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.)
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: email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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: email@example.com.
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.
Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.
I have seen the future, and it is in the United States.
After a several-year immersion in parts of the country that make the news mainly after a natural disaster or a shooting, or for follow-up stories on how the Donald Trump voters of 2016 now feel about Trump, I have a journalistic impulse similar to the one that dominated my years of living in China. That is the desire to tell people how much more is going on, in places they had barely thought about or even heard of, than they might have imagined.
In the case of China, that impulse matched the mood of the times. In the years before and after the world financial crisis of 2008, everyone knew that China was on the way up; reporters like me were just filling in the details. In the case of the modern United States, I am well aware that this message runs so counter to prevailing emotions and ideas as to seem preposterous. Everyone knows how genuinely troubled the United States is at the level of national politics and governance. It is natural to assume that these disorders must reflect a deeper rot across the country. And indeed, you can’t travel extensively through today’s America, as my wife, Deb, and I have been doing in recent years, without being exposed to signs of rot, from opioid addiction to calcifying class barriers.
A new study finds that Trump voters weren’t losing income or jobs. Instead, they were concerned about their place in the world.
For the past 18 months, many political scientists have been seized by one question: Less-educated whites were President Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. But why, exactly?
Was their vote some sort of cri de coeur about a changing economy that had left them behind? Or was the motivating sentiment something more complex and, frankly, something harder for policy makers to address?
After analyzing in-depth survey data from 2012 and 2016, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz argues that it’s the latter. In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she added her conclusion to the growing body of evidence that the 2016 election was not about economic hardship.
A CNN interview this weekend provided a case study in the mendacious ways this White House defends itself.
Kellyanne Conway has become a media legend for her snowblower method of dissimulation: scoop up everything and hurl it into the air, with no concern for where the stuff lands. So it was perhaps not surprising that when Dana Bash asked Conway an unwelcome question on CNN this weekend, Bash got buried under particulate matter.
The exchange, which has gotten a lot of play in the past 24 hours, is a case study of the Trump White House’s methods in action.
First, some background. Conway’s husband George is a highly distinguished and successful lawyer. He also operates a Twitter account on which he often posts cutting remarks about the Trump presidency. George Conway’s comments do not deal with policy, but with more fundamental issues of character and integrity. For example, on the morning of Sunday April 22—just minutes before Kellyanne Conway’s appearance on CNN—George Conway retweeted the following:
What if the problem isn’t the president—it’s the presidency?
I. A Broken Office
Donald Trump often appears to be a president in rebellion against his office. A president, we have come to expect, hastens to the scene of a natural disaster to comfort the afflicted. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Trump arrived tardily and behaved unseriously, tossing rolls of paper towels at storm-battered residents as if he were trying to drain three-point shots.
We have come to expect that when the national fabric rends, the president will administer needle and thread, or at least reach for the sewing box of unity. After white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, shouting “Jews will not replace us,” President Trump’s instinct was to emphasize that there were good people among the neo-Nazis.
When Kanye West and Shania Twain express admiration for the president’s communication style, they forget what’s at stake.
As Donald Trump’s approval ratings hover around 40 percent, two glimmering celebrity names appeared to come to his defense this weekend. Shania Twain, the Canadian country-pop pioneer, told The Guardian that if she could have participated in the U.S. election, she would have voted for Trump because “even though he was offensive, he seemed honest.” Kanye West, the rap institution who paid a controversial visit to Trump before his inauguration, tweeted about his fandom for Candace Owens, a conservative commentator who thinks Trump is the “savior” of Western civilization.
Both statements led to a predictable cyclone: liberals howling that musicians they once loved were “canceled,” and conservatives who’d shown little interest in these stars showering praise on them as brave truth-tellers. Twain apologized; West kept tweeting. Taken together, the two episodes lay bare the seductive danger of treating politics as entertainment, and politicians as entertainers.
What drew less attention was how he explained that provocative conclusion. “I came from poor Italian Americans who came here,” Cuomo said. “You know what they called Italian Americans back in the day? They called them ‘wops.’ You know what ‘wop’ stood for? ‘Without papers.’”
Cuomo’s attempt to express solidarity was a bit overheated, to say the least: He isn’t really undocumented, of course, and as the son of a former governor, he wasn’t exactly marginalized growing up. But his historical justification for the parallel is similarly dubious. While his Italian immigrant forebears may indeed have had the epithet wop slung at them, there is no evidence that the word originated as an acronym for “without papers.”
After a last-minute flip by Senator Rand Paul, President Trump’s pick for secretary of state wins approval from the Foreign Relations Committee despite opposition from Democrats.
Never in its 202-year history had the Senate Foreign Relations Committee given a public thumbs-down to a presidential nominee for secretary of state.
Until a few minutes before the panel met late Monday afternoon, it looked like CIA Director Mike Pompeo would carry that unprecedented blemish to the Senate floor later this week as he bids to replace Rex Tillerson atop the State Department. But just as the committee was gathering to consider President Trump’s pick, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky renounced his early opposition to Pompeo and gave him a decisive vote of support. Citing Pompeo’s hawkish views and his support for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Paul had previously indicated he would side with the panel’s 10 Democrats in opposition, denying him the majority needed for a favorable recommendation.
“Alexa, play Jeopardy!” my son will bark. And she follows his command.
When I was a kid, in the early 1980s, I programmed a little in a language called BASIC. Recalling that long-ago era, I see myself, bowl cut and braces, tapping at the keyboard of some ancient computer:
10 PRINT “[Whatever]”
20 GOTO 10
And when I hit “return,” up jumps a digital column of whatever I’d entered between the quotation marks to fill the screen:
And so on. Later in my life, there were more advanced computing experiences—my parents eventually got me a TI-99/4A with Extended BASIC—but 20 GOTO 10 lingers. Those early days at the computer enabled me, for the first time, to issue commands. I was—suddenly, shockingly—a person to be obeyed. My commands didn’t carry any grand force, as do commands in, say, a military context, but issuing them did make me happy. The Nobel laureate Elias Canetti described the dynamic well some 60 years ago in Crowds and Power:
It only took five minutes for Gavin Schmidt to out-speculate me.
Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (a.k.a. GISS) a world-class climate-science facility. One day last year, I came to GISS with a far-out proposal. In my work as an astrophysicist, I’d begun researching global warming from an “astrobiological perspective.” That meant asking whether any industrial civilization that rises on any planet will, through their own activity, trigger their own version of a climate shift. I was visiting GISS that day hoping to gain some climate science insights and, perhaps, collaborators. That’s how I ended up in Gavin’s office.
Just as I was revving up my pitch, Gavin stopped me in my tracks.
The peppy mixed messaging of I Feel Pretty is only the latest reminder: American culture doesn’t fully know what it’s talking about when it talks about attractiveness.
Every once in a while I’ll rewatch an old episode of Friends, because it’s familiar and soothing and there. The other day, Netflix served up one of those flashbacks the show would sometimes air to poke light fun at the friends and at the visual absurdities involved with being alive in the ’80s: Rachel in chintz, Ross and Chandler in tragicomic Flock of Seagulls bouffants, etc. Watching the meta-nostalgia, I was reminded of the existence of a minor character who nonetheless plays a major role in the show’s universe: Fat Monica.
Fat Monica is technically just a younger—and slightly larger—version of Standard Issue Monica; what becomes wincingly clear, though, as the Friends flashbacks play out, is that Fat Monica differs from the other Monica not just in scale, but in kind. Padded by her former girth, Monica Geller—the person who categorizes her hand towels and designates committees for the planning of birthday parties and is, in general, in thorough control of her life and her Type A-tastic self—undergoes a transformation: Her voice gets higher. Her movements become jerking and awkward. She giggles a lot, uncomfortably. Remember when, in those late-series episodes of Family Matters, Steve Urkel would go into that flashing box and emerge as the suave Stefan Urquelle? Fat Monica’s metamorphosis is a little like that, but in reverse: The transformation depletes her dignity rather than compounding it. She becomes bashful. Childish. Foolish. Watching the proceedings, you start to wonder whether Monica Geller, for the purposes of the flashback scenes, was given a fat suit or a lobotomy.