Memia on Sunday 6-Mar-2022: in defence of rabbit holes🐰🕳️// the vaccinated and the left behind💉😣// the lines are drawn🇺🇦// whither China?🇨🇳// where is my mind😶🌫️//carrot in a box🥕📦
Life imitates art
I’m away this weekend, taking a break.
⛰️Yesterday I tramped up Avalanche Peak in Arthurs Pass National Park on a warm, late summer norwest day - nothing like yomping up an 1833m-high mountain to take your mind off current affairs and social media! Here’s the 360-degree view from just below the summit:
…So, this weekend’s missive goes shallower than usual, mostly a curation of impressions of the currently intense Zeitgeist:
… plus some entertainment later on!
💉😣The vaccinated and the left behind
As Omicron continues its lightning spread throughout Aotearoa, The Spinoff’s Toby Morris works with data scientist Harkanwal Singh to illustrate how vaccination rates are correlated with deprivation: The Side Eye’s Two New Zealands: The left behind. Excellent data journalism.
😡Early reflections on Parliament protests
History books have been replaced by Twitter threads:
Aotearoa certainly lost another layer of innocence last Wednesday when the Police firmly broke up the 3-week protests at Parliament and then had to contain a riot. Like many I found it hard to peel myself away from the livestream coverage…but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t the first, or the largest, riot the world has ever seen.
👏🙏Well done and thank you to the 500+ Police involved in the operation. My personal view (and I accept not everyone’s) is that in the last few weeks NZ Police have set a global bar for mostly peaceful, unarmed policing: solid strategy (it turned out), professionalism and appropriate, mostly proportionate force. Serious respect for keeping cool heads throughout all the barracking and I just reflect on what a massive achievement it is that events didn’t escalate beyond locally contained crowd control.
Now months (years?) of charges and courtroom proceedings, poring over evidence gathered from every possible digital source in the last month: Rule of law, 21st Century edition.
(Nonetheless hopeful there can be rehabilitation opportunities for those who want to pull up and out of the rabbit hole.)
In terms of trying to understand the underlying causes of the protests/riots and thinking about what could be done to fix them… I put a quick graph together…probably only catches 20% of the picture…it’s a complex system alright:
I thought the PM captured the fundamental challenge of disinformation in her briefing last Wednesday as the riots were still happening:
"People should of course always have that freedom of thought and view and perspective and in New Zealand we've celebrated that, but when the debate you're having is no longer based on fact, where does that take you? That is the challenge we have." - PM Jacinda Ardern
A historical moment. So far the country has shown surprising resilience… but also it’s clear there are vulnerabilities in our society and political system that need to be openly discussed.
🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦The lines are drawn
The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate. Russia’s brutal bombarding tactics are truly horrific in 2022. A few impressions plucked from the online cacophony:
There are many insights into the causes of Russian military failures coming to light - for example this thread about how the tyres on Russian vehicles haven’t been maintained for years…
Putin deserves lampooning. (And, more seriously, a summons for war crimes…)
And did you know that before Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected as President of Ukraine, he actually played the President of Ukraine in a popular TV series. Check out this clip. Life imitates art.
No wonder that the Russian government announced on Friday that it had banned Facebook and restricted Twitter in Russia as it attempts to tighten its grip on information. Telegram still working - but without the reach of the main US social networks.
(This development closely related to debates around regulating social media to control mis/disinformation in the West…could (should) Aotearoa have an “off” switch for Facebook?)
China still appears to be fence-sitting on the Ukraine invasion and hasn’t indicated which way it will go strategically. This thread from Carnegie fellow Tong Zhao sheds some light on the inner workings of decision makers:
“The biggest uncertainty is how China's small, closed, & opaque decisionmaking circle--with Paramount Leader Xi at the center--sees things & makes choice. The #UkraineWar highlights how Putin's small, closed, & frivolous inner circle ultimately determined war and peace.”
“China’s small, closed and opaque decisionmaking circle”? An article from the pseudonymous N.S. Lyons (also the author of “Physicals vs Virtuals” discussed on Wednesday) profiles The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning:
“arguably the single most influential “public intellectual” alive today…
A member of the CCP’s seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, he is China’s top ideological theorist, quietly credited as being the “ideas man” behind each of Xi’s signature political concepts”
…(Tangential: when will China ever have female representation on the Politburo Standing Committee?)
Meanwhile one of the biggest question is whether China will support Russia’s economy by providing an alternative means of foreign banking now that SWIFT is cut off.
Early days, but speculation has been starting that this is something that the digital Yuan CBDC could handle. I’ll be looking into this more for Wednesday’s edition.
Hard tech, megaprojects, fast planes, neomedievalism and karma
Just one long read to share this weekend. (Sharing again as it’s a great essay).
Eli Dourado (“All I want is for GDP per capita to be $200k by 2050“) is a senior research fellow at the Utah University Centre for Growth and Opportunity. His essay from the end of 2020 Notes on technology in the 2020s is a comprehensive race through key emerging technologies and the opportunities and obstacles of our time. Worth returning to.
“It all depends on execution. The underlying science is there. The engineers are willing. Even the funding is available in most cases. But, as a society, how much urgency do we feel? Our culture does not prioritize progress—it fights, destructively, for status. And our politics reflects our culture.
I want to go faster.”
🐰🕳️In defence of rabbit holes… Two algorithmic recommendation engines work amazingly well for me: Google’s personalised Android news feed for surfacing articles at the very edge of emerging tech and science (a key tool among several for putting the newsletter together each week) - and YouTube’s recommendation algo for finding great music and comedy video content online. I will happily disappear down a YouTube music rabbit hole for a whole evening on occasion…
I think we all need a bit of cheering up right now, so I’m sharing three YouTube highlights for me from the last year, surfaced by the algo, hopefully entertaining!
🎹Musical genius About a year ago I belatedly discovered Jacob Collier, the prodigiously talented genre-spanning UK musician who originally appeared on YouTube in 2012 (aged only 18) with this split-screen version of Stevie Wonder’s Dont You Worry ‘Bout A Thing. If you like this, let YouTube take you on a tour of his other work up until now… I’m in awe of his collaborations, his musical mind and how he continues to develop.
😶🌫️Where is my mind? More recently, Postmodern Jukebox covered one of my favourite bands, [the] Pixies:
🥕📦Carrot in a box: the late Sean Lock was rarely funnier than in this clip from Christmas 2018 , premiering the new game format: “Carrot in a box” with Jon Richardson and Jimmy Carr:
Thanks for reading. All the best for a relaxing Sunday wherever you are!