The worm turns (on us) - and we dream of revenge

Posted: Aug 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Several years ago, I abandoned my youthful embrace of capital punishment and crossed over to an anti-death-penalty stance. Becoming increasingly anti-death comes naturally, I've noted, as one gets closer to the finish line.

And there's the DNA factor. When more than a dozen men on Illinois' death row were exonerated by DNA technology and former Illinois Gov. George Ryan suspended executions, I jumped onboard.

Then something happened a few days ago that has prompted me once again to gaze affectionately toward the death penalty. Not peaceful death by lethal injection. Or even the electric chair or by firing squad.

No, I'm leaning toward the final scene in "Braveheart," which I didn't actually see because I had to close my eyes. I'm pretty sure dismemberment was involved or at least suggested as I climbed under my blankie and asked the teenagers to tell me when it was over.

Whatever it was - the rack, the wheel, the inconceivable pain - was too horrible to imagine for either Mel Gibson or William Wallace. But it is indeed quite delightful to consider as a just reward for whoever is responsible for unleashing The Worm(s) on us decent computer-dependent folk in recent days.

First it was the "Blaster" worm, still at large. A new virus - Sobig.F - is spread by e-mail with the subject "Re: Details" and the message "Please see attached file for details." If you're naive enough to click on the attachment, your computer gets infected and your days of innocence - and equilibrium - are gone.

Call me lucky, but I receive about 150 infected e-mails an hour. Other subject headings that find my address irresistible include "Re: Thank you!" "Re: Approved" "Re: Wicked Screensaver" and "Re: Your Application." All upbeat and mysterious, tempting and approving. May I just respond en masse: Two words. Not Merry Christmas.

The attachments in some cases are huge and take up so much space on my server that my e-mailbox fills up quickly and mail starts bouncing back to senders. Between consulting with techies and deleting trash from my mail provider's server, I'm wasting hours while dusting off old newsroom vocabulary - the sort that went out of vogue about the same time human-resource executives started getting the best parking spaces.

While worms are an annoyance to me - just one measly individual working from a PC - they're wreaking havoc for businesses and large institutions. In Canada, reportedly, a worm has interfered with system repairs following last week's blackout. Airlines have reported problems. Whole industries have been slowed to a slug's pace.

Speaking of which, how appropriate that this phenomenon is called a "worm." Not just as a title for the cyber-criminal's modus operandi, but for the perp. Worm. Yup, that's you, Bo. A slimy, writhing, putrid, stinking little sun-shunning, garbage-eating worm.

Now, before all you gardeners and bream lovers share your moral outrage, please rest assured that I harbor no malice toward real worms, which are welcome in my garden. But, as God's creatures go, worms are among the least huggable. As is true about this bin Laden-ish creature pleasuring himself in his virtual life.

Yeah, you. I'm talking to you. One person, two, 50? Al-Qaida? Saddamite? Boy, girl, American, alien? Don't know who you are, but I've got some country cousins (wait, do I hear banjos?) just dying to meet you. Oh, sure, you think you're "So big," but we're betting you're a squirmy little wormy who has a big problem on Saturday nights.

Just what punishment should we deliver to this fish bait when and if caught? I'll leave such ethical dilemmas to the legal eagles, but forget the rack. My own pleasure seeks the obvious: A large hook and a fishing expedition off the New England island of Amity. Anyone?