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Category Archives: Whales
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Thanks to Kerb for knocking this together for us in record time. The idea came out of a skype conversation between Andrew and and Adele. She asked where she could get a t-shirt of Splashy Pants holding a banner that said FREE JUNICHI. Somehow that morphed into… yeah… and then we need the game. Oh, wait, we need A GAME.
Kerb built this for us the way we build all our flash assets: separate layer for the text, fetched from an XML file whose location is specified in a texturl variable, so that any office can easily translate, localize links, and nationalize the game by changing the XML, uploading it to their site, and changing the texturl variable in the embed code. OK, that was geeky, I know, but it’s one of the policies I’m proud of at Greenpeace International –we build to share.
And on that note, while I’m increasingly concerned about Junichi and Toru — they’re doing fine, but the aggro they are suffering in a country that has no concept of civil disobedience is deep and probably long-term — the universal response of Greenpeace and Greenpeace supporters worldwide has been an inspiring thing to behold.
Our internal politics are about what you’d expect of a bunch of headstrong, stubborn anti-authoritarians. Agreeing globally to focus on one thing is harder for us than it should be. But when something like this happens, and two of our own are under threat, it’s astounding how quickly those coöperative muscles leap into action, and before you know it every website of every office in every country is making a single, unified demand:
From the Greenpeace International website: “Japanese police have arrested two Greenpeace activists for exposing a whale meat scandal involving the government-sponsored whaling programme. The two activists, Junichi Sato, 31, and Toru Suzuki, 41, are being investigated for allegedly stealing a box of whale meat which they presented as evidence.”
Junichi is a friend of mine. While we’re holding back on unleashing the cyberdogs or calling in Amnesty on this one until we see if there’s a way to get him and Toru out of jail, please Digg this story and watch for an action ask. Powerful forces in Japan have decided to strike back, and we can’t let them get away with it.
This is an attack on Greenpeace in Japan. The biggest giveaway? The first clue we had that Junichi and Toru were to be arrested came from television media in Japan ringing up to ask if we had a comment on the “impending arrest.” So it was leaked to television beforehand, presumably to ensure images of Greenpeace activists in handcuffs. In Japan, 90% of those arrested are convicted, so the presumption of guilt is very strong. The police then raided five locations — the activists’ homes, our two offices, and the hotel where Junichi was staying. A phone call would have brought them in — we documented every step of how we obtained the whale meat box and turned it over to the prosecutor. We made it clear that Junichi and everyone else involved were available day or night to help in the investigation.
So why the heavyhanded treatment? Could it be we hit a nerve with somebody? Watch this space, this could get ugly. Under Japanese law, Junichi and Toru can be held for a month without charges. And if the authorities were honest, those charges would be “embarassing corrupt Japanese officials that don’t like a spotlight being shown upon their cosy little operation which is bilking Japanese taxpayers out of US$4.7 million a year to kill whales for science nobody needs and whale meat that nobody buys.” In my book, that ain’t a crime.
I was helping my 9 year old son with his school report on whales. We were going through all the usual gee whiz facts about how big a blue whale can be — heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, 50 people could stand on its tongue.
But he hit on the genius question for getting the concept across to his school friends: “How big would it be if it was in the playground at school?”
Well now, Google Earth to the rescue!!! We took a screenshot of the playground at the school. My plan was to actually take a tape measure and walk out 29 metres at the real playground, note position, and then drop in an image of a whale to scale. But looky up there in the top bar of icons in Google Earth … is that a RULER?
Why yes it is. And easy as pie, we laid out 29 metres on the playground image and knew exactly how big our whale would be, in a way that all Doon’s school pals would immediately understand.
Between the poster of the result, a recording of whale sounds found on the internet, and a bit of baleen borrowed from Steve and Kelly, he had an excellent set of multimedia additions to his presentation.
He got a near-perfect 9 out of 10, and a big happy hug from his proud parents.
The largest ever recorded blue whale was actually 33 metres long, a fact we discovered after laying this out, so our whale in the playground is more an average sort of awesomely large beasty.
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Go make your own…
Back in the early 80s when I and a ragged army of canvassers were knocking on doors to tell people about nuclear weapons tests and acid rain, we were lucky if, among the average 60 homes we visited in a night, three had heard of Greenpeace.So it was a big thing when, in 1984, Steve Sawyer happened upon a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle: Environmental pressure group. Ten letters.
It was one of those informal indicators that you have passed into the zeitgeist — in some sense, you had made it into the fog of public consciousness if you were big enough to be teased out of its grey matter by a clue.
Yesterday, my colleague Kirsten told me that she was half watching the Dutch Postcode Lottery television quiz last weekend when the contestant, for 30,000 Euros, was asked
When Greenpeace recently held a contest to name a humpback whale, the winner was.…
A) Mister Splashy Pants
B) Mister Big
C) Mister Darcy
Alas, despite Kristen yelling at the TV screen that it was “Mister Splashy Pants, you idiot,” the contestant flubbed it. He may have boned up on his countries and capitals before walking out on stage. He may have memorized the kings and queens of England. But not being a Reddit reader or internet stumbler cost the guy 30,000 smackers.
Now, what has all this got to do with the price of beans in Boston? I like to measure. I like to be able to take a fuzzy concept like “raising consciousness” and turn it into a data set you can evaluate and set targets against. So I propose a new informal advocacy Zeitgeist benchmark here, for measuring success in getting a concept out into the public domain:
Has the concept you are promoting appeared on a quiz show or in a crossword puzzle?
We can extend this to other Zeitgeist benchmarks:
Has your mother heard about it?
Has Letterman or Leno made a joke about it?
Has it been ridiculed on Slashdot?
Has it appeared in a fashion magazine?
Does it have a Facebook Group?
Does it have a copycat Facebook Group?
Has more than one person tried to make money on it on Cafepress?
Has it been on the Simpsons?
Has Reddit featured it as a logo?
If you make 2 out of 10, you´re a meme
If you make 5 out of 10, you´re a trend.
If you make 7 out of 10, you’re a phenomenon.
If you make 10 out of 10, you´re headed for Wired´s Tired list.
Mister Splashy is still waiting for his Simpsons episode and his Late Night joke, but other than that, he has made it.
Blogged with Flock
Late last night, the word went out that we had found the fleet. On board the Espy, the Bridge bristled with binoculars as the crew sought to catch a glimpse through the fog and snow. And judging from the webstats, an awful lot of us Virtual Crewmembers and Cyber Salty Dogs went barrelling toward our own version of the bridge — the live Esperanza Webcam, where a tiny smudge on the horizon said that once again, against all odds, we had found the Japanese whaling fleet in the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean.
For me, sitting warm and dry in my home in Amsterdam, I was able to experience some of the vicarious excitement of the hunt. I loaded up the webcam page. There. Up on the horizon off the starboard bow. There was our quarry, the Nisshin Maru.
Well whaddya know. Calgary Journalist Chris Turner has written an outstanding article about the phenomena of Mister Splashy Pants for the Globe and Mail. I say “outstanding” not just because I’m button-popping proud to see this blog sited as a news source — he’s latched onto and articulated some really good stuff about how digital social networks are changing activism, and how all of us hoeing our rows in the fields of social change need to change the tone and voice with which we speak to those networks.
And there was one name that just barely made the final cut. As Greenpeace International official Brian Fitzgerald later explained on his blog, Mr. Splashy Pants was nearly lost to "the self-censorship instinct." Mr. Fitzgerald and his colleagues thought it was funny, he wrote, but they also worried it was "undignified."
Still, Mr. Fitzgerald and his colleagues decided to “push back” against internal censorship, to share with their audience “what amuses and inspires those of us within the walls and below the decks.” In other words, to rethink the marketing of social causes. And in fact, this might be Mr. Splashy Pants’s most significant message: If you presume to speak to the masses about society’s ills and how to correct them, do it in their language — and admit it’s also yours. Be their conscience, sure, but address them as friends would.
Marketing consultants often talk about the importance of “stickiness” — a concept codified in Malcolm Gladwell’s mammoth bestseller The Tipping Point that refers to the almost mystical ability of certain kinds of information to cut through the thick undergrowth of the digital age and adhere to everything they touch.Mr. Splashy Pants was, in this regard, like digital Krazy Glue.
Now this is not the first Mister Turner has mentioned Mister Splashy. He penned an encouragement to vote for MSP, “Or El Splasherino if you aren’t into the whole brevity thing…” at his blog, the Geography of Hope as a blow against “hectoring humourlessness.” And he knows whereof he speaks. He brings to the piece a unique perspective as a former Greenpeace canvasser who burned out and retreated.
I left the job at the end of the summer utterly exhausted at the prospect of saving whales or old-growth forests or the life-sustaining ozone layer — at least if their salvation required me to spend another day trafficking door to door in fear, guilt and despair.The work was not without its giddy interludes. In the evenings, campaigners drove back to the student house serving as Greenpeace’s Kingston office and ate and ranted together, drank beer and passed joints, kicked hacky sacks and sang songs, giggled our asses off and howled at the moon.
The exuberance of those nights, though, was no match for the earnest pleading of the late afternoons and early evenings, the grim reiterations of ecological horror and impending doom on doorstep after doorstep. If we were in the business of saving the planet, I wondered, why couldn’t it be a joyous business?
I let my Greenpeace membership lapse the following summer and, for many years after, I saw nothing in my occasional encounters with the organization to win me back to its fold. Instead, I saw the same damning messages strung from bridges, the same trafficking in symbols of toxicity and ruin. The same unceasing joylessness.
Which is why the sudden appearance of Mr. Splashy Pants — a phrase so silly it could have emerged from one of our late-night bull sessions — was so captivating. It made its case in a chortling instant: Greenpeace had somehow found its funny bone and used it to hatch possibly the most infectious viral marketing campaign in the history of environmental activism.
And there it is — that stark contrast between the Greenpeace that insiders know and the Greenpeace which shows its face to the public — a schism we in the web team have been chipping away at for some time now with blogs and crew profiles, a less formal voice in our web content, and positive campaigns like Green my Apple. For an organization which is so full of life and humor and heroism and fine barroom story fodder, how can we be perceived as dark grumpy grinches?
This is one of the things that our Comms Director, Francesca Polini, identified as an essential challenge in communicating the Greenpeace identity — rising out of the trap of negativism, of nay saying, of solutionless doom-mongering: one of the most consistent negative impressions of the organisation she found in opinion polling on three continents.
In my favourite bit of anecdotal response to one of the focus groups, one participant declared that if Greenpeace were a person at a party, they’d be talking incessantly and nobody else would get a word in edgewise. Ewwwww. I hate those people.
So hats off to Mister Turner for buying a t-shirt and being the only journalist who has really seen into the soul of the Mister Splashy Pants story, and the important lessons it holds for Greenpeace and the environmental movement in general. I especially liked this:
But Splashy is more than just an online punchline. The environmental movement has asked us for decades now to protect “the divine spirit of the ocean,” and still the peril remained imminent for all those humpback whales. We were moved, instead, to save Mr. Splashy Pants.Just 10 days after Greenpeace officially christened Splashy, the Japanese government declared a moratorium on their humpback whale hunt for this season. The official explanation didn’t mention it, but just maybe the whalers realized there would be consequences for the cold-blooded murder of an animal whose name might as well be a synonym for fun.
Blogged with Flock
I thought I’d take the day off yesterday. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I woke up to the news that Japan had at last confirmed a rumour we’d been chasing for the last couple months, that they were going to back down on the humpback quota. And, albeit for the happiest of reasons, there went my day. Despite the fact we’d prepared a reactive line and story for this eventuality days ago, when one of our sources gave us a tip, the Gods of the mandatory three-continent and one ship consultation process still required homage, and I spent most of the day on skype and email and bad phone connections. At the moment I had this web story ready to publish, my wireless connection went down. I had been, uncharacteristically, shouting at people to hurry up massaging sentences and signing off on language, as I watched our peak European web traffic time slide by without news of the biggest event this whaling season mentioned on the Greenpeace.org front page. So let’s say I was a little stressed. And there I was with a dead connection and a half hour of lost edits. I tore down to the basement and shouted at my nine year old son to get off Nikita the Cheetah, our hardwired rig, where he was playing Harry Potter. “BUT I HAVEN’T SAVED MY GAME!!!” He wailed. Poor kid. Dad wasn’t too understanding about his lost data issue at that moment.
But the fact is, Doon is the reason those whales got saved.
When the news had come in that morning, I ran over to tell him the humpbacks were safe for this year anyway, and we did some happy high-fives while Martha went running to the Christmas tree saying “Doony got his wish!”
At school the kids had made ornaments on which they’d hung a Christmas wish. And my boy, bless him, didn’t wish for a Wii or a new bike, he’d written “I hope that whales won’t die.”
And there it was — the 100th monkey, the camel’s straw, the ornament that saved the whales. Don’t let anybody tell you it was high level negotiations at the International Whaling Commission. Diplomatic pressure from Australia? Nah. The growing split between the Japanese Fisheries Agency and the Foreign Ministry? Not a chance.
Mister Splashy Pants got saved by all of us who added weight to the public outrage, and the final tiny couple of grams that sent things to the tipping point was a green strip of paper with a sentence in Dutch, bending a bough here in my living room.