Using Google against us

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The vig-rx blog virus, otherwise known as comment spammer, is using Google against us. After stealing another IP address, as expected.

Weblogs being targeted are being found through a Google search. Example is here. Aren’t open web services a wonderful thing? Go ahead – all open comment MT weblogs on this list have this comment, if they haven’t deleted it yet. The key word in the search is Blog – any weblog title or entry with Blog, and Bob’s your uncle.

Let’s kill the Googlebot. Anybody got some rope?

Evil intentions aside, this was a great example of P2P (distributed) technologies. You know who will build the semantic web? Spammers and virus geeks, and kiddie hackers.

BTW, my comment trap should stop this one…for now.

Events of note Photography

A tale of two festivals

Normally I don’t attend festivals with lots of people about, but I made exceptions for two events this weekend: the St. Louis Air Show and the Japanese Festival. The weather was wet and stormy, but held off raining for the most part. However, it was very hot, very humid, and there was little breeze.

I attended the Air Show and county fair on Saturday, surprised at how few people were there for the big mid-day show. I was able to find a place next to the fence easily and pick off some pictures, difficult because the sky was a blinding cloud white for the most part.


This was a more modern show with planes from World War II and Vietnam, as well as modern stunt planes and jets. There was, at different times, an F16 and an F18 flying about but I couldn’t get a good photograph, they moved so quickly. And loudly, too.

The show ran several World War II planes at the same time to show how they would work together. A B32 bomber (I think it was a B32, I’m not that familiar with planes) was flying about with a P51 “little buddy” beside it, making an interesting Mutt and Jeff appearance. The bomber didn’t see action in the war, as it rolled off the line the day after the war ended. However, a TBM-3 “Avenger”, also flying, did see action in the last weeks of the war. Over Japan as a matter of fact.


According to the sign next to the plane during the static display after the show, the VT88 had the following combat history:

July 18: Attacked Battleship Nagato, Yokosuka Naval Base

July 24: In the morning, Kure Naval Base, targets at Nishinoni Shima Ships: Haruna, Ise, Hyuga, Tone, and Oyodo. In the afternoon: Kure Naval Base, dropped frag bombs on the Haruna

July 25: Attack SW coast Honshu

July 28: Kure Naval Base. Ships: Haruna and Settsu. Aircraft took anti-aircraft damage through engine.

July 30: North shore of Honshu, Targets: Tsuruga seaport on sea of Japan. Hit freighter, factory, and RR.

August 10: Iwaki Airfiend, West coast of Sendai Koriyama, Bombed town of Koriyama

August 13: Target: Tokyo Shibaura Electric Plant, Bombed small ships SW of Yakosuka

August 15: Target: Tokyo Shibaura Electric Plant Called back – Japan Surrender

I was surprised at the number of air attacks directly against Japan at the time. Combined with the atomic bombs, the firebombs, and all the other bombing, we damn near bombed that country into the stone age.

I was thinking about this yesterday – how not? – when I went to Japanese Festival. The differences between the two festivals was like the difference between walking in down town New York during rush hour and a gentle stroll through a garden.

Sunday morning I watched a Japanese street entertainer, Mesaji Terasaw, known as the “Candyman” as he delighted audiences with his magic and his humor. He spun dragons out of candy, which he would give to the people as part of the show, having each do something different with their sticks, such as weaving them up and down. One woman, he put a lit stick of incense in her candy, and she thought it was a firecracker at first. The Candyman laughed, she laughed, everyone laughed.


After walking around a bit I decided to watch the Tazan Ryu/Okinawa Deigo Kai dancing in the main auditorium. The local St Louis Japan Society had brought in a special performer to dance for the audience, an older woman who had performed for years. As I watched her and the other performers, all with their heavy stage makeup, I was struck with how each performer’s movements became more graceful, and sure, as the performer’s age and experience increased.


I noticed a celebration of beauty in older women throughout the festival, and don’t know if this because the Society members are older, or if this is a part of the Japanese culture. If it is, I’d like to visit there someday. How refreshing to see the label beauty applied to someone who isn’t 21 and taut as a drum. Unfortunately, along with a celebration of age, there also seems to be a celebration of height, too, because I don’t think any of the women came up past my breasts in height. If I did visit, I think I would be horribly conspicuous.


After the dancing, I walked about a bit more and then wondered over where an ice carving demonstration was going to occur. Several people were standing about and I stood next to one person in front of a long reflecting pool. As the assistant to the ice carver was getting suggestions from the audience for subjects, the people to the right of me starting sitting down on the sidewalk and I heard a man yell at me “Sit down! You’re in our way!” I looked behind me in confusion because there was no one behind me, and then over into the face of a man about 50, white, and angry, you never saw such anger.

I started to explain that I couldn’t sit down on the ground because of problems with my knee and back, but he shoo’d me away with agitated movements and I could see there were people to the side of the pool who were sitting down on the pool edge. I started making my way through the crowd to the side and a lady about my age, tight lipped with anger said, “You were here first. You didn’t put yourself in anyone’s way. You should stay.”

Instead of ice carving, I went to watch the Omikoshi procession, first checking carefully to make sure no one was behind me.


Finding places to stand and take photos was a problem with both events. Saturday, the early evening air show focused on military planes and featured the Harrier Jet and an F18 flying about the airport. It also featured something new, something I hadn’t heard of before – a recreation of a ‘typical’ Vietnamese air support and strike against the Viet Cong.

As I was walking through the area I’d been in the for the earlier show, I noticed that more people were seated on hay bales drawn up to the fence. I started walking about trying to find a place to stand, stopped every once in a while to watch the preparations. About 20 minutes before show starting, I stopped in one place to take a photo of the ‘Cong’, when I heard a guy yell at me to move, I was in their way for the show. I looked down into face of a guy about 40, white, long haired. Angry.

I started walking around, stopping every few minutes looking for a spot, and same reaction from the men in the audience – yells, snide comments, mean things, all from men in their 40’s and 50’s, all white, all with the same angry eyes as if me standing in front of them, even for a moment, was an invasion of their territory. What was more puzzling is I was moving, I was trying to find a place to stand, and the show hadn’t started yet.

I was, frankly, deeply embarrassed, trying to walk where I wouldn’t incur someone’s wrath, wondering if I should just leave. Luckily, in the corner of a fence, a couple of people waved to me – it was a group of people like myself, people standing up who wanted to take photographs. I quietly thanked the couple who had been the ones who waved me over. They were both unsmiling, looking at the crowd behind me. She was about my age, maybe a bit older, and I could see she didn’t want to be there.

At that time the show started and several Vietnam era planes and helicopters took off into the air, and it was interesting watching them, but the action was on the ground as several ersatz Cong moved towards machine guns. They started firing at the planes, with very realistic sounds of battle and gun fire. One man towards the fence turned around and walked away, just as one of the planes overhead dropped a ‘bomb’, with ground effects and accompanying explosive force strong enough to send a shock wave into the crowd.

I noticed that all of the men who had yelled at me had their children standing on their little bales of hay to better see the action, as one by one, the Viet Cong were ’shot’ and ‘killed’, and the US marines, the good guys, moved in.


Behind me, late comers had arrived, dragging their bale of hay behind them – two men with one boy. One of the men grumbled to the others about us standing up and he didn’t know why we all just couldn’t sit down. I noticed that he was also wearing the same type of bandana that the League of the South men sometimes wear.

The show continued with much explosion and swooping down of helicopters, including a medivac come to haul off two men ‘injured’ during the warfare – all of the Cong being dead by that time.


As soon as the re-enactment was over, during the Color Guard, I made my way up the side of the fence and left the air show.

I tried not to let the angry man at the Japanese Festival ruin it for me. After the Omikoshi procession, I sat for a time in the rose garden, and then went to see the Kimono fashion show. The colors of the kimonos were wonderous, and many of them had been handed down through more than one generation – one kimono was over 75 years old if I heard correctly. I found it calming, and how can one not be carried away by the beauty of the outfits?


During the show, a demonstration was given of putting on a kimono – an operation that took two women in addition to the one being dressed. As they tied on I think it was the fourth, or perhaps, fifth sash, the demonstrator turned to the audience and said that if we ever had an idea that kimonos were comfortable, think again.

Things happen at a show of this nature – a mike failing, music CD gone missing, and a tiny little girl in an exquisite kimono, taking one look at the crowd, screaming in terror and bolting the stage. The woman who was providing descriptions didn’t allow any of it to phase her, and with a sharp sense of humor, kept everything going, smoothing over the bumps.


There was a beauty at the air show that matched the beauty of the Japanese art – the grace and skill of the pilots, especially the acrobatic flying was extraordinary to watch. The show in the morning was a delight because the focus was on 100 years of flight and the joy of flying.

And there was a Wing Walker – now, everyone loves a Wing Walker.


I munched on homemade potato chips and roasted corn at the air show, but late in the afternoon at the Festival I lunched on delicate Japanese pancakes and green tea ice cream.

The ending of the Japanese Festival for me was much quieter than the air show. I attended a Noh play, but rather than traditional Japanese Noh, this was modern Noh, a play called Lady Aoi, adapted from Tales of the Genji by Yukio Mishima. Some of the audience was disappointed not to see the traditional Noh, but the director of the play had a fascinating tale to tell of it, of the tradition, and of the playwright and famous author, Mishima. I was also able to chat briefly with the one of the main actresses afterwards, and found out that St. Louis is the only place in North America that is currently exploring Mishima’s works, a sign of surprisingly close ties between the city and Japan.

Oh, and following the Noh play – they showed the anime film, Spirited Away, and it was every bit as good as has been suggested.

As we were waiting for it to start, I heard people talking behind me about the movie, one asking the others what an-i-me was? A cartoon they were answered and they debated, loudly, about staying for the film. I found myself tensing, growing uncomfortable and thinking I should find a different place to sit. However, after 15 minutes of back and forth, they left to get food. During the movie, the seats stayed empty behind me.



Forgive them, they know what they do

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

AKMA wrote a response to my recent Shinto Commandments, in addition to Joi Ito’s writing, and Jonathon Delacour’s commentary on what we discussed.

AKMA is a Minister and a Professor of Theology. More than that, he is a Christian. He wrote:

Among the things I stand for is the premise that the God about whom Scripture and the saints have taught me is God, not in a perspectival or contingent way, but in a thorough, undeniable, absolute way. Not ‘among other gods,’ though I see the interest and functionality of a polytheistic world. I just don’t inhabit a world like that, and it would be false politeness for me to pretend otherwise. That doesn’t mean I want to stamp out other people’s ways of believing, or legislate against them, or get into condescending arguments with them; it just means that so far as it’s given me to know things, I know the God of Abraham to be God in a unique way.

AKMA could not write anything else, not without bringing into question his own beliefs and the Truth behind them, as he knows it. Belief is an all or nothing proposition – if you believe in God in a certain way, no matter how much you respect that others may not agree, you still have to believe your own truth is the Truth. You internalize as fact that there is only one God, and for AKMA, this is the Christian God.

I can understand this. To me, the key difference between AKMA and the “There is only one God and my God is the only right God” that Joi discussed is that AKMA does not insist others believe as he does. He respects each of our right to develop our own Truth, even if it doesn’t agree with his. My interpretation of his writing is that he doesn’t need others to believe as he does to bolster his own sense of what’s Truth. We don’t have to share beliefs to talk, or to co-exist.

At an intellectual level, I can identify with this, but I can also see a breakdown at a more emotional level – if our belief is Truth, then our belief is also Right, and that means all other beliefs are Wrong. Therein likes the conundrum: belief is both an intellectual and an emotional investment; once conversation, or other action, leaves an intellectual plane for an emotional one, a fundamental sense of rightness about one’s beliefs and sense of God or Gods are very much a part of the equation.

In AKMA’s comments, Jonathon acknowledges an individual’s sense of religous Truth, but he also sees the conundrum:

If the God of Abraham is God in a unique way, how are we to regard the other Gods that are worshipped by billions of non-Christians? If the Christian God is God in “a thorough, undeniable, absolute way”, does it follow that these other Gods are partial, questionable, and relative?

Clearly this cannot be resolved by suggesting that all religions share an underlying belief in the same God (or all paths lead to the same destination) since I suspect this propostion would please hardly anyone – apart from myself and a few others.

AKMA wrote something further in his essay, which I think goes to the heart of discussions of this nature, not only online but elsewhere. He wrote:

First, let me note that I am who you’re talking about. I may not agree with everyone to whom you’re referring — surely, surely, surely not with Roy Moore — but I want to make the discussion personal, so that people don’t feel as though they’re deriding an abstract, absent buffoonish blob. In that blob, you’ll find me, doing what I can, standing up as best I can for that which is true.

I respect, admire, and learn from much that some non-Christian traditions manifest and teach. I have no interest in making other people accede to my faith if they don’t acknowledge its truth. That’d amount to more of the haranguing, bullying, arm-twisting, behavior of which the world has seen more than enough. Nor do I write this in order to extract apologies from people who may think they’ve offended me (anyone who’d care enough to worry is someone I already like enough to expect they meant no offense, so there’s no need, honest). I write this because sometimes it seems as though anyone who holds a position such as mine can safely be dismissed as an arrogant, intolerant imperialist; and I hoped to make sure that someone who wanted to hold to that assessment knew to include me therein.

(emphasis mine)

Jonathon responded with Although my natural inclination is to apologize for any offense I’ve given you, I’d rather trust that I fall into the category of those whom you already like enough to realize that no offense was intended. Unlike Jonathon, my first reaction was not to apologize when I read the highlighted sentence. But I was confused by it.

Was the very fact that I did not feel worried enough of what I wrote to think of apologizing to AKMA mean that I’m not the type of person that AKMA would like anyway? Intellectually, I read this as nothing more than AKMA’s assurance that he wasn’t personally offended by anything we wrote, and that wasn’t the reason for his own essay. Emotionally, though, my interpretation gets a bit murkier.

Consider the original circumstances: I did not see my writing in the original essay as a condemnation of Christians, generally, or AKMA specifically. I am writing Truth and to me this Truth is that regardless of any person’s belief, there must be separation of Church and State in this country. I also wrote that if this separation is enforced in Alabama, then it must be enforced universally and consistently across the country; otherwise the act is hypocritical. If I condemned anything, it was this hypocrisy, and Moore’s own religious bigotry, which he tried to enforce using his secular position.

Reading Joi’s and Jonathon’s essays, and comments with each, I could see no overall condemnation of Christianity, but I’m not sensitive to this as an issue. To me criticism of religious fundamentalism is not the same as criticism of religion – but again, who am I to judge?

I can understand AKMA’s interest in putting a face to Christianity in these discussions. However, as we’ve seen in the past, it is the very act of stripping away the abstract, of making these discussions personal, that tips them over the side of the intellectual plane, where conversation can occur, and into the emotional one where Right and Wrong hold sway.

I will think on this discussion the next time I write about religion, and I will be writing about religion again because it’s becoming more and more core to our politics in this country and the world. As someone who cherishes AKMA and calls him “friend”, I will reflect on AKMA being Christian and what he wrote this weekend. However, as a writer my reflection will be momentary, an imperceptible pause in my writing, because my belief, my Truth if you will, allows me no more than that.


DDT for comments

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

From the trackback entries I’ve received from an old comment spamming entry, I gather the spammers have been out and about recently. I received a recent comment spam myself – a shotgun message that seems to provide links to everything your kid wants to know about, but you don’t want them to ask.

It goes by vig-rx. Rings the bells?

Even though I discussed a method for preventing these, I received the comment because I don’t currently have the comment trap (described in the post referenced by the trackbacks) enabled. Why? The reasons are simple: I’m currently adding new weblogs and there’s too much overhead for too little payback with the technique.

The comment trap requires changes to all comment forms in all templates in all weblogs. I have recently added several new weblogs, and am adding three new ones in the next week or so; that’s a lot of template changes. As all of the weblogs use the same comments application, mt-comments.cgi, either the template change is added to all weblogs and weblog pages, or it’s not used for any of them.

I could add the change, and that leads to my second reason for not using the comment trapper at this time – effort and payback. If I implement the comment trapper, it’s used with every comment to my weblogs, from either friend or foe. Though the code seems insignificant, it adds to the overall process burden on my weblog’s server; start adding up tiny little burdens and over time, you have some significant performance hits every time a person tries to post a comment.

It would be worth the performance hits if I received a lot of comment spams, but I don’t, and other than the bad nuisance ones that post a thousand comments at once, the comment spams I get aren’t much more than a minor annoyance. I see them, I delete them, end of story.

What I find more annoying is the Google searchers who search on some esoteric search phrase and post comments on old posts that are irritating and irrelevant to the post. These do not fit the criteria of ‘comment spams’, but they also don’t add a lot of value, either.

I have a couple of options for older posts. The first option is the one I’m currently using, and that is allow the comment but filter it from my ‘recent trackback/comment’ list. I also did this with trackbacks after getting several trackbacks on old posts from Radio-based weblogs when trackbacks were enabled. However, this also filtered out the recent trackbacks because of the comment spam problem – odd how this works out – and I decided to keep the comment filtering, but eliminate the trackback filtering. For now.

Another option is one that I’m very seriously considering and that is turning off comments for older posts. Weblog writing is both ephemeral and enduring, contradictory as this may seem. Our writing rolls of the page to barely accessed archives, with faint hiccups of activity that linger a week or two from latecomers; but because of search engines and other weblog writers with long memories, the writing never completely disappears.

Have you ever been to a party and been in an animated discussion with a group of people, and someone joins the group with comment about a conversation you were involved in 6 months ago? Unlikely in real life, but this type of activity can occur in weblogs. It’s particularly noticeable with weblogs like mine and so many others that implement some form of recent trackback/comment feature.

While I can see the value of the trackback on older posts – look how three pings have re-awakened an old conversation in response to comment spammers – I question the value of comments on old writing and old conversations. The players have moved on, the songs changed. Additionally, turning off comments for older posts provides fewer entry points into our systems for comment spammers. This is an option I’ll continue to think on.

Two options I won’t explore, though, are IP banning and comment registration. I find comment registration to be irritating, and have been put off more than once having to register to leave a comment. I’d rather just turn comments off.

IP banning is more troublesome, and I hope that people who’ve implemented this consider carefully the consequences. As some of you may have discovered, the recent vig-rx comment spam originated from a domain that’s part of the Asia Pacific Network. APNIC is the equivalent agency as ARIN, which manages the IP addresses for America; it is one of the four major registries that manage DNS for the world. Further lookup at APNIC shows that the IP originates with ChinaNet. In case you’re curious, ChinaNet is the major Internet backbone for China.

If you add the IP address to your .htaccess file to block it, congratulations – you’re effectively denying your weblog to people in China, because chances are, the next time someone uses that IP, it’s some student or other person out exploring or looking for information. If you add them to MT to block comments for the IP, they can still view your weblog and most likely wouldn’t leave a comment anyway; however, then you’ve added a tiny bit more CGI processing for every comment that is left.

The problem with IP banning is that it only works with consistent IP addresses, and the only entities with consistent, unmasked IP addresses are companies who don’t use proxies and people affluent enough to have a static internet connection. It’s too easy to spoof IP addresses – originating a comment spam from one IP address, making it seem like it comes from another – and too easy to use a random connection to change the IP address next time you’re in the neighborhood with porn to sell.

An additional constraint on the effectiveness with IP banning is that people and organizations also use open proxies to access the internet so that their IP addressed aren’t exposed. The use of proxies was covered not that long ago when it was discovered that China was blocking access to Blogspot weblogs from people using IP addresses that originated in China. In fact, IP addresses from that same China Net that originated the current flurry of comment spam activity.

As regards to our friend, vig-rx, if lists of IP addresses are passed around weblogs, as was discussed over in comments at Liz’s weblog, and added to .htaccess files everywhere, then the Chinese government doesn’t have to censor weblogs – we’re doing it for them.