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.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
The health benefits are clear. The political benefits are newly relevant.
Next time you enter an elevator, walk in and keep facing the back wall. If you stay that way, in my experience, people will laugh or ask if you’re okay. (That’s an opportunity, if you want, to say you would love for someone to define “okay.”)
Standing this way breaks unstated rules of how we’re supposed to behave in elevators. Detaching from expectations gives people an excuse to talk, to acknowledge one another’s humanity. Absent a break in the order, the expectation is silence.
(Of course, you can make a quick joke—my favorite is, if the elevator is stopping frequently, “What is this, the local train?”—and expect a modicum of laughter. But even if the joke goes over well, the rule seems to be that you can’t say it more than once in the same ride.)
Donald Trump’s campaign manager wants to destroy the left. And the GOP nominee is just the most recent vessel of convenience in his consequences-be-damned crusade.
Stephen Bannon, who recently took over as Donald Trump’s campaign manager, once gave an interview, while promoting his 2010 film, “Fire From the Heartland: the Awakening of the Conservative Woman,” where he argued that Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Ann Coulter pose an existential threat to the left.
“These women cut to the heart of the progressive narrative,” he explained. “That's one of the unintended consequences of the women's liberation movement––that, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be feminine, they would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn't be a bunch of dykes that came from the 7 Sisters schools."
The quote captures a key attribute of the former U.S. Navy officer, whose stints at Georgetown University, Harvard Business School, and Goldman Sachs afforded a foothold at the core of America’s elite, enabling him to launch a film career that began with a Sean Penn collaboration before segueing into polemic right-wing documentaries.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The candidate’s campaign bought $55,000 worth of his newest book, Crippled America. But did they follow the law?
Sales of Donald Trump’s latest book, Crippled America, were decent, if not great—they easily beat out every other Republican candidate except for Ben Carson, according to Nielsen. But the Trump campaign found one way to boost sales: buying the books themselves.
The Daily Beast spotted in FEC filings that Team Trump purchased more than $55,000 worth of the book. (It’s been re-released in paperback with the sunnier title, Great Again.) Now, candidates buying up their own books is nothing new, but there’s a legal issue here. Campaigns can buy books in bulk assuming they don’t pay royalties, because if they do, then the campaign has effectively paid the candidate—which is against the law.
“It’s fine for a candidate’s book to be purchased by his committee, but it’s impermissible to receive royalties from the publisher,” legal expert Paul S. Ryan told the Beast. “That amounts to an illegal conversion of campaign funds to personal use. There’s a well established precedent from the FEC that funds from the campaign account can’t end up in your own pocket.”
City dwellers spend nearly every moment of every day awash in Wi-Fi signals. Homes, streets, businesses, and office buildings are constantly blasting wireless signals every which way for the benefit of nearby phones, tablets, laptops, wearables, and other connected paraphernalia.
When those devices connect to a router, they send requests for information—a weather forecast, the latest sports scores, a news article—and, in turn, receive that data, all over the air. As it communicates with the devices, the router is also gathering information about how its signals are traveling through the air, and whether they’re being disrupted by obstacles or interference. With that data, the router can make small adjustments to communicate more reliably with the devices it’s connected to.
The global education pioneer eases students into the classroom.
Heading into my first year of teaching in Helsinki I felt pretty nervous. One of my graduate-school professors—a former Massachusetts Teacher of the Year—had warned me that Finnish students were academically advanced, especially in math. Indeed, Finland’s students had excelled on international standardized tests like the PISA for more than a decade. But it wasn’t just those high-performing Finnish students that intimidated me. Their teachers did, too.
If I had chosen to pursue master’s-level training as an elementary-school teacher in Finland (instead of the United States), I would have applied to the small handful of teacher-training universities, where annual acceptance rates hover around 10 percent. These programs are so selective, claimed The Atlantic journalist Amanda Ripley in her book, The Smartest Kids in the World, they’re “on the order of MIT.” Furthermore, Finland’s classroom teacher-training programs require five years of coursework, practicum, and thesis writing. The Finnish version made my two-year master’s degree in elementary education, through a non-selective college in the Boston area, look quite humble.
As more women become heads of state, will the world actually change?
Margot Wallström took office as Sweden’s foreign minister in 2014, declaring she would pursue a “feminist foreign policy.” She’s now held the post for two years, and it’s still not entirely clear what she meant. While it’s true that an entire school of feminist international-relations theory has developed since the 1980s, the field remains contested, and largely untested in the realm of policy. You could surmise from Wallström’s term, as she herself stated, that a “feminist foreign policy” would promote women’s rights around the world, but what would it say, for example, about the logic of preventive war? Would it prioritize free trade and open borders, or emphasize protecting workers from competition? Would it generate a new way of dealing with unsecured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union?
If Hillary Clinton beats Donald Trump, her party will have set a record in American politics.
If Donald Trump can’t erase Hillary Clinton’s lead in the presidential race, the Republican Party will cross an ominous milestone—and confront some agonizing choices. Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the six presidential elections since 1992. (In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College and the White House to George W. Bush.) If Clinton maintains her consistent advantage in national and swing-state polls through Election Day, that means Democrats will have won the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential campaigns.
Since the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson that historians consider the birth of the modern two-party system, no party has ever won the presidential popular vote six times over seven elections. Even the nation’s most successful political figures have fallen short of that standard.