When I’d first heard that Marian Call was doing a garage band album with foul language, at some point I thought about Kaywinnet Lee Frye and Simon Tam discussing the appropriate times to swear. Regardless of what you do or do not know about Call personally, her singing persona doesn’t necessarily readily suggest anything other than the Simon end of that conversation.

Of course, being television, we not much later do see Simon swear. (Who could blame him, given the circumstances.)

When I posted about the first single dropping earlier this month, I’d said that it gave me “complicated feelings of expectations both met and confounded” that at the time I couldn’t explain. I probably could have; it’s mostly that somehow I’d imagined Call roughing up her voice more than she does here. That’s not a failing of the single, or of the album; it’s simply a mismatch of trying in advance to imagine the album in my head.

At any rate, the five-song EP itself — Swears! — drops today, and the only real thing I will say about it now is that “Glacier Bones” is brutal and while I always expect certain Call numbers to break me I fully did not at all expect to be broken by a garage band.

Fuck you, too, Nature.

Sam Bloch’s ode to shade, for Places Journal, is a sort of quasi-expose of the inequities of its distribution. It’s funny how the places without shade trees just happen to be the unwealthy places with narrow sidewalks and shallow-buried utilities which preclude being able to plant any. It’s galling, too, to see non-tree tactical urbanist DIY solutions being shut down.

In my never-ending quest to decide between Other Minds and The Soul of an Octopus whenever one of them goes on sale, I found this pretty terrific piece by Amia Srinivasan for London Review of Books from a few years ago.

The question of what subjective experience might be like for an octopus is complicated by the odd relationship between its brain and its body. An octopus’s arms have more neurons than its brain, about ten thousand neurons per sucker; the arms can taste and smell, and exhibit short-term memory. Each arm acts with considerable independence from the brain; even a surgically detached arm can reach and grasp, avoid painful stimuli, and change colour. (In The Soul of an Octopus, Montgomery imagines an octopus testing human intelligence by seeing how many colour patterns our severed arms can produce in one second.) Yet an octopus’s brain can exert executive control, ‘pulling itself together’ when it needs to, for example when an octopus puts out only a single inquisitive arm to inspect a stranger.

I’ve asked this before elsewhere, I think. Which is the better book: Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith or The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery? I’m asking because the ebook of the former is on sale right now.

Steady, solid downpour has been going on outside for maybe ten minutes so far, and I’ve doused my living room light and turned down the brightness on the laptop to just sit and work on things to these sounds for once, and not neighbors and construction.

Spare me your empathy if it does not come coupled with institutional change. Support the initiatives and institutions that help people of color get out there, like the nonprofit Outdoor Afro and the National Park Foundation’s African American Experience Fund. Help reframe the discussion about the outdoors. Highlight the stories of the buffalo soldiers, who became some of America’s first park rangers. Tell the children about Harriet Tubman’s ability to interpret the weather. Be unafraid of the historical contexts that hold weight in our country. Explore and overturn those caricatures that are deeply embedded in the mythology we perpetuate about the unjust portions of our history. Having an integrated outdoors means embracing all of America—complete with its messy origins, complicated backstory, and currently murky future. It might mean allowing someone else to claim what you believed to be your exclusive birthright.

From We’re Here. You Just Don’t See Us. by Latria Graham

The notion that any significant percent of the carbon humanity spews can be sucked up by planted trees is a pipe dream. But it got rocket boosters in July, when Zurich’s Crowther Lab published a paper, in Science, proclaiming that planting a trillion trees could store “25 percent of the current atmospheric carbon pool.” That assertion is ridiculous, because planting a trillion trees, one-third of all trees currently on earth, is impossible. Even a start would require the destruction of grasslands (prairies, rangelands, and savannas) that reflect rather than absorb solar heat and that, with current climate conditions, are better carbon sinks than natural forests, let alone plantations. Also, unlike trees, grasslands store most of their carbon underground, so it’s not released when they burn.

From Planting Trees Won’t Stop Climate Change by Ted Williams (via MetaFilter)

This level of overt segregation no longer exists, of course, but its legacy lives on through the discomfort many people of color feel trying to navigate these foreign landscapes where people of color have never felt welcome. After all, people of color are concentrated in urban areas where they’re largely kept out of green spaces by default. Parks are often too far from their homes for them to enjoy, and those parks that are nearby may be riddled with toxic pollutants from local industrial facilities or gang violence, its own form of environmental hazard.

From ‘We Belong Here’: Racist Central Park Video Shows Why We Need Diversity Outdoors by Yessenia Funes

Those kinds of observations must be tempered by the day-to-day realities of those who don’t have the cheat codes of whiteness to help them avoid racial harassment, especially from police. The Jane Jacobian idea of “eyes on the street” very easily becomes “eyes on the black people” — which is why some African Americans disengage from public spaces like parks altogether. These peaceful green spaces just as easily induce anxiety and trauma for black and brown people, especially when they know the cops can be unleashed at any moment.

From The Toxic Intersection of Racism and Public Space by Brentin Mock

The Upshot section of The New York Times has a fascinating look (what’s the aural equivalent of “look”?) at how social distancing measures have changed the soundscape of cities.

Microphones listening to cities around the world have captured human-made environments suddenly stripped of human sounds. Parks and plazas across London are quieter than they were before the pandemic. Along Singapore’s Marina Bay, the sounds of human voices have faded. In suburban Nova Scotia, the noise of cars and airplanes no longer drowns out the rustle of leaves and wind. In New York, the city has been quieter than on the coldest winter days.


  1. The aural equivalent of “look” of course is “listen”, and I don’t know what was happening that I didn’t know that at the time.

Link Log Roundup for May 14, 2020

In this edition: autism and actual masking, dining with mannequins, genetic drift, ousting Burr, cats and coronavirus, a new giraffe, black churches, reopening Oregon, COVID-19 and the brain, Oregon restaurants, the post-pandemic commute, bicycles, disability claims, the sage grouse, lockdowns and history, “Obamagate”, walking a trail, test failures, the privilege of escape, Multnomah County, the last Blockbuster, public shaming, and an invasion of goats.

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It’s weird that The Oregonian writes that the Oregon Zoo introduced Kiden, their new giraffe, to the public on Monday, given that the zoo is closed and their video of Kiden didn’t get posted until Wednesday, but mostly I wonder where they even have the room for a third giraffe, especially if they’re hoping that Kiden mates with Buttercup. Is there more indoor space at the giraffe exhibit than the part with the public-facing viewing window? My second-level concern is that now I need to learn to tell three giraffes apart, and it was only like last year, I think, that I finally learned how to distinguish Buttercup from Desi.