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 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!

The Roundup for February 1-15, 2019 Edition

Rest, Deeply 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.


A few top of line thoughts concerning the iPad Pro 11” versus the iPad 9.7” (2017).

  • The weight increase on the iPad Pro is really noticeable and makes holding it aloft for long periods of time less pleasant;
  • FaceID is magical. It’s just amazing to have a device with it;
  • iPad Pro’s screen is terrific. Hands down, the best screen I’ve ever used on a device;
  • Apple Pencil is really amazing for taking notes with (side note: GoodNotes seems pretty good?) but it took me forever to figure out wtf was going on when I couldn’t use it on a recent trip. The issue? The nib wasn’t fully secured and there were no indicators to alert me to the problem;
  • iPad Pro’s speakers are so good that I don’t need to bring a separate portable speaker with me (which I’ve done while travelling for years). Massive win for a regular traveller;
  • Battery life is amazing, as is true of all new iOS devices, though I wonder how that will change over time…
  • New ‘SOS’ features — with no explanation when I was setting up the device — meant that it was initially a pain to take the device through a border checkpoint (pro tip: press power + volume up);
  • Once more: the screen is just amazing crazy good.

Do I recommend iPad Pro? Kinda sorta? If you do a lot of professional work on it or require a secure device and can’t live in ChromeOS (i.e. the Venn circles I live in) then it’s a terrific option. Otherwise…consider whether the 9.7″ (2018) iPad is better for your life (and pocketbook).


Inspiring Quotation

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

— Harold Whitman

Great Photography Shots

The top 25 photos posted to Flickr in 2018 are just absolutely stunning.

Music I’m Digging

  • DaniLeigh – The Plan // I’ve even listening to this album on repeat for days: the tracks alternate between melodic singing and stronger hip hop vibes. Tracks I’m particularly fond of include ‘The Plan’, Do It to Me’, ‘Blue Chips’, ‘Easy’, and (of course) the breakout track ‘Lil Bebe’.
  • Joy Crookes – Reminiscence (EP) // Crooke’s soft and husky voice powerfully communicates the emotions and experiences she has lived through and contemplated. Her experiences with relationships and social expectations — in particular, that she should change her life to accommodate a man — are both erudite and communicate both a willingness to engage in introspection while expressing self-confidence in who she is at the time of writing the respective songs.
  • Hauschka – A Different Forest // A piece of classical music that communities the experience of passing through nature, this newest album by Hauschka complements their broad and excellent body of work.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Economist: It’s note easy: the Green New Deal // We might be approaching a time where the primary threat to human civilization — catastrophic climate change — is becoming a ‘real’ political issue. This episode of The Economist takes a look at the proposed Green New Deal in the United States of America and, to my listen, does a good job in assessing what’s been proposed thus far as likely more an affirmation of principle than a proposal of actions and activities.
  • The Sporkful: Dan Savage Recommends A Polyeaterous Lifestyle // I’ve always found Dan Savage’s advice to be blunt, direct, and helpful. His discussions on The Sporkful are no different. Though not novel, his suggestions about romantic days (i.e. sex, first, dinner second) just make good sense, and his thoughts on not badgering your partner to do things that you like but they don’t are similarly common sense and likely to enable partners to live independent and fulfilling lives.
  • The Sporkful: Why Roy Wood Jr. Sees Pros To Bad Service And Confederate Flags // Roy Wood Jr. is a comedian. He’s also African American, and tours the entirety of the United States of America. As a result, he’s often in states where his body is perceived as either threatening or as something to be harmed. His discussion of what it’s like to try and determine ‘Is this a white person who’s going to harass or try to kill me?’ served to, again, remind me about the structural racism that is built into society and needs to be remedied. Unrelated, it was interesting to hear him talk about the relationship he had with his father and how, in Wood Jr.’s own case, his own parenting approach is as much to behave contrary to how he was raised as anything else. I particularly liked his rationales for not seeking to bribe his child into forgiving past bad actions; the accountability he recognizes in parenting strikes me as helpful for developing productive and positive longer-term relationships in the child’s unfolding life.

Good Reads

  • How the Slice Joint Made Pizza the Perfect New York City Food // Korsha Wilson has written a beautiful homage to New York pizza, and briefly extols on its history — with great black and white photos included! — and argues that the common love of the food truly binds New Yorkers together. I’d be lying if I said this was the most absolutely breathtaking writing, but it does capture the senses in the course of spinning a narrative.
  • European Genocide of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas Cooled Earth’s Climate // The sheer breadth of the harms incurred by the West’s genocide is staggering in human terms. But it’s also incredible that, as a result of land lying fallow, that nature was better able to absorb carbon dioxide and thus reduce the amount of heat trapped on Earth, to the effect of dropping global temperatures. Humanity’s ability to abuse itself while, also, inadvertently terraforming its environment is stunning.
  • Lagos, City of Hustle, Builds an Art ‘Ecosystem’ // The caliber of the art coming up in the emerging galleries in Lagos are absolutely stunning, though it strikes me as a shame that the revolution in the country’s art world is largely taking place in private instead of public galleries. However, the fact that artists seems to be responsible for the revival itself speaks well of the explosive talent in the community that will hopefully nurture itself as opposed to rely on public or private subsidies to find meanings or existence.
  • The Great Myth of Alberta Conservatism // Alberta is routinely cast as an ‘other’ in Canadian politics, by its own politicians as well as by commentators external to the province. A series of myths abound about the province which, largely, stem from perceptions emergent from populist conservatism. Jen Gerson seeks to recast some of these narratives; she recognizes that populism is largely enabled by a perception that Ottawa and the rest of Canada seeks the wealth of Alberta and, in general, regards Alberta as a sub-colonial aspect of Confederation. Her descriptions are useful for appreciating the contours of Albertan populism while, at the same time, indicative that the boom-and-bust province has clung to age-old grievances to the detriment of better relations with other provinces and the federal government. Moreover, it is challenging to believe the province is an actual ‘other’ as a Liberal federal government invests billions in a pipeline for the province’s exports and Albertan-based politicians led Canada for almost a decade. In this way, we see that the myths of Alberta may compose a political identity which fades somewhat when challenged with facts of the modern political era.
  • Can You Get Too Much Exercise? What the Heart Tells Us // As someone who regularly works out more or less everyday that I’m in my home city, I keep being told that it’s dangerous to work out so often. This article by the New York Times summarizes what we know: those who work out a lot tend to build up more plaque in their arteries than those who exercise less often. However, that plaque seemingly possesses different characteristics: it may tend to be denser and more stable and, as such, less likely to break off and lead to coronary distress.
  • Why Won’t You Love Me? // As someone who constantly grapples with a sense of abandonment by my biological father, this piece resonated deeply and strongly with me. My own father’s absence has taught me the value of simply showing up, though I wish it was through imitation of his behaviours as opposed to in contravention of them.
  • ‘Shoplifters’ Director Pierces Japan’s Darker Side // The review of the movie, itself, is somewhat interesting. But where this article thrives is in examining the rationales and philosophy behind the movie. In particular, I was taken by Hirokazu Kore-eda’s comment that: “If you think of culture as something that transcends the state, then you understand that cultural grants don’t always coincide with the interests of the state.” This perfectly captures the difference of receiving money from a government versus from a state.
  • Doug Ford’s TTC subway upload and Margaret Thatcher’s cautionary tale // With more and more concerns being raised that the Ford government is going to steal away Toronto’s subway, this assessment of the ‘successes’ of doing so in London should be sobering. In short, Thatcher’s similar activities led to under financing, corruption, safety risks, worsened commute experiences, and higher costs. Perhaps this isn’t the model that Ontario and Toronto should be mimicking?
  • The Problem With Compromise // The idea that couples’ problems tend to stick around in 2/3 of cases belies the point that compromise isn’t necessarily what will help people navigate challenges together. I liked the proposal that, instead, persons in relationships need to accept differences and subsequently adapt in the face of them. This approach also seems remarkably healthier because it recognizes — vis-a-vis adaptation — that a deliberate act of change is required, but that change might not entail mutual modifications in action or behaviour in all cases. Finally, the idea that expressions of gratitude are central to successfully managing adaptation and acceptance over time resonates with my past experiences: it’s through acceptance and celebration of one’s partner that relationships can truly bloom in the face of interpersonal differences and challenges.
  • My Body Doesn’t Belong to You // This short personal essay is about the negative experiences the author has at the hands and voices of men, with the harassment purely arising because she is a woman. The narrative — to feeling like her body is hers as a child, and now only hers in seclusion from men and with her girlfriends, speaks loudly to the casual misogyny built into Western society, and also to the absolute need to structurally reform social relations. The lines that stuck, and likely will continue to stick, with me the most were: “I am 24, and my body makes life dangerous for me. My breasts, my hips, the way I walk. Any woman’s breasts, any woman’s hips, the way any woman walks.”

Cool Things

  • “Roll High Or Die” spinning enamel pin // A d20 spinning enamel pin? So nerdy.
  • WANDRD Travel Journal Notebook // This looks like a really cool product for people who use paper to organize and record their travels. I particularly like how it’s divided into long, medium, and short-term adventures, and the miscellaneous travel aids included in the book.
  • One Breath Around The World // This is a stunning short video, where you are taken throughout the oceans over the course of a single breath and experience them in their freedom and wonders. Without a doubt its one of the best artistic pieces I’ve seen so far this year.
Aside

2018.7.6

The life transition I’m currently embroiled in is, I suspect, like the tide: I’m already caught in the undertow but don’t really appreciate what it means. Fortunately as a Maritimer, I know to let the undertow pull you out a ways from the shore and then swim perpendicular to it to avoid the worst of its effects. I’m pretty ready to start swimming.