Episode 6 of my podcast Containers starts with a puzzle: why were people of West Oakland dying 12-15 years earlier than their counterparts in the wealthier hills? The people in the flatlands were dying of the same things as the people in the hills, just much younger. Meet the doctor who helped make the case that air pollution from cargo handling was one big part of the answer, and Margaret Gordon, the smart-dressing, wise-cracking environmental activist who helped to clean up the air. This is an inside look at the problems that come with being a major node in the network of global trade—and the solutions that people have devoted their lives to implementing.
"I do remember I complained to him a lot—about journalism, sources, stories, writing; about trying to do something important. He always seemed to listen and care, in the strange body language that lives in chat pauses. He was sensible, positive, and encouraging. I remember that I told him I was frustrated with being a woman trying to write longform subjective journalism, and that I felt there was so much I wasn’t socially allowed to do. He asked me about it more, and I listed out all the ways I felt my gender was limiting my writing. He was quiet for a moment, and then reposted my list to me in our chat — but as a to-do list. I looked at my computer and took a deep breath. I wanted to cry, but I also felt like it was time. I took that to-do list, and turned it into my final, longest, and best piece of journalism forWired. But he doesn’t remember this, and has to trust me that it happened. In an age in which every relationship is automatically documented, this one has remained ephemeral, contained in the shifting sands of our human memory—the way all relationships used to be."
"Computer analysis discourages risk-taking; humans tend to have a psychological resistance to retreating, whereas algorithms don’t even possess the concept of 'backwards.' As we learn from these machines, we also adopt their tendencies. The term 'computer moves,' when it isn’t simply an accusation of foul play, is often used to denote moves that are far-sighted and counterintuitive. I’ve also seen it used to refer to moves that are tedious, uninspired, or oppressively safe. There seems to be a tinge of old-man nostalgia to this attitude: Sure, the kids these days can beat us, but where’s their sense of style?"
"This essay is being presented on a site for audio fiction, a form that existed in the shadows ten years ago. There was no formal dance criticism in newspapers until the explosion of the field in the 1930s and 1940s made it essential to respond. Then existing critics in other fields (like the New York Times’ music critic John Martin) began to learn new languages, and at the same time writers drawn to the newly emerging dance forms began to self-identify, and this is happening, to a modest degree, already in existing print and some online outlets."
"However, different breeds of pigeon can be very dramatic indeed—as can scholarship about them. Such is the case of the production of Les Pigeons, which resulted in a scandal that shook up not only the world of natural history publishing, but the very practice of pigeon taxonomy."
"'I Will Always Love You' was great from the start. Whitney Houston made it a classic. By activating broad words and simple song structure with what sounds like spontaneous, deeply personal utterances, Houston’s melisma collapses the space separating intimate and universal. Only the finest pop can lead us to such a place. Melisma straddles genres and singers and nation-states. I knew it first in black American music such as R&B and gospel. It’s positively huge across the Maghreb. Bawdy folk singers, throats burned by a lifetime of whiskey. Honey-voiced Koranic reciters who 'sing' the Koran magnificently yet consider all music to be sinful. It doesn’t matter who you are or what scene you’re in, you’re gonna have a tough time if your voice can’t flutter around those notes with the grace of a bird and the hairpin turns of a butterfly."