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.

Link

In western China, thought police instill fear

From the Associated Press:

Southern Xinjiang, where Korla is located, is one of the most heavily policed places on earth.

In Hotan, police depots with flashing lights and foot patrols are set up every 500 meters. Motorcades of more than 40 armored vehicles rumble down city boulevards. Police checkpoints on every other block stop cars to check identification and smartphones for religious content.

Xinjiang’s published budget data shows public security spending this year is on track to increase 50 percent from 2016 to roughly 45 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) after rising 40 percent a year ago. It’s quadrupled since 2009, when a Uighur riot broke out in Urumqi, killing nearly 200 people.

But much of the policing goes unseen.

Shoppers entering the Hotan bazaar must pass through metal detectors and place their national identification cards on a reader while having their faces scanned. AP reporters were stopped outside a hotel by a police officer who said the public security bureau had been remotely tracking the reporters’ movements by watching surveillance camera footage.

The government’s tracking efforts have extended to vehicles, genes and even voices. A biometric data collection program appears to have been formalized last year under “Document No. 44,” a regional public security directive to “comprehensively collect three-dimensional portraits, voiceprints, DNA and fingerprints.” The document’s full text remains secret, but the AP found at least three contracts referring to the 2016 directive in recent purchase orders for equipment such as microphones and voice analyzers.

The extent of the of technical and human surveillance, and punishments that are meted out for failing to adequately monitor family members and friends, is horrifying.1 And while the surveillance undertaken in this area of China is particularly severe, the kinds of monitoring that occur in China is more extensive and ever-present throughout the country than many people who haven’t travelled into China can appreciate. The Chinese surveillance infrastructure is the kind of apparatus that exists to sustain itself, first and foremost, by ensuring that contrary ideologies and philosophies are threatened and — where possible — rendered impotent by way of threats and fear.

  1. While much of the contemporary surveillance is now provided by Chinese-based companies it’s worth remembering that, historically, this equipment was sold by Western companies.
Link

Alibaba’s Jack Ma Urges China to Use Data to Combat Crime

Bloomberg reporting on Alibaba’s Jack Ma:

In his speech, Ma stuck mainly to the issue of crime prevention. In Alibaba’s hometown of Hangzhou alone, the number of surveillance cameras may already surpass that of New York’s, Ma said. Humans can’t handle the sheer amount of data amassed, which is where artificial intelligence comes in, he added.

“The future legal and security system cannot be separated from the internet and big data,” Ma said.

In North America, we’re trialling automated bail systems, where the amount set and likelihood of receiving bail is predicated on big data algorithms. While it’s important to look abroad and see what foreign countries are doing we mustn’t forget what is being done here in the process.

Quote

And then there’s the sheer randomness of it all. Some services you can’t access for no apparent reason, others are so slow that you can’t figure out if they’re blocked or just snail-paced. And as I experience this, I wish some of our politicians and media people, those who see net neutrality as the enemy, I wish they’d come here and experience what a radical version of non-neutrality is. Again, I have a VPN service to overcome most of this (at the cost of speed) but most people don’t and/or can’t afford one.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that not enshrining net neutrality is the equivalent of doing what the Chinese (or Iranian, or Indian) government does. But I look at the UK’s blocking mechanisms supposed to protect children but really targeting just about any kind of site for arcane reasons that no one can figure out, and I think that what I have here is an extreme version of the same thing.

* Benoit Felton, “Behind the Great Firewall
Link

NSA Revelations Kill IBM Hardware Sales in China

For several months there have been warnings that the NSA revelations will seriously upset American technology companies’ bottom lines. Though not directly implicated in any of the leaks thus far it appears that IBM’s Chinese growth predictions have just been fed through a wood chipper. From Zerohedge:

In mid-August, an anonymous source told the Shanghai Securities News, a branch of the state-owned Xinhua News Agency, which reports directly to the Propaganda and Public Information Departments of the Communist Party, that IBM, along with Oracle and EMC, have become targets of the Ministry of Public Security and the cabinet-level Development Research Centre due to the Snowden revelations.

“At present, thanks to their technological superiority, many of our core information technology systems are basically dominated by foreign hardware and software firms, but the Prism scandal implies security problems,” the source said, according to Reuters. So the government would launch an investigation into these security problems, the source said.

Absolute stonewalling ensued. IBM told Reuters that it was unable to comment. Oracle and EMC weren’t available for comment. The Ministry of Public Security refused to comment. The Development Research Centre knew nothing of any such investigation. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology “could not confirm anything because of the matter’s sensitivity.”

This is the first quantitative indication of the price Corporate America has to pay for gorging at the big trough of the US Intelligence Community, and particularly the NSA with its endlessly ballooning budget. For once, there is a price to be paid, if only temporarily, for helping build a perfect, seamless, borderless surveillance society. The companies will deny it. At the same time, they’ll be looking for solutions. China, Russia, and Brazil are too important to just get kicked out of – and other countries might follow suit.

Now, IBM et al. aren’t necessarily purely victim to the NSA’s massive surveillance practices: there likely are legitimate domestic market changes that are also affecting the ability of Western companies to sell product in China and other Asian-Pacific countries. But still, that NSA can be used to justify retreats from Western products indicates how even companies not clearly and directly implicated in the scandals stand to lose. One has to wonder whether the economic losses that will be incurred following the NSA revelations are equal to, or exceed, any economic gains linked to the spying.