Even the flowers are drooping

I returned to the Missouri Botanical Gardens today to explore the sections I missed from this weekend. This time there weren’t many people about since the Japanese Festival was over. The sun also came up after a week of rain and a nice walk appealed. I forgot about the humidity that can follow a heavy rain.

The Garden is very beautiful, probably one of the best I’ve seen. I like the mix of modern but simple art work incorporated among the various gardens. I also like the nooks all over the park where one can get off the main path, sit a while and listen to the birds, look at the plants. The children’s garden has walks that only a child could go down, which I thought was a great idea. Parents could sit by the fountain and relax, and the kids could walk about in relative safety. Clever.

The rose gardens were on their last leg, which means the scent was terrific. That’s the way of roses, elegant to the end.

I took several pictures, but early afternoon bright sunshine is lousy light for photographs. Especially of flowers, which can have subtle coloring. I was framing a photo of the bridge that leads to the island that holds the sacred tea house when a couple walked on. I waited, they talked, I waited, they continued to talk. Finally the man got down on his knee, and I thought, “Why is he getting down on his kn… Oh!” I think she said yes because when he got to his feet, she threw her arms around him. No photos, though – that would have been rude.

It was a blah, blah day and it showed in my photos. I trashed them all. I think I need a long weekend, to see if I can rediscover my energy and weblogging zing.

Uh oh. I used the W word. I’m going to get spammed.


Belief and Acceptance

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Years ago when I first started college, I was very good friends with an ex-navy person who went by the nickname of DiDi. At the time I met her she was married to a good ole Yakima boy, but she ended up divorcing him within a few months. One factor in this divorce was that DiDi was beginning to explore the roots of her own Jewish heritage and this just didn’t find compatibility among the farmers in the area.

DiDi and I did everything together and we were trouble from the get go. We worked in the same school department – I helped her get the job as a matter of fact. We attended many of the same classes (including the sociology class given by a professor whom I eventually dated but did not marry, as he’d been married six times before, and I’m not good in a crowd).

During that time the multipart movie Holocaust was on TV, and Yakima Valley CC organized a class to go with the showing; there would be sessions during the day to discuss the issues brought up in the segment the night before, and a four hour viewing of films taken by German and American military both during and after the war. Both DiDi and I signed up for it – her because of her blossoming interest in Judaism, me because of my interest in history.

DiDi was a woman who embraced life wholly and that includes emotions, though she was the most sunny tempered woman I knew. By the time we arrived for the Saturday film showing, though, she was subdued, both by the discussions during class and the movie itself. As we sat down in the auditorium, the teacher warned us that the films were about to see were highly graphic in nature, and if we wanted to forgo them, we could and no harm to the grade. DiDi and I stayed.

The films the teacher showed were shocking, disturbing, and overwhelming. It defied understanding that any human could perform such atrocities on another human, no matter how evil they were – much less the numbers of people involved in perpetuating the Holocaust. As the film progressed, people began to leave, most shaken, and more than a few visibly sick. During a break in the film, I took DiDi outside where she completely broke down, sobbing from her heart in such a manner that my own heart beat in time to hear the grief. However, she was not an ex-navy person for naught and we returned and finished those films.

That incident was the catalyst for DiDi deciding to follow her mother’s religion and return to Judaism, having been brought up protestant by her father’s family. We made a trip to Seattle so that she could talk to a Rabbi, but when we got there, the Rabbi greeted us courteously but not enthusiastically and said, firmly, that I may wait outside for my friend. Later I found out that Rabbis were being inundated with people interested in converting to Judaism after watching the Holocaust.

I was reminded of this time from my past when I read David Weinberger’s statement about members of most Jewish faiths have little interest in converting people to Judaism. David wrote:

But I think there is a problem with Shelley’s formulation that “you still have to believe your own truth is the Truth.” While you can certainly find strains of universalism in orthodox Judaism  “Our view of God is the only true view of God ” there is also a strong sense that because God reveals Himself in history, He reveals Himself in the different ways that make sense to different peoples. That’s why Jews only rarely in history have tried to convert others, and far more commonly discourage conversions. That’s why Jews don’t expect anyone else to keep kosher; God didn’t reveal Himself to others through that particular law. Furthermore, God reveals Himself to Jews by giving us a book of laws that literally makes no sense unless and until it is interpreted by humans who converse and argue for millennia; thus the “my truth is The Truth” doesn’t hold quite so cleanly for Jews.

My understanding is that Jews work out this morass of contradictions basically by saying “We’ve got our revelation. You go worry about yours. Oh, and you can stop trying to convert us already.”

David was responding to my statement, 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..

I am not surprised by what David says, as none of the Jewish people I’ve met have been even remotely interested in converting me to Judaism. However, in my opinion, there’s a vast difference between wanting to convert someone to a specific belief, and internalizing the Truth of that belief for yourself. I’ve known hundreds of deeply religious people who have never once tried to get me to come to their services, but I’ve never met a person who has said, “I’m Christian, but I can support that there are multiple gods”; or “I’m only Jewish for the holidays”; or even, “I’m atheist, but I’m willing to concede there may be a God.” We can only go so far when attempting to understand each other’s Truth. Like Schroedinger’s cat, internalized belief – that Truth I persist, with a big capital ‘T’, causing some to wince at the absolute nature of the word – alters when pulled out of the black box of our minds. Or souls.

I can be appalled or horrified by the films I saw from the Holocaust, and I can be determined to prevent such acts from ever happening again; but I can never fully appreciate how deeply the impact this event has on Jewish people, such as my friend DiDi. My empathy can not overcome my not being Jewish.

We can reach out to each other intellectually, we can cross cultures, learn each others languages, and visit each others nations, but when it comes to spirituality, we each have our own spiritual beliefs. The most we can hope for from those who don’t share our beliefs, is that we agree to cordially and respectfully disagree on form, knowing that the capability of belief is something we all can share. We must accept our differences.

I think this is the essence of what AKMA is saying with the following:

For instance, I can’t by any means rule out the possibility that the God whose grace extends far beyond my capacity to imagine it would work with Shinto believers in a way that draws them to the Truth. I can’t affirm that, though, because first, I have no way of knowing that, and second, that’s unlikely to be the way a Shinto believer thinks about the truth, and I can’t claim to override someone else’s self-understanding. I certainly have put a lot of time and energy into explaining why a Shinto understanding of my theology misses some important points; I fully expect that any account I gave of a Shinto theology would be likewise deficient, so I’d rather not pretend to know something I don’t.

In other words, why is it better to hold to a Shinto theology of ‘gods on a shelf’ than to a Christian theology of one God—if you’re not already a Shinto? Or, in another way of posing the riddle, we could juxtapose the questions, ‘How can I profess faith in a particular vision of the Truth without deprecating other visions of truth?’ and ‘How can you appreciate mutually contradictory visions of the truth without deprecating particular visions?’ Our answer here is not that anyone ought to grab onto one of these over against the other, but that the business of resolving such contradictions gets us onto the dangerous terrain of coercing consciences…

The danger associated with spiritual belief is not that there are differences among people; it’s that some people see differences as a threat, one that must be eliminated: through law or segregation, by forced conversion, or with war.


On religion

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I had mentioned yesterday that I would continue the discussion of religion. However, as with an end to entries on comment/email spammers, this will be my last entry on this topic because I am not the philosopher to enter these debates, and couldn’t do the topic justice.

I remembered this at the same time that I remembered that AKMA holds a PhD in theology/philosophy, and David Weinberger has a PhD in philosophy, and I’m just a computer hacker who takes photos and writes a bit, and is in way over my head.

Besides, there must be a trail somewhere calling my name.


Spammers: Getting to know you

Probably my last entry in this recent series of Weblog/Email Spammers: Evil thereof. I only write this entry because some of you have implemented my little comment hack, and have most likely found it’s not working with our friend, vig-rx.

My latest hit from this particular fiend was based on a Google search for the following:

blog August 2003 Name: URL: Comments:

In other words, if the page follows a consistent Movable Type template, which shows the month and year of posting, as well as containing the traditional form and comment field labels of Name, URL, and Comments, and had the word “blog” somewhere in the page (such as the title), you were visited. What the spam automation is doing – guesswork, only, so take with a grain of salt – is grabbing the page, finding the form, finding all of the form fields (including my own little hack), and recreating a form POST with the same fields.

Targeting specific weblogging phrases makes sense because we all start with a basic set of templates for our tools and then modify them. Unfortunately, we focus on the appearance and not the content. So, for instance, we MT users leave the comment form in the same page as the individual posting, and we leave the labels the same – Name, URL, and Comment. To make things easier, we use the word ‘blog’ somewhere, such as our title, blogroll, or so on.

I don’t use ‘blog’ in my basic template at Burningbird, but do mention the word when I’m talking about blogging – which just goes to show that perhaps I need to talk about blogging less. My Practical RDF weblog isn’t getting hit by the comment spammer because I don’t maintain the comment form in the individual entry pages; the labels of Name and URL are missing (not to mention the form for scraping). Most of my other weblogs aren’t getting hit because I rarely mention the word ‘blog’ in them – other than in Weblogging for Poets – and even if I did, I’m not using the traditional date annotation with these essays. No August. No July.

Not only does this person have a decent understanding of how to use technology – using different IP addresses, timed delays between accessing the page and posting the comment, page scraping (grabbing the form fields), and most likely changing the requesting Agent so that it looks like the request is coming from a browser (IE, of course) – they have a fairly good understanding of people, and our habits. Clay Shirky, this is the type of person you should invite to your software summits.

This comment spammer is a good social software engineer, lying in wait observing us and our patterns and then crafting software that fits how we do business. Rather than get angry at this person, we should marvel at their ability to write software that is so adaptive to how we use software. Rather than tear our hair out and gnash our teeth, and block every IP from ChinaNet, China’s primary Internet provider, we should be smiling wryly at how our own habits have been used against us.

After all, the solution to this spammer, this time, is to change one label in the template – for instance, changing the label of URL to Link. All of our clever technical hacks fail but a simple human hack succeeds. Of course, as we adapt so will the hackers. There is no ultimate solution to this problem, other than eliminate comments.

When I was heavily involved with P2P technologies (Peer to Peer, such as the music sharing software), we knew that the key to making our software work would be to fit the technology to people’s behavior, not make people change to fit the technology. We need to look no further for our teachers of this type of software development and distribution than the virus writers and spam generators.

Take our recent email spam buddy that’s cause us all so much heartache. You would think that we would have learned not to open email attachments by now, but we’re still getting hit because people are still opening the email, launching the virus contained in them, and generating yet more emails. Why do we open them? Simple – the spammers use our behaviors against us.

They pull people from contact lists and used these as senders so the names are familiar. They vary the subject line. They take advantage of open hooks within the software that’s installed by default and the operating systems on most PCs. Most of all, though, they used subject messages that triggered trusting responses within us – the use of “Thanks!” and “Wicked Screensaver”, “Details”, and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if the spammers weren’t collecting data from the machines of people that opened the attachments, seeing just which subject was responsible for more results.

And we make these things so easy for the Bad Guys. We use Outlook for our email on Windows because that’s what’s installed by default. We trust the identity of the senders without examining the headers. We trust our software to protect us, though the same software blocks friends as well as foe. Most of all, we fall into patterns that can be automated – such as all of us Movable Type people using a comment form that has the same labels of Name, URL, and Comment.

Recently, there’s been discussion that email is ‘broke’, though I have no idea what people mean by email in this context. Do you mean the protocols? The email applications? Or do you mean people using the software, because there’s a world of difference in looking at email from a technology perspective, and looking at email and how we use it. Yet, rather than focus on our behavior when using software, we focus on the technology and we talk about using RSS as replacement for email, same as we talk about using htaccess and MT to block IPs of spammers from our sites. Or using my own comment hack, so easily set aside.

And all the while, the virus writers and spammers are watching us, seeing how we react, observing what we’re doing, listening to our debates – and are already hard at work writing the next generation of virus and spam generators.

Critters Legal, Laws, and Regs

Two new stories on horse meat lawsuit

I just published two new stories related to the Front Range Equine Rescue et al v. Vilsack et al horse meat lawsuit.

In Cages at Burningbird I write that the USDA is not the enemy in this case and they aren’t. If we’re going to fight for the welfare of horses in this country, we need to be very careful with where we paint our targets.

I also introduce another new site, Eats at Burningbird, with another story: Eating Flicka: A Good Idea?. This story focuses on the food safety aspects of horse meat and the horse meat industry. All I can say is you’ll never look at your hamburgers the same way again.

I am trying comments again, at least with select stories. Last few times, I had a lot of spam. And yes, I actually used a spam service, and still had a lot of spam.

I’m also concerned at how quickly comments degenerate into slugfests nowadays. I don’t really think tossing insults at each other adds to the quality of a story. Popularity really isn’t everything.

We’ll see how it goes. Hope springs eternal.