Friday, May 13, 2005

Nobles: The D.C. Air National Guard’s 121st Fighter Squadron based at Andrews Air Force Base, for its defense of the nation’s capital.

Wednesday, May 11, was eerily reminiscent of September 11, 2001: The temperate calm of a warm, sunny day came to a jolting end when the White House, Capitol and surrounding federal office buildings were suddenly evacuated. Once more, F-16 fighter jets screeched across the sky, high above the fleeing masses. One lobbyist recollected: “I ran for six blocks because [the Capitol Hill Police] were screaming ‘run for your life’ because a plane was coming in.” Undoubtedly, many were thinking, “Not again.”

No, not this time. The panic resulted from a off-course Cessna plane flying within miles of downtown Washington, which meant it was just a minute from the White House. The two F-16s from the 121st Fighter Squadron quickly intercepted the plane, which was being flown by a student pilot, and diverted it to an airfield in Frederick, Md. Soon afterward, the “all clear” was given and May 11 resumed just as any other spring day.

But what if it hadn’t been a false alarm? That’s where the 121st comes in. These are the pilots standing ready to scramble their jets at a moment’s notice. When the call comes, they’re sent into the air not knowing if their target will be enemy aircraft or a passenger jet filled with Americans. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Their job is to protect the country’s capital at all costs. And every day they wait, training for the time when the threat isn’t a false alarm.

It didn’t take long for the city to return to normal, with federal workers, who had been running for their lives not an hour earlier, chuckling nervously about the ordeal. We can laugh because we know the 121st is there.

For their ongoing vigilance in protecting the capital sky, the pilots of 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base are the Nobles of the week.

Knaves: The Discovery Channel, for doing a very poor job of designing a poll to determine the “Top 100 Greatest Americans.”

In a press release announcing its Top 100 Greatest Americans, the Discovery Channel wonders: “Who will be the Greatest American? Political giant Abraham Lincoln or Bill Clinton? Sports legend Babe Ruth or Tiger Woods? Media mogul Oprah Winfrey or Walt Disney?” Tough choices, to be sure, though the good money is on Lincoln — the Civil War, ending slavery and all that.

Of course, Discovery’s list is much more expansive: Franklin D. Roosevelt or George Washington is a good one to chew over, as is Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison — all of whom made the Top 100.

But then there are the truly difficult choices: Sens. Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Hmm. What about John Edwards or Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre? Another toughie. But who could choose between comedian Ellen DeGeneres or Dr. Phil McGraw? Historians will be debating that one for centuries.

To be fair to Discovery, these aren’t their picks. Over 500,000 Americans voted in the online poll and apparently great Americans like Michael Moore beat out President John Adams in the final tally. (That’s why elections have primaries.)

But perhaps Discovery could have done better in defining for the voters what actually makes someone the “Greatest American.” The very premise is a bit absurd. Are they talking about presidents or generals; literary figures or entertainers? In fact, isn’t there a law against putting Tom Cruise in the same category as Thomas Jefferson? There should be.

So, what otherwise could have been a very lively and educational debate is really just a ploy to get a bunch of “Top Gun” fans and Cheeseheads to watch the Discovery Channel every Sunday night starting in June.

For even suggesting that Michael Jackson might be the Greatest American of all time, the Discovery Channel is the Knave of the week.

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