Opinion

The Great Debate

from Jack Shafer:

The truth is, you’ve never had the ‘right to be forgotten’

An illustration picture shows a Google logo with two one Euro coins

A recent ruling by Europe's top court has given its people a "right to be forgotten." Google and other search engines must now delete "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant, or excessive" information from search queries when a European individual requests it, even when the info is true. This isn't a classic case of censorship: the "offending" pages produced by newspapers and other websites will go untouched. Google and the other search engines just won't be allowed to link to them.

The court has largely left to the search engines how best to handle requests to decouple the names of petitioners from search results served, which has already produced major confusion, as well as a comically passive-aggressive response from Google, which has received more than 70,000 requests in the opening round, with 1,000 said to be arriving daily. (See this Washington Post editorial for a few examples of people who have succeeded in persuading Google to "delist" certain search results.)

How did a right to be forgotten become enshrined, even in a place as retrograde as Europe? If you've lived in a village or even a small town, you probably learned the hard way that privacy has never existed in the original state of nature. Everybody in a small town knows that you drink, how much you drink, and what brand, thanks to that rumor-mongering liquor-store clerk. They know where you sleep at night, who you sleep with, and whether your nights are restful or rambunctious because the local pharmacy tech gossips about your Ambien and Viagra prescriptions. The librarian knows what books you've checked out of the local library, the local merchants recall having rejected your overextended credit card, and they all swap this information like chattering birds on a wire.

That big, fat, distributed dossier can't be suppressed. Traditionally, the best way to escape small-town nosiness was to light out for the nearest city, where personal information couldn't be collected so cheaply and couldn't be shared as efficiently. It also helped, of course, that the city's million other inhabitants care not at all about you, and your neighbors barely know you exist. When you did get caught doing something embarrassing, the newspapers and court records might trap it in ink. Those who possess good memories might remember your indiscretion and blab about it. But retrieving all that information and maintaining it was too damned expensive. The only American institution that justified the cost of keeping close tabs on the personal lives of the human hordes was the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose agents and hired clipping services followed thousands.

But the bliss of being an unknown cog in a big city turned out to be temporary glitch, remedied by technology. In the early 1970s, LexisNexis arrived to digitize news and court cases, driving down the cost of information retrieval and encouraging newspapers and other information sources to add their troves to the pile, which it resold at high prices. Not long after, credit bureaus commenced swallowing financial data about the public by the terabyte and regurgitating it for clients. The commercial Web, which arrived in the mid-1990s, drove the cost-curve of information retrieval down and also democratized it to the point that you can download human backstories by the millions -- many of them revealing -- after keystroking a few search terms into Google.

from Breakingviews:

As KFC doubles down in China, will profits roost elsewhere?

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A year after the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989, Tiananmen Square was a preternaturally quiet place. Unlike the heart of Beijing today, bicycles and pigeons outnumbered cars and people. The only exception to the calm was a bustling corner near the square: the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.

With a pocketful of the special currency then reserved for foreigners, I was able to cut ahead of the masses and order a chicken dinner in the summer of 1990. Having spent weeks in the country struggling to order food, and often severely regretting the outcome, I found the gleaming 12,000 square-foot KFC offered a certain security. It may not have been fine dining, but its taste was predictable, the price economical and its digestion relatively assured.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Nothing pacific about it: Japan pushes back on China

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces' airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka

China is on the march. Or, to be precise, China has made a strong push, militarily and otherwise, into seas nearby, setting off alarms among its neighbors. Now Japan has pushed back, announcing it will “reinterpret” its pacifist constitution so it can be more militarily aggressive in responding to China’s persistent territorial expansionism.

Japan’s actions, however, have also raised alarms. A century ago, Japan set out on a destructive path of conquest, and many still remember firsthand the brutality with which Japanese troops occupied the region -- from Korea and the Philippines, through Manchuria and China, Vietnam and Thailand, all the way to Singapore. Though China is now threatening peace, the memory of Japan’s savage adventurism adds to the general unease.

If Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is to persuade countries nearby that his intentions are honorable, there are actions he can take to show that Tokyo has learned the lessons of the past and truly reformed. If he does not, his latest political maneuver is likely to set his neighbors’ nerves on edge, adding to the prospect of warfare between two or more of the nations on the East and South China Seas.

Why America can’t disown the children at our border

Two young girls watch a World Cup soccer match on a television from their holding area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales

It only seems like the latest immigration crisis hit by surprise, turning up suddenly on the U.S. border from someplace deep in the jungles of somewhere else.

In fact, the children’s exodus from Central America has been in the making for decades. It is coming from a region where the United States has been a major political and military player for more than half a century, and it has roots in U.S. streets and prisons. If these kids weren’t the ones suffering the worst of it, you might call them payback.

During the 1980s, when much of Central America was racked by civil wars, thousands of Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan families fled north and settled in U.S. slums, where their kids formed gangs in part to protect themselves from existing gangs who rejected and threatened them. Police traced the worst of the carnage in the Los Angeles riots of 1992 to street gangs, including an obscure group of Salvadoran immigrants that called itself Mara Salvatrucha.

Harry’s still Potter-ing around, but Hermione is my true hero

 CHILDREN READ THE NEW HARRY POTTER BOOK AFTER ITS RELEASE IN SYDNEY.

Last week, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling broke the Internet. Or rather, she broke the website Pottermore, a hub for her fans, when she posted a short new story about the boy who reshaped young adult literature and defined popular culture for a decade.

The story is set 20 years after the major events of the books and one year after the much-maligned epilogue to the final book. It updates readers on what the series’ major characters have been doing with their lives, and gives them a glimpse of how the wizarding world has and hasn’t changed since readers were last submerged in it. The excitement and interest were too great for the site’s servers to bear, and they crashed. Never underestimate the power of Harry Potter fandom.

For me, the most interesting piece of new information was about Rowling’s brainy heroine, Hermione Granger. What has Hermione Granger been doing with her life? She’s been running the world.

To keep kids from our borders, fix things farther south

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville

Despite their differences on almost everything else, President Barack Obama and Texas Governor Rick Perry agree that the unlawful migration of more than 50,000 Central American children to the United States is a humanitarian crisis. Some members of Congress and U.S. military leaders label it a security crisis. Whatever it’s called, it is an emergency that requires immediate attention.

But the United States and the Central American countries that the children are fleeing have to address the violence and chaos they seek to escape if this wave isn’t to be followed by another one all too soon. That message is contained in the Obama administration’s urgent request to Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with this emergency, though it doesn’t say what the underlying causes are or include more than a sliver of resources to address them.

It is not hard to identify the roots of the current crisis. Most of the underage migrants come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where living conditions are close to intolerable for much of the population. In addition to being among the most economically backward nations, the three are plagued by some of the world’s highest rates of homicide and other violence. Regular employment at living wages is scarce. Government services are woefully inadequate and scarred by pervasive corruption.

Pentagon’s big budget F-35 fighter ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’

A F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is seen at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River

Americans should be worried.

The U.S. military has grounded all its new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters following an incident on June 23, when one of the high-tech warplanes caught fire on the runway of a Florida air base. The no-fly order — which affects at least 50 F-35s at training and test bases in Florida, Arizona, California and Maryland — began on the evening of July 3 and continued through July 11.

All those F-35s sitting idle could be a preview of a future in which potentially thousands of the Pentagon’s warplanes can’t reliably fly.

Handout photo of three F-35 Joint Strike Fighters flying over Edwards Air Force BaseTo be fair, the Pentagon routinely grounds warplanes on a temporary basis following accidents and malfunctions to buy investigators time to identify problems and to give engineers time to fix them.

from Breakingviews:

German soccer glory was predictable – with luck

By Robert Cole

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Brazil’s World Cup was first-rate entertainment thanks to its many surprising results. For its part Breakingviews, also somewhat surprisingly, predicted that Germany would win the competition as long ago as last Christmas.

Many media pundits, and some respected financial institutions such as investment bank Goldman Sachs or global accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, also braved the World Cup prediction challenge. They deployed a dizzying variety of sporting and non-sporting criteria. The consensus was that Brazil, the host nation, would triumph.

A missed opportunity to ease tensions with China

Chinese Premier Li speaks to U.S. Treasury Secretary Lew next to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry during a meeting at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing

Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew traveled to Beijing this week for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, at a time when U.S.-China tensions are running higher than at any point in the past decade. Though each country’s bureaucrats were able to put on a good face and paper over significant disagreements, they were unable to make progress on any major security or economic issue.

Unfortunately, the U.S. administration passed up a chance to advance and elevate the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty, an agreement that sets the rules of the road for cross-border investment. Doing so could have yielded major economic benefits and had positive spillover effects on the strategic issues vexing both countries. But now, with little for the two sides to hang their hats on, the relationship is ripe for more tension.

A year ago, when President Barack Obama met with new Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Sunnylands Ranch in California, the two laid out an ambitious agenda, agreeing to discuss contentious cyber issues, the need to increase pressure on North Korea, and more broadly chart a positive course for the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet, is taking his ball and going home

RTR3TIJS.jpg On Friday, LeBron James announced his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, spurning the Miami Heat and sending shockwaves through the NBA. For Cleveland, a sports town routinely snakebitten, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this moment. When James, famously took “his talents to South Beach” in 2010, jilted fans burned jerseys in the streets like letters from an ex-girlfriend. Traitor, they called him, and much worse. The team’s owner penned a childishly angry, all-caps Comic Sans letter condemning the Akron, Ohio, native.

None of that vitriol went away as James won two titles with Miami and became the undisputed best player in the game.

But now he’s back, and with James and rookie Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, Cleveland has arguably sports’ two most-talked-about athletes. The spotlight shines bright on Northeast Ohio, where, as James said in his announcement through Sports Illustrated, “nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”

The politician in James understands the need to coax the community back to embracing him, but from the looks of the spontaneous public celebrations throughout Cleveland, he needn’t have bothered.

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