Thursday, September 30, 2010

Maine: Were LePage and Connor separated at birth?

I've had my hands full with finishing a book and becoming a dad, but my head has remained free to shake in disbelief at the antics of two local figures: Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage and Richard Connor, owner and editorial czar of Maine's largest newspaper chain. What amazes me most are the similarities between the two men's behavior, which have put both of them in the national spotlight.

LePage, the darling of the state's Tea Party crowd, has shown himself to be a petulant child whose mouth is usually running well ahead of his brain and with the political instincts of a small time street thug. Amid a string of strange, easily exposed lies -- that a Democratic official derided him for his Franco-American roots (never happened), that that he doesn't know what "creationism" means (and yet knows he supports it being taught in schools), that he never swore at reporters (even though he did so on tape), that he stormed out of his press conference because someone had used the F-bomb on him (again, didn't happen), that his name was never on the deed of his wife's home in Waterville (it was) -- he stormed out of his own press conference (not liking his tax dodge exposed), said he'd like to punch a Maine Public Broadcasting reporter (for asking those questions), and promised reporters that if he were elected governor, they'd see a lot of him on the front pages of newspapers telling President Obama "to go to Hell."

No wonder his support has collapsed in the most recent poll, dropping him into a dead heat with Libby Mitchell, despite her tepid campaign.

Meanwhile, MaineToday Media owner/editor Richard Connor was running his editorial voice way ahead of his brain, making a front page apology to readers not for failing to cover the 9/11 observances adequately, but for having provided coverage of local Muslims' observance of the last day of Ramadan. (One commentator aptly asked if Easter observances should therefore no longer be covered unless linked to the Catholic Church's child rape scandal.) Connor was roundly mocked and condemned for his bizarre apology -- the Press Herald website has even appended it with a new preface to spin their position -- with attention from Stephen Colbert ("isn't there one day of the year we can all agree not to be Muslim?"), Time Magazine ("Paper to Readers: Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human"), New York Times columnist Nick Kristof (who was sickened to see all Muslims lumped in with Al Qaeda), and the Hartford Courant's Susan Campbell (who offered a spot-on professional edit of Connor's sloppy prose).

Connor's reaction was LePagesque. First he decided not to run any of the enormous pile of letters his apology had generated for over a week. Then he appeared on Boston's WBUR and dismissed criticism from the curator of the Nieman Foundation as coming from a product of "corporate journalism." Subsequently, he tried to spin what had actually happened and became testy when National Public Radio's On The Media wouldn't let him wriggle out of his own words, declared he wouldn't retract his apology, and hung up on the host.

Neither man seems to have the temperament or maturity for the job they seek to perform. At least Mainers have the option of voting against Mr. LePage.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Maine: Return of the Iron Horses

Passenger rail is making a comeback in Maine, with the nine-year old Amtrak Downeaster service from Boston to Portland soon to expand to Freeport and Brunswick, with immediate connections to Bath, Wiscassset, and Rockland. Lewiston-Auburn and Augusta could follow in short order.

So what does this all mean for Maine and Mainers, and what obstacles stand in the way of further expansion?

These questions and more posed and answered in my latest Talk of Maine piece in the new issue of Down East magazine. After reading the piece, interested parties might also want to check out the websites of Maine Eastern Railroad and TrainRiders/Northeast, plus these images of the railway stations Portland tore down in the history-hating 60s.

Readers note: on account of my son's birth, I'm taking a two month hiatus from Talk of Maine, but will be back thereafter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lady GaGa in Portland

I don't usually cover the celebs, but Lady GaGa showed up across the street from my house yesterday, resulting in my filing this short down-and-dirty piece for the Daily Beast. She's trying to pressure Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to repeal the current policy on gays in the military.

A few details not in the piece: Ms. GaGa spoke from the open air bandstand at Deering Oaks Park, a venue usually associated with less prominent acts like Portland's Italian Heritage Club Band. She was preceded on stage by several vets kicked out of the service under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- including one who says he was asked and didn't tell, but got the boot anyway -- as well as by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (who sits on the Armed Services Committee) and Portland's (unelected) mayor, Nick Mavodones.

Will be interesting to see if either of Maine's senators are willing to break the Republican filibuster and repeal the policy.

[Update, 9/21/10, 6:30 pm: On our senators, it looks like the answer is no.]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

I'm reminded that today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I shall hereby shamelessly promote my book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down.

My website for that book includes excerpts from the flattering reviews (and ruthless suppression of contrary opinion), and information on how to order everything from the paperback to the Spanish and Danish language editions.

There's also my semi-defunct pirate blog, which is cursed with a terrible host. You can read about some of my post-book discoveries, including the solving of a minor Blackbeard mystery with documents found in a second trip to Britain's brilliant National Archives.

I bid you a found Arrrr-dieu.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why Mainers bristle at Massachusetts

When one of our more erratic state legislators proposed splitting Maine in two (several times), he proposed the southern portion be called "North Massachusetts," which in Maine is something akin to calling an Irish person English. But why do we Mainers have such animus toward the Bay State?

I address this in my second book, The Lobster Coast, but it's also the topic of my bi-monthly column over at Working Waterfront, if you want to save the fifteen bucks for the whole story.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Malaga Island: a proper apology

For those following the Malaga Island story, there was an important development over the weekend.

Governor John Baldacci joined descendants of those evicted from in 1912 by his predecessor for a visit to the island. The governor apologized for the state's (eugenically-inspired) actions. State Rep. Herb Adams (D-Portland) read the state legislature's resolution expressing regret for the act. One descendant said she thought the event had "lifted the curse" on the islander's story.

As I reported in Down East a couple of months ago, the legislature bungled their official apology back in April, passing the resolution without prior notice to descendants or stakeholders and then not informing anyone that it had happened. My story -- published months later -- was the only press report that appeared, and apparently focused Gov. Baldacci's attention on this historical injustice.

I wasn't able to attend on account of my son's birth, but MPBN and the Brunswick Times Record have stories. Richard "Scoops Don't Matter" Connor's Press Herald is expected to run a piece tomorrow.

(Here are all my posts on Malaga Island.)

Monday, September 13, 2010


If you've been wondering why I've been so uncharacteristically quiet of late: I've just become a dad. I can verify it's as wonderful as sources and witnesses have claimed.