Life imitates Vance

by Henry Farrell on January 15, 2004

I’ve always admired the science fiction of Jack Vance; he has a baroque yet precise prose style, like steel draped in velvet. But one of his novels, _The Killing Machine_, rests on a premise that I always thought was a little silly. The money of Vance’s future society cannot be forged; fake-detecting machines can invariably tell the real banknotes from the bogus. The hero of the novel finds out why – the paper of real banknotes is crimped in a manner that is spaced “in terms of the square root of the first eleven primes” – and he’s able to print himself up a small fortune’s worth of undetectable forgeries. This sort of legerdemain always seemed rather implausible to me.

No longer. Now I discover via “Ed Felten”: that

bq. some color copiers look for a special pattern of five circles (usually yellow or orange in color), and refuse to make high-res copies of documents containing them. Sure enough, the circles are common on paper money. (On the new U.S. $20 bills, they’re the zeroes in the little yellow “20”s that pepper the background on the back side of the bill.) Markus called the special five-dot pattern the “constellation EURion” because he first spotted it on Euro notes.

Oh, that liberal media

by Ted on January 15, 2004

If you had a problem with this ABC News smear story, “Dean’s Trooper”, you’re not alone. (Jesse has a summary, if you don’t want to read the whole thing.) If you like, you can let ABC News know how you feel here.

My email to ABC is below.

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Yet again Maher Arar

by Henry Farrell on January 15, 2004

The Arar case has rightly attracted a lot of attention; Brian has already linked to Katherine’s great series on the subject at “Obsidian Wings”: Still, it seems to me that there’s one angle that hasn’t received enough attention in the US debate. The Bush administration aren’t the only bad guys in this story. It appears that “elements in Canada’s RCMP”: leaked erroneous information to US authorities, which caused them to take a particular interest in Arar’s travel plans and activities. This points to a more serious underlying problem – the creation of more or less unaccountable networks involving and intelligence and law enforcement officials across different states. Indeed, without networks of this sort, the US wouldn’t have sent Arar to Syria to be tortured in the first place; US intelligence officials wouldn’t have had access to any information that he might have revealed.

Transgovernmental networks have been around for a while in various policy areas; a few years ago, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a highly relevant “paper”: on the problems that they pose for democratic legitimacy. They’ve grown vastly more important – and more troubling in their implications – since then. Accountability disappears into a maze of shadowy relations between states – it becomes impossible to figure out who is to blame for any particular decision, and whom to hold responsible. Certainly, it has made it very difficult for Paul Martin to criticize the US; his officials seem to be “engaged in a cover-up”:


by Brian on January 15, 2004

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Framing effects

by Daniel on January 15, 2004

A wonderful example of framing effects in action. I hear that the USA is going spend $1.5bn on promotion of marriage.

First thought: A billion and a half! That’s a HUGE amount of money! How the hell are you gonna spend that kind of money on marriage counselling?

Second thought: Fifteen bucks per household isn’t going to buy you a lot of marriage counselling.

Protestants and Papists

by Maria on January 15, 2004

I recently finished the first set of political memoirs I can ever remember completing; Matthew Parris’s ‘Chance Witness’. It’s an enjoyable read, though Parris comes across as a cold fish. The early chapters about growing up a colonial child in Cyprus and Africa are much richer than the usual politicians’ gallop through childhood. They pit the young Master Parris as a cradle curmudgeon, familiar with the uncomfortable truths of conservatism from the onset of speech, against his well-intentioned but unreflective liberal mother. At Cambridge, Parris is disappointed by the tribal instincts of the great minds of his generation, and muses that people join labour/conservative/rugger bugger/etc. cliques simply because of their personality types. While he refrains from dishing the dirt on Tory governments of the 1980s in the way we all wish he would, Parris does give into a peculiarly English phobia; a mild but constant dislike, disdain or distrust of Catholics.

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Screenwriters Series

by Micah on January 15, 2004

On a slightly lighter note, if you’re a moviegoer and you just happen to be in London over the next couple months or so, this “series”: at the British Library looks excellent. The audio/transcripts in the “archives”: are pretty good, too. (The organizers of some academic conferences would do well to follow suit–but that’s for another post.)