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El mercado en línea japonés (2) – evita el harakiri digital

En “No te olvides del sol naciente – el mercado en línea japonés” quise recordar que aunque de la impresión que Japón se esconda bajo la sombra del resto de los ascendientes gigantes Asiáticos, las estadísticas nos demuestran que es un mercado digital que no podemos dejar de lado.

Lo importante ahora es aprender cómo adentrarse a este único mercado en línea sin cometer harakiri digital y comercial. No caigas en el mismo error en el que otras empresas han caído durante tanto tiempo, al asumir que las estrategias de marketing digital y optimización de motores de búsqueda que utilizan en su país de origen podrían ser traducidas literalmente al japonés. Grave error. Aunque las variaciones dialécticas no son un problema serio en Japón, la complejidad escrita del idioma y las posibles representaciones de cada palabra en cada región, hacen que sea imprescindible acompañarse de un profesional nativo del idioma.

 

Pero no hay que desalentarse. Como comentábamos en la primera entrega de esta serie dedicada al mercado digital japonés, el cambio de Yahoo!Japan a Google hace que simplemente tengas que encontrar la manera de destacarte en una única herramienta de búsqueda, y que además solo tengas que gestionar tus campañas de pago por clic en Google. Eso te ahora complejidad, tiempo y dinero.

Pago por clic

En diciembre del 2010, Google anunció una serie de cambios en el formato de la publicidad por medio de AdWords, permitiendo a partir de entonces, el uso de un mayor número de caractereres japoneses en los títulos y en las descripciones de los anuncios. Esta decisión ayuda a los publicitantes en Google AdWords Japan porque las palabras clave utilizadas en japonés suelen ser mucho más largas que en otros idiomas, y porque este lenguaje ocupa dos espacios de código en linea por cada caracter. Un mayor número de caracteres significa mayor eficacia publicitaria. Así que, gracias, Google, por facilitar las cosas.

Posicionamiento orgánico

Google abarca la mayor parte del mercado y alimenta los resultados de las búsquedas efectuadas a través de Yahoo!Japan y Rakuten; por lo tanto, centra tus esfuerzos en aparecer en buena posición en Google. Es decir, asegúrate de que Google sepa que quieres que tu página aparezca en Japón. ¿Cómo? ¿Cómo le indicas al gigante de la búsqueda que te interesa el país del sol naciente? Teniendo en cuenta los siguientes factores:

En el ámbito del marketing en motores de búsqueda, tu URL (localizador uniforme de recursos) o la dirección de tu página web, es la primera pieza de código de tu página que el algoritmo de Google escanéa. Si Google se encuentra con los dominios .es o .cn, asume que te interesa que la página se despliegue en los resultados de España o de China. Así que cuando establezcas tu página web, es importante que registres dominios en los países a los que esperas llevar tu negocio, en este caso, Japón, es decir, con las siglas .jp.

Si esta opción no te resulta práctica en el momento de iniciar tu empresa, crea extensiones basadas en tu versión original .com, es decir, http://www.buenosdiasjapon.com/jp. En tal caso, asegúrate que le indicas cláramente a Google en las herramientas para webmasters de Google, cuál es el mercado que quieres priorizar.

  • El lenguaje de tu página web

El lenguage en el que está redactada tu página web es también un indicador del país o paises al que quieres dirigirte. El idioma japonés es especialmente fácil de detectar para Google que no tiene que diferenciar de qué país se trata, como le ocurre en el caso de idiomas hablados en varios países (español, el árabe o el inglés).

  • Datos de la empresa en la página web

Si tu página web incluye una dirección física en el país en el que quieres aparecer en los listados de Google, en este caso Japón, a este motor de búsqueda le resulta más sencillo identificar tu país objetivo.

  • Enlaces entrantes

Sabemos que Google depende en gran parte de los enlaces entrantes para calificar el nivel de popularidad de una página y para determinar dónde colocarla en los ránkings. Así que cuando crees una version de tu página en otro país, asegúrate de utilizar enlaces a esta página local de páginas provenientes únicamentes de este país (Japón).

Es importante también incluir en Google Places  cualquier información sobre la ubicación de tu empresa ya que ésto informa a Google sobre dónde quieres aparecer en las búsquedas.

  • Palabras clave

Normalmente una de las partes más problematicas al crear y posicionar una página web en  Japón, ya que el idioma japonés presenta cuatro grupos de caracteres diferentes que los internautas utilizan indiscriminadamente al efectuar sus búsquedas en Internet. Por ellos te conviene contratar los servicios  de un profesional local del sector que te ayude a encontrar el grupo de caracteres con mayores probabilidades de ser utilizados por los internautas del país al buscar productos y servicios como los tuyos.

Aquí tienes algunas agencias que podrán ayudarte en tu posicionamiento en la red japonesa:

Gaijin Web

Pek Japan

Nakamura Communications

Portal Japan

Info Cubic Japan

  • Videos e imágenes

Los internautas japoneses miran más videos en línea que ninguna otra población en línea. La probabilidad de que seleccionen un video en los resultados de búsqueda que un artículo escrito es también mucho mayor. Por lo tanto, es importante no olvidarnos de optimizar  las imágenes y los videos que utilizamos para que puedan ser encontrados con facilidad.

Relaciones públicas

Una profesión altamente desarrollada en Japón, las relaciones públicas se ejecutan de manera muy diferente que en la mayoría de los países occidentales. Aunque los japoneses conocen las costumbres foráneas, y de hecho, en tu presencia, seguro que incluso te saludan con una apretón de mano en lugar de su tradicional reberencia, siempre debes recordar que Japón pertenece al grupo de los países que el antropólogo Edward T Hall bautizó como “high context cultures“(culturas de alto contexto): incluso el menor gesto puede conllevar un significado único y seguramente desconocido. La redacción escrita también contiene muchos matices culturales a los que debes prestar atención al preparar comunicados de prensa y contenido de promoción en este país.

De nuevo, te recomiendo que contrates los servicios de un profesional japonés que pueda escribir o traducir tus comunicados de prensa y el contenido dedicado a este país, alguien que conozca el tono de voz que se debe utilizar en tal ocasión y que conozca los matices culturales y lingüísticos apropiados.

La distribución de un comunicado de prensa en Japón es sencilla, y puedes utilizar cualquiera de los proveedores en el país, como Marketwire (que incluye traducciones gratis) o Japan Corporate NewsENewsPr NewsCertain.

Si te animas y quieres conocer más información para ayudarte a crear una página web que atraiga al mercado japonés, visita La estética de una página web japonesa. 

The $20 ad campaign: small businesses find alternatives to Google AdWords

Tere Rodriguez:

Did you know there is a world beyond Google and Google AdWords_ Yes, there is hope for Jo Citizen wanting to advertise online.

Originally posted on paidContent (old):

Gerald Gorman, who runs online businesses like Lawyer.com, pays Google (s goog) $100,000 a month to place ads near search results and on Google’s partner sites. While the ads have proved effective at attracting customers, their growing price tag has led Gorman to look around for alternatives.

In the past, Gorman would have been out of luck. That’s because, despite the internet’s rapid growth, most small and medium businesses had few viable online ad options beyond Google or Bing. This is changing, however, as upstart ad companies tap into new publishing tools and social media to offer effective online campaigns for as low as $20 a pop.

In Gorman’s case, he laid down $1000 on two such companies, Outbrain and Virurl, and was delighted with the results. While he pays as much as $10 for a customer to click on one of this Google ads, he found he paid 8…

View original 844 more words

No te olvides del país del sol naciente – el mercado en línea japonés (1)

A parte de los desastres medioambientales que por desgracia le azotan con frecuencia, recibimos pocas noticias de Japón. Muchos de los otros países del continente asiático captan nuestra atención y la de los medios de comunicación por su rápido ascenso económico y su igualmente escalada degradación ecológica.

Pero no debemos olvidar que a pesar de la competición que le presenta el resto de Asia, y a pesar de la lucha que debe sostener contra la naturaleza, Japón sigue siendo la tercera economía por PBI nominal del mundo; es decir, que los japoneses continúan disfrutando de un estándar de vida considerablemente alto.

Aún más interesante es el hecho que este país es el cuarto mercado en línea de mayor importancia mundial, con más de 100 millones de internautas en Marzo del 2011 (casi un 80% de su población).  El japonés es, además,  el cuarto idioma en la lista de lenguas más utilizadas en Internet.

Es decir, que no podemos dejar de lado al modesto gigante simplemente porque nos pueda parecer que la suerte le haya abandonado en los últimos años.

 

Un líder tecnológico luchando por mantenerse en el podio

Japón  ha sido líder en avances tecnológicos desde su recuperación económica tras los devastadores efectos de la segunda guerra mundial. Pero recientemente, los japoneses se han apropiado de los adelantos en el ámbito de la tecnología móvil como ninguna otra sociedad lo ha hecho hasta ahora. La población de Japón paga sus compras utilizando sus teléfonos móviles desde el 2005. Las redes de comunicación social se hicieron populares en este país ya en 1999, convirtiéndose en la actualidad en una parte integral de la vida de los japoneses. Las compras en línea suman más de 6,7 trillones de yenes Japoneses y generan 30 billones de dólares americanos en ventas de productos y servicios variados ( sin incluir descargas digitales y viajes, categorías que se cuentan a parte.)

Demográficamente, los usuarios de Internet en Japón se dividen entre un 46,1% de mujeres y un 53,9% de hombres, con una significante diferenciación por edad. Entre las mujeres japonesas, un 68% de las usuarias de Internet tienen de 35 a 39 años,  mientras que la mayoría de los hombres que utilizan este medio cuentan con una edad de  45 a 49 años. Ambos sexos son mayores que la mayoría de los usuarios de Internet en el resto de los países asiáticos, y esto tiene importantes consecuencias a la hora de crear estrategias de marketing en línea en este país, ya que estos grupos suelen tener unos gustos más refinados y consolidados y un mayor poder adquisitivo que los internautas en el resto del continente.

Los siguientes datos también pueden resultar interesantes:

• Los japoneses dedican unas 20 horas al mes a navegar por Internet.

• Pasan mucho más tiempo (el doble, de hecho),  que el resto de los internautas asiáticos mirando videos en línea.

• Dedican muy poco tiempo a apostar en línea, en comparación con sus vecinos asiáticos.

• El 90% de los japoneses en línea tiene acceso a directorios y motores de búsqueda, estimándose que se efectúan unas 126 búsquedas mensuales por persona.

• La mitad de las búsquedas hechas en Japón se hacen a través de Google.

• En el 2010, las búsquedas más comunes estuvieron relacionadas con productos y servicios, seguidas de noticias e información.

• Aunque las redes sociales más utilizadas son las populares Mixi Gree, Facebook cuenta con casi 5 millones de seguidores en el país, aunque su uso parece ser reservado para ocasiones más formales o profesionales, algo como el LinkedIn en el que nosotros compartimos nuestros currículos y logros laborales y educativos. Este diferente uso de las redes sociales podría deberse al sentido agudo de la privacidad en Japón. Facebook obliga a sus usuarios a utilizar sus nombres propios, mientras que en las redes sociales locales muchos usuarios prefieren adoptar un nombre y personalidad alternativa.

Movilidad avanzada

Un 46% de japoneses acceden a Internet utilizando dispositivos móviles, tanto ordenadores como teléfonos.  El mercado móvil en línea japonés es el más avanzado del planeta y continua desarrollándose rápidamente.

Prioritariamente, estos adelantos se deben al pronto despliegue de la  red WAP (Wide Area Protocol) de conexión de móviles a Internet, disponible en Japón desde los años noventa.  Un 7% de la población japonesa en línea compra utilizando sus dispositivos móviles, y aunque esa cifra no parezca excesivamente atractiva, hay que tener en cuenta que el 7% de los internautas japoneses suman 7 millones de personas.  Así que no descartes la posibilidad de promocionar tus productos en vías móviles, utilizando una aplicación dedicada exclusivamente a venderlos en este tipo de dispositivos.

El monopolio Google también en Japón

En el 2011, Yahoo!Japón dejó de mostrar resultados de búsqueda de Yahoo! y empezó a mostrar los de Google el año pasado. Esa decisión hizo que el gigante internacional de la búsqueda pasase a acaparar cerca del 95% del mercado japonés. Poco después, el portal japonés Rakuten también dejó de mostrar resultados de Infoseek para presentar la información proveniente de Google. El monopolio paso a ser casi completo.

¿Por qué se le cedieron tales beneficios a Google? Parece ser que la tecnología de Microsoft que iba a ser utilizada por aquel entonces por Yahoo!Japan le impedía mostrar los caracteres japoneses adecuadamente. Rakuten also prefería la velocidad de búsqueda característica de Google.

Para inversores internacionales con intención de aparecer en búsquedas locales japonesas, este cambio a Google, significa una simplificación del proceso considerable. De todas maneras, aún y con la familiaridad

¿Interesado? En la siguiente entrega te explico qué aspectos tienes que tener en cuenta al promocionar tus productos en línea en este país.

Y si no puedes esperar, visita La estética de una página web japonesa, donde destaco qué factores son importantes a la hora de crear una página dedicada exclusivamente al mercado japonés.

Establishing your online presence in South Korea – Gangnam style, or not

Since the infectious single by Korean pop star PSY appeared in July, the Gangnam Style engineered dance routines, over-the-top styling, and the Technicolor production that captivated over 350 million viewers in YouTube, repositioned South Korea in the digital world and made us pay attention to a country we had left in the backburner for quite a while.

A subtle commentary on class in South Korea, PSY uses the repetitive tunes and somewhat quirky dance moves to paint a caricature of the ostentatious culture of people who frequent the wealthy Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam, where young people go to party.

If PSY has put Korea back in the map for you, it might be time to dig a little deeper and understand the state of digital communications and marketing in South Korea.

Here are some facts:

• South Korea is a top 10 trader in world markets and the home of household brands such a Samsung, LG and Hyundai.
• The South Korean economy in 2011 was the third largest in Asia and the thirteenth largest in the world.
• According to a June 2010 International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report, SK has some 48.6 milllion internet users, which represents 81.1 percent of the population. This makes SK the eleventh largest Internet population in the world.
• By 2012, a majority of Korean internet users will have access to 1 Gbps services, which is 10 times faster than they had in 2010.
• The Korean language ranks tenth among languages used on he Web.
• Men and women appear to be online in equal number, and almost 100 percent of all Korean under the age of 30 are online, including students, professionals, managers and office workers.
• Internet subscriptions are among the cheapest in the world. Most homes can get a 100 Mbps connection for KRW33000 ($30 US) per month.
• The Digital Economic Daily estimated two million web visitors in South Korea (about 8.5% of all Internet users) could be described as Internet addicts because they spend most of their non-work time online.
• More than 75% of Koreans have mobile phones and many are adopting smartphones as their way of connecting online, with the number of smartphones expected to reach 20 million in 2011.
• South Koreans have a passion for blogging, with nearly 40% of web users having had written their own blogs, second only to Chinese bloggers.

It sounds promising, I know. But here is where business owners trying to penetrate this market need to hold their excitement and ponder about local preferences and idyosincracies.

South Korean preferred search engines

If we look at search engines as we know them, things start to get a little unfamiliar- not only do Google and Yahoo! Online have a market share in Korea of only about 10%, but also, Korean content is largely favoured over international content.

In 2010 local search engine Naver lead with a 62% share while Daum was number two at 21%. In third place came newcomer Nate, launched in 2009 by the popular Korean social network Cyworld.

Besides, while South Koreans have very successfully integrated the Internet into their daily lives in many ways, their expectations of what search engines should do for them are fairly complex for international newcomers – South Koreans want search engines to solve their problems for them and so the task of these providers is a lot more complex than simply producing a choice of links to click through.

As such, results pages on popular South Korean search engines Naver and Daum appear to Western eyes to look more like portals instead of the compilation of organic links on the left and sponsored links on the top and along the right side that we are so accustomed to. But most interestingly, these sites aggregate a lot of different kinds of content , combining paid content with news, blogs, academic articles, real time results, shopping comparisons and a lot of User Generated Content in very different formats like videos, images, special boxes for real time results and a continuously updated box of most popular searches.

Preferred content in South Korean search engines

If you search for a particular product in one of the most popular Korean search engines, you will get organic results well below the fold, leaving the top 15 to 20 spots for paid links. In fact, Korean users seem to expect both Naver and Daum to push traffic to other properties in their networks or paid listings.

Paid per click

The only really effective way to penetrate pay-per-click advertising in SK is via Yahoo! Korea’s Overture because it partners with both Naver and Nate and also shows ads on Yahoo! Korea, Paran, MSN, HanaFos and DreamWiz.

But even using these tools,  opportunities for foreign sites to advertise on Naver and Daun are limited to one or two listings from Yahoo! Korea, among as many as 50 on a typical results page.  Furthermore, in order to use Yahoo!Korea and manage your campaign successfully, you need to be use a native speaker of the language, preferably familiar with keyword optimization strategies who can manage it.

Your best bet is to translate your site to Korean and use  a Korean top-level domain such as co.kr and .kr

Social media

According to the South Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a stuggering 30% of online users in this country report to belong to some kind of a social media network, and 60% of youngsters in their twenties claim to purchase products or services using social media.

The top South Korean social network Cyworld had more than 25 million members in 2010 – more than six times the number of users than Facebook has in the country. Thanks to the partnership between the second largest search engine in the country, Daum and Twitter, South Koreans can now microblog from inside the portal, producing a twitter usage rate twice the global average.

Online PR

Online Press releases are an important tool to socialise your news in South Korea. This, can in turn, become an effective way to bring your news and your company to the attention of searchers there via their user-generated content. Both PR Newswire and Business wire translate and distribute PRs there. Plus PR Week reported in August 2010 there are over 600 public relations agencies in South Korea.

Korean digital language, culture and website aesthetics

Koreans are accustomed and expect high digital standards and user-friendly, fast websites that adapt to their tastes and preferences. The widespread broadband created a stimulus for web developers to write overly complex and rich web-pages. So, South Koreans now embrace visually rich, highly interactive websites that incorporate flash and images, preferably animated, like so:

Another element to take into account is censorship. Remember that all South Korean who publish content on the internet are required by law to verify their identity with their citizen identity number. The most common form of censorship at present involves ordering internet service providers to block the IP address of disfavored websites. Because of this, and all the above reasons, I think it is wise to establish a sound relationship with the digital agency in South Korea to help you pave your approach to this country’s Internet culture.  This is a market that is certainly worth becoming part of but not without having done a very solid research prior and having understood its obstacles and peculiarities.

Don’ts of South Korean digital marketing

Apply your common sense and don’t expect conventional western search marketing strategies to apply to the South Korean market.

• Remember that access for business located outside South Korea is limited to one or two listings on a results page.
• Even if you think that relevant, timely content and links are going to help you achieve results, think twice. You will still have to fight for visibility with other 50 something paid listings and links to UGC.
• Don’t expect to focus your search strategy on Google Korean and receive the visibility you are hoping for. Yes, you can geo-target this market from inside your AdWords account, but keep in mind Google and Yahoo! Together hold less than one-tenth of the market.
• And if you are familiar with other Asian countries like China or Japan, don’t expect South Korea to automatically function like them. SK is very unique and a very lively internet market with its own preferences and rules of play.

Transhumanism… The Shape of Things to Come?

 Reblogged from Stories by Williams:

Transhumanism… The Shape of Things to Come?

“Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.”

-Eclipse Phrase

A lot of terms are thrown around these days that allude to the possible shape of our future. Words like Technological Singularity, extropianism, postmortal, posthuman, and Transhuman. What do these words mean? What kind of future do they point to?

Read more… 1,088 more words

Can you imagine a “post-mortal” future where death, scarcity and the many problems we face today are no longer an issue? Would such future be sustainable? Storiesbywilliams discusses why such a trend might be desirable or even inevitable.

Catalan independence movement – Restoring not dividing

When I was sixteen I liked dancing. I couldn’t help it. It was the days of Cool and the Gang, Madness, the ELO, Phil Collins,… my tiny youthful body just had to dance. If you were a teenager in the eighties, you probably know what I am talking about – you were somehow dragged into this state of euphoria by this happy little tunes.

But see, the only problem was that while I was out and about shacking it many of my also seventeen year old classmates and friends, were already fighting for a cause the significance of which I could not fully grasp. The same cause that saw nearly two million people take the streets of Catalonia this week- the claim for Independence.

Why independence now?

You, as many others, probably don’t understand why. Why would the people of Catalonia throw away 300 years of history under Spanish rule, and revert to a state so far back in history?. Those who question why catalans insist on going down this road now, neglect the fact that the Catalan language and culture date as far back as thousand years before 1714, the year when Barcelona and its territories were incorporated to the Crown of Castile as provinces, within a centralised Spanish administration under a new Bourbon dynasty. The annexation of Catalonia was merely a political construct, a move in the board of political chess that kings and nobles played that had absolutely nothing to do with the people and the language and culture they were nesting for centuries. Yes, like most moves in history, one could say – the big boys do and undo as they please. Yes, exactly like that. But that doesn’t mean i’t s acceptable and it should remain unquestioned and unchallenged for ever.

In fact, the majority don’t even know where or what Catalonia is, let alone why it should constitute a sovereign state of its own. Why would anyone want to challenge unity and provoke division and possibly violence? For instance, Olga Khazan, from the Washington Post started her report with this comment:

While Americans commemorate Sept. 11 by putting aside differences, Spaniards mark the day by letting divisions flare.

Oh dear Olga, you thought you were opening your article with such a clever statement. But see, firstly, you are comparing apples with pears. The events of September eleven in New York and the way the people of that city have worked towards healing and recovering from such atrocity have absolutely nothing to do with the way a group of people express (very peacefully indeed) their feelings about their future and the future of their language and culture. Secondly, I personally hate this type of empty, tautological vocabulary that gets repeated regardless of the history and particularities of the event. And if you have read my blog, you know that I am all for finding similarities among us and working towards understanding. But, as I explained in my home page, “Why“, I am also all for respecting and promoting cultural and linguistic uniqueness and not allowing something as precious as that, which has taken thousands of years to develop to disappear under the blanket of globalisation.

That’s why more than one and a half million people marched peacefully and euphorically in the streets of the catalan capital city, Barcelona, and many others in surrounding localities – not hundreds of thousands like the Spanish media reported, not a million like other right wing media outlet claimed, over a million and a half –

Young,

in the midst of their prime,

and those that have been waiting for this moment for many years now.

And I, now that I should be prevented from dancing :) , I have the obligation to finally get my act together and help my friends and family spread the word and let the world know about the seed that has been planted this week. It is up to us now to broadcast this peaceful movement and explain why it is not about divisions, hatred, secession, rupture – It’s about peacefully restoring what political games and maneuvers once, many centuries ago, stole from a group of hard-working, peace-loving people. Because, now, thanks to the power of technology and social media, we are able to show the other side of the coin.

It is obvious that Spanish media works its hardest at concealing the significance and magnitude of events like this one. For instance, the day after the demonstration took place, my husband and I sat to watch the Spanish TV1 news shown in SBS Australia every morning and waited patiently for news of the demonstration to be shown. We eventually had to pause and see if we had got the news for another date because it was not until minute 22 that the newsreader mentioned a demonstration of hundreds of thousands that took place in the streets of Barcelona. But before that we had to endure 22 minutes of glorification of Mariano Rajoy (President of the Spanish Government), an  3 or 4 minute long presentation of an interview he had with the Finish Prime Minister as well as many of his speeches and self-praise.

But this biased coverage has not gone unnoticed internationally. French newspapers implicitly mentioned the same lack of reporting by Spanish TV and have accused some of the more conservative newspapers like La Razón and Abc of hiding the massive numbers that marched in the streets and the impact of the demonstration, only to refer to it briefly and to accuse it in these kind of terms: ‘Catalan nationalism, hand in hand with socialism, have carried out a show of sovereign strength in Barcelona, a proof of the politics of division that the catalan government promotes ‘. In the same line, reading some of the newspapers in the traditionally anti-catalan region of Andalucia, one would not have even known this event had ever occurred.

This silence contrasts with the coverage by international media publications like al-Jazeera, the Financial Times and the BBC, which highlighted the significance and reach of these demonstrations.

The eyes are now on Catalonia regardless of the level of coverage it gets from the rest of Spain. But it is very important for the world to know and understand that this is not about creating borders, boundaries, promoting divisions and rifts, like many in the Spanish governing Popular Party would have you believe. The movement for Catalan independence is about restoring what was a group of people lost in 1714 to the whims of kings, queens and nobles and giving them the much deserved opportunity to drive their own future.

Eight ways the Spanish government uses language and the media to “manufacture consent”

Interesting article over last weekend in the Spanish daily El País reminiscent of the thesis and arguments put forward by many illustrious postmodernist authors and activists about the blatant manipulation of the cultural and linguistic discourse carried out by the Partido Popular (ironically – “Popular party”, PP), Spanish current right-wing government.

The three authors argued that the PP’s neoliberal, rightist mentality accounts for an immense political and financial power that not only imposes its radical economic and political model onto the people, but it also seeks to impose a change of thought and ultimately to achieve cultural hegemony.  This project, they claim, is based on a systematic campaign of self-legitimation and discredit of progressive arguments by using the media which, is mostly dominated or at least influenced by the government.

How is this consent achieved?

Using the following, and other, manipulation strategies, already referred to by Noam Chomsky in many of his lectures and publications:

1. Creation (or borrowing) and diffusion of concepts and terms –  competitivenesswage moderationcreation of market confidenceprivilegesco-payments, etc .These new notions draw a map of public life, the actors and their conflicts and are presented as unquestionable truths. And yet, their meaning and scope are never made ​​explicit. The more imprinted in public life and in government policy they become, the lower their semantic precision. For example, “freedom” takes on a meaning related to “security”. BESCAM (the local Madrid police force)’s slogan is “Investing in security ensures your freedom.” As in Orwell’s “Newspeak” new ideas become “doublethink” or simultaneously accepted contradictory beliefs – The “Plan of Assurance of Basic Social Services” is the name given to the Castilla-La Mancha government’s cutbacks program. The “process of regularisation of hidden assets” promulgated by Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro is, in fact, a tax amnesty.

These “reconfiguration” of the language by right-wing leaders is a common phenomenon (think of Nazi slogans or the constantly repeated hackneyed phrases by Australia’s opposition leader Tony Abbott’s to make us believe that “boat people”are here to invade Australia). The Spanish right-wing party is manufacturing a set of convincing terms which oppose logic – “we cannot spend what we don’t have”, “free health services are unsustainable“, “only we have “common sense“. In fact, capitalism is based on credit and spending more than what one owns; public health services is not free but financed collectively by the public and therefore, common to all. But the simplicity of these slogans and their seemingly non-ideological nature make it easy for these tautologies to adhere to people’s minds and become unquestionable truths.

2. Appropriation of opponents’terminology

Admittedly, no one owns a language, but it could legitimately claimed that certain expressions are associated with specific traditions, stories and political identities. By usurping the terms of the left, the right wing simultaneously neutralises its opposition and attains a rebellious feel of sorts. Esperanza Aguirre, the current right wing mayor of Madrid,  claims that the policies of the syndicates “are outdated, reactionary and anti-social.” Words like “change” or “reform” rather linked to progressive projects, are used in disguise to refer to what are actually counter-reforms. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said at the official commemoration of the 1812 Constitution: “The people from Cadiz taught us that in times of crisis not only is it necessary to make reforms, but one also has to have  the courage to carry them through.” He used the symbolism of earlier reforms and reformist movements to justify and legitimate current cutbacks and dress them up as reforms.

3. Stigmatisation of certain groups

The government’s discourse refers to the unemployed as the beneficiaries of the labor reform, a lazy cast that needs to redeem its uselessness repaying the employed population with social work. For instance, Victor Grifols, president of a pharmaceutical company in Spain, proposes that “in times of crisis we could pay the unemployed 60 euros per week to donate life, earnings which could be added to their pensions.” With this proposal, the jobless body becomes a commodity, human waste that can be bought at a (minimum) price.

Some of the earlier government cutbacks also reveal a new type of paria – the sick person, now blamed for the country’s deficit and forced to pay for his/her weaknesses.

And this is the beginning, surely many other groups are bound to be falsely blamed, stigmatised and outcast.

4. Arguments based on simplicity and immediate understanding

“It is not a matter of right or left, but simply a matter of common sense,” said Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, President since 2008 of the PP in Catalonia. Mariano Rajoy’s well known appeal to “common sense” helps the party sustain a mental framework that makes people accept all imposed ideas as if they were their own conclusions, irrefutable expressions of pragmatism and the collective interest.

Euphemisms, attenuations, exaggerations, the defense of contradicting premises – all of these figures have been normalised in the right-wing rhetorical repertoire. For instance, Rajoy says it will do “whatever is necessary, even if I do not like it and even if I had previously said I was not going to do it.” The reduction of temporary teachers “should not be understood in terms of layoffs“, claims Education Minister José Ignacio Wert, “but in terms of renewal of contracts.”

5. Constructing frameworks of meaning

It’s easier for those in the public arena to enjoy more power when they control the framework of what can be said and debated. As it is, and after a protracted degeneration of public life, the PP owns a consensual logic of the system – there is only one reality and no option to interpret it.

6. Orchestration tactics

The insistent repetition of a slogan by different voices, in different times and places is now commonplace:  ”unions survive on subsidies“,” teachers don’t work much at all“etc.. As the bellman in Lewis Carroll’s The hunting of the shark said “whatever I tell you three times is the true“. The right takes advantage of that “performativity” governing public statements and whenever a particular type of behavior is repeatedly normally, it tends to become normalised, or to become stigmatised if it has been repeatedly been labeled as an anomaly.

7. Using the power of the media to reinforce these mechanisms

The media helps the Popular Party spread new expressions and slogans while government consultants continue manufacturing statements and translate them immediately into a headline. Inversely proportional to the impact of these messages is the ability to answer them: any possible critical analysis by opposition forces are dissolved in a flurry of articles and editorial columns which achieve a much lower diffusion and influence than the government’s own propaganda.

Noam Chomsky has been warning us for decades now about this active (but subtle) use of the media to manufacture consent and achieve  popular control. Chomsky has argued that editorial distortion is aggravated by the media’s dependence upon private and governmental news sources. If a given newspaper, television station, magazine, etc., incurs governmental disfavor, it is subtly excluded from access to information. Consequently, it loses readers or viewers, and ultimately, advertisers. To minimise such financial danger, news media businesses editorially distort their reporting to favor government and corporate policies in order to stay in business.

8. Moralising public discourse

Good or badnormal or abnormal – these morally charged adjectives are attributed categorically and without room for discussions, appropriating the universality of the concept in dispute. The “normal, sensible people of Spain” to whom Rajoy tries to appeal to belong, undoubtedly, to the right. But by concealing its moral fundamentalism, the PP incurs a political paradox and so, PP advocates like former Mayor of Madrid, Ruiz Gallardón, attempt to assume the defense of women’s rights and the fight against the ingrained domestic violence in Spanish society with a counter-reform of the abortion law which, still limits abortion rights and reinforces legal violence further.

Let’s start by being aware of what is being said and done to us. And then, let’s show our indignation about the use of our own language, our own words,  to treat us as brainless commodities with no capacity to analyse and counter-argue.

Is there a word in English to describe the frustration I feel before my wandering train of thought? – Defining culture-specific emotions

As always, I sit myself down in front of this old computer with the intention of start talking about A and somehow my train of thought just can’t stay in A – in a matter of seconds, it takes a life of its own and starts travelling from D to N, making a stopover in H and even going as far as Z. If I’m lucky, it brings me back to A but not without carrying a heavy load of scrambled thoughts and ideas that I then need to work very hard to make any sense of.

I get excited about many of them, I trash many others but ultimately, I get exasperated by this very testing, independent, self-absorbed entity in my brain that I try want to subdue by any means. And I wonder, is there a term for this emotion in the English language? Or in any other language for that matter? Is there a term that captures the frustration of a writer struggling to restrain a wandering, straying train of thought that refuses to stay in one and only one topic? There should be because I reckon this is an innate, genetically determined predisposition. At least in my case. I have always suffered from it, many of my teachers and supervisors had diagnosed it (and I thank them for their patience and support :))

How do I call the emotion I experience when I can’t control my very irritating wandering train of thought?

Anyway… (that’s one of the words I use to try to bring my extremely tangential mind to A and remember where I wanted to start), the question here is whether the aggravation I feel in the case I explained above can be described in a single word in a particular language. Just like whether, as questioned by American essayist Pamela Haag in her article  Relationship words that are not translatable into English , is it possible to find words in the English language that describe emotions such as the Bantu word Ilunga – the willingness to forgive abuse the first time, tolerate it the second but never the third? Or, is it possible to find an English equivalent to the feeling expressed by the Polish words tgsknota (noun) and tgsknic‘ (verb)?.

Anna Wierzbicka’s work on defining emotions in different languages

Australian linguist Anna Wierzbicka has spent many years putting some thought into this and has come to the conclusion that although the above Polish terms have no simple, monolexemic English equivalents, it is possible to explain in English what the relevant feeling is, if one uses semantic primitives to decompose the complex Polish concept(s) into parts whose names do have simple English equivalents:

X tgskni do Y (“X feels ‘tgsknota’  to Y”)  =

X is far away from Y

X thinks of Y

X feels something good toward Y

X wants to be together with Y

X knows he or she cannot be together with Y

X feels something bad because of that.

In her 1986 essay “Human emotions – Universal or culture specific?,” Wierzbicka sees some potential similarities between the Polish tgskni and several English words such as homesickmisspine,  nostalgia, but maintains that they all differ from one another and from the Polish term as well (and I quote her directly just to illustrate the magnitude of her understanding of the different nuances of the terms):

“For example, if a teenage daughter leaves the family home and goes to study in a distant city, her Polish parents would usually tgsknic’, but one could not say that they were homesick for the daughter, that they felt nostalgia for her, and one would hardly say that they were pining  after her. One could say that they missed her, but miss implies much less than tgsknik. One could say to a friend, “We missed you at the meeting,” without wishing to imply that anything remotely similar to pain or suffering was involved; and yet tgsknit does imply something like pain or suffering (in fact, the best gloss I have come across is “the pain of distance”).  The word miss implies neither pain nor distance. For example, one can miss someone who has died (“My  grandmother died recently. You have no idea how much I miss her”).  But one would not use tgsknic’ in a case like this, because tgsknic’ implies a real separation in space. In this respect, tgsknic‘ is related to homesick. But of course homesick implies that the experiencer him or herself has gone far away from the target of the emotion.

The exact similarities and differences between tgsknic’ and homesick can be seen if one compares the explication of the former concept, given earlier with the explication  of the latter, given here:

X is homesick  =

X is far away from his or her home

X thinks of his or her home

X feels something good toward his or her home

X wants to be there

X knows he or she cannot be there at that time

X feels something bad because of that.

Pining differs from tgsknic‘ in its single-mindedness and its, so to speak, debilitating effect:

X is pining after Y  =

X is away from Y

X thinks of Y

X feels something good toward Y

X wants to be with Y

X knows that he or she cannot be with Y

X feels something bad because of that

X can’t think of anything else because of that.

Miss, as a form of emotion, can perhaps be explicated as follows:

X (Jane)  misses Y (Sally) =

Y is not with X

X thinks of Y

X would want to be with Y

X thinks that being with Y would cause him or her to feel something good.

Universal emotion terms?

It seems natural to assume, then, that each language will have it own set of emotion-words that are used to define those emotions that the members of the culture recognise as important to them. We can assume that these language-specific sets overlap and, perhaps, that the closer two cultures are, the greater the overlap between their respective sets of emotion words. But we can also assume that the more distant apart a culture is from another in space and conceptualisation, the harder it would be to share specific emotions. And that is certainly a challenged faced by translators and interpreters and professionals of intercultural communication.

But is it equally natural to assume that there may be a set of fundamental, universal, presumably innate human emotions shared by all regardless of culture-specific idiosyncracies?

According to Izard and Buechler (1980: 168), the fundamental emotions are

( 1)  interest,

(2) joy,

(3) surprise,

(4) sadness,

(5) anger,

(6) disgust,

(7) contempt,

(8) fear,

(9) shame/shyness,

(10) guilt.

I, like Anna Wierzbicka, am not happy when I see English-centred claims of this kind. The fact that the English language seems to be perfectly capable of encapsulating supposedly human universal emotions makes me feel quite uneasy. I look at the list and I have a pretty certain (although I’m in no way able to prove it) that quite a number of ethnic groups will not share the feeling behind the English terms contempt or disgust. Wierzbicka, in fact, explains that the Polish language does not have a word corresponding exactly to the English word disgust or that the Australian Aboriginal language Gidjingali does not seem to distinguish lexically fear from shame.

If Izard and Buechler were Polish or Gidjingali speakers, we might have a different list of “universal emotions”. Ethnocentric research is a risk we are accustomed to, we just need to be able to question it and challenge it when necessary. Producing a list of ten shared human emotions is a pretty big claim and certainly one that needs to be carefully considered.

This ridiculous train of thought of mine, though, is still frustrating the bejesus out of me and I have no word to call it. If you experience the same, in whatever language, and have a name for it, share it, please.

International law is merely a tool for the powerful”. Discuss (or Why last was a sad week for civil liberties)

“International law is merely a tool for the powerful”.

Discuss with reference to the US approach to the law on the use of force or human rights.

This was one of the questions put to us in the final exam of a post-grad course on International Law over a couple of years ago. Can’t remember exactly how I came out of it, but I probably went on blathering about how International Law is used by the US and other major hegemons to advance their own self-interest. Nothing new, nothing surprising but a topic that hits us every day with more intensity.

Last week I felt particularly sadden and angered by a number of events that took place across the globe, which again brought the above question-statement to the fore:

1. The threat by British authorities to arrest Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy after the Latin American country granted him political assylum.

 

Beyond the manhunt against Wikileaks founder for obviously orchestrated allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden (see this article for a rundown on the sequence of events put together from a number of leaked police reports and other witnesses’ accounts), what’s angered me is the biased media coverage against Assange, the lack of support from his own government (Australia), and the blatant use of threats against cilvil liberties and international law from major governments.

2.The incarceration for two years of three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, after a judge decided that the band’s actions were notivated y religious hatred when they staged an anti-Kremlin protest at the altar of Moscow’s Chris the Saviour Cathedral.

3. The Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine massacre in South Africa that left 34 dead and 78 wounded when police open fire at the crowd of striking miners as result of a week-long strike over demands for a wage rise (the average pay for one of these miners being US$500 a month).

Never stop questioning

All three cases highlight and remind us of both the fragility and the biased nature of International Law in the hands of powerful political and private interests – the protection of military and state secrets, the mocking of an autocratic ruler and his paraphernalia/machinery and the defense of private interests at any cost including the loss of the lives of underpaid and overworked workers. But I won’t go into any more details as I’m sure you’ve had enough of the media circus that surrounds all of them.

What I want to do is to stress once more the need to keep on questioning the institutions used to govern us, to judge us, to teach us, to lead us. Because, as Noam Chomsky reminds us we “need to be able to detect forms of authority and coercion and challenge those that are not legitimate”. If we forget that and accept what’s served to us by governments and by the media, we will help further the interests of those in control.

We need to remember that liberal values are shown to us to be at the core of the purpose and mission of the dominant western democracies in the world – they need to be seen to promote human dignity and spreading democracy (whether that is true or whether the merely advance corporate interests). But in reality, what happens is that once these ideas have been recognised, once they have normalised and accepted  as valid by their own citizens and the countries in the periphery, the impression of dominance disappears entirely, we believe their legitimacy and stop questioning them.

So, today, I just want to remind us that International Law (as other institutions and norms that are presented to us as necessities for a civil society) in as much as it may have been founded on principles of fairness and protection of basic human dignity, it is pervasively albeit discretely used as a tool of the powerful to protect their hegemonic power and their legitimacy. How?

How does International Law get abused/neglected/reshaped?

The use and abuse of International Law (and by default in many cases, the abuse of civil liberties)  by the powerful comes in many shapes and sizes.

Withdrawal

Sometimes, we see a withdrawal of the powerful from the very institutions of International Law (as in the case of the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol) they formulated and helped shape. Take as a example the case of the United States versus the International Criminal Court. After campaigning  for the formation of an international tribunal and being one of the main participants in the formation of  the Ad Hoc Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (and later the ICTR to deal with crimes perpetrated in Rwanda) and their important role in a preparatory committee in 1996 to conclude a draft earlier presented by the International Law Commission for the formation of an International Court of Justice, the United States refused to ratify the Rome Statute. The Bush Administration embarked on a campaign against the establishment of the ICC as in theory according to the statute, the ICC would have jurisdiction to detain US citizens (and those from other non-signatory nations) without the consent of the US directly or through its agreement with a Security Council decision. The emergence of an international institution capable of detaining US officials hence capacitated to restrict their power to employ military forces at will beyond US borders, did not sit well with the US administration.

Change

In other cases, we see a forceful change in International Law. For instancein the last 15 years, the US have advanced claims for new rights to use force in the following areas:a right to unilaterally enforce Security Council authorisations in the interventions in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq; a broadened right to exercise self-defence against terrorist attacks in the missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan and later the war in Afghanistan; and a bold right to pre-emptive self-defence, so far only cautiously invoked in the war in Iraq.

Disregard

And in other cases, we see a blatant attempt at disregarding the power of International Law and human liberties. For instance, WikiLeaks has revealed since its inception the seemingly indiscriminate killing of Baghdad civilians by a United States Apache attack helicopter; details about the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; the Obama administration’s pressure on other nations not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture; and many other thorny secrets. These reports have angered certain factions in the US and in fact, the US Justice Department has recently confirmed that there was a continuous investigation against WikiLeaks, and just-disclosed Australian government documents from this past February state that “the U.S. investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr. Assange has been ongoing for more than a year.” WikiLeaks itself has published e-mails from Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation, which state that a grand jury has already returned a sealed indictment of Mr. Assange.

If Britain denies safe passage for Julian Assange to Ecuador and he is eventually extradited to the United States, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. As filmakers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone explain, given the fact that Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil, charging him with espionage or terrorism against the US could open an international can of worms because, by the same logic, other countries like Russia or China could demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws.

So, for those that question Julian Assange’s innocence or for those that believe the Pussy Riots should not have gone that far, or for those who think unrest in a mine results in a loss of profit for many and it needs to be suppressed at any cost, remember:

I am not talking about conspiracies, I am talking about instruments used to establish and consolidate hegemony and legitimacy of the powerful. Using the tools already available to them, creating tools that suit their purpose, working with propaganda, the powerful distort the important information and create illusions that make the population believe what they are told and away from the truths behind the political process.  

In Noam Chomsky’s words: “At this stage of history, one of two things is possible: Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity and sympathy and concern for others, or alternatively there will be no destiny to control.”

So, never stop questioning.

China’s firm grip in Africa – a lesser of two evils

 Reblogged from China Daily Mail:

China’s firm grip in Africa – a lesser of two evils

We heard a somewhat mystifying comment from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week warning of a “new colonialism” in Africa from foreign investors and governments interested only in extracting natural resources to enrich themselves.

No culprits mentioned in that statement, but a day earlier Clinton urged scrutiny of China’s large investments and business interests in Africa to prevent…