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]

Samizdata quote of the day

“By stifling his criticisms of human rights-abusing regimes, what Donald Trump may see as the projection of strength is surely viewed by America’s adversaries as weakness. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blames the United States for an attempted coup against his regime, and Trump calls to congratulate him on his suspicious election victory. North Korea murders and purges its nuclear negotiators and Trump gives Kim Jong-un a photo op on North Korean soil. Vladimir Putin counters American geopolitical and economic interests at nearly every turn, and the president can’t bring himself to say a bad word about the autocrat in the Kremlin. What American interest is being advanced by this servility?”

Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine.

Terrible arguments excusing what is going on in Hong Kong

On social media I have come across this sort of “argument” used to justify Beijing’s attempt to put its boot fully on the face of people in Hong Kong:

Britain has no right to interfere in any way, even to protest. That’s because the evil British conquered Hong Kong in the 19th Century, got the locals hooked on opium, and ran it as a colony. Colonies are evil, even if they have the benefits of the English Common Law, reasonably non-corrupt officialdom, and all the rest of it. So it is better that Hong Kong be taken over and turned into the rest of China, with all its charming qualities.

If I wanted to engage in “whataboutery”, I could respond (and did, to wind up a couple of particularly nasty interloctors) with the following points:

China has conquered places of its own. Its treatment of Muslims, Christians and others in different parts of China, including the use of internment camps, etc, has been a disgrace. If today’s Chinese want to play the imperial victim card about Scotsmen taking over Hong Kong and turning it into a capitalist dynamo, they might want to look in the mirror a bit first.

China is a repressive state – and while by far from being unique in that regard, its practices (organ harvesting, internment, intense state surveillance, etc, etc) makes it an egregiously bad place by any sort of pro-liberty metric. Whatever the real or alleged sins of the British Empire, what is happening now is clearly a threat to liberty, and we should judge it on its merits.

There is also a curious sort of moral inversion one sees here. A place (Hong Kong) is a former colony and another place (China) takes it back from said former imperial power. Hong Kong is gradually squeezed; there are protests, and the fears of protestors are widely discussed. And the best that those who try to defend China is to say “oh, but Opium Wars!”

Of course, there is a distinct possibility that some of the people making the Opium War point are in fact bots produced by the Chinese state, or trolls working for Beijing. That point cannot be ruled out.

Imagine there’s no countries

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine, John Lennon

The Times editorial I am about to quote, like John Lennon’s much-loved song, begins with the word “Imagine”. It describes a little incident, seemingly unimportant to all but those most directly affected, that took in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. At least, Vanuatu calls itself a nation, and it has a flag and a seat at the UN and all the paraphernalia of a nation, but it seems to have decided that it no longer wishes to function as a separate state. A little incident that took place there four days ago gives a preview of what Lennon’s dream of a world where borders did not matter would really be like.

Imagine for a moment that last Friday a charter flight full of police officers from a foreign power landed at Heathrow. Picture those officers then driving to a series of addresses, identifying four British and two foreign citizens and then, declining to tell British authorities on what grounds they were taking this action, detaining them and forcing them on board the aircraft, which then took off. What might we call such behaviour?

This exact scenario was played out just before the weekend in the South Pacific republic of Vanuatu. Vanuatu might be the answer to a quiz question, but though it has a population the size of Hull it is also an independent sovereign country and a democracy. Nevertheless, last week the Chinese government sent officials to Vanuatu and arrested five men and one woman, all of Chinese ethnicity.

That the republic’s government was complicit in these arrests makes the position more and not less worrying. Before the Chinese police arrived it is reported that the six had been held without charge for several days on the premises of a Chinese company. Though the Chinese informed the government that their officers possessed Chinese arrest warrants, neither the islanders nor anyone else has been told what the charges actually are. In spite of this, local police assisted with the accompanying of the detained individuals to the China-bound aircraft.

Almost incredibly the internal affairs minister of Vanuatu has told the press that the reason why the six detainees did not appear before a Vanuatu judge was that they were not charged with any crime in the territory. Presumably if they had been then they would have had their day in court. As it is the minister has, in effect, connived at an abduction of his own citizens by a foreign power almost certainly in contravention of his country’s laws.

The South China Morning Post report on the same story is quite bold to make an explicit link to the protests in Hong Kong against the proposed bill allowing extradition to mainland China, given that the newspaper has itself been subject to pressure from Beijing.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When the U.K. handed back control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised the city that it could maintain an independent legal system, democratic freedoms and a “high degree of autonomy” for at least 50 years. This “One Country, Two Systems” formula has underpinned the city’s success because it allowed Hong Kong to maintain access to global markets as a separate, law-abiding and free-trading member of the World Trade Organization. But as President Xi Jinping has concentrated more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, Hong Kong’s autonomy – and therefore its economic raison d’etre – has come under ever greater threat.”

Ben Bland.

My expectation is that if China does indeed fully crush what autonomy Hong Kong has, business will flee to the benefit of Singapore, mainly, and possibly other jurisdictions along the Pacific Rim. It will be commercially dumb of China to do this, but bear in mind that what is dumb commercially is not always dumb if your main agenda is nationalism and being a general asshole. In the meantime, I will go to Hong Kong and do business there and have a good time, but I fear the good times aren’t going to last forever.

Lego vs Lepin

I like Lego. It is nostalgic. It is a good quality product: the bricks fit together just so. It has a certain feel to it. I like the product design. I like the Ninjago and the Technic. I like the movies. I do not want Lego to change. I do not want to hear about them taking the monosodium glutamate out of the bricks to save the environment because I know the world will be a worse place as a result: the bricks will not feel the same or they will not last as long or they will not fit together in quite the same way. I get warm fuzzy feelings about the company. I do not want them cutting costs or laying off staff or going out of business.

I do not like Lepin. Lepin is a Chinese company who copy Lego sets piece for piece, slightly change the artwork into a bizarre alternate reality version of the original artwork, and sell them for a fraction of the price. It is an inferior product: the bricks do not fit together so well, the plastic is not so durable, there is probably a greater chance of having a set with a missing piece, there are reports of strange residue on the bricks. More importantly, if other consumers do not mind these things as much as I do and do not love genuine original Lego as much as I do, I am more likely to find myself living in a universe where original genuine Lego is not as good as it is now because it is pressured into cost-cutting, just as I find myself living in a universe where Nik Naks don’t contain monosodium glutamate for some unfathomable reason.

Chinese police raided Lepin factories in China, arrested people and seized goods. Now people are saying that Lepin is no more. It is the end of Lepin and Lego is saved. Hurray!

But I am not sure how happy to be about state violence against non-violent people who did no more than copy an idea. I am ambivalent about intellectual property. Lepin did not take anything that Lego had not already given away the moment they published their designs. A lot of activists complain about digital rights management. I see it as an elegant non-violent method to preserve a revenue stream for a product that is by its nature infinitely copy-able. DRM is much better than inducing the state to lock up people who threaten your business model. It does not really work for designs for physical objects but despite my concerns above I am not convinced this is a big enough problem to warrant a large state apparatus just to solve it. Lepin bricks are, after all, only viable because they are cheaper, and only cheaper because they are inferior. As much as I enjoy living in a universe with monosodium glutamate snacks and real Lego, raids and arrests and seizures is not a good price to pay for this.

Another question that arises out of this: why now? Is the Chinese state making a renewed effort to align with the rest of the western world’s ideas about intellectual property, or did the owners of the Lepin factory recently stop paying their dues to the state?

Samizdata quote of the day

This is an amazing piece. To censor China’s internet, the censors have to be taught the real version of Chinese history so that they know what to block.

Mike Bird comments on this piece in the New York Times.

China’s hardware hack: massive implications if true

Bloomberg is running an utterly astounding story about a massive Chinese hardware hack that if true will have considerable political impact but truly enormous economic implications.

This will have a long-term bearish effect on China’s hitherto unchallengeable position as the overwhelmingly dominant manufacturer of computers, phones and high tech IT component.

And yet… I hesitate to immediately take this entire story at face value, precisely because the geo-political/economic implications are so dramatic that I can hear the sound of a great many axes grinding.

Still, it is certainly something I can well believe the Chinese government would do, even with the associated risk to China’s IT marketability. But then the same is probably true of the US government, I would not put such a thing past them either.

Samizdata quote of the day

Forty years ago, in 1978, 18 farmers from the village of Xiaogang in China, met at night in secret. They had seen subsistence and famine. Exhausted and emaciated, they lacked the energy to work the collective fields as Party discipline required. A few years earlier they had seen 67 of their 120 population starve to death in the “Great Leap Forward” Now they took matters into their own hands. By flickering lights (none had seen electricity), they came forward in turn to sign a document dividing up the collective farm into individual family plots, whose owners could keep most of the proceeds of their labours.

They knew the dangers, and added a clause to the contract pledging that if any were betrayed and executed, the others would raise their children until aged 18. Following that historic contract, the village produced more food next harvest than it had in the previous 5 years combined.

Madsen Pirie

Samizdata quote of the day

Key to the party’s operations in Australia is collapsing the categories of Chinese Communist Party, China, and the Chinese people into a single organic whole—until the point where the party can be dropped from polite conversation altogether. The conflation means that critics of the party’s activities can be readily caricatured and attacked as anti-China, anti-Chinese, and Sinophobic—labels that polarize and kill productive conversation. And it is only a short logical step to claim all ethnic Chinese people as “sons and daughters of the motherland,” regardless of citizenship.

John Garnaut

Samizdata… er… Chinese word of the day: Baizuo

The word baizuo is, according to political scientist Zhang Chenchen, a Chinese word that ridicules Western “liberal elites”. He further defined the word “baizuo” with the definition “People who only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”. The term has also been used to refer to perceived double standards of the Western media, such as the alleged bias on reporting about Islamist attacks in Xinjiang.

The use of the word “Baizuo” could be an insult on the Chinese Internet.

Wikipedia

Noted 😀

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.