History, a most important subject

I heard a BBC broadcast titled, “Missing History – China and Japan“. In this broadcast, two journalists traveled to each others’ countries, one from China and the other Japan. In the first episode of this series, the Chinese journalists traveled to Japan and visited several places which were of significance to Japan’s invasion of China, including the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which enshrines the spirits of Japan’s war dead, including several Class A war criminal from World War II. The broadcast was rather emotional for the Chinese journalist as she could not enter the Shrine, knowing what it means to her countrymen. She also had a talk with the ones responsible for changing one of Japan’s history books, which downplayed Japan’s role in the Nanjing Massacre, renaming it as the Nanjing Incident.

While I do not fully disagree in the virtues of moving on from history, history still serves as one of the most important subjects we can ever learn. From the histories of our forefathers, we learn about their purpose in life and what they have done for us. We learn that what we have now was not freely gotten but earned by the toils and blood of our father. Take the recent naming of the Indonesia Warship for an example. After naming two warships after marines who bombed the MacDonald House in Singapore, Indonesia incurred the anger of Singapore who executed the two marines as criminals in 1965. It was only in 1973 when Mr Lee Kwan Yew visited the graves of the two marines that the chapter was considered over. By naming the two warships after these two who killed three Singaporeans, Indonesia re-opened the issue and, allowed Singaporeans to relearn their history lessons and remember that Singapore is still an island between two bigger Muslim states.

Let us not remember history and dishonor our fathers, even as PM Lee honors our pioneer generations now.

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Life examined

Not all things written or said are wise, neither are all things wise written or said. Thus, I would rather write more foolish stuff in the hope of hitting something wise.

What is a life not ponder upon? “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”- 1 Peter 3:15 Even for faith, we should always seek to understand the truth as we know it and thus be able to explain it clearly. For the ones with no declared faith, Socrates would say, “the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living

No matter what your beliefs may be, I wish for you to be always curious and open-minded. To be always asking questions of yourselves and others. To listen before you judge and to hear before you speak. To close off one’s mind before the argument is made is to escape into one’s own world and a sign that your world may not be as accurately portrayed as you may believe.

We are all pilgrims in this world of the unknowns. There is no loss in discussing our individual experiences that we may learn from it. The only loss is when one does not participate in the discussion. Join in the discussion and explore, for at the most you will learn where not to go.

Strategy and Life

I have recently stumbled upon an excellent post by Oliver Emberton recently that stuck with me. It wasn’t just his cute 16 bits cartoons that illustrated his points so succinctly or his use of game theory, his philosophy in life is worth pondering too. While I try not to just summaries his points here, some of his points are worth repeating. I do not consider my self a student of strategy but strategy is about making decisions that that will enable you to gain a advantage and in life you make decisions.

What is strategy? Lawrence Freedman published a history of Strategy in his book, “STRATEGY, a history.” Starting from as ancient as Evolution and Biblical times, he explains the origins of strategy in its basic form of strength and deception, bie and metis in Greek. These two are epitomized by Achilles and Odysseus. Freedman goes on to say how there is a limit to both strength and deception. Strength pits itself against another in a frontal manner, seeking to overthrow through pure superiority in resources. Deception, on the other hand, seeks to undermine the opponent through maneuvers and illusions. Strength is limited by resources and deception is limited by the opponent’s awareness.

However, in his explanation of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, he simplifies the great sage’s deception into “simply a matter of doing the opposite of what was expected.” Freedman goes on to say that deception is limited if both commanders deploys Sun Tzu’s deception and are weary of each other’s tactics. While that was part of the thesis, it oversimplify the issue as a either “have” or “have not”. Strategies employed by Chinese generals who read Sun Tzu have displayed varying understanding of the deceptiveness of tactics and the key to non-defeat is to know the enemy. If the enemy is prepared to counter your deception, sometimes, the most frontal assault will work.

International Politics is a reflection of the Domestic Politics Needs

In recent article in The Diplomat, Assistant Professor Kai He wrote about the East China Sea Dispute : What do China and Japan really want? In it, he suggests that it is about managing their domestic expectations that leaders on both China and Japan’s side embark on their current hard stances. It also argues that if US wants to maintain the stability in East China Sea, it needs to understand what the two leaders need in face of their domestic audience.

In recent events closer to home, the Indonesian Navy named two of their frigates after two marines who bombed Singapore’s McDonald’s House in 1965. Both marines were captured and executed by the Singapore government back then. In order to sooth relations, Singapore’s then PM Lee KY visited their graves in 1973. In naming the two frigates after their heroes, the Indonesian government opened up new wounds again in the bilateral relationships with Singapore. What can the reason be? It could be, similar to China and Japan’s leaders’ case, a need to appeal to their domestic population. Naming after the ships after their heroes is a way to remind the Indonesian people that they are still the big boys in the neighborhood and do not need to worry about the smaller fishes. It also instill pride in their nation, causing the population to remember that their independence was won by blood and struggle, something that the newer generation of Indonesian may not remember. After all, their motto of Pancasila was to unite their diverse people under the same Indonesian flag. In the absence of a real enemy, it is always an old trick to dig up some old “safe” conflict to unite under again.

Singaporeans should also likewise remember that our independence and current economic prosperity were not given freely to our fathers. While PM Lee honors the pioneer generation now, it is for a good reason. It is on their blood and toil that we have the current status as the hub of Southeast Asia. Too many of our current generation are taking it for granted.

That being said, we should not take the naming of the two vessels too seriously. It is, as mentioned, probably a gimmick to stir up some excitement as the current Indonesian government heads into their next election in April 2014. Just as we had suffered indignities during Malaysian’s election previously, we may have to be the bogeyman for Indonesia, albeit in a much more distance way. Just wait till they start accusing Singapore of being a tax heaven for their rich citizen or stealing their soil again….

Elitism

It seems hard to keep to my one week one blog post resolution with so many distractions around. However, I am glad to report I’m almost done with learning the rubix cube!!! There’s also the Lunar (Chinese) New Year and all the visiting. Of course, having four kids is always a daily challenge especially with one of them preparing for the PSLE next year and is still failing subjects.

Anyway, this week’s thoughts are on elitism. Is it really such a bad thing? I opine that elitism is the natural order of things. For the society to progress, there needs to be a concentration of resources in the hands of the capable to focus these resources into more elaborate projects for research and development. At the same time, it is in their self-interests (a natural and valid reason in my view) to keep these developments firmly in the hands of their family. For therein lies the ability and continued training to keep the venture going, for these ventures may not see fruit for one or two generations. If these ventures prove unprofitable, natural order will remove these advantage from the hands of these elites into the next better player.

Perhaps rather than looking at the Gini-coefficient (always a good and lazy way to quote wikipedia) as a measurement of social equality (why do we argue for it anyway?), it may be better to measure social mobility in a nation. It is, my opinion, that the government exists, not to benefit all its citizenry, but to level up the poorest of its population so that their children may have as much opportunities as the middle class. Not the first class, or the first 10%, I would say, for it is impossible (why set impossible goals to fail at?) Thus, a measurement of a government’s success is to provide education and training for all till their academic and skill proficiency. At the end of the day, is it the government’s job to provide a private car for all or just adequate public transport for all.

Success, we must also bear in mind, is more than just material wealth. Of course, a local Chinese saying goes, “钱不是万能的,但是没钱是万万不能的。” Money is not all powerful, but it is dreadful to be without it. Even with this, success must be measured in more than material wealth, just as happiness is found in small things money cannot buy. Neither is the richest man in the country necessarily the happiest, if there is such an accurate measurement. Inner peace and the knowledge of one’s place in God’s plan is often more enduring than the fleeting joys of material things. But then, I may be so sunk into the greatest lie of all that I really do not know… “Religion is the opium of the people” – Karl Marx

O yes, I’m thinking of setting up another blog for some concepts of games I have. Once it is up, I will provide a link here…