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Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore

by Chris Bertram on August 18, 2019

Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore

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Sunday photoblogging: U-Bahn, Hamburg

by Chris Bertram on August 11, 2019

Hamburg

Does talent matter?

by Chris Bertram on August 7, 2019

I’ve recently been in Germany which, to a greater extent than many other countries (such as my own), is a functioning and prosperous liberal democracy. It wasn’t always thus, as every participant in internet debate know very well. By the end of the Second World War, Germany had suffered the destruction of its cities and infrastructure, the loss of a large amount of its territory, and the death or maiming of a good part of its population and particularly of the young and active ones. Yet, though not without some external assistance, it was able to recover and outstrip its former adversaries within a very few decades.

Thinking about this made me reflect a little on whether people, in the sense of talented individuals, matter all that much. That they do is presupposed by the recruitment policies of firms and other institutions and by immigration policies that aim to recruit the “best and brightest”. Societies are lectured on how important it is not to miss out in the competition for “global talent”. Yet the experience of societies that have experienced great losses through war and other catastrophes suggests that provided the institutions and structures are right, when the “talented” are lost they will be quickly replaced by others who step into their shoes and do a much better job that might have previously been expected of those individuals.

I imagine some empirical and comparative work has been done by someone on all this, but it seems to me that getting the right people is much less important that having the institutions that will get the best out of whatever people happen to be around. I suppose a caveat is necessary: some jobs need people with particular training (doctoring or nursing, for example) and if we shoot all the doctors there won’t yet be people ready to take up the opportunities created by their vacancy. But given time, the talent of particular individuals may not be all that important to how well societies or companies do. Perhaps we don’t need to pay so much, then, to retain or attract the “talented”: there’s always someone else.

Sunday photoblogging: storm in the Venice lagoon

by Chris Bertram on July 28, 2019

P1012140

Sunday photoblogging: flower

by Chris Bertram on July 14, 2019

The garden at Cropston - rose

Foxglove, backlit by the setting sun

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas pigeons

by Chris Bertram on June 30, 2019

Pézenas pigeons

Sunday photoblogging: Clark Street Bridge, Chicago

by Chris Bertram on June 23, 2019

After last week’s offering, I looked through a few more of my Chicago pictures and quite liked this one. (Plus, a note to our commenter “oldster”: comment leaving a valid email address or email me, and I will respond.)
Clark St Bridge

Last Sunday a letter appeared in the Sunday Times attacking the LGBT charity Stonewall for its work with British universities as a threat to academic freedom. For context, a non-paywalled version of the text us available here).The letter was signed by some reasonably prominent figures, such as Kathleen Stock (Sussex) and Leslie Green (Oxford) as well as motley others (including a Brexit Party candidate). It is no accident that the letter appeared in the Sunday Times, which together with its companion paper the Times has, for at least a year, maintained an almost daily campaign against transgender people and the organizations and individuals who support them and which has also been to the fore in attacking universities around largely spurious concerns about “free speech”.

In response at least two letters of reply have circulated, one of which appeared in the Independent, and which I have signed (see this Pink News piece for link). The text of this blog post derives from what would have been another such letter, specifically from philosophers, which I drafted in consultation with some others (and I particularly thank Catarina Dutilh Novaes for her contribution). Hence, perhaps, some of the tone of the text below which was originally written with in the first person plural. I feel there is a particular obligation to speak out within philosophy because of the prominent role philosophers have played in public debate on these issues and because of the recent relentless focus of the leading blog in philosophy on trans debates. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Chicago

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2019

Downtown Chicago-5

Green new deals and natural resources

by Chris Bertram on June 11, 2019

I’m nearly through reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible at the moment, and very good it is too. For those who don’t know, the main part of Kingsolver’s novel is set in the Congo during the period comprising independence in 1960 and the murder of its first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, on 17 January 1961 at the hands of Katangan “rebels” backed by Belgium and the US. And DR Congo (sometime Zaire) has been pretty continuously violent and unstable ever since. With its origins in King Leopold’s extractive private state (rubber), Congo has been coveted and plundered for the sake of its natural resources ever since. At the time of the Katanga crisis copper was the thing. But now what was previously a little-wanted by-product of copper extraction, cobalt, is in heavy demand because of its use in batteries.

My attention was caught yesterday by a press release from the UK’s Natural History Museum, authored by a group of British geoscientists:

The letter explains that to meet UK electric car targets for 2050 we would need to produce just under two times the current total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production.

A friend alerted me to a piece by Asad Rehman of War on Want, provocatively entitled The ‘green new deal’ supported by Ocasio-Cortez and Corbyn is just a new form of colonialism which makes the point:

The demand for renewable energy and storage technologies will far exceed the reserves for cobalt, lithium and nickel. In the case of cobalt, of which 58 per cent is currently mined in the DR of Congo, it has helped fuel a conflict that has blighted the lives of millions, led to the contamination of air, water and soil, and left the mining area as one of the top 10 most polluted places in the world.

People who are optimistic about the possibilities of decarbonizing without major disruption to Western ways of life and standards of living are often enthusiastic about new technologies, battery developments etc. I’ll include CT’s John Quiggin in that (see John’s piece from CT Can we get to 350ppm? Yes we can from 2017). John tells me he’s sceptical about claims that we are about to run out of some scare resource. Maybe he’s right about that and more exploration will reveal big reserves of copper and cobalt in other places. But even if he is, we still have to get that stuff out of the ground, and that’s predictably bad for local environments and their people, and in the short to medium term it may yet be further bad news for the people of DR Congo who have already endured seventy plus plus years as a “free” country (and 135 years since Leopold set up in business) in conditions of violence and exploitation, whilst already wealthy northerners get all the benefits.

Sunday photoblogging: car park

by Chris Bertram on May 26, 2019

Car park, Liverpool One

May’s tears, and what’s to come

by Chris Bertram on May 26, 2019

The criminal shitshow that is British politics continues, with a Tory leaderships contest, ultimately to be decided by a handful of elderly misanthropes, following Theresa May’s resignation. Currently, the bookie’s favourite is serial liar and buffoon Boris Johnson, a man who makes Donald Trump look like a model of virtue and who is now holding out the prospect renegotiation with the European Union, in violation of the agreed terms of the recent extension, followed by the no-deal exit which the Tory undead wish to foist on the country’s youth. In between we have the prospect of European Parliament results, where the largest share of the vote will probably go to Nigel Farage’s alliance between the right-wing Christian evangelism of Anne Widdecome and the paedophile-excusing ex-Revolutionary Communist Party.

Still, as an hors d’oeuvre, Theresa May’s resignation speech wasn’t bad. She appealed to the spirit of Nicholas Winton, who saved thousands of children from the Nazis just before the Second World War by organizing the Kinderstransport, which necessitated, among other things, the falsification of papers. Under Theresa May’s regime, Winton would have faced prosecution and a lengthy stretch inside for people smuggling and those he saved would have been left to their fate. As Home Secretary and Prime Minister she has presided over the most refugee-hostile government of recent times, with child refugees stranded and separated from their families and those refugees who make it to the UK forced to subsist on £5 a day. Many other migrants have had their lives destroyed under May’s “hostile environment” regime that has split families, increased racial discrimination in housing, and has seen foreign students falsely accused of cheating and removed in their thousands with the loss of all their money and reputations. And the system of indefinite detention for thousands of migrants continues. These are, of course, just the charges that come to mind, there are many others. But she cried from self-pity and tried to wrap herself in the mantle of a modern saint.

Liverpool, near Albert Dock

by Chris Bertram on May 19, 2019

I’ve been rooting through my archives, reprocessing some files, and this one comes from a decade ago.

Liverpool, near Albert Dock

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas archway

by Chris Bertram on May 12, 2019

Pézenas archway