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.
  • The right kind of college rankings

    As a one-time staff editor of the Washington Monthly magazine, I am biased in favor of that plucky enterprise and its approach to the world.

    As a one-time editor of  US News & World Report, I am all too aware of the fatuousness imperfections of its college-ranking system. Being a pioneer in ranking has been the economic salvation of US News. But the premise that vastly different institutions can be precisely ranked on overall quality has its obvious limits. What are the "best" ten lines of work, ranked one through ten, for your child to aspire to? What are the "best" twenty-five cities to live in -- or pieces of music to listen to, or food to eat? Or people to marry? The only sane answer is, "it depends," which is the answer when it comes to colleges and universities too. For more on this theme, the classic source is this 2001 article -- as it happens, in the Washington Monthly -- by Amy Graham, who came to US News on my watch to try to clean up the rankings, and Nicholas Thompson, who has a wonderful new joint biography of (his grandfather) Paul Nitze and George Kennan coming out soon.

    The practical solution to ranking mania is not to try to eliminate them -- it's too late -- but instead to crowd the field so that no one "Best Colleges" list has disproportionate influence. Toward that end, the Washington Monthly's latest iteration of its college rankings is valuable simply for existing and adding diversity to the ranking field. It's more valuable than that, because of the way it carries through its analysis about the traits we really should value in universities, plus letting people tailor their own rankings based on the qualities that matter most to them. Here's a glimpse at its "National Universities" ranking, which is quite different from the familiar list in US News (this shows just a few of the elements on which schools are rated).


    The introduction to TWM's approach to college ranking is here; a description of its methods is here; the interactive ranking system is shown here. As I've stressed time and again when reporting from overseas, America's vast and diverse university system is (along with its openness to outside talent) one of the advantages hardest for any other country to match, and therefore most important to protect. Among the threats to protect it from is a bogus and simplistic concept of quality. I welcome the Washington Monthly rankings as another step away from the brink of bogusness.

  • Last aviation post of the day: the world's biggest fire truck

    Quite amazing footage from Fox 11 in Los Angeles of a specially modified 747 serving as a fire-fighting tanker today. The plane is flying extremely low-and-slow to dump retardant in an attempt to contain the LA-area wildfires. From this site.

    For the first two or three minutes of this video I found it hard to believe it was live footage of an actual airplane, rather than a computerized simulation. Better use of local-TV live cams than following cops in a standard highway chase! (Thanks to Joseph Musco.)

  • Rounding out our "love for the TSA" theme

    Don't know how to explain it, but over the past week I've received a large amount of correspondence all with the same gripe about the Transportation Security Administration: its role as enforcer of class-inequality among the airborne traveling public. (Previously on the TSA here.) For instance, this sample note, from a military official with whom I've usually corresponded about Iraq policy and so forth:

    "My big puzzle/complaint with TSA:  how can they enforce and man discriminatory lines in the airport check in?  If someone is paying United more for a first class seat they can enjoy better service and seating on United--but in going through gov't run, TSA-manned security, how can there be a first class line with faster security checks?  It's a clearly wrong, illegal practice.

    "I protested it once--going through first class line with my cheap seat ticket, and refusing to go back, pointing out that this is a government security service, not the airline, and its illegal for gov't to discriminate for a business.  They called security police, I continued arguing for 10 minutes, got escorted through, then subjected to thorough bag searches despite having waved my military ID around.  I had plenty of time to waste on this, and it did no good apparently (unless they've stopped this practice at Las Vegas airport).  They may argue that its the airport folks who man the front part of line, but that's often not true, and it is always TSA folks at the security end of the line--they are illegally discriminating."

    Thanks to my travel back and forth from China in recent years, I have a million-zillion miles on United and therefore am in favor of any class inequality that might favor high-mileage customers like me. But I recognize that having public officials doing the favoring is unseemly. This is the next-to-last straw in judging the TSA an experiment that desperately needs to be rethought. The last straw comes from Patrick Smith, of the always-excellent "Ask the Pilot" site on Salon, who asks pointedly whether the intrusive and expensive TSA checklines are doing any good at all. Read his whole column for details, but here is the gist [my emphasis added:

    "The novelty of the Sept. 11 attacks notwithstanding, the primary threat to commercial planes is, was and shall remain the smuggling aboard of explosives, which is what happened on Pan Am 103 [the Lockerbie explosion twenty years ago whose instigator was recently set free]. The bomb came onboard in a suitcase. The hijack paradigm changed forever on 9/11, rendering the inflight takeover concept unworkable for a terrorist....

    "Yet whether by virtue of incompetence or willful ignorance, TSA continues to waste untold time and untold millions of dollars on a tedious, zero-tolerance fixation with blades and sharps. This does nothing to make us safer, and in fact draws security resources away from worthy pursuits.

    "Yes, TSA scans most bags for explosives. Mandates were put in place after 9/11 that have greatly increased the percentage of bags that are run through high-tech detectors, with a goal of screening all of them. But eight years later, screening is still not fully comprehensive. It does not yet include 100 percent of luggage and cargo, and procedures remain inadequate at many overseas airports from which thousands of U.S.-registered jetliners depart each week. Neither is there widespread screening for explosive materials that somebody can carry on his or her person. Good luck getting a hobby knife through a concourse checkpoint, while a pocket full of Semtex is unlikely to be noticed....

    "There is a level of inherent risk that we simply must learn to accept. But, if we are going to have an airport security apparatus, and if we are going to devote millions of tax dollars to the cause of thwarting attacks, can we please do it smartly and at least improve our odds? Am I the only one who finds it maddening, and even a little scary, that we can't get this right? Is it not a national disgrace that TSA should spend its time confiscating butter knives from uniformed pilots rather than focusing on deadly threats with a long historical precedent?

    "Where are the voices of protest? As I've said before, the airlines ought to be speaking out and pressuring TSA to revise its policies. I know it puts them in a tough spot, liability-wise -- carriers don't want to be perceived as opposing security, even when that security isn't helpful -- but much of what people despise about flying pertains to the TSA rigmarole.

    "And passengers, for their part, are apparently content with, or at least resigned to, the idea of security theater in lieu of the real thing. Indeed, rather than demand or expect change, hundreds of thousands of Americans have paid good money for the chance to simply circumvent the hassle of TSA."

    Amen. Now, if there were only some way to channel the surplus emotion from anti-health-care-reform "town meetings" and direct it toward the excesses of "security theater."

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  • Gmail down -- and now back up!

    This is broadly known in the tech world, but for the purposes of the Atlantic's site this will be the official announcement that: for at least the last hour, Gmail has been inaccessible through most of the normal means-of-access. OTOH, I am still getting Gmail messages on my Blackberry, since I have Gmail set up to bounce a copy of all incoming info there. So some of the lower-brainstem functions of Gmail are still intact. Depending on how long this takes to clear up -- next few minutes, another hour or two -- will no doubt set off various speculation about the vulnerability of cloud computing, about whether there are some aspects of scale too vast even for the unimaginably vast collection of Google servers, whether Twitter (now ablaze with reports) could be brought down in collateral damage, and so on. All of that in due course. Right now, it's like living through real-time tech history!

    5:14 pm EDT: It's back! At least for the moment. Will be interesting to hear this sleuthed out.
    (Updated official Google status reports here.)

  • The NTSB on the Hudson River crash

    Late last week the National Transportation Safety Board put out a "safety recommendation" letter about preventing accidents in the "VFR Flyway" above the Hudson River. For previous items on the August 8 airplane-helicopter collision that killed nine people, see here, here, here, and here. VFR = "Visual Flight Rules," in which pilots are responsible for their own navigation and for keeping out of other planes' way.

    The full NTSB account of the accident will take many months to complete. This interim recommendation, available in PDF here, is interesting in several ways. First, in contrast to some excitable "it's the Wild West up there!" comments by politicians and media figures, it notes that there have been no previous collisions in 30 years of operating under current procedures over the Hudson, and just one reported "near miss" in the past ten years. Thus, "The procedures in use to promote separation between VFR flights appear to have been effective in preventing collisions." [Full quote from this section, with caveat, after the jump.]

    Nonetheless, its recommendation for avoiding problems in the future includes something that makes obvious sense: keeping helicopters and airplanes at different altitudes, since helicopters can safely operate much closer to the ground than airplanes can. This recent collision happened at 1,100 feet -- the altitude at which airplanes typically fly through the corridor, since above that they get into controlled "Class B" airspace for New York's three major airports. The airplane was flying level at that altitude; the helicopter climbed to that altitude just before the crash. By the NTSB's recommendations, helicopters would not get that high.

    There are other observations about air traffic control procedures to keep a closer eye on traffic. (For the reaction from air traffic controllers' union, see this Washington Post item. More on the merits of this part of the argument later.) Worth checking out.

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  • The Real China

    From pollution to unemployment, factory workers to churchgoers, a look at the real people and issues dominating the nation today.

    Starting this week and through the fall, the Atlantic's site will have a series of clips from the DVD series "Doing Business in China" in which I was involved before moving back to the United States. I'll have more to say shortly about the background of the project, and what I view as its potential importance. For now I'll just say thanks to: Bob Schapiro and Dovar Chen, who figured out how to get the original and quite startling video footage inside Chinese factories, bureaucracies, stores, etc over the past few years; Joe Nocera of the New York Times, who appears on the films in "what it all means" discussions with me after each segment; and Emily Chang, on-camera co-host. I'll also mention that when we were filming some of the narration in Shanghai, it was hot and humid beyond all belief, and we were standing in direct sun on a rooftop. More to come, and I will say that I learned a lot about China through the process of working on this project.

  • Karel van Wolferen on the Japanese electoral revolution

    I mentioned last week that the Dutch writer Karel van Wolferen was, like me, a devotee of "interesting" software for writing and thinking. His real metier, of course, is political analysis, most notably about Japan. On his site he has just put up a detailed post about this weekend's historic ousting of the Liberal Democratic Party from governing control in Japan.

    The LDP's name has unfortunately misleading connotations in English; as the hoary joke goes, it is neither "liberal" nor "democratic" but instead is the long-standing force of status-quo, favor-trading conservatism. And as Karel has argued in his many books and articles, its mere existence is misleading in a more fundamental sense, since it implies that Japan is a "normal" democracy, in which political parties compete for the power to control government policy. In fact, elected politicians from the LDP and all other parties have been relatively weak, compared with the permanent and powerful bureaucrats who distribute money, set policy, and in most senses run the country.

    To see that analysis applied to the current situation, check out his latest dispatch. He asks whether this election will make any more difference than the only other time the LDP was driven (briefly) from power, just after Bill Clinton's inauguration:

    "Will Japan's new government be able to do what the reformists could not possibly accomplish in 1993? Skeptics point at the  divisions within the [new ruling party]...

    "But my impression is that the individuals of the inner core of the party are deadly serious about what must be done to turn their country into what one of them, the most senior and most experienced Ozawa Ichiro, has in his writing called a 'normal country'."

    The idea of Japan as a "normal" country -- one that takes responsibility for its own defense, one with a functioning political system -- is more significant than most people outside Japan usually recognize. I remember hearing Ozawa use that phrase when I interviewed him, in his role as an LDP potentate, twenty years ago while I was living in Tokyo. I have no idea whether this election really will signify, as the one in 1993 did not, the long-awaited historic emergence of Japan as a functioning democracy. But Karel van Wolferen's post lays out the stakes, and the reasons to think it might.

  • More love for the TSA (plus actual good TSA-related news)

    Four ways of looking at the TSA (drawn from reader mail, following this and this item):

    As possibility for political symbolism:

    "Political experts will disagree, but the smartest thing that Gingrich and Co did back when they took over Congress was kill the federal speed limits. It told every American that they were serious about killing outdated government regulations and it gave some moral power to their deconstruction.

    "In another era, Miranda rights, repeated endlessly on TV cop shows, gave every American the idea they had "rights".

    "I remember an axiom, perhaps from Nixon, that every President needs to kill a government department on taking office.   Killing TSA, and saving $5 for every airline ticket sold, would seem to be an enormously easy venture. Going back to your 1977 article, What Would Jimmy Carter Do?" [Deferring comment on this last point for now.]

    As occasion for good news!
    A reader sent this positive account from a recent trip via BWI airport in Baltimore:

    "The last time we traveled through BWI in July, we noticed that TSA seemed a lot friendlier.  Someone near the area where you got screened was announcing a list of things that you had to take out of your bags to be screened separately. This list included some things that I considered fairly bizarre like an accordian. This made the TSA look a lot less humorless than they had been before. 

    "I do  agree with you that the shoe thing needs to stop.  There are some people trying to sneak through with their Vibrams or similar shoes.  These are still rare enough that they puzzle some TSA personnel."

    As it turns out, there is a reason why BWI seems less maddening/harassing than most other airports! A friend who works for IDEO, the famed design firm, pointed me toward a report showing what IDEO had done to reduce the going-crazy experience of passing through airport check lines. It's here, and it includes apercus like this:

    "It was clear that trying to observe the subtleties of hostile intent would be less effective in a chaotic environment filled with stressed passengers. IDEO was engaged to design a solution that calmed the environment of the checkpoint, thus making potential threats stand out."

    Good work! (Pictures from BWI below.)

    More »

  • Senator Edward M. Kennedy

    I have nothing of substance to contribute to the assessment of his career right now but just wanted to add my respect, sympathy, and sadness. The most impressive and winning aspect of his personality was the way he kept on going, with good humor, despite defeats and tragedies of all sorts and vanished ambitions. With his physical bulk he made me think of some big, proud, beautiful animal -- a bull in the ring with lances hanging out of its neck, a lion or elephant that has been tattered or wounded but not brought down. As everyone has noted, his most impressive and dignified period was after he realized he would never be president but would still bring campaign-scale passion and charisma (overused term, but right in this case)  to causes he cared about.

    I realize to my surprise how vividly I can remember the dramatic moments of his progression through the news. The summer night forty years ago, when I was sitting with college friends in a Northeast Washington backyard when word started circulating that Kennedy, still in his 30s, had been in some kind of traffic accident on Martha's Vineyard. The chilly fall day ten years later, when I was watching TV with friends in DC and saw in real-time astonishment that Kennedy hemmed and hawed but could not answer Roger Mudd's simple question, "Why do you want to be president?" before his run against Jimmy Carter. The unforgettable speech on the floor of the Democratic convention the following summer, when he thundered "The dream will never die!" In the hall you could feel how completely star power had drained from the beleaguered sittingformer* president Carter. (The only thing I've seen at a convention remotely as electric: Barack Obama's keynote/debut speech in 2004.) And, in keeping with the lanced-bull image, his unbelievably brave speech in favor of Obama at last year's convention. This was brave not in its content, as his opposition to the Iraq war and original endorsement of Obama had been; it was brave in the most elemental sense, that he insisted on walking to the stage unassisted and collecting himself for what was his last real public performance. The point is the way he commanded attention over his long public life.

    A flawed man, who started unimpressively in life -- the college problems, the silver-spoon boy senator, everything involved with Chappaquiddick -- but redeemed himself, in the eyes of all but the committed haters, with his bravery and perseverance and commitment to the long haul. And his big, open heart. A powerful, brave, often-wounded animal at last brought down.
    * Rushed Freudian-error typo. Former president now; sitting president then.

  • TSA / Amelia followups

    Following this item yesterday:

    1) Demonstrating the mathematical theorem that TSA+Google Ads = unintended comedy, reader Andrew Hall shows what happened when he clicked on the trailer for the Hilary Swank / Amelia Earhart film:


    In case you can't read it, the pop-up ad says: "Homeland Security: Become a TSA Scanner by Earning Your Degree in Homeland Security." I hope it's a joke -- I mean, including the "Degree in Homeland Security." But I fear it is not. FWIW, my pop-up ads on the same trailer were all for the WaWa grocery store chain.

    2) I said that the Grace McGuire story had a happy ending. After TSA security-theater threatened to close down her reconstruction of an Amelia Earhart-type plane, the pre-approved crew from a San Diego museum had taken over the task. A reader begs to differ:

    "Happy ending..." you say, at the end of today's piece.

    But probably not for the "....variety of craftsmen and suppliers who happened to come up with the right part for the plane...." not to mention the likely large number of simple voluntary workers on such a project.

    Case in point:  My 76 year old mother, who is the non-flying secretary of her local EAA [Experimental Aircraft Association] chapter, was a volunteer member of a group which recently completed the restoration of a Viet Namese era artillery spotter plane.  She, and the other 60 and 70 something year-olds who restored that Piper took great pleasure and pride in what they did, and the results - in fact, they're planning to do another plane in the not-too distant future.  What a shame it will be if their ability to make some contribution, and derive a sense of satisfaction and worth from the effort, is prevented by the TSA's bureaucratic nonsense.
    3) Just because it's both China-related and aviation-themed, here's a YouTube video of China's first all-electric plane, the Yuneec. (Say it out loud. Hardee-har!) Kind of odd video, but looks like fun -- it's at a California airport I know well. And, to bring things back to a TSA theme, never once in my many, many trips through Chinese airports did I have to take off my shoes. I mean, except on flights back to the U.S.  Let us learn from a 5,000-year-old culture to the east. (More here. Thanks to Ted Pearlman.)

    4) And speaking of shoes, a final bit of TSA-related mail:
    As a conservative, I did not vote for President Obama. Nonetheless, it's my hope that some of the sillier things instituted by the Bush Administration would get thrown out.

    Why hasn't the Obama Administration acted to clean up the public image of TSA? Specifically, why hasn't TSA stopped making people take off their shoes? It's the silly tip of the iceberg of silly security theatre.

    I'd think that the President would win himself a lot of independent votes by getting rid of this rather ridiculous measure. Have any ideas as to why it hasn't happened?
    Ideas in later dispatches.

  • Will it never end? McCaughey v. Ezekiel Emanuel

    Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel should need no introduction to Atlantic readers. Among his many pursuits is writing a number of interesting articles for our "Food Channel," under Corby Kummer's auspices. He should need no introduction to anybody, since over the past decade-plus he has so often been involved in deliberations about the right future health-care path for America and the world. I stress "the world" since he has traveled widely and emphasized public-health challenges for poor nations too. I know him slightly -- just well enough that, a few weeks ago, I asked his journalistic advice for contacts in China on a public-health story I'm working on. He is an oncologist and bioethicist -- and, of course, older brother of Rahm Emanuel from the White House.

    Elizabeth "Betsy" McCaughey also needs no introduction to Atlantic readers. She has brought more misinformation, more often, more destructively into America's consideration of health-policy issues than any other individual. She has no concept of "truth" or "accuracy" in the normal senses of those terms, as demonstrated last week when she went on The Daily Show. Virtually every statement she has made about health-reform proposals, from the Clinton era until now, has been proven to be false. It doesn't slow her down.

    And now we have the New York Times, in a big take-out story, saying that Dr. Emanuel, in his role as Obama health-care advisor, is in an "uncomfortable place" because he is being criticized by*:

    1) Betsy McCaughey !
    2) Rep. Michele Bachman (look her up) !!
    3) Sarah Palin !!!
    4) Lyndon LaRouche !!!!

    McCaughey, Bachman, Palin, LaRouche -- shaping American debate and media coverage about health policy? Was Zsa Zsa Gabor not available?

    To be "fair," the story puts the criticisms in "context," thus:

    "Largely quoting his past writings out of context this summer, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, labeled Dr. Emanuel a "deadly doctor" who believes health care should be "reserved for the nondisabled" -- a false assertion that Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, repeated on the House floor."

    "Out of context" and "false" are useful caveats. But why is the story about Ezekiel Emanuel being on the hot seat in the first place -- and not about the campaign of flat lies by McCaughey, Bachman, Palin, and LaRouche? Why are real newspapers quoting what they say any more? (Interestingly, LaRouche's claims rarely get NYT coverage. In in this case, he is apparently "legitimized" by ... McCaughey.) If I start a campaign of lies against somebody and get Soupy Sales plus Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme to agree with me, can I expect them to be regularly publicized in the mainstream press?

    I do understand - and wrote before -- about how difficult it is for the mainstream press to decide that one party to a controversy is making things up, doesn't care about facts,  and will keep saying whatever it wants. I also recognize that when a campaign of falsehoods has a political effect, the effect itself can be worth writing about. But does it have to be presented in a way that suggests that the McCaughey-Bachman-Palin-LaRouche team is just another participant in political discussion? This can give "fairness" a bad name.
    * Here are paragraphs two and three of the story -- the "nut graf" passage establishing that there is a controversy:

    "Largely quoting his past writings out of context this summer, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, labeled Dr. Emanuel a "deadly doctor" who believes health care should be "reserved for the nondisabled" -- a false assertion that Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, repeated on the House floor.

    "Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska has asserted that Dr. Emanuel's "Orwellian" approach to health care would "refuse to allocate medical resources to the elderly, the infirm and the disabled who have less economic potential," accusations similarly made by the political provocateur Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr."
  • Why we love the TSA, chap. #14,867 (Amelia Earhart dept)

    The most interesting movie trailer I've seen since coming back to America -- OK, the only one -- is for Hilary Swank's upcoming biopic about Amelia Earhart. Opening shot below; link to full trailer at the bottom.


    This is timely not just because the movie looks so gorgeous -- as does Swank, reinforcing the beautiful androgynous kinship in appearance between Earhart and the young Charles Lindbergh -- but also because the latest small chapter in the war of TSA-vs-common-sense involves Amelia.

    Four years ago, as described in this NYT article and this one from Smithsonian Air and Space,  a New Jersey pilot named Grace McGuire resolved to recreate Amelia Earhart's round-the-world journey, in a restored version of the same kind of Lockheed Electra airplane Earhart flew. All instruments, equipment, and detailing would be similar. The big difference, as McGuire pointed out in her standard punch line, is that she intended to get home safely rather than disappearing over the South Pacific.

    McGuire encountered various obstacles along the way, most notably a struggle with Lyme Disease that for years left her too weak to advance her plans. But her most recent hassle has been with our friends at the TSA.

    As described here in AVweb and recounted on many general-aviation sites, the TSA has been ramping up background-check requirements for anyone who does any work, of any kind, at any site where flying craft can land. Most of the nation's 4000-plus small airfields have historically been very casual, low-formality, open operations, policed mainly and effectively by their community of users. To people who have worked at and gathered around them, the airports' openness was much of their American-freedom-style, Earhart-and-Lindbergh-style appeal. To the TSA, it looks like a threat. An overheated pilot partisan argues here that fortifying little airports is part of the Big Government vision of "Team Obama." Her heart's in the right place about the TSA, but of course these rules and the overall security-theater approach got started under the previous team.

     McGuire had moved her Electra airplane to the tiny Santa Maria airport in California, a very nice little field very far from big cities. Restoring a 75-year old airplane meant a lot of ad hoc visits by a variety of craftsmen and suppliers who happened to come up with the right part for the plane. Putting every one of them through Federal security checks and certifying them for permanent airport ID cards, before they could drive up to the little airfield and repair an aileron, was bringing the project to a halt.

    Help has arrived, in the form of the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Its staff has already passed TSA security checks, and it will take over restoration of the plane. Happy ending -- but you wonder, will there ever be a chance to say, Enough with the petty security theater, and let's think about the courage and common sense that keep free people free. (Anyone who wants more on this topic, see here and here.)

    Back to Hilary/Amelia: film trailer below.

  • My new software favorite: Personal Brain (updated)

    What is my purpose on Earth? Raising my children? Being as good and supportive a husband to my wife as (the movie version of) Paul Child was to Julia in the new film? Working for world peace and sustainable environmental development and a more humane society? Helping keep my magazine afloat?

    Yeah yeah yeah.

    I often think that my real purpose, apart from dreaming about getting back into aviation and  tennis (and, gulp, finishing the next book), is to tinker with every piece of "interesting" software that anyone can cook up. I've written about dozens of them over the years, and still have many of them at close reach on my computer. Lotus Agenda -- the "spreadsheet for words" that was invented in the early 1990s, then cruelly orphaned by Lotus, but is still handy now. BrainStorm -- an outlining and list- based program. It is ultra-minimalist, text only, straight from the DOS age -- but after Symantec's also-tragic orphaning of the best-loved-ever outliner, GrandView, BrainStorm is often the place I turn. (Part of that bittersweet outliner history, from Dave Winer, here.) And of course Zoot, which I have used since the early 1990s and wrote about in the Atlantic 12 years ago. For all its info-organizing power, Zoot has in the past few years begun showing its age. Like BrainStorm, it is text-only and has no way even to underline or highlight important text. Also, it is too Web-friendly.  But its lone-genius creator, Tom Davis of Delray Beach, FL, has been working on an all new, web-connected version, which is now in beta testing and which I'll sign up for as soon as it's released.

    But for the moment: Personal Brain, from TheBrain software in Marina del Rey, California. I'm in that familiar and always-enjoyable phase of feeling: this program is really interesting, and let's see how it fits the way I think and work.

    The idea of the program is to connect any item -- a call you want to make, a web site you want to quote, a PDF file you want to read, or even an entire project you're beginning -- with any other, in a flexible variety of relationships. FWIW, the program calls its items "thoughts." Here's an idea of how some of the connections look, in a view that shows many projects for which I'm collecting info or am working on.


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Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.


How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming



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