Peter Maass's blog

November 28, 2009  |  permalink

German cover of Crude World




The folks at Droemer, my German publisher, have designed a cool cover for the German edition of Crude World, which comes out in April. For catalogue info on Droemer’s edition, click here.

November 26, 2009  |  permalink

Polar Bear Video—Not What You Think

Along the lines of my earlier post about climate change and civil disobedience, here’s a new public-service advertisement commissioned by, a group that wants to reduce airplane travel due to its high levels of CO2 emissions. The ad is arresting, to be sure.

November 22, 2009  |  permalink

Maassapalooza, Episode 6,273

More reviews from Britain, the U.S. and Malaysia…
The Observer: “The strength of Crude World, filled with vivid reporting, is that it leaves you no option but to care.”
The Guardian: “The narrative is compelling. Maass hears the human story.”
Christian Science Monitor: “Persuasive, intelligent, and passionate.”
Boston Globe: “Angry, bravely reported.”
Malaysia Star: “Maass opens our eyes.”


November 18, 2009  |  permalink

Tomaz Humar, Gone

Sometimes, as a reporter, you can’t believe you’re getting paid to do work that is such fun. That happened in 2001 when I profiled Tomaz Humar, the great and crazy Slovenian climber. I had a blast with him. So it was sad to hear today that Tomaz has died in a climbing accident in the Himalayas. One of a kind.

November 16, 2009  |  permalink

Nice House, Teodorin

It’s the horseshoe-shaped, red-tiled one in the lower center of the adjacent picture, located in Malibu and valued at $35 million, the possession of Teodorin Obiang, the son of the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. I’ve written extensively about the Obiang clan, in my book and here and here and here. Which means I am delighted to see the New York Times report on the Obiangs’ ill-gotten wealth and the U.S. government’s failure to take even the feeblest of measures against them (that would be denying an entrance visa to Teodorin). There’s a presidential election in Equatorial Guinea at the end of this month; hopefully in the weeks ahead we’ll hear more about the Obiangs. The Times has posted a variety of useful documents, acquired through the good offices of the always excellent Global Witness. It’s a sordid and embarrassing tale, and here’s how the Times begins its dispatch—

Several times every year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country. The nation’s doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its ruler, even though federal law enforcement officials believe “most if not all” of his wealth comes from corruption related to the extensive oil and gas reserves discovered more than a decade and a half ago off the coast of his tiny West African country, according to internal Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents. And they are open despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving an American visa. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it.

November 15, 2009  |  permalink

Stop Global Warming With Civil Disobedience?

Several days after coming across it, I remain intrigued by an interview in Mother Jones with Tim DeChristopher, who faces up to five years in prison for disrupting an auction of oil and gas leases. His action raises the question of whether the environmental movement should do as the civil rights movement did and use civil disobedience to reach its goals. From the introduction:

During the final days of the Bush administration, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scheduled a controversial auction of oil and gas leases on federal lands, including areas bordering national parks and monuments in Utah. While environmental organizations launched a round of protests and lawsuits, Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old econ major at the University of Utah, decided he had to try to stop the sale by himself. Not knowing exactly how he’d do it, DeChristopher walked into the auction in Salt Lake City on December 19, 2008, and had a sneaky idea handed to him in the form of a bidder’s paddle. Simply by raising it again and again and pretending to bid on the leases, he proceeded to drive up their prices and outbid the real speculators on 13 parcels covering more than 22,000 acres and worth $1.7 million dollars. When it became clear that bidder No. 70 was an impostor with no intention of paying for his purchases, federal agents removed him from the auction. But the damage was done. DeChristopher’s monkey-wrenching tainted the sale, forcing BLM to offer the other buyers the option of withdrawing their bids. That effectively postponed any final decision on the leases until February 2009, when the Obama administration would be in office. Soon after taking office, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar canceled the results of the chaotic auction and criticized the previous administration for allowing it in the first place. Despite this reversal, DeChristopher was indicted in April on federal criminal charges of interfering with a government auction and making false representations. He faces up to five years in prison on each of the two counts and as much as $750,000 in fines. As his trial nears, DeChristopher and his lawyers hope to convince the judge to allow a “necessity defense,” an unusual tactic in which they would argue that his actions were justified because of the moral imperative of stopping catastrophic climate change—and because all legal means of stopping the auction had been blocked by the Bush administration due to its cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry.

November 11, 2009  |  permalink

Curse, Peak, War

It sounds like the title of a book, “Curse, Peak, War: The Future of the Planet,” but I’m referring to a trio of stories in today’s papers that tell us an enormous amount about our energy problems. The Guardian reports that the International Energy Agency, due to pressure from the U.S. government, has published intentionally inflated estimates of world oil reserves, so as to cover up the problem of peak oil. Outsiders have long criticized the agency’s numbers, but the Guardian report is based on statements of insiders who are blowing the whistle. The New York Times reports that Venezuela, awash in oil and natural gas, has had to endure blackouts because its power grid is so inefficient and ill-supplied. It’s one of the ironies of resource-rich countries that their incoherent economies are unable to turn their carbon reserves into power that keeps the lights on. Lastly, Aviation Week reports on a consumer of oil that finds itself paying $45 a gallon—the U.S. military, which has to provide elaborate protection for its fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once the cost of protection is added to the purchase price, a gallon of gas that goes into a Humvee in a warzone costs $45.

November 08, 2009  |  permalink

Basra + Oil = Poverty

Iraq’s reserves of oil are among the largest in the world yet the country has endured all but non-stop warfare and dictatorship for much of the last few decades. A large portion of its oil is located around Basra, in the south of the country. As the New York Times explains in an evocative story today, the oil has not brought any wealth to the people who live on top of it. The paradox of plenty, alas, episode 9,683…

Despite the riches trapped below its oil fields, though, this city of three million is among Iraq’s poorest places. People in neighborhoods within a few miles of fields with so much oil that it floats atop the surface in huge black pools live amid mud and feces. Carts pulled by overworked donkeys compete with cars for space on streets. Childhood cancer rates are the highest in the country. The city’s salty tap water makes people ill. And there is more garbage on the streets than municipal collectors can make a dent in. The hundreds of thousands who live in the villages around the fields all dream of finding oil work, but that is unlikely. Those who apply are almost always told they lack the education or experience for oil work. But they believe that their only real deficiency is a lack of connections and money for bribes. “People sit here in the evenings and they watch the flames and wonder how rich they would be if they had only one hour of those oil exports,” said Naeem al-Moussuawi, who lives in one of the poorer villages in the Basra area.

November 05, 2009  |  permalink

Opposite of White

I shot this picture at the new exhibit of Roni Horn’s work at the Whitney Museum. The piece, entitled “Opposite of White,” looks familiar…

November 03, 2009  |  permalink

Maassapalooza, the British edition

Nice reviews of Crude World in the British press…
The Economist
Financial Times
The Independent
The Telegraph
New Statesman

October 26, 2009  |  permalink

Judging a Book by Its Cover

I’m intrigued by the art of book design. Some designs are great, some less so. A few deserve to be placed in museums, they’re that good. I’m a huge fan of the Crude World cover that Peter Mendelsund designed for Knopf. Now comes the cover for the British edition of CW, which has just been published by the Allen Lane imprint of Penguin Books. It’s entirely different. Knopf’s is on the right, Allen Lane’s on the left. What do you think? In the months ahead, there will be more covers as editions are published in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.

October 24, 2009  |  permalink

Baby Einstein Is Not So Smart, After All

A few years ago, inquiring journalists began writing about the deception behind Baby Einstein videos, which promised to make toddlers smarter. Not only were the videos of no educational value, they could be harmful; the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under the age of two should not watch videos. My wife, Alissa Quart, was one of the skeptics. She wrote about the problem in her 2006 book, Hothouse Kids, and her chapter on the Baby Einstein phenomenon was excerpted in The Atlantic. Disney, which owns the Baby Einstein brand, has finally admitted to the deception, offering refunds to all purchasers of the videos. This comes after public-interest lawyers warned the company of a possible class-action lawsuit. The story in today’s New York Times summed up the situation:

Last year, lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.” The letter cited estimates from The Washington Post and Business Week that Baby Einstein controlled 90 percent of the baby media market, and sold $200 million worth of products annually. The letter also described studies showing that television exposure at ages 1 through 3 is associated with attention problems at age 7.

It’s a children’s story with a happy ending.

October 22, 2009  |  permalink

The Page 99 Test

A few weeks ago I received an email from Marshal Zeringue, who runs several literary blogs including one that’s called “The Page 99 Test.” Its title comes from Ford Madox Ford, who once advised, “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” I did not know Zeringue and still don’t, aside from several emails we subsequently exchanged, and I hadn’t heard of The Page 99 Test (Ford Madox Ford’s or Zeringue’s webby version). But Zeringue asked me to perform the test on Crude World and write a few words about whether and why I passed (hopefully) or failed (hopefully not). It was one of the curiouser book-related things I was asked to do in the past month, so I did it and enjoyed it and gave myself a passing grade (fairly earned, I think). Click here to read my test.

Other Maassapalooza items—
—Green Inc., the New York Times energy blog, has published a two-part interview with me. Here’s Part 1, here’s Part 2.
—I guest-blogged at the website for Joe Berlinger’s oil documentary, Crude.
—Oxfam America published a nice review of Crude World on their website.
—Tehelka, a magazine in Delhi that a friend in India described to me as “the closest thing there is here to the old Nation/Atlantic,” published an interview with me.

October 20, 2009  |  permalink

The Fate of Environmental Journalism

Columbia University has suspended its environmental journalism program. Not because the world needs fewer journalists who are schooled in environmental sciences. Actually, the world needs more of those, lots more. But because jobs aren’t available for them in the suffering journalism industry. The professors who ran the program said in a joint letter, “Although our students are assuming huge debt for knowledge and skills that we think are valuable, we do not feel comfortable exhorting young people to take on that burden when their chances of repaying it have so diminished.” This is not good news.

October 15, 2009  |  permalink

Maassapalooza, 5

Because you can never get enough…
Grist (Interview by Jonathan Hiskes)
The Economist (A review) (Story by Joel Connelly)
Zocalo Public Square (Interview)

October 13, 2009  |  permalink

Slightly Cleaner Coal, Much Dirtier Water

A devastatingly great story in today’s NYT about Allegheny Energy installing scrubbers at a coal plant to reduce carbon emissions. The problem, however, is that the scrubbing is done by spraying water and chemicals through the plant’s chimneys; the pollution-laden water is dumped into the Monongahela River, which supplies drinking water to 350,000 people. “It’s like they decided to spare us having to breathe in these poisons, but now we have to drink them instead,” said Philip Coleman, who lives about 15 miles from the plant and has asked a state judge to toughen the facility’s pollution regulations. “We can’t escape.”

October 11, 2009  |  permalink

Maassapalooza, 4

Washington Post (Review by Steven Mufson)
CBC Dispatches (Interview by Rick Macinnes-Rae)
Zocalo Public Square (Video of my Los Angeles lecture)
Huffington Post (Interview by Adriana Dunn)

October 06, 2009  |  permalink

Maassapalooza, 3

San Francisco Chronicle (Review by Adam Lashinsky)
Tech Ticker (Yahoo!Finance interview with Aaron Task) (Question-and-answer interview by Adriana Dunn) (Review by Christine Parthemore at the Center for a New American Security)

October 03, 2009  |  permalink

Maassapalooza, 2

Approval Matrix (New York Magazine)
KERA-FM (NPR station in Dallas-Fort Worth)
The Business Insider

October 02, 2009  |  permalink

What Makes Europe Greener than the U.S.?

That’s the headline over a wonderful story Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote for e360, the webzine published by Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Rosenthal, who covers environmental issues for The New York Times, explains that CO2 emissions in the U.S. are 19.8 tons per capita while in the U.K. they are 9.6 tons and 6.6 tons in France. What’s the secret for Europeans’ vastly smaller footprint?

As an American, if you go live in a nice apartment in Rome, as I did a few years back, your carbon footprint effortlessly plummets. It’s not that the Italians care more about the environment; I’d say they don’t. But the normal posh apartment in Rome doesn’t have a clothes dryer or an air conditioner or microwave or limitless hot water. The heat doesn’t turn on each fall until you’ve spent a couple of chilly weeks living in sweaters. The fridge is tiny. The average car is small. The Fiat 500 gets twice as much gas mileage as any hybrid SUV. And it’s not considered suffering. It’s living the dolce vita. My point is that the low-carbon footprints depend on the infrastructure of life, and in that sense Europeans have an immediate advantage. To live without a clothes dryer or AC in the United States is considered tough and feels like a sacrifice. To do so in Rome — where apartments all include a clothes-drying balcony or indoor rack, and where buildings have thick walls and shutters to help you cope with the heat — is the norm.

Rosenthal explains how a few lifestyle changes that might seem inconvenient or impossible for Americans would not only make a big difference in our footprint but would be surprisingly easy to adapt to. Worthwhile reading…

Page 4 of 14 pages « First  <  2 3 4 5 6 >  Last »

Crude World by Peter Maass Crude World by Peter Maass

A look at oil’s indelible impact on the countries that produce it and the people who possess it.

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Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass

Dispatches from the war in Bosnia, published in 1996 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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About Peter Maass

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