On Friday, the latest biopic about Amelia Earhart -- this one a $20 million feature film starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere -- opens in theaters nationwide. As a woman pilot myself, I suppose I should be excited about having attention turned, once again, to one of our own. The fact that I'm not says nothing about my enthusiasm for women pilots or pioneers. It's just...enough about Amelia, already.
Amelia Earhart was a remarkable woman for her time. I give her a lot of credit for not wanting to be defined by her gender. She sent her husband a note on their wedding day informing him that she did not intend to stay faithful to him. That's not exactly standard. She took risks, which takes a certain amount of courage. She pursued feats of flight at a time when very few women did. All well and good.
But she was far from the only one, and far from the best at what she did. She was only the best known -- which was a feat, indeed, but one that was more the result of her husband's publishing and marketing savvy than an organic result of her own accomplishments. And on some level, I think a lot of women pilots chafe at the title of "most famous woman pilot" being conferred on a woman who, in the strictest reading of things, skimped on navigation preparations, got lost and crashed. Nobody bestowed that level of fame on the fliers who died attempting to span the Atlantic before Lindbergh.
But it's not just that. It's that there are so many other really accomplished women pioneers who get lost in Amelia's disproportionate shadow. Women in Aviation, International has a Hall of Fame that lists the bios of dozens of women who were Earhart's contemporaries. Interestingly enough, Earhart herself was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until five years after its inception, and her entry is not as compelling as some of the others.
Take, for example, the entry for Elinor Smith. Who? Right. That's the point. Elinor Smith soloed in 1926, at the age of 15, and three months later set an altitude record of 11, 889 feet. In 1927, she became the youngest licensed pilot and, at the age of 18, became the youngest male or female pilot to be granted an air transport license by the U.S. Department of Commerce. That same year, she set two endurance records, a refueling record, and the women's world speed record--that last one in a military airplane. In 1930, Smith was selected by licensed American pilots as the "Best Woman Pilot in America." During the Depression, she worked as a stunt pilot for the movies (no mean feat for a woman in those days) and did aerial fundraisers for the homeless and the needy. And, by the way, lived to tell the tale.
Or take Louise Thaden, who got a job as an office manager for Beech Aircraft in order to learn to fly, soloing in 1928. Later that year, she set the world's altitude record for women by flying above 20,000 feet -- the first U.S. woman to win that title. The following year, she set the solo flight endurance record and the woman's world speed record--the only woman to ever hold all three of those records simultaneously. The next month she became the fourth woman in the U.S. to get her air transport license, and later in 1929 she won the first Women's Air Derby--beating Amelia Earhart. In 1936, the year before Earhart's ill-fated world flight, Thaden became the first woman to beat all the men in the highly competitive Bendix Transcontinental Air Race, establishing a new transcontinental speed record for women and winning a Harmon Trophy--aeronautics' highest honor--in the process.
There were also women whose impact went far beyond record flights. Take, for example, Nancy Love. In 1942, long before Jacqueline Cochran achieved fame for her role in organizing and leading the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), Love pulled together women who were already commercial pilots, with at least 500 hours of flight time, to form the precursor organization, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Love was the first woman to fly the P-51 and P-38 World War II fighters, as well as a B-25 and B-17 bomber. In 1946, she was awarded the Air Medal and a citation for her leadership in women flying military aircraft. If women can fly in the military today, it's in no small part because of Love, who first proved women were up to the task.
It's also because of women like Barbara London, who was one of Love's 28 recruits and who became the commander of the Los Angeles WAFS/WASP squadron. By the time the WASPs were sent home in December 1944 and forbidden to fly any more military aircraft (a very long story behind that one), London was proficient in every single Army trainer, bomber, and fighter we'd built--one of only two women to achieve that distinction. Devastated at being sent home, she signed up for the new Air Force in 1947, hoping for the chance to fly again. She stayed in the service for 20 years, hoping the rules would change, but they didn't change in time for her. She was allowed to wear her flight wings, but she was never allowed to fly. Undaunted, London started an air charter service on the side and taught both her daughters to fly. And one of her daughters, who learned a lot about persistence from her mother, went on to become the first woman pilot hired by Western Airlines. If I'm going to look for a role model for women, I don't have to look further than Barbara London.
The list goes on and on. From Bessie Coleman, who became the first African-American pilot in 1921 by traveling to France to take flying lessons, because blacks were forbidden to fly in the U.S., and whose answer to how she got past all the barriers facing her was, "I refused to take 'no' for an answer," the list of women pilots who persevered against all odds to open doors and achieve great things is long and distinguished. So is the list of sacrifices those women made. When I flew in my first and only transcontinental air race, in 1992, I met a woman named Ruby Sheldon, who was already elderly but still flying and grabbing hold of life with two hands. She told me in a matter-of-fact manner about how, in the post-war years, no companies would hire women as pilots. Unwilling to give up her dream of being a commercial pilot, she ended up flying cargo helicopters off of ice floes north of the Arctic Circle, because that was the only job she could find.
If none of these women's names are household words, it's not because they weren't worthy. It's because none of them had George Putnam as a husband.
Earhart is still an interesting study, as most record-setting adventurers are. Last month, in fact, Judith Thurman wrote a fascinating piece on Earhart in The New Yorker, worth the reading for anyone intrigued by the Earhart story. But if Thurman's sources are to be believed (and I think they are), Earhart's unfinished world flight was, in many ways, a poetic and appropriate ending for her life. For beyond a craving for adventure and attention, it seems Earhart was a restless dilettante, afraid of getting old and rarely finishing anything she started.
As for the great mystery surrounding her disappearance ... I don't know a lot of pilots who think it's such a great mystery. I've flown in the South Pacific. It's a horizon-to-horizon stretch of unmarked nothing. And in the 1930s, it was far easier to get lost and crash there than it was to reach any destination safely. Sir Gordon Taylor, one of my all-time flying heroes who made pioneering flights across the Pacific and surveyed air transport routes for the Allies in early World War II, wrote about the challenge of navigating the Pacific in his autobiography The Sky Beyond:
"To reach our destination and, in fact, to reach land at all," Taylor wrote, "[the navigator] had to be exactly right in the work that was ahead of him. ... When he has made his allowances for variation of the compass due to earth's magnetism, for deviation due to its effect through the iron in the aircraft, and for the drift of the air in which the aircraft is flying, he still has to contend with the fact that the pilot may not steer the course given to him."
Perfection, across 15 or more hours, is hard to accomplish. And imperfection meant that you died, because finding a lone aircraft in the Pacific is even harder than finding a lone island. On one of Taylor's flights, he reached the Hawaiian Islands with only five minutes of fuel left. On another, he never found the right island, and survived only because that flight left him enough fuel to return to a radio-equipped checkpoint behind him. And Taylor was a master pilot and navigator.
Why, then, do so many people still have such trouble accepting the overwhelmingly probable answer that Earhart and Noonan got lost, crashed, and sank with or soon after the plane? I suspect it's because we want so badly for them to have survived. We let go of our heroes, and all of the dreams we infuse them with, very reluctantly (as I've written about before, here and here). And in many cases, we like the fantasy possibilities better than the reality.
But it's time. Past time. Amelia Earhart was an interesting, adventurous, and accomplished woman who lived and died unconventionally. But so did many of her peers ... who had every bit as compelling stories and accomplishments. Instead of telling the same story over and over again, I wish someone would fund the telling of some of those other women's stories. "Barbara" might not have the same ring as "Amelia," but the story of her life--a woman without any power or money connections who became the best there was, then had her wings taken away, but got up off the mat again and made it possible for her daughter to succeed where she had been thwarted--is a movie I'd be far more interested in going to see.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
In Trump’s aftermath, his enemies on the right will have to take stock and propose a meaningful alternative vision for the GOP’s future.
Donald Trump’s big victories in the Mid-Atlantic primaries don’t represent quite the end of the ballgame—but they come damn close.
And now Donald Trump’s many and fierce opponents in the Republican Party and the conservative movement face the hour of decision. Trump looks ever more certain to be the party nominee. Yet not perhaps since George McGovern in 1972 has a presumptive nominee so signally failed to carry the most committed members of his party with him.
So what happens now to those who regard themselves as party thought-leaders? Do they submit? Or do they continue to resist?
Resistance now means something more—and more dangerous—than tapping out #NeverTrump on Twitter. It means working to defeat Trump even knowing that the almost certain beneficiary will be Hillary Clinton.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
There’s a common perception that women siphon off the wealth of their exes and go on to live in comfort. It’s wrong.
A 38-year-old woman living in Everett, Washington recently told me that nine years ago, she had a well-paying job, immaculate credit, substantial savings, and a happy marriage. When her first daughter was born, she and her husband decided that she would quit her job in publishing to stay home with the baby. She loved being a mother and homemaker, and when another daughter came, she gave up the idea of going back to work.
Seven years later, her husband told her to leave their house, and filed for a divorce she couldn’t afford. “He said he was tired of my medical issues, and unwilling to work on things,” she said, citing her severe rheumatoid arthritis and OCD, both of which she manages with medication. “He kicked me out of my own house, with no job and no home, and then my only recourse was to lawyer up. I’m paying them on credit.” (Some of the men and women quoted in this article have been kept anonymous because they were discussing sensitive financial matters, some of them involving ongoing legal disputes.)
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
To find out, scientists collected poop from thousands of people—but they ended up with more questions than answers.
There are tens of trillions of bacteria in my gut and they are different from those in yours. Why?
This is a really basic question about the human microbiome and, rather vexingly, we still don’t have a good answer. Sure, we know some of the things that influence the roll call of species—diet and antibiotics, to name a few—but their relative importance is unclear and the list is far from complete. That bodes poorly for any attempt to work out whether these microbes are involved in diseases, and whether they can be tweaked to improve our health.
Two new studies have tried to address the problem. They’re the largest microbiome studies thus far published, looking at 1,135 Dutch adults and 1,106 Belgians respectively. Both looked at how hundreds of factors affect the microbiome, including age, height, weight, sleep, medical history, smoking, allergies, blood levels of various molecules, and a long list of foods. Both found dozens of factors that affect either the overall diversity of microbial species, or the abundance of particular ones. And encouragingly, their respective lists overlap considerably.
Could the Islamic State's recent failures signal its demise?
In 2014, ISIS racked up a series of stunning successes as it pushed through Iraq and Syria, gaining momentum and new recruits with each victory. But in recent weeks, Syrian government forces liberated the city of Palmyra from ISIS, signifying a broader retreat for the extremist group over the past year. Can ISIS survive the label of loser?
Who could have foreseen that within a decade, between 2004 and 2014, the terrorist group al-Qaeda in Iraq would transform into ISIS, outline an apocalyptic vision of the End Times, reintroduce slavery, embrace war without limits, take on the world’s greatest powers, and conquer a mini-empire spanning swaths of Syria and Iraq—with spin-off affiliates infiltrating Libya, Nigeria, and elsewhere?
Why hasn’t the Texas senator managed to unite the Republican Party in opposition to Donald Trump? It’s not complicated.
Former House Speaker John Boehner seems to be enjoying his retirement—and wouldn’t you, after what he went through in Washington? One reason for his buoyant mood, besides the chance to cut grass, is the opportunity to stay far, far away from Senator Ted Cruz.
“I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” Boehner added. He said he would not vote for Cruz in a general election, though he would vote for his fellow tangerine-tinted Republican Donald Trump.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
The Nobel-winning economist discusses the Fed, the election, and the role of economists in fixing inequality.
In the ongoing conversation about the growing divide between the rich and poor, there are few voices as prominent as the Columbia professor Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.
In 2015 alone, Stiglitz wrotetwo books on the topic, The Great Divide and Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy, based on years of researchand expertise about the intersection of economic theory, markets, and policy. Each book highlights a series of problems and challenges that have led to the current state of economic inequality: a faulty tax code that rewards the rich and hampers the poor, an increase in behavior that boosts the economic gains of only a few while extracting more capital from the majority, and a misplaced focus on altering the economy in a way that benefits shareholders, executives, and investors, but not the average worker.