Monthly Archives: January 2009

Abraham Lincoln-A Tribute

Something for the weekend.  As we approach the 200th birthday of the Great Emancipator on February 12, 2009, I intend to be submitting various posts regarding Lincoln.  The above tribute is to the tune of Ashokan Farewell, a modern composition now forever linked with the Civil War due to its use in Ken Burn’s Civil War.  I think Lincoln would have found the music moving.  He also would have found the use of his image howlingly funny.  Lincoln considered himself ugly, as did most of his contemporaries, and I can imagine him saying that although the tribute was well intended that it should focus instead on those he regarded as the true heroes of the war:  the common Union soldiers and sailors.

No War Crimes Trials

In the comments on a post on another blog, I was challenged with the following question, which while fringy in origin strikes me as being the sort of thing which requires a post-length answer if it’s going to be answered at all. (I’ve put together the content of a couple comments in the following summation.)

Given the statement by president-elect Obama’s incoming Attorney General that waterboarding is torture, shouldn’t one want to see “everyone in the Bush administration who authorized torture” sent to the Hague to stand trail for war crimes?

My short answer is, “No.” And I think there are a number of interesting reasons for saying this.

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The Promises of Artificial Intelligence

Most of us are familiar with some concept of artificial intelligence, be it Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, C-3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Skynet from The Terminator, or Joshua from War Games, to name a few popular examples. We’ve long been introduced to the notion of the struggle to determine if artificial intelligence constitutes life whether these beings, which we have created, deserve rights. We’ve also come across the notion of whether we need to restrict these beings so that they cannot turn and extinguish human life (think Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and movies like The Terminator and The Matrix, where the artificial intelligence has turned on humankind). Yet we very rarely hear the debate as to whether such artificial intelligence can ever be a reality. In fact, and partially due to the promises made in the 50′s and 60′s, many people think that super-intelligent machines are destined to occur any day now.

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The US of Empire

This is a thesis that could use far more development than I can give it at the moment, but I hope I can lay it out clearly enough that to generate some interesting discussion and perhaps revisit it later.

It’s frequently complained that the US is in danger of becoming a global empire. Traditionally one elaborates on this by quoting Washington’s farewell address if one is of the right, and by citing the evils of colonialism if one is of the left.

I’d like to suggest that the imperial horse has pretty much left the stable a long time ago. The US has been a global empire since World War II, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the sole global power. Although, like the later Roman Republic, the US has not actually taken direct political control over countries beyond its traditional borders (nor does it collect tribute from abroad) it has a sphere of influence covering much of the known world and is repeatedly involved in exerting pressure or deploying force to ensure regional conflicts do not spin out of control.

This in itself is perhaps not a terribly unusual thesis.

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A Letter to the Apocalypse

Via Ross Douthat, I ran into this Slate article about the Letter of Last Resort:

At this very moment, miles beneath the surface of the ocean, there is a British nuclear submarine carrying powerful ICBMs (nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles). In the control room of the sub, the Daily Mail reports, “there is a safe attached to a control room floor. Inside that, there is an inner safe. And inside that sits a letter. It is addressed to the submarine commander and it is from the Prime Minister. In that letter, Gordon Brown conveys the most awesome decision of his political career … and none of us is ever likely to know what he decided.”

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