5 Items Worth Looking At

Journalism, war-and-peace, tipping, and more, in a few quick links.

Some of these are old, but they were new to me and perhaps might have escaped your notice too.

1) Felix Salmon on Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post. This came out a week ago, but for me rang exactly true on the differing cultures of the tech world vs. the journalism world, and the ways in which the Post's new owner is and is not likely to succeed.

2) Army Col. Gian Gentile, writing today in the LA Times, on whether the wars in Iraq and [even] Afghanistan were worth it. Answer in one word: No. For more words, see his column, but here is a sample of his argument about Afghanistan, always the "better" of those two wars. He doesn't say we should never have gone in but argues that we should have gotten out at least a decade ago.

Since early 2002, more than 2,000 Americans have been killed [in Afghanistan], with many more seriously wounded. Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed too. The United States has spent close to $1 trillion trying to turn Afghanistan into a modern, functioning state.

What has the United States achieved? The place is more violent today than it was at the height of the Afghan surge of troops under Gen. Stanley McChrystal in 2009, the government is one of the most corrupt in the world, and the ability of the Afghan security forces is dubious at best.

Would Afghanistan have been worse off today if the United States had left soon after toppling the Taliban and crushing Al Qaeda? Remember, the United States had essentially accomplished its core political objective in Afghanistan — the destruction of Al Qaeda there — by early 2002.

In the same vein, Ted Koppel a week ago, on "America's Chronic Over-Reaction to Terrorism." At least rhetorically and intellectually, critical mass may be assembling on this point. After all, President Obama himself gave a "time to end the war on terror" speech a few months ago. As for policies aligned with that concept, see: Snowden, Edward. For the record, this is the line I've been pushing for a long time.

3) Marc Ambinder, on "Why Stop and Frisk is Worse Than NSA Surveillance." We all know why to be concerned about the NSA. Ambinder makes a strong case that the recently-outlawed Stop and Frisk searches were a more serious and here-and-now instance of surveillance-state overreach. This is connected to the aerial stop-and-frisk chronicles I've mentioned earlier, and will return to.

4) Jay Porter, several days ago in Quartz [part of the Atlantic Media group], on why the American-exceptionalist practice of tipping is bad for everyone involved. His piece runs a very nice real-world experiment to see how circumstances change when prices -- and regular wages -- go up, and tipping is outlawed. "American-exceptionalist"? Yes. Australia is the most dramatic and famous example, with minimum wages very high by US standards (~ $20 in some places) and almost no tipping culture. But most places I've been are less tip-centric than America is.

5) Andrew Sullivan yesterday on Washington-bubble-style journalism, working from a column by Maureen Dowd. Read it and you'll see what I am talking about.

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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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