Beyond the Noise | 8.24.2021

What to read this week! The rise of Myanmar's drug trade since the coup tops off this week's curious reads.

Beyond the Noise | 8.24.2021

Important Writing to Have a Think On:

Drugs continue to prop up military dictatorships

A review from the Financial Times on Myanmar's drug trade shows the widespread effects of collapsing a government. Everything is affected.

Only a few days after the coup in Myanmar, editorialists and foreign policy experts suggested a particularly chaotic civil war. The theory was that the military was too poor to maintain loyalty. Nationalism nor materialism were to gain in ousting Suu Kyi, seriously inhibiting the capacity of the military to maintain its grasp on its troops. Foot soldiers were starving and hadn't received pay in weeks. Meanwhile, some independently rich generals were expected to break off and start their own war groups. UN special envoy Christine Burgener claimed that a "bloodbath" was imminent.

Biden has said little on the matter. Multi-national sanctions against Burmese military assets came swiftly and appear to be sufficient for the White House. However, in democratic fashion, the country's citizens have been engaged in a months-long civil disobedience movement, carrying the bulk of the response. Protesters—often facing the greatest threat—have drained military and government resources. Local strikes and boycotts from banking to medicine likewise mount even more pressure on the military and shadow government.

Nothing exists in isolation. From the coup to the civil disobedience movement—and unlikely to see any fruitful international support—Myanmar is in for a long, suffering waiting game. Everyone should applaud the demonstrated effort of the citizens trying to reclaim their country. Especially so when the only politically viable actions are acts of sacrifice. A banking strike is disastrous for the military. It's also deleterious for any who need financial support.

A common political economy has risen out of the coup. The military takeover has driven resources entirely into survival, allowing for other, smaller actors trying to make a profit in the tumult. The lead article to read this week is a well-researched review from the Financial Times: "How Myanmar coup fuelled rise in illegal drugs trade," by John Reed. Reed offers interesting charts and analysis on the trade's newfound growth despite price drops since February 1. Enforcement against drug traffickers is almost nonexistent. You know where the harm is. Can you guess who is standing to profit?

Unusually Thoughtful Editorial:

Rightwing legalists are going to war over Native American adoption law

The next chapter of the rightwing "History Doesn't Exist" book takes place in a world where laws designed to protect indigenous families are racist toward white people who want their babies. Nick Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, writes on the court battles to undo policy ending the forced indoctrination of Native children. "Why is the US right suddenly interested in Native American adoption law?" exposes an attack on civil rights taking place in the shadows.

New in Innovation:

AI fixing its own diversity issue?

More often than not, the failures in powerful AI algorithms aren't with the algorithm itself, but with the data it's reading. In 2019, a study found that self-driving cars were more likely to hit people with dark skin. Immediately assumed to be an issue with the camera or sensor, the actual fault was in bias of the programmers. The car simply hadn't seen as many dark-skinned people to recognize as it had light-skinned people as provided in its dataset.

Data diversity has become a major issue. While many engineers certainly have much improving to do on their own, frequently there are issues with the data itself. From national policy to pure chance, data often isn't diverse enough on its own. To add to the problem, such data can be wildly expensive. Rev Lebaredian tells of a way AI can create its own diverse data to make for better simulations.

Side Piece:

The unbelievable theater happening at Current Affairs

This is especially a side piece. Nathan Robinson, editor in chief, is being accused by former staff of firing them for trying to make the magazine more democratic. A socialist magazine firing staff for being socialist, as are the allegations. Robinson responded, detailing a weird organizational process and executive decision-making claiming that he's not a union-crusher, just bad at being a leftist manager. Adrian Rennix, long-time friend of the editor and prolific writer for the magazine, published a counter-letter, "correcting" Robinson's explanation of the events. Yes, all links are to Twitter threads.

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