Link

Links for December 14-18, 2020

Links for December 14-18, 2020

  • The coming war on the hidden algorithms that trap people in poverty || “A family member lost work because of the pandemic and was denied unemployment benefits because of an automated system failure. The family then fell behind on rent payments, which led their landlord to sue them for eviction. While the eviction won’t be legal because of the CDC’s moratorium, the lawsuit will still be logged in public records. Those records could then feed into tenant-screening algorithms, which could make it harder for the family to find stable housing in the future. Their failure to pay rent and utilities could also be a ding on their credit score, which once again has repercussions.” // The harms done by automated decision making are deeply under appreciated, and routinely harm those whom society has set aside as ‘appropriate’ test subjects for these inequitable technologies. It’s abhorrent, unethical, and unjust.
  • Understanding 5g, and why it’s the future (not present) for mobile communications – tidbits // This is the most accessible, and helpful, primer for 5G that I think I’ve come across this year.
  • How Russia wins the climate crisis || “…agriculture offers the key to one of the greatest resources of the new climate era — food — and in recent years Russia has already shown a new understanding of how to leverage its increasingly strong hand in agricultural exports. In 2010, when wildfires and drought conspired to ruin Russia’s grain harvests, Putin banned the exporting of wheat in order to protect his own people, then watched as global wheat prices tripled. The world reeled in response. From Pakistan to Indonesia, poverty increased. High prices rocked delicate political balances in Syria, Morocco and Egypt, where about 40 percent of daily caloric intake is from bread. The shortages poured fuel on Arab Spring uprisings, which eventually pushed millions of migrants toward Europe, with destabilizing effect — a bonus for Russian interests. And much of this turmoil began with wheat. As Michael Werz, a senior fellow for climate migration and security at the Center for American Progress, says, “There’s a reason people demonstrated with baguettes in Cairo.”” // Bread will, once more, be a functional weapon of war as climate change devastates currently fertile land and enables authoritarian countries to express their will—and encourage chaos—by withholding the nutrients required for life itself. One can only hope that countervailing democracies in the Nordic nations and Canada can acts as sufficient counterbalances to withstand potential Russian malfeasance.
  • The outbreak that invented intensive care || “Comparisons are being made to the 1918 influenza pandemic — eerily, just over a century ago — which had a mortality that might turn out similar. But that outbreak occurred without a ventilator in sight. Is this new disease, in fact, more deadly? Thanks to what my predecessors learnt in Copenhagen almost 70 years ago, we can, in some parts of the world, offset the havoc of COVID-19 with mechanical ventilation and sophisticated intensive care that was not available in 1918. But it is as COVID-19 continues to spread in areas that do not have ICU beds — or not nearly enough of them — that we will, sadly, learn the true natural course of this new virus.” // It’s incredible that, until 1952, we didn’t have modern ventilators, and worrying that the ‘true’ mortality of the current pandemic may only be apparent after studies are conducted of countries where contemporary medical technologies are often unavailable.
  • How infectious disease defined the American bathroom || “When architects designed homes in the wake of the 1918 flu pandemic and World War I, they typically took one of two approaches to the recent traumas. The first was to start at the ground-up and rethink everything, like Modernists and the Bauhaus did in the 1920s. The second — and far more common — tactic was to try to forget about the trauma and make ourselves comfortable, which bolstered the popularity of Art Deco design, according to Dianne Pierce, adjunct professorial lecturer in decorative arts and design history at the George Washington University.” // The links between human perceptions of health and safety, and the design and configuration of where we live, are fascinating. The extent(s) to which there will be substantial changes in how we build out homes and living areas will similarly be curious: will design change as a result of the current pandemic or, instead, will we see an active effort to not change or to ignore the events of the past (and coming) year?
Link

Russia, China, the USA and the Geopolitical and National Security Implications of Climate Change

Lustgarden, writing for the New York Times, has probably the best piece on the national security and geopolitical implications of climate change that I’ve recently come across. The assessment for the USA is not good:

… in the long term, agriculture presents perhaps the most significant illustration of how a warming world might erode America’s position. Right now the U.S. agricultural industry serves as a significant, if low-key, instrument of leverage in America’s own foreign affairs. The U.S. provides roughly a third of soy traded globally, nearly 40 percent of corn and 13 percent of wheat. By recent count, American staple crops are shipped to 174 countries, and democratic influence and power comes with them, all by design. And yet climate data analyzed for this project suggest that the U.S. farming industry is in danger. Crop yields from Texas north to Nebraska could fall by up to 90 percent by as soon as 2040 as the ideal growing region slips toward the Dakotas and the Canadian border. And unlike in Russia or Canada, that border hinders the U.S.’s ability to shift north along with the optimal conditions.

Now, the advantages faced by Canada might be eroded by a militant America, and those of Russia similarly threatened by a belligerent and desperate China (and desperate Southeast Asia more generally). Regardless, food and arable land are generally likely to determine which countries take the longest to most suffer from climate change. Though, in the end, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that we are all ultimately going to suffer horribly for the errors of our ways.

Link

Links for December 7-11, 2020

Links for December 7-11, 2020

  • Frustrating the state: Surveillance, public health, and the role of civil society || “…surveillance in times of crisis poses another threat. By granting states unfettered power through emergency orders, data collected through digital surveillance could be shared across agencies and used for purposes beyond the original intention of fighting COVID-19. In states where democratic backsliding has been underway, surveillance could be used to deter dissent and silence government critics. According to Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy firm, Asia is now the highest risk region in both their “Right to Privacy” and “Freedom of Opinion and Expression” indices as “strongmen” in Asia capitalize on the pandemic.” // Surveillance is, almost by its nature, inequitable and the potential harms linked with pandemic surveillance are neither novel nor unforeseeable.
  • Rebecca Solnit: On not meeting nazis halfway || “… the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?”
  • Instagram’s latest middle finger || “…Instagram is now nearly completely unrecognizable from the app that I fell in love with. The feed of images is still key, but with posting now shoved into a corner, how long until that feed becomes a secondary part of the service?” // Cannot agree more.
  • The Epicenter // The storytelling for this piece on the experiences of the Covid-19 outbreak is poorer areas of New York by the NYT is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking.
  • Poor security at online proctoring company may have put student data at risk || “Kumar, CEO of Proctortrack’s parent company Verificient, says students have “valid concerns” and that he sympathizes with their discomfort. Proctoring software is “intrusive by nature” he says, but “if there’s no proctoring solution, institutions will have to totally change how they provide exams. Often you can’t do that given the time and limitations we have.”” // Justifying producing a gross product on the basis that if you didn’t other organizations would have to behave more ethically is a very curious, and weird, way of defending your company’s very existence.
  • China rethinking its role || “China’s use of war memory to shape its international position has been much less effective overseas than it has at home. However, the significance of its efforts is real, and may become more effective over time. China wants to create a global narrative around itself which shares a common understanding of the modern world – the idea that 1945 is the beginning of the current order – but places China at the heart of the creation and management of that order. The narrative had more power during an era when the US, anomalously, had a leader who cared little for the order shaped by America in Asia since 1945. Now that a president with a more long-range view of the role of the United States is about to take office, we may see something different again: two differing versions of what 1945 meant in Asia, as defined by Beijing and Washington – and the competition for moral standing that comes from the embrace of that legacy.” // This is a fascinating recounting of how China is re-interpreting activities undertaken by Nationalist forces during World War Two, today, to justify its efforts to be more assertive in the international order today. Like so much in China, understanding how narratives are built and their domestic and foreign rationales and perceived utility is critical to appreciate the country’s foreign policy ambitions, and those ambitions’ potentials and limitations.
Link

To What Extent is China’s Control of Information a Cyber Weakness?

Lawfare has a good piece on How China’s control of information is a cyber weakness:

“Policymakers need to be aware that successful competition in cyberspace depends on having intrinsic knowledge of the consequences a democratic or authoritarian mode of government has for a country’s cyber defense. Western leaders have for a long time prioritized security of physical infrastructure. This might translate into better cyber defense capabilities, but it leaves those governments open to information operations. At the same time, more authoritarian-leaning countries may have comparative advantages when it comes to defending against information operations but at the cost of perhaps being more vulnerable to cyber network attack and exploitation. Authoritarian governments may tolerate this compromise on security due to their prioritization of surveillance and censorship practices.

I have faith that professionals in the intelligence community have previously assessed this divide between what democracies have developed defences against versus what countries like China have prepared against. Nonetheless this is a helpful summary of the two sides of the coin.

I’m less certain of a subsequent argument made in the same piece:

These diverging emphases on different aspects of cybersecurity by democratic and authoritarian governments are not new. However, Western governments have put too much emphasis on the vulnerability of democracies to information operations, and not enough attention has been dedicated to the vulnerability of authoritarian regimes in their cyber defenses. It is crucial for democratic governments to assess the impact of information controls and regime security considerations in authoritarian-leaning countries for their day-to-day cyber operations.”

I really don’t think that intelligence community members in the West are ignorant of the vulnerabilities that may be present in China or other authoritarian jurisdictions. While the stories in Western media emphasize how effective foreign operators are extracting data from Western companies and organizations, intelligence agencies in the Five Eyes are also deeply invested in penetrating strategically and tactically valuable digital resources abroad. One of the top-line critiques against the Five Eyes is that they have invested heavily on offence over defence, and the article from Lawfare doesn’t really ever take that up. Instead, and inaccurately to my mind, it suggests that cyber defence is something done with a truly serious degree of resourcing in the Five Eyes. I have yet to find someone in the intelligence community that would seriously assert a similar proposition.

One thing that isn’t assessed in the article, and which would have been interesting to see considered, is the extent(s) to which the relative dearth of encryption in China better enables their defenders to identify and terminate exfiltration of data from their networks. Does broader visibility into data networks enhance Chinese defenders’ operations? I have some doubts, but it would be curious to see the arguments for and against that position.

Link

Unintentionally Supporting Bad Policy

A way forward for U.S. Policy on TikTok:

“Hu Xijin, the editor of the Chinese state media outlet the Global Times, weighed in recently on the most recent merger proposal. “The US restructuring of TikTok’s stake and actual control should be used as a model and promoted globally,” remarked Hu on Twitter. “Overseas operation of companies such as Google, Facebook shall all undergo such restructure and be under actual control of local companies for security concerns.”

It’s not exactly a good sign for Chinese state media to tout a U.S. play designed to be “tough on China” as a model for global behavior. The United States may be bumbling its way into a precedent the consequences of which it has yet to anticipate. “

This was exactly the concern that was raised by experts in North America the second after the Trump administration proposed its bumblingly-stupid approach to TikTok. With the American policy in place it’s going to be that much harder for Western companies operating in China to have convincing arguments that they shouldn’t need to partner with Chinese organizations tans engage in manufacturing, technology, or intellectual property disclosures as a condition of doing business in China. And the issue won’t end in China: American (and other countries’) businesses are almost certain to have (now) US-framed arguments thrown at them when operating all around the world whenever there is even a marginal ‘national security’ concern linked to the foreign company’s operations.

Link

Links for November 2-6, 2020

  • An (app-agnostic) iOS shortcut for link-blogging. // I’ve been trying this and, on the whole, I’m pretty happy with it so far. It took me a bit to realize that I had to copy text I wanted to automatically include in the text from the article the shortcut can paste, but beyond that has been working really well!
  • Woman ordered to stop smoking at home in ontario ruling. “If you smoke and you live in a condominium in Ontario, a little-noticed ruling may have stubbed out your ability to light up inside your own home. At the very least, it has given new legal heft to a condominium corporation’s ability to ban all smoking indoors if it so chooses … In what is seen as a first in Ontario, Justice Jana Steele ruled in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Oct. 15 against Ms. Linhart and ordered her to stop smoking in her own home.” // Not going to lie: as someone who lives in a shared building this is pretty exciting news, though also reveals just how much power condo rules have over how individuals can enjoy the space they rent or own.
  • To report on tech, journalists must also learn to report on china. “Two years ago, Sean McDonald, cofounder of Digital Public, and I described a global internet landscape fractured by what we called digitalpolitik, or the political, regulatory, military, and commercial strategies employed by governments to project influence in global markets. Now technology stories are just as much about policy, diplomacy, and power as they are about society, engineering, and business.” // This is definitely one of the most succinct, and well sourced, pieces I’ve come across recently that warns of how China needs to be covered by technology journalists. I would just hasten to affirm that similar warnings should apply to scholars and policy makers as well.
  • Chinese-style censorship is no fix for the covid-19 infodemic. “Rather than creating an efficient information curation model, regulator and company wars against ‘rumours’ and ‘harmful content’ have allowed misinformation and extreme content to thrive on the Chinese internet.”
  • The Huawei war. “Whatever happens to Huawei in the near future, China, Russia and other countries have received the message loud and clear: achieving technological sovereignty is imperative. China had grasped the importance of this even before Trump launched his attack, which only strengthened the sense of urgency. It would be ironic if the ultimate effect of the US’s war on Huawei was a much more technologically advanced and independent China, with a completely different supply chain that included no American companies.” // Definitely one of the better summations of where things are with Huawei as it stands today.

The Roundup for December 1-31, 2019 Edition

Alone Amongst Ghosts by Christopher Parsons

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


This month’s update is late, accounting for holidays and my generally re-thinking how to move forward (or not) with these kinds of posts. I find them really valuable, but the actual interface of using my current client (Ulysses) to draft elements of them is less than optimal. So expect some sort of changes as I muddle through how to improve workflow and/or consider the kinds of content that make the most sense to post.


Inspiring Quotation

Be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at—just please yourself.

  • Ralph Steiner

Great Photography Shots

Natalia Elena Massi’s photographs of Venice, flooded, are exquisite insofar as they are objectively well shot while, simultaneously, reminding us of the consequences of climate change. I dream of going to Venice to shoot photos at some point and her work only further inspires those dreams.

Music I’m Digging

I spent a lot of the month listening to my ‘Best of 2019’ playlist, and so my Songs I Liked in December playlist is a tad threadbare. That said, it’s more diverse in genre and styles than most monthly lists, though not a lot of the tracks made the grade to get onto my best of 2019 list.

  • Beck-Guero // I spent a lot of time re-listening to Beck’s corpus throughout December. I discovered that I really like his music: it’s moody, excitable,and catchy, and always evolving from album to album.
  • Little V.-Spoiler (Cyberpunk 2077) (Single) // Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most hyped video games for 2020, and if all of the music is as solid and genre-fitting as this track, then the ambiance for the game is going to be absolutely stellar.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • 99% Invisible-Racoon Resistance // As a Torontonian I’m legally obligated to share this. Racoons are a big part of the city’s identity, and in recent years new organic garbage containers were (literally) rolled out that were designed such that racoons couldn’t get into them. Except that some racoons could! The good news is that racoons are not ‘social learners’ and, thus, those who can open the bins are unlikely to teach all the others. But with the sheer number of trash pandas in the city it’s almost a certainty that a number of them will naturally be smart enough and, thus, garbage will continue to litter our sidewalks and laneways.

Good Reads

  • America’s Dark History of Killing Its Own Troops With Cluster Munitions // Ismay’s longform piece on cluster munitions is not a happy article, nor does the reader leave with a sense that this deadly weapon is likely to be less used. His writing–and especially the tragedies associated with the use of these weapons–is poignant and painful. And yet it’s also critically important to read given the barbarity of cluster munitions and their deadly consequences to friends, foes, and civilians alike. No civilized nation should use these weapons and all which do use them cannot claim to respect the lives of civilians stuck in conflict situations.
  • Project DREAD: White House Veterans Helped Gulf Monarchy Build Secret Surveillance Unit // The failure or unwillingness of the principals, their deputies, or staff to acknowledge they created a surveillance system that has systematically been used to hunt down illegitimate targets—human rights defenders, civil society advocates, and the like—is disgusting. What’s worse is that democratizing these surveillance capabilities and justifying the means by which the program was orchestrated almost guarantees that American signals intelligence employees will continue to spread American surveillance know-how to the detriment of the world for a pay check, the consequences be damned (if even ever considered in the first place).
  • The War That Continues to Shape Russia, 25 Years Later // The combination of the (re)telling of the first Russia-Chechen War and photographs from the conflict serve as reminders of what it looks like when well-armed nation-states engage in fullscale destruction, the human costs, and the lingering political consequences of wars-now-past.
  • A New Kind of Spy: How China obtains American technological secrets // Bhattacharjee’s 2014 article on Chinese spying continues to strike me as memorable, and helpful in understanding how the Chinese government recruits agents to facilitate its technological objectives. Reading the piece helps to humanize why Chinese-Americans may spy for the Chinese government and, also, the breadth and significance of such activities for advancing China’s interests to the detriment of America’s own.
  • Below the Asphalt Lies the Beach: There is still much to learn from the radical legacy of critical theory // Benhabib’s essay showcasing how the history of European political philosophy over the past 60 years or so are in the common service of critique, and the role(s) of Habermasian political theory in both taking account of such critique whilst offering thoughts on how to proceed in a world of imperfect praxis, is an exciting consideration of political philosophy today. She mounts a considered defense of Habermas and, in particular, the claims that his work is overly Eurocentric. Her drawing a line between the need to seek emancipation while standing to confront and overcome the xenophobia, authoritarianism, and racism that is sweeping the world writ large is deeply grounded on the need for subjects like human rights to orient and ground critique. While some may oppose such universalism on the same grounds as they would reject the Habermasian project there is a danger: in doing so, not only might we do a disservice to the intellectual depth that undergirds the concept of human rights but, also, we run the risk of losing the core means by which we can (re)orient the world towards enabling the conditions of freedom itself.
  • Ghost ships, crop circles, and soft gold: A GPS mystery in Shanghai // This very curious article explores the recent problem of ships’ GPS transponders being significantly affected while transiting the Yangtze in China. Specifically, transponders are routinely misplacing the location of ships, sometimes with dangerous and serious implications. The cause, however, remains unknown: it could be a major step up in the (effective) electronic warfare capabilities of sand thieves who illegally dredge the river, and who seek to escape undetected, or could be the Chinese government itself testing electronic warfare capabilities on the shipping lane in preparation of potentially deploying it elsewhere in the region. Either way, threats such as this to critical infrastructure pose serious risks to safe navigation and, also, to the potential for largely civilian infrastructures to be potentially targeted by nation-state adversaries.
  • A Date I Still Think About // These beautiful stories of memorable and special dates speak to just how much joy exists in the world, and how it unexpectedly erupts into our lives. In an increasingly dark time, stories like this are a kind of nourishment for the soul.

Cool Things

  • The Deep Sea // This interactive website that showcases the sea life we know exists, and the depths at which it lives, is simple and spectacular.
  • 100 Great Works Of Dystopian Fiction // A pretty terrific listing of books that have defined the genre.

The Roundup for November 1-30, 2019 Edition

(Hero Pose by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


For the past many years, each month has come with a set of recurring expenses: reducing the debts of various kinds that were incurred as a result of pursuing my education (and current career). These debts have been a millstone hanging from my neck and, at different times, were the first and last things I thought of each and every morning. They’ve cost me dearly both in terms of finances, in terms of lost opportunities, and in terms of personal loses and sacrifices. They have also formed a core element of my ‘financial identity’ for many years and, with their payment, I’m left struggling to determine what that identity should ‘be’ going into the future. Is my future to (probably without effect) save for a down payment on a property (this is functionally impossible in the city in which I live) or save for retirement (in the hopes that’s even possible) or something else entirely? I don’t know what that identity becomes but I am curious, trepidatious, and somewhat excited to see what the future may hold.


Inspiring Quotation

“Being a strong man includes being kind. There’s nothing weak about being honorable and treating others with respect.”

  • Barack Obama

Great Photography Shots

I found Tom Hegen’s shots to be really eerie this month. He has a series of photos that capture Holland’s LED greenhouses, which I find to be incredibly dystopic. Our future as a species: growing our foods indoors because we have so damaged the natural environment that this is all that’s left for us.

Music I’m Digging

  • Gang Starr-One of the Best Yet // Created using bits and pieces of music that survived from Premier’s death (and acquired following considerable legal contestations), the songs are not all equal. But this by-and-large sounds like a definitive Gang Starr album and it’ll be last we likely ever received.
  • Beck-Hyperspace // Beck’s most recent album is, like most, a partial re-invention of what he is and sounds like. In many respects it’s almost like there’s an element of the Chemical Brothers throughout the tracks, in tandem with Beck’s typical lyrical talents. Well worth the listen.
  • Leonard Cohen-Thanks for the Dance // If you like Cohen’s albums as he aged—namely, as he shifted more to spoken word accompanied with instrumentals—then you’re in for a (last) treat from one of Montreal’s best. The tracks are lyrically held together by Cohen’s sexual interests in the last days of his life, and the emphasis on what he wanted and which was forever slightly beyond him.
  • DJ Shadow-Our Pathetic Age // This is really a two-‘disc’ album, with the first predominantly instrumentals and the second more typical DJ Shadow fare. I’m not the biggest fan of the former, whereas the latter is absolutely amazing. The range of classic hip hop talent on the tracks, combined with Shadow’s beats, are absolutely to die for.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • TVO—Why Conservatives and Liberals Think Differently // Research showcases that there are differences between the tendencies in how persons of different political persuasions think, and not at the level of who they support politically but in how they interpret risk, friendship preferences and more. The guests are clear that some liberals hold some conservative values and vice versa, but nonetheless it’s interesting to have research actually showcasing that some differences are very real and may not be solved by just talking through things.
  • The Current—Ambassador Susan Rice // Rice was comparatively hawkish as compared to Obama, yet showcases how advisors can disagree with their President and still acknowledge that the finals decisions were competent and reflective of different policy preferences. Notably, Rice joins the chorus of senior current and former American national security staff who warn that Canada choosing to permit Huawei into 5G networks will threaten Canada’s ongoing welcome into the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance.

Good Reads

  • Climate Change Is Breaking Open America’s Nuclear Tomb // The Marshall Island, where the USA conducted a vast number of nuclear tests in the 40s and 50s, is threatening to spill contained radioactive contaminants into the Pacific Ocean. Not only is the US government not doing anything to mitigate these risks, but also have only provided $4 million of the $2 billion owed to the Marshall Islands in damages for the government’s experiments. The costs of nuclear conflict, even in the absence of a shooting war, are born very unequally by persons around the world.
  • China’s Internet Is Flowering // Reporting for the New York Times Magazine, Yiren Lu explores just how the Chinese Internet is growing and its implications for Internet developments and culture in the Western world. Key to all of this is, in effect, the mass adoption of WeChat and WeChat Pay by customers and businesses alike. Something that is raised repeatedly in the article is how the business developments in China are linked to at least two key features, only one of which is truly shared by Western regulators. First, there was generally a forbearance on interfering with Internet companies and, as such, WeChat grew to provide a comprehensive platform and accompanying set of services. Second, and unlike in the West, the government has itself sought to encourage the development of e-commerce on WeChat itself. Looking to North America, we can see that efforts by Facebook to develop similarly integrated services are being stymied and, thus, raises the question of whether is is truly possible to integrate the lessons from WeChat into a Western experience.
  • It’s so much more than cooking // I’ve not previously contemplated that cooking is more than preparing the food at hand but, also, the mental labour that precedes the act of cooking: the planning, evaluation of nutrient quotas, shopping, etc. It’s a good and very fair point. And while I agree that women do tend to be engaged in more of the cooking responsibilities than men, at least when in relationships, I do wonder what the shift in demographics in countries like Canada will do for this: given that more people live alone than ever before, will this result in more men cooking than women? And a shift in the equality of shared household tasks?
  • Inside Facebook’s efforts to stop revenge porn before it spreads // While I’m sure this is meant to be a ‘good news’ Facebook story about how they’re trying to combat revenge porn that isn’t the message I take away from actually reading the article. Instead, I get something like: “We tried something to address revenge porn, without consulting anyone, and that didn’t work. Then we had an utterly innovative idea to actually do research to understand the problem. And while we’ve been told that what we’re doing won’t work, and can’t work, and that we need to hire staff to deal with this, that’s not economically feasible so Facebook is instead mostly ignoring that critique and will be relying on a really small product team to solve a problem for which there are no clear solutions. And doing it with machine learning.”
  • A Montreal Bagel War Unites Rival Kings // While the question of whether to restrict how Montreal bagel shops can make their bagels is relatively well known to Montrealers, I suspect this is the first time that the international audience has been exposed to the debate over whether bagel shops should be permitted to continue releasing the particulate from their ovens into the surrounding neighbourhoods. To my mind, it makes sense to require filters and/or systems that capture the particulate smoke elements that are aggravating health issues such as asthma. But, similarly, asserting that the bagel shops should ‘go green’ and get rid of wood burning would fundamentally transform how the Montreal bagel tastes and most likely not for the better.
  • The surveillance industry is assisting state suppression. It must be stopped // This call to regulate the commercial spyware industry, by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, is a poignant and direct assessment of the harms that this industry inflicts on those whom democracies ought to be protecting. I emphatically agree that our governments are failing to protect those who advocate for, and defend, human rights and the rule of law abroad. Western governments can at least start by preventing businesses in their own backyard from facilitating and enabling such oppression and illegitimate prosecution.
  • Tinder Lets Known Sex Offenders Use the App. It’s Not the Only One. // Deliberately failing to protect women across all of Match’s platforms demonstrates a shocking degree of moral turpitude that is underscored by deliberate policy failures in the company. All bad people can’t be stopped from using the apps but surely Match can work to ensure that the meagre protections is has in place on some of its apps are deployed across them all.
  • 7 Rules for Shooting More Interesting Travel Photos // I really appreciate how accessible these ‘rules’ are, and how easy they would be to implement. It also explains how to take some shots—using props—that I’ve been trying to visually figure out for a few months, which nicely explains the magic tricks taken in some of the photos I’ve been reviewing!

Cool Things

  • I am “A Too Much” Woman // Reading this bit of spoken word and all I could think was how well it captured the amazing, powerful, smart, brilliant women I have the privilege to be around, learn from, and stand in awe of.

The Roundup for October 1-31, 2019 Edition

(Evening Horror by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

– Chinese Proverb

Great Photography Shots

Really liking some of of these symmetrical smartphone shots!

Lower Chamber‘ by @chasread

Untitled’ by @emilia photographe

Untitled‘ by @mina.juveler

Sucked into the light‘ by @arpixa

Holocaust Memorial Berlin‘ by @iphotokunst

Music I’m Digging

This month’s ‘best of’ songs clock in at about 3.5 hours, and include 56 songs. They’re biased towards rock, rap, alternative, and a bit of pop.

  • Marie Davidson—Working Class Women // This is one of the more novel albums I’ve listened to this year. Davidson is clearly a very gifted artist and performer: the album is as much an aural piece of art that could belong in a gallery, as it is something that’s curious to listen to. It is a challenging album to listen to insofar as it’s really not one that fits ‘well’ as background music. Davidson compels your attention, and you are deeply rewarded to giving it to her.
  • BANNERS—Where the Shadow Ends // The newest album from BANNERS reminds me of their original EP, Banners, and less of Empires on Fire. And that’s a good thing! It dovetails the crooning voice that I’ve come to love, with sufficiently interesting lyrics and melodies that I keep coming back to sample the album time-after-time. There’s nothing on the album quite like ‘Start a Riot’ or ‘Back When We Had Nothing’, but that’s just to say that the album is its own as opposed to trying to mold itself into that of the band’s first album.
  • Phantogram—In a Spiral (Single) // This is Phantogram at it’s best. Hands down: haunting melody, terrific melody, and killer beats. Race to listen to this. You will be rewarded!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Sporkful—My Food History Wasn’t Lost. It was Stolen. // Colonists to the United States (and Canada) engaged in systematic cultural and biological genocide of the native people’s who predated their arrival. In this episode of the Sporkful, Dan speaks with poet Tommy Pico about building his own indigenous food history, when that history had been systemically eradicated. That discussion is potent, but what is particularly powerful is the poem that Tommy reads over the final 15 minutes of the episode: it speaks to the challenges of growing up as a native person in America and what it means to be confronted by white supremacy on a daily basis.
  • The Economist—The Death of Cash // Cash is a real thing for a lot of people, and this episode does a good job in thinking through how cashless societies are being born, and the associated costs of how moving cashless can disenfranchise the least advantaged persons in society.
  • TVO—Addressing Police Mental Health and Suicide // Policing culture is ‘macho’ in its character and its members have historically been taught to push down their feelings, don’t talk about the hurts associated with their job, and just get the job done. This episode includes raw contributions from senior policing staff on the need to seriously engage with mental health issues and, also, personal stories that reveal how the historical culture has harmed the same staff, and how they are working to mitigate the same harms to contemporary service members. While a single episode won’t change policing culture it’s important and brave for some of the most ‘macho’ people to come forward and be frank and honest about mental health. Only by doing so will mental health issues more generally become destigmatized.

Good Reads

  • What Are “Love Maps”, and Why Do They Matter? // This Medium post outlines the importance, and need in healthy relationships, to really understand the contours of your partner’s past, present, and future. It discusses how understanding more than surface details is critical for long-lasting relationships and why, also, understanding those underlying elements of whomever you’re with—both their more and less positive elements—is essential for providing the support and intimacy that keeps relationships alive and thriving over time.
  • Alexa and Google Home abused to eavesdrop and phish passwords // Installing barely manageable wiretap devices into your home remains, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very bad idea.
  • The Messy Truth About Social Credit // If you’ve ever been curious about China’s social credit system then this is required reading. In short, the system is about building trust in institutions and between individuals predicated on institutional and private company data sharing. The actual workings of the system are different from what exists in the United States but there are remarkable similarities. The social credit system is something worth keeping an eye on but isn’t, at the moment at least, the Foucaultian panopticon brought to life.
  • Every Photo Tells a Story. His Spoke Volumes. // Burgess’ recounting of the life, and photography, of Sam Falk’s reveals how Falks approached his craft and transformed it within the New York Times. But, more substantially, Falks photography serves as a reminder of the world as it used to appear and the vividness of our collective pasts. The past was in motion just as much as today is, and was populated populated by people who were invested in their worlds, who were curious, and who were all as-in-motion as those of us today.

Cool Things

  • Glencairn Whiskey Glasses // I’ve been more assertively trying to learn about whiskey for the past few months, including watching a whole lot of tasting videos from The Whiskey Tribe, investing in a bunch of bottles of bourbon of varying cost, and purchasing some Glencairn whiskey glasses. The glasses, in particular, have been revolutionary: I’ve always sipped from heavy cocktail glasses, but the Glencairn ones are revealing a whole new world of smells. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

China’s Second Continent


Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Howard W. French’s book is, functionally, a travel log of his most recent tour of Africa where he asks the baseline question, “what, exactly, is happening with Chinese investment and emigration to African states?” He takes the reader across the continent and recounts his experiences, today, versus when he was professionally in the region in past decades. It’s this background experience — which enables him to conduct before/after assessments — combined with his experiences in both the populous and more rural areas of China, along with linguistic fluency, that makes the book as compelling as it is.

The actual findings of the book are pretty common across all cases: Chinese efforts to shore up mineral and vegetative resources are, widely, disliked by the public. This dislike follows from Chinese companies predominantly bringing in skilled labourers from China and minimally employing locals, and while also rarely providing sufficient training so that locals can take on more advanced tasks. Moreover, in many of the cases French recounts the Chinese companies are massively either underpaying locals or, in contrast, engaged in bidding practices that result in poor quality infrastructures being developed and which are often obtained in part through bribery or corrupt dealings.

Many of the Chinese persons who are interviewed in the course of the book hold, frankly, colonial values. They regard African employees as lazy, and uneducated, and as unwilling to adequately develop. And, similarly, Chinese companies and government consular staff are engaged in systematic efforts to, on the one hand, establish control of important resources that will enable China to prosper while, on the other, stripping Africa of its resources at a scale that could only be dreamed by Western colonial powers in the decades and centuries past.

The repetition that emerges through the chapters ultimately makes the book a tad boring to read, especially towards the end, notwithstanding French’s efforts to inject local colour and humour throughout the book. However, it is that very repetitiveness that makes the book as striking as it is: Africa has become a space where China’s transactionalist foreign policy means that Chinese companies can thrive while aggressively stripping resources from Africa whilst the country itself avoids projects focused on developing democratic norms, rule of law, or other governance systems. These latter activities, often associated with American and Western aid projects, are set aside by and large by China and, as a result, the supposed ‘progress’ of African states will only come if the states’ governance structures change on their own, and in the face of exceptional bribes and other corrupt business practices. I remain dubious that a Chinese-facilitated model of “development,” which largely entails economic activities and exclusionary approaches to engaging in broader governance activities, will do any more for Africa than the French, British, and Belgians did when they focused their attentions on Africa.