Selected Reading (09/11/09)

November 9, 2009 at 9:12 pm | Posted in Misc. | 3 Comments
  • So let me get this straight… it’s a grave insult for a visually-impaired Prime Minister to make a spelling mistake in a letter of condolence, but a newspaper exploiting a mother’s grief in order to attack a man it wants to see out of office is ‘supporting our boys’? Great, glad we cleared that up.
  • Here’s a good question: why did Facebook allow a ‘pro-rape, anti-consent’ group to stay on the site for months?
  • Meet the man who says the United States will start to collapse sometime in the next year. Naturally, the teabaggers are lovin’ it.
  • Over at FP, Graeme Smith argues that more troops will not help in Afghanistan.
  • By the way, if you haven’t been reading David Axe’s reports from his time with American troops, you should start doing so now.
  • David Marquand is an eminent and well-respected academic, but he also moonlights for OurKingdom. This post on the ‘Blair for EU’ fuss is a delightfully blunt dose of reality.
  • Annie Lowery reviews the implications of the Lisbon Treaty on foreign policy.
  • And if four ex-scousers with guitars is your thing, PopMatters is dedicating a week of essays and articles about the music & legacy of The Beatles.

Selected Reading (02/09/09)

September 2, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Posted in Misc. | 1 Comment
  • Total Politics has published its top 100 centre-left bloggers, which features many great, interesting writers. And Tom Harris.
  • Apparently, teachers can’t be trusted to conduct themselves well in public.
  • Anton Vowl on how our glorious press treats rape victims.
  • Joe Romm asks us to consider a world without fish.
  • Andrew Exum on being the only person in Washington willing to defend the Afghanistan mission on TV.
  • Speaking of which, Arnaud de Borchgrave has a pretty stark assessment: “President Obama is not Lincoln with a BlackBerry as some have suggested, but Lyndon Johnson with a war the country no longer supports and a new Cronkite yapping at his Afghan heels.”
  • Shorter Pat Buchanan: WWII was all the fault of those pesky Brits.
  • John Norris warns that we need to act quickly to avoid disaster in Sudan.
  • James Ridgeway has some troubling stories from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Scott Morgan looks at an Esquire report claiming that as many as 15,000 Americans die each year in the ‘war on drugs’.
  • The Guardian’s data blog has some startling statistics on projected world population growth & meat consumption.

Are feminists letting down Muslim women?

September 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

For some reason, these past few weeks have seen a great deal of attention paid to the relationship between Islam and western feminism. The latest issue of Standpoint features lengthy essays by Clive James & Nick Cohen who both argue that feminists have let down their Muslim sisters by failing to protest with sufficient vigour at the atrocities carried-out in the name of Islam. Meanwhile, The Guardian’s CiF ran a series which asked “can western feminism save Muslim women?” To this, The Heresiarch acidly replies:

No. Western feminism is too bogged down in its own limitless self-regard, arguing ad nauseam about the evils of sexually stereotyping adverts, or why female bankers don’t get quite such enormous bonuses as their male equivalents, to care about anyone else. Least of all the millions of subjected women living in conditions they cannot begin to understand.

Now, I have a huge amount of respect for Heresiarch (as well some for Clive James, and a little for Cohen), but this kind of statement reminds me of the folks who run around lazily claiming that hip hop’s only about violence and misogyny. Sure, there’s plenty of hip hop which is violent & misogynistic, but if you think that’s all there is, then you’re clearly not listening to enough of it. Equally, if you’re comfortable dismissing western feminism for being “bogged down in its own limitless self-regard” or, as Cohen does, for ‘turning a blind eye to misogyny’, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’re just not paying enough attention to feminism.

For this characterisation to be true, we would have to ignore the western feminists who run Women for Women International, the Feminist Majority Foundation, or the Global Fund for Women, and ignore all the work they do in Muslim countries. Similarly, we would have to ignore the feminists who’ve campaigned to help the women of Afghanistan, support those protesting for democracy in Iran and end the practices of stoning & ‘honour’ killing.

Once we’re done ignoring the western feminists in aid organisations, NGOs and pressure groups, we’d then have to ignore the scholars who’ve written books about these issues, the activists who’ve actually visited Muslim countries and the innumerable bloggers who regularly post in opposition to oppression, or in support of the brave women who fight against it.

And once we’ve ignored all these different writers, bloggers & organisations who do exactly what Clive James & Nick Cohen claim feminists aren’t doing, then we finally get to the main (and oft-repeated) charge against feminism: that it has failed to show sufficient support for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch writer who endured some of the most unimaginable cruelty in Somalia and then faced a fatwa for daring to write about it.

Now, it’s true that Hirsi Ali has been met with some mixed reactions, and her that writings have encountered varying amounts of support & opprobrium. Some have felt uneasy with her comparison of Islam to fascism; others felt that her dogmatism would alienate Muslim women from the feminist movement. Additionally, many of the people who embraced Hirsi Ali during her meteoric rise were the same people who spent every other op-ed concocting new moral justifications for the war in Iraq, whilst slavisly supporting a Republican Party which stood squarely opposed to women’s reproductive freedom, either in America or abroad.

But feminists were able to discuss women’s oppression in Islamic states quite independently of what they thought about Ms Hirsi Ali; there’s been plenty of debate (if one can be bothered to look) amongst feminist writers about how to approach the issue, and because feminists aren’t one monolythic block, the responses happen to vary. Some warn against cultural imperialism, others against cultural relativism, but they have at least been talking about it, trying to understand others’ points of view, and sharing stories with each other of both the cruel injustices and the small victories won. In any case, what does seem clear is that the development of feminism in Islamic countries is going to look very different from how it developed in the west.

Of course, in both Clive James & Nick Cohen’s pieces you’ll find a few deferential hat-tips to women who’re on the ‘right side’ of the issue; James doffs his hat to Pamela Boone & Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, whilst Cohen mentions Katha Pollitt, Joan Smith & Laurie Penny. But by holding aloft a few token feminists, they imply that these are the exceptions; marginalised outliers in a field full of women who’re oblivious to the suffering of Muslims. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The voices are many, widespread and longstanding, and just because neither Clive nor Nick has noticed doesn’t make it untrue.

Selected Reading (31/08/09)

August 31, 2009 at 9:40 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
  • In their wisdom, the editors of Standpoint have decided to make feminists this month’s object of opprobrium. Nick Cohen & Clive James have both contributed very similar articles accusing feminism of turning a blind eye to Islamic misogyny. I’ll try to type my own tuppenceworth about this issue tomorrow.
  • In Red Pepper, Joanna Cabello writes about environmentalism in Peru.
  • Joshua Foust responds to General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the failing war in Afghanistan.
  • As some crazy Texans keep banging the drum for secession, Patrick Barry points out how dire the consequences would be.
  • After gobbling up Marvel, Disney now owns practically the entire cartoon universe.
  • After the recent furore over rape in Iran’s prisons, two leading Iranian human rights campaigners point out that, sadly, it’s nothing new.
  • After the brief flap over Portillo’s endorsement of Charles ‘Bell Curve’/’Underclass’ Murray, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post this excoriating review by the late Stephen Jay Gould.
  • And Brad Plumer notes a few non-crazy ways to re-engineer the climate.

Letter from an Occupant

August 28, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Posted in Blogging about blogging, Misc. | 5 Comments


To be honest, just the fact that I’m writing this is something of an achievement. Before this clearing house for over-caffeinated ramblings came into being, the longest I’d kept any sort of record was a 1997 “Top of the Pops” diary, which was kept for just two months & documented the details of my juvenalia: the popstars I fancied, the episodes of Star Trek I’d watched, the computer games I was playing & the trips my brother & I had made to Meadowhall. Looking back, it wasn’t the most compelling read.

When I opened this place in Feburary 08, I gave it a few months at best. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, what my ‘voice’ was or what sort of stuff I ought to be writing about. I’m probably at my happiest when I’m arranging words into sentences, but have always had trouble believing I was any good at it. I must’ve spent about 6 months with my finger hovering over the ‘delete button’ before giving up and accepting my fate as a Blogger.

So now when I write words, some people read them, link to them & maybe even comment on them. Because that all seemed highly improbable when I started out, I thought it necessary to write a little bit about certain life changes which will inevitably alter the way this blog looks & operates.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting a PGCE at Warwick. For those averse to abbreviations, this means that in 12 months time I will (all being well) be qualified to teach in our Great British secondary schools. Judging it in the near distance, the prospect of teaching seems all different kinds of thrilling, daunting & challenging, but above all it’ll fulfill a longstanding ambition to use my education for some kind of social purpose.

I was the first person in my family to attend university, and one of a small number of folks in this bedraggled ex-mining town lucky enough to win a place at Cambridge. I had three exceptional years there: met some of the finest minds, was taught by scholars of international renown, and sauntered, swaggered & staggered in front some of the most beautiful architecture England’s ever produced.

With all the opportunities I’d been given to make something of myself, I knew that I wanted to end up in an occupation where I could help extend those opportunties to others. Of course, being young and muddled, I had absolutely no idea how to do it, and so ended up in a series of jobs which, whilst unfulfilling, at least kept me solvent. It was only when I spent some time working in a school that I realised not only was teaching something I could do, but something I wanted to do. That might come across as mawkish, maybe even narcissistic, but it is sincerely felt, no matter how badly sincerity translates over the internet.

Regarding what happens to this blog, much will depend on how well I manage my time, but I suspect a number of things will happen. First, the posting regularity should stay pretty much unchanged (and may even increase), but the posts will be shorter and won’t be as thoroughly researched or thought-out. There will be more ‘Selected Readings’ and more posts which amount to little more than hit ‘n run link dumps. The reason I want to keep the regularity of posting up is that I know there’s a danger that if I leave it dormant for a week, fortnight or month citing workplace pressures, the obligation to keep writing will gradually diminish. I really don’t want that to happen, so it seems the best way forward is to keep on posting, and hopefully you’ll keep reading in the hope that I’ll sit down & write something good every once in a while. Just bear with me, I’ll figure something out.

Selected Reading (20/08/09)

August 20, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment


  • The image above is borrowed from Global Health Magazine, and I don’t suppose any further comment is required. (Via)
  • Rahila Gupta on Britain’s immigration laws.
  • Larry Elliott calls Tory economic policy an ‘incoherent mishmash of ideas designed by focus group’
  • Stephen Walt critiques the assertion that Aghanistan is a ‘war of necessity‘.
  • E.J. Dionne has an excellent column on the far-right hysteria surrounding Barack Obama.
  • Meanwhile, Joe Klein argues that the GOP has become a party of nihilists.
  • Epiphenom looks at the idea of religion as a civilising force.
  • And Eric Michael Johnson explains why chimpanzees make bad suicide bombers.

Selected Reading (18/08/09)

August 18, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

This might be my last missive ’til Monday; tomorrow I’m off to Liverpool to meet my brother and after that I’ll have some friends coming round for a few days. So here’s some stuff:

  • Tim Montgomerie has seven defences of political blogging.
  • In the Washington Post, Peter Moskos & Stanford Franklin make another case for legalising drugs. Matthew Yglesias offers a partial critique.
  • If you’ve got an hour to spare, this diavlog between Joshua Foust & Michael Cohen on the future of Afghanistan/Pakistan policy is a useful watch for people wondering what the hell we’re doing there and whether we can win.
  • Speaking of Josh Foust, he’s in Columbia Journalism Review, talking about the Russian/Georgia war, one year on.
  • Brad Plumer wonders whether rooftop wind turbines will ever catch on.
  • Spencer Ackerman points out that Gov. Mike Huckabee’s comments against the two state solution now puts him to the right of Hamas.
  • Back in Blighty, here’s David Wilson on how cuts are stifling some of the good work going on in prisons.
  • And, via asquith, this video of some wingnut shouting ‘heil Hitler!’ at an Israeli might just mark the nadir of the town hall protests.

Maybe I’ll dump some more links during the week, but if not, have a good ‘un.

In defence of girl guides

August 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

I suppose I was never really cut out for scouting. A preposterously timid, unfit little boy, I had little in common with the boistrous, energetic lads who liked climbing, fighting & setting various things on fire.

It didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy. I resented being forced to sleep somewhere which wasn’t my own warm, cumfy bed, I never ate the campfire ‘cuisine’ and couldn’t read a map to save my life.

We once went on a late night hike around the rural parts of Barnsley (yes, they do exist!). I misread the map, sent us down the wrong bridleway and accidentally committed trespass. Cold, tired and completely out of my depth, after three hours I decided I’d had enough, so I threw myself to the floor and faked an asthma attack. Got cow muck all over my waterproofs.

So it’s not for everyone, I guess, but there’s still plenty to be said for scouting (my parents called it ‘character building’), and there are plenty of opportunities to socialise, stay fit and learn valuable skills. It is, or can be, a very positive outlet for young people’s energy & creativity.

Anyway, it turns out that 2009 is the one hundredth anniversary of scouting’s female equivalent, the Girl Guides. To commemorate, the BBC’s produced an hour long documentary about the history of this national institution (available ’til Sunday) and Rowenna Davis has an interesting piece in The Guardian describing its virtues:

During the first world war, the Guides trained women to work in munitions factories as the boys and men went off to fight, helping them to gain the credibility in employment that would eventually help win them the vote. In the second world war the Guides raised funds for the fight against the Nazis and learned first aid and how to keep the public calm in a crisis. Today, many of Britain’s top women link their success to their participation in the Guides. On the BBC’s 100 Years of Girl Guides, Olympic champion Kelly Holmes said it taught her to “be the best you can be” and comedian Shappi Khorsandi said that it fostered in her a sense of community and kindness. As well as giving her the first opportunity to try alcohol and cigarettes, BBC foreign correspondent Bridget Kendall said the training she received helped her survive the toughest parts of Soviet Russia.

For the young women of the Noughties, the movement continues to provide one of the few female-only spaces where they can take a leadership role and develop their confidence. It also gives the “I’m Worth It” generation a chance to break away from the relentless individualism so eloquently described by Anne Perkins. For once, girls are given the chance to “Be Prepared” to escape from egoism, judgment and insecurity and think about something bigger. Forget Sex in the City; it’s time to Camp in the Country.

Selected Reading (04/08/09)

August 4, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

Not sure whether I’ll find the time to write anything this week or will just subject you all to link dumps. Watch this space, I guess.

Selected Reading (03/08/09)

August 3, 2009 at 6:22 am | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

Been a while since I did one of these…

Matthew Engel calls for an end to the war on drugs.

  • Albor Ruiz on the constitution-trampling excesses of the Honduran military.
  • In Afghanistan, human rights workers call for more aid, not more troops.
  • Jess McCabe finds an interesting study into the differences between feminist & non-feminist women’s views of men; discovers proof that feminists don’t actually hate men.
  • Are we starting to see some sanity from this government over the number of women it imprisons? Only took ’em 11 years..
  • Juan Cole looks at the similarities between Sarah Palin & Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (no, really).
  • Since the Foreign Affairs Select Committee wants Britain to stop trying to fight a war on drugs in Afghanistan whilst also fighting a war on the Taliban, I thought I’d link to an older post by Joshua Foust on how our governments’ opium obsession is making things worse.
  • And in today’s End of Civilisation Watch: Afghan youngsters are listening to Shakira.

Selected Reading (22/07/09)

July 22, 2009 at 7:21 am | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
  • In Nigeria, Eamon Kircher Allen finds some of the folks behind those internet email scams.
  • Simon Jenkins objects to the panic over swine flu.
  • Johann Hari defends Sasha Baron Cohen’s new cinematic creation, Bruno.
  • In Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens savages Gordon Brown & the Labour Party.
  • Is North Korea helping Burma to go nuclear?
  • Robert Manning considers the prospect of deglobalisation.
  • Spencer Ackerman finds Daniel Pipes – one of Melanie Phillips’ favourite ‘journalists’ – accusing the Obama administration of taking its orders from the Palestinians.
  • Ezra Klein on the Obama administration’s strategy to get a deal on health care.
  • Noah Efron on the recent riots in Israel.
  • And The Onion gets ‘sold’ to the Chinese.

Selected Reading (15/07/09)

July 15, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Misc. | 6 Comments
  • To add some analysis which runs contrary to my rather downbeat assessment, Peter Bergen reckons Afghanistan is more winnable than people think.
  • Meanwhile, Eric Martin reviews the situation for himself.
  • In the 21st century, there are half a million slaves living in Mauritania.
  • I said a few posts back that Mother Jones’ collection of dissenting pieces on the war on drugs was worth a read. If you can’t be bothered to read everything, this editorial makes the central argument really well.
  • Thomas Mucha looks at the political violence & civil unrest which has sprung up around the world since the global financial crisis.
  • Laura Woodhouse describes how a lack of confidence can sometimes be an impediment to cracking accepted stereotypes & gender roles.
  • Bill Conroy on the American lobbyist hack who’s started shilling for the junta in Hondouras.
  • It’s a bit old, but awesome culture mag PopMatters turned 10 at the end of last month. To celebrate, they revisited some of the most memorable albums of 1999 and pondered what they revealed about pop culture at the turn of the century.
  • And since we can’t be doom-laden all the time, here’s a happy story about a 15-year-old flying an 87-year-old across America.

Selected Reading (14/07/09)

July 14, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
  • Staying in the hip hop groove (sorry cjcjc!), Marc Lynch’s post on how a rap beef relates to American foreign policy is just spectacular. (also check out Spencer Ackerman’s response)
  • In news which isn’t news… Mexico’s drug war is still failing.
  • Brad Plumer discusses whether American chickens are being pumped with far too many antibiotics.
  • At Feministing, Vanessa discusses a piece on the gendered messages in girls’ video games.
  • Chutzpah alert: The president of a state with a history of genocide denial has the audacity to think he’s in a position to start throwing the g-word at other countries.
  • Harry’s Place’s Edmund Standing authors a report into the BNP’s online activities.
  • Mark Easton discusses the DWP’s strategy for an ageing population.
  • Stephen Faris wonders whether the next conflict between India & Pakistan could be caused by… climate change.
  • And Everett True pens a great tribute to deceased rock critic Steven Wells

Selected Reading (12/07/09)

July 12, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Posted in Misc. | 2 Comments

Just a handful of weekend leftovers:

  • The NYTimes gets around to doing some journalism, discovers a CIA project concealed by Dick Cheney. The Democrats may grow a pair and conduct investigations.
  • Green shoots? Robert Reich isn’t optimistic.
  • It must be drugs month at Mother Jones; they’re hosting loads of good articles at the moment. Here’s a useful timeline of the war on drugs’ 400 year history, whilst Ben Wallace-Wells shares 6 fascinating true stories.
  • Anna Husarka complains about the growing militarisation of humanitarian work in Afghanistan.
  • Brad Plumer reports on the new research into sea level rises.
  • And the Ukraine’s decided that a recession is a good time to kill some industries, so pornography & gambling have been banned.

Selected Reading (08/07/09)

July 8, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
  • David Wilson writes for Compass about prison reform.
  • Promoting its work on the experiences of Muslim women, the JRF hosts an interesting series of videos.
  • Also at the Rowntree Foundation, some interesting stuff on how people who have experienced poverty could squeeze their marginalised voices into a crowded media.
  • Home Secretary Alan Johnson continues to shill for electoral reform.
  • Scott Morgan praises Sen. Jim Webb’s work on reforming the war on drugs.
  • Megan McArdle didn’t really dig the new Sasha Baron Cohen’s new flick.
  • Simon Johnston makes the case for scrapping the G8.
  • James Pinkerton writes about the failings of the Obama administration in trying to save the economy.
  • And it’d be interesting to know what qualifies James Carville to be an adviser to Hamid Karzai’s opponent in the upcoming Afghan elections.
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