This Past Week

Please welcome: Parker Donham, Piero Garau, Shelley Hayduk, Guy Raz, and Sam Roggeveen

By James Fallows

The news of this past week is out of scale, with the still unfolding human (and technological and economic and probably environmental) catastrophe in Japan making other concerns seem trivial. Except for the tragedy also underway in Libya. It does no good to say it, but it has to be said: the world's heart goes out to Japan now.

Anyone who has lived in Japan is aware of the consciousness of national disaster in its popular culture, ranging from regular earthquake drills for school children to novels and movies with the "Japan sinks beneath the seas" theme. It is harrowing to see how close the current videos are to those nightmare-fantasy scenarios. Sincerest sympathies to the people of Sendai (including our former next-door neighbors in Tokyo, who returned to their hometown near Sendai) and Japan as a whole.

Nonetheless other affairs go on. As I have done each of the past seven weeks now, let me say how grateful I am for the contributions of this week's guest team. More than most other times, this group's postings had a surprisingly interconnected and complementary aspect, creating an evolving conversation. In different ways, Liam Casey, Sriram Gollapalli, Sanjay Saigal, Keith Blount, and Grace Peng explored three themes:
  - the individual and collective traits necessary to create and sustain new enterprises these days (for example here, here, here, here, here, here, and here);
  - the advantages, complications, and non-obvious changes created by the international flow of culture, ideas, and talent (for instance here, here, here, and here); and
  - the connection between technology and the aspects of life we don't consider purely technical (for instance here, here, here, and here). Plus more items than I'm listing at the moment!
This has been a very rich conversation, and I'm grateful to its participants. Also, Liam Casey broke some news, from my point of view, with this recent post.

Now, please welcome the next week's team -- the eighth weekly group of guest bloggers, out of a planned ten-week sequence:

- From Nova Scotia, Canada, we are joined by Parker Donham. I met him eons ago on the college newspaper, until he dropped out of school in 1968 to join the Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign. His account of his journeys since then: "That same year, he bought an exotic vacation property: a farm on Nova Scotia's Bras d'Or Lake [where he now lives]. In the early 2000s, he led communications for a long stalled cleanup of industrial waste left behind by a defunct coke ovens plant, putting him at odds with many local environmental activists, and spurring an interest in how we face risk. Other interests range from make-and-break engines to American Chestnut trees and organ and tissue donation. He is the grandfather of identical twins with Down Syndrome, and this has led him to appreciate men and women with developmental disabilities. He runs an independent film series and blogs at" I expect he will write on political and environmental topics.

- From Rome, Italy, a few hundred yards from the walls of the Vatican, we have Piero Garau, an architect, urban-planning specialist, artist, musician, and former UN official who has worked around the globe. He was posted for more than a decade in Kenya for the UN's "Habitat" organization, and has also served in Geneva and in New York during the 9/11 attacks, before returning to a university role in his native Italy. He was a high-school exchange student in upstate New York and became an America-phile and NY Yankees fan. I have known him about as long as I have Parker Donham; I expect we'll hear from him about European news and culture, plus world politics and culture from the perspective of a friendly critic of American power and instincts.

- From Marina del Rey, California, we greet Shelley Hayduk, co-founder of TheBrain Technologies. As I have explained a few million times, I am a sucker for  fascinated by "software for thinking." In previous weeks we've heard from the creators of two of the programs I find most useful and intriguing, Mark Bernstein of Tinderbox and Keith Blount of Scrivener. Personal Brain, of which Shelley is Vice President and Harlan Hugh is inventor and CEO, is another in my personal pantheon of useful-and-interesting programs. Her background is in cognitive psychology, user interface design, and information management; her regular blog is here. I expect that we will hear from her more on the software-and-thinking front.

- From Washington DC, we have Guy Raz, familiar to NPR listeners as a correspondent from Berlin, London, and the Pentagon and more recently as host of Weekend All Things Considered. He joined NPR out of college as an intern for the late Daniel Schorr and by age 25 was a foreign bureau chief. He also spent two years as a Jerusalem correspondent for CNN, has put in his academic time as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and with a master's degree from Cambridge, and is a music and fiction fan. I expect he will chronicle the weekly cycle of putting together a news-and-culture show. I know him from appearing often on the show for news discussions.

- Finally, from Sydney, Australia, we welcome Sam Roggeveen, who is editor of The Interpreter, an excellent international policy blog/zine published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy. His self-intro: "Sam was working as an intelligence analyst in Australia's sleepy capital, Canberra, when in 2001 he stumbled on his first blog - Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish... In 2007, the Lowy Institute made the far-sighted decision to not publish an in-house print magazine (too expensive) or academic journal (nobody reads them). Instead, the Institute became one of the first foreign policy think tanks to run an edited blog, which Sam helped to develop and has edited ever since. Sam's professional expertise is in international security, and his academic background is in conservative political philosophy. He hopes to draw on both during this guest blogging slot." I know Sam through my involvement with the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Thanks to all. And, while I have deplored the use of "God bless America" as a cliched ending for presidential speeches, in this case I think it is right to say: God bless and save the people of Japan.