James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
  • More on Nice Downtowns: Do They Just Happen? Or Are They Made?

    Tampa has kept trying to revive its downtown, and has kept failing. Asheville has been wildly successful—but was it even trying at all?

    On the Albert Speer-esque Century Avenue in Pudong, Shanghai yesterday: young passers-by in front of government poster reminding them that Chinese values include filial piety and respect for age (James Fallows)

    Yesterday I quoted a reader in Seattle who recounted the long, purposeful process through which that city's now-lively and attractive downtown was willed into existence. Reader mail on this point:

    1) The wisdom of Jerry Brown. From a reader in the East Bay:

    One to the things that Jerry Brown emphasized when he was Mayor of Oakland was a campaign to get 10,000 new residents downtown. I think that made a tremendous impact on Oakland, both in the downtown and just in reputation.

    When I was interviewing Jerry Brown two years ago in his office in Oakland, for this article, he bragged about this same effort and urged me to look around the still-improving downtown. Which I did, and was impressed.

    2) Tampa tried and failed. Asheville succeeded ... just because. From another reader:

    Your reader's description of Seattle in 1970 applies, word-for-word, to Tampa (where I lived from 1953 to 1994 and have returned to many times visiting family). Yet no one in their right mind would describe Tampa's downtown as a success. The best you could say for it would be, "It's struggling to improve"—but that's what you'd say in 2005, 1995, 1985, and 1975.

    The struggle has been long, and the improvement painful. The Franklin Street Pedestrian Mall has long been given over to abandoned storefronts and abandoned people, while the crown jewel of the early effort, Curtis Hixon Hall, was torn down 20 years ago. The 1980s-era Harbor Island and 1990s-era street car have both failed to meet their original goals, and the Harbor Island mall and people mover have long been shut down.

    Downtown Tampa's main assets date from its earliest period: The Tampa Bay Hotel (University of Tampa) built in the 1890s, and Bayshore Blvd, first built in 1906 and reaching its present shape in the 1930s.

    On the other hand, Asheville, North Carolina's, fabulous downtown (60 blocks for a town of 150,000, and just try to get a parking space after 6 p.m.!)  seems to have evolved without any planning at all. Its physical structure dates from massive overbuilding during the 1920s Land Boom, but its current success comes from a large artists' community which occupied it during the 1980s due to ample space at low rent. (The artists community itself dates from private charities establishing crafts coops in the 1910s and 20s in the surrounding mountains.)

    Curiously,  the downtown district has become so successful that few artists can now afford it, causing an exodus to a 1920s-era factory district that was almost completely abandoned 20 years ago.

    This tells me that there is no recipe here; an approach's success in Seattle is meaningless unless you understand why the same approach failed in Tampa. But as to massive, long-term, centralized intervention—Tampa indicates that it's not sufficient, and Asheville [below] shows that it's not even necessary.
    Grove Arcade, Asheville. By accident, or design? (Romantic Asheville)

    We have not yet gone to Asheville (although we've flown near it many times on trips up and down the East Coast) precisely because it's so famously chic and successful a small-ish town. So I'm not in a position to assess the reader's claim that Asheville just naturally evolved its way into its current look. I await views from readers who know more about the story.

    3) "Downtown Anaheim no longer exists." A reader who, like me, grew up in Boomer-era Southern California writes about the contrast between two cities in Orange County. These are Anaheim, which everyone knows as the home of the original Disneyland plus the eccentrically-but-honestly named "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" [see also: the "New York Giants of New Jersey," "Washington NFL Team of Maryland," etc]; and Fullerton, which I'll confess I hardly know at all:

    I lived in Fullerton during my teenage years and my parents lived there many years longer. In my time, during the 1960's, Anaheim and Fullerton were similar: bedroom communities to Los Angeles with nice little downtown areas. There were not yet shopping malls as we now know them so both downtown areas had a full range of retail activity from small department stores, hardware stores, drug stores, a few restaurants, and small movie theaters. Fullerton had Harbor Blvd (then Spadra) and Anaheim had Lincoln Blvd (then Center St). (On weekend nights Harbor Blvd was like the main street in the movie American Graffiti.)

    Some time in the 1970's Anaheim demolished its downtown area and basically turned it into a strip mall with a few high rise buildings. It is no more (the city is now trying to make the area around Angel Stadium its new downtown). At the same time, Fullerton, over time, transformed its downtown into a 'destination' area and built and converted lots of small residential buildings. It kept as many of the old buildings as possible.

    Downtown Fullerton is now almost entirely a service economy with dozens of restaurants, boutiques, etc., and it is to some degree a victim of its own success as the many night clubs often attract an undesirable nighttime crowd from the some of the inland areas. This has created some additional law enforcement requirements.

    The residential area that I grew up in, consisting of homes on large acreage in the northern hilly areas of Fullerton, are still extremely desirable and Fullerton remains one of the nicest family residential areas within easy driving distance of downtown Los Angeles. (Or, if you have lots of time, the miserable Amtrak and Metro link rail transport services)

    The comparison of Anaheim and Fullerton during the last several decades offers a rather dramatic contrast in downtown urban planning and development. I recently had a pleasant daytime walking experience in downtown Fullerton. Downtown Anaheim no longer exists.

    * * *

    The picture at the top is from the Pudong (skyscraper / freeways / monumental avenues / propaganda posters) side of Shanghai, as mentioned yesterday. I use it mainly because I'm still here, but also as a segue to a point I want to make about the nicer, Puxi side of town, which looked this way on Sunday:

    Fuxing Zhong Lu, home of Boxing Cat

    The building at the left with a brown logo is the wonderful Boxing Cat Brewery on Fuxing Lu, in the French Concession part of town. I have loved Boxing Cat since its opening in 2008 because it's a very nice brewpub in a land of historically bad beer; but also because its founding brewmaster, Gary Heyne, was a good friend in the years my wife Deb and I lived in Shanghai and when Boxing Cat was just getting going.

    Gary Heyne of Boxing Cat (Urban Anatomy)

    Five years ago, Gary Heyne suddenly died, at age 45, apparently of a heart attack late one night at Boxing Cat. You see a picture of him taken not long before that, at right. I wrote about the sad and shocking news of his demise here.

    Neither the "history" nor the "team" page of Boxing Cat's web page now has any mention of Gary Heyne or his founding role. I asked about that this weekend when visiting the brewery, and I've asked subsequently via email. Now I'm asking in this space: This is a person whose achievements in purposefully helping re-create a downtown should be remembered.


    To end on a brighter note, our colleague John Tierney has done two very interesting posts on the positive implications, and also the complexities, of the "makerspace" movement and the wider spread of 3-D printers and similar tools. His first dispatch, on the promise of these technologies, is here; the second, on some of the dilemmas and legal/social/economic challenges is here. He also includes links to two Conference of World Affairs panel discussions on these topics last week. The posts add perspective to developments we've seen across the country and are very much worth checking out.

  • Nice Downtowns: How Did They Get That Way?

    "Visitors think, 'That's just how Seattle is.' But it wasn't." Lessons via places ranging from Fresno to Shanghai.

    Pike Place market in Seattle, not far from site of the original Starbucks and a core element of the city's successful downtown (Wikimedia commons)

    I had anticipated some of the rewards and discoveries of visiting cities in the process of economic and cultural recovery and re-invention. An unexpected reward has been the chance to get a time-capsule view, a kind of real-life time-line diorama, of how the downtown areas of cities look through all the stages of a decline-and-rise cycle. The declining phase includes hollowing-out and pawn-shop-dominated decay. Then there is spotty and tentative improvement. Finally, if all goes well, full-scale health through a combination of stores, restaurants, theaters, downtown condos, and all the other elements of a region that attracts commercial and human activity through most hours of the night and day.

    As I described last month in this post, we've seen cities that serve as showpieces of how this process looks once it has succeeded. These range from Greenville, South Carolina, to Burlington, Vermont, to Columbus, Ohio, to Holland, Michigan, to Pasadena, California, and others in between. We've seen others well along the path toward downtown development: Duluth, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Riverside and Redlands and Winters, California. And others that still have significant challenges but have taken big steps (like Allentown, Pennsylvania) or are about to (like Fresno, California).

    Here's why I set this out again: It's tempting, if you haven't seen the varied stages of this process, to imagine that some cities just "naturally" have attractive and successful downtowns, and others just don't happen to. It's like happening to be located on a river, or not.

    But in every city we've visited with a good downtown, we've heard accounts of the long, deliberate process that led to today's result. The standard discussion will go: "See this restaurant [bar / theater / condo / Apple store with surrounding retail outlets]? Ten years ago, you wouldn't have [dreamed of coming here at night / seen anyone but crack addicts / been able to rent a condo, or wanted to]." We've heard variations of this account so often we now feel a little let down if we don't get the "this used to be a crack house" speech when visiting a nice hotel or downtown tech-company headquarters.   

    That's the context for the note below, from a reader in Seattle, responding to the ongoing accounts of Fresno's attempts to restore its downtown. "Everyone knows" that these days Seattle has one of the country's great, lively downtowns. The reader, who grew up in Seattle in the 1950s and 1960s, explains why this was the result of more than pure happenstance:

    The Fresno story reminded me of a little-remembered deliberate urban planning effort in Seattle.

    Around 1970 the mayor and his aides visited Cleveland and were appalled when they went out to dinner. They recognized that Seattle, too, had become a city with a downtown completely dead and deserted at night. Everything was moving to the suburbs; the movie theaters had been Seattle's only nighttime downtown attraction and they'd moved to the suburbs and offered free parking, as did the retail.

    So the mayor and his aides sat down and consciously focused on what to do to assure a vibrant nighttime downtown, for itself and as a key component of urban health.

    Dozens of elements were required, including making downtown attractive to residents as well as businesses, hotels, etc.; and transit had to be adapted for the purpose, too.

    It took a long time, but for nearly 50 years this effort has carried on, successfully I think, but hardly anyone recalls that the origins of the effort were very deliberate and came about when the nighttime downtown was the precise opposite of what it is today, and few people probably think of it as involving a conscious goal then or now. They just think "that's the way Seattle is." But Seattle wasn't.

    PS I hope the Fresno folks think about the downtown-residence part. It seemed a pipe dream in Seattle once too. But it's been key.

    Now, of course, it is a self fueling boom: young folks in tech. You saw Expedia just announced its move from Bellevue to Seattle because as the company stated young people want to live in the city now, where it is all happening, not on the Eastside, so moving to the city aids recruiting and retention.

    On this final point: yes, in every place we've been, every one we've talked with about downtown recovery stresses the crucial importance of getting people to live there. Here's a recent news release from Columbus to exactly that effect.

    * * *

    The big three of the Pudong skyline: from left,
    the 88-story Jin Mao tower, the 101-story
    Shanghai World Financial Center, and the
    128-story built-but-not-yet occupied Shanghai

    I'm writing this from Shanghai, on a visit for a series of classes at the NYU-Shanghai campus. Like most immersions in urban China this one is a reminder of the possibilities and perils of urban design. As always in Shanghai, it underscores the very different impressions that differently designed parts of a city can bring.

    The older part of Shanghai—Puxi, "west of the river," including the quasi-colonial international districts and the partly preserved French Concession—of course has its share of skyscrapers and elevated freeways and deluxe shopping malls. But it also has small, intimate streets lined with little stores and full of passers-by doing their daily shopping.

    The newer part—Pudong, "east of the river"—is built on a Speer-esque inhuman scale of giant boulevards and huge walkways plastered with morale building "China dream" posters and barely a little shop in sight (until you go around to the alleys in back). Its center includes the spectacle of an 88-story, a 101-story, and a 128-story skyscraper side-by-side, as shown at right.

    Each approach, the east side's and the west's, reflects a choice. Unfortunately most recently constructed Chinese cities have been going the Pudong direction, as did American cities during the long freeway-and-sprawl era. The downtown-revival movement in the United States is in effect an effort to be more Puxi, less Pudong.

    Parents doing matchmaking for their children, in a park on the Puxi side of Shanghai.
    (Deborah Fallows)
  • 3 Ways of Thinking About Fresno (and Why You Should Care)

    A beleaguered city shows the path toward revival.

    City of murals (James and Deborah Fallows)

    I'll confess that as of a year ago, I had not given much thought to Fresno. When I was growing up in Southern California, I was aware mainly of L.A., San Francisco, Berkeley, and Newport Beach. In the reporting years since then most of my attention was on the stretch of California from San Jose all the way northward to the Embarcadero. I was aware of the Central Valley mainly as the place where the food came from, and as the setting for American Graffiti.

    As my wife Deb and I have chronicled over the past few weeks, after three visits, Fresno has become another of our new Favorite Cities—along with Greenville, Sioux Falls, Allentown, Duluth, and on down the list. Some of the reasons include innovative public schools, an arts scene with ambitions to become California's next bohemia, tech startups that take advantage of the city's location in the middle of one of the world's major agricultural zones, and an ambitious plan to remake what is now a very tattered downtown.

    Herewith three more notes:

    * * *

    1) Tech Training as a Crucial Part of Re-Knitting the American Fabric. Everyone knows that research universities are crucial for creating valuable new industries, and everyone is right.

    But I've come to think that community colleges, trade schools, and what used to be dismissively called "vocational education" are just about as important and deserve much more mind-share and support than they currently get. These are the main ways that people who are not going to be biomedical researchers, or federal judges, or corporate bigshots can still earn decent livings, through the modern counterparts to the lost, 1950s-era paradise of large-scale, high-wage factory jobs.

    What are the modern counterparts? They're mainly not low-skill, low-wage jobs in retail, food service, or delivery functions. Instead they are skilled technical positions: people able to repair anything from an aircraft engine to a gas pipeline, those able to program 3D printers or lab-testing machines, many of the non-MD members of the growing medical-industrial complex. Where schools that teach these skills exist, and fit well into the local social and economic ecosystems, they do something to offset the relentless pressure on middle-income jobs. That's what we've seen and described in Mississippi, and in Maine, and in Georgia and South Carolina, and elsewhere in California and across the country.

    Bitwise SOUL program students

    This is happening in Fresno too. Bitwise Industries, which I've described previously as a tech incubator, is also very active with the local public schools, and with Fresno State, and with other civic groups to connect people at many stages of life with improved tech-skill opportunities. The group shown at right are part of its SOUL program, or School of Unlimited Learning, for high-schoolers.

    When I visited Jake Soberal, Bitwise's co-founder (with Irma Olguin) and CEO, in the company's Mural District headquarters, people who appeared to range in age from their late teens to much, much older kept trooping into the building for coding classes. Some of them, Soberal said, were part of the long-term unemployed. "This is the most significant thing we do," he said of these adult courses.

    "Most training programs take people from being out of the line, and put them in the back of the line," he said. "They get people all trained up for a poor job. We want to get them ready for the front of the line, for jobs in the highest growth industry on the planet," by which he meant anything requiring coding skills. "If we can do it here"—a chronically depressed community with many things working against it—"it can be a case study for other places." You can read his manifesto for remaking the local employment structure, in the form of an open letter to Fresno from Bitwise's co-founders.

    Beginning of the Bitwise open letter to Fresno.

    I don't know whether this strategy will succeed. I can say that it's similar in passion and approach to efforts we've seen work elsewhere.

    * * *

    2) The Beautiful, Doomed Artistry of Downtown.

    As described before, many of Fresno's hopes rest on renovation of its still-structurally-elegant but now economically bombed-out historic downtown.

    There is a bittersweet aspect to today's effort, because it involves—literally—bulldozing away a previous generation's attempts to save this same downtown. The December, 2014 issue of the (incredibly beautifully produced) Landscape Architecture Magazine has a long article called "Fresno v. Eckbo," the opening spread of which you see below:

    LAM, December 2014 issue

    You can read the whole article through a Zinio app here. It lays out the pathos of the step the city is about to take. In the early 1960s, Fresno commissioned the famed modernist architect Garrett Eckbo to design a modern, art-adorned, car-free pedestrian strolling-mall through the heart of the city's downtown.

    For a while it was celebrated as a work of both artistic and commercial genius. But then, as the LAM article by Mimi Zeiger explains, the business and street life of Fresno relocated to the sprawl-malls of the northern suburbs.

    The once-beautiful art-adorned mall, 50 years later: It still has the trees and statues, but almost no customers.
    How could I resist including a view of this

    To save its downtown, Fresno is about to dig up the pedestrian mall that had been its pride and re-open it to cars. The article explains very clearly why that seems necessary, and why it is sad:

    The new design is adaptive and will include removable bollards for street closures and events. It's not hard to imagine [a variety of local festivals and farmers' markets'] filling the street. It's a vision for a new urban landscape shared by many mayors across the country.... "If this is successful, the street will be closed on many days," [the lead architect of the new project] reflects. "That's the irony."

    It's worth reading the article and following this project.

    * * *

    3) A Wonderfully Situated Brewpub.

    I'll say it again: One of the marks of a city-on-the-rise is a "Riverwalk" or bike path, whether or not there is actually a river. Another is the presence of craft-brew companies and brewpubs. Where there are brewpubs, by definition there are entrepreneurs. If the brewpubs stay in business it means there is a class of mainly young customers willing to come to usually downtown locations and support other businesses too.

    I'm biased in favor of brewpubs as a class, but I was especially fond of Tioga-Sequoia, one of the pioneers in opening a business in downtown Fresno, for these reasons:

       • Its products suit my taste very well. (General Sherman IPA is its mainstay, named after a famous redwood in nearby Sequoia National Park.)

    Drink Local, inside the T-S taproom

       • It is local-local-local in its branding and marketing approach. (Its slogan is "The Central Valley's Brewery"; its president Michael Cruz and brewmaster Kevin Cox told us that their ambition was not to go nationwide or even statewide but instead to be the beer of the Valley. "And we want to show that something good can come out of this town," Cruz said.)

    Tioga-Sequoia's Kevin Cox (left) and Michael Cruz

    Its branding has a campy charm, being based on the Forest Service shield also familiar from Yosemite. (For a while, the Forest Service made a show of complaining. Now some Rangers put T-S stickers on their cars.)

    Its location is sublime, adjoining the town's downtown minor-league park.

    * * *

    That is enough for now. The country is big and interesting, and full of more positive experimentation, including in places like Fresno, than we had any reason to expect when we began this journey.

  • Today's Aviation News: The Good and the Weird

    How a demonstration of calm competence becomes a "terrifying" episode

    Where it all began: Wilbur Wright just after landing a glider in 1901 (Library of Congress)

    1) Good News: Kestrel and Eclipse

    Two of the protagonists of my 2001 book Free Flight were Alan Klapmeier, who with his brother Dale founded what is now the most successful small-airplane company in the world, Cirrus Aircraft (formerly Cirrus Design) of Duluth, Minnesota; and Vern Raburn and the other figures behind the Eclipse aircraft company of Albuquerque, NM.

    Alan Klapmeier (Kestrel Aircraft)

    Since then the Klapmeier brothers have gone their separate ways; and Cirrus, while still based in Duluth, is now owned by the Chinese aerospace ministry; and Eclipse has been through several incarnations.

    But it was great to see the news yesterday from an airshow in Germany (which I saw this morning while I am in Shanghai) that Alan Klapmeier's current company, Kestrel, has merged with Eclipse to form a new aircraft company called ONE Aviation, which Alan will run.

    Alan Klapmeier is one of the genuinely visionary figures in American manufacturing, and one of the really impressive entrepreneur/makers I've encountered in my time as a reporter. If he had been in the Internet, computer, or smartphone business rather than in the niche field of non-airline aviation, he'd be as well known to the public as he is the aerospace world. I'm glad to see him in this expanded role.

    2) Weird News: Are You Just Trolling Us, CNN?

    I can't embed the video I've just watched, but you can see it here, and the screen shot below will give you the idea.

    Terrifying takeoff! Caught on video! Hair's-breadth escape! Perfect material for CNN in its role as The Network of Peril in the Sky™.

    What is caught on video is, in fact, the way it looks when an airplane with a competent pilot takes off into a very strong cross-wind. While the airplane is on the ground, it heads straight down the runway. Once it lifts into the air, and its orientation relative to the ground doesn't matter any more, the pilot points its nose sharply up-wind so that it can continue a "crabbed" forward path along the runway heading. This is hard to explain but easy to understand if you watch.

    Why does this matter? It doesn't, really. But it's a little real-time instance of hyping up fear, about a "terrifying" near-death escape, from what is actually a demonstration of calm competence. It would be like showing a surgeon cutting into someone's skin and saying, "Oh my God, the blood! We're about to die!"

    I do love the comment from one of the anchors: On a day that windy, for safety's sake the authorities should have "switched airports." And they would have gotten this plane to some other airport .... exactly how?

    (Thanks to reader DB for spotting this.)

  • From Xizhou to Eastport to Ajo: Big Dreams in Small Towns

    The same kind of ambition you see in political campaigns, races for sports championships, or attempts to score a big IPO—but toward a different end.

    Looking toward the former Curley School in Ajo, Arizona, site of the brand-new Sonoran Desert Conference Center ( Stuart Siegel )

    Xizhou. Nearly six years ago I wrote an article in the magazine called “Village Dreamers.” It was about an American couple, with two young-teen children, who had spent many years in China and had decided to devote their time, their savings, and much of their future to the long-shot dream of rehabilitating a town in the remote, Himalayan-foothills reaches of China's southwestern Yunnan province.

    Their little town, Xizhou, had once been home to prosperous merchants and still possessed a large number of courtyard houses, temples, and other classic-style, once-beautiful buildings. Most had been spared destruction during the Cultural Revolution through the good fortune, as it appeared in retrospect, of having been commandeered as People's Liberation Army barracks. Here is a sample of how one of them looks now, after its restoration as a conference center and retreat.

    The Linden Centre

    You can read more about this family, Brian and Jeanee Linden and their children, here, and see a video of them in their town back in 2009 here. When we were reporting on them, as the video suggests, everything about their plans was tentative. We were among the first-ever customers of what they hoped to make into a retreat so exceptional that people would make the very long trek from China's own big cities, to say nothing of the rigors of a trip from overseas, to have a chance to see it.

    As it happens, the Lindens' big bet on Xizhou appears to have paid off. They've gone from strength to strength: winning awards as having the "best small hotel in China," attracting Chinese and international conference groups, being written up in the NYT, and acquiring and rehabilitating additional structures. You can read all about it, and them, here.

    Yellow Sheep River. Not every quixotic venture we have seen, and crossed our fingers for, has worked out so happily. Shortly before we visited the Lindens, we reported on a roughly parallel effort in a small village in China's arid, remote, impoverished, but stunningly beautiful Gansu province.

    On a horse ride near Yellow Sheep River, Gansu province (JF)

    This was the effort by a Taiwanese-American man named Kenny Lin to will into success a 5-star conference center and resort hotel in a little town called Yellow Sheep River, which was so far from anywhere that the last stage of the journey there is on horseback. (With lots of yaks looking on.) Kenny Lin undertook this as a labor of loyalty and love for a lifelong friend who had pioneered the project and then suddenly died before its fruition. That's the story I told in the magazine here.

    Kenny Lin in Gansu (Ariana Lindquist)

    The forces of remoteness, the mysteries of the Chinese five-star resort business, plus unknown other factors gave this quest a sadder conclusion. A little more than a year ago I relayed the news that Kenny Lin and his foundation were offering free title to the Yellow Sheep River conference center to anyone willing to try to make a go of it. Dreams would be called something else if they always came true.

    Eastport. A little more than a year ago we wrote in the magazine, and did web posts and a Marketplace broadcast, on the hardy group of citizens trying to revive the also-beautiful and also-remote city of Eastport, Maine.

    The Commons in downtown Eastport, our home while
    we were there and one of its revival projects

    The town has only 1,300 residents, but each of them seemed to have four or five jobs, divided between those that would keep their families going and those that would give the town new life and appeal. We wrote about a number of them—Captain Bob Peacock, Linda Godfrey and the other Women of the Commons, the brothers Hugh and Edward French and their families, Chris Gardner, and on through the other 1,290 or so—and were impressed by the ingenuity and effort by which they were determined to use natural beauty, and community commitment, to overcome distance and establish their community as a place people would—and should—make the effort to go and see.

    * * *

    Now we come to Ajo.

    In two posts this past week, my wife Deb has set up Ajo's challenge, and its hoped-for response. The challenge is actually very similar to those faced by both Xizhou and Eastport. Xizhou had once been part of an important trade route for tea, horses, and salt. Those days are gone. Eastport was once one of the centers of the Atlantic sardine-canning industry. Those fish are mainly gone, as are the canneries and the jobs. (The city does have an annual Sardine Drop festival to welcome in the new year.) I'm leaving Yellow Sheep River off this list, because it never had a big economic base that suddenly went away.

    Part of the Ajo retirement economy (DF)

    In Ajo's case, the source of lost wealth is its adjoining, vast, open-pit copper mine. For a century before 1985, the mine employed most people in town. Since then, it has employed almost no one.

    For a while the city limped along as a destination for what for the editor of the Ajo Copper News, Gabrielle David, described to us as "blue collar retirees," who may have come in RVs or with tents to stretch a pension as far as it could go. Now it too—like Xizhou, like Easport—is trying to make beauty and a specialness of place overcome the obstacles of remoteness.

    In comparison with these other towns—Eastport four-plus hours by car from Portland, Xizhou closer to Burma than to any sizable city in China —Ajo is barely "remote" at all. It's a two-plus hour drive south from Phoenix, or 45 minutes south from the also-small Gila Bend. (Which was the way we came, as explained here.) The beauty-of-remoteness it has to offer is mostly natural, as the closest settlement to the under-appreciated and breathtaking Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, about which we'll say more in later installments; as a waypoint toward the also breathtaking expanses of the Tohono O'odham Nation. (For reference, until a formal name change in the 1980s the tribe had been known in English as the Papago.)

    Edward Curtis, The North American Indian, 1907
    (Wikimedia commons)

    I don't dare offer any photos of the landscape, because they'd just look like amateur versions of what you'd see in Arizona Highways. Instead I'll use this classic century-old Edward Curtis portrait of a Tohono O'odham woman, at right.

    The other beauty, surprisingly, is architectural and civic. Some mining towns or commodity centers are big rough-and-ready messes. Others are somehow infused with touches of culture—think of the opera house in Manaus, as told by Fitzcarraldo.

    In an upcoming post Deb will explain exactly why (with unexpected connections to Eastport) Ajo ended up being one of the mining towns whose bosses had City Beautiful aspirations. For the moment the point is that they did—and the "good bones" remnants of those early ambitions, in the form of its grand central plaza, and the historic Curley School, were fortunately never bulldozed and now give it material to work with (as Deb explained here).

    Part of the magnificent Ajo central plaza, now owned by the civic-development group ISDA (JF)

    * * *

    Here is why I'm writing about Ajo—and Xizhou, and Eastport, and even Yellow Sheep River—late at night, when we have more installments in their saga to come. It is to emphasize the emotional power of seeing social capital being created, as we now realize we have done in all these different-but-similar places.

    Everyone knows about financial capital-creation, and we assume it is carried out on Wall Street or Sand Hill Road or by gnomes in Zurich. Social capital is as precious and necessary as financial capital, we've come to believe. (In China it's scarcer and more important than in America, but that's for another time.) And it has been surprisingly moving to get to know people who are investing themselves in the lives of their communities, even if conventional economic or career-strategy analysis might suggest that this is a waste of time.

    Here are two closing illustrations from Ajo. One involves the wonderful young people of the National Civilian Community Corps, or NCCC. As Deb and I have traveled, now, in every corner of the country, we've been sobered by reminders of how much the New Deal-era WPA changed the face of the country, and how fast it did so. What would it be like to have such projects underway today?

    The NCCC, a branch of Americorps, is one modest answer to that question. On our visits to Ajo we saw the members of this NCCC team, themselves from every corner of the country, working all day long to build a new civic facility. These were great young people, and you'd feel better if you had met them, as we do. For the record, those in the picture are (not in order): Shamare Allen, of Long Island, New York; Reana Thomas, of Dublin, Ohio;  Tanner Lee, of Burlington, Connecticut; Ryan Verstraete, of Eaton Rapids, Michigan; Tiffany Farrar, of Bethlehem & Bronx, New York; Elizabeth (Biz) Austin, of Springfield, Vermont; Sahira Hurley, of Augusta, Georgia (in the green shirt, the team leader); Leahray (Lulu) Gallo, of Pollick Pines, California; and Brendan Faris, of Berlin, New Jersey.

    NCCC team members after a long day of work under the Sonoran desert sun in Ajo. (JF)

    Twenty years ago my friend Steven Waldman wrote a great book called The Bill about the legislation that established Americorps. Another time I'll tell some of the stories of Americorps members we have seen and how the period of service has changed them. (And how meeting them has changed us.)

    At work preparing the conference center the next day (JF)

    We've also been impressed by the ability of the people trying to recreate Ajo, including Tracy Taft and her colleagues at the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, to enlist others to share their belief in the importance and possibility of creating something special in a remote locale. On our first visit to Ajo, we met a young couple from the Boston area, Emily Raine and Stuart Siegel, who had come through town more or less by accident, as part of a planned year-long see-America-by-car-with-dog tour they called their "Big-Ass American Adventure."

    When we came back a month later, they'd signed on to run the brand-new Sonoran Desert Conference Center (with embryonic web site here), and they were busy at work preparing for its opening session on the grounds of Ajo's historic Curley School. Stuart Siegel's Tumblr chronicle of their travels was focusing on the evolving look of Ajo (including a shot of their taking us to the airport in Gila Bend), and on her blog Emily Raine had produced an essay on 10 Things to Love About Ajo, a place in which I am confident neither of them had previously imagined spending more than one day.

    Emily Raine and Stuart Siegel, before the gala opening of the Conference Center of which they will be co-directors (Rene Cloutier)

    * * *

    What's the theme, and the moral? It is more encouraging and emotionally powerful than you might think to encounter people who are giving their all to pull off a long-shot project, and for rewards that would never be captured in an IPO. As to why they do it, we'll be reflecting on that. Perhaps as a start we'll hope at some point to see a conference circuit linking the dreamers of Xizhou, Eastport, and Ajo. Kenny Lin and his wife Rebecca should be invited too.

  • Everyone Loves the Atlas Shrugged Guy

    "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged."

    John Galt, in silhouette, in Atlas Shrugged movie ( YouTube )

    We'll be back to real American news shortly. For now, a loop-closing exercise on the Atlas Shrugged Guy, and the beginning of another 18-month moratorium in this space on his thoughts and activities. Some time next fall, as we enter the last stages of the next presidential campaign, we may look in on him again. Here's what you need to know before this final-for-now installment:

    During the 2012 Obama-Romney race, one reader wrote frequently and with mounting passion about the threat to America's future an Obama re-election would mean. You can find an archive of his messages here, and all related posts here. Just before the election he declared that if the unthinkable happened and Obama stayed in, the ASG would close his business, lay off all his workers, and John Galt-like deprive the economy of his services.

    I happen to know that whether or not he meant that claim when he made it, he did not follow through. The ASG has run a small electronics-related business in the southern half of the country, with an emphasis on aerospace and some defense contracts. (Don't bother to write in asking how an anti-government absolutist can rely on Pentagon contracts.) He has avoided answering my direct queries about whether he carried out his threats, but I have determined in other ways that he did not.

    This weekend he reappeared with a new claim that the economy was falling apart because of the socialist policies brought in by Obama. I pointed out that you can criticize Obama's record in many ways, but you probably shouldn't start with a claim that the economy has gotten worse.

    Now, to tide us all through the next 18 lean months, I give you a sample of reader reaction to the Guy.

    1) Maybe he should have carried out the threat:

    I assume that after he fired all his employees and put his company up for sale that there was a buyer who gave him a good price and who rehired all of those who had not already found better jobs elsewhere. That's what an economic recovery can do.

    2) It's just trolling.

    In my nearly worthless opinion (on this topic), the Guy is trolling you. I think the tipoff is in his telling you how smart and well-educated he is. I am reminded of an article I was shown about "Planet X". It described itself as a scientific dissertation. Scientists never do that. It borrowed the typography of Scientific American. That works for me!

    I think it's clear that [various Atlantic writers], for example, are smart and well-educated. Do they make an explicit point of this? Does any authentic person? Very, very few. Authenticity speaks for itself; self-puffery, excluding humor, works against itself. That is why so much advertising is discounted.

    For what it's worth, I am sure the Guy is not just trolling. He has his own personal / philosophical website, which I won't link to because it's under his real name, where he offers similar views at length. There is a category of people always telling you how smart they are; I seem to come across them most often in bars. He's in this category.

    3) Two fantasy novels.

    Back in the late seventies I worked with a guy at [major southwest city] Planning Department who was fond of saying "How many people does it take to make a self-made man?".  I guess I've pretty much adopted the same perspective but we know what happened during the last presidential election.  I don't take anything away from people who have worked hard, sacrificed, taken chances and been successful.  I admire them and want them to enjoy their rewards.  But they didn't do this in a vacuum.  Many people had a hand in their success whether large or small.  Anyone who doesn't realize it is just self-centered....

    I, for one, thought Atlas Shrugged Guy was just blowing smoke.  If he did follow through it would have been out of spite and not a real business decision.  A number of months ago TCM showed the Fountainhead which I hadn't seen in many years.  I read the book in my early twenties.  I was struck with how wooden the dialog was and mused that Rand wouldn't have been happy with it until I saw she wrote the screenplay....

    Anyway, I can't top:

    "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

    4) The up-or-down question.

    What about the answer to the question we've all been wondering: Did he shutter his business, as promised in the event of Obama's re-election?

    Not everyone who believed Obama's (re)election would be bad the economy was required to respond in their own economic lives as though that was a bankable truth. But what fascinated me about ASG was that while claiming great intelligence and business savvy, he also claimed that this one political outcome was all he would need to know to make perhaps the most consequential business decision of his life: closing down a hitherto prospering business. Much of his claim to fame (for me, at least) rested not with his radical political views but with his willingness to put up his own business as proof of his seriousness.

    So, was he serious? Or was he just enjoying the platform?

    I don't know whether he enjoyed the platform — at one point he complained bitterly to me about disagreeing with him "in public." But as noted, I know that he didn't follow through.

    5) Bridging the communication gap.

    My brother still says the economic recovery under Clinton was just him getting the credit for the delayed effects of the Reagan and Bush economic policies.

    I have been reading lately about how to talk to the American variety of conservatives, given that such communication seems to be important. I see that it will be hard to do.

    Other than just wanting to talk to people, my motivation is the connection in the Evangelical mind (and increasingly in the conservative mind) between science and faith. One of my interests is genetics, and I find more and more of the people around me will not accept that it exists because they see a slippery slope to believing in evolution, which is apostasy.

    Isn't this a dangerous turn?

    6) Misunderstanding 'socialist.' The latest ASG missive asked if I was "still worshipping at the alter [sic] of socialism." A reader:

    One of the truly frustrating tactics of the American Political Right is the way they are free to blur or outright change the definition of words. If we could simply agree on what certain words mean much of the dishonesty on display would be impossible. Words like 'socialism', 'terrorism', 'weapon of mass destruction' and 'liberal' have become, not just slippery but impossible to use because they don't mean the same thing to two different people. (And yes, I'm aware that the Obama administration, particularly DOJ, has taken advantage of the lack of clarity in terms like 'terrorist', but it is a particular tactic of the right.)

    Alas Shrugged Guy apparently thinks that some number of current economic policies are socialist in nature. That is clearly, definitionally false, but only if we use the original meaning of the word. I'd LOVE to see him defend that position - see what policies he's defining as Socialism. Obamacare subsidies? Food Stamps? Agricultural Subsidies? The Big Bank & Auto Bailout? I'd also like to know why everything he's decided to call socialism is inherently bad. It's just a word he's using to describe a center-left administration deeply constrained by an opposition legislature.

    7) Proof of Obama's socialism.

    Attached is the smoking gun that proves Obama is a socialist.  It's total Govt. spending, includes state/local and Federal.  One-third of the  09 stimulus money went largely to replace declines in state and local govt spending, then stimulus dried up and sequester took over resulting in a pretty flat govt. spending overall for most of Obama's terms.

    8) And, from Mike Lofgren, former long-time GOP Senate staffer:

    . . . and why John Oliver beats Jon Stewart hollow:

    That is all. A return to normal programming later today.

  • 'What Was It Like Before Electricity, Daddy?'

    A report from the dawn of time

    The Processor Technology SOL-20, or the original dream machine (Michael Holley/Wikimedia)

    Back in 1982, The Atlantic published what I believe was the first article in a non-tech magazine about the implications of the then-dawning personal computer age.

    As it happened, the article was by me, and it concerned the way a single machine was changing my life. The machine in question was the one you see above: the Processor Technology SOL-20, by most reckonings the very first personal computer. The walnut siding on my model is still fairly lustrous, thanks to my taking it out of the basement for polishing every few years. If I could find a monitor to connect it to, and five-and-a-quarter-inch disk-drives (or even Radio Shack tape recorders) to load a program, I believe it would still work. Many articles and my book National Defense came out of this machine.

    The article I wrote in 1982, "Living With a Computer," has been online but in a poorly formatted version. My colleagues at The Atlantic, including those not yet born when I bought the machine, have now graciously put the story into better-looking typography. You can read it here.

    An ad that ran 37 years ago (Processor Technology)

    Considering that we've been through 20-plus cycles of Moore's Law since this came out, I think it stands up okay. It contains many howler anachronisms but also some reminders that as technology changes, the human interaction with technology has surprising constants.

    The story begins this way:

    I'd sell my computer before I'd sell my children. But the kids better watch their step. When have the children helped me meet a deadline? When has the computer dragged in a dead cat it found in the back yard?

    The Processor Technology SOL-20 came into my life when Darlene went out. It was a bleak, frigid day in January of 1979, and I was finishing a long article for this magazine. The final draft ran for 100 pages, double-spaced. Interminable as it may have seemed to those who read it, it seemed far longer to me, for through the various stages of composition I had typed the whole thing nine or ten times. My system of writing was to type my way through successive drafts until their ungainliness quotient declined. This consumed much paper and time. In the case of that article, it consumed so much time that, as the deadline day drew near, I knew I had no chance of retyping a legible copy to send to the home office.

    I turned hopefully to the services sector of our economy. I picked a temporary-secretary agency out of the phone book and was greeted the next morning by a gum-chewing young woman named Darlene. I escorted her to my basement office and explained the challenge. The manuscript had to leave my house by 6:30 the following evening. No sweat, I thought, now that a professional is on hand.

    But five hours after Darlene's arrival, I glanced at the product of her efforts. Stacked in a neat pile next to the typewriter were eight completed pages. This worked out to a typing rate of about six and a half words per minute. In fairness to Darlene, she had come to a near-total halt on first encountering the word "Brzezinski" and never fully regained her stride. Still, at this pace Darlene and I would both be dead—first I'd kill her, then I'd kill myself—before she came close to finishing the piece. Hustling her out the door at the end of the day, with $49 in wages in her pocket and eleven pages of finished manuscript left behind, I trudged downstairs to face the typewriter myself. Twenty-four hours later, I handed the bulky parcel to the Federal Express man and said, "Never again."

    The rest is here. Thanks to my colleagues for digging this one out and refurbishing it.

  • Creating California's New Bohemia—in an Unexpected Locale

    "It's a great time to be an artist in Fresno." This is a possibility I had never considered before visiting. And now ...

    Fresno's Adrien Lim (left), a firebreather on stilts, with Alexandra Espana as part of the 2015 Rogue Festival ( Rogue Festival )

    As we prepare to visit each new town on our travels, we make a list of things we've heard about it, good and bad, and the themes, contacts, and possibilities we want to explore.

    Usually those lead to something. But in almost all cases, once we get on scene it's the questions we hadn't even realized we should ask, until we got there, that play a big part in our education about and impressions of a town. This is an obvious-seeming point: In reporting, and in life, you must both prepare for the foreseeable and be ready for the unexpected. But it's newly vivid in our minds. And the latest example is: the arts scene in Fresno.

    * * *

    Briefly let's re-set the stage. The central California city of Fresno, as chronicled in installments here, has the plus of being the major metropolis in one of the world's most valuable and productive (and now drought-challenged) stretches of agricultural land. It has minuses that range from the pollution, poverty, and unemployment of the surrounding Central Valley counties, to its own half-century's history of destructive urban sprawl, to an external and too often internalized sense of being a loser city in a winner state. We went into that mentality, and the impressive signs of a new generation turning it around, here and elsewhere.

    The people in Fresno who have gotten our attention are those who are bored by or tired of Fresno's sad-sack positioning and believe it is already being turned around. We've talked about the mayor and other city officials; and leaders of a downtown tech startup who think Fresno can become the hub of technology for the farming world and go from there to other strengths; and the originators of creative approaches in the elementary and high-school sectors of the public schools.

    To which we now add: the city's pioneers in the arts. "The Tower District is the bohemia of Fresno, and Fresno is the bohemia of California," a Fresnan named Heather Parish told us recently. If she were editing in real time, she probably would have said: Fresno should be the bohemia of our most populous and creative state. Here is what she is talking about and why she could dare say such a thing.

    * * *

    Christopher Cayco's "Moving Free" on the latest
    Rogue program.

    We met Heather Parish and Jonathon Hogan at the Sequoia Brewing Company in Fresno to talk about an effort they both are part of: a multi-day, across-the-city arts festival in Fresno known as the Rogue. (Hogan is one of three producers, along with Amber Strid and executive producer Barbara Coy-Hogan. Parish is a director and head of Rogue's publicity.)

    This year was the 14th annual appearance of the Rogue Festival, with a growing number of acts, venues, and attendees year by year. The Rogue was launched in 2002 by a local dramatist, director, and impresario named Marcel Nunis. Since then each year's festival has had a distinctive visual symbol, known as the Muse, which appears on every poster, program, T-shirt, or other bit of information about the festival. That's the current 2015 Muse, "Moving Free," by local illustrator Christopher Cayco at right.

    The selection of each year's Muse has itself become an arts-world focus, with a competition among local illustrators to produce image that will be the face of the festival, and then a formal "Muse Reveal" ceremony to announce the winner. (You can watch the 2014 Muse Reveal here and read about some previous competitions on Fresno Beehive.) This year's program also included a "Kid Muse," based on the main Muse theme, to introduce some children's programs.

    Kids' Rogue Muse, from the program

    There is too much going on at the Rogue, at too many venues, by too many performers, for me to do anything more at the moment than say: Keep this festival in mind! The day before the official opening, my wife Deb and I went to a "Teaser" presentation in which some 30 of the festival's acts (out of 70+) gave brief previews of their performances. These were strictly limited to 120 seconds or less, with emcees Jonathon Hogan and Amy Querin walking out to slow-clap each act off the stage the instant the 121st second arrived. It was an effective way to convey the range of material on offer. For more on how this year's festival unfolded, please see follow wrap-ups like one in the Fresno Bee about the "Famous Haydell Sisters" or this in Kings River Life or this compendium in Fresno BeeHive.

    * * *

    What's the bigger point here? Actually three quick points, derived from time at the festival, several trips to the artsy Tower District of Fresno in which it is based, and a pre-festival talk with Jonathan Hogan, Heather Parish, and satirist-performer Jaguar Bennett, whose "How to be Wicked" act was a sold-out success at this year's Rogue.

    Jonathon Hogan, Fresnan and Rogue performer and
    co-producer (Rogue Festival)

    Point 1: I may be a slow learner, but by now I finally have gotten the message about the role of a lively arts community as a lever for broader civic recovery. Over the months we've reported similar developments in Pennsylvania (here and here) and in West Virginia and now in Arizona and many other places.

    A strong arts community can't revive an otherwise-blasted economy on its own. But it gives people a reason to come downtown; it adds to a city's sense of its own identity; it can attract younger, more diversely experienced, better educated, and more entrepreneurial residents; and it can fill seats at restaurants, bars, and theaters. I used to think this was a little frill. No more. As we walked through the artsy, Rogue-centric Tower District of Fresno in the company of Hogan, Parish, and Bennett, owners of restaurants, bars, and shops in the neighborhood said how much the Rogue meant to their business during the festival, and afterwards.

    Art deco Tower Theater, namesake of the Tower District and home base of Rogue (Jonathon Hogan)

    Point 2: Each town becomes artsy in its own way. To some extent—and we now say this with some experience!—if you've seen one hipster/evolving neighborhood, you've seen them all. Stores with fancy coffee, beer, cheese, cupcakes, meats, and food in general. Maybe cigars and craft distilleries. Bike paths and racks. Comic book stores and upscale tattoo parlors. Strollers, and yoga pants. You can fill in the rest. The Tower District of Fresno has a Chinese Food & Donuts store.

    While in the Tower District you could be in Brooklyn or Berkeley or the hip parts of D.C. or elsewhere, and I say this in a positive way. To say "America all looks the same" at one point was mainly negative, and meant Applebee's and Lowe's. (Of which there are still plenty.) The cross-the-country improvement of little downtowns with their craft breweries and nice restaurants and 2nd-floor apartments is "homogenous" but in an "America is getting better" way.

    But there are still distinct regional variations on what hipness can mean.

    Fresnan and performer Jaguar Bennett

    In Fresno, we heard considerable pride in the tough, gritty, "you don't think we're fancy but we've done something pretty great" arts culture the city has created. On the national scale, the parallels would be: Baltimore rather than Washington, Oakland rather than San Francisco, Detroit rather than Chicago, Chicago rather than New York.  "This is an arts culture that doesn't rely on grants," Heather Parish said. "It's homegrown. Do it yourself. We're far enough away from L.A. and San Francisco that we have to do things ourselves." The Rogue festival, even though it now attracts performers from around the country, displays that same tough pride.

    During the Rogue Teaser performance, Jonathon Hogan talked about a new venue and said, "It's off-Rogue. That's like off-Broadway, but in Fresno." It got a bigger laugh than you might expect, because of what I understood to be its double level of self-deprecation-but-not-really. (That is, outsiders would think it was a self-put-down. Ho ho ho! Comparing Fresno to Broadway! But at the same time the locals were putting down the outsiders for their presumed betterness. Or something.)

    Belly dancer act outside the Tower

    Point 3: Location, location, location. Why cheap real estate can foster a new creative center.

    I can't say this often enough: Hyper-pricey real estate is the distorting fact of life ... in a finite number of cities. They're all the ones you know: Boston, New York, D.C., Seattle, S.F., L.A., and with diminishing intensity another dozen or so places.

    Tower theater billboard

    It is so, so different in the vast rest of America, where you can: start a family, start a business, start a school, start a studio in a place where real estate is cheap. Every calculation about the risks you can take, the cash flow you must maintain, the life balance you can work toward is different when a nice house costs a few hundred thousand dollars, rather than a few million.

    Heather Parish spelled out what this means, first for the Rogue and then for the city in general. "In this arts system that doesn't rely on grants, it's run by volunteers and on small local contributions. But it's all so modest in cost that it can work that way."

    Then she added: "The Tower District is the bohemia of Fresno. And Fresno is the bohemia of California. That's because you can afford to live here! And the pace of life is such that you can have a full time job if you need to, but not be so stressed out or have the 90-minute commutes of L.A., that you can do other things as well." In fact, many of the Rogue mainstays have "normal" day jobs, but still have time and energy to be almost full-time artists. Naturally I thought of Wallace Stevens and his day job as an insurance agent executive. [JF update: late-night mistake; thanks to Mark Feeney for catching.] "You can afford the garage as your studio, if you need it, which you can't do in San Jose any more."

    "It is a good time to be an artist in Fresno," Heather Parish said. I had never even considered that possibility before meeting the people of the Rogue, but now I understand what she is talking about.

    * * *

    Here is a video from the Bee about some Rogue performers.

  • Religious Weekend Special: Return of the Atlas Shrugged Guy

    The man who said he'd close his business and fire his employees if Obama was re-elected ... is back!

    On this Good FridayPassoverEaster weekend observance, I present an email that has just arrived. It is from the person veteran readers will recall as "the Atlas Shrugged Guy." Its subject line was "So..." and it read in full:

    Still worshiping at the alter of socialism?

    Here is why I find this fascinating.

    * * *

    Back during the 2012 Obama-Romney re-election battle, a reader (whose real name, location, and business details I have known from the start) sent in a series of increasingly impassioned "we're about to lose our country!" messages. A sample from just before election day:

    Subject: What happens if Obama wins?

    I will tell you what happens, I close my business of 10 years and lay off my employees. I am done. Thats what happens. You might consider me one of those know nothings but I am highly educated, run a high technology company with several very high paying positions and am very much steeped in US History and am a stalwart in the notion of individual liberty and self reliance.  Freedom and liberty built this nation, not parasites like Obama and ilk. Obama has never produce anything in his life. Nothing, zero. Yet he is qualified to lead? Really? I have worked for leaders and he is no leader.

    He ended up sending many, many messages, including his responses to criticisms from other readers. I have a compendium and chronology in this post; the full Atlas Shrugged Guy archives are here. Some historian, at some point, could have a Hofstader-style field day with this material.

    As the months have gone on and most economic indicators have improved, I've sometimes wondered what happened to this guy.

    Obviously there is more to national life than economic indicators. And obviously too a case can be made against Obama's record from a variety of perspectives, even though (as I argued before his reelection run) I think he's avoided or corrected a far larger number of mistakes than he has made.

    But even those who think Obama is American's worst president must have realized that the hardest way to attack his record would be on the specific grounds the Atlas Shrugged Guy was worried about: the overall performance of the economy.

    For instance, consider the two best-known measures of financial-asset trends, the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 averages. Let's not have the argument over how much these indicate about real national welfare, where the gains have gone, and so on. Let's just look at the trends. In each case, the first red arrow on the charts shows roughly when Obama began his first term, and the second is around his re-election. Here is the DJ:

    Dow Jones Industrials, via Macrotrends

    And the S&P:

    From Yahoo

    And the unemployment rate:

    From BLS data here.

    Or the federal deficit:


    Or U.S. oil production.

    From ZeroHedge

    And on through a bunch of other indicators, from net job creation to long-term interest rates or even to "strong dollar" indicators. You can argue that Barack Obama is an utterly failed president. But you cannot sanely do that on the grounds that the economy has gotten worse.

    * * *

    So I've wondered whether the Atlas Shrugged Guy was reconsidering any of his end-of-America fears or his John Galt-like threats. Now he re-appears, unbidden, to say that quite obviously he has not. I go back and forth between two hypotheses:

    1) He is more cunning than I thought and has in fact been playing out a multi-year long-con game, to see whether I would actually believe that someone held his (ridiculous) views. If he's been setting me up, a political troll-Catfish all this time, I have to say: Well done.

    2) He is being utterly sincere and thus is the latest sign of a political ecosystem so effective in its isolation that people actually believe that an administration's most evident strength is yet another example of its utter failure.

    As I say, you cannot sanely base your criticism of Obama on overall economic trends. But people still do so.

  • A Pilot Treated for Depression, on Why and How He Flies

    "For a young pilot who is looking for a career in the industry, the low-cost market is not a viable long-term option. Many of us are burning out because our employers are treating us in the same way that they treat the aeroplanes." A European pilot on ramifications of the Germanwings crash.

    The cover of the online questionnaire for pilots taking medical exams ( Federal Aviation Administration )

    Previously on this topic, see "Could the Crash Have Been Avoided?", "Pilots on Germanwings," "More From Pilots and Doctors," and "Can We Learn Anything From This Disaster?" Herewith more responses from pilots, technologists, and others involved with aviation-safety issues.

    1) "They are treating us the way they treat the aeroplanes." A professional pilot originally from England writes:

    I am a Captain with a major European low-cost airline. Over the course of my airline career, I have had my medical suspended on three occasions because of various issues.

    The first was when, as a new first officer I developed a depression/anxiety disorder because of a combination of stress and fatigue. The second was [X years ago] when again I was suffering from chronic fatigue brought on by low-cost rostering and the third (which is still ongoing) most recently when I was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea.

    On each occasion, I had to deal with both run-of-the-mill aviation medical examiners as well as the UK CAA's [counterpart to FAA] own in-house consultants/specialists. Whilst the AME's [Aviation Medical Examiners] had little option but to throw the matter upstairs, the consultants (when I finally got to see them) could not have been more helpful. Their attitude seemed to be more along the lines of "let's see what we can do to get you back in the air." They provided guidance and advice on how best to get treated/ diagnosed effectively and showed a great deal of pragmatism when it came to evaluating the more subjective or grey areas in the data that was available to them.

    So whilst it is probably true that most pilots view many of the aviation medical professionals that they deal with as "looking for an excuse to ground them," at a regulatory level my experience so far has been exactly the opposite. Obviously I guess this would vary according to the nature of the illness.

    On a more general note, I would say that for a young pilot who is looking for a career in the industry, the low-cost market is not a viable long-term option. Many of us are burning out and permanently losing our medicals long before the age of retirement purely because of the way that our employers are treating us in the same way that they treat the aeroplanes. If we are not flying, we are not generating revenue. The attempts by pilots' unions to raise this issue have been met with contempt by the mainstream media.

    2) Not all depressed people are dangerous. From a reader who is not a pilot.

    The thing that is most upsetting, to me, is the media coverage immediately jumping on the "He's depressed! That's why he did it! Ban all depressed pilots!" wagon.

    I have depression, and with medication and therapy, I am pretty neurotypical. Depression is very treatable like that.

    A well-treated, well-supported individual is as dangerous to others as any neurotypical person.

    If a psychological diagnosis is what bans a pilot from his work, it's not going to stop depressed pilots from flying; it's just going to make pilots more likely to avoid seeking treatment at all.

    Moreover, what this pilot did isn't typical of depression--we tend to commit suicide, not mass homicide.

    Research tends to show suicidal impulses of depressed patients often comes from feelings of guilt: "I'm hurting people with my continued existence. Everyone would be better off without me." The thought is to end the suffering of others, not to cause it!

    It is very rare for someone with major depression to want to become a mass murderer, and in such cases, it's not the depression driving their impulse to kill but some other co-morbid disorder.

    But mental illness is so stigmatized, any diagnosis is used to comprehend an incomprehensible act—like people trying to blame autism spectrum disorder for Adam Lanza murdering small children at school. It's an easy answer to give [to] satisfy a complex question. But it's not correct, and it's quite damaging.

    The truth is, we will never know what was going through his mind when he decided to commit a mass murder-suicide. We can speculate, but pinning it on a psychological condition is only doing harm, driving away from help those who need it.

    3) Better screening is possible. From an American psychologist:

    I saw this in a BBC article:

    "All pilots must undergo regular medical checks that include a cursory psychological evaluation, according to Dr. Hans-Werner Teichmueller, the agency's [German Aviation Medical Practitioners Association] head. But such tests rely on patients being honest with their doctors, and even a seriously mentally unstable person would have been able to put a ‘mask' on for the investigation, he said.

    "You can't see anything beyond the face," Teichmueller said. "We have developed a very refined system in Europe and most of us are in agreement that this system is optimal. If we were to add more psychological tests or modify the way we test, then we can still not change a situation like this."

    Very German. Very arrogant. And very, very wrong. Using the best available psychological tests as part of a thorough psychological assessment is as much art as science—psychologists frequently disagree about how a certain score should be interpreted—but highly skilled psychologists who have extensive experience in this area do it every day.

    The process, which is labor-intensive, isn’t cheap, and except for extreme cases (of which Lubitz was apparently one) the results are usually probabilistic, which makes the question of what to do about a particular case a nasty one. But that’s very different than saying that “Even a seriously mentally unstable person would have been able to put a ‘mask’ on for the investigation” or that “if we were to add more psychological tests or modify the way we test, then we can still not change a situation like this.”

    4) Why European airlines work the way they do. From a reader who objects to American huffiness concerning European standards.

    There is a certain type of American transportation expert who falls into the posture of reproaching Europe for being geographically compact, and not adopting certain American systems of transportation which are justified by American distances.

    For example, Europe has a system of continuous canals connecting its many rivers, viz: the Rhone, Garrone, Loire, Seine, Meuse, Rhine, Ems, Elbe, Oder, Vistula (*), and Danube; and the associated ports, viz. Marseilles, Bordeaux, Nantes, Le Havre, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Stettin, Danzig, Copenhagen, and Istanbul.

    Over Europe's restricted distances, barges of coal, grain, cement, and containers full of inexpensive Chinese exports, moving at, say fifteen miles per hour, nonetheless reach their destinations in a reasonable time. These are of course the kinds of cargoes which represent nearly all of the revenue of American railroads, and a certain type of American railroad expert simply cannot understand why the Europeans are not running drag freights, clogging  up the tracks and making it impossible to run fast trains.

    European railroads make their living by providing passenger service, and carrying the kind of high-speed priority freight which would be air freight in the United States. The implication is that there is much less scope in Europe for things like puddle-jumpers and local air freight.

    (*) There is also a canal across the Pripet Marshes, linking the Vistula with the Dneiper, and eventually with the Volga, but of course, by this time, one is getting into Russian distances which approximate North American distances.

    European airlines started Ab Initio [JF: training people with no previous flying experience as future airline pilots] programs precisely because they did not have large globally aggressive air forces feeding them experienced jet pilots, and they did not have large "barnstorming" general aviation sectors.

    I understand that low-cost European airlines tend to be dependent on "sun-tourism," that is, flying people who are fed up with winter to some place where there is sun ... This is a very cost-sensitive market, for which going somewhere by bus might often be a reasonable alternative. The tourists don't necessarily want warm weather—what they want is an escape from the depressing sleet, rain, and fog of winter in an oceanic climate. Quite possibly, they might accept a ski-trip in the Alps as a substitute.

    The unstable young man was the copilot of an airliner carrying a hundred and fifty sun-tourists, because that was the first economic niche in which he could be employed.

  • On the Road, in Arizona and Colorado

    A small city struggling to come back, a larger one already thriving, and the implications for civic vitality

    Immaculate Conception church, across from the historic plaza in Ajo, Arizona, as it looked a few weeks ago (James Fallows)

    Early this month we kicked off Season 3 of our American Futures travels with west coast reports, starting with Fresno. There's more to come about Fresno and several other California cities, but today I'm writing to point out two new areas of coverage we are undertaking.

    One is Ajo, Arizona, an isolated one-time mining center that has conceived a plan for rebuilding its economy, via the arts and intensive civic-engagement plans. In a first installment, Deb Fallows sets out the predicament the people of Ajo faced when a mine that had been their main source of employment suddenly shut down. Later she'll explain some of the surprising answers.

    The other is Boulder, Colorado, which is hardly in the struggling-community category but which has built part of its civic fabric out of an unusual conference series. John Tierney will attend that conference this year, and in this post he explains its significance.

    * * *

    For more about the connection between these latest reports and the opening seasons of our coverage, please see this post, by me from last fall. It also includes information on signing up for our weekly newsletter.

  • Can We Learn Anything From the Germanwings Disaster?

    A technologist says the day of airliners flown by remote control is closer than we think. Is that good news or bad? Plus, why it's better to be a co-pilot and other lessons from the latest crash.

    Predator drones being controlled remotely, in a USAF photo from Iraq. Might airliners ever be flown the same way? ( Wikimedia Commons )

    Previously on this topic, see "Could the Crash Have Been Avoided?", "Pilots on Germanwings," and "More From Pilots and Doctors." Here is the next crop:

    1) Bruce Holmes, a lifelong flyer and former career official at NASA, is one of the genuine pioneers of modern aviation. I described him and his work at length in my book Free Flight, and in the years since then, he's become a friend.  He sends a message about the technological implications of this disaster:

    Could this be avoided?: In certain statistical ways, the Germanwings suicide crash is a "Black Swan" event—imagined, but not anticipated (with a nod to Nassim Taleb). It is a little like forecasting earthquakes—not done on any practical timescales but done reasonably well on geologic time scales (as described in "The Signal and The Noise" by Nate Silver).  

    The fact of the matter is that we need to react on practical, not geologic, time scales. To that end, my remarks have to do with the emerging capabilities to turn the airplane into an equivalent of a node on the Internet. While this is scary and promising in the same breath, I will speak to the promising facet.

    The industry is within not too many months of having the first commercial deployment of true broadband air-to-ground WiFi capability (far beyond the performance of current purveyors of email in the sky), making the "connected airplane" a reality. In addition, the industry is not too many months from having the computational means for assessing flight path optimality and conformance (in both safety and economic terms) very rapidly (in "fast-time" as we like to say in the tech business).  

    We imagined such a capability back in the days of the AGATE program at NASA [JF note: a program to bring modern technology to civilian aviation, described in my book]; now these capabilities are becoming reality.  

    So here is the scenario: Pilot goes rogue, for whatever reason. Airplane is irrevocably connected on the Internet (actually Intranet, with necessary security features). Airplane begins to perform in ways not aligned with logic (plenty of modern engineering tools available, such as Bayesian Belief Networks, to compute this assessment). Ground-control systems recognize the deviation and under parameters that project "something bad appears to be happening," control is taken over by those ground systems.  

    Sidebar: After 9/11, NASA Langley conducted a successful flight demonstration at the behest of the White House of such a capability using our B-757 flight-test aircraft. Such a system was not previously implemented because the air-to-ground networked bandwidth systems and flight-path-management computational capabilities did not exist. Soon these systems will exist.  

    The benefits of solving this problem range from the obvious (eliminating the rogue-in-the-cockpit scenario), to the not so obvious—that is, obviating the need for secure doors on the cockpit and making it possible for every 10-year-old girl or boy who might be inspired by an opportunity to see what happens in the front of the airplane a chance to do so.

    2) Don't blame the $99 fare. A number of readers write in to protest an earlier comment, from Adam Shaw in this post, that the relentless drive to cut costs in air travel was shaving the margin in pilot qualifications. A sample dissent:

    I think there's some good points your correspondent makes here, but I think it exaggerates the importance of lower pilot salaries to low-cost airlines.

    Low-cost carriers base their business on using smaller regional airports, packing more passengers on board, avoiding money-losing routes, having simple low-maintenance fleets, and flying their planes for more hours of the day. A cheaper wage bill helps but those are the key factors.

    Staff costs clearly are a big part of airline costs—mostly around 20 percent-25 percent—but while pilots are the best-paid employees outside of head office they're a small part of the workforce. Qantas, the airline I know best, has nearly 30,000 employees but only a bit more than 2,000 pilots—and a number of those aren't even working for the airline, but on "leave" that allows them to work for rival carriers.

    I think as journalists we tend to think pilot pay is a really big deal for low-cost airlines because it's the battleground for a big political fight that plays out in the media. Airlines want to weaken regulation in the area because it's part of their cost base (unlike, say, oil prices) where their actions can make a difference. And unlike, say, route planning and reduced turn times, changes to the current status quo yield clear losers who will make their case to journalists. Losers who, in this case, are heroic figures in peaked caps.

    For what it's worth I think your correspondent is right to deplore any decline in standards for commercial pilots—the huge respect in which the industry is held derives in large part from a safety record that is born of its heavy regulation.

    But I think if he's seeking someone to blame, it shouldn't be the punters seeking $99 airfares—if those prices can survive $150 oil, they can certainly survive higher pilot pay—but the companies, lobbyists, and legislators allowing that regulation to be watered down.


    I really need to take issue with your implicit (via highlighting) endorsement of the statement that "when people start looking for whom to blame, the answer is simple: Joe-six-pack who wanted a $99 flight from New York to L.A."...

    The simplistic idea that the market determines everything we get (and so, deserve) is easily challenged. While we might, in fact, "get what we pay for" (though even that trope is suspect), we frequently don't get the price-driven result we want. Otherwise, we would likely be reading equally simplistic statements about how the reason we have cars with no seat belts, no passive restraints, no pollution controls, etc. is because we insist on having a $5,000 car...

    In fact there is infinitely more desire for that $5k car than there is for the $99 flight, and eliminating or watering down all the government specs for safety and environmental impact would go a long way toward meeting that desire, but the reality is clearly going in the opposite direction...

    Joe-six-pack was never given the choice of getting that $99 ticket by accepting the risk of a minimally qualified pilot. Quite the contrary, the automotive equivalent of what Joe-six-pack ends up with is a car that appears to have all the safety and pollution-control features, but doesn't really, because the Department of Transportation colluded with the auto industry to quietly lower the standards, without drawing any undue attention from the public that was theoretically "demanding" (via price seeking) the change.

    3) The puzzling economics of pilot training. I won't bother to spell out all the aviation lingo in this one. The reader's point is that regulatory requirements and economic/practical realities are pushing in contradictory directions:

    I don't see how you're going to simultaneously eliminate P2F, up the hour requirement to 1500, and keep the pilots paid. You then have a much larger contingent of pilots (since each pilot has to complete another 1000 hours of non-ATP time) competing for the same number of instructor, jump school, and banner towing jobs, which will do nothing but further depress wages in those areas, and make being a pilot an even more non-viable career track for most people. To build time, the pilots will either be working for almost free, or back to P2F. Sure, it might make the actual ATPs have an easier time of it, but it would be a lot harder for pilots to get there in the first place.

    Also, unless they get a job flying a corporate jet, most of the hour building time will be in pistons or turboprops, not jets, so at some point they're better off just jumping into jets and learning what they're actually going to do, rather than shooting VFR approaches in a 172 for hundreds of hours.

    4) Co-pilot by choice. I've received a number of notes from professional pilots on why they prefer to remain in the right seat of the cockpit, in first-officer/"co-pilot" role, rather than becoming a left-seat captain. For instance:

    I’ve been a professional pilot for over 30 years, the first 14 or so as a flight instructor and the last 16 as an airline pilot. As a flight instructor, I spent almost five years at Airline Training Center Arizona, the Lufthansa owned school where I’m assuming Andreas Lubitz trained.

    1. All of the hand wringing over how to prevent another incident like this is wasted time, a solution looking for a problem. As you’ve pointed out, being on a commercial airliner is statistically one of the safest places you can be, safer even than your own home. The chances of a renegade pilot intentionally crashing an airplane are vanishingly small.

    That said, if a pilot wanted to do it, it would be next to impossible to stop them, regardless how many people are the in the cockpit. The primary reason the FAA requires a flight attendant or other crew member to be in the cockpit when one of the pilots is using the lavatory (which is the ONLY reason we are allowed to leave the cockpit) is to be there to check through the peephole in the cockpit door to ensure that when the other pilot notifies the flight deck via the interphone that he/she is ready to return THAT IT REALLY IS THE PILOT AND  NOT A BAD GUY.

    The "two people in the flight deck at all time" procedures were developed over some months after 9/11. One of the problems the security experts had with simply allowing the pilot in the cockpit to unlock the door (via an electronic switch located on the control pedestal) was that the cockpit interphone audio quality is not great, and pretty much anyone could use it to say, “Hey, it’s _____, I’m ready to come back in”.  Passwords were tried and quickly dismissed after some uncomfortable situations ensued from miscommunication and forgetting the password of the day. Why the rest of the airline world didn’t follow the U.S. procedure is beyond me.

    As a normal security precaution, this system works really well, but if the pilot in the cockpit IS the bad guy, the element of surprise/shock at being attacked would pretty much preclude the other person in the cockpit, be it a flight attendant or the other pilot, from putting up a effective defense ...

    2. Lubitz's experience or perceived lack thereof has NOTHING to do with his actions. Adam Shaw has some valid concerns regarding some of the regulations regarding pilot training and pay, but I don’t see any connection in Lubitz’s suicide to any of Shaw’s arguments. Back handedly attacking ab initio programs (“250-hr button twiddling geeks”) like the one Lufthansa has been operating for decades is ridiculous—Lufthansa’s safety record speaks for itself. [JF: Ab initio programs are ones in which candidates start out with no flying experience whatsoever and are trained from the start to fly big jet airliners.]

    Properly conducted ab initio training is MUCH SAFER for the pilot, the airlines and the traveling public than forcing aspiring airline pilots to fly “gritty, shitty and temperamental” equipment. Yep, that’s how I did it for the first couple of years, and no, I don’t look back on it fondly.

    Airline ab inito programs like Lufthansa’s are every bit as rigorous as the flight training conducted by the military (and let’s not forget that the U.S. military basically invented ab initio training. Active duty fighter pilots are put into combat, and C17 pilots fly missions around the world, with less flight time than Lubitz had). Quality of experience is every bit as important, if not more so, than quantity of experience.

    I'll argue all day that a pilot who has trained from day one to operate in an airline environment is much more suited for an ATPL at 250 hours than a flight instructor who spent 1500 hours doing airwork and traffic patterns in a C172 (not that there is anything wrong with this—I've given 6000 hours of dual instruction and though it made me a pretty good GA pilot it did not really prepare me for airline flying).

    The multi-crew license (MCL) is the future of commercial aviation, and if properly regulated and conducted will be the answer to the looming pilot shortage (it's for real this time) ... Pilot pay, especially at the commuter airline level, is a different issue and, unless it turns out Lubitz did this because he didn't feel his pay was adequate, way off subject ...

    3. Last, beating a dead horse, the whole co-pilot issue. In today’s world, there are always two pilots operating an airliner and they are referred to as the captain and first officer. They are ONE ANOTHER’S CO-PILOT. But yes, the first officer is often referred to as "the" co-pilot.

    I think it's important in a story like this, however, for the public to understand how the airline hierarchy operates i.e. the seniority system.

    As a pilot, your date of hire (seniority) determines EVERYTHING about your airline career: Where you’re based, what equipment you fly, your schedule, vacations and yes, whether or not you’re a first officer or captain. Hoot Gibson, a test pilot and shuttle astronaut and in anyone’s estimation an outstanding aviator, started at Southwest Airlines as a “bottom of the list” first officer just like every other pilot at the airline.

    I’m almost 50 years old, have 20,000 flight hours and 14 years with my company and could upgrade to captain whenever I chose (yes, I'd have to go through upgrade training, but VERY few people fail to become captains solely because they can't pass).

    Upgrading now, however, would mean moving from being a relatively senior first officer, with my choice of base and schedules, to being a relatively junior captain, where I’d be on reserve (flying wherever the company sent me, often at the last minute) and a good chance of being moved to another base. Although it means giving up a bit of money (captains typically earn about 30% more than first officers) I’m not willing to make the lifestyle changes that upgrading to captain would ensue ...

    Waiting to upgrade means that, on a regular basis, I fly with captains who are ten or twenty years younger than me, have half my experience and who have only been with the company for eight or nine years, but who were willing to take an early upgrade in order to earn more money ...T he misconception that the captain is always older and more experienced (much less a better pilot, which is yet another topic) than the first officer needs to be put to rest.


    I was chatting with a friend of a friend a few years back who, after graduating from a small, liberal arts school, began flying 19-seater Saabs for [a regional airline] ....

    He was several years in and I asked him which seat he sat in—he was a co-pilot. I asked why and he said that while the pay was lower, he was near the top of the seniority lists, so he basically got whatever trips he wanted, and worked the schedules he wanted to. As a guy in his 20s, the pay was less important than the lifestyle. He had a good record and could probably move up to a captain's seat had he wanted, but he'd be bumped down to the bottom of the seniority list, working oddball trips at the airline's discretion ...

    When you're flying internationally, it's generally assumed that you get a better product on a foreign carrier (especially Asian carriers and Gulf-based ones, and especially in higher classes of service). But it certainly sounds like US regulations are far more stringent for crews, and no matter how much free booze you get, I first want a competent flight crew. Of course, it's hard to put a price on safety, but easier, apparently, to put a price on legroom.

    Thanks to all. Will do another reader update when there are some significant new facts or views to offer.

  • More From Pilots and Doctors on the Germanwings Crash

    Cost pressures, alcohol as the only "approved" anti-mental-illness drug, and other ramifications of this murder/suicide

    The aftermath of a Colgan commuter airplane crash near Buffalo six years ago (Gary Wiepert/Reuters)

    Following this initial item on what could and could not have been foreseen about the Germanwings murder/suicide, and this follow-up in which professional pilots talked about shortcuts in modern training systems, more response from aviators and others:

    1) "If you had a mental issue, there's only one drug the FAA would allow you to take. That drug is alcohol." From a professional pilot:

    Add me to the extensive list of pilots you’ve heard from, regarding the Germanwings tragedy. I agree with the people saying we only can blame ourselves, wanting cheap airfare and safe airlines, all while paying pilots nothing. I personally have avoided working for the airlines, having figured out that the charter and medical flying seems to have a better quality of life, better pay over the life of the career, and more job security. ...

    When it comes to prevention of accidents like this, I honestly don’t know what can be done. I don’t believe having two people in the cockpit at all times would have prevented this specific instance; the guy was willing to take a lot of lives with him, what would the flight attendant standing in the doorway have been able to do to prevent that?

    Many of your writers have mentioned the new ATP rules ... [JF: higher flight-time requirements before pilots can be considered for first-officer/ "co-pilot" jobs] but I don’t see a solution in arbitrary flight times and educational achievement. The European model, where pilots are hired and trained by the airline from the very beginning, does seem more sustainable in my opinion, compared to the U.S. model where pilots end up in excess of $100,000 in debt before they can even think of getting a job.

    The person who pointed out the adversarial process of the FAA medical hit the issue right in the nose. Until recently, depression alone was enough to keep you out of the cockpit, stabilized treatment regimes and doctors' letters be damned.

    To put it bluntly, if you had a mental issue that could be helped with medication, the FAA would allow you to take one drug that didn’t require reporting and documentation. That drug is alcohol.

    2) On the tensions built into the medical-examination system. Another reader:

    One pilot quoted in your piece wrote:

    “The system gives pilots an incentive to cheat themselves out of the best quality of care. Any arrangement that promotes an adversarial relationship between doctor and patient compromises medicine.”

    I fail to see how the relationship between doctors and pilots can be inherently anything other than adversarial. There is no upside for the pilot when a pilot currently holding a health certificate sees a doctor. The best result for the pilot is the continuation of the status quo. The worst result is the suspension or ending of his career.

    I hope most pilots would face this periodic career peril with a moral sense of duty to passengers and therefore will be honest and forthright in any medical exam and would promptly disclose to their employers any relevant medical condition. However, human nature shows us that a meaningful percentage of pilots will conceal medical conditions or at least be very strategic in how they are examined (choosing a physician known to be lenient, seeking private diagnosis and treatment, etc.)

    Thus it seems to me that the solution to this unique situation is not a more treatment-oriented system, which doesn’t address the conflict inherent in the situation. Rather, the solution is to recognize that pilots are unique in that they must be highly skilled and physically and mentally healthy, while being entrusted daily with hundreds of lives. Thus pilots should be required to give up their medical privacy to the degree necessary to ensure that all relevant medical facts are available to regulators and to their employers.

    3) On the alcohol issue. From a doctor:

    This event occurred many years ago,  and, hopefully, the culture of aviation safety has caught up. Here’s what happened.

    I finished my residency at UC San Francisco and, not wanting to be tied down by the responsibilities of a family practice, began to practice emergency medicine. The group that I worked for assigned me to Alameda Hospital. Recall that Alameda is right next to Oakland, and is the closest facility to Oakland Airport. Therefore, it wasn’t unusual for our ER to see patients who were sent by the Oakland Airport.  

    At the time, [a charter airline] was running flights out of Oakland to the Far East. One night a pilot for [that airline] was brought into our ER by the police, as he was so drunk that he couldn’t stand without assistance. On speaking with him, I learned that he was due to fly as a pilot the following morning. I told him that this was absolutely impossible, that he was in no condition to do so, etc. He was insistent that he would do so. Not knowing what to do (yes, there should have been a written policy in the ER, but there wasn’t), but knowing that I had to do something, I did the only thing that I could think of: I called the FAA and reported him.

    To summarize the situation from that point on is simple: I became the villain in the eyes of everyone. The FAA was furious at me for creating paperwork for them. The airline was furious at me because I had ratted them to the FAA when they (the airline) “had the internal capability” to handle this matter “in house.” Not one person thanked me for keeping this incredibly drunk man from potentially endangering the lives of a plane full of passengers. It seemed to me that everyone was more concerned about how the bureaucracy would impact them than with true safety.

    I never forgot that episode, and never regretted what I had done. I hope that the situation is different all these years later.

    For what it's worth, in my own general-aviation experience over the past 20 years, I have not ever seen pilots who appeared to be drunk or impaired getting into airplanes. You can compare that with the world of driving, in which everyone knows of such cases. My observation doesn't prove anything larger, but it is my anecdotal experience.

    4) On other pressures affecting the medical-examination system. A reader with an elite record as a military aviator writes:

    As the TV talking heads make comments about FAA medical screening requirements, the public is getting the wrong idea about the quality of these annual and semi-annual exams.

    My experience may be unique, but the FAA doctors I have seen at various locations around the country for FAA medical check-ups (Class I mostly) [JF note: Class I is the most demanding physical, which airline pilots must pass] have been "long in the tooth" and often eccentric and quirky. The physical exam was more about "checking the block" and paying the fee than a bonafide assessment.

    Based on my experience, if the public thinks FAA medical exams have any sort of rigor they are mistaken.

    I wrote back to this person saying that my anecdotal experience differed. Of the five or six different doctors from whom I've received Class III FAA physicals over the years, only one matched this description. The others seemed interested in giving a "real" exam—including one last year, who noticed something he thought my normal doctor should check out. (It was nothing, but worth checking.) The difference between this reader's experience and mine, then, would support his point that there can be a lot of variation within the system.

    5) On the underlying financial pressures. A message I quoted yesterday argued that the "blame" for some aviation accidents ultimately rested with a public that insisted on ever-cheaper fares. A reader spells this out:

    It is implicit in your argument about airline cost-cutting (although it wasn’t explicitly stated) that flight-crew pay must also be an indirect factor. The Colgan Air flight 3407 crash in Buffalo in 2009 [source of the photo at top of this item] is a case in point. The co-pilot had an annual salary of $16,200.

    Tim Cook got a pay package worth $378 million to run Apple; if your iPhone doesn’t work, you send it back. But in some cases with commuter airlines, your life is literally in the hands of an overworked and undertrained flight crew member who makes McDonald's wages.

    A great illustration, à la Milton Friedman, of how the free-market infallibly puts the right monetary value on services (snark).

    6) Similarly on a "market equilibrium" price.  Another reader:

    I never cease to be amazed by the ease at which the rhetoric about manpower shortages (pilot shortages, programmer shortages. etc.) finds acceptance. No, in free-market society, there are no shortages, only a shortage of people willing to pay the appropriate price.

    Every day almost I get some email from some recruiter telling me what a great fit I would be and how I would love the company. When I tell them my price, that fit suddenly becomes not so great :)

  • Pilots on the Germanwings Murder/Suicide

    "When people start looking for whom to blame, the answer is simple: Joe-six-pack who wanted a $99 flight from New York to L.A." A veteran pilot on cost pressures in flight-crew training.

    A memorial near the site of the Germanwings crash in the French Alps (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

    After the Germanwings crash I argued that no single safety device or security protocol could protect the flying public against a pilot determined to do harm. A number of veteran pilots write in to agree, but also to suggest that this episode illustrates some structural problems within the modern cost-cutting air-travel industry.

    1) "Low-cost pilots, low-cost lives." Adam Shaw, who has had a varied and interesting career as a writer and flyer and now leads an aerobatics team in Europe, writes as follows. I've added interstitial explanations in brackets [like this]:

    No one can disagree with your: “no new regulation … can offer perfect protection against calculated malice.”

    But eliminating P2F is the first step. [JF note: P2F, or "Pay to Fly," is a scheme in which pilots-in-training, while still paying tuition to a flight school, simultaneously serve as flight-crew members on real airlines carrying real passengers. That is, rather than earning pay for their work, they are the ones paying. Without getting into all the details, this is now widely considered a scam.]

    A good second step is the FAA’s reinstatement of the very old (your piece leads folks to believe it is new…) rule requiring 1,500 hrs of flight time before taking the ATP written. [JF: The change that the FAA ordered two years ago, as explained here, was requiring first-officer or "co-pilot" candidates to have an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which among other things requires 1,500 hours of flying experience. Before that, people could apply for first-officer positions with only a Commercial certificate, with an experience minimum of only 250 hours.]

    Asian and European authorities should instantly copy this. Why? Because in the years it takes to get to 1,500 hrs (flight instructing, crop dusting, banner towing, flying jumpers, or whatever) budding pilots get real experience with airplanes that are often gritty, shitty, and temperamental.

    The years they put in to get those 1,500 hrs also—and this is just a critical— expose them to their peers, to repeated medical examinations … to repeated scrutiny. [JF: Working with ATP privileges requires a First Class FAA medical certificate, with a full medical exam every six months. Working with Commercial privileges requires a Second Class medical, with an exam once a year. Private pilots like me can fly with a Third Class medical, which lasts either two or five years, depending on your age.]

    These days, the 250-hr button twiddling geeks can go from pounding the sidewalk to the right seat of a passenger jet in less than two years. That's two medicals, and practically no peer review, not time for quirks, or worse, to become apparent. I know the trend is for low cost airlines (low-cost training) low-cost clothes, low-cost food, low-cost … lives.

    With most old-fashioned pilots retired or within minutes of retirement, we’re now faced with left-seaters who have come up the ab-initio or worse, the geek P2F, way.

    Unless things change, and change fast, we’re going to see a lot more AF# 447, Asiana #214, Transasia #235 events in the coming years.

    And when people start looking for whom to blame, the answer is simple: Joe-six-pack who wanted a $99 flight from New York to L.A, or Pierre Baguette who wanted a 65-euro Paris-Casablanca … and the cynical bean counters who make this possible

    You can see a video of Adam Shaw's formation-flying team here, and one of him flying through the mountains with his dog as first officer here.

    On the point he makes about the value of sheer experience: Within the next year I should reach 2,000 hours of total flying time. That would not be much for someone who does this as a professional but reflects my trying to stay at it steadily year by year.

    The difference from when I had 250 hours of experience, or 500, is not any particular new skill. Indeed, many obligatory pass-the-test skills have certainly atrophied (like, an NDB approach or "turns around a point").

    The difference is simply that I've seen more things happen, so there's a diminishing realm of situations I will encounter for the first time. It's roughly similar to the difference between parents' first few nervous weeks with a baby and what they learn as the months (and children) roll on. In the amateur-flying world this includes: what it's like when the alternator fails; what it's like when you have an oil problem; what it's like when you have to tell a controller "unable"; which mountain passes you're better off avoiding; which level of crosswinds and gusty winds you can handle on landings; which clouds mean trouble and which don't; what cues let controllers think you know what you're doing and which signal the reverse; at what temperature range just above and below freezing you need to be most alert to icing; what errors or lapses you're most likely to make. This is known in the aviation world as "filling up the experience bucket before the luck bucket empties out," and I agree with Adam Shaw, from his much more experienced perspective, that it's an important part of developing qualified airline pilots.

    2) "An incentive to cheat." A pilot writes about the perverse incentives that encourage pilots not to seek treatment for illnesses, including mental illness:

    The current interpretation of the cockpit voice recordings from Germanwings 4U9525 provides clear evidence of a problem with the certification of pilots for flight duty.

    While the aviation industry has an enviable safety record, that safety record comes from a willingness to examine the information garnered from failure and to improve. We now have evidence of two major air disasters in the span of a decade and a half [JF: the other being the EgyptAir crash in 1999], caused by similar failures: mass murder by a pilot. I believe that should lead to a reconsideration of pilot medical certification. Certainly, I suggest that if any other type of component failed so disastrously in two separate flights in the span of a decade and a half, those failures would trigger an examination of the certification process.

    Your colleagues have already made the point that news accounts have stigmatized people with mental illnesses over this event. I observe that the process of medical certification for flight has virtually no treatment component at all: it is virtually entirely adversarial. Even where aviation medical authorities make no claim to having effectively evaluated a condition, their public statements on the topic frequently suggest they plan to find a way to keep people who have it out of the cockpit. The default attitude seems to be that only neuro-typical individuals belong in the cockpit, and if we don’t have an actual reason to keep others out, we should do more [research].

    I have no doubt you know well how pilots react. A small minority simply lie on their medical forms. Many more of us manage our lives so as to avoid diagnoses or medications we would not want to report on an aeromedical exam. I believe that only a few fortunate pilots have not at some time in our lives asked how we could manage an issue: stress, grief, a physical accident without resorting to medications we would have to explain on a medical. If you have never sat in on a conversation on how to choose a medical examiner, I suspect you may belong to an unusual pilot community. [JF: I have heard such conversations.]

    The system gives pilots an incentive to cheat themselves out of the best quality of care. Any arrangement that promotes an adversarial relationship between doctor and patient compromises medicine.

    Doctors who support policies that make them into police should ask themselves what practicing medicine will be like when all their patients lawyer up. The system does not need to operate from an adversarial perspective.

    Other approaches are possible. The aeromedical system could start with the premise that their job is not to keep people out of the cockpit, but to put them in one safely, then structure their research around finding best treatment practices to allow pilots to fly safely with as many medical issues as possible. Under legal pressure, particularly from the AOPA [Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association], the FAA already follows this policy in practice. I believe this change would lead to safer skies, and possibly healthier pilots.

    3) Getting what we pay for. Another veteran professional pilot on the themes Adam Shaw raised in letter #1. I've added the emphasis to the other messages; in this one they're in the original.

    The reality is that this pilot would never have been hired by a major U.S. airline without more flight experience. In recent past, the U.S. law was changed so that any U.S. carrier would require 1,500 flight hours to apply for an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating, a required certification before getting hired. ...

    Foreign airlines recognize an MPL (Multi-engine Pilot License) with only 200 hours of flight instruction before climbing in the right seat of your commercial airplane. With 18 months as an employee of this airline, this particular co-pilot had only accumulated 630 hours. ...

    Foreign captains are often flying basically alone, with a very inexperienced new co-pilot. The doomed captain's thousands of hours of flight time did him little good, while foolishly locked out of the cockpit. As a check pilot in several fleets (B727, B757, B767, B777) for two decades before I retired, even a new co-pilot had thousands of hours in complex commercial aircraft before transitioning to a new fleet and was never alone in the cockpit.

    There is a national and international shortage of commercial pilots resulting in the lowering of standards in employment and certification, particularly among foreign carriers. It is also why there is increasing reliance on automation in aircraft design, particularly in the Airbus philosophy of restricting pilots from overriding the autopilot to enhance sales. Watch the video on the Airbus' own chief test pilot fly a new a-320 into the woods at the Paris Air Show a decade ago as a demonstration of the potential evils of automation.

    China, for example, doesn't yet have the highway systems that North America or Europe benefit from, making China more dependent on air travel as their economy grows. [JF: On this point, consider China Airborne!] Foreign-born pilots are the main source of new crew members there just as it is in most Gulf airlines where there is no population base or education system for replacement or expansion of services.

    Airline managements too often demote pilot managers' authority within corporate hierarchy and select inexperienced pilots from their ranks who have limited influence or incentive to effect change. Finance, sales and marketing, legal, and technology managers do however make sure your smartphone airline app works, the disclaimers on your ticket are unintelligible, cheaper labor is found, and administrative costs are minimized. That's where the industry is headed.

    Another reason to enjoy retirement after 36 years.

    4) "Not just meat in the seat." Finally, on the term "co-pilot":

    Thank you for finally addressing the "pilot"/"co-pilot" monicker that has nearly driven me insane over the last two decades of my career.

    Far too many people assume, incorrectly, that the co-pilot is merely along to read checklists and assist the "pilot" as he or she flies the aircraft. A perfect example of this comes to light when discussing the US Airways flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson River.

    Most everyone knows Captain "Sully" Sullenberger but very few recall the name of first officer Jeffrey Skiles. Even Wikipedia gets involved by stating "... and captain Sullenberger was soon regarded as a hero by some accounts." If I'm not mistaken First Officer Skiles was actually at the controls for a good portion of the event. Regardless of who was flying at the time of touch down, they would both have been working incredibly hard to get the aircraft safely on the ground, or water in this case.

    Perhaps someone should do a follow up to see what first officer Skiles is doing and how he is coping with having been "co-pilot" during "The Miracle on the Hudson."

    As a pilot with over 10,000 hours of flying time I would like to think that when I'm flying as first officer, aka co-pilot, I am considered more than just "meat in the seat."

  • Downtown Fresno Kicks Off Its Campaign

    Why "unapologetic" may be the most important word in a city's recovery plan

    A shot from the Downtown Fresno Partnership's video last night ( DowntownFresno.Org )

    An unexpected satisfaction of following cities in our American Futures travels has been watching plans and projects unfold in real time.

    For instance, last fall we were in Allentown, Pa., with our Marketplace colleagues, as the city was racing against the clock to get a big new downtown arena ready for a sold-out debut concert by The Eagles. Could they possibly get the construction finished and the roads repaved and the restaurants ready and the parking snarls worked out in time for an event on which the city had pinned such hopes?

    They were confident; we were dubious; but it turned out they were right. The event ran smoothly; the crowds were big and pleased; the downtown-rebirth plan so far seems to be on course (for instance, this announcement today). This fall we'll be back to see how things are going one year in.

    We've seen something similar underway in Fresno, California, which is at a much earlier point on the urban-revival timeline. (I sketched out that timeline in an earlier post.)

    A year ago, my wife Deb and I happened to meet Craig Scharton, a Fresno entrepreneur, publican, and civic evangelist, at a conference of California-city officials, held at Yosemite. He said that Fresno's recovery was about to happen. We were intrigued, visited Fresno for a few days on our way out of Yosemite, and then thought (but did not say), Are you kidding? But we've stayed in touch with Scharton and other locals, we've made two more reporting visits there, and as chronicled in a series of posts we have become impressed by the ways in which people in Fresno are trying to wrestle with the city's glaring economic, environmental, urban-planning, workforce, and social problems.

    Pacific Southwest building, also known locally
    as the Security Bank Building.
    (Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio)

    We have several installments to go, including on ways to get the area's economically left-out groups into modern tech jobs, and the edgy and aspiring arts scene in this capital of farmland California. But before that, here's a real-time update on event last night.

    This was the "State of Downtown 2015" event that featured several of the figures we've mentioned before or will introduce soon, including Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin; the president of Fresno State, Joseph Castro; and the CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership Aaron Blair. It was held in the downtown's historic, then run-down, now being-renovated Pacific Southwest building and drew a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd of many hundreds.

    The event, which the Fresno Bee reported on here (and which is now available on YouTube here) included several formal announcements of developments we'd been hearing about. Including the formation of a new Downtown Fresno Foundation to support civic projects; the inauguration of new downtown programs by Fresno State, in partnership with the Bitwise tech organization we've described before; prize competitions for refurbished stores and restaurants; and some more.


    Why should this matter to anyone outside Fresno? For one thing, the city is large enough, and beset enough, to be a useful case study for coping with most modern urban problems.

    Beyond that, the video below, produced for last night's event, very concisely conveys the themes we have found interesting and compelling in learning about the town, which have applications in other parts of the country.

    If you watch even 30 seconds into the clip, you will see "WE ARE UNAPOLOGETICALLY FRESNO" followed by "We are changing minds one visitor at the time." "Unapologetically" is of course the key word. It's not one you'd hear in Cambridge or Brooklyn or Santa Monica — but it's one that would be part of internal awareness, even if not actually said, in some other parts of the country and among some unfavored groups. Its use in the video is connected to a lot of what I respect in the rebuild-Fresno campaign.

    In everything the city does is a consciousness, like what we've seen and heard in Mississippi, West Virginia, and elsewhere, of laboring under a negative external image—and often a much more destructive negative self-image. The rebuild-Fresno movement has unapologetically recognized of that problem and determined to blast right through it.

    The next few installments will give details on the plans and programs some Fresnans (that's the term) have designed to move their city forward. For today, in response to the video and last night's announcements, here are a few samples of the views we heard on the self-image question.


    Ashely Swearengin, mayor:

    "As mayor I've run across this self-image question all the time. There are people who know every past failure of Fresno, and they can recite them routinely whenever we discussing something new.

    "But the generation now in their 20s and 30s in do not reflect a defeatist attitude, like some of their parents. And the grandparents also don't have a defeatist outlook. They remember the city when it was on the cutting edge [and the younger ones assume they can get there again]." To illustrate the generational split, the mayor mentioned that during a recent debate on Fresno redevelopment plans, a man in his 20s had Tweeted out a proposal for a new drinking game: Every time a middle-aged Fresnan responded to new proposals with a lamentation about crushed dreams in the past, the younger Fresnans would take a drink.

    Mayor Swearengin, a popular Republican in a city that has a majority-minority population and is represented by a Democratic Congressman, said that through her six years there had been broadening support for civic-improvement efforts. "Proposals went through on 4-3 votes [on the city council], and then 5-2, and now 6-1." Last month the council approved, by a 6-1 margin, an ambitious, expensive, and previously very controversial long-term water-supply plan. "So my experience makes me believe that we are breaking the logjam of that defeatist mindset."


    Logo of the Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company in
    downtown Fresno near the baseball stadium. We'll
    hear more about them soon.

    Aaron Blair, CEO of the Downtown Fresno organization that sponsored last night's event. Blair is from Ohio and had done urban-development work in Florida and Georgia before being recruited to come to Fresno two years ago:

    "We we came to look at Fresno, it had this Midwest feel to it. Which we liked." [JF note: coastal California is culturally linked to the big cities of the East Coast. Interior California is the Midwest and South, transplanted westward. John Steinbeck was writing about something real.]

    "I also thought it had this little chip on its shoulder, which I actually like. Cleveland has some of that same feel to it, and so does some of the South. This is a situation I'm familiar with and like coming into. You want to see if we're good enough? Just watch! And I was excited by all the potential I saw."

    I talked with Blair this morning after the event last night. "I think we've changed the conversation," he said. "It's not any more, If we're going to develop. We already are. It's exactly how, and what people are doing to take part in it."


    Fulton Street mall in downtown Fresno

    Christopher Gabriel, talk show host: Gabriel is a long-time stage actor, turned radio broadcaster, who now has an afternoon show in Fresno that follows Rush Limbaugh's and Sean Hannity's. (Aaron Blair has recently been on his program, and so have I.) Gabriel grew up and spent his early working life in big-city America — Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, the Twin Cities — and came to Fresno, after a stint in the also-revitalizing town of Fargo, ND, because he liked Fresno's possibilities.

    I also spoke with him today about the event last night. "There was an energy and vibe in the room that was unmistakable," he said. "It wasn't just some feel good moment. I've been to enough cities, I've seen enough of them rise from the dust, to sense that this was real. It was, Let's do this. Let's create everybody's collective legacy for the Central Valley.

    "Sometimes people will hear me say that and react, 'Oh you've just got this youthful energy about Fresno.' I'm in my 50s! I didn't move here just to go up to a larger market, or get more money. I moved here because I saw a city on the move, that has remarkable diversity, culinary and cultural and artistic. People here have been jaded, but if you can get outside yourself you see an unpolished gem."


    Jake Soberal, previously introduced as a Fresno-area native who has returned to become a tech entrepreneur and (as we'll see later) increasingly an education reformer.  

    "What's the main thing making Fresno better? I believe that we have a generation of young people who do not want to adopt their parents’ view of this place. Or the world’s view. That is really, really significant. Increasingly we’re able to count among those young people some of our most talented. Whereas before Fresno was famous for losing those people."

    Soberal said that a number of local groups were interested in changing prevailing views of the city, from the mayor to the downtown alliance. He supported those efforts, he said. "But the group of people involved in changing perceptions is far smaller than the group of people who say, 'I don't care what you, Dad, might think about Fresno. There is real data that makes me excited about what I can do here.' That group is growing quite large, and the decisions they made are driven by data. They think, I can open a restaurant here, I can get a house here, I can build a company here. I don’t care that you think Fresno sucks.

    "When you give folks the freedom to be optimistic about their place and their life, they generally do good things. This shift in attitudes is very positive."


    The Tower Theater in Fresno's artsy/Bohemian district, about which we'll say more soon (David Prasad / Wikimedia)

    Fresno still has a million problems. There are people bitterly opposed to some of these downtown-redevelopment plans, and we'll hear their views. I'm sure some of the kinds of thoughts I am quoting today could seem inflated and unrealistic in a few years' time.

    But here's what I also realize. In towns that have pulled off a turnaround, or are well on the way to doing so (I listed such cities here), there's an absolutely predictable civic narrative. It goes this way: Fifteen years ago, our downtown was bombed out. Ten years ago, this hotel was a crack den, and in this neighborhood you feared for your life. This city block was either boarded up or payday-loan operations. We'd tried a lot of things, and nothing worked. No one thought it was possible. And ... look at it now!

    That this has happened other places doesn't prove it will work in Fresno. But through hearing enough such stories, in enough places, I have come to give the benefit of the doubt to people unapologetically trying to remake their town.


The Horrors of Rat Hole Mining

"The river was our source of water. Now, the people won't touch it."


What's Your Favorite Slang Word?

From "swag" to "on fleek," tweens choose.


Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.


How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming



From This Author

Just In