I'm off to Orlando, home of Great Hairy Silverback, to attend the Sun n Fun fly-in in Lakeland on Friday and Saturday, and then drive every single stinking mile of the wonderously wind-ey and challenging Florida highways during the next several days. I'll be visiting brothers in Tampa and Cape Coral (fishin' time!), Mum and sis in Ft. Lauderdale, and last and certainly least, I will meet the Monkey King himself, Frank J., who has essentially begged me to come and help him with blogging tips for the last year, nonstop.
At this point, I'll do just about anything to stop the cajoling, whining, pleading and threats.
Be back for a day and then it's off to Colorado Springs to pick up MY AIRPLANE (ahhhhhhhhhh....), but once I've got that safely stashed away, I can get back to the important work of writing a new chapter -- which I happen to think might be a pip!
CURING THE WESTERN DISEASE: THE GREAT PYRAMID VS. SEVEN-11
Coming soon to a free ice cream stand near you. Pictures of the road trip follow. Looking forward to verifying Frank's claim that his NUKE THE MOON t-shirt is bullet-proof. I'll be packing heat, just to test the theory.
Thanks to all for the very kind birthday wishes. Remember, while you are sleeping, the mysterious, powerful, and infalable Bill Whittle glides high in the moonlit stratosphere over the nation's heartland, with an eye out for brewing trouble... unless the movie turns out to be worth watching, in which case, never mind.
I generally try to stay away from the really incredibly fascinating 'here's what I did today' weblog thing, but I thought I'd introduce you to what will be an ongoing presence here at Eject! Eject! Eject! over the next five or six decades or so'
It was always my dream, from the age of 5, to fly fighter jets in defense of this country and then to take the next logical step and command the first Mars Mission. My left eye not being willing to fully cooperate in this venture (figures it was my left eye -' see how the left will do anything to crush an individual's dreams and keep us from military action at any cost?) I wandered around for many years, finally falling into show biz -' shiver! -' mostly due to my association with regular commenter and gatekeeper Great Hairy Silverback back in High School. Blame him.
I took a few rides in a Cessna after I got the Hard News. It felt like riding in an old taxi, it smelled like vomit, and it had a steering wheel and the throttle was round knob that one might mistake for a cigarette lighter.
Many decades passed...
'Okay, less than two, but it felt longer.
Then, while living in LA, I saw an ad for a glider ride for two in a newspaper. How romantic! I drove the victim out to the glider port -' almost three hours -' and as the little planes came into sight, as we turned the last corner she said, 'You weren't planning on taking me up in one of those, were you?'
Matter of fact, I was -' BUT! Since you feel that way, I suppose I'll be forced -- forced, I say! -- to trade in this Romantic Ride for Two for the Top Gun Aerobatic Special.
And so, quite by accident, I found myself being strapped into a sharply reclining couch. There was a stick! There was a canopy! And best of all, there was no goddam propeller out in front of me to remind me that this wasn't my personal jet fighter.
Yes, for the first time in fifteen years, a dim smile lit my features.
I was, as was common in those days, making next to no money at all, and so I started working at Crystal Soaring as Line Boss, making about $40 a day, launching and recovering gliders, but mostly raking rocks for the Commandant in the 125 degree sun.
However, it is still possible to achieve a dream in this country if you are willing to do the work, and so I have this picture to show you:
(I took a picture of a picture; hence the date stamp and the flare)
It was taken shortly after I set the solo record for that flight school, being launched Alone into the Great Unknown on'wait for it'July 4th, 1991. That led to many adventures. I think every pilot should be required to start in gliders. You never develop any false ideas about pitch and power (because there is no power), you learn how to fly the wing, you spend your entire day in a sixty degree bank 2 knots above a stall, you get one chance at every landing (so don't f*ck it up, cadet!) and best of all, you learn that you don't need an engine to fly the airplane, a gut-level advantage for the power pilot who may suddenly experience unnatural quiet where the engine noise used to be.
We wore parachutes and flightsuits because we were often in them for 6-8 hours at a stretch, and sometimes five or six of us would be hooking the same thermal, circling within half a football field, so the chance of a midair was not trivial; and the odds went up if you were an idiot. We did not wear them to look "cool" or "sexy" or to get comments from weak-kneed supermodels like "My God, that is a handsome and daring Steeley-Eyed Missile Man!" It had nothing to do with that whatsoever.
The 'chute made a good cushion, that's all... honest!... and there were many times I could imagine wishing I was wearing one and exactly none where I could imagine wishing I wasn't. And it's the exact same flight suit I'm wearing on the right sidebar, thirteen years later. My theory is, the day you start buying bigger flightsuits is the day you start down a road that has no end.
This picture was taken during that amazing day I wrote about in COURAGE, by my friend Andy Holoubek in the twin Grob. Yes, that's me in that tiny bathtub-with-wings.
Anyway, once you fly a canopy, a stick, and carbon-fiber wings, there is no going back. I've been flying Katanas and Eclipses:
(This was taken by our friend Recovering Liberal -' That is her duck. It's been everywhere. Ask her.)
These are terrific trainers: stable, friendly, and a real pleasure to fly. But they are SLOW. And there's the side-by-side thing'wimpy. Real pilots fly the centerline.
So, about a year ago, I get a letter from a guy named Richard Riley. He read COURAGE, and wanted to know if I'd like to go for a ride in one of these:
Unfortunately, it was the one on the bottom, but I'm here to tell you folks, it's pretty damn close.
A year passes. Richard, now a very good friend, flew with me last Saturday to Denver to have a look at this:
It doesn't have any engine or instruments, which is the only reason I can afford it. Well, that's not the only reason. Believe it or not, the fellow who owned this offered to finance $9,000 for a complete stranger, without references or collateral, just on a handshake.
Yes, there are still people like that in the world. There is still hope for us all.
Fortunately, someone else was equally generous -' thank you, thank you, thank you, someone else! -' and after much Consultation and Pondering I decided to cave in to forty years of non-stop dreaming and I bought the airplane (technically, airplane parts) for my forty-fifth birthday, which is -' hey, today!
My business bank account reached seven figures for about a week there. When I say 'seven figures' I am including the two to the right of the decimal point.
It'll take the better part of a year for me to be able afford the engine and instruments, but there's a lot of work to do in the meantime. Get a good look at it, because there will be more than a few comparisons of the 'Old and Busted / New Hotness' variety. Until then, here is the obligatory experimental airplane picture, namely the delirious new owner making Vrroooom! Vrrooooooom!! noises:
Remember, the propeller is in the rear. I don't ever see it -' the view out the front, with the canopy and military-style side-stick, is close enough to pretend there is no propeller at all. Actually, I wanted to put a small jet in it. Many convinced me this was suicidal; my compromise is to install a system that plays an ear-piercing jet start-up whine in my headset whenever I start the prop.
How does this make me feel? Well, 45 can start to feel old, but hey, for a guy who has his own airplane at 45 well, a guy like that would have to be considered ahead of the game, huh? HUH?
I'm glad we got that settled.
As I said, I try not to do the personal story thing too often, but I will share with you one final mawkish and maudlin sentiment, but only because it is true:
Two years ago, I can remember driving home at night thinking I was a man with a great future behind me. Somewhere, back there, I was sure that I had zigged when I should have zagged, and that I had missed the train. I'd been the boy genius who was going to do Big Things; now I was in my forties with not a damn thing to show for any of it.
That was before Eject! Eject! Eject!
Since then, I have received so many letters and kind comments that it leaves me speechless with gratitude. The idea that I might in some small way contribute to the defense of these ideals we hold so near to our hearts has lifted me up from that despair -' no other word for it '- and given me a pervasive sense of purpose and direction, not to mention overwhelming gratitude and a very deep and awesome pride.
Thank you all. You have saved my life. More than that, through your warm words and non-stop encouragement, you have given me back my voice '- which I had feared had gone and left me forever. For that I am eternally grateful.
So here's a final picture of the Mysterious Author, taken on his forty-fifth birthday, staring into the mirror of the future...(hmnnn, "mirror of the future"; better write that one down:)
How do I feel? Well, Lileks was kind enough to compare me to my all-time hero, Captain Kirk'so all I can do is quote the man.
These have been tough days for our countrymen in Iraq. They may yet get tougher. But it will do us all some good to take a deep breath, and look at what some of our ancestors had to face in similar dark moments.
The killings in Fallujah of four civilian aid workers, and the subsequent mutilation of their bodies by cheering thugs and bloody-handed children filled me with rage and an overwhelming desire to turn my back on these savages and leave them to their own murderous history. Many of those people deserve nothing better. And I am bitterly disappointed that, having failed to overthrow their own murdering tyrant, the wider population of Iraqis has failed to rise to the occasion when their freedom was paid for them with the blood of our own sons and daughters.
This, of course, is exactly, precisely the reaction those murdering bastards were counting on, and I mean to do what I can to see that they do not get rewarded for their actions. They had assumed that if enough Americans could be killed, we would turn tail and run. This is not an unreasonable strategy on their part; we have trained these monsters to believe this about us in Beirut and Somalia, and the price we paid for minimizing pain then is coming due now, and will continue to come due until we can install some new programming into the surviving savages that commit these crimes.
Failing to achieve this result with sheer numbers, they have decided to multiply our disgust with their primal bloodlust and celebratory orgies -- and as a knee-jerk reaction to this atrocity, I must say it does have a power all its own.
The Ba'athists in Fallujah are counting on us to do one of two things: throw up our hands in disgust and walk away, in which case they win; or retaliate so brutally and indiscriminately that the general population of Iraqis tilts away from reform and back into the hands of their sadistic former masters -' in which case, they win again. This siding with their prior torturers, of course, is an emotional and childish response, but I do not yet behold vast oceans of clear, unemotional, rational thought among natives of the Middle East.
So now, we -' you and I -- will have to supply enough of that for both our countries.
Fallujah is a bunker; they have a bunker mentality, and like all last stands of doomed ideologies they intend to go out in a blaze of glory. Against these animals we have sent Marines armed with Frisbees for native children, and donated medical and firefighting gear to show friendship and good will to communities that commit these kinds of atrocities. That is an appropriate first gesture, and a reflection of the essential goodness and generosity of the American character.
(Note to The Left: When these things happen, Real Nazis shoot hostages. Thousands of them. Every time you use that word to describe this country you spit in the face of those terrified, untold millions who died in a ditch with hands bound behind their back.)
But let us remember that the motto of the Marines is 'there is no better friend and no worse enemy than the U.S. Marine Corps.' Having tried the better friend approach, many in Fallujah may now, through their own brutal and sadistic choice, experience the alternative. Perhaps they will choose differently the next time they face such an option. For many of those that committed this act, their opportunities to choose anything have ended, today. Bury them with Uday and Qusay.
We have seen Fallujah before: this dying gasp of the last holdouts of a sadistic regime, enemies to their own people, has played out in Berlin in recent memory and all throughout history.
Of far more consequence is the nation-wide revolt currently underway among Shiites loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. Al Sadr, we may remember, is widely credited with ordering the stabbing assassination of his fellow cleric at the door to Iraq's holiest site. His 'army' is an army in the same way that the Crips were an 'army' in Los Angeles. They are thugs. They now face a real army, and I predict it will not be at all to their liking.
But the fact remains that we have lost a lot of good men these past few days, and there is a natural inclination to see failure and hopelessness in this huge task we have set ourselves to.
So keep this in mind:
In late 1864, after horrendous casualties, the Union was bogged down in the trenches surrounding Richmond and had chased the western Rebels into the fastness of Atlanta -' and seemed not a day closer to victory than they had at Gettysburg, an unimaginably bloody year before.
Then, as now, the newspapers were ablaze with lurid headlines of the failure of the war, and then, as now, a Democrat was running on a peace now platform. He too was a former soldier who claimed to want to protect the troops by bringing them home from a fight they should never have been in in the first place.
Things looked so bleak for the Republican president that he had his entire cabinet sign the back of an unopened letter; he claimed that since he, Lincoln, seemed certain to lose the election in November, he would have only until March to finish the war and needed the blind support of the men who surrounded him.
How bleak must that have been for the millions of Americans who had supported the war against slavery for three years of meat-grinder horror? How dark must their night have been, after all that blood and treasure, to think that the South would be able to walk away and gain through the Union ballot box what they had failed to win on so many blood-soaked fields? What kind of fear was that?
Or what about the home front in 1944? The invasion, though brutal on the beaches, had gone very well. The Americans, British and Canadians had broken through the hedgerows of Normandy, and Patton was covering almost a hundred miles a day as he thrust the dagger of his Third Army into the heart of the German western front. The war in Europe, surely, might be over in a few weeks.
What then of the shock and fear when news came of unlimited Panzer divisions pouring through the Ardennes? We lost more Americans in the Battle of the Bulge than at any other time in the European theater? How sat our parents and grandparents in December of 1944, huddled around the radio, listening to news of mass American surrenders and unstoppable Nazi spearheads? How did they persevere?
What we face, today, in Iraq is trivial compared to these moments, and I no longer believe that our American fathers and great-great-great grandfathers were made of better stuff than we are. They too had their defeatists and appeasers and critics and naysayers; they too had to face the darkness of the unknown now, before history could light these moments as the darkness before the dawn of victory.
The indispensable Steven Den Beste today writes that these insurgents in action today across Iraq have made a monumental error; and I will not presume to repeat his argument because I could never improve upon it. But against these darkness-before-the-dawn moments of 1864 and 1944, we can behold a darker shadow; that of Tet, 1968. There, the North Vietnamese gambled on what turned into a massive battlefield defeat, a disaster of the first order. But we -' we, ourselves -' decided to run from that fight. And now we may behold the consequences.
There were many people who, in good conscience, were against our presence in Vietnam. Many today feel the same about Iraq. But the fact remains for both groups: this argument is good and necessary before we go to war; once there, the enemies of America have one way and one way only to defeat this nation, and that is from within. They are counting on Janeane Garofolo and Kos and Michael Moore and Sarandon and Franken and Rather. The bodies on the Fallujah bridge are for them. And, sadly, it seems they know their audience.
But if our enemies can learn from Vietnam and Beirut and Mogadishu' so can we.
Then be silent and introspective, for today our men and women are dying for the one idea worth dying for. And take from their sacrifice not defeat and sadness, but a solemn and sacred appreciation that three or four nations throughout an entire world that quivers in fear of these savages has the guts and the courage and the will to finish this job and bring freedom and security to a people that may not yet have earned it.
Remember: we fight this 12th century Death Cult in Iraq or we fight them in New York. We choose. We will soon enough see if the Iraqis have earned the freedom Americans are dying to protect tonight.
That is irrelevant. We fight for our freedom. We have earned it.