Things to Read on Monday Night

As mentioned before, my First Commandment of writing and life is: other people's travel problems are not interesting. Exceptions granted only for the Titanic, the Donner Party, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, and Shackleton's Endurance voyage to the South Pole.

Therefore I am manfully resisting the temptation to list the latest ten items in my bill of indictment against United Airlines. This is a particularly frustrating source of woe, given that I have zillions of lifetime miles with them and super-elite "status," and therefore can't sanely choose to go with anyone else. I will merely offer a friendly tip to United's CEO, Jeff Smisek, which is that he stop leading off every single flight with an unasked for little vanity video about how great the airline's spirit and efficiency are. This only tempts passengers to contrast his words with the attitude of the real-world United reps they are dealing with. Now it is probably time for my Second Commandment, which is: People mainly hate the airline they spend most time traveling on.

Instead a few reading tips, before dealing tomorrow with some fascinating incoming correspondence on Brazilian music, throwing styles, and other matters.

1) From the BBC, one of my favorite themes: the unwholesome Briticization of our American lexicon. Anyone who says "spot on" or "brilliant" [in the UK sense] is asking for a one-way ticket back to Ye Olde Country. Maybe even on United.

2) Two of my Atlantic colleagues, Conor Friedersdorf and Robert Wright, have argued about the disappointments of the Obama era. The question is whether the president's approach to civil liberties and executive power is so abusive that one must, in principle, vote against him (Conor Friedersdorf's case) -- or whether it is legitimate to approach the election with a "lesser of two evils" calculus (Wright's). They're both very much worth reading, though I end up with Wright. I remember too clearly the similar arguments, including from my friend Ralph Nader, about the moral wrongness of voting for Al Gore in 2000.

I don't often have a chance to make common cause with Noam Chomsky, and therefore I am interested to see him making a similar "lesser of two evils" case. ("Professor Chomsky said he will probably vote for Jill Stein [Green candidate] for president in effort to push a genuine electoral alternative, but that if he lived in a swing state he would vote 'against Romney-Ryan, which means voting for Obama.'"]

3) I am miles behind in TSA commentary -- a fact I've been reminded of by by many encounters with airport security in the past ten days. (In Australia: shoes on, belt on, metal-detector only, no pileup at security station. In the US .. well, you know.) As a prompt for later discussion, please consider this very interesting essay by Ethan Zuckerman, on his recent experience with the TSA's Pre-Check program. Will go into its issues later, but, seriously, this is worth reading and thinking about.

4) The WSJ on the modern epidemic of looking at your hand no matter what else you are doing. This is the most remarkable behavior distortion of our times.

5) In case you haven't heard, debates are coming! Forgive me for saying so, but I think my Atlantic story actually stands up as useful background. And for all of our jadedness about the campaign, there is an undeniable drama in seeing the two contenders face-to-face in real time.

6) I mentioned recently that over the weekend Wendy Weil, my longtime literary agent, had suddenly died. There is a wonderful appreciation of her by Hillel Italie of the AP.

7) China, China, China. That is what I will get to as soon as possible. Also, why there has been so little mention in the campaign about the filibuster, the Supreme Court, and other aspects of the future of democracy. Plus, how we talk about the Iranian threat. All this for the dawn. Talk to you tomorrow.

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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.

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