Photo: Critical Mass #2

Here’s a second photo from June’s Critical Mass bike ride in Vancouver.

Before the ride starts all the cyclists gather at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Friends find each other and you get to talk about how sweet bikes are and how great riding them is. It’s always during Critical Mass that I get a tinge of bike envy. I mean, I love my bike; I’ve got it just how I want it, but there’s always so many other well thought-out bikes to admire. Everyone brings out their slick fixies to show off. This refurbished-looking pink bike has especially well-matched components.

I know you guys have some sweet bikes. We should plan to go for a bicycle ride soon.

Video: Camera Fail

For a while I’ve been thinking about good ways to mount my camera on my bike. This week’s attempt apparently wasn’t a good way. Having used my bike trailer for loads of riding, I thought it was a secure platform. The only time it had flipped, prior to this week, was when I turned too tightly and rolled one wheel up the curb. So I thought, with a solid tripod attached at its lowest setting, a camera could be mounted, giving me some great moving footage. I had images swimming in my mind of all the great shots such a platform would allow me.

Well my dreams were promptly dashed when I tested my setup. I failed to accurately assess the risk, and I had assumed that the heavy, low trailer would be adequate to offset the weight of the higher camera. I didn’t realize that the centre of gravity was as high as it turned out to be. Additionally, I had set the camera off to one side, so that I could get a bit of the side of the bike and beyond. This exposed me to an increased risk of flipping the rig in one direction, which I did almost immediately.

I blew it, as the video above shows. Unfortunately the camera failed to record the exact moment of the drop, and continued only after it had settled on its side. The result was a decent amount of damage to the left side of the camera. Things could have been much worse, but I have new audio issues to contend with. Additionally, I probably lost a chunk of the camera’s value, which cost me almost 2 month’s income when I bought it last year.

The pavement hit the XLR cable that sticks out the side, so the XLR jack took the brunt of the force. The strike punched the jack in and tore the little XLR unit apart at the seam.

A small piece of plastic which clipped the plastic casing together and held the screw anchor for another piece of casing (removed in photo) sheared off. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t get the casing back together again.

The punched in XLR jack caused a screw to strip through the plastic casing. The channel 1 jack doesn’t work now. The second channel, which wasn’t being used, seems to work. I may be getting a mono signal rather than a stereo signal. I’ll have to investigate that further.

The rest of the camera appears to be fine, albeit with a few more scratches that reveal the mistreatment that has transpired here. The lens and overall video seem to be unharmed, and the shotgun mic that was attached seems to sound fine (unless that’s the source of the stereo problem, which I doubt).

Well it would have been nice, but needless to say, I won’t be doing any bike-mounted filming any time too soon. You’ll have to enjoy the brief shot I’ve got, and join me in laughing off this entire costly episode.

G20 Footage

Courtesy of Reuters

I’ve been sifting through some of the footage of today’s demonstrations-turned-riot in Toronto. This one stands out as the most outrageous. I can’t believe that, given the overwhelming police presence in the city, these two cop cars were left there unattended for so long. There’s a ridiculous drunk guy who basically seizes control. Check out his wacky bike trick at 1:17.

Of course the burning police cars are hogging the imagery that’s being circulated around the world, but watching it unfold, it’s shocking that the police allowed it to happen at all.

Subversive Entertainment: Whale Wars

With the third season of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars underway (the above clip is from the second episode) and with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) currently meeting in Morocco, it seems like a great time to post on the issue of whale hunting.

In a sense, the issue is extremely complicated, as issues based on international law often are, but in another sense it’s quite simple. To some, such as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and the Japanese whalers with whom the Sea Shepherds wage battle after battle, the issue is black and white.

I’ll try to outline the issue as clearly and accurately as I can. Essentially, the hunting of large cetaceans (ie. whales) is prohibited under an IWC moratorium dating back to 1986. Among the member countries of the IWC there is debate as to whether the management of small cetaceans (ei. dolphins and other porpoises) falls under the IWC mandate. Certainly small cetaceans are not part of the 1986 moratorium, however issues such as bycatch (accidental small cetacean kills while fishing for other marine animals) and scientific research have been taken up by the IWC.

The moratorium on whaling specifically excludes certain activities. In Canada, the US, and other countries aboriginal communities have been permitted to continue traditional whaling for subsistence. There are also allowable annual quotas for scientific research. It is under this pretext that Japan continues to hunt whales. Many countries and NGOs have criticized the scientific pretext for the hunt, as the whale meat is eventually marketed for profit. Finally, the IWC is nothing more than a voluntary organization, so a country can simply leave the organization in protest and continue to kill whales for overtly commercial purposes. Norway and Iceland fall in this category.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr group ASOC

A regulatory body rife with internal controversy and ultimately no binding authority is clearly going to have a difficult time curtailing a trade in something as valuable as whale meat. Indeed, since the 1986 moratorium began, roughly 30,000 whales have been killed. This has not escaped the attention of some of the best-known NGOs, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund), Greenpeace International, and The Sea Shepherds. Organizations like these three continually wage anti-whaling campaigns. Since a reality television series (the above-mentioned Whale Wars) is based on their exploits, and due to the controversial nature of their annual campaign and tactics, the Sea Shepherds probably receive the most attention.

Formally founded in 1981, the Sea Shepherds are basically a spin-off of the early Greenpeace. Sea Shepherd leader Captain Paul Watson was an active member of Greenpeace, and joined many of Greenpeace’s founders in the organization’s early days. However due to his “unrelenting desire to push himself front and centre,” as early Greenpeace leader Bob Hunter wrote, and his generally divisive and mutinous nature, Watson was ejected from the organization in 1977.

There is still friction between these two organizations. Although they often find themselves waging battles against the same foes, they have refused to cooperate with each other, citing differences in tactics. Continually they have accused each other of being ineffective, counterproductive, uncooperative, inaccurate, or simply publicity hogs. During the antarctic campaigns, Watson often solicits intelligence from Greenpeace. It is rarely, if ever provided. Although he doesn’t shy away from blasting Greenpeace’s tactics, which he has reduced to “photo taking,” Watson routinely goads Greenpeace, requesting cooperation or a sense of kinship.

Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Last week Watson, aboard the Sea Shepherd flagship, the Steve Irwin, came across the Greenpeace vessel, Arctic Sunrise in the Mediterranean Sea. Both groups are in the Mediterranean in an effort to control the tuna fisheries, which have put the large fish at risk. Watson chased the Arctic Sunrise down for a photo op (left), although Greenpeace tried to avoid it. Watson again solicited some cooperation from his counterparts, as their missions run in parallel, but he was rebuffed. He wrote about the incident with a hint of nostalgia and put a positive spin on his feelings toward Greenpeace.

Greenpeace has continued to maintain that due to their unwavering commitment to nonviolence, they cannot work with the Sea Shepherds. Of course Watson characterizes his tactics as nonviolent, but not with the same resolute and clear definition.

Greenpeace activist are willing to put themselves at risk, as are Sea Shepherd activists, however Greenpeace refuses to put anybody else at risk. Greenpeace activists will go out in small boats and block the path of a whaler’s harpoon, but they won’t attack the whalers.

The Sea Shepherds (again, calling it nonviolent) will throw glass bottles filled with butyric acid (rotten butter) aboard whaling and fishing vessels. The butyric acid is not all that dangerous, just nauseating and stinky, but throwing glass bottles with anything inside could cause injury. Watson also uses tactics like the deployment of prop-foulers, which are aimed at jamming the whaling ship’s propellers, thus immobilizing the whalers. The prop-foulers never seem to work, but hypothetically, immobilizing a ship in the Antarctic Ocean could be very dangerous.

Photot courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The Sea Shepherds will point out that, despite their confrontational and aggressive tactics, people are never hurt or killed. Greenpeace says that isn’t enough; people could get killed. Furthermore, Watson’s actions antagonize many members of the public who don’t understand them, or simply don’t agree with them. While Watson feigns indifference to public opinion (he says he’s working for the whales, not for people), Greenpeace’s campaigns rely on public relations and swaying public opinion. Finally, Greenpeace worries that, because of their common origins, common goals, and relatively similar actions, many members of the public confuse the two organizations, and blame Greenpeace for Watson’s occasionally destructive actions.

The Dalai Lama has recently weighed in on the issue of Sea Shepherd tactics. While in Japan last week, he stated that he supports the goal of the Sea Shepherds to end the hunting of whales, but asserted that their tactics should be nonviolent. Apparently Paul Watson’s version of nonviolence isn’t quite robust enough for His Holiness. Watson, in response, “accepted” the guidance of the Dalai Lama, but suggested that he was a victim of misinformation and that accusations of bodily harm done by the Sea Shepherds were fabrications.

Disagreements within the conservation movement aside, The IWC is facing massive disagreements that could compromise the entire moratorium on whaling. While we wait for that to play out this week, enjoy the entertainment value of the Whale Wars television program. It’s like Deadliest Catch, but with activists rather than crab fishermen. The producers of the show always state both the position of the Sea Shepherds and that of the whalers, but it’s obvious that the narrative is being told from the side of the conservationists, replete with their emotional side of each battle.

I figure if you were a kid watching Whale Wars it would be the coolest show ever, with no mystery about who the villains are and who our heroes are. The Sea Shepherds also have a helicopter and all kinds of speedboats; that’s pretty cool. Although you’re likely to take their side, given the way the controversy is portrayed in Whale Wars, by no means does it candy coat the activists’ actions. Their bumbling and missteps are always included.

The show airs Friday nights at 9pm on Animal Planet. Many clips from the show are available on Animal Planet’s website. If you’re into downloading torrents, you can probably download past episodes easily enough. You’ll find the torrent for the first season here (hopefully you’ll be spared the porn ads which occasionally occur on bit torrent sites).

Finally, as a postscript, if you want a great historical look at the US whaling industry, check out this recent episode of American Experience on PBS: Into the Deep – America, Whaling & the World.