Selected Reading (09/08/10)

August 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

I’ll finally be moving my stuff down to London this weekend, so I’m afraid you may have to make do with a few more of these…

Selected Reading (06/08/10)

August 6, 2010 at 10:59 am | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

Am traipsing around the North East until Saturday, so these will have to do ’til then:

Anyone seen anything good that I haven’t spotted? Feel free to share below.

Selected Reading (27/07/10)

July 27, 2010 at 10:46 am | Posted in Misc. | 2 Comments
  • A little old, but The Economist has a great piece on the sorry state of the American prison system.
  • In the New Statesman, Bjorn Lombord explains why ecologists shouldn’t fret about the future of the planet.
  • Larison ponders reconcilliation between libertarians and conservatives.
  • Sara Mayeux on Jim Webb, affirmative action and the ‘myth’ of white privilege.
  • Coutney E. Martin calls on feminists to recognise the truth of women’s capacity for violence.
  • Jacob Weisberg cries ‘shame’ on the entertainers who boycott Israel.
  • Steve Clemons on Pakstan’s Generals’ crush on the Afghan Taliban.

Selected Reading (25/07/10)

July 25, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

Hopefully y’all haven’t seen many of these yet:

Finally, I think my reading list is getting stale. Is there anything I should be reading? Anything I should be writing about? All tips/requests are welcome below the fold.

Selected Reading (18/07/10): Dick Whittington Edition

July 18, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Misc. | 7 Comments

I’ll be down in London until Wednesday on my first house hunting reconnaissance mission. It’ll probably end in abject failure, but hopefully I’ll learn something about how to wander around a capital city without getting lost/mugged/kidnapped. In the mean time…

  • Laurie Penny is very cross about the pointless humiliation of Caster Semenya.
  • For those who’ve long suspected that Binyamin Netanyahu has never been interested in peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, now there’s even more damning evidence. Gideon Levy provides commentary.
  • So did you hear that Nestle sent a barge up the Amazon to peddle junk food to Brazil’s poor? Well now they’ve gone and bettered it by fronting a ‘healthy kids’ program in China. You’ve gotta give ’em points for cojones.
  • Just to balance out the corporation bashing, let’s hear it for Unilever. Not only did the makers of Marmite acquiesce to mocking the BNP in an advert, but they then managed to ruin the party for trying to get its own back. Who needs Searchlight when you’ve got Marmite?!
  • Another update from Mexico’s drug war. Don’t read it if you’re worried about blowing your high.
  • Michael Tomasky on Obama & the Democrats’ spot of bother.

And that’ll be it for now. Catch you in a bit.

Selected Reading (16/07/10): “Geeky Young Men in Suits” edition

July 16, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

It was touch & go whether this was going to get posted tonight. Sure, I had some links lined up, but then I learned that ‘geeky young men in suits‘ aren’t able to engage with society. Which kinda renders this blog obsolete, doesn’t it?

So which wise sage relayed this news? A media-savvy Cambridge graduate who sends her kids to private school. Yup… real Working Class Hero shit.

  • Anyway… speaking of young, geeky men in suits, how about that Zac Goldsmith eh? Haven’t seen a dude flame out that badly on C4 News since… well, Alastair Campbell springs to mind.
  • Some more people within the Labour Party seem to be getting it on prison reform.
  • If you haven’t already seen it yet – and aren’t already sick of the subject – AVPS’s post on the class dimensions of the Raoul Moat case is excellent.
  • Megan McArdle’s run an interesting couple of posts on the lifestyles & attitudes of pickup artists. They’re an odd bunch.
  • Think the Tories’ ‘consultation exercise’ on cuts was bad? It could be worse. In Italy, they’re asking the public to rank ordinary state workers to weed out the ‘under-performers’.
  • The NYT Profiles Teach For America, an education programme which is getting a lot of buzz.

And finally, in honour of Diane Abbott, here’s a ‘geeky young man in a suit’:

Selected Reading: The Me Edition

March 2, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Misc. | 1 Comment

If we were to measure the quality of a blog post by the quality of the responses to it, my last note on Yarl’s Wood would probably count as my most successful blog to date. Sad though I am to be unable to respond in kind, I can at least leave some links so that you get the chance to see them.

  • First, there was a good discussion in the comments thread over at LibCon (where it was cross-posted).
  • Paul Cotterill’s post pulled the amazing feat of merging the humane with the high-brow.
  • Carl at Raincoat Optimism places a priority on getting to the bottom of what’s going on at Yarl’s Wood, and then seeking reform.
  • Harpyymarx laments the use of asylum seekers as a party political tool.

On a last ME note, Heaven is Whenever launches tomorrow. We’re always looking for new writers, so do check it out if you’re interested.

Selected Reading (06/02/09)

February 6, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Posted in Misc. | 11 Comments

Still not properly back yet, so here’s some more stuff from the past few days:

  • Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, testifying at his own war crimes trial, says that Pat Robertson (yes, that one) was his man in Washington.
  • Johann Hari on the hope from Haiti.
  • Sunder Katwala continues to whack the Tories over their ‘Broken Britain’ meme.
  • David Semple reminds us what a vile racist Tom Tancredo is.
  • Every time I read Bloggerheads, I’m left thinking “goodness, the internet’s got some horrid people on it”.
  • You’ve probably already seen this but it bears repeating: this ruling by Cherie Blair is a dozen different kinds of WTF.
  • Lastly, a filmaker from California thought it’d be interesting to take photos of vans. The results are here.

Oh, and this place has a new theme. The image is by the scarily talented Ben Heine.

Anything I should be reading? Let me know in the comments. Trust me, I’ll welcome the distraction.

Selected Reading (29/01/10)

January 29, 2010 at 8:41 am | Posted in Misc. | 3 Comments

This’ll be the last post for a week or so – essays to finish, job interviews to attend, etc etc. So until I reappear with some words of my own, here are some other folks:

  • Mark Easton wonders what’s wrong with inequality
  • Johann Hari on the corruption in Washington D.C.
  • Alex Massie on George Osborne’s belief that he can make us behave.
  • David Axe wonders why China is rigging artillery to commercial cargo ships.
  • Daniel Larison discusses GOP obstructionism
  • Charli Carpenter asks why there was so little foreign policy content in Obama’s SOTU.
  • And after Chris Matthews forgot Obama was black, Ta-Nehisi Coates just remembered that Chris Matthews was white.

Catch you in a bit.

Hayek vs Keynes: who won?

January 26, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Misc. | 8 Comments

The cause of Keynesianism suffered a damaging blow today. The reason: John Maynard Keynes.

Yeah, I know this rap battle between ‘Keynes’ and ‘Hayek’ is just a bit of fun & an entertaining way of introducing economics to the masses.

But c’mon people, battles are serious! In real rap battles, reputations get made or torn apart. People spend hours analysing a rapper’s technique; his one-liners; the viciousness of his disses; whether his opponent was able to hit back. More importantly, each battle has a winner and a loser, so I’ll let the serious folks debate over who has the better economic theory. For me, it’s all about who won the battle.

As in most things, context is everything. Going into this, Keynes was the Undisputed King of econorap. His theories saved the world from the biggest financial crisis of our time, and now that economies are making paper again, he’s earned his right to a victory lap. What’s more, he’s battling a man seen as responsible for fucking the whole game up in the first place. This should be a formality.



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He certainly wastes no time pointing out why he’s ‘the shit’. He’s a VIP in every club, the ladies hang on his every word and there are cocktails aplenty. By contrast, Hayek is yesterday’s man – ignored by all except for use as a punchline. Sensing that his counterpart is an irrelevance, Keynes doesn’t even give him the courtesy of a diss. He’s the only game in town.

Except this isn’t the same Keynes we knew & loved back in the day. He’s lost the hunger; the fire he used to breathe at the start of the crisis; the urgent hectoring for change. He treats the listener as if Keynesianism is a self-evident truth, and forgets that whilst he might be stackin’ that paper, many of his listeners will still be enduring gruelling times.

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This may have been the final straw. Dismayed by what he feels is economic gibberish and fed-up at being patronised by leftist hangers-on (this one’s probably even a feminist! And how many schools has she influenced?!), you can see Hayek plotting his response. Sure, his theories might not be the best looking and he no longer gets invites to Federal Reserve club nights, but he’s still got pride, dammit! With that humiliation, Freddie leafs through the rap bible and turns to its most devastating trick: turning an enemy’s strength into a liability.

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Is it possible, Hayek wonders, that Keynes’ playa lifestyle ain’t all what it seems? Doesn’t he enjoy his cocktails a little too much? Aren’t his hangers-on the same ones who were stroking Freddie’s ‘tache just a few years ago? By showing the listeners the darker side of his hedonistic lifestyle, he suggests that Johnny-boy might be an addict, and there’s nothing dope about a fiend. Now, economists rappers might be known for their ruthlessness, but even by their standards, this is some cold shit.

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Beyond that, Hayek just wants it more. He still has scores to settle and points to prove. He cares about the game too much to let it be left to some smooth-talking showman who’s getting drunk off his own hubris. This shows in the way Freddie attacks the beat, the vigour he puts into the performance, and the brutal way he attacks his opponent:

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Stood smart and stoic against a backdrop of a wretching Keynes, Hayek pulls off an against all odds triumph, proving perhaps that rappers are naturally libertarian. Perhaps Keynes should take up indie rock?

Fighting conspiracy theories – or giving them credence?

January 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Misc., U.S. Politics | 15 Comments

Memo to academics: if you ever want to go into politics, publish nothing. Don’t write a single word which can be sourced back to you, and certainly nothing as provocative as Cass Sunstein has had a habit of being. Libertarians have discovered this article he wrote back in ’08 on the topic of conspiracy theories. They are none too happy.

On page 14 of Sunstein’s January 2008 white paper entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” the man who is now Obama’s head of information technology in the White House proposed that each of the following measures “will have a place under imaginable conditions” according to the strategy detailed in the essay.

1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.

2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.

That’s right, Obama’s information czar wants to tax or ban outright, as in make illegal, political opinions that the government doesn’t approve of. To where would this be extended? A tax or a shut down order on newspapers that print stories critical of our illustrious leaders?

I feel this is a little unfair to Sunstein, or at least locates the problems with his paper in the wrong place. From my reading of it, Sunstein actually dismisses the notion of either banning conspiracy theories or taxing those individuals/groups which hold them (since both, of course, are unworkable and abhorrent propositions).

His preferred method for dealing with these nutters is what he calls “cognitive infiltration”, which he describes as “weakening or even breaking up the ideological and epistemological complexes that constitute these networks and groups.” If I’ve read him correctly, this basically means trolling internet message boards, and is a much tamer proposal than those he’s (erroneously, in my book) being criticised for.

But whose message boards to troll? The problem with Sunstein’s piece is that it’s ridiculously broad: there are conspiracy theories about the Kennedys; the CIA being responsible for heroin use in black neighbourhoods; the rulers of the world being secret lizards and Barack Obama being the antichrist/muslim/fascist/socialist.

Does a state really target all of these groups? Since Sunstein is so inspecific, it’s understandable that civil libertarians are up in arms about it. For me, I wouldn’t have ethical objections to this being practiced, providing it was targeted solely at undermining or disrupting radical and violent Islamist groups – or any domestic group which incites violence. In fact, I suspect that such a method is being practiced at Langely as we speak.

The question here is trust, and how a state can retain the trust of its citizens. Sunstein argues that even by being transparent and fulfilling Freedom of Information requests which debunk certain theories, you still won’t convince its ardent believers. This much is obvious; in addition to satisfying the conspirators’ fringe politics and/or their feeling of powerlessness, conspiracy theories are also sustained by the social interaction between people who believe them.

But whilst transparency can’t kill a good fairy tale, it can limit its scope and power. It seems to me that the only truly ethical & effective way of regulating conspiacy theories is by releasing as much factual information as possible and then allowing the consumers to do what they like with it. This won’t kill the conspiracy theory, of course, but it will undermine the argument that the state has ‘something to hide’, which can be a powerful recruiting tool. As I wrote in a slightly different context:

There are many different explanations for why conspiracy theories form and how they spread, but I think the most important cultural/political aspect is how they’re often reactions from peoples or communities who feel distanced from & distrustful of the establishment. If you reduced that amount of alienation, you’d probably reduce the number and the power of these strange alternate histories. In the end, if you feel so powerless, the government must seem a hell of a lot more powerful than it actually is.

I think this is why many conspiracy theories have a libertarian component to them, and demonstrates why government action to regulate them would’ve been self-defeating. If you want to use the state to reduce the amount of make-believe on the fringes of the public sphere, you’re only going to reinforce those who believe the state has the power to do a bunch of other shady, manipulative things. By all means, let’s monitor & disrupt those who threaten the safety of others, but by doing anything other than that, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

Selected Reading (04/01/09)

January 4, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Misc. | 1 Comment

It’ll be quiet around these parts this week. Deadline from hell.

  • PZ Myers on the connection between American fundamentalists and Ugandan homophobes.
  • In the Washington Post, Carol Graham’s been looking at the economics of happiness.
  • Ed Husain explains why racial profiling is bad AND stupid.
  • Bill Conroy suggests that the Americas’ new year resolution should be to end the drug war.
  • Marc Lynch advises us not to go nuts about Yemen.
  • This is just bloody brilliant.
  • And I have a chat with Bella Gerens in which I almost suggest the abolition of the Department for Children, Schools & Families. Whoops!

Meanwhile, if you’re still after link over this barren week, follow Asquith. He’s where the good reads are.

Selected Reading (19/11/09)

November 19, 2009 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments
  • Normally a debate between Michael Gove & Ed Balls would find me rooting for them both to lose, but I must admit that there’s something delcious about this moment. (via John B)


  • Cory Doctorow reckons the govt’s draconian idea of ‘cracking down’ on filesharing could spell the end of the internet in Britain. Ghastly stuff.
  • Sigrid Rausing claims that Uganda is sanctioning gay genocide.
  • 52% of Republicans believe that ACORN stole the last Presidential election. Y’know, the one won by the black dude. In a landslide.
  • LeftOutside discovers that electro smog will kill us all.
  • Daniel Larison disputes the view that Sarah Palin is on the ‘lunatic fringe’. She may be a lunatic, but she isn’t on the fringe.
  • Freedom on the march: suppose it’s not a surprise, but Afghanistan has been called the worst place in the world to be a child.
  • And whilst I’m too much of a terrible blogger to catch this on time, I obviously agree with this entirely.

Selected Reading (16/11/09)

November 16, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

Just a short one tonight:

  • If you only click on one of these links, make it Johann Hari’s piece on his journeys with ex-jihadis. It’s not a quick read, but it’s an absolutely bloody glorious piece of journalism. (via Asquith)
  • Omar bin Laden pens an intimate portrait of his father. Yes, that one.
  • Evan Osnos wonders whether the Chinese will support tougher sanctions on Iran.
  • Charlie Brooker takes on tacky Christmas adverts.
  • Peter Beinart assesses President Obama’s trip to China and looks at how the US-China relationship has changes.
  • I may one day get around to reading & writing about Transform’s blueprint for regulating drugs, but until I do, here’s Pete Guither’s take.
  • In Mexico, murders of journalists have reached an all-time high.

Selected Reading (14/11/09)

November 14, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
  • You know there’s too much bureaucracy in the world when even Afghanistan’s Taliban has a code of practice. If they keep going at this rate, they’ll be filling out ‘elf & safety forms before too long. Political correctness gone mad, I tell you..
  • Onto feminism, and did you know that the ‘bra burning’ thing was actually a myth? No, me neither. Ariel Levy brings us that and other interesting stuff in a review of Gail Collins’ new book.
  • Matt Yglesias reminds us that the internet is, in fact, good for people who like music.
  • Over at Hagley Road, Claude marks The Sun’s ’40 years of crap’
  • Catherine Phipps tackles the thorny issue of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
  • Glenn Greenwald points out that the American right is now surrendering to terrorists.
  • Daniel Larison analyses the morass in the Middle East, and focuses on the corner the Obama administration’s boxed itself into.
  • Meanwhile, journalist James Gordon Meek recounts a chance meeting with the President at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • For everyone else who’s devastated that Pluto is no longer a planet, Wired has loads of interesting stuff celebrating the planet which never was.
  • In the latest Class Monitor, Michael Hodges looks at supermarket checkout assistants.
  • And lastly, I know Halloween has been & gone, but Ed Brayton must win a prize for the scariest/sickest headline of the month.
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