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3. Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall

Or Geopolitics for Dummies. A good basic explanation of how geography limits the options of various world regions. This is the 2016 edition and is very much up to date for now, but if it isn't updated regularly it will date quickly.

Having said that, there's a lot of information that will continue to be useful, where Marshall explains how and why various countries have developed in the way that they have.

Parts of this book were a bit basic for me, but I did learn a lot. The best chapter was the first, on Russia. I studied Russian history at university and this book gives a context we weren't given to a lot of events that otherwise don't make a lot of sense.

This book (or something like it) should be required reading for everyone. It explains a lot about how and why the world is the way it is.

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Bear with me, I'm still working this out in my head.

After last week, I was seriously tempted to put in an application to work from home (blaming the current spate of long term road construction) to avoid having to listen to my colleagues go on about wanting to leave the EU.

I'd be all right if they'd thought about it an objected to corruption, accountability, the Common Agricultural Policy etc. (I'd still think they were wrong, but that's a level you can engage with). Instead all I heard all morning Wednesday was a lot of crap about immigrants (HELLO - SITTING RIGHT HERE! WHAT, YOU DON'T MEAN THE ANGLOPHONE WHITE CHICK?), human rights (they're against them because somebody *might* abuse them), benefit scroungers (what are we all one bout of ill health away from?) and all the usual Daily Mail-approved bollocks.

So got to thinking.

We all know I'm Schrodinger's Immigrant - simultaneously stealing your jobs[1] and taking your benefits.

The counterpart are Schrodinger's Brits - simultaneously superior in every way because they are British while at the same time being done out of their jobs, housing and medical care by Damn Foreigners.

There is absolutely no point arguing with them- they'll have a go at my foreignness and my privilege.

The fact that these are the people who are going to go out and vote in great number scares the ever-living shit out of me. Even though I can just leave when my job goes away.

[1] Added irony that it's a job that people take the piss out of and say a monkey can do but there's an industry-wide crisis in recruiting competent people to.
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26. The Prince by Niccolo Macchiavelli

We've been watching The Borgias, and it made me realise I've never read The Prince, and it's one of those books that everybody thinks they know but is misused and misquoted and probably not at all what most people think it is.

And it's short.

It's not about being as power-hungry and ruthless as you expect. And where he is, he's coming from the standpoint of living in a country that's been torn apart by civil war for generations and he'd just like a nice strong ruler to bring some stability, thanks. And he's big on not oppressing the people, which was unexpected.

In some bits you think "that's cold", but in other places he makes a lot of sense (like the long list of why mercenaries will come back to bite you in the butt).

And then 2/3 of the way through my stupid brain came up with "that's Lord Vetinari, that is" and I started to read the whole thing through the prism of Ankh-Morporkh.

It took longer to read that I would expect from a book this size, but it's quite dense and needs some time between chapters to compile and process. I wouldn't exactly say I enjoyed it, but I learned a lot and it makes a whole lot of things in Western culture fall into place nicely.
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I didn't stay up all night to watch the election results - I prefer to go to bed and wake up to whatever semblance of a Brave New World we get. Plus, I'm coming down with a cold so last night was a straight to bed after work night.

I didn't vote yesterday - I am a lazy postal voter and voted last week.

I haven't been posting about the election, but I have been thinking about it, and don't like most of my half-baked conclusions. If ever an election made me want to leave the country, this is it.

I got supremely pissed-off about the fear-mongering on the part of all the parties. If the best thing you can say about yourself is "if you vote for the other guy we're doomed", then you can't have much to offer.

Hung parliament/coaliation: If MPs aren't able to work together to do constructive things in a difficult time, then, quite frankly, we deserve to become a third-world backwater.

Then there's proportional representation. I've a few thoughts:
-"it's too complicated" - so voters in every other European country are really that much smarter than we are?
-"it would give seats to the BNP". Yep, it would. In a mature democracy, this would mean that the mainstream parties would have to face the BNP head-on and have mature, reasoned debate about immigration, Europe etc rather than just saying "we know best/because we said so". PR would give a voice to other interests that don't get a look-in now. For example, I don't want to live in a country with a Green government, but I'd like to live in one where there's more of a Green voice in the decision-making process.

In short, I have more faith in people than the political parties or the media do.

I have no idea how it took me this long to realise just how little scope there is for change in the first-past-the-post system, probably because I grew up in one as well (though one that varies from being a 1-party to a 5-party state).

The elephant in the room - the budget deficit. UK PLC is broke, people. Stop whining and accept that there's going to be a lot of belt-tightening. (This is the where I can't get past being Canadian - the idea that Deficits Are Bad mmm-kay was beaten into me from birth). If you can't afford it, you can't afford it, whether you're a country or a person.

The icing on the cake: I wake up finding that people were turned away from the polling stations because of long queues, and all I can think is "what is this, Zimbabwe?"
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32. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

This month's Bibliogoths selection, but as I can't go I'll post a review:

Imagine a world where Lovecraftian horrors can be summoned from alternate dimensions using an interesting mix of magic, mathematics and computer programming. There would, of course, be a super-secret layer of civil service to keep it all secret and under control. And count every last paper clip.

Sheer genius. Every single word. Hilarious and scary at the same time. I read a lot of good books, but this is the best thing I've read in a long time.

I shall be seeking out his other works forthwith.

33. In Sickness and in Power: Illness in heads of government during the last 100 years by David Owen

I have got to stop listening to Radio 4's Start the Week with the laptop on - if they're discussing a vaguely interesting book I log in to see if the library has it and reserve it if they do. This is quite often.

Lord Owen, long serving British politician who initially trained as a doctor, not surprisingly has an interest in how the health of heads of government has impacted on their governing. The first part is a bunch of short case studies of health problems various world leaders in the 20th century had; this is interesting but left me asking more questions than it answered. (This is generally a Good Thing, by the way). Part two is longer detailed case studies which, let's be honest, I was really only reading for the chapter on JFK. What is remarkable isn't so much that he functioned with so many serious health problems, but how appalling his treatment for them was, even by the standards of the time, until the last year or so of his life.

Where the book falls down, is that Owen has a bee in his bonnet about something he calls "the hubris syndrome" (he's written a whole book on the subject) which he admits isn't a recognised medical diagnosis, but he still devotes part 3 to a study of Bush and Blair's hubris over Iraq. Fascinating stuff, but does not fit well with the rest of the book, especially as he dismisses analysis of Hitler and Stalin by saying they didn't suffer from any formal psychiatric disorder.

Despite this inconsistency, I found this a really interesting and entertaining read.

His take-home message is "covering up illness is bad, m-kay".


Nov. 1st, 2006 07:50 pm
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On Monday I caught a bit of the evening rerun of Start the Week on Radio 4. One of the guests was an explorer called Robin Hanbury-Tenison promoting his new book, The Seventy Great Journeys in History, and he mentioned that recently he had met a neuroscience researcher, who told him that recently they've found that the urge to travel and explore is hard-wired into some people, and they've found the gene or protein (I was tired) responsible. Neat.

Millions of personal medical records are to be uploaded regardless of patients' wishes to a central national database from where information can be made available to police and security services, the Guardian has learned.I know I haven't been paying attention, lately, but how'd I miss that? Scary stuff.

There was more, but I'm falling asleep.


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