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.
  • Afghanistan for beginners

    The vast majority of Americans have to take arguments about Afghanistan more or less on trust. We just don't have enough experience there to speak with confidence about tribal relations, or the possibilities of national coherence, or the effects pro and con of injecting more foreign troops, or the many other factors that matter in shaping America's policy. This is true to a degree on all questions of international relations. But it is particularly acute here because the Obama Administration's decision to increase the U.S. commitment, ostensibly en route to decreasing it, rests fundamentally on two judgment calls:

    1) Whether Al Qaeda/related terrorist groups really do depend so heavily on a specific geographic base in Afghanistan that, if the U.S. can disrupt them there, we won't have to apply similar efforts later on in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, or anyplace else.

    2) Whether a limited increase in U.S. troops, for a limited amount of time, really can make a decisive difference -- in the long-term stability of the Afghan regime, in the competence of the police and military, in the resistance to a Taliban or terrorist return, and so on, after allowing for any friction or hostility created by the additional presence of U.S. troops.

    I am no expert on either point.* But I know these things: for Obama's strategy to pan out, the answer on both calls had better turn out to be Yes. And my observation of the world over the years makes me assume, fear, and expect that the answer to #2 is going to be No. That is what I meant just after the speech in saying, "I hope he's right." The alternatives are grim.
    ____
    * On the first point: People I respect strongly argue exactly contrary cases. For instance, six weeks ago Matthew Hoh stressed in his resignation letter that the logic of fighting in Afghanistan, "if honest... would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc." Yesterday on NPR Andrew Bacevich made a similar case: we were going to the source of the Al Qaeda problem circa 2001, which may or may not have anything to do with the problem ca 2011. On the other side, genuine experts on Afghanistan like Steve Coll have argued that the circumstances in that region truly are unique, and that a disruption of terrorist activities there would make a significant difference.

    Again, for this strategy to work, both assumptions have to prove true: the goal must be attainable (#2); and once attained it must prove sufficient and effective in addressing the underlying problem (#1). We're back in the realm of hope.

  • Updates: Mullen/Obama in US, old/fat in China

    1) I mentioned recently Charles Stevenson's observation that when Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the JCS, testified yesterday about the Afghanistan decision, he was much more detailed and positive in describing how President Obama made the decision than he had indicated in his prepared testimony. By the time I put up the item, the relevant Pentagon site showed only the "as delivered" version of Mullen's comments, not his prepared testimony.

    Thanks to reader E. Rossi, here is a PDF of Mullen's prepared remarks, from the Senate Armed Services Committee's site. It indeed confirms what Stevenson said. The prepared testimony had only one line about the process. ("I support fully, and without hesitation, the President's decision.") The "as delivered" version, reflecting Mullen's actual comments to the committee, went on in quite some detail. "I have seen my share of internal debates about various national security issues -- especially over the course of these last two years. And I can honestly say that I do not recall an issue so thoroughly or so thoughtfully considered as this one." Etc. This is just to close an open loop.

    2) I mentioned last night a report from a long-time foreign teacher in China, who has been told that his and his wife's visas won't be renewed and therefore that they will have to leave the country, because they are now over age 60. Many readers have written in to emphasize the (true, and widely known) fact that large Chinese organizations generally have "low" mandatory retirement ages, at least by U.S. standards. Typically for government offices and big companies it would be age 60 for men and 55 for women. As with everything in China, there are of course exceptions. The issue here is the foreign-teachers' argument that mechanistic application of the rule is self-defeating, since it will make it that much harder for their provincial university to maintain the English program they have built up.

    The "news" aspect of the story is whether the government is enforcing the age limit, particularly for foreigners, in a way it hadn't before -- or whether this is yet another instance of varying decisions being made by varied officials across the vast country. On that front I have queries out.

    3) In the same account I mentioned that calling someone "fat" in Chinese, like calling someone "old," was at worst neutral and more often positive.  A reader pointed out that I needed to be more precise about such terms. To my comment, "I don't remember anyone calling me 胖方-- Pang Fang, "Fat Mr. Fang" -- but if they had that would have been complimentary too," Paul Camp of Atlanta says:

    "If so, shouldn't that be 'Phat Mr. Fang?' Nuances count in translation."  Good point.
  • Foreign teachers in China: 老师 who are not too 老

    The Chinese word for teacher is laoshi (老师); the first character, 老, means "old" and almost always has an honorific rather than a disparaging connotation. When a young Chinese person would call me 老方 -- Lao Fang, "Old Mr. Fang," Fang being for a while the Chinese version of my family name (story for another time) -- it was meant in a nice way. I don't remember anyone calling me 胖方-- Pang Fang, "Fat Mr. Fang" -- but if they had that would have been complimentary too.

    Given the respect for 老师 and 老-ness in general, I noted a report from James Bishop, an American who with his wife has taught English at Baoding University, in Hebei Province, since the early 2000s, that he was being told to leave the country because of his age. He writes:

    "China is purging foreign teachers over the age of 60. No new visas. and no exception I know of anywhere in the country. I am on a forum that connects hundreds of teachers here. Smart ain't it? Thus, no retired teacher, those with the most training and experience and the least likely to chase young Chinese women, can be hired into schools that desperately NEED trained teachers who have actually earned their degrees from accredited institutions."

    I wrote back to ask how long he had been in the country, and he said:

    "7.5 years at the same shop. We were honored with the 'Friend Of China' medal in recognition of our teaching efforts. Many modernizations and upgrades of our department were initiated by Sallie and myself. We have the only room dedicated to the use of English I know of in China (It is equipped with furniture and several hundred DVDs we purchased ourselves, two computers connected to the Internet, a satellite TV system providing access to foreign English language broadcast, and many books and magazines.), nightly full length English language films free of charge to the students, a student newspaper, mid day English free talks, 'seminars,' and an 'English only' rule within the building resulting in acknowledged improvement in oral English skills among the faculty and student body. The decision is being made by people who have no connection with, or concern for, the quality of English language instruction in China."

    In the big sweep of China's problems and injustices, this is not that heartbreaking. I mention it partly out of sympathy for the people involved -- but partly too as corrective data for outsiders tempted to think that all efforts in China are seamlessly aimed toward the shrewdest and most efficient pursuit of the nation's developmental goals. A lot happens because of accident, mistake, or foolishness.

    Bishop says that he and his wife "are looking for new worlds to conquer."

  • Textual analysis dept: Admiral Mullen defends Obama

    Charles Stevenson, a one-time teacher of mine and long-time authority on civil-military relations, pointed out an intriguing difference between what Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had planned to say to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, and what he actually said.

    I mention Stevenson's expertise in this field because the difference depends* on trusting his account of what he saw. Early today, Stevenson reports, Mullen's prepared testimony was posted on the Pentagon's site. It began with a fairly anodyne statement of support for the policy that Barack Obama announced last night, similar to what Mullen said in person this morning: "Let me state right up front that I support fully and without hesitation the President's decision."

    The prepared remarks then moved on to an analysis of the broader policy issues. But in his live performance -- captured in the "as delivered" transcript that is now on the Pentagon site -- Mullen went out of his way to defend the way Obama had made the decision, and implicitly to contrast it with the previous Administration's approach:

    "I have seen my share of internal debates about various national security issues -- especially over the course of these last two years. [Eg, including the Iraq "surge."] And I can honestly say that I do not recall an issue so thoroughly or so thoughtfully considered as this one.
    "Every military leader in the chain of command, as well as those of the Joint Chiefs, was given voice throughout this process ... [all ellipses in original] and every one of us used it.
    "We now have before us a strategy more appropriately matched to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan ...  and resources matched more appropriately to that strategy -- particularly with regard to reversing the insurgency's momentum in 2010.

    "And given the stakes in Afghanistan for our own national security - as well as that of our partners around the world - I believe the time we took was well worth it."

    Was Mullen volunteering a defense of Obama's "dithering" style of decision-making? Saying something about the previous Administration's approach? I don't know. According to Stevenson, "These implicit criticisms of Bush and even earlier Obama policies strike me as unusually supportive of the president in responding to political criticisms." FWIW.
    ___
    * I have not taken time to rev up the Internet wayback machine to see what that site showed this morning, but eventually I will give details of the before-and-after versions of the speech.

  • Well, I hope he's right

    I don't pretend to know enough about Afghanistan to have a confident view of what to do about it. Fred Kaplan, who knows a lot more than I do, says that he too is torn. But I have been very skeptical of increasing U.S. commitment there, for the reason that Barack Obama tonight identified as one of the sources of possible objection to his policy:

    "First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam.  They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing.  I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history.  Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action.  Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency.  And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border."

    "Another Vietnam"... well, not exactly. There are far more differences than similarities between the situations. (History of colonialism; effects of partition; charismatic nationalist leader; topography; scale; nature of combat; larger Cold War dynamic and spillover; and I could go on.) And even to say "another Vietnam" discredits opposition in suggesting that it's a reflexive and undiscriminating reaction to the traumas of another age.

    The real question is whether another 30,000 troops and another year or two can make a difference -- whether this new commitment will meet the test that Obama announced a few minutes later in the speech: "As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests." I have resisted this additional commitment, because I have felt that it went beyond our responsibility, our means, and our interests. Since this is the course we're now set on, I hope his assessment -- that this can make a difference -- turns out to be right.

  • A little more on Cheney

    I have received a number of angry emails (plus supportive ones!) about this item earlier today, complimenting George W. Bush's dignity in his post-presidential year as prelude to criticizing Dick Cheney's angry, hyper-partisan attacks on the Obama Administration.

    The angriest complaints boil down to:
    - What about Al Gore?
    - What about Jimmy Carter?
    - What about Bill Clinton?

    Hyper-literal as this may seem, here are the two important differences between the comportment of previous ex-Presidents and Vice Presidents who have gotten re-involved in political discussions and what we have seen in the past year from Dick Cheney.

    1) In previous cases, the former officials have waited well over a year before criticizing the policies of their successors. After the extremely controversial (to put it mildly) resolution of the 2000 election, Al Gore was notable for his reluctance to question either the legitimacy of George W. Bush's selection or the policies he pursued. He did not clearly challenge Bush's policies until late September, 2002, with his frontal dissent from the impending invasion of Iraq in his  remarkable speech at the Commonwealth Club of California. Jimmy Carter played no significant role in the debate over Ronald Reagan's tax cuts in 1981, nor did Bill Clinton in the debate over Bush's tax cuts in 2001. As best I remember (and as best I can now determine), neither George H.W. Bush nor Dan Quayle played a role in Bill Clinton's big legislative struggles in 1993.

    2) In previous cases, former Presidents and Vice Presidents have been slow to question the character, loyalty, or patriotism of their successors, as Cheney has unmistakably done with Obama. For instance: Jimmy Carter had a very low opinion of Ronald Reagan, but it was many years before he allowed himself to be quoted to anything like that effect. And: I interviewed Bill Clinton for this magazine nearly two years after left office. He went out of his way not to be personally critical of George W. Bush, even though his wife was then in the middle of partisan politics in the Senate.

    So we have a former Vice President who has observed no cooling-off/decent-interval period whatsoever before criticizing the policies of his successor; and who has directly attacked a new president's character, strength, and willingness to defend the nation's interests. We have had bad Vice Presidents through the nation's long history; I don't know of any precedent for this behavior.

  • In praise of George W. Bush

    Since the results of the 2008 election became clear, the 43rd President of the United States has behaved in a way that brings honor to him, his family, his office, and his country. By all reports he did what he could to smooth the transition to his successor, including dealing with the house-is-burning-down world financial crisis. Since leaving office he has -- like most of his predecessors in their first years out of power -- maintained a dignified distance from public controversies and let the new team have its chance. He has acted as if aware that there are national interests larger than his own possible interests in score-settling or reputational-repair.

    The former vice president, Dick Cheney, has brought dishonor to himself, his office, and his country. I am not aware of another former President or Vice President behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama's decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting Vice President at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.

    The mystery is that Cheney has been through this process before. As chief of staff in Gerald Ford's White House, he was in charge of the transition to the Jimmy Carter team after Ford narrowly lost in 1976. Anyone who dealt with him then was impressed by his openness, his awareness of continuing national interest, his lack of bitterness -- and overall his resemblance to the George W. Bush of 2009. Whatever happened to that Dick Cheney is a matter of mystery. If only he would, for one moment, just shut up and follow the post-transition example of all three presidents he served: Ford, Bush, and Bush.

    Update: Please see this followup, if you're tempted to ask: "What about Carter? What about Gore?"

  • Chinese view of greatest threats

    The Lowy Institute, in Sydney, today released a poll of Chinese attitudes about their own country, its prospects, its relations with the outside world, and so on. Like statistics on almost anything coming out of China, opinion-survey results from there should be considered approximations of reality at best. (For instance, it is just about impossible to get reliable results from the poor, rural majority of China's population. Therefore polls unavoidably make the responding public seem more educated, urbanized, richer, etc than the whole Chinese public is.) But taken at face value many of these findings are interesting. For instance, on the major threats to China's well-being:

    LowyPoll1.jpg

    Click for a more detailed version, but the first two on the list are environmental, and the third involves Japan. Number four is possible American attempts to hold China back. Or, on one of my favorite hobby-horses, the importance of attracting Chinese (and other) students to the U.S. for education:

    LowyPoll2.jpg


    The whole report is available in PDF from the Lowy home page, here; ongoing discussion on the Lowy "Interpreter" site, e.g. here.

  • From an American traveling in China

    About the ripple effects of Barack Obama's disastrous and embarrassing trip to Asia:

    "I have just returned home to Connecticut after a month in northwest China.  I know you've probably exhausted yourself in venting your outrage at the pitifully poor coverage of the Obama visit to China by our 'mainstream' press, but I'm writing to add just one more voice to the chorus of people with on-the-ground experience in China, who can't seem to wrap our heads around what actually happened and what was reported. 

    "I was literally stopped in the streets of Yinchuan [Ningxia autonomous region, pretty remote, where these pics were taken], due to my being easily spotted as an American, by people of all walks of life who spoke and gestured enthusiastically about the impact that this American president was having and would have on their very lives.  It was exhilarating for me, having all too often suffered through explanations about why American leadership doesn't 'get it' where Asia is concerned.  My dinner conversations were enlivened in ways I wouldn't have imagined even three years ago.

    "In a region where one dares not discuss the 'human rights' agenda of the West, we talked openly and loudly and positively, frequently led by young aspiring Party members, about Obama's subtle but effective challenge to China's leadership to open up the society.  Almost all of my university colleagues and most of our students have Facebook accounts and use Twitter in this remote region of China, and all are upset... yes, angry... that they can not communicate using what they know are the most popular social media tools in the West.... 

    "As one who has long been worried about the direction of our fourth estate, I'm feeling little comforted by what I read and watched in our Western press and cable news while in China.  As an American far from home, especially during one of our most hallowed of holidays, Thanksgiving, I felt even more distant from that proverbial 'City upon a Hill.'"
  • Gift thoughts for the holidays

    I am a fan of nearly every kind of small aircraft, but I might draw the line here:

    Helicopter.jpg

    It's a personal helicopter, really two rotors on a hat. Action video here, from Makezine (thanks to Dave Proffer). As it happens, one of my upcoming New Year's resolutions is to get back into aviation actively. But avoiding this hat-helo would be consistent with two of my rules for a happy flying career: Don't fly anything that's not factory-built (sorry, home-crafters); and fly only airplanes, not helicopters. More on all of this another time.
  • More on "many nations of China"

    Two weeks ago, I mentioned Patrick Chovanec's Atlantic feature, "The Nine Nations of China," which included this map of regional differences within the country:

    Chovanec.jpg


    Shortly thereafter the Shanghaiist had a further riff on the theme, with maps of China representing the mental images of people from different parts of China. For instance, China as seen by people from Shanghai:
    ShanghaiMap.jpg

    And according to people from Hong Kong:
    HKMap.jpg

    The spirit is that of Steinberg's famous map of the USA as seen from Manhattan. Worth checking out.
  • Asian politics, American politics, press fail (updated)

    My colleague Marc Ambinder has just published a very astute and important, and in its way very depressing, analysis. It is an assessment of the Washington press corps' reluctance to look outward, to what we might quaintly call the "real" world, as opposed to informing itself purely with its own inside assessments of "narratives" and "perceptions" and "optics."

    Yes, all those "perceived" things matter. In the real world, Gerald Ford had been a collegiate all-star football player; in the world of optics, he became a stumblebum, thanks his misstep on an Air Force One stairway and the virtuosity of Chevy Chase's subsequent riffs on SNL. Ford lost by a surprisingly narrow margin to Jimmy Carter in 1976; the bumbler image was part of the reason. I was working for Carter during that campaign, and we exulted in a front-page photo of Ford at a stop in Texas eating a tamale -- corn-husk wrapper and all, which fit the bumbler theme.

    Perceptions have always been part of political life, and always will be. But the purpose of the press is supposed to be giving reality a better chance. And as Marc Ambinder demonstrates, this past two-week episode of Obama-in-Asia represents a really flagrant and consequential failure in that regard.

    Ambinder's assessment tees off a new Politico item by John Harris that is a distillation of the "perception is all we care about" approach to the world. Yes, I realize -- as Ambinder obviously does -- that the topic of the Politico item is perception itself. But in talking about a damaging story line (one of seven!) the Obama Administration has to fight, the item asserts as truth something that simply is false*, and that seemed "true" only to White House reporters judging a diplomatic trip as if it were a series of stump speeches on a campaign swing. Actually, it's worse than that. If the trip to Asia had in fact been a campaign swing, political reporters would probably have been amenable to a more sophisticated analysis: what matters isn't the boilerplate at the press conference, it's the developments we see over the next weeks or months. That's a kind of looking-beyond-the-obvious that politicos would pride themselves in when thinking about, say, pledged-delegate counts or vote-wrangling in the House. For whatever reason, it didn't happen when it came to the substance of dealing with China.

    Essentially we have journalism about an important topic -- America's relations with the country that has a lot to do with our environmental and financial well-being, plus with the prospects for containing Iran -- presented as if it were coverage of another branch of pro sports. What's the difference? In sports, the only thing we finally care about is how well the game is played. People in Washington are depressed because the Redskins are so terrible, but that's not going to cause a run on the dollar or lead to international crises. The interestingness and drama are the only point. But the "sport" of negotiating with China involves something that are objectively very important -- as Ambinder, to his credit, goes on to examine by asking, "is the damaging story actually true?"

    This is about as destructive a case of "who cares about the realities?" press mentality as I remember since miscoverage of the Clinton health care plan 15 years ago, as described here and here. (I am excepting the buildup to the Iraq war, when there were a lot of other factors at play.) I have said several times before that I'll give the theme a rest -- and maybe this time I finally will, leaving it in Ambinder's hands. But it matters.
    _____
    * Arguments that it is false and jejune: here, here, here, here, and further links from those items too. Later today I'll create an omnibus "Obama in Asia" category for these posts. UPDATE: As a way out of this topic, I have now tagged all 12 related posts, including this one, with the "Obama in Asia" marker, and they can be found in reverse chronological order here.

  • Before the Afghanistan speech, two more views on China

    Two readers with hypotheses about Obama's mission to China and its "failure." First, from a reader with a lot of experience outside the United States:

    "Those media people who portraited Obama's visit to China as a failure simply had little idea about Chinese political culture. The way the Chinese government does things is that they cannot give people the impression that they are yielding to other governments' pressure. So if you come to lecture the Chinese government, you'll be disappointed. But if you come and show your respect and humility, you may well get what you wanted. Last time the Renminbi was re-evaluated [allowed to float], it did not occur when American politicians were lecturing China to do so, but when the shouts from Washington were relatively mild. This time, China stressed that its announcement of carbon emission targets was a "voluntary" action, even though we all know it had something to do with Obama's visit. [JF note: This all rings 100% true to me.]

    "When it comes to international reporting, American media is generally too quick to draw conclusions and too much on the surface. Maybe now you can have a better idea of why so many well-informed Chinese people are often so frustrated at American media's coverage of Chinese affairs. It is not because they are just "Chinese nationalists", as American media like to believe."

    Then, from a reader in the US:

    "Just a thought -- is it possible that the media's negative portrayal of Obama's China trip is giving the Chinese government cover to be more conciliatory than it otherwise might have been? As persuasive as Obama might be in private, the Chinese might be reluctant to give him the appearance of a major "victory" over them; but since his trip has been viewed as a "failure," they do not lose face when they make concessions.

    "Perhaps the media actually helped Obama's case!"

    And perhaps this is long-sought conclusive proof of a liberal media conspiracy to prop up Obama! For the record, I take a much more positive view of Obama's efforts and results on the Asian trip than I expect to about the new buildup in Afghanistan, if that is indeed what he will announce. More on that anon.

  • The humiliating Obama-in-Asia failures mount up

    NYT front-page lead story today:
    NYTNov28.jpg
    From the story:

    "WASHINGTON -- The United Nations nuclear watchdog demanded Friday that Iran immediately freeze operations at a once secret uranium enrichment plant,  a sharp rebuke that bore added weight because it was endorsed by Russia and China...

    "Administration officials held up the statement as a victory for President Obama's diplomatic efforts to coax both Russia and China to increase the pressure on Iran. They said that they had begun working on a sanctions package, which would be brought before the United Nations Security Council if Iran did not meet the year-end deadline imposed by Mr. Obama to make progress on the issue....

    "In recent weeks, the Obama administration has been painstakingly wooing Russia and China, the two permanent members of the Security Council most averse to imposing sanctions... Persuading China has, so far, proven more difficult. After meeting with Mr. Obama in Beijing, China's president, Hu Jintao, said nothing about additional pressure on Iran.

    "But administration officials said that behind the scenes they had been working hard to get China on board, and expressed hope that those efforts would pay off.... Rahm Emanuel,  the White House chief of staff, said China's support on Iran and its decision to set a climate change goal on Thursday showed that Mr. Obama's trip to Beijing was producing results despite criticism of the visit. "This is the product of engagement," Mr. Emanuel said, adding that it was "a direct result" of the trip."

    To the NYT's credit: the online version of today's story contains a link back to an influential earlier "we didn't see anything happen in public, therefore nothing happened" story (by one of the same correspondents) about the "failure" of the trip. It's the link in the third quoted paragraph from the story, starting with the words "Chinese president Hu." So, no joke, this is a relatively classy gesture by the Times and better than we've seen from any of the networks or talk shows or other publications. It would have been very natural and easy to leave that link out. We'll take our progress where we can find it!

    And to be clear on one other point: the areas in which the Administration needed to engage the Chinese -- Iran, North Korea, climate issues, currency value and economic "balancing," human rights in general and talks with the Dalai Lama in particular -- are obviously all difficult. China's initial offer on emissions targets is nowhere near "sufficient"; similarly with its RMB-and-economic commitments; the Iran problem is far from solved; and so on. But ten days after the trip's completion, the apparent results are closer to the high end of what the Administration could reasonably have expected than to the across-the-board humiliation and disappointment that "analyses" of the trip generally proclaimed. There is evidence of at least first-stage engagement by China on all the issues that mattered to the United States. First-stage is not completion, but it's something -- and something most of the press, viewing the trip as if it were a campaign swing, missed at the time.

  • If you're in Washington this weekend

    Do not miss the chance to see Edward Burtynsky's "Oil" exhibit of mammoth-sized photos at the Corcoran Gallery in downtown Washington.

    One photo from the exhibit is the "Gallery" feature in this month's issue of the Atlantic. It shows the now-derelict SOCAR oil fields in Baku, Azerbaijan.

    gallery-burtynsky.jpg

     


    Here's another, of the oil-sands operation in Canada:

    2_Edward Burtynsky Oil.jpg

    The impact of the exhibit as a whole is, well, hard to convey in words. I had originally been drawn to Burtynsky's photos because his portrayal of factories in China resembled what I had seen there -- eg, in the one below, perhaps the most famous picture from his China series:

    burtynsky-factory-china.jpg

    The series on Oil was more enlightening to me -- perhaps because I'd already seen these Chinese factories, but mainly because very few people have seen the range of oil-industry artifacts that he has captured in his wall-sized and incredibly-detailed photos. Extraction and refinery operations around the world; the industries oil has made possible; the indications of the end of the oil era. Hard to forget. (In DC until December 13.) Thanks to TMF and EBF for the prod to actually drive downtown and see this.

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