Notes Cheering and Otherwise, From an American Frontier

Where the country first sees the sunlight each day.

Greetings from the American city closest to Europe, and first to see each day's sunrise: Eastport, Maine, which Marketplace will describe in its broadcast on Friday and which we'll say more about starting tomorrow. The scene above is of an unimaginably vast warehouse full of bales of Maine hardwood pulp, destined for mills in Asia.

The "pulp," which I had envisioned as a kind of slurry, turns out to be thick sheaves of papery material, which will then be re-ground and turned into high-quality paper in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese mills. Each of the small footlocker-sized rectangles shown above weighs more than 500 pounds. We watched them loaded into a Norwegian-flag freighter, with a Filipino captain and crew, at the Eastport dock at a rate of 28 tons (one of the truckloads below) every 90 seconds or so.

More on that later, including its significance for a town of some 1,300 people. For now, these notes on the news:

1) Maddening. On the "shutdown is forgotten but not gone" front, the cancellation of a decade-long Antarctic research program because the interruption in funding happened at exactly the wrong time. According to the Chicago Tribune:

"We are still dealing with the shock of it all and figuring out what to do," said [Ross] Powell, chief scientist on the project known as WISSARD, for Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling. "A lot of our students are really disappointed and a lot of them were crying. We are totally devastated."

The project is funded by a $10-million grant from the National Science Foundation, and the government's 16-day shutdown began at a critical time for antarctic research, when shipments of equipment and food are sent in preparation for the continent's short summer research season. The shipments, which typically occur three times a week, were canceled during the shutdown, and now there is a logistical "bottleneck" that makes it impossible to get all the gear and people there in time, Powell said.

2) Sobering. A report by the Center for International Media Assistance (which receives U.S. government funding via the National Endowment for Democracy) on the ways that Chinese government restrictions on its own domestic media have spilled over to international news organizations.

3) Ditto. Check out the most recent China Files conversation, plus other items like this, on the recurrent signs of what I've long argued is China's major challenge to itself and the world: pollution in all its forms.

4) Meanwhile, on America's own problems. See this story on the latest little illustration of self-inflicted damage via the American security state. It involves one more U.S. tech company whose business has been compromised by concerns about NSA abuse.

5) The promised cheering note. I've mentioned many times that the Mac-only program Tinderbox is one of several "idea organizer" programs I have used and been fascinated by, like the DOS-only Lotus Agenda and the Windows-only Zoot. The creator of Tinderbox, Mark Bernstein, has launched a creative approach to funding the program's next iteration. You can read about it (and sign up) here. Essentially it's a request that beta-testers pay for "backstage passes" that allow them to participate in the program's evolution.

6) Speaking of massive beta tests. If you're one of the many who downloaded Apple's new Mavericks operating system today, thanks! There has never, ever been a major software update whose first version was free of significant bugs. So by putting this program into use right now, you're speeding the discovery of the bugs, their correction, and the release of the more stable and usable follow-up version. The computing public is grateful for your service.   

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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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