The tech-industry veteran Linda Stone on how to pay attention
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States, and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. More
James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.
Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His two most recent books, Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009), are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.
The tech-industry veteran Linda Stone on how to pay attention
In his reprise as governor, he's been as ruthlessly practical as he's been reflective, embracing his inner politician to restore the California dream.
His full account after the jump. After that is the second case, from Clay Phillips, a retired Navy officer who had a similar experience.The whole episode lasted about 2 hours. While the officers who questioned me were not overtly or personally threatening, the situation was intimidating and threatening. I was never told details of the "profile", so I don't know how to prevent this from happening again, aside from talking to federal employees at all times while flying. I am concerned that DEA and DHS now have files on me. This distresses me GREATLY. I am equally concerned that my plane's tail number is now suspicious in the eyes of law enforcement....[He adds this caveat in a follow up note:] Although my adrenaline gets going when I think about this whole mess, and I can read the US Constitution, I have ENORMOUS respect for the rule of law and for the men and women who put their asses in harm's way to help assure my safety. That includes local, state, & federal law enforcement agents, as well as our military. The people who should answer for this crap are the cowardly bureaucrats who sent all those men, vehicles, airplanes, dogs, and guns out there - not the men dispatched to the scene.
Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of "all America," but he also is singularly the scold of "black America."As I told Ta-Nehisi by phone this evening, I naturally cut Obama more slack on this point than he does. (And of course I hear the speech differently too.) We all take a different tone in setting expectations for "our own." I can hold Americans overseas to a different standard than I would Russians or Japanese; I can harangue (and have!) my colleagues in the press about why we should do better; I expect something from myself and my kids I wouldn't expect from you and your kids, and so on. The challenge for Obama, exactly as Ta-Nehisi pointed out, is that he is simultaneously addressing all Americans as his own (apart from those who consider him alien) while also in this speech addressing as his own the most historically distinct subset of our population.
Silverstein, the pilot in command, raised objections and was given three options: wait inside the FBO [the "Fixed Base Operator," the little office that exists at most small airports] or wait quietly outside, or be detained in handcuffs. An instrument-rated private pilot and AOPA member, Silverstein is also an active real estate investment banker who has never committed a crime, he said.
The three Obama "scandals" have varying characteristics and varying levels of legitimacy, but all three share a meta-story. And I think I know whereof I speak as a former GOP staffer.Beginning with the dethronement of Jim Wright and the House banking scandal, and achieving escape velocity in the mid-1990s with Matt Drudge becoming the virtual assignment editor of the mainstream press during the Clinton impeachment, the Washington press corps has become increasingly "wired" to accept the Republican view of what constitutes a scandal. The public has been ignoring Benghazi for 8 months; as for the Washington press, we saw how Jonathan Karl got played by Republican staffers' misrepresentations of the administration's e-mails.
Let's think about the modern history of "the scandal," and how such episodes emerge.The modern saga all starts with Nixon. Obviously there have been scandals throughout political history, and in the immediate pre-Nixon era you had Bobby Baker, Billy Sol Estes and Walter Jenkins with LBJ; Sherman Adams under Eisenhower; and such different political dramas as the Army-McCarthy hearings in the early Eisenhower era and the Bay of Pigs aftermath under JFK. But Nixon marked the beginning of the modern scandal era. That is because the phenomena of the televised high-stakes public inquiries (as with the Watergate hearings and impeachment preparations) really dates to then, as does modern press-consciousness of how coverage of a big, exciting scandal looks and feels.
I. The main stops along the way:Nixon: Watergate -> hearings -> dramatic revelations -> Supreme Court hearing -> impeachment -> resignation.Also under Nixon: Spiro Agnew taking a brown paper bag full of bribery money, in his Vice Presidential office, and having to resign, something barely remembered now.Nixon era: Teddy Kennedy and Chappaquiddick.Ford: None really.Carter: No long-running ones, despite flaps about his budget director and his chief of staff. But his era marks a major change, since round-the-clock news coverage was just getting going then, and Ted Koppel's Nightline, originally known as America Held Hostage, pioneered what we now think of as scandal-style coverage, of the American captives in Teheran.Reagan: The Iran-contra mess, complete with Fawn Hall and Oliver North.GHW Bush: None, really, though the Clarence Thomas nomination got scandal-style coverage because of the charges against him and the dramatic hearings.Clinton: First the phony scandals of Whitewater and Vince Foster. Then the real problems via Monica Lewinsky. Clinton era notable for the creation/revelation of something like a permanent-scandal mentality in politics and the press.GW Bush: Few scandals in the technical sense. But the election, recount, and judicial overreach known as Bush v. Gore got scandal-style coverage. Then Abu Ghraib, waterboarding and torture, and the war as a whole.
Obama: In his first term, the phony scandals of birtherism and Shirley Sherrod. Now the three-"scandal" combo made of elements that have nothing whatsoever to do with one another and don't necessarily have anything to do with Obama himself but that nonetheless satisfy that phantom-limb craving for a good exciting scandal.II. What a Scandal Takes, to Take Off1. An underlying offense people can understand. Clinton and Monica meet this test. Also Nixon ordering wiretaps, or Agnew taking a bag of money. Iran-Contra was always sort of a struggle on this front -- for people to grasp what exactly the offense was. Today's IRS/Tea Party accusation meets the test (despite complexity of the underlying reality); Benghazi, less so.2. Evidence of president's personal involvement. The Watergate tapes again lead the way here -- Nixon's own voice, cursing and swearing. Monica and Clinton -- whew. Obama "scandals" lacking here.3. A formal hearing/ investigative structure that guarantees an ongoing daily drip-drip-drip coverage. When there is a schedule of witnesses for a hearing, an upcoming set of votes, or a sequence of new revelations, then the story can keep going for weeks, months, even years. Darrel Issa, listen up!4. A press culture and DC culture that is now wired to swing into "scandal mode," and start writing stories and giving commentary reflecting that "narrative."5. A structure of news coverage that keeps the scandal narrative going. This was probably at its strongest in the era of the weekly news magazines (Time, Newsweek, etc.) Then you would have: daily coverage in the papers; nightly coverage on TV news; weekly advancing of the narrative by news mags (and Sunday talk shows); analysis of "Administration in crisis" and "President under pressure"; and it would all keep going. Now, in a sense, the hourly / minute-by-minute cycle can make scandals "burn out" too fast.
The scandals we are talking about in Washington today are not tied to the individual of Barack Obama. While there's still more information to be gathered and more investigations to be done, all indications are that these decisions - on the AP, on the IRS, on Benghazi - don't proceed from him. The talk of impeachment is absurd. The queries of "what did the president know and when did he know it" will probably end up finding out "just about nothing, and right around the time everyone else found out."
Is it your position that any government official should be able to leak any classified information to a journalist with impunity even when that leak endangers lives and compromises national security? Where are your boundaries?And:
I don't think you're really grappling with President Obama's argument in favor of the leak investigation. His argument is straightforward: revealing national security secrets is a matter of life and death for Americans overseas. Anyone who reveals those secrets should be arrested and prosecuted as a matter of justice and deterrence. That's a solid argument, and for you to rebut Obama by talking about the lessons of history is an exercise in evasion. When Aldrich Ames exposed the names of CIA agents and sources to the Soviet Union, those agents and sources were promptly arrested and executed. It seems very likely that the wikileaks data dumps had the same result, especially since Julian Assange refused to redact any of the information. The Bradley Manning court case has been an embarrassment, but it's hard to argue that the federal government should not have moved heaven and earth to find the culprit and prosecute him.Several people also pointed out this item, by Kevin Drum, on why the government took such a hard line in this leak case (although they've been consistently hard on leakers all along). And a university math professor said, in response to my claim that "secrets always get out," "My jaw dropped reading that, given the selection bias inherent in the claim!" (If I had said "all secrets always get out," I would have to respond Touché. My point is that every president has had to cope with "shocking" and "dangerous" releases of classified information.)
I could be persuaded that AG Holder was wrong ... and that President Obama was wrong in backing him. But I am skeptical that the verdict of history is self-evidently against the president, who after all does have a responsibility to protect national security. One of the temptations that presidents should avoid is worrying about looking better in history's eyes. As you know, history is greatly influenced by journalists, who have a certain conflict of interest on issues like this. I am sure the President would rather not prevent journalists from talking to sources (in contrast to President Bush, who would have been overjoyed to send a few journalists to prison), but it's not his top priority. Should it be? You still have to do the hard work of arguing that this tactic, in this instance, was misguided.
What concerns me most about US criticism of China, is the existence of a military-security lobby in Washington that seeks enemies and would like to have China in that status.Those who comprise this lobby vary widely in their motivation, from weapons production and sales to racial paranoia. But collectively they are dangerous.Finally, stepping back, the arrogance of the US in dictating to the rest of the world is stunning, especially as in the last 20 years we are further and further adrift from our alleged principles and from acting on best scientific knowledge. The US is lacking in the ability to reverse-think. My favorite example is imagine how the US would react if China declared Tibetans and Uighurs to be terrorists and decided to strike such groups with drones in the United States, offering $500 to the families of anyone killed as collateral damage.
I'm an American and have lived in China since the fall of 2004, mostly in the capital of [a westerm province] but with a 15-mointh stint in [an eastern province] in 2009-10. I've been teaching English as a foreign language all these years (surprise!) at universities and at private training centers.
The rant you linked to in your piece was interesting to me insofar as I've shared many of the same experiences as that disaffected writer, but he lost his argument as soon as the piece descended into incoherent and rambling sentences. It reminded me of a post I could have written on a "bad China day," the expression many of us expats here use when we have troubling experiences or the culture shock is just too much. In those cases, I think it can be healthy to vent to other expats or Chinese friends, but I certainly wouldn't want to publish something in that frame of mind. It wouldn't be well-thought out, would be rife with shaky-at-best conclusions based on anecdotes and stereotypes, and would be the mirror-image of the "you Americans are like this" one hears from many Chinese that may be an interesting data point but worthless as any sort of constructive addition to the conversation about China.I much prefer to take the long view. China is still a developing country, and as such it is experiencing the same advancements and their subsequent challenges the rest of the world deals with. In the western Chinese city in which I live, in 2004, traffic as a problem was something that only existed in the news for rich, eastern cities. Now, traffic is a huge problem here. The city is fairly aggressively trying to address certain problems with barriers separating sides of the streets, pedestrian bridges and tunnels, and more traffic light-governed intersections. However, much more needs to be done. I sincerely believe this because I've seen so much waste in terms of time and money in countless accidents of the fender-bender variety. On my bicycle (my preferred mode of transportation), I see one or two of these almost every day. Often these accidents appear inexplicable as they occur in broad daylight and there's no evidence that there was a vehicle malfunction. Instead, as locals and expats alike will tell you, drivers frequently weave in and out of lanes and make turns without looking.But then you think about traffic policing, and you realize that if the authorities only punish speeding caught on camera or lack of proper paperwork (which they do by setting up random check points and then stop random vehicles), and not the breadth of moving violations that constantly occur, how can we expect people to think of the consequences of reckless driving? Same goes for the reckless behaviour of pedestrians, whom I've never seen ticketed for crossing against green lights or jumping barriers even when there's a traffic police officer present.A school that I've worked with started teaching "moral lessons" last year. Among my favorite moral lesson topics were "always flush the toilet" and "red light stop, green light go." So, okay, the school made a translation error by calling these moral lessons, but I respected the intent. I suggested to a local colleague that while "red light stop, green light go" is certainly useful, perhaps we could have also encouraged students to look both ways before they cross a street. This, among other ways to behave within my surroundings and society, was drilled into my head from a young age at home and in primary school. This way of preparing to cross a street seemed like a revelation to my colleague.I know that sounds crazy to an American audience. How do people just not know that you shouldn't throw yourself into oncoming traffic? The point is, if you've never heard of these concepts, how can you be expected to live by them? Is the old Chinese lady crossing the street against a green light with her eyes firmly looking down at the pavement doing this because she's rude and lacking in character, or may it have something to do with the fact that she recently moved into a new high-rise apartment with her family and the chaos of a city and its traffic are totally new to her?I'd argue the latter. And look, it's up to China and its people whether they want to change these behaviours. But China and its people have undergone mind-boggling, rapid change. To expect American behaviour, when we've had a car-dependent culture for 60 years now, is folly. I've focused on just this one narrow detail in that Chinese American's rant, but I'd argue that this applies to its other aspects. China is busy negotiating the messy details of rule-of-law, government accountability and private citizen responsibility. This is not a character defect issue.
I think that it is wise to separate "criticism of China" into criticism of the government and criticism of the people. It is easy and correct to criticize a kleptocratic regime which seems to run the country merely to line its own pockets but is smart enough to let sufficient crumbs fall from the table to keep the bulk of the population happy. We (and by we, I include tens of millions of Chinese people) are all familiar with stories of corruption and intrigue that reach right to the top of China's government, and we are also familiar with the knowledge that when officials fell threatened, they will brutalize and even murder those they fear...I think that many, maybe all, foreigners living in China, and for that matter, many Chinese nationals, are aware of certain aspects of Chinese society that are not flattering. I refer to the absence of basic norms (not by all people, but by enough to make aspects of life here annoying) of common courtesy and common sense. To the obvious examples with a high "eeew factor" - the expectorations, the spitting, the "snot rockets", the use of any public space by all age groups as a toilet (be it for urination or defecation). [JF note: a very senior Chinese official has himself been making some similar points.]
But there are other things that can leave you scratching your head. Things such as people jamming the entrance to a lift (or a subway car) and blocking the exit for those waiting to get off [JF note: this has gotten better over the years, especially in post-Olympics Beijing], standing in the middle of a doorway while engaged in a phone conversation, bellowing into their cellphone while holding said phone 3-4 inches from their ear because the person bellowing at the other end is hurting their ear... Car owners who feel that the car is an extension of their body and that if they want to barrel down a packed city street at 50 using the horn to blast obstructions out of their way, because a set of wheels gives them the right. The fact that across large parts of China, cars are allowed to share sidewalks with people and that those sidewalks are not constructed to allow for cars and so quickly disintegrate to become pot-hole strewn assault courses ready to soak the foot or snap the ankle of unwary pedestrians.I want to make the point that in a country of people and crowds, there seems to be a general uncertainty of how to behave in such crowds. Is this a legacy of Communism, where for hundreds of millions of peasants the only thing they actually owned was themselves and they were going to use that thing the way they damn well wanted? Or is it because China is a new urban society, and that standards of behaviour that might have suited village life simply aren't suitable in cities? Or is it because that while many Chinese are unhappy about the things I have outlined, there's a feeling of powerlessness and that the only thing they can do is keep their head down and get on with their own life?
Not sure if you noticed it but at least two mainland Chinese were intimately caught up in the Boston Marathon bombing - first, the poor girl, Lu Lingzi, who got killed, and second, "Danny" the man who got carjacked but escaped from the Tsarnaev brothers. Extraordinary coincidence and yes, Boston is among the most cosmopolitan cities in the US, but still, it shows the degree to which the US and China are inter-linked at the most basic human level, even in tragedy.
The strategy of Mr. Cruz and his comrades was to use the filibuster to block any gun control measure from even getting votes on the floor. We criticized that as misguided, since it would let Senate Democrats avoid difficult votes and open Republicans to Mr. Obama's criticism that they were obstructionists for blocking a Senate debate and votes.
In the event, Mr. Cruz's GOP colleagues agreed with us. They helped to override his filibuster attempt and let the bill proceed to the floor. Whereupon a bipartisan coalition emerged that defeated the gun-control amendments, as each one failed to get 60 votes.
"If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better."Thanks also to many readers who pointed me to Charles Pierce's elaboration of the false-equivalence instinct at work in a recent column by Bill Keller, who I generally agree with except when he is endorsing war in either Iraq or Syria. Keller wrote in this latest column, "think tanks on both the right and the left have set up explicit lobbying arms, anointed leaders known not for academic credibility but for partisan ferocity, and picked their fights at least in part to help drive their fund-raising." But as Pierce points out, the real-world examples he gives all come from ... the right. The "partisans on both sides ..." reflex is very strong.
On the assorted points of disagreement:I've been thinking quite hard about the amount of negative China articles that have appeared on your blog, usually in the form of links to Western laments about Chinese life and culture, as well as, of course, pictures of Beijing's pollution . This is part of what I view as a general media trend of China-bashing . Clearly, you love China, so I'm not accusing you in any way of being anti-China or malevolent, but I think you would agree there has been a rise/change in tone in coverage of China over the last year and a half.A prime example is the piece you linked to two days ago, where the author made sweeping generalizations based on singular anecdotes that paint the entire Chinese populace as rude, shallow and sub-human (or at least sub-Western.) In analyzing a country of over a billion people, how can we take seriously someone who can paints with such a biased (and shockingly untruthful, if we were going to compare anecdotal memories) brush? Wouldn't it be similarly possible to write a similar anecdotal and nonfalsifiable story about America? Or any other country? Would we assume a fair appraisal if a Chinese person did the same to us? I doubt it.So why does this piece get coverage from you and the rest of the internet? I believe it's because it fits a media narrative that has been growing in strength over the last year or year and a half. I would summarize this narrative as: "News Stories That China is Not As Good As The West." Examples of these stories include the story making the rounds the last week on the quality of lamb in restaurants, ubiquitous reports on various degrees of Chinese corruption and of course, pollution pictures.Now these are big important stories (except the lamb one,) but the focus on on China as opposed to say, India seems particularly acute. I am assuming that this is due to the news media's need for a rival to the United States in the post Soviet Era. As China actually has some potential to pass the US in GDP (kind of meaningless) and perhaps have a say in regional (and maybe global?) security matters, I guess this is makes for news? I am assuming it's the present version of the Cold War Era "look how long the Soviets had to wait in line for bread" stories.But at least China is open for Westerners to visit, as opposed to the USSR of the 70s, leading to a particularly annoying narrative: the disgruntled foreigner leaving China because of excess pollution/corruption/hurt feelings. What kills me about this type of article is the total lack of acknowledgement of a huge advantage any Westerner gets when living in China: a five or ten fold increase in purchasing power.Some small examples from my time there:
- You can ride the Beijing subway, whose frequency and coverage exceeds all American lines with the possible exception of New York, for 30 cents (2 yuan.)
- You can take a taxi for 2 miles (maybe 3 or 4?) for an initial fee of 10 yuan in Beijing, or $1.60.
- You can swing into a hutong restaurant and order enough (incredible) food for 4 easily for 80 yuan, or maybe 3$ a person.
- You can hire a maid for 50/100 yuan to clean your likely cheap apartment.So why wouldn't someone expect a tradeoff if they moved to China between prices paid and living standards? And why isn't it explained by China watchers that while Chinese GDP per capita is 1/6th the US? That China is not a developed country, and that it's nowhere close to being one, despite it's massive growth of the last few decades? That Westerners who travel or live there that are expecting the comforts of home are fooling themselves?Excuse the rant. I'm not sure why I'm responding to you about this. I think it's my fear that over the coming decades, the US and China will be thrown into an antagonistic relationship that will be an antagonism of choice. And people who do not share the love for China and the Chinese people you and I do, will look to this rising negative tide for rationalization of fear and hatred of the other. But in doing so, both countries will be turning their backs on incredible places and peoples that offer so much to each other.Thanks for listening. And here's hoping you have many future sunny Beijing days. The mountains ARE beautiful when you can seem them.
The past week in China has been as packed and enlightening as any comparable span I've spent anywhere, but since I have to get up in a few hours for a very early-morning (China time) muster, I will wait until tomorrow to begin a description.Ai Weiwei, oversized personality that he is, must understand the cult and farce of celebrity and those who would fawn in the face of it. At the risk of reading way too much into this, perhaps that's the wry, mischievous reasoning behind his deliberately woeful haircuts: because he knows you -- you - will appreciate it, since it came from him. It's why you'll wear it for a day, a week, a month after the fact, looking ridiculous because no one else understands the context. You know, however. You got a haircut from Ai Weiwei.
I was around guns much of my life. Grew up in the Congo, hunting. Marine Corps recon, professional training and use. CIA paramilitary, more training and use. Three wars: upcountry in Vietnam I had a bunker full of exotic weapons that had been collected over a ten-year period but were not on the inventory and could not be taken home by our military when they left -- we'd take them out and fire them every week; we carried guns everywhere we went, again upcountry just a few miles from the enemy's battalions; then in the Angola War I hired and organized three bands of professional mercenaries, killers by definition.In the consulate in the Katanga I had an impressive collection, bought out the weapons of the retiring elephant hunter. And I hunted. And at the family ranch in South Texas I hunted deer and javelinas.Then I lost all interest in hunting. I killed a beautiful animal and looked at the carcass thinking how much more beautiful it had been alive. I shot a bird and had the same feeling. Both dead so I could have the dubious Freudian pleasure of pulling a trigger and killing them.The Katanga had been flush beautiful wildlife; it had been alive, the hills crawling with beautiful animals. Then came independence and arms turned over to the new armies. And our war in the Katanga (JFK/CIA), thousands of modern semiautomatic and automatic weapons left in the hands of our disbanded army, and the animals were broadly exterminated, the rolling plains were lifeless--we could drive all day and not see an animal.In Burundi, where I served, President Micombero got himself a helicopter. Began flying around the shores of Lake Tanganyika machine-gunning hippopotamuses in the water.Recalling as a boy in the Congo driving with my father in a truck across the plains area. We came on a Belgian who had been hunting all day, had a camera, wanted my father to take a picture of him with his trophies. He stood with his gun and his foot on a pile of 26 heads of little gazelles he had killed. In later years we drove through the same plains, and never ever saw another antelope.Even here in Austin, we are retired across the street from a lovely quiet park on the river. I walk my dog. Talk to the squirrels - - they sit on limbs not far above my head. Then one morning I found my neighbor down in the park with his son and a 22, killing the squirrels to "teach his son how to hunt." I pleasantly explained to him that he could teach his son how to enjoy live animals, that the squirrels he had killed were gone, dead. (He won-- the park no longer has any squirrels.)
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The tech-industry veteran Linda Stone on how to pay attention
In his reprise as governor, he's been as ruthlessly practical as he's been reflective,…
James Fallows talks with space entrepreneur Eric Anderson about the next wave of space exploration.