Banned Imports to North Korea

It has been widely reported that the sale of “luxury goods” (奢侈品) to North Korea has been panned by the Japanese government, but I have seen only example of what “luxury goods” consists of in the English media. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has a complete list avaliable on their web site(PDF), dated November 14. See below for my rough translation of this list.

As you read this list, consider which of them is so essential and valuable that you would not be willing to trade it for a nuclear bomb.

Continue reading Banned Imports to North Korea

It’s getting hard to keep track of all these Big Brothers

Periodically, the Japanese government has decided to fingerprint all resident foreigners as part of the alien registration process. This would invariably raise many complaints from the foreign community, since people didn’t appreciate the “criminal” treatment. Well, this was in the latest newsletter from the US Embassy in Tokyo:


Every so often we, at the Embassy and Consulates, receive requests from people who need a copy of their fingerprints to apply for a specialized license in the U.S. Recently we started receiving similar requests in relation to the extension of the long-term resident permit in Japan.

We verified with the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice that as of April 2006, foreign long-term residents must provide the Japanese authorities with a copy of their criminal history record to extend their visa. In order to obtain such a record, Americans have to provide the FBI with a copy of their fingerprints.

We used to refer such requests for fingerprints to the local Japanese police, but in most cases the police have stopped offering this service. Since the Embassy does not provide this service, Americans needing a copy of their fingerprints should follow the guidance listed online here.

So now I have to say that the Japanese government is better, because at least they use bicycles and cute image characters to track my sedition.

Allow Japanese nukes?

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has a silly and misinformed column arguing that the US needs to allow Japan to arm themselves with nuclear weapons to protect against North Korea. Right. The nuclear weapons program that Japan has been longing for all these years and has only refrained from starting because of US pressure.

Japan is a true anomaly. All the other Great Powers went nuclear decades ago — even the once-and-no-longer great, such as France; the wannabe great, such as India; and the never-will-be great, such as North Korea. There are nukes in the hands of Pakistan, which overnight could turn into an al-Qaeda state, and North Korea

I’m frankly surprised at how bad his reasoning is in this column, how much it sounds like the writing of an enthusiastic but narrowly informed freshman in Poly-sci class.

The fact of the matter is that Japan does not have nuclear weapons because the Japanese population is almost unanimously opposed to the idea. Yes, a couple of higherups in the LDP have suggested the idea of maybe talking about considering discussion of the issue, but quite frankly I cannot think of a better way for them to finally start losing elections seriously than to make the acquisition of nuclear weapons part of their official party policy.

His last paragraph is particularly absurd.

Why are we so intent on denying this stable, reliable, democratic ally the means to help us shoulder the burden in a world where so many other allies — the inveterately appeasing South Koreans most notoriously — insist on the free ride?

This is a mind boggling reversal of reality. Yes, South Korea has been friendly to North Korea. (Unlike some people they actually have to live next door to the crazy man with the gun, which suggests a different perspective from the other side of the Pacific.) But they also have a draft for all adult males, which can hardly be a free ride. Not to mention that fact that South Korea actually DID have a program to develop nukes a couple of decades back, which the US forced them to abandon.

On the other hand, Japan actually DID have a long-term policy of insisting on a free ride. Following the end of the US occupation, the US actually tried to persuade the Japanese government to abandon the principle of pacificism that the US had forced on them only a few years before, and rebuild their military so that they could participate in the Korean war. Japan refused to have even a token military for many years, using the pacifist constitution as an excuse to keep from spending any national resources, capital or human, on military or weapons-a policy that was partly responsible for the country’s fantastic industrial development.

Cold economics were of course not the only reason for Japan to keep from investing in a military for so long. After the disastrous defeat of World War II, culminating in the only use of a nuclear weapon so far, were was also a widespread belief that war was a failed strategy for national success, and that lesson has over the decades transformed into a very strong and nearly universal value of national pacifism.

I see political campaign posters every day calling for the protection of the pacifism clause of the constitution (Article 9), and anti-war and especially anti-nuclear messages are more common and mainstream here than in any other country of which I am aware. In fact, I have never even seen a public protest or demonstration in Japan that did not include that message in some capacity.

I think this comment left by some Japanese person on the Washington Post site says it well.

Get a grip Charlie. While there is an active right wing here of course, the majority in this country where I live is so opposed to nuclear weapons that it would defy your comprehension. Many people here would simply choose non-existence total elimination of both the nation and state of Japan over nuclear weapons possession, let alone use. The Japanese government would run out of fire hoses to put down the demonstrations. Calls for a nuclear Japan are still very premature, and indicate a lack of familiarity with the culture. It aint gonna happen anytime soon.

I think the bit about choosing “non-existence total elimination of both the nation and state of Japan” is frankly over the top, and if Japan were faced for some reason with a genuine war they would came around to full acceptance of their military, but not as things stand now.

Japan’s best offense is their lack of capability for offense. Yes, North Korea distrusts Japan more than anyone, but even they know that Japan is bound by their constitution, laws, and tradition not to use their military for combat purposes unless they are attacked first. North Korea does have to worry about the very real (if unlikely) threat of military action on the part of the US, South Korea or even China, but as long as they do not attack Japan first, Japan is no threat to them-and that more than anything else is what keeps Japan safe today.

[Addendum]: I should have mentioned that the policy of specifically relying on US military protection and instead developing the industrial economy is not a theory of mine, but the Yoshida Doctrine, named after the postwar Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida , who was incidentally Aso’s grandfather.

At least it didn’t have liquid in it

Copyright be damned, this one is best in its entirety:

Man accused of telling US airport security penis pump was a bomb

CHICAGO (AP) — Prosecutors say a 29-year-old man traveling with his mother desperately did not want her to know he had packed a sexual aid for their trip to Turkey.

So he told security it was a bomb, officials said.

Madin Azad Amin was stopped by officials on Aug. 16 after guards found an object in his baggage that resembled a grenade, prosecutors said.

When officers asked him to identify it, Amin said it was a bomb, said Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto.

He later told officials he lied about the item because his mother was nearby and he did not want her to hear that it was part of a penis pump, Scaduto said.

Amin has been charged with felony disorderly conduct, said Andrew Conklin, a spokesman with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Amin faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

UPDATE: What actually happened was that he tried to say “pump” in a really bad Arabic accent and it came out sounding like “bomb.”

Liquid terrorism

Andrew Sullivan says that the most interesting thing about the recently foiled terror plot is that the terrorists were planning on using “liquids” of some kind in the attack. Since the authorities are still being tight-lipped about the actual details of the attack we have no idea what exactly that liquid was, but there are a number of possibilities. Andrew’s pet theory seems to be that they were using a device that combines liquids from two different chambers to create hydrogen-cyanide gas. According to this BBC article, it was in fact liquid explosives, with electronic detonators hidden inside portable devices, which presumably would be dis and reassembled within the plane.

Whatever the exact nature of the liquid being used in this particular attack was, there is one major past terrorist attack perpetrated through the release of liquids inside a vehicle. I am of course talking about the Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo subway sarin gas attack of March 20, 1995.

Earlier this year I had a large translation project in which I translated a couple of hundred pages of Aum Shinrikyo related material, including a large portion of Aum and I by Ikuo Hayashi, a medical doctor and member of the cult, who participated in the sarin release. Below are some excerpts describing the preparation for, and actual release of the sarin inside the subway.
Continue reading Liquid terrorism

Koizumi has one thing to thank Kim Jong Il for

The Asahi reports that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, while having a dinner meeting with attendants including LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe on the evening of July 6th said, “I’m glad that the Taepodong didn’t come flying while I was at Elvis’s estate.” One attendee said in response, “The Prime Minster does have good luck,” to which several others agreed.

Earlier post on the PMs visit to Graceland here.

Hell on wheels

USA Today has a report on the new mobile execution chambers being gradually introduced in China to replace the older execution method of shooting people in the back of the head with something more humane. By installing the lethal injection equipment in a slick looking bus they can perform executions right at the location of the trial, without having to transport prisoners all the way to a central execution facility or set up equipment in each locality. As a bonus, they can also send the bus to drive around your house at night as a subtle reminder to stay on the right path.

Reason fails again in US government

No sooner do I write about the misinformed campaign against Chinese PCs being carried out by certain members of the US Congress then the State Department announces that none of the 16,000 machines being purchased from Lenovo will be connected to any high security networks or used to process any classified data.

As the NYT article says:

Long story short, an influential member of Congress played the China card, and the State Department folded.

It was a drama that reached a conclusion late last week, when the State Department, responding to fears that its security might be breached by a secretly placed device or hidden software, agreed to keep personal computers made by Lenovo of China off its networks that handle classified government messages and documents.

The damage to Lenovo is more to its reputation than to its pocketbook. The State Department will use the 16,000 desktop computers it purchased from Lenovo, just not on the computer networks that carry sensitive government intelligence.

I previously mentioned the absurdity of even trying to find computer constructed outside of China, as well as the somewhat unlikely prospect that Chinese trojans could be hidden in the systems without being located. Well, naturally Lenovo agrees with me about that, but there’s more. Jeffrey Carlisle, vice president of government relations for Lenovo, describes

the worry that the Chinese government might secretly slip spying hardware or software on Lenovo computers shipped to the State Department as “a fantasy.” The desktop machines, he said, will be made in Monterrey, Mexico, and Raleigh, N.C., at plants purchased from I.B.M.

“It’s the same places, using the same processes as I.B.M. had,” Mr. Carlisle said. “Nothing’s changed.”

So despite everything, by going to a company partially owned by the Chinese government (and not incidentally, also partly owned by IBM, and by other American and non-governmental foreign investors) they are actually getting one of the few sources of computers NOT made in China! Do they now think that the former IBM executives and engineers that run the Mexican and Raleigh plants are now agents of the Chinese government just because of who owns some of the stock? This notion of Communist Party control over Lenovo just seems so overblown. According to Wikipedia the actual breakdown is “as of May 1, 2005 35.2% of Lenovo was owned by public shareholders, 45.9% by Legend Holdings Limited, and 18.9% by IBM.”

Furthermore, the headquarters of the company is located in New York State and is planning to relocate to Raleigh, where the Thinkpad group is based. Yes, the Chinese government owns a large chunk of Lenovo through Legend Holdings Limited. While the corporate entity known as Lenovo may have originated in China with government backing, it has transmuted into a very 21st century transnational company, in which the Chinese government is merely a stockholder. Certainly with the force of authoritarian Chinese law behind them the CCP could do much to control operations within China, but I find very little credible reason to believe that a minority stockholder would be able to exert the level of influence necessary to illegally alter the designs of systems in a way that would be economically suicidal if uncovered at a factory in Raleigh N.C. formerly owned by IBM and managed from the Purchase, NY headquarters.

I have a Mac Classic in my attic that you could use

It has been just about two months since I last discussed the Congressional revolt against Chinese manufactured computers and for a while I thought that perhaps the story was dead, but leave it to a Congress member to not merely flog, but actually hitch his wagon to a dead horse. is running an AP story saying that the State Department has declared that the 16,000 computers they purchased from Lenovo will not be used for classified work. This followed a complaint by Virgina Representative Frank Wolf, who while he may have been elected to represent the good people of Virgina, seems unlikely to qualify for a job setting up internet connections at people’s homes.

The government, Griffin wrote, is committed to making sure the purchase from Lenovo, the world’s No. 3 PC maker, will not “compromise our information and communication channels.”

Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House subcommittee that finances State Department operations, said he raised alarms after he discovered that officials planned to use at least 900 of the computers in classified work and at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. That, he said, possibly could give China access to sensitive U.S. information.

While there may in fact be a miniscule theoretical possiblity of a security breach resulting from some sort of clever trojan hidden deep in the firmware of a China manufactured computer (such as if State were stupid enough to use the Lenovo security chip), there is something unaccounted for by Mr. Wolf that would prevent them from buying computers entirely manufactured inside the United States. Namely, there aren’t any.

As a chart in this piece at illustrates, over the past several years every single PC manufacturer, whether Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese or even American, has come to do at least some of their manufacturing and basically all of their final assembly in China.

Unfortunately for Representative Wolf, banning the purchase of computers manufactured in China essentially means banning the purchase of computers. At least, unless he wants the government to trove attics and garage sales to collect 1980s models like my old Mac Classic.

But as for the real issue of whether or not manufacturing in China is a security risk. I would have to say, not particularly. While the computers may be “made” in China, they aren’t designed there. Just because a piece of electronics has “Made in China” stamped on its outer shell does not mean that the entire contents was made in China, only that the case was. But while the system may have been assembled and some of the components manufactured there, virtually none of the highest tech components responsible for the actual processing of the computer are made there.

Does it seem likely that it is possible to add a trojan to imported AMD chips made in Germany, or modify the design of an Nvidia chipset, designed in California and manufactured in Shenzhen, China by a Taiwanese company, so that it stealthily transmits keystrokes over the internet to Chinese servers?

Regardless of where the hardware is from, while the systems are preconfigured by the maker, we can assume the State’s IT department will wipe the hard drive and reinstall their own carefully tweaked (hopefully) secure disk image, and then replace the BIOS and firmware with vetted software written by the American or Taiwanese companies that actually designed the components.

Plumber wanted

I get a couple of email newsletters on jobs in Japan. I noticed that today’s Gaijinpot has the following job listing.

Shin-ei is looking for a Plumber who has at least more than 5 years of experience. Must be experienced in welding and plumbing works.

Plumbing work for the American Embassy building facilities.

Salary is negotiable based on your skill

Working hrs:

Why do they need a foreigner to do the plumbing? Are they flushing classified documents down the toilet?