Nov 30

The dawn of spam

I have a Road Runner e-mail account that I have given up using for anything important, because it’s inundated by spam. This is partly my fault; I posted some messages to Usenet newsgroups from that account some years ago, and those messages are preserved for posterity in Google Groups, where spammers harvest my address from the headers and use it to send me junk mail. But even though I no longer use that address, I still have to log on to the account periodically to delete the spam. I was doing that today when I spotted a message with a subject line that sent a chill up my spine:

From: Imigration Services
Sent: Tuesday, November 30, 2004 2:38 am
To: jgiven
Subject: Green Card Lottery!
Live and Work in the U.S.A.
Official Program Conducted by the U.S. Government.
Please Register online to participate in the Green Card Lottery

To anyone who was reading Usenet in 1994, “Green Card Lottery” is a phrase that will live in infamy. It was the subject of the first commercial Usenet spam that, in the words of Wikipedia, “fired the starting gun for the legions of spammers that now infest the Internet.” That incident spawned the industry that now fills up my Road Runner mailbox with dozens of worthless sales pitches every day. And now a latter-day spammer has decided to revive the original spam scheme, this time by e-mail.
It gets worse. The Wikipedia article cited in the previous paragraph includes a link to the original Green Card Lottery post, which is also preserved in the Google Groups archive. I followed the link, and was astonished to see (in the Sponsored Links area on the right side of the page) advertisements for three Web sites that are promoting “Green Card lottery” registrations today. Aaarrgghh!!! I had thought that the Green Card Spam incident was a thing of the past. But it never ended. It’s still around, and probably won’t ever go away.

Nov 22

The church menace

In case you don’t have enough things to lie awake at night worrying about, here’s one you probably weren’t aware of: you’re not even safe in church. In fact, your church is going to kill you. According to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal, church air is full of incense and candle smoke and will give you lung cancer, especially at Christmastime. Antoine Clarke points out the obvious corrective measures: “Immediately ban church-going for all children, impose a tax on adult church-goers, put health warning signs on the outside of all churches and copies of the Bible. Oh, and ban Christmas.”

Nov 22

Nice logo, though

This D&D website turns out to have nothing to do with Dungeons & Dragons; it’s for D&D Chevrolet in DeWitt, Iowa. My initial reaction was “How have these folks avoided being sued by the game’s publisher for trademark infringement?” But the dealership has been called “D&D” since 1971, three years before the game first appeared. Now, if they had called it Chainmail Chevrolet . . .

Nov 11


Yesterday, my friend Keith asked me whether I had to work today. “Um, yes,” I said. “Why would I have the day off?”
“It’s Veterans Day,” he replied. “Oh,” I mumbled, looking at my feet. “I, uh, forgot.”
How embarrassing. Admitting that I had forgotten Veterans Day would be a faux pas no matter when I did it or who I was talking to. But it’s particularly shameful in this instance, because I did it in wartime, during some of the fiercest fighting we’ve yet seen. And because I was talking to Keith, who served in the Air Force for nine years. He didn’t even react to my blunder. I’m sure he’s grown accustomed to such thoughtlessness on the part of lifelong civilians like me.
Actually, I was vaguely aware that Veterans Day was approaching, but I hadn’t really given it much thought. I don’t get the day off, so I wasn’t concerned with the exact date — it was just another workday to me. I assumed that it was probably on a Monday, like Memorial Day and Labor Day. But that’s wrong.
I realized that I didn’t even really understand the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Aren’t they basically the same? I looked them up in Wikipedia, and learned that I was wrong about that too. Veterans Day is a time for honoring living Americans who served in the military. Memorial Day commemorates those who died in military service. How is it that I never knew this? Well, it’s obvious: I never made the effort to find out until now.
As I read these Wikipedia articles, I was struck by something else about these two days: how little they ask of us. Unlike most of our other holidays, Veterans Day and Memorial Day don’t require us to spend our time and money on elaborate observances. We’re not expected to put up decorations (except the flag, of course), or host parties, or give gifts to the veterans we know, or send Veterans Day cards. We don’t have to stock up on candy, or wear costumes, or set off fireworks.
These holidays only ask us to do one thing: remember. Remember our fellow citizens who have put on uniforms and taken up arms to keep us safe. Remember their sacrifices. Remember those who have put their civilian lives on hold for months or years, or even devoted their entire careers to military service. And, of course, remember those who were wounded or killed in the line of duty.
It doesn’t take much time — less than trick-or-treating, or addressing and mailing Christmas cards. And it doesn’t cost any money at all. All that is required of us is that we stop thinking about ourselves for a moment or two and acknowledge what veterans did for us. Not very difficult, is it?
Fortunately, not everyone is as remiss as I am at recognizing our vets. Mackubin Thomas Owens does the job properly in his essay: Where Do We Find Such Men? And Zell Miller, in his keynote speech at this year’s Republican National Convention, said it even more succinctly:

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag.

I can add nothing to these tributes except to say to Keith — and my father, who served in the Army — and every other American military vet: thank you. You haven’t been forgotten.

Nov 08

Older than dirt, part 2

These are the items from the list that I do remember:
Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water. You could find these in any convenience store when I was a kid. They seem pretty pointless to me in retrospect, but at the time I bought and consumed them like all the other kids.
Candy cigarettes. Of course! They still exist (Ben brought some home a couple of weeks ago), but to satisfy the demands of political correctness, they are labeled as “candy sticks.” The boxes still look exactly like cigarette packs, though, and everyone knows what they’re supposed to be.
Soda pop machines that dispensed glass bottles. I remember the machines that had a tall, skinny door behind which the tops of the bottles were visible. You could open the door at any time, but the bottles were firmly gripped by the machine — until you put your money in the slot, you couldn’t pull a bottle out.
Home milk delivery. I know that we had home delivery when I was a child, because I distinctly remember a milkman who came through our neighborhood on horseback. He gave me a ride once; I must have been six or seven years old. I don’t remember milk in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers, but it’s certainly possible that that’s what we were getting.
Party lines. Yes, we had one when I was a child. We shared a phone line with another household, and sometimes when I picked up the phone to make a call, I would hear the voices of strangers talking. I would have to hang up and wait until later to use the phone.
P.F. Flyers. Sneakers! Back in those days, we didn’t associate rubber-soled canvas shoes with sports. They were just the shoes you wore when it wasn’t Sunday. And they weren’t a big business with celebrity endorsements, because they were marketed to kids, not adults. I remember brands like P.F. Flyers and Keds that came with toy prizes inside the box, like breakfast cereals.
S&H Green Stamps. My mother used to have a kitchen drawer where she kept the strips of stamps that she got every time she went grocery shopping, and the books she pasted them into.You could trade filled-in books for merchandise at an S&H Green Stamps store. (The stamps don’t exist anymore, but the program has been revived as S&H Greenpoints.)
Metal ice trays with levers. These didn’t work very well. You had to pull up on the lever to pop the ice cubes out of the tray. I don’t miss them. Flexible plastic ice trays are better, but icemakers are best of all.
Blue flashbulbs. My first camera (a Polaroid Swinger, circa 1968) used these. You had to plug a fresh flashbulb into the socket before every shot (unless you were outside), so it was necessary to carry a box of them around with you.
Roller skate keys. Yeah, whatever happened to those roller skates that clamped onto the soles of your leather shoes? You had to have a skate key to tighten or loosen the clamps, if you lost your key, your skates were useless. That’s why we put them on chains and wore them around our necks. And you could buy replacements in toy stores, of course.
Cork popguns. Actually, I don’t remember the wooden guns that fired corks, although they must have been commonplace when I was a kid. What I remember was a red rubber gun that fired ping-pong balls. You jammed the ball into the muzzle of the gun and then squeezed the grip until the pressure forced the ball to shoot out with a POP! Much more fun.
So what’s my score? I remember eleven items out of 25 — just barely enough to put me into the “Don’t tell your age” bracket, but nowhere near the sixteen required for true Older Than Dirt status. Oh, well.