Thursday, May 04, 2006

KBJ: pathetic spammer

The detestable Keith Burgess-Jackson, A.K.A. Anal-"Philosopher", recently tried to trackback spam the 29th Philosophers' Carnival.

He wrote to his ironic* "Academic Thug" blog a short post entitled "Daylight Atheism", consisting of the text "see here", as a pretext for sending a trackback ping so that his otherwise irrelevant website would appear on the carnival page. His site deals in personal abuse rather than pills, porn or poker, but all the same: we call that spam, folks. (His motivation, transparent as ever, was of course to advertize his website to all the Leiter Reports readers who visit the carnival. Needless to say, I didn't appreciate his attempt to co-opt my project to advance his own pathetic personal agenda.)

The carnival host properly deleted the spam trackback link upon learning of it. Note that KBJ has since taken down his originating post (previously here). This confirms that he had no reason for it other than to send out the trackback spam. What a sad excuse for a human being that man is. Not content to remain a run-of-the-mill unhinged right-wing loon, Keith Burgess-Jackson, Ph.D., has sunk to the lowest depths of the netizenry. He is a spammer.

* = (Cf. the parody site: Keith Burgess-Jackson, Academic Thug.)


  1. I hadn't heard of this fellow before he trackbacked my post, but I do have a comment policy prohibiting excessive hostility or abuse, and I would say a trackback from a site whose entire purpose seems to be to personally attack one specific individual certainly qualifies on that score.

  2. Bah. That was me, sorry - Blogger seems to have eaten my identifying information on the last comment.

  3. Well, I think that KBJ is a pretty reprehensible individual, both personally and politically, but having been subject to unfair personal attacks by Brian Leiter, I suppose I can understand his pique.

  4. I think most people would agree that Leiter has a tendency to be harsh and irrational, but KBJ is always irrational, and I can't imagine Leiter's having written two posts that mention him can justify, in any sane mind, an entire blog devoted to smearing Leiter. It's obsession, pure and simple, from a man who is clearly very disturbed. I honestly feel bad for him, though I'm glad you guys refused to let the Philosophers' Carnival be used for his own obsession.

  5. Damn those obvious attempts at getting trackbacks to some trollish lair!

  6. This post sounds like a personal challenge, Richard. I wonder how Jonathan will respond.

  7. Ha, I take it you think the present example fails to meet Jonathan's definitional requirement that spam be "sent indiscriminately"? But compare the following example: Suppose that a marketer decided to advertize his wares in the comments to the Technorati top 100 blogs. He would be "discriminating" between potential markets in the same kind of way KBJ did here. But that would very obviously still qualify as comment spam all the same.

    These kinds of spammers are at least indiscriminate with regard to the target's intrinsic features (e.g. content, identity, etc.). They're merely looking for any advertizing space that fills a certain market role. So perhaps Jonathan could accommodate these counterexamples by clarifying his analysis. But yes, there's certainly a challenge there for him ;-)

  8. In fact, I'm pretty sure some spam programs look for specific keywords when choosing whom to spam. That way you know you're reaching your market. So indiscriminate can't be right.

    Now, in almost all the non-advirtisement uses of "spam," it means a "large number," so it might be difficult to argue that the concepts extends to something sent to only one site, but, knowing the way the cyber world works, I bet there is a separate name for exactly what KBJ did.

  9. Academics seem to have lots of time to have bitter and catty fights with eachother. And memories like elephants about it.

  10. Richard, thanks for writing about this. I hadn't realized he tried to do this. I guess he is getting desperate for someone--other than university officials and those mocking him--to pay attention. I suppose you will now have to warn subsequent carnival hosts. So it goes.

    Pat, to the best of my recollection, has been written about exactly once, namely here Readers can decide whether or not this is a "personal attack." Richard has written before that these kinds of charges (like the charge of ad hominem arguments) tend to be thrown about a bit recklessly.

  11. I agree with Brian that it's probably worth adding a brief note to the hosting guidelines on potential trackback spam, and re-affirming the carnival host's right to take reasonable steps like deleting. It should go without saying that hosts can do that, but (unfortunately) it's probably necessary in this case to state the obvious, just so everyone is clear in the future.

  12. Yeah, that's a good suggestion. Done.

  13. You're right Professor Leiter, saying that I am amongst the examples of "what's wrong with liberals today" while egregiously misreading what I wrote (I was clearly only referring to members of ANSWER and not all members of the anti-war rally, but if it is too complicated I explicitly disavow that interpretation in an update) and linking to someone who calls me a "stupid fucking asshole" probably doesn't amount to a personal attack.

    Also, implying that I am as bad or worse than Glenn Reynolds, for example, probably doesn't amount to a personal attack either, since you have only called Glenn Reynolds morally depraved, moronic, and an ignorant buffoon etc.

    Of course, I don't think I disagree with you about Reynolds (just like I don't disagree with you on most issues of politics or policy), but I think being put into that group amounts to a personal attack especially when it is done unfairly.

  14. Anyway, getting back to the conceptual analysis of "spam"... anyone?

  15. Not that Glenn needs defending (or Brian for that mater) but from what I can see the commentary on Brian's blog about Glenn (to take the main example) is basically the same as Pat's commentary on Brian. (Even using much of the same sort of language!) I guess that is the point Brian is making.

    having said that - the "spamming" thing is pretty obnoxious.

    Hey, I just call it as I see it...

  16. oh yeah spam... how about somthing related to

    the intentional spreading of an additional copy of some information that requires far less benefit and effort to spread than effort to remove and annoyance/cost (in total). And the sender had reason to beleive was unwanted by the person responsible for that location.

  17. I have a feeling that spam is a "role-governed category," and isn't going to be possible to come up with a set of necessary and sufficient features. You're going to end up with it looking pretty family-resemblancey. My own intuition is that spam has to involve a large number. In all other uses of spam that I know of, in the computer world, it involves large numbers (e.g. , sending massive amounts of data to overwhelm a server). But even that doesn't look promising as a necessary feature. You run into the problem of what "large number" means in this case (a sort of Spamites paradox).

    Consider an example. You work at a small business with, say, 30 employees. You send out an email to the company's email list, which includes all and only the 30 employees. The email is advertising something, and was unsolicited. Is it spam? What if it's advertising your performance in a play this weekend? In that case, it might just be considered an invitation. What if it's an invitation to the new porn website you just started up? I'd bet that people would call that spam. But what if you only send it to one person, because you know that person's the company's gossip, and he/she will spread the word about your new website. Again, it's unsolicited, it's an advertisement, but is it spam? I have a hard time saying it is, but what if you sent it to two people? Is it spam then? Three?

  18. Number seems entirely irrelevant to me. Jonathan gave a nice example to support this, of a spammer whose automatic email program crashes after only sending out one advertisement. It's clearly still spam. More generally, when I receive an email about "v1agra", I don't need to know how many other people also received it before I can know that it's spam. Even if I were the only unlucky recipient, it'd still be spam. Or amend my Technorati example so that the marketer decides to just advertise in a comment to the single most high-traffic blog, whichever that turns out to be. Intuitively, that would still be spam, right?

    Your small business example shows, I think, that intentions and social expectations play a role here. So it may be too complicated to get any neat list of N&S conditions. But here's an idea that strikes me as central: spam is inconsiderate (towards the recipients). Or, to adapt G's suggestion: the spammer has reason to believe that recipients would most likely consider the advert to be inappropriate, but simply doesn't care.

    Possible counterexample: madman threatens to blow up the world unless you send out some spam. You append to the email an explanation of why you had to send it. Thus most recipients (assume they believe you) will consider your mass-emailing to be perfectly appropriate. Isn't it still spam? I don't have any clear intuitions on that one. But insofar as I'm pulled towards saying 'yes', I think this is because there's a sense in which your sending the emails was inconsiderate of the recipients (qua recipients). I mean, you saved their life, and so properly considered them "qua persons". But that kind of global consideration is consistent with a more "local" (or specific) form of inconsideration. In effect, you let your concern for their lives outweigh your concern for them as email recipients. As a spammer, you imposed a kind of harm on the latter, even though it was (in this case) for their "greater good", and so quite justified.

  19. How about, in that case, if we say the mad man is a "spammer" and "you" are just the conduit? (i.e. that you must be a sort of “root cause”. Sounds logical but not entirely intuitively satisfying.)

    And, as you hint at - maybe the spam must be recipient defined. i.e.
    "If the majority of recipients believe the spammer had reason to believe that recipients would most likely consider the advert to be inappropriate, but simply didn't care"

    (Does it have to be an advert of some sort? maybe...)

    Or is it just any thing that reminds you of that annoying stuff you have to scrape off your sandwiches at school but you keep getting it every day!

  20. I doubt it has to be an advert or a PR move of some kind. You could imagine a kind of informative spam that informs you whenever there is a tornado around the world but provides no service or good to be purchased.

    It does seem to me that spam is fundamentally communicative.

    Richard, here is a possible counter-example to your proferred definition:

    Imagine an email list that sent out "prayers" to millions of people, and a non-trivial number could be expected (but not a majority perhaps) to find the email offensive and inappropriate. But the sender doesn't think they are being discourteous or inappropriate, they think they are doing their best to save these people's immortal souls.

    I am tempted to say that that is still spam. What do you think?

  21. Yeah, that seems like another "greater good" type example. The sender is still being inconsiderate towards the recipients as such (conceived under that 'local' mode of presentation). So it seems consistent with my account of spam (at least the guiding idea; we might need to tweak my expression of it).

  22. I would tend to say it is intuitively spam, so maybe it is sufficient that a substantial number might be annoyed (and that it is qua recipients as per Richards post).

    So far I guess we are at:

    "The sender has good reason to believe the sending of the information* would be considered inconsiderate by a substantial number** of the recipients***"

    * In text/image form as opposed to verbal?
    ** Most?
    *** Qua recipients

    We could be getting close there...

  23. So, I suppose we are adopting a kind of externalism?

    We could imagine a group of people who were irrationally upset at the mass emailings.

    So, we would want to include something like "spam puts people in a situation where resentment at discourteous is appropriate, even if not felt."

  24. at the discourteous behavior.

  25. One thing that probably should be excluded is
    "A political post on a blog that doesn't agree with you."

    If it was a copy of other information I guess it would still be spam - so maybe that is one restriction you need?

  26. G., I wouldn't have thought that necessary -- there doesn't seem anything particularly "inappropriate" about political debate. The recipient might find criticism "annoying", of course, but that was your term, not mine. I guess a post full of very harsh criticisms might count as "inconsiderate" in a broader sense. But that highlights the need to keep in mind my more 'localized' or narrow sense of the term. To respond to someone's arguments, even harshly, does not show any lack of consideration for them qua recipient of your communication. It's not like they would find your post irrelevant, for instance. Unless perhaps it's a mindless copy, as you say; that could potentially (depends on the details, I guess) demonstrate the kind of disrespect which I consider to be constitutive of spam.

    Perhaps that's the core of it: spam disrespects its recipients (qua recipients).

    Pat - yes, I think it's an objective phenomenon.

  27. Arrgh! my post got eaten - trust me the other one was better...

    I meant inconsiderate (your term) adopted by me in my earlier post.
    the issue with inappropriate is it seems less defined and objective (but we might choose that on purpose?).

    I see how the qua recipients aspect can still cover it - but more generally - is can you be inappropriate/inconsiderate qua recipients and still not be spamming?

  28. not that I don’t think the current definition we have is not good - just checking how effectively the definition excludes things that are "intuitively" not spam.


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