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.
  • 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."

  • The speech Obama won't ace (plus, WaPo gaffe followup)

    So far, as noted here, Barack Obama has faced mounting expectations through a sequence of high-stakes speeches, from the "race" speech that saved his campaign 18 months ago to the Joint Session address on health care that appears to have changed momentum for his proposal. So far he has met or beaten expectations just about every time, most recently here.

    I confidently predict that this string will end with his address in Oslo on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. My argument is probabilistic: of the hundreds of addresses that have been given by Nobel laureates (last year's here), exactly one is frequently quoted or referred to. That is William Faulkner's address on receiving the literature prize 60 years ago. The transcript is here, including the best known line: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail." It's only three minutes long, and you can hear him delivering it below:



    Will Obama give the second-ever memorable speech? That would be impressive but seems unlikely. For context: Martin Luther King's quite long speech here; T.S. Eliot's here; Winston Churchill's here, which includes the Onion-esque line, "The world looks with admiration and indeed with comfort to Scandinavia."
    ___
    Also, to follow up on the WaPo Nobel editorial gaffe from yesterday: I mentioned soon after moving back from China that the New York Times looked like the same newspaper I remembered, while the Washington Post sadly did not. This is the kind of thing I had in mind. The NYT has its lapses and embarrassing errors (as do we all). But for this lengthy, lead editorial to have appeared in the Post yesterday, it had to have passed through at least three people's hands -- and probably many more. Those three would be: the editorial board member who wrote it; the editor of that section; and the copy editor who was on duty for the page as a whole. In reality, other people almost certainly saw it before publication.

    The editorial as published -- with its recommendation that the Peace Prize should instead have been given posthumously to the martyred young woman Neda from the Iranian uprising -- required that none of those three people was aware that Nobel prizes are not given posthumously. That's surprising for people in those positions, on general-education principles, but in no sense negligent. We're all ignorant, just of different things. Before the current flap, I had never heard that Peace Prize nominations had to be filed by February, which would have ruled out figures from the Iranian uprising this summer.

    But it also required that none of the three people was curious enough or worried enough to check, before publishing not a blog post or a real-time update but a major paper's main editorial. That is a surprise. I don't think we can imagine a similar gaffe in a NYT lead editorial -- other problems, sure, but not a general-knowledge fact-check howler. More to the point, I can't imagine a comparable error in the WaPo's own sports section, which has been outstanding for years and still is now. (The counterpart might be a column about the World Series noting that the NL pitchers looked better when at bat than AL pitchers did, and wondering why that might be.) FWIW the Neda editorial is still online, with no correction note or update. 

  • Don't these people have The Google?

    The Washington Post's lead editorial today argues that a more deserving winner for the Nobel Peace Prize would have been Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose death during the Iranian uprising became a worldwide symbol, comparable to the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

    NedaHeadline.jpg

    Defensible point, though obviously purely symbolic in its own way too. As the paper says, after arguing that the selection of Barack Obama is an expression of hope rather than a post-achievement recognition:

    "The Nobel Committee's decision is especially puzzling given that a better alternative was readily apparent.... A posthumous award for Neda, as the avatar of a democratic movement in Iran, would have recognized the sacrifices that movement has made and encouraged its struggle in a dark hour."
    Would it have been so hard to mention the complicating fact that Nobel prizes are only for still-living people? And that this is a basic element of discussion when, for example, the literature prize rolls around each year? (After John Updike's death in January, one of the Post's own writers noted that among the sadnesses was that Updike would never be recognized with a Nobel prize.) And that therefore the omission of Neda is not "especially puzzling" at all? The FAQ page at NobelPrize.org (yes! there is such a site) makes this clear:
    "Is it possible to nominate someone for a posthumous Nobel Prize?

    "No, it is not. Previously, a person could be awarded a prize posthumously if he/she had already been nominated (before February 1 of the same year), which was true of Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Nobel Prize in Literature 1931) and Dag Hammarskjöld (Nobel Peace Prize, 1961). Effective from 1974, the prize may only go to a deceased person to whom it was already awarded (usually in October) but who had died before he/she could receive the Prize on December 10 (William Vickrey, 1996 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel). See also par. 4 of the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation."
    And this paragraph is the very first thing that comes up on a Google search for "posthumous Nobel prize." According to Google's meter, it took 0.24 seconds to find that info, and it would have taken maybe another fifteen seconds to change the sentence in the editorial to say: "Although the Nobel committee ordinarily rules out posthumous awards, an exception in this case... [and make the argument]."

    Maybe the no-posthumous-award rules make sense. (Otherwise, you could have a debate every year on whether Abraham Lincoln, St. Francis of Assisi, or Gandhi was the most deserving choice.) Maybe they don't. Maybe they should have exceptions for deaths within the calendar year. Etc. But these are the widely-understood rules. Who is on the copy desk these days? Or writing editorials like this? 
  • Obama's Nobel remarks: four very skillful paragraphs

    Six months ago I mentioned that it would be hard to improve on Barack Obama's impromptu press conference answer as to whether he believed in such a thing as "American exceptionalism." I think the same is true of his remarks this morning about the Nobel Peace Prize. Each of the first four paragraphs was surprisingly artful, given the obviously short notice on which he spoke:



    Let's take them one by one:

    "THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning.  After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, "Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday!"  And then Sasha added, "Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up."  So it's good to have kids to keep things in perspective."

    No one is going to sound truly modest in these circumstances -- you've just won the Nobel Peace Prize -- but the obligatory opening bout of self-deprecatory humor can sound more or less forced. This is about as natural-sounding and effective as it can be, meanwhile offering a glimpse of both vitality/youth and as much normality as can intrude into an American president's existence.

    "I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee.  Let me be clear:  I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

    Surprised, yes; humbled, something that is necessary to say. But very effective to turn at once to the idea that this is not his reward and recognition but that of the country as a whole. It won't keep his detractors from talking about his narcissism and vainglory, but nothing would; it is what his supporters would want to hear, and probably what the prize committee had in mind. He has probably figured out to say at every turn that this is an award not for him but for America and its ideals. And he can leave unsaid the reality that, from the prize committee's perspective, it's an award for returning to those ideals after an unpleasant hiatus.

    "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace."

    Again a compulsory note of modesty, which sets him up for the crucial following paragraph:

    "But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build -- a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents.  And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.  And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century."

    This was the most important and shrewdest thing he said, because it is where he acknowledges an uncomfortable fact that everyone knows to be true. Of course the award can't be in recognition of projects he has already achieved and completed, because there aren't that many of them. In these third and fourth paragraphs, Obama acknowledges that point -- but adds the news-analyst's argument that often the Nobel committee awards these prizes as encouragements, signals, or what it hopes will be momentum-changers. If other people are going to say that, Obama does well to signal his understanding of the point himself. And from there he's off to the rest of the (fairly brief) statement, enumerating the sorts of common challenges he has in mind.

    My point here concerns rhetoric and persuasion. Agree or disagree on his deserving the award, but reasonable people have to note the skill with which he used this opportunity.

    On a related topic: Jerome Doolittle, my one-time colleague in the Jimmy Carter speechwriting office, posted a set of tips early this morning for Republican reaction to the award. So far his predictions are holding up well.

  • About the Nobel prize, two years ago

    The last time an American won the Nobel Peace Prize, two years ago, I posted an item that I think has more relevance now. That winner was of course Al Gore. The remarks began as follows:

    "I am old enough... well, there are many ways to end that sentence, but for now: I am old enough to remember, from my school years, the disdainful reaction in my home town to the news that Martin Luther King had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

    "The reaction was, of course, racial at its root. This was a majority-white, minority-Hispanic small town with very few black residents, which went for Barry Goldwater over Lyndon Johnson in the presidential election that same fall. [And narrowly went for McCain over Obama last year, while California as a whole went strongly for Obama.]

    "But the stated form of the objection concerned not King's race but his obnoxiousness as a man. He was a windbag. He was pompous and self-dramatizing, He was holier than thou. Plus, he had started getting involved where he didn't belong, in raising questions about the Vietnam War. Through the rest of Martin Luther King's life, the father of my best home-town friend always went out of his way to refer sneeringly to "Martin Luther Nobel."

    "As is the case now with some similar complaints about Al Gore, the criticisms weren't about nothing...." [continues here]

    The complaint about Obama will of course be that he has not yet "earned" the prize, and of course that criticism isn't about nothing. But there's something more at work too. More to come in this space too, about Obama's remarks, by this evening. Mainly noting this previous item in a parallel situation. It also included this disclaimer:

    "There are a few choices that look fishy in retrospect. (Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973??? Arafat as co-winner with Peres and Rabin in 1994?) But the great majority stand up very well. Desmond Tutu, and then Mandela and deKlerk. Albert Schweitzer. George C. Marshall. Lech Walesa, Willy Brandt, and Mikhail Gorbachev. The Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. The Norwegian Nobel Institute has earned the benefit of the doubt for choosing people whose achievements will stand up over time."

  • Carter "crisis of confidence" retrospective this evening

    Thirty years ago this summer, Jimmy Carter delivered his famous "Crisis of Confidence" adddress to the nation, generally mis-identified as the "malaise" speech -- a word he didn't use. I was gone from the Carter speechwriting empire by then. My successor and longtime friend Hendrik Hertzberg was in the hot seat that time. (Below, screenshot of Carter at the start of the speech.)
    CarterMalaise.jpg

    Recently Kevin Mattson, of Ohio University, published a book about that speech, its origins, and its aftermath, called What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President? This evening, October 7, I'll be joining him in Washington for a discussion of the speech, the book, and the general phenomenon of political calls, like Carter's, for "higher purpose" and "rebirth of citizenship." A live stream of the program, from 6:30pm to 7:30pm Eastern time, will be here.

    Other details about the event, including the many political worthies who will be on hand, and sponsorship by the Progressive Book Club and the Center for American Progress, are here. As Mattson knows, I have some quarrels about first-hand details of his reconstructed account. But I certainly support the larger case he is making in his book. 

  • The TSA: bringing us ever closer to China!

    One of the predictably nutty aspects of life in China was the tyranny of objectively unimportant details of ID records. To mention only experiences I had first-hand:

    I once had to buy a whole new airline ticket for a Beijing-Shanghai flight, and tear up my existing one, because the airline ticket agent had hand-written my first name on the ticket as "Jame," which didn't match my passport name. Similarly: the English-language on-line ticketing system for the Beijing Olympics had spaces for entering your first name and family name -- but no space for a middle name. (The Chinese version had spaces for the three characters in most Chinese names.) So when I went to the Bank of China to pick up the tickets I'd ordered and paid for, I showed my passport for identification -- and settled in for hours of argument, since my passport showed that I was James M. Fallows and the tickets were for James Fallows. How could this be the same person?

    Thus it was with with a sense of deja vu and doom that I heard this summer about the TSA's new "Secure Flight" system, designed to match the Chinese government's pettifoggery about ID cards. (And in China, it is a more defensible bias. They have many more people, and many fewer available names, so their hairsplitting about naming details comes closer to making sense.) Well done yet again, TSA! If you were going to learn something from the Chinese security system, how about their "of course you can keep your shoes on" screening policy at airports?

    Just now in the email, I find that this insistence on form rather than common sense ("the appearance of security is security") is leaking over to some of the private sector too. Thus, a similar "Secure Drive" message from a car rental company.

    Avis.jpg


    Grrr. I childishly express my resistance by signing in as "Jabba the Hutt," "Charles Manson," "Kim Jong-il" etc when made to sign my name on "security" registers -- really, "security theater" registers -- at office buildings. I'm waiting for the time some dozing security official calls me back and says, "Wait a minute, Mr. Hutt, why isn't your middle name capitalized?"

    JabbatheHutt.jpg

  • Press items roundup

    - TNR/McCaughey watch. As mentioned here numerous times, starting 14 years ago, The New Republic made Elizabeth McCaughey a public figure in 1994 and has been trying to mitigate the damage ever since. Concluding installment, under the circle-closing headline "No Exit" [also the title of McCaughey's original article], from Michelle Cottle here.

    - Unknown gigantic cities watch. In my story last year about the surprisingly intense struggles within China to improve environmental protection, I mentioned a visit to Zibo, a coal-and-ceramics center in Shandong province. Zibo is one of countless cities in China that few outsiders have heard of but that are larger than, say, Chicago or Milan. The always interesting Moving Cities site, a Beijing-based effort to document urban design in fast growing cities, recently took a trip to Zibo to show what it looks like. Description and four photo essays about Zibo can be found here. (Note: for me, the Javascript on this site always stalled with Firefox. Worked OK with IE, Chrome, and Safari.)

    Downtown view, with housing from the 1980s onward -- horizontal black bar is part of the site's convention for presenting photos: 
    Zibo1.jpg 

    On the way into town:
    Zibo2.jpg

    Alley that I've walked down myself, with pre-1980s housing:
    Zibo3.jpg


    - Problems of the press watch. I am grateful to Jake Seliger, of The Story's Story site, for a retrospective of my 1996 book Breaking the News. He makes the discouraging but, I think, accurate point that the arguments and criticisms from back in that era are all truer now. I have thought several times about revising or updating the book but have held back for two reasons. One is the shark-like instinct that it's worth always moving ahead to new territory. The other, that the central points to make remain the same; the details would differ and be more depressing.

  • Just a little more on the obesity front

    The pensees keep on coming. More on simple phenomenon of weight this time, less on poverty or class issues. Previously here.

    My God, you're skinny!

    "I agree with your reader who theorized that "My god, you're fat!" is a nice compliment from a culture where an overabundance of food is a luxury.  I would also like to note that the exact opposite is true in America as well.

    "I am underweight. I'm a 118 lbs, 6 foot tall male. It's not that I do not eat, I certainly do, my genetics just do not help me gain any weight at all.  But the amount of people who 
    willfully come up to me and say "My god, you're skinny!" never ceases to amaze me.  I can be particularly embarrassing, especially when you have a hangup about being so thin.  I always found it interesting that people here can so freely point out my frailness and yet if I were to point out their obesity it would be considered quite rude. 

    "It wasn't until somewhat recently that I realized most people saying this to me mean it as a compliment.  Many people would like to be as skinny as I am and have my genetics (even though I don't particularly care for it), and this is just their way of expressing that fact.  I have no doubt that in a different culture it could be skewed the other way."

    My God, they're fat!

    "Last week on a flight to Kansas City to visit family I had a layover at O'Hare and I spent some time counting fat men. I wanted to see what the percentage of fat to normal was. I used a simple visual standard- if the belly exceeded the belt by a certain degree I considered the men fat. This is a very generous criteria since good tailoring can hide a lot. After an hour of counting I came up with a ratio of three fat men to every normal man. I know that this was a survey rife with error but still, James, our empire is truly dying.
     
    "Full disclosure- I am now 5,10 and 150 lbs but I was once (15 years ago) 190 lbs."

    The real problem: sitting disease.

    "The Mayo Clinic is doing some interesting research on what actually causes the human body to burn calories and a huge amount of it is activity outside of intentional exercise. In short the biggest cause of obesity per Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic is "sitting disease".

He's a big advocate of standing desks (which worked for Donald Rumsfeld, he had plenty of energy at 70something to act on his bad ideas) and some more futuristic solutions (adding treadmills to said desks) but all of the work is based on results which are backed up by research at Mayo's labs... 


    "I have no affiliation with Dr. Levine or Mayo, I just found info on N.E.A.T. doing an internet search and the concepts behind it seemed so clear and common sense based on my own experiences (never had weight issues as a laborer or young athlete and ate like a horse, got weight issues when I was promoted to a desk job) that I tried to adopt them in my own life and find more activity within the context of my job and amazingly enough, that works."

    I haven't looked into this seriously, but at face value the argument makes sense: that the 30- 60 minutes per day people might spend officially "exercising" makes less difference in their overall calorie outlay than what happens in the remaining 23+ hours. This was also the concept behind a new tech device from Philips, the "Direct Life" monitor, which you keep in your pocket all day to see how much energy you expend by walking, standing, sitting, and in other ways existing.

    Full disclosure: At this summer's Atlantic/Aspen "Ideas Festival," Philips gave out samples of these monitors to some attendees. I don't use one myself, for various practical reasons involving my working/exercise life. But for people whose job requires sitting a lot of the day, I could see how monitors like this could be useful in determining whether they were or were not moving around enough.

    Variant of sitting disease: car disease

    "I was waiting for someone to mention the relationship between car dependence and obesity.   No one has except the person who lost weight from walking and taking public transportation when they lived in London and NYC.  
     
    "Based on Census and CDC data, here is an interesting correlation.
     
    "The Top 10 Car Dependent States (Census)
    1.    Alabama
    2.    Mississippi
    3.    Tennessee
    4.    Arkansas
    5.    South Carolina
    6.    North Carolina
    7.    Oklahoma
    8.    West Virginia
    9.    Michigan
    10.    Kentucky

    "The Top 10 Obese States (CDC)
    1.    Mississippi
    2.    Alabama
    3.    West Virginia
    4.    Tennessee
    5.    Oklahoma
    6.    South Carolina
    7.    Kentucky
    8.    North Carolina
    9.    Michigan
    10.    Arkansas"

    More »

  • Olympic notes: good for Rio

    1) I love Chicago, but Rio is the best choice overall. Probably better for most people in Chicago (I speak from having lived through the ramp-up to the Beijing Olympics these past few years), although some of them may not feel that way right now. Certainly better for the whole spirit of the Games.

    The US has had a lot of Olympics; no country in South America has had any. I think that these events feel more special, and get a better all-out push from the host country, when they represent some kind of inclusive "first ever" achievement. Japan marked its post-WW II recovery as before and after its 1964 Olympic games. South Korea in 1988 and China in 2008 used their host role, in different ways, as big national milestones. Athens in 2004, too, had some kind of closing-the-circle fulfillment in bringing the games back to their original home. Whereas for Los Angeles in 1984, Atlanta in 1996, and I assume London three years from now, the Olympics are mainly big logistics challenges to be coped with and endured.

    2) Obama was in a no-win situation about his personal lobbying. The other candidate chiefs of state had also made personal pitches. If he hadn't made the trip and Chicago lost, you can imagine today's right-wing theme being: he didn't care enough about his country even to try. (Probably because it's not really his country. Now, if Kenya had been a finalist...) Since he did make the trip, the theme is: what a loser.

    Yeah, yeah, his advisers "should have" had a clearer sense of the nuttiness that is the modern Olympic governing process; and yeah, yeah, knowing that, he should have limited his exposure by letting his wife be his representative. But -- and I would have said this if John McCain were president and had made the trip -- it was never really about him.

    3) It's superfluous to link to anything in the omnipresent BoingBoing, but in this item, yesterday, Cory Doctorow made an important point that everyone outside the U.S. knows but that few resident Americans take seriously: It has become a tremendous nuisance, and often a humiliation, for foreigners to get through U.S. customs-and-immigration clearance. Lots of people still want to immigrate to the US, but people who have a choice are often glad not to travel here. (How to imagine this, if you hold a US passport? Think of your most unpleasant TSA screening experience, and multiply it by a hundred -- with an extra dose of, Why should we think you're not a terrorist? Yes, I hold a US passport, but I've heard tales like Doctorow's too many times not to get the point.) It's hard to know how much this affected the Olympic bid but is worth realizing as part of our connections with the rest of the world.

    4) From a Chicagoan:

    "As an unabashed Obama-phile, I'm distraught at how badly he miscalculated in going to Copenhagen.  Not only because the failure could be damaging in itself, but also because, as you promised after Obama's health care speech, the time has finally come that he wasn't able to "pull himself out of pinch with a big speech."...

    "This latest speech may not perfectly fit, as Obama didn't think he was in a pinch in the first place.  Still, his failure does break his string of very good luck  (which included, for example, his three-point shot in Kuwait)."

    The theme of luck brings us back to the main point: Anyone who appreciates big cities should always love Chicago, but best of luck to Rio.

  • Obesity compendium

    Various of my colleagues -- Corby Kummer, here, plus T-N Coates and Andrew Sullivan -- have picked up the conversation involving the connections among obesity, class, region, etc in America. Reasons for my returning to this topic:

    - When the original reader messages came in, I did not give them a consistent category tag. I've now gone back and labeled them all with "Obesity," so the whole thread (including this item) can be found here.

    - Below and after the jump, a few more reader notes to carry out the discussion.

    From a reader who works for a major US corporation:

    "[Another reader] wrote: .  I did this primarily because I was tired of my business associates in Asia beginning every conversation with "My god, you are fat!".
    "My Asian experience pales in comparison to yours (and presumably to your reader's), but my hunch is that your reader's business associates believe they were paying him a nice compliment. The long and tragic history of undernourished Asians led to a cultural view that to be of a healthy weight was to be prosperous.  Hence, "My God, you are fat!" is equivalent to a Westerner saying "nice car!" or "you look great!"  I can see how your reader might have felt insulted or hurt, but I am pretty sure the intentions were exactly the opposite. [JF note: Certainly in China, "Hey Fatty" is not a term of abuse.]"

    From a (female) graduate of CalTechCaltech [I always forget]:

    "Are science nerds fat? The answer is an unequivocal no, especially for women.
    "Our family attended MIT, U of CO Boulder, UC Berkeley alumni events in June 2009. Bad Dad and I observed that CU Boulder alumni age well. Everyone else appears to have the same % body fat (low) that they had in grad school. We felt positively obese at that gathering. We felt svelte at the MIT reunion.

    "When AAAS published their study about why people go into science, they discovered by accident that participation in competitive athletics as a teenager correlated very highly for women.  For women, encouragement from a HS teacher was #1, but competitive sports came in second, with had a higher correlation than parental encouragement.

    "Male scientists were slightly less athletic than the mean; female scientists were exceptionally athletic. Have you seen the "men of astrophysics" calendar? They tried to make a women in astrophysics calendar, but no one would pose for it.  i think we all were afraid that it would harm our careers.  the men face a different climate."

    From a reader in Florida:

    "One of the best ways to observe obesity in America is to track KFC's Double Down sandwich [below].  This "Atkins friendly" sandwich is served primarily in some KFCs in the South and Midwest. To know that KFC thought it was a good idea to sell a bunless sandwich of pure fried chicken to Southerners is a telling and sobering fact."

    kfc-doubledown4.jpg


    More »

  • More from the F'DOH: Summers, Schmidt

    Another day, a lot more stimulation, at the "First Draft of History" event, as previously reported here.

    I was the Atlantic's assigned chronicler/blogger for the interview with Lawrence Summers. First installment here; full wrapup, with clips, here. Then I got to interview Eric Schmidt of Google, who put on a real tour de force. The Atlantic's writeup by Derek Thompson, with clips, here.

    Tomorrow back to reading, interview, writing -- you know, the stuff of getting the next issue of the magazine produced. But this was a worthwhile two days.

  • The big parade

    As I mentioned in real time while watching the 60th anniversary festivities from Beijing on middle-of-the-night Chinese language TV, the whole event was a surprising relief. It had been shaping up ahead of time as a mammoth and imposing display of military hardware. The hardware and missiles were there -- but there was, to put it mildly, a lot of other stuff too.

    As anyone watching in real time can attest, the appearance of this troupe was the first time that Hu Jintao, from the reviewing stand, broke into anything that looked like a relaxed expression:
    LadySoldiers.jpg


    What this picture (by Diego Azubel / European Pressphoto Agency) tragically doesn't convey is that members of scarlet-miniskirted division were actually goose-stepping.

    A wonderful video summary from Dan Chung and Xiaoli Wang, of the Guardian, below, boils the many hours of the parade into four minutes -- and conveys the dramatic shift from tanks-and-missiles, to Mardi Gras/County Fair, at about time 1:55 of the clip.


    Two other nice summaries: a live blog from the WSJ's China staff here; and a comparison of the parade to the movie Hangover here.

    Here's one of the groups that came soon after the tanks. As I say, I'm relieved to see this chaos diversity, which reflects some of the wild range of Chinese life. Congrats to all involved.

    FlagWavers.jpg


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