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Sunday
Mar022014

Tumblers and Tiplets

I've never been impressed by the biophilia hypothesis or its offshoots, but have always been impressed by pigeons; nice that scholar Colin Jerolmack saw an argument against interpreting pigeon keeping, a glorious if dying hobby, as "driven by a singular deep-seated need to connect to nature." His book, The Global Pigeon, is mostly ethnography done in working class neighborhoods in New York. The art of pigeon flying arrived in the 19th century with Italian immigrants; in New York it was picked up by black and Puerto Rican "flyers," who may yet save it. In this piece for TLS I just basically say what Jerolmack said, in fewer words.

Photograph: © Spencer Platt/Liaison/Getty Images

Saturday
Sep282013

Griselda Blanco and her Frenemies. 

I'd never written a straight crime story, much less a drug story, until Will Blythe, an old friend and one of the editors of Byliner, contacted me in the fall of 2012 to see if I was interested in writing about the death of Griselda Blanco. Blanco had just been murdered in a butcher shop after eight years of living peacefully among friends and family in Medellin. I was living in Colombia then, and it made sense to try, though I didn't think I'd get far. I actually got pretty far -- far enough to say unequivocally that her murder was not the revenge it was widely thought to be. While this is a departure for me in terms of subject, I think I was able to learn a good deal about this frequently written about but largely unknown woman. Did the notoriously bloodthirsty Griselda die for for being, of all things, too nice? I think so. This e-book is available with a subscription to Byliner and for $2 as a Kindle Single on Amazon. It is worth a read.  

Friday
Aug022013

Bill Hamilton

 Though he died, in 2000, one of the most decorated evolutionary biologists in the world, thanks to inclusive fitness and his later work on sex ratios and the evolution of sexual reproduction, Hamilton was “a classic case of misunderstood genius,” his biographer writes. Of course if Hamilton were misunderstood, it was probably to his advantage -- especially in his last years, when his youthful enthusiasm for eugenics resurfaced as a bullheaded conviction that the human genome was deteriorating rapidly as a result of modern medical interventions. And he had just the program for fixing it: selective breeding of the kindest, brightest, and healthiest, matched with active infanticide for the “defective.” 

Tuesday
Apr232013

The Colombian Darién

 In March I had the welcome opportunity to travel to the Colombian department of Chocó, which runs the border with Panama, to write on the storied Darién Gap, or Tapón del Darién, for The New Yorker. The gap (and much of Chocó) is functionally roadless – there are cowpaths that you can get a motorcycle down, but that’s about it, and the complex topography and hydrology of the region make transport very fickle. Probably in some measure because of this, the Gap has become home to guerillas and paramilitaries, as well as adventurous and often ideologically-driven settlers bent on achieving the Colombian equivalent of going off the grid. The article, which appeared in the April 22 "Journeys" issue of TNY, sits behind a paywall and I don't know how to upload the PDF of it that I have. I traveled with Sergio Tamayo, a Colombian trekking guide intent on introducing others to this mysterious region, whose rainforest ecology is poorly known as a result of its miserable reputation. 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb062013

Causes of Rarity

The issue of rarity in nature is an interesting one, as there are many reasons species are rare, some of them obscure. You can be rare because you are a big cat and require a vast territory of small animals to hunt, all to yourself. You can be rare because you're stuck on an island alone, genetically isolated from your cousins on the mainland; you're rare because you're overhunted; you can be rare for no obvious reason. In the Wall Street Journal last week I looked at a new book by Eric Dinerstein, the chief scientist for the World Wildlife Federation, who's spent many years thinking about rarity and identifying the rarest and -- the hard part -- attempting to predict which rare species will become ultra-rare, like this maned wolf of Brazil, whose savannahs are being quickly converted to soy fields. I am wondering whether the photo used with the review, below, depicts a live animal or some particularly well maintained taxidermic specimen posed in a museum diorama. If it's the latter I doubt it was intentional, but I like the irony of it. 

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