Hi Again We’re Back
Welcome to 2020! This is us, and probably you, right now. Let’s work our way through it together, hey? This morning, those of us in Toronto were woken by an emergency alert on our phones, telling us that everything was fine at the local nuclear power station. There’s been no abnormal release of radioactivity!, our phones shrieked. Reassuringly. We have a feeling that’s pretty much how it’s going to be from here.
Just in case events have fritzed your short term memory, we should remind you that Buckslip is a weekly(ish) email that’s put together by a small gang of friends, which goes out on Sunday afternoons to slightly more than 1,000 of you. Our website with the old ones, the best place to introduce us to your friends, is at buckslip dot email.
This is mostly just us trying to collectively stave off being drowned by the discourse, and to honestly attempt to work out what’s going on through the lens of what we’ve been reading. We’re not selling you anything, and we leave you alone other than this. Links to all of us are down there at the bottom. Hopefully you’re receiving this because you signed up directly, let us know if not. Unsubscribe links are down there too, no offence ever taken!
Australia’s on fire. You know this. Here’s dear Buckslip friend Jessica Friedmann with a beautiful and heartbreaking dispatch in The Globe and Mail, from amidst the scorched leaves falling from the sky. From far away, the fires make us feel unsteady on our feet, sad and grieving, for trees and animals and all of us. So we try to still ourselves with facts, with certainty. Here’s Elizabeth Kolbert, that most reliable of sources on what’s coming for us all, laying it out: “Every decade is consequential in its own way, but the twenty-twenties will be consequential in a more or less permanent way.”
And then we turn to Jedediah Britton-Purdy, on what it is to bring a child into this:
“What does it mean to teach a child to live in a time of perennial crisis, always in the shadow of loss? I think about trying to teach him love and wonder first, before he inevitably learns fear. I would like him to be fascinated by a Manhattan red oak, a red-tailed hawk perched in its limbs, or a morel mushroom at its roots, before he thinks, This forest is going to die, with everything in it.”
Spinning from collapse to logistics, Ingrid Burrington goes all Powers of Ten on on-demand culture, zooming from low-earth orbit into the core of a city mid-rise. This feels like just the tantalising start of something that we’d love to see go deeper and larger.
Stick with this piece on a Senegalese garbage dump, by Katie Jane Fernelius in The Nation, for a bit. It takes a while for Fernelius to get past the standard tropes of these profiles of waste pickers in faraway lands, but she does get to some far more interesting points about the complexities of the global waste economy, the entanglements of development politics, and formal and informal value creation. Perhaps pair it with Haley Mlotek in The New Republic, on the shadowy global production chains of fast fashion. There’s something tangled in between these two stories, we think.
And at The Baffler, Kate Wagner heads into the wasteland, applying a historical lens to our conceptions of beauty in industrial landscapes, and what’s going on underneath when we fetishize the destroyed remnants of capital and ecological disaster, turning rubble into ruin porn.
How a museum director in Germany targeted with threats took on nationalists and the far right.
It’s an old, familiar story by now, but bears retelling through the frame of Trump: in an excerpt from his new book, Andrew Bacevich on how the US squandered its Cold War victory.
“What the idealized iPhone user and the idealized Gmail user shared was a perfect executive-functioning system: Every time they picked up their phone or opened their web browser, they knew exactly what they wanted to do, got it done with a calm single-mindedness, and then closed their device. This dream illuminated Inbox Zero and Kinfolk and minimalist writing apps. It didn’t work. What we got instead was Inbox Infinity and the algorithmic timeline. Each of us became a wanderer in a sea of content. Each of us adopted the tacit—but still shameful—assumption that we are just treading water, that the clock is always running, and that the work will never end.”
Earlier in the week, Teen Vogue published a gushy piece of SponCon from Facebook about safeguarding political speech. It did not go well. A prediction for 2020: this particular flavour of sponsored content—the prestige paid-editorial studio attached to the legacy media masthead, including of the one we just linked to reporting this story—is going to face a reckoning. They came about in the ad departments as something to sell that wasn’t old-fashioned display advertising, but this little fracas is just a particularly obvious example of the inherent problems with the entire model. (Disclaimer: we’ve worked and will continue to work for many of these media brand “content studios”, because they pay well, and we need to eat, and good people work at them, and we want our media orgs to have sustainable income streams. We just would prefer to see them evolve their offerings into something that’s useful, authentic and non-misleading for readers, advertisers, and the mastheads themselves. What is that? We’re looking forward to finding out!)
An election-night Wikipedia editathon is a microcosm of journalism today. Change feels more chaotic and unrelenting than ever; we’ve come to terms with the fact that exhaustive documentation will not save us, if it was ever a possibility. This realization can help focus on the value and joy of working together, in all our diversity, to process what we can. It’s as much for ourselves as for the record, and that makes it more vital than ever.
Uber and Tesla claim to be building critical, infrastructural stepping stones toward distributed mobility. And this might be right in terms of technology—ride-optimization algorithms and batteries/charging stations, respectively. But when it comes to behaviour, both just reinforce the sort of individualistic protection of private space and commodity fetishism that characterized the rise of the car. Car2go was a bigger step toward distributed mobility because it was based on behavioural rather than technological change. Uber and Tesla perpetually let us off the hook for our part in distributed mobility until their full solution is realized. Car2go died because it asked of us something more than anticipation.
Meanwhile, the Casper IPO is the latest to provide grift for the VC-skeptical schadenfreude mill, showing as it does a simple mattress business hiding under high-thread-count sheets that allow it to look like an innovator. Its only true differentiator from all the other awful mattress companies that predated it (other than fuelling the related podcast advertising bubble) seems to be replacing “buy low, sell stupidly high” with “buy low, sell even lower, figure it out later”. We’re not sure if this is a trigger for burst of the mattress box bubble (and sorry, podcasts, if it is!), but we’re still waiting on somebody to write the definitive account of why everything about that particular industry continues to be awful.
Almonds are the worst. No, wait, crop monocultures are the worst. Particularly for the bees.
Though we couldn’t imagine anything worse (other than all the really terrible things we’ve already covered this week, of course) than having to visit CES, the annual @internetofshit tweet threads of the weirdest of it always make us just a little bit happy and confused. Alexa, flush toilet.
We’re excited to read Fred Goodman’s new biography of the late, great, tragically underappreciated Lhasa de Sela, whose albums we return to kind of a lot. LitHub have an excerpt up.
Also pouring many out this week for John Baldessari, the guy that put dots over people’s faces. Here are the remembrances from peers and such, but look, what could we possibly link to other than the Tom Waits-narrated “A Brief History of John Baldessari”?
“Please understand: I live specifically, with intent. The intent is, I know now, not at all specific, except that I have no ability to compromise.” Ah shit, what to say about Elizabeth Wurtzel? Jia Tolentino has all the worthwhile remembrances, of course, and of course they were friends. We’ve been thinking a lot on what’s changed between Prozac Nation and now, what she faced and provoked with that book, and a life lived since, that opened up doors for others. Go back and read some of the reviews if you want a sense of how depression even existed in the discourse at the time. She led the way for so much. But look, just, if you haven’t read it, spend time deep in her 2013 New York essay on her “one-night stand of a life”. It’s an all-timer.
Look, we don’t do much promotion, we’re terrible with even tweeting about this email ourselves. We’re not in any of these new big email directory startups, probably just because we haven’t asked, and won’t. But, somehow, we grow just a little good bit every week, which we figure means some of you must be recommending us, right? In your emails that we’re definitely not spying on?
We just wanted to say we appreciate it.