Tuesday, October 02, 2012

COLUMN: Whale Wars

It seems like everyone's vacation-crazy around these parts lately.

The tail end of summer is the maddening time when everyone I work with looks at their pay stubs, realizes they've got vacation time to burn and precious remaining good weather to do it in, and charges en masse to the calendar to reserve their time. I'm in the same boat -- I've still got two weeks to take before the end of the year. But I always tend to put off vacations until the last minute.

It's not due to poor planning or some wintry event that I like to partake in, and it's certainly not to due to some workaholic nature that I'll never have. No, there's one real reason why I'm hesitant every year to take time off:

I don't want anyone to see my e-mails while I'm gone. It's embarassing.

See, when I go on vacation, someone else has the unpleasant job of checking my e-mail and handling any and all incoming work-related communications. The problem is that it takes hours, extensive patience, and a minor in Library Science to find any work-related communications within the debris and detritus of my in-box.

Let's take this morning for an example. I came in to work to find 79 new e-mails to wade through. Of those 79, the total number of work-related e-mails was... one. The remaining 78 were an assortment of newsletters, spam, and approximately sixty-four kajillion pleas, scams, begs, and offers all wanting one thing: my hard-earned cash.

I'm a sucker for a good cause. If I'm researching something I'm passionate about or a company whose products I like, I will inevitably get to the part of the website that says "Click here to receive our newsletter and stay informed about such-and-such." And, like the sucker I am, I will invariably click it, thinking to myself, "Shane, you are SUCH a progressive human being. Thanks to your diligence and the power of modern technology, you have secured your position as a forward-thinking, ambitious, cutting-edge, informed consumer and philanthropist. Pat yourself on the back, fella."

And then days later my first "newsletter" will arrive, and it will invariably look like this:

"Thanks for subscribing to the such-and-such newsletter. To recap our latest news: MONEY! YOUR MONEY! WE NEED IT! ALL OF IT! NOW!!"

The only "news" I learn from these countless newsletters is that if I don't open my wallet, the t-shirt I want will sell out. Or the other guy will win the election. Or kids in third world countries will go hungry, wolves will go extinct, and public television will go off the air. I will miss my reunion (classmates.com), never find my soulmate (match.com), and not discover that I'm a distant relative of Benjamin Franklin (ancestry.com). Basically, if I'm not independently wealthy -- which, friends, I am not -- my life, not to mention the lives of children and cute animals everywhere, will suck.

One classic example comes from a cause that, if I'm to be perfectly honest, I don't care a whole lot about.

Ever seen the Animal Planet show "Whale Wars"? It's one of those reality shows that's just entertainment heroin. The show follows the exploits of the guerilla marine conservation group Sea Shepherd. Each season spotlights their annual campaign against Japanese whalers in the anything-goes international waters of the Southern Ocean. These ragtag warriors use their small fleet of refurbished ships to intercept whalers with stink bombs, prop foulers, and a wide array of legal and physical gambits to stop whales from being killed. It's nothing shy of enthralling.

There's just one thing: Try as hard as I might, in the grand list of things I feel passionate about, whales just aren't up there. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge proponent of animal rights and I donate what I can to several organizations. That said -- and it's selfish and shallow, I know -- I tend to care a little more about animals that are cute and furry rather than slimy and gigantic.

Yes, I get it. Whales are smart creatures with beautiful songs and dwindling numbers. But they don't purr, they don't have sad eyes, and they don't come when you call. They're the size of school buses and shoot water out of blowholes. Eww. Does that make me an awful person? Probably. But every season of "Whale Wars" contains the obligatory scene where a Sea Shepherd vessel stumbles onto a pack of whales and the crew all come out and weep at the beauty and majesty of these obese eyesores -- and I can't be moved no matter how much I try.

I'm happy, though, that there are people who get moved to tears by the plight of whales -- it keeps one of my favorite shows on the air. I love the intensity of "Whale Wars," so I signed up for their e-mail list to know when the next season starts up. Little did I know this would result in a barrage of guilt-inducing requests for cash. And hey, that's fine -- I know I'm in the wrong for not caring about the fate of whales, so I deserve a little e-guilt. But Sea Shepherd doesn't stop at whales. The other day, I received an urgent donation request for Sea Shepherd's campaign to protect sharks.

If I can't bring myself to love whales, it's gonna be a huge leap to get me to care about sharks. As far as I'm concerned, sharks do a fine job protecting themselves all on their own. Any animal that can kill me with its teeth is NOT high on my list of protecting. If you spent your whole life campaigning for shark rights and then jumped into the ocean, a shark is NOT going to come up to hug you and say thanks. At best, a shark is going to come up and bite your leg off. Let's face it, "Jaws" would be a MUCH less exciting flick had the townsfolk of Amity Island spotted a huge great white and then mounted a riveting campaign of fundraising and public awareness to ensure the shark's welfare needs were met.

If saving sharks is your cup o' humanitarianism -- or sharktarianism, I guess -- then more power to you. I'll sit this one out. But unless I figure out how to unsubscribe from some of these newsletters, I'm gonna need a bigger boat... to store my e-mails. But Sea Shepherd isn't the worst offender of e-mail fundraising overdose. That title goes to a man who just happens to be the leader of the free world. More on him NEXT week.

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