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Who Says the Far Right Doesn't Have a Sense of Humor: They Just Crowned a Clown—my new Huffington Post


(HBO)Last Week Tonight with John Oliver 

There is only one antidote to this fear-and-loathing-filled Republican National Convention— huge and healthy doses of humor. So I gathered with friends, guffawing as Stephen Colbert resurrected his original Colbert Report character. And he welcomed back John Stewart, who looks like a cross between the Unabomber, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and your beloved rabbi.  Seeing those two do their old shtick—calling Trump an “angry Creamsicle”—was like the calm clarity that comes after heaving up the last of that food poisoning that has made you so nauseous.

Binge-watching late night comedy clips, my friends and I sat a little too near the TV screen—the way our primitive ancestors warmed themselves around fire. It made me realize how little real warmth or humor is offered in this Republican convention or its menacing presidential campaign. Where are the conservatives’ stand-up comics, their late-night comedians? Where are the right-leaning pundits who have the sharp, slapstick, or even sanguine wit to actually make fun of themselves and their opponents? 

The only real hope and change seems to be on late night comedy. When the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah begins his RNC coverage with the banner, “Submission Accomplished;” when Samantha Bee explains that Sarah Palin isn’t at the RNC—she’s “mad because Trump stole her word salad spinner;” when Larry Whitmore in his continuing must-watch series, “Blacklash 2016: The Unblackening,” skewers Trump’s anti-abortion stand as “late-term stupidity,” or warns that “Donald Trump is making America hate again”—it’s not always funny ha-ha, it’s funny like the bracing truth-telling fools in Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Black humor matters. That’s why we really need a good, long belly laugh after a seemingly endless election cycle that runs on blame, shame, and scapegoating—those tools of any nation’s dysfunctional political family. When Stephen Colbert takes back his desk in his familiar Bill O’Reilly imitation, and intones, “Nation!” this swiftly tilting Republican presidential campaign is set right again. It’s like waking up very late at night from a daytime nightmare.

DANCING WITH THE TSARS—The Daily Show, Comedy Central, with Trevor Noah Trumps "espionage" and shady deals with Russia—hilarious and frightening.

As my friends and I continued our comedic antidote to the RNC on You Tube, we howled and knee-slapped over Colbert’s riff on The Word: Trumpiness. We replayed the brilliant Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” coverage of the RNC, as she explained the unholy alliance between the Religious Right and a non-repentant Trump, who makes America safe again—especially for sinners and adulterers. We fell off our easy chairs laughing as John Oliver explained that “every time Donald Trump hears his name out loud, he has a shattering orgasm.”

Why are the Far Right Republicans so completely humorless? Their Tea Party feels more like a lynching than a party. The Far Right Republican emotional spectrum is stuck on the one-note-samba of fear and fury. A good sense of humor requires some generous detachment to observe one’s own and other’s foibles. Have you ever watched a Tea Party or Religious Right fundamentalist stand-up comic? Do they exist? New York writer, Frank Rich’s “Can Conservatives Be Funny?” cites a few, like Dennis Miller and Greg Gutfeld. Rich notes, “a lot of conservative comedy both expresses and panders to today’s Republican base, older white men who see America changing and feel impotent about thwarting it.” He concludes that “conservative comics rarely make fun of their own camp as liberals so profitably do.”

Has any speaker at this RNC said anything remotely self-mocking or sardonic in their tedious litany of Benghazi, Hillary’s emails, and illegal immigrants “coming to kill us,” as Trevor Noah says? Perhaps Far Right Republicans are born without much humor DNA. It’s a congenital weakness. Eve got the rib, and Adam lost his funny bone. 

Or just maybe Donald Trump is the closest outraged Republicans can come to humor. Trump’s surprise attacks, off-script rants, and off-color jabs all have the timing of a stand-up, audience-baiting extreme wanna-be comedian. Trump’s Twitter punch lines fall flat. His bullying blame-fests and name-calling have the panache of one-line riffs, not of a stiff, scripted politician, but an edgy off-the-rails reality star. People tune in to see how mind-bogglingly incoherent or just how low will he go. Trump is perhaps the Republican’s only lurch toward humor; and like most immature and badly crafted comedy, it just dies on stage. To be fair, Trump is not a comic headliner. He is better suited as the bouncer or like the Far Right carnival barker. He is their idea of a Big Tent.

Trump doesn’t have the chops for wryly intelligent observations like John Oliver’s outraged riffs on national debt or Olympic doping. Not once in Trump’s campaign have we witnessed true grief or compassion or kindness. So why should we hope for any comic relief? Trump’s wince-worthy version of a snarky put-down is downright mean at best, and jaw-droppingly insensitive or racist, at worst. Only the most talented comics, who are often the kindest people in their off-stage lives,  get away with insult humor. Think Don Rickles.

We must laugh at Trump because that will make us sane and strong again. And it just might be the only thing that stops him. Because if we make this dangerous clown president, we’ll be laughing so hard—it hurts.

 Huffinton Post link here

Bio: Brenda Peterson is the author of 19 books, including Your Life is a Book, featured on, and I Want to Be Left Behind, selected as  “Great Read” by independent booksellers. 



Orca Rescue—Watch fabulous video!

Dear Readers,

As many of you who attended my Keynote at the Orca/Salmon event this month in Seattle know, I'm at work on a chidlren's book about orcas for my Leopard and Silkie editor, the wonderful Christy Ottaviano. The illustrator is the master artist Wendell Minor, whose painting graced my very first book cover for the novel River of Light in 1978. Wendell and I are having a wonderful time interweaving his illustrations and my text—bringing this book to life. I'll be posting some of my favorite videos of orcas as we progress deeper into the new kid's book. And perhaps a few of the dummy sketches! For now, enjoy this very moving and extraordinary You Tube video of an orca rescue by veteran orca researcher, Dr. Ingrid Visser.

 And here's the lovely art postcard for the Orca/Salmon keynote.




Sea Wolves

Dear Readers,


Sea Wolves roam the Far Northwest, able shoreline hunters. Check out this photo gallery on National Georaphic website and a video of a white wolf on the shore from New York Wolf/Wolf Conservatioh Center


photos by Ian McAllister, author of Sea Wolves






Dear readers,

Groundbreaking new research must dramatically change the lethal management of wildlife managers by disproving the old adage that the more wolf hunts, the better local people will tolerate the wolves living alongside them. The opposite is true:

“If poachers see the government killing a protected species,” the study found, “they may say to themselves, ‘Well, I can do that, too.’” Culling wolves is not the answer, says the study. “You do not reduce looting by allowing shop-lifting, but instead by having zero tolerance,” says Dr. Chapron. The authors of this new study expect a backlash from the wildlife manager establishment because it disproves their long-held lethal management practices. But the scientists hold true to their need to serve the public: “The traditions in wildlife management are finally being subjected to scientific scrutiny,” they argue, “and we are learning new things that will probably improve co-existence.” The study concludes with the truism: “Wolves are quite adaptable to humans. The question is whether humans are adaptable to wolves.” (BBC and ISHTHMUS News) "Is Hunting Really a Conservation Tool?"


WATCH this excellent brief VIDEO that explains it all:


National Geographic features our new WOLF HAVEN book!

Dear Readers,

Here's a National Geographic preview of our new photo-essay WOLF HAVEN book you can already order. It's a Number 1 New Release on Amazon. Every wolf has a story. Full photo gallery here.

Annie and I will be on book tour together and a portion of the book's sales are supporting the vital work of this wolf sanctuary. BE SURE TO CLICK ON EACH PHOTO TO SEE THE FULL PICTURE AND CAPTIONS. Enjoy!

Heed the Call of the Wild at This Ethereal Wolf Sanctuary

Becky Harlan
Becky Harlan

Tucked into a lush swath of woods in Washington’s South Puget Sound—where light filters through mossy trees and ravens circle overhead—sits Wolf Haven International. The 82-acre sanctuary is home to 56 residents, including gray wolves, coyotes, wolf dogs, endangered Mexican gray wolves, and critically endangered red wolves. 

Lonnie, a gray wolf, was found roaming a cemetery in Los Angeles before he was taken in at Wolf Haven.   Lonnie, a gray wolf, was found roaming a cemetery in Los Angeles before he was taken in at Wolf Haven International.  

Photographer Annie Marie Musselman, who built her artistic career telling the story of an animal rehabilitation center, first learned of Wolf Haven in 2010. She had received a grant from Getty Images to collaborate with an ad agency on a project for a nonprofit. Her original plan to document rescued chimps and orangutans in Indonesia was called off when she became pregnant and doctors encouraged her to find a story closer to home. She scoured the Internet and discovered the important conservation work Wolf Haven was doing in her very own state through their breeding program. “If it weren’t for these captive breeding and recovery programs,” she says, “Mexican gray and red wolves would not exist today.” The haven became her new focus.

Picture of a Mexican gray wolf looking up at the camera through leavesMoss, a highly endangered Mexican gray wolf, is the father to one of the litters of Mexican gray wolf pups born in 2015 at Wolf Haven.  

As soon as she laid eyes on the wolves in the sanctuary, she was enchanted. “Wolves have a way of disarming you,” she says. “They are quiet and contemplative, yet fierce and powerful. You can feel that they are in this very moment—they don’t miss anything.” 

Picture of the feet of a wolf at Wolf Haven International in Washington stateLadyhawk, a female gray wolf at Wolf Haven International  

Despite the fact that all of her interactions with the canids were buffered by a chain link fence, when she first began photographing them, she was intimidated. “I felt as if they could see through me,” she says. “I could feel them saying, ‘We don’t want to be photographed—leave us alone!’”

Picture of two wolves walking past a chain link fence in beautiful evening lightKlondike, a wolf dog, spent the first seven years of his life on an eight-foot drag chain attached to a post at an Alaskan roadside attraction. Here, he basks in the evening light in the large enclosure he shares with a female gray wolf named Shali.   Picture of a gray wolf napping in the midday sun at Wolf Haven International, a wolf sanctuary in Washington stateKiawatha, a gray wolf, naps in the midday sun.  

She didn’t let that deter her. Instead she spent long summer days in her father’s old fold-up artist chair, giving the wolves a chance to accept her presence. “I shoot with short lenses, so I would wait for the wolves to come close. I pretended not to be interested at first. As soon as I walked away, I would turn around and there they were at the fence, smelling me, staring at me. When I [came back], they would disappear again. All the wolves did this for weeks, until finally they began to trust me.” She’s been photographing them for six years now. 

Detail of the fur of a Mexican gray wolf Lorenzo, a Mexican gray wolf or ”el lobo,” was born at the Detroit Zoological Institute. As part of the Mexican gray wolf Species Survival Program, he and his brother Diablo became permanent residents of Wolf Haven in 2004.  Picture of a male gray wolf slinking around in the woods, looking for foodRiley, a gray wolf (now deceased), moves through his enclosure in search of food. 

Her images of the haven embody the meditative patience she used to photograph it. They’re ethereal and lightweight, less like static pictures and more like breath—a glimpse of a being that you know is there but that you can’t predict or control. “I want to show how they glow, that they embody something precious, something very knowing,” she says. “I try to show what it might feel like to be close to them, to be accepted by them.” 

Picture of two alert wolvesShadow (front) lived in four different homes in the first few months of his life before coming to Wolf Haven. Behind is Juno, a wolf dog and Shadow’s partner. 

Portrayed perpetually in the golden hour, the haven looks like a wolf’s paradise. Through it we get a sense of the wolves’ rugged and independent spirit—what the world might be like if they roamed free. But there’s always a tension. The diamond pattern crisscrossing every few frames reminds us that for wolves, freedom is restricted. To help save them (even if it is from our own destruction), we have to contain them … at least for now. 

Picture of two wolves playing together in the grass, one laying down, one standing upJesse, a female gray wolf and her partner, Shilo, a wolf dog (both now deceased), play together like childhood friends.  Two wolves show their teeth at a chain link fence at Wolf Haven, a sanctuary in Washington stateCaedus, a wolf dog and his partner, Ladyhawk, a gray wolf, participate in innocuous posturing. Wolves often use facial expressions and body language to communicate emotions. 

Musselman also plays with the tension inherent in the complex nature of wolves—at once playful and fierce, untamed and communal. It’s that interplay that makes them such controversial creatures—creatures that were once targets of federal extermination programs, creatures that some people still want to hunt, that others would prefer to let fade away, and still others fight heartily to save.

Picture of a male gray wolf walking into the woods in beautiful evening lightBart, a male gray wolf 

But even within the enclosure, Mussleman manages to reveal a world unto itself, leaving us with a visceral sense of reverence for an animal that feels so familiar and so unknown. “To be in their presence,” she says ,“is to be with true wildness—it is breathtaking.” 

Wolf Haven the book, with photographs by Annie Marie Musselman and text by Brenda Peterson, will be released this September

See more of Annie Marie Musselman’s work on her website




The Big, Good Wolf: Real Lives of Alpha Males

photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman

This Father's Day, I'm reminded of how I grew up strong on my father's wild game, by a current New York Times editorial, arguing that the "alpha male stereotype comes from a misunderstanding of the real thing. In fact, the male wolf is an exemplary male role model." 

Wolves and men as good role models are also echoed by Diane Gallegos, Executive Director of Wolf Haven International, a nationally recognized sanctuary for captive-born and displaced wolves in Washington State. Even among these sanctuary wolves, she says, it's all about family--and alpha males are loyal providers. They really are Big, Good Wolves.

photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman

Gallegos explains that in May, the Mexican Gray Wolf pair gave birth to a litter of three pups as part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) captive-breeding program. The Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as "the lobo," is one of the rarest mammals in the world. Every pup born now is crucial to the survival of this most highly endangered subspecies of gray wolf. The wolves cared for at Wolf Haven--mother (Nieta) and father (Coal)--are fond, attentive parents as documented in this video of Nieta (F962) and Coal (M752) nuzzling. As in the wild, Coal then regurgitates to feed his mate and pups.

Like many human hunters, alpha male wolves hunt food for their family packs year-round. Men and wolves should be respectful allies, not enemies. We need more positive stories of wolves and men. Here's one of my favorite:

My friend, Mike, a strapping hunter who is deaf and loves gardening and boat design, tells the story of hunting with his Alaskan buddies. "I was alone up on the ridge with a grizzly nearby and a pack of wolves just below me," he says. Not the best position as night and cold descended. "I tell you, I was afraid of those wolves and one of them was acting kinda crazy, spinning around and howling. Maybe he was playing."

Finally Mike had to risk hiking down to camp. Most of the pack had moved behind him. "But I had to scoot right past that lone wolf . . ." he pauses with a smile and the punch line: "And when I got back to camp, it was my buddies who duct-taped me in my sleeping bag--and then, they threw me in the river." 

Like Mike, there are many hunters who understand the beneficial top-predator role that wolves offer. Since wolf reintroduction, scientists have discovered that when wolves return to their natural habitats, they actually help restore the ecosystem: Overgrazed trees regenerate and there's a dramatic increase in biodiversity.

Here in Washington we're still in the very early stages of wolf recovery. Wolves are on the state's endangered species list; to recover they need 15 breeding pairs. Currently, there are only five such pairs, out of 16 packs--68 wolves total. Can Washington now manage its wolf reintroduction more sustainably than other states, like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana who focus on "lethal control"?

"Washington has the best wolf management plan in the West," says Conservation Northwest's Mitchell Friedman. 

"We have an historic chance to be a model for wolf management," adds Diane Gallegos. 

She credits the collaborative work of the Wolf Advisory Group to listen to sportsmen, ranchers, and wolf advocates as they focus on science, education, and enlightened solutions. Ranchers are learning non-lethal and practical tools to protect their livestock, employing range riders (off-vehicle herders) and not grazing sheep near known wolf ranges. If ranchers sign a cooperative agreement with state wildlife officials to practice "conflict avoidance" they can receive radio collar alerts when wolves are near livestock.

Pacific Wolf Coalition reports that 100,000 West Coast residents joined one million citizens from across the country urging the government to maintain federal protectionfor gray wolves--even as a new bill threatens to reverse recent wolf protection and revive brutal wolf hunts in the West. 

Cutting-edge research requires new ways of living with wolves. A Washington State University study reveals that traditional wolf control tactics just don't work--killing wolves actually increases livestock predation. It's counter-intuitive, but researchers discovered that killing wolves disrupts their social structure. So wolf hunting may actually hurt ranchers. 

Jim Dutcher of Living with Wolves explains, "When you decimate a pack--especially the experienced alphas--you end up with a younger, dysfunctional, and smaller pack. The young wolves don't know how to take care of themselves or hunt down larger prey. So they go after slower, easier livestock." 

Alpha males teach the young to maintain and assure the survival of the family pack. It's not about dominance--in fact the alpha female is a true peer with her mate. Alpha males, comments wolf biologist, Rick Intyre, demonstrate a "quiet confidence and self-assurance . . . You know what's best for your pack. You lead by example . . . You have a calming effect."

photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman

We can find a calmer, more sustainable and balanced way to live with wolves, based on science, not politics. Or prejudice. The key is dialogue, education, and social tolerance. As rancher, Sam Kayser, who pastures his cows on public land near Teanaway, explains, "I want to co-exist with wolves . . . there is room for all of us out there."

And this Father's Day there is room for many more stories of Big Good Alpha Males, both human and wolf. 

Brenda Peterson is a National Geographic author of 18 books, who has covered wolf issues for national medias since the Yellowstone reintroduction in 1995. Short sections of this article originally appeared in "Living with Wolves" Ampersandmagazine. For more:

Sign a petition to help stop wolf hunting in Alaska.


Watch Mexican wolf pups play with their relaxed and patient father at Wolf Haven. These precious pups are part of the Species Survival Plan for captive-bred wolves to be returned to the wild. 

Listen to wolves howling at Wolf Haven International as acclaimed photographer, Annie Marie Musselman and I work together on the wolves in sancturary at this wonderful refuge. Photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman.

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