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Environment Eviscerated, Opportunity Lost

Approaching my 50th birthday, I find myself looking back at the contours of my life. I could not possibly have imagined it would follow the path that it is. From almost as long as I can remember, I wanted to write about wildlife and the environment, to be a defender of animals and their habitats. I pursued that goal with dogged determination: writing my first articles for New Scientist and BBC Wildlife when I was 18, co-founding the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society at 19, appearing on TV discussing whales and whaling by 20, joining Greenpeace just before I turned 21, heading out on my first anti-whaling expedition to Antarctica at 23 ...  Read More 
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More North Pole

I've been uploading some videos to YouTube, including a couple from the North Pole trip: 50 Years of Victory cruising in the evening light off Franz Josef Land, and a polar bear wandering the sea ice as we headed north. Enjoy.

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That Time Mario Andretti Literally Took Me for a Spin

That moment when you tell Mario Andretti that you were the one in the car when he spun out ...

A good friend of mine, Jim Cossaart, is a rabid (I think he'd accept the adjective) fan of IndyCar. The other month, he suggested I accompany him to a race at Watkins Glen, New York. It was my first such experience and made all the more memorable by the fact that Jim and I were furnished, courtesy of Pat Caporali and Kate Guerra of IndyCar, not only with pit lane passes, but also the opportunity to take a pre-race ride around the track in a custom-built two-seater with none other than Mario Andretti.

Growing up in the United Kingdom, I became as a youngster a big fan of Formula One, and the first year in which I truly became invested in it was 1978, when Mario won the championship driving the now-legendary Lotus 79. So I didn't know much about IndyCar (at least not only Jim began indoctrinating me) but I certainly knew about Mario.

Long retired from active racing, Mario Andretti is still an ambassador of sorts for IndyCar, driving guests at 160 MPH every race morning. Mario Andretti, by the way, is 77 years old.

I'm not used to traveling at such speeds, nor am I used to wearing a helmet. I've never even ridden a motorcycle. So, somewhat embarrassingly, you can see in the video that as we pick up speed, I actually hang on to my helmet in case it flies off. Of course it wasn't going to fly off - but, well, it isn't always easy to think straight when racing along at 160 MPH.

It had been raining overnight, and there were wet patches on the track. Mario hit one, and as you can see, we went for a spin. It's amazing how many thoughts go through your head when you're in a car that's spinning at that speed. In my case, my very first one was, "Wow, that's so cool that Mario pretends to spin!" Then, when I realized it had been a legitimate spin and when it took a few seconds for driver or car to respond (or so it seemed to me in the back) I worried that I'd broken Mario Andretti and that I was going to be in so much trouble.

Fortunately, he restarted the car, got it into gear and raced us back to the pits - where the other guests lining up for a ride were buzzing and, frankly, jealous over my unscheduled detour.

Quite a few folks are fortunate enough to go for a ride with Mario Andretti during IndyCar season. I'm the only one I know who literally went for a spin with him.  Read More 

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North Pole

Last month, I was able to join my friends and colleagues Krista Wright and Geoff York of Polar Bears International on board the nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Years of Victory to the North Pole.

It was, as one might imagine, a singularly unique experience. I wasn't quite sure what to expect: I've been to the Arctic plenty of times, of course, and I've been on board icebreakers that have crunched their way through sea ice. But I had never been on a ship as a passenger before, let alone among a large number of paying passengers, which was the case here: for much of the year, Victory breaks pathways through the thick ice of the Northeast Passage, but during the summer, it is chartered by adventure tour companies - in this case, Quark Expeditions - to go to the North Pole.

I wrote about the voyage here - unfortunately, truth be told, the editorial process surrounding that blog post was fairly awful. (See that correction at the bottom? It's wrong. Not coincidentally, I'm now looking for a new gig.) Fortunately, I am hopeful to get another bite of the apple with a real outlet, the Washington Post Magazine, and I will also post some blogs that I'll be writing for PBI. Meanwihile, I also got the chance to return to "Watching the Hawks" on RT America, and talk - albeit remotely - with the always-excellent Tyler Ventura and Tabetha Wallace.  Read More 

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Deny, Deny, Deny

There's so much that is telling about this exchange between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota over the subject of climate change. Perry had, earlier, in the week, stated that he did not believe carbon dioxide is the primary factor in the warming climate, attributing it instead to "the warming of the oceans." Franken calmly dissected Perry's assorted points and claims until at the end, Perry simply couldn't hide the fact that, rather than being a skeptic as he asserted, he is a flat-out climate change denier.

When Franken posits that human activities are solely behind rising global temperatures, Perry states his outright refusal to believe it. It isn't because he takes issue with any of the scientific evidence or with the laws of physics; it's that he is unable to comprehend and unwilling to accept that such a thing could be the case. It's an excellent example of what the likes of Katharine Hayhoe have pointed out; that as much as we might like to repeat facts until we are blue in the face, facts alone simply will not budge deniers when they so utterly threaten their worldview. Read More 
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The Krusher Gets Krushed

David Spagnolo, the photographer for boxing promotional company Main Events, caught this great image of light heavyweight boxer Sergey Kovalev and I enjoying a light-hearted moment during a livestream prior to Kovalev's bout with Andre Ward last weekend. Part of me blushes at it a little; the really good interviewers shouldn't allow themselves to get caught up in the jokes of a specific participant. But I let the mask slip here; although he's a divisive character, I enjoy Sergey. I have probably interviewed him and Gennady Golovkin more than any other boxers for HBO. It was to cover a Kovalev fight that HBO sent me to Russia last year. At this particular moment, he was cracking a joke about "shooting" Ward in the ring (he was partly trained by a biathlon coach), and just previously he had openly laughed when I told him that Ward's trainer Virgil Hunter said he had trained Ward to knock Kovalev off. But boxing has a great way of humbling you and making you look foolish, particularly if you are not 100% prepared, and that's just what happened last Saturday night. Although there was some controversy about the fight and the moment of the stoppage, centered around some low blows landed by Ward, the American did indeed knock out the Russian, hurting him badly with a booming right hand in the eighth round, and then launching an all-out assault until referee Tony Weeks stopped the contest.  Read More 

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Petulance and the Presidency

The recent firing by Donald Trump of FBI Director James Comey evokes the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate; and Trump's admission that, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won’” has prompted speculation that the agency's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow was finding fire amid the smoke.

Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said: “I think the Comey operation was breathing down the neck of the Trump campaign and their operatives, and this was an effort to slow down the investigation.”

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, added: “If there was no ‘there there’, James Comey would still have a job.”

I'm not so sure.  Read More 
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Some Interesting Articles and News Items

A few articles and news items that have caught my eye of late: Read More 
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Big Little Lies

I'm warming to HBO's "Big Little Lies." I'm already more than won over by the opening credit sequence, and particularly the Michael Kiwanuka song that underpins it. He has also released a longer version of the track, which is itself but an edited version of the original 10+ minute opus

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Paranoia, Fake News, and Enemies of the People

Before 2017, forty-three men had been president; all of them have received criticism, at least some of it deserved; some of them have been venal, some incompetent, at least one genuinely criminal. But none have proven so intellectually, emotionally and temperamentally unsuited to the job as the incumbent. It is difficult to see where this all will end.  Read More 
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