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]

3D printing as blogging

Here is a short (under four minutes) video, of a designer and exhibition curator Tom Dixon talking about the changes being brought to the world by 3D printing.

Whenever something new comes along, people typically describe it with a noun which says what it is like, but also with an adjective attached to explain how it is different from that. Think “horseless carriage”. (What will “driverless cars” be called twenty years from now?)

So it has been with 3D printing. This is “printing”, sort of, but not printing as we know it.

Listening to Dixon makes me think is that “3D printing” is actually less like printing, and more like blogging. The crucial difference it makes is in enabling people with opinions about how a … 3D thing … should or could be, but who has not been able or who could not be bothered to interest a Big Manufacturer (think Mainstream Media for bloggers) can now just go ahead and make it (just like a blogger publishing his hitherto ignored opinions). And this new-style designer can sell his new design on the internet too, because distribution has also, already, been taken out of the hands of old school Big Distributors (unless you count Amazon and eBay as Big Distributors). Not all such new designers will do as well as they hope, in fact almost all of them will not. But a few will surely succeed spectacularly, and many will presumably be making lives and livings that could not have been made before.

Dixon uses the phrase “taking matters into their own hands”. These words were my first version of the title of this posting.

What hell might look like

I stumbled across this rumination of 97-year old architect Jacque Fresco, about how to make a better world.

And it apparently involves living in symmetrical planned cities with identical modular architecture, no doubt presided over by wise technocrats like Jacque Fresco, who presumably decide who gets issued with what in a cashless future in which a drone class of otherwise superfluous people are free to go to school and write plays apparently.

His better future looks a lot like my vision of hell.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Edward Snowdon’s designated media conduit, Glenn Greenwald, has yet again played his hand with skill in a game that in theory is completely stacked against him. In response to information released by The Independent that purported come from Snowdon via him:

I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.

“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.”

How very very interesting.

Read this Greenwald article for the whole story. Might GCHQ be in the process of outsmarting themselves spectacularly?

Samizdata quote of the day

For years, particularly with the advent of the Internet, people have been griping about lessening attention spans. But if someone can watch an entire season of a TV series in one day, doesn’t that show an incredible attention span? When the story is good enough, people can watch something three times the length of an opera.

Kevin Spacey

Samizdata quote of the day

The spooks are not stupid. There are two ways they can respond to this in a manner consistent with their current objectives. They can try to shut down the press — a distinct possibility within the UK, but still incredibly dangerous — or they can shut down the open internet, in order to stop the information leakage over that channel and, more ambitiously, to stop the public reading undesirable news.

I think they’re going for the latter option, although I doubt they can make it stick. Let me walk you through the early stages of what I think is going to happen.

In the UK it’s fairly obvious what the mechanism will be. Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown his weight behind mandatory opt-out porn filtering at an ISP level, to protect our children from a torrent of filth on the internet. (He’s turned to Chinese corporation Huawei for the tool in question.) All new domestic ISP customer accounts in the UK will be filtered by default, unless the owner opts out. There’s also the already-extant UK-wide child pornography filter operated by the Internet Watch Foundation, although its remit is limited to items that are probably illegal to possess (“probably” because that’s a determination for a court of law to make). And an existing mechanism — the Official Secrets Act — makes it an offense to possess, distribute, or publish state secrets. Traditionally newspapers were warned off certain state secrets by a process known as a Defense Advisory Notice, warning that publication would result in prosecution. It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to foresee the creation of a law allowing for items subject to a DA-Notice to be filtered out of the internet via a national-level porn filter to protect the precious eyeballs of the citizenry from secrets that might trouble their little heads.

On the other hand, the UK may not have a First Amendment but it does have a strong tradition of press freedom, and there are signs that the government has already overreached itself. We’ll know things are really going to hell in a handbasket when The Guardian moves its editorial offices to Brazil …

Charlie Stross

On what belief means

When I was a boy of about sixteen or so, I had a conversation with my godmother, a Canadian lady of great warmth and generosity. She was a Christian and she asked me, having not met me face to face for a year or two, whether I was also. I said: No. She said: Why not? I said: Because it isn’t true. There is no God, Jesus was not his son, there was no virgin birth, and so on. Her answer to my atheistical declarations stuck in my mind, because it seemed then to be and seems still to have been such a very odd one. She said that I might want to consider being a Christian on the grounds that Christianity was, potentially, very comforting. In adversity, it is nice to believe that there is a God who is looking out for you and who is on your side.

The oddness of this comfortingness argument for Christianity is that it suggests that you can decide what you believe, or to put it another way, that you can be comforted by deciding to believe something that you did not believe until that moment. But belief – surely – doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t mean that. What you believe is what you believe. If you do not know what you believe but are curious (perhaps because someone else has asked you), then you face a task of discovery, not a decision. You need to study the claims being made about the alleged truth in question by others. If you already know about these claims, to the point where you are able to identify what you believe about them, then you need to look inside your own head to see what is there. But you don’t decide what is in your head. And you certainly do not decide what you “believe” to be true merely by thinking about what you would be comforted by if you thought it was true, but which you have no other reason to think is true. Truth is one thing. What would be comforting if true is something entirely different.

On a closely related matter, it would be very comforting if the world always rewarded virtue, but most, me included, agree that it does not. So, say some Christians, Christians not unlike that godmother of mine, wouldn’t it be nice to believe that if the world does not reward virtue, God does? Well, it might be, if you really do believe this. But, I don’t, and my reasons for not believing that God rewards virtue are likewise nothing to do with how nice it might be if he did. What a very bleak world you live in, say the Christians. Maybe, say I, but you live in it also. You just don’t realise it.

My central point here does not concern the truth or falsehood of my atheist beliefs, or of Christian beliefs. I believe what I believe and you all believe what you all believe, and no amount of commenting here or anywhere is going to change any of that. Rather, I am making a point about the nature of belief, and it is surely a point that many Christians would agree with me about, because they too often speak of their beliefs having been discovered by them rather than merely decided. I didn’t decide that Jesus is my savour, they say. I realised that he is, and he is. (When people really do believe something, they often omit the bit where they might say “I believe”, because they are dealing with truth itself, their own belief in the truth being a somewhat secondary issue.) I didn’t choose my atheism as if choosing a bag of sweets in a shop, and Christians mostly don’t choose Christianity in that kind of way either.

It would seem, however, that some people at least really can and really do decide what they believe. (I recall a conversation with a religious believer who described having chosen his religion in exactly this sort of way, as if choosing a house.) Others believe what they believe about such things as politics in a similarly decisive way. They really do seem to possess the power of wishful belief, as it were. They really can decide what they believe. To me, this is very odd.

The above – somewhat strange – ruminations began life as an attempted start to a rather different Samizdata piece to this one, about the kinds of things I believe that got me writing for Samizdata in the first place, and about some of the other things I also believe, all of which things I also believe because I believe them, rather than because the truth of them is any great source of comfort to me.

Richman’s Law

“No matter how much the government controls the economic system, any problem will be blamed on whatever small zone of freedom that remains.”

– Sheldon Richman

“Overpopulation” as an excuse, or justification, for state spying

I won’t name the guy – he was talking to me in a private setting and such things should remain private – but a friend of mine came up with this rather bizarre defence of the recent fact, as unearthed by Snowden et al, that the US and other powers engage in massive, unauthorised spying on their citizens:

Governments have always done this, so why the fuss now? Accept it and pour yourself a beer.

The world is “massively overpopulated, so with all these ghastly people infesting the planet, governments need to, and will find it easier to, spy on them.

Spying on people, even in ways we find scary, is inevitable, so relax and stop getting oxidised about it.

The second of the arguments interests me because it blends the Malthusian panic about too many humans (and begging the question of what “should be done” about them), pessimism about the inevitability of spying and other outrages, and a sort of world-wearying acceptance of big government. Quite an achievement.

Of course, it maybe that the person making this argument was just trying to be a knob and wind me up (he is familiar with my libertarian views and regards them, patronisingly, as a sort of jolly enthusiasm). But his opinions are probably quite wildely held out there among people who consider themselves to be “realists” and “sophisticated”.

On Self-Policing

After the My Lai massacre, only one person, William Calley, was charged, and then only after enormous public outcry. He ultimately served 3.5 years in house arrest for ordering and participating in the murder of at least 347 and possibly as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians, presuming he had no knowledge of the gang rapes and mutilations of bodies, which seems unlikely given eyewitness accounts.

The events of My Lai were initially covered up, itself a crime, but no one was ever charged for participating in the coverup.

During the massacre, Hugh Thompson, Jr. saved countless lives by ordering his helicopter crew to protect innocent civilians from execution. For his trouble, he was initially given a medal for a non-existent event in an attempt to shut him up, then condemned in public once the true events were revealed. The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mendel Rivers, went so far as to say that Thompson was the only person in the incident worthy of punishment.

Has the world changed much?

Today, it was announced that Bradley Manning, whose chief de facto offense was providing the US public with evidence of multiple war crimes, will be serving ten times the length of William Calley’s punishment, 35 years, and in a real prison rather than house arrest. The people who committed the war crimes he revealed evidence of will never be charged.

(On the latter, if you have any doubts that he revealed criminal activity, compare, as just one example, the video of the helicopter machine gunning of two Reuters reporters in Baghdad with the official DoD investigation report of the incident, which had full access to said video. Even if one can bring oneself to believe that the incident itself was not a crime (although it almost certainly was), the subsequent investigation was a fabricated tissue of lies. The events in the video and those described in the investigation report are manifestly not the same. Presumably those engaging in this coverup believed they could never be caught because the video was improperly classified to aid in the coverup, itself a crime. The coverup itself was a felony — but no one was charged but the messenger.)

The State protects its own. It cannot be trusted to police itself.

Samizdata quote of the day

If there was a Nobel Prize for Double Standards, Britain’s chattering classes would win it every year. This year, following their expressions of spittle-flecked outrage over the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda by anti-terrorism police at Heathrow airport, they’d have to be given a special Lifetime Achievement Award for Double Standards.

For the newspaper editors, politicians and concerned tweeters now getting het up about the state’s interference in journalistic activity, about what they call the state’s ‘war on journalism’, are the very same people – the very same – who over the past two years cheered the state harassment of tabloid journalists; watched approvingly as tabloid journalists were arrested; turned a blind eye when tabloid journalists’ effects were rifled through by the police; said nothing about the placing of tabloid journalists on limbo-like, profession-destroying bail for months on end; said ‘Well, what do you expect?’ when material garnered by tabloid journalists through illegal methods was confiscated; applauded when tabloid journalists were imprisoned for the apparently terrible crime of listening in on the conversations of our hereditary rulers.

For these cheerleaders of the state’s two-year war on redtop journalism now to gnash their teeth over the state’s poking of its nose into the affairs of the Guardian is extraordinary. It suggests that what they lack in moral consistency they more than make up for with brass neck.

Everything that is now being done to the Guardian has already been done to the tabloid press, a hundred times over, and often at the behest of the Guardian.

Brendan O’Neill

Hungarian Prime Minister fights third duel this year

The year being 1913, of course.

The Times, 21 August 1913 p4

The Times, 21 August 1913 p4

The whole business seems to be a bit stylised although still dangerous.

The difference between American & British arrogance…

There is a Samizdata team joke that the difference between American arrogance and British arrogance is the British think they run the world, whereas the Americans think they are the world.

Well just last week I started doing some business with a European bank… a quite mainstream one I might add… and discovered something remarkable. I had to sign a series of statements that I did not do business in the USA, had no assets in the USA and was not a US citizen or resident. Only then would they do business with me. Indeed I had to sign more papers regarding this than any actually pertaining to the business I was doing with them.

And this is why

The Internal Revenue Service on Monday launched an online registration program for the hundreds of thousands of financial firms around the world that must comply with a U.S. anti-tax evasion law or risk being shut out of financial markets.

Surely a significant European bank must do some business in the USA, I asked. Can the world’s largest economy really be so onerous that you truly want nothing whatsoever to do with it?

Well he was rather guarded and he knew I was a blogger, which I suspect made him a bit uneasy at the prospect of being quoted, which is why I am naming no names. But to paraphrase the reply I coaxed out of him, it was “yes, the USA is simply not worth the trouble and so rather than complying with their endless diktats and the uncertainties of what are increasingly capricious rules… well… there is a whole great big world out there for us to do business with that does not include the United States.”

Yet I suspect the powers-that-be in Washington could not care less and moreover the notion that sophisticated foreign bankers are starting to see American not as the land of opportunity, but as a place to be avoided at all costs, would strike them as preposterous. Indeed had I not had those documents laid in front of me asking me to attest to a complete lack of economic links to the USA or anything associated with the USA that the US state might claim extraterritorial jurisdiction over… well, I would not have believed it myself.

Moreover, after our business had been concluded and he relaxed a bit, the banker in question, who I very much doubt is on any Interpol wanted lists (well I certainly hope not given that he now has some of my money) said he would not even visit the USA or transit a flight through it, due to the US authorities propensity to detain foreign bankers and ask them questions if they even suspect any involvement with US nationals, particularly from ‘non-compliant’ banks such as his.

Am I the only one who is astonished things have come to this? I am suddenly very glad I do not actually live in Arkham, Massachusetts (not sure which is worse, the IRS or the Deep Ones).