development, dissipation, lost, unfortunate

Necessary Bohemia

The Hitch is right; San Francisco hasn’t got it. Not anymore.

From Vanity Fair (the emphasis is my own):

It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran.

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influence, lost, television

Nickelodeon Encomium

What happens when people my age (28) or younger start to feel nostalgic? Some turn to the common cultural thread of television. I’ve found a handful of YouTube tributes to the cable channel Nickelodeon, which, according to a couple of these videos, enjoyed a golden era from about 1990 to 2004.

The kids born in 1990 will be starting college this year, so I’d guess some of these are a product of that cohort more than my own. Still, there are some good shows in there, and a few nods to the 1980s–which I still remember, anyway. After all, that was a decade that Nickelodeon carried shows like Mr. Wizard, Double Dare, Danger Mouse, Belle and Sebastian, The Little Prince, and You Can’t Do That on Television. (And at least one musician my age got a name out of this list.)

I think there’s one feature common to several shows that Nickelodeon broadcast that makes them worthwhile. Think of the earliest in that list: You Can’t Do That on Television. The element (and value) in subversion was a feature of these shows more than the average television fare available to young people. The existential frustration of Ren and Stimpy, the striving defiance and ingenuity in The Adventures of Pete and Pete, and the quotidian repression (and weird sexuality) of Rocko’s Modern Life–all these things were tossed into the cultural stew of the 80s and 90s and helped prepare those kids who listened for John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Arrested Development, Napoleon Dynamite, and the sensibility referred to, sometimes derisively, and, I think, not always accurately, as “quirk.”

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China, corruption, crime, development, disaster, earth, environment, geography, international, life, lost, unfortunate

An Unquiet Earth

Hard times around the globe these days. Earthquake in China. Cyclone in Burma. Tornados in the U.S. An enormous volcano on the verge of collapse in Chile.

Over the past several months, I’ve been working on a story about a possible earthquake here in the Bay Area. One thing I’ve learned is starkly visible in Sichuan right now: When an earthquake strikes, it’s not the earth that kills you. It’s everything else around you.

In the short term, this typically means buildings.* In China, construction quality will be a part of the discussion about what happened. Corrupt developers, local officials, and cut corners should come as no surprise–I’ve seen alleged evidence of it firsthand. The Guardian covers that angle. As one angry parent told a reporter:

“These buildings outside have been here for 20 years and didn’t collapse – the school was only 10 years old. They took the money from investment, so they took the lives of hundreds of kids. They have money for prostitutes and second wives but they don’t have money for our children. This is not a natural disaster – this is done by humans.”

In China, some call it “tofu” building. Or, as Josh Chin notes:

“Toufu dregs”-style construction (豆腐渣工程) has long been a source of public anger in China, and a potent symbol of corruption at the local level. (Witness the fuming controversy over shoddy electric poles during this winter’s freak snow storms in the south.) And now it appears the widespread practice whereby officials and developers profit through architectural corner-cutting may have cost a few extra tens of thousands of lives.

An erupting volcano can kill–namely through a phenomenon known as a pyroclastic flow. Cyclone Nargis was accompanied by a storm surge–this is what caused much of the destruction in the Irrawaddy Delta. But that damage was magnified by the loss of mangrove forests, which provide some resistance to these forces. The mangroves have been cut away to make room for development. This time, the initial round of damage was increased not by what humans have built, but by what they’ve taken away. And in Burma, human intention contributes to the continued suffering.

Boulder in the city of Mianyang, Sichuan. Kyodo News.*Update: Robert Siegel reports that the village of Gui Xi, in a steep-sided valley, was heavily damaged by displaced boulders and large landslides. (The photo at left, by Kyodo News, is from the city of Mianyan, Sichuan.) The most vivid and gripping English-language reporting from Sichuan is coming from NPR. All Things Considered was originally planning to broadcast features from Chengdu next week. When the earthquake struck, they had many resources in place.

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Asia, history, journalism, lost, video

Panic in Da Nang, 1975.

Before the fall of Saigon, there was the loss of Da Nang, a major port city and host to American military forces during the Vietnam War. As North Vietnamese forces approached the city, residents tried to evacuate.

For a little more information that covers some of the technical details–fuel loss, passenger load, etc.–click on the video (or here) to read the summing up that accompanies the piece on YouTube. Have been thinking about the Vietnam War lately–less because of Iraq than because John Peabody is working on a story about the Hmong community in California. 

P.S.: Sometimes journalists, these days, wonder what the best medium is to tell a story. An event like this can, and probably should, be told many ways. But it’s clear that to get it fast and make it pack a punch, video (or probably film, in those days) is the way to go.

Via Kottke.
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development, dissipation, lost, San Francisco

The crashing down.

There are several interesting stories coming out of the crane accident in New York City. One was Susan Dominus’s portrait of the typical scene at Fubar, which occupied the ground floor of the destroyed townhouse on East 50th. Although the occupations of the regulars comes as a surprise (advertising, television cameraman, programmer) and doesn’t exactly square with the vision of a neighborhood bar, remember, this is Manhattan, not Boston circa 1982. Not too many house—painters or mailmen in that crowd, anymore.

But what I found particularly resonant were points like these:

And yet for the people who live there, it’s an unusually tight-knit neighborhood, filled with longtime residents who experience the city as a place to live, not a stage set designed to highlight Manhattan’s millennial glamour. . .

It’s hard to miss the symbolism: Old-time neighborhood hangout literally crushed by the force of development run amok.

These sentiments are so resonant because they are so relevant. This is San Francisco, too.

San Francisco is my first city. I moved here about six years ago (six years, one month, six days), and though I arrived at a relatively more affordable time, post dot-com burst, I still felt ten years too late. No doubt I engage in some idealization—San Francisco as a working city, where dock-workers actually live and work, same for skilled tradesmen and artisans; where commercial fisherman tie up at Fisherman’s Wharf (see the opening of Gay Talese’s “Silent Season of a Hero”). Even that exercise in anomie and post-modernism The Crying of Lot 49 made San Francisco seem more real, less posed. But that’s all gone. The smithy on Rincon Hill, if it exists anymore, is nothing but an anachronism, shorthand for lazy Chron reporters and lazy so-called-blog writers. I have friends moving into the goliath tower, nearly complete, at the top of Rincon Hill, the one that hulks over the approach to the Bay Bridge and interrupts the San Francisco skyline like an obnoxious interlocutor making his most onerous demand first—and getting it. “In five years, it’s going to look like New York,” one new resident of that tower told the Chronicle. He also said:

“Some people want to live in a funky Victorian until they see this,” he said. “I think San Francisco has changed and it’s changing faster.”

“I represent the new guard.”

The new guard.

And it was about six years ago—when I got to know parts of the city by walking through it each weekend—six years ago when I stepped into Vesuvio, the bar with the famously literary pedigree. And, sure, it trades on that reputation, the Kerouac and red wine mystique next door to City Lights. And, yes, that tends to attract the tourist crowd and those who, in Ms. Dominus’s words, want the city to be a stage set. But not always.

I ducked in there on a Sunday afternoon, seeking escape, profoundly self-conscious from walking alone through North Beach’s jazz festival. There was a guy named Bruce at the bar, who kind of looked like Dave Barry, talking to his friend Jack (Jack the Hat), who was tending the bar. We talked about how expensive it was anymore. And I bought Bruce a beer, and asked how the city had changed in the 30 years he and Jack had lived here, and Bruce said there was all kind of change but these days the thing is that everywhere you go there are frat guys. Just everywhere. They ruin every cool bar, every event. We talked a little more before Bruce left. I ordered another drink and talked to Jack. And wouldn’t you know, a few minutes later the festival let out and in poured a bunch of guys wearing board shorts and pink polo shirts with upturned collars and visors and flip-flops with beautiful bouncing girlfriends clamoring for attention. The frat guys were upon us. So I let Jack get to work and finished my beer and made to settle up and Jack said, forget it, no charge.

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lost

The Curly Tail Grub

curly tail grub

I clicked onto Field & Stream‘s “The 50 Greatest Lures of All Time” and saw this and was transported back to summer days in Texas and Minnesota and Alaska. I’d be sitting in our alumninum bass boat with my brother and dad as it rocked slowly on the surface of a lake. We were fishing, though fishing, for me, often consisted of lounging in one of the vinyl chairs or sitting on the crinkly blue plastic-fiber floor reading a book as my brother and dad reeled in bass or sunfish or crappie or pike.

So this little guy looks familiar, though I would never have known he was “The Curly Tail Grub.” I recognized the top five of the 50 lures, as well as several others down the list. If we ever run short of arguments for how useful biodiversity is, we can turn to this gallery of manufactured minnows, bugs, worms, and frogs.

(Photo by Todd Huffman. Thanks to Kottke for the link.)

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history, journalism, lost, photography

The Mexican Suitcase

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Photo by Tony Cenicola
A long-lost cache of original negatives shot by Robert Capa (as well, possibly, as Gerda Taro and others) recently turned up in Mexico City. According to the Times:

The suitcase — actually three flimsy cardboard valises — contained thousands of negatives of pictures that Robert Capa, one of the pioneers of modern war photography, took during the Spanish Civil War before he fled Europe for America in 1939, leaving behind the contents of his Paris darkroom.Capa assumed that the work had been lost during the Nazi invasion, and he died in 1954 on assignment in Vietnam still thinking so. But in 1995 word began to spread that the negatives had somehow survived, after taking a journey worthy of a John le Carré novel: Paris to Marseille and then, in the hands of a Mexican general and diplomat who had served under Pancho Villa, to Mexico City.

And that is where they remained hidden for more than half a century until last month…

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journalism, lost

Eighteen Pounds, Eighteen Pounds

This is week six and I have managed to lose 18 pounds. I’ve been weighing myself at the gym every two weeks–I only manage to get to the gym every two weeks. I had been 191 pounds for many months; now I’m at 173. Eighteen pounds.

The point of this story is that if you are looking to lose weight fast, I’ve got a very expensive program for you.

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