James Fallows

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. 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 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.
  • Win 7, Nook, and other tech follow ups

    Windows 7: My wife will get it for the HP laptop she bought when we returned from China, since that qualifies for a free upgrade. Don't think I will myself. My original-Vista-blighted ThinkPad T60 is having so many other problems that I am keeping it alive purely for organ-farm purposes, serving as an extra hard disk on the home network. My three Macs (early 2008-vintage Air and Mini, new MacBook Pro) are all running WinXP in the Windows half of their brains, under VMware Fusion. Since installing Win7 on an XP machine involves backing up and removing all data, installing the OS from scratch, and then reinstalling all programs (the real stopper -- where are those install CDs?), making the switch does not seem worth it. Net result of three years of terrible experience with early Vista+ Lenovo-era ThinkPad: putting me onto a path that may keep me from ever seeing what's good with Win7. That's not quite true. Some day I'll get around to creating a Win7 "virtual machine" under Fusion and give it a try.

    The advance reviews are all positive, eg this from Wired. (It must be said: Vista was supposed to be good too.) Most interesting Win7 review I've seen is this one from Philip Elmer-DeWitt.


    nook-hand-view.jpg

    Nook and Kindle: Via Chinese manufacturing- world contacts, I have known this was coming for a while. Looks nice (left), and even if it looked bad it would be a huge plus for the industry, the reading public, and the publishing world to have competition for Amazon and its Kindle. I say that as a member of a two-Kindle household who has spent a lot on e-books. I'll see if I can rationalize a "need" for the Nook at some point.

    All e-readers apparently need to have somewhat weird names that include a "K."  I suggest "Kewpie" for whichever one comes next. Or maybe "Amok." Keokuk? (Which has a charming little airport where I have landed.)

    On the social-benefit potential of e-readers in general, David Rothman, who has been on this case since long before the Kindle was invented, has a new argument here.

  • In case you were wondering.... (Updated)

    ... the Northwest Airlines flight that apparently "missed" the Minneapolis-St Paul airport today and overshot it by 150 miles did not make an ordinary mistake, like missing Exit 32A on a busy freeway and having to get off on Exit 32B.This is more like ... well, it's hard to think of a comparison, because it's pretty startling.

    Once when I was flying westward toward the Rapid City airport in South Dakota, I found myself lining up 25 miles away instead with the much bigger runway of Ellsworth Air Force Base nearby. I must not have been the first one to do so, because the controller said in a routine way, "What you're probably heading for is Ellsworth. You want to turn your head ten degrees to the left and look for a little airport that's closer. That's where you want to go." This was embarrassing enough, and it was just my wife and me, not a bunch of paying passengers. (Below, Google Earth's view of what caused my problems. The runways have similar orientation, and Ellsworth is the first one you see from a distance. And this is from straight overhead! I was looking from a slant, into a setting sun, from a relatively low altitude, way off in the distance. It's a miracle I saw either of them!)

    RapidCity.jpg


    In contrast, from the air you really cannot miss a big, busy, international airport. It's unlike anything else you see -- especially when controllers are talking you every step of the way, as they are required to with airliners. Rather, I guess you can miss it, but it's a surprise.

    Glad everyone is safe. Will be interesting to hear the pilots' account. I have my own hypotheses, but it's fairer to wait.

    UPDATE: To avoid being coy about my "hypothesis," it's hard to imagine how this could have happened if the pilots were awake. There is too much going on in the last 45 minutes of a flight -- with procedures for arrival, approach, and landing, many checklists -- just to be "distracted." So most likely either they both fell asleep in the normal sense or, weirdly, were both disabled in a way they then recovered from. After a cockpit crew on Go! airlines fell asleep for fifteen minutes in Hawaii last year while their plane was headed out toward the open ocean, one of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's readers offered this possible explanation:

    "Aliens I say. They took the pilots to their spaceship, then put them back in the plane. They were gone for 2 weeks, but only 15 minutes Earth time." 

    Bonus analysis point: on top of the Colgan crash in Buffalo early this year, plus that previous Hawaiian sleeping-pilots problem, we are bound to see more serious political attention to the question of work rules, fatigue, pilot training, etc under the new operating realities of the airline industry. Thanks to M. Griffith for the Go! tip.

  • Bad news, good news on the air-traffic beat

    Bad news: further evidence that the worldwide GPS system, which is run by the US government and on which everything from airline navigation to iPhone mapping apps relies, is at risk of "browning out." Earlier mention of the problem, back in May, here, based on this government report. Update this month, from Avionics magazine, here. Talk about your deteriorating critical infrastructure! Headline below gives you the gist.

    "Fixing GPS

    "Almost half of the current constellation of GPS satellites are at or approaching 'single thread' operation, where a critical system failure could render a satellite inoperative. What are the options for replacing GPS satellites?"

    Now, the better news. Assuming that the GPS network gets tuned up in time, Scott McCartney, of the WSJ, explains some of the potential for better, more efficient, and safer airline navigation -- including over the vast oceanic "big blue data void" into which Air France 447 disappeared. The "NextGen" navigation systems McCartney describes have their strong supporters and critics, when it comes to specific configurations and timetables for the program. But a shift to some version of the new system is as inevitable, and McCartney explains clearly what the benefits can be.

  • A Rorschach test on Afghanistan

    The NYT op-ed page that has just gone up, for tomorrow morning's paper, has as concise a paired description of options in Afghanistan as anyone could want. Each of the articles is by an American writer with experience in the region. One says we should send more troops; the other says that would be a mistake. Each is clearly written with a brief passage that distills the outlook and sensibility.

    One says:

    "The United States was born of our ancestors' nationalistic resentment of a foreign power whose troops we saw as occupiers, not protectors. The British never fathomed our basic grievance -- this was our land, not theirs! -- so the more they cracked down, the more they empowered the American insurgency....
    "We have been similarly oblivious to the strength of nationalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly among the 40 million Pashtuns who live on both sides of the border there. That's one reason the additional 21,000 troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year haven't helped achieve stability, and it's difficult to see why 40,000 more would help either."

    And the other says:

    "During 10 days spent in Afghanistan at the invitation of Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, I observed that a difficult task has been further complicated by the checkered results of the Afghan election. But what seems to be conspicuously absent from the conversation in the United States is the realization that Afghanistan's corruption problem, like its security problem, can be best addressed by additional troops.

    "Given what I saw and heard on my visit, I believe it is indeed possible to get Afghanistan's politicos to do a better job -- you just have to watch them closely.... Poor governance is an argument for, not against, a troop surge. "

     The writers' identities are after the jump. I'm concentrating on the arguments themselves because I think they represent an extraordinarily pure Rorschach test. There are cases where you can listen to various sides and think, "Well, they've all got good points." But in this case, I bet most people will think: one of these perspectives rings true, and one sounds tragically deluded. Certainly that was my instant reaction -- and for that clarifying power I am grateful to both authors. Read, react, reflect.

    More »

  • I don't know the author, but...

    ... I am biased in favor of this book:

    SharkBook.jpg

    Chris and Monique Fallows are a naturalist-photographer team based in Cape Town, South Africa, who produce documentaries and conduct adventure trips in hopes of protecting marine life, especially sharks. I don't know them, but there are not that many of us with the same name, so we have to stick together. I bought one of their books when I saw it at the bookstore of the wonderful Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town several years ago. I'll get this new one too. Maybe they'll do the same for mine!

    Another of his shark pics, from their site.
     
    Thumbnail image for SharkPic2.jpg

  • First-hand experience with Chinese air, pro and con

    Following this item yesterday, about this article in the current issue on the health effects of living in China, good-news and bad-news reports from American friends with long experience in Asia.

    First, the bad news.

    "I check the BeijingAir Twitter every time I'm headed there for work. I thought I'd report an anecdote from a friend who has worked in China since the 1970s and lived there for many years (though moved back partly to raise children in a more healthy environment!). She had MRIs performed on her lungs some time ago and they indicated significant scarring and other damage, despite the fact that she has never been a smoker. She has never complained of any symptoms or health problems but clearly some damage was done."

    FWIW, I heard similar stories from a variety of people who had been in and out of China since the 1980s, but I don't know of any systematic data. Maybe I'll have another data point two weeks from now, when my appointment with my own doctor for a welcome-home physical exam finally rolls around. Only has taken three months to get on his schedule! Good thing we don't have Canadian-style socialized medicine in this country, what with its long waiting lists and rationing-by-delay etc.

    Now, the better news:

    "We were back in China for a couple of weeks this past summer to visit my former students in Beijing and then to travel in Hunan for a week or so.  I think the air has improved.  It was mostly blue skies, even in Beijing, which I rarely saw when we lived there for 10 months in 2003-04.  I think you are right to conclude that expats do get over the problems once they leave.  At least we haven't had lasting health problems -- at least not yet."

    As a side note, based on my experience anyone who wants to visit Beijing in particular should go in October. Even though the current BeijingAir Twitter reading is deep into the "unhealthy" zone, this seems reliably the nicest time of the year.

  • The air over there

    In the new issue of the magazine (subscribe!) I have a short article about a topic I discussed constantly with Chinese and foreign friends over the past few years: how dangerous it is, really, just to live in China. To breathe the air,  drink the water, eat the food. Won't spoil the suspense about conclusions in the article itself. But the note below is from a reader whose experience is similar to mine:

    "I just returned to the US after a four-year tour in Shanghai. I major reason for returning was that I knew that living over there was terrible for my health. I always told myself that I couldn't live in that poor environment for five years. Aside from the terrible air quality, I did four stints in hospitals for food poisoning.

    "But since I have been back, I have found that recovery has been easier than expected. I am now running about four to six miles four times a week. I think it may have been like living at high altitudes - you body gets used to being deprived of oxygen and becomes more efficient. 

    "Plus, just having the space and good weather adds to the motivation. As I am sure you know."

    For perspective, here is today's real-time air pollution map for the US, emphasizing the dangerous small-particulate pollution (PM2.5) plus ozone (O3). Green "good" areas have readings below 50; the yellow "moderate" areas are 51-100; and the little spot of orange "unsafe for sensitive groups" air, near Pittsburgh, is 101-150. Maybe they're reopening the steel works? Most times when I look at this map, it's virtually all green.

    AQI2.jpg


    Meanwhile, readings earlier today from Beijing, taken by the clandestine "Beijing Air" monitoring station I describe in the article:
    AqiBeijing.jpg

    The point is that the Chinese readings would be in the red "unhealthy" (151-200) or magenta "very unhealthy" (201-300) zones if they were mapped. Like anyone in Beijing, I've breathed my way through a large number of purple "hazardous" days, with readings over 300.

    For the benefit of Chinese readers, let me say for the millionth time that to stress this comparison is not to put down China's successes, underestimate the difficulties of dealing with these problems, deny that a high-pollution phase is part of every move toward industrialization, etc. China's situation is tough, and a lot of forces within the country are working to improve it, as laid out at length here. Instead it's worth emphasizing that the people of China themselves are the ones with most at stake in improving its environment. And because of global effects of climate, as I've also said a million times, it's crucial for the US and China, the two biggest-emitting countries, to work together on energy and pollution issues. Indeed, this is the historically most important business for the two countries to take up.

    In the meantime, it's a nice day in DC, so like my correspondent I'll plan to take another run.

  • More on US presidents as Japanese words

    Several readers, plus my raised-in-Japan Atlantic colleague James Gibney, have reminded me that Barack Obama is not the first American president whose name has been converted into an ordinary word in Japanese. After the first President Bush fell ill and vomited on Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa at a state dinner in Tokyo in 1992, the term Bushu-suru -- ブッシュする, "do a Bush" -- became a joke staple of Japanese slang. Bush understood how Montezuma must have felt about having his name appropriated for gastrointestinal use.

    Real time picture, via Wikipedia, of Barbara Bush and PM Miyazawa coming to the aid of the stricken president (behind napkin):
    Bush-japanese-pm.jpeg.jpg


    Via Google Books, an account from the Encyclopedia of Political Communication of the meaning of Bushu-suru, though I prefer my own "do a Bush" English version.
     
    BushSuru.jpg

    I don't know whether doing "a Clinton" -- クリントンする --  came to mean anything in Japanese.

  • "To Obama" in Japanese

    Last week the NYT ran a story about how Barack Obama's version of spoken English has become a huge hit in Japan, emerging as the new standard for language-learning. This rings true to the fad/blockbuster nature of many commercial and cultural phenomena in Japan. And, we can all think of worse versions of English for them to emulate. (Carville? Stallone?)

    But I thought that this item from the Ampontan blog, written by a foreigner in Japan, was more fascinating. It is about the way the invented verb Obamu -- オバむ, "to Obama" -- has gained currency among some Japanese youths. Explanation:

    "obamu: (v.) To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think "Yes we can, Yes we can," and proceed with optimism using those facts as an inspiration (literally, as fuel). It is used to elicit success in a personal endeavor. One explanation holds that it is the opposite of kobamu. (拒む, which means to refuse, reject, or oppose).

    "[Japanese bloggers] give the following example:

    :ほら、何落ち込んでいるんだよ。オバめよ、オバめ。

    "Or, "Hey, why are you so down in the dumps? Cheer up, cheer up!"...

    "One more Japanese-language citation is from a Twitter tweet, which defines it simply as believing you can accomplish something.

    "Those familiar with the language will understand immediately that such a coinage would sound very natural, and that it is typical of Japanese creativity and their sense of humor."

    The absorptive-and-transforming power of the Japanese language is indeed one of its charms. It will be a good sign for Obama if his name continues to be used in this mainly-positive context.

  • This is good news

    I emerge briefly from writing-induced blog exile to celebrate a well deserved honor for a comrade: our own James Bennet, editor of the Atlantic, being selected as AdAge's "Editor of the Year."

    I have worked for five editors during my time at the Atlantic: Robert Manning, William Whitworth, Michael Kelly, Cullen Murphy, and now James Bennet. They have been different people with different styles dealing with different challenges in different times.  But all have been absolutely committed to the idea that this kind of magazine, with its determination to deal with serious issues in as interesting and news-making a fashion as possible, has a role in national life and can find an audience that will value what we do. I feel very fortunate to have been part of this institution for so long -- and I know that what makes it special are people who really do think all the time about improving the magazine. That describes everyone on the staff -- now, and over the years.

    Industry "honors" like this are highly unscientific, hit-and-miss propositions. But when they work out, that's worth celebrating, as I do now.

    If you feel like joining in, a subscription always makes the ideal gift! I'll save the full pitch for another time. (Andrew Sullivan has made his case here.) But, seriously, in the long run, enterprises like this have to figure out how to pay for what they do, and subscriptions make a big difference. Plus, the layout and pictures make magazines much better to read in print. Meanwhile, as members of the extended Atlantic family, please enjoy this nice bit of news.

  • On the chain of command

    After I mentioned last night that I disagreed with Robert Kaplan's call for an immediate commitment of more US troops in Afghanistan, I received a note that reminded me of a point I had meant to make. It concerns the chain of command and the different responsibilities of a theater commander (like Gen. McChrystal, in Afghanistan) and the commander in chief (like Pres. Obama, in Washington). I raise the point not to drag out a disagreement with a friend and colleague but to clarify an elementary but sometimes muddied issue.

    My correspondent, a veteran of the defense and technology businesses, notes these lines from Kaplan's piece:

    "The position Obama's now in is similar to that of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld some years back--appearing not to be listening to his generals. If the president doesn't agree with his field commander, that's fine. Just don't make a public spectacle of it."

    And says that this misconstrues the way the disagreement came to light:

    "...since it was the leaks (from wherever -- I suspect [name redacted!] to Bob Woodward that publicly highlighted McChrystal's disagreements with the President. Only in the face of continued leaks about how "long" McChrystal's report had sat on the President's desk sans action did the President's team (NSA Jim Jones, CJCS Mullen) finally proceed to remind -- and quite obliquely -- those in uniform that disagreements with the Commander in Chief should be expressed privately, not aired publicly.

    I think that's right as a matter of fact. And as a matter of policy, the point I meant to make is that a president should of course listen to his generals on questions of military operations, trade-offs, resources, etc. But it's worth remembering from Civics 101 that they must listen to him on questions of larger national interest and strategy.

    The complaint about Rumsfeld was that he ignored -- in cases like Eric Shinseki's, stifled -- military professionals who warned how hard it would be and how many troops it would take to complete the mission the Bush administration had decided on. Their argument was: if you're going to do this, do it right. That is exactly the kind of advice military professionals are expected to give their civilian commanders. It's what Bush, Rumsfeld, et al should have listened to. (Apart, of course, from listening to a wider range of views about launching the invasion at all.)

    That is a different kind of listening from what is emerging with Gen. McChrystal. Whether or not this was his intention, his quoted advice comes across less as, "If you're going to do X, then do it right" than as, "You should do X..." Figuring out what it would take to protect Afghan citizens and win a counterinsurgency effort is the general's job. Figuring out whether that is worth doing is the president's. Again, an obvious point but worth restating.

    One comeback would be: Obama's already made up his mind! He said that Afghanistan was the "necessary war," and if he is committed to the end then he is committed to the means. To call his original choice into question would waste time and look weak. As Bob Kaplan put it, "the time to roll out a new or adjusted strategy would have been when McChrystal's selection was announced, so that he could become the face of the new policy."

    This is where we disagree. I think the time to adjust the strategy is as new evidence comes in and until you've done something irreversible -- and that in these war-and-peace matters it is better to be inconsistent than wrong. That is why I think a thorough reconsideration is just what the Administration should be doing right now. I start out believing that the less-bad option is to curtail rather than expand America's commitment in Afghanistan -- all options being bad because of the fateful mistake of switching attention to Iraq eight years ago. But I'll listen to a case for expansion differently if I think it comes from an open assessment of all possibilities, rather than because it's too late to change course or risk losing face.

    Last on this theme: the same reader offered this link to another valuable "be careful what you're getting into" analysis of Afghanistan, from Survival magazine. I agree with Andrew Sullivan's current examinations of this difficult choice, here and here. And, having watched the Frontline "Obama's War" broadcast last night, I share the widespread endorsement of it. Can be viewed online here.

  • Festival of links, part 2: Coates, Kaplan, Green

    Following this earlier dispatch, a few more.

    - Like my Atlantic colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates, I've been in a no-TV mode for a while -- in my case, most of the time since returning from China. We finally got TV coverage re-connected last month for the US Open tennis matches and the start of the NFL season. But I realize that I'm turning on the TV only for live sports and the occasional real-time spectacle that's easier to watch on the big screen than find on line. David Letterman's first post-scandal show; the new (and just so-so) season-opener of The Simpsons this weekend; the PBS "Obama's War" tonight. Not Mad Men, because we have to catch up with the first two seasons on DVDs.* For old times' sake and for language practice, my wife sometimes has the Chinese-language station on in the background. But in general, it's not a factor -- compared either with radio or, of course, the internet. Certainly less a presence in our life than it used to be.

    I'm not making any big cultural point about TV or our haughtiness in rising above it. I am convinced that our children's four elementary-school years when we were living in Japan and Malaysia and rarely saw TV at all, were good for them (and us) in various ways. My only point at the moment is that the same technological shifts that have caused problems for the print media have, in our household's case, made even more of a difference when it comes to TV.

    - My Atlantic colleague Robert Kaplan has argued on our site very strongly that it is "Time for Decisiveness on Afghanistan," by which he means that it's time to send more troops to wage a thorough counter-insurgent action. Here is why I disagree.

    Bob Kaplan knows more about Afghanistan and its environs than I ever will. I like and respect him, even though we usually disagree about foreign policy, notably about Iraq. But his essay is only in part about the right strategy for Afghanistan. It is also about the way presidents make decisions about war and peace. That's something I know about, and I think his basic assumptions are wrong.

    He says that Obama is causing great damage by taking so long to decide on the right course for Afghanistan. I think that presidents have caused damage by making decisions too quickly much more often than by taking too long. And he says that Obama runs the risk of seeming inconsistent -- and therefore of becoming ineffective. To me, presidents have hurt themselves and the country through rigidity born of a fear of looking inconsistent, much more often than they have by being too flexible.

    A sample passage from his essay:

    "It's perfectly legitimate for Obama to review Afghanistan strategy and troop numbers. But by calling into question the very strategy that he put into place earlier in the year, when he called Afghanistan the "necessary war," and promised to properly resource it, Obama is courting charges from the right that he is another ineffectual Jimmy Carter--that other Nobel Peace Prize winner....

    "The Administration had many months, beginning the moment Obama was elected, to recalibrate Afghan strategy. Yet it's now in the position of publicly questioning the fundamental wisdom of the general it has chosen.... Even if Obama does end up making the correct decision on Afghanistan strategy (by which I mean adding troops, since counterinsurgency is manpower-intensive), the public agony over his deliberations may already have done incalculable damage."

    You should read his whole argument. If he or others can really establish that a decision right this minute about Afghanistan is indispensable -- that this is a moment comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis etc -- then, OK. (For a contrary argument, see this.) Otherwise, everything I've learned about politics indicates that impatience is almost always destructive, that especially when it comes to military commitments it's crucial to think and think again, and that a president should be less afraid of being "inconsistent" than of making a big mistake.

    - My Atlantic colleague Josh Green, co-author with Henry Waxman of The Waxman Report, adds this about the disagreement over calorie labeling I mentioned earlier today.

    "To chime in with a congressional/historical angle on the Corby/Megan labeling imbroglio: Congress considered the lack of information on most products serious enough from a public health standpoint that (led by Henry Waxman!), it passed the dull-sounding-but-important Nutrition Labeling and Dietary Supplement Act in 1996. Waxman devotes a full chapter to it in his book. Example of typically misleading industry behavior:  Sara Lee Lite Cheesecake actually contained more calories per serving than Sara Lee's regular cheesecake. The "lite" was a marketing ploy. Confronted by an FDA task force, Sara Lee claimed that the "lite" referred to the color, not the caloric content, of the cheesecake. Similar examples abound. A perhaps more resonant point for the general public: without the Nutritional Labeling Act there would be no South Beach Diet!"

    ___
    * Why we're behind on Mad Men: Tried three times to get Seasons 1 and 2 from pirate video stores in Beijing. First time, the version we got was in Russian. Second time, Spanish and Portuguese. Third time, it was some other show altogether. Actually relieved to have a chance to rent legit versions at full price in DC!

  • Festival of links, part 1

    Before an impending "real," as opposed to false-alarm, absence from this site for a while, because of impending "real" writing, a variety of links about things I've meant to mention. Two now, two or three later in the day.

    - Everyone on the China-media beat is aware of the turmoil at Caijing, a unique and important magazine in China. The title means "Finance and Economics"; an English site is here. (Disclosure: one of my sons worked there right out of college, during the SARS epidemic, and I know many of the staff.) Caijing has become a powerhouse in both the business and the journalistic sense. It publishes thick issues and holds big, influential conferences -- but it has also been a crucial leader in real business/financial reporting and exposes of financial chicanery, corruption, pollution, and other topics usually hard for the Chinese press to cover. Evan Osnos, who wrote a New Yorker profile of the founder and sparkplug of the magazine, Hu Shuli, has an update on the turmoil here. Other info from the FT here, from the AP here, from the WSJ (subscription wall) here, from the Guardian here, from the NYT here, and from Yahoo news here. None of this is good news.

    - In their respective parts of the Atlantic's site, my colleagues Corby Kummer and Megan McArdle make opposite cases about the effects of New York City's calorie-labeling law. McArdle says it hasn't done any good; Kummer argues that it has already done something and, over time, will undoubtedly do much more. Read and judge for yourself, but one part of Kummer's argument seems obviously true and worth underscoring. He stresses (as did the authors of the original study) that calorie labels -- like mileage labels on cars or electric-consumption labels on appliances -- can make a difference even if customers don't think they're paying attention to them. As the original study said:

    "Calorie labeling could result in changes that do not rely primarily on alterations in consumers' food choices. Menu labeling regulations may encourage chain restaurants to offer more nutritious or otherwise improved menu offerings, which could be profoundly influential. [italics Kummer's] Public health experts have shown that creating "default" incentives to improve well-being is essential to improving public health. By indirectly influencing restaurants to offer more lower-calorie items, menu labeling regulations could help encourage such default options for consumers."

    As Kummer added:

    "Yuppie avatar Starbucks immediately changed its default milk from whole to 2 percent, so it wouldn't have to admit that a Frappuccino could amount to practically as many calories as you should eat in a whole day... Just this week, [a NYC official] told me... Burger King began a new ad campaign telling how customers could eat a full meal for 650 calories or less. McDonalds took .7 ounces and 70 calories out of its standard portion of french fries. Dunkin Donuts introduced an egg-white breakfast. KFC put grilled skinless chicken on its menu--not something anyone expected to see at KFC."

    Again, decide for yourself, but this corresponds to effects I've seen in other areas over the years. Labeling and disclosure in itself has an influence, in encouraging organizations to offer more of what they think will look "good" and less of what looks "bad."

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