Articles by

<Sydney Brownstone>

05/29/12 1:23pm


It seems that something more sinister may lie behind IKEA’s minimalism and meatballs. Despite the company’s sustainability-touting slogan of “We Love Wood” the Guardian reports that an international alliance of NGOs has condemned IKEA for its role in destroying ancient Russian forests.

Field reports from conservation group Protect the Forest, Sweden and Russian environmental organization SPOK have found Swedwood, IKEA’s own subsidiary industrial group, responsible for clear-cutting forests with trees up to 600 years old. But it’s not only the age that matters—along with harboring significant biodiversity, old-growth forests serve as invaluable “carbon sinks” by sucking up carbon dioxide and working against the process of climate change.

That’s why a representative from the Global Forest Coalition, an alliance of NGOs from more than 40 countries, has urged that legal action be leveled against the furniture manufacturer.

“Whoever is responsible for this destruction, in this case the owners of IKEA and Swedwood, must be held responsible for the social and environmental costs of their companies’ actions. I suggest Protect the Forest and SPOK should consider all possible options, including legal action against IKEA, in order to correct the situation,” Simone Lovera, executive director of the Global Forest Coalition, stated in a press release.

It makes a person think twice before lusting after that combination CD shelf/bookcase.

05/29/12 10:52am



Today, Manhattan streets will receive the rare, cosmic blessing that is Manhattanhenge: the biannual, half-hour event in which the setting sun lines up directly with the street grid.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and current director of the Hayden Planetarium, claims to have coined the term in 2002. He explains that Manhattanhenge occurs on days other than the equinoxes because the city’s grid is skewed 30 degrees east of geographic north. That means that this year, the sunset will harmonize with the streets on May 29 and July 12. One can also catch the full, aligned disc of the sun before it fully sets on May 30 and July 11. To view the bisected or whole sun touching down on the concrete horizon, Tyson advises the following:

For best effect, position yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible. But ensure that when you look west across the avenues you can still see New Jersey. Clear cross streets include 14th, 23rd, 34th. 42nd, 57th, and several streets adjacent to them. The Empire State building and the Chrysler building render 34th street and 42nd streets especially striking vistas.

Unfortunately, to our knowledge, the sun does not bestow Brooklyn with a henge, aside from the one this 2009 New Yorker piece describes as “an unusual bar of light” next to a Brooklyn-based character’s shower curtain.

Tyson predicts tonight’s Manhattanhenge to occur at 8:17 p.m.

[via the New York Observer]

05/25/12 2:58pm


If you’re a young band trying to make it in New York, there’s a good chance you are, or will be, familiar with the small basement stage of Cake Shop. Countless acts—including the likes of now-famous Vampire Weekend and the Dirty Projectors—have gotten their start under those dim Christmas lights, playing for crowds two inches away from the stage on any given side. Nick Bodor started Cake Shop with his brother Andy in 2006, and in 2009 they went on to open indie show space Bruar Falls in Williamsburg. But despite both venues’ healthy followings, there’s been trouble: Last year, Bruar Falls sadly shuttered its doors, and Cake Shop’s been going through a period of financial struggle. That’s why the Bodors have launched a crowdfunding site for Cake Shop with Pledge Music, and they’re asking for support. “We want to be here for the long term,” Nick told The L over the phone earlier today. “We’re really honored and excited by how people care about us,” he continued. “We really just set up everything there ourselves, and it’s really rewarding that people like the place.”

Here’s an excerpt of the email Nick sent out to bloggers and Cake Shop fans alike:

hello everyone,

As you might have heard, Cake Shop has been having a rough couple months (like most of America and beyond). We are looking for an equity investor, but it is hard when we have to resolve some issues with our landlord to be able to grow our company and survive in Manhattan. Below is a link to our crowd funding site that explains our situation and gives you an opportunity to help Cake Shop become an important NYC venue and gathering spot.

After trying some other options, we have decided to reach out to our friends and fans of live music to help us overcome these one time bumps in the road, and we are offing you a chance to participate in something amazing. We are going to give you some sweet exclusives for you Pledge and our followers will have access to regular updates on what we are doing. It’s like creating a community of people who want to help and gain knowledge about all the great bands that Cake Shop has helped launch and nurture.

To support Cake Shop (and score a variety of guest list deals, secret show admissions, drink packages, or a compilation album in return) head here.

05/25/12 1:09pm

Could totes go for an egg cream right now.

  • “Could totes go for an egg cream right now.”

Put today’s crap weather out of your mind. You know a gorgeous Brooklyn summer is imminent when BillyBey, the East River ferry service, announces it’s expanding the carrying capacity of its boats on weekends from 149 passengers to 399. Last week, the city built a floating dock 100 yards south of the Dumbo port in order to accommodate larger crowds, and on Tuesday, the East River ferry will be adding a second boat to the service between rush hours.

From the New York Times:

The service, which costs $4 for a one-way trip between any two stops, drew more riders than expected from the start, after allowing people to ride for free on the initial weekends. In its first 10 months, it had 714,000 paying passengers, according to Ms. Quinn’s office.

“There was an expected decline in ridership over the winter, and we scaled back the hours during those months, but we had a solid base of commuters who stuck with us throughout,” said Paul Goodman, the chief executive of BillyBey.

Weekday ridership this spring has already returned to its pre-winter level, Mr. Goodman said. He added that he could not predict how popular the service will be on weekends with the bigger boats because his crews often turned away people for lack of space.

Yeah, we’re on some BOATS, and, they’re going sort of reasonably fast, and, it’s likely someone has a nautical-themed pashmina afghan.

In related news, the Times also reports that the boats will now have egg creams with U-bet chocolate syrup. There is justice in this world. Good night.

05/25/12 9:49am

Eric Cartman, South Park fourth grader, on a zipline.

  • Eric Cartman, South Park fourth grader, on a zipline.

The idea of ziplining across the toxic sludge piles of today’s Newtown Creek may sound sound more like an episode of Fear Factor than a pleasant day at the park, but a group of Brooklyn high schoolers have included the activity in their nationally commended plan to build a recreational space on the banks of the Superfund site.

Not only did the students of the city’s Architecture Construction Engineering mentoring program dream of ziplines, but a massive ferris wheel, baseball fields, a boardwalk, and an amphitheater to boot, reports the Brooklyn Paper. The plan earned an honorable mention in the Construction Industry Roundtable’s national design competition, presumably for fresh, new hope in the face of sewage overflows, oil slicks and carcinogenic sediment. Plausible or not, we think it’s great to think in these optimistic terms. Go big or go home, right?

“We’ve never really had a hangout near the creek,” said Taylor Clark, a junior and member of the city’s Architecture Construction Engineering mentoring program, told the Brooklyn Paper. “Most of us go to school in the area and it’s so dense that there’s nowhere to go. We thought if we combined the eco-friendly agenda with a recreational space, it would make the most sense.”

A $19 million park (the estimated cost for just the park materials themselves) may not make the most sense in today’s current climate of frugality for such things, but it never hurts to hope for a future, better, post-environmental-cleanup Newtown Creek. The teens have named their project “Pippin Park” after George Washington’s favorite apple—which, remember, he would have managed to consume despite the significant adversity of false teeth.

05/24/12 4:06pm


  • Martin Forman
  • Loureedia.

Zoologists have a quirky sense of humor. Last week, an international group of researchers discovered a new genus of velvet spider and named it “Loureedia”—you know, after Lou Reed. Er, why?

“In recognition of the fact that this velvet spider lives underground, the new genus has been named Loureedia in a whimsical salute to the musician who began his distinguished career leading the 60s rock band ‘The Velvet Underground,'” reports Sci-News.

Researchers then engaged in a massive laugh attack, pulling tissues from their pocket protectors to wipe up tears of whimsy.

But seriously, naming spiders after rock icons is actually a bit of an established practice in the scientific community. In 1994, a spider discovered by Robert Bosmans and Jan Bosselaers in Cameroon was given the name Pachygnatha zappa after Frank Zappa, supposedly because Zappa’s moustache resembled the pattern on the female’s abdomen. And in 2009, German spider specialist Peter Jäger gave an endangered spider the name Heteropoda davidbowie, in tribute to Bowie’s Spiders From Mars. East Carolina University biologist Jason Bond named a spider after Neil Young (Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi) in 2008, but that was just because Bond really liked Neil Young.

As for Loureedia itself:

“…most kinds of velvet spider are rarely encountered. Most species keep well hidden or dig burrows and live underground. Because of the cryptic habits of most velvet spiders, scientific knowledge of this spider family is uneven to say the least.” [Sci-News]

Presumably, when scientists find Laurieandersonia they’ll have a little more information on this elusive spider family to work with.

[via Spinner, Sci-News]

05/24/12 12:44pm and his hip.hop.copter.

  • and his hip.hop.copter.

Earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg’s helicopter activities caused a flap when neighbors of the 34th Street helipad complained of “choking exhaust and intolerable noise” after the landing area’s curfew. The word “hypocritical” was even leveled at the mayor, a man who has made it a priority to “green” the city and wipe out smoking fumes from its parks. But Mike Bloomberg isn’t the only one with a helicopter problem tarnishing his public image this week. On Monday, the Black Eyed Peas showed up to a climate change modelling meeting at Oxford University in a chopper, a vehicle (as the Guardian points out) that only gets one mile to the gallon.

The Guardian’s Duncan Clark reports:

The giant sash windows of Oxford’s spectacular Radcliffe Observatory were designed to provide astronomers the best possible view of the starry heavens. But on Monday I found myself using them to scour the skies for something altogether less likely: a helicopter carrying rap superstar to the university to discuss, of all things, distributed climate change modelling.

Despite Clark’s efforts to bring up the chopper conundrum, dodged the question and talked about the influence of social media on the global warming awareness instead. In the end, it made the journalist just a little uncomfortable.

Before I could ask any more questions, had to dash off for a date with the Olympic torch. As the crew piled into a car to go back to the airfield, he left me with a line about the relationship of plastic bottles to plasticity of the mind. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant but it sounded good.

While I strolled back to train station, I looked up him up on Twitter and read that he was “about to leave Oxford in the hip.hop.copter”. I found myself feeling a bit torn. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that we can make much progress if our green stars travel around in vehicles that get as little as one mile to the gallon . And I’m not sure I share his optimism about solving the problem in a bottom up way.

You know, it’s not easy to live by green principles. Even the most extreme composters compromise at some level. But farting around in a helicopter and then showing up to a climate change talk? That shit don’t fly.

05/23/12 12:50pm


The sacred right to comment anonymously on the internet has come under fire. In what seems like a flagrant breach of First Amendment safeguards, New York lawmakers have drafted twin State Senate and Assembly bills that would force New York-based website administrators to remove “any comments posted on his or her web site by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms that his or her IP address, legal name, and home address are accurate.” Shwa? Sorry, we were busy anonymously commenting on how much this reeks of thinly-veiled censorship, oh, and how much your favorite band f***ing sucks.

But the effort is real, and, apparently, it all comes down to a matter of cyberbullying. “Victims of anonymous cyberbullies need protection,” State Senator Tom O’ Mara, a sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a press conference. “We’re hopeful that this legislation can be helpful to the overall effort to deter and prevent anonymous criminals from hiding behind modern technology and using the Internet to bully, defame and harass their victims.”

While O’Mara highlighted cyberbullying in schools, Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte, a co-sponsor of the Assembly bill, in a statement on his website, applied the term to “posting anonymous criticism of local businesses” as well as “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks.” Hello, slippery slope. But what’s that nonsense about baseless political attacks? America (sup, GOP) runs on baseless political attacks.

Other commentators have pointed out that the legislation could have less to do with political campaigns and more to do with the money people have sunk into Facebook shares. Wired brought up this chin-stroker about the intent of the legislation: “A cynic, however, might see an attempt by lawmakers to prop up Facebook’s falling stock price via an implicit endorsement of the Facebook model of identity on the internet.”


[via Wired]

05/23/12 11:58am

So is the medium the message? Is that what this bawdy piñata of a trailer is all about? Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s take on the story seems a far cry from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s reflective, flowing prose, but that probably should have been expected from the guy who did Moulin Rouge. We (maybe) see what this is going for: an excessive, hedonistic, 3D moviegoing experience, an expression of the garishness that ruins the story’s West Egg characters. Even the Kanye West/Jay-Z “No Church in the Wild” bit makes sense in this context, the rappers being fabulously wealthy (and rapping about being fabulously wealthy) themselves.

Still, it feels like there’s something exploitative, and undeniably gross, going on. Perhaps that’s the point. The American Dream is dead, everybody. Extra cheese on your movie theater nachos?

05/23/12 4:00am

Mount Eerie • Clear Moon
(P.W. Elverum and Sun)

“Kids grow up in five different places and return to nowhere,” Phil Elverum, the man behind solo project Mount Eerie (formerly the Microphones), told The Believer in 2009. It was the year he released Wind’s Poem, a turbulent, black metal-influenced album he wrote while weathering a winter of his own emotional durm und strang in Norway. But for all of Elverum’s battles with, and musings on, displacement, Clear Moon is no other than a testament to what it means to return home.

A foggy, brooding melancholia permeates Clear Moon—along with the nature allegories and narrative, confessional lyrics Elverum largely became known for after the Microphones’ 2003 album The Glow Pt. 2. But with the first few resonant, whole chords of “Through The Trees Pt. 2,” it’s apparent that this sound is one that has followed a restoration—one that the rest of the album unpacks carefully, at times still roiling with the remnant violence of Wind’s Poem (see “The Mouth Of Sky”). It’s a tension always threatening to rip apart Clear Moon’s fragile, new calm, one he composed in a converted Catholic church in his hometown, in a studio he built himself.

“I go on describing this place and the way it feels,” Elverum sings, by way of explaining the ruminations to follow. “It’s hard to describe without seeming absurd.” He has a point. Trees, the wind, the moon—they’re accessible, but too much repetition falls short of meditation and lands in kitsch. But the beauty of Elverum’s place-based songwriting is that you don’t need to be a disciple of Annie Dillard to navigate his world. Clear Moon lends itself as much to a good pair of headphones and an open window as it is does to mountains.