The Pitch

“He didn’t have to talk about it, because he threw a strike.” – Derek Jeter.

President George W. Bush stood on the mound at Yankee Stadium on October 30, 2001, before Game 3 of the World Series, anxious. The ball was heavy in his hand. “Standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium was by far the most nervous moment of my presidency,” he says in the new 30 for 30 short First Pitch. On a hazy morning in early September this year, he sat in his spacious office in Dallas with his feet on his desk and said it again. “It’s the one in which I was most nervous.”

As president, he would govern a nation divided by a disputed election. He would sit in front of a room of schoolchildren and hear an aide whisper in his ear that buildings were burning as terrorists mounted a massive attack. He would go to war in Afghanistan; he would go to war with Iraq. A natural disaster that hit New Orleans would become a domestic catastrophe. An economic crisis would grip the nation. And he would hear, every morning, a report of the ways in which the country was in danger. The threats were real. “I got to see them,” he reminded me. “You didn’t.”


9/11 Fourteen years on.

I just went outside and looked up. The sky is the same cerulean blue it was on that fateful Tuesday morning. I’m in a different state now, half a continent away, and 3000 miles from the site of the attacks. But the sky is reminding me that while the death and destruction were limited to New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, the effect was felt across the entirety of the US. As an added reminder, looking up, I saw no contrails this morning, reminiscent of the eerie absence of air traffic in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

I was working at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. As most mornings, my carpool and I arrived early, and had a cup of coffee and cigarettes in the member lounge above the trading floor, and then took the escalator down to the floor to get ready to take orders for the opening. Already American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The news shows were just starting to show the pillar of smoke gushing from the wounded tower.  Our small team gathered at our desk, not quite grasping just how catastrophic the damage was. We quickly heard that a plane had struck the building, but didn’t realize it was a jet airliner. I immediately thought of the incident where a B-25 had accidentally struck the Empire State Building many years ago. But that was in bad weather. The skies of New York City were as pretty as anyone could ask for.

As we watched, and struggled to understand, at 9:03am, United Airlines Flight 175, live on television, slammed into the South Tower, erupting into an enormous fireball, and snuffing out the lives of hundreds of innocents. At first, I could not grasp it. Did I see what I plainly had? Of course not. Such a think cannot happen, who would do such a thing? But within seconds, I understood. I knew what had happened. And I knew, in my bones, who had done it. Oh, I don’t think I figured it was Osama bin Laden and his al Qeada lackeys. But I knew it was Islamic terrorism.

Despite this clarity, this understanding of the enemy, confusion reigned. There were reports of more hijackings, and some said as many as 14 jetliners were streaking towards targets across the US. I wasn’t the only one in Chicago that figured the Sears Tower was on the hit list. And given that the other half of our team worked a block from there, we called and suggested they might want to leave their office, and link up with us. It also quickly became apparent that there would be no trading that day, and thus, no point in staying. So we began to leave. And just as I stepped on the escalator to the lobby, I took one last look at the television screens. It was 9:59am. At that instant, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed into a stupendous cloud of dust. Again, I couldn’t quite pr0cess what I had seen. Indeed, I hadn’t really seen the whole thing. I didn’t know, didn’t quite grasp, that the entire column had crumbled, a cascading failure all the way to the bottom. And my friends couldn’t understand when I tried to tell them the tower had collapsed. Buildings just don’t do that.

My friends and I quickly reached our carpool, and hastened to head home. We were hardly alone. The outbound lanes of the highway were as crowded as rush hour. The inbound lanes were virtually deserted.  Of course, we listened to the radio, trying to glean every last bit of information. And of course, there were conflicting reports. Reports of the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 slamming into the western side of the Pentagon at 9:37am eventually came in. And eventually news of the collapse of the North Tower, at 10:28 reached us, though we were confused, and didn’t realize it wasn’t just a repeat report of the collapse of the South Tower. It wasn’t until we were safely ensconced back in Indiana that we learned of the fate of United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. And of course, it would be days before we learned how the passengers, realizing their fate, took what steps they could to prevent an even greater tragedy.

We all have certain images from that day seared into our memories. The gigantic fireball, the falling man, police and firefighters rushing to their doom as civilians worked their way down the stairwells, the dust covered zombies on the streets of Manhattan, the grey pall of dust flowing over the harbor.

These images and more steeled a resolve in the heart of the American people, a terrible anger. And yet, almost instantly, there were those who, beneficiaries of the opportunity of America, having done little to earn their way, ashamed of themselves, cloak themselves not in accomplishment, but assumed moral superiority. They assume it must be that America is somehow unfair, and thus at fault. The first few to denounce the US were greeted with scorn and contempt. But again and again, they spoke, and like a river wearing down a rock, they persisted, until today, not a small number at least wonder if maybe they have a point.

Our resolve, our determination to roll back the campaign of terror, to secure our own interests, has collapsed, as surely as the twin  towers on the Hudson.

It is to weep.


The FAA Commemorates 9/11

This is from last year, but I just now learned about  it. And I’m told this is the permanent structure for approaches into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for GPS approaches.

FREEDOM approach into DC


As people gather at memorials on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, one means of remembrance is written in the sky. Flights headed toward Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport use procedures and waypoints that commemorate the victims of 9/11 and honor U.S. soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Aircraft flying in from the northwest use the FRDMM arrival, taking them over waypoints “WEEEE,” “WLLLL,” “NEVVR,” “FORGT” and “SEP11.” Flights from the southwest, use the TRUPS arrival and cross waypoints “USAAY,” “WEEDU,” “SUPRT,” “OOURR” and “TRUPS.”

Depending on the runway configuration, aircraft might pass through waypoints named “STAND” and “TOGETHER,” or “LETZZ,” “RLLLL,” “VCTRY” and “HEROO.”

The arrival sequences are part of the FAA’s Metroplex initiative, which is creating satellite-based procedures to bring greater efficiency to the airspace over several metropolitan areas around the country.

The FAA also published a “GARDN” fix over the area in rural west-central Pennsylvania where United Flight 93 crashed after passengers and crew members fought with hijackers for control of the plane, preventing it from reaching its intended target of Washington, D.C.

You can download the .pdf approach plates here.


We should write some moving piece about what today, the 13th anniversary of that horrific day, means to us, and our loved ones.

But we always struggle writing about emotional events, and human interest stories.

Others have a far better talent for writing these pieces.

2974 people were killed that day. The resulting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the sacrifice of 6,830 so far, have weighed heavily upon the citizenry. Many ask if the struggle is worth it. How long must we fight? Most Americans have an odd blend of bellicosity and a desire to simply be left alone.

If you spend any time on social media today, you’ll see plenty of people swearing to Never Forget. You’ll see that contrasted by younger Americans who can’t really grasp what 9/11 is all about. For virtually their entire lives, America just happens to have been at war somewhere, with someone. That’s just how things are to them. How can they be outraged by the norm?

We don’t have any plans to commemorate the day. We’re not doing anything special. Our house is being painted. We might go to the library, maybe the store. We’ll do household chores. We’ll just go on being a normal American, doing normal American things.

We wish we could forget. Go back to that time when the Cold War was over. The End of History had arrived. There might be conflict in the world, but war, especially an American war, was a thing of the past, to be remembered in books and movies.

But we can’t. We cannot forget being transfixed by the events unfolding live on television. The pain, the fear, the anguish of not knowing why? Why us?  That oh so brief moment in the days after where so many Americans came together to comfort one another. And the utterly predictable moment when a certain segment of society leapt to the microphone, or the computer, to explain to us common folk that it was our own fault, that the sins of our nation meant we deserved this attack. That rather than the attack being an affront to civilization, it was our civilization that was the very affront that invited this attack.

As Insty quotes today, from Lee Harris:

The Enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the Enemy always hates us for a reason — it is his reason, and not ours.

We will not spend our day worrying his reasons. 

We will  instead spend our day remembering that America, for all its faults, is the shining city on a hill.

Reflections on 9/11

My own reflections are of shock, pain, anger, such welling anger and a feeling of helplessness, a frustration that I could do nothing to influence the events of the day.

Steeljaw Scribe  was present at the Pentagon that day.

“Admiral, we’ve taken a hit…and we’re on fire”
Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 0937:25. Reflexively I glanced at my watch at the moment of impact, burning the time into my memory as I passed to my boss who was in Memphis for a promotion board that we had just been struck.

“Sir, looks like we’ve been hit pretty bad – I have to go. Will try to reach you via cell as possible.”

And with that I completed a voice report that I never imagined I would be making from a shore station. Over the years, through ramped up tensions during the Cold war and in the Gulf I always had in the back of my mind the possibility of having to make just such a call. Never under these conditions…

See Part II here.