Friday, February 28, 2020

Colony, Chapter 2: Maine and Massachusetts were different from the start

Maine is celebrating the bicentennial of its statehood this year, but the story of our beginnings lies in the millennia and centuries that preceded March 15th, 1820, the day we regained our independence from Massachusetts. 

Colony, an ongoing six-part series in the Maine Sunday Telegram, tells that story, and the second installment appeared in this past edition. It explores the stark differences between early Maine (Royalist, Anglican, West Country-dominated) and Massachusetts Bay (anti-aristocratic, Puritan, East Anglia-dominated) and how they quickly came to be rivals in the early 1600s.

Also thanks to the New York Times's Sam Sifton for plugging the series in his NYT Cooking newsletter this week. "It’s behind a paywall but worth the investment: The Portland Press Herald’s history of Maine on the occasion of the state’s bicentennial year," he writes.

[Update, 3/5/2020: You can read Chapter 3 here.]

If you enjoy this series and want more, consider reading my cultural history of Maine, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (Viking, 2004) and, on Maine-Wabanaki relations in more recent times, the Portland Press Herald series "Unsettled," also available as an ebook at the usual outlets.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Decoding the U.S.'s 92 million non-voters

Non-voters are the biggest wild card in U.S. electoral politics, a cohort of some 92 million adults who are eligible to vote, but seldom do so. They’re eclectic, with distinctive blocks that reliably support Democrats and Republicans – but don’t show up to cast their ballots -- and an even larger one that is completely alienated from a political milieu they find bewildering, corrupt, irrelevant or some combination thereof. These blocks are so large that when a campaign is able to motivate even a portion of one, they can swing an election, which is what allowed Donald Trump to reduce the “Blue Wall” of Upper Great Lakes states to rubble in 2016 and Barack Obama to flip North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Indiana in 2008. What these blocks do in November will likely decide the 2020 election and the survival of the republic as we’ve come to know it.

But who are they? Why don’t they vote? What can motivate them to change their mind?

Lat week, the Knight Foundation released the results of “The 100 Million Project,” the largest and survey of chronic non-voters in history. More than 12,000 were polled across the country, with special emphasis on ten battleground states, followed by in-depth focus group conversations with thousands of them across the country. You won't want to miss what they learned.

I had advanced access to the report and its authors and travelled to Philadelphia earlier this month to report this in-depth POLITICO Magazine story on this poorly understood portion of the U.S. citizenry. Input from Chris Arnade, Ibram Kendi, Meredith Rolfe, Eitan Hersh, Yanna Krupnik, the More in Common "Hidden Tribes" team, and many others. Hope you enjoy.

I last reported from Pennsylvania for POLITICO in 2016, on a very different topic, the redevelopment of the massive Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Talking the Republic of Pirates in, yes, Nassau, The Bahamas, Feb. 24

My third book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down is the most comprehensive, back-to-the-archives account of the most famous pirate outbreak in history, the one that's responsible for virtually all of our pirate pop culture imagery and the inspiration for the pirates of Robert Louis Stevenson and the Walt Disney Company.

That pirate gang was able to become as fearsome as it did because they had a fortified base, a pirate republic if you will, at Nassau in the failed British colony of the Bahamas, which had been sacked and destroyed by the enemy in the War of Spanish Succession. Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, Calico Jack Rackham, Stede Bonnet, Mary Read, Anne Bonny and many other infamous pirates gathered together there, protected by the repurposed fort, supported by a population of rogues, escaped slaves, and opportunists, and supplied by the unscrupulous merchants of Harbour Island. Its a remarkable tale from start to finish, and the book has inspired an NBC series (Crossbones with John Malkovich and Kate Foy) and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, which recreated early 18th century Nassau in great detail (and for which I served as a historical consultant.)

So it's with great pleasure to announce that on Monday, February 24, I'll be speaking on the pirates in Nassau at the Pirate Republic Brewery Taproom, located, appropriately enough, on Woodes Rogers Walk on a site that would have been smack in the middle of the old pirate village. It's at 6pm and free and open to the public. Parrots optional.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Colony, a six-part series on Maine's long path to statehood

Maine is celebrating the bicentennial of its statehood this year, but the story of our beginnings lies in the millennia and centuries that preceded March 15th, 1820, the day we regained our independence from Massachusetts. 

Colony, a six-part series that launched in the Maine Sunday Telegram today tells that story. It's a harrowing and little understood saga of war and betrayal, of clashing empires and ethnic cleansing, of an intra-English civil war and a 170 year colonial occupation by Massachusetts of what had been a separate province. These events shaped us as a people and explain some of our culture’s most impressive virtues and most frustrating faults, as well as the still fraught relationship between this land’s real natives and the rest of us whose families came “from away” at some point in the past four hundred years.

This first chapter is on the prehistoric and immediate contact period hereabouts. The series continues each Sunday for the next month and a half.

If you enjoy this series and want more, consider reading my cultural history of Maine, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (Viking, 2004) and, on Maine-Wabanaki relations in more recent times, the Portland Press Herald series "Unsettled," also available as an ebook at the usual outlets.

[Update, 3/5/2020: You can read Chapter 2 here and Chapter 3 here.]

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Speaking (a lot) about most everything at Star Island's Natural History Week, June 20-27

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be the annual speaker on Star Island, Isles of Shoals, for this year's Natural History Week, held June 20 to 27. [Update, 5/4/2020: Star Island's entire summer season has been cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.]

Natural History Week - "Living in a Changing World" -- is held each year on the bucolic island, located off the coast of southern New Hampshire, but in a small archipelago that straddles the border with Maine. Attendees spend the whole week on the island, enjoying its beauty and nature by day, and attending daily talks by your truly and others. 

During the week I'll be speaking on:

* the crisis in the world's oceans (topic of my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas) and the warming of the Gulf of Maine (subject of a Portland Press Herald series I wrote that was a finalist for a 2016 Pulitzer Prize.)

* the cultural and environmental history of coastal Maine (subject of my second book, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier) and a forthcoming Press Herald series tied to Maine's Bicentennial this year.

* the true story, reassembled from archival sources, of the great Caribbean pirate gang led by Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, and others -- pirates who plied the waters of the Gulf of Maine as well as the Spanish Main. (A story told in The Republic of Pirates.)

* the reasons why the United Staes is polarized and paralyzed, which have their origins in the differences between the distinct colonial projects on the eastern and southwestern rims of what is now the United States, subject of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

Registration information at their website, and further information at Star Island Corp's mother ship. I look forward to meeting those of you who decide to attend.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Maine Climate Council: state meeting near-term targets, but transportation fix a challenge

Under Gov. Janet Mills, Maine has committed to a range of relatively tough climate goals: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent (vis a vis 1990 levels) by 2030; becoming carbon neutral by 2045; and reducing GHGs by 80 percent vs 1990, the world's baseline metric since the days of the original Kyoto conference. But how to accomplish that?

The Maine Climate Council, a statutory body with gubernatorial appointees, is tasked with figuring that out, and they had their second full meeting this past week. I reported on the proceedings in the Portland Press Herald.

The highlights: (1) the state calculates we're on target to meet our 2020 target of a 10 percent reduction in 1990-level GHGs, but keeping on course for the 2030 and 2050 targets will be a challenge; (2) a calculation of our carbon budget suggests that ongoing forest growth and the manufacture of durable forest products are offsetting 75 percent of our current emissions, which means our biggest-in-the-nation forest cover almost ensures that we'll be carbon neutral if and when we meet our GHG targets and; (3) reducing transportation GHGs -- 54 percent of the total and rising all the time -- is going to be the biggest challenge.

I last reported on the climate council on the occasion of their first meeting, and also wrote on what it will likely take to be carbon neutral here, and on Gov. Mills' original carbon neutrality announcement before the UN here.

Fun fact: the Gulf of Maine is the second fastest warming part of the entire world ocean, which has already had a whole range of effects discussed in this Press Herald series from 2015, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer, meaning you really ought to read it if you're interested in this topic!