The Common Good

Where Spam Is Taking Us

Sojomail - October 15, 2003

Quote of the Week Robin Cook on Tony Blair
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Where spam is taking us
By the Numbers Losing the war on spam
Building a Movement Duane Shank: Why Sojourners opposes an $87 billion blank check for Iraq
Funny Business Loopholes
Culture Watch Coldplay star tries Bono's halo for size
Soul Works Ends or Means
Biz Ethics A good corporate citizen? This scanner can tell
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply

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"I am certain the real reason he went to war was that he found it easier to resist the public opinion of Britain than the request of the president of the United States."

- Robin Cook, former British foreign secretary, on his former boss, British Prime Minister Tony Blair; San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 12, 2003.

Where spam is taking us
by David Batstone

Sojourners Classifieds
David BatstoneMy mother sent an e-mail to me last week recommending a miracle pill that would make me smarter, grow more hair on my balding head, and enlarge my male member. One pill, such a deal. Oh, and if I acted quickly, I could chop a percentage point off my mortgage rate. I was so excited I re-read the note. It was then I noticed that the e-mail began, "Dear Friend." Suspicion crept in; my mom never calls me that.

I'm now lowering my expectations. I'd be satisfied merely to find a magic pill that will make my spam go away. Seriously, it's ruining my love affair with e-mail. Opening my Web connect used to be a high note of the day. I now dread the barrage of sexual offers and persistent requests from African diplomats for my help in smuggling millions of dollars out of their overflowing national treasury.

Spam is out of control; it accounts for a full 50% of all electronic mail. And it's getting worse. Spammers hurdle every obstacle thrown up in the ether to stop them. A filter can block e-mail from addresses an individual doesn't list as an approved sender. But along came virus-powered spam, so that junk mail is likely to come straight from the computers of closest friends and family.

The interdependence of computer networks makes e-mail an easy target. A virus launched one morning can infect computers all over the world by the end of the day. The Slammer virus, which hit in January of this year, spread to more than 100,000 computers in the first 10 minutes alone. The author of the SoBig virus, another of the year's more dastardly villains, turned thousands of computers into virtual slaves posed to do its bidding as electronic mailmen. Information security teams are worried that virus worms already have niggled into major corporate or public networks, lying undetected until they may perform some act of sabotage or thievery.

Don't look for government to send in the cavalry. When Congress considered strict measures to punish the delivery of unsolicited e-mail, marketers who rely on the Internet to recruit customers and suppliers sounded a hue and cry. If it had any moxie, the Federal Trade Commission would step in and establish a consumer opt-out for spam just as it did for telemarketing. Ever since I put my name on the telemarketing "do not call list," my family has won back our dinner hour. I'd love to regain my appetite for e-mail as well.

Unfortunately, even tough laws may be ineffective against spam. Spammers who start to feel regulatory heat can move their operations overseas, a process that indeed is already under way. Regardless, junk e-mail is global. I'm sure that I am not the only person receiving a regular jolt of Japanese porn ads.

Should we be surprised that the Internet is turning into an analog to our social world? Though the Web first emerged as a Mr. Rogers neighborhood with unlatched doors and open curiosity to strangers, spam has turned the Web into streets of fear and suspicion. How revealing that software filters allowed individuals to vet their approved senders into "white lists." If you're going to set up a gated community with digital guards at the entrance, surely you would want to keep non-whites out!

It's easy to be cynical, of course, and underestimate our primal need for trust and safety. I fully anticipate that the wide-open e-mail system to which we have become accustomed will fade into the horizon behind us. The Web will devolve into millions of micro-networks, each self-contained, serving its own trusted circle. No one - machine or human - will be allowed into that community of trust without knowledge of a secret, individualized password. Some private forms of communication even will demand a biometric (e.g., a fingerprint) proof of identity.

So much for a brave new world. Technology does not uproot the constant themes of trust and betrayal in our human drama. It simply gives us new tools to write the story.

*This commentary appears in the November-December issue of Sojourners magazine. To see the complete package of insight Sojourners brings you in the most current issue, link to:

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Losing the war on spam

Spam as a percentage of all e-mail:

2004 (projected)53%
2005 (projected)60%

The chance of getting spam if your e-mail address appears in:

Chat rooms100%
Free personal Web pages (such as Angelfire)50%
Message board postings27%
E-mail service directories9%

*Source: Brightmail, Federal Trade Commission, Ferris, Jupiter Research, Radicati Group, Wired magazine


REACH OUT 2003, an ecumenical gathering of people of faith and goodwill in the spirit of Micah 6.8, featuring Rev. Jim Wallis as keynote speaker and plenary leader, and Rev. Ross Olivier, General Secretary of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and co-founder of the Order of Dignity. November 14 and 15, 2003, Shaughnessy Heights United Church, Vancouver, BC, CANADA. For more information visit and to register .

Why Sojourners opposes an $87 billion blank check for Iraq
by Duane Shank

Abe Books
Some of you wrote your concern this past week about our recent action alert. In many cases, we agreed with your perspective. We were not simply saying that Congress should abdicate all responsibility, vote against the funding, and that the U.S. should simply leave Iraq, although our e-mail may have left that impression.

In the full text of the alert, we wrote: "Most of our allies have refused our requests for either troops or funds, or both. Much of the international relief community has pulled out. I urge you not to give Mr. Bush another blank check. It is time to ask the United Nations to assume the administration of Iraq, with both U.S. and other troops there until the Iraqi people can write a new constitution and hold elections. And it is time for Congress to authorize a full and independent investigation of the misleading reports of weapons of mass destruction by which this war was promoted. Until both happen, I urge you to vote no on $87 billion for the occupation of Iraq."

Our view is that the way to truly benefit the people of Iraq is for the U.S. to give up its occupation and allow the U.N. to take a leadership role in the reconstruction and transition in Iraq. It is clear that other countries will contribute peacekeeping troops only if there is genuine U.N. control of the political and military situation. So long as the Iraqi people experience it as a U.S. occupation, the violence, instability, and descent into greater chaos will continue - with increased suffering for the people, and continued U.S. deaths. A more secure and stable situation will also allow for Iraq to begin oil production, thus providing revenue for reconstruction. And, U.N. administration rather than no-bid contracts to U.S. corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel would lead to other countries contributing to the much-needed reconstruction.


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Although the story sounds apocryphal, no less an authority than Bartlett's tells about W.C. Fields on his deathbed. A lifelong agnostic on screen and off, Fields was observed by several visitors reading a Bible with fairly serious concentration.

When questioned about his actions, Fields replied simply, "I'm looking for loopholes...."

Coldplay star tries Bono's halo for size
by Peter Conradi

Abundant Earth
He has shaken hands with George W. Bush and the Pope and rarely misses a chance to preach about the need to write off Third World debt. But Bono, the campaigning face of U2, the Irish rock band, is facing competition from an upstart young rival: Chris Martin of Coldplay. ...

Supachai Panitchpakdi, the WTO director-general, may have been expecting nothing more strenuous than a photo opportunity when Martin handed over a petition with 3 million signatures collected by Oxfam calling for radical changes in the rules governing world trade.

Instead, Martin, who graduated from University College London with a degree in ancient history, bombarded him with detailed questions about subsidies paid to European farmers and the prohibitive tariffs imposed by America on imports of Bangladeshi cotton.

To read the entire article, link to:


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Ends or Means
by James M. Nordlund

Neither do I embrace.
Rather, the struggle well run,
Which uplifts us uncrowned,
Every moment humans race!

*An original submission to SojoMail. James Nordlund is a mental-health professional, writer, and poet who lives in Stockton, Kansas.

A good corporate citizen? This scanner can tell
by Will Wade

As they sit there on the shelf, shrink-wrapped and safety-sealed, consumer products may not seem to tell much of a story. From the packaging, it is hard to tell whether sneakers were made by a company with a record of exploiting overseas laborers, or whether the pineapples in a can came from a farming conglomerate fined for polluting a watershed.

But now James Patten, a graduate student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, has come up with a digital tool he calls the Corporate Fallout Detector. The device combines a bar-code reader with an internal database of pollution complaints and ethics violations within a casing resembling a cold-war-era Geiger counter.

- The New York Times, August 28, 2003

SojoMail readers hit reply

Ross Rhodes (formerly of Boston, Massachusetts) writes from Canton, Ohio:

I very much enjoyed and agree with Jim Wallis' observations in "Baseball and the End Times." However, he could have been a bit more explicit about the eschatological logic inherent in the feared contest. There is more involved here than simple justice.

The potential problem we face is this. This universe is fundamentally predicated on the premise that the Chicago Cubs cannot win a World Series. It is equally true that the Boston Red Sox cannot win a World Series. These laws are immutable, like the Proscription Against the Buffalo Bills. ...

As I see it, there are only two possible outcomes. First, the World Series will go into an infinite number of extra innings. Television contracts being what they are, this does not seem plausible.

Second, heaven and earth will pass away, to be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth in which the rules of physics and professional baseball are different (in addition to the temple stuff). This seems the most likely outcome, hence the widespread perception that we may be living in the last few weeks of the end times. I know that our Lord said we will not know the time but I, for one, am going to be very nervous in Game 7 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, if that should come to pass.


William J. Collinge writes from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:

I think people are missing something. The end times were supposed to start 2000 years after the birth of Jesus, right? So people looked toward the year 2000. But that date depended on an error made by the chronologer Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century. Scholars today tell us that Jesus was probably born toward the end of the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C.; 6 B.C. seems a plausible guess. So the end times began in 1994, then - and what else could have marked the end if not the baseball strike that took away the World Series?


D. Saunders writes from Boone, North Carolina:

I agree with C. Hunter Wiggins' assessment of the recent column by Jim Wallis about rebuilding Iraq. The point is, now that we have messed up so much of that country (not that it was paradise under Saddam!) we are ethically bound to at least provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people. The high-minded Woodrow Wilson called it "reparation" after World War II: When a country commits aggression (i.e., takes "pre-emptive" measures) against another sovereign nation, as Germany did when it invaded Belgium in 1914 (and the U.S. did against Iraq in 2003), the aggressor should pay to rebuild the civilian damages - that's what Wilson demanded (and got) in 1919. ...

We need to show the Iraqis we are not just destroyers but rebuilders. ... Obviously we have not won many Iraqi hearts and minds yet, and probably never will, but at least for the foreseeable future it is clearly our responsibility to engage in nation-building. As to who should pay, of course Halliburton and other such sweetheart contractors should be required to set aside a substantial part of their profits; Iraq's oil resources should be security for international loans and rebuilding efforts (even though Halliburton would dearly love to keep its own mitts on such a treasure); and we need to get U.N. support.


Jody Greek writes from Bayport, Nova Scotia, Canada:

I find it ironic that a forum for independent thought, that often warns of the dangers of conservatism, would feature an ad that promotes "clean DVDs" - aka, censored. I have a 5-year-old child and live in a rural area, but still manage to find films appropriate for family viewing in their entirety. Then when the little guy goes to bed, mom and dad are free to watch the films that demand advanced maturity. Here's a radical idea: If it looks offensive, don't buy, rent, or watch it, or better yet - get over your own fragility! If you still want censorship, just watch CNN or any other major American news program. Guaranteed, you won't find much of anything controversial there.


Beverly Olson-Dopffel writes from Germany:

Having been a member of an Oikocredit group in southwest Germany since the 1970s, and having personal friends involved since Oikocredit's beginnings, I was delighted to see the short item by Terry Provance in SojoMail [10.08.03]. This is not "just another charity project," but an honest and realistic effort to improve chances for people who are trying against odds to help themselves. I hope many SojoMail readers will check it out at:


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