Category Archives: history

I would like to tell you everything.

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are my favorites among the founding conspirators… They’ve always seemed the most “real” for me, the most human.

Jefferson in particular has always been something of a personal hero. A genius, surely, but flawed. Just listing his accomplishments would take much time, not to mention his flaws, mistakes, and personal disappointments.

People who know me can attest to the fact that I really would like to tell you everything. (perhaps “warn” would be more accurate)

But for a bunch of things, you could usefully start with Maira Kalman’s wonderfully illustrated and written piece ,“Time Wastes Too Fast” in the column she does for the New York Times, “And the Pursuit of Happiness”.


The da Vinci Delay

“How to Procrastinate Like Leonardo da Vinci”:

If there is one conclusion to be drawn from the life of Leonardo, it is that procrastination reveals the things at which we are most gifted — the things we truly want to do. Procrastination is a calling away from something that we do against our desires toward something that we do for pleasure, in that joyful state of self-forgetful inspiration that we call genius.

From the February 20 Chronicle of Higher Education

Somewhat related: Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent TED talk, “A different way to think about creative genius

Dorothy of Ruritania

While looking at a Scientific American report on “Technology’s Toll On Privacy And Security“, I saw an article by Dorothy Denning, noted apologist for the view that the government can only keep us safe if they have the keys to our underwear drawer.

Her contribution is short, and fairly gentle, as FUD goes:

The Web Ushers In New Weapons of War and Terrorism

Protesters, terrorists and warmongers have found the Internet to be a useful tool to achieve their goals. Who will bring law and order to cyberspace?

I wasn’t certain the picture was her at first, but that last line in the teaser had the familiar tone of panicked hand-wringing.

(There are strict laws about brewing and distilling, too… But if she’d said, “Home Brewers have found the Internet to be a useful tool to achieve their goals”, too many people would have caught on)

Professor Denning is smart. And I’m sure she means well.

If she was a History professor, however, she might better recall that our country wasn’t founded on the principle that law and order would make us safe. It was founded on the principle that, fed up with oppressive law, and some faraway parliament’s idea of order, We the People had to strike out on our own, if we were to have the freedom that is every person’s natural right.

Perry Metzger is also smart. And a good bit more amusing. While seeing what Professor Denning had been up to of late, I rediscovered this bit of whimsey, from back during the Crypto Wars. Light, short, and just enough clues for you to fill in the background, without having to relieve the whole angst-ridden period.

A Parable by Perry E. Metzger

There was once a far away land called Ruritania, and in Ruritania there was a strange phenomenon — all the trees that grew in Ruritainia were transparent. Now, in the days when people had lived in mud huts, this had not been a problem, but now high-tech wood technology had been developed, and in the new age of wood, everyone in Ruritania found that their homes were all 100% see through. Now, until this point, no one ever thought of allowing the police to spy on someone’s home, but the new technology made this tempting. This being a civilized country, however, warrants were required to use binoculars and watch someone in their home. The police, taking advantage of this, would get warrants to use binoculars and peer in to see what was going on. Occasionally, they would use binoculars without a warrant, but everyone pretended that this didn’t happen.

One day, a smart man invented paint…

Read the rest of Ruritania

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NSF and the Birth of the Internet

NSF has put up a pretty cool timeline/video of major developments in the evolution of the Internet over the last 40 years or so.

Sunday Funnies

First, xkcd, on Voting Machines & Anti-Virus. Then, the other, angrier Bob, and a confrontation with emptiness.

Orwell Blogs

Caught this on NPR the other day. A very cool idea:

Previously unpublished George Orwell diaries are being released online as a daily blog. The first entry, from Aug. 9, 1938, will appear online Saturday, exactly 70 years after Orwell wrote it. The diaries shed light on European history and Orwell’s life.

NPR has the show available online

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Welcome to The Homeland

“America, United States of”: The country that Michael Chertoff and an increasing number of talking heads calls, “The Homeland”.

I think that having government officials speak of their country in the third peson (The Fatherland, The Motherland, etc) is probably a warning sign of something.

As Ryan Singel writes in Wired’s Threat Level blog, There’s No Such Thing as the Homeland:

People who write and think of their country as the Homeland with a capital H tend to think that they can redefine torture, ignore international treaties, fund disinformation efforts to keep morale high, launch wars based on hunches and emphasize the power of the executive branch because they consider themselves the good guys who are the only ones who know what’s right for the country. They only want to protect the Homeland, don’t you see? The vocabulary is symptomatic of a rigid, nationalistic world view.

The history of language use as nationalist tool is well-understood. Should we assume that when the government develops this kind of talking-points guidance, they are unaware of the background? (See also Wikipedia’s Glossary of the Third Reich)


I believe that we need a solid intelligence service, and that the CIA is a necessary and largely honorable agency, filled with people who really believe in what they are doing, and who want the best for our country. And I’d like the land surrounding my home to be Secure. But it has to be free. And the new “State Security” organ seems unclear on any way to “secure” things without badly wounding the patient in the process.

We have a Constitution, which is more or less the source code for our particularly American implementation of “A Free and Just Society”. Chertoff and Friends seem very ready to “remove features”, in an foolish attempt to provide a more reliable “freedom product”.

I’m not a categorical critic of national security efforts and organizations- there are many hard-working government agents and employees who are doing essential work to keep our nation safe, who do so without losing sight of the basic freedoms that compose the concept they are working to protect. My sample set is not large, but I’ve met more dangerous and disturbing people in the Boy Scouts than among the Federal law enforcement and intelligence professionals I’ve met.

(To be fair, I have met a lot more Boy Scouts. Also, the Boy Scouts do not train their members to disguise their motives and to move unnoticed through society.)

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