Liberal Democrats candidate for Gordon, David Evans

Podcast of my interview with David Evans, the Liberal Democrats’ parliamentary candidate for the North-East’s Gordon constituency. You can find a full write up at Talk Politics.

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What I have been up to

This last month has been incredibly hectic. I did my first interview with a political candidate, travelled all across the North of England for job interviews, wrote a tonne of stuff for Talk Politics, and got my last feedback sheet from University (I got a B!).

Here are some of the things I wrote since my last update:

Liberal Democrat candidate for Gordon, David Evans – People Behind The Policy

The War in Yemen, Put Simply

Prevent Strategy, Put Simply

Labour manifesto leak, between the lines

Press Freedom in the UK, Put Simply

Pensions ‘Triple Lock’, Put Simply

Progressive Alliance, Put Simply

Hopefully, I will have more to share in the coming weeks.

Tomahawks and Trump: The failure of ‘America First’ foreign policy

I wrote this for a debate piece that never went forward. It has been in my backlog since the cruise missile strike in Syria. I thought, instead of letting it go to waste, I would publish it. I stand by the central argument anyway, so updating would not achieve anything.

Trump’s cruise-missile strike cost sixty million dollars. Let that marinate; each of the 59 Raytheon-built Tomahawk missiles costs the US taxpayer just over $1 million. Put another way; Trump could have fed 22,000 homebound senior citizens for a year through Meals on Wheels America. You may recognise the name. It is the charity that had a surge in funding because the golfer-in-chief’s “American First” budget slashed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by 17.9%. The HHS’s Older Americans Act Nutrition Program provides 35% of Meals on Wheels funding. Trump’s ‘America First’ style of governance is turning out to be pretty costly for Americans.

My bleeding heart aside though, the strike was imbecilic. In a world where Trump has his, Erik Prince, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother and Blackwater founder, attempting to establish a Putin backchannel in the Seychelles (The Washington Post), why on earth would he court open war with Russia and Iran over a marginally successful tactical strike? Moreover, before anyone gets their hackles up about the ‘W’ word, that is straight from the horses’ mouth. The Daily Telegraph reported that the Syrian strike had crossed a “red line” with Russia and Iran, with the former’s UK embassy saying: “From now on we will respond with force.”

The issue here is not only with Trump, however, but with US strategy in the Middle East in general. As renowned counter-terrorism scholar Audrey Kurth Cronin puts it: “[the] problem in any endless war is that tactics gradually take the place of strategy.” While she was discussing the use of targeted killings against terrorists, her words ring true universally. Tactical short-sightedness has become a facet of America’s endless war in the Middle East. The President has become the ‘tactician-in-chief,’ performing reactionary acts of aggression as a balm for the rage and guilt of the Western masses. Like a stuck record, the asses who sit at the Oval Office’s desk seem to believe war crimes and terror require an immediate escalation of violence. If only they would consider the extent to which they are complicit in creating the Syrian quagmire.

What’s more, the bombardment is flagrantly opposed to the tradition and law of armed conflict. The US Congress has not declared a state of armed conflict with Syria. The UN Security Council has not given its assent to US hostilities against the Assad regime. Moreover, there remain few legitimate justifications for the unilateral US response. While there is now little doubt that Assad’s regime sanctioned the chemical attack, independent verification came after the Tomahawk bombardment. Furthermore, while the Trump’s stilted and robotic speech stressed the importance of reprisals for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, there was and is no rational reason for the modus employed.

Additionally, despite conflicting reports on the capacity of the Syria air force to fly sorties from Shayrat airfield after the strike (some report flights mere hours after), the strike has had little positive effect. Pausing Syrian jets for a few weeks is not the same as having a coherent strategy for dealing with the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, stopping planes does not exonerate the Trump Administration’s unilateral response; Assad will just continue with the far less discriminate helicopter-launched ‘barrel’ bombs.

Lastly, in somewhat of a predictable conclusion, Trump has pivoted, changing his stance on NATO’s relevance – despite the fact he has done more than any other global actor to make NATO necessary. In a week, Trump has managed to squander millions of dollars in an austerity budget, alienate Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea (more than they already were), and shown himself to me the most spectacular hypocrite in recent political history. The cycle continues: promise a simplistic outlook on a highly complex issue, flip-flop once it is no longer politically expedient, and adopt the most mainstream Washington-elite strategy.

New kit

New kit

New kit arrived so I can start streaming and recording for Twitch and YouTube. Managed to grab a Logitech G922 Streaming Pro with a tripod in the Amazon Easter sale along with a copy of Premiere and Photoshop Elements 15 and the NCTJ’s Teeline shorthand textbook. Hopefully, this will keep me busy until graduation.

If you want to check out any video content I put out in the future watch my Twitter for announcements or give my channel a follow. Any support is much appreciated, whether watching or sharing.

I hope to have some content out in the next couple of weeks, but I want to apologise in advance if it’s a little rough around the edges, I am still learning.

Mythbusting Five Common Misconceptions about PC Building

Mythbusting Five Common Misconceptions about PC Building

Over the last couple of years, I became interested in transitioning from console gaming and mobile computing to a desktop-based setup. I spent a great deal of time on Reddit and YouTube, learning everything I could. In the process, I became somewhat of an enthusiast. I now admin a modest-sized Facebook group where several professional PC builders and I help newcomers choose, buy, and build PCs for a range of usage scenarios.

However, despite the fabulous experience I have had in joining this community; there remain a range of misconceptions about it. Below, I will attempt to debunk some of these and provide a newcomer friendly look into the community and suggest places to look for advice.

desk pic
My corner…

It’s expensive

Probably the most common misconception about building a computer is that it is expensive. You will usually find people arguing this in the comments section of IGN Facebook posts and in articles by publications like Motherboard. It has even spawned a meme.

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Typical “PC gaming is expensive” comments…I am only half joking

This misconception arises from the assumption that every PC builder, particularly gamers, has to have the best of the best. The truth is people buy what they can afford or what gets them the performance they desire.  In the UK, you can build a capable tower using retail parts for around £650. If you desire better-than-console visuals, and a PC that is great for home use and some light productivity, then you are looking at sub-£1,000 for the full package, including peripherals and software. This is achieved by buying into the mid or mainstream-tier products that are often ignored by journalists and comment-section trolls. The fact of the matter is, you can game at 1080p60fps and have a great home computing experience for less than Apple’s base MacBook model.

Better still, if you are particularly thrifty, you can buy many PC parts in a ‘like-new’ condition from enthusiasts and eBay, and save hundreds. Moreover, in the vein of being thrifty, don’t do what Kotaku writer Kirk Hamilton did and pay full whack for Windows. Today, we have a mechanism called digital entitlement, where you can activate a legitimate Windows 10 license using a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 product code. This will save you a few quid and helps you avoid the temptation of gray market key-sellers such as G2A and Kinguin.

The main point here is, not every user needs the computational power of a £1,600 Intel i7 6950X Broadwell-E processor or £750 Nvidia GTX 1080Ti video card. Instead, most people are price sensitive and buy into the mid-range market. This can easily be seen through the Steam hardware survey, which shows that the top three most popular video cards among responders are one and two-generation old cards, with the GTX 970, the former price-to-performance king, still ruling in 2017 with a market share of 5.89%.

handy dandy PC label pic
A handy-dandy labeled diagram of a PC (my first build)

It’s hard

Above, I mentioned an article by Vice’s Motherboard publication, where one of their editors opined at length about his trials in building a high-end PC. He was, of course, met with ridicule by the community and by industry heavy-weights. One YouTuber and respected industry voice, Steve Burke of Gamers Nexus, dedicated an entire video to debunking the Motherboard piece, including a speed-build with off the shelf components.

Suffice to say, this is one of the most overblown assumptions about PC building.  It stems from a misconception that the horror stories seen on some forums are common. From my personal experience and accounts of professionals I know and have heard from, it is very uncommon for users to experience serious issues so long as they are adequately prepared.

If you attempt to order a bunch of components from Amazon without checking compatibility and they try and throw them together after work with absolutely no knowledge, then, of course, you will have a difficult time. However, if you spend some time watching tutorials, check compatibility carefully, and take your time, it is rather similar to building a large Lego set. This exact advice is mirrored by Ryan Marinelli, the tech specialist at PC Part Picker, in a 2015 Vice article ‘Making Your Own Computer Can Be a Sad and Confusing Hell.’ Marinelli mentions that the process is not particularly difficult with some limited research, saying “PC building is often referred to as LEGO for adults.”

A snap of my rig’s innards after I upgraded my video card

It’s easy to break things

Many people assume that because they have little knowledge of how electronics work, they will damage their components. This comes from the prominence of horror stories on advice boards and a general lack of understanding of the industry. Most PC components are heavily resistant to static electricity, have strict quality assurance and compatibility standards, and have comprehensive instruction manuals.

Building a PC is much like assembling an Ikea bed or mounting a TV on a wall: it is designed for an average user to do at home, but many people end up getting scared and paying someone to do it. However, as I just said, PC building, like other DIY activities, is designed for normal people. Yes, some components have a limited tolerance for abuse, and yes, there is still the risk of static discharge damaging your components, but these concerns are easily remedied by taking precautions to ground yourself and handling things with care. You don’t throw your iPhone about your desk (I hope), so don’t slam your video card into your PCI-e socket like it’s a whack-a-mole and you should be fine. As Marinelli from the Vice story says: “95 percent of the connections are all keyed, so you couldn’t plug something in wrong unless you really, really tried to; or if you broke it, or you cut parts that you weren’t supposed to. Sometimes it’s even colour-coded as well.”

Lastly, whenever the “it could break” crowd gets backed into a corner, they bring out the ‘overclocking’ play. However, overclocking is not mandatory, or necessary for most users, and really is not that dangerous or hard. It is simply the process of pushing hardware past its factory set specification (generally a refresh rate or clock speed measured in Hertz) to achieve more performance. Generally, if you were a gamer, you might overclock your video card (GPU and memory) and your processor (CPU), while enthusiasts may also overclock their DRAM (system memory) and monitor refresh rate. However, as we are using electronics, increasing performance often comes at the cost of increasing power and/or voltage, leading to greater heat emission. So you need to have sufficient cooling. However, if you just want to build your first PC, most motherboards will have an EZ overclock in their BIOS and nearly every good guide will at least mention that it is an option and suggest appropriate cooling.

Image result for pc master race
The Glorious PC Master Race meme | Cartoon from The Escapist

The community is toxic

There is a widely held belief that PC gaming and building is a cliquey and toxic community. However, this, again, comes from a place of misunderstanding. As with many sub-cultures, the tropes, memes, and ways of communicating can seem nasty or non-inclusive from the outside, but this just isn’t the case. A prime example is the ‘Glorious PC Master Race’ meme. To someone with no knowledge of online video games culture, this could seem like a racist or classist slur. However, it is actually an in-joke that is often critiqued and laughed about on forums such as Reddit’s r/pcmasterrace. Instead, the core values of the community are sharing knowledge, fighting anti-consumer practices, and showcasing creativity. Yes, there is a malignant minority, who chose to belittle other gamers and fans of different hardware vendors, but they are often ignored or find themselves without a platform.

Don’t be like Linus | Linus Media Group

Troubleshooting

The biggest hiccup you can have during a build is the PC refusing to POST (Power-On Self-Test) or in the non-technical English: the computer doesn’t turn on or nothing shows on your display. If it POSTs, you are golden and can proceed to install the operating system of your choice, if not, there are a few simple steps to ascertain what ails your PC.

From my research, the biggest issues here are dead system memory (RAM DIMMs can often be faulty), incorrectly seated or faulty CPU cooler, power cables not connected, the display connected to the incorrect port, and general dead-on-arrival parts (video card, mainboard, RAM, processor.) In essence, many of the troubleshooting scenarios you are likely to come across can be solved by double checking things. To this end, there are certain best practices to observe when building.

  • Check compatibility and specifications before ordering/buying (pcpartpicker.com is a great reference for quick checking but always double-check)
  • Take some precaution to reduce static: this can involve standing on hardwood or tile floor and touching your case as you build, or buying anti-static mats, wrist straps etc.
  • Making a temporary test bench out of your motherboard box and plugging everything in outside of the case (makes it easier to assemble and saves you time if you have a faulty part)
  • Having a guide loaded on another screen or a friend reading the manuals to refer back to if you get stuck
  • Handle everything with care: you may have paid quite a bit for a component, so why treat it differently from a smartphone or expensive knickknack

If you are interested in getting into PC building I suggest checking out r/buildapc on Reddit and Paul’s Hardware’s ‘Beginner’s Guide to Building a Gaming PC’ series on YouTube. Alternatively, you can get involved in my Facebook community ‘PC Builders – Beginners and Enthusiasts.’

New position: Campaign Agent at Talk Politics

With graduation fast approaching in June, I am well into job application. However, with the student newspaper closed until next semester, and my coursework is all done and dusted, I’ve needed something to do to keep the juices flowing. So it was that one evening while scrolling through Work for an MP I found Talk Politics. Before long, and following a brief email exchange, the Editor-in-chief had invited me onboard, and I wrote my first piece: Drone Warfare, Put Simply.

It’s a great pleasure to be writing again, particularly because I can finally start getting some mileage on the degree I’ve spent the last half-a-decade on.

If you are interested, I have hyperlinked the relevant pages. I will endeavour to keep this blog up to date with any future work and I look forward to any ensuing feedback. Furthermore, should you have a topic you want me to cover for Talk Politics, give me a shout on here or on Twitter, and I will see what I can do.

 

Drone Warfare, Put Simply

Drones are remotely piloted or autonomous vehicles. Today, they are commercially available as hobby and professional platforms for aerial photography and search and rescue. However, their larger cousins have been utilised by armed forces across the world since WWII for covert surveillance, air support, and targeted killing missions.

These larger drones are usually referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and unmanned aerial systems (UAS, singular and plural). They have seen most of their action in the Middle East and Horn of Africa, utilised by the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel against insurgent groups.

On paper, the most well-known large combat drones, the General Atomics MQ-1B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, are highly discriminate, accurate, and safe surveillance and kinetic strike platforms. They use highly advanced Hellfire air-to-ground missiles for precision strikes and can hover for up to a day for target acquisition. However, in practice, drones suffer from a range of strategic and ethical flaws:

  • Today, drones are almost entirely operated by humans. As with traditional pilots, they are subject to errors in judgement such as confirmation bias.
  • Drones are highly dependent on This information often comes from signals intelligence (SIGINT) and tip-offs, which are subject to bias, falsification, and misinterpretation.
  • Drones almost entirely preclude the ‘winning hearts and minds’ of traditional counter-insurgency (COIN)
  • Drones can attack targets with no chance of reciprocity.
  • Drone strikes often cause extensive collateral damage

Additionally, the way drones are used by the states above is often legally dubious. While their use in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya is justified under the assumption that Britain and America were in armed conflict in these countries, they have also been used for targeted kill missions (assassinations) in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Pakistan, against various non-state actors. The debate continues over whether or not Drones are “the only game in town” as former CIA director Leon Panetta once said. What is clear, however, is that our laws and traditions of what is just in war are often ill-equipped for new military hardware.

However, there are further issues with drones; they are expensive investments. While some academics and armed forces argue they are cost effective, when you factor in failure rates and logistics, drones are vastly more costly than conventional aircraft (Reaper drones require over 170 personnel to operate). The UK government maintains a fleet of 10 MQ-9 Reapers, which they purchased from the US for approximately £500m, with plans to buy another 10 for £100m. Additionally, between 2007 and 2012 the UK government spent in the region of £2B procuring or developing drones (the original Reaper purchase included), with over £1B going to the Watchkeeper, a failed unarmed drone prototype with less than 200 hours of active service.

Drones may look good on paper as tactically expedient systems. However, politicians have historically been unable to view them in a larger strategic context, where the blowback from their use in targeted killings and their propensity to kill civilians cause more harm to the UK and US’s perception in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Drones have been used successfully to damage the capacity of insurgent groups, but the costs, both financial and strategic, may end up being too high.

Further Reading:

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The Intercept

A Brief History of Drones by John Sifton

Drone Warfare by John Kaag and Sarah Kreps

The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept

Originally published at Talk Politics.

Source: Drone Warfare, Put Simply