anticipation, art, money

Winners and Losers: A bad case of the Mondays for some; others, not so much

Rough day in the markets today. We saw it coming last night (we’ve seen it coming). Choose your loser.

But it ended on a high note, right? The champion U.S. Olympics Women’s Soccer Team was on hand to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. So there were a few winners on Wall Street today. There’s no investment like gold.

women's soccer team at stock exchange

Image via NYSE.

By the way, the opening bell was rung at the NYSE and remotely from Central Park by executives from Starwood and Sheraton. Apparently, they declared today to be GOOD (Get Out of the Office Day). Also, free wi-fi in Sheep Meadow, thanks to them.

Another big winner: Damien Hirst.

Seems appropriate for today. His pieces have incorporated death, drugs, and (financial) excess, with media running toward the prohibitively expensive, like that diamond skull, For the Love of God. Wonder how many of his collectors made their money using the complicated financial gymnastics that threaten to destabilize global markets.

And today Hirst bypassed the usual dealers and went straight to Sotheby’s. It seems as if he sensed his market might be drying up and he cashed out before it was too late. The sale raised $127.2 million–and there’s one more day to go in the sale, called “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever.” The most expensive piece was a preserved young bull, with golden hooves, golden horns, and a gold disc above its head that sold for more than $18 million. The Golden Calf. Sounds about right.

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China, environment, irony

Olympics Preview in Bay Area

Here’s my backyard on Thursday morning.

my backyard june 26, 2008

The roses are blooming. There’s a nice, warm light here. But what is it about this air that’s so familiar?

Take a look at the government’s air forecast map for this weekend:
air quality prediction for united states on june 28, 2008

California doesn’t look too good. All those little fire icons are making the air here “moderate,” at best, “very unhealthy,” at worst.

There are more than a thousand wildfires burning in California, and they are filling the place up with smoke. The smoke makes the light flattering, in its way, diffusing sunlight during the high contrast afternoon hours and making the magic hour light at sunset and sunrise even more attractive. The roses look better than ever.

There is a trade-off, I suppose. The regional air quality management agency is warning us not to do anything outside (here’s a PDF of its latest health advisory). People have irritated eyes and throats. That’s familiar, too.

The air these days seems as bad as Beijing’s. That’s what I’m reminded of. I hope to get back to China, soon. Until then, I guess we’ve got a taste of China here.

Our athletes should consider training out here in California, just to see how they might perform in Beijing. We’ve got an atmospheric preview of what many expect in August, and you don’t even have to cross the Pacific.

If the air quality board is still concerned for our health, they might consider contacting Beijing’s Weather Modification Office for advice.

A couple of blogs help to put Chinese air pollution in context relative to the U.S. and other countries. The Beijing Air Blog notes that air quality indices in China and the U.S. are roughly the same, numerically, but are not categorized similarly on a qualitative level (I’m looking for the SEPA standards to confirm). For example, unhealthy air in the U.S. is “lightly polluted” in China. Another site, Pollution-China.com, with the charming tagline “living in China despite the pollution,” displays Beijing’s air quality in the header, and you can click a menu to see how that would rate in other cities. A Good air day in Beijing still counts as a Very Bad day in Paris.

I’ve seen a lot of blue skies in China. Maybe I simply noticed them more since my expectations were so grim. During my last couple of days in Beijing in August, everyone noted that we were enjoying unusually clear weather. Driving through Shanxi, full of coal mines and power plants, the gray-blue skies could be oppressive, but one of the locals told us that air quality had improved a great deal over the last five years. The sky, he said, used to be black.

I remember my first few moments in Beijing: the acrid smell and the view, composed mainly of my plane and the soupy gray-brown air that blocked out everything else. It looked like this:

view of air pollution at Beijing airport

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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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money, working

Keeping an eye on the minimum wage

The federal minimum wage will be increased for the first time in more than a decade this July. On July 24, the wage for people covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act will be a whopping $5.85 per hour.

Better late than never, I guess. Will it make a difference? Especially with the cost of gas, which is reported to have surpassed the $4/gallon average nationwide. In Alaska, it wasn’t unusual to drive 25 or 30 miles–one way–to work; I imagine the same happens all over the country, including places like Kansas and Wyoming, where the density is low and, sometimes, so are the wages (minimum wage in Kansas for anyone not covered by the FLSA is $2.65/hour). It stands to reason that people who commute out there are in particularly dire situations–unable to easily switch jobs to reduce the commute, yet not making enough to comfortably pay for gas on top of everything else. The rise in gas prices may be a boon for public transit, but that is an option enjoyed mainly by urban and suburban populations. The only bus I ever took in Texas, Alaska, or Nebraska was a school bus.

Here’s a map of how state minimum wages compare to the federal minimum, from the Department of Labor:
map of state minimum wages relative to federal minimum wage
Green states have higher minimum wages than the federal wage. Blue states are the same. Red states are lower. Yellow states have no law. And American Samoa has it’s own rule, which has been a point of some contention.

Update: The Times is looking at how high gas prices are playing out in rural communities.

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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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China, consumption, environment, international, journalism, video

Get To Know Your Electronic Waste

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but friend and colleague Michael Zhao has posted his multimedia project on electronic waste in China online in documentary form. He starts in California, where trashed computers are dismantled and, occasionally, recycled. More often they’re sent over to China, where men, women, and children pick them apart for materials that might be of value. My first glimpse of all this was when Michael was putting the piece together and he showed me footage of toxic-looking orange-colored smoke rising from tubs of chemicals as workers extracted gold from circuit boards. Here’s a three-and-a-half minute preview:

Josh Chin gives more of the back story here.

Andrew Leonard at Salon sang its praises here.

Michael talks about the project for the Asia Society, where he now works, here.

And you can view the whole thing here.

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dissipation, education, journalism, money, really?, unfortunate

Follow the Money. Or Breadcrumbs. Or Whatever.

Matt Krupnick published an article about the fallout from the dean search at Berkeley’s journalism school in the Contra Costa Times yesterday (“UC Berkeley mum on why dean hire bailed out”). I think it’s worth a read, if only for the summing up that hasn’t appeared anywhere else–and he did a good job considering few would talk to him. He made it onto Romenesko, so people are taking notice.

We might as well pull out all the old journalistic shibboleths for this awkward situation. Is the cover-up worse than the crime? What did people know and when did they know it? Follow the money? Funny how so many tropes stem from Watergate.

The most interesting piece of new information in that story was about money, and it came from Provost George Breslauer. Both John Peabody and I mentioned Cynthia Gorney’s question to Breslauer at last week’s school-wide meeting. She asked if he could guarantee that the university would keep funding coming in. “Done,” he told us, sparking a round of applause.

In my post, I thought it worth noting that “how much, for how long, and for what was not completely clear.”

Turns out Krupnick’s reporting has dug up one parameter: “I’m not prepared to step in and now pour money in to ensure that everything Orville [Schell, the former dean] raised money for keeps going,” Breslauer told him.

That runs counter to the impression he gave at the meeting. “Grandstanding,” one professor called it yesterday.

But who’s asking questions? Or rather, who’s allowed to ask questions, considering what’s been said around the school? This situation has the potential to become, as George W. Bush says, “an accountability moment.” So the buck stops where?

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beach, energy, environment, journalism, San Francisco, unfortunate

Bunker Fuel? What?

In my last post, I mentioned that the spill isn’t just oil, but bunker fuel. What’s bunker fuel?

It’s the stuff that runs big engines, like in an oil tanker or cargo ship. And it’s cheap, which is why these high volume users use it.

Last year, I interviewed Dave Culp, an engineer who designs ship sails (he started Kiteship), and we talked a little about bunker fuel. According to him, this is residual fuel–stuff that’s “left over after everything’s distilled out of crude. So sulfur, palladium, iron, even sand stays in the stuff that gets sold and burned in these ships. There’s 900 times as much sulfur in a gallon of residual fuel than in gasoline.”

“But ships don’t really have a choice because the industry is built around this cheap, plentiful fuel source,” he added.

It’s highly viscous. Imagine this thick, black, grainy shit. That’s what’s out there, in addition to the lighter gas or oil that’s slicking on the surface and covering the birds. Sfist is doing a good job of updating what’s happening on the beaches, where I’ve not made it yet. But I figure that’s what has washed up on shore, as seen in this photo from Sfist:

clump of oil


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articles, beach, dissipation, energy, environment, journalism, language, really?

Newspapers Say the Darndest Things

Chronicle front page 8 november“Crunch!”? Really? 

A huge cargo ship bumps into the Bay Bridge and spills 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel–not just oil, but bunker fuel–and this is the Chronicle’s headline? Is it supposed to be a joke? 

When I looked at my copy this morning, I originally thought this was a feature recapping some little disaster that I hadn’t heard about. But, no. This is breaking news.

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anticipation, dissipation, education, irony, journalism, politics, really?, ridiculousness, unfortunate

Instant Void: When it comes to the Journalism School’s Dean, you’ve got questions, but we’ve got no answers

Wrote this on Tuesday:
John Peabody has a nice rundown of the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s meeting on the surprise withdrawal of Dianne Lynch as incoming dean. She is, and will remain, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. To recap: Lynch was the favorite candidate among the finalists for the job to succeed Orville Schell. She withdrew late in the game. Provost George Breslauer discussed her reasons for withdrawing with her and convinced her to accept the position in May. Breslauer and the search committee got the UC Regents to approve what they felt was a generous compensation package and official appointment in the summer. Then they started the faculty review. Breslauer said they waited until they could be sure the money was in place before they initiated the review. And then she withdrew, again, last week, about two months before she was set to start, about 5 months after she accepted the job.

Breslauer, along with Vice Provost Shelly Zedeck, and interim dean and professor Neil Henry, a former Washington Post reporter, met with students, faculty, and staff for about 40 minutes Monday evening.

The meeting, according to an e-mail from Henry, was “to discuss the withdrawal and the school’s immediate future with the full school community.”

The discussion of the withdrawal consisted mainly of variations of the phrase, We can’t tell you what happened.

The school’s immediate future was never substantially addressed either. Professor Cynthia Gorney got Breslauer to confirm that program funding would continue, though how much, for how long, and for what was not completely clear. But there’s a promise. In any case, in the same e-mail that Henry sent informing us of the meeting, Henry wrote: “With much School planning and decision-making on hold in recent months pending Dianne’s arrival, I will now move to secure university financial support for various curricular and program initiatives during our continuing transition.” So no surprises there.

There were a handful of notable moments in the meeting, including Henry’s admonition that we should not be curious about rumors, nor should we ask questions about confidential information. Sometimes a person will kick away the dirt to reveal the bright shining line that exists between journalism and bureaucracy.

But all of this secrecy and uproar may have a more pernicious effect. Granted, Breslauer, et al., are bound by the University’s rules of confidentiality related to personnel matters, and thus can not tell us what happened. But Breslauer was careful in describing the timeline of this process (which I summed up above). And he noted that it was during the faculty review process, when materials presumably relating to a candidate’s professional history, are scrutinized by faculty, that she withdrew.

And that’s where the questions start pouring in.

Look at it this way. If one went through the process of getting a high profile job in one’s field, only to withdraw during the professional evaluation–when people are examining your work, maybe calling up a few old colleagues–the casual onlooker might then wonder if something unpleasant was discovered. If it were enough to disqualify someone from being a dean at Berkeley, one might wonder if it might be enough to disqualify that person from being dean anywhere. Yet due to the confidentiality surrounding personnel matters, that other school might not be similarly informed. (Or it might not have seen a problem where others did.) Meanwhile, the reputation of an accomplished administrator and new-media star hangs in the balance.

That’s the uncomfortable situation that Lynch is in, and since there is a void of substantial information, rumors and assertions rush to fill it.

Worse, it may all be the result of bad timing. So Lynch withdrew during the review phase rather than the salary phase. Her motivation may have had nothing at all to do with the review. But because it happened during her professional review, it’s difficult to shake the implication of impropriety. And that, inevitably, is where many questions are headed.

But wait: What if Lynch’s withdrawal didn’t have anything to do with her record? Why withdraw then? Family, yes, which is what she’s told us. (When Karl Rove resigned, citing family reasons, Sara Schaefer Munoz mused about the popularity of the family reasons reason on the Wall Street Journal’s The Juggle blog.)

Could it be the Journalism School, itself? Possibly. Over the course of this whole dean search, a fair amount of dirty laundry has been aired, most of it having to do with the usual departmental politics endemic to any academic institution, though some of it has to do with the nature of journalism and journalism training. If you had a good thing going at your current job, and saw that the new job was rife with vitriolic, internecine feuding, maybe little Ithaca College isn’t so bad, after all. Why leave upstate New York, four seasons, reasonable cost of living, for the big time at Berkeley, if that means trading it all in for a two-season, earthquake-prone den of dysfunction?

Or maybe it’s something else. But I guess that’s the point here.

As long as the confidentiality rules hold, then both sides are technically protected from any potential revelations that they’d just as soon keep hidden. But in the process, both sides risk losing face.


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