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]

So what should we do about North Korea?

By “we” I mean the American government of course.

Let’s try some Q and A:

Does North Korea currently possess the means to destroy cities in South Korea, Japan and even the United States?
I’m guessing that’s a “no”. My understanding is that building a missile is one thing, building an atomic bomb another thing and combining the two really difficult.

If not, are they likely to acquire those means any time soon?
Well, they seem to have spent a hell of a long time just getting to this stage. So, it could be a while yet.

Were they to acquire them how likely would they be to use them?
I suppose the question here is whether or not the threat of instant nuclear annihilation would deter them. The point is that the Norks are atheists. They do not have a heaven to go to. They want to receive their rewards in this world. There is no upside to being nuked. So, they can be deterred.

Of course, I say they are atheists but their system of government is clearly a hereditary monarchy. Monarchies tend to have gods attached. But as yet (to the best of my knowledge) the Norks haven’t come up with a heaven. But when they do… watch out.

So, the best approach is probably to do nothing and let deterrence do its thing?
Probably. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the US doing the deterring. Japan and South Korea could do much the same, after they had developed nuclear weapons of course.

Getting back to this god stuff, the Iranians aren’t atheists are they?
No they’re not. And they believe in heaven. And they believe they would go to heaven if they nuked Israel. And rumour has it that the Norks are helping them with the tech. But my guess is that the Israelis have the means to deal with this threat before it becomes serious.

So, what you’re saying is that the US’s best approach is to do nothing?
Yes, I guess I am.

I would just add that it is remarkable how difficult smaller tyrannies find it to replicate 60-year old technology.

Globalisation is very weird.

The above picture is the most commonplace thing in the world. There is a gift wrapped car in a shopping mall. Obviously, this is a prize in a competition, designed to encourage people to visit the shopping mall and spend money in the shops. The car is first generation Daewoo Matiz – later known as the Chevrolet Spark – an old design now but one of the cheapest cars in production in the world. It’s an utterly awful car to drive, but it is A NEW CAR!. If you are a shopping centre owner, then the main thing is that it is a new car. That it is the cheapest new car in existence is not the point. The point is that the prize in our competition is A NEW CAR! It’s a city car, also. If you are in a place where the traffic is bad enough, a lack of acceleration and an inability to drive above 80km/h matters less, anyway.

Well, yes. And no.

There is, of course a story.

I live in London by myself. My family are in Australia. London is cold, dark, and deserted between Christmas and New Year, and it can be depressing to be here by yourself. Although I don’t need much of an excuse to go travelling at the best of times, I particularly try to get out of town, ideally to somewhere where there is no Christmas. Last year this led to my finding myself in Tehran, Iran. I didn’t quite entirely escape Christmas – there was still a Christmas tree in the lobby of my hotel – but I mostly escaped Christmas. Certainly, the traffic gridlock on December 25 was horrendous, as indeed the traffic gridlock is horrendous in Tehran on most days. There is a metro in Tehran, but Tehran is a sprawling city which makes it only so useful, a little like the metro in Los Angeles. Tehran is a sprawling city of multi-lane freeways and horrendous traffic in a basin surrounded by mountains, a little like Los Angeles. In the expensive suburbs of north Tehran, it’s not especially hard to find yourself in achingly hip cafes that might almost be in Silver Lake, too, but let’s go there some other time.

The whole “enormous, car-centric sprawl with an immense freeway system” makes Los Angeles a polluted city by American standards, but in all honesty it is much less polluted than it used to be. Modern cars are more efficient and have more advanced emissions control systems than was the case even a few years ago, and like all developed world cities, the air in Los Angeles is much cleaner than it once was.

In Tehran, though, imagine a rapidly growing city, that despite sanctions is getting richer. Demand for cars is high, but due to those sanctions Iran is unable to import cars from many industrial countries. Cars stay on the road longer, which means the pollution will remain worse for longer than in many other cities of similar levels of development. Sanctions are uneven, so it is much easier to do business with carmakers in certain other countries than others. When you look around, you find that most of the cars are Korean, or French, or will be oddly familiar things or brands you haven’t heard of.

This gets us back to the overtly Korean car in the shopping mall.

→ Continue reading: Globalisation is very weird.

That didn’t take long

Politics Home reports,

Jeremy Corbyn: State should seize ‘luxury’ properties to help those left homeless by Grenfell blaze

The Labour leader said ministers must “requisition” the houses to make sure those affected by the tragedy can still live locally.

He spoke out as MPs met for the first time to debate the aftermath of the inferno, which has so far left 17 people dead with the number of fatalities expected to rise considerably.


“The ward where this fire took place is, I think, the poorest ward in the whole country and properties must be found – requisitioned if necessary – to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.

“It can’t be acceptable that in London we have luxury buildings and luxury flats left empty as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live. We have to address these issues.”

In case you were wondering, the people made homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire are not going to be turfed out on the street. They will be rehoused by Kensington & Chelsea Council, in accordance with its statutory obligations. Mr Corbyn knows this perfectly well. The point of his remark was not to help these people but to use them as disposable weapons in his quest to breach the principle of secure property rights under law.

Socialists always start by seizing the property of the rich to give to the poor, because that’s where the votes are. They always end by seizing the property of the poor to give to the rich, because that’s where the money is.

Consider the People’s Republic of China:

From 2006:The big steal

In this and countless other cases, the spark for the conflict was the same: land seizures that made local officials rich and left dispossessed peasants fuming about injustice. This is the dark side of China’s spectacular economic development. In a shocking admission earlier this year, the director of law enforcement in the Land Ministry, Zhang Xinbao, said there have been more than a million cases of illegal land use in the past six years. Sometimes it is little more than armed robbery as police and gangsters use force to drive people off their property. More often, it is fraud, when local officials – bribed by developers – cheat the farmers of fair compensation.

From 2010: China violence over property seizures

Vehicles burn after hundreds of Chinese villagers battled with local police over a land seizure in Zhaotong, in southwest China’s Yunan province on November 2, 2010. Land seizures are frequently reported in China as officials and businesses seek to cash in on a property boom and forcibly remove residents to make way for new buildings or infrastructure projects.

Once the rule of law is breached, it is hard to fix again. Property rights are needed more by the poor than the rich. The rich have other resources.

When even ‘Communist’ China gets it…

I found this quite interesting:

On the face of it, China’s central bank has room to cut interest rates to try to lift the economy, but sources say evidence companies and banks are hoarding cash has reinforced policymakers’ view there is no major benefit in easing policy further.

The reluctance has also been shaped by the experience of Japan and the European Union. Despite much more aggressive easing policies than China, including negative interest rates, they have struggled to lift their economies out of the doldrums, these sources said.

And my reaction was to marvel… can it be true ‘Communist’ China is the only state to finally figure out the absurdity of modern mainstream thinking regarding interest rates? Every time Bank of England Governor Mark Carney opens his mouth, I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s purported definition of insanity. Is China really the only place the penny fen has finally dropped?

The weirdness of the modern world

The Chinese People’s Daily features an article called “The miracle called Communist Party of China”.

With uncensored comments.

A petal shakes upon the branch

“Japan reverts to fascism”, writes Josh Gelernter in the National Review. At first sight that seems excessive, but consider this:

This week, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners won a two-thirds majority in the legislature’s upper house, to go along with their two-thirds majority in the lower house. A two-thirds majority is required in each house to begin the process of amending Japan’s constitution. And amending the constitution is one of the central planks in the LDP’s platform. The constitution was imposed on Japan by the United States after the Second World War; it has never been amended. Why should it be amended now? As Bloomberg reports, the LDP has pointed out that “several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed.”

And this:

In just the last five years, Japan’s press freedom — as ranked by Reporters without Borders — has fallen from 11th globally to 72nd. The new draft constitution adds a warning that “the people must be conscious of the fact that there are responsibilities and obligations in compensation for freedom and rights.” These “obligations” include the mandate to “uphold the [new] constitution” and “respect the national anthem” quoted above. 

In the long run I am confident that a liberal order – “liberal” in an older and better sense than that currently in use in the United States – can be adapted to most human cultures. Where it can duly make them rich and not have massive infant mortality and massacres and stuff. But it is disturbing to see the bearer of that standard in the East falter.

DMZ glass

I remain unapologetically fascinated by the Brexit phenomenon. The campaign, the result, and the aftermath of the result, are all things that I have been finding hugely diverting. It is already the greatest domestic political upheaval in my country during my lifetime, and not in a bad way. And that is not even to mention its possible impacts on Abroad.

But for the time being, what with the weekend approaching, here is a very Samizdata-ish photo which I would like to show you:


I took this photo last Sunday, at the home of our very own Michael Jennings, just after he had got back home from his latest jaunt. The receptacle it features is one of a set in which Michael served his guests a most agreeable round of drinks, the name and exact nature of which I forget, but which I do remember greatly enjoying. (I have a vague recollection of tea being involved, in some way. But that could be quite wrong.) I was sober enough to take this photo, and to get the glass in approximate focus, but not sober enough to get all of the glass in my picture.

Was this the expedition during which Michael acquired these glasses, or was it a later one? He probably said, but again, I don’t recall.

Demilitarized Zone. You can’t help thinking that this particular demilitarized zone is a hell of a lot more militarized than the word “demilitarised” ought to mean.

But what I really want to say is: cool, even though no ice was involved. I mean, being served a drink in a glass decorated with a barbed wire fence, topped off with more barbed wire in a roll. Cool? That’s downright frigid.

For some reason, this reminded me of a visit I once made to the home in Cornwall of my late uncle, the one who got parachuted into Yugoslavia during the war and who was as a result awarded an MC that he never talked about. On his mantelpiece, he had a miniature trophy on which were inscribed the words: “School of Psychological Warfare, Bangkok, with grateful thanks”, or words to that effect.

Alas, this was back in the 1970s and I did not then possess a digital camera. Nor was there then any means of showing people photos that was easy for them to ignore if they were not interested.

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