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Return to the North Pole

Well, not literally. I have not been back to the top of the world since my journey last year. But I have written a cover story for the Washington Post Magazine, part of a special issue that examines world travel in a time of climate change. In my piece, I describe the sights, sounds, and emotions of traveling to such a remote and inhospitable location, but note also the disturbing thinness of the sea ice en route. As I argue: "To travel to the North Pole is to be acutely aware of not only the isolation of the present, but also the weight of the past, of those who sought to be where we now stood, to meet, in the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the "challenge of human daring." It is also, increasingly, to consider the future — to wonder whether, just as the window of accessibility is cracking open, the opportunity to see the North Pole as we know and imagine it is already starting to close."

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Refresh, Coming Up, and Notes

I have been singulrly lax in my blogging here in 2018. It has been a challenging year. At some point, I shall presumably lay it all out. But for now: well, it's time for a periodic refresh around here, and I think the new look is pretty neat. Nice and clean. Many thanks to the good folks at the Authors Guild, who make it all possible. 


I have a couple magazine pieces coming up: the aforementioned short National geographic essay, and another Washington Post Magazine cover story, on the trip I made to the North Pole last year with colleagues from Polar Bears International. Before that, I'm off to Alaska for some R&R. Specifically, to Anchorage, and to Homer, my happy place.

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I'm presently writing a short piece for National Geographic on 'The Lure of the Cold.' The essential premise: to answer the question of why people voluntarily visit, explore, live in and work in some of the coldest places on Earth. It's a question that's been a lot easier for me to answer these past few days, as temperatures have soared above 90 degrees in Vermont, and the heat index has been over 100. I have, for the first time since moving here, cracked and installed a window AC unit in one of my rooms. And yes, I am aware of, and uncomfortable with, the irony: that by using an air conditioner I am contributing to the global warming which, while not necessarily responsible for this specific heatwave, makes it and others like them likelier and probably more frequent. But at least it means, in one room of the house at least, I am cool and I can work.

The broader context, of course, is clear. It is not just hot, it is historically hot. On Monday, Burlington, experienced its highest daily low temperature on record, with the temperature never falling below 80 degrees. It's not just the United States, either. "From the normally mild summer climes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week," notes Jason Samenow of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Blog. We all know of course, why this is; and yet the Trump Administration continues to pursue policies that are deliberately ignorant of, and hostile toward, efforts to bring climate change under control. So much so, in fact, that even automakers have reportedly been urging it to put the brakes on some of its rollbacks on Obama-era fuel efficiency mandates. Nor, of course, is it just climate change: this administration is more overtly antagonistic toward environmental protection than any since Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency. Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, was almost comically villainous; but even he couldn't hold a candle to the Cruella de Ville-like awfulness of Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has finally been forced to resign as EPA Administrator following a laundry list of scandals; the biggest, and ongoing, remains his boss' war on the environment and the climate, which, without the cartoonish Pruitt around, may be prosecuted more efficiently and with less of a spotlight.  Read More 

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Miguel Cotto

We're not supposed to have favorites. But mine has long been Miguel Cotto.

Back in early 2004, when I thought writing about boxers and boxing would be a fleting dalliance, I sat ringside and watched as Cotto, a Puerto Rican prospect of some repute, crumpled Victoriano Sosa with a series of left hooks to the body. I recall turning to the person seated next to me and exclaiming something along the lines of, "Damn, this guy can fight!"

Three years later, he was at his peak, defeating all who stood in his path. Then, in 2008, came his first loss, a loss that was subsequently shrouded in controversy, and one that altered the arc of his career, making him seem diminished and more vulnerable. When he avenged that loss in 2011, it was on a night full of emotion, some of which I touched on in this piece for ESPN.

Then, in 2014 and for the remainder of his career, he was a man reborn under the tutelage of Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach. And while he was frequently criticized by media and fans as aloof, he was in fact merely a private person, whom those who truly knew him adored. The days building up to his final fight last weekend were emotional indeed; the fight itself did not go quite as planned, as he lost on points and suffered a torn biceps, but that was almost irrelevant. Last Saturday was a tribute to Miguel Cotto and the career he had had; and as it wound down, I was particularly honored to be able to spend some time in his training camp with photographer Ed Mulholland and write this for HBO.

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Pound-for-Pound Talkers

It's hard to believe, but this January will mark four years since I began my role as digital correspondent for HBO Boxing. I lose count of how many interviews I've done in that time, and how many pieces I've fronted. Some work well, some less so. Every so often, however, it just comes together perfectly, with a bunch of articulate boxers, some good stories, and some real energy. That's been the case this week in New York.

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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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