Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Participating in Glitterati, Portland, Maine, Mar. 28

For those in southern Maine, I'll be participating in The Telling Room's annual Glitterati fundraising event in Portland tomorrow night, Mar. 28.

Here's the description from the Telling Room's website:

"For the second year in a row, The Telling Room will take over Portland's spectacular Masonic Temple for a night of revelry, a live and silent auction, sumptuous food and drink, and this year: an appreciation of Telling Room supporters Patty and Cyrus Hagge.

This year we’ll be joined by an amazing line-up of Guest Authors, including Jessica Anthony, Richard Blanco, Kate Braestrup, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Roxana Robinson, Bill Roorbach, Richard Russo, Betsy Sholl, and Colin Woodard. It’s going to be an incredible night, and a one of a kind chance to meet these incredible local literary luminaries. Authors and guests will be able to mingle throughout the event, and signed copies of their work will be up for grabs during our silent auction!"

Tickets are available via Brown Paper Bag Tickets here. All proceeds go to support the organization's free writing programs for Maine youth.

I'll be in Western Maine tonight, Mar. 27, talking climate change at the University of Maine Farmington. (That one is free and open to the public.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Speaking on the "front lines of climate change" at UMF, Mar. 27

Tomorrow evening, March 27, I'll be the presenter du jour at the University of Maine at Farmington's Spring 2013 University Forum on the State of the Planet.

I'll be speaking on my experiences as a globetrotting science and environment writer, which have taken me to the front lines of climate change: Antarctica and Greenland, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia, The Netherlands and Louisiana, the coral reefs of the Caribbean and the hearing rooms of Washington and Augusta.

The presentation is entitled "The Great Meltdown: Tales from the Front Lines of Climate Change," and will begin at 7 p.m. in the Lincoln Auditorium at the Roberts Learning Center. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Personally, it will be fun to be speaking at UMF, as my family lived in a house tucked in the campus when I was a kid, and I spent a fair bit of my spare time as a third and fourth grader devouring books in the Mantor Library -- World War II aircraft and naval history, if you must know, which came in handy in Micronesia -- and hanging out with friends in (what seemed to us to be) the sprawling student center.

For those interested in more tales from my travels, I recommend my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas.

Monday, March 25, 2013

At Maine hearing, many call for full restoration of St. Croix alewives

For those following the strange saga of the St. Croix River's alewives, some fresh developments to report.

At a legislative hearing here in Maine today, a wide range of stakeholders called for the full restoration of the small schooling fish to the watershed, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border between eastern Maine and southwestern New Brunswick, and rejected the compromise Adaptive Management Plan. These included the government of Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NOAA Fisheries Service, the Passamaquoddy tribe, the Passamaquoddies of New Brunswick, all the state's major environmental groups, Maine and New Brunswick lobstermen, Maine alewife fishermen, groundfisherman-turned-scientist Ted Ames, and George Smith, the retired longtime head of the Sportsmens Alliance of Maine, who had once backed the closures.

On the other side were the bass fishing guides of interior Washington County, who rejected both approaches that were on the table, over concerns over the possible effects on smallmouth bass largely founded on anecdotal evidence.

The latter appear isolated and, in both scientific and political terms, outgunned. As I report in tomorrow's Portland Press Herald, even if the Adaptive Management Plan were passed, Canada appears unwilling to stop alewives from passing a dam it controls in Vanceboro, effectively vetoing the plan.

For those seeking more background, start with this detailed feature I wrote for the Maine Sunday Telegram last July.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Talking pirates with Game Informer

I recently spoke with Game Informer -- the third largest circulation magazine in the United States and, to my thinking, the best video game publication by a long shot -- about the golden age pirates, the subject of both my third book, The Republic of Pirates, and the upcoming installment of the Assassin's Creed series.

The extensive interview is up online and, at this writing, had already racked up nearly 30,000 views.  Hopefully some of those gamers will be lured into reading the true story of the Caribbean pirates; after all, they've still got more than six months to wait for Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag to surface. It's entirely possible: the AC series has always prided itself on being historically consistent, so the series' fan base probably includes a decent subset of the history minded.

For those wanting to know more about the pirates -- but not yet ready to commit to the book -- I suggest my interview with NPR's "All Things Considered" from back when the book came out. And did I mention the book is the basis of the forthcoming NBC drama "Crossbones" starring John Malkovich?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jeb Bush reforms spotlighted at Maine governor's education conference

For those following the intersection between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the school choice movement, for-profit education companies, and the development of education reforms here in Maine, my story in today's Portland Press Herald may be of interest.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage hosted his education conference yesterday, and he met most of the presenters he invited while attending Bush's national education summit last November, including senior staff from his Foundation for Excellence in Education. The conference was as expected: a pitch for opening up Maine's public education system via vouchers, the removal of limits on charter schools and digital charters schools, a loosening of teacher accreditation requirements, and vigorous testing. The reaction was also predictable: school choice advocates loved it, teacher's unions and progressive activists denounced it, and the uninitiated probably felt a bit confused.

The most interesting aspect from my point of view was the governor's uncharacteristically conciliatory tone before an audience that included many skeptical school administrators -- and Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett's explicit on-stage advice to him to try to reach out to all Mainers. (Bill Nemitz has wondered aloud about LePage's recent moderation.)

The story got cut a bit for space. A couple tid-bits from the cutting room floor: two presenters -- a Democratic Georgia state legislator and a retired Maine Maritime Academy professor -- didn't show up. The Maine G.O.P. put out a press release on behalf of their members of the legislature's education committee saying they were inspired by the conference. The Democratic chair of that committee, Rep. Bill MacDonald of Boothbay, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Education department spokesperson David Connerty-Marin said the conference had been “a chance to hear from other states about what they think works...We’re looking at all of it,” he added, “ but that doesn’t mean we plan to pursue everything that was talked about today.”

For more background from my past coverage of all this, start here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why did Maine halt its climate adaptation plan?

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I report on how and why the administration of Gov. Paul LePage spiked the creation of the state's climate adaptation strategy, which was intended to coordinate and prioritize responses to changing climate conditions and, thereby, save money. It's a contrast to, say, New York State, which has been rushing to create a plan to protect and strengthen critical infrastructure against events like Hurricane Sandy, which are predicted (and observed) to be more frequent.

You can read the details in the piece, and what some national experts think of the state's explanation for their policy shift. Some interesting items for Maine policy wonks as well, including environmental protection commissioner Patricia Aho's position that her department should no longer be the lead agency on climate adaptation, and that the original plan can't go forward because Gov. LePage has eliminated some of the agencies that were to have executed it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jeb Bush Foundation executive director-cum lobbyist backtracks

I'm a few days late in posting this, but for those education policy wonks out there who may have missed page B6 of last Tuesday's Portland (Maine) Press Herald, there's an update on the employment-and-lobbying status of Patricia Levesque, the executive director of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is active in shaping Maine education policy.

In short, a day after a newspaper in Tampa picked up on Levesque's dual role, her lobbying firm suddenly pulled all its 2013 client registrations in Florida. The Foundation says she's going to become an actual employee now, instead of being contracted through her apparently conflicted lobbying firm.

More details within.

Levesque and Bush's foundation featured prominently in my Sept. 2 Maine Sunday Telegram investigation, the story which recently received the 2012 George Polk Award for Education Reporting. She and two foundation colleagues are speaking this Friday at Maine Gov. Paul LePage's education conference.

Monday, March 11, 2013

John Malkovich to play lead in NBC drama based on Republic of Pirates

Hollywood Reporter broke the news today that John Malkovich will be playing Blackbeard in "Crossbones," the forthcoming NBC drama based on my third book, The Republic of Pirates. It's Malkovich's first television role, mine too for that matter, if being the "based on the book" guy counts as a role.

"Crossbones" is written by Neil Cross, best known for the BBC crime drama "Luther", and produced by Parkes/MacDonald (The Kite Runner, Gladiator, Men In Black) and Ted Gold ("Three Rivers"). Georgeville Television, Reliance Entertainment/Motion Picture Capital and Universal Television are making it happen. NBC made a 10-episode straight to series order last May.

Hollywood Reporter says that Hugh Laurie -- who was reportedly in negotiations for the lead role -- ultimately bowed out. Variety reports production will begin in June.

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down revealed the true story of the most famous pirate gang of all time and the revolutionary-minded rogue state they founded in the Bahamas. It was painstakingly -- often painfully -- reconstructed from archival sources, including previously neglected documents from the British National Archives and other collections. It's already available as an audio book and in Spanish and Danish translations, though more foreign editions are now in the works as well.

It's nice to see all the buzz this news has generated this afternoon, from Reuters and the New York Daily News to the newspaper I work for here in Maine and even our rival, the Bangor Daily News

"This is basically Deadwood only with pirates," adds The Atlantic Wire. "They should have called it Deadwood: Pirates Edition and Malkovich could play Cap'n Al Swearrrrrengen. People would watch that."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Case of the Missing State E-mails (and some virtual schools updates)

My story in today's Maine Sunday Telegram is on the strange saga of Jeff Mao's state email accounts.

Mao heads Maine's $13 million annual laptops-in-schools programs at the state's education department, has overseen or is presently overseeing hundreds of millions in state contracts related to the project. But when a computer firm concerned about the way contracts were being rewarded filed a public records request for correspondence related to two recent contracts, they eventually discovered Mao's emails weren't and never have been on the state's servers or backed up by the state's network. It gets stranger from there.

Enjoy the read.

Meanwhile, two updates on the virtual schools front.

First, Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education -- which promotes expansion and deregulation of full-time virtual charter schools -- has been receiving bad press recently for its activities and corporate entanglements, many of which my reporting in the Telegram and Portland Press Herald first exposed. This week, the Foundation suddenly decided to change the way it pays Patricia Levesque, whose status as an online services company lobbyist-turned contracted Foundation executive director was perhaps hard to defend with a straight face.(Levesque is a featured speaker at Maine Gov. Paul LePage's education conference later this month.)

Secondly, the editorial board of Maine's third largest daily, the Lewiston Sun-Journal,weighed in on virtual charter school policy here in Maine, and found it lacking. (The Bangor Daily News editorialized on the topic in September, shortly after my Telegram investigation appeared.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Jeb Bush's "Florida model" to be showcased at Maine governor's education conference

The story for which I recently received a George Polk Award was on how for-profit online education companies are influencing the development of favorable policies here in Maine, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education playing a key role.

As reported in my Press Herald story today, the Foundation and the "Florida model" it promotes are now being given center stage at Gov. Paul LePage's forthcoming education conference. The Press Herald piece also reveals new information on how foundation officials -- including some who will be presenting at the Mar. 22 conference -- have helped support the administration's non-digital education agenda, including the new "letter grade" system for public schools.