‘London Was, But Is No More’

Iain Sinclair, in the London Review of Books, mourns his constantly-transforming city. There was never just one London, but for Sinclair, London as he understood it is crumbling, and his essay is a loving, fascinating, melancholy, rollicking look at how technology and globalization are transforming urban spaces.

Drifting in a lazy, autopilot trajectory, my own cloud of unknowing, down Bethnal Green Road towards the pop-up shopping hub by the London Overground station at Shoreditch, I register a notice in a window that says: ‘No coffee stored overnight.’ Once upon a time, white vans (for white men) were nervous about their tools and ladders, but now the value is in coffee, barista coffee, gold dust: the marching powder of the shared-desk classes who are hitting it hard in recovered container stacks and bare-brick coffee shops glowing with an occult circle of pale screens and fearful concentration. Why do these digital initiates always look as if the screens hold bad news, as if the power is on the point of shutting down permanently, leaving them disconnected in outer darkness?

That coffee sign was a border marker, preparing me for a series of designated smoking areas, puddles of stubbed-out cigarettes, and a chain of opportunist businesses promoted by oxymorons: FREE CASH, IMPERIAL EQUITY, CITY SHEEPSKINS, RESPONSIBLE GAMBLING, TAPAS REVOLUTION, PROPER HAMBURGER. And of course Sainsbury’s Local. When, in truth, there is no local left. Those signs confirm the dissolution of locality. The last London, Smart City, is nervous about unreformed localism, nuisance quarters with medieval borders clinging to outmoded privileges, like schools, pubs, markets or hospitals hungry for funds and resistant to improving the image of construction.

Read the essay


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/03/31/london-was-but-is-no-more/

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Peter Waldman, Garrett M. Graff, Rachel Aviv, Catrin Einhorn, Jodi Kantor, andd Eric Boodman.

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1. Inside Alabama’s Auto Jobs Boom: Cheap Wages, Little Training, Crushed Limbs

Peter Waldman | Bloomberg Businessweek | March 24, 2017 | 36 minutes (9,000 words)

A powerful in-depth look at the human costs of bringing auto parts factory jobs to Alabama — with inadequate training for employees and unreasonable expectations for output. “American consumers are not going to want to buy cars stained with the blood of American workers.”

2. Chasing the Phantom

Garrett M. Graff | Wired | March 21, 2017 | 27 minutes (6,961 words)

The hunt to take down “Slavik,” a notorious Russian hacker who stole millions from U.S. banks and has ties to Russian intelligence.

3. The Trauma of Facing Deportation

Rachel Aviv | The New Yorker | March 28, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,700 words)

Faced with a terrifying past and an uncertain future, young refugees in Sweden are taking to their beds with uppgivenhetssyndrom, or resignation syndrome, “an illness that is said to exist only in Sweden, and only among refugees.”

4. Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came ‘Month 13.’

Catrin Einhorn and Jodi Kantor | The New York Times | March 25, 2017 | 17 minutes (4,443 words)

It’s a year-long commitment to privately sponsor a Syrian refugee family in Canada, where sponsorship includes funding and helping the family navigate Canadian culture and society. Sponsors assist newcomers with daily tasks of living, including grocery shopping, banking, getting jobs, learning English, and ferrying families to appointments and activities. In the fourth and final installment of Refugees Welcome— The New York Times’ year-long series on Syrian refugees in Canada — Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn profile the Hajj family and members of their sponsorship group, reporting on what happens at month 13 — the point at which the sponsorship agreement officially ends.

5. Accidental Therapists

Eric Boodman | STAT | March 22, 2017 | 17 minutes (4,484 words)

The psychiatric condition known as delusional parasitosis is poorly understood, haphazardly treated and on the rise. Public entomologists like Gale Ridge work on the front lines of treatment, where the limits of science and medicine meet.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/03/31/the-top-5-longreads-of-the-week-163/

This Is God’s Property

Kelsey Munger shares the story of a childhood spent being vigilant against the demons, witches, and werewolves her parents believed were stalking their family. One of their main lines of defense? Canola oil—on doorways, around their property, on themselves.

The cross on our door, drawn in canola oil, was a symbol that our house was God’s property; demonic forces had no right to be there. It was a spiritual “No Trespassing” sign. Friends, neighbors, extended family, the mailman, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who stopped by every Tuesday afternoon all stood on that same welcome mat without looking closely at our door. The evidence that my family wasn’t like all the other families on our nondescript suburban block was literally under their noses, but no one ever noticed.

The grimy oil smudges were everywhere, not just on our front door. They dotted the outside walls of our house and lined the halls inside. Throughout my childhood, my mom would often walk into my bedroom holding a mug of oil. “Don’t mind me,” she’d say with a smile, drawing an oily glob on my door and then reaching down to put some on my forehead. “Just doing an oil line.”

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/03/31/this-is-gods-property/

‘Dance Me to the End of Love’: Joan Juliet Buck on Her Platonic Friendship with Almost-Lover Leonard Cohen

At Harper’s Bazaar, Joan Juliet Buck, a past editor of Paris Vogue and author of the new memoir, The Price of Illusion, has an essay about how her grandmother’s regrets affected Buck’s own romantic choices. As she was approaching her 70s, her grandmother admitted that if she had it to do all over again, she’d have been “fast,” which is to say “loose,” as opposed to being married to one man her whole life. Buck, who came of age in the 60s, considered her grandmother’s regrets and decided she didn’t want to be tied down — a choice that was much more radical then than it might be now.

While Buck was married for a few years, mostly she wasn’t — creating space not only for many love affairs, but also close friendships with men. In her early twenties, Buck met singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen and almost accepted his invitation to join him on a Greek isle. Ultimately she turned him down; years later, the two became close friends. In the essay, Buck admits regretting turning down the initial invitation, and recalls spending time with Cohen, who passed away last November.

I married a fellow journalist, a fine writer named John Heilpern. A script took him to Los Angeles in 1978, and I joined him at the Chateau Marmont, where Leonard Cohen came back into my life. The man whose voice sang what I couldn’t say became a close friend; when John was away, and he was away often, I lay on the bed in Leonard’s room a few floors below ours, chastely discussing the mysteries of love through the night. I found my voice with him. We traded stories and smoked cigarettes; he called it “gossiping about the moral universe.”

After John and I divorced, Leonard became an even closer friend. It had been 10 years since we’d met, and by then we knew each other too well for mutual seduction to work. It was richer to examine love together than to play at it; this was the complicity I’d been waiting for. I did my game of being fast with other men; Leonard fell in love with other women, most deeply with the photographer Dominique Issermann. Now we could stay up all night talking: in New York, on the floor of his suite at the still-shabby Royalton Hotel while his children slept next door; in Paris, where I lived in a garret to finish my second novel. Sometimes we discussed his broken heart, sometimes mine. He’d consider all the evidence, and conclude, a little too often for my taste, “He doesn’t love you, sweetheart.” He’d leaven the verdict with a cheery, “It’s all a vale of tears,” and off we’d go somewhere dark to eat something Japanese.

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/03/31/dance-me-to-the-end-of-love-joan-juliet-buck-on-her-platonic-friendship-with-almost-lover-leonard-cohen/

Who Gets to Decide Where You’re From: You, or a Website?

In Real Life Mag, information accessibility and data use expert Zara Rahman explores the limits and coercive power of a ubiquitous internet interface: the location drop-down menu. Aside from forcing people to make artificial choices, location drop-downs also assume a stable location, something that many people don’t have (and never did).

Digital technologies seem to have ignored how people actually move around in geographic space: It’s relatively new that some of us have fixed locations or even addresses at all, and in some regions, nomadic cultures still exist. In Somalia, over a quarter of the population is nomadic; in Mongolia, just under a third are still nomadic, moving from place to place with their herds. Seasonal migration from rural areas to urban ones is a way of life for many, or from poorer countries to richer ones, as Bangladeshi migrant workers who find work in countries in the Gulf do. For millions, location is and always has been fluid and complex, dependent upon a myriad of factors, from climate to the economy to geopolitics.

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/03/31/if-its-tuesday-this-must-be-inner-mongolia-where-are-you-now-and-where-are-you-from/

“Because California Moves Through You”: A Space That We’ve Created for Ourselves

At Boom California, essayist Lynell George ruminates on the elusive place, space, and home that is California—a state “somewhere between dreams, disappointments, and recalibration”—and the two cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, that own a part of her heart.

The California I most deeply reside in is the California of personal imprint—generations of it. It’s the stuff of absorbed histories—the weight and heft of personal adaptations, language, and traditions. You brought a little of your past with you—how to string beans or devein shrimp or how to make a roux; you brought a lullaby; you brought coming-of-age rituals. You compared and shared with your neighbors because you were creating a community. All was integrated into the rhythm and space of your new environs. You brought your pride and joy along with your cleverness or itch for adventure. You brought what was road-worthy, meaningful, something worth handing down.

That ability to “make do,” or improvise, applied in many ways. “Placemaking” is the work of the mind as well as the hands. Living in California has often meant that you have to become familiar with and conversant in both the mythic place and the real place, and know where they come together—that seam where the extrapolation and the real meet.

As I moved out of my teens and into my twenties, I understood that seam—this place—as negative space, that area between two visible knowns. It was a trick of perception, in a sense it became an empty room to fill. If what has been promised doesn’t exist, or what my forebears came to find fell short, then what did they encounter? What is it that we celebrate, what is that we think of as home?

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/03/30/because-california-moves-through-you/

How Tiny, Yet Über-Efficient Spider Brains Can Improve Computer Technology

In Scientific American, Erik Vance reports on how the orb weaver spider — a creature that weighs between .005 milligrams and three grams — has a brain that is just as adept at complex tasks as exponentially larger spiders. This “brain miniaturization” “may hold clues to innovative design strategies that engineers might incorporate in future generations of computers.”

The world’s smallest arachnid, the Samoan moss spider, is at a third of a millimeter nearly invisible to the human eye. The largest spider in the world is the goliath birdeater tarantula, which weighs 5 ounces and is about the size of a dinner plate. For reference, that is about the same difference in scale between that same tarantula and a bottlenose dolphin.

And yet the bigger spider does not act in more complex ways than its tiny counterpart. “Insects and spiders and the like—in terms of absolute size—have among the tiniest brains we’ve come across,” says William Wcislo, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City. “But their behavior, as far as we can see, is as sophisticated as things that have relatively large brains. So then there’s the question: How do they do that?”

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/03/30/how-tiny-yet-uber-efficient-spider-brains-can-improve-computer-technology/