Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Maine Gov. LePage considered killing school laptop program

My story in today's Portland Press Herald reveals that Gov. Paul LePage wanted to end the state's laptops in schools program, but was talked out of it by his education commissioner.

Internal documents show LePage's concerns and Bowen's successful argument that they should at least put a request for proposals out to renew the program, as they could still shut the program down if they didn't like the bids they received.

There's also continued confusion among schools as to how much various technologies will cost under the new contract, which would go into effect in the fall. This contract has been delayed for months -- and still isn't fully concluded -- as Gov. LePage studied (and overrode) the evaluations of the five semi-finalist bids.

Maine's laptops-in-schools program was the first in the nation to give each and every public school middle school student and teacher a laptop. Many districts have chosen to buy additional devices for their high school students at the reduced bulk prices negotiated by the state.

A correction to note: the print edition quotes LePage's spokesperson Adrienne Bennett saying he had "specific concerns with non-Windows systems". That should have read LePage had no specific concerns. (Apologies to Bennett for that typo.)

[Update, 9/5/13: Here's how the initial deployment went.]

Friday, May 24, 2013

Speaking with Island Institute about coastal Maine's historical legacy

Earlier this month, I sat down for a brief but enjoyable on-camera chat with Tom Groening, the longtime Bangor Daily News reporter who now heads the Island Institute's news and media operations.

The interview -- part of the institute's "On the record" series -- posted last night, and includes a generous introduction from Groening. (Thanks!) In the four minute edit, I'm discussing some key elements of Maine's historical/cultural legacy that inform and inflame our peculiar "native v from away" tensions and lasting Massaphobia, a colonial people's aversion to things of, by, and from (imperial) Massachusetts.

Enjoy. And if you want to know more about this, please pick up my second book, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (Viking, 2004).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Loeb Award Finalist, Virtual schools update

This morning UCLA's Anderson School of Management announced the finalists for the 2013 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, the most prestigious in said field.  I'm greatly honored to have been among them.

The nomination is for my Maine Sunday Telegram investigation on online education interests have shaped the development of digital learning and virtual schools policies here in Maine. It's in the Small and Medium Newspapers category with worthy competitors from the Raleigh News & Observer, Tampa Tribune, and Charlotte Observer. This is the story that won a George Polk Award earlier this year.

The winners will be chosen at an awards ceremony in New York June 25th.

By coincidence, in today's Portland Press Herald, I have an update on the issues raised in the Sept. 2 investigation. In short, the effort to adopt the policies advocated by Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education has stalled, though the state education commissioner says they remain part of the ongoing policy discussion.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Speaking in defense of the humanities, Augusta, Me, May 17

For those in Central and Southern Maine, I'll be giving the lunch address at the University of Maine's Maine Humanities Summit this Friday, May 17 in Augusta.

My talk is titled “Liberal Arts in the Real World: An Author-Historian-Journalist’s Argument for the Importance of the Humanities," which sums it up pretty well. Other participants include museum directors, library heads, college and university professors, and the chair of the American Folk Festival. There's a PDF with the full agenda here.

I gather the event is free and open to the public, but you do need to register in advance. For more  information go online or contact UMaine Humanities Initiative Director Justin Wolff, 207.581.3259

Monday, May 13, 2013

Show based on Republic of Pirates airing this winter

NBC has announced that "Crossbones" --the drama based on my work of non-fiction, The Republic of Pirates -- is airing this winter.

The network released its 2013/2014 schedule overnight, with "Crossbones" being released as a mid-season replacement. Since NBC has rights to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the show will probably air after the games close Feb. 24. The network has released remarks suggesting it plans to promote the mid-season debuts during the Olympics. “The overriding strategy this year was to develop enough strong comedies and dramas to take advantage of the promotional heft of the Winter Olympics and devise two schedules for the upcoming season: one for fall and a slightly different one for midseason," NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said in a prepared statement.

"Crossbones" stars John Malkovich as Blackbeard. It's written by Neil Cross, of BBC "Luther" fame.

[Update, 3/28/14: The series is now premiering May 30, 2014 at 10 pm.]

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gov. LePage and the Lewiston fires

Maine Gov. Paul LePage's visit to his hometown of Lewiston this week has been receiving critical attention. Nine tenement building burned in three apparently unrelated fires in just eight days, putting some 200 residents out of their homes, two 12-year-olds in jail, and the rest of the city on edge. The governor's estranged brother and his wife are reportedly among those made homeless.

But in his visit Tuesday morning, Gov.. LePage made it clear he had no intention of finding extra resources to help those displaced by the fires, even claiming ignorance about the existence of his six-digit discretionary fund he could use to do so. Asked how it felt to be in his hometown, the governor said only: “It brings back a lot of bad memories." This struck some as callous.Why would the governor -- who was himself homeless at age 11 in the very same area -- not wish to pull out the stops to help?

But his stance isn't surprising. The governor has a complicated relationship with his hometown, his siblings, and the poor, as I revealed last year in the first part of my biography of LePage. Those trying to understand the governor's position this week may find it informative.

Monday, May 6, 2013

LePage administration opposes industry-sponsored paint recycling plan

Just a short post today, for those in Maine who missed Friday's story on a paint recycling bill before the legislature.

The household paint industry wants to set up a program to recycle Mainer's unused or unwanted paint, which currently gets burned in incinerators (in the case of latex), disposed of at considerable expense to towns (in the case of oil-based paints), or illegally dumped in ditches, forests, and fields (both). Their plan -- already enacted in Oregon, California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island -- has the backing of Maine's environmental community, municipalities, and paint retailers. It's sponsored by the ranking Republican on the relevant committee and has strong Democractic backing.

Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

But as the story reports, Gov. Paul LePage's administration -- which has consistently opposed product stewardship efforts in the past -- is opposing it.

Noticed the print edition cut some material for space, including quotes from Curtis Picard, who heads the Maine Retailers' Association, which also opposes the bill.