Inhuman Swill : Page 151
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

The cost of spam

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To my catalog of spam damages ("spammages"?), let me add another. Early this morning I was combing through my spam filter in Eudora. Even though I've managed to choke the flow of spam into my inbox to a mere trickle, I still have an immense backlog of spam in the junk folder I've been checking through for false positives. The last time I was all caught up on the junk folder was mid-August; by the time shut down all but a handful of my email addresses eleven days ago, 30,000 messages had accumulated in the junk folder. I've been scanning through the subject lines a couple thousand at a time since then, just in case I had missed any genuine and important emails.

This morning I found a genuine and important message in the junk folder, incorrectly classified as spam. It was dated August 22, and it was from Storyteller magazine. This, in part, is what it said:

We're very interested in publishing "The Ice Queen" in our fall 2004 issue. I see from your cover letter you sent it to us quite a while ago. I hope it's still available.

Please let me know if it is and, if so, I'll send instructions on how to get it to us.

I, of course, wrote back immediately and apologized for the extreme tardiness of my response. The story is indeed still available, though I'm sure it's far too late for it to make the Fall 2004 issue. I haven't heard back yet, and I'm waiting on tenterhooks to see if they're still interested in publishing it at all.

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October's CD mix of the month

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Putting the opera back in space

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My review of The Last Starfighter: A New Musical is now online in the lastest issue of the Sci Fi Channel's Science Fiction Weekly.

(Interestingly, the style guide for Science Fiction Weekly reviews specifies that the terms "science fiction" or "SF" are always preferable to "sci-fi." How's that for irony?)

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Drooly, madly, deeply

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Ella was sitting on the couch with Laura and me last night as we watched Truly, Madly, Deeply on DVD, and the poor pooch had no idea why we were both sobbing so hard. She kept looking up at us in confusion and distress, as if she'd do something to help if only she could figure out why we were sad, and whether or not that meant she should be sad too.

We're never going to be able to watch Old Yeller with her in the room.

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In about three hours, I'll be sitting down to the opening night of The Last Starfighter: The Musical. Yes, you read that right. And having rewatched the film last evening on DVD, I have to say I'm cautiously excited. Confining the action to a stage can only help the story....

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The Sidewinder Award

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This blog entry of Will Shetterly's, which some of you have no doubt already seen, uses a science-fictional conceit to point out what a mind-bendingly weird political landscape we're living in. How is it we arrived at such an unthinkable destination so quietly and quickly?

(I nominate Shetterly's post for a Sidewinder Award, for best alternate-history tale about a snake.)

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Simple questions

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The brilliant little blog One Simple Question got me thinking about the questions I kept wanted Bob Schieffer to ask during last night's debate:

  • Mr. President, you were a C- student in economics at Harvard. What in the world makes you think you're qualified to talk about economics here, let alone set economic policy for the richest nation in the world?
  • Mr. President, surely you've reviewed the transcript of the September 30th debate many times. Can you explain why you and your cronies are still harping on this "global test" nonsense when Senator Kerry clearly stated in that same answer that he would never give foreign nations veto power over America's defensive decisions?
  • Mr. President, you've made an impressive amount of noise this evening about the fact that you support a culture of life, but you've failed to answer the question of "Why?" Can you explain the reasoning behind your position to the American people?
  • Mr. President, when you rail against activist judges taking decision-making power out of the hands of the people, do you ever feel a twinge of irony considering what body finally bestowed the presidency on you? Can you even define the word "irony"?
  • Mr. President, what is the last book, other than the Bible, that you have read? Would you recommend it to American readers? Why or why not? The Fart Book does not count.
Instead, we got that insipid question about strong women, which let Schieffer inflate his own importance and end the debate on a note of touchy-feely lovefesty fuzziness.
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The elephant in the room

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Over breakfast this morning, I was reading the October 18 New Yorker—"The Political Issue." A story by Philip Gourevitch about the first presidental debate, "Reality Check," sucked me in, and I had to share the closing paragraph:

For Bush, to say that the world is not as he describes it is to give solace to our enemies, undermine our forces on the field of battle, and endanger the lives of the citizenry. Even as the Duelfer report made it clear that Saddam Hussein had posed no threat to America, had no capacity to produce a threat, and had nothing to give to others to threaten us with, Bush stood on the stump in Wilkes-Barre scolding Kerry for saying the very same thing. "The problem with this approach is obvious," the President proclaimed. "If America waits until a threat is at our doorstep, it might be too late." Kerry is offering himself as the candidate of change—truth vs. unreality, a fresh start vs. more of the same. We need friends in this dangerous world, he says, and we need diplomacy to try and disarm and contain our enemies lest it should be our burden, otherwise, to destroy them. What Kerry doesn't say—and cannot say—is that when it comes to real threats, like North Korea and Iran, Bush's fixation with Iraq may already have made it too late for any American President to find a peaceful solution.  [full article]
All I have to say is: chilling.
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When I first secured my own domain,, one of the pleasures of that vanity acquisition was catch-all email forwarding. What this meant was that any email sent to—whether, or—would end up in my inbox. In essence, I had an infinite set of email addresses to call my own.*

This was back in those heady days when spam was still a relatively scarce and benign offense, though even then the prudent were being warned not to put "mailto" URLs on their web sites, owing to the many robots out harvesting just such creatures to feed into their nefarious spam machines.

Over the years, as the tide of spam has risen, I've applied an increasing rigorous series of filters to hold back the onslaught. I've watched my daily spam intake increase logarithmically—maybe one a day back in the day, then ten, then a hundred, then a thousand. Yes, a thousand.

Part of this was due, I admit, to having placed many of those pesky links on my site. By the time I realized I seriously needed to scour them, the damage was done. My email address was out there, prominently listed amongst the ingredients for spam. But that was not all of it. Spammers grew more clever by leaps and bounds. They took to running whole dictionaries of common and not-so-common first names through their software, pairing each with domain names that anyone could glean from a handy DNS server. I received spam targeted at everyone from to

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An infernal machine

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Hey, Bob, speaking of choking on my lunch, this passage from Roger Ebert's Sun-Times review of "I ♥ Huckabees" got me too:

The movie is like an infernal machine that consumes all of the energy it generates, saving the last watt of current to turn itself off. It functions perfectly within its constraints, but it leaves the viewer out of the loop. This may be the first movie that can exist without an audience between the projector and the screen. It falls in its own forest, and hears itself. It's the kind of movie that would inspire a Charlie Kaufman screenplay about how it couldn't be made. The director and co-writer is David O. Russell, who made the brilliant "Three Kings" and the quirky "Flirting with Disaster," and now ... well, he has made this. God knows he's courageous.
I quote this also by way of pointing out that Ebert's long-promised new web site,, is now available. The cool thing is that it has a searchable archive of all his Sun-Times reviews going back to 1967. Until now, the archive of his reviews only went back to 1985. Two thumbs up!
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