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 email@example.com. (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.)
Graham Hankey, a reader who previously paraglided over Idaho, sends a lovely shot of Mt. Hood, looking so close you could step out onto the summit—which in fact he did:
I fly into Portland frequently, and Hood is always impressive when the weather is clear. The mountain is a sentinel watching over the Columbia River Valley. This day in July 2016 was very cloudy, and I expected no views. But the undercast cracked just enough to reveal the upper slopes and summit of the 11,250-foot mountain.
It was a good omen to see the mountain, as I planned to climb it a week later. My climb was successful; I enjoyed splendid visibility and reached the summit at 6:15 a.m. after a five-hour slog up the south-side climbing route, accessing the summit ridge via the Old Chute. Climbers try to get up and down before the sun warms the ice too much and produces ice and rock falls. Once on top, I was just a little lower than my Jet Blue photography platform of a week earlier.
I get very homesick for Oregon mountains, cloudy surroundings and all. When I was growing up in Portland, no summer was ever complete without a road trip out to Hood, and no road trip was ever complete without at least a few promises from my dad that the heavy layer of clouds on the horizon would “burn off” by the time we got there. He was usually right, luckily. Driving out of the Willamette Valley, the clouds would part to reveal a brilliant blue sky and even more mountains—like the one in Graham’s second photo, looking south from the summit of Mt. Hood toward Mt. Jefferson. And here’s another shot from Graham looking north into Washington state, displaying the three distant peaks of St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams (from left to right):
Our list of power plants continues to grow: a nuclear one over Michigan, a bunch of wind turbines over Colorado, some solar panels with crop circles in Arizona, a pair of coal-fired plants in Iowa … and now another nuclear one, this time on the California coast (followed by a bonus AbA photo from a new state—Maine!):
Here’s the Pacific Gas & Electric nuclear reactor at Diablo Canyon, near Avila Beach, California. The picture was taken from the front seat of a Pitts Special biplane. The Diablo Canyon plant has churned out energy for the state of California for over 30 years but may finally succumb to requests for its closure from environment groups.
For 40 years, the anti-nuclear groups have been spouting off about how unsafe, poorly designed and outdated Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is. Where are their credentials? Have they had any training, any experience in nuclear? Clearly they have not. They make their claims without any truth-based facts.
Diablo Canyon has been producing power for more than 30 years that has proven safe, clean, affordable and reliable. Shutting down Diablo Canyon would be trading 2,250 megawatts of clean, nonpolluting energy to substitute it with fossil fuel which will be needed to back up intermittent renewable energy. Where is the sense in that?
[R]eplacing Diablo Canyon requires 14 500-megawatt solar farms. Solar farms like the Topaz facility take three years to build and cost about $2.4 billion each. Building two a year it would take seven-plus years, 133 square miles of land and cost $33.6 billion. Guess who pays the $33.6 billion!
Circling back to wind turbines, here’s an AbA submission from a reader flying above “Vinal Haven Island, Maine, on the way to and back from Portland”:
With Maine now checked off the list of states we’ve covered in America by Air, only eight remain: Connecticut, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. Do you happen to have a good photo above one of those states? We’d love to post it: firstname.lastname@example.org.
… the political storm of Election Day, that is, and the calm of this serene sunset reflecting off the Mississippi River over Hastings, Minnesota:
Another reader, Peter in Vermont, explains why U.S. politics right now should be more like the aviation industry:
Thank you to James Fallows for his Trump Time Capsule on “the destruction of norms.” Through his knowledge of aviation issues he may have heard of the term the “normalization of deviance.” It is a term used in the analysis of safety issues, both in aviation and in the large field of safety (including trying to apply it to medicine).
The concept is that people work under rules that have been established for proper practice, and that over time people start ignoring those rules out of short-term expediency. The problem then is that to the psychology of the people doing it, those deviations from the rules become the new normal. There is then a mental incapacity to see deviations as deviations, and a mental inertial against doing the extra work required to follow the proper rules. Once “everybody knows” that the speed limit sign on a certain street can be ignored, then it doesn’t seem right or natural to follow it.
The point in the safety community in coining the phrase is to start the conversation about how it can be corrected. When the powers on top believe in following the rules, and the deviations are only being done by those on the bottom, then arguably you can just come down like a ton of bricks on those not following the rules. The real problem, however, is when the deviations are inherent in the power structure itself.
I hate to always be harping on it, but it is documented by those studying it that preventable medical mistakes kill over 400,000 Americans each year, at an estimated cost of at least one trillion dollars a year. The root cause of the problem is that the hospitals and the doctors don’t want to measure the mistakes, because all they want to measure are the benefits of the current state of affairs. By not measuring the “deviation,” the deviation doesn’t exist, so no one sees a problem.
The aviation industry, on the other hand, is famously safety conscious and has an amazing safety record.
That is because all of the players—from the pilots to the airline companies—have a very high inherent self-cost to any safety error. Pilots inherently don’t like crashing, and airline companies inherently don’t like losing $100 million airplanes.The measurement of those deviations are inescapable to the players. That makes everyone want to play by the rules. The result is a fantastic safety record.
The issue now is what to do when the normalization of deviance has gotten into politics. Who is to set things back on track? Let’s say that the most rule following player, Jeb Bush, had won the nomination. He would probably have lost to Hillary Clinton. If the Republicans were going to lose anyway, then it is all to their benefit to break all of the rules of politic discourse and at least get a large dedicated base out out it. There wouldn’t have been any voters after the election who would have carried on supporting Bush. But by stirring up a lot of irrational hatred, the Republicans can use that as a source of continuing power for themselves even after losing the election. They have no interest in measuring how far off they are from normal political discourse because all they want to measure are the benefits they are getting from it.
The question is, has there ever been an example in history of political order re-emerging after chaos like this has set in? Right now the Republicans have set themselves up to be a party of permanent obstruction. They are the American Nihilist party. As Groucho Marx sang, “What ever it is, I’m against it.”
I personally don’t think anything will change unless the Republicans lose both houses by a landslide in 2018. That year, Trump and Clinton will be off the table, and it will be a time to put to a vote if people want a Nihilist government. A complete defeat of the Republicans in the off-year election would save both parties.
But like alcoholics, I don’t see anything getting better until the Republicans hit rock bottom. Things will only get better when and if the Republicans see that breaking all of the rules of normal society is no longer a source of political power for them. Let’s hope that will come sooner than later. I think it will come sooner the more of a disconnect there is seen between the on-the-ground make-it-work optimism of the country and the empty hate sloganeering of the powers at the national level.
Adam Feiges sends a stunning, lambent view of Chicago’s grid system at night on his approach to O’Hare from the east:
The Interstate 90/94 split is visible in the bottom of the frame with the Kennedy Expressway curving to the left as it heads “inbound” towards the Loop. (Chicagoans have adopted the inbound/outbound dichotomy due to the fact that both interstates are East/West routes that are actually oriented north/south as they cross the metro area.) The grid system imposed by the Northwest Ordinance is on full display here. The brighter roads follow the old section lines which divided the land up into square miles of 640 acres. These units were further subdivided into ¼ sections of 160 acres apiece. This was deemed to be a reasonable size that an individual family could farm and make a living. The super bright road in the middle of the frame is Cicero Ave, which extends 35 miles to the south before it reaches open farmland.
A reader sends an autumnal view over Pennsylvania:
Here’s a shot of Point State Park at the Forks of the Ohio River. I shot it on October 12, 2016, at 3:37 PM on Delta Flight 869 from Atlanta to Pittsburgh as the plane was on its approach to the Pittsburgh airport. Alas, the Pirates were not in the playoffs.
The team placed 3rd in its division this year, with a 78–83-1 record. Here’s a bit about the park across the water from the ballpark:
The fountain in Point State Park, which sprays water up to 150 feet (46 m) in the air at the head of the Ohio River, draws upon water from an aquifer that passes beneath the park known as the “Wisconsin Glacial Flow,” an ancient river channel now filled with sand and gravel as a result of the Pleistocene glaciation and the consequent re-routing of Pittsburgh’s rivers.
Coming in low to land at Airglades Airport in Clewiston, Florida, I noticed my plane’s shadow flying in tandem with me. I took a photo because it’s rare that I’ve flown in tandem with my shadow. It actually took me quite by surprise!
It seems like the entire past year has been one of chasing shadows—multiple shadows and to what end.
This second photo shows another shadow, but only if you know where to look. It’s a view of Airglades Airport, which used to be BFTS #5 (British Flying Training School #5) established in 1942 to train British RAF pilots to fight in WWII. Records suggest that about 1,700 cadets did their primary flight training at BFTS #5 before going back to Britain to fight in the war.
There is a trace of one of the old runways—a shadow, to wit—that I used frequently, since it was nothing more than a grass strip that once ran beyond the current paved runway. It’s perfect for the tail-wheel Aeronca. You can see it as a faint shadowy line with brushy vegetation at both ends, to the left and right. The old grass strip once crossed the end of the current paved runway. I called it RAF Clewiston when I was working there. It is an archeological remnant of earlier times.
And wait! As I stare again at the clear shadow of the tail feathers of my plane, I see what could be a head, and a leg dangling below the vertical fin! Well, notions of ghosts aside, perhaps it could be seen as the shadowy wraith of an RAF cadet, riding along with me looking for the nostalgia of earlier times, and staring at the shadowy trace of the field he once trained at.
Our collection of power plants for this photo series keeps growing: a nuclear one over Michigan, another one along the Cali coastline, a bunch of wind turbines over Colorado, a pair of coal-fired plants in Iowa, solar panels with crop circles in Arizona—and now a massive solar plant in Nevada that looks like a moon base or a SETI satellite:
The stunning image was sent by Roberto, a reader in Georgia:
This is the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy project, in the Nevada desert, as seen on a flight from Denver to San Francisco last November. I had just heard about it on NPR when I saw it right under our flight path. (If I hadn’t listened, I would have no idea what it was.)
Here’s the NPR story that he’s likely referencing. It provides some fascinating details into the unique nature of the Crescent Dunes solar plant, which can generate electricity for up to 10 hours even after the sun goes down. What’s the secret? Molten salt:
“It actually looks like water. It’s clear — it flows like water,” Smith says. He says the molten salt has to remain above 450 degrees Fahrenheit to stay liquid. It’s sent up the tower to the glowing tip, where it’s heated further. When the salt comes back down, it is 1,050 degrees. The molten salt is used to make steam to power a generator.
Here’s a closer view of the plant from Roberto, with the central tower casting a sundial-like shadow across the desert floor:
The plant generates enough electricity to power 75,000 Nevada homes. But it’s had some blemishes: “During a test [of Crescent Dunes last year], observers recorded a video of birds flying into heat from the mirrors and being incinerated.” The group Basin and Range Watch is now suing the agency to get more information on the dangers to wildlife. But flaming fowl isn’t unique to Crescent Dunes; the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California is another example of a broader problem for solar plants. Here’s an explanation from Emma Roller via our archives:
First, insects are drawn to the reflective light of the solar mirrors. That draws small, insect-eating birds, which in turn draw larger predatory birds. The rays of the mirrors’ reflected light produces temperatures from 800 degrees to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Any animal caught in the intense glare of the mirror’s rays may catch fire and plummet toward the ground, or spontaneously combust altogether.
That beam of fiery death is called a “solar flux.” The bigger threat to birds, however, comes from wind turbines. As my colleague Clare Foran noted, “Research published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Biological Conservation [in 2013] estimated that between 140,438 and 327,586 birds — or a mean of 234,012 — are killed annually due to collisions with turbines across the U.S.” Petroleum is another big danger:
In the six months after the BP oil spill in 2010 — when 4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico — more than 7,000 birds were collected in the spill area, and more than 3,000 were coated in oil, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Up to 23,000 birds could have been killed by the spill, according to an estimate in Audubon Magazine. It’s also estimated that 225,000 birds died from the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
I worked for many years with seabirds in California and Hawaii, and I wanted to add something about the differing impact of mortality between oil and wind. Oil affects predominately seabirds, whereas wind turbines affect mostly land birds. Land birds and seabirds have much different reproductive lives; seabirds live much much longer and produce fewer young each year. [...]
The relevance of this to oil and wind? Adult mortality in seabirds is generally much lower than for land birds, under normal conditions. But increases in adult mortality are much less sustainable. In a situation where you have a significant die-back of adults, land birds can sustain that die-back longer and rebound back much faster once that problem has been eliminated. The recovery time of seabirds is measured, however, in decades.
As Todd Woody points out in this Atlantic post, windows are probably the greatest scourge for wild birds—even excluding windshields:
Every year as many as 988 million birds—that’s not a typo—or nearly 10 percent of the United States’s avian population, die from colliding with windows, according to a study published in March . In other words, you and I have bird blood on our hands just from sitting inside our offices and homes.
Circling back to Crescent Dunes and happier thoughts, if you lived in New York City two years ago, as I did, you may have noticed that solar plant while walking past Lincoln Center—or, rather, an artistic representation of Crescent Dunes:
Hopefully no birds barreled into that projection. Its artist, John Gerrard, spoke with Motherboard at the time:
Gerrard and a team of programmers used Unigine, a real-time virtual 3D program typically used in gaming, to place the sun, moon, and stars as they would appear over one year at Crescent Dunes. The perspective cycles through ground level, satellite, and various other vantage points. “No view is precisely the same at any point during the course of the exhibition,” according to the official description.
The artist told Motherboard he was interested in the Crescent Dunes facility because it resembles a solar disc from above and its solar tower reminded him of a light house, two technologies that depend on the sun. “I was interested in transplanting these ancient, iconic shapes into New York City with an alternate reality,” Gerrard said. “Most people ignore public art, but it’s stimulating the public in this enormous way to document it. If you look at the #SolarNYC images on Instagram, people are creating these images within images and wonderful hyperlapse videos of Solar Reserve.”
A closeup image of the tower I captured on Instagram looks like a robotic Mad Hatter:
In the time I spent with Mike Lindell, I came to learn that he is affable, devout, philanthropic—and a clear threat to the nation.
When you contemplate the end of democracy in America, what kind of person do you think will bring it about? Maybe you picture a sinister billionaire in a bespoke suit, slipping brown envelopes to politicians. Maybe your nightmare is a rogue general, hijacking the nuclear football. Maybe you think of a jackbooted thug leading a horde of men in white sheets, all carrying burning crosses.
Here is what you probably don’t imagine: an affable, self-made midwesterner, one of those goofy businessmen who makes his own infomercials. A recovered crack addict, no less, who laughs good-naturedly when jokes are made at his expense. A man who will talk to anyone willing to listen (and to many who aren’t). A philanthropist. A good boss. A patriot—or so he says—who may well be doing more damage to American democracy than anyone since Jefferson Davis.
Like it or not, the way we work has already evolved.
In 2019, Steven Spielbergcalled for a ban on Oscar eligibility for streaming films, claiming that “movie theaters need to be around forever” and that audiences had to be given “the motion picture theatrical experience” for a movie to be a movie. Spielberg’s fury was about not only the threat that streaming posed to the in-person viewing experience but the ways in which the streaming giant Netflix reported theatrical grosses and budgets, despite these not being the ways in which one evaluates whether a movie is good or not. Netflix held firm, saying that it stood for “everyone, everywhere [enjoying] releases at the same time,” and for “giving filmmakers more ways to share art.” Ultimately, Spielberg balked, and last month his company even signed a deal with Netflix, likely because he now sees the writing on the wall: Modern audiences enjoy watching movies at home.
Two students went to Amy Chua for advice. That sin would cost them dearly.
Every striver who ever slipped the rank of their birth to ascend to a higher order has shared the capacity to ingratiate themselves with their betters. What the truly exceptional ones have in common is the ability to connect not only with their superiors but also with their peers and inferiors. And only the rarest talents among them can bond authentically—not just transactionally—with the people who will help them be who they want to be in the world. It’s a preternatural, almost Promethean gift if you have it, and Amy Chua does.
Thus begins the scandal dubbed “dinner-party-gate,” the latest in the annals of Amy Chua, Yale Law’s very own Tiger Mom, whose infamous defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the “dinner-party-gate” of its day approximately three years ago. Then, as now, Chua’s differences with some denizens of her milieu played out in the press, vituperations, allegations, insinuations, and all.
The only thing getting me through my 30s is a cranky, agoraphobic chihuahua named Midge.
This article was published online on July 29, 2021.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I have asked one question more than any other. It’s come up time and again, day and night, as frequently in my post-vaccination spring and summer as it did in the dark moments of the pandemic’s first wave: Are you my booboo?
The question is never answered by Midge, my agoraphobic chihuahua, but the answer is obvious. She’s been my booboo since 2018, when I brought her home from a cat shelter, where she had been stashed by a Long Island dog rescue after her foster family gave her back—she didn’t like them, or anyone, and cats aren’t looking for new friends. At 12 pounds, she is twice as big as the most desirable chihuahuas, and she has a moderately bad personality, which is maybe why the puppy mill where she spent the first year of her life decided it didn’t want any more of her robust and extremely rude babies. Now almost five years old, she has grown to tolerate me. I ask her questions she doesn’t answer—if she’s my booboo (yes), if she’s a big girl (relatively speaking), if she has a kibble tummy (a little bit).
The world’s best gymnast doesn’t need to look invincible.
Simone Biles was expected to be the story of the Tokyo Olympics because of her long series of jaw-dropping performances up to now. Instead, she’s become the story of these Olympics because she’s not performing. Citing her mental health, Biles removed herself from the women’s gymnastics team final after one rotation on Tuesday night. A day later, she withdrew from the individual all-around competition. At one point this week, she acknowledged losing track of her position while in midair—a dangerous outcome for a gymnast.
The 24-year-old’s decision to prioritize her well-being has been mostly praised. “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being,” USA Gymnastics, the organization that oversees the sport, said in a statement. “Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.” Figures as varied as Justin Bieber and former first lady Michelle Obama have offered words of encouragement, telling the gymnast how inspirational she has been.
David Lowery’s film starring Dev Patel is a dreamy piece of high fantasy that turns an age-old tale into something to be puzzled over anew.
King Arthur’s Round Table is an impressively austere sight in The Green Knight: a circle of white stone bathed in dim light where mythic figures sit like statues, ready to be venerated. Tucked in the background of this scene is Gawain (played by Dev Patel), a young warrior eager to prove his mettle by going on the same journey as his idols. But David Lowery’s adaptation of the epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight puts him on a stranger path, a voyage of self-discovery that evokes the original work’s heady mix of chivalry, temptation, and valor while digging into its contradictions.
It’s the movie Lowery was born to make, a dreamy piece of high fantasy that bombards the viewer with visual delights, skimps on all but the most essential dialogue, and turns an age-old tale into something to be puzzled over anew. Throughout his career, Lowery has moved between more straightforward commercial works (Disney’s Pete’s Dragon remake,The Old Man & the Gun) and artsier fare (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the terrificA Ghost Story). The Green Knight feels like the perfect blend of his interests, a Dungeons & Dragons tale told with intimacy and loaded with aesthetic oddments; it’s easily the best and most complete-feeling film I’ve seen all year.
Getting COVID-19 when you’re vaccinated isn’t the same as getting COVID-19 when you’re unvaccinated.
A new dichotomy has begun dogging the pandemic discourse. With the rise of the über-transmissible Delta variant, experts are saying you’re either going to get vaccinated, or going to get the coronavirus.
For some people—a decent number of us, actually—it’s going to be both.
Post-vaccination infections, or breakthroughs, might occasionally turn symptomatic, but they aren’t shameful or aberrant. They also aren’t proof that the shots are failing. These cases are, on average, gentler and less symptomatic; faster-resolving, with less virus lingering—and, it appears, less likely to pass the pathogen on. The immunity offered by vaccines works in iterations and gradations, not absolutes. It does not make a person completely impervious to infection. It also does not evaporate when a few microbes breach a body’s barriers. A breakthrough, despite what it might seem, does not cause our defenses to crumble or even break; it does not erase the protection that’s already been built. Rather than setting up fragile and penetrable shields, vaccines reinforce the defenses we already have,so that we can encounter the virus safely and potentially build further upon that protection.
Gather friends and feed them, laugh in the face of calamity, and cut out all the things––people, jobs, body parts––that no longer serve you.
“The only thing a uterus is good for after a certain point is causing pain and killing you. Why are we even talking about this?” Nora jams a fork into her chopped chicken salad, the one she insisted I order as well. “If your doctor says it needs to come out, yank it out.” Nora speaks her mind the way others breathe: an involuntary reflex, not a choice. (Obviously, all dialogue here, including my own, is recorded from the distortion field of memory.)
“But the uterus …” I say, spearing a slice of egg. “It’s so …”
“Yes. Don’t roll your eyes.”
“I’m not rolling my eyes.” She leans in. “I’m trying to get you to face a, well, it’s not even a hard truth. It’s an easy one. Promise me the minute you leave this lunch you’ll pick up the phone and schedule the hysterectomy today. Not tomorrow. Today.”
Persistent hype around mRNA vaccine technology is now distracting us from other ways to end the pandemic.
At the end of January, reports that yet another COVID-19 vaccine had succeeded in its clinical trials—this one offering about 70 percent protection—were front-page news in the United States, and occasioned push alerts on millions of phones. But when the Maryland-based biotech firm Novavax announced its latest stunning trial results last week, and an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent even against coronavirus variants, the response from the same media outlets was muted in comparison. The difference, of course, was the timing: With three vaccines already authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the nation is “awash in other shots” already, as the The New York Times put it.
Beijing’s confrontation with Australia should have been an unequal contest. That’s not how it worked out in practice.
“Chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes.” That’s how Hu Xijin, the editor of the Chinese Communist Party–run Global Times, described Australia last year. The disparaging description is typical of the disdain that China’s diplomats and propagandists have often shown toward governments that challenge Beijing—like Australia’s.
China is now the great power of Asia—or so Beijing believes—but those pesky Australians, mouthing off about human rights and coronavirus investigations, refuse to bend the knee. Beijing has turned to economic pressure to compel Australia to fall in line. “Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off,” Hu wrote, of the gum and of Australia. But the Australians have proved impossible to shake, and have instead caused some embarrassment for their image-obsessed tormentor.