Sunday, April 13, 2014

American Nations and Belize

As a once-frequent visitor to Belize -- setting for part of my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas -- I was pleased to see one of their major dailies make use of my most recent title, American Nations. Inspired by the concepts they encountered in the book, Amandala's editorial board weighed in on Belize's national identity, arguing for a prominent place for its Ango-Creole culture vis a vis the Spanish-speaking Maya world which -- via Guatemala -- has territorial claims on the former British colony. (I wrote about the latter a decade and a half ago here.) Here's Amandala:

It is Belize’s black, English-speaking component which feels most threatened by the Guatemalan claim to Belize. In defining Belize’s national reality, however, it is precisely that black, English-speaking component which made us very different from Guatemala, the nation which has claimed Belizean territory...Using Woodard’s definition, we can argue that Belize is a nation which became a state on September 21, 1981. This is the reality which Guatemala seeks to reverse. This reversal is what we, the Belizean people, have vowed to resist.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.

I'd say this: in American Nations terms, most of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Chiapas and other areas probably belong to a Maya cultural zone dating back thousands of years. Parts of coastal Belize -- along with the Bay Islands of Honduras, parts of the Mosquito Coast, and other coastal locales, might have claim to be a dominant Anglo-Creole regional culture under Wilbur Zelinsky's Doctrine of First Effective Settlement. Regardless, a country like Belize has long been bi-cultural in this regard -- tri-cultural if you give the Garifuna people their due -- and one hopes this will remain a source of its strength rather than strife.

Friday, March 28, 2014

NBC series based on Republic of Pirates to premier May 30

"Crossbones", the NBC drama based on my third book, The Republic of Pirates, finally has its air date.

The series, written by Neil Cross (of BBC's "Luther" fame) and starring John Malkovich as Blackbeard, will premier Friday, May 30, at 10 pm, the network revealed this week.

The book, a history of the Golden Age Pirates, was recently released in the U.K., Australia, and the rest of the commonwealth, and translations are forthcoming in Hungary, Poland, Taiwan, and Brazil. It's also available in Spanish and Danish and, of course, in North America.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Maine: judge blasts DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho

Regular readers likely remember Patricia Aho, Maine's industrial lobbyist turned the commissioner of environmental protection, who was the focus of my five-part, three-day series last June in the Maine Sunday Telegram and Portland Press Herald, as well as follow-up stories on the department's subsequent failures in regards to dam relicensing here and here.

In tomorrow's Press Herald, I write on a new development: Aho being blasted in a court decision made public yesterday, both for arbitrary decision making on behalf of a client of her former lobbying form, and for transgressing on acceptable behavior in regards to conflict of interests of this nature. The judge had some choice words for Aho, of which this is a taste:

“While this case might not present the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which must exist for a Court to find ‘bias’ as that term has been defined by the Law Court, Commissioner Aho’s continuing participation in deciding upon operational and complaint protocols could be viewed as antithetical to the common notions of impartiality which Maine citizens understandably expect from decision makers in Maine agencies.”
There's more in the article and additional material in the opinion itself, which is posted with the article. Also in the completed version to post soon, find the latest on the (Democratic-controlled) legislature's efforts to increase oversight of the department, first outlined here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Talking pirates with KUER's Radio West Feb 27

For all you pirate fans out there in Utah, I'll be the guest tomorrow on Salt Lake City public radio affiliate KUER's "Radio West" for the full hour, starting at 11am Mountain (1pm Eastern).

I'll be talking about my recent Smithsonian Magazine cover story on Blackbeard, my book, The Republic of Pirates, and anything pirate-related the listening audience wants to talk about.

Here's KUER's blog post for the show.

I most recently spoke on pirates on NPR's "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" and with UK lifestyle/culture blogger Female First (on account of the UK edition of Republic of Pirates having recently been released), and with my local CBS television affiliate here in Maine, WGME.

For those interested in American Nations, I'm speaking later tomorrow, Feb. 27, at the University of Southern Maine, but that won't help those of you in Utah much.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Speaking on American Nations, Portland, Maine, Feb. 27

I'll be speaking about the ideas in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America this Thursday, February 27, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

The talk is co-sponsored by USM and the Maine alumni group of Tufts University, my Alma mater.  It kicks off a 7pm in the University Events Room located on the 7th floor of the Glickman Family Library.

It's free and open to the public, but you do need to register. For that -- and more details -- visit this page.

Currently my next public American Nations talks are scheduled for late April in Oxford, Ohio and mid-November outside Des Moines, Iowa. But that will likely change, and a full event schedule is always available here.

For those more interested in pirates, I'll be speaking on that topic on Utah's main public radio station earlier in the day of Feb. 27. More details coming up in this space.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On the regional distrubution of Waffle House

The Washington Post's The Fix took up a classic question in American regionalism last week: the regional maldistribution of Waffle House and IHOP restaurants and their correlations to political behavior. It's an age old question, but one I could no longer remain silent on, given that commentators continue to rely on state-level analysis of the problem.

As with any other regional question, one has to look beyond state lines, which don't capture the true historically-based cultural fissures in our landscape. Over at Washington Monthly, I've done precisely this for the Waffle House question, showing the regional fissures are even more stark than a state-level examination would reveal.

Waffle House is based in Georgia, and Ed Kilgore (a native of that state) adds this at the Monthly's Political Animal. I'd also note that rival IHOP was founded and based in Los Angeles County, which suggests a cultural rather than purely spatial explanation for its dominance in distant New England and the Upper Midwest.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pacific Standard on American Nations

Pacific Standard -- the magazine formerly known as Miller-McCune -- recently took up the question "Why Do Different States Have Such Wildly Different Ideas About Government?" It's a thoughtful piece and well worth a read. Here's the nut:

"Political scientists describe a phenomenon known as state political culture, which is a set of beliefs and attitudes that are consistent over time and confined to a certain geographic area. Some experts say that we owe these variations in political beliefs to the original immigrants who settled in different parts of the country.
These immigrants brought their grudges and Old World values to the United States, and those views melded with new American values. The Puritans stamped their views of society and politics on the Northeast, and the Scandinavians put their own mark on the Midwest. Northern New Jersey, which I call home, was shaped by the original Dutch settlers, as well as by the latecomers of Irish and Italians to the port-side cities."
Indeed, Laura McKenna goes on to trace this line of thinking, citing Daniel Elazar's (state-level) thesis, David Hackett Fisher's (four-culture) Albion's Seed and, I'm pleased to say, American Nations and my recent article on violence and regional cultures, which went viral a few months ago. The conclusion:

Perhaps we should accept that we are a country that agrees about certain basic things, but clashes over the specifics. We’re a very large and very dysfunctional family at the Thanksgiving dinner table that quarrels about the side dishes, but all expect—and overlook—the turkey main course. Dysfunctional families, after all, work, and their flexibility might ward off bigger crises and conflict. There’s a place for everyone.
Broadly speaking, I agree with the spirit of Laura McKenna's argument. But I'm not sure the clashing definitions of what "freedom" or "liberty" mean -- or what role the federal government should have -- constitute side dishes. We fought a Civil War over these things. A better analogy might be that we agree that there's a dinner table and place settings and maybe what wine we should be drinking with our meal, but fundamentally disagree on how the turkey should be cooked, carved, and presented.

And, of course, state-level analysis misses a great deal, given that many states are riven with profound cultural cleavages dating back to different settlement streams in the colonial era. (Witness Upstate and Downstate Illinois or north Coastal California and that state's south and, separately, interior.) Many state's political cultures are defined by massive sectional disagreements. The real question might be: why do some states have broad agreement on the great questions of government -- within New England, for instance -- and others suffer from massive internal disagreements?