No Ifs, Ands, or Bots

Those were the days…
It used to be that bots were parasitic maggots living in fly shit. These days a bot is a parasitic maggot living in the internet. Not a lot of difference, really, although the actual larvae of the botfly is a little more honest. The tiny insects need to eat you to survive, and that is all. It’s nothing personal. The new, space-age bots, the tiny roving bands of wifi marauders, the mechanical champions of hotly held beliefs, on the other hand, arrive as your friend. “Please like me. I like you. Tell you what, I’ll help you stick it to your anonymous internet enemies, those neighbors and shaggy acquaintances who want to destroy your way of life. Just like me. One click. One like. One small victory.”

Basically a bot is a veritable cattle prod that jolts the cattle, in this case the human internet surfers, into a fit of apoplexy. It’s one thing to have an intestinal parasite. It is another to have a mental one. Nothing can provoke a good brain rage like seeing a picture on Facebook of a scaly, muscle-bound Satan in an arm wrestling match with a chiseled, Aryan Jesus. Two workout fiends. One good. One evil. I always suspected that Hell was a large health club facility filled with free weights and mirrors, and that the region around Mount Tabor was where Steroid Jesus and the Apostles congregated for a cross-fit style regimen of wind sprints and squat lunges. Now the internet has proved it. Thank you, internet.

Bots, as I understand them, are used to “meddle.” It’s a fun word. I’m glad it is back in fashion. The only other historical evidence I have of meddling is Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine gang, who spent their time smoking pot and thwarting a parade of backwater villains, who would’ve gotten away with it, had it not been for those “meddling kids.” Strange these days, though, to pull the mask off the Zombie or Swamp Creature and find a sheepish looking Vladimir Putin. Even the Harlem Globetrotters and Sandy Duncan wouldn’t believe it.

If manipulating weak-minded people is a crime then let us imprison all the lobbying firms, the public relations consultants, all special interest groups, most of the media, all advertising agencies, image consultants, the movie industry, the record industry, all Super Pacs, the fashion industry, every mega-church that has taken money from a cancer victim to buy a private jet, ambulance chasers, weepy politicians, “Lumpy” the clean coal mascot, every mascot for that matter, the science of product placement, billboards, banner ads, and every global effort to commodify goods and services and ideas from the Ross Sea to the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Maybe we’re already imprisoned. It’s called Earth. It’s walls are comprised of digital voyeurism.

I would like to take this opportunity to make friends with the bots out there. It’s nice to have people “like” you, and in the absence of an actual person, a computerized audience of enthusiasts will do just fine. I would love for this blog to be liked and reblogged a million times, either by humans or, failing that, little mechanized acolytes. An algorithm will always support my point of view, and an algorithm will never ask me to drive it to the airport, or make me feel guilty about missing its birthday party, or drunkenly hit on my wife at the Fourth of July barbecue. Actual organic friends are overrated.

Meddling, fiddling, tampering, tinkering. Everybody does it all the time. Modern digital media is filled with a million, tiny Leland Gaunt characters from the Stephen King book Needful Things running through a person’s activity, promising to deliver support in exchange for a harmless prank, a little nudge in the direction of putative righteousness. Which is innocent enough, until you see the two old ladies in the neighborhood actually swinging at each other in the middle of the street with hatchets and carving knives because a bot disrespected their flag, or their pot plant, or their transgender child, or their shotgun, or their fetus, or their president, or their carbon footprint, or their limited understanding of historical forces, or their cable news network, or their favorite sports team, or that reality star that is always making a mess of things, either in the reality of television or in the reality of reality.

It is quiet on my street today. As far as I can tell no neighborhood biddies are trying to kill each other. The sun is out. All machinery is OFF, except for a pre-recorded version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony that wends through the windows in lofty and playful flight. Nothing is asking anything of me. I am beyond the reach of humankind. My neighbor’s dog trots up to the fence, regarding me in silence. I toss him a treat that I keep on hand for such an occasion, remembering what Mark Twain said. If you can improve upon the fortune of a dog he will not bite you. This is the main difference between a dog and a man.
More Alembics to come


Traffic and grave misunderstandings…Djinns, Dryads, Sprites, Nymphs, Naiads, Pixies, Undines, Nereids, Succubi, Rusalki (and why are there so many words for this type of thing?)…A strange fable…

I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It was familiar to me, although I hadn’t see it in a while. Much like “My Other Car is a Mercedes,” or “Visualize Whirled Peas,” it was just one of those atavistic bumper slogans that had gone away, like the Trabant and the Chevy Cavalier, crushed into a dense cube of car in some scrap yard, bumper sticker and all. Of course a lot of things come back around every now and again, so it was no big surprise to see its cheeky (oh, big pun in a second) phrase merge in front of my car. Anyway, there it was, the old bumper sticker, back from the dead.  “Unless You Are A Hemorrhoid Get Off My Ass,” it said.  It occurred to me for the first time that, according to the bumper sticker, hemorrhoids were actually welcome to the anonymous driver. Tailgaters he (or she) couldn’t abide. But polyps, lesions, rashes, intestinal hemorrhages, ulcerative masses, inflamed duodenum or bleeding piles, the driver was all for them. “Come on up, good to see you, how is the family, you seem a little fiery today, what has got you so irritable?” (Rimshot, cymbal crash.)

I was dissatisfied with the bumper sticker and tried to mentally flesh out some improvements to the gibe, presuming that I knew what he (or she) was trying to say, and that it might be possible to give it a little more punch. That is the curse of the writing class. Constant editing. “You must be a hemorrhoid if you are this close to my ass,” I decided on after a few minutes. Better, I thought. No wonder why, like a manual transmission on the steering column, that the bumper sticker had gone the way of the Ford Edsel.

Road rage is life’s cruel joke on the person that believes everything else in their life other than traffic is going extremely well. “Family is great. The wife and I understand each other perfectly. The kids go out of their way to ask me about important life lessons. The boss respects me. My co-workers are truthful souls, encouraging a healthy office environment. All my successes are just heaped upon my previous successes. I make more than enough money. Seriously I don’t even know what to do with it all. I’m physically fit and stress-free.” (Horn honk) “Motherf’er, if you motherf’ing use that f’ing horn one more f’ing time I’m going to f’ing smash you until you are a dead motherf’er. Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were a hemorrhoid. By all means, friend, come on up.”

Sometimes the fabric of the world seems stretched a bit too thin, almost to its ripping point. People are aggravated. There is a feeling of desperation and anger that goes beyond the driver’s seat of the family car. A certain menace lingers. For me that means it is time to go looking for some silly news. Please, I said, something frivolous and interesting.

My search was not as easy as I had hoped, alas, since I completely misinterpreted a story about Michigan’s dirtiest city. At first I thought, “Hmm, a nice guilty read of bawdy strip clubs, all-night bars, wet t-shirt contests and smut peddlers.” Annoyed, was I, to find that it was just a story about a tar sand refinery that loomed over a neighborhood, a refinery that belched rotten smoke all day and all night. Residents wandered the streets hacking and rubbing their eyes. Property values had plummeted. The gas fires flickered above the rooftops. While the story seemed important, it wasn’t what I was looking for and I decided to revisit it later, perhaps when I had some whiskey, my own form of pollution, and I could use it to construct a true empathy. The next news item concerned a freshman representative from the Georgia State Capitol, Sam Moore, who was castigated by his peers for introducing a bill to make it legal for sexual offenders to “loiter” around schoolyards. Mr. Moore is a Libertarian fellow who felt the law on a larger scale infringed upon “freedom of mopery,” or however he put it. I suspected it was a good opening act for his next bill, the freedom of armed schoolchildren to shoot at loitering pedophiles… bill. It’s the new team-building exercise, he would claim. Offenders make good targets because it is a bit clumsy for the perp to run and try to hike up his pants at the same time, and the creepy felons are no match for the class bully with a burp gun. That was just a strange story all around, that one was, and so I continued on until I found some light-hearted absurdity from the International desk. Russia had advanced in a world war style threat upon the Crimean Peninsula, which was the opening gambit in a game of “Shit-Storm” likely to swirl across the Atlantic for some time to come.

The news was not helping, and so I brought out the last resort. I put on some Dvorak, in this instance the opera, Rusalka, and sat back with a warm washcloth over my eyes. Normally I approach opera somewhat tentatively, mostly because I have a hard time following the story. If they just told me the story instead of a prolonged falsetto spraying of it, I might be able to pay closer attention. Opera, to me, is the musical equivalent of me starting out this blog with the same words, but presenting them like…. “I sawwwwwwww, a bummmmmperrrrrrr stickerrrrrrrrrrr, theeeeee ooooooootherrrrr dayyyyeayeayeay…”

Who has time for that?

Back to Rusalka. It is a rich, enchanted story, as far as I can tell, and of course because it is sung in dog-howl pitch, in another language, I may have to take a bit of poetic license with my assessment. There is a lizard-king, no, no, a water-goblin (which sounds like a pun for somebody who likes to drink a whole lotta water), anyway he is a water-goblin, not so much made of water, no more than you and I, perhaps, and anyway this water-goblin, he’s got this daughter, Rusalka. Crafty girl. She’s a pixie, no, an elf, no a sprite, no a naiad, no, a dryad, no an undine, kind of like a nereid, definitely less like a djinn, and well, probably closer to a succubi, and now that I think of it, why in the world are there so many names for this type of thing? I developed a theory. There are so many names for fragile, mystical, sometimes homicidal feminine spirits because there are so many heart-broken men who, after having their family fall apart, and failing to understand their wives, and having their kids ignore them, and their bosses kick them around, and their co-workers betray them, and their stress level go through the roof, and their money go down the toilet, and their waistlines visibly expand, finally have no other recourse than to drum up enchanted women of the lake who kill as they love, that is, uncontrollably. The dreaming man just wants to walk down to the edge of a quiet water and have an enchanted woman of a dozen or so names emerge from the surface, rest her head on his shoulder, sing sweetly to him, and then convince him to throw himself into the lake in despair.

Anyway, back to Rusalka. She becomes mortal, she tries to win some guy, but there is a catch because there always is, he loses interest, she dies, he dies, the end. I’m not sure what happens to the water-goblin. I pictured him sitting on a log, dreamily sodden, not thinking of much, because, a certain amount of fatalism should set in when you’re a water-goblin. You should say, “Hey, I’m just a water-goblin, what do you want from me? Shows over. Go f’ing home.”

That night I went to sleep and had a dream within a dream. I dreamt I was on the edge of a lake, relaxing along the reedy shore, and who should appear before me but a nacreous Rusalka, wrapped in kelp, beauty as limitless as the imagination. Unaware that I was already asleep I asked for a bedtime story to put me to sleep. She responded thusly as I drifted off:

There once was a Swain named, oh, I don’t know, Pintu who stalked the eastern Eurasian countryside on horseback with aureole’s exposed, and khaki pants, and in the kind of shape of an ex-pugilist, rather doughy. He spent his time with renown nobility like Sir Steven of Seagal and the Assad of Carnage and he heroically shot anesthetized animals when cameras were present. Pintu the Swain had a castle, some guns, and a big metal boom canister that ran along certain fission reactions and was highly useful in duels. He could lay waste to his opponent on the hillside, and the opponent’s “second,” and the whole hillside itself and surrounding hillsides as well in just a few shakes of a tail.

Then there was a princess named Princess Crimea. She was fair and lived by the Black Sea. Even though Princess Crimea was married to Prince Ukraine, she was always known to be conflicted and restless. Because she was beautiful she had many suitors. Some were eastern orthodox and some were the charming modern western types and a few were even fascist nationalists, her beauty being of the caliber that all men desired her regardless of the elements that made them what they were. Some men didn’t even necessarily want to have her, they just wanted to make sure no one else did, because she possessed the type of rich beauty that turn men greedy and she was restless, which made her easy to influence.  Most of the suitors had boom canisters, too, which made the stakes for the fair maiden pretty high.

One day Pintu the Swain decided to make her his own. He sent some of his gentry over to her for her own safety and offered to take her away with him. He was serious, he said, and had the shirtless pictures to prove it. She demurred, and the other suitors stood up at once and told him to back off. A tense stand-off ensued and Pintu the Swain was eventually forced to admit he was just kidding, that it was all a big ruse, a grand display, a funny joke that may have gotten lost in translation.

“Is much funnier in Russian,” he said.

More Alembics to come.