25th of October: Fundraising Twice

After last week’s bruising experience with bad books, I was quite relieved to get back to articles, if I’m honest with you. In fact, yesterday, I went to the library on a one-way mission* – the only thing I have to read now is my Pocket queue, which to be fair, is getting out of hand. So I suspect the 8th of November’s list will be obscene. Plenty to be getting on with this week already, though.

*and I got fined for returning those awful books late. Imagine paying 1.92 for the privilege of an extra week with Tory books and mediocre Batman comics

Half-tempted to put Hotline Bling as the song of the week as part of my ongoing “only interested in Drake when everyone is talking about him” campaign. But by that logic I’d have to make this the new Adele song, and ew. So, because I’m obnoxious and beyond shame, I’m going with a song off Carly Rae Jepsen’s last album. The whole thing is kind of samey infectious big-chorus pop so I actually struggled to choose one. This one has two separate catchy melodies though, and claims to feature Sia – have it.

As ever, this list is available as a fortnightly newsletter or on my blog. Follow the respective links if you’d like to switch, and please tell your friends and family and pets, etc.

  • First up, I meant to share this before (and did, in the newsletter) but forgot to add the link. A good friend of mine is involved in a Parisian charity providing support to refugees there and they’re running a fundraising campaign to support their excellent work – check it out if you’ve got a few quid spare.
  • A general, and kind of depressingly realistic, appraisal from Jay Ulfelder of the situation in Syria.
  • As it’s unfolded, and the debate around it has widened, I’ve sort of noticed that reactions to Russia’s intervention in Syria tend to mirror the commentator’s opinions of what the United States is doing or should do*. Nevertheless, these two analyses are decent – both reasonably fair-minded (if from a US perspective) – one suggesting the next steps it could open up, and one looking at how the rebels are likely to respond (badly)
  • Strong critique of proxy warfare as a default US policy response
  • Balanced (but basically critical) look at the US drone program in Yemen
  • There was a flare-up in the ‘alternative’ take on the Bin Laden raid this week – this was my favourite rebuttal
  • Jason Rezaian’s conviction as a grim reminder that Iran won’t change overnight
  • Tough article on Brazil’s horrible prisons
  • I’ve shared plenty of Novara content in the past on here – they’re doing a fundraiser too, and this interview around the project, and the British media more broadly, with co-founder James Butler is interesting
  • I thought the UCL Rent Strike would go nowhere, so fair play to the lads – Novara take a look at what happens next
  • Bleak look at the instabilities and tensions that are boiling up to the next global recession
  • This is kind of terrifying, and not for the claustrophobic, but it’s a fantastic explanation of the science of crowds and crowd disasters
  • What it’s like being part of a company that’s going down in scandal
  • Dawn Foster takes a broader look at the response to Gary Neville doing a decent thing for squatters
  • Quite powerful, personal account of the difference 365 days can make
  • I’ve always been hesitant about this sort of argument, but I think Abi makes her critique of the exclusively middle-class concerns of the new Women’s Equality Party really well.
  • Bit NSFW, this, but from New York Magazine’s excellent sex column, is a good argument that while consent, the focus of many recent campaigns, is essential, it’s not enough
  • I think both of these (Guardian, Buzzfeed) kind of go a bit easy on Neil Strauss, king pick-up artist, but they do focus more on his life post-Game, and it’s fairly interesting.
  • A lovely piece of writing about cooking Grandmother’s Jamaican recipes…
  • …and a funny piece of writing about making the Cereal Café’s god-awful ones
  • imo since The Rock himself shared this brilliant tribute to himself, it’s legit for me to break my no-Golby policy for a bit
  • Very, very here for in-depth looks at old Kanye albums. Only wish this look at how 808s and Heartbreak influenced hip-hop had been longer
  • So this piece on calorie-counting is good, and has helpful advice to do it healthily and without it becoming a source of anxiety etc., but I do kind of wonder why they went with an all-female group of writers and subjects – struck me as #problematic
  • Blog Tarkin is a delight – here comparing the apparent reduction of the Rebel Alliance’s starfighter flight to a single X-wing variant to the consolidation in the US Navy’s air wing
  • Really intrigued by the sound of this game but don’t know anyone to play it with. Hit me up
  • Being a Kotaku piece, sort of tends towards the shallow, but still a good retrospective of the ‘No Russian’ level from Call of Duty

And there we have it – bare words for you. Have fun and have a lovely week! X


*IMO: likely to just prolong the war and create more violence (as all third-party interventions in civil wars do). Doesn’t appear to be harming ISIS much. If it reinforces the regime to the point where Russia and Iran are comfortable dropping Assad, could actually lead to some sort of settlement? IDK. From a U.S. perspective, both very difficult to complain without hypocrisy, but a) rules out decisive action against Assad, which is probably a relief and b) might just bog down Russia in a slippery slope war, which is no bad thing for the States.

18th of October: Bad and/or Tory Books

It’s no wonder I’m not reading as many books when they’re all like this. Let’s get right to it.

Wings – The RAF at War, 1912-2012

I feel like a bit of an idiot. I once saw Dead Aid had a cover quote by Niall Ferguson and kept reading, and not having learnt my lesson, I just finished reading a book with an endorsement from James Delingpole.

Wings, by Patrick Bishop, is bad on a number of levels. It’s structurally flawed, purporting to be a history of the RAF from 1912 to 2012 but essentially just recounting its experiences in the World Wars and then dispensing with sixty years in about as many pages. As history, it is consequently pretty shallow, never really affording anything the time and consideration it deserves. As a consequence of that, it becomes morally really rather flat and stupid.

In particular, I think any work that touches on the role of the RAF during the Second World War can’t avoid addressing the morality of strategic bombing. Bomber Command was such a significant part of what the air war involved that it can’t be ignored. However, I think I would have rather Bishop hadn’t bothered. His assessment of the morality of strategic bombing and of those who criticised it is breathtakingly patronising and weak, and worth quoting in full just to marvel at it.

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“proof of the brutalizing consequences” indeed.

This is resolutely not the book to read if you want to be challenged on your feelings on Dresden, etc. – A.C. Grayling and Max Hastings (also Tory) have both published better work on it, with divergent perspectives.

This doesn’t fit into my unfolding critique device here, but it’s also a pretty Tory book. Military history is obviously pretty Tory, and you have to sort of take it as it is, but even within those limits, there has to be some sort of limit to the amount of times you can unironically refer to “the natives” in a serious work of history? And when your prose sounds like it could have been lifted from a Times editorial lionising the RAF on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain or something, take a look in the mirror, tbh.

Even when the prose isn’t politically nauseating, it’s pretty bad. At one point, he refers to a contemporary account as being written in purple prose and you have to sort of put the book down and go for a walk and just consider the cheek of it.

It takes a lot to stop me enjoying stories about bombs and soldiers and that. But this is A Bad Book. Shallow, badly written, morally suspect, and worst of all: Tory.

Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghan Campaign – Sherard Cowper-Cowles

Not been a great week for books, tbh. This one isn’t brilliant, either.

Essentially the memoirs of the former UK Ambassador to Afghanistan / Special Representative for Af-Pak, it’s sort of limited in a few ways.

Firstly, it’s not brilliantly written. Either I got used to it or he dialled it down, but the early chapters are burdened with try-hard description, suggesting Cowles was very keen to be Writerly and Literary, and ended up just a bit lame.

As history, I think it’s probably limited by the author’s proximity in time to events (it was written about a year after he left Afghanistan) and also his direct role in them – there’s a frequent sense of him trying to hedge his bets whenever he wants to criticise something or answer for failings of UK policy which is a bit unsatisfying. It’s a very name-droppy book, which is to be expected, as he was in frequent personal contact with Presidents and ministers but there’s no real bite to it. I kind of wanted him to, at least once, go “Yeah the US Ambassador in 2010 was a right bellend”, and he never did – which I guess is what makes him a diplomat.

It is in that last bit that I found the most value in the book, really. While its portrayal of the war and of the discussions etc. etc. might be a bit dishonest/very dishonest/idk, I think there is a fascinating insight into the struggles of this sort of high-stakes diplomacy and the day-to-day life in an embassy that I really enjoyed so now I just kind of need the Foreign Office to give us a ring, really. I’m waiting on the call.

11th of October: The News is Merging a Bit

Gonna get a lot harder to order these articles if stories keep mixing together – I’ve already had to condense the “Russia” and “Syria” bits of the list. Anyway. Lots of interesting stuff up ahead, and like two funny bits at the end to compensate.

Song of the week is off this bizarre series of tossy house compilation albums my Dad used to love. Swear he had three or four but this is the only good song. tbf it’s very good. Think it might be a Joan Baez cover.

As ever, alternative formats are available. Blog. Newsletter. Please tell your pals, I live for the clicks.

  • Been a while since I’ve shared one of these slightly superficial considerations of great power politics – on China, the USA, and the Thucydides Trap
  • Another thing I haven’t shared for at least eight minutes: a lengthy analysis of the motives and backgrounds of ISIS fighters. But it’s by Martin Chulov, who is good, so it’s OK.
  • This is an odd one. This analysis of what the Taliban’s seizure of Kunduz can tell us about their current condition (good, tbh) was published quite soon after the city fell, and obviously, before the Afghan National Army moved in, and the horrific events of the next two articles  occurred.
  • Because a few days later, the USAF bombed a MSF hospital. This probably reflects badly on me, but I’ve mostly just got articles from within the sort of military/security community on it. Both are interesting, and obviously highly critical of the attack. Feel like it’s more interesting than reading Glenn Greenwald’s ranting anyway. First, this from the NYT, outlines what the proper procedure for this sort of airstrike would be, and how high-level military officials think this wasn’t followed. Then this is more on the weapons involved and how they facilitated the lapse. Finally, despite what I said about Greenwald, this from the Intercept is very understated and good.
  • Under-reported as ever, the Yemeni civil war is carrying on in a miserably horrible way. Good analysis from Brian Whitaker of its future.
  • The main takeaway from this roundtable of Russia/Putin ‘experts’ on what he’s up to in Syria is that pundits don’t really know how to explain Putin, really. But there’s lots of interesting possibilities raised.
  • If you’ve got a couple of quid going spare, and are looking to help with the refugee crisis, this Paris-based organization is just getting off the ground, but is doing good work – friends of the reading list are involved, so you know, stamp of approval and all.
  • Pretty compelling critique of visions of colonizing Mars – the headline (“Who picks up the trash on Mars?” says it all)
  • Coincidental double-bill from the excellent Bridget Minamore. First, on how the allegations that a London club deliberately turned away black women fit into a lifetime of micro-aggressions, and a thoughtful, personal take on gentrification (honestly it’s actually good and not just ‘hipsters bad imo’ (which tbf they are))
  • Part of me wonders if sharing this will just be met with eye-rolls from all my female readers (so like, four people) because “duh we know” but anyway! Using hormonal birth control to minimise or suppress periods – it’s a thing, and I didn’t know!
  • Fascinating and bizarre, on a gigantic mid-century hydro-engineering plan that sort of borders on sci-fi terraforming
  • Really nice essay on digital books and the possibilities they should offer (but don’t)
  • I haven’t seen Titanic for years and don’t want to, but this Case Against Rose from Titanic is absolutely fantastic, and very funny
  • Loved Mallory Ortberg’s queer re-watching of Bend It Like Beckham (little alteration required)
  • EVE: Online – always looks extremely boring, but always extremely fascinating to read about – this one was about the in-game propagandists

And there we are for another fortnight. Enjoy, and do pass it on! x

4th of October: Off a Cliff-Edge

Knew this would happen. The first post came on the back of a full month where I travelled a lot and had loads of time to read, so made me look like some sort of book-devouring genius. I’ve had company for most of the fortnight and I’ve been getting really good* at Company of Heroes so I’ve read two books. S’OK though, because I’ve just started reading a book in Portuguese which will only take me about eight times longer than a normal book would.

Also one of the reviews is about as substantial as a school book report so there’s that to look forward to!

Never have new ideas, kids.

Anyway, book reviews.

*not really, I keep getting bantered off by fourteen-year olds and I hate it

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