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Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas houses

by Chris Bertram on October 15, 2017

Pézenas

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas

by Chris Bertram on October 8, 2017

Pézenas

Sunday photoblogging: at Bouzigues

by Chris Bertram on October 1, 2017

Pézenas-3

Sunday photoblogging: Renaissance courtyard, Pézenas, France

by Chris Bertram on September 24, 2017

Pézenas

Sunday photoblogging: Étang de Montady

by Chris Bertram on September 17, 2017

Étang de Montady

Back to Sunday Photoblogging. I’ve been on hiatus from CT due to some family matters, and others have taken up the photoblogging job. This is the Étang de Montady as seen from the Oppidum d’Ensérune (both near Béziers in Languedoc). Both have Wikipedia entries, so please consult, but the story is that monks constructed this in the 13th century. They drained the swamp/pond by creating a drain at a central point which flows through an underground culvert and the radial ditches that result force the fields into their triangular pattern.

Review of Betts and Collier on refugees

by Chris Bertram on August 30, 2017

I have a review of Andrew Betts and Paul Collier, Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System (Allen Lane) in The New Humanist. It is a curious book, with some interesting and serious parts, but the whole is marred by an arrogant rhetoric and it risks serving as an alibi for some very bad policies indeed.

I got into a bit of a twitter fight with the always interesting Branko Milanovic yesterday. It was a second-hand fight, because he’d already been involved in one with Kate Raworth and had blogged about that. What was interesting to me was how Milanovic believed some things to be not only true, but obviously true, which I thought not just false but obviously false.

Milanovic’s claim is that limitless economic growth is both necessary and desirable in today’s societies. In fact, he puts the claim in the negative:

De-emphasizing growth is not desirable, and perhaps more importantly, is utterly unrealizable in societies like our modern societies.

He may be right or wrong about that. If such growth implies increased consumption of resources, then that’s a pretty bleak prospect for anyone who believes in ecological limits, worries about heat death from climate change and the like.

Still, more interesting to me was his reasoning:

the really important counter-argument to Kate is that her proposal fails to acknowledge the nature of today’s capitalist economies. They are built on two “fundaments”: (a) at the individual level, greed and the insatiable desire for more, and (b) on the collective level, competition as a means to achieve more. These are not necessarily most attractive ethical characteristics for either individuals or collectives but they are indispensable for capitalism to function—they provide the engine that pushes it ever further. … This extreme commodification is obviously linked with insatiability of our needs and by our desire to climb up in hierarchical rankings. Since today’s uber-capitalism accepts only one ranking criterion, money (and since all other possible ranking criteria can be, through commodification, converted into the money-metric), the desire for higher societal rank is almost entirely identified with the desire for higher income. And if everybody wants to have higher income, how can we then argue they our society should cease to place a premium on economic growth …. ? [click to continue…]

Jacob Levy on “The Sovereign Myth”

by Chris Bertram on July 12, 2017

Jacob T. Levy has written a really interesting piece for the Niskanen Center, which has at its centre the myth that the postwar era was one of sovereign and national democratic control and the fantasy that’s what we need to restore, a fantasy that fuels both the current wave of right-wing populism but is also present in some of the thinking around Jeremy Corbyn.

The imagined Golden Age in these kinds of stories of the fall from democratic grace is the postwar era; it’s often referred to as les trente glorieuses, the thirty glorious years of high economic growth, broadly distributed, during which most Western market democracies built substantial welfare and regulative states after World War II. The chronology varies from one country to another, but roughly speaking the Golden Age is taken to have ended sometime around 1970-75, opening political space for a very different political-economic model to take hold — with the election of Thatcher and Reagan, and the reconciliation of Mitterrand’s Socialist government in France to the market. … The people [now] want to take back control of their economies and their societies. Thus, to critics of neoliberalism, the populist upsurge is a kind of dark morality play; we’re being punished for Margaret Thatcher’s sins.

In the lens of Levy’s piece, UKIP and Trump, Theresa May, David Goodhart and “Liberal” Brexiteers like Carswell and Hannan are on the same side of a key dividing line together with some left-Rawlsians in political philosophy, and other “relational egalitarians”, with people like David Miller, with Blue Labour, with the Furedites with their enthusiasm for national sovereignty, with Lexiters and national-sovereigntist socialism-in-one-country types like John McDonnell and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. On the other side of that line are cosmopolitans of various stripes and with seriously differing attitudes among themselves to “capitalism”, to property and markets. Sitting uncomfortably in the middle are some of the Labour “mainstream”, the US Democrats, and people like Macron, who want to hang onto the postwar international order but are nevertheless wedded to the nation state and the possibility of control in ways that foster the myth.

Whilst nation states may be unable to produce the level of control for democratic electorates that they falsely promise, they are rather good at classifying, organizing, excluding and generally bullying people, with miserable effects for the people and their families who don’t fit into the neat little containers of nationality and citizenship or who would challenge them. The people in the sovereigntist and middle groups have very different ideas about what they’d do with state power, of course, — some of them benign in aspiration — but they all want to bend state power to the production of their pet outcomes on behalf of democratic electorates within which the interests of the “national”, the ethnically dominant and the sedentary are over-represented compared to all the people who don’t fit. In my view, the renewed fostering of the “we” who want control and to take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy carries serious dangers for those others.

Crowdfunding for Bristol Refugee Rights

by Chris Bertram on June 18, 2017

Crooked Timber community! I write to tell you about a charitable organisation that I’m involved with (I’m Chair of the Board of Trustees) and its current fundraising initiative. The charity is Bristol Refugee Rights, and we provide welfare, advice and education services, as well as a place to hang out and a hot meal for refugees and asylum seekers in the Bristol area. One of our services is our Early Years Project, which provides a creche for the children of refugees, which is particularly useful to enable their parents to attend classes to learn English or access our other services. It also provides a nurturing environment for small children who have had a really rough start in life and whose families are often subsisting at near destitution levels, as the British government only assists them to the tune of £5.32 a week (and some have less or nothing) on top of their housing in, again, very poor conditions. We need money to keep the service running and do things like pay the wages of the staff who run the creche. If you can, please give generously.

Here’s the link to the crowdfunding campaign, which is now going into its last 2 days.

Please give. And please share the campaign on your Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

And here’s a video about the campaign:

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas, Bike and steps

by Chris Bertram on June 18, 2017

Pézenas, steps and bike

From King’s Cross to Grenfell Tower

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2017

This is a guest post by Chris Brooke

I spend my life shuttling back and forth on the train between Oxford and Cambridge. That means that twice a week I walk past the plaque at King’s Cross that memorializes the thirty-one dead of the fire of 18 November 1987. And when I walk past that plaque, I’m reminded of a distinctive moment in my younger life—not just King’s Cross, but also the fifty-six dead of the Bradford stadium fire disaster (11 May 1985), the one hundred and ninety-three who died on the Herald of Free Enterprise (6 March 1987), the thirty-five who were killed at Clapham Junction (12 December 1988), the ninety-six who were crushed at Hillsborough (15 April 1989), or the fifty-one who drowned on the Marchioness (20 August 1989). Perhaps it was coincidence that these catastrophes happened cheek by jowl, in a way that they just haven’t since. Or perhaps much of it was something to do with the ascendant political ideology of the time, that starved vital infrastructure of much-needed investment, and that celebrated the quick search for profit. One of the good things about living in England over the last quarter century is that this run of disasters came to an end, and things became quite a bit safer. But of course the predictable consequence of the politicians’ collective choice to embrace the economics of austerity over the last seven years—and even more so when it is conjoined with the Tory fondness for the execrable landlord class, a widespread dislike of safety regulations, the cuts in legal aid, and the politics of the majority on Kensington & Chelsea Council, especially when it comes to housing—is that we would regress in some measure to this second-half-of-the-1980s world, and everything that is coming out now about the Grenfell Tower saga suggests that we have so regressed.

Back in those 1980s days, there was a running joke that Margaret Thatcher would always pop up at the bedside of the victims, doing a somewhat ghoulish Lady of the Lamp act, and Private Eye printed a Thatch Card, on the pattern of the then-popular NHS Donor Cards, that said that in the event of being involved in a major disaster, the holder of the card in no circumstances wanted to be visited by Mrs Thatcher in hospital. Compared to the behaviour of her successor, however, Mrs Thatcher comes across as a paragon of democratic responsibility. Mrs May didn’t have to do much yesterday, but she did have to visit Grenfell Tower, talk to the residents—the survivors—and tell them that from henceforwards things were going to be OK. And she didn’t even do that. In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised. Her authority was destroyed by the vote of 8 June, and she’s been in shell-shock since, starting to count down the days until she leaves office, insofar as it is practically inconceivable that she will lead the Conservative Party into the next general election and no-one is afraid of her anymore. But a zombie government is still the government, the Spiderman principle applies, and Theresa May is a coward and a disgrace.

Sunday photoblogging: Wiltshire field

by Chris Bertram on June 11, 2017

Wiltshire field near Avebury

Sunday photoblogging: Mount Pleasant Terrace

by Chris Bertram on June 4, 2017

Mount Pleasant Terrace

Sunday photoblogging: Redcliffe flats

by Chris Bertram on May 28, 2017

Redcliffe Flats

Runner bean field in Herefordshire