Articles by

<Sydney Brownstone>

05/15/12 2:47pm


Since 2010, the A.V. Club has taken something that’s normally reserved for concert encores and made it the center of their Undercover series. The bands that come in and choose to perform a cover song off the official A.V. Club list reliably put on good shows, but it’s less common for that band’s cover to, you know, blow your mind. Then come along the Screaming Females with their cover of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” at which point we take off our headphones, open our palms to the heavens and thank the A.V. Club team, Marissa Paternoster and Sheryl Crow for contributing to something fucking great.

“If It Makes You Happy” landed Sheryl Crow a Grammy award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1997, but in 2012, Marissa Paternoster’s ecstatic angst delivers a whole new level of justice to that title. Just wait for 2:10, when her punk rock vibrato blows the chorus wide open. The Screaming Females’ six minute version also features a predictably sick guitar solo around 3:49.

Watch their Sheryl Crow cover below. We really hope Screamales get around to playing this at Northside Fest.

Screaming Females cover Sheryl Crow

05/15/12 1:03pm


In addition to his manic acting career, it seems that selling invisible art, shaping young minds, pursuing a Yale PhD, penning collections of short stories, and collaborating with performance artist Kalup Linzy haven’t been enough to satisfy James Franco’s desire to super-saturate the cultural landscape with James Franco. His latest venture? Blogging.

Last week, Franco started his part-time writing gig at the Huffington Post, where he first published a long-ish, meandering rumination on the value of mass culture by comparing the Maysles brothers’ Gimme Shelter (a Rolling Stones concert doc-turned-tragic account of the Hells Angels stabbing an audience member at the Altamont Speedway show) to the likes of the Jonas bros, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc. “But what happens is, the teen fandom is transformed into sales, and all the world appreciates is the money,” Franco wrote. “When something sells, it is automatically considered good, regardless of who does the buying.” This week, the star of Eat Pray Love and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes published his second post for HuffPo, an account of some time he spent in New Orleans, as well as some choice commentary on Nicholas Cage and ghosts. Dammit, we give up. If you can’t beat the omnipresence of James Franco, you might as well make fun of him. Here are the five most befuddled things he wrote for the Huffington Post this week.

1) You don’t need to become a mayor on Foursquare to become an expert on New Orleans. “My brother Dave did two consecutive movies in New Orleans, so he’s a bit of a specialist on the area. Strangely, he doesn’t like staying in the French Quarter, even though he’s one of the biggest partiers I know.”

2) James Franco is worldly. “Yesterday, Nana (my trusty hair woman, raised in Japan) and Iris (my production consultant, raised in Mexico) took a ghost tour of the French Quarter.”

3) James Franco is a Published Author, as evidenced by his mad prose, bro. “We bought our tickets in the back and then, plastic cups in hand, headed outside to meet our tour guide, a large guy with floppy hair that he constantly pushed from his eyes and a cropped beard that traced the contours of his round face.”

4) James Franco believes in ghosts, and so does New Orleans. “I spoke to the empty room and assured whatever spirits resided there that I was on their side. At first I thought it was a gag for tourists, but when I asked the maid, she knew nothing about it. Instead, she told me about the ghost of a Confederate soldier who chased female guests with blond hair. People in New Orleans believe in ghosts.”

5) James Franco didn’t think there was enough bullying in Bully. “That’s why the film Bully left me with a secret inkling of disappointment that there hadn’t been more actual bullying in the film. We go to such a film to side with the victims, but we also want to see some blood.”

05/15/12 10:38am


While the news of the New York Times‘ latest slew of staff layoffs may not have come as much of a surprise, many were shocked to discover who would be receiving the axe. In particular, we were utterly confused as to why George Freeman, the Times’ longtime assistant general counsel and champion of First Amendment Rights (also, full disclosure: former professor to a couple of us here at The L) would be losing his job. We weren’t the only ones. Capital New York reports that 57 NYT journalists have penned a letter to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., urging the publisher and CEO of the Times Company to reconsider his decision to fire Freeman.

Read the letter below.

Dear Arthur,

We were saddened and dismayed to hear that the round of layoffs announced last week would include George Freeman.

Many of us have worked with George during his 31 years at the Times, and we like him, respect him and admire him. Time and again, he has gone to bat intelligently, fearlessly and articulately for Times journalists against all sorts of threats from people and institutions we have written the truth about.

Many of us have memories of George taking on politicians, entertainment power brokers, companies and others who were sending their lawyers after us.

Most important to the Times, George helped make sure that we were writing the truth, and being fair to those we wrote about. He has probably saved the Times millions in legal costs, and helped defend our reputation for accuracy and fairness.

George has also been an extraordinary spokesman and goodwill ambassador for the company. He has spoken at countless conferences and law schools, communicating the Times’s credo as the world’s premier news organization.

And he serves another valuable, less visible role – that of someone who creates a strong bond between the corporate and news sides of the paper, two parties often separated by a gap.

We urge you to reconsider.


Randall Archibold

Charles Bagli

Dan Barry

Ellen Barry

Pam Belluck

Ken Belson

Jan Benzel

Joe Berger

Cecilia Bohan

Ethan Bronner

Bill Carter

Patricia Cohen

Glenn Collins

Chris Conway

Michael Cooper

Ray Cormier

Alison Leigh Cowan

Charles DeLaFuente

Jim Dwyer

Erik Eckholm

Lisa Foderaro

Margalit Fox

Milt Freudenheim

Trip Gabriel

Laurie Goodstein

Denise Grady

Penelope Green

Steve Greenhouse

Susan Guerrero

Karen Grzelewski

Clyde Haberman

John Harney

Diana Henriques

Hilary Howard

Monica P. Johnson

John Markoff

Jennifer B. McDonald

Patrick McGeehan

Donald G. McNeil Jr.

Dolores Morrison

Michael Moss

Anahad O’Connor

Dennis Overbye

Michael Powell

Claiborne Ray

Rosalie Radomsky

Jeff Roth

Catherine Saint Louis

Richard Sandomir

Susan Saulny

Cornelius G. Schmid

John Schwartz

Deborah Sontag

Sandra M. Stevenson

Joyce Wadler

Dan Wakin

Bruce Weber

[Capital New York]


05/10/12 8:58am


On September 20, 2011, Jason Samel was wandering around Zuccotti Park when strains of music drew him in. Earlier that year he had been fired from his corporate sales job, after which he began an insurance company with his father. However, after witnessing the convergence of folk singers, rastas and the famous Occupy drum circle at Zuccotti, Samel, a musician himself, decided his new task was to document the music. He forgot about insurance, then set about producing what is now Occupy This Album!

Way back in January, we spent some time picking our jaws up off the floor when the list of participating musicians was released. Over six months, Occupy This Album! found 99 musicians—including Ani DiFranco, Anti Flag, Crosby and Nash, Debbie Harry, Girls Against Boys, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Mogwai, The Guthrie Family, Thee Oh Sees, Yoko Ono, Willie Nelson and Yo La Tengo—who wanted to be involved. Then, on May 1, we actually ran into Samel during OWS’ pop-up occupation at Bryant Park, where he was passing out Occupy This Album! posters. Samel took a brief break to tell The L why he started working on Occupy This Album!, as well as how he hopes the album might affect listeners.

“One of my major, major things that I want to do, that I think is essential to this movement, is to get in the ear, and get in the minds, and get in the soul, again, of the baby boomers,” Samel said. “Because without the baby boomers, I don’t think that we can survive as a movement. I don’t think that all of our struggles will be answered in the right way.”

“You know, they were out there in the ’60s, they were doing it,” Samel continued. “And now they’re bankers and killing our economy, so hopefully this music can get through to them.”

Occupy This Album! will be released on May 15. Check out the full list of participating musicians here, and our interview with him below.

05/09/12 3:08pm


Remember No Impact Man? In 2006, New York City writer Colin Beavan decided to wean his comfortable, upper-middle class life off of everyday materialism. He attempted to go further in the process than anyone else had pursuing similar projects—Beavan restricted his food consumption to that which could be obtained within 250 miles, eschewed “carbon-producing transportation” (cars, buses, subways, planes), and yes, yes, became that guy who made his family give up toilet paper. Beavan penned a book about the process, and his family’s story of transformation was turned into a documentary. Now, it seems that No Impact Man wants his message to directly impact public policy—Beavan is running for Congress.

According to a press release we received this morning, No Impact Man will run on the Green Party ticket in New York’s recently re-configured 8th Congressional District, which comprises much of central Brooklyn. He’ll be competing in the wake of the renowned Edolphus Towns, who, after 30 years in Congress, announced he would not be running for reelection last month.

It seems that Beavan’s platform will be closely aligned with his personal sense of locavorism. Beavan’s list of priorities includes, “prioritizing human connection before goods consumption,” as well as, “encouragement of service rather than product-based economies.” Still, Beavan’s primary talking points are less eco-activist than one might think. Keeping corporate money out of politics and putting an end to the NYPD’s stop and frisk policies are both listed as campaign goals.

“We have a crazy system where our communities’ human and financial capital are siphoned away by far-away corporations and government,” Beavan said in the release. “Then, we beg the same institutions to send us jobs and services. What if we strengthened our communities and didn’t have to send our wealth away in the first place? We’d have healthier communities, happy and safer people, much less crime and a greater quality of life for all.”

Surely, No Impact Man will be called on to justify this platform in politics as much as he has his experiment in publishing. Not all crunchy liberal types were thrilled with Beavan’s method and message—the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert wrote that the No Impact Man would be more aptly titled the “Not Quite So High Impact Man,” and the New York Times reduced his work to the headline, “The Year Without Toilet Paper.” I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how Mr. Zero Waste applies his principles to the campaign—biodegradable flyers and bumper stickers, anyone?

05/09/12 11:33am


Last month, the Brooklyn Paper caught wind of Greenpoint/Williamsburg Community Board 1’s attempts to shut down outdoor brunching on Sunday mornings and quickly gave it a name: The War on Brunch. News of the conflict struck fear into the hearts of men and women clutching at their mimosas, and even the Atlantic affirmed the war’s “realness.” But there’s been a new development—a treaty of sorts. The Paper reports that Councilman Stephen Levin has submitted a bill to City Council that seeks to change the city law that prohibits brunching outside on Sunday mornings.

“The legislation is in the very early stages,” Levin told the Paper. “I am still listening to all the stakeholders, including the brunching community, the religious community, and the religious brunching community.”

Meanwhile, the war rages on. Last month, city inspectors issued summons against local brunching hubs Five Leaves and Lokal for putting out tables. Several other eateries have taken note and removed their tables as well. But Community Board 1 shows no signs of slowing down their offensive—public safety chairman Tom Burrows has also urged people to call 311 if they saw people brunching outside on Sunday before noon.

Still, some local religious communities, the people the city’s restriction aims to accommodate, appear to be on the side of the brunchers.

“The notion that sidewalk dining in some way restricts, inhibits or in any other way interferes with church attendance is utter hogwash,” said Greenpoint Reformed Church Rev. Ann Kansfield.

“If there were so many church-going people in Greenpoint and Williamsburg that sidewalk seating would interfere with church attendance, all of our churches would be packed full of people,” she said. “This is not the case.” [Brooklyn Paper]

When did brunch become secular conflict of interest, you guys? Or, on Sunday morning, can’t we just agree to disagree? One day, perhaps psalms and sunny-sides up will be able to live alongside one another in peace.


05/09/12 4:00am

Photos Sydney Brownstone

On September 17, 2011, Mike Andrews, along with two other proto-Occupy Wall Street organizers, chose Zuccotti Park as the place to host a general assembly. Little did Andrews anticipate that the team’s decision would snowball into a full-fledged occupation. The L sat down with Andrews, who was organizing direct action for May Day at the time, over a beer in Fort Greene to reflect on how far Occupy Wall Street has come—and where it’s going. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.

The L: How did you get involved with Occupy?
MA: There was the whole financial crisis in 2008, and there was a kind of sense that “Okay, this is really bad. Now, finally, people are going to have to get angry and do something, right?” But nothing seemed to be on the horizon. So in the summer, last summer, and this is a story that’s been told countless times…

The L: To journalists?

MA: Well, yes. But not always by me. Essentially, Adbusters put out the call for an occupation of Wall Street. They, however, didn’t plan on doing any actual organizing. So folks in New York, sort of local radicals or anarchists or organizers kind of got together and said, “Okay, should we do something? Okay, what should we do?” And then on August 2, a group of these people started having weekly meetings. I wasn’t there at the first meeting, but at the second.

That was what effectively became the first meeting of Occupy Wall Street.

We met for six weeks in general assemblies and formulated a plan to have a general assembly on Wall Street. It was not necessarily to have an occupation. We were going to have a general assembly and encourage people to stay and sleep on the sidewalk if they wanted to. So, September 17 came around, and we had our general assembly, which was big and inspiring and great. I helped facilitate the general assembly. And people just stayed. And they stayed another night and another night. It’s a well-known story at this point.

The L: Had you anticipated that at all? Had you made any efforts for people to stay in the park?
MA: No. We were frustrated that Adbusters had made a call for people to sleep, bring tents specifically. And Adbusters were in Vancouver, Canada. They had no idea that in New York there’s a law that says erecting structures is illegal. But there’s also another law that folks have been using, were using, at the occupation at Federal Hall. So we were going to try to use that law and simply say, “Okay folks, if you want to stay over there’s this law. You can sleep on the sidewalks in political protest as long as you don’t block more than half the sidewalk and erect a tent.” We were sort of positioning ourselves to inform people of this law, and inform them of what they could do, but we weren’t positioning ourselves to actually organize an occupation.

05/09/12 4:00am

Photo Sydney Brownstone

Eight months ago, three people were put in charge of finding a spot to host a protest assembly. At the time, they did not expect that their decision would launch the kind of occupation of Wall Street that Vancouver-based Adbusters had called for on September 17. As the most consistent members of a group of agitators that had been meeting to discuss related possibilities once a week in Tompkins Square Park that summer, the three-person “tactical team” had to choose where to meet if their first pick, One Chase Manhattan Plaza, was cordoned off.

“We weren’t positioning ourselves to actually organize an occupation,” Mike Andrews, both a member of the original tactical team and an organizer for May Day, tells me over a beer in late April. “None of us were deluded enough to think that what happened would actually happen.”

The team quietly decided that close-by Zuccotti Park would be the next best bet. They kept the news to themselves for several hours until the meeting. Then, Andrews got up and made the announcement: A general assembly would be held at Location Two on a map that he and the team had passed out earlier. He didn’t say “Zuccotti,” so police within earshot wouldn’t know right away where the group was headed.

“And then people just stayed. And they stayed another night, and another night,” Andrews says. “It’s a well-known story.” He shakes his head and grins.

Andrews calls what resulted an accident of history—albeit an accident that has fundamentally altered the national discourse on inequality. Since, the occupation of Zuccotti Park has galvanized and frustrated national and international audiences. And even after an eviction, a winter of fragmentation and continuous speculation over the likelihood of its ongoing relevance, Occupy and its allies in the labor and immigrant rights movements revived May Day, a traditionally under-recognized workers’ holiday in the United States, with the force of tens of thousands marching in the streets of New York City alone, and many more across 
the country.

But the same questions and comments that have been leveled at every Occupy action from the beginning—“What’s the point?” “Is it over yet?” “Get a job!”—persist. What began as an “accident of history” has grown into a large, albeit decentralized, social movement. And after months of diligent preparation for one single day of action on May 1, critics are right to wonder whether Occupy’s sustainability is at stake.

Seasoned commentators have pointed out that occupiers will have to be smarter about strategy going forward. Andrews acknowledges the possibility that many of his peers have become “action junkies” addicted to one-hit days of wonder. But historical accidents don’t happen in a vacuum. Their momentum tips other accidents into being. When we ask ourselves, “What will become of Occupy Wall Street?” maybe what we ought to be asking is, “What other accidents have happened as 
a result?”

The Little Occupations That Could
On the morning of May 1, while union and Occupy picketers were demonstrating outside of corporate targets in Manhattan, a small group of people huddled in the rain at Bushwick’s Maria Hernandez Park. Police officers stood at every entrance—an NYPD blotter had been made public the night before with news of an unpermitted march to take place through North Brooklyn neighborhoods. The smell of burnt sage surrounded the protesters, who were noshing on donated bagels out of 
garbage bags.

Brian Douglas, an Occupy Bushwick organizer, was handing out complimentary umbrellas for the action ahead. Three months prior, he and four others had resurrected Occupy Bushwick from a largely abandoned online forum and started weekly meetings. They learned about each other, and they learned about community boards. Occupy Bushwick discussed breaking into gardening. Soon, a weekly meeting of four people blossomed into a meeting of 30. And Occupy Bushwick expects its numbers to grow.

05/08/12 2:30pm

Put down the hand sanitizer. It appears that Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson may have had a point about that which doesn’t kill you making you stronger: Finnish researchers have found that lack of exposure to teeny-tiny bacteria in the “natural environment” makes city people more prone to allergies and asthma. Researchers argue that because our nebbish, indoor bodies aren’t exposed to a diversity of bacteria, they’re left defenseless for the spring onslaught of plant fumes.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that one class of bacteria in particular had an effect on stimulating immunological response (and therefore decreasing allergen sensitivity). The more gammaproteobacteria you’ve got living on your skin, the less likely you are to freak out in the presence of daffodils or floating cat hair. People who live on farms or near forests are exposed to gammaproteobacteria plenty, but city-dwellers are lacking.

“Urbanisation is a relatively recent phenomenon, and for most of our time we have been interacting in an area that resembles what we now call the natural environment,” [Dr. Hanski, co-author of the study] said.

“Urbanisation can be seen as a lost opportunity for many people to interact with the natural environment and its biodiversity, including the microbial communities.”

While it was not possible to reverse the global trend of urbanisation, he said that there were a number of options.

“Apart from reserving natural areas outside of urban areas, I think it is important to develop city planning that includes green spaces, green belts and green infrastructure,” Dr Hanski suggested. [BBC]

The BBC pointed out another recent study that highlights the effect lack of green space can have on urban populations. According to a study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, urbanites who don’t have access to natural environments suffer higher stress levels, as measured by the amount of cortisol found in their saliva.

Prof Ward Thompson said that the study provided an objective measure of stress associated by the lack of green spaces in urban areas.

“We know that if you live near more green spaces, and you are from a deprived urban population, you are more likely to be healthier,” she observed. [BBC]

In conclusion, if you don’t want to be a snivelling, stressed-out blight on your social circle, it’s best to spend some time smelling the flowers. Bathe in some gammaproteobacteria, try developing new microbe relationships. Hell, why not eat a handful of dirt? Okay, perhaps that isn’t the best idea. Still, there’s no doubt that being overly hygienic has its downsides too—it’s time we learn how to stop worrying and love the bacteria.

[Via the BBC, Grist]

05/08/12 9:52am

Maurice Sendak has passed away due to complications from a stroke, reports the New York Times. Born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn to the son of a dressmaker on June 10, 1928, Sendak would go on to create some of the most memorable and profound “children’s” books of all time. These included Where the Wild Things Are (winner of the Caldecott Medal), Chicken Soup with Rice, In The Night Kitchen, and Brundibar, an adaptation of a Czech opera staged 55 times by children in the Terezin concentration camp. Earlier this year, Sendak participated in an interview with Stephen Colbert, in which he told the pundit character, “I don’t write for children. I write, and somebody says, ‘That’s for children.'” Those who grew up holding Sendak close, those who are adults now, surely feel that truth. R.I.P. Maurice Sendak. Watch one of his last interviews with Stephen Colbert after the jump.