BlackRock will divest from fossil fuel industries — CEO letter to investors states ‘climate risk is investment risk’

Larry Fink’s annual letter to investors, he recommends divesting from fossil fuel producing industries and confronting climate change.

Bill McKibben at The New Yorker writes:

By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history.

He’s right about the financial future, of course—one can’t look at the clouds of smoke now obscuring the Australian continent and come away thinking that we can maintain our present course. But anyone paying attention—which includes investment-fund C.E.O.s—has known the score for years. What’s changed now are a couple of factors.

This is impressive, and Larry Fink is completely right. “Climate risk is investment risk,” as he states in his letter. If we don’t start acting right now — we might not have an opportunity later. It begins here, with the reshaping of how we invest. Taming the river of money, will make considerable waves in the future.

It wasn’t that long ago that CEO’s and leaders from blue-chip giants of the Business Roundtable were meeting to redefine the responsibility companies should play in society. There’s serious momentum, for the first time in nearly a century to re-think and re-model companies, businesses, and Wall Street — from the top-down. We’re entering an era where leadership is finally understanding just how important it is to put money where it matters most: engaging on middle-class wealth, diversity/inclusion and perhaps most importantly, environmental protection.

Chinese tourists are allegedly being recruited to spy on the US

Chinese tourists are being recruited by the Chinese PLA to bring back sensitive military gear, a violation of international arms trafficking regulations.

The people of China are vacationing more than ever before. A while back I came across a story where Chinese tourists swarmed a tiny village in Austria. Who could blame them, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are breathtaking places to visit.

In 2018, there were 2.9 million Chinese travelers to the United States. Each year, that number has been in decline. But China’s boom isn’t slowing down. In 2010, we knew it was just warming up. As travelers from the People’s Republic of China ebbs and flows, there’s been some espionage lurking underneath.

This story centers around a Chinese tourist, Qingshan Li. He was visiting the US under a tourist visa in San Diego, California. Li was allegedly caught attempting to purchase military munitions under suspicious circumstances. Justin Rohrlich at Quartz reports:

One of the items Li was allegedly after, a Harris Falcon III AN/PRC 152A radio, is designated as a defense article on the United States Munitions List, and subject to international arms trafficking regulations. This means the Falcon III, which provides US troops in the field with National Security Agency-certified encrypted communications, cannot leave the country without a special license issued by the State Department.

Li had agreed to pay AB a total of 50,000 renminbi, or roughly $7,200, for the radio. He knew AB was already under investigation for export-related crimes and believed AB “was attempting to get rid of the radio in light of AB’s entanglement with law enforcement,” according to court filings.

What’s old is now new again. This isn’t the first, nor the last time we’ll be seeing foreign actors participating in freelance espionage while vacationing abroad. Popular tourism spots such as Tallinn, Estonia’s capital used to be hotbeds for KGB activity during the Cold War.

While the he largest immediate threat to the US is cyber-security and Russia’s election interferences — we can expect to see more of this tried-and-true method of “freelancing spying” from other countries, not just China.

A mystery settled — Homo erectus remains are confirmed to be youngest link to the past

Skull fragments were unearthed in 1931. Only recently has it become clear they are the youngest link from Homo erectus to who we are now — Homo sapien.

A century has passed since the legendary skull fragment was unearthed. Recently, archaeologists confirmed our youngest ancestor. The bones Unearthed back in 1931 have been confirmed to be the youngest Homo erectus remains ever found. It could be the last tangible (or measurable) youngest connection to our human ancestors. These remains aren’t to be confused with Java Man, which was also unearthed on the Indonesian island of Java (Java Man was excavated back in 1892).

It’s a remarkable confirmation considering it almost didn’t even happen. Isaac Schultz at Atlas Obscura reports:

“When you think about it, out of the 25,000 some fossils on the site, only 14 were a Homo erectus,” says Russel Ciochon, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and lead author of the study, published recently in the journal Nature. “They lucked out. Had they not found the skull, they may not have put such time into it.”

A skull fragment of H. erectus found nearly a century ago in Java. Source: Macquarie University

Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving star in Guns Akimbo

A guns-blazing, non-stop action shoot-em-up action comedy from Jason Lei Howden.

Guns Akimbo is the sophomoric return of Jason Lei Howden. A marriage of America’s favorites: a balance of high-octane action and one-the-nose comedy. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe, and Samara Weaving of Three Billboards fame. The breadth of character both of these stars will bring to the big screen is going to be so much fun.

I love how much of a good sport Howden is being about YouTube’s notorious comments section on the trailer:

Give the trailer a watch, leave a comment (he is reading them after all) and share. It’s pretty awesome. Guns Akimbo opens in select theaters on February 28, 2020.

Close-up photos of Jupiter’s polar vortexes and dancing storms

Take a look at some of the most mesmerizing photos of Jupiter yet —transmitted from Juno, the little orbiter that could.

I came across these via the r/space subreddit. In the comments, a Redditor revealed that these images were processed by Seán Doran and Gerald Eichstädt and after looking through the photostream, I was completely blown away.

It’s nuts that we have a spacecraft out there in void. All alone. Snapping and transmitting these beautiful images of the Jovian giant to us. We are not worthy.

Swirling violent masses of gases rage and dance on the surface of Jupiter

Where do these photos come from? The Juno spacecraft of course! This spacecraft and mission has planned to orbit the gas giant Jupiter more than 35 times (these have been organized into perjoves), and has a planned termination date for 2021. A remarkable achievement.

Here’s a clearer shot of one of Jupiter’s polar vortexes

The last cooler than average month was in February 1994

If you’re under the age of 25, you’ve never experienced normal climate on Earth.

Here’s the tweet:

That’s it. That’s the whole tweet. For additional context, this data comes from the HadCRUT4 dataset, a global temperature dataset compiled by the Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia. Both are funded by The National Centre for Atmospheric Science in the UK.

You can download a similar graph in a different format here. Here’s what that graph looks like:

HadCRUT4 | For more information on the global sea surface recording organization, check out their Wikipedia page

How New York’s Bagel Boys fought and beat a mafia takeover

An unlikely tale of The Beigel Bakers Union Local 338 fighting back the mafia stronghold on New York City’s lifeblood: the bagel.

Pictured above is a bagel from Murrary’s Bagels. Easily my favorite place to grab a bagel in New York City. But, I love that The Times previously referred to a bagel as “an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis,” in a 1960’s article concerning the topic. But, the real meat of this story has to do with mafia and the bagel producing Union Local 338. Jason Turbow at GrubStreet writes:

Except that Willner’s weren’t the only mobbed-up bagels in town. In 1964, a shop called Bagel Boys had opened in the center of Jewish New York, on King’s Highway in Brooklyn. Among its principals was Thomas Eboli, otherwise known as Tommy Ryan, a capo in the Genovese crime family and a direct counter to Dio. Eboli was so powerful, in fact, that when Vito Genovese died a few years later, Eboli reigned for a time as the family boss. […]

Ultimately, the union handled the Mafia the same way that it handled nearly all extreme issues with management: full public confrontation. Nearly as soon as Bagel Boys opened its doors, Local 338 members showed up en masse to picket, distributing leaflets headlined, “PLEASE DON’T BUY,” with warnings that nonunion bagels “jeopardize the hard won standards of labor and inspection which the New York City public now enjoy.” Their most effective tactic in such situations was handing out free product in quantities sufficient to devastate business.

Ultimately, the strategy to confront the mafia in public worked. But the showdown was far from over. This entire story is rich in vivid detail. The rise of kitchen machinery, preservatives, and dough delivery networks — the battle for New York City’s penchant for bagel seemed insatiable. The spoils of war will go to the victor surely? Such a wild ground war between the familiar Jewish union bagel makers and the mafia is ripe for a movie if you ask me. This confectionary war was waged for nearly half-century came to a close in 1971 according to the author. Read the entire story here at GrubStreet.

But, there are other bagel battles to be fought across state lines, such as, what makes New York bagels so tasty? According to NPR, it’s likely due to the chemistry of New York’s tap water, and the steaming method which adds to the thin but chewy texture we’ve come to know and love. Whodathunk?

The art of Ghanian film posters

The morbid and the remarkable paintings from Ghana promote Hollywood and Nollywood films. Sleepy dramas, action hero flicks and thrillers all get the same eye-catching artistic poster treatment.

I came across these film posters a while back, but I just had to share these. A few of the images below are from the exhibition African Gaze, a showcase of nearly 100 film posters all deriving from the country that hugs the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana. Most of the pieces were from the Collection of Karun Thakar & the late Mark Shivas. For the uninitiated, Mark Shivas was a film and tv producer. Over his career, he produced for BBC and Channel 4 but tragically passed away from cancer in 2008.

The Brunei Gallery at the University of London put together this show in early 2019:

The late 1980s in Ghana saw the emergence of exuberant new visual modes of expression in a new local and innovative film industry (alongside that of Nigeria commonly referred to as Nollywood), especially in the ways films were promoted by vivid hand painted posters on sack or canvass.

Highly skilled artists emerged to create striking images with their surfaces co-ordinated in eye catching colour arrangements to command the attention of passers-by. These film posters were commissioned by mobile local entrepreneurs taking the films to a range of communities and using the cloth posters that could be rolled up, unfurled and transported very easily as they criss-crossed the country. The intense competition between films enhanced the creativity and imaginative possibilities realised by the artists in the film posters and established their individual renown.

I don’t recall seeing any Sai in The Matrix, but this is awesome.

The Ghanian film posters are such a phenomenon, that even Conan got in on the fun:

The artist, Daniel Anum Jasper, is seriously talented, and gracious. I would recommend giving him a follow on his Instagram account, @dajasperart. He is incredible, and continues to produce film posters very much in the spirit of his predecessors. You can see more of the film posters at this story from the BBC, here.

You can find a few more of these Ghanian film posters at the Deadly Prey Gallery in Chicago. They sell reproductions and originals (apparently) on at their shop.

‘Parasite’ house is a custom-built film set, designed by Bong Joon-Ho and Lee Ha-Jun

The architect is fictional. But the genius was real. The fictional Namgoong Hyeonja house is actually a custom-built film set. Designed to be flooded, controlled lighting, trap doors and features custom designed furniture.

That’s right. Namgoong Hyeonja, the architect mentioned in the film Parasite, is a fictional architect. He’s not real. However, the genius behind the house in the film was real. Bong Joon-Ho tapped his production designer Lee Ha-Jun, and their art department wizards to build a remarkable architectural vision. The Park house was constructed entirely on a film lot. Here’s some of the initial renderings and concept models:

Compare some of those concept renderings with some actual stills from the film:

Incredible attention to detail and commitment to getting the right shot. There are more photos and insights from Bong and Lee in the interview piece at IndieWire. Bong Joon Ho’s stories and films are heavily steeped in symbolism. They’re dense and delicious like a strong sun tea that’s been sitting outside for hours in the hot sun. They’re chock full of complex metaphors and reference cultural deep-cut films such as Akira Kurosawa’s, High and Low.

Bong’s intelligent cuts, tedious blocking, and deliberate recycling of shots are a delicious recipe for a fun film. Here’s some of his own words (from the IndieWire piece) on why they chose the structure of the house and the film:

Cinephiles may be reminded of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low.” In that case, the structure is simpler and stronger. The Japanese title is “Heaven and Hell.” On the top of the hill is a rich guy and in the bottom, there is the criminal kind of structure. It’s basically the same in “Parasite,” but with more layers.

Because the story is about the rich and poor, that’s obviously the approach we had to take in terms of designing the sound and lighting. The poorer you are, the less sunlight you have access to, and that’s just how it is in real life as well: You have a limited access to windows. For example, in “Snowpiercer,” the tail cars didn’t have any windows and with semi-basement homes, you have a very limited of sunlight you get during the day — maybe 15 or 30 minutes — and that’s where the film opens.

We actually used natural lighting for those scenes in “Parasite.” All of our sets, the rich house and the poor house, were built on outdoor lots.

Lee Ha-Jun, a seasoned production designer says the the living room should act as a stand-in for TV. I believe he means that literally for Mr. and Mrs. Park, initially. But, offering an appreciative and wide view of the garden, the large window becomes a living portal to the backyard green space. A gateway of vast symbolic significance within Bong’s plot. The window occupies an intentional 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is culturally symbolic to film, but more importantly feels spacious on screen. It has its production merits too, inviting light and warmth during the day on set. Lee has a terse explanation, but it is pretty clear that almost everything on set was thoughtfully produced for the sake of blocking:

The front yard was a key reason why he had to build Mr. Park’s house. Director Bong already had the actors’ blocking in mind.

Even all of the furniture was custom-made for Bong’s film:

The semi-basement neighborhood was built to flood:

Photo: ⓒ 2019 CJ ENM Corporation, Barunson E&A All Rights Reserved.
A still from the film, using the same fabricated production set.

I wasn’t joking when I said it was full of metaphors. Here’s a few examples I fell in love with that caught my eyes. Ample repetition reinforces significance. As a resolution begins to unravel, the same shot cedes itself to darkness as something sinister emerges only moments later.

Reflections and oppositions are important. Light and warmth. Opaque and transparent. Cloudy and clear. Clean and dirty. Level and angled. Rich and poor. Survival and oppression. High and low.

What I find to be the most striking, is these temples of film production are all temporary. They’re built on film lots, hundreds of works laboring to build these realistic places, used for shots, deconstructed, and the cycle repeats for the next big movie. It’s like they’re emulating the Himalayan practice of creating Tibetan Sand Mandalas. For more photos and concept images from the film, check out Architectural Digest.

Influential contemporay abstract artist, John Baldessari has died at 88

We lost a conceptual art icon this week.

Jori Finkel at the New York Times writes:

John Baldessari, the influential conceptual artist who helped transform Los Angeles into a global art capital through his witty image-making and decades of teaching there, died on Thursday at his home in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 88. […]

Mr. Baldessari majored in art education at San Diego State College and earned a master’s degree in art there. In short order he took jobs teaching art in junior high school, community college and in an extension program before joining the faculty of University of California, San Diego. He spent one summer teaching teenagers at a camp for juvenile delinquents run by the California Youth Authority; he would joke that he had been hired only because of his size — an imposing 6 foot 7 inches.

His artwork at the time, which he was just beginning to show in Los Angeles galleries, was moving in a more philosophical direction. In 1968, already distancing himself from painting, he reproduced a cover for Artforum magazine featuring a Frank Stella canvas, hiring a sign painter to add a caption below it: “This is not to be looked at.”

Love that. Baldessari was a die-hard Duchamp fan. He leaned into that hilarious realm, art on the edge.

He famously gave himself sharp inward critiques of his work and the artworld itself with his Cremation Project. Specifically, he cremated his traditional works, and later folded them into cookie dough at an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Destruction as a catharsis it seems, can be very important. While controversial, it was highly symbolic.

Photo: Artiris

Here’s a fantastic photo from the New Museum archive:

John Baldessari chatting with Marcia Tucker (founder of the New Museum). Behind them is a work from one of my favorite photographers, Nic Nicosia. Source: Instagram (@newmuseum)

Everything we know about Christopher Nolan’s time-traveling epic, ‘Tenet’

Haven’t heard about Christopher Nolan’s upcoming movie, Tenet? Here’s the gist:

Tenet has a pretty well-put together cast. Many are Nolan alums from Dunkirk, The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Nolan success, but interesting enough, Tenet is missing his favorite composer, Hans Zimmer.

For this film, Christopher Nolan opted for Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer who’s résumé includes some action-packed heavy hitters such as Venom, Creed, Death Wish and the knockout Marvel hit, Black Panther. Ludwig is a righteous choice, but not an obvious one. The trailer reveals an industrial tone and has a memorable cacophonous percussion. In fact, the escalating beats, and echoey hits has me jonesing for a classic progressive house bass drop.

If we can expect anything, it is that Nolan will present us with something delicious. Resolution or not, the mysterious plot of this movie awaits us.

Australia’s catastrophic bushfires are generating severe thunderstorm systems

It was only two days ago that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service warned the developing bushfires were growing in intensity and would generate its own weather system. Unfortunately, these bushfires were growing far too quick to be contained. In turn, these sorts of weather patterns become a repeating cycle: fires, wind, thunderstorm, lighting, and repeat.

The Amazon fires had roughly 2.2M hectares burned, the 2019/2020 Australia Bushfire has burned 5.9M hectares so far. It’s a bit mind-blowing to draw a comparison between two very large numbers. The destruction of wildlife alone is enough to make your stomach churn, and the video really communicates the devastation:

Most of the pictures of these bushfires and the pyro-cumulonimbus (sometimes referred to as cumulonimbus flammagenitus) cloud formations are really intense:

According to Quartz, this is only the beginning. Climate change has radically altered meteorology on Earth, and we can expect these sorts of weather patterns more frequently in arid regions:

As global temperatures rise, pyrocumulus clouds may become more common. A similar fire-induced weather system took place during California’s wildfire season in 2018. The state’s hilly terrain created perfect conditions for not only thunderstorms, but fire tornadoes. An unprecedented number of wildfires in north Russia and the Arctic Circle in the summer of 2019, as captured by satellite images, contributed to an increase in lightning strikes in the North Pole.

To make matters worse, the smoke and carbon dioxide is stuffing the air downstream in Auckland, New Zealand and turning the sky orange. This is getting really bad, really quickly.

Syd Mead, designer and artist of future worlds, dies at 86

Neil Genzlinger reporting for The New York Times:

Syd Mead, a designer whose wide-ranging work included envisioning vehicles of the future as well as helping to shape the look of environments in movies like “Blade Runner,” “Tron” and “Aliens,” died on Monday at his home in Pasadena, Calif. He was 86.

His spouse, Roger Servick, said the cause was lymphoma.

Mr. Mead started out in the car business, designing for Ford. By 1970 he had founded his own firm, Syd Mead Inc., and had a wide range of clients, working on architectural interiors and exteriors, restaurants, catalogs and more.

I never knew he began his career at Ford. That’s pretty rad, and it shows. His depictions (or visions?) of vehicles and transport are honest and divine.

Aliens and Blade Runner’s sterile living environments, dank off-world Weyland-Yutani industrial complexes, and the jagged colonial spacescapes gripped my young imagination like a face-hugger. I doubt any of Ridley Scott’s motion pictures would be the same without Mead’s futuristic conceptual input. I mean look at this stuff:

Syd Mead is a very well respected conceptual designer and artist, whose work has influenced multiple generations of sci-fi creators and artists for decades. Tendrils of his work can be found alive and well in the far-away worlds in Hollywood. Obviously his most notable breakout was Blade Runner. Just look anywhere beyond off-world. Moon, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Star Wars franchise, Interstellar and even Pixar films such as WALL·E are a few notable areas where Hollywood really latched onto Mead’s futuristic visions: floating colonies, shiny white airlocks, moody AI, light-cycles, damp neon-lit cities, levitating transports and of course Cyber Trucks.

Godspeed Syd. You’ll be missed.

Oslo, Norway had a single road-related death in 2019

Perhaps 2020 will be the year of no road-related deaths in Oslo

According to Aftenposten, lower speed limits and inner-city vehicle restrictions have sharply curbed the number of pedestrian and vehicle-related deaths since 1975. In fact, in 2019 there was no children killed in traffic accidents (translated to English from Norwegian):

[…] no children aged 0-15 are killed in traffic in Norway in 2019, according to recent figures from the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.

And, there was was only a single road-related death:

Graph sourced from Aftenposten

Pretty remarkable decline in road deaths. The USA statistics for 2019 road-related deaths don’t exist yet, but in 2018, there is a pretty big shocking comparison. There was a total of 36,560 driving-related deaths according to The Department of Transportation (PDF).

Knopf Doubleday’s editor in chief, Sonny Mehta dies at 77

Portrait of Sonny Mehta, President and Editor-in-Chief of publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, seated at his desk

Knopf Doubleday has been publishing books for nearly 122 years since its founding in 1897. During that century and a quarter’s time, there have been only 3 editors in chief at the helm, Sonny Mehta was appointed to the position in 1987:

Today, Knopf is one of the most venerable literary publishers in the country. In its 100-year history, the company, which is now part of Penguin Random House, has had only three people at the helm—Knopf himself, Robert Gottlieb, and current editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta.

Sadly, The Washington Post reports, the acclaimed editor passed away from complications of pneumonia:

Sonny Mehta, a literary tastemaker and kingmaker who spent more than three decades at the helm of the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, where he courted critical acclaim, profits and sometimes both at once with a lineup of books that included works by a stable of Nobel laureates, the memoirs of presidents and prime ministers, and page-turning crime and love stories, died Dec. 30 at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 77.

The cause was complications from pneumonia, according to a statement from Knopf, where Mr. Mehta served as editor in chief and chairman of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Mehta was a legendary leader, godspeed.

Curbed Marfa Travel Guide

Executive Editor at Vox, Mercedes Kraus, penned a travel guide for would-be visitors to Marfa. Marfa is located in West Texas. Heck, even the Simpsons visited Prada Marfa:

The Simpsons, S30E11: “Mad about the toy”

Texas, is well known for many things. A couple of venerable and memorable characters from Texas’s past include Sam Houston and Lyndon B. Johnson. A few of my personal favorite things about Texas: the tall skies, grassy hills, semi-arid desert landscapes, swell thunderstorms, quiet dive bars, and loud honky-tonks. It’s easy to forget that Texas has a substantial art culture in Marfa. But, its there damnit! It has frequently been overshadowed by larger-than-life subjects such as Austin’s tech boom, and of course Texas oil booms.

You can read the entire travel guide here at Curbed. But, I loved this pro-tip on arting and getting to know locals in Marfa:

For art: Don’t let anyone tell you to skip Chinati. I recommend either the full tour ($25) or all three self-guided tours ($30). The self-guided are “the sheds” (where I experienced a visual symphony), the Dan Flavin buildings (for your Instagram fulfillment), and the new Robert Irwin—an artwork and experience that is in fact an entire building. The thing that I think you, a fan of this newsletter, would really miss if you don’t do the full tour is the arena. If you are unable to take the Judd Foundation tour (see above), you must do the full Chinati tour so that you can experience the arena. (Pro tip: get to know your docent—locals in Marfa are super friendly, will give you great tips, and might even invite you to a local party or happening.)

For context, The Chinati Foundation was founded based on Donald Judd’s ideas and principles. Honorary Texan, Donald Judd is essentially Marfa’s Patron Saint of Art. For good reason too. If not for him, Marfa would look a helluva lot different.

Mercedes is on-point about getting to know your locals too. Don’t be shy. Texas’s state motto is, after all simply, friendship. You might just make a friend. Having a Texan in your contact book is like personally knowing a hobbit. Cherished, magical and kind.

John Krasinski breaking character on The Office

The Office was pure gold. The Jim Halpert and Michael Scott characters were the unstoppable dyads in the series. Behind the scenes, when the comedy dam breaks, John Krasinski’s laughter is contagious as the flu. I love hearing Steve Carell completely lose it over Krasinski’s wincing high-pitched giggles and his explosive belly laughter explode like Bart Simpson. Two whole minutes of raw uncut comedy: