Tag Archives: Society

Els pares abandonats del Japó

E l Taro no veu el seu fill des de fa més de 1.400 dies. La primavera del 2015 la seva dona va anar a recollir-lo a l’escola bressol i mai més va tornar. El Gianluca no veu el seu des de fa més de 4 anys. Malgrat això, fins fa poc cada segon diumenge de mes pujava a un avió per anar a Hokkaido, on havia de trobar-se amb el seu fill, com va establir la sentència de la Cort Suprema. Però ningú s’hi presentava. El Pierlugi, en canvi, es pot considerar afortunat. Durant 17 mesos va estar separat dels seus fills, que la mare es va emportar, però des de desembre del 2017 finalment els pot veure una o dues vegades al mes. I és possible perquè, com ha afirmat el jutge, “és un bon pare”.

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Posted by on February 17, 2020 in Reportages, Asia


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Is Patriarchy Too Big to Fail?

The screaming twenties have barely drawn breath, and already we’ve been wallowing through the show-trials of white capitalist male supremacy’s largest and most untouchable adult sons: Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein. The similarities are more than circumstantial. Both are rich, powerful men outraged at being held to account for even a fraction of the crimes they’ve been accused of. Both have allegedly enjoyed a full curriculum of moral corruption, from rape and sexual assault to blackmail and intimidation to the use of foreign powers to undermine their enemies and lube their way to hectic impunity. And both spent many, many years grooming allies. Weinstein and Trump bet heavily on creating complicity—so much complicity that the institutions they occupied cannot hold them to account without damning themselves by association. Both of them bet on being too big to fail.

In Trump’s case, he won the bet. The doomed attempt to impeach the president drew to its inevitable end last week, as Washington and the world were forced to acknowledge that, as California Rep. Adam Schiff put it, Trump “has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is.” Directly addressing any remaining Republicans in the Senate chamber with an inch of backbone, Schiff insisted that “you are decent. He is not who you are.”

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Posted by on February 14, 2020 in Reportages


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The consolations of rail travel

A new word entered the Swedish language in 2019: flygskam. Pronounced fleeg-skam, it means “flight shame”. It describes the growing social stigma attached to travelling by air rather than train, which produces roughly a tenth as much carbon dioxide over comparable distances. Train journeys in Sweden are reportedly up by 8 per cent, consistent with a pan-European trend. But those numbers contain a second shift: trains have generally been considered competitive with flying when the travel time is under four hours, but increasingly people are taking longer rail journeys too. Most famous among them is Greta Thunberg, the figurehead of the Fridays for Future climate marches, who even before her transatlantic voyage travelled from her home in Stockholm to Rome, Paris and London by train.

I joined the movement (if you can call it that) as much by accident as by design. I had always enjoyed rail travel and taken trains where they were convenient. But covering European politics and criss-crossing the continent by air, I felt a growing sense of guilt at all the flights I was taking. More selfishly, I was also exasperated at the sheer incivility of air travel: the hassle and hectoring of security control, the airless terminals, the bad food. So in recent years, and particularly in the past 12 months, I have attempted greatly to raise the bar required to justify air travel to myself.

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Posted by on February 4, 2020 in Europe, European Union, Uncategorized


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The mindfulness conspiracy

Mindfulness has gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn. Meditation coaches, monks and neuroscientists went to Davos to impart the finer points to CEOs attending the World Economic Forum. The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. Prophesying that its hybrid of science and meditative discipline “has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance”, the inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, has bigger ambitions than conquering stress. Mindfulness, he proclaims, “may actually be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years”.

So, what exactly is this magic panacea? In 2014, Time magazine put a youthful blonde woman on its cover, blissing out above the words: “The Mindful Revolution.” The accompanying feature described a signature scene from the standardised course teaching MBSR: eating a raisin very slowly. “The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin isn’t silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21st century,” the author explained.

But anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary – it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live. And yet mindfulness zealots believe that paying closer attention to the present moment without passing judgment has the revolutionary power to transform the whole world. It’s magical thinking on steroids.

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Posted by on January 20, 2020 in Reportages


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Belgium’s experiment in a new kind of democracy

As the institutions of western liberal democracy crumble, could a remedy be emerging in a sliver of east Belgium? Take the train from Brussels, and the medieval cities of Leuven and Liege give way to maize fields and forested hills. After nearly two hours, you arrive at Eupen, the capital of Belgium’s German-speaking community. A picturesque church graces the main square, pavements are lined with bistro tables, and cyclists negotiate the cobbled streets. Even the traffic islands are prettified by quaint tableaux of rustic wagons and hay bales.

This quiet, sedate and fairly prosperous provincial town seems an unlikely host for radical democratic innovation. In Belgium’s mind-boggling political system, which has overlaying territorial and language-based federal elements, the German-speaking community has its own government, with devolved powers comparable to Scotland or Wales. With a population of 76,000 (fewer than the Isle of Man), Ostbelgien is Europe’s smallest federal entity, but it has a real parliament whose remit includes education, culture, energy and social care. And from next year, everyday folk chosen by chance will have the opportunity to shape policy alongside the elected MPs—in the first permanent citizens’ assembly in the world.

Citizens’ assemblies (or citizens’ juries) vary in form, but the basic principle is always to task randomly-selected members of the public to thrash out political issues, often with the help of experts or moderators. They’ve become steadily more fashionable over some years, but the Belgian experiment offers a twist in that it builds them into the structures of governance. But on a long view, even government by citizens selected by chance is nothing new. Its advocates critique parliamentary democracy as outmoded because it hasn’t changed since the 18th century—but then happily hark back to ancient Athens (see “the original democracy” overleaf) as the true pioneer of “sortition.”

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Posted by on December 23, 2019 in European Union


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How our home delivery habit reshaped the world

A decade ago, the British department-store chain John Lewis built itself a long warehouse, painted in gradations of sky blue. The shed, as it is called in the industry, cost £100m and covered 650,000 sq ft. Windsor Castle could easily fit inside it. John Lewis named the shed Magna Park 1, after the site where it stands: a “logistics campus” of warehouses, roads, shipping containers and truck bays east of Milton Keynes. Magna Park 1 was intended to supply the company’s stores around southern England, but almost as soon as it was finished, John Lewis realised that it wasn’t enough. The pace of e-commerce was flying, and Magna Park 1 opened in the midst of a spell in which, between 2006 and 2016, the share of John Lewis deliveries going direct to customers rose 12-fold.

So John Lewis built Magna Park 2, measuring 675,000 sq ft. After that, the company realised it needed a new shed for Waitrose, its supermarket chain, where home deliveries were skyrocketing, too. “It became a bit of a standing joke,” said Philip Stanway, a regional director at Chetwoods, the architecture firm that designed and built all these facilities. “They used to come to meetings with their forecasts, and they’d say: ‘Screw this. This is the new forecast,’” Stanway said, making a scribbling motion in the manner of a John Lewis executive hastily updating the numbers. “We couldn’t build the buildings quick enough for them.”

The Waitrose shed ended up spanning close to 1m sq ft. And then, even as Magna Park 2 was being constructed, John Lewis decided to commission Magna Park 3 to fulfill more home deliveries. Magna Park 3 was slightly smaller than the others, Stanway said – just 638,000 sq ft. “But that’s only because that was the size of the plot. That was all the land was left.”

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Posted by on December 23, 2019 in Economy


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This Is Your Brain on Silence

One icy night in March 2010, 100 marketing experts piled into the Sea Horse Restaurant in Helsinki, with the modest goal of making a remote and medium-sized country a world-famous tourist destination. The problem was that Finland was known as a rather quiet country, and since 2008, the Country Brand Delegation had been looking for a national brand that would make some noise.

Over drinks at the Sea Horse, the experts puzzled over the various strengths of their nation. Here was a country with exceptional teachers, an abundance of wild berries and mushrooms, and a vibrant cultural capital the size of Nashville, Tennessee. These things fell a bit short of a compelling national identity. Someone jokingly suggested that nudity could be named a national theme—it would emphasize the honesty of Finns. Someone else, less jokingly, proposed that perhaps quiet wasn’t such a bad thing. That got them thinking.

A few months later, the delegation issued a slick “Country Brand Report.” It highlighted a host of marketable themes, including Finland’s renowned educational system and school of functional design. One key theme was brand new: silence. As the report explained, modern society often seems intolerably loud and busy. “Silence is a resource,” it said. It could be marketed just like clean water or wild mushrooms. “In the future, people will be prepared to pay for the experience of silence.”

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Posted by on December 12, 2019 in Reportages


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The smart move: we learn more by trusting than by not trusting

We all know people who have suffered by trusting too much: scammed customers, jilted lovers, shunned friends. Indeed, most of us have been burned by misplaced trust. These personal and vicarious experiences lead us to believe that people are too trusting, often verging on gullibility.

In fact, we don’t trust enough.

Take data about trust in the United States (the same would be true in most wealthy democratic countries at least). Interpersonal trust, a measure of whether people think others are in general trustworthy, is at its lowest in nearly 50 years. Yet it is unlikely that people are any less trustworthy than before: the massive drop in crime over the past decades suggests the opposite. Trust in the media is also at bottom levels, even though mainstream media outlets have an impressive (if not unblemished) record of accuracy.

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Posted by on December 11, 2019 in Uncategorized



A Very German Idea of Freedom: Nude Ping-Pong, Nude Sledding, Nude Just About Anything

The first time Michael Adamski saw his mother-in-law naked it was awkward.

But it wasn’t as awkward as seeing his boss naked.

Mr. Adamski, a police officer in Berlin who investigates organized crime, first started going to a nudist camp at a lake outside Berlin after he met his wife, whose family owned a cabin there.

One weekend, when he had just about gotten used to stripping in front of his in-laws, he bumped into the highest-ranking colonel in his precinct — who promptly challenged him to a game of table tennis.

They have been on first-name terms ever since.

“Once you’ve played Ping-Pong with someone naked, you can’t call them ‘colonel’ anymore,” Mr. Adamski said as he prepared to join a triathlon where the swimming and running portions of the race were naked. “Nudity is a great leveler.”

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Posted by on November 22, 2019 in European Union


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The myth of Eurabia: how a far-right conspiracy theory went mainstream

In July 2011, a quiet European capital was shaken by a terrorist car bomb, followed by confused reports suggesting many deaths. When the first news of the murders came through, one small group of online commentators reacted immediately, even though the media had cautiously declined to identify the attackers. They knew at once what had happened – and who was to blame.

“This was inevitable,” explained one of the anonymous commenters. And it was just the beginning: “Only a matter of time before other European nations get a taste of their multicultural tolerance that they’ve been cooking for decades.”

“Europe has been infested with venomous parasitic vermin,” explained another. “Anything and everything is fine as long as they rape the natives and destroy the country, which they do,” said a third.

As the news grew worse, the group became more joyful and confident. The car bomb had been followed by reports of a mass shooting at a nearby camp for teenagers. One commenter was “almost crying of happiness” to be proved right about the dangers of Islam. “The massacre at the children’s camp,” another noted, “is a sickening reminder of just how evil and satanic the cult of Islam is.”

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Posted by on November 15, 2019 in European Union


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