids lured into multi-level marketing schemes. No one was outed in this article, but the same people who condemned Hannan on Twitter back in January started piling on again. I picked one representative of the community to highlight, the humorist and writer Mallory Ortberg, who posted a series of tweets earlier this month upon learning Caleb Hannan was still a working journalist:

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Look at the progression of her outrage: Caleb Hannan (whom we thought we’d run out of town on a rail) is back; he’s trying to slip back into journalism (as if he’d ever been ousted in the first place); until he writes an apology no magazine should have anything to do with him; he’s trying to sneak unnoticed through the back door (he never left the house, and has published other articles between January and October of this year); why are all you big-name journalists letting this guy slink back into your midst? Slip! Sneak! Slink!

I like Mallory’s smart and funny writing and follow her on Twitter. Other writers I admire were quick to pounce on Caleb Hannan as well. I apologize for singling Mallory out, but in this case she’s representative of a thriving gotcha community on social media, quick to turn on fellow writers and journalists who fail to toe the party line.

Would Mallory have sat on the Dr. V story if it were hers? What magazine would not have published such a fascinating story? And what is a working journalist, who sells stories for a living, supposed to do when the forces of self-righteousness on social media rise against him? Quit writing and get a job at Burger King?

Oh, well, at least he didn’t wear a shirt with pinup girls on it, or point his finger at a black man.


Bicycling in Tucson: Love Mostly, Still Some Hate

Donna and I took our bicycles for a spin yesterday: not the typical Sunday jaunt through our eastside neighborhood, but a paper chase on wheels, riding a hilly and tricky trail with the Pedalfiles Bicycle Hash House Harriers.

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Pedalfiles Bashers after a grueling trail

You can read about the ride here, if you wish, or merely marvel at the misfit band of bicycle hashers … bashers, we call ‘em … in the photo.

The ride was fun: a good workout, plenty of great scenery, camaraderie with bashers we don’t get to see often enough, good times later at a local hangout. Here it is a day later and I’m still up on riding, so I clicked on a link to Bicycle Tucson, a local website, where the first thing I saw was this:

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Click the image to read the full article at Bicycle Tucson

Déjà vu, anyone? Yes, it’s a repeat of the Brad Gorman Memorial Bike Trailhead in our neighborhood, shot down late in the planning stages by asshole neighbors and chickenshit politicians. The article is skimpy on details, but I’m willing to bet the people planning to build this bicycle ranch had submitted all the proper paperwork to the county and had their plans approved before the neighbors and politicians ruined everything. I’m also willing to bet they paid hefty fees they’ll never get back.

I wrote three blog posts about the Brad Gorman Bike Trailhead fiasco; as far as I know there have been no new developments since my last post on the subject. Here are links to those three posts, oldest to newest:

I’ve mellowed a bit since writing those posts, as the title of this post indicates. There really is a lot of love for bicyclists and bicycling in Tucson, and I raise a glass to the city and county for all they’ve done.

When I moved here in 1997, there were a few unconnected bicycle paths along some of the dry riverbeds running through town, none more than a few miles in length. There were striped bicycle lanes near the University of Arizona and in newer suburban neighborhoods, but most major streets were unsafe for bicyclists. Today there are hundreds of miles of bike lanes in the city and county; a 60-some-mile bike path loop around Tucson that will soon be twice that long, complete with functioning tool and tire pump stations every few miles; protected bike streets in parts of town; bicycle racks on buses and streetcars; and at least two major mountain bike trail areas. I think there’s even a Citibike-style bike share program in the works. And it gets better all the time.

But there’s still some hate, as indicated by the Bicycle Tucson article. We have our share of NIMBY neighbors, craven politicians, hostile drivers, and even vandals who throw tacks from moving cars onto bicycle lanes. I don’t suppose the “roads are for cars” mentality will ever go away, but we’ve come a long way. There aren’t many streets in Tucson I’d be uncomfortable riding on, and I love the loop: a good portion of yesterday’s trail was on the part of the loop running alongside the Santa Cruz riverbed.

Although Donna and I are still riding, our little riding group, the Old Spanish Trail Trash, has been moribund since last winter. I think it’s time we leaned on our friends and got it going again.