In 1998, I visited many of the same locations on the Antarctic Peninsula while researching my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, and interviewed Fraser about how climate change was turning the regional ecosystem upside down. Penguins were being attacked by fleas (whose eggs were now surviving the winter) while snow was overwhelming the Adelie's breeding sites. On the islands around the United States' Palmer Station, the penguins were in retreat, as was the 10,000 year old glacier behind the station.
Regular readers know I've been following the money behind the successful effort to overturn Maine's same sex marriage law last fall. In short, about two-thirds of it comes from a single source -- the National Organization for Marriage -- which not only refuses to reveal its donors as required by Maine law, it has sued Maine in federal court in an effort not to play by the rules.
I'm currently in Austria, where the banking sector has been under stress from having lent perhaps too heavily to the former Warsaw Pact countries during the recent financial and real estate bubble. It being western Europe, there are few signs of stress on the streets. Homeless people are extremely rare, crime is extremely low, and fur coats remain as popular as ever for the older generations. The trains, of course, run on time. I think I once had to wait a full three minutes for a subway train in Vienna; generally its been about 5 to 15 seconds.
I'm currently on assignment in the Czech Republic (and, soon, neighboring countries), where they're still recovering from a weekend of blizzards.
As a Mainer, it's a little difficult to see what the fuss is all about: they received about a foot of fresh snow on top of what looks to have been a base of less than an inch. But two days after the snow stopped, trains are running late, stores are closed, and streets remain slick and uncleared. (Are winters usually very mild in Bohemia and Moravia? I thought they played hockey here.) It is quite beautiful, and I've enjoyed the atmosphere immensely, even if its hard to get around.
Fortunately, a new investigative news non-profit has started operating here in Maine, with its first story out yesterday in the Bangor Daily News, the Lewiston Sun Journal, Ellsworth American, and Mount Desert Islander. Notice the Press-Herald and its two sister papers -- which the non-profits' head, John Christie was once publisher of -- aren't on the list. Al Diamon asked Christie why that is. Answer: Press-Herald owner Richard Connor doesn't like him.
The launch was unfortunately tarnished by a stupid move. Just as Keith Shortall of Maine Public Broadcasting was airing a piece on the group, Christie added Shortall's name to the non-profits' advisory board without asking. This caused a storm in a teapot after Diamon exposed it (in the above post and comments). Hopefully a minor hiccup, as Maine certainly needs more competent investigative journalism capacity, if only to give the big national papers some fresh story ideas.
I reported on the rise of a far right party in Hungary, Jobbik, with an animus against alleged Gypsy criminals. As the party's popularity grew, someone was busy assassinating gypsies in a series of death squad style executions. Some suspected Jobbik, Jobbik suspected the government. This summer I thought we'd get some answers after several men were arrested and charged with the murders, but my former colleagues in Budapest tell me there's been little new information released about them. Does anyone else think that's strange?
Here in Maine, the major media have continued not to ask troubling questions about the Maine State Pier debacle, in which city officials appear to have engineered a sweetheart deal for a politically-connected real estate firm so as to "fix" a public asset that actually didn't need fixing. Meanwhile, the Portland Press-Herald's toughest reporting to date on the ill-conceived Ocean Gateway Terminal was written in verse. (I'm not making this up.)
Looking forward, I'm headed back to the Czech Republic and Austria this month, so expect fresh material from there soon. And there's this book I'm working on......