Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Big in Japan IV: Talking American Nations with Sekai

While in Tokyo, I spent an enjoyable morning at the offices of Iwanami Shoten, speaking with Rikkyo University historian Hiro Matsubara for Sekai, a leading Japanese political monthly. We covered a wide range of issues related to North American regionalism and American Nations.

Dr. Matsubara's article is in the current issue of the magazine, for those of you who both read Japanese and subscribe. If you're part of that cohort, consider the Japanese edition of American Nations, published by Iwanami.

I was in Japan to speak at the Asahi Forum, but also was able to speak to seminars at Tokyo University and Kyoto's Doshisha University, and wrote about Maine retailer L.L. Bean's success in Japan for the Portland Press Herald.



(Here, for search purposes, is the Japanese title:)

11の国のアメリカ史――分断と相克の400年(上)






Friday, December 7, 2018

Gulf of Maine sees 3rd warmest year on record as monitoring programs wither

The Gulf of Maine -- already the second fastest warming part of the world's oceans -- just saw the third warmest year on the 37-year long satellite record, with average sea surface temperatures reaching levels only seen in 2012 and 2016. As I reported in yesterday's Portland Press Herald, researchers saw unpleasant effects on puffin chicks, sea turtles, and the North Atlantic's biggest kelp forest.

Meanwhile, various federal and state initiatives to boost monitoring and research into the phenomenon have gone nowhere, while funding for several existing monitoring systems has withered, resulting in scientists having fewer means to track what is going on.

Details in the story, but for more background start with this six-part series on the warming crisis in the Gulf, and this piece from a year ago on the state of Maine's response.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

George HW Bush, 1924-2018, an obituary

President George HW Bush -- who had lifelong ties to southern Maine -- died late Friday night at age 94. My obituary for him, the first draft of which was written some six years ago, appears in today's Maine Sunday Telegram and online here.

A little appreciated fact of the Bush dynasty, the most successful political one in US history, is that it was forged on the shores of Kennebunkport, with a marriage that linked the Walkers and Bushes in a vehicle capable of launching its offspring to the White House more than once.

Bush died less than eight months after former First Lady Barbara Bush, whose obituary I also
prepared for the Portland Press Herald.

The couple identified themselves with Texas for political reasons, but through their lives Walker's Point in Kennebunkport was the only constant. They got engaged there, held weddings, family events, and high-level diplomatic events, and spent nearly every summer at the compound. It was their only home in the U.S. during the years they lived in Beijing and at the US Naval Observatory and White House. During World War II they also lived briefly in Lewiston-Auburn, while he was training at the naval air station there.

I hope you enjoy both pieces.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Glenn Beck touts American Nations

Glenn Beck, who appears in the opening to American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, discovered the book earlier this month and posted this tweet:
Someone flagged the tweet for me -- my Twitter handle is actually @WoodardColin -- and I said I hoped he enjoys it. I'm now one of his less than 400 follows, and we engaged in a short direct message conversation about American cohesion, which shows the internet still has its occasional charms.

It appears he's enjoyed it as he's gone further in, as it made the top of today's edition of "Glenn's Bookshelf," his list of recommended books at his blog, Glennbeck.com. It's actually a pretty interesting list, encompassing Orwell, Haidt, Bradbury, and even the master of words-not-action, Ben Sasse. Now if I can just get him to tout American Character....

Sunday, November 25, 2018

On Blackbeard, 300 years after his death, in the New York Times

Republic of Pirates fans take note: 2018 has been the 300th anniversary of Woodes Rogers' landing at Nassau, marking the formal -- if tumultuous and uncertain -- end of the pirate republic, and Thursday was the anniversary of Blackbeard's death in a pitched battle with sailors of the Royal Navy.

I'm thankful that the New York Times opinion editors let me share my thoughts on the significance of this occasion -- and the reasons for Blackbeard's uninterrupted popularity -- in Friday's paper. It's a nice bookend to the tricentennial, a year I started in Bath, North Carolina, talking about the pirate and his death on an iced-in dock with Rogers' unlikely descendent, actress Hilary Duff.  Enjoy the piece.
Also on Thursday back in the U.K, the Bristol Post ran this piece on Blackbeard's real name (it's Edward Thatch, not Teach) based on an interview they conducted with me a few years back. Thatch's family was from the Bristol area, even if the latest evidence -- from researcher Baylus Brooks -- indicates he himself was likely born in Jamaica.

I last wrote on Blackbeard for Smithsonian a few years back, sharing new research by Mike Daniels on his final capture.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How LL Bean Got Big in Japan

I've always been curious how my hometown retailer, LL Bean, managed to succeed in Japan, one of the world's most difficult and unforgiving retail markets for foreign firms. How did the Freeport retailer wind up, back in the 1990s, opening stores in this country halfway around the world before it had even opened one anywhere else outside of Maine? How does it have 28 there now, when it hasn't yet opened one in Canada?

During my recent trip to Japan, I finally had a chance to find out. The unlikely story is in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, and features a chance encounter with an 11 foot tall self-propelled Maine Hunting Shoe at the center of the world's largest city.

I was in Japan to present at the Asahi World Forum, the result of American Nations being released in translation there.

I last wrote from Japan 12 years ago, for Grist on why that country still wants to eat whales.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Maine's Ranked Choice Voting experiment likely to boost efforts elsewhere


This month, Maine became the first state in the nation to hold its federal elections via Ranked Choice Voting, an instant runoff system intended to remove the "spoiler problem" from elections and theoretically, encourage comity and moderation in political candidates. In the state's Second U.S. House District the system was activated after none of the four candidates had a majority of first round votes, and voters made Democrat Jared Golden the winner in their second choices.

Defeated incumbent Bruce Poliquin has declared victory, nonetheless, and is challenging the whole process in federal court on (what experts say are spurious) constitutional grounds, but from a technical perspective the vote went off without a hitch. So what does that mean for the prosoects for Ranked Choice Voting in other states? I talked to a bunch of national experts to answer that question, and you can read what the head to say in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram (or online here.)

This spring, I laid out the whole saga of Maine's effort to adopt ranked choice voting for Politico Magazine, and then, for the Telegram, asked how a theoretically neutral electoral reform intended to reduce partisanship and polarization has become mired in polarization and partisanship, with Maine voters and legislators sharply split on party lines.