Put BAE in the bin

1

A very interesting article showed up in The Telegraph last Monday. Headlined “Break up the RAF and stop buying British”, it seems like an article that the sub-editors have sexed up2 but it actually follows through. It’s worth reading, so I’ll give you a few seconds.

As I write this, I’ve started to see some flaws which I’m sure, if they’re reading, the more military-minded of my readers will be able to pick apart 3 4.

But basically, it’s good. I wrote about several of the issues he raises during my time with NATO Council – the F-35 here, the aircraft carrier here, the troop number cuts here, and the impact of all the cuts on the fight against ISIS here.

here’s a picture of some BAE products from the Daily Mail

What had somewhat eluded me was the overall impact of all this.

Perhaps because I’m so on the fence about all this I had only seen the opposing positions of the left (the UK military budget is too big and needs further cuts) and the right (the British military is too small and needs a bigger budget), missing the actual disconnect between budget and capability that renders both positions almost moot.  Solving the problems identified in this article would probably enough to satisfy both sides, which sort of points to how major the problems are.

The arguments in this piece undermine some of the key defences of government support for the arms industry. This is generally either legitimised through its provision of industrial jobs or, in the case of export support, through the fact that exporting weapons helps keep costs down for domestic procurement, giving the armed forces security of supply. As Page points out – BAE is cutting jobs all the time, and as the Campaign Against [the] Arms Trade shows every few years, for every British job created by the arms trade, the government gives thousands of pounds in subsidies. Meanwhile, even with this support and subsidy, military procurement is still obscenely expensive, and still isn’t independent. The complex web of beneficial side-effects used to justify government policy collapses entirely and an overhaul seems like a no-brainer.

It isn’t going to happen though.

There are fairly dispiriting but obvious reasons for this. They don’t even all require buckets of cynicism to accept.

For one thing, the arms industry is corrupt as hell, both overtly and also in terms of the general dodgy practices that keep big business big. They’d presumably fight quite hard to keep afloat.

For another, this is the sort of radical change that requires some concerted effort behind it to actually get anywhere. Insofar as corporate power is likely to be opposed, that leaves the people. In terms of being better protected, having our taxes better spent, less of our fellow citizens killed for lack of equipment, etc. etc., “we the people” would benefit from this sort of change. Unfortunately, it’s your classic collective action problem – the minority who stand to lose from this proposal would lose a lot, while the majority who would gain would only gain a little, and as I wrote in what feels like eight very boring essays this term, those are difficult to overcome 5.

The bright side, though.

When placed under scrutiny for its fuckery, the arms industry and its advocates point to hard-nosed self-interest. First time I’ve done this, but from my dissertation:

“On one occasion, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, when questioned about Britain selling arms to the “murderous dictator” Suharto (HC Deb 12 January 1993 vol. 216 c749), outright stated: “The point of selling Hawk aircraft to Indonesia is to give jobs to people in this country” (HC Deb 12 January 1993 vol. 216 c749). This quote highlights two things – first, that the primary motivation expressed by policy-makers for the Hawk sale to Indonesia was economic […] The second is that the economic argument was used as a direct response to criticism of the human rights implications of the sale.”

Researching this was an infuriating process because where the government could, they would outright deny, in the face of all evidence, that British weapons were used in human rights violations 6. Where this was impossible, they’d do it anyway, and obfuscate a bit (see also: the coalition waiting until Israel was basically done bombing Gaza to threaten sanctions if they carried on, and then ignoring the fact that they carried on). Finally, if their backs were up to the wall, they’d yell “jobs!” and hide.

This was particularly infuriating, because, again, the non-moral arguments are just as bad as the moral ones. In fact, I reckon you could make better economic and strategic cases against government support for arms exports than any of the moral arguments that get made on a regular basis7.

Bright side is coming, I promise.

First – the CAAT’s latest campaign, Arms to Renewables (explained in catchy infographic form here) places a stronger emphasis on a) the economic arguments and b) the positive alternatives to the arms industry – instead of swords to ploughshares it’s APCs to solar panels or whatever. Not only is this set of arguments much stronger on their own merits, it also connects the CAAT to zeitgeisty campaigns like fossil fuel divestment.

Second – that the article which kicked this all off was written by a veteran and published in the Telegraph offers the possibility that anti-arms industry campaigns don’t necessarily have to be of the left and run by students and Owen Jones. Obviously, the CAAT is honourably anti-war, while Page and the Telegraph seem mostly concerned that the current system places constraints on our ability to solve policy problems with precise application of high explosives. They are unlikely to become bosom buddies. As I said earlier, however, solving the problems Page identifies goes some way to resolving both left and right’s issues with defence spending. There seems to be potential for the sort of non-partisan campaign that could create a broad coalition and ultimately produce some sort of Review of policy which would implement superficial change while leaving the rotten edifice largely intact.

Didn’t say it was going to be a proper bright side, did I?

1 among all this company’s many crimes, it’s ever-changing acronym over the past twenty years has to be up there – throughout my dissertation it went backwards and forwards from BAe to BAE to British Aerospace Systems. Evil.

2 admittedly a very limited and tedious definition of “sex” here

3 Robert Farley, who is excellent and makes similar arguments across the Atlantic, centres his case in Grounded (which I haven’t read, so pinch of salt) around both the inter-service redundancies and tensions caused by the air-force (similar to Page, here) but also the inherent limitations of independently-operated airpower to win wars. Page lacks this second component, and based on the force makeup he argues for (the Navy as a helicopter launch platform, the Army centring on air support, etc.) he doesn’t seem to believe in it, which surely has some implications for the coherence of his position

4 for one thing, the French don’t buy American and they seem to do all right

5 This has actually become my favourite explanation for Why Things Are Bad.

6 still a bit annoyed I didn’t get to use this quote from Mark Phythian’s The Politics of British Arms Sales Since 1964  in the final draft but it is gold: “The possibility of their being used in East Timor prompted MPs Bob Parry and Bernard Braine, and Lord Avebury, to write to the FCO. The FCO reply to parry stated that the vehicles ‘can only operate on roads and in reasonably dry, open country. Their usefulness in the jungle and difficult terrain of East Timor would therefore appear to be limited.’ This was a dubious assertion, as it was far from obvious that the vehicles could operate only on roads, and seemed to assume, in any case, that there were no roads in East Timor.”

7 the latest one seems to be that we should cancel billion-pound contracts with Saudi Arabia because of their cruelty in the case of Raif Badawi. While this is undoubtedly Bad, it is very hard for me to understand how a momentary interruption in Riyadh’s supply of fighter jets (momentary because Dassault and Boeing would obviously be there in a heartbeat to replace BAE) would do anything to help Saudi victims of human rights abuse. There’s a stronger case, admittedly, regarding the war in Yemen, which arguably places sales to Saudi Arabia in contravention of UK rules regarding not selling weapons “which might be used for internal repression or external aggression”.

12th of October: Scheduling Conflict

Seriously considering shifting this post to another day at this point. I want to sleep but I feel a misplaced sense of loyalty to you all so here I am.

As ever, you can subscribe to get this sent to your inboxes instead of having to go ALL THE WAY to click on the link at this link.

Didn’t have a particular “song of the week” in mind and my usual “look at lastfm for the week” trick failed because I think the gym playlist has started feeding into it, so at the moment it’s just Chaka Khan, Nicki, and Taylor, which I mean, amazing, but nothing I haven’t shared. So, because I was listening to it on the nightbus just now and because there are a couple of great lyrics and no (AFAIK) overtly problematic ones, have a bit of Yeezy.

EDIT: JFC I sort of thought the last verse was from another song. Turns out the single worst lyric in a Kanye song (arguably) was in the song I called unproblematic. Good job me. Content warning for racism tbh.

This week’s article was the first of two parts of my (last!) piece for NATO Council of Canada, on the British contribution to the war on IS(IS). And now allons-y.

  • Again with the IS(IS). Good John Bew piece, including a critique of current British foreign policy. Two really interesting and absolutely-worth-reading close looks at IS(IS) (sick of writing that out) – one on the apocalyptic ideology they are increasingly expressing, and one on the brilliant Georgian general providing their most impressive tactical victories.

  • Solid argument for humanitarian engagement within a realist/self-interested politics.

  • Rather lovely, if terrifying piece on the movement from ENORMOUS TERRIFYING protests in Brazil in 2013 to a presidential run-off between the same two parties as ever in 2014 (pt.)

  • This, on the Ebola dog, starts out funny and then punches you in the gut so watch out

  • Roxane Gay, who is unambiguously having a moment, dissects that as an idea and is brilliant

  • This is a bit horrific. Response to a seemingly appalling troll-piece on sexual assault that 100% stands on its own merit.

  • Kind of annoyed that my erstwhile Madrid drinking partner is now writing things of this calibre, but this, on donating to charity in the face of corruption, is wonderful

  • Elon Musk, of privatising space travel-trips to Mars-excitement fame, did an interview, which is quite delightful to read. This article takes a look at the gene science of his statements.

  • Sick and tired of Owen Jones, his retweeting of praise, and his generic blandness. So seeing this 500-word dismissal of his book was A++ stuff, readers. Speaking of which, also sick of Greenwald + co so, similarly, this was fun.

  • See if you can detect the enormous, almost audible, sigh in this critique of the Sun’s awful “no more skinny” campaign

  • The other day I hit a brick wall on the dissertation so spent two or three hours reading Ask Polly columns – that one in particular is lovely. Time well spint – decided I might be happy someday.

  • As promised, some Bridget Jones thinking.

  • Hadly Freeman excellent as ever on the “wake up call” twitter thing

And that’s it! Have a lovely week everyone x

October 5th: Exit Polls

Longest ever break, that – we just skipped, I think, two weeks? I very nearly missed today, not through lack of internet so much as wanting to play more Far Cry 2. Couldn’t even write it at 4 in the morning like I used to as I was up at the crack of dawn to trek (quick and empty bus almost directly from home) to queue up (there was no queue) at the Brazilian embassy all day (I was out in 15 minutes). So that was exciting – certainly the most significant election I’ve ever voted in.

Anyway, I have now settled into the flat, but not into the rhythms of actually studying. My Pocket queue has gotten absurd, as whenever I do read it’s for tedious university stuff, so we’ll see how much there is to share every week, but for now, I’ll stay with the same system. Meanwhile, there’s a veritable glut of links to be getting on with this week, so I’ll get straight (says he, 165 words in) to it!

Weekly-ish reminder that if you’d rather receive this direct to your inbox instead of hassling ALL THE WAY to click the link yourselves, you can subscribe here

Song of the week is hardly a secret, but I’ve listened to it about seven times in the past 24 hours. We watched Bridget Jones again this week* and then it came on at a house party and jumped into my gym playlist – it’s Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman”.

 

First up, a couple of my NATO Council pieces dropped out of the system while I was away. This was supposed to come before the piece on India’s submarines (as evidenced by the transitional bits all over it), on Brazil’s own programme, while this, when I wrote it, was a reasonably topical look at France finally deciding to suspend the sale of the Mistral-class warships to Russia.

  • Naturally, it’s an ISIS-heavy list. The problem is, I’ve read so much on ISIS these past weeks that it’s all blurred into one. If it’s made it into the list, I think it’s good, and there are some that have stuck in my mind, like this overall look at Middle-East politics by Andrew Bacevich or this meditation on how hysteria has developed over ISIS, or this anatomy of mission creep. Otherwise, it’s just one, two, three, four, five pieces on ISIS that are all worth reading if you’re interested but broadly indistinct.
  • Lovely, bittersweet piece on how Odessa and its residents have been affected by the past year’s events in Ukraine
  • On a similar topic, I’ve not liked much leftist writing on Ukraine, as most of it seems about as sophisticated as the rant I got off the hippie who drove me to Madrid, but even though I don’t agree 100%, this is a really good critique of the West’s role in the crisis (without degenerating into The Nation-esque apologetics)
  • Also, good rebuttal of abusing recent events to fit them into a ‘clash of civilizations’ framework
  • A few good pieces on today’s presidential election in Brazil – one impressed by Marina Silva, one less so (Pt.), and a profile of Dilma Rousseff.
  • Sad profile of some of the campaigning mothers who have lost children to police violence in Brazil
  • In more positive news, this recognition of a quilombo community’s right to its land in Rio is a very interesting and encouraging sign – more context on the quilombos’ campaign here
  • Again, a bit late but this is quite good on what would have happened to the respective militaries had Scotland left the union – does nothing to dispel my belief that we could have reannexed them if necessary
  • Encouraging reminder that sometimes international climate efforts work – the ozone got better
  • Corrective to the idea of China as a “lonely diva”
  • A reflection on R2P
  • You can always count on Jay Ulfeldler for some well-sourced optimism – this on the “end” of the era of democratisation is good
  • Examination of what happened when Britain de facto secretly decriminalised cannabis (nothing good)
  • Mostly obvious stuff but some quite interesting bits and pieces from an informal experiment replicating Tinder
  • Powerful column on street harrassment**
  • 100% here for writers taking Kim Kardashian seriously
  • Two plane articles. One which will make you never want to fly EasyJet again because you know how the other half live. One, long, horrifying, dripping with tension, which will make you never want to fly again because you know that, basically, humans weren’t meant to fly.
  • Good response to a column on the “death of masculinity” in television (I didn’t read the original because I don’t like to waste free clicks on paywalled sites on hatereads, but this response stands alone).
  • Oliver Burkeman turns his guns on empathy
  • This is lovely on being a Sikh woman in business
  • As if #gamergate (ugh) wasn’t already enough of a nasty, sad, pathetic “movement”, it’s chief British supporters are the terrible Milo Yiannopoulos, and James bloody Delingpole, who is once again shown to be a troll by the devious trick of comparing his articles with each other. All it needs is for Toby Young to lend his support and it’d be a collection of the worst humans.
  • Finally, I loved this two-part examination of alliances in The Lord of the Rings films and its attempt to draw real-world lessons from the Battle of Helm’s Deep***.

 

 

 

  • * Which reminds me – I watched it with a friend who loathes the series, while I really like it, but I was wondering – are they explicitly, textually anti-feminist? Not the character of Bridget herself, which is where most criticism pointlessly goes, but the intention – I mostly noticed the negative portrayal of the ambitious lawyer lady, as well as the straw-feminist that is her sweary mate. IDK. Still love the films.**though it is a baffling haircut

    ***One minor quibble though – I’m pretty sure the elven reinforcements in The Two Towers come from Lothlorien not Rivendell, which mildly undercuts her point about overcoming isolationism. *adjusts spectacles*

7th of September: Human Sadness

We now enter into this blog’s seventh month (I think). So that’s cool.  Seven months in, I still occasionally forget what day it is and leave writing/compiling links to the last minute, which is telling. As ever, I’m about to send out the newsletter version of this, so you can subscribe over here.

Song of the week has to be Julian Casablancas’ mad new single. (called Human Sadness, hence the title)

NATO Council article of the week is on India’s nuclear submarine programme – as you can tell by the “previously”, there should be another one before it but IDK.

I also wrote a quick post on the announcement that the UK will operate its second carrier after all, which was based on faulty assumptions, but still got a lot of traffic. Embarrassing.

  • Stephen Saideman has had a number of good posts on NATO and Russia this week, with a number of little correctives and explanations – I’ve linked one on burden sharing, but it’s worth going back a few days.
  • Normally, “X must lead” is irritating do-somethingism, but I like this from the RUSI.
  • Speaking of irritating do-somethingism, great defense of Obama’s caution and a good critique of current rhetoric around Ukraine
  • Solid proposal for reinvigorating European defence
  • Interesting counter to the narrative of an “isolated” China.
  • Report from a journalist embedded in the Donetsk People’s Republic
  • Jihadism expert J.M Berger examines what their different approaches to hostages may mean about the future of IS and Jabhat al Nusra
  • Rather terrifying account of the Filipino peacekeepers’ escape from the Golan Heights
  • Defence of the lack of an ICC investigation in Gaza by its chief prosecutor
  • Again, Boris is a cretin.
  • Great attack on motorists’ dominance in Britain – published in the Telegraph, too!
  • Interview with Gordon Brown
  • Professor Marlière explains recent events in French politics
  • Meanwhile, France finally suspended the Mistral sale. This examines some implications (Fr.)
  • Quite scary account of an operation under the Brazilian dictatorship in 1970
  • Depressing New Yorker feature on gun culture in the States
  • Fascinating story on Google’s drone delivery programme
  • Number of excellent pieces on the stolen celebrity nudes. One here. These two, read in tandem, because I liked the BuzzFeed one but this is critical of it and I don’t know what to think.
  • Brilliant defence of bad British food, and a great article on Jamie Oliver
  • Rather great short story
  • Moving article on how we fail to deal with terminal illness
  • Lovely piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates about learning French as an adult
  • The Debrief have become one of my favourite sites in recent weeks – then they got an interview with Jon Hamm and now I’m dying of envy
  • Oliver Burkeman reviews some self-help books
  • Rediscovered this great career advice article from George Monbiot this week
  • Lovely feature on hangovers across time and cultures
  • Finally, very cool remix of the Game of Thrones theme

And that’s it. Have a good week x

HMS Prince of Wales: Refloated?

Not the HMS Prince of Wales. Artist’s impression of the HMS Queen Elizabeth via militaryphotos.net

 

Today, in the closing statement of the NATO Summit in Newport, Wales, British Prime Minister David Cameron, among other things, announced that the Queen-Elizabeth class aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, would not be mothballed after all, as had been suggested in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Under severe budgetary pressure, the incoming Conservative-led coalition* sought to scrap the second aircraft carrier entirely, but it was discovered that the contract they had inherited from their predecessors included clauses that made it more expensive to cancel it than to let it be built.

I wrote about the long and winding road to the ocean its sister ship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth has travelled, in one of my first pieces for NATO Council of Canada – you can find that here. A lot of the criticisms levelled at that process apply to the Prince of Wales, though I’m gutted I didn’t make any bold predictions as to its future back in July.

Now, the HMS Prince of Wales will enter service with the Royal Navy when it is complete, giving Britain continuous carrier strike capability**.

The statement was limited in details, so several questions remain – I’ll try and update this post when the government release more information.

UPDATE: Update the post I have, but it’s not for government information so much as Twitter information. A very informative conversation over there cleared up some doubts and confusions I had. I’ve flagged updated bits.

  1. Will the HMS Prince of Wales, as planned, be built with catapults and arrestors (CATOBAR***)? This sounds trivial, but it’s probably the most important question. The CATOBAR system, used on US and French aircraft carriers, would allow the Royal Navy to launch a variety of jets from its decks, including the F-35C. There had been plans to adapt the Queen Elizabeth to a CATOBAR system, but as costs mounted, these were cancelled (I explain it in slightly more depth in the above article). This leaves the carrier unable to fly anything other than Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) jets, which, for the foreseeable future, means the Lockheed Martin F-35B. If the Prince of Wales, as expected, goes with a CATOBAR system, not only would the Royal Navy have more strategic options, but the Ministry of Defence would have more procurement choices – there are a lot more options for fighter jets that can be launched by catapult than there are STOVL ones. EDIT: I may have gotten lost in the twists and (u-)turns of the carrier saga here. I had assumed HMS Prince of Wales was being designed from the ground-up with catapults and arrestors – turns out it’s subject to the same costly modifications that did for the Queen Elizabeth. So it looks pretty likely that it’ll be the exact same model as its sister ship.
  2. Following on from the previous question, and largely contingent on it – what will it fly? Will the government need to order more Joint Strike Fighters, or will it just spread the existing purchase across the two carriers (I suspect the latter, but you never know). EDIT: To be clear, there’s also, I think, a question of what to fly – if they have different launching systems, will they fly different planes? As was pointed out to me in that Twitter conversation, since the carriers are meant to be interchangeable (to ensure continuous availability), it would make most sense for them to have the same air wing, etc.
  3. Where will the money come from? The HMS Prince of Wales was to be mothballed to cut costs. While the government has promised that they have finished their defence cuts, and budgets are set to rise in the next few years, this is certainly a turnaround, and may require extra spending or cuts elsewhere in the armed forces.

This was a surprising announcement, but, generally, a positive one. There doesn’t seem to be much clearer a statement of British commitment to its own defence than ensuring the Royal Navy has the means to project power across the globe, all year round.

PS: In the ongoing tale of my descent into weird military fetishism this past year or so, getting excited over the announcement of a really expensive piece of military hardware may mark a nadir.

PPS: I mean technically I don’t even think the HMS Prince of Wales has been put together or even built, let alone ever floated but this was a far more exciting title than just “removed from hypothetical mothballing”

*these days, I keep forgetting the Lib Dems are even a thing

**with only one carrier, the need for maintenance, training, etc. would mean there would be stretches of time where the carrier was unavailable.

***the most conversational military acronym I think I’ve heard

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

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.

27th of July: Straight outta Skipton

I’m writing to you from a tiny village in Yorkshire (a proper one shop, two pubs place), showing you just how committed I am – from Spain to the provinces, I never fail to bring you the best reading the internet had to offer this week.

This week’s song is Kendrick Lamar’s “Real”. It’s a great song in itself, but comes at the end of an incredible run of songs in the middle of Good Kid M.A.A.D City, an album which took me five or six listens to actually appreciate once I had gotten over the hype, and now I listen to the songs from “m.A.A.d City” to “Real” all the time, so listen to this one, then those four, then the album.

Before I get into it, an announcement. Inspired by Kelsey Atherton (excellent for tech and especially drones), and Jamelle Bouie (lovely photos, recipes and brilliant writing on race), I’m starting a newsletter version of this series. Basically, if you’d rather receive the Reading List to your inbox every Sunday instead of seeking it out here, just click on the following link to subscribe!

  • First up, this week’s NATO Council piece was on the new British aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Unsurprisingly, the project has been a joke.
  • Speaking of absurd ship-building projects, here are three articles on France’s sale of Mistral-class amphibious ships to everyone’s favourite autocrat. One demanding they cancel the sale, one explaining why it’s not that easy, and one offering an alternative.
  • And while we’re talking about EU sanctions, this explainer from Vox on why the EU reaction to Putin has been so seemingly toothless strikes me as having a lot of truth to it.
  • Last week, posted a thing about Srebrenica – this by Stephen Saideman on the recent Dutch ruling that it was partly liable for the massacres, and the consequences for future peacekeeping operations, is interesting
  • Provocative argument: it’s time for the USA to let Iran deal with the mess that is Iraq, given their part in further destabilising it after the US smashed it up.
  • Avoiding posting any Israel/Palestine stuff because it’s depressing and may already have torpedoed a job interview for me this week, but this piece on writing about the Middle East is really well-written and thought-provoking, regardless of the rest.
  • Further writing on the BRICS Development Bank announcement from last week – will it fund coal plants? And will that be such a bad thing?
  • Properly brilliant piece on Brazil in the wake of the Cup.
  • Cord Jefferson excellent as ever on male entitlement to women’s affection
  • Interesting discussion of how we define “public”
  • This discussion/list of advice for writers and journalists of colour is valuable even to white non-writers like me for a variety of reasons. First, some of the advice is universally applicable. Second, no matter how much I read about discrimination and stuff, it’s still an eye-opener to see the different adversities people have to overcome. Finally, it’s good to be aware of the specific struggles people go through in an area to see if there’s a way to alleviate them.
  • About to start the second season of the excellent Orange is the New Black*, so this was relevant. This feature by the real-life Larry (Chapman) Kernan is really interesting, both on the experience of the outside-prison partner, and on the experience of being made into a TV series.

And that’s it! Have a lovely week, all x

*seriously fucking good. I might write something about it once I’m done, though I’m wary of pontificating too much on a TV series refreshingly centred on the perspectives of people who aren’t middle-class white guys like me (related to the penultimate link in the list). Still. Relentlessly humanising, critical without preaching, funny, sexy, heartbreaking stuff. Go watch it.

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.

 

 

Right?