Spam filters and paranoia

A very long time ago, I had a blog whose software platform I wrote myself. It was pretty ropey by the standards of WordPress and Moveable Type, although it beat Blogger’s offer in those days (for really dull reasons, the only server I had access to ran Windows and Access; no existing blog software supported this setup, so I had to write some).

I learnt a lot about Access, IIS, and databases and scripting in general. And for ages I was relatively immune to spam, because automatic spambots were configured to deliver the right form data to work with Blogger, MT and WP. But after a year or so, blog comment spamming was sufficiently big business (and my old blog sufficiently popular, he said self-aggrandisingly) that – presumably manually – the droves of spam started coming.

I see no shame in putting my name to Viagra’s cause

So I wrote my own hand-rolled spam filter. It was rather simplistic – it took a list of key words that someone had put on the Web as “popular words from spam”, and rejected comments which contained said key words. These days, that’d be nowhere near good enough – but a few years ago, it was enough to keep most of the spammy comments off the site.

However, an angry right-wing gentleman (this angry right-wing gentleman, in fact) was unimpressed with my spam filter, because it told him that his comment was spam – whereas actually, it was a devastating and savage indictment of socialism. As an experiment, he changed his name to something lefty-sounding and wrote a comment about how great it was to be left-wing, which went through without any problems. This showed him, beyond all reasonable doubt, that I had an evil system that only let approved and politically correct thoughts through.

Until I explained, apologetically but also struggling not to laugh, that notorious stiffening drug ‘Cialis’ was one of the words in my filter list. Which meant that any comment containing the letters “cialis” was rejected. Which was unfortunate news for anyone writing devastating indictments of socialism.

Nicey nicey catch monkey, or something

That episode taught me something about spam filters. It also taught me something about blogging: if someone disagrees with you, it’s very easy to assume that they’re an evil baby-eating bastard who’s censoring your views because they can’t hack it [*]. Which is unfortunate if they aren’t, since calling someone an evil baby-eating bastard is not usually a good way of motivating them to do what you want.

And so, back in the present on this factory-fresh, WordPress-derived, entirely-not-programmed-by-me blog we have this edifying thread, in which another right-wing gentleman falsely claimed that I censored my comments to exclude people I disagreed with. Since I don’t, I assumed he was a lying arse, and told him as much.

However, he produced an old thread from which, indeed, his comments had mysteriously vanished [my responses to his comments were still there; I might not be Moriarty, but even so I’d like to think I’d have the wit to delete the whole exchange if history-airbrushing was my thing]. For him, this was proof that I was doubly evil and exceptionally stupid; for me, it was rather surprising.

Filter tips

The long-ago spam filter incident came back to mind, and so I set out to learn more about my – vicious and highly effective – spam filter… And indeed, I found that, because the gentleman in question comments here infrequently but makes lots of comments when he makes any, this has tripped a snowball filter that penalises that kind of thing – and once one comment of his had been detected as spam, all his previous comments were also detected as spam and consigned to spam hell. And because it’s pre-written software rather than my own, I had no idea that this function even existed.

So I’ve turned the snowball filter off, while leaving other anti-spam measures on; hopefully this will allow the gentleman in question to continue insulting me while also continuing to stop people promoting hardening drugs, body enlargement and Internet card games. I’ll see what happens (weirdly, Spam Karma doesn’t seem to have a white-list, which seems like a bit of a shame).

However, I was sorely tempted to leave the damn thing on… effectively, I’ve taken a couple of hours when I could have been doing something useful and/or enjoyable to respond to the complaints of someone who, by being completely uncivil to me, has forfeited any right to have his complaints taken seriously, and certainly any obligation for me to spend a second of my time on them…

But then, it’s just part of being a rational, civilised human being – you might call a bloody idiot a bloody idiot, but you don’t deny them the right to call you one back.

[*] Last week I commented on this blog post with a comment saying “similarly, this“. I’m fairly sure the reason the comment never appeared is that it got mistaken for link spam, rather than censorial grumpiness.

19 thoughts on “Spam filters and paranoia

  1. I do realise after all this time, Mr. Band, that strict exactitude is not one of your stronger points but just for the record, I am not "an angry right-wing gentleman". I rarely become angry as a quick skim of my blog will confirm; neither am I Right wing except in the sense of being anti-Left wing (but I suspect that the subtlety of that will escape you in your black and red world); and finally, as an ex-corporal, I am neither a gentleman by breeding or rank, only, I trust, in courtesy.

    As to my inability to second-guess your mysterious computer arrangements, I believe I followed what in other circumstances would be described as 'the scientific method'; that it led me to a false conclusion simply confirms my sceptism concerning science and scientists.

  2. 'How does one man assert his power over
    another, Winston?'

    Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said.

    'Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of
    your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? […] If you want a picture of the future, imagine John Band blocking your blog comments – for ever.

  3. Great. Well having got all of that out of the way John boy, you stupid lying censorious bastard, perhaps I can interest you in buying some pills to invigorate your flaccid member?

  4. Sorry, John, to hi-jack but "neither am I Right wing except in the sense of being anti-Left wing " is absolute bollocks unless Duff has someone impersonating him going around promoting creationism on Mrs Tilton's blog. Which indeed is called the 6th International or something,but she is shamelessly a corporate lawyer.

  5. Is creationism inherently right-wing, though? I think it would be possible to be a young-earth creationist while also favouring income redistribution (I don't know what the Jubilee/Christian Aid types think about the earth's age, but it wouldn't surprise me if some of them were ID-ers at least…)

  6. Mr. Heasman, it's been a long time, I trust you are well, or at least, well enough to prove your assertion by quoting me "promoting creationism", a theory which, being inherently non-scientific, can neither be proved nor disproved and is thus a matter of individual taste – er, but not mine! Perhaps I have the wrong Mrs Tilton but the one I knew was an expert on spiders whose fascinating blog, I seem to remember, fell into abeyance, rather as yours appears to have done. (Come on, man, buck up!)

    If Neil truly believes that, say, Marxism has anything other than a passing and tenuous sense of reality I shall be forced to wonder which planet he inhabits, but then, I often find myself wondering that whilst discoursing with Lefties.

  7. I'd be interested if Duff can formulate a plausible definition of "right-wing" according to which he is excluded from it.

    There are two ordinary meanings for "right-wing" are

    (i) the economic one: flat taxes, free trade, blah, Adam Smith, Maggie Thatcher, and Tim Worstall – all stuff which David pays lip-service to fairly frequently.

    (ii) the authoritarian one: hang-em-and-flog-em, immigrants are coming to eat my children, Muslim-bashing, Daily Mail-esque paranoia – this is an excellent summary of David's blog.

  8. "Dear Larry, such a darling boy" and what a pity his knowledge is confined to the higher workings of sums and not political philosophy because then he would not amuse us all by failing to recognise that (1) above is a liberal (small 'l') agenda to which, by and large, I adhere, whilst (2) is indeed generally recognised as Right wing and, apart from desiring murderers to be executed (which is a non-political position), I do not espouse, either here or on my blog.

    'E' for Effort – again, Teabag; must do better!

    Other readers will recognise the symptom displayed by Larry which is shared by the Reds and the Blacks of not appreciating that there is a a wholly different area of politics from which it is possible to cry 'a curse upon both your houses'!

  9. (2) is indeed generally recognised as Right wing and, apart from desiring murderers to be executed (which is a non-political position), I do not espouse, either here or on my blog.

    Not only murderers to be executed but rapists to be castrated, burglars to be dismembered, and muggers to be buggered with broken glass. Or something, I forget the details.

    I really could eat that "I do not espouse" sentence for breakfast, with innumerable quotes of you enthusiastically espousing just about any lunatic right-wing position anyone can name. But, maybe I'm getting old, because I really can't be bothered. So I think a simple link to your whole blog should provide an adequate rebuttal.

  10. apart from desiring murderers to be executed (which is a non-political position)

    what? also, *what*?

    "aside from desiring kulaks to be executed (which was a non-political position), Stalin didn't espouse totalitarian views"…

  11. Oh dear, Larry, reduced to bluster now, are you?

    Mr. Band, are you normally in the habit of writing words that have no connection to anything I have written, and then believing, in some strange way, that you have scored a point? I referred specifically to *murderers* being executed which is a point of view that requires no particular political viewpoint, it being shared, and disputed by people from sides. If anything, it is a social/legal opinion – except to those who believe that well-known nonsense that everything is political, er, that wouldn't include you, would it?

  12. Anyone who supports the death penalty is inherently not a liberal. They may be a socialist, a conservative, or whatever – but it's clearly an aspect of their political philosophy and their view of the relationship between the individual and the state.

  13. David, if you were a character in a novel, I'd be complaining that you're too much of a right-wing caricature to be believable. You are right-wing (in the sense of 2 first and foremost, and 1 only after that), and furthermore, politically you are nothing but right-wing. It's amazing that you want to deny it.

  14. Mr. Brand, I am tempted to send in the tanks to crush the – here I search for a polite word – silliness of your last comment. However, I'm in a generous mood this morning so I will merely ask if you really suppose that liberals do not believe that for a society to function at its best there must be a system of state punishment? Even that liberal icon J. S. Mill wrote "If anyone does an act harmful to others, there is a 'prima facie' case for punishing him by law …". Thus, the principle conceeded, it is then only a matter of, I repeat, socio/legal/philosophical discussion as to what the punishment should be.

    Larry, I indicated above that in your world-view, in which only the colours red and black exist, it is exceedingly difficult to envision any other colour or colours. As I pointed out to Mr. Band above, the death penalty is a policy shared by people of all political persuasions, however, it is only the reds and blacks who are prepared to use it for political/racial/class reasons. I support its use *because I care about the people who are being murdered*, a class of persons who are forgotten almost before the SOCO teams get to work! Or let me put it another way, I believe that as I write there are around 700 to 800 people walking around now, laughing, crying, shopping, working, sleeping, grumbling, perhaps even sitting at their computers, who in the next 12 months will be shot, stabbed, incinerated, blown apart, strangled or just bludgeoned to an early death. I think the death penalty would save a considerable number of them. Now tell me what is Right-, or Left-, or even Centre-wing about that?

  15. 1)
    yes to punishment, no to state-sanctioned murder. IIRC Mill was a death-penalty abolitionist.

    if i were feeling uncharitable i'd suggest it was right-wing because it's an assertion made despite a complete lack of evidence in its favour – that would be unfair; plenty of left-wingers and centrists make equally silly and unsupported assertions.

    But since there's no conclusive evidence that the death penalty for murder has any impact on murder rates [there are some flawed regressions which suggest it might, some, probably also flawed, regressions which suggest the opposite, and the majority of studies which suggest no effect], whereas it's certain that the death penalty leads to innocent people being executed, then supporting it on non-political grounds of preserving human life is unsustainable. You need to also have certain beliefs about retribution, revenge and deserved punishment that go above and beyond utilitarianism, which I'd class as broadly right-wing.

    [btw, are you counting the UK in Ireland from 1910-1920 as 'black' or 'red'? Because I seem to recall we executed quite a few Irish chaps for political reasons…]

  16. No David – I am not a red/black man at all – I am well aware of the huge spectrum of political philosophies which exist.

    But I also know where on that spectrum you sit: the part known as "right-wing".

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