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Weekend read: The shipping container: a humble hero

Shipping containers

This week, my chosen Weekend Read highlights the logistical importance of the humble shipping container. This short article in The Economist describes the profound impact that the introduction of the shipping container on global trade. It serves as a reminder of the innovative logistical thinking which keeps our world running from day to day, but which rarely reaches the conscious mind.

The picture at the top of this post was uploaded to Flickr by Jim Bahn, and has been modified and used under Creative Commons licence.

This 2,025th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , .

Review: The Autobiography by Margaret Thatcher

No-one can deny that Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure. As so often, I’m somewhere in the middle. To me, Thatcher has qualities that one can admire, even if one isn’t supportive – to put it mildly – of everything she did. As an autobiography, it’s wholly unsurprising that it is her positive attributes that tend to shine through here.

It seems a little unfair to compare prime-ministerial autobiographies, but with Tony Blair’s relatively fresh in my mind (review here), it is hard to resist. Poor writing makes Blair’s volume difficult to consume, and it took me well over a year to plod through it in relatively short bursts. In contrast, Thatcher’s is entirely readable, and very enjoyable – bordering on being a page-turner. Thatcher genuinely masters the art of making the reader feel like a close confidant, as though this is a fireside chat in book form. I get the sense that this is what Blair strives to achieve, but fails.

And yet, Thatcher’s contains much more detailed political discussion. While Blair chooses to share his toilet habits, Thatcher writes long and detailed (though defensive) rationales for many of the policies she adopted. To give a single example from their respective autobiographies, I understand much more clearly Thatcher’s argument for defending the Falklands than Blair’s argument for invading Iraq. Where I disagree with Thatcher, I can still follow her line of argument in a way that I cannot even where I agree with Blair.

This set me thinking: perhaps the reason for Thatcher’s clearer explanations is the fact that she defended her policies more often and in greater detail than Blair. The long-form wide-ranging radio and television political interviews in which Thatcher participated simply did not exist in Blair’s day. I think that represents something lost at the heart of modern democracy. But I digress.

It’s worth pointing out that this is an abridged combination of two volumes: The Path to Power and The Downing Street Years. While I haven’t read those two volumes, it seems that the abridgement has largely been handled with skill. There are occasions where the detail of events is noticeably lacking in comparison to others, but these are rare, and don’t distract from the overarching narrative.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Thatcher should write a self-assured autobiography, and it’s no surprise that many will disagree with much of the reasoning contained within. But it is the quality of the writing that stands out here, and that makes this volume worthy of four-star rating.

The Autobiography is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.

This 2,024th post was filed under: Book Reviews, .

Weekend read: When a bomb goes off in Afghanistan

Bomb exploding

My recommended read for this week comes from The Daily Beast, in which Heidi Vogt describes the harrowingly mundane process of reporting on bomb blasts in Afghanistan during her time as an AP foreign correspondent. It gives real insight into this particular aspect of war reporting in the 21st century, where every second counts when it comes to reporting news. It’s well worth a read.

The picture at the top of this post shows the detonation of an improvised explosive device by the US army’s bomb disposal team at Bagram Airfield. It was taken by Sgt Rob Frazier, posted on Flickr, and has been modified and used under Creative Commons licence.

This 2,023rd post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , , .

2D: Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage

Ukip’s increasing popularity has generated acres of news coverage in the past few months. I thought I’d use this 2D post to pick two of the more thoughtful articles about Ukip’s leader.

Writing in Prospect, the magazine for which he’s associate editor, Edward Docx describes Farage’s “relentless charm” in an article with several arresting revelations. Perhaps the most intriguing, if not the most insightful, is that “close up, he smells of tobacco, offset with a liberal application of aftershave”. I found it not a little strange how much that added to Docx’s characterisation of the man. Perhaps the scent of all party leaders should become a regular feature of all political reporting.

Docx mentions Farage’s deft handling of a lack of policy detail, but in The Telegraph, Allister Heath goes a little further in taking Farage to task on the lack of coherent policy: he claims that “there are huge black holes at the heart of Ukip’s proposals”.

While these are two rather different articles in terms of tone, form and content, they do identify much the same traits in Farage, at least from the grand political point of view. Despite this, they come to utterly different conclusions: Heath argues that Ukip essentially doesn’t “stand up to detailed scrutiny”, while Docx argues that Farage can “make politics feel personally relevant again” and “show our parliament a way to recover its dignity”.

Both arguments are well worth reading.

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them! The photo at the top of this post was posted to Flickr by the Euro Realist Newsletter and has been modified and used under Creative Commons Licence.

This 2,022nd post was filed under: 2D, Politics, , , , , , .


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