The Roundup for October 29 – November 4, 2018 Edition

A Day at the Beach by Christopher Parsons

When I moved into my current condo I was excited about the location and soured by the lack of light and the closing of a local business I was excited to live near. And that lack of light really ground on me: since I moved in I’ve thought about what it would be like to move in the next year or so into a place with far more natural light. Where I choose to live was where I lived but not where I identified as being home.

In the past week, however, I’ve made a personal decision to try and make my rental feel more like a home. So instead of putting off purchasing some particular decorations — additional frames, new prints of my photos, small decorative pieces, etc — I’ve committed to picking up pieces that I’ve known I’ve wanted and started putting them where they fit in my space. It’s been helping me to love where I live and not feel like I’m just living in a semi-personalized Airbnb.

Toronto is an incredibly expensive rental market and I’m fortunate to be in the unit that I am, at the price it’s renting out at, and in exactly the location of the city that I love. I’m beside many of the leading theatres, the main symphony hall, all the large sporting stadiums, the water, and some of the best shops in the country. And the process of decorating is shaping and positively affecting my relationship with where I live: that there are bright prints helps to liven up what are otherwise dark walls. My use of candles during the night remind me of how amazing it is that light doesn’t intrude into the space, insofar as I can create a more intimate space than should neon lights or street lamps leak light through my windows. And the relative quietude of my space is also a bit surprising for the part of the city I’m in: being away from the main streets, it’s rare to hear much noise at all from the city.

I don’t think that I’m ever going to be in a situation where the lack of light is a defining good thing in my life, but I do think that it’s one of those facets of life which I can make due with, and especially as I balance that one negative element against all of the positive facets of the rental I’m inhabiting. One of the key things that I want and need to do is be at peace when I’m at home and I think that my most recent mental shift is going to be key to achieving that sense of peace and relaxation.


I was prompted into personal reflection this week by a relatively simple set of questions.

  1. Who has had the greatest impact on your life?
  2. In what place are you most comfortable or safe, with ‘place’ being defined as either a physical location (e.g. bed, cottage, lake) or a kind of situation (e.g. wrapped in someone’s arms, a dog or cat on your lap, etc)?
  3. What thing could you not live without?

I won’t delve into my own answers but the process of reflection, itself, has been personally revealing insafar as the questions prompted some answers which I don’t think I would have intuitively expected.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does.”

  • George Orwell

Great Photography Shots

The winners of the 2018 Siena International Photo Awards are just breathtaking in both composition and, in many of the shots, the feelings and emotions they express.

”Migration” by Khalid Alsabt. Desert of Dahana, Saudi Arabia. 2° Classified, The Beauty of Nature.
“Game of Colors” by Anurag Kumar. Nandgaon, Uttar Pradesh, India. 2° Classified, Fragile Ice.
“Hanging in the Primary Forest” by Marco Gaiotti. Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia. Honorable Mention, Animals in Their Environment.
“Fisherman at Inle Lake” by Yinzhi Pan. Inle Lake, Myanmar. 1° Classified, Student.
“Runner” by Marcel van Balken. Arnhem, The Netherlands. 1° Classified, General Monochrome.

Music I’m Digging

  • Mikel & Gamechops – Zelda & Chill // There’ve been a few mornings when I’ve felt somewhat melancholy, during which I’ve found this album to be good company. It’s sufficiently chill that it prompts reflection and a sense of quietude is occasionally punctuated by smiles when you can hear the familiar Zelda music themes come through in a given track.
  • Daniel Hope – A Baroque Journey // I had the distinct privilege to hear Daniel Hope (and accompaniment) play this week. It was a truly exceptional experience. While the album doesn’t do the live performance justice — the album is extremely well done but is far less playful than a live performance — it’s excellent. What I find perhaps most striking is the role of the harpsichord and the lute, which are instruments for which I’d never really had a great deal of appreciation.
  • The Prodigy – No Tourists // This has been a terrific album to dig into; I’ve listened to it at least a half-dozen times since it’s come out and enjoy it as much (if not more) with each playing. The tracks are tight and are pretty well ‘classic’ Prodigy; some, like, ‘Need Some1’ are probably going to end up as classic as ‘Firestarter’ insofar as it just expresses who and what the band is at a fundamental level.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Song Exploder – Halloween (Theme) // It was interesting to hear the Carpenters talks about how, and why, they created the original Halloween theme song the way they did. In effect, a limited budget, time, and capability drove them to create the original Halloween theme song in a manner that was better because of it’s imperfections. And, when they recreated a version of the song for the latest Halloween movie they, once again, sought to capture those imperfections to convey an eerie atmosphere to the song. I definitely think they were successful in their endeavour!
  • Putting Racism on the Table: Implicit Bias/White Privilege/Structural Racism // This series of podcasts from 2016 was sponsored by the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WAG) and broadly sought to have open, and transparent, discussions about key problems with the social and power structures of white Western states. In addition to unpacking the various topics covered in each of the episodes (and denoted in their titles), the speakers in each identified strategic interventions that can take place and why acting at the structural level is so important. To begin, as humans we are capable of consciously engaging with a small fraction of our world; our subconscious deals with the majority of the information coming into our brains and prompts our subsequent reactions without deliberate thought. In effect, we’re predisposed to respond to the world based on learned behaviours and stereotypes. Consequently, we need to modify the environments from which those behaviours are developed and stereotypes learned. Some of that, in a hiring environment, means deliberately mitigating the subconscious biases that might intrude into the process: we should perhaps remove names, or have different parties review education and experience, and must absolutely have checklists to ensure that each and every candidate has a fair opportunity in comparison to other candidates. In the discussion of white privilege one of the new ideas I heard was to deliberately engage with the idea of white identity. This approach was meant to prompt a reconsideration of how ‘whiteness’ is developed, perceived, and realized: it’s not sufficient to address ‘whiteness’ solely through the lens of reacting to the harms associated with it (and caused to others) but, instead, demands a proactive engagement with a sense of what it means to inhabit white skin. Such an engagement might focus on inclusively, on shared community and learning, and on facilitating equity versus equality. But, critically, it’s about reconceiving the conception of ‘whiteness’ itself in order to re-order the subconscious and, subsequently, enable more equitable relations in the social, political, and economic spheres of life.
  • Word Bomb – ‘Partner’: The best name for your better half // The hosts of this TVO podcast reflect on the terms which are used to refer to romantic partners and discuss how there are significant differences of opinions concerning whether ‘partner’ reflects a romantic relationships (versus a business relationship) and, also, whether straight couples adopting the term ‘partner’ entails stealing a term away from the gay community. I’d never considered ‘partner’ as a straight/gay term but, instead, one that just indicated a level of intimacy and seriousness while simultaneously lacking the religious or secular commitments of marriage.1 Towards the end of the podcast I was taken aback that the idea of people like myself using ‘partner’ was appropriating it; while the podcast hosts ended up coming to a conclusion that it’s likely acceptable for all relationship-types to use the term I was left less certain than they were and am left questioning the appropriateness (ahem) of using the term.
  • Hurry Slowly – Adam Grant: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Appreciation // Grant’s assessment of the effects of demonstrating appreciation to others — and receiving recognition of how we have affected other people’s lives — clarifies the specific and positive results of affirming how other persons impact our lives. Perhaps most interestingly, Grant find that delaying the communication of appreciation — such that we inform someone months or years later — has the effect of enhancing the positive experience of receiving such feedback. Moreover, he finds that by preparing a large number of such messages in a short period of time, as opposed to doing a little bit each day, has a correspondingly more powerful impact on the person who is expressing their appreciation to other persons.

Good Reads for the Week

  • What’s All This About Journaling? // The author’s evaluation and assessment of journaling is not necessarily novel: keeping a journal can be helpful for thinking through what matters, a way of dumping debris from the brain so you can focus on other things, or encourage the writer to prompt changes in their lives if the same difficult topics keep arising. What is missing from the assessment, to my eye, is that the power of keeping a journal is also tightly linked to reviewing the past and determining whether, and if so what, has changed in one’s life. From my own practice I’ve found that writing alone isn’t sufficient: reflection, after the fact, of what was written is as (if not more) important as the practice of writing itself.
  • How Not to Return to the Spotlight // Emily K. Smith’s analysis of Ansari returning to the spotlight is helpful in understanding what could have been done by Ansari, and the significance of him not undertaking the labour to genuinely reflect and engage with what he is accused of having done. One of the things that I noted in Smith’s analysis was that for Ansari, and many others, the ground shifted quickly underneath them and what might have previously been regarded as ‘bad behaviour’ transformed radically into ‘absolutely unacceptable and socially condemnable behaviour’. The act of nagging someone into consent hasn’t ever been acceptable but it’s now especially unacceptable and can come with mass condemnation from hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. Unfortunately, instead of trying to come to grips with those changes and continuing to work towards being an ally towards women Ansari has, for now, chosen to retreat from the very group whom he had previously seemed to have supported.
  • How An Entire Nation Became Russia’s Test Lab for Cyberwar // There have been so many times where people have said that a power grid has been hacked that it’s hard to take seriously. The boy has cried “wolf” too many times. However, Greenberg’s article on how the Ukrainian grid has been repeatedly attacked and the degrees of detail contained make clear that operators have successfully and deliberately interfered with power distribution in the Ukraine. What’s more, the operators could have engaged in more disruptive activities had they so chosen. In aggregate, the article both reveals the ability of the operators — and their supporters — to engage in significant kinetic activities in some situations and, perhaps more worrying, a lack of strong and clear normative redlines to establish that such behaviours as absolutely out of bounds. Such redlines are essential in international relations to clarify the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and the terms of contravening such boundaries; their absence emboldens adversaries while enabling Western operators more freedom of action to the potential detriment of other nations’ citizens’ and residents’ basic rights. The latter cannot be seen as a rationale for avoiding norms meant to inhibit the former.
  • How Writers Map Their Imaginary Worlds // While I don’t have experience writing any genuine works of fiction, I’ve always found that maps are essential both for collaborative storytelling as well as for helping me imagine what a roleplaying game world functionally is in an important sense: without a map, I have a hard time thinking about the relationships between different groups, natures of economies, sacred places, and so forth. At the same time, I often find that the mapping process itself takes far longer than the act of writing, with the former existing in the challenging world of art, whereas the latter fits within what is, for me, a comparatively accessible and ‘easy’ creative domain.
  • Japan’s Unusual Way to View the World // Wabi-sabi is a philosophy underlying some creative Japanese works, and embraces the imperfections of the world and celebrates the beauty latent within the world that we exist within. It’s the very lack of perfection — the lack of symmetry in pottery, as an example — that inspires a moment of reflection and contemplation, that centres the persons engaging with the pottery with the fact that human hands touching natural materials created the items in question. As someone who was recently gifted with pottery which was crafted per this philosophy, the article gave me that much more to think about whenever I drink from the bowls that now live in my home, and has led me to appreciate the depths of the gift.
  • Big In Japan // This article about Japanese Kit Kats is spectacular. The writing, in and of itself, is a kind of linguistic art form, with sentences like, “All I knew was that the wafer was huge, golden, marked with square cups and totally weightless. That if it hadn’t been still warm from the oven, I wouldn’t have known it was there. That if this was the soul of a Kit Kat, then holding the soul of a Kit Kat was like holding nothing at all” and “…it was, in fact, completely impossible to remove a taste from its origin without changing it in the process.” The little details — such as the chocolate being different around the world but wafers the same everywhere, or the nature of how stores feel when tourists are buying product was inspiring. This is food journalist at its absolute best insofar as it leaves you with both a cultural appreciation of the foodstuff as well as a mouth that is watering after reading about the culinary experience.
  • Writing well ≠ dumbing down // I appreciated how this article considered how writing for the general public is often harder than writing for specialist audiences, significantly because “…you usually have to know your stuff better to write well for a general audience. If you’re writing for your scholarly peers, there are certain critical buzzwords, voguish phrases, and terms of art that you can use to gesture in the direction of a concept, trusting that people who have used those terms themselves will pick up on what you’re saying. But you don’t even have to have a very clear understanding of the concepts in order to deploy the terms — you just have to have a sense of the kind of sentence in which they belong. By contrast, when you’re writing for a general audience who does not know the language of your guild, you have to understand those concepts well enough to translate them into a more accessible idiom.” I could not agree more though, by way of juxtaposition, I sometimes find that when I’ve spent a great deal of time working on certain projects with public groups and/or professionals that it has deeply challenging to translate what is relatively obvious and coherent facts and ideas into the often tortured venue of academic analysis and writing. Perhaps the greatest sin of much academic writing is analysis and critique for no evident purpose or relationship to the object of study, to the point that a practitioner looks at academic writing and (at best) amusedly tries to figure out how their subject area has become entirely obscure and opaque to them.
  • ‘God Is Going to Have to Forgive Me’: Young Evangelicals Speak Out // As the American mid-terms come closer and closer, it’s intriguing to read what persons aged 18-38, and who identify as Evangelicals, are saying about their faith and politics. It’s clear why Trump resonates in some forums and equally clear why he acts as a repugnant force in others. What is most striking as I read these is that for many the idea of voting for a party supportive of safe and lawful abortions is a red line. It’s the most common area where there remains a deep desire by evangelicals to impose the tenets of their faith on an ostensibly secular state, but if other faiths asserted the same kinds of demand I suspect evangelicals (young and old) would be up in arms to prevent the spread of ‘non-Christian’ values.
  • New data shows China has “taken the gloves off” in hacking attacks on US // What’s perhaps most interesting in this article is that the present deterrence systems adopted by the USA and its allies are not mitigating or restraining attacks. While it’s possible that the inditements being issued by the USA’s government will have some effect, I think that this element of lawfare depends on the USA being seen as a high rule of law country. Should its judicial system fall into disrepute — such as by overly politicizing the judiciary — then other countries with low rule of law (e.g. Russia or China) might be able to issue similar kinds of inditements towards the USA’s operators, and those charges be as respected as the American charges. In effect: the one tool that might be a quasi-effective manner of inhibiting at least some operations may be threatened by the growing politicization of the American judiciary, risking the removal of one of a few (potentially) useful modes of responding to adversarial attacks on USA companies and government infrastructure.

Cool Things

  • All Over The Map // National Geographic has a maps blog!
  • Paper Airplane Designs // Super impressed by the different kinds of paper airplanes that can be created and their respective flight profiles.

Footnotes

  1. On a personal note, I’d used this term for many years in British Columbia and it was only when I returned to Toronto that it was apparent to me that the term was associated with gay couples.
Aside

The Roundup for October 8-28, 2018 Edition

Glass, Rising by Christopher Parsons

Content moderation is something that is fraught with challenges; is too much speech being blocked as a result? Too little bad speech that harms others being permitted? Does moderation enable political actors to distort the public sphere? Enable corporations to advance their interests at the expense of competitors and innovators?

These are all important elements of the ‘content moderation’ debate. But it’s not what has me thinking about moderation at the moment. Instead, it was a more localized environment — a conference setting — that left me with a bad taste in my mouth because of how things were not moderated. Specifically, in a situation where there were only men on a panel addressing threats to electoral processes, another older white man asked how society should deal with cases where women accuse politicians of sexual impropriety, abuse, or other misdeeds: how do we deal with such threats to the political process that run the risk of undermining white men’s abilities to run for office?

The panelists muddled through the question/statement and noted how these disruptions could be challenging for electoral processes. None asserted, as panelists, that women do not tend to allege such activities unless they genuinely happened; women know the costs of making even the most absolutely best-founded allegation, insofar as society will demonize the accuser and tend to shield or defend whomever is accused. Moreover, while an accuser may suffer for the rest of their life for raising the allegations — they may be less likely to be employed, as an example — the accused tends to be fine: they can re-enter society after a minimal ‘cooling off’ period and shrug off the allegation or accusation.

So I was annoyed by the panelists and their decision(s) to not engage with the question head on. But I was most upset that the moderator for the panel didn’t just slap down the ‘question’ and move on: the very fact that the question was upheld as legitimate by the moderator showcased the structural problem that continues to face women who merely want to declare that given persons are, or have been, dangerous. Moderation at the global scale carries with it a unique set of challenges — noted in the opening paragraph — whereas in more localized settings those challenges are remarkably less problematic. It was deeply disappointing that in such a localized setting male white privilege was permitted to reign supreme, with no moderation, though it did affirm to me — and made much clearer — that panel moderators and panelists themselves need to be more affirmative in not accepting the premise of the question in the first place.

And, failing a willingness to stand up and push back against questions that raise doubt about women’s experiences, how people react to such questions at least indicate which men are not committed to equity in a meaningful sense and, as such, are not persons who strike me as suitable to collaborate with on current projects. I just don’t think that I could, or would want to, work with someone who carries a latent suspicion of women either consciously or unconsciously.1 That’s a value-set that I cannot appreciate or understand, and think is fundamentally the latent set of values that had led to the passive approval of individuals and political parties which are substantially committed to the supremacy of (white) men over all other persons in the political commons. And that’s a kind of value-set that needs to be stamped out and have a stake driven through its ideological heart.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

– Fredrick Douglass

Piece of Poetry

Love after love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

– Derek Walcott

Great Photography Shots

Grey Chow’s astrophotgraphy is absolutely stunning; looking at it, it makes clear that the universe is so much larger than we imagine and surrounds us, though often in ways in which our sense of time prevents us from immediately perceiving.

Music I’m Digging

  • Tom Misch – Reverie (EP) // Misch has a kind of jazzy album which I’m enjoying listening to when I’m cooking or reading, or just generally want to generate a downtempo mood in my home. It’s not the most magical of sounds but it is pleasant to have playing in my backgrounds.
  • Logic’s Bobby Tarantino, Bobby Tarantino II, and YSIV // Logic is a rapper who came from Maryland and, for his first few years, thrived principally on mixtapes. The character/play of the Bobby Tarantino series showcases both a kind of nihilism in the lyrics as well as solid rhythms and poetic inflections, and strong homages to the classic eras of west coast wrap. YSIV has a series of tracks that I’m absolutely captured by: Wu Tang Forever is one of the best Wu Tang songs from the past decade or so, 100 Miles and Running speaks to the challenges and triumphs that come with success, and the final track on the album — Last Call — is a really beautiful story of his life and what he went through to become where he is now. I’ve been listening to logic on near-constant replay for a week and I’m still just picking out more depth and appreciation for the work he’s doing.
  • Abir – Mint (EP) // I’ve been listening to Abir’s 2017 album over a series of playlists for over a year, but it just never struck me that it was part of the same album. That’s not because it lacks cohesion — it does! — and more that I just hadn’t paid sufficient attention to link everything together. The album significantly speaks to being alone, or single, and surviving in the world. Survival, I think, is probably the right word: Tango, Young & Rude, and Finest Hour all speak to the challenges that can arise especially following challenging relationships, or even preceding new ones. The album, on the whole, feels cohesive and as though it could also be merged with a larger series of works to create a narrative arc of relationships through a full album.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Modern Love – I Was Hardly the Perfect Fit // This podcast, about a distant father trying to connect with his son who lived with his ex-wife, resonated with me; though the relationship that I had with my own father was notably different, elements of the story sounded similar to the relationship that I had with my own dad. The ending — where the strength of their present relationship was revealed — was painful: it was exactly the kind of relationship I’d have dreamed to one day built with my own father.
  • Lawfare – Jim Baker on AI and Counterintelligence // Jim has a good, broad, assessment of the counterintelligence challenges associated with AI technologies. He isn’t a technologist so the assessment of AI is pretty high level/superficial at the technical level, but the analysis of ways that foreign state actors might interfere with or compromise the development of domestic (USA in this case) AI systems, algorithms, and technologies is relatively comprehensive. It’s a useful listen if you want a good and fast intro to some of the challenges in this space.

Good Reads for the Week

  • Four Hundred And Eighty Two (On Vulnerability // I found this transcription of David Whyte to be beautiful and powerful; the thrust is to unpack what is vulnerability and why it’s not something to run from but to embrace. Fundamentally our relationships, at their core, are best when they involve committing to vulnerability to one another. The pursuit of vulnerable relationships is the pursuit of relationships that matter the most, and resonate the most, throughout the course of our lives.
  • How to get that great “hoppy” beer taste without the exploding bottles // Jennifer Ouellette has a cool story of how Brewer-scientists figured out how dry hopping beer leads to refermentation and, by extension, increases to pressure in cans and bottles. Specifically, brewers can add hops after the heated fermentation process to impart flavours but without significantly contributing to the bitterness that is often associated with hops when they are heated. The culprit to the refermentation was found and that may mean there are fewer exploding dry hopped beers on shelves and homes as brewers take the results to heart.
  • Why Public Transportation Works Better Outside the U.S. // While I may disagree with some of the cheery assessment of Toronto’s transit infrastructure, English’s article nicely summarized the core differences between transit systems in the United States and other jurisdictions around the world. Key is that investment never has stopped in other jurisdictions and urban planners have built transit with the idea of people and businesses then coming to encircle the transit hubs, as opposed to trying to build hubs into existing urban infrastructure.
  • Senate Truce Collapses as G.O.P. Rush to Confirm More Judges Begins Anew // The norms of governance continue to be challenged by the GOP while they seek to transform the quality and types of justice that will likely be meted out in the coming decades. The systematic stacking of the judiciary with Republicans will mean that even should Democrats manage to disrupt and undue the GOP’s gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts, that any legislation they pass will likely undergo undue scrutiny and hostility from an increasingly politicized judicial branch of government.
  • Eight Stories of Men’s Regret // This set of eight stories demonstrate different levels of sexual aggressiveness or assault or inappropriate behaviour. They’re not the sole worst kinds of stories that exist but, in a way, that’s what makes them most significant: they are public revelations of the misdeeds of men that reflect their failures and, in some cases, the social pressures that led to their misdeeds. Those pressures do not excuse the behaviours, nor do they justify them. They do, however, provide a mirror upon which men can see themselves, through these other men, in questioning their own pasts and considering how to engage with other persons in the future.
  • Collapse of ancient city’s water system may have led to its demise // The failure of Angkor’s irrigation and water delivery system is a warning that societies are typically ill-suited to deal with massive changes in weather, let alone climate. It can and should be read as a herald of what may come six centuries later as our politicians and publics steadfastly fail to address the real, serious, and imminent threats posed by climate change.
  • The Goal in Love // I like this essay because it asserts we should be seeking ourselves, first, in our relationships as opposed to trying to find ourselves in the persons we enter into relationships with. Indeed, if I can think of single major lesson I’ve learned in the past few years it is the importance of accepting yourself and not depending on others to enable such acceptance; it’s by being comfortable with ourselves as whole persons that we are able to engage in wholesome relationships with one another.
  • When to Open a Bottle: Aging Wine Without the Anxiety // While I move too often to even contemplate what it would be like to cellar a wine for a decade or more — let along have the space to do so! — this article from the New York Times is helpful in guiding a novice through the process of properly investing, aging, and testing wines that have been cellared.
  • The Ultimate What To Bring Guide // I understand the rationales provided for making sure that you always have all the camera lenses you might need when on vacation, with a focus on covering off a fast prime, as well as having a short-, and long-range zoom. But I actually think that most travel is better done with a pair of lenses, maximum. My preference is a 35mm or 50mm equivalent, and a long-range (e.g. 80mm-300mm) zoom if I’m going to be travelling into the wilderness. I personally find that by having a fixed focal distance I’m inspired to be more creative and mindful of what I’m shooting, and spend more time just shooting as compared to thinking about what lens I need and when I need it.

Cool Things

Footnotes

  1. Yes, people can awaken and change. And so in the future it’s always possible that people holding these values might turn into someone I’d feel comfortable working with. But in the here and now I don’t think it would be appropriate to work with, or support, persons who hold (or at least don’t oppose) such views.

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).