Paul’s Thing

blogprofile The weblog of Paul Woodford, a veteran USAF F-15 pilot living in Tucson, Arizona
May 2015
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Drawing Muhammad

draw meI did a stupid thing yesterday (so what else is new?) and commented on a Facebook thread about Pamela Geller’s Muhammad-drawing event in Garland, Texas. The thread was started by a fellow progressive who (I thought at first) feels as I do, that freedom of speech must be protected in this country even when we deplore how it’s being used.

The way I phrased it was that we have to defend free speech even when racist assholes exercise it. He took offense at my characterization of Geller’s fans as racist. Over the course of our debate he started calling them “free-speech activists,” and even went so far as to declare that the intent of the event was the promotion of free speech. He insisted that their opposition to Islam is motivated purely by theological differences, and that religion has nothing to do with race.

Sorry, I said, we may know religion has nothing to do with race, but racist assholes don’t know that. We say “Muslim,” they say “sand n____r.”

Yes, racist speech (to a point) is protected in this country, and we have to make sure it stays that way lest someone take away our right to speak freely. But no one at Geller’s event gave a rat’s ass about free speech. What they wanted to do was provoke Muslims into a confrontation (which they did), then use the incident to start a religious and race war (which remains to be seen). Their ultimate intent is to drive Muslim-Americans out of this country … the very opposite of free speech.

Geller’s army of intolerant bigots is no different than the American Nazis who marched in the predominantly Jewish community of Skokie, Illinois in 1977. The ACLU went to court to defend the Nazi’s right to march, and many lifelong members left the ACLU as a result. But if the ACLU is not willing to defend freedom of speech, then what is it for?

What happened in 1977 is happening again today, not so much with the ACLU (which hasn’t yet, as far as I know, weighed in on Muhammad-drawing contests), but with progressives beginning to call for trigger warnings and hate speech laws.

It’s an awful job but someone has to do it. I’ll continue to pay my ACLU dues and defend Pamela Geller’s right to draw pictures of Muhammad … holding my nose the whole time.

I think even my free speech activist friend, however, would agree that openly agitating for race war and the persecution of religious minorities crosses the line into prohibited speech. Over the years the Supreme Court has established limits to our First Amendment rights, and some of those limits are pretty specific: incitement, false statements of fact, threats, and a slightly more vague category called “fighting words and offensive speech.” You can think of these as “yelling ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater” exceptions.

Drawing pictures of Muhammad is, most of us agree, on this side of the line between free speech and prohibited speech. But Geller’s intent, to outlaw the practice of Islam in this country and incite Christian-Americans to persecute and drive out Muslim-Americans, is clearly on the other side.

Is Pamela Geller engaging in hate speech with her Muhammad-drawing events?  Considering her long history of rabble-rousing against Muslim-Americans, mostly characterized by preposterous lies, fighting words, and open incitement to intolerance and persecution, it’s hard to say otherwise. But hate speech is protected. Even if you think she’s crossed the line to prohibited speech, how long has it been since the courts prosecuted anyone for that?

Even if someone starts shooting Muslims dead on the streets and claiming Pam Geller told him to do it, I doubt she’ll be held accountable, Supreme Court restrictions on free speech be damned. I hate to be cynical, but consider Bill O’Reilly, who used his TV show to openly encourage pro-lifers to murder abortion providers, and got clean away with it.


Eat the Rich

11209696_469926303166392_4190474518163375964_nDon’t we wish. The joke is people are outraged (rightly so IMO) over non-contributors getting something for nothing … so long as they’re poor or minorities. When it comes to trust fund babies, celebrities, royals, insanely overpaid CEOs, and the idle heirs of old money, outrage generally turns to acceptance, even admiration. Oh, sure, there are a few of us shouting “eat the rich,” but no one listens.

Resentment is a powerful and basic human emotion, but it’s almost always directed downward toward those we perceive to be beneath us. And who does this benefit? Those at the top, the ones we should resent.

I keep hoping the right kind of demagogic politician will come along, harness our natural resentment, and direct it upwards. Unless this happens, we’ll never see the end of outsourcing jobs and high unemployment. The one percent will take more and more of the pie, leaving us with less and less.

Trouble is, demagogic politicians almost always turn out to be Pol Pots or Hitlers. Maybe there’s just no changing human nature.

We can, however, realistically hope to change other things. Citizens United, for one. If we elect the right president and that president appoints the right justices to the US Supreme Court, we might be able to overturn that horrible, horrible ruling. And if we overturn Citizens United, we might eventually be able to make elections more fair. This could happen.

Which is why I’m for Hillary Clinton. Shut up. Yes I am. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders can’t win against a Republican candidate. Hillary can win and probably will … so long as Democrats don’t throw their votes away on some Ralph Naderish independent candidate.


Air-Minded: Planes of Fame Photoblog

During last week’s motorcycle trip, I visited the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, Arizona. The main Planes of Fame Museum is located in Chino, California; the Arizona adjunct is what I would call an overflow facility. It’s off the beaten track, located halfway up the lonely road between Williams, Arizona and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

This was the first of what I hope will be many cook’s tours of air museums in adjacent cities and states. When I told the folks at the desk I was a volunteer docent at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, they gave me the run of the place.

What I really loved about this small museum, which houses just 40 or so aircraft, is that it’s a working aircraft maintenance facility, not just a museum. Many of the aircraft on display are not just in flying condition but are actually flown. Several aircraft were being worked on in the main hangar while I was there, and outside, another group of mechanics was busy putting a Lockheed Constellation, once General Douglas MacArthur’s VIP transport, back into airworthy condition for a one-time flight to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. It was great to be able to amble around a working hangar, not a mere collection of static please-do-not-touch exhibits.


T-28 Trojan


Martin 404 cockpit


Martin 404 interior




HA-200 Saeta


Early biplane cockpits


Douglas A-1 Skyraider


MacArthur’s Connie


Siemens Schuckert D IV


Grumman F2F


Lockheed P-38 cockpit section


P-38 cockpit


Allison V-12 aircraft engine


Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major aircraft engine

These are just a few of the photos I took during my visit. Click on the thumbnails to see the full sized images on Flickr. Click here to see my entire Planes of Fame photoset.


You Can’t Read That!

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

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YCRT! Banned Book News

I linked to an earlier story on this in a previous YCRT! post, but here’s more on the censorship of an 85-year-old Tintin comic in Canada.

After a single parental complaint, a Connecticut school superintendent overruled teachers and the school board and removed James Dickey’s novel Deliverance from a 9th grade reading list.

An eight-year-old girl has been told she can no longer read on the school bus. It’s too risky, according to the bus driver, who is being backed up by the school board. Other students on the bus “might stand up to see what she was reading, or she might poke herself in the eye with the corners of the book.” Now that is one dangerous book!

Most of the book challenges and banning attempts I hear about originate with parents and are directed toward school reading lists and libraries. But there’s a new gang of bluenosed censors abroad in the land … the easily outraged lynch mobs of Facebook and Twitter. Right now they’re after comic books. Just you wait, though.

The American Library Association opposes congressional reauthorization of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. This is the infamous “library provision” which allows the government to monitor what books patrons check out and what sites they visit on library computers. Did you know Section 215 has been in force since 2001? The ALA, and most librarians, has consistently refused to share patron records, and so far the government hasn’t pushed the issue … but it can, unless this provision is allowed to expire.

Earlier this month the ALA released its list of the 10 most banned and challenged books of 2014. One of the books on the list, the graphic novel Persepolis, is the subject of this YCRT! Banned Book Review.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

Marjane Satrapi

This is a well-known graphic novel, actually a memoir, first published in English in 2003. Clearly, I’m late to the party. It’s only the second graphic memoir I’ve read & reviewed: the other was Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (click here for my review). The fact that Persepolis, like Fun Home, has been the subject of challenges and bannings is what drew me to it.

Persepolis itself, divorced from any discussion of why anyone would want to prevent others from reading it, is a straightforward memoir of the author’s childhood in Tehran. She was a young girl when the Shah went into exile and religious fundamentalists took over the country. She lived through the revolution and internal repression that followed, the American hostage crisis, and the Iran/Iraq war, emerging from these experiences as a teenager. In Persepolis, she recounts the effects these tumultuous events had on her parents, her friends, her relatives, her country, and herself.

Had Persepolis been written as a conventional memoir I doubt it would have had much impact … that is if it got published at all. But as a black & white graphic memoir, drawn in minimalist style, it’s strangely powerful, and, perhaps even more importantly, relatable. I don’t know how anyone, even the most rabid Iran hater, could read Persepolis and not emerge from the experience a changed person. You come to understand how fundamentalism could take over a prosperous, westernized country; how secular Iranians who were justifiably proud of their country and heritage could stay and try to ride out the changes; how those with values like ours became trapped behind its walls; how, by inference, something like what happened to Iran could happen in the West, perhaps even in the USA. Marjane’s younger self … her trust in her parents, her love for her grandmother, her keen powers of observation, her growing teenaged rebelliousness … inescapably reminds you of Anne Frank, and your heart goes out to her.

I passed Persepolis on to my wife and encouraged her to read it. At some point soon, we’ll watch the animated movie on Amazon, and I’ll very likely read the sequels Marjane Satrapi has since published. Late to the party; glad to finally be here.

Now, about the banning. Persepolis has always been banned in Iran, very likely in other Muslim countries too. In 2003, when the English version was distributed in the USA, it was an immediate popular hit, also earning high praise from literary critics. The animated movie, made in 2007, won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and was nominated for an Oscar. No one in America tried to suppress it until March 2013, when it was suddenly banned from Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Via internal email, CPS school administrators were instructed to immediately remove copies of Persepolis from libraries and classrooms. A furor ensued and one day later the school district had to back down on removing the book from libraries, but the ban on classroom use stayed in effect and continued until September of 2014. Students and teachers, backed up by organizations like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the American Library Association, protested the banning and received national news coverage.

The ostensible reason for removing the book, it emerged, was two or three cartoon panels depicting the torture of Iranian dissidents. The panels themselves are neither gory nor shocking; students see far more horrifying depictions of abuse in the the chapters of their history books dealing with slavery and the Holocaust. There was also some mention of graphic language. All I saw were a couple of “shits,” pretty tame stuff by today’s standards. I’ll go out on a limb and say no one ever believed the torture panels and two “shits” were the real reasons someone wanted the book banned.

Did you notice I said “someone”? Thanks to the digging of a graduate student who filed FOIA requests with CPS, it emerged earlier this year that the direction to pull Persepolis came from the very top, from the CEO of CPS, who had been alerted to the memoir’s “graphic” content by a CPS school principal. The original direction went from the CPS CEO to her chief of teaching and learning, who included this sentence in an email to all school administrators in the CPS system: “It has come to our attention that the novel ‘Persepolis’ contains some graphic language and content that is inappropriate for children … it is imperative that we remove the books from the classroom and from the school, to decrease the likelihood of the books getting into the hands of students.” This direction, by the way, went counter to CPS’s own book challenge & review policy.

The first message from the chief of teaching and learning was followed by another: “Who in the [Teaching and Learning] office approved this to be added to the [recommended reading] list?” The chief of teaching and learning reported to the CPS CEO that she was working “to identify the person(s) so that I can meet with them.” The CEO, later that same day, kept the pressure on by replying that “someone is in jeopardy bc if [sic] this. Need a name.”

In the weeks after the initial banning in 2013, when the protest was at its height and the ham-handed banning of a highly regarded and beloved book had made Chicago a national laughingstock, the CPS CEO and her chief of teaching and learning … the very someones who wrote the messages quoted above … attempted to pin the blame on overzealous underlings who (they said) overreacted to queries from higher-ups. Thanks to the persistence of that graduate student, we now know the banning came from the very top. Personally, I expect it goes higher than that, to Chicago’s notoriously hot-headed Mayor Rahm Emanuel (but that’s just speculation on my part).

No, I don’t believe two or three cartoon panels depicting torture and a couple of “shits” is the reason the CPS CEO, and possibly her ultimate boss, wanted the book banned. But I’m damned if I know what it really is. Is it that the book might make readers more understanding of, and sympathetic to, citizens of a nation that’s been a declared enemy of the USA since the late 1970s, a nation many conservative leaders openly advocate going to war with? Or is it that we don’t want kids reading anything positive about Muslims? I think the real reasons for the Chicago Public Schools banning lie somewhere in this jingoistic, bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran area. But again, that’s just me thinking out loud.

While the controversy in Chicago has ended, it’s percolating up elsewhere, first in a Chicago suburb (not part of CPS), then most recently in southwestern Oregon, where one parent stood up at a school board meeting to complain that Persepolis contains language he wasn’t permitted to use before the audience, followed by another parent saying she’d pull her kids out of school if they brought Persepolis home from the library. In the Chicago suburb, the school district voted to keep the book in classrooms and school libraries. In Oregon, the challenge is still under review.

If you’d like to read more on past and present attempts to keep students from reading Persepolis, click here to link to an excellent and up-to-date summary from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.


Historical Thingness

I found a pretty great photo of my blog’s namesake, the infamous desert highway mystery attraction/tourist trap known as “The Thing.”

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The original “The Thing,” Route 66, Barstow, California

This photo dates from the 1950s, when The Thing was in its original Mojave Desert home on Route 66 near Barstow, California. It moved to its present location on Interstate 10 near Willcox, Arizona, in 1965.

Naturally … how could I resist? … I added this photo to my rotating collection of header images (go to the top of the blog and click “refresh” to see them all).

Who loves ya, baby? Paul’s Thing, that’s who!


Mini-Gypsy Tour, April 2015

And so the catch-up bloggage begins, now that visits and trips are over and I once again have time to blog. I hope you’ll forgive my temporary absence.


South of Flagstaff, Arizona

My friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed is a fellow Goldwing rider. We get along well, see eye-to-eye on how to ride, and like cross-country trips. This time we rode a five-day, three-state round robin from Tucson to Flagstaff, then on to Cedar City, then down to Prescott via Las Vegas and back to Tucson.

Ed had an appointment to meet with his son’s graduate program advisor on Friday at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, so we left Tucson on Thursday, April 23rd. I booked us into two rooms at Fort Tuthill, the Air Force recreation camp outside Flagstaff, where we stayed Thursday and Friday nights. We avoided freeways by taking back roads through Oracle, Globe, and Payson, riding up high on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, coming into Flagstaff on a little-known back road bordering Lake Mary on one side with alternating forests and alpine meadows on the other. It was a gorgeous ride in clear weather, but the closer we got to Flagstaff the colder we were.


Ed suiting up for the cold outside Flagstaff, Arizona

Friday morning was rainy and cold. While Ed was at NAU I decided to ride 100 miles west and then north. My destination was the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, halfway between Williams and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Rain was intermittent, but I wore my rain suit and full-face helmet, so I was comfortable and dry. I was a little concerned when rain turned to hail just outside Flagstaff, but was soon out of it. When I told the folks at the museum I was a volunteer docent at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, they treated me as an honored guest, giving me access to all sorts of interesting stuff. I’ll write a separate air-minded post about the museum when I finish this update.

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Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, Arizona

It rained all the way back to Flagstaff and into the night. It was still coming down Saturday morning as Ed and I rode out of Flagstaff. Once we turned north into the Navajo Nation the rain stopped, though it was still cold and overcast. A hundred miles later, near the trading post on Highway 89 at Gap, we had to pull over and put our rain gear on again for the ride into southern Utah. At a gas stop high up in the Buckskin Mountains, the rain turned to what I would have called hail, but which Ed called “frozen mix.” Whatever it was, it wasn’t freezing on the ground, so we pressed on toward Cedar City.


Putting on rain gear outside Gap, Navajo Nation

Throughout the trip we paid careful attention to the temperature, constantly checking forecasts on our iPhones and, while riding, monitoring the outside temp gauges on our bikes. As long as it’s above 40°F, bridges and overpasses won’t get icy. Below that, it’s best to stop and wait for the temperature to rise. Fortunately, temps did not dip below the line for us.

It rained all the way through the mountains and into Cedar City. When we got to our hotel I was disappointed to see it didn’t have its own restaurant … I didn’t want to get back on the bike to ride to dinner. No problem, said Ed, we’ll call a cab, and that’s what we did. We ate steak and baked potatoes at a rustic place up in a mountain canyon, just the thing after a long, cold, wet day in the saddle.


View from the steakhouse outside Cedar City, Utah, a good indication of Saturday’s riding conditions

Sunday morning in Cedar City, and snow. Neither hail nor frozen mix, but snow! Nevertheless, the temperature was rising and the forecast was good, so we loaded the bikes and left. Ten miles south of Cedar City and a thousand feet lower, the sun came out. We stopped at a truckers’ pulloff area outside Mesquite, Nevada, and took off our rain suits. Good weather held all the way to Las Vegas, then south to Kingman and west on I-40 back toward Flagstaff, but as soon as we turned south toward Prescott we saw dark clouds and mile-wide sheets of falling rain ahead. Ed put his gear back on but I chose not to. As it turned out we skirted most of the rain, and even with the little we did get I stayed dry … as long as you’re moving, you’re in a dry cocoon behind the Goldwing’s fairing and windscreen.

As we rode south to Las Vegas, we saw more and more motorcyclists on the road. By the time we got to Kingman, Arizona, bikers outnumbered cagers and truckers. When we stopped for gas outside Kingman we got into a conversation with a tourist biker from Ireland, who told us they were all coming from the annual River Run at Laughlin, Nevada. Ed and I have both been to a few River Runs, a sort of American Southwest mini-Sturgis motorcycle rally. Had we realized it was River Run weekend we could easily have ridden thirty or forty miles out of our way to swing through Laughlin, but our bikes were so filthy by that point they probably wouldn’t have let us into town.

Cedar City to Prescott was our longest leg, somewhat over 400 miles, but we were in town by 4 PM, and the hotel was great. We stayed just off the historic town square, but Prescott being old-fashioned, all the good restaurants were closed for Sunday. We ate at a little pizza parlor near the hotel.

Monday morning it was finally dry and sunny. Our last leg was a 200-mile ride back to Tucson, mostly on freeways. I took the lead once we hit I-17 southbound, set the throttle control at 78 mph, and didn’t touch it again until we hit the outskirts of Phoenix. South of Phoenix I engaged it once again and didn’t touch it until we hit the outskirts of Tucson. We were home by noon.


USAF Camp at Fort Tuthill


USAF camp at Fort Tuthill

The only casualty of the trip is a burned-out headlight, which I’ll replace today or tomorrow, after I clean a very dirty motorcycle. This was my spring motorcycle cross-country; apart from local rides it’ll be too hot to take another one until the fall … but this fall we’re going on a long car trip to the Pacific Northwest, so my next Gypsy Tour may not be until next spring.

Ed’s a great friend and riding companion, and that’s really important on a motorcycle trip. We had a ball in spite of the cold and precipitation (liquid and frozen) … we packed right, dressed right, and stayed on top of the temperature to avoid ice, the only kind of precipitation that really is a show-stopper.

Now to wash that bike!


Tuesday Bag o’ Flag

Crying_Eagle_0001-2Polly’s home with her boyfriend in Ajo and Angie’s back in Tampa. I should be rushing to catch up with bloggage and book reviews, but my thoughts are random and disorganized. I’m leaving on a five-day motorcycle trip Thursday; maybe I’ll get back in the groove once I get some miles under my belt.

Anent the motorcycle trip, I rode over to Ed’s this morning to change my oil. I wound up trying to help Ed’s wife Sue set up a new wireless printer, but after an hour finally figured out it wasn’t compatible with her old MacBook. By the time I was forced to give up, Ed had changed my oil and filter, pumped up the tires, and wheeled my Wing back out of the garage. Talk about not delivering on your half of the bargain … I’m still thinking of things I should have tried to fix Sue’s problem.

Ed’s going with me on the ride. He says the forecast for Flagstaff and Cedar City, two of our overnight destinations, is inimical: rain and overnight temps close to freezing. Together that spells ice. We’re still going, but once we get up north we may have to sleep in until the roads warm up. Adventure!

And now for something entirely different.

There’s a crazy story going around about a woman veteran rescuing an American flag from protesters at a university campus in Georgia. Oh, and video too. The story is that some unidentified student protesters, who just happened to be black, laid an American flag on the ground and started walking on it. The woman veteran, who was also a Playboy model, snatched the flag up off the ground, got into a shouting match with the protesters, and was arrested by campus cops.

I first saw the story on Facebook two days ago. It felt phony to me from the get-go. One, when I looked for verification, only highly partisan, far-right “news” sources were carrying the story. Two, it fits the Fox News racial resentment narrative too perfectly: black thugs, white woman, a sullied American flag, campus authorities making mealy-mouthed statements in favor of the protesters’ 1st Amendment rights, a righteous & memorable zinger uttered by the all-American woman veteran: “If your cause is racism then find some white people and walk on them.” Too good to be true, am I right?

I smell agitprop. Remember when James O’Keefe dressed up like a pimp and took down ACORN with a sting video? Or how about Marine Todd? This comes out of the same mold. I think once people start looking into it we’ll find out the entire thing was staged. One big clue to me is the woman veteran’s use of the word “we” in the narrative accompanying her video: “So we decided to get the flag and give it the respect it deserved.” This wasn’t entirely spontaneous. She had help.

I’m having a hard time believing protesters in America would walk on an American flag. What would possess anyone to do something that provocative, even if they do hate the USA? They’re lucky they didn’t get beaten up, and I’m surprised they didn’t. Yes, the flag is only a symbol, and walking on it is probably a 1st Amendment right, but if doing so isn’t shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, what the hell is?

The flag rescue will turn out to be a staged political stunt, but even so my sympathies are entirely with the brave white woman former Playboy model veteran. I have zero shits to give for the protesters (in any case, I’m assuming they were fairly compensated for their role in the drama).


Saturday Update

I feel bad about not blogging. With the house full of company the past week and a half, my only internet access has been via iPhone or iPad. Sure, lots of folks are perfectly happy typing with one or two fingers, but I’m not one of them. I took a typing class in 9th grade for an easy grade. To my surprise, I not only learned to type but discovered I liked it. Now, it’s two hands or none.

Our daughter Polly was here for several days, the first few of which were anxious ones. She’d found a lump in her breast and had a referral from a clinic in Ajo for a mammogram in Tucson. She doesn’t have a car and could only come on the one day her boyfriend could drive her here, which was three days ahead of her appointment. It turned out the lump was just fibrous tissue, so the rest of her visit was a happy one, thank goodness. She drove back to Ajo with her boyfriend last night.

Polly’s visit overlapped with our friend Angie’s, here from Tampa until Monday. The dogs have been loving it. Different laps to curl up on by day, a wider selection of warm bodies to crawl into bed with at night!


Schatzi & Maxie curling up with Angie

I put our old hybrid bikes back into riding condition so that Polly and Angie could ride together, and they did. Angie and I rode too and will ride again tomorrow: earlier in the week we scouted a bicycle hare & hounds trail through downtown Tucson, tomorrow we’ll hare ahead of a pursuing pack. Angie talked me into putting metal baskets on the handlebars of the hybrids. We had to buy them at Wal-Mart, which made my skin crawl, but the price was right and Angie was buying. The baskets will hold our trail-marking flour bags.

Thursday was a motorcycle day. With our friends Jim and Mark, we rode to the old mining town of Bisbee and dropped in on hashing friends who live in one of the historic homes there.


Jim, me, Angie, and Mark with our Bisbee friends Benjamin and Candace.

It’s been a lively week. There’ll be a couple of quiet days after Angie flies home, but then I’m off on a five-day, three-state motorcycle run with my friend & maintenance guru Ed. Gotta ride now while it’s still cool enough, am I right?

Our mama hummingbird is back on her nest under the patio roof. I observed what I thought was her turning the eggs last night, but Donna thinks she was actually feeding chicks. We’ll know soon enough; I’m not going to pester the little family with my camera this year.

It occurs to me that I haven’t ridden the hybrid with two five-pound flour bags in a handlebar-mounted basket, and that I’d better go practice lest I trip myself up tomorrow. Wish me luck!