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Chris Bertram

Conscription and the media narrative on refugees

by Chris Bertram on December 13, 2016

The world is watching the denouement in Aleppo, with stories emerging of massacres, particularly of young men (and probably by young men). A story I read from Patrick Cockburn in the Independent reported that such is the shortage of manpower for the Syrian army that other young men, emerging from eastern Aleppo, are being immediately conscripted into the Syrian army. A Syrian refugee I heard speaking the other day said there was no choice but to leave because you would either be killed, or you would be forcibly enlisted and forced to kill others. And many of the young Eritreans who find their way to Europe are also fleeing conscription (they face indefinite military service). This is hardly a new thing. The last major exodus of Americans fleeing the jurisdiction of their state was of young men who were evading the Vietnam draft.

James C. Scott, in his wonderful The Art of Not Being Governed writes of state conscription as one of the main reasons why the subjects of states flee to the hills, to a zone outside of state control. There are few such zones today, and those that there are may be governed by forces even less appealing that the states that conscripts are fleeing from.

This all got me thinking about some of the media narrative on refugees over the past few years. The preponderance of young men has been treated by those who want to keep refugees out as a reason for suspicion. The “genuine” refugees for the newspaper columnists are mothers and children. It is the toddler drowned on the beach, like Aylan Kurdi, who elicits public sympathy. But young men are often the ones with most reason to flee. It is they who face the starkest choice between killing and being killed. No wonder they predominate.

Sunday photoblogging: Blackbird

by Chris Bertram on December 11, 2016

Blackbird

I’ve posted similar shots before, but at a different focal length.

Redcliffe Flats from Gaol Ferry Bridge

Castro is dead

by Chris Bertram on November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro is dead at 90, so let me adapt some words I wrote when he retired back in 2008. Doubtless, there will be commentary, particularly from within the United States, that is unbalanced and hostile, and, of course it is true that Castro ran a dictatorship that has, since 1959, committed its fair share of crimes, repressions, and denials of democratic rights. Still, I’m reminded of the historian A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. The same thing goes Cuba, for a much smaller area, and it hurt them particularly to be excluded from somewhere that plutocrats and mobsters had once enjoyed as their private playground. (Other countries, far more repressive, got a pass from successive US administrations.) So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid at a time when the United States favoured “constructive engagement” with white supremacy. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who bravely held off the US forces for a while when the US invaded Grenada. Let’s hear it for more than half-a-century of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!

Sunday photoblogging: car, leaves

by Chris Bertram on November 20, 2016

Car

On the alleged failure of “liberal progressivism”

by Chris Bertram on November 13, 2016

The other day, an article by Chris Deerin, a writer for the Scottish Daily Mail, appeared on my twitter timeline, retweeted and endorsed by several people I respect. The article argued Trump and Brexit mean that “liberal progressives” have lost and that “the model that has more or less dominated Western politics for the past three decades is defunct. It could not be more dead.” “We” misused that hegemony and are responsible for our own downfall:

We used our hegemony to take down barriers and borders, to connect and build, to (yes) line our own pockets and smugly luxuriate in the goodness of our ideas and intentions. Meantime, we forgot about those who weren’t able to take part, who weren’t benefiting, to whom free trade and open borders meant greater hardship and uneasy cultural compromises. Or, let’s be honest, we didn’t forget – we just chose to conveniently ignore. We stopped asking for their permission, ploughed on through the warning signs, and fell off the end of the road.

Now “liberal” is a funny old word, mostly used as an insult these days by the Jacobin crowd on the one hand and conservatives on the other. Still, I can’t help but feel that my politics is being condemned here as infeasible and dead whilst wondering whether it is in fact true that I’ve enjoyed such “hegemony” for the past 30 years, because that certainly doesn’t gel with my experience. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: morning sun, France

by Chris Bertram on November 13, 2016

Morning sun, France

Sunday photoblogging: railway line, Orio

by Chris Bertram on October 30, 2016

Orio is a small town in the Basque country, northern Spain

Orio, early morning

Sunday photoblogging: more Bogota pigeons

by Chris Bertram on October 23, 2016

Pigeons, Bogota, Colombia

Crooked Timber comments: a big change

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2016

We Timberites have been chatting amongst ourselves about our comments threads. Recently, and perhaps even not so recently, our threads have been dominated by a few commenters who are rude, abusive and dismissive to one another and others. This creates an environment where other commenters get squeezed out and where many of us feel reluctant to post on the blog because it isn’t fun exposing yourself to such gratuitous hostility and because housekeeping comment threads (and arguing about housekeeping decisions) is frankly exhausting. We want to create an environment where we feel more willing to write for the blog and where a wider spectrum of people feel encouraged to participate in discussions. There are no perfect solutions here. Abolishing comments threads altogether is an option, but that excludes people who have been good citizens at CT over the years.

Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to enforce our comments policy more rigorously (including the requirement that you supply a valid email address), and not just the part about comments that are racist, sexist or homophobic, but also the part about comments that are personally insulting. Specifically, commenters should abjure ostentatious displays of contempt towards other participants in the thread and commenters should not write in a manner that clearly presupposes that they do not believe the person they are engaging with is deserving of intellectual engagement. To pursue this policy, we’re going to try out putting everything into moderation by default. This will requires more work on our part to scan potential contributions as well as making it more difficulty for people to engage in the kind of to-and-fro that is characteristic of good conversation. That’s a pity, but may be the price we have to pay. We’re planning to review our policy in a couple of weeks, to see how it is working.

Sunday photoblogging: Pigeons, Bogota

by Chris Bertram on October 16, 2016

Pigeons, Bogota, Colombia

Sunday photoblogging: Cathedral, Bogota

by Chris Bertram on October 8, 2016

Cathedral, Bogota, Colombia

Notes from Colombia

by Chris Bertram on October 4, 2016

Last Sunday, the 2nd of October, in a vote that defied predictions, Colombians voted in a referendum to reject the peace deal that had been negotiated between their government and the FARC guerillas. Many people were stunned by the outcome. My Facebook feed was full of people typing “WTF?” and similar, utterly uncomprehending that a people could vote for the continuation of this ancient and apparently pointless war. What follows is my own, inexpert take on things, based solely on the fact that I was there for the vote as an international observer and have had an opportunity to talk to some Colombians about what happened (albeit English speaking ones with liberal views). So read what I’ve written with that in mind. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Gothic portico, Laguardia, Spain

by Chris Bertram on September 18, 2016

Gothic portico, Laguardia

This polychrome gothic portico is in the church of Santa Maria de los Reyes in Laguardia and dates from the 14th century. It used to be the on the outside of the church but has been inside for several centuries and was probably painted this way in the 14th century. I took the picture hand-held at 6400 ISO, 1/30sec, f4 (the maximum aperture on the lens) in very dark conditions (flash prohibited), which tells you what cameras can do now.

Sunday photoblogging: Herefordshire sky, today

by Chris Bertram on August 28, 2016

Herefordshire sky