The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

JUST MY OPINION: Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier, and he broke the barrier with a couple of broken ribs. He didn’t mean to break those ribs, of course; who actually tries to break ribs except loansharks and defensive linemen? The ribs breaking, well, it just sort of happened, just one of those things, you know. Yeager was out horseback riding the previous evening with his wife and he rode straight into the branches of a Joshua tree, which knocked him from his horse and broke the ribs, breaking them badly enough so that he had to use a sawed-off broom handle to close the canopy of his Bell X-1 airplane the next day; he couldn’t reach over and close the canopy himself because his ribs hurt so much.

There was a lot of that sort of thing in those days. Young test pilots bought horses, muscle cars, dune buggies, motorcycles, and anything else that would gratify their need for speed, convinced, as Tom Wolfe put it in The Right Stuff, that since they were the acknowledged masters of one particular form of mode of transportation, then it must needs be that they were therefore the masters of all modes of transportation. Most people with less ego than your average test pilot will recognize that this particular bit of wisdom is more than a little flawed, as the horse proved the night before Yeager broke the sound barrier. The horse was going nowhere near the sound barrier and Yeager still wound up on his backside.

But, however, Chuck Yeager actually knew how to fly an airplane. This past week Sean Penn, who pays his rent by pretending to be other people, and Joy Behar, who earns her keep chatting with four other women on television, had something to say about the current state of American politics. Mr. Penn opined that the incoming Congress should impeach the President and Vice-President and Ms. Behar compared former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler. Now, Mr. Penn and Ms. Behar are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, but the only reason I know about these opinions is that their celebrity, which they achieved outside the realm of politics, gives them extraordinary access to the media, something most other Americans do not have. This access gives Ms. Behar’s and Mr. Penn’s voices an attention that they would not have otherwise. Since I learned a long time ago that volume and content are not necessarily the same thing, despite the best efforts of my father to unify the two concepts with a single leather belt across my derriere, it seems to me that the wise thing to do here is to view celebrity pronouncements on matters outside the realm of show business with the same skeptical eye you would use when your cardiologist, who may know everything there is to know about cleaning out your arteries, tells you how to fix a clogged kitchen sink. Expertise in one field of endeavor does not necessarily translate into expertise in another, just as playing a doctor on television, however expert you may be at it, is not the same as actually being one.


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