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November 2021

November 2021

I’m late for this month, and I have a pretty short list.

“The Untold History of Sushi in America”, by Daniel Fromson (with illustrations by Igor Bastidas) explains how the Unification Church— whose adherents are also known, presumably offensively, as the Moonies, after church founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon— was a major factor in the growing popularity of sushi in the United States, beginning in the 1980s. Their reasons weren’t religious or ideological; they identified an opportunity, and were able to command the mostly unquestioning labor of thousands of adherents in pursuit of it; it was one of many business ventures mounted by Moon and his followers, and the church controlled a billion dollars in assets when he died in 2012. Perhaps inevitably, a succession battle ensued (actually, it started prior to Moon’s death)— and continues following a court decision at the end of 2020 which found that one of Moon’s sons had “pillaged” church assets.

“Deer Wars and Death Threats” by Brooke Jarvis, and “Claw and Order”, by Natalie Angier, both deal with the problem of synanthropes— animals who thrive in human-made environments. The most familiar example if you live in a city is probably pigeons, but deer and Canada geese also meet the definition. The problem is that humans are, in effect, doing everything we can to draw these animals to us and help them to multiply, but too many of them can cause a lot of problems. Jarvis’s piece focuses on a program to sterilize male white-tailed deer on Staten Island; this is a somewhat cumbersome, expensive way to try to limit their numbers, but it’s what’s been settled on in part because while people want to avoid the problems the animals cause (perhaps first and foremost, they are hosts to ticks that carry Lyme disease), they also object to them being killed. Sterilization is a sort of compromise approach. (And it’s the males, not the females, for a couple of reasons: as in humans, the surgery is simpler and less likely to lead to complications, and it turns out that sterilized females can end up more or less permanently in estrus, since they don’t ever get pregnant, and that means they keep attracting males to the area.) We tend to think of human activity and human-made environments as displacing or destroying “nature,” which then needs to be restored or healed in some way; the example of synanthropes complicates that picture in interesting ways. Human habitation is less of a boundary that excludes nature than an interface, or series of interfaces, through which we encounter other species.

“Inside Ableton, the Music Software Company that Everybody Wants to Buy”, by Steve Knopper, may be of less general interest than (I hope) most of the things I post here, but I use Ableton all the time, and so was interested to learn something about the company. The original owners still control it, and they’ve turned down numerous offers to sell it—offers that would have made them very rich. They seem to see their software less as a way to make money than a way to enable more people to make music, which is refreshing.

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