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.
  • Climate pushback #1A, via Brad DeLong

    J. Bradford DeLong, of the once-proud edifice known as UC Berkeley, has provided as much info as any reasonable consumer might want on the global-warming "hockey stick" fracas. His post is not 100% flattering to moi-meme, but he gets extra points for working in frog references and for an account of an actual discussion with his UCB colleague Richard Muller. A fact-check on the recent claim from Al Gore's camp, too. It's all here.

    Promised second climate-pushback dispatch later on.

  • Climate pushback #1, from Al Gore's office and others

    I will try to do this in two omnibus posts, rather than opening up a running weeks-long discourse. After all, that treatment is reserved for frogs,  the China Daily, "starchitecture," and similar topics, of which there is more in the pipeline.

    But in response to two recent items, here and here, on how to think about climate change, I have received a ton of email, all in one mode: ie, telling me I am wrong.

    The original reason I raised the topic was that I'd seen the latest entry in George Will's ongoing series on why global warming is a myth. In response, I mentioned a book by a UC Berkeley physicist about how to assess the evidence on climate change, and why the problem was indeed worth worrying about, if not for the reasons most often discussed.

    My correspondents barely bothered to deal with Will. They were instead upset about the physicist, Richard Muller, and by extension me for being too complacent about climate-change evidence -- and too critical of those (including Al Gore) who had warned about it most prominently.

    Below and after the jump, representative samples of this view. Later tonight, I'll put up a few more messages, and the appropriate meta-thoughts on my part. Unless I hear from Muller, or something else occurs, that will be it for now -- simply because I am well aware that detailed argument over studies, policies, and implications already occupies many sites full time. (For instance, this and this, with different perspectives.)

    First up, Joseph Romm, of the Climate Progress site and the book Hell and High Water, whom I have known for years. Because he wrote me privately, I won't go into his views of my judgment or Muller's. But here are the references he thinks people should instead read:

    -Romm has written two critiques of Muller's book, here and here.

    -According to Romm, "The 'hockey stick,' was essentially vindicated by the National Academy of Sciences, and it is almost certainly correct." Cite here.
    - "Gore's essential argument is correct and other than a very few technical quibbling with word choice, pretty every one on his major carefully crafted statements is accurate.  His Nobel Prize will, sadly, be vindicated by history." [Note from JF: 'An Inconvenient Truth' also included a particularly egregious display of boiled-frog madness, which maybe we will assign to the realm of "technical quibbling with word choice." Ie, if he had said, "if you remove a frog's brain and put him in a top of tepid water, then gradually raise the temperature..." he'd be square with the scientists.]

    More »

  • Well, I have a new favorite newspaper

    Move over, China Daily. I don't know how long The Onion can keep up its running version of how it will look after acquisition by the Yu Wan Mei fish salvage company (鱼完美, yu wan mei, "perfect fish"). Background on the sale here.
    YuWanMei.jpg

    But as long as it lasts, it is a tour de force. I suspect that some veteran of the China Daily or allied Chinese "information" organs in English must have defected to the Onion and guided this exercise. It's as good an imitation of the original as are the standard Onion "area man" versions of American news.

    Original (these are real China Daily headlines):
    http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_5603.jpg


    http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_5842A.jpg


    Improved version:
    ChinaOnion1.jpg


    ChinaOnion2.jpg

    ChinaOnion3.jpg

    My general policy is: if something is already On The Internet, no need for me to mention it too, unless it is in some cranny where many people might overlook  it. But the artistry here forces an exception to the policy. After the jump, an early indication of the Onion's prowess in the "learning from China" field.

    UPDATE: It is worth going to the Opinion page, as illustrated below, and clicking on the "Internet allows free exchange" story.

    Onion2.jpg
    _____

    More »

  • Update on Antarctic ice and global warming

    The point of the previous item about how scientists think about public policy, which referred to Richard Muller's book Physics for Future Presidents, was that many scientific issues are too complex to be resolved in op-ed columns. Or even Atlantic website posts!

    But several people have asked for elaboration of this sentence I quoted from Muller:

    "An example of distortion is the melting of the Antarctic ice -- something that actually contradicts the global warming model but is presented as if it verifies them."

    What's the logic there? My main answer is, read the book! But to be more responsive, here's the reasoning in a nutshell (my paraphrase, alongside USGS map of Antarctica):

    antarctica.jpg

    Higher temperatures (ie, "global warming") would mean more evaporation from the oceans. That would mean more clouds, which over Antarctica would mean more snow. (The air over Antarctica would be warmer, but on average still well below freezing.) More snow would mean more Antarctic ice, not less. Yet the Antarctic ice cover is decreasing, not increasing.

    "Does the decrease in ice mean that the model is wrong -- that global warming is not taking place?" Muller asks. "No, not at all. It simply shows the inadequacies of the model. Even with global warming, local weather (even for a whole continent) can cause behavior that deviates from the computer calculation. One result is certain: the melting of Antarctica provides no evidence whatsoever in favor of global-warming predictions." He then goes on to discuss other evidence that does support the predictions. To be 100% clear about it: Muller is not at all a "denialist" about climate change. Eg: "Global warming is real. It is very likely caused by humans. By the end of the twenty-first century it will (if caused by humans) grow enough to be disruptive." He is just urging readers and policy makers to be precise about what the evidence shows and doesn't show.

    You know where to go for more.

    UPDATE: this site, from NASA, allows you to create your own maps showing how much the average temperature in different parts of the world has risen over any interval you choose since 1880. For instance, this map, below, shows surface temperature differences in June, 2009 versus a 1951-1980 average baseline:

    GHCN_GISS_1200km_Anom06_2009_2009_1951_1980.jpg


    More here from Michael Goodfellow of Free the Memes.
  • Pictures from Urumqi

    Before disappearing offline last week, I posted a number of items from Uighur, Han, and foreign observers in XInjiang during the ethnic violence there. Alistair Thornton, a young researcher / scholar I knew in Beijing, has just returned from Urumqi (largest city in Xinjiang) and posted a number of photos of the way it has looked recently. They are on the always-interesting "The Interpreter" site of the Lowy Institute in Australia. Here's one; more, and narrative, at the site.

    UrumqiLowy.jpeg



  • Welcome, Erik Tarloff; so long, UCB

    The Atlantic's roster of new online Correspondents has become quite formidable; updated list here. I've mentioned (admiringly!) a few of them and their posts previously. Let me say something about the latest arrival, Erik Tarloff, a screenwriter and comic novelist who posted his first essay this week. 

    I mention Erik's debut here for three reasons: as a reminder for anyone who hasn't yet prowled through the Correspondents section; because Erik is a long-time friend, who also happens to join me (and Lawrence Wright and Caleb Carr and the composer Greg Tornquist) in the loyal band of writers/artistes who share a birthday; and because I agree so much with the subject of this first essay.

    It's about the demise of a great, proud public institution: the University of California at Berkeley, accelerated by today's California budget disaster but underway for a long time. Erik, who went to college at UCB and lives nearby, says:

    For decades, legislatures and governors of both parties viewed the University of California as a special jewel in the state's crown, worthy of nurture and protection.  This pride in what the state had wrought paid dividends:  Cal has long been regarded as one of the greatest universities in the country, and in the world.  A remarkable, and unique, achievement for a public institution.
           But it now looks as if those days are over.  It won't happen overnight, and it won't happen completely.  But absent an unlikely, massive injection of private funding, the university is on an inexorable glide path downward....It's not the only tragedy [in California now], nor even necessarily the worst tragedy, but it's a very great tragedy.

    My brother went to Cal; I've taught there and felt an informal part of its community for years; even though I grew up in the USC/UCLA fan zone, I rooted for the Golden Bears as a kid. When arguing about America's strengths and weaknesses in my years overseas, I've often used "Berkeley" as a shorthand reference for the glories of America's and California's commitment to public education and research. And now... read the rest of what Erik says.

    Bonus note: Erik Tarloff is married to the economist and Clinton administration official Laura Tyson. My brief video Q-and-A with her at the Aspen ideas festival is here.

  • Compare-and-contrast reading on climate change

    This morning George Will offered another in his series of reassuring columns about the "overstated" threat of climate change.  Today's version:

    "When New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called upon 'young Americans' to 'get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon,' another columnist, Mark Steyn, responded: 'If you're 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you're graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.'

    "Which could explain why the Mall does not reverberate with youthful clamors about carbon. And why, regarding climate change, the U.S. government, rushing to impose unilateral cap-and-trade burdens on the sagging U.S. economy, looks increasingly like someone who bought a closetful of platform shoes and bell-bottom slacks just as disco was dying."

    Will presented the lack of youthful clamor as a sign of wholesome common sense. If you would like another way to think about the evidence, this one provided not by a columnist but by a physicist at UC Berkeley who has won a MacArthur grant, I recommend Richard A. Muller's book Physics for Future Presidents. I happened to read most of it on a long plane flight yesterday, so I was all set for Will's column today. So you can be ready before his next one appears, I recommend ordering the book now.

    Muller is not at all in the most-alarmist group of climate scientists; indeed, he spends a lot of time explaining why he thinks Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth exaggerated the threat in several ways. You can see the beginning of his dissection of Gore's famous "hockey stick" chart of rising temperatures, which begins on page 292 of Muller's book, through a Google book-search excerpt here. (The hockey stick, below)
    HockeyStick.jpg

    Muller says that the evidence behind the hockey-stick chart is wrong. (Read it yourself to see why.) "In fact, much of what the public 'knows' about global warming is based on distortion, exaggeration, or cherry picking," he says, adding:

    "An example of distortion is the melting of the Antarctic ice -- something that actually contradicts the global warming model but is presented as if it verifies them. Exaggeration includes the attribution of Hurricane Katrina to global warming, even though there is no scientific evidence that they are related.  Cherry picking is the process of selecting data that verify the global-warming hypothesis but ignoring data that contradict it."

    The real purpose of his book is to set out as clearly as possible the way scientists approach the inevitably-conflicting evidence on big public policy issues like climate change (or the real risks of terrorism, or dealing with nuclear waste). Before the Iraq war, it would have been useful for intelligence officials to set out the way they balance their version of inevitably-conflicting and always-incomplete facts. Muller sets out the way climate scientists weigh the evidence pro and con concerning climate change and the probabilities for each explanation.

    By the end of the process he has forcefully re-established the principle that real scientists view propositions as most convincing when all the doubts, caveats, and contrary bits of evidence are admitted -- whereas politicians and the public want to hear an all-or-nothing verdict with no hems or haws. Consistent with this approach, it is all the more powerful when Muller concludes that there really are reasons to worry about man-made climate change. He also provides guidelines about sensible and fanciful ways to deal with the problem. I am not equipped to judge this argument on purely scientific grounds; but the book is addressed to lay readers and is convincing in what it says about the process of scientific reasoning. If this latest George Will opus serves to drive readers to Muller's book, it will have done some good.

  • Two articles from Counterpunch (updated)

    Two of my friends of longest standing (note how I avoid saying two of my "oldest friends") have articles online at counterpunch.org  that deserve notice.

    Eamonn Fingleton, who has been based in Japan for years and has been both contrarian and right in emphasizing the residual strength of Japanese manufacturing (even as the Japanese financial system collapsed), now has an article about the American media's coverage of Detroit. It is mainly a corrective to the automatic sneer at U.S. automakers that characterizes much political and press commentary about them. The article says:

    As press commentators have generally spun it, the Detroit story has been a simplistic  morality tale of "incompetent executives," "lazy workers," and "intransigent unions." Detroit in other words has richly deserved its fate and, in the opinion of many of the more callous observers, the sooner it is put out of its misery the better.
              

    The real story is a complex one in which the American auto industry has often been more sinned against than sinning.         

    The article is very heavy on US-Japanese auto competition; for the record, I disagree with Eamonn on a few of the harpoons that he hurls. But the simple rarity of arguments on the automakers' behalf makes the article worth considering. Update: Another illustration of its approach, from the beginning:
    To see how well -- or rather how badly -- you understand the background, try this quiz:           

    1. What was the Detroit companies' share of the Japanese market in 1930? (a) About 90 per cent. (b) About 20 per cent. (c) Less than 4 per cent.
               
    2. How many models do the Detroit corporations currently make with the steering wheel on the right (the standard configuration for Japan)? (a) More than 40. (b) 12. (c) 3.           

    3. What was the combined share of all foreign makers - American, European, and Japanese - in the Korean car market in the last decade? (a) Less than 2 per cent. (b) Around 15 per cent. (c) More than 70 per cent.           

    The correct answer in each case is (a).           

    If you flunked, don't feel bad. Just cancel your newspaper subscription.           

    I don't buy Eamonn's "cancel your subscription" advice, since newspapers are just behind carmakers in their overall distress. But his overall pitch is significant.

    Also we have Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, whose name is familiar to anyone who has read or thought about American defense policy over the last generation. Based purely on his study of conflict through the ages, last year Spinney made a call about Obama-McCain campaign tactics that proved far shrewder than that of many political "experts" at the time.

    In his new article, he makes a call about President Obama's expanding commitment to Afghanistan that is convincing to me and should be alarming to anyone who reflects on what the U.S. is getting itself into. Both articles very much worth a look.
  • Guest-post wisdom on frogs

    While I have been out of action, a technology-world friend named Michael Jones has generously added to the world's store of knowledge on the Frog Question. He has the floor:

    SLOWLY-BOILED FROGS (guest blog post by Michael Jones)
     
    180px-Goltz.jpgGerman physiologist Friedrich Leopold Goltz [left, Wikipedia image] published his studies of decerebrated frogs in Beitrage zur Lehre von den Functionen der Nervencentren des Frosches. (Berlin: August Hirschwald, 1869.) There, 140 years ago, he begat the familiar story of the slowly-boiled frog. The key element of this scientific discovery, lost across the years in the story's retelling, is that the frogs must first have their brains removed.

    Goltz work inspired George Henry Lewes--actor, philosopher, friend of Dickens, bigamous partner of Marian Evans (George Eliot) and of note, literary critic--to extend the slowly-boiled brainless frog oeuvre by slowly-boiling frogs with partial brains or with their spinal cords severed at various locations. Lewes published his findings four years and many frogs later as Sensation in the Spinal Cord in Nature, Dec. 4, 1873. He summarized the story this way:


    "Goltz observed that a frog, when placed in water the temperature of which is slowly raised towards boiling, manifests uneasiness as soon as the temperature reaches 25° C., and becomes more and more agitated as the heat increases, vainly struggling to get out, and finally at 42° C., dies in a state of rigid tetanus. The evidence of feeling being thus manifested when the frog has its brain, what is the case with a brainless frog? It is absolutely the reverse. Quietly the animal sits through all successions of temperature, never once manifesting uneasiness or pain, never once attempting to escape the impending death."
    Countless slow-boilings of partially dismembered frogs by Goltz, Lewes, and numerous others conclusively show the following truths: first, that even a brainless and spineless frog will recoil from hot water; and second, while healthy frogs will jump out of water when the temperature slowly gets too hot, brainless or spineless ones will not. The general sense of the slowly-boiled frog metaphor thus echoes scientific fact, even with its factual basis--elision of the frog's brain--itself elided through time and retelling.

    .

    This reconnection with our scientific past must reshape the Fallows crusade against the frog story and its abusers. The story as told remains untrue, so intolerance of it remains well founded. But, with its basis in science and human nature, and with so many tombstones in the boiled frog cemetery, it would be a shame to abandon it completely. I suggest that James Fallows follow the lead of his critical predecessor George Lewes by verbally removing the brain from the frog. That is, when those like Nobel winner Paul Krugman or United States President Barack Obama tell the slowly-boiled frog story inaccurately, Jim should write, "yes, if you mean a brainless frog!" With vigilance, that may become the equally well-known punch-line of the slowly-boiled frog story.

    [This is your regular host JF speaking again. The passage above has been slightly updated -- first time around I didn't include some edits Michael Jones had made. Even without knowing the part about decerebration -- a term that can be at least as useful in taking about politics as "boiled frog" is now -- I had been willing to declare peace and victory in this matter. But Jones' account offers a reality-based way of resolving the issue, while setting a high standard for guest posts in the future. Or owner-posts, for that matter.]

  • Raptor down (budgetarily)

    I emerge from the land of no internet or email to hear about today's crucial Senate vote to delete funding for additional F-22 "Raptor" fighter planes. For why this was an even-more-crucial-than-it-seems sign of whether the new Administration was serious about SecDef Robert Gates' impressive speeches about bringing rationality to defense spending, see here, here, here, and here, for starters. For much more about the F-22 from the Project on Government Oversight, here, and from the Center for Defense Information here. For a summary of why the vote matters, consider this statement from retired Army General Paul Eaton, of Iraq fame, from the National Security Network:

    "In stripping $1.75 billion in funds to build seven more F-22 Raptors from the Defense Authorization bill, the Senate has brought our military spending one step closer to matching America's military priorities for the 21st century. The Cold War relic was a symbol of the outdated, unnecessary, and expensive weapon systems that have burdened our defense budgets for far too long....Misplaced defense budget priorities such as additional funding for the F-22 both constrained America's military from adequately addressing the threats we face today and took money away from more essential strategic imperatives."

    This issue isn't over -- the House still has to act, and there is the conference etc. And we are nowhere close to having a defense budget that is "rational" in some larger sense. But on both merits and symbolism, this is a significant moment. And as matter of political anthropology, it seems as if President Obama's atypically hard-line promise to veto the entire spending bill if it included more money for the Raptor had its effect.

  • Offline again

    Whenever I think about the 'always-connected' or 'life in the internet cloud' era that awaits us all, I remember how many times in the last 12 months I have had to post a note like the following: I will be at a place with no internet connections until late Monday. Updates on many fronts then.

  • Time for a design / Gehry / public space update

    It has been a while (background here, begin from the bottom). Four correspondents weigh in, starting with a response to the previous post about Frank Gehry's Stata Center complex at MIT.

    An MIT grad student writes:

    A reader you quoted the other day on your blog reported that a certain seminar room in Gehry's Stata Center at MIT causes vertigo and is no longer used.  I happen to work in that building as a graduate student, and the story isn't quite as juicy as your correspondent told it.

    It's true that according to old-timers, when the room was first built, it caused some people to experience vertigo.  But according to the same story as I've heard it from many people, they swiftly put in some large conspicuously vertical objects like rolled-up rugs and the problem was solved.  In any case, the room is regularly full for seminars and I've never heard a complaint of vertigo in the present.

    The building certainly has its practical problems, though.  For one thing, it's said to cost twice as much to maintain per square foot as any other structure on campus.  For another, it's tremendously spendthrift of MIT's only resource even more costly than money -- space. For most of the building's height, the floor plan contains only two towers dwarfed by the sprawling footprint at ground level.  An aerial photo [by Philip Greenspun] illustrates this very well:

    stata-center-5.jpg

    Another reader writes, sort of in defense of Gehry:

    So far none of your correspondents has taken up the relationship between single buildings -- which is what architects, especially stars, mainly produce -- and public spaces.  Spaces need design, but it's a different skill than creating a building -- a complementary one, and not usually found in the same person.  (The Campidoglio is the exception that proves the rule: not only was Michelangelo, obviously, exceptional himself, but his design separates that space from the bustle of urban Rome.)

    I'm inclined to tolerate arrogance on this matter in a Gehry, even when genuinely offensive, because I think the responsibility for public spaces has to be shared more broadly -- just as the monuments, if any, are plums in the pudding of the urban design, the architects can be expected to be outliers in the design community.

    Reader #3, more fully in defense of Gehry -- and certainly more critical of his critics -- says:

    I wanted to chime in a tiny bit about the Gehry thing, with some context. I think it's fair to say that Fred Kent is a widely known but not particularly liked figure in the architecture world-- or perhaps I should say the "capital-A architecture" world. Project for Public Spaces, the organization Kent founded and runs, has a regressive streak that is at odds with a beliefin architecture as a potentially provocative, avant garde, response to the world. I don't have to tell you Gehry epitomizes that sensibility, nor that the hero architect shtick regularly backfires, with occasionally disastrous consequences for cites and "public space."

    But-- and here's where I cheer Gehry on, and tell Kent to take a seat-- that's not a reason to stop believing in the transformative potential of buildings, which is what the pabulum Kent spouts seems to argue. Especially not when there are architects like Gehry who come around every once in a while.

    More »

  • The boiled frog goes PoMo

    I mentioned two days ago my satisfaction that Paul Krugman had seen fit to declare the boiled-frog canard* false, before saying it was still useful to illustrate a point about political inaction. 

    Now I am happier still that my friend Michael Jones has put a fancy Postmodernist gloss on the whole topic. He writes:

    "Are you familiar with the late French writer and philosopher Jean Baudrillard? My favorite memory of his insight was his comment on the progression of societies' images from reality toward unreality in identifiable stages.
    1. It is the reflection of a basic reality, 
    2. It masks and perverts a basic reality, 
    3. It masks the absence of a basic reality, 
    4. It bears no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.

    "The stylized sport of wrestling as it advanced from Greek olympics to modern television might be an example of this progression, with Lou Thesz somewhere in the middle range. This last stage was his area of fascination; the progression itself is mine. The Onion is #4, but intentionally as humor."

    (Lou Thesz, as PoMo counterpart to boiled frog, from Plan59.com)

    lou_thesz.jpg

    Jones says that the frog story is in stage two; I think it has skipped ahead to stage four, where we don't care (a la Krugman) whether it's true or not because it's become a convenient way to convey a message ("raining cats and dogs"). Either way, it's nice to be literary about it.

    ___
    * Yes, I know what canard means. A little joke.

  • Let a thousand flowers bloom again, Atlantic style

    Here is a genuine strength of the community assembled at the Atlantic. We all take our work and the issues we're exploring seriously -- but we don't agree always or even a lot of the time about important issues. The closest thing to an across-the-board outlook was during last year's presidential election, when only a couple of people on the staff were rooting hard for the McCain-Palin ticket. But before the Iraq war, there was a really deep split, with our then-editor and many prominent writers strongly in favor of the war, and our then-managing editor and many others strongly against. Those differences were apparent -- I think in a useful way -- to anyone reading the magazine in those days and seeing the different perspectives argued out. Right now there are real differences on economic-policy matters, various aspects of foreign policy from Afghanistan to the Middle East to China, the futures of the Republican and Democratic parties, defense issues, and a lot of other specific points.

    I mention this as a strength of the organization internally and also, I think, a virtue from the reader's point of view. The real differences but also real sense of community and respect can encourage people to explain and argue-out their positions more carefully rather than just assuming agreement. It's like "not Red States or Blue States but the United States of the Atlantic Monthly"!

    In that spirit of respectful disagreement with a colleague and friend, let me say that Robert Kaplan's "we" does not speak for the whole magazine's staff when he says just now about China:

    For years we had perceived China as a state galloping ever forward, en route to peer competitor status with the United States and its military. We forgot that foreign and defense policy emanates from a country's domestic conditions, and that if its domestic conditions are less than harmonious, its policy toward the outside world, too, may be less than robust. In other words, China's rise cannot be taken for granted. To wit, China is also grinding away at its environmental base. Its water table is diminishing, along with the nutrients in its soil. But the regime cannot afford to slow down its economic growth for fear of a popular eruption far broader than what we just saw in Xinjiang....Remember, nothing is destiny.

    The limits on China's "galloping" rise and the "nothing is destiny" perspective on its future are points I've tried to convey so often that many readers may be going crazy from the repetition. (Eg here or here or here.) In a sense the heart of my disagreement with Niall Ferguson at the Aspen Ideas Festival was his seeming confidence that anything at all could be assumed as certain about China's future -- either the rise that seemed inevitable to some people until recently, or the breakup with the U.S. and the outside world that he says is now certain to come. That's my disagreement with Bob Kaplan's statement of previous views on China: "we" may have seen things that way, but "I" most certainly didn't.

    Arguing for uncertainty, or for many possible futures that will in fact be shaped by real choices by real human beings, may seem weak and unsatisfying. On the other hand: it conforms to the facts, and, at least as important, it focuses attention on the difference that "we" can make through our choices, wise or foolish, about China policy and other matters from economic interaction to environmental protection. And by "we" I mean political leaders and the politically-interested community in the United States, and China, and around the world.

  • Another full Aspen session on line

    Ten days ago, I said that when the full tape of the "Feeding the World's Billions" session of the Aspen Ideas Festival went on line, you should be sure to check it out. This is the one in which (a) Monsanto's CEO, Hugh Grant, answers questions arising from the Robert Kenner movie Food Inc, and (b) more new information, per minute, appears than in other sessions I have seen for a long time.

    Well, it's now up, here, so check it out. 

    Update: The bounty never stops! Another session I wrote about as interesting and worthwhile, "Re-Greening the Emerald Planet," is now on-line, here. Check this out too.


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