RIP George Floyd: 402 years is enough

A very short post this time reference the current Derek Chauvin trial taking place in Minneapolis. As if this needs to be said, the trial is to decide the culpability of Derek Chauvin. It is NOT to decide George Floyd’s guilt or innocence. Since 1619 we’ve seen such misdirection by various entities when a Black person runs afoul of our laws, a white person interacts with them, and the Black man ends up dead. For 402 years it’s been happening, that, inexplicably, Black people stand trial for the very inequities whites have perpetuated for too many years.

I don’t watch the news, but I don’t live in a cave, either. So I know what’s going on around this trial, and how certain media are depicting it. I’m utterly and wholly disgusted by certain implications I’ve heard, not just from Chauvin’s defense attorney, but from people discussing the trial, and from unavoidable media commentary implying that George Floyd was responsible for his own demise.

George Floyd is dead. George Floyd is not on trial. It beggars belief that I even need to write those words. Allow me to present the following questions. (I’m looking at you, my white colleagues.)

1—If Derek Chauvin was Black, and George Floyd was white, would Floyd still be on trial?

2—If Derek Chauvin had been the victim, would his health status be evidentiary?

3—If George Floyd had been white, would his rap sheet be an issue in this trial?

4—If Floyd’s death had never been recorded, would we be having this trial at all?

From the top: 1— if Black Officer George Floyd had knelt on Derek Chauvin’s white neck, suffocating and killing him, I think we all know what could have happened. The city could have descended into chaos, as white citizens demanded Floyd be arrested and charged, or at least that possibility exists. I’ve been a white guy long enough to know exactly what the reaction would have been. By way of indirect example, we saw white men rampaging through our nation’s capitol in January, and they plundered away unmolested. I shudder to think what the reaction would have been had those men been Black. It would have been a bloodbath in that building, and many people would claim the violence agains them was justified.

2—If Black Officer George Floyd was on trial for killing white Derek Chauvin, would Chauvin’s poor health be an issue in his demise? Would we be saying that, since Chauvin neglected his health, he basically killed himself? If you believe we’d be having that discussion, I have some mountain view property in Florida I’d like to sell you.

3—If Officer Floyd had killed Derek Chauvin, would we be pointing at Chauvin’s rap sheet, his misdemeanors and even his criminal behaviors and basically saying he deserved to die? Since when have our police officers had the power to not only arrest, but to try, convict, and execute citizens? Did I miss that memo?

4—If the video of this despicable act had never surfaced, if it had happened before hand-held video cameras found their way into our individual possession, does anyone really believe the observers of George Floyd’s death would have been believed over Derek Chauvin’s word? Really? Do we have anything in our collective history to support that scenario?


Let me be very clear about this: I give no support to those who want to defund police departments. I do support redirecting funds away from basic law enforcement into community action programs, which is what the ‘defund’ slogan actually intended, until right-wing media distorted its message. Also, I believe the overwhelming majority of police officers are fine, upstanding, hard-working, conscientious women and men. I also believe they have the toughest job there is. I salute all those who put on the blue uniform every day, do their very dangerous job in commendable fashion, and keep the bad guys away.

But here’s a story that weighs on my unequivocal assumption that the police always act in benevolent fashion, especially toward our Black neighbors & friends. Many years ago I served in the Ohio National Guard with a (white) fellow who was a retired Columbus cop. He told me that at that time, again several years ago, it was routine for police officers to carry an unmarked, untraceable weapon with them as they patrolled the beat. The purpose of the contraband weapon was this: If they were to shoot and kill a Black man, for whatever reason, then discovered he was unarmed, they discharged the hidden gun, then placed it in the victim’s hand, and claimed self-defense. It was common practice.

Another story, related to that one: Days after the LA freeway chase of OJ Simpson, I heard two Black women chatting with each other about Mr. Simpson’s seemingly errant behavior. Here’s what one of those women said: ‘Of course he ran away, he’s innocent!’ Now…as a white man in this society, her statement seemed outrageous to me. If OJ was innocent, I thought, why would he feel the need to run? Then I remembered the Columbus PD practice, the assumption police forces make about the guilt of Black men in America, and how that assumption informs their too often derelict behavior.

Back to George Floyd. There is no reason Mr. Floyd should be dead. None. Not to prejudge Derek Chauvin, he’s entitled to a fair trial, of course he is. But to see George Floyd being tried for his own demise is simply incomprehensible to me. Why does any of his background, his health, his rap sheet, his behavior that day, or the color of his skin matter? And if it’s simply the last factor, the color of his skin, then why do so many of my white friends and family still need to ask why we need a Black Lives Matter movement?

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. Derek Chauvin is on trial. As he should be. RIP George Floyd. Here’s hoping your death finally wakes us up to the inequities that exist in this society. I believe 402 years is enough.

Thank you for reading.

Book Review: The Basics of Rubber

The Basics of Rubber: Amblings and Selected Short Stories by Lawrence Rose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we have a collection of stories that offer a range of insights on topics from contraband flown in from Colombia to Florida, just not at all what one expects (and no spoilers here, although this reader wondered if Viagra may have been a better choice! Or perhaps a stool-softener? Or could that be Shonda?).

We move on to the quintessential object of U.S. capitalistic imperialism: Bananas. Who knew there was such an intense interest in them? The author could have included their uniformity in U.S. markets, despite the variety grown elsewhere, and the reasons for this, (thank you ever so much United Fruit Company.

Good rendition of the SF haunted house, and here again this reader wondered why no mention of Carlotta Monterey, O’Neal’s long-time paramour?

The pieces cover all kinds of subjects & geographies from cow-chip tossing contests in Oklahoma, to geology in ‘Cutthroat Gap,’ to a seeming version of the Scopes trial with the admonition to ‘never sleep with the attendance lady.’

We move on to northern France, and a study of WW1 battlefields, and then a kind of scavenger hunt for Dan Brown, and how that author’s literary works have upended the once bucolic countryside now overrun with Brown-artifact seeking tourists.

Through the individual works we get a sense that the author has a deep understanding of each topic, along with a misty nostalgia for a long ago past that once saw him ranging these very landscapes, making love with these very women, and drinking life to its top.

In the final, eponymous essay, a German operative ‘Crazy Heinie’ seeks to destroy the world through a monopolistic scheme centered on rubber of all things. ‘When you’re out to destroy the world, someone’s going to hear about it.’ Indeed. And then write about it. The Basics of Rubber: Amblings and Selected Short Stories

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Book Review: From Plain to Plane

From Plain to Plane: My Mennonite Childhood, A National Scandal, and an Unconventional Soar to Freedom by Patty Bear

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we have a story of one woman’s escape from a fanatical father, the circumscribed life he demanded of her, and the simple life of the ‘Plain people.’ Once Ms Bear frees herself of the constraints of her childhood, and navigates away from crushing self-doubt, she rises to the pinnacle of achievement.

Reminiscent of Tara Westover’s ‘Educated,’ Ms Bear’s book takes us behind the scenes of an often violent and disruptive childhood, to her triumph after many harsh realizations, and finally her understanding that she is worthy of far more than her violent and judgmental father believes she is. The awakening is not easy, nor is it pain free. As she writes, ‘being frozen is uncomfortable, but it is nothing compared to the burning agony of thawing.’

Bear writes beautifully, and her story, heartrending at times, infuriating at others, will resonate with anyone trapped in a cultish environment.

The story takes us to a bucolic place and time, with few of the amenities of current life. The author sprinkles in references to lush farm life, the smells, the foods, and the promise of a simple life in her Mennonite community. When her father’s irrational anger against the church boils over, and that life is destroyed, her determination to find something better drives her to succeed. One distinct phrase from her father chills her soul: “You’re on your own,” he says.

Alone in a field one day, newly aware that his words are both warning and liberating, she sees very clearly that she must escape. She hears another voice: “You will have a bigger life.

The author avoids politicizing her situation, or demonizing the church she grew up in. Indeed, she expresses a degree of gratitude that she was born when she was, a time that offers opportunities unimagined by women her mother’s age. ‘Had I been even ten years older, this path would not have been presented to me. I bow my head in gratitude to my courageous…sisters who preceded…and blazed a trail for every woman who followed.’

Finding painful irony in her situation, and hearing again her father’s admonition, she knows she is indeed ‘on her own,’ and realizes that, without her father’s anger and selfishness, she would not have had the impetus to achieve what she did.

The author ends the book triumphant. In an addendum, she advocates for those who speak up, and who refuse to ‘just get over it,’ as she writes. Her treatise on truth, likely learned at the church of her childhood, and reinforced by her father’s emotional abuse, contains instructions for others who wish to escape as she has. In the author’s words: (avoiding the truth) bypasses justice that might be restorative for everyone, including the perpetrator. Or perhaps because it patronizes the injured and overtly suggests they should “just get over” what was done to them, because it’s becoming inconvenient for the rest of us to hear about.”

Ms Bear certainly ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth.’

Four stars, only because this reader felt the heavy use of court testimony and newspaper copy detracted from her brilliant writing.From Plain to Plane: My Mennonite Childhood, A National Scandal, and an Unconventional Soar to Freedom

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Book Review: The Grit factor

Ms Huffman Polson’s engaging book is not what I’d expected, but it’s better. I anticipated a memoir/war story/there I was tale. It is that kind of book, partly. Mostly it’s a deep study into what motivates people, or should, and the various things that hold people back, especially women in a man’s world.

The Grit Factor, when one acquires it, allows them to succeed, often despite their self doubts, the ‘imposter syndrome’, their focus on the obstacle rather than the goal, and in general peoples’ ‘grit and determination’. The author was the first woman to fly and deploy (to Bosnia) in the Army’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. She knows whereof she speaks, because she tried a few of the traditional routes for success, found them wanting, and discerned her own. The Grit Factor details that path.

Huffman Polson cites the admonition from Isaiah, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ She was privileged growing up, and she took that biblical mantra to heart, finding a life of service, in the words of Frederick Beuchner ‘where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.’ Her deep gladness was service, and particularly toward women who’d mentored her, many of whom were interviewed for the book, and for those younger women in need of mentoring.

She writes about Katie Higgins, first woman to fly with the Navy’s elite demo team the Blue Angels. She tells us about General Nadja West, first black female surgeon general in the U.S. Army. Alda Siebrands, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, Edna Davis, who flew Martin B-26 bombers during WW2, Bessie Coleman, Angel Hughes, even Uhura, the black female navigator on Star Trek.

Huffman Polson writes about ‘the 5 whys’, changing the narrative to bring success, about ‘tailboom counseling,’ and ‘muddy boots leadership’, and listening skills that are a key to leadership, because we’re all hard-wired toward a bias for action, which pressures us to do something, instead of just listening. The Ask—Listen—Pause treatment can enrich and embellish a decision, she says.

As for advice, she offers this: That we need to ‘draw the circle,’ to figure out who our friends are. We must actively search for mentors, a difficult obstacle for women, she says, because asking for help can be seen as weakness. She advises that the tough navigation is steering clear of negative people, because they bring nothing helpful to the table. In a surprising discovery, she advises women in positions of power over men to be cautious of jealous wives and girlfriends who may feel threatened. In addition, she advises women not to try pleasing everyone—something women find themselves doing—but to be their authentic selves, however difficult that is. She quotes Eleanor Roosevelt here: You not only have a right to be yourself; you have an obligation to be yourself.

The good news, for women, about the last bit of advice is that, as the author says, good leaders always care for their people, something that women seem to be better at than men. As for facing failure, she offers another interesting finding: Don’t be afraid to find people who have failed, she says, because you’ll know how they reacted to that failure.

This reader found an answer in the book to a question that has persisted for more than 50 years: How to explain my ambivalence about Vietnam? Huffman Polson may offer that it’s because I was unable to take ownership of the rationale and conduct of that long-ago war in South Asia. That few of us who fought there believed in it enough to make it our own, and to embrace the benefits that would have followed. Finally, she states that, as every pilot knows, facing into the wind equals lift. Likewise, facing our fears, the wind in our faces, creates the same affect, lifting us just as surely on our personal wings.

Highly recommended. In an aside to the author, I thought the book review essay idea for OERs was excellent.

Shannon Huffman Polson is also author of North of Hope. A Daughter’s Arctic Journey

Book Review: Mad Cowboy

Consider this: Rendering plants accept road kill, and their end product is used in cosmetics and pet food additives. Feedlot cattle are cannibals, insofar as they eat remnants of cow parts that aren’t saleable. Fully 15% of that non-saleable cattle food contains fecal matter. E-Coli bacterial infection from eating tainted meat kills nine thousand Americans every year. In a USDA study, 99% of broiler chickens tested contained E-Coli. (Note: The USDA is not consumer oriented. USDA takes its direction from the food industry)

It takes 16 pounds of grain to create 1 pound of beef, and fifty gallons of water to create that same pound of beef. Fully 80% of the grain grown in the U.S. is used to feed cattle. Cows fart. A lot. Worldwide, each year 150 trillion (with a T) quarts of methane are released from feedlot cattle. This methane accounts for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. The rainforests lose 1 acre of land every second, and that removes a vital source of CO2 capture and O2 production from our ecosystem.

It takes one gallon of gasoline to make 1 pound of beef. A family of four uses 260 gallons of gasoline each year consuming the average amount of beef they eat. That burning hydrocarbon releases 2.5 tons of CO2, the equivalent of driving a car for six months.

Mr. Lyman, the Mad Cowboy, knows his stuff. He was a Montana cattle rancher for many years, until he had an epiphany following a medical crisis that nearly killed him, a cancerous spinal growth that was successfully removed. The medical issue forced him, as near-death experiences are wont to do, to examine his overall life and values, particularly what was on his plate. Almost overnight he abandoned his corporate, pesticide and herbicide-enhanced 4,000 head cattle ranch, a business that had been in the Lyman family for four generations, to find a way back to his roots, and to return the farm to the way it had been when his ‘Grampa Dad,’ first tended it.

It was not a pleasant, nor was it a successful endeavor. Lyman found himself—like every other cattleman in Montana, and indeed everywhere else in America, running faster and faster to stay in one place. Trying to outsmart nature at every turn, he spent thousands on herbicides, which made cattle sick, then thousands more on vet bills and pesticides to kill the flies that swarm around cow flop, then even more money treating the feed to discourage the flies, and as Seinfeld used to say, yadda, yadda, yadda. Still, he was losing money. He eventually lost his farm.

But the real heartache for Lyman was seeing his once pristine family farm evolving into a corporate behemoth that he no longer recognized, and certainly couldn’t control. He wasn’t alone. As he states, in 1983 there were 1,260,000 family farms in the U.S. When he wrote Mad Cowboy in 1998 there were 400,000, and most of those farms were near bankruptcy.

The reason is the proliferation of factory farms, and the ills they present, from overuse of grain products, to degradation of the land, disposal of waste products that foul streams and rivers, to greenhouse gas emissions from feedlots and their farting cattle, to overuse of chemical additives which end up in our food chain, to exposure from chemicals that leads to cancer, heart disease, obesity, and various autoimmune diseases that are killing us faster, and driving up national health care spending which is now nearly 20% of our GDP.

Lyman mentions the animal cruelty factor, a part of the equation he says his great grandfather would be particularly appalled to see. Family farms have long had a dedication to humane treatment of animals. Modern killing floors, and the animal abuse they engender have dismissed all that humane treatment in the frantic race for more profit, and more product.

Lyman also writes about the legislative purchasing power of current corporate farming interests. Together with Oprah Winfrey, he was sued after giving some of the above facts and figures about meat on her show, after which Ms Winfrey announced that she’d no longer eat hamburger. Evidently stung by Winfrey’s exercise of her first amendment rights, the beef cartel sued, using a so called ‘food disparagement’ law, a law that’s on the books in several U.S. states. In another illustration of corporate power over our legislature, Monsanto (successfully) sued certain milk manufacturers who’d placed ‘No BGH’ labels on their product. BGH is Bovine Growth Hormone. Monsanto didn’t like those milk producers calling attention to BGH, even though a study Monsanto paid for found no evidence of its danger to humans. BGH is, in fact, a Monsanto product used to increase milk production.

Further, Lyman writes of corporate-friendly government oversight of public lands, and the laughably inexpensive rental fees the behemoths of the food industry such as Cargill and others pay to use land that belongs to all of us. U.S. taxpayers and citizens are subsidizing our own ill health, the ravaging of our public lands, and the long-term health of the climate for the enrichment of a few corporations and their shareholders. Those corporate interests are never required to assume the externalities of their actions. Instead, they pass those costs along to us, their customers in the form of tax breaks. Adding insult to legislative injury, of 109 so called protected areas in the American west, 103 are cattle grazing lands.

If a reader manages to wade through Mad Cowboy and decides to continue eating meat, it won’t be because of repugnance at the data the author presents. It will be because of long-standing tradition, and the simple resistance to changing ones diet. The bottom line, for all of us, thanks to the Mad Cowboy, is very simple: Eating meat from cows is not sustainable.

Book Review: Inspiring Words for Sky and Space Women

Here we have a collection of stories about women pilots, an (almost) complete compilation of the sheroes who have blazed a trail across the skies for other women who aspire to the cockpit.

Inspiring Words for Sky and Space Women fills a major gap in our knowledge of women in the history of aviation. Most Americans, asked to name names of female aviators, can perhaps remember Amelia Earhart, possibly Jacqueline Cochran, or Sally Ride. This book highlights so many more women, and it’s good to see them finally getting their due.

Did you know author Patricia Cornwell is a helicopter pilot? Neither did I, and I’m a helicopter pilot! Did you know super-model Gisele Bundchen is a helicopter pilot? Me neither. Angelina Jolie, and Martha McSally, yep, pilots. Senator Tammy Duckworth is a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot, (and purple heart recipient)

Here are a few other obscure names in aviation, women who should be enshrined in pilot halls of fame, including a few who are enshrined there: Vernice Armour, first African-American female Marine pilot to fly a Cobra gunship; Beverly Bass, first female captain (of a 777) at American Airlines; Olive Ann Beech, co-founder and president of Beech Aircraft Corporation; Bessie Coleman, first licensed African-American woman pilot; Eileen Collins, first woman to command a shuttle mission on STS-63; Harriet Quimby, first American woman licensed to fly. The list goes on and on.

The author is dedicated to affirming young womens’ aspirations to fly, and she’s included a lengthy bibilography, and an extensive list of on-line resources aimed at that purpose. Any young person, especially young women, who dream of a life in the sky should read this book. The underlying theme, not just from Hamilton, but from several of her contributors is a message for any who doubt they can fly: ‘Yes you can!’

Only four stars because there’s no mention of Jerry Mock, the first woman to solo around the world, and also no mention of the author’s own personal journey to the cockpit.

March 17th 2021: DEROS + 50

DEROS=Date Expected Return (from) Overseas

Fifty years ago today I came home from Vietnam. On March 17th 1971 I left Cam Ranh Bay for Seattle, and then a short bus trip to Ft. Lewis where I left the army. My first official act that day, after leaving the plane and finding my duffel bag, was calling my mother. I stood in line waiting for a pay phone to become available. Standing in line had become routine for me; in the military that’s almost a job description. When a phone booth opened up, I called home, and when mom answered I greeted her: ‘Top-o-the-mornin’ to you, mother’. I said. She was, of course, thrilled to hear from her son safely home from the war. I told her I planned to fly to LA, visit with my Uncle Dick, her brother, then come home to Ohio. Above, I’ve just arrived at LAX where my uncle met me, and then it was on to Columbus.

My return from Vietnam was a strange time for me, a time lacking in direction or purpose. As dispiriting as the war had been, at least my tour in South Asia had given me a solid, unwavering purpose, a singular goal that kept me going day after day: Get out of Vietnam alive.

Pictured above, the day before I left Vietnam. I’ve gathered up my military-issue company gear, prepared to hand it in, and leave Vietnam. I’d reached my goal: I’d survived!

Combat assault Vietnam 1970

Back in Ohio I had no goal, no particular purpose. In many ways it feels like that today, almost as if I still seek that purpose. I won’t speak for my Vietnam vet colleagues, but the war left me adrift for a long time. It’s passing strange that a year in the orient should lead to such disorientation. Kipling was right about east and west when he wrote ‘ne’er the twain shall meet’.

One thing my year in Vietnam brought me was an urgency to question everything I’d ever believed, or thought I did, or was told I did. For the past fifty years I’ve questioned everything, abandoned things, embraced others, and still question many more. I wrote about what Vietnam did to and for me. In A Vietnam Anthem, What the War Gave Me, I describe a few of the changes and adjustments the war offered, and the role it played in making me the man I am today, both good and not so good.

The things I’ve discarded I will never miss. The only regret I have about them is the time I wasted trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Those things I’ve retained give me purpose and hope; indeed, those treasured things have steeled and supported me. Here are some of those items, kept and discarded, and my observations on these topics fifty years after Vietnam:

Love: I’ve found the love of my life. That’s all I need to say concerning the woman who shares my life, my bed, my kitchen, my values, my thoughts, and my dreams. I am the richest man alive. Period.

Children: Three beautiful women I’m overjoyed to know, and who rock my world in ways I knew they could. They give me hope that the future is female, and it’s in good hands.

Grandchildren: I have five of them now, and though I can’t begin to match those tiny humans’ energy level, they fill me with wonder as they interact with their world. They’re unencumbered by traditional obstacles and impediments, the myth and magic that constrained me at their age. They’ll have far fewer items to discard, I’m guessing. I marvel as I envision the world they’ll see, the wonders and astonishments that await them.

Religion: Religion’s cultish habits are some of those constraints I endured growing up, and that I’ve discarded. When I was a child, I spake as a child, as 1st Corinthians has it. Now that I’m no longer a child, I’ve unshackled myself from childish beliefs like god, and religion, and make-believe beings adrift in the sky.

For many years I tried to make sense of the religion I was immersed in, but I no longer pretend it makes sense, because it doesn’t. I don’t malign anyone’s beliefs; if religion provides comfort and solace to some, I’m happy for them. Since Vietnam and our subsequent ill-conceived wars, especially since 9/11 and the debacle that followed in Iraq, I’ve abandoned such blind, often fanatical devotion to religion. I now believe it is and has been the single most corrosive and divisive force in human history. Shedding my religious branding was painful, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I’ve broken its chains. The feeling of relief is immense.

Race: W.E.B. DuBois said the twentieth century in America would have race as its principal marker. In this new century, little has changed. Black Americans continue to be marginalized, beaten, and killed solely for having an abundance of melanin. Those people are martyrs—call them what they truly are—in the ongoing battle against Caucasian privilege in America. How Black people continue to maintain their belief and patience in this country is a mystery to me. We should be glad their demand is only for equality, and not for revenge.

The only hope I have that America will finally overcome her race-based madness came to me, ironically, out of the ridiculous ‘birther’ nonsense concerning Barack Obama. Here’s the irony: The theory almost had me convinced of its validity, simply because I’m not at all certain America in its color-phobic state had the capacity to produce such an exemplary human being as Mr. Obama. Thus, I once thought, they’re right; he could not have been born and raised here. But America did produce him. Perhaps we’ll be okay after all?

Equality: Despite our shameful history, and our seeming intransigence toward becoming ‘a more perfect union,’ the U.S. slouches forward toward the nation we’ve long claimed to be, but never have been. Women still lack full equality and agency. LGBTQ+ Americans are still marginalized. Trans Americans still fear for their lives in 21st century America! These egregious sins are both astonishing and dispiriting to me. Surely we’re better than this. Aren’t we? Please tell me we are.

Politics: As a life-long democrat, my position did not change because of Vietnam; it hardened. Recently, I’ve heard fellow progressives like me maligned for our views: Namely that racial & LGBTQ+ equality, fairness, justice, a living wage, sensible gun legislation, quality education, universal healthcare, full voting access, renewable energy, climate equity, criminal justice reform, accessible housing, veterans’ assistance, and transparency in government are radical ideas? I don’t know how else to respond to this indictment except to say that I believe the dismissal of these items is the truly radical idea.

Current affairs: Reading the above one might conclude that I’ve given up on America. I have not. It’s just that, since Vietnam, I truly understand what America means. And it’s not what a lot of people think it does. If people persist in the definition of America as a country, or a jaunty-looking, somewhat priapic-appearing parcel of real estate nestled between two oceans, we’ll never be able to have nice things.

Here’s my definition of America: It is not a country. Yes, there’s a bit of real estate involved, a priapic-shaped slice of dirt tucked underneath Canada, while resting heavily atop Mexico—in more ways than one. But that’s not what/who we are. America is an idea. That’s all it is. I don’t wish to minimize that, because it’s a fine and truly radical idea: Some years past, in the fading years of the eighteenth century, for the first time in human history a group of people decided—decided, mind you, they weren’t forced—decided to gather together, to put aside their tribal, and cultural, and linguistic, and religious, and other divisive aspects and form a collaborative society. They surrendered and discarded previous nationalistic conventions to embrace a whole new label: American. America is an experiment that had never been attempted before, not ever.

Sadly, a few of my fellows apparently nodded off in civics class, and labor under the false belief that America is just another country, a parcel of property like all others, and it ‘belongs’ to them, or folks who think like them at all events. It isn’t a country; America is an idea, and a darned good one. In fact, it’s such a wonderful idea that I think we ought try it sometime. Either that, or we should change the documents we claim to revere, those sacred papers residing in our national archive that speak of life, liberty, equality, the rule of law, and the pursuit of happiness. This may be the most dispiriting thing I’ve encountered since coming home from Vietnam, the hypocrisy of it all, the cognitive dissonance between what those founding documents claim we believe, and what we do in the public street. What was I fighting for and defending half a century ago in Vietnam? Please don’t tell me it was all for nothing.

Fifty years ago today I left Vietnam. In that half century I’ve been filled with hope that we’re progressing. And I’ve been filled with despair that we’re regressing. At times I’ve wondered if perhaps I’m just too damned idealistic, if my yearning for a better, more equal, gentler and fully functioning America is a pipe dream? With our national disgrace of war in South Asia, and the embarrassment and shame I felt from my participation in it, I have no choice but to question everything. We all should.

You could say it took me fifty years to write this piece. Now I must hope that, having lost our way all those years ago, that someday, I hope, in the short years I have remaining to me, that America will find its way, address the unfinished business right here at home, and become the nation we’ve always claimed to be. I hope I didn’t answer the call to fight for a country that won’t look at its own history, and then refuse do the hard work of setting things right for all of its citizens. I hope we can find the courage to finally do that. Fifty years from now my grandkids will know the answer to that question. Here’s hoping the changes are some of those wonders and astonishments that await them.

Thank you for reading my blog. And top-o-the mornin’ to ya!

Book Review: Loonshots

Here we have a book delving into ‘phase separation,’ and ‘dynamic equilibrium,’ and the Bush-Vail theory, in other words, a book that promises to be technical…and is. But it also explains why society moves forward once we get out of our own way, and let the lunatics have their chances. Loonshots could be their chance.

Loonshot launchers don’t seem to restrict themselves to technology, either. The author ranges over several disciplines & characters: Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, Vannevar Bush, Theodore Vail, WW-2 and the transistor, why we speak English and not Chinese, Papin & his ‘digester of bones.’ There’s something in this book for every nerd and every geek.

It explains the difference between P-type loonshots, based on existing products, and S-type loonshots that are strategic initiatives. It also shows why certain companies & products once seen as invulnerable crash and burn, despite attempts by their principles to right the ship. Pan Am airlines is the example given. That once proud, and dominant airline, the largest and most venerable line in the world, failed in such spectacular fashion once deregulation came along, that industry experts are still scratching their heads.

After reading Loonshots, I can’t say I truly understand the importance of its premise, but I am convinced that we’d be worse off without them. And we’d likely be speaking Chinese. Pan Am captains once had people asking for their autographs. That’s how popular their employer was, and the esteem Pan Am held in the world. Within a few short years the airline lost that exalted status, and sank into oblivion. Anyone born after 1960 won’t remember when Pan Am ruled the skies.

Loonshots explains how that happened, and will continue to happen, unless societies lunatics are free to take their shots. Four stars only because the book became a bit too technical in the middle.

Book Review: The Happy Bottom Riding Club

In recognition of International Women’s Day, a review of one of my favorite books, from Dr. Lauren Kessler a woman who is one of my favorite authors, about another woman who is perhaps the most fascinating, mystifying, irritating, engaging, and colorful characters in aviation history. Florence ‘Pancho’ Barnes was… Well, here’s the review of The Happy Bottom Riding Club..

Here we have a biography of a woman who was, arguably, one of the more colorful, outrageous, and engaging characters of her time, or perhaps any time. Referring to Florence ‘Pancho’ Barnes as an early feminist would be akin to calling Mary Shelley a good author, or Gloria Steinem a decent magazine editor. Pancho Barnes grew up immersed in monetary wealth, but she made a conscious decision early on to live her life free of the trappings (pun intended) of that wealth. Indeed, Ms Barnes’ most endearing, or perhaps most aggravating trait seemed to be her disdain for money, and her conscious effort to spend it faster than it arrived in her pocket.

Inheriting her carefree attitude from a beloved grandfather, she emulated the fellow all her life. Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe made a name for himself as the first to fly a balloon in the Civil War. Grandpa Thaddeus adored young Florence, and the feeling was mutual. He told his darling granddaughter that she would fly one day, but Grampa Thaddeus had no idea just how far, and in what fashion the future Pancho Barnes would do so. She idolized her grandfather, and vowed to go well beyond his exploits.

Here’s how far. Pancho Barnes came by her name on one of her many daredevil adventures in Mexico, one of several forays she embarked on in her rush to escape the boredom of her staid, circumscribed life in moneyed California. She became one of the first women in America to fly her own airplane, married early and often, the first time to a preacher, then took several men as her lovers, and married three others. She traveled the world looking for the next cure for her restlessness, refusing to submit to the conventions of her time, particularly those concerning female deportment.

The author has succeeded in painting a portrait of a life lived at the edges, and without regard to social approval. She’s written the book with care, and with a well developed sense of the journalist’s style, refusing to judge, leaving that to readers. Just the facts, ma’am, is the mantra here, and Kessler holds that line throughout. The writing is expositive without being breezy, informative without adulation, and well researched in its insights and detail. This is a history book without meaning to be. Anyone curious about the background of aviation in America and/or womens’ place in it will latch onto this book and explore it cover to cover. Pancho Barnes wasn’t just present at the creation of womens’ aviation history she made a lot of it. In any scene at her club in the Mojave Desert, where icons of early aviation gathered, Pancho Barnes is close by, slapping backs, filling shot glasses, sharing flying yarns with the likes of Chuck Yeager, Jake Ridley, Ike Northrup and many other test pilots. She’d done her share of those exploits, and was accepted among those men as an equal. Why women don’t figure more prominently in aviation history is even more curious considering the activities of Pancho Barnes and women like her.

Rich man’s daughter & granddaughter, aviator, songwriter, lover of countless men, movie actor/stunt pilot, screenwriter, land speculator and creator of The Happy Bottom Riding Club, Pancho Barnes crafted a life that never stopped until the day she died. Not exactly a positive role model for young women perhaps, but, maybe so… As the author has done, we leave that to readers. Five stars, and I don’t award those very often.

Book Review: On Living

Here we have a book by a counselor to the dying, someone on the front lines of the end of life battle. Egan’s book is full of anecdotal essays that range from the profound with a fellow named ‘Reggie’, who offers Egan a connection based on Saltines and strawberry jam, to the near-comical with ‘Gloria’, (though her story will give anyone’s heart a painful tug), to the revelation we gain from ‘Cynthia’ that we must accept our bodies as they are. Gloria demystifies the dying process, explaining that it serves to remove any filter we may have, allowing us to speak freely. This is a valuable aspect of dying, however difficult it may be to listen to certain stories. For example: Gloria explains this by referring to a delicate bodily function she can no longer do, since she’s convinced herself that she lacks the aperture associated with it! We learn a lot from Egan’s small, but expansive book: that people don’t typically talk about a god, but about their families; that counseling the demented is both the hardest & the easiest assignment; that we must be willing to follow up people’s stories, but that doing so may alter our own lives; that regardless of how strange and exotic others’ end of life beliefs may be, we must accept them as they’re delivered, and meet people where they are. One of the more important takeaways from On Living is that counselors to the dying, and that may be any one of us in time, must absolutely meet people where they are. The author refers to a phenomenon called Pareidolia, a human tendency—scientifically documented—that causes us to see human faces and forms in inanimate objects. It explains why some people see angels, Egan explains. She goes on: Who’s to say they’re not real? The most important message in On Living is this: Stories are what have defined the lives of the dying, and what have assigned value to those lives. In dismissing anyone’s story, we devalue their life, claiming that whatever they have done with it didn’t matter. There are no ‘nonsense’ stories; everyone’s story is central to who they are, and instead of an imposition, listening and hearing those end of life stories is a privilege. Egan has learned to listen very well.