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.)
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.)
There was always a logical explanation for why cases rose through the end of June while deaths did not.
There is no mystery in the number of Americans dying from COVID-19.
Despite political leaders trivializing the pandemic, deaths are rising again: The seven-day average for deaths per day has now jumped by more than 200 since July 6, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. By our count, states reported 855 deaths today, in line with the recent elevated numbers in mid-July.
The deaths are not happening in unpredictable places. Rather, people are dying at higher rates where there are lots of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations: in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California, as well as a host of smaller southern states that all rushed to open up.
The deaths are also not happening in an unpredictable amount of time after the new outbreaks emerged. Simply look at the curves yourself. Cases began to rise on June 16; a week later, hospitalizations began to rise. Two weeks after that—21 days after cases rose—states began to report more deaths. That’s the exact number of days that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated from the onset of symptoms to the reporting of a death.
COVID-19 has steamrolled the country. What happens if another pandemic starts before this one is over?
Editor’s Note: The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.
Seven years ago, the White House was bracing itself for not one pandemic, but two. In the spring of 2013, several people in China fell sick with a new and lethal strain of H7N9 bird flu, while an outbreak of MERS—a disease caused by a coronavirus—had spread from Saudi Arabia to several other countries. “We were dealing with the potential for both of those things to become a pandemic,” says Beth Cameron, who was on the National Security Council at the time.
Neither did, thankfully, but we shouldn’t mistake historical luck for future security. Viruses aren’t sporting. They will not refrain from kicking you just because another virus has already knocked you to the floor. And pandemics are capricious. Despite a lot of research, “we haven’t found a way to predict when a new one will arrive,” says Nídia Trovão, a virologist at the National Institutes of Health. As new diseases emerge at a quickening pace, the only certainty is that pandemics are inevitable. So it is only a matter of time before two emerge at once.
The nation’s top public-health expert tells The Atlantic that he isn’t going anywhere, despite the Trump administration’s newest attempts to undercut him.
Anthony Fauci isn’t about to quit, despite the White House’s clumsy attempts to stain his public image. More so now than at any other point in their uneasy partnership, it seems that if President Donald Trump wants to be rid of Fauci, he’ll need to fire him. In recent days especially, the White House has stepped up efforts to discredit Fauci, a move he describes as “bizarre.”
“Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci told The Atlantic in a series of interviews this week. “When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.”
He described the White House attacks against him as “nonsense” and “completely wrong.” He also seemed dismayed that they are coming at a time when COVID-19 is surging across the country, deaths are once again rising, and Americans remain deeply confused about how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
The minute we make any decision—I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative.
Members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious cult, believed that as the Hale-Bopp comet passed by Earth in 1997, a spaceship would be traveling in its wake—ready to take true believers aboard. Several members of the group bought an expensive, high-powered telescope so that they might get a clearer view of the comet. They quickly brought it back and asked for a refund. When the manager asked why, they complained that the telescope was defective, that it didn’t show the spaceship following the comet. A short time later, believing that they would be rescued once they had shed their “earthly containers” (their bodies), all 39 members killed themselves.
Heaven’s Gate followers had a tragically misguided conviction, but it is an example, albeit extreme, of cognitive dissonance, the motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to admit mistakes or accept scientific findings—even when those findings can save our lives. This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Human beings are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts clash with their preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong.
A genre famously resistant to change and controversy has been jolted by the pandemic and protests.
The No. 1 song on country radio at the moment is about the joy of tequila, Jimmy Buffett, and crowds. “One Margarita,” by the 43-year-old Georgia-born superstar Luke Bryan, gives a detailed plan for losing one’s faculties to lime-flavored frozen cocktails guzzled with friends. In the music video, crowds wearing sombreros gather with beach balls on some nice sandy shore as Bryan presides in board shorts. Unavoidably, some viewers will be reminded of the infamous Lake of the Ozarks splashathon, or of kids who spent spring break in Florida when much of the country was hunkered down with sourdough starter.
But “One Margarita,” released in March, is a pre-COVID-19 recording. And at this phase of our interminable crisis, images like the ones in Bryan’s video fill me with nostalgia rather than revulsion. Sipping a homemade marg on my couch for the 17th week in a row, I just want to be at that big cheesy beach party. I just want normal.
The popular book aims to combat racism but talks down to Black people.
I must admit that I had not gotten around to actually reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility until recently. But it was time to jump in. DiAngelo is an education professor and—most prominently today—a diversity consultant who argues that whites in America must face the racist bias implanted in them by a racist society. Their resistance to acknowledging this, she maintains, constitutes a “white fragility” that they must overcome in order for meaningful progress on both interpersonal and societal racism to happen.
White Fragility was published in 2018 but jumped to the top of the New York Times best-seller list amid the protests following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national reckoning about racism. DiAngelo has convinced university administrators, corporate human-resources offices, and no small part of the reading public that white Americans must embark on a self-critical project of looking inward to examine and work against racist biases that many have barely known they had.
A study showed that culling wolves could save caribou. But a second group of researchers saw a flaw in that conclusion.
This winter, 463 wolves died in British Columbia. Their deaths were not due to a freak accident or a natural disaster, but a government-sponsored cull meant to save endangered mountain caribou. Killing wolves is often controversial, and in this case their deaths may have been in vain: A group of scientists says the decision to cull the wolves rested on a statistical error.
In the spring of 2019, British Columbia’s government was embroiled in a series of high-profile community-feedback sessions concerning the conservation of mountain caribou. The endangered ungulates depend on old forests targeted for logging that also happen to grow on top of highly coveted oil-and-gas deposits. The sessions were heated, to say the least.
The portion of the population that needs to get sick is not fixed. We can change it.
Edward Lorenz was just out of college when he was recruited into World War II. He was assigned to be a weather forecaster, despite having no experience in meteorology. What Lorenz knew was math.
So he started experimenting with differential equations, trying to make predictions based on patterns in data on past temperatures and pressures. One day, while testing his system, he repeated a simulation with a few decimals rounded off in the data. To his surprise, a radically different future emerged.
He called this finding “the butterfly effect.” In a complex model, where each day’s weather influences the next day’s, a tweak in initial conditions can have wild downstream consequences. The butterfly effect became central to the emerging field of chaos theory, which has since been applied to economics, sociology, and many other subjects, in attempts to deconstruct complex phenomena. That field is now helping predict the future of the pandemic—in particular, how it ends.
DeSean Jackson’s Hitler moment—and mine—showed that Black Americans’ experience of racism doesn’t automatically sensitize us toward other forms of prejudice.
Like DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver who is being condemned for posting a fake Adolf Hitler quote on his Instagram feed last week, I too have had an ill-advised Hitler moment.
In 2008, I was a general columnist for ESPN.com, covering the NBA Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Heading into Game 5, I wrote a piece about how it saddened me, as a lifelong Detroit Pistons fan, to see that the Celtics were no longer as widely hated as they had once been. Trying to be funny and whimsical, I drew upon my memories of the Pistons having to beat the Celtics before winning their first NBA championship in 1989. I ended up writing, “Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim.”
If everyone is vigilant and responsible, it can be done safely.
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Dr. Hamblin,
I’m a healthy 76-year-old thinking about taking a nonstop flight from Las Vegas to Baltimore. I want to see my daughter and her family, including my grandkids, who have been fantastic about quarantining. I could self-isolate in their basement. For the flight, I have an N95 mask and gloves, and I could get a protective face shield. And as icing on the cake, I can wear a diaper to avoid public restrooms.
Should I get on that plane?
I think you should feel confident about getting on that plane.