First We Take Manhattan

"I am guided by a signal in the heavens.
I am guided by this birthmark on my skin.
I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

--Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is always a delight, and First We Take Manhattan is one of my favorite songs. It's a song that rewards repeated listening, full of paranoia depths and megalomaniac fantasies. The song was used to great effect in Stross's Glasshouse as the hymn of a psuedo-Christan church.

So what's the point? Consider "We are guided by the beauty of our weapons." Conventionally, choices about technology are made on the basis of economic pragmatism. This system is more efficient than that one, this gives us more power, this one is easier to maintain. I propose that instead, we raise elegance as a criterion for evaluating technologies. Elegance is in the interaction between the artifact and the wider world, well-designed features, and old-fashioned "cool." Detractors to this schema would point out that elegance is subjective, however, all judgement is subjective. Economic calculus involves subjective decisions about what externalities to include. Americans should define technological elegance, through expert opinion, citizen panels, democratic deliberation, and the free market.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have an army to organize in Hoboken.


  1. That is an exception fractal.

  2. I think I prefer the Spanish flamenco/rock version of this song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOUL80lm0dw)

  3. I would suggest that war is not to be undertaken for aesthetic purposes, and by extension that the weapons should under no circumstances be beautiful, ( unless, perhaps, they are primarily made of math ).

  4. Biffmotron5.6.10



    I honestly wouldn't mind this being the last thing I ever see.