February 2nd: Reading List

So back when I was still on Live Journal and much better at blogging than I am these days, I did one of those “stuff I’ve read” this week blogs that I kept up for several months. Inspired both by Stavvers’ excellent version of this same idea, and my good friend Charlie’s general flurry of online activity I’ve decided to try and do one of these again as a substitute for original content. Also, in the absence of any real expertise in any thing that would make this blog worth reading, I figure I can leverage something that I am actually pretty good at – reading a whole bunch of articles on tangential subjects from different sources. Hopefully at least one post per week will be super interesting to at least one of you, and if so, then that’s cool I guess.

Of course the issue here is that it’s Sunday and I decided to do this two hours ago and so don’t remember what I’ve read. I refuse to fuck with the chronology of this and do it every Tuesday or some shit. Conversely, I know that if I wait until next Sunday I will have lost all drive to write it. So this week, I’ll provide some general recommendations for sites as well as any articles I can find in my Pocket* archive that I loved. I’m going to try and do a mildly organised theme to this though the sections are likely to shift and split more than an amoeba, so we’ll see.**

Popular Culture

The AV Club: I visit this site several times a day for one simple reason. The TV Club post really, really good recaps/reviews of most of the TV programs I watch almost the minute they come out. Moreover, there are good odds that they have archived articles on older shows, or even better, an explicitly over-thinking kind of “rewatch” blog (there’s currently one running for Mad Men which has really tempted me to get back into it). I have always felt a strange compulsion to read reviews and analyses of media I consume almost the minute I put it down, so this is a godsend to me. It’s gotten to the weird point where I enjoy a series less if I know the AV Club don’t have articles on it (Lost pre-end of Season 3, The Wire pre-Season 5, Fresh Meat (all of it) and generally a large proportion of UK TV). Worse, I sometimes find myself itching to read the review before I’ve even finished watching the episode just to make sense of what I’ve just seen. My pathological need to be told how to feel aside, the reviews are generally excellent. It is to the site’s immense credit that it generally discusses the How I Met Your Mothers or Big Bang Theorys of the world with a similar level of seriousness to Mad Men or The Sopranos. Sometimes it can feel like attributing too much depth and intent to light-hearted comedies***, but it enables the writers to bring all their knowledge of the context and history of TV to bear in elucidating what makes these series work. Even the comments are broadly tolerable.

Rock Paper Shotgun: I found this site by accident a couple of months ago, and it is now another that I check for updates regularly, despite really not being interested in most of them. It’s a PC-gaming focused website, and with that comes a lot of news about games I don’t care about and never will, a fair bit of hardware talk, and other stuff that I don’t want to read. However, I keep coming back because their features and reviews are utterly brilliant. Much like The AV Club recaps, the Wot I Think reviews are really interesting takes on games that, despite hitting a lot of the “gameplay,graphics,sound” beats that other reviews do, seem to elevate them much further, taking games completely seriously. The features are generally excellent too. Of special note is their Sunday Papers posts**** (another inspiration for this feature), which collects their favourite writing on games from the week. And they do collect some fucking fantastic writing with really out-there, intelligent, quite radical takes on video-games, that, again, take it seriously.

Now for some actual articles!

This, from Brendan Vance, who I suspect I found through the Sunday Papers, is provocative and quite interesting.  Most of his blogs on game design philosophy and stuff are worth checking out if you’re into videogames.

“It’s gotten weird, people, and it’s getting weirder. “

This, on the other hand, is much less light-hearted and fun and more upsetting, sad but with a tiny bit of optimism-maybe. It’s a longish read from Dorian Lynskey about anti-fascist groups and hip hop in Greece and Golden Dawn and that whole situation is kind of fucked and at its heart there’s just a really sad story of a guy who seemed like a good guy getting murdered. Nevertheless, well worth the read.

Foreign Policy/Defence

To be honest I don’t really know what to call this section – if I did I might know what I am academically interested in and what to pursue as a career, but that’s a whine for another blog. Basically I could see this one just becoming politics, but a lot of my reading these days does happen on a specifically IR/military sort of area, with a distinctly US-centric (which admittedly for this kind of thing isn’t as bad as it sounds since they matter a lot).

One of the best sources of clear-headed, realist (in the academic sense), writing from people who generally know their shit is War on the Rocks. It’s almost weird to me when I look at my old LJ blog and think of the bolshie teenager that I used to be that today I am highly recommending a blog with a large proportion of serving or former US military personnel advocating different ways for the US to maintain its power but there you go. It is, at the very least, a welcome antidote to all the utterly vacuous thinking on international relations you get in the UK press (from the left’s knee-jerk anti-Americanism absent any real analysis or alternative, to the right’s tediously predictable empty call for interventions absent any real detail or planning beyond moralising and smugness).

Speaking of which, this is one of the better Syria pieces I have read in a while.

“Why assume U.S. military aid will be a “magic bullet” given the apparent evidence of our poor aim to date?”

Strikes me as quite an important point, given that the failure to get any backing for direct military involvement seems to have given rise to a push to increase lethal aid to the opposition.

John Mearsheimer is one of my favourite IR theorists at the moment (what a dick sentence) and this essay by him is one of those really nice expressions of a man’s thinking that also makes a whole lot of sense as a suggestion for the USA. I’ve lifted the conclusion so you can get a sense of what that thinking is.

“None of this is to say the United States should become isolationist or ignore its position in the global balance of power. On the contrary, it should make sure it remains the most powerful country on the planet, which means making sure a rising China does not dominate Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere. It should also use force when core strategic interests are threatened. But Washington should stop intervening in the politics of countries like Egypt and Syria and more generally abandon its interventionist strategy of global domination, which has led to unending trouble. We might then begin to restore the tarnished liberal-democratic principles that once made America truly exceptional and widely admired.”

I like how it balances reluctance to intervene like the neo-cons/liberal internationalists who dominate these days do, with the commitment to maintaining US hegemony. Quite a nice balance. Again, as a former diehard anti-imperialist lad, I don’t quite know what the fuck led me to be OK with an author advocating continued US hegemony but there you go. Rather them than China, anyway.

Finally, for a more light-hearted***** piece, this, from Foreign Policy about portable tactical nukes is a really nicely-presented (finally coming round to the redesign) report, a la Snowfall, on a completely fucking surreal technology and period in recent history and just generally it’s mad.

“NATO allies, particularly West Germany, were understandably apprehensive about the idea of U.S. forces lighting off scores of small nuclear weapons on their territory.”

Imagine that as a serious sentence. Baffling. But you know, real, and fascinating.

Other shit

Finally, because sometimes stuff doesn’t fit anywhere else, the overflow section.

This piece (Buzzfeed doing well today, despite their having recently revived those god-awful quizzes we used to do in high school on the old Facebook) from a few weeks back is really weird. It sort of toes this line where there’s a real danger it’ll turn out to be a really self-indulgent story by some gentrifying hipster dickhead but never quite gets there and so remains just a really unique interesting and quite uplifting story. Also because Detroit and the wholesale decline of a massive, massive city is a kind of fascinating tragedy to watch.

This, from the AV Club, but not a TV article is just weird and surreal and a bit wonderful.

And there we have it. 1500 words is far too long, so sorry about that, but there was establishing and stuff that needed done this week, so it’ll get snappier as it goes on.

*one of my favourite apps out there. With the addition of a little button in my browser taskbar it solves both the problem of too many articles queued up clogging up my tabs, and the eternal quest for stuff to read when I’m offline.

**I feel like a more professional blogger would have done all this stuff mentally instead of showing the gears of it all to you but there you go

***I say this largely to deflect any judgement and hostility, but to be honest, the programs that have had the most emotional impact on me have tended to be frothy sitcoms anyway. How I Met Your Mother has reduced me to tears on a number of occasions and I’m increasingly anxious about the imminent series finale in March.

****see what I’ve done there is actually link you to the Sunday Papers tag so you can see all of the past posts. Aren’t I great?

*****as light-hearted as you can really be while discussing nuclear fucking war I guess.

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