Monday, August 31, 2009

The Confickers

Conficker sounds like the new neighbors with the funny name who’ve moved into the co-op and who generate unsubstantiated rumors that turn out not to be true. Conficker is not a neighbor you would ever want to have. In fact, it’s the neighbor from hell stealing your files, using your credit card, and leaving a path of destruction and carnage in its path.

Remember tattling on a bully and then paying for it? That’s what recently happened when the military industrial complex went to war with Conficker (New York Times, Aug. 27). They were like a boxer who leaves a fatal opening. Conficker got the KO.

Who or what is Conficker? Is he a latter day Kropotkin? Is he Raskolnikov or Meursault, murdering gratuitously to exemplify the meaninglessness and futility of human reason? Is it an attack on the anthropocentrism inherent in the notion of technological progress, a demonstration of how the objects of man’s creation can and will someday control him? Are Conficker’s tactics didactic? Is it a technological Luddite leading an attack of cybernetic implosion? Is Conficker a Robin Hood, or a two-bit hood? Instead of robbing a bank with a mask and a gun, Conficker destroys the locks and alarms and puts the central nervous system to sleep. Then he just walks in and loots the safe.

Every age has its battle between the forces of darkness and light. Religious wars and inquisitions morph into the battle between freedom fighters and totalitarian epigones. However, the latest battle between good and evil is an enormous computer game being waged in virtual realities that turn out to be real. Grown-up kids are now doing battle over the ultimate form of globalization—the world of the computer generated economy.

But who will star in the movie? Who will play the Riddler? Or perhaps Conficker is not a man, but a self-reflexive consciousness born of orphaned bites of mutant information, viruses begetting other viruses and forming indestructible new agents immune to all antidotes. Maybe there’s no starring role for any man or woman. Perhaps the whole battle takes place online in a specially created social network. But there still has to be a voiceover. Jack Nicholson should reprise his role from The Shining.

Who better to narrate the waking nightmare?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Save the Vegetables!

The brutal conditions under which pizzas are raised were brought to light on a recent trip to a local Italian restaurant. Tomatoes summarily sliced and diced after being grown in overcrowded conditions and inhumanely crated for shipping leave nightmare images that are hard to eradicate. The production of cheeses, which are intentionally left in dank confinement to fester and mold, only adds to the narrative of misery that culminates when dough, tomatoes and cheese are sent to the ovens to bake until hot enough to scald the human tongue.
In the Middle Ages, suspected witches were boiled in oil. The treatment of prospective pizzas is scarcely less barbaric, and represents a genocidal attitude towards a wide cross-section of produce.
The one perplexing problem is, if everything that is served in restaurants is a product of inhumane practices, what will be left to eat?
A recent screening of the new documentary Food Inc. made it almost impossible to take seriously the notion of ingesting anything at all, and occasioned outbursts of derisive laughter when one member of the audience, while exiting the theater, asked if any of his friends wanted to go for a burger. The suggestion may have been misguided and insensitive, but the errant colloquialism hardly justified the brutal ostracism that it provoked.
Despite widespread awareness of the horrors of anorexia, starvation has become politically correct for those who can’t stand what is being done to plants and animals alike.
The production of chicken and pork in modern industrial society makes the worst concentration camp look like Club Med, and one wonders if Slobodan Milošević and other thuggish ethnic cleansers learned their trade from exchange programs with major American meat processing plants.
Why not find a good cause and go on a hunger strike, rather than endure the wasteful process of ingestion, which leaves both the stomach and the soul frayed? Myanmar runs a good chance of becoming the destination of choice for those who refuse to be reduced to the cannibalistic act of mastication.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Extraordinary Rendition

An extraordinary rendition might refer to an actor’s performance of The Wild Duck or a musician’s unraveling of an experimental work by Stockhausen. A rendition often refers to what happens at a recital. The famed harpsichordist Wanda Landowska did famed renditions of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. Leonard Cohen’s rendition of Suzanne is extraordinary and sui generis, since he also happened to write the piece. In most cases, extraordinary renditions refer to the highest aspirations of the human spirit as it strives towards perfection and beauty. Thus it is disconcerting to find that there are extraordinary renditions that refer to the process by which suspected terrorists are handed over to the security services of countries like Egypt, whose Conventions tend not to pass through Geneva.

“Bring me those water boarding files on Abu Zubaydah, Doris. All 183 of them!”
One imagines that records must be kept in order to facilitate comparative studies of the drowning effect. Without records there is no base line, and with no base line there is no ability to predict whether it is better to draw and quarter, use the stocks (popular in puritan times), or resort to simpler methods of information gathering like induced hypothermia, fingernail pulling, or the old favorite of electrical shocks to the genitals, a technique as American as apple pie.   
What a difference a memo can make. John Yoo’s legal work in making the Geneva Conventions obsolete probably won’t make him popular in Switzerland, but it will undoubtedly earn him the coveted position of Grand Marshal of the Tatar Day parade in Tashkent. 
Termination with extreme prejudice is one of those catchy euphemisms that refer to CIA policy, but it isn’t a double entendre, and thus its fate is sealed. It can only mean one thing, although it leaves the gruesome particulars open to the imagination. If only termination with extreme prejudice could simply refer to Romeo drinking his fatal love potion or the final Liebestod at the end of Wagner’s Tristan. But there’s nothing more extraordinary about this rendition than death of a purely non-theatrical variety. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Foot in Mouth Disease

Animal activist groups are gearing up for a fight over President Obama’s health care plan. While elderly Americans worry about a decline in Medicare payments, and those with costly disabilities are concerned about the consequence of leveling costs (precluding coverage of expensive treatments for exotic disorders like Munschausen Syndrome by Proxy), animal activists are asking important questions about why government plans should not pay for fMRI’s for cats, and if rodents who are routinely exterminated will be given a fair deal in any plan extended to other mammals.

In other notes, the Obama health plan has also posed some serious philosophical concerns regarding in particular the issues of immortality and oblivion. Will government support cryogenic freezing that allows people to be suspended until a cure is found for their diseases? And will the health plan also cover the transmigration of souls. Let’s say you are born in New York, but you die, fall into oblivion, and then get reincarnated in New Rochelle. Does your coverage follow you?

These and similar questions were the subject of an animated town hall sponsored by the Eulenspiegel Society, a group traditionally known as a champion of consensual sadomasochism, and Right to Kill, a group that propounds the benefits of homicide for those who don’t have the courage to kill themselves. Representative Barney Frank appeared before the gathering to present the administration positions and to answer questions, but he excused himself soon after the Q & A began, explaining that, while he was happy to have been able to present some keys issues, he had plainly gone to the wrong address.