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The Nobel Peace Prize Watch

February 24, 2015 Leave a comment

The Nobel Peace Prize Watch.

The Nobel Peace Prize has become tainted over the past 25 years as it is being awarded over and over to people and organizations that have repeatedly acted against the tenets of the will in which Alfred Nobel stated his intention. The will is a legal instrument, with a binding obligation of its stewards. When the stewards act against its stipulations and fail to honor its purpose, then the committee is breaking the law.

This has become a matter being taken up in both the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments. If the challenge is successful, the Nobel Committee may yet be stripped of its authority.

I think this will still take 10 years longer to become a reality. But the people who are demanding a faithful and legal obligation to the Nobel testament will ultimately prevail. It is my hope that it will be before the escalating militarism in the world and the rising destructive powers of the world’s weapons makes life next to impossible in much of the region of eastern Europe, north Africa, and west Asia uninhabitable.

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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.

Alabama Shakes Live at KCRW on Morning Becomes Eclectic 01.24.12

February 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Alabama Shakes Live at KCRW on Morning Becomes Eclectic 01.24.12.

Wonderful blues/rock, by the Alabama Shakes.  Brittany Howard sounds like Janis, but she’s got a character that is reminiscent of Jimi, too.  The band is tight, with fantastic drumming, electric piano/organ, and searing lead guitars, complemented by a driving, jazzy bass and Brittany’s rhythm guitar.  I’m Shakin’

Categories: Art, People

Five billion people can’t use the Internet

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Aleph Molinari – Bridging the Digital Divide

The Digital Divide is a mother that’s 45 years old and can’t get a job, cuz she doesn’t know how to use a computer.

Most news focuses on the roughly 2 billion people in the world who use the Internet.  Economist Aleph Molinari chooses to focus on the other five billion people.  He is working to close the digital divide and empower people, by providing widespread access to technology education.

Español: Logo de la Fundación Proacceso

Español: Logo de la Fundación Proacceso (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2008, Molinari founded Fundación Proacceso and in 2009 launched the Learning and Innovation network.  The network uses community centers to educate under-served communities and

enable them to use technology for empowerment. In about 2 years, the network has graduated 28,000 users through 42 educational centers throughout Mexico.

Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants be...

Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants between 1997 and 2007 by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), source: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/ict/graphs/internet.jpg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Learning and Innovation network

employs a well-designed system to bridge this digital divide.  The system is divided into 4 educational parts.  The first focuses on computers.  The second is the Internet.  The third is office software.  The fourth phase is a 72 hour technology program that produces, in the end, a digital citizen.  While the program sounds somewhat trite, there is no doubt that the programs conducted by Fundación Proacceso and the Learning and Innovation network have made a huge impact on extremely poor communities in Mexico.

Molinari’s arguments are extremely persuasive.  There is no doubt to me that, as he says, “Internet is a right, not a luxury.” We can do a lot to bridge this divide, enabling many of the five billion – most of whom are in the southern hemisphere and Asia – to become active participants as digital citizens of the world.

Although the work ahead seems daunting, it is even more daunting to consider what will happen to our world in the absence of a more fair and just distribution of wealth and opportunity.  It is better to make do with less than to lose everything we love and cherish.

Molinari’s final message is full of hope:

The main message is that technology is not going to save the world, we are, and we can use technology to help us. Most technology is human energy, so let’s use this energy to make this world a better place.

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