Thursday, June 30, 2011

Publisher's Weekly: American Nations makes Top Ten Politics books this fall

Publisher's Weekly has put out their Fall 2011 preview edition, and has included my forthcoming American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America to their Top Ten Politics books of the season.

Normally you have to subscribe to read PW's features online, but through midnight today, June 30, 2011, you can follow instructions to read this one for free. You don't even have to give out any information.

American Nations is in good company. The other nine books include forthcoming titles from Thomas Frank, Thomas Friedman, Stephen Cohen, Lawrence Lessig, and William Arkin. Viking Penguin releases the book on Sept. 29, and I'll be giving the keynote on it's subject matter at the Bangor Book Festival the following evening here in Maine.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Intelligence of Beasts

Animal cognition studies have long focused on primates, in part on account of the assumption that the smartest creatures sharing Earth must be the ones most closely related to us. But, as my feature in the new issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education reveals, that's started to change.

Recent years have seen remarkable discoveries in regards to the mental abilities of dogs, dolphins, crows, elephants and other species not closely related to ourselves. That's changed how researchers think about the evolutionary pressures that foster higher intelligence and, for some, how they think about our place in life's great pecking order. The piece -which ran in the Chronicle Review section -- is freely available online.

Chronicle subscribers may enjoy my previous story on canine intelligence research, filed from Hungary in 2005.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Republic of Pirates TV project sold to NBC

I am pleased to see news accounts stating that a potential television series based on my book, The Republic of Pirates, has been sold to NBC by Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. Co-written by Jim Hart (Hook, Contact, Dracula) and Amanda Wells and executive produced by Parkes/MacDonald (Gladiator, Men In Black, Minority Report), Ted Gold and Tom Fontana (Oz, Homicide: Life on the Streets, St. Elsewhere), the drama is apparently titled -- to my pleasure -- Republic of Pirates. broke the news and these details with this exclusive story Thursday evening.

Deadline reports it is the first drama buy for this development cycle by the new president of creative at NBC, Bob Greenblatt (Six Feet Under). As fans of the book know, Republic of Pirates tells the true story of the greatest pirate gang of all time, the golden age pirates who operated out of the Bahamas between 1715 and 1720 and are responsible for nine-tenths of all of our pirate pop culture imagery. The gang -- which included Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, and the "gentleman pirate" Stede Bonnet -- founded a rogue state based at Nassau and, for a time, severed the commerce of three empires and threatened their colonies with dislocation, invasion, and rebellion.

For those wanting to learn more about these pirates, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Nook, audiobook, Spanish and Danish editions. Links to all can be found at this page on the Republic of Pirates website.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Maine: Fun with Fireworks, Chemicals, and Friends

The Maine legislature is close to enacting a bill that would legalize the sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks, a measure backed by the LePage administration, but opposed by the State Fire Marshall, the Maine Medical Association, and the Maine State Federation of Firefighters on public safety grounds.

Why is the governor supporting fireworks sales, even to the point of preventing his Fire Marshall from offering testimony to lawmakers? A cynic might check who the fireworks industry's principal lobbyist is here in Maine. A non-cynic might be crestfallen to discover that, yes, Preti Flaherty's Ann Robinson has been officially representing them since March.

Ms. Robinson, Maine politicos will know, has the good fortune to serve as Gov. LePage's special advisor on regulatory reform, even as she's paid by various corporate interests to lobby on the policies she is literally writing for the governor and, by extension, legislators. She also served as the co-chair of LePage's transition team, heading the creation of his regulatory reform agenda, which included items of direct benefit and interest to Preti's clients.

Meanwhile, the longtime principal lobbyist for the chemical industry, Patricia Aho, has just been promoted from Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to Acting Commissioner, filling the seat occupied by developer Darryl Brown, whose own conflicts of interest forced his resignation.

Ms. Aho has presumably "deregistered" as a lobbyist by now, but it remains to be seen if her primary allegiance will be to the public for whom she now formally serves or the industrial interests she worked for as recently as December 29th. Early indications are not encouraging: the Environmental Health Strategy Center this week accused Ms. Aho of presiding over internal changes at DEP that appear to undermine oversight of her former clients.

(Update, 2:50pm: Documents held by the Ethics Commission indicate Ms. Aho ceased lobbying by 18 January 2011, the day she telephoned to advise staff there of her pending change of employers. )

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Europe:managing offshore wind conflicts with fisheries

The 2011 edition of Island Journal is out, including my feature on how various European countries have negotiated (or failed to negotiate) the inevitable conflicts between offshore wind farms and fishermen. It has particular valence for the Gulf of Maine region, where numerous offshore projects are in the works.

In short, the European experience points to the need to plan ahead and for potential developers to engage the fishing community early on, well before they start thinking about where they want to put their turbine arrays. Countries that haven't done this -- Germany among them -- have regretted it, while those that have (Denmark jumps to mind) have managed conflicts reasonably well.

The article isn't available online, but New Englanders can find Island Journal at better bookstores, or can order a copy from the Island Institute, which publishes it, as well as the monthly newspaper Working Waterfront, where my Parallel 44 column runs.

As an aside, I've covered wind energy for fifteen years now, filing stories from Denmark and Prince Edward Island along the way.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Australia: death threats for climate researchers

My latest story in The Chronicle of Higher Education is on a disturbing development in Australia, where climate scientists have been subjected to threats of violence and death against themselves and their families. Authorities there consider the threats viable enough to have relocated some researchers to secure buildings and cutting them off from unmediated contact with the public, students, and the press.

Fortunately the environment here in the U.S. has yet to turn so authoritarian and hostile to inconvenient data, as the article describes. The piece - which posted Friday - is online, but if you don't subscribe to the Chronicle, you'll be prompted to do so. [Update: 6/21/2011: It's now freely available.]

I've been a foreign correspondent of the Chronicle for twenty-one years now. My last piece for the paper was on alleged discrimination in Canada against graduates of that country's own doctoral programs.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

DeCoster Update: Land O' Lakes has "no involvement" with LD 1207

For those who've been following the strange story of the "Help Jack DeCoster" bill in the Maine legislature, a couple of breaking items to report:

First, the bill -- LD 1207 -- just passed the Maine house moments ago, 74-68, after its sponsor, Rep. Dale Crafts (R-Lisbon), presented a new argument as to why it should pass. The bill -- which will take away workers' right to unionize at the notorious egg magnates' companies -- is allegedly the only thing standing in the way of DeCoster making a big sale. The Senate will consider the bill shortly.

DeCoster's Quality Egg LLC, Rep. Crafts alleged on the State House floor today, is about to be sold to the Minnesota-based agricultural cooperative Land O' Lakes, Inc., but the deal will supposedly fall apart if LD 1207 is not passed. As the Sun Journal's Steve Mistler reports, Land O' Lakes has unionized facilities elsewhere in the country, which raises questions about the accuracy of Rep. Crafts' assertions. (As previously reported, he gave erroneous testimony on the bill before the labor committee earlier this session.)

I contacted Land O' Lakes to check up on Crafts' assertion. Their director of corporate communications, Jeanne Forbis, responded with a written statement saying the company "does not comment on rumors or speculation in the marketplace." But she added: "we have no involvement with legislation being considered in Maine relating to unionization of agricultural workers."

My follow-up question was if the company has "an interest or a stake" in LD 1207. Ms. Forbis responded by e-mail that they were "not going to go beyond our statement."

[Update, 6/9/2011, 7:05pm: Susan Sharon of MPBN has comment from DeCoster's spokesman, and has included a transcript of their interview at their site. He essentially says there's no imminent deal, but declines to contradict Rep. Crafts directly. Ms. Forbis gave MPBN the same statement that I received.]

[Update, 6/11/2001: The Senate, skeptical perhaps of the whole situation, referred the bill back to the labor committee for further consideration.]

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Maine: How the GOP rammed through a massive health insurance overhaul

The new Portland Phoenix has my cover story on how Maine Republicans railroaded a massive overhaul of our health insurance regime through the State House, and the political fallout that's followed. The majority party sometimes slams a bill through the system faster than anyone can digest it, but rarely do these bills involve such genuine life-and-death issues as those affected by LD1333.

The Phoenix cover artists even created this insurance lobbyist/devil figure to illustrate the piece. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but you have to admit it's eye-catching.

For the policy wonks out there, I did take the time to photograph the testimony submitted for the original April 27 hearing, back when this was but a four-page bill. The points raised for and against the loosening of restrictions on charging higher premiums based on a customer's location, gender, age, or health status, may still be valid in regards to those components of the new law. You can find it here as a 37-megabyte PDF. (Why the legislature hasn't ordered that all committee testimony be scanned and posted online is beyond me.)

Vermont also overhauled their health insurance system last month. The difference: they're going to a single payer model. Will be interesting to see which approach results in the best outcomes for these respective state's people.