If you think chasing filthy lucre makes you venal and reptilian, just wait till you meet the kind of person who would rather legislate themselves into money than work for it.
Now if the subject of money was the endless plain upon which vast herds of nonsensical ideas flourished and thrived, then government is the watering hole around which all species of dim-witted theories naturally gravitate. It’s like a trip through Lion Country Safari: we’ve got our faces pressed to the glass in amazement as the Idiotarian ideas thunder by. Look, a Hildebeest! It’s attacking its mate! So let’s just keep the windows rolled all the way up, and move on. This one will be a lot easier.
The second item in the American Trinity is far easier to understand and agree upon, so let’s just all have a moment of silence for all of those men and women who gave their lives, and continue to give their lives, for Freedom.
This, surely, is the single most astonishing American invention: a government whose rights are limited by the people. And as with the first pillar of our Trinity, the idea of limited government causes thin tendrils of smoke to rise from the ears of those on the Far Left. Really give then a healthy dose of this concept and they start to shake and vibrate like Fembots before their heads explode in a shower of sparks.
Now it’s not fair to be too hard on these people. After all, we as modern humans go back for several hundred thousand years, and we have always had chieftains and barons and kings to tell us what to do.
A few days ago, I was spending a few moments reading an online poll taken on why the rest of the world hates America. Many people had posted comments, and while all of the answers were entertaining, this one was priceless:
What behaviour can you expect of a country who sought independence because it didn’t want to pay taxes?
Gonzalo Arriaga, Finland
Citizens, behold the soul of a slave! Gonzalo loves paying taxes, thinks it is sublime ecstasy to walk down that golden hall, pathetic handful of shriveled potatoes and a scrawny chicken in hand, and lay them — eyes averted! — at the feet of the master. The more we smile the less he will beat us.
If you want a quick rule of thumb about what kind of person you are dealing with, ask one of these folks lined up at the government feed trough a simple question: whose money is this?
Money is a work token, remember. We get money in exchange for our work, our creativity, our inventiveness, our sweat.
Whose money is this? Whose sweat is this? Whose missed family time is this? Whose inventiveness is this? Whose genius is this? Whose work is this?
You want to know whose money it is? It’s your money, that’s whose money this is. Your money. Not the King’s money. The King never worked a goddam day in his life. Not the State’s money. Your money. Your sweat. Your hopes. Your ingenuity.
When we talk about Freedom, that central, mystical pillar of the Trinity, we are not talking about government. We are talking about Freedom, and they are not the same. Democracy is a tool. A republic is a tool. The US Constitution is the greatest tool to unlock human creativity in the history of the world, and I no longer give a flying damn if some people recognize that fact or not.
To date, the Founders have accomplished the unthinkable: they have made freedom idiot-proof.
Democracy, The US Republic, and the Constitution of the United States of America are stainless-steel, lifetime-guaranteed tools to limit government and preserve freedom. Because government is nothing more and nothing less than other people telling you what to do.
Can we all hold hands and say that together?
Government is other people… telling you… what to do.
Government is other people… telling you… what to do.
Government is other people… telling you… what to do…
And let’s be clear on one point: many people, perhaps most people in this world, fear freedom. They will never admit it, but it is true. When the lights go out and they look at the ceiling before they go to sleep, the idea of being responsible for themselves, for feeding and clothing and defending and ordering their lives, scares the hell out of most people out there.
Poor, servile Gonzalo, Ward of the State, is not the aberration; he is the norm. We ignore that fact at our own peril, fellow citizens. Everybody wants a little freedom, little bite-sized pieces of freedom, like a cheap toy handed out in the state-sponsored Happy Meal. But real freedom, untrammeled, unrefined, raw self-determination: that requires more than a vague desire. That requires some guts.
Now while some limited government is a necessary evil, and can, on rare occasions, do some good, let us never forget that deeply moving scene at the end of Braveheart, when Mel Gibson looks down at his disemboweled intestines, then out to the Baleful Crowd of Oppressed Peasants, and with his dying breath utters his last word on earth: Bureaucracy!!
If Capitalism is a litmus for optimism, then the idea of State is one for independence. And it really comes down to whether or not you conceive of yourself as a child who needs to be taken care of, or as an adult who can make his own way. Freedom isn’t free. If you want the State to feed and clothe you, to provide you a job and health care and housing, don’t think that comes without a price. It comes with a hefty price, unbearable in my mind, and I’m not talking about what gets taken out of my wallet, either.
It makes us dependent, and dependence makes us stupid. It makes us stupid and willing Gonzalos, the same money fodder that has fed those in control for millennia. Happy Dependence day, everyone!
There’s a scene in Bowling For Columbine where Michael Moore interviews a typically decent and friendly Canadian as he emerges from a health clinic. The poor fellow had, as I recall, some serious injury, and Mssr. Moore wanted to know what it had cost him for treatment.
The man couldn’t reply. They hadn’t charged him. This took Michael Moore’s carefully rehearsed breath away! No charge? You mean, you got that medical attention for free?
That’s right, eh.
Cut to beatific look on directors face, as if he had just been handed a clean plate at a Shoney’s Breakfast Bar.
Folks, Canadians are great people. They are not a stupid people. So can we not, please, not ever again, call this Free Health Care? It is Pre-paid Health Care. That Canadian fellow paid for that treatment every week, for the past twenty years. It was taken out of every paycheck he made. He paid for that medical care, and much, much more. He paid for it whether he needed it or not. And he not only paid for the doctor, he paid for the bureaucrats and administrators in the National Health Service or whatever it’s called. It was not free. It was paid for. Whether he needed it or not. When he has fully recovered, years from now, he will still be paying for it. Every week, from every check. That car or vacation he couldn’t afford, got eaten up by health care he paid for but did not need.
So the question is, who better decides what kind of health care you and your family need: you, or Hillary Clinton? I understand that not all poor people can afford health insurance. Again, being a decent sort of fellow beneath my strikingly handsome exterior, I don’t mind paying a little extra for Medicare for people who need help. I can even live with my insurance rates being higher to cover the cost of caring for the uninsured at the Emergency Room.
But! What I most assuredly DO NOT need is for someone taking my money to give me a health care system I do not need or want. As my all-time idol P.J. O’Rourke once said, if you think health care is expensive now, just wait till you see what it costs when it’s free.
This is a great example of the seduction of the state, because “Free Health Care” sounds like a great deal. It’s Caring! It’s Healthy! And it’s Free!
It’s not free. And not only do I object to being told what I need and don’t need, I also object to the idea that some dim-witted Student Council dork thinks he knows what’s better for me than I do.
P.J. Again: if you think that Public is an altar to worship at, put the word “public” in front of these words and tell me how you feel: Restroom. Swimming pool. Transportation. Here’s another: Take the words Decision, Officer, Appointment, and then add the word “political” to the front end and watch them drop in value.
So, look around. Look at how people feel about government, and ask yourself, does this or that person think of themselves as an adult or as a helpless child? Freedom is not for children. Freedom means responsibility. It means making tough decisions yourself. Freedom is not government. Almost all government is the enemy of freedom; the bigger the government, the more powerful the enemy.
The things government does well, the things government should be for, are few and simple. If you want to know what these things are, you will never do better than this:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Simple. Direct. Perfect. The most wondrous sentence ever written.
So as far as I am concerned, I say: Government, you can do this, this, this and that — that’s it, that’s all, shut up and go away. Build us some Interstate Highways and some aircraft carriers and stop hanging around looking eager.
Compare this to the recently unveiled European Union constitution, weighing in at a modest 225 pages (down from the 97,000 pages of accumulated laws and regulations known as the acquis communautaire. “Acquis Communautaire”, by the way, is French for “we’re f—ed.” ) The main “author” of this abomination, which reads like a refrigerator repair manual written by a guy who really digs refrigerators, was Valery Giscard d’Estaing of France, who in the spirit of restoring Franco-American relations, compared himself to Thomas Jefferson. This is completely unfair to Mr. Giscard d’Estaing; Jefferson would have had to have written for decades, if not centuries, to produce a document this lifeless, meaningless and dense. Oh, and that’s if he had, uh, actually been the author of the Constitution, rather than the Declaration of Independence.
As I say, I’m not an unreasonable fellow. Some government, some restrictions and regulations are good. The FAA actually does a very effective job at giving us the most safe and extensive transportation system in the world. In cases like that, even though the government doesn’t actually produce anything, it does add value in terms of safety and user confidence.
And that’s how we should look at every regulation and law. Does it add value, or is it just one of those plastic pancake alien amoebas on Deneva that lands on Spock’s back, or yours, its tendrils working their way into your nervous system until you are finally driven mad with pain and commit suicide?
My friend, the irrepressible Kim Du Toit, once asked me what I thought would happen if every government agency had to cut 25% of their regulations — they get to decide which ones, of course. I think that would be A Good Idea Generally — certainly worth trying on a test basis. How many of these regulations are there to protect you from yourself?
Children need to be protected from themselves. Adults don’t need to child-proof the pool. They already know how to swim.
And after all this, after all these creeping intrusions and regulations, we’re still the most free people, with the least intrusive government, on the planet. Go figure.
Freedom. We’ve still got more of it than they do. Reason number two why we rock.
And behind door number three, the easiest of all to get a grip on, that perennial favorite, good old Yankee Ingenuity.
We work hard. Lots of nations work hard. But we work hard ahead of the curve. Hey man, we define the curve. That curve belongs to us.
We are the fast adaptors. If European technology is cutting-edge, ours is bleeding-edge. Whatever it is, it was almost certainly invented here, and even if it wasn’t, it still will live or die on how it does in America.
America has horrible, appalling public schools — they used to be the envy of the world. But our universities are the envy of the world. The sheer amount of money and mental freedom we have — starting to see how this Trinity works? — means that the science done at US universities is the best science on the planet, and it is produced in mammoth quantities. Those pictures taken of Triton, that distant moon of Neptune on the outer edge of the solar system? They were not snapped by the European Space Agency. Or the vaunted Japanese. Or even the Russians. No sir. Those pictures of Jupiter, and Saturn, and the surface of Mars and Venus and Mercury, were brought to you by some long-haired, badly-dressed geniuses at Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Some of these guys barely have their driver’s licenses. They’re the smartest people on the planet, and I stop the car and get out to Kow-Tow every time I go past them on the 210 Freeway. Geniuses. American college kids.
(Capitalism + Freedom) x Ingenuity = Voyager.
Not only are we great scientists, we are great tinkerers. How many ideas — airplanes, light bulbs, personal computers, a thousand others — had been floating around for decades, or centuries, or millennia, until American ingenuity, that practical, hard-headed garage engineering, got a hold of them and made them actually happen?
I live in two worlds. On one side, the hard side, is aviation. I cannot think offhand of a field (other than Cousin Aeropace) that is as technology and engineering intensive. And with a smattering of exceptions, all of the innovation in experimental aircraft is homegrown. Almost all of the new avionics, the new materials and the breakthrough designs: homegrown.
But the other world I inhabit is that of entertainment, a soft field. And even there, I am surrounded by twenty-first century, cutting-edge, American technological mastery. Every time I fire up my Avid Media Composer, I can count the sixty-odd patents listed on the start-up screen. Those of you unfamiliar with non-linear, computer-based editing may find this hard to believe, but I assure you that we can now do in an hour or two what would have remained impossibly complex twenty years ago with a month of work on tape and film. Avid, Pro Tools, Photoshop — all American inventions. Invented by tinkerers. Kids, mostly.
You know, those idiot Americans you hear so much about.
One last story about this American Trinity before we go back out to that bunker in the desert and then home.
Waaaaaaayy back at the top of this journey, I told you about looking for investors, and finding some. So let me tell you about a man who I would love to name, but won’t.
He is a scientist. A real scientist: a geologist.
While he was a University professor, he and his (business!) partner found a more efficient and more accurate procedure to get some data they, and other geologists, needed frequently. So they formed a company. They went private. They hired Grad students, paid them a fortune relative to any other jobs they could possibly get, and gave them a piece of the company. Brilliant.
So now, this new procedure harnessed all of the work, ingenuity and ambition of a bunch of very bright young men and women whose intellectual passion and economic rewards were pulling in the same direction. Stampede!
They began to become ten, then twenty times more efficient. Accuracy and quality remained superb, because accuracy was in fact their product. And since this was what they had all wanted to do with their lives in the first place, they worked nights, weekends, whatever it took to make this company a success.
And it was a success, a spectacular success, and remains so to this day. The former grad students are set for life, and my friend’s father, the scientist, is now a millionaire many times over. I admired and respected him from the very first, back when they were drinking powdered milk to save money. He is a brilliant, hysterically funny, generous and good man. He now owns three houses, and a mountain. He worked for, he earned, every handful of dirt on that mountain. He has made scientific data more accessible, more accurate and more inexpensive than it would have been without him.
And I will say this about him, and about the many other millionaires I have known: he was the first in, and the last out of his office every day, for decades. The boss never leaves work. The Money Fairy did not accidentally stagger into him after a night of heavy drinking. He worked hard, and smart, and deserves every dime.
And he has bailed me out — twice — and kept my dreams alive. Twice. Without this man, without his genius, his ambition, his hard work and his generosity, you would not be reading this, for I would not be here today. I have taken his investments and failed him. Twice. And he still talks to me.
I guess because when it’s all said and done, it’s only money. There’s more, in the air, where that came from.
Okay, back to the beginning of this Road Trip: The Desert. The Test Site. The Blast Doors. The Bunker.
Trinity. American Power.
But see, you’re undoubtedly thinking about Los Alamos, New Mexico. About Atomic bombs. About July 16th, 1945. About Trinity.
But we’re nowhere near Los Alamos. We’re in California. See, that’s what you get for sleeping in the car.
There are people out there who maintain that we are a strong nation only because of our military might.
That’s exactly wrong.
Our military might does not make us strong. We have military might because we are strong. It is a by-product of our strength, not the source of it.
Any idiot can build bombs. Our Trinity sits not on some desert sand seared into glass at an abandoned, sad pillar of stones. It’s in our heads and our hearts, it’s in our genes, this beautiful, gorgeous marriage of money, freedom and ingenuity.
We’re not here to look at some dark sigil, some monument to destruction. We’re builders, we’re dreamers. We’re in the Mojave desert, under cloudless skies split by man-made thunder, a place where people strap themselves into bullets and dare sonic booms to get out of their way.
We’re going to space, dammit! And best of all, we’re going on our own dime.
The test stand looks exactly like the Viking lander would if you’d built it at Home Depot. Get a little closer though, and the finesse, the genius, is in the details. Anodized gold, remote-controlled, cryogenic valves. Stacks and stacks of huge horizontal gas tanks, like the big babies they fill balloons from, all plumbed together to push enough liquid oxygen to get to where it needs to go.
The bunker at the distant corner of Mojave airport used to store ammunition back in the day. Now it stores TV monitors, a home-made control console, lots of chairs, boxes, pipes, pumps, and an old, battered Jet Ski. Oh, and it stores Rocket Scientists too. About a dozen or so.
I’m not in there with them, though. I see enough of the world on television monitors. I’m crouching down on the top of the bunker, perhaps thirty yards away. If this thing explodes, I won’t be able to duck in time, but I can make myself as small a target as possible and still see this with my own eyes.
Foam “ears” are handed out. I pretend to screw mine in. I’m already half-deaf from years working in a Miami night club. I want to hear this thing. But that’s because I am an idiot.
The Home Depot Viking… farts. White cryogenic gas spurts from valves on top, sending a white frozen plume across the desert. It’s a disappointing sound. Okay, so you have to purge the LOX system, but–
Another noise, throatier this time. Wisps of super-cooled gas emerge from the back of the combustion chamber, which looks like nothing more than a plain silver coffee can — no cool bell-shape, no piping, no sign of any—.
A thirty-foot tongue of white hot flame lights up the midday desert floor — did you get that? This is the sound that God makes after polishing off a case of Old Milwaukee and a jumbo sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
It lasts exactly 1.3 seconds. And no, now that I think about it, it’s not “a tongue of white-hot flame.” It looks nothing like white-hot flame. White-hot flame would be friendly, compared to this. This is a supersonic plasma spike, that’s what it is, the shock diamonds backed up into the chamber like, well — like shock diamonds. A photograph was taken in broad desert daylight and stopped down to catch the brightness of the exhaust plume!
When you actually see something like this this close, you have one thought, and one thought only, and that is: DO IT AGAIN!!
And they do. Several more times. I watch a few from inside. (And I screw in my ears from now on.) The same procedure, again and again. Test. Inspect. Discuss. Restart.
Every now and then, some distant shriek of tearing canvas causes us all to run outside like little kids following the ice cream truck, as a different company is trying a different rocket engine, about a quarter of a mile away. It’s not even close to full power out there, and it’s kicking up a huge brown dust plume.
Down on the Home Depot rocket, that little coffee can goes from room temperature to 420 degrees Celsius in a fraction of a second. We peek inside, trying to divine the signs from the burn patterns — the data will take days to decode. They are kind enough to let me inspect it. I nod like I know what I’m looking at.
These are great people, too, the nicest bunch of men and women you’d ever want to meet. Once they manned the halls of Lockheed and North American and Northrop and Grumman. Now they’re out there, working for peanuts, building rocket motors for themselves, just a little garage-based, mom-and-pop aerospace company called XCOR. They built the EZ-Rocket, flown by Dick Rutan, the man who piloted the Voyager around the world, nonstop, unrefuelled. Dick stepped out of the phone-booth sized afterplane after 9 days; his first words on the ground were “see what free men can do?”
If I hear another soul talk about the death of American ingenuity, I will bring them out here to meet those normal, smiling, somewhat scruffy, every-day rocket scientists at XCOR. I will introduce them to test pilot Dick Rutan, and his brother Burt. Burt Rutan is one of those people whose work you cannot look at without the word genius escaping your lips in a hushed whisper, unconsciously. His company, Scaled Composites, a few doors down, has a working, flying spacecraft.
No, that’s not fair. They’ve got a working, flying space launch system. And they are going, by God! They are flying into Space. The whole lot of them: XCOR, Scaled, a few others.
This is the Trinity I wanted to show you. It’s not just aerospace — it’s all through the very fiber of this magnificent, brilliant country of ours.
These people are using their own money, their own freedom and their own ingenuity to do what governments won’t give them the means to do: follow that ultimate dream into and through that deep, delirious, burning blue and out into by-God outer space! Well, if you want to be an astronaut, here in America you can build your own spaceship and you can go.
These people, these private citizens, are the best people there are. Smart, dedicated, disciplined dreamers who have the guts and the savvy to do what all of Europe, or all of China, or Japan, have yet to do: fly in space. XCOR needs about $10 million to build a working space plane: that’s about the promotional budget for Legally Blonde 2. No one knows what Burt has spent at Scaled. We only know it wasn’t tax money and no one has ever been killed working for him over the past quarter century of tearing out the foundations of what we thought we could do.
I have one thing to say to these people:
ME!! PICK ME!!
So how stands this magnificent experiment, this monument to ambition, hope, freedom and ingenuity on her 227th birthday? How’s the old girl holding up after all these years?
Militarily, she is unrivaled. The men and women who serve and defend her today are not only the most capable, disciplined, and effective soldiers in her storied and glorious history; they are the most motivated, decent, flexible, daring and victory-prone troops deployed by any nation at any time. The all-volunteer, citizen soldiers arrayed in the defense of this experiment in self-government have placed the United States in a position that I cannot find a precedent for in history, for they now comprise a force so powerful and effective that the very idea of a direct armed attack upon us has become actually unthinkable. To that extent, we can stand on this Fourth of July and think of a promise we have kept to those young men trapped in the sinking hulls at Pearl Harbor, to those airmen flying through fire and blood to hit their targets at Midway or Frankfurt, to the Marines in the jungles of Tarawa and Guadalcanal, the kids who never came home from beaches at Normandy, and all the others who have fought and died to preserve and strengthen this union, and through whose sacrifice we stand here free and alive and happy today.
The stain of racism, the dagger that nearly pierced our heart, continues to fade, its practitioners in a full-scale rout from a battle that may not yet be over but which has certainly been won. We can look out upon the most ethnically diverse nation on the planet and see not the looming disaster that darkens the horizons of much of Europe, with vast, furious, and growing populations of unassimilated radicals, but rather the serious beginnings of a society where people are indeed judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. The office floor on which I work is a kaleidoscope of racial, national and sexual identities. They are not only my colleagues, they are my friends. The fact that much remains to be done should not blind us to the really remarkable battles won in the hearts of each of us since Dr. King looked out from the shadow of Lincoln and shared a dream that becomes more real every day. Good for us. That, too, is something to stand proud of; something worth celebrating with fireworks.
Our economy, even when hung over, continues to show a broad and unshakable strength, the envy of the earth. American productivity leads the world, as we do in scientific breakthroughs and world-changing inventions. The fact is, fierce competition does indeed keep us honest. Science and freedom eats superstition and tribalism for breakfast every morning. We don’t have time for that nonsense.
Our water and air are far cleaner than they were a generation ago, and what comes out the back of a modern automobile is practically cleaner than what goes in. The black streaks behind departing jetliners, rivers that catch fire, belching brown smokestacks and the little blue-grey puffs of poison floating up in their millions from sputtering tailpipes are a fading memory. We can do even better, and we will.
Of course, our times are defined by a new enemy: a brutal, ruthless, utterly inhuman scourge that targets little girls’ birthday parties and office workers and commuters on a bus home from work.
I stand in mute amazement at some of the angry voices I have heard from Europe, who claim as a virtue having put up with terrorism for decades, and who emerge through some sick moral wormhole into a position where fighting back is looked upon with scorn and derision. Get used to it, they say.
Well, here’s an Independence Day thought for you cowards and defeatists out there in your millions: to hell with that. Since that horrible morning, I have had the consolation of knowing that thousands of those murdering bastards have had, as their last thought on earth, the realization that maybe 9/11 wasn’t such a good idea after all.
And I have also watched in total admiration as a genuine leader stood up to pressure the likes of which I have never seen, and committed this nation to the removal of two of the most odious regimes on earth. With them have gone all sorts of future mischief, and likely, certainly hopefully, we will continue to trample this snake until our enemies realize that resorting to Terror will bring them nothing but the swift and total end to their regimes and ambitions, not to mention their personal death and ruin. The jury is certainly still out, and will remain so for many years to come. But I, for one, feel like a man who has watched history’s great projector rewound, with Churchill at Munich standing in for Chamberlain, with Fascism crushed in the cradle, and a horrible, brutal lesson learned — by a few, at least — at long last.
So Happy 227th Birthday, America. Thank you for all you have done for me and my family. You have asked so little of me, and given me so much, that words seem absolutely inadequate. Thank you.
And where ends this Trinity of capitalism, freedom and ingenuity?
Far be it for me to be one of those mindless ideologues who wish to see the United States triumphant for the next century, or 500 years, or a thousand. No, I’m not that kind of person.
I want to see her triumphant forever. I want that shining city on the granite cliffs to keep that beacon of freedom and hope and optimism alive for as long as we are human, to continue her painful, never-ending, beautiful growth towards a more perfect Union, to be the ideal that we all struggle and fight for each in our own way and according to our own inner lights. I want that lamp to light the way down through history, the scourge of tyrants and torturers in ages yet to come. I want her to remain the polar star of those whose hope, optimism, genius and hard work have lifted, and continue to raise, all of us from the darkness of our animal selves.
And someday, somewhere, I hope and believe those Stars and Stripes will snap and flutter in unimaginably distant skies. I hope and believe that proud parents will sit on bleachers and watch their kids playing little league baseball on brave new worlds we can barely dream of. Right now, at this moment in time, it looks like a great, big, magnificent, empty universe. One day, a day closer to us than July 4th, 1776, I think those wagons will roll again, out to new frontiers, carrying painful lessons learned and yet filled with the identical hope and optimism and confidence that alone define us as a people and a nation.
Some species, somewhere, is going to do it. It might as well be us.