The Roundup for September 17-23, 2018 Edition

Remember by Christopher Parsons

One of the things that I’ve struggled to accomplish over the past several years is to aggressively avoid buying things for the purpose of just satisfying other people. I want the things that inhabit my life to bring me joy, first and foremost, with others’ considerations a distant second or third (or ninth!) priority. For a trip that I’m embarking on there were some purchases that I had to make: some new pants and shirts that I’d put off buying for a few months. So after a suitable amount of research (and discovery of appropriate sales) some new menswear came into my life.

But at the same time, I’ve wanted a new messenger/briefcase/camera bag for some time. The one that I’ve been using remains functional but it’s starting to show it’s age. There are a few places where the canvass is wearing. Ideally whatever I replace it with would be ever-so-slightly larger and maybe even be better suited to carrying a camera and a lens. Oh! And it’d be great to be able to carry a couple small books, or a lunch, plus a mobile computing device. And something that looked a little ‘nicer’ would probably be great to take on this upcoming trip.

With these requirements in mind I’ve been casually looking for a different messenger for about a month or so. I’ve visited numerous shops and held, and lifted, and filled different bags. None have quite hit the mark. Now, maybe it’s the case that there simply isn’t a bag that meets my preferred criteria! And that’d be annoying but fine. But what I kept almost doing is just buying a new messenger/briefcase so that I’d have something that would look a bit different — present me a bit differently — to others, even if I wasn’t happy with the purchase.

Ultimately, I avoided the temptation, despite there being numerous messengers that looked pretty nice. And so while I’m a bit disappointed that I haven’t found what I’m looking for, yet, I’m also pretty happy with myself that I’ve managed to resist spending money just to satisfy others. Ultimately, whatever I come home with needs to satisfy me, first and foremost, with all others a distant second, third, or ninth.


I have an iPad as well as an iPhone 7. The fact that Apple has different gestures between the devices is driving me nuts; I keep gesturing in the wrong place to pull up the control centre on my phone. Also, I’m not so certain that the long press of the space bar to enable the cursor is all that great. I keep getting into situations where I run out of scrolling space or, worse, where the cursor doesn’t activate and instead iOS detects a lot of keyboard presses.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

The hardware is and has been for a long time, meat-limited. What makes the difference is the operational experience, the haptic-tactile experience, and just how much the damn camera makes you want to go out and take pictures with it.

Great Photography Shots

I’ve been looking at all the neat ways that Apple has improved their computational photography capabilities in the newest versions of the iPhones. While I don’t expect that I’ll be upgrading this round Apple’s specialized imaging circuitry, again, reminds me that mobile photography can lead to pretty amazing images. So for this week I wanted to recognize some pretty great smartphone shots of skies that were featured at Mobiography.

Stormy backdrop‘ by @KallyKlick
Slightly broken, but nevertheless full of hope‘ by Seamus Smyth
Reach for the sky‘ by Laurence Bouchard

Music I’m Digging

  • The Prodigy – No Tourists (Need Some1) // The new Prodigy album doesn’t drop until November 2, but their track ‘Need Some1’ is classic: it immediately has me wanting to jump up and dance, like all of the band’s best works. I cannot wait for the rest of the album.
  • Coins – Daft Science // This is an album of Beastie Boy remixes, using Daft Punk samples. Released in 2014, it remains one of my favourite remix albums, and is right up there with the Grey Album as far as I’m concerned.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Current – Laws to suppress black vote in U.S. are being drafted with ‘horrific efficiency,’ says author // Anna Maria’s interview with Carol Anderson is both a chilling history lesson of how American states have historically sought to prevent African-Americans from voting while, also, demonstrating how the effects of repealing the Voter Rights Act had significant impacts on the ability for minorities to vote in the 2016 American elections. It’s a great overview of just how much is wrong with the contemporary ‘free and equal’ elections in the United States.
  • The Current – Minimalism: Upper-class luxury or liberating lifestyle? // While the title suggests that there would be some kind of a knock-out debate in the episode, all the panelists agree that living a minimalist lifestyle is better considered as a mindset that is crafted for each given person/couple/family. Core to this mindset is that we should only purchase or acquire things that we need, will use, and bring us happiness in our lives. Maintaining this mindset doesn’t mean not buying things but, instead, just being very deliberate in the consumer goods that we do actually spend out money on.

Good Reads for the Week

  • The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History // Andy Greensburg has provided the most accessible, and comprehensive, account of how devastating the NotPetya attack was. The key thing I took away from the article was this: we now live in a world where accounting software in the Ukraine can unintentionally shut down global businesses and cost billions of dollars. National borders are decreasingly relevant to the consequences of cyber activities and that, save for a small handful of transnational intelligence-based operations to mitigate such activities, the world is largely vulnerable to the next likely equally devastating attack.
  • Quantum Computing and Cryptography // Bruce raises an interesting set of questions: what if it turns out that number theory, upon which we have developed our public key algorithms, is just a temporary and erroneous area of math that in fact does not hold the promise we thought that it does? What if, instead, all cryptography fundamentally has to return to information theory — such as what underlies the security properties of one-time passwords — given the factoring potentials of quantum cryptography? While we may never attain quantum devices capable of decrypting all public key systems the very potential that an entire line of mathematics may be consigned to the dustbin of history is a provocative thesis.
  • I Came of Age During the 2008 Financial Crisis. I’m Still Angry About It // This opinion piece in the Sunday Review does a good job of capturing the frustration and anger that the millennial and post-millennial generation has about the aftereffects of the financial collapse: by merit of when we happened to be born and emerge into adulthood, we were condemned to managing higher debt loads than those before us, with little access to capital, and little expectation that we would access capital needed to purchase homes or otherwise follow the ‘normal’ timelines of our parents and grandparents. Worse, because social welfare systems were pillaged before us, we’re in a situation where we are more responsible for those around us while simultaneously having fewer resources to support our aging family members and communities. Regardless of how ‘effective’ the recovery has been, or even how ‘sheltered’ Canada was from the financial collapse, it’s left a permanent scar on many workers’ lives that will continue to breed resentment and distrust in core institutions, likely to the continued detriment of social cohesion.
  • What Paulson, Bernanke, Geithner and Neil Irwin Don’t Get // This piece by Ed Walker nicely summarized what the New York Times has just totally failed to account for in their coverage of ten years after the financial crisis. In short, the “crimes, fraud, cheating, or corporate wrong-doing” been not been substantively taken up in the Time’s articles and, as a result, the broader rationales for public fury were largely elided. The story that elites tell themselves about the recovery, versus that which is shared at dinner tables and living rooms and bars by those most affected by the crisis, misses the point entirely. Never forget: money and economics is emotional, first, political, second, and rational when lucky.
  • iOS 12: The MacStories Review // Continuing the tradition, Federico Viticci has done a masterful and comprehensive job accounting for the changes in iOS 12, and summarizes what matters to end users and why. I appreciated his very significant deep dive into Siri shortcuts but remain curious and confused by the addition to the operating system. There are some things I want to automate but still have challenges wrapping my head around how to do so, despite deep dive explorations of the feature by people like Federico.
  • A History of Badgelife, Def Con’s Unlikely Obsession with Artistic Circuit Boards // It’s amazing just how a relatively self-organizing community can make such cool, beautiful things.
  • The Effectiveness of Publicly Shaming Bad Security // Troy’s analysis of why public shaming of companies’ bad practices correlates with discussions I’ve had with senior executives working at social media companies and internet service providers. Quite often there are people who want to fix bad practices but need advocates on the outside to be given the resources to actually make shame happen.
  • It’s Not Technology That’s Disrupting Our Jobs // There’s a whole body of literature called technological determinism that critically interrogates the extent to which technology itself drives history. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of what is regarded as such determinism is, in fact, a normative shifting of the economy by key decision makers; technology isn’t doing anything but facilitating or being used to implement a particular groups’ decisions. It’s nice to see an opinion piece in the New York Times recognize that what we often see ascribed to ‘technology’ is, in fact, the product of decisions made by elite decision makers.
  • Josh Ginter – Toronto Travel Log // I have this dream of making travel logs that are as succinct as what Josh has put together. While I had the bones of such a log for a past trip to Central America it just never came together. Hopefully I can find the time to do something like this the next time I’m travelling somewhere for vacation.
  • Inside the eight desperate weeks that saved SpaceX from ruin // A lot of the information covered in this story has been told before in Musk’s biography, but never with such specific and personal detail. Musk, himself, is a mixed bag — just like Steve Jobs, with whom he’s often compared — but what he drives smart people around him to accomplish is genuinely spectacular.

Cool Things

  • Skeleton Cutlery // Oki Sato has done a tremendous job in making a cutlery set as absolutely simple as possible, restricting what is present to clean lines and leaving empty those parts of the cutlery that are less immediately necessary. I admit to thinking that the design of the knife is too stark – I think that the form may be upsetting the function – but the other items in the set look divine.

The Roundup for August 6-12, 2018 Edition

Screwed by Christopher Parsons

Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting art galleries and spending a lot of time — sometimes 20 minutes or more — in front of certain paintings to try and understand why the artist made their composition decisions.1 This has involved both trying to understand the positionality of different subjects, the roles that light played in directing attention across the canvass, and more broadly trying to understand the emotional or intellectual responses that I experience when spending time with the work. To be frank, it’s a strange kind of experience just because standing, silently and quietly, in front of something in public contemplation feels abnormal. However, it’s a feeling that I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with: for a long time, it didn’t make sense to me that someone would spend tens of minutes, or even hours, or longer over the course of years, to view particular works. But I’m very slowly starting to really appreciate why people do that; in my case, probing a piece of art seems to involve letting go of myself to explore, consider, evaluate, reject, and refine thoughts that I have when taking in the artist’s works.

I’ve read, repeatedly, that photographers can benefit from spending time looking at paintings and other canvass-based pieces of artwork. Photography, in many respects, aims to accomplish many of the same things as paintings: good photos affect the viewer’s mind and emotions, while telling a story that is more or less simple. Even the starkest abstract or architectural photographs can ‘say’ something to the viewer. This is contrasted against snapshots that may capture a moment in time, but which aren’t necessarily meant to affect how the view experiences their lives. There are, of course, difficulties because what are sometimes regarded as snapshots may, in fact, be photographs: good street photography, as an example, may resemble snapshots but is actually meant to convey a more-or-less subtle story to the viewer.

None of this is to say that snapshots are bad kinds of images. They can hold incredible value: snapshots I’ve taken over the years of family gatherings, as an example, hold immense value to me. This value is heightened when they’re the only ‘real’ reminder I have of certain family members who have since died. But they’re not ‘artistic’ in isolation.2

It’s in the process of sitting or standing, silently, with our own photographs that I think we can come to imminently realize whether whatever was shot genuinely crosses the line between a snapshot and a photograph that is seeking to convey something beyond what was captured. And, over time, I think that it’s this practice that leads to photographers capturing more of a scene that is self-evidently visible in the pigments and paper used to print on: it’s by careful study of our own work, and that of other photographers, that we can train our minds to almost automatically see what is a photo, why, and how to capture it in its entirely instead of simply snapping a quick shot. Unless, of course, a snapshot is all that you want to capture at the time!


It’s baffling to me that Apple Music lets users create profiles, so that we can share what we’re listening to with other users, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to link into our profiles from the public web. It seems like another of Apple’s failures to understand that social discoverability shouldn’t be exclusively be constrained to very limited sharing within their closed environment.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

  1. Stop caring with other people think.
  2. Choose your bosses carefully. Bad habits are difficult to unlearn.
  3. Turn the fucking Internet off. Do the work.
  4. Choose must.
  5. Know where you are going. 100% of people who go to a train station know where they want to end up.
  6. Chase the work. Not the money.
  7. Raise your standard.
  8. Tell yourself better stories.
  9. It takes courage to stand out.
  10. Be a beautiful outside.

Great Photography Shots

I was really stuck by Oleg Tolstoy’s photographs of Japanese taxi drivers, both because of her artist’s statement — she wanted to explore persons who were almost from another era, given their dress and professional silence while transporting passengers — as well as because the images themselves possess an almost cyberpunk-cinematic quality. I also found that the photos were evocative insofar as how the drivers were staring into the distance were incredibly effective in directing my on attention through the photographs. It’s obvious as soon as you look for it but, prior to then, it’s a subtle forcing of the eye through the frame which brings out a lot. In pulling myself away from how I’m ‘meant’ to look at the photo I quickly shift to a series of (to my mind) interesting questions: what is, and isn’t drawn clearly into our visual frame as we follow the subjects’ eyes? What can we learn from what our eyes are ‘told’ to ignore or to pay attention to? What would be the difference in how the pictures were viewed, based on whether you were trained to read left to right, right to left, or top to bottom?

Music I’m Digging

  • The Prodigy – Need Some1 (Single) // I’ve long been a fan of The Prodigy and this song has all the hallmarks of their better work: it’s almost impossible not to start moving as soon as it starts playing!
  • Nine Inch Nails – Add Violence (EP) // The second of three short EPs published by the Nine Inch Nails, the dull and gritty sounds of the album are really striking. I’m less a fan of Trent Reznor’s ‘louder’ songs, and far prefer ones which are more haunting. The songs ‘The Lovers’ and ‘This Isn’t the Place’ are the standout tracks for me, with the latter song in particular being strikingly haunting and, to my ear, amongst the band’s better work in the past few years.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Eat This – Barges and Bread // An in-depth discussion of the historical ways in which wheat was transported in Britain, even prior to the Romans developing fortifications around contemporary-day London. I learned both a lot about how and why wheat was transported in the bulks that it was, as well as the difficulties in using barging systems today to transport grain and other materials across British waterways.
  • The Daily – The Trump Voters We Don’t Talk About // Based on a relatively large-n sample, and measured across time, this episode unpacks the demographic groups that voted for Trump. Moreover, it looks at which groups are steadfastly supporting him, and where Trump’s voting base may have begun to fall away.
  • Lawfare – The Challenge of Digital Evidence // While encryption has sucked up a lot of the air concerning the difficulties that law enforcement agencies have in prosecuting crimes, this podcast focuses on all the other (often more serious) problems authorities have in obtaining digital evidence. The episode is a good introduction to the solvable problems: figuring out ways for authorities to determine who has the relevant data they need, educating authorities so they can actually process contemporary digital evidence, and establishing an central office that can coordinate authorities’ requests for data. It’s a solid overview of the non-encryption problems facing American law enforcement along with generally reasonable solutions.
  • The Sporkful – Michael Ian Black Is A Man Who Eats Salads // Like many episodes of The Sporkful this one uses food as an entry point into a discussion about more serious social issues. In this case, food and eating is used as a way to engage with concepts of often-toxic masculinity, the social constructions men live (and chafe) within, and the challenges associated with food and body image that men often experience. I found my head nodding throughout the episode as Michael carefully works through some of his own issues with how masculinity is constructed and the ways in which he tries to grapple with the associated social norms.

Good Reads for the Week

  • Ontario brewers should think twice before they buck themselves // While the craft beer market remains in an uneasy state in Ontario, any breweries that start producing dollar beers are almost certain to produce swill and irreparably damage their brands. Plus, should craft breweries attain any real market share as a result of producing dollar beers the big breweries will almost certainly just sell their own beers at a loss to run off ‘craft’ brews selling for under a buck.
  • America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats // The Economist provides a sharp overview of how changing demographics, gerrymandering, and the electoral college combine to disadvantage the Democratic Party in American politics. It’s not new research but it is succinctly outlined and argued.
  • How to Photograph a Vacation // Rose’s suggestions for image making on vacation resonate with me: the different techniques he uses (e.g. anchoring shot, unique shots, isolation shots, etc) are things I’ve done to varying degrees of success, but that I find helpful regardless. I also really like the idea of culling a trip to a small number — he suggest six — of photos that ‘define’ the trip. While my number tends to be higher, I may also spend a lot more time engaging in photography while travelling? (Disclosure: I tend to shoot prolifically when on vacation, to the tune of hundreds or thousands of images. Shooting is a key element to my experiencing a happy vacation.) Regardless, I find that culling down to the best 10-30 images is something that I actually enjoy doing because it’s a good learning moment; it compels me to ask what photos are my best, and why?
  • The disturbing record behind one of B.C.’s top billing doctors // While over billing was a serious issue with this doctor, the more deeply problematic element was his incredibly poor medical care that left women scarred mentally and physically. Persons who haven’t dealt with bad obstetrician-gynecologists really can’t understand how deeply debilitating their actions can be or how long it can take to recover. I can only hope that this case encourages Canadian colleges of physicians to more carefully monitor and police their members, though I’m not confident that’ll be the case.
  • “9/11esque” Tweets and the Saudi Spat // Craig Forcese has a terrific (academic) blog where he reflects on the terrorist promotion and advocacy statutes in Canadian law and asks: would they apply to tweets sent by parties friendly to Saudi Arabia and which showed a plane tunnelling towards the CN Tower?
  • How Big Is the Alt Right? Inside My Futile Quest to Count // While far from scientific, Grey Ellis argues that the alt-right in the United States is once more being pushed underground on the basis that fewer people are likely to turn up to public events. However, this assessment discounts the effectiveness of online recruitment; while those persons may not show up in person to demonstrate they will be woven throughout society and able to exert their views in perhaps more subtle ways as they harass individuals, discriminate on a local level, and spread their hate and prejudice in more private settings. Pushing hate underground doesn’t inherently make it any less of a social evil.
  • Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Work Well. Why Some Studies Show Otherwise // I’ve been suspicious of wellness programs for a long time; they’ve struck me as ways of externalizing poor health issues onto employees and then blaming them for not being proactive about their health. But where my worries have mostly revolved around the issue of insurance cost hikes, this analysis by the New York Times showcases that wellness programs don’t really lead to significant improvements in quality of health for those in wellness programs when appropriate controls are established. So the idea that wellness necessarily leads to better health for employees generally doesn’t hold. Instead, there are just certain classes of people inside, and outside, of wellness programs who will live healthier lifestyles. It’s a person-thing, not a wellness-member thing.
  • Tree Bark Generates a Weird Force That Defies Gravity // While many people think that the internal fibres of trees are responsible for their upright posture (I definitely did!) it turns out that trees’ bark growth plays a significant role in maintaining vertical stability. This is why some parts of tree bark are thicker than other parts: those thick elements are used to maintain posture, and removing or weakening that element of the epidermis of the tree will cause it to begin to tilt. Fascinating.

Cool Things

  • Fire in Cardboard City // What if fire broke out in a land of cardboard? How would a city respond and with what consequences?
  • Native Land // A mapping of the lands the indigenous people in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand once claimed as their own.
  • IKEA’s “ENEBY” Bluetooth Speakers // I already have three separate speaker systems for my 1-bedroom condo. But I really, really like the idea of picking up some of these IKEA speakers (assuming they sound good enough) to install in my bedroom and bathroom. I just wish that they were Airplay 2 compatible so that I could stream music throughout my home without having to constantly be re-pairing with different speaker sets.

Footnotes

  1. Generally I’ve been focusing on European art from between the 1600s to 1800s.
  2. There is a case to be made that, assembled in aggregate, what might have been snapshots can become proper photographs with a story and emotive element. But at least with the snapshots I’m thinking of — and seeing scroll on my TV — they definitely don’t rise to the level of a photograph with a particular intent behind them besides documenting a time and moment.

The Roundup for June 2-8, 2018 Edition

A New Light by Christopher Parsons

It’s one day after the 2018 Ontario provincial election. The winning party ran on a semi-platform that is designed to actively undermine the province’s climate change reforms, dismisses the importance of raising the minimum wage, and is actively hostile to efforts to improve sexual education. In the stead of these values, the party asserted they would reduce the cost of beer, reduce taxes, reduce energy costs, and otherwise work to promote ‘business friendly’ policies. The ways in which these values and objectives would be reached were never explained in a rigorous and methodical way: people voted for values and out of anger at the former governing party.

On days like today, it’s easy for progressives to get upset, angry, and/or depressed. But such emotions are reflections of our own dark and often unproductive states of mind. While a government can significantly affect the policy landscape, damage can be undone and most harms repaired or remediated. Instead of falling into dark states of mind, we are in a time when it is essential to evaluate where we can contribute to our societies and advance the values that we think with enhance our lives, and the lives of those around and affected by us. To promote a more progressive society we might actively promote, support, and elevate the roles of persons of colour, indigenous persons, and women in our communities so that they are better situated to accomplish their personal and professional goals. We might volunteer for causes that are important for progressive politics. We might even actively work to support a political candidate or party that didn’t accomplish the results we wanted.

In effect, it’s during times of change that it makes the most sense to get actively involved in our world, to influence the persons and organizations we’re involved with, and seek to effect change that extends and supports civil rights protections and equality amongst all people. Now is not the time for getting angry, per se, nor the time to lay down and wait for the next four years. No, if anything, today is just like yesterday, and is just like tomorrow should be: it’s a day to actively work towards improving the communities we find ourselves within so as to ensure that all persons enjoy equal rights and are able to thrive in their personal and professional lives.


I absolutely am floored by the reality that Anthony Bourdain killed himself in a hotel room. I’ve watched him from afar for many years, as so many have, and I’ve always appreciated the vigour and honesty that he projected in his public life. His frank discussions about troubled pasts and the difficulties people face everywhere around the world, and how North American and European activities endanger the lives and wellbeing of persons everywhere else in the world, were and remain important assertions and lessons. But rather than remembering him most for his travels I think I’ll remember him for the positions he unwaveringly took in the face of bad actions. His essay on #metoo struck me as particularly powerful, and specifically the paragraph where he wrote:

In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women. Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage — as much as I’d like to say so — but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them. That doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does makes me, I hope, slightly less stupid.

This was the kind of language and public assertion that needs to be made. Bourdain himself was a deeply flawed individual, and he at least presented the image of someone who was trying to work through those flaws and present them as things that can overcome in the course of life. However, while those facets might be worn down over time they were unlikely to ever be entirely eliminated. Rather than showcasing himself as having overcome his past he, instead, presented himself as a man involved in an ongoing narrative, without a clear conclusion, but with an intent to rectify and avoid the sins of his past. There are far worse narratives to carry us through our lives.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

  • Jack Layton

Great Photography Shots

These aerial shots of Buddhist temples in Myanmar by Dimitar Karanikolov are stunning.

Music I’m Digging

Max Richter-Sleep (Remixes)

Art I Want

Di•a•graph•i•a by Sarah Hulsey

 

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

A Civil Rights Company?

Photo by Youssef Sarhan on Unsplash

Much has been made of Tim Cook’s advocacy on issues of privacy and gay rights. The most recent iteration of Safari that was unveiled at WWDC will incorporate techniques that hinder, though won’t entirely stop, advertisers and websites from tracking users across the Internet. And Apple continues to support and promote gay rights; the most evident manifestations of this is Apple selling pride-inspired Apple Watch bands and a matching pride-based watch facealong with company’s CEO being an openly gay man.

It’s great that Apple is supporting these issues. But it’s equally important to reflect on Apple’s less rights-promoting activities. The company operates around the world and chooses to pursue profits to the detriment of the privacy of its China-based users. It clearly has challenges — along with all other smartphone companies — in acquiring natural mineral resources that are conflict-free; the purchase of conflict minerals raises fundamental human rights issues. And the company’s ongoing efforts to minimize its taxation obligations have direct impacts on the abilities of governments to provide essential services to those who are often the worst off in society.

Each of the above examples are easily, and quickly, reduced to assertions that Apple is a public company in a capitalist society. It has obligations to shareholders and, thus, can only do so much to advance basic rights while simultaneously pursuing profits. Apple is, on some accounts, actively attempting to enhance certain rights and promote certain causes and mitigate certain harms while simultaneously acting in the interests of its shareholders.

Those are all entirely fair, and reasonable, arguments. I understand them all. But I think that we’d likely all be well advised to consider Apple’s broader activities before declaring that Apple has ‘our’ backs, on the basis that ‘our’ backs are often privileged, wealthy, and able to externalize a range of harms associated with Apple’s international activities.

The Roundup for May 5-11, 2018 Edition

The Ride by Christopher Parsons

During my Master’s degree I was given the opportunity to provide feedback on early work being written by Jim Tully and Jurgen Habermas. Reading their work and thinking about it seriously and critically so as to suggest improvements taught me the importance of grace in feedback and, also, that even superstar scholars produce first drafts that leave significant room for improvement. Most importantly, it taught me that the finished material that I was reading in journals and books came from authors who’s draft writing was flawed, just like my first drafts.1

Engaging with drafts is probably one of the hardest things that you can do, because you want to be as helpful as possible and — at least in academia — that often means being incredibly critical of the work in question. The intent shouldn’t ever be to ‘kill’ the work; whatever criticism is provided ought to be nuanced with the view of improving it. A reviewer should indicate why a particular section, or paragraph, or sentence is a problem, provide ideas for resolving the tension if any come to mind, and even suggest alternate ways of thinking about the idea, concept, or text under review. At all points the goal should not be to edit and critique, not for the sake of editing and engaging in critique, but instead in the service of supporting the author so that their work communicates their ideas, descriptions, and conclusions in the most concise and illuminating ways possible.

Because the first authors I provided serious feedback to were paragons in my field at the time I had to be careful, nuanced, and generous in my comments. I had to really engage with the work and not give it a quick read and spit out half-baked analyses and critiques. Unfortunately, not enough reviewers of academic texts provide this kind of thoughtful response, likely because most reviewers are rushing to read and review the piece so they can get to their own commitments. As a result, comments and feedback can be abrupt, not engage with core arguments, and be overly brief to the point of being unhelpful to the author.

Reviewing is one of the most thankless jobs in academia, and more broadly in the literary community. Authors know the importance of strong reviewers. But this reviewing element of the writing process is entirely invisible to people who just read the finished work and, by extension, leads to conclusions that authors somehow produce brilliant prose out of nowhere. Lost is the fact that all manuscripts are really multi-authored; it’s just that the ‘lesser’ secondary authors who engage with the author at the earliest stages to course correct the text, to provide suggestions, and to suggest different phrasings, are left off. And that’s perfectly fine. But I think that it’d be a lot less scary for people to start writing if they realized that the process writing almost always involves a large number of non-authors who help to evolve a work from first to final draft, and how significantly ideas and intentions behind a work’s publication can change from inception to conclusion. In effect, I think it’d be useful to know that the ‘stars’ in any given literary field stand at the forefront of a small army of helpers, assistants, and supporters, as opposed to heroically on their lonesome with their finished manuscripts.


The Paywall Craze

Paul Om wrote,

… I think the paywall craze which is sweeping the media herd will be a big reality check for the news and magazine publishers. So many of them are drinking their own spiked kool -aid. They will soon realize the size of their “real audience” and will soon realize that they don’t pass the “value for money” threshold. There are very few publications that have a feeling of must-reads and must-haves.

This feels pretty dead on; the issue, today, is that there is so much content that the act of choosing is the hard part. I think that the only content that is going to be subscribed to is either that which is regarded as essential to someone’s life or that they spend money on in order to focus their time and attention on it. Sure, there’s some popular media that will survive a shift to paywalls but I suspect a lot of organizations will realize just how little their readers actually value what was being produced. And that’s going to hurt for the media organizations and for the writers working there.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

In many ways, fame is the industrial disease of creativity. It’s a sludgy byproduct of making things.

—Mike Myers

Great Art

I really love these illustration by Jenn Woodall

May banner by Jenn Woodall
Know Your Enemy by Jenn Woodall
Painting for ‘GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS’ who at Northern Contemporary Gallery by Jenn Woodall

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

  1. I mean, their work was more complex and nuanced that my work at the time. But in all our cases the first draft was the first stab at explaining and arguing instead of being the first and final word(s).

The Roundup for April 28-May 4, 2018 Edition

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Hoop Dreams by Christopher Parsons

In the wake of the Toronto attack any number of journalists are trying to become experts on the ‘incel’ community, which defines itself as a community of men who are involuntarily celibate and as deserving intercourse with women. It’s led to some suggestions that maybe it’s appropriate to think about policy solutions to the ‘problem’. At issue, of course, is that some persons have failed to recognize the problem itself. Consider Ross Douthat, who links Amia Srinivasan’s ruminations on the links between desire and politics with incels, effectively conjoining a misogynistic subculture with “the overweight and disabled, minority groups treated as unattractive by the majority, trans women unable to find partners and other victims … of a society that still makes us prisoners of patriarchal and also racist-sexist-homophobic rules of sexual desire.” Douthat continues to ultimately argue that a combination of commerce, technology, and efforts to destigmatize sex work will lead to “at a certain point, without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists, and that it makes sense to look to some combination of changed laws, new technologies and evolved mores to fulfill it.”

Douthat’s entire argumentative structure — that the ‘problem’ to solve in an inability to engage in sexual, if not romantic, relationships — is predicated on the notion that there is such a thing as a legitimate right to intercourse. There is not. There is a legitimate right to safe, respectful, and destigmatized sexual relationships and activities. There is a right to sexual education, to sexual health and wellbeing, but there is no right to intercourse: such a right would imply that the act of penetrating another person is necessary and appropriate. That is clearly not the case.

Instead, the problem with the incel community is linked with misogyny. Specifically, as Jessica Valenti writes, the problem is with misogynist terrorism, a situation where certain men’s disdain towards women drives mass murders. Part of solving this particular problem is linked with addressing the underlying culture in America, and the world more generally. Specifically, she writes:

Part of the problem is that American culture still largely sees men’s sexism as something innate rather than deviant. And in a world where sexism is deemed natural, the misogynist tendencies of mass shooters become afterthoughts rather than predictable and stark warnings.

The truth is that in addition to not protecting women, we are failing boys: failing to raise them to believe they can be men without inflicting pain on others, failing to teach them that they are not entitled to women’s sexual attention and failing to allow them an outlet for understandable human fear and foibles that will not label them “weak” or unworthy.

It’s essential that men, and boys, learn about how to engage with other humans in non-destructive ways. Such a process is borderline revolutionary because it entails reshaping how cultural, social, legal, and economic relationships are structured, and any such restructuring must be motivated by a rebalancing of power relationships across genders and races (and, ultimately, geographies). The outcome will be that the privilege that straight white men have enjoyed for centuries will be diminished and, correspondingly, restrict the social and economic opportunities that some men have enjoyed solely because of their gender and race. But those changes are essential if we’re to actually confront the misogyny and racism that underlies not just incel culture, but that of mainstream society and politics as well.


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Writing—I can really only speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever). Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.

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MPs consider contempt charges for Canadian company linked to Cambridge Analytica after raucous committee meeting

Aggregate IQ executives came to answer questions before a Canadian parliamentary committee. Then they had the misfortune of dealing with a well-connected British Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham:

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, MPs pressed Silvester and Massingham on their company’s work during the Brexit referendum, for which they are currently under investigation in the UK over possible violations of campaign spending limits. Under questioning from Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Silvester and Massingham insisted they had fully cooperated with the UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. But as another committee member, Liberal MP Frank Baylis, took over the questioning, Erskine-Smith received a text message on his phone from Denham which contradicted the pair’s testimony.

Erskine-Smith handed his phone to Baylis, who read the text aloud.  “AIQ refused to answer her specific questions relating to data usage during the referendum campaign, to the point that the UK is considering taking further legal action to secure the information she needs,” Denham’s message said.

Silvester replied that he had been truthful in all his answers and said he would be keen to follow up with Denham if she had more questions.

It’s definitely a bold move to inform parliamentarians, operating in a friendly but foreign jurisdiction, that they’re being misled by one of their witnesses. So long as such communications don’t overstep boundaries — such as enabling a government official to engage in a public witchhunt of a given person or group — these sorts of communications seem essential when dealing with groups which have spread themselves across multiple jurisdictions and are demonstrably behaving untruthfully.