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]


Shortly after the Twitter ban came into effect around midnight, the micro-blogging company tweeted instructions to users in Turkey on how to circumvent it using text messaging services in Turkish and English. Turkish tweeters were quick to share other methods of tiptoeing around the ban, using “virtual private networks” (VPN) – which allow internet users to connect to the web undetected – or changing the domain name settings on computers and mobile devices to conceal their geographic whereabouts.

Some large Turkish news websites also published step-by-step instructions on how to change DNS settings.

On Friday morning, Turkey woke up to lively birdsong: according to the alternative online news site Zete.com, almost 2.5m tweets – or 17,000 tweets a minute – have been posted from Turkey since the Twitter ban went into effect, thus setting new records for Twitter use in the country.

May it continue thus.

The elephant in the auction room

Qatari money fuels record price at ivory auction, reports Adam Sage of the Times.

An auction of elephant tusks in France has fetched a world-record price and illustrated the enduring lure of ivory for collectors.

Quite why the Qatari riyal in particular has the power to drive up prices Mr Sage does not say. One of the big bidders was a Qatari. That is the only justification for the headline. Strangely enough Mr Sage was also the author of another Times piece from a month ago that might give a slightly more plausible explanation for record prices at an ivory auction in France:

Ivory worth £6m is ground to dust next to Eiffel Tower

Three tons of impounded ivory were crushed next to the Eiffel Tower yesterday in an operation designed to highlight French opposition to the illegal wildlife trade.

However Mr Sage did not appear to perceive any possible connection between the two stories.

Samizdata quote of the day

A Russian communist-era movie played on the TV. I couldn’t understand the dialogue, but it was at least passively propagandistic. The main characters, scientists in white lab coats, worked in a sparkling clean high-tech facility, the kind of place science fiction writers of the 1950s imagined were in our future. The movie portrayed an entirely staged idealized version of an advanced communist utopia without gulags, without long lines for potatoes, and without the NKVD. Ukrainians don’t need communist-produced re-runs. They, like the rest of us, need a serious film about Stalinism for a mass audience, a Schindler’s List of the Soviet Union.

Michael Totten

The unimaginable happens on Greek television – to Greek television

Last night I, and millions of others, saw a little bit of television history. Television history is not when they do a particularly fine historical drama. It is when the drama happens to television itself. Yesterday it did, to Greek television anyway, when Greece’s equivalent of the BBC was shut down, in mid show, live, on television. The BBC showed it, last night. Then they showed one of the sackees saying, in English, to the BBC, that the public sector of Europe was indeed rather too “bloated”.

Someone described in the headline above this piece as the “Europe TV chief” has said that Greek TV should be switched back on immediately:

The head of Europe’s public broadcasters has arrived in Greece to show support for 2,600 fired state TV and radio staff and demand that the country’s conservative government put the stations back on the air.

I had not realised that there was a “head of Europe’s public broadcasters”. Blog and learn.

Jean-Paul Philippot, president of the Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union, said he would meet with Greece’s Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to hand him a petition signed by 51 European broadcast executives calling for the broadcaster’s signal to be restored immediately.

A “petition”, “calling for” business as usual to be restored forthwith. Yes, that’ll do it. Clearly, these people fear that they and their underlings could be next, as they could if the Euro-crisis gets worse, as it will.

What I particularly like about this drama is that it changes what is imaginable. Public opinion does not tend to waste its time desiring what is unimaginable. But when what is unimaginable becomes imaginable by actually happening, that can also change what is then desired.

Paying attention in Cyprus


In December last year, I had some delicious seafood in one of a chain of restaurants in Cyprus. The chain was actually South African owned, and the style of cooking was actually Cape Malay. The restaurant didn’t mention either of these things in its advertising, signage, or on its menue. There was a vague suggestion that it was Cajun. (Being very vague about where they come from is a skill South African businesses picked up in the apartheid era, and they haven’t lost it). When I got my bill and paid by credit card, I was intrigued to see that the merchant bank was not a local Cypriot bank, but was a South African bank. I was slightly mystified by this at the time (other than that it is no secret that, well, interesting capital flows go through Cyprus), and wondered if the restaurant and the bank shared ownership for reasons similar to the reasons why the mafia also finds it convenient to own lots of restaurants.

Possibly, though, the situation is simpler. The Cypriot banks were and are bust. A South African company doing business in Cyprus does not trust the Cypriot financial system and is avoiding it as much as possible by bringing its own bank. Perhaps my payment for seafood was going directly to somewhere else in the euro area rather than to a Cypriot registered institution. Possibly it was going further afield. Some of the species of seafood on the menu were not native to the Mediterranean, so there were certainly foreign payments to be made, and that part would at least be legitimate to some extent. (To be fair, seafood may be one of the world’s most globalised industries, and this is true of almost any seafood restaurant anywhere). Someone, though, may have suspected what was coming.

When due process is not due

A regular Samizdata reader (who for fairly obvious reasons has asked to remain anonymous) submits this slightly horrifying story of what has recently happened to a friend resident in Spain. People familiar with the Spanish justice system – this is not a country where you wish to get in trouble with the law – will not find it surprising. Still, it is different, somehow, when it happens to you or someone close to you.

Occasionally one hears a story of a government overreach which makes one think that something like it could not happen in a Western Democracy, at least not on a regular basis. And if it does, it surely is due to some kind of a mistake, to which bureaucracies are so prone, or due to some corrupted government officials acting illegally. That was what I thought, after a friend who suddenly disappeared, severing all contacts with friends (although thankfully not family), reappeared after having spent four months in a Spanish jail. When this middle-aged suburban mother of young children told me that she got lucky, seeing as a maximum term for a pre-trial detention according to the Spanish law is four years, I thought that she must have misunderstood something “lawyery” – turns out, she did not (more info in Spanish here). What is worse, according to that document Spain is by no means different from several other European countries, and is not the worst among them, either.

As of now, my friend is still less than keen on discussing the legal aspects of the matter, and she has never been much interested in these things anyway. But, to paraphrase that dead revolutionary: you may not be interested in Law, but Law is interested in you. After having her apartment turned upside down and having been dragged to jail following a knock on the door, she was brought before a judge, whom she told that she just happened to have been once-friends with someone connected to something much bigger than herself or anyone she has ever known.

It took the Spanish authorities four months to corroborate her statement. In the meantime, she spent those four months in appalling conditions, with only a weekly through-the-glass visit from her husband, plus a monthly conjugal visit. No heating (in winter), filthy cells, two women sharing a cell with a toilet. Her kids still think she was away for some kind of professional training. It would have taken longer (as noted above, up to four years) if it was not for her lawyer. She made friends in jail with women who cannot afford a lawyer, and others who were extradited to Spain under the European Arrest Warrant and do not even know anyone in Spain. They are still in jail. Word is (I have not checked) that all the “Big Fish” with that big affair apparently are home free after about a month and a half in jail. The State is NOT your friend.

No hunting in the buffer zone



Perry has occasionally suggested the possibility of introducing a new category named “No shit, Sherlock”, principally for quoting people who have, apparently after a long struggle, managed to figure out the blindingly obvious.

I think it might apply here too. In Cyprus, between the opposing armies of Turkey and Greek Cyprus, there is a buffer zone, monitored by the United Nations. This buffer zone is not as empty or as off limits as many other such zones in other parts of the world, but like many such zones it has become an involuntary nature reserve, full of wildlife.

There are also a small number of occupied towns in the zone. One of these is Pyla, which has the distinction of being the only town on the island of Cyprus in which citizens of Greek and Turkish ethnicity live side by side. This town contains both active mosques and active churches, pubs that serve Efes and different pubs that serve KEO. (Why is beer such a sectarian thing?) There is a significant UN presence in the town. Rather tiresomely, there are also lots of signs prohibiting photography of buildings occupied by the UN, but one still does one’s best. Surreptitious photography does not always lead to the best results, alas.

On the side of the local UN police station is the above sign, which explains that hunting is prohibited. Apparently it is a bad idea to run around a neutral zone between two hostile and opposing armies wearing camouflage and firing weapons. Who would have thought it?

I confess that I have mixed feelings about the necessity for such signs. Sometimes people should be allowed to collect their richly deserved Darwin awards, if they are determined enough.

Denmark takes a small step towards sanity

This story in the Wall Street Journal, stating that Denmark is to rescind its “fat tax” because it has proven to be economically destructive, may not, in the scheme of things, be as important as the US elections, the plight of the euro or the (hopefully) end of tax-financed public service broadcasting in the UK (we can all dream). But the sight of a European government, one that often adopts a nanny state approach to certain issues, rowing back on such an idea, is encouraging.

One thing I should point out to my despondent American pals who are concerned about the US copying failed European social/regulatory models is this: it is possible to push back, if the evidence can be presented strongly enough and if the impact is clear enough and if this can be shown to voters.

Talking of anniversaries…

A year ago today I posted Discussion Point XXXVI

What will happen to the Euro? I am not asking “what should happen”, but what will happen. Take this opportunity to put your predictions on the internet, and later be hailed as a true prophet or derided as a false one.

Come, take your bows, or your lumps, and predict anew. The fat lady has not yet sung.

You thought they couldn’t do it?

You thought that no one could top awarding a Nobel peace prize to Barack Obama, a decision taken, if I recall correctly, eleven days into his presidency?

They topped it.

This is sublime. This is art.

European Union wins Nobel peace prize

Thoughts on extradition and its limits

“Perhaps the most annoying thing about Julian Assange (yes, I know it’s a long list) is that he is in danger of giving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) a good name. Maybe my memory is failing, but I don’t recall any of his supporters being critical of the EU’s fast-track extradition system when it was being debated 10 years ago.”

Philip Johnston, in today’s Daily Telegraph. It is an interesting point to make. Leaving aside Assange for a minute (there’s no need to hurry), the power of extradition creates an interesting point for those concerned about liberty and the importance of due process of law. Some extradition agreements between states might be acceptable if, for example, an offence for which a person is to be extradited to country B from A is recognised as a criminal offence in both nations. However, with the EU Arrest Warrant, you can be extradited into a country from another where the offence in question is not recognised in the place where the person happens to be staying at a particular point in time.

As we have seen with recent controversy about the UK’s extradition agreement with the United States, a person can be moved to the US – and vice versa – without a prima facie establishment of guilt having to be shown in the country where the person is being transferred from. Given the plea-bargaining lottery that the US adopts in certain cases, for example, this seems to involve serious abuse of due process.

These points need to be aired because, amid all the other issues kicked up by the Assange affair (the alleged sex crimes, the activities of Wikileaks, potential damage to military forces in the field, etc) the specifics of extradition principles can be obscured. Unlike some more isolationist types, I don’t have a problem with treaties between states to shift suspected criminals around to see that justice is done, provided there is a reciprocal recognition of the rules of procedure. For instance, there is simply no way that a country such as the UK should have such an arrangement with a state enforcing shariah law, say, or with a country such as Russia, which is a police state, or for that matter, Ecuador.

Samizdata quote of the day

“People who do otherwise commendable work are capable of rape and other crimes. If presented with rape allegations, they must face them like anybody else, however otherwise worthy their past contributions. Now, these statements should be so self-evidently obvious, it is ludicrous that they need to be said. But the furore over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sadly makes it necessary. Although now granted political asylum by Ecuador, Assange is a rape suspect who skipped bail. Yet some of his supporters have ended up making arguments that they would never dream of making about anybody else.”

Owen Jones, writing in the Independent. He is, by the way, a big fan of Wikileaks. I am not so keen, as I have explained here before at Samizdata, such as when Wikileaks affected private bank details.

Here is also a good article on the impact of Wikileaks’ activity on investigative journalism, by Nick Cohen.

Update: George Galloway has, er, tried to defend Assange. With friends like Galloway, Assange doesn’t need enemies.