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 is China Airborne.
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 U.S. 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 recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.
Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
On the bright side, another barrier removed as China progresses toward aerospace eminence! As reported by a writer for my favorite newspaper, the China Daily, more people will soon be able to learn to fly:
The report also pointed out the opportunity China has to close the gap in this field as in so many others:
Fewer than 100 Chinese people are receiving training for private licenses, and the relaxation will unleash a market that has huge potential, [aviation spokesman] Qian said.
Zhong Ning, a spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Administration, said only 345 people in China have private licenses.
As a benchmark for the 345 private pilots in China, there are about 600,000+ active certificated pilots in the U.S.
For more, naturally see China Airborne. And soon: how we should feel about the testimony today of an Asiana pilot that he was "very concerned" at the prospect of making a visual landing without instrument guidance at San Francisco Airport, before the fatal "landing short" episode this summer.
(Initial reaction: What??? Visual landings are what pilots first learn to do -- and what you do in most instrument approaches, once you finally break out of the clouds and are relieved to see the runway. And what about the other pilots in the cockpit, at least some of whom should have been comfortable with visual landings? But all this is what the NTSB will look into.)
[See update below.] The planning behind, and consequences of, China's expansion of its Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, in the East China Sea remain obscure. Of the various attempts to explain it, for now I like Robert Kelly's on Asian Security Blog best. It emphasizes the contradictory possibilities -- expansionism, miscalculation, domestic posturing -- that might all simultaneously be true. Previous coverage here, here, and here.
Related question: Should we worry that the U.S. government, having quickly taken a "this is bullshit!" stance by sending B-52s through the new ADIZ, is showing contradictions of its own, in urging U.S.-based airlines to file flight planes with the Chinese authorities?
No. This isn't the airlines' battle.* They already file flight plans for every operation with various national and international authorities. It's no harm to them to copy the Chinese in too. The immediate danger of this ADIZ is that it will be one more occasion for national-pride chest-bumping among Chinese and other (Japanese, U.S., South Korean, Taiwanese) military aircraft, in an already tense region where an accident or miscalculation could have big and dangerous consequences. It makes sense to minimize the chance that passenger airplanes could be involved.
And to be clear: this is a potentially very dangerous situation. The build-up to it has involved animus from many players, but this latest move is all China's doing.
Now let's look on the brighter side, all still in the aviation theme.
1) Private pilots' licenses come to China. Huzzah! This is one more step down the path I examined in China Airborne. That is, China's determination to will itself into leadership as an international aerospace power, despite its lack of (a) airports, (b) airplanes, (c) an advanced aircraft or engine-building industry, (d) flyable airspace, and (e) pilots. Everyone knows about its efforts to address the first three shortages -- or would, if they'd read my book! Last week I mentioned a long-awaited move on the airspace front: reducing the amount under the military's control. And yesterday we hear: easier requirements for certification as a pilot.
This is good news. Though anyone familiar with road traffic in China will pause for reflection on reading this quote, via the NYT:
On Friday, The Beijing News carried the headline: “In the future, getting a private pilot’s license will be just as easy as getting an automobile driver’s license.”
2) World's shortest commercial flight: the apparent champ. Via the very interesting site of Matt Dearden, a UK-born bush pilot working in Indonesia, this clip of a 73-second flight from one hilltop airstrip to another. Between the two airstrips is a very deep valley. The dramatic part of the video starts about 30 seconds in, with an approach to one of the tiny airstrips.
Passengers pay $5 apiece to save the many hours the steeply down-and-up-hill journey would take on foot. In case you're wondering, the locale of this flight is West Papua -- which is on the western, Indonesian half of the island whose eastern half is the nation of Papua New Guinea.
Also in case you're wondering, the elevation at these airfields is around 4500 feet, which is high-ish; and the landing strips appear to be around 1000 - 1200 feet long, which is short. Impressive. (Photo at top of this post is from Dearden's site. And here is a sample dramatic entry from his Papuan flying adventures.)
A different pilot's video of landing on one of these airports is here.
3) World's shortest flight: runner up. It's from my ancestral homeland of Scotland, and it's about 90 seconds from takeoff to touchdown -- as you can see in the video of one entire flight, below. You'll note that about 40 seconds after takeoff the pilot is already reducing power to prepare for landing.
Compared with normal commercial journeys, this up-and-down flight path seems very odd -- but it's not that different from the routine training exercise of "flying the pattern" that all pilots have gone through. Pattern work involves taking off, climbing to 800 - 1000 feet above the ground, and doing a series of four right- or left-hand turns to make a rectangular path above the ground before coming in for landing again, a minute or so after takeoff. My point is simply that reducing power and speed very soon after lifting off is a familiar rather than an alien thing to do.
* Airlines have identifiable home countries -- American Airlines, All-Nippon, Singapore Air, etc -- but those with international routes truly do operate, like shipping lines, in a beyond-national-borders, international-commons regime. It would make a bad situation worse to bring airlines further into it, as players, or pawns.
Update I've heard online from a number of people who disagree about airlines and the ADIZ. Their main point is that China's goal is to change the status quo in the region, and any step that accommodates the new, unilaterally proclaimed Chinese rules effectively recognizes this new status quo. Eg:
The thing is we didn't have to issue guidance - the airlines could have complied on their own in order to deal with the potential safety issues - without the USG weighing in and undermining our position on the ADIZ and putting space btw Washington and Tokyo/Seoul in a really high profile way at an awful time. Major unforced error on our part.
I don't think "strategic ambiguity," in the form of letting the airlines comply but not saying so in public, would necessarily be a more forceful or sustainable position. And officially telling U.S. airlines not to follow the new Chinese rules would have raised the problem I mention, of putting normal businesses in the midst of an international struggle.
In any case, I think a U.S. goal should be to put airline operations to the side, as a minor, routine part of the drama. The real question is what the U.S. and other governments do to contain (and not stoke) the tension in the region, and to respond to this expansionary move on China's part.
In reverse order, obstacles first: There's not much debate about the scale or impressiveness of what China has achieved in the past 30+ years. Through that time its economy was (largely) opened, and its political controls were (selectively) removed. As a result hundreds of millions of people moved from rural poverty to the middle class and beyond; the country regained its pride; the landscape was covered with factories and skyscrapers and shopping malls and high speed trains; and a thousand other aspects of life were changed. This really has happened, and the achievement commands respect.
The interesting question is what comes next. The two main, opposing points of view boil down to "they're still gaining momentum" versus "now the hard part begins." The first camp leads to graphs like the one below, typical of the "New Chinese Century" / "Bow down to your Chinese overlords" books and articles that periodically appear. (The graph was taken from a particularly credulous version). Essentially this view assumes a straight-ahead, compound-interest, years-into-the-future extrapolation of China's recent growth trends.
The contrary perspective holds that things are about to become harder for China -- in economic, social, and political dimensions all at once. The main reason for the increased friction is that the very traits that have sped China's development over the past 30+ years may impede the next phase of growth. For instance: to-hell-with-the-environment development policies made China the world's factory; but now they have to be reversed -- even while the country is still, on average, quite poor -- lest it become the world's cancer ward and birth-defects center. The kind of intellectual-property laws that make it easy to buy pirated movies, music, or software on any Chinese streetcorner were a catch-up advantage. Now they're a handicap to ambitious, high-value Chinese firms. Control of the Internet, media, and political discussion has been convenient for the leadership. But those same controls make it harder for China to develop "real" universities, retain first-rate researchers, and bring the best out from its own most talented people. (See Matt Schiavenza's new item on this point.) And on down the list.
Not to be coy about it: almost everyone I'm aware of in the first, China-uber-alles camp knows China mainly via charts, and at a distance. Most people I know on-scene are instead in the "anything is possible, but it's going to be a lot tougher" category. And that is the case I argue at length in China Airborne, where I look at the country's ambitions in highest-tech and -value industries as proxies for its potential.
To wrap this up, there's is a good three-part presentation statement of the "getting tougher" case by George Magnus, in The Globalist. Part One is called China and the End of Extrapolation, and you can follow links to the next two. Judge for yourself, but I think he presents the "tougher" case very well. And if you'd like the most amusing presentation of the "holy moley, they're going to take over everything" original view, I refer you to the immortal "Chinese Professor" TV ad.
Now, dreams. The Atlantic Wire has an item today saying that frequent references to "the Chinese Dream" by Xi Jinping, the new Chinese president, may reflect the global influence of the NYT's Thomas Friedman, who wrote a column back in December to the same effect.
I can't prove that this correlation is wrong, but (no offense to Friedman) I'd bet any amount of money that it is. As several commenters, including me, have noted on the Wire item. It certainly is true that Xi Jinping has been talking about the "Chinese Dream," and it's true as well that Friedman wrote a column about it a few months ago. But the "Dream" formulation has been a familiar one in China for years, including explicitly in Xi's own speeches for more than a year. Back in 2008 the motto for the Beijing Olympics was "One World, One Dream" (一个世界同一个梦想), and for a few years before and after the Games there was a lot of chatter in China about the meaning of its dream.
The title of my wife's book Dreaming in Chinese (above), which came out two years ago, was based in part on the importance of this theme; a recent book by Gerald Lemos was called The End of the Chinese Dream (right). I had a long essay on this site a year ago with the title "What Is the Chinese Dream?", and most people who have written about China have similar items in their inventory. There's no reason the Wire writer would be aware of this background; I mention it because it's worth underscoring the fact that a national dream is not a unique American concept.
Update: Whoa! I see via Isaac Stone Fish at Foreign Policy that Thomas Friedman is saying he deserves "only part credit" for the use of the term by Xi Jinping, saying that the rest belongs to (a friend of both Friedman's and mine) Peggy Liu. I'll leave it at that, and with the note that maybe Xi is catching up with the many other people in China whom I have heard talking about this concept for years and years.
And I just remembered that I'm actually headed back to Beijing tomorrow for a short trip, so this will be one more thing to ask when I arrive.
Update-update: And via Jeremy Goldkorn and Danwei, here's a similar speech from back in 2009.
Clive Crook has written a wonderful appreciation of Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows, who for this and many other reasons I am delighted to say is my wife. The book has received a lot of positive reviews, but I think Clive comes closer than anyone else to capturing its spirit and value. Check it out -- Clive's item, and the book.
I am also grateful to Ian Johnson and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, themselves the authors of a number of very valuable books about China (and, in Johnson's case, on Europe-and-Islam as well), for a year-end wrapup of books about China, at the Asia Society's site. Their discussion of the books they're considering, whose covers are shown in the collage below, makes me want to get and read the two I haven't already seen. And of course I am grateful that they include China Airborne in their list (and for Johnson's previous article about it in the NY Review of Books).
My favorite nonfiction book this year has been James Fallows's "China Airborne." On the surface it's about aviation in China, but it's also one of the best books on China ever, one of the best books on industrial organization in years, and an excellent treatment of economic growth. It's also readable and fun.
The greatness of Tyler Cowen knows no limits. But you'd probably want to check it out for yourself. See you in Boston/Cambridge.
I get on a plane at Dulles Airport* with the main question concerning David Petraeus being the what/when/where about Benghazi. And I get off in Seattle to find ... good lord!
So let me buy time with a programming note.
1) Yesterday morning, in New York, I had a genuinely wonderful time talking with Bill Moyers on his Moyers & Company show about what our election showed about America, and what China's current transition of leadership said about them (and about us-and-them). The show airs on various stations starting this evening. Here is a preview link; here is a schedule of broadcast times in different cites. Update: Here is the segment online. Thanks to reader MG of Hawaii.
To illustrate why I thought this was particularly interesting: We were talking about whether Barack Obama's re-election, in greatly increasing the probability that Obamacare will go fully into effect, will have a political effect similar to that of Medicare's. By which I mean: Medicare was bitterly controversial before it was enacted; now, it's practically part of the Constitution.
As I was making this point, I realized: sitting three feet away from me is someone who was a key member of Lyndon Johnson's White House during the very effort to get Medicare enacted! So I go to ask him what that was like -- some portion of that discussion was on air, and some afterwards, which I'll describe at some point.
2) I also did an interview this week with Steven Roy Goodman, about the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese education system - and what Americans should and should not learn from it. The YouTube version is here.
3) The transition-of-power underway in China is bringing to the fore many of the tensions and uncertainties in the country that I tried to deal with in my book China Airborne. I have meant for two months to, but am only now getting around to, express my appreciation for the kind of review that writers remember and appreciate, by Ian Johnson in the New York Review of Books. It's here. (Oops, I see that it's behind a paywall -- which I didn't know because I am a subscriber. But, hey, subscribe to them too.)
In my heap of posts-almost-ready-for-posting, along with extra installments of Foxconn pics and the readers' defenses of the Atlas Shrugged guy, are more on the strengths and weaknesses of China as I went into them in my book and as we're seeing them now. (Plus the right Chinese title for the book.) They're all on the list. __ * Where I had another of my experiences with TSA pre✓™. I am still so disoriented that I'll have to discuss it later.
I seek advice from people who know both English and Chinese. A Chinese writer is trying to figure out the best title for the Chinese version of my recent book, whose title in English is China Airborne.
One possibility is 云上的中国, essentially "China in the Clouds." As a plus, this conveys some of the dreamy aspect I mean to get across, and also the non-guaranteed nature of Chinese success in its various ambitions.
Another is 中国横空出世 , with a more literal and assured sense of China taking off and reaching the skies.
(I have rudimentary but not-at-all-nuanced comprehension of written Chinese of this sort.)
I'll round up a panel of a few native Chinese-speaking friends; appoint them judges; and give a prize to whoever can come up with the right nuanced version of a Chinese title. Prizes include: magazine subscription, copies of book, beer, and so on. Thanks!
Also in book news, I'm scheduled to be on C-Span book TV this weekend, and the Colbert show next week, discussing this topic -- and in English. Will put updates on my book-news page shortly.
Early last year, at the Asian Aerospace show in Hong Kong, I watched eager Chinese purchasers line up for tours of all sorts of aircraft, including business jets large and small. As I describe in my book, I even saw a business-jet purchase completed in cash. It's all part of the gold-rush era for many of China's new rich.
In an alternative universe in which it were possible to fill a book with pictures with no increase in production cost or purchase price, I would have had ones on every page to convey what I had seen and was talking about. For instance, here is a Hawker Beechcraft jet, the 900XP, awaiting a tour by the next group of prospective Chinese purchasers at the Hong Kong show.
These planes go for somewhere around $15 million apiece. But it appears that the whole Hawker Beechcraft company, a venerable manufacturing firm based in Wichita and combining the heritage of the Beech and Hawker Siddeley aircraft lines, goes for a little more than 100 times that much, or around $1.79 billion. That's the sales price announced today for the firm's transfer (out of bankruptcy, and from current owners Goldman Sachs and Onex) to its new Chinese owners, the Superior Aircraft Beijing corporation. The business-jet line, plus familiar models like the Beech King Air, Baron, and Bonanza, are part of the sale. The strictly-military part of the Hawker Beechcraft business won't be transferred.
The larger story here -- yes, you knew there was one -- is of the multi-front Chinese effort to leap from nowhere to a leading role among the world's aerospace powers. This is important from the Chinese perspective for many reasons: because its own purchases of airplanes are rising constantly (so why not make them itself?), because a high-end aviation establishment is a proxy for other kinds of technological sophistication, because there are defense implications, and so on.
At the high end, as a hoped-for eventual rival to Boeing and Airbus, there is the C919 from the Chinese state aerospace company Comac. Part of its display at the same Hong Kong airshow, depicted flying over the Chinese pavilion from the Shanghai World Expo.
In the middle range, for Gulfstream-style business jets, now we have the newly Chinese-owned Hawker Beechcraft. In the helicopter business, there is all-out Chinese activity. And for light propeller planes and "personal jets," we have the Cirrus Aircraft corporation -- still with its factory and design center in Duluth, Minnesota, but as of last year also owned by a Chinese state aerospace corporation, with headquarters in Zhuhai. (This is the same plane in which I took my hair-raising ferry flight back in 2006, and the same company I wrote about in Free Flight.)
Here is how the Chinese-owned-Cirrus display looked at this same Hong Kong airshow last year. The gentleman at the left is a recently prosperous Chinese factory owner I spoke with, who was ecstatic about fulfilling his lifelong dream of getting into flying.
And here, just after the sale of Cirrus to its Chinese owners, is a hangar in Zhuhai that would become part of a new Cirrus repair and service base.
Just for the hell of it, here is one of the existing planes from the Zhuhai flight line, before all this modernization takes place (and illustrating why Chinese officials are so interested in modernizing).
What does this all mean? Are the Chinese investing their money wisely, or foolishly? Is there a more sweeping lesson, good or bad, for the United States and the world? Hmmm, if only there were some larger analysis that put it all in perspective and extracted its lessons for China's development in a broader sense. More on this news shortly. __
Update This part of the AP story on the sale was particularly interesting to me, for reasons spelled out in the book:
Robert Miller, CEO of Hawker Beechcraft Inc., said in a news release that Superior first approached Hawker Beechcraft years ago regarding a potential partnership....
"Importantly, this combination would give Hawker Beechcraft greater access to the Chinese business and general aviation marketplace, which is forecast to grow more than 10 percent a year for the next 10 to 15 years," Miller said.
- A nice item in El Mercurio, from Chile, for which I don't have a link but I have a screen shot, below.
Seriously, I am very grateful for the depth of all of these items. When you're cranking out a book like this, you don't dare expect or imagine that anyone will take seriously the case you try to make. I am appreciate the fact that these people did.
This happened just a few hours ago, so the video has not yet gone up on the Aspen Ideas Festival's video archive page. But please look for it tomorrow, and I will put up a link when I get one. It was a debate this afternoon between Minxin Pei, of Claremont McKenna and the influential book China's Trapped Transition (right) and Eric X. Li, a venture capitalist and author of such articles as "Democracy Is Not the Answer" (left, below). Both men are originally from Shanghai but have lived, studied, and worked extensively in the U.S.
The formal topic of discussion was "China and Democracy"; in effect, it was a debate about whether China was nearing the limits of its current authoritarian single-party guided-growth model, or whether it was still gathering steam and had plenty of success still ahead. I am biased, because the subject is of great interest to me and because I was on stage as moderator / referee. But I thought this was an unusually clear, informed, and vigorous airing of contrary views on China's present and future. They pretty much agreed about its past.
Seriously, if you would like the most concise introduction to the case for concern about China's development, you can listen to Minxin Pei's side of the argument in this 80-minute (including audience Q&A) discussion. If you would like an unusually forthright statement of the "China knows best, and don't lecture us when you have such troubles of your own" perspective, listen to Eric Li -- and watch the way they parry each other's arguments. "Debates" at high-toned conferences are often something more like polite seminars. This was an actual contest of views, perfectly civil but with no softening of the hard edges of disagreement. Check it out.
The current issue that I'm talking to people about is the number of people whose trips back to BJ (from another location in China) have been foiled by the airline constraints over airspace. It was actually ridiculous to hear the number of people in this team who take it for granted that their plans (for travel within China) will be foiled by constraints on airspace.
This morning, at my meeting to discuss energy policy with folks from [XX] office, several of the team members were stuck in one city or another because of constraints on the country's airspace. The director of the program was delayed 24 hours getting back to BJ because they couldn't get clearances... Couldn't help but laugh, and told all of the staff that I had THE perfect book for them to read!
1) I will be on the Kojo Nnamdi show, on NPR from WAMU in Washington, today at 1pm EDT. Details here. Colbert ahead next month, details soon.
2) A brief book excerpt in Wired, here, with a very nice illustration.
3) A nice piece by Greg Waldron in Flight Global ("must read" in the headline, "fun to read" in the text, etc).
4) An exploration by Alex Usher, on an American higher-ed site, of the "soft-power" angle in the book as it involves universities in China and the U.S.
5) Another round of Q-and-A about America, Australia, and their respective abilities to think clearly about China, with Sam Roggeveen on The Interpreter site of the Lowy Institute in Sydney.
6) In a different kind of book news, I had a big review of David Maraniss's huge new Obama biography in the New York Times this weekend, fyi. The book is worth reading -- but don't take my word for it, read the review!
I will update the tour and appearance dates on my book page ... soon!
And oh yes! Several of the electronic "writing tools" I used in this book and all other work in the past few years are going on a limited-time, package-deal "Writer's Festival" sale. I don't use one of the four programs in the package, Bookends, but the other three -- Scrivener, Tinderbox, and TextExpander -- are very valuable to me. The irreplaceable Scrivener, originally Mac-only, now has a PC version; the rest are for Mac. If you search for Scrivener or Tinderbox here on the Atlantic site, you'll see a variety of past testimonials.
While traveling I am reminded of that modern truth: we are omni-connected in a bad way (crowds staring at devices in their hands when walking, driving, talking -- people will start making fun of this pretty soon) without being reliably connected in a good way (being able to count on usable connections on a laptop when moving from place to place*). Thus today's catch-up grab-bag:
1) Iran The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us in this authoritative and news-filled interview/post about the fundamental problem with all "let's bomb Iran" scenarios: they would make the situation much worse rather than in any way "better." This is an evergreen theme for our magazine. In his latest report, Jeff Goldberg reports on a lengthy discussion in Israel last month with Meir Dagan, former head of Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad. A sample, with my emphasis added:
What angers [Dagan] most is what he sees as a total lack of understanding on the part of the men who lead the Israeli government about what may come the day after an Israeli strike. Some senior Israeli officials have argued to me that a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might actually trigger the eventual downfall of the regime. Dagan predicts the opposite: "Judging by the war Iran fought against Iraq, even people who supported the Shah, even the Communists, joined hands with (Ayatollah) Khomeini to fight Saddam," he said, adding, "In case of an attack, political pressure on the regime will disappear. If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide them with the justification to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons." He also predicted that the sanctions program engineered principally by President Obama may collapse as a result of an Israeli strike, which would make it easier for Iran to obtain the material necessary for it to cross the nuclear threshold.
This report, and a similar cautionary interview by Jeff Goldberg last week, for me are the conclusive response to yet another recent item from The Goldberg Oeuvre. That was his asking whether Barack Obama, with his track record of taking big, dramatic risks despite his super-deliberate reputation, might be expected to make a similar, "What the hell, let's try it" choice about Iran.
My answer is: No. He is not going to do this. Nothing in Obama's record reveals a willingness to make a choice with as much unbounded negative potential as this one. Running for President as a freshman senator? At worst he'd suffer a bad early loss -- as many ultimately successful candidates have done. Ordering the strike on bin Laden? Riskier, for his reputation and for relations with Pakistan -- but not in the sense of opening up a whole new military front. The commitment in Libya: hedged and contained from the start. Similarly with Iraq and Afghanistan. I won't go down the entire list but will say, Nothing in Obama's career illustrates a recklessness like what would be involved in bombing Iran. (Readers from the Netanyahu government, please ignore this paragraph. I'm bluffing.)
2) China Two days ago, the Atlantic's editor James Bennet and I had a discussion at Atlantic HQ, hosted by David Bradley and organized by Steve Clemons, about China, China Airborne, and when my next article for the Atlantic was going to be turned in. The video is here. This morning I talked Charlie Rose and Erica Hill, on CBS, about the same topics -- at least the first two. That video is here.
3) Recession In addition to Derek Thompson's very good piece on our site about what makes job loss in this recession so unusual, please see the "America's Hidden Austerity Program" by Ben Polak and Peter Schott of Yale. It has been widely cited but is too important not to mention again. Short answer: in all other recessions, public employment has helped pull us back up. This time it is pulling us down.
4) Australia Sam Roggeveen, of the Lowy Institute in Sydney, has been doing an online Q-and-A with me about China, America, technology, and related topics. I think U.S. readers in particular would find this enlightening, for the difference in assumptions about and perspectives on China, as seen from the Antipodes. It's on Lowy's The Interpreter site: part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is in process.
5) TSA I have news, but it will wait. That is it for now.
__ * On this point: I love Amtrak and take it whenever I can. But, really, Amtrak needs to stop advertising its east coast trains as having WiFi -- because they don't in any kind of reliable way.
Suppose Amtrak under-promised and said: You get to travel from downtown to downtown, with no TSA screening lines and in relative calm, plus with power outlets at each seat ... and from time to time along the route free WiFi service might be available! Then people would be happily surprised when it did work. Instead its promising sometime that its current technology just can't deliver, therefore creating needless Louis CK-style irritation when it doesn't work rather than appropriate gratitude when it does.
My Q&A with the WSJ giving The Big Picture -- and also a (to me) very interesting analysis at the Lone Operator site of the creativity, and self-limitations, of China's current aerospace ambitions as a guide to the country's potential overall.
And while I'm at it, a sadder-and-wiser tale at Bloomberg Business Week about an ambitious young American trying to seize some of the opportunities that seem so "easily" available in China. This fits into a grand tradition, stretching back to Mr. China, and To Change China, and Matteo Ricci, and beyond.
I've mentioned many times, most recently here, how valuable photographs are in conveying the unbelievable variations in wealth, modernization, landscape, and other aspects of modern China. The point may seem banal, but I think it matters more for China than most other places because the outside-world's view is so skewed toward images of skyscrapers in Shanghai and Beijing.
I have only one regret about my current book -- which is not many, as book-regrets go. For reasons of production time and (mainly) cost, it wasn't possible to include any of the hundreds of pictures I had taken of people, places, real-estate projects, and practical and fanciful undertakings that I was describing. [Update: Andrew Galbraith of the WSJ in China has a Q-and-A feature about the book today on the Journal's China Real Time site.]
So I plan to start including a few here. I will begin with photos taken by one of the leading characters in the book, Peter Claeys, who is originally from Belgium but has spent much of his life in Asia and, when I met him, was trying to sell stylish Cirrus SR22 airplanes to the newly affluent Chinese business class. Eventually, as I describe, the Cirrus company itself, of Duluth, Minnesota, was sold to the Chinese government. But that's a different story.
Here are a few of his pictures that resonate with things I saw and described. First, at right, a pilot named Chen Yan -- a combination Amelia Earhart / Kim Kardashian aviator / model / celebrity fashion-icon in China, who is a character in my book. Here she is in the cockpit of the plane that Peter Claeys and I flew to the Zhuhai Air Show, the morning after the hair-raising flight I described here.
Now, in front of the same plane, Chen Yan, Peter Claeys, and a friend. (More about Chen Yan is here.)
A local booster / entrepreneur, with dreams of bringing an aerospace center to his community of Binzhou in Shandong province, seated in the back of Claeys's plane. Note the air, which adds an edge to any flying in China.
Ground-level view of the local booster project in Binzhou, which is like the one outside Xi'an that I describe in my book. This is how the one big runway, hoped-for as a magnet for high-tech development, looked:
And the projected versions of how it "will" look. Ah, this brings it all back. Anybody who visited local governments in China has seen these "if we build it, they will come -- and anyhow, let's just build it" projects:
I'm betting that when you think of "Red China," these are not the scenes that come first to mind. They are for me.