15th of March: A Long-Expected Party

Got some announcements at the end of this one, so feel free to pop down there and check them out before kicking off the list.

Song of the week, by virtue of novelty and of having kicked off a dangerous nostalgic turn, is Muse’s new single, shit politics and all

As ever, this reading list is available as a newsletter or on my blog, you can go to either if you’d prefer.

First up, I wrote a thing! With words! And no links! I reviewed Eyal Weizman’s The Least of All Possible Evils.

  • Two encouraging reports on how ISIS is starting to lose.
  • IDK if I shared this before, but it’s interesting – two journalists report from regime-held Syria
  • Interesting essay on the significance and context behind ISIS smashing monuments up
  • Good report on the widening coalition fighting Boko Haram
  • The founder of CAGE, the now-controversial charity, writes a good defence piece
  • Also a good defence of the nuclear deal with Iran
  • This was worrying me about some of the arguments on climate change, and I still don’t know what the answer is, but Jonathan Freedland is good on the issues with climate activism being a left-only issue
  • On the lack of British stories about race and racism in film
  • Rembert Browne got to meet Barack Obama and wrote a great piece on it (also Obama did a ‘reads mean tweets about himself’ and it was pretty good)
  • Grim on the future of NASA
  • Thought this was lovely, on how different names ‘travel’ (this is that weekly piece I fail to sell but you should read regardless)
  • A history, and a plea to kill, the “nerdy white men’s internet”
  • Intriguing on how ‘build more houses’ has backfired somewhat in France
  • Mostly NSFW, text and (to an extent) images, but these vignettes of sex in the digital age are great oh god it sounds like I’ve just linked to porn. I promise it isn’t.
  • Love these recipes where it’s basically Proust and then you get cool food at the end
  • Fascinating on how game developers balance making adversaries interesting without making them too human to comfortably shoot in the face

About a quarter this week, again.

So almost a year ago to the day, I launched a bold new format for this reading list, taking it to a bullet-pointy, punchy place that has done us very well since then. Since I missed the actual anniversary of the blog, I’m going to treat the subsequent date as the significant one. So what better time to rehaul the thing again than this weekend?

It’s been a year, so about 50-odd lists, possibly upwards of a thousand links, and it has been very fun sharing all these with you. Which is why I’m knocking it on the head (sort of). The reading list was originally to be a crutch to force me to write more, and that didn’t really play out. It’s probably a bit more time commitment than I can really be bothered maintaining in the long run – I miss Sunday mornings. I started thinking about the future of the blog a few weeks back and realised the anniversary was as good a time as any.

But never fear! I still really like compiling stuff and choosing what to share, so I’m just going to do that more. From here on out, these lists are going to come out/up on a monthly basis. This means they’re likely to have more links, but at the same time, I’ll be far more selective with the passage of time – news articles and comment pieces from last week’s debates probably won’t make the cut. I’m also hoping to make it more interesting as a thing to read than just bullet-points. There might be more discussion of the articles, more gifs, more music videos. I might play with fonts*

And there’s every chance this is just the preliminary excuse to the lists fading away. Which would be a shame. But I’ve loved the past year and I really appreciate you all keeping up with it, and I hope you’ll tag along for whatever the next year brings here at fillingthelonghours dot com. I’m going now. I bid you all a very fond farewell. Goodbye.

*I definitely won’t

The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza by Eyal Weizman

I picked up a few books in the Verso Christmas sale last week for a couple of quid. This is one of them, and it’s also my first almost original piece of writing in months. Got a couple more book reviews drifting about my drafts folder, will try and write them up soon. Exciting stuff all round.

When I found out, at the end of Eyal Weizman’s The Least of All Possible Evils, that it had been to some extent based off of an art exhibition, it explained a lot of what is good about the book, and most of what is weak. Its central thesis is slightly weak but the illustrations used to show this are really interesting, if hit-and-miss.

Weizman’s argument is essentially that the means to constrain and minimise civilian suffering have become methods of managing it and in a sense, legitimised this minimal level. There is no longer contestation of whether to commit evil, but over what is the ‘acceptable’ level of suffering. To a large extent it’s just a longer discussion of the (he never said it according to Google) Chomsky quote* on the lesser of two evils still being evil.

The book is organised in sections, with each one taking quite a different illustration of the argument. Weizman looks at the evolution of Médecins Sans Frontières and the humanitarian relief industry, at how the border wall encircling Palestine is contested and decided, and at how the US and Israeli militaries calculate and model collateral damage. He just about does enough to tie these ideas together and with the central thesis, but they also share the flaw of failing to provide any sort of alternative (with one exception).

The discussion of collateral damage was the one that struck me the most. There is undeniably something troubling about Human Rights Watch employing the man who used to model how buildings collapse under U.S bombing in order to assess if they would cause “excessive” civilian casualties, and the clinical nature of this sort of thing is certainly unsettling:

“The magic number in designing the attacks in Iraq, Garlasco recalled, was thirty. ‘If the computer came up with thirty anticipated civilians killed, the air-strike had to go to Rumsfeld or Bush personally to sign off. Anything less than thirty could simply go ahead.’ In this system of calculation, twenty-nine deaths designates a threshold.”

The problem is that I don’t see there being a plausible alternative. This week was the anniversary of the firebombing of Tokyo, where the mass death of civilians seemed to be if not the aim, at least a vindictive bonus. That we’ve gone from that to the US military incorporating international human rights law into its operating procedures strikes me as A Good Thing. Whether this is done out of sincere humanitarian concern or simply desire to avoid repercussions is immaterial. I don’t think Weizman is necessarily denying this. However, in common with a fair amount of leftist critique, it points out the obvious badness of civilian casualties and then wanders off, basically. Implicit in the argument that humanitarian law has legitimised civilian casualties is presumably that without it, there would be less of them. Or that they would occur but be more contested, because humanitarian law would no longer provide a figleaf. This is hard to buy – at the end of the day, hegemonic states are going to apply force where they see the need to, and humanitarian law is just trying to minimise that a little. It isn’t clear what the proposed alternative to this lesser evil is and the book generally suffers from it.

The exception I mentioned earlier is the section on refugee camps. Weizman builds a powerful critique of the apolitical, depoliticized space created, with generally noble intentions, in refugee camps in order to control and manage suffering, concluding:

“Only when humanitarianism seeks to offer temporary assistance rather than to govern or develop can the politics of humanitarianism really create a space for the politics of refugees themselves.”

Which is both beautiful, and part of a much more sustained and coherent critique than lots of the book.

Overall though, it’s worthwhile. I don’t think it lives up to the claims it makes for itself, and the central argument is a bit “sure, and?” but the examples are interestingly chosen and unconventionally approached. It drifts towards the critical-studies-over-academic without ever collapsing into it, and I enjoyed reading it.

Also I just noticed/remembered that there’s Candide references in it which are an immediate win in my book.

*Just yesterday I was talking to my flatmate about how much I hate Serious Writers who do the “As X once said…” high-school-level quotations to alleviate the tedium of their op-eds, but there you go. We all become what we once hated.

8th of March: Here Comes the Sun?

It’s sunny out and I’ve got builders in, so I’m resenting this more than usual. Let’s get to it.

Speaking of resentment and sunshine, this week felt a bit Madrid, so let’s have a bit of classic “What-Was-Gabriel-Listening-To-When-He-Was-Miserable-A-Year-Ago”. I think this is my favourite off of AM and possibly of all of them? Shit title though.

As ever, this reading list is available as a blog or as a weekly newsletter – if you’d rather receive it in the other format, click the links.

  • A U.S. general made comments on British defence spending, so there’s been a fair amount written on it.*  One from the BBC, and one on the absence of any sort of political debate on defence spending from the excellent Shashank Joshi. Just noticed these are both basically from RUSI.
  • I reckon this piece is #important. On ‘moral injury’ and how soldiers suffer after war without having PTSD. It strays into a bit of “isn’t it sad you killed all those people” on occasions, but worthwhile
  • Troubling on the Shi’ite militias sort of dominating the on-the-ground effort against ISIS
  • Great reporting from the Sinai on the anti-terrorist operation
  • Couple more good pieces on the Nemtsov assassination, here and here 
  • Spent the last couple weeks thinking about this nonsense, so glad to see Jay Ulfelder weigh in on radicalization and political violence debates
  • Really nice piece on Malcolm X, music, and, again radicalization
  • Very good on what the coming SNP surge means for the UK**
  • Lovely tribute to David Carr from Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Oh god this section is so grim I don’t even want to inflict it on my mostly-student-readership. How modern universities are serious, grim, studious places (bleak as fuck), on how they’re becoming corporate nightmares (bleak), and why Labour’s tuition fee cut isn’t a great use of money (sigh)
  • This is nice on Obama’s speech yesterday – might have to actually watch the thing now
  • Kendrick Lamar’s The Blacker The Berry is a really good song but I’m not convinced it’s for me. This piece by Rembert Browne (whose music writing I’m increasingly impressed by) argues that case
  • As a probable inheritor of Mallows-pattern-baldness this piece on going bald young was a bit scary
  • The Standard is a terrible paper even for what you pay for it, but this piece on how different exile governments and resistances set up shop in London during WW2 is pretty alright
  • Fella off Twitter (@DuncanVB) is writing about a song that matters to him every day and it’s pretty great, you should keep up with it
  • This writer gave her Mum her Tinder account for a week. What happened next will amuse you. #Buzzfeedclickbait
  • I’m not sure specifically why I get such a thrill out of reading savage reviews of House of Cards but there it is***. This one is great.
  • Proposal for a better Apple Watch, that actually makes it sound like a future thing I want and not a complete waste of existence and microchips
  • This is really nice on Guitar Hero, etc.
  • Interesting on the reaction to the grime artists Kanye brought on with him at the Brits and how the artists saw it
  • This is v. funny on Taylor’s concept of money, or lack thereof.

There we go. Have a lovely week x

20-80 gender split this week, which I’m going to blame on the baldness bit

*After the NATO Council days, I had hoped to make this my Thing What I Wrote About Lots, but there you go.

**definitely should have gotten shot of Scotland regardless of the referendum result

***because it’s b.a.d. is the actual reason

March 1st: Late Lunch

Long one this week, and I’m starting late, so let’s get right to it.

As ever, this reading list is available in two formats – blog or newsletter. If you’d prefer it in the other one, click on the appropriate link.

Went back and forth on the song for a while, but I think, especially as there’s a great article on it later, it’s going to have to be Know Yourself off Drake’s new album, which I’ve listened to about five times and am still sort of shrugging at. This song gets v. good though.

 

  • Lot of grim Syria pieces to kick us off this week. A report from Raqqa, capital of the Islamic State. A very good summary of how bleak the country’s future is – I’m going to pull out the very effective structuring device into the footnotes* – you should read it though. On the bright side, this profile of volunteer rescuers in Syria, and the people who are already planning the reconstruction of Aleppo.
  • The bar for a nuclear deal with Iran is being lowered. This article is good on some of the political-sciencey bargaining lessons, and this one makes the good point that the many, many critics of the negotiations don’t really have a plausible alternative.
  • Very good essay on the historical illiteracy of calls for a Muslim Enlightenment. Some properly lovely history in here.
  • This is going back to that “What ISIS really wants” piece from last week, but I thought it was a very good look at how the debate unfolded.
  • A detailed look at how many fighters ISIS has, and a critical look at its infamous social-media power.
  • Surreal report on Turkey’s incursion into Syria this week.
  • Some properly nasty reactions to the girls (literal children) who are thought to have travelled to Syria – there are very good critiques here, and here.
  • Jihadi John got “unmasked” this week. The debate on what pushed him to Syria unfolded predictably, but these are good – criticism of security services’ conduct here, but a strong critique of CAGE’s report** by Shashank Joshi, who I basically trust.  Meanwhile, the War Nerd, who I’m a bit wary of these days, has a decent piece on it. IDK it’s complicated innit.
  • This is utterly bizarre – the FBI and the Pentagon’s plan to defend Alaska in the event of a Soviet invasion.
  • Speaking of Russian invasions (heyo) – this is good on what happens if/when the Ukraine cease-fire collapses. And this makes a really interesting point – even if Putin weren’t an absolute knob, the last ten-fifteen years probably wouldn’t have looked enormously different. Troubling look at the militias fighting for Kiev, but not necessarily under their control. And this, on how justified Kremlinphobia merges into basically racism and is then appropriated by the Kremlin to defend itself, is very insightful.
  • This is funny and a bit depressing. Someone on Twitter looked through minor celebrities’ responses to the London riots – Michael Owen’s is bizarre and grim.
  • This happens a lot – senior American officials, who happen to be women, say the same things their male colleagues say, and get gendered ridicule for it.
  • Meanwhile, in response to Joe Biden (there’s an incredibly creepy photoset of him in that link), this is a troubling*** article on overly touchy blokes
  • Great essay on Islam and practicing faith independently and belief and I’ve been trying to write this one for two minutes so just go read it
  • Some interesting theorizing of what social media platforms permit and discourage
  • Really, really nice essay/short story/thing that you should read, on love? Again, trying and failing to describe it, go read it anyway.
  • Very good by Zoe Williams on how cruel policies that target the obese poor miss the point
  • This is cool in a nerdy way – why the medieval knight on horseback wasn’t the dominant force he was thought to be
  • Interesting on attempts to move beyond Fairtrade as a model****
  • Desperate last-ditch solutions for climate change would have grim side-effects but IDK this piece gives a bit too much weight to “it’d be sad if we couldn’t see the stars” which yes, but so would all of us burning and dying so idk.
  • Really good article on sex workers’ rights in Brazil
  • I read this short story on the bus and I almost had to just sit in the street and finish it and process it because I was shaken for about five minutes. Takes a sharp left turn and it’s just very good.
  • Joel Golby is very good on what happens after you graduate – I’m about four months away from what sounds bleak.
  • Funny in defence of holidays in term-time
  • This is one of those really good no-bullshit articles on fitness, with a focus on how misleading solutions are marketed to women.
  • Really cool look at how what is, in theory, a public walk along the Thames, is enclosed and fenced off and denied to the public
  • Critique of Mars One
  • Two really good pieces on the Two and a Half Men finale which sounds absolutely weird, and a great article on actually good TV, but why there’s never been another Friends
  • Funny on the crap advice future parents get
  • Here’s what I promised – really good review of Drake’s new album by Rembert Browne, along with the undisputed best thing to come out of said album in the form of this Vine.
  • Noel Gallagher took on Beyoncé, which, lol. Pete Paphides sorts him out.
  • Really interesting on how class still affects dating, and a great case for Tinder as a tool for later-in-life dating
  • Beautiful essay from an author who has learned he has terminal cancer
  • Very interesting on how Kendrick Lamar’s faith comes across in his music
  • This is quite nice on ‘drinking books’
  • This is funny.
  • And, because two days in, I’m already deeply sick of people talking about House of Cards, this review of the second season confirmed that I was right to give up on it.

Christ that was a long one. Plenty to be getting on with, off you go. x

Apparently, the solution to my gender problem was just adding vast amounts of articles to the mix – up to 36% this week. 

*“No political solution to the conflict in sight, and the suffering inside Syria is getting worse No place to escape as borders to neighbouring countries close and animosity is rising toward refugees in host communities. Hostility is also growing in Europe and rescue at sea is being phased out. Funding for humanitarian organizations is flagging and more than 50% of Syrian refugee children are out of school. There are rising numbers of struggling refugee women and a generation of stateless children is being created.”

**which I haven’t read, it’s knocking about in my queue somewhere

***mostly because I think I’ve been all of the types here at one point or another

****though it does give a bit too much of a platform to irritating hipster coffee shop owners