In less than six months, we will mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I wrote this essay a week after that, and have revisited it from time to time over the past ten years. The feelings I was trying to express that day have never dimmed.
My friend's home on High Haro sits on the west side of San Juan Island. From almost every window in the house, and particularly from the deck, you can see Haro Strait, Vancouver Island, and the approaches to Victoria International Airport. From there, in the summer, at the end of a long day, you can watch the sun sink into the mountains.
The place belongs to some extremely prudent friends who, on an academic income, bought the land decades ago, and, years later, cajoled a famous architect into designing this modest and beautiful house. By small plane, it is an hour or so from the city, and before we built our own home on the adjoining property, we came here when we could.
When the events of September 11, 2001, changed our plans to fly our small plane to California, we came to High Haro instead. It turned out not to be second choice. There we talked on and on about how the crisis had made us feel; whether our life would ever be the same. There we decided we would have to defer indefinitely buying a new house. There we realized (as if people long past young could possibly think otherwise) how quickly and without warning things can change forever.
I'm a pilot. Watching an airplane -- an airplane -- fly into a building shocked me beyond comprehension. Days later, when the numbness wore off, my airplane partners and I turned our attention to the practical side. The airplane was in the shop: One of our navigation instruments had been having problems.
The avionics repair folks had figured out what was wrong . . . but the parts were in Pennsylvania, and overnight shipping was impossible. And in any event general aviation was under a complete prohibition known as a ground stop. Later, flight under instrument flight rules (IFR) came back. But flying visually looked as if it might be gone forever.
A small thing, compared to the horrendous (how quickly we run out of what used to be hyperbolic words!) loss of life on the East Coast. But nothing brought home to me with greater force what we had lost that day. Nothing touched me personally in such an immediate and unmistakable way. For me the general aviation ban stood for the loss of personal freedoms, the end of spontaneity.
When I started my private pilot training in 1993, I knew that, as a middle-aged person, my flying days were finite. The friend who encouraged me to start flying also said, in that "Tsk, Tsk" way old-timers have, "You're starting just when general aviation flying is coming to an end. It's nothing like the old days, you know." But for me it was like the old days. I didn't mind having to learn airspace restrictions, or talk to the tower to take off from my mildly restrictive home field. It was part of being a pilot, and to master the airplane and fly in the air was a never-ending delight.
Before I retired, someone mentioned to me that the pictures decorating the public part of my workspace all had as a theme the sky. And so they did. Just as sailors say about the sea, the sky is a pilot's home. We know that people really aren't meant to live in either the sea or the sky. When we do, even for a little while, we share a life that divides us from those who live exclusively on the land. Although it is probably trite to say that those of us who go into the sky are a brotherhood, nevertheless we are. On that post-9/11 day, waiting in the ferry line to come to this island, I talked to a man who said, "I haven't taken the ferry in years. I always fly my plane to the island." We talked, we strangers. We talked about what had been taken from us and whether it would ever be returned.
I have an instrument rating. I'm a reasonably competent instrument pilot. Like most instrument-rated pilots, I like to stay current, to talk about approaches, to fly with precision if I can. I thought that if all I would be allowed to do is fly on a highly structured instrument flight plan, that's what I would do.
But true visual flight is something else. For many, it's the point of flying planes. It's getting into the plane and taking off and only then deciding where to go. It's the hundred dollar hamburger. It's going one way and coming back another; different altitudes, different routes. It's deciding on the way back from the seacoast to fly over a mountaintop without having to ask for permission.
September 11 looked like it might take that away forever. It certainly took away our vacation plans, at least to go to California. So instead, we came to High Haro.
From this place, before September 11, small airplanes were always overhead: float planes going to Vancouver; all manner of general aviation planes bound for Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor; commercial flights coming into Victoria. When we got there on September 18, the skies were silent. A chopper one day, a Beaver the day before. Some contrails. Nothing more.
I had become almost obsessed with the loss of VFR, checking the automated aviation weather center recording on the phone every hour. When we got to High Haro, I began setting up my internet connection so I could check aviation websites, hoping against hope that my pessimism was wrong, and that when I came back home I'd be able to get in the plane and go where I chose, on my own time, at my whim. But the more I read the news, the worse things seemed. GA was "dangerous;" it was prohibited "indefinitely," "until further notice."
Late one afternoon during that week, I called the aviation information center yet again. The recording still said, "General Aviation VFR flight is prohibited." It sounded final. The late afternoon sun was no longer warm, and I went inside to read. A little while later, I heard an airplane. I went outside to take a look. For a time, I couldn't see anything. Then, there it was, a few thousand feet up, over Haro Strait. It glinted in the sun. Just another IFR flight to Vancouver or someplace, I thought. But then the yellow plane rolled, twice. It flew a bit further north. It rolled again, two rolls. Well, I thought, I guess you could do that on an instrument flight in good weather.
It rolled again. "Come out here," I called, and my husband came out and looked, too. Nothing happened for a long moment; perhaps I had been mistaken. The yellow plane went into a loop, then, amazingly, went into a steep turn and changed direction, back to the south. It looped, it rolled. It flew a knife-edge. The pilot's joy was written on the sky.
After the yellow plane flew out of my sight to the south, I went into the house to pick up the phone to call Flight Service again. But I really didn't need to. My brother in the sky had already told me everything.
Glenna Hall, a retired superior court judge and mediator,
lives on San Juan Island, Washington.
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.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
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.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
Nervous Democrats are looking for alternatives as Hillary Clinton falters. But is the VP the right person for the job?
“I think panic is the operative mode for the Democratic Party,” David Axelrod, who has been on the receiving end of panic mode many times over the years, told me this week. I had asked Obama’s political guru how bad the current panic was for Hillary Clinton—bad enough for the party to seek an alternative? Bad enough, perhaps, to create an opening for Joe Biden?
Axelrod didn’t think so. “I think it’s indisputable she’s had a rocky few months,” he said. “But if you look at her support among Democrats, and the resources she brings, she’s still very strong—I think she’s going to be the nominee.”
Not everyone is so sure. Public opinion has turned starkly negative on Clinton in recent months, as she has struggled to put the scandal over her use of email as secretary of state to rest. In a poll released this week, the word most commonly summoned when people were asked about her was “liar.”
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
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.
Bruce Springsteen’s breakout album embodied the lost ‘70s—the tense, political, working-class rejection of an increasingly unequal society.
Forty years ago, on the eve of its official release, “Born to Run”—the song that propelled Bruce Springsteen into the rock-and-roll stratosphere—had already attracted a small cult following in the American rust belt.
At the time, Springsteen desperately needed a break. Despite vigorous promotion by Columbia Records, his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, had been commercial flops. Though his band spent virtually every waking hour either in the recording studio or on tour, their road earnings were barely enough to live on.
Sensing the need for a smash, in late 1974 Mike Appel, Bruce’s manager, distributed a rough cut of “Born to Run” to select disc jockeys. Within weeks, it became an underground hit. Young people flooded record stores seeking copies of the new single, which didn’t yet exist, and radio stations that hadn’t been on Appel’s small distribution list bombarded him with requests for the new album, which also didn’t exist. In Philadelphia, demand for the title track was so strong that WFIL, the city’s top-40 AM station, aired it multiple times each day. In working-class Cleveland, the DJ Kid Leo played the song religiously at 5:55 p.m. each Friday afternoon on WMMS, to “officially launch the weekend.” Set against the E Street Band’s energetic blend of horns, keyboards, guitars, and percussion, “Born to Run” was a rollicking ballad of escape, packed full of cultural references that working-class listeners recognized immediately.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
The Republican frontrunner has offered Bush the perfect chance to display some passion—but he’s declined to take it.
Donald Trump has gotten a boost in his efforts to maul Jeb Bush in recent days from an unexpected source: Jeb Bush himself.
Trump’s attack on Jeb isn’t mostly about issues. As with most things Trump, it’s mostly about persona. The Donald thinks Jeb is a dud. “He’s a man that doesn’t want to be doing what he’s doing,” Trump said in June. “I call him the reluctant warrior, and warrior’s probably not a good word. I think Bush is an unhappy person. I don’t think he has any energy.”
Over the last week, Jeb has proven Trump right. Trump, and his supporters, continue to demonize Mexican American illegal immigrants. On Tuesday, Trump threw the most popular Spanish-language broadcaster in America out of a press conference. That same day, Ann Coulter warmed up for Trump in Iowa by offering gruesome details of murders by Mexican “illegals,” and suggesting that once Trump builds his wall along America’s southern border, tourists can come watch the “live drone shows.”