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

7th of December: First Week of Wham!

This cold is made only marginally more acceptable by Christmas playlists being allowed now. Just. Which I guess is my festive thought of the week for you. And, keeping to the theme, how about a few weeks of Christmas songs of the week? I’ll attempt to not just alternate Mariah Carey and Wham for a month (no promises).

I was very annoyed not to find this album annoying, what with the ukuleles and general Zooey Deschanellery, but there you go. Deschanel’s duo, She and Him, released Christmas music. It’s quite peaceful and pretty.

  • So this (FR) article on ISIS recruits wanting to come home is a bit darkly funny, but also interesting on the challenges of managing returning jihadis. Meanwhile, a look at whether the group has peaked
  • Analysis of China’s highly advanced radars and what they mean for US military strategy
  • Following the shambles 2010 Review and ahead of the 2015 one, this article on why British Defence Reviews fail is good
  • Book launch interview* with Philippe Marlière (FR) that goes into the shortcomings of the Hollande presidency. Bonus – watch his facial expression when the woman asks what he would do were he President.
  • Why £15billion in road investment is a bad use of money
  • Scary article on Golden Dawn, and a possibly even scarier article on how Britain sided with Nazi collaborators against the communist partisans after the liberation of Greece**. Also, a big connection between the two articles, so thanks Empire.
  • On gentrification and street art in Peckham
  • Sad feature on a murder in Missouri situated at the overlap of various oppressive dynamics
  • Rather wonderful piece on restaurant kitchens (Lucas, this is for you) and a quite nice essay on working in a fast-food place during college
  • Clive Martin is good on this generation’s struggle to grow up
  • IDK if you want to build a desk, I don’t, but this guide was still very funnily written
  • Great article on the problems with MarsOne, the organisation looking for volunteers to send up to Mars, and an interesting summary of the debate over manned v unmanned spaceflight
  • So this article on using Skyrim in a university course is interesting, but I do feel like it gives the game a bit too much credit – the plot they’re analysing is paper-thin
  • Beautiful, painful writing on family and videogames
  • Finally, I just realised this is actually Christmassy so fits, but even for those who don’t watch Mad Men (maybe), I feel like the scene where Don and Joan go drinking is just such a pure aesthetic joy that you’ll get something out of it. IDK, it’s my blog and I want it here.

Have a lovely week, everyone x

* Meant to link to this weeks ago, but IDK what happened, think the bookmark got eaten.

**  You sort of think you have a handle on the cynicism of imperial states and then you read something like this and wow.

26th of October: Cleanout

Bit of a long one (finally cleared out my Pocket queue), and I’m not really in the mood, so I’ma get straight into it.

Song of the week is from the album Eric Clapton and B.B. King did – listened to it quite a bit this weekend and quite enjoyed wondering whether B.B. found Clapton’s constant guitar-wankery tiresome.

  • A lot on IS(IS/IL). Some bold proposals for countering them. An indictment of the “official” Syrian opposition. A reminder of ISIS’ precarious financial situation. A look at the symbolic meaning of the battle for Kobane. Surreal feature on the Americans in Irbil. Quite funny puncturing of IS’s mythology.
  • Similar to the post I wrote a while back about the UK’s report about Russia as a threat, the US have done one on China.
  • Interesting look at the last “fighting season” in Afghanistan before ISAF leaves.
  • I’m sharing this with a massive caveat. It’s a piece on strategy and tactics and military technology used in Israel’s latest assault on Gaza. It fails to even mention the fact that these highly-advanced techniques, fascinating as they are, were used on civilian populations etc. until, in passing, the end, which strikes me as problematic.
  • Wry look at the constructivism of Kissinger’s latest book.
  • Krugman comes out in defence of Obama – don’t agree with all of it but think he’s generally on point
  • Rebuttal of the “Russia was humiliated in the 1990s” argument
  • A favourable review of Owen Jones’ (rubbish-sounding) book – and a complete dismantling of his lazy use of numbers. Fair and balanced, me.
  • This is a bit heart-breaking, on the sort of necessities headteachers are having to fund for their pupils out of school budgets.
  • Aaron Bastani has a good critique of the TUC and their march the other week.
  • Excellent dismantling of the Conservatives’ economic narrative
  • Africa isn’t a country – Sudan is really far from Ebola
  • Paul Farmer writes on Ebola
  • This is a good analysis of the reaction to Renée Zellwegger’s appearance at [show] this week, though I must confess I was shocked by it too – time and ageing are terrifying.
  • Good piece on Roxane Gay and the unconventional model of black femininity she represents
  • Excessive gendering of schoolkids seems daft
  • Important on how damaging the stiff upper lip is
  • I got irritated at the BBC not mentioning any of the evil dictatoring Duvalier did when he died – this is good on the subject
  • Heartbreaking TNC interview with the mother of Jordan Davis
  • Daniel Drezner raises some interesting concerns about the future of the global economy
  • Are there any shades of grey to paedophilia?
  • Jay Ulfelder* reminds us that inertia is an under-studied factor in politics
  • Difficult-to-read interview with some of the girls who escaped the Boko Haram kidnappers. So much heartbreaking detail.
  • Speaking of hard-to-read, I did not expect this piece to be the punch in the gut it was, but it’s horrible. Still interesting on the cheap use of death as a plot device.
  • This piece pours cold water on Google’s self-driving cars, which is annoying because I’m hoping they’ll become a thing before I have to learn to drive myself around
  • Couple of good pieces on Gamergate (ugh) from Charlie Brooker and Gawker.
  • This is funny, on fictional characters who could have done with an abortion, though neglects to mention Kim from Scrubs, among others.
  • Spent about half an hour reading all of Hamilton Nolan’s fitness columns at Gawker. This one, on how to squat, is funny and also quite useful, but I could say the same about any – check out the archive.
  • Strange tale of an accidental nature reserve in Bucharest.
  • Clive Martin does one of his weird travel pieces in London (it’s in two parts)
  • Only a few days till 1989 drops – this profile/interview with Taylor Swift is quite lovely, if only for the detail that her motivation song is Kendrick’s Backseat Freestyle, the crudest song on that album.
  • Weirdly compelling on a man making a big bet on a game of Day-Z

*whose name I realised on my dissertation presentation this week I’ve been consistently spelling wrong, so sorry Jay!

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