Monday, October 31, 2016

Washington Monthly Reviews American Character

Just in time for the 2016 election, Washington Monthly has a review of my recent book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, the sequel to American Nations, in their new issue.

Novelist and journalist Jennifer Miller is the reviewer and focuses on how hyper-charged everything in this history seems in the context of the late phase of this insane election cycle. Of course, the book was finished in the late Spring of 2015 -- when Donald Trump was being discounted as a freak sideshow and nobody was expecting a little known Social Democrat from Vermont to give the Democratic frontrunner a run for the money -- which shows just how much more vitriolic our public discourse has gotten in little over a year.

This results in Miller writing this observation, ending with my favorite line of any review so far: "Even Woodard's discussion of evolutionary biology feels political," she notes of a passage countering the idea that humans' are natural state is to be individuals operating in a state of anarchy. "'Our evolutionary ancestors, Homo erectus, were using fire a million years ago, a game-changing innovation that led them to live in group campsites [and] share tasks responsibilities, and resources,' [Woodard writes.] And yet given the virulence of today's small-government evangelists and Ayn Rand individualists, it's difficult not to wonder: Is this how far back we need to go to make a case for the collective? To fire?"

Indeed, if you're to counter a ideology going back to Thomas Hobbes' musings on the origins of government, you do!

Thanks to Miller and the Monthly for reviewing the book.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

How Tech Helped Winston-Salem Shake Tobacco

My latest installment for POLITICO Magazine's "What Works" series is on how the manufacturing city of Winson-Salem, North Carolina reinvented itself as an arts-and-science hub as cigarette manufacturing diminished and local companies were gobbled up by conglomerates. It's a remarkable story of collaboration between a traditional patriarchy, research scientists, city officials and punk rockers.

This is my eighth 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"; how Philadelphia repurposed a 1200 acre former naval base;  how Milwaukee breathed life back into a legacy industrial district, creating the manufacturing park of the future, and how Roanoke, Virginia went from a train city to a brain city. In addition -- on the occasion of the Republican National Convention -- I had this shorter story on how Cleveland revamped its long-neglected Public Square.

What city is next? Here's a hint: Bernie Sanders.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Cleveland Indians were named for a Penobscot; they want Chief Wahoo to go

In today's Portland Press Herald, I have the story of Louis Sockalexis, the Penobscot baseball star for whom the Cleveland Indians are named. His tribe, the Penobscot Nation here in Maine, have asked the club to retire not the name, but rather the controversial "Chief Wahoo" logo and mascot. The team has declined to respond or engage them for sixteen years.

Now Cleveland is in the World Series, and the commissioner of baseball is putting some extra pressure on. Read on from the link for all the details.

The last time I thought about Cleveland was this summer, when I visited the city to write about the re-imagining of Public Square and its other civic spaces for POLITICO.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Maine: Andre Cushing's finances under his sister

The Assistant Majority Leader of the Maine state Senate, Andre Cushing III, has long had one of the most active leadership PACs, fueled by donations from multinational corporations, many of them members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which Cushing helps lead as a member of the national board of directors and state legislative chair.

But this week, Cushing's finances -- political and otherwise -- have been under scrutiny on account of a dispute with his own sister.

As reported in Tuesday's Portland Press Herald, Cushing's sister has filed a law suit alleging a variety of fraudulent financial transfers involving a family corporation (that both have shares in) and various corporate and PAC entities (which she does not.) She alleges well over a $1 million in fraudulent transfers.

In today's Press Herald, a follow up: the sister, Laura Cushing McIntyre, has filed a complaint with the state's ethics commission requesting an investigation into tens of thousands of dollars of alleged transfers between Cushing's campaign and PAC (on one hand) and a corporation he controls (on the other). The transfers don't show up on Cushing's various campaign finance disclosures, as required under Maine law, meaning either they didn't take place or he's failed to comply.

For details, read on from the links.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Maine: Mystery of the Triple Sunk Lobsterboat

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I have the story of the triple-sinking of a Maine lobsterman's boat in Port Clyde; each time he raised the vessel, someone sunk it again at the first chance they got.

Nobody, apart from the boat's owner, Tony Hooper, seems to want to talk about the unusual situation, possibly unprecedented in modern Maine lobster fishing, not even in general terms.

For those interested in learning more background on how lobstermen traditionally defended their harbor's turf from interlopers, it's covered in my 2004 book, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tale of Two Towns: one loves Trump, one despises him

In this election cycle, many Americans are trying to understand how anyone could possibly be supporting the other presidential candidate, and the exasperation is specially acute in regards to Donald Trump, an authoritarian figure who has promised, among other things, to jail his opponent.

For last week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I profiled two Maine towns on opposite sides of the divide. Turner and Hallowell are just 35 miles apart, they each have only a few thousand people, they're each perched on the edge of a larger city, and they have similar income levels and racial demographics. But one, a farming town, embraces Trump in the hopes he will best protect their Jeffersonian world, the other, a micro-city founded by Whig gentry, finds him anathema to everything they hold dear.

Here are links to the Turner and to the Hallowell stories respectively; enjoy. And thanks to all the people who shared their stories and perspectives with me.

And for your moment of zen, here's former Maine Warden Service officer John Ford, who writes cutesy books about his time with the service, speaking at the Trump rally in Bangor this week.