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What’s More American Than Skydiving?

Legs and feet of skydiver above coastline
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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Encounters with freedom, optimism, and exploration at 10,000 feet

When I quit my first real job, I didn’t have a plan. I just walked out with the recklessness of a Harvard graduate who had come of age during the Clinton-era Internet bubble. I was barely out the door when reality set in, and elation gave way to doubts about the wobbling post-Y2K economy. What if I had doomed myself to poverty? I wanted catharsis. That’s when I got the idea to jump out of an airplane.

Soon after, in a boozy haze at a San Francisco loft party, I recruited friends to skydive with me over the Russian River. Everyone sounded brave, but the next morning I was the only one who showed up. Instead of bowing out, I signed the paperwork. My senses felt dulled by a vortex of never-ending work and play, and I wondered what my inner voice would tell me about the path ahead if I could actually hear it.

When we opened the door at 10,000 feet, the only thing I saw was blue. It was a threshold to air, to nothingness. I am scared of heights, but the blue was more abstract: the terror of the unknown. I hadn’t even told my parents I was going to jump. I dug in for a moment, heartbeat in my throat, reconsidering.

The tandem instructor nudged me toward the edge like a reluctant sheep while telling me to pull back my head. I breathed deep, looked up, and, much to my surprise, found calm. Safety was supposed to be inside the plane, with a seatbelt on. But a deeper voice stirred, and it said: Maybe the places most enclosed—by walls, by rules—are the ones that pose the greatest danger. After all, isn’t that why I had quit my job? Outside was an uninhibited place, full of possibility.

“Ready, set …” And we launched into the wind.

My senses were overwhelmed by the relative wind at terminal velocity, a feeling not of falling but of flying. The parachute deployed with a big, decelerating tug. In the quiet peacefulness under the nylon canopy, floating thousands of feet above the sparkling river and green hills, I came home to myself.

We reached the ground softly. My instructor high-fived me and said, “You could be good at this!” I was adrenalized to the gills, driving away well over the speed limit with the windows down, radio blasting and dancing like a maniac. The following week, I started training for my first skydiving license. Sometimes I was so scared to jump that I prayed for high winds to keep me on the ground. Still, I kept showing up.

Exiting through that door became a passion, an addiction, a ritual. I woke up early to go skydiving at tiny little airstrips surrounded by artichoke fields. People I would never have encountered in the Harvard bubble changed the way I thought about friendship. The drop zone was a magical equalizer, where trust fund kids with BMWs hung out with elevator technicians. Parachute packers living on ramen noodles schooled emergency room doctors in flying skills.

There are skydivers all over the world, but the United States has the greatest numbers—our Parachute Association has around 35,000 members. We are a big country with a relatively free market for personal risk-taking and a high enough average income to put extreme sports within popular reach. The early history of sport skydiving is filled with innovations by both members of the military and pot-smoking, barefoot hippies, reflecting a cultural and socio-economic diversity that is rare in places where skydiving is more expensive and therefore more exclusive.

True, the sport’s pioneers were largely white and male, and skydiving remains demographically skewed that way. The culture is evolving to be more inclusive and welcoming to minorities (for whom daily life may seem to carry enough risk). No matter what they look like, the skydivers I’ve encountered in this country seem to share the core values of freedom, optimism, and exploration, all essential elements of the American character.

About a year after I started jumping, I embraced my own desire for new frontiers. I sold most of my belongings and moved to South Africa to pursue my dream of a meaningful career researching the impacts of war and violence on marginalized communities. Taking my skydiving rig with me, I fell in love with the man who first drove me to the Johannesburg Skydiving Club. Freefall became an emotional choice.

Eric, who became my life partner, was the chief instructor at the club and an early adopter of the new discipline of wingsuit flying. A wingsuit is a jumpsuit spanning nylon between arms and legs to transform the body into a human glider (think: flying squirrel). Eric taught me how to use one, igniting a shared passion.

We spent weekends at the drop zone chasing clouds and holding hands. Sometimes at the end of a day we would sit at the end of the runway, tracing its cracks, philosophizing as we took the world apart and put it back together. We knew what we did carried risk, and we talked about what would happen if one of us died.

It was a Sunday morning when I got the call. Eric had made a small mistake on a high-speed landing and the error had, as he had once phrased it, “cascaded into eternity.” All of the matter in the universe is sucked into the moment when the consequences of risk become real. The impossible density of it squeezed everything alive inside of me into pulpy deadness.

As a skydiver, I had learned to handle situations most people can’t deal with. Even beyond the sport we both loved, Eric had never shied away from bearing responsibility for others, even when doing so was painful. And so I wrapped his strength and conviction around my own and refused to give up on our—now my—life.

Four months passed before I was ready to try skydiving again. I didn’t want to let fear of the unknown—how would it feel to fly again without him?—dictate whether I quit. On my first jump back, I wept in the plane and performed the ritual of exiting into the blue. When the time came, it took everything I had to pull my parachute and choose life. I saw him next to me, flying on, and understood that I could not follow. Yet there was so much joy in sharing the flight.

Eight months later, I took some of his ashes up on a wingsuit jump and set them free. Achingly, I dismantled the dream life I had built and returned to the United States, where I felt I had the greatest chance at finding another open door. I spend a lot of my life in the air now, teaching people to fly and organizing world record wingsuit formations. I survived the transitions from sensory-overloaded novice to lifelong student to teacher and leader. On this path, Eric became part of me.

I continue to bear witness to small human errors that take my friends away. But like any other risk-embracing journey, there are trade-offs that make the seemingly perpetual loss worth it. I have become part of a family made up of people from all walks of life. We are joined by our desire to experience the space between sky and ground, using the very force that pulls us down to help us fly. My hope is that our resilience, and the triumphs of our explorations, will inspire all who dream of freedom in any form to take the first step.

Taya Weiss is a professional skydiver, wingsuit flyer, and chronicler of gravity-powered adventures. More of her writing can be found at http://www.tayaweiss.com. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Cards Against Humanity Introduces Science-Themed Cards to Fund College Scholarships for Women

Students play Cards Against Humanity in Denver, Colorado in 2012.
Brian Cahn—Zuma Press/Corbis Students play Cards Against Humanity in Denver, Colorado in 2012.

The scholarships will be funded by sales of the game's new expansion pack

Playing Cards Against Humanity can result in one laugh-out-loud joke after another, but a new college scholarship sponsored by the game’s creators is no joke.

The company says proceeds from sales of its new science-themed expansion pack will go toward its new Science Ambassador Scholarship, which will offer a full ride for women who want to pursue undergraduate degrees in science and are starting college in the fall of 2016.

Applications will be reviewed by more than forty judges who have worked at NASA, Harvard Medical School and the National Science Foundation, among other prestigious institutions. The program will also be run in partnership with Zach Weinersmith of the web comic “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal” and astronomer Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy book and blog series.

Game co-creator Josh Dillon, who is getting a PhD in astrophysics at MIT, said in a statement: “Women are underrepresented in science, tech, engineering, and math, and we felt like the funding from this pack could have the greatest impact by making it possible for more women to get an education in those fields.”

Needless to say, while the game is a way to make science more fun, women studying for finals in these courses should not mistake these cards for flash cards.


TIME society

Watch a Woman Recreate 100 Years of Fitness Trends in 100 Seconds

Grab some hand weights

A new viral video pays tribute to fitness trends from the early 20th century to the present day, where Zumba! classes are apparently all the rage.

Produced by Benenden Health, a healthcare service in the U.K., the clip showcases every fitness fad, such as stretches dating back to the 1920s that mimic the Charleston dance moves, and the Trim Twist, which dates back to the 1960s and consists of a brown board that women would stand on to twist away “bulging thighs” and “heaping hips,” as one advertisement put it.

The montage will also bring back memories of Jazzercise, 80s aerobics and workout wear that consists of wearing fanny packs over brightly-colored leotards — and aren’t we glad those days are behind us?

Read next: See 100 Years of Korean Beauty Trends In Just 90 Seconds

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TIME Innovation

When Technology Helps Us Become More Human


The human desire to help combined with new technological tools could create solutions to some of the world's biggest problems

It was Tuesday January 12, 2010, and the Haitian capital had just been hit with a massive earthquake.

Far away in Boston, Fletcher School PhD candidate Patrick Meier was faced with a wrenching problem: his wife, also a Fletcher student, was in Port-au-Prince, and he couldn’t get in touch with her. “The anxiety was nearly paralyzing,” he said at a recent event at New America. “I needed to focus, to do something – anything.”

A specialist in so-called “liberation technologies,” Meier realized there was one thing he could do: create a crisis map of the disaster, mapping everything from CNN reports to Tweets. The job of finding and geo-referencing news reports and social media postings soon became too big for him, and Meier reached out to friends at Fletcher and beyond to assist him.

By the following Saturday, Meier found himself commanding a nerve center of fellow volunteers—some there in person, others in touch via Internet—from his dorm room. Together, they were sorting and tagging Tweets using the Ushahidi mapping platform. They were also using Google Maps to support search and rescue efforts on the ground. Eventually, their efforts led to working with a Haitian telecom provider to launch a SMS help line service that could send messages directly into the group’s inbox.

Because many of the volunteers hailed from the Haitian diaspora abroad, Meier’s group was able to use high resolution satellite imagery to update the woefully out-of-date maps of Port-au-Prince on Open Street Maps.

The work that Meier and his group did accomplished more than helping him focus on “something else” while he waited to hear word from his wife (who was thankfully unharmed). They connected missing people with relief efforts on the ground. The US Marine Corps commended them, with one contact claiming their crisis map was “saving lives every day.”

But after Haiti, the nerve center they had created was still active and wondering: what was next? With the assistance of the Internet and social media, volunteers in their own homes — dubbed by Meier as “Digital Jedis” — now appeared to have an important place in international disaster response. With this in mind, Meier founded the Digital Humanitarian Network, which serves as a middle-man between volunteer and technical networks, and the digital networks of volunteers who can assist them when disaster strikes.

These digital humanitarians who have joined the network, and the basic human altruism that animates them, have inspired Meier’s new book: Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response. Meier is Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) where he wrote the book, which highlights many of the cutting edge humanitarian technologies developed by QCRI. To Meier, there are two common threads in the examples of digital humanitarianism in the new publication: technology and hope. What matters is combining these two essential elements to create projects that truly work – combining the human desire to help with new technological tools that can enhance human abilities.

One major problem with data-driven disaster response is volume: for example, the volunteers in Haiti worked tirelessly, but they were only able to categorize so much data themselves. An essential problem with tech-savvy disaster response, Meier argues, is that we have collectively moved from a period where responders had too little data to one where they often have entirely too much.

“Humanitarian organizations are in no way prepared to deal with a flood of information from disasters,” Meier explains, likening their task to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack — identifying one Tweet or SMS that will help lead to a missing person. “The overflow of information can be just as paralyzing as the lack thereof for humanitarian responders.”

Data overload isn’t the only problem with technology-driven disaster response: there’s also the matter of verification. 2012’s Hurricane Sandy saw the Internet flooded with cleverly Photoshopped images of a waterlogged New York City, images which many took to be the real thing. The resulting confusion obfuscated the real story, and it’s a problem that digital humanitarians, per Meier, need to avoid.

The good news, says Meier, is that in our digital world, we’ve far outstripped the degrees of connection Kevin Bacon enjoys – “We’re all about 1 or 2 hops from an eyewitness,” he argues. This connectivity inspired the experimental Verily “time-critical crowdsourcing” service, which asks volunteers to answer simple “Yes, because” or “No, because” questions about certain disaster data.

“We’re looking to crowdsource critical thinking,” says Meier of the service. “Part of the Verily mandate is to educate and create a more skilled online sphere.” Verily is a QCRI-led initiative.

In his book, Meier also looks at the importance of aerial imagery, and how collecting this data has been made more accessible by recent advances in UAV (drone) technology. It can take 64 hours for satellites to collect data that can be used for disaster response, a long turn-around time when lives are on the line. Camera-bearing UAVs flown by a trained team can collect aerial imagery in hours, allowing rescue teams both on the ground and on the Internet to respond quickly. QCRI’s UAViators group currently hosts a crowdsourced crisis map of drone imagery and footage, allowing pilots from around the world to upload in real time from the scene of a crisis.

Digital humanitarianism, Meier stresses, isn’t just a matter of technological expertise. “It’s easy to just see dots on a map doing while we’re doing crisis mapping, Meier says. “It’s important to remind ourselves this is more than just technical exercise. It’s because people care that these crisis maps exist – it’s a story about humanity and what it means to be human.”

Faine Greenwood is a Field Analyst in the International Security Program at New America. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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Is America Still the Home of the Brave?

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Tracing a national tradition from the American revolutionaries and Amelia Earhart to graffiti artists and venture capitalists

On January 14, 2015, the world waited with bated breath as Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson came over the rim of a notoriously steep section of the rock known as El Capitan, the largest single block of granite in the world. Over the course of 19 days, the pair had climbed the Dawn Wall, the most difficult part of the famous rock formation at Yosemite National Park, with just their hands and feet; rope and harnesses were used only to break deadly falls. Caldwell and Jorgeson became the first people to “free climb” the Dawn Wall, a feat many thought could never be accomplished.

The pair had trained for more than five years and encountered serious injuries on previous attempts. In recognition of their arduous and potentially fatal quest, one of them even called this climb his Moby-Dick, after that white whale that taunted—and destroyed—Captain Ahab. When Caldwell and Jorgeson made it to the top with their bloodied, bandaged, and superglued fingers, it was such a quintessential moment of American optimism that even President Obama sent his congratulations, tweeting, “You remind us that anything is possible.”

Could anyone other than Americans have scaled this incredibly difficult granite face with so scant a safety net? Of course—but it was Americans who made the seemingly impossible climb. And many of the world’s elite rock climbers—including the one considered the world’s best, Alex Honnold—are Americans. In advance of the “What It Means to Be American” event “Are Americans Risk-Takers?” we asked scholars and people who dabble in risk for a living: What is it about American culture that encourages risk-taking?

A young mindset for a young country — Joyce Appleby

Risk-taking appeals to the young; it’s only as we grow older that we’re cautioned by the downsides. One of the remarkable aspects of the American Revolution is the freedom won by young people. Both girls and boys escaped the drudgery of farming by becoming schoolteachers, an occupation greatly expanded after the Revolution. Similarly, the union of the states made it possible for boys to become peddlers, carrying goods from the Northern states to Southern plantations. These experiences made youth a time for experimenting in new careers.

Crucial for risk-takers in the early national period was the fact that old colonial wealth withdrew from speculative economic ventures, leaving many opportunities open to ordinary men and women. Old wealth stayed in the city and benefited from the rise in the prices of urban real estate. Early manufacturing centered in rural areas because of the available water power, and a new enterprise could begin with sweat equity and borrowed seed money from family and friends.

The opening up of the lands in the national domain west of the Appalachian Mountains also enticed many—mostly young people—to pull up stakes and move west where they might acquire land and the respect land ownership bestowed. First comers had an unusual chance to capitalize on their labor, clearing land and selling it to those in the second wave of westward adventurers.

Unlike European societies, American society freed its youth to create their own careers. Giving the natural risk-takers such a free scope led soon to embedding an admiration for risk-taking in American culture. It has continued to prevail as a distinctive feature of the culture of the United States.

Joyce Appleby is professor emeritus of history at UCLA who has studied England, France, and America in the 17th and 18th centuries, focusing on how economic developments changed people’s perceptions of politics, society, and human nature. Her recent publications are The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010) and Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination (2013).

You can’t pass up an opportunity — Sket-One

Living in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave gives us a kind of “I can do that” attitude. No wonder we’re the birthplace of Nike’s “Just do it” campaign. Immigrants have brought their hopes and dreams here for a long time.

Growing up a graffiti artist in America isn’t all that free, and you have to be at least a little brave. To hone your skills, you mostly have to make art illegally—most people don’t have large blank walls sitting that they’re allowed to practice on. I remember being a kid and writing all my plans on pieces of paper—what colors to use, how to execute the sketch of the work I planned to do that night. And then I’d have to sneak out and hike to abandoned places like train yards or bridges. I could’ve been caught, electrocuted, or hit by a train or car. I could’ve been fined, had my artwork removed, or gone to jail. But I did it because I couldn’t find any other outlet to express myself. I wanted to create, and be seen creating.

If I imagine embarking on the same journey in a different country, I’m not sure it would’ve been worth the risk. Friends, for example, have told me about punishment for graffiti in Singapore—from huge fines to caning. If I were hit with a punishment of this caliber, I wouldn’t have continued or received any support for my artistic endeavors. Instead, I have a career doing what I love, and a comfortable home for my family.

Sket-One, also known as Andrew Yasgar, is a painter, illustrator, and designer who began as a graffiti artist in the 1980s. His studio is in Long Beach, California.

The ‘self-made man’ is an entrenched story, but a fable to many — Zulema Valdez

With 13 percent of the working-age population, the United States boasts the highest rate of entrepreneurship across 25 industrialized economies. Robert Fairlie, an economist at the Kauffman Foundation, noted that in 2013, the U.S. economy added 476,000 new business owners each month.

These numbers are consistent with the strongly held belief by most Americans that the United States is the land of opportunity, where anyone with a good idea, a positive attitude, and a willingness to work hard can own a business and succeed. This ideology is expressed by a higher percentage of Americans when compared to people in other nations. In a 2013 report published by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, fully 47 percent of Americans agreed that good opportunities for new businesses exist, and 56 percent “believed they had the capabilities to launch a business.”

Yet the economic reality for most American entrepreneurs is that most businesses fail. Regardless of personal drive, hard work, and risking it all, successful businesses are generally owned by older, white, middle-class men, who, yes, possess a propensity toward risk.

The idea of America as the land of opportunity—which we can even call the American Creed—sparks risk-taking among a large and diverse population willing to take a leap of faith and start a business. What the ideology fails to reveal, however, is that the U.S. remains a highly stratified society where successful entrepreneurs are rarely “self-made.” The Horatio Alger “rags-to-riches” fable is just that, a fable that exists to reinforce the possibility of the American dream. The reality, however, is that risk-taking, while perhaps a necessary ingredient for entrepreneurship, is not sufficient in the absence of human capital (education and work experience), social capital (business networks), and financial capital (personal savings, wealth, access to credit or loans). Ultimately, these factors trump risk-taking, or perhaps diminish the “risk” entirely.

Zulema Valdez is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced and the author of The New Entrepreneurs: How Race, Class, and Gender Shape American Enterprise.

Challenging authority and taking chances is in America’s DNA — Susan Wels

From the beginning, independence and self-determination have been essential elements of the American character. As a culture, we tend to challenge authority and take risks to pursue our own convictions and interests.

That history helps shape who we are, and the scope of our expectations. Amelia Earhart—the first woman and second person to fly solo across the Atlantic—is one example. She grew up in a family of risk-takers. Her grandfather, Alfred Otis, moved to Kansas in 1855 to help escaping slaves—hiding them in trunks and covering them with grain in the back of wagons. He raised his daughter, Amy Otis, to embrace risk, travel, and adventure. She raised her daughter, Amelia Earhart, to have boundless potential. She began Amelia’s baby book with a quote from Ruskin: “Shakespeare has no heroes; he has only heroines.” And Amelia was determined to push every limit and break every boundary. Risk was never a hurdle—it was an attraction.

When I was researching my book on Amelia Earhart, I came across an essay she wrote called “Thrill” that was never published. “When I undertake a task,” she confided in the piece, “over all protest, in spite of all adversity, I sometimes thrill, not with the task, but with the realization that I am doing what I want to do.”

Amelia Earhart was an extraordinary risk-taker. But her insistence on self-determination was quintessentially American, and it was worth everything—even the risk of death on her final, record-setting flight around the world.

Susan Wels is the author of Amelia Earhart: The Thrill of It.

American life is so predictable we can make ‘educated’ guesses — Alfonso Morales

Deciding whether to take a risk involves thinking about a number of variables—the consequences of a bad decision, figuring out your choices, and understanding how much effort you are willing to exert to gather knowledge about a business opportunity or to continue your education, for example.

The relative predictability and stability of American life helps Americans take risks. While corruption scandals do erupt from time to time, the local, state, and federal governments do function, as a general rule. Supermarket shelves are always well stocked unless there is some kind of super storm. Traffic is always bad at 5 p.m. on a weekday. Largely this is the same in “Western” societies where the rule of law provides predictability, but the U.S. combines an ease of entry with an institutional transparency that encourages new immigrants (and others) to funnel their energy into entrepreneurship.

Our society is stable enough that we can imagine the circumstances that have enabled another person to succeed and then take our own risk to do what he or she has done. Our society is also diverse enough that an interest in business found in one generation might get replicated in a very different way in the next generation. For instance, each adult and child in a family I knew at Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market had his or her own business: The adults sold clothing and recorded music; the children had their own line of toy cars, Rubik’s Cubes, and other novelties. They made choices built on previous experiences, and these experiences and incomes led to new, risky choices. Those risks were moderated by investing in the children’s education. (All four children earned post-secondary degrees, including a Ph.D. and a law degree.) This balancing act is not easy, nor are people always successful, but in the U.S. people can see themselves navigating risky situations successfully, even if it means exerting the effort for years before succeeding or even if their efforts might not bear fruit for a generation.

In short, when we take risks, we make “educated” guesses about what we’re going to do.

Alfonso Morales is an associate professor in the department of urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He co-edited the books Street Entrepreneurs and An American Story: Mexican American Entrepreneurship and Wealth Creation.

Our cultural idols are people who are willing to take enormous risk — Peter Sims

I’m not one for pandering the notion of “American exceptionalism” as politicians do. But after working as a venture capital investor in the United States, then in Europe, I realized one day—while riding on a train through the English countryside—that when it came to risk-taking, there really isn’t anything like the culture of entrepreneurship in America.

In England, you’re considered an entrepreneur if you buy a small company and try to grow it. In Germany, most of the economy is driven by the Mittelstand, large, privately held companies that grow 5 to 10 percent a year. In France, Italy, and Spain, government regulations and high capital costs hamper start-ups.

Yet in many parts of America, especially the valleys and universities, almost everyone is an entrepreneur, willing to tinker, toil, and enthuse about ideas late into the night, perfectly aware that failure is probable, even likely. Our cultural idols are the people who are willing to take enormous personal risk and toil through troughs of defeat. They emerge somehow as stronger human beings, perhaps wildly wealthy, or at the very least wiser and more original versions of themselves.

Some call that the American dream. And the challenge in America today is to ensure that entrepreneurial capitalism doesn’t take a back seat to a kind of crony capitalism that excessively enriches executives while cutting back innovation budgets. We don’t want the kind of capitalism that depends on a cozy relationship with government, where contributions flow from corporate pockets to Washington and back, deteriorating our faith in both government and the functioning of our market institutions. In my opinion, the danger in America today is that we forget the courageous, risk-taking, entrepreneurial spirit that got us here, and replace it with a corruption of the ideals that built our country.

Peter Sims is co-founder of The Silicon Guild and founder of The BLK SHP (“black sheep”) Foundation. His latest book is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, which grew out of a long collaboration with faculty at Stanford University’s Institute of Design, as well as his previous work in venture capital.

This article was written for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME World

Here’s How a Germanwings Pilot Reassured Scared Passengers the Day After the Crash

A Germanwings Airbus A320 is seen at the Berlin airport, March 29, 2014. An Airbus plane of the same model crashed in southern France en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, on March 24, 2015 police and aviation officials said.
Jan Seba—Reuters A Germanwings Airbus A320 is seen at the Berlin airport, March 29, 2014. An Airbus plane of the same model crashed in southern France en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, on March 24, 2015 police and aviation officials said.

A woman on board explains a pilot's heartfelt message

The morning after Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into the French Alps—before any real details were known about the state of the plane or co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’ mental state—Britta Englisch hesitantly stepped onto a Germanwings flight from Hamburg to Cologne.

As soon as she walked onto the plane, she and the other passengers were personally welcomed by the pilot, who assured them that he’d get them to their destination safely. Englisch praised the dedicated pilot and crew on Germanwings’ Facebook page Wednesday night, and her heartfelt post has since gone viral—accumulating some 300,000 likes in less than two days.

“This flight was the morning after the crash—at this time no details were known and everything was mere speculation,” Englisch, who lives in Hamburg, tells TIME via email. “Logically it was pretty clear to me, that Germanwings might have been the safest airline at that morning—they doublechecked every plane and pilots and crew were free to choose if they were feeling able to fly or not. Nevertheless I had this feeling in my stomach. Feelings are not logical, are they?”

But her worry subsided after the pilot personally welcomed people as they boarded the plane. “If someone made an uneasy impression, he talked to them,” says Englisch, a PR manager at Stage Entertainment.

After boarding was complete, rather than going into the cockpit, the pilot took a microphone and began to address his passengers.

“He introduced himself and his crew, talked about how he felt—that some of the crew knew someone on the plane, that he also had a slight uneasy feeling not knowing what happened,” Englisch recollects. “[The pilot continued that] he and the crew are there voluntarily, that the company didn’t force anyone to be on duty that day, that he double-checked the plane this morning. [He said that] he has family, kids and a wife who he loves, that the crew has loved ones and [that] he’ll do everything to return safely to them every evening.”

For a moment everyone was silent.

“No one was checking his phone for the last time or reading the papers,” Englisch says, noting that that is unusual for a commuter flight full of businesspeople. “And then everyone applauded.”

Englisch didn’t intend for her post, supporting the grieving airline, to gain so much attention.

“It was just one post amongst thousand others and it was meant to say thank you to the pilot for not hiding in the cockpit but letting us be part of his feelings.”

Here is her post:

Read next: Here’s What We Know About the Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz

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TIME society

This Guy Thought He Could Cheat the Carpool Lane by Riding With ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’

He got fined and Twitter-shamed

Police in Washington state recently encountered a most interesting use of the carpool lane.

Washington State Patrol trooper Guy Gill pulled over a driver with a cardboard cutout of actor Jonathan Goldsmith — otherwise known as the “Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis beer commercials — in his passenger seat so that he could use the carpool lane along Interstate 5 near Tacoma, Wash.

“He’s my best friend,” said the driver, who got a $124 fine and Twitter shamed by Washington State Patrol:

TIME society

It’s Time We Stop Pretending That All Same-Sex Marriages Are Identical

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Once again individual members of a minority group are forced to represent their entire collective


This article is a response to this piece in The Federalist.

In it, the author, Heather Barwick, says she is against same-sex marriage because, despite being raised in what she describes as a nurturing, loving home with two parents, and being left by a father who she describes as having no interest in her, she feels her mother deprived her of a relationship with a father by being married to another woman and that all children raised in same-sex homes are being hurt.

Heather addressed her letter to me as part of the gay community, so mine is addressed to her.

Her point of view comes from her growing up in a same-sex household and raising children in a heterosexual household. My response comes from being raised in a heterosexual household and raising a child in a same-sex household.


First of all, I am sorry you are hurting. I am sorry you feel wronged and damaged by your upbringing. Your feelings are yours and thus are valid and no one can take that from you.

But I do have a problem with what you wrote, and as you said, “it might not be for the reasons that you think.”

You are against gay marriage. Fine.

I disagree with you strongly and think what you wrote is actively damaging to society; especially since you not only insult gay parents, but also single parents, adoptive parents, step parents, and parents of all orientations who use fertility treatments.

But my biggest problem is not your opinion. It is this: once again individual members of a minority group are forced to represent their entire collective.

You say, “Gay community, I am your daughter.”

No, you are not my daughter, Heather.

You can’t speak for my daughter any more than I can speak for your moms.

As a matter of fact, we’re close to the same age. Our kids will inherit the world we are both currently shaping.

But for some reason, you feel totally comfortable saying that you represent my child and your mother represents me. This is something minorities have to deal with all the time.

You are mad that your dad abandoned you. You blame your mom. Your mom is gay. I am gay. Thus, I am your mom.

If I follow your reasoning to it’s logical conclusion then it also applies to kids who have been hurt, or feel deprived and abandoned in the aftermath of straight relationships (which, by the way, happens in higher percentages than the kids of same-sex parents) which would mean traditional marriage should be banned. But you only want to talk about same-sex marriages, since that is your upbringing.

Since you like personal anecdotes, here is mine: I never met my biological father. This was my mother’s choice, not his, but it happened nonetheless. He has since passed away, so I also have no say in this. My mom married a man she fell in love with when I was three, he also raised me as his own until she died when I was 14. He then remarried (a woman) and the home became abusive and was damaging to me. I don’t need to get into details, but it was not the kind loving home that you describe with your mom and her wife.

Yet somehow, I never felt the need to ban all straight marriages because of it. I doubt anyone would ever propose that, because heterosexual marriage is the mainstream, and thus, each individual marriage, and parent, gets to be judged on their own merit.

This is something my wife and I have to deal with a lot. When it comes to our home and our family, we don’t have the luxury of being individuals, we are looked at to represent every lesbian home. It makes my wife angry. She wants to rage at the bigotry and the hate and violence. She has every right to. Change is often brought about by righteous anger. Being polite tends to create doormats.

I tend to handle things in a different way (because, gasp, my wife and I are different people despite both being lesbians). I try to live as what I call an “ambassador gay.” I want to mediate, to bridge the gap, to show how much we are alike, how normal and boring, and just like you I am.

For example, you and I are both moms and I bet our stories of being up at night feeding our infants and changing diapers would sound incredibly similar. I feel a lot of pressure to be the best mom, the best wife, the best person that I can be, not just for myself, but so that I can represent my community well. The reason I feel that pressure, is because of people like you who believe there is such thing as “people like me.” Like somehow every lesbian is just like me. Or every person of color is just like every other.

It’s the reason that when a film starring a woman tanks, Hollywood backs off, but John Carter can bomb without it leading to any shortage of testosterone fueled sci-fi films.

You are hurting and you have a right to voice your own opinion and point of view. Obviously, being raised in a same-sex home made you feel like you were deprived, despite the fact that you say it was a loving home. I am very glad that your husband is a good dad to your kids and you feel they want for nothing. I am sure it will be interesting for you to hear their take when they are grown.

But your experience is your experience and I would appreciate you leaving my daughter out of it and letting her speak for herself when she is old enough to have a voice.

My wife and I are going to make mistakes while raising her. Just like you are with your kids. There will be things that she hates about us and complains about us doing. Our hope is that these will be minor things and that in doing our best we will provide her with a foundation of love and support and some wisdom. She will definitely know that she was wanted, planned for and loved from the very beginning. That’s the best I can do as a parent.

Unlike you, I’m not the kind of person to make judgments about other people’s households. If I were, I’d be more worried about the hurt felt by kids raised in a home that actively belittles and campaigns against families that look different from their own. I’d be worried about a kid whose mother never outgrew the fantasy that somewhere out there exists a super parent who would have never disappointed her. And most of all I would be worried about the hurt caused to a kid who watched their mother project the feelings of rejection and hurt from a willfully absent father onto the person who stepped up and actually did the care giving and the loving.

But, I am not in your home, so I wouldn’t do that to you.

Amanda Deibert wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Settlers of Brooklyn Is a Game About the Hipster Millennials You Love to Hate

Most of the jokes are about kale

The Brooklyn edition of the hit board game Settlers of Catan is out — at least according to a new parody by Above Average, the comedy channel on YouTube launched by Broadway Video, which was founded by Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels.

According to the clip, the mission of this “game of settlement and exploration” is to create a “fully gentrified colony,” for “in the early 2000s, the land of Brook-lan was virtually uninhabited by young adults with wealthy parents.” Kale is the subject of most of the jokes, and Lena Dunham is crowned the winner.

While the fake game is about Brooklyn, the jokes could pretty much apply to any city.



TIME Business

The New Recipe for Women Entrepreneurs to Find Success

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One initiative in New York City is boosting female entrepreneurship

Alicia Glen, New York’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, may have found the city’s special sauce: women entrepreneurs. In unveiling Women Entrepreneurs NYC (WE NYC), a new initiative to increase the number of female entrepreneurs from underserved communities, Glen invoked the case of a would-be mole seller in the Bronx: a woman who has mastered, but not yet marketed, her grandmother’s recipe. “We’re going to teach you how to take that amazing mole recipe and get it into the stream of commerce,” Glen explained. Working with Citi, Goldman Sachs, and microlender Grameen America, WE NYC is precisely the kind of public-private partnership that, done right, has the potential to improve the incomes and lives of low-income women, children and families, create jobs, and drive more broad-based economic growth across the city.

The entrepreneur holds a special place in the American psyche. This is true not only of the nation’s iconic entrepreneurs – Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates – but of the millions of unheralded small business owners whose personal livelihoods, and the vibrancy of their communities, depend on the viability of their enterprises. Research now affirms just how important entrepreneurs are to broader employment: in the last 30 years, start-ups and young companies have been the primary engines of net new job creation in the United States.

When it comes to women and entrepreneurship, the story is both worse – and more promising. The gender gap in entrepreneurship is a real and global phenomenon. In the U.S., where women comprise more than half of the educated population, women-owned businesses account for only 16 percent of the nation’s employer firms (at high growth firms, it is only 10 percent). New York’s data bears this out as well. The State of Women Entrepreneurs in NYC, the preliminary findings of New York City’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS), released in coordination with the WE NYC launch last week, showed that although there has been a steady increase in women-owned businesses in New York – where women entrepreneur businesses represent 32 percent of all registered companies – a significant “economic impact” gap remains: men still own 1.5 times as many businesses as women, employ 3.5 times more people per business, and generate 4.5 times more sales per business.

New York City is not the first to highlight these discrepancies. Much attention has been paid of late to the gender gap in STEM and STEM entrepreneurship at the engineer and employee, board and venture capital level, in Silicon Valley and in the corporate world beyond. These distortions – and their economic and financial costs – have spurred a new kind of investment thesis, one centered on unlocking the value of “gender capitalism” in a number of ways: investing in companies that provide critical goods and services to women or in those that are women owned, led, governed or promote workplace equity more broadly. Increasingly, and in response to (often women led) investor demand for social “impact,” large financial institutions are creating products and vehicles that employ the “gender lens:” U.S. Trust offers clients a Women and Girls Equality (WGES) investment approach (which in 2013 outperformed its S&P 1500 benchmark); Morgan Stanley’s Parity Portfolio screens for companies with three or more women on the board; Barclays Women in Leadership Total Return Index and exchange-traded notes (WIL) includes companies with a female CEO or women comprising at least 25 percent of directors. Sallie Krawcheck, one of the most successful women on Wall Street and former Bank of America executive, recently launched the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund (PXWEX), which invests in companies that advance women in a number of ways. Last week, Pax Ellevate encouraged the companies in its fund to sign on to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a joint initiative of the United Nations Global Company and UN Women (the Principles includes guidelines for ways companies can empower women in the work place, marketplace, and community).

WE NYC harnesses this gender lens, but shifts focus from board room to barrio. The logic is similar – investing in women makes good economic sense – but the program is concerned with the poor in New York City, where nearly 25 percent of all women and girls are economically vulnerable, and where 40 percent of the households headed by a single mother (raising more than one million children) live in poverty.

The blueprint comes less from portfolio theory than it does from places like Bangladesh, where microfinance proved that small loans and supports to women to start and run businesses could be a pathway to income stability and long-term economic security. Such is the hope of WE NYC and why Grameen America, started by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to bring the microfinance to the U.S., is a founding partner.

This kind of collaboration will be critical to WE NYC’s success. In creating the program, the SBS interviewed women entrepreneurs across the city to better understand the obstacles they faced in setting up and expanding their business. The response: access to capital, business education and support systems, gender discrimination, and the challenges of “going it alone.” Accordingly, WE NYC will focus on these fundamentals. With the help of Citi, SBS will target women for existing entrepreneurship programs. Grameen America will provide free business building services to their community of 27,000 women borrowers, most from the city’s low-income communities. SBS will also work closely with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, a program once run by the Deputy Mayor Glen, which too provides entrepreneurs with technical assistance and access to capital. SBS will also continue to draw on existing partners like Brooklyn based Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade and artisanal goods that has participated in “microbusiness” workforce development programs. Etsy, which in 2014 facilitated nearly $2 billion in sales from microentrepreneurs across the globe and has recently filed for IPO, transcends the gender gap: 88% of its sellers are women.

WE NYC aims to serve 5,000 women entrepreneurs over three years. Partnerships are critical not just for the resources to make this possible. They remind all of us about the shared responsibility – and rewards – of broad-based prosperity. Or what Sally Krawcheck calls “the big idea 2015: inclusive capitalism = a more prosperous capitalism.

Georgia Levenson Keohane is a Senior Fellow at New America and Director of the Program on Profits and Purpose. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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