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]


Kickstarter is a web site that allows business people to pitch their ideas to the general public instead of venture capitalists. In return the general public gets to fund projects in the hope of seeing them come to fruition and other rewards depending on the amount donated to the project. In a video interview, David Braben, who along with Ian Bell wrote the classic space trading computer game Elite, talks about the advantages of making a computer game funded by Kickstarter over using a conventional publisher:

We want the game to very much evolve over time. It’s quite hard to do that in a conventional contractual delivery structure where you end up being beholden to things that are no longer the most important. So you’ve got to have an arrangement that has that level of flexibility, and it’s quite hard to create that. [Kickstarter] seems to be an extremely good solution to do it. We’ve got that direct connection to fans and a lot of the constraints that get in the way just aren’t there.

When David Braben started making computer games in 1984, individuals could make them in their bedrooms, but there was no Internet so publishers were needed to distribute them. Today distribution is easier, but a top computer game needs a large team of programmers and artists, so lots of funding up front which publishers can help with. But, like movie studios, games publishers mostly want predictable money makers and understandably to impose constraints on the game that gets made. Kickstarter means developers can work directly for gamers, or movie fans, or people who want to experiment with home aquaponics.

Kickstarter is an example of something the Internet is particularly good at: disintermediation. I can buy coffee beans very nearly directly from the farmer; I can buy gadgets from some bloke in Hong Kong; I can vote with my wallet for the computer games I want to see made. People with niche interests can find each other anywhere in the world and cater to each others’ needs.

Incidentally, the original Elite taught me all about trade when I was 8. This sequel will have proper celestial mechanics and Newtonian physics too, but still needs funding.

Samizdata quote of the day

“England has 39 police forces, headed by 39 chief constables or commissioners. In the past 18 months, seven have been sacked for misconduct, suspended, placed under criminal or disciplinary investigation or forced to resign. That is not far off a fifth of the total. In the same period, at least eight deputy or assistant chief constables have also been placed under ongoing investigation, suspended or forced out for reasons of alleged misconduct. No fewer than 11 English police forces – just under 30 per cent – have had one or more of their top leaders under a cloud.”

Andrew Gilligan


The Tories are re-learning the point that unionised organisations tend, over time, to pursue their self interest in ways that, unless subjected to the rule of law, will be destructive. This conduct is some way off from the ideal as set by Sir Robert Peel.


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.


This blog has reported repeatedly on the Paul Chambers case. Quickly, Mr Chambers was convicted of a criminal offence for stating on Twitter that he would “blow (Robin Hood airport) sky high” if it did not reopen soon after bad weather, because he wished to catch a flight in order to see his girlfriend. This was an obvious joke, and was understood as such by absolutely everyone, but he was convicted anyway, lost two jobs as a consequence etc etc, before being finally cleared on appeal to the High Court.

News out today. Slightly before this incident, members of the same security staff at that same Robin Hood airport in South Yorkshire came close to actually blowing the airport sky high. They did this through utter incompetence, by insisting on opening and inspecting a shipment of anti-tank ammunition that had been flown into the airport, despite having no expertise or understanding of how to properly do so.

Guess what? The security staff in question were not convicted of anything. In fact, by law they cannot be prosecuted in such circumstances. Funny, that.

Thank goodness I avoided the buckyball menace

This is not a story likely to dominate the airwaves, but hey, it is almost Christmas, and people think about things such as toys this time of year:

“Buckyballs, I soon discovered, are toys for the mind. They are a thinking person’s toy. How can you play with them and not wonder about the chemical nature of rare-earth metals (something about which I know hardly anything), and the nature of magnetic forces, and the sheer technological genius that goes into producing these little balls?”

“Obviously Buckyballs are adult toys, and Maxfield and Oberton emphatically warns users not to give them to children, eat them, inhale them, or place them near objects (such as pacemakers) that are sensitive to magnets. However, for those who use Buckyballs with common sense and due care, they are reasonably safe—just like countless other objects in or around the home from hammers to knives to sugar to prescription drugs to firearms to bicycles to automobiles.”

“What has been the government’s response to Buckyballs? Has it been to recognize the outstanding productive achievements of the company that makes them? To leave the company in peace to conduct its business? Of course not. The government has put Maxfield and Oberton out of business so far as Buckyballs are concerned. The sets I ordered are among the last that will be produced, ever.

Ari Armstrong

Now that the US has been saved from the Buckyball menace, I am sure people in that country can sleep easier in their beds.



Bicycle skid marks

Andrew Rawnsley asks, “was Andrew Mitchell stitched up?”

The police log, the leaking of which to the media fuelled the clamour for Mitchell to quit as chief whip, claimed that his swearing shocked “several members of the public”. Yet the CCTV footage appears to show there was no crowd watching at the gates of Downing Street: there was just one passerby at the time of the incident. While we still cannot be absolutely certain what transpired that night – there is no audio – the footage does not appear to suggest a serious altercation. The supposed independent eyewitness who came forward to corroborate the log’s version of events – a fatal development for Mitchell – is said to be a serving copper who was not at the scene.

Emphasis added. Because if this turns out to be true, it is a case of false testimony by a police officer.

There was a good comment to the above article from PolishMark:

A small incident, yes, but with serious ramifications. This is starting to look like a police conspiracy to remove an elected politician from Government. You don’t have to like the Government to be concerned by this.

There was also a good visual comment from Guido Fawkes.

The worst massacre of children in modern US history: Bath School, Michigan, 1927

I find it strange that this dreadful crime is so little known; I first read of it only within the last few years. Perhaps this is because Wikipedia and many other sources refer to it as the “Bath School Disaster“, as if it were a natural catastrophe, rather than what it was, a mass murder. Worse may have happened in the Indian Wars, or in the various other conflicts during the early history of the European presence in what is now the United States, but the premeditated murder of the children of Bath Consolidated School was the worst such killing in the US in time of peace.

From the Wikipedia article Bath School Disaster:

The Bath School disaster is the name given to three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, on May 18, 1927, which killed 38 elementary school children, two teachers, and four other adults; at least 58 people were injured. The perpetrator first killed his wife, and committed suicide with his last explosion. Most of the victims were children in the second to sixth grades (7–14 years of age[1]) attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest mass murder in a school in United States history.

The bomber was the school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe, 55, who was angry after being defeated in the spring 1926 election for township clerk. He was thought to have planned his “murderous revenge” after that public defeat; he had a reputation for difficulty on the school board and in personal dealings. For much of the next year, a neighbor noticed Kehoe had stopped working on his farm and thought he might be planning suicide. During that period, Kehoe carried out steps in his plan to destroy the school and his farm by purchasing and hiding explosives.

Kehoe’s wife was ill with tuberculosis and he had stopped making mortgage payments; he was under pressure for foreclosure. Some time between May 16 and the morning of May 18, 1927, Kehoe murdered his wife by hitting her on the head. On the morning of May 18 about 8:45, he exploded incendiary devices in his house and farm buildings, setting them on fire and destroying them.

Almost simultaneously, an explosion devastated the north wing of the school building, killing many schoolchildren. Kehoe had used a timed detonator to ignite dynamite and hundreds of pounds of incendiary pyrotol, which he had secretly planted inside the school over the course of many months. As rescuers gathered at the school, Kehoe drove up, stopped, and used a rifle to detonate dynamite inside his shrapnel-filled truck, killing himself, the school superintendent, and several others nearby, as well as injuring more bystanders. During rescue efforts at the school, searchers discovered an additional 500 pounds (230 kg) of unexploded dynamite and pyrotol planted throughout the basement of the south wing. Kehoe had apparently intended to blow up and destroy the entire school.

In the aftermath of the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newton, there have been widespread calls for gun control. It is worth noting that two of the most deadly massacres of children in the US, the Bath School massacre and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, among the 168 victims of which were nineteen children under the age of six, were carried out with explosives.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We are about to start reaping the fruits of the 2012 election. They’ll be bitter. I think we’re about to see a full and overt assault on the Bill of Rights and on those who support individual liberty. I hope I’m entirely wrong. But don’t bet on it.”

Charles Steele

Read the whole thing: it is packed with links to discussions about these issues. I don’t think he is exaggerating.

“Who are you to judge me … I remain a free man.”

Gérard Depardieu says he will give up French passport over tax rises, reports the Guardian:

Gérard Depardieu has said he is handing back his French passport and social security card, lambasting the French government for punishing “success, creation, talent” in his homeland.

A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old actor is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country by buying a house just over the border in Belgium in response to tax increases by the Socialist president, François Hollande.

The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, described Depardieu’s behaviour as pathetic and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt.

“Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?” Depardieu said in a letter to the weekly newspaper le Journal du Dimanche.

“I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned,” he said.

The full text of his open letter is given in the Le Journal du Dimanche (Le JDD). M Depardieu finished with a fine flourish:

“Therefore I ask, who are you to judge me, Mr Ayrault, prime minister of Mr Hollande, I ask, who are you? Despite my excesses, my appetite and my love of life, I remain a free being, and I will remain polite.”

The sadness seemed to seep out of the stones

Among the many newspaper reports from Connecticut on the massacre of children in Sandy Hook is one in the Times by David Taylor, remembering an earlier crime:

Sixteen years ago I witnessed the same phenomenon in Dunblane where another school lost a group of children. The sadness seemed to seep out of the stones of the Scottish town after Thomas Hamilton opened fire.

From what abyss does such a crime come? I was searching on the internet for the words of the 130th Psalm, De profundis clamo ad te, domine – Out of the depths I cry unto thee, O Lord – and found the letter written from prison by Oscar Wilde which was later given the title De Profundis by his literary executor. I have not yet read it all but the opening words resonated for me because of the contrast between the depths of grief (Wilde describes hearing the news of his mother’s death while in prison) and a happy season:

. . . Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain. The paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula: this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to those external forces the very essence of whose existence is ceaseless change. Of seed-time or harvest, of the reapers bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through the vines, of the grass in the orchard made white with broken blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit: of these we know nothing and can know nothing.

For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey and niggard. It is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart. And in the sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of time, motion is no more.

Inevitably on a blog such as this in a world such as this there will, and should, be discussion of motives, diagnoses, policies; debate about what should and should not be done. For us outside, motion will begin again.

Truth in advertising?


From: The Times, 11 December 1912 p5

Well here is the New and Improved Samizdata!

Here it is!  We will be tweaking for quite some time I suspect for both function and aesthetics, but we now have a content management system that does not involve stone tablets at any stage of the process.

Now I just need to figure out how to use it…