We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The inaugural Brian Micklethwait podcast

Today I dropped in on Brian Micklethwait to take part in the inaugural Micklethwait podcast. I had a tie-clib microphone attached to my shirt which he had connected to a Sony digital recorder (an ICD-MX20). We chatted for nearly 20 minutes on the subject of podcasting, where it is going, and what we expect to be the things that make it work. The result, for your delectation and delight is this:

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At some point, we will get a feed working. Meanwhile, I have started conducting podcast interviews over Skype – the results so far are here.

Is Border’s due for a financial re-organization?

One of our commentariat who goes under the pseudonym of ‘cowtipper’ posted this information earlier today. It simply cried out for front page coverage. – Ed

Borders really cannot afford to be irrational. Having just finished financial analysis between Borders and Barnes and Noble’s for our fund, the bottom line is that Borders is in trouble and can not afford to insult its customers right now. 2006 is a critical year and the market has been asked to give management ‘one more chance’ on top of probably too many chances, hoping for some magic to occur in the fourth quarter of this year.

Borders would not handle a boycott well. Look at their most recent 10K – they are promising lousy performance through the year and praying (if we can use the word) that the market ignores their terrible financial state until quarter four, 2006, where a miracle will happen and outstanding sales will occur. Things do not look good and only irrational optimism and hope in management’s ability can sustain the market to the fourth quarter. This management team is truly lost – listen to their conference call and the real status of their mini-Borders “Waldenbooks” makeover that the call admitted has been a complete miscalculation. I’d trust a magic eight ball more than these misplaced executives.

If an organized boycott evolved in the next few weeks, Borders is probably 30-60 days from corporate reorg or collapse, a new CEO and appeasement of the boycotters. Given their money appears to come from red-state people and not leftist anti-establishment small bookstore types, their actions are further proof that management is completely lost.

Samizdata quote of the day

Living in Europe is nice… but one thing is tax!!!!

- An unidentified Chinese woman, overheard mid conversation while apparently flirting with a German man in an expat bar in Shanghai.

We have not yet begun to fight

The abrupt end to the parliamentary wrangling over what we must now get used to calling the Identity Cards Act 2006 has taken many people by surprise. (Not least the parliamentary draftsmen, who find themselves with internal references to the Identity Cards Act 2005 in places.) I still can’t quite figure out what happened, but am starting to think the timing is a matter of Tory electoral and media strategy.

For those benighted souls who are not yet subscribers to NO2ID‘s newsletter, here is our declaration of intent.

The Bill has passed – now the real fight begins.

One of our key tasks is to make the ID scheme politically unsupportable BY ANYONE. We have to make running on a platform that supports (in fact, that does not actively oppose) compulsory registration, a National Identity Register and ID cards political suicide for any party or politician going into any sort of election.

Starting NOW.

This is a long term goal, but one that is absolutely achievable in stages. We are already winning hearts and minds – a 30% shift in public opinion to date – and will continue to do so.

The Government knows that it has to win people over, too – it can’t simply bully its way to its goal, like it did in parliament. But it’ll be hampered by the scheme’s costs spiralling out of control (with the attendant blast of bad publicity every 6 months), the technology failing (predictably or spectacularly), having to background-check and fingerprint perfectly law-abiding citizens, screwing up 1 in 10 (or more) people’s details, issuing a card that is basically no use for anything much but scraping ice off your windscreen until 2013 (except maybe ‘travel within Europe’ – but then you’re getting the thing alongside a proper passport…), etc., etc., etc. PLUS all the stuff we’re going to do!

In May, there are local elections.

→ Continue reading: We have not yet begun to fight

Throwing down the gauntlet to Borders

I managed to find this email address, ccare@bordersstores.com, for Borders and have taken my own advice and notified them loudly of the downside to their actions:

The ‘blogosphere’ is alive with the recent announcement you will not stock the Free Inquiry issue with the Danish cartoons.

We abhor your cowardice in the face of the enemy and your lack of moral fibre to stand up for the First Amendment in the face of those enemies.

Our publication, Samizdata, has joined the Borders boycott call which is spreading amongst other high profile network publications.

While we are a publication of only 20,000 global readers a day, they are all solidly in the intellectual book buying demographic. Other publications, in the same demographic, are also calling for your metaphorical head. At least one of them has a quarter to a half million highly educated and mostly american readers a day.

There is no way out for you other than to carry that issue and to announce that fact loudly enough that it will catch up with the rapidly disseminating news of your prior decision

The ‘blogosphere’ has a long memory. This will not be forgotten in a month or two. Borders will from henceforth be linked in people’s minds with the word ‘cowards’.

Dale Amon
Editor,
Samizdata

You may reply if you wish, but I represent only one of many, many publications that are going to be pounding you on this. Only loud visible action will mean anything to any of us.

I recommend anyone who decides to quit Borders not simply stop going. You should make one last appearance and tell them why you will not be back. If you prefer a carrot approach, tell them what they could do to win the return of you and others like you.


Cartoon shown with thanks and our highest regards to the Freedom Fighters of Jyllands-Posten

Cowardice does not make you safe. It makes you a safe target
- D.Amon

Bookstores duck for cover

Boycott these bookstores the next time you go looking for a book. They have just invited more intimidation against critics of violent islamists. Yes, I can understand the desire to protect staff, but this is a bad message to send out from a major firm. It says: we will give in if you act violent enough.

I have used Borders in the past, but will not do so again.

(hat tip: Glenn Reynolds).

Can I just say zero, please Miss?

This story from the BBC is beyond parody:

Television viewers will have a say in the price of the licence fee, with the government conducting research before it sets the cost for the next decade.

Each licence will go up to £131.50 on Saturday, and the BBC has requested future rises of 2.3% above inflation.

The public’s views would have “a material impact” on the final sums, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said.

How jolly nice of our political equivalent of a head girl at school to let us unwashed plebs have some input into how much we get to pay for a service that, er, ahem, we have to pay for regardless of whether we watch it or not.

Seriously, though, this is the sort of thing one might expect of life in the former Soviet Union, where workers at the local tractor plant were urged to suggest ways to make the machines work even better down at the local collective farm.

Well, Ms Jowell might as well know what my preferred size of a licence fee is: zero.

Ethic and moral codes should be duly honored: visitors are expected not to urinate or shit.


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I will confess I disappointed by the complete ban on feudalistic activities in the park. Having my serfs around makes it so much easier for me to tease shrimp.

Some things are really quite simple

I am in a teahouse in the Hongkou district in northeast Shanghai. This is not the most fashionable part of Shanghai, although I get the impression that it was a district in which Chinese artists and writers lived in the 1930s, and (like much of Shanghai) it is full of interesting architecture from that period. And it may be a little like that in character again – it feels like a slightly bohemian, slightly studenty neighbourhood. A new metro line has recently been built through the area, which certainly can boost a neighbourhood.


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The teahouse I am in is a branch of a chain named “Chatea”, which seems to build outlets in nice malls, and which appears to cater to an early twenties middle class demographic, and one that is more female than male judging by the customers in this particular branch. They sell a wide variety of traditional Chinese teas, as well as those funny multicoloured bubble tea drinks that are so popular with young people in the Chinosphere. And they have a food menu consisting mostly of Dim Sum. The music in the background is bubblegum music from six or seven years ago, so that would be right for a mid twenties female demographic. (Specifically the are playing the album Shades of Purple by M2M, who are perhaps best known for doing the theme song in the western world for the first Pokemon movie).


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It is pleasant, but for me there is one more possibly more important thing, which is there is WiFi. And the attitude to the WiFi is right. The internet access if free, and I was smiled at when I sat down, ordered a pot of tea, and got out my laptop. A couple of minutes later, a waiter came over to me and pointed out the electrical outlet on the wall, next to the table. (Hang on a moment. My shrimp dumplings, turnip cakes and crab dumplings have just arrived).


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Okay. I am back. That was not bad at all. Slightly trendier sorts of Dim Sum than one would find in the backstreets of Kowloon, and fancier service and crockery, but definitely good. A couple of rather studious looking girls at the next table did give me one of those “These foreigners are crazy” looks when I started taking photographs of my lunch, but I am used to that. I am going to get revenge. Little to their knowledge, thousands of people on every continent are shortly going to be looking at a picture of them.


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I do like the way they have the standard “studying in a coffee shop” look that is instantly familiar, complete with the sprawling papers, and the mobile phones laid out neatly in front of them. Human nature is endearingly familiar, wherever you go.

But anyway, where was I? Oh yes. The free WiFi and the electrical outlet that I was encouraged to use. I left my power adaptor in my hotel, as I was not expecting to find anything this good. The reason why I was not expecting this is that I find it so seldom in London. WiFi in cafes and coffee chains in London is far too often of the “This will cost £7 per hour” variety. A cafe can set up WiFi on this basis if it wants to, but I am simply not going to pay that. However, if you provide me with free WiFi (which will cost you hardly anything) I will buy more coffee and food, possibly more than £7 worth. And then a cafe might provide WiFi, but will not provide an electrical outlet, or (even worse) if it has one conveniently placed they will tell you that you are “stealing electricicy” if you try to use it, or they will put a cap over it to prevent you using it. This isn’t greed, but just stupidity. There is a lack of appreciation as to what customers want and value, and a lack of appreciation of the cost of providing it. (My laptop will run for about four days on 10 pence worth of electricity). And a lack of appreciation about how providing it will create warm and fuzzy feelings about your business.

And if a chain of teahouses in Shanghai can understand this, why can’t a chain of coffee houses in London? Just one. If you figure out what your customers want and give it to them, then you will get repeat business. It is that simple. If I lived in Shanghai (and who knows, someday I might) I would have lunch here all the time. And I will recommend it to my friends. As in fact I just have. Thousands of them.

A waitress keeps coming back to top up my teapot with hot water, too. I clearly could spend all afternoon here. However, there is much more to see, so it is time to post, drink up, and leave.

Mobile phones, movies and etiquette

Jesse Walker has a nice piece in Reason magazine about whether U.S. state agencies like the FCC should ban cinemas from trying to jam calls to mobile phones. Seems a pretty clear-cut case to me – so long as the jamming is made clear to customers before they buy a ticket, then the cinemas, if they are commercial entities and privately owned, are entitled to do this. Cinemas that are privately owned can set whatever rules on the behaviour of customers that they like, including telling them, on pain of expulsion, to turn mobiles off or to silent, to observe minimal standards of dress code, and whatever.

In my own cinema-going experience in Britain and the United States, I have hardly ever been inconvenienced by mobile users, although I may have been lucky. Once, in a stifling hot cinema in Chelsea, I sat next to a rather annoying French couple, one of whom insisted on phoning her friends several times and who finally shut up after another customer told them to do so. Most people seem to get the message to turn the things off or to silent mode.

I guess what this story tells us is how people are almost surgically attached to their phones (one day that may literally be true, perhaps in a few decades time). I have occasionally gone out from my flat without a mobile phone and felt almost naked without it, but also experienced a certain freedom of being out of reach for an hour or so. It is almost as if I have forgotten what it is like not to be contactable instantly via these machines.

A final etiquette point is that I notice people are often less punctual for meetings sometimes because there is this assumption in the back of folks’ minds that they can just “phone ahead” and say that they are going to be late. Before mobiles existed, if people did not keep an appointment, it did not happen. Perhaps one side effect of mobile phones then is to make us less rigorous in sticking to a schedule. It is not a good or bad thing, but that seems to be the pattern.

Compromise paves way for ID cards

It appears my faint optimism of yesterday was misplaced. The House of Lords has agreed a compromise on ID cards which means they will go ahead. This Reuters report makes it clear that the cards are the most ambitious such cards to be attempted in terms of the data to which they draw access.

They will prove a costly and oppressive fiasco. Perhaps that is Blair’s main legacy.

Condolences

My personal condolences to Glenn Reynolds on the sudden death of his grandmother. Check out the old photos. She was stunning in 1938. Her husband looks so much like a young fighter pilot I wonder if he became one!

I am sure she was a fount of family stories and this must be an immense loss to Glenn.