COVID-19 and migration: we need a firewall

by Chris Bertram on March 10, 2020

Rather obviously COVID-19 is a global public health emergency. Tackling it, particularly in the absence of a vaccine, means blocking and shortening the chains of contagion through personal hygiene and social distancing, identifying people who are infected, treating those who need treatment, enabling the isolation of the infected for as long as they can transmit. & cetera. And the issue is not just about the risk to each of us, but also about the risk we bring to others. So the fact that the fit and young may escape with minor discomfort shouldn’t lead them to exempt themselves from necessary measures, because the chain that leads from them can be a death sentence for a vulnerable or elderly person.

All of which brings me to immigration and, specifically, to immigrant populations. In recent years governments with good public health systems have moved to restrict access to citizens and legal permanent residents. In the UK, one of the features of the “hostile environment” that has led to the Windrush scandal was the denial of medical care to people who couldn’t prove their entitlement. Others have been hit with enormous medical bills because of their nationality and perceived immigration status. But now, obviously, we can’t have a situation where people are deterred from seeking help because they fear being hit with a huge payment. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on March 8, 2020

I took advantage of being on strike to do some Bristol tourism, and enjoyed looking round St Mary Redcliffe particularly: a gothic wonder that I pass every day but because it is local only seem to enter once a week.

St Mary Redcliffe

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The Prodigal Tech Bro

by Maria on March 6, 2020

FYI I have a new piece up on The Conversationalist about that second most fungible resource; privilege.

“The Prodigal Tech Bro is a story about tech executives who experience a sort of religious awakening. They suddenly see their former employers as toxic, and reinvent themselves as experts on taming the tech giants. They were lost and are now found. They are warmly welcomed home to the center of our discourse with invitations to write opeds for major newspapers, for think tank funding, book deals and TED talks. These guys – and yes, they are all guys – are generally thoughtful and well-meaning, and I wish them well. But I question why they seize so much attention and are awarded scarce resources, and why they’re given not just a second chance, but also the mantle of moral and expert authority.”

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World Book Day – January round-up

by Maria on March 5, 2020

OK it’s World Book Day and as it’s too depressing to work today because – freelance life – God knows when I’ll get paid for anything anyway, and it’s been raining for years, and I frankly have no idea what sort of blog-posts I’m supposed to or able to write these days (but word to the wise, all sarcastic, shitty, trolly or otherwise unpredictably dislikable comments that I won’t define but I know one when I see it will get zapped and their posters banned from here on in because I am DONE with this and I hope some of our lovely women commenters can come back but I completely understand if you, too, are DONE with this), I am going to do a round-up of books I read in January because that may be remotely of interest to some, and no, I will not be pressing the edit button, back button, etc. so this really, really just is what it is.

There are a lot of books because 1) post-Christmas reading days and 2) a holiday I took to beat the winter blues which clearly was worth every penny spent on it.

Rosewater, Tade Thompson, first of a trilogy
Aliens in near-future Nigeria, a new city and its politics built around them, psychic powers, traffic jams, necklacing, biological imperialism and a very good dog. Everyone in SF-world raved about this trilogy and I now see why. It’s fascinating, exciting, much of human life jammed in, funny, clear-eyed, terrific world-building and does so much with and to a well-worn premise that it is completely re-defined – kind of like the first time I heard Radiohead’s Pablo Honey I thrilled to each jewel in its treasure chest of influence, but the second time and ever after, all I heard was the band itself, almost sui generis. A sentence from Rosewater about the alien presence, Wormwood: “When Wormwood surges into awareness, we are unimpressed, even in our knowledge that it is the most significant event in Earth’s history. We’ve seen colonisers before, and they are similar, whether intercontinental or interplanetary.” Read it.
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Europe fails refugees again

by Chris Bertram on March 5, 2020

Once again, Europe is failing in its duties towards refugees. The latest episode is the decision of Turkey’s President Erdoğan to permit and even to encourage thousands of people to cross into Greece in order to pressure the EU to do more to support Turkey in its conflict with Russia and the Assad regime in Syria’s Idlib province, itself a site of mass forced displacement where people who have fled Aleppo and other conflict areas in Syria are now concentrated. Erdoğan’s instumentalization of migrants and refugees is cynical and calculated, but that doesn’t excuse the failure of Europe to do its part. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million displaced people from Syria on its territory and the EU has viewed the country as a convenient buffer to keep them from its borders, paying Erdoğan €6 billion to warehouse them. [click to continue…]

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Rightwing postmodernism

by John Quiggin on March 4, 2020

Next week in Brisbane, I’ll take part in a debate/dialogue with Stephen Hicks, a North American philosopher, who has criticised postmodernism from a right/libertarian perspective. He’s on a tour of Australia, and was invited to Brisbane by Murray Hancock who’s setting up The Brisbane Dialogue which has the ambitious objective of promoting civil discussion across political divides. I ended up being dobbed in (is this an Australianism?) to present the other side, and chose the topic “Postmodernism is a rightwing philosophy”. Longterm readers of my blogging won’t be surprised: I was making this claim as far back as 2003. Thanks to Kellyanne Conway and “alternative facts”, I’ll have plenty of material to work with.
I plan to argue that in the absence of any objective correspondence to reality, it’s the truths favored by the rich and powerful that will win out, not those of the oppressed. Trumpism is the obvious illustration of this, but rightwing postmodernism on issues like climate change and creationism long predates his rise.

Still, I have a couple of problems. First, I’m not a philosopher, so I’m working with a pretty simmple interpretation of postmodernism, roughly stated as “there are multiple truths, and no one is better than another” More precisely, as I encountered it, postmodernism involved a Two-Step of Terrific Triviality, putting forward statements that encouraged the simplistic interpretation most of the time, but, when challenged, retreating to into total obscurity, or else into something more nuanced and not very interesting like “there may be an actual truth of the matter, but we can never know it for sure” . But is there a better interpretation of postmodernism, one that is both interesting and comprehensible?

My second problem is whether constructive dialogue on a topic like this will prove to be possible. I think we’ll agree at least on not liking postmodernism, and probably on some of the intellectual history. I have no idea, though, what Hicks thinks about Trump and Trumpism, or for that matter about climate change and science in general. I’ll see how it plays out.

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Sunday photoblogging: Mount Pleasant, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on March 1, 2020

Mount Pleasant, BS3

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Planning for Pandemics (repost from 2005)

by John Quiggin on February 28, 2020

The news of deaths from bird flu in Indonesia is pretty scary. Although, as I’ve mentioned recently Indonesia has made a lot of progress in many respects, the handling of this threat so far seems to show the worst of both worlds: all the ill ffects of authoritian habits combined with the timidity of weak politicians. There have been a lot of coverups, and an unwillingness to tackle the necessary but unpopular task of slaughtering affected flocks of birds. Things seem to be improving now, but there’s a long way to go.

It seems very likely that, sooner or later, bird flu will make the jump that permits human-human transmission, and quite likely that a major flu pandemic will result. The world, including Australia, is very poorly prepared for this. One thing we could do to prepare is to adopt a national program encouraging annual flu vaccinations for everyone, instead of just for limited categories of vulnerable people.

The main benefit of this is not that the shots would provide immunity against a new and deadlier flu variant (though there might be some limited benefit of this kind) but that we would have the infrastructure, production facilities and so on to undertake a mass vaccination against such a variant if it arose. As it is, it seems likely that many countries will be scrambling to get access to an inadequate world supply of vaccines, but if Australia and other developed countries ramped up normal levels of production, it would be much easier to generate extra supplies for our neighbours.

I haven’t looked into it, but my guess is that, even without considering the possibility of a pandemic, the benefit-cost ratio from such a measure would be pretty high. Flu is very costly in economic terms, and I suspect that, if pain and suffering were thrown into the balance, a program of universal free vaccination would come out looking pretty good.

Notes  I wrote this in 2005 thinking about new flu strains. The only difference I see with “novel” viruses is that the time taken to produce the initial batches of a vaccine is likely to be longer. As is usual with my policy advocacy, little if anything has been done along the lines I suggested.

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I gave a keynote speech at the annual conference of the Center for Enrollment Research Policy and Practice last month, and it occurred to me that some of you might find it interesting. The following is the text I talked from (with one joke that I extemporated added to the text because I remember it – there was several others that went down well, but they are lost to posterity).

I should start by saying I’m not an expert on the admissions process or on enrollment management, although thanks to my association with the Center and attending this conference a few times I know much more than a normal professor would. Or should. I’m not an administrator.. I’m a college teacher and a philosopher, and those roles each give me different reasons for humility when addressing the people who take real responsibility for managing our institutions. So please don’t take what I am going to say as criticism or as telling you how to do your jobs. It’s neither. (I know when people say that you shouldn’t take what they are going to say as criticism that usually means they are going to criticize you but…. well, I’m not). What we try to do as philosophers is offer intellectual resources to people to help them see problems slightly differently, and thereby perhaps to find better solutions – not to tell them what the solutions are. And it’s a good thing our job isn’t telling people what the solutions are since I don’t know what they are. As you’ll see.

I was asked to talk about transparency in admissions, and I’m going to do that, but I am also going to talk a little bit about transparency in other areas of our shared enterprise.

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Milkman

by Chris Bertram on February 24, 2020

Sometimes you are reading a novel and it is so extraordinary that you think, is this the best thing I have ever read? For me, that feeling probably comes on about once a year, so there are quite a lot of books that have evoked it. Still, that they do says something, and the latest to have sparked it is Anna Burns’s Milkman, the Booker Prize winner from 2018.

Milkman is, all at once, a tremendous linguistic performance, a triumph of phenomenology, am insightful account of sexual harrassment, a meditation on gossip and what it can do, a picture of the absurdities of enforced communitarian conformity, and a clear-eyed portrayal of what it is to live under the occupation of a foreign army and the domination of the necessary resisters to that army who are, at the same time, friends and family, sometime idealists but sometimes gangsters, bullies and killers.

Anna Burns’s sentences, the stream of consciousness of her 18-year-old narrator, loop back on themselves with further thoughts and reconsiderations. The voice is a combination of personal idiosyncracy and northern Irish English, i.e. comprehensible to speakers of other versions of English but sometimes odd or disconcerting. You can’t skim and get the plot. You have to hold on, read each sentence, and sometime start it again.
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Sunday photoblogging: Coal loader at Avonmouth

by Chris Bertram on February 23, 2020

Back from 2007

Coal loader at Avonmouth

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Vaporfly

by John Quiggin on February 23, 2020

Like most recreational tri-athletes, I don’t pay much attention to what’s happening in the top levels of the sport, let alone in the separate worlds of swimming, cycling and running[1]. But I took notice last year when Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon distance in under two hours, a barrier long thought to be unbreakable, and one that reminded my of my failed attempts to break four hours over the same distance.

Kipchoge had plenty of help in his effort, including pace runners (providing an added drafting benefit) and a guide car projecting laser light on to the track to ensure exact pacing. These non-standard features mean that the time doesn’t count as a record for the marathon event.

Apparently, the biggest boost, however, came from his shoes, Nike’s recently released Vaporfly’s which incorporate a special carbon plate and a foam designed to return as much as possible of the energy expended from the impact of each pace. In subsequent events, runners with Vaporflys have produced winning times as much as 4 per cent faster than would be expected. And, it seems, the benefit is just as great, or even greater, for middle-aged slowpokes.

As with similar innovations in swimming and cycling, there was a lot of pressure to ban these technological marvels. But the International Olympic Committee, unwilling to take on the might of Nike, decided to allow the shoes, while trying to limit further innovations.

So, should I lay out $A300 or so for a pair of these marvels, which apparently may last for only a couple of hundred km (YMMV)? For the moment, I’m not going to. I’m going to have one more try to break four hours, and for this purpose I’m racing against my (not quite as old) self, not other competitors or even the clock. Once the technology becomes general, I’ll no doubt adopt it like everyone else.

In the meantime, what really appeals to me is the claimed capacity of cooling wristbands to lower body temperature. Even in moderate temperatures, I end events drenched in sweat and temperatures in Queensland aren’t always moderate. Does anyone have any experience/thoughts on this?

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Who will pick the turnips?

by Chris Bertram on February 20, 2020

I have a new piece up at the LRB blog on the UK’s post-Brexit immigration plans. I argue that at the core of the plans is an intention to treat EU migrants and others as a vulnerable and exploitable workforce and that the logic of denying a long-term working visa route to the low paid leads to three possibilities: either the businesses that rely upon them will go bust, technology will substitute for labour, or the UK will have to start denying education to young Britons so that they become willing to be the underpaid workforce that picks turnips and cleans the elderly in social care.

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An important new book about refugeehood

by Chris Bertram on February 19, 2020

A brief plug for an important new (and affordable) book: every home should have one! David Owen has long been know for his thoughtful contribution to philosophical debates around migration, and now he has published a brilliant short book, What Do We Owe to Refugees? in the same excellent Political Theory Today series from Polity that my own book appears in. David’s book is highly readable and gives a solid introduction to the main controversy that runs through modern debates on refugeehood, namely, whether we should adopt a “humanitarian” or a “political” conception of refugees and what we owe to them.

A humanitarian conception of refugees focuses attention on them as needy persons forcibly displaced through no fault of their own. They may be fleeing persecution, or war, or natural disaster or environmental collapse, and the duties that we have to them flow from our common humanity. It is their neediness and not the specific cause of their neediness that is the most important factor. A political conception, by contrast, sees refugees as victims of a special wrong, the denial of political status, of effective citizenship through persecution by the very state whose obligation it is to include them as citizens and to guarantee and respect their rights. Refugeehood as conceived of by the political conception is an internationally-recognized political substitute for the membership that has been unjustly denied by a person’s persecutors. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Green post-box

by Chris Bertram on February 16, 2020

A bit of a collector’s item this (taken in 2016). In Ireland there are many British postboxes with the sovereign’s initials that have been overpainted in green by the Irish government since independence. This one, on the Falls Road in Belfast could not be of a type that would appear in the Republic of Ireland because the monarch in question, Elizabeth II, came to the throne after Irish independence, but has been overpainted by Irish republicans in Northern Ireland. In the event of a united Ireland, we could expect official overpainting.

Posted after a bit of twitter discussion with Declan Gaffney and Joel Walmsley yesterday. Joel has a blog on Irish postboxes.

Green Postbox on the Falls Rd in Belfast

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