Paul’s Thing

blogprofile The weblog of Paul Woodford, a veteran USAF F-15 pilot living in Tucson, Arizona
July 2015
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Let Us Do the Driving

IMG_1537Now I are a tram tour driver and docent at the Pima Air & Space Museum. Over the past two weeks, I:

1) Rode along on a few tours to see how other driver/docents handled the job and to listen to what they had to say about outdoor aircraft on display.

2) Wrote up an 11-page set of notes, single spaced, airplane by airplane (those are my notes at left).

3) Drove the route by myself in a borrowed golf cart, practicing my spiel.

This morning, dear reader, I did it live with 30 paying visitors and now I am certified, good to go, cleared solo, the newest member of the tram team.

Guess which one I get to drive?

tram tour 1 tram tour 2

If you guessed the one on the left, dream on. Air conditioning is for pussies!

I never counted the outdoor aircraft covered on tram tours. I knew we didn’t have to talk about all of them, but the driver/docents I rode with talked about most, so I determined to do the same. I didn’t count the airplanes in my 11 pages of notes, either, but assumed it was about 100. After my certification tour today, the team leader who evaluated me said I narrated 121 airplanes during the 1-hour, 5-minute tour. I had no idea it would be that many. It makes it sound like too much, even for the most avid visitor, but as a friend on Facebook pointed out, that’s less than two airplanes per minute, so it’s not as rushed a tour as it sounds.

So, on to a new page at the air museum. I’m down for two last walking tours, next Wednesday and the Wednesday after. They haven’t given me a regular day for tram tours; they’ll probably have me fill in as a substitute until a day opens up.

That’s the news for now. I’ll keep you posted.


More Friday Slackness

Whoa, two posts in one day. Guess I wasn’t done earlier.

I’m back from my dry run at the museum. I borrowed the volunteer golf cart and drove the tram tour route, talking about all the aircraft I plan to cover on live tours with visitors once I certify. If anyone saw me putting around, gesticulating and talking to myself, they probably thought an insane person had hijacked a golf cart.

I finished my practice run in an hour and ten minutes, managing to say something intelligible about each of the aircraft on my list, so I think I’m about ready. We’ll soon see if the tram tour docent team leader agrees.

This is interesting:

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 12.58.23 PM

click to read story on Gawker

I learned of this outing-with-a-twist last night on Twitter. Within a few minutes of the first link being posted, condemnation and piling on had begun, as it so often does on Twitter. The emerging consensus seems to be that while it’s okay to be transgender, it’s not okay to be transracial.

I’ve been busy this morning and haven’t revisited Twitter to see if opinions have changed, but from the links and comments I’m beginning to see on Facebook, I think most people disapprove of what this woman supposedly did.

I hate trials by social media, based as they always are on incomplete information. The as-yet unanswered questions are why this woman pretended to be black and why she sought leadership positions in the Spokane NAACP chapter. It comes down to motivation, doesn’t it?

If she’d rather associate with African-Americans than whites, if she likes the culture better than white culture, if she’s lived as an African-American woman for a number of years, if she’s working to advance the cause of African-Americans because she identifies as African-American herself, that’s one thing. If, however, her motivation was just to be a big fish in a small pond, that’s wrong on every level, starting with the demeaning assumption that the African-American pond is a lesser one.

I think, regardless of this particular woman’s motivations, the collective judgment of both the white and African-American communities will be that it’s not okay to be transracial, no matter what your motivation might be. You have to be real to be real.

I remember thinking something along these lines as a kid, back in the early 1960s when a white journalist wrote a book called Black Like Me. He had worn blackface and ridden Greyhound buses through the American south to experience racial discrimination first hand, then written about it afterward. I wondered at the time why black writers couldn’t write about their own experiences. I learned later that many black writers had done exactly that, and brilliantly, and subsequently thought Black Like Me was patronizing: we didn’t need white people telling us what black people were experiencing.

This story also brings to mind the TERFs, the trans-exclusionary radical feminists, who do not want trans women crashing the movement.

How much more interesting this is than Caitlyn Jenner and the Duggars! I can’t wait to hear more.

After I wrote about the swimming pool mini-race war in McKinney, Texas, I started seeing “here’s what really happened” apologias on conservative websites. I realize there are two sides to every story, and said so in a comment to my blog post after a couple of friends took me to task for making judgments before the facts are in.

The apologias on conservative websites tried to establish some heretofore unknown knowns: that the black kids started the fight after white residents of the condo complex complained about their loud hip hop music and politely asked them to leave. More information has come out since. Today’s known knowns are that a white guy once convicted of torturing animals called the cops, and that two white ladies started the fight by punching the kids while screaming racial epithets. Of course one known known all along, thanks to the video, was the cop’s out-of-control behavior.

I’m gonna stick my neck out one more time and say you can write this entire incident off to good old American racism.

This latest development is coming from the same place, American racism:

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.15.23 PM

According to at least one liberal news site, a group of scary armed bikers is planning to descend upon McKinney, Texas this weekend to protest the treatment of the out-of-control cop (who has already resigned). The news site is trying its best to make the biker protest look like a big deal, but from what I can tell (see the screenshot above) less than two dozen bikers have signed up to ride to McKinney on Saturday.

Still, this, along with the recent armed biker protest at the mosque in Phoenix, Arizona, makes bikers look like racist thugs and skinheads. I’m a biker, and I certainly don’t want to be lumped in with the Aryan Nation crowd. I hope the media doesn’t go overboard with biker scariness.

Lastly, good old NPR. Two days ago Diane Rehm had Senator Bernie Sanders on as a guest. Now Diane’s act is to always show “balance,” no matter how settled the issue under discussion. If her guest is there to discuss climate change, she’ll turn half the show over to a climate change denier from the oil industry. If her guest wants to warn us that they’re teaching the Book of Genesis in science classes in Louisiana, she’ll give a creationist equal time. Everything comes out looking like a 50/50 proposition on the Diane Rehm show: maybe infanticide is bad, maybe it’s not, who’s to say?

Two days ago I guess she thought she’d just dispense with the contrary guest and attack Bernie Sanders herself: a few minutes into the interview I was shocked to hear her say, “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.”

Sanders was quick to respond. He made it clear he is and has always been an American citizen, that he is not and has never been a citizen of Israel or any other country. He asked Diane where she got her information, and she said it was on a list she had gotten. Sanders said the list is an internet hoax. You could tell he was steaming.

And then Diane asked the same question again by saying, “So it isn’t true you’re a dual Israeli/American citizen?” There was, I thought, a palpable note of nastiness in her voice. Now I’m going to guess that Diane Rehm is a Hillary Clinton supporter, so I’m not surprised she’d take the gloves off with Bernie Sanders. I am surprised at her naked appeal to anti-Semitism.

Because the question is, in fact, anti-Semitic. It’s meant to cash in on anti-Semitism. The purpose behind the false dual citizenship assertion is to remind voters that Bernie Sanders is a Jew. The perpetrators don’t want to look like outright bigots, as they would if they merely shouted “Bernie’s a Jew”; they try to be clever by doing what a previous generation of religious bigots tried to do to John Kennedy when they asked him if his Roman Catholic religion would make him more loyal to the Pope than to the USA. The purpose then was to alert Protestant voters to the fact that JFK wasn’t one of them; the purpose today is to alert Christian voters to the fact that Bernie Sanders isn’t one of them.

It’s so fucking crude and childish I could almost laugh, but crude and childish is the name of the game in American politics, and the sad thing is there are a lot of bigots who will never vote for Jewish candidate.

I’m starting to wonder how many voters will never vote for a woman candidate. We won’t know until election day, because most of them will never admit it.

God, people suck. I guess that includes me, because I will never vote for a Republican.


Friday Bag o’ Slack

bob bagPoor Paul’s Thing. If I told you it only looks like I’ve been slacking, would you believe me? I know you won’t, but I’ll try to justify myself anyway.

I’m transitioning from the walking tour docent team at the Pima Air & Space Museum to the tram docent team. In my new role, I’ll be talking about approximately 100 outdoor display aircraft in an hour and ten minutes, so I have a lot to learn. I’ve been riding along on other tram docents’ tours, borrowing museum golf carts and doing my own solo dry runs, and writing up notes on all the airplanes I want to talk about, or might get asked questions about, notes which already run to twelve single-spaced pages … and I’m nowhere near done.

I’m headed down to the museum this morning to do another dry run, and I think I’ll be ready to certify next week. With luck, the tram team will bless me and the transition will be complete.

So I’ve been busy with that. I’ve had plenty of time to study at home; Donna’s away at a five-day sewing retreat, so it’s just me and the critters … Facebook aside, there are few distractions in my life these days.

I have just two walking tours left to do, both Wednesdays, June 24th and July 1st. No idea what my regular tram tour day will be; that’s to be determined. Once I’m on the tram, I hope friends will come to the museum to ride with me and listen to my spiel.

With that, it’s back to the books.


The Last Barrier to Racial Integration

The city of St Louis, Missouri integrated its public swimming pools in June, 1949. The experiment was short-lived.

LIFE_race riot

When I was five, my grandfather waded into a creek I was playing in and yanked me out. Some black kids my age had followed me into the water. “You’ll catch a disease,” he explained. This was in my home town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, probably a year or two after the swimming pool riots up the river in St Louis.

A decade and a half later, during Freedom Summer, groups of black and white protesters attempted to integrate segregated swimming pools around the country. This is what happened in June 1964 at the Monson Motor Lodge in St Augustine, Florida. Yes, that’s acid.


Fears that black people would somehow infect the water they swam in were common back then. Thank goodness we know better these days.

Or do we?


Who knows what that 15-year-old girl and her friends did to the water in the Craig Ranch swimming pool last weekend? Best to be safe. Here’s the same pool yesterday. Wanna bet the “treatment” involves acid?



Sunday Bag o’ Links

This showed up on the io9 website today:

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 12.37.50 PM
I’m suffering from cognitive dissonance, because io9’s choice of a graphic to accompany its story about women dominating the Nebulas is the cover of a Nebula-winning book written by a man, Jeff Vandermeer. Granted, the strongest and most well-drawn characters in Annihilation, as in Authority and Acceptance, the other books of the Southern Reach trilogy, are women, but still.

Yeah, and then there was this:

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 2.28.26 PM

The story, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, is the dude posted this photo on Facebook to shame everyone for making too much of Caitlyn Jenner’s “bravery” in coming out as a trans woman … lookie here, here’s a photo of true bravery, etc. And of course it turns out the photo was not only staged and fictitious, but was created by a cross-dressing man. Ha! The irony!

Thing is, isn’t the story a little too perfect? I think it’s bullshit, as staged and fictitious as the photo. No, I can’t prove it, but watch and see, it’ll be debunked soon.

I write about book banning from time to time. A few years ago I read and reviewed Nickel and Dimed, a nonfiction book by journalist Barbara Ehrenreich about the difficulties of making it on waitress and Walmart wages in America. Nickel and Dimed was being challenged by conservative parents in school districts around the country: they didn’t want their children exposed to it, and at the time I couldn’t understand why. Wouldn’t you want kids who might otherwise be tempted to drop out of high school to know how hard it is to live on low wages?

Then I read an article Barbara Ehrenreich wrote back in 1979 and realized why conservatives are so hostile to her book. It’s because they’re hostile to her. She wrote it for a leftist magazine after the US government censored an article about H-bomb development in another radical magazine, The Progressive.

How to Build an H-Bomb is brilliant satire … and contains some very scary truths. My estimation of Barbara Ehrenreich tripled in one reading. I sincerely hope you click the link and read it too. It doesn’t take long, and if you’ve been lulled into complacency about nuclear weapons and proliferation, this’ll cure you of that tout de suite!

I can’t resist including a couple of quotations:

The best way to avoid inhaling plutonium is to hold your breath while handling it. If this is too difficult, wear a mask. To avoid ingesting plutonium orally follow this simple rule: never make an A-bomb on an empty stomach. If you find yourself dozing off while you’re working, or if you begin to glow in the dark, it might be wise to take a blood count.

After your A-bomb is completed you’ll have a pile of moderately fatal radioactive wastes like U-238. These are not dangerous, but you do have to get rid of them. You can flush leftovers down the toilet. (Don’t worry about polluting the ocean, there is already so much radioactive waste there, a few more bucketfuls won’t make any waves whatsoever.) If you’re the fastidious type — the kind who never leaves gum under their seat at the movies — you can seal the nasty stuff in coffee cans and bury it in the backyard, just like Uncle Sam does. If the neighbor kids have a habit of trampling the lawn, tell them to play over by the waste. You’ll soon find that they’re spending most of their time in bed.

Fact: Everything is bad for you if you have too much of it. If you eat too many bananas you’ll get a stomach-ache. If you get too much sun you can get sunburned (or even skin cancer). Same thing with radiation. Too much may make you feel under the weather, but nuclear industry officials insist that there is no evidence that low-level radiation has any really serious adverse effects. And, high-level radiation may bring unexpected benefits. It speeds up evolution by weeding out unwanted genetic types and creating new ones. (Remember the old saying, “Two heads are better than one.”) Nearer to home, it’s plain that radiation will get rid of pesky crab grass and weeds, and teenagers will find that brief exposure to a nuclear burst vaporizes acne and other skin blemishes. (Many survivors of the Hiroshima bomb found that they were free from skin and its attendant problems forever.)


Thursday Bag o’ DGAS

dgas bagMy give-a-shit meter is close to zero. I’m in a rage slump, kind of like a manic-depressive on the down cycle. Something will set me off again, probably sooner than later, and I’ll be back to normal, ranting and raving about injustice, racism, and stupidity. Ooh, did I just feel a rage twinge there?

So how ’bout them Duggars? Meh. The Christian right can forgive just about anything, so long as the sinners are white. Caitlyn Jenner? I cared for half a New York minute, then found out she’s just cashing in. Dennis Hastert? What a surprise. Good thing we have American media to distract us any kind of news that might actually affect us, eh?

Donna hurt her back again last night and she’s going to see the doc today. I hope she gets some relief (she did: they gave her some pain pills, which usually help). She’s retired for good now and we’re adjusting to being home together all day, every day. It’ll probably be harder on me than on her; she turned on the TV the other morning and I was (privately) appalled. Daytime TV? In OUR house? Thank goodness I had the foresight to set up a rocking chair and reading corner in the master bedroom, far away from the TV end of the house.

Meanwhile at the air museum: ride-alongs with tram docents to learn the ropes. I started leading walking tours four years ago, and while the museum doesn’t give walking tour docents a script, they do give us a list of specific aircraft to talk about. Once we cover those exhibits we have about ten minutes free time and can talk about whatever we want. Tram docents seem to have a freer hand: not only don’t they have a script, they can choose which of the 100+ outdoor aircraft they want to talk about on any particular day. I’m sure most tram docents settle into a routine and cover the same exhibits every time, but they don’t have to. My plan is to learn something about each of the outdoor aircraft, in case visitors ask questions, but of course I have my favorites and those are the ones I’ll probably talk about. I’m up about switching over from walking tours to the tram. I could say I’m excited, but don’t want to get carried away.

I think, now that visitor season is over, we can start planning our late summer road trip. We have three mandatory destinations: Chico CA (Donna’s Aunt Joyce), Portland OR (InterAmericas Hash), and Bremerton WA (our niece Rebecca). We’d like to see a couple of old friends in Sacramento, and neither of us have ever been to Yosemite, but those are optional stopovers at this point. Distances are such that we’ll have to overnight in one or two places where we don’t know anyone. Right now I’m waiting for Donna’s pain pill to kick in so we can look at Google Maps together.

The road trip, by the way, will be an early 50th anniversary present to ourselves (with the onset of daytime TV in this once-quiet house I’d say us lasting that long is a 50/50 proposition at best JUST KIDDING DONNA).

Hell, I need to snap out of DGAS mode. I’m going to think about Dick Cheney for a while. That should do it.


Paul’s Book Reviews: Science Fiction, Fiction, Nonfiction, Mystery, YA

The body turns in the stream. Where the new bridge crosses the Ganga in five concrete strides, garlands of sticks and plastic snag around the footings; rafts of river flotsam. For a moment the body might join them, a dark hunch in the black stream. The smooth flow of water hauls it, spins it around, shies it feet first through the arch of steel and traffic. Overhead trucks roar across the high spans. Day and night, convoys bright with chrome work, gaudy with gods, storm the bridge into the city, blaring filmi music from their roof speakers. The shallow water shivers.

River of Gods, Ian McDonald

river of godsRiver of Gods (India 2047 #1)
by Ian McDonald

Back-alley datarajas, third-generation artificial intelligences, a computer-generated soap opera that becomes self-aware, an anomalous object in the asteroid belt, parallel universes, crooks, cops, CEOs, politicians, expats, neutered humans remade as manga, water wars between semi-independent Indian states, armed drones and slow missiles, a half-human/half-AI woman … an initially-bewildering number of plot threads and unconnected characters, all of which converge in a grand climax. What’s not to like about this sweeping near-future science fiction novel?

I, for one, can’t think of a single thing not to like. I was enthralled, cover to cover.

The first McDonald science fiction novel I read, The Dervish House, rocked me the same way River of Gods did. It too is near-future SF set in another country and culture (Turkey), containing a diverse cast of characters and converging plot lines. It too was enthralling. Are you a William Gibson fan? You will love Ian McDonald.

Be warned, though, that in addition to near-future, cyberpunk-escue science fiction, McDonald also writes fantasy. Perhaps you like fantasy and magic; I do not. I started McDonald’s SF/fantasy novel Desolation Road and gave up on it partway through; not my cup of tea at all. I still have a hard time believing the Ian McDonald who wrote The Dervish House and River of Gods is the same Ian McDonald who wrote Desolation Road.

River of Gods is staggeringly good. Anything else I might say would be full of spoilers. This is one of the very few science fiction novels I’ve read that made me want to go right back to page one and start over.

everything ravagedEverything Ravaged, Everything Burned
by Wells Tower

I think these are pretty great short stories. I was a bit put off by the first two stories in the collection, but only because they’re about losers. But then, it occurred to me, so are the novels of Charles Portis, a writer I love. And it’s no accident I thought of Charles Portis … Wells Tower has an eye, and a narrative style, that is similar.

The stories are full of sardonic humor, irony, telling details seen from fresh angles. I especially liked the last story in the collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, a first-person narrative of a Viking raid told from a contemporary-feeling point of view.

Stretched to novel length, I’m not sure these stories would come up to Charles Portis’ level, but it’s a damn good start, and I will look for more.

three body problemThe Three-Body Problem (Three Body #1)
by Liu Cixin

I’m a sucker for classic science fiction. This one was recommended by a friend, and I’m so glad I followed up on it.

The Three-Body Problem is a first-contact SF novel. It’s the first installment of a trilogy; without going into detail, the first book relates the initial stages of contact with an alien civilization elsewhere in the galaxy. Presumably the next two books will cover the centuries that must elapse before emissaries of that civilization actually reach Earth, traveling at sub-light speeds. Perhaps I’ve already said too much, but I want to indicate the sweeping nature of Liu Cixin’s vision.

Liu Cixin is a citizen of the Peoples’ Republic of China and his novel is largely populated with Chinese characters. Some of them are products and victims of the Cultural Revolution, and the cultural points of reference are decidedly Chinese. I learned many things about the Red Guard days and modern China while reading this novel; although some readers may be put off by its decidedly non-Western cultural outlook, I found myself fascinated by it. In fact, I wondered if a novel like this would be written in the USA or UK today … in many ways it’s old-fashioned, even Asimovian (though not as sweeping as Asimov’s Foundation trilogy).

The characters, male and female, are well-drawn and believable. The science is often mind-bending, and while many SF authors have administered the kiss of death to their novels by trying to explain quantum physics, IMO Liu Cixin pulled it off. I was never tempted to skip ahead; I devoured every word and believe I grasped the concepts being explained. Those concepts are central to much of the plot, so it’s a good thing the author’s explanations were so lucid.

The second novel, The Dark Forest, will not be available in English translation until August 2015, and so far there’s no scheduled date for an English translation of an as-yet-unnamed third novel. To show you how much I liked the first novel (I rarely rate anything four stars), I’ve pre-ordered the second, and will be looking for a publication date for the third.

without youWithout You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite
by Suki Kim

Every time I read another behind-the-scenes look at life in North Korea, another piece of the jigsaw slots into place. But even though I’ve read at least a dozen highly-regarded nonfictional accounts of North Korea, ranging from accounts of the lives of ordinary people to prison camp escapees, from low- and high-level defectors to Kim Jong-Il’s abducted Japanese cook, I’ve put together only one corner of the puzzle. The rest remains a jumble, and I have no idea what kind of picture the completed puzzle will reveal.

I’m in awe of Suki Kim, who put herself at risk to teach English to upper-class and inner-circle college boys at a private college on the outskirts of Pyongyang. She wasn’t just teaching, you see, she was keeping diaries and notes for this memoir. Had she been found out, either by the NK minders or the zealous Christian missionary teachers she worked with, she’d have been lucky to be merely deported. She could well have been imprisoned and tried as a spy.

What piece of the puzzle was I able to make out from Ms Kim’s memoir? The fact that visits to relatives (other than immediate parents and siblings) without special permission from the authorities, which is tightly controlled and only grudgingly granted. In school settings such as the one she describes here, even friendships between students and roommates are tightly controlled. She recounts the story of a man who escaped to South Korea during the war, then came back to North Korea as an elderly man, specifically to reconnect with lost family members who’d stayed behind. The man was not allowed to travel to his home village and never did get to see his family again. She recounts the tales of several of her students, none of whom seemed to have real friends, only assigned ones whose duty was to keep an eye on them … indeed as they kept an eye on their own assigned friends … and who were mandatorily paired with new roommates every few months. The students, nevertheless, constantly bragged of parties and gatherings with friends in Pyongyang, lies that are painfully obvious to Ms Kim and the reader. Everyone in North Korea, high and low alike, is a loner, constantly looking over his or her shoulder.

This is some chilling shit, and it fits right in with other details of life in North Korea I’ve gleaned from my readings. Not once have I read a book that even hints at the possibility of a more open life in the north, so I’m beginning to believe that things there are indeed as bad as everyone says.

Oh, and I learned about the “counterparts,” which will keep me up at nights for at least the next year. Orwell ain’t in it. Or, rather, Orwell had it dead to rights.

Thank you, Suki Kim, for risking so much to give us a look at another aspect of life in North Korea.

the treatmentThe Treatment (Jack Caffery #2)
by Mo Hayder

Until now, I regarded the novels of Mo Hayder as guilty treats, like jelly beans, something you gobble up while knowing they’re no good for you. Unfortunately, as with the jelly beans in the Harry Potter stories, some Mo Hayder treats taste of vomit.

Big spoiler alert: Mo Hayder introduces a character in the first chapter, a hermit-like collector of found objects, who comes upon a damaged camera in a public park. This character, and the camera he picks up off the grass, becomes one of the threads in Hayder’s story. Over the course of the novel, we periodically drop in on him as he slowly figures out how to safely get the exposed film out of the camera, then teaches himself to develop the film. Hayder makes it appear that he has unknowingly found a piece of crucial evidence, one that would have allowed the police to instantly solve the gruesome murder at the heart of the story, but that he won’t realize what he has until he develops the film … which he eventually does, and then rushes out of the house with it, presumably on his way to the nearest police station.

But Hayder is leading the reader down a false trail. He’s not taking the film to the police. He is in fact the criminal everyone is seeking. It was his camera in the first place. He took the photographs that are on the undeveloped film, and of course knows all along exactly what he has. Hayder springs this on the reader in the final pages.

This isn’t just misdirection or sleight of hand. It’s cheating. It’s as crude and manipulative as ending a novel by saying it was all a dream. I feel used. And angry.

The Treatment is frustrating in many other ways. The bad guys and girls … as in all the other Mo Hayder mysteries I’ve read … are not just inhuman but satanically evil. The details of what they do to their victims are horrifically gruesome, more so in this novel than some of the others because the villains are pedophiles. She has a thing for tight spaces and bondage, and there’s plenty of both here. She lets her victims suffer for far too long while the cops … who are nearly as unsympathetic as the criminals … bumble around, fuck up, lose the thread, take time off for fights with girlfriends and lovers, and go off on unrelated wild goose chases. If there’s a dog in a Mo Hayder story, she will kill it.

The ultimate frustration, however, is at the very end, when Hayder leaves one crucial thread hanging. I’ve gone over my quota of spoilers already so I won’t say what it is, but I predict you will be frustrated too. And maybe as angry at Mo Hayder as I am now.

This is the second of a series of detective stories featuring a cop named Jack Caffery. I’ve read three others, out of order. Is it important to read them in order? I obviously think not; this one … as did the others … contains references to earlier Jack Caffery cases, but I didn’t find that distracting. The stories pretty much stand on their own.

But I don’t like Jack Caffery and I think I’m through with him. He should have been fired three cases ago. As for Mo Hayder, we’ll see. Maybe the next jelly bean will taste better.

the doubt factoryThe Doubt Factory
by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating is based on how I believe I’d feel about this YA novel if I were a young teen, a member of its intended audience. The Doubt Factory left me, an adult reader who enjoys good YA, flat; I only finished it out of respect for Bacigalupi’s abilities as a writer.

If, like me, you’re a fan of Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities, you might wonder if the same Paolo Bacigalupi wrote The Doubt Factory. It’s plodding, repetitive, and heavy-handed in delivering its anti-corporate message. The characters are thin and barely believable. The action, though there are some tense moments, doesn’t come close to the gritty, harrowing adventures of the young protagonists in the post-collapse worlds of Bacigalupi’s darker YA science fiction.

But I’ve seen this side of Bacigalupi in two other YA books: The Alchemist and Zombie Baseball Beatdown. The Alchemist is an extremely short novel about magic and Zombie Baseball Beatdown is just silly, a garish attempt to trick pre-teen boys into reading. Both have ecological (and in Zombie, anti-corporate) messages, which are common to Bacigalupi’s darker YA novels, but there the resemblance stops. That is how it is with The Doubt Factory: how did we go from Ship Breaker to this?

Who knows? There’s probably a market for wholesome message YA, and maybe there are kids who would like to read about Alix and Moses and their efforts to bring down the entrenched PR/legal/misleading science/paid-for expert structure that exists to deny the harmful effects of tobacco and prescription drugs, but this is very pale stuff compared to most YA novels I’ve read. I was surprised and pleased when Alix actually did something adult with Moses; I didn’t think anything like that was going to happen, based on how the novel had unfolded to that point.

I like YA in general, and I love Bacigalupi’s darker YA. This one? There’s nothing here for an adult reader, and probably not much for teen readers who’ve been exposed to more “adult” YA.


Spam and Ramps and Trams, Oh My!

Yesterday and today the comment spam folders at my three blogs were less than a quarter full — not that they’re of a fixed size, but in comparison to the daily volume of spam the blogs have been getting. Is it too soon to hope the bots have decided to write off?

It’s a sad fact that of late I’ve had to empty the spam folders daily. The host server keeps sending “disk full” warnings, and I don’t know what else could be causing it.

Of course I could always close comments again, but that wouldn’t be any fun.

Schatzi’s recovering nicely from the surgery on her back. Once in a while her left rear leg folds up under her, but it happens less and less often. Donna took her for a walk yesterday and said she’s pretty much her old self.

The order of the day is “no more jumping.” Both pups took to our homemade ramp but are distrustful of the pet stairs from Amazon. The steps on the Amazon rig fold down to make a ramp, but it’s shorter and steeper than the ramp we made and might simply be too much for them.

We’re using the steps, at least temporarily: we arranged them, along with the ramp and coffee table, to make it harder for the dogs to leap off the couch. Of course all that goes by the wayside when a stranger comes to the door. We have to watch those dogs every second.


Dogs, dog couch, dog ramp, dog stairs

Don’t worry — if you come visit we’ll move all that stuff and you’ll have a place to sit. Hope you like dogs, though, because they’ll be on the couch with you.

Speaking of visitors, we’ve had houseguests for the past month: first Polly, then our niece Rebecca and her husband Nate, then Donna’s sister Georgie. Georgie flew home early this morning and the house is empty again, though I don’t know for how long. Polly has literally nothing to do in Ajo, where she lives with her boyfriend David, and she’s desperate for a job. The nearest jobs are here in Tucson, so she may come stay with us temporarily while she looks for employment. Then again, maybe not — yesterday she phoned to say she’s volunteered to give swimming lessons to kids at the public pool in Ajo. She sounds excited about it, and if it gives her something to do we’re all for it.

I’ve been conducting indoor walking tours of the hangars at Pima Air & Space Museum for four years. I still look forward to going in every Wednesday, but it’s time to take on a new challenge, so I’m transitioning to the tram tour team.

To be perfectly honest, it’s not just saying the same things about the same exhibits week after week that’s motivating me. Three hours on those hard concrete hangar floors make my feet scream bloody murder, and it’s not just me being fat and out of shape — Donna and Georgie came along on just one of my two walking tours Wednesday, and they both mentioned how much their feet hurt afterward.

I’m riding down to the museum this morning to pick up a tram training manual. I’m only on the walking tour schedule twice in June and can start training right away. It’s probably the worst time to check out on the tram; these guys work outdoors in the fierce southern Arizona heat and sun, but as you can see the trams are covered so they’re in the shade most of the time. I’ll need a bigger hat, that’s for sure.

PASM tram

Pima Air & Space Museum tram

Did I say it’s going to be a new challenge? There are more than 100 aircraft on the tram tour route, and I’ll have to be able to say something intelligent about every one of them. Then again, learning about a different set of aircraft will inspire me to write more air-minded posts. It’s a good thing.