111: The language of birds


Verbatim

The latest by Michael Hobbes in HuffPost settles in to the back seats of council chambers across North America, tracing the fallout that comes when a generation of homeowners who once considered themselves progressive, still cherishing memories of the great fights against freeways and neighbourhood-razing of the 70s and 80s, atrophies instead into vicious civic meetings and Facebook groups mobilizing against the horrors of bus lanes, bike lanes, affordable housing, and shelters. We found this to be a painfully familiar read in our own overcrowded, unaffordable, straining city which has in pockets let its idealized, Jane Jacobs-forged mythology dissolve into the most banal flavour of regressive NIMBYism.

Rowdy public hearings are nothing new in city politics, of course. But campaigners and elected officials told HuffPost that the nature of local opposition has changed in recent years. Where protest movements and civil disobedience were once primarily the tools of the marginalized, they have now become a weapon of privilege — a way for older, wealthier, mostly white homeowners to drown out and intimidate anyone who challenges their hegemony.

“Most of the abuse I got came from older suburban or retired folks, and always from people who considered themselves progressive,” said Rob Johnson, a Seattle City Council member who retired in April after three years in office. […]

“The boomer generation came of age at a time when neighborhoods were fighting back against highway expansions and power plants,” Baca said. “To them, preserving their neighborhood is progressive.”


Things

The new issue of Emergence magazine, themed on language, is a beautiful thing we’ll spend weeks rummaging through. We’re pretty excited about the print magazine too. For a starter, get your headphones out for David G. Haskell on how to listen to the language of birds.

After listening to that, perhaps read this nice review of Damon Krukowski’s marvellous Ways of Hearing podcast (and beautifully designed book of what’s basically the podcast script) by Will Meyer over at The Baffler.  As Meyer picks up from Krukowski’s attempt to bring John Berger’s thinking into the realm of the heard, not the seen, “we cannot uncouple sound from the economies and environments in which it is produced.”

Sometimes we just want to rent a share car and have a nap in it.


This Chernobyl-inspired PBS Newshour explainer about why plants don’t get cancer from radiation is fascinating just for the basic facts of it, but we can’t seem to shake its final two sucker-punch paragraphs.

It only took half a century or so for an imported fungus to reduce the American chestnut—gorgeous, grand old creatures whose impossible crowns once cast their shadows over vast swathes of eastern North America as redwoods do the west—to the point of near extinction. Survivors hang on, in patches, but eventually the blight finds them. It always does. At Pacific Standard, Rowan Jacobsen looks at efforts to restore the great lost tree to the landscape through genetic modification for blight resistance, and in doing so dives deep into the complexities and unresolvable fundamentalist positions of the GMO debate.

In an extract from a new book in The Observer, Eleanor Gordon-Smith asks, how do we tell ourselves the stories of who we really are? And can we ever change that story?


Ava Kofman is back in the NYT Magazine, going deep on electronic monitoring ankle bracelets. The device is the lovechild of the prison and the credit/loan industries, which manufacture crime and debt. Rob Horning goes wide, situating Kofman’s piece within the broader ecosystem of—what else?—pervasive surveillance capitalism. In the old world, you’re either in or out of prison; producing or consuming; public or private; being observed or ignored. Now, our sense of the world is not a question of if, but how we are being watched.

Pour one out for Tom Scocca’s Hmm Daily, a genuinely good publication on the blockchainy-handwavy Civil platform that we linked to here quite a few times. We may have mocked Civil for its founders’ attempts to sell blockchain as a business model that would save media, and we’re not surprised to see it fizzling, but still, fuck it, whatever the struggles and whatever the bullshit, we’re so glad sites like Hmm and Popula have taken the startup cash and done interesting things with it. We’re better off for that. And pour one more out for Topic, another brave experiment that did great work with an unreliable source of funding (Pierre Omidyar’s flighty First Look Media) that has now pulled the plug. We’re going to have to start buying our pouring-out booze by the barrel.

Building on Jody Rosen’s NYT Mag story from a month or so back about the fire that wiped out a vast and historically important archive of Universal’s music back in 2008, Jack Denton looks at institutional preservation in hip hop for Pacific Standard. With so much of mixtape culture precariously hosted on Soundcloud and its ilk (and much already lost from Myspace and elsewhere), it won’t take a fire to wipe it all out, just the indifference of venture capital and the Valley.


Do you know what archive is lovingly preserved? Our archive! Actually wait, that’s totally not true—it’ll probably disappear in a future Mailchimp pivot, won’t it? Oh no.