Posts by author:

Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: 2-headed cow (from 2007)

by Chris Bertram on October 6, 2019

What are you looking at?

Sunday photoblogging: storm in the Venice lagoon #2

by Chris Bertram on September 29, 2019

And yes, this is a colour photo!

Venice: storm in the lagoon

Sunday photoblogging: Hamburg

by Chris Bertram on September 22, 2019

Hamburg: warehouses

Sunday Photoblogging: Palazzo Tursi, Genoa

by Chris Bertram on September 15, 2019

Genoa: Palazzo Tursi, Via Garibaldi

9/11 babies are voters

by Chris Bertram on September 11, 2019

It doesn’t seem like 18 years, but it is. Babies born that day are now voters, among other things. Crooked Timber, 16-years old now, came out of the eruption of blogging that followed 9/11. In the atmosphere that developed after 9/11, many of the ways of thinking, arguing, abusing and obfuscating that we associated with the new populism became commonplace. Those who expressed critical opinions, even people of the stature of Nelson Mandela or Mary Robinson, were subject to character assassination by armies of keyboard vigilantes. Ordinary people who said something critical had no chance: recall Cindy Sheehan? Fake and fakish news and associated panics became part of the landscape. In the subsequent wars, particularly in the Middle East, criticisms of US or Israeli actions were blunted by swarms of amateur online experts comparing and undermining photographic evidence. Maybe we’d have ended up here anyway, but that terrible and murderous day set us on the path to the pit of Trump and Brexit, a pit that will be hard to climb out of.

UPDATE: I’m reminded via twitter that the anthrax scare was about a real thing, even though the anti-Muslim spin that was part of the panic around it was confected. I’ve changed the OP to reflect that.

Haters gonna hate

by Chris Bertram on September 10, 2019

I spent a couple of hours the other afternoon reading Amia Srinivasan’s wonderful paper “The Aptness of Anger”. One theme of that paper is that anger can be a fitting response to a moral violation and that our evaluation of whether someone should be angry does not reduce to instrumental considerations about whether being angry does any good. I find Srinivasan’s argument persuasive but I also found myself wondering about a side-issue that is not really dealt with in the paper. If anger is an apt response to a moral violation, where that violation might be a betrayal by a friend or global injustice, we obviously need an independent theory of morality to anchor our judgements about when anger is appropriate. After all, people get angry all the time when they are denied something they believe themselves entitled to, but the anger is only a candidate for being justifiable when they are actually entitled to that thing. (Srinivasan has written eloquently about incels, who are very angry at being denied something they are not entitled to.)

Some of the angriest people around at the moment are supposed to be the so-called “left behinds”, althouth perhaps relatively prosperous people often perform “being angry” on their behalf. Insofar are they are angry about the neglect that they and their communities have suffered at the hands of central governments, the lack of regional and industrial policies, or the growth of inequality, then their anger does seem to be a reaction that is indeed an appropriate response to a moral violation, namely, social and economic injustice. But a lot of the anger that we’ve seen stoked up in recent years has been anger towards “immigrants”, where “immigrants” denotes both actual immigrants and non-white people perceived as such by those who resent them. The “moral violation” that this anger corresponds to is the sense that those people don’t belong in the bigot’s safe space. It is the mere presence of such “foreigners” in a space the haters think of as being theirs and reserved for them that constitutes the perceived outrage and generates the anger. (Similar anger at mere presence of unwanted others can be seen in other cases, such as, for example, gentrification.) [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Hamburg (former) warehouses

by Chris Bertram on September 8, 2019

Hamburg: warehouses

Sunday photoblogging: Alte Pinakothek, Munich

by Chris Bertram on September 1, 2019

Munich: Alte Pinakothek

Johnson’s putsch

by Chris Bertram on August 29, 2019

I’ve refrained from blogging much about Brexit and the political situation in the UK because, to be honest, I find it all too painful. But the latest move by British PM Boris Johnson seems worthy of comment. Johnson has “prorogued” (translation: suspended) Parliament in order to make it as hard as possible for MPs to shape the Brexit process and to prevent the extremely damaging disorderly crash-out from EU that he seems determined to impose on us on the 31st October. It is worth remembering that Johnson has no mandate of his own, commands the loyalty of less than half the MPs in the Commons, and was selected by the Tory Party membership alone (a tiny group in which elderly racists are more common than they are even in the average golf-club bar). Prorogation has been saluted by the Telegraph with the headline: “The Prime Minister must give effect to the will of the people.” Thus does the Caudillo claim to incarnate the people’s will more than their Parliamentary representatives do. This is not a move that was unforeseen. It was much-discussed during that Tory leadership contest. Johnson said he did not find it attractive. Others who now sit in his Cabinet, unresigned, such as Morgan, Rudd, Hancock, even Javid and Gove, rejected it as an odious attack on democracy only weeks ago. Yet now is is both a brilliant tactical masterstroke but simultaneously “nothing to see here” business as usual.
[click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore

by Chris Bertram on August 18, 2019

Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore

Sunday photoblogging: U-Bahn, Hamburg

by Chris Bertram on August 11, 2019


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


Sunday photoblogging: flower

by Chris Bertram on July 14, 2019

The garden at Cropston - rose

Foxglove, backlit by the setting sun