Sunday, February 24, 2013

Speaking on American Nations for USM's One Book event, Feb. 26

I'm very appreciative that the University of Southern Maine's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute has decided to make American Nations the subject of its annual One Book, One Community event this year.

On Tuesday, Feb. 26, OLLI has organized a half-day event featuring a keynote from yours truly, followed by sessions led by USM faculty on various aspects (and possible deficiencies) of the book.

Participation is limited to OLLI members and per-registration is required, but if you will it to be so -- and pay the $25 registration fee and join -- anything is possible. Call (207) 780-4406 to negotiate with the powers that be.

Here's the run-down of Tuesday's event:

8:30 a.m. Check-in and morning coffee/tea;102 Wishcamper Center, USM, Portland, Maine.

9 a.m. Keynote Address: Colin Woodard

10 a.m. Concurrent Sessions:

#1: Abraham Lincoln, the Salvation of the Union and the Death of Slavery
(Draper Hunt)

#2: Newcomers to the American Nations (John Sutherland)

#3: Political Implications of Woodard’s Thesis (Richard Barron Parker)

#4: We Were There, Too: Women’s Place in the American Nations (Sherrie Chapman, Joy Larrabee,
Kathleen Sutherland)

11 a.m. Repeat of 10 a.m. concurrent sessions (see above)

Noon Wrap-up session followed by lunch.

And there are the bios of the other presenters:

Sherrie Chapman has Master’s degrees in history and public administration from the University of New Hampshire. She alsocompleted three years of post-graduate study in American history and museum studies at the University of Delaware. She has taught several history courses at OLLI.

Draper Hunt, Professor Emeritus of History, USM, has taught OLLI courses regularly since 1998. His books include Hannibal Hamlin of Maine: Lincoln’s First Vice-President and Brother Against Brother: Understanding the Civil War Era.

Joy Larrabee has a B.S. in Nursing and an M.A. in Women’s Studies from The Ohio State University. She has taught at Ohio State, Otterbein College, and the University of New England, as well as at OLLI, where
she was a presenter at the 2012 Wrinkle in Time.

Richard Barron Parker, Professor Emeritus, Hiroshima Shudo University, taught American Law and Politics in Japan for more than 20 years. He has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

John Sutherland is Professor of History Emeritus, Manchester Community College in Connecticut. He has taught at OLLI for nine years.

Kathleen Sutherland is Associate Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Women’s Studies, Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She has been teaching courses on the Middle East and Women’s Studies at OLLI since 2005.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A 2012 George Polk Award

The winners of the 2012 George Polk Awards -- a prestigious honor in the journalism world  -- were announced this morning. I am delighted to have received one for an investigative project into the role for-profit online education companies have played in shaping digital education policies under development here in Maine.

Other recipients included David Corn of Mother Jones who broke the story about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments; reporters from both the New York Times and Bloomberg News for uncovering high-level corruption in China; and journalists at the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Frontline, CBS News, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and California Watch.

The winning stories ran in the Maine Sunday Telegram on Sept. 2, 2012; don't miss the sidebar!

Since the stories came out, one of the two companies in question, K12 Inc., has been in hot water in Florida, Colorado, Tennessee, and other states. Last month Maine's charter school commission rejected its application to start a full-time, taxpayer-financed charter school here in Maine, along with a rival application from Connections Learning, a division of publishing giant Pearson. The state legislature will be considering five bills that would impose a temporary or permanent ban on this type of school.

Here's the Press Herald story on the award, along with links to the pieces. It also got mentions in today's New York Times and by the Associated Press.

And thanks to the board of the George Polk Awards for this wonderful honor.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Turks, charter schools, and alewives

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I have stories on two entirely unrelated topics:

The first answers the question: what do Bangor, Maine and perhaps the most powerful socio-cultural movement in Turkey have in common? The answer: the proposed Queen City Academy Charter School, which backers hope to resubmit for consideration later this year.

As the front page piece describes, the proposed school would be part of an informal worldwide network of schools, cultural institutions, and business groups created by followers of the reclusive and influential Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen. As you'll see in the piece, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but their track record in both the U.S. and Turkey includes a number of things to be aware of, including a lack of transparency.

For those interested in further reading, here are links to the earlier New York Times pieces from Texas and Turkey, the referenced USA Today piece, and the "60 Minutes" segment.

The second story updates the strange saga of the alewives of the St. Croix river, whose spawning runs were blocked from entering the fishways on the river's dams by 1995 and 2007 acts of the Maine legislature. I covered the issue in some detail in this feature back in July. Now two rival bills seek to open the river to the fish, one more slowly and less comprehensively than the other. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Talking American Nations on KUAR - Little Rock

I recently recorded a two-part American Nations interview on "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow", a generational-minded program produced by KUAR, the regional public radio station based at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. The first part ran this week and is now available online.

Listeners in Arkansas -- a state divided between the Deep South and Appalachia -- can hear the second half on next week's program.

Thanks to producer Phil Mariage for his interest. [Update, 10/23/13: part two of the interview is now available as well.]

On an unrelated topic, thanks also to those of you who came to last night's oceans-related presentation at the Portland Museum of Art. I'm pleased so many have discovered Ocean's End, a book that was perhaps a few years ahead of its time; if you're not familiar with the Bigelow Laboratory's work, do check them out.

And if you want to read up further on the oceans or American history, consider doing so via a Longfellow Books' gift certificate. The stalwart independent bookstore was flooded by a freak accident triggered by last week's epic blizzard and could use the shot in the arm!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Minneapolis Star-Tribune on American Nations, Woodard on popes

I was pleased to see the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Sunday feature on my recent book, American Nations. Staff editorial writer Jill Burcum's piece, "The United States -- a nation of nations", draws on both the book and a recent interview.

Here's a snippet from the piece:

"Woodard's book is grounds for optimism. That we've stuck together for so long despite vast differences and previous secession threats (not just from the South) is remarkable -- especially now that we see how precarious the European Union is. What may make America truly exceptional is that our nations chose to weave themselves together relatively early in their histories. History shows that retrofitting unity onto nations with identities calcified for centuries doesn't work over the long haul."

The Star-Tribune, "STRIB" to its subscribers, also published my Bloomberg View essay on the 2012 elections back in November.

In an unrelated matter, I was surprised by the pope's announcement that he was resigning, as I thought that just wasn't done. Back at one point when John Paul II was thought to be dying, I went to Vatican City and filed this story on likely papal successors for the Christian Science Monitor. I'm curious how many of the names surface as successors this time around. (Notice Ratzinger didn't make the expert's short list, which shows how hard it is to read the intentions of the College of Cardinals.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

On the (overzealous) trial of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, the one-time Trotskyist who became an forceful and unapologetic ally of the Bush administration in defending the invasion of Iraq, died just over a year ago. To mark the occasion -- fittingly enough -- Verso has released a broadside attack on the late essayist, which I reviewed in today's Washington Post.

The book is Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens and is written by self-described British Marxist and activist Richard Seymour. In short, it's a missed opportunity -- I got a better sense of Hitchens' unattractive side from Katha Pollit's 1100 word essay in The Nation than from Seymour's over-zealous prosecution -- but don't let me spoil the review for you by going on about it here!

If you're looking for other book recommendations, I recently reviewed a book on the history of the idea of governing the world (also for the Post) and a new account of how the ideology of slavery undid the Confederate war effort long before Appomattox (in the current Washington Monthly).

Friday, February 8, 2013

Speaking on the oceans, Portland, Maine, Feb. 13

For those with an interest in the oceans, the Gulf of Maine, or the changing climate, I'll be joining Graham Shimmield, executive director of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, for a reprise of our joint talk on these topics in Portland, Maine the evening of Feb. 13. It's free and open to the public, but you need to reserve ahead of time as space is limited.

Full details follow in this release from Bigelow, where I serve on the board of trustees:


January 29, 2013

Contact: Tatiana Brailovskaya, Director of Communications, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Changing Seas, Human Challenges:
Bigelow Laboratory Café Scientifique in Portland February 13

EAST BOOTHBAY, ME – Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is hosting a special Café Scientifique at the Portland Museum of Art, Seven Congress Street in Portland, Maine at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. The event, titled Changing Seas, Human Challenges — A Conversation between a Scientist and a Journalist, will be a discussion with Bigelow Executive Director Dr. Graham Shimmield and journalist Colin Woodard, author of American Nations, The Lobster Coast, and Ocean’s End. Shimmield and Woodard will talk about current ocean issues and challenges, including extraction pressures on the ocean for food, energy, and new products; ocean acidification as a result of climate change; and the effects of melting ice caps and harmful algal blooms such as red tides.
The informal discussion, including time for audience participation, will highlight our evolving understanding of the ocean and the role of science in future ocean policy, and will focus on the consequences of environmental change, both in the Gulf of Maine and throughout the global ocean.

A reception at the museum will follow the talk, with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. The event is free and open to the public. Call (207) 315-2567 ext.113 or to reserve a seat.

Before becoming Executive Director of Bigelow Laboratory in 2008, Graham Shimmield was director of the Scottish Association of Marine Science and the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory in Scotland.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was Chairman of the European Census of Marine Life Program. As a marine geochemist, his research includes identifying indicators of ocean and climate change, and examining human impacts and contamination in coastal and deep seas.

Author and reporter Colin Woodard is an investigative journalist and commentator for The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram and a member of Bigelow Laboratory’s Board of Trustees. He worked as an award-winning correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, reported from more than fifty foreign countries and six continents, and lived for over four years in Eastern Europe. He is a member of the Sea Space Symposium, an association of leading ocean and space explorers, scientists, policy makers, and philanthropists.

This is the second time the two speakers are meeting for a public conversation about the ocean. Their first discussion was held last May before a full house at the Strand Theater in Rockland, Maine. That event was recorded and recently broadcast on MPBN Radio’s Speaking in Maine program, and is available as a podcast on MPBN’s website. 

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect global environmental conditions. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state. ####

Monday, February 4, 2013

The forecast for passenger rail in Maine

Union Station, Portland, 1954, courtesy of the always interesting Portland Maine History 1786-Present Facebook Page

The last passenger trains pulled out of Maine in the 1960s. Portland's grand terminals were torn down to make way for parking lots and, in the case of Union Station, a particularly soulless strip mall. Tracks were ripped out or paved over. Highways were the way of the future.

But since 2001, passenger rail has been making a comeback. In 2001, the Amtrak Downeaster debuted Boston to Portland service and in the years since has greatly exceeded ridership expectations and regularly been rated as the top service in the national system. This past November the run was extended to Freeport and Brunswick in Maine's midcoast. There was talk of continuing service to Augusta and Lewiston, and maybe even Montreal. Seasonal connecting service to Rockland was to beefed up. Direct Portland to New York City trains were on the drawing boards.

In today's Portland Press Herald cover story, I take a look at the near- and long-term prospects for extending passenger trains in Maine. Ironically, because of some missing infrastructure -- consisting entirely of elements torn up in the late 20th century -- the Downeaster's core service isn't operating as quickly and frequently as it really needs to, particularly on the Portland-Brunswick leg. Until it does, most connecting and continuing services will have to wait, while seasonal service to Rockland is actually expected to scale back.