Saturday, September 20, 2014

Talking pirates with BBC Five; Nestle Waters gets a setback in Maine

Very, very early this morning, GMT, I had an enjoyable talk with BBC Five Live's "In Short" about how pirates really talked and behaved. Here's a short excerpt (on walking the plank) from our longer interview.

The interview was occasioned by International Talk Like A Pirate Day yesterday. The UK edition of my history of Blackbeard and his pirate gang, The Republic of Pirates, was released earlier this year by PanMacmillan, so perhaps it will have attracted a few insomniac readers.

Also, in today's Portland Press Herald I reported on a surprising new development in Nestle Waters North America's effort to conclude a longterm, low-price contract with Fryeburg, Maine's (privately-held) water utility.

Staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission has recommended the proposed contract not be approved, in part because the local utility's charter doesn't permit it to sell water in bulk to Nestle, which then bottles and sells it under the Poland Springs brand. Could this derail Nestle's decades-long pumping operations in Fryeburg? It's all up to the PUC commissioners to decide.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Did Maine overpay for iPads in schools?

Maine, home of the first statewide one-to-one computers in schools program, may have paid to much for the iPads that replaced Apple laptops in many schools a year ago.

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I reported on an analyst's detailed comparison of what Maine's Department of Education paid for its iPad package from Apple with what the Los Angels United School District paid for the same technology at the same time for a similarly sized program. Maine got half the discount against retail that LAUSD negotiated.

The LAUSD contract has since come unraveled because of allegedly inpappropriate ties between top district officials and both Apple and curriculum software provider Pearson. At issue is whether the district paid too much -- not too little -- for its iPad contract.

Last week, I reported that the head of Maine's program, Jeff Mao, is leaving state government. He was also at the center of a public records scandal of sorts involving the same analyst who crunched the numbers comparing Maine and L.A.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

I have another significant development for readers of "Unsettled",  the 29-part series on Maine's Passamaquoddy people that ran in the Portland Press Herald earlier this summer.

Last week, the tribe held their general elections. As I reported in Wednesday's Press Herald, at Indian Township controversial ex-chief Billy Nicholas won the chief's race. His brother, Leslie, won the vice-chieftanship and a third brother, Indian Township police chief Alex Nicholas, won a seat on the tribal council. The Nicholas brothers will have significant influence over tribal affairs for years to come.

Meanwhile, at the tribe's other reservation at Pleasant Point, voters tossed out their incumbent chief and vice chief in favor of Fred Moore III and Vera Francis. The story has more details.

Rough roads ahead. We'll be following it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Unsettled update: controversial ex-chief wins primary election

For those following "Unsettled", the 29-part series on Maine's Passamaquoddy people that ran earlier this summer, there's a new development.

As I reported in Tuesday's Portland Press Herald, the controversial ex-chief at Indian Township, Billy Nicholas, won an 11-way primary for chief by a large margin last week.... after the last minute striking of one of his main competitors -- Allen Sockabasin -- from the ballot.

The Passamaquoddy's other reservation at Pleasant Point held their primary Monday. Frederick Moore III will face incumbent chief Clayton Cleaves in the general election Sept.3; Vera Francis will face incumbent vice chief Ken Poynter.

Stay tuned next week for full results of the tribe's elections.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Speaking on future of the oceans, Boothbay Harbor, Maine, Aug. 19

Graham Shimmield, the executive director of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and myself will be discussing the future of the oceans in Boothbay Harbor, Maine tomorrow evening, August 19th.

The talk, entitled "40 Years of Discovery and What Lies Ahead", is the finale of the lab's 2014 Cafe Scientifique program. It kicks off at the Opera House at 6pm and is free and open to the public. (Pay no attention to the date on the CafeSci (and Bigelow) pages -- it really has been rescheduled to Aug. 19, not Aug. 26.)

I covered ocean issues extensively as a foreign correspondent in the 1990s and 2000s. My first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, was on the collapse of marine systems around the world, and my second, The Lobster Coast, is a cultural and environmental history of Maine. I'm also a trustee of the lab.

Shimmield, if you follow the link to his bio, is a giant in marine science. If you're interested in the oceans, you'll want to hear what he has to say.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Remembering Andrew Ian Dodge

(c) 2014, Portland Press Herald
Andrew Ian Dodge, former Tea Party organizer and US Senate candidate in Maine, died earlier this month at 46. A few months ago, Dodge contacted me and asked if -- in the case that his ongoing rematch with cancer was unsuccessful -- that I'd write his obituary. I was humbled and honored to be asked, especially as Dodge was one of the most interesting people in Maine politics and displayed a combination all to rare amongst politicos: consistency, integrity, passion and humor.

The piece ran in yesterday's Maine Sunday Telegram, and was the lead of the Insight section.

For more on Dodge, here's a piece I wrote for Newsweek a few years back, when he was leading a rear guard action in the emerging struggle between libertarians and social conservatives over the future of the Tea Party movement. 

So long, AID. You'll be dearly missed on both sides of the pond.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Talking "Unsettled" with New Brunswick, "American Nations with Alabama

"Unsettled", the 29-part (plus Prologue, Epilogue, and sidebars) Portland Press Herald series on the Passamaquoddy people, concluded Sunday. Yesterday, I spoke with CBC-New Brunswick's Jacques Poitras about the series and the tribe, whose historic territory spanned the present Maine-New Brunswick border. (The show is Information Morning Fredericton.)

A few days ago I also had an enjoyable talk with a Birmingham-based reporter from, the Advance empire's Alabama news service, regarding what American Nations tells us about that state's resistance to reforms, particularly if they come from the federal government. Here's his report and an excerpt:

It's because of these centuries-old traditions about the role of government or what the desirable society is and each region has had a different answer to that," Woodward said.
Central and southern Alabama are members of the Deep South while north Alabama is a part of Greater Appalachia, according to Woodard.
Although Appalachia has distrusted the aristocratic culture seen in the Deep South region, the two cultures have found common ground in their distrust of the federal government.
"The Deep South and Appalachia share a hostility to government intrusion and regulation," Woodard said. "They come from different places (but) currently there is an alliance."