Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What Is a Zombie, and Why Does It Want to Eat Us?

The New York Times ran an article in its December 5, 2010, edition -- --

arguing that Zombies are in vogue because they remind people of their own repetitive, mindless everyday lives:

What if contemporary people are less interested in seeing depictions of their unconscious fears and more attracted to allegories of how their day-to-day existence feels? That would explain why so many people watched that first episode of “The Walking Dead”: They knew they would be able to relate to it.

A lot of modern life is exactly like slaughtering zombies.

The author goes on to suggest that such modern tasks as deleting unwanted email resemble Zombie-killing in that they're simple, easy, mechanical - and yet endless: "The zombies you kill today will merely be replaced by the zombies of tomorrow."

I have a different interpretation. I think horror is all about our fears, whether unconscious, preconscious, semi-conscious or conscious - that's why it's horrific.

What do Zombies do? They eat you. You can't feed them anything else, like apples or dog food, or get them to feast on one another. No, NO, they want to eat YOU out of house and home and all your substance. They want to turn your vibrant, thriving individual person into a heap of decaying remains.

The most ghastly thing in the world to just about every human being is a corpse. We fear Death and we are terrified of the Dead.

The second most ghastly thing is the prospect of being eaten - not just eaten, but eaten ALIVE.

The Zombie Apocalypse brilliantly combines these two horrors, but adds a third element: a MASS of Zombies, slow-moving and defenseless but so numerous and ravenous as to be unstoppable.

Why is this vision so compelling? Because in the back of our minds, we know that there really is such a threat. We are constantly warned about it and commanded to feel responsible for it, and even told we deserve to be destroyed by it. At the same time we aren't supposed to talk about it.

What is this threat? The near-starvation of millions in the "underdeveloped" world. No longer are teeming poverty-stricken masses sitting put and quietly dying as they wait for rescue. In the age of mass communication and mass transportation, they are on the move.

They have already begun coming. As the horror movie line goes, "They're HEE-ere ..." We see images of them all the time - thin bony people wearing ragged clothes, scrambling through tunnels and across fences, lurking in the darkness waiting for a break, taking huge risks to reach the (over?)developed world and -

grab a bite to eat.

The best-quality Zombie treatments at least hint at the uneasy relationship between the Living and the Undead, the Pure and the Infected. George Romero kicked off the franchise in 1968 with plenty of tragedy and irony. Shaun of the Dead managed to tame his Zombified "mate" Ed and turn him into a tolerable telly-watching companion. I didn't go to see "Zombieland" because the trailer showed Zombies being simply soullessly mowed down. But American Movie Classics' new series "The Walking Dead" is showing signs of sensitivity to the fact that there but for fortune and a drop of blood or saliva may go any of us: its Zombies need more to be put out of their misery than brutally terminated.

The tension between the person the Zombie was and the Thing to which it has been reduced makes for great if horrifying storytelling. As with the tension between human and machine ("I, Robot," "The Terminator," "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence," "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"), we yearn to respond to any humanity we detect, even in cyborgs or the Undead. It is a bitter lesson when we learn we can't afford to do that.

Who will win World War Z? Is there a remedy for Zombie invasion other than a bullet to the brain? I wonder what popular culture is telling us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's Not Just the Full Moon Any More

L.S. came up with this title as we were yukking it up about our "adventures" teaching in the public schools, so I thought I'd steal it since she, like everyone else on the planet, does not read my blog.

What the title refers to is this:

Just as ZOMBIES are the psychic manifestation or personalization of our fear that starving hordes in hand-me-down clothes are coming to devour us,

so the various contemporary story lines about werewolves, feral children and people being "bitten" by something and infected by some rabies-like RAGE virus and going mad ("28 Days Later," "28 Weeks Later," "I Am Legend," "30 Days of Night," etc.) intensely resemble - at least to L.S. and me and probably a lot of other "educators" - the kids we confront on a daily basis at all levels of the U.S. educational penitentiary.

Like those bitten and infected unfortunates, there are just so many kids out there who seem to be on some perpetual mindless treadmill of disruption, defiance, destruction and chaos. They are violently allergic to peace, quiet, order, learning, reason ... they break it up the second any of these blessed states takes hold in the classroom. One pities the poor tormented little creatures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cloudy with a chance of bubbles

What is "the cloud"? It sounds too good to be true: a Happy Place where data are stored without ever perishing or degrading or running out of space.

But what have we been told about things that sound too good to be true? Oh yeah, they turn into bubbles, and bubbles burst, and burst bubbles create chaos and pain and poverty.

Looking for a precise definition of cloud computing, a definition that would avoid the telltale ecstatic dreaminess of proto-bubblistic thought, I found this (see link at ).

Seven experts were asked to define the cloud, and their answers were, and I quote:

1. A way of delivering value and monetization efficiency.

2. The notion of data and applications and hardware sources being accessed remotely.

3. 20 years ago your typical knowledge worker got 80 percent of the info needed to do their job from inside the company. Today, it’s completely flipped. Cloud computing is the technical response to this reality.

4. Providing value with computational devices.

5. I agree with Larry Ellison, I think cloud computing is a lot of hype.

6. Cloud computing is getting all the advantages of computing [without one]. ... Cloud computing is all about making it easier for people who create applications to provide them without the headaches of hardware.

7. Cloud is the worst buzzword I’ve ever heard. Vapor, something you can’t touch. I think it’s a lot of hype, but then again, here I am offering that service.

8. Extracting applications from hardware and networks.

9. Almost inevitable – self-serving technology on demand.

10. The solution to what you have in your basement.

11. As more and more people need it, it makes sense to provide it as a utility.

12. Virtualization is the promise to compute, but it is not actually computing.

13. To some degree, we’re talking about capacity … at some point, hardware becomes obsolete.

The moderator of this forum makes it confusingly clear from the outset that "although cloud computing is hard to define, it’s the reality of how it affects us on a daily basis — rather than its definition — that is important." Maybe that's why he didn't extract a coherent definition from any of these guys. Just dramatically invoking "reality" trumps concrete use of language in this universe.

One of the participants later adds, helpfully if a bit alarmingly:
We’re not so concerned with the hype or what you call it – for us, what it amounts to is real. The best example for us are the cybercriminals – they’re the ones who are the most effective users of the cloud today, with botnets and tens of thousands of zombie computers. That kind of power. That’s what we’re dealing with.

Another participant demands, "What are we putting in place to make sure we have a stable system? There’s only so much electricity, silicon, storage. It’s systemic in our society, but not everyone understands." Is cloud computing supposed to be that "stable system"?

So ... the cloud is everywhere because it can be nowhere, and nowhere because it can be everywhere. It is computing without a computer. It is a "promise" to compute, not computation itself, as our money is now a "promise" to pay, not payment itself. The cloud is information from "outside." Right now it is the playground of cybercriminals (but that will change?). It provides stability without utilizing "electricity, silicon [or] storage." It is even more "virtual" than computing, which I'd thought was virtuality itself. It is the magical solution to the physical limits of power generation, bandwidth, processors and silicon chips.

Despite their lack of physical existence, "there will be private clouds," assures one expert. Down-to-earth computers already lack any privacy whatever; supposedly firewalls made of cloud will prove more unbreachable than those of mere circuitry?

No matter how "remote" the location, the cloud must still exist somewhere. Mustn't it? Unless it's a mathematical point, which has no mass, or an electron, which has no fixed location. All of earth's knowledge contained in a massless point, a placeless particle, virtual virtuality ... Businesses as well as individuals might well feel insecure about relinquishing their data to be "stored" and accessed from such a no-man's land.

The cloud is external and universal. It is the concept that all data will be "outsourced" to some vague mega-processor in the sky (cloud cuckoo-land, I believe the British call it). The Information of all the world will be up for app. But the cloud is, first and foremost, a business opportunity. The next big thing! We know the warning signs by now: the glazed dazed look, the beatific smile, the catch in the throat when speaking of the Beloved, the absolute certainty, the blissful imperviousness to logic, the beautiful belief that this time, this time, there WILL be something for nothing ...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sharon Who?

I'd heard of the famous Port Huron Statement made by Students for a Democratic Society, but not, until very recently, of the Sharon Statement made by its antagonist, Young Americans for Freedom.

Sharon Tate? Sharon Stone? No, the Sharon Statement was a political position paper arrived at by a small group of YAF members who met for a couple of days at the Buckley family home in Sharon, Connecticut. Written up by M. Stanton Evans, the statement was issued on September 11, 1960.

The Port Huron Statement, named for the town in Michigan and written largely by Tom Hayden, appeared about two years later, in mid-June 1962. It was the product of months of rancorous wrangling within SDS -- although nowhere near at the level such infighting rose to toward that organization's disintegration a mere seven years later.

Clearly the New Left was aware of "Sharon" at the time and were determined to counter it. Not that the mainstream media was giving YAF the time of day. As a high school student I was actually able to read the Port Huron Statement, but heard very little about YAF.

The two statements make an interesting and still useful contrast. For one thing, Hayden rattled on 12 times as long as Evans. But compare for yourselves:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Paradoxes of the Marxian Belief System

There are several. Here are four; please feel free to add more.

1. "The People must rule" - and because we know what the People want better than they know themselves (i.e., because they're stupid), we are justified in taking power in Their name and governing against Them whenever necessary.

2. "The People are innately good" - and this is why the People must be tricked and coerced and forced into Doing the Right Thing and never allowed to have Their own selfish petty-bourgeois way.

3. "We love the People" - as an abstraction, that is, not as individuals; in fact socialists are notorious for their antisocial, unmannerly, boorish behavior toward flesh-and-blood human beings.

4. "The capitalist system is inherently doomed to collapse" - but because it never quite seems to do so fast or furiously enough, we need to help it along with Cloward and Piven strategies, designed to overwhelm and crash the system with impossible demands.