Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Talking American Nations and Union with the Tides of History podcast


I recently spent an enjoyable hour being interviewed by Patrick Wyman on his Wondery podcast "Tides of History." We covered a lot of turf, from American Nations to the material in my forthcoming Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood and I hope you'll enjoy it.

The episode premiered March 19 and you can find it at all the usual podcast depots including Wondery, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. Here's Patrick's intro:

Few books have influenced my view of American history and politics more than Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. We've been divided since the beginning, Woodard argues, and this has influenced every aspect of American history, not to mention its future. He has a new book coming out in May, Union, which expands this thesis further.

Next time we'll have to talk about pirates.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Colony, the Press Herald Maine Bicentennial series, concludes

With the world facing the biggest social, economic, and epidemiological crisis in at least two generations, I neglected to post the final two installments of "Colony," my six part Maine Sunday Telegram series on the backstory of Maine statehood and the lasting legacy of those (colonial) experiences.

The last two installments ran one and two weeks ago respectively and you can find the whole series on the Colony landing page over at the Press Herald.

Thanks to the incredible number of readers who wrote -- and continue to write -- with kind words about the series and what it meant to them. The most common question: will it be released as a mini-book? The answer is "I don't think so" -- the pandemic is drawing all the paper's resources -- but you can find most of these themes (and much, much more) in my 2004 book on the cultural and environmental history of Maine, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier

Also, if you missed our 29-part series on Maine-Passamaquoddy relations, "Unsettled," it is indeed available as an e-book as well as free online to subscribers. I hope it brings some distraction to all of you bunkered down in the middle of this crisis.




Thursday, March 26, 2020

Maine company taking orders for masks, Covid-19 tests, but its leader is facing criminal fraud indictments


Last week, the Boston Globe reported that a Maine company represented by former Portland legislator Diane Russell had reached out to Massachusetts officials and was supplying nearly a million urgently needed N95 respirators to firefighters, hospitals and other entities, as well as Covid-19 tests and other medical supplies in short supply.

In today's Portland Press Herald, I explored the backstory of the company, whose leader turns out to be facing a five count criminal indictment here in Maine for theft by deception, securities fraud, and selling securities without a license. He also owes New Hampshire over a quarter million dollars in restitution and fees in a related matter.

For details, please read the story, which I'll be following-up on.

[Update, 3/31/20: I have a follow-up story in today's paper which reports on how Russell drove a van to a New Jersey warehouse to collect a shipment of masks and then, on the way home to Maine, dropped parcels off with customers in Massachusetts.]

Also, if you value your local newspaper's pandemic coverage and want it to continue, subscribe. Advertising revenue is cratering and many papers are being forced to layoff reporters and close editions. Like many papers, the Press Herald is providing its coronavirus coverage for free, but that doesn't mean it isn't costing a lot to produce it.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and look out for one another.




Sunday, March 22, 2020

Reviewing Donald Kettl's "Divided States of America" for the Washington Post

U.S. Federalism -- the division of powers between the federal and state governments -- has been a tricky thing since the outset, leading to a horrific Civil War, enormous disparities between states in terms of social outcomes, tax burdens, and the quality of services and -- we will sadly soon learn -- possibly even pandemic awareness and survival.

Readers of American Nations know the Founders didn't really have a chance in the matter. The regional cultures and the states they controlled were so different from one another -- a slaveholding oligarchy in the Deep South had completely different political and ideological goals than the descendants of the Puritans, with their fear of aristocracy and demand for hyper-local control -- that there would never have been a United States had they not created a very great compromise. But is it an institution that can still hold us together, or is it destined to drive us apart for good?

Donald Kettl, a political scientist at the University of Texas in Austin, has taken up these questions in his timely new book, The Divided States of America: Why Federalism Doesn't Work. I reviewed it for the Washington Post and you can read my thoughts on it there.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Talking pirates with Discovery's "Expedition Unknown" (before the pandemic)


At the end of August, long before the new coronavirus infected its first human, I was in Paris talking with Josh Gates, host of Discovery Channel's "Expedition Unknown" about the pirate Olivier La Bous and the legend of his treasure. Our interview was filmed at the city's Museum of Freemasonry, which is also the center of the order in France, with numerous temples in the basement.

The episode -- "The Fortune of the Buzzard" (S8:E6) -- premiered here in the US on March 11th, re--aired Sunday, and is available for streaming via your cable provider if you follow this link. Hope it brings some lighthearted respite to your family's bunker.

Was great fun hanging out with Gates -- who has very much the same personality when the cameras
aren't rolling as when the are -- and to share the story of one of the subjects of my history of the great Caribbean pirate gang, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. A couple caveats from our hours-long shoot that wound up on the proverbial cutting room floor: (a) the legend of the cipher, necklace and the gallows is a great story, but makes absolutely no sense when you think about it and; (b) if La Bous's treasure is out there, I think the environs of his former Madagascar hideout would be the place to look.

For those with an unhealthy interest in pirates like La Bous, I'm also a proponent of the theory that he -- not Sam Bellamy -- came to Machias in 1718 before continuing on to raid ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, one I sketched out a few years ago for the Portland Press Herald.

My last pirate-related television production appearance was alongside Hilary Duff, of all people, on a dock in Bath, North Carolina, talking about Blackbeard for TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Monday, March 16, 2020

Maine island life in the time of coronavirus


At the moment the coronavirus pandemic "got real" in Maine -- the announcement of the first confirmed case here -- I was on Cheabeague Island with Press Herald colleague and photographer Ben McCanna to see what the view looked like from an island community. Did they feel safer or more vulnerable being separated from the world by a half mile of water? Were there special vulnerabilities they expected, given that day-to-day life for the island's 340 year-around residents is pretty integrated with the mainland, with many people commuting there to work and all 6th to 12th graders to schools.


As you can read in yesterday's Maine Sunday Telegram, Maine islanders have the advantage of always being prepared for a potential crisis and to look out for one another and the island as a whole if one comes; but they're also at the very end of supply chains, so it can be hard to get things -- for the EMTs or the island nursing home -- when the outside world goes haywire. Hope you enjoy.

The evening the story came out, elected officials on a larger and more self-sufficient island -- North Haven in Penobscot Bay -- announced they were banning visits by non-residents and advising residents to avoid non-essential travel to the mainland in an effort to keep the island infection-free, if indeed it actually is.

[Update, 3/18/20: Why do Maine officials only say which counties -- rather than towns -- coronavirus cases are located in? Got you covered in this short Press Herald piece.]

Friday, March 13, 2020

Colony Chapter 4: the squatters rise up against Boston's Land Barons

Maine is celebrating the bicentennial of its statehood this year, but the story of our beginnings lies in the millennia and centuries that preceded March 15th, 1820, the day we regained our independence from Massachusetts. 

Colony, an ongoing six-part series in the Maine Sunday Telegram, tells that story, and the fourth installment appeared last Sunday, describing the nearly century-long armed insurrection in the Maine backcountry that foiled the plans of Boston's great land barons and set the captured colony on the path to statehood.

The series continues this coming Sunday in the Telegram, which is in fact the very day of Maine's Bicentennial.

If you enjoy this series and want more, consider reading my cultural history of Maine, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (Viking, 2004) and, on Maine-Wabanaki relations in more recent times, the Portland Press Herald series "Unsettled," also available as an ebook at the usual outlets.