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Chris Bertram

Eine Bundesrepublik Britannien?

by Chris Bertram on September 17, 2014

There’s a day to go before the Scottish independence vote. The opinion polls are fairly even; the bookies are backing “no”. But it could go either way. I’ve swung both ways on the issue, but I’m now firmly hoping that “no” will win, though I think that the campaign has demonstrated that the United Kingdom is broken, and needs a comprehensive constitutional fix, which may be hard to achieve.

My reasons for favouring “yes”, initially, were sort-of quasi-Rousseauvian. Democracy thrives better in small states where government is closer to the people; large anonymous states, whatever their political form, have distant governments often captured by special interests. That’s a general inclination, to which I would add a sympathy for Scots who are sick of being ruled by Tories they didn’t vote for and who hope for a more inclusive and socially just society. I doubt their hopes will be realized in an independent Scotland though.

For me, though, the balance of reasons decisively favours “no”, for three reasons: abhorrence of nationalism, a dislike of the idea that smaller entities claiming full state sovereignty should proliferate, and disbelief at the economics of separation, which will not turn Glasgow into Stockholm.
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Sunday photoblogging: Pembrokeshire bull

by Chris Bertram on September 14, 2014

Most of the photos I’ve posted have been selected from a rather large back catalogue, but here’s one from less than 48 hours ago. A field in Pembrokeshire, a part of the world I’ve visited every year but one since 1994 and has something of the role for me that Wordsworth evokes in “Tintern Abbey”,

…oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration…

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Sunday photoblogging: Uppsala – window, shadow

by Chris Bertram on September 7, 2014

Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool, St Luke’s Church steps

by Chris Bertram on August 31, 2014

Sunday photoblogging: Bristol, the centre

by Chris Bertram on August 24, 2014

Ferguson, disorder, and change

by Chris Bertram on August 20, 2014

Watching the nightly demonstrations and confrontations from Ferguson, I was reminded of James C. Scott’s discussion in chapter 1 of his Two Cheers for Anarchism of the role of riots, confrontations, violence and disorder in effecting social change. They don’t always, or even usually, make things better. They sometimes makes things worse. But police violence, racism and radical social inequality are not going to be ended just by voting for the US Democratic Party, or even by a black President.

Scott:

It is a cruel irony that this great promise of democracy is rarely realized in practice. Most of the great political reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been accompa­nied by massive episodes of civil disobedience, riot, lawbreak­ing, the disruption of public order, and, at the limit, civil war. Such tumult not only accompanied dramatic political changes but was often absolutely instrumental in bringing them about. Representative institutions and elections by themselves, sadly, seem rarely to bring about major changes in the absence of the force majeure afforded by, say, an economic depression or international war. Owing to the concentration of prop­erty and wealth in liberal democracies and the privileged ac­cess to media, culture, and political influence these positional advantages afford the richest stratum, it is little wonder that, as Gramsci noted, giving the working class the vote did not translate into radical political change. Ordinary parliamen­tary politics is noted more for its immobility than for facilitat­ing major reforms. (pp. 16–17)

The road from Sinjar to Tilbury is blocked

by Chris Bertram on August 17, 2014

Two stories are very prominent in the UK media at the moment. The Yazidis and Christians fleeing from the “Islamic State” group in Iraq, and the death of a man in a container on Tilbury docks. One story is presented as human tragedy, the lives of ordinary human beings destroyed by sectarian bigotry; the other has been spun as a tale about criminality, illegality and “human trafficking”.

This morning, the details of the Tilbury case were not entirely clear. The 35 people in the container there were reported to have come from “the Indian sub-continent”. They might have been economic migrants or they might have been Tamils fleeing from persecution in Sri Lanka, or Shia or Christians fleeing persecution from Sunni fanatics in Pakistan. As it turns out they seem to be Sikhs from Afghanistan, that is, a persecuted religious and ethnic minority. This didn’t stop the UK’s immigration minister, James Brokenshire from opining that this is “a reminder of the often devastating human consequences of illegal migration”. His Labour shadow, David Hanson was also clear that this was “a stark reminder of ‎the human consequences of the trafficking trade”. And the “human trafficking” charities and campaign groups such as Unseen have been calling for increased vigilance. It seems they all already knew what was going on, even in advance of an investigation and independently of whether the people in the container sought asylum and asked for refugee status (which they may or may not do [UPDATE: in fact they have all now claimed asylum). [click to continue...]

A myriad of posts

by Chris Bertram on August 17, 2014

This is the ten-thousandth post we’ve published on Crooked Timber and we thought we ought to mark that moment. I’ve been looking for suitable music, but the best I’ve come up with is the incomparable, tragic and heroic Nic Jones singing “10,000 Miles”. Since the lyric includes “fare you well, I’m going away, but I’ll be back …” that probably sends the wrong message! In truth, I’d rather have used the Proclaimers (one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen), but they only walked 500 miles, which would have got them rather wet, even though they declared their willingness to walk 500 more.

Ten thousand is a lot of posts, a lot of words. Wikipedia tells me that there’s even a Greek word for it, μύριοι, the source of “myriad” in English. Henri Cartier-Bresson apparently said that “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worse”, and if Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule counts for anything, we probably ought to be quite good at this blogging business by now.

Here’s to a myriad more!

Sunday photoblogging: Severn Beach toward Avonmouth

by Chris Bertram on August 17, 2014

Sunday photoblogging: war memorial

by Chris Bertram on August 3, 2014

This is a picture I took in 2007 of the Arlington West memorial at Santa Monica beach, California. The crosses represent American dead (with red crosses representing 10 dead). A placard near the crosses reads “”At 3000 crosses, the Arlington West Memorial is 141 feet wide and 310 feet long. A memorial for the Iraqi dead would be 141 feet wide and 12.8 miles long.”

From the material in my photo collection, it seems the right thing to post in this week leading up to the outbreak of war in 1914, but also because of the daily tolls in Syria, Gaza and elsewhere.

Corey arrested

by Chris Bertram on July 29, 2014

Our co-blogger and comrade Corey Robin has been arrested at the Israeli mission to the UN, 800 Second Avenue (at 42nd Street), for committing civil disobedience in protest at the Israeli actions in Gaza. Respect to Corey for his courage and we hope he is released and home before too long.

Sunday photoblogging: bike shadow

by Chris Bertram on July 27, 2014

A rarish film shot from me: Rolleiflex T, Ilford FP4+

Sunday photoblogging: meerkats

by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2014

Killing people is wrong.

People ought to do their fair share.

Both of these seem like plausible but not exceptionless moral principles. Sometime it is ok to kill people. For example, if you need to kill someone who is attacking you to protect yourself from death or serious injury, then you are permitted to do so. But if you can achieve the goal of protecting yourself without killing your attacker, then you should. The things you do to protect yourself should be necessary and should be proportional to the actual threat. In ordinary life, it is only people like Tony Martin or George Zimmerman (or their apologists) who think that a threat or the mere perception of one gives you licence to simply blow someone away.

Likewise people should do their share to contribute towards the common infrastructure from which we all benefit. Public services, maintaining a legal system, filling in holes in the road, stuff like that. Sometimes there are excuses and justifications for not contributing. Some people have no money, some people are even too young, or old, or sick to do so. But most people should do their bit, though there may be disagreement on exactly what that bit is.

These two things—killing and paying taxes—don’t seem to have much to do with one another. But I think there are some interesting similarities. In both cases there are plausible moral principles but alongside them there are detailed public and legal codes that purport to implement those principles. And in each case there are people or bodies who think (and claim) they have discharged their moral obligations when they have complied with the letter of the codes – that the codes encapsulate all the things that they are morally required to do. What is more, in each case, many of the people who take this attitude to the rules expend a lot of effort trying to affect the content of the rules and attempting to find interpretations of the rules (“loopholes” and similar) that work to their advantage.
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