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]

Why a traveller loves Uber

I hate taxis. Hate them. Hate them. Hate them. Hate them. Loathe them. Detest them.

This is a fairly common feeling amongst frequent travellers. You arrive in a foreign and unfamiliar place on a plane or train. You are tired. You are not familiar with local prices. You are not familiar with local customs. You probably know the name of the hotel or other place that you want to go to, but you possibly don’t know where it is or what is the best route to take you there.

So you get into a taxi. It is just you and the driver. You want him (or her, but it never is) to take you to your destination. You are putting yourself in a sealed and locked car with someone you have never met before and, and who you will never do business with again. He doesn’t know who you are and never will, and you don’t know who he is, and never will. In the event that you have grounds for a complaint, it might be possible to identify him through his medallion number or licence number or something, but you are not going to think to do that (being very tired) and even if you do, complaining later will involve procedures, languages, laws and customs that you are not familiar with. A driver who takes advantage of you is extremely unlikely to suffer any consequences whatsoever.

As a consequence of all this, there are an absolutely endless number of ways in which taxis drivers will take advantage of foreign travellers – particularly ones who have just arrived at airports and railway stations. These vary from mild dishonesty to outright criminality. All of the following have happened to me, at one time or another. Vaguely from least bad to worst bad.

  • The taxi driver takes a long route, so increasing the fare
  • The taxi driver flatly refuses to take you where you ask to be taken, but decides to take you to a different destination entirely, because he is being paid a commission by a different hotel/bus company/museum/airport/warlord/country than the one whose services you want to use. (Insisting that he does not understand you for linguistic reasons when he clearly does often happens in this and many other scams)
  • Taxi driver refuses to understand expressions like “What will it cost me to go to x?” or “Turn on the meter” in English (or indeed any other language) and is completely unable to understand gestures like pointing to your wallet, or pointing to the meter, or any such thing. At least, not until the end of the journey, at which point he will insist on a fare four times what is reasonable.
  • The taxi driver agrees on a fare, but at the end of the journey insists that he did not agree on that fare, and asks for a different amount of money. The fact that “fifteen” sounds very similar to “fifty” in English, and similar, can be particularly effective here.
  • Having agreed on a fare, the taxi driver drives you to a point in the middle of nowhere – but worryingly close to the Syrian border – and insists that you give him more money than was previously agreed upon, and refuses to go anywhere further and tries very hard to prevent you from finding another taxi driver until you agree
  • The meter is rigged. When a passenger who does not know better – a foreigner or someone otherwise from out of town – gets into the taxi, the driver pushes a button on the meter which causes it to charge three times as much as it does regularly
  • At the end of the journey, you only have a banknote that is many times the fare, and the driver insists that he has no change.
  • At the end of the journey, you pay your fare, and the taxi driver gives you forged money as change
  • At the end of the journey, the fare is 90 pesos. You give the driver a 100 peso note. He shows you the note you gave him back at you – a 10 peso note, indicating that you gave him the wrong amount. You give him another 100 peso note, failing to realise that he switched the notes and you have just paid him 90 pesos too much. (You are particularly vulnerable to this when it is dark, you have just got off a long flight, and the local money is unfamiliar. Actually, this is true of most of the above, but I was particularly annoyed with myself when I fell for this one that time in Buenos Aires. For the record, the forged money was also in Buenos Aires).

These scams all have to do with one of three things: the choice of the route, the setting of the fare, and the exchange of money. When I use Uber, all three of these issues are solved, utterly. Firstly, Uber’s satnav/GPS system tells the driver what route to take, and I as a passenger am shown the route on a map. If the driver diverts too far from that route without a good reason, I make a simple complaint, my money is refunded to me, the driver suffers reputational damage, and he does not get paid. The fare is decided by a third party (whose terms and conditions the driver has agreed to) and quoted to me in advance, either as a flat amount or a fare per mile. The “meter” is controlled by that third party, and cannot be rigged. And I pay the money to a third party, and the money is essentially held in escrow until I have completed my journey and have said I am happy with it. The driver knows he gets paid if he does his job properly, and I know that there will be no attempt to scam me over money. Because I know he is not going to scam me and he knows I am not going to scam him (and anyway, because there is recourse if one of us does) there is no reason for us to not trust one another, and we are therefore invariably polite and friendly to each other. Which makes my day nicer, and very likely his also.

I am extremely reluctant to get in a taxi in a foreign city, full stop. However, I will use Uber any time.

Approaching the event horizon

The black hole at the heart of the Out campaign is this. After all those years of demanding this referendum, they can’t agree on what the UK would look like if it chose to self-eject from the European Union.

– Andrew Rawnsley writing in the Observer.

For a real black hole, the event horizon is the boundary from within which nothing, not even light, can ever escape. As Wikipedia puts it “Once a particle is inside the horizon, moving into the hole is as inevitable as moving forward in time.”

The black hole at the heart of the In campaign, and of the European Union itself, is that it was agreed among the elite what the future would look like years ago.

So the Out campaign – a collective noun that must stretch to encompass George Galloway, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – cannot agree? Glory in it! They cannot agree what the future UK would look like because it wouldn’t be up to them. Outside the EU event horizon the future would not be predetermined. It would be decided by the electorate. For real, I mean, in elections that mattered. Those mad buggers might do anything.

Delays continue…

As a key aspect of the samizdata interface is still far from Samizdata HQ, and the local internet is powered by small but very noisy frogs on a bamboo treadmill, rather than the usual industrious British hamsters on a steel one, delays in comment moderation will continue for several days…


[/on David Attenborough Voice]

The hippopotamus is not a creature native to Indonesia, but upon being introduced, it threatens to become deeply invasive, shoving indigenous species out of their ecological niche by devouring their food and stealing their women

[/end David Attenborough Voice]

On the false choice between Privacy and Security

Many commentators are referring to the current fracas over strong encryption and other security technologies, including especially Apple’s refusal to provide the FBI with hacking tools for the iPhone, as a trade-off between privacy and security.

Even people who feel that strong security technologies are a good thing often position things as a trade-off of this sort.

I would like to reiterate something many of us already know: this is an entirely false dichotomy.

Backdoors in security systems don’t just eliminate privacy, they also make systems insecure.

The current fight isn’t just to make sure that the government cannot learn that you’re reading dissident publications or to make sure the government cannot automatically find everyone who has opinions it doesn’t like, although those are certainly worthy things to want.

The current fight is about whether we will impose a technological infrastructure which will be exceptionally vulnerable to attackers in order to provide nothing more useful than some very, very short-term advantages to people investigating crimes.

This pits the interests of everyone in society who depends on technology for their safety, which is to say, more or less everyone, against a tiny group of law enforcement officials who find their jobs somewhat more difficult.

We should remember that the damage caused by insecurity in our critical systems is not theoretical — it is pervasive problem even today. We saw only this last week a hospital forced to pay ransom to restore its computer systems. We’ve seen instances in the last year of the US federal government losing data on literally everyone with a recent security clearance to enemies unknown who presumably are very, very interested in knowing who all those US government agents might be. Untold millions of dollars are stolen every day in various sorts of computer fraud — everything from credit card fraud to fraudulent IRS e-file refunds. We already know that you can do horrible things to SCADA systems and the like that could potentially kill people, and whether you believe that’s already happened or not, it is clearly only a matter of time before people die that way.

All of this is because of lack of security in computer systems — a lack of security that the FBI, Cyrus Vance Jr., and other special interests propose to make dramatically worse on a permanent basis, in order to make their jobs somewhat easier for the short term. Imagine what things will be like in a world where Cyrus Vance has a slightly easier job but maniacs who have stolen US government master crypto keys can cause thousands or millions of automated cars to crash, killing their occupants.

So, please stop making it sound like it is merely the right to privacy that is at stake. Certainly the right to privacy is crucial for our society, but even those who do not agree with privacy should understand that back doors are not about making a trade-off in favor of increased security but in favor of pervasive insecurity.

This is not about security vs. privacy. We’re talking about nothing less than deranged short-term thinking that privileges the convenience of a small part of the machinery of law enforcement over the safety of almost everyone in our entire society.

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.

Failing to understand

“Top universities are failing poor students”, said the Times headline. I was concerned. What exactly were the top universities doing to cause them to fail in their obligations to the poor students? If I had read that the universities were failing to process student loan applications in a timely manner I would have been distressed. A student finance screw-up is no joke if the family does not have much spare in the bank. If I had read that universities were disadvantaging poorer students by requiring that they pay for ostensibly optional but practically compulsory extras in order to complete their courses I would have been outraged. If I had read that the academic staff were marking down students for irrelevant attributes correlated with class such as accent I would have been sceptical – my experience of academics is that their biases tend the other way – but I would have certainly wished a stop put to it, if it were confirmed to be happening.

If, if, if. So many ways those smooth Oxbridge types could be letting down the young proletarians under their charge. Then I read the article.

The proportion of poorer students at Britain’s leading universities has stalled over the past decade and has even fallen at some institutions.

About a sixth of students from disadvantaged backgrounds started at Russell Group universities last year, compared with a third of wealthier students.

On average, students from poorer homes made up 20.8 per cent of new undergraduates in 2014/15 compared with 19.5 per cent a decade earlier.
Millions of pounds has been spent by universities to widen access and attract students from deprived neighbourhoods. Oxford and Cambridge took the lowest proportion of students from poorer backgrounds out of the 24 Russell Group universities, according to analysis of official data by the Press Association. At Oxford 10 per cent of students were from disadvantaged homes while at Cambridge it was 10.2 per cent. Ten years ago, poorer students made up about one in eight of Oxbridge entrants.

I should have guessed. “Top universities are failing poor students” is just one of those little in-jokes favoured at High Table. What it means is “State schools are failing poor students”.

Just when you think he cannot get any crazier

Hussein didn’t “make a living off killing terrorists.” He was a terrorist — an evil mastermind who worked every day to try to kill Americans, kill Israelis, and destabilize the Middle East. He was one of the prime financial supporters of a suicide-bombing campaign that caused greater relative casualties in Israel than 9/11 did in the United States. He funded Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. He plotted to kill a former president of the United States. He gave one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Abu Nidal, access to a government office. He sheltered Abu Abbas, responsible for the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, and Abdul Yasin, a co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

David French, examining Donald Trump’s latest.

It is worth reading the whole thing. I know that a lot of libertarians, probably most who describe themselves thus, are on board with the “Iraq war was disaster and we should have left Saddam in charge” school. But the scale of the crimes SD committed, his sheltering of Islamist killers, encouragement of Islamist killers, acquisition and use of WMDs, breaking of UN resolutions/treaties, invasion of neighbours, etc, together constitute such a crushing case against his regime that I don’t regret, at all, his overthrow by external military force. It is also worth pondering the point that even if his regime had collapsed without the Coalition giving it a shove, we might still have many of the issues that grip Iraq now, although arguing over counterfactuals is always a bit of a mug’s game.

That Trump thinks that Hussein was good at dealing with terrorists is, in some ways, his must delusional statement yet and a scary insight into his view about the sort of regime he likes. For those in the US who plan to vote for this charlatan, the buyer’s remorse is going to be epic and on a scale that will make the anger about Obama look like child’s play.


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.

A survivor speaks

Eagles of Death Metal frontman: ‘Everybody has to have guns’

The frontman of the Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was performing at the Bataclan theatre in Paris when 90 people were murdered by terrorists last year, has remembered his terror at encountering a gunman backstage – and argued for universal access to guns.

The Californian rock band was performing in front of a crowd of around 1,500 on the night of 13 November when three terrorists armed with assault rifles entered the room and began shooting and throwing hand grenades.

It was part of a series of terrorist attacks in Paris that night, that Islamic State later claimed responsibility for.

Vocalist-guitarist Jesse Hughes, who is a long-time advocate for access to gun ownership, told the French television station iTélé in a 19-minute, at times tearful interview on Monday that restrictions on guns in France had helped to enable the terrorists.

Asked if his views on gun control had changed after the terror attacks, he said gun control “doesn’t have anything to do with it”.

“Did your French gun control stop a single fucking person from dying at the Bataclan? And if anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.

“I know people will disagree with me, but it just seems like God made men and women, and that night guns made them equal,” he said. “And I hate it that it’s that way. I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them.

A survivor of a mass shooting makes an appeal for more gun control? Even the politest disagreement is held to be vile.
A survivor of a mass shooting makes an appeal for less gun control? Well, take a look at the Guardian comments.

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.

Tetrahedron Super Yacht

Aka Stealth Bomber Yacht?:


I came across this very superior yacht because it was written up and pictured up in the Daily Mail, among many other www places.

It is the work of this guy:

Long distances are achievable with reduced out-of-water drag and stormy ocean conditions would incur virtually no slamming. Improved efficiency is driven by elevated hydrofoil propulsion and would be an inherent performance benefit of this type of design.

Long distance, smooth travel through rough water at high speed: the key performance attributes of this new motor yacht design.

Yes, sadly this is only, as yet, a yacht “design”. This is a “concept yacht”.

Notions like this are why the world needs rich people. Their job is to check whether stuff like this actually works, at their own risk and at their own expense. The rest of us can then pile in and share the fun.

This thing should star in the next Bond movie, “smooth travel through rough water at high speed” being the very definition of James Bond’s world.

Samizdata quote of the day

Civil Society is what a Constitutional State protects – not what it is

– Paul Marks