20th of December: Special Christmas Edition

Man of my word, innit. Despite being physically exhausted just looking at this week’s list of bookmarks, I told you I’d cover all your reading needs through the New Year, and I’ve delivered. Let’s get right to it.

Last year I think I shared a whole load of Christmas music with you but, tbh, if you’ve reached the last Sunday before Christmas without hearing Wham! and Mariah Carey without my help, I don’t really want you reading this list. However, you may not know about Kanye West’s Christmas song, so have that. The Marvin Gaye sample is perfect.

With a view to making 2016 the year this blog takes off, please do share it with your friends and family to give them some lovely Christmas cheer and me some lovely Christmas clicks. It’s available as a blog and newsletter.

  • About that Christmas cheer thing… this piece about three Syrian women in Raqqa and how they were variously involved with ISIS is very interesting and emphasises their voices and stories. This piece on the Syrian Kurds is, I think, overly optimistic on how far they can extend their successes, but worthwhile. On the other hand, the aftermath of one of the highest-profile victories in the war on ISIS, the battle for Kobane, left it an uninhabitable ruin – this account of a visit is a good reminder of the long-term consequences. I hate video #content and documentaries but this Vice embed with the Kurds as they re-entered Sinjar was decent.
  • A lot was made of the UK’s very good missiles being the reason we could make a difference in Syria*, and I don’t know what validity that has or ever had but this RUSI primer on the different military technologies the UK brings to the table is interesting (if you’re a very specific kind of nerd, admittedly). Also on a similar note, the arms manufacturers that make all the bombs being chucked around the Middle East literally can’t build them fast enough.
  • Which suggests we should maybe not start chucking bombs at space, but look! That’s the plan!
  • Interesting interview with a Belgian counter-terrorist officer
  • I like this piece from an actual historian on how sloppy narratives about French Algerians and the legacy of the war are used, mostly in the Anglophone media, to substitute for any sort of analysis
  • Yes, pieces about other people’s sobriety are well boring, but this one is good, so.
  • Two lovely, personal pieces on love and mental health – one, based on You’re the Worst’s stunning, affecting depression story this season (well good show that, watch it) and one on how bipolar disorder affects relationships
  • Super robot brains! Artificial intelligence! Literal immortality! Lot to get your head round in this two-parter on the road to superintelligence, and part of me suspects it’s all bollocks but.
  • Less exciting – a critique of lots of the assumptions in space travel and colonization narratives
  • This really long essay on The Selfie is incredible and almost makes all the tedious sneering at young people with their snapchats and their instagrams worthwhile if it led to it
  • This is an old recording of an old poem so not sure why it’s here but Jeremy Irons reading Eliot’s The Waste Land is beautiful and chilling and just about makes final year English Lit
  • As a classic Nice Guy tm ,  I liked this on the fading appeal of the ‘bad boy’**
  • Always a good sign of how hip you are when a hip music outlet does their “best of 2015” list and you don’t even recognise 75% of the artists. Good little source if you want more songs though, mostly leaning hip-hop
  • Fascinating on The Knowledge and the cabbie school on Cally Road
  • On drunk texting and why we’re so embarrassed by it
  • Profile of the lovely and very good Carly Rae Jepsen
  • Having played computer games since I was a wee lad, I’ve never really stopped to question the amount of prior assumptions and experience that go into it, but this piece by an older person (50 year old bloke, I think) who decides to start gaming for the first time is really interesting
  • The new Star Wars is, in fact, very good so this piece on how Disney are planning to perpetuate the franchise for all eternity in a cynical corporate master plan is Well Exciting.
  • Great little look at the furniture in the background of video games.
  • Five year anniversary of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, so Noisey did a whole load of articles about it. This one was good. Secret confession time: I didn’t listen to MBDTF till first year of university and didn’t really Get it for another year, so I can’t do the whole “first time I heard Nicki’s verse on Monster it changed my life” act. Shameful.

*basically gave up on ever writing up my thoughts about this tbh

**largely kidding

13th of September: Return To Form

Been a busy week here at Filling The Long Hours. And holding the list back for two weeks has finally paid off – got plenty to share with you today. With that in mind, I’ll get straight to it.

As ever, this list is available as a newsletter or a blog. If you’d prefer to access it differently, go for it. And if you enjoy the recommendations, please tell your friends.

Song of the week isn’t technically a song but Kendrick made an incredible appearance on the Late Show and performed a sort of medley from To Pimp A Butterfly. It’s electric. Apologies for the weird video – this one is better but I can’t embed it.

Two posts from the blog you might have missed this week. First up, a bit of house-keeping to announced a new book review feature here, and second, I got a bit sick of the distortions in the Syria debate. Hopefully more great #content to follow.

  • Pretty chilling interview with an imprisoned ISIS leader who used to plan suicide bombings. This piece on Yazidi women joining Iraqi militias to defend themselves does a great job of restoring agency to them and also contains some stunning photos. Finally, while the debate over drones and targeted killings is sort of boring and woolly as hell, this piece sort of convinced me.
  • Good analysis of Russia’s increasing role in Syria.
  • Tom Chivers gathers together some of the science on the value of shocking images in the wake of that photo of Aylan Kurdi. However, this critique of the use of the image is compelling and also ends with recommendations for practical action. This story of taking a refugee family into the author’s home is quite sweet.
  • Rebuttal to claims that homosexuality is somehow ‘foreign’ to Africa
  • Aditya Chakrabotty on fine form drawing lessons from a dinner ladies’ payment dispute in Camden
  • This fortnight has somehow brought us through several tragic anniversaries for the US. For 9/11, this story of the fighter pilot scrambled to bring down United 93 is chilling, while these seven tales of heroism are quite moving. Speaking of which, this little-known account of how Mexico pretty much invaded Texas to bring humanitarian relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is A+
  • Going in hard on shipping-container-buildings
  • Powerful on what growing up in debt does to you
  • Bit of a cheat, here, but someone on Twitter was gathering together entertainingly nasty reviews – there are plenty of good ones in the responses to this tweet
  • Very interesting on the gendered response to alcohol abuse in classic authors
  • Nothing like a Film Crit Hulk essay to make you reconsider a film you had sort of forgotten about – very interesting on Ex Machina.
  • It’s kind of unfortunate that GQ felt the need to flip the gendering on this, but lightly amusing article on Resting Dick Face
  • This will be of limited interest if you haven’t seen Bojack Horseman but that’s your problem – great review of the second season and its’ treatment of depression
  • Entertaining reappraisal of High Fidelity (the “pop culture CRB” is such a brilliant phrase)
  • I wasn’t convinced and am still not going to take selfies but I still quite enjoyed this guide, aimed at men, at how and why to take better ones
  • Make sure you pay attention to all the details of this Tom Phillips-photoshops-the-media about Corbyn’s victory
  • Lyrical on the tragedy of Wayne Rooney
  • Smart interview with Alison Brie off Community/Mad Men
  • I absolutely adore Demi Adejuyigbe, mostly for his incredible Hozier mashups, but his Banksy jokes are also gold – this roundup will clue you in.

And there we have it. I will see you all next week for a roundup of some book reviews, which will only be available here on fillingthelonghours.wordpress.com, and then in two weeks for another reading list! Enjoy the rest of your Sundays x

The War That Wasn’t


Of the many distortions and falsehoods that comprise ‘debate’ over Syria in the British press, I think the one that comes up most is the 2013 Commons vote on launching punitive airstrikes on Assad following his illegal use of chemical weapons. As apparently no-one remembers, when Assad crossed Obama’s ‘red line’ on using chemical weapons on civilians, there was a Franco-British-US rush to an ill-defined war. There were no objectives or long-term plans to this, it was a really strangely incoherent plan. It wasn’t a no-fly zone, or a full-on humanitarian intervention, it seemed to literally just consist of chucking some missiles at some command centres and chemical weapons facilities to chastise Assad for being a knob (which, tbf).

Ed Miliband, bless his soul, dared to demand some clarification on this plan. NB: he didn’t at the time oppose striking Assad [not gonna lie, lads, I’ve had to Google this bit because I’m a bit shaky on the details. So this post is immediately going to be 2x as factually based as anything on Comment is Free]. As it became clear that there was no support for this bad plan, even Tory MPs started rebelling, and Cameron lost the vote, leading him to rule out military action against Syria.

Summed up quite ably here, tbh:

This has since been recharacterised in the most dramatic and apocalyptic terms possible (including, to his discredit, by Miliband himself – “facing down the leader of the free world” indeed, Ed). It has become the marker of Britain’s retreat from the world stage, evidence of Miliband’s fundamental unseriousness, and a just sort of general decision by the UK to condemn the people of Syria to their fate.

More than that – it was a Chamberlain moment. As the Ukraine crisis kicked off, apparently-not-stupid man Sajid Javid* argued it was this vote that emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine. And so, gradually, the significance of this vote escalated to the point that now it can be used as shorthand for whatever the author wants it to.

I just re-read the article that really set off this rant and I’m fuming again.

Apparently-lucid-political-commentator Matthew D’Ancona thinks this is a good paragraph:


It isn’t.

In order to keep this slightly unhinged rant of a post on-track, I’ll ignore most of it, as it’s all speculative, baseless drivel of the sort that apparently you get paid for if you once edited The Spectator.

That first sentence though. I’ll refer us to past-me for this one:

It’s breath-taking. For a ‘faction’ that is so relentlessly keen to proclaim its readiness to face reality and take tough decisions they seem consistently delusional.

To be plain.

This was not Iraq (for all the British press’ tedious desperation to make everything about Iraq). This was not even Libya. The goals of whatever operation had been planned in the summer of 2013 were not about “levelling the playing field”, or “getting Assad to the negotiating table”.

They were a lot more limited, and a lot less coherent. Counterfactuals are obviously a mug’s game but I think you have to stretch yourself into some really shaky mission-creep arguments to try and claim that the operation being proposed in the summer of 2013 would have led to any substantial improvement in the situation in Syria**.

So it probably didn’t matter that much in the grand scheme. I know writing is hard*** and that Syria is really complicated and really depressing but can we just… let go of this particular form of shorthand.

It’s bad.

More on this sort of thing to follow, I think.



*I was talking about this with a friend the other day – it is a bit baffling that such an apparently brilliant and successful bloke says such stupid shit

**there’s also the sort of still-inconclusive fate of the OPCW deal that in theory deprived Assad of all his chemical weapons. For a while that looked like a real triumph of diplomacy, but there’s consistent reports of chemical attacks in Syria, though I’ve read that they are using cruder and less lethal toxins as the worst stuff was dismantled. So there’s that too.

***this post has taken me about five tins of Stella, four hours, three rewrites, two listens to Sia’s album and one very patient [redacted], so I know all about how difficult writing is tbh

Punching Above Our Weight?

Often, complaints and worries about the United Kingdom’s diminished military role in world affairs seem a bit of a stretch. This is, after all, a P5 state, one of a handful of nuclear powers, with the fifth-largest defence budget in the world. Other times, however, you begin to think the delusions stretch to the top.

image from the Guardian

image from the Guardian

Sending eight fighter jets, a handful of spy planes, and a couple of hundred trainers to Iraq is many things. According to Dave, it makes the UK the second-largest contributor to the war on ISIS.  What it probably isn’t, however, is an effort on par with one of the most pivotal air wars in history, a moment where the UK faced a literal existential threat. Comparing the war on ISIS, Operation Shader, to the actual Battle of Britain would be absurd. It would sound like a desperate attempt to clothe today’s conflicts in uncontroversial past glories to shield them from criticism. An actual government minister wouldn’t make that comparison.

“Today, with more warnings of threats to our citizens in Tunisia following the horrific events of two weeks ago, I believe we’re fighting a new Battle of Britain.

Once again, against a fascist enemy, an enemy prepared to kill enemies and opponents alike, our RAF are again spearheading our defence in the counter attack targeting the terror menace in Iraq. Flying missions and launching strikes day and night, using precision weapons including Brimstone for surgical strikes.”

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, 16/07/2015


So look, this is kind of very transparent. The coalition strategy in Iraq and Syria is not working as spectacularly as we might have wanted. The USA, which is doing the most, is facing calls to do more, bomb more, send more troops. These calls, as predictable as they are, are at least based on some sort of reality – the USA probably could (but shouldn’t) do loads more, which is just one of the benefits of spending 40% of the world’s entire military budget. Even if this nebulous “do more” weren’t a bit of a non-starter, it isn’t enormously clear how much more the UK could be doing with its limited power projection capacity.

Faced with the awful attack in Tunisia, the need to be seen to be doing more is understandable. Absent this possibility, absurd rhetorical escalation is… also good? Like if pretending we are fighting WW2 again does enough, electorally, to obviate the need for racist and ill-thought out counter-terrorism initiatives then that’d be good, right? Oh.

The only obvious immediate step to take would be authorising the UK to officially join strikes across the Syrian border1 (such at it is). That wouldn’t have much effect but sure. We aren’t doing much, and we’re not likely to do much more, and we probably shouldn’t. Fine.

What I’d like to look at it2 is where this constant demand for us to do more comes from.

As I pointed out earlier, the UK claims to be the second-largest contributor to the war on ISIS. The Defence Select Committee, in its call for us to do more, disagrees:

The Secretary of State for the Defence has insisted that the UK operations in Iraq are ‘major’. The Prime Minister implied that the UK contribution was second only to that of the US:


But, in reality, the UK contribution so far has been—in comparison to actions taken between 2003-06 and even in relation to other coalition partners—surprisingly modest.

The situation in Iraq and Syria and the response to al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAESH)

Numbers are difficult to find, as the UK government announces data weirdly and periodically, but it is very worth noting that the Select Committee cites the Defence Secretary in early December

“In the House on Monday 12 December, the Defence Secretary announced that only 99 air strikes had been carried out since the UK started flying missions.”

Meanwhile, from the French, probably our closest peer in terms of size and capability:

“In total, then, as of the 1st of July 2015, French aviation carried out 964 sorties over Iraq, and made 162 strikes.3

I’m no mathematician, but the numbers here don’t really suggest what the Select Committee imply. The French and British air-strikes started fairly concurrently, across about a week in late September. That leaves the French having conducted about 15-20 a month since September. If in December, after two and a half months, the British had carried out 99, that’s closer to 30 a month. Since then, the Ministry of Defence website appears to indicate about one strike every other day, although some of those entries include more than one mission.

Regardless, if we’re doing similar amounts to France, a country that, depending on who you ask, spends more or less the same as us on defence4 then is there a problem here? Beating the French is a noble pastime if you’re a Top Gear presenter, but unless you want us to compete with the global hegemon in military capacity, which would be silly…

It is, I think, telling, that this was basically the essential justification for the above criticism by the Defence Select Committee:

“This amounted to fewer than one a day. Six days prior, US CENTCOM (which is coordinating strikes) announced that 1,676 strikes have been carried out, meaning that the UK is responsible for just 6% of the strikes carried out so far.”

Basically, “punching above our weight” is a silly ambition. We seem to be punching about as hard as we should be, and that should do. We aren’t going to be able to go toe-to-toe in terms of strike tempo with the US Air Force any time soon because of course we aren’t.


Technically there should be another three paragraphs here to make this a more convincing argument but I’ve already gone over a thousand words and I want to play some Civ 5. x


1 state of this outcry over the embedded pilots taking part in US missions against ISIS as if a) the border means anything b) we aren’t already bombing them elsewhere c) those pilots are anything other than exchange students. and also I’ve just gotten annoyed about the continued misinterpretation of the 2013 Commons vote on airstrikes on Syria again.

2 talk about burying the lede

« Au total, donc, au 1er juillet 2015, l’aviation française a effectué 964 sorties au-dessus de l’Irak et procédé à 162 frappes »

4 and gets a lot more for it, see my previous work, and also see the fact that the French are conducting missions against ISIS from an actual aircraft carrier

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

22nd of February: He’s Going To Start With A Lie

Quick one this week, as I’m racing to catch up on all the work I didn’t do this week for pressing Crusader Kings-related reasons.

Remember when Lily Allen wasn’t annoying? I can’t even remember what she did wrong. Anyway, the song of the week was on in the pub the other week and I forgot it was her for long enough to listen to it.


As ever, this reading list is available as a newsletter or a blog, so if you’d like to see how the other side live, go ahead.

  • The big debate on Twitter this week has been around a long essay in The Atlantic called “What ISIS Really Wants”. I put off reading it as long as I could, but the more I avoided it, the more people argued about it, and finally, I bit the bullet. And then, of course, had to read all the participants in the debate. I’m not really sure how I feel about any of the pieces I’m about to link, really, but taken together they’re probably worthwhile. This debate does feel an awful lot like it’s everyone talking past each other, but there you go. A strong critique of The Atlantic’s methods, intentions, and conclusions. An interview with one of the experts featured in the essay. Conversely, this article is glad the U.S. government has started taking ideology seriously again. Meanwhile, terrorism expert J.M Berger (who also rounds up some articles at his own site), suggests that the most relevant aspect of ISIS’ ideology is their end-of-days cult features, not their religion. Make of them all, or none, what you will*
  • Gripping and ultimately upsetting read on attempts to rescue U.S. hostages in Syria
  • This is very good on the tendency for the debate on Ukraine and Russia to be conducted over the heads of the Ukrainians and Russians themselves, denying their agency in events
  • Meanwhile, asylum application numbers in Germany haven’t been this high since the fall of the Berlin wall
  • The no-platform/free-speech debate has popped up again, very disingenuously so. This is an excellent blog on free speech, hypocrisy, and Peter Tatchell
  • Meanwhile, the “the internet makes it really hard to get away with racism :(:(:(:(” thing hasn’t gone away – this is good on the disproportionate pity felt for Justine Sacco**
  • Fascinating and personal pieces on issues of ‘passing’, identity, assimilation, etc.
  • Anniversary of Malcolm X’s murder this week – this telegram from Dr. King to his widow is touching
  • This is a very articulate defence of the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument when voting
  • Succint, well-produced, video summary of the racial politics of dating
  • Some positive*** news out of the music industry for once – the internet is making it a lot easier for niche bands to find big live audiences
  • I want Vox to do this for every music video. This analysis of the music and imagery in Taylor’s Style video is a bit basic, and tends towards the “omg she’s wearing Harry Styles’ necklace” thing that’s oh so dull, but it’s so beautifully put together and visualised
  • Utterly surreal campaign of birthday trolling
  • Brazil does food well – in other news, water wet, etc.
  • My favourite thing about this reimagining of Half-Life as a 1990s isometric game was that I recognised all the level architecture
  • More Kanye****! Really good interview with my favourite Kanye-writer Ayesha Siddiqi on Kanye c.Yeezus (I think) and very good essay on the double standards of white mediocrity and black excellence
  • Couple of good Sam Kriss pieces – one, old, on Age of Empires as a game where you play as feudalism itself, and a very-him review of 50 Shades of Grey
  • Interesting on how editors negotiate language for transatlantic audiences
  • Karl Pilkington should do everyone’s wedding proposal.

And with that, I’m off to make up for a week of slacking. Have a lovely week x

8 out of 26, so I’m stuck around a 2:1 dude ratio, again.

* lol this was going to be a “quick one” and that’s the longest paragraph of text to appear on this blog since How I Met Your Mother

** yeah, her of the ‘AIDS tweet’ literally millennia ago and I’m still annoyed that someone felt the need to write another article about her to plug his bad book

*** I say positive, it mostly made me feel extremely out-of-touch, because the biggest flash of recognition I got out of the names listed was when I recognised they were taking the piss out of Ed Sheeran before his name was mentioned (which was good because he’s literally the worst thing alive)

**** unfortunately, Ye went and blew the consensus that was forming around him when he waded into whatever beef the Kardashians have started this week with some grim, grim comments on his ex-girlfriend, which is upsetting



23rd of November: Excellence

It’s late and I’m tired – not much preamble this week. Regular reminder that if you’d rather receive this list to your inbox every week instead of having to make the long trek to …click on a link, you can do that (you lazy bastard) by subscribing here.

Song of the week was already going to be this one off Watch the Throne, and then it was discussed in one of the links down below in a really interesting way and that cemented it’s place. Keep an ear out for the most casually matey address you will hear to the 44th President of the United States of America. Delightful.

  • To make up for the absence of IR articles last week, a pair of essays on American grand strategy – similar in intent, I think. The longer, at Foreign Policy, argues for the US to craft a more stable international order while they’re still dominant, and this shorter one simply points out the obvious flaws with the “world police” ideal
  • Really interesting on a controversial photoshoot featuring West Point cadets
  • Interview with Ukrainian soldier fighting in and around Donetsk airport.
  • As tedious as I find the drone debate, this case for a moratorium on drone strikes is well-argued (I’ve only just noticed it’s a year old), while this piece from the first soldier to make a lethal drone strike is an interesting look into the realities drone warfare.
  • Now, to Syria. A cynical discussion of martyrdom. A profile of some British jihadis*. This piece is quite sad, but in the little ceasefires it depicts across Syria, there’s an element of a slightly better future maybe?
  • A part of me really just wishes that ISIS would murder someone who turned out to be a knob because the victims (those whose stories we hear) just seem to be the best of humanity and it’s desperately sad – a couple of tributes to Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig.
  • On a similar note, account of an almost-kidnapping in Yemen.
  • As a sort of exercise in academic accountability, this post from Marc Lynch on what scholars got wrong about the Arab Spring is excellent. Also generally interesting.
  • Two on China – one on how it is assuming its role as a great power, and Daniel Drezner advocating less panic over said rise
  • IDK if this has been a long week or if this was meant to be last week, but a solid rebuttal to the Band Aid vision nonetheless
  • I knew about Brazil’s role in the international court cases on HIV medication but had 0 idea of how ambitious treatment was within the country – this is cool.
  • Gary Younge, excellent as ever, on Obama’s announcement of an amnesty for undocumented immigrants
  • Hadn’t read anything by Ally Fogg in a while – this is good on male violence
  • Again, this feels like it’s done the rounds on Facebook twice since I read it, but whatever, it’s a good summary of how screwed younger generations are
  • Alex Proud says we should all vote. This article from Novara dreams bigger, looking at a 24th Century Post-Capitalist Future.
  • While we’re on the inter-generational warfare, this article (seems to be) by an older bloke experiencing job applications today and being stunned by how. annoying. they are. Welcome to the party, pal. (It’s a good article, tbf, and on point).**
  • Stinging review of Boris Johnson’s biography of Churchill***
  • Speaking of slams, this review of a book on ‘Anonymous’ is generally interesting
  • As British politics chases UKIP down into the gutter, a welcome reminder that this leads us nowhere good
  • There is one line in this generally decent article that is so good it jumped into the list – I straight-up copied it out to text it to my flatmate from the bus
  • Talib Kweli, who I should probably know as more than “bloke off early Kanye songs”, writes a great response to Piers Morgan on [and here, tbh, IDK what to say. I’d rather keep the blog slur-free, but at the same time, the Louis CK bit he quotes is very true, so… IDK I’ma white guilt to the end of the parenthesis here]
  • Giles Coren is brilliantly stinging here on coffee, going further than I would, but in a righteous cause so I’ll allow it
  • Made the jump to an iPhone ‘recently’, and so as part of my ongoing quest to stay down with the kids****, I’ve been trying to get on board with the Emoji. This is a brilliant article on them.
  • Really interesting on how the Shazam app has affected the music business
  • Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine Nine)is such a bizarre figure, and this review of her stand-up special has me intrigued
  • Far Cry 3 runs on my computer! This discussion of how the series, and other blockbuster games, try and fail to handle racism is a bit old (I think it emerged in response to the whole thing around the cover) but very good
  • Possibly a bit more critical than I would be, but this is a cool look back at Half-Life 2 ten years on
  • OK, here’s that discussion of Murder to Excellence, but first, a process. I’ve been meaning to point you towards Bim Adewunmi’s (great writer and, I believe, currently women’s editor at The Guardian) “Ten Things” on Twitter for a while, but it’s a bit awkward to link – it’s basically a little ritual every Friday for ten minutes and it’s kind of lovely. During said countdown, Bim linked to Rembert Browne’s, of Grantland, new podcast. The first episode features the wonderful Cord Jefferson and it’s a great, funny, little chat to listen to – unlike bloody Serial, I didn’t resent it for replacing my gym playlist. And they talk about Kanye and Jay. Circuitous, but I got there!

God, got a bit chatty there, sorry. Hit the 1,000 word barrier again. Have a lovely week x

*I’m still very unsettled by the idea of lads from Portsmouth being vaporised by American airstrikes, tbh. I mean obviously they made their bed and all, but it’s a sad state of affairs.

**shouldn’t complain, I’m technically gainfully employed now. Also, just saw that said “old bloke” is Ian Jack – the byline didn’t appear when I downloaded the article

***the fucking state of that man. Not only is he not doing anything of value with City Hall in favour of writing a book, it’s a shit book. At least Russell Brand was only taking time off “pissing about” to write his shit book.

****mostly so I can work out how best to be contemptuous of them

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