Inspired by our March 2016 cover story by James Fallows, “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together,” readers share their best aerial photos from across the U.S. Submit your own via firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please provide the location, the story behind the photo, and the largest file size you have. Horizontal photos with a bit of the plane visible—a wing, the edge of a window—are ideal. Terms and Conditions here.)
That’s how our reader, Adam Feiges, describes this spooky view over South Dakota:
The badlands also get a mention in Jim’s cover story, when he’s describing the advantages of seeing the country from a low-altitude plane:
As you cross South Dakota from east to west, from the big city of Sioux Falls at the Iowa and Minnesota borders toward Rapid City and the Black Hills and beyond, you can see the terrain change sharply. In the East River portion of the state, between Sioux Falls and the Missouri, you see flat, well-watered farmlands and small farming towns. Then past Pierre you reach West River, with rough, dry badlands, some grazing cattle, and very few structures. Everyone who has looked at a map “knows” about the effect of topography and rainfall, but it means something different as it unfolds below you, like a real-world Google Earth.
I took this photo shortly after departure from New Orleans on January 11. The lower part of the photo shows the Bonnet Carré Spillway, which had just been opened to divert excess water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. I was returning from the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting, and it seemed fitting to have a chance to observe this rare event. I was struck by how many public agencies’ quiet, routine efforts resulted in an accurate forecast of water levels so that action could be taken to protect the citizens of New Orleans.
When opened, the control structure allows overflow volume to flow into Lake Pontchartrain. The lake’s opening to the gulf is sufficient to absorb and dissipate any conceivable volume of flood flow. Thus, the flood surcharge portion of the water from the Mississippi is divided between the main river and the diversion channel; with the surcharge bypassing the New Orleans metropolitan area, resulting in the Mississippi being lower (through that area) than it could have been; and reducing the stress on the area’s levees that line the river.
The spillway was built in response to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that inundated much of the Mississippi River basin. It was first opened during the flood of 1937, and ten times thereafter through 2016 to lower river stages at New Orleans. The most recent opening began January 10, 2016, when river levels in New Orleans were predicted to approach the flood stage of 17 feet (5.2 m).
But Amy Wold, writing in The Advocate, Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper, calls the effects of the spillway a “mixed bag”:
In addition to sediment, the colder and fresher river water also carries nutrients from upriver agricultural practices, carries the possibility of invasive species and has at least the temporary effect of moving out certain species of fish that want more-brackish water. At the same time, the additional nutrients can provide a base for better growth of other species, the cold water may mean the impact on oysters will be lessened and nutrient blooms apparent in previous spillway operations may be delayed, if they happen at all. Only time will tell, because a January opening of the spillway hasn’t happened since 1937. Although not unprecedented, the early opening could mean different effects will be seen in the coming months.
Our reader captured this view “flying home from Shanghai in 2013, and I was blown away in seeing just how frozen Lake Erie could get in the dead of winter.” Frozen enough to walk clear across it, as Dave Voelker did in 1978:
To a novice, a winter walk across frozen Lake Erie to Canada is almost certain death. To a person trained in wilderness skills, it’s just a calculated risk— an uncommon sort of trip that might seem foolhardy at first impression, but which becomes more and more feasible with every map, depth chart and weather report that you study. At its narrowest, the lake’s width is only 30 miles — a comfortable two-day jaunt if you’re in shape. Most years, its surface freezes solid all the way across, to a thickness that will usually support a party of hikers. The biggest danger is that of exposure, since the barren surface offers no escape from the malevolent elements of winter, especially wind. Solve that problem, and you’ve got the whole thing licked.
When Lake Erie isn’t entirely frozen over, its icy waves often create, well, eerie sculptures against the shore. Recently, a whole car was encased in ice.
Often referred to as Wisconsin’s second oldest city, Prairie du Chien was established as a European settlement by French voyageurs in the late seventeenth century. The city is located near the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, a strategic point along the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway that connects the Great Lakes with the Mississippi.
Early French visitors to the site found it occupied by a group of Fox Indians led by a chief whose name Alim meant Chien in French (Dog in English). The French explorers named the location Prairie du Chien, French for “Dog’s Prairie.” The American anglicized pronunciation is “prairie doo sheen.”
My wife Deb took this photo out the right window of our little propeller airplane. It was on Valentine’s Day 2015, one year ago this week, as we traveled from Ajo, Arizona, to San Bernardino, California, on a reporting trip.
The summit of Mount San Gorgonio, with a bare covering of snow during California’s long drought, is just over 11,500 feet high. At the time, our plane was at 8,500 feet (though we could have been climbing to 10,500) and was about ten miles away from the peak. We were in the middle of the Banning Pass, with San Gorgonio and the San Bernardino mountains to the north and Mount San Jacinto to the south.
This pass can be turbulent, unpleasant, and even risky when the winds are strong. On those days, small-plane pilots avoid it and take a roundabout route via Palmdale and the (broader, less bumpy) Cajon Pass. But winds were smooth enough that day. The only real aviation challenge was the big, fat No Fly zone right over Palm Springs airport in the middle of the pass. Air Force One had just landed not long before we passed by; Obama was spending the night there, reportedly for a weekend round of golf.
And by purest serendipity, what you’re seeing in this shot is the very same Mount San Gorgonio you see in the elegant airliner shot by reader Marco Pallotti, in the preceding note that Chris posted yesterday. This gives you an idea of how much higher airliners fly than little propeller planes — and also what the Banning Pass looks like from above. It’s the gap you see between the foreground and background mountains in Pallotti’s shot.
For our new photo series, reader Marco Pallotti happened to send a view captured on my 29th birthday—May 3, 2011—on a flight from Newark to Los Angeles:
In the foreground is snow-capped San Gorgonio Mountain, in the San Bernardino National Forest, with Mt. San Jacinto in the distance. In the valley between the two peaks is the town of Cabazon, and on the far left is the western edge of the Coachella Valley.
Fun facts about that forest: It was the filming location for Daniel Boone (1936) and Paint Your Wagon (1969). That area of Southern California also features prominently in Jim’s new cover story, specifically the nearby cities of San Bernardino and Redlands, his hometown:
When I was growing up [in Redlands], in the Baby Boom era, its economy rested on the orange-growing business, the neighboring Norton Air Force Base, and a medical community serving the nearby desert area. Now the orange groves are nearly gone, the Air Force base is closed, and the desert communities have their own doctors—but the city has been transformed by the presence of a tech firm that by all rights should be in some bigger, fancier place. This company, Esri, is a world leader in geographic information systems, or GIS. These are essentially the industrial-strength counterparts to Google Earth, which governments and companies around the world use for everything from tracking pothole repairs to monitoring climate change.
We’d like to concentrate on collecting aerial shots only — from small planes and airliners, from helicopters and airplanes, from altitudes high enough to reveal large-scale geographic patterns and low enough to display surprising neighborhood or city-planning details. […] Please send any relevant photos, with identifying info—when, where, how, and what’s interesting about what we’re looking at.
A reader and former follower of the Dish, Ann Fisher, jumps at the idea:
This one is above the Great Salt Lake, taken November 2012:
You can tell I’m pretty excited about this. I have more, all from commercial flights.
Two more of Ann’s photos are seen in the diptych above. If you have a good aerial view you’d like share, please email email@example.com. (Photos with a small part of the plane visible—a wing, a propellor, the edge of a window—are preferable, and please send the largest file size you have.)
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
At least one human life has already been lost as a direct result of the widespread obsession with turning the sex of one’s unborn child into an explosive (often literally) spectacle. In October, an Iowa woman was killed when her family inadvertently built a pipe bomb as part of their gender-reveal party—a gathering at which expectant parents dramatically and colorfully announce the sex of their baby.
The methods for doing so seem to have started out as benign, if stereotypical—cutting into a cake to reveal either blue or pink frosting, say. But in the past couple of years, some kind of communal madness has taken hold, and many of these feats of gender performance have gotten more elaborate, more public, and more dangerous—putting lives and entire ecosystems at risk. Last year, a father-to-be started a 47,000-acre wildfire in Arizona when he shot a rifle at an explosive target full of blue powder (It’s a boy!), causing $8.2 million of damage, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The latest instance of a gender reveal gone wildly wrong, as The New York Times reported on Friday, involved a plane that stalled and crashed while crop-dusting a Texas field with 350 gallons of pink water in honor of an unborn female child. No one was killed in either incident, but someone easily could have been. Othergender-reveal-relatedexplosions, and one reveal involving an alligator, have also placed people in harm’s way.
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Images above: A protestor holding a sign that reads “Abortion Is Freedom” and protestors holding anti-abortion signs
In 1956, twoAmerican physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
Things were getting bad even before the 2016 election, but somehow, within just a few years, they have gotten worse. In an environment of intense partisan warfare, each side believes it has a claim to lead the nation based on its own set of values. Each side understands that it has more to gain from aggrievement than achievement, and each side beholds the other with contempt. Meanwhile, the republic seems to be unraveling. A culture of anxiety and depression has spread far and wide as people face health crises without access to affordable care. An opioid epidemic ensnares ever larger numbers of the alienated and desperate; among certain groups, life spans are actually shortening. Some of those who aren’t harming themselves are harming others in mass shootings; many of the killers are infected with an ideology of white supremacy. Also, the prisons are full. The economy, at least, seems to be in decent shape for now, but income inequality continues to widen. Jobs are plentiful, which is good, because it often takes more than one to support a family. But the economic energy of a rich country has not eased the strains on our political institutions—money flowing to politicians has only hardened the gridlock. Congress still can’t get anything done. Tax cuts have left the country short of money to address national problems. The gulf between needs and capacities is glaring. Everyday scenes sometimes resemble New Yorker covers designed by Pravda: In Manhattan, the Harvard Club’s elegant dining room backs onto West 45th Street, where men and women sleep beneath damp cardboard in the warm glow of the club’s windows.
The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol—it’s the false promise of civility.
Joe Biden has fond memories of negotiating with James Eastland, the senator from Mississippi who once declared, “I am of the opinion that we should have segregation in all the States of the United States by law. What the people of this country must realize is that the white race is a superior race, and the Negro race is an inferior race.”
Recalling in June his debates with segregationists like Eastland, Biden lamented, “At least there was some civility,” compared with today. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition; the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
HONG KONG—For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
Our grasp on what it takes to sustain a democracy is slipping.
In 1838, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. The subject was citizenship and the preservation of America’s political institutions. The backdrop was the threat posed to those institutions by the evil of slavery. Lincoln warned that the greatest danger to the nation came from within. All the armies of the world could not crush us, he maintained, but we could still “die by suicide.”
And now, today, we look around. Our politics are paralyzing the country. We practice suspicion or contempt where trust is needed, imposing a sentence of anger and loneliness on others and ourselves. We scorch our opponents with language that precludes compromise.
The three leading GOP defenses of the president contradict one another.
Give Mac Thornberry this much: Unlike some of his Republican colleagues, he was at least trying.
On Sunday the Texas Republican appeared on ABC’s This Week, where he tentatively offered a message on the impeachment inquiry, which enters its public phase with hearings this Wednesday and Friday. Thornberry sought a middle course.
“I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival,” he said. “I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.”
Debatable, but coherent. But from there, things went off the rails. First, Thornberry inadvertently compared President Donald Trump to a rapist or murderer while critiquing the procedure House Democrats have used (though perhaps he is not far off). He then offered the defense that Trump couldn’t be impeached because the abuse of power in the Ukraine scandal is his standard operating procedure. “There’s not anything that the president said in that phone call that’s different than he says in public all the time,” he said.
Unmet hype created a viral clash between Drake and the audience at Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, but it might just work in his favor.
Editorial writers, assemble—there’s been another demonstration that civility in America is dead! Drake, the Canadian rapper, actor, singer, and, as of last week, marijuana entrepreneur, took to the stage last night at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, a music festival in Los Angeles. He played a few songs. The crowd grumbled so much that he left. To summarize, the biggest rapper in the world was booed off stage at a big rap concert—a telling story about toxic buzz storms, the vagaries of coolness, and Drake’s special relationship with the phenomenon of public shaming.
The footage of Drake’s exit feels like a scene in a biopic—a scene you’d watch through your fingers so as to avoid the protagonist’s nightmare from replaying in your own dreams. He’s performing the final lines of his song “Wu-Tang Forever,” but they sound lonely and weak, rapped by inertia. Faint woos and scattered claps reply. Drake walks in a tight circle. He addresses the crowd with the pre-confrontation politenessthat a boss might use to broach the subject of Juuling in the office: “You know, I’mma tell you, like I said …”