Under The Cloak — Jelani Cobb on how sexual predators keep up appearances.
The great mystery of evil is not that it persists but, rather, that so many of its practitioners wish to do so while being thought of as saints. Consider the fact that such a bizarre, oxymoronic accolade as the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples once existed—and that it was created after his plans for agricultural collectivization resulted in the deaths of some four million Ukrainians. Once considered a hallmark of Soviet ineptitude, the starvation now appears, Anne Applebaum writes in her new book, “Red Famine,” to have been the deliberate result of a plan to rid the state of a rebellious peasantry. Or think of Leopold II, the nineteenth-century Belgian king who carefully cultivated a reputation for outsized philanthropy and Christian devotion while overseeing the ruthless subjugation of the population of the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, and commanding an army that committed massacres and routine disfigurements of locals. These are hypocrisies on the grand brutal scale, but, as the past week has demonstrated once again, there is no shortage of smaller tyrannies and compromised altruism in our times and in our midst.
In a matter of days, Harvey Weinstein went from being heralded as a formidable media titan to being accused as a serial sexual predator. The charges of sexual harassment levelled against him last Thursday in a New York Times report, followed by further allegations in Ronan Farrow’s article published by The New Yorker, five days later, bracketed a period that saw a maelstrom of social-media outrage and Weinstein’s firing from the prestigious film company that he had helped found. There have since been reports that his wife is leaving him, and he has come under investigation by police in New York City and London, and been accused of rape by a fourth woman. Last Saturday, in a statement that appeared to prove that, like Einsteinian space-time, irony is capable of bending to dimensions that we cannot fully grasp, Donald Trump remarked that he had known Weinstein for a long time and “I am not at all surprised.” Game, as the adage says, recognizes game.
What is perhaps more notable than the fact that Weinstein’s alleged transgressions could persist for so long with so little scrutiny is that they coexisted with his reputation as a stalwart of progressive causes. Weinstein’s films generated more than three hundred Oscar nominations and earned Best Actress honors for several women in films that he produced. In any other context, this would be a banner legacy of helping women achieve standing and power in an industry that, as the director Ava DuVernay has said, was “created by men, for men, to tell stories about men.” Last week, it was reported that Weinstein had pledged five million dollars to the University of Southern California film school toward a scholarship fund for female filmmakers. (The school is reportedly rejecting the pledge.) He also championed Hillary Clinton’s bid to be the first female President of the United States, and donated to the campaigns of a number of other women, including Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Both women are now donating the money to charities.)
Weinstein’s palette of giving earned him the standing as a man who was, if not an embodiment of male progressivism, at least someone willing to stand on its periphery. In that way, Weinstein’s public demise recalls Hugh Hefner’s mortal one, last month. Hefner, whose great realization, as my colleague Adam Gopnik has pointed out, was that virtually anything, even pornography, can be mainstreamed in America if it is paired with a measure of upper-class aspiration, contained contradictions similar to Weinstein’s, though they were a great deal more transparent. Critics maintained that Hefner innovated the tradition of female objectification and hijacked the idea of women’s sexual autonomy for his own agenda of furthering male prerogatives. His defenders claimed that he “empowered” women—a vague term that can be deployed to camouflage the fact that one group of people is getting rich while the “empowered” group is getting hustled—and was a strong advocate of women’s reproductive rights and of civil rights. The reality, though, is that it’s possible, maybe even typical, for all these things to be true.
It’s not uncommon for people to tangentially benefit groups that they’re simultaneously exploiting. Note that of the boldface names recently associated with charges of sexual harassment or assault—Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Weinstein—every one of them could, and some did, argue that they’d hired and promoted women in their professional enterprises. None of this obviates the possibility that any of them harassed or assaulted women in those same enterprises.
It’s striking that a former temporary employee at the Weinstein Company reported to Farrow that Weinstein had said that “he’d never had to do anything like Bill Cosby”—apparently a reference to the fact that some of Cosby’s accusers have said that he drugged them prior to assaulting them—though otherwise there are distinct similarities in the accounts of how both men used their positions of power against vulnerable women whose careers they purported to help. Another commonality extends to their relationships with philanthropy.
Bill Cosby was particularly hailed for his largesse in the nineteen-eighties, when he paid college tuition for students in need who wrote to him, created scholarships, and gave broadly to causes connected to African-Americans. The donation that cemented his status as a minor deity among African-Americans came when he and his wife, Camille, donated twenty million dollars to Spelman College, in Atlanta, in 1988. At the time, it was the largest single donation ever given to a historically black college. The fact that Spelman is also a women’s college seemed to certify Cosby as a man whose credentials as a humanitarian were beyond impeachment. (Amid the swirling controversy over Cosby’s behavior, the college terminated a professorship endowed in his name and returned related funds in 2015.)
One view is that philanthropy can operate as a kind of penance mechanism. The individual who recognizes that he has done wrong attempts to make good in equal measure, to place a thumb on the scale of karma. This kind of moral licensing—do-gooding to offset wrongdoing—is not unusual. We just recognized the annual awarding of an international peace prize created by a man who grew rich from the sales of dynamite and the attendant war munitions. Many of the great name-brand foundations were created in honor of individuals whose personal character or wealth was connected to deeply morally compromising actions.
Yet this is not quite what seems to be happening here. Both Weinstein and Cosby gave publicly and visibly, and that inevitably created situations which also left their beneficiaries vulnerable. When Fareed Zakaria interviewed Hillary Clinton earlier this week, she denied any knowledge of Weinstein’s alleged history of predation, which prompted Anthony Bourdain, who is currently in a relationship with one of Weinstein’s accusers, to suggest on Twitter that Clinton’s claim strained credulity. (Clinton seems fated to be in close proximity to men who both assist her career and undermine it through their alleged sexual impropriety.)
A Weinstein Company executive told Farrow that she was particularly disturbed that Weinstein seemed to use female employees as “a honeypot to lure these women in, to make them feel safe.” In that light, the philanthropy can be seen as a sort of honeypot scheme, in which a concern for social issues lulls people into seeing only one side of the giver. In some cases, charity doesn’t contradict monstrosity. It enables it.
Governing By Disruption — Dan Balz in the Washington Post.
Nine months into his first term, President Trump is perfecting a style of leadership commensurate with his campaign promise to disrupt business as usual in Washington. Call it governing by cattle prod.
It is a tactic borne of frustration and dissatisfaction. Its impact has been to overload the circuits of government — from Capitol Hill to the White House to the Pentagon to the State Department and beyond. In the face of his own unhappiness, the president is trying to raise the pain level wherever he can.
The permanent campaign has long been a staple of politics in this country, the idea that running for office never stops and that decisions are shaped by what will help one candidate or another, one party or another, win the next election.
President Trump has raised this to a high and at times destructive art. He cares about ratings, praise and success. Absent demonstrable achievements, he reverts to what worked during the campaign, which is to depend on his own instincts and to touch the hot buttons that roused his voters in 2016. As president, he has never tried seriously to reach beyond that base.
The past week was a perfect example of the Trump school of governing. Start with the end of the week. In rapid succession between late Thursday and midday Friday, he took steps to break the Affordable Care Act and then potentially end the Iran nuclear agreement.
These moves will earn him accolades from the people who supported his candidacy last year, which might be the principal objective. But neither action solved a problem. It will be left to others to do that, if they can. In a few hours, the nation and the world got a double dose of what Trump’s frustrations can mean in terms of their impact on important issues.
Those were only two of the moments that defined the president’s disruptive style of leadership in just one week. It was, after all, only a week ago that the president started a Twitter war with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). The tweets resulted in Corker firing off a snarky tweet in return and then bluntly calling out the president’s character and fitness in a New York Times interview in which he warned that the president’s recklessness could result in World War III.
It was also within that week that the president, with an assist from Vice President Pence, escalated and perhaps seized the advantage in his feud with professional football players who kneel during the national anthem. Amid outrage from his critics, Trump has managed to turn an issue that once was about police violence in minority communities into a cultural battle about patriotism, the flag and pride in the military. His critics are now on the defensive.
The week saw one other example of Trump’s governing by pique. Hours before the steps he took on health care, he lashed out again at critics of his handling of the hurricane cleanup in Puerto Rico, tweeting that he would cut back the federal response. Like many of his tweets, it is no doubt an idle threat, but one nonetheless designed to give a jolt of displeasure to the status quo.
Trump’s Twitter feed is an obsession, both for a president who finds release through 140-character blasts at opponents or enemies and for a media trained to jump at the moment the tweets light up smartphones. But his actions on health care and Iran were reminders that the most consequential steps are those in which he is attempting to reverse course on policies without a clear sense of a path to success.
There’s little doubt that part of the president’s motivation is to undo what former president Barack Obama did. He campaigned against Obamacare, although his prescriptions for what should replace it lacked consistency or, for that matter, clear alternatives. He railed against the Iran nuclear deal and now is trying to undo it despite the fact that all relevant parties say the Iranians are adhering to its terms.
Trump prefers to look past that history. He wants his supporters to believe that he is trying to fulfill his campaign promises in the face of resistance from entrenched powers. If it doesn’t get done, pin the blame on others. It’s still the president vs. the swamp.
The president asks much — of the Congress and of his own team. Congress is flailing, and now the president has added to the burdens on the backs of legislators. Lawmakers still must deal with funding the government and acting on the debt ceiling. Trump also wants a big tax bill, as do Republicans, and the work on that has been going on for months without any major action.
Beyond that, Trump has tossed the issue of the “dreamers” into the laps of lawmakers, with a clock ticking on action. He made a tentative deal with Democrats, but there is disagreement on the terms. So far there’s no sign of an accord. Now he has decided to force Congress to act on whether to fund the insurance subsidies that help lower-income Americans purchase health insurance. That’s another way he’s trying to bring the Democrats to the table, but the potential political costs to his party in 2018 could be significant.
The policy initiative aimed at Iran has some merit. The Obama administration tried to say that the nuclear agreement should be seen as a separate issue from other bad actions by the Iranians and that making the deal to block the Iranian path to nuclear weapons didn’t lessen concerns about the funding of terrorism and other activities.
Trump is trying to ratchet up attention to those problems but by threatening to walk away from the nuclear agreement has created a rift with U.S. partners to that pact that will necessarily complicate prospects for overall success.
But there is another element related to the Iran initiative that should not be overlooked, which is the danger of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. That is a far more dangerous situation at the moment and one that requires constant attention from the president’s national security team. Foreign policy experts worry that by opening up a new confrontation with Iran, the administration may be stretching its capacity to handle both matters with the patience, skill and delicacy they require. Presidential tweets aimed at Kim Jong Un have not and probably will not resolve the North Korea standoff.
The president has proved himself capable and willing to start controversies and policy confrontations. That’s what being a disrupter is all about. But there is more to the presidency than initiating conflict, and on that measure, Trump has much to prove.
Final Approach — Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker remembers the 747.
How much do I, a Boeing 747 pilot, love the airplane that I fly? It’s tough, and maybe a little embarrassing, to answer. But as the iconic jet’s eventual retirement draws closer, I am surely not the only 747 fan who’s taking some very long flights down memory lane.
To share with you the jumbo dimensions of my 747 obsession, I could describe my wedding cake (hint: it had wings of marzipan, and four chocolate engines). I could share my Twitter moniker, @markv747. Or I could go farther back, to the day when I, an awkward 14-year-old, stood with my mom and dad atop the Pan Am terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and stared in wonder at the towering tail fins of the 747s all around us, as proud and promising to my wide-opened eyes as masts in a harbor.
I could tell you pretty much everything about my first passenger flight on a 747, a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight to Amsterdam, on June 25, 1988 (in 33A — a window seat, of course). And I’d certainly describe the marvelous night of Dec. 12, 2007, when I first piloted a 747, for British Airways, the airline I now fly for, from London to Hong Kong. That night the majesty of the 747 made the experience of takeoff new again, as joyful as it had been on my first flying lesson years earlier, when a steely-eyed instructor and I strapped ourselves into a Cessna, rumbled down the runway of my hometown airport in Pittsfield, Mass., and lifted into an autumn-blue Berkshire sky.
Recent news reports have suggested that the last 747s in passenger service with U.S. airlines will be retired this year. It’s worth noting that other 747s — including refurbished, newer and cargo versions — will fly for years to come. New passenger 747s took flight as recently as this summer, and cargo models continue to roll off the assembly line. Nevertheless, as many 747 pilots start to ponder which aircraft we’ll fly next (personally, I am drawn to the sleek lines and “Star Trek”-caliber cockpit of the Boeing 787), it is a good time to reflect on the outsize importance of the plane known as “Queen of the Skies” — not just to its most passionate and geekiest, pilots, but to billions of passengers and to the world it helped change.
For those who grew up under 747-crossed skies, it can be hard to appreciate how revolutionary the jet’s dimensions were when it first (and improbably, to some observers) got airborne in 1969. The inaugural model, the 747-100, was the world’s first wide-bodied airliner. The jet weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds more than its predecessors (the Boeing 707, for example), and carried more than twice as many passengers. Born in a factory so large that clouds once formed within it, the 747-100 was nearly twice as long as the Wright brothers’ entire first flight.
The aviation historian Martin Bowman has written that during the 747’s first takeoff, from Paine Field, in Everett, Wash., in February 1969, the blast of its engines knocked over a photographer. Indeed, the jet’s elephantine proportions were both a gift and a challenge to the travel industry. Peter Walter, who retired in 2011 after 47 years in ground-based aviation jobs, shared with me his memories of the day the 747 first came to the airport in Freeport, Bahamas. “The aircraft did not look all that big on the runway, but once it was on the ramp it looked enormous,” he wrote. The mobile steps that had serviced a previous generation of airliners were too short, so crews stacked one set of steps atop another in order to reach the lofty doors of the new leviathan.
For pilots, crew members and passengers who love the 747, it’s easy to forget that the airliner was first of all a business proposition, one that aimed to harness economies of scale and a raft of new technologies to cut the seat-per-mile cost of air travel by about 30 percent. Yet on a planet that previously only the richest could cross at will, the 747’s most lasting impact may have been on everyday notions of distance and difference. Having inaugurated the “age of mass intercontinental travel,” wrote the scholar Vaclav Smil, the 747 “became a powerful symbol of global civilization.” The writer J.G. Ballard compared the jet to nothing less than the Parthenon — each the embodiment of “an entire geopolitical world-view.” Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s legendary founder, called the 747 “a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind’s destiny.”
The hopes and fears of the era that gave us the 747 can seem distant. Nor is it easy, in the age of the internet, to feel the same awe at the 747’s ability to shrink and connect the world. Looking back, it’s perhaps enough to marvel at the billions of reunions, migrations, exchanges and collaborations of all manner that were made possible, or at least more affordable, by this aircraft. Today, the equivalent of around half the planet’s population has flown on a 747. The jets have also served in firefighting, military and humanitarian roles. In 1991, as part of Operation Solomon, about 1,100 Ethiopian Jews boarded the 747 that would take them to Israel. Never before had an aircraft carried so many passengers — including, by the time the jet touched down, several babies born midair.
If the 747’s place in history is assured, so too, it seems, is its cultural stature. The jet remains a go-to synonym for aerial enormity, one that a “Game of Thrones” director recently deployed to suggest the dimensions of a dragon. The 747 also endures as a symbol of speed, escape and, frankly, sexiness, one that — along with the pleasingly palindromic rhythm of its number-name — has appealed in particular to singers. A 747 playlist might include Prince (“you are flying aboard the seduction 747”); Earth, Wind and Fire (“just move yourself and glide like a 747”); and Joni Mitchell, who gave perhaps my favorite tribute to 747s (“…over geometric farms.”)
The jet also seems certain to be remembered as an icon of modern design. “This is one of the great ones,” said Charles Lindbergh of the aircraft that many consider to be uniquely good-looking. I am surely not the first to speculate that the jet’s distinctive hump (fashioned to facilitate cargo-loading in a future that many expected to be dominated by supersonic passenger jets) suggests the graceful head of an avian archetype. Frequently, looking up from my cockpit paperwork, I’ll spot several passengers in the terminal photographing the very jet in which I am sitting. I often see even senior 747 pilots disembark the aircraft that they’ve just spent 11 hours flying to Cape Town or Los Angeles, and then pause, turn around and photograph it.
Indeed, the jet may be most esteemed by those who have been lucky enough to fly it. The very first to do so, the test pilot Jack Waddell, described it as “a pilot’s dream” and a “two-finger airplane” — one that can be flown with just the forefinger and thumb on the control wheel; it is hard to imagine higher praise for such an enormous aircraft. Personally, I find the aircraft to be both smooth and maneuverable, a joy to fly and to land.
Like every 747 pilot since, Mr. Waddell also took a keen interest in how the plane looked. Remarkably, he did so even as he was piloting the new jet on that first-ever flight. “What kind of a looking ship is this from out there, Paul?” he said over the radio to Paul Bennett, a pilot in the “chase” aircraft that was following the newborn 747 through the skies of the Pacific Northwest. The reply from Mr. Bennett echoes through aviation history: “It’s very good looking, Jack. Fantastic!”
Many 747 pilots feel the same, and are pleased, but not surprised, to hear that the British architect Norman Foster once named the aircraft his favorite building of the 20th century. Now, well into the 21st century, I asked Mr. Foster for an update. The 747 “still moves me now as it did then,” he told me in an email. “Perhaps with the passage of time, and in an age of ‘look-alikes,’ even more so.”
Mr. Foster has plenty of company. At the start of my first book, a sort of love letter to my job as a pilot, I invited readers to send me their favorite window seat photographs. Many also wrote to share their particular passion for the 747. One reader detailed his first 747 flight, on Alitalia, bound for Rome in 1971. “I have been hooked ever since,” he said. Another, Andrew Flowers, a 42-year-old South African writer who lives in Helsinki, wrote that the 747s he saw as a child in Cape Town stood for what “I wanted most in the world: a way to Europe, to adventure, to freedom.”
When Mr. Foster emailed me, he also attached a transcript of remarks he made about the 747 in a 1991 BBC documentary. “I suppose it’s the grandeur, the scale; it’s heroic, it’s also pure sculpture,” he said then of the jet. “It does not really need to fly, it could sit on the ground, it could be in a museum.”
Today the first 747 is indeed in a museum — the Museum of Flight in Seattle. When I last visited, I couldn’t stay long. (Inevitably, I had a flight to catch.) But if you see me there another time — perhaps in a few decades when I myself am retired, with more time, I hope, to sit on benches and listen to Joni Mitchell — come say hello. I’ll tell you how much I loved this plane, and how sorry I was that my parents did not live to join me on one of my flights. Perhaps you’ll tell me about the first time you ever saw a 747, or flew on one, and together we’ll marvel at how it towers above us even at its lowest altitude, even as it rests on the world.
Doonesbury — Ink now, regret later.