Category Archives: Politics and society

Talking about his generation: you too can be a bad futurist

The X or Y posts (Gen X or Y?, On being X-ish) reminded me of something I wrote about my son, who was born in 2010, not long before he was born:

I was looking at one of those “the kids of today” lists and thinking about V. What will the world of the 2010 baby look like? I came up with:

  • September 11 will be something that happened when his parents were young, roughly equivalent to the Vietnam War for me, a bit nearer than the moon landing or Harold Holt drowning
  • in fact by the time he’s a teenager everyone or nearly everyone who walked on the moon will have died
  • he may not ever learn to read a paper map or street directory unless he gets heavily into bushwalking or something
  • by the time he’s grown up, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s really unusual to own many paper books, perhaps as uncommon as people my age who own vinyl (yeah, I do know a few, but…)
  • there will be a few veterans of WWII and people who experienced the Holocaust (other than as little babies) around in his childhood and even teens, but they’ll be like I remember WWI veterans: very elderly

If anyone wants to play: can you come up with things that aren’t true of children born in 2000, say? Things like “your parents have always had mobile phones” are going to be true of children 10 or even 15 years older than V will be. (Of my list, the paper map stuff probably fails that test, so might the WWII stuff.)

I’m a terrible futurist, that already reads badly to me. For example, I didn’t own a GPS device at the time: that’s why I thought that bushwalking would rely on paper maps in 2030. (Since they don’t run out of charge, presumably they’ll be useful as backups for a long time, at least for the type of folks who are wary enough to take backup maps anywhere.)

But the question stands: there’s a lot of difference already between me and someone born in, say, 1995. But what’s the difference between that child’s life, and that of my son born in 2010?

On being X-ish

Now that I have described how I graduated into Generation X, I have a secret to confess: I’m starting to think that that might not be entirely wrong.

Let’s stick to cohort effects here, since it’s supposed to be a cohort term. And I should add that this is all very trivial stuff, I’m focussing on media, pop culture and technology experiences.

One of the major temptations of identifying as Generation Y had to do with pop culture. My teenage years were just past the wave of slackers and grunge and Seattle. I probably heard Nirvana’s music during Kurt Cobain’s lifetime, but I didn’t know of them as a thing until about a year after he died. I’ve never even seen Reality Bites, but Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder are both 10 years older than I am, and their movies weren’t about my cohort.

I am, frankly, Spice Girls age: not the pre-teen thrilled girls waving things to be signed, but the teenagers who actually paid for the albums with their own money. (I didn’t, for reference. We were a Garbage family.) Britney Spears was born in the same year as me, and her biggest year career-wise was my first year of university. And obviously, when the term “Generation Y” was coined, the stereotypes of late university/early career certainly fit my friends better than the Generation X tags with managerial aspirations. The return of cool people listening to cheesy pop: Y-ish. So that was where I felt I fell. (In case anyone I knew at high school drops by: I realise I wasn’t cool. But you may have been, and don’t think I didn’t notice you danced to the Spice Girls.)

But then, there’s certainly a few small societal boundaries between me and people who were born in 1986. (I have a sister born in 1986, and thinking about the five years between us is often telling.) Starting at a global level, I was reading Tony Judt’s Postwar recently (recommended, I’ll come back to it here at some point), and I was struck because I remember 1989.

To be fair, that’s more important if one lives in Europe, which I never have, but most of my first detailed memories of newsworthy events have to do with the revolutions of 1989 and the 1990 Gulf War. I remember the USSR, again, from the perspective of a young child who was growing up in Australia, but still. I can read the science fiction people smirk about now, the fiction with the USA and USSR facing off in 2150, and remember, a little bit, what that was actually about. This is, well, frankly, more than a little X-ish.

While we’re talking about defining events, I recall that quite a lot of people talked about the children who won’t remember 9/11. (And by children, I now mean 15 year olds, of course.) Obviously this is more important in the USA, perhaps a little like the European children (by which I mean 25 year olds) who don’t remember 1989 in Europe. I obviously remember 2001, and moreover remember the geopolitical situation in the years before it quite vividly too, and that latter is again, more than a touch X-ish.

Turning to technology, which is fairly defining for me, we’ll start with Douglas Adams:

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Leaving aside the age effect where shortly everything cool will be against the natural order of things, it’s noticeable to me that the Web and email and so on fall in the “can probably get a career in it” bracket for me. Well, obviously not truly (the first version of the SMTP specification, which still more or less describes how email works today, was published in 1982), but my late teenage years were exactly the years when suddenly a lot of Australian consumers were on the ‘net. Hotmail was founded when I was 15 and I got an address there the following year. (icekween@, the address has been gone since 1999 and I’ve never used that handle since, partly because even in 98/99 it was always taken. But, actually, for a 16 year old’s user name I still think that was fairly OK considering some of the alternatives.)

In short, it was all happening in prime “get a career in it” time for me, and not coincidentally I am at the tail end of the huge boom in computer science enrolments and graduates that came to a giant sudden stop about two years after I finished. Frankly, X-ish. My youngest sister and her friends didn’t get excited about how they were going to become IT managers and have luxury yachts as a matter of course. (Well, partly age and partly not being jerks, there.) It’s a lot harder to get the “just a natural part of the way the world works” people excited about it.

Diagnosis: tailing X.

Gen X or Y?

Charles Stross:

In my next novel (the one I’m going to write for publication in 2014), I’m planning on tackling the future of politics circa 2030-2040. Today’s front-rank politicians, aged 45-70 and children of the Boomer generation and their immediate predecessors and successors, will be elderly and retired or dead by that time; the pre-occupations of politics will revolve around the issues and preoccupations of Generation X and Generation Y, those born between 1965-1985, and 1986-2000.

The shifting in the definition of “Generation Y” has been noticable to all my university friends (born, roughly, 1980 and 1981). The term was coined when I was at the type of age that needed a generation tag, I was probably 20 at the time. People born in 1965 were in their mid-thirties at the time, and “Generation X” seemed to cover the age range of roughly 25 to 40 year olds at that time, the people who were waiting (are waiting?) for Baby Boomers to move out of management positions for them, the people whose issues were kids and mortgages and such.

Thus, to the extent that they cared, people born in 1980 or so were first labelled, and came to identify with, Generation Y.

Then a change in rhetoric happened, because a catchy term for “16 to 25 year olds” was needed, and Generation Y was right there. (Stross is using it for people currently aged 11 to 26, in his entry.) So for about half a decade now, the leading edge of Generation Y has been stuck at 25 years of age, and anyone over 25 is Generation X. Thus, quite a lot of people have suddenly found themselves “promoted” to Generation X in the last five years or so. (For that matter, I suspect that people who were born in 1960 to 1965 are a bit surprised to suddenly find out that they’re now considered Baby Boomers, after being fed a steady diet of “the Boomers are keeping you down!” fluff in their own twenties.)

Really, if you want to seriously analyse this, John Quiggin had the final word in the Australian Financial Review in 2000 (and I imagine the inspiration for it was the coining of the term “Generation Y”, which certainly was not used at the time to refer to children then being born):

One of the standard ploys in journalism, marketing and political commentary is the generation game. The basic idea is to label a generation ‘X’ or ‘Y’, then dissect its attitudes, culture, and relationship with other generations. The most famous generation, of course, is that of the Baby Boomers, born between the end of World War II and the early 1960s, and their most enduring contribution to the generation gap is the ‘Generation Gap’ between children and their parents…

At first sight, discussion of this kind can carry with it an air of fresh insight, but most of it stales rapidly. Much of what passes for discussion about the merits or otherwise of particular generations is little more than a repetition of unchanging formulas about different age groups: the moral degeneration of the young, the rigidity and hypocrisy of the old, and so on.

Demographers have a word (or rather two words) for this. They distinguish between age effects and cohort effects [my emphasis]. The group of people born in a given period, say a year or a decade, is called a cohort. Members of a cohort have things in common because they have shared common experiences through their lives. But, at any given point in time, when members of the cohort are at some particular age, they share things in common with the experience of earlier and later generations when they were at the same age.

Most of the time, age effects are more important than cohort effects. The primary schoolers of the 1960s were very like the primary schoolers of today and, of course, totally different from the middle-aged parents they have become. The grandparents of today are more like their own grandparents than the bodgies and widgies they may have been in the 1950s.

So, Generation Y was originally a cohort term referring to children born, very roughly, from 1980 to about 1990, very roughly the bulk of children of the Baby Boomers (that’s a pretty short generation, so I can see how it gets extended to 2000 readily enough). But all three of “Baby Boomer”, “Generation X” and “Generation Y” are now being used to describe age effects instead:

  • Baby Boomers are perpetually pre-retirees: they have the bulk of the desirable jobs and the bulk of adult power. They are also perpetually a future liability in anticipated health costs and pensions. (In actual fact, many of the children born in the decade after World War I and quite a few born in the early 1950s are now retired or retiring.)
  • Generation X are perpetually early- to mid-career: they have high debt burdens, they have young children, they have high stress levels, they don’t feel entirely settled in their career but they are invested in it.
  • Generation Y are perpetually older youth: they spend a lot of time (“too much”) at university, they don’t take their jobs seriously, they nick off and travel at the least opportunity.

Incidentally, I assume the class aspect of these labels is apparent enough: these stereotypes all refer pretty much exclusively to managerial people (upper-middle) and their parents and children. This is often true of coverage of cohort effects: they describe the youth of journalists’ friends’ children.

I am that class, but the Gen Y stereotypes didn’t even describe my early 20s cohort that well, too many long term relationships and relatively young marriages. There was a lot of travelling and career-hopping though: my husband is one of the very few people I know who graduated with a Bachelor degree and has worked a full-time salaried job—not one individual job, mind you—in the same industry ever since. Stereotypes, eh?

However, since the coining of the terms, the confusion of age and cohort effects in the use of these terms means that people are surprised to find themselves aging out of them: you used to be Gen X, but now you’re a tailing Boomer. I used to be Gen Y for that matter, but I turned 30 and that was that. I graduated. I’m X.

I’ll be curious to see how long this effect lasts, if in five to ten years, as it should, the term Boomer is used to refer to people who actually have retired, rather than Boomers being perpetually on the cusp of retiring as they have been for seemingly my entire life.

An appeal for the Ada Initiative

When I was 15 I went on the web for the first time. A boy in my computing class went to Yahoo!, typed in “girls” and spent some time showing me porn.

Photograph of Mary Gardiner

I’ve programmed since I was a kid. I’ve loved the idea of open technology since I read a curious article in the 1990s about people all over the world, fixing complex bugs in an operating system that a university student had named after himself.

But every so often, I’m reminded how my Internet experience began. Women friends haven’t been safe on mailing lists, they haven’t been safe on Wikipedia’s talk pages, and they haven’t been safe at conferences. And even when they are safe, sometimes they’re lonely: estimates of women’s participation in open source run to about 2%, and as Wikipedia editors at 9%.

Thus, I’ve been a volunteer creating communities by and for women in open source since 2000. It’s been the equivalent of an unpaid part-time job for several of those years. But a year ago, Valerie Aurora became more ambitious, and proposed that since we were doing real work, we should do it as our real job. Together we created the Ada Initiative, a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture. We rely on your support for our work:

Donate now!

Within a year we’ve organised our first AdaCamp, surveyed thousands of people about their perspective on women in open technology and culture, wrote and encouraged adoption of an anti-harassment policy by over 30 conferences and organizations in open tech/culture, and much more.

To continue our work in 2012, we need your help! Please donate to the Ada Initiative, and contribute to our planned work, including future AdaCamps, methodologically rigorous research into women in open source, and training for women contributors to open tech/culture projects and their allies.

Donate now: we can’t do it without you!

Interested in women in open tech and culture? AdaCamp Melbourne wants you!

My non-profit organisation, the Ada Initiative, wants to go full steam ahead into 2012, and we’re holding an AdaCamp event in Melbourne to kick off the year!

The Ada Initiative supports women in open technology and culture, ranging from open source to free culture to grassroots community organising to makerspaces to remix and fandom culture to open government initiatives and more. This stuff is powerful: it’s already shaping society and is going to continue to do so more and more. The Ada Initiative is focussed on supporting women in becoming an integral part of these communities.

AdaCamp will be a one day “unconference” (that is, it will have free-form sessions scheduled by participants) focussed on furthering women’s work in open technology and culture. It will be held on Saturday January 14 in Melbourne, some travel funding is available.

AdaCamp places are by invitation, if you’re interested in coming along please apply today. Applications close December 14. Hoping to meet some readers and ‘net friends there!

Tiger Beatdown vs Australia

Tiger Beatdown is perhaps not enormously well known among the Australian poliblogs, mostly because it isn’t one, although one Australian writes for it.

But they’ve had a couple of pieces of local interest lately.

First in early October Flavia Dzodan looked into the multinational security firms that are behind a lot of immigration detention facilities and other jails:

Evidently, G4S track record of detainee safety in Australia was so poor that the government was forced to cancel the contracts. Instead, new ones were awarded to Serco, whose care of immigrants seems to follow the same sickening pattern:

At the detention center Serco runs in Villawood, immigrants spoke of long, open-ended detentions making them crazy. Alwy Fadhel, 33, an Indonesian Christian who said he needed asylum from Islamic persecution, had long black hair coming out in clumps after being held for more than three years, in and out of solitary confinement.

“We talk to ourselves,” Mr. Fadhel said. “We talk to the mirror; we talk to the wall.”

Naomi Leong, a shy 9-year-old, was born in the detention camp. For more than three years, at a cost of about $380,000, she and her mother were held behind its barbed wire. Psychiatrists said Naomi was growing up mute, banging her head against the walls while her mother, Virginia Leong, a Malaysian citizen accused of trying to use a false passport, sank into depression.

The key point for me is the question about to what extent these firms are lobbying, and successfully influencing, refugee policy. To what extent is it market maintainence?

Why ostensibly disparate nations like the US, The Netherlands, France or Australia (just to name a few), all seemed to have gotten on board with the anti immigrant sentiment at once. Why, within a short period of time, media seemed inundated with these stories of threats, fear and unrestrained menace. However, the same media that quickly exposes the threats of lawless, uncontrolled immigration rarely addresses the profiteers behind these trends. Every detainee is a point in the profit margins of these corporations. Every battered immigrant body forced to live in these conditions represents an extra income for these multi-national businesses. Nothing is gratuitous, as Mr. Buckles so poignantly said, There’s nothing like a political crisis to stimulate a bit of change. Especially if said crisis can create monstrous profits off the backs of undocumented migrants who sometimes lose their lives under the care of these corporations.

And now Emily Manuel is making the case for Occupy Australia:

I’ve lived in Australia and the U.S and I know from personal experience that the substantially lower standard of living in the U.S is something few Australians can truly understand. Things are not perfect in Australia economically – not with the astronomical housing prices – but we can’t say that the middle class has collapsed in the same way as in the U.S.

We do ourselves no favours when we uncritically mimic American models without changing them to suit local conditions. The cultural cringe is no more useful in activism than it is in other areas. The 99/1% slogan is powerful stuff indeed but doesn’t adequately address the income distribution of Australia as accurately in the United States. Activism must respond to local needs to be successful…

While we don’t have lobbyists in the same way, this is still a problem in Australia. If things have been getting so much better over the last decade, why have student fees been ballooning while full-time lecturers are replaced by casual tutors? Why is there no Medicare bulk billing? Why is the Medicare gap ever-increasing? How can the poor and working classes afford housing, in some of the most expensive markets in the world? For that matter, why do we pay student fees at all? If things have been so good, why do we deserve less as citizens than we did in the 70s and 80s? Why do we accept less?

We are blowing up the very same bubbles that have burst so dramatically in the U.S, and it is the same process of destroying the social fabric that the welfare state held together – it’s just we started off from a much better place, from a more cohesive social whole (G_d bless you, Gough Whitlam). With privatisation and economic rationalism, we have treated Australians with the same cannibalistic attitude that created the US 99%. Not citizens with rights and responsibilities any longer but consumers, markets to be exploited…

That is how well our democracy is functioning – when the top 0.02% of businesses and 10% of households won’t pay a tax for the benefit of the rest of us…

So yes: Australian apathy and irony have frequently served to protect us from U.S-style extremism, but what happens when enough people step forward to say something our political classes and media classes don’t want to hear? And what happens when we need serious changes to survive as a country and our politicians are unwilling to do anything about it? This is a problem that concerns all of us, in Australia and indeed worldwide, as we face climate change.

It is for this reason that we must have an Occupy movement in Australia that addresses the dictatorship of capital in our lives, that produces a democracy that truly centres the needs of the people. We need to protest. We need the right to protest. We need to be out in the streets to put the lie to the false consensus of the neoliberal press that there is no alternative to the status quo. And yes, we need to make sure that our needs are taken care of by our political system, even – especially – when they conflict with the needs of business. It is time that we made clear that running a “democracy” primarily for the rich is no longer a possibility in Australia.

Tiger Beatdown tends to long-form posts, so I suggest reading the originals. (And I suggest commenting there if you want to substantively engage with the arguments.)

Book review: The Commission

Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation

This is a major contrast to Steven Levy’s In the Plex. Yes, obviously the subject matter is pretty far removed, but aside from that Shenon is all critical sources and critical distance here. If someone was involved in the 9/11 Commission, Shenon and his sources have some criticism of that person. Well, at least if someone was either a commissioner or a senior staffer, that is: it seems that a lot of his sources were more junior staffers, and so there is a touch of reverence in the treatment of them. (On the other hand, what other sources are there going to be?)

Impressively, Shenon seems to have managed this while continuing to get comment from Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director and the person who is by far the most consistently criticised. (Well, possibly excepting Condoleezza Rice, but the Clinton and Bush White Houses, the FBI, the CIA and so on are all more in a cameo role here.) Shenon has gone on to publish all the correspondence he had with Zelikow, but I haven’t read it.

The result is, frankly, a rollicking good read. The major difficulty I have with the book is the difficult I had, while reading it, of remembering the truth of the story: the actual dead people in the towers, the planes, and the wars. It’s all shocking and fascinating: both the failures that led to the dead people (the FBI’s contempt for counter-terrorism, the Bush White House’s diminished focus on terrorist threats prior to September 2001 and subsequent laser focus on Iraq and so on) and the politicking, silliness and compromises that the Commission made both by necessity and by choice.

Some of it is forehead-slapping: the NSA was apparently keen to cooperate with the Commission and set up a special secure reading room within walking distances of their office, which the Commission then proceeded to almost totally and inexplicably ignore, with the result that probably no one other than the NSA has gone through their material in any detail to this day. Some of it is more necessary compromises: US politics made it pretty unlikely that Bush and Cheney were going to be ripped to shreds.

Read it if: you are interested in US politics, you are interested in interpersonal politics in formal situations, you are interested in how the victors write history.

Note: the Commission’s own report is both sold by various bookstores and available for free. There’s a seemingly good e-book conversion by a third party.

Sunday Spam: crepes and maple syrup

As just fed to my son, in fact.

The execution of Troy Davis and the death penalty

I donated to the Innocence Project and the (US) National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, for what it’s worth.

Fukushima Disaster: It’s Not Over Yet

The impact of both radiation and fear of radiation on Japanese society, although it feels a little shallow. I’d love to read this argument from the perspective of a Japanese person.

Debunking the Cul-de-Sac

Struggles to come up with anything nice to say about cul-de-sacs, frankly, unless you are in the business of selling either cars or fuel for them. Oh, they’re quieter. Other than that, cul-de-sacs suck.

Queen of the Kitchen

A Christmas-time fairy story by Karen Healey. So you know it’s got a tough-minded teen girl, New Zealand, and magic. Several of my favourite things.

Chemotherapy doesn’t work? Not so fast…

Science Based Medicine reviews the real position of chemotherapy. It works as the primary treatment for a fairly small number of cancers, it doesn’t work much at all for some cancers, and much of the time it is part of several treatments (radiotherapy, surgery).

On Feminism and Virtue

Sady Doyle reflects on the extent to which being a feminist makes you a better person: potentially not much.

The Great American Bubble Machine

Goldman Sachs: always there to turn a functioning market into a speculative bubble, and thence to profit. Highlights include 100 million people entering hunger in 2007 due to speculation on food and oil futures. This was via Tim O’Reilly, who went down to the Occupy Wall Street protests because even rich small-government types do (or ought to) have a beef against Wall Street.

Disability Culture meets Euthanasia Culture: Lessons from my cat

On the normalisation of euthanasia in animals, to the point where vets can’t advise on what death of natural causes is like, and its relationship to euthanisa in humans. I was thinking about this issue over the last few years, most recently after a vet euthenised my parents’ elderly pet horse after what my father, who works in the meat industry and has seen hundreds if not thousands of animals die—and some seriously negligent treatment of animals for that matter—described as the worst suffering he’d ever seen. So, I don’t have a lot to say about Tony’s death, but it did make me think about how animals die.

Certificates and “authorities”

The certificates that identify websites for secure web browsing, that is. Basically, it’s a mess. There are about 400 organisations that are trusted by browsers to sign the identities of secure websites, they get hacked quite a bit, and some of them are careless at best about security.

Movin’ Meat: Instinct vs Expertise

An ER doctor puzzles over why a neurosurgeon isn’t taking a certain fracture seriously. Unlike a lot of stuff I link here, this is less about systemic concerns and more just an interesting story.

The iPad, the Kindle, and the future of books

From early last year, more in my attempt to understand publisher perspectives on ebooks. I’m in an interesting place on this, reading both in the open source/copyright reform world which tends to accept and embrace the tendency of the sale value of intellectual property to fall to zero or nearly so once distribution is cheap (see for example Copyfight on ebook prices rising), and librarians, publishers and authors who aren’t so hot on that happening to books.

Anyway, now I know what the agency model is.

Do We Need A New Nirvana? Does Modern Music Suck?

Joel Connolly (my brother-in-law, and a band manager) thinks audiences need to wise up to existing awesome music, basically. It’s a longer version of what he said to Bernard Zuel early in the month.

Above reproach: why do we never question fidelity?

I like this style of inquiry. Basically, the question is that everyone agrees that infidelity (not having multiple partners, but having multiple partners without being honest about it) is unethical. But should we? Is this sometimes part of oppression?

Every so often, asking these questions of human relationships is important. (Note that the writer, also, doesn’t have an answer.)

Increasing Barriers to College Attendance Through ‘Optional’ Extracurriculars

Something I’ve wondered about for ages, as Australian universities, which largely admit students based on pure academic performance, are constantly criticised for not moving to the US model, which takes into account the whole person, yadda yadda. As long as the whole person has time in their life for charity work, sports teams, student politics etc. To me, US college applications often sound like high schoolers applying for a Rhodes scholarship straight out of school. Not that raw exam scores don’t incorporate endless privilege, but extracurriculars do not in any way ameliorate that.

Book review: The Wisdom of Whores

Elizabeth Pisani, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS

I picked this up when it briefly was a free ebook giveaway in 2010. Was that less than a year ago? Seems like a long time. I had not got through Jonathan Engels, The Epidemic: A Global History of AIDS, finding it not-global and spending too much time emphasising that the AIDS activists from the gay community really should have understood that they were viewed as sinners. Or that’s how I remember it now. I’m still interesting in the story of AIDS in the US, but I want it billed as such.

Anyway, Pisani’s book is an epidemiologist’s view of working in HIV research and prevention in (mostly) Indonesia. It’s partly a story and partly an argument that HIV/AIDS funding and approaches need some revision. In particular: prevention is cheaper than treatment, so while treatment is essential she thinks prevention is very underfunded. The approaches used successfully in the high-infection-risk communities in the US don’t all translate well to other high-risk groups. Emphasis on “everyone’s at risk” is nice for funding but is essentially bogus in most cultures: in most cultures sex workers, drug users, and people who have anal sex with multiple partners are at risk. (She argues the African epidemic is due to multiple long-lived concurrent heterosexual relationships being very common in some African cultures. This means that when someone has a primary HIV infection, one of the most contagious times, that they will often have more than one partner to potentially transmit to.)

I simply don’t know how valid her arguments are, because I know next to nothing about epidemiology, public health or HIV/AIDS, really. One of many books (almost anything outside my expertise) where I wish I could see expert reviews to read alongside it.

Read it if: you are interesting in HIV/AIDS, the UN, charity and NGO stuff, Indonesia, trans issues, sex worker issues.

Caution for: every so often she likes to add in a teaspoon of “I’m not PC!” She actually is, somewhat, anyway, but she likes to revel a touch in how her hip UN “AIDS mafia” crew were just such good buddies they could throw the lingo (about trans people, drug users, sex workers) in the bin. Also you may not actually agree with her on where HIV/AIDS funding should go, but it’s a book, you run that risk.

On journalism

The unredacted Wikileaks cables are out, due to the Guardian publishing the key to them in a book (and assorted other events that caused the file to be circulated on Bittorrent). (Presumably, various defensive measures could have been taken on the Wikileaks side too, some kind of two factor for example.)

One of Bruce Schneier’s commenters writes:

I think someone on Boing Boing said all journalists should have basic tutoring in crypto. A novel and good idea.

It is a good idea. It would also be a good idea if journalists have a high level of knowledge of law, politics, police procedure, ethics, media history, media ownership, advertising, applied statistics, experimental design, the Internet and associated technologies, social justice, neurological findings about bias in eyewitness accounts, and any number of other things. Whether they can is another thing entirely.

Some of those are more or less reasonable and more or less in place. But past a point it’s impossible to demand that this level of knowledge be widespread among professional journalists. I have six years of generalist undergraduate education and it didn’t get me across as wide a variety of fields as that. And trust me, I tried. (I have undergraduate majors in pure mathematics, computer science, philosophy, linguistics and semiotics. Yes, majors.) At some point, there’s a limit, and frankly, I think it’s prior to crypto. People wanting to do controlled release of sensitive documents to the media are going to have to make sure their crypto measures stand up to the practices of utter non-experts.