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]

Moon landings in 3-D

I was only a toddler when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went on that historic walk on the Moon (well, assuming you don’t buy the tedious conspiracy theories that it was all staged in Madison Avenue or whatever), and have been interested in this period of post-war history for a long time. So, for all you space junkies out there, there is a 3-D IMAX documentary on the way, portraying how the whole Moon landings went. Excellent. Book the popcorn and the soda drinks.

The Science Museum in London – one of the greatest – is showing the film.

Don’t be evil?

Via Daniel W. Drezner, I read this story about the new rules that China has established to regulate news reporting on the Internet.

“The state bans the spreading of any news with content that is against national security and public interest,” the official Xinhua news agency said in announcing the new rules, which took effect immediately.

The news agency did not detail the rules, but said Internet news sites must “be directed toward serving the people and socialism and insist on correct guidance of public opinion for maintaining national and public interests.”

That is a nice touch in the way they do not define what is against ‘national security and public interest’. In effect, it is whatever the Chinese Communist Party says it is.

The Chinese government is also getting quite adept at regulating Internet content in its own country, not least through help from US Internet and software companies. Dave Kopel writes that these companies might well have broken the law in selling this technology to the Chinese government, but the current administration refuses to apply it, and thinks that only pressure from consumers and shareholders will cause these companies to mend their ways.

Foreign companies that invest or do a lot of business with China are going to have more and more ethical headaches of this nature in the years ahead.

Data mining: Russian style

I do not usually bring my professional activities to the pages of Samizdata, but I have a very interesting little story to tell.

There are things going on out in Cyberspace of which most are little aware. Some will have heard reports saying Cyberwar backed by nation states will soon be able to bring down economies. Other reports equally vehemently say the idea is an over-hyped load of bollocks.

I can tell you from personal experience ‘on the front lines’ there are indeed goings on which I find difficult to explain without recourse to State backed Cyberwar activities as fact. I cannot give specific details: that would be violating customer trust. What I can tell is the broad brush tale of a rather interesting discovery I stumbled upon late one night.

I was trying to assist a ‘Road Warrior’ CEO in getting at his email. This was not my reason for being at the ISP working – I was there on a consulting job – but I was the only one available at that hour. Their customer was in Moscow on a business trip and was becoming more and more strident over his inability to read his office mail.

I began tracing the ISP’s systems and trying to pull needles out of haystacks of system and mail logs. At first I thought he was appearing through a different address than he claimed to be using in his hotel. Proving this was made more difficult by the Moscow hotel not having its systems properly set up.

Someone was reading his mail and it was not him. Further more, that someone was in Beijing. Most disturbingly, it was from a Beijing network through which several years ago I had a near penetration of a firewall of mine. A friend who was a reformed ‘black-hat’ could not even explain what had happened. They were that good. So seeing someone on the same network repeatedly picking up this CEO’s email was a nasty surprise. My investigation suddenly shifted from ‘help the idjit customer’ mode to defense and forensics.

I will not bore you with details. After conferring with some other network and security people I had a story that fit the facts. I cannot absolutely swear the following is what was going on, but I can make a fair case for it.

It seems old hardline KGB have a presence in China and they use Beijing as a cutout for some of their activities. Since the password had to get there somehow, I infer either in the Moscow hotel or somewhere in a nearby Russian backbone node there is a data mining operation going on.

Imagine you are a businessman arriving in Russia for a trade show or other event. You check into the hotel and immediately use the internet connection to pick up your home office email. As you are not a network security expert, you do not realize your normal ‘pop3’ mail pickup is sending a clear-text user name and password when your laptop connects to your office (or gmail) server.

Your poor, unprotected little password gets scarfed up before it reaches the border. Along with other captives it gets passed on to the cutout operation in Beijing. Someone then connects and reads your mail. Presumably all the mail then gets dumped into a huge database where it can be cross-indexed and mined for proprietary data, internal data security info, blackmail possibilities and other attack vectors into yours or other corporate networks.

I could be wrong. There are other scenarios… but not many. One must explain how a password journeyed to Beijing within no more than a day or two of the CEO’s Moscow arrival. This does not happen accidentally.

I find this all quite disturbing.

Bollocks to Blair

What does this, have in common with this,
and this?

What’s different is also interesting. The police being used as as an instrument to suppress peaceful political dissent is one thing, but their doing it on their own initiative is if anything more worrying.

The handbook for dissident bloggers

Reporters without Borders has produced a useful handbook for blogging in an unfree environment. We will be adding a sidebar link to this useful resource which has some technical tips that may be of interest to people in places where Big Brother tries to controls everything you read.

It can be purchased or downloaded for free from here.


The guide to dissident blogging

The handbook for dissident bloggers

Reporters without Borders has produced a useful handbook for blogging in an unfree environment. We will be adding a sidebar link to this useful resource which has some technical tips that may be of interest to people in places where Big Brother tries to controls everything you read.

It can be purchased or downloaded for free from here.


The guide to dissident blogging

Go Private Now

Just as the NHS is the darling of the British people, it will come as no surprise that its failures are increasingly covered by the tabloids, who have found that the crisis in health provision is a concern to those who have to rely on the state through no fault of their own. High taxes and expensive private health care denies choice to the majority of the population.

One of the latest (and incredible) stories to emerge is a lack of mops in Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow:

PATIENTS spent two days in “grotty” wards – after a hospital ran out of mops.

Cleaners at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow were left stunned after bosses told them of the shortage. And it took two working days for the hospital to replace all the mops.

A source at the closure-threatened hospital said: “We knew things were bad here but this takes the biscuit. Cleaners went to work on Wednesday and were told there were no mops and nothing could be done about it

Only scenes such as these could be caused by a state monopoly of health:

After replacement mops arrived on Thursday, a source revealed that hospital staff celebrated.

The insider revealed: “People were dancing around the boxes, singing and chanting, ‘We have mops.’ ” The source added: “No wonder our hospitals are riddled with MRSA superbugs and such like if they can’t get something as simple as this right.”

Only the NHS could ration health and mops!

A close call

One of the things blogs do is edit the news, that is, look at lots of it, and point readers to the best stuff. And when it comes to this story – about a jeweller who chased and was then shot at by a robber, and who was struck in the chest by one of the shots – what counts is this picture:


Maybe other organs have this too, but I first found it, after seeing it on the ITV news, at The Sun. Well done them.

But hang on. Is it not supposed to be illegal even to carry a gun, let alone to fire it at people? These criminals. No respect for law and order.

If the jeweller had been armed, or if he only might have been, the robber would have known it, and this event would probably not have happened. Which in this particular case might have been a shame, because this really is an excellent picture.

In general, I hasten to add, I am against armed robbery, which is why I so completely despise the laws here in Britain which ensure that only armed robbers are armed when they unleash their villainy.

Oil hikes boost hybrid cars

As I predicted a few weeks ago, SUV-phobes need not get into a hissy fit. The market is changing people’s driving habits:

Toyota Motor Corp. has seen a rise in demand for hybrid vehicles in the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as consumers seek more mileage out of $3-gallon gasoline, a top official said on Thursday.

“At the end of last month, we had a 20-hour supply of the Prius (hybrid sedan),” Jim Press, head of Toyota’s U.S. operations, said at the Reuters Autos Summit, held in Detroit. “We no longer count in days.”

Price increases change human behaviour. Who would have thought it?


William Heath has another example that even when governments set out to do a Good Thing, it’s not necessarily worth it.

Europe’s governments, freaked out by how good and free Google is, have knee jerked and spent a pile of money launching an online Euro-library. “We’re engaged in a global competition for technological supremacy”, said French President Jacques Chirac about this. “In France, in Europe, it’s our power that’s at stake”. Let’s show them what an intergovernmental steering commitee can achieve, when backed up by a series of working goups.

Predictably enough this was no contest.

Well, Google print is unbelievable. I never asked for it, it cost me nothing, it works very fast and I’m delighted. Euro-lib didn’t find anything for me, just crashed my browser (Mozilla).

Euro-lib sounds a bit sleezy, doesn’t it? Anyway, William then picks on the Euro efforts to develop a search engine called Quaero widely seen as a potential competitor to Google. (!) Oh dear.

Nobody has ever heard of it (although Google turns up several Quaeros, of course). What next? EC-funded Euromaps? Euromail? Euro-Earth (perhaps just restricted to Europe, and called Euro-Euro)?

Would it be too Anglo-centric to ask: “Can I have my tax back now please?”

We hear you…

Note: William has started another Ideal Government project, this time about Europe, Ideal Government Europe. I meant to blog about it and others already beat me to it. In the sidebar blurb William asks:

Public sector computerisation will cost Europe €88bn in 2005. But did we ever say what we wanted? Are e-government projects designed for citizens? Do we use them? Will they make life easier and meet our needs? Should we trust them? Unless we ask, how can they give us what we want? Thinking and saying what we want is more fun than griping, and more constructive too.

The answer to his questions is a resounding NO from where I am standing and I am not holding my breath at William’s or anyone’s chance to affect anything to do with the EU, however, can’t blame the man for trying to voice his objections when he gets the opportunity to make them to the EU audience and add the bloggers voices to his own.

South Africa takes a fateful step

Well, I can not say this bad story came as a total surprise, given the near-total lack of respect for property rights and the rule of law in Africa:

South Africa says it will for the first time force a white farmer to sell his land under a redistribution plan.

The story goes on to say that the seizure is part of a drive to “redistribute” land to people who lost what was rightfully theirs as a result of the 20th Century apartheid regime. Hmmm. It seems to me that on an abstract level relating to rectification of previous injustices, there is some credibility to this idea. However, the big problem is that the people who will get chunks of this land are unlikely to have much to do with the people who were allegedly robbed of said land in the first place, assuming that such a claim can be validated. (Of course if there are people who could claim that they or their ancestors were robbed of what was rightly theirs, then I have no objection in principle to some restitution).

In practice, as we have seen all too clearly in nearby Zimbabwe, the spoils of any assault on white-owned farmland will go to the political hacks and cronies of the governing regime, and likely bring about a serious, possibly catastrophic loss of economic wealth and food in a part of the world, that is not, to put it mildly, greatly endowed with such things.

Perhaps the president of South Africa should put this book on his reading list. Or perhaps he should remember to heed his own words.

More than anything else, Africa needs stable, enforceable property rights, period, if it is clamber out of its current state. Sir Bob Geldolf and friends, please note.

Nothing succeeds like excess?

The surging interest in cricket in England is having an effect in Australia. The South Australian Cricket Association warned today that the England vs Australia Test due in late 2006 might well be sold out. At least 6,000 English visitors are expected for the match.

And they immediately followed that up with yet another demand for government funding to expand the seating capacity of the Adelaide Oval.

I am confused. Do I laugh now, or do I cry?