Eyecatchers: Claire Brewster’s Birds

Back in March 2011, I blogged about the stop-motion animation work of Anderson M Studio, having been blown away by the painstaking paper art involved, and today I discovered some more beautiful paper art, this time from British artist Claire Brewster.

Brewster’s work, cut out of old maps, is a wonderful salute to the bird’s ability to fly freely above the topography that we ground-bound creatures must work so hard to navigate. The maps themselves add color, texture, and a 3-D quality to the birds that I find very appealing.

Via Colossal, here’s a sampling, though I highly recommending checking out Claire’s blog to see more of her work:

Oh, and I must say, I couldn’t help it, but Claire Brewster’s work made me think of this:

TED Talks: Peter van Uhm: Why I chose a gun

I’m continually surprised by how many times I’ve recommended TED Talks — those incredibly thought-provoking, inspiring, often moving products of the various TED conferences held around the world — to people who have never heard of them, for I find them so thoroughly accessible, with each talk lasting no more than 18-20 minutes.

I mean, we can all find time for a few of these a day, or more scattered throughout the week. Right?

Well, it’s been a while since I last posted a TED Talks video, and today I’ve got a juicy one for you.

This was a challenging video for me, as I suspect it would be for most of my fellow peaceniks. The assertion made by Peter van Uhm, Chief of Defense for The Netherlands, that guns and armies are necessary tools for peace, rubs me the wrong way. And yet, having been raised Jewish, I carry the inherited trauma of the Holocaust, and I’ve struggled my whole life with the question of whether or not violent military action is justifiable in order to save people from oppression or genocide.

Now, I don’t agree with everything that Mr. van Uhm says, but I admire the TED organization for inviting him to speak and present his case, and he does so eloquently, with great sensitivity, and with great respect for his fellow TED presenters and attendees, who are trying to make the world a better, more peaceful place via a variety of other means.

Tweet of the Day: #WittnerFabrice

If I had more time, I’d do an Eyecatchers installment on the eerie and moving light stencil work of Wittner Fabrice.

Alas, all I can manage is sharing this tweet via @itsolossal. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Video Fridays: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

For this installment of Video Fridays, I was inspired by a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, their 2003 debut hit Maps, a song that I’ve loved for a while, but then I saw the following live acoustic version and it knocked my socks off all over again.

I thought it would be interesting to post both the acoustic and the original electric versions here for comparison’s sake, but it took some time for me to decide in which order to post them. Ultimately, since one of the pleasures of hearing an acoustic version of an electric song that you know well is noticing the differences — how the instrument choices, playing technique, and in this case the vocal delivery are changed to suit the arrangement — I figured I’d start out with the original for the sake of anyone who isn’t familiar with the song.

There are two notable things about this video:

  1. The story goes that Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer/songwriter Karen O wrote the song for her then-boyfriend Angus (Maps is an acronym for My Angus Please Stay), at a time when the relationship was on the verge of breaking up, and on the day they shot the video Angus was supposed to be there, he was three hours late, Karen went ahead with the performance, not knowing whether he’d show up or not, and the result is incredibly moving. It seems at the beginning that she has her eyes fixed on the back of the room, still hoping Angus would arrive, she tries to carry on but you can see it’s a struggle, holding on to the microphone as if it was a lifeline, and then, at around the 2:50 mark, she’s overcome and the tears are real. Just.Wow.
  2. Musically, drummer Brian Chase’s syncopated beat is trance-inducing and he brings some awesome power to the crescendos; and guitarist Nick Zinner is frickin’ amazing, building an incredibly lush sound that makes you forget that it’s just him and that there’s no bass player.

And at last, the acoustic version, which doesn’t require nearly as much of an explanation. Nick Zinner plays a sweet-sounding Martin guitar, adapting the main power riff into a beautiful, gentle arpeggio, and Karen delivers a subdued, melancholic vocal, still full of sadness, but also a touch of resignation and even acceptance that Angus is never coming back.

Wilco Meets The Flaming Lips!!!

Anyone who has been reading Fish & Bicycles for a while will know that I’ve blogged multiple times about my two favorite bands: Wilco and The Flaming Lips.

What, then, could be better than the two bands coming together…at least in part?!

Not much.

Well, until today, it was just one music geek’s dream, but this morning The Flaming Lips tweeted a video from their 2012 New Year’s Eve Freakout, wherein, joined by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, they kick out a 17-minute long, brain-melting cover of The Beatles’ 1969 Abbey Road nugget I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

Just be warned, this really will melt your brain, so make sure that there’s nothing important or particularly brain-dependent that you have to do when the 17 minutes is up.

Now, just in case you were left wanting more from the rest of Wilco, I thought it fitting to include another video released today, and while it won’t necessarily melt your brain, it certainly is it’s own kind of freaky, with the band appearing in a Popeye cartoon.

Via Pitchfork:

First There Was Greenwashing. Now There’s Brownwashing?!

Anyone REALLY paying attention to issues of environmental protection and sustainability knows about the nefarious practice of Greenwashing, whereby companies and their PR firms make questionable claims that their products are eco-friendly, exaggerate just how eco-friendly they are, or worse, make no claims at all, but by adding green color and graphics of green leaves and trees and such to the packaging, they try to pass off a product that has no special eco-friendly attributes as one that does.

I heard a snippet of a piece on the public radio show Marketplace this morning, that appears to have been taken from an article in the Wall Street Journal, about how brown is the new green:

When consumers see brown they think green, say companies that sell products like paper towels, napkins and diapers.

Dunkin’ Brands Inc. and Target Corp.’s in-store cafes among other chains have made the switch from white to brown napkins. Next week, Cascades Tissue Group is trying what marketers long considered the unthinkable: brown toilet paper. It is pitching beige rolls, dubbing the product “Moka.”

Brown paper products are becoming an obvious way for consumers to show that they care about the environment. They assume the products are made with recycled materials or didn’t involve whitening chemicals.

Now, however, white paper can be made from 100% recycled fibers and whitened without the chemical chlorine, traditionally the primary complaint against it. Still, Cascades says dropping the extra step of bleaching reduces the environmental impact of Moka toilet paper by about 25% compared to their white recycled paper because of energy savings and other benefits…

So far so good. Nothing particularly bad here, right?

Well, this here is where the danger lies:

Even so, Dunkin’ Donuts decided to use recycled brown napkins about three years ago, in part because of what the color “symbolized,” says Scott Murphy, vice president of strategic manufacturing and supply for Dunkin’ Brands. Tests in a handful of restaurants showed the brown napkins made customers “feel like they were doing something good for the environment,” and matched the décor, he says.

Now, Dunkin’ Donuts still made a good decision. It’s great that they are using 100% recycled, non-bleached napkins! But the potentially exploitable thing is knowing what the brown in the brown napkins has come to “symbolize” and that it has the power to make customers “feel” a certain way.

The irony of all ironies in this story comes in the next paragraph:

At least one company adds brown pigments to non-chlorine bleached diapers to drive home the environmental message. The diapers need “visual differentiation,” says Louis Chapdelaine, product director of fibers at Seventh Generation Inc., a Burlington, Vt.- based company that specializes in eco-friendly household cleaning products and paper. It’s important “not so much that it’s brown, it’s that it’s not white,” he says. All diapers, if left undyed, would be the color of raw plastic or semi-translucent, he says.

What?!

Listen, it’s awesome that they aren’t using chlorine bleach to whiten their diapers. But these diapers stink, whether soiled or not, for their obvious attempt at Brownwashing. They could dye these diapers any color at all, so why brown? In fact, considering the unpleasant brown stuff that these diapers typically capture from the babies wearing them, you’d think that beige or brown would be the absolutely last color that Seventh Generation would choose, and this claim by their product director that this is simply a matter of providing “visual differentiation” really rings hollow. They even have a whole webpage dedicated to defending their brown-dyed diapers, though it, too, reads as nothing more than an elaborate rationalization.

Meanwhile, the folks at Babyworks.com and the Mothering Magazine online forum are none too pleased, and I have to say that I’m deeply disappointed in Seventh Generation, a company that has been an originator and a leader in the recycled and eco-friendly product marketplace. It could be that their products are still as eco-friendly as they always have been, but this brown dye thing and the excuses they make for it really has me questioning their integrity for the first time.

Sure, there are worse fish to fry, companies that have made no efforts to offer more renewable/sustainable products, and they won’t be earning a nod from me in my Celebrating Eco-Progress series anytime soon.

Let’s just hope that they don’t take after Seventh Generation and jump on the Brownwashing bandwagon too.

The Question of Celebrity Obligation

The Argument is legendary amongst a circle of friends I’ve been lucky enough to know since grade school. We’re all from New Jersey, where arguing is a pastime rather than a friendship-threatening conflict, we’re all very passionate about music, the arts in general, politically several shades of liberal, from far-left to center-left, and The Argument has resurfaced many times over nearly 30 years.

But the instance of The Argument that I remember most vividly took place sometime in the late 1980s, in our favorite pizzeria, Taverna Della Pizzeria in Spotswood, NJ, and it started when someone asserted the opinion that Bob Dylan, over the course of his long, illustrious career, should have leveraged his celebrity more to support important social causes; that he abandoned his activist roots and the legacy of his hero Woody Guthrie to be just another vain rock star celebrity.

This position was strenuously attacked by another from the group, who argued that it is actually oppressive to musicians, actors, dancers, painters, etc., to demand that they have any obligation to anything other than the pursuit of their art; that once you impose any “shoulds” on them you are interfering with the free flow of their creative expression.

Over the years, The Argument expanded beyond Dylan, to include pretty much every other form of celebrity, but when I read this morning that Dylan has authorized the use of his music for a just-released 4-CD set of covers, by 80 artists of 75 of his songs, with proceeds going to Amnesty International, memories of The Argument came rushing back, and I found myself jumping to Bob’s defense.

While it certainly is true that Dylan abruptly abandoned his activism roughly around the time he abandoned purist folk music in the mid 1960s, it is not at all accurate to argue that he abandoned it entirely or forever.

After his famed 1966 motorcycle accident, which I wrote about back in November, and which seemed to wake him up from an intoxicating celebrity binge, the first live appearance he made in twenty months was for a Woody Guthrie memorial concert, clear proof that he still valued the protest tradition. The photo I include here is from three years later, at the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh, later that year he recorded a song mourning the death of Black Panther George Jackson, and four years later he recorded the song Hurricane, a passionate defense of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whom he felt was wrongly imprisoned on murder charges.

In the years since, Dylan has appeared at other benefit concerts, lent his songs to benefit albums, and now we have the Amnesty International collection, which will raise thousands and thousands of badly needed dollars for an essential civil rights advocacy organization.

As for the broader topic, whether or not celebrities have an obligation to use their fame for good, I’m inclined to see valid points from both sides of The Argument. The idea that they need to “give something back” is overly simplistic, and it really doesn’t work, as they’ve already given of themselves via the production of their work. Personally, I treasure the work of artists, much of which has meant so much to me over the years that I can’t imagine a world without it. These are true gifts, regardless of the financial rewards earned by their creators.

Additionally, I do believe that it’s important for creative freedom and development to not put artists into confining boxes, demanding specifics from them, but I do admire artists who do add their voices to worthy causes.

Tweet of the Day: @mcsweeneys

This had me laughing out loud with the kind of laughter that can only be generated from reading something that closely matches an experience you’ve personally had.

However funny, I think it’s important to have compassion for our elders, for whom the digital revolution has largely been a dizzying, nearly incomprehensible whirlwind.

Upcycling: Suitcase tables!

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these!

This Upcycling installment comes via T.O.M.T. (aka The Other Man’s Treasures), and I can’t recommend highly enough taking the time to browse through their website for some fantastic furniture and lighting ideas.

I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for a vintage suitcase and some screw-on legs, as I browse the thrift stores that are increasingly becoming a resource for great upcycling ideas.