29th of June: Reading You Can Really Get Your Teeth Into

Bit of topical World Cup humour there. Jokes being the furthest thing from my mind as I sit shell-shocked on the sofa from that exhausting Brazil game. Still we’re through, so I don’t have to open the blog with a sad Brazilian song. Instead, have this delight from Jorge Ben Jor. Come for the weird title, avoid the weird lyrics, and stay for the all-round positivity of it all.


First up, I’ve already linked to these on the blog, but I figure some of you must only come for the reading list posts – I’m very proud to announce my contribution to the NATO Council of Canada has gone live and can be found here and here (it’s a two-parter  – you guys should know I’m nothing if not concise). There are definitely gaps, and as soon as it went up I was unhappy with bits of it, but there it is and I’m very happy.

Now, for some actual good writing.

  • A number of excellent pieces prompted by the nightmare in Iraq. Wonderfully lyrical at War on the Rocks. Examination of the shifting balance of power in the Middle East by Immanuel Wallerstein*, and a consideration of the “uneasy anti-ISIS coalition” forming by David Wearing. Finally, one, two, three and (a delightfully nerdy) four pieces on the US response to the crisis and the absurdities of US foreign policy debate.
  • That the CIA toppled the Shah is one of those things that I’ve tended to just take for granted, so this well-researched account of the 1979 revolution was an illuminating rebuttal to that narrative
  • Good call for a more effective NATO, an interesting (if occasionally laden with dodgy politics) argument for why Germany is reluctant to pull its weight militarily, and an honest explanation for Europe’s ‘under-investment’ in defence.
  • Speaking of Europe, two excellent pieces on the utterly tedious debate over the Commission presidency at the Guardian, and the BBC.
  • Master Storifier Kelsey Atherton compiled these tweets in response to what sounds like a daft drone-panic piece – well worth scrolling through.
  • Speaking of tweet collections, Teju Cole is on top form here on the impossibility of sustaining the caring about #BringBackOurGirls
  • Don’t know if you read that dreadful Gary Oldman interview, but this is a good article on how it demonstrates the triumph of “PC gone mad” nonsense
  • Great profile of the wonderful Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Though he’s off making the world a better place in Kenya (I assume), Charlie is still finding time to post reviews of bafflingly complicated books
  • The excellent Mauricio Savarese has been telling us for months that the World Cup would not be the disaster everyone was predicting. This is his victory lap. On that note, this is another excellent piece giving Brazilians agency in taking advantage of the Cup – on favela residents renting out rooms in their homes for tourists – Hadley Freeman’s place in the Guardian’s World Cup team justified immediately
  • While we’re on the football, this is rather lovely on supporting teams because of the people you care about (NB: If Brazil crash out embarrassingly, I’m taking this piece as a Bible). Also a great profile of the different sibling relationships in international football, and a bit of bants from Marie le Conte on being a French supporter in London – identified strongly with bits and pieces of it but it’s funny either way.
  • Less lovely but important piece on the outrageous tossers who blacked up to “support” Ghana against Germany and FIFA’s lack of action in response
  • Brilliant idea for an app to support people in mental health crises
  • Fascinating account of how an almost unintentional decision to allow same-sex relationships saved The Sims – one of those pieces that really makes me want to re-install The Sims (fortunately Steam only has Sims 3 on sale)
  • I promised I wouldn’t link to recaps every week but Mad Men isn’t airing anymore and this is more of an essay anyway – on Betty Draper and the crippling limitations women of her time faced.

And that’s that – watching Colombia thunder over Uruguay now (delicious) so I’m not confident about Brazil’s chances on Friday. There’s a chance I’ll be writing the next post through my tears. Have a good week, enjoy the rest of the second round! x

*feels like First Year IR all over again

on Reforms to the British Military

on Reforms to the British Military

The second half of my piece on NATO Council of Canada went up. In my head the second half was more substantial than this. 

Still, very proud of the whole thing and, again honoured and grateful to have been given the opportunity and the platform to ramble on like that. I assume the world’s militaries, governments, newspapers and just general organisations will be scrambling to hire me now.




on Threats to the United Kingdom

on Threats to the United Kingdom

Given my frequent scorn here and in Twitter for the state of foreign policy discourse in the UK, figured it was time I at least tried to contribute. I’m very grateful to have been given the chance to contribute to NATO Council Canada and hopefully you’ll all go read this so they ask me back. Quite proud of how this, and the second part turned out.

Either way, planning to return to this topic over the summer in more depth, starting with a proper look at the 2010 Strategic Defence Review.

22nd of June: Rebrand

I’m writing this week’s post, at long last, from London. To celebrate the move, I’ve changed theme (also because the other one was just absurdly narrow). Very glad to have seen Spain crash out of the Cup and crown Phillip the Sixth before leaving, but delighted to be home. With that out of the way, vamonos.

First up, song of the week is the great opener from O Rappa’s MTV Acoustic album. Come for the infectious riff, avoid getting bored by the overlong introduction, and stay for the wonderful Brazilian instrumentation.

Next, in case you missed it, I wrote a review of HBO’s The Pacific here, which somehow skyrocketed to one of my most successful posts ever by virtue of …idk being part of the tumblr “pacific” tag? either way, works for me.

With that, let’s go, for the first reading list of the summer in London!

  • Couple of posts on the ongoing debate over the ‘America in retreat’ trope. One in response to an Anne-Marie Slaughter piece, and one in response to a Robert Kagan one: both pieces are linked to in the introductions.
  • With regards to the ongoing nightmare in Iraq, several pieces. Here, a history of the Kurds’ efforts for statehood (in French). Interesting piece from Aaron Zelin who’s been justifiably doing the vindicated-expert thing on Twitter recently on what it’s like to live under ISIS rule. Strong argument for us not going back into Iraq from Barry Posen. Finally, important Jay Ulfelder post on the dangers of making up counterfactuals
  • Great essay on the relationship (much more complex than it seems) between God and State in Egypt
  • Non-annoying Amnesty International piece scrutinising Brazil’s shortcomings in the context of the World Cup
  • Reporting on a World Cup protest that is actually constructive and useful and features badass old ladies
  • Important piece on the British-caused/exacerbated/provoked famines in India during the Second World War. Churchill FTW
  • Gripping account of the soon-to-be retired A-10 warplane saving a British raid gone wrong in Afghanistan
  • Incisive, clear-headed analysis of what was actually going on in that scandal over an Islamic extremist takeover of Birmingham schools
  • Terrifying piece on how poor internet and software security is. Properly chilling
  • Great review of Lana del Rey’s new album Ultraviolence, which I’ve been wanting to share tracks off for weeks, but my stupid World Cup feature takes precedence. Features wonderful thinking about the emotions girls are allowed to express. You guys know I’m a sucker for over-analysing pop music.
  • Speaking of over-analysis, brilliant examination of the dragons-as-nukes metaphors in Game of Thrones
  • Examination of the way the backstories of female characters in video-games show how their writing continues to be lazy. It focuses on games, but seems relevant for a lot of other media.

And with that, we’re done! Spent most of the flight home watching Louie and Batman cartoons, so less articles than expected. Also, I’ve finally arrived in walking distance of the UCL library, so am planning to read a lot more books. On the one hand, this means less links – on the other, more reviews! Have a great week, guys – next time we speak, I think we’ll be well into the knock-out stages! x

HBO’s The Pacific: Review

Image courtesy of HBO Canada

So following the D-Day commemorations, the excellent Stephen Saideman got to wondering why the Pacific theatre of World War Two, and by association, the HBO miniseries The Pacific, are far less acknowledged than the European theatre and Band of Brothers. This prompted me to finally get around to watching The Pacific – I watched the first episode last year with Daniel, but as is inevitable when you commit to watching something with a specific person, we never found the time to watch the rest.

I finished it in about a week, and kept notes all the way through. I’ve collected those episode-by-episode notes in a Tumblr post here, unvarnished and incoherent, here, if you want. This can also serve as my job application for the AV Club.

For a more coherent take, read on.

Continue reading

15th of June: Last Reading List out of Madrid

Been reading a paper on insurgencies which used Vietnam as a case study so that joke didn’t seem tasteless. Sorry.

So this is one of those posts I write at 6AM with cheap beer and street-food sloshing around my system out of misplaced sense of duty – the sun is rising but I’m damned if I’ll go to bed without scheduling this week’s reading list – I’ve seen what it does to my pageviews. Not only that, but it’s the last one I’ll write in Spain – this time next week, I’ll be, probably, sick of London. So that’s exciting. Thanks for reading these past few months, I’ve enjoyed watching my stats disappoint – hope you stay with me over the summer.

Continuing the World Cup theme from last Sunday, this week’s song is a Gilberto Gil one I fell in love with again at the start of the year, so when Spotify shuffle saw fit to present it to me tonight, as I contemplate the end of this year, it felt appropriate. Come for the joyous opening, avoid the strangeness of the video, and stay for the legitimately decent romantic lyrics. Here goes!

  • So the big, non-World Cup news of the week is, unfortunately, the stunning advances ISIS made, taking over Mosul, Iraq’s second city. Scary stuff. Three good explainers here from Marc Lynch, J.M Berger, and The Arabist, as well as a poignant response to the situation from an Iraq war veteran, and an entertaining series of tweets from Kelsey Atherton (who you should follow) to cleanse the horror from your palates.
  • But just because the Middle East has kicked off again, doesn’t mean the other crises subside. Ukraine’s developing civil war rumbles on in a low-level horrific way. An interesting pair of looks at how NATO, especially (natch) the USA’s responses to the crisis have, and will play out
  • Interesting analysis of how many aircraft carriers the US really needs
  • The excellent Jude Wanga was covering the Time to Act conference on sexual violence this week – here’s the first of her reports on it.
  • Powerful piece from Cord Jefferson on the draining demands made of black writers
  • As proof that this blog isn’t just me screaming into the void – Tina at NATO Council wrote a great piece on the Fermi Paradox I linked to last month – part one of two so check back over there for the follow-up
  • Also at NATO Council, the wonderful Daniel Woodburn wrote about increasing evidence of a link between climate change and conflict. I can testify to the research and proof behind this piece, as I had the dubious (<3) pleasure of proof-reading the original thesis paper thing. Go read it please.
  • Quite funny and also informative look at China’s infrastructure programs – and stadia – in Africa
  • Football stuff! In light of all the whingeing (already!) about referees and goalies, this seems appropriate. In light of all the terrible clichéd reporting being done on Brazil, this seems necessary. And in light of the condescension, bad reporting, and mockery, this is fucking vital.
  • Provocative argument suggesting the public debt crippling most of the Western world may be illegitimate.
  • Great, thoughtful, essay on whether it’s still possible to be a “responsible” gun carrier in the US these days.
  • Important corrective from A Girl on the Net on the language we use about having “a right to sex”
  • TV-violence stuff – not fully convinced by Jessica Valenti calling the Walking Dead “good”, but her point about the lack of sexual violence is insightful – I remember a turn-off in the comic (aside from its general terribleness) being the adolescent use of rape as a shocking way to humiliate female characters. Meanwhile, at the AVClub, Soniya Saraiya has an interesting meditation on the purposes and effects of violence in Game of Thrones
  • While cheap food sounds like an unmitigated good, Jay Rayner suggests the developing supermarket price war might backfire on British food independence

Finally, and while I’m not going to give this a full Kanye-eyeroll (partly because I cannot be fucked to upload the gif), this was an annoyingly inane article – classic Owen Jones(or any prominent British leftist)-does-foreign-policy stuff really. Like, global powers have intelligence services that do nasty things. Well done there, top notch analysis. So I’m just letting you imagine the deepest sigh, possibly a theatrical eye-roll or two – you get it.

That said, probably worth reading if you have somehow lived to any age where my blog is arriving on your feeds without ever having heard of the bad stuff the CIA has done. Then again, if that’s the case you might be better off with Owen Jones to be honest.

Have a lovely week – got some pieces lined up to come sometime this week, but you should all be busy watching the Cup – it’s looking like a delight. So take that, haters.

8th of June: A Birthday Return

Oooh I told you there’d be more this week – plenty of links here, so let’s head off at a half-run.

The song of the week is becoming my favourite feature – I went through about eight choices, but ultimately settled on this wonderful tune – I figure in honour of the World Cup I’m going to try and stick to a Brazilian theme. Even better, this is off Sergio Mendes’ 2006 album Timeless, which is indelibly associated with the 2006 World Cup in my head. Come for the promise of a collaboration between two greats, avoid the realisation that nothing in your life will ever be happier than this song, and stay for the sheer infectious joy.


First up, I wrote a thing about my newfound love for Spotify playlists that was a bit out of character but I quite like. And now here we go.

  • Strong argument that China has overplayed its hand in being assertive in recent months
  • Evaluation of Hillary Clinton (possible next President of the USA)’s record as Secretary of State
  • Couple of good pieces on whether Obama has developed a coherent foreign policy “doctrine”
  • Fukuyama has become one of those authors with a bold thesis I read a bit of in first year and went “lol buffoon” and never revisited. His defence of his “End of History” thesis is compelling though.
  • You’ve probably seen them by now, but these comparison photos of locations in Normandy on D-Day and now are incredible.
  • Good piece by the speechwriters for Clinton’s address at the 50th anniversary of D-Day, and fascinating article about the women who covered the landings
  • Deliciously pessimistic voxplainer on why we’re all fucked on climate change
  • Novara Wire on how the left is stuck between two unappealing options on the EU – the nasty right-wing extremism of UKIP, and the pro-capitalist race-to-the-bottom policies of the EU*
  • It’s looking like the Spanish won’t overthrow their political order in time for me to say “I was there when…” (rude of them tbh) but still – good piece on the Spanish monarchy
  • Important rebuttal to that Morgan Freeman quote I’m sure you’ve all seen about how all we need to do to solve racism is stop talking about race.
  • This story about a man’s disabled brother is terrible and utterly without redemption but the least we can do is read what seems to have been a horrible thing to experience and write about. This is the week’s heartbreaker – fair warning.
  • *smug bilingual face*
  • Fascinating feature on elephant hunting in Botswana – read it in a web browser; it’s kind of gorgeous
  • Nice tribute to a teen magazine
  • As the World Cup approaches, and coverage of Brazil hits fever pitch, I feel like there needs to be a word for orientalism but about Brazil. This documentary on Brazil and football is by the brilliant Musa Okwonga, so I’ll forgive the “OMG SUCH AN EXOTIC LAND” bits.
  • Combining video-games and Kanye? Sold.
  • Interesting look at the historical inspirations for Game of Thrones, and a delightful (and necessary) corrective to the nasty, nasty ending of last week’s episode
  • Nice Hadley Freeman piece on the World Cup
  • TBH I’m not even that big a Mario Kart fan but these ’Luigi death stare’ videos are brilliant
  • Funny review of “The Ubisoft Game” (ie any of  Ubisoft’s major releases for the past few years)
  • Three funny Buzzfeed lists (featuring #misandry, Peep Show, and Karl Pilkington)
  • Terrible, terrible news (but I just saw rumours of new Guns N’ Roses material which helps make up for it)

In honour of said bad news, Yeezy season is back with a bang, because this fucking article made me seethe. I’ve got so little comprehension for how a human could dislike Mad Men that I honestly expected this article to be ironic. So when I saw that it was just trolly bullshit criticisms and tenuous connections to other recommendations (I love Veep so much, but it’s not even close to being a replacement for Mad Men) I seethed. I seethed hard. And then I filed it away for Kanye to judge, and you know what?

tumblr_mshgsbUsd61qfkqupo1_500He wasn’t fucking impressed.

Finally, and this isn’t really a link so much as a bitter cackle, but after a year of smug “we’re fourth in the world!” triumphalism, the news that UCL couldn’t even scrape the top ten British universities was delightful. Even more so as I’m currently having my face scraped against the realities of final year module selection. Cutting my nose off to spite my university it may be, but the schadenfreude is fuckin’ strong here, folks.

And that’s it! Enjoy the first week of the World Cup! It won’t feel real yet, but start now – you’ll be punching walls by the quarter-finals, trust me.

UPDATE: Just found out from a reliable source that it’s Kanye West’s 37th birthday today! In keeping with my ongoing delusion that he’s a reader – happy birthday Kanye! Also, I forgot to put a title on this one, so now I am.

*this is one of those issues my “heterodox” politics fall apart on. As far as IR and stuff goes, I’m super in favour of the TTIP as a means of solidifying a liberal transatlantic bloc. But as far as domestic politics, my instinct (and lots of people I respect) are super hesitant about the merits of these massive pro-business free trade deals. So *shrug*

1st of June: The One Where Gabriel Abused Pocket

Shockingly little IR stuff this week, and quite a short list – I’ve been doing a lot of Pocket-ing and not much actual reading. Still, off we go.

It’s always a bit sad when you realise that you’ve become immune to a piece of art that used to be able to move you. The ending of this week’s song used to take my breath away, and now it’s just pretty great. Anyway, come for the realisation that you unfairly dismissed Chinese Democracy, avoid that bit in the middle where Axl’s voice gives out, and stay for the ending which is still fantastic.

  • Interesting debate between two terrorism experts on how much of a threat Al-Qaeda is today
  • Really quite gripping account of an attack on the American embassy in Yemen
  • I had written last week’s post before the awful mass shooting in Santa Barbara happened, but here are some good reactions. One, at Another Angry Woman, on the “not all men” whiners, and a brilliant piece by Roxane Gay on abuse and misogyny and l can’t really do it justice so just. Go. Here, a thoughtful look at nerd culture’s relationship with misogynistic feelings of entitlement.
  • A Cracked.com article on a marginalised group (Transgendered people, in this instance) that is sensitive, illuminating, and funny! *shocked face*
  • Following last week’s trigger warning articles, a look at what they involve in practice. Spoiler alert: they aren’t a big deal
  • Someone on Twitter reposted this 2007/8 article about a young war ‘widow’ for Memorial Day, and I made the mistake of reading it on the train home at night. It should be cloying and sentimental but I was surprised to find it utterly devastating. Your mileage may vary, of course.
  • Sweet piece of dating advice from Oliver Burkeman – he’s normally wise and he advocates my preferred “play” so fingers crossed
  • Meant to link this last week but couldn’t find it. A profile of the beautiful, wonderful Jon Hamm. Especially important given Mad Men is gone for another year.

feast your eyes on the beauty. the talent. nicked from tumblr.com

  • Half-heartedly considered taking up Crossfit this year  – decided not to, as I prefer “biscuits + TV” as a fitness routine. This article provided me with a better justification.
  • Leslie Knope compliments are my favourite thing – these are great
  • Finally, not to get all falsely sentimental on you, but I do remember studying “Still I Rise” in high school, so in honour of Dr. Maya Angelou, have this lovely video of her reading it.

No Kanye this week, I’m afraid – having read so little, I’ve kind of not had any strong-enough-to-invoke-Kanye feelings on anything.

So, with less than 500 words on the meter, I’m leaving you, guys. I can’t promise next week will better, but there will be a reckoning soon: I’m flying home (!) before the end of the month, and all the articles I’ve Pocket-ed will catch up with me.  Have a lovely first week of June.