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#069

UBER: BETWEEN LIBERALISM AND PRECARIOUSNESS

When Uber appeared in France, it was a revolution. You could have a taxi ride for a lower price, no need to have cash on you and, le must, you generally had a nice driver and bottles of water. It seemed like a dream. With Uber Pool, you could have a ride for even cheaper and, sometimes, have interesting encounters. On the other side, it was said that this new way of working would allow people to get out of poverty, to find a job by self-employing themselves, to increase their monthly income, etc. But is it really the case?

These days, I wonder if I should even take a Uber ride. I think my dilemma is similar to the one concerning children working in Bangladesh. Should we stop those children from working, and therefore put an additional strain on their families’ financial difficulties, or should we let children bring a small income home, at the price of getting no proper education. Here, the dilemma is as follow: should we get on a Uber and help those drivers making a living, or should we strongly oppose this ultra-liberal, non protective, and from my point of view exploitative form of labor? The company would say they ‘only’ take 25% out of those drivers’ income. If they make 4 000 euros a month, that is still plenty of money. But it means that the company is putting aside all the running costs, pushed onto the drivers (buying a car, taking care of it, paying for insurance, parking and gas, etc.). According to Le Monde, after paying for running costs and taxes, the drivers making 4 000 euros (gross) are left with… 600 euros (net). Is that a correct income? I don’t think so.

Moreover, those drivers have almost no safety net. As they work as entrepreneurs, they are not covered by Uber in case of an accident. They cannot rely on anyone else when they are sick. This is an example of neoliberal economy pushed to a new extreme. But we are pretty much indifferent, because ‘if they did not have Uber, they would be jobless’. Many people do not understand why Uber drivers would be on strikes in France, but if you think that after working 40h a week (the legal limit for employed people in France in 35) you have 600 euros left, I think it’s understandable to see those drivers on the streets, demanding better working conditions. Especially when you see that Uber has made more than $5 billion in 2016. Uber, an amazing ‘start-up’, praised all over the world for it’s amazing growth, but built on people’s suffering. Is this right? I don’t think so.

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#064

JAPAN COPES WITH CALAMITY, T. GILL, B. STEGER, D.H. SLATER

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I couldn’t help writing a short article when I read this in Japan Copes With Calamity (p.12): 

(…) on 15 March Prime Minister Kan Naoto paid a dramatic visit to the headquarters of TEPCO at 5.30 am to order the company not to withdraw its workers from the stricken plant, which the company had spoken of doing to protect the workers’ lives. That would have left the crippled reactors unmanned, with fuel rods exposed and cooling water evaporating – pushing Japan towards an unimaginably bigger disaster. On the same day, the government ordered those in the 20 to 30 kilometer ring to stay indoors (shitsunai taihi). Meanwhile the US government urged its citizens to get a least 80 kilometers away from the plant and the French government even advised its nationals in Tokyo, 250 kilometers away, to evacuate. This made the Japanese government’s evacuation plan look very inadequate to many Japanese when they learned of the very different evacuation standards declared by other countries, although of course applying the American or French standards to Japanese nationals would have been a logistical nightmare, because of the incomparably larger numbers of people involved and the fact that, unlike most foreigners, they did not necessarily have anywhere else to go.

So, the FRENCH government asked its citizens to evacuate from Tokyo, 250 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi? Now, I’m curious to know what will happen when an accident happens on its own territory. Will you ask people living as far as 250 kilometers away from Fessenheim to evacuate? Or will you try to minimize the number of evacuees and to control risk perception to avoid having the whole EUROPE freaking out? I really wonder. Of course, I understand that you want to avoid having your nationals risk their health when they’re abroad, but then you should apply the same logic at home instead of being a hypocrite. I want to believe that they are looking at what is happening in Japan to avoid repeating the same mistakes but positive thinking doesn’t really help in here.

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#063

10% RETURN TO FUKUSHIMA TOWN SINCE EVACUATION ORDER LIFTED IN ’15

Asahi, English edition (16.09.05)

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Naraha. A town that was entirely evacuated after 3.11 and that was reopened in September 2015. It became a case study, as it was the first time so many people were invited to return home, 4 years after the accident. Many issues had to find an answer. How do you re-appropriate yourself a place that has been vacant for so many years? How do you adapt to a living environment that has been profoundly changed by radioactivity, decontamination works and trucks coming in and out? How do you live in a house that has been deserted for so long?

Today, out of the 7,300 people who used to live in Naraha, 681 people are back. Half of them are elderly. What is interesting about this article is that it gently erases important information. For example, it states:

The Reconstruction Agency’s survey released in March found that more than 50 percent of Naraha evacuees are looking forward to their eventual return home.

I actually took a look at the survey. Yes, around 50% of the total population talks about going back, at some point (there are 3 answers possible: you returned to Naraha/you want to go back now or as quickly as possible/you will go back to Naraha if all the conditions for your return are met). But 1) among people aged <49, the pourcentage does not reach 30%, while it goes up to almost 60% for people aged >60. Meaning that Naraha would end up with a very old population, while children do not seem to want to go back to school in Naraha. 2) 35% of the total population is talking about going back if the conditions are met. What are those conditions? Will they really be fulfilled? Isn’t it a journalist’s job to dig deeper and look for what people actually have to say?  You found this survey. Good. You published the results. Great. And so? There is no analysis, nothing about contamination, except :

The average radiation dose in front of the Naraha town hall in July was 0.1 microsievert per hour, almost the same as the average dose near JR Fukushima Station in the prefectural capital, which is far from the crippled plant and was never issued an evacuation order.

The Naraha dose is also lower than 0.23 microsievert per hour, the long-term goal for additional radiation exposure, which excludes background radiation.

To me, this sounds like “hey guys, there is basically no danger. You guys have a contamination that is bellow the national level and your city hall is at the same level as Fukushima city, which has NOT been evacuated”. But Fukushima city SHOULD HAVE been evacuated, especially the Watari district. Also, there are no word about possible hotspot or about citizens conducting alternative measurements. Maybe they find the same figures as the government, but that would be a good thing to talk about those civil activities.

Dear journalists, stop trying to reassure the population with empty words and start doing your job. Talk about the fears, about the anxiety, about the anger. Write about determination and disillusion, dreams and nightmares. I’m not asking you to take sides, I’m just asking you to do your job, by letting all actors’ voices be heard.

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#059

DANS LA “GUERRE CONTRE LE CRIME” DES PHILIPPINES
(AFP, 5 August 2016)

Cette supplique nous fait à tous l’effet d’un coup de poing dans l’estomac. Certains obtempèrent, s’arrêtent de photographier. Nous sommes nombreux à nous demander tout à coup pourquoi nous sommes là, pourquoi nous faisons ça. Nous nous sentons comme des vautours. Aucun d’entre nous ne sera capable de dîner plus tard ce soir-là. Dans la voiture qui nous ramène en ville, pour une fois, personne ne parle. Nous nous sentons tous coupables, nous nous en voulons d’avoir été incapables d’aider cette femme et son conjoint. Quelques jours plus tard, j’apprends qu’un photographes d’un journal local qui a assisté à la scène avec moi a décidé d’arrêter définitivement de couvrir les affaires criminelles la nuit.

I just read this article and realized it’s basically the same for me: am I doing the right thing by asking people to remember one of the most painful moments in their lives, in order to use it as data and have it published? I feel like a crow, a vulture looking for a small, trembling prey in the middle of Japan. My goal is to have evacuees’ stories delivered to as many people as possible, but in order to achieve that, I have to dig into their lives, take out the pain and the anger, feeding my research with human emotions.

Sometimes, in the middle of an interview, I would wonder: why am I doing this? When I feel my interviewee pause, emotions coming out on her or his face, I can’t help asking myself if it is okay for me to make them think about their difficult and complicated last 5 years. I know it is necessary, from a scientific point of view, and from a more social point of view, but they are somehow sacrificed on the way. Where does duty stop, when does morality fight back?

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Listening to: Sade – Kingdom of Sorrow

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#056

DONALD TRUMP’S NOMINATION IS THE FIRST TIME AMERICAN POLITICS HAS LEFT ME TRULY AFRAID
Ezra Klein, Vox, 2016.07.22

Sometimes, I wonder how people’s minds work. Last month, we had the Brexit. Than the Japanese senatorial elections. And now this. People keep voting for demagogues, sexist assholes and stupid racists. I really wonder what makes them so attractive, so convincing. Their speeches are full of lies and hatred. They keep talking about figures that are wrong or used the wrong way, creating fear among people. And the worst part in this is that it is extremely difficult to stop them!

Trump is a liar. Trump boasts constantly that he had the judgment and foresight to oppose the Iraq War. But he didn’t. On September 11, 2002, Trump was asked by Howard Stern whether he supported the invasion of Iraq. “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied. Trump has not sought to explain these comments or offer evidence of an alternative judgment he offered elsewhere. He just lies about this, and he does so often.

This is just not ok. It’s like the “give the money back to the NHS” issue in the UK: “Will you invest the money that won’t go to the EU in the NHS?” “No” Well, you wrote that on buses, man, you should have thought about in advance!

What is amazing, and I really feel it in France with the rise of the Front National, is that the most vulnerable people vote for those sharks. Poor, jobless, discriminated,… But they don’t get that those politicians are not here to make their lives better! They have their own agenda (like Trump that wants to lower taxes on high incomes), their own secret projects that will make those people’s lives even more difficult afterwards. I do not trust politicians in general, especially when they lightly say that they are going to improve employment rate, wages and social care, all at once and without struggling. I know it is just a campaign and those are just words. I also have a clear and global idea of what I want society to be like. I don’t rely on one single political party. I just rely on my own sense of justice and fairness, on what I think could be good for French people in general. Why? Because I’m from a privileged family and I don’t have to worry about my daily life. Well, I do, a little, but still, I don’t fear unemployment that much, I don’t fear not having a roof over my head, I don’t fear not being able to put food on my table. I can take the time to think about a fairer society, with the promotion of small local businesses and communities producing eco-friendly veggies and campaigning against mass-consumption.

I’m certainly part of this intello-hipster-socialist community that many people dislike and resent. But I really want to scream to the world: there are other solutions! Please do not lose hope, please do not be deceived by those liars, please believe in this world a little more!

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Listening to:

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#054

CONSTITUTION REVISION BACKERS EXCEED CRUCIAL 2/3 MARK

Asahi Shimbun, July 11, 2016

Let’s the show begin.
Now that our beloved Abe has an absolute majority in both houses, he can start playing around with the constitution. He might not attack the sacred Article 9 right away, but he will try to change the conditions required to be able to modify the constitution, making it easier for him to touch it again later. After lashing out at the media and talking about reducing freedom of speech, what will happen? I am not sure I am excited about knowing.

What is pretty amazing is that this government did basically nothing for common people. It raised consumption taxes (one of the most unfair taxes you can imagine), lowered corporate ones (in order to “keep the money in the companies, so that they can distribute higher wages”… who believes that?), removed TV anchors who did not follow the official line, started to organize the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when nothing is done in Tohoku, cut aids to (self)evacuees while trying to coerce them into going back to Fukushima, and, most of all, is on the verge of changing the peace-related clause of the constitution.

Will all of this make Japan a “normal country”? I doubt. But apparently many Japanese people do not believe that an alternative solution is possible. The socialist party has exploded a little while ago, the communist party is too lefty and the other parties are still terribly small. After letting the liberal party govern for decades, it might be difficult to believe that other partie could run the country. It is basically how it is in Singapore: people believe that no alternative is possible. The government did a great job increasing the economic stability of the country, giving better conditions of living to its population. Freedom is not important if you’re comfortable. It might even be better to be comfortable than free. That’s at least what Kampfner wrote in Freedom for Sale, and I do agree with him. They sold their freedom of speech and thought in order to get a better material situation. Will they regret it? Well, it might be too early to give an answer. But looking at Singapore, it might be possible to just turn a blind eye to the situation and to enjoy economic growth.

I feel frustrated, angry and sad. Japan is a second home for me, and it’s taking the same path as the UK. When will France join the movement? That’s the question…

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#053

Journalism and sources.

This morning, I was reading a newspaper article about the Sendai nuclear plant, near Kagoshima. It was written by a French scholar who specializes in issues related to housing in general, and post-catastrophe housing in particular. It basically underlined the fact that Japan is facing important seismic activity (meaning volcanic activity, too) and that nuclear plants are more than ever dangerous. Then, she wrote “Japanese people express their concern about…” and I thought: “who are those Japanese people?” Maybe it starts to become a sort of weird hobby, looking at who says what in a certain context. Déformation professionnelle, as we say.

But I am very curious about this: do journalists have to cite their sources? I know that they also have the duty to protect their sources, but in this case, isn’t it a little dangerous? If you say that your source told you something and you cannot disclose who that is, then people have to believe what you say, without any proof. And sometimes you definitely see low quality articles being released and you wonder how that can still be called journalism. Sometimes, the fact that they do not have to cite their sources becomes frustrating, because you would need those sources. At least, when you read an academic piece, you’re sure that you should be able to trace back the sources. If you can’t, then you can be sure that the researchers could get into trouble. And it is certainly for the best.

“Japanese people”, “people say”, “we hear that”, etc. as we read newspapers on a daily basis, we are soaked in this kind of expressions and phrases. But we should actually try to avoid them. I remember being very disappointed at a seminar, when a professor (migration studies) started saying random things about how Japanese people are, to him, without bringing any academic proof of what he was saying. We could not help looking at each other, with Japanese researchers present that day, wondering how a 50 year-old researcher could babble about things he didn’t know well as if they were obvious, even though they are not. This just reminds me that I ought to be very careful, at all time, while writing articles and papers. Sources, sources, sources!

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Listening to: Akdong Musician – RE-BYE

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