Author Archive


April 4, 2014 Leave a comment


A very well thought out and written review of conservative (the real meaning) actions by a good friend, Jonathon Walsh.

Originally posted on Japan Urban Farming:

free stuff text on blackboard

Saving the planet can seem like a near impossible task at the best of times but it doesn’t have to be that way. Every step toward creating a healthier more sustainable planet counts, but only if they are actually taken.
The great thing is that with a few simple ideas, it’s easy to not only take steps to protect the environment but also to save money, access services for free, forge new friendships, improve our health, and strengthen communities at the same time.

Jonathon Walsh outlines 7 ways we can do it quickly, easily and cheaply.


Let’s face it: the core of economics revolves around people handing over round pieces of metal and bits of paper (with pictures on them) to others. It’s farcical, and yet the only reason our currency-based economies actually continue to function is because enough of us unquestioningly buy into…

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Pictures: Ultra-Nationalist Demonstrators Overwhelmed by Anti-Racist Counter-Protest

March 18, 2014 1 comment


Wonderful post about anti-racist protestors in Tokyo.

Originally posted on Tokyo Desu:

Lately, it seems like every time we psych ourselves up to go back to writing our usual knob gags (that we stay up all night coming up with for you), some serious and/or groundbreaking news comes along that demands our attention and, alas, knob gag restraint:

Yesterday, a hard right, ultra-nationalist group known as the Zaitokukai (roughly translated as: “Citizens Against the Special Privileges of Koreans in Japan”) held a meeting of around 100 members in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, with a demonstration march planned directly after.

Much to the surprise and chagrin of the Zaitokukai, however, they found themselves outnumbered three to one by a huge cluster of counter-protesters holding anti-racist signs and shouting down the right wingers as they marched. Taken together with the momentous J-League punishment of the Urawa Reds for racist fan behavior doled out last week, this clash falls just shy of marking a new trend…

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Divide and Prosper: An Asian Model for Successful Business Growth

November 6, 2013 Leave a comment

I recently read Divide and Prosper, by Kuniyasu Sakai and Hiroshi Sekiyama, and posted a review in Goodreads.  My full review is linked here.

The book is, ostensibly, a business book.  It is written as an inspirational management guide.  As such, Divide and Prosper is extremely useful, providing a wealth of practical information for a successful business manager.  But this is only one tiny fraction of the book’s value.  The greatest merits of the book come from its attempt to inspire and motivate younger people to aspire to more than is offered by the status quo.

In my review, I wrote about the author’s detailed description of the subcontractor system in Japan in the section, “Big Business, Small Companies.” In this section, Sakai and Sekiyama describe carefully how the major corporations enslave the majority of the nation’s companies and people.

To Sakai and Sekiyama, the status quo does not provide redeeming lives to the majority of people.  This goes against the conventional “wisdom,” which says that Japan has achieved a higher standard of living than most of the nations of the world.  While it may have severe limitations in space and cost of living, the standard of wealth, safety, and convenience make Japan a mark of success, not failure.  But rather than spreading wealth thinly and evenly across the majority of the nation – as is the “common knowledge” explanation goes – the subcontracting system enslaves the majority of people. The big companies are not much more that a system of installing a small cadre of mediocre administrators to threaten, cajole, and pacify the masses, while pooling the wealth into the hands of a few wealthy and powerful elites, who hide anonymously behind the veils of their organizations.

First, the authors describe how the system is integral to the Japanese economy as a whole.  “The shitauke system is in one sense the very foundation of our modern business and industrial structure, the base upon which our giant commercial structure has been built.”  They continue to say that,”large corporations in a wide variety of fields act merely as “trading companies,” farming out jobs to their affiliates at cut-rate prices while charging their clients for the prestige of dealing with a top-notch Japanese firm.”

This structure is possible because the major, publicly traded, international corporations only comprise a small minority of the Japanese economy.  Sakai and Sekiyama write that, “90% of Japanese economy is minor industry.  Relatively few companies have more than three hundred employees, and more than three-quarters of all Japanese companies are very small, employing only a handful of people.  The real backbone of the Japanese industry is not the Toyotas and Nissans, the Matsushitas and Sonys, the Fujitsus and NECs, but rather, the thousands upon thousands of small firms that allow these behemoths to exist in the first place.”  Here, we start to see that the heart of their story is not just a positive guide to successful business, but a scathing war cry, aiming to defeat the massive corporate giants that cripple Japan and, ultimately, our world.

“In Japan, most small firms (and nearly all small manufacturing firms) exist in the shadow of a few dozen giant corporations which completely control their destinies. The master firm completely controls both its subcontractors’ production levels and unit costs, and this is the reason the giant industrial combines so jealously guard this system.”  Of course.  If a big company can control the production level and unit costs, it can offload most of its risks and take most of the returns from manufacturing.  It automatically inflates the big companies at the expense of the smaller subcontractors.

“What many people, even here in Japan, would find surprising is the astounding quantity of goods the firm purchases rather than manufactures.”  Again, this should not come as a surprise.  Manufacturing themselves would create a large number of “risks”, namely the human resources, facilities, and capital necessary to produce products.  Instead, the big corporations merely farm out the production, waiting “to put its name on the outer case and send the products through its international marketing and distribution system.”

This structure, Sakai and Sekiyama say, is an “industrial shock absorber.”  “The advantages of this system for the parent firm are just as obvious as the disadvantages for the smaller firms.  If the giant corporation falls on hard times, it will take a very long time (as we saw in the 90s) before it needs to lay off employees or radically alter any part of its own corporate structure.  It battens down the hatches and rides out the storm, keeping its own inconvenience to a minimum.”

“Having served as one of these “slave” companies for many years, I believe very strongly that a situation in which one must produce at another’s beck and call is ultimately destructive. “

Men are not lemmings.  Of course, the “mass suicide” popular story about lemmings is a misconception, but the metaphor that we frequently behave unquestioningly as popular opinion dictates, with potentially fatal or dangerous consequences is, I think, quite valid.  Our fetish with big things – especially BIG business, BIG companies, and BIG data – may, in fact doom us.  I hope not.

We Make the World as We Imagine

October 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Often, we think that the world is as it is because of external forces; most of these forces are uncontrollable and often random.  Since we do not like to think of ourselves as powerless, we tend to attribute the forces of nature and the physical world to a higher order.

While I, too believe in God, I don’t believe in predetermination, nor that God controls our world.  Rather, I believe that my sense of good, morality, and the sanctity of our existence, the magical forces that seem to permeate every aspect of our world, how cells form, interact, and provide energy and life, that how I think and feel and that I am capable of communicating my thoughts and beliefs through words and deeds come from a mystical, magical, wonderful, spectacular, fantastic, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously delicious thing/unthing that I think of as God.

While I don’t really like a lot of what we humans are doing to our world, I do think that it is being created and destroyed in our own image.  That is, we are making it the way we think of ourselves.  If we think of ourselves as being power-hungry, dirty, insatiable animals, competing and fighting each other for domination of others and for resources, putting self-gratification above nearly everything else, then that is how we create our world.  I like to think of humans as being intelligent, cooperative, curious, fun-seeking, adventurous, self-depreciating, humorous, amusing, and loving, caring entities, so I hope to create a different world than what I see in my local and global environment.

But of course there are natural and other disasters that we cannot directly predict or control. I don’t deny that.  But there is so much that we CAN do, to mitigate the most disastrous effects of natural catastrophes and to engage in programs and policies that reduce the likelihood of large scale human-induced calamities.  What I am saying is that we are making choices to mitigate or exacerbate the effects of natural and human-induced disasters.

We also make our world in our image in how we deal with disaster.  In the aftermath of calamity, how we deal with people, property, and environment directly reflects our image of ourselves and the priorities of our communities.  I’ve read recently a variety of news articles about the relief efforts in the aftermath one year after Hurricane Sandy.  With nearly half a trillion dollars of relief funds raised publicly and privately, apparently less than half of it has been distributed to date.  In particular, small business and housing loans and grants have been particularly slow to deliver.

In Syria yesterday, I heard that around 2000 people trapped in Moadamiyeh, a suburb of Damascus, were evacuated after being trapped for months without food, medical supplies, or assistance, after being surrounded for months by government forces.  This has been reported in many western news sources, including this report in the Huffington Post.  There seems to me to be much wrong with how the world is dealing with such humanitarian crises such as these.

However, I think that there is more in our world that gives hope, rather than despair.  I try to find the things that we create that are good and expand on these, rather than to focus on the bad and regret them.

In the aftermath of Japan’s 3.11.2011 triple disaster, more than 15,000 people were killed, thousands were injured, more than a million buildings were damaged or destroyed, 340,000 people were displaced, and an estimated US$235B in damages ravaged the nation.  The effects of the disaster continue 2 and 1/2 years on, particularly with the continuing nuclear crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Reactor.  We continue to receive occasional word of radiation leaks, stoppage of cooling facilities, and failing words of reassurance that everything is under control.

But the efforts of a violin craftsman in Tokyo to make instruments from wood recovered from homes and other debris discarded after the disaster are particularly reassuring.  Nakazawa Muneyuki is the 72 year old master craftsman, who started to make instruments using this wood less than a year after the disaster.  In particular, the sound post – sometimes referred to as the âme, meaning “soul” in French – is made from the wood of the single miracle pine tree that remained standing in Rikuzen Takata in Iwate Prefecture, that became a strong symbol of strength and perseverance for the victims of the disaster.  In addition to violins, Nakazawa most recently also made a cello, which was played yesterday, October 29, 2013, at Suntory Hall in Akasaka by the renowned cellist, Yo Yo Ma.

This is a perfect example of how I think we make our world in our image.  If we imagine our world to be a kind, beautiful, and loving place, we can create it.  I think that Nakazawa, Yo Yo Ma, and J.S. Bach all have a lot to say about creating a better world.  Thanks!

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October 24, 2013

October 26, 2013 Leave a comment

I was born 51 years ago today.  According to the traditional way of counting ages in Japan, where I live, I am 52.  The idea of someone being “zero” age didn’t make any sense in old Japan.  So when a baby was born, she was 1 years old.  I like this idea, even though it makes us all one year “older.”

I like numbers.  51 is 3X17. But 52 is the number of cards in a deck without jokers in it.  It is 4X13.

13 is one of my favorite numbers.  It is a prime. It was my number as a baseball player.  I chose to wear that number because it symbolizes bad luck.  While many would choose to avoid it – for the same reason – I prefer to wear it.  I’d rather have my fair share of bad luck close to me, knowing it intimately, rather than have it creep up on me suddenly.

4 is a number indicating bad luck in Japan.  One of the ways in which 4 is read is “shi.”  This sound is the same as a word meaning “death”.  So I suppose this can mean that I am starting a year in which I should be very careful, as it is the crossing of bad luck in both cultures I’ve made my own.

I am not, by nature, a gambler. So a deck of cards is something I seldom think of as anything more than a device for playing a wide range of games or magical tricks. It is a wonderful and flexible set, but not more or less than a tool.

But on this day, I am reminded of a game, usually played in a gambling setting, that has ironic lessons for life – Blackjack. Blackjack is played against the House – not other players, as in Poker. Over time, the House always wins.  Play is in some sense, cumulative, meaning that he deck is not shuffled or changed with each hand.

Life is like this in many ways.  I think we play against the House and not each other.  Many people tend to compete as in Poker, but in Blackjack, as in life, this focus plays into the hand of the House, usually to everyone’s disadvantage.

Against the House, I’ve had my fair share of gains and losses. Against the other players, I have no idea.  I only see that they, like me, have gained and lost chips to the House. Whether we are ahead or behind, in life and with respect to each other, is only appearance, a charade, the chips we see may be borrowed, loaned, stolen, gifted, or earned and only the House knoweth.

But as we play this game together, with our cards revealed, we are each given some very useful hints.  We also are entrusted with the gift of counting.  It is good to keep track of the number of Aces and Face Cards played. This is obvious.  But it is also very useful, and effective, to keep track of the Twos and Threes.

Many people think that the key to Blackjack (and life) is in the Big Numbers.  You hope to score the occasional 21, but frequent 20s are good enough.  An occasional 9 with a Face Card – sigh of relief – can mean Lady Luck is on your side.

Exactly. The two Face Cards, an occasional Blackjack or a two-card 19 – this is luck – the same luck played by the House.  In fact, having the same luck as the House means the odds are not in your favor; when a player pushes with the House, the House wins.

The key to winning occasionally against the House, then. In Blackjack is in counting cards.  The few times when you have an edge is when you have the power of numbers at your disposal.

I like to think that right now I have more chips than not, because I have been keeping good track of the numbers played in the deck.  In a year’s time, the cards will be reshuffled and I must play a new set of hands. But I think I’ll do all right this year.  I’ll keep counting the numbers played and I’m not going to take any unwise risks.  I’m looking forward to another year – older and, hopefully, wiser.

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Video: Jeremy Scahill & Noam Chomsky on Secret U.S. Dirty Wars From Yemen to Pakistan to Laos | Democracy Now!

May 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Video: Jeremy Scahill & Noam Chomsky on Secret U.S. Dirty Wars From Yemen to Pakistan to Laos | Democracy Now!.

Please take an hour to watch and think about what is discussed in this video.  Secret wars are being fought by the U.S. around the world, with thousands of people dying every day.  There is so much that ordinary people can do to stop these things from happening, yet we mostly just let our ignorance be an excuse to allow it to continue.

In the talk, Chomsky refers to Thomas Jefferson’s quote about fearing God’s ultimate judgement of our actions in life.  His reference is about how the past several Presidents of the U.S. should not only be judged by God, but also by, at least, public perception.  We should know the extent to their criminal activity and their blatant disregard for the health, education, and welfare of so many people around the world.

I have always been fond of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous saying, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” To be silently complacent, because it is the most consistent and benign approach to life, is not only an act of cowardice, but shows, ultimately, the small and insignificant character of a “little mind.”

Categories: Food for Thought, Security

Giver’s Gain

May 16, 2013 Leave a comment

The term “Giver’s Gain” may not be familiar to you, but the idea behind it surely is. It refer’s to the belief that in business and life, if you give help to someone, with a genuine sense of concern for that person’s welfare, then the return you receive will be greater than that which you spent in helping the individual in the first place. You give, and you gain.

The phrase is very popular in some business circles, such that it is the core mantra of the global business networking enterprise, BNI. but even more than the stated phrase, the idea is one of the most important tenets behind much of what we now know as social networking, as well as, in many respects, open source and the free software movement.

People who give their time, ideas, and creations in these platforms and endeavors hope that their efforts will provide value to others. They (We) do so even though there is rarely any direct way in which we can benefit from these efforts. But the underlying belief is that ultimately we, too, will benefit from sharing, often with returns far greater than we measure our own contributions to the community.

While some of the applications of this belief may seem quite modern, I would argue that this way of thinking is the dominant way most people have interacted over much of human history. We seem today to believe that most people act primarily in self-interest. This may be true in terms of innermost motivations for human behavior, but in most tightly knit, non-ultra-urban communities, the best way to ensure selfish interests is to put group interests first.

But the overwhelming concept underlying contemporary capitalist society is a perverse reversal of this once predominant way of thinking. The corporate doctrine in modern times is profit at all costs. There is no other interest of a contemporary corporation, with a stockholding, non-managerial, board of directors, other than the relentless pursuit of profit. All other values are merely a kind of marketing profile to enhance the machine’s ability to profit.

But, surely, say the pundits, corporations have to do good things, make stuff, employ people, and enable the wealth to do the good that societies need. Capitalism, they say, won, because it is the only form of government to prove that wealth can be distributed to enough people to be even considered fair and just. And, thus, the notion “Giver’s Gain” is supplanted by the notion, “Gainer’s Give.” Like Bill and Melissa Gates, they give, in fact, more than anyone has given before! How nice.

I’m not just being cynical about this, but the best way to distribute limited benefits has never been to expect altruism from someone that hoards the wealth first. Any kindergarten teacher will say that it isn’t best to distribute 50 candies to 25 kids by giving them all to the most selfish bully among them. Or, to more accurately see what happens, give 40 candies to the bully, 10 each to two of his closest friends, and 2 or 3 to all but 5 of the kids. I’d be willing to bet that in most modern urban societies, without intervention, all of the kids would end up with at least 1 or 2 candies, but the bully and his inner circle would hoard the vast majority. It is not because they are “kids” either, but just the nature of the psychology behind hoarding as a prerequisite to distribution. Certainly You can replace the word hoarding with something else, like centralized resource management, but the results will be much the same.

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