February 9th: Watch the Chinese Throne (Reading List)

I have literally spent all week concerned about titles etc. and can’t get past calling it something Sunday-papers-related (ie, what RPS call it) or something like what Another Angry Woman calls hers, but having linked to both of those last week, I can’t plausibly pretend I’m not just nicking their titles. So I’m going with a new approach – crappy jokes about the content of the post is the way forward.

Overthinking Rappers

Which is a lie as a title because I think there’s enough interesting stuff in any (well not all of them) Kanye song to justify writing at length about, but these articles go in such interesting directions that it almost feels strange that they’re built on the foundation of the man who wrote “in a French-ass restaurant/hurry up with my damn croissants”. Anyway, there are two segments to this section – the first half are articles that were mostly written years ago but since they were linked to in a post from this week, they fit. The second half I read months ago, probably around when Yeezus came out, but they seem to dovetail quite nicely with this theme and I really want you all* to read them.

So over at Foreign Policy, Matt Lynch wrote this really cool post about Kendrick Lamar (who I think I am about to understand the hype about – just one more play of good kid) and academia, which was good on its own merit – but then he linked to an earlier post about Jay-Z and international relations and I think this started the most entertaining reading I’ve done all week. First, the original post. Then the responses he compiled. And, finally, just when I was starting to feel upset at the absence of Kanye in the discussion – boom, Watch The Throne dropped and earned itself its own post! Highlights:

“Eminem returned strong after a long struggle with depression to make the ferociously brilliant Recovery album; but like, say, India or Brazil he has always been a powerhouse in his own world, neither influencing nor affected by the wider field.”

“many doubted whether Kanye could ever recover. This was a reputational collapse on a par with what the Bush administration did to America’s standing in the world.”

It’s absurd, but it absolutely works and is really fun – sort of like a hip-hop version of Daniel Drezner’s IR and zombies book.

In a similar vein, some of the writing in response to Yeezus and Kanye’s interviews, etc. in the months since has been absolutely brilliant.

Cord Jefferson, in particular wrote two really interesting, personal pieces discussing racism and his lived experience of discrimination and where Kanye West fits into this as an artist that are wonderful – this one was in response to that thing with Jimmy Kimmel, who comes off as a real tool.

“That Kanye West didn’t take it as a joke isn’t really a surprise, even if we ignore the fact that he’s famously self-serious. Here he’d done an interview explaining how hurtful it is to have proved one’s ability and still be seen as inferior by rich white people, and a rich white person responded by infantilizing him.”

Meanwhile, this piece is as much about race as gender, and the pretty shitty sexism that Kanye lyrics occasionally (frequently) swerve into. As Jefferson puts it,

“But if much of Kanye’s latest effort is intrepid, industrial progress, one big swath remains anchored firmly in the past, like a rocket ship heated with a wood-burning stove.”

Well worth a read and does a really good job of contextualizing the awfulness without giving it a pass. Also features some very bleak history and interesting personal touches.

Finally two good pieces from The Sabotage Times – one my favourite review of Yeezus and the other a really good defence of Bound 2 and its video. I love that song and I have a lot of time for Kanye but even I was baffled and derisive of that video, which was probably unfair. Hari Sethi takes it seriously and makes a solid case that

“Whilst we all cringed at silly ol’ Kanye, it’s highly plausible the rapper had the last laugh.”

Why we should(n’t) be afraid of China

A massive pile of pieces on politics in East Asia now. It’s a really interesting (in the terrifying way) situation at the moment and I have no idea whether to believe the doom-mongers but it does make me slightly troubled by the UK move towards losing aircraft carriers (how far I’ve fallen). Then again, the joy of not being the hegemon is not having to pay for global public goods I guess. Anyway. This week’s first of three War on the Rocks pieces is a persuasive case for a change in US response to Chinese “salami-slicing” which is my new favourite metaphor –

“It is the rivals of salami-slicers who are obligated to eventually draw red lines and engage in brinkmanship over actions others will view, in isolation, as trivial and far from constituting casus belli.”

It’s compelling and a bit scary. Linked to within that post is this brilliant article from the New York Times that I think has to be read on a computer browser to do it justice – it’s beautifully presented Snowfall-style stuff (I said this about a piece last week I think). It’s also a fascinating and surreal report on the Filipino efforts to keep hold of tiny little islands across the South China Sea and China’s basically unstoppable moves to take them. At its heart is an abandoned, rusty, collapsing beached WW2 boat and the handful of marines garrisoning it. Really good reporting, check it.

So while that’s all a bit terrifying, the pessimistic case may be somewhat overstated. For one thing, this piece in The Diplomat argues that the Chinese military is over-estimated as a threat – they’re poorly-trained and much much worse equipped than we think, despite all the publicity around their military budget. Meanwhile, this other piece on the F-35 fighter jet (I don’t know who I am anymore) turned out to be really interesting and nicked at least an hour of my life while I read up, pointlessly, on US fighter jets. Together, they make it quite clear that the US military is still so ridiculously powerful that in the event of a war it’s not implausible that the US would be able to wipe the floor with China, which in turn makes it highly unlikely that it’ll come to it. Fingers crossed. Also the F-35 thing paints this delightfully Skynet picture which I was more amused than terrified by – possibly because of this blog which got a giggle out of me.

Zack Beauchamp over at ThinkProgress.com also outlines a lot of convincing reasons that war is ultimately pretty unlikely. So that’s good.

International Diplomacy for dummies

Worryingly, on the strength of these two pieces, the US diplomatic corps doesn’t exactly sound up to managing these crises. This profile of former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is interesting – he doesn’t come off awfully and seems like a decent bloke but… not great. Also:

“The only known association between the Russian president and American football was Putin’s alleged theft of Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s diamond-studded Super Bowl ring in 2005”

Amazing. (That said, there’s another Russia piece or two incoming that aren’t so fun so steel yourselves. On the problems with the diplomatic service generally this one has been doing the rounds on Twitter and is a bit worrying but also brilliant because hopefully the British or the Brazilian ambassadorships are as much of a joke which improves my chances (of course apparently you need to be a massive donor to get in so I’d still need to be loaded. So not that much of an improvement)

Middle Eastern things

As Iran moves back towards a degree of normalization internationally these two pieces are good for treating it like a normal country instead of a Holocaust-denying ranter (Ahmadinejad being gone helps with that). The Al-Jazeera piece is just a good outline of where its national interests lie and helps explain its behaviour. Meanwhile, the War on the Rocks one is more self-interested in a way.

“Because giving Iran a place at the table is the only way to make it take responsibility for its role in Syria’s civil war.”

By virtue of being a pariah Iran doesn’t get called out on all of its behaviour as much maybe it should – that post argues that its normalization could help in more ways than one. In a similar vein, this on Foreign Policy (also doing well this week) discusses Syria using the analogies of Bosnia and Iraq properly and seriously and actually drawing interesting and credible conclusions instead of “we should/shouldn’t bomb Syria because Bosnia/Iraq”. So good job there.

Finally, a really moving piece on how we talk about war at (ha) War on the Rocks. It really is to that site’s credit that they get both great scholars and experts and veterans (often in the same person) to write for them.

“We’ve abstracted Syria to the point that it’s no longer a war, but a giant Risk board we get to watch on CNN.” 

I can’t be bothered to make up a tenuous set of categories for the rest of these so the overflow section is really big and contains some of the best posts. Tough.

Who says titles have to be brief? Ok first up, and vaguely related to the last one, this piece about women and the media from Sarah Graham (who I know! Get me) is really good – it outlines all the different kinds of fuckery that are pervasive in the media and at its heart is the horrific work (I mean great work from her but awful) by Karen Ingala Smith –

“Her Counting Dead Women campaign recorded 140 women killed in 2013 by boyfriends, husbands, sons, grandsons, friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers. That’s one woman every 2.6 days.”

It really underlines why this shit matters and it’s a great piece which you should read now – I’ll wait.

Tenuously linked (Sarah mentioned the Meredith Kercher trial) is this mildly surreal but quite powerful piece in the Guardian on Amanda Knox. It’s weird to read how sympathetic she sounds with the knowledge that she’s a convicted murderer but Hattenstone isn’t unaware of that tension. Also I never followed that trial so I didn’t have any opinions either way beyond “this is awful”. Good article though.

Stoya is wonderful and this piece from her in the New Statesman is really cool and funny but important and I love her rule 7:

“7. If your sexual partner(s) express a limit or ask for something to stop and you do not respect it, you are stepping onto a scale that ranges from “jerk” to “full-on rapist”. Personally, I don’t want to be on that scale at all, and I don’t want to engage in sexual activity with anyone who does hang out on that scale.”

For something completely different, but related to the war on women piece by virtue of it just being me boosting my friends, Charlie Satow’s blog on development is well worth following and this piece was nice and light-hearted but really captured the fundamental tension that lies in the fact that if development efforts achieve their aims,

“all of us lovely people in the global North who want to work in Development are out of a job”

Also I can’t wait to see the Romeo and Juliet piece.

I warned you about this one. This report in GQ about “Being Gay in Russia” by Jeff Sharlet is excellent. It’s driven by the voices and the stories of the people who have to live with the awful discrimination and is very powerful and moving and heartbreaking and if you only read one thing I link this week** make it this.

On the other hand, Another Angry Woman makes a very good point here – that while stuff in Russia is undeniably fucked up, it is far from the only place in which stuff is fucked up. It’s harsh and also contains a whole litany of depressingly shit stuff that LGBT people face and is entirely in keeping with the name of the blog and worth reading as a precursor to some uncomfortable looking in the mirror (metaphorically)

“I’m not saying don’t be pissed off about Sochi and Russia. I’m saying, be more pissed off.”

Now for some much more trivial but still interesting (but after the GQ piece, to be honest, anything would seem a bit trivial)…

Pop culture bits!

I’ve been meaning to write about Louie (literally directly beneath this in my word document are two half-written posts about it) and I still might, but this from Todd VanDerWerff almost*** makes me not want to bother because it says a lot of what I wanted to but well and with like… knowledge about TV. So read this and I’ll see if I can add to it. Also watch Louie – it’s really good.

Get this as a sentence. The next piece is an excerpt from a Harry Potter fan fiction written by respected IR scholar Daniel Drezner and published in Foreign Policy, called “Eat, Cast, Love.” Worth a click just to reward them with page-views for the weirdness.

Finally, I’ll leave you with an irresistibly nerdy post from Alan White**** on video-gaming in the past decade is really fun and reminded me of a lot of cool stuff. I was also weirdly proud of getting a lot of the moments.

Last week I was concerned that 1500 words was too many. This one has over 2200. Is that too many? Please feel free to comment or contact me or something if you have any thoughts on whether this thing should be less fucking long.

*I say “all”, last week’s blog got less than a dozen hits which makes “all” seem like an absurd word to use really

**please don’t only read one post though there are like twenty+ links in this post and this shit takes time.

***almost – I actually remembered it having more about why Louie is so good but it just kind of takes that as a given, so there’s hope for me yet.

****and I know that Buzzfeed gif-lists are kind of the opposite of this blog’s stated intent of sharing interesting stuff to read you may not have seen since it’s Buzzfeed so you will have done, and it’s a listicle so hardly even reading but….)

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