The Roundup for March 1-31, 2020 Edition

(Curves 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.

We are living in the midst of particularly chaotic times. I won’t bore you with my thoughts on them—you have lots of your own, and there are millions of others you can avail yourself to—but, instead, offer a few questions that Neil Postman reflected on in his lecture, “The Surrender of Culture to Technology”:

  1. What is the problem to which technology claims to be a solution?
  2. Whose problem is it?
  3. What new problems will be created because of solving an old one?
  4. Which people and institutions will be most harmed?
  5. What changes in language are being promoted?
  6. What shifts in economic and political power are likely to result?
  7. What alternative media might be made from a technology?

It strikes me that, as a society and species, we may need to ask these questions frequently to better appreciate the implications of using different classes of technologies to mediate the spread and consequences of the disease current ravaging the world.

Inspiring Quotation

“The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”
— Carl Sagan

Great Photography Shots

I was really struck by the modernist architecture that Bogdhan Anghel has captured in Budapest. I can say I’ve ever thought much of visiting that city, but now I’m starting to reconsider that position.

Music I’m Digging

I’ve been home for a lot of this month, which has meant I’ve had lots of time to listen to music on my home-speakers which, honestly, has been pretty terrific. There’ve also been a ton of great albums that have come out, many of which contributed tracks to my favourite tracks of March 2020 list.

  • Bones UK—Bones-UK // The mix between the guitar riffs and vocals are absolutely delightful; this almost has a Garbage vibe at points, which almost immediately endears the band and album to me!
  • Dirty Projectors—Windows Open (EP) // As a longtime lover of all things Dirty Projectors, this short EP is everything I’ve come to expect from the band. Lovely music to relax to in these routinely anxious times.
  • Run The Jewels—Ooh LA LA (Single) // Classic RTJ sound, with the sounds of DJ Premier mixed throughout. This track bridges some of my favourite hip hop groups, and while it’s a little slower/relaxed than my favourite RTJ tracks, it’s a solid contribution to their ongoing corpus of work.
  • Jay Electronica—A Written Testimony // I hadn’t previously come across Jay Electronica but having now come across this album I’ve subsequently listened to everything I could find that he’s done. The mixing of his work alongside the sampling from Jay-Z is just terrific.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Documentary-North Korea’s celebrity defectors // I had no idea that there was a subset of Korean society that put North Korean defectors on near-daily TV, where the defectors will talk about the hardships of living in North Korea. Of note, the exploitative nature of the episodes stood out, as did the like fabrication of many of the stories so that the persons presenting stories retain their jobs.
  • The Axe Files-Gerald Butts // Gerald Butts is the former chief advisor and strategist to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Axe does a great job unpacking some of the things that Butts has been involved in; beyond the usual discussion of his past, the discussion also outlines some of Butts’ assessment of the Trump era and its impacts on Canada/US relations.
  • 99% Invisible-This is Chance! (Redux) // This rebroadcast episode is a story about an earthquake that struck Anchorage in 1964. The earthquake was terrible, but what’s genuinely heartwarming is how the community came together. What perhaps struck me the most was how valuable journalists were in this period, and how they (like with first responders) run towards danger as opposed to race away from it.
  • Lawfare-How Do You Spy When The World Is Shut Down // The CIA is in a challenging situation given the country lockdowns occurring in the face of COVID–19: how can CIA officers engage with, or recruit, spies in an era where they can’t physically meet with people? On the whole the discussion was insightful, though the failure to recognize that the CIA’s Internet-based communications and modes of recruitment are unreliable in light of the agency’s loss of its China-based spies was a notable gap in the conversation.

Good Reads

  • How computational power—or its absence—shaped World War naval battles // In this special piece published by Ars Technica, Huang outlines the importance of naval plotting and how it transformed both fleet deployments and conflicts, as well as its roles in major battles in the 20th century. It’s notable because it both showcases the increasing value of intelligence collection to mobilize forces and resources around the world, and for appreciating the difference between tactical versus strategic situational awareness.
  • Why Birds Are the World’s Best Engineers // I loved this long, and in-depth, assessment of the novel characteristics of birds nests and how challenging it is for scientists to even determine how they develop their strength and integrity, let alone replicate such characteristics. Once more, we see that animals that surround us are ingenious in ways that was struggle to fully appreciate, let alone mimic.
  • Forget that tired-old coffee ring effect: “Whiskey webs” are the new hotness // Really cool research reveals that there are different chemical properties between American and non-American whiskeys, to the effect that the former manifest ‘webs’ that are unique to specific brands whereas the latter only do so when fatty composites are also added to proofed-down whiskey. While the authors talk about how this technique could be used too sniff out counterfeit whiskey, my mind went to something a bit different: in theory, it might be possible to determine if, say, a Japanese whiskey was just something that was rebadged Canadian whiskey or scotch.
  • Pablo Escobar’s Hippos Fill a Hole Left Since Ice Age Extinctions // I find it moderately amusing just how much attention Escobar’s hippos attract, but this this article was a novel way to consider how introducing large herbivores can restore ecological links that have been broken for thousands of years. While the authors of the underlying study are not calling for deliberate introductions–and recognize that humans may be less willing to introduce top predators into their environments, as well–the research showcases the prospective positive effects of animals taking root in environments far from home.
  • A 7-Eleven in Japan Might Close for a Day. Yes, That’s a Big Deal. // It’s stunning that attempting to take a single day off causes such consternation for a major franchise, and speaks to the failure of corporate executives to recognize that their franchises are owned and operated by humans and not robots. One set of facts that I thought was fascinating from the article was that, “[t]he government considers convenience stores part of the country’s infrastructure, like highways and sewers. They are expected to help promote regional tourism and to help with local policing by offering a safe place for people to flee to. Its stores can be called on to help distribute aid and supplies during a natural disaster.” It’s so foreign to me that convenience stores would be so important to society given how they operate in North America, and speaks to how subtle cultural differences can be between different countries with similar businesses.

Cool Things

The Roundup for February 16-March 4, 2019 Edition

Families 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

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right —for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

  • Eleanor Roosevelt

Great Photography Shots

Winnie Au’s photographs of dogs in sculptural comes of shame are just amazing and hilarious.

Music I’m Digging

  • Daniil Trifonov – NPR Tiny Desk Concert // Trifonov’s performance is just spectacular, and his Chopin is amongst the best I’ve ever experienced. The nuance of his playing cannot be overstated; his technical mastery lets him truly express the emotions behind each of the with which pieces he engages.
  • Kehlani – While We Wait // I’ve been listening to this a lot over the past few weeks; Kehlani’s R&B and soul vibes make for both pleasant background listening as well as concentrated, full attention, listening. Her track with 6LACK, in particular, strikes me as a solid contribution to her emerging body of work.
  • Run the Jewels’Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2, and Run the Jewels 3 // I’ve had these albums on near-constant replay over the course of the past two and a half weeks. I really appreciate the aesthetic of the beats that El-P lays down and his general MC skills, especially as combined with Killer Mike’s lyrics. It feels like they’ve taken the best of New York circa the mid-90s or early 2000s and Atlanta circa the mid-2000s to today. Almost every track has a special bit of resonance and, on the whole, the cohesiveness of all their albums to date is really exceptional.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • TVO – The World’s Shrinking Problem // This is a counter-intuitive assessment of the state of the world’s population. Whereas popular thought holds that the world is running out of space, Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson’s new book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline suggests that average birth rates are significantly declining to under 2.1 children per women in numbers well populated areas of the world (e.g. China, India, etc). The result: immigration is critical to maintain populations, and especially youthful populations, if a consumer-based economy is going to continue.
  • TVO – The Asian world Order is Coming // With Asian populations increasingly coming into their own, as they become more truly self-governing states as opposed to driven substantively by colonialists their decisions on who to trade with, how to approach basic rights, and baseline conceptions of equality will increasingly follow from self-determined positions as opposed to those imposed by others. There are more people living in Asian democracies than in any other part of the world and trade between Asian countries is increasingly interregional. As such, a genuine reorientation of the world blocs may be taking place and to the effect of seeing Asian nations coming (back) into their own after approximately 500 years of colonial influence and rule.
  • Lawfare – Marie Harf and Bill Harlow on CIA Public Relations // In this long form interview with former members of the CIA’s public relations team, Daniel Priess unpacks what the role of the team is, how they interact with other members of the Agency, and the reasons for which the relations team tries to correct the record. What I found most interesting was that the press team was not designed to create positive spin for the CIA but, instead, to make news that comes out less negative. Close observers of the CIA might dispute this position — there is a history of the CIA, especially over the past decade or so, attempting to influence American public opinion vis-a-vis who gets access to people in the CIA to develop movies and TV shows — but nonetheless this was an interesting podcast that while presenting information about the public relations team was also, without a doubt, an effort to influence minds about how the CIA itself operates.
  • The Axe Files – Claire McCaskill // McCaskill was a Democratic Senator who lost her seat in the last election. This interview with her is helpful and productive in thinking through how the Senate works, changes in USA politics over the past twelve years, and the things that primarily drive Mitch McConnell, the current Senate majority leader.
  • The Documentary – Japan’s Elderly Crime Wave // The issues of loneliness, shame, and insufficient welfare state mechanisms along with a generally healthy society are all leading to a heightened number of elderly persons in Japanese prisons. This episode of The Documentary dives into the problem and speaks directly to those who are incarcerated to better understand why they’re imprisoned, whether they see a life for themselves that is permanently outside of prison, and how a Japanese culture of shame is leading to elder members of families being permanently exiled from their closest social connections.

Good Reads

  • Love and Limerence // A long assessment of what’s it’s like to experience infatuation towards another, this review of limerence — “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person” — functions as a diagnostic utility as well as a way of mapping likely outcomes when there is a variance between expressions or perceptions of limerence. The review of the term, and Studs Terkel’s associated book, are underscored by hundreds of pages of first hand accounts of feeling enthralled by another person, with the components of limerence breaking down to, first, a sign of hope that the person might reciprocate and, second, uncertainty. However, the perceptions that a limerent person has towards their limerence object is as much a projection of their own illusions as anything else; that which is perceived is unlikely to be representative of the actual other person.
  • Shopping in Pyongyang, and Other Adventures in North Korean Capitalism // The development of the North Korean economy, and specifically the acceptance and integration of open markets throughout the country, bely the perception of the country as a fully controlled socialist system. Of particular note is the rise of bosses who collect rents from persons selling in markets. This emerging upper-merchant class is unlikely to seek political power and work to open North Korea’s borders and gain access to foreign markets. Instead, these merchants principally seek to maintain the existing political system because it protects them from external competition; instead, this group of merchants are likely to instead seek to obtain and leverage political power to keep the state’s attentions fixed elsewhere. In effect, these are scions of political conservatism as opposed to leaders for liberal political reform.
  • Don’t buy a 5G smartphone—at least, not for a while // Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo has a terrific, and concise, summarization of what 5G technologies entail in 2018/19 and why the hype over the technology likely won’t meet reality in the near future. Specifically, the characteristics of the radio frequency utilized in 5G communications combined with the increased size of chips used (and associated radios) mean that not only will early-generation 5G-compatible phones be significantly more expensive, they will likely also have worsened battery lives. It’s based on details like this that I genuinely believe we won’t see real 5G penetration for at least 5 years, barring a significant revolution in how and why the newly utilized spectrum is taken advantage of by innovative technologies and systems.
  • How Run the Jewels Became Hip-Hop’s Most Intense Truth-Tellers // While Weiner’s article came out several years ago, it continues to provide a solid background to where Run the Jewels emerged from, the variances in attitudes and politics of El-P and Killer Mike, and what happened (and why) when they teamed up. Further, it’s noteworthy that their music is as much ‘consciousness rap’ as it is about asserting their status in the hip hop community and delving into their sometimes difficult pasts.
  • Modern Love – How Bibliophiles Flirt // There is so much to appreciate in this story about presentation of self, and becoming who one desires to be (or sees oneself as), as well as the blossoming of love that culminates with a return to fun game which was played a year earlier.
  • A basic question about TCP // This is about the best explanation of TCP/IP that I’ve ever come across. Graham has littered the typically technical explanations with a large volume of examples so that even the most technically unsophisticated reader should walk away with a pretty good grasp of the protocol, its difficulties, and the problems associated with ‘smart’ networks.
  • Strep A bacteria kill half a million a year. Why don’t we have a vaccine? / I’d had no idea just how dangerous Strep A could be or that repeated cases of it can lead to serious health issues. impressively, there has been an uptick in efforts to develop a vaccine against most types of Strep, with tests appearing promising. Hopefully a vaccine can be developed…and we can then convince or coerce people to get vaccinated.

Cool Things

  • UCCA Dune // Without a doubt, this is perhaps the single most beautiful contemporary art gallery — from an architectural perspective — that I’ve seen in a very long time. The interior shots of it are organic and sensuous and communicate an openness to the world whilst simultaneously behaving as a protective shell for inner contemplation.
  • Animating Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars™ Battlefront™ / The way in which the designers attribute psychological properties to Skywalker based on how he used his lightsaber prior to his turn to the dark side is pretty incredible, and speaks to the thoughtfulness that goes into many games associated with the Star Wars universe.

I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.

I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton:

During a 33-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, I served presidents of both parties — three Republicans and three Democrats. I was at President George W. Bush’s side when we were attacked on Sept. 11; as deputy director of the agency, I was with President Obama when we killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

I am neither a registered Democrat nor a registered Republican. In my 40 years of voting, I have pulled the lever for candidates of both parties. As a government official, I have always been silent about my preference for president.

No longer. On Nov. 8, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. Between now and then, I will do everything I can to ensure that she is elected as our 45th president.

The securocrats are increasingly throwing their hats in the Clinton camp. And I suspect that Trump will use this to fire up his own base by discounting those same securocrats as democratic patsies, despite many democrats having railed against the heads of the CIA, NSA, and other agencies over the years following 9/11.

The Top-Secret Cold War Plan to Keep Soviet Hands Off Middle Eastern Oil

This article discusses how, following the Second World War and advent of the Cold War, the United States and British governments worked with oil companies to plan ‘denial’ operations should the USSR invade the Middle East. Core to the plan was for combined CIA and military, along with corporate employees, efforts to strategically blow up parts of the refineries such that the Soviets would be unable to take advantage of the oil reserves and thus empower the West to invade and ideally retake the strategic resource.

The efforts were developed and iterated on for almost a decade, though towards the end the focus shifted from the USSR and towards nationalist governments in the region. Moreover, what started as a denial approach transformed into one where oil production would be maintained: the thirst for oil on the part of the United States and Britain meant that turning off the taps could be a serious blow to their economic and military efforts.

These were contingency operations but they were taken seriously. Explosives were moved and put in place and the British even established plans for nuclear assaults to prevent the fields from falling into non-Western hands. It raises the question of whether similar kinds of activities are planned, today, or whether cooler heads now are responsible for establishing contingency plans when it comes to core resources that contemporary Western economies rely upon. And would nuclear or other explosives be used, now, or is this where we would see a first and genuinely far-reaching aspect of hard ‘cyber’ power?


Obama’s first director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, wanted the CIA to use its [drone strike] capability more strategically. His reading of the intelligence suggested that the collateral harm of the operation–the anger that the strikes caused among Pakistanis, even though the targeting was precise–was damaging to U.S. security interests. The CIA, in a deft bureaucratic move, simply stopped providing Blair’s office with advance notice of strikes. The dispute went all the way to the Office of the Vice President, which sided with the CIA, although Blair “won” the ability to have a director of national intelligence representative at CIA covert action briefings at the White House.

* Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady, Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry