If you made a list of the weird and beautiful life forms that are going to be in deep trouble after another couple decades of climate change, Joshua trees would be somewhere near the top. Yucca brevifolia, as they’re technically known, are desert plants—the biggest, twistiest, spikiest thing growing in most of the Mojave Desert—but they’re already struggling in a warmer, drier world. In Joshua Tree National Park, at the southern edge of the trees’ range, Joshua tree seedlings are a rare sight. The arrival of winter rain and snow, the major source of water for the Mojave, is more and more erratic, and brushfires have become more likely, spread by carpets of introduced grasses that easily rebound after burns that reduce Joshua tree groves to blackened twigs. Projections for future climate scenarios suggest that, by the year 2100, the ideal place to be a Joshua tree will be somewhere in Idaho.
How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction, by Beth Shapiro, will be available soon. You can buy it wherever capitalism allows you to obtain books, including:
The trees aren’t likely to get there on their own. Joshua tree seeds are borne in fleshy green fruits that are eaten by everything from insects to crows. The only critters that carry the seeds any significant distance are packrats, which typically cache seeds a few dozen meters from the tree where they find them. But thousands of years ago there was a better option: giant ground sloths. During the last ice age, the sloths roamed the territory that would become the Mojave, and they ate Joshua tree fruit—we know this because Joshua tree seeds turn up in preserved sloth dung. Then the ice age ended and humans arrived and, caught between the changing climate and the new, tool-using predators, the ground sloths went extinct. So now people who care about Joshua trees, like conservation biologists, talk seriously about “assisted migration” to transplant the trees to more suitable climates. But what if we could bring back those sloths?
Whether the prospect of resurrecting nine-foot-tall sloths to roam the deserts of Southern California makes you roll your eyes or stand up and cheer for the triumph of science, you have probably previewed your own reaction to Beth Shapiro’s new book, How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction. As is obvious from her title, Shapiro, a paleobiologist at the University of California Santa Cruz, sets her sights on bigger game than ground sloths: wooly mammoths, the brontosaurus of the ice age. Her arguments in favor of the resurrection—she calls it “de-extinction”—of some of the largest land mammals in history touch on all of the issues raised by the case of the Joshua tree and the giant sloth: How can we best manage a biological world that is, more and more, at the mercy of our whims and carelessness? Is conservation best served by doing what we can do right now to patch over our mistakes, or by moon-shot projects that reshape the terms of the problem? What does “conservation” even mean?
• Google sends your search
history to everyone in your address book
• Amazon stops taking orders but keeps sending products
• Slack turns every message into a tweet that @ mentions your boss
• Twitter employs a crude problematical algorithm to retweet 50 of your oldest tweets
• Facebook shows people how frequently you look at their profiles and for how long; the most-viewed profile gets a push notification
• Tumblr finds 100 people who most resemble a younger you, physically but especially professionally, and follows them
• Uber app locks the car doors until you make the driver cry (method yours)
• Apple shares your entire Camera Roll with your immediate and extended family
• Seamless emails you the total calorie count of everything you ordered every month last year and CCs your physician and spouse
• Instagram charges one dollar to like or comment on someone’s photo
• Snapchat sends you a link to a YouTube video. It is every message you’ve ever sent. 301+ views.
• Foursquare sends a full unbranded account of your whereabouts to your local police station with no explanation
• Reddit accounts switch to real names
• Periscope/Meerkat automatically activates when it senses your phone is in your pocket and stops when you take it out
• LinkedIn sends you a list of employers who looked at your profile but clicked away in under ten seconds. It sends each of those employers a message: “What was wrong?”
• WebMD searches read to parents over phone in a consoling voice
• Online banking app uses extremely simple math to determine your lifestyle is unsustainable and notifies you of this fact after every transaction
• Tinder replaces every tenth message with “you look like my mom/dad when he/she was young”
• The New York Times app listens for narrative nonfiction content and if possible tells you how it ends
• Every Google Maps route leads to the nearest jail where you are arrested and spend the next ten years incarcerated (spon)
• Venmo sends a request for $20 to every one of your exes
• Netflix inserts ads
• Mysterious app appears on your phone. It has a logo and a name but does not work; when you open it it displays a year. It is the company that will eventually replace your job with part-time contract labor.
• Coin glued to floor
I spend a lot of time reading articles written by parents who list specific desires for their children’s futures, and I listen to a lot of my friends who have children describe, with a lot of specificity, what they’d like their child’s life to be: what kind of schools, where they might like them to grow up, and how they might turn out in the end. It’s usually pretty straightforward: financial stability, emotional health, safe drinking water, for them to be feminists, or to go to Harvard. And much of the time, it’s a reflection of whatever that parent values—or lacks. If you grew up with an alcoholic parent, you desperately want for your child to not have one of those to deal with (or become one). If you didn’t go to a great college, well, maybe you’ll want desperately for your kid to claw into the Ivy League. This makes sense; it’s a rational response to your own upbringing.
The Best Time I Went To E.R. Without Insurance While Attending A Conference Inspired By A Facebook Group I Started
I am in the lobby of UCLA’s Carnesale’s Commons building, having snuck out of the main conference room for the sixth time that hour to pee, only to be distracted by a very nice spread of sandwiches. At that moment my biggest concern is wondering how many sandwiches would it be polite to steal before anyone else gets to the table.
There is movement out of the corner of my eye. Francesca Lia Block, author of the cult young adult fantasy novel Weetzie Bat has just entered the room, looking exactly like she did in her author photo twenty-five years ago. I strut up to her with the false confidence of somebody who is on prescription painkillers and has been made to feel like she owns the place.
“Hey youuuu,” I say to her, extending my hand to shake hers. I am woozy, but in my defence, she looks woozier. “I am a children’s book critic and,” here I lean in to whisper, conspiratorially, “I started this.” She smiles politely and asks if I would like to be on her mailing list.
It was last summer, mid-June, and a friend of mine was going on tour to promote her new novel. Would I like to stay at her place in Brooklyn and feed her cats while she was away? I would like that very much. I brought my fellow Canadian down with me, a little lady you might know by the name of…HALEY MLOTEK. Haley and I both had day jobs at that point—I was working full-time in a children’s bookstore in Toronto, she was the virtual assistant for an American writer, but we were ambitious and very excited about having a free place to stay in New York for a week.
Our first night there we went to a party with a group of women writers of varying experience levels. The vibes, as they say, were good. We took a cab home together, discussing how lucky we were to be part of a supportive creative community.
The next morning, we were working side-by-side on our computers while Blue Crush played on the background on TV.
“What if I made something for writers to connect with each other?” I asked Haley. “Something where we can ask questions and learn from each other. We’ll invite our friends, and let them invite their friends. It might be helpful for people who don’t like, live in New York or Toronto or whatever, to network.”
“Yeah, that sounds nice,” she said.
I clicked “Create group” on Facebook, then paused. “Is ‘Binders Full of Women Writers’ a funny name?”
“Eh,” Haley said. “You can always change it later.”
★★ Clouds that had seemed to be lightening and separating condensed instead into a darkish gray mass with a strong wind blowing under it, and still no leaves to break it. The school dropoff was late enough and cold enough to discourage the commute. Through the windows by the couch, the brightness arrived at last, till for a while clouds were thin and white, spread out against the blue. Then solid-looking puffs of cumulus arrived, and began clumping and darkening. The afternoon wind had not changed its essential character from the morning, but in the light—and before the vicinity of the river—it could be taken as invigorating. The children were inspired to run in it. “The sky looks like paint, Dad!” the three-year-old announced in the later afternoon, looking out at new formations of blue and white. “The clouds!” The sun, when it lowered, executed at least a double bank shot to blaze from the northeast corner of the apartment towers. Now the clouds were purple, edged with rose gold, and then plain purple, against a lemon sky.
According to websites, a
much larger website is
no longer paying as much attention to them:
A staff member at one major UK publisher described the [reduction] in engagement as a ‘Faceboocalypse’, and said that his team had noticed “a change to news feed algorithm which drastically reduced the reach of many news sites’ posts”. The Huffington Post also acknowledged that they had seen a fall-off in Facebook engagement in recent weeks.
NewsWhip’s data team noticed the reduction when analysing data for the biggest Facebook sites of February 2015. A wide range of top publishers, including BuzzFeed, the New York Times, Fox News and more seem to have been affected.
The 100 most shared English language stories (which include quizzes and other viral content) on Facebook in February had just over 10.2 million combined engagements, compared to over 16.4 million for the same set in January.
This report from NewsWhip suggests that the consequences of Facebook favoring posts that don’t link readers away from Facebook (it’s sort of obvious when you say it like that!) are already being felt.
NewsWhip’s monthly rankings of most-shared sites used to be a little more exciting and surreal—early last year, a Viral Nova or an Independent Journal Review would just materialize out of nowhere, displacing, say, a USA Today. They have remained, month to month, reliably valuable for understanding what seems to be going on in the fetid content trenches (Contrenches). It is good to know, for example/I guess, that the top external site on Facebook is a publication composed almost entirely of quizzes. Anyway, something weird started happening late last year.
A few weeks ago, Emma got in touch with me to say that she wanted to write about the new Semiotext(e) book I’m Very Into You but she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to say. At the time, I had just finished reading the book for the second time and had four different Word documents open, each with their own failed attempt to write even just a small thing about I’m Very Into You, about the way Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark had almost accidentally written the entire story of their relationship through email, saying almost nothing about what transpired between them but almost everything else: television, books, magazines, travel, motorcycles, distance, space, work, sex.
We decided that instead of staying locked inside our own heads we would try to write to each other about why this very small book was something we couldn’t stop thinking about. Weirdly, in the process we found ourselves somewhat unconsciously mimicking the trajectory of Acker and Wark’s correspondence, something that probably says more about email as a medium than it does about either relationship. Emma and I accidentally bumped into each other halfway through this process and while we were standing in our mutual friend’s kitchen, surrounded by other people having their own conversations, she called it the “Universal Grammar of the Romantic Email.” I think that sums it up perfectly. Below are our emails.
March 18, 2015
from: Haley Mlotek
to: Emma Healey
Emma: hi!! I was so happy to get your email last night, because first I was away and you’ve been away and we keep missing each other, and I’ve really wanted to talk to you for awhile about a lot of different things. And when we realized we were reading the same book and we were both trying to write about it and were both struggling with what we wanted to say I thought that this was the perfect time for us to talk about, I guess, all of the above.
For context: the book I’m referring to is I’m Very Into You, a collection of email correspondence between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark from 1995 to 1996. They met and hooked up when Kathy was in Australia and then emailed each other frequently, eventually spending another weekend together in New York, before the communications faded.
I read this book in, like, a minute; and then I went back and I read it again, and I’m kind of on my third re-read now, although I’m really just going back to Matias Venieger’s intro and certain select passages, thinking a lot about how much I enjoy the book and how hypocritical I am for said enjoyment.
How do you feel about reading the emails and journals of deceased writers? I’m fairly evenly split when I consider the concept objectively—I’d say 49% guilty, 51% put it in my eyes immediately I need to know all the secrets—but I know I’m a hypocrite because I already have a standing deal with multiple people to burn my laptop and all my notebooks should I ever die, heavy emphasis on “should.” I have sought out all my most trustworthy friends and husbands and had them swear to me that they would never, ever publish my emails, journals, or heaven forbid, my tweets; future generations have done nothing to deserve that garbage.
I am, probably for the exact same reasons, so drawn to books and collections that do what I’m most afraid of: share writing that was never supposed to be shared.
For all of their remarkable qualities, newsletters can be very boring, because they are, by definition, rote enterprises. They change so little. This is why the current Awl management has largely forsaken them in favor of the dynamic world of Periscopekatting. But then there is Laura Olin’s Everything Changes. It changes a lot. Weekly, even. The format, the concept, the tone, the frequency—everything changes. But constant mutation is just one of the many reasons we love Laura’s newsletter: It’s slightly weird, super sharp, comfortably personal, not a little amusing, and, perhaps most important of all, it’s very brief, and never boring. These are all qualities that line up extraordinarily well with the Awl’s editorial vision.
For as long as I’ve been required to file, I’ve been lying about my taxes.
Before anyone sics the IRS on me, let me clarify that I have not been lying on my tax returns: I am a law-abiding citizen with a deep-seated fear of the audit. But I have been lying to friends and colleagues—minor, reflexive lies summoned forth to hide the fact that I am a secretly wealthy 20-something.
During my childhood, an envelope of stock certificates with my name on it would appear under the tree every Christmas among the toys. My incredibly generous grandmother was slowly disbursing the stock that she had inherited from her mother to her 10 grandchildren while she was still alive—presumably for estate planning purposes. This pattern continued until she ran out in my late teens, at which point I had amassed a solid chunk. The resulting dividend income, which I dutifully deposited into my savings account four times per year, meant that I started filing a tax return before I could legally drive.
And then came my first tax-related lie: One day when I was a freshman in high school, my father made a passing comment about taxes in front of a friend of mine, who promptly asked me what on earth I was paying taxes on. I stammered an awkward reply about having done some part-time work for a relative last summer, and we moved on.