We were at 8,500 feet over Garberville, California when Will, in the co-pilot's seat next to me, had a minor panic attack. The battery in his headset had died and its noise reduction had stopped working. As I flicked switches and reseated plugs to attempt a fix, Will began to wail, "It's not working, it's not working!"
Piston-engine airplanes are noisy, especially on takeoff. But in cruise flight, the engine isn't working too hard. It's relatively quiet and electronic noise reduction (ENR) is far from critical. So losing headset power for a few minutes wasn't exactly a life-threatening emergency.
Will was a high school senior. Since the start of our flight, he had stayed deep in his hand-held video game. Will and his mother had come to the airport straight from Stanford Hospital. I wondered if the mini-tantrum was a reaction to the harsh steroid therapy he'd just undergone. Whatever the trigger, the presence of an emotionally labile, 170-pound young man within reach of the airplane's controls troubled me more than just intellectually.
I was flying Will and his mother home for Angel Flight West, a nonprofit that brings together pilot volunteers with patients in need of non-emergency transport. Not all the volunteers are pilots; many plan logistics, liaise with hospitals and social service agencies, raise funds, or otherwise support the organization.
Not all passengers are patients either. Although a majority of the missions are treatment-related, Angel Flight also arranges transport for special needs events (such as burn survivor camps and wounded warrior gatherings), for relief operations personnel, and even for family members with critically ill relatives. AFW operates in the western United States. Altogether nine such nonprofits cover all 50 states, flying many thousands of missions every year.
The vitality of AFW reflects the remarkable ability of Americans to organize and get done what needs doin'. To borrow from de Tocqueville, I admire
... the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States [manage] to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and to get them to advance to it freely.
The cooperative genius of American society is often overlooked. In light of its frequent social eructations of hyper-individualism -- Tea Parties, Ayn Rand fêtes, and the like -- that isn't too surprising. My familiarity with the Indian social sector doubles my admiration. Organizations such as AFW achieve remarkable results with lean rosters and an absence of cant or cults of personality. For instance, I bet the average AFW volunteer has no idea who runs it. Which is as it should be.
Most of my Angel Flight passengers, like Will and his mother, are visiting a Stanford University hospital or clinic. By far the majority are children visiting the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. They come from as far away as eastern Oregon. Some of the trips have two or three legs of up to 300 miles each.
My youngest passenger so far has been Linda, a veteran of five Angel Flight trips between far northern California and Palo Alto. Racked by gastrointestinal complications, Linda has spent three of her first eight months in Stanford hospitals. Before she has learned to talk, she has had a heart attack. She cannot be moved without her oxygen computer and feed pump.
During our flight, if a change in air pressure hurt her ears, Linda sucked her lips and made clicking sounds. When it hurt bad enough to cry, her resting pulse rate of 150 shot past 200. But for me, Linda made a great passenger, seemingly enraptured, either by my beard or my eyeglasses.
My passengers' ages have ranged into the seventies. Tom is a retiree in his seventies with a successful kidney transplant. A strenuous ten-hour car trip for his annual check up is, thanks to Angel Flight, reduced to two flight hours. Going home with me, he even got to fly the plane!
Perhaps my most unusual trip involved ferrying Susan, a pastor's wife who charmingly expressed curiosity about my religious views. Since I'd read Poulos' Irreligion recently, playing Devil's Advocate with Susan helped the hour fly by. Needless to add, with most folks, religion and politics are not normal conversational fare.
Most of my passengers have been Angel Flight veterans. Their demeanor typically features gratefulness marbled with a stoic weariness. It's usual to see a mother (the accompanying adult is almost always the mother) transparently suppressing her nervousness about flying in a small plane with someone she met ten minutes ago. I find it especially amusing when, upon landing, a tight-lipped parent immediately becomes garrulous. I imagine the relief must overwhelm.
The most notable aspect of this supposedly charitable activity is the remarkable depth of benefits that accrue. My flights, which would otherwise be doomed to being $100 hamburger runs, gain purpose and meaning. Since, unlike $100 hamburger runs, Angel Flights can involve flying in imperfect weather, it's easier for me to remain instrument current. The flights foster connections with people in different situations -- small town Californians, teenage video game savants, even fruit-pickers and manual laborers. That is a cross--section I would otherwise be unlikely to encounter. As yet I have not had a flight or a decision I made during a mission that I regret.
If you're wondering what happened with Will, it turned out fine. As soon as I snapped new batteries into his headset, he calmed down. Then, instead of refocusing on his video game, he began to tell me about his plans to go to college and teach special needs children. When I asked if he'd be interested in flying the plane, he really perked up. We practiced altitude control, turns and descents. Combining the latter two into descending turns appeared to unnerve his mother. But she smiled and held on tightly. We landed uneventfully and took pictures in brilliant sunshine, each happy to be alive.
(For privacy, I've changed the names of the passengers.)
Sanjay Saigal is founder and CEO of Mudrika Education, Inc., with offices in Silicon Valley, CA and Delhi, India.
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.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
The meaning of the Confederate flag is best discerned in the words of those who bore it.
This afternoon, in announcing her support for removing the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asserted that killer Dylann Roof had “a sick and twisted view of the flag” which did not reflect “the people in our state who respect and in many ways revere it.” If the governor meant that very few of the flag’s supporters believe in mass murder, she is surely right. But on the question of whose view of the Confederate Flag is more twisted, she is almost certainly wrong.
Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage.
Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.
Amy Amidon has listened to war stories on a daily basis for almost a decade.
As a clinical psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she works with a multi-week residential program called OASIS, or Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support, for soldiers who have recently returned from deployments. Grief and fear dominate the majority of the conversations in OASIS: Amidon regularly hears participants talk about improvised explosive devices claiming the lives of close friends; about flashbacks of airstrikes pounding cities to rubble; about days spent in 120-degree desert heat, playing hide and seek with a Taliban enemy. Many veterans in the program are there seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.