Hard News by Russell Brown

Calling in the experts

Hi folks. It's a day for key information from informed third parties. That is, more on the issues around Scoop's developing story on the flaws in electronic voting machines, and what actually happened in the rugby on Saturday.

Duane Griffin has been in touch with more information on Scoop's voting machine scoop. He says:

While everyone is focussed on the extremely serious flaws in the Diebold system, there is a much wider point which I believe is being overlooked. Pretty much every respected, independent expert in the field considers computerised voting systems to be an appalling idea, a disaster waiting to happen. This is not just because of the inevitability of bugs, although that in itself would be enough, but because of the fundamental problems involved in trusting computerised systems. Even if the Diebold systems were not buggy, these machines still could not be trusted!

An excellent website collects information related to these issues - the author is probably the world's foremost expert in these systems. Her PhD thesis (available from the site) is entitled "Electronic Vote Tabulation Checks & Balances". Bruce Schneier, arguably the most influential cryptographer/computer security expert working today, summarised the issues in a readable, non-technical way here, in the December 2000 issue of his crypto-gram newsletter.

I have written a short blog entry about this at, which has a couple of other links, notably to the RISKS archive (which should be required reading in schools from the age of about 12 up).

It will be interesting to see how the momentum develops in the debate. The forthcoming recall election in California - already bizarre in its own right - will be an interesting test of the will to pursue democracy with defective technology.

Now that Uday and Qusay Hussein have been taken out, there appears to be fresh momentum in the search for their despotic Daddy. But the form the hunt is taking, like the siege of the sons, says something about the American military mindset on the ground in Iraq.

After using 200 troops, missiles and a helicopter gunship to take out three men and a child in the house in Tikrit, US forces stormed a villa in Baghdad during the weekend. Afterwards at least five people, including a child, were dead and eight were injured: "An Iraqi policeman said all the dead had been in cars fired on by troops as they drove through the area."

And guess what? Wrong house. If Saddam had ever been hiding there, he wasn't any more. The house belonged to a tribal leader, Rabeeah Amin, who said he knew nothing of Saddam's whereabouts. So who gave the tip? Was it malicious? Shouldn't somebody be pausing for thought occasionally?

If nothing else, a more measured approach might have permitted the capture of Uday and Qusay, assuming that it is what the US actually wanted anyway. For now, there will be scornful articles such as this one in the Arab press:

We must learn from this that US military strategy, doctrine, tactics and whatever else you can think of have reached a point of total bankruptcy. They are simply incapable of fighting real battles against real people who do not roll over and play dead on cue.

Then there's this one from the Toronto Star's Harroun Siddiqui:

Despite improvements in recent days, essential services are yet to be restored to even pre-war levels. But the real sleeper issue is cultural: American soldiers know how to kill but not how to make and keep peace.

They have a particular knack for escalating ordinary situations into Wild West shootouts.

They barge into homes in the middle of the night, kicking doors, pushing and shoving women - the worst sin an outsider can commit in Arab society - and placing bags over the inhabitants' heads.

This is no way to win friends, especially since the soldiers, acting on faulty intelligence, often end up at the wrong address.

It also does not help that dozens of innocents have been casually killed in three attempts at assassinating Saddam.

Then, of course, there was the rugby. For the first time ever, the All Blacks scored 50 points against the Wallabies, having also cracked the half ton the previous weekend against the Boks. Both victories took place at the opponents' traditional strongholds. They involved a kind of rugby that no other team in the world is presently capable of playing, and they showed that there is life beyond the defence-first philosophy that has dominated top rugby in recent years.

And yet, knowledgeable New Zealand rugby fans will be tempering their excitement, worrying about what the hell went wrong with the lineouts, whether Spencer kicked well enough for goal to justify keeping the current backline (I think he did, especially when Carter only managed one from three in his stead - the main problem is that our brilliant wingers score in the corner a lot) and whether the run-on selection is exactly right.

To that end, Hard News exclusively presents, hot off the press, Tracey Nelson's All Black Game Stats. The numbers in brackets show the split for each half. Commentary is Tracey's:


Thorne 30 (14+16)
Hewett 24 (15+9)
Collins 22 (10+12)
Williams 21 (14+7)
McCaw 20 (13+7)
Jack 20 (10+10)
Mealamu 19 (10+8)
Somerville 19 (14+5)
Thorn B 6
Meeuws 3
Hammett 3
Holah 2

Points to note: big effort from Williams this week, remembering he was subbed early in the second half. Better effort from Jack too. Lower work rate than usual for McCaw at this phase of the game, but I was amazed at how he was keeping up with the wingers because he kept popping up at those breakdowns. This was one of the areas that I thought Thorne hadn't performed well in, until I went back through the tape (so there you go, even I miss his work sometimes).

(significant meterage/go-forward gained)

Collins 5 (3+2)
Mealamu 3 (3+0)
Jack 2 (1+1)
Hewett 1 (1+0)
Williams 1 (1+0)
Meeuws 1
Thorn B 1


Mealamu 12 (2+10)
McCaw 11 (6+5)
Thorne 8 (2+7)
Umaga 8 (1+7)
Mauger 8 (2+6)
Collins 7 (1+6)
Marshall 7 (2+5)
Carter 5
Williams 4 (1+3)
Jack 4 (2+2)
Hammett 3
Holah 3
Thorn B 3
Somerville 2 (1+1)
Hewett 2 (0+2)
Rokocoko 2 (1+1)
Spencer 1 (0+1)
Muliaina 1 (0+1)

(as they occurred)

Marshall, Rokocoko, Howlett, Hewett, Spencer, Thorne, Carter, Ralph, Howlett.

A total of 30 in the game (very high)

First half (14)
NZ: 3/9, stole one Aussie throw
Auz: 5/6,stole 5 NZ throws

Second half (16)
NZ: 3/6, stole two Aussie throws
Auz: 7/10, stole two NZ throws

Only 11 all game.

First half (6)
NZ: three feeds, last scrum a bit wobbly.
Auz: three feeds.

Second half (5)
NZ: two feeds
Auz: three feeds, the third scrum is monstered by the AB pack