• 09.01.06

Between the Lines

The stories behind this issue’s stories.

Between the Lines

All the Rage

Lewis Black is nothing if not explosive (“The Agonies of Lewis Black,”). So I wondered if the New York Fire Department might have to hose him down at the photo shoot when photographer Jill Greenberg told him he needed to look slovenly in a bathrobe, covered in soot, while holding a package that had just blown up in his face.


Fortunately, Black, who’s a stand-up comedian, playwright, and actor, was game. Without a peep, he shed his suit and donned the robe over his T-shirt and boxers. A few shots later, Greenberg looked up from her camera. “Okay, now lose the robe,” she said casually. Black cocked his head. “Oh, is that how it works now? All you have to say is, ‘Lose the robe’?” Apparently so. For all his on-camera outrage, he’s an amiable curmudgeon. In another shot, Black discovers a fly in his soup. When the crew substituted a dead cockroach, he threw up his hands in a mock brainstorm. “I got it,” he said. “What about a baby? Let’s put that in his soup.”

We were his warm-up act. That night on The Daily Show, Black was his full-throttle self again. The soot was gone, but he was giving off plenty of steam. –Chuck Salter

Open House

I visited Bloomberg’s new headquarters several times while reporting this month’s “Space Shot“, and here’s some of what I saw: the company piefest, the World Cup conference room (complete with Astroturf and soccer-shaped cookies), a sort of flying-up ceremony in which young customer-service reps were promoted (to raucous applause), and former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill being interviewed on Bloomberg TV.

The most shocking thing about all this? It was all out in the open, where customers, clients, and visiting bigwigs could not only see what was going on but grab a slice of cherry pie or stand on the edge of a TV studio. That, it turns out, is part of the design. “Every other organization in the world guards the customers from the employees,” Bloomberg’s CEO, Lex Fenwick, told me. Bloomberg, he says, purposely puts visitors into this highly energized, dynamic environment. The concept: This is what we’ve got. These are the people you’ll be paying. If you like it, it’s us. That takes the notion of the transparent organization to a whole new level. –Linda Tischler

The Silver Dot

At the heart of a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) is a dot of mercury (“How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change the World?“). You tend to hear about mercury only in the context of it not being safe to eat fish or at the heart of the debate over whether mercury exposure might be a root cause of autism. CFLs will significantly help the environment, but is that dot a hidden problem? I couldn’t ignore it.

The short answer is that it is a minor problem, but not enough to derail CFL’s benefits. The typical modern CFL contains 4 mg of mercury, an amount that would look like the period at the end of this sentence. But burning coal to make electricity releases mercury into the air. If a CFL lasts only five years (a conservative estimate), the coal required to light it sends 2.4 mg of mercury into the air. By comparison, an equivalent old-fashioned bulb requires electricity that releases 10 mg over the same time. Also, the CFL would have to break for the 4 mg to enter the environment (the 6.4 mg total per CFL is still less than the status quo). Wal-Mart has recognized the issue and is, in fact, preparing a system to take burned-out bulbs back from consumers for mercury recovery and recycling. Until then, it’s not a bad idea to discard the rare expired CFL inside a used Ziploc bag, just to be sure. –Charles Fishman