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Hi! I'm Paul. This is my blog. It is the best blog.

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Friday Bag o’ Bloggage

DIAPoZ-UAAAsvxDWith Hurricane Harvey due to strike a heavily-populated part of the Texas Gulf Coast later tonight, potentially dumping rain that will be measured in feet, not inches, it’ll be interesting to see what manner of leadership this White House is capable of.

Has it struck anyone else that while Trump constantly lays into the New York Times and CNN as purveyors of “fake news,” he’s said not a peep about the MSNBC hosts who criticize him and are hotly pursuing the Russia investigation story, specifically Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Christoper Hayes, and Joy Reid? What’s up with that?

Speaking of water damage, we’re waiting for the home repair guys, due sometime this morning. A couple of weeks ago the air conditioner condensation drain got plugged with sludge and water soaked into the carpet, baseboards, and parts of the drywall in our home office. The damage was appraised, if that’s the right word, and our homeowner’s insurance wrote a check to cover (minus our deductible) repairs and new carpet. We’re going to have wood laminate flooring put in instead, which should cost about the same as new carpet.

It’s time I had an I Love Me wall, so once the repairs are done I’m going to put up the plaques, awards, and diplomas we rediscovered when we emptied out the home office closet. Everything should be done in time for our October visitors, friends detouring to Tucson to see us on their way to and from InterAmericas Hash in Phoenix. We’re hoping we can get our kids here for Thanksgiving, but that’s a long way away (and yet will be here before we know it).

Tucson peeps: A friend of ours is working in support of an initiative on November’s Tucson election ballot, Proposition 204: Strong Start Tucson. If approved, it’ll provide scholarships for 8000+ of Tucson’s 3-5 year olds to attend high quality preschool through a 1/2 cent sales tax. I live in the county, not the city, and thus can’t vote on it, but I’d vote Yes if I could. Well, the least I can do to help is talk it up here at Paul’s Thing, and you live in the city and plan to vote in November, please give Proposition 204 your support.

Holy shit, this insane story about the Swedish journalist murdered by an eccentric inventor aboard his private submarine! As far as I can tell from news reports, there’s nothing in the accused man’s past to suggest he’s a killer, but apparently he is, and then some: not only did he kill her, he dismembered her body afterward. This is Jason- and Freddy Kruger-level stuff. Inhuman. Quentin Tarantino is probably already at work on the screenplay (shame on me for saying that … it’s a horrific crime, and I don’t want to make light of it).

As long as we’re linking to news items, I’m saddened to read about Joss Whedon, whose work (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) I’ve always admired. Saddened but not surprised: how many movie and TV producers manage to resist temptation and stay monogamous? I’m assuming these extramarital affairs were consensual on both sides, and I’m ashamed to admit I’m curious which actresses consented. Why do I want to know? Because I had such a massive crush on Buffy and Willow, and oh golly on Kaylee from Firefly too! If Cordelia, Anya, or Faith did the deed with Joss, I’d say Meh, what else is new? Just don’t tell me it was any of my faves!

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Air-Minded: Tactical Callsigns

This one’s from the Air-Minded archive, originally published in December 2004.

When I flew fighters, my “tactical callsign” (nickname) was Skid. How did I get a name like that? Simple: I blew a tire. But enough about my sex life!

Tac callsigns, as often as not, are based on screw-ups, minor mishaps, and embarrassing personal traits. I flew with guys named Crash, Ripple, Mumbles, Buick, and Tiny Bubbles. Crash crashed (a car, thank goodness, not a jet); Ripple accidentally fired off two live Sidewinders on a training exercise; Mumbles really did mumble; Buick got drunk and puked; TB fell in love with a Korean bar girl who milked him for hundreds of dollars’ worth of champagne cocktails. You messed up, you got a tac callsign.

When I was first assigned to the F-15 I was part of a group of new Eagle pilots destined for a USAF squadron in the Netherlands. We trained together, first at Luke AFB in Phoenix, Arizona, then at Langley AFB in Hampton, Virginia. The instructor pilots who taught us how to fly the Eagle had tac callsigns, but they made it clear to us we were not to name ourselves–our betters would bestow names on us in time, when we earned them. A few guys earned names at Luke and Langley, but the rest of us managed to stay out of trouble until we got to the Netherlands.

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I was Warlock for a few months, for want of anything better. And then Prince Claus dropped by. Prince Claus was the husband of Princess Beatrix, later to become Queen Beatrix. Soesterberg Air Base wasn’t far from the palace, and members of the royal family would visit from time to time. This time it was Prince Claus, and I happened to be one of two pilots on five-minute air defense alert that day. We figured we’d get a practice scramble during Prince Claus’ visit, and we did, and off we went in full afterburner. An hour later we were back on the ground, rolling out on the runway. I had landed first and was headed for the turnoff at the far end of the runway when I suddenly remembered the last taxiway was closed for resurfacing, and that I was supposed to turn off at the one I was just about to pass. I stomped on the brakes, instantly blew both main tires, and lurched to a stop. The Dutch tower controller made a terse announcement: “Alpha Kilo Zero Two, you have fouled the duty.” The pilot rolling out behind me was able to stop safely, and there we sat, fouling the duty.

Lo and behold, Prince Claus was still on base, and up he rolled in a staff car with my commander, Colonel Al Pruden, who flew as Wildcat. By now I’d shut down the engines and opened the canopy, and as I sat there, sixteen feet above my shredded tires, Wildcat and the prince walked around the jet, surveying the carnage. Finally Wildcat looked up and said, “How do you like your new tac callsign, Skid?”

So that’s how I earned the name I flew under for the rest of my USAF career. Indeed, Skid followed me into retirement, when I went to work as a civilian contractor to the USAF, training fighter pilots in cockpit resource management (a flying safety methodology).

I’m not the only Skid. There are several others, tire-blowers to a man (and one woman, who when I met her was an A-10 pilot at Pope AFB in North Carolina) . . . with one exception.

As a CRM instructor I was always on the road, traveling to USAF bases in the USA and across the Pacific. I particularly loved going to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada–we were stationed there before I retired, our son and his family live in Vegas, and we have several friends in town–so whenever Nellis requested CRM training, I volunteered. On my last CRM trip to Nellis, about four years ago, I was scheduled to train the USAF Aerial Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds are based at Nellis; not only do they fly together, they take their ground training together, and I had the entire team in my classroom.

I always started training sessions by introducing myself as Skid and telling that stupid joke about my sex life. This time, though, as I wrote my tac callsign on the whiteboard, I heard a couple of chuckles, and when I turned around to face the group, there was a Thunderbird pilot in the front row wearing a name tag that said Skid. I said “Hey, I bet you know how I got my tac callsign.” And he said, “Did you shit your pants in the centrifuge too?”

That’s such a good story I think I’ll end it right there!

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Wednesday Bag o’ Eclipse Mania

8204300887_3326009078_zLook, I get it. The last full eclipse visible across the US was in the 1970s. The majority of Americans who went out to watch on Monday weren’t around in the 70s, so to a lot of people this one took on the proportions of a once-in-a-lifetime event. For sure, the press played it up with gusto, as they did Halley’s Comet in 1986.

I have to say, though, in Tucson the eclipse (like Halley’s Comet 31 years ago) was a disappointment. The moon blocked only a little more than 60% of the sun here, and if you weren’t looking directly at it through protective lenses, you never would have known it was happening. I was halfway through my 10 a.m. tram tour at the air museum when the eclipse was at its fullest, and as far as I could tell it was just another sunny Baja Arizona morning. If the temperature dropped, I didn’t feel it.

I enjoyed seeing all the photos posted to social media by friends who made the trek to Idaho and Oregon, standing together looking skyward with blinders on. Honestly, though, those photos would have been more interesting if giant buckets of ice had been involved. Which is to say the eclipse was two whole days ago and why is my Facebook and Twitter timeline still cluttered with eclipse posts? Get a grip, people!

Wait, I’m not quite done yet. Here’s a selfie I took at the air museum Monday morning, 15 minutes into the eclipse. See? You’d never have guessed if I hadn’t told you.

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The beastly object looming behind me, like Trump breathing down Hillary’s neck during the debates, is a Sikorski CH-37B Mojave, a heavy-lift assault helicopter flown by the Army and Marine Corps from the late 50s through the early 70s … all of Vietnam, basically (in fact I have a friend who flew them for the Army during that war). Those side-mounted pods house big radial piston engines.

A friend sent an actual letter, so last night I skipped the news in order to write back. By the time I emerged from our home office the unelected president’s rally in Phoenix was over. Someone on Twitter said he’d rather read transcripts of Trump speeches than watch them on TV; that reading what Trump says rather than watching and hearing him say it is like donning a pair of eclipse glasses to protect the soul. God, yes! I cannot bear to hear that man’s voice. I cannot bear to see his piggish face. I hate him with my life, he does not leave the lizard alone.*

Speaking of Trump’s rally, a friend drove to Phoenix and was in the crowd of counter-protesters outside the convention center. She was in the heart of it, and says the cops started firing tear gas and pepper balls for no apparent reason other to disperse the protesters. The crowd had been peaceful to that point, according to her, and no one had thrown anything at the police. Interestingly, the cops started firing into the protesters just as attendees began streaming out of the convention center after Trump’s speech. I have no reason to question her account. I probably should have been there.

My motorcycle riding buddy and maintenance guru Ed loves to ride the California freeways and split lanes. It makes me nervous as hell, squeezing between lines of slow-moving or stopped cars, particularly since our Goldwings are wide machines and often leave us just inches to spare. I was casually watching videos on YouTube yesterday and it hit me that there are a hell of a lot of videos of motorcyclists being taken out by cagers** while lane-splitting. If there are that many videos, that means it happens a lot. I can take a hint.

Also, too, it’s depressingly easy to find YouTube videos of motorcyclists being assholes in traffic. FWIW, I try hard not to be one.

Sayonara, Dick Gregory. You were an inspiration, and you made a difference. Happy journeys, too, to Jerry Lewis. I remember loving Martin & Lewis movies when I was a kid, and several years ago I heard an enlightening underground tape of the two working blue in Vegas. I’m sure Lewis was a hell of a character in real life, but Dick Gregory is the one I wish I’d met in person, if only to say thanks for all he did.

One last eclipse-addled thought: you don’t suppose someone’s found a way to hack US Navy ship collision-avoidance systems, do you?

*I’m paraphrasing a famous 2011 tweet about the Muppets Movie. Here’s the original, which like a fine wine gets better with time:

I hate the muppets bcuz of the Pig girl, she was disgusting, i hate her with my life, she doesnot leave the lizard alone

**Cagers=motorists, the sworn enemies of motorcyclists everywhere.

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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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“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie will stay part of the ninth-grade English curriculum in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin.

Schlump: The tragic story behind a forgotten masterpiece, a fascinating bit of history about one of many books banned in Nazi Germany, lost but now rediscovered.

This Canadian op-ed, Why I Love Schools that Ban Books, is exactly what it seems, a screed against schools teaching anything conservatives disapprove of.

Did you know HBO is producing a screenplay of Ray Bradbury’s classic (and often banned) Fahrenheit 451? Also on the horizon: a Disney movie adaptation of another banned classic, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

For two weeks in July, a judge presided over a trial to determine whether Arizona’s law banning Mexican-American studies classes in public schools is legal or not. As of today, 19 August, he has not ruled. MAS courses remain illegal and the books banned from Tucson classrooms in 2012 remain banned. If you’re squishy on whether schools ought to offer ethnic studies programs, maybe reading this will explain why they’re more than easy-A gut classes, and how, if the Arizona judge rules on the side of white supremacy, similar bans will quickly come to your state, and yours.

Somewhat forgotten: the House Un-American Activities Committee-inspired book burnings of the 1950s. If this is merely of historical interest, why is my spidey sense tingling?

Activists in Cuba say North Korea, like their own country, is fighting a losing battle against censorship. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing this battle draw to a quick conclusion.

Here at home, looks like our activists are busy too. Only ours are scientists, taking pre-emptive action by leaking an alarming climate report before the current administration orders it suppressed.

Why do schools set up review committees to rule on books challenged by parents if principals and administers are going to overturn their recommendations and ban the books anyway?

Look, if TSA “suggests” checking books and other printed material in passengers’ carry-on bags, why is anyone surprised  when TSA agents take it as a rule? You know this is headed in a bad direction. How do we stop it?

From time immemorial, bluenoses have combed through books, counting swear words. It remains one of the primary tactics of book banners today.

YCRT Banned Book Review (originally published in YCRT! in Oct 2015)

the boy came backThe Boy Came Back
Charles Knickerbocker

The Book

“The Boy Came Back” is about characters in a Maine seacoast village during the Korean War. Most of the men of the town are veterans of WWII. They and the rest of the townspeople have had enough of war and are eager for peace and prosperity. The trouble in Korea, which keeps those who know they won’t have to go glued to the radio at Joe’s Beer Garden, is otherwise kept at arm’s length.

A young man with a history of juvenile delinquency, now a war hero from WWII, returns to town after a years-long absence. He has different names, but everyone calls him The Boy. He brings with him a wife. She too has a name, but everyone calls her The Girl. The Boy suffers from what is today known as PTSD. He gets in vicious fights but otherwise keeps to himself.

The Girl takes a troubled middle-aged man with a sexless marriage, Dr. Snow, under her wing (by which I mean she fucks him). The Girl’s act of mercy saves the marriage of Dr. and Mrs. Snow, and for them at least life improves. For everyone else, not so much. The village heavy, Lea, a small-town bully and the cause of many of The Boy’s problems in earlier life, goes after The Girl. The Boy kills The Girl, then Lea, then disappears.

“The Boy Came Back” is worth reading for its portrayal of American attitudes toward the Korean War alone; overall it’s engagingly written and stands the test of time. I don’t know how well it sold initially, but once it became notorious as the object of a book-banning witch hunt, I’m sure sales soared. Today it’s forgotten and out of print, and I had to search out a used copy from Amazon in order to read it.

The Witch Hunt

The novel was published in 1951. At the time, Illinois’ state library program distributed books to rural communities through public schools. In October, 1953, a teenaged girl borrowed a copy of “The Boy Came Back” from the state library distribution point at her high school in Richland County. The girl’s mother read it, confiscated it, and turned it over to County Sheriff Jesse Shipley. The sheriff wrote a letter to Governor William Stratton urging that “the guilty persons be prosecuted and that the legislature conduct an inquiry into the matter.” The sheriff went on to condemn the book for its “communistic intent of attempting to lower the morality of American boys and girls.” The school superintendent of Richland County, Loren W. Cammon, also got involved, writing to the state librarian and including this description of the novel:

Without a doubt, it is the worst form of reading material I have ever seen in a high school. It is lewd in every sense of the word. I strenuously protest having such immoral reading material issued to the schools of Richland County.

Illinois state library personnel apologized, saying they made a mistake in including this adult novel in its shipment of books to the high school distribution point in Richland County. By then, though, the witch hunt was in full swing. In November, 1953, Illinois Secretary of State Charles Carpentier, presumably under orders from Governor Stratton, publicly rebuked Helene Rogers, the state librarian, ordering her to remove all “books of a salacious, vulgar or obscene character” from circulation. Other conservative politicians jumped on board, demanding the removal of “sex education” books from libraries and schools.

Rogers, noting that “if we acted on [the order] as it stands we would start with the Bible,” and without informing the state library advisory committee, began pulling all books not on a core list of suggested titles for library collections. By the time Rogers’ purge came to the attention of the press in December, 1953, she had removed between 6,000 and 8,000 books from state libraries, including popular novels by authors Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, and Mickey Spillane.

In mid-December, 1953, Secretary of State Carpentier’s hometown newspaper, the Moline Dispatch, broke the story, which quickly spread. Illinois was held up to national and even international ridicule. The Washington Post called it “the Illinois Book Controversy.” Other papers, and some public officials, decried “witch hunting in the libraries.” Public opinion in the state turned against the book-banning, and the governor and secretary of state were forced to backtrack. Governor Stratton issued a clarification: while child readers should be protected, adults should be able to read what they want. Secretary of State Carpentier tried to lay the blame on state librarian Rogers, saying her “overzealous and wholesale withdrawal of hundreds of books from general circulation goes far beyond protecting school children in the selection of reading material, and has the tendency of making [my] original intention appear ridiculous.”

In January, 1954, Carpentier ordered Rogers to restore all the withdrawn books (including “The Boy Came Back”), but with this stipulation: he insisted Rogers “make it impossible for school children to obtain smut or objectionable materials from the Illinois State Library.” Rogers’ response was to stamp controversial books with the label “this book is for adult readers.”

Stamping books did not quell the controversy. Newspapers as far away as Great Britain carried news of the book stamping, one writing that “they are not burning books in the state of Illinois, they are putting ‘red flags’ on them.” In February, 1954, Carpentier said the incident had “turned into a comedy of errors,” and that he was “ready to climb the walls over this thing.” In March, 1954, on the day librarian Rogers was to appear before the state library advisory committee to answer questions about the book purge, she suffered a stroke and never was able to testify about her role in the scandal.

Echoes Today

Wow, things have certainly changed for the better, have they not? No, not really. Things haven’t changed much at all, and this is why I get mad when people suggest we no longer need a Banned Books Week in the USA.

One year ago, in 2014, Highland Park, Texas school administrators began red-flagging school library books and books used for class reading assignments that were not on an approved list of titles deemed “safe” for high school students to read. Regular readers of my YCRT! columns know that parental demands to red-flag or completely remove controversial books from school libraries and classrooms occur on a weekly basis in the USA. Regular readers also know that school administrators often cave to these demands, either placing books on restricted “parental permission only” lists or removing them altogether.

In February, 2015, the Kansas senate passed SB 56, which when signed into law will allow for the arrest, prosecution, and, if found guilty, imprisonment of teachers and school administrators found to have taught anything considered harmful to minors, including controversial works of literature. At this point it’s anyone’s guess what “harmful to minors” means.

In 2012, Arizona became a national and international laughingstock after banning textbooks, novels, and plays (including Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”) taught in Mexican-American studies classes, eventually backing down in embarrassment and reintoducing the banned books. Mexican-American studies classes are still banned in Arizona, I should note, derided and ridiculed by white supremacist Arizona politicians in the same McCarthyite terms used in 1953 to describe “The Boy Came Back” as communistic and revolutionary in purpose, pushing principles that lie outside Western civilization.

As for Illinois, state politicians and fearful civil servants still willingly engage in book-banning, witness the 2013 banning of the graphic novel “Persepolis” from Chicago public school classrooms and libraries, as well as a follow-on attempt to find and punish the teachers responsible for its adoption in the first place, a witch hunt ordered and carried out at the highest levels of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

Differences between then and now? Not that many, it seems to me.

References

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Do I Feel a Draft?

Twitter is a great help when it comes to not writing my memoir (or exercising, taking walks, doing chores, etc). Hella depressing though, especially the recent chorus of tweets from those who believe the military is rife with racism and Nazi worship. Yes, I know I’ve been out twenty years, but that wasn’t my experience at all, and I don’t believe things can have changed that much since I was in.

One of my lasting childhood memories is of going through sixth grade in a whites-only segregated school in Springfield, Virginia. I was not a politically-aware child, but even at twelve I knew something was wrong. From the third through fifth grades I’d been in an integrated Department of Defense school at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Many of my classmates there were black, and that was normalcy to me. Now, back in the States, black kids my age were nowhere to be seen. I knew it wasn’t right and I knew it would have to change.

I’m not naive about military resistance to President Truman’s 1948 executive order to end segregation in the military. Resist it the military did, but not for long. By the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 the fight was over and the military was way out ahead of the country in racial integration. Sure, racial tensions have disturbed the force from time to time since then, but never for long: military leaders are always quick to clamp down and IMHO the military remains the example for the rest of America to follow.

Military culture is the opposite of what we see with torch-carrying white supremacists (and, frankly, what we see in many police departments around the country). Sure, racists do join the military, recruit weak-minded followers while they’re there, and later use some of their military training once they’re out and terrorizing minorities in the streets of America. But that doesn’t originate in the military: it’s outsiders coming in, using the military for whatever they can get out of it, then returning to civilian life and the racist culture they originally came from.

Yesterday and today, I’m seeing headlines about military leaders condemning racism. Which is fine, except there’s something about the way the headlines are worded that makes me think the reporters and editors who wrote them believe the military is the source of the racism tearing the country apart, and that military leaders are just now beginning to realize it. What worries me is that people will read these headlines and come to the same conclusion. Considerably less than ten percent of living Americans have ever served in the military, so there are few of us able to counter this narrative, as I’m trying to do here.

My suggestion to military leaders is this: find the troops bringing white supremacism into the military and recruiting others, and show no mercy in drumming them out. How hard can it be? Any good noncom or company-grade officer knows who their shitbirds are, and the Aryan Brotherhood types must be the shitbirds of all time.

And that leads me to another suggestion, not to military leaders but to the president and congress: bring back the draft and stop creating a military caste in this country. Those assholes in khaki Dockers and white Polos we saw chanting “blood and soil” in Charlottesville? Had they spent a few years in the military, working alongside the rest of us, most of them wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

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Tuesday Bag o’ Wet Dog

wet dogYou walk around indoors in stockinged feet, you notice right away when they go squish. In my case it was Sunday morning, and the squishy spot was the carpet by the bookcases in our home office.

The little room that houses our furnace and air conditioner is on the other side of the wall behind the bookcases. The plastic pipe that drains condensate from the AC coils was plugged up, so instead of draining outside, water drained down to the floor and into the home office, where the carpet soaked it up.

We quickly realized the cardboard boxes of files and other junk we keep in the office closet were soaked too, and started carrying everything out to the living room to prevent further damage. That wound up taking a good part of the day. The AC folks came by Monday morning and fixed the problem with the pipe, followed by an adjuster from our insurance company, followed by an emergency cleanup crew sent by the insurance company. They moved the bookcases and pulled up the carpet to get at the padding underneath, which they removed and threw away. They laid the carpet back down and filled the office with industrial drying fans, which will run around the clock for three days.

All of which is to explain why one whole end of our house smells like wet dog, and all you can hear is the roar of these blue industrial fans:

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When it’s all over, we’ll get a payment to cover the cost of replacing the carpeting, minus a $500 deductible. There’s a good argument for having homeowner’s insurance right there. Of course now that I think about it, if you have a mortgage the lender requires you to have homeowner’s insurance anyway. But there are different levels, and those are optional, and I’m glad our deductible isn’t as painful as it could have been.

We replaced the carpeting in our bedrooms with laminate wood flooring a couple of years ago, and had planned to do the same in the home office in another couple of years. Reflooring the office just moved from the bottom of our to-do list to the top.

Every table and flat surface in our living and dining rooms is covered with the contents of those soaked boxes, spread out to dry. I brought Donna’s bridge club card tables in from the garage and they’re covered too. You forget about stuff you boxed up and put in closets twenty years ago, and it’s a bit like Christmas around here. Look at some of the cool stuff I found:

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Jon-E hand-warmer from an Alaska hunting trip in 1985

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Elementary school science fair project (check those labels!)

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Going-away plaque from the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron

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Going-away plaque from the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron


There’s tons more, most of which I’ll also photograph for posterity. No question, the last couple of days have contained mixed blessings. On the one hand, a wet dog-smelling disaster. On the other hand, a treasure trove of rediscovered mementos … and how serendipitous they should turn up just as I’m starting work on a memoir!

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Moral Absolutes

Tell you what, they didn’t just come out of the closet when Donald Trump stole the election, they came out running. A year ago, what’s going down in Charlottesville would have been unthinkable. How much worse is it going to get before we come to our senses?

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Trump rode a tide of racist resentment right into the White House. Some of my friends are trying to convince me his supporters didn’t know that, that they hated Hillary’s laugh or whatever. Bullshit. Trump was the racist candidate. No matter what Trump voters say, they knew what he was and should have had a pretty good idea how his base would act if he won.

One of my few remaining moral absolutes: you don’t vote for the racist candidate because you don’t like the other one. You don’t vote for racists, period.

Because look what’s happening to our country. If you voted for Trump, this shit is on you. You chose this.

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Streetcar to Disaster

Last night we joined our friends Darrell and Mary Anne at the Mercado San Augustin, a hipsterish collective of shops and eating places in a Mexican-style enclosed patio a few blocks from downtown Tucson. The Mercado sits at the southwestern end of Tucson’s streetcar tracks, and after dinner we hopped on for a ride. It was our first experience with the new streetcar (now two years old, which shows you how often we get out these days). Old Tucson is booming, and the streetcar seems to help pull it all together. Our little town is turning into a real city.

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Getting into town and back was fraught with peril. A thunderstorm rolled through our northeastern neighborhood a few minutes before we left, and it was still raining hard when we pulled out of the driveway. A mile from home the direct route into the city was blocked by police cars with flashing lights: fallen trees were blocking a four-lane road. We turned around and took a longer, more out of the way route, and two miles later ran into another roadblock: this time it was the fire department, responding to an apartment complex where huge trees had collapsed into the second-story units, smashing walls and balconies. There was one cleared lane, and eventually we got through … to more downed trees and a series of non-functioning stoplights. A half-hour trip turned into a hour-long drive from hell, but we got there.


I’m casually following the story of the jogger who pushed a woman into the path of a bus in London. What lodges in my mind is the part where the jogger, doubling back on his route fifteen minutes later, ran past the woman he’d tried to kill while ignoring her attempts to talk to him. Also this: that the incident occurred three months ago, and since then this asshole’s been living his life, to all appearances free of guilt and remorse. Now London police say they’ve arrested an American investment banker, who says he can prove he was in the US on the day the woman was shoved, so we’ll have to wait and see if they have the right guy.

Imagine being able to live with yourself after doing something like that, to go on with life as if nothing had happened. I can’t. If the culprit turns out to be American, I bet I can guess who he voted for.


My problem has always been that I’m stuck in the reality-based community. As Karl Rove once said, back near the beginning of George W. Bush’s first term, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.”

I’m starting to fear our unelected president creates his own reality, that he actually believes the things he says. He probably does believe he’d have won the popular vote if only three to five million illegal aliens hadn’t voted for Hillary. He probably does believe he’s done more in the first six months of his administration than any president ever.

More to the point, he seems to believe the military and other government agencies scramble to implement his every word, and I worry about how this belief might affect his decisions.

Trump’s tweets about kicking trans servicemen and women out of the military, for example: to my knowledge it hasn’t happened, and military leaders have been clear in saying it won’t happen until they receive actionable orders from the commander in chief … which they haven’t. But yesterday, answering questions from the press, Trump said things about his trans ban that suggest he thinks it’s a done deal, that he gave an order and the military had carried it out.

Which takes me to North Korea and Trump’s bellicose “fire and fury” rhetoric. I hope he’s not thinking about a pre-emptive nuclear strike, but if he is his recent statements claiming credit for revamping our nuclear arsenal are alarming. Our nuclear arsenal hasn’t been revamped or modernized or changed in any significant way. True, there is a long-term project to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons, but it was proposed by President Obama, not Trump, and it’ll take three decades and a trillion dollars (even supposing Congress will ever appropriate the money) to complete. Trump acts as if he believes it’s been done.

Maybe Trump is thinking of conventional military force when he threatens to rain down fire and fury on the Norks. Maybe that’s what he meant this morning when he said this on Twitter: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

Does he believe this? Christ, I hope not, because it isn’t true. While our forces in Korea can certainly react to a North Korean strike against South Korea, any US-led conventional strike against North Korea would be preceded by a months-long buildup of troops, armor, aircraft, ships, and weapons. West coast seaports would be overwhelmed with military shipping. Tens of thousands of American military personnel would be receiving orders to US bases in South Korea and Japan. Entire units, with their equipment, would be deploying to WestPac.

You can’t hide mobilization on that scale. We’d know if it was happening. It isn’t. But Trump seems to think it already has.

Does Trump believe his wishes, expressed in tweets and Q&A sessions with the press, are commands? It’s starting to look that way. We already know his staff shields him from day-to-day reality. They may well be nodding and saying “Sure, boss,” when he makes baseless claims. If so, he might decide to act on his own unrealistic view of the world. For all the talk about Kim Jong Un being irrational, Trump’s the one I worry about.

By the way, are we still taking his word he’s sober?

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