Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Whales, Cows, Pigs, Cars and Motorbikes

Whales, Cows, Pigs, Sheep, Fish, Chickens, Dogs, Cats, Guinea Pigs, Kangaroos, Snakes, Crickets and any other life-form you care to mention; somewhere in the world, someone is eating one right now.

That, dear reader, is the argument most regularly put forward by the apologists for whale murder who seem to appear en masse every time a campaigner highlights the atrocities perpetrated against ocean wildlife in the killing fjords of the Faroe Islands and the killing Cove of Taiji.

It is not, they will tell you, the whale murderers who have the problem, it is us, the stupid, hippy, tree-hugging, eco-nutters who fail to understand that these poor, impoverished people have to kill to survive. We fail to understand that it is traditional for them to kill whales. To top it all, they will tell you that if we don't protest against battery farms (remember when they used to just be for hens - did you know that pigs and cows are factory farmed as well now?) then we are being hypocrites for campaigning against unnecessary and extremely cruel whale murder.

I am going to deal with that last point in today's blog. Future blogs will look at the ridiculous claims for "tradition" and the even more ridiculous claims for subsistence, coming from 2 of the richest nations on the planet.  You can be sure that the people of the Faroe Islands or the fishermen of Taiji have neither need to survive on forage nor any demonstrable adherence to tradition in a material form other than the barbarities which they inflict on defenceless animals using rather non-traditional tools to do so.  For now, let us deal with the hypocrisy challenge.

Stealing cars is a crime. So is stealing motorbikes. Both modes of transport. Both could be said to be similar.

If I witness someone attempting to steal a car and step in to stop it does it make me a hypocrite if I don't step in to stop some other criminal attempting to steal a motorbike at the same time? Let me take that a bit further. If, while I was concentrating on the car crime, I knew that there was someone else concentrating on the motorbike crime and therefore my assistance was not required - am I still a hypocrite? 

Does anyone think the respective owners of the car and the motorbike actually care who stopped their vehice being stolen? Do you think either owner said, "Hey, why are you stopping that being stolen, I wanted the other guy to stop it?" Doesn't seem very likely does it? Frankly, neither of them would care who prevented the crime, they would just be glad it had been prevented.

There are an enormous number of animal rights campaign groups out there. Some are general ones campaigning for all animal rights, regardless of species. Some are very specific, targeting just one species.

My own organisation, Sea Shepherd is not specifically an animal rights campaign group, it is an ocean conservation society and that is where our focus must lie.

Of course we have sympathies with many of the other groups Those sympathies are shared especially by the vegans amongst us of which I am one. But we are highly focussed on protecting ocean wildlife worldwide and - if you will forgive my hubris on this occasion - we are rather good at what we do.

It is true that you could argue we are only interested in protecting cars whilst leaving others to worry about the motorbikes but then, there are others protecting "motorbikes" so what is the problem? Is it perhaps just that our enemies would rather all the various campaign groups were arguing amongst themselves rather than getting on with the job of protection? I think it might be.

I must say though, that even if there were no other campaign groups out there, if it was only us - and sometimes it sure feels like it! - then I would still not be willing to sacrifice my ocean focus.

You see, whilst the vegan in me does not really see a difference, cruelty is cruelty is cruelty, the researcher in me (and in particular the researcher part which has actually been on the beach and in the water and in boats alongside pilot whales in distress) understands that there is a world of difference between the manner in which agricultural animals are killed individually and the way in which entire families of dolphins and pilot whales are ruthlessly slaughtered.

I can't give you a safe car vs motorbike analogy for this one. the closest I can get is someone being executed on death row (which I also think is totally barbaric just in case you wondered) vs the Rwandan Genocide of very recent history. Let me not dwell on that but instead describe what happens to dolphins being slaughtered in Taiji's killing cove

It can take 6 hours for the killers to drive dolphins into the cove. 6 hours during which the terrified animals are herded together and pushed to near exhaustion (and in some cases beyond exhaustion to actual death), kept disoriented, frightened, scared beyond limits that any human could endure, forced to face fight or flight as a family group with nothing to fight against and flight being the inevitable acceptance of trickery away from apparent danger into apparent safety. In fact, into certain death.

There is no quick way to kill dolphins and pilot whales. It is a slow, agonising death and these are highly vocal animals who scream with pain, over and over again. It can take more hours.

There is no way to break the social bonds which these animals have in there large, extended-family groups. No way short of death. As this death is not short, as this death is horrific, as this death is not quick and as the death of any one amongst a family group and as the death of each one in succession becomes a shared horror, there is no way this can be compared to the death of any other animal other than, perhaps, those humans who have experienced the extreme war crimes associated with ethnic cleansing by an oppressor who had no fear of reprisals.

Can you imagine the terror of a child swimming in its own mother's blood, hearing the screams for hour after ghastly hour of its brothers, its sisters, of all of its family members? Can you imagine waiting for your turn next? Can you imagine relief turning to numb disbelief as you are captured live and transported to a life of captivity entertaining spoiled adults with their dragged along children in an ocean park claiming to be an educational centre of excellence?

Still want to tell me I'm a hypocrite because I am willing to tell you how much I care about that but not give someone else a hard time because they put butter on their bread?

Taiji, Japan and Faroes, Denmark are places of horror. A horror that must be stopped. I don't have a lot of energy left to focus on other things right now, my focus needs to be on doing what I can to end ocean cruelty. End it especially in these two revolting shrines to slaughter.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Big Game Dog Fishing

Dogs are in trouble. Thanks to the motion pictures Paws, Paws II, Paws III, which feature a monster dog attacking the residents of sleepy seaside village Amity, these poor misunderstood creatures have been demonised and hunted to near extinction all for the sake of Dog-fin soup.

I'm sorry. Did I say dogs? I meant of course sharks....

...except. Let's think about this for a moment. Imagine doing the same to dogs as we do to sharks:

From the back of an enormous sports 4x4, a dog-fisherman casts a large hook baited with a hunk of meat somewhere in Hyde Park, one of London's largest parks (it is actually larger than the entire Principality of Monaco) and considered prime hunting ground for dogs. He doesn't really know where he is but the skipper says there are big dogs here and the money he is paying for that advice he knows he will be going home with some great photos of his magnificent, manly, heroic exploits.

Slowly motoring forward, heading towards the Serpentine, the driver takes his time as the dog-fisherman expertly works his troll line, hoping that this time it is not the plentiful labrador he catches - good eating but doesn't put up much of a fight - this time he is hoping for that prized catch, the rare Irish Wolfhound. (Editor's note - the previously most feared pit-bull type was hunted to extinction during the Lennox era.)

It doesn't take long till he feels the tell-tale tug on the line which tells him he has prey. The truck skipper appears by his shoulder - an experienced dog-hunter, he has been taking paying clients into Hyde Park ever since the cat-fishery collapsed and forced him to chase the mighty tourist dollar to continue funding his luxury lifestyle.

"Let him run," says the skipper. "Wait till you feel him slow down before you strike or you will miss him and they are wary beasts these big hounds, he might not give you a second chance."

"Now!" comes the shout and the dog-fisherman feels the hook bite deep, along with a renewed thrashing as the hound reacts in shock to the extreme, excruciating pain as the barbed hook penetrates the walls of his throat. Breathing becomes difficult, pain makes it difficult to think, his fight or flight instinct kicks in (just as it does in humans) and he chooses flight. Again the dog-fisherman lets him run, he needs him tired if he is to land him successfully. A fit dog is too much of a challenge, they always run for safety instead of just giving in and that would stop him getting the sort of pictures he wants for the boys down the pub.

Feeling the line go slack he knew the next few moments would be telling, would the beast go to ground or would he attempt to break free. "There!" shouts the skipper as about a quarter of a mile away the most magnificent, beautiful large animal breaks through the bushes and shows himself to the car-load of killers. (Errm, sorry, I meant manly heroes.) "Take in the slack, take in the slack!" And so the pattern continues for another hour until at last, the exhausted Irish Wolfhound is brought alongside the now mud-splattered 4x4.

The skipper reaches over the tailgate with a gaff hook, impales the now near-death dog through the shoulder and drags him onto the truck. He warns everyone to stay clear of the dog, it will probably take about 30 minutes to die and it will thrash around while it does so. "And look at those jaws - it can still bite by reflex!" Keeping people safe is good for business but it's also good to build the sense of danger because that is good for future business as more thrill-seekers part with cash for a similar experience.

By the time the 4x4 returns to the garage the still beautiful but very dead animal has stopped thrashing. At the business centre they have a tripod arrangement which lets them haul the body full stretch so that the successful hunter can have his photo taken with his kill. In seconds it is posted to facebook, twitter and pinterest. This one is special, it's a new record weight for an Irish Wolfhound caught in Hyde Park so all the tabloids want to run a feature whilst the BBC and Sky send mobile broadcast vans to capture it for the early evening news.

Police decide not to arrest the small handful of protestors from the Hyde Park Shepherd Conservation Society, they don't want martyrs in the press while the tourists are still parting with cash.

Dear reader, dog-hunting like this is not real but shark-hunting is. It needs to stop.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Wisdom of Solomon

Today's blog I have re-worked from an original sermon I heard delivered by the Right Reverend Dr Idris Jones, the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway 1998-2009 and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church 2006-09.

It is not going to be an overtly religious post though for a couple of reasons

Firstly, because I am not particularly religious myself. I do believe in God but I view churches as not much more than competing commercial organisations - and when they compete on an International scale... well that's where wars come from even as the churchgoers themselves live with the belief that they are the only ones on the planet who somehow have God on their side! Did you see the picture of the apple-banana in #Taiji or Head in the Sand? That.

Secondly, this isn't a religious blog, this is a blog about things that need fixed. Hmmm, maybe I really only do have one reason after all.

Dr Jones sermon concerned a reading from the "Apocrypha" which I now know was first published in the Lutherian Bible of 1534 but was also first excluded from print by the Calvinist Westminster Confession of Faith during the English Civil War in 1647.

The men who took that decision seem to have considered it rather too Roman Catholic for the prevalent political mood of the day although, to be fair, in an age where getting it wrong politically resulted in beheading we could perhaps show them some leniency in our judgement of their behaviour  Nevertheless, hmmm, again, Church leaders deciding what us mere mortals should - and should not - be encouraged to read.

So successful was the established church at swinging popular opinion against the Apocrypha that by the start of the 19th Century the British and Foreign Bible Society refused to print it and so the modern "King James Bible" contains only a limited library of books. Specifically, The Law, the Torah which is the foundation on which everything else rests; the Prophets who interpreted that Divine Law in their day; and the Writings with books like Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes which give a reflective and philosophical slant to religious thought. Bloggers in the Bible if you like, although a bit safer to add your comments to my blogs than any of those I would suggest...

Let me now use Dr Jones own words' (with only the very lightest of paraphrasing to suit the secular context in which they are being repeated) to continue today's journal:

This Apocrypha was written in the period of 100 years before the Christian Era and 100 years into that era. and was given the name of King Solomon because it reflected the glory of his day though it was written in very different circumstances and centuries after the time in which he lived.. The book is a record of a struggle that is part of all religious belief and faith which is the struggle to determine how far you can go in making sense of eternal truths in a changing contemporary world without betraying those same truths. All faiths today are engaged in that struggle over a variety of moral questions.

During that period of 200 years the Wisdom of Solomon was a product of the same sort of struggle around basic questions. The questions that asked what is the meaning of life and what is the meaning of death.

When life is going well; when things make sense and when there is a feeling that there is justice in the World that is one thing. But life is rarely like that for us - and certainly not all the time. When things go wrong; when justice seems denied and in particular when good people suffer and evil folk prosper - in those times what has faith to offer?

The writings of the Wisdom of Solomon spanned just such a time when things could not have been more unlike the golden age of King Solomon. During those 200 years the nation was divided and over-run by occupying powers. Jerusalem, the city of peace was wrecked, destroyed, rebuilt and wrecked again. the Holy Temple was desecrated, destroyed, built again and finally razed for ever in 70 CE under Roman Occupation. Many men who fought on the side of goodness had died under the heel of the oppressor, people had been indiscriminately killed for standing up for their beliefs. What on earth was going on - what was the point of it all, indeed was there any point?

Thankfully not many of us have to contend with that kind of upheaval but there will have been times when we know those feelings of being unable to make sense of life: and whilst death comes kindly to some for others it raises all those familiar feelings and questions.

I remember at a time of bereavement a wise councillor saying to me, "Don't ask the question why? There is no answer."

The Wisdom of Solomon gives no answer either but encourages us to hang on to a deep commitment at the most profound level of our very being expressed in these words:

"God did not make death and takes no pleasure in the destruction of any living thing. He created all things that they might have being." The Wisdom of Solomon 1 v 13 - 15

At this point I shall take my blog back and suggest that today was not about me telling you what I think, it is me encouraging you to think for yourself.

Read that last quote from the Wisdom of Solomon again and tell me why in the early 1600s we (i.e. humankind) were being allowed access to only selective knowledge whilst Church and Establishment (of which Church was the most part) led by (bad) example the rejection of simplicity and the descent to carnism (see Vegan in the 17th Century).

Ask also why religious bias is being desperately held onto by a tiny minority of Government rulers and influencers the World over whose own prejudice is causing the suffering of countless millions of human and non-human lives day by day by bloody day.

We are only beholden to dogma if we choose to be so.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Time is all we have...

Lose an hour in the morning, spend all day looking for it.

So goes the quote and I think we can all sympathise with it to some extent. Even the most effective time manager cannot predict the unpredictable

It's been a struggle to fit everything in today but for once I don't feel to blame. Everything that had to be done no matter what has been done and I have coped with a number of unexpected but both urgent and important issues into the bargain. If I had spent the morning writing the blog instead of concentrating on what actually pays the bills then I may have been guilty of messing up my own day but I dealt with the really important stuff first and left the more pleasant tasks for later. Or maybe that's my way of saying sorry for posting 3 hours later than normal.

It's a roosting fruit bat (vegan!)
Most of the really active Sea Shepherd volunteers who I share such a large part of my life with are incredibly busy people. They are the sort of people you always wonder how on earth they manage to fit everything in.

Some of them you wonder if they ever sleep, or if you assume that they must do sometime then you can't help wondering when?

At risk of creating the same sort of fable as Pliny the Elder managed with his ostriches (see blog #Taiji or Head in the Sand) I wonder f some of them have chiropteran blood flowing through their veins and like to surprise us all by being up and active when we are tucked up safe and warm.  Good thing for the planet to have Sea Shepherds on 24 hour watch just the same!

So how do you get more into an average day than the average person does? Simple, you never ever even contemplate having just an average day.

Of course how much you want to do is always going to be a matter of choice. I am certainly not about to suggest that there is anything right or wrong about the lifestyle choices any of us make - as long as you stick to the principle of First Do No Harm. But if you really want the extra time you need in order to make all the difference you want, here is a point to ponder:

If you genuinely set your alarm clock for the time you wanted to get up, why did you hit the snooze button when it went off? Or if you did set it accurately and you did still hit the snooze, what difference did it make?

Have a look at these numbers:

1 minute per day works out to 6 hours per year. Even if you were slow getting out of bed, someone somewhere is already doing more than you.

Stretch that to 4 minutes per day and you have lost an entire 24 hours (or 3 full working days if you are a tpical wage slave.)

Stay in bed 30 minutes longer than you needed to and you have lost an entire week. Imagine all the amazing things you could do with an extra week. And then imagine not having it when everyone else does.

I wonder where the quote, "If you snooze you lose!" came from?

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

New #Vegan Shoes

Today's blog is a bit of a blast from the past. It is the first ever picture blog I posted as @T_Veg and it was originally and very generously hosted for me on Sasha and Mitsu's brilliant vegan web encyclopaedia To Happy Vegans

It's not a lazy option though, I am not just trying to avoid typing up an hour or more's worth of deep thinking on a mid-week morning. No, today's blog was inspired by my latest delivery from Veggie Shoes and the realisation that vegan shoes - in fact vegan everything - have become very ordinary to me now. I hadn't realised that until I started to blog about them and found it hard to come up with anything exciting enough to justify stealing your time with.

So what I wanted to recapture today - especially for anyone reading this blog who is either newly vegan or very close to becoming vegan - was the huge excitement of my first, my very first ever, consciously vegan lifestyle purchase. To show you how positively reaffirming it was to go one step beyond (hahaha no pun intended on a blog about shoes!) not eating or otherwise exploiting our friends for food, I wanted to ensure my lifestyle was as planet friendly as it could possibly be and this was my first experience of getting there:

For anyone who doesn't already follow me on twitter as @T_Veg, I adopted the persona of Tyrannosaurus Veg to play on the notion that I was an old dinosaur in so many respects and changing my ways was inevitably going to be a bit of a challenge. I was also playing on the notion that I was possibly the most unlikely vegan you would ever meet.

I still love the reaction when people find out - it's brilliant to see the mental gymnastics going on as they realise I don't fit their stereotype so they might need to challenge me on facts rather than prejudice and then realise the facts are so heavily stacked in favour of the vegan that they might as well not bother.

So here it is, a (very mildly) adapted version of, 

Tyrannosaurus Veg and the New Shoes

Thanks to the brilliant moral support I have been getting from Mitsu in particular, the incredible efforts the wonderful Mrs T_Veg has been going to for my meals plus all her moral support and fellow Vegans everywhere just saying, “Keep going” I reckon I have cracked this Vegan diet thing now. 

Generally speaking, it has been much easier than I expected and a million times nicer than I ever thought it could be.

The time has now come for me to change my non-vegan lifestyle choices and that has started with shoes.  I followed the link on the THV home page to Vegetarian Shoes in Brighton: Veggie Shoes

Not really knowing what I should be ordering, I phoned them and spoke to Lucy (she is lovely) who talked me through the choices and made a specific recommendation based on what I had told her.

Less than a week later a package arrived at work:

Opening up the package (go Vegan, it’s like Christmas everyday!) I found this inside:

I had to put the box on the floor, it’s bad luck to have shoes on the table – even Vegan ones.  Inside the box was more wrapping, still feeling like Christmas.

Which pulled back to reveal Lucy’s recommendation for a Vegan businessman:

Which looked even better out of the box:

Looking good so far but can they really be Vegan, surely they picked up the wrong brand when they were packing the order?

Nope, Vegan shoes from Vegetarian Shoes – and you can just see the toe of my old leather ones at the bottom of the pic.  I honestly cannot see the difference, they even feel the same except at the seams where the new shoes feel smoother and better made.

The soles are hard-wearing rubber, very easy to walk on, very comfy and MUCH warmer than the thin leather most other businessmen I know will be sliding around on this Winter.

Remember that old Eric Morecambe joke, “They fit like a glove, which is odd because I’m wearing them on my feet, boom, boom!”  They look good, don’t they?

Still  looking fabulous with a suit from my perspective looking down.

And looking just as fabulous with a suit for anyone looking towards me.  How will I convince people that I really am a Vegan when they see me in these, no one will believe me unless I take them off and show the label!

The very last test for shoes fit for the boss:  what do they look like on top of the boss’s desk?  Pretty good I would say, such a shame that is the one and only time I will be able to rest them there – honest guv, would I tell a fib?

My final comment needs to be that Vegetarian Shoes is a brand name and not a description, suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. 

Although now I have them and am wearing them in style and comfort I wonder if we should just call them Shoes?  Why would you need to hurt an animal when the alternative is this good?

Many thanks to everyone at Vegetarian Shoes, and thank you as ever to Sasha and Mitsu for putting up with this old dinosaur on their wonderful web site.



Those shoes are 2 years old now and I still wear them 2 or 3 times every week. The heels are starting to show signs of age but they are still perfectly suitable as formal wear shoes. I alternate my shoes every day to extend the life of them (an old Jeeves type trick) or I would take a snap of them to show you just how good they are. Instead, here is a pic of the brogues which arrived the day after the ones above. These have also delivered many miles of foot transportation for T_Veg and have been worn not less than 200 times:

Honestly, being able to achieve that effect without harm to animals and for less than the cost of the equivalent business shoes... Animal produce on your feet? Why would you?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

#Taiji or Head in the Sand

The first person to put about the story that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid thinking about "bad stuff" was Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, just over 2,000 years ago.

I can't help wondering if any of my throwaway comments in here will be the stuff of urban legend in the year 4,012? Unfortunately though, the uncomfortable secondary thought to that is what will human society 2,000 years from now think about all of us. Will human society even still exist? Is it our responsibility to ensure that it does or should we just stick our collective heads in the sand about that one as well?

Just in case anyone doesn't yet know, ostriches don't actually bury their heads in the sand, certainly not as a defensive mechanism anyway, but the metaphor is still nevertheless a good one. Here's the funny thing though, it is such a negative accusation that we all think it applies to everyone else, never to us. And yet, so many of us bury our heads in the sand in so many ways so much of the time.

We refuse to acknowledge danger to ourselves. Or perhaps that is just a refusal to acknowledge that our actions will have consequences.

We refuse to acknowledge harm to others. That is clearly a case of acknowledging that our inactions will have consequences. Consequences we would not like to be publicly responsible for and so we - as a species - seem to find it ridiculously easy to practice denial as a way of life rather than a very occasional, easily explainable anomaly. For far too many of us it is the rule, not the exception.

Stop reading now if you think that might apply to you!

The two BIG "hiding our heads in the sand" actions though relate to fooling ourselves about what or who we are. Convincing ourselves that we care but being unable to explain why, if we really do care, we have done nothing to help change the problem. Perhaps even when we clearly have either the physical means to do so ourselves or the financial means to help others do it for us.

But we still tell other people that we "care" even as we tell ourselves, convince ourselves, completely fool ourselves, that we are something we are not. Something better than we really are. Awarding ourselves private accolades that we would find damn near impossible to justify to an informed outsider.

I used to do that. My ability to effect change - or enable others to do so - used to vastly outstrip my genuine desire to do so, even as I preached to others what a better world it would be if only "they" would do something about [insert cause célèbre here]. It took me a long time to work out that I was one of "they" and so I hope in reading this you are now starting to work out that you are also one of "they" a good deal faster than I did.

Let me get back to head in the sand and the 2 big ones.  They are:

Refusing to accept that if we have the ability to stop that harm and/or the means to support others in doing so that we have at least a moral obligation to take action.


Refusing even to talk abut it because we find it all too upsetting and then going for a drink to cheer ourselves up / blot out the mental images whilst ignoring the fact that booze money could have been better spent on positive action to stop you ever having to worry about those mental images again. Alcohol has been described as "temporary suicide" and I more and more understand that description.

Let me talk to you about Taiji.

Taiji is a coastal village in a beautiful part of Japan, a tourist destination similar to many coastal villages the World over, including my own native Scotland. Taiji has a strong connection to historical whaling. It even has a whaling museum for visitors to spend their money in. Hey, I'm not going to criticise that, I've already visited the whaling museum in Boston, MA.

What I am going to criticise is that, whilst whaling is considered reprehensible in Boston, in Scotland and everywhere else where people consider themselves civilised, they still murder whales in Taiji. Smaller whales than they murder in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary but whales nonetheless. And dolphins. Dolphins by the thousand. I am not exaggerating, many thousands of dolphins have lost their lives in Taiji's killing cove in the last few years alone.

Risso's Dolphin - Mother and Child
Picture Credit Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit, Scotland
Yesterday morning, the evil fishermen of that region (evil because I must differentiate the tiny minority of whale killers from the vast majority of wonderful, friendly, decent Japanese people who themselves would be disgusted by this if only they knew) herded a family of Risso's Dolphins into the killing cove and slaughtered every single one.

I do find it very hard to type about this story. I do find it very hard to contemplate how a fellow human being could harm such wonderful animals. I find it even harder to understand why it is only 30 or so evil people doing this but many millions of others who are aware it is happening and choose to bury their heads in the sand about it. Oh, they may wring their hands in an outward display of angst, they may post message after message after message on facebook or sign yet another petition which will achieve the same result as all the others before (if you do the same as you have always done how can you possibly expect different results!) but they are not actually DOING anything about it.

Risso's Dolphins Slaughter, Taiji 19th November 2012
See full Cove Guardian picture file here LINK
A few. A very tiny few have either gone to Taiji already, are going in the very near future or have donated money to help someone else get there. I suspect that tiny few are very definitely amongst those who have read this far in today's blog and so I thank you from the heart. For those who have yet to DO something please listen to my earnest call to action.

I am going to Taiji. I am also donating to help others go. I am doing so because I am sick and tired of feeling totally helpless when I see images like this. I need you to do your bit as well.

If you are determined to go then you already know how, if you don't then message me and I will give you all the extra info you need.

If you cannot go for whatever reason then please can you help? I am okay thanks, I do have the means to get myself there, but I need help for another soon to be Cove Guardian, Anna. She has already committed so much for the defense of our wonderful ocean wildlife, please will you follow her link and commit even just a few dollars more to make sure you can tell the World that you did not stick your head in the sand, that when it mattered, you stuck your hand in your pocket and made a difference.

Anna's Taiji campaign link is here: CLICK TO READ ANNA'S STORY AND DONATE

Thank you for reading.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Today's blog needs no words beyond this introduction. It was inspired by the demoralising news screaming from Gaza all weekend and an image which was posted to my facebook wall almost as soon as I logged on this morning.

One picture. One video.

Be the change you want to see in the World:

Thank you for taking time to think about this. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Plenty More Uses for the Sea

Yesterday the Vestas Sailrocket broke the World sail speed record averaging 59.23 knots with a highest recorded speed of 62.53 knots.

Just watch the video below and be amazed at this yacht. There is a lovely moment about half way through when a flock of pink flamingoes come into shot emphasising the "natural" against a vessel which represents the cutting edge of technological advancement but is still one of the most "natural" of vessels on the surface of the ocean by virtue of the fact that it is entirely wind-powered. And what incredible results that produced!

It isn't lost on me that this record was set in Namibia where the Government is engaged in seal killing on a massive scale. Worse even than the excesses of the Canadians or the Scots with their own seal culls, the Namibian seal cull is something altogether more horrible in scale: it is the world's largest and cruelest, anual, marine mammal slaughter of 85,000 still-nursing baby seal pups. Info from: Sea Shepherd's Operation Desert Seal

Today's blog considers which is the better use of the ocean - killing to profit a very, very few whilst damaging our common wealth of resource or pushing the limits to eventually benefit everyone with technology and the inspiration to do something new, something positive, something to be proud of not ashamed of.

Did you know it is illegal to film the seal slaughter in Namibia?

Similarly in Canada it is illegal to approach within 1,000 metres of a seal cull because the one weapon they are most afraid of is the camera and the Scottish authorities will not reveal the addresses of establishments with a licence to shoot seals because they fear the inevitable publicity as well.

You can film the nice stuff with absolute freedom though. Hey, Governments will even help publicise it through their tourist boards and I approve of that completely. What I do not approve of is the mindset that has you ashamed of bad behaviour but unwilling to take steps to change it. That is as true for entire Governments as it is for all of us as individuals.

The argument which we always hear from governments the World over whether they are killing seals or not is that they need to support the fishing industry because it provides the only source of employment in small coastal communities. I assure you, dear reader, that I am not insensitive to the needs for employment, in coastal, other rural or any other community anywhere at all but I am wary of the belief that there is only ever one way of doing things.

I do think that it is Government's job to create the conditions under which communities can thrive but I also think that it is up to us all to make sure that we take advantage of that and in my business life it is something that I am actively engaged in and like to think that I am making some kind of a difference.

The fishing boat pictured here is typical of the Scottish coastal fishing fleet with a crew of 2 and providing onshore full-time equivalent employment for maybe another 2 or 3 people. A wildlife watching tour vessel matches that. A dive support vessel matches that. A pleasure cruise vessel matches that. And whilst a private sail or power yacht may not match the direct employment, it will certainly more than match the shore-based full time equivalent support jobs.

Ocean Breeze Rib Tours
So where are the Government grants? Where are the community development initiatives? Where are the grand plans to shift employment from the desperately hard, unprofitable and increasingly unsustainable coastal fishing industry to a modern employment, still making full use of the sea but doing so in a profitable and sustainable way?

Imagine the impact of that happening worldwide with an estimated fishing fleet of almost 2.5 MILLION fishing vessels smaller than 10 metres, just like the one above. Imagine what we could achieve by investing in innovation rather than shoring up the old and failing? Imagine an entire new worldwide industry and an entire new way of viewing the ocean as a resource - profit without exploitation.

Consider finally, if you will, the size of team it must have taken to put together the Vestas Sailrocket project. How many scientists, technicians, designers, planners, builders, transporters, marketers and a dozen other specialised crafts it must have taken to get the boat from first thought to smashing the record? Consider the same for America's Cup, Volvo Ocean, Sydney-Hobart and all the other famous - and not so famous - yacht races. Consider a marina, any marina. Go and visit one near you and consider, please, there ARE plenty more uses for the sea.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Amazing Vegans Part 1

I am very lucky to be surrounded by some of the most amazingly inspirational people all of whom, in their own way, have helped me not only in my journey from carnist to vegan but in my journey through life.

The list is long (very long, it should keep me going in blogs for years) but there are a few in particular who live large in my life at the moment and I hope to feature them all in much more detail over the next few months. For now, let me introduce a few of them briefly and finish today with a more in-depth tribute to possibly THE most amazing vegan it has ever been my privilege to know.

In my ocean conservation campaigning I am delighted to have Darren Collis of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a close friend. Darren won the Unsung Hero Award at this year's Vegfest, Europe's largest veggie event and is seen in this picture receiving the Mahaveer Award which he won in 2007.

Darren's story is the most wonderful tale of selfless commitment to others, although those who know him will already know that "others" recognises no species distinction, we all share this planet and most of us need to become much better at sharing than we have been so far. I look forward to telling Darren's tale, not least as an example of the sort of person Paul Watson is talking about when he says that passion is what matters. Passion is important not just at sea but also onshore, doing what needs to be done to keep other equally passionate people at sea. Having (rather a lot of) ability to back the passion up is, of course, a very nice bonus.

From the world of business I am proud to be a long-time friend and associate of Martin Stepek who I hope will tell us his own story as a guest blogger in the very near future. Martin is a business lecturer, motivational speaker and expert leader in mindfulness. You may recall that I mentioned him in my blog of 2nd November, "What's important on your bucket list?" my own tribute to the memory of his father Jan.

Martin is one of the kindest, most generous people I know, not just financially, he is generous with his time, that most precious of all commodities. In this picture he is promoting Wildhearts in Action , another amazing charity which I will also be blogging about in due course (if only there were 24 days in every week and 124 hours in every day: I might be able to fit it all in!)

My third Amazing Vegan for future blogging is Anna Oliver who I have mentioned already in connection with her campaign to get to Taiji and defend dolphins and pilot whales, see link here:  ANNA'S TAIJI CAMPAIGN PAGE

Anna's tale will be easy to follow as we will both be blogging day by day from Taiji, sharing our thoughts on the horrors unfolding there and hopefully exploring the art of the possible as we consider alternatives to the wholly unnecessary murder of beautiful, sentient animals in the killing cove that place enshrines.

You don't need to go there yourself to be part of our Taiji experience - if you follow the link above and contribute to that campaign fund then you will know that you are making change possible. Our efforts are all assisted by others and in Anna's case will be directly assisted by your thoughtful donations. If you are able to donate then you will become a part of her amazing story.

None of these three people do what they do because they are vegans, however, they are all vegans for exactly the same reason as they do what they do. Specifically, they are all caring compassionate people, none of whom tolerate fools gladly but all of whom nurture, encourage, aid and assist those who wish to be better custodians of this, our planet, to do just that. All of them lead by example.

Fiona Oakes, An Amazing Vegan

Let me now introduce possibly the most inspirational individual I have ever met, the truly amazing vegan, Fiona Oakes.

Here is a quote from her bio on her public facebook page, "Fiona was the first lady to finish in the masses race of the Great North Run last year - YES FIRST !! & the Media ignored her !! She headed a team of runners for the Vegan Society, who all proudly wore their Team Vegan vests - perhaps something to do with the fact she was ignored as the media seem to love ignoring any positive vegan role models."

That quote, dear readers, is what inspired today's entire blog. Vegans are not World famous (not our fault). Nobody ever got rich - at least not in a monetary sense - by being vegan (how could we?). Nobody even got an award for achievement from outwith the vegan community by being vegan (you need to be something far more ordinary for that).

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are not (yet) vegan please do me a favour; share today's blog, help these amazing people get the recognition they deserve from beyond our small community of caring, compassionate souls.

Other info on Fiona's page describes just some of her achievenments:

Fiona holds the course record for the Essex Country Marathon Championship which she won in 2007 - her record still stands today. She is the only female runner to run under 3 hours on the course in its 17 year history.

Fiona has come top 10 in several international marathons (Florence, Moscow & Amsterdam and Nottingham) and top 20 in London & Berlin (two of the 5 Major City Marathons, the biggest races in the world)

To top it all, Fiona became the FIRST vegan runner to complete the soul-destroying, most gruelling of all marathons - billed as and acknowledged internationally to be THE toughest race on Earth - the Marathon des Sables.

The Marathon des Sables is a race distance of 154 (ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FOUR) miles across the Sahara Desert run in temperatures ranging from sub zero overnight to 130° Fahrenheit during the day. Oh, and while she competed, Fiona carried all her supplies on her back as she ran.

Both in training for this ultra-marathon and for all the other races which she still competes in, Fiona regularly runs between 80 and 100 miles a week maintaining fitness and building stamina and strength. For most of us, that would be a full-time task in itself. For the elite runners who Fiona is competing against it is a full-time job.

There is something I don't know how to fit in without testing your disbelief but I need to do it sometime so it might as well be now: at age 14 Fiona suffered a debilitating condition which left her using crutches for years, cost her one knee replacement and severely damaged the other knee. Doctors told her she would never walk properly again, never mind run. She understates things but you need to know that she has already accomplished a miracle and - as she cannot run without pain - continues to achieve miracles every single day.

I describe Fiona as THE most amazing vegan though because as well as the physical challenges which she has had to overcome and as well as doing all of that fitness training, competing and WINNING to prove that you can do it as a vegan if you give it all as a vegan she also cares personally for every single animal at the animal welfare sanctuary which she runs, Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary.

Tower Hill is not a small affair. Every single morning Fiona's alarm rings at 0330 and before she can even think about that day's training she feeds, cleans, mucks-out and otherwise cares for over 400 animals all of whom depend on her - and now also on you.

I do hope you will all click on THIS LINK and spend time on Fiona's charity web site. Please read about what an amazing thing she is achieving at Tower Hill and please, please, please find it in your heart to donate to help her. If you do nothing other than buy a calendar, you will still be helping but I hope those of you who can afford to will do a whole lot more.

The first time I heard about Fiona was as a brand new vegan seeking help from The Vegan Society who sent me the DVD, Making The Connection. This is Fiona's part in that video and I will let her add significantly to today's blog by letting her continue this part of the story herself;

Not so very long ago I was a bit of a runner and long distance walker but in the last few years before I became vegan I had become flabby, lethargic, unmotivated and always just enough "under-the-weather" to talk myself out of exercise. Generally speaking I was fairly typical of my demographic.

Vegan - done properly - changes you, it changes you for the better. How could it not? Eating healthily as a vegan is about as close as it's possible to get to the nutritional balance our bodies were designed for and it isn't lost on me that the World's top athletes are trending more and more towards a purely vegan diet. The sports nutritionists may not call it that, of course, but if your diet contains plant-based nutrition only then it is vegan regardless of what your own sense of identity has you believing.

After I had seen that video, I asked for an introduction to Fiona and asked her for some advice on getting back into running. I had no idea just how huge Tower Hill was at that point or how full on Fiona's life was. Looking back I am a bit embarrassed to have been even just a wee bit demanding of her time but, true to type, Fiona was as generous with her time (insanely, unselfishly generous) as the other three vegan influencers on my life who I mentioned earlier, Darren, Anna and Martin - as well as unmentioned Rob and Chris and Amanda and Elaine and Gemma and Alex and Gary and Andy and a cast of at least tens of others if maybe not yet hundreds or even thousands. Vegans really are rather a nice bunch.

Fiona, thank you for everything you do and thank you all for reading.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Give It All

It never ceases to amaze me that the people with the least are always the ones who give the most. Some of them give everything they have with no thought of any return other than the knowledge of having done the right thing. Or of having done something no-one else was prepared to do but which someone else, i.e. them, absolutely had to do.

Today's blog for some of us will be about giving it all but I also hope that for many it will be about giving just that little bit extra. Just that tiny little bit that will make all the difference.

The British Olympic Team trainers all talk about the "one percenters" and I remember a tale told by David Carry, the British Olympic and Scottish Commonwealth swimmer from Red Sky Management when he spoke about the way in which the Commonwealth team went from doing not terribly well on the World stage to winning everything in sight, David himself becoming a double gold medallist and setting all sorts of records on the way.

The tale concerns a visit to the British Cycling team who themselves had come from nowhere to become the most champion of World champions and needing more than just a pedal bike to carry the haul of medals home. The trainers pointed out the attention to detail and how they individually prepared every single, individual, tiny component of every bike and how the bikes could not go anywhere near the track until every single procedure was finished.

One procedure was so infinitesimally tiny that the comment was made, "..but that can hardly make any difference at all..." to which the inevitable reply was, "Yes. Hardly any." with a cheery wink.

Thereby hangs the birth of a thought; if one percent is enough to make a difference, can you imagine what would happen if you added up a whole load of one percents?

The answer as we now know was Britain's athletes emerging from the doldrums of no funding, precious little science and wing-and-a-prayer support to fantastic results inspired by Lottery funded provision of the best advice, the best motivation, the best support and an attention to detail coupled with "one percent" thinking that continues to produce the most amazing results. It also continues to inspire others. Amazing what you can produce with just one percent.

Now although the tag "one percenter" was new to me, the thinking behind it was not. Since the very early 2000s I have been living by the mantra of "the extra degree" as embodied by my very great friend and mentor, Sam Parker in his mindset changing philosophy 212° The Extra Degree. The philosophy goes like this:

At 211 degrees, water is hot.
At 212 degrees, it boils.
And with boiling water, comes steam.
And with steam, you can power a train.

Follow this link to find out more about two-twelve and see the video: 212° The Extra Degree  This simple philosophy has made a huge difference to my life and I think it is fairly likely that I will be referring to it often in future blogs.

I am sure many of you are wondering if I will make it through a blog without mentioning Sea Shepherd and the answer today is emphatically, no. That should not surprise anyone given today's subject matter because our ships are crewed by individuals who give much more than one degree, who give much more than one percent. Our ships are crewed by people who give it all.

The first time I heard that spoken out loud to a (very) large audience was at a Rise Against gig. The band returned to stage for an encore but instead of launching straight into music, Tim took the time to tell the fans all about the amazing job Paul and his captains and his crews were doing in the Southern Ocean. 

And then he dedicated this song to them. 

Sometimes one percent is not enough. Sometimes one degree extra just wont get you to boiling point. Sometimes you need to Give It All.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Of Meeting and Greeting

At the Sea Shepherd induction for new volunteers which we ran last night I had to introduce myself. No difficulties with that, these were all people meeting me for the first time so I was able to talk about who I am - and they were able to talk about who they were - without that being any kind of a test or competition between us.

I love the meet and greet part of any event but I especially love our Sea Shepherd induction where we ask people to tell us why they want to be part of our ocean conservation family.

Take a look at this pic, it really is worth a thousand words to explain why so many of us are so very proud to be involved.

This morning I received my routine spam mail from Friends Reunited (do people still use that or am I just getting mail from an automated spam machine that hasn't been switched off yet?) inviting me to update my profile. Now that is more of a problem. I know who I am. I am more than happy to share that with new friends but I am not convinced my old friends would recognise me, even less would they understand me.

You see, when I tell people "who I am" what I am really describing to new people is "what I do" yet for people who knew me, "away back then" I am describing what I have become and that, again, can only be explained as, "what I do." The problem with that is, because they already have assumptions for how I will have turned out, and because they can have no other frame of reference for how I got to the "who I am" now from the "who I was" when they were part of my inner circle, it would be so much easier to explain if they were actually strangers. The who I was really is a stranger to me now anyway.

There are probably fewer than a dozen people who really know me beyond "what I do" and you could count on the proverbial, "fingers of one hand" how many people on this planet I would trust with all of the "who I am," especially if my vulnerabilities are included. You may even be able to count that one on the finger of one finger...

Pilot Whale, wild and free where it should be
Picture credit: Rory Moore / Barcroft Media
There's no sinister aspect to that, it's just that the things which motivate me are often very personal in nature, often caused by bitter experience which has neither present nor future relevance but which has nevertheless shaped the person I have become.

Other motivations are much more positive in nature and, as long as I am motivated towards positive results, then how I get there in the end probably doesn't matter. After all, the whales don't care that I do what I do for Sea Shepherd because someone like Paul Watson or Peter Hammarstedt inspired me to greater efforts, they just care that someone is doing something other than cause them harm.

In time I hope you will all get a real good feel for what I do from these blogs, some of you may even start to get a real good feel for who I am.

For now let me describe what I do in the same terms as I used at that induction last night:

I, as would any other Sea Shepherd Onshore Volunteer, do whatever I must to enable Paul and all his other Ships Captains and crew do whatever they need to do in order to defend ocean wildlife wherever and whenever it is threatened. That includes being willing to volunteer myself for active campaign duty and you will read much more about that in the very near future.

Someone who I know is doing just that is my best friend Anna who will be going to Taiji in the very near future. I have blogged about Anna before but for our new readers please take the time to read her amazing story here: Anna's Taiji Campaign

As Marine Mammal Medics, both of us know what it feels like to physically save the life of a whale, now we need to do what we can to prevent the deliberate deaths of others. Please follow this blog to find out how we get on.

Thank you for reading and I am very pleased to meet you.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Moby-Dick; The Whale

Today is the 161st anniversary of the publication of Moby-Dick; The Whale, a novel by Herman Melville which first became available on the 14th November, 1851.

The wiki description of this novel is fascinating, "In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and the metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the journey of the main characters, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God are all examined, as the main characters speculate upon their personal beliefs and their places in the universe. The narrator's reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices, such as stage directions, extended soliloquies, and asides."

The review continues with, "The book portrays destructive obsession and monomania, as well as the assumption of anthropomorphism—projecting human instincts, characteristics and motivations onto animals. Moby-Dick is ruthless in attacking the sailors who attempt to hunt and kill him, but it is Ahab who invests Moby-Dick's natural instincts with malignant and evil intentions. In fact, it is not the whale but the crippled Ahab who alone possesses this characteristic."

The Wikipedia contributors to that article are most certainly well read, intelligent and articulate, literary critics and so it is no surprise to find that they do not perceive the whale as being evil, actually stating that it is Ahab "alone" who exhibits any evil intent. However, in popular culture, amongst the less well-read (or perhaps the more television brainwashed) Moby-Dick is, in fact, perceived as a terrifying sea monster.

That is hardly surprising because as a species we have always sought to demonise that which we simply do not understand and are further content to accept the truisms that everyone knows must be true, especially if that truism is, "Here be monsters!"

There is also the obvious commercial advantage in that anything which can be caused to be reviled by the general public can be slaughtered without risk to reputation as a commercial enterprise. Moby-Dick; The Whale as a reverse-marketing piece? Why not, George Orwell did the same for pigs with Animal Farm after all...

Most species of whales, as we all now know, were hunted to near extinction over the next 100 years but, sadly, whaling still has not stopped.

I won't blame Moby-Dick directly but there is something in our collective psyche that is stopping a mass public outcry against the 4 nations which are doing most to prevent the recovery of those most endangered species. That same something is stopping the protest that there should be against those 4 nations. Those same 4 nations who are still hunting those whales not yet proven to be endangered to the same levels of extinction as their cousins.

Those nations are Iceland (pictured), Norway, Denmark (specifically Faroe Islands although allegedly rather a lot of Icelandic whale meat ends up in Danish pig feed - and I thought I was being somewhat tenuous linking Animal Farm with Moby-Dick!) and, of course Japan, whose pirate whaling fleet plunders the Southern Ocean Whale SANCTUARY year after year for bogus research to fill supermarket shelves with toxic, and largely unwanted, meat. Did you know that in the whale sanctuary they kill an extremely high percentage of pregnant females because they swim slower and spend more time at the surface therefore are the easiest target of all for a military grade explosive harpoon? And people say I shouldn't call them disgusting barbarians! Societal norms for polite conversation notwithstanding, they are; therefore I do.

Only one NGO actively combats the killers at sea and that organisation is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who are now proudly embarked on Operation Zero Tolerance which you can read more about at this link: Sea Shepherd Operation Zero Tolerance

Another wonderful animal which has been been hunted to near extinction and remains under the most extreme threat is the shark. People blame Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg for demonising this animal with the novel and film, Jaws and that is certainly true in part. But they were not the first to do so.

Here are 3 newspaper reports from my part of the world, Scotland, published in 1937:

"*FATAL* - On the 1st of September, 1937, there was a triple fatality in the Kilbrannan Sound off Carradale on the Kintyre peninsula when a basking shark capsized a boat containing three people - named as Captain Angus Brown and his son and brother."

"On the 11th of September, 1937, a basking shark attacked a fishing boat, causing damage to its propeller. This incident happened off the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, very close to the Carradale attack."

"On the 12th of September, 1937, the Clyde steamer the Glen Sannox was attacked by a basking shark and two 5ft observation windows were broken. Again this happened in the same general area, just off the Isle of Arran."

Just look at the language being used: "attacked by," "causing damage to" and, my personal favourite, tales of a basking shark breaking observation windows. How? Seriously, how? And do please look at the picture, the basking shark - although a huge animal - is a true gentle-giant. I know, I have been assisting with surveys in my part of the World for a few years now and it is wonderful to see their numbers starting to stabilise, hopefully to recover in the years to come.

So why demonise them? Maybe this will answer your question, "Between 1946 and 1986 basking shark fisheries in Norway, Scotland and Ireland took 77,204 basking sharks." (EU Fisheries Report) and the last basking sharks were harpooned in the Clyde in Scotland as recently as the late 1990s.

I will certainly return to shark issues with future blogs and you can be sure I will be following Operation Zero Tolerance defending whales with great interest. If you still have the appetite for more today then please see my 31st October blog, Sharks and the Gold Standard but for now, thanks for reading.