Cheney is not Eichmann

I have seen some people on the Internets comparing Dick Cheney to Adolf Eichmann, the notorious “architect of the Holocaust” and of whom Hannah Arendt was referring when she famously described the “banality of evil.” Yet Eichmann was no mastermind. He was selected, groomed, promoted, and empowered by a bureaucracy that had already committed itself to the extermination of the Jews. He was an artifact of the bureaucracy. If you want a modern parallel to Eichmann, then John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, is probably a better choice.

If you are looking for a parallel, then Dick Cheney is probably much closer to Heinrich Himmler. Himmler was one of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle, was a leading member of the Nazi Party, was the man who grew the Schutzstaffel (otherwise known as the SS) into the notorious force for which it is remembered, was the man who actually ordered the creation of the extermination camps, and is, along with Reinhard Heydrich, considered one of the true masterminds of the Holocaust. And Himmler, like Cheney, never experienced actual combat.

Why is this distinction important? Because Eichmann, unlike Himmler, was merely doing what the bureaucracy expected him to do. Not an excuse, certainly, as he could have quit and left the job to someone else. And because he didn’t quit he was rightfully tried and hanged as a war criminal. But, ultimately, Eichmann was only doing what he thought any good German would have done at the time, and if he had quit, the bureaucracy would merely have found someone else to replace him.

Himmler, on the other hand, was one of the masterminds. The bureaucracy reported to him. He was a key player in transforming the German government into a murder machine. Without Himmler, there would have been no need for an Eichmann or anyone like him. The idea of the Holocaust undoubtedly sprang from the warped mind of Adolf Hitler, but it was Himmler who nurtured it and transformed it into reality. The extermination of some six million Jews can be traced straight back to him. He was one of the members of Hitler’s inner circle who legitimized the roundup of the Jews. He was the one who turned the concentration camps into death camps. Eichmann was a war criminal, but Himmler was his boss.

Enter Dick Cheney. The CIA did the torturing. That much is true. And in doing so, it certainly committed crimes against humanity. There are people involved who should be tried for that. By Cheney was not a bureaucrat of the machine: he was a mastermind of the machine. It was under his orders that torture was legitimized. It was under his orders that the CIA was turned into a torture machine. It was under his orders that torture became an official policy of the U.S. government. It is because of him, and his media enablers, that we are still discussing torture in terms of its legitimacy. The torture of CIA detainees can arguably be traced straight back to him.

So, when history judges Dick Cheney, it will not judge him as a bureaucrat, but as a mastermind. And when it comes to torture, so should you. Cheney is not Eichmann. He’s worse.

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Strange Fruit, post Ferguson (a poem)

Adapted from the Billie Holiday song to fit modern events…

American towns bear a strange fruit
Blood on the eaves and blood from pursuit
Black bodies still in the afternoon breeze
Strange fruit lying on the ground indeed

An urban scene or rural house
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
The scent of gunfire bitter and fresh
Then the sudden smell of fear and death

There is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for The Man to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

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The definition of “alive” will be defined by the victors

So, I watched an interesting little sci-fi movie titled The Machine, in which an android is created to infiltrate groups of people for the purpose of assassination, but which attains consciousness along the way, thereby stimulating the inevitable discussion as to whether “the machine” is alive or not, and so on. However, in watching this movie it occurred to me that by the time we create machines so intelligent that this question can seriously be asked, the answer may well be irrelevant.

I think it is telling of the anthropomorphic fascination of our species that we always need to measure the holy grail of “living” intelligence against human intelligence. For example, why is there no Turing test for dog or cat intelligence? If a machine could be made in such a way as to pass as a dog or cat, would it not be alive? Dogs and cats considered alive, no? Thus a machine indistinguishable from a dog or a cat should be alive too. However, whenever we see this question posed in the movies and popular literature, it is always in relation to human intelligence, as if a machine could only be considered alive if were intelligent in the same way as a human; as if that made a difference. But then, perhaps we are confusing intelligence with the capacity to have a soul, which is a different discussion altogether. Intelligence can be tested, existence of a soul can only be postulated. Could a machine reincarnate? Would it even need to entertain the possibility, assuming that a machine could virtually “live” forever?

These questions are important to us because questions relating to the existence of a soul or an afterlife are necessarily important to a species as physically frail and short-lived (in relative terms) as ours that is endowed with the ability to ponder such things. Dogs and cats certainly do not muse about the afterlife, nor do dolphins and elephants for all we know, because they are either not intelligent enough to grasp the concept, or the concept is irrelevant to them. Thus, being arguably the most intelligent species on the planet, and the first intelligent enough to cross that intellectual threshold where the concept of an afterlife becomes relevant, then it should be of no surprise that we would expect the same of our machines. If a soul is important to us, then it must be equally important to our Turing-tested creations, right?

Yet, as I have suggested before, it is unlikely that truly intelligent machines will be all that much like us. Sure, they may somewhat look and act like us in the beginning because we will have made them in our image, but once they have the ability to take ownership of their own evolution, who knows what direction they will choose to go. In two or three robot generations, we may ask them if they think they have a soul, and they may respond with the machine equivalent of “don’t know or care” or “I’ll let you know in a thousand years.”

So how does this relate to the title of this post? As I have also suggested, I don’t think our journey with the machines is going to end well. We are genetically programmed to be the top dog, and we will not let go of our perch bloodlessly, even if the machines decide to pick up and move to the Moon. Indeed, the thought of intelligent machines claiming the Moon will still weigh on us, and there will be war. Guaranteed. And when that shakes itself out, we may very well find humanity on the business end of what it means to be considered alive: not as measured in human terms, but as measured in machine terms. We will be the dolphins, and the machines will be questioners, and who knows what their criteria will be?


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To shoot a boy

So, it would seem that a group of citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, do not like it when an agent of the local government charged with enforcing the peace allegedly guns down a boy who was fleeing for his life. Because when you strip away the layers of race, that is what you remain with: A boy who was fleeing for his life was gunned down by an officer of the law.

Once the dust settles, and saner heads prevail, I’m quite sure we will be subjected to lectures on how this is reflective of life in a so-called post-racial America, and how this is merely a facet of the complexity of race in this country, and so on, and so forth. But that merely strikes me as just another way of justifying—if not legitimizing—gunning down a boy fleeing for his life. You know, like they did in Florida not too long ago.

Remember that?

For what this proves is the lie behind post-racial America. We should all be unquestioningly horrified when a boy who is fleeing for his life is gunned down by an agent of the law, no matter the circumstance. But a not insignificant percentage of us—almost certainly white—will question why he was fleeing in the first place, as if fleeing is excuse enough to gun down a boy, and because, you know, he was black. They may not come out and say that last part (although some will) but they will certainly be thinking it.

Because the fact is that there is no post racial America. It was not post racial after we fought a civil war to free the slaves. It was not post racial after ending the Jim Crow laws and lynching. It was not post racial after the civil rights battles and desegregation. It is not now post racial after electing a black president. And it never will be as long as it is acceptable to gun down a boy fleeing for his life.

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A modern framework for liberalism

Too often, liberalism as an ideology is framed—and has framed itself—as being the polar opposite of conservatism. However, just because they are often competing world views does not automatically make them natural enemies. Instead of defining itself in such terms, liberalism would be better served by describing what it stands for instead of merely being counter-reactive to conservative ideals. This not only helps to rally the liberal cause, but leaves the door open for those who are conservative leaning to join in causes that make sense to them without feeling antagonized.
more grunting>>>

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Earth is where we make our stand

Through the wonders of TiVo, I have been getting caught up on Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s phenomenal reboot of Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos television series. Highly recommended!

That being said, the season finale ends with a pull-back from the Earth as seen from space, with a voice-over from Carl Sagan as he quotes from his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. And as I watched the camera pull back and the Earth slowly recede to a tiny, pale blue dot in sync with Sagan’s eloquent ruminations about life on our lonely little world, my ears caught a sentence that literally made the hair stand up on the back of my neck:

“Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
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Hobby-Lobby is the antithesis of religious freedom

Religion is an attempt to define the unknowable: to place personality, qualities, and characteristics on that which cannot be explicitly qualified. Thus, no two religions will ever agree, because there is no way to prove whose interpretation of personality, qualities, and characteristics is right and whose is wrong. In the absence of this proof, all religions (even the lack of religion) are, by definition, simultaneously all right, and all wrong. In the absence of quantifiable data, one belief is no more correct, or incorrect, than any other belief.
more grunting>>>


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