Snowden and a fair shake

I believe Edward Snowden is a patriot. Obviously, many disagree, including those at the helm of government. As always happens when those in government leave their posts, they start talking in ways which sound strange and different from when they were at their posts. Eric Holder, former Attorney General, provides a great example of this with his comments over Memorial Day weekend:

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents.

“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told David Axelrod…

“Now I would say that doing what he did — and the way he did it — was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder added. …

“I think that he’s got to make a decision. He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.” …

“But,” Holder emphasized, “I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate.”

Glenn Greenwald is the only reporter I’ve seen consistently underscore the point which Snowden has made from Day One in response to this sort of proposal:

At a University of Chicago Institute of Politics event earlier this month, Snowden — appearing via videoconference from Russia — said he would return to the U.S. if he could receive a fair trial. ”

I’ve already said from the very first moment that if the government was willing to provide a fair trial, if I had access to public interest defenses and other things like that, I would want to come home and make my case to the jury,” Snowden told University of Chicago Law Prof. Geoffrey Stone. “But, as I think you’re quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense. You’re not allowed to speak the word ‘whistleblower’ at trial.”

Sure, Snowden could gather the best legal team and return to America to face trial. But it would be a trial where the cards are stacked against him, and where his lawyers would be arguing with both arms behind their back—unable to argue a public interest defense, and unable to present the case to a jury of peers, rather than a judge.

And had Snowden tried to perform his “public service” that led to “raising the debate” by acting as a whistleblower within the NSA and the government—rather than leaking it to Glenn Greenwald and the public—we know where he would be today.

In a cell next to Bradley Manning.

Last mile connections

When I hopped on SEPTA earlier this Memorial Day weekend, the interstitial below appeared in the app. I had read SEPTA was partnering with Uber to discount “last mile connections” from particular train stations to destinations, but had forgotten about it. Looks like Memorial Day weekend is the start of that promotion.

It’s a brilliant move, and is another piece of the puzzle for how Uber is coming to fit into daily life. If Uber can partner for promotions like these—offering 40 percent discounts on short rides to/from transit destinations—imagine what it will look like after the company’s Pittsburgh self-driving experiments are ready for primetime.

The ride I grabbed with this promotion was ~$4.70 after the discount. Prior to Uber, this sort of ride would cost (on the rare occasions that I bit the bullet and took them) with a traditional cab about $15 after tip. Even without the promotion, Uber’s appearance for rides like this has been game changing when I’ve needed it over the few years.

All we need now if faster progress on hyperloops.

Receipts

I was in the Houston airport the other day, having just ordered lunch. I handed my Amex card to the woman at the register. She inserts it into the chip reader, and the moment she does, this Apple Wallet notification appears:

It take another few seconds for the receipt to print, and for her to ask if I’d like my copy. “I’ve got it,” I respond. She looks somewhat confused, but shrugs and tosses the print copy as she hands me lunch.

I’m relating this story because it was just one of those small little moments where you realize that the world is changing in a small but significant way. Not signifiant in terms of “big picture” issues, but significant in terms of the “little things” that have been fixtures of our daily lives that are disappearing, replaced by something with a different character but the same essence.

Getting out of yourself

I snapped this photo quickly as our plane was turning for its landing at Washington Reagan National Airport yesterday. It was good visiting Houston this week, and there were many experiences that were brief but memorable, like this photo.

I enjoy travel, even when there are lots of connections, because it’s often a way to get out of yourself. That is, it’s a new set of routines that takes the place of your normal habits. It’s been said a thousand times that travel helps provide perspective, which is what I’m echoing, in effect.

It’s always good to return home. It’s also important to understand how much truth there is to the cliche that “home is where the heart is.” And our heart should always be with us as we travel, in the present moment.

In this moment that you’re reading this, where is your heart?

The answer helps direct your priorities.

Houston

I haven’t been in Texas for a few years, since I flew into Oklahoma City and took Amtrak to Dallas/Fort Worth, and then across West Texas and the southwest. But I’ve never been to Houston before.

It’s large. Our fourth largest city, behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. After Houston comes Philadelphia.

It’s sprawling. It’s a city of 2.3 million people, none of whom really seem to live near one another. It feels like so much of Florida—hot and humid with yawning highways and lots of parking lots.

It’s old, but doesn’t seem like it. I probably just missed its historic sections, but even staying downtown at the Club Quarters hotel and after running five miles through parts of the downtown, I didn’t see much that looked historic.

It’s friendly. To a startling degree, people are friendly here. This shouldn’t be too surprising since “Southern Hospitality” glowed in neon on the wall of a bar I visited, but it’s still different from Philadelphia.

It’s a place I’d come back to, but would take a lot of mental adjustment to settle in.

To Houston

It’s nearly 6am and I’m waiting in the screening line at Washington Reagan National Airport for my flight to Houston in about 30 minutes.

I got into Washington yesterday afternoon and spent about nine hours sitting on The Dubliner’s patio, drinking and working while the crowd ebbed and flowed. Rand Paul ended up sitting two tables down with colleagues for an hour or so at one point, which was neat.

I’m on the way to Houston for work, specifically meeting with Texas Right to Life and doing some professional development work to benefit the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. It’ll be my first time to Houston, and I’m excited to be heading back to Texas for the first time in a few years.

It’ll be a busy few days, so I don’t expect I’ll write much of substance. I’ll share what I can, and figure out something to write about tomorrow in between everything else.

MLK Jr. Plaza/Fraser Garage project

It’s offensive to my sense of propriety that such a thing as the “MLK Jr. Plaza/Fraser Garage rehabilitation project” exists. I say this in the context of having thought about personifying Penn State’s monumental leaders, wherein I would include MLK as one of the place’s more notable guests.

But in the Borough of State College’s formulation? Of MLK being honored as part of a parking garage “rehabilitation” project? No.

He spoke to Penn Staters months before his historical visit to Selma, Alabama. He spoke about American values in a time when others were pushing to speak exclusively about racial values. He spoke inclusively about issues that were too often then perceived to be exclusive by their nature. He was a remarkable visitor in the Nittany Valley’s history. He deserves far better than to be recognized as part of a municipal parking project.

He deserves a place on Penn State’s campus, specifically in bronze in front of Rec Hall where he spoke. I hope someday, regardless of what happens in State College, the deciders at Penn State place a fitting monument to a man who embodied Pennsylvanian ideals of inclusion far earlier than when they came to be understood as American ideals.

What suburbs do

In the typical war of words over the positives and negatives of suburbanization we’re left with the binary of “cities v. suburbs,” where the fractured, isolated, idyllic suburban life is compared to the dense, plagued, teeming urban environment.

This is problematic because it ignores the real problem with suburbs, which is that they don’t hurt our cities nearly as much as they hurt our towns.

Specifically, the towns they’re nearby and sucking the life out of by pulling away residents and draining civic worth away from and into disjointed geographic spaces. College towns are particularly magical because they’re often survivors in terms of places where real small town America still exists.

The Bedford Falls of It’s a Wonderful Life exists in our cultural consciousness as a cute and magical place. But our sentimentalism is rooted in the knowledge that those kinds of towns really were the norm rather than the silver screen exception—places where the owners of the local shops lived in town, and where the banker, policeman, and taxi driver were best friends in no small part because they lived down the street from each other.

Suburbs kill dynamism because they fragment people, families, and communities that could have existed as towns. Cross pollination, randomness, and locality aren’t possible in these physically stretched out places.

The Millennium Science Complex at Penn State University was put up a few years ago as a flagship research center. It was purposefully designed so that scientists, researchers, etc. from different areas and with varying focuses would “run into each other,” as a former trustee describes it to me a while ago. It was designed specifically so people and their ideas would intermingle and cross-pollinate, hopefully bearing research fruit as a result. This is what small towns once did that suburbs cannot—provide space and context for chance and relationships.

American cities are thriving. But our small towns that are evaporating, and suburbanization is a driving force.

All lovely things

All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that’s now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by.

Fine ladies soon are all forgotten,
And goldenrod is dust when dead,
The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten
And cobwebs tent the brightest head.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!–
But time goes on, and will, unheeding,
Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn,
And the wild days set true hearts bleeding.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!–
But goldenrod and daisies wither,
And over them blows autumn rain,
They pass, they pass, and know not whither.

Conrad Aiken

Doing literally nothing

Paul Graham’s How to Make Pittsburgh a Startup Hub is worth reading you love Pennsylvania as much as I do, or if you’re interested in the qualities of second-tier cities to replicate the successes of a New York or San Francisco. There’s also this interesting bit:

Harvard used to have exams for the fall semester after Christmas. At the beginning of January they had something called “Reading Period” when you were supposed to be studying for exams. And Microsoft and Facebook have something in common that few people realize: they were both started during Reading Period. It’s the perfect situation for producing the sort of side projects that turn into startups. The students are all on campus, but they don’t have to do anything because they’re supposed to be studying for exams.

Harvard may have closed this window, because a few years ago they moved exams before Christmas and shortened reading period from 11 days to 7. But if a university really wanted to help its students start startups, the empirical evidence, weighted by market cap, suggests the best thing they can do is literally nothing.

“If a university really wanted to help its students, the best thing they can do is literally nothing.”

This isn’t an idea limited to a university’s ability to help students start startups—it’s a very old insight into learning in general. John Henry Newman speaks to it in his Idea of a University:

“If I had to choose between a so-called university which … gave its degrees to any person who passed an examination in a wide range of subjects, and a university which had no professors and examinations at all, but merely brought a number of young [people] together for three or four years and then sent them away…”

“I have no hesitation in giving preference to that university which did nothing over that which exacted of its members an acquaintance with every science under the sun.”

In Is Penn State a Real University?, Ben Novak explains Newman’s thinking: “A real university … is not a knowledge factory, but first of all a school of character.”

It’s in encountering one another that we learn and shape ourselves, in business as in life.