Paul’s Thing

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August 2016
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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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Amusing Shutterstock find: “Man hand showing CENSORSHIP word phone with blur business man wearing plaid shirt”

YCRT! News Roundup

This is an interesting exchange:

Elementary school librarian to author:

It’s not that I don’t think heroin addiction is extremely important. Our community has faced its share of heartbreaking stories in regards to drug abuse but fourth and fifth graders are still so innocent to the sad drug world. Even two years from now when they’re in sixth grade this book will be a wonderful and important read but as a mother of a fourth grader, I would never give him a book about heroin because he doesn’t even know what that is. I just don’t think that at 10 years old he needs to worry about that on top of all of the other things he already worries about… For now, I just need the 10 and 11-year-olds biggest worry to be about friendships, summer camps, and maybe their first pimple or two.

Author to elementary school librarian:

We don’t serve only our own children. We don’t serve the children of 1950. We don’t serve the children of some imaginary land where they are protected from the headlines. We serve real children in the real world. A world where nine-year-olds are learning how to administer Naloxone in the hopes that they’ll be able to save a family member from dying of an overdose. And whether you teach in a poor inner city school or a wealthy suburb, that world includes families that are shattered by opioid addiction right now. Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. It just makes those kids feel more alone.

Amazon doesn’t have a problem with selling erotic books. But they seem to have a problem with this one.

From the automotive censorship front: family-friendly feature or bluenose bug?

As goes the Texas Board of Education, so goes North Carolina:

For this English teacher, this nomination spells censorship and more governmental control over what is read by students in North Carolina. His track record screams that free thought, interaction with unknown ideas, and expressions of differing viewpoints should not be allowed in high schools.

Some parents want children’s and young adult books rated like movies. But rating, as some book stores are beginning to do, can lead to blanket book- and author-banning attempts, as this high school teacher has discovered.

The pleasures of forbidden reading. I suspect it’s a universal experience. I hope so, anyway.

Literary voyeurs, on your mark! Now you can see what Toronto library patrons are searching for in real time.

Conservatives love to turn the tables on progressives by citing instances of political correctness run amok. Sadly, colleges and universities are only too happy to oblige.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 7.51.57 AMThis is the poster for Banned Books Week 2016, September 25 to October 1. Last year’s BBW poster was deemed problematic: people said the original design was anti-Muslim, and the American Library Association changed it. I suspect the same people who are so busy enforcing speech codes and “safe spaces” on college campuses were behind the opposition to last year’s BBW poster. What will they find offensive this year? My guess: the superhero silhouettes, which clearly contribute to an oppressively judgmental atmosphere of body-shaming.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

During last week’s Democratic National Convention, I perked up when Chelsea Clinton described reading Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” with her mother. Of course I’m delighted whenever kids and parents read banned books together, and “A Wrinkle in Time” is just such a book, firmly placed on the American Library Association’s 2000-2009 top 100 list of banned and challenged books (as it was on the 1990-1999 list before that).

I did not read L’Engle’s book as a child. I read it in my 60s, motivated primarily by curiosity about why conservative and religious parents object to it as strongly as they do. And I wrote a short review, which I’ll repost here:

wrinkle in timeA Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L’Engle

As an adult, I often read books aimed at teenagers, and I looked forward to reading this one because it’s cataloged as science fiction and I’m a sci-fi geek. But “A Wrinkle in Time,” despite a head-nod to interstellar travel through wormholes, a well-worn sci-fi convention, is really magic, fantasy, and witchcraft, wrapped around a Christian, “Chronicles of Narnia”-like message.

So why is it that L’Engle’s book is so often challenged? Because, I suppose, a certain kind of Christian hates being reminded that Christ preached love over vengeance and hate. And then there’s the passage where L’Engle gives Ghandi equal billing with Jesus. Hell, I could have told her that was a non-starter!

Here is some additional commentary on “A Wrinkle in Time” and the reasons people try to ban it. First, from a 2010 article in The New Yorker, discussing plans to make a movie of the book:

Madeleine L’Engle did not shy away from complicated topics like quantum physics or, more controversially, religion. L’Engle, who for years was the librarian and writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, on the Upper West Side, dotted her text with Biblical quotations, and foregrounded her belief in ecumenism—a particularly controversial passage in “A Wrinkle in Time” placed Jesus alongside Gandhi, the Buddha, and Einstein in the fight against evil. To be reductive, L’Engle’s life philosophy is the kind of happy religious pluralism in which Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even scientists can live together in peace. Needless to say, conservative Christians were not thrilled about the easy conflation.

Second, from the Banned Book Awareness blog (unfortunately no longer on line, and I cannot find a current link to the quoted paragraph):

L’Engle was in fact a Christian, the official writer-in-residence at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Christian opponents of her book, however, point to the fact that she was an Episcopalian, and thus a liberal, and thus a commie. Other objections? Placing Ghandi on a plane with Jesus. … New age religion and magic. Strong female characters.

Strong female characters? If strength is what Hillary Clinton voters are looking for, they should be glad to know Hillary read “A Wrinkle in Time” with her daughter!


Cushion Hegemony & Other Domestic Updates

This is not the chummy interlude it appears to be, but a quiet struggle for cushion hegemony. Left Shark prevailed.*


Up early this morning to prepare a rack of pork spareribs and hit the gym. By preparing ribs, I mean pulling the membrane off the back, coating them with dry rub, and wrapping them in foil. Later today I’ll bake them in the oven, then finish them off on a gas grill. Of the two ways I cook pork ribs, this is the easy one. The other way is to put them on the smoker with charcoal and wood chips, but that’s more work than I care to do today.

They told me not to exercise for a couple of weeks after skin cancer surgery. One week off was all I could stand. This morning, on my way home from the gym, I stopped at Safeway for corn on the cob to go with the ribs. While there I stopped at the DVD kiosk and rented My Big Fat Greek Wedding II, thus ensuring myself a couple of uninterrupted reading hours after dinner. Donna and Polly will have the family room and their movie; I’ll be in the auxiliary reading chair in the master bedroom. The important thing is we’ll all be happy.

I generally read two or three books at a time, but right now I’m concentrating on Jim Webb’s excellent Vietnam war novel Fields of Fire, which I’m reading on my Nook. I recently had a problem downloading that book and a couple of others from Barnes & Noble. There was a lot of back & forth over the phone and by email, and somewhere in there they promised to send me a newer Nook as a replacement for the old one. They didn’t follow through, so early last week I called again. Three to five business days and I’ll have it, they say. That’s how long they said it would take to correct the downloading problem, but after eight business days they’d done nothing and I had to call and start all over again. I’ll believe I’m getting a replacement Nook when it’s in my hands. Will I be surprised if they stiff me again? No.

Tell you what, I never experience this level of aggravation with Amazon. There’s a problem, they fix it right away. There’s gift card money in the B&N account that can only be spent on Nook books, but when that’s gone we’re done. All my future ebook purchases will be through Amazon. Good thing Donna has a Kindle she’s not using, eh?

As for TV, the political conventions are over and we’re back to regular programming. Well, not quite: we no longer watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, which was our nightly ritual before. Now we go straight to Netflix or Amazon streaming. Streaming TV’s not all it’s cracked up to be, though. Netflix and Amazon have both taken shows away before we’re done watching them. I was really into a Belgian series called Salamander, but it disappeared when I was only halfway through. Last night we wanted to put on one of the old black & white Julia Child cooking shows, but what was once included with our Amazon membership is now pay per view. I thought about watching Breaking Bad again, but it’s the same story there. I could live without TV. I love to read. Donna likes to read but loves to watch, so giving it up wouldn’t work for us.

*Judging by feedback, not all my readers get pop culture references and memes, hence the link. Don’t say I never did anything for you, baby!


Air-Minded … But Why?

1457707_10151983865867346_269584511_nIf you’re a Paul’s Thing regular you know I love aviation, military aviation in particular. I often write about flying, and when I do I post links on social media. I also post short comments and photos directly to Facebook and Twitter, small stuff that doesn’t necessarily show up here.

The other day I wrote a paragraph on the F-105 Thunderchief and posted it to Facebook. A friend commented, asking when I last flew a plane. It was the kind of question you can take different ways. Was he chiding me for pretending to know about something I haven’t done in a long time? Was he complimenting me on my enthusiasm about flying, given that I’m now a senior citizen?

I’m going with door number two. Yes, I’m a boy when it comes to aviation. I hope I always am. As a kid I dreamed of flying. When I should have been doing my homework I’d daydream about flying. I put the dreams aside in high school and college, mostly, but they came rushing back when I went flying with a friend in graduate school, and not long afterward I found myself talking to an Air Force recruiter.

I’m one of the lucky few who got to do what he always dreamed of. Flying fighters for the USAF was never a job. It was a profession, and then some. The fighter community is small and tight, subdivided even further by types of aircraft and missions flown. In certain aspects, being a member of that community is similar to being in a gang. In other aspects it’s a priesthood. You’re a made man or woman. It’s a way of life; it’s a whole life; you never really leave it. If you don’t go to the airlines afterward, you seek out civilian contract work in aviation-related fields. You get old, go on Social Security, and find yourself volunteering at an air museum. You stay in touch with former squadron mates. You keep up with what’s going on in military aviation and try to stay abreast of developments in tactics, avionics, and weapons. You might even start writing about your experiences.

Shoot, some of the old goats I volunteer with at Pima Air & Space … men who flew EC-121s, KC-97s, F-100s, and B-47s in their prime … still build model airplanes. I haven’t built one in decades, but I’m thinking about getting back into it. Thank god there’s still some boy in this old man!

Air-Minded Junior3

I haven’t flown F-15s since 1997, but I flew them for almost 20 years (and other jets before that). USAF pilots fly F-15s today and will for years to come. Air combat tactics haven’t changed in any fundamental way since I retired, and the cool new radars and upgraded missiles being fielded now were under development when I flew C models at Kadena. Going in the other direction, in the six-plus years I’ve been a docent at one of the nation’s largest aviation museums, my knowledge of the whole history of aviation, military and civilian, from the Wright Flyer to the Boeing 787, has grown enormously.

I would love to have written about flying when I was doing it every day, but I never would have had the time. I have the time now, and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.


Convention Watching

DNC_flagI’m watching the Democratic National Convention. Last week I watched the Republican National Convention. I don’t want to give the impression I’m obsessive about politics, but the coming election’s an important one and I want to know what forces are in play.

Last week I watched prime time coverage of the RNC in Cleveland on network TV and the cable channel MSNBC. The commentators talked over most of the minor speeches, interrupted during the major ones, and kept cutting away for commercials. I wish I had thought of C-SPAN, but I hadn’t. Then, on the first night of the DNC in Philadelphia this week, I saw some positive tweets about C-SPAN’s convention coverage and decided to give it a try. What a difference! C-SPAN’s airing the DNC in real time, no commentary, no commercials. That would have been the way to watch last week’s RNC, had I known.

So far I’ve watched two nights of DNC coverage on C-SPAN. Every now and then I’ll click over to MSNBC. The difference is stark. MSNBC and the other cable channels are pushing the idea the Democratic Party is falling apart. Their commentators keep saying so, often talking over convention speakers. Their cameras focus on belligerent Bernie Sanders supporters. C-SPAN, by contrast, doesn’t interject commentary and its cameras are neutral. You see the overall picture, not just isolated troublemakers in the crowd, and dissension takes its proper place. It’s there, but not nearly as disruptive as MSNBC would have us think. As far as I can tell, this DNC is more unified and hopeful than some of the past ones.

Another thing the cable channels do: when they cut away from speakers at the DNC, it’s often to show clips of Trump’s speech at last week’s RNC. Hey, Rachel, Trump got all the oxygen last week and we didn’t hear a peep about Hillary Clinton. This week it’s Hillary’s turn. Let her have some air, will you?

Impressions: I was wowed by Michelle Obama’s speech Monday night, wowed again by Bill Clinton last night. Wowed by the diversity of the people on the convention floor, who collectively look a lot more like America than the sea of middle-aged whiteness on display in Cleveland last week. Wowed by the diverse and inspirational backgrounds of the minor speakers. Wowed by the optimism and positiveness on display in Philadelphia, in sharp contrast to the anger and resentment in Cleveland last week. I hope the difference comes through on network and cable TV coverage, in spite of their efforts to play the “both sides” game.

Okay, Bill Clinton, the elephant (or should I say donkey?) in the room. Apparently Rachel Maddow and other MSNBC commentators had issues with his speech last night. I don’t know what they said during Bill’s speech, because I was watching it on C-SPAN, but I clicked over to MSNBC after the convention went into recess for the night, and that’s all they were talking about. They apparently didn’t believe Bill Clinton, in light of his well-known infidelities, could have been sincere in his admiration of Hillary. But why couldn’t Bill Clinton have been sincere? Why can’t they believe his love and admiration is genuine?

Many husbands play around. Many wives, too. Some couples break up afterward, but some stay together. Forever. Is their love for one another genuine? I have to believe it often is. The Clintons have been married more than 40 years. The Trumps have been married less than 12. Previously, Donald Trump had two other wives, and his first marriage ended at least in part because he was having a very public affair with the woman who became his second wife. Two other prominent speakers at the RNC in Cleveland, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, have similar histories. The same cable TV commentators who can’t utter Bill Clinton’s name without also reminding us of Monica Lewinsky never say a word about other politicians’ sexual infidelities. It’s almost as if the Clintons are expected to live up to a different standard than other political figures.

I’m heartened to see on Facebook that many conservative family members and friends are also watching the Democratic Convention, trying to be fair. Many of them were as wowed by Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton as I was. Just as important, at least to me, I hope people are getting the word about C-SPAN and turning away from network and cable TV coverage.


Air-Minded: PASM Photoblog V

I always tell visitors to come back to the Pima Air & Space Museum at least once a year. There’ll be new stuff, I say. And it’s true.

The Republic F-105D Thunderchief that’s been on display for many years had become an eyesore, its paint brutalized from constant exposure to the desert sun. I was relieved when the restoration crew towed it back to the hangar for new paint, delighted to see it out in public again, looking better than new.

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The RE on our Thunderchief’s tail indicates it’s a Vampire, that is to say a 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron jet, from the days the Vampires flew out of Takhli Royal Thai Air Base during the Vietnam war. I too am a former Vampire: I flew 44th TFS F-15s at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, where the squadron is now based (and still flying F-15s). I’ve always felt an affinity toward our old Thud, and that’s the reason why. Big Sal, lookin’ good.

About a month and a half ago I noticed a Marine EA-6B Prowler parked on the ramp by the restoration hangar. This aircraft is entirely new to the museum, and yesterday they towed it out and put it on display. Between tram tours, I walked over and took a few photos. As you can see, a restoration volunteer was still putting a few finishing touches on it.

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The Grumman EA-6B Prowler is an electronic warfare variant of the A-6 Intruder, with an enlarged cockpit housing a crew of four: one pilot and three electronic countermeasures operators. It was flown by the Navy and the Marines, but today the Navy has transitioned to the EA-18G Growler, and only the Marines still fly the Prowler. In a couple of years the Marines too will replace the last Prowlers with Growlers.

You can click on any of the small photos above to see the full sized originals on Flickr, and you should check out the last photo, the one of the Prowler’s nose, which shows all the combat deployments this particular aircraft flew.

My last tram tour of the day wasn’t particularly full, so I decided to have some fun with our visitors. I got on the mic and asked if they remembered Ellen DeGeneres taking a selfie with a bunch of movie stars at the Oscars a couple of years ago. Everyone hollered yes, so I whipped out the selfie stick I’d prepared beforehand and hidden near the driver’s seat. I told them it’d be on my blog, and I keep my promises:

Here’s a question for the experts: why is the Prowler’s refueling probe canted to the right, while the probe on the Intruder, on which the Prowler is based, is not? Check it out: the Prowler’s on the left, the Intruder on the right. Does anyone know?

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Happy planespotting, everybody!



And now, from the personal back to the political (even though my friends like the personal posts better).

Re Trump’s shouty speech: loved this tweet in spite of not knowing what “underpants-gnoming” meant:

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Naturally, I looked it up. Google steered me to this video clip, which explains it perfectly:

In the random but disturbing thoughts department, it hit me this morning there’s been virtually no media coverage of preparations for next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Not a peep, and I scan the New York Times and watch network and cable news daily. During the two weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, there was plenty of coverage: speculation on whether there’d be mass protests in the streets, how law enforcement would handle it, how the stage inside the venue was going to be set up, who the scheduled speakers were going to be, on and on. What do we know about preparations for the DNC? Pretty much zip.

Does this indicate Hillary Clinton’s nomination and acceptance will not be as exhaustively reported as Donald Trump’s? A cynical person might think so. I am such a person. Can you see MSNBC or CNN cutting away from Hillary’s acceptance speech for a “breaking news” report on Trump being sighted at a New Jersey strip mall? I can.

Trump has had wall-to-wall coverage, not just this week but for almost three weeks running. He’s taken up so much oxygen I can’t help picturing Hillary as a fish out of water, gasping in the thin air. Let’s hope our media overlords grant the other side at least one week of equal treatment.

Another disturbing thought: the effect on voter turnout if the DNC turns into a shit show with mass civil disobedience and a heavy-handed police response. I hope I’m wrong, but Sanders supporters have threatened to disrupt the convention, and they’re not alone: remember all the times Black Lives Matter protesters tried to upstage Hillary Clinton at speeches and fundraisers? Tell you what, she’d better be in top form, Jesus and Solomon rolled into one. Trump can get away with threatening protesters. She can’t.

Well, whatever. A lot of folks are heavily invested in anger and hatred, whipped up by the rhetoric coming out of Cleveland. I know Hillary Clinton will do her best to calm the national waters next week. Let’s hope the spirit of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us has more public appeal than the spirit of fucking over all the sons of bitches we don’t like.


Reading the Signs

IMG_1027From the political to the personal. That’s how I roll here at Paul’s Thing.

Yes, the beard is gone. Like an infant discovering its tongue, I’d become obsessively aware of the hair on my face, touching it, scratching at it, thinking about it day and night. The symptoms were like a series of signposts, and they read: “A shave / That’s real / No cuts to heal / A soothing / Velvet after-feel / Burma-Shave.”

By the way, this must be the sixth or seventh beard I’ve shaved off. Donna hasn’t noticed once, and her record is unbroken.

So what’s with the bandage? No, it’s not a shaving cut. It’s the result of having another basal cell carcinoma removed, this one near my right eye. I went to a doctor who specializes in Mohs surgery. It took a while, what with the doctor removing a layer, leaving to examine it under a microscope, coming back for another slice, etc, but Donna says once it’s healed I’ll be as pretty as Muhammad Ali. She should know: she had a skin cancer removed from her nose with Mohs surgery last year. There’s no scar at all, and she’s even prettier than Ali in his prime.

When I left the doctor’s office yesterday morning I was wearing a thick gauze pad and plenty of tape. The dressing was supposed to stay in place two days, but part of the tape covered the inner corner of my eye and drove me crazy. Not only that, my glasses slid down to the end of my nose and I had to tilt my head way back to read. One day was all I could stand. It’s not bleeding, so thin bandages . . . which I was supposed to start wearing tomorrow anyway . . . will have to do. The things we do for vanity!

Our daughter Polly’s been living with us for more than a year. I’m not as upset by this as I was six months ago, because at least she has a job now and isn’t underfoot all the time. Over the past few months she’s interviewed with a few Phoenix-based human resources outsourcing companies, but none of the jobs have panned out. We try to be optimistic, but suspect there’s a red X on her record from a previous job in that career field . . . either that or it’s her lack of a college degree in a field where virtually everyone else has one.

How much longer is this going to go on? We don’t know, obviously. Polly’s dating again, and maybe that’s her escape plan. The job she has, working as a cashier at Ace Hardware, doesn’t quite pay enough for her to move into her own place, or at least that’s what Donna maintains. I wonder, though . . . Tucson is full of people working low-paying jobs and somehow managing to make ends meet.

I’m sharing some pretty personal stuff with you here. I hope you realize I’m not complaining . . . I’m mostly thinking out loud, wondering when our daughter will finally become a person in the world.

I’m through with the Republicans and their hatefest of a convention. I snarked on Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, and so did everyone else. Sadly, everyone else is still going on about the goddamned speech, ignoring the truly frightening excesses on display in Cleveland, and now I’m embarrassed to have been part of the chorus. Republicans are going to do their thing no matter how much we try to shame them. It’ll be the Democrats’ turn next week, and maybe Hillary can calm things down and get a positive bump while she’s at it. Hey, it could happen! Not that it’s likely to. . . .

I was taught to indicate a trailing-off thought by ending a sentence with a period followed by an ellipsis. . . . Yes, that’s how it’s done, with a full space after the period and thin spaces between the dots of the ellipsis. When I do it, though, it looks fussy and pedantic. Why can’t we just trail off without the period? Like this . . .

(. . . trailing off now . . .)


The Abyss Has No Bottom

trump-entranceI take my title from Nancy Nall’s daily column: “The abyss really has no bottom, does it?” Yes, she’s referring to Trump, specifically the plagiarized speech Melania Trump read on nationwide TV last night, an act of chutzpah almost as breathtaking as Donald Trump’s appearance in a field of blinding light and mist, itself surely plagiarized from a Watchtower pamphlet’s rendering of Christ greeting the chosen at the gates of Heaven.

Although we skipped most of the Republican Convention’s opening night, we made sure to watch Melania’s speech, which we figured would be the high point of the evening (I bet Donna Trump would interrupt Melania on some pretext or another, and I’m still in shock he didn’t).

I’ll be honest: at the time I didn’t realize Melania had copied parts of Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech. When it was over, though, I checked in on Twitter, where a lot of people had picked up on the similarities, Googled the original, and had begun to post side-by-side comparisons.

Later that night I turned the TV to MSNBC, where Melania’s plagiarized speech was the number one topic. This morning, listening to NPR as I brushed my teeth, catching a bit of Fox News at the gym, and scanning the New York Times online, it seems to me the mainstream press is still making up its mind whether to call plagiarism by its name or to soft-pedal it. I’m gonna predict they’ll go easy on Melania in the spirit of “balance,” and that they’ll be live-Googling every sentence and phrase spoken by Hillary Clinton and other speakers at next week’s Democratic Convention, looking for examples of plagiarism from the other side. But that remains to be seen.

In the real world, it’s perfectly clear big parts of Melania Trump’s speech were lifted, word for word, from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. Today the pundits are trying to figure out who did the lifting. Not me. I already figured out who did it.

Remember those phone calls from Trump “spokesmen” who turned out to be Trump himself using fake names? Remember that bizarre testimonial letter from Trump’s “doctor,” who said things like “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”?

C’mon, Donald wrote that speech. I don’t think he saw anything wrong with plagiarism … not when he did it, anyway … and if he did, I don’t think he had a high enough opinion of people to think any of us would catch on.

I love it when pundits speculate on why Trump does this or that. Is he playing some kind of long game? Is he manipulating people to achieve some kind of genius goal we cannot fathom? Occam’s razor, people, Occam’s razor. The simplest explanation is the correct one. Everything I’ve seen in my life and career bears this out. What you see is what you get with Trump: he’s not playing the vulgarian buffoon, he is a vulgarian buffoon.

And there is no bottom to how low he’ll go. Mark my words.