gambitch - now available in blue Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Recent news reports of Chinese demonstrations targeted at Japan have been upsetting, to say the least. The gist of it is that the protests were triggered by two events, namely the Japanese government's approval of new history textbooks that downplay Japanese wartime atrocities during World War II, including the Nanking Massacre, and Japan's interest in holding a permanent seat as part of a United Nations plan to expand its security council.
The Japanese must have run over quite a few black cats recently. Just a few weeks ago it was South Korea and the Dokdo/Takeshima incident. And now, this. Many Chinese citizens have also called for a boycott of Japanese goods. The only thing they haven't claimed is monetary reparations - that case has been fought and done with at the courts already, although naturally enough the result was hardly satisfactory for those who believe they have been aggrieved.
It's the boycotts that really amuse me, though. Maybe they used to work once upon a time, but it is hard for me to imagine how product boycotts can be anything resembling an effective manoeuvre today. Trade in the 21st Century are no longer solely government-level affairs. Governments used to be key players in international business and trade, but privatization has changed that quite significantly, so while Sanyo and Toshiba, not to mention Sony, still pay their taxes to the Japanese Government (probably), they are recognized as private and multinational businesses founded by businessmen who just happened to be Japanese. They're not necessarily products of the Japanese government's active creation, and even if they were, they're not state-owned enterprises now.
The point is, why should honest and upright Japanese businessmen be made to suffer financially for what is essentially none of its business? Even in cases where that's not quite true - Kawasaki, a company that's famous today for its motorcycles, is a name that is also associated with Japanese military aircraft of World War II vintage, as, incidentally, is Mitsubishi - the companies have already reformed their businesses and gone into something else. Again, the point is, why drag them into this? And what makes people think that hurting Japanese businessmen is going to make their government feel sorry enough to "properly atone"?
Boycotts used to work on the principle that interruption of trade was going to be some sort of a not-too-obscure hit on the coffers or war chests of the target nations. It wasn't just symbolic; concrete, tangible results were to be had that would make the effort worth the while. It also worked on the assumption that the trader class would be sufficiently frustrated by their loss of revenue, to a point where they would actually try to lobby their government to change its policies so that the markets would reopen. That's what boycotts used to be trying to do.
In the last fifty years, that dynamic has fundamentally changed. As former colonies broke free to become independent nations, their economies are also steadily opening up and growing, some (like Taiwan) more strongly than others (many an African nation springs to mind). Things are changing in developed nations too. Without knowing what things used to be like before the wars, all that needs to be said is that a general sustained peace among developed nations has led to substantial quantities of trade among these countries. America is awash with Japanese cars and DVD players, while mobile phone companies based in Scandinavia have an international client base - and face a stiff challenge from companies like Samsung (which, incidentally, is Korean!).
The rise of the multinational corporation, with transcontinental business interests, coupled with the increase in the number and range of markets, means that companies can now easily diversify and put their eggs in multiple baskets. The net effect of this is that, on average, a singular market being shut off due to boycotts doesn't tend to hurt companies quite so cripplingly as it used to. Of course, that's taking averages, and when we talk about a market as huge as China, it's probably significantly above the average. But Japan-based companies have their markets in the rest of Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and probably parts of Africa too. So just how much is it going to hurt these companies?
We could say, of course, that the Chinese citizens are merely exercising their freedom of speech and expression when they do these boycotts. Maybe they're just making symbolic statements. Well, in that case, there's nothing symbolically intelligent about wrecking storefronts and smashing windows of Japanese businesses' outlets... in China! These stores and offices hire Chinese labour (blue-collar or otherwise) and are run by Chinese subsidiaries. Repairs of damages - unless the shops cease operation - would eventually have to come out of the Chinese pocket, not the Japanese one. Looting and plundering, if it ever gets to that stage, can no longer be read as "an act of patriotism", the term that is being used to justify the demonstrations.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Japan are totally without blame. It is more than a little hard to accept that Japan has properly atoned for its past transgressions when the Yasukuni Shrine continues to carry displays that have earned it the label of "military museum". Japan has a right to perspective and a right to inform its citizens on why Tojo and his contemporaries thought the way they did. But it cannot ignore the fact that Japan's involvement in World War II have severely hurt the feelings of its neighbours, of which it only has so few. America remains mixed today in its feelings about its role in Vietnam. It has learnt to come to terms with these mixed feelings among its own citizens - Vietnam has become the paradigm example of good and noble ideals that translated into what became a strangely wrong war that it perhaps should have never fought. America has come to terms - so why can't Japan?
Just because there are things we can admonish and criticize Japan for, however, it doesn't make mass demonstrations, product boycotts and hurling bottles at embassies the right thing to do. Rushes of blood like these may be very effective at venting anger, but they don't go any way towards getting the problem solved. Maybe recalling diplomats is too feeble a response, but if that's the case, then what's needed is finding a sensible alternative that actually achieves something. gambitch [
Friday, April 08, 2005
This comes rather late, but the mention of Bush wanting to put strict word-for-word interpreters of the Constitution gives me weird reminders of what happened on The West Wing, specifically, the episode The Short List.
Wasn't Payton Cabot Harrison III eventually rejected because he didn't believe that the Constitution provided for privacy? Now, that's what happens when you have a man who interpreted the Constitution right down to the letter, without considering the spirit of the document. The Constitution didn't openly state it, so it's a bit of a debate whether that was simply a careless omission or something that seemed so glaringly obvious the people who wrote it didn't think it necessary to put it in.
We could argue the same thing for gay rights, abortion and anything in-between, although, to be fair, Washington and his comrades in arms probably weren't thinking about defending homosexuality when they fought their war. The point remains, though, that a piece of paper written two hundred years ago probably needs updating in the modern context, because the world two hundred years ago isn't exactly the same as the world today. Some fundamentals don't change - we still consume oxygen - but not everything is that fundamental.
Bartlet went for Mendoza in the end. But does Bush's list of nominees include anyone like Mendoza? gambitch [
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
The fact that I've taken so long to report that Ray and Deana were eliminated from last week's episode of The Amazing Race should be taken to bear testament to the fact that the two-hour episode made decent watching, but didn't really offer much to blog about.
Don't get me wrong, the sights were interesting, including the nuclear power plant Fast Forward, but there really wasn't all that much that evoked strong emotions. Maybe I've watched too many seasons and I'm used to this. Or maybe the contestants just didn't excite all that much. Rob and Amber must be quietly stewing at this comment, if they ever get to read it.
Lots of people have bad things to say about Ray. I've probably somewhat defended him before, and I'll just say this one more time. He doesn't really abuse Deana so much as he tries but fails miserably at motivating her. He looks honestly well-intentioned for the most part, but he does not know how to express himself well, to a point where either TV editors can make him look like a bad guy, or he is actually careless and tactless enough to say all the wrong things at the wrongest of times. And while it's perhaps regarded as poetic justice that he was outlasted by Meredith and Gretchen - the one team he particularly wanted to knock out at that point in the game, I think his main mistake on that count was openly saying what everyone else may well have been silently thinking.
The way I see it, Ray needs to learn to manage the way he deals with Deana better, or he'll get dumped and never find a girlfriend again. Of course, now he's got the rest of his life to try again, without the pressures of a race. And I see Ray's point - Deana is indeed whiny and full of that defeatist attitude that competitive people like Ray in a competitive environment would have problems tolerating and working with. It's just that Ray perhaps needed to know how to deal with that with a better level of subtlety.
In any event, it was apparent this wasn't something he would learn quickly, and he was beginning to be more of a pain than the oldies. Deana was getting pretty bad too. So it was just as well they made their exit here while I could still speak decently of them. Any later and maybe I'd start having problems. So I'll leave it at that, except to say that it was remarkable they crashed from first to worst in the space of one leg. But such dramatic collapses have happened before.
Now if the powers that be could do us a favour and dump Lynn and Alex quickly... gambitch [
Monday, April 04, 2005
I don't know why I do things like this, but I'm frantically putting together a league table to work out who's making it to next year's edition of the Champions' League. No, not the football one. Those who get it will get it. Those who don't, well, it's probably something that won't affect which way the planet spins.
And what's excruciating now is that I have everything but one result. Six out of the eight spots next year are dead certain. It's the last two that's pretty much up for a toss. And while I can try to make educated guesses, I don't have all the hard numbers.
The big problem now is whether the folks will have a shot at one of those two spots. And it all hinges on one result for me to know whether the likelihood is good. This is nail-biting stuff, I promise you.
Nyanko - if you are anywhere remotely near interested in the results, buzz me. They'll be useful information to have, not that you can't exactly wait for the official information. gambitch [
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Deep down at heart, I feel more and more like I'm Toby Ziegler. Not because he's a powerful man in the White House on The West Wing (even though the Communications Director in real life doesn't get so much press), but because of the personality and the feelings the guy's got.
No surprise, really, considering my personality test result some time ago. But that feeling just seems to grow and never go away. Which makes me a sad, sad man, maybe (to paraphrase his ex-wife Andrea). But then who do I blame for those things? Who can I blame for those things? It's partly the environment, but it's partly the chemicals inside too.
Lines of the moment.
Toby: We're taking water over the side... Josh: Yes, and I'm not indifferent to that, but there's a principle here- Toby: No, there's not. Not this week. We've been doing this for a year, and all we've gotten is a year older. Our job approval's 48% and I think that number's soft, and I'm tired of being the field captain for the gang that couldn't shoot straight! We're getting this done! (from The Short List)
Toby: One victory in a year, Leo. Leo: Toby... Toby: Mendoza. We got Mendoza on the Court. Leo: This President was elected with 48% of the vote, Toby. Toby: Yeah, but he was elected. Leo: Without a mandate. The majority of people in the country voted for somebody else. Toby: I don't care, Leo. He was elected, he was sworn in, I was standing ten feet from the Chief Justice. Leo: I'm saying it's not the easiest circumstance on... Toby: Who the hell said it would be easy? Leo: One victory in a year isn't so bad! Toby: One victory in a year stinks in a life of an administration. But it's not the ones we lose that bother me, Leo, it's the ones we don't suit up for! (from Let Bartlet Be Bartlet)
CJ: Since when do you need help talking to the President? Toby: Since all of a sudden I became the kid in the class with his hand raised that nobody wants the teacher to call on. CJ: That's silly. Toby: No, it's not. CJ: Toby... Toby: Just help me, please. (from The Crackpots and These Women)
The only thing that Toby has that I don't quite have is a tendency to be openly grumpy. Oh, and a bald head and a full beard. gambitch [