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]

Anonymous and Wikileaks: friend or foe of liberty and property?

A vast amount of data at US-based intelligence and research organisation, Stratfor, has been stolen by the group styling itself “Anonymous”. As reported today, WikiLeaks has, or is in the process of, publishing millions of emails written by persons at that organisation over a 7-year period.

And Stratfor’s CEO, George Friedman, has resigned. Er, no he hasn’t – it was a fake story, apparently. Curiouser and curiouser.

“I like hearing when companies pay the price for lax security, but in the case of Stratfor, proving that someone’s security is weak by spilling everyone’s details is like peeing your pants to prove your parents aren’t supervising you. It might feel good and warm at first, but you ultimately end up being the loser.”

So writes a person called Michael Lee. His article focuses on Anonymous’ actions. He continues:

“Stratfor is one of the latest companies allegedly targeted by Anonymous. The breach, which began to make headlines on Christmas day in the US, resulted in the loss of 200GB worth of data and ultimately the publication of its customers’ emails, credit card numbers, and corresponding verification numbers and addresses.”

And this:

“The hackers wanted to release the credit card details because they belonged to “rich and powerful oppressors”. But even the author behind the release stated that of the 860,000, just 50,000 email accounts were from military or government domains. How many of those 50,000 were even responsible for oppressing anyone? And even if all 50,000 were, was it really worth ruining the privacy of 810,000 other likely innocent bystanders?”

Publishing the details of housands of credit card details, addresses and other important information has nothing to do with holding the rich and powerful to account. And in any event, being rich is not, in and of itself, a legitimate reason for a bunch of hackers to claim that wholesale theft of data is somehow in the “public interest”.

Now WikiLeaks, run by Julian Assange, is involved. As some regulars might know, unlike some other Samizdata contributors, I consider WikiLeaks, and those who aid and abet its publication of such private data, to be near-criminal in its recklessness. It has put journalists’ sources in jeopardy, or it least is careless about them in some cases, which is hardly grounds for celebration by anyone who takes freedom of expression seriously. This story from Africa is particularly troubling.

This item by the BBC shows how WikiLeaks does not give a damn about the damage it does so long as it can claim to be striking a blow against organisations it dislikes:

“Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the US government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told Reuters news agency. “What is of grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organisations fighting for a just cause.”

Well it may be that the final sentence has some basis in truth, but as Assange surely knows, a lot of journalists get sources inside large organisations for their stories, be they government civil servants or company types. An investigative journalist looking into corporate or government activities could not operate without such contacts, even in a world where Freedom of Information legislation operates. And there is a real risk that serious sources will be blown and their careers ruined by indiscriminate publication of such vast amounts of information. The key word here is “indiscriminate” – there is no sign of any attempt to filter, let alone consider how some of this data could fall into the wrong hands and cause harm to innocents.

In case anyone brings up the matter, the leak of such a vast number of emails, and hacking of data about hundreds of thousands of credit card details, is hardly the same as say, the discovery of emails at the University of East Anglia that confirmed suspicions that AGW alarmists were playing fast and loose with the evidence. In that case, a Freedom of Information Act request was used to find out about the emails. In other words, a proper process was insisted upon. And I am not aware that global warming skeptics have tried to hack Al Gore’s bank account details.

And now it appears, in an update, that some pranksters are trying to claim that a person has resigned from his job when he hasn’t. This is all getting very juvenile.

The Gleick Earworm

1. The soundtrack to this post is “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” by the Electric Light Orchestra. The format will be a vomiting out of points as I think of them, numbered to bring some sort of order to the chaos. I expect to add more after publishing this post. (Update 28 Feb: some new points added.)

2. The title to this post was very nearly The Lying Will Continue Until Trust Improves, being a riff on this catch phrase, but since I do not think most of the people involved are consciously lying – though Gleick is – I decided against. AGW advocates better look out, though, because the widespread perception that some of them might be lying about global warming is going to be reinforced if a significant percentage of them continue to praise lying by Gleick.

3. Likewise the even more widespread perception that many of them might be credulous and deluded about global warming is going to be reinforced if a significant percentage of them continue to be credulous and deluded in public about very weak arguments in favour of the strategy memo being genuine.

Take the “evaluation” by DeSmogBlog that the memo was authentic. I have put scare quotes round “evaluation” because the word suggests it was done an impartial third party, but it is just the same guys as usually write the blog. It goes to a lot of trouble to show that the strategy memo “also uses phrases, language and, in many cases, whole sentences that were taken directly from Heartland’s own material. Only someone who had previous access to all of that material could have prepared the Climate Strategy in its current form.” – without seeming to realise that nothing in that contradicts the assertion that it is a fake.

To show that the reaction from AGW advocates was not always as unmindful of the future credibility of their side, read this blog post, The Cytokine Storm from a site called “lies.com”. The author, John Callender, is a liberal in the US sense and is quite a strong, longstanding and well-known AGW blogger, so doubly opposed to most here but definitely not some random bloke on the internet. His reaction to DeSmog blog’s” evaluation” was,

Having studied the contents of the strategy memo, and the arguments for and against its authenticity, my reaction to DeMelle and Littlemore’s argument was immediate and unequivocal: they’re wrong, and obviously so. They must either be actively lying or passively bullshitting (that is, willfully disregarding the truth to assert a position they favor, without bothering about facts).

4. Let’s jump back a step. My own position is that I think there is a severe and urgent danger to the world concerning global warming – namely the poverty and repression that will result from the measures that power grabbers and sincere crusaders put in to protect us against it. I am also somewhat concerned about global warming.

I think the current mainstream view of anthropogenic global warming is equivalent to a stock market bubble, with fear instead of optimism making it expand. The madness of crowds caused its “price” to become detached from underlying reality. I wish I’d bought shares in Imminent & Dreadful DoomCo. Ltd in 1995. I wish I’d then sold them in 2009. To say that they are massively overpriced, if falling, is not to say that they don’t have some genuine underlying value.

5. This affair matters and the point within that matters most is the disputed memo. There are two sorts of lies concerned, lies about the way the world is and lies as a ruse of war. Gleick having lied as a ruse of war diminishes trust a bit; proof that he has lied about the way the world is will diminish it far more – because lies about way the world is are the sort of lies AGW advocates are suspected of telling.

6. Did you notice? Gleick is already known to have told one lie about the way the world is. He signed his email dump “Heartland Insider”.

7. I agree with everything Megan McArdle said (and quoted from Stephen Mosher) about the reasons to suppose the memo is not genuine. There is one simple, psychologically plausible hypothesis that explains the existence this sloppily worded, unauthored, undated, untraceable-because-scanned memo containing wonderfully quotable lines that put the Heartland Institute in a very bad light, plus chunks of barely altered text from the other documents but scarcely anything else numerical about Heartland – and what there was erroneous, plus flattering mention of Gleick, plus a whiff of paranoia about the hated Koch brothers and Gleick’s particular enemy in Forbes magazine, plus terms like “anti climate” that no actual AGW sceptic would use, plus Gleick’s idiosyncratic punctuation. Gleick wrote it. He phished the rest of the package, saw it would be insufficiently appealing to journalists, and whipped up something that would. Think of the Danish Mohammed cartoons. They weren’t quite enraging enough on their own, so provocateurs added a couple of fake ones too. People do such things.

8. You think he wouldn’t do something so crazy and damaging to his career? Think about what he is already known to have done. And think also about the sad story of Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, who still is a highly regarded historian. He rubbished his rivals’ books on Amazon and praised his own, then, despite having signed the reviews “orlando-birkbeck”, denied with legal threats ever having done so. Then he got his wife to say she’d done it. Then he confessed. People do such things. Well-regarded academics do such things.

→ Continue reading: The Gleick Earworm

Be sure to check the labels…

Maybe we will finally catch up with Sadam Hussein’s collection of WMD, which some military guys have told me headed over the border into Syria before the shooting started…

Sean Penn gets the media he deserves

On the 15th of February, I was sitting in a pub in London. As is often the case nowadays, this pub had flat screen televisions on some of the walls, and they were switched to the BBC’s 24 hour news channel. This too is common, as is the practice of switching down the sound and turning on the simultaneous subtitles that are transmitted with the broadcast, theoretically for the benefit of the deaf, but also useful in other places (such as pubs) where it might not be possible for viewers to listen to the audio. For live broadcasts such as news, the audio is being thrown through computer voice recognition software and the subtitles generated automatically. It appears that particularly egregious or hilarious errors are then corrected by a human, but not until after viewers had seen them.

In any event, the news was of Sean Penn’s trip to Argentina, where he had been prancing around, referring to the conflict over the “Malvinas”, and just generally behaving like a self-important Hollywood star talking about things he does not understand. Yawn, actually. What was more interesting to me was the BBC coverage. The studio talking head in London said a few words, and then crossed to someone somewhere else, a South American reporter who was presumably somewhere nearer to Buenos Aires. (I didn’t record the names of the talking heads, unfortunately). The two had a conversation on air. The South American correspondent more or less repeated what had been said already. Then he uttered this lovely line.

Actually Sean Penn has gone to Uruguay today, or Paraguay – it is one of the two…

Huh? I mean, huh? Disregarding the fact that the BBCs South American correspondent should actually know where Sean Penn has gone before going on air to talk about Sean Penn, there are other things that helpful to know. Uruguay – nice place on the coast on the other side of the River Plate from Buenos Aires – in fact in many ways almost an extension of Buenos Aires and so close that one can almost sneeze and discover that one is there. Exactly the sort of place that a shallow Hollywood star likes to go to to be fawned on by the President. Also, the “He has gone there today” thing. You have a schedule of events in BA and someone throws an event in Uruguay in the middle of it. That works.

Paraguay on the other hand – dubious and rather lawless inland place that Sean Penn wouldn’t be seen dead in.Getting there from BA is a bit more work, and going there is not quite such a casual thing, so it is much less likely he would have an engagement there the day after one in BA.

They are not, in fact, very similar, and they are impossible to confuse if you know anything at all about them. However, they are small countries between Argentina and Brazil that have similar names, which I suppose makes it likely that today’s BBC reporters will confuse them. Is this guy based in Rio or something? Or is he in the next studio just pretending to be in South America. One does at least hope they can occasionally employ people who can deduce B from A, but not here.

Perhaps the budget has been cut. If so, am I admitting that my feelings about this are mixed?

The ever-annoying Kevin Rudd carbon tax factoid

If it is true that venom has medicinal uses, the leading figures of the Australian Labor Party must be the healthiest people on Earth.

Entertaining stuff, but one thing keeps bugging me. In about half the articles giving background information on Kevin Rudd I read, I see something like this:

When Gillard, then deputy prime minister, moved against him in 2010, she did so against a backdrop of internal disquiet and profound electoral disappointment.

Rudd had back-flipped spectacularly on an important pre-election pledge to introduce a carbon tax and his sky-high popularity with voters had slumped. (One of the major figures who urged him to listen to the mining and business lobby and jettison that promise was the deputy who would later depose him.)

You would think from that that the righteous planet-protective wrath of the Australian people was directed at Rudd for his failure to fulfil his pledge to introduce a tax (actually an emissions trading regime) intended to retard global warming. Cobblers. He had backed out of laying the tax because the voters loathed the idea. In fact so unpopular was the proposed carbon tax that it also resulted in the ousting of the opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, from leadership of the Liberal party, he having offered bipartisan support for the scheme. While it is true that voters do despise retreat and will punish a politician who backs down even when they howled for him to do so, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was only politically attractive in the sense that the song of the siren was attractive to Odysseus. Any Australian political leader who began to find that tune catchy had better hope that his Parliamentary colleagues had tied his bindings firmly and plugged well their own ears.

(Ears. Plugged. Rudd. Don’t think that thought too late.)

Nor has the curse abated since then. One big reason for Julia Gillard’s unpopularity is that she in turn “back-flipped spectacularly on an important pre-election pledge” not to introduce a carbon tax. I studied Australian politics at the University of Tim Blair’s Blog and I know that much. Why doesn’t the Guardian?

Robin Horbury at Biased BBC made a similar observation about a BBC story in July 2010. The link to the BBC story is dead, but, trust me, it was one of many.

Added later: another story from the Guardian exhibiting the same symptoms:

Ms Gillard’s once famously popular predecessor as Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, lost first that popularity and then his leadership partly because he failed to steer through the legislation he had promised to deal with what had earlier been called “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.

“So, Patrick, over in 1912, how’s Britain’s recent telephone nationalisation working out?”

I am glad you’ve asked. Not well, it would appear. Over in 1912 they’ve had less than two months of it and even the politicians are beginning to notice:

A majority of complaints fall under the following headings:-
1. Premature disconnexion.
2. Interruptions to conversations by operators.
3. Wrong numbers given.
4. Delay in answering calls…

Etcetera, etcetera…

Do they know why? Yes they do:

…the incentives inherent in a private concern to give the best no longer prevail. It will suffice to state that in Government concerns initiative is often dormant, staffs are largely permanent, and not necessarily promoted by merit or dismissed on inefficiency, and the system of organization generally stereotyped and non-progressive.

So, are they going to do anything about it? Not exactly:

The transfer of telephones to the State is irrevocable, and must be accepted as such.

Fortunately, “irrevocable” turned out to mean “until 1984” when British Telecom was privatised.


The Times, 22 February 1912. Click to enlarge.

Update Title changed so that it makes sense.


The other day Jonathan was worrying about military drones. Well, you definitely want these guys on your side. Still, there are certainly peaceful applications.

For details, see the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, the GRASP lab, and Hack a day.

Samizdata quote of the day

Your teeth belong to the collective.

– From a Planet Money piece quoted by Alex Tabarrok (who was linked to today by David Thompson), about how China went from the bad old days of the Great Leap Forward to the better days that followed. The above words, which Thompson also singled out for attention in his link, were an answer to a property rights query to those in authority, in the bad old days. Do we even own our teeth? No you do not.

The switch from collective “property” to actual property, as Tabarrok makes clear, was initiated by the people of China, rather than by their rulers. It began in the village of Xiaogang, whose farmers decided to go back to actual property for each individual farmer and his family, with immediate beneficial effects. And then it became a movement. The rulers of China didn’t decide to make this change. They merely decided not to stamp it out.

Sean Penn’s ambitions to be a seer on foreign affairs

“He writes as though his prose has been fed through Google translate. Twice. Alas, discerning his meaning remains possible when it would plainly be better for him if it were not. He is not in Kissinger’s class. But he is still youngish and so there is time yet for his prose to develop a thicker crust of unintelligibility that would be a fitting match for his statesmanlike grandeur and all the rest of that sort of thing.”

Allan Massie.

The Google remark is particularly good. That must hurt. What an utter buffoon Mr Penn is. And humourless, as the creators of Team America: World Police discovered.

Keynesian economics hits the House of Commons

An MP gets drunk and goes berserk:


Was Eric Joyce MP perhaps trying to stimulate the economy? I found that link in this ancient posting here by Paul Marks.

Guido, where I found the above picture, is all over it, as you would expect.

I know, I know, all very regrettable. Not proper behaviour at all. But my immediate thoughts, when I first saw the Evening Standard front page headlines out in the London streets this afternoon, were: Would that all the rampages of the politicians did as little damage; and: If only, as here, they only tried to do damage to each other.

It is becoming normal for websites to disappear

One minute Kim Dotcom is running a successful file sharing website, renovating his mansion, driving his luxury cars and sailing on a superyacht surrounded by topless girls. The next, his birthday party is being raided by New Zealand police with helicopters and automatic rifles. Living in New Zealand, hosting his website in Hong Kong, and running the site as a file storage service similar in many ways to DropBox or Microsoft’s SkyDrive did not help him.

The New Zealand police simply did the FBI’s bidding. The indictment states that, due to various workings of MegaUpload such as the way users could get paid for hosting popular files and unpopular files would get deleted, it is not just a file storage service like DropBox. This is not unreasonable.

But it is, perhaps, surprising that the assertions of the FBI are enough to remove a well known web site from the Internet. It turns out they can already do that, even the day after the anti-SOPA protests during which everyone complained that the government would be able to take down websites if this scary new bill passed.

Meanwhile in the UK it looks likely that ISPs will be told to block access to PirateBay.

I’m not necessarily arguing that Dotcom and PirateBay are good guys, although their copying of bits of information is arguably peaceful while states’ reactions are violent.

But there is a trend here I don’t like. There was a time when you could host your web site in the right jurisdiction and it would not be touched. Now governments are learning how to apply various laws to remove them. Forcing ISPs to block access makes life less pleasant for ISPs, and it is likely to be somewhat effective. I expect more websites to disappear, and I expect this to become more commonplace. Eventually it will be normal and no longer newsworthy.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Romney is right about the futility of many current policies, but being offended by irrationality is insufficient. Santorum is right to be alarmed by many cultural trends but implies that religion must be the nexus between politics and cultural reform. Romney is not attracting people who want rationality leavened by romance. Santorum is repelling people who want politics unmediated by theology. Neither Romney nor Santorum looks like a formidable candidate for November.”

George Will