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Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: The Apple Tree

by Chris Bertram on February 10, 2019

The Apple Tree

Sunday photoblogging: stairwell, Tate Britain

by Chris Bertram on February 3, 2019

Stairwell, Tate Britain

Sunday photoblogging: Diner

by Chris Bertram on January 27, 2019


Getting on beneath the vaulted sky

by Chris Bertram on January 22, 2019

Early last year, I began to experience some pains in my hands. I associated them with bringing a large turkey back from the butchers. Hadn’t taken the car, because parking, but it was heavier than I appreciated and I struggled with the bird as the handles of the plastic bad tore on my fingers. I went to the doctor. Tendons, probably, he said. Most likely be better in a few months.

Then in September, back from a touring holiday in France which had involved a lot of lugging of boxes and cases up and down stairs, the pain was back, worse. I lacked the strength to open cans and bottles. Some movements were fine but turning a knob or using a key sometimes — ouch! [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Bedminster Lantern Parade

by Chris Bertram on January 20, 2019

One of the regular fixtures since I moved south of the river in Bristol has been the Bedminster Lantern Parade. It is supposed to happen in December, but quite often gets rescheduled to January because of the weather. Paper lanterns don’t do well in torrential rain. As well as all the local schools parading with their lanterns in fantastic shapes (dragons, leopards, the Clifton suspension bridge) there are troupes of dancers, drummers and the rest who make their way through the terraced streets. Here’s a shot from last night:
Bedminster Lantern Parade-4

Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool, from Albert Dock

by Chris Bertram on January 13, 2019

Looking towards Pier Head, Liverpool

One charge that conservatives often level at professors in universities is that we are biased and that in the humanities and social sciences, our teaching amounts to left/liberal propaganda. Much of this is silly and some of it is self-fulfilling: vilify a group of people long enough, attack their funding and, hey presto!, they end up favouring your political opponents. But I take seriously the pedagogical need to put arguments on both sides in political philosophy. And actually, for some issues in political philosophy it isn’t too hard because there are pro-capitalist libertarians out there who aren’t shy about articulating their reasons. Some of them are even very gifted at crafting teaching-discussion friendly cases and examples: Robert Nozick, for instance or Mike Huemer.

But there’s an issue where I’m struggling to find a text that articulates the conservative case well, and that’s the issue of access to national citizenship, an issue where the libertarians and the liberal left are broadly in agreement. The case isn’t entirely hopeless: I can find plenty of people willing to argue that adult immigrants who chose to immigrate, particularly those who don’t share the culture or values of the receiving state, should face obstacles to naturalization, or even should be barred from it altogether. The trouble is that none of those arguments really works to justify similar barriers to membership for children. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Bradgate Park

by Chris Bertram on January 6, 2019

Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

New discoveries: Ali Smith

by Chris Bertram on January 2, 2019

The most welcome change in our local area in the last few months is that we now have a local bookshop, Storysmith Books, and no longer have to traipse into town to Waterstones or Foyles or give our money to Jeff Bezos. I’ve always loved hanging around in bookshops (and record shops) since I was teenager, browsing, discovering new things, and that has become so much harder to do since the internet started killing the high street.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I was browsing in Storysmith, not very sure of what I wanted, and came across the first couple of volume’s of Ali Smith’s in-progress Seasons quartet Autumn and Winter. When things are in a sequence it is helpful to know what’s first, so I had to check that I wasn’t supposed to start with Spring or Summer (and indeed they’re still being written). Actually, though Autumn is first, the novels are quite independent (so far) and I could have read them in either order. Both Autumn and Winter are set in post-referendum Britain and the plots unfold against its division and dysfunctionality, but neither is didactically political. Each has at its centre a disruptive character who serves as a kind of moral and aesthetic exemplar: in Autumn it is Daniel Gluck, dying in a care-home at the age of 101 and the history of his friendship from her childhood with Elisabeth Demand a precariously employed young art historian, and his role in awakening her aesthetic sensibilty (and more broadly sensibility to life, nature). The Profumo Affair and the almost-forgotten British pop artist from the sixties, Pauline Boty, thread through the novel. In Winter, the action is centred around Christmas, a nature-blogger called Art who is a bit of a fraud and his trip home to see his entrepreneurial Leaver mother. Here the key relationship is between mother and her estranged sister (formerly of Greenham Common) and the disrupter is a young woman, Lux, hired by Art to impersonate the girlfriend who just dumped him. Both are wonderful books, and reminders that even against grey political skies, we can catch glimpses of beauty and spirit.

Having consumed these, and facing a wait till March for the next installment, I went looking for earlier work and finished The Accidental, yesterday, in which a middle-class English family, spending the summer in Norfolk, find their sense of themselves transformed by a mysterious visitor, Amber, who challenges each of them with a Nietzschean playfulness that is by turns benign and malevolent. It is a long time since I was twelve, but Smith’s imagining of the inner monologues of Astrid, the daughter and her elder brother Magnus is transporting. The theme: a family that is unhappy in its own way disturbed and changed by a chance encounter is very Anne Tylerish. But whilst Tyler’s prose is unshowy, Smith plays with language the whole time, punning, rhyming, even having characters think in sonnet form at one point. And she does this lightly and unpretentiously so that you are delighted rather than irritated. (The lightness and playfulness coupled with deadly seriousness about life and history also reminded me a lot of Pauline Erpenbeck.)

I can see that reading more Smith will take up quite a lot of the year to come.

Not the best of light, but having fun with the new camera:

Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock

If Brexit goes ahead, say goodbye to radical redistribution

by Chris Bertram on December 29, 2018

Here were are, at the edge of the Brexit precipice, and I find myself disagreeing with friends about Jeremy Corbyn and his attitude towards it. It is surprising that, with three months to go, we don’t actually know what that attitude is. Some people think he’s playing a long game, or a super-clever n-dimensional chess match aimed at keeping Labour voters in the north of England who backed Leave on-side. Some think he’s just reiterating Labour Party policy (to push for a general election, but keep a second vote on the table as a possibility). Others think he was a closet Brexiter all along. My own view is that we have less than 100 days to stop this thing, that the time for keeping your powder dry until you see the whites of their eyes etc has passed, and that passionate Remainers need some signal, at a minimum, to keep them voting Labour and that if they don’t get it, then Corbyn’s prospects of leading a radical Labour government are gone: they will defect to Lib Dems, Greens, Nats or (a few) even to the Tories if Labour doesn’t reposition on Brexit.

In fact, I think the Tories (or maybe right-wing anti-redistributionist politics more generally) will do rather well out of Brexit – if it goes ahead – and it will be the end of Labour. The reason why exposes a contradiction in the position of those on “the left” who have positioned themselves as pro-Brexit, or not-really-arsed-about-Brexit, together with the people who sometimes refer to themselves as “left” but clearly aren’t (Goodhart et al). I’m thinking of all those who make a big deal about “left-behinds”, “somewheres v anywheres” and “(white) working-class community”. For these people, the vote to Brexit was a spasm of pain from those who had been too-long been ignored by the “liberal elite”. To be sure (at least now) Brexit might come with an economic hit, perhaps of 4 per cent of GDP, but the redistributionist capacities of the state are still intact and we can do something about Britain’s very real social problems (170,000 homeless households) and make the UK a more inclusive and equal society, even by the economic envelope Brexit leaves us with. Besides, a second referendum, needed to give remaining in the EU any democratic legitimacy, would be a nasty and xenophobic affair, sure to sow division and hatred.

Here’s where that goes badly wrong. A redistributionist politics needs the support of millions of middle-class “liberal” Remain voters to succeed. What those who say we’ll-take-the-hit-and-redistribute are asking us to imagine is that those people will, in sufficient numbers, support redistribution to those whom they identify as having, by voting for Brexit, just made them and their families worse off. Not going to happen. A staple of Blue Labour/Goodhartian thought is that immigration and increasing ethnic diversity has made it hard to sustain social trust and that this risks undermining support for welfare-state institutions. The thought is that people need to be committed to the idea of an inclusive national community if they are going to be motivated to make sacrifices on behalf of others in the form of economic transfers: they won’t stump up for people who are too unlike themselves. But by fighting a culture-war against immigration and the “liberal elite” in order to secure Brexit, those Blue Labour types have succeeded in destroying the illusion of an inclusive national community. They have produced two hostile camps, ranged against one another, who will be unwilling to make the payments those very leftists think are necessary.

I confess that I myself have had some ugly thoughts as a result of the Brexit experience: why should I pay taxes to bail out a bunch of racist idiots in Sunderland or Stoke? What do I care if some elderly xenophobe can’t find a nurse or a doctor because too few EU nationals have stayed to look after the people who voted to take their rights away? Usually, I put away such thoughts: the homeless in the doorways of our major cities provide urgent enough reason for a redistributive and reconstructive politics. But enough people will stick with their anger and resentment against Brexit for disaffected Remainers to be electorally significant. There will be no healing of the division, no national coming-together. Corbynite tweeters will rail against the selfishness of middle-class people who won’t vote Labour any more. Maybe they’ll have a point. But the fact is they need the targets of their anger to vote with them rather than for an individualistic set of policies that abandon the worst off. The future looks surprisingly bright for people like George Osborne and the Orange Book Liberals, and the left has stuffed itself, again.

Sunday photoblogging: jet

by Chris Bertram on December 23, 2018


Sunday photoblogging: cobbles

by Chris Bertram on December 16, 2018

Bristol, cobbles

Britain convicts human rights defenders of terrorism offence

by Chris Bertram on December 10, 2018

In the UK every day is Brexit day, but today more than most because our hapless Prime Minister’s attempts to persuade Parliament to back her “deal” have run into the sand. The wall-to-wall coverage means that there’s every danger that the state’s victimization of human rights defenders will not get the coverage it should. The Stansted 15 are a group who took direct action to prevent a flight deporting people from taking off from Stansted Airport last March. Originally charged with “aggravated trespass”, the prosecutors sought and received permission to accuse them of an obscure terrorism offence involving intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome, a provision of the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act. This was brought in after the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 and carries the possibility of life in prison. The judge in the case instructed the jury to ignore all arguments to the effect that the defendants had prevented a greater evil. It is clear however that they have indeed prevented a great evil, since several of those whose deportation they prevented have now had their cases reassessed and have been granted leave to remain in the UK. I blogged the other day about Candice Delmas’s book A Duty to Resist. At least two of her grounds of justified resistance are plainly at stake in this case: first by preventing the refoulement of people to jurisdictions where they face persecution, the Stansted 15 were acting in accordance with the natural duty of justice to uphold just institutions in a case where states try to subvert or ignore those institutions; second, the Samaritan duty, acting to prevent great harm and human rights violations to individuals, is in play. The most plausible defences of state authority base themselves on the fact that states make justice possible: in this case it is those who have acted against the state and now face prison who have acted in defence of justice.

Sunday photoblogging: Bristol dawn

by Chris Bertram on December 9, 2018

Bristol dawn

Still getting used to the new camera, but there was some fantastic light first thing this morning.