Tabs Open #9: Alone in the Bee-Loud Glade

Welcome to Tabs Open! This week: Taco Bells that used to be banks, emu chicks, the nuclear seepage destroying a nation, and more.

1. Last Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of Chris Cornell’s death. Why not spend some time paying tribute by listening to his spare, haunting cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and reading a short look back at what made his music so good?

2. The soon-to-be artifacts of American retail capitalism occupy an interesting niche in our current landscape. They’re still there, the stores, though fewer and fewer of them remain occupied with each passing year—when was the last time you bought something at Kmart or Sears? Those that do remain operational are either a blueprint for how a socialist centrally-planned economy might work, a top-tier destination for surviving a zombie apocalypse, or are otherwise simply the conduit for a few million tons of plastic that the world can never be rid of. Those that merely stay standing are often re-purposed and reshuffled and re-occupied, a phenomenon you can document in real time through the “Not Fooling Anybody” sub-Reddit, covering everything from Taco Bells that used to be banks to law firms that used to be Taco Bells.

It is this bit of cultural citizen journalism that fascinates me in particular, a community effort to keep final record of the ugly facades and garish liminal spaces of a booming dream that was never supposed to end. Kate Wagner, herself an accomplished documenter of capitalism’s ugliest brick-and-mortar excesses, captured this phenomenon back in October in a piece for The Baffler. Wagner goes beyond just explaining why a bunch of weirdos on the internet take thousands of pictures of Kmarts each year; mostly, her piece, as sprawling as a Florida strip mall, takes aim at connecting this phenomenon with the larger one animating most of the stuff that happens online: we are all becoming to some degree aware that capitalism’s brutal logic dictates impermanence for everyone and everything. Nothing is sacred—Kmart stores, Frank Lloyd Wright houses, our bodies and lives and relationships. As Wagner aptly puts it:

What drives these anonymous sharers to take hundreds of thousands of photographs of architecture ranging from Kmart to brutalism? It’s not some self-ennobling attempt to elevate their own standing or taste; it’s more a collective feeling of loss. In expressing this loss, they’re facing up to a fact about architecture that is too often ignored: most of us do not have the power to materially change or preserve the built environment…no building, even one designed by a celebrated architect, or added to the National Register, is safe any longer from the mercilessness of capital. In this scenario of the populist “us” versus “them,” the “us” is, well, us—and the image of the world we’ve constructed for ourselves. The “them” is capitalism.

3. Lord help me, but I’m on the internet recommending…an app. The POETRY app by the Poetry Foundation has of late been providing me with a great way to kill some time without thinking too hard or making me feel terrible. You can hit “spin” and it will generate a random list of poems for you to check out, or you can scroll through and combine category pairs to find interesting subsets of the poetic— “Blame & Celebrations” brings up one called “Electrocuting an Elephant,” for example.

On my first spin I ended up looking at Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” for the first time since probably college. As with many things I appreciate it more now than I did then. It’s placid and pastoral at first glance, but it’s girded by a sense of longing (even demanding) for a life other than the speaker’s own busy one. I get it, W.B.

4. Studs Terkel has been dead since 2008, but the interviews he recorded throughout the 20th century are such a treasure trove of political insight—particularly regarding race, poverty, and labor—that listening to them often feels like they were recorded as a commentary on our present moment.

The political Left faces its own unique series of questions and challenges for the coming decade. (How much time and energy to spend trying to win elections, and how much trying to create power elsewhere? How to combat the rising tide of fascism without encouraging “revolutionary” violence? How to win back a world that’s primed to burn and drown in the years to come?) In that spirit, there are two Studs Terkel interviews in particular worth listening to this week: one with three activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (Stokely Carmichael, Charlie Cobb, and Courtland Cox), and one with author James Baldwin. The anecdotes and theories discussed within are worth engaging with, even if you end up disagreeing with their conclusions. (The benefit of hindsight is a beautiful thing in circumstances like these.)

5. Drew Magary, Deadspin’s elder statesman, has been a mainstay of the sports blogging scene as long as anyone. He recently went long on a story covering a subject on which he’s the expert: namely, his freak brain hemmorhage late last year and the ongoing recovery process he’s fought through since. It’s appointment reading.

6. It’s a good thing that the new HBO show has brought Chernobyl back into view because it’s important to examine the particular kind of hubris it takes to wield power from the splitting of an atom and be so convinced of your own intelligence that you don’t allow anyone to question what you’re doing. I say this because we’re headed toward a much slower, much less sexy version of a toxic radioactive nightmare out in the Pacific Ocean in one of those places where they used to put sea monsters on the map for lack of knowing anything else was out there.

To the surprise of probably no one, the concrete dome into which the United States swept as much nuclear waste as they could after the massive testing carried out in the Marshall Islands has begun to fail. Cracks in the “coffin” are allowing radioactive debris to seep out; structural problems throughout the dome mean one storm could cause it to start breaking apart. The “Bravo” test in Bikini has already destroyed a generation, either through burns or the slow death of radiation sickness, or just the loss of a home island. Now, 65 years later, its about to start exacting a new toll.

There are little places on the map we don’t think of much and if we do it’s a sterile sort of “too bad.” But in this case I’ve been there, lived there, and want desperately for other people to know and care what’s happening—what we’ve done, to assign some agency here—to the Marshallese. I have no real prescription for what to do about this, a problem guaranteed to be exacerbated and accelerated at the seas rise. But maybe you might.

7. Alright, let’s end on a happy note. Paige Davis is a wild bird rehabilitator and one of the best Instagram follows around. She’s currently raising a trio of young emus, among others, and the accompanying videos are a must-watch.