Friday, October 21, 2016

The United States of Anonymous

Anonymous insignia (Kephir at English Wikipedia)
Russia and the United States are the two great military powers, with China coming up in a shaky third place. But ironically one of the great powers in today’s world is not a country with a well-armed and manned military, but rather Julian Assange’s Wikileaks whose leverage within the theater of world politics derives from information. In the 21st Century it may not be those with the largest armies or most baleful weapons that possess the advantage but those who know who does. If you’re a superpower you might be more interested in launching a pre-emptive strike against Wikileaks than you would against your own rivals. The only problem is that there’s nothing to strike at. You may aim your weapon at the cloud or even try to spray it with the cyber equivalent of DDT, but information is like those deadly flesh eating bacteria that are capable of continually morphing into new and more antibiotic resistant forms. Let’s say you have a conventional weapon. What makes any form of aggression work is the element of surprise. However when you're up against a super hacker like Wikileaks or Anonymous, you’re offensive is going to be pre-empted, with your enemy being able to intercept the missile before it reaches its target. But it’s not only on a literal battlefield that wars take place. Insider knowledge of companies and of unreleased government policies (for instance when the Fed is going to raise its interest rate) gives those with information and a certain degree of guile a huge competitive advantage. Hacking can be used for purposes of terrorism, yet, in a way, hackers and those whose ammunition is information become formidable adversaries precisely because like they’re terrorist colleagues, they often don’t occupy any specific coordinates in time and space. You can run but you cannot hide does not apply to smugglers on the information highway. They can do both.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Oak Tree and the Thimble

photo: Pavel Krok
The following quotations were found outside the entrance to Manhattan Mini Storage on l07th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam: “Raising a baby in a New York City apartment is like growing an oak tree in a thimble,” “Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry my kickball trophy fell on the baby again,'” “material possessions won’t make you happy; maybe they will.” One wonders about the CVs of the writers of these aphorisms, as they look like the kind of thing you generally find in a fortune cookie. Do the Chinese bakeries which produce adages run training and extern programs to demonstrate how koan writing can be used in other venues and are the sayings adorning Manhattan Mini Storage a product of this? Naturally these phrases also bear some resemblance to haiku and they're not the kinds of things you usually associate with a facility where the mundane business of storing things is the matter at hand. Storage facilities are like maximum security prisons for personal items, Their stolid brick exteriors often look like them so the presence of a simile, in this case the invocation of the oak tree and the thimble (reminiscent of the serendipitous meeting of the sewing machine and umbrella on a dissecting table in Lautrement’s definition of surrealism)  humanizes an antiseptic atmosphere with the presence of poetry. We’ve seen poetry in in the subways, dirty limericks on the doors of bathroom stalls and now here they're decorating a penitentiary for soon to be forgotten items.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Is There a Cure for Narcissistic Alexithymia?

photograph: Juliana Lopes, Rio de Janeiro

In a column entitled “Trump’s Sad, Lonely Life,” (NYT, 10/11/16) David Brooks writes the following, “Trump continues to display the symptoms of narcissistic alexithymia, the inability to understand or describe the emotions in the self. Unable to know themselves, sufferers are unable to understand, relate or attach to others.” Unfortunately this particular illness appears to be contagious since it’s spawned so many conversations that are characterized by the kind of bulldozing that’s the result of people trying to force their will on those with whom they're speaking. Those who are opposed to Trump won’t listen to those who are for him and when you’re watching CNN Trump surrogates and their critics constantly interrupt each other in exasperation. But what about support groups for narcissistic alexithymia sufferers. If there were a 12 step program, the first step would be “We admitted that we were powerless over narcissistic alexithymia and that our lives had become unmanageable.” But who else would qualify for Brooks’ analysis? Is Kim Jong-un a victim of narcissistic alexithymia? Are admirers of Trump like Putin, who display narcissistic tendencies, possibly suffering from this ailment? What is the prognosis and what are the possible treatments? It’s doubtful you are going to find narcissistic alexithymia on the WebMD or Mayo Clinic sites, but is there any hope for both the victims and the victims of the victims of this malady? One final question, is the inability to apologize a recurrent symptom of those suffering from narcissistic alexithymia ("Donald Trump's Apology That Wasn't," NYT, 10/8/16)?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation

It’s somewhat disconcerting that Nate Parker chose to name his film after D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), since the work of the great silent film director was itself filled with racist stereotypes. Despite its innovations and technical virtuosity, the Griffith masterpiece treats history in a far different light then Parker did Nat Turner’s rebellion. But as has been reported The Birth of Nation is rife with its own controversies. The film's release has been overshadowed by the director’s unremorseful attitude about his potential involvement in the rape of a Penn State student back in l999. He was acquitted of the charges, but the victim subsequently committed suicide. There had been an out of court settlement between the victim of the assault and the university for $17, 500. Ironically the amount Parker received for distribution rights from Fox Searchlight for the movie was $17,500,000, a record for a film exhibited at Sundance. There are further complications in that the film’s depiction of the rape of Nat Turner’s wife has been attacked as being historically inaccurate. When the Variety story broke in which Nate Parker’s past was revealed, his fortunes seemed to turn overnight. From being at the lionized, he became a pariah. He was abandoned by celebrities like Spike Lee, who had previously trumpeted his cause. The film has done poorly at the box office. Still there are lots of directors who have had to deal with controversy and scandal, most prominently Roman Polanski and Woody Allen. So is it possible to give the film and its director a fair shake while at the same time sympathizing with all the victims, on screen and off? Is the director like the character he portrays the victim of a lynching (albeit of another's kind) and one that's the product of the current climate, in which the attempt to protect victims of rape, inadvertently ends up producing its own set of injustices? All of the controversy surrounding The Birth of a Nation irremediably affects one's view, even as you sit anonymously in a darkened auditorium. However, all this said, and trying to take the film on its own merits, it’s hard to see what all the fanfare was initially about. Parker is a one man show. He wrote directed and started in the film and there were probably those who regard or regarded him as a new infant terrible, our generation's answer to Orson Welles. But the film  is an almost straightforward piece of historical hagiography with paper thin melodramatic characters. If you expected something esthetically ambitious with brilliant narrative disquisition and a complex cinematic style to match, you may find  yourself disappointed. The Birth of a Nation has been subsumed and finally drowned by in its own controversy, but some of  the lack of buoyancy may also reside in its own stilted and somewhat narrow design.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Subterranean Homeshtick Blues

Bob Dylan just got the Nobel Prize. It's a statement which might have elicited howls of laughter if you had said it a mere fifty years ago, when he was a beatnik prancing around and playing gigs at the Café Wha? However try to remember back to what you first thought when you heard his voice. Doesn’t it sound a little like a whine? If you’re Jewish does it remind you of your mother or some of her friends with their blond permanents, their manicured nails—who met to play canasta. Remember Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman. “Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed, but don’t mess up the sheets or you’ll be dead,” could be the lyrics to a song one of these yentas might be singing. Or how about “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man are you available to play at my son's bar mitzvah? Or how about this version of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” "Milton’s in the rec room looking at the television, I’m at my accountant’s making up a statement." Dylan’s voice has always had the sound of someone who's not happy with the world. But what is the difference between that and complaining? It’s plain that the distinctive sound of Dylan’s voice is that of an aging Jewish woman (a once time princess) who feels ever so slightly entitled and is perpetually on the verge of losing her grip because of the butcher, the baker of the candlestick maker. OK Dylan writes "Come you masters of war," but its not hard to imagine the future Nobel prize winner overhearing a relative expressing outrage about their upholstery to the tune of "Like a Rolling Stone," or how about this version of "Positively Fourth Street," "You've got a lotta nerve to say your are my friend the way you treated me at the UJA fundraiser." “How does it feel/how does it feel you can’t imagine how it feels, oy!"