The Masque of the Red Death

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death – 1842

The Die is cast!!!

Last Friday I found myself driving through Lexington to run an errand on my way to work. A stone-grey January day, the Presidential inauguration was just commencing. I passed by the Battle Green in the center of town as I returned. Less than four miles from home, I had never really stopped to wander around.  I pulled the car over and parked.

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

Lexington is normally a busy suburb on a weekday, but by 10am, the rush hour traffic had abated.  Maybe it was the impending rain.

On the edge of the Battle Green is a monument to the Militiamen who were killed in the initial volleys of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775.  The monument was erected in 1799 – long before the Battle Green was established as a national historical landmark.

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

The Die was cast!!!

The Blood of these Martyr’s, in the cause of God & their Country, was the cement of the Union of these States then colonies & gave the spring to the spirit, firmness, and resolution of their fellow citizens.

More than a monument, this is a modest tomb for the soldiers killed in battle.  Their resting place is inside the small fence surrounding the obelisk.  A few small coins mark tourist’s visits.

I walked across the park — the only other person sharing the space was a woman walking her dog.  She traversed the wintry park without stopping.

A bronze Minuteman statue stands guard at the edge of the park, looking for any threat that might approach from the southeast.

A statue of a Minuteman, Lexington Battle Green

A statue of a Minuteman, Lexington Battle Green

The Minutemen did not know what was to come after their brief skirmish.  Their leader, John Parker, died a few short months later.  Some of them must have survived to the end of the war, and even to see Washington’s inauguration 14 years later.

Wars are always mile markers in the history of a nation, and regular touchstones for citizens to measure their identities against.  The Revolutionary War is the strongest of these, with World War II close behind.  One of the most compelling – the Civil War – whose conflict echoes unto this very today – is rarely regarded, and the repercussions of 9/11 are still to be seen.  Yet we always look back at the Revolutionary War, an event a now quarter of a millennia in the past – as our guiding star.

What would those Minutemen have thought about the election of 2016, and the inauguration that was taking place at that very moment?  That they had founded a nation and established freedom.  A later generation would fight against fascism and the far right in an even more epic conflict, and a generation beyond that stood to embrace it once again, spurning the progress made in 242 years.  At its best, a manic kleptocracy who will loot the people’s democracy established by the citizens on the Battle Green.  At worst – a drastic pivot to fascism that will shift the balance of power in the world, and shred progress that the Greeks could only dream of.

John Parker's quote, Lexington Battle Green

John Parker’s quote, Lexington Battle Green

The inauguration went as planned.  At least in theory, it was a swearing in and not a coronation.  What next?  What next?  What’s that?  Robert Munroe, Jonas Parker, Samuel Masey, Caleb Harrington, John Brown, Ishael Porter, and John Parker were whispering:

The Die is cast!

Stand your ground!

 

The Revolutionary Monument and First Parish Church

The Revolutionary Monument and First Parish Church

Where is privacy going?

Harvard’s Institute for Advanced Computational Sciences held their 4th annual symposium on the future of computation and science in engineering. This year’s theme was Privacy in a Networked World. The major attraction was a discussion between Edward Snowden, ex-NSA employee and source of the recent leaked internal NSA top secret documents, and Bruce Schneier, security and cryptography expert and Harvard Berkman fellow.

Edward Snowden and <a href=

While very exciting, the discussion didn’t yield much new information. Snowden has yielded judgments about publication of the leaked information to the press, and wouldn’t be drawn out by Schneider regarding any new revelations. There was a small amount of drama, as the second speaker of the day was John DeLong, former Director of Compliance at the NSA, and Harvard alum. DeLong deserves credit for being the designated javelin catcher of the day — probably the only one at the NSA at this point willing to go on the circuit — and took on the role with reasonable good humor. That being said, despite his theme of the need to engender a discussion about privacy, his talk was virtually content-free and came off as rather disingenuous. In reality, there probably wasn’t much he could say between issues of classification and the review process that his remarks would have to have gone through.  You can see Schneier interview Snowden here.

The most interesting facts came from the most prosaic and unexpected source: a presentation by Lee Rainie, Director of Internet, Science and Technology Research at the Pew Research Center. This recently completed study shows trends that push against the conventional wisdom that young internet-savvy people are willing to sell their privacy to the next service that comes along, and maintain a position of diffidence to privacy overall.

In the 18-to-29 age bracket, the majority think that the government has gone too far in restricting civil liberties, that the press is correct in reporting on government data collection efforts, and disapprove of overall government phone and internet data collection efforts. This breaks sharply with the 30-and-above cohorts (making me an outlier by most any measure!).

Rainie buries the lede in one more interesting way.  On slide 30, the study shows what things users actively try to avoid on the internet.  Leading the list is the obvious two: hackers and advertisers at 33% and 28% respectively.  To drive this home – the study is saying that a significant number of people have taken steps to conceal their actions from these classes of actors.  But more surprising is the next five categories, comprising 80% of users:  “Certain friends”, “People from your past”, “People who might harass you”, “Family members or romantic partners”, and “Employers, supervisors, or coworkers”.  The survey allows for multiple membership in the categories, but it is unlikely that these statistics represent one hyper-paranoid individual.  And it also shows that the adage that you only need privacy if you have something to hide is, ironically, true:  we all have something to hide, and attempt to hide it.

What this tells me, at least, is that on one front the news about the function of privacy on the internet – on all levels – is winning the PR war in the real world over those who say it is a non-issue.  Ironically, the same day this talk was taking place, another group of Harvard researchers were reclaiming the “Death of Privacy” at Davos in Switzerland. The Pew figures show that while this might be technically true in the short term, it may not be so in the long run.

In honor of our first real storm, and the eve of Burns Night

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

“The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,”
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want-O do Thou grant
This one request of mine!-
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.

Winter: a Dirge
Robert Burns
1781