Hard News by Russell Brown

Seriously bad

Scoop's big scoop on the stark shortcomings of the Diebold electronic voting machines being commissioned by the thousand in the US is really starting to get momentum. Alastair Thompson's gutsy move in making the contents of the Diebold ftp server available has allowed the code to be scrutinised by expert researchers, and their verdict seems damning.

The story has reached the New York Times and it appears that it may yet escalate to become a political issue. The Listener's story about it is also getting a lot of hits, I hear.

Why the big deal about these machines and their software? As the Scoop site puts it: "You can overwrite votes. You can vote more than once. The system is vulnerable to both inside and outside attacks. Intruders can overwrite audit logs. You can assign passwords to all your friends."

Whether the various holes and trapdoors in Diebold's software have actually been used to influence an election result is another question altogether. But it is clear now that they could be used to do just about anything. It is hard to see now how a US Presidential election could credibly take place on this technology. Seriously.

I referred my own expert - who has a professional perspective on these issues - to the new stuff on Scoop and his response was:

"Jaysus! If the reported findings regarding the Diebold systems are true then they represent an utterly shoddy replacement for the flaky mechanical voting machines they used in Florida. I've no idea why anyone would build a system like that described in the previous articles. It's not as if security in IT is an immature area of the technology or anything.

"It all goes to prove something I've personally thought for a number of years - here in NZ we should think long and hard before we replace the good old system of counting bits of paper with the voters' choice written on it by hand, with ink."

Read more about it here. Expert commentary welcome.

Doc Searls, the Libertarian-voting editor of Linux Journal, has written an extremely perceptive editorial on the future of the open source movement, Internet culture, big business and the difference between liberals and conservatives. It's here and it's really worth studying.

In the grand tradition of these things, Parliament's health committee is expected to recommend the medicinal use of cannabis - and then quickly pass the buck. I can't help but feel that the people fretting about it as a back-door route to decriminalisation should try looking at it the other way around: is too much fretting over recreational use getting in the way of making the correct decision on grounds of medicine?

Principally, people who would feel more comfortable if cannabis was available in a nice, white pill instead of a smelly old reefer are missing the point. As anyone who has eaten cannabis knows, it's no use at all as an acute remedy, and it's very difficult to govern both the strength of dose and the time it lasts. The customary means of ingestion simply works better and can be controlled more easily by the user. If it's to be cleaned up and medicalised, it will have to be as an oral spray. Could that spray, in the wrong hands, be used in search of a buzz? To some extent, possibly. But frankly, get over it …

Here's the Google News list of stories on the freshly-released US Congressional report on the September 11 terrorist attacks, which appears to show a failure of co-operation between security and intelligence agencies.

But why were 28 pages on the possible role of Saudi Arabia withheld? Not, apparently at the request of the Saudis, who say they want it all made public. And if nothing else, it could have doused the many anti-Zionist conspiracy theories that have held that the foreign power being sheltered is in fact Israel.

Giles Foden has a nice essay on the life of Idi Amin.

Tracey Nelson has updated her essential All Black game stats on Paul Waite's excellent Haka site. Her conclusions on tackles made, speed to the breakdowns and who took the ball up cast an intriguing light on last weekend's game against South Africa.

Interesting points: Jerry Collins has a simply phenomenal workrate, with McCaw not far behind. If you thought Reuben Thorne had a bigger game than usual, you were right. But if you thought Chris Jack played a blinder - and they certainly did on Re:Union - it's not really there in the stats.

And so, tomorrow night, to Australia. Dammit, we should beat them. We should make them pay a terrible price for starting two openside flankers, and smash them up the middle of the park until they beg for mercy. But will we? They've had the home-game hoodoo on us for a while. In truth, I'm expecting a decent, if not spectacular, win to bouy me out the door to 95bFM's annual dance party, Oonst. But one thing's fer sure: this is Carlos's last chance to prove that he's a first-choice goalkicker.

PS: That strange sound you hear is the footfall of The Times of London running backwards very rapidly. Why should this story be playing down the BBC's culpability in the Kelly affair after The Times attacked the Beeb in unison with other Murdoch papers at the beginning of the week? Because, according to another story in the Daily Mail, the BBC's tape of Kelly talking to Newsnight reporter Susan Watts includes mention of Alastair Campbell in a passage where Kelly says the government was "obsessed with finding intelligence to justify an immediate Iraqi threat". And this story in The Independent indicates that Blair's government didn't just lie about Kelly's intelligence connections and about leaking Kelly's name to the press, but, most recently, about who authorised the leak. Good grief.