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]

Editorial Pantheon announcement

Due to technical difficulties – we ran out of elves powering the blog – there will be a ‘reduced service’ on the blog. We’ll be back in full form as soon as possible.

Charity’s tragedy and farce

Here is a video worth watching and in an easy-on-the-understanding format:

Thanks to The Geek Whisperer for the hat tip.

An overdue approach to China

Yesterday Google remembered its Don’t be Evil maxim and announced A New Approach to China:

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. […]

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

This has been long time coming – and by long I mean a few months as apparently Google has recalled most of their engineers from China leaving behind skeleton staff in September last year – and yet vastly overdue. The move is surprising as the world got accustomed to ‘business’ justifications for dealing with totalitarian states – size of the market, encouragement of progress, which in turn breeds freedom, benefits to the oppressed, er, markets. Blah, blah, blah.

In as much as progress is encouraged by competition and customer sophistication, this argument is valid. In as much as these need to evolve in a framework based on the rule of law, lack of corruption, some respect for property rights and notions of individual rights and freedom, it clearly doesn’t apply to countries like China. During the Cold War, the detente of the 70s and its aftermath have shown that trading with the communist countries does not have marked impact on their political ruling class. Actually, it does as they are the ones who benefit from any foreign investment and trade. Both Coca-cola and Pepsi were widely available and I do not recall any tangible improvement to dissidents’ existence. Fair enough, Google is in business of information distribution and filtering, which is far more relevant to any regime opposition, however, what with compromise and censorship, it has ruled itself out that ‘game’ some time ago. As for technology transfer and indigenous competition they certainly had a constructive role – Baidu, the local search engine has most of the search market, having learnt much from the likes of Google.

A cynic might say Google has not much to lose by exiting China, the revenue from that market was ‘immaterial’ by their own account. Let the cynics have their moment. There are enough people and companies who worship Google as the ultimate modern corporation, or simply as a success story, and the signals this move would send can only be good. And long overdue.

I am not holding my breath for other companies to follow. There is no comment from Yahoo or Microsoft as yet but I suspect this quote by Tang Jun, former President of Microsoft China sums up a lot of thinking in the business world right now.

For Chinese netizens, it does not matter whether Google quits from China or not. But this was the most stupid decision they had ever made since giving up China was giving up half of the future world.

Mr Tang Jun is right, of course. The Chinese government and its business champions are hardly going to notice and bother even less. They have been hoovering up some of the best software engineers the Western businesses have made redundant in the last couple of years and growing their own breed too. All of the search engines in China have helped the Chinese government to censor speech, some of which we covered here before. Other companies, namely Cisco’s Panopticon Chinoiserie, have assisted in more active ways, though last year, the government tried, but failed, to force computer manufacturers to install a censorship program on their new PCs called Green Dam. Perhaps there is hope but, for now, count me among the cynics.

Looking back in anger

It’s been twenty years since my firm belief in a better way of life was vindicated. 17th November was the beginning of the end of an era shaped by collectivism, brutality and industrialised inhumanity. I have written about my experiences of communism on Samizdata before. Today I’ll use someone else’s words to describe the wasteland communism leaves behind.

In 1992, Peter Saint-Andre has written a disturbing, brilliant and accurate description of what communism does to the soul:

…the hunger that I found most disturbing was not of the body but of the soul. […] The socialist state cared nothing for the life of the individual, and this was driven home in innumerable ways.

Yet the overall effect was not merely physical — it was a deeply spiritual degradation. It is difficult to put that degradation into words. To me, the most striking sign of it was what I called “Eastern eyes”. I could see and feel the resignation, the defeat, the despair, in the eyes of people I knew. It was an all-too-rare occurrence to come upon a person with some spark of life in his or her eyes (the only exceptions were the children, who had yet to have the life beaten out of them). If it is true that the eyes are windows onto the soul, then the Czech soul under socialism went through life all but dead.

It is tough for me to come up with something to say 20 years on that is not tinged with bitterness and disappointment and if not for the significant anniversary, I would have left this memory unturned. Despite the amazing change 1989 and its aftermath brought to my life I feel no closure over the past and a sense of proportion in the way the fall of communism has been ‘handled’. Today we should be looking back at the last 20 years counting the many communists who died in prison or are still rotting there… I can only hope that future generations will revisit the past and will have far lower tolerance of collectivism and totalitarianism. It may be a futile hope as today’s teenagers have little knowledge of the world my generation grew up and my parents lived in. And so I am bitter and disappointed that people can say the word “communism” without spitting. → Continue reading: Looking back in anger

A tangled web of differentiations

This morning, my twitter network delivered a bit of a red herring argument due to lack of differentiation between the internet and the web. So it helps to say first what is internet and what is web (these are not proper official definitions but will have to do for the purposes of this post):

The internet is a set of open protocols that have given rise to a specific type of network – a heterarchy. By heterarchy, in this case, I mean a network of elements in which each element shares the same “horizontal” position of power and authority, each playing a theoretically equal role.

The wikipedia article also points out that heterarchies can contain hierarchical elements and DNS is an example. But an (infra-)structural heterarchy such as the internet ultimately undermines hierarchies. I often paraphrase what John Gilmore famously said: The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it – replacing censorship with control.

This feature of a heterarchical network:

…no one way of dividing a heterarchical system can ever be a totalizing or all-encompassing view of the system, each division is clearly partial, and in many cases, a partial division leads us, as perceivers, to a feeling of contradiction that invites a new way of dividing things.

– is the internet’s greatest advantage. Built into the fabric of the internet is the ability to bypass missing or ‘damaged’ nodes and so imposition of hierarchical structures is incompatible in the long run – such control is perceived as an obstacle and therefore damage*. → Continue reading: A tangled web of differentiations

Samizdata quote of the day

I work for the Police and I for one think this is a fantastic idea along with every other scheme that is or is threatened to be brought in ot fight this insidiuos and invisible fight against terrorism. I can’t wait to change my title from Constable to Stasi…

– Robert Pangborn, a commenter on an article Social network sites ‘monitored’

Who gets what from the Common Agricultural Policy

The wonderful world of web provides us with a way to check what happens to the CAP aptly described by a European leader:

… a programme which uses inefficient transfers of taxpayers money to bloat rich French landowners and so pump up food prices in Europe, thereby creating poverty in Africa, which we then fail to solve through inefficient but expensive aid programmes. The most stupid, immoral state-subsidised policy in human history, give or take Communism.

via Charles Crawford

Samizdata quote of the day

IKEA customers across the world are led to believe, naively, that the world is composed of simple elements that we can understand, interlink, and repair if necessary. Populist politicians throughout the world exploit similar social engineering… I respond critically to this European hypocrisy with an IKEA flat pack in the shape of the Swedish kingdom, which conceals an inconvenient truth.

– ‘Sonja Aaberg’, the Swedish sculptress, quoted by Mark Steyn in Euro-artists Speak

The other Obama inauguration speech

Here is something very topical for today, Inaugaration Speech Generator:

A grassroots internet campaign helped Barack Obama get elected. Now he’s calling for the internet’s assistance one more time – to help him craft the best inauguration speech ever…

This is the result of my humble efforts to help out:

My fellow Americans, today is a psychadelic day. You have shown the world that “hope” is not just another word for “moon”, and that “change” is not only something we can believe in again, but something we can actually fly.

Today we celebrate, but let there be no mistake – America faces confusing and rigorous challenges like never before. Our economy is embarassing. Americans can barely afford their mortgages, let alone have enough money left over for spaghetti. Our healthcare system is lethal. If your nostril is sick and you don’t have insurance, you might as well call a dustman. And America’s image overseas is tarnished like a aubergine bullet. But cookin’ together we can right this ship, and set a course for Hebrides.

Finally, I must thank my excruciating family, my beautiful campaign volunteers, but most of all, I want to thank bankers for making this historic occasion possible. Of course, I must also thank you, President Bush, for years of shootin’ the American people. Without your rotting efforts, none of this would have been possible.

God Bless… the Internet!

Things I love to hate

From time to time people get distressed by what they read on blogs. And there is much to be disturbed about when swimming in the sea of opinions, frustrations and outpourings as anyone who’s gone wondering on the intertubes can attest.

the_problem_with_wikipedia.png

But I digress. William Heath has had a rough moment online – he came across something that bugged him.

We love the blogosphere; it’s full of great ideas, insights and humour. The boring bits are dull, of course. But there’s a distinct part of it that bugs me. I think I call it the “Blogosphere of Hate”.

[…] This crystallised in my mind when I got drawn (via the Spy Blog I think) to someone called “Not a Sheep” who’d written a post about New Labour and immigration. The post turns into a laundry list of people and things that non-sheep hates.

That’s it. That’s what bugs me. I’m not interested in the things people hate, and I dont think we have much to learn from people who are motivated by hate.

A commendable sentiment and perhaps I would be a better person if I could say the same about my feelings about some issues and people. I must admit my blogging started out of frustration and overwhelming hatred of what I have seen happening in politics. As the venerable Instapundit says about blogging: It beats shouting at TV.

There were no lofty visions of learning from or educating others. At the very start, it was simply a pressure valve, a pub rant (or cafe debate if you are a continental) spilling out into the cyberspace. Of course, I would like to think that things have evolved since then but for the purposes of this post, blogging certainly was not great busyness (to unkindly bastardise the Quaker principle William quotes in his post).

So let me count the ways… there are (types of) people I hate, not just institutions – for start all the communists, also those who consider socialism anything but a collectivist life-and-soul-destroying dystopia, I hate people who wear t-shirts with pictures of mass murderers such as Che or with symbols of evil a la red star or hammer & sickle. Oh and I hate most politicians as a self-selected group of people who routinely encroach on everyone’s autonomy and mess things up along the way.

Yes, hate is a strong word and I should use it with caution. However, I insist that there are times when it is appropriate.

Finally, I do not see the blogosphere as a place (‘bookosphere’, ‘emailosphere’ anyone?), it is people talking, communicating, publishing, distributing, lazying about, wasting time, creating, connecting, saying great things etc. Just like most human activity, it can be seemingly or genuinely wasteful. Out of that, blobs of real value float up to the top. Occasionally.

That reminds me, I especially hate people, and there is plenty of them around, who try to impose their order or standards on all this, wanting to ‘keep‘ just the good bits, and ‘protect‘ us from the bad ones. It just don’t work like that.

A letter to the Guardian

I thought this ought to be shared here:

Dear Ms Featherstone

I think the people who should truly say sorry for such events are the opinion leaders of the Guardian. Please allow me to explain.

Last week I visited (as a doctor) a family in a council estate. The mother was concerned about her 12 year old son. She was very pleased that her older son was now on incapacity and would therefore do well for himself in terms of money. There is nothing wrong with this older boy that makes him incapacitated, but that is another story. She also had a 14 year old daughter, who while I was there, constantly argued with her mother demanding money for cigarettes. The three children had three different fathers, all absent. The kids, while I could see were still children, gleamed with malignant insolence. I can see them turning into damaged adults. I feel sorry for the trap they are in – the trap created directly by the welfare state whereby the family, and all those in the neighbourhood, see welfare as a lifestyle option. They live in squalor but have more wealth than most people I knew in India; they certainly have more material comforts than I ever had growing up in Delhi.

The Guardian describes such families as poor. The Labour party wants to throw money at the family. The Guardian readers blame Margaret Thatcher for this state of affairs, smug in their modern pieties, their intellectual laziness, and their stupidity masquerading as sanctimonious concern. I used to work with slum children in Delhi; they had very little, but even the most physically disabled amongst them made an effort.

There is no hope for Britian. Civilisations dont die, they commit suicide. And before they commit suicide, they read and believe the Guardian.

I truly and deeply feel sorry for all the children who are the victims of the welfare state. Things are much, much worse for the slum children in India, I saw more dignity among them and certainly greater hope.

I am not sure if you will understand this message. I am too tired to explain further. Either you will get or you wont. Either way, it will make no difference to anything.

I think I know how he feels.

via Old Holborn

Sound investment advice

From the Spectator:

If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago it would now be worth £4.95, with HBOS, earlier this week your £1000 would have been worth £16.50, £1000 invested in XL Leisure would now be worth less than £5, but if you bought £1000 worth of Tennents Lager one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminium re-cycling plant, you would get £214. So based on the above statistics the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and re-cycle.

This is from two weeks ago, so adjust for the financial turmoil since… the advice still stands.