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Who Needs Jurassic Park When We Have Liaoning, China

Visitors pose with their hands in a dinosaur's mouth at an exhibition in Shenyang, China.

In The Middle of Nowhere, China, 250 miles northeast of Beijing, a massive new museum is rising up from the dusty earth. It will house a portion of the findings from Liaoning, a region whose abundance of fossils is helping paleontologists understand dinosaurs’ relationship to birds in more detail — and making China the new paleontology hot spot. Richard Conniff has the full story for Smithsonian.

Nonetheless, there’s genuine fossil wealth being revealed in Liaoning. Many of the slabs have been transferred to Beijing, where preparators are getting them ready for display. One morning in the basement of the IVPP, I watched a young man stare through the dual lenses of a microscope as he worked an air-pressure tool along the length of a wing bone. The needle-pointed tip whined and flecks of stone flew out to the sides, gradually freeing bone from matrix. Nearby a woman used an old credit card to apply a tiny drop of 502 Super Glue to a break in a fossil, then went back to work with a needlelike pick in one hand and an air pump in the other. Eight preparators were working at that moment at different fossils. It was an assembly line, dedicated to opening old tombs and bringing whole empires of unimaginably strange and beautiful creatures almost back to life.

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What If the Price of the American Dream Is Too High?

In a blistering essay in VogueKarla Cornejo Villavicencio — the daughter of undocumented immigrants from Ecuador — rips apart the American Dream that lures migrants to U.S. shores with the promise of opportunity, then forces them to lives under the constant threat of deportation, or having their families ripped apart.

I never identified as a DREAMer. First, I thought the acronym was cheesy. Second, I feel sick at the thought of the American public pitying me for my innocence, my hands clean from my parents’ purported sin in bringing me here. It’s a self-righteous position I want to kick in the balls—pitying the child while accusing the parents of doing something that any other good parent would have done under the same circumstances. And if American citizens’ love of law and order is so pure that they would have let their children rot or starve or be shot or be condemned to a future of no future instead of coming here, then they’re not fit to shine my parents’ shoes.

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Do These Pants Make Me Look Like Everyone Else? Be Honest, Alexa.

Once upon a time, you bought a blue sweater because some fashion editors in a tastefully modern conference room decided blue was in for spring; now, you buy a blue sweater because your Echo Look scored blue more highly than green for you. What happens to taste when machines become the tastemakers? At Racked, Kyle Chayka meditates on style, algorithms, and our generic yet lullingly unobjectionable future.

Now YouTube tells me which videos to watch, Netflix serves me TV shows, Amazon suggests clothes to wear, and Spotify delivers music to listen to. If content doesn’t exist to match my desires, the companies work to cultivate it. The problem is that I don’t identify as much with these choices as what I once pirated, discovered, or dug up. When I look at my Spotify Discover playlists, I wonder how many other people got the exact same lists or which artists paid for their placement. I feel nostalgic for the days of undifferentiated .rar files loading slowly in green progress bars. There was friction. It all meant something.

To be fair, this content consumption was also extremely unethical. And it’s not like I don’t like Netflix shows or Spotify playlists. Like cigarettes or McDonald’s, they were designed for me to like them, so of course I like them. It’s just that I don’t always like that I like them.

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Only a Fool Buys Kombucha on a Tuesday

Weekend crowds at Coney Island, New York (Howard Brier/Flickr)

The current crop of stories at Real Life Mag are centered on the theme of circadian rhythms, including a piece from poet Linda Besner on “off-peakers” — people who try to save time and money by avoiding the 9-to-5, weekdays-for-work-weekends-for-play schedule that traps so many of us in lines and traffic jams. Her exploration of what it means to be an off-peaker turns into an interesting (and political!) musing how societies decide to organize themselves.

The comment sections of off-peakers’ blogs are, paradoxically, bustling: stories of going to bed at nine and waking up at four to ensure that the day is perfectly out of step; Legoland on Wednesdays in October; eating in restaurants as soon as they open rather than waiting for standard meal times. There’s a wealth of bargains to be had by juggling one’s calendar to take advantage of deals. (The app Ibotta, which tracks fluctuating prices on consumer goods popular with millennials, determined that Tuesdays are actually the worst days to buy rosé and kombucha; you should buy them on Wednesdays. Avocados are also cheapest on Wednesdays, while quinoa should be bought on Thursdays and hot sauce on Fridays.) Many posters write that they are considering changing professions or homeschooling their children to join the off-peakers.

Some off-peakers are motivated by savings, some by avoiding crowds, but off-peaking also offers a more abstract pleasure: the sheer delight in doing the unexpected. The gravitas attached to the seasons of life listed off in Ecclesiastes is echoed in the moral overtones attached to perceptions of what is appropriate for different hours of the day. It is wrong to laugh when everyone else is weeping or to embrace when everyone else is refraining from embracing. Ordinary activities become subversive when done at the wrong time: eating spaghetti for dinner is ordinary, but having linguini with clam sauce for breakfast breaks the unwritten rules. Once you start transgressing, it can be hard to stop: The arbitrariness of custom begins to chafe.

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The More We Disrupt, The More Things Are Exactly The Same

Photo by Daniel Benavides (CC BY 2.0), viaWikimedia Commons

Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Emily Chang‘s forthcoming book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. TL;DR: they have a lot of sex and drug parties at which they disrupt conventional morality by… replicating conventional sexist, heteronormative behaviors.

They don’t necessarily see themselves as predatory. When they look in the mirror, they see individuals setting a new paradigm of behavior by pushing the boundaries of social mores and values. “What’s making this possible is the same progressiveness and open-mindedness that allows us to be creative and disruptive about ideas,” Founder X told me. When I asked him about Jane Doe’s experience, he said, “This is a private party where powerful people want to get together and there are a lot of women and a lot of people who are fucked up. At any party, there can be a situation where people cross the line. Somebody fucked up, somebody crossed the line, but that’s not an indictment on the cuddle puddle; that’s an indictment on crossing the line. Doesn’t that happen everywhere?” It’s worth asking, however, if these sexual adventurers are so progressive, why do these parties seem to lean so heavily toward male-heterosexual fantasies? Women are often expected to be involved in threesomes that include other women; male gay and bisexual behavior is conspicuously absent. “Oddly, it’s completely unthinkable that guys would be bisexual or curious,” says one V.C. who attends and is married (I’ll call him Married V.C.). “It’s a total double standard.” In other words, at these parties men don’t make out with other men. And, outside of the new types of drugs, these stories might have come out of the Playboy Mansion circa 1972.

Be forewarned, these grown adult people liberally use the phrases “cuddle puddle” and “founder hounder,” and you’ll want to budget some time to scream into a pillow and then take a shower after you finish reading.

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Fashion For Everyone, Where “Everyone” Means “Thin People”

Michael Preysma of Everlane speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2013 . (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

At Racked, Amanda Mull writes about “disruptive” fashion startups like Everlane and True & Co, who are creating stylish clothing that’s manufactured responsibly and priced (relatively) affordably. Except for fat women — despite being a massively underserved community from an apparel standpoint, few of these companies offer plus-size clothing, so it’s back to Lane Bryant for us. Why? Despite some impressive marketing-speak about research and scaling, it seems to come back to the standard stereotype: fat people are bad for branding.

Everlane did not make anyone available for an interview, but the company did send us the following statement: “The Everlane story is one that has been built slowly and carefully. Our customer understands that Everlane is a democratic and honest brand and we want to be inclusive of all people. Given that, it is on our roadmap to do plus-size, but we need to take the time to do it right. To do plus, it requires more than extended sizing. We need to launch plus as a separate brand with new fits, new models and new fabrics to ensure that the styles fit and look great. As we gain scale and get new customers, we will be able to focus our energy on launching this line.” The statement echoes a sentiment that I heard from every straight-size CEO I spoke with, even those who have begun to make their brands more inclusive: that plus-size people need to be patient while others solve the egregious problems of their bodies. Women over a certain size are always a burden, never a priority. They’re expected to wait while others are served first…

If you read the “about” pages on apparel startups’ websites, it’s clear most of them take care to envision their ideal consumers and what they value. The end result often paints a picture of a curious, engaged shopper who cares about manufacturing practices, material sourcing, and the social or political statement made by spending money with a particular company. A shopper who thinks about fit and is interested in how technology might solve the problems in their closet. None of the brands say it so bluntly, but the shopper they want is intelligent. In that context, it’s all the more jarring that so few entrepreneurs could conceive of a fat person who is also smart.

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Where It’s Always Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

an ice-covered road leading toward evergreen trees covered in snow
Photo by JLS Photography via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At LitHub, Marissa Weiss explores life in Alaska: The cold, the dark, the ice, the 3,000 miles between her and her parents in Maryland. Despite the many hardships, she’s lived there for 15 years and can’t imagine leaving a place where cold is no longer a four-letter-word.

Even so, the benefits of the cold can be hard to remember in the face of ice cleats, May snowstorms and frozen pipes. Not to mention our cultural bias against the cold. There’s no comfort in cold comfort, no welcoming from a cold shoulder. A killer is made even worse by being cold-blooded, an enemy by being cold-hearted. There is nothing cathartic or healthful about breaking a cold sweat, and a cold fish is not attractive as entrée or lover.

In spite of it all, being cold makes me feel alive. I’m not sure who I would be if I moved back to the comfortable life — if I swapped rubber boots that are always getting mucky for sleek sandals that knew only pavement. How would I fill all of the hours I now spend with my children, dressing and undressing them? Whom would I relate to if I could no longer commiserate with those around me about the cold?

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The Fabric of History

rows of colorful shirts hanging in a closet. six leather handbags sit on a shelf above.
Photo by via Flickr (CC BY-NC SA 2.0)

Novelist Kirsten Tranter is cleaning out her closet, and wrote about it for Avidly. But how does the Marie Kondo method work for a “depressive personality…for whom joy is often an elusive feeling”? Rather than joy, she finds herself drawn to clothing that sparks affect — clothing that reminds her of who she is, what she’s experienced, and that life will go on.

I have moved a lot, both within Sydney and then overseas, back and forth multiple times between Australia and the US as I travelled for graduate school and then for my husband’s fieldwork and then for jobs, and other jobs, and sabbaticals, and other jobs. Clothes are relatively easy to pack and transport, less breakable than other objects, and perhaps that is why I have held on to so many of them; they provide a line of continuity between these multiple places and selves. They remind me who I am, where I have come from, where I have been, for better or worse. On the days the black dog visits and brings down that transparent wall of grey between myself and the distant land of the living where people walk around feeling things, where things matter, these belongings with history — any kind of history — remind me that life has been lived and felt, that maybe it will be again.

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Maybe Your House Can Be “Most Congenial”

An English Heritage plaque at Hampton Court Palace Gardens. Photo by Elliott Brown via Flickr (CC BY-ND-SA 2.0)

In an essay at White Noise, Richard Wallace considers his chances at being memorialized with one of the blue English Heritage plaques that dot historic homes in London’s (mostly well-heeled) boroughs:

I mostly think money, power and status are chimeras, eliding the serious parts of the human project… Then I periodically remember those English Heritage blue plaques that go on the walls of noteworthy dwellings, and I think: no. Fuck goodness and principle. I want to get so famous they give my house a medal.

Lack of marketable skills aside, an informal of analysis of plaque recipients reveals the real predictor of plaques: class.

There’s a distinct sense that a certain type of people are predisposed to plaque-worthiness, and the reason is probably what class-progressives already know: that it’s so much easier to get recognised for your achievements if you get a good start in life. This shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment of the great; nor should it mollify less affluent mediocrities. But when we look at these plaques, we are forced remember that English history is uniquely bound to inequality, to people ascending the apex of the world on a staircase of hunched shoulders. Repeat, repeat: David Cameron and his Bullingdon brothers, Theresa May and her fields of wheat. Blue Plaque England is not a place where we can all live. Kensington’s too small for everyone. But as unfair as it is, English Heritage plaques merely record history; nobody can argue that class division is not British. The writing is on the wall.

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I Must Be One of the Best, Because I’m Not One of the Worst

A U.S. marine watches children play in Ramadi, in Iraq's Anbar province. (AP Photo/Todd Pitman)

Are there atheists in foxholes? How do we justify our participation in wars that kill civilians, often children? At The American Scholar, veteran and author of Redeployment Phil Klay turns his writer’s eye on himself in this essay on war, faith, and fatherhood, and reckons with his own complicity.

I was in a different position. My job in the Marine Corps meant that I was generally a spectator rather than an actor in the war. I was never faced with the responsibility of leading men in combat, never responsible for the direct act of killing, never faced with what Marlantes has described as “a situation approaching the sacred in its terror and contact with the infinite.” Instead, I had the images of those children in my head, and for a young man, fervently believing in the mission and in the potential for the Marine Corps to turn around Anbar Province, they confirmed me in all I believed. A Special Forces veteran later told me why, for him, killing people in Iraq felt less morally troubling than killing people in Afghanistan. “Iraq may have been a giant clusterfuck,” he said, “but al-Qaeda did always make it easy.” In other words, al-Qaeda was so grotesquely, absurdly evil, you could not help but compare yourself with them and assume that you must be good.

So rather than challenging my Christian faith or provoking deep questions about who I was as a man, what kind of war I was in, and what sort of country I was a citizen of, the children made me feel like I didn’t have to justify myself at all. When I got home, those children were a useful tool for propping up my image of myself as a decent human being. Confronted with a man who voiced contempt at the notion that anyone would fight in a war that had caused such horrendous civilian casualties, I told him, “I carried injured Iraqi children to medical care with my own hands! What have you done for Iraqi civilians recently? Posted snarky comments on Facebook?”

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