Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Diaoyutai/Senkuka Islands (East China Sea) Dispute and a Way to Peace, Part 1 of 2

     The Diaoyutai Islands—known in Japan as the Senkukas—is as unfamiliar to most people today as Archduke Ferdinand was to his contemporaries in 1914.  Just as it was in 1914, an accidental (or deliberate) spark in the vicinity of that tinderbox can start a major war than no one other than international bankers could want.
     Three nations—Taiwan, Japan, and China—claim the Diaoyutais/Senkukas as their sovereign territory.  All three nations make historical claims to the one island and the seven rocky islets in that archipelago.  Taiwan and Japan both point to treaties and other official documents to bolster their claims.  I briefly alluded to them in the October 15, 2010, American Action Report article “The Diaoyutais:  Whose are They?”  In fact, the issue is extremely complicated, and there’s no telling what lawyers will decide when they get their heads together.
      Here’s the rub: The issue has not yet reached the level at which the public demands international arbitration, but it has reached the level at which a single miscalculation could result in a war between China and Japan.  Worse, the security treaty between the United States and Japan would guarantee that the United States would be drawn into this war, should it occur.
     Beijing’s String of Pearls strategy for maritime supremacy over the Indo-Pacific regions postulates maritime supremacy by the year 2050, and a war with the United States by 2035.  The Diaoyutais/Senkukas conflict could start a war a couple of decades earlier than anyone could desire.
     A key component of Beijing’s String of Pearls strategy is to keep Japan in a “post-war” status for as long as possible; and harping on Japan’s history books and wartime atrocities are part of this strategy.  Nothing the Japanese can do to atone for war crimes will be enough to cause Beijing to admit that enough is enough.  To make matters worse, in Taiwan there are a few quislings who fawn over Beijing as slavishly as Renfeld fawned over Dracula and are just as eager to do Beijing’s bidding.
     Japan’s best defense against Beijing’s propaganda offensive is to take and occupy the moral high ground.  There is a significant peace movement among the Japanese people, and it’s a considerable source of untapped strength.  Unfortunately, Japanese militarists and the politicians who are beholden to them are unwittingly doing Beijing’s work for them.
     Here’s a possible solution: Raise the diplomatic stakes to a new level by capturing the imagination of the world while encouraging a significant portion of the Japanese population to demand a peaceful settlement to this issue and related issues.  A peaceful settlement would likely result in one of, or a blend of, the following outcomes:
  1. A determination that the Diaoyutais/Senkukas belong to one of the three claimants,
  2. A determination that two or all three claimants share sovereignty over the Diaoyutais/Senkukas.  (Some have brought forth the example of Antarctica.  We may also point to Andorra, which is jointly administered by France and Spain.)
  3.  A determination that the Diaoyutais/Senkukas belong to the commons; or, if you will, that the Diaoyutais/Senkukas belong to their Creator; and that the claimants are caretakers for the common good.  Those who take this position disagree on whether “the common good” may be defined as mutual development or—to use the awkward phrase some have used—“mutual non-development.”  This use of the word development is misleading and possibly blasphemous, since the Creator has already developed the Diaoyutais/Senkukas.
     I have a great deal of faith in the fairness and good sense of the Japanese people.  The greatness of Japan has come about because of the people—often in spite of the government.  Let me give a few examples.
     1. It was the Japanese people who built one of the greatest civilizations in history.  The government deserves little or no credit.
     2. After World War II, the Japanese government used taxes taken from the Japanese people to promote economic enterprises that the government said would boost Japanese prosperity.  A certain electronics business (well known today) applied for a government subsidy and was refused.  The Japanese government said that Japan had no future in electronics.  Thus, Japan’s signature industry and core competency was built in spite of the government—in spite of having to bear the added expense of paying taxes to support less productive enterprises.
     3. During the 1990’s, it was a Japanese historian (not the Japanese government, which concealed the truth) who uncovered the fact that, during World War II, the Japanese government defrauded and even kidnapped as many as 300,000 Asian young women and girls as young as 14 and dragged them off to far-flung military bases to be raped from 30 to 50 times a day for years.  When this scandal was exposed, the Japanese government denied it.  When proof was given, the Japanese government claimed that the women were willing prostitutes.  When this lie, in turn, was disproven, the Japanese government hid behind an agreement that exempted the Japanese government from responsibility for any as-yet-undisclosed war crimes.
     4. It was the Japanese people who took it upon themselves to take up a collection for the surviving “comfort women” as they were euphemistically called.   It was the Japanese people, not their government, who apologized to the women. To this day, the militarists in the Japanese government have done nothing to propitiate for their crimes against these women, preferring instead to live in infamy.

     Peaceful solutions to the Diaoyutais/Senkukas controversy and other lingering controversies from Japan’s militarist past are impossible without the support of the great Japanese people.  Before any such peace movement can gain critical mass, however, the matter must be deemed important to the world at large.  That would require, as I said earlier, raising the diplomatic stakes to a new level.  It would require capturing the imagination of the world in a way that would gain the peace movement international support and demands for a peaceful settlement.
 (To be continued in part 2 of this 2-part series.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Benefits—not Brands: Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth?

     You've probably heard the saying, "You can't get more than you pay for."  If you're like most people, you're not even getting your money's worth.
     Here's why:
     Nobody buys a product because he really wants that product.  He buys it because he wants a benefit that he expects to get from it.  Really.  Nobody buys a Coke because he wants a Coke.  After all, as soon as the drinks it, he no longer has it.  He buys a Coke for refreshment and flavor, and maybe quick energy.
     This principle applies to everything you buy.
     Advertisers know this.  One of the first rules of advertising is, "Sell the benefit."  What I didn't realize until a couple of years ago was that advertisers pull a sleight of hand.  Once you're hooked on wanting a certain benefit, they try to convince you that you won't get the benefit you want unless you buy their brand of that product.
     You've seen so many advertisements for competing brands that you're not gulled into thinking that you need that particular brand.  Nonetheless, most people are gulled into believing that they have to buy either that brand or another brand of a similar product.
     When was the last time an advertiser tried to convince you that you didn't really have to buy a manufactured productor anything at allto get the benefit you wanted?  Growers of fresh foods rarely if ever advertise; it's the producers of junk foods that have to advertise.  
     Advertisers even try to convince people to buy inferior versions of things that people already have.  For example, why would manufacturers of baby formula have to advertise to, and give free samples to, new mothers if the manufacturers were convinced that their produce was superior to what the mother already had?
     Why should you care what you wear when you go to bed?  Wouldn't old clothes do as well as new clothes that were manufactured especially as sleepwear?
     So many supermarket items come in plastic bags, including zip lock bags, that there should be few reasons to buy sandwich bags or zip lock bags.  If you already have them, why throw them away, only to buy them soon thereafter?
     I have been putting together a series of videos pertaining to 30 items that people commonly buy or want to buy.  For each, I've asked and answered two questions: "What benefit does the buyer hope to receive?" and "What's the best way of getting that benefit?"  By taking this approach, I'm convinced that much of the time we can raise our standards of living, spend less money, make healthier choices, and become more environmentally responsible—all at the same time.
     I have completed four videos discussing the first 6 of 30 items.  I've tried to make them entertaining as well as informative and insightful.  Some, by nature of the subject matter, some of them must be treated dispassionately.
     Below are the first four (or six, depending on whether you're counting items or videos):

     Benefits—not Brands (Parts 1-3)
     Processed vs Fresh Foods: Benefits—not Brands (Pt. 4 of 30)

     Infant Formula vs Breastfeeding: Benefits—not Brands (Pt. 5 of 30) 

      Air Conditioners vs Comfort: Benefitsnot Brands (Part 6 of 30)

     (Note: For some odd reason, I was unable to import the videos from YouTube.  Just click the links.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Paradigmaclastic View of Parisian Painters and other Popular Images

     Paris is the most romantic city in the world, right?  As you read those words, you probably tilted your head in some expression of agreement.  After all, Paris has even more of a reputation for romance as it does for insulting Americans on the street.  Not only that but—like it or not—you have become conditioned to be agreeable.
     Now enter your imagination.  In your mind’s eye, try to envision a painter in Paris.  You probably imagine this person as an artist.  He may be standing before an easel, holding a thin brush.
     Oh, no, I don’t mean Paris, France.  I mean Paris, Texas.  All of a sudden, the image you have of that painter changes.  His brush has suddenly gotten considerably wider.  Instead of looking like the painter on the left (below), he looks more like the painter on the right.  Ha!  You fooled yourself, didn't you?

     Ha!  You fooled yourself again.  The painter on the left (above) is Cathie Tyler, an artist and art teacher at Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas.  The one on the right is an anonymous house painter in Paris, France.

    Believe it or not, there really are black people living in Paris, France.  Many are of Algerian descent, as Algeria used to be part of France.  Many others are of Haitian descent.  (I’ll be you didn't know that the nineteenth century writer Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and other popular novels, was a black man from Haiti.)  Yes, that's right.  As many times as you have seen pictures of Alexandre Dumas, you're just now noticing that he was black.  All previous times, you reinterpreted what your own eyes told you in order to fit your preconceived notions.
     Let’s look at some things you already knew but chose to ignore, so as to adjust widely known facts to suit widely practiced habits of thought.
     You already knew that many people in Paris have houses even if it hadn't occurred to you that the houses sometimes need to be painted.  The reality, however, doesn't fit the habitually practiced image of Parisian painters. 
     Elsewhere on this page you will see other photos of Paris painters.

    Don’t be too embarrassed over this failure to consider that even French houses sometimes require a coat of paint.  A Google search of “house painter” and “Paris, France” always yields images and articles about artists painting pictures of houses.  It wasn't until I keyed in, “peintre en bâtiment,” “Paris,” that I found anything on house painters in Paris, France.
     You also knew that there were black people living in Paris, but you ignored that fact because it didn't fit your customary image of Parisian artists being white.  What would you bet that Paris doesn't have any black artists?  You tricked yourself again, didn't you?
     More than 90% of the things we say and do arise from habit and habitual assumptions, and we rarely question those assumptions.  It’s not always because we’re lazy.  It’s just that we deal with so much information each day, that we come to rely on reference points and trigger words (such as Parisian painter) to help us to make decisions quickly.
     The trouble starts when our assumptions are mistaken.  The trouble worsens when authority figures acting the part of opinion molders use our assumptions against us.
     A perfect example of a trigger word being used against us is then-president George W. Bush’s remark, “Americans don’t torture.”   For Americans, American is a trigger word that causes us to have positive feelings.  It’s hard to think negatively about something that causes us to have positive feelings.
     Conspiracy theory is a well-known trigger.  Literally, it means only a belief that two or more people devised a secret plan to do something that was illegal.  As a trigger, it signals the listener that the topic lies outside acceptable discourse. 
     Consider that fact in the light of Josef Stalin’s remark about propaganda.  Though this isn't an exact quote, Stalin said something like, “The purpose of propaganda is not to convince people that it is true, but to define the parameters of acceptable discourse.” 
     Let’s add to that a quote from George Orwell, “Words are sometimes deliberately misused to defend the indefensible.”
     I’m not suggesting that we should try to do away with habitual thought patterns in our daily lives.  We need them to avoid information gridlock.  We should, however, make ourselves aware of how opinion molders use trigger words and popular images to circumvent—or even short circuit—our logical processes. 
     In short, we should spend more of our time questioning authority and thinking for ourselves.