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.)
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:
Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain.
Updated at 7:43 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2020.
In May 1997, a 3-year-old boy developed what at first seemed like the common cold. When his symptoms—sore throat, fever, and cough—persisted for six days, he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. There his cough worsened, and he began gasping for air. Despite intensive care, the boy died.
Puzzled by his rapid deterioration, doctors sent a sample of the boy’s sputum to China’s Department of Health. But the standard testing protocol couldn’t fully identify the virus that had caused the disease. The chief virologist decided to ship some of the sample to colleagues in other countries.
At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the boy’s sputum sat for a month, waiting for its turn in a slow process of antibody-matching analysis. The results eventually confirmed that this was a variant of influenza, the virus that has killed more people than any in history. But this type had never before been seen in humans. It was H5N1, or “avian flu,” discovered two decades prior, but known only to infect birds.
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.
China is in the grip of a momentous crisis. The novel coronavirus that emerged late last year has already claimed three times more lives than the SARS outbreak in 2003, and it is still spreading. More than 50 million people (more than the combined metro populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco) remain under historically unprecedented lockdown, unable to leave their city—and in many cases, even their apartment. Many countries no longer accept visiting Chinese nationals, or if they do, quarantine them for weeks. Big companies are pulling out of trade shows. Production is suffering. Profound economic consequences are bound to ensue, not just in China but around the world.
The old but newly popular notion that one’s love life can be analyzed like an economy is flawed—and it’s ruining romance.
Ever since her last relationship ended this past August, Liz has been consciously trying not to treat dating as a “numbers game.” By the 30-year-old Alaskan’s own admission, however, it hasn’t been going great.
Liz has been going on Tinder dates frequently, sometimes multiple times a week—one of her New Year’s resolutions was to go on every date she was invited on. But Liz, who asked to be identified only by her first name in order to avoid harassment, can’t escape a feeling of impersonal, businesslike detachment from the whole pursuit.
“It’s like, ‘If this doesn’t go well, there are 20 other guys who look like you in my inbox.’ And I’m sure they feel the same way—that there are 20 other girls who are willing to hang out, or whatever,” she said. “People are seen as commodities, as opposed to individuals.”
The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.
The scene is one many of us have somewhere in our family history: Dozens of people celebrating Thanksgiving or some other holiday around a makeshift stretch of family tables—siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts. The grandparents are telling the old family stories for the 37th time. “It was the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen in your life,” says one, remembering his first day in America. “There were lights everywhere … It was a celebration of light! I thought they were for me.”
The oldsters start squabbling about whose memory is better. “It was cold that day,” one says about some faraway memory. “What are you talking about? It was May, late May,” says another. The young children sit wide-eyed, absorbing family lore and trying to piece together the plotline of the generations.
In its successes and failures, its wealth and dilapidation, the United States infects many of those who visit.
The United States has a strange power over Britain, radicalizing Brits who spend any time in its embrace—for the British, there’s no other place like it.
Europe, the idea and the reality, has challenged and polarized Britain for half a century, but mainly on practical and constitutional grounds—whether the U.K. should belong to Europe or stand apart from it. With David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on British membership of the European Union, this question became immediate and existential. Distant America is neither. And yet the very idea of it exerts a hold that seems to only grow with experience, radicalizing even the most mild-mannered of Brits who venture there, in a way France, Germany, Italy, or Australia does not.
Nancy Pelosi’s majority is new, fragile, and dependent on voters who are more conservative than the median Democrat.
Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders insist that their guy can eject Donald Trump from the White House. The more insistent question, though, is whether Sanders will cost Democrats the House of Representatives.
Democrats won the House in 2018, riding a surge of anti-Trump voting from a constituency that’s been scared by the Sanders campaign: older, college-educated, conservative-leaning women. Such voters tipped into the Democratic column the congressional seats once held by George H. W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Eric Cantor.
In 2018, upmarket districts voted to reprimand the president’s language and behavior. A Sanders nomination invites those districts to vote in 2020 to raise their taxes and replace their health insurance. That may be a tougher sell.
How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election
Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET on February 10, 2020.
One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign, and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers.
The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.
If centrists can’t move past their doctrine and recognize when their candidates are unelectable, then how will Democrats ever beat Trump?
The two major policy pitches of the Democratic nominee for president of the United States in 1972 were clear: an immediate end to the Vietnam War, and an immediate guarantee of a minimum income for all Americans. George McGovern ran for president that year, but the most progressive Democratic nominee in recent history did not get very far. He suffered the second-largest rout for a Democrat in American Electoral College history.
Incumbent Richard Nixon won 49 states and 520 electoral votes, severely wounding the spirits of countless young progressives. And I don’t think some of them ever fully recovered. “It was a generational defeat,” as BuzzFeed’s Katherine Miller wrote.
Days before two race-defining contests, the seven Democrats seemed worried about what’s next.
Well, that was loud.
The seven Democrats vying for the party’s presidential nomination shouted their way through the 10th debate tonight in Charleston, South Carolina, ahead of Saturday’s primary. They interrupted one another, bickered over one another, and bitterly accused one another of all manner of political and moral failings.
For Biden, and indeed for several of the candidates onstage, tonight was perhaps their final opportunity to rejigger the Democratic race before Senator Bernie Sanders can dramatically widen his delegate lead next week in the Super Tuesday contests. Biden is banking first on a victory in South Carolina this weekend—tonight he vowed to win the state but notably would not guarantee that he’d stay in the race if he lost. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, along with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the billionaire Tom Steyer, could also have been appearing in their final debate.
What the president is doing to America’s intelligence community could have enormous repercussions for the 2020 election and the country’s preparedness for threats from around the world.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, many observers worried about what Donald Trump might do with the U.S. intelligence apparatus. These organizations kill people, after all, with scary flying robots. They have the ability to spy on huge numbers of people all over the world. And they have a history of scandal. So it was reasonable to wonder: What happens when you put organizations such as the CIA and the NSA in the hands of a person as vindictive, petty, and contemptuous of law and his political enemies as Trump?
The answer, for a while at least, was a somewhat uneventful interlude. Trump had his eyes on other bureaucratic targets. The president rejected important intelligence conclusions, particularly vis-à-vis Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. And he reportedly had little patience for briefings and tended not to believe the community’s conclusions when they were inconvenient to him. But his abusive energy focused far less on the agencies that collect and analyze foreign intelligence than it did on the Justice Department and its investigative component, the FBI.