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]

Elton John knows Barbra Streisand, so…

With that in mind, it seem positively hilarious that he appears to be unaware of the Streisand Effect!

You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh :D

Any old Caravaggios?

Reports from France indicate that someone in Toulouse who went up their attic to fix a leak found an old Caravaggio worth a reputed £94,000,000 lying around.

The picture is rather grim, it shows the Jewish fighter Judith beheading Holofernes, an Assyrian general. It also seems rather close to the bone (as it were) for these times, I would ask Holofernes what he thought, but…

Sadly, the French State gets the first option on buying it.

Samizdata quote of the day

Well I heard a terrible April Fool’s trick today on BBC Radio 4, some economist chap talking about a hike in the UK’s minimum wage, saying that raising the minimum wage boosts the economy as there will be more money to spend in retail etc.

– Mr. Ed

Huge gun hoard found in Suffolk, England

The now, sadly deceased Chairman of a Parish Council (a toothless level of government in most cases), in Suffolk, the late James Arnold has been found to have had the largest ever gun hoard found in England, says the Daily Mail, reporting on a linked case involving a living firearms dealer.

This is the terrifying collection of nearly 500 guns and 200,000 rounds of ammunition which was seized from a parish council chairman who collected firearms ‘like stamps’.

There seems to be no suggestion that the arsenal was intended for any other purpose than to be hoarded, and from the pictures a lot of the ammo appears to be inert, and none of the weapons have been linked to any crimes.

(The police) revealed that, had the weapons fallen into the wrong hands, they would have been enough to arm nine coach-loads of terrorists. Chief Superintendent David Skevington said: ‘James Arnold never offered any explanation for what he did; he simply said he had come by the weapons years ago and kept them safe to stop them causing any harm.
‘We have asked every question and followed every line of inquiry and have found no evidence of a criminal or terrorist motive.

Well quite, in Suffolk, there is little terrorist activity. Although historically, Saint and King Edmund was martyred somewhere not too far away, and the Danish culprits appear to have escaped justice. Mr Arnold was arrested 3 months before his untimely death from pancreatic cancer, aged 49. The Mail notes, almost chafing, methinks

After the 49-year-old’s arrest in 2014, Arnold died of pancreatic cancer, meaning he could never face prosecution

I don’t know, these days being dead is no bar to a police investigation, even if you were the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Plod are to devote a year to going through Sir Edward Heath KG’s papers, and they aren’t even considering treason charges for bringing about the UK’s entry into the EEC, which could at least lead to a reprise of Cromwell’s posthumous fate.

I note that on the OP, commenter Big George says

Big George, Michigan, United States, 2 hours ago
This is known as a “starter set” in Texas.

For the socialist who has everything… North Korea’s ‘biggest’ export

Under socialism, we are all equal, and under Communism, we shall want for nothing, or so we are told. However, if you know a socialist who wants that special present, and you are feeling generous, there is North Korea’s flourishing statue export industry, the BBC tells us.

Finding a gap in the ‘market’, North Korea has exploited its comparative advantages to sell the wares of the Mansudae Art Studio:

“The Russians and Chinese don’t make that kind of stuff any more,” says art critic William Feaver.

No, but they don’t have famines any more either, not for now, anyway.

Be warned mind, if you are looking for a surprise present for your favourite dictator, you might be disappointed, as the Hermit Kingdom have uncharacteristically let slip some details of projects.

Local media in Zimbabwe report there are two giant Robert Mugabes in storage waiting to commemorate his death.

And I bet they were hoping for champagne in Bulawayo.

The ‘studio’ employs 4,000 artists, and is, they claim, the biggest in the World. State funding of the Arts, with knobs on, the twist being this is for hard currency.

The BBC’s interviewee, an Italian gentleman, tells us about the artists envious lifestyles:

They have an enviable position you know – unlike a Western artist they don’t have to worry about selling their work, they have a salary. They are recognised and have privileges. The ones I know, they seem to live happily, they feel part of something

Part of a socialist slave state, but they have privileges.

Anyway, there’s a handy pointer to where in the world not to go if you want to avoid a craphole:

The export of this bold, direct, firmly authoritarian style began in the early 1980s as a diplomatic gift to socialist or non-aligned countries from their North Korean brothers. More recently it’s become a valuable source of hard currency, with artists and craftsmen from MOP working in Angola, Benin, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Togo.

Mind you, am I alone in wondering if one or more of these statutes might just be right for Washington DC in mid-January 2017? Should we crowd-fund one for you-know-who as a legacy, one for Hillary and one for the Donald, just in case. I’m pretty sure Senator Sanders would be too self-effacing for this sort of thing. It wouldn’t be right for Mr Rubio either, but perhaps an Action Man doll, with a string in his back to play the same 25-second speech.

Set down these laws

The laws of ancient Rome were engraved onto Twelve Tables that were displayed in the forum for all to see. Cicero lamented that in his time the old tradition of memorizing them all had fallen into disuse.

The laws of ancient England were recorded on vellum. As are, it seems, the more voluminous laws of the modern United Kingdom. The Cabinet Office lamented that in our time this thousand year old tradition was about to fall into disuse, and offered to keep paying to continue a custom that those soulless modernizers in the House of Lords had wanted to jettison on grounds of cost.

My correspondent ARC writes,

“It would appear that minister for the Cabinet Office Matthew Hancock is indeed a Tory when it comes to thousand-year-old traditions. The claim was that using paper would save £80,000 per annum, but he has prevented the change. Being a staunch Tory myself when it comes to such things, I approve wholeheartedly.

There is, alas, no suggestion in the story that any alternative way of reducing the current annual cost of inscribing new laws was considered.”

This is one situation where it it might be beneficial to increase rather than decrease the cost and inconvenience of government. Calves died to give us these vellum scrolls. We dishonour them with this new-fangled mechanical printing. Let us demand that the originator of each Bill personally inscribe his proposed law onto a vellum scroll in a traditional Insular Minuscule hand. And why stop there? Let us follow the earlier and even wiser example set by the assembly of one of the Greek colonies in Italy, Locris, where according to Demosthenes it was decreed

that a man who shall propose to make any new law shall do it with a rope about his neck, which he shall be strangled in, if he do not carry his point: which has been such a guard and defence to the laws, that there has been but one new one made in more than two hundred years.

Juan Peron and Hugo Chavez won the N.H. Primary?

Seriously guys, did the 1st of April come early this year? Boy oh boy, and I thought UK politics was messed up. I was considering tagging this under “humour”, but there is nothing funny about large numbers of people taking Donald “Peron” Trump and Bernard “Chavez” Sanders seriously.

Supply, demand, regulators, middlemen

If there is one thing the BBC and Samizdata have in common, it is our coverage of all the important issues.

Simon Watson, 41, has been an unlicensed sperm donor for 16 years, donating once a week. “Usually one [baby] a week pops out. I reckon I’ve got about 800 so far, so within four years I’d like to crack 1,000.”

This is a whole new world of discovery for me.

The number of women using donated sperm to get pregnant is rising, but many find the cost of treatment at private clinics prohibitive. This has led some women to use unlicensed donors. […] Very few women are eligible for artificial insemination on the NHS as the criteria are very strict. Private licensed clinics cost between £500 and £1,000 for each cycle of treatment. Mr Watson charges £50 for his services […] “If you go to a fertility clinic people have to go through lots of hurdles – counselling sessions, huge amounts of tests and then charge absolute fortunes for the service – but realistically if you’ve got a private donor you can just go and see them, meet them somewhere, get what you want and just go,” he explains.

Regulatory hurdles push up prices for the end user, so the demand for cheap and cheerful is met elsewhere. But what about the supply side? Another BBC article, bemoaning the lack of donors, completes the picture.

Just nine men are registered as donors a year after the opening of Britain’s national sperm bank in Birmingham. […] Donors are paid £35 per clinic visit, but Ms Witjens said financial reward was not a good way to boost recruitment. “We might get more donors if we paid £50 or £100 per donation, but money corrupts. “If you feel you can make £200 a week for four months, you might hide things about your health.”

I would have thought women might want to be a bit pickier than have sperm from the kind of loser who gets out of bed for thirty-five quid.

So we have private services supplying a high cost, high quality product, but crowded and regulated out of providing better value or budget services. A state provider that manages to have nothing but shortages of supply and (I would guess) poor quality products. And a grey market filling in the gaps. This is not a new world at all: there is nothing new here. To make things better I would abolish the state providers and deregulate, creating an environment for reputable intermediaries to supply maximum value for money across the whole range of price points. If anything does change it will probably involve more rules and the criminalisation of the grey market, increasing costs and risks.

Anthropological fieldwork

The BBC reports:

Arts body Creative Scotland has defended giving an artist £15,000 to spend a year without leaving Glasgow.

Ellie Harrison’s project is called the Glasgow Effect – a term relating to poor health in parts of the city.
The artist said she wanted to explore sustainability by travelling less and focusing more on local opportunities.
Critics on social media have described it as a waste of money but Creative Scotland said Harrison’s strong proposal had qualified for funding.

On a web page explaining the project, Harrison states: “The Glasgow Effect is year long action research project / durational performance, for which artist Ellie Harrison will not travel outside Greater Glasgow for a whole year (except in the event of the ill-heath / death of close relative or friend).

“By setting this one simple restriction to her current lifestyle, she intends to test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic.”

The Independent tells us that,

“The experiment will enable her to cut her carbon footprint and increase her sense of belonging, by encouraging her to seek out and create ‘local opportunities’ – testing what becomes possible when she invests all her ideas, time and energy within the city where she lives.”

Responses to the artwork have been mixed. Some Glaswegians have been offended at the idea that their city is evidently considered to be what the Diplomatic Service calls a “hardship posting”, a place that one must be paid extra to endure. Unkind residents of Edinburgh have said that for a year in Glesca, £15,000 isn’t nearly enough. I do think that the extra fifteen grand will make the restriction of Ms Harrison’s current lifestyle a little easier to bear. Unlike the majority of those citizens of Glasgow paid by the State simply for existing within its boundaries, Ms Harrison is free to augment her dole by continuing to work as “‘successful’ artist/academic”, and no need for the scare quotes round “successful”, either. She has done better than most artists in that she has been successful in getting someone to pay handsomely for her stuff (albeit not with their own money), namely the Scottish Government. Of course her finding a patron was probably made easier by the fact that, like herself, those who approved her grant application were part of the famously close-knit Scottish arts community. There is a rather different class of Glaswegian who has to work forty hours a week for a total level of remuneration often not that much different than the top-up Ms Harrison gets to fight off the people simply demanding that she come and bestow her art upon them. According to the Scotsman and the International Business Times, some of these benighted Weegies have been kicking up a fuss at having to pay for all this. You’d think they would be grateful that someone was taking an interest in them. Philistines.

By the way, you all knew that David Thompson would be making his own artistic response to this, didn’t you?

Finally, here are some of Ms Harrison’s own words from her grant application which she has kindly posted online:

Since then, I have developed an actively self-reflexive practice, which is as much concerned with analysing and exposing the motivations, processes and ethics of making art, as it is with the individual projects that I produce (see examples in attached Supporting Material). Whilst studying, I began to notice the environmental impact of my practice, becoming the first individual artist to launch an Environmental Policy. Published on my website in 2010, the policy summarises the action I currently take to reduce my carbon footprint and holds future decisions to account.

Is copyright law really this stupid?

Ars Technica says than in the UK “you may soon need a licence to take photos of that classic designer chair you bought”.

Changes to UK copyright law will soon mean that you may need to take out a licence to photograph classic designer objects even if you own them. That’s the result of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, which extends the copyright of artistic objects like designer chairs from 25 years after they were first marketed to 70 years after the creator’s death. In most cases, that will be well over a hundred years after the object was designed. During that period, taking a photo of the item will often require a licence from the copyright owner regardless of who owns the particular object in question.

There are lots of exceptions hinted at here: what is a classic designer object and why will the photograph only require a license “often”? It also seems as if such copyright enforcement already exists and only the timing is changing. Perhaps in practice the effects of this change in the law will be minimal.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to meet with violence the non-violent act of photographing an inanimate object. It is also so unintuitive that people will be surprised by it. And it is so unenforceable that it will be applied selectively.

There is another possibility. A Star Wars fan recently had his Facebook account suspended for posting a photograph of a Star Wars toy.

One possibility is that at least someone at Disney was openminded about Carvalho’s thoughtful response, but the organization has a software-enabled copyright enforcement regime in place that they simply can’t stop.

Pattern recognition software means that previously unenforceable crazy laws and policies can now be uniformly enforced. I find this…interesting.

Medical student ‘struck off’ before he even started – because of a Facebook post

A fourth-year medical student at Leicester University, Mr Ravindu Thilakawardhana, has been deemed unfit to practice medicine by the University, after making comments on Facebook towards someone who had annoyed him, the Independent tells us. It appears that he will not be permitted to complete his degrees and graduate, quite a long way down the line too.

Ravindu Thilakawardhana, who was in his fourth year studying medicine at the University of Leicester, became furious when a fellow student posted explicit pictures of his friend onto the social networking site.

Mr Thilakawardhana retorted with a photo of the actor Liam Neeson accompanied by the words: “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you,” the Leicester Mercury reports.

He later sent a private message to the student saying: “I don’t want to see you on a night out in Leicester, or in the UK.”

The student reported Mr Thilakawardhana to the medical school who reprimanded him, before deeming him “unfit to practice medicine”.

The matter is going to law, with Mr Thilakawardhana taking legal action in the hope of having his sanction overturned.

There has been no criminal conviction (not even a prosecution) of Mr Thilakawardhana over his action, and yet his career is effectively ruined, as things stand, because of an intemperate post. This has all the hallmarks of a grotesque reaction to me.

How many other medical students might be barred from the closed shop profession for expressing attitudes that render them ‘unfit to practice medicine’? How wide might this ‘catch-all’ classification extend? Has all common sense left the University? (Yes, I know, by definition…) Is this not tyrannical, with echoes of Dr Bonham?

A funny thing happened in my local bank…

Earlier today I was standing in line waiting for a teller in my local bank, when some chap who was clearly a few cards short of a full deck started complaining at the top of his voice:

“This is how a run on a bank starts! People see an unusual number of customers waiting line and become alarmed, and the next thing you know, it becomes a national crisis with banks collapsing!”

The rather well dressed fellow standing behind me immediately quipped:

“With a grasp of finance and human nature like that, this gentleman is clearly a contender for the Corbyn Shadow Cabinet.”

A great many people laughed. Made my day.