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.”
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.
Can a political system be democratically legitimate without being democratic?
The flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Even more worrisome, repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, suggesting that the regime is increasingly worried about its legitimacy.
Some China experts—most recently David Shambaugh of George Washington University—interpret these ominous signs as evidence that the Chinese political system is on the verge of collapse. But such an outcome is highly unlikely in the near future. The Communist Party is firmly in power, its top leader is popular, and no political alternative currently claims widespread support. And what would happen if the Party’s power did indeed crumble? The most likely result, in my view, would be rule by a populist strongman backed by elements of the country’s security and military forces. The new ruler might seek to buttress his legitimacy by launching military adventures abroad. President Xi would look tame by comparison.
Some spoiler-y speculation on the final three episodes
With only three episodes left to go, Game of Thrones looks as though it once again has a lot of ground to cover before wrapping up a season. And so, for the curious and impatient among you, I’ll do my best to offer some quasi-informed speculation about what we might reasonably expect in these final weeks.
Note: I haven’t seen any of the remaining episodes, but I have read the books. The first five items below are spoiler-y, but the predictions in them do not derive from the George R. R. Martin novels. Rather, they’re guesswork based on what’s already happened on the show and on tidbits scattered across the web: a behind-the-scenes photo here, a close-read of a trailer there. (They could all, of course, turn out to be completely wrong.) The last four items, however, are based at least in part on events that take place in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so non-book-readers may want to skip them. And obviously anyone, book-reader or not, who’d prefer to go into these final episodes without preconceptions—who doesn’t want to know at least some of what will (probably) happen—should stop reading now.
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements, reportedly while attempting to conceal past sexual misconduct.
Updated on May 29, 2015, at 4:05 p.m.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements, reportedly while paying a man to cover up past sexual misconduct.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton notes that there were several high-profile congressional scandals in those years. Illinois is also a notorious hotbed for political corruption, as Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson Jr. can attest.
But Hastert’s indictment seems to involve a darker story than political corruption. In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)
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.
A challenge based on four words of the law amounts to little more than politics dressed up as a legal argument.
The Supreme Court is about to decide another blockbuster case arising under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The specific issue is whether federal-tax subsidies are available to people who purchase health insurance from exchanges operated by the federal government or instead whether such subsidies are available only from exchanges established by the states. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would most likely cripple the ACA in over thirty states and deprive millions of people of health insurance.
That the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case is the result of an improbable conjunction of events. Two committed opponents of the ACA seized upon four words of the law out of almost 1000 pages, and through their persistent and energetic work, created a powerful soundbite that appealed to die-hard opponents of the ACA. They then took that sound bite and dressed it up in highly technical arguments about statutory interpretation that might well change how healthcare is paid for in the United States. But the soundbite is inaccurate, and the technical window dressing shouldn’t obscure the fact that the argument is based on a faulty reading of the text of the entire law as well as a misleading account of how and why the law was passed. At bottom, King v. Burwell is a political challenge to the ACA dressed up in legal garb.
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.
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?
This week, we have photos of the oppressive heatwave in India, a high walkway made of musical glass planks in China, an aerial view of Chicago at night, rescued baby iguanas in Costa Rica, the 88th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, and much more.