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.
  • Thought experiment

    What states might look like if, as with Congressional districts, their borders were periodically redrawn to reflect population changes. Click for larger version.

    This map is by Neil Freeman from FakeIsTheNewReal.org. It's based on a division of the country into 50 state units with more-or-less equal population -- 5 to 6 million apiece -- and preserving existing boundaries where possible. (As with the new state of "Missouri.") I love many of the other state names -- Lincoln, Joaquin, Tombigbee. My childhood home would have been along the border of Coronado and Mojave. In a reapportioned Senate each of these units would have two votes.

    In the same spirit of "zero-based governance," also consider H. Res. 1018, introduced this week in the House of Representatives, calling on the Senate -- please! -- to drop the recent aberrational practice of applying the filibuster to all legislation, and instead to reserve it for rare, emergency use. Or, as its authors put it, "Requesting the Senate to adjust its rules to reflect the intent of the framers of the Constitution by amending the Senate's filibuster rule, Rule 22, to facilitate the consideration of bills and amendments." Worth a shot!

    UPDATE: Please see follow-ups here and here
  • Impressive journalism

    For a "let's look on the bright side" moment, here are several items I've noticed in the last two days that have nothing in common except illustrating what journalism can do. Having been complaining about many things on many fronts recently, I wanted to distribute some compliments.

    - "Bail Burden" special on NPR. Late yesterday afternoon I was trapped in traffic, but I barely noticed while listening to an absolutely riveting 20-minute (!) segment on All Things Considered, by Laura Sullivan, about abuses in the bail-bond system. This is an issue I had never spent one minute thinking about before, let alone 20. I will certainly think about it from now on. It's the first of a three-part series; based on part one, it's a combination of reporting and analysis applied in a very effective way. If there is any justice in the world (separate question), it will make a difference in law and policy.

    - "The Listener," by the Atlantic's own Tim Lavin in our current issue (subscribe!). The issue is full of historical and analytical pieces, which are part of our bread-and-butter and, I think, work out well as a collection. But for as long as the magazine has been around, it has also featured the lovingly-detailed narrative about a person or development that is, just, interesting, and this profile of the successor to Art Bell as king of the overnight airways is a wonderful illustration. By the time you get to the part about the hotshot physicist Brian Greene appearing on the show, you'll know just what I mean.

    - A news-analysis piece by Alec MacGillis in yesterday's Washington Post, about Senator-elect Scott Brown's actual views on health care reform. The phenomenon MacGillis had to explain was this contradiction: Brown had campaigned against all Obama proposals including health care reform, but as a state senator he had voted for the Romney plan that is very similar to Obama's, and one reason he opposed Obama's plan is that Massachusetts people don't need it, since they already have something similar. The standard newsroom way to handle this issue is the "sources say" approach -- quoting people who point out the tension between the views. Instead, the story clearly explained the complication and what it might mean for Brown's future positions. It was way inside the paper but was next to another very good explanatory story, by Steve Mufson in Beijing, about the non-obvious effects of internet censorship in China.

    - "System Failure," by Christopher Hayes in the Nation last week. His perspective in this story -- political, generational, journalistic -- is obviously different from mine, but I felt this was the missing cousin to my own effort to answer the "Is America Going to Hell?" question in the current issue of the Atlantic. Again given the difference in starting perspectives, I was struck that we ended up in a very similar place on the "what is to be done?" front. Last month Hayes also did a very good, non-credulous story after his first trip to China.

    Meta point: there is lots of value that "crowd sourcing" and spontaneous citizen journalism bring to the world. But I think each of these works illustrates the value of trained observers and analysts who can get their views out through existing channels -- and therefore illustrates the value of keeping these channels alive. Read, listen, enjoy.

  • In defense of Roberts as "umpire"

    In response to this earlier comment about John Roberts, a lawyer from Ohio writes:

    "Actually, I like the analogy.  Remember in the old days, then the American League umpires all wore their huge bulky chest protectors outside and the National League umpires had smaller ones on the inside of their shirts?  It was said that the AL umpires called more high strikes and had a higher strike zone because they could not get down as low as the NL umpires.  Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn't.  But that was the perception among the players, the ones most affected by the strike zone.
    "Likewise, I remember in 1997 when Eric Gregg, a very fat umpire, called an outside strike for Livan Hernandez in the ninth inning against the Braves.  From looking at the camera, the ball was a good foot off the left side of the plate.  But since Gregg was already pretty shaded to the left, it looked good to him.
    "Judges, like umpires, do call balls and strikes.  But like umpires, if they are too shaded to one side of the plate, they will call balls as "strikes" on the side they shade to, and will call strikes "balls" on the other side.  It is clear on which side of the plate Roberts shades.  And I don't know why no Dem followed his umpire analogy to its logical conclusion."

    The late Eric Gregg, who died four years ago, after a stroke at age 55:

  • John Roberts: the difference four years makes

    Chief Justice-nominee Roberts, in his opening statement at his confirmation hearings in September, 2005:

    "Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.

    "The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules.

    "But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.

    "Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath."

    Chief Justice Roberts last September, questioning Solicitor General Elena Kagan, during oral arguments in the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission corporate-funding case whose decision was announced yesterday (as reported by Stuart Taylor here):

    " 'When corporations use other people's money to electioneer,' as Kagan explained, 'that is a harm not just to the shareholders themselves but a sort of a broader harm to the public,' because it distorts the political process to inject large sums of individuals' money in support of candidates whom they may well oppose.

    "Roberts sharply challenged this line of argument. 'Isn't it extraordinarily paternalistic,' he asked, 'for the government to take the position that shareholders are too stupid to keep track of what their corporations are doing and can't sell their shares or object in the corporate context if they don't like it? ... ' "We the government have to protect you naive shareholders." '

    "Kagan responded that 'in a world in which most people own stock through mutual funds [and] through retirement plans ... , they have no choice. I think it's very difficult for individual shareholders to be able to monitor what each company they own assets in is doing.' "

    Of course Kagan's response is the practical and real-world one. Virtually all such "wealth" as my wife and I hold, apart from our house, is in low-cost indexed mutual retirement funds. I literally have no idea which specific companies I might have bigger or smaller positions in. By the prevailing wisdom of the day, I'm behaving rationally for a non-expert prudent investor. By Roberts' standard, I am "too stupid to keep track" of what every one of these companies is doing and shifting my positions day by day in response. Or maybe just too lazy.

    And even if Kagan were wrong -- and, she is right -- is it not breathtaking for one appointed Justice, on his own, to decide that he does not like the balance that elected legislators decided on many decades ago, and that many waves of his judicial predecessors have declined to tamper with?

    On the merits, Roberts' approach is like the idiot-savant faith in flawless markets that we all recall from Introductory Ec class. The cliched joke about this outlook concerns the economist's refusal to pick up a $20 bill sitting on the sidewalk: After all, if really were a $20 bill, someone would already have picked it up. But the merits of his argument aren't the point. It's the disjuncture between the person who presented himself with "humility" at the confirmation hearings and the man happy to legislate from the bench.

    The head of the nation's judicial branch was purposefully deceptive during his "umpire" testimony. Or he had no idea what his words meant. Or he has had a complete change of philosophy and temperament while in his mid-50s. Those are the logical possibilities. None of them is too encouraging about the basic soundness of our governing institutions.

  • More on Hillary's speech

    I have heard from many people who have a harsher view of Hillary Clinton's "Internet freedom" speech that I expressed earlier. Part of the explanation, and I say this respectfully but with an edge, is that these people may not have heard as many Secretary of State speeches as I have. Usually such utterances have no apparent architecture or thought-content whatsoever. The standard transition is, "Turning now to Africa..." To have as much structure as Sec. Clinton's speech did -- to emphasize the obvious-but-rarely-made-by-politicians point that the Internet is simultaneously an opportunity and a peril; to try to enumerate the specific areas both of opportunity and of peril; to attempt, at least, the rhetorical trope of "Four Freedoms" of the Internet age; and again to attempt to make the connection between political freedom of expression and long term development of a society -- this is not nothing. To anyone disgruntled by this speech, I say: show me a speech by a sitting Secretary of State in recent times that is substantially better or more logically coherent. (George Marshall's speech unveiling what became the Marshall Plan does not count.)  Graded in the only way that makes sense -- against other presentations of its kind -- it was an impressive piece of work.

    Now... did it say exactly what the United States would do about practices it objects to, in China or elsewhere? Did it resolve other contradictions? No. And, of course not.  Again, if you're unhappy about this, you need to be exposed to more sitting-official speeches! Is it likely to help Google's cause? No -- as I pointed out! But rather than go much farther down that path, let me cite a message from a "Chinese-American-Canadian" reader who heard the speech in Shanghai and makes some sensible points:

    "From my vantage point in Shanghai, I can say that the news of Google possibly leaving the country was briefly a topic of discussion several days ago but hasn't been brought up since. My prediction is that, if Google leaves, Baidu will temporarily monopolize the market before facing competition from a domestic startup. Yes, Google will take a lot of top computer science talent along with it, but top talent will continue returning to the mainland from overseas to make up for the brain drain. And I don't think Google's departure will significantly impact the ability of Chinese people to circumvent censorship or government repression, as there are dozens of sites and forums discussing Party mishaps and injustices that are officially censored in the state news organs.

    More »

  • 5 > 4, but 59 < 41

    Fifty-nine senators, representing (as explained here) some 63 percent of the American public, accompanied by a large House majority and a president recently elected with 70 million votes, cannot enact changes in the nation's health-care system that have been debated for decades.
    A 59-41 margin is not enough for a change of this magnitude.

    Five Justices of the Supreme Court, outvoting their four colleagues, can work a fundamental change in election law that goes far beyond the issues presented by the parties to the case. (Among many accounts, see these two on Slate, here and here, and National Journal here.) Courts always have the option of deciding cases narrowly or broadly. The breadth of this one, reaching far beyond the merits of the case so as to enact the majority Justices' views, is staggering even to a non-lawyer like me. A one-person margin* is enough for a change of this magnitude.

    In the least accountable branch of government, the narrowest margin prevails; in our elected legislative branch, substantial majorities are neutered. My current article strikes a somewhat optimistic tone, in concluding that the only truly broken part of our country is its system of government. (Everyone on Earth would like to imitate America's universities. No one is copying our current governmental machinery.) But that brokenness will require some creativity to repair, and soon.
    * Yes, by definition a nine-member Supreme Court will end up making some 5-4 decisions. But it is impressive how many Big cases, from Marbury v Madison (5-0) to Brown v Board of Education (9-0) to NY Times v Sullivan (9-0) to  United States v Nixon (8-0), have not been cliffhangers -- and how disturbing and friction-engendering a one-vote decision can be when, as in this case, it seems to turn not on any change in real-world circumstances but simply on who now sits on the court. For another time: how John Roberts' "Hey, I'm just here as a neutral umpire, to call balls and strikes" confirmation testimony in 2005 would seem if viewed again today.

  • A momentous 40 hours, leading to Clinton/China/Internet

    Apart from two obvious pieces of momentous news in the past day-and-a-half -- the new junior Senator from Massachusetts, and the new Buckley v. Valeo (by which I mean today's lamentable, straight-party-line Supreme Court ruling that removes limits from direct corporate underwriting of political campaigns) -- there is one other event today that will have big ripple effects. I mean SecState Hillary Clinton's speech this morning about "Internet Freedom," mentioned here and with a prelude discussion here.

    I'm not going to take time for a thorough gloss of the speech. Instead I highly recommend reading the full text, here, or watching the official video, here. And for now some of the main points while listening (and noting main points down in real time with the handy LiveScribe pen.)

    - In contrast to the dreamy Internet optimism of a decade or so ago -- I'm not naming names, but I remember! -- when many people imagined that info technology, by itself, would undermine oppression and bring the world together, Clinton started off with a very astringent reminder that this technology, like others, was neither good or bad in itself and is already being used in both helpful and destructive ways:

    "Amid this unprecedented surge in connectivity, we must also recognize that these technologies are not an unmitigated blessing. These tools are also being exploited to undermine human progress and political rights. Just as steel can be used to build hospitals or machine guns, or nuclear power can either energize a city or destroy it, modern information networks and the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or for ill. The same networks that help organize movements for freedom also enable al-Qaida to spew hatred and incite violence against the innocent. And technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights."

    And a very nice pivot out of this section, effective because it's so blunt and plain:

    "On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does."

    - Underscoring the "this is a big deal" tone of the speech, she enumerated the "Four Freedoms" that FDR proclaimed in 1941, as part of the struggle for the world's future, and said there were a comparable set of Four Freedoms for the Internet age. Check out the speech yourself for details.

    - The China surprise: the speech was a more frontal challenge to Chinese internet and overall censorship policy than I expected, and than I recall in other US-China interactions in a very long time. For instance, early in the speech, an itemization of the places where suppression is getting worse:

    "In the last year, we've seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information. China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the internet. In Vietnam, access to popular social networking sites has suddenly disappeared. And last Friday in Egypt, 30 bloggers and activists were detained." 

    Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Egypt -- this is not the grouping of countries that the Chinese government, in its recent sense of rise to superpower status, is used to being lumped with. Compared to the US as a financial power, OK; overtaking Japan in economic size, yes; being a crucial player in environmental negotiations... all that is one thing. Bracketed in the same sentence with Tunisia and Uzbekistan is different. Sentences like this don't appear in formal, big-deal SecState addresses by accident.

    Other passages to the same effect:

    "As I speak to you today, government censors somewhere are working furiously to erase my words from the records of history. But history itself has already condemned these tactics....

    "Those who disrupt the free flow of information in our society or any other pose a threat to our economy, our government, and our civil society. Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation...."

    And then the Google section itself.

    More »

  • Hillary Clinton's "Internet freedom" speech

    At this moment, I am at the Newseum, in Washington, watching Sec. of State Hillary Clinton deliver a very tough and (so far) very tightly reasoned speech about what she presents as the next great global battle of ideas: ensuring that the Internet remain a tool of openness, opportunity, expression, and possibility rather than of one of control, surveillance, suppression, and division, plus terror and crime. Details and assessment some time later today, but I have the sense while listening that this is an event and a statement that will be studied and discussed for quite a while.

  • Political math: 37 > 63

    As I point out in my article in the current issue, the combination of three forces:
      - The original Constitutional compromise giving two Senate seats to every state, large or small;
      - The post-Constitutional patterns of population growth, which leave California with nearly 37 million people and Wyoming with just over half a million; and
      - The very recent practice of subjecting almost every Senate action to the threat of filibuster, which requires 60 votes to surmount...

    .. means that in theory Senators representing only 12% of the U.S. population could block efforts that Senators representing the other 88% support.

    In reality, the pattern is not that extreme. The Republican minority in the Senate includes some from highly-populated states -- two from Texas, one each from Florida and Ohio. The Democratic majority includes some from low-population states -- both from Delaware and West Virginia, one each from Alaska and Nebraska.

    So in reality, what's the population balance? Counting the new Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, the 41 Republicans in the Senate come from states representing just over 36.5 percent of the total US population. The 59 others (Democratic plus 2 Independent) represent just under 63.5 percent. (Taking 2009 state populations from here. If you count up the totals and split a state's population when it has a spit delegation, you end up with about 112.3 million Republican, 194.7 million Democratic + Indep. Before Brown's election, it was about 198 million Democratic + Ind, 109 million Republican.)

    Let's round the figures to 63/37 and apply them to the health care debate. Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails.

    This is just as a point of information. The Constitution was designed as a system of checks and balances. As explained in my article, that image is being replaced by one of brakes:

    "In their book on effective government, William Eggers and John O'Leary quote a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles, Michael Keeley, on why the city is out of control. "Think of city government as a big bus," he told them. "The bus is divided into different sections with different constituencies: labor, the city council, the mayor, interest groups, and contractors. Every seat is equipped with a brake, so lots of people can stop the bus anytime. The problem is that this makes the bus undrivable." "

    (This item is left over from my previously-announced "temporary radio silence" policy.)

  • Interesting China/Google discussion; housekeeping note

    Interesting discussion: this morning I had the chance to listen in, as moderator, to a very lively discussion on the short- and long-run implications of the Google/China imbroglio and the Chinese government's apparent attempt to create its own info-sphere apart from the external internet. It was a joint production of the New America Foundation and Slate, and was held at the New America HQ in Washington today. Webcast available here; seriously, this was revealing and highlighted both convergences and divergence of view. Panelists:
      --Alec Ross, "Senior Advisor for Innovation" at the State Department, who left before the end, for work relating to Sec. of State Clinton's speech tomorrow on the Internet and Freedom;
     -- Rebecca MacKinnon, now of the Open Society Institute, long-time figure in China/internet policy;
     -- Evgeny Morozov, of Foreign Policy magazine and the Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown;
     -- Timothy Wu, of Columbia University Law School.

    Among the topics covered: the pluses and minuses in Google's decision; whether the company was right or wrong to have entered China in the first place; what divisions may exist inside the Chinese government; what response the US government and US companies should and will make; whether China is limiting its own long-term potential through creating a blinkered, censored info-sphere, and so on.  We even got in two questions from viewers of a webcast in China. All in all, more informative than policy-panels often turn out to be.

    Related housekeeping note: if I live these next few days the way I should, I won't post anything in this space until early next week. That is even though there is a ton of pending, updated material on the Outlook -> Gmail migration, the Nexus One phone, new models of flying cars, interesting software, whether American politics is past redemption, specific suggestions on redeeming politics, the travails of journalism, and other treasured topics. And oh, yes, recent politics. For the second time in the past two years, I've reached a breaking point of overdue chores, messages I actually have to answer, and other things that can't wait any more. (If I've ignored your message, sorry! And, join the club!) Time to plow through all of that according to the rescue-and-recovery gospel promulgated by David "Getting Things Done" Allen, before doing anything else at all. See you in the run-up to the State of the Union Address.

  • About the stakes for China in the Google showdown

    In a first reaction to the Google-China news I mentioned that if Google left, it would have little immediate impact on information-flow within China. "Why? Anybody inside China who really wants to get to Google.com -- or BBC or whatever site may be blocked for the moment -- can still do so easily, by using a proxy server or buying (for under $1 per week) a VPN service. Details here." But in the longer term, Google's departure might symbolize China's separation from the mainstream of modern, open, global innovation -- and might weaken its technological development and broader capacity to modernize and prosper, through the removal of a leading competitive force.
    A reader who specializes in the history of technology sent this response to my claim about the effectiveness of China's Great Firewall to date:

    "Analogously, in the information revolution following the introduction of the printing press, censorship in Catholic countries (especially Spain) had a similar "non-effect" initially because  there was an active black market in banned books. However, in less than 50 years, in the Protestant countries, where the press was not controlled, people of the crafts-producing class were able to become literate and change the way they produced goods. Over time this new way of producing goods became capitalism.  

    "In Spain, Italy, Portugal and to lesser extent France people of the crafts-producing class did not become literate. They continued  producing goods in the same way as they had in the past. Soon they were out competed by Holland and then England where better goods were produced more cheaply. Over time this had a profound economic impact on the wealth and power of the various countries.

    "Innovation by the "out group" based on access to the benefits of the new information technology that creates new sources of wealth and power. I would conclude, therefore, that China, having made Spain's decision to control information, is now out of the running for world leadership."

    This is in keeping with one of my arguments about the Chinese government's potential to limit the country's development, here and here.

  • Update on Google/China-ology

    For various reasons not spending much time near a computer in the past few days. So two belated points about the still-unfolding Google/China saga, and then one reader message.

    Point one: "soft power" - or lack thereof. In the immediate aftermath of Google's decision, there was assorted mild carping from Western observers about what Google's motivation "really" was. Were they escaping a bad business situation? (no), were they just trying to score PR points in the rest of the world? (not really), was there some other motivation apart from the stated one of exasperation at dealing with the intrusions and harassments inside China?

    In most reasonable quarters that died out (as explained here), leaving the plain fact of strikingly widespread international exultation that someone had finally "stood up" against the strictures of the Chinese state. I'll say more in a second about that whether that reaction makes sense. But its existence and ferocity is simply undeniable. And if I were part of the Chinese leadership, I would be sobered by that fact -- and what it suggests about the limited success of Chinese "soft power" and the pent-up reaction against constant, often-credulous and exaggerated reports about China's all-conquering rise. For instance, the South China Morning Post, in Hong Kong, reported yesterday that "as the saga of Google vs Beijing continues to unfold, the central government appears to be the sole loser at first glance. By almost all accounts, this is one of its biggest public relations disasters in recent years."

    China's inward-looking political leadership (as opposed to its quite internationalized financial and business class) is in fact quite bad at gauging -- or even caring about -- foreign reaction. I hope they are able to gauge this reaction clearly enough to register the moment and what it shows.

    Point two: what happens next? After the moment of emotionally-satisfying showdown -- Google's saying, "We've had enough!" and announcing that it is "reconsidering" whether to stay in China at all -- comes the longer, slower process of finding out exactly who is going to do what, when. The Chinese government still has not made a significant official response (very thorough roundup of some of its minor responses here), which is probably for the best. And latest reports (in English here and here, and in Chinese here) indicate that Google has not pulled up stakes from China and is still operating as if it might have a future there.

    Is that hypocritical? I don't think so: I think it's in keeping with the initial announced intention to reconsider all options. As I mentioned the first time around, I think this situation is likely to turn out either lose-lose-lose -- for Google (outside the Chinese market), for the Chinese government (publicly embarrassed, which will bring out worse rather than better tendencies), and for the Chinese public (symbolically cut off that much more from the mainstream of modern development, and with an internet ecology worse than it could be, with the absence of a major innovative competitor) -- or win-win-win for the same parties, if the government can address Google's complaints in a way that allows the company to remain. I assume that off-stage action toward that end is underway now.

    Below and after the jump, a message from a non-Chinese person now living in China. It conveys the murky "practical ethics" of a case often presented in such clear-cut, black/white terms in the West. The reader writes:

    "1.  While I can empathize with everyone outside of China who is lauding Google, I believe it is so easy for people to praise something like this for which they make no sacrifice themselves.  What I would like to ask those people is "If you were living in China would you want Google to leave now?  Really?" and "Are you now not buying any products or services that benefit China's government in any way?"

    More »

  • Media update: BBC, On Point, Diane Rehm

    For the record:

    - Discussing China-v-Google on Tom Ashbrook's On Point show today, with an array of Chinese and American tech and politics reporters;

    - Discussing the State of the Union after Obama' first year, plus American capacity for renewal, with Kevin Connolly on the BBC's Americana program today, here. (On line for next seven days.)

    - Discussing "America in decline" - infrastructure, renewal, security -- etc along with Stephen Flynn of the Center for National Policy on the Diane Rehm show, WAMU/NPR, tomorrow 11am EST.  

  • Request for tech help: reward offered! The .PST -> Gmail move

    I am finally going to take a step I've contemplated for quite a while. I have at least a dozen years' worth of correspondence piled up in my old, archived .PST files for Outlook, and I am ready to move all of that into a Gmail "cloud" account.

    For the record, here's why I think it's time to take the step. I lay this out for anyone considering a similar move:

     - Affordability. As mentioned earlier, Google has made available essentially limitless amounts of online storage for very low prices. Its announcement here; my earlier comment on it here; price schedule here. I'm currently signed up for an extra 20GB of storage, on top of the 7+GB that comes free with each Gmail account, for $5 a year.

    - Convenience. It's inevitable that every year or two I'll migrate from one computer to the next. I would rather not have to worry about migrating, preserving, updating, etc those physical .PST files each time. Google has its pluses and minuses, but I assume that its engineers are more professionally competent at storing and protecting information than I am. Is there a risk that somehow they'll lose it all? Perhaps. Statistically there is a greater risk that I will (because of theft or fire, because of aging media, etc). Is there a risk that they'll spy on it? Maybe, but I have bigger worries in life. And after all, every email I've ever sent or received has passed through systems that scanned it for spam etc, so it's already been "surveilled" -- like everything else we do on line. (Topic for another day.)

    - More convenience. I keep most of my research and working files up-to-date among my various computers via cloud synchronization with SugarSync. The huge exception is Outlook files. For reasons mentioned below, they just won't work with most online sync programs. So I have to copy them over one by one via USB stick. If all the archives lived in Gmail, I wouldn't need to do this. All my computers would always be up to date.

    More »


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