Worth reading, 07/02/13

Living With Fire (Alan Dean Foster in the New York Times)

I live in Prescott, Ariz., where a wildfire called the Doce fire is now almost completely contained, after burning 6,767 tinder-dry acres. It started two weeks ago, six miles or so from the house where my wife and I have lived for more than 30 years.

We live in the bottom of a small canyon, and it took a moment for me to realize that the smoke I was seeing from the study window was all wrong. Distant fires, which we are used to, score the blue sky with a thin haze, like a watercolorist’s brown wash. But this cloud was massive, a darker brown, moving too fast, and flush with orange.

I drove to the top of the highest hill behind our house and as I swung around the crest, between homes with neat desert landscaping, a view opened before me that bordered on the apocalyptic. Someone had switched the channel of my life.

This is a riveting op-ed, wonderfully written. A poignant tribute to the 19 heroes who died in Yarnell. And an explanation why, despite the obvious risks, we choose to live in dangerous places.

Be sure to read this one.

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Kirsten Powers: I Don’t Stand With Wendy Davis (Daily Beast)

So no, I don’t stand with Wendy. Nor do most women, as it turns out. According to aJune National Journal poll, 50 percent of women support, and 43 percent oppose, a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape and incest….

Human-rights movements have traditionally existed to help the voiceless and those without agency gain progressively more rights. Yet in the case of abortion, the voiceless have progressively lost rights at the hands of people who claim to be human-rights crusaders. Abortion-rights leaders have turned the world upside down. They want us to believe that a grown woman is voiceless, that she has less agency than the infant in her womb who relies on her for life. A woman has so little agency, we are told, that she is incapable of getting an abortion before the fifth month of her pregnancy. To suggest she should do so is a “war on women.” It’s an insult to women dressed up as “women’s rights.”

A very compelling piece on the anti-abortion bill in Texas. This is not an endorsement by any means, but it’s important at least to understand both sides of an argument. Be sure to read this.

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What if Hillary Clinton passes on 2016? (Politico)

For Democrats, there is no fallback: It’s Hillary Clinton or probably a long bout of depression ahead of 2016.

With expectations hitting a fever pitch three-and-a-half years out that Clinton is running for president again, every move she makes – a video endorsing gay marriage, a coy line about supporting a woman president – moves the excitement a notch higher. So too do endorsements from former critics – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, among others….

[T]here is no obvious replacement. And the party would be looking at a mad scramble to fill the Clinton void.

“We would be at sea in a lifeboat with no food, no water, and no land in sight,” said one veteran Democratic operative who has worked on presidential campaigns, and who, like most people interviewed for this story, asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the former first lady. “There is no Plan B.”

It seems absurd that with more than three years to go before the 2016 election, it’s already come down to Hillary or Omigod What Now? for President. But there you have it.

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Statement from Edward Snowden in Moscow (WikiLeaks)

One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.

I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.

Edward Joseph Snowden

Monday 1st July 2013

Is he right? You decide. I can see both sides of this argument, and my mind is not made up.

I’ll say this much: He’s clearly 30. In many ways, I miss the days when my focus was so narrow.

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AltaVista. What’s That? (New York Times)

AltaVista, once the most advanced and comprehensive search engine on the Web, is just days away from its last breath.

Yes, like you, I thought AltaVista had been extinguished years ago, but apparently not.

A search engine bites the dust. Just 20 years ago, we would have asked, “What’s a search engine?”

Worth reading, 06/28/13

The Service of Snowden (Roger Cohen, New York Times)

So what is Snowden? A self-aggrandizing geek who betrayed his country and his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, exposed the United States to greater risk of terrorist attack, and may now — wittingly or unwittingly — have made his trove of secrets available to China and Russia, nations that are no longer enemies but are rival powers?

Or a brave young American determined to fight — at the risk of long imprisonment — against his country’s post-9/11 lurch toward invasion of citizens’ lives, ever more intrusive surveillance, undifferentiated data-hauling of the world’s digital exhaust fumes (for storage in a one-million-square-foot fortress in Utah), and the powers of a compliant secret court to issue warrants for international eavesdropping and e-mail vacuuming?

As the old Miller Lite ad used to say, I feel very strongly both ways.

This is an excellent analysis. Make sure to read this today.

Pick your poison

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I’m not happy that every phone call I make — and every phone call that gets made to me — is being logged and reviewed by my government. I’m not happy that the Patriot Act, passed into law in a time of great crisis, has resulted in my sacrificing so many of my constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

I’m also not happy that a high school dropout named Edward Snowden (above) who hasn’t reached the age of 30 and is working for a government contractor is in a position to know so much about so many people, and to reveal so many secrets about American data mining to the media. I’m also trying to decide whether he is Daniel Ellsberg or Benedict Arnold.

But I know this much: I was in New York on 9/11, and I remember the sound of the fighter jets flying overhead, and the look of terror on the people in the streets. And I remember walking from work to Grand Central Terminal a couple of days later, and seeing a million people in the street, because the terminal and the skyscraper above it were evacuated due to a bomb scare. And I remember the firetruck screaming down Madison Avenue, and the tears that came to my eyes when I saw all the people breaking into cheers for the heroes on the truck.

And I never want to see or experience anything like that again. Once a lifetime is enough for me, thank you.

So it’s difficult to weigh my demand for privacy against my desire to be kept safe from maniacs who want me dead due to the circumstances of my birth and nationality.

More than a week into all this, the best piece I’ve read was written by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:

Yes, I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened. But I worry even more about another 9/11. That is, I worry about something that’s already happened once — that was staggeringly costly — and that terrorists aspire to repeat.

 I worry about that even more, not because I don’t care about civil liberties, but because what I cherish most about America is our open society, and I believe that if there is one more 9/11 — or worse, an attack involving nuclear material — it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it. If there were another 9/11, I fear that 99 percent of Americans would tell their members of Congress: “Do whatever you need to do to, privacy be damned, just make sure this does not happen again.” That is what I fear most.

That is why I’ll reluctantly, very reluctantly, trade off the government using data mining to look for suspicious patterns in phone numbers called and e-mail addresses — and then have to go to a judge to get a warrant to actually look at the content under guidelines set by Congress — to prevent a day where, out of fear, we give government a license to look at anyone, any e-mail, any phone call, anywhere, anytime.

That pretty much sums it up for me. If it comes down to siding with the NSA or Al Qaeda, I’m going with the NSA. Pick your poison.