'Virtually Speaking' Discussion with Bruce Schneier

On Thursday night, Jay Ackroyd interviewed Bruce "Mr. Sanity about Security" Schneier and me in an hour-long discussion session on Second Life. Web cast available here. Gentle hint to other radio and TV producers: Ackroyd has really figured out a nice way to promo his guests' books and other writing! You'll see what I mean.

In this discussion, Schneier from his expert standpoint and I from my journalistic perspective are both pretty down on the one-way ratchet* of modern "security theater." It is easy to throw on new measures that seem as if they will make us "safe." For instance, the [moronic and indefensible] "current security level is Orange" announcements we have all heard so many times that they no longer even register on our eardrums. But it is practically impossible for an elected official to discuss the balance between security and liberty in a mature way, because the political risk of being blamed for some future attack, large or small, vastly outweighs the political risk of accepting the mounting costs in efficiency, freedoms, and general public IQ of security theater. See Schneier for more, or the webcast. Or this. (Past items from this site will be linked when our "categories" function returns.)

On the other hand, once again there's a high-level job opening at the TSA. I am in a General Sherman mode regarding my own future public service. But I'll testify for Schneier as the new head of TSA when he is nominated.
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* Pedant alert: yes, I do realize that "one-way ratchet" is redundant, the salient feature of a ratchet being that it moves in only one direction. There are times when an addition that might literally be redundant can be helpful in clarification, in an "of course everyone already knows this, but just to speed the discussion I'll supply this extra clue" sense. Just trying to forestall those "gotcha" notes before they arrive!

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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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