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James (Jon) Castle - 7 December 1950 to 12 January 2018

Over four decades Captain Jon Castle navigated Greenpeace ships by the twin stars of ‘right and wrong’, defending the environment and promoting peace. Greenpeace chronicler, Rex Weyler, recounts a few of the stories that made up an extraordinary life.

Captain Jon Castle onboard the MV Sirius, 1 May 1996

James (Jon) Castle first opened his eyes virtually at sea. He was born 7 December 1950 in Cobo Bay on the Channel Island of Guernsey, UK. He grew up in a house known locally as Casa del Mare, the closest house on the island to the sea, the second son of Robert Breedlove Castle and Mary Constance Castle. 

Young Jon Castle loved the sea and boats. He worked on De Ile de Serk, a cargo boat that supplied nearby Sark island, and he studied at the University of Southampton to become an officer in the Merchant Navy. 

Jon became a beloved skipper of Greenpeace ships. He sailed on many campaigns and famously skippered two ships during Greenpeace’s action against Shell’s North Sea oil platform, Brent Spar. During his activist career, Jon spelt his name as "Castel" to avoid unwanted attention on his family.

Right and wrong

Jon had two personal obsessions: he loved books and world knowledge and was extremely well-read.  He also loved sacred sites and spent personal holidays walking to stone circles, standing stones, and holy wells.  

As a young man, Jon became acquainted with the Quaker tradition, drawn by their dedication to peace, civil rights, and direct social action. In 1977, when Greenpeace purchased their first ship - the Aberdeen trawler renamed, the Rainbow Warrior - Jon signed on as first mate, working with skipper Peter Bouquet and activists Susi Newborn, Denise Bell and Pete Wilkinson.

In 1978, Wilkinson and Castle learned of the British government dumping radioactive waste at sea in the deep ocean trench off the coast of Spain in the Sea of Biscay. In July, the Rainbow Warrior followed the British ship, Gem, south from the English coast, carrying a load of toxic, radioactive waste barrels. The now-famous confrontation during which the Gem crew dropped barrels onto a Greenpeace inflatable boat, ultimately changed maritime law and initiated a ban on toxic dumping at sea.

After being arrested by Spanish authorities, Castle and Bouquet staged a dramatic escape from La Coru?a harbour at night, without running lights, and returned the Greenpeace ship to action. Crew member Simone Hollander recalls, as the ship entered Dublin harbour in 1978, Jon cheerfully insisting that the entire crew help clean the ship's bilges before going ashore, an action that not only built camaraderie among the crew, but showed a mariner's respect for the ship itself. In 1979, they brought the ship to Amsterdam and participated in the first Greenpeace International meeting.

In 1980 Castle and the Rainbow Warrior crew confronted Norwegian and Spanish whaling ships, were again arrested by Spanish authorities, and brought into custody in the El Ferrol naval base.

The Rainbow Warrior remained in custody for five months, as the Spanish government demanded 10 million pesetas to compensate the whaling company. On the night of November 8, 1980, the Rainbow Warrior, with Castle at the helm, quietly escaped the naval base, through the North Atlantic, and into port in Jersey.

In 1995, Castle skippered the MV Greenpeace during the campaign against French nuclear testing in the Pacific and led a flotilla into New Zealand to replace the original Rainbow Warrior that French agents bombed in Auckland in 1985.

Over the years, Castle became legendary for his maritime skills, courage, compassion, commitment, and for his incorruptible integrity. "Environmentalism: That does not mean a lot to me," he once said, "I am here because of what is right and wrong. Those words are good enough for me."

Brent Spar   Action at Brent Spar Oil Rig in the North Sea, 16 June 1995

One of the most successful Greenpeace campaigns of all time began in the summer of 1995 when Shell Oil announced a plan to dump a floating oil storage tank, containing toxic petroleum residue, into the North Atlantic. Castle signed on as skipper of the Greenpeace vessel Moby Dick, out of Lerwick, Scotland. A month later, on 30 April 1995, Castle and other activists occupied the Brent Spar and called for a boycott of Shell service stations.

When Shell security and British police sprayed the protesters with water cannons, images flooded across world media, demonstrations broke out across Europe, and on May 15, at the G7 summit, German chancellor Helmut Kohl publicly protested to British Prime Minister John Major. In June, 11 nations, at the Oslo and Paris Commission meetings, called for a moratorium on sea disposal of offshore installations.

After three weeks, British police managed to evict Castle and the other occupiers and held them briefly in an Aberdeen jail. When Shell and the British government defied public sentiment and began towing the Spar to the disposal site, consumers boycotted Shell stations across Europe. Once released, Castle took charge of the chartered Greenpeace vessel Altair and continued to pursue the Brent Spar towards the dumping ground. Castle called on the master of another Greenpeace ship, fitted with a helideck, to alter course and rendezvous with him. Using a helicopter, protesters re-occupied the Spar and cut the wires to the detonators of scuppering charges.

One of the occupiers, young recruit Eric Heijselaar, recalls: "One of the first people I met as I climbed on board was a red-haired giant of a man grinning broadly at us. My first thought was that he was a deckhand, or maybe the bosun. So I asked if he knew whether a cabin had been assigned to me yet. He gave me a lovely warm smile, and reassured me that, yes, a cabin had been arranged. At dinner I found out that he was Jon Castle, not a deckhand, not the bosun, but the captain. And what a captain!"

With activists occupying the Spar once again, Castle and the crew kept up their pursuit when suddenly the Spar altered course, heading towards Norway. Shell had given up. The company announced that Brent Spar would be cleaned out and used as a foundation for a new ferry terminal. Three years later, in 1998, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) passed a ban on dumping oil installations into the North Sea.

"There was no question among the crew who had made this possible, who had caused this to happen," Heijselaar recalls. "It was Jon Castle. His quiet enthusiasm and the trust he put into people made this crew one of the best I ever saw. He always knew exactly what he wanted out of a campaign, how to gain momentum, and he always found the right words to explain his philosophies. He was that rare combination, both a mechanic and a mystic. And above all he was a very loving, kind human being."


After the Brent Spar campaign, Castle returned to the South Pacific on the Rainbow Warrior II, to obstruct a proposed French nuclear test in the Moruroa atoll. Expecting the French to occupy their ship, Castle and engineer, Luis Manuel Pinto da Costa, rigged the steering mechanism to be controlled from the crow's-nest. When French commandos boarded the ship, Castle stationed himself in the crow's-nest, cut away the access ladder and greased the mast so that the raiders would have difficulty arresting him.

Eventually, the commandos cut a hole into the engine-room and severed cables controlling the engine, radio, and steering mechanism, making Castle's remote control system worthless. They towed the Rainbow Warrior II to the island of Hao, as three other protest vessels arrived. 

Three thousand demonstrators gathered in the French port of Papeete, demanding that France abandon the tests. Oscar Temaru - leader of Tavini Huiraatira, an anti-nuclear, pro-independence party - who had been aboard the Rainbow Warrior II when it was raided, welcomed anti-testing supporters from Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Philippines, and American Samoa. Eventually, France ended their tests, and atmospheric nuclear testing in the world's oceans stopped once and for all.

“Moral courage”

Through these extraordinary missions, Jon Castle advocated "self-reflection" not only for individual activists, but for the organisation that he loved. Activists, Castle maintained, required "moral courage." He cautioned, "Don't seek approval. Someone has to be way out in front... illuminating territory in advance of the main body of thought."

He opposed "corporatism" in activist organisations and urged Greenpeace to avoid becoming "over-centralised or compartmentalised."  He felt that activist decisions should emerge from the actions themselves, not in an office. We can't fight industrialism with "money, numbers, and high-tech alone," he once wrote in a personal manifesto. Organisations have to avoid traps of "self-perpetuation" and focus on the job "upsetting powerful forces, taking on multinationals and the military-industrial complex."

He recalled that Greenpeace had become popular "because a gut message came through to the thirsty hearts of poor suffering people ... feeling the destruction around them."  Activists, Castle felt, required "freedom of expression, spontaneity [and] an integrated lifestyle."  An activist organisation should foster a "feeling of community" and exhibit "moral courage." Castle felt that social change activists had to "question the materialistic, consumerist lifestyle that drives energy overuse, the increasingly inequitable world economic tyranny that creates poverty and drives environmental degradation," and must maintain "honour, courage and the creative edge."

Well loved hero

Susi Newborn, who was there to welcome Jon aboard the Rainbow Warrior way back in 1977, and who gave the ship its name, wrote about her friend with whom she felt "welded at the heart: He was a Buddhist and a vegetarian and had an earring in his ear. He liked poetry and classical music and could be very dark, but also very funny. Once, I cut his hair as he downed a bottle or two of rum reciting The Second Coming by Yeats."

Newborn recalls Castle insisting that women steer the ships in and out of port because, "they got it right, were naturals." She recalls a night at sea, Castle "lashed to the wheel facing one of the biggest storms of last century head on. I was flung about my cabin like a rag doll until I passed out. We never talked about the storm, as if too scared to summon up the behemoth we had encountered. A small handwritten note pinned somewhere in the mess, the sole acknowledgment of a skipper to his six-person crew: ‘Thank You.’” Others remember Castle as the Greenpeace captain that could regularly be found in the galley doing kitchen duty.

In 2008, with the small yacht Musichana, Castle and Pete Bouquet staged a two-man invasion of Diego Garcia island to protest the American bomber base there and the UK's refusal to allow evicted Chagos Islanders to return to their homes. They anchored in the lagoon and radioed the British Indian Ocean Territories officials on the island to tell them they and the US Air Force were acting in breach of international law and United Nations resolutions. When arrested, Castle politely lectured his captors on their immoral and illegal conduct.

In one of his final actions, as he battled with his failing health, Castle helped friends in Scotland operate a soup kitchen, quietly prepping food and washing up behind the scenes.  

Upon hearing of his passing, Greenpeace ships around the world - the Arctic Sunrise, the Esperanza, and the Rainbow Warrior - flew their flags at half mast.

Jon is fondly remembered by his brother David, ex-wife Caroline, their son, Morgan Castle, born in 1982, and their daughter, Eowyn Castle, born in 1984. Morgan has a daughter of eight months Flora, and and Eowyn has a daughter, Rose, who is 2.   

As much of the western world has shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak, Sweden has taken a noticeably softer approach than its European neighbors who have closed schools, restaurants, and non-essential services, according to a report. | 3/24/20

As has been the case for the last few years, the 2020 Oscar nominees in the Best Documentary Short category are a remarkable bunch, and TheWrap gathered the filmmakers behind them to speak on Tuesday about the work that went into exploring such tough subjects.

Possibly the most sensitive topic touched on in this year’s field was that of Resignation Syndrome, a fairly new psychological case that has seen hundreds of traumatized refugee children become so mentally unwell that they fall into a comatose state for months or even years. In “Life Overtakes Me,” director-producers Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas managed to earn the trust of three refugee families with children in such a state and explored how they handle such a difficult situation while fighting to retain their asylum status in Sweden.

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Samuelson and Haptas said that while the families were willing to participate to help spread awareness of Resignation Syndrome, they were also afraid that participating would give away their location to oppressive governments that were hunting them. The directors, who did all the filming on their own, had to be careful to not give any information about where the families came from or where they were living in Sweden, and that secrecy was still top priority when Netflix called with an offer to put the doc on their streaming service.

“When they came to us for a distribution deal, we told them that we wouldn’t sign any contract that didn’t include an agreement that they wouldn’t stream our doc in the countries where the families came from, because they were afraid that the people who tortured them would see it,” Samuelson explained. “To their credit, Netflix immediately agreed.”

Similar care to protect the doc’s subjects was at the core of filming for Carol Dysinger’s “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if you’re a girl).” Dysinger traveled to Kabul to do a film on the work of Skateistan, a school that offers Afghan girls the education denied to their mothers by Taliban rule as well as afterschool skateboarding lessons.

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While the film espouses a sense of hope with shots of young girls excited to learn, it never pushes away the hard truths of life in the Afghanistan capital, where bombs go off on a weekly basis and the threat of the Taliban’s return constantly looms. Dysinger notes that her film team had to constantly hide any identifying information about Skateistan’s secret location and protect the identities of those who did not want their faces to be seen in the film.

“I could never show you the walls that surrounded the school attached to any identifying backgrounds, I had to avoid filming their security system, but within that show the sense of freedom these girls had in this school once the cloister was sealed,” Dysinger said.

Balancing uplifting narratives with undercurrents of sorrow was also a challenge for Laura Nix when she made “Walk Run Cha-Cha,” the most personal of the five films. For several years, Nix followed Paul and Millie Cao, a Vietnamese couple who were forced to separate by the impending Vietnam War but reunited and married in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. Forty years after their separation, they are making up for lost time by learning to dance competitively.

While the Caos initially accepted Nix’s offer out of excitement to show off their moves, they were more hesitant to discuss how they were separated. To make them more comfortable, Nix only interviewed them without a camera, using their audio-only interviews as voiceovers accompanied by the Caos going about their lives and taking care of their parents.

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“Sometimes people open up when they’re talking about personal things on camera, and other times there’s much more intimate conversations when it’s just two people and a microphone on the side,” Nix said. “People ask me if there’s footage of the two talking and I always tell them, ‘No, all of the interviews were just done on audio.'”

Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra also became sensitive of discussing tough topics when making “St. Louis Superman,” a film about activist Bruce Franks and his three years as a Missouri state representative in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder and the subsequent Ferguson riots in 2014. Franks talks openly about fighting to get legislation declaring gun violence a public health emergency in the state in a system dominated by white Republicans.

Along with Brown’s death, Franks was motivated by the death of his brother Chris, who was shot when he was nine years old. As the filmmakers talked with Franks for the film and were accompanied by him to screenings, they became more and more aware of the mental toll his work was taking on him, so much so that he stepped down from the state legislature last year due to severe trauma from the death of a close friend.

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“I became very aware of how he was being asked, again and again, to talk about the worst day of his life,” Mundhra said. “I think it is important to remember, even as we are cheering on these women and people of color who are running for office for the first time and for the best reasons, that this is still a political system that is not designed with them in mind and that trying to get that system to work for the marginalized can be a very draining experience.”

And the kind of trauma dealt with while filming may not only be personal, but societal as well. The final nominee, “In the Absence,” recounts the sinking of the Sewol ferry off the coast of South Korea in 2014 that killed 304 people, including 250 students.

The deaths were found to be largely preventable and were attributed to the failure of the ship’s captain to evacuate the passengers and the poor response from the Coast Guard and government officials that left nearby civilian boats to rescue those they could. The outrage from the disaster is shown in the film to have played a factor in the impeachment and removal of President Park Geun-hye three years later.

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But director Yi Seung-jun and producer Gary Byung-Seok Kam found strong resistance in Korea when doing the documentary, saying that many people thought it was time to “move on” and that the disaster had become “too political” due to Park’s connection to it. But as they talked with survivors, witnesses, and families of the deceased, they believed it was even more necessary to make the film to make sure the world doesn’t forget the truth.

“When we talked with people, there was so much pain. If there’s still pain, then we need to keep talking about this,” Yi said.

Producing “In the Absence” was particularly personal for Kam, who was booked to board the Sewol the day it sank but had to skip the voyage. That made watching much of the first-person footage taken by the students who did not survive especially difficult.

“As documentary makers, we have to learn to cry with one eye, but with the other eye, we have to keep the camera focused and to keep our distance,” Kam said. “That emotional rage and frustration fueled us, but we also had to remember to keep our distance so we can tell their story in the best way.”

The Best Documentary Short nominees, along with those in the live-action and animated categories, will be screened by Shorts.TV and Magnolia Pictures in select theaters nationwide starting this Friday. Click here to find a list of theaters in your area.

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'2020 Oscar Shorts: Documentary' Film Review: Traditionally Intense Category Wields a Slightly Lighter Touch This Year

'2020 Oscar Shorts: Live Action' Film Review: Nominees Represent Various Genres, But All Are Effective | 1/30/20
A radioactive isotope one billion times older than the Universe! An international team of researchers, including six scientists from the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), was able to measure for the first time the longest average lifetime of a radioactive isotope recorded by a device of measurement. This extraordinary fact is published (April 25), as the main piece on the cover, in Nature, the most prestigious of all scientific journals. The isotope in question is Xe 124 and its average lifetime is approximately one billion times older than the Universe. The Universe is about 14 billion years old, a period of time inconceivable when compared to the scale of human life. As if that alone did not cause enough amazement, there are radioactive isotopes (unstable elements that change over time emitting radiation) whose average life happens on scales much greater than the existence of the Universe itself. "The fact that we can directly measure such a rare process as this demonstrates the extraordinary scope of our measurement system, even when it was not made to measure these events, but rather dark matter," stresses José Matias, coordinator of the Portuguese team in this effort international and researcher of the Laboratory of Instrumentation, Biomedical Engineering and Radiation Physics (LIBPhys) of FCTUC. In fact, this measurement was only possible thanks to the XENON1T system, the most sensitive instrument ever produced by mankind for the detection of dark matter. It is installed in the National Laboratory of Gran Sasso (Italy), the largest underground laboratory in the world, under 1300 meters of rock to shield the system from cosmic rays existing on the surface. The study published by Nature shows that, after all, "XENON1T was also able to measure other rare physical phenomena, such as double electronic capture. In this case, the nucleus captures two of the electrons that orbit it in the atom, transforming two of the protons that constituted it into neutrons and emitting radiation in the form of two neutrinos. The energy released in this process forms the signal that the system registers, despite the extreme difficulty in being detected by its rarity, and can be generally masked by the omnipresent "normal" radiation ", affirms the also vice president of the Higher Institute of Engineering of Coimbra (ISEC). The average life span of Xe 124 Only with the detailed knowledge of the sources of radiation recorded by the detector was it possible to observe 126 events of double electron capture of the isotope Xe 124 and thus to determine for the first time its average life time of 2.5 x 1022 years (25 thousand millions of billions of years). This is the longest physical process ever measured directly by mankind. In fact, there is a register of phenomena with a longer average life (isotope Te 128) in the Universe, but that was inferred indirectly from another process. For the time being, it is not possible to predict the implications of this discovery that opens new horizons in human knowledge. The XENON consortium consists of 160 scientists from 27 research groups from the US, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Israel and Abu Dhabi. Portugal has been a partner in this collaboration since its inception in 2005 through the LIBPhys team. Cristina Pinto University of Coimbra • Faculty of Science and Technology Translated from the Portuguese version Ekaterina Santos

Despite an extremely eventful week in the world of American politics, “SNL” opted to open its latest episode with a sketch about Lori Loughlin, Michael Avenatti and Julian Assange being in prison together. Assange was played by Michael Keaton in a surprise appearance, with “SNL” regular Kate McKinnon as Laughlin and Pete Davidson as Avenatti.

The sketch eased into their introduction, started with three inmates talking about what they did to end up in prison.

“I’m the craziest dude in here,” said “SNL” cast member Kenan Thompson. “I stabbed my neighborhood to death and then ate his fingers so they couldn’t ID the body.”

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“Oh, yeah? You think that’s insane?” McKinnon, as Loughlin, said as she came in from offscreen. “I paid 500 grand to get my daughter into USC.”

The other inmates were increasingly taken aback by this declaration, and were increasingly appalled as Loughlin explained the many other pointless things she blew money on.

Davidson as Avenatti was introduced next, with Keaton as Assange coming in last.

“It’s me. I’m the architect of anarchy. I’m the king of chaos. I’m the scourge of the cleaning staff at the Ecuadorian embassy,” said Keaton/Avenatti.

“Yeah? What’s the big deal? Old man doesn’t look so tough,” “SNL” cast member Kyle Mooney said, not recognizing Assange.

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“You want to throw down, amigo?” Keaton’s Assange replied.”You want to? I hope you’re proud of every single photo in your iPod because, boom, all your ding dong pics just went on the internet.”

Mooney’s character scoffed at this.

“Hey, you remember that notes folder you had? What was that called? ‘Ideas for Shark Tank’?

“How did you know about that?” Mooney asked.

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“I know everything, baby,” Keaton’s Assange said. “You sons of bitches want to hear how crazy I am? Here’s how crazy I am. I’m wanted in the US and Sweden. I’m from Australia. I live in London, in Ecuador. You try figuring that one out. Yeah, you cheat your schools and, you know, you rob your companies. That’s cute. It is, yeah. I’ve attacked the U.S. military, bitches, because I’m an actual James Bond super villain and I’m one step away from destroying the goddamn moon. So you want to get nuts? Come on, let’s get nuts.”

That last bit was a reference to Keaton’s 1989 blockbuster “Batman.”

Watch some of it below:

“You wanna get nuts? C’mon. Let’s get nuts.” #SNL

— Saturday Night Live – SNL (@nbcsnl) April 14, 2019

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Education in Sweden is mandatory for all children from grade 1 to grade 9 - generally starting in the year of the child’s seventh birthday up until the end of the spring term of the calendar year of the child’s 16th birthday. The school year in Sweden runs from mid/late August to early/mid June. The Christmas holiday from mid December to early January divides the Swedish school year into two terms. Homeschooling is forbidden, unless there are "exceptional circumstances". From the age of one year children can be admitted to pre-school (förskola). Pre-schools both help provide an environment that stimulates children's development and learning, and enable parents to combine parenthood with work or studies. During the year before children start compulsory school, all children are offered a place in a pre-school class (förskoleklass), which combines the pedagogical methods of the pre-school with those of compulsory school. Between ages 6/7 and 15/16, children attend compulsory comprehensive school (grundskola), divided in three stages. The vast majority of schools in Sweden are municipally-run, but there are also autonomous and publicly-funded schools, known as "free schools". The education in free schools has many objectives in common with the municipal school, but it can have an orientation that differs from that of the municipal schools. A handful of boarding schools, known as "private schools", are funded by privately-paid tuition. In 2008, statistics showed that of all Swedes aged 25–64, 15% have completed only compulsory education (as the highest level of attainment), 46% only upper secondary education, 14% only post-secondary education of less than 3 years, and 22% post-secondary education of 3 years or more. Women are more educated than men (26% of women vs 19% of men have post-secondary education of 3 years or more). The level of education is highest among those aged 25–34, and it decreases with age. Both upper secondary school and university studies are financed by taxes. Some Swedes go straight to work after secondary school. Along with several other European countries, the government also subsidizes tuition of international students pursuing a degree at Swedish institutions, although there has been talk of this being changed. Swedish 15-years-old pupils have the 22nd highest average score in the PISA assessments, being neither significantly higher nor lower than the OECD average. Only Canada, the United States, and Japan have higher levels of tertiary degree holders.

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