Chill Out to 70 Hours of Oceanscape Nature Videos Filmed by BBC Earth

Those who harbor a deep-seated fear of the water may want to look for other methods of stress relief than BBC Earth’s relaxing 10-hour video loops, but everyone else is encouraged to take a dip in these stunning natural worlds, presented without commentary or background music.

All seven 10-hour playlists are salt-water based: coral reefscoastlinesdeep oceanopen ocean, frozen seasocean surfaces, and sea forests.

As in most compelling nature documentaries, non-human creatures loom large, but unlike such BBC Earth offerings as Creepiest Insect Moments or Ants Attack Termite Mounds, there’s a benign, live-and-let-live vibe to the proceedings.

Unsurprisingly, the photography is breathtaking, and the uses of these marathon-length portraits are manifold: meditation tool, sleep aid, child soother, social media decompressor, travelogue, and—less calmingly—call to action.

Science tells us that many of these life forms, and the ocean in which they dwell, are in serious danger, thanks to decades of human disregard for the environment. This is an opportunity to immerse ourselves in what we stand to lose while it’s still possible to do something about it.

If that thought seems too depressing, there’s also strong scientific evidence that nature documentaries such as these promote increased feelings of wellbeing

What are you waiting for?

Click here to travel the oceans with polar bears, jellyfish, dolphins, seahorses, brightly colored tropical fish and other creatures of the deep, compliments of BBC’s Earth’s Oceanscapes playlists.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watching Nature Documentaries Can Produce “Real Happiness,” Finds a Study from the BBC and UC-Berkeley

Hollywood science fiction films imagine future humans in worlds that are no longer green, or never were—from Soylent Green’s dying Earth to that of Interstellar. And from Soylent Green to Ad Astra, humans in the future experience plant and animal life as simulations on a screen, in hyperreal photography and video meant to pacify and comfort. Maybe we live in that world already, to some extent, with apocalyptic films and science fiction expressing a collective mourning for the extinctions brought on by climate change.

“Over the course of my lifetime—I’m 46,” writes Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee, “the planet has lost more than half of its wildlife populations, according to the World Wildlife Fund.” Surely this brute fact explains the immense popularity of high production-value nature documentaries, the antidote to apocalyptic futurism. They have become “blockbuster events,” argues Ed Yong at The Atlantic, with fandoms as fierce as any.

Viewed “from the perspective of the future,” writes Smee, nature documentaries “are great art. Maybe the greatest of our time.” But can viewing film and photographs of nature produce in us the feelings of awe and wonder that poets, artists, and philosophers have described feeling in actual nature for centuries? BBC Earth, producer of several major blockbuster nature documentary series, undertook some psychological research to find out, partnering with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.

The team examined the effects of watching the BBC’s Planet Earth II documentary series relative to other kinds of programs. “It is a deep human intuition that viewing nature and being in nature is good for the mind and body,” they write in the study, titled “Exploring the Emotional State of ‘Real Happiness.’” (Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson coined the term “biophilia” to describe the evolved preference for natural beauty.) Does screentime equal physical time spent outdoors? Not exactly, but nature documentaries can lower stress levels and, yes, produce feelings of "real happiness."

There have been several previous such studies. The authors cite one in which a few minutes of the original series Planet Earth “led people, compared to control participants, to feel 45.6% more awe and 31.4% more gratitude, but no shifts in feelings of negative emotions such as fear and sadness.” The Planet Earth II study may be the largest of its kind, with almost 3,500 participants in the U.S., around a thousand in the U.K., India, and Australia, each, and around 500 in both South Africa and Singapore for a total of approximately 7,500 viewers.

Participants across a range of age groups, from 16 to 55 and over, were shown short clips of a variety of TV programs, including clips from Planet Earth II. They were surveyed on an array of emotional responses before and after each viewing. The study also measured stress levels using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), and used a facial mapping technology called CrowdEmotion to track physical responses. The researchers aggregated the data and controlled for population size in each country.

The findings are fascinating. Across the scale, Planet Earth II clips generated more feelings of happiness and awe, with clips from news and entertainment shows causing more fear. In most of the study’s measures, these good feelings peaked highest at the lower demographic age range of 16-24. Younger viewers showed greater positive emotional responses in facial mapping and survey data, a fact consistent with BBC ratings data showing that 16-34 year-olds make up around 41% of the audience share for Planet Earth II.

“This younger group,” note the authors, “was more likely to experience significant positive shifts in emotion.” They also started out, before viewing the clips, with significantly more environmental anxiety, scoring highly on the stress scale. 71% described themselves as “extremely worried about the state of the world’s environment and what it will mean for my future.” A smaller percentage showed the lowest level of agreement with the statement “I regularly get outside and enjoy spending time with nature.”

For nearly all of the study’s viewers, nature documentaries seemed to produce at least fleeting feelings of “real happiness.” For many, they may also be a way of countering fears of the future, and compensating in advance for a loss of the natural beauty that remains. Unfortunately, the study did not measure the number of participants who viewed Planet Earth II and other “blockbuster” nature documentaries as a call to action against environmental destruction. Maybe that's a subject for another study. Read the full Planet Earth II study results here. And if you're feeling stressed, watch thirty minutes of "Visual Soundscapes," presented by Planet Earth II, above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Treasures in the Trash: A Secret Museum Inside a New York City Department of Sanitation Garage

Like many New Yorkers, retired sanitation worker Nelson Molina has a keen interest in his fellow citizens' discards.

But whereas others risk bedbugs for the occasional curbside score or dumpster dive as an enviro-political act, Molina’s interest is couched in the curatorial.

The bulk of his collection was amassed between 1981 and 2015, while he was on active duty in Carnegie Hill and East Harlem, collecting garbage in an area bordered by 96th Street, Fifth Avenue, 106th Street, and First Avenue.

At the end of every shift, he stashed the day’s finds at the garage. With the support of his coworkers and higher ups, his hobby crept beyond the confines of his personal area, filling the locker room, and eventually expanding across the massive second floor of Manhattan East Sanitation Garage Number 11, at which point it was declared an unofficial museum with the unconventional name of Treasures in the Trash.

Because the museum is situated inside a working garage, visitors can only access the collection during infrequent, specially arranged tours. Hunter College’s East Harlem gallery and the City Reliquary have hosted traveling exhibits.

The Foundation for New York’s Strongest (a nickname originally conferred on the Department of Sanitation's football team) is raising funds for an offsite museum to showcase Molina’s 45,000+ treasures, along with exhibits dedicated to “DSNY’s rich history.”

Molina’s former coworkers marvel at his unerring instinct for knowing when an undistinguished-looking bag of refuse contains an object worth saving, from autographed baseballs and books to keepsakes of a deeply personal nature, like photo albums, engraved watches, and wedding samplers.

There’s also a fair amount of seemingly disposable junk—obsolete consumer technology, fast food toys, and “collectibles” that in retrospect were mere fad. Molina displays them en masse, their sheer numbers becoming a source of wonder. That’s a lot of Pez dispensersTamagotchis, and plastic Furbees that could be cluttering up a landfill (or Ebay).

Some of the items Molina singles out for show and tell in Nicolas Heller’s documentary short, at the top, seem like they could have considerable resell value. One man’s trash, you know...

But city sanitation workers are prohibited from taking their finds home, which may explain why Department of Sanitation employees (and Molina’s wife) have embraced the museum so enthusiastically.

Even though Molina retired after raising his six kids, he continues to preside over the museum, reviewing treasures that other sanitation workers have salvaged for his approval, and deciding which merit inclusion in the collection.

Preservation is in his blood, having been raised to repair rather than discard, a practice he used to put into play at Christmas, when he would present his siblings with toys he’d rescued and resurrected.

This thrifty ethos accounts for a large part of the pleasure he takes in his collection.

As to why or how his more sentimental or historically significant artifacts wound up bagged for curbside pickup, he leaves the speculation to visitors of a more narrative bent.

Sign up for updates or make a donation to the Foundation for New York’s Strongest’s campaign to rehouse the collection in an open-to-the-public space here.

To inquire about the possibility of upcoming tours, email the NYC Department of Sanitation at tours@dsny.nyc.gov.

Photos of Treasures in the Trash by Ayun Halliday, © 2018

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Although she lives and works inside Nelson Molina’s former pick up zone, she has yet to see any of her discards on display. Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bob Odenkirk & Errol Morris Create Comedic Shorts to Help You Take Action Against Global Warming: Watch Them Online

My beach house must be somewhere around here. I used to be able to see the ocean from it. I should be able to see it from the ocean. Ooo, that looks familiar. Lady Liberty. Ha ha! Hellooo! All the best to you.     —Admiral Horatio Horntower

Are there any Better Call Saul fans among the global warming deniers?

A scenario in which one can simultaneously pooh pooh the melting of the polar ice caps and embrace The Thin Blue Line?

Director Errol Morris and his star, Bob Odenkirk, may not change any minds with their Global Meltdown spots they produced in partnership with the Institute for the Future, but hopefully the emphatic end cards will stir some fans to action.

The absurdist 30-second shorts feature Odenkirk, encrusted in epaulets and naval insignia, as the fictional Horntower, “an admiral of a fleet of one and perhaps the last man on Earth.” Marooned on a small block of ice, he rails against the inexpertly animated wildlife encroaching on his domain.

(“You don’t even have the facility of language!” he tells a penguin, and later threatens a walrus that it will “get painted out” of the final cut for “complaining all the time…”)

Certainly a documentarian of Morris’ stature could have taken a lengthier, more serious approach to the subject, but as he notes:

Logic rarely convinces anybody of anything. Climate change has become yet another vehicle for political polarization. If Al Gore said the Earth was round there would be political opposition insisting that the Earth was flat. It’s all so preposterous, so contemptible.

Odenkirk also has some out-of-uniform concerns about climate change, as expressed in "Where I Got These Abs," a 2011 Shouts & Murmurs piece for The New Yorker:

The middle ab on the left (not my left, your left, if you are looking at me) is called Terrence. It’s a dignified ab. It tenses each time I read an op-ed article about global warming. The article’s point of view is immaterial; simply being reminded that I can do nothing to stop the horrific future of floods and catastrophe gives this ab a taut yank that lingers, burning calories in my well-creased forehead at the same time. 

Watch all of Morris and Odenkirk’s Admiral Horntower spots, currently totaling nine, with ten more to come, on Global Meltdown's YouTube channel.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC this Monday, September 9 for the new season’s kickoff of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Secret Language of Trees: A Charming Animated Lesson Explains How Trees Share Information with Each Other

Shel Silverstein’s bittersweet classic The Giving Tree paints an inaccurate view of trees as simple, easily victimized loners.

If only the titular character had had a same-species best friend around to talk some sense into her when her human pal started helping himself to her branches… You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree, or maybe No Bullshit Tree.

You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could’ve passed some vital nutrients to The Giving Tree, whose self care regimen is clearly not cutting it, via the mycorrhizae system, a vast network of filament-like tree roots and symbiotic soil fungi.

That same system could serve as the switchboard by which You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could alert the extended Tree family to the dangers of prolonged association with cute, but needy kids.

Imagine the upbeat ending, had Silverstein gone light—The Giving Tree N’ Friends.

Not as poignant perhaps, but not entirely inaccurate from a scientific standpoint.

As forest ecologists Suzanne Simard and Camille Defrenne point out in the animated TED-Ed lesson, "The Secret Language of Trees," above, trees have large family (forgive me) trees, whose living members are in constant communication, using the mycorrhizae system.

Hosting multiple fungal species allows each tree to connect with a wider network, as each group of symbiotic shrooms spreads information to their own personal crews, party line style.

On the other end, the receiving tree can identify its relation to the tree of origin, whether they are both members of what we humans refer to as a nuclear family, or much more distant relations.

And while this giant subterranean system for sharing information and resources is specific to trees, when we consider how many other forest denizens depend on trees for food and shelter, the message system seems even more vital to the planet’s health.

Defrenne and Simard’s full TED-Ed lesson, complete with quiz, customizable lesson plan, and discussion topics, can be found here.

Simard delves more deeply into the topic in the 18-minute TED Talk, "How Trees Talk to Each Other," below.

View more of animator Avi Ofer’s charming work here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Meditative Cinepoem “H20”: A Landmark Avant-Garde Art Film from 1929

We all stand to benefit from a bit of hydrotherapy, but in these hectic, trying times, it's challenging to find the time for a bath, let alone come up with the dough for a tropical vacation or soothing spa experience.

Given the circumstances, the nearly hundred-year-old experimental film above may be your best option.

In 1929, photograher and filmmaker Ralph Steiner turned his camera on a number of watery subjects—hydrants, waterfalls, streams, raindrops disturbing placid puddled surfaces....

The result was H20, an 11-and-a-half minute cinepoem, considered by film historians, The New York Times noted in Steiner’s obit, to be “the second American art film.”

(Have a look at James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s impressionistic 1928 adaptation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher if you’re curious about the first.)

Photoplay magazine bestowed its first prize for amateur filmmaking upon H20, praising Steiner’s pure abstract patterns and astonishing tempo, and gushing that "the picture is bound to attract wide attention and a great deal of discussion wherever it is shown.”

He revisited the subject two years later with Surf and Seaweed, above, though his fascination with movement was not limited to the natural world, as evidenced by 1930’s Mechanical Principles.

The hubbub may have died down a bit in the 90 years since H20’s release, though Steiner’s spirit lives on in a number of young experimental filmmakers—witness Norbert Shieh’s award-winning Washes, Dave Krunal’s Waterbomb, and Jaden Chen’s A Cup of Water, below.

H2O has been preserved for posterity by the Library of Congress’ United States National Film Registry. The original piano score in the version featured on Open Culture was composed by William Pearson.

Download a free copy of H20 from the Internet archive for use in future trying times.

Steiner's films will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

NASA Captures the World on Fire

"The world is on fire. Or so it appears in this image from NASA's Worldview. The red points overlaid on the image designate those areas that by using thermal bands detect actively burning fires."

The image and caption above come from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. On a related page, they go into some more detail, explaining why good parts of Africa, Chile, Brazil and North America are aflame this summer. Droughts, extreme temperatures, agricultural practices--they're all part of a worrying picture. View NASA's picture in a larger format here.

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via Atlas Obscura

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