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 globalisation of trifles

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I have also just watched the latest Sherlock. If you live in the UK, the chances that you watched it as it was first broadcast are approximately one in seven. Despite the fact that this is a simultaneous British television watching event of the first order, the percentage of people who watched it is less than half what it was for peak television events of the 1960s to 1980s. That said, I want a set of those beer glasses. Oh Lord, I want a set of those beer glasses.

If you don’t live in the UK, torrents are appearing right now and you will be able to watch it shortly. If you live in China, you are able to watch it on the legal Youku Tudou streaming service right now. If you want to watch it legally in most other places, you will have to wait a few days to a few weeks. I suspect, though, that most of the people who really want to talk about it will have watched it by this time tomorrow. Versions with strange, semi-accurate hacked on subtitles will be out there any moment now. Then they will talk, and talk, and talk, in various languages and through various translation tools.

Things weren’t always thus. I am a middle aged expatriate Antipodean fogey. Watching film and television while growing up in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s in Australia was a strange thing.  Inevitably, most of the movies we watched came from America, and most of the television we watched in Australia came from America. In America, television seasons start in October, run through the winter months, and then end in about April. The biggest blockbuster movies are released between May and July. In Australia, though, the summer movie season started on December 26, and the television season went from February to September. This means that movies that had been hits in the American summer would often be held over for more than six months, and television seasons that had started in October in the US would not commence showing in Australia until February of the following year.

Even by 1982 this had become tiresome with movies. I remember reading about a movie called “E.T.” that was supposed to be wonderful, and waiting endlessly. (I found it vaguely disappointing. Some of this might have been the wait). Even the existence of VHS was enough to break this down. By the 1990s, Hollywood had found that it was best to open movies as close as possible to simultaneously around the world as possible, both for reasons of piracy prevention, and because of the simple fact that publicity campaigns and other buzz could not be stopped from crossing borders.

Television was a little more odd, though. For one thing, there was less realisation that there was a problem. Television had certain peculiarities – for instance Christmas episodes of foreign series always aired in May – but this was no more peculiar than eating an enormous Christmas dinner of ham and turkey in 40 degree heat, or watching live major sporting events on TV in the middle of the night, as Australian sports fans are known to do on a weekly basis. In any event, local print media – mostly owned by the same companies that owned the television stations – would play ball, and there would be no discussion of new episodes of television series until the television series aired locally.

But of course, modernity (by which I mean the internet) eventually happened. It became trivially easy to watch any programme almost as soon as it was aired. Those people who wanted to talk about television with other people on the internet (in Australia and elsewhere)  found it imperative to watch at the same time, and they did.  And they do. (Okay, I admit it. And we did. And we do). Piracy of music and of first run movies seems to have declined, because the legal options for listening and watching at the same time everywhere are now pretty good.  Piracy of programming from regular series television seems to have gone way up, though. Television networks around the world are getting closer to airing things on the same day, but they are still probably not good enough for people who want to watch the next day, without spoilers. (In Australia, the same old television networks are still rather tilting at windmills to stop piracy, even with the help of a US Ambassador who believes an important part of his job is to discourage Game of Thrones piracy). National television moments have declined, however it feels when watching Sherlock in the UK. Global television moments have grown spectacularly. The industry is yet to catch up by giving global audiences legal ways to achieve these moments.

Except that in China, piracy is feared to such an extent that the purveyors of legal streaming have actually chosen to give viewers what they want when they want.  The rest of the world may follow soon. I hope so.

Also, with Sherlock being such a big hit in the manufacturing capital of the world, I will hopefully be able to order the beer glasses on ebay any moment now.

The spirit of the law

On a Tuesday evening shortly before Christmas, I arrived at London Gatwick Airport on an Easyjet flight from Morocco. I wanted to travel to my home in Southwark as quickly as possible. The quickest and simplest way to do this is to catch a train from Gatwick Airport railway station in the terminal to East Croydon and then London Bridge, followed by another train to South Bermondsey, the nearest station to my home. A single ticket for this journey costs £14.60, a fare I find to be a bit steep. Knowing the fare system reasonably well, I instead purchased a ticket to East Croydon,  the first station inside Greater London at which the train stopped. For this,  I paid £4.50. I then used my Oyster Card – the contactless ticketing system that Londoners use for most of their public transport journeys within London –  to get to South Bermondsey. This was charged using the zone based fare system that applies within London, and cost me £2.20. I was thus able to reduce the cost of the journey by more than 50%.

This is not fare evasion. What I did is perfectly legal, and I can’t be punished for doing it, but surely it is against the spirit of the fare laws. The powers that be have decided that the wealthy plutocrats who can afford to fly Easyjet can also afford to pay £14.60 for a train journey from central London to the airport. By taking advantage of the cheaper fares available for shorter journeys, I am demonstrating my contempt for the wise decisions of these people. Let us call it fare avoidance. As it happened, a ticket inspector stopped me part of the way through the journey, and berated me for my lack of public spiritedness and civic responsibility, and just generally told me off for failing to spend money that rightly belonged to the families of good, honest people such as ticket inspectors. How would such people be able to feed their families if everyone behaved like this?

Actually, no he didn’t. What he actually said was “Thank you sir. That’s great”. It’s also possible he wished me a merry Christmas.

The edges of the Old World

IMGP5516Kiev, Ukraine. January 2013

yr_kutaisifebKutaisi, Georgia. January 2013

IMGP5982Batumi, Adjara. January 2013

yr_abkhbridge_febInguri Bridge, January 2013

yr_abh1Sukhomi, Abkhazia. January 2013

yr_yerevanfeb5Yerevan, Armenia. February 2013

yr_alpsfeb38,000 feet. February 2013

yr_belgradeFebBelgrade, Serbia. February 2013

yr_sarajevo3marchSarajevo, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. March 2013

yr_eastsar1Istočno Sarajevo, Republic Srpska. March 2013

yr_vismarchVis Island, Croatia. March 2013

yr_aljadidaaprilAl Jadida, Morocco. April 2013

yir_warsawmayWarsaw, Poland. May 2013

yr_uhguli7Ushguli, Georgia. May 2013

yr_vistulaspitNowa Carczma, Vistula Spit. June 2013

yr_poland1Chełmno, Poland.  June 2013

yr_budapestjulyBudapest, Hungary. July 2013

yr_ljubjulLjubljana, Slovenia. July 2013

yr_bari_julyBari, Italy. July 2013

yr_albjulKsamil, Albania. July 2013

IMGP4681Kerkyra, Greece. July 2013

yr_greecealCorfu Channel. July 2013

yr_skopjejulSkopje, Macedonia. July 2013

yr_sanctSanctuary Cove, Australia. August 2013

yr_asEdinburgh, Scotland. September 2013

dargDarial Gorge. October 2013

yr_noravankNoravank, Armenia. October 2013

yr_gamlaGamla, Georgia. November 2013

yr_katowiceKatowice, Poland. November 2013

yr_sabrosanovSabrosa, Portugal. November 2013

yr_france2Saint-Gingolph, France. November 2013

yr_swizzVillars, Switzerland. November 2013


Inezgane, Morocco. December 2013

yr_laayoune1Laayoune, Western Sahara. December 2013


It makes you proud to be British

If you are lucky enough to be permitted to cross the border from Sinuiju in (totalitarian) North Korea to Dandong in (horribly repressive, but at least they have food) China, one of the first things you will see is this.

nk_tescoGod bless Tesco.

A missed opportunity.

momlKiev, Ukraine. January 2013.

This rather extraordinarily monumental statue stands on top of (and forms part of) the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev, Ukraine. The monument is officially named “The Mother of the Fatherland” but (perhaps curiously) is more commonly referred to as “The Mother of the Motherland”, and (perhaps less curiously) is sometimes referred to colloquially as “Tin Tits”. The museum commemorates the Soviet victory of the Nazis in World War 2. Although people in most countries of the USSR have rather ambiguous (at best) feelings about their Soviet past, the victory over the Nazis is quite reasonably seen as a good thing, and memorials to the war are still generally looked after and treated with respect. The statue itself is 62 metres tall. Including the base and building it stands on, the statue is over 100 metres above the ground, making it one of the largest statues in the world.
The statue sits upon a high hill overlooking the Dnieper River from its right bank, towards Kiev’s endless Soviet era suburbs on the other side of the river.

Enormous as this statue is, it is actually less grandiose than an earlier proposal. In the 1950s, there were proposals to built twin statues of Lenin and Stalin side by side, each approximately 200 metres tall – each significantly higher than the Washington Monument. Thinking about this in the past, I have thought that these statues would have been unspeakable abominations, and that the Ukrainian people were extraordinarily lucky to merely have the current, modest structure instead of this.

kiev2Kiev, Ukraine. June 2009.

This evening, though, I am not so sure. Well, not entirely. Sure, they still would have been unspeakable abominations, but what a fine day today could have been had they been there. Imagine these gigantic statues of these evil men being pulled down, and the immense splash that they would have made as they fell from the top of the hill into the Dnieper, causing tsunami all the way to Dnipropetrovsk.

That would have been awesome.

Loving the Aussies slightly less


In August, I spent some time in my native land of Australia visiting family and friends. One Sunday morning I found myself wandering around the inner west of Sydney. I used to live in the area. If certain things in my life had gone slightly differently, I might still live in the area.

That’s life, though. I don’t regret moving to London in 2002. For one thing, if I had not done so, I might not now be writing for this blog.

In any event, I was thirsty. I nipped into a convenience store to buy a Coke. Anyone who has ever lived in a city will know the type of store. A selection groceries for people who have not managed to get to the supermarket. Drinks. Snack foods. Possibly a few pots and pans and other household goods. Cigarettes. In cities full of immigrants such as London and Sydney, these stores are normally owned and run by first generation immigrants. In the UK, this often means south Asians. In Australia, the owners of such shops are more often Chinese people, in some sense. (Often this can mean ethnically Chinese immigrants from Malaysia, Vietnam, or various other places).

People reading carefully may thing I am being careless in leaving alcoholic drinks and newspapers out of the list of things that such stores sell. After all, in London these things would make up a large portion of the business of such a store. Surely this is the same in Australia?

Well, no, actually.  Australian convenience stores do have vast amounts of shelf space devoted to sunscreen and insect repellant, but this hardly makes up for it.

Australia loves to regulate to protect vested interests. Laws vary according to state, but in Sydney an area will have a single newsagent, which will have a monopoly over the sale of newspapers in that area. This newsagent will be free to sub-licence other stores in the area to sell newspapers, but this normally only happens for Sunday papers, as the owner of the local monopoly will (or at least might) take the day off. In theory, the holder of the newsagent monopoly guarantees that he will provide local delivery of newspapers in the morning in return for being granted this monopoly. This may have once made sense, although I doubt it. Now though, most people who read newspapers at home do so over the internet. The monopoly remains, though. It’s about vested interests being protected from competition. This means, amongst other things, that convenience stores run by recent immigrants are not going to be allowed to sell newspapers.

→ Continue reading: Loving the Aussies slightly less

An unspeakably inhumane regime

Young, ambitious, Chinese officials are being required to read Tom Friedman if they want to get ahead.

I knew the Chinese government was cruel, but until now I had no idea just how cruel.

Names can be complicated


There is, in this world, something called the Budweiser trademark dispute. The giant American brewery Anheuser-Busch produces a beer named Budweiser, an industrial mass produced lager that is not greatly revered by beer connoisseurs but which sells in large quantities, and a brewery called Budweiser Budvar Brewery in the Czech city of České Budějovice (Budweis in German) produces another beer called Budweiser, which is considered an excellent beer by most beer lovers. The two breweries have been fighting in courts throughout the world with respect who has the right to the name Budweiser ever since the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia. In some countries the Americans have won and the Czechs have had to find a different name, and in others the Czechs have won and the Americans have had to find a different name. In Britain the courts have made the eminently sensible ruling that both brewers can use the name and drinkers are smart enough to be able to tell the difference, but I don’t believe this has happened anywhere else.

Beer lovers are often sympathetic to the claims of Budvar, because the beer is better and because it actually come from Budweis, and this is therefore the “Original Budweiser”.

This is not really true, however. Anheuser-Busch started brewing the American Budweiser in 1876, due to the fact that the beers of Budweis were famous, including amongst German Americans. However, the Budvar brewery did not exist at that point. This brewery was not founded until 1895. At some point after that, they also started using the name Budweiser, possibly because the name had been given further fame by Anheuser-Busch. At least to some extent, the Czechs at Budvar may have started using the name because of the use of it by Anheuser-Busch, and not the other way round. Budvar was founded by ethnic Czechs, and the only reason they would have had for using a German name was that the German name had already been made famous by other brewers.

However, what of those earlier beers from Budweis, responsible for Anheuser-Busch starting to use the name? Well, there is another, much older, brewery in Budweis / Budějovický Budvar. This brewery, known as Budweiser Bürgerbräu until 1945, made beer in Budweis under the Budweiser name at least as early as 1802. It is almost certainly this company’s beers that Anheuser-Busch was copying when they started using the name “Budweiser”. This brewery was run by ethnic Germans from its founding until 1945, after which it was taken over by ethnic Czechs and de-germanised. The brewery is now called Budějovický měšťanský pivovar, which is a precise Czech translation of its original name. When de-germanisation took place, the brewery ceased using German words and names, including “Budweiser” (it regained some interest in using them post-1989). However, this brewery has by far the strongest claim that it produces the beer that is the original Budweiser.

That said, the trademark battles between the other two, larger companies have been so ferocious that Budějovický měšťanský pivovar has stayed clear of them, despite apparently having a stronger claim to the name than either of them. The brewery is quite a substantial one, and produces a significant quantity of (excellent) beer. It sells the beer under a variety of names including Crystal, Samson, B.B. Bürgerbräu, Boheme 1795, and more. It only uses the word “Budweiser” in places where trademark law is weak.

This is why I took the above photo, in Tbilisi in Georgia last month. It was certainly not the first time I had consumed beer from the brewery that actually gave us Budweiser, but it was the first time I had ever seen beers from that brewery actually using the word. It is not the most prominent word on the label, perhaps, but it is still prominently there.

Samizdata quote of the day

“In terms of technology I hate to sound ridiculously optimistic, but I am ridiculously optimistic”.

– Terence Kealey

Speaking today at the Liberty League Freedom Forum.

What a guy

“William Shakespeare evaded tax and illegally stockpiled food during times of shortage so he could sell it at high prices, academics have claimed“.

Safe under the watchful DNA database …


Some organisation has recently filled my local neighbourhood in the inner London borough of Southwark with a remarkably large number of the above signs. These have been attached to stop signs and other traffic signs, poles holding street lighting, and a few are even attached to poles that hold nothing else and have presumably been installed specially for the occasion. It is hard to imagine government of some kind not being involved, given the public places where they have been erected, but WTF?

Are these supposed to make me feel safe? Reassured? Threatened? Creeped out? Vaguely worried? Concerned that money that could otherwise be spent on something useful is being used to pay the salaries of people with far too much time on their hands? Also, WTF?

Going to the advertised website is only of limited help. Something about fighting crime with fighter jets? In any event, a badly designed website of the kind one would find from some small company that is desperately short of capital and trying to impress investors after an unsuccessful listing on AIM. Oh, okay, there is something about some kind of partnership in London with the Metropolitan Police elsewhere on the website, but it is virtually impossible for me to link to due to the horrendous overuse of Flash. So taxpayer money probably is involved somewhere.

Once again, WTF?

Earth Hour

The annual Earth Hour, in which people are requested to turn their lights off out of respect for the planet Earth, commences at 8.30pm this evening, local time. Here in London this is seven minutes from now. Please do what you think is right.