Sunday 31 May 2009

Big Brass Ones

I've been following Ai Weiwei since I read an interview with him about his architectural work on the Olypic stadium back in 2006, it really doesn't matter whether you agree with him or not - his sheer guts and fearlessness are striking. Well, it seems that the goons from the Ministry of State Security have finally got around to noticing that he's not exactly positive about the Chinese government and called him in for a little chat over tea. His response?

"Here’s a few words: Don’t come again to find me, I will not cooperate. If you must come, then bring your instrument of punishment."

ChinaSMACK under denial of service attack

Yes, I know, nothing will make the nationalistic fenqing who most probably pulled this little stunt off happier than seeing the expat-o-sphere whining about it, but this really cooks my goose. There's nothing I hate more than an attempt to censor something which was both fun and totally non-blameworthy by kill-joy dweebs. I had my own little bust-up with an over-sensitive individual earlier this year, his chosen method was to threaten legal action (although, for some reason, never against me), these guys prefer to get their robot computers to bombard the website out of existence, but it adds up to the same thing. Two things to note:

1) DoS is totally not the Chinese government's MO. This has to be a hacker attack.

2) It is impossible to believe that the hackers wouldn't first have tried to get ChinaSMACK blocked by the CCP-run Great Fire Wall if they really wanted to put it out of business. Why is ChinaSMACK still unblocked?

Give the link a try here.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

On Yield

As a physics graduate I've been following the discussion on the North Korean explosion over at with some interest.First, here's what the North Korean state media had to say:

KCNA Report on One More Successful Underground Nuclear Test
Pyongyang, May 25 (KCNA) -- The Korean Central News Agency released the following report on Monday in connection with one more successful underground nuclear test in the DPRK.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way as requested by its scientists and technicians.

The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control and the results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology.

The successful nuclear test is greatly inspiring the army and people of the DPRK all out in the 150-day campaign, intensifying the drive for effecting a new revolutionary surge to open the gate to a thriving nation.

The test will contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the region around it with the might of Songun.

Here's two important points - the first from commenter JF:

the equation [for yield Y] is
M = a + b log Y
where a and b are empirically determined constants

for Novaya Zemlya [the Russian testing ground], the eqn would be
M = 4.45 + 0.75 log Y
this gives a yield Y of 2.2 kt

for Nevada Test Site, it would be
M = 3.92 + 0.81 log Y
this gives a Y of 9.2 kt

Nobody has calibrated the North Korean test site and so the empirical constants can only be guessed (or chosen to give the yield you wish to claim)

Which brings us to our second point from Über-wonk Geoffrey Forden - the importance of calculating the yield:

If they had gone with the “fail safe” WWII design [i.e., one with a 20 Kiloton yield], it would probably mean it was too heavy to mount on a missile. They would be making a political bomb that would undoubtedly use a lot of high explosive to ensure it got a good compression of the plutonium pit. The 4 KT bomb, however, might very well fit on a DPRK missile. If they have stayed with this design, it probably indicates that weaponising it is even more important than ensuring a successful test.

Using data from the 1998 India-Pakistan tests a yield of ~4 kilotons has been calculated, which would indicate that this is not a political 'for show' bomb, but another step in developing a bomb capable of being mounted in a long-range missile. Indeed, this is exactly what the North Koreans said they would do after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued its resolution after the failed 'satellite' launch earlier this year:

The UNSC should promptly make an apology for having infringed the sovereignty of the DPRK and withdraw all its unreasonable and discriminative "resolutions" and decisions adopted against the DPRK.

This is the only way for it to regain confidence of the UN member nations and fulfill its responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, not serving as a tool for the U.S. highhanded and arbitrary practices any longer.

In case the UNSC does not make an immediate apology, such actions will be taken as:

Firstly, the DPRK will be compelled to take additional self-defensive measures in order to defend its supreme interests.

The measures will include nuclear tests and test-firings of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Secondly, the DPRK will make a decision to build a light water reactor power plant and start the technological development for ensuring self-production of nuclear fuel as its first process without delay.

[emphasis added]

As Totalwonkerr Joshua Pollack put it: "We are now at one nuclear test and counting."

Saturday 23 May 2009

Memories of Jiang Ning

Last Wednesday rioting broke out at the Jiang Ning campus of Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics, where I worked during my first 6 months in China back at the start of 2003. I haven't been back there in years, but the "city management" - the Chengguan, a bunch of uniformed thugs who are supposed to maintain 'order' - don't seem to have changed at all. According to this report the riot started as a result of students who were selling items at the side of the road being beaten by the Chengguan. People in China will be familiar with this kind of event, but to anyone who's wondering:

1) These students will almost certainly not be pro-democracy or anti-government in any serious way. In fact, they're way more pro-government than the average Chinese person is, at least they were when I was there. If this pro-government stance is somewhat brittle, it is as much because the students involved have almost nothing in the way of a meaningful political education as to the nature of their government, doublethink reigns supreme.

2) Things like this often occur without making the news. There were riots outside Nanjing University of Finance and Economics back in 2004 that were not reported anywhere as far as I am aware - it is probably only the approaching 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen square massacre that makes this noteworthy.

3) These students will be motivated by boredom as much as anything else, as stupid as it seems to say this - there literally is nothing to do except study in Jiang Ning. The students there all wished they lived at the city centre campus and are somewhat disgruntled as a result. Many too are three-year students and would rather not be studying, but do so because their parents insist.

4) This has absolutely nothing to do with the 20th anniversary. Very few of the students will be anything but vaguely aware of the events leading up to the massacre, if asked they would probably think it strange that anyone might make that comparison.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

"The more things change . . ." (UPDATE)

Back in February I linked to a Times report on the muzzling of a British court that wished to disclose the facts surrounding the torture of Binyam Mohammed by both the current and previous US administrations by threatening to cut off intelligence-sharing. At the time some doubt was voiced by a commenter as to whether the Obama administration really had issued such a warning, well wonder no longer:

If it is determined that HMG [Her majesty's government] is unable to protect the information that we provide to it,even if that inability is caused by its judicial system, we will necessarily have to review with the greatest care the sensitivity of information we can provide in future

In other words: "Shut the hell up otherwise the next time we hear about a terrorist attack that's going to happen in the UK, we might just forget to tell you". This is not to say that the British government is spotless in this, far from it, but when you see how low our so-called "special relationship" with the US has brought us, it really is time we reconsidered how closely we want to work with a government with such low regard for the rule of law.

[Update]: This analysis is also valid -

If I had to guess here -- and it's only a guess -- it seems clear that the British Government does not want these facts disclosed. After all, Mohamed's allegation is that British government agents broke the law by collaborating in his torture. The British Government needs a reason to justify to its High Court concealment of the details of what was done to Mohamed, and being able to point to a "national security harm" from disclosure (i.e., the U.S. is threatening to cease intelligence-sharing) provides that excuse. Since both the British and U.S. Governments obviously prefer that evidence of Mohamed's torture be concealed, it is not difficult to envision the Obama administration happily cooperating (as the Bush administration did) by providing the British with whatever they need to justify ongoing concealment of this evidence (if you need us to say that we'll cut off intelligence-sharing with you in the event of disclosure, here's a letter saying that). In other words, this isn't really a case of the U.S. Government genuinely threatening Britain as much as it is the two governments collaborating to provide the British government with an excuse to justify concealment, on national security grounds, of the facts of Mohamed's torture.

The European Convention on Human Rights places a non-derogatable duty on the British government to protect all citizens and residents from torture, and to punish those who engage in it. Appeal to the Strasbourg Court is very likely to occur as a result of this, and the ruling is unlikely to be favourable to those in power. However, given the time necessary for such a decision to be reached, and high likelihood of a Labour defeat in next year's election, it may be immaterial at least in political terms.

No Why

Posting in the spirit of "没有为什么", there is something bizarrely magnificent about this video:

Thursday 7 May 2009

Locking Up Mexicans

This story has probably had more coverage that it really deserves, but in case you missed it, there was a recent kerfuffle surrounding the Chinese government's decision to respond to the outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico by placing all Mexican residents in quarantine, including those who have been out of Mexico for many months. All the same, it does tell us something interesting about how these kinds of decisions are made:

1) The complete ineffective nature of this measure hardly needs to be pointed out - any half-decent epidemiologist could have told them. This decision was therefore almost certainly taken without reference to expert advice - of which China could hardly be short.

2) It is hard to believe that the people who were in charge of China's measured, targeted, and scientific response to Bird Flu were in charge of this. This smacks much more of the over-the-top response to SARS - something which came from the very top. It seems likely that this decision was made high up and by a very few people.

3) Measure this also against other areas of Chinese policy making, particularly economic policy in which China has been much praised, and you have the suggestion of isolated groupings within government at the highest level surrounding various ministries which do not communicate. Now, there is nothing that surprising about this as it is found in all governments, but in China it seems particularly acute.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

"the greatest people that have ever trod this earth"

Brilliant piece by Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates on nationalism, racism, and lazy thinking in the Southern United States. Money quote:

Of course the problem with mental corruption is that it doesn't really respect borders. There's a short step from Farrakhanesque numerology to believing in little green men. Likewise, a group conditioned to, at once, believe that they are "the greatest people that have ever trod this earth," that the stars and bars actually stand for barbecue, NASCAR and rugged individualism, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, are exactly the sort of people conditioned to believe that man once hunted dinosaurs, that Obama is (all at once) a radical Christian and a closet Muslim, that global warming is a liberal hoax, that a neurogical diagnoses can be done via video-tape. To be sure, history is littered with smart, well-read racists.But they weren't any smarter for it.

One doesn't need to have ever been to the Southern US to know exactly what he is talking about, he is talking about the desire, even amongst intelligent people, to use mental short-cuts whereby all the arguments one is inclined to disagree with the most can be waved into bins where they require no more attention. Intelligence doesn't make you immune to laziness, in fact it can often allow people to invent new ways to deceive themselves.