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]

A BBC journalist is detained in brotherly North Korea

The BBC’s Japan Correspondent, Mr Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, has written about his (thankfully brief) detention in North Korea after covering the visit of three Nobel Laureates. Working for the Socialist Monster clearly did not impress the North Koreans.

He tells us that he was asked if he thought that Koreans spoke like dogs, after he wrote that a North Korean official ‘barked’ at him. He was asked if he thought Koreans were ugly, as he referred to an official as ‘grim-faced’. He could not have known that he would only be detained for 10 hours, which is a shorter time than some get in jail for not paying the TV licence and a resultant fine.

His ordeal developed with an ominous introduction:

Two of our old minders now appeared at the door.
“We are taking you to meet with the relevant organs,” they proclaimed. “All will become clear.”

It did not become clear, as his surreal interrogation showed (emphasis added).

“Do you think Korean people are ugly?” the older man asked.
“No,” I answered.
“Do you think Korean people have voices like dogs?”
“No,” I answered again.
“Then why do you write these things?!” he shouted.

I was confused. What could they mean? One of the articles was presented to me, the offending passage circled in black marker pen:
“The grim-faced customs officer is wearing one of those slightly ridiculous oversized military caps that they were so fond of in the Soviet Union. It makes the slightly built North Korean in his baggy uniform comically top heavy. “Open,” he grunts, pointing at my mobile phone. I dutifully punch in the passcode. He grabs it back and goes immediately to photos. He scrolls through pictures of my children skiing, Japanese cherry blossom, the Hong Kong skyline. Apparently satisfied he turns to my suitcase. “Books?” he barks. No, no books. “Movies?” No, no movies. I am sent off to another desk where a much less gruff lady is already looking through my laptop.”

It turned out that his interrogators construed his prose as ‘grim-faced’ = ‘ugly’ and took ‘barks’ literally. Odd really, as I assumed that they had eaten all the dogs in North Korea in the 1990s famine.

His theory as to why he was detained in quite simple:

Why did they choose to detain and expel me? My best guess is that someone high up decided my reporting had endangered the success of the Nobel laureates’ visit. Pyongyang yearns for recognition. Their trip was of great importance to the government. The three Nobel laureates were shown the very best of the country. They met its brightest students. Our coverage was a threat to that plan, and an example needed to be made.

He was very much luckier than any Korean and many Westerners detained in North Korea.

And those three Nobel Laureates’ visit? How smart do you have to be to better understand North Korea?

A government that does not wish to steal everything it can…. step forward India

The endless scamming of NGOs seems to be a plague on the World, but the Federal Government of India is resisting claims from an NGO, I understand it to be the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front (but what’s in a name?*),that it should seek to obtain the Koh-i-Noor diamond from Her Britannic Majesty.

Ownership of the famous gem is an emotional issue for many Indians, who believe it was stolen by the British.
However, the solicitor-general said was “neither stolen nor forcibly taken”.

Ranjit Kumar said the 105-carat diamond had been “gifted” to the East India company by the former rulers of Punjab in 1849.
The case is being heard by the Supreme Court after an Indian NGO filed a petition asking the court to direct the Indian government to bring back the diamond.

Oddly, despite its secession from India at independence, a lawyer in Pakistan has claimed the Koh-i-Noor for Pakistan, presumably on the basis that it was the property of a ruler of the Punjab.

The Pakistani petition, lodged with a court in Lahore by Javed Iqbal Jaffry, names Queen Elizabeth II as a respondent.
“Grabbing and snatching it was a private, illegal act which is justified by no law,” he told Reuters.
He is quoted as saying that he has written 786 letters to the Queen and Pakistani officials about it.

Thankfully, most of Mr Jaffry’s fellow citizens do not seem to share his enthusiasm. And a cheer for them too.

There has never been a popular debate or campaign to get the Koh-i-Noor diamond returned in Pakistan, our correspondent adds.

Now will India’s sensible example be enough for Greece to shut up about the Elgin Marbles? After all, they named a whole musical film after the place, and yet they complain about Macedonia daring to speak its own name.

* This group appears to have some form in litigation, without it being immediately clear that Human Rights were foremost in their consideration, trying to get a Bangladeshi lady kicked out of India.

The bench was hearing the appeal filed by NGO ‘All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front’ seeking cancellation of Nasreen’s visa alleging that she has been violating the Foreigners Order of 1948 and the Foreigners Act of 1946 by airing her views on every issue without prior permission.

UPDATE: as Tim’ points out, it appears that another element of the Indian government seeks to maintain the claim, despite the concession made by the Right Honourable and learned Solicitor General in open court. So perhaps the attitude of those bothered is to maintain the ‘learned grudge’ that we find in Greece, Argentina and other delightful places.

My Number

The new unified identification system with its associated up-to-the-minute database will streamline government, reduce fraud and tax evasion, make it easier to stop people “falling between the cracks” of different government departments, provide a convenient single means for citizens to prove their identity, and protect us all from terrorism. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

What will bring about all these benefits? It sounds very like the UK Identity Cards Act 2006, but that cannot be since various malcontents forced the Act’s repeal in 2010. While it is true that for the British Civil Servant no setback is ever permanent, for now the torch has passed to Japan, where the latest version of the Eternal Scheme is called “My Number”.

Even in such a cooperative and law-abiding culture as Japan there are the inevitable troublemakers:

More Japan citizens sue gov’t over My Number system

Around 30 citizens in central and southwestern Japan filed lawsuits Thursday with regional courts, demanding the government suspend the use of identification numbers under the newly launched My Number social security and tax number system.

The lawsuits are the latest in a string of cases in which residents and lawyers argue that the right to privacy is endangered by the system, which allocates a 12-digit identification number to every resident of Japan, including foreign nationals, to simplify administrative procedures for taxation and social security.

Mitsuhiro Kato, who heads the lawyers’ group in the lawsuit with the Nagoya District Court, said at a press conference, “There were cases in which personal information was (illegally) sold and bought. Once the use of My Number expands, the state would come to control individual activities.”

According to the lawsuit, the action to collect citizens’ personal information without their consent infringes on their right to manage their own personal information. The plaintiffs are also worried about the risk of their personal information being leaked given the insufficient security measures currently in place.

My Number legislation has been enacted to make it easier for tax and other authorities to discover cases of tax evasion and wrongful receipt of welfare benefits.

But public concerns have grown over the government’s handling of personal information under the My Number system following massive data leaks from the Japan Pension Service in the wake of cyberattacks in May.

Here is a little more about that massive data leak from, or rather hack of, the Japanese pension system: 1.25 million affected by Japan Pension Service hack.

But fear not:

The hacked computers were not connected online to the fund’s core computer system, which keeps financial details of the pension system’s members, officials said. No illicit access to the core system, which contains the most sensitive information, such as the amount of premiums paid by and the amount of benefits paid to each individual, has been detected, they said, adding that they are still investigating the incident.

It is remarkable how when we read about these government data security breaches in any country, the most alarming possibilities always seem to have been avoided. Some special providence must protect government databases.

The public face of My Number is provided by popular actress Aya Ueto and a rabbit-like mascot with numbers in place of eyes called “Maina-chan”.

Fooled ya!

The Daily Mail reports:

April Fools is no laughing matter, China’s official news service intoned Friday, saying the Western tradition of opening spring with a gag is un-Chinese. The official news agency Xinhua’s stiffly worded post on micro-blog Weibo declared: “Today is the West’s so-called ‘April Fools'”. The occasion “does not conform with our nation’s cultural traditions, nor does it conform with the core values of socialism“, it added.

“Don’t believe rumours, don’t create rumours and don’t spread rumours,” it said, capping off the note with a smiley emoticon. A cartoon accompanying the post showed two phones “spreading rumours.” A finger pointing at them is accompanied by a word bubble that says “breaking the law”. Spreading rumours online can be a violation of Chinese law.

But the country’s Internet users met the reminder with a collective guffaw, suggesting that in China, every day is April Fools. “You speak lies every day, use government policy, data, to trick the people in every way. What’s up, what’s down? What’s wrong? What’s right? We’re on to you,” one Weibo commenter said. Other users likened the post to the satirical American newspaper The Onion. “The most amusing ‘April Fools’ news is that Xinhua is seriously saying ‘don’t believe rumours’,” said one.

One has to admire Xinhua’s deadpan delivery, but didn’t including the smiley rather give the game away?

Samizdata quote of the day

Today’s Sisyphus is China. More particularly, the Chinese authorities. They are determined to roll that boulder uphill. The path of least resistance for the boulder, however, is downward. Gravity, after all, is a bitch. The Chinese stock market is still comparatively young, and as stable as any toddler overwhelmed by parental expectations. With their boulder beset by the giant suck of gravity, China’s Sisyphus first cut rates, and trimmed banks’ reserve ratios.

The boulder continued to roll downhill.

Tim Price

If you were wondering why the Chinese stock market has gone bananas this year…

…here’s a theory:

ChineseGrannies

I apologise for the non-Twitterish look of this but it seems Samizdata’s all-knowing editing software doesn’t like scripts and I don’t have the patience to select, save and edit each tweet individually.

Update

It occurs to me there’s a bit missing from the tale. And just to prove that this really was on Twitter:

Chovanec01

Someone clearly had a word with Apple’s Idiot-in-Chief

Apple’s removal of a American Civil War game from its app store due to it showing a Confederate flag (yeah I know :-D ) prompted such widespread derision across the internet from such a wide range of the political spectrum that lo and behold, the app has been reinstated. One might assume a multi-gazillion dollar company would have sufficient checks and balances to stop Le Grand Fromage from making a complete pilchard of himself and his company in the first place, but at least common sense has eventually prevailed.

And as for a certain flag maker declining to manufacture Confederate flags any more, well one company’s boycott is another company’s business opportunity.

The Yuan is a basket case?

The G7 has agreed that the Chinese yuan should be part of an international basket of reference currencies. Does this technically make the Yuan a basket case? ;-)

Yeah I know, slow day.

China hacks Google…

Chinese government cyber division accused of hacking Google is a very self explanatory headline and I hope this vulnerability will be addressed swiftly.

But of course the NSA would never do that. They do not need to when they have FISA courts to rubber stamp any fishing expeditions they wish to carry out. No need to break in when you have a spare set of keys under the doormat any time you want to look around.

Russia legalises concealed carry

Via a mailing from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, I was directed to this interesting development:

Vladimir Putin’s Russia Adopts Concealed Carry

Russia, which according to official figures has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, has relaxed its gun ownership laws.

Yep. The land of Vladimir Putin, run by an oligarchical collection of cronies and criminals, is about to relax their gun laws… And not by just a little. After the reforms, they’ll make some US jurisdictions look positively Soviet. While places like New York and Washington DC continue to make it (almost) impossible to get a permit for carrying a handgun, Putin’s Russia is about to make it easier.

Previously, Russians were only permitted to own firearms (subject to approval) for hunting or sporting. But under the new law they will soon be allowed to carry guns, open or concealed, for the purposes of self-defense. (Yeah… A background check and training will be a prerequisite.)

And let’s face it, having a gun for self-defense is probably not the worst idea in Russia. While America saw its share of homicides in 2011 (roughly 13,600), Putin’s homeland saw far more… Despite having a population that is almost half of the US, Russia recorded over 21,000 homicides in the same year. (Wow… So much for believing that gun control works, right Chicago?) The new laws aim to curb that trend, and add to Russia’s homeland defense against outside threats.

The report above is by Michael Schaus and links in turn to this report by Tom Porter in the International Business Times.

If The Cloud is the future, we need more than one future

There is a good article on TechRaptor about alleged Chinese intrusions into iCloud.

Greatfire.org, a website dedicated to monitoring and combating online censorship in China, has provided technical evidence to substantiate these allegations. Apple was already facing some heat after pulling anti-censorship apps from it’s iStore and also it’s recent decision to move iCloud storage of Chinese user data to centers within mainland china.

And just in case you think China is the only Bad Guys we need to worry about…

Of course, no one should pretend that this kind of spying only goes on in repressive countries like China. In comparison to the NSA use of ‘fiber-optic splitters’ to copy and filter data directly from the telecommunications backbone, a MITM attack seems rather quaint. Furthermore, it was reported earlier this year that the NSA had capitalized on the Heartbleed bug to steal passwords and other sensitive information.

Big Brother has many guises.

Samizdata quote of the day

We in the West proclaimed that what set us apart were free speech, free movement, free(ish) markets,rule of law and democratic elections; and while not the whole truth it’s still mostly true.

I say mostly in this context because rich, prosperous, flourishing Hong Hong had all those attributes except the last: democratic elections.

Yep, it turns out no elections were necessary in a society based on the sound principles of low taxes, low regulation, free movement, and rule of law – it made them rich extraordinarily quickly. Who’d want to vote that away? Well quite a few folk if elections around the world are any indication.

So what are we to make of the Hong Kong ‘democracy’ protests? On one hand I find myself saying, ‘go get ‘em tiger,’ in support of the protesters. On the other, I’m wondering if they should be careful what they wish for.

– the delightfully pseudonymous ‘Suzuki Samurai