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Things To Look At, Things To See

Snobby sorbet, bands in town, circus in Brooklyn, the looked-at unseen, global warming in aisle 9, an imaginary nail in the record industry’s coffin, and how Google is saving the world while, you know, taking over it. Welcome to the Things To Look At, Things To See issue.

BETA WAY TO GET AROUND

Okay, most of us geek types can already recite Google Labs’ project list in their sleep and madly worship the Labs graduates (say, Docs & Spreadsheets, GOOG-411, Scholar and, of course, Google Earth.) But we’re particularly goo-ga over the latest one.

logo_idea.jpgGoogle Transit, naturally in Beta (as, by the way, good ol’ Gmail still is), helps you get around town without using a car. Just plug in your starting point and your destination, and you’re on your way. (How does it feel to walk in those shrunken-carbon-footprint feet?) The neat service uses Google Maps to get bike/walk route ideas and directions using public transporation down to the specific bus route number, the cost of the trip and the estimated travel time.

Alas, this transportation genius is only available in 19 US cities — and Japan (?!) But we know how fast the Google folks can churn out their magic (yep, if you haven’t gathered by now, we’ve been drinking the Goolaid), so no doubt Philly will make the cut at some point. (Especially given our very own Septa already has a similar but much more low-tech service on their website that can only benefit from being picked up by high-traffic, high-buzz Google.)

We only have one question — given the brilliance of the serivce itself, how come no one in Mountain View had the same “d’oh” moment we did and thought of the oh-so-obvious bike-tires-over-two-O’s logo? Do we have to come up with everything? Come on now.

OFF-ISLAND FASHION

Trailing behind the buzzing publicity beehive that was New York Fashion Week, Brooklyn Fashion Weekend kicks off today at Empire-Fulton State Ferry Park. It’s a showcase for emerging design talent (including unforgettable character Malan Breton from Project Runway 3) and a chance for fashionistas to get the goods before they get hit the way-out-of-95-percent-of-the-population’s-budget price range.

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This year’s event, themed Circus Couture, is part theatrical magic, part runway (and part major Target sponsorship).

Behind the show is the BK Style Foundation, a non-profit inspired by the recognition that Brooklyn is brimming with artists and underexposed talent. The org aims to assist young desingers in building and bettering their lines, while also providing a professional backdrop for business. And because they’re a non-profit, proceeds from the show end up in various charity causes.

That should make you feel a little better about shelling out a year’s lunch money on one of Malan’s creations.

FRASIER’S FAVORITE DESSERT

Although it may not feel like it around here these days (yes, it is always sunny — and warm — in Philadelphia and Al Gore was probably right that we’re on our way to bathing in a soup of melted glaciers and our own sweat), summer’s winding down. Time to trade in the sherbet for that alluring glass of oh-so-autumny cabernet sauvignon.

Wait, wait. Now you can do both, thanks to Wine Cellar Sorbets: “The adult desert for sophisticated palates.”

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The concept is the brainchild of wine-head-meets-culinary-artist David Zablocki and scientist-with-an-MBA Bret Birnbaum, a couple of childhood friends from Queens. Today, the two vinopreneurs have various stores in New York, New Jersey and Florida already carrying their creation, their sorbets are served in a bunch of upscale restaurants, they’ve been covered by a number of top-tier magazines, and they cater private A-list events.

All sorbets are seasonal and come from vintages, varietals and viticulture regions from where the wines were produced. On top of all the flavors already available, the sorbet sommelier is planning to make Tuscan Sangiovese and Port Wine Sorbet paired with a dark chocolate top hat.

Mouth watering, drool may drip on keyboard. Must step away.

UNTRIVIA

You may remember last year when a non-profit called RenewUS set out to mobilize people to get their energy from alternative sources and pressure their utilities providers to make those available. A pretty hefty task, you may say. RenewUS made quite a bit of buzz in the eco-blogging community with their envirol video.

And then they disappeared.

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Well, turns out, they didn’t. They just rebranded as ClimateCounts, “a collaborative effort to bring consumers and companies together in the fight against global climate change,” and set out to fight global warming from the bottom up. Maybe they realized people need easy, actionable everyday changes to start making a difference, and the whole face-off with utilities companies may have been just a bit much.

So ClimateCounts started simple: they measured the carbon footprints of common household brands so consumers can start making a difference right at the store. So far, they’ve got 56 companies — they started with the most popular ones — but the list is growing. They ranked them using a 22-criteria scoring system, assessing 4 key benchmakrs: how the company measures its carbon footprint (22 posible points), how much they do to reduce it (56 points), how they support (or whether they try to block) progressive climate legislation (10 points), and how publicly transparent they are about all that (12 points). As a result, brands scored red (“Stuck”), yellow (“Starting”), or green (“Striding”) based on their overall score out of the possible 100 points. Here’s a topline of the scorecard‘s best and worst performers:

Top Striders: Cannon (77/100), Nike (73/100), Unilever (71/100), IBM (70), Toshiba (66), Stonyfield Farms (63)

Top Stuckers: Wendy’s, Jones Apparel Group, Darden Restaurants, CBS, Burger King, Amazon (all zilch)

On each company’s profile, there’s even an easy-email button to let the company CEO climate efforts are important. And just so you’re in the know when you’re in the store, you can download the ranking pocketpiece or the full-blown scorecard.

Worth mentioning: the entire non-profit is funded by Stonyfield Farms and Clean Air – Cool Planet. But despite the company affiliation, this sounds like the real thing: Stonyfield Farms has been donating 10% of their profits to, well, non-profits since their very inception, and they were also the ones who produced, quietly and publicitly-stunt-free, the aforementioned RenewUS A Crisis Averted film last year. (Not to mention the objectivity oozing from the fact they were ranked number 6, not 1.) We can help but get a bit warm and fuzzy when we see such a rare, genuine just-get-out-and-do-it approach.

IMAGINE

With the record industry ashambles these days, bands , artists and musicologists alike are looking for new ways to publish and relate to talent. There’s podcasting, free-market album sales, open-source remixing for legal sharing, and more.

imagine.pngBut one music dream machine is taking things to a whole new level. Imaginary Albums is an “imaginary place dedicated to the imaginary dissemination of excellent music: full albums encoded at high quality, and available for free download.

And by “excellent” they mean really, really what-are-the-major-labels-thinking-not-signing-this-band good. Like The Harvey Girls, whose eponymous album is a deep dive into melodic melancholy with a tint of snarky liveliness, all brilliantly harmonized. Or Laura Palmer‘s curious instrumental interpretation of still life. (Who knew acoustic guitar and an alarm clock could make sweet inanimate love together.) Or Tiny Creatures‘ bizarre-yet-brilliant foray into sonic electro-lounge.

As you’ll notice, a lot of this music is very experimental. And a lot of it you may hate. But here’s the thing with mainstream record labels (and perhaps the reason they’re no longer king in music culture): a long, long time ago they’ve stopped caring about the progressive, left-of-center players and have instead eaten themselves into blobs of Top-40-sales fat, sitting idly in a comfort zone of mainstream taste and lowest-common- denominator demand.

Sure, it’s the mainstream’s taste that drives a lot of music culture, but if “the mainstream” never gets exposed to novelty, controversy and a level of discomfort, that taste never gets the chance to grow. It’s a vicious cycle. An open-exchange market free of corporate constraints may just be the only way to put compelling conversation back into music culture.

Imagine that.

GIGS TO GO

While we’re on the music note, every once in a while we come across an underrated but super-utilitarian new service. Like Bands In Town — a social media outlet for the music-obsessed. Despite the leaves-something-to-be-desired interface, the actual service is pretty nifty (and rather similar to iConcertCal, which you may recall from way back in the Brain Pickings 1.0 days) and simple: just fill in a bunch of your favorite bands and artists (the little wiz already knows your location from the IP address) and you’re good to go. (Or, if you have Last.fm — which you may also remember from the extensive praises we sang it back in the day — BandsInTown lets you automatically synch with your existing music profile.)

bands.pngYou get a tag cloud of upcoming shows near you, then you can narrow it down by when you wanna see a concert (tonight only or not), distance from the city, max price range, and label type (unsigned, indie or major). You can also filter results by genre or tag. Needless to say, all the goodness is free. (Sign of the times, no? Social connectivity services could never live on a paid-subscription model now, great news for advertisers, especially the behavioral-targeting-smart ones.)

Okay, we just found out Madeleine Peyroux (oh, only the best neo-French jazz vocal to come by in decades) is coming to South Orange, NJ next month, so we’re off to plotting that getaway. Who’s in?

AS SEEN IN PHILLY

It’s frightening how, buried in our daily grind, we hardly ever look up and really see things. Just this week, we biked by something we’d passed a thousands times before but never noticed.

An unexpected gem tucked between Chinatown and crack row, this building stands proud right on high-traffic Callowhill as a delightful hallmark of the looked-at unseen.

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Tomorrow, look up.

BP

Hits, Punches and Other Impact

Three-minute verdicts, humanitarian aid for your vocabulary, Brazilian models, hyper-social networking, what Harry Potter and the Yankees have in common, and where you can get a side order of sweaty hunk with lunch. Welcome to the Hits, Punches and Other Impact issue.

IMAGE VS. LIKENESS

Amnesty International, always the shocker, is on a latest spree to remind us that toy recalls are the least of China’s reputation problems. In a new campaign busting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the human advocacy crew is out to expose the contrast between China’s marketing efforts and their internal practices, a discrepancy that reeks of blatant hypocrisy.

amnestywrestling.jpgTurns out, when China promised to kick up human rights for the 2008 Olympics, they went ahead and made a bunch of minor touch-ups to the death penalty system (a.k.a. itsy-blitzy change) and vouched to give foreign reporters more freedoms.

But “freedom” is the last thing one such investigative reporter, Zhao Yan of the New York Times, got when he tried to appeal his three-year prison sentence for an alleged political vendetta. The appeal was dismissed in under 3 minutes. He was recently released after completing the sentence.

Which is an unsurprising event, given a long-standing law has been allowing police to shove crime suspects in jail for up to 4 years without trial. Since 1957. That’s half a century of legalized anti-freedom, granting suspects not even a shot with the whatever loose justice system does exist. Meanwhile, China’s busy opening the world’s largest, blingest luxury airport.

The irony, of course, is that the entire marketing campaign to boost China’s international image for the Olympics is funded by the tax yuan of these very same people facing human rightlessness on a daily basis.

Read up on what’s wrong with that picture and check out the full Amnesty International creative.

VERBAL STEAL & DEAL

webst1.jpgThe wonderful people of the Red Cross bring all kinds of aid to those in need. Including the linguistic kind. Overheard in a shared restroom, we bring you this uncovered vocab gem of the week, courtesy of the lovely women of the American Red Cross:

Squidget |’skwijit|

noun: Too short to be a midget.

[Definition spoken in a matter-of-factly, isn’t-it-obvious tone by utterer upon inquiry.]

WON’T SEE THIS ON A BILLBOARD

We’re starting to understand why Brazil is on a mission to ban outdoor advertising: because they have so much higher standards for what constitutes compelling, culturally relevant visuals. (As opposed to, you know, babes-boobs-and-beer billboards.)

Case in point: 27-year-old artist Bruno 9li. Inspired by alchemy (even saying “alchemy” is pretty damn badass in and of itlsef), his ink-on-paper and mural art may just be Brazil’s hottest contribution to culture since Gisele Bundchen. (What, we do have to acknowledge the mainstream’s tastes. Chill out.)

In the sea of sameness (hello, pseudo-anime and anything with distorted doll heads), Bruno 9li’s work stands out as something we’ve never seen before. Do check out his full exhibit to feel a little more enriched, or at least a little closer to Gisele.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifThe college set. A small (18 million) and often annoying (ah, the swollen sense of entitlement) demo. But one with enormous market influence: a combined power of their own disposable income and what they puppy-eye their parents into buying, a solid, opinionated word-of-mouth network, a tendency to be early adopters of, well, pretty much anything, and a lifetime of consumption ahead of them. Their relationship with the marketing world, to say the least, matters.

So here’s a snapshot of how this dynamic has changed over the past couple of years. Anderson Analytics, a youth-oriented market research getup, sets out every year to probe what brands the kids are digging via their annual GenX2Z College Brand Survey. A top-line:

2005: Nike, Coca-Cola, Polo, American Eagle, Sony

2006: Nike, American Eagle, Sony, The Gap, Old Navy

2007: Google, Apple, Target, Facebook

What else the kids care about:

On the web:

2005: CollegeHumor, Facebook, Google, MySpace, eBay

2006: MySpace, Facebook, CollegeHumor, YouTube, Google

2007: …here’s where it gets tricky. This year, more than ever, the differences across genders are really starting to show:

Women:

1. Facebook, 2. MySpace, 3. Google, 4. YouTube, 5. PerezHilton, 6. PostSecret, 7. Craigslist, 8. AddictingGames, 9. eBay, 10. SlickDeals

Men:

1. Facebook, 2. ESPN, 3. Google, 4. YouTube, 5. Digg, 6. CollegeHumor, 7. Yahoo, 8. MySpace, 9. Amazon, 10. Engadget / Fark (tie)

The gender breakdown gets even more interesting. Even though Facebook tops both charts, twice as many women rank it #1 than men, and MySpace is nowhere to be seen in men’s top 5. So the survey seems to assert that social networking skews much more female in the 18-24 set.

But here’s our thought: Take Digg. It allows people to see what content others in this whole big Internet universe are digging, exchanging information and opinions with the world at large rather than with a small social circle of actual friends and acquaintances, as is the case with traditional social networking sites. None of the Digg-type sites pop up on women’s web favorites list, but they do on men’s. (Fark and CollegeHumor are just other bystander ways of connecting to what tickles others.) Could such sites be a form of “hyper-social networking,” allowing users to connect with others beyond their immediate “society” in broader, less intimate ways?

So it may be, then, that social networking holds equal appeal to young men and young women. It just manifests itself in different ways as these two groups choose to relate to the world differently.

Something to think about.

CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT FICTION

Lately, we’ve been on an unintentional busting-the-print-is-dead-myth spree. On the whole death vs. evolution note, it’s not just the medium that’s evolving: its consumption also is. So what happens when you cross two dinosaur media — books and snail-mail — with a new-age phenomenon like peer-to-peer and social networking? You get Paperback Swap, a Netflix of sorts for books that’s completely free and a true testament to an old-fashioned code of honor.

paperback.gifHere’s how it works: you sign up (with a valid email and USPS address), sift through your old books to decide which ones you’re willing to swap, and post them on the website, adding to the over 1.6 million books already available. Just for doing that, you get 2 free book credits, so you can go ahead and request 2 books after browsing through the e-library. (Credits are the exchange unit on PBS — every time one of your books is received, you get a credit you can use to request someone else’s book.)

Then you just sit and watch your mailbox: the books, after they arrive, are yours to keep. Free.

The only thing you ever pay for is postage when other members request any of your books (about $2.13 a book using Media Mail). But, then again, they pay postage when you get theirs, so it’s all fair and simple. And, speaking of postage, PBS has neat shipping labels you can print out at home to make it all even easier. Or, you can go hardcore and join the Box-O-Books program where you can ship multiple books in one big box and swap with other boxers, saving on both postage costs and wait time.

And, for the musically inclined, there’s also sister-site SwapaCD, the self-explanatory similar program for CD’s.

Here’s the thing: if we remember our copyright classes from way back correctly, there’s something called the “first book doctrine,” a loophole in copyright law that allows you to transfer (for payment or not) a lawful copy of copyrighted work (like a book or CD) once you’ve obtained it. Basically, whenever you buy, find, receive as a gift or get your hands on a book in other ways, it’s yours to do whatever you like with. Including swapping.

Whoever thought the big break in peer-to-peer media exchange, always the hot-button issue in digital media, would come from the very media written off as dead?

FOOD & FIGHT

This week’s as-seen-in-Philly: spotted in the midst of Philly gem Reading Terminal Market (and in the midst of lunch rush hour) is a full-blown boxing match, complete with a loudspeaker-armed announcer, a DJ, various sponsors, and ABC Action News coverage.

Food & Fight

Food & Fight

We couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the whole shebang, but it seemed like some sort of boxing match ticket sales stunt. More than anything, though, we couldn’t figure out why such a stunt would be pulled in the middle of the indiest of fooderies.

But, hey, perhaps there’s some truth after all to legendary Bulgarian wrestler Lyutvi Ahmedov’s even more legendary adage: “The grub makes the fight.”

BP

The Bookworm Issue

The world’s first $430 million book, college admissions on steroids, the little bookshop that took the click-and-mortar universe by storm, agency all-stars, how print may solve the global warming crisis, and why Philly’s 30th Street Station needs the best a man can get. Welcome to The Bookworm Issue.

GUTENBERG’S GHOST

Yeah, yeah. Print is dead. We’ve heard more iterations of this eulogy than there are pages in War and Peace. But, the thing is, print ain’t dead. It’s just different.

We’ve been highly skeptical about audiobooks since they first came around. Visions of meditation-tape voices and a tone that stresses all the wrong words plagued the imagined experience. But seeking a fair verdict, we finally decided to suck it up and try it, getting a book we’d read before for comparison purposes.

simplyaudiobooks.pngThe pick: Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point from Simply Audiobooks. And, in all honesty, it was a pleasant surprise.

The CDs arrive fast. (We wanted all judgement points available, so we went with the hard-copy mail-based rental club, but they also have a neat download club and a purchase option for those who don’t care for the restrictions of monthly or annual memberships.) And there are no Netflixy restrictions on what you can do with the content — ours got sucked right into our iTunes library, so the “rental” ended up as ownership. Best of all, our book was actually read by Gladwell himself — granted, in a rather meditative voice, but nothing beats hearing an author’s interpretation of his own work.

An added bonus: subtle print on the neat blue cardboard boxes CDs come in tells you they are made from 100% post-consumer materials and are fully recyclable and biodegradable. There’s no mention of it on the site, there’s not boastfulness about it — seems like an authentic effort by these folks to make a small, tangible difference. You don’t get that a lot in the fanfare-driven eco movement.

Then there’s print that’s actually printed and just as 2.0. Initiated by the World Bank and funded through the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, On Demand Books created the world’s first print-on-demand (POD) device last spring: the Espresso Book Machine. It takes this media shaker 3 minutes to print and bind a 300-page paperback from a digital file. Which, come to think of it, would work great with Google’s Library Project, an effort to digitize the world’s libraries and make them fully searchable, once it leaps over the self-serving, pointlessly bitter naysayers and takes off full steam.

Espresso Book MachineOn Demand Books and Google seem to share more than functional compatibility: just like Google’s do-no-evil, empower-people-though- information vision, the Espresso is out to solve a larger problem. From a sustainability perspective, the gizmo will eliminate the enormous global shipping and warehousing costs for books and reduce paper consumption (in which the U.S. is a world leader, at 715 pounds per capita a year and growing at about 10% each decade). Thanks to Uncle Gore, we all know what this has to do with them glaciers. And from a socioeconomic perspective, it will give that smart, hard-working but incredibly poor student in Mozambique access to the educational tools that will empower her to pursue her dreams and passions. It’s hard, after all, to ignore the powerful role education and information access play in socioeconomic status, driving the dynamic between education, employment and poverty.

The miracle printer is expected to retail for about $100,000 — much less than what the majority of national libraries, including ones in the developing world, spend on stocking every year. Plus, given the machine’s workhorse capacity, it seems like a sound investment. See it all in action and marvel.

BETA VERSION OF YOU

We remember the days when CollegeBoard.com was as high-tech as college application got. But it seemed intended to ease the process on the administrative end, not the student end. Not exactly a hook these days when kids are all about being in control. That’s where 2.0 startup Zinch comes in.

They cater to one of the most powerful, universal human aspirations — to be recognized as unique individuals. Because, really, who likes being reduced to a standardized test score, a bunch of acronyms (hello, GPA, AP, SAT, TOEFL, and others), and a bullet-point list of extracurriculars? Certainly not budding twenty-something hipsters.

picture-1.pngStill in startup-classic Beta, Zinch was inspired by the simple observation that the current admissions process seems to favor those in already favorable positions. (Hey there, private school all-stars, alum kids, extracurricular whores and grade-grubbers.)

Combined with various research findings that test scores and high school GPA are poor predictors of how kids do in college (known to some of ous as the keg effect), a vision was born: to level the playing field, giving students an outlet for showcasing their individuality without the traditional expensive resources like essay-writing courses, test preparation services, tutors, and other get-in-bed-with-the-Ivies plots.

Here’s how it works: students sign up and create detailed profiles, or “portfolios,” where they showcase what they’re all about. Anything goes — blogs, obscure art, a garage band gig, you name it. Portfolios are then assembled into a sophisticated database, which colleges and universities across the nation can search based on whatever criteria they think matter.

Sure, it may take some time until the admission process recognizes the human factor involved in sifting through applicants to select those who’ll make the greatest brains of tomorrow. (Because, really, it’s the successful ones that shell out the biggest alum donations.) But we dig that someone out there is starting to nudge things in the right direction.

Plus, there’s the “i am more than a test score” tagline. Simple. Honest. And sadly revolutionary.

UNTRIVIA

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A recent partnership between STORES Magazine and BIGresearch produced the Favorite 50, a survey in which consumers ranked their favorite e-tailers. If anything, it’s a useful snapshot of how the contrast between the brick-and-mortar and online retail landscapes — offline many of the rank-toppers are either B-grade or nonexistent altogether. Here’s a top-line of the findings:

1. Amazon.com — The interesting thing is that if you were to walk into a traditional retail store that carries all the products available on Amazon, you’d be so overwhelmed with the paradox of choice you’d either pass out or walk out. But the success of this search-based system enhanced by personalized recommendations suggests the future of shopping may just be in online stores that operate as sophisticated, algorithm-driven retail databases.

2. eBay — The Barry Bonds of vintage stores seems to be hitting a home run with shoppers.

3. Wal-Mart — Despite various questionably effective attempts to be, like, totally hip and catch the young set (including the latest merciless milking of the green cow), this retail giant is doing well as ever.

4. Best Buy — Eh, not really “Best,” but “4th Best Buy” doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

5. JC Penny — We’re talking massive dollars here, not pennies. And it’s quite a jump for this lovemarked (see appropriate snark below) retailer. Can they really be better liked than…

6. …Target? — All the multiplying pretty people, the swirly stuff and the poppy tunes seem to be paying off.

7. Kohl’s — We’re guessing quietly kicking up their posh quotient with the Vera Bradley line didn’t hurt.

Also of note: Google (#9) and Yahoo (#16) are sending clear signals that search engines play a big role in e-commerce beyond your grandmother’s basic search optimization.

But most importantly, unlike “objective” spending-based rankings, the Favorite 50 assessed how people feel, subjectively, about the retailers they shop with. And while the dollar can’t be neglected as a business driver, it’s brand equity and love that keep it coming year after year. Refreshing to see some commercial entity out there actually cares about how consumers feel, not how much and what they bought today.

GLOSSY VS. GRITTY

While we’re on the subject of brand love and the number-five ranker above, it seems like for lovemarker K-Rob there’s no shame in being one justifiably smug, smart SOB. (You may recall JC Penny’s unexpected, pitchless shift of business to Saatchi & Saatchi, allegedly after top execs were blown away by Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts’ Lovemarks. If this is the case, it makes it the world’s most expensive book, with a price sticker of the $430-million business.) Especially if he’s willing to put his money where his pen is.

Which he did, kinda. The lovemarketing campaign is a-rollin‘, replete with bouncy imagery, life-is-good cliches, and — our biggest gripe — commodification of formerly-indie acts in soundtracks. (To be fair, as much as we love Regina Spektor, we first thought she was showing symptoms of sellout after being prominently featured on the first season finale of addictive primetime soap Grey’s Anatomy, but this is a whole new level of commercialization.)

Daniel Goleman booksIn any case, our biggest concern with K-Rob’s literary foray is that while it includes some superficially innovative gimmicks, it simply offers a glossy iteration of social and psychological research findings that have been around for quite some time. And while we have tremendous respect for the complex psychological principles behind it all, we’d have to go with the grittier, down-and-dirty reads on the subject.

And on that note, here’s a Brain Pickings rarity: a shameless endorsement and recommendation for those who care to dig deeper. Yep, we’re shamelessly endorsing and recommending Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (and sequel Social Intelligence), an incredibly smart (yet very credible) foray into sociology, neuroscience, psychology and behavioral science that sheds light on why we ever care about anything. Bonus: Goleman is not an ad agency CEO and the book is not intended to be a new business hook.

ONLY IN PHILLY

Ever feel like you’re constantly climbing the (social, corporate, whatever) ladder to no avail? Philly, always the literalist, has taken that metaphorical concept to a verbatim level. Spotted on the concourse of 30th Street Station by a certain young lad is this architectural head-scratcher.

30th Street Station concourse

Of course, if we had a Gillette Mach 3 Turbo, that wall would be a piece of cake.

BP

In The Spotlight

Because, occasionally, stuff comes about that matters more than the latest Facebook widget. Welcome to Brain Pickings Spotlight.

RESERVATION FOR HELL

A recent reader letter to GOOD Magazine (which is easily the best publication we’ve ever encountered, offline or on) pretty much nailed a much-dwelled-on gripe of ours. Here’s an excerpt:

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Which is exactly what we were thinking last week when passing by a group of twenty-somethings who had chosen not to spend their Friday night lounging in a trendy downtown club, shooting the shit about their latest “green” purchases and their respectively respectable price tags. Instead, they’d chosen to spend the night doing some real, grassrootsy, gritty green activism on the streets of Philly.

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Just minutes after we snapped this shot, more kids joined them, more flyers were handed to curious hands, more people stopped to ask questions.

Sure, it’s tempting to write them off as a bunch of self-righteous hippie types with nothing better to do than spoil the dinner of the swankier set. But we thought they might be on to something, so we poked around a bit.

Turns out the issue they were protesting goes far beyond pollution. It entails something called foie gras, French for “fatty liver,” which comes about in an incredibly gruesome way, making it pretty much the most cruelly produced food on the planet. Here’s some gory detail from the protesting kids’ way too cutseyly named but nonetheless right-on website, Hugs for Puppies:

matyson3.jpg

foiegras.pngIt gets even worse when you step inside a foie gras farm. Now, from our own experience with the PSPCA, we can spot animal cruelty when we see it. And this one’s hitting us over the head with a metal pipe.

But here’s the thing — the kids at Hugs for Puppies mean business. Since 2005, they convinced 15 Philly restaurants, including dining meccas by Stephen Starr, Neil Stein, Susanna Foo and George Perrier, to nix foie gras from their menus.

So what’s the deal with Matyson? We’re not shy about asking. Turns out, the kids met with the owner several times last year and his response is frankly bewildering to us: he simply “didn’t care either way.” So it’s not that he wants to sell some more gourmet cruelty, or that he wants to please his patrons, or even that he happens to think his foie gras is particularly spectacular. Indifference, really, can be more despicable than any act of corrupt self-interest.

Still, the owner reluctantly agreed to take the stuff of the menu, promising to “only” offer it as an off-menu specialty. That was a few months ago. Recently, foie gras crept back onto the Matyson menu. Hence the protest.

The activists even started a website exposing this particular restaurant’s numerous environmental and humane sins, and offering dining alternatives that are less, you know, vile. But on the foie gras front, Matyson is not alone — a number of other local restaurants still serve it and, for your boycotting pleasure, here they are exposed. So drop them like a needy boyfriend and go with these guys instead — they nixed the gory stuff after getting the full scoop.

Okay, on a brighter note, the Hugs for Puppies folks actually have a quite a bit of neat, ungory stuff on their website. Including this nifty Philly Veg Eating Guide. Now here’s a way to never witness, pay for, or experience any force-feeding through a metal pipe.

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