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   thin blue line in Saugerties
Tuesday, August 26 2003
For some reason I went through the center of downtown Saugerties this morning on my way to a housecall. Soon after I crossed the railroad tracks to the northeast of downtown, I noticed flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Oh shit, I was being pulled over by the Man! I couldn't think of anything that was wrong about either my driving or my vehicle, but then I looked down at my window decals and saw that one of them was missing. Where could that have gone?
When you're a reasonably law-abiding person, it's easy to forget the quasi-totalitarian nature of the thin blue line. Don't get me wrong, I'm not somebody who believes that all cops are macho assholes. Without a police force checking the human tendency to seek advantage at the expense of others, our society might resemble the one endured by the unfortunate Iraqis. That said, there's nothing pleasant about interacting with a cop who has pulled you over. The experience is one of violation, and you'll go away from it feeling less secure in your world. At my age, chances are good that the guy coming to my door will be younger than me. And it's unlikely that he'll be especially bright or educated. And yet, he's the one with the power, not me. Unless he belongs to a rare breed, he'll resort to a series of patronizing slights and tired clichés.
This particular cop was no better or worse than usual. When he asked me who I worked for, I said I was a contractor who did computer house calls. This didn't satisfy him. "I said, 'Who do you work for?'" he snarled, acting as if a murder investigation was at stake. "I work for myself," I explained.
It turned out that I'd let my vehicle inspection sticker expire back in April. For some reason I'd come to believe that my truck didn't need to be reinspected until October because of the "10" on the most prominent window decal. But a lesser sticker was actually the inspection sticker, and it had "3" on it. Okay, so I'd lost track and I'd dropped the ball. But it's understandable; I'm completely unfamiliar with the New York State sticker system. That "10" sticker was actually the vehicle registration sticker, and someone had apparently stolen it during one of the many times I'd left the truck parked somewhere with the window rolled down. It had probably been an irresistible temptation to some passerby looking to legitimate an unlicensed car. The adhesives used on the backs of those tags are of an inferior grade and it had been dangling by a corner for months.
So I ended up getting two tickets: one for a lapsed inspection and the other for failing to display my vehicle registration. I drove away from the experience feeling not too different from the way I would have had the cop been fondling my dingaling instead. And I showed up at my housecall 20 minutes late.

I tried running blocks of my text through the Gender Genie a few times today, and about 80% of the time it told me that my stuff appears to have been written by a woman. The part of this entry above the photograph scores a 488, which is, according to the genie, on the male side of continuum. There must be no validity to the genie's logic, because answers to the "am I right?" poll question concerning its results are running 49.83% "yes" and 50.17% "no" - almost exactly what you'd get if the genie was coming up with its answers completely at random.

This evening Gretchen and I watched the recent Spike Lee movie 25th Hour on DVD. It was a great movie, though it seemed to suffer even more than usual from Spike Lee's worst directorial trait: overstatement. Spike doesn't seem to respect the intelligence of his audience - he feels the need to rub our noses in every point he wants to make. For example, there is this one scene where a couple of a guys are having a conversation in front of a window overlooking the moon-like landscape of the former World Trade Center. It's lit in a crazy bluish-green light and the soundtrack is playing a subtle Middle Eastern funereal wail over the usual orchestral string section. The vision of two guys discussing their personal issues against this backdrop is subtly mind-blowing. But then Spike feels the need to zoom past them out the window and into the World Trade Center site to show us iron beams being loaded into trucks and guys poking the ground with their shovels. This part was completely unnecessary.
Towards the end there, the movie seemed to borrow heavily from drama devices pioneered by Ambrose Bierce in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." (Back in elementary school I was shown a rather disturbing movie adaptation of this short story several times without any explanation. I get the feeling it's popular anti-Yank propaganda throughout the former Confederacy.)
For her part, Gretchen saw this movie as yet more evidence of Spike Lee's terribly-ingrained sexism. In the worlds Spike creates, the men are all guy's guys and the women are the sort who dab away blood from their men's faces when they get them kicked in. It's all too cliché for her, but she nonetheless enjoyed the movie.
Most striking about it was the production: the crazy filters, weird lighting, artsy angles, and disorienting edits. Some of those edits allowed for split-second repeats of actions, often from a different angle. Pervading the whole movie was a lovely orchestral soundtrack, which almost never swelled up from the shadows in which it dwelled.
The movie was definitely a downer. The points it made all seemed to be negative ones: our laws are harsh, our prisons are rape farms, and our government lies and tells us World Trade Center air is good to breathe. But on the positive side, the movie left me feeling lucky. My experience today with Johnny Law had been a picnic.

Tonight, after suffering for too long at the hands of penis patch merchants and the viral SoBig deluge, I finally bit the bullet and spent several hours installing a complicated procmail-based spam filter on my email account. Without the help of several readers pointing me in the right direction and the rapid answer of a question posed to the webmaster, this underaking could have never gotten off the ground.
The filter is called Spam Bouncer, and it does a lot more than I need it to do. In reading the documentation, I was disturbed to discover that there was a time when the only fully-HTMLized email came from spammers, but then Microsoft and AOL both started making it so their email clients produced fully-HTMLized email by default. This had the effect of eliminating one of the easiest spam tests possible. Thanks a lot AOL and Microsoft! I'd love to filter out every email that contains an <HTML> tag, but if I did that, I'd stop getting emails from the users of ubiquitous crapware.
I was so happy with my newly spam-free computer, I immediately tracked down Gretchen to tell her the good news. I explained how spam had begun to ruin the fun of the internet, and how I'd even considered abandoning my current email account.
My problems with spam are the direct result of my email address appearing on all of my web pages. I started doing this back before spam was much of a problem, and I didn't know any better. Now my email address has been picked up by every reasonably-competent spam spider ever written, and probably is included on every "2 million eager customers" CD ever sold. There's almost nothing I can do to undo that damage now, so I'm forced to fight the spam as it comes in. By doing it automatically on the server, I never have to touch the nasty stuff. If this works as it should, it might not take me back to 1996, but I'd settle for the way things were back in, say, March of 1998.
For her part, Gretchen gets very little spam. She has an unpublished email address on, and they do a pretty good job of filtering the most egregious incoming crap.
Compared to other people who struggle under the yokes of their computers, we actually have it pretty good. We use Mozilla and so completely avoid web popups. And I've got a long list of ad servers in my primary machine's hosts file, and since that machine serves as the proxy server for our home network, it kills most ad banners household-wide. (Mozilla also supports free ad-fighting tools should we ever need to take further measures.) The web for us is almost like public radio - back before Archer-Daniels Midlands started junking it up.
In a later part of the conversation, Gretchen brought up something I'd written recently that she'd thought was racially insensitive. The other day I had written about the concept of six degrees of separation (in the context of Friendster) and I had used the image of a Congolese "dude" with a bone through his nose to depict someone who is further from me in degrees than just about anyone else on Earth. In response to Gretchen's criticism, I protested that there really are people in the Congo with bones through their noses, and that I didn't think there was anything wrong with that at all. So she said something like, "Well, there really are black people who eat watermelon, but that imagery is loaded with negative connotations and so you just don't go around talking about 'Watermelon-eating black people.'" I realized she was right, but I still didn't want to change what I'd written because it would spoil the wordplay I'd created. Gretchen said she hadn't even noticed the wordplay - the racist allusion had been too distracting.

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