ORIGINAL

Slingshots of the oceanic

2 minutes

The driver is red

15 minutes

Making an agate teapot

7 minutes

Black sheep

16 minutes

Xmas unwrapped

2 minutes

Why Ancient Pacific mariners were the NASA scientists of their day

Adapted from a post at BLDGBLOG, this short animation is an Aeon original made in collaboration with the filmmaker and animator Flora Lichtman.

There are many ways of moving through the Universe – of travelling from one point to another over great, even extraordinary distances. There is also a way of using the world for your own ends: taking advantage of slopes, winds, currents or gravitational fields, as fuel-efficient resources for your own acceleration.

Gravity-assisted space travel is one such example, when a spacecraft uses the gravitational pull of a nearby planet or other celestial body to ‘slingshot’ itself toward another, more distant goal. Crucially, the target or destination here is one that could not have been reached without this assistance, not only in terms of the ship’s velocity but even in terms of its original direction of travel.

You head toward one place to get to another – or, channelling Hamlet, ‘by indirections find directions out’.

Remarkably, this metaphorically rich idea of heading in one direction to arrive somewhere else entirely connects gravitational slingshots with the oceangoing people who settled remote island chains in the South Pacific. These ancient mariners learned to use a combination of seasonal winds and celestial navigation to push ever farther east, reaching the most extreme outer edges of Polynesia.

Early human settlement of the offshore Pacific revolved, in part, around enduring, large-scale meteorological phenomena that are still little understood. Most of these phenomena relied on what the maritime historian Brian Fagan called ‘an elaborate, usually slow-moving waltz involving two partners – the atmosphere and the ocean’. The local seasonal winds, combined with large but predictable long-term climatological events the size of continents, could be used to propel people from one archipelago to another.

We can draw a rough analogy between this climatologically assisted exploration of the remote outer Pacific and the careful interplanetary techniques of gravity-assisted space travel. Imagine, for example, a well-organised group of extreme maritime navigators standing on the shores of an isolated Pacific island chain 1,000 years ago, looking much further out to sea, knowing that there are distant land masses there, ever more island worlds whose presence is implied by the behaviour of the winds, clouds and currents.

More important, from generations’ worth of experience navigating the vast and inhospitable space of the Pacific, these same families know that only a particularly strong atmospheric cycle will be able to take them there – and that they must wait another season, another year, another decade, for these assistive winds to arrive. They are timing their launch.

Like NASA scientists calculating the positions of Mars and Jupiter as they hope to slingshot themselves beyond the black horizon of the solar system, these navigators would have known that the regional winds also move in cycles, or perhaps even that an unpredictable 100-year superstorm will be required to bring them further out into the ocean.

Awaiting these alignments, they temporarily become land-based, settling on a particular island and raising their children on the atmospheric folklore of a journey yet to come – telling themselves a science fiction not of interplanetary travel, but a kind of anthropological Star Trek of outer-sea exploration. Then, of course, the winds pick up – or ominous Antarctic clouds begin to appear on the southern horizon again for the first time in a generation – and everyone knows what these signs really mean. The skies are clicking back into place and, spurred on by this vast meteorological clock, they begin to build new canoes, their own wooden space probes for pushing the limits of a maritime universe.

It’s simply a different kind of sling-shotting: not between planets using gravity, but from island chain to island chain, riding a long tail of Pacific winds you know won’t last, and that only appear once per generation. Future storms will take you to distant archipelagoes where your descendants will then have to wait another year—another decade, another century—memorising the climate and plotting their woven way through the ‘slow-moving waltz’ of the world’s rhythmic winds and currents.

– Geoff Manaugh

Director: Flora Lichtman

Producer: Flora Lichtman, Ruth Lichtman, Kellen Quinn

Narrator and writer: Geoff Manaugh

Music: Martin Crane

A spy thriller for an era in which the Holocaust risks being forgotten

‘The noose that had hung his friends after the war for what they had done, the noose that he thought he had escaped, had found him.’

In the wake of the Second World War, former SS officials and Nazi collaborators fled Europe, hoping to evade prosecution and knowing that South American governments were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Eichmann, the chief ‘architect’ of the Holocaust, was the highest ranking member of the Third Reich to escape to the continent, where he made Buenos Aires his new home and ‘Ricardo Klement’ his new name.

The US artist Randall Christopher’s animation The Driver Is Red follows the Israeli mission that captured Eichmann on 11 May 1960, forcing him to finally stand trial for his crimes. With the pace and tension of a spy thriller, the short documentary frames the fervour for justice as a tribute to those who committed themselves to tracking down Nazi war criminals long after the Second World War’s end. Now that very few people with memories of Nazism’s rise are still alive, Christopher made the film freely available online, warning of the ominous spectre of ‘extreme nationalism, open racism, attacks on the press [and] reckless talk of war’ in our own era.

Director: Randall Christopher

Producers: Jared Callahan, Randall Christopher, Spencer Rabin

Website: The Driver Is Red

How do you bring an 18th-century ceramic teapot to life? An artist puzzles it out

Agateware is a distinctive style of ceramics that became popular in England during the 18th century. Crafting it calls for an intricate process of moulding and layering clay materials, culminating in a marbleised, multicoloured glow on each piece after glaze firing. In this short video from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Michelle Erickson – an American ceramic artist who was a ceramics resident there in 2012 – attempts to recreate an 18th-century agateware teapot from the museum’s collection. Combining historical expertise with educated guesswork and artistic dexterity, she works out how to duplicate the original. While her final product is an impressive display of artistic mimicry, the true marvel of her work is the way that her thinking shapes and is shaped by the act of her making.

What ultranationalism offers working-class teens in England’s north

The British filmmaker Christian Cerami knows firsthand how easily white working-class teens in the north of England can succumb to racist and Islamophobic ideologies. His short documentary Black Sheep (2015) follows Sam and Jack, two teenage brothers in the same town where Cerami was raised, who feel the pull of the far-Right anti-Muslim organisation the English Defence League (EDL). With their parents seemingly absent, the two brothers set out to attend an EDL protest in Bradford, West Yorkshire, on 12 October 2013. The march marked the group’s first demonstration since its controversial leader Tommy Robinson resigned, claiming that the organisation he’d co-founded had grown too extreme. While the older brother Sam finds fraternity and a sense of purpose amid the mob, 13-year-old Jack waivers between naive enthusiasm and skepticism. With a raw but purposeful observational style, Cerami skilfully traces both distressing and poignant moments to convey the deep contradictions of ultranationalism.

Director: Christian Cerami

Producer: Alex Sedgley

Director of Production: Simon Plunket

Christmas is coming and Santa’s Chinese workshops have been on the case since summer

Ah, the holiday season: friends, family, good cheer and cheap disposable goods at every turn. This wryly festive short by the UK filmmaker Toby Smith takes us on a brief tour of what are known as ‘just-in-time’ factories in Yuwe in China, facilities that produce seasonally themed commodities for consumption in the West. Set to a children’s choir belting out an insistently cheerful Cantonese rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’, Xmas Unwrapped shows one stop on the supply chain of items such as candied apples, Christmas hats and other assorted seasonal trinkets with limited shelf lives. Depending on one’s ideological bent, it can be seen as a takedown of holiday wastefulness or an oddball celebration of global commerce. Far less ambiguous, however, is Smith, for whom the film is ‘a jab at Western consumption’.

Why Ancient Pacific mariners were the NASA scientists of their day

Adapted from a post at BLDGBLOG, this short animation is an Aeon original made in collaboration with the filmmaker and animator Flora Lichtman.

There are many ways of moving through the Universe – of travelling from one point to another over great, even extraordinary distances. There is also a way of using the world for your own ends: taking advantage of slopes, winds, currents or gravitational fields, as fuel-efficient resources for your own acceleration.

Gravity-assisted space travel is one such example, when a spacecraft uses the gravitational pull of a nearby planet or other celestial body to ‘slingshot’ itself toward another, more distant goal. Crucially, the target or destination here is one that could not have been reached without this assistance, not only in terms of the ship’s velocity but even in terms of its original direction of travel.

You head toward one place to get to another – or, channelling Hamlet, ‘by indirections find directions out’.

Remarkably, this metaphorically rich idea of heading in one direction to arrive somewhere else entirely connects gravitational slingshots with the oceangoing people who settled remote island chains in the South Pacific. These ancient mariners learned to use a combination of seasonal winds and celestial navigation to push ever farther east, reaching the most extreme outer edges of Polynesia.

Early human settlement of the offshore Pacific revolved, in part, around enduring, large-scale meteorological phenomena that are still little understood. Most of these phenomena relied on what the maritime historian Brian Fagan called ‘an elaborate, usually slow-moving waltz involving two partners – the atmosphere and the ocean’. The local seasonal winds, combined with large but predictable long-term climatological events the size of continents, could be used to propel people from one archipelago to another.

We can draw a rough analogy between this climatologically assisted exploration of the remote outer Pacific and the careful interplanetary techniques of gravity-assisted space travel. Imagine, for example, a well-organised group of extreme maritime navigators standing on the shores of an isolated Pacific island chain 1,000 years ago, looking much further out to sea, knowing that there are distant land masses there, ever more island worlds whose presence is implied by the behaviour of the winds, clouds and currents.

More important, from generations’ worth of experience navigating the vast and inhospitable space of the Pacific, these same families know that only a particularly strong atmospheric cycle will be able to take them there – and that they must wait another season, another year, another decade, for these assistive winds to arrive. They are timing their launch.

Like NASA scientists calculating the positions of Mars and Jupiter as they hope to slingshot themselves beyond the black horizon of the solar system, these navigators would have known that the regional winds also move in cycles, or perhaps even that an unpredictable 100-year superstorm will be required to bring them further out into the ocean.

Awaiting these alignments, they temporarily become land-based, settling on a particular island and raising their children on the atmospheric folklore of a journey yet to come – telling themselves a science fiction not of interplanetary travel, but a kind of anthropological Star Trek of outer-sea exploration. Then, of course, the winds pick up – or ominous Antarctic clouds begin to appear on the southern horizon again for the first time in a generation – and everyone knows what these signs really mean. The skies are clicking back into place and, spurred on by this vast meteorological clock, they begin to build new canoes, their own wooden space probes for pushing the limits of a maritime universe.

It’s simply a different kind of sling-shotting: not between planets using gravity, but from island chain to island chain, riding a long tail of Pacific winds you know won’t last, and that only appear once per generation. Future storms will take you to distant archipelagoes where your descendants will then have to wait another year—another decade, another century—memorising the climate and plotting their woven way through the ‘slow-moving waltz’ of the world’s rhythmic winds and currents.

– Geoff Manaugh

Director: Flora Lichtman

Producer: Flora Lichtman, Ruth Lichtman, Kellen Quinn

Narrator and writer: Geoff Manaugh

Music: Martin Crane

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