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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Nature, and the nature of a glacier

We returned yesterday from our three-week trip that included a weeklong cruise along Alaska's Inside Passage. The boys hadn't burned down the house in our absence, only two plants on the patio were dead (truth be told, they were fading anyway), and the stacked up mail only contained three bills.

Not bad.

But apparently we missed the action in Alaska. Jerry Pohlen, my editor at Chicago Review Press, sent me a link to an article that included this Youtube video. We were in Tracy Arm, but not anywhere near this close to the Sawyer Glacier.

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San Francisco, and The Fear Within

Just back to the hotel after a great event at The Booksmith on the Haight in San Francisco. Wonderful and passionate crowd of about 60 people jammed into the back of a gem of a bookstore. The kind of talk authors love - challenging questions from an audience many of whose own lives were touched by the historical events I wrote about in The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial.

Thanks to owners Christin and Praveen for the hospitality, and to fellow author Frances Dinkelspiel for getting me on their events roster - and for bringing the wine. Linked up with some old friends, met some new ones, and learned that I might have screwed up a couple of dates in the book. Sigh.

So northward we drive. Hope to see some of you in Seattle on July 31Read More 
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On Google, street views and the presumption of privacy

A article in The Buffalo News the other day caught my eye this morning during a pre-dawn browse (the things you find when you wake up early and can't fall back to sleep). The piece looked at the return of Google's "street view" car to Western New York (where I once lived) to refresh its 360-degree images for its online mapping service.

What jumped out at me was this quote:
“Google Street View captures a snapshot in time and posts it for many months to years,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum. “That snapshot in time becomes memorialized, and not everyone wants that. Some people don’t mind it at all, but what if it’s your children, playing in the front yard? You’re probably not going to be comfortable with that.... People should have more say on whether they participate in the first place. I’d like people to have more of a choice going in rather than on the back end.”
No. Privacy is a big concern of mine, and this is really a non-issue. A real privacy issue is what we, as a society, have so willingly given up in the wake of 9/11 under the Patriot Act, including warrantless searches, indefensible gag orders, and the government's new ability to rummage around in individual library and bookstore patronage records. It's positively Orwellian what the government is now allowed to do with barely a screech of protest from a public more drawn to sensational murder trials and dance shows on TV than to their legal standing in society.

Google's cameras taking photos on public streets? That is not a privacy issue. Google is able to cruise the streets with the cameras running because of hard-won First Amendment protections that mean anything that an average person can see from a public position - driving down the street or walking through a neighborhood - can be photographed, and published.

This is as it should be in a free society. It's bad enough that police routinely interfere with news photographers by falsely claiming that the taking of a few photos somehow obstructs justice. People who are out in public have no claim to privacy, whether it be from Google's car, news photographers, or a shutterbug like me.

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Summer road trips

I've been spending some time on the road this summer -- one of my favorite things to do -- and have more travel to come. Margaret and I leave next week (burglars alert: Leaving our two six-foot plus sons and the dog at home) for a three week driving/cruise trip that will take us up the West Coast and into the lower Alaskan waters. Yeah, we're looking forward to that.

Part of the trip is work; I'm doing a talk and signing in San Francisco on July 20, and again in Seattle on July 31. Hope to see some of you at those events.

Meantime, here are some photos from my recent trip through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, which included my appearance at the annual Ludlow memorial gathering at the Ludlow Massacre site.

Enjoy. And let me know what you think.

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The reason for the long weekend

You know, some of those guys could really make a political argument:
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights,  Read More 
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Two actions, two setbacks for working people

I'm still traveling, so not as tuned into news stories as usual, but two actions on Tuesday jumped out at me, and both are bad news for working people.

First, the Obama Administration finally struck a deal with recalcitrant Republicans over new trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Though Congress may still kill the proposals. So what did Obama get for agreeing to pacts that would send more American jobs overseas to benefit corporate bottom lines? Some pennies sent to programs to retrain U.S. workers displaced by those newly off-shored jobs. Retrain to do what, is the question, since unemployment has been one of our most dogged problems for more than two years now.

So again, the U.S. government is picking corporations over people.

The second action was a veto by California Jerry Brown of legislation that would give farm workers the right to "card check" union organizing drives, which would make it easier for workers to join together to improve wages and working conditions in one of the most brutal industries in the country (you try working in a farm field in the triple-digit heat of the Central Valley). Brown's reason? He says the reforms contained in the bill aren't justified.

Agricultural jobs are some of the few that can't be readily sent overseas - hard to pick strawberries from Bangalore. Yet working conditions are horrific, and wages embarrassingly low. In part because low-income wage-earners have little clout in standing up for themselves; unions help balance out that power a bit. What's unjustified is Brown's vetoing this bill for reasons that are murky, at best (it seems he did it to appease Republicans angry over a budget deal passed by the Democrats).

The losers? The powerless. Again.

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What I said at Ludlow

It was hot in Ludlow yesterday. Fortunately the United Mine Workers of America, which maintains the memorial site, built a roof over the picnic area a number of years ago. So for the 2 1/2-hour gathering we had shade, and a nice breeze. And more than 100 people.

I saw some familiar faces, and met folks I've come to know through Facebook. The themes of the speeches, as one might suspect, focused on labor, and the benefits of unions, and the continuing assault on the right to collective bargaining.

Among the speakers was Annaliese Bonacquista, the great granddaughter of a 1913-14 Colorado coal striker, who passed along some emotional stories about her family history, and the legacy of Ludlow. The keynote was by Marty Hudson, a key figure in the United Mine Workers, who talked about how the coal barons of the past aren't necessarily gone. His brother was among those underground when the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia blew up last year. The brother narrowly missed joining the 29 men killed that morning (I wrote an op-ed on that theme last April).

I talked a bit about the history of Ludlow, and how it remains relevant today -- even if most people have no idea what happened in Colorado nearly a century ago. My prepared comments are after the jump.

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Fire in the desert, a backup on the highway

Yesterday's travels took me from Phoenix to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, though what should have been an eight-hour drive took closer to 10 hours. Construction in the mountains through the heart of Arizona (I took the scenic route where I could, through the Tonto National Forest) and then a wildfire outside Heber, Arizona.

It's not often you have a traffic jam caused by wild fire, but there we were, stalled by a police barricade, as they timed when they'd let cars go through, and only one direction at a time. When I went through, the fire was only 100 acres or so, but at last report had spread to more than 1,000 acres.

Amazing things, these wildfires, with which we're intimately familiar in Southern California. They're fast. And hungry. Glad I was able to slip through (some of the roads were shut down completely a little later), though also glad I was held up long enough to get some photos.

So to recap, on the first day I witnessed a chilling rollover accident. On the second day, it was a wildfire. Today's half over. Can't wait to see what it delivers. Read More 
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On d. boon, the desert, and the flash of the unpredictable

The dust cloud first caught my eye. I’d been on the road for 90 minutes or so this morning, was just east of Palm Springs on Interstate 10, when the puff of dust exploded on the other side of the median. It was a gray car and it seemed to wobble a bit as the driver, who’d drifted off the freeway onto the desert space between us, struggled to regain control. For a flash the car was pointed directly at me in the eastbound left-most lane, then it veered sharply away and across three lanes of westbound traffic as other cars, their drivers stomping on the brakes, seemed to genuflect. The spinning gray car flipped into the air and landed on its roof off the edge of the freeway, kicking up yet another burst of desert dust.

And then I was past it.

It’s remarkable how much detail you absorb in the span of a second. Or maybe two. And how simple functions momentarily move beyond reach. I couldn’t remember how to dial 911 through my car’s voice-activated system so fumbled to pull the cell phone from my pocket, the irony hovering while I punched in the numbers. It rang through on the dashboard speaker and I told the dispatcher where I was and what I had seen. “You’re probably going to need an ambulance,” I said, thinking to myself: Or the coroner.

When you drive a lot, you evolve a detached sense of safety. Crashes happen to other people. A whisper of anxiety might come as you pass roadside crosses draped with plastic flowers, but it’s for other people’s pain. Other people’s losses. We get lulled into a sense of invulnerability.

After the 911 call ended the stereo kicked back on, piping in music from my iPod, set on shuffle. I don’t remember what song was playing when the other car did its freeway shimmy then flip. But the next song up was “History Lesson Part 2,” an old blast of punk by The Minutemen, whose lead singer, d. boon, died when the van he was riding in rolled off the same freeway farther east, just over the Arizona border – which I would soon pass as I headed to Phoenix. I nudged the cruise control down a few ticks. I was going to be early anyway.

After settling into my hotel room, I called up Palm Springs news sites to learn that, miraculously, no one was hurt in the rollover. Though early Tuesday, on the same stretch of the I-10, a woman died in a ball of flames after drove onto the freeway in the wrong direction and head on into a tractor-trailer truck.

I think I’ll drive home along a different route.

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Why Anthony Weiner needs to resign

Probity has never been a prerequisite for Congressional service, though judging by the clamor for U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner's Tweet-happy head, you'd think he had violated some sort of private club code. But others have done worse, and survived politically (hello, Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, and David Vitter.

The problem isn't Weiner's betrayal of his wife, even if it was a virtual betrayal. That's a personal matter. And the problem apparently isn't that he violated any laws in sending his creepy Tweets (should we call them Creets?). The problem, which should be our biggest concern, is that the man lied about his behavior once he was caught. That's where we should be most outraged. And why he should resign.

Of course, there's little precedent for a politician resigning because he lied, either (hello, Bill Clinton). If Weiner doesn't resign, his constituents should do the next best thing, and fire him come 2012. Politicians, like little kids, lie because they think can get away with it. We expect honesty from our kids, we should demand it from our elected officials.

Weiner failed in a fundamental way. And that is why he needs to go.

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