News for Nerds? Some of it matters

by Tom on October 21, 2003

Mark Kleiman picks up an important story that I’d half-noticed on Slashdot a little while back, but had given little thought to. Fortunately, Professor K has a better attention-span than I do. While it could well be true that this stuff has had broader coverage in the US than it has in the UK, in which case my apologies to American readers for repeating the backstory, still…

The meat of the issue is that the fair and balanced and impeccably competent voting-machine company Diebold is doing its damn best to suppress the web-publication of leaked internal memos revealing some absolutely shocking security holes in their product.

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Collapse in Cancun?

by Daniel on October 21, 2003

Time for another “Globollocks Watch piece, surveying Doug Henwood‘s piece in The Nation, which appears to have been taken by some among the neoliberal axis as evidence of a climbdown by a once-proud supporter of the Seattle rioters

Full disclosure: Although DH and I have never met, we’ve corresponded for quite a while and I consider him a mate. For this reason, I’ve decided that integrity requires me to be extra harsh in applying the patent Crooked Timber “Globollocks Scale”. I repeat my earlier point that the Globollocks ratings apply to individual pieces, not to entire ouevres and certainly not to people. The purpose of the scale is at least partly to point out how difficult it is for anyone, no matter how solid their command of the issues, to write anything short about neoliberal policy which doesn’t end up materially oversimplifying. Since I’ve never knowingly lit a candle while cursing the darkness was an option, don’t expect me to subject any of my own work to this scale any time soon.

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Crime and the new urbanism

by Chris Bertram on October 21, 2003

“Iain Murray links”: to a “police-sponsored report”: claiming that housing estates built on “new urbanist” principles are more vulnerable to crime than private estates built in cul-de-sac format incorporating the notion of “defensible space.” Interesting stuff, especially since many of the ideas that inform the new urbanism are very influential with both local authority planners and amenity societies. I’m a little sceptical when too much is claimed for design. Just like carpenters thinking that a hammer and a nail is the answer to all problems, architects like to put everything down to design (I’m sure I’ve stolen that line from Colin Ward). And I’d like to know more about the other factors distinguishing the two environments studied in the report. But this certainly warrants further attention.

UPDATE: I’ll try to say more in a few days. But a more careful look at the police document suggests that this isn’t a matter of comparing the experience of similar communities but rather a “projection” of data some of which is derived from experience of estates from an earlier period which (according to the police) incorporate “similar” design features.

On the design front, I understand that the police SBD philosophy frowns on features like recessed porches and collonades (good for hiding) leaving us with the a general flattening of building surfaces. Attractive? I don’t think so.

Do “conservatives”: and “libertarians”: really want their urban spaces designed according to a police approved philosophy? Really? Do the urban environments people like, such as Bath, Venice, Florence, …. (fill in your preferred name) conform to Secured By Design principles? As I said, more when I’ve got a moment…

Krugman on Mahathir

by Daniel on October 21, 2003

Presumably the Gentile AntiSemitism Police will be all over this latest from Krugman, in which (as Chris did yesterday), he takes time out from saying that Mahathir Mohammed is a Very Bad Person [1] to have a think about Islamic politics. To be honest, I think Krugman’s case is pretty weak; I don’t think that the US has offered “unconditional support” to Ariel Sharon [2] and I don’t believe that anti-Semitic rhetoric would be any less of a crowd-pleaser in Malaysia if they didn’t. Christ, Krugman’s to the left of me on this one; I feel all funny. But it’s interesting, not least because Krugman did a lot of consultancy work in Malaysia around the last time Mahathir was ranting about Jewish speculators [3] and knows whereof he speaks.

[1] Which he isn’t; he’s an authoritarian and a bigot for sure, but by the standards of the region, he’s pretty good.
[2] Also an authoritarian and a bigot, and probably a war criminal to boot, but probably once more a mistake to blame him personally for ethnic and economic forces which would still be there whoever was in charge.
[3] Although his actual support for Mahathir in 1998 was a lot more lukewarm than he implies; he floated the idea of capital controls and deserves credit for that, but was actually much more ambivalent about the specific Mahathir plan. Note from the article too that his analysis of “crony capitalism” is much more nuanced these days.

Solitaire mysteries

by Henry Farrell on October 21, 2003

I’ve just finished reading Bruce Schneier’s _Beyond Fear_, which I recommend to anyone who’s interested in security issues after 9/11. Schneier’s a famous cryptographer – if you’ve read _Cryptonomicon_, you’ll be familiar with his “Solitaire”: code – but over the last few years he’s become more and more interested in the human side of security systems. And this is where _Beyond Fear_ excels – it describes in clear, everyday language how we should think about security in the modern world and why even the most sophisticated (especially the most sophisticated) security systems are likely sometimes to fail.

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International Monetary Fun

by Kieran Healy on October 21, 2003

I picked up a copy of The Money Game over the weekend in a second-hand bookshop in Melbourne. It’s a minor classic in the literature on the stock market, so naturally I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago when Daniel mentioned it in a comments thread. The book is thirty five years old and it shows. It’s also very good. That shows, too.

The Money Game is assiduously laid-back in tone. The author — the cover says “Adam Smith,” but the back page tells you it’s journalist and fund manager George Goodman — tries hard to impress you with tales of the big money-shufflers he hangs out with, while working hard not to sound too impressed himself. He comes from the right schools, belongs to the right clubs and is comfortably networked with the right people. In matters of lifestyle, taste and fashion he lives bemusedly at the cutting edge of conventional wisdom. Adam Smith isn’t the right name for him at all. It’s more as though Richard Cantillon were being spiritually channeled by George Plimpton, or possibly Austin Powers. Much of the time he sounds a lot like this paragraph, and he clearly knows a great deal about how stock markets really work.

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