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.
Hillary Clinton’s realistic attitude is the only thing that can effect change in today’s political climate.
Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz have something in common. Both have an electoral strategy predicated on the ability of a purist candidate to revolutionize the electorate—bringing droves of chronic non-voters to the polls because at last they have a choice, not an echo—and along the way transforming the political system. Sanders can point to his large crowds and impressive, even astonishing, success at tapping into a small-donor base that exceeds, in breadth and depth, the remarkable one built in 2008 by Barack Obama. Cruz points to his extraordinarily sophisticated voter-identification operation, one that certainly seemed to do the trick in Iowa.
But is there any real evidence that there is a hidden “sleeper cell” of potential voters who are waiting for the signal to emerge and transform the electorate? No. Small-donor contributions are meaningful and a sign of underlying enthusiasm among a slice of the electorate, but they represent a tiny sliver even of that slice; Ron Paul’s success at fundraising (and his big crowds at rallies) misled many analysts into believing that he would make a strong showing in Republican primaries when he ran for president. He flopped.
Thenew Daily Show host, Trevor Noah, is smooth and charming, but he hasn’t found his edge.
It’s a psychic law of the American workplace: By the time you give your notice, you’ve already left. You’ve checked out, and for the days or weeks that remain, a kind of placeholder-you, a you-cipher, will be doing your job. It’s a law that applies equally to dog walkers, accountants, and spoof TV anchormen. Jon Stewart announced that he was quitting The Daily Show in February 2015, but he stuck around until early August, and those last months had a restless, frazzled, long-lingering feel. A smell of ashes was in the air. The host himself suddenly looked quite old: beaky, pique-y, hollow-cheeky. For 16 years he had shaken his bells, jumped and jangled in his little host’s chair, the only man on TV who could caper while sitting behind a desk. Flash back to his first episode as the Daily Show host, succeeding Craig Kilborn: January 11, 1999, Stewart with floppy, luscious black hair, twitching in a new suit (“I feel like this is my bar mitzvah … I have a rash like you wouldn’t believe.”) while he interviews Michael J. Fox.
I coined the term—now I’ve come back to fix what I started.
O reader, hear my plea: I am the victim of semantic drift.
Four months ago, I coined the term “Berniebro” to describe a phenomenon I saw on Facebook: Men, mostly my age, mostly of my background, mostly with my political beliefs, were hectoring their friends about how great Bernie was even when their friends wanted to do something else, like talk about the NBA.
In the post, I tried to gently suggest that maybe there were other ways to advance Sanders’s beliefs, many of which I share. I hinted, too, that I was not talking about every Sanders supporter. I did this subtly, by writing: “The Berniebro is not every Sanders supporter.”
Then, 28,000 people shared the story on Facebook. The Berniebro was alive! Immediately, I started getting emails: Why did I hate progressivism? Why did I joke about politics? And how dare I generalize about every Bernie Sanders supporter?
The championship game descends on a city failing to deal with questions of affordability and inclusion.
SAN FRANCISCO—The protest kicked off just a few feet from Super Bowl City, the commercial playground behind security fences on the Embarcadero, where football fans were milling about drinking beer, noshing on $18 bacon cheeseburgers, and lining up for a ride on a zip line down Market Street.
The protesters held up big green camping tents painted with slogans such as “End the Class War” and “Stop Stealing Our Homes,” and chanted phrases blaming San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee for a whole range of problems, including the catchy “Hey Hey, Mayor Lee, No Penalty for Poverty.” They blocked the sidewalk, battling with tourists, joggers, and city workers, some of whom were trying to wheel their bikes through the crowd to get to the ferries that would take them home.
Bernie Sanders doggedly pursued his one big idea about reforming American politics, while Hillary Clinton detailed her many proposals for change.
With the New Hampshire primaries just days away, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met on a debate stage in Durham on Thursday. In their first one-on-one matchup, the duo seemed determined to illustrate Archilochus’s classic binary between the fox, who knows many things, and the hedgehog, who knows one important thing. Sanders knows that what the country needs—the only thing it needs—is a political and economic revolution. Clinton knows the country needs progressive policies on a range of matters and a pragmatic, realistic strategy to implement them.
That divide was clear from their opening statements, with Sanders immediately jumping to his familiar mantra about a rigged economy and a corrupt campaign-finance scheme. Clinton’s answer was not so laser focused, discussing a general need for the nation to “live up to our values in the 21st century,” and checking off not just the economy, but racism, sexism, and more. This split is not new, of course, but with Martin O’Malley off the stage and out of the race, and the Democratic contest tighter than ever, the division has never been so clear. It led to an unusually interesting debate, with the two candidates frequently addressing each other directly and delving into detail.
Overly persistent pursuit is a staple of movie love stories, but a new study shows that it could normalize some troubling behaviors.
Romantic comedies are supposed to be escapist—a jaunt into a better, more colorful world where journalists can afford giant New York apartments and no obstacle to love is too great to overcome.
Except that when you think about it, some of the behavior portrayed as romantic in these movies is, objectively, creepy. The Love Actually sign guy was totally out of line, and honestly, Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything was pushing it with his famous jukebox. Even the supposedly “pure” love of cute baby-faced Joseph Gordon Levitt as Cameron in 10 Things I Hate About You involves teaching himself just enough French that he can pose as a tutor and hang out with his beloved. Oh, and hiring a guy to go out with her sister.
The most surreal moment in the Democratic debate came when one of America’s most powerful insiders took umbrage at an accurate characterization of who she represents.
Last week, I flagged Damon Linker’s column lamenting the fact that so many members of the Republican establishment are in denial about their place. “By thinking of themselves as perennially outside the Republican power-structure,” he argued, they “exempt themselves from the need to admit and learn from their own mistakes. It’s always someone else’s fault. The Iraq War and its outcome may be the most egregious and disgraceful example of such shirking, but it’s not the only one.”
I applied his logic to Rush Limbaugh, who gets invited to the White House every time a Republican is elected, socializes with GOP power brokers, has their ear five days a week, and yet speaks about them as if describing a bitter enemy totally alien to him.
What happened when 11 exiles armed themselves for a violent night in the Gambia
In the dark hours of the morning on December 30, 2014, eight men gathered in a graveyard a mile down the road from the official residence of Yahya Jammeh, the president of the Gambia. The State House overlooks the Atlantic Ocean from the capital city of Banjul, on an island at the mouth of the Gambia River. It was built in the 1820s and served as the governor’s mansion through the end of British colonialism, in 1965. Trees and high walls separate the house from the road, obscuring any light inside.
The men were dressed in boots and dark pants, and as two of them stood guard, the rest donned Kevlar helmets and leather gloves, strapped on body armor and CamelBaks, and loaded their guns. Their plan was to storm the presidential compound, win over the military, and install their own civilian leader. They hoped to gain control of the country by New Year’s Day.
I agree with David Graham’s summing up of the “hedgehog-vs.-fox” nature of the Democratic debate last night, and with nearly all of the Atlantic liveblogging that is now collected below David’s piece. (I missed the liveblogging boat because I hadn’t thought I’d see the debate. When I did, I sent out penséeson Twitter.)
Three points about the debate:
1) As an exchange of ideas—and as a display of contrasting outlooks, casts of mind, temperament, goals, frames of reference, theories of politics, etc — these two hours were more valuable than all the previous stretches of “debate” put together.
More simply, this one actually was a debate, in contrast to the previous Survivor-style contests for attention or Wrestlemania-style displays of posturing. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the video of Donald Trump shaving Vince McMahon’s head in a wrestling ring, watch it soon.) The others have been side-by-side displays of putdowns, talking points, and pleas for attention. This one was two people arguing about policies, past records, and future plans.
U.S. presidential candidates are steering the country toward a terror trap.
For close to a decade, the trauma of the Iraq War left Americans wary of launching new wars in the Middle East. That caution is largely gone. Most of the leading presidential candidates demand that the United States escalate its air war in Iraq and Syria, send additional Special Forces, or enforce a buffer zone, which the head of Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, has said would require deploying U.S. ground troops. Most Americans now favor doing just that.
The primary justification for this new hawkishness is stopping the Islamic State, or isis, from striking the United States. Which is ironic, because at least in the short term, America’s intervention will likely spark more terrorism against the United States, thus fueling demands for yet greater military action. After a period of relative restraint, the United States is heading back into the terror trap.