Art as Background

The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1839, oil on canvas. National Gallery

J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) was growing up, and remains to this day, one of my favourite artists. He painted, printed and drew prodigiously, leaving to posterity a collection of more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours and 30,000 works on paper.

Part of my fascination with Turner stems from my god-father, who wrote the book Angel in the Sun, about Turner’s vision of history. He sent me a copy in the late 1990s when I was in my first flush of university study, an impressionable age, and my interest in Turner’s work has blossomed ever since.

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Airbrushing Memory

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.

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Code is Speech?

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.

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Language Defect: Privacy

Advertisement for the automatic (dial) telephone service of the Illinois Telephone and Telegraph Company

In around 1140, a Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet, Judah Halevi (יהודה הלוי), wrote perhaps his most famous book. The Kuzari, or to give it its full title The Book of Proof and Evidence in Support of the Abased Religion, took the form of a dialogue between a rabbi and a pagan. The central theme of the work was the existence of a ‘God of history’ rather than an abstract ‘God of the philosophers.’ The work explicitly rejected the neoplatonism which suffused the milieu in which Judah Halevi lived and advocated for a God of the Jews and a God of Islam. Part of the answer to the problem for which Halevi was trying to solve was a defect in the language used to talk about God.

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So this is how privacy dies…

Excerpt from the Bill of Rights

Maciej Cegłowski coined a phrase which I think should resonate far beyond the circles in which it currently does. The phrase: ‘ambient privacy.’ He defined it as:

the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. What we do at home, work, church, school, or in our leisure time does not belong in a permanent record. Not every conversation needs to be a deposition.

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