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This week’s edition features stories on progressive activism, dwindling salmon, how Chicago protects birds from an untimely death, the future of the craft of coding, and a profile of an odious (and powerful) literary agent.
1. Not One Tree
Grace Glass and Sasha Tycko | n+1 | October 26, 2023 | 16,313 words
Whether you’ve been following the Cop City saga closely, only just heard about it this week, or have no idea what I’m talking about, you should read this essay. For those who fall into the third category, here’s a quick primer: Cop City is the nickname of a law enforcement training campus under construction near Atlanta, on forested land once inhabited by Native people before they were forcibly removed, then turned into a slave plantation, then into a farm worked by prisoners. (“The plantation, the prison farm, the police academy: it sounds like a history of America,” Grace Glass and Sasha Tycko write.) Opponents of the project are known as “forest defenders,” and in an incident last January, one of them was shot and killed by police. This essay is an insider account of the Stop Cop City movement. It is detailed, smart, and very moving. It is about the beauty and the bloodshed of progressive activism, the stories that the land beneath us holds, the racist history of policing, and much, much more. In a word, it is epic. —SD
Max Graham | Grist | November 9, 2023 | 4,931 words
Salmon stocks are dwindling in the Yukon. That should concern all of us. As Max Graham reports for Grist, fewer and fewer fish are returning to spawn, causing governments to restrict or shut down harvests. The health and cultural consequences for remote indigenous populations that rely on annual salmon runs to feed their communities over a long winter—where a tin of Spam can cost $7.95—are impossible to quantify. The main culprit? Rising river and ocean temperatures due to climate change. “Salmon are cold-water species, so when temperatures go up, their metabolism increases, so they need more energy to just be, just live,” said Ed Farley, an ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “That means they’re going to have to feed more.” Of course, with an ecological conundrum such as this, cause and effect is far more complicated than that, and Graham deftly weaves fact and color from harvesters, elders, fishery officials, and scientists to help lay readers understand not just the scope of the problem, but the potentially devastating outcomes, for the fish and the people who rely on them. Can all the humans with their various interests come together to allow salmon stocks to rebound? For everyone’s sake, I hope that notion is more than just a fish story. —KS
Ben Goldfarb | bioGraphic | October 31, 2023 | 3,514 words
My previous house on an idyllic wooded half-acre in California’s rural West Sonoma County had lots of huge windows. So many, in fact, that birds often flew into them. Some were briefly stunned before flying off; others were not so lucky. Applying frosted decals and patterned coating to all the windows made our house more bird-safe. But what happens when an entire city is a lethal landscape for our winged friends? As Ben Goldfarb notes in this bioGraphic feature, Chicago is the most perilous city in the US for birds: its location within the Midwestern flyway—a migratory route for birds in the spring and fall—and its glass architecture and glittering lights make a deadly combination. (Case in point: on a single morning, conservation volunteers once collected around a thousand birds at McCormick Place, a massive convention center next to Lake Michigan, which is largely covered with glass and considered a collision hotspot.) Architects, building managers, and even politicians are taking measures to make Chicago more bird-friendly, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Goldfarb writes an informative piece that has something for everyone, including bird conservation, Chicago architecture and history, and urban design. —CLR
James Somers| The New Yorker | November 13, 2023 | 4,735 words
The age of the centaurs is here. While not beaten by Artificial Intelligence (yet), programmers have a new power—and the half-human, half-AI coding team is an impressive force. While dabbling with ChatGPT-4, Somers muses on his long coding career, and it was with a jolt that he reminded me of the “era of near-zero interest rates and extraordinary growth,” when coders were gods with endless free espressos. It’s changing fast. There is a lot out there on AI, but by putting this development in the context of his own career, Somers shines a bright, glaring light on the pivotal time in which we live. It’s not necessarily frightening: sure, things are changing, but they always have, and they always will. While coders of “agrarian days probably futzed with waterwheel and crop varietals,” the ones of the future may “spend their late nights in the guts of the AIs their parents once regarded as black boxes.” No doubt the centaurs will soon be replaced by full-on AI horses, but Somers is still confident coding isn’t dead. —CW
Alex Blasdel | The Guardian | November 9, 2023 | 7,941 words
Reading this profile of Andrew Wylie, the most powerful agent in book publishing and apparently one of the most odious people alive, is like eating several Big Macs: an experience so delicious you don’t mind that it leaves you queasy when it’s over. The piece’s astounding anecdotes about a man whose life is as glamorous, and legacy as enormous, as his ego is hideous beg to be binged. Wylie, who is in the twilight of his career, is the kind of person who said of his favorite chain restaurant for weekday lunches, “You feel right next door to extreme poverty when you eat at Joe and the Juice, which is a comfortable place to be.” Wylie is also the kind of person who used the following words to describe his desire to dominate the Chinese publishing market: “We need to roll out the tanks…. We need a Tiananmen Square!” I tore through this profile and was soon texting lines from it to friends, gleeful with horror and liberal in my emoji deployment. Yes, readers, I was lovin’ it. —SD
Our most-read editor’s pick this week. Drum roll please:
Caroline Tracey | The Baffler | November 6, 2023 | 5,564 words
For The Baffler, Caroline Tracey reports on the important work of the humanitarian forensic anthropologists working with Operation Identification (OpID), a program helping to bring closure to loved ones by identifying migrants who died in their attempt to enter the United States from Mexico. A fascinating discipline, “. . . .humanitarian forensic anthropology starts with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team: ‘the world’s first professional war crimes exhumation group,’ as Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman write in Mengele’s Skull.” —KS