Grand Spamming…

As you may or may not know, spamming is a crime in my fictional universe. This hardly qualifies as predictive or prophetic when juxtaposed with the recent brutal murder of a spammer in Russia. I mean, it was bound to happen sooner or later, right.

I’m fascinated at how people are reacting to this. It reads like one of those “offbeat news” items, or maybe a “Darwin Award,” and those articles are things we’re supposed to be able to laugh at. Lots of us are upset enough at spammers, though, that we’re openly praising the thugs who committed an inarguably horrible crime upon someone whose only crime was that he found legal ways to make money by annoying millions of people.

So rather than just feeling what I’m gonna feel and then moving on, I’ve been THINKING about how I feel about this murder. I’ve been analyzing my reaction to the crime. And the more I think about it, the more I hope that it wasn’t the spamming that got this guy on the wrong side of his killers.

I hope it was something more mundane, like stiffing a pimp, or not paying off a gambling debt on time, or otherwise inappropriately interacting with the seedy, violent side of his society.

See, it does my heart good to think that his spamming gave him a sense of invulnerability that crept into other aspects of his life, and that he then went and did something more routinely fatal.

I’m not sure why I feel this way. Maybe it makes me less likely to identify with the victim, enabling me to more easily de-humanize him so that I can enjoy the news of his death without feeling guilty about it.


28 thoughts on “Grand Spamming…”

  1. I don’t think it’s so you don’t identify with the victim. I think it’s so you don’t identify with the killers.

    If he was killed for spamming, then the killers are Internet users, and generally People Like Us. If he was killed for more mundane reasons, then the killers are People Not Like Us. It’s difficult to accept that killers could be People Like Us, because the jump from there to “the killers could be us” is miniscule.

    I recall reading a friend’s thoughts–beliefs? Assertations? I don’t remember–that murders and other acts of brutality toward people during the Middle Ages were often ascribed to vampires or werewolves on the same principle: no one could accept the fact that the killers were People Like Them, and likely, due to the small size of communities, people they knew.

    1. I like that idea. I also suspect that practice both pre- and post-dates the Middle Ages. Pre-Christianity becoming The Religion Of Choice for Europe, when the figures aren’t even human, they are given god-like personifications (eg: natural disasters, famines, plagues, etc etc etc). It wasn’t until around the Renaissance and later that people actually began to question these beliefs and turn them on their heads and realize that the people commiting the murders were other humans. Of course, they were likely *insert appropriately hated minority of the time period in question*, which aren’t really humans, so they aren’t People Like Us.

      1. It also explains why so many people today don’t like to think about felons or prisoners as people.

        It’s something of a joke among Jews[1] that any Jew who commits a crime brings disgrace on the entire tribe. Jewish mothers will deplore any wrong act committed by any Jew, almost anywhere. For example, to quote comedienne Judy Gold: “When they picked up David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam? I got a phone call from my mother: ‘ADOPTED! Talk to you later.'”

        [1] Why is it that whenever I’m talking on Howard’s Livejournal, my Judaism–normally merely a cultural part of my heritage, and usually addressed as such anyway–factors in? I guess he asks the appropriate questions.

        1. The Jews are one of the select few groups in history that it seems like everyone’s been bent on hating them. Among the other select few groups are the Anabaptists, which include sub-groups like the Hutterites, the Mennonites and the Quakers.

          What a ridiculous idea… waiting until children are old enough to decide for themselves if they want to be baptized or not…

      2. “It wasn’t until around the Renaissance and later that people actually began to question these beliefs and turn them on their heads and realize that the people commiting the murders were other humans.”

        Medieval legal systems were rather effective at dealing with murder when it happened, and it wasn’t all that uncommon. The only thing that has really changed since then is that we’ve gotten better at classifying the world. It is a lot harder to believe in the Loch Ness Monster or the Yeti in a world where everything that happens is photographed and printed and put on the internet and spread around the world. But if you’re stuck in a Medieval villiage, and know for a fact that people who are in the wrong place late at night get eaten by forest creatures, it’s rather natural for those creatures to get bigger and scarier. Especially when your young children keep trying to sneak out at night.

        Of course, that said, it wasn’t until the Crusades that Medieval Christians began to realize that the Muslim Sarasim were actually humans and honorable warriors. But I suppose THAT little stereotype is still true today — I read one article marvelling at the fact that Osama Bin-Laden was a friendly and lovable leader to his underlings. I suppose they assume that “Ye Monstrous Terrorists” are born, that they’re weird monsters who would rather blow themselves up under the command of someone who eats their babies than someone who kisses their babies…

        1. Clarification:

          I am not making any moral equivalency between modern terrorists and Medieval Muslim aristrocrats. I was just pointint out how human psychology has stayed the same — people still find it difficult to look at the opposite side in an objective manner without thinking of them as “monsters,” Renaissance or no Renaissance.

          1. I was commenting more on the attribution to inhuman creatures (eg: werewolves, vampires, etc).

            Distancing ourselves from the killers by claiming they are different/inferior/born to kill is a normal psychological reaction.

    2. That makes infinitely more sense than what I said. I hereby ascribe your clarity of thought to the fact that you are sober, whereas I’m about to tip over from hydrocodone and lack of sleep.

      After all, the thought that “people like me” could be that much smarter than me is unconscionable. Blaming a lack of sobriety is much easier.


      1. Sober? I guess I did only have the one beer. *grin* Though I’m pretty tired too.

        I think the thought that People Like You could be much smarter than you (which is a conclusion I wouldn’t necessarily draw from that data point, especially when you consider experience–both yours being more than mine on most levels, and mine being skewed in ways that would draw that conclusion) would be comforting. Because it leads naturally to the conclusion that you could be much smarter than you. Which is likely true, of course.[1]

        Get some sleep, man.

        [1] This is what happens when I get tired, in case you’re wondering. It’s an odd state of mind, lending itself to philosophical or political discussion.

  2. Russian police said that the murder was deemed to be the act of robbers in an attached article at the bottom of the webpage. Seems fair to me… though I doubt if they realized that they were doing the nation a favour… *grin*

  3. There’s actually another article labelled Russian Media Hails Spammer’s Death related to that, of which I found the following quote most interesting:

    “In the particular case of Vardan Kushnir, the Internet community spared no effort to discrupt his activities, engaging help from all sorts of authorities. Kushnir’s personal data was posted webwide; the deputy minister of communications (himself the target of unsolicited language-learning ads) recorded a message, urging American Language Center to stop spamming, and Rambler, one of Russia’s biggest Internet holdings, set up a calling system in its office, that played the message non-stop to the ALC call-center operators and answering machines. Finally, a Moscow-based Internet lawyer Anton Sergo filed a formal complaint against Vardan Kushnir with the Antitrust Authority (in charge of the enforcement of ad laws). Kushnir failed to show up at any hearings, and administrative proceedings were started against him for non-compliance. Then the spammer promptly changed his mind and came to an antitrust hearing, claiming he had absolutely no idea who might be sending out all those innumerable ads for his business. The case was closed.

    Given all this sad experience, and the constant increase in the number of unsolicited emails clogging Russia’s network traffic, one can easily imagine the feelings of a typical Russian Internet user, witnessing his very own and personal Inbox steadily reduced to another edition of a Trash folder. Joining the spamming industry in Russia is dirt cheap: any business can afford to mailbomb a million users for $100, and any individual can buy a software bundle, complete with mail address databases, starting from $20, to send out his CV, advertise his flat for rent, or sell a used car. Little wonder, that many spam-fighting tools, such as Spamcop, offer its users an option to ban any mail from the RU domain altogether, and thousands of Russian SMTP servers (including those of large ISP networks) occasionally make it to major international relay-blocking lists, due to spammers’ exploits. Which means that any mail originating from the Russian users of those servers gets trashed automatically, without notice to either the sender or the recipient.

    It’s little wonder, then, that Vardan Kushnir became as popular a character among Russian-speaking Internet users, as Lord Voldemort must be among Hogwarts’ fans. And a tale of some anonymous ’Harry Potter’ paying him a private visit on a warm July morning produces quite a predictable sensation among the audience. Of course, everybody understands, that spam will not stop with Kushnir’s demise — it will persist for years to come, exactly the way Lord Voldemort finds his way back into the picture with every new installment of the Harry Potter saga. But this time, the magic wand has for once dealt a deadly blow to the arch-villain, and there seems to be no option left for the spectators, than to hail the magic.”

    People did everything BUT send hitmen to his house to get him to stop… and he didn’t stop. So it looks like a Russian mafioso or someone with homicidal tendencies took matters into his own hands.

  4. To me, “legal” and “moral” are completely orthogonal. Whether something is legal or not is a purely practical consideration, and nothing to do with whether or not it’s _wrong_. It used to be legal to keep slaves. Did it become morally repugnant only when the law changed?

    On the other hand, seeing somebody killed for doing something that did NOT result in the death of other people first is always going to make me wince. Yeah there’s some kind of darwin award for annoying millions of people for personal financial gain to see if any of them are crazy enough to go postal about it, and if lobbying for laws that give prison time (and a felony conviction) for spamming is likely to PREVENT vigilante action that results in the deaths of these idiots, you can almost see the “for your own good” aspect of it. (Which again, makes me wince, but less so…)

    But mostly, my reaction to this one is like my reaction to the kid who wrote about his right not to wear seat belts being thrown from his car and killed. “Karma was involved…”

    1. seeing somebody killed for doing something that did NOT result in the death of other people first is always going to make me wince.

      If murder is the worst crime you can think of, I envy you…

  5. Probably Gang Related

    I doubt this was the act of any anti-spam vigilante.

    But I’m certain it was related to spam. These days spam is closely tied to organized crime; particularly Russian and Eastern European Mafia. There are frequently millions of dollars at stake and no shortage of people wanting to get in on, or take a piece of, the action.

    1. Re: Probably Gang Related

      You’re probably right, but somehow I have this mental image of dark-suited sunglass-wearing mafioso hitmen selling a briefcase to a nervous buyer containing a single CD with spam lists and equipment…

  6. If one guy spams 5 million people, and it takes each one, say, 12 seconds to deal with the spam, he’s just cost the world 8 man-years of productivity (8.1699343 man-years, according to my calculator). And it cost the spammer maybe five minutes to set up the bulk e-mailer plus whatever it took him to locate his broadband and outgoing mail servers.

    And what spammer only spams 5 million people? Let’s say he sent a hundred different spams over the course of his life. 800 man years.

    How much productivity have all of the spammers of all time cost us?

    I agree with Jerry Pournelle: the problem of spam will continue until it becomes legal to do something physical and permanent to spammers.

    1. Jail em? Just put `em in debt!

      Here’s a better idea. Instead of killing spammers, we take money from them equal to the amount of man-hours stolen multipled by minimum wage. Under this law, your 100mil spammer will be hurting at $38,570,400 dollars; which is probably more than he actually gets in spam money.

    2. Ah, the man-year. Never has there been such an inaccurate unit of measure since the meter (which was originally designed to be a specific fraction of the earth’s circumfrance around the equator, before they realized they forgot to carry the one…).

      By that same logic, it takes two seconds to take a sip of coffee. Let’s say it takes 20 sips to go through a cup. That’s 40 man-seconds for each cup of coffee, not even counting the time it takes to go and get it… multiply that by the number of cups of coffee that a company (or all of America) goes through, and you get some hideous number of wasted man years! ZOMG! Coffee destroys productivity!

        1. Re: Metre Definition

          Well spotted.

          However, that definition lasted for less than a year, whereas the replacement (fraction of the circumfrance of the earth) was around for over 100 years before getting replaced.

    3. Addendum: Who (other than web-mail users) takes 12 seconds to deal with one piece of spam? My spam filter automagically removes 95% or more of all spam sent to me, and removing another piece of spam takes a mere 1 click, attainable in one second.

      1. True. But look at it another way: Consider all the time and money companies spend every year trying to keep spam out. Consider the added mail-handling-and-filtering capacity large ISPs have to add to avoid having their servers go under from the sheer load. Estimates currently range from something like 65% to 93% of all email traffic on the Net being spam. I had to stop accepting mail at all at one of my domains because it was getting 10,000 to 12,000 spam delivery attempts per day, and the spam was effectively DoS’ing my dial-up connection — I couldn’t get anything else in or out past the spam.

        Tell me with a straight face there isn’t a real cost.

  7. I spammed once. I got paid money to spam people. A small number of people, comparatively — maybe 25,000. And I obeyed all spam legislation at the time — putting ADV: in the subject, removal info, etc.

    I couldn’t sleep. I still hate the fact that I now have that on my conscience, though I chalk it up to “I needed the money” and “I’m a sucker to peer pressure.” I like to think I’ve forever changed my ways, and that I can be forgiven.

    That said, I don’t mourn this guy’s death. I don’t even mourn the souls of his murderers, though I’m sure if I really think about it I’ll get there. I would’ve felt like I deserved it had somebody attacked me — though I’d be a bit peeved if it happened NOW, years later.

  8. You just don’t want to feel that the murder of annoying people is justified because everyone annoys somebody. Most of the time you never even know who it is you’re annoying until one day they snap and come into work with a sawed off shotgun and your name at the top of a list.

  9. Spammers

    On reading that article I too found myself feeling smug that someone finally did what I’ve wanted to do to the slobs that are slowly getting into all but my most protected email sites. My knee-jerk reaction was “Serves him right”. You’ve gotten me thinking now about the why of that reaction and whether it’s a valid response to what happened. I don’t think it *is* valid.

    What this guy in Russia was doing was legal. And if it turns out his head was beaten in solely due to his spamming, he was murdered for doing something the law says he could do. That murder then, if approved by such as myself without thought, says that the law does not supercede my own irritations. Anarchy can’t be far behind once we stoop to that low standard.

    So I too find myself hoping that his murder was of a more “mundane” sort. Then at least I can believe that he did something illegal that put him into a place where he could get hurt. Then at least it was two criminals dealing with each other, which while not legal is not such an open call to overthrow the rule of law.

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