Friday, September 22, 2006
At left is Eddie Rickenbacker, America's "Ace of Aces" in The Great War. Eddie knocked down 26 enemy aircraft in combat over France. He wasn't quite as prolific a warrior as Manfred Von Richthofen who had 80 confirmed kills, notching 20 of them in April 1917 alone. But unlike the Red Baron, Eddie never became a number himself, which given the risks involved was quite an achievement.
I got to thinking about "aces" the other day as I watched the trailer for the new WWI flying epic "Flyboys." I certainly want to go see it, but I am not sure whether mrs. rdr will let me take the youngest rdr to a PG-13 movie. Which would really be too bad, since, like their father and his father before him, both of my boys have a passion for combat aircraft. I have Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator versions 2 & 3 on the computer, and my son and I fight over the joystick. I don't know of too many other nine year-olds that can explain why the Folke-Wulf FW-190 was a far superior fighter to the Messerschmitt Bf-109 or the difficulty involved with landing a Vought F4U Corsair on a carrier deck. We trek down to NAS Oceana every year for the air show (the Blue Angels are only part of an all-day speed fest) where he reels off the names of the various aircraft that whizz by as if he'd been flying them his whole life. I have to pull him away from the History Channel when "Wings" is on. He's got the bug.
But he doesn't quite grasp World War I aircraft. The idea that a man would climb into a cloth-covered kite on bicycle wheels and engage in close combat at top speeds of 60 miles an hour, without a parachute, is beyond his reach. It's often beyond mine.
My father instilled in me his own appreciation of WWI aircraft. His earliest drawings (he was an artist) were of biplanes locked in mortal combat, soaring and diving for advantage - or escape. He would tell me stories of the great aces and their planes, and of the chivalry that shone in these "Knights of the Air." By the time I was 10 my notebooks were covered with drawings of Spads and Fokker Dr-1's spiraling in the air. I had the bug.
In 1966, the movie "The Blue Max" appeared and my father immediately set out for the theater with me and my brother in tow. Movies weren't rated in those days, so my mother never knew that Ursula Andress was going to get all cozy with George Peppard (my brother and I called her "Ursula UNdress" for years afterwards), and we were too young to follow the plot much. But the planes. Oh the planes! To see them fly at last!
It wouldn't be until the advent of the VCR that I would be able to watch Howard Hughes magnificently filmed "Hell's Angels" or the Oscar-winning silent film "Wings" and to finally understand how my father came to so adore those early heroes. Even the campy "Dawn Patrol"found a willing audience in me. Anything to watch those planes fly.
There aren't any "aces" anymore, it seems. The "dogfight" has given way to stand-off weapons that will destroy your enemy far over the horizon. And this is a good thing. But I cherish that magnificent spirit and courage that was glimpsed, ever so briefly, above the wreck and barbarism of trench warfare.
So now, 40 years after my first glimpse of a Fokker Tri-plane in full float, "Flyboys" is calling me.
And I will go. And I will take my boy. And he will understand.
UPDATE: mrs. rdr was aghast that I even thought that she would disapprove of me taking Danny to see"Flyboys." How dumb am I?
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Courage, of all national qualities, is the most precarious; because it is exerted only at intervals, and by a few in every nation. - David Hume
-St. Ignatius Of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, no. 325 (1548).
And so it goes.
I was informed last night by my eldest daughter that I had lost my perspective; that I was becoming paranoid about the monsters under the bed; that I was extreme in my vision of history; that I was wrong and over-exercised about the threats facing western civilization; that the answers to the current mess can be had by meaningful dialog and a pull-back from hard-line rhetoric. In a word: I had become "unhinged."
I think I responded. No, I know that I responded, vorciferously. But the sound of my voice fell victim to the deadening aspects of the vast media forest within which we wander. I am crying "fire," and yet modern totems drown me out, even while they themselves burn.
And so this where we are in history.
She is, after all, a redhead.
And I am a Leo.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
WALTER: Will you be here, too?
PHYLLIS: I guess so, I usually am.
WALTER: (Putting on his hat) Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
PHYLLIS: I wonder if I know what you mean.
WALTER: I wonder if you wonder.
Post no. 460 and counting. Nancy Pelosi be damned.
(posted by Portia)
Monday, September 11, 2006
Saturday, September 09, 2006
It's hard to be an American these days, at least if you are Michael Moore. The Large One was in Toronto recently to attend Toronto International Film Festival, a vertitable love-in for the Hate America First crowd, and told the assembled glitterati of his "contingency plans to flee to Toronto if things got much worse in the States."
"Much worse?" I thought. Am I missing something?
No roadside bomb has delayed my commute to work recently, and work seems plentiful enough for those who seek it (including several thousand new immigrants each day). I turn on the tap, and out comes potable water, hot and cold. The lights burn brightly at the flick of a switch and the radio plays that forgotten song. Neither jackbooted police nor political death-squads threaten me when I go to the 24-hour grocery store to pluck from the shelves fresh foods from the world over, and in such quantities that I could never possibly eat it all. That new hospital is five minutes away, but if I dial those three numbers, the paramedics will be be here in two.
Back in my home, the one that I own, I choose from the 300-odd cable channels available to watch uncensored news from across the globe. Then I read the opinions of a host of voices in the newspapers delivered daily to my door. After I've decided which candiate to support for office, I can, if I so choose, cast my secret ballot. Later, I can petition my governments to do, or refrain from doing, certain things that I like or don't like, and then write on my blog pretty much anything I want to say about that, or anything else.
How much worse can things get?
"Plenty and peace breed cowards" Shakespeare wrote.* While cowardness has never been a national trait, it would seem that, despite all of our wealth and education, fear has become a national malady.
The shock of 9/11 is gone, and the anger over those attacks appears to have ebbed as well. In its place has grown a kind of self-inflicted terror that saps our strength and clouds our vision. A perfect example of this unfounded fear is how in Toronto Mr. Moore "worried aloud that the administration had 'a whole list of places we still have to invade.'" On the face of it, Mr. Moore's statements appear to be nothing more than another bit of Bush-hating rhetoric delivered to the Liberal faithful. But such senitments reflect the creeping paranoia that is now being foisted daily upon the American people.
Think about it. Cindy Sheehan states that she fantasizes about going back in time and murdering an infant named George Bush, and it's news. Spike Lee claims that the Bush administration blew up the levess to flood the Ninth Ward, and it's news. More a third of the country believes that the Bush administration had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, or knew about them in advance and did nothing to stop them. Never mind that the Supreme Court did more to curb civil liberties with its decisions in Kelo and Raiche than Bush could have possibly accomplished, Bush is out to "trample" your civil rights by listening to international cell phone calls made to suspected terrrorists. And as to free speech, why just look at what Bush did to that poor Joe Wilson and his unnamable wife! Absolutely chilling, I'll tell you!**
Nevertheless, it should be remembered that it is none other than George Bush that is inciting fear among the American people.
I'm not just picking on the Left here, nor on the Main Stream Media. I recognize that there is a good argument to be made that elements of the right-wing are equally engaged in fear-mongering. Seriously, if gay marriage signals the End of Days then set 'em up all around, Jim, 'cause I'm going out tanked to the gills and reading the Sports Page.
What is really going on here is not simply the exercise of political partisanship. It is the public expression of America's frustration with the fact that it can no longer control its own destiny. Our borders are porous. Our way of life depends on foreign commodities, goods, services, and investment. Our elected offficials no longer hold our respect, and our faith in our system of justice is flagging. Our enemies grow bolder while we vacillate and backbite, seemingly resigned to our own perpetual insecurity.
The new national self-loathing is typified by the reaction of so many citizens to the recent news that CIA, the very people Bush relied upon for pre-war intelligence, discovered last fall that Saddam and al Qaeda weren't all that chummy after all. Hallelujah! We were wrong! YAY! WE SUCK! Patriots all. And the devils laugh.
A friend of mine, a very bright guy, asked me yesterday why it is that America could win World War II on both fronts in less than four years, but after five years Bush still hasn't captured the one man most responsible for 9/11.
I responded (with all sobriety) that it was because following the events of December 1941 the United States was prepared to incinerate entire cities and kill millions of soldiers and civilians, the guiltyalong with the innocent, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of our own troops and all the treasure in the world. "Is one man worth that kind of moral capital," I asked?
He didn't say much after that, but the way he looked at me indicated that he thought that perhaps I am a very dangerous person.
I'm not a dangerous person. I don't propose, as Don Imus once did, that we burn everything east of Beruit. Historical facts are sometimes hard to swallow, as are the options available to us when we animate our enemies with our own values and traditions. I doubt that our parents' will to survive as a nation, by whatever means necessary, could ever be rekindled in America today. And maybe that's a good thing. And maybe not. Time will tell.
Perhaps it is because we Americans are too fat and too successful that we are failing to convince the rest of the world that ours is the better plan, and/or that this experiment in personal liberty will not soon fade away, at least not without a fight.
But ask yourself: Why it is that we should fear those that would enslave the world, and not the other way around?
Indeed, why should we fear anything at all?
* Cymbeline, III, iv.
**(Of course, free speech apparently does have its limits, depending upon your point of view.)
Thursday, September 07, 2006
A few weeks ago I was in my home town on Long Island to say goodbye to an old friend. There were a good many faces there that I hadn’t seen in some time. One of them was that of the younger brother of a classmate of mine. His family lived on the next block over and his sister married the youngest son of the old friend for whose life I had come to show my respects.
He had brought his wife and two young daughters to the celebration of my old friend’s life, and soon we got to talking about all the things that people talk about when they haven’t seen each other in 20 years. I finally asked him if he still lived on Long Island. He said no, he had moved his family out to Sussex County, New Jersey (a beautiful part of northwestern Jersey that nobody seems to know even exists). We talked about all the congestion and traffic on Long Island and about what a wise move he had made for himself and his kids.
And then I asked: “Do you have to commute to the City every day from Sussex?”
He paused for a heartbeat or two, and then in a low monotone said: “Not any more. Not since they blew up my building.”
It was my turn to pause. “You were there?” I asked softly.
“In the street.” he replied.
His eight-year old stopped sipping her Shirley Temple and piped in cheerfully as she wrapped herself around him “Daddy was late!"
My friend said nothing. He just looked at me, stone-faced, and stroked his child's hair. And in his eyes I saw him seeing all of the horrors of that day. And through his eyes I watched it with him.
Maybe only a few seconds passed. But it was enough. I clapped him on the shoulder and said “Let’s go get a beer.” Nothing more was said about it.
This is how life is for some. They won’t watch the specials and documentaries commemorating the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. They don't need to be reminded. They carry that movie in their head. In towns and villages all over Long Island you’ll find small memorials bearing the names of those residents who didn’t come home from work. It isn’t forgotten there. It is etched in stone.
My friend’s daughter was only a toddler when the towers came down, but she knows that it was good for Daddy to be late that one day. Nothing more need be said.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Have at it.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Now, don't forget your sunscreen! Ha ha.
let's check in now with our Richmond Storm Team. How's the weather down there, Juan?
Well, it looks to me like the drought is over. What does it look like to you, you stupid twit? Liquid sunshine? And why the f*ck do I always get the lousy assignments anyway? How come it's always me that has to stand around in the f*cking floods? "Look at how deep the water is folks, it's almost over the tops of my boots!" Morons. You want to know the what the f*cking weather is ? Get off your lazy ass an GO OUTSIDE!
We appear to be having technical difficulties with Juan's connection.