No Place to Call Home by Katharine Quarmby

Katharine Quarmby is a formidable journalist who has worked for The Economist and several newspapers. This text tackles overt discrimination against travelling people in the UK. It highlights examples of political skulduggery by local authorities, while examining how tough life can be for those with a nomadic cultural background.

Quarmby does not simply stress negative experiences like mass evictions. She also pays attention to the rich tapestry of Romany culture. Careful to go beyond the stereotypes perpetuated by the mass media, she gives an insight into the lives of people who have a rich heritage.

Sadly, overt discrimination against the Roma has not been confined to the towns and cities of the UK. The populations of Eastern Europe have sometimes shown little compassion to the ethnic group in question.  The long shadow of the Holocaust also lingers.

At a time when international fascism seems to be on the rise, learning more about the way travelling people are treated is timely. Quarmby may not have composed a particularly theoretical work, but her careful research packs an authentic punch.

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All that is Solid by Danny Dorling

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848.

Professor Danny Dorling takes a jaundiced view of the British housing market. Dorling shows awareness of the role that housing has played in economic crises in Spain, the United States, Ireland and Iceland, but his focus remains closer to home. Dorling is critical of the fact that housing is widely used as an investment. He connects this individualist behaviour with inefficiency, homelessness and inequality. He attempts to link the volatility of the housing market to the wider difficulties of modern capitalism.

However, Dorling fails to structure his argument effectively. A surplus of facts and illustrations clutter up his rambling text. Furthermore, the book is divided into awkward sections which mean that there is a certain amount of repetition. The reader is treated to some insights into the way some people live now, but a tighter use of theory might have yielded even better results.

Nevertheless, the book is a valuable read for people who have illusions about the nature of contemporary housing associations. The academic rightly puts the transfer of local authority stock to social landlords in the category of privatization. He writes:

“This becomes especially clear viewed alongside all the changes that have occurred to make housing associations less and less socially motivated and more and more profit-driven. Such changes include the increase in salaries now paid to their top officials.”

 

Ethics and Welfare: the Case of Hunting by Roger Scruton

Most philosophy cannot be put in the simplistic category of bad. Although some philosophy has been misused by fascists, that same philosophy has sometimes provided inspiration to harmless artists or interesting intellectuals. However, Roger Scruton has proved that philosophy can possess few redeeming features. His odd argument in favour of fox-hunting is an example of wicked thinking.

The essay is not light on research. This is in part because the conservative thinker received assistance from experts with various aspects of the piece. Despite this seriousness, the work does not address the critical questions one might expect. Instead it assumes that fox-hunting can be viewed in terms of the management of wildlife.

It is correct that debating fox-hunting can generate more heat than light in urban settings. And it is true that the issue of social class can shape perceptions of the activity. But it is wrong to suggest that respect for foxes can justify the cruel pursuit of them for pleasure. Nor does the aesthetic of the hunt make the following statement relevant to meaningful modern ethics:

“From Homer to Sassoon the art and literature of hunting exhibits an almost religious respect for the quarry…”

 

 

 

“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Mario Cuomo

Jeremy Corbyn has clearly realised the power of the poem. At Glastonbury, he harnessed Shelley to inspire his audience. While the Conservative Party has been slow to form an awkward coalition with the DUP, the Labour leader has been quick to communicate his message of hope with large numbers of people.

It is uncertain if Corbyn will ever ascend to the summit of politics in the UK. However, he has already confounded a great many of his critics. Along the way, he has revealed a love of reading. His passion for Joyce made several people sit up.

If governing is a prosaic activity, does it have to be a fraudulent one? Is it possible for politicians to craft narratives which will take us to a fairer future? Will we continue to be led by Machiavellian monsters like Trump and Putin? The art of political studies is to live in the world of the possible. This does not mean we should be cynical, defeatist or neutral. Nonetheless, it does imply we must avoid making predictions.

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

Oscar Wilde

This colourful tribute to the slow movement is worth savouring. In the UK, many economists are obsessed with the puzzle of low productivity. It has become quite common for people to eat their meals standing up. Speeding on the congested road network is not unusual, while some motorists use a mobile as they drive. Multitasking is widely praised and technology has arguably become a substitute for religion.

However, slackers everywhere are rejecting the rushed excesses of modern capitalism. Walking, cycling and slow reading have acquired new followers in recent years. Middle class parents are often tempted by home schooling. Above all, slow cooking has been revived as the huge costs of fast food have become evident.

Carl Honoré is a competent journalist with a great sense of humour. He recognises how hard it is to ditch our unfortunate habits. His humility makes this an ideal text to take on holiday. Nevertheless, its simple lessons should never be forgotten. There is nothing wrong with making slow progress.

‘The novel to come’ syndrome…

When reading a long narrative, it is quite possible to be distracted by the idea of what you plan to read next. If you’ve selected something particularly intriguing, your current reading might seem somewhat ordinary. The anticipation can lead you to undervalue what you have on the page before you. It is vital to focus on one sentence at a time.

This dilemma was brought home to me recently. I’m reading ‘Felix Holt, the Radical’ by George Eliot. I will review it in due course. Suffice to say, like much of her work it has many solid strengths. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire a copy of ‘Lost Illusions’ by Honoré de Balzac. This has been recommended to me by somebody who has read the book twice. It is now sitting on a pile of novels.

I am having to show great discipline and read slowly about the behaviour of Felix Holt. His interactions with other characters are of considerable interest. It would be a shame to miss out on the finer points of the text because I am enchanted at the prospect of reading more Balzac.