Paul’s Thing

blogprofile The weblog of Paul Woodford, a veteran USAF F-15 pilot living in Tucson, Arizona
August 2015
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The Debate

I started to watch the debate between Republican presidential contenders on Fox News last night. Twenty minutes in a friend called to talk about the death of a woman we both knew and the memorial service we’re organizing. By the time we said our good-byes, the debate was wrapping up.

I should send my friend a thank-you card for for her timely and welcome call. The debate, from what I did absorb, consisted of buzzwords, predictable talking points, and appeals to the lowest common denominator. I’ve have become needlessly upset had I gotten wrapped up in it. Still, I did pick up on a couple of things:

I perked up when Donald Trump said he made donations to politicians in order to have them in his pocket. No matter what you think of Mr. Trump, you have to give him this: you won’t hear any other Republican candidate talking honestly about political bribery.

I also perked up when Rand Paul and Chris Christy exchanged shouts about NSA spying on Americans’ phone calls and emails. Paul seemed to be saying the Bill of Rights needs to be taken seriously; Christy seemed to be saying “not if there are political points to be scored.”

Trump came across as an eight-year-old boy. Boorish, vulgar, unable to relate to others or to shut up. When Megyn Kelly asked him about the horrible things he’s said about women, he dodged the question by condemning political correctness. That, in turn, drew cheers from the Republican audience, who clearly pine for the days when they could openly call people niggers, spics, chinks, kikes, and cunts.

Ooh, I’m becoming needlessly upset! Let us instead enjoy a little post-debate burst of spite from our favorite eight-year-old:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 10.43.25 AM


Tuesday Bag o’ Original Sin

original sin bagI said I wasn’t going to pile on that lion-killing dentist, but the more I learn about him the more I want to. Sadly, he’s but the tip of an iceberg: big game trophy hunting is not just a subculture but an industry. We can continue to single out clueless rich assholes foolish enough to post photos of their kills on social media, or we can get organized and go after the industry itself.

Some airlines are already on it: Delta, United, and American have announced bans on shipping big game trophies. It’s probably impossible to prevent US citizens from going on hunting safaris overseas, but we can pressure congress and the president to follow the airlines’ lead and outlaw the importation of big game pelts, heads, tusks, and horns from Africa and other parts of the world. If the USA does it, other nations may follow. If hunters can’t bring their trophies home, it might slow or even stop the slaughter of endangered animals. Yeah, call me an optimist. I can take it.

I’ve been following the national trophy hunting discussion in the news and on social media, and one thing I’ve noticed … you have too, I’ll bet … is that even as more and more of us get behind #BlackLivesMatter, #AnimalLivesMatter trumps everything. We condemn cops who, with little or no provocation, kill unarmed black men, women, and children, but few of us post death threats against those cops, and when we do we hide our tracks by posting anonymously. When Cecil the lion was killed, our death threats, along with gruesome and detailed proposals on how to torture the dentist first, flooded the internet. None of us bothered to disguise our names.

Why the difference? A friend passed along a link to a New York Times opinion column on the discrepancy between our feelings about the killing of people and the killing of animals. One line jumped out at me: “Animals are not stained by original sin.”

Wow. I hadn’t consciously thought about original sin in like, forever, but apparently the concept is deeply embedded in my values and beliefs, because my instant reaction to that statement was “yes, exactly.” Yes, exactly: animals are innocent, we are not.

I tell people I’m politically liberal but personally and socially conservative. More conservative than I knew, apparently. I’m sorry it took an asshole dentist killing an innocent lion to make me take a harder look at my beliefs and values. I’ll try to make up for it by writing a letter to my congressman, proposing a ban on big game trophy importation.


Thursday Bag o’ Excuses

excuse bagI’m starting work on a memoir-like writing project, so posting here at Paul’s Thing (and on Facebook and Twitter) may become even more spotty and random than it already is. Just saying.

In the meantime, a couple of domestic updates:

The floor of the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink was rotted, so Donna and Polly ripped it out. That, in turn, revealed black mold on the concrete floor underneath. We sprayed bleach on the mold and once things dry out I’ll put in a temporary cabinet floor, but really we need all new kitchen cabinets. Someone’s coming over tomorrow to give us an estimate.

Our neighborhood association approved our plan for an RV gate alongside the house, so we’ll start work on that soon. Meanwhile, between kitchen cabinets and broken dryers and new tires for the truck, there’s no money left for a motorcycle trailer, which is why we’re building an RV gate in the first place. All the more reason for me to do some serious writing and try to earn a buck or two.

Not going to pile on the lion-killing dentist, mainly because everyone is doing it, but also because the dentist probably did nothing illegal under existing law, at least in this country. That’s not to say big game trophy hunting shouldn’t be illegal. As lions and tigers and elephants and rhinos are pushed toward extinction, big game hunting is increasingly seen as evil. The USA could easily outlaw it … it’s obvious most citizens would support a ban … and then pressure other nations to follow suit. I’d like to see that happen. But even if it did, I don’t think it would stop big game trophy hunting.

I don’t want to talk about Trump either, but I think I know where he’s most vulnerable, in case any rivals want to poke him where it hurts during the upcoming debate. It’s his embarrassment over a failed attempt to disguise his baldness.

Earlier this week the Daily Beast wrote about Donald and Ivana’s divorce in the early 1990s. In a deposition Ivana said Trump went to her plastic surgeon for scalp reduction surgery and was furious over the results. Crying “Your fucking doctor has ruined me,” he assaulted her, pulled fistfuls of hair from her scalp, then raped her.

Trump’s attorney reacted angrily to the Daily Beast story, issuing threats right, left, and center. Somehow, though, I don’t think it was the allegation of marital rape that had him so worked up (if anything, I think the marital rape story will be seen as a plus by Trump supporters). No, I think it was the revelation about scalp reduction surgery.

What is scalp reduction surgery? I looked it up on WebMD:

Performed in the doctor’s office under local anesthesia, the bald part of the scalp at the top or crown of the head is cut away, and the edges of the nearby hair bearing skin are sewn together, bringing the hair-bearing scalp from either side to meet in the middle.

WebMD goes on to warn readers of a common scalp reduction surgery problem: “an unnatural appearance because the direction of hair growth is altered.”

Yes, exactly. I always thought there was more than a comb-over going on with Trump’s hair. There’s too much of it, for one thing. Now I see that its unnatural appearance is because it grows in the wrong direction. Judging by his lawyer’s reaction to the Daily Beast story, I’m guessing Trump’s baldness, and the horrible scalp reduction surgery that only serves to draw attention to it, is a huge sore spot with Donald Trump and a taboo subject among his sycophants and staff. I hope someone brings it up during the debate. I think Trump’ll melt down in spectacular fashion, right in front of a national TV audience.

That’s the direction Trump’s been heading in all along. If it could happen sooner rather than later, the country would be better off. Please, Rick Perry or Chris Christy, go for it!


Saturday Bag o’ Attitude

attitude bag 2I remember the last time a cop pulled me over for a chickenshit offense. He’d set me up by matching speeds and driving line abreast in the lane to my right, then suddenly slamming on his brakes for a pedestrian I couldn’t see because the cop was blocking my view. I rolled on, and as soon as the pedestrian stepped back onto the curb the cop hit the lights, ran me down, and gave me a ticket. I was angry and didn’t hide it. Later on, when I looked at the ticket, I saw the words “VERY bad attitude!” written at the bottom.

Like my attitude was any of his business. I contested the ticket because of the cop’s remark, but didn’t get anywhere with that. People looked at me like I had two heads. Really? Am I the only person who doesn’t think we’re supposed to bow & scrape when a cop pulls us over for some bullshit deal?

I haven’t said anything about Sandra Bland because from the get-go I feared it would turn out she really did commit suicide in her jail cell, and now it’s starting to look as if she might have. But the chain of events that led to her death started with the cop who set her up for a bogus traffic stop, and as far as I’m concerned it’s all on him.

Sandra Bland was driving down the road, doing nothing wrong. The cop passed her in the opposite direction, flipped a U-turn and aggressively muscled right up behind her, then flashed her and pulled her over when she moved to the right to let him by. Damn right she had an attitude. I sure as hell would’ve, and so would you. When did that become a crime?

Something’s gone way wrong with police professionalism. Maybe it was never there in the first place. It’s certainly not there now. They treat us all as perps, white and brown and black alike, and expect us to grovel. Of course we’re a hell of a lot more likely to be beaten or tased if we’re black or brown, but plenty of white motorists get the treatment as well.

Keep that smart phone handy, peeps. Video every encounter you have with the police, and if you see someone else being roughed up by a cop, pull over and tape it. These taped encounters are making a difference. They’re going viral, popping up on the six o’clock news, and making people think.

Ten, fifteen years ago, most people would react to stories about cops beating people up during traffic stops with a shrug. They’d say that’s what you get for showing an attitude. Today not so much. More and more of us are saying bullshit, the cops are the problem, not our attitudes. We owe this sea change to smart phones.


Air-Minded: Where’s a Black Box When You Need It? (Updated 7/23/15)

In an Air Force pilot’s career there are few tasks harder and more frustrating than trying to figure out how and why a fellow pilot crashed, especially when said pilot dies and is unable to tell you why and how the crash occurred, and oh by the way hits the ground so hard that it becomes nearly impossible to find clues in the wreckage. It’s even worse when pilot and aircraft disappear, leaving no clues at all.


Massachusetts ANG F-15C Eagle (USAF photo)

‘Hawk 11 declaring emergency': How an F-15C Eagle fighter crashed in Virginia

I sympathize with the officers who were assigned to investigate the fatal crash of a Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C Eagle, call sign Hawk 11, in August, 2014. The pilot, a lieutenant colonel with years of experience in the Eagle, crashed on a solo cross-country flight from his base in Westfield, Massachusetts to a naval air station near New Orleans, where contractors were to install a new radar in the aircraft.

After takeoff, Hawk 11 climbed to a cruising altitude of 43,000 feet and set a course south. Somewhere over Virginia the aircraft began descending rapidly, and a few seconds later the pilot radioed a terse announcement to air traffic control: “Hawk 11 declaring emergency.” An air traffic controller asked for an update a short time later. The pilot responded: “Affirm. Standby.” That was the last communication with Hawk 11. From that point on, air traffic controllers could only watch as the aircraft’s transponder return indicated a steady and rapid loss of altitude, all the way to the ground.

The crash site was in the George Washington National Forest near Deerfield, Virginia. The impact left a 20-foot deep crater and only a few intact pieces and parts of the F-15. I remember following news of the crash last August, and one detail I recall was that it took the crash site response team a couple of days to figure out that the pilot had not ejected before impact but had died in the cockpit. This told me there was very little left of him.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.31.30 AM

Hawk 11 crash site (USAF photo)

So, no witness. The pilot died in the crash. Air traffic control was able to provide the timeline of the radio calls, along with a radar trace of the F-15’s rapid descent to the ground. That left the crash site and crater, with whatever clues they contained. I’ve seen high speed impacts, and I don’t imagine there was much of the aircraft left. Investigators must have worked very hard to find any physical clues at all.

Here’s the thing: military fighter aircraft of this era do not carry “black box” cockpit voice and aircraft performance recorders. I understand newer fighters like the F-22 and F-35, which are largely digital platforms, do.

Reading between the lines of the linked article, investigators presumably were able to dig up the cockpit warning light panel. From it they were able to determine the environmental control system (ECS) warning light was on at the time of the crash.

The ECS supplies cockpit pressurization and air conditioning. An ECS warning could be triggered by fire or overheating in the avionics bays; it could also be triggered by superheated air from the jet engines’ compressor sections bypassing the cooling system and venting straight into the avionics and cockpit. It might also indicate a pressurization failure. Any or all of these things are deadly serious and would be immediately apparent to the pilot. I always knew that if I got an ECS light I’d have to select 100% oxygen and start an immediate dive to below 10,000 feet, where I could dump cabin pressure and cool the cockpit with ram air from outside. That’s probably what this pilot was trying to do when he started down from 43,000 feet.

Investigators knew the F-15 entered a rapid descent, presumably initiated by the pilot, who did declare an emergency, not something you ever do lightly. There’s evidence for all of that. The forensic evidence of the ECS light provided a logical reason why the pilot would have wanted to descend, and quickly. But why didn’t the pilot level off at a lower altitude? There’s no way to know. The report doesn’t address toxicology, and that’s probably because there wasn’t enough of Hawk 11’s pilot left to determine his physical condition at impact. Presumably, the pilot became incapacitated during the descent and was no longer controlling the aircraft as it dove into the ground.

That, of course, is speculative, but what else could explain his failure to level off at a lower altitude? He couldn’t tell the investigators. Physical evidence apparently couldn’t tell them either. Here’s how the Air Force put it: “With no eyewitness accounts, surviving aircrew members, detailed emergency calls, or flight data recordings, and with minimal information from analysis of components recovered at the mishap site, the specific reason [the pilot] became incapacitated could not be determined.”

I’ve been on mishap investigation boards like this one. I investigated an F-15 crash in Alaska where the pilot, a close friend and squadron mate, went down without making any radio calls first, and what’s worse, crashed in an area where radar coverage was blocked by mountains and didn’t go all the way to the ground, so there was no radar trace to tell us where he was and what he was doing when he got into trouble. The other F-15 pilot in the flight was up in the weather and didn’t see a thing. We knew the approximate location where the F-15 went down, but it took two whole days to find the actual crash site. My friend hit hard and fast in a wooded area on the side of a mountain and didn’t leave a lot of himself or the airplane behind. When I saw the Virginia crash site photo above, my first thought was how closely it resembled the Alaska crash site.

Our mishap report, when we finally finished it, was 100% informed speculation. It’s frustrating as hell when that’s the best you can do.

Interestingly, during the course of that investigation we were told about an Alaskan Air Command F-4E that had disappeared a few years earlier, along with its two crew members, at almost the exact location of our F-15 crash. Talk about leaving few clues behind: those two guys left no clues at all. Both of them, along with their Phantom, simply vanished, never to be found. And that’s pretty much what that earlier mishap report said: sorry, Charlie, we have no idea what happened here.

About a year before I started flying Eagles at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, an F-4E from the same squadron went down into the North Sea. The pilot and back-seater in another F-4E saw a splash out of the corners of their eyes. They immediately circled back and marked the location, but despite a lengthy, thorough search in the shallow waters of the North Sea, neither bodies nor aircraft were found, and no one ever figured out what happened. During the time I flew Eagles at Kadena Air Base in Japan, we lost two F-15s at sea. Same thing: no radio calls, no witnesses, no aircraft wreckage, no bodies. They vanished. The ocean is large and we are small. I’m glad I didn’t have to serve on those mishap boards.

Most aircraft crash sites, however, are found. I suppose a damn good argument can be made for installing black box cockpit voice and aircraft performance recorders on older military aircraft. We’re still flying lots of older aircraft like the F-15, and that means we haven’t lost the last one yet, not by a long shot. I wonder if the mishap board for the Massachusetts ANG crash made that recommendation? I know the mishap report I helped write after the Alaska F-15 crash did. And that was back in 1985.

Update (7/23/15): I edited the post to make some points clearer and to do a better job of connecting dots. Also, too, this, forwarded by a friend this morning: Air Force chooses solid-state data recorders from Calculex for F-15 jet aircraft. The linked article isn’t clear whether these are crash-survivable airliner-style recorders or something else, but for now I’m going to assume the Air Force is finally taking action on my 1985 F-15 class A mishap board recommendation.


A Memorial

When I became a mail-order minister several years ago and started officiating weddings, I knew the day would come I’d be asked to do a funeral. That day is here. A friend is setting up a memorial for C____, a mutual acquaintance who recently took her life, and she’s asked me to officiate.

Suicide may or may not be a taboo subject at the memorial. C____’s Tucson friends still aren’t openly talking about it, and no one yet knows if C____’s family, who will be here for the memorial, will want it mentioned.

I told my friend I’d do it. Now it’s up to the family. If they want me to officiate at their daughter’s memorial, I’ll have to broach the subject with them. I’ll comply with their wishes, of course.

At first I considered saying no. C____ was a member of the local Hash House Harriers club. That’s how I knew her, but I didn’t know her well, and I haven’t been out with that group in at least two years. Also, I’m not a believer. When people ask me to perform weddings I’m always up front about that: I tell them if they’re looking for religious sanction I’m not the guy they want.

No problem, my friend explained, C____ wasn’t religious. Okay, then. That, plus the fact I’m not one of her close friends and am a little distant from the club through which we knew each other, might make me the right guy, in some hard-to-explain way, to say the formal words at her memorial service. I think C____ would be cool with it … I couldn’t do it otherwise.

Suicide? It’s a profound shock when someone you know chooses that option. I’m deeply sorry C____ chose that way out of her troubles, but it was her decision and I have to respect and accept it.

Don’t any of you do it, though. Please?


You Can’t Read That!

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


From the Underground New York Public Library Tumblr (photo by Ourit Ben-Haim)

YCRT! News Roundup

With Harper Lee’s re-emergence on the literary scene, people are once again talking about her famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Predictably, some of those people think the book, and at least one high school production of a play based on the book, should be suppressed.

Here’s some news about a failed effort to ban disturbing posters of clowns. While I’m totally opposed to banning books, I fully endorse the banning of clowns.

Administrators force a public school library to pull copies of a graphic novel from its shelves after a single verbal complaint from a parent, short-circuiting their own formal review process.

Public library in Texas stands up to conservative parents who wanted two LGBT-themed books removed from its children’s collection.

I didn’t know that Ray Bradbury’s publisher, Ballentine Books, for years only sold a bowdlerized version of Fahrenheit 451. Apparantly Bradbury didn’t know either, and was furious when he found out.

Disturbing if true: “In just four years, the percentage of Americans who believe there are any books that should be banned has increased by more than half: 28% believe this to be the case today, vs. 18% in 2011.”

The mayor of Venice, Italy, has officially banned school books addressing homosexuality and disability.

The Fivethirtyeight blog questions the statistical validity of the American Library Association’s list of most-banned books, complaining that the ALA won’t share its data. Here is ALA’s response.

Trigger warnings: Judy Blume laments that many on the left are now pushing censorship with the same zeal as the 1980s religious right.

Columbia University agrees with Ms Blume: it will combat censorship by not requiring professors to issue trigger warnings about class materials. It did, however, remove Ovid’s Metamorphoses from one class reading list, a book that triggered sensitive fee-fees in some students.

YCRT Banned Book Review

gossip girlGossip Girl
Cecily von Ziegesar

I read Gossip Girl because it appeared on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books in 2006, 2008, and 2011. These are books that are challenged by parents and religious groups who want them removed from school libraries and reading lists, often for brief mentions of sex or masturbation.

Generally, when I read such books, I find them to be honest, well written, and moral. Many are written with young adult audiences in mind and are meant to teach critical thinking. They abound with valuable life lessons and are just the sort of books I wish I’d have read back in junior high. I usually come away scratching my head, wondering if these parents and religious groups ever read past the offending passage.

Alas, this is not the case with Gossip Girl. I read this slim volume, the first in a series of Gossip Girl books aimed at young adult readers, in six hours. Finishing it, I felt as if I’d emerged from a long wait in a dentist’s office with nothing to read but back issues of People and Teen Beat. Shallow? If you take out celebrity and designer label name-dropping, along with mentions of glamorous vacation destinations and tony Manhattan addresses, you’ll be left with a pamphlet.

And what would be in that pamphlet? Bitchy WASP prep school girls and their date-rapey WASP preppie boyfriends, gossiping, cutting each other down to size, plotting vengeance over minor slights, drinking, taking drugs, cutting school, lying, fucking, and having their anuses photographed. No damn wonder this book gets parents and religious groups riled up … it’s nihilistic, bereft of a moral compass, dedicated to greed and vindictiveness.

I kept asking myself if there was some joke I wasn’t getting. Was I supposed to hate these characters? Were my lips meant to curl in disgust? Is Gossip Girl a subversive tract to be studied by proletarian youth so they’ll know who to drag to the guillotine, come the revolution?

Who reads this stuff? If J.K. Rowling’s heroes had been Draco Malfoy and his band of bullying shits, she’d still be languishing in obscurity. Yet the Gossip Girl books are quite popular, I understand, mainly with young girls. Are girls really this shallow? Well, obviously someone buys all those celeb lifestyle magazines!

I suspect parents and religious groups go after the Gossip Girl books because they depict teenaged kids having sex and taking drugs. Personally, I’m far more upset by the characters’ lack of values and the absence of moral direction from the author. Would I want copies removed from the local junior high school’s library? No, of course not. But if I had a teenager at home, this is the last book I’d recommend.


We Don’t Get It

Most times, we on the left can safely laugh off the manufactured controversies of our brothers and sisters on the right. We know they don’t really believe Barack and Hillary killed four Americans in Benghazi. We know they know allowing Medicare to cover end-of-live counseling isn’t “death panels.” We know and they know it’s just about scoring points.

But we don’t seem to get it when it comes to genuine moral outrage on the right. The push to test food stamp and welfare recipients for drug use, along with legislation limiting what can be purchased with EBT cards, comes from a deep moralistic well of resentment toward those who are perceived to be getting a free ride. We all share that resentment. It’s basic to human nature, and scoffing at it isn’t going to make it go away. We need to understand that a lot of voters are totally energized over the outrage they feel toward welfare and disability cheats. We need to take their outrage seriously.

I think the emerging conservative and religious outrage over the latest Planned Parenthood video is also something we should take seriously. I don’t think this video, already widely debunked, is going to go away. I don’t think the dismissive tone of this Wonkette article is going to lessen the video’s impact; in fact, I think the left’s smug dismissal of it makes us appear insensitive, elitist, and out of touch.

Sure, the video’s bullshit. It’s a direct descendent of James O’Keefe’s hit video on ACORN, and just as phony. It’s misleadingly edited and the people flogging it are liars. But behind the misleading edits and lies, there is this: Planned Parenthood harvests legally donated tissue and organs from aborted fetuses. Aborted late term fetuses.

Did you know that? I didn’t. Probably most of us didn’t. Well, now we do. Now we have to think about it. I guarantee you conservatives and religious people are thinking about it (and spreading the story far and wide).

Yes, everything Planned Parenthood does with regard to “donated tissue” is legal and aboveboard, done with the permission of donor parents, done without any attempt to make money off it, done in accordance with standard practices across the medical industry. But god damn it, we’re talking about harvesting tissue and organs from aborted fetuses, and if you don’t see why people might be outraged over that you need new glasses.

You can say sure, but there’s also outrage on the right over same-sex marriage, and we need to be dismissive of it because it’s clearly wrong. And you’re right. Not that many years ago there was widespread outrage over racial integration. We gave that outrage the scorn it deserved. Today (albeit with far too many exceptions) that outrage has become acceptance. Outrage over same-sex marriage will eventually fade as well.

I don’t know that people will ever stop resenting those they see as freeloaders. I don’t know that people will ever not be morally horrified at the thought of harvesting organs from aborted fetuses, legally or otherwise.

We need to understand genuine outrage and address it forthrightly, without belittling half the people in this country.