Newspapers, Readings

#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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Readings

#061

SPREADING CONTAMINATION

 

Yesterday, I was reading a small brochure that a NPO member gave me in Sapporo, Hokkaidō. The brochure is really well done, with interviews and an interesting overview of contamination over the years. I was going through it as I had one hour and a half train journey between Asahikawa and Sapporo, and found something very upsetting.

The interviewee was explaining how the Japanese state changed contamination maximum levels after the accident and how it was impacting victims’ daily lives. Basically, if you live outside of Fukushima Prefecture (and more generally out of the contaminated area), the normal threshold for radioactivity is 1 mSv/year. This becomes a little technical, but I won’t enter the scientific details, as I don’t master all of them (let’s be honest). This threshold has been shared among many countries and is recognized by international institutions and regulation authorities. After the accident in 2011, the government realized that if it was to respect the limit of 1 mSv/year, many places would need to be evacuated. It was for example the case of the three biggest cities in Fukushima Prefecture: Fukushima (city), Kōriyama and Iwaki. Those three cities represent around 1 000 000 people, meaning half of the population of the prefecture. How to evacuate all of them, when they were still tens of thousands of people moving out of the vicinities of the nuclear plant? It was technically, politically and economically difficult. So there was another solution: raising the threshold. Asking experts to testify that there was no danger for people (as a matter of fact, there are no studies conducted to prove that an exposition to less than 100 mSv/year can be harmful, as such a study would require to check the health of a sample of 200 000 people to be accurate), the government rose the threshold to… 20 mSv/year. This level is actually applied to people who are professionally exposed to radioactivity, such as nuclear plant workers and medical personnel in radiology services. After the accident, children were told that it was safe to go to schools that were contaminated to that extent, even though it is pretty clear that the effect on radioactivity on fully developed adults (who are, or at least should be, aware of the risks) is different than the exposure the one of young children.

This was already quite shocking to me. But in the booklet, I found something that made me feel even more uncomfortable. I already wrote an article about the issue of radioactive waste storage issues. As the Japanese government has agreed on the possibility of incinerating contaminated waste (under 8 000 bq/kg) as normal waste, radioactive ashes are piling up in storage spaces. What could be done with those? Well, recycle them! The government has given a green light for the cement industry to mix those radioactive ashes to their cement and to use it for construction works. By mixing it with cement, it is possible to lower the concentration of radioactivity. It is simple: you just spread radioactivity around the country, like jam on a toast, hoping that diluting it will cancel its effects. Who is the genius who thought about this? And I recently was told that cement from Hokkaido is actually exported. So what you say is that it is not enough to spread radioactivity around Japan, it should be shared with the rest of the world? This is all crazy. And what is even crazier is that people don’t seem to know about this. I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently, going back to 2011 and checking what has been happening during those five and a half years. The issue of cement was not mentioned. I have to look for it in more details, but this is extremely scary. There is no mobilization against the crazy laws and rules the government is implementing, simply because people are not aware of them. By controlling media and creating a law forbidding journalists to talk about certain (secret) issues, the ruling party is creating an environment of fear and self-censorship. The minority of people who raise their voices are treated as marginal lunatics, while hate speeches become more and more common. As I was reading comments on SNS after the Senate elections in Japan, I could see all the hatred and disdain some had for the student group SEALDs, which goal was to make Japanese aware of the threat the current government is to freedom and democracy: “You guys are such morons, no wonder you lost”, “Serve you right, Okuda (the leader of SEALDs)”, etc. My personal thought was that all of those hateful comments were built on a lack of knowledge (yes, the current government is threatening democracy), a fear of what is awaiting Japan (and more precisely the daily lives of its inhabitants), and a fascination for the reassuring (deceiving) discourse of our beloved Abe. By marginalizing people who oppose the government, the latter made any discourse that goes against its own line lose credibility. And by controlling what is in the media, it has made sure that no one would contradict it.

I personally believe that the state is fully responsible for the mishandling of the 3.11 accident and its aftermath. It was a criminal decision to let children be exposed to so much radioactivity and it is criminal to start spreading the radiations all around the country. I believe it is written in the Japanese constitution that people have the right to be healthy and I believe that it would be possible to sue the state for not protecting its citizens, although I doubt that any Japanese court would agree with me. Actually, I doubt many Japanese people in general would understand what I’m talking about right now. As many think that radioactivity is just an old nightmare and that everything is fine now (thank you mass media for spreading the word), who would care about a few hundred thousand people who might be sick in 5, 10 or 30 years? The state will not be held responsible, at least not as long as the number of sick people will not be impressive enough. And even if people fall ill, there will always be a way to escape: “we didn’t know”, “we did all we could with the knowledge we had”, “there is no scientific proof that it is directly linked to the accident”, etc. It is unfair but it is sadly true.

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Listening to: BLACKPINK – 휘파람 (WHISTLE)

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Readings, Thoughts

#052

UNTIL THE APPLES ROT [2]

「賠償の支払い総額は2015年10月時点で5兆6500万円に上る。賠償は一義的には東電が支払っているが、国が資金を交付しており、将来的に東電は国に資金を返済する。つまりは、電気料金となって利用者に負担が跳ね返ってくることになる。」

I am currently reading the book I cited 2 articles ago in order to organize my thoughts in regards to the post-Fukushima return policy. And I couldn’t help but write a few words about this paragraph. It basically says that in October 2015, the total amount of reparations paid by TEPCO was 5 trillion yens. Part of it has been paid by the state and TEPCO will have to pay it back from now on (as it is actually planed in Japanese nuclear-related laws). Therefore, the cost of reparations will be supported by TEPCO’s clients, meaning Japanese citizens.

I remember how shocked I was the first time I read these few sentences. I thought to myself: “Basically, TEPCO cannot go bankrupt simply because it has to pay reparations to its victims, but at the same time, it is just earning money by raising prices and making other Japanese people pay.” Once you think about it, it is pretty clear and obvious that it would end up that way (TEPCO makes money by selling electricity after all, may it be a nuclear accident or not). And even if TEPCO was not to pay back, the state would have to raise taxes in order to deal with the huge debt it created. The difference that it would make would be that in the case of taxes, all Japanese people would pay for reparations, while in the case of TEPCO, only the customers will be bearing the burden. What is preferable, huh?

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Listening to: Jung Joon Young – 봄, 추억 (Memory OST Part.3)

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Academics, Readings

#O46

ETHNOGRAPHIC SITES

 

Last year, I met a very interesting PhD student from Harvard in a seminar/symposium/workshop (I never know how they call this kind of events…) organized at Sophia University, Tokyo. He helped a lot in my fieldwork by showing me  around Minami-Sanriku (Miyagi Prefecture), where he was conducting his own research there. Talking with him made me realized things about my own research and made me think about broader issues. Well, this is not the point but… He often posts interesting articles on his Facebook page and it never hurts to read what he recommends, so I actually often follow his links.

Today, after reading an interesting article about star overproduction in the academic world, I clicked on a few pictures and found this very funny, but deep article. It is about the visit of the writer to a French university professor (Paris 8) in Britanny. You have pictures of the house and the garden, with explanations. To put it in a word: it’s a mess. But it’s a comfortable mess, if I may say. I know pretty well, since my mother (and myself, at a lower level) is a pro at creating these kinds of spaces. What actually struck me most was the bookshelves, which look ex-act-ly like the ones in our apartment. What I really liked about this article is this paragraph:

There’s a lesson here for researchers, like me, whose main ethnographic sites are institutional ones. If you only look at what happens in, say, a campus, you’re at risk of forgetting that what you’re looking at is one of the most highly regimented spaces in the society in question, and probably needs to be understood in relationship to the relative spaces of freedom that people have in their domestic life. No one lives their whole life in institutional space, after all. At the same time, on the other hand, a foreigner like me is bound to have limited access to these domestic spaces, especially when they’re not the main focus of the project.

I actually totally agree with him, even though I believe it’s a bit difficult to conduct these kinds of fieldworks (for many reasons). I went to a few interviewees’ places during my own fieldworks, and those spaces tell so much about them. But it’s very difficult (even more because I’m in sociology and not ethnology, I guess) to make any comment about those particular spaces in our analysis. I thought it was a bit of a shame, especially because I’m nosy and tend to notice a lot of small (sometimes very not interesting) things.

If I make it to the PhD program I applied for in Berlin, I’ll be researching about care functions of self-evacuees’ families. This is a very private space that would open to me, even though I am supposed to look at it from a very institutional point of view. I’m already wondering how to analyze such a private space, how to make it in a “scientifically ok” way, what can be analyzed and what cannot, etc. I am just super hyped about the idea of pursuing with a real research project (sorry Sciences Po, I wasn’t focused enough last year) and I have a thousand questions rushing through my head. I really hope next October will rhyme with TOLL and WUNDERBAR! (Just realized that it means… that… for the first time in my life, I might be in Germany for the Oktober Fest! Yay!)

That was a totally random article, but I guess I just needed to talk about this. It makes me smile when I think that I get very excited reading this kind of articles. I guess I really put a foot in this world and would not want to step back.

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Listening to: Jung In (정인) & Gary (개리)LeeSsang – 사람냄새 (Your Scent)

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Readings

#023

UNEQUAL CHILDHOODS: CLASS, RACE, AND FAMILY LIFE
Annette Lareau (2003, 2nd edition in 2011)

I am currently reading a book about education and social classes in the US. It is an interesting study from an American scholar who adopted an extremely European way of doing sociology. It’s rare to find American researchers who base their studies on social class. It’s certainly linked to the fact that ‘social classes’ do not have the same history in the US than in Europe, where people fought countless times for less or more privileges.

In France, the link between education and social classes is often taken into account. With the work of Bourdieu, no student studying sociology can escape the famous theory of social reproduction, while many newspapers publish about how some elite schools are filled with elite students coming from… upper-middle class families. (Here is a study from INSEE explaining access inequalities to elite schools in France: Les Inégalités sociales d’accès aux grandes écoles, Valérie Albouy, Thomas Wanecq) Therefore, I was not really surprised by the main idea, saying that middle-class kids tend to have a social capital that is much more valuable on the market. What was more interesting was to see in a detailed way what they are taught and how. Why are children living in poverty less likely to go to an Ivy League university? Why can middle-class boys ask questions to their doctors while lower-class boys tend to avoid talking when going to the hospital? How different are their schedule? How do they interact with their families and other institutions?

I really enjoy reading this study and I would love to have more of my American housemates reading it. Education is not only a matter of schools; families are extremely important in the process of socializing and preparing the children to face the outside world, shaping their view points. I sometimes recognize myself and my family in those lines. Sometimes, I recognize friends or acquaintances. Even though there are clear differences in education patterns (for example linked to different sets of institutions or values), some patterns are there, reproducing themselves in families all around the world. I am fascinated by this study. I am now reading what the kids became more than 10 years after, when they became adults. Their paths are different, but generally defined by their social class. Their occupation, their familial situation, their social life… everything seems heavily influenced by their social background. Sad assessment.

That is why life is so unfair. Sometimes, I have the feeling that I am going to an elite school in France because my parents had the right cultural, social, economic and political capital. I am actually going to the same kind of school as my own father, walking on the same path 30 years later. I would not say that I didn’t study. As Annette Lareau says in her book, I went through an intensive concerted cultivation, asking and being asked questions, having a heavy schedule. I remember being in junior high, looking anxiously at the TV while they announced that Jean-Marie Le Pen, an extreme right wing bastard, was going to the second round of presidential elections in 2002. We talked about the implication of having Le Front National (his party) being so powerful in France. I asked who would vote for them and why; my parents talked about political strategies and people’s disbelief in politics. Studying in school was much easier for me than for people coming from a less privileged background, simply because we would talk about what I had to learn in our everyday life conversations. That is why elite schools are filled with elite kids who went to elite high schools. Because we have enough capital to push away other kids. So is it fair that I am going to an elite school? I am not saying that I am simply lucky. I just say that I had all the cards in my hands from the moment I was born.

That is why schools have to rethink the way they teach. The second edition of this book is even more interesting because it takes into account a summary of how the kids became adults, what they became and how schools could change the way they interact with kids, especially kids from lower social classes. If school (for example in France) is an instrument of social reproduction, it can also be a tool for social ascent. The program PEI of my home school is a good example of how you can try to help kids studying in difficult conditions passing the exams for elite schools. We should not lose faith in the possibility of a better system, even though social realities are tough.

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Listening to: Vanilla Acoustic – 고백 (From. 김지수) (Confession)

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Readings

#016

THE PRICE OF INEQUALITY: HOW TODAY’S DIVIDED SOCIETY ENDANGERS OUR FUTURE
Joseph Stiglitz,W. W. Norton & Company (8 April 2013)

How we measure performance is an aspect of the battle over perceptions and makes a difference, especially in our performance-oriented society. Our systems of measurement affect our perception of how well we are doing – and of the relative performance of different economic systems. If we measure the wrong thing, we will be tempted to do the wrong thing, and to make the wrong inferences about what is a good economic system. If we measure our success by GDP, that’s what we’ll push for, and we’ll pay insufficient attention to what’s happening to most Americans. To take another example: critics of, says, environmental regulations suggest that they are costly, that they reduce growth. But how we see that trade-off depends on how we measure output. If in our measurements of GDP, we take into account the cost of environmental degradation, then better environmental regulation may actually improve GDP correctly measured.

(p.230)

For years, I was told that welfare was measured through this indicator. This idea shaped my mind: I thought that to be happy, I needed to earn more money. Because as a naive kid, I thought that if a country was getting a higher global income, it would make people richer and therefore happier. Then I went to university, where we discussed this indicator. I discovered the existence of other indicators such as the Human Development Index. Life is not about how much we produce. Especially when we produce so much that we cannot even consume it. Or when we produce goods that are too expensive for most of us to buy.

In 2013, Japan’s GDP was USD4,902 billions, 4th in the World Bank ranking (counting the EU as one). Per capita, you get USD36,654/year (PPP, according to the International Monetary Fund), 24th. This is not that bad, even if it would be interesting to look closer to why there is such a difference between the 2 rankings. Nevertheless, there is around 1 kid out of 6 that suffers from poverty in Japan. Can we say that GDP is grasping this disturbing reality? No.

I am really tired of people bickering about growth in general. This is nothing much more than an ideology that says that if we have more, we’ll be happier. Buy more food, more clothes, more cars, more toys, more phones. Everything has to be brand new, faster, better. There is no time for kids to grow up, no time for us to read all the news that come from all over the world. There is so much of everything that we are drawn under this growing GDP, asking for even more, thinking that it will make us complete. And industrialized countries impose this vision of the world to less industrialized countries, pushing them to develop, produce and consume. We will push aside the issues of inequalities, democracy and happiness, putting them behind a % sign. After all, we can’t measure that; why should we care?

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Listening to: BigBang – WHAT IS RIGHT

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