Muse & Reason

From the keyboard of Robert Winter

In 1941, during his inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated:

The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early peoples. It blazed anew in the Middle Ages. It was written in Magna Charta.

Stirring oratory to be sure, but Manga Carta is perhaps better understood, to paraphrase Simon Schama, as the death certificate of despotism rather than the birth certificate of freedom. Yet even if stripped of its mythological status as the beating heart of democracy in the English speaking world, it remains important as it paved the way for the common law of England.

Read more...

In France during the first part of the seventeenth century, Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis – better known as Cardinal Richelieu – held enormous power as the king's 'Chief Minister.' In addition to his many titles, Richelieu also had the sobriquet 'Red Eminence' [Éminence rouge]. Though often regarded as the power behind the throne, behind him stood another. A 'Grey Eminence' [Éminence grise].

Read more...

I once read a statistic, that more content is produced each year than was created in the previous five thousand years. At first blush this seems like an improbable feat, but delving into some of the available statistics about the internet and it doesn't seem impossible. Take YouTube for example, I understand 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute. That is 9,460,800,000 hours of video every year. Content is indeed king, but for all the volume, does quality suffer?

Read more...

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants. – Isaac Newton's letter to Robert Hooke

Newton knew a thing or two about sight, in his book Opticks he was the first to use a diagram of a prism as a beam expander. But for all his original ideas, his letter to Hooke is important as it underscores the reality of creative endeavours and original research: that each new work builds on that which went before. A theme on which the FOSS community relies heavily. Take my operating system of choice, Pop OS. It stands on the shoulders of Ubuntu, Debian and GNU. This is a heritage of which I am proud to take part (view the source code of this page to see the design inspiration).

Read more...

It is Sunday and I feel the weight on my shoulders of the week just gone and the week that is to come. Perhaps this sensation is why many cling to the Biblical notion:

Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest. – Exodus 23:12

Whatever the trigger, it is in such moment of struggles that I feel most acutely how laborious it can be to commit to #100DaysToOffload. In pondering if I could take a leave pass, it got me to thinking about recent headlines in which I have seen politicians from different areas of the world face a pummelling in the press for taking some 'downtime.'

Read more...

In his seminal 1920 book Liberty and the News, Walter Lippmann warned:

[those] who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo . . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information.

In a sense this is both self-evident and the justification for journalists and whistle-blowers the world over. Though countless bottles of ink, or in the digital age countless bytes, are routinely spilled in support of this notion, it bears revisiting. Not from the standpoint of 'independent access to information' but from the standpoint of the 'quack, the charlatan, the jingo.' The reason is this: history tends to be written by the victors and sometimes the victors are charlatans who seek to re-write history so the facts fit their political objectives.

Read more...

Sound. It pervades my every waking moment. From the soft patter of the rain as I type, to the grating audio of hideously mixed music and vocals in the latest bit of social media garbage the talentless insist on inflicting upon us in a vain attempt to become 'influencers.'

Read more...

A young poet once said to Mallarmé, “I had the most marvellous idea for a poem this afternoon.” “Oh dear,” said Mallarmé, “what a pity.” “What do you mean?” said the young poet, stung. “Well,” said Mallarmé, “poems aren't made of ideas, are they? They're made of words.”

Though an apocryphal tale, it is nonetheless useful in understanding the challenges of blogging, particularly on as regular a basis as #100DaysToOffload.

Read more...

In a New York Times book review in 2016, Michiko Kakutani delivered an assessment of Volker Ullrich biography of Hitler which was perceived as drawing a comparison between Trump and der Führer. One does not need to know much about the rise of Hitler and the NSDAP to see that even though Kakutani never mentioned Trump by name, the comparison was so thinly veiled as to be positively naked. While the approach is but one of a long line of 'historical' comparisons which pervades political discourse, what is of particular interest is that while many historical comparisons are used to normalise a present event or set of choices, comparisons involving Trump leverage history to abnormalise him.

Read more...

In the early 1990's, Daniel Bernstein, a Berkeley mathematics PhD student, wanted to publish the source code for an encryption algorithm he had written along with an accompanying mathematics paper. In the age of Github, such an event would go largely noticed. Particularly if the author is a student, who usually struggle to get their professors to read their work, let alone anyone else. But in the 1990's, this was groundbreaking. This is because until what became known as Bernstein v. Department of Justice,' the US government designated encryption as a 'munition,' classifying it along with a range of deadly weapons and thus subject to export restrictions.

Read more...

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.