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.
Aside

2018.1.15

With another poll coming out warning how indebted Canadian are, and the personal and national risks of carrying so much debt, I’m glad that I spent so much time (and money!) last year shedding my consumer debts. I’m not looking forward to increases to student loan carrying costs but they’re manageable and won’t risk my quality of life. But I was in a privileged situation: I really don’t know what society is going to have to do to help people who have accumulated far too much debt, though increasing the borrowing costs might at least disincentivized people from accumulating large quantities of new debt.

Link

Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties

New York Times:

Tracing the ownership of many of Mr. Trump’s buildings can be a complicated task. Sometimes he owns a building and the land underneath it; sometimes, he holds a partial interest or just the commercial portion of a property.

And in some cases, the identities of his business partners are obscured behind limited liability companies — raising the prospect of a president with unknown business ties.

A revealing analysis of Trump’s actual financial situation.

Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt, they can’t afford the time to think.

Noam Chomsky (via zeitgeistrama)

Post-secondary education is neither necessary nor sufficient to change society. Those of us with degrees need to stop acting like university uniquely equips us to improve or transform the institutions in which we operate. On average, we’re less indebted and more able to pay off that debt as a share of our income than those without degrees, so I’d suggest their debt loads are more of an urgent problem.

(via jakke)

I think that the problem is less “time to think” than “time to act.” If you believe that highly educated people can bring useful skills to bear on pressing problems, but that there are often minimal financial resources to pay educated workers to bring those skills to bear, then debt loads may preclude spending time focusing on those particular problems. In effect, if you can’t pay people to do the work then the socially-pressing work may not be done by those best suited to do it.

To contextualize: when I finished my degree there was a minimum amount of income I had to make to service my debt loads while simultaneously surviving in whatever city I ended up living in. That minimum income immediately meant that a series of jobs that would have been politically and intellectually engaging had to be set aside on the basis of insufficient monetary remuneration. It’s this kind of issue that Chomsky is getting at.

CMHC again moves to tighten mortgage insurance rules as housing market cools

The government continues to engage in (somewhat) quiet actions to reduce its exposure to a mortgage or more general financial crisis. At this point we’ve seen shifts in EI, routine concern about Canadian debt levels and risk of increased interest rates, and now tightening of the mortgage insurance rules. CMHC’s decision parallel’s former Minister Flaherty’s earlier comments, summarized as:

Former finance minister Jim Flaherty had also expressed concern that CMHC had become too large a player in the market, needlessly exposing Canadian taxpayers to risk should there be a housing crash. The agency currently has about $560 billion in outstanding mortgage insurance on its books.

When/if there is a mortgage crisis in Canada that leads to substantial job loss, I don’t think Canadians are going to be thrilled by how their social infrastructures have been quietly reshaped around them. Or the relative lack of monetary policies that are the result of long-term low interest rates. Let’s hope nothing happens to make Canadians practically realize the implications of the past 3-4 years EI, monetary, and now CMHC changes.

Link

Yale Suing Former Students Shows Crisis in Loans to Poor

infoneer-pulse:

infoneer-pulse:

Needy U.S. borrowers are defaulting on almost $1 billion in federal student loans earmarked for the poor, leaving schools such as Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania with little choice except to sue their graduates.

The record defaults on federal Perkins loans may jeopardize the prospects of current students since they are part of a revolving fund that colleges give to students who show extraordinary financial hardship.

Yale, Penn and George Washington University have all sued former students over nonpayment, court records show. While no one tracks the number of lawsuits, students defaulted on $964 million in Perkins loans in the year ended June 2011, 20 percent more than five years earlier, government data show. Unlike most student loans — distributed and collected by the federal government — Perkins loans are administered by colleges, which use repayment money to lend to other poor students.

» via Bloomberg

The default situation is only going to get worse and worse, especially for those that tried to hide from the US recession by staying in school and taking on educational debt.

Yale Suing Former Students Shows Crisis in Loans to Poor