Thursday, March 31, 2011

Maine: what happened to nuclear waste site reports?

With the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan, Americans have suddenly been reawakened to the dangers presented by nuclear power accidents. Here in Maine, those questions inevitably revolve around the spent fuel stored at the site of the former Maine Yankee nuclear power plant.

As I report in the Portland Phoenix, those wishing to consult the most comprehensive documentary source -- the monthly reports submitted to the legislature by the state's nuclear safety officer -- have been out of luck. So what happened? The answer herein.

And on Japan, I recommend this dispatch from the gates of the stricken plant from my friend Dan Howden of The Independent.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Academic Freedom offers no protection for professor's emails

You may by now have heard the story of Bill Cronon, a University of Wisconsin political scientist who - after writing a New York Times OpEd and blog posting regarding the provenance of Gov. Walker's anti-labor legislation -- became the subject of a public records request by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which seeks all of Mr. Cronon's emails referring in any way to the state's contentious labor dispute or to key agencies and Republican lawmakers.

Yesterday, three public universities in Michigan received similar requests for all emails from labor studies professors that include the keywords "Scott Walker," "Wisconsin," "Madison," and "Maddow," the MSNBC commentator.

The requests have occasioned a discussion on university campuses on the maintaining the balance between academic freedom and the public's right to review "public documents," which in most states include university e-mail accounts. (An exception: students are protected under a federal privacy law.)

I just co-reported a story in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education on this issue, revealing that blanket requests for faculty e-mail have been heretofore unheard of at other major public research universities, but that in most states they are indeed disclosable. (Unfortunately, the story is currently available online only to Chronicle subscribers.)

I've been a correspondent of the Chronicle for nearly 22 years now, reporting on academe and scientific research around the globe. My most recent story -- which is available online -- was on foreign students and faculty getting inappropriately detained at the U.S. Border Patrol's "internal checkpoints" at highways and bus stations far from the Canadian frontier.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Speaking within Chautauqua!, Stonington, Maine, April 6

I've been invited to deliver a ten-minute mini-lecture-within-a-play next week by the deliciously-named National Theater of the United States of America.

NTUSA is putting on their production of Chautauqua! at the Stonington Opera House on Deer Isle the evening of April 6. The production -- a decidedly unconventional celebration of the famous 19th century Yankee variety-show-cum-intellectual-program -- is in the midst of a New England tour from its New York City spawning ground. The New Yorker has called it a "timely, beautiful meditation on the relationship between the arts, urbanity, community, and economics."

As you've probably guessed, I'll be giving distilled remarks drawn from my book on the cultural history and identity of coastal Maine, The Lobster Coast. Tickets are $20. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Canada: Despite Wikileaked cable, Canadian TV Producers say they don't hate America

Reading the U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, I've generally had the same reaction voiced by many commentators: they show U.S. diplomats to be capable, professional, well-informed and sometimes even witty.

So on a recent reporting trip to Canada, I followed up on one of them: a 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa warning that the television dramas and sitcoms aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were engaged in "anti-American melodrama" and "insidious negative popular stereotyping" of Washington officials. This, the diplomats warned, either reflected or perhaps cultivated anti-American feeling in the Canadian public, with potentially serious long-term consequences.

Heady stuff. But, as my story over at The Christian Science Monitor reveals, largely off-base. (Headline: "Canadian TV producers: We don't really hate America.")

A few items that didn't make it into the story. In initial reports on this cable, many journalists mistakenly attributed it to then-Ambassador David Wilkins, whose name appeared at the end of the cable. Wilkins subsequently denied it, and experts pointed out that the name at the end of each State Department cable doesn't denote authorship, but rather the highest level official on station at the time the cable was sent. The real authors, Wilkins told CBC's As It Happens, were staff with "too much time on their hands."

Also, in the course of reporting the story, I got a chance to watch some of the shows in question, and to interview their creators. For American viewers: Little Mosque on the Prairie evokes Northern Exposure in both tone and its "fish out of water" premise. Intelligence - now available instantly at Netflix -- is a complex crime-and-espionage drama that's been compared to The Wire, with the refreshing twist of being set in Vancouver, and written with a Canadian audience in mind.

Monday, March 21, 2011

American Nations Cometh Further

I was just in New York for a series of meetings to help lay the groundwork for the release of my fourth book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Cultural Regions of North America, which have left me in an uncharacteristically optimistic state. What with an October 3 "on sale" date -- and the 2012 presidential elections right around the corner -- the stars seem well aligned for this book to reach a wide audience.

On returning home, I was pleased to find Viking Press has just posted the Fall 2011 catalog, which includes a page for American Nations. The pitch -- "An illuminating history of North America’s eleven rival cultural regions that explodes the red state–blue state myth" -- seems right on target. What do you all think?

Also, at this stage it looks like the book's debutante ball, as it were, will be the Bangor Book Festival here in Maine, where I'll be giving the keynote address. All fans of Lobster Coast are welcome!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Maine in the Civil War

In the new issue of Down East you'll find my feature on Maine and the Civil War, which began 150 years ago this spring.

As the piece describes, Mainers affected the war through their outsized contribution of men and material, but the war affected Maine even more profoundly, permanently disrupting its trade links, industries, political influence, and demographics.

There were even confederate raids on the Maine coast, including a shipjacking in Portland Harbor and an attempted bank heist in Calais. No wonder the federal government started upgrading all those granite forts!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

American Nations Cometh

For those who've kindly expressed interest in my forthcoming book, I finally have some fresh details. The book has an official title -- American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America -- and even a cover, which you can see above.

Viking has it scheduled for a September 1 release, so bookstore buyers will see it in the Fall 2011 catalog, out soon. Those interested in regular updates are always welcome to drop me an e-mail.

American Nations is my fourth book, and my second with Viking. The others are The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (Harcourt, 2007); The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (Viking, 2004); and Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas (Basic Books, 2000.)

[Update, 3/25/2011: The official catalog copy is out; links to it from here.]