Anyone else seeing extra spam, and more sophisticated spam, in the last could of days?

I’ve noticed hundreds of new spam comments here in the last few days…

The only spam detection I have is Akismet, since it’s built in to public WordPress. It works well though. The first few of this “new generation” spam made it to the blog comments, but only because the spammers were stupid enough to forget their links. Normally the comment writer’s name is a link to the spam website, but this time they forgot. But that was two days ago…

Now I’ve seen some more intelligently generated spam. They often reply to existing comments (which is new), or post new comments as usual. But these new spam comments aren’t only generic compliments and gibberish. For example, there was this one:

This was so helpful and easy! Do you have any articles on rehab? (Emphasis mine.)

It’s still a generic compliment, but notice the last word? That’s a keyword relevant to this blog. It was pushed to a post about atheism, not addiction, recovery or drugs. But still… This new generation spam must be using an API specific to the targeted platform, interrogating blogs and generating comments in response to existing comments, presumably so that followers can get notified that their comments have responses. They’re also using keywords relevant to the target blogs, which make the spam look almost like real comments.

And then they fuck it up by being adverts for insurance (in this case), just like the 50 others it pushed around the same time. At least there’s that… They can never avoid detection completely, unless they forget to put their ad link in the comment writer’s name. Do that and the spam becomes useless because it is no longer an advert.

This irks me though. It means that there are programmers out there, people like me but without integrity, writing code that attempts to get around spam detection algorithms. These are people who deserve to be unemployed. Granted, they’re not exactly skilled programmers and their “intelligent” spam is not as intelligent as it could be… I can think of a way of easily circumventing the detection of the spam links, and would find it trivial to generate spam “smart” enough to get past Akismet. But I won’t do that or write how I would do it because I am not an arsehole.

Edit: One day, and over a hundred (detected and removed) spam comments later, and I think I was giving the spam devs too much credit. That one comment with an apparent keyword must have been a fluke. I’m almost disappointed, because it probably wouldn’t be difficult to interrogate blogs and generate content including keywords scraped from their tag clouds. But clearly spam developers aren’t too bright after all. And that’s a good thing.

Posted in General | Tagged | 5 Comments

Memories fade

Something I’ve noticed over the years is that memories fade. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s an evolutionary trait, and it helps us in the long run. If we remain forever lost, depressed and not functional after the death of a loved one, it would probably do us harm. So we don’t forget, but the memories fade, and only come to us again if we think about them.

I was reminded of this yesterday, by some comments on a post I wrote in September 2015, on some lesser known side effects of meth. That post was written to be informative but also light-hearted, looking at the humorous side of tweaking out so hard for a whole day that you forget to pee, having severe pain in your fingertips that makes it difficult to unzip your fly or tie your shoelaces, and other effects.

But it occurred to me, that those and other aspects of my life, day to day things that I lived with for years… faded from memory quite quickly. In fact I was just over two years clean when I wrote that, and those things had already faded. I only remembered them because something at the time (and ironically I’ve since forgotten what it was) reminded me of those times. Likewise, I hadn’t thought about that at all again, until I saw those comments yesterday.

Funny how it works… But it can also be dangerous. My son was taken away from me, albeit with my cooperation, though not that of his mother, when he was about 18 months old. It was for the best, for his safety at the time. It ws supposed to be temporary, a private arrangement while I went to rehab, but then something happened that I didn’t expect… Those who fostered him, and they were a family member of mine with his wife – they found reasons not to return our son. The foster care became formalized through child welfare, and then dragged on for far longer than it should have, and even in some respects contributed to my reasons for relapse in 2011. And something else happened… I got used to not being a parent, except when I thought about it, of course. Thinking about it just dragged me into a deep pit of depression and took me even further from getting him back. One social worker who was supposed to help us even sided against us, simply because my ex was honest about her feelings. (Never assume that anybody is competent to do their job, just because they do it. Never.) One would expect that a child welfare social worker, who regularly deals with addicts and their removed children, would understand the psychology of loss, and how it affects the parents. And one would be wrong. Granted, it’s important to act in the best interests of the child, but without understanding how removal of a child affects the parents makes you an accomplice to abuse against them. And removing a child initially because you insist that the mother is on meth and “is unable to make decisions on her own”, even when she isn’t? That’s not right.

That story did end well and I’ve had my son back since December 2015, but my point today is that it might not have. We need to be cognizant of the way memory works, and sometimes doesn’t work. (And although it is not relevant to the subject today, in recovery you also have to be careful what you say. Since you may find yourself in a program where belief and acceptance of bullshit is something that you are judged against, you have to say the right things, and fit in. That’s what I did, and I could not be completely honest about my thoughts on 12 step programs until it would no longer be used against me. And as mentioned, Megan was assumed to be an unfit parent just for saying “I feel like I don’t have a son”. She was telling the truth; I felt the same and simply didn’t say it.)

It would also be easy for me to have an unhealthy attitude about my former drug usage, forgetting the day to day suffering, as mentioned in that post, while longing for the good times, the years of pleasure and fun from before that. And in fact that’s what I used to do. When I lived through those bad times, I didn’t live in the moment… Instead, I looked forward to the next hit, hoping it would bring back those good times. Of course it never did, but it took most of three years to figure that out.

I guess that’s my message today… be careful of your fading memory. We probably evolved that way as a coping mechanism for loss, but it also comes with a dark side. It’s important to make a conscious effort not to forget, not to lose touch with our pasts, both the good and bad times; otherwise we could live to repeat our mistakes.


Aside: This post was also partially inspired by a line from one of my favourite songs (“One by one her senses die, the memories fade and leave her eyes.”). The Drowning Man, by The Cure. There’s a great analysis of the song here. And in the old days, on meth, that’s how I felt… Like I was drowning, where meth and madness were a watery grave.

Posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery | Tagged | Leave a comment

My secular approach to recovery

Yesterday I learned of local secular AA meetings, and wondered how they can work when the very foundation of AA (and NA) is built on shaky ground. Today I’ll elaborate a little on that. There will be some repetition from previous posts… Sorry about that.

I don’t know if their secular AA still uses a 12 step program, but this is what I would say if it did… Consider step one. I admitted that I was powerless over my addiction; that my life had become unmanageable. Well, what if I don’t admit that? What if I admit the exact opposite of that? Let’s think about how much effort it took for me to continue using meth. I had to make a plan to get meth. That meant setting money aside for it and calling a dealer. I had to meet him to get my drug. Sometimes I’d wait for him for up to two hours, sitting in my car, parked in some horrible place. I didn’t always have a meth pipe, so I had to make one. That meant buying a 12V light bulb, and a plastic pen, then carefully removing the filament from the globe without breaking it, and cutting off the tapered end of the pen. I had to do this while somebody else was in the house, somehow without them noticing. I had to find the opportunity to use without arousing suspicion. That’s just a few of the tasks I had to perform in order to continue using meth. There is no way I could possibly do all that on autopilot. At every step of the way, there was an opportunity to change my mind. For example, in those two hours waiting for the dealer, that’s a lot of minutes and seconds when I could choose to drive home instead. There were choices like that I made every day, and it is no exaggeration to say that I had thousands of opportunities to change my mind. (I mean this literally.) Yet I chose to use. I considered the risks, I considered the consequences, and I chose to use meth. There was no loss of control, no powerlessness. I was responsible for all that happened to me, and those who my choices affected.

The rest of the steps are even worse, what with asking god to fix character flaws and praying to god for help. Thus I reject the twelve steps out of hand. They are absolute nonsense.

But there’s a fundamental flaw, in any case, if you thank your god for your recovery. Consider people who thank god for their lives being spared in a natural disaster. Why don’t they also thank him that other people were killed? It works both ways. If god is to take credit for the good things, he should also take credit for the bad things. If god exists and you have a disease of addiction, then he is responsible for it, not you. And I don’t buy that. When god is removed from the equation, two things happen: Firstly, you don’t get to blame him or anyone else for your misfortune. Secondly, you don’t get to ask him for help, or thank him for your sobriety. It’s all on you, and that’s more difficult than failing to take personal accountability, as twelve step believers do whether they know it or not. But for me, it is the right way to do recovery. The only way.

With this mindset, my three years and eight months clean so far have been easy, and will continue to be so. I am living proof that you can do recovery without twelve steps, without a higher power, without a sponsor, or meetings, or step-work, or “just for today” because this is for life. Heck, I don’t even accept that addiction is a disease. All of the effects on our brains and our behaviour when we use drugs or alcohol fall into the expected neuroscientific consequences of using those substances. Even the neural pathways formed by our use are to be expected. Hence there is no disease. If you can make all those choices to use, you can just as well make other choices not to use, and after a while, new neural pathways will form, and you won’t crave those substances any more. I have not craved meth since my first few weeks clean, in September 2013. We’re all different of course. But my point stands. I don’t crave and haven’t for a long time. I have no interest in ever using meth again, and call myself a former addict because I don’t accept that addiction is a disease that (can’t be cured but) needs lifelong treatment. It’s a behavioural disorder that can be overcome.

I may still go to that meeting next Wednesday to hear how other atheists here approach recovery. But I’ll do so not for me in this case… Maybe my words can help someone else.

Posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery | Tagged | 1 Comment

Secular AA. What’s the point?

Someone just pointed this out to me on Facebook.

SecularAA

I don’t get it. I don’t believe you can take god out of the 12 steps. Maybe that’s not what they do?

The funny thing is, I used to attend an NA meeting in the same place, at the same time, on Thursdays, a few years ago. (An embarrassing moment, from 2011 or 2012 I think… I once went there high, after stopping off at McDonalds on the way. As I wolfed down the burger before the meeting, someone asked how long I was clean. “About half an hour”, I replied. It was a full meeting, and in the break, I sat outside and watched the stationary cars sliding up and down in the parking lot, as I listened to a guy named Craig tell me that I’d end up “sucking cock” to get my drug, and laughing in his face. Poor guy. I wasn’t a nice person on meth, and didn’t have patience to explain to him that we don’t all go that far.)

I might go there next week just to fuck with them – share and make my case for why I reject step one, which makes all twelve steps worthless in my opinion. Then again, according to the image below (shared with me on Facebook) they do encourage expressing your disbelief. Of course my disbelief is quite a can of worms… I reject not only the woo, but also that addiction is a disease.

WeAgnostics

If I do go, I’ll report back and give them a “review”. I might attend just once, to see what it’s about, as I am not interested in meetings. Of course, I might be pleasantly surprised, and meet a group of free thinking skeptics and atheists like myself.

I don’t mean to be overly dismissive. I don’t need meetings. I wonder if most former addicts do? If that’s the case, and most do not think of themselves as former addicts as I do, then secular meetings could be exactly what many need. Too bad it’s only AA, not NA.

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Retelling the story of my initial attempt at recovery as an atheist

I started out, in my random wondering thoughts as I took a bath this morning, wanting to write about why I hate the twelve steps. Of course this is a subject I have covered before. But it occurred to me that I haven’t written how I got there.

Wind back the clock to the end of October 2009, when I first went to rehab. I was in a bad state, having lost everything. I went to a place called Careline, in Hillcrest, Natal. It was a Christian based rehab, and I felt like I was in some awful combination of prison and school. We were treated like children, with the male and female inpatients being reprimanded if they merely sat together.

Once a week, we were also forced to go to church, but not like any church I knew. It was more a wannabe mega-church, complete with large screen TVs, a band,  a walk-in pool that could be revealed by sliding open the cover so that adults could be baptized, the works… And a preacher, beloved by everyone there, who would give thirty minute speeches about why you should give him all your money. And people standing up, raising both arms high as they sang praises for their imaginary grand wizard in the sky.

Yet I got to like that place in a way. We spent our days mostly in Life Skills classes, which I rather enjoyed in between the more important (in my mind) breaks in which I spent my time bumming cigarettes. Life skills classes were mostly about trivial skills that one would expect most people to have – I certainly did – but somehow most of the addicts there did not… Maybe because they started using drugs in their teens, whereas I started as a thirty-something. But in between the life skills classes, we also did self-analysis, via writing about ourselves. It was formulaic to a point, but I found that I could get into it, and evaluate myself and my life deeply, seeing myself from a different perspective and I began to understand why and how I’d got to the point of using drugs.

I didn’t know that this was not how most people do recovery. I didn’t know how lucky I was. What I grew to love about that rehab was finished in their three month course, and once you finished that, you went on to the twelve steps. But I wasn’t there for much longer than three months, and it was only when I went to NA meetings after rehab, that I realized what the twelve steps were all about.

When you work the steps and get a sponsor, what you do comes to nothing like what I did in that rehab. Because I’d had the freedom to write, and I wrote a lot, I’d been working on myself, and on evaluating the reasons that I used drugs. I’d also been learning, via videos and books, how addiction works on the brain. I’d accidentally been treating myself psychologically, and been doing something approaching evidence based treatment. But the twelve steps are not about evidence. I found myself isolated, with no one to talk to besides people who completely misunderstood what was happening. On the one hand I had idiots who believed in (12 step) magic and woo; on the other I had family members who thought that NA meetings actually had some value. They don’t.

Consider the first step, from memory because I couldn’t be bothered to search for such bullshit now: I admitted that I was powerless over my addiction; that my life had become unmanageable.

When you’re desperate, when you’ve fucked up your life completely, it does feel like you’re powerless. So it’s easy to get sucked in to believing in nonsense. But if you take a mental step outside yourself and really look, it isn’t so…

To admit powerlessness is to deny responsibility for your choices. It’s the easy way out. It is much easier to say that you continued using drugs despite horrendous consequences because you were powerless to stop. “I just couldn’t help it. I was out of control. I’m a victim.” Well, that’s a crock of shit. The difficult way, the only way I could make this work in the end (although I hadn’t figured it out back then) was to admit to myself that I was always in control. Addiction is a choice, but not a single choice; rather it is thousands of choices to use, get more drugs, and continue using, because that’s what you want. I evaluated my situation, considered how bad things were, and decided to use anyway, because I loved being high. I was never out of control, but instead I was personally accountable for every horrible thing that happened to me, and partially responsible for what happened to my ex and my son. I did nothing to stop it when I should have. For me, facing this reality is important. I reject the twelve steps out of hand because the very first step is bullshit. I’m not going in to the rest of the steps today, but suffice to say, anything with a foundation that doesn’t hold up, is nonsense. (And they do get worse. They involve asking a higher power to fix you, effectively moving even further away from you taking responsibility for your own life and poor choices.)

Of course I didn’t know this back then. For a while, I tried to follow the twelve steps even though I didn’t believe in them. They not only didn’t work for me, but without something to hold on to, I relapsed after nine months and continued using meth for nearly three years. This is why I hate 12 step programs, and hate that they are still the accepted way for addicts to clean up.

Posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery | Tagged | 1 Comment

When people go out of their way to tell me that my life has no meaning because I don’t believe in god

This is one of those annoying statements that I have heard and read too many times now; hence this post. Actually I could refute it in a line or two as I do in comments elsewhere, but maybe it’s better to expand my argument a little, so that I can refer to it in future.

I hear this a lot, once even from a family member. The accusation goes that because I am an atheist, my life has no purpose or meaning. Also, because I don’t propose some alternative hypothesis to “god did it”, I have no purpose. He claimed that he has spent years searching for the truth, whereas I have done nothing. Therefore I am just coasting along in life without any goal.

Here’s the thing: I admit that there are things I don’t know. I don’t know how the universe came to be, or how life formed. But I don’t replace “I don’t know” with a placeholder, call it god, define it as eternal and go and judge people who don’t believe in my magic. And I certainly don’t claim to have a personal relationship with that placeholder, and claim that it gives my life purpose.

How convenient that you searched for the truth, and then came out of your search deciding that what you were taught as a child is the answer… It’s a lie. Accepting your indoctrination is not any way of searching for the truth. Yes, I have done nothing. I simply reject this magic placeholder for the unknown that you call god. But you have also done nothing… Even if you study the subject of your belief, you have studied a fiction. The difference between a critical thinker and someone who accepts their indoctrination is that the thinker doubts. Contrary to what they teach you in Sunday School, doubt is the most important thing for you to do with regard to religion. It’s the only thing to do. There’s no excuse for failing to do so.

So what then, is the meaning you get from your belief? Do you believe in some objective meaning? That is, is your meaning and the meaning of everyone else who believes in your god, exactly the same? If it isn’t, it didn’t come from your god. You imposed it on your god. Sorry but the placeholder is just that… a placeholder. It does nothing. It says nothing. It answers nobody’s prayers and has a personal relationship with nobody. All that shit is in your head.

So there must be something else going on. This…

CognitiveDissonancejpg

When your beliefs are contradicted – and this doesn’t only mean that anyone criticizes them… it is enough for me to be a member of a closed atheist group in Facebook for someone to go out of their way to join so that they can tell me my life has no meaning, or complain that they are being persecuted for their beliefs (while persecuting me)… It causes a feeling of intense discomfort. This cognitive dissonance results in your attaching the subject of your beliefs to your identity. This is why it is justifiable in the mind of a believer, to accuse atheists of disrespecting them, just because we don’t believe what they believe. It is also why you can accuse me of having no purpose, because you irrationally attach your belief to your purpose, and see anyone who doesn’t do the same as a threat, even though there is no correlation between belief and purpose.

In fact, meaning or purpose does not follow logically from a belief in god. Instead, it is simply a matter of believers feeling threatened on a deeply personal level, a level to which they irrationally attach their very identity, when those beliefs are criticized, or when they realize that other people do not share those beliefs. It becomes ironic then, because when people respond this way to atheists, they either buckle down in their beliefs even further, or block us. (To be honest though, I was overjoyed when that particular family member blocked me on Facebook.) It means that our arguments are getting to them. So just at the moment when they almost understand what atheism is, they shut down the conversation. It’s a pity because many of us started out as believers, and we didn’t do that – we faced our doubts and resolved the cognitive dissonance that arose from our beliefs not making sense, thought about it, and came to the only logical conclusion. (God was created by man, the god I was taught of, and every other god ever worshipped. Furthermore, there is no evidence for the existence of any deity, a soul or an afterlife.) It’s also a reason not to give up on this argument. I’ll continue to write about it, debate online, and also in person to anyone who makes the mistake of preaching to me. And if some of those people block me or stop talking to me, so much the better.

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Somebody ought to teach these Flat Earth morons about Occam’s Razor…

This is hilarious. I’m copying and pasting the meme and quoted text from this Facebook photo

ThesePeopleAreMorons

Generally, those who ask before researching raise questions based on ignorance of the true Earth model. This image illustrates one of these questions.

No, flying straight will not make anyone end up “in space”, first of all because space doesn’t exist. In addition to the ice circle (known as Antarctica), there are boundaries of the Firmament which are the side walls of the dome. The center of the plane is north, following clockwise direction is west and following counterclockwise direction is east. No planes have any routes that go beyond Antarctica where they could run the risk of hitting the dome. All plane routes are within the dome. If a plane “flies straight” it will follow a compass that will just make it follow clockwise or counterclockwise above the plane and inside the dome.

Now, if we had actually been living on a ball in a vacuum, a plane flying straight would indeed go off into “space”… but it’s good thing that there are magical forces like “gravity” to bail out space-fiction fans and keep their planes going upside-down around a ball. Logic? Forget it. There are theories that explain it away!

Their “logic” is insane. Space doesn’t exist. Satellites aren’t real. Instead we have a dome and a ring of ice around a flat planet.

My comment to them (and I don’t care to read their reply) was this:

So how do satellites, and thus GPS technology, work? Magic? Like Uber has a secret contract with Jesus and he powers their maps?

You realize if you believe this crap, it excludes you from a whole bunch of normal jobs that intelligent people do.

But even if we pretend the problems of satellites and GPS technology don’t exist, and accept that GPS should have been called JPS for Jesus Positioning System, and actually read what they’re claiming, they still have problems… According to their logic, the Earth looks flat; therefore it is flat. (That’s what it comes down to really. That’s what the Flat Earth belief system is about, until you involve religion.) But, and try to get your head around this strange bit of nonsense that’s so contrived and complex it violates the very premise (simplistic thinking) of their belief… when you fly a plane dead straight, you actually go around in circles.

And that’s where Occam’s Razor comes in. The simpler explanation for something is generally correct. In this case, in order for their logic to make sense, they redefine flying straight to mean to fly around in circles. That’s right, without angling the plane, but by flying dead straight, somehow you end up going round and round in a circle, sideways. This redefinition is necessary because otherwise they’d have to explain why nobody flies into the magic dome. If your logic includes making shit up to explain why things don’t work the way you’d like them to work, well, I don’t need to elaborate, do I?

Also, for no planes to follow routes that involve crashing into their imaginary dome, AKA firmament, there needs to be an enormous conspiracy, and a whole bunch of people working for air traffic control need to be colluding to hide the “truth” of the flat Earth. Not to mention everybody who understands how GPS – Global Positioning System – works.

I’ve read that people who believe in conspiracies are actually intelligent, and believing conspiracies makes them feel safer somehow – safer because there are people out there in control. It’s not all chaos. But I struggle to accept that anybody who believes the earth is flat can be intelligent in any way. They can’t be.

Posted in Humour | Tagged | 20 Comments