We missed you. But you’re all mostly still here, which is nice. And hi to all of you that signed up while we were away—there were a lot of you and we don’t know why, but come on in!
For Logic, Miriam Posner dives deep into the tangled world of supply chain management, one of the most critical and yet impossible to fathom aspects of modern life. This is such a nerdy good read. “How can it be possible to predict a package’s arrival down to the hour, yet know almost nothing about the conditions of its manufacture?”, she asks at the outset. There’s a lot going on in that question, and of course much of that blindness is by design.
This peculiar state of knowing-while-not-knowing is not the explicit choice of any individual company but a system that’s grown up to accommodate the variety of goods that we demand, and the speed with which we want them. It’s embedded in software, as well as in the container ships that are globalization’s most visible emblem. We know so much about the kinds of things we can get and when we can get them. But aside from the vague notion that our stuff comes from “overseas,” few of us can really pin down the stations of its manufacture. Is a more transparent—and more just—supply chain possible? Maybe. But, as the Chocolonely lawsuit demonstrates, it could mean assimilating a lot of information that companies have become very good at disavowing—a term that, in its Freudian sense, means refusing to see something that might traumatize us.
Things**(A lot of ’em, we’ve been gone a while)
“Do you really think sex is a shameful thing?” Yeah, I do. “I read that you’re working on a dating app?’ I am. Yeah. Norm Macdonald, in conversation.
Nature has a fascinating report on the tensions inside the IPBES, the international, intergovernmental panel on biodiversity (kind of a little brother to the IPCC), that has “split into feuding factions” as it has evolved into something more… well… diverse than these science bureaucracies tend to be, shifting advisory power from the scientists from the usual suspect countries to incorporate indigenous perspectives and “a richer fabric of knowledge” from non-academics, farmers, and the like. At the heart of the spat is an argument about the place of economics in ecology, and an impossible question to answer easily: will governments only pay attention if we make environmental arguments tied to dollars and cents, or does that fundamentally undermine the whole exercise? “It makes no sense to place a monetary value on a forest or a river because they are part of the whole body. It’s like saying to a human: ‘what price, your limb?”
This new reference map of Antarctica is just beautiful, however fleetingly accurate it might turn out to be.
This is great: Shannon Mattern on the history of the neighbourhood hardware store, where “amidst the nuts and bolts, we cultivate the potential to order things, places, communities, politics, and values”.
You know what we didn’t miss thinking about while we were on summer break? The media industry! Remember when we were all sad that the iconic Interview folded, and the freelancers and contractors it had owed millions of dollars for years just had to shrug and get on with it? How overjoyed we were to see the exact same family buy it from itself in a bankruptcy sale, thus wiping out its debt and carrying on regardless! Andy would have been proud of the chutzpah. Not that you had in a long time, and not that it’ll last, but don’t ever buy or work for this magazine. (And if you’re a rockstar designer who’s given the mag a quite nice redesign, a) you’re complicit, and b) we hope you asked for a bank cheque up front.)
Meantime, we were genuinely sad to see The Outline lay off its writing staff, and much of the rest of its team, retreating to an “undisclosed WeWork location” to figure out its next steps. Joshua Topolsky talked a big game with this magazine, said many things about reinventing advertising models, creating the next New Yorker, etc. It didn’t really do any of this, nor find much in the way of audience, but it did pay a bunch of young writers reasonably well to do interesting, non-clickbait-driven work. It was probably one of the best outlets since The Awl to do that reliably and consistently. And whatever you think of its screaming-in-yr-face design, at least it was trying something different. It does feel like we linked to it quite often, no? But sacking your staff to rely on freelancers is never a path to sustainability, particularly after you’ve just burned through another $5M of venture capital, and suddenly we’re talking about it in the past tense. Turns out the freelancers are getting sick of this game too—this open letter from members of the Study Hall collective has its authors committing, basically, not to scab in place of sacked staff. What does it mean when the freelancers, always on the bottom rung in terms of exploitation in the media industry, begin to figure out how to push back against the madness?
Anyway, Mat Ingram has some of the best reporting on what’s really going down over there at CJR.
(Disclosure: one of us is a member of Study Hall, though not a signatory to the letter because he didn’t get around to it, and you read a bunch of brilliant stuff from Study Hall members in this here email in pretty much every issue.)
If you fancy a trip to a somewhat differently crazy publishing era, Jessica Hopper’s oral history of the women behind the scenes at Rolling Stone in its seventies heyday is just glorious. We love the image of these women sneaking naps on the office floor while waiting through the night for the men to file their manly “jibberish”, then settling in to do the work of refining it into the era-defining, vaguely fact-checked, almost publishable journalism we remember.
Speaking of manly jibberish, we’re not going to link to anything from the New York Review of Books this week, nor write the name of the particular self-pitying abusive Toronto has-been who ended up on its cover. But we will link to Isaac Chotiner’s Slate interview with editor Ian Buruma – a man who we used to hold in higher regard and thought somebody who maybe understood a few things about the complex world outside of New York literary offices – simply because it’s a fantastic example of lazy thinking and irresponsible stewardship being held to account.
Advice for everybody in the last few paragraphs from the Canadian Centre for Architecture: “How to: not make an architecture magazine.” (Be sure to do the little interactive Q&A at the start.)
(Further disclosure: another one of us hasn't written much of anything all summer. What have I been thinking? Without a regular cadence of reading and writing, intake and output, is it even possible to have processed anything? I have no hot takes to sell—it feels like coming back to Twitter or Apple Music after months, when the algorithm has begun feeding on itself, has given up on variety, and is desperately serving up sure-fire faves. Where are the self-propelled, unfiltered, authentic, lo-fi thoughts from which this newsletter is assembled? Fortunately, we've found some guidance in—where else?—another newsletter: “if I waited to have a destination before I set out writing, I probably wouldn't have ever written anything… But…”)
Headline presented without comment: “Amazon has patented a system that would put workers in a cage, on top of a robot.”
Did you know that Toronto is actually run by a cabal of incredibly smart raccoons? They don’t want you to know this, but it’s true. This piece got overshadowed by less important Toronto Star scoops about trade negotiations and such, but here’s some compelling longform investigative journalism about our overlords, featuring top notch night-vision footage of cute creatures opening trash cans.
A friend recently told us, “The early bird gets the worm, but the early worm gets eaten by the bird.” There’s no link here, we just thought you should know that.
Oh, also, here's buckslip.email, our website in case you feel like sharing. Happy Autumn.