The Roundup for June 1-30, 2020 Edition

(Urban King 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.


I put together, and self-published, another photobook that is entitled “Pandemic Chronicles: Book I”. Each week that my city has been in (functional) lockdown, I’ve gone out once or twice and made images while just stretching my legs outside.

Over the past four months it’s often been hard to figure out how, exactly, I’ve been processing the life changes that have been imposed as a result of the pandemic. My life has, in many respects, reverted to that of my life during my PhD. So, lots of time inside and rarely leaving leaving my home, and having considerably less social contact than normal.

I think that it’s through my photos that I can best appreciate how I’ve felt, in retrospect, and understand how those images reflect how I see the world. The book that I made isn’t particularly dark: it’s just…lonely. It showcases the city that I live in, without the people that make it the city that I love. It shows people living their lives, often alone or separate from others, or while engaging in ‘safe’ behaviours. And, towards the end, it shows the light returning to Toronto, though in a format that differs from prior summers.

Photography has, and remains, a way for me to engage a creative part of my brain that otherwise would lie fallow. And, also, it’s operated as a meditative process that uncovers how I have been in the world, and how the world has been presented to me. As someone who has struggled with the idea of a ‘narrative’ in image making, I think that this book is a breakthrough because it ‘says’ something in aggregate that is more than just a presentation of visually pleasant images: it speaks to where I live, and how it has endured in the wake of the city’s closure. Is it the height of art? No. But it’s the closest I’ve come in this medium so far!


Inspiring Quotation

“Good” can be a stifling word, a word that makes you hesitate and stare at a blank page and second-guess yourself and throw stuff in the trash. What’s important is to get your hands moving and let the images come. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. Just make something.

Austin Kleon

Great Photography Shots

(Photos included in ‘Pandemic Chronicles: Book I’ by Christopher Parsons)

Music I’m Digging

This month has been packed with a lot of listening, with some alternative and R&B pretty tightly mixed in with hip hop. The best of what I listened to in June includes tracks from Yung Tory’s Rastar (including Mizu, Water Pt 2, and Netflix & Chill), Kali Uchis’s TO FEEL ALIVE (EP), HONNE’s no song without you (Single), and 6LACK’s 6pc Hot(EP).

Neat Podcast Episodes

I’ve been listening to a pair of new podcast shows over the past month that I’d recommend. From the CBC, there’s This Is Not A Drake Podcast, which uses Drake as a way to talk more about the history of rap and hip hop. So far I’ve really appreciated the episode on mixtapes, as well as the connotations of Nice Guy rappers.

Very differently, I’ve also been listening to the Globe and Mail’s series, Stress Test, which is about money issues facing millennials in the time of Covid. The episodes haven’t been staggering brilliant (a lot of the advice is pretty time tested) but the caution and suggestions are all helpful reminders.

Good Reads

  • Reflections from an “Accidental” Mentor // Prof. McNamara’s discussion of what it means to be a mentor— first and foremost modelling who we are, as individuals, rather than fitting within a particular narrow category of who we are normatively expected to be—is good advice, and important if we are to expand what is ‘normal’ within academia. She also focuses on celebrating the commonality across scholars; we’re all nerds, at heart, and so should focus on those attributes to create community. I agree, but for myself it’s more than that: it’s also about ensuring that the structures of professional environments are re-articulated to enable more junior persons to experience their jobs and professions in ways that weren’t possible, previously. It’s not just about focusing on commonality but, also, assessing baseline principles and values and ensuring that they conform in theory and practice with welcoming, creative, equitable, and inclusive environments. And, finally, it’s about accepting and making clear that as mentors we are fallible and human, and creating workspaces where others can also betray these inherently human (and humanizing) characteristics.
  • Jon Stewart Is Back to Weigh In // Jon Stewart’s comments throughout this interview are worth the read; his assessment of the problems of contemporary political media—centred around the ‘need’ for content to fuel a 24/7 media environment—as well as for the media to engage in structural assessment of practices, are on point. Similarly, his discussion of the nature of racism in American society (but, also, Canada) strikes to the heart of things: even if someone isn’t deliberately malicious in deed or thought, they are conditioned by the structures of society and power in which they live their lives. And those very structures are, themselves, racist in their origin and contemporary design.
  • Hacking Security // Goerzen and Coleman do a terrific job in unpacking the history of what is secured by computer security experts, and why certain things are within or outside of bounds for securing. Critically, while experts may be involved in protecting ‘assets’ or combatting ‘abuse’, where threats to assets or abuse arise from the underlying profit mechanisms associated with large technology companies, those mechanisms are seen as outside of bounds for security teams to engage with. Similarly, the failure of security teams to consider, or address, ‘political’ issues such as abusive speech, harmful video content, or propagation of racist or white supremacist content all showcase the need to critically interrogate what is, and isn’t, made secure, and to expand security teams by adding social scientists and humanities scholars: technology is political, and we need security teams to have members who are trained and competent to consider those politics.
  • Once Safer Than Gold, Canadian Real Estate Braces for Reckoning // Canadians have been doubling down on their debt-loads for over a decade to the point, today, that on average Canadians owe north of $1.76 per $1.00 of income, with that number rising in the country’s largest cities. Housing is particularly vulnerable and, if it is destabilized, can be devastating to the Canadian economy more broadly given that it accounts for around %15 of GDP; slowdowns in housing will delay the revival of the Canadian economy, while simultaneously threatening the ability of Canadians to stay in their homes—now—or retain their savings to invest for their retirements—in the future. If anything good comes of this, maybe it will be a reminder that allocating the majority of your savings into a single asset is, indeed, not a good long-term investment solution which could have knock on effects if investors decide they want to move to their next bubble, and let the housing bubble deflate as gracefully as possible.
  • Sure, The Velociraptors Are Still On The Loose, But That’s No Reason Not To Reopen Jurassic Park // McSweeney’s, once more, showcases the merits of satire in the vein of Swift’s A Modest Proposal, this time in the era of government failures in the face of pandemic.
  • You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument // “I have rape-coloured skin.” Not only is this perhaps the most poignant lede I’ve come across in an opinion piece in years, it also sets the stakes for the Williams’ article; the very skin of many Americans (and Canadians) is a testament to violent and racist actions taken against women who were forced from their homes to live as slaves. That testament continues, today, and not just in the monuments that were established in the Jim Crow era to deliberately attempt to continue subjugating Black persons, but in the very skin inhabited by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of enslaved people.
  • Vladimir Putin’s war of fog: How the Russian President used deceit, propaganda and violence to reshape global politics // I take issue with some of MacKinnon’s choice of language in the first ¼ of the article—he suggests that truth is substantively confused and that Putin’s tactics are more successful that I think are appropriate to concede—but beyond that he’s done a masterful job in creating an overview of who Putin is, what he’s done, and how he’s come to (and held onto) power. If you’re a long-time Russia watcher you may dispute where MacKinnon puts some of his emphasis, or in his assessment of some events, but I don’t think that you can deny that this is a helpful article that provide the broad contours of Putin’s life and career. And, after having read it, it will hopefully inspire people to learning more of the financial, military, or other scandals that have happened throughout Putin’s leadership of Russia.

Cool Things

  • iPad OS + Magic Trackpad 2 // Lots of people already have figured this out but…the new version of iPad OS + a Magic Trackpad 2 and a keyboard is a really, really compelling combination. I’ve using this as my writing and work system for a little while and it continues to prove to me how robust the iPad actually is, and how many of the pain points have been, or are being, ground away with each version of the operating system. That said, some of the gestures are very, very opaque—in particular those associated with the slide over window—and so you may want to review how, exactly, those gestures really work to get the most out of the process (and not get frustrated when certain windows just won’t go away!)

The Roundup for May 1-31, 2020 Edition

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 several weeks I’ve been sorting through all of the hundreds of photographs I’ve taken during the current state of pandemic we’re all living within. My photography is often a reflection—often unbeknownst to myself—of my thoughts and attitudes. The earliest weeks of the pandemic saw me making images of the city as though it were empty, grey, or isolated. And while those moods still pervade through later photos, there are increasingly also bursts of colour and joy, though still mixed with an emptiness to the city that calls into question what things will be like in six, twelve, or twenty-four month’s time. Many of the shots I’m taking, now, still feel almost documentary in nature, but at what point does the documentation end, and it simply becomes contemporary street photography?


Inspiring Quotation

More simply, real change only happens when the thing that white supremacists fear becomes true: that the mainstream increasingly becomes rather than simply appropriates the “ethnic.”
-Navneet Alang

Personal Photography Shots

I’ve been going out, once a week or so, to get a walk and make photos while walking around my city. Unlike past months, I’ve contributed a set of these rather than other artists’ images.

Music I’m Digging

  • Neisha Neshae-Never Know (Single) // I remain entranced by Neisha’s voice, though have to admit that this lacks the potency of her EP, Queenin’.
  • ZHU & Tinashe-Only (Single) // Beats by ZHU and vocals by him and Tinashe make for a very danceable track. I’m really hoping that they do more work together or, failing that, that we at least get more work from ZHU for the summer.
  • Yiruma-Room With A View (EP) // Without a doubt, Yiruma has created some of the most beautiful classical piano work that I’ve heard this year.
  • Kenlani-It Was Good Until It Wasn’t // The tracks “Can I” and “Everybody Business” are, for me, the real standouts on this album. I admit that I was hopeful that “Grieving”, with James Blake would be really awesome, but their styles just didn’t quite seem to come together. Her work with Tory Lanez, as well as Jhené Aiko, are far more balanced given how their styles compliment Kehlani’s own.

Good Reads

  • Barton Gellman—Dark Mirror // Gellman was one of three reporters who were directly entrusted with the Snowden archives, and spent years reporting out of the documents. His assessment of what it was like to report on what he learned, the nature of the surveillance apparatus, working with Ed Snowden, and his broader thoughts on the relationship between public government and national security are erudite and fantastically interesting. I’ve just devoured this book and cannot recommend it highly enough.
  • How Should Biden Handle China? // This piece is less useful, to be honest, in thinking through what policy the United States or its allies should adopt than is assessing engagement strategies that aren’t working. Setting aside the irregularities and chaos associated with the Trump administration’s approach, the assessment of how European efforts have been equally unhelpful are informative for guiding policy makers on what hasn’t worked even when policy activities have been carried out by governments with comparatively competent foreign policy bodies. While an understanding of what doesn’t work isn’t inherently useful in knowing what does work, it at least provides a set of strategies that seem to be unproductive to take up in a new administration.
  • 1989-1996 Canadian Housing Collapse Looks Eerily Similar to Today // Economists around the world have been warning of a Canadian housing bubble for a very long time. But Canadians have ignored the warning and dove into the market on the dual fear that they would otherwise never be able to buy a home, and the notion that renting amounts to throwing money away. The result has been a lot of Canadians owning homes they can’t afford. As the bubble pops, we’re going to see just how much economic havoc is going to follow from these decisions for the housing market as well as the economy more broadly (housing, in Canada, constitutes one of the largest sectors in the economy).
  • The Jungle Prince of Delhi // I’ve had this article open to read for months and months, but kept not getting to it. That’s a shame, as it is (and remains) a terrific story filled with past dynasties, the histories of British colonialism, the hard task of journalism, and the capability of truth to be creatively imagined into being. I can’t recommend this detective piece highly enough.

The Roundup for February 1-29, 2020 Edition

(Handy 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 roundup is late, due to contemporary events in the news. So while late, each of the collated items are from the period before COVID-19 truly began shutting down North America; hopefully they’ll help you pass the time that you may be spending in quarantine or self-isolation.


Inspiring Quotation

“Despite how open, peaceful, and loving you attempt to be, people can only meet you, as deeply as they’ve met themselves. This is the heart of clarity.”
— Matt Kahn

Music I’m Digging

My February 2020 ‘best of’ playlist features a lot of La Roux’s tracks, plus an (un)healthy number of tracks from Allie X and Phantogram. I also spent a lot of time going back into my library and listening to older stuff, so you’ll get a nice mix of rock, alternative, and some R&B.

  • La Roux-Supervision // A new year and a new album! The instrumentals, alone, are pretty great throughout the album with a downbeat 1970s-like sound, combined with Elly’s approachable lyrics. This is definitely not the high-voltage performance that we had in her breakout album that came out a little over a decade ago(!) but showcases that the DNA of her music can stay the same while shifting in its tonal balance.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Agenda-DIY Pensions: A Good Idea? // As a millenial who harbours a borderline terror of being unable to afford rent when I retire, I was curious about this episode of the Agenda: would it provide useful information about pensions, or significantly entail ‘professionals’ failing to appreciate and understand their confusing products, and assert that the existing systems were significantly the way forward? I got the latter. While the guests did acknowledge the need to develop better cultures of saving and education they fundamentally didn’t engage with the issues that affect me and the people that I know; we have more debt than any other generation due to our educations, pay higher rents than the past generation, and as such are significantly delayed in our ability to contribute to pensions. Combined with a bunch of scaremongering around ETFs and it comes across as more of the same: a bunch of professionals professing the value of the current system which isn’t working, while ignoring the conditions facing people in their late 20s to mid 30s.
  • The Current-Global Secondhand Economy // I always knew that there was a whole economy around secondhand goods, but didn’t really appreciate how extensive it is, nor how central Canadians purchases are to fuelling the summer-side of the economy, in particular.
  • The Economist-Thomas Piketty // *This was a great, and very combative, interview between the Economist and Piketty. He argued his basic thesis—that capital accumulation is the root of inequality and risks serious social harms—while fending off his interlocutors who asserted his positions lacked sufficient persuasive capabilities. Highly recommended.

Good Reads

  • Berlin Freezes Rents for 5 Years in a Bid to Slow Gentrification // The idea advanced by some stakeholders–that increasing rents will somehow only rise to the level that is equitable–is absurd, if not entirely asinine. Housing needs to be affordable in order to have vibrant, liveable cities; homes cannot be regarded as investments, but as places to live.
  • The Money Behind Trump’s Money // While Enrich’s article is, largely, a recitation of past articles detailing the fraught relationship between Deutsche Bank and Trump it’s a very cohesive recitation. Whereas past news articles have slowly added to the trickle of information that is known about the current President’s financial history, this article comprehensively stitches together everything that is known. Throughout, the bank is shown to have had a disregard for law, ethics, and propriety: this continues, to date, and led the International Monetary Fund to brand Deutsche Bank “the most important net contributor to systemic risks” in the global banking system as of a few years ago.
  • Interview with Mohamad Fakih, CEO of Paramount Fine Foods // Fakih is a star in Toronto: an immigrant businessperson who has grown a massive business while extensively giving back to the community. What is most revealing in this interview is how he engages with, and treats, his staff: they are the stars, and he actively works to get to know them and enable them. It’s a ‘traditional’ style of management that is underappreciated in an era where Silicon Valley-style managerial approaches tend to dominate the headlines, and refreshing to hear this older approach being championed and leading to positive results.
  • Wacom drawing tablets track the name of every application that you open // A solid bit of sleuthing by Heaton revealed that Wacom’s mouse drivers come bundled with Google Analytics, and that they are monitoring each and every application that is being opened. The most nefarious thing ever? Nope. But sketchy nonetheless? Hells yes.
  • Apple, Just Bundle News+ Already // I keep reading from the Apple Commentariat that Apple News is a failing service that is, depending on the commentator, too expensive, too poorly designed, too much, or (weirdly) too good a deal. A lot of the issues seem to boil down to this: it’s not super intuitive to find what you want and, even if you do, there is so much content offered that you develop stress hives because you’re never done. Plus, Apple offers so many services, now, that bundling them would be a better option for consumer. It’s only the last one that resonates with me, but only if bundles were to be made in an additive way—where the more you bundle the more you save—as opposed to having to pay for stuff I don’t want (I’m looking at you, Apple Arcade). I feel like, in Canada, the use case is that there are so many paywalls that it’s a pain to know what’s happening in this country at the time something breaks and the Apple News subscription means I can catch up on what matters. I’ll never read everything and that’s fine: I, like most people, made my peace with that a long time ago.
  • Bumble Bees Are Going Extinct in Time of Climate Chaos – “We Have Now Entered the World’s Sixth Mass Extinction Event” // The world is dying around us, and we are the cause of those deaths but are seemingly unable to affect sufficiently meaningful changes to save the world and, by extension, ourselves. And even if we manage to take actions that keep just enough of the world alive, and ensure that a mass of humans survive the next extinction, what will the survivors be able to say to the next generation to justify the dramatically less vibrant world we pass on to them?
  • Why Wealthsimple and robo-advisers aren’t scaring Bay Street anymore // *As a new robo-investor, this piece in the Globe and Mail caused me to reflect a bit about the underlying premises of the article. It begins with a bold—probably foolish—assertion that robo-investment companies would have trillions under investment in record time and that, absent achieving that lofty promise, it was challenging for the companies to turn a profit. Moreover, the target group—millennials—have $30,000 or less invested, on average. And thus the companies are at risk of collapse. Those facts may be true but, at the same time, I suspect that for most millennials who are at the crux of finishing paying off student loans and now struggling to decide whether, and if so how, to save for a home, or to start investing in retirement. In other words, everything is delayed by 10-15 years; as such, I expect these advisors to truly going to start paying off as an increasing number of millennials are in situations to invest in their long term futures, and I bet that’s still just a few years off. *
  • How to Be Healthy, in Just 48 Words // This is just pure and simple and obvious advice.
  • How My Worst Date Ever Became My Best // I loved how this Modern Love story unfolded, and the wry humour that comes through towards the end of the piece.
  • I’m Single and I’m Fine With It // There is so much in this personal essay that resonated with me, including being happy that a relationship has ended, and how that has taught me that it is appropriate and ok to end others that don’t live up to what I desire. And it speaks to things I still don’t really understand—‘casual’ relationships—and what they can mean as well. As someone who routinely wonders if the best relationship I could have had is behind me, columns like this help me revisit whether this is the case and, if so, whether that’s really as bad as imagined.
  • The Curious Case of the U.S. Government’s Influence on 20th-Century Design // This deep dive assessment of how the Office of Strategic Studies—the precursor to the CIA—developed contemporary techniques of information delivery and presentation is impressive, and showcases how much of contemporary design is based in conflict studies.

Cool Things

  • Mars Iwai / Mars Iwai Tradition // I really appreciated this review of the Mars Distillery products; it’s transparent in its evaluation and is honest in its assessment that some Japanese whiskey is just sorta ‘meh’. As someone who’s hosted a Japanese tasting I have to admit that an awful lot of what’s available in Canada is expensive without being particularly exciting, and this just reaffirms my experiences and doubts over the current state of sub-$100 Japanese whiskey.
  • Work/Play III Hardcover Notebook // I want, want, want, want these notebooks. I see them in my near future, given that I’m almost through my current sets.
  • Vertical Landscape Art Print by Eiko Ojala // This has to be some of the coolest three-dimensional art I’ve seen recently. Would love to have this for my walls!
Aside

2018.5.9

I’m really struggling with the decision of whether to rent a place that is cheaper, but lacking in direct sunlight, but that has lots of space, versus paying significantly more a month for a place with lots of natural light. I almost made the decision to get a cheaper location today but just felt almost disastrously upset about what I was about to do. I’ve still got two months before I’m officially homeless; I’m going to keep on hunting around.

Aside

2015.5.6

Saw my first potential condo rental; it was terrific save for a bathroom that had serious water damage to the ceiling (probably from flooding or leaks above the unit) and a bathroom shower that needed to be burned with fire and entirely replaced. Hopefully the next one is more suitable.

Aside

2018.4.11

It’s incredibly dispiriting to know that despite my financial responsibility there is almost no chance that I’ll ever own property in the city I live in, and a possibility that at some point rent alone will force me out. I cannot imagine what life is like for those who have less privilege than I enjoy.

Link

First-time homebuyer? You could have less borrowing power under new mortgage rules

The CBC:

But Tal says the one place the rule changes will be felt is the Toronto condo market, where sale prices are below $1 million a property and deals often involve first-time buyers with down payments of less than 20 per cent.

“That’s exactly where the target is,” Tal said.

Shaun Hildebrand, senior vice-president of real estate market research firm Urban Nation, agrees with Tal.

“If there is a beneficiary to these policies, it will be the condo market, whether it’s on the for-sale side where buyers are forced into lower price points or on the rental side, as well, as fewer first-time buyers are getting into the marketplace,” Hildebrand said.

While I tend to agree that moving people towards a long-term rental market is important and not an inherently bad thing (in fact, that culture is prevalent in other housing markets), it does demand affordable rental properties. So: will the slowdown in the condo market actually reduce costs of condos due to competition, and lead to a lower rental rate for them on the basis that landlords will not have to recoup the same investment, or will rents remain where they are (and rise) so that wealthy landlords can extract further rents from their tenants?

Link

How do young people afford a house? They find roommates.

How do young people afford a house? They find roommates:

“When you look at the home market for first-time buyers, to get in can seem like an insurmountable task,” says Aaron Zifkin, Airbnb’s country director for Canada. “In a lot of our host community meet-ups, we’re seeing a lot of people who are really excited being able to bridge that pay point by earning a little extra income from a nanny suite.” Or, if no nanny suite exists, the pullout couch in the living room might do.

In Vancouver, for example, more than half of the money taken in by the 4,200 Airbnb hosts went to pay for necessities like the rent, mortgage or groceries, according to a company report released in July. With the typical host earning $6,500 each year, more than half of them said the extra cash was a reason they could afford to stay in their home. Seven per cent said the money helped them avoid foreclosure.

But don’t worry: there isn’t really a housing crisis in major metropolitan areas when people have to rent (parts of) their home in order to avoid forclosure. And the fact that roommates are a requirement for many 30-somethings to purchase 850ft condos in Toronto is entirely appropriate.