Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fighting Climate Change with Dirt

California Today: To Fight Climate Change, Heal the Ground

Hollywood Don't Surf

Why can't pop culture get surfing right?

Its influence on mainstream pop culture has been felt for decades, yet film and TV’s take on the sport (we’re looking at you, Animal Kingdom and Point Break) have fallen woefully short

Point Break: a cult favorite, but not for the surfing. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext /Allstar Collection/20th Century Fox
At SXSW in Austin, Texas this year, US television channel TNT brought in a surfing simulator and created a “pop-up beach” to help promote their surfing-meets-crime-family show Animal Kingdom, the second season of which premiered on Tuesday. It’s just the latest attempt from the worlds of television and film to embrace surfing with some form of gimmickry. The 1977 world champion Shaun Tomson summed it up like this when I spoke to him: “Fictionalized representations of surfing have been trash.” So why has pop culture, on the whole, got it so painfully wrong when it comes to depictions of surfing and surf culture?

The canon of mainstream surfing pop culture begins with Gidget. The film and TV series brought surfing – at least, the Malibu version of it – to the US. Based on the real-life journals of Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, it’s not as much about surfing as about a girl finding her place in the world, but the setting and depictions of surfing caused America to fall in love with if not surfing, then at least the idea of it.

A scene from Gidget Photograph: Archive Photos/Getty Images 
The go-to pick for when cinema almost got surfing right is John Milius’s Big Wednesday, from 1978. Also set in Malibu, it is a look at the lives of a group of friends against their relationship with the water. It’s heavy with testosterone and features plenty of Gary Busey. The antithesis of Big Wednesday was Point Break – Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surfing-meets-small-time-crime flick that was panned critically but went on to have a cult following and an ill-advised remake in 2015. Films such as Blue Crush and Soul Surfer followed in its wake and do manage to capture realities of surfing, and do so with female leads. On the other end of the spectrum is Matthew McConaughey’s Surfer, Dude – which rather predictably for a film with a title that bad has a 0% Rotten Tomatoes score. Another stinker was 2006’s Surf School, rated the 41st worst movie ever on IMDb.

If Hollywood has had a hard time putting together a whole movie on surfing, individual characters proved just as hard to get right. Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli is a controversial pick among surfers. Some say he furthers a negative stereotype of the stupid surfer. Others, with a sense of humor and self-confidence, know that this character has a solid basis in reality. Robert Duvall’s Bill Kilgore from Apocalypse Now represents the closest you will get to a universal consensus in these matters among surfers. We have all done dumb things to get waves. Whether it’s punting relationships, ditching work and school, taking ill-advised leaps off slippery rocks into heavy surf (or all of the above at once), we all understand that character’s motivation. There is some of Kilgore in all of us.

Surf’s up: Robert Duvall as lieutenant colonel Bill Kilgore Photograph: Allstar/United Artists 
On TV, Animal Kingdom is not breaking any new ground with its depiction of low-life criminal surfers (see: Point Break). But in The OC, Peter Gallagher’s Sandy Cohen was an anti-Spicoli: here was a responsible, middle-aged father and heart-of-gold lawyer who also surfed. Other shows such as John from Cincinnati, Hawaii Five-O and Baywatch featured surfing, but it plays a bit part compared to shows such as Gidget.

Surfing documentaries are where things begin to click into place and use a solid formula: travel to exotic locales, film beautiful scenery, take on personal searches for undiscovered waves and existential meaning. Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer is the most revered, but there are several documentaries which kill it. Bustin’ Down The Door sticks out for both its success in charting the birth of the mutlibillion-dollar modern surf industry and the Aussies and South Africans who took on the Americans in Hawaii during the 1970s.

The Endless Summer - Trailer1 min. 23 sec.

The new docs pumped out by surf brands can be counted on for truly stunning cinematography and the most progressive surfing. Anything by the Malloy Brothers makes it in, and homemade fare from surfers such as new superstar John John Florence is worth checking out too.  

When it comes to surfing literature, go straight to William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days, a beautiful personal account of a life with surfing from the New Yorker writer who first managed to sneak the sport into the pages of the magazine. Dan Duane’s Caught Inside and Jim Winston’s Breathe do full justice to the search and payoff as well.

Any discussion of surf-influenced culture should rightly begin with John Severson, who died last Friday. Severson founded Surfer magazine and is credited with also founding the modern surf media industry. His painting, photos and films resonated with surfers in a way, in the late 50s and 60s, they had never experienced before. It served as a counterweight to Gidget and the beach party films, at first, and the endless commercialization that followed.

If you seek to find out whether a surfing-related film or song or photo is authentic, it occurs to me that the best standard relates back to something Shaun Tomson said in his documentary. “I’ve been through some tough times – surfing can make it better.” And if what you are experiencing captures that in any way, then it captures surfing.

Animal Kingdom is on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET, on TNT in the US

The Importance of Plants  (a blog) May 27, 2017

On Plants / De Stirpibus

Horses-wolfenbuettelWolfenbüttel, 27 May, 2017. How many beings are in this picture?

Imagine you are in an urban park. Look around. How many animals do you see? I’d imagine you see a few birds, a dog or two, perhaps some insects, and a dozen or so humans. Now how many plants do you see? You could not even begin to count, nor to say where one leaves off and another begins.

I am standing in the train station in Karlsuhe, on my way back to Paris from Wolfenbüttel. Even here I see: a few dozen humans, about as many pigeons, a good deal of concrete and iron. And off in the distance I see, again, countless trees, defining, in more ways than one, the horizon of my perception. I see grass pushing up through the gravel between the tracks. Over a stone wall bounding the station to one side an ivy or vine plant of some sort tumbles: it is not moving, visibly, but one might easily imagine it striving, grasping its way toward our platform. And this is a completely dominated space, this is nearly as close as we can get to the longed-for suppression of the vegetal.

We passively suppose that plants and animals are the two equal parts of living nature, the two kingdoms, two moieties each taking half the territory. Of course this does not stand up to scrutiny. I read somewhere that in terms of biomass Earth’s aquatic life is around 90% animal (and this mostly krill), and 10% vegetal, while among the terrestrials it is roughly the reverse. But this seems to give far too great a share to land animals.

Wherever there is a portion of the Earth’s surface that is covered predominantly with animals, there is a problem, an ecological anomaly. Even pods of gregarious walruses need to clear off the beach before too long, lest they destroy whatever balance was there before them. And this is not to mention factory farms with their billions of cows, or cities with their billions of people. Yet wherever there is a portion of the Earth’s surface that is covered predominantly with plants, there is, simply, nature.

Plant life is the paradigm and the general rule of life itself; animal life is the exception.

Aristotle thought animals are more perfect than plants, because they are capable of locomotion, and so form is able to separate from matter in them to a certain degree. He left it to his disciple Theophrastus to do the systematic botanical work that he himself had neglected for zoology. In 1699 Edward Tyson complained that Europeans were now ransacking 'both the Indies' in search of medicinal plants to feed the nascent pharmaceutical industry, rather than paying attention to nature’s most excellent productions, the animals. We’ve shifted to plants as the primary focus of our interest, perhaps, Tyson complains, but only in view of what we can get out of them, not in view of what they are. Aristotle said in defense of his researches in marine biology: ‘Here too dwell gods’. No one who descends from him has yet said such a thing about plants.

What is ontologically distinctive about plants is that they can be cut up in all kinds of ways without thereby ceasing to exist. If you cut off my arm, I am not 10% less the person I was before, and in that respect I am ontologically quite distinct from a sack of flour or any other aggregate; but if you cut off my head, I am 100% less the person I was before. A branch is not analogous to an arm, and there is nothing in a plant that even suggests itself for analogy to the head. Evolutionary theory suggests that this diffuseness, and this full perfection of the pars pro toto principle, whereby any part is as useful as any other for yielding up a complete and perfect representative of the kind, is simply an adaptation to what would otherwise be the disadvantages of sessility: plants have no brain or central nervous system, or any absolutely crucial organs of higher functioning at all, but this saves them the trouble of having to run away from predators without end, protecting their precious jewels. They can stay where they are, be chewed down to a mere sliver of what they were before, and go right on living and growing.

Plants do not have nerve ganglia. But whatever it is about nerve ganglia that makes us sentient is underlain by chemical activity. There is no reason in principle why the chemical transmissions in plants could not be their own neurophysiology.

But, some will insist, it is willed motion, going this way rather than that, that makes a being a being of moral interest, and plants, as we’ve noted, just stay where they are. Well, the boundary between locomotion and change of quantity is not so clear. Plants do get around. Just make a quick biodiversity survey, again, of your local park.

We can’t individuate them, and that troubles us, causes us to look away, or to filter them out. Plants do not so much outnumber animals, as outspread them. The dramatis personae of nature are the animals — this lion, that peccary — and plants are only the stage-setting. Sometimes we can make out what look like individual trees (we even call them ‘proud’), but that’s just a stroke of ecological luck for us, and it hides what is really going on. We know that individuality is not what is really going on with animals either — we are not individuals, but biomes —, yet our ability to move around as one, our ‘proportion of rest and motion’, gives us a sort of unity that makes our talk of this lion, that peccary, seem to reflect the true order of things.

But look around the park again. How can the true order of things be represented by such a vanishingly small share of living nature?

We force plants into the background, pretend not to notice them, because we have no clear way, yet, of speaking about a morally relevant nature except as an assemblage of morally relevant individuals, moving around on their own and pursuing their own interests: earthly gods. If we were to say, of plants, ‘Here too dwell gods’, this could only be in the spirit of pantheism: ‘Here too dwells of god’, in the partitive genitive sense in which one can say, in French, du thé, de la boue, des fleurs.

Plants are there for their own sake, though in recent evolutionary history they have made some overtures to animals, to appeal to animals on terms that animals, whether bees or humans, seem to get. For 400 million years or so there were animals, but still no flowers. And now today we can say: ‘Look at that beautiful rose!’, ‘What a lovely tulip!’

Most of us are not ready for pantheism. We are prepared to see God in a rose, but really would rather not experience the god of the rainforest, of the whole great thing. We rationalise this avoidance as if it were a particular fear of particular dangers, of spiders or snakes. We turn ecology into a practical concern to keep the planet in a condition that can continue to sustain us, and in order to convince others of the importance of plants in this balance we transform them rhetorically into animal organs: the ‘lungs’ of the Earth.

It is reasonable to suppose that the ransacking will go on for as long as plants are conceptualised only as the life-support system of animals, whether this is in terms of pharmacology or of ecology. 

Somewhat more speculatively, it does not seem implausible that evolution should have contrived a way for them to derive something like joy from the chemical transmissions that keep them doing what they do: putting out their pollen and their roots, absorbing the light of the sun and transforming it into what makes up their own nature: eating light, as has been said.

It seems phenomenologically undeniable, if you will just stop and look, that this planet is theirs.

What I am saying can only come across as foolish, like the effusions of an investment banker just returned from an ayahuasca retreat, or the small-talk of a 1970s suburbanite who has just read The Secret Life of Plants; like the philosophers who are bracketed by many as fun or zany, who speak of 'rhizomes', and who in the end turn out to be interested in plants more as metaphors for something else than in plants as plants. Is this not always how it is with the fun and zany philosophers? Just when you think they are talking about something that interests you, it turns out they were only riffing on it, on the way to talking about something altogether different; well, me, I want to talk about plants. Deleuze speaks of rhizomes and wants to tell us that society is like a field of grass, but in the end this is not so different from a medieval courtier who might have declared that the sovereign, the embodiment of political power, is mighty like a lion. We would be mistaken to take this as a lesson in zoology.

Kant said that there would never be a Newton for the blade of grass, and a strong case can be made that this point was not simply an expression of the relative primitiveness of the life sciences in the late 18th century (he speaks as though what interests him are 'organised beings' in general, yet whenever he goes in search of an example of what it is that makes these so unfathomable, it is the blade of grass or the tree --and not the parrot or the crustacean, which he treats rather as irreducible 'works' of nature than as representatives of life as such-- that comes to mind). It may be that he meant that, even when we understand the nature and causes of grass, thanks to Darwin and Mendel and Watson and Crick and all the other successors, we will still feel certain that we have not really comprehended the thing in question. Philosophy since Kant has had trouble knowing what to do with those things for which there can be no Newton. I take it that Kant's general line, though, was that it is a tremendous mistake to leave what cannot be comprehended to those who don't understand or respect the limits of comprehension.

I am aware that to insist on the importance of plants is a species of Schwärmerei. But that something that is patently true, phenomenologically and scientifically, can only sound foolish when it is made explicit, is itself a measure of the impoverishment of what I might dare to call our natural philosophy, not a judgment of the quality of the observation. Plants would be at the center of any adequate natural philosophy, not off on the fringes with the stoners and the enthusiasts. And natural philosophy would be at the center of any adequate philosophy: an analysis of what earthly existence is really like for us, and of what is to count as ‘us’.
Further reading, strongly recommended: Emanuele Coccia, La vie des plantes. Une métaphysique du mélange, Éditions Payot & Rivage, 2016.

Movie Countdown

This is totally silly and way fun...

Yosemite Firefall

from: Archie McPhee's Endless Geyser of Awesome

A rare occurrence at Yosemite National Park happens when the setting sun illuminates the park’s Horsetail Fall turning it into a breathtaking “Firefall”. Suddenly the waterfall looks like molten lava spilling over the east side of El Capitan:

This dramatic event only happens when several conditions are just right: It’s early February, enough snow has fallen that winter to feed the waterfall, and the temperature is warm enough for the snow to melt so the fall is actively flowing.

Astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo wasn’t content with simply capturing the sunset Horsetail firefall. He wanted to capture an even rarer event when the firefall is caused by moonlight instead of the setting sun. The firefall itself looks much the same, but the background is instead a stunning starry night:

Head over to PetaPixel to learn how Rogelio Bernal Andreo set about capturing the moonlight Horsetail Firefall.

Visit Rogelio’s website


Trailer for New Neill Blomkamp

OATS STUDIOS: VOLUME 1 Trailer (2017) Neill Blomkamp Short Films 


Published on May 30, 2017
Oats Studios Volume 1 Trailer - 2017 Neill Blomkamp Steam Short Film

Neill Blomkamp directed "District 9", "Chappie", and "Elysium."  Can't wait to see this one! 1 min. 20 sec.

Shades of 'Blade Runner'

Anata No Warehouse 

from: Atlas Obscura

This faux-seedy Japanese arcade is made up to look like a maze of alleys straight out of a cyberpunk dystopia. 

Tired of arcades full of bright lights and clean neon features, all trying to lull you into a sense of false futurism? Well then Kawasaki, Japan’s Anata No Warehouse (“Your Warehouse”), a video arcade dressed up to look like the seedy back alley of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, is just the place for you.


 Ken Oyama

 Ken Oyama
 Ken Oyama



The builders took painstaking care to recreate an essentialist version of the already pretty fantastical walled city, so it’s easy to forget that this is a modern video game arcade. Even on the outside, the facade of the modern commercial building in which the arcade is housed has been made to look like it is made of dripping, rusting sheet metal, abruptly reverting to the clean modern concrete of the adjoining structures at its borders. Once visitors pass through the rusty (that adjective can be used to describe a lot of the features in Anata No Warehouse) iron doors, they are transported to a back alley of the grimy fake Kowloon. Walking to the elevators there are windows that look into staged rooms where fake prostitutes lounge. 

All over the walls are moisture stains and ads for shady dental and medical services. All throughout the multiple floors of the facility, the theme never lets up save for the modern dinging and clanging of the actual games. Everything from the hallways to the bathrooms are covered in fake filth and authentically recreated ads and detritus.
While building the arcade, the designers really did their homework, studying old photographs of Kowloon and its “atmosphere.” In addition to hand painting replica signs, the designers even had trash shipped over from Hong Kong so they could get a better idea of what that would look like.

Ken Oyama 
Ken Ohyama 

Ken Ohyama
The theme holds true throughout most of the arcade until one leaves through the back exit which takes visitors through a few rooms that are straight up sci-fi-fantasy. From a strange tunnel bathed in red light, to a mist-covered pool that must be traversed via fake boulders, and a ying-yang door that would be at home in Big Trouble In Little China. Come for the video games, but stay for the Blade Runner role play.

Radical Storms

FRACTAL - 4k StormLapse

The ingredient based explanation for supercell thunderstorms cites moisture, wind shear, instability and lift as the reasons for their formation. I prefer to focus on the big picture. Supercell thunderstorms are a manifestation of nature's attempt to correct an extreme imbalance. The ever ongoing effort to reach equilibrium, or viscosity, is what drives all of our weather, and the force with which the atmosphere tries to correct this imbalance is proportional to the gradient. In other words, the more extreme the imbalance, the more extreme the storm.

This collection of timelapses was gathered over the last six years. The project started out as wanting to be able to see the life-cycles of these storms, just for my own enjoyment and to increase my understanding of them. Over time, it morphed into an obsession with wanting to document as many photogenic supercells as I could, in as high a resolution as possible, as to be able to share with those who couldn't see first hand the majestic beauty that comes alive in the skies above America's Great Plains every Spring. After more than 100,000 miles on the road and tens of thousands of shutter clicks later, this is the result. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed creating it. 

Keep an eye out for a long form version of my storm timelapses, as these are a small sample of what I've been able to gather. I'm not sure yet how the extended version will be released. If you have any ideas regarding distribution or would like to license my work for your own project, please contact me:

Watch it HERE

I love teaching people about storms and severe weather and how to safely document them. Feel free to email me if you have any interest in joining me for a chase. June is by far the best time to go out, as the storms are more photogenic and slow moving than any other month. 

Follow me on these social media channels for more storm content:

"Big whirls have little whirls that feed on their velocity, and little whirls have lesser whirls, and so on to viscosity." - Meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson ("Weather Prediction by Numerical Process." Cambrige University Press, 1922)

This quote sums up perfectly what I've come to realize about weather and storms over the past 10 years of studying, forecasting and chasing them, and the part that I find most fascinating. On each scale level from synoptic-scale, which covers areas the size of multiple states, all the way down to micro-scale, which could be an area as small as your backyard, the fluid which we call air abides by the same universal physical laws of nature and thus acts in a very similar manner and patterns. 

A cold front, for example, is a phenomenon which is widely understood to mean a large scale line of advancing cold air, hundreds of miles long, along which supercell thunderstorms sometimes form. Within these smaller storm-scale environments, something called a rear-flank gust front forms on the southern end of the low pressure area of the mesocyclone, where the rain cooled air wraps around. This is effectively a storm's cold front. The cool air is more dense than the warm air, and because of this, advances into the region of lower density, just like the larger cold front on which the storm formed. 

The stunning supercell storm structure we see is along these relatively small, storm-scale cold fronts. This is what forms the "hook" on radar. Here, just as with the larger scale weather systems, the wedge of denser cool air at the surface meets the warm, moist, buoyant air in front of a storm, forcing it aloft and through the cap where the potential energy is realized. Given the right conditions, this development can be explosive. 

While Richardson's quote is more regarding turbulence than thermodynamics, his theory from nearly 100 years ago that our atmosphere behaves as a fractal has turned out to be spot on. A "top down" transfer of energy and behavior occurs, resulting in a Russian nesting doll of smaller scale systems that bear a striking resemblance to the larger.

I would like to offer a special thanks to my good friend Kevin X Barth who helped me edit this together, and found some semblance of a story arc in many disparate pieces. Kevin is an amazingly talented and creative artist in his own right, having won an Emmy as the editor of the ESPN 30 for 30 film WHEN THE GARDEN WAS EDEN. Check out his website if you're looking for an excellent editor or director for your project:

A big thanks to Tom Lowe as well, without whom I would probably still be trying to figure out what an intervelometer is. Tom is the mastermind behind Timescapes, the revolutionary timelapse film from a few years ago. He was kind enough to share his wealth of knowledge, as well as some camera gear.