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.
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.
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
He died on a Saturday.
My mother and I had planned to pick my dad up from the hospital for a trip to the park. He loved to sit and watch families stroll by as we chatted about oak trees, Kona coffee, and the mysteries of God. This time, the park would miss him.
His skin, smooth and brown like the outside of an avocado seed, glistened with sweat as he struggled to take his last breaths.
In that next year, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
Neuroscientist James Fallon discovered through his work that he has the brain of a psychopath, and subsequently learned a lot about the role of genes in personality and how his brain affects his life.
In 2005, James Fallon's life started to resemble the plot of a well-honed joke or big-screen thriller: A neuroscientist is working in his laboratory one day when he thinks he has stumbled upon a big mistake. He is researching Alzheimer's and using his healthy family members' brain scans as a control, while simultaneously reviewing the fMRIs of murderous psychopaths for a side project. It appears, though, that one of the killers' scans has been shuffled into the wrong batch.
The scans are anonymously labeled, so the researcher has a technician break the code to identify the individual in his family, and place his or her scan in its proper place. When he sees the results, however, Fallon immediately orders the technician to double check the code. But no mistake has been made: The brain scan that mirrors those of the psychopaths is his own.
Nuts-and-bolts Washington coverage has shifted to subscription-based publications, while the capitol’s traditional outlets have shrunk.
Back in 2009, I had a job with a Washington, D.C.-based newsletter called Water Policy Report. It wasn’t exactly a household name, but I was covering Congress, the federal courts, and the Environmental Protection Agency—a definite step up from the greased-pig-catching contests and crime-blotter stories I had chased at a community newspaper on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, my first job out of college.
One of my responsibilities at the newsletter was to check the Federal Register—the official portal that government agencies use to inform the public about regulatory actions. In December of that year I noticed an item that said that the Environmental Protection Agency had decided that existing pollution controls for offshore oil-drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were adequate, and that there wasn’t enough pollution coming from those platforms to warrant further review or action.
As the public’s fear and loathing surge, the frontrunner’s durable candidacy has taken a dark turn.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—All politicians, if they are any good at their craft, know the truth about human nature.
Donald Trump is very good, and he knows it better than most.
Trump stands alone on a long platform, surrounded by a rapturous throng. Below and behind him—sitting on bleachers and standing on the floor—they fill this city’s cavernous, yellow-beige convention center by the thousands. As Trump will shortly point out, there are a lot of other Republican presidential candidates, but none of them get crowds anything like this.
Trump raises an orange-pink hand like a waiter holding a tray. “They are not coming in from Syria,” he says. “We’re sending them back!” The crowd surges, whistles, cheers. “So many bad things are happening—they have sections of Paris where the police are afraid to go,” he continues. “Look at Belgium, the whole place is closed down! We can’t let it happen here, folks.”
The sport is becoming an enterprise where underprivileged young men risk their health for the financial benefit of the wealthy.
Football can be a force for good. The University of Missouri’s football team proved it earlier this month when student athletes took a facet of campus life that’s often decried—the cultural and economic dominance of college football—and turned it into a powerful leverage point in the pursuit of social justice. Football can build a sense of community for players and fans alike, and serve as a welcome escape from the pressures of ordinary life. The sport cuts across distinctions of race, class, geography, and religion in a way few other U.S. institutions do, and everyone who participates reaps the benefits.
But not everyone—particularly at the amateur level—takes on an equal share of the risk. College football in particular seems headed toward a future in which it’s consumed by people born into privilege while the sport consumes people born without it. In a 2010 piece in The Awl, Cord Jefferson wrote, “Where some see the Super Bowl, I see young black men risking their bodies, minds, and futures for the joy and wealth of old white men.” This vision sounds dystopian but is quickly becoming an undeniable reality, given new statistics about how education affects awareness about brain-injury risk, as well as the racial makeup of Division I rosters and coaching staffs. The future of college football indeed looks a lot like what Jefferson called “glorified servitude,” and even as information comes to light about the dangers and injustices of football, nothing is currently being done to steer the sport away from that path.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
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.
Places like St. Louis and New York City were once similarly prosperous. Then, 30 years ago, the United States turned its back on the policies that had been encouraging parity.
Despite all the attention focused these days on the fortunes of the “1 percent,” debates over inequality still tend to ignore one of its most politically destabilizing and economically destructive forms. This is the growing, and historically unprecedented, economic divide that has emerged in recent decades among the different regions of the United States.
Until the early 1980s, a long-running feature of American history was the gradual convergence of income across regions. The trend goes back to at least the 1840s, but grew particularly strong during the middle decades of the 20th century. This was, in part, a result of the South catching up with the North in its economic development. As late as 1940, per-capita income in Mississippi, for example, was still less than one-quarter that of Connecticut. Over the next 40 years, Mississippians saw their incomes rise much faster than did residents of Connecticut, until by 1980 the gap in income had shrunk to 58 percent.
Why one journalist wanted to grade Finland’s schools
In Finland you’re not supposed to wonder—let alone ask out loud—if one school is better than another. That’s because all Finnish schools are designed to be equal.
We Finns are very proud of our equal education system. In fact, education is the one positive thing Finland is known for all around the world. Our results in global assessments of 15-year-olds have won us international attention a small nation rarely receives.
The strong ideology of equality doesn’t always make life easy for us Finnish education reporters. We feel, for example, we should rank the nation’s high schools even though the government doesn’t want us to.
In 2011, my boss asked me to help her create a more ambitious high-school ranking than anything Finland had ever seen. I had just been promoted from an education reporter to the editor of domestic news at the Finnish News Agency, which is like the Associated Press of Finland except on a smaller scale. (Since there are only 5 million Finns, all things Finnish are small scale.)