Thursday, June 21, 2018

It not only can happen here, it's already started

My congressional representative here in Maine is heading to southmost Texas tomorrow to join a score of her colleagues touring federal detention centers where migrant children taken from their parents are being held. Her questions -- and the fact that they're all legitimate ones -- illustrate where we're at as a country: where are the detained girls? where are the detained babies? are reports that caregivers aren't allowed to touch or hug traumatized children true? Or that kids are being kept drugged to pacify them? how is the government going to reunite children -- especially babies -- with their families, particularly if the parents have already been deported? are they even going to?

The central message of American Character was that liberal democracies fail when the balance between the two pillars of freedom -- individual liberty and the maintenance of the common good -- gets too far out of whack. Written in 2015, before Trump was considered a serious candidate, it warned that the US was in danger of falling into authoritarianism for this reason, and that all the warning signs were present.

This week we learned that we're already there, replete with detention camps for babies and children, border agents effectively kidnapping children to terrorize migrants, and a stunning set of lies and reversals issued from the pulpits of the Trump administration on the issue.

We're here, folks, and these will be the times that test our souls and that of our federation.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Talking Maine's 1820 split from Mass. with KQED's California Report


This November, Californians will be asked if they want to split their state into three, a measure spearheaded by venture capitalist Tim Draper. I wrote about some of the problems Draper's borders present, in historical-cultural terms, over at Medium last month.

But this week, I got to talk about an entirely different aspect of historical background on KQED's statewide "California Report": the lessons and precedents set by Maine's split from Massachusetts in 1820.

Readers of The Lobster Coast are aware of the two entities were separate colonies back in the 1640s, when the English Civil War pit Royalist, Anglican, semi-feudal, West Country-dominated Maine against Puritan, Parliament-backing, East Anglia-settled Massachusetts. The execution of the King cleared the way for Boston to annex the Maine settlements, which they ruled as a colony -- the District of Maine -- for nearly 70 years. The War of 1812 -- when Massachusetts refused to defend eastern Maine or help the federal government rollback the British occupation of it -- was just the final blow to Commonwealth unity.

But I digress. Here's a link to the audio of our interview, and here's the web story. (KQED is the San Francisco NPR affiliate, and one of the nation's public radio "superstations."



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cruise tourism impacts in Maine, a series

Over the past four months I've been at work on a series on the impact of cruise ship tourism in Maine, where most ports of call have a smaller year-around population than the compliment of the larger ships themselves. The results have been appearing in the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram this week, with the final part in today's paper.

The bottom line for Maine communities: taking an ad hoc, reactive approach to cruise tourism has considerable dangers, but if you plan, prepare, and negotiate properly, you can get the outcomes your citizens want, rather than the ones that will just happen to them.

The full series -- Pier Pressure -- consists of five articles over three days, and they're all here for your convenience:

Day 1: "Some in Maine fear cruise ship tourism has gone overboard" (featuring Bar Harbor and the global, business, and historical contexts Mainers should know about.)

Day 1 sidebar: "No discharge fight comes to Acadia region" (Maine has the weakest marine discharge protections in New England, but there's a good explanation for why.)

Day 2: "Long touted economic benefits of cruise tourism far overstated" (How assumptions have been way off for passenger spending and net economic benefits in Portland, Maine.)

Day 2 sidebar: "Lone Portland passenger study made assumptions, overestimated economic impact" (A flawed 2009 study led city officials and residents to unrealistic expectations.)

Day 3: "Cruise ships trigger identity crises for a small city in Maine" (on Rockland and solutions generally for Maine ports.)

Photos by the ever-awesome Greg Rec.

Bar Harbor voters decide today if they want to buy an abandoned ferry terminal so as to ensure it becomes a multi-use facility, not a cruise ship mega-pier. [Update, 6/13/18: They approved the purchase by a more than five-to-one margin.]

In an unrelated note, my thanks to peers and colleagues in the Maine media for kindly recommending me to Pine Tree Watch's list of Maine's Most Trusted Journalists. The others so honored are my Press Herald colleagues (and, remarkably, immediate newsroom desk-neighbors) Mike Lowe, Eric Russell, and Bill Nemitz; Lewiston Sun-Journal managing editor Judy Meyer; Maine Public's Steve Mistler, Don Carrigan of WCSH-6/WLBZ-2, and the Bangor Daily News's Erin Rhoda, Chris Cousins, and Jake Bleiberg. All of us well know this is not an exhaustive list, as Maine is blessed with a great and varied press corps.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Talking pirates with Hilary Duff on TLC's Who Do You Think You Are?

In an unlikely development, I recently returned to Blackbeard's Bath, North Carolina haunt to chat with actress Hilary Duff about one of her ancestors, the man responsible for the pirate's death 300 years ago this fall.

Duff was being whisked around the world for what became this week's episode of the cable television program "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC.; I was there as author of The Republic of Pirates, which tells the story of how Blackbeard came to be in Bath and how Duff's ancestor organized the expedition to kill him. The segment was shot on an unusually cold January morning -- so cold in fact that Bath Creek had frozen over, making boating impossible, so we spoke on a dock surrounded by
mirror-like ice.

Here's an extended clip of our conversation. The full episode -- S9:E4 -- is available here to US cable subscribers with TLC in their package.

Thanks to the excellent team at Shed Media for an enjoyable mid-winter dive into piracy.

I'll next be talking piracy in Nassau, site of the Bahamian pirate republic, in mid-July, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the pirates' downfall. Stay tuned for details. My next public talk is at the Chautauqua Institution in far western New York state July 3, on American Character.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Speaking at the Chautauqua Institution, July 3

On July 3 I have the honor of speaking at the Chautauqua Institution's summer speaker series on the lake in Chautauqua, New York. The event kicks off at 2:30 pm in their Hall of Philosophy.

I'll be talking about the issues raised in American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, which was a finalist for the 2017 Chautauqua Prize. The morning session just ahead of me is with Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker, so I'm looking forward to that as well.

For those of you attending Chautauqua this season, I look forward to meeting.




Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Talking about Maine's Ranked Choice Voting odyssey on NHPR, May 17

For those of you in the Granite State, I'll be your guest in the morning on New Hampshire Public Radio's "The Exchange," talking about Maine's Ranked Choice Voting odyssey.

The program, which runs from 9-10 Eastern, also features Saint Anselm College's Erik Cleven and Connecticut Mirror Capitol bureau chief Mark Pazniokas.

I reported on the crazy twists and turns of Maine's RCV drive for Politico back at the end of March, and on how it the voting reform effort became a partisan flashpoint in the Maine Sunday Telegram early last month.

I'll post the audio of the conversation when it becomes available. [Update, 14:30 ET: the audio is now available at the same link.]

I was last a guest on "The Exchange" back in 2016 about American Character, the epic struggle over how to define freedom in America and how it might be resolved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bad borders: what US secessionists' proposals miss

The sixth installment of my "Balkanized America" series is up over at Medium, looking at how contemporary US secessionists and state-splitters -- from Ted Draper's "Six Californias" and CAL3 plans to create an independent Cascadia or Texas -- set themselves up for failure by ignoring centuries-old regional fissures.

Those are, of course, the American Nations fissures.

Earlier installments in the series have run the gamut from debunking the assertion that the greatest divide in US politics is between urban and rural voters (hint: regional cultures have a far greater effect) to how the existence of these cultures shaped the run-up to the 1787 constitutional convention and even the reproductive clustering of North Americans (which surprised even me, as the paradigm argues for cultural effects, not genetic ones.)