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Articles by

<Laurent Berstecher>

11/15/13 3:32pm

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Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines on November 7, left thousands dead, tens of thousands homeless, and large swaths of the country completely devastated. It’s easy enough to feel helpless during a natural disaster that happens in your own backyard, but when tragedy strikes on the other side of the world, it’s even easier to feel like there’s little that you can do to help.

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But now is no time to feel helpless! Now is the time to act. And in case you felt like doing something a little more fulfilling than just texting $10 to the Red Cross, we’ve compiled a list of fundraising events that are going on around New York this weekend, all of which will be donating proceeds to Haiyan relief organizations. So instead of complaining about not having anything good to do this weekend, be a do-gooder and support the victims of Haiyan.

The Journey of a Brown Girl Community Launch Party

Details: Journey of a Brown Girl is an experimental theater project that explores the themes of feminism, immigration and identity. The organization recently announced that it would donate 15% of the proceeds of its next Community Party to the Sagip-Tulong sa Pilipinas (STP) Relief Fund.

Location: The Living Gallery BK, 1094 Broadway, Bushwick
Date/Time: 11/15 7:00 – 10:00 pm

Benefit Brunch at the Purple Yam

Details: Filipino Restaurant the Purple Yam is throwing two special Charity Brunches on November 17th and 24th. The $40 formula is all inclusive, and 100% of the proceeds will go to Typhoon Hayian victims. If, like us, you’ve never tried Filipino Food, or Filipino Brunch before, this seems like a good place to start.

Location: The Purple Yam; 1314 Cortelyou Rd, Ditmas Park
Date/Time: 11/17 & 11/24; Brunchtime!

Typhoon Victim Aid Fundraiser at Juke Bar

Details: Juke Bar is throwing a fundraiser, extending happy hour until 10pm and dropping drink prices 10% for the occasion. Suggested donation is $10 at the door, or you can email them if you have cool stuff to give away for their raffle! Proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders and Team Rubicon.

Location: Juke Bar 192 2nd Avenue, Manhattan
Date/Time: 11/20 6:00 – 10:00 pm

Fundraiser for the Victims of Typhoon Haiyan at Professor Thom’s

Details: For $30 Open Bar from 6:30 to 8:30pm! Includes domestic beer, Heineken and Amstel bottles, wine, and well spirits. All proceeds will go to UNICEF.

Location: Professor Thom’s, 219 2nd Ave, Manhattan
Date/Time: 11/22 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Fundraising Benefit for Haiyan/Yolanda Relief at Lotus Blue Restaurant Bar

Details: Lotus Blue will be offering discounted prices on select drinks and food for this fundraising events (we are eagerly awaiting further details.) Proceeds will certainly be put to good use, but a recipient organization has yet to be determined.

Location: Lotus Blue Restaurant & Bar, 110 Reade St, Manhattan
Date/Time: 11/26 5:30 – 7:30 pm

10/30/13 3:25pm

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  • humansofnewyork.com

Over the last couple of years, Humans Of New York has become the most followed photography blog on the Internet. Every new post garners thousands of likes in minutes and several spin-offs have been trying to emulate Brandon Stanton’s project in other large cities or countries (Humans of Paris, Amsterdam, India, etc.)

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A strange phenomenon seems to occur whenever Stanton posts a picture. Somehow, the 29-year-old photographer has managed to tap into the Internet’s more benevolent side, one that is often ignored or buried deep under the usual layers of trolling and insults. On HONY, hateful comments don’t belong, and the only ones you will ever see rise to the top of the list are often the nauseatingly nice. For example, “Parenting done right!” is a big favorite, consistently expressed on any picture that features a parent and child, and this comment regularly generates thousands of likes.

By and large, this seems to be quite the anomaly, a deviation from the more traditional purpose of commenting on articles on the Internet, which is usually to shame the author of an article into suicide, or to make some snotty remark about some guy’s mother’s weight problem, or how that dude should learn to spell before making any sort of statement, ever.

Perhaps it’s the content that influences the attitude. HONY’s pictures are full of heartwarming stories, glimpses of raw humanity, and force us to stare straight into the face of things we usually like to avoid, like death and poverty and addiction. If anything, these photos are humbling—even to the meanest, most cynical internet trolls out there.

But what’s important here is the possibility that having such an audience opens up. Brandon Stanton has seen the potential, and over the past year has launched four crowd funding campaigns via Indiegogo, all of which have exceeded their goals, often by more than half.

First, there was the joint campaign with Tumblr to support Hurricane Sandy victims, that raised $318,530 from a $100,000 goal, and that became one of Indiegogo’s top 2012 success stories. Then, Stanton’s ambitious effort to raise $75,000 for his local YMCA in Bed-Stuy garnered a total of $103,710 in less than a week.

This summer, Stanton met a young boy named Rumi, who was selling toys with his mother in Washington Square Park in order to buy a horse. The photographer decided to share Rumi’s story and to raise $7,000 in order to send the boy on a “Wild West Adventure.” Okay, not a horse, but a week in a top-notch family ranch is probably as close as it gets. Again, HONY fans did not disappoint, and the goal was met in 15 minutes(!), while money continued to flow in, reaching an astounding $32,167 by the end of the next day (the extra $25,000 went to Equestria, an organization that provides disabled children with horse-riding lessons.)

Yesterday, HONY struck again. In his new post, Stanton introduced us to a cameraman named Duane, who adopted a half-blind Ethiopian girl a few years back. In the story, Duane shared his anxieties about adopting, how he wasn’t sure he could love a child that wasn’t his own, and how those fears vanished when he saw his new daughter. Now, he and his wife want to adopt again, and have identified another Ethiopian orphan, Richard, but they lack the money for processing fees and travel. Enter HONY.

Again, the Indiegogo campaign has been a remarkable success. Less than a day after its launch, the $26,000 goal has been reached and tripled, with donations now nearing the $80,000, and 15 hours to go. Not only will Duane be able to bring Richard home, but he will be able to send both his kids to college with the extra funds.

It is, I believe, a rare occurrence, when such a philanthropic enterprise ends up raising more funds than it needs. And Stanton’s work is, in a way, a testimony to the hidden power of the Internet. For too long, we have understood the anonymity brought forth by the web as the ability to express the ugliest, least admissible traits of our personalities. It might be time to realize that Internet is simply a catalyst for the extreme. Extreme rudeness, in most cases, but also, sometimes, extreme humanity.

10/25/13 2:15pm

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Do you remember that day when your first iPod broke down? You were confidently walking around Brooklyn, when you realized that the middle button wasn’t as young and sturdy as it used to be. Perhaps it’s time for a repair, you think, seeing as this is the only button on your wonderful machine.

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Full of naive optimism, you head to the Apple store, in your hand the soon-to-be-revived mp3 player in its original box, and that receipt you managed to get from your aunt Judith, who always seems to know what you want for Christmas. You walk in, say hi to everyone, congratulate them on the versatility and user-friendliness of their product. You shake hands with the store manager and do a victory lap, high-fiving customers, salesmen and minimalist display cases alike. You even buy a t-shirt with Steve Jobs’ face on it. Then, you head to the customer service counter, and shyly explain that the button is being capricious, and sorry for troubling you with such a minor problem but I’m sure you’ll fix it in no time.

Suddenly, time slows down. For no discernible reason, you become extremely nervous, and begin to sweat profusely through your clothes. You notice that the clerk is looking at you with the half-apologetic, half-condescending eyes of someone who is about to explain Newtonian physics to a dying horse. And then, out of thin air, the words that you were never expecting to hear hit you right in the nuts. The guillotine drops on your head, and you know that you will never smile or hope for anything ever again.

“Bro,” he says. “I can fix it, but it’s cheaper to buy a new one.”

Those were the days, they say, an era now long gone, when we could still be surprised by the simple fact that not all electronics—even ones from Apple!—could last forever. You don’t just repair technology, you replace it. Today, everyone has, in their bedroom or basement, a neat little pile of almost perfectly functioning phones and music players and old computers, waiting in vain for a small fix that may never come, mulling over the absurdity of their seemingly unjust death sentence.

This general trend of throwing stuff away has become a necessity of the industry. Electronics are rarely ever designed to last, or for their assembled parts to be replaceable. This is due in fact to the very nature of the electronics market, which heavily relies on the ephemeral quality of a product it must sell over and over again. A constant flood of new products and technological advances demands that there be a consistent customer base that will continue to purchase new things as they come out. In other words, the demand must match the supply, and not the other way around.

Since the appeal of novelty might not be enough, product designers have to make sure that demand doesn’t stop, or that it (God forbid) decreases. This has led to most electronic products, such as phones, tablets and computers, to be designed to last a couple of years—three, if you’re lucky—before they break down. In sustainable development jargon, this is known as “cradle to the grave” engineering.

The price paid for the creation and sustenance of such a dynamic and lavish industry is high. Probably the most dreadful consequence has been the constant flow of electronic waste, quietly piling up in landfills over the globe.

Some fun facts about “e-waste.” Every year, over 300 million computers and 1 billion cell phones are produced. Electronic waste has become the fastest expanding type of waste on the planet, and is expected to grow at around 8% annually. Meanwhile, it is estimated that only 15% to 20% of e-waste is actually recycled. Electronic waste often contains toxic materials such as lead and something called “brominated flame retardants” that you probably don’t want to mess with. Proper and environmentally sound ways of disposing of or recycling e-waste are complicated and risky, which is why we like to pull off the good ol’ landfill or incinerator trick when we can.

For a while, it seemed like Americans had found a loophole, and began to quietly dump our e-waste on developing nations. This was a devilish scheme: Often under a pretense of charity, we “gave” hundreds of thousands of end-of-life computers to poor communities who couldn’t afford their own. Seems like a good idea right? But as the term “end-of-life” implies, our “charitable donations” often break down in less than a year, and local populations usually have even less of a clue as to what to do with the resulting waste.

It must be said that developing nations have generally taken a more creative approach to their e-waste problem, and countries such as China and India have witnessed the creation of large electronics recycling markets. However, recycling in those regions often take place under very hazardous conditions, without much concern for human or environmental health. Anyway, since 1995, amendments to the Basel Convention have made it increasingly difficult for developed nations to export toxic waste to the rest of the world.

So we can’t dump them on Africa anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we know what to do with our old computers and battery-dead iPhones. Most people just hold on to their e-waste, partially due to not knowing how to dispose of it, and perhaps also because we cling on to a foolish hope that all this could be of use again one day (special shout out to Any Zombie Apocalypse Movie Ever, which probably made this happen.)

So what can you do about the pile of dead smartphones in your bottom drawer? How can you avoid the shame of walking by your dusty Playstation 2 every morning?

Well, it just so happens that something called Upcycle Fest is happening in Prospect Park this weekend. On October 27th and 28th (yes that’s Sunday and Monday) you can bring your used electronics to several locations in Prospect Park, giving them the chance for a new life, and the hope to one day fulfill their childhood Broadway dream.

Everything you need to know is on the Upcycle Fest website, but basically your donations will go to the City Parks Foundation, and are 100% tax deductible.

UPCYCLE FEST
Sunday, October 27th 9am-2pm
3rd Street Entrance off Prospect Park West — walk-ins
 Willink Entrance —Drive-in drop-offs
Grand Army Plaza safety zone — walk-ins
Monday, October 28th 8am-2pm 
3rd Street Entrance off Prospect Park West — walk-ins
Willink Entrance — Drive-in drop-offs
Grand Army Plaza safety zone — walk-ins
Bartel Pritchard Lot — walk-ins on Monday only

10/24/13 12:50pm

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  • c/o animalnewyork.com
  • weed

Yesterday, a new poll by Gallup revealed that 58% of Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana. Popular opinion on the recreational drug has grown more favorable over the last decade, but this is still somewhat of a turning point, since for the first time the majority of the country wants to see pot legalized.

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We all know the arguments here: pot is less harmful than alcohol and the War on Drugs is costly and ineffective, meanwhile legalizing and regulating marijuana could yield potential financial benefits (well, probably much more than potential.) As for the moral imperative, well it is often argued that smoking a little pot is not deserving of a criminal record, and really we can’t disagree with that too much. Also, it could mean cheaper, better quality weed.

It surely seems that things are moving in the right direction. Two states have legalized pot in the past year, and prosecution has relaxed in many others. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of the most prominent anti-cannabis voices in the medical community, had a recent change of heart, as he admitted that his previous opinion was influenced by the one-sidedness of previous research, mostly funded by anti-drugs groups. There have even been reports of a Brooklyn Weed Fairy, leaving a magical trail of stray buds and possibly unicorn hair in its wake. Even the most pessimistic stoners must admit that the future is looking brighter.

But will this new poll and general evolution of public opinion have any consequence on policy? Back in 2009, a newly elected president Obama, eager to show his social media savvy, took on a live, community-driven Q&A , where policy-anxious citizens could ask their most important questions directly to their highest (pun not intended, but I’ll take credit for it if I must) representative. If that’s not digital democracy, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one question, the thing voters wanted to know the most, was about marijuana. Well, to be fair, it was about marijuana and the economy. And to be exact, the question was this: “Should the U.S. legalize pot as a way to grow jobs and stimulate the economy?” By all accounts, a reasonable question. Still, it was a relatively baffled Obama who responded by 1) making fun of the question (“what does that say about our audience?”) and 2) delivering a “yeah but no (you poor, lovely, foolish pothead)” kind of answer and moving on to more serious matters.

Now it was the citizens’ turn to be baffled. How could their newly elected leader, a self-professed believer in the power of digital democracy, someone who has publicly admitted to smoking pot while he was running for the highest office (again, pun optional), someone who appeared to support decriminalization, or at least who seemed to understand the need for a more sensible and effective drug policy, how could someone like that simply dismiss the question?

Well, in a word—politics. Not the most satisfying answer, I know, but nonetheless that’s what it is. It could, after all, be argued that in times of multiple wars, a plummeting economy, skyrocketing debt and other national stability-threatening issues, deciding who might or might not be allowed to reef it up had seemed like a question of secondary importance. It could also be said that a freshly elected Obama, who was already being criticized for being a Muslim Communist of sorts, might have wanted to avoid the additional stigma of being called the U.S.’s first Stoner President. Probably, though, there are private interests at stake here, and no matter the sways in public opinion, entities such as the tobacco lobby will always have their word to say.

Looking back now, 2009’s number one question is beginning to look less funny, and slightly more relevant. At a time where Congressmen are publicly suggesting that we sell “a few national parks”, you know, Yellowstone and the like, to alleviate the debt crisis, it might be time to seriously consider the revenues that a legalized cannabis industry could generate.

In 2005, Harvard professor and economist Jeffrey Miron attempted an evaluation of the wealth that could be generated by the cannabis industry, were the drug to be legalized in the U.S. Basing himself on the permissive Dutch model, Miron factors in both potential tax revenues from sales and savings from the operational costs of the War on Drugs (including but not limited to salaries, drug testings, court proceedings, etc.) You can read the full report here, but here’s the bottom line: legalizing marijuana would generate between $10 billion and $14 billion per year in revenue and savings. I’m no economist, but I’d say that those sheer numbers at least make legalization an issue worth considering.

But you all best hold your horses, because Obama doesn’t seem keen to become the Green Crusader that America has been waiting for. During a speech in Mexico City last Friday, the President reiterated his position, stating that while he acknowledges the problem, he doesn’t think legalizing is the answer. Baby steps Barack, baby steps.