Monday, June 29, 2009

New book project: speaking in Boothbay, July 1

I've been at work on my new book, a history of North America's rival nations, by which I mean not the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, but rather Yankeedom, the Deep South, New Netherlands, etc. I'll be talking about this work in progress July 1 at the Boothbay Region Historical Society in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, at 4pm. (For the book itself, you'll have to wait: Viking-Penguin publishes it in late 2010.)

Unfortunately, the project's rapacious demands of time, travel, and energy have meant that I can't teach the writing track this coming academic year at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

I do have a few more speaking events around Maine this summer on Republic of Pirates and The Lobster Coast (which will be Scarborough's Community Read this year.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Talking Pirates: Kennebunk, Maine, June 25th

If you happen to live in York County, Maine, I'll be speaking about the golden age pirates -- subject of my book, The Republic of Pirates -- at the Kennebunk Free Library this Thursday, June 25th and 6:30. (Kennebunk's Community Read this year is Treasure Island, and we're kicking things off with the tale of the pirates who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson.)

I'll also be speaking about my new book project in Boothbay Harbor on July 1st and on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine (topic of my previous book, The Lobster Coast) in Stonington, Maine on July 23. Lobster Coast is going to be Scarborough, Maine's Community Read this year, and I'll be speaking there the morning of September 26.

There's a full schedule of upcoming events at my website.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Maine: Linda Bean's lobster dreams

If you'd like to see more of the benefits of Maine-caught seafood accrue to Mainers, you may be interested in my profile of Linda Bean in the July issue of Down East.

Bean, granddaughter of the founder of L.L. Bean, is building Maine's first complete, vertically-integrated lobster company, one that buys lobster (and sells fuel and bait at cost) from its docks, processes it at its own Maine-based plants, and sells it under its own brand (at supermarkets) and at its own national chain of takeout restaurants.

The article explores why Bean -- who has no prior background in seafood and could do whatever she wants -- is jumping into the lobster fishery (she's a passionate champion of primary resource harvesters) and how it fits in with her very conservative politics. (Bean twice ran for U.S. Congress, spearheaded the effort to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in Maine, founded a conservative statewide news magazine in the 80s, and still plays a significant behind-the-scenes role in Maine and national politics.)

The piece isn't available online, but New Englanders can find it on most newsstands for the next three or four weeks. [UPDATE: 11/17/09. The full piece is now online.]

One small correction: I write on page 88 that her mother, Hazel (May) Bean (now Dyer), pioneered L.L. Bean's ladies department in the 60s and 70s. That was actually her aunt, Hazel (June) Bean, her mother's sister-in-law. (Yes: two of L.L Bean's sons married women named Hazel!) Linda's mother didn't play a role in the ladies department, but she still sits on L.L. Bean's board.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Maine newspapers (finally) sold

Maine's largest newspaper chain has finally been sold.

After many false starts, the Seattle Times Company has sold the Blethen Maine newspapers -- including the Portland Press Herald -- to an investment group led by Richard Connor of Pennsylvania. The company purchased the chain in 1998 for at least $213 million. Today's sale price was not immediately disclosed; conventional wisdom among the chattering classes has been that it would be between $20 and $30 million.

Connor, whose ownership group is now called Maine Today Media, told the Press Herald that another 100 employees may be cut.

If you haven't been following Maine's newspaper crisis, here's an article I wrote in January.

The Associated Press article quoted a San Francisco based media analyst (guess they needed one on Pacific Time at this hour) who described Portland as "a fairly isolated market where there are limited other sources for local news and limited other vehicles for advertising." (Apparently they don't get the Forecaster, The Bollard, the Portland Daily Sun, The Phoenix, and the West End News in San Francisco.) What we're really limited in is not a source of local news but of statewide and regional (i.e.: southern and midcoast maine) news; all we've really got is Maine Public Broadcasting. Perhaps we're on the road to again having a newspaper of record.

Nazi conspiracies, European assasinations, and a lost Israeli submarine

Two friends and colleagues have new books out this month exploring mysteries, real and imagined.

Adam LeBor, an old friend from my days in Hungary, has a political thriller out, The Budapest Protocol, in which the European present collides with a conspiracy from its Nazi past. Given recent events in Eastern Europe, the plot doesn't seem quite as far-fetched as it should: read Adam's chilling piece in last Tuesday's Times of London.

Here in Maine, fellow oceanophile David Jourdan just released Never Forgotten, an account of his quest to find the lost Israeli submarine Dakar, whose final resting place had eluded 26 official search missions. Jourdan -- a Cape Porpoise resident and former US submarine officer -- is no stranger to underwater searches. He led the company that found the Japanese carrier Kaga (sunk at the Battle of Midway), the gold-laden Japanese submarine I-52, and the efforts to track down Amelia Earhart's plane.

Bob Ballard, the guy who discovered the Titanic's resting place, says Dakar's "sinking led to all sorts of conspiracy theories, so it was great to finally learn the truth!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Maine campaign finance: law passes, fixing problem

For those following the Maine municipal campaign finance disclosure issue (poor souls), the story has a happy ending.

A bill that fixes the problem -- ensuring preservation of candidate disclosures and web access to them -- was signed into law by Governor John Baldacci this morning, according to his deputy chief of staff, David Farmer. "It's an important improvement in the retention policy for public records," Mr. Farmer said. "The maintenance of public records is very important for disclosure and for a historical perspective."

City and town clerks across Maine had been destroying the campaign finance documents in as soon as two years after an election, making it impossible to trace links between special interests and elected city officials over time. After I broke the story for Maine Public Broadcasting and Working Waterfront, State Sen. Justin Alfond (D-Portland) sponsored LD1100, which turns control of the documents over to the State Ethics Commission, which retains county and state disclosures. The bill was initially rejected by a legislative committee, but ultimately received unanimous approval.

LD1100 goes into effect in the 2011 election cycle. It is unclear whether the Maine State Archives - which has jurisdiction over local campaign records until then - will formally advise city clerks to retain disclosures in the interim. (In the meantime, I've posted the surviving Portland, Maine disclosures here.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Iceland: the financial collapse and Maine lobstermen

When Iceland's banking system failed last fall, Maine lobster prices collapsed, allegedly because the banks were the primary sources of credit to the Canadian processors who buy much of the catch that time of year. It makes for a fascinating parable about the unintended effects of globalization -- a bank fails in Reykjavik and a fisherman in Jonesport pays the price -- but is it true?

While in Iceland this winter I researched the issue, meeting with bankers from Glitnir and Landsbanki, banks that specialized in the global seafood industry and, later, interviewing Canadian processors and Maine harvesters. The results are laid out in a feature article in the new issue of National Fisherman magazine.

For those without a subscription: the consensus of sources is that the banking collapse did have an effect on lobster prices, but was by no means the only factor. The loss of the Icelandic banks will have a lasting effect on the seafood business, however, as they were among the only ones in the world unafraid of lending to the sector.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Maine newspapers: editors reportedly to be dropped

For those following the endless sales negotiations for Maine's onetime newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald, and its sister papers, there's some fresh news.

A few minutes ago, Al Diamon at Media Mutt reported that the sale of the Blethen Maine Newspapers will be completed within the week and that both Press Herald executive editor Jeannine Guttman and Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel editor Eric Conrad have been informed they will be let go. [Update, 5:28 pm: the Press Herald, scooped by four hours on a story about itself, offers its take, but with far fewer details.]

For background on the situation I offer my article in January's Port City Life magazine.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

France: Forgetting Trianon

In the coming months, there's going to be a lot of media attention devoted to the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. I was fortunate enough to be studying in Budapest at the time and was witness to many of the historic events that fall. I then covered the region for various newspapers and magazines from 1991 to 1996, and again in 1996-1997. Based in Hungary for much of the time, I heard one term over and over: Trianon. Its anniversary was on Thursday.

The 1920 Treaty of Trianon is regarded by many Hungarians as the worst event in their country's history. In the early 1990s, it was often the first thing a drunken worker wanted to share with a foreigner on a train or in a pub; more than once I had maps drawn for me on the backs of napkins or scraps of paper showing how Hungary had been dismembered by the treaty, punishment for their role in World War I. Nationalist politicians brought the treaty up regularly, arguing that it should be renegotiated (which is, effectively, an argument for the annexation of Slovakia, much of Romania, and portions of other neighboring states.) Posters and bumper stickers depicting Hungary with its pre-Trianon borders were the rage. The treaty - which prompted Hungary to ally with Nazi Germany during World War II - is commemorated in tragic monuments and angry anniversary demonstrations like this one held last week.

On the eve of the anniversary, I visited Versailles for the first time and, of course, wanted to visit the Grand Trianon Palace. The emphasis of the museum displays was, rightly, on the Bourbon kings (who built the place) and Marie Antoinette (who resided in it). But in all the pamphlets and signage, there wasn't a single reference to the 1920 treaty. The 270-page official guidebook to the Versailles complex had but one sentence: "It was in the gallery that, on 4 June 1920, the Peace with Hungary was signed."

A reminder that one nation's epic tragedy is another's footnote.