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.)
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.
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.
… 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.
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.
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):
From the air you can see the giant Texas-shaped wave pool and the massive parking lot. The photo was taken by me, John Matthews, from about 3500 feet MSL [mean sea level] from a friend’s Mooney [a type of single-engine plane].
I spent part of my early childhood in Stuttgart, Germany, where my mom was stationed with the U.S. Army, and some of my fondest memories were of the waterparks big in that area. The waterslides were much faster and more fun than the ones I’d seen in the States, and for the first time I experienced what a massive wave pool was like. A cursory history of wave pools suggests that my first encounter with one in Germany wasn’t a coincidence:
Wave pools go as far back as the 19th Century, as famous fantasy castle builder Ludwig II of Bavaria electrified a lake to create breaking waves. The first [swimmable] wave pool was designed and built in 1927  in Budapest, Hungary, and appeared in a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer documentary about the city in 1938, as one of the main tourist attractions. Palisades Amusement Park [in NJ] had a salt-water wave pool during the 1940s. This was a huge pool whose waves were generated by a waterfall at one end. The pool in Point Mallard Park [in Decatur, AL] was developed in the early 1970s after Mayor Gilmer Blackburn saw enclosed “wave-making” swimming pools in Germany and thought one could be a tourist attraction in the U.S.
There’s also a fantastic video on YouTube purportedly shot in 1929 showing a wave pool in Munich (“This is the new kind of swimming bath that is becoming the rage of Germany,” the opening card reads):
As far as present-day superlatives, Siam Park City Water Park in Thailand is home to the world’s largest wave pool (video here) and the similarly named Siam Park (Tenerife) in Spain produces the largest waves—nearly ten feet tall (video here).
We’ve got a great little tangent going within America by Air of photos above power plants—first a nuclear one over Michigan, then a wind-powered plant over Colorado, then a solar-powered plant in Arizona. The reader who sent the latter one, Adam Feiges, delivers again:
You requested a coal-fired power plant and here you get two for the price of one: the South and North units of the George Neal Power Complex located in rural Woodbury County in western Iowa. These generating stations power a considerable portion of the agricultural economy in the heart of the Corn Belt, and they’ve survived flooding, explosions, tornados, and consent decrees.
In the foreground of the shot is Browns Lake, an ox-bow lake marking a vestigial course of the Missouri River that today flows in a man-made channel barely visible on the far side of the two power plants. The influence of human activity on the landscape represented in this photo is all encompassing: the course of a major river, the massive piles of Wyoming coal, the forest cover on the Nebraska hills in the background, the massive industrial complexes, and the farm fields that cover most of the ground are all anthropocentric artifacts. Only the ox-box lake and the wetlands on the interior of the loop are remnants of the natural world, and even they are heavily influenced by the power plants since they are part of the water management process that cools the outflow from the facilities.
What’s next in this sub-series of power plants—a hydroelectric dam perhaps? Drop us a note if you have any good ones to share: email@example.com.
Ray Wasilewski of Clive, Iowa, sends a perfectly framed photo that his wife recently took from the passenger seat of the plane he was flying:
In August, Iowa begins to change. We still have the beautiful green from the crops that thrive in our soil, while colors are beginning to change as we approach harvest. In this picture taken near Mason City, Iowa, you can see much of what it means to live in America’s heartland. The pride of the people who care for the land jumps out at you. Large farm equipment stands at the ready, and the classic car near the Quonset hut barn makes it easy to believe you are viewing a scene from the past. Seeing this perspective, both the history and the new growth, is a special feeling.
The farm has an aviation connection: In 2000, the Mason City Airport was planning an expansion, and the location of this farm—not far off the end of one of the runways (you can see one runway at the top-left of the photo)—meant it would need to go. But people fought back, and 16 years later the farm is still there. As a pilot, I’m a big supporter of airports, but I’m happy to have this view when landing at that great airport.
With their fantastic photo, Ray and Cindy also cross Iowa off our list of 50 states to cover for America by Air. We’re now down to single digits—CT, GA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, WV—so if you have a great aerial view from one of those states, please send our way.
I wrote a post yesterday about the wildfire raging along California’s Big Sur coast that has surpassed the $200 million-mark to combat—and it’s only two-thirds contained. A reader in California, Christopher Baker, saw the fire when it started two months ago. He writes:
I saw your article and thought you’d find interesting the enclosed photo I took out the window of a Southwest flight on the evening of July 23 flying north from San Diego to San Francisco. It was extremely clear and I saw what I think is the first day of the fire out the window. The fire was very bright but still somewhat small, and I think I could see backfires started by the firefighters. It’s a remarkable sight because during my 50 years in California I’ve seen many brushfires from the air but never was the view this clear; normally they are obscured by the smoke.
At its peak last month, more than 5,600 firefighters were working to put out the blaze. It’s destroyed 57 homes and threatens another 400. And all of this because someone left a small campfire burning while visiting Garrapata State Park.
How to start a Monday: Southbound at 10,500’ looking west, en route home from Hood River, Oregon, from a large antique airplane get-together once a year. As the song says: “Nothing but blue skies do I see.”
The lake—the deepest one in the U.S.—formed around 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama collapsed after a massive volcanic eruption, one that was 42 times greater than Mount St. Helens in 1980. The resulting caldera is what you see above (and in this Orbital View). Rain and snowfall fills the caldera, and no rivers flow into or out of Crater Lake, so it takes about 250 years for the total amount of water to cycle out.
A 33-mile road, Rim Drive, wraps around the lake, and my first long bike ride happened to be around it, in the summer of 2010. The gorgeous locale and sunny weather of that day was only dampened by the timing of the ride—just a month after my brother got into a terrible bike accident in Portland that resulted in several broken teeth and nearly a broken neck. His bashed-up face loomed in my head as I raced down Rim Drive to catch up with the more experienced cyclists. Every tiny rock on the road felt like a speed bump, and my clenched hands were sorer than my legs by the end of the ride. But my brother is braver than I am; he was back to his long bike commutes in no time.
We’re down to the final stretch of U.S. states in this series, so if you happen to have an aerial view above CT, GA, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, or WV, please send it our way.
I just came off a two-week vacation that included six days at Burning Man—the art-infused, music-filled, drug-fueled festival held every year in the desolate Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. (This satirical video of a guy coming back from BM has a lot of truth to it, and this tumblr of Burner mockery is also pretty brilliant.) The 30th Burn attracted more than 70,000 people to this pop-up, semi-circle city:
But I could barely see Black Rock City myself during the short flight from Reno due to one of the sudden dust storms that are all too frequent in that desert. (I might have missed the dusty deluge if I hadn’t been delayed at the Reno airport for several hours because President Obama was in nearby Tahoe for an environmental summit and Air Force One was on the tarmac freezing flights … Thanks, Obama!) So instead of getting an aerial photo similar to the one above, all I got was this dust-shrouded scene:
After landing in the dust storm, I struggled to keep up with my friend heading to our camp by bicycle with an 80-pound pack on my back and many beers in my belly (like I said, it was a long wait in Reno). Not being able to see 20 feet in front of me made for a surreal, somewhat perilous ride; my friend stopped so abruptly that I bumped right into him.
If you happened to capture any good photos of Black Rock City this year (I personally took a vacation from my iPhone and didn’t bring my SLR due to dust danger), please send our way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update from reader Doug McDougall, who sends a zoomed-out view of a dust storm descending over the playa in Black Rock Desert:
We usually prefer images that include a piece of the plane or other aircraft, but reader Graham—hovering here over Ketchum, Idaho—included his own feet:
I was on a hiking and biking vacation in Ketchum, Idaho, and decided to try paragliding (much to my wife’s chagrin) after watching several gliders launch from the summit of Mt. Baldy, the major ski mountain in the valley. I contacted Fly Sun Valley, the only licensed paragliding outfit in the area, and made arrangements for a tandem flight the next evening before sunset.
The flight was incredible. We sailed for 25 minutes, launching from Baldy’s summit and heading west while we gained another 1,000 feet of altitude, and then turned and came back across the mountain at 10,000 feet and slowly began descending into Sun Valley, making a series of lazy circles before landing in a large field just outside of Ketchum. I was able to take many pictures on my iPhone (permissible, but I was warned that several phones had been dropped, never to be seen again) and even shoot a video. The experience was wonderful—a great perspective to see a beautiful part of America.
Beautiful, indeed. Here’s Graham’s shot looking into the Sawtooth Wilderness, with the resort town of Sun Valley in the foreground:
Ketchum and Sun Valley seemed to weather the financial crisis just fine, and the folks that manage and plan the community should be applauded for avoiding quick-fix solutions to economic downturns. They’ve invested for the long-haul, sacrificed some quick pay-offs to preserve the scenic nature of the valley (which will yield a long-term payoff I think … ), and are turning the resort into a legitimate four-season destination (mountain biking will be as big as skiing someday soon). In this they are following the lead of other major resorts, such as British Columbia’s Whistler.
Dare I say that it sounds like business is really … taking off?
If you’ve got an aerial snapshot to share, particularly one above CT, GA, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, or WV, please send it along.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on health consequences of caffeine use has just been published.
That’s what a Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that “the world’s strongest coffee” is now available in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to apotentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar purveyor sells coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises its “perfect dark roast will make you the hero of the house or office.”
Activists threatened to drag local Republicans off a parade route if they weren’t excluded from a local celebration. Organizers cancelled the entire event in response.
On the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, perhaps 3 million Americans took to the streets in peaceful protest to register their opposition. When news of his travel ban broke, I stood at LAX watching Angelenos sing the Star Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace. Across the nation, peaceful protest against President Trump continues. But a violent fringe has been using Trump’s rise as a justification for political violence, as if his authoritarian impulses justify authoritarianism from his opponents.
This tiny faction knows that most of their compatriots on the left are committed to nonviolence, so they frame their aggressive actions as a narrow exception to the rule.
Most famously, they insisted that it was okay, or even righteous, to punch white supremacist Richard Spencer because he was “a Nazi.” That position impels the debate down a slippery slope. And now, activists in Oregon caused the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, a community event in the southeast quadrant of Portland, by threatening to forcibly drag “fascists” off the parade route if they weren’t excluded.
It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdom—a unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generations—comes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there’s some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
With conservatives endorsing an amendment to the party’s Obamacare replacement plan, the legislation’s fate rests with the GOP’s most politically vulnerable members.
Updated on April 25 at 3:02 p.m. ET
The fate of the resurrected American Health Care Act in the House might now rest with Republican moderates.
Forgive them for not celebrating their newfound clout.
Conservative leaders of the House Freedom Caucus have struck a deal with the White House and one leading GOP moderate to back the party’s stalled replacement for the Affordable Care Act in exchange for granting states even more flexibility to wriggle out of the law’s insurance mandates. Under the proposed amendment, states could seek waivers from the federal government, allowing them to eliminate the prohibition on insurers charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions and a requirement that plans cover a range of “essential health benefits,” including maternity care, mental-health treatment, emergency room visits, and hospitalization.
Democracies across the West are vulnerable to foreign influence—and some are under attack.
Mike Conaway, the Republican who replaced Devin Nunes as head of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has described his mission simply: “I just want to find out what happened,” he’s said. The more urgent question elsewhere in the world, however, isn’t confined to the past. It concerns what is happening—not just in the United States but in European democracies as well.
In the Netherlands, Dutch authorities counted paper ballots in a recent election by hand to prevent foreign governments—and Russia in particular—from manipulating the results through cyberattacks. In Denmark, the defense minister has accused the Russian government of carrying out a two-year campaign to infiltrate email accounts at his ministry. In the United Kingdom, a parliamentary committee reports that it cannot “rule out” the possibility that “foreign interference” caused a voter-registration site to crash ahead of Britain’s referendum on EU membership. And in France, a cybersecurity firm has just discovered that suspected Russian hackers are targeting the leading presidential candidate. “We are increasingly concerned about cyber-enabled interference in democratic political processes,” representatives from the Group of Seven—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.—declared after meeting in Italy earlier this month. Russia, a member of the group until it was kicked out for annexing Crimea, wasn’t mentioned in the statement. It didn’t need to be. The subtext was clear.
President Trump's plan will likely advocate for the repeal of a tax that only the ultra-wealthy pay.
I am not the first person President Trump or his economic team looks to for advice on tax reform. But if they wanted some, this is the free advice I’d give them: Don’t cut or eliminate the estate tax—raise it.
Repealing the estate tax—a tax on assets transferred from a deceased individual to their heirs—has become a staple cause among conservative Republicans. Eleven Republican candidates explicitly called for its elimination during the 2016 election. By calling it a “death tax,” and implying that it would hurt tens of millions of ordinary families, and force the sale of long-held family farms and family businesses, Republicans have successfully cast the estate tax as a ubiquitous and pernicious burden. That’s helped them win the public-relations battle over it so far.
Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs represent one of the most dangerous challenges since the end of the Cold War. But there are opportunities to stop it.
The drama that is playing out now over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program—accentuated Tuesday by that regime’s large-scale artillery drill—represents one of the most dangerous challenges for U.S. national security since the end of the Cold War. It is a crisis that has been building for a long time, as North Korea has broken through the nuclear barrier and possesses fissile material sufficient for 20 to 25 nuclear weapons, by one estimate. After many failed attempts, through pressure and negotiations, to bring an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, three new elements have heightened the urgency of the situation.
First, North Korea is racing to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the continental United States. In his annual New Years address in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared his country to be “in the final stage of preparation for the test launch” of such a missile. Moreover, experts warn, North Korea could at some point in the next few year years make the terrifying technological leap to a hydrogen bomb, which could be up to 1,000 times more destructive than the nuclear weapons that now comprise the North Korean arsenal.
Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?
A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. It would be like living in a novel, where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.
It’s an almost impossible bar to reach, for cultural reasons as much as technical ones. One shortcut is an approach called environmental storytelling. Environmental stories invite players to discover and reconstruct a fixed story from the environment itself. Think of it as the novel wresting the real-time, first-person, 3-D graphics engine from the hands of the shooter game. In Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight, for example, dioramas summarize the plot and setting of the film. In the 2007 game BioShock, recorded messages in an elaborate, Art Deco environment provide context for a story of a utopia’s fall. And in What Remains of Edith Finch, a new game about a girl piecing together a family curse, narration is accomplished through artifacts discovered in an old house.