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.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
For those who didn't go to prestigious schools, don't come from money, and aren't interested in sports and booze—it's near impossible to gain access to the best paying jobs.
As income inequality in the U.S. strikes historic highs, many people are starting to feel that the American dream is either dead or out of reach. Only 64 percent of Americans still believe that it’s possible to go from rags to riches, and, in another poll, 63 percent said they did not believe their children would be better off than they were. These days, the idea that anyone who works hard can become wealthy is at best a tough sell.
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.
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.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
What it’s like to watch a komodo dragon get dissected
Try to imagine how hard it would be to skin a Komodo dragon.
It is harder than that.
The problem is that the giant lizard’s hide is not just tough and leathery, but also reinforced. Many of the scales contain a small nugget of bone, called an osteoderm, which together form a kind of pointillist body armor. Sawing through these is tough on both arms and blades.
I’m at the Royal Veterinary College, about 20 kilometers outside of central London, watching four biologists put their shoulders into the task. A Komodo dragon, which recently died in London Zoo for unexplained reasons, lies on a steel gurney in front of them. Their task, over the next three days, is to dissect it and measure all of its muscles. So, first, the skin must come off.
Along with the Nancy Drew series, almost all of the thrillers in the popular teenage franchise were produced by ghostwriters, thanks to a business model that proved to be prescient.
In the opening pages of a recent installment of the children’s book series The Hardy Boys, black smoke drifts though the ruined suburb of Bayport. The town's residents, dressed in tatters and smeared with ash, stumble past the local pharmacy and diner. Shards of glass litter the sidewalk. “Unreal,” says the mystery-solving teenager Joe Hardy—and he's right. Joe and his brother Frank are on a film set, and the people staggering through the scene are actors dressed as zombies. But as is always the case with Hardy Boysbooks, something still isn’t quite right: This time, malfunctioning sets nearly kill several actors, and the brothers find themselves in the middle of yet another mystery.
Reforms were slow to take hold in Cincinnati, but when they did, they drove down crime while also reducing arrests.
CINCINNATI—Citizens were throwing stones and beer bottles at police officers in front of City Hall, and Maris Herold didn’t understand what they wanted.
She was a police officer herself, and knew that her department had made some missteps. Most recently, an officer gunned down a 19-year-old unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas—the fifteenth black man to die at the hands of police in five years.
But, Herold knew, the police were investigating the incident. They were listening to the community. They were working 12-hour shifts to protect the city from looting and fires, though the disturbance would soon turn into the worst riots in the U.S. in a decade.
“I was like, ‘We’re doing everything right, obviously the police officers made mistakes and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,’” she told me recently. Herold, who joined the police force after a career in social work, couldn’t understand what more the police could do to make amends with the community.