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]

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

Anyone else get the ‘wry smile’ response from this?

I found this interesting:

Apple Inc has begun storing personal data for some Chinese users on servers provided by China Telecom, marking the first time that the company has stored user data on mainland Chinese soil. Apple attributed the move to an effort to improve the speed and reliability of its service. It also represents a departure from the policies of some technology companies, notably Google Inc, which has long refused to build data centres in China due to censorship and privacy concerns.

Now I can certainly see why making it easy for the ghastly Chinese authorities to spy on people would be undesirable, but I wonder… where to locate the data centres then? Presumably not in the USA or UK if state access to people’s data is the big problem right, right? ;-)

A Japanese hero in Lithuania

kauhouse

I visited the above house in Kaunas, Lithuania last month. In 1940, this house was the Japanese consulate. Kaunas functioned as the capital city of Lithuania prior to the Second World War. The Lithuanians considered Vilnius to be their rightful capital, but it was masquerading as the Polish city of Wilno at the time. Upon the German occupation of Western Poland and the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland in late 1939, many (both Polish and Lithuanian) Jews were trapped in Lithuania and clearly in great danger, but were unable to gain exit visas to leave the Soviet Union (or travel across it by the Trans-Siberian railway) unless they had visas to go somewhere else. There were Japanese government rules stating that transit visas could be issued to Japan, but only if the applicant had plans to go somewhere else after Japan, and also that he had adequate financial resources.

Seeing the desperation of the situation, and against orders, Japanese consul Chiune Sugihara issued Japanese transit visas to anyone who asked. (In the book Bloodlands historian Timothy Snyder – who clearly finds Sugihara as fascinating a figure as I do – makes it clear that Sugihara was a Japanese spy as well as a Japanese consul, and his job was to keep track of Soviet troop movements for the Japanese government). During September 1940 he spent something like 20 hours a day writing out visas. When the consulate was closed and he had to leave, he was followed by a crowd to the railway station. As his train left, he was still throwing blank visas with his seal and signature on them to a crowd of desperate people. In total, he wrote something like 3000 visas, and as dependent family members could travel on the same visa as the principal person it was written for, those visas covered several times that number of people.

kaurailKaunas railway station today.

Upon receiving these visas, Jews were able to travel on the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok and then go by ship to Japan. They then dispersed to various places, but many were deported to Shanghai when the tripartite pact with Germany was signed shortly afterwards. Shanghai was also under Japanese occupation, and there these people spent time in the Shanghai ghetto – Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees – where they stayed until Shanghai was liberated by the Americans in 1945. I visited the remnants of the Shanghai ghetto in 2006, and wrote about it at the time. Although this was crowded and at times squalid, it was a place of relative safety. The Japanese behaved monstrously towards certain other groups, but they had nothing against Jews, and did not turn the Jews in Shanghai over to the Germans despite German requests. Rather cleverly, Jewish leaders in Shanghai played upon Japanese mistrust of their German allies. Upon being asked by a Japanese governor why the Germans hated the Jews so much, rabbi Shimon Sholom Kalish replied “They hate us because we are short and dark haired”.

Most Jews who got to Shanghai survived, and then emigrated to Israel, Australia, the US and other places after 1945. Estimates of the number of lives saved by Sugihara go as high as 10,000, although estimates of about 6,000 seem more common.

Half of the building in Kaunas is now a museum to Sugihara. I wanted to see this – it was why I went to Kaunas. The other people in the museum when I went there were a busload of Japanese tourists. Almost everyone who had signed the guest book had done so in Japanese, too. I didn’t see any Lithuanians or many other Europeans, which is a shame given this extraordinary story.

kaumus

It’s an exceptionally good thing that the museum is there, but I did find the tone of the museum to be slightly curious. The museum did seem to be going out of its way to present the Japanese in general in the best possible light overall, rather than simply telling the story of Sugihara. That Sugihara was acting against orders was mentioned but not emphasised, and much was made of Jews who reached Japan being treated well, but not much was said about where they went after the Japanese alliance with Germany intensified and they were deported from Japan. The truth – the Shanghai ghetto mentioned above – doesn’t actually reflect too badly on the Japanese, but it is rather unfortunately connected to other things that do reflect badly on the Japanese. It is impossible to praise Sugihara himself too much – the man saved the lives of 6,000 or more people just out of basic human decency – but does this reflect well on Japan as a whole? That is harder to say. As is the case with other various people who did similar things, his story remained obscure for many years. His career with the Japanese foreign service ended after the war for reasons that may or may not have had to do with disobeying orders in Lithuania.

kaumus2

Eventually, Sugihara’s story became widely known, and he was later honoured by Yad Vashem, the state of Israel, the state of Japan and the state of Lithuania, but this took a long time. As it did with Paul Grüninger, Oskar Schindler, and others.

Duplitecture for fun and profit

Most of the commenters to this fascinating Guardian article on the many copies of famous Western buildings and bridges being built in the Chinese city of Suzhou dismiss the replicas as vulgar.

Vulgar they are. They are what you get when the some of the vulgus get rich and build what they like.

It [the explosion of urban mimicry] is also a result of housing becoming a free-market commodity. After Mao’s death, the introduction of a new economic policy, starting in 1979, opened the nation to foreign investment and restored private control over land use. Real estate investors supported by Hong Kong, Taiwanese and overseas Chinese financiers were quick to exploit the new opportunities in the booming housing market. With a rapid increase in the number of cities, a growing middle class and a desire to invest capital in property, there has been a boom in residential construction, investment and sales, coupled with a desire to demonstrate personal prestige.

Faulty towers in North Korea and China

Tyrannical regimes don’t collapse because the peasantry are suffering. They collapse when the hitherto supportive inner circle of peasant-minders starts to suffer.

Thus it is that the most politically portentous line in this (thankyou Mick Hartley) about two new buildings in North Korea, one collapsing, the other already collapsed …:

Another apartment building in Pyongyang is reportedly in danger of collapse as fear spreads after a 23-story apartment building collapsed in the North Korean capital early this month, killing hundreds of people.

Both high-risers were built as upmarket homes for the elite.

A government source here on Tuesday cited rumors that an apartment building in Mansudae in downtown Pyongyang has subsided around 10 cm and dozens of cracks have appeared in the walls. “Fearing a collapse, residents are racing to sell their apartments and move out,” the source added.

… is the bit in the middle, about how these collapsing apartments are “homes for the elite”. By the sound of it, no North Korean home that is more than a tiny few stories up in the sky any longer feels safe.

Not so elite now, are they? If peasant houses collapse, screw ‘em. But who is going to screw these people? They are screwers.

Not so long ago there was a somewhat similar report concerning badly built towers in China.

One of these weeks, months, years, decades, a really really big skyscraper is going to come crashing down to the ground. Not because someone flew a plane into it. No, of its own accord. Through its own “internal contradictions”, you might say.

When that happens – and I really do think it’s only a matter of when – what’s the betting that the media coverage will imitate art.

When numbers are so big that people lose any grip on reality

Japan is currently in the process of monetising its vast debt (in plain English, printing money). To get some scale of the issue, check out this following news report from the Japan Times.

Japan’s national debt hit a record-high ¥1.025 quadrillion at the end of March, up ¥33 trillion from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said on Friday. The central government debt, which increased ¥7 trillion from the end of December last year, kept rising mainly due to ballooning social security costs in line with the aging population. The balance of government bonds, financing bills and other borrowings crossed the ¥1 quadrillion mark for the first time ever at the end of June 2013.

Here is a definition of what is a Quadrillion. Even at the dollar-yen exchange rate of one dollar buying 101 yen, this is a scary, but also barely comprehensible, sum of money. That leads me to the view that the public no longer can really get to grips with how massive debt, both in funded and unfunded, forms is, and indeed with the very notion that a lot of this debt is not even “on the balance sheet”.

How North Korea advertises itself to businesses considering setting up shop there

Some of these claims are false. Some reveal more truth than the writers intended:

Lowest labour cost in Asia.

Highly qualified, loyal and motivated personnel. Education, housing and health service is provided free to all citizens. As opposed to other Asian countries, worker’s will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained.

Lowest taxes scheme in Asia. Especially for high-tech factories. Typical tax exemption for the first two years.

No middle agents. All business made directly with the government, state-owned companies.

Stable. A government with solid security and very stable political system, without corruption.

Full diplomatic relations with most EU members and rest of countries.

New market. Many areas of business and exclusive distribution of products (sole-distribution).

Transparant legal work. Legal procedures, intellectual rights, patents and warranties for investors settled.

#TwitterisblockedinTurkey

Shortly after the Twitter ban came into effect around midnight, the micro-blogging company tweeted instructions to users in Turkey on how to circumvent it using text messaging services in Turkish and English. Turkish tweeters were quick to share other methods of tiptoeing around the ban, using “virtual private networks” (VPN) – which allow internet users to connect to the web undetected – or changing the domain name settings on computers and mobile devices to conceal their geographic whereabouts.

Some large Turkish news websites also published step-by-step instructions on how to change DNS settings.

On Friday morning, Turkey woke up to lively birdsong: according to the alternative online news site Zete.com, almost 2.5m tweets – or 17,000 tweets a minute – have been posted from Turkey since the Twitter ban went into effect, thus setting new records for Twitter use in the country.

May it continue thus.

Kill a man and you go to jail… kill 45 million and you get commemorated in souvenir shops

People in Shaoshan in China, the birthplace of Chairman Mao, are making good money selling keepsakes of history’s most prolific mass murderer. I find it odd that the BBC reporter doing a little video on that somehow neglected to ask “why are you selling souvenirs of a man responsible for murdering tens of millions of your fellow Chinese people?”

Actually I think we all know why that question never got asked.

Clearly Braunau am Inn in Austria is missing a trick.

It makes you proud to be British

If you are lucky enough to be permitted to cross the border from Sinuiju in (totalitarian) North Korea to Dandong in (horribly repressive, but at least they have food) China, one of the first things you will see is this.

nk_tescoGod bless Tesco.