USS Clueless - Snow job

Stardate 20040726.1255

(Captain's log): I really resent it when someone assumes I'm a gullible fool. Anthony Cospito did so today, when he sent me email which began:

Dear Steven,

I'm an avid reader of your blog and thought you would want to know about a new book  that's been getting quite a bit of buzz. Bishop Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev and Newt Gingrich read it and highly recommend it. The book is called...

...but I'm not going to quote any more, because I have no intention of doing this guy any favors.

Bishop Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, Newt Gingrich? Quite a list, don't you think? Between the three of them, they pretty much cover the political spectrum. Bishop Tutu made a critical contribution to ending apartheid in South Africa, and recently hit the news when he bitterly denounced the invasion of Iraq. Common Dreams thinks highly of him.

Gorbachev, of course, is (ahem) the guy who really should be given credit for ending the Cold War rather than Ronald Reagan. So between Tutu and Gorbie, you've got the left covered. Gingrich, of course, is there for anyone on the political right.

So that's quite the short list of celebrities who "read it and highly recommend it". However, I'm skeptical.

This email made my bullshit detector buzz loud enough to be heard next door. Everything about this rang false. It reads like a publicity blurb. It sure doesn't read like a message composed by an "avid reader". I get enough of those to have some idea what they're like.

So I started looking into it. The email header indicated that it had been sent from IP [], which a reverse-DNS translates as "", a RoadRunner cable modem in New York City. But the email address he gave isn't on RoadRunner. Rather, it is associated with a site belonging to one "James Cospito", presumably a relative. It seems to be a media/advertising agency, and it's obviously not a big-budget operation. (He's placed his portfolio on "" instead of hosting it himself.)

I got onto my server and grepped my referer logs for that IP, and found exactly what I expected to find: [] has never visited my site before today.

He arrived at my main page with a puzzling refer from Yahoo:

I don't know enough about Yahoo to know exactly what that indicates. (My first thought was that he was running through Yahoo's online list of politically-oriented blogs, but if he was that should have been the refer; I've seen those before. It also doesn't make sense as a search-engine result; I've seen those, too.) (update: Aha! the answer below.)

Whatever it is, Yahoo responds to it with an HTTP 302 redirect to my main page. From there, he only accessed two other pages on this server. First he followed the "contact" link to get my email address, and then he followed the "biography" link. I suspect that was so he could find my name, so that he could personalize the greeting.

That's odd, to say the least, since the biography link text on my sidebar is "Steven Den Beste's Biography". You'd think that would be a big hint, wouldn't you? But if he was in a mass-mailing groove, then "find and follow the bio" would be step three.

Here's the email he got in response:

On Mon, 26 Jul 2004 13:21:22 -0400, you wrote:

>Dear Steven,
>I'm an avid reader of your blog...

Uh-huh... Sure you are. I really resent being taken for a gullible fool who can be snowed with shallow flattery.

Never mind the small detail that you have never visited my site before today, and that the only thing you did today when you visited was to go directly to the "contact" page to get my email address, and then to my "biography" page to find out that my name is "Steven" so you could personalize the above greeting on your form letter.

>...and thought you would want to know about a
>new book that's been getting quite a bit of buzz.

Or rather, you hoped you could con me into helping to create such a buzz.

Welcome to my Bozo Bin.

I really resent this kind of thing. Did he actually think that I'd fall for it? Was I supposed to be taken in because he addressed me by name, and told me how big a fan he was?

Answer: he didn't know if I would fall for it, but there was no harm in trying. If I did, he got free publicity for his client's book. If I didn't, maybe another political blogger would be more gullible. I'm confident I'm not the only person he sent this to.

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004