Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday: Young artists describe dangers of trash in the ocean

Student artists are helping people understand how ocean creatures are affected by human trash. At least that’s the goal of the annual Marine Debris Art Contest, now in its sixth year. The contest is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program.

Aaron K, Grade 5, Michigan

Hundreds of entries from all over the country were submitted by students, from kindergarteners to eighth graders. I’ve selected a few of my favorites for this page, but you can see all 13 winning entries on the contest website. The 13 winners will have their drawings featured in an upcoming calendar, with one picture on the cover and one for each month. After posting, the calendar can be downloaded from NOAA’s website. To enlarge the pictures on this page, click directly on the image.

Cindy P, Grade 7, Mississippi

The express goal of the art contest is for students to learn about the worldwide problem of marine debris and to use their power of artistic expression to raise awareness. Winners were chosen for their creativity, artistic presentation, relevance to theme, and how thoroughly the students explained how marine debris affects the ocean and what people can do to help.

“The resulting calendar, featuring the winning artwork, will help to remind us every day how important it is for us to be responsible stewards of the ocean,” states the homepage for the contest.

Anastasia K, Grade 4, Pennsylvania

I’ve been promoting the contest and showing off the student artwork in this blog since the beginning, when the top winner was Araminta “Minty” Little, a seventh grader at Fairview Junior High School in Central Kitsap. See Minty’s picture of an octopus clutching lost junk in Water Ways, March 18, 2013.

I do wish that contest organizers would take the time to obtain whatever permissions are necessary so that the student artists can be recognized with their full names, schools and hometowns. As it is, we get to see only their first names and last initials — unless the students or their teachers contact the local newspaper for publicity, which is how I found out about Minty six years ago.

Luke G, Grade 3, Ohio

To download calendars from previous years, use the pull-down menu on the webpage of NOAA’s Marine Debris Art Contest.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s mission is to investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris. The program includes regional marine debris efforts, research and outreach to local communities. The main webpage includes links to public information, scientific reports and a blog about marine debris.

Jennie C, Grade 8, Massachusetts

Amusing Monday: Poet Sadakichi Hartmann and images on the sea

I was captivated by a brief but richly infused poem, “Why I Love Thee,” which arrived last week in my email, thanks to a free subscription to “Poem-a-Day” from the Academy of American Poets.

It’s been several months since I posted poetry in “Amusing Monday.” I believe the last time followed an enjoyable struggle through the long and symbolically laden poem “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane. See Water Ways, Nov. 26, 2018.

Why I Love Thee?

By Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944)

Why I love thee?
Ask why the seawind wanders,
Why the shore is aflush with the tide,
Why the moon through heaven meanders
Like seafaring ships that ride
On a sullen, motionless deep;
Why the seabirds are fluttering the strand
Where the waves sing themselves to sleep
And starshine lives in the curves of the sand!

Sadakichi Hartmann, poet and art critic, was born in Japan and grew up in Germany with lifelong cultural influences from both his German father and Japanese mother. He came to the U.S. at age 15, and at age 17 introduced himself to Walt Whitman, and they became lifelong friends.

Sadakichi Hartmann

Juliana Chang, who has explored the history of Asian American poetry, described Hartmann as “one of the most intriguing and overlooked figures in the history of American poetry.”

Hartmann popularized Japanese forms, including haiku and tanka, which are based on strict syllabic structure. But he playfully crossed the boundaries of form to focus on imagery and what he called “pictorial suggestion.” That’s what I see in the poem, “Why I Love Thee?” It really needs no further analysis.

Edward Moran, a literary historian, wrote in “The Massachusetts Review” that Hartmann lived in a liminal era between Victorianism and Modernism, where he “held court as the quintessential jack-of-all-trades: a poet, a playwright, an art critic, a pioneering photography critic, a newspaper reporter, a proto-beatnik/hippie (he was crowned King of the Bohemians in Greenwich Village exactly a century ago), silent-film extra (he appeared as the court magician in The Thief of Baghdad), and self-styled court jester to a Hollywood rat pack of the 1920s (John Barrymore described him as ‘a living freak. . . sired by Mephistopheles out of Madame Butterfly’).”

Additional academic discussion of Hartmann’s influence can be found in a piece, “Missing Link,” by Floyd Cheung, professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College in Massachusetts. In 2017, Cheung edited a book of Hartmann’s poems and letters.

Here’s another poem by Hartmann

Tanka

By Sadakichi Hartmann

I.
Winter? Spring? Who knows?
White buds from the plumtrees wing
And mingle with the snows.
No blue skies these flowers bring,
Yet their fragrance augurs Spring.

II.
Oh, were the white waves,
Far on the glimmering sea
That the moonshine laves,
Dream flowers drifting to me,—
I would cull them, love, for thee.

III.
Moon, somnolent, white,
Mirrored in a waveless sea,
What fickle mood of night
Urged thee from heaven to flee
And live in the dawnlit sea?

IV.
Like mist on the leas,
Fall gently, oh rain of Spring
On the orange trees
That to Ume’s casement cling—
Perchance, she’ll hear the love-bird sing.

V.
Though love has grown cold
The woods are bright with flowers,
Why not as of old
Go to the wildwood bowers
And dream of–bygone hours!

VI.
Tell, what name beseems
These vain and wandering days!
Like the bark of dreams
That from souls at daybreak strays
They are lost on trackless ways.

Amusing Monday: A new Earth Day anthem from a comedic rapper?

Loving the Earth is the theme of a new music video by comic rapper Lil Dicky, who enlisted the voices of two dozen famous singers to play the roles of animals in the video.

Just released Thursday, the video is one of the hottest-trending items on YouTube, where it reached 25 million views just before I posted this. With its catchy tune, the song is being promoted as a new anthem for Earth Day. Happy Earth Day!, by the way.

It feels almost redundant to share this video, considering all the anticipation and attention surrounding it, but it is a far more fun and amusing than the dull and somewhat ironic Earth Day message posted by Andrew Wheeler, the current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It was clever of Dave Burd, Lil Dicky’s real name, to put the voices of some famous singers into the bodies of animals, including Justin Bieber as a baboon, Ariana Grande as a zebra, Halsey as a lion cub, Zac Brown as a cow, Adam Levine as a vulture, Shawn Mendes as a rhino, Charlie Puth as a giraffe, Miley Cyrus as an elephant, Katy Perry as a pony, Ed Sheeran as a koala, Leonardo DiCaprio as himself, and several others.

Proceeds from the video will go to help out the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which strives to educate the public about the environment and climate change while working on environmental projects.

“Dicky frolics with penguins, analyzes chatty microbes under a microscope, and talks to a marijuana plant voiced by Snoop Dogg (duh),” writes Zoya Teirstein for Grist magazine. “The video might look like a Disney channel special, but isn’t too concerned with being wholesome (Justin Bieber’s line: ‘I’m a baboon. I’m like a man just less advanced and my anus is huge).’

“If you don’t want to watch an animated Lil Dicky sing about the planet in a loincloth g-string for seven minutes, I don’t blame you,” she continues. “But think of it this way: what if this whole video is a critique of the tired and worn-out tropes used by old-school Earth Day advocates? Hmm??”

Ellen DeGeneres was able to preview the video on her show last week, but she didn’t seem to have much time or know what to ask Lil Dicky — or Dave Burd, who turned 31 last month.

Burd, who grew up in a middle-class, Jewish family, launched his career by emphasizing feelings of self-consciousness in his characters. Lil Dicky’s first rap video in 2013 was “Ex Boyfriend,” which contains sexually explicit lyrics about feelings of inadequacy around a hot girlfriend. Ellen said she liked “Freaky Friday,” in which Lil Dicky suddenly finds himself in the body of Chris Brown with all of the implications that brings.

Dave Burd clearly has a knack for rap, and that may be where he continues to grow his comedic fame and fortune, but there is another side to this man who graduated from the University of Richmond in Virginia, and began working in account management for the advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (Bio, Wikipedia).

In a 2014 interview with Michael Trampe of HipHop magazine, Burd said: “I started rapping simply to get attention comedically, so I could write movies, write TV shows and act. I had very little interest in being a rapper. I fell in love with rapping though, so I’m not leaving that game until I’ve proved my point. However, I plan on having two concurrent careers going on at the same time, as a rapper, and as a comedian/actor/writer. I value the non-musical career just as much as the rap career, and can’t wait to begin acting on that.”

Amusing Monday: “Just for Laughs: Gags” seen in more than 100 countries

Whether you think “Just for Laughs: Gags” is hilarious or inane, the hidden-camera pranks have been viewed in more than 100 countries around the world. They are even shown on airline flights between countries.

Since nobody talks in the videos, no translation is needed. At the beginning of each video segment, actors show the viewers what they plan to do to their unsuspecting victims. At the end, the pranksters introduce themselves, and the cameras are revealed.

The “Just for Laughs: Gags” webpage on YouTube contains an estimated 2,000 videos showing practical jokes of all kinds, mostly performed on city streets. (I gave up counting the number of videos about halfway through, and it would be near-impossible to figure out the number of page views.) For this blog post, I’ve chosen four water-related bits.

The original “Just for Laughs” is the name given to a comedy festival held each year in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Founded in 1983 by Canadian Gilbert Rozon, it is the largest and most important comedy show in the world, according to a 2007 story in The Guardian. (For more history, see Wikipedia.)

“Just for Laughs: Gags” borrowed the familiar name in 2000, when producers launched a new television prank show based on “Candid Camera.” It was shown first on the French Canadian television network Channel D and was later picked up by networks based in the United Kingdom, France, the U.S. and about 30 other countries. (Wikipedia)

For my taste, a few of these videos at a time is enough, but they are so ubiquitous on YouTube that you are likely to run into them at any time. Be careful or you will find yourself going down a rabbit hole and coming back with a few hours missing from your life.

Some people are perplexed that anyone would enjoy these videos. Keyan Gray Tomaselli, a South African communication professor, author and media critic, called the series “inane” in his book about cultural tourism after he watched some segments on a commercial flight. He also noted in his book that his comment elicited an apology from a Canadian friend of his.

But other people have praised the universal appeal of this type of humor, which harkens back to the days of silent films and slapstick comedy.

Major Ray Wiss, a Canadian soldier who wrote about his two tours in Afghanistan, said building a relationship with Afghan soldiers took more than just eating and playing cards with them. Television really broke the ice, he said, noting that “for pure social connection” there was nothing like “JFL: Gags.”

“The Afghans got the jokes and laughed as hard as I did,” Wiss wrote. “Yes, these people are different from us. But they are far less different than many would believe.” See the excerpt from “A Line in the Sand: Canadians at War in Kandahar.”

Amusing Monday: Eco-comedy videos have gotten edgier than ever

Amateur video producers seem to have grown darker and more intense in dealing with the topic of climate change — even when their task is to create a humorous video. At least that seems to be a trend in this year’s Eco-Comedy Video Competition, a trend I mentioned last week in Water Ways with respect to stand-up comedy.

Winners were recently announced in the annual Eco-Comedy competition, a contest that challenged people to create a two-or three-minute video about climate change while using humor to engage their audience. Sponsors were the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University in Washington, D.C., and The Nature Conservancy.

The competition was open to anyone, with four categories available for entries: kindergarten-eighth grade, high school, college, and nonstudent. More than 250 entries were submitted for this year’s contest.

Judges included Bethany Hall, comedian-in-residence at AU’s Center for Media and Social Impact, and Keith Haskal, producer for Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”.

“Office Fish,” shown in the first video, is a provocative piece about the migration of species brought about by shifting ecosystems as a result of climate change. The short film, which was the winner in the college category, was directed by Benjamin Vornehm of the University of Television and Film in Munich, Germany, with photography under the direction of Alexander Dirninger.

“Climate Change is Real” shows a rapper getting in the faces of young students. The film, second on this page, was produced and directed by Jake Rasmussen and was written and performed by Tom McGovern. Rasmussen is an independent filmmaker who has worked for VICE Media.

Links to all of this year’s winners, along with grand prize winners from previous years, can be found on the Eco-Comedy website.

Amusing Monday: Climate-change comedy grows more intense

The growing urgency of climate change is altering the nature of comedy among those who tell jokes for a living. I’ve noticed a greater intensity in the satire, as warnings from scientists become more specific about the imposing reality of climate change.

Rachel Parris of the BBC’s “Mash Report” discusses this dire topic in a most cheerful way, as you can see in the first video.

“Some of you have been asking, ‘Rachel, all this feels kind of inevitable,’” Rachel says in the video. “’Would it be better if we just give up and let the world burn? Who really needs birds and trees? I’d rather just be taking pictures of my own face.’”

Maybe the damage would be less, Rachel continues, if we all went limp and “floppy” like a drunk person falling out of a window.

Climate-change comedy used to be mostly jabs about higher temperatures and rising oceans. When he hosted “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno would toss out one-liners about what would happen if the Earth continued to warm beyond 2015: “Hillary Clinton might actually thaw out.”

Reader’s Digest once suggested new names for cities when the polar ice caps melt, names such as “Atlantis City, New Jersey.”

Mary Pols, a reporter for the Press Herald in Portland, Maine, uncovered the Leno and Reader’s Digest jokes and others while touching on the history of climate-change comedy. Her story focused mostly on a local man, Jason Wentworth, who gave up his green laundry business to launch a career in comedy, focusing on climate change. He has even set up a Go-Fund-Me account to get started, as seen in the last video on this page.

Jason’s routine often targets his own audience with jokes about the failure of people to address climate change on an individual level. I would think this would leave audience members feeling at least a bit uncomfortable. Here’s one of Jason’s jokes cited by Mary Pols:

“So many people say, ‘I would ride public transit more, but it is so inconvenient.’ My response is, ‘Have you tried it?’ I want to talk about how inconvenient it is to row Grandma in a canoe to a Red Cross center after a hurricane and then return to your house to rip out wet sheetrock. Or if you live in Paradise, California, it is super inconvenient.”

“Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” sharpened its approach after dire warnings came out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as you can see in the second video.

“We don’t really worry about climate change, because it is too overwhelming, and we’re already in too deep,” says co-host Colin Jost. “It’s like if you owe your bookie a thousand dollars, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I gotta pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie a million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just gonna die!’”

It seems some of the late-night hosts are becoming less humorous about climate change and more direct in their sarcasm. I featured video clips from Stephen Colbert’s show in Water Ways in February. The third video on this page is a clip from “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” who has always found the right sarcastic voice for his news-based commentaries.

Amusing Monday: Citizen scientists lend their eyes and ears

Just about anyone interested in becoming a citizen scientist can participate in real-life research projects by connecting with Zooniverse, a website that has been expanding and refining its projects since I first wrote about it in Water Ways in 2017.

Zooniverse enlists the power of many people to analyze raw data of various kinds. As a participant, you sit down at your computer and follow instructions to make observations about nature, history, art, language or other fields of your choosing.

“The major challenge of 21st century research is dealing with the flood of information we can now collect about the world around us,” says the description on the Zooniverse webpage. “Computers can help, but in many fields the human ability for pattern recognition — and our ability to be surprised — makes us superior.”

The accumulation of human observations from a Zooniverse project can be used to actually train computers to make the observations, which ultimately speeds up the process of data analysis even more.

“With our wide-ranging and ever-expanding suite of projects, covering many disciplines and topics across the sciences and humanities, there’s a place for anyone and everyone to explore, learn and have fun in the Zooniverse,” states the description. “To volunteer with us, just go to the Projects page, choose one you like the look of, and get started.”

“These projects produce science,” declares Chris Lintott, professor of astrophysics and the citizen science lead at Oxford University, (at 7:14 into the first video on this page.) “But that’s not the interesting thing about it…. What’s interesting are the people who are participating — a half-million people or so who are registered with the Zooniverse…

“These aren’t people who are already science fans…, nor are they science-phobic. They’re the kind of people who, if they are reading the Metro and there’s a science story, would read it. But they wouldn’t buy “New Scientist.”

While the people participating in Zooniverse contribute to real science projects, they are also learning about cutting-edge science, Lintott says, going on to describe what he knows about the participants.

Here are a few projects that caught my attention:

Floating forests

Giant kelp, a fast-growing seaweed considered critical habitat for many marine species, changes its growth patterns from year to year. Citizen scientists are needed to interpret satellite images, because so far computers are unable to determine the edges of kelp beds from Landsat photos.

“These satellites photograph the entire surface of the earth every 16 days and have been doing so since 1984,” states the description of the project. “When one of our project scientists first began working with these images, he had hoped he could just throw the hundreds of thousands of images into some image classification software, and have the software tell him where kelp was located.

“There’s just one problem: Landsat was not designed to be able to see kelp. Kelp’s reflectance signature (the color of light that it reflects) is just at the edge of the camera’s detection abilities. Because of this, kelp and something as simple as the glint of sun off of a wave look the same to a computer.

“But to a person, the shapes and patterns of kelp forests are fairly obvious. That’s where you come in. By tracing patches of kelp, you can do a far more accurate job than a computer, helping to process this mountain of data!”

Penguin Watch

As described by Chris Lintott in the first video, Penguin Watch asks observers to identify adult and baby penguins from images taken with remote, unmanned cameras that automatically take pictures of penguin colonies over time.

“Currently, there are numerous serious threats to marine predators in the Southern Ocean: namely climate change, fisheries and direct human disturbance,” states a description of the project. “However, despite over a hundred years of study in the region, we have little baseline information against which to measure change…

“Camera technology affords us the ability to deploy terminator-style biologists (they don’t sleep, they don’t eat) in hard-to-reach areas, or in places where human presence might disturb wildlife and therefore disrupt their behavior. By establishing a camera network in the Southern Ocean … we hope to capture novel behaviors and study penguin populations that have never before been observed owing to their remote locations.”

Other projects you might find interesting:

Seabird Watch, a project that classifies seabirds in remote locations

Cedar Creek Eyes on the Wild, a project that identifies animals and their interactions at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve north of Minneapolis, Minn.

Manatee Chat, a project that classifies the sounds that manatees make in an effort to identify calls related to communications.

Amusing Monday: Evolution of sea snakes takes twists and turns

I’ve always felt fortunate that residents of Western Washington need not worry about encountering a deadly snake while hiking in our home territory. The same goes for divers and sea snakes — which are even more venomous than terrestrial snakes. The cold waters of Washington and Oregon tend to keep the sea snakes away.

The same used to be said for California, where sea snake sightings were once extremely rare. That has been changing, however, the past few years — especially during years when higher ocean temperatures encourage tropical creatures to make their way north. Is it just a matter of time before Washington scuba divers begin to report the presence of sea snakes?

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Amusing Monday: Orca researcher Jayda Guy finds success in music

Jayda Guy, aka Jayda G, a native of British Columbia, has embraced her dual passions for science and music like few other people in the world today. She has somehow been able to link her experiences as a killer whale researcher to a creative mindset as a musical DJ, singer, songwriter and producer, with a debut album coming out this month.

The new album, “Significant Changes,” was inspired in part by the orcas and the natural wonders of the Salish Sea, where she conducted her studies. The album came together last year, not long after she completed her master’s degree in resource management from Simon Fraser University. Her research focused on the effects of toxic chemicals on our southern resident killer whales.

“I’m trying to bring my two worlds together to bridge the communication gap (and) engage people in a new way,” she told Andy Malt, editor of Complete Music Update. “I don’t know if people in the electronic music world will want to talk about the environment, but I think I should try! I think it’s our duty to use a platform like this in a positive way; that’s our social responsibility.”

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Amusing Monday: Inspiration from underwater photos

More than 5,000 underwater photographs, taken by photographers from 65 countries, were submitted for judging in the annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

“Gentle Giants” ©François Baelen/UPY2019

The contest, based in Great Britain, was started in 1965 and celebrates the art and technology of capturing images under water — from the depths of the ocean to “split shots” at the surface, from open waters to enclosed estuaries, from lakes to even swimming pools.

I first reported on this contest in Watching Our Water Ways last year and received such a positive response from readers that I decided to make it an annual feature of this blog. The 125 winning entries are shown in an online Gallery of the 2019 winners. A series of videos provides insight from the photographers telling the stories that surround their winning entries.

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