Environmental and economic factors contribute to racism and xenophobia

«You told us Australians are cool, considerate, welcoming and simply easy-go-lucky. Have you seen today’s newspaper L’essentiel?” my Belgian student said while taking off his jacket. After he had sat down, he added, “You will be shy, as an Australian, of what they did to the French tourists.” (I suggested the word “embarrass” instead of shy).

Right after leaving his company, I rushed to get the copy of L’essentiel, the most read newspaper in Luxembourg because it’s free and easily accessible (it’s in stands and distributors in strategic places, such as bus stops, train stations, airports, shopping centres and supermarkets). Page 2 of its 23/11/12 issue had an article about the verbal harassment of xenophobic nature against a young French woman by bus passengers in Melbourne. It had a photo with this caption, “La video de cette aggression sur www.insultes.lessentiel.lu. I did watch this video and, in the beginning, felt embarrass. As the video was coming to an end, however, I started to reminisce on positive Aussie qualities and multiculturalism. I salute the fellow who filmed the incident! Xenophobia (fear of people who are different from the majority in the population) exists Down Under, but it’s not widespread and not tolerated by the general Australian population.

The last 4 years of my public service job in Australia, before moving to Europe, were spent participating in many working parties, policy development, debates and activities geared towards eradicating racism and discrimination. Though governments and many Australians endeavour to have a just, fair and tolerant society, there’s still a lot that can be done.

Appraisal, Performance Review, Bonus and Rewards

November and December are appraisal months, and I was not surprise to receive an email from our Director of Studies about my face-to-face, one-to-one, formal appraisal tomorrow afternoon. Yesterday, an acquaintance complained how his manager waited for the yearly appraisal to tell him that he can only take smoking breaks twice a day instead of thrice. The day before, I was invited to lunch by a friend who spent an hour talking about her disappointment in getting a C in her appraisal. Hoping for a B, she was even more disenchanted when her manager said, “80% of the staff got C”. She thought her boss considered her as a valuable employee belonging to 10% of the efficient and loyal personnel.

As the day turned to night, I heard more appraisal-related stories. For instance, one of my trainees reported his manager saying, “It’s going to be the same for everybody — no promise of a bonus and no negative feedback”.

Most employers use appraisal (annually, semi-annually or quarterly) to assess performance, give employees the opportunity to discuss work-related issues in confidence and motivate them to link their performance to their organisation’s objectives and goals. Some companies use appraisal outcomes to reward financially or promote employees. Some employees use the positive results when applying for a job or promotion.

Appraisal is not only about previous achievements but defining new objectives in the coming year, especially with changes in economic situation, staffing level, market forces, etc. People I have spoken to are either optimistic or cynical about appraisals. Generally, an employee on a trial period, contractual arrangement or in an insecure position takes the appraisal seriously as it is a formal process with documented results that can be used to rehire or fire. However, those who have been in their job for a long time may find it “more of the same” or a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

【京都雑感】 愛情の振り子・時代祭り・日本とヨーロッパ、どっちも好き

Japan women manifestation1.「何がなんでも、日本に帰るんじゃないよ。」
「政治家選びは、52枚のカードをつかい回すトランプと同じ。時々、絵札や呼称や構成が変わったりはするけど。日本の場合は52枚じゃなくて、24枚の中から転用してるのね」と義母が笑った。

そんな彼女が「さちえを絶対に日本に帰らせるんじゃないよ」「日本はもう終わりや」と、何度も夫に言ったらしい。外国人の彼女が首相になった方が、まだマシなのかなと思うほど日本の政治は逆進的で「20世紀」の感じがする。

欧米の友人たちの警告を胸に、機上の人となった。帰国してみると拍子抜けするように、関西はフツーに機能し、人々は勤勉に働き以前と変わりなく暮らしていた。それにしても、電気会社や政府やマスメディアによる情報操作があまりにもひどいと感じた。放射能が漏れ続けている危機的な現状にもかかわらず。よるべなき基準のない日本の日常。在日の外国人の友人は「みんな、(原発が)危険なことは知ってるでしょ」と言うけれど。福島以前のように、ショッピングや美食にと刹那的に、それでいて厭世的に生きる人たちがシュールに気味悪くうつった。フランスに帰ってみると、日本の原子力規制委員会のメンバーたちが電力会社などから報酬や寄付金などを受けていたニュースを何度も報じていた。2週間半の浅い夢から現実に引き戻された気がした。

Effects of weather, temperature on moods and suicide

Weather, temperature, moods and well-being... It was the last day of October, the temperature was 2°C at 8am and I was freezing but couldn’t go back home to get my gloves as I didn’t want to miss my bus and be late for work. It is supposed to be autumn (US “fall”), but winter has definitely arrived and our heater has been switched on prematurely. According to my Belgian student, the suicide rate in his country is highest in November and this is lower than in December because of the jolly Christmas atmosphere and brightly-lit and colourfully-decorated streets and shops.

The change in season and weather condition (such as rain, duration of daylight & sunlight and humidity) has been considered as contributing factors to suicide. Some studies have tried to prove that suicides are more frequent in hot days because of heat-related behaviours, such as excitability and alcohol drinking. Some researchers, however, suppose that suicides emerge during winter and peak in summer.

Every year, there are about one million individuals who successfully suicide; and there are more men and women in these statistics. The World Health Organisation data reveal that 6 of the top ten countries with high suicide rates are developing nations of Eastern Europe with Lithuania in the first place (42/100,00: 16.1 men and 10.4 women) whereas developing nations with hot weather, such as Philippines and Haiti, have low suicide rates.

Awards and Prizes

Last Thursday, I was invited to the Warwick University (UK) Academic Excellence Award Ceremony. It was much smaller than the similar occasion at Sorbonne University I attended in 2011, but it was just as awesome observing the cream of the crop received their certificate of recognition, listening to the quartet while socialising and drinking, and watching gifted and talented young people interact with each other and wondering what they will become. With a population of about 13, 000 undergraduate students, only 61 from the Faculties of Arts, Science and Social Sciences were publicly congratulated during this annual occasion (about 0.5%). The figure is even less in other educational institutions, and not all gifted students are awarded considering that there are about 2% of them. Is it unfair to give awards to just a few? Should we celebrate students’ excellent achievements?

Though we are accustomed to giving awards and prizes from elementary (e.g. honours) to tertiary education (e.g. scholarships), not all educators agree to this practice, and there’s a growing number of them who think this is a form of elitism. One argument is that this promotes individual success as opposed to group accomplishment or teamwork. They question the impact of this practice to those who don’t get awards even when they work hard?

Gender and friendship: can women and men be close friends?

Posted on October 6, 2012 on Being Intelligent Gifted

  • “Men and women can’t be real friends,” Pierre, a gentle French man in his late 20s, insisted.
  • “There’s always that sexual dimension that makes male-female friendship impossible,” chimed in Guido, an Italian banker in his early 40s.
  • “I had to cut contact with my close female friend because my wife was jealous of her,” revealed Michael, a Belgian in his mid 30s.
  • “It depends where you live. In my village in the south of Spain, men and women get together and dance as friends, only friends no more,” argued Jose.

(We always start our Business English class with current events. Unusually, last week, my students were more interested in talking about male-female friendship than the economic crisis in the Euro Zone).

Though views on friendship vary from culture to culture, generally, such relationship between men and women is less common and more complex than same-sex friendship.

Friendship between men and women is viewed with suspicion because of cultural social and physiological realities. In films, friends always fall in love or end up in bed, which has either a happy or disastrous ending. Our education and socialisation encourage gender division in terms of physical and emotional needs and ways to attain these. There’s a prevailing belief that men, by biological nature, are more sexual thus more likely to have more than one partner.

Some individuals use friendship as a camouflage to their emotional insecurity and other psychological handicaps. They need a female friend (or friends) other than their partner as they didn’t experience emotional stability while growing up, they never witnessed their parent’s love and devotion to each other, or they were deprived of their mother’s care and attention. Meanwhile, are these not just excuses for a selfish desire that is responsible for some divorces and failed relationships, which have disturbing consequences, especially when children are involved.

Peaceful solution to the disputed Diaoyu-Senkaku islands

Yesterday I (Japanese woman) went to two Chinese grocery stores in Luxembourg to buy a bag of Japanese rice from California, Korean seasoned seaweed, imperial-dragon gyoza wrappers, and Taiwan highland (gao shan) oolong tea.

In Mexico and Spain, people mistook me as a local resident and asked me directions in Spanish. Similarly, Chinese and Korean people often talk to me in their languages. Happily, I try to make conversation with them, using some words which I have learned from Chinese, Taiwan, and Korean friends over the years (i.e., hello, 1, 2, 3,..., delicious, so-so, it doesn't matter, thank you, see you, I love you, etc).

Maybe, it was just a figment of my imagination, but yesterday one of the Chinese owners was slightly distant, not as cheerful as usual. Though, later I realized that she put two extra oranges in my plastic bag for free. Then, I thought of the ongoing dispute over the islands among countries.

Today I was reading two articles by Gavan McCormack who presents background information about the territorial disputes (The first article is translated into 中文, 한국어, and 日本語): "Small Islands – Big Problem: Senkaku/Diaoyu and the Weight of History and Geography in China-Japan Relations".

Right to water

Nice documentary film recommended. Watch below:
www.bottledlifefilm.com/index.php/the-story.html

As a citizen, it is time to ask oneself if it is worth or simply feasible to fight against international corporates and local industries for the human right to good-quality, drinkable, and affordable water.

...and of course, the excellent film of Annie Leonard and her team:
"Story of stuff: Story of bottled water"

Also, you may be interested in:
"Challenge corporate control over water: think outside the bottle!"

...and this: "Public water works!"

...and this: http://warisacrime.org/node/40335

人権としての水へのアクセス。水をめぐる争奪ドキュメンタリー

最近、すぐれたドキュメンタリー映画を立て続けに見ました。その一つが“Bottled Life”です。配給会社が後でいい日本語タイトルをつけるでしょうが。無理やり日本語にすると、「ペットボトルに入れられた命、生活、暮らし」とでもいいましょうか。

ペリエ、サンペレグリノ、ヴィッテルなど、70品目以上のミネラルウォーターを幅広く手がける世界最大の食品メーカ・ネスレ(Nestlé)をめぐるドキュメンタリーです。スイス人ジャーナリストRes Gehrigerが、本社、アメリカ・メイン州、パキスタン、ナイジェリアなどを取材し、ボトルウォーター・ビジネスの戦略・実態にメスを入れてます。自国スイスに本部をおく巨大多国籍企業のひずみを、スイス人が告発し複数の映画賞を受賞した労作です。

メイン州では、当企業による商用用途としての水資源の(無制限)利用確保とその拡大、地域住民との水をめぐる攻防、水源の荒廃、地元の女性活動家たちの活躍などを描写。

Fat-Finger Syndrome

Fat-finger syndrome is work and health issue.

Have you sent an unfinished email?
Have you forwarded a correspondence to the wrong addressee?
Have you accidentally deleted a file?
Have you bought or ordered items that you don’t want?

These mistakes are called fat finger syndrome - errors made by hitting the wrong key or button on a keyboard, which can be inconvenient (e.g. rescheduling a meeting), costly (e.g. trader typing an extra zero to a share to be sold confusing the stock exchange) and even deadly (domestic violence or crime due to a discovered extra-conjugal relationship or lie).

Tailor-made curriculum to address students' insecurity and distress

Tuition, quality of education, choice of school/university and institutional policies (e.g. funding/resources, pedagogy – online & blended instruction) are some of the education issues often discussed in most European countries as the school year starts in September. The beginning of the school year can be exciting or worrying depending on where you live and your individual situation: In Greece, for example, some university students have dropped out of their studies due to lack of adequate finance. In Spain, families who never passed on used school bags and supplies to other siblings have done it this year. In Germany, however, parents enthusiastically file at the checkouts with trolleys filled with school paraphernalia and items to help their children have a good academic year.

Anywhere in the world, the education playing field is not level and students are not homogenous. About 2% of the student population are gifted and talented, about 5% of them are from high-income families; and there are bipolar, autistic, slightly impaired and emotionally fragile among them. With our globalised world, it’s fairly common to find more than one religion, culture and language in every classroom. With the divorce rate of 40-50% and advent of other kinds of family arrangement (single parents, same-sex couples, restructured families), children face different challenges at school. There are many happy families but there are also those whose routine includes: couples disputing on subjects that range from money to infidelity, children experiencing abuse and intolerance, etc. As well, due to the financial crises and current volatile economic condition, many parents have lost their jobs, others may have the same fate soon, while some have been forced to move to other places and transferred their children to a new school. These circumstances impact on the children’s behaviour and their capacity to learn and perform at school.

原発に偏執する日本。そしてエネルギー転換に出遅れる日本

Solar Windmill Boat3.11以来、どこの国でも政府の助成なしには、不安定な原子力産業をささえるのは、いよいよむずかしくなってきている。

World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012は、原発の建設費は推定費をはるかに上まわり、建設工事も大幅に遅延する傾向にあると報告している。

ちなみに、フィンランドのオルキルオト原子力発電所三号機の建設は5年遅れで、必要費は100〜120%予算超過(60〜66億ユーロ)。フランスでは、2007年にフラマンヴィル原子力発電所三号機の建設開始、2012年に商業運転開始の予定が、竣工は2016年に延期となり超過額はすでに60億ユーロにのぼっている(World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012、34ページ)。莫大な予算超過分は、当然、国民にはねかえってくる。

原発は商業的にも技術的にも、もう時代遅れの技術であることを周知している先進国は、風力、水力、太陽光、波力、潮力、地熱等々、再生可能エネルギーの開発をアグレッシブに進めている。唯一、日本とフランスが大いに出おくれた感がある。しかし、原発大国のフランスでさえ、確実に変わろうとしている。

野田政権や「原子力ムラ」の人たち、いつの時代に生きているんですか。もっと勉強してほしい。

写真(横)は、ご近所。船のお家

(下)パリ市内の公営の電気自動車貸出制度「オートリブ(Autolib)」

eco.nikkeibp.co.jp/article/column/20111011/108720/

Modeling human well-being and societal progress

For those who already read our article "Towards International and Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration for the Measurements of Quality of Life" in Social Indicators Research and have become interested in modeling, you may want to watch Tony Buzan's video on Mind Mapping. It may give you an idea of modeling as I think that modeling and his mapping are closely connected.

And, the book Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist (Second Edition - link to Morgan-Kaufmann Publishers) by Allemang and Hendler is very nice, very progressive and pedagogic to learn about modeling.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlabrWv25qQ

Multipurpose summer holiday: intensive courses, sporting competitions, family, friends, charity, networking

Séjours linguistiques (language trainings), intensive courses in subjects that range from mathematics to personal development and sporting activities (close to 1 million visitors to London during the Olympics Games of which about 300,000 from overseas + 5.5 million day trippers + 10,500 athletes and 7,500 officials) are some of this year’s summer holiday interests.

My acquaintance and her husband plan their annual summer holiday around chess tournaments. They visit beautiful towns in France and nearby European cities while their 15 year-old-son collects trophies. Gone are the days when the sole destination was the beach, mountain, touristic spots or entertainment park to relax and have fun. Consciously, or otherwise, we engage in a multipurpose holiday, e.g. our travel luggage includes a laptop, net/notebook, iPod, Nintendo, headsets and other electronic gadgets. Do we really need these gadgets when our main goal is to have a nice break from work, school or a routine activity (especially strenuous one)?

Here in France, friends (sometimes even strangers) constantly ask each other these questions “When are you going on holiday?” “Where will you spend your summer vacation?”-- which are not easy to answer when you’re going nowhere. As well, these are always followed by further questions and comments, such as “Are you working all summer?” as if you’ve been punished for being inefficient; “Your children will be bored for 2 months” as if they didn’t have parents, siblings, toys, nearby parks and local activities to keep them busy. Sometimes it’s not enough to mention a place; it has to be abroad – such as England, Spain and other top country destinations!

There are many worthwhile activities during the summer holiday period aside from consuming artificially high-priced accommodation, airline tickets and entertainment. One of my trainees has just left Luxembourg as a participant of a one-month car rally in Mongolia. He’s so delighted that his summer holiday has raised money for charities through sponsorships and donations. In last nights’ news there was a segment about students working for nursing homes as volunteers this summer.

Pleasure and not pressure at work

A paid employment is necessary – it’s an indispensable work as it provides an individual with an income, self identity and social status. Due to some societal changes and the financial crises, the pleasure of being in a paid employment has been replaced with pressure, stress and race for survival. The original idea connected with the Protestant work ethic of independence and saving has disappeared, and what’s left is hard work and competition. Most of us are busy earning money hence we have no or little time for leisure.

Unlike workaholics, we rely on periodic leisure (which is associated with holiday as the British call it; “vacation” American) to spice our employment. I rarely hear of employees raving about having the pleasure of working. It’s not only money that makes our work environment pleasurable. It may not be possible to get pleasure from all our daily tasks, however, we can see the glass half full in times of pressure when we have a good sense of humour and take time to relax. There’s also pleasure, instead of pressure, when we have a shared interest (e.g. sports, entertainment, arts) with our colleagues, update our work station (e.g. new photos on our desk and fosters on the wall), vary our office snacks and meals, dress up differently and change our lunch activities from time to time (e.g. picnic in the nearby park or trip to the swimming pool and a quick sandwich).

As I mentioned in my previous article, I didn’t have internet access for 10 days by choice. I leisurely explored the mountains and lakes in Scotland and played a typical tourist in England. The 12-day holiday with my family was fantastic though I really didn’t need it as a break from my paid employment. A staycation would have been leisurely productive and pleasurably relaxing. This is because I enjoy what I do for a living. We can only have fun with our job when we are passionate about it. Can we instil passion in our work? How can we handle pressure and obtain pleasure when we aren’t passionate about our employment?

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