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]


Yesterday, the skies over London were often dark and threatening torrential downpour. These were particularly ominous as I and fellow Samizdatistas Antoine Clarke, Perry, and Adriana had received our innoculations and taken our passports to suburbia for a barbecue at the home of our friend Scott Norvell, European bureau chief of Fox News.


You know you are at a higher class of barbecue when the host leads guests in chugging fine wine instead of beer.

Greg Gutfeld gets shot

Recently acquired Samizdata party fixture (and Huffington Post blogger) Greg Gutfeld is laughing now, but has no idea that an assassin lurks.


Sadly for we overextended Samizdata party throwers, Scott’s cooking sets a new, much more elevated standard for barbecue fare.


Adriana collects evidence to support Perry’s future ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ pleas.

It was a splendid evening with delicious food, lots of laughs, and the usual plans for world domination. (Don’t worry – you are in safe hands!) More photos at Flickr.

Ashley Highfield fails into a promotion at the BBC

Tom Coates, who used to work for the BBC and is now at Yahoo, really lays into Ashley Highfield, the supposed visionary leader of the Beeb’s new media efforts. Euan Semple, the BBC’s former head of knowledge management, agrees with Tom’s assessment. An excerpt:

If Ashley Highfield really is leading one of the most powerful and forward-thinking organisations in new media in the UK, then where are all these infrastructural products and strategy initiatives today? And if these products are caught up in process, then where are the products and platfoms from the years previous that should be finally maturing? It’s difficult to see anything of significance emerging from the part of the organisation directly under Highfield’s control. It’s all words!

…[T]he truth is that for the most part – with a bunch of limited exceptions – these changes just don’t seem to be really happening. The industry should be more furious about the lack of progress at the organisation than the speed of it, because in the meantime their actual competitors – the people that the BBC seems to think it’s a peer with but which it couldn’t catch-up with without moving all of its budget into New Media stuff and going properly international – get larger and faster and more vigorous and more exciting.

Let us not forget that Highfield gets his funding whether he delivers or not, as the BBC is financed under threat of violence to anyone who wishes to own a TV in the UK. That is the plain, ugly truth of the matter, no matter how much Tom may like to think that the BBC is a ‘valuable organisation’. I guess I would want to believe that, too, if my salary had come from working people who faced prison sentences if they did not pay up.

Indeed, as Tom notes, Highfield’s miserable failures have resulted in him being rewarded with a much larger role within the BBC. He will be managing up to 4,000 people, according to the Guardian. Please, tell me again why we need this ‘valuable organisation’.

Independence Day at Samizdata HQ

Or, rather, Independence Evening, which brought a motley crew of celebrants to Chelsea for some of Adriana’s salad, Nancy’s pasta, and some rather scandalous conversation. What is said at Samizdata HQ stays at Samizdata HQ, but a few of the photos can – as ever – be shared…

independence day people

Three authors, an editor, an engineer, an actress, a Cambridge student, and a Brian

chocolate, raspberry, and blueberry pavlova

Two patriotic pavlovas (with thanks to Nigella)


The author of London Gazetteer and Hidden London dressed in theme, making his t-shirt especially for the party!


The ladies of Time to Spa thought it was time to party


The first blogger ever to appear in Eastenders


Now that she had cleaned her plate, Jo hoped to be granted a refill of vino

Thanks to all who braved the heat to come along, and do not worry – your secrets are safe with Samizdata…

Samizdata Summer Party 2006

Last night in Chelsea, Samizdatistas from around the globe gathered at Samizdata HQ for some of Perry’s famous chilli con Chelsea, his ‘secret recipe’ cheesecake, and plenty of wine from Stormhoek and other fine producers.


The hostess with the mostess


Funny, I always imagined that Perry was completely oblivious to any sport which did not involve firearms


The newest Samizdatista, Hillary Johnson (visiting London from Los Angeles), was the guest of honour


So this is what a group of bloodthirsty free marketeers looks like…


Take me drunk, I’m home!

A fantastic time was had by all, and there are more photos from the party on Flickr.

Signs of San Francisco

I am in San Francisco right now with Adriana, who will be speaking on net neutrality at Vloggercon tomorrow with her Samizdata co-editor hat firmly affixed. Today, we will be attending Techdirt Greenhouse with fellow Samizdatista Hillary Johnson.

Upon arrival yesterday, Adriana and I went for a wander and took in the, er, sights. We passed by UN Plaza, where I snapped this nauseating image:

On the same pole, there is a sign warning vagrants not to peddle without a permit. Still, I would have loved to have taken a snap of the sign that Perry de Havilland and I spotted while driving around in San Francisco last year, which featured a beaming Asian-American woman with the following in bold letters:

Paying taxes really pays off!

Whenever I am in San Francisco, I cannot help but think of the great Ken Layne, who wrote in 1998:

San Francisco is truly the foulest place on earth. The nation’s most expensive city features $2,000 moldy little apartments, a filthy broken-down transit system, tens of thousands of bums on the dole, the nation’s worst newspapers, year-round crappy weather, and a local government that’s truly of and for the people. That’s because the people here are total idiots.

We are actually quite enjoying the weather, but the rest sounds about right to me.

National Kidney Foundation against debate

Virginia Postrel, who recently donated an organ herself, writes:

Expecting people to take risks and give up something of value without compensation strikes me as far more blatant exploitation than paying them. I don’t expect soldiers or police officers to work for free, and I don’t think we should base our entire organ donation system on the idea that everyone but the donor should get paid. Like all price controls, that creates a shortage – in this case, a deadly one.


The issue of lost wages is a significant one, especially since kidney patients and their friends and families are disproportionately likely to be of lower socioeconomic status. In many cases, people who might be willing to serve as living donors simply cannot take the chance of financial ruin posed by losing a few weeks of pay (and that’s assuming their understanding bosses would give them leave).

The National Kidney Foundation is shamefully, unbelievably trying to put a stop to any discussion of the use of market mechanisms to reduce the national organ shortage. They even wrote a letter to the AEI, urging them not to hold a debate on the matter.

Virginia has also written a column for Forbes (not available online for free, sadly) about how some prominent hospitals are actually refusing to do kidney transplants for people who have found their donors online or through other media. Hospitals which are denying patients legal, nonexperimental, life-saving surgery for ideological reasons include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. On her blog, Virginia writes:

The transplant establishment is, unfortunately, all too accustomed to managing the shortage rather than expanding the supply of organs. Too many powerful “experts” consider a donor who is moved by a particular stranger’s story to be a generic “altruistic donor,” for whom one stranger should be exactly the same as another. By their lights, favoring someone you’ve read about over whoever’s first on the list is “unfair.”

If you have ever seen the benefits of online conversation, through blogs or journals or message boards or chat rooms, think about that. The human kindness extended to you by another individual in that context, according to these hospitals, is somehow tainted.

I thought things were bad enough with the creepazoids who want to violate every human’s civil liberties at birth by reversing non-consent to make organ donation an opt-out rather than opt-in personal decision (“You think your body belongs to you? Think again, buster. It’s just government inventory…”). This outright hostility from hospitals and the National Kidney Foundation towards methods which would resolve the shortage and save lives is downright evil.

(Cross-posted to JackieDanicki.com)

David Miliband’s promotional blog

David Miliband, Minister of Communities and Local Government, is happy for (undisclosed) government employees to post comments full of praise for him on the taxpayer-owned blog he uses to promote himself and his department. When a taxpayer – in this case, journalist David Tebbutt – asks if the fawning comment is indeed from a government employee, Miliband will not even publish the query, let alone answer it.

This, in a blog discussion about how MPs and ministers can prove to us through blogging that they do listen to taxpayers and are not as out of touch as we silly people imagine.

The state is not your friend and politicians certainly do not work for you, no matter whose propaganda (theirs or the taxpayers’ rights’ groups) you have bought into. Taking your money under threat of violence and actually working for you are not the same thing. David Miliband is one of many who take your money and work on their own agendas, on which self-promotion is paramount. This is an obvious fact, and David Miliband’s abuse of his taxpayer-owned blog is just one more piece of evidence which proves it.

I submitted the following comment to the David Miliband promotional blog:

Dennis Howlett – who I know personally and like – misses the point about the difference between other blogs and this one: This blog is not the private property of David Miliband. It is being financed by the taxpayer and is using government (taxpayer-funded) resources.

Which makes it all the more disgraceful that David Miliband refuses to publish comments that might make readers realise his ‘integrity’ is not quite what it seems. (I do not expect this comment to be published, either, but only hope it imbues David Miliband with some degree of shame when he reads it, if he is capable of feeling such a thing.)

Quite apart from this abuse of a taxpayer-funded blog, this is a sterling example of abhorrent customer service. Then again, when the customers don’t actually choose your ’service,’ and are forced under threat of violence to pay for it, you have the freedom to be endlessly selective about which ones you pay any mind. Right, Minister Miliband?

The BBC will not ‘reinvent’ its thugocratic model

Jeff Jarvis is consulting the BBC, and is excited over the Beeb’s claims that it wants to “reinvent” itself. Here is what I said to Jeff:

Jeff, the point is that the BBC doesn’t want to ‘reinvent’ the very worst element of itself: the funding via shakedown of Joe Public. We’re not talking about a situation where a small percentage of the income tax or sales tax a person pays over a year is diverted to the BBC. One cannot own a radio or television without paying a ‘protection fee’ – Mafia-style – to the BBC. Don’t pay? You get a huge fine, and if you don’t or can’t pay it, you are thrown in prison.

The BBC is not going to ‘reinvent’ the threat of violence under which they operate. It’s not even a remote possibility. Ask some of your contacts there what the odds are, and I assure you they’ll laugh in your face.

The facts are inconvenient and chilling, but they are facts. Isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be about?

I really do not understand how people – not just Jeff, because there are a hell of a lot of them – who would be outraged over being shaken down by corporate interests can be so qualm-free about being shaken down by politicians and bureaucrats. Then again, these are often the same people who fully realise how incompetent and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats are, yet want to give them more and more responsibility for running a big chunk of our lives (healthcare, education, you name it). Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

Chirac: Corrupt and ignorant

Not only is Jacques Chirac, no matter what he thinks and says, NOT funding a French ‘Google killer,’ he “doesn’t even know what a mouse is”. And that comes directly from a guy who is a partner in the French non-‘Google killer’. Search expert John Battelle interviewed the guy, Francois Bourdoncle, and writes:

So what is [Chirac] funding? Well, according to Bourdoncle, there will be no single Quaero site. Instead, Quaero is a program, a long term effort to spur various European competitors toward creating better search related technologies. Participants will share R&D, for example, as well as become each other’s customers. In other words, this is a government funded attempt at pulling together a keiretsu of sorts.

Not exactly a European Google killer, I commented. Nope, Bourdoncle responded, and attempting to do that would be a pretty stupid move. I couldn’t agree more. Sounds to me, I thought to myself, that Quaero is simply a way for huge companies like Thompson to insure a steady flow of dollars from its government, and if using the Big Google Is Going to Kill European Culture meme helps along the way, so be it. Before I could even mention that idea, Bourdoncle addressed it head on, saying he was sure folks might see it that way, and he was not one to say if it was true or not. “I’m not really sure what (Thompson’s) strategy is,” he said. “They don’t tell me that.” Sounds like the keiretsu is shaping up nicely, no?

Samizdata quote of the day

Communists for free expression are like vegetarians for veal.

– Perry de Havilland, at Saturday’s march for free expression in London

Samizdata quote of the day

It is the patriotic duty of all of us to skip political commercials.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List, speaking at SXSW

“They work for us”. Shyeah…

Melody Bartlett is deputy editor of the CBI’s magazine Business Voice, unpicking government’s relationship with big business. She writes at The Business Editors blog:

Why is it that any journalist who wants to speak to the relevant person in government about proposals or policy must first confront a wall of PR obfuscation? Government offices are manned with armies of PR staff who refuse to deal with queries, claim ignorance of the most mundane issues and would have you believe that all government staff are permanently on holiday.
The title of your publication and the nature of your story are all too important in determining whether your enquiry will receive a response.

Surely this is not the way it should be. Government staff work for us all, and have a public duty to deal with questions about their doings. The preferred method of communication seems to be ‘placed’ copy, to which end government departments appear to employ consultancies with huge budgets. What a waste of taxpayers’ money.

That this shocks someone who works for the CBI – and someone who explores on a daily basis the state of government’s relationship with commerce – is rather more shocking to me than Ms Bartlett’s own complaint.