Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Talking pirates with KUER's Radio West Feb 27

For all you pirate fans out there in Utah, I'll be the guest tomorrow on Salt Lake City public radio affiliate KUER's "Radio West" for the full hour, starting at 11am Mountain (1pm Eastern).

I'll be talking about my recent Smithsonian Magazine cover story on Blackbeard, my book, The Republic of Pirates, and anything pirate-related the listening audience wants to talk about.

Here's KUER's blog post for the show.

I most recently spoke on pirates on NPR's "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" and with UK lifestyle/culture blogger Female First (on account of the UK edition of Republic of Pirates having recently been released), and with my local CBS television affiliate here in Maine, WGME.

For those interested in American Nations, I'm speaking later tomorrow, Feb. 27, at the University of Southern Maine, but that won't help those of you in Utah much.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Speaking on American Nations, Portland, Maine, Feb. 27

I'll be speaking about the ideas in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America this Thursday, February 27, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

The talk is co-sponsored by USM and the Maine alumni group of Tufts University, my Alma mater.  It kicks off a 7pm in the University Events Room located on the 7th floor of the Glickman Family Library.

It's free and open to the public, but you do need to register. For that -- and more details -- visit this page.

Currently my next public American Nations talks are scheduled for late April in Oxford, Ohio and mid-November outside Des Moines, Iowa. But that will likely change, and a full event schedule is always available here.

For those more interested in pirates, I'll be speaking on that topic on Utah's main public radio station earlier in the day of Feb. 27. More details coming up in this space.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On the regional distrubution of Waffle House

The Washington Post's The Fix took up a classic question in American regionalism last week: the regional maldistribution of Waffle House and IHOP restaurants and their correlations to political behavior. It's an age old question, but one I could no longer remain silent on, given that commentators continue to rely on state-level analysis of the problem.

As with any other regional question, one has to look beyond state lines, which don't capture the true historically-based cultural fissures in our landscape. Over at Washington Monthly, I've done precisely this for the Waffle House question, showing the regional fissures are even more stark than a state-level examination would reveal.

Waffle House is based in Georgia, and Ed Kilgore (a native of that state) adds this at the Monthly's Political Animal. I'd also note that rival IHOP was founded and based in Los Angeles County, which suggests a cultural rather than purely spatial explanation for its dominance in distant New England and the Upper Midwest.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pacific Standard on American Nations

Pacific Standard -- the magazine formerly known as Miller-McCune -- recently took up the question "Why Do Different States Have Such Wildly Different Ideas About Government?" It's a thoughtful piece and well worth a read. Here's the nut:

"Political scientists describe a phenomenon known as state political culture, which is a set of beliefs and attitudes that are consistent over time and confined to a certain geographic area. Some experts say that we owe these variations in political beliefs to the original immigrants who settled in different parts of the country.
These immigrants brought their grudges and Old World values to the United States, and those views melded with new American values. The Puritans stamped their views of society and politics on the Northeast, and the Scandinavians put their own mark on the Midwest. Northern New Jersey, which I call home, was shaped by the original Dutch settlers, as well as by the latecomers of Irish and Italians to the port-side cities."
Indeed, Laura McKenna goes on to trace this line of thinking, citing Daniel Elazar's (state-level) thesis, David Hackett Fisher's (four-culture) Albion's Seed and, I'm pleased to say, American Nations and my recent article on violence and regional cultures, which went viral a few months ago. The conclusion:

Perhaps we should accept that we are a country that agrees about certain basic things, but clashes over the specifics. We’re a very large and very dysfunctional family at the Thanksgiving dinner table that quarrels about the side dishes, but all expect—and overlook—the turkey main course. Dysfunctional families, after all, work, and their flexibility might ward off bigger crises and conflict. There’s a place for everyone.
Broadly speaking, I agree with the spirit of Laura McKenna's argument. But I'm not sure the clashing definitions of what "freedom" or "liberty" mean -- or what role the federal government should have -- constitute side dishes. We fought a Civil War over these things. A better analogy might be that we agree that there's a dinner table and place settings and maybe what wine we should be drinking with our meal, but fundamentally disagree on how the turkey should be cooked, carved, and presented.

And, of course, state-level analysis misses a great deal, given that many states are riven with profound cultural cleavages dating back to different settlement streams in the colonial era. (Witness Upstate and Downstate Illinois or north Coastal California and that state's south and, separately, interior.) Many state's political cultures are defined by massive sectional disagreements. The real question might be: why do some states have broad agreement on the great questions of government -- within New England, for instance -- and others suffer from massive internal disagreements?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Talking pirates, Blackbeard on NPR's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook

It was my great pleasure to be the guest today on National Public Radio's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook, talking about Blackbeard and the great Caribbean pirates.

We had lots to talk about, so it was wonderful to have been given a full hour with Tom, whose show originates at member station WBUR in Boston.

Blackbeard has been receiving attention of late on account of my cover story*, "The Last Days of Blackbeard", in the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine, which includes exclusive new eyewitness accounts of the great pirate's final act of piracy which were discovered in a French archive by underwater explorer Mike Daniel, who joined us on the show. Add to that my own discoveries in the naval papers of the British National Archives and those of other scholars in Jamaica and Pennsylvania and there's a lot "new" there even for pirate scholars.

Blackbeard and his unusual cohort of pirates are also the subject of my book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, which was released in the U.S. in 2007, in the U.K. last month (by Pan Macmillan), and is the basis of the forthcoming NBC drama "Crossbones" with John Malkovich (and written by Neil Cross of BBC "Luther" fame.) This same pirate gang also provides the setting for the new Starz series "Black Sails" and for Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, one of whose sea shantys made it on the air today.

And, for those who asked: yes, Blackbeard's real name was Edward Thatch, not Edward Teach. More on that here.

For Mainers, the show airs at 7pm and 11pm tonight on MPBN. (My hour is probably the latter.) 


* - It's the cover story of the subscription edition this month, but there's a different cover on the (much smaller) newsstand edition.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Giving Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua's new book an F in the Washington Post

My review of a new book by Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, is in today's Washington Post. It's not a glowing assessment:

Some of the techniques Chua used with her daughters — referring to them as “garbage” or refusing to accept the 4-year-old’s hand-drawn birthday card because “I deserve better than this” — led not a few to denounce Chua as a monster....Reading their new title, “The Triple Package,” many will wonder why the couple didn’t take their parenting advice to heart: Readers deserve a better book than this.
No doubt it will sell a lot of copies, however, as television and radio networks can't resist the story, which may have been the couple's idea all along.

For those looking for something else to read, my most recent book review for the Post was of Dan Jones's The Plantagenets back in August.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Talking pirates with WGME-13, American Nations in Grand Rapids and D.C.

My cover story on Blackbeard (and new discoveries about his final days) in the current issue of Smithsonian has been receiving some media attention of late. Most recent is this short live interview with my local CBS television affiliate, WGME, here in Maine. More to come on this and the book that inspired it -- Republic of Pirates -- and the forthcoming NBC drama Crossbones

Also, I've recently given American Nations talks in Michigan, Massachusetts and D.C.. Regarding the former, here's a write up from the Grand Rapids Press focusing on the Tea Party angle. For more on that, start here and continue here.

The D.C. talk was at a Governing Institute conference and so not open to the public at large, but I had the pleasure of speaking to the audience at the National Press Club, in the same room where they hold the White House Correspondents' Dinner, that Washington circus memorably taken to task in Mark Leibovich's This Town. (In my case there were some bigger city mayors and a lieutenant governor in the audience, but no presidents, past or present, so there was no roasting to be done.)

My next American Nations talk is February 27 at the University of Southern Maine here in Portland. Details to follow.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Maine: Virtual charter schools back on the table

For those who recall my 2012 investigation of virtual charter school policy in Maine -- which won a George Polk Award last year -- there's been a new development this week.

The state's authorizing body, the charter school commission, surprised many by giving initial approval to the applications of two twice-rejected virtual school applicants, those backed by controversial national online school providers K12 Inc and Connections Learning. The two companies have been in hot water across the country for running schools that score badly in most standardized quality metrics and for having too much control over the local boards that are supposed to be their bosses. Indeed, in Maine my reporting showed that K12 and Connections provided the impetus for the creation of the local boards for their respective schools.

The charter school commission's move follows unsuccessful legislative action to curb or ban virtual charter schools from the state, or to create a state run virtual school that would presumably have more distance from the for-profit providers; the governor's digital education advisory panel failed to champion the virtual schools -- where tuition is paid for by local taxpayers -- in their initial report last year.

The commission also gave a preliminary nod to a Lewiston-Auburn charter school with links to the curious Gulen movement, thought to be one of the key players in the current political crisis in Turkey. The Gulen-linked Turkish Cultural Center of Maine has sponsored trips for several state legislators and held an awards dinner for Gov. Paul LePage recently in Portland. Gulen's followers also has a penchant for creating U.S. charter schools, as revealed by the New York Times a few years back.

Don't get me wrong: when I was based in the Balkans, I was a frequent visitor to Turkey and think it an impressive and fascinating place. But one does wonder: why all the attention to diplomacy and education in the Pine Tree State? No other country save perhaps Canada has given our humble corner of the U.S. so much, and they're our neighbor, one-time source of emigrants to Maine, and a major economic partner. Perhaps all will soon be clear.