Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Antarctica's penguins, 12 years later

Flying back from Prague, I had a chance to catch up on my reading and ran across this New Yorker piece on the retreat of Adelie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula and the work of penguin expert Bill Fraser.

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.

What's astonishing is just how quickly things have gone from bad to worse, as the New Yorker piece makes clear. The pace of change -- be it penguins, glaciers, or floating ice shelves -- has exceeded the wildest dreams of the glaciologists, ecologists, and climate experts I spoke with in 1998-99. Indeed, the same is true for many of the other issues I raised in Ocean's End, including the pace of sea level rise threatening small island states like the Marshall Islands, the decline of coral reefs in Belize and other countries and, most dramatically, the hurricane threat to New Orleans.

On the bright side, the Black Sea is showing clear signs of recovery and the U.S. appears to have finally turned the corner on fisheries management. Unfortunately, neither will be much help to the penguins.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hiding the Money behind Maine's Question 1: a full report

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 on assignment in Europe, but I understand that the February issue of Down East is now on the newsstands back in New England. Inside, anyone interested in this issue will want to read my Talk of Maine column, "Hiding the Money." It's also available online. I posted some additional details back in December here at World Wide Woodard.

I'll be continuing to follow the Maine Ethics Commission investigation of NOM and, of course, the federal suit challenging our state's campaign finance laws. Stay tuned.

[Update, 8/11/2011: A federal appeals court has upheld a U.S. District Court decision against NOM's position, moving the organization one step closer to disclosure.]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In Austria

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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Prague

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.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Please steal my stories!

In journalism, having your story "ripped off" by a larger publication is a form of compliment, so it was with pleasure that I saw this story on the Cobscook Bay seaweed fight in the Jan.5 Wall Street Journal. Compare the source pool with my story in the current issue of Down East, which hit the newsstands a month ago. (I also suspect the New York Times writer who did this piece came to it via this Down East profile I did of Linda Bean.) I myself first became aware of the seaweed issue via Alix Blair's Salt Institute documentary radio project.

Pity I can't get the Portland Press-Herald to rip me off! Maine caucus system flaws, a scandal with the Maine State Pier, the revelations that Ocean Gateway was constructed under obviously flawed economic assumptions or that Maine city clerks had been systematically destroying campaign finance disclosures: no interest. Does make you wonder sometimes....

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.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Year in Review

World Wide Woodard turns one year old tomorrow, so I thought I'd offer a round-up of updates to some of the stories I've covered.

In Iceland -- from which I made my first post -- the financial collapse hasn't stopped the country's ongoing effort to stop using fossil fuels altogether. The country just added ten hydrogen fuel cell cars to their test fleet.

The central figure in the corruption scandal I reported on in the Turks & Caicos apparently hasn't lost his penchant for the high life. According to BET, disgraced Prime Minister Michael Misick tried to crash Beyonce's birthday party in the Dominican Republic but, as he is no longer married to celebrity Lisa Raye, he was turned away as being a nobody.

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......