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.
  • Thursday Late-Night Reader: Eight Ways of Thinking About China

    Can China hope to become ... the next Mexico?

    Updates from Greenville and "the upstate" of South Carolina coming soon. In the meantime, selected China readings:

    Amb. Jorge Guajardo (right), via WSJ.

    1) "Is China the Next Mexico?" Atlantic readers know Jorge Guajardo and his wife Paola Sada as former Guest Bloggers in this space. In China they have been known in recent years as the face of Mexico, since from 2007 through 2013 Jorge was the Mexican ambassador there. (That's him at the right, in a news picture during a tense Mexican-Chinese moment five years ago.) Now they are living in the United States, where Jorge has delivered a puckishly provocative speech.

    Its premise is not the tired one of whether Mexico might become the "next China" but rather the reverse: whether China has the hope of going through the political reforms that have transformed Mexico since the end of one-party rule. Very much worth reading, for its "who should be learning from whom?" approach. I hope they are studying this in Beijing.   

    Disclosures: Jorge and Paola Guajardo are close friends of our family. Also, the venue for the speech was the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at the UC San Diego, where I have visited many times and feel part of its diaspora.

    2) "A Field Guide to Hazardous China Cliches," by Benjamin Carlson in Global Post. Anyone writing or talking about China gets used to a certain rodomontade. China has not simply been around for a long time. It has a "5,000-year history," which must be referred to in exactly those terms. (I burst out into admiring laughter when, with my friend Michele Travierso, I walked into Turkey's pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. The introductory plaque said something like, "For 6,000 years, civilization on the Anatolian plain..." ) China was not simply buffeted by the decline of the Qing dynasty at just the time of European colonial expansion. It suffered the "century of humiliation," which explains and excuses any touchiness now. 

    Ben Carlson, a former Atlantic staffer now based in Hong Kong (and a relative of mine), has a very nice brief checklist of these and other phrases to be aware of and avoid—or at least to surround in protectively ironic air-quotes if you have to utter them. As with one of the phrases he saves for later discussion: "Hurting the feelings of the Chinese people." Again very much worth reading. 

    3) "In China, Watching My Words." From Helen Gao—a Beijing native, Yale college alumna, and recent Atlantic staffer—a very eloquent NYT essay on how she has adjusted what she allows herself to say since moving back to China. This piece has gotten a lot of attention, and deserves it.

    4) "China's International Trade and Air Pollution in the United States." Here is the full-text version of a scientific study mentioned in an Atlantic Cities item recently. Most press coverage emphasized a kind of ironic backflip whammy: U.S. factories had outsourced much of their production to China. And—ahah!—the pollution was blowing right back across the Pacific to get them. (I discussed the ramifications of this coverage in an On the Media segment with Bob Garfield today.) 

    To me the real impact of the study was in charts like the ones below. Here is what they show, for the pollutants sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides. (There are similar ones for CO2 and other pollutants.) In the left-hand column, that China is putting out a lot more than America is; and in the right-hand column, that the U.S. puts out more per capita, though by a declining margin. The middle column is the important one, showing that per unit of output, Chinese factories are still grossly more polluting than those in America (or Europe or Japan). Thus the economic logic of outsourcing, which is powerful, has also made the world's output more environmentally damaging than it was before. 

    This is a big gnarly issue, which I've tried to deal with here and here and here. But the importance of this study, in my view, is underscoring how important it is to the entire world to clean up those Chinese factories.

    5) Pollution take 5.5 years off every person's life. The study above got headlines for concluding that Chinese pollution (some driven by serving export markets) added one extra day, per year, to Southern California's smog burden.

    A study a few months ago by a Chinese-American team calculated that for the 500 million residents of Northern China, pollution was already taking five and a half years off the average person's expected life span. This is a genuine public-health and political emergency.

    6) The missing 1 trillion (or 4 trillion) dollars. Not to dwell on the negative, but reports here, here, and here detail some of the ways in which the people running China have tried to insulate themselves and their children from the environmental and other effects of actually living there. These reports are not positive indicators—any more than if the Obama family was moving all of its assets out of the U.S., to protect the daughters' future prospects.

    7)  Let's be realistic about China's ambitions, and problems. My line all along has been: Take China seriously, but don't be afraid of it. Take it seriously, because what happens there affects the entire world. Don't be afraid of it, because it has problems that already-rich and stable countries can barely imagine. More on this theme from the China Daily. And an interesting twist from Global Times. (Both papers are state-controlled; GT is often more fire-breathingly nationalist.)

    8) To end on a positive note, a Chinese lower-pollution car.

    That is all. Another Reader coming shortly, on Iran and related topics. Then: the story of Greenville, Greer, and environs.

  • America's Tiniest Engineers: Report From Greenville, South Carolina

    By Deborah Fallows

    [see update below.] It was the monthly "engineering week" when I visited the A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering in Greenville, South Carolina, in January. Volunteers from one of the several local big-name companies in town were teaching special lessons. This week, employees from General Electric, some in purple t-shirts, were teaching about hydro, wind, and solar power sources.

    One volunteer was boiling water in a glass beaker, which produced steam, which drove a pinwheel to spin. Another was demonstrating the evolution of light bulbs, measuring the amount of heat the bulbs produced, and engaging fourth graders in a discussion of what it meant to a bulb that much of its energy was spent on producing heat instead of light.

    Whittenberg is -- no kidding -- an elementary school of engineering. The mascot of the school (below) is a robot, and the kids are not the “cougars” or the “tigers” but the “engineers.” Academically, the school presents lots of special projects around engineering and also folds engineering skills into traditional academic subjects.

    Whittenberg is a public school that sits smack in the middle of an area that Lynn Mann, the school’s director of programs, described to me as a highly distressed area of Greenville, with high poverty, unemployment, crime, and single parent households.

    The school, pre-K through grade 5, opened in 2010, and it is graduating the first class this year. It shares property with The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, built concurrently. Kids go to the Kroc Center for lessons in swimming, golf, rock climbing, tennis, soccer, and on and on. The Kroc Center holds some adult classes in the computer labs at the school.  I reached the school on foot, a 10-minute walk from our hotel, which was just off Greenville’s newly-revitalized and charming Main Street, via the runner-walker-biker heaven that is the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The 17.5 mile trail, completed in 2010, runs mostly along an old railroad bed from Greenville to nearby Travelers Rest, S.C., so named as a former stopping point on the 19th century stagecoach line.

    Lobby of the school's main office, with back
    copies of Mechanical Engineering to be perused. 

    The school also sits smack in the middle of the engineering mecca that Greenville has become. GE, Michelin,  and BMW, which have strong manufacturing and research presence in the area, engage in so many ways with the town, including this elementary school. In fact the list of partners for the school numbers more than 2 dozen, including Fluor, Hubbell Lighting, Duke Energy, Furman and Clemson, among others, making it a classic example of the public-private ventures we saw throughout Greenville.

    After a 40-year hiatus when not a single new public school was built in Greenville, it didn’t take long for Whittenberg to take off.* Ms. Mann told me that in first year, few people had gotten wind of the school, and they had to hire high school kids to canvass the neighborhood, introducing the school to parents and encouraging them to enroll their youngsters. (Families who live within a 1.5 mile radius of the school can enroll as its neighborhood school; others must apply. Today, about 1/3 of the 400+ students are from the neighborhood; 2/3 are from other parts of Greenville.)

    Parents camping out for school enrollment. Photo from JournalWatchdog.com.

    By the second year, word was out, and parents camped out in front of the school for a week before registration for the first-come-first-served spots. It was so popular that the local Lowe’s home store offered discounts to parents for their camping supplies.  Then it spun so out of control that the school switched to a lottery system for the out-of-neighborhood spots. Now, Ms. Mann told me, Greenville realtors advertise the in-town location as an advantage when listing houses in the Whittenberg district.

    Here are some of the sights and insights from my morning at the school:

    Unexpected sights: The walls of the fourth and fifth grade corridor are bare, except for digital screens. In fact, almost everything in the fourth and fifth grade is digital. It makes for a paperless environment, where all the schoolwork is done on tablets, students enter their work into folders, teachers use a stylus to comment on work, and parents are encouraged to open the folders and monitor the entirety of their children’s work.

    How do the students handle this system? They are masters. They start keyboarding in kindergarten, with unplugged keyboards. By second grade they have each been issued an iPad. And they learn Power Point, not my favorite application but one certainly encouraged by the engineering community. The school does teach to print out block letters, and the students are graded on penmanship throughout their years. However – and this news comes as a Praise-the-Lord moment for me, a mother of boys – cursive writing is not taught! How much struggle, I reflected, our boys could have avoided without the hours they spent on cursive in elementary school.

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    Ms. Mann reported that even she had a bit of a hard time believing in the absence of cursive. When considering the move away from cursive, the consultants challenged her to come up with examples of when these kids would need to use cursive in their lifetimes.  “Writing letters?” she asked. “Nope, they’ll type them.”  “Research notes?” “Nope, they won’t use paper.” “Let me help you out,” offered the consultant: “A signature.” Even for those in the business of educating the next generation, it can be hard to imagine the reach of their students’ future digital lives.

    On the other hand, there is no shortage of art in the rest of the school. Corridor walls are bursting with 3-D extravaganzas. Children have created all manner of décor. There are paper trees growing out of walls, fluffy snowmen popping out, suspended robots and all manner of things that protrude and hang and dangle.

    In the main hall, there is a column of pop-out paper cutting, in honor of a visit to Greenville by pop-up children’s book writer and illustrator Matthew Reinhart.  Each classroom I entered was a creative heaven— sculptures hanging from ceilings, bursts of color everywhere, busy work stations, clusters of buzzing activity, books, furniture, photos, and one empty “thinking chair.” 

    The kids meet Broadway.  A particularly charming example of the creativity of lessons, the application of engineering, and the synergy with Greenville talent is the first grade Broadway  production project. The Peace Center is an arts center in downtown Greenville, which offers a hefty plate of productions each year. On a blustery Friday night in January, we peered into the glassed-in atrium filled with people who had come for the performance of country singer Don Williams, and the outdoor plaza was alive with music and dancers who were oblivious to the cold. The Center hosts a Broadway series each year.

    This year, one production is the Wizard of Oz. First graders at Whittenberg study the production in every aspect. Lucky for the school, the productions for the last several years have included a “flying element”, which fits nicely into engineering lessons. This year, the first graders learned about what it takes to get the wicked witch up in the air. They broke into teams to design their own rope and pulley system to get a witch to fly. They walked the Swamp Rabbit Trail to the Center to  learn about how the lighting works, how the orchestra pit operates, how the stages and scenery are set up. The winning design team got to attend a performance at the theater. They all learned the songs in the musical; they read the book; they made their own pop-up books of the story.

    Extracurriculur manna from heaven. There is so much here that it left me breathless: The kids go to the Kroc Center for sports and after school programs of all sorts. They built an organic garden out behind the school, including a greenhouse constructed of recycled plastic bottles. This year, they’ll launch a cotton project, to grow and harvest cotton, tying that into the history of textile mills here in The Upstate of South Carolina. The school is part of a Culinary Creations program. I was delighted to learn that they have done away with teaching nutrition via the tedious food pyramid; here, the kids learn to identify green, yellow, and red foods – Go, Slow, and Whoa – to help them learn about proteins, veggie, low sugar fruit; carbs, high sugar fruit; cookies and cakes. They bake their own bread and make their own homemade soup on site. Some 57% of students are on free or reduced-price lunch.

    The recycled-bottle greenhouse and garden in foreground. A field day of running races in background.

    Environmental service is a schoolwide effort. First graders compost. Second graders collect recycling waste from rooms every Thursday, sort and count it and rate the owners of the recycling bins. You get plusses for volume of recycled material and demerits for– heaven forbid – candy wrappers. Third graders measure air quality and post signs outside promoting a no-idling campaign for cars. Fourth graders study water quality and present power points (!) about it to the other classes. (A curious aside: at least 4 people in Greenville told me the city boasts the “Best tasting water in North America.” I’m not sure where this comes from. But the water was good enough to take away the stigma of choosing tap water over bottled water at high-end restaurants.) Fifth graders learn how to do home energy audits.

    And then, of course, there is Lego Robotics.  Last year, the Lego Robotics team won the right to compete in Germany -- the only elementary school in the US to do so -- which meant first airplane flights and first passports for lots of kids. They returned with so much excitement that, not surprisingly, now everyone wants to be on the Lego Robotics team.

    I asked about foreign language teaching and was expecting to hear about some fancy new program for Chinese or an activity-rich effort for Latin. But no. When the school consulted the engineering gurus about foreign language, they responded that the world’s engineers all spoke English and  recommended instead that the school teach English as well as they possibly could. This, and the goal to master Power Point by second grade, may be the only two issues where I would part ways with A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering.

    The future? A new public middle school for engineering is opening next to the CU-ICAR (Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research) campus in Greenville next year. A public high school for engineering is in the planning stage.

    If you'd like to see the spirt of the place, please, take a look at this last video. 

    To contact the author: DebFallows at gmail.com.  Photos by Deborah Fallows.

    correction: In fact other schools had been built in Greenville during the past 40 years. But a school had been promised to this inner city community for 40 years. See here.

  • My Current Favorite TV Ad

    "For the most part, give or take, today is actually ... pretty great."

    If I were choosing a career title-winner for favorite ad, I would have to recognize the annoying-but-non-forgettable "Five-Dollar Foot Lonnnng!" campaign Subway has been running since 2008. It drives people crazy, but apparently it is magic for drawing customers into the stores; on its debut it was so effective that Subway had bread shortages. I find the minor-chord progressions weirdly compelling, and I realize that I always stop to look at the screen when it comes on. 

    (Video at end of this post, plus musicology for those who haven't followed the story.)

    But the ad that is on my mind right now is one that has been running frequently during the NFL playoff bonanza. It's for the Honda Civic, and it usually appears as one of an assortment of 30-second clips. Here is an example:

    I think the extended play, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida-scale version -- actually only two and a half minutes long -- is extremely interesting for the world view it presents. Check it out for yourself:

    What I find noteworthy, even brave, about this commercial is that it acknowledges all the reasons to feel downcast about economics, politics, the environment, everything.  That's the first 30 seconds of the long version, and the first five of the short ones. But then it says: a lot of really exciting and positive things are also going on, to the extent of declaring, Today is pretty great! 

    Why is that interesting?

    • It's not simple boosterish/denialist "We're number one!" talk.
    • Nonetheless, it's a bolder "glass is way more than half full" pitch than I recall seeing in any other political or commercial campaign. As the lyrics say at 2:15 of the long version, "For the most part, give or take, today is  actually .... pretty great." 
    • It mainly features people in their late teens through early 30s, who -- like their counterparts at every other stage of history -- are tired of hearing that everything is terrible. Because they know how much actually is terrible, in their own situations and generally -- but also know that everything is still starting for them. Families, careers, possibilities, lives.
      And, the real reason why this totally got my attention:
    • It's a video-advertisement version of what my wife and I keep running into as we go from one of our smallish cities to another.

      They all have serious problems -- as every place does. Inequality and environmental run-down and drug use and violence and parts of the community frozen out or left behind. 

      But also each of them we've seen so far has had ambitious, exciting, economic and environmental and educational and scientific projects underway. (As reeled off at roughly 1:45-1:55 of the long clip.) The emotional and "argumentative" arc in these ads, especially the long version, very much matches the emotional and intelligence cycle we've been through in these reporting trips.     

    You can read an ad-world perspective on the campaign here. I loved the Eminem/Chrysler "Imported From Detroit" Superbowl ad three years ago. That was a marker of a shift in business realities and attitudes. This new ad could be too.  

    Back in 2008 Seth Stevenson wrote about the "Five Dollar" ad, a nice version of which is shown below, in Slate.    

    He found the man who had come up with this earworm-eligible music and asked him to explain its secret power:

    I called the composer, Jimmy Harned (of the boutique music outfit Tonefarmer), to see whether he might confirm my notion that there's something ominous going on in his work.

    "The chord structure does imply something dark," he agreed, getting out his guitar to demonstrate over the phone. "On the word long, [the guitar part] goes down from a C to an A-flat," he said, strumming, "which is kind of a weird place. It's definitely not a poppy, happy place. It's more of a metaly place. But at the same time, the singing stays almost saccharine." (The vocals shift to form an F minor over the guitar's A-flat.)

  • In Which I Develop New Respect for the Wedding-Industrial Complex

    We know that football players are brave. But spare a thought as well for bride-magazine models.

    I have no world-changing point to make, but the scene below, this weekend, was quite amazing. Here is the back story:

    Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I came back to DC after a productive initial visit to Greenville and its environs in "the upstate" of South Carolina. We'll go there again, with a lot more to report.

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    As always, I'd been obsessively studying the aviation weather forecasts to figure out the right time to make a shortish (two-hour) flight. We couldn't start too late in the day, to avoid worries about racing sunset. We wouldn't go at all if there was a prospect of icing.* I was looking for surface winds within the comfort zone, and so on.

    The result was that early afternoon yesterday looked like the sweet spot. The same jet-stream "clipper" pattern that has brought yet another polar freeze to the eastern United States had pushed away most of the clouds -- both the low-level clouds that complicate the process of landing, and the ones that, at altitude, would make you worry about airframe icing. The winds would be strong but would diminish through the day, and were lined up directly with the runway at our destination. And if, as we were traveling, they turned out to be worse than expected, we could land somewhere else with bigger runways, better aligned with the wind, and wait them out.

    It was cold enough yesterday morning in Greenville to ice up a fountain in front of the landmark Poinsett Hotel.** After taking off we encountered, as foreseen, very cold and fairly bumpy conditions.  At 7,000 feet, the winds aloft were blowing at 50 to 60 knots, or almost 70 miles per hour -- similar to when I flew with the Marketplace crew into Eastport, Maine. This makes for a kind of jostling that isn't dangerous but can be unpleasant. Through most of this flight it wasn't bad at all.***

    Here is the FlightAware track of the journey, more accurate than Flight Aware sometimes is. The dotted blue shows the Victor-airways based initially cleared route; the green, the route we actually flew, including shortcuts we were given along the way.

    As we made the fishhook turn toward Montgomery County airport, in Gaithersburg outside Washington, the reported surface winds were strong -- 16 knots, gusting to 23 -- but still directly down the runway. Recall that in the jet crash in Aspen early this month, the wind was even stronger -- but was a tailwind, which makes it difficult and dangerous to land. A gusty headwind requires concentration on landing, because the plane can speed up and slow down unexpectedly. But a strong down-the-runway headwind can add a slow-mo effect to the landing process, which gives extra time for landing adjustments.**** 

    So we landed; and got out of the plane; and were instantly blown halfway over by the strong Arctic wind. I was wearing a sweater and quickly pulled on a leather jacket, and still I felt within five seconds as if all the heat had left my body and my ears and fingers were crystallizing. The temperature was in the low 20s, and so was the wind, with a resulting wind chill in the Green Bay-like single digits.

    Then -- we saw the models! A debonair young guy wearing a light shirt and a tuxedo jacket draped over his shoulder, a beautiful young woman in a shoulderless white gown. And they were standing there, calm and smiling and, far from shivering uncontrollably, not even displaying goose flesh, in conditions that made me want to cry or run for shelter. 

    Through chilblains I finally asked them a version of, What the hell? It turns out that this was a photo shoot for a high-end bridal magazine, which when it comes out in a few months will look like some springtime idyll. We had unloaded bags from our plane while shivering and moaning, and the photo crew asked if we'd leave them there as background for a serendipitous white car / white gown / white shirt / white airplane look. You can see the bags underneath the plane in the shot at top. So we stood and watched while, with incredible stoicism, the young couple gave an impeccable impression of people enjoying a clement early-summer day. 

    What's the uplifting moral? 

    Lots of things have gotten way bigger during my time as an American. People themselves. Houses. Everything about pro football, which for some reason is on my mind today. And of course the wedding industry. ​Usually I mock or marvel at it. For now, I offer it my respect. 

    * The danger you must avoid in the summer: thunderstorms. In the winter: being inside a cloud in below-freezing temperatures, which can cover the wings with ice and turn an airplane into a non-flying brick.

    ** The Poinsett's transformation from a lawless crack house to a local-landmark status is a featured part of the downtown-renaissance saga in Greenville. And, yes, it is that Poinsett -- Joel Robert Poinsett, for whom the famous seasonal plant is named. That's the the hotel at right, also conveying an idea of the gelid-blue skies. Below we see Mr. Poinsett commemorated in front of his hotel -> crack house -> hotel.

    *** The blue line in the Flight Aware graph below shows speed across the ground, in the second half of the flight. Until the big slowdown at the end in preparation for landing, the plane's airspeed through this whole journey was constant. The fluctuations up and down in groundspeed were all about shifts in the wind's speed and direction. (The tan line is altitude; the spike on the left side is some anomaly.)

    **** Why am I going into such detail? If you read the journalism of the 1920s and 1930s, you see that the practicalities of aviation were a part of normal discourse, they way descriptions of computer or smart phone use is today. So, ever a traditionalist, I am reaching back to the finest part of our heritage. 

  • Welcome to Greenville and 'The Upstate'

    A region that has willed its way to a new economic and civic identity.

    Ballet class, yesterday afternoon at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in downtown Greenville, S.C. It's a "residential public high school for emerging artists." Photo Deborah Fallows

    My wife and I have been so busy talking with people and seeing things in Greenville and its environs in "the upstate" region of South Carolina that we haven't yet taken time to stop the interviewing and begin the chronicling. That will begin here soon.

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    In the economic-development world, this part of a still-generally poor state is renowned for how thoroughly it has made the transition from a textile-based economy, which was still viable even 20 years ago, to become the center of one of the country's most successful advanced-manufacturing clusters. Its most famous facility is the BMW auto works, which continues to expand and which ships most of its output to markets overseas. Michelin is also here, and a GE division, and the successful electric-bus company Proterra. The industrial turnaround of this area has become a familiar story -- about which we heard some quite unexpected angles, as we will describe.

    The bigger surprise is all the aspects of civic life other than major factories that have evolved here. These range from public art, to environmental and public-spaces initiatives, to a revitalized downtown that urban-planning teams from around the world visit to study, to an in-town minor league baseball stadium, to educational innovations we have not seen in other places and had not anticipated here. The photo above is from the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, about which Deborah Fallows will be saying more soon. She also will report on an unusual and impressive engineering-themed public school -- for kids starting in pre-K.

    This afternoon I talked with Kai Ryssdal, of our Marketplace partners, courtesy of the engineers and studio managers at the local station known as Conservative Talk 94.5. South Carolina is of course a conservative stronghold, as are its upstate counties. Jim DeMint was born and raised in Greenville and was its congressman; Bob Jones University is based here. But one of many intriguing aspects of Greenville's economic and civic-improvement development effort is how deeply they have relied on "public-private partnerships," in which state and city governments have taken active steering roles for corporate and philanthropic efforts. More on that as the chronicles begin. The point for now is that this is the kind of public intervention that some conservatives might deplore in the abstract, but the results both in attracting industries and in creating a remarkably livable/walkable community can't be denied.

    Old commercial building downtown on the Reedy River, one of several intentionally unrestored structures in Greenville. Many downtown restaurants, stores, and offices are from buildings of the same vintage that have been renovated and put back into use.

    Greenville and its surroundings resemble some other "resilient" cities we have seen, and of course are unique in many other aspects. This is a placeholder note pending further dispatches. Now, off to more interviews, including at a tech-startup incubator with a "public-private" emphasis. It's not the building shown below, but it has a similar theme.


  • Iran Sanctions Update: Have Senators Actually Read This Bill?

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "We cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war."

    Recently I argued that a dozen-plus Senate Democrats were doing something strange and reckless in signing on with most Republicans in an effort that would abort a potential deal to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

    As a reminder: The U.S. government, along with those of France, Germany, the U.K., China, and Russia, all think this years-in-the-making deal is worth exploring. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel manifestly do not. Nearly all Senate Republicans and a significant number of Democratic allies are effectively saying: the Saudis and Israelis see things more clearly. We stand with their judgment—not that of our own government, the European mainstays, and even the Russians and Chinese.

    Developments since then:

    1) From Peter Beinart, in Haaretz, an item based on an important technical analysis of the pro-sanctions bill. Senators sponsoring the bill, Beinart says, claim that they are only trying to "support" the diplomatic process. That proves mainly that they haven't read, or don't understand, what they're signing onto, because in several crucial ways the bill's requirements are directly contrary to what the U.S./U.K./France/Germany/Russia/China have already agreed to with Iran.

    Go to the technical analysis, by Edward Levine, for the point-by-point parsing. And you can see the full text of the bill itself here. But the two most obvious deal-breaker implications are: 

        (a) the requirement that, in order to lift sanctions, Obama must "certify" a number of extra things about Iran that are not germane to the agreement and are simply impossible to prove. For instance, Obama must demonstrate that "Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned, or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or United States persons or property anywhere in the world," with no time limit on how far back (or forward) in time this certification is supposed to run. And:

       (b) several clauses and references that apparently support the "zero enrichment" demand laid down by Benjamin Netanyahu but explicitly not endorsed by the U.S. government. These clauses, with repeated requirements that Iran "terminate" or "dismantle" its "illicit nuclear programs," are ambiguous but can (and presumably would) be read as applying to the entirety of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, peaceful or otherwise. This could mean a demand that Iran give up the right not just to weapons-grade uranium but also to low-level enrichment suitable for power plants and other non-military use.

    For the background of the "zero enrichment" policy, see this 2009 paper by Matthew Bunn of Harvard's Belfer Center. He argues (as do many other people who have examined the issue) that the zero-option is theoretically appealing but in reality is completely unacceptable to Iran. Thus its inclusion in any set of "negotiating" points is a way to ensure that the negotiations fail. As Bunn puts it, "Insisting on zero will mean no agreement, leaving the world with the risks of acquiescence [to an Iranian nuclear-weapons program] or military strikes." 

    On the basis of logic like this, the United States and its partners have already agreed that Iran should be allowed to retain low-level enrichment capabilities. Also on this point, see The Washington Monthly, and a former Israeli intelligence chief on why low-level enrichment is reasonable for Iran. Plus President Obama's own comments at Brookings last month, on why any agreement will necessarily allow some limited enrichment. This is Obama speaking:

    Now, you’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the Prime Minister [Netanyahu], that say we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil.  Period.  Full stop.  End of conversation... 

    One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone.  I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward.  (Laughter.)  I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful.  (Laughter.) 

    But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves, what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran is not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected?  What is required to accomplish that, and how does that compare to other options that we might take?
    And it is my strong belief that we can envision a end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity.  

    To wrap this point up: The U.S. and its partners have already declared that they are not asking for the "zero option." That's the premise for the entire deal, and it is one that the Senate bill appears designed to reverse. It would be as if, in the middle of the SALT or START negotiations with the old Soviet Union, the Congress passed a bill requiring that any final agreement include the elimination of the full Soviet arsenal. 

    2) A speech on Tuesday by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, on another important and underpublicized clause in the sanctions bill. It's 501(2) (b) (5), which says it is the "sense of the Congress" that if Israel decides to strike Iran, the U.S. presumptively should back the effort:

    If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence;

    The "in accordance with the laws..." passage indicates that an Israeli decision would not technically constitute a U.S. declaration of war. It is the main distinction between this clause and a "key point" on AIPAC's current policy-agenda site, which reads: 

    3. America Must Stand with Israel.
    The United States must back Israel if it feels compelled in its own legitimate self-defense to take military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

    But Feinstein, who supported the Iraq war, argued that such before-the-fact commitments unwisely limit U.S. options and could make conflict more likely. Her whole speech is worth reading, and you can see the C-Span video above. Here is the conclusion it built to:

    I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse. The United States, not Iran, then becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place....

    And then:

    Let me acknowledge Israel's real, well-founded concerns that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its very existence. I don't disagree with that. I agree with it, but they are not there yet.

    While I recognize and share Israel's concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war. By stating that the United States should provide military support to Israel in a formal resolution should it attack Iran, I fear that is how this bill is going to be interpreted.

    3) From a reader:

     Here's my problem with your argument: it's incomplete.  How can a Democrat, or anyone, evaluate whether the agreement should be given a chance without seeing the agreement?  Yesterday we had two separate reports that, if true, would mean the agreement has *already* failed: 1) the Iranian's report of the terms (dubious, but the Administration continues to be coy and not release the main agreement or the reported side agreement) and 2) an alleged Russia-Iran deal that would obliterate the 6-month Agreement's limitations on sanctions.
    Personally I too am for Congress holding off, but I'm put off by the tone of the "pro-Deal" crowd that the legislature needs to blindly trust Obama here.  Isn't that what we did with George W. Bush?  (The distinction between Colin Powell's misleading portfolio on WMDs and Kerry's thusfar blank portfolio (or heavily redacted portfolio) is too subtle to have meaning here).  

    The point is not that Congress must embrace a deal without knowing its full details. That will come later, when—and if—final terms are agreed to. Rather the point is that Congress should not guarantee the failure of the negotiations before they've run their course, which is what the sanctions bill would do.

    If I had a senator, I would ask him or her to read this bill carefully, reflect on its destructive implications, and reflect as well, as Dianne Feinstein did in her speech, on the damage done by blank-check security legislation (from AUMF to the Patriot Act) over the past dozen-plus years. Then I would ask my hypothetical senators to vote 'No.'

    UPDATE: Anthony Cordesman has a valuable update on the CSIS site, in which he discusses the pluses and minuses of the administration playing good cop and Congress playing bad cop toward Iran. Really worth reading, but a few highlights. First, on U.S. aims:

    The United States now has every incentive to leverage the success of existing sanctions, take full advantage of the current climate, and to try to make the current negotiations work. They are by far the safest way to remove an Iranian nuclear threat, and it is critical to remember what the threat really is: The real objective is to deny Iran military capability, not to try to deny it technology it has already acquired.

    On the strength of the emerging potential deal:

    The P5+1 and the United States have not yet made fully public all of the terms of the progress they made in defining and implementing the terms of the interim agreement ...

    At least to date, however, the limits on Iran in terms of permitted activities, improved transparency, and increased inspection would make even the most covert production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons extraordinarily difficult. Iran might quietly get to the point of a crude test of a gun or implosion device, but this test could scarcely then remain covert...

    It is extraordinarily difficult to believe Iran could actually deploy reliable nuclear missile warheads and bombs without being detected

    On the Congress's role as hard-line bad cop:

    The key to success, however, will be for the “bad cop” to avoid pushing to the point of failure. The best way to move forward is to do what the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid, evidently has already proposed to do: keep the option of new sanctions legislation constantly open, but not confront Iran and other nations by passing such legislation if and when the negotiations fail, or Iran is shown to violate an agreement.

    Defer a vote on new sanctions until the ongoing efforts to fully define and create enforcement provisions for interim agreement effort fail or Iran violates them. And if Iran does move forward and complies with the interim agreement – defer a sanctions vote until it is clear whether Iran agrees to and complies with a permanent agreement. 

    Overall: This bill is a reckless and destructive gesture, and Democrats from Cory Booker to Mark Warner to Michael Bennet to Richard Blumenthal should give it a careful look and back off. 

  • Separated at Birth? Greenville, Sioux Falls

    Here is Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last summer:

    And here is Falls Park in Greenville, South Carolina, this afternoon:

    A decade ago, the falls areas in both cities were dangerous and semi-derelict. Now, each is the scenic center of its city. Here, by the way, is how poor Sioux Falls looked a few days ago, via our partner John Tierney:

    Now, here is the Sioux Falls 20+-mile bike trail, which we happily rode during the long summer days of last year:

    And here is the Swamp Rabbit Trail (in purple) for Greenville, some of which we walked today. It is different in its overall shape yet similar in mile-by-mile look and feel. (Both maps via our partners at Esri.) 

    Here is a summer river scene as viewed from the bike trail in Sioux Falls: a bow-fisherman, awaiting his prey.

    And here, at the opposite end of the seasons, is a Great Blue Heron this afternoon, awaiting its prey in the Reedy River of Greenville. You can barely see a guy doing tai chi in the background

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    These two cities are different -- in size, in economic base, in self-image, in ethnic mix, in 15 different aspects. And of course every city is unique, etc. But in these past few days in Greenville, we've been struck by more similarities to Sioux Falls than to other places we've seen.

    We'll start laying these out in the next few days. For now, an impression that so strongly recalls our normal experience in China. In the years there, we would go from some place in Shaanxi to some place in Sichuan and think: My lord! How can so much be going on in so many places? That is the message of traveling around America as well.

  • The Iran Vote: This Really Matters, and You Should Let Your Senators Know

    If the nuclear deal is going to fail, let that happen at the negotiating table—and not be engineered under the Capitol dome.

    Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    I have been on the road in the South, and staying in a place with no Internet, and doing interviews for another American Futures installment—this one about the way textile-dependent Southern cities have and have not recovered after those mills went away. That's what my wife and I will be talking about in the days ahead.

    But this is a moment that counts, on an important, time-sensitive issue, so here goes:

    • The Obama Administration, along with some of the usual U.S. allies—the U.K., France, Germany—and such non-allied parties as Russia and China, has taken steps with the potential of peacefully ending Iran's 35-year estrangement from most of the rest of the world. That would be of enormous benefit and significance to Iran, the U.S., and nearly everyone else concerned.

      Obviously potential is not a guarantee, and a year from now everyone could look back on this as a time of deluded hope. But today's potential is far greater than most "savvy" experts expected a year ago. As I argued last month, the U.S. may be in a position right now with Iran analogous to the one with China in the early stages of the Nixon-Mao rapprochement. Nothing is guaranteed, but the benefits of normalized relations would be so great that they must be given every chance to succeed.
    • Often there is cleavage within the executive branch—State, Defense, the White House—on the merits of a military commitment or a potential deal. Not this time. Very often there is similar disagreement among Western powers, and most of the time the Russians and Chinese find themselves on the opposite side of strategic calculations from the U.S. Again, not now. All involved view the benefits of re-engaging Iran to be so great, and the consequence of a drift toward war so dire, that they want to make sure that no artificial barriers to a deal get in the way.

      (On the dire consequences of a drift toward war: Nearly 10 years ago, the Atlantic ran a war game concluding that an air strike designed to take out Iran's nuclear potential would be the height of strategic folly for the attacking party, whether Israel or the United States. Nothing that has happened since then makes it a more plausible option.)
    • Two countries the U.S. cares about are known to oppose this deal: Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The Saudis, because a stronger, oil-exporting, Shiite Iran probably means a less influential Sunni Kingdom. The Israelis, because the Netanyahu government has cast Iran as the new Nazi Germany, with whom any deal or compromise is by definition doomed. 

      I believe that Netanyahu is wrong, but it's his country, and he is the elected leader. I don't like the idea of him (or the Saudis) trying to derail what our elected leaders so strongly considers to be in the interests of the United States.
    • That derailment is what seems to be underway in the Senate right now. Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are pushing for a sanctions bill that is universally recognized (except by its sponsors) as a poison-pill for the current negotiations. Fine; opposing the administration is the GOP's default position.

      But a striking number of Democrats have joined them, for no evident reason other than AIPAC's whole-hearted, priority-one support for the sanctions bill. The screen clip below is from AIPAC's site, and here is some political reporting on AIPAC's role in the sanctions push: NYTPolitico, JTA, Jerusalem Post-JTA, and our own National Journal here and hereAlso see Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.
      AIPAC policy brief, from its site. Note implications of point #3.

      In the long run, these Democrats are not in a tenable position. Or not a good one. They are opposing what their president, his secretaries of state and defense, our normal major allies, and even the Russians and Chinese view as a step toward peace. And their stated reason for doing so—that new sanction threats will "help" the negotiations, even though every American, French, British, German, etc., and Iranian figure involved in the talks says the reverse—doesn't pass the straight-face test.

      Via the AP: "'I think that the Iran sanctions bill is meant to strengthen the president, not in any way impede the ongoing negotiation which should and hopefully will be successful,' Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of the legislation, said Tuesday." Oh sure. You can imagine what a person as smart as Blumenthal—or Chuck Schumer, or Cory Booker, or Mark Warner, all supporting the sanctions—would do to similar assertions in normal circumstances. 

    I agree with Peter Beinart, who wrote last month that people tired of U.S. wars in the Middle East should be speaking up more clearly in support of this deal. As Fred Kaplan of Slate, no peacenik, did when the first agreement was announced: 

    See also Andrew Sullivan, and an arms-control expert on technical flaws in the sanctions bill. [Update: and my Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who also argues that this bill is torpedoing the best chance for avoiding an Iranian nuclear program.] Maybe this deal will fail. But if you'd rather that the failure not be engineered in the Capitol, let your representatives know.

    Updates: 1) As many readers have pointed out, Senate Republicans are near-unanimous in supporting the sanctions bill, but Democrats including Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer of New York have played a big role in promoting it;

    2) Also as many readers have pointed out, one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the bill is Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, whose brother James is the Atlantic's editor-in-chief. Noted for the record.

    3) And, yes, I would let my senators know -- if, as a resident of DC, I had any.

  • What Is a 'Class-A War Criminal'? More on the Yasukuni Controversy

    The complications of wartime memory, continued

    Westboro Church protestor, AP photo via NPR.

    If you are joining us late, background on why it matters so much in China -- and Japan -- that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, and whether it should in fact matter, is in previous installments one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Now, additional recent readers' views.

    1. "Imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church happened to own Arlington." From Noboru Akimoto:

    I've been watching your back and forth on Yasukuni with some interest, and I generally agree with the commentators that say the issue is more with the Yushukan than with the shrine itself.  [JF note: Yushukan is the "historical" museum near the shrine, with a very tendentious view of Japan being forced into the war by Allied encirclement.]

    I do think a part that's not been mentioned is that Yasukuni Jinja [Shrine], because of the separation of religion and state of the post-war constitution, is NOT a part of the Japanese government, nor does any of the Imperial family have control over its actions.

    We know from the Tomita Memorandum that the Showa Emperor [aka Hirohito] was furious about the chief priest's decision to include the Class A 14 into the shrine in 1979, but that as a matter of politics, neither the Emperor nor the government can actually compel Yasukuni, a private religious institution, from acknowledging the 14 Class A criminals nor force it to disinter their spirits.

    As a Japanese individual and Shintoist, I would like to see the priests separate the class A war criminals from the others, but I also understand that as a practical, constitutional matter, having the government force the issue would be a step in the wrong direction.

    If we had to have some sort of strange analogy, I would ask American readers to imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church happened to own Arlington.

    Also, I've put up a short primer on the subject.

    2. By the way, who are these "Class-A War Criminals" anyway? From a reader in Singapore, with a point I should have clarified earlier:

    In your recent posts about the Yasukuni shrine, the inclusion of WWII era Japanese Class-A war criminals is mentioned with no explanation of the term "Class-A". I've noticed that this is common in news articles about Yasukuni in recent decades, though in your article you do note that the war criminal trials in Japan held by the Allies were at least somewhat controversial as to their basis in law and morality.

    It is almost natural for the casual reader (or writer of articles) to assume that "Class-A" in this context simply means the worst kind of war criminal, a sort of Japanese equivalent of an Adolf Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler, Amon Goeth or some such.

    As you likely know, "Class-A War Criminal" had a very specific meaning in the context of the Tokyo trials. "Class-A" war crimes were defined as "crimes against peace". Crimes against humanity, such as genocide or the Nanking massacre were "Class-C" crimes while the more usual war crimes, such as shooting helpless prisoners, were "Class-B" war crimes.

    The 25 Japanese officials tried for Class-A war crimes were tried for plotting and waging war, i.e. crimes against peace. Some of them were tried additionally for Class-B and Class-C crimes, and all those multiply convicted were executed.

    But at least two of those charged with Class-A crimes resumed civilian life, in the Japanese cabinet in the 1950s and as the CEO of Nissan, respectively.

    In 1929, Japan signed (but did not ratify) the Kellogg-Briand Pact formally titled the "General Treaty for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy". The treaty made declaration of aggressive war illegal, but not prosecutable by other signatories to the treaty. "Declaration" was the weasel word in the treaty, which many nations, including Japan took full advantage of in the years to come.

    And it was on this basis that the Class-A charges were prosecuted in the 1946 Tokyo trials. Except for the Imperial Family and the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, who were protected by Douglas MacArthur, this meant that practically the entire Japanese cabinet that had anything to do with the conduct of war was thus indicted.

    I think it would help if a brief note were made in the article about the terminology. I'm not suggesting moral or legal exoneration of these individuals but context matters. The term "Class-A" plays straight into the hands of the Chinese Government which has its own questionable agenda in kicking up a protest about Yasukuni every year. I would have thought that it is the inclusion of the Class-C criminals that would be more morally disturbing to non-Japanese victims of the war, though in the case of China and Korea at least, the Buddhist value commonplace in Japan, of letting go of the grudge against the sinner (not the sin) after his death, is not exactly unknown or alien. Quite the opposite.

    3) An American equivalent? From a reader on the West Coast:

    In “Episode Six” your “American who lives in Japan…and has a Japanese spouse” observed that "The museum (Yushukan) is shocking in its mendacity (in its willingness to change or omit events entirely) and audacity … I struggle to think of a comparable hypothetical for US history - if the Vietnam memorial in Washington also had an exhibit attached that lauded the use of napalm and the actions at My Lai?”

    In fact, the same sort of mendacity and audacity did almost occur at the Vietnam Memorial. Then President Ronald Reagan, his Interior Secretary James Watt and their supporters were adamantly opposed to Maya Lin’s design for the memorial, precisely because it did not glorify an unjust lost war while memorializing the soldiers who fought it.

    After Lin won the competition and it became apparent they could do nothing to stop it, opponents of her design tried to have a much more mundane, representational sculpture (“The Three Soldiers”) placed at the apex of the memorial. While The Three Soldiers neither lauds the use of napalm nor glorifies My Lai, those opposed to Lin’s Wall knew full well that placing the statue at the apex would reduce her design to mere backdrop, negating it’s abstract emotional power and timelessness. If not for the courage of Maya Lin (then a 21 year old Yale undergraduate) The Wall would indeed have become mere background to one more forgettable representative sculpture lost in the expanse of the National Mall . One could argue that was the objective of the right-wing opponents of the Vietnam memorial all along.

    While recognizing the left is just as capable as the right at papering over history we should avoid false equivalency here. One regrettable quality of the right wing mind seems to be the unique skill it brings to the revision of history, the negation of fact and the power of forgetfulness. Unfortunately this is every bit as true here in America as it is in Japan.

    Vietnam Veterans Memorial, via this site.

    I well remember that the controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was bitter and intense. As it happens, I think the final outcome is the right one -- artistically, historically, culturally. Maya Lin's wall endures as a real work of genius, and it regularly has a larger crowd of up-close visitors than any other site on the Mall.  Usually families or friends looking at names of loved ones. (You can contrast this with the stupid, ugly vapidity of the recent World War II memorial, a subject for another time.) The addition of Frederick Hart's "The Three Soldiers" statue, nearby but not surmounting the wall, I think adds to rather than complicates the commemorative power of the memorial. The more recent addition of a realistic statue of combat nurses also is, in my view, a dignified plus.

    4) Self-identity as victim. From an American who recently visited Japan:

    Last year, when we visited the moving Atomic Bomb museum in Nagasaki, I was surprised to find that the timeline on the wall gave the name, "War of the Pacific", to WWII and explicitly blamed the U.S. for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was shown only by a single photo on the wall.  Apparently, the Yasukuni representation is not isolated. 

    I had the same impression on my first visit to the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima back in the 1980s. Its historical account began with something like, "In the springtime of 1945, the U.S. Army Air Corps launched a campaign of firebombing against major cities in Japan..." with no mention of what might have happened beforehand.

    I no longer have a photo of that account and don't see one online. I do note that the online "Kids Peace Station" run by the Hiroshima museum has a very fair-seeming account of the origins of the war.

    The scholarship on how modern Japan does and does not remember its war history is vast and complex. The best single account remains John Dower's Embracing Defeat, but, for instance, you could check out a 2010 paper by Mindy Haverson, then of Stanford Law School which makes this point about Hiroshima:

    The dominant postwar messages that war, particularly nuclear war, is evil and destructive serve as universalized constructions in which the aggressor/enemy is neither the colonial, militaristic Japanese state nor the US [which dropped the bomb]  but "war" itself. As such, Japan can avoid both self-identification as an aggressor vis-a-vis the rest of Asia and the denigration of the U.S. as an enemy, a move that Japan's leaders have sought to avoid in light of the country's economic and security dependence on the US.

    In the absence of an entity "responsible" for wartime suffering, Japan has positioned itself as the ultimate victim and articulated a role for itself as international spokesperson for world peace.

    5) The power of "encirclement" thinking, and other dominant images. Another Westerner in Asia writes:

    In some future post or roundtable perhaps it's worth exploring the encirclement theme that has come up in the Yasakuni/Yushukan discussion.  It certainly drives behavior from China and Iran today, and perhaps Russia, Pakistan, and a few others.  

    I agree. Because it is geographically almost impossible for America to be "encircled," many Americans have a hard time even imagining the power of this threat/concept in many other countries -- including the Japan of the 1930s and the China of today. Even enormous China? Yes, given that its sea-lane access is subject to many choke points -- and that across many of its borders it sees concentrations of American or U.S.-allied troops. More on this later; for now, an example of the kind of map I've often been shown by Chinese strategic experts. (The black plane-symbols are US or allied bases):

    The same reader quoted above adds:

    I'm an American resident in Hong Kong doing business across Asia for 20 years, and I don't think most Americans have any concept of just how deep and state sponsored the Japanese vs Chinese racism goes.  It has ebbed somewhat in the younger generation through positive exposure - the nearest analogy I can think of is gay rights in the US - but the government uses mass media to perpetuate the most ugly stereotypes at every opportunity.

    I agree with this too -- and the whole Yasukuni/Yushukan controversy may have the virtue of giving the Western public an idea of how powerful and dangerous these emotions can become.

  • Robert Pastor

    An influential and original participant in international affairs

    Robert A. Pastor, American University photo.

    It seems hard to remember, but four months ago the United States was on the brink of launching cruise missiles and intervening directly in the Syrian civil war.

    Just a few days before President Obama made his dramatic decision to involve Congress in this choice, which itself was a few days before Vladimir Putin came up with his plan to avert a showdown (though not of course to end the killing) via international control of Assad's chemical weapons, Robert Pastor wrote an article in this space. It was called "There Are More Than Two Options for U.S. Policy in Syria." In it he argued that direct U.S. military involvement -- which, again, at that moment seemed all but inescapable -- would be a grave mistake; that there were more options to consider than either doing nothing or sending troops; that diplomacy offered better prospects than intervention; and that it was time to involve the Russians, even if this made the U.S. lose face.

    His analysis was not what you were reading in the standard op-ed piece. And it was -- in my view, and as I think subsequent events confirmed -- correct. In both ways it was typical of other things Pastor had written during his time as a participant in and analyst of international affairs.

    Bob Pastor, a good friend of mine since the late 1970s, died last night, at age 66, nearly four years after he was told he had only a few months left because of cancer. We first met during the embattled days of the Carter Administration, when I was a speechwriter and he was the National Security Council's expert on Latin American affairs. We often sat together on trips, when he would reel off endless tales of his adventures a few years earlier as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia. He was stationed in a district rich in durian trees -- whose bowling-ball-weight, spike-covered fruit posed a lethal threat as they fell from branches on high. Bob said that he dealt with this peril by routinely wearing a football helmet as he went about his Peace Corps duties. 

    Bob's diplomatic and academic achievements will be noted elsewhere. He was an original and influential thinker about relations within the Americas; he did valuable work on improving the mechanics of democracy -- in the United States as well as in other countries; he worked with Jimmy Carter in Atlanta at Emory and at the Carter Center, and then was a senior figure at American University in DC. When Bill Clinton came to office, he nominated Bob as his ambassador to Panama -- where Bob was a well-known and -liked figure because of his work on the Panama Canal Treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved him on a 16-3 vote; but then Jesse Helms, poison-toad-like, used his Senatorial "privilege" to prevent the nomination from coming up for a full Senate vote, ever. 

    Despite his professional achievements, for me Bob Pastor's most distinctive traits were always his warmth, energy, and subversive humor. One of many times I got a scowl from foreign-policy bigshots in the Carter days was when I couldn't stop laughing, at a Serious meeting, about something Bob had just said to me as an aside. Before my wife and I moved to China, he gave us an expensive-looking piece of Chinese lacquer ware -- which on the back said in big letters, "Best Wishes for Mutual Prosperity from Jiangsu Province Industrial Development Commission." He had received it on an official trip there and knew it reflected the spirit of modern China.

    Bob is survived by his siblings, his wife Margy and children Kip and Tiffin, plus other relatives; and is fondly remembered by a very large number of friends.

  • Ice Cream, Chocolate, Coffee, and Beer

    Take ingredients and blend, for small-town synergy. By Deborah Fallows. 

    Ryan Berk, of A la Minute


    Ryan Berk, Austin Amento, and Ben Cook have a lot in common: they are all founders of new, growing, and successful businesses in Redlands, California; they are all about the same age (30 years old, give or take a few years); and they even look sort of similar.

    Austin Amento, Augie's Coffee House

    In a most original way, the three are mixing together their passions and products:  ice cream, chocolate, coffee, and beer. You say these don’t go together? Have a look at the results and the synergy that is good for each other and good for the town of Redlands.

    Liquid Nitrogen and Beans: Ryan Berk grew up circling around his passion for food, in a way that  took him around the world and eventually brought him back to a dream in his native Southern California.

    Ben Cook of Hangar 24

    Berk was one of the first to attend and graduate from The Grove School, the small Montessori-based public charter school in Redlands. Like all the other students there, he did internships and service work. From his early teens, Berk was a dishwasher and busboy for a Thai family at their local restaurant. 

    After high school, he went on to culinary school. He saved up his money and set out to roam the world as a photojournalist, absorbing a core lesson he has since applied: that food and its local culture are essentially intertwined. Back home, Berk was again working at a restaurant, with frozen fished packed in super coolants. Liquid nitrogen, Berk mused, why not use it to quickly freeze ice cream?

    Berk was not the first to think of this possibility, but he came to it on his own. He started playing around with the idea, and discovered that indeed, you could almost instantly freeze the liquid base into a smooth, creamy ice cream. And that was when it all came together: the lessons he described from Grove School, to “just get out there and do it”; a passion for food; his self-described perfectionism for what he does.

    I stumbled into Ryan Berk one sunny midday just before Christmas as I was stopping in at his A la Minute ice cream shop and he was heading out. With a small-town friendliness, like he had all the time in the world, he told me his own personal story, the new story of starting the business with his wife, Cassie, who runs the financial side of the company, and about how their business works with the energy, revival, and creation of an updated identity of Redlands.

    The list of ice creams on the A la Minute board says a lot for the creativity of the owners and the commitment to being local. And as I learned, the flavors are inspired by the local ingredients: honey from Soffel Farms, mint from his own garden, local Redlands oranges, and nearby olive oil , apples, lavender, pumpkin, etc.  I chose the orange honey. Why not? I was in Redlands, after all, an orange growing center of California. It was delicious.

    Ice Cream flavors, A la Minute.

    Then Berk asked if I’d like to see his new shop, Parliament Chocolate, just a few blocks away. Parliament, as in "a parliament of owls," is named for early tenants of the building, the White Owl Café. The chocolate shop had just opened a few days earlier.

    Parliament Chocolate is the Berks’ second dream. Once they had saved enough from ice cream, they turned to chocolate. It makes sense to me. He talked about the process of making his chocolate, from sourcing his beans on a recent trip to see small farmers in Belize and Guatemala, to outfitting the shop to producing the exquisite finished candies. “Look at that drain!” he said exuberantly, pointing to the floor and then to every carefully chosen fixture, tile, machine, drawing in the beautiful, gleaming shop.


    Parliament Chocolate's wares.

    I watched the Parliament chocolate makers tending big, rotating vats of chocolate, ladeling small scoops onto trays and decorating them like tiny pieces of art.

    Parliament Chocolate Grand Opening from Parliament Chocolate on Vimeo.

    Coffee for the People: Austin Amento, along with his father, an electrical contractor, bought a small coffee shop about 5 years ago, called Augie’s Coffee House. They didn’t know much about the business but saw an opportunity to seize and build upon in an uncertain economic climate. They went along for a few years, and then realized that if they were going to make a go of it, they needed to ramp up. That meant identifying their mission and targeting traits that would set them apart: sourcing the best coffee beans; controlling every aspect of the bean-roasting, coffee-brewing, and costs; creating a new ambience for the shop and a clientele that would appreciate the experience.

    Photo from Aboutredlands.com

    Augie’s, named for the grandfather of the original owners, kept its name, but changed in every other way.  They got a new look and feel for the building; they went to San Francisco to learn some basics from reputable roasters; they sourced growers who came to California and eventually traveled to Colombia to see and buy for themselves. And they catered to their clientele, whom Austin describes as “everyone”, including people from the University of Redlands, the high schoolers (Redlands High is within walking distance), and Esri,  the local tech company with a thousand-plus in-town employees. They also educated their customers as they educated themselves, switching brews as many as four times a day for comparisons and contrasts.  Some customers, Amento told me,  would come in that many times to learn about and to drink the different coffees.

    // CHEMEX // - Augie's Brew at Home Series from Augie's Coffee House on Vimeo.

    I passed Augie’s Coffee House on the two-minute walk between Ryan Berk’s A la Minute ice cream shop and Parliament Chocolate shop. It is natural that professional synergy broke out from the personal friendship between Berk and Amento and their wives, who are all good friends. Here’s a video showing the fun with coffee and ice cream.

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    Beer gone wild: Meanwhile, about 10 minutes away at the edge of town, is Hangar 24, Ben Cook’s very hot new craft brewery. If you’re even a casual reader of my husband Jim’s blog, you know that he has been writing about Hangar 24 since it opened in 2008.  It now has 130 employees and is growing at a breakneck rate of 50 – 100% each year. Our radio partner, Kai Ryssdal and Marketplace, visited there with us recently. 

    Cook started his company out of a passion for beer and flying. He home-brewed beer, which he hauled to the Redlands Community Airport for post-flight enjoyment with his flying buddies. Then he got serious about beer, working in quality control at Anheuser-Busch and earning a degree at Master Brewer’s program at UC Davis. It was a natural to open his brewery right across the street from the Redlands airport.

    While expanding regionally, and with plans to move nationally, Hangar 24 remains loyal locally. Hangar 24 produces a “Local Fields Series” of brews, including locally-sourced apricots for its Polycot brew and pumpkin for the porter Gourdgeous. Volunteers helped Hangar 24 harvest the pumpkins and pit the apricots for days. Hangar 24 also buys Redlands’ proudest crop, its oranges, for the wildly popular Orange Wheat beer.

    Image from hangar24brewery.com

    You might not think that craft beer, ice cream, chocolate, and coffee would be natural companions, but then you wouldn’t be Ben, Austin, and Ryan.  Today, there is a network of connections the three have made, with each other and with Redlands products: coffee goes into beer and dribbles over ice cream; chocolate and coffee go into mochas and syrups; beer pairs with ice cream and coffee on special events; chocolate bars are on sale at the coffeehouse; chocolate nibs show up at the brewery; Redlands oranges and nearby apricots go into ice cream and beer; local olives and apples go into ice cream; San Bernardino Mountain spruce goes into beer. The unlikely list goes on, making for a growing collection of creative products and events in Redlands, California.

    Hangar 24 beer paired with A la Minute ice cream. via Facebook

    Photos by Deborah Fallows. Contact the author at DebFallows at gmail.com

  • A Longtime Pilot on the Aspen Crash

    Modern jet planes are so safe that many things have to go wrong to bring them to grief. What some of the factors might have been in this latest case.

    Aspen Airport, c/o Aspen airport authority. Planes usually land from right to left, in this view.

    J. Mac McClellan is known through the flying world as the long-time editor of Flying magazine.  Now he has a regular column for the EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association. He sent a message about this weekend's fatal crash at Aspen, when a private jet landed with strong and gusty tailwinds (as mentioned here).

    Bombardier Challenger 600-series, similar 
    to the jet that crashed this past weekend.

    This is more highly detailed than some readers may care to know or even be able to follow. But my experience is that after aviation mishaps of any kind, even people not usually interested in aviation are grateful for additional, detailed information.

    Part of the reason may be a search for reassurance that the airplane didn't just fall out of the sky, which virtually never happens but is a widespread if unspoken fear. Part of the reason may be the complex chain of bad luck, circumstance, and (often) miscalculation that leads to a crash -- today's airliners and private-jet planes generally being so reliable and redundantly fail-safe-equipped that it usually takes many things going wrong at once to bring one to grief. Part of the reason is the unavoidable Bridge of San Luis Rey-style human fascination with the chronicles of misfortune.

    In any case, here is the report from Mac McClellan. 

    As you know from landing there, the approach to Aspen is visually confusing because the runway slopes uphill. [JF note: In the photo at the top of the page, mountains are just out of view to the left, so planes approach from the right. The runway slopes up more than 150 feet from the right-hand side to the left.] Also, there is a depression on the ground short of the landing threshold which accentuates the perception of upslope of the runway.

    The Challenger series is one of only two jets I have ever flown that is nose-down during final approach instead of level to nose up as other jets are on final. This looks really odd from the cockpit in the 601 Challenger business jet like the one that crashed, but is really strange in the longer CRJ series. That’s why many regional airline pilots call those things “lawn darts.”

    The other bizjet that approaches nose down is the Hawker 4000, first called the Hawker Horizon. Originally the design called for leading edge slats which were abandoned to save weight and money. Because the slats were not included in the actual airplane the behavior of the wing is different so it flies nose down on approach. At least that’s what the experimental test pilot guys at Beech believe explains the unusual attitude.

    The first time I flew the Hawker 4000 after it received some sort of provisional certification we decided to go to Aspen so they could show off its hot and high performance. I’m on final to a runway sloping uphill in a jet flying nose down to make my very first landing in the airplane and it was very strange. When the test pilot in the right seat started to gasp I hauled back hard on the wheel and got the nose up in time, but barely.

    Throw in a tailwind, wind shear, the visual illusion of the runway slope, and a nose down attitude on very short final and that Challenger crew had its hands full. That is not an excuse, but my Hawker arrival at Aspen came to mind when I first heard about the accident....

    I don’t want to speculate on what caused this particular accident, but the conditions of the runway slope, terrain, wind, unique approach angle of the Challenger and so on are simply noting the many challenges this crew faced in trying to land. Lots of factors all came together here that made the approach unusually difficult and that’s what we know and can say for now.

    And, from another reader with experience in this field: 

    Like most pilots, I was tracking the reports out of Aspen closely.

    One aspect that hasn't been mentioned yet is the maximum tailwind component permitted in jets. In the CL[Challenger]300 and 900XP I've flown, it's 10 knots. I'm not sure about the CL600 family but I suspect it is very similar.... [JF note: As mentioned previously, tailwinds at the time were in the 16-26 knot range.]

    This doesn't answer why the crash occurred. This appears to be a loss of directional control as opposed to running off the end of the runway. I would bet you lunch (at Hardee's) the tailwind will be a contributing factor...


  • Why Do Tech Companies End Up Where They Are?

    "You get some clusters, and some stand-alone firms far from anyone else.  But rarely anything in-between."

    Two days ago I mentioned that Redlands, California, posed a question similar to one we'd encountered in Burlington, Vermont. Namely: what were sizable but standalone Internet-based tech companies doing in these smallish towns? In Redlands's case, this meant Esri -- a leader in the mapping-software industry, and a partner in our "American Futures" project. In Burlington's, it was Dealer.com.

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    In the Seattle area or San Francisco or a dozen other big tech-cluster cities, it would seem commonplace to find such firms. But how had they gotten going far from a surrounding tech ecology that would naturally supply all of the supporting elements of a start-up culture, from potential employees to financial or marketing know-how to design studios?

    Several readers who themselves work in the tech industry write in with explanations. First, from someone who moved from another part of the world to work in one of today's dominant tech clusters, the SF Bay area:

    Yes, silicon Valley (SV) and its environs (SF) are a tech hub. So if you're dreaming up a new communication protocol (Twitter), you need to be surrounded by people who can share in your vision of the future -- and that means (for the most part) that you have a shared 'now', and that's why Twitter was only going to be built in a tech hub. If you're building a better search engine (Google) and Yahoo! is just dont the road, then you can strike up a deal to power their search (which funds you) and if you're surrounded by techies then you have your early adopter users on your doorstep. 

    Now, if you're building software for car dealerships then the #1 thing you need to grow is access to car dealerships. Lots of tech folks I know in SF dont even own cars -- cars are not top of mind. You'd have the same problem in NYC. On top of that, because a lot of city techies dont care about cars, they're blind to the opportunity for selling software to car dealerships. On top of all that, as good a business dealer.com is, I suspect the hardest part of building that business is selling to the dealers, not writing the software (that's still easy to mess up, of course, as proven elsewhere). And I doubt SF car dealers a significantly earlier adopters of tech than anywhere else in the country (I have tried selling tech to them, so I speak from experience :)

    Good software can be written anywhere that there are smart people. So my mental model is not to ask, "The puzzle, again, is why -- and why here?" it's to ask "Why couldn't it be built here?". High-tech spinouts from universities is one possible answer. A need for a cluster of early-tech-adopters (mainly B2C) provides another. 

    Inside Dealer.com, in Burlington; company photo.

    From another person in the California tech industry:

    Some thoughts on why you get some clusters and some stand-alone firms far from anyone else.  But rarely anything in-between.

    As you note, it is now possible to run a high tech company from anywhere, and have employees scattered all over the landscape.  For example, the small company I work for [which produces network analysis software] is "headquartered" (i.e the founder and CEO lives) an hour-plus south of Silicon Valley. I am a couple hours northeast of there. I get down there maybe once a year.  Our third employee is on the East Coast.  The company is over a decade old; later this month we will have our first-ever all hands face-to-face staff meeting. 

    A company can spring up anywhere, as your examples also prove.  But how do you get a cluster?  

    New start-ups/spin-offs frequently happen because someone wants to do something new and different, and can't persuade his management to go for it.  But for that to happen, he has to have been where he can talk casually with others in the same field.  And growing will generally require recruiting from what is essentially a single local pool of talent: the base company.  (Recruiting can also be done via networks built at professional conferences.  But it's harder than recruiting over lunch or at the park.)  That makes getting a second company going very difficult.

    As a result, you can get a stand-alone company anywhere.  It's unlikely, but it can happen.  However to get a cluster, you have to somehow get a second (and preferably a third) company in the same area, before additional companies can be started (relatively!) easily.  Essentially, that means repeating the original process for starting a stand-alone company.  Obviously that's do-able; stand-alones do get started.  But new stand-lones don't happen often -- which means the odds of it chancing to happen multiple times in the same area are really, really low.  And only when you get lucky 2-3 times in one area do you have the conditions which will allow a cluster to blossom.

    Esri cafeteria, in Redlands, via Armantrout Architects.

    And one more explanation:

    I have to assume your question "Why here?" regarding ESRI was rhetorical. It was pretty obvious to me why - because they could. They loved the town, figured others would too, and they succeeded there.

    This is really an interesting connundrum. You (and others) have accurately written about the importance of a support system (probably more properly "supply chain") as being essential to a region's large scale success, esp in modern manufacturing. It would be incredibly difficult (though not impossible) to open an electronics assembly plant in some random town in America, because it's so much easier, cheaper, and faster (by most measures) to do so in China.

    But as ESRI has shown, and Dealer.com as well, if the founder is dedicated to a place, is willing to forgo some, or even most of the easy money, and the location has an appeal that is understood by people other than the founder, then success can happen. It won't be as fast, or as profitable, but those aren't everybody's measure.

  • Three Crashes: Aspen CO, Buckhannon WV, Melbourne FL

    What we know, and don't, about today's fatality in Colorado.

    1) Colorado. This afternoon a private jet crashed, with at least one fatality, at the Aspen airport. Here is one of several online reports from people at the airport or in other planes:

    What is knowable, in the short run, about this sad event is that apparently there were strong and gusty tail winds in Aspen while the plane was trying to land. One of many factors that make the Aspen airport, like many other mountain airports, very demanding is that for all practical purposes you can only land in one direction. There are mountains close to the southeastern side of the airport, so virtually all flights land from the north, in the direction shown by the red arrow. (The arrow is something I've photo-shopped onto a FAA Sectional chart.)

    In aviation terms, any given runway has two different names, depending on which direction the planes are going. In Aspen, planes virtually always take off using "Runway 33" -- starting at the southeastern end and going toward the northwest, over the valley, in the direction of compass heading 330 degrees. And they virtually always land on "Runway 15," coming in from the northwest over the valley, in the direction of the red arrow, and landing toward the southeast with heading 150 degrees. (I have flown a propeller plane into and out of Aspen several times. But it is so demanding and weather-dependent, and I am so aware of not being experienced enough in mountain flying, that I choose not to do it any more.)

    The problem with today's weather is that the wind was blowing strongly from the northwest, in exactly the same direction as the final landing path. When you land into the wind, as pilots always prefer to do, your ground speed relative to the runway is your airspeed minus the windspeed. Thus a plane with approach speed of, say, 100 knots, and a 20 knot headwind, would touch down at 80 knots relative to the runway.

    In this case, the plane had a 15 to 20 knot tailwind, which meant that its speed when meeting the runway would be airspeed plus windspeed -- 120 knots, rather than 80, in the hypothetical example. The problem with going so fast is that you can use up all the runway in a big hurry. You can't compare professional jet operations with amateur piston-plane flying, but just as a benchmark: the greatest tailwind I've ever had to land with was 5 knots, and I was impressed at how quickly the runway went by. Again, at non-mountain airports, you almost always have the choice of landing in the direction that gives you a head-rather-than-tail wind.

    An archived version of today's Air Traffic Control broadcasts from the Aspen tower is available here. The accident plane's call sign is 115WF, said "one one five whiskey foxtrot." On my first-pass listening, it appears that this happened:

    • The plane "went around" -- that is, aborted its first attempted landing -- because the tailwind was more than 30 knots.
    • The pilot set up for another approach, and was informed that the tailwinds over the preceding minute had averaged 16 knots gusting to 25.
    • The last transmission with this plane is at time 20:25, when it is cleared for landing and told of the tail winds.
    • The last ten minutes or so of this archive show the tower and ground controllers deploying all the other aircraft waiting to take off and land on what has become a closed runway, after the crash.

    First reports about crashes are often misleading. We know that it was a very high tailwind; what else might have been involved, we'll learn. For now, condolences to all affected. UPDATE Please see this informative item from Minnesota Public Radio, emphasizing the problem of strong, gusty tail winds.

    2) West Virginia. A happier outcome from a difficult situation: A Cirrus SR-22, the same kind of airplane my wife and I have been flying around the country, had engine trouble yesterday afternoon near Buckhannon, West Virginia. The pilot pulled the handle to deploy the "ballistic parachute" that is a feature of Cirrus airplanes. It came safely to the ground, on top of a truck, and the occupants walked away. Details here; West Virginia news shot below.

    3) Florida. For completeness, here is an animation, from the Air Safety Institute of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, of a Cirrus crash in Melbourne, Florida, that had a more tragic ending. 

    Safe travels to all.
  • Luck? Planning? Karma? The Elements of a Small Town's High-Tech Success

    A software company grows in an unlikely setting. "Why here?" we ask the founders.

    Here is the "reinvention and resilience" theme I will try to deal with in this post and in coming days: What is the combination of planning, public choice, private character, historic legacy and "path dependence," plus accident and sheer blind chance, that can put a community on an improving course -- more jobs, more opportunity, more satisfying life choices for more people -- rather than the reverse?

    One man who tried to answer The Big Questions!

    Yes, I know: thousands of scholars have written millions of words on just this question. The image at right is about one famous early attempt, which I described long ago in our pages. The chance that my wife and I will discover "the" key to community success or failure as we go from place to place is exactly zero. But -- as has been the case over the years as we have lived and traveled in Asia, Africa, and Europe -- we keep coming across interesting examples with provocative implications, and I'll introduce another of them here.

    When we were in Burlington, Vermont, I mentioned the puzzle of the local Internet company Dealer.com. Inside its headquarters, you would have thought you were in Mountain View. When you stepped outside, you were looking not at Highway 101 but at Lake Champlain, now perhaps with ice floes. How did a company like this end up so far from the tech-world ecology that spawns startups in the familiar SF-Seattle-Boston-London-Shanghai centers? We know that it's a virtual world, and in theory you can do high-value work anywhere. But in practice most of today's highest-value collaborative work takes place in clusters, where people are drawn to be with others of similar training and interests, where one successful firm gives rise to spinoffs, where communities evolve to provide the services, comforts, and daily experiences each group values.

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    In Burlington's case, we heard about all the efforts to help a tech cluster emerge -- and about the enduring importance of IBM's having established a major research center in nearby Essex Junction more than 50 years ago. IBM itself employs only half as many people locally as it did at its peak, but as I described last fall it seems to have made a lasting change in the economic and educational life of the area. Tech-trained families came north for IBM. Many of their children stayed in Vermont, or came back after traveling; some started tech companies of their own. Dealer.com employed some of them -- and, we were told, its recruiting had a specific emphasis. It looked for people with the same tech or business skills that would count in the Bay Area or in Boston -- but who also had some family-tie, recreational, temperamental, or other reason to be interested in the outdoorsy Vermont life. (Since then, by the way, Dealer.com has been acquired for $1 billion. When the Northeast thaws out, we'll go back to ask them about how this affects their sense of Vermont-based localism.)

    A similar puzzle arises from the tech company, Esri, that has transformed the economy of Redlands, California -- and that is our partner, providing mapping software*, in this American Futures project.  The puzzle, again, is why -- and why here?

    Redlands had traditionally been an orange-growing town, and a university town, and a medical center for adjoining mountain and desert communities, and for a while the preferred bedroom community for officers from nearby Norton Air Force Base. But none of these prefigured the emergence of an engineer-heavy "Geographic Information Systems" company, which is the niche Esri occupies and leads worldwide. 

    Esri was founded more than 40 years ago, by a husband-and-wife team, Jack and Laura Dangermond, who had grown up in Redlands and decided to come back after graduate school at the University of Minnesota and Harvard. It started to emerge as a major economic force by the early 1990s. This was fortunate timing for Redlands, to say the least. At just that time Norton Air Force Base, which during its Cold War heyday had been a very sizable bomber, missile, and defense-research center, was being shuttered as part of the Bush I/Clinton-era rationalization of surplus bases. The Norton population had by definition been transient. But many of its officers and their families chose to stay or to return when they left the Air Force, and even during their active-duty years in the town they often played a big role in civic projects. The removal of Norton could have been a serious problem for the regional economy.

    The main Esri cafeteria.

    Apart from helping the area through the base-closing bump, the continued growth of Esri has meant thousands of new tech-industry jobs in a city where that represents a large share of the professional work force. Plus new demand for restaurants, entertainment, local retail, and other attributes of cities that seem economically alive -- and museums, concerts, and other markers of healthy civic culture.   

    Much more than the now-absent Norton, Esri has also changed the human look of the town. Through much of the 20th century, Redlands's ethnic makeup had been an Anglo/Latino balance. Among the whites, there were large groups of Dutch immigrants and their descendants (as in Holland, Michigan); Mormons (whose forebears settled the area in the 1840s and 1850s before being recalled to Utah by Brigham Young); and Dust Bowl-era emigres from the Plains and South. Among the Latinos, nearly all were Mexican and many of those were from families that had been in the area for several generations, having first come north after the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s.

    Those were the blocs that mattered, Mexican and mixed-Anglo, when I was growing up. Now, a big tech company means that the faces on the street and at the parks and in the schools include far more people from China, India, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Russia, Israel, Belarus, Ethiopia, New Zealand, and most other countries you might name. This change de-parochializes a community in countless ways.

    The company has made another mark on Redlands, as some of the pictures here may suggest. Jack Dangermond's parents immigrated from Holland (the one in Europe) and ran a popular plant nursery in town. Jack Dangermond's first degree was in landscape architecture, and he and Laura have planted and landscaped so extensively for so many years that they have made Esri's campus and some other public areas in town a kind of arboretum / jungle retreat. 

    Like any big economic force in a small place, Esri engenders some complaints -- like Microsoft (or now Amazon) during its boom times in Seattle, like various tech companies in SF these days. But in frequent return visits to Redlands over the years, and in asking again in recent weeks, we've heard many fewer cavils about Esri's influence than recognitions that the town would be profoundly poorer and worse off if the company had not been started there, or if it had left for a more mainstream headquarters with a larger natural pool of potential tech recruits.

    Customer delegation on the Esri campus. The founders had a family background in landscape architecture and the nursery business and have filled the site with boulders and countless thousands of trees.

    Which leads us back to why the company began here, and why it hasn't left. Esri is still privately held by the Dangermonds, and run by them. While they are major public figures within their tech community -- for instance, Jack is the on-stage impresario of the vast annual User Conference, which draws tens of thousands from around the world --  they otherwise lead a press-avoiding life. The few times I have tried to ask them the "Why here?" question, their answers have boiled down to "Where else?" 

    Their reaction has been a version of the answer from Captain Bob Peacock, with which I end my article, in the current issue, about his very different hometown of Eastport, Maine. Bob Peacock had lived all around the world, so my wife and I asked him why he had come back to a hard-pressed, microscopic settlement on the farthest eastern extremity of America. He tossed off the answer as if it were self-evident: This is where he was from, it was where he knew people, it was where he wanted to be.

    Something similar seems to be the case with the founders of this company in Redlands. This is where they were from and where they wanted to be, so they felt lucky to be able to make it all work here. And on the practicalities of recruitment: as with Dealer.com in Vermont, they could conduct a certain kind of targeted search. Their ideal candidate would have the right sales, tech, or design skills -- but would also be looking for the virtues of smaller-town rather than hip-big-city life: bigger houses with broader lawns, 5-minute commutes, good public schools, lower costs.

    Esri's new "Building Q" on its Redlands campus, site of executive offices and auditorium for community forums.

    What does this mean, as prescription, for anyplace else? I don't know. I realize that you can't make a formula out of hoping that a locally raised couple goes off for schooling and then decides that the right place for a tech start-up is back home -- and decades later becomes a big international success. But an increasingly powerful impression in our travels is how much these local loyalties -- plus local ownership, and the sense of "local patriotism" we have felt in places otherwise as dissimilar as Sioux Falls or Burlington or Redlands or Holland -- really matter in the fate of a town.

    Jack Dangermond, in Esri photo.

    Next up, some illustrations of how, exactly, the software produced in Building Q and its environs has made its mark around the world, plus helped us in this project. Then more about the future of the endangered citrus industry, and the next themes beyond that.

    Meta-point for weekend reflection: When we were doing similar prowling through small-town China, the prevailing world view was, "Hey, China is really happening!" So the creativity we saw even in remote Gansu or Ningxia could seem to fit a larger pattern.

    The prevailing world view about America in recent years has been, "Hey, we're screwed." We are intentionally looking for successful smaller cities. But if you thought things were going well in America, the kinds of things we're seeing would back up your point.

    *To clarify: Esri, like Marketplace, is a "partner" in, but not a "sponsor" of, this project. For Marketplace, this means that we're covering some of the same places together. For Esri, it means that the company is providing software and long hours of guidance on using it, but not any direct financial support. 

    Also: I did not know Jack or Laura Dangermond while growing up, but our families were friendly, as part of small-town life. My siblings and I spent countless weekends being deployed to Dangermond's nursery to buy bushes, trees, ivy, sod, fertilizer, vegetable seeds, or other items for use in our yard.


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