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Air-Minded: Gust Locks & Horse Parts (Updated)

I’ve been following news of the May 31 Gulfstream IV crash at Hanscomb Field in Bedford, Massachusetts. This was the executive jet carrying some VIP or other that reached a high speed on takeoff roll and then ran off the end of the runway and into a ditch, bursting into flame and killing everyone aboard. Preliminary NTSB reports are focusing on a mechanical safety system called the gust lock.

The only airplane I ever flew that had a mechanical gust lock was the T-37. It was a bar you swung out from below the control panel and pinned to the left control stick, locking the stick and rudder pedals in the neutral position. Since the external flight controls were connected directly to the stick and rudder pedals by cables, they were locked in a neutral position as well. You engaged the gust lock whenever parking the airplane to keep wind from moving the external control surfaces and damaging them. The locking bar was painted bright red so you couldn’t miss it during your preflight checks, and of course if you did somehow miss it you’d know right away when you did your flight control check and realized you couldn’t move the stick and rudders.

T-37B cockpit

T-37 gust lock in place (V-shaped red bar connected to left control stick)

The Gulfstream’s gust lock is pretty much the same from all I can determine. It’s more sophisticated in that in addition to locking the flight controls it also locks the throttles so that they can’t be advanced much beyond idle. It’s probably safe to assume it’s either painted red or has a red “remove before flight” banner hanging from it … I did a Google search for a photo of it but couldn’t find one.

The Gulfstream reached a peak speed of 165 knots (190 mph) on takeoff roll but never rotated. Flight recorder data shows the airplane’s elevators never moved during ground ops or takeoff roll. This indicates that the controls were locked. The most likely culprit is the gust lock. The recorder also shows that the pilots didn’t perform a flight control check before attempting to take off.

But things are always more complicated, aren’t they? Obviously the pilots were able to advance the throttles to full thrust for takeoff, and they shouldn’t have been able to with the gust lock engaged. Also,  examination of the cockpit wreckage showed that the gust lock was not engaged, though it’s possible the  pilots disengaged it during takeoff roll, right after they realized the controls were jammed (they’re heard talking about flight controls on the cockpit voice recorder, but the NTSB hasn’t yet released a transcript). There’s also some discrepancy with the flaps (the flaps were found in the 20° position but the cockpit flap lever was in the 10° position), but flap position would not have had much impact on a normal takeoff, so that’s probably just a side issue.

Perhaps the gust lock was partially engaged, locking the flight controls but not the throttles. Perhaps the pilots realized the problem on takeoff when they tried to pull the yoke back and found it jammed, then disengaged the gust lock about the same time they decided to abort the takeoff. Maybe it wasn’t the gust lock at all but some sort of flight control disconnect, where the yoke moved back but the elevator didn’t respond. Unknown at this time, although the gust lock looks mighty central to any scenario.

But don’t let talk of that mechanical gust lock cloud the issue. The pilots clearly were negligent during their preflight checks. Had they performed a flight control check before taxiing, as the checklist requires, they would have discovered the problem. Clue number one would have been their inability to move the yoke and rudder pedals. If it wasn’t the gust lock but some kind of flight control malfunction, they should have discovered it during their pre-taxi flight control check when they noticed the rudder, elevator, and ailerons not responding to cockpit control movements. The fact that the flight recorder shows no indication of a control check suggests the possibility the pilots blew off the checklist altogether, which, as sins go, is somewhere above cardinal, maybe even approaching papal. This is a pilot-caused accident. A really stupid pilot-caused accident … but then aren’t most of them?

Update (6/27/14): I found a photo of the Gulfstream IV gust lock on a professional pilot forum.

Gulfstream gust lock

Gulfstream IV throttle quadrant w/gust lock control

The gust lock is the red T-handle just behind the throttles. It’s shown in the engaged (locked) position. The throttles are partially advanced; according to the poster who sent the photo, this is as far as they can be advanced with the gust lock on.

In all the airplanes I’ve flown, you steer the nose wheel on the ground with the rudder pedals. I know that large transport aircraft have a separate hand control for nose wheel steering. I don’t know what the Gulfstream has. If the pilots had to steer their plane down the taxiway with the rudder pedals, they’d have known the gust lock was engaged the second they rolled out of the chocks, because they wouldn’t have been able to move the pedals. If, however, they were steering with a separate hand control, one that wasn’t affected by the gust lock, they probably wouldn’t have noticed.

If the gust lock was engaged and the throttles couldn’t be shoved all the way forward for takeoff, how did they manage to get up to 165 knots on takeoff roll? Also, you start to feel the air moving over the rudder, elevators, and ailerons between 50 and 60 knots on takeoff. If there was the least bit of crosswind (and there almost always is) the airplane would start to steer into the wind, turning away from runway centerline, and the pilots would start correcting with rudder and ailerons. If the flight controls were really locked, they should have been aware of the problem very early on takeoff roll, with plenty of time to reject the takeoff and abort. Damn, the questions keep coming. Maybe this preliminary NTSB report is too preliminary!


And now for something completely different … among the materials that go into the making of the F-15 Eagle fighter are horse parts. Can you guess what they are and what they are used for?


F-15 C throttle quadrant

See the bristles in the slots below the throttles? They’re horse hair, nice and stiff, and they keep foreign objects from dropping down into the throttle quadrant and jamming the works. Horse hair is probably used in other aircraft as well … it seems to be the ideal material for that particular task.


Grandkids and Other Critters

Our grandson Quentin is here for his annual visit. His parents ship him down on Southwest Airlines. He flies on unaccompanied minor status: his parents take him to the gate at Las Vegas and we meet him at the gate in Tucson. This is the last year he’ll have to be escorted to and from the gates; next year he’ll be twelve and can fly as an adult (of course we’ll still do the gate thing … we’re not monsters!).

The drill is the same every summer: Quentin flies down and spends the end of June and the first part of July at our house. His parents drive down to spend the 4th of July weekend with us, then take Quentin with them when they drive home. We’ve been doing this since he was six or seven.

Every year I try to get Quentin interested in reading. Our first grandfather/grandson outing is always to the library, sometimes Barnes & Noble. He’ll read a bit when he’s here … if I nag him into doing it. I think it’s fair to describe my grandson as a reluctant reader. He’s grown up on TV cartoons, Disney movies, and computer games. I can’t generalize, because I don’t know that many eleven year olds, but I suspect reading is not as popular with his generation as it was with mine. I’m sure this crop of kids’ll grow up just fine, and the few among them who are book nerds will someday have steady careers correcting the rest of their generations’ spelling and grammar mistakes.

I took Quentin to the neighborhood library yesterday and showed him how to identify science-fiction books in the young adult section (they have a little atom symbol on the label). I’m hoping he’ll get hooked on SF, which so hooked me when I was a kid. He came home with two YA SF books and one collection of Tintin stories (which I’ll probably read myself).

We have a second hummingbird nest, this one on a storage hook way up in the rafters over the breezeway between the house and garage. There have been nests there before, but not for the past two years. I like to think this mother hummingbird is one of the chicks hatched in a nest on the other storage hook last year. Or maybe this year … they don’t live very long, so they must have to grow up in a hurry. This nest, being so high, is hard to get to and I don’t plan to risk my neck taking photos. Just the one:


The new hummingbird nest

Sunday we invited some of Quentin’s Tucson friends over for a pool party. There’s always one kid you wish wasn’t in your pool … thankfully it wasn’t Quentin. He had a ball, and so did our two doggies, Schatzi and Maxie, who, even though they suffered in the heat, couldn’t tear themselves away from all the excitement. I wish they were water dogs, but they aren’t and wishing won’t make it so. They’ll go right up to the edge of the pool but they won’t go in. When it’s just me and things are quiet (no shouting, splashing kids), I’ll carry them into the water and hold them in my arms to cool them off, then let them swim to the ledge at the shallow end. I want them to know where to swim to should they ever fall in the pool, and they do seem to know the way.

But not Sunday, not with five screaming kids in the pool. Schatzi kept a close eye on the pool toys, and whenever one floated close to the edge she’d crane her neck down, almost to the point of toppling in, to grab it. I can’t resist posting critter photos, so here goes:


Schatzi scores!


Panting in the heat


Chewie wants treats too


The dinnertime truce

Ha, just realized I don’t have any good photos of Quentin yet, not from this visit. What a crap grandfather I am!


Paul’s Book Reviews: Nonfiction, Science Fiction

In that instant they felt an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. Though they had failed dismally even to come close to the expedition’s original objective, they knew now that somehow they had done much, much more than ever they set out to do.

– Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

enduranceEndurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing

I’ve read a lot of contemporary adventure writing, and all of it has been exciting and good, but this narrative, written in 1959, is of another age. That is a good thing. A contemporary writer would have burrowed deep into Shackleton’s head, unearthing (or simply making up) personal quirks, foibles, self-doubts, and sexual fantasies; he would have probed the personal conflicts between expedition members, poking at them until they burst; he would have made his book two or three times longer than this one, lingering on each individual long lonely day on the ice. He would have sensationalized the sad fate of the expedition’s sled dogs.

Not our man Alfred Lansing, a man of the mid-20th century, no sir. Lansing recounts the historical facts, dispassionately describing the travails of the exploration team and the dangers they faced and overcame in a simple, linear, straightforward manner. Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic Expedition was incredibly daring and audacious; Lansing’s simple recounting of what happened, laid out in the order in which events occurred, emphasizes what an incredible story the team’s survival really is. Any more would have distracted from the story itself, which will stand on its own for all time.

Endurance is a riveting read from cover to cover. It never bogs down. It’s reawakened my interest in old school adventure writing, and now I want to re-read some of the exploration epics I consumed in my youth. Were they all this good?

first fifteen livesThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Claire North

It would be easy to pick at this novel, to gripe that the basic idea’s been done before, to point out that the reader is asked to believe the unbelievable, to make fun of the classic good guy/comically evil guy conflict at the center of the plot, blah blah blah … but I can’t. I just can’t. Claire North’s story is too damn good for that.

One always looks for logical inconsistencies in time-travel science fiction. Claire North’s logic, once the reader agrees to go along with the premise that a few individuals among us live the same lives over and over again, remembering their previous lives in full, is meticulous and thorough. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the method the ouroborans, as they call themselves, employ to to communicate over centuries with past and future generations of their tribe, but it makes sense, and also makes possible a chilling science fiction adventure of the James Bond variety, with a malignant genius set on achieving his own goals, even if it destroys the world.

Harry August lives the same life again and again. By his third life he realizes what he is. Others of his kind contact him and he resolves to live his lives to the fullest. He learns, at great cost to himself, the value of keeping his secret knowledge to himself. He learns that it is almost impossible to change the future in any meaningful way. But then, in subsequent lives, the future does change in meaningful ways. And he thinks he knows who is responsible.

I know, I sound like I’m doing what I said I wouldn’t do in the first paragraph, picking at this novel. But I’m not. When I say it has a James Bond-worthy evil-genius-bent-on-destroying-the-world plot, I mean there’s a superlatively engaging edge-of-your-seat page-turning James Bond-worthy evil-genius-bent-on-destroying-the-world plot.

This is brilliantly crafted science fiction with believable characters and a gripping plot, intellectually satisfying and fun to read. I want more.

ancillary justiceAncillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)
Ann Leckie

Space opera in the grand tradition. Ann Leckie’s world building is one of the great attractions of this book; reader reviews mention it again and again. So is Leckie’s exploration of the human intelligence/artificial intelligence theme; in her world the differences are very small indeed.

Ann Leckie could easily have written an 800-pager, explaining and exploring the ins and outs of Radch society; how ancillaries are created; what happens to AIs when their ships are sent to the scrapyard, why the Radchaai don’t use gendered pronouns, etc. But she doesn’t; instead, she immerses us in her world and lets us figure it out … and I liked that.

Things I didn’t like: not understanding why Breq, the last human-bodied ancillary of an interstellar warship AI, didn’t simply wink out of existence when the rest of itself, the warship Justice of Toren, was destroyed. Not understanding why Breq decided to save Seivarden’s life the first time, or why Breq jumped off the glass bridge to save Seivarden a second time — Breq was on a mission, after all, and Seivarden was at that time merely a distraction. Not understanding why Anaander Mianaai, the ruler of the Radchaai, didn’t instantly vaporize Breq at the Station the second she realized what Breq was.

I would have liked to read about the lives of normal people in Leckie’s world. The few humans we meet are scions of wealthy houses, the 1%ers (and just as insufferable). I’m not even sure Anaander Mianaai was human; I read into the text an implication she was an AI too … I’m still mulling that one over (hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone).

These small objections aside, Ancillary Justice is a damn fine example of old fashioned space opera. I wanted to recharge my science fiction batteries, and Ancillary Justice did the trick.

japan 1941Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy
Eri Hotta

The edition I read, a hardcover by Knopf, contained photos from another book: interleaved with pages of relevant Japanese and Pearl Harbor attack photos were pages of photos of American actor Jack Nicholson at different stages of his film career. I haven’t seen this mentioned in reviews, and now I feel I should have stolen my library copy … it might have been the literary equivalent of the upside-down airmail stamp from the 1920s!

Eri Hotta’s history will fascinate anyone with an interest in the Japanese expansion prior to WWII, as well as the leadership’s decision to attack the USA. With the exception of a leader determined to attack another country for purely egotistical reasons … for indeed Hirohito was no George W. Bush … the actions and views of subordinate Japanese leaders and military chiefs presage those of their American successors during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.

I was aware of some of the leadership issues Eri Hotta expands on. What I did not know was how enthusiastically the Japanese population, suffering recession and hardships at home as a result of Japan’s occupation of China and Manchuria (which had been going on since 1937) greeted news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Here, at least, Japanese history differs from that of the US, where few people were happy about the invasion of Iraq.

Eri Hotta manages to weave hundreds of minor and major details into a coherent whole. Her history is clearly written, engaging, and easy to follow.

the circleThe Circle
Dave Eggers

I really should give The Circle two or two-and-a-half stars, but something about the story engaged me and kept me turning pages all the way to the end. I enjoyed the read, and by my standards that’s three stars.

What kept me turning pages? It certainly wasn’t Eggers’ characters, who are paper cutouts, as two-dimensional as they come, there only to advance the statement Eggers is trying to make. Nor was it Eggers’ technical knowledge of the inner workings of cyberspace or the social media industry, which is not much deeper than my own. Nor was it Eggers’ subtlety, because he’s as ham-handed as they come. No, I kept turning pages to find out what the main character’s tipping point would turn out to be, the point at which Mae would finally say, no, you’re loading too many time-wasting social media interactions and mandatory zings on me; no, you’re asking me to share parts of my life that I insist on keeping secret; no, what you’re doing to my family and friends is wrong, no, you may NOT follow me into the restroom! Actually … perversely … the thing I liked best about The Circle is the ending. Without wanting to spoil it for anyone, I’ll just say it’s dark.

I read The Circle concurrently with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The two novels have much in common: both are near-future dystopias; both posit unhealthy developments based in current social, scientific, and economic trends; both focus on one or two big-picture issues while ignoring others; both employ a minimum number of characters … most bent on advancing whatever horrible new trend is making the future unlivable, one or two rebelling against it, trying to stave off the inevitable.

When the company’s CEO announces a plan to embed chips in all children … all children in the world … and then track them throughout their lives, everyone cheers. Not one person says hey, wait a minute. Now perhaps you see what I mean when I say Dave Eggers is ham-handed. His people aren’t of this world, where we can’t even get consensus on vaccinating kids against polio and smallpox. Eggers’ people exist to convey Eggers’ message, which is that we should push away from our laptops and desktops and tablets, take a vacation from Facebook. Good advice, but trivial. He’s hardly the first to offer it, but he offers it in a fun way with this little novel.

Don’t expect life-changing insights or William Gibsonesque cyberspace adventures, and you will probably have as much fun reading The Circle as I did. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for dystopian reading with great characterization, technical knowledge, and realistic scenarios, read Margaret Atwood (Oryx & Crake) or Paolo Bacigalupi (Ship Breaker).

Books I Didn’t Finish

book of agesBook of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
Jill Lepore

I thought Jill Lepore’s historical speculation would be interesting, and perhaps to most readers it will be, but after a few chapters I had to admit it wasn’t doing anything for me. Certainly no fault of the author’s … but I have read other histories of the period and know a bit about Benjamin Franklin, and it didn’t look to me as if I would learn anything new here. Jane Franklin, Ben’s little sister, didn’t leave much of a footprint: little is known about her, and apart from a few semi-literate letters to her brother, there’s just not much to go on. Jill Lepore makes much of the few scraps of information available to her, but frankly a lot of what I read was filler … known accomplishments and quotations of Jane’s famous brother Benjamin.


Thursday Bag o’ Empty Calories

cheetosI saw a commercial for implantable contact lenses on TV last night. If “implantable” means what I think it means, what does “contact” mean? Contacting the inner surface of your eye, looking out? Why not just “implantable lenses”? Sort of a Six Million Dollar Man kind of thing, or am I thinking of The Terminator? The thought of sliced eyeballs gives me the willies. I don’t want to turn on the TV lest I see that ad again.

Matter of fact, I was going to title this post Thursday Bag o’ Sliced Eyes, and I even had a photo to go with it, but was too squeamish to go through with it. Be glad of that.

When I go to my local Anytime Fitness, I bring an e-reader. Thirty minutes of my hour-long workout is on a stationary bicycle, where I can read and pedal at the same time. The rest of my routine, though, is divvied up between several exercise machines, and even if I could find a place to prop the Kindle I’m not on any one machine long enough to justify the effort. That’s when I’m forced to notice the wall-mounted television monitors, placed so that there’s nearly always one in my line of sight.

Other gym patrons seem to like Fox News, and most of the monitors are set to that channel. One or two are usually on ESPN. Thankfully, no one turns on the sound … I don’t think I could bear that. Yesterday a notice on the bulletin board said the gym now has cable. Someone had already gone looking for the lowest common denominator and had set one of the monitors over to World’s Scariest Police Videos. The scary part, to me, was the guy sitting on the bench press machine, watching with open mouth. Why is it these police videos always feature black people being beaten and tased by cops? Do they quit taping when they bust white perps? I have to think it’s intentional, that the show’s producers are purposefully playing to a racist white audience. Like Fox News, come to think of it.

But I’m getting off point. The same bulletin board notice said the gym will soon have Pandora on wi-fi. There’s the answer to my second half-hour … listen to Pandora on wi-fi with earbuds hooked up to my cell phone, which can rest in the pocket of my gym shorts. That’ll make the leg presses go faster.

Game of Thrones is over. Fargo is over. What’s there to live for? Oh, right, books … so many books waiting to be read. I’m reading the newest Pynchon novel, Bleeding Edge. Very like the Pynchon of my college days, The Crying of Lot 49Gravity’s Rainbow. I fell away from Pynchon for a long time … decades actually … but I’m enjoying this one. The only problem I have is when I lose my rhythm. Pynchon moves the story along with dialog, characters talking to each other or to themselves, but he doesn’t always tell you who’s speaking at the moment. No problem if you’ve been paying attention and you’re into the rhythm of the dialog, but let your mind wander for a second and you’re lost. Who said that? Was it Maxine? Or was it Tallis? That sort of thing.

On the Facebook Project (the Weaning Thereof), I’m learning that when I don’t contribute no one talks to me. Used to be every time I logged onto Facebook there’d be one or two private messages and at least a dozen comments on things I’d posted. I kind of miss the interaction, but most of that interaction was like eating cheese puffs … empty calories.

Well. When I have something to say, I say it on my blog, then post links to new blog entries on Facebook. I’ve been doing that all along, and will continue to do so. A few Facebookers click the links and visit, so that’s good. They never leave comments here at the blog (well, hardly ever), but they sometimes leave comments on Facebook. I probably will never be able to leave Facebook entirely, but at least I’m cutting back on the empty calorie interactions.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned some of the odd behaviors our old (18+ years) cat is now exhibiting. Here’s the latest: whenever I give the dogs a treat she muscles her way into the scrum and expects one too. This morning I had a dog at my left foot, a cat in the middle, and another dog at my right foot, all crunching away on Mini Milk Bones. Next time I’ll try to get a photo.

And now for something more substantial …

Rachel Maddow has been raising hell about the mainstream media’s unending love affair with the fools who got us into the ruinous Iraq war, which translates into giving them endless air time to undermine the current president and argue for invading Iraq all over again: “It is very frustrating to see that this is the way that we handle debates about foreign policy in this country,” Rachel says. “We take people who were so, provably, terribly wrong and bring them back and treat them like experts on the very subject they were wrong about. It is maddening.”

Yes, it is maddening. But so is her empty call to action: “Hey Sunday shows! Hey op-ed pages! Hey cable news! Hey everybody! We know you are tempted to keep booking these yahoos on these subjects, but if you keep turning to the people who were famously wrong about Iraq to ask them about to do about Iraq, you at least will be laughed at. And you will be embarrassed that you did this. And you will eventually have to apologize or at least explain yourself for why you thought Bill Kristol should be explaining what to do now. We can see what you’re doing, and it’s funny, but not in a good way.”

We laugh along with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert every goddamn night, and it doesn’t change a fucking thing. What makes you think the power brokers of the media will be the least bit embarrassed you’re laughing at them, Rachel?

One blogger is asking you to put your money where your mouth is:

See, here’s the thing.  However shrewdly rubes like me may speculate from way out here in the sticks about how the Hell these Neocon monsters keep getting invited back into the national spotlight, it is impossible me to find out the truth, for sure and on-the-record.  Realistically, the people who need to be asked hard questions are never going to return my phone-calls, nor will their assistants, interns or secretaries.

But MSNBC shares several floors of a building with NBC.

And they cross-pollinate all the time.

If Dr. Maddow really wants to find out why the fuck “we” keep booking “people who were so, provably, terribly wrong” and “treat[ing] them like experts on the very subject they were wrong about” all she has to do — literally — is grab a video camera, walk down the hall and ask her colleague David Gregory or his bookers and producer why they do what they do.

Then air that footage.

And then we’ll all know.

What he said.


Sunday Bag o’ Antipasto

Antipasto freezeThe second meeting of our cooking club is tonight. This time we’re preparing Italian recipes from Mario Batali cookbooks. Donna and I drew the appetizer course, so we’re making a simple antipasto tray with meats, olives, peppers, and cheeses. The host for tonight’s dinner is in charge of the main course; other members are bringing salads, vegetables, and desserts. Of course if we were doing a real Italian dinner, there’d be multiple courses … but none of us could eat that much.

We once had a dinner like that in northern Italy with Donna’s family. Aperitivo, antipasto, primo, secondo, contomo, insalata, formaggi e frutta, dolce, caffè, digestivo, each course accompanied by bottle after bottle of chianti, laughing and talking the afternoon away on a restaurant terrace overlooking a beautiful lake near Vittorio Veneto. Somehow, maybe because dinner literally lasted hours, it all went down. It’s a different lifestyle, and there’s much to recommend it.

Donna’s home from her sewing retreats, her week at Big Bear followed by a four-day event at a Tucson hotel with fellow members of the American Sewing Guild. They had a sit down dinner for the spouses on Friday night and of course I went. So many sewing machines in one room, different kinds and brands, most of them computerized, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of highly specialized equipment. I was proud of Donna for bringing her 45-year-old Bernina and showing the other ladies how to kick it old school.


Donna (center) at the Tucson sewing retreat

Facebook. So far I’m doing all right with the moderation approach, saving my chatty updates for the blog, mostly, no longer sharing every stray thought on Facebook. I continue to post links to my own blog posts and upload personal photos like the one of Donna, above. In the past I’d see interesting photos on Tumblr or Twitter and immediately repost them to Facebook. I’ve learned that if I force myself to wait a day before reposting, the urge passes. Same with links to interesting news reports and articles. Of course posting links to my own stuff cannot wait!

It’s Father’s Day, and I woke this morning to the smell of blueberry pancakes and bacon. Gee, and I’m not even Donna’s father! I thought of my Dad, of course.

dad_2 copy
I think he was at Officer Training School when this was taken, about to embark on the second half of a 30-year military career (he was a Navy gunner in WWII, then, after a break for college on the GI Bill and a stint as a school teacher in Illinois, an officer in the USAF. A fine-looking man, no? I miss him.

And check out those old WWII barracks in the background. That’s Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, as it looked in the early 1950s. When I went to OTS at Lackland in 1973, I spent the first night in one of those barracks. Most of them had been replaced with modern dorms, but they kept a few open for incoming officer candidates on their first night, just to start us off right, I guess. Bunk beds and all. Beetle Bailey and Sad Sack!

During a command post exercise in 1986 or 1987 the unit I was with spent a week at Fort Gordon outside Augusta, Georgia, where the Army put us up in identical barracks. The ones at Fort Gordon were so dilapidated they had settled into the ground and the floors sloped … if you dropped a pair of rolled-up socks they’d roll all the way to the other end of the bay.

We have a wooden barracks of that era at the Pima Air & Space Museum, where I’m a volunteer docent. It used to be one of the exhibits, open to the public, but it eventually became so rickety they had to close it for safety reasons, and one day soon they’ll tear it down.

Well, happy Father’s Day, all you dads. Sure, it’s a Hallmark holiday, but it’s ours!


You Can’t Read That!

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

can't read_79

Street art by Escif*

* Yeah, I thought it was Banksy too. Click the image to learn more about Spanish street artist Escif.

YCRT! Banned Book News

The best stories are local, and here’s a hilarious one from my own town, Tucson, Arizona: Censored Sabino high school yearbook quotes revealed. Among the quotes covered over with black stickers (12,350 stickers in all, carefully glued by hand over 13 student quotes in 950 yearbooks … oh, and they made the students on the yearbook committee do it): “Every white girl needs a Mexican best friend,” “I’m drunk on you and high on summertime.” It is to ROTFL, as the kids say.

An Avon, Connecticut family accused three Spanish teachers and a guidance counselor at Avon High School of luring their daughters into a religious cult promoting martyrdom and celebrating death. How’d they do that? By teaching a block on magical realism in literature.

Point: High School Principal Cancels Entire Reading Program To Stop Students From Reading Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother

Counter-point: Why I’m sending 200 copies of Little Brother to a high-school in Pensacola, FL

Counter-counter-point: I read Little Brother. I thought it was shit. And Cory? It’s high school, not high-school.

Trigger warnings and book banning: ” … if trigger warnings become more widespread, if it becomes common for books to be listed in catalogs with trigger warnings, then we will be handing the book banners another weapon in their fight to remove literature from libraries and schools. We might even see parents groups pressuring schools and libraries to not buy these books in the first place, simply because they come with a trigger warning. And if that happens, we are all going to be harmed.”

There’s been yet another parental challenge to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, this time in Wilmington, North Carolina. So let me get this straight: you think not allowing kids to see the word “masturbate” in print is going to keep them from doing it?

The Tennessee school board I wrote about in an earlier YCRT! post has rescinded its vote to ban The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. But they only did it after the school board’s attorney explained that banning the book and literally confiscating copies from students who had already taken them home and were writing book reports would not stand up to a lawsuit. “I certainly don’t believe in censorship, but I believe that we could find a book where the author could express themselves and get their point across in another way than what this particular author did,” explained a school board member who totally does believe in censorship.

Tropic of Cancer, the banned book of banned books, was first published 80 years ago. Here are two interesting articles about Henry Miller and his novel, here and here. Both articles, to my dismay, describe Henry Miller as a forgotten author. I certainly haven’t forgotten Henry Miller. Have you? Paperback and electronic versions of Tropic of Cancer are still in print and available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Forgotten? Says who?

Speaking of 80-year-old banned books, I just finished re-reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

BraveNewWorld_FirstEditionBrave New World
Aldous Huxley

As a blogger who writes about banned books, I keep an eye out for stories about attempts to remove books from schools and libraries around the country. In late March this article popped up in my news feed: Cape school board debates “explicit” content in Brave New World.

Yes. Parents and school board members in Delaware are trying to remove Aldous Huxley’s classic science fiction novel from an English class reading list. In 2014.

I read Brave New World as a high school sophomore in 1962. Everyone I knew then read it too, usually back-to-back with another dystopian classic, George Orwell’s 1984. Part of the joy of reading these books was that they were controversial. Both had been banned at different times in different places, which added to their appeal.

Brave New World, immediately upon its publication in 1932, was formally banned in Australia and Ireland. India banned it in the 1960s. Throughout the book’s 82-year history, self-appointed censors all over the world have tried to keep people, especially students, from reading it. In the USA, a Maryland high school teacher was fired for teaching it in 1965. It has been challenged again and again in the years since, right up to the present day. It was 52nd on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most banned books of 1990-2001. In 2010, the ALA ranked it one of the 10 most frequently challenged books of the year. In an echo of the 1965 Maryland case, the parents in the current Delaware challenge have threatened to sue the school for teaching it.

The most common objections to Brave New World, according to the ALA, center around the novel’s perceived insensitivity, use of offensive language, racism, and explicit sexuality. Opponents in the USA have claimed the novel makes “promiscuous sex look like fun,” and that it is “focused on negativity.” Others have accused the novel of showing contempt for religion, marriage, and family. In 2010 a would-be book banner in Seattle blasted Brave New World for containing a “high volume of racially offensive, derogatory language, and misinformation on Native Americans.”

Aldous Huxley wrote his satirical sci-fi dystopia in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and the novel reflects the Big Ideas of the time: eugenics, capitalism, Marxism, mass production, consumerism. In the London of 2540 (632 AF … “after Ford”), children are inseminated and incubated in test tubes, then raised in factory-like schools, eugenically engineered and psychologically conditioned to take their places as adult members of stratified castes with specific social and industrial duties. The lowest working castes, Gammas, are short, simian, and swarthy, lacking intelligence and curiosity, happy to push brooms and dig ditches; the highest caste, the Alphas, are bred for intelligence and physical perfection, and hold down the white collar jobs. God has been replaced by Henry Ford (Ford in his Flivver, as they say), the economy is driven by forced consumption of consumer goods.

Everyone has been conditioned, a la Pavlov, to be happy with his or her lot. Most women are sterile; those who are not carry contraceptives at all times and are drilled in their use. Sex, free of the consequences of pregnancy and disease, is pervasive. Promiscuity is a social virtue in men and women alike, and is one of the tools used by the world controllers to keep the population happy, productive, and distracted from larger issues. Monogamy and parenthood are unheard of. Infantile recreational pursuits … sex, silly games, community singsongs … are encouraged during non-working hours. No one reads; today’s classics are forbidden knowledge. A Valium-like drug, soma, is distributed to all castes by the state, its use encouraged as yet another method to keep people content.

In short, everyone is happy and productive. No one gets pregnant, no one raises children, no one has a mother or a father (and in fact the very notion of family, of spawning children like so many cats and dogs, makes people blush and giggle). Citizens live their lives in the full vigor of young adulthood, free of disease and visible signs of aging until they reach their 60s, when they quickly die and are replaced.

Huxley’s is quite a different future than the one Orwell envisioned in 1984, and when I read Brave New World as a teenager, that’s what I focused on. 1984 was the sad future. Brave New World was the happy one, and if I had to guess then which of the two futures western civilization was more likely to embrace, I’d have said it would have been the happy one.

Re-reading Brave New World in my 60s has been an eye-opening experience. What a difference age, education, and experience makes in one’s appreciation of this hoary old classic! As a kid I was unaware of Huxley’s blithe acceptance of the racist views of his day, his unquestioned assumption that the Alpha caste of the future would be very similar to what Hitler at the time was already calling the master race. I didn’t pick up on Huxley’s patriarchal bias in relegating women to the role of pneumatic sex dolls. I missed the significance of naming characters after major historical figures of the late 19th and early 20th century. His use of the term “savages” to describe those who live outside civilized Fordian society escaped my notice. I thought nothing of it when I read words like “moron” and “octaroon.” This time around, each of these things clangs like a cracked bell. Where’s a trigger warning when you need one?

Yes, Huxley was a man of his times, trapped in prevailing prejudices, but his goal in writing Brave New World was to warn us away from certain social trends, so his heart was in the right place. The hero of the novel is John the Savage, a white boy raised by an actual mother on an American Indian reservation in New Mexico, ignorant of civilized society, armed only with the works of Shakespeare, who is suddenly dropped into the very heart of London. He sees what the citizens of 632 AF have been conditioned not to see: that by being shallowly happy all the time they will never be really happy, that they have unwittingly given away what it is to be human. He can’t fit in; he becomes for a brief time a hermit, then an object of national ridicule, then commits suicide. The novel is short, brilliant, and devastating.

As for the quality of the read, Huxley wrote Brave New World with a broad brush. The emphasis is on big ideas and social trends; satire is uppermost and characterization brings up the rear. Still, though, even 82 years after its initial publication, the novel makes readers think. As I have learned, the more experience, knowledge, and education the reader brings to the task, the more historically interesting Huxley’s ideas are. The dystopian novels I read today, the ones by authors like Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Hugh Howey, and Paolo Bacigalupi, are far better novels, rich in character, detail, and background, with audacious visions of possible futures. But Huxley’s novel still packs a punch, and it was rewarding to study it again after all these years.

Back now to the censors’ objections:

- I’m always suspicious when book banners cite vague concepts like “insensitivity” or “negativity.” What are they getting at? I suspect what they’re getting at … without wanting to spell it out … is that character names like Lenina and Marx, references to Freud and H.G. Wells, and use of terms like “Bokanovsky process” and “Pavlovian conditioning” are a tie-in with communism and socialism, and that’s the real reason they want to take Brave New World off school library shelves and reading lists.

- As to objections centering around sex and the lack of respect for marriage and family, yes, it’s undeniably true that a central characteristic of Huxley’s Fordian future is promiscuous sex, practiced with equal enthusiasm by men and women who never marry and certainly never ever have children. But that is satire. Did anyone ever honestly believe Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal would lead to the eating of children? Does anyone honestly believe that a satire about a future society where people behave sexually as they have never behaved at any time or place in human history will actually lead to such behavior?

- Religious objections? True again, Huxley’s satire posits a future where Ford supplants Jesus. Like there’s an actual danger this book is somehow going to make that happen. Like letting a kid read Huxley’s words on paper is going to turn him or her into an atheist.

- Racism? Yes again. Huxley takes it as a given that whites are and will remain the world’s dominant race. Who else are we going to ban along with Huxley? Every other western writer born before approximately 1960? As for the cringe-inducing descriptions of the “savages” on the Indian reservation in New Mexico, for all Huxley’s apparent cultural hostility, don’t forget that his point was to hold the Indians up to the citizens of the Fordian future, to show by comparison the Indians as humans in full, the Londoners merely debased cogs in a machine run by shadowy world controllers.

In short, the censors’ arguments are contemptible ones, mere excuses. What they’re reluctant to come right out and admit is that Brave New World challenges their notions of what’s right and proper and by gum that’s reason enough to try to keep their kids from reading it.

I hope Brave New World is as central to the experience of being an teenager today as it was when I was one, and that it is still a book everyone reads in high school or college. I hope the know-nothings keep trying to ban it … and that every time they do a new generation of readers will pick it up.



Some Needed Nuance

Yesterday’s comment was harsh:

I don’t have many fucks left to give today, but I can always muster one up for the Republicans, the party of assholes and assholism. I turned irrevocably against them sometime during the Clinton administration, and everything they’ve done since has hardened my contempt, which by now is so dense and compressed it could scratch a diamond.

Lacks nuance. So let’s give it some.

I’m talking about the post-Nixon southern strategy Republican Party, not conservatism in the classic sense. I’m personally very conservative. I believe in pulling yourself up, acting morally, being self-sufficient, exhibiting rectitude, living within your means. I oppose excess in anything. I despise thieves and cheats and people who can work but would rather suck on the public teat. If I could be certain only the guilty would be executed, I’d have no problem with the death penalty.

What I hate is racism, stupidity, greed, and the petty spite that motivates people to be assholes toward others. Eisenhower kept those elements at arm’s length during his administration. Nixon welcomed the worst with open arms and promised them a home in the Republican Party. He did it for the votes, and didn’t worry much about the consequences. The consequences are what have made the GOP what it is today, the party of stupidity, racism, greed, and spite. That is what I hate, and that is why I have such a visceral dislike of Republicans.

Is that nuanced enough? God, I wish we weren’t stuck with a two-party system, but that’s another subject altogether.




I took this photo last night, standing in my driveway facing, duh, west. I wanted a new cover photo for my Facebook page. I also wanted to convey the message I’m sunsetting my involvement with Facebook.

Right. Even as I announce I’m trying to kick Facebook I post new photos. But hey, it’s a start.

Donna came home from her week-long sewing retreat at Big Bear and took off again for another one, this time closer to home. She’s staying at a local hotel with her American Sewing Guild friends, and I, along with the other spouses, will meet her there for dinner tomorrow night.

The critters don’t like it. Donna drops by the house from time to time but she doesn’t stay the night and that confuses them. We used to say we had to stay together for the children. Now we have to stay together for our other children. We’ll all breathe a sigh of contentment when the weekend comes and Donna’s back home.

Iraq. Predictable? Sadly yes. Anyone with a brain knew this was how things were going to turn out for Maliki. And now he’s begging for US air strikes to stave off the inevitable. I hope our folks in the Green Zone are busy evacuating. Next time around let’s be more like the Swiss and just buy our oil from whoever’s in charge. The only people who can create peace and stability in Iraq are the Iraqis, and they don’t seem anywhere near ready to do that. So fuck ‘em.

And fuck the Afghanis too. They don’t have the guts to face down the Taliban? Fine. Not our job to do it for them.

I don’t have many fucks left to give today, but I can always muster one up for the Republicans, the party of assholes and assholism. I turned irrevocably against them sometime during the Clinton administration, and everything they’ve done since has hardened my contempt, which by now is so dense and compressed it could scratch a diamond.

The sad thing is, while we tell ourselves their time has come and gone, they’re telling themselves their time is yet to be.

With that cheery thought, I’ll sign off … and then post a link to this entry on Facebook.