Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Explaining Paul LePage to the wider world in The Guardian

This has been a particularly wild week in Maine politics on account of the cascading, racially-charged and occasionally violent outbursts of our governor, Paul Lepage. National networks have sent teams to the State House in Augusta, my Portland Press Herald colleagues have been interviewed by everyone from the Washington Post to MSNBC to the NBC Nightly News.

Everyone it seems wants to know who this LePage guy is and why he behaves as he does.

My contribution for the day was this explainer-meets-news update for The Guardian, which ran this morning. The paper's subhead: "Who is Governor Paul Lepage, the Donald Trump supporter mulling resignation after racist comments and an obscenity-laced voicemail to a legislator?"

If you're looking for more context, here's a piece I did for Politico in the wee hours after the 2014 election, explaining how he got re-elected; another Politico story from the summer of 2015, which will catch you up on the last time he seriously went off the rails and, for the real scholars out there, my two-part, 10,000-word biography of the governor, which ran in the Portland Phoenix in January 2012. (Thanks to the Fund for Investigative Journalism for supporting that project.)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

UK discovers Republic of Pirates

The media is a fickle beast, and most especially the British print variety, which suddenly last week decided they needed breaking news about Blackbeard, the infamous pirate who died 298 years ago. Thus, out of the blue, some of the revelations my nine year old biography of Blackbeard and his gang, The Republic of Pirates, have been making headlines there.

It started with the Bristol Post, the daily in the city that may have been Blackbeard's port of birth. Someone there discovered the two-year old U.K edition of the book and, therein, that Blackbeard's real name was actually Edward Thatch, rather than Edward Teach as is commonly thought. I had an enjoyable conversation with reporter Tristan Cork, who wrote this piece, "Bristol pirate Blackbeard's real name was NOT Edward Teach, American historian conforms." He includes my full email response to his question on this score, for those wanting the details.

The next day, an editor for, a news and PR site out of Bristol contacted me on behalf of the Daily Mail, which apparently outsources to them the troublesome task of actually reporting their stories. I had a thoughtful interview with one of their reporters about Blackbeard, which informed this Daily Mail story on Thursday. The Mail managed to get my name wrong and the erroneously state that I'm based in New York and the byline for the story is of someone I never spoke to. They go on to, ironically enough, report how "the guidebooks, plaques, posters, and history books have been getting [Blackbeard's] name wrong all this time." Fancy that.

But they do say I'm the "leading authority and writer on the golden age of piracy" and give some nice plugs for the book, so I'm not complaining. After all, "it's absolutely true because I read it in the Daily Mail."

The Sun, not to be left out, ran this story Friday which, umm, "borrows" all of its reporting from the Daily Mail story. The tabloid -- Britain's largest circulation paper -- is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

In any case, I'm pleased the pirates' story is getting attention in the country where many of them were born, and glad that my newspaper career has largely centered on this side of the Atlantic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Worst year on record for puffin chicks at Gulf of Maine's largest colony

Atlantic puffins have been facing challenges as the Gulf of Maine has continued to warm in the past decade. The birds, which breed in several colonies off the Maine coast, must find fish to bring back to their chicks in their burrows. If the right food can't be found, the chicks will starve.

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald,  reported the sad news that the largest colony in the Gulf of Maine -- at Machias Seal Island -- this summer experienced the worst such food famine in the 31 years researchers have been tracking the birds there. The smaller colonies off midcoast Maine -- including Eastern Egg Rock -- fared better.

For broader context, we covered the puffins' problems in 2012-2015 in "Mayday", the Press Herald's six-part series on climate change in the Gulf of Maine, which was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Maine: Democrats have big fundraising advantage in battle for legislature

Here in Maine, the most important electoral issue to be resolved in November -- aside from who will be the President of the United States -- is which party will control the two houses of the state legislature. Currently Democrats control the House, while Republicans have the Senate and the governor's mansion.

There isn't any polling of state legislative races, so voters usually get to surprise everyone each election day. But for those who can't wait, one can always track the money race. In Saturday's Portland Press Herald I have this story on the fundraising situation for the two parties' primary legislative war chests.

Bottom line: Democrats currently have a roughly two-to-one advantage in this regard, mostly because they've received big contributions from the national party (and the Republicans have not.) Even more interesting for politicos is where the money comes from and, perhaps, who the respective parties owe one to.

I last wrote about Maine political finance last month, with this Press Herald story on the "leadership PACs" of Maine legislators and who gives to them.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How Milwaukee shook off the rust

A lot of cities have worked to repurpose their manufacturing districts. Milwaukee has doubled-down on the largest of theirs, creating a model for what the 21st century industrial park might look like. Mixing recreational, environmental, and manufacturing uses, the Menomonee Valley has filled with tenants from near and far. It's the topic of my latest installment in Politico's "What Works" series, which posted Thursday night.

This is my sixth full-length "What Works" piece this year. The others were on how Des Moines went from dull to cool; how Manchester, New Hampshire turned its vast 19th century millyard to spinning high-tech gold; on how Denver built its game-changing light rail system, only to discover its most powerful effects were not what they'd expected; how Cincinnati transformed "America's most dangerous neighborhood"; and how Philadelphia repurposed a 1200 acre former naval base. In addition, last month -- on the occasion of the Republican National Convention -- I had this shorter story on how Cleveland revamped its long-neglected Public Square.

[Update, 9/8/16: I did this interview with Wisconsin Public Radio about the piece.]

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Talking New England identity with WNPR's NEXT

WNPR, the Hartford-based flagship of Connecticut Public Radio, has launched a new show on New England. NEXT, which will roll out under the auspices of public radio's New England reporting collaborative, will eventually be syndicated throughout the region.

I was very pleased to be a part of their inaugural episode, talking about the origins of New England's identity, its expansion across a swath of the continent, and the conflicts it has with neighboring cultures, like the Dutch-founded region around what is now New York City, or the Scots-Irish influenced Greater Appalachian region. Readers of American Nations, American Character, and Lobster Coast will recognize much of what we spoke about.

The episode premiered on the stations of Connecticut public radio on Thursday afternoon and is available online now. (My segment starts at 19:20.) It also airs:

On New Hampshire Public Radio today, Aug. 6, at 10 pm.

On Vermont Public Radio Sunday, Aug. 7, at noon.

On the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network again Sunday, Aug. 7, at 6 pm.

Thanks to producer Andrea Muraskin and host John Dankosky for having me on.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Talking about the crisis in the oceans and the Gulf of Maine, Damariscotta, Aug. 3

I'm speaking about the crisis in the world's oceans and the Gulf of Maine at the annual meeting of the Damariscotta River Association in Damariscotta, Maine this Wednesday, August 3rd. I've just learned, via this article in the Boothbay Register, that the event (a desert potluck) is open to the public, but you need to RSVP.

The event kicks off at 7pm. My talk keys off my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas (which took me all over the world) and my recent Portland Press Herald series, "Mayday", in how climate change is effecting the Gulf of Maine (which was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.)