October 2014
« Sep    

Paul's Thing is a
Gang of Six™ Production

Paul’s E-Reading

Paul’s Tree-Reading

Paul’s Book Reviews



Shit hot header photos by Paul, w/assistance from "The Thing?"


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

Loud Beeping Noise Is Distracting

One of the things that strikes me in so many news stories about preventable disasters is that the decision-makers not only had all the information they needed to take correct and timely preventive action, they were specifically warned when red flags started to wave.

George W. Bush and 9/11 is often cited as the modern-day example, but it keeps happening. Like right up to today.

Ebola guy, for example. When this man first visited the hospital in Dallas, two days after he became ill, a nurse asked if he’d been in West Africa and he said yeah, he’d just come from there. The nurse reported his response, but no one above her heard the warning siren and he was sent home. He came back two days later, even sicker, and was finally diagnosed and quarantined. For a four-day period, then, he was suffering Ebola symptoms and was, according to the CDC, actively contagious. During those four days, he came in contact with twelve to eighteen people, including five children (each of whom subsequently went to school).

CDC officials are trying to contain panic by saying they’ve got a handle on it, but you and I know they must privately feel like the fictional CDC Doctor Goodweather on TV’s The Strain, watching vampires breed like rabbits. If they can round up those who came in contact with the Ebola patient after he developed symptoms and became contagious, and isolate them before they themselves begin to exhibit symptoms and expose others, good. If, that is, the CDC’s assurances that someone with Ebola can’t give it to others until he or she exhibits symptoms are true.

The lack of internal communication at the Dallas hospital is bad enough. What about the lack of coordination between the CDC and US Customs and Immigration? People can freely enter the USA after stepping off flights from Liberia? With all the information at our disposal about the spread of Ebola in Liberia and West Africa, it’s not as if we didn’t know there was a risk Ebola would hop a flight to the USA. Couldn’t we have put some controls in place before it got here?

The guy who jumped the White House fence and made it all the way to the East Room? We’re now told he had run-ins with law enforcement and the Secret Service before the fence-jumping incident. Virginia police arrested him this summer, finding in his car “a mini-arsenal of semiautomatic weapons, a sniper rifle and a map clearly marking the White House’s location.” They let him go, but did alert the Secret Service. Then, just last month, Secret Service agents detained him in front of the White House. At the time he had a hatchet. They let him go, seemingly unaware of the earlier incident with Virginia police.

And now we learn that the intruder alert system inside the White House was on mute!

I was going to go on to cite other examples, but really, that’s enough, especially the detail about the intruder alert alarm being set to mute. You know what all this reminds me of? The classic story about the pilot who landed gear-up because he got distracted trying to silence the gear warning alarm.


Figure 1

When I studied safety engineering, we learned there are three basic ways to keep pilots from screwing up:

  • Write checklist procedures that, if properly followed, will prevent operator error
  • Add warning bells & buzzers to let pilots know when they are approaching or pushing beyond safe limits
  • Design airplanes so that they will take over and save the pilot’s ass when he or she screws up.

Not surprisingly, the easiest and cheapest way is the first one. It’s also the most ineffective. The second costs more but is often just as ineffective (see Figure 1, above). The third is expensive but in many cases technologically possible. It is also the most effective, because it removes the human from the works … when humans are involved, checklists and red flags are too easy to ignore.

I’ll close with two personal observations:

  • Those folks at the CDC had better be right about how Ebola is passed on from human to human
  • It’s good to know there are still public servants like Julia Pierson who will step down when their agencies fail

Monday Bag o’ Fried Chicken

chicken bag

Monday Bag o’ Fried Chicken

Donna asked me to take charge of dinner tonight because she has embroidery orders to finish and pack for mailing. I don’t feel like cooking, so I rode down to Safeway and bought fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, and spinach. I got enough for two dinners in case I have to “cook” again this week.

I’m making myself sound like someone who dreads having to make dinner, and that’s not true at all. I have a cooking blog, and when I’m inspired I do very well in the kitchen or on the grill. I just don’t feel like cooking today.

Speaking of embroidery, I made over Donna’s Embroidery Dreams website using a WordPress blog format. It’s now much nicer than it was before, and I added a gallery of photos as well.

It occurred to me this morning that bombing Syria may be as much about poking Putin in the eye as it is about going after Islamic State. I don’t hear much about it in the news these days, but remember when Putin vetoed our attempts to get the UN to censure Assad? Surely it rankles Obama to be helpless in the face of Putin’s adventurism in Crimea and Ukraine. Perhaps the calculation is that Putin will be similarly helpless in the face of our actions in Syria. Oh, yeah, Islamic State is evil and all … but when it comes to great affairs of state, never rule out simple spite.

As for renewed war in the Middle East, ain’t nothing to be done about it. We thirst for war. By “we” I mean mankind, not just the USA. But just speaking of the USA, we’ve been at war with one nation or another, in one region or another, against one terrorist group or another, almost the entirety of my life, and I’ve been around since 1946. Of course I’m counting the Cold War, which was real as hell for those of us who fought it, and if in fact hitting back at Putin is one of our reasons for bombing Syria, a war that isn’t over after all.

I haven’t done much exercising over the last three weeks, so it felt great to get out on my bicycle Sunday morning and scout trail for two upcoming hashes. One trail will be for hashers on foot and the other will be for hashers on bicycles, but I scouted both on two wheels in order to finish my explorations in one morning. Tomorrow morning I’ll get back in the swing with Anytime Fitness, which I like to hit on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s cool enough in the evenings now to start doing our Monday walks in downtown Tucson again, but so far the rest of my walking group doesn’t seem interested. Nor do they seem interested in resuming our Saturday morning bicycle rides. I think it has fallen to me to motivate them. I know, everyone is busy, but we need to carve out time for exercise.

Fried chicken. I’ve got dibs on the breast and both wings!


Saturday Bag o’ Catch-Up

ketchup bagHome from my travels, trying to get back in the blogging swing. Which sounds like a piece of recreational sex equipment. Come join me on the blogging swing, baby.

I’m outraged at so many things, but nothing I say … nothing twenty thousand equally outraged bloggers might say … will stay human idiocy from its appointed rounds. Oh, never fear, something will come along to supercharge my outrage. When it does I’ll post another moral/political rant. Until then, I’ll continue to offer personal updates and random observations.

So, what’s up? Me, and early. I rolled out of bed at a quarter after six and went out back to clean up dog poop and adjust the chemicals in the spa. As I was finishing I realized the sprinklers would be going off any second; almost literally the second I finished they did. I took that as a good omen for the day. Next I wheeled the motorcycle out of the garage and washed the accumulated dirt of four western states off it, then wheeled it back in the garage and dried it. I then sat down at the computer to post some Donkey Hote tweets and check in on Facebook. While there I learned of a new social media entity called Ello and applied for membership (it’s still in beta and you can’t join without an invitation, but there’s a waiting list and I’m on it). Then I took a shower.

Are you an NPR listener? If so, you will appreciate how quickly I got all these chores done: as I toweled off after my shower, I realized NPR was still recycling the morning news on our bathroom radio. If you are not an NPR listener, you’re probably saying meh.

And THEN Donna made breakfast, which I’ve just finished. It’s only half past ten! I love getting up early and getting things done!

What’s on for the rest of the day? Book club at one, that’s what. We’ll be talking about banned graphic novels. Sadly, the one my fellow members selected as our monthly read (Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman) was little more than a comic book and I didn’t think much of it, but I’ll do my best to bite my tongue, or at least confine my comments to why some people want to ban it.

I told an old friend I was in a book club and she said she’d tried one once but the people in it only wanted to read trash and she never went back. To be sure, my book club gravitates toward the lowest common denominator as well, but there are a couple of us who push for more rewarding monthly selections, and we prevail often enough that I’m willing to stay. Besides, I’m not just in it for the reading; I’m trying to expand my social circle. I like the other members; I think they like me … book club’s as much a social event as a literary one, and I think my friend deprived herself of something important by pulling back to her lone-wolf reading ways.

I mentioned earlier that our nine-year-old dachshund Schatzi seemed to be having problems with her near vision. While I was away on my motorcycle trip Donna took Schatzi to the vet, who found no problems: retinas look good, no cataracts or glaucoma. It’s just age. Our girl still has okay distance vision, and it’s not like she’s bumping her head into walls or anything like that. The vet gave us some drops to administer in the morning and evening to soothe her eyes; otherwise there’s nothing to be done. I guess dogs get myopic with age, just like you and me.

The first thing I did when I got home was to shave off my beard. I hated having to groom it every couple of days. The second thing I did was to get a short haircut. Here’s to a grooming-free lifestyle. Behold, before & after:

before_2 Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 11.07.36 AM

Yeah, I wouldn’t get in a blogging swing with that guy either!


Air-Minded: Contrails, Summer/Fall 2014

The latest issue of Pima Air & Space Museum’s Contrails (Summer/Fall 2014) contains several interesting aviation articles, including one by yours truly:


Mini-Gypsy Tour II Photoblog

Wednesday to Wednesday, September 17 to 24, 2014. Here’s the itinerary:

  • Day 1: Tucson AZ to Las Vegas NV
  • Day 2: Chillin’ in Vegas
  • Day 3: Las Vegas NV to Moab UT
  • Day 4: Moab UT to Ouray CO
  • Day 5: SW CO (Ouray/Silverton/Durango)
  • Day 6: Ouray CO to Cedar City UT
  • Day 7: Cedar City UT to Las Vegas NV
  • Day 8: Las Vegas NV to Tucson AZ

I had three objectives for this mini-Gypsy tour: to explore the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, to visit my friends Bruce & Tamara in Ouray, to spend a few days on the road with my son Gregory. Objectives achieved and then some, especially the third, the time I got to spend with Greg, a great riding companion.

As you can see from a previous entry, the weather forecasters feared Hurricane Odile would be a repeat of Hurricane Norbert and warned of huge and potentially road-closing rains on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. Based on that forecast I decided to trailer my motorcycle to Las Vegas and start the riding portion of the trip from there. The first and last days of the trip, then, were on four wheels (six if you count the trailer).


Leaving Tucson on a rainy Wednesday morning

I didn’t really need to leave Tucson until Thursday. Greg and I weren’t scheduled to ride out of Las Vegas until Friday, but since Donna was taking off on a separate trip Wednesday, I figured we might as well both clear out and leave the house to Polly, who came over from Ajo to house-sit. Because I left a day early, I had Thursday free in Las Vegas and was able to help Greg pick up his rental BMW and set it up for the trip.

When I left Tucson Wednesday morning, it was overcast and beginning to rain. The rain was steady as I drove west across town and then north toward Phoenix, but hardly the torrent I’d been warned to expect. Halfway to Phoenix the skies cleared. Hurricane Odile was real enough (just ask the folks in Cabo San Lucas), but it fizzled out by the time it got to southern Arizona.

Still, I’m glad the weather folks over-anticipated the threat and scared me into taking the trailer. Greg needed a jacket, cold weather and rain gear, and a good helmet, all of which I had but wouldn’t have been able to stow on the Goldwing. With the car, I had all the room in the world. The downside was a last-minute wiring repair job to the trailer, plus some wholly unexpected repairs before beginning the homebound trip a week later (which I’ll get to presently).

As I mentioned, Greg’s a fine riding companion. He was happy to take the lead leaving and re-entering the freeway chaos of Las Vegas, and was a good wingman the rest of the way, following me through rain and clouds, right there behind me on wet and gravely roads. I hope he waits until my grandson is a little older, but some day he needs another motorcycle of his own.

Okay, enough babbling. Here are some photos. The rest are in a Flickr album and you can click here to see the lot.


Outward bound from Las Vegas


Greg in Cedar City, Utah


Back road from Utah to Colorado


With our host Bruce in Ouray


Million Dollar Hwy, Red Mtn in background


Our Million Dollar Hwy guide, John


Silverton, Colorado


Molas Pass between Silverton & Durango


At Bruce & Tamara’s in Ouray


Durango, Colorado


Lunch at Handlebars, Silverton


Happy dogs in Silverton


Greg, Tamara, Bruce, me


Homeward bound, Nothing AZ

Overall, Greg and I were incredibly lucky. We rode through some rain in Utah and had to negotiate some tight hairpin turns on a freshly-graveled mountain pass between Utah and Colorado, but otherwise? Things couldn’t have been better. We had the roads to ourselves and riding conditions were ideal. Our hosts in Ouray were fabulously accommodating, our hotels in Moab and Cedar City were first-rate, gas stations magically appeared when our gauges hit empty, truckus no kill us, coppus no catch us, amen.

Oh, that other trailer trouble … when I went to put the motorcycle back on the trailer for the return drive to Tucson, this is what I found. If you don’t immediately see it, look at the three o’clock position on the tire.


Trailer tire trouble!

That was a heart-stopper. Both trailer tires looked good before I left, but they obviously were not. The bubble probably started during my drive from Tucson to Las Vegas the week before. A trailer tire blowout with an 800+ pound motorcycle strapped on top would have been ugly indeed, and I don’t want to know how close I came to disaster!

Okay, one more. This is the season the aspens begin to turn color in the mountains, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a bit of that with you. Eat your hearts out, non-motorcyclists!


Colorful Colorado!


You Can’t Read That! (Updated 9/25/14)

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


This post will go out on the first day of Banned Books Week, September 21-27, in honor of those who fight to protect our right to read and write.

YCRT! Banned Books Week Editorial

Every year conservative pundits line up to tell us Banned Books Week is a hoax, claiming books aren’t banned in the USA. In the years I’ve been writing these YCRT! posts, more than one reader has called me a liar for saying books are banned. Here’s my response:

I find I have to explain my use of the word “banned” every now and again. My position is this: any time people try to keep other people from reading a book, they’re trying to ban it.

Not a week goes by in this country without parents in one state or another showing up at school board meetings to demand certain books be removed from reading lists and libraries. Not a week goes by without some school board caving to parental pressure and pulling controversial books from the shelves.

Whether or not the same books are available on-line or in local bookstores, the intent of parents and school administrators who take these actions is to keep others from reading the books in question. That is the very definition of banning.

We no longer ban books at the national level, but we used to. Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer, for example, was banned in the USA from its publication in 1934 until the Supreme Court overruled the ban in 1964. Even during the days when books were literally banned in the USA, though, conservatives advanced the argument that such books weren’t really banned, because you could always hop on an ocean liner, go to Paris, and buy copies there. Conservatives today are merely recycling the same argument: you can still buy Captain Underpants and Heather Has Two Mommies at Barnes & Noble, so what’s the problem?

The problem is people who disapprove of books trying to keep other people from reading them. They may no longer be able to ban books nationwide, but they’ll do whatever they can to get the books they hate removed from local school libraries and reading lists. Sometimes they’ll even try to prevent fellow adults from reading books they disapprove of, targeting public libraries and commercial book stores.

There’s only one verb for that. That verb is ban. There’s only one adjective for books that have been removed from school libraries and reading lists. That adjective is banned.

But fine, if you don’t value my opinion, here’s what Merriam-Webster says about the word “ban”:

… to prohibit especially by legal means (ban discrimination); also: to prohibit the use, performance, or distribution of (ban a book) (ban a pesticide)

And under examples, they include this:

The school banned that book for many years.

Yes, Virginia, books are banned in the USA, and they’re banned all the time. When people quit trying to prevent me or my children from reading books they don’t like, I’ll quit using the word, but not until then.

YCRT! News

This is horrific: a Maryland middle school teacher was given an involuntary “emergency medical evaluation,” suspended, then barred from setting foot in any other public school. What did he do? He wrote a science fiction novel. Under a pen name. Set 900 years in the future. Containing a school shooting scene. A word from another science fiction novel springs to mind: thoughtcrime.

As reported in a previous YCRT! post, pastors in Austin, Texas are trying to ban 75 books from public libraries, saying the books in question have occult or demonic themes and will corrupt young readers. Local citizens are fighting back, along with First Amendment supporters around the country, and Austin’s head librarian is standing firm: the books remain. In a baffling compromise, however, Austin libraries will not observe Banned Books Week this year. Sure, that’ll get the pastors off your back!

In another YCRT! post, I asked this question:

What if book banners, after challenging books on school and public library shelves and being defeated, start demanding balance as compensation? One Chick tract for every YA novel, one copy of The Turner Diaries for every copy of To Kill a Mockingbird? Hey, you read it here first!

Just such a demand is being made by the Illinois Family Institute, which previously tried, and failed, to have books taking a neutral view on the nature and morality of homosexuality removed from public libraries. Now they propose adding explicitly anti-homosexual-themed books, some little more than religious tracts, to library shelves to provide “balance.”

Qualified good news: Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, banned last year by the West Ada School District in Idaho, has been reinstated, albeit with restrictions more appropriate to the handling of AIDS-infected biological waste: if it is assigned alternate choices must be offered, students must have signed parental permission to read it, and teachers are not allowed to read from it out loud in class.

YCRT! Arizona Update

In Arizona, the two leading elected officials behind Tucson Unified School District’s notorious 2012 book banning and sudden cancellation of Mexican-American studies classes, Attorney General Tom Horne and Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, have been ousted in primary elections (though both are still serving until the end of their respective terms in office).

Horne had been Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction before being elected attorney general. When he held his previous office he came out against Mexican-American studies and related textbooks, calling such teaching civilizational war. He went on to characterize Mexican-American and Native American history as being something other than “Greco-Roman” and thus not part of Western civilization. At one time he announced his intention to fire public school teachers with Mexican accents.

Huppenthal implemented his predecessor’s policies, forcing Tucson schools to cancel its Mexican-American studies program and impound all related textbooks and study materials. At his direction, in January 2012, TUSD officials walked into MAS classes in mid-session, confiscated books (literally crating them in cardboard boxes marked “banned books”), and sent bewildered students to study hall to kill time until TUSD could figure out what to replace the MAS classes with.

Apart from that, Huppenthal apparently spent his time in office shilling for private charter schools, editing his Wikipedia entry, and posting what he thought were anonymous sock-puppet comments to political blogs, including these gems:

“The Mexican American Studies classes use the exact same technique that Hitler used in his rise to power. Take an historical example of injustice, cast it in racial terms and fan the flames of resentment. This technique is the exact technique of Mexican American studies. Complete with fueling resentment of stolen land. In Hitler’s case it was the Sudetanland. In the Mexican American studies case, it is Aztlan.”

“We all need to stomp out balkanization. No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv stations, no spanish newspapers. This is America, speak English.”

“I don’t mind them selling Mexican food as long as the menus are mostly in English. And, I’m not being humorous or racist. A lot is at stake here.”

Charming, no? Good riddance to them both.

Update (9/25/14): Reference the story about the Maryland teacher who was suspended after writing a science fiction story under a pen name, see the comment below for additional information that throws an entirely different light on the story.


Last Pre-Gypsy Run Update

A drizzly day, with heavy rain forecast tomorrow, the day I head north to Las Vegas to meet my son for a motorcycle adventure. I decided to trailer the Goldwing to Vegas, so today I wheeled the trailer around to the garage to pump up the tires. While I was at it I decided to hook up the electrics and test the lights, even though they’ve always worked correctly before.

Good thing I checked, because the lights were tits up. Both turn signals going off alternately when I signal left or right, going dark when I hit the brakes, as confused and crossed up as they could possibly be. The wires coming from the electrical connector looked frayed, so I went to the auto parts store and bought another. When I got home I spliced the new connector to the trailer’s wiring harness, but that didn’t fix anything, and I began to feel as if the fates were ganging up on me.

Thank goodness for my friend and maintenance guru Ed. I called him and by great good luck he was home, so I towed the trailer over via back roads and he found the problem … a wire splice somewhere else that had become disconnected … in seconds. Now I really am ready to go. The trailer is attached to the hitch and most of my luggage is loaded. In the morning Polly will help me put the motorcycle on the trailer and strap it down, and I’ll be off.

If it really does rain four to seven inches in southern Arizona tomorrow morning, as they say it might, I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix could be washed out. That’s what happened to parts of I-15 east of Las Vegas during the last hurricane, two weeks ago. When torrential rain hits hard-packed desert it has nowhere to go but sideways, and it washes out roads, railroad tracks, you name it. If that happens, I’ll know for sure the fates are ganging up on me, and will turn back and try again Thursday.

It’s always something. But that’s what makes it an adventure.

If my son and I do pull this road trip off, I won’t be blogging much for the next few days. I’ll be posting short OTR (on the road) reports and a few photos on Facebook and Twitter, and you can follow me there. If I find the time (and can stand typing more than a sentence or two on my phone or tablet) I’ll post something here. No promises, though. It’s time to go live life for a change.


Rock You Like a Hurricane

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 9.25.01 AMWe wanted more rain, and for once our prayers are being answered: Hurricane Odile is moving up Baja California. Heavy rain in Arizona is forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, the first two days of my motorcycle trip.

Not that I’m a pussy (I am a total pussy), but putting the Goldwing on the trailer and towing it to Las Vegas is suddenly back on the table. This is in no way a show-stopper: the main part of the motorcycle trip, the five-day ride with my son Greg to Colorado and back, begins in Las Vegas, and we don’t leave until Friday.

At least I-15 east of Las Vegas is open again, even if it’s only two lanes. Come to think of it, though, it was Hurricane Norbert that washed out part of I-15 just two weeks ago, and Odile’s following the same track. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an adventure.

Our daughter Polly is here to house-sit for us while we’re away. This morning she and I are taking the doggies to the feed store. I’ll probably take them to the dog park this afternoon.

Our older girl Schatzi, who turned nine in August, is beginning to lose her eyesight. She’s doing okay generally, but seems not to be able to see things close up. She’ll chase a ball down the hall, for example, but when the ball comes to rest and she gets within a couple of feet of it, she can’t find it. We don’t see cataracts in her eyes, and I doubt there’s anything we can do for her anyway. She knows the house and back yard well, and at least for now has her distance vision, but I just want to hold her all the time.

I replaced the side burner on our Weber gas grill, a simpler operation than I thought it would be. Weber thoughtfully uses quick-release connections, so it was just a matter of removing four screws, lifting up the old burner and unsnapping the gas line, then snapping it to the new burner and screwing in the cover plate. Here it is, flaming away:

My handyman projects rarely come off without a hitch, so I hope you’ll forgive me for crowing about this one.

Now to get serious about packing for the trip. I’m washing a couple of riding shirts and my favorite pair of riding pants, and I need to find room in the saddlebags for an extra pair of boots in case Odile pushes rain up into Nevada and Utah, which it might.

I love this feeling of anticipatory excitement. I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve. It’s great we can still feel that way when we’re all grown up, isn’t it?