31st of August: Final Stretch

In the UK at least, summer seems to have collapsed in on itself. Which can only mean I’m that much closer to moving into a flat and restarting some semblance of a life again, so with any luck, these posts will get a lot more streamlined. Until then, I’m still pinging across London multiple times a day, several days of week, with all the scope for consuming enormous amounts of reading. Without any further ado, then, let’s get stuck in.

Song of the week was my favourite revelation of last week’s VMAs – Usher and Nicki Minaj have done a song together, and it sounds like something that could have come off Confessions, which was lovely as I’ve kind of lost touch with Usher since then. NB: Going to be a Nicki-heavy week*. EDIT: There’s a real video! Excitement!

 

First up, NATO Council of Canada article this week involves neither Canada or NATO, but it is on procurement, so I just about stayed on-topic – I looked at Brazil’s military modernization programme.

Also, weekly reminder – I’m still sending this out in newsletter form every Sunday, hoping that it’ll eventually hit critical mass – you can subscribe here.

  • Lots on the Islamic State this week** A thought-provoking John Schindler essay (/polemic) on what he sees as the generational struggle against militant Islamists. IDK. Worth reading, possibly overblown.
  • A couple of good pieces looking more closely at IS – this one on the Britons going to join it, and this on its rise, relationship with Al-Qaeda, and future
  • Boris Johnson is a cretin.
  • Interesting discussion of why we respond so much more to IS’ violence than, for example, gang violence in Latin America, given their apparent similarities
  • Clear pushback on the emerging idea that we should side with Assad against IS
  • Great essay on the vacuum of power (but not a “why won’t Obama lead”) in the Middle East
  • Kind of terrifying article embedded with the Shia militias on the frontlines in Iraq
  • Important reminder from a while back that bombing Syria last year would have done fuck-all, and diplomacy has eliminated their chemical weapons
  • Investigation of the possible legal justifications for American airstrikes against IS in Syria
  • Another good Stephen Saideman piece on reforming NATO
  • First of the week’s New Yorker backlog clearout – long feature on Putin and the new anti-Americanism in Russia
  • Lot of talk of Obama’s foreign policy falling apart this week. A reminder that the low-hanging fruit is gone.
  • Hopi Sen continues his hot-streak in his first appearance this week, on the “Stop the World” coalition – I remember wanting to argue with something in this but not finding anything.
  • Second New Yorker is a feature on the Sri Lankan civil war. Hard reading, but nothing that’ll surprise anyone who watched the Channel 4 documentary (go watch that if you haven’t)
  • This profile of an abortion doctor in Mississippi is a great look at a wonderful man, that doesn’t lose sight of the fucked up conditions he is forced into
  • Couple of good pieces on the dangers of condescending reporting on the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. This one, at the Atlantic, is heartbreaking (that ending – chills). This one, at the Monkey Cage (I know), more scholarly
  • Hugh Muir is excellent on the continuing horrors coming out of Rotherham and the shameless attempts to blame them on PC gone mad.
  • Thoughtful essay on admitting your white privilege
  • History of race riots in the USA, and growing more positively out of similar fuckery in the UK, a history of the Notting Hill Carnival
  • Harsh piece on war reporting today
  • Rather weirdly beautiful piece of writing on war through the eyes of the C-130 transport plane
  • Obviously this is a great blog on what all the horrid images shared on Twitter do to us, but I’m mostly sharing it because despite having consigned Thinking Fast and Slow to the “two-thirds read” pile***, I recognised the quote!
  • Fascinating account of the botched rescue of the Iranian embassy hostages
  • I may have linked to this before, but you should all be checking out Willard Foxton’s WW1 History Tumblr – based on a collection of contemporary magazines, he also shares little anecdotes or histories. Really interesting little tidbits every day.
  • Hopi Sen, again, on the need for a Spotify for news – I feel this.Even if money wasn’t a concern, the hassle is maddening – the Financial Times is pretty egregious in this regard.
  • Told you Nicki was going to feature heavily. These two posts that I found really helpful provide context to the brilliant Anaconda video– plenty overlap, but this one is a snappy Tumblr, and this one is a bit boilerplate feminist. Meanwhile, this by Emily Reynolds is just quite funny.
  • Now that Playboy have de-perved their website (mostly), can respectably link to them. This, on the whitewashing of hip-hop, is great.
  • Suspect time-lapse videos are going to be everywhere soon (Dad showed me the new Instagram app), but until then, this one of the Panama canal is quite incredible
  • IDK if I’m horrified or enticed by Arby’s Meat Mountain but this is a brilliant article
  • I defer to no man**** in my love for About a Boy/Bridget Jones Hugh, but this is funny.
  • As the start of the academic year approaches, this might be helpful to some of you.
  • Finally, Fuck this tortoise.

A long one, but there you go. Lots to be getting on with – see you in September! x

*I have some thoughts on Super Bass, which for some reason, I hadn’t heard before, and I have a platform so: 1) the aesthetic of this video is terrifyingly frenzied. Just that blinking in the first verse is disquieting 2) first time I heard it, I was immediately reminded of the soundtrack to Thomas Was Alone and this felt like a really good insight. Look!

**I’ve noticed that about half of these articles are still referring to ISIS. There are sound political reasons for this (not legitimising them as a state, chiefly) but I go with IS largely out of laziness and Twitter character limits.

***started it up again last night after writing this

****admittedly I probably don’t need to

24th of August: Inexcusable Delay

In my head, you’re all desperately refreshing the page waiting for this to appear, so I’m feeling very guilty at how late this is going up. I’ve increasingly come to realise that there was something depressingly self-aware about committing myself to be at my computer at midnight on a Saturday every week, but I can’t even claim I was too busy enjoying the Carnival or something – after the terrible Doctor Who episode and a couple of Sopranos, I got bogged down in a losing game of Company of Heroes (wild times all around). Anyway. It’s here now.

Song of the week is a struggle because I’ve pretty much been listening to Taylor Swift non-stop for the past week, and I have some concerns about maintaining a dignified air. Still this song is very catchy so, even if the video is flawed, so fuck it.

This week’s article was a hesitant look at the broader consequences of the BRICS Bank. Would love to hear criticism and that of it, because I was pretty nervous when writing it.

  • Strong call for an honest debate about what confronting IS will actually require
  • A lot has been said about the Kurds’ moves towards independence – this article takes a look at their prospects
  • There’s definitely something problematic about the disparity in attention paid to the horrific death of one American and the deaths of hundreds of others in the same way, but it is what it is, and it is certainly very sad. Two excellent tributes to him at Vox and the Independent.
  • Stephen Saideman gets irritable about “fixing” NATO
  • Two interesting pieces by Robert Farley on US-Russian relations, one reviewing a book on the topic, and another on the American magazine The Nation’s weird turn to Putin apologetics and what it tells us about “left” foreign policy
  • Amidst the litany of grimness, this is a reassuring bit of qualified optimism from Jay Ulfeldler
  • A look at what an independent Scottish defence policy will look like*
  • Powerful piece on the “price of blackness”
  • With Ferguson rolling on, unresolved, in the background, people were sharing James Baldwin’s work this week. At the same time, the New Yorker** sent Teju Cole to follow in Baldwin’s footsteps, a delightful combination if ever I heard one.
  • Great profile of Nina Simone***
  • Clive Martin reports on the sad fate of a pub not far from my neck of the woods****  (though, as ever, I’m torn between my irritating at dickhead trendy bars, and my discomfort with traditional British old man pubs.) Also on gentrification, this, from a woman who I vaguely recall became an internet sensation during the riots, is good.
  • Funny but worrying on moving back in with your parents as a legit adult
  • Really fun piece on a game of watergun assassin
  • I have so much time for writers that take popular artists seriously and engage with their themes and shit. This on Lana del Rey, is great – though minor quibble: I’m currently listening to the original of The Other Woman, and I do kind of prefer Lana’s.
  • Interesting trawl through DC Movies scripts that never happened
  • Utterly surreal piece on a conversation between a jihadi and a Iraq war veteran on Twitter about Robin Williams
  • I’ve missed Charlie Brooker
  • Nerd alert. This ‘diary’ of a game of Crusader Kings II using the Game of Thrones mod is very funny, and makes me all the sadder that the mod doesn’t run properly for me.

That’s that. See you next week, hopefully a bit earlier in the day x

As ever, you can subscribe to my newsletter and get this in email form every week if you prefer, though I CBA to do one today.

*the first version of this I saw had the Scottish Army project at 5,000 men, and I died laughing. Turns out it was a typo, but I still think we can take them. Day after the referendum, roll tanks over the border to reannex them. for banter.

**not that I don’t love having free access to their archives but my Pocket queue is now about thirty massive New Yorker pieces that I haven’t ever got the energy to read on the train, so they just linger. they need to stop.

***including a critique of Kanye’s “Blood on the Leaves” that actually seems fair and not sneering

****insofar as I have a neck of the woods other than “First Capital Connect trains” these days

17th of August: 5.7% My Own

This week hasn’t really been a great deal better, has it? A couple of times, I was almost scared to go to sleep, for fear that any number of the world’s ongoing crises would degenerate even further before I woke up. Even though this has been a week where we’ve seen Ukraine and Russia seem to have taken a step closer to open war, the Ebola virus continues its spread, and a Brazilian presidential candidate killed in a plane crash, the reading list is remarkably homogenous this week – about a third each on Ferguson, MO, and Iraq – hence the title.

Song of the week is by Ben L’Oncle Soul, one of the few French artists I left Ferney with any appreciation for, much to my embarrassment. Delightfully cool and swinging – you’ll wish you were in Paris by the second verse.

Due to weird scheduling, my NATO Council pieces have appeared throughout the week instead of their usual “five minutes after the reading list” posting. I wrote one about European Security and Defence Policy, and one quite International Relations theory one on NATO, Russia, and the Security Dilemma.

Given the reasonably even split this week, we’re going back to categories. Also, if you remember the old days, you’ll recognise the increasing sprawl of these posts as I find myself spending more and more time reading on trains. Sorry – working on it.

Iraq, Syria, and the Islamic State

  • Compelling argument in the Evening Standard (!!) against the calls to bog down British foreign policy in parliamentary consultation
  • Another brilliant Hopi Sen post (he’s on fire just as all his interventionists pals go from low to low) – the Pakistan comparison is something brilliant I’ve never considered
  • Deeply pessimistic take on the prospects for the American campaign against the IS
  • Interesting comparison of Syrian and Russian propaganda strategy
  • Very important pushback against the narrative taking hold that “if only we had DONE SOMETHING in Syria, the Islamic State wouldn’t have happened”, on arming the rebels in particular
  • Vox gets a lot of flak, but I’ve found them very helpful recently – meanwhile, this essay on the US’ diminished influence in the Middle East, meanwhile, is just quite interesting
  • Detailed look at British options for intervening against IS
  • Just as I was starting to warm to the idea of a Clinton presidency, she gave that interview and ugh.

Ferguson, Police Brutality, and Racism

  • It’s to my great shame that until I read this incredible piece on the issue, I hadn’t really thought about Michael’s Brown death as a separate and particular tragedy, either because I only became aware of it once the situation had escalated, or just because young black men being murdered feels like such a depressing regularity. Nevertheless, as Musa Okwonga argues, we can’t forget him.
  • Great report “From the Front Lines of Ferguson” – aptly titled. Another good one, at The New Yorker
  • Stinging critique of “broken windows” policing
  • Thought-provoking roundtable on police brutality
  • Powerful defence of “black anger”
  • It must be interesting being a writer of such calibre that people are desperate for you to return from holidays so you can weigh in on an issue. Ta-Nehisi Coates is that man.
  • Stephen Saideman draws out some interesting political theory ideas from the situation
  • Finally, bitterly funny.

Literally anything else

  • Sticking with the grim for a second – two interesting, overlapping pieces on international responses to Israel – one clarifying the French “ban” on pro-Gaza protests, and one on broader trends of anti-semitism
  • Important rebuttal of #notallmen
  • Explainer on Brazil’s imminent elections*
  • Number of interesting articles from defesanet.com.br, a cool Portuguese-language defence news site I found. On the peacekeeping mission in Haiti. On the Brazilian Armed Forces’ search for a role. On the politics of Brazilian arms imports.
  • Report from cracolândia
  • Feature on the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policies in North Africa
  • Two mythbusters at War on the Rocks – on WW1, and on French military prowess during WWII
  • Cool walkthrough of the investigating process at Brown Moses’ new venture, bellingcat
  • Beautiful writing on coping with depression
  • Helpful advice on being a bit less of a dick – will try and bear it in mind this September
  • Finally, important for those of you (?) who have just received exam results, and the rest of us, who exist – how to be OK with failure.

Plenty for you to be getting on with, I reckon. Have a lovely week – let’s hope it turns it around a bit.

Also, weekly reminder, that if you’d rather, I send this out in newsletter form as soon as it gets wrote Saturday night. You can subscribe to that here.

*panic-inducingly soon actually

10th August: Binary Mood

I don’t know if this is just one of those confirmation bias things but I feel like the past few weeks have just been a bleak, bleak time to be human. The last awful headline barely has time to be fade before another horror arrives on the news. So I’m rejigging the structure a bit this week. The first half is pretty grim but, I hope, interesting as ever. Meanwhile, I’ve shoved anything mildly optimistic/light-hearted into the second half, regardless of topic. If you’ve read enough dire reports on the state of the world today, scroll straight down.

Song of the week  – Guns N’ Roses’ “Coma”. Had forgotten about it as I’m no longer 16 ( 😦 ) The last two or three minutes of this song are properly incredible – rest is good two but from the solo onwards it’s something else.

 

After some hiccups in the posting schedule, my latest-ish piece at NATO Council is up (hoping for a couple more to appear soon) – this one was on the United Kingdom procuring the F-35. It’s also the last of the little miniseries I was writing (in my mind) on British defence matters so that’s cool. Been playing with a concluding post to go up here, may arrive this week.

With that, let’s get the nastiness out of the way first

The Bad

  • So IS(IS/L) have been all over the headlines (and all up in US bombsights now) this weekend. This essay in the London Review of Books is properly depressing stuff – they look increasingly likely to be here to stay
  • I’m sure you’re all dying to know – the official stance here is cautiously in favour of the operations against IS announced this weekend. Then again what the fuck do I know I was pleased when UNSC1973 got passed and look at Libya now. Regardless this is a well-argued proposal at Foreign Policy for a proper disengagement by the USA from the Middle East.
  • I’ve spent the past few days sneering, sniping and generally being unpleasant about the various irritants who make up the British liberal interventionist segment of the media. So it’s only fair that I share with you this thoughtful, honest meditation by Hopi Sen, shining light among them, on the current state of Western foreign policy
  • Properly arming the Kiev government would be a bad idea right now
  • Vladimir Putin seems a bit of a tragic figure, aside from all the nastiness. But what if sanctions do force him out of power?
  • Bringing research and scholarship to bear on the ongoing problem of creating a lasting ceasefire in Gaza
  • The fact that the Ebola serum has only been used on two white Americans while Africans die by the hundred looks bad – but it’s more complicated than that
  • This is a powerful, upsetting read about a young reporter’s first night in Kiev. Dispiriting but important. TW for sexual assault.

Ugh. All-round unpleasant.

But look.

  • First up, Daniel Woodburn presents a more optimistic look at ISIS’ prospects*
  • Intriguing proposal to end the violence in Ukraine from Dan Drezner
  • Slight, but fascinatingly futuristic idea for humanitarian relief
  • Realistic proposals for positive change in the DRC? :O
  • A reminder that there are no nuclear weapons in South America – that’s nice. Interesting look at why that is.
  • Hesitated on where to put this, as it’s bittersweet, but a lovely profile of one of the women involved in the Supreme Court case against the Defence of Marriage Act.
  • The New Statesman has a tendency to publish pretty irritating stuff on feminism**, but this brilliant (long) essay on trans people and radical feminism kind of makes up for it
  • Was only vaguely aware of this – amid the commemorations of the soldiers, Paul Mason argues the First World War was brought to an end by workers’ movements
  • CityMetric is an interesting project. This is cool on the definition of a city, and this is encouraging on the urban revolution.
  • Speaking of cities: very fun account by Clive Martin of a pub crawl through the worst of gentrifying London dickery. Surprisingly even-handed. While most of my trips into Central London make me pray for the day all its wanky boutiques, pop-ups, craft beer and fancy coffee houses disappear from the face of the Earth, this sort of piece makes me wonder if I shouldn’t give it a chance while I’m still here.
  • Great interview with the wonderful Christina Hendricks
  • Been reading a lot of The Debrief this week (you should too) – enjoyed this on the mad reactions to J-Law’s breakup, and not just because her dating that annoying kid out of About a Boy was annoying
  • Liked this by Daisy Buchanan – just eight years to go till I hit my peak, apparently
  • Really want to play Far Cry 3 again after reading this great piece
  • I identify deeply with this Buzzfeed.
  • My hero.

Also, I wanted to do a Kanye-eyeroll here but can’t be arsed, but can we just take a moment to note that on Thursday morning Dan Hodges wrote a weasel wordy, incoherent, ignorant column decrying the paralysis and cowardice of the non-interventionism that dominates Western policy and literally like twelve hours later, Obama was authorising airstrikes on ISIS (just in time to spare us a tedious Nick Cohen column on the topic, I hope). Beautiful.

Long’un this week. Whoops. We’re done. Enjoy the week as best you can guys. This too shall pass, maybe? IDK.

As ever, if receiving this thing to your email inbox late Saturday night instead of seeking it out yourselves during Sunday appeals to you, I’ve started a newsletter which you can subscribe to ->here<-

*optimistic for us, not them, obv.

**which I’m loathe to really criticise because I’m a bloke but.

3rd of August: “Commuter” Edition

I’ve decided I don’t like coming into London during the week. As befits my status as “a bit of a waste of space” ™, recently I’ve been coming in to the centre, wearing shorts and sunglasses, and overlapping with various segments of commuters on the train, all besuited and miserable, and god. Nothing quite like it to remind you you’ve done nothing with your week.

Nothing but read a bunch of stuff! The advantage of “commuting”, of course, is I read a bunch of stuff – which is good for you, as you don’t even need to do the commuting bit (unless you do anyway, in which case, sorry)

Song of the week isn’t exactly a song so much as an indulgence. Despite realising their audience is apparently mostly 14, and despite their hawking their songs to every awful thing from the Olympics to Twilight, I still have a lot of time for Muse, if only out of loyalty to high-school me. This week’s song is the three-part ‘symphony’ off the end of The Resistance, ‘Exogenesis’. It’s ridiculous, self-indulgent, and just a bit beautiful. It’s also twelve minutes long: luckily, there are a lot of links this week.

  • Two posts on the international response to Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. One arguing for a more assertive policy, and one praising the restrained one so far. You choose*
  • Interesting article examining different scenarios for China’s rise to challenge the narrative of its inevitable hegemony
  • What are NATO and the EU’s rapid response forces good for? Also wrote an article about this, which I submitted about three hours before reading – annoying.
  • Mean Girls reference and slamming right-wing orthodoxies? Sold. On Mitt Romney, the ‘fetch’ of presidential candidates
  • Damning piece on the aftermath of the Libyan intervention
  • The Early Warning Project present their assessments for risks of state-led mass killing in 2014 – interesting for my dissertation, but also for you
  • Adam Elkus has some problems (to say the least) with US policy in ‘AfPak’
  • Bitterly funny.
  • Quite nice interview with someone who I assume is famous in the States on travel, food, and …war
  • I don’t know how the hell to summarise this piece without sounding mad. One of their pictures might help:

    taken from The Atlantic

  • Reassuring blog by Tom Chivers on the Ebola outbreak.
  • There was a lot of money sloshing around for contractors after the Afghan and Iraq war – this piece looks at someone who made a lot of money from them, perhaps not too ethically.
  • Charlie’s got more thoughts on development – interesting ones
  • Lovely piece from Roxane Gay
  • Dorian Lynskey has an excellent feature on the egregious example of cultural appropriation that is the ‘festival headdress’
  • Mythologised history is fun, but it’s nice to know the truth about les taxis de la Marne
  • Speaking of mythologised history, this (multi-part, not sure which link I’ve given you) “degenerates” into mid-century Swiss army fan-fiction (as if that’s a bad thing), but is interesting on the German plans for an invasion of Switzerland in WW2
  • Ally Fogg is not unhappy that men’s appearances are getting more scrutiny than in the past
  • This sounds appalling to me, because strangers, but quite an interesting concept – like blablacar but for food
  • This is nice, somewhat encouraging, stuff by Bim Adewunmi
  • The pieces from the New Yorker archive are starting to come through. This week, celebrity profiles! First up, this is cool on George Clooney
  • Didn’t mean for this to happen, honest, but GQ’s interview with Kanye West is great, and it was right next to this very interesting (quite old, pre-Red) profile of Taylor Swift** in my bookmarks. I’mma let you finish indeed.
  • Got endless time for writing about Confessions
  • This is inexplicably funny.

Weekly reminder that if you’d prefer, the Reading List is available in newsletter form here, and with that, I bid you bubye. Enjoy the weather or something. x

*currently writing something on Parliament’s report on the issue, so watch this space

**god this has been a week for “guilty” pleasures, hasn’t it? Muse and Taylor Swift (who even my teenaged sister (ie, Swift’s target audience) rolls her eyes at me for liking).