Google replies to Kim’s ‘thanks but no thanks’

editor's insight

Nevil Gibson

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has sent a neat reply to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s “thanks but no thanks” during a futile visit at New Year.

Google now has two means by which the world can look right into North Korea and consider a response to today’s equivalent of Hitler’s death camps and Stalin’s gulags – neither of which were believed or exposed before millions had died.

Google, of course, has changed that. But it remains to be seen what will done, despite the recent UN human rights report (see Editor’s Insight, "Time's up for Kim's kingdom").

Meanwhile, Google Earth has allowed human rights campaigners to identify previously hidden labour camps, where the UN says an estimated 200,000 people in a series of camps are condemned to a life of brutality, forced labour, torture and malnutrition.

Ireland’s RTE has a comprehensive report, as does Daily Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley. Both credit Washington lawyer Joshua Stanton’s excellent blog, where he identifies images of guard houses, burial grounds and mine fields along with just about anything else interesting in North Korea.

Mr Stanton has corroborated the images through interviews with former political prisoners. The latest edition of The Hidden Gulag (first published in 2003), pays this tribute to Mr Schmidt’s app:

“The dramatically improved, higher resolution satellite imagery now available through Google Earth allows the former prisoners to identify their former barracks and houses, their former execution grounds, and other landmarks in the camps.”

Meanwhile, Google Maps has produced its first maps of North Korea showing city-sized gulags as well as the streets and landmarks of Pyonyang. Much of this has been contributed through the Map Maker development program.

These are less detailed than Mr Stanton’s blog or the work of Curtis Melvin, who has helped put together of digital atlas of North Korea.

Making macro-economic sense
Sick of hearing about the Left’s calls to debase the New Zealand dollar, print money like crazy and basically destroy the country’s wealth?

Well, some economists in the US aren’t keen on that happening there either and some have broken ranks from the swooning before the US Federal Reserve.

One is John B Taylor, a Stanford professor, who is an expert in how central banks should set interest rates. In a new op-ed, published in the Wall Street Journal, he says the Fed’s zero interest-rate policy is actually delivering what it is supposed to cure: lack of demand and more investment.

He answers the defenders of the Fed’s policy – that the benefits outweigh the costs because the ultra-low interest rates and asset purchases reduce unemployment by increasing aggregate demand – by arguing that the macro-economic models used to justify it “are not designed and are not useful for evaluating the Fed's unconventional policies of the past few years.”

“Instead, a basic microeconomic analysis shows that the policies perversely decrease aggregate demand and increase unemployment while they repress the classic signalling and incentive effects of the price system.”

It may be impossible to convince the determined peddlers of economic snake oil otherwise but you will be much wiser after reading Professor Taylor’s lucid article.

Fortunately, Professor Taylor says there is hope: that likely economic growth will result in fewer Fed interventions and perhaps halt asset purchases:

“This will bolster growth and help put the economy on a sustained recovery path.”

It is likely New Zealand’s refusal to imitate Fed policy that is responsible for our economy not going into reverse. Now there’s a good argument to have with Labour and the Greens.

Malice in Mali – Part II
A couple of weeks ago, I warned the western media would soon be bagging France’s military intervention to save the Saharan state of Mali from an Islamic takeover as another Vietnam.

At the time I said jihadists’ tactics would be to withdraw against superior force and then resume their struggle with guerrilla tactics, including suicide bombers, while waiting for the BBC, Al Jazerra et al to swing public opinion against “colonial occupation.”

Sure enough, reports – such as the revival of Timbuktu – have hailed the French success and the gratitude of the locals for getting rid of fanatical Muslims and restoring a more acceptable form of  government.

Yet, equally sure enough, the same British newspaper (The Independent) also reports:

Britain’s growing military commitment to Mali and West Africa is likely to pass 400 within a matter of weeks, sparking fears of “mission creep” and cross-party criticism that UK forces are being sucked into a Vietnam-style conflict without a defined exit strategy.

The Daily Telegraph has an almost identical report, revealing most of the opposition comes from the Left. But expect these reports to mount as the jihadists regroup and play for time with their media friends.

Warfare and the tribal society
Jared Diamond is justly recognised for his bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steel (1997) and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005).

Primarily a geographer, he also draws on a variety of other fields such as anthropology, ecology and evolutionary biology.

Like these, his latest work, The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn From Traditional Societies, covers a lot of ground. But perhaps the most interesting sections are those backing up Steven Pinker’s study of violence and how civilised countries have overcome it, The Better Angels of Our Nature.

In his New York Times review, David Brooks highlights perceptions of warfare in today’s world and that of tribal societies:

The most obvious difference between us is that pre-state tribal societies are just a lot more violent. Especially in fertile areas where land is valuable, people often can’t wander beyond closely prescribed borders. The cycle of raids and revenge-driven counterraids goes on and on.

Diamond describes a 1961 war between two tribal alliances in New Guinea. The individual battles don’t seem ferocious. Groups of 400 or 500 warriors faced off at a distance of 65 feet. They threw spears and shot arrows at each other in uncoordinated fashion. Frequently there would be an ambush and, sometimes, a massacre of women and children.

The problem is that the warfare was constant, and over time the casualties added up. Between April and September 1961, 0.14% of the alliances’ total population was killed in this war. Expressed as a percentage of the population killed per month, that rate, even though it represents a period of low-level hostilities in the war, rivals or exceeds the average war-related death rates suffered by China, Japan, the United States or the European countries over the century that included World Wars I and II.

Nation states occasionally engage in vast, hellacious wars, but these are rare. Most people in nation states feel qualms about killing another human being and have been taught to restrain their lust for revenge.

People in many tribal societies, Diamond writes, do not share these attitudes. Without central governments, they have trouble bringing wars to an end. They live in peril. The highest war-related death rates for modern societies (Russia and Germany during the 20th century) are only a third of the average death rates of tribal societies. Modern societies average war-related death rates that are about one-tenth as high as tribal societies.

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