Friday, June 20, 2008

I Should Be Studying

Sweet. I am going to Burning Man. My low-income ticket application was accepted, so I'll be enjoying commerce-free living and installation art with my Mormon friend and possibly her mom while likely being quite weirded out by a million raving hippies in the desert for a week after my exam and before school starts.

Speaking of cavorting with hippies, I spent most of Wednesday watching the football stadium tree-sit sh-t hit the fan. Arborists started cutting down the ropes and structures that the tree-sitters built. The fence was lined with 20 or so police officers, but one dude managed to climb up a telephone pole, and one of his friends on the inside threw him a rope and he managed to make his way inside. One guy got arrested for grabbing the tools of the arborist who was trying to interfere with the guy who was trying to make his way into the trees. Some people shoved the cops arresting him, and the cops responded by cross-checking the shovers with their billy clubs. The craziest part was the gigantic crane that lowered baskets with arborists to the vicinity of "the God box," this ridiculously unsafe little platform the tree-sitters have built up about 10 feet higher than the top of one redwood in the grove. Imagine a bathtub propped up by an umbrella and a couple 2x4's on the top of some Dr. Seuss-esque stack of random stuff on top of one finger of the Grinch, all 150 feet off the ground, swaying in the wind. This girl Dumpster Muffin (which I have to admit is a pretty awesome trail-name) was inside the box, and she'd scream like a banshee and bang on the side of the box any time the crane got near her. News came that the court decision came down upholding the injunction against cutting cutting down the trees (but the police have long had permission to remove the sitters) and things calmed down a little.

Here are the latest Chron stories about the affair (1, 2) Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera to school that day.

It was really interesting to watch. Some of the protesters are ridiculous, some are intelligent. It was interesting to see how arborists (not trained to deal with riots or protests) reacted arrogantly to verbal abuse from protesters, and the cops (trained) made absolutely no reaction to you unless you spoke to them politely or starting pushing on the barriers or something. It makes sense that the arborists are the ones to go in and cut down the stuff since they know how to climb trees, but they're not trained to restrain or arrest people, so there's a very real chance that somebody will get hurt. Of course the sitters would say there's absolute certainty that the trees will be hurt if construction goes forward.

And maybe to gain back some environmentalist street-cred since I'm on the side of the athletic facility (although both sides seem to be totally intransigent), I'll tell you how much I loved, loved, loved Peter Heller's The Whale Warriors, which I just finished listening to. It took me a while to get started because the guy who read it has the most soporific voice I've ever heard in my life, but once I got used to it, I was able to really appreciate the book. It's by a National Geographic journalist that tagged along on one of Sea Shephard's missions to stop whaling by the Japanese in the southern oceans. Sea Shephard is run by Paul Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace who, depending on who you ask, was kicked out for his extreme tactics or left because of personal differences. He runs his small all-volunteer crewed ship the Farley Mowat down to the antarctic where the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) kill whales in the name of "research." There is an international moratorium on commercial whaling (which Iceland decided to blatantly disregard in 2006), so the Japanese call it research, but several respectable peer-reviewed scientific bodies say that (a) you don't need to kill whales to do the research that really needs to be done, and (b) the only research that the ICR does is to say "yep, that's another dead whale," and then the meat is sold for consumption. So Watson takes his shoe-string budget ship around and tries to foul the props on the whaling boats, ram them, or otherwise physically prevent them from whaling. Greenpeace is also active in the same waters, but they don't actually stop the whalers and instead just hold up banners and take a bunch of photos. Sea Shepherd has never hurt or killed anyone, but their extreme methods get them labeled as pirates and eco-terrorists, which doesn't entirely distress Watson since increasing the stakes could help with the PR battle he's waging.

Anyway, the book was really good. I found it thoroughly convincing that, even if you disagree with Watson's methods, the seas are dramatically over-fished and already existing international law should be enforced to stop all whaling. It's part adventure-travel narrative, part peer-reviewed scientific evidence, and part beautiful and poetically written stories of the writer's and others' experiences while diving with marine mammals that clearly show their amazing intelligence (I wish I had a physical copy of the book so I could quote the one or two that made me cry).

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