This is incredibly bizarre. Today I’ve started getting spam which is clearly coming from zombies and using fake return addresses and forged headers, but the content is a plaintext message encouraging hurricane relief donations and linking to the legitimate Red Cross and FEMA websites. There’s one further link, to, but the ISC reports that the site is legit.

It literally looks like some spammer decided to encourage donations to the relief effort, picked an organization he figured most people would recognize, and plugged the message into his usual spam software.

I can’t decide what to do about them! On one hand, they’re spam. They’re unsolicited, they’re using spammer techniques, and they’re clearly not associated with the Red Cross. And we’ve always said the issue is “consent, not content.” But if the ISC is right, they’re not trying to pull a fast one like the scams and spyware installers that are leeching off of the catastrophe.

I keep thinking I should train the filter on them anyway, just like I would add political or religious spam, or an everyday charity that decided to start spamming for donations… but for some reason I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m thinking of a word. The definition is “a feeling of shock, sadness, compassion and sometimes guilty relief in response to a disaster that happens somewhere else.” It’s not “horror,” “rage,” pity,” or “sympathy.” It could be German in origin. It’s what a good chunk of the world felt after last year’s tsunami, and it’s what a goodly number of Americans are feeling now about Hurricane Katrina.

And it doesn’t exist.

People are good at making up words. The variety of creations added to the OED each year, and the number of suggestions that are rejected, prove that beyond a doubt. We even make up words without meaning to, running together utterances like “bighuge” and “goaheadand.” We have a word—emo—for “loud, emotionally charged pop-punk music.” Some of us know the word schadenfreude and aren’t afraid to use it. If we can encapsulate stuff like this, we should be able to pick a word or two to define the enhanced survivors’ guilt and horrific fascination, laced with uncharacteristic compassion, gripping so many of us.

So far, we haven’t.

Disasters happen all the time, and always have. We’re just getting better at broadcasting them all. Before the age of telegraph and radio, it was often too late to send rescue-type aid by the time bad news arrived. Today, we can get the news in an instant, but the majority of us are simply unable to give the kind of aid—airlifts, rebuilding, law and order—we perceive as most meaningful. We are isolated by distance and circumstance, so we send money, and watch, and hope. The more we are able to watch, the more we need a word for what’s making us watch. So everybody who’s working on the projects for how to write “whole nother” and finding the modern negative of “used to,” you have a new assignment. Due date: next disaster.

The SANS Internet Storm center, which has found itself dealing with the fallout on the Internet from a quite literal storm, is reporting that a vulnerability in Dameware (apparently a remote admin system for Windows) is being exploited. Ordinarily the solution would be to tell people to download the update… but the Dameware website is in New Orleans. Fortunately, the UK-based site is up.

Not everyone in New Orleans has gone offline. Netcraft reports that domain registrar DirectNIC has held on through Katrina and its aftermath. Being located 11 floors up in an area that hasn’t flooded yet probably helps. That, and having three weeks’ worth of backup power.