The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Lifestyle Thu, 30 Jun 2016 16:41:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wine and art at a brewery? At Oxbow’s tasting room in Portland, you bet Thu, 30 Jun 2016 15:42:49 +0000 0, 30 Jun 2016 11:42:49 +0000 Staying in town for the 4th? Two events will mark Portland’s ‘Great Fire’ Thu, 30 Jun 2016 15:39:27 +0000 0, 30 Jun 2016 11:39:27 +0000 New study shows chronic fatigue may be linked to gut bacteria Thu, 30 Jun 2016 15:08:35 +0000 Chronic fatigue syndrome, perhaps more than any other disease, has a bad rap. It makes you debilitatingly tired from normal tasks but no amount of rest can help. There’s no blood test or other easily read biomarkers, so many doctors are reluctant to diagnose the condition no matter how bad things get.

Scientists have finally shed some light on the condition, finding that your gut bacteria and inflammatory agents in the blood may have something to do with it.

In a study published this month in the journal Microbiome, Cornell University researchers looked at stool and blood samples of 48 people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (or more formally, myalgic encephalomyelitis) and at 39 healthy volunteers.

They found two main differences: Through DNA sequencing, they found the stool samples in the patients with the condition had less diversity in bacteria present in the gut and that there were fewer that were anti-inflammatory. The blood samples were also distinct: There were markers of inflammation that the researchers theorized may be due to a “leaky gut from intestinal problems that allow bacteria to enter the blood.”

The researchers said that it was unclear whether these were causes or a consequences of the disease, but the discovery, despite the fact that it was only based on a small sample, is important for two reasons.

First, the indicators could be used in the future to help diagnose the condition, as they were present in 83 percent of the patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Second, it suggests that diet and things like probiotics may be a way to help treat the disease by getting the gut microbiome back in balance.

“Our work demonstrates that the gut bacterial microbiome in chronic fatigue syndrome patients isn’t normal, perhaps leading to gastrointestinal and inflammatory symptoms in victims of the disease,” said Maureen Hanson, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Cornell. “Furthermore, our detection of a biological abnormality provides further evidence against the ridiculous concept that the disease is psychological in origin.”

In an open letter to the National Institutes of Health’s director, Francis Collins, last year, Brian Vastag described the devastating toll that the condition has taken on his own life and decried the lack of progress in research:

“In the past, you’ve shown a soft spot for certain orphan diseases. Well, the history of ME is akin to having locked an entire orphanage in a cellar and bulldozing the house.”

Vastag may be happy to know that the Cornell study was NIH funded.

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MaineToday Magazine: Get ready to celebrate the 4th of July Thu, 30 Jun 2016 08:00:32 +0000 0, 29 Jun 2016 20:24:29 +0000 Hugh Hefner wants Cosby-linked lawsuit tossed Wed, 29 Jun 2016 23:46:21 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Hugh Hefner’s attorneys have asked a federal judge to dismiss the Playboy founder from a former model’s lawsuit that alleges Bill Cosby drugged and sexually abused her at party at Hefner’s home in 2008.

The motion filed Tuesday in a Los Angeles federal court argues that Chloe Goins’ lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations, and it does not include any facts that would support a case against Hefner.

Goins sued Hefner and Cosby in May, repeating her allegations that the comedian drugged and sexually abused her in a bedroom of the Playboy Mansion during a party in 2008. Goins had dismissed a previous lawsuit over the alleged incident so she could add Hefner to the case, her attorney said at the time.

Goins’ suit contends Hefner knew about Cosby’s history of drugging and abusing women and enabled the comedian’s behavior.

Hefner’s lawyers point to inconsistencies in Goins’ account, which she recounted to police investigators in 2015 before suing Cosby the first time. She initially accused Cosby of abusing her at a party in the summer of 2008, after she was 18, but later omitted all references to a date of the alleged abuse and contended it may have occurred while she was a minor.

U.S. District Judge George H. Wu has set an Aug. 1 hearing on Hefner’s motion.

Goins’ suit says she awoke in the Playboy Mansion with the comedian licking her toes.

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Dennis Quaid and wife divorcing after 12 years of marriage Wed, 29 Jun 2016 23:16:49 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Actor Dennis Quaid’s nearly 12-year marriage is coming to an end.

Quaid’s wife, Kimberly, filed for divorce Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, citing irreconcilable differences. Her filing seeks joint legal custody of their 8-year-old twins as well as spousal support.

The Quaids were married on July 4, 2004, and the filing says they separated Monday.

Dennis Quaid has a prolific acting career dating to the late 1970s, starring in 1983 film “The Right Stuff” and the 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”

The filing was first reported Tuesday by celebrity website TMZ.

Quaid has been married three times, including to actress Meg Ryan.

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More than ever, Americans are glued to their screens, study shows Wed, 29 Jun 2016 22:39:45 +0000 NEW YORK — The typical American adult is using media for a full hour a day more than just last year, with smartphones accounting for most of the increase.

People spent an average of 10 hours, 39 minutes each day with smartphones, tablets, TV, radio, computers and video games during the first three months of 2016, according to a Nielsen company study released this week. It was nine hours, 39 minutes during the same period in 2015.

Even those numbers are probably underestimated, since while Nielsen measures the amount of time spent online on smartphones, it doesn’t count texting, taking selfies or talking on the phone.

Most Americans can sense the increase anecdotally given the ubiquity of smartphones. People stare at screens while waiting in line for fast food, riding in elevators or walking down the street. Retail outlets post signs pleading that phones be turned off. People check messages in bed before falling asleep, and reach for the devices upon waking up.

As she waits for her 5:45 a.m. spin class to begin, Cassandra Girao of Ossining, New York, sits on a bike scrolling through her email, listening to music or solving a puzzle.

“I feel like I would be lost without it,” Girao said. “My whole life is on it.”

Even so, Girao said she feels better when she gives the phone a rest. She sometimes hides tablets from her 4-year-old son to give him device-free days, and said he’s better behaved as a result.

An estimated 81 percent of American adults use a smartphone regularly, with the number of users growing by more than 20 million in the past year, said Glenn Enoch, senior vice president of audience insights for Nielsen.

Of the additional hour in media time that Nielsen has measured this year, smartphone usage accounts for 37 minutes and tablets 12 minutes. Online smartphone use averages an hour and 39 minutes a day – more than double what it was two years ago, Nielsen said.

Liana Sayer, director of the Time Use Laboratory at the University of Maryland, notices restaurant patrons who sit at tables staring at their phones and ignoring their companions. They might as well be eating alone.

“Young people text a lot, but they’re not doing it at the expense of face-to-face contact,” she said. “What I see that is more concerning is family members focusing on their phones and not sitting around the dinner table enjoying conversations.”

Smartphone usage has grown so quickly that there hasn’t been much research into what kind an impact it is having on people’s lives, Sayer said.

People spending more time on phones and tablets hasn’t caused a corresponding drop in the use of other media, an indication that there’s a lot of multitasking going on. People are spending three minutes less watching live television than they did a year ago, but they still spend 4½ hours a day in front of the TV, Nielsen said.

One ominous sign for television executives is that people age 18 to 34 spend more of their time each day online than they do watching live television, by a margin of 39 percent of their media time to 29 percent. People over 50 prefer TV by 53 to 21 percent, Nielsen said.

Nielsen noticed another media milestone this year: For the first time, as many American homes subscribe to video services like Netflix or Hulu as there are homes with digital video recorders. Nearly 30 percent of homes have both DVRs and a streaming service.

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Scotty Moore, guitarist for Elvis, is dead at 84 Wed, 29 Jun 2016 22:20:09 +0000 MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Scotty Moore, the pioneering rock guitarist whose sharp, graceful style helped Elvis Presley shape his revolutionary sound and inspired a generation of musicians that included Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Bruce Springsteen, died Tuesday. He was 84.

Moore died at his home in Nashville, said biographer and friend James L. Dickerson.

“As a musician, I consider him one of the co-founders of rock ‘n’ roll because of the guitar licks that he invented,” Dickerson said, calling Moore an icon.

Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla Presley echoed that sentiment in a statement Tuesday night: “Elvis loved Scotty dearly and treasured those amazing years together, both in the studio and on the road. Scotty was an amazing musician and a legend in his own right. The incredible music that Scotty and Elvis made together will live forever and influence generations to come.”


Moore, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was the last survivor of a combo that included Presley, bassist Bill Black and producer Sam Phillips.

Moore was a local session musician when he and Black were thrown together with Presley on July 5, 1954, in the Memphis-based Sun Records studios. Presley was a self-effacing, but determined teen anxious to make a record. Moore’s bright riffs and fluid solos – natural compliments to Presley’s strumming rhythm guitar – and Black’s hard-slapping work on a standup bass gave Elvis the foundation on which he developed a fresh blend of blues, gospel and country that came to be called rock ‘n’ roll.

“One day, we went to have coffee with Sam and his secretary, Marion Keisker, and she was the one who brought up Elvis,” Moore said in a 2014 interview with Guitar Player magazine. “We didn’t know, but Marion had a crush on Elvis, and she asked Sam if he had ever talked to that boy who had been in there.

“Sam said to Marion, ‘Go back in there and get that boy’s telephone number, and give it to Scotty.’ Then, Sam turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you listen to this boy, and see what you think.’ Marion came back with a slip of paper, and it said ‘Elvis Presley.’ I said, ‘Elvis Presley – what the hell kind of a name is that?’ ”


For the now-legendary Sun sessions they covered a wide range of songs, from “That’s All Right” to “Mystery Train.” After “That’s All Right” began drawing attention, Presley, Moore and Black took to the road playing any gig they could find, large or small, adding drummer D.J. Fontana and trying their best to be heard over thousands of screaming fans.

The hip-shaking Presley soon rose from regional act to superstardom, signing up with RCA Records and topping the charts with “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up” and many other hits. Elvis was the star, but young musicians listened closely to Moore’s contributions, whether the slow, churning solo he laid down on “Heartbreak Hotel” or the flashy lead on “Hard-Headed Woman.”

“Everyone else wanted to be Elvis,” Richards observed. “I wanted to be Scotty.”

Moore, Black and Fontana backed Presley for his shocking TV appearances and early movies, but by 1957 had tired of what Moore called “Elvis economics.” In the memoir “That’s Alright, Elvis,” published in 1997, Moore noted that he earned just over $8,000 in 1956, while Presley became a millionaire. Moore also cited tension with Elvis’ manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker.

“We couldn’t go talk to Elvis and talk about anything,” Moore, who along with Black left Presley’s group, said in 1997. “There wasn’t ever any privacy. It was designed that way, but not by Elvis. It’s not that I feel bitterness, just disappointment.”

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‘Rainbows’ gathering has Vermonters seeing red Wed, 29 Jun 2016 21:39:59 +0000 MOUNT TABOR, Vt. — People are crossing the country to attend this year’s Rainbow Family of Living Light and connect with others they feel share their goal of peace, love and illumination.

But hosting up to 10,000 people in primitive campsites on a Vermont mountainside is straining the resources of the U.S. Forest Service and some locals see the event as an intrusive gathering of aging hippies.

The decades-old get-together of “Rainbows,” as they call themselves, is held each year on national forestland.

About 2,000 Rainbows had arrived by early this week for the gathering near Mount Tabor in the Green Mountain National Forest.

Their numbers are expected to peak July 4, when the group plans to hold a prayer ceremony for peace.

Jai Love of Eugene, Oregon, was playing a ukulele Tuesday and singing in the door of a bus converted into a camper. The 28-year-old man said many people who thought they were lost, find friendship and family at the gatherings.

“I just keep on chasing the family and seeing people that are traveling to raise awareness of peace, love and life,” he said. “It’s not about the government. It’s about American culture. And if you thought that was lost, you can still find it here.”

The Rainbow tradition goes back to the very anti-traditional 1960s. The first national Rainbow gathering was held in 1972, partly an outgrowth of community many young people felt at the 1969 Woodstock music festival.

The last gathering in Vermont was in 1991.

“Well, basically, it hasn’t changed all that much,” said Feather Sherman of Montana. The 68-year-old is among those who fueled its start. She has attended every gathering since its beginning.

Over the years, the Rainbows and the U.S. Forest Service have come to an uneasy truce. Federal agents have patrolled the periphery of the gathering, usually giving out scores of warnings or tickets for traffic and other minor violations.

On Tuesday night, an assault sent one Rainbow to a regional hospital with minor injuries.

The Forest Service this year has brought in a special incident command team, modeled after those used to manage wildfires, and federal officers are regularly patrolling the road leading to the Rainbow campsite.

Among the locals, some have bemoaned the invasion of painted buses and visitors in torn clothes, body paint and dreadlocks. And there have been complaints of Rainbows going through garbage bins and keeping residents out of the stores.

But overall, relations – and business – has been good.

“We are just trying to be prepared,” said Cindy Kapusta, who owns the Mount Tabor Country Store near the road to the Rainbow campsite.

She said her employees have caught a number of Rainbows shoplifting, and there were complaints of people relieving themselves behind the store. But that’s no longer an issue, she said, since the Rainbows set up portable toilets at the end of the road.

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Hunt for Wessie the snake becomes all-consuming on banks of river in Westbrook Wed, 29 Jun 2016 12:07:30 +0000 WESTBROOK — Where’s Wessie?

Just hours after two police officers spotted a large snake eating a mammal believed to be a beaver on the banks of the Presumpscot River early Wednesday, residents of Westbrook were abuzz about the biggest wildlife mystery to hit the city in recent history.

A snake – described by one resident as being as long as a truck – has been spotted at least twice near Riverbank Park, a popular spot for children to play and feed ducks on the riverbanks. The snake has been dubbed “Wessie” by locals whose opinions of the slithery visitor range from fascination to disgust.

“Have you seen Wessie the snake?” queries the sign at the Subway sandwich shop on Main Street.

On Twitter, Wessie P. Thon describes himself as “hanging out in Westbrook” and spent Wednesday commenting on the weather, media stories about the snake spotting and the high-heeled snakeskin shoes worn by a local television reporter. Over on Facebook, the Wessie the Presumpscot Python page included a post about a missing beaver “last seen with Wessie.”

Westbrook police put out a warning last week after receiving a report of a snake the length of a car at Riverbank Park. An officer on patrol in the Riverbank Park area around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday saw a large snake on the riverbank near Speirs Street.

“The snake was eating a large mammal, possibly a beaver (not joking). A second officer arrived and they both watched it swim across the river to the Brown Street side of the Presumpscot River where it disappeared into the thick underbrush,” police said in a news release. “They estimated it to be at least 10 feet (long).”

The officers tried to shoot a video of the animal, but the poor lighting made that impossible, police said.

“The officer took a video, however it was worse than the Loch Ness photo and Bigfoot video,” the department posted on its Facebook page, where more than 200 people had commented on a post about the snake sighting by Wednesday afternoon.


The Maine Warden Service was contacted and told police that the snake is expected to remain inactive for a few weeks since it just ate a substantial meal, police said.

Midmorning Wednesday, two Westbrook police officers stood by the riverbank using binoculars to look for the snake as residents drove slowly past, hoping to get a glimpse of the action. One officer used a stick to poke through the bushes on the opposite side of the river. Two wardens from the Maine Warden Service came to Westbrook to search for the snake, but to no avail, said Capt. Sean Lally of the Westbrook Police Department.

“It’s kind of a novelty,” said Nancy Freedman-Smith of Westbrook as she sat in her car and watched the river.

Freedman-Smith said the section of the river where the snake was spotted is a popular area for kids to swim and feed ducks.

Shelley Davis, another Westbrook resident who came to the park to watch the short search, said she is concerned about a large snake being in an area where children play.

“I think it’s too big,” she said. “It’s scary.”

Christian Talbot, a Westbrook resident and proud owner of a 5.5-foot long ball python, headed to the riverbank Wednesday morning for the second time in a week. After the first snake spotting, he went searching for signs in the soft dirt at the river’s edge. He said a snake 10 feet long would leave “a really big imprint.”

“If I see it, I’m going to catch it,” he said with a laugh. “To see a snake like this is a lifelong dream.”


Police don’t know what kind of snake was spotted, but officials believe it is most likely an exotic pet that escaped or was released by its owner.

“If that is the case, it could be dangerous,” Lally said. “It is unlikely a snake would prey on a human. I would be more concerned if I was a duck, rat or beaver.”

Lally said people shouldn’t avoid the park, but should be aware the snake could still be there.

“It’s not any different than being aware of the possible presence of any animal, be it a coyote, bear or domestic dog,” he said.

After feasting on the mammal early Wednesday, the snake has likely found a safe place to hide while it spends the next few weeks digesting its meal, wildlife experts said.

Derek Yorks, a wildlife biologist with Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the snake is most likely a Burmese python, a snake that is native to Asia but has been breeding in the Florida Everglades, though he can’t be sure until it’s caught or someone gets a better photo of it. He is certain that it is not a snake that is native to Maine.

“None of ours are big enough to prey on something even as big as a squirrel,” he said.

Maine’s biggest native snakes include water snakes, which grow to about 4 feet, and the endangered black racer, which can grow up to 5 feet long.

Yorks said people in Maine who own large pythons like the Burmese are required to get a special permit from the state. Burmese pythons grow quickly and can be up to 20 feet long.

“They can reach that size in just a few years. A lot of times, people just let them go,” Yorks said. “That’s probably what happened here. It’s something that happens all over the country.”

The problem with Burmese pythons is particularly acute in the Everglades, where tens of thousands of pythons live. The annual Python Challenge attracts hundreds of snake hunters who compete for prize money.

Yorks said the presence of a large snake can be unnerving, and even scary, for some people, but said people shouldn’t be overly concerned about the danger. A snake of that size would be unlikely to attack someone unless it was cornered or someone tried to pick it up, he said.

But for those who are still freaked out by Wessie? Don’t worry, cold weather will be here soon enough.

“They don’t do winter,” Yorks said.

Westbrook police ask anyone who spots the snake to call dispatch at 854-2531 as soon as possible.


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‘Suge’ Knight gets a bad rap, fiancee says Tue, 28 Jun 2016 22:54:04 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Toi-Lin Kelly has known Marion “Suge” Knight for 11 years, and says the former rap music mogul is nothing like the fearsome reputation associated with him from his heyday at the helm of the influential gangster rap label Death Row Records.

Knight, jailed on murder and attempted murder charges after he ran over two men with his pickup truck last year, is a caring father and devoted family man, who at age 51 remains a “momma’s boy,” says Kelly, who’s engaged to Knight and has a 6-year-old son with him.

“People forget that he’s human, and he has people who love him and has a family and a lot of people who root for him,” she told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview alongside Knight’s new legal team, J. Tooson and Jeremy Lessem. Knight himself is not permitted to speak publicly.

The session offered a preview of the defense of the former mogul, including a detailed account of the time leading up to a violent confrontation that ended when Knight ran over the two men, killing one, outside a Compton burger stand in January 2015.

It is the latest allegation of violence against Knight, a two-time convicted felon and inextricably linked to the violence of the 1990s rap scene.

Knight faces up to life in prison if convicted in the murder case, but Tooson and Lessem say he was fleeing an ambush and didn’t realize until later that he had run over and killed Terry Carter, a Compton businessman who was attempting to resolve a dispute between Knight and the makers of “Straight Outta Compton.”

The attorneys say Knight was expecting to have a meeting with Carter about receiving payment for the use of his likeness in last year’s highly successful biopic of the pioneering gangster rap group N.W.A.

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Mack Rice, composer of ‘Mustang Sally,’ dies at 82 Tue, 28 Jun 2016 22:42:36 +0000 DETROIT — Mack Rice, the composer of 1960s hit “Mustang Sally” and co-writer of the Staple Singers’ landmark “Respect Yourself” has died in Detroit. He was 82.

Laura Rice told The Associated Press that her husband died at their home Monday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

“Sir” Mack Rice was best known for writing “Mustang Sally,” which he initially recorded but singer Wilson Pickett popularized.

They had been in a group together called the Falcons, which recorded in Detroit.

“When he wrote ‘Mustang Sally’ and he saw that royalty check, he started writing,” Laura Rice said.

“He never thought ‘Mustang Sally’ would ever be as big as it became. … He used to tell me, ‘Honey that Mustang has rolled a long time.'”

Rice was a songwriter for Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records and split his time between there and Detroit, where he moved from Mississippi as a teen.

He wrote “Respect Yourself” with late R&B singer-songwriter Luther Ingram for the Staple Singers, which became Stax’s biggest hit.

His wife said he wrote it in about 15 minutes after talking with other musicians in the studio about the need for people to respect themselves in order to be respected by others.

Laura Rice and singer Pat Lewis, a longtime friend and collaborator, say he was kind, humble and embodied his other, Memphis-given nickname, “Gentleman.” Both delivered the word in a drawn-out, southern accent, sounding more like “Gentlemain.”


Lewis, a fellow Detroit resident who went to Stax with Mack Rice in the 1960s and remained close with him until his death, said he was a “gentle soul” who was loved by all – including ex-bandmates. She said he remained friends with Pickett, who died in 2006, and the other Falcons, even though for a lot of groups, “when they fall out, they fall out.”

“Pickett called (Rice) and said, ‘You oughtta let me do ‘Mustang Sally.'” recalled Lewis, who also sang backup for Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes. “Mack said, ‘You wanna do it? You got that.’ It wasn’t a hit (for) Mack but Pickett, wow, he just blew it out of the park.”

In his later years, Rice ran an asphalt company in Detroit and continued writing and performing.

Despite his failing health and mind at the end of his life, Lewis said music remained at his core. She recalled their last phone conversation a few days before his death.

“Somebody mentioned my name and he hadn’t spoken all day, but all of a sudden he said, ‘Patsy Lewis? Where?'” Lewis said. “He said to me, ‘Patsy Lewis, hello darling. Girl, we gotta get this music.’ I said, ‘You are so right, Gentleman.'”

A tribute service has been scheduled for July 6 at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church. A funeral service is set for July 7.

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Toy guns, flying objects make watchdog’s list of unsafe playthings Tue, 28 Jun 2016 20:58:22 +0000 BOSTON – Toy guns, kiddie pools, hoverboards and backyard trampolines are among the playthings that made a consumer watchdog’s annual list of hazardous summer toys.

The Massachusetts-based World Against Toys Causing Harm, or W.A.T.C.H., presented its annual report Tuesday at a children’s hospital in Boston.

Joan Siff, W.A.T.C.H.’s president, said the toys specifically named on the list aren’t the only risky playthings on the market. She says they’re simply meant to represent the range of hazards faced by children with summer toys.

The nonprofit group notes that some toy guns shoot projectiles with enough force to cause eye injuries while toy helicopters, boomerangs and other flying objects have rigid or sharp edges that can cause facial injuries.

They warn that self-balancing scooters, as known as hoverboards, remain on the market, despite being banned by some retailers, airlines and schools because of ride-related injuries as well as the risk that some models can spontaneously catch fire.

The group also urges parents to take caution when their children use baby pools, inflatable pool toys and flotation aids. It says some 87 percent of drownings of children under 5 years old occur at someone’s home.

Inflatable bounce houses and backyard trampolines also made the list. The group says trampolines have been associated with fractures, cervical spine injuries, paralysis and other catastrophic injuries.

The summer months account for nearly half of all injury-related deaths to children and over 2.5 million children are injured in accidents each summer, according to W.A.T.C.H.

W.A.T.C.H. has released a “worst toys” list for more than 30 years.

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Buoy will eavesdrop on whales off New York coast Tue, 28 Jun 2016 20:37:28 +0000 MINEOLA, N.Y. – Scientists have deployed a buoy 22 miles off the coast of New York’s Fire Island to monitor several species of great whales in “near real-time.” The high-tech acoustic device will eavesdrop on the songs of the whales to better understand and safeguard their movements near two busy shipping lanes entering New York Harbor.

“We know they’re there, but we know very little about them,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, director of Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program. His New York-based organization has teamed with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts on the research project.

Scientists last week deployed the buoy, which is 4 feet in diameter with a mast standing 6 feet above the sea surface south of Long Island. The buoy is connected by “stretch hoses” to a weighted frame that sits 125 feet below on the sea floor. The frame features high-tech listening devices connected to an underwater microphone.

The devices will focus on obtaining data on the sounds of several species of baleen whales because they are endangered, said Dr. Mark Baumgartner of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The data will be transmitted back to scientists in near real-time, for analysis within about two hours, Rosenbaum said.

The buoy also will collect the sounds of other whales, but that information will be archived in the listening devices at the bottom of the sea and analyzed when the buoy is retrieved after a year, Baumgartner said.

The scientists noted that all whales rely on their acoustic environment to socialize and navigate, and they are vulnerable to underwater noise, ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements.

The research collected could help prevent ship strikes, and may be helpful as the federal government and New York state consider placing a massive wind energy farm offshore in the coming years.

The buoy has been placed inside what is called the New York Bight, which features busy shipping lanes and lucrative fishing grounds. The Bight is home to seven species of great whales, including the humpback whale – known for its acrobatics and long, haunting songs – and the blue whale. The highly endangered North Atlantic right whale – one of the world’s rarest whale species – migrates through New York waters, and fin, sei, minke and sperm whales also have been seen or heard, the scientists said.

Similar buoys were deployed off the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine earlier this year, and a Cornell University project has deployed near real-time buoys in shipping lanes near Boston to help protect the animals from ship strikes in that area, Baumgartner said.

Scientists around the world deploy listening devices to study whales, but the projects off New York and New England are the only known projects that relay information in near real-time, he added.

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Better training key for improving airport security Tue, 28 Jun 2016 20:21:05 +0000 GLYNCO, Ga. — Covering their ears, 192 future airport security officers watched from a grandstand as Larry Colburn detonates a plastic-explosives device like the one carried by the underwear bomber in a failed attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas Day 2009.

A tremendous boom was accompanied by a plume of black and gray smoke. A wave of blast pressure ripples through the air, hitting the spectators.

Colburn, a former Memphis police bomb squad commander, tells his audience that a very small amount of the explosive, PTEN, can do tremendous damage.

“That is an eye-opener,” says Betsy Bueno. “That makes you want to do the job.”

Bueno is joining the Transportation Security Administration, the agency responsible for protecting the traveling public from terrorists. Many travelers associate the TSA with long lines and uncomfortable pat-downs. Critics say the agency gives the appearance of airport security without doing much to make air travel safe.

Screeners performed dismally in tests last year involving mock weapons and bombs being smuggled through checkpoints. The TSA suffers from understaffing, low morale and high turnover. Peter Neffenger, the agency’s sixth and current administrator, wants to hire more enthusiastic agents like Bueno and train them better, and also make greater use of bomb-sniffing dogs as ways to improve TSA performance.

Since January, almost all new hires have gone through a two-week course at a sprawling federal installation in Georgia. And TSA recently opened a new facility in Texas to train more dogs in bomb detection. The Associated Press took a look behind the scenes at both operations.

Transportation Security Administration dog trainer Mitchell Brown works with Atilla, a bomb-sniffing dog, in a makeshift luggage area at Lackland Air Force Base training facility in Texas.   Associated Press/Eric Gay

Transportation Security Administration dog trainer Mitchell Brown works with Atilla, a bomb-sniffing dog, in a makeshift luggage area at Lackland Air Force Base training facility in Texas. Associated Press/Eric Gay

TSA was built on the fly after the September 2001 terror attacks. Since the agency’s inception, screeners have been trained piecemeal at airports around the country. Neffenger decided to centralize and standardize training at a former naval air station in Glynco that is used by more than 90 other law enforcement agencies. TSA said it spends $2,400 per trainee on travel and lodging for their nine-day course at Glynco.

“By bringing them here to the academy, we’re sure that all of the officers are getting the exact same training, the exact same procedures,” says Douglas Yates, who worked at Palm Beach (Florida) International Airport and is now an instructor at the Georgia center. Under the airport-based approach, he says, “there is always the possibility that some of the local things might creep in that are not proper or not according to the program.”

There is classroom instruction on reading X-ray images, detecting explosives and other weapons, methods that terrorists use to conceal weapons, and handling hostile travelers. The heart of the academy is a fully equipped TSA checkpoint.

On a recent morning, two dozen candidates practiced screening people and bags. Classmates played the role of travelers carrying infants, using wheelchairs, requesting to bypass the millimeter-wave screening machines or presenting other challenges.

Instructors say the hardest part for trainees is interpreting X-ray images. That could explain screeners’ poor performance in audits — according to published reports, screeners working at airports across the country missed banned objects 67 out of 70 times in one test, a 96 percent failure rate.

New hires take up to 20 hours of classroom instruction with the screening machines and are drilled to ask for a supervisor’s opinion if something looks suspicious.

Some threats are obvious on screens in the mock checkpoint — a handgun left in a bag. Others are ambiguous — a jumble of wires that could be part of a bomb or just the accoutrements of modern, connected life.

Trainees must pass written and hands-on tests during the course to be hired. The washout rate is remarkably low, just 1 percent. An instructor, Elaine Wilson Harrison, says that is partly because trainees get remedial help if they fail part of the course.

Anthony Roman, an aviation-security expert who runs an investigative consulting firm, says recent audits like the one with a 96 percent failure rate prove that TSA training has been poor. He says the creation of a central academy was a good first step.

“I don’t think nine days is long enough, but we need many, many more TSA officers and we need them now,” he says.

Roman says he already sees signs that better training is paying off. He says TSA’s pat-downs are better and more military-like, more bags are being rescreened, and screeners are quicker to call a supervisor over to take a second look at an X-ray image.


At the academy, new hires are taught about TSA’s history — an effort to make them feel special and less likely to quit. The work of airport screeners is often boring, adding to the agency’s retention problem.

In figures provided to The Associated Press, TSA disclosed that more than 18,000 full-time and 16,000 part-time screeners have quit or been fired since October 2010.

In that time TSA hired only 2,534 full-time replacements but added more than 34,000 part-timers. The agency converted 26,371 part-time officers — including ones hired before 2010 — to full-time jobs.

The agency is authorized to have the equivalent of 42,525 full-time screeners.

TSA veterans say that they do important work and that it’s not a dead-end career.

“I myself started out part-time and I worked my way up the ranks,” said Wilson Harrison, who began at Memphis International Airport and moved up to Miami International before become an academy instructor. “Some of them do use it as a stepping stone to go to other agencies, but the majority of the students say that they would like to stay with TSA and make it a career.”

Crystal Champagne, a 28-year from Minneapolis who worked for TSA in 2013 and is returning after a stint as a caregiver, says retention is tied to respect.

“We’re all working together to keep our country safe,” she says. “If we continue to show officers that’s what this is about and it is truly necessary — and not to listen to media — I think we’ll do well and we’ll stay.”

A TSA spokesman says full-time screeners start at $25,000 to $30,000 a year. On the federal government’s jobs website, slightly higher salaries are listed in some high-cost areas. The vast majority of listings, however, are for part-time jobs paying $15 to $22 an hour.

Screeners must be at least 18 years old and hold a high school degree or the equivalent or have one year of full-time experience in a related field such as airport security or reading X-rays. Some new hires are in their 50s. The average new hire is 32, and 17 percent of screeners are veterans, according to TSA.


Halfway across the country, at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, TSA handlers at a new $14 million facility are training more dogs to sniff out explosives.

Ford Rinewalt keeps Sylvia, a 2-year-old German shorthaired pointer, on a short leash while they moved briskly up and down aisles in a cargo-filled warehouse. As they turn a corner, Sylvia suddenly stops and focuses on a large box inside which trainers had hidden explosives-dusted bait.

“Good dog! Good dog!” Rinewalt exclaims as he rewards the dog with belly rubs and a toy.

“There is no way you can trick the dog if it is trained well,” says Rinewalt’s supervisor, Robert Grauel, who keeps a close eye on the handler and the dog from a few paces away. Drug smugglers have tried everything from ground coffee to layers of plastic, but the canine sense of smell is too keen, he says.

Dogs speed up the checkpoints because travelers who pass the canine smell test can be moved to expedited-screening lanes where they don’t have to remove shoes, belts and jackets or take laptops out of their bags.

The dogs’ usefulness goes beyond convenience. TSA officials believe that dogs, along with uniformed police officers, are a deterrent. And if dogs help move passengers through checkpoints faster, that could eliminate long lines that are themselves a target for terrorists.

Part of the cabin of a widebody airliner has been reassembled so the dogs can be trained to search a plane. There is also a mock airport gate, complete with “passengers” hired for the day from a temp agency.

Once the dogs are taught to find explosives they are paired with a trainer who must learn to lead the dog on methodical searches so that no area is missed, and to interpret the animal’s behavior.

The training costs $30,000 to $55,000 per dog and, officials said, is constantly tweaked to keep up with changes in the materials and methods used by terrorists.

TSA has about 320 dogs to sniff cargo at airports and train stations; about 140 are also trained to work on people. Neffenger said recently that his agency could use 500 dogs if it had the money, and before Memorial Day he moved more dog teams to the busiest airports to help reduce lines.

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Foundation gives $5 million to fight lung cancer in Maine Tue, 28 Jun 2016 13:30:07 +0000 Maine Medical Center in Portland has won a four-year, $5 million grant to create a statewide initiative to expand services for the prevention and early detection of lung cancer, which occurs at a much higher rate in Maine than the national average.

“This gives us the opportunity to do a project that is truly statewide in reach and scope,” said Dr. Paul Han, who will lead the effort as director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute.

Maine Med also received an additional $600,000 from two other funding sources to help launch the initiative, which will include an expansion of anti-smoking public education campaigns.

Han said Tuesday that one of the effort’s goals will be to improve access to preventive screenings for lung cancer.

“Lung cancer is such a big problem in Maine, and we are working to reach underserved populations in rural areas that have problems having access to health care,” he said.

Lance Boucher, the Maine director of public policy for the American Lung Association, said the program will be a substantial boon to prevention efforts.

“This is great news,” Boucher said. “It’s a comprehensive and robust initiative.”

Maine’s death rate for lung cancer is 53 per 100,000 population, the worst in the Northeast and higher than the national average of 45, according to 2012 statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest year available. Maine’s overall smoking rate is similar to the national average, but there are pockets of rural Maine with high concentrations of smoking. Also, Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and cancer is more likely to strike as people age and become more vulnerable to diseases.

The Massachusetts-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation awarded the grant to launch the Maine Lung Cancer Prevention and Screening Initiative, a four-year collaboration with Maine health care providers from multiple institutions. In addition to Maine Medical Center, the MaineGeneral Prevention Center, MaineHealth Center for Tobacco Independence, Maine Quality Counts, American Lung Association of the Northeast, American Cancer Society, University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and the Maine Public Health Association will be working on the project.

Han said adult smoking rates in rural areas of Maine are high, and telemedicine could be a key to getting people to the hospital for a CT scan, with the potential to catch lung cancer early. The screenings will save lives, Han said, and lower costs for the health care system in the long run. Preventing or treating early-stage cancer is much less expensive than later-stage cases of the disease, Han said.

A patient diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer has only a 5 percent chance of living five more years, compared with about 50 percent if the cancer is caught earlier, according to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer.

“It’s an investment that’s going to pay off,” Han said.

Han said telemedicine – where a patient has a virtual appointment with a physician by using a smartphone or computer – could be used during consultations with patients to see whether they are good candidates for a CT scan, which provide 3-D imaging of internal organs and in recent years have become much more effective at finding early-stage cancer.

With people living in remote areas and transportation an issue, Han said telemedicine could prove to be an efficient way to deliver care. Han said another goal of the project will be to determine where CT scans can be obtained in the state and how best to get patients to the screenings.

“We want to do a thorough inventory of our screening capacity throughout the state,” Han said.

In 2015, Medicare started reimbursing hospitals for CT scans for lung cancer patients, for longtime smokers age 55 or older. Han said with Medicare covering the scans, private insurance companies and Medicaid in future years will be more likely to also provide coverage.

As part of the program, MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta will be hiring three community health workers in addition to the five already on staff. The workers will fan out into rural areas and try to connect people to care, and encourage smokers to enter smoking cessation programs.

The initiative will work on educating primary care doctors on the importance of working with patients on smoking cessation programs and getting patients into screenings, Han said.

Another focus, Han said, will be to boost efforts to test homes for radon, which is another cause of lung cancer and a problem in Maine.

Emily Brostek, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, an Augusta-based health advocacy group, said the grant is “great news” for public health prevention and education.

“There are so many barriers to people getting the care that they need,” Brostek said.

The other funders are the Maine Cancer Foundation, which will contribute $400,000 over four years, and the Maine Economic Improvement Fund through the University of Southern Maine, which will chip in $200,000 for the project.

“Over a quarter of Maine’s cancer patients have lung cancer. The case for (the Maine Cancer Foundation) to co-fund this initiative was obvious and compelling,” Tara Hill, executive director of the Maine Cancer Foundation, said in a written statement.

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Settlement in ‘Happy Birthday’ copyright case has everybody singing Tue, 28 Jun 2016 01:45:28 +0000 LOS ANGELES – A judge has approved a settlement that will put “Happy Birthday to You” in the public domain.

U.S. District Judge George King approved the agreement Monday. It ends the ownership claims of Warner/Chappell Music, the music publishing company that has been collecting royalties on the song for years.

The company has agreed to pay back $14 million to those who have paid licensing fees to use the song.

Last year, King ruled that the company didn’t own the lyrics to the ditty, one of the best-known and most beloved songs in the world. He said the company has no right to charge for the song’s use.

Warner/Chappell has said it didn’t try to collect royalties from just anyone singing the song but those who use it in a commercial enterprise.

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:10:29 +0000
Jimmy Buffett musical to combine his tunes with original story Tue, 28 Jun 2016 01:37:10 +0000 NEW YORK – The Jimmy Buffett musical making its world premiere next year in California has a new name and a Tony Award-winning creative support team.

The musical, now titled “Escape to Margaritaville,” will feature choreography by Kelly Devine (“Rocky”), scenic design by Walt Spangler (“Tuck Everlasting”), costumes by Paul Tazewell (“Hamilton”), lighting by Howell Binkley (“Hamilton”) and sound design by Brian Ronan (“If/Then.”)

The show, combining Buffett’s tunes with an original story by writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, will start grooving onstage in May 2017 at La Jolla Playhouse. Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley will direct.

Buffett has written such beach-bum classics as “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Margaritaville,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

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‘Dance Moms’ star pleads guilty to bankruptcy fraud Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:06:00 +0000 PITTSBURGH — “Dance Moms” star Abby Lee Miller pleaded guilty Monday to bankruptcy fraud and failing to report thousands of dollars in Australian currency she brought into the country.

Miller pleaded guilty to one count of concealing bankruptcy assets and one count of structuring international monetary transactions.

She was charged last fall with illegally trying to hide $775,000 worth of income from the Lifetime network reality show and spinoff projects during her Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Authorities later accused her of dividing more than $120,000 into plastic bags and having others in her group put the bags in their luggage in August 2014, violating a law requiring people to report bringing more than $10,000 worth of foreign currency into the country.

Miller, who remains free on $10,000 unsecured bond, issued a statement last week accepting responsibility for what she called “mistakes.” Defense attorney Robert Ridge said in a statement Monday that it had been “a challenging time” and that Miller “appreciates the words of encouragement and support from around the world.”

Miller was scheduled for sentencing Oct. 11. Prosecutors said guidelines call for a sentence of 24 to 30 months.

Her reality show “Dance Moms” follows her young students and their involved mothers, who attend practices and performances and openly clash with the brash Miller over her criticism of their daughters. The show is based out of her dance studio in Penn Hills, a Pittsburgh suburb, which is why the charges were filed in Pittsburgh even though Miller now lives in Los Angeles.

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J.K. Rowling to attend NYC movie fundraiser Mon, 27 Jun 2016 21:11:52 +0000 NEW YORK — Carnegie Hall will host a benefit screening this fall of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” with some special guests – author J.K. Rowling, actor Eddie Redmayne and other cast members from the film.

A conversation with the cast and writer will precede a screening of the movie Nov. 12 that will benefit Lumos Foundation USA, which works to keep disadvantaged children with their families and out of institutions worldwide.

It is named after the light-giving spell featured in the Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

Tickets range from $25-$500.

— From news services

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:15:48 +0000
Grace Kelly’s childhood home is up for sale in Philadelphia Mon, 27 Jun 2016 16:20:09 +0000 PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia home where Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly grew up and accepted a marriage proposal from Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1955 is on the market. reports the six-bedroom, 2.5-story Colonial in the city’s East Falls section was listed last week for an initial asking price of $1 million.

The home was built in 1935 by Kelly’s father, John B. Kelly. He was a three-time Olympic gold medal-winning rower in the 1920s and later a prominent businessman active in Philadelphia politics. A sign posted outside designates the structure as a Pennsylvania historical landmark.

The estate sits on a 0.69-acre parcel that features gardens and a private backyard. Inside, the home boasts a formal paneled dining room, finished basement and a barroom, among other amenities.

]]> 0 Mon, 27 Jun 2016 12:20:09 +0000
Theater review: Comedy and just enough drama enhance a scaled down ‘Cyrano’ Mon, 27 Jun 2016 14:24:06 +0000

The Theater at Monmouth began its 47th season with a classic tale scaled down to its romantic essence and generously flavored with comedy.

Jo Roets’ adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 work “Cyrano de Bergerac” employs just three performers and takes only 60 minutes to sketch the story of an extraordinary 17th-century poet/hero whose insecurity about his physical appearance forces him to put his words of love into the mouth of another man.

Christopher Holt takes the lead role, sporting a noticeable but not-all-that-big prosthetic nose that is the object of many jokes. With his fanciful period costume, including a plumed hat, and a wise-cracking style of delivery, Holt successfully worked the comedy while still being able to move abruptly in more dramatic directions.

His Cyrano was convincing in his dictum that only he is allowed to make fun of his nose, underscoring his point with well-done flashes of onstage swordplay, as well as references to offstage heroics. Holt elevated his chivalrous character to the point where one understood how Cyrano and the handsome Christian, when partnered in their pursuit of the lovely Roxanne, together would make “the perfect romantic hero.”

Marjolaine Whittlesey, as their love interest, revealed an understanding of Roets’ playfulness with the source material, while not sacrificing all of its drama. Her attempts to draw the romantic words, which only the poetic Cyrano could fashion, out of her paramour Christian were a comedic highlight. Her switch to a more mature perspective at the close required perhaps more exploration than this play would allow. But her moments in reminiscence with Cyrano, as well as her last words to him, were moving.

Tim Kopacz has a busy time playing multiple roles, with quick costume changes occurring both on and off stage. As the aristocratic suitor De Guiche, he became a laughable foil for the manipulations of Roxanne. His sturdy, if unimaginative, Christian also earned laughs in his attempts to woo her without the masterful wordsmith Cyrano at his side.

Detailed period costumes by Michelle Handley drew the eye while the minimally appointed, multi-level set by Meg Anderson established just enough context. Warm lighting by Jim Alexander gave an attractive glow to Whittlesey and Director Tess Van Horn’s use of movement across the length and depth of the stage enhanced the storytelling.

As a brief but highly entertaining variation on a classic, this “Cyrano” provides a strong start to the season at Monmouth.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2016 13:36:43 +0000
After Dalai Lama met Lady Gaga, China warns of nefarious motives Mon, 27 Jun 2016 10:16:52 +0000 BEIJING – China warned people to be aware of what it said are nefarious motives of the Dalai Lama after he met with Lady Gaga on a trip to the U.S. and spoke about love and compassion.

“The purpose of his visits and activities in other countries is just to promote his proposal for Tibetan independence,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Monday.

Beijing regularly vilifies the Tibetans’ spiritual leader as a political figure who advocates splitting the Himalayan region of Tibet from the rest of China. The Dalai Lama says he simply wants a higher degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.

On Sunday, before speaking at a conference in Indianapolis of American mayors, he met Lady Gaga.

The official website of the office of the Dalai Lama reported that Lady Gaga interviewed him in an exchange streamed live over Facebook. The singer asked how to help young people with self-esteem issues or who harm themselves and he said “paying more attention to inner values like love and compassion are the right approach.”

Asked about the Dalai Lama’s meeting with Lady Gaga, Hong said: “We hope that people from the international community can be fully aware of his true colors and nature.”

The Dalai Lama also met with President Barack Obama two weeks ago, drawing condemnation from China.

]]> 1, 27 Jun 2016 08:16:43 +0000
‘Finding Dory’ drowns out ‘Independence Day’ sequel Sun, 26 Jun 2016 21:49:23 +0000 NEW YORK — The “Finding Dory” tidal wave overwhelmed the sputtering sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence,” as the alien-invasion redux was drowned out by the popular Pixar release in North American theaters.

In its second week, “Finding Dory” easily remained on top with an estimated $73.2 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. That far surpassed the $41.6 million opening of “Resurgence,” which debuted well off the pace of its 1996 original. The first “Independence Day” opened with $50.2 million, or about $77 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Of the week’s other debuts, the Blake Lively shark thriller “The Shallows” rode a wave of good reviews to a better-than-expected $16.7 million for Sony. Matthew McConaughey’s Civil War drama “Free State of Jones,” however, disappointed with just $7.7 million for the upstart studio STX Entertainment.

In a weekend full of ups and downs, the opening of “Independence Day” was the most closely watched debut. Long pegged as one of 20th Century Fox’s tent poles of the season, it had once been expected to be one of the summer’s biggest films.

A proud popcorn movie, directed, like the first “Independence Day,” by Roland Emmerich, “Resurgence” brought back much of the original cast with the significant exception of Will Smith. Without him, the sequel doesn’t appear likely to match the $817.4 million global haul of the original. “Resurgence,” however, took in $102 million abroad, where it – ironically, for a movie named after the U.S. declaration of independence – is doing better business.

– The Associated Press

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Kevin Beers exhibit on view in Boothbay Harbor Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:17 +0000 Gleason Fine Art, 31 Townsend Ave. in Boothbay Harbor, features, “Kevin Beers: At Home in Maine.”

An an artist reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday at the gallery. The show is now open and runs through July 26.

Beers, of Thomaston, moved to Maine from New York in 2014. This exhibit marks his 15th solo show with the gallery.

The gallery is showing his landscapes and panoramas of Monhegan Island, which Beers is known for. Visitors to the gallery will also see paintings of Pemaquid, Hendricks Head and Kitten Island on Southport and a pair of his majestic truck portraits.

For more information, call 633-6849 or go to

]]> 0, 25 Jun 2016 18:21:45 +0000
‘Independence Day’ invading theaters again – 20 years later Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We knew it would happen again.

Yes, the alien attack.

Also the movie about the alien attack.

“Independence Day: Resurgence,” which landed in theaters on Friday carrying wanton, worldwide destruction in its wake, revives a long-dormant franchise that was never really a franchise: “Independence Day” – the 1996 blockbuster that rained terror and spectacular explosions on New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles – never had a sequel, despite a sequel always seeming like the obvious move. Now, with its cities falling on cities, a giant unmoored Buddha crashing through Big Ben and an alien spaceship occupying most of the Atlantic Ocean, “Independence Day” is officially a franchise. Thanks to technology.

“I always thought of the original as a stand-alone film,” said Roland Emmerich, the prolific producer and director of such disaster/sci-fi features as “Stargate,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “White House Down.” He said that the advances in computer-generated imagery were so “radical” it made a second movie all but irresistible. “It was as if, finally, technology had reached the level of my brain,” he said, laughing. “We weren’t limited. Slowly but surely the idea for a second ‘Independence Day’ grew.”

There have been a lot of changes over 20 years, especially among the movie’s characters, most notably former President Thomas Whitmore, the Gulf War vet who took a hands-on approach to defeating the murderous aliens of the first film.

“It turns out that everybody who had this telepathic virus put in their brain for contact with the aliens has not ever gotten free of it,” said Bill Pullman, who again plays Whitmore. “For him, as the years have gone on, it’s become more and more manifest, to the point that he’s a liability. The country is really trying to at least present this vision of world order and Whitmore had been a hero. But they can’t really put him out in public because he’s become paranoid.”

It sounds like a meatier role than one might expect from apocalyptic sci-fi. “It was really great,” Pullman said. “I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘I have the best role in this whole thing!’ ”

His “Independence Day” co-star Jeff Goldblum also returns, as David Levinson, who was instrumental in defeating the aliens the first time around. He’s always known they were coming back.

“I was the MIT-graduated, underachieving cable technician, not interested in career glory, an environmental activist who got pressed into duty under extraordinary circumstances,” said the loquacious Goldblum of his character. “This time around they promoted me to director of Earth Security Defense and I’ve taken some of that downed technology we found, married it with our own, solved some of our climate change problems, helped rebuild a massively damaged planet – 3 billion were lost, if you remember, the first time around – and the family of man is at peace.”

Goldblum said he re-bonded with his co-stars from the first film, including Pullman, “my dad” Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner, and got to know the new people like Sela Ward, who plays America’s first female president. “Liam Hemsworth, I got a big kick out of him, he’s a sweet, talented guy. And Charlotte Gainsbourg – wowwie wowwie, I spent some time with her. She’s terrific.”

Pullman said that in the initial drafts of the script, he and Goldblum had no scenes together. “Someone said, ‘There ought to be a scene between Bill and Jeff,'” he said. “So we got one, but the first versions of it were kind of perfunctory, with a lot of dump-trucking exposition and I was thinking, ‘Oh God, I wish they’d never said this.’ But then they kept getting better and then it became an important scene for both our stories, and in the end I think it felt worthwhile.”

The key cast member missing in action is Will Smith, for whom the original “Independence Day” was a career-making movie. (His character has been killed off.) Money, reportedly, was a factor in Smith’s absence, but Emmerich said there were other considerations.

“We’re going back like four years ago, and I totally understood why he said no,” Emmerich said. “He was shooting ‘After Earth,’ which was a father-son story, and our story had a father-son angle, so he felt he would be repeating himself too much.”

There was also a point at which the movie wasn’t continuing at all, the director said, “but two years ago, two young writers” – Nicolas Wright and James A. Woods – “came along and unlocked for me the whole thing with a very simple trick: ‘You hand it off to the younger generation.’ And I said, ‘That totally works.’ ”

Emmerich admitted “I don’t like sequels” and “Independence Day: Resurgence” is his first. But it won’t be his last: “Independence Day 3” has already been announced.

“From the very beginning, the deal at the studio was that it’s very risky to do a sequel this late, after 20 years,” Emmerich said, “and I said, ‘If it works, we should do a second one.’

“They liked that idea,” he said. “And you can feel it in the film. That another story’s coming.”

]]> 0, 25 Jun 2016 18:25:07 +0000
Society Notebook: Fans express gratitude for musical gifts Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Chamber music devotees, strings enthusiasts and music aficionados gathered at Dan Crewe’s home in Cumberland earlier this month to show their support for the Portland Chamber Music Festival and its cofounder and artistic director Jennifer Elowitch.

“We’ve been coming for 20 years now, and we are avid listeners,” said Tim Soley, a Cape Elizabeth resident who attended with Maria Gallace.

Taking a cue from its Salon Series, the festival’s annual Spring Benefit was a warm, intimate gathering, culminating with an outstanding musical performance.

“We’ve been involved right from the very beginning,” said Peggy Shapiro of Portland, who attended with her husband, Stephen. “I can remember when they first started, we were thrilled to have chamber music here in Portland in the summer!”

Leonard and Merle Nelson of Cumberland chatted with Drs. Fred and Jenny Aronson of Cape Elizabeth. Joshua Clark of Transparent Audio attended with his wife, Portia, along with Susan Morris and Chip Newell of Portland; and Annette and Rob Elowitch of Portland mingled with guests while beaming with pride for their daughter.

At every turn in Crewe’s spacious, inviting home, guests were eager to share their stories of support and excitement for the annual chamber music festival and the caliber of musicianship it brings to Portland. As the music festival enters its 23rd season, it has much to celebrate.

“Last year, we had our biggest audiences by far,” explained Jennifer Elowitch, who attended with her husband, Douglas Chene. “We care so much about our contemporary composers. Having them here with us, they make the canon works sound different. People listen to a Beethoven or Haydn piece differently after hearing a contemporary composer. They are not just amazing players, they truly care about connecting.”

As guests enjoyed a savory dinner buffet, Elowitch prepared to perform two pieces with her beloved musical companion, Gabriela Diaz from Boston.

“I feel so beautifully supported,” she said, thanking the crowd for their continued enthusiasm.

As the two violinists began to play, the room, packed with guests, fell silent with a palpable mix of awe and reverence.

“Jennifer always delivers an intimate program that touches you individually. I am so moved,” said Ann Elderkin, board president of PORTopera.

“Portland Chamber Music Festival is one of the gems of Portland,” said Leonard Nelson, a longtime supporter. “We are lucky they chose our city.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

]]> 0, 25 Jun 2016 17:16:56 +0000
In ‘BrainDead,’ creators of ‘Good Wife’ turn political dysfunction into satire Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 NEW YORK — On a recent afternoon in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, everyone was talking about bugs. Not the skittering cockroaches one would expect to see in this industrial corner of the borough, but something more extraordinary: brain-eating insects from outer space.

In “BrainDead,” a genre-bending political satire filming on a sound stage standing in for Washington, D.C., a swarm of voracious insects descends upon the capital. The mysterious ant-like creatures devour the brains of lawmakers and citizens alike, turning them into partisan zombies. (And, yes, it’s a work of fiction.)

In character as Laurel Healy, a Capitol Hill staffer, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is confronting her controlling father, Dean (Zach Grenier), a political patriarch reminiscent of Joseph Kennedy, about the rapidly spreading epidemic. Unlike his daughter, Dean is not concerned by the insect-borne plague.

“You’re not going to convince me this is a good thing,” she says.

“Then let me convince you it’s inevitable,” he replies, ominously.

“BrainDead,” which premiered earlier this month on CBS, is a summer series with politics on its mind. Arriving just as an already surreal presidential election begins to heat up, the pilot opens with clips of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail and text reading, “In the year 2016 there was a growing sense that people were losing their mind.”

The idea for “BrainDead” was spawned during the federal government’s shutdown three years ago when, like millions of other Americans, series creators Robert and Michelle King found themselves wondering just how Washington, D.C., had become so dysfunctional.

“There was so much going on in D.C. that was absolutely inexplicable that we needed to create a narrative to explain it,” said Michelle King. Space bugs seemed no more absurd than reality – that the job of governing had turned into a zero-sum competition between Democrats and Republicans.

With a tone the Kings describe as “Roger Corman meets Paddy Chayefsky,” “BrainDead” blends satire with screwball comedy and B-movie sci-fi. While it’s zanier than other current political dramas, like “House of Cards,” it still has a serious point to make.

“The left and the right wings are being pushed to extremes,” said Robert King. “There’s the Bernie Bros on one end and the tea partiers on the other end. The moderates are kind of disappearing. That’s what the show is really coming out against, this loss of the moderate middle.”

The series follows Laurel, who’s rejected the family business of politics to pursue a career making documentaries about obscure subjects (clog-dancing, religious music in the Solomon Islands).

To fund her latest unfinished project, she accepts a bribe from her father and goes to work for her playboy brother, Luke (Danny Pino), who’s carrying on the political dynasty as a Democratic senator and majority whip.

Luke needs all the help he can get, as a budget stalemate threatens to shut down the government. Laurel negotiates flirtatiously with Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit), legislative director for Sen. Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub), a mildly corrupt Republican. Tipped off by a constituent, Laurel embarks on an investigation that eventually leads to the discovery of the brain-eating creepy-crawlies.

“BrainDead’s” topical focus will be familiar to fans of the Kings’ legal drama, “The Good Wife,” which ended its acclaimed seven-season run on CBS in May. The series was inspired by a number of real-life political sex scandals and often weighed in on current events, from NSA surveillance to protests in Ferguson, Mo. There are also obvious similarities between Laurel and Alicia Florrick, the disgraced spouse turned cunning lawyer played by Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife.”

“They both live in the same universe of a pragmatic female lead who’s underestimated by a lot of people around her,” said Robert King, who was impressed by Winstead’s Margulies-like ability to balance comedy and drama.

“BrainDead” even uses much of “The Good Wife’s” production infrastructure, including the same sound stage and certain key crew members.

Still, the foray into genre storytelling represents a bold move for the Kings.

“I love that they chose to do something so risky and weird as their next project,” said Winstead, who is juggling her role on “BrainDead” with duties on the PBS Civil War drama “Mercy Street.” “You need that in TV right now. Unless it’s a swing for the fences, there’s not much point in doing it.”

“BrainDead” is almost certainly the only show on broadcast TV that relies on what its creators describe as a “Jonathan Swiftian metaphor,” or that has episode titles worthy of a dissertation. (The pilot is called “The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics Is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century.”)

The series is also making a provocative argument about contemporary politics. Not only is it saying that the country has become very polarized but that ideological purity, not corruption, is what ails Washington.

“We think everybody’s going after the wrong thing,” said Robert King.

“Idealism keeps people from actually talking to each other and compromising. The brilliance of the American government should be that it encourages people to compromise, and that’s the only way things get done.”

Their perspective was forged during research trips to Washington, D.C., where they consulted with Judy Smith, the fixer who inspired “Scandal,” and David McCallum, deputy chief of staff for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

With such ambitious themes, “BrainDead” might seem out of place in the summer, traditionally a time when pop culture goes for spectacle over substance. But with its sci-fi trappings and occasional bursts of gore, the show fits in comfortably at summertime CBS, which in recent seasons has turned to shorter-run genre series such as “Under the Dome,” “Extant” and “Zoo.”

For the Kings, exhausted after churning out 22 episodes of “The Good Wife” every season, a shorter run was not just appealing but also essential.

Unfortunately, it happened that production on “The Good Wife” overlapped with that of “BrainDead.” “So instead of going to 13 episodes this year, we went to 35,” joked Michelle King.

For cast and creators alike, the biggest challenge has been nailing the tone, which swings from comedy to drama to thriller within a single scene.

And as Shalhoub observed, it can be tricky to parody a political era that already seems farcical: “I keep thinking we’re starting to swing over into absurdist mode. Then I went to see ‘Weiner'” – the documentary about former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s doomed New York mayoral run – “and I started to think, ‘Wow, maybe our show is not as wild I had imagined.'”

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Book review: War on terror hero from Maine pulled into absorbing ‘First Strike’ Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 How do you define the modern American hero? In the age of international terrorism, when guns are drawn, bombs armed and missiles launched, don’t you want someone who is, above all else, competent? Not necessarily a stone-cold killer – although a single-minded implacability can come in handy – but someone who can get the job done right, with maximum focus and minimum complaining?

In the realm of espionage fiction, the guy you want may well be Dewey Andreas, the never-give-up hero of Ben Coes’ six-book series of international thrillers. Fresh from foiling a plot to detonate a 30-kiloton nuclear bomb near the Statue of Liberty in last year’s “Independence Day,” former Army Ranger, ex-CIA operative and Maine native Andreas returns to the Big Apple for a deadly assignment in “First Strike.”

Although it boasts a present-day “ripped from the headlines” plot, “First Strike” is actually a kind of alternate history, one in which the United States government provides the funds for creating the Islamic State terrorist group. In the opening chapters, Mark Raditz, the deputy U.S. secretary of defense, makes a covert $2 billion arms-for-influence deal with Tristan Nazir, an imprisoned, Oxford-educated finance expert groomed to be the most powerful leader in the Middle East.

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In exchange for weapons, Raditz expects Nazir to decree the United States and its allies off-limits from terrorist attack. Nazir instead double-crosses Raditz, creates the organization now known as ISIS and, years later, literally brings the war on terror to the hapless bureaucrat’s doorstep by kidnapping and threatening to kill his daughter and ex-wife unless he provides another shipment of guns and missiles.

Meanwhile, Marwan Al-Jaheishi, one of Nazir’s most trusted subordinates, has the evidence of Raditz’s black ops program and plans to use it as a bargaining chip in seeking asylum in the West.

At the behest of his good friend Hector Calibrisi, director of the CIA, Dewey Andreas finds himself being dropped into Syria by the Israeli military, with orders to extract Al-Jaheishi and his information. He arrives in Damascus just in time to watch the entire operation go up in a storm of gunfire and blood.

From that point, the plot of “First Strike” drops into high gear, with Andreas confronted with one life-or-death situation after another. His mission will eventually take him back to the East Coast, where Nazir has coordinated a deadly attack on a Columbia University dorm. As luck would have it, one of the hostages just happens to be Daisy Calibrisi, daughter of the CIA director and Dewey’s potential romantic interest.

Coes lives with his family in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and has a residence in midcoast Maine. A speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Coes has worked for T. Boone Pickens and was campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s successful run for Massachusetts governor. “First Strike” reveals him as an author comfortable with military and policy jargon but also capable of choreographing intricate action scenes.

The book mixes the technophilia of Tom Clancy with the lone-wolf ethos of Lee Child, with a dash of John McClane’s working-class insouciance from the cinematic “Die Hard” franchise.

For a reader new to the series, though, Dewey is a hard character to get a handle on. It’s clear that he’s led an insanely eventful life. Coes writes, “Since Boston College, Dewey had been a soldier, a roughneck on a succession of offshore oil platforms off the coasts of the UK, Africa and South America, a ranchhand, a CIA agent, and for a brief time, an accused murderer rotting away in a Georgia jail cell.”

He has also lost a son, a fiance and various friends and colleagues. He’s been physically injured, mentally abused and somehow managed to put the pieces together again.

Yet for all those details, Dewey remains somewhat opaque as a main character. Although he has a reputation as a rogue agent, he pretty much does what is expected of him, even when he has a knife at his throat. (He snarls at the ISIS military commander, “We’re going to kill every last one of you [expletive].”)

Dewey’s no-nonsense demeanor actually works in his favor, though. When terrorists are throwing college students out 10th-story windows, perhaps you don’t need a hero who gets tied up in a lot of soul-searching. Better to rely on a man of action with direct access to – and the complete confidence of – the president of the United States. (One named J.P. Dellenbaugh, who most assuredly is not based on Barack Obama.)

There’s not a lot of thematic ambiguity in “First Strike.” The good guys and the bad guys are readily distinguishable.

Coes gives Nazir a little bit of backstory to explain his hatred of the West and why he wears an eyepatch, but the revelations are not particularly illuminating. The ISIS attackers at Columbia are ciphers with names like Sirhan, Fahd, Omar and Ramzee and few other distinguishing features.

At a time when some people seem quick to equate particular ethnic and religious backgrounds with terrorism, the lack of counterbalancing Middle Eastern characters in the novel might strike readers as troubling.

But “First Strike” delivers what it promises as a thriller – hard-hitting action scenes, well-researched settings, sudden plot reversals, and tough, likeable characters who know how to keep America safe.

Its greatest asset is the slightly inscrutable and seemingly indestructible Dewey Andreas.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: mlberry

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Book review: ‘Maine Nursing’ testifies to the evolution of the profession Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Within today’s medical community, be it in hospital, hospice, home care or the frontline of battle, nurses are the highly trained and compassionate individuals who hold everything together. Yet theirs is an occupation that has only won respect incrementally, evolving from a volunteer calling in the 19th century to a complex, many-pathed profession in our time. The years in between have seen great struggle, low pay, long hours, sexism and actual progress.

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“Maine Nursing: Interviews and History on Caring and Competence” treats the subject from roughly the establishment of the Maine State Nurses Association in 1914 to the present. A team of writers with impressive nursing experience and many academic degrees all but guarantees the correctness of the book’s data. Consider that Valerie A. Hart is an author and professor of nursing at the University of Southern Maine; Susan Henderson taught for 35 years at Saint Joseph’s College before retiring in 2011; Juliana L’Heureux was a home care and hospice manager and editor of the ANA-Maine Nursing Journal for two years; and that Ann Sossong is a professor of nursing at the University of Maine, Orono.

Together the four provided a very readable text for the general reader. However, it must be noted that the six chapters making up the frame of the text are chronological, while the substance of each chapter is made up of fascinating interviews with scores of nurses.

The result is less a comprehensive history of Maine nursing than a smorgasbord of very substantive, enjoyable but sometimes overlapping events. The index proves truly necessary in this case. A glossary of terms and associations would have been a useful addition.

The introduction teases the reader with mention of Marguerite-Blanche Thibodeau Cyr, the volunteer “nurse” credited with saving numerous Madawaskan families during the Black Famine of 1797.

But after this, the authors share only a smattering of early Maine nursing history with no reference to native born Dorothea Dix (save a facility named after her) or much about the Civil War years.

Martha Eastman’s doctoral dissertation of 2006 includes marvelous statements from early public health nurses including Clarissa Johnson who wrote in 1915, “She comes in working dress and is very willing to give a bath, make a bed, change a dressing.”

Throughout we see the tasks faced: influenza, polio, HIV/AIDS, the growth of medicine and health care, and the expansion of nursing education to meet the changing situations and needs.

The interviews are enlightening. We witness a Maine nurse in a 1960s Boston hospital asking to listen in on a “famous heart surgeon” during rounds and being told “you are not needed here.”

She did not say anything, “but that helped to frame for me what I wanted to do, and I really started to think about the value of nursing,” said Margaret Hourigan, who has continued to achieve throughout her distinguished career, earning a doctoral degree and serving as chair of the Nursing Department at Saint Joseph’s College.

Backs are scrubbed when needed, but nurses work on such things as genomics, global health and informatics. They are, as this book strongly proves, no longer “handmaidens of physicians.”

William David Barry is a local historian who has authored or co-authored seven books, including “The History of Sweetser-Children’s Home” and “The AIDS Project: A History.” He lives in Portland with his wife, Debra, and their cat, Nadine.

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Art review: In ‘Recent Paintings’ a husband and wife converse, subtly Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The paintings of Steven Alexander and Laura Duerwald, husband and wife from Pennsylvania, may not seem to be in conversation, at first glance. But they share the worthy concerns of color, design, conception, craft and the brush.

"Voice 1," Steven Alexander

“Voice 1,” Steven Alexander

The couple’s show, “Recent Paintings,” feature 10 works by Duerwald and 14 by Alexander, is on view at ICON Contemporary in Brunswick through July 2.

Alexander has some national prestige, with a Pollock-Krasner award and a residency at MoMA PS1. He is a professor at Marywood College and has been a visiting professor at Bowdoin College, where the couple’s daughter now attends. His works are reminiscent of American color field painting, with hard-edge stripes and an eye to reductive structures comprising abutting geometrical forms.

Duerwald’s black and white collage paintings either follow patterns of crisp stripes made of torn bits of black paper with an effect not unlike animal patterns found in nature or more straight forward formalist compositions.

Combined, their work – which is certainly not averse to attractiveness – makes for a very handsome and quiet show of brainy abstraction.

The simplest topic that the two painters take on in parallel is “the brush.” Neither’s work reveals brush marks, and Alexander goes out of his way to make even casual viewers aware that his tools are palette knives, squeegees and trowels.

But that is not to say there are no artist marks within the work. Duerwald’s torn bits of paper reveal the artist’s hand, as does her use of graphite and charcoal. Alexander’s marks are more geared to the interaction of the artist’s tools with the support; usually linen on a stretcher, and canvas in the larger works. Stretchers generally have a raised bevel near their edges to hold the canvas evenly without wood directly behind it (imagine a frame with a raised outside edge). As Alexander’s trowels, knives and squeegees drag the paint to and over that bevel, the superflat surface gets distressed and so we become conscious of the structure of the canvas and the internal framing.

"Template (In Violet)," Laura Duerwald

“Template (In Violet),” Laura Duerwald

Alexander’s underpainting (often a classical-referencing red) reaches just over the side and appears to have been held impressively in line by fine tape. This effect appears geared to the internal logic of the paintings’ edges, but it opens a dialogue with Duerwald’s work. Both artists function through design systems rather than old school brush-in-hand painterly composition. While we come away with a feel for individual works, the primary effect of the differences between the artists underscores their shared interests rather than the individuality of their works.

Alexander’s aesthetic driver is color, and his sensibilities are masterful. In “Tracer 4,” for example, a set of six vertical stripes, over a dark red ground visible at the edges, moves left to right with a set of three that progress from purple to powder blue then three that move right to left from a chalky light green to a darker, bluer green. It’s visual counterpoint laid out in stripes so clear that it feels analytical. “Voice 1” has a similar effect although based on bilateral symmetry: On the right side of a vertical red “zip” is a section of periwinkle blue and, on the left a chalky primary blue. (Alexander appears to mix something like titanium white to his colors to better control their opacity, so this chalkiness is pervasive but not unpleasant.) To balance the blues, Alexander uses a dark metallic stripe centered within them, a heavier bronze on the left and a lighter, brighter brass on the right.


"Palm 4," Steven Alexander

“Palm 4,” Steven Alexander

Alexander’s color shifts seek left-to-right balance that generally take two forms: The straight back-and-forth of “Tracer 4” and “Voice 1,” or a U-shaped pendulum motion. The latter is clear in “Optimo (Red),” which follows bands of grays under and to the side of a centered, large Matisse pink rectangle. In “Chameleon 6,” two vertical rectangles of brick and bronze are anchored by a pair of slender blue vertical segments at the bottom center. “Palm 4” swings back and forth on asymmetrical blue and yellow segments under larger yellow-green center rectangles topped by pink bands.

Alexander and Duerwald share a fine craft sensibility, particularly because they have self-consciously stripped the painterliness from their paintings. While some of Duerwald’s black and white works directly engage compositional logic (with a most welcome similarity to Ken Greenleaf’s extraordinary collages and charcoals and Mark Wethli’s exquisite Flasche paintings), her most original works, like “Template 9,” use subtle shifts of dark blues and flesh pinks within the black, white and beige strips to police their quavering bestial rhythms.

"Telemark II," Laura Duerwald

“Telemark II,” Laura Duerwald

While it is easy enough to appreciate the work of both artists on aesthetic terms, it is also possible to see the work taking sides in a broader debate about the state of American painting. While I tend to support craft-oriented abstraction resurrecting the object status of painting through skill and effort, many artists and critics are vehemently opposed to what they dismiss as decoration. Whereas decoration strikes me as a valid topic in Alexander’s and Duerwald’s painting – along with design, formalism, painting as craft and color as an element of systems painting – the art world is divided on the subject. Sometimes a painting is just a painting, right? But while not everyone chooses to see a work of abstract painting as part of a broader dialogue, we wouldn’t be able to see it at all (or care) if it weren’t engaged with culture – that messy, dynamic and sometimes explosive public arena where nothing gets to sit still for long.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

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Haystack Mountain craft school’s new director seeks his own identity Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 DEER ISLE — Someone asked Paul Sacaridiz, the new director at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, if he was going to read poetry during public assemblies at the Deer Isle craft school. Sacaridiz laughed, politely.

“Are you kidding?” he asked.

The question referenced the man that Sacaridiz replaced at Haystack, Stuart Kestenbaum, who is now Maine’s poet laureate. A polished speaker and wordsmith, Kestenbaum sprinkled his talks at Haystack with poems that were appropriate for the moment. The poems, and Kestenbaum’s effortless performance of them, became part of the Haystack experience and a precious memory that students took home with them.

DEER ISLE, ME - JUNE 16: Paul Sacaridiz, director of Haystack Mountain School, talks to Stephen Yusko, one of the school's blacksmithing teachers. (Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

Paul Sacaridiz, director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, talks to Stephen Yusko, one of the school’s blacksmithing teachers. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Sacaridiz, 46, can do many things, but poetry isn’t necessarily one of them.

“I wasn’t hired to be Stu,” he said. “I was hired to run the school.”

That question about poetry, asked in innocence and almost certainly as a joke, focuses on the biggest challenge that Sacaridiz – pronounced “sa-ka-ree-dis”– faces as Haystack’s fourth director in 66 years. His hardest job will be stepping away from Kestenbaum’s significant shadow, and everyone, including Sacaridiz, acknowledges it.

Matt Hutton, a Portland furniture maker, chair of the woodworking department at Maine College of Art and president of the Haystack board, called it “a daunting task.”

Kestenbaum left the school last May. The staff and board ran Haystack last summer, and Sacaridiz arrived in September with the enviable task of “having nothing to fix.” Kestenbaum left him a laptop and a few files of notes about how the place works.

Haystack, nestled among the woods and rocks on a precarious tip of land that extends into the Atlantic, is where artists come to work in rhythm with nature. It offers courses in dozens of craft fields and recruits students and teachers from across Maine and across the country to study and teach one- and two-week intensives in clay, glass, metal, wood and other disciplines.

Sacaridiz spent the fall and winter becoming familiar with the school and Deer Isle, and learning both the winterization and spring-opening routines at the seasonal school. With the summer sessions in full swing, Sacaridiz is seeing Haystack function day-to-day for the first time. “The staff trained me,” he said.

A ceramic artist with a history of solo exhibitions, Sacaridiz also is a committed arts educator and administrator. He was chair of the art department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before taking the job at Haystack, and he has filled leadership positions at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts and the National Council of Arts Administrators.

He understands Maine, the role of art and culture in the state, and Haystack’s place in Maine art. As an artist, Sacaridiz completed several residencies at the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, including a year-long residency. He was also a student at Haystack and taught here as recently as 2012.

He has his own set of contacts in the field, developed over 20-plus years of teaching and practice, and he can tap them for guidance and feedback, Hutton said. Perhaps most important, Sacaridiz has energy and passion, and he has fully thrust himself into the job of running the school and becoming part of the community.

Haystack is in great shape, Hutton said. It has a stellar reputation for providing a hands-on, exploratory educational environment for serious craft artists across disciplines. It has solid finances, stable enrollments, a strong board and a large community of people in Maine and across the country who love and support it.

“What we need right now is someone who can steer without making a big change,” Hutton said. “We need someone who slowly sees the progression of the field and where Haystack fits in the field.”

DEER ISLE, ME - JUNE 16: Rick Stark, a blacksmithing student at Haystack Mountain School, converts coal into coke. (Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

Rick Stark, a blacksmithing student at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, converts coal into coke. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


A New York native, Sacaridiz has been involved with craft since his undergraduate years at Alfred University, where American craft “was the stuff I ate and slept and cared about intensely. It was the center of my life.” He chose ceramics and spent 25 hours in the studio each week.

During his graduate work at the Art Institute of Chicago, he expanded his studio practice to include contemporary art and began exploring the role of ceramics in the visual culture. He became a ceramics-based sculptor, and his work grew larger and structural, and informed by architecture.

“With respect to all potters,” he said, “I’m not.”

He is a sculptor, who has chosen clay as his medium. He’s been involved in arts education nearly 20 years, rising through the ranks of the art department at the University of Wisconsin to the position of department chair.

He gave all that up and moved with his young family to an island in Maine, because Maine was a place he always hoped to return to, where “it felt more like home than where I was from.” The Haystack job combines all his interests: craft, creativity, education and arts administration.

Sacaridiz said his teaching experience at Haystack in 2012 reinforced his love of Haystack and of Maine, and it helped motivate his application when the Haystack director’s job was advertised in late 2014.

His experiences at Watershed and Haystack changed his life, because they helped him think about art differently. At Watershed, he was given the chance to explore his material and discipline in depth, and engage in conversations with other artists about their work. It was an intensive and self-revealing experience, he said. At Haystack, he became exposed to different approaches to teaching that were more immersive and environmental than what he was used to.

The common thread between them was Maine, he said. He realized how special Maine is and how the environment informs the work of artists who live here.

Other than expressing his own personality, Sacaridiz wants to accomplish several things at Haystack. Most important is ensuring the school remains a leader in its field by setting the conversation and tone about craft in American culture. “We need to make sure we stay relevant,” he said. “The craft world is different now than it was in the 1980s and the 1990s. There are radical changes, and we need to make sure we are a place that is always aware of that, always asking questions and forming the conversations.”

Sacaridiz wants to broaden the reach of Haystack. He wants to explore partnerships with other arts groups, locally and nationally. He would like to see the school conduct more scholarship and research, and produce papers and publish writings, a process common among academic institutions,

He also wants to make sure the Haystack facilities stay in good shape. The buildings and the physical campus receive annual upgrades and are well-tended to, he said, but the equipment in the studios could use a review — to ensure that it is modern and efficient, and also to make sure it continues to fit the school and its mission as both evolve. He wants Haystack to strive for greater diversity in the students and faculty it recruits and to provide ample scholarships, “so that the people who should come here do come here,” he said.


One thing he won’t do is begin a campaign to expand the school. He is not interested in growth and told the Haystack hiring committee as much during his interview. “If you want someone who will come in and grow the school, I won’t do that,” he said. “I believe this place is the right size.”

Lissa Hunter, who chairs Haystack’s board of trustees, said Sacaridiz impressed her during his interview with his knowledge and education, as well as his passion for Haystack and his “desperate desire to be a part of it.” Since then, she’s been most impressed with his ability to listen and learn. He doesn’t pretend to know more than anyone else, she said.

Rich Howe, a trustee emeritus, is Sacaridiz’ closest contact in Deer Isle. They are year-round neighbors, and Sacaridiz turns to Howe for day-to-day advice. Howe said Sacaridiz has done a good job introducing himself around Deer Isle and getting to know local people and local arts organizations.

It hasn’t been easy. Sacaridiz has never lived on an island before, and the transition from living in a bustling city like Madison, Wisconsin, has been challenging, especially for his family.

Succeeding someone like Kestenbaum, whom Sacaridiz called “the smartest guy in the room,” makes it all the more difficult.

Fran Rudoff, executive director at Watershed in Newcastle, said Sacaridiz has nothing to worry about. He’s an excellent artist and thinker, and his career in academics proves that he knows how to teach and relate to students.

Hunter laughs at the memory of her first meeting with Sacaridiz. They had talked on the phone during the interview process, but she didn’t know what he looked like. When she met him, she was surprised how much he looked like Kestenbaum — both are physically slight, with dark hair, and both are animated in their demeanor.

“It will take most of the summer season, but Paul will become the face of Haystack,” Hunter said, “even if it is similar to Stu’s.”

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In a decade, Taylor Swift grows from teen country singer to international pop star Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Once a week after school in 2005, teenage Taylor Swift would bounce into Nashville songwriter Liz Rose’s office, blond curls everywhere, chatting excitedly about her day. She liked to grab water and maybe a handful of M&Ms before she settled in behind a guitar or piano. Then, abruptly, she would snap into work mode and start to write a song, with a laser-like focus that might surprise anyone who has spent time with a teen.

One afternoon, Swift told Rose, “I had this idea in math class today.” The song was about her boyfriend who was going off to college, and how she hoped he would think of her every time he heard a Tim McGraw ballad. Swift sang her opening line: “He said the way my blue eyes shine put those Georgia stars to shame that night/I said, ‘That’s a lie.’ ”

Of course, that became “Tim McGraw,” Swift’s debut single released 10 years ago on June 19, 2006. Little did anyone know that song would trigger the start of Swift’s career, as in the last decade, she’s gone from teenage country singer to the most famous pop star on the planet.

“I mean, I was catching flak: ‘What are you doing writing with a 14-year-old?’ ” her co-writer Rose, one of the top songwriters in Nashville, recalled recently by phone. “I was like, ‘Hey, this kid’s brilliant, and it’s the easiest, funnest thing I do all week. And too bad y’all are not a part of it.’ ”

Too bad indeed – “Tim McGraw” went platinum and landed in the Top 10 on the Billboard chart, a sign of things to come. Looking back now, Rose says it’s surreal that song started Swift’s journey.

Rose first met Swift at a Nashville writer’s round, where songwriters get together to perform their songs. Swift, signed as a writer to Sony/ATV Publishing at the time, asked Rose if she would be interested in getting together for a co-write. Rose agreed and the two quickly hit it off.

“The first time we wrote, I walked out and said, ‘I don’t know what I was doing there,’ ” Rose said. “She really didn’t need me.”

While working on “Tim McGraw,” Rose took on her usual role when writing with Swift, which was editing. While Rose is primarily a lyricist, she said Swift would come in full of her own ideas for the words and the melody, and Rose would mostly give her suggestions of what to cut and what to swap around, sometimes taking something Swift said and turning it into a lyric.

However, when Swift suggested calling the song “Tim McGraw,” Rose was a bit doubtful about that direct title – though she didn’t want to second-guess Swift, who seemed to know exactly what she was doing and had a complete picture of the song in mind.

“It was so bold of her … The Nashville songwriter in me was like, ‘OK, this is weird, but if that’s what you want to do,’ ” Rose admits. “I did think it was a little strange. I was like, ‘What’s Tim going to think?’ ”

Regardless, the two finished work on the song fairly quickly the same day they started it; Rose said she doesn’t even think Swift made a demo tape. As soon as the president of Swift’s label, Scott Borchetta, heard Swift play the song, he immediately declared it her first single. The decision paid off – and as it turned out, McGraw was quite flattered by the call-out.

The Swift-Rose collaboration wound up being lucrative, as the two wrote more than a dozen songs together. Rose remembers many memorable Swift co-songwriting experiences, such as penning Grammy Award-winning “White House” in the studio, or writing “Fearless” – the title track of her Grammy-winning sophomore album – backstage while Swift was on tour with Rascal Flatts.

Or the time they wrote the smash “You Belong With Me” and Rose tried to talk Swift out of the wording for the line “I’m in my room, it’s a typical Tuesday night,” urging her to go with the more common Friday or Saturday. Swift was adamant they keep it Tuesday – and clearly it worked out pretty well.

Once, several years later when Swift was working on her “Red” album, she called Rose and asked for her help with the lyrics for a song called “All Too Well,” which was way too long. “Do you think you could come over in about an hour?” Swift asked.

At the time, Rose was in the middle of a move and battling a terrible sinus infection. “Sure!” Rose responded, trying not to sound sick. “Absolutely, I’ve got nothing going on.” She threw the movers her keys, got some Kleenex, and was out the door.

It was a wise choice, as the song is now a fan-favorite album cut. Rose knew early on that when Swift called, you should drop everything – unlike those in Nashville who originally scoffed at writing with a teenager.

“Yeah,” Rose laughs. “There’s a lot of writers in town kicking themselves.”

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Signings, etc. Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Author Monica Wood will talk about her latest book, “The One-in-a-Million Boy,” about a young boy, an elderly woman and the transformative powers of cross-generational relations. Wood will be on hand to sign copies of the book, which also will be for sale. Space is limited. Please register with Barbara at 892-1908.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Windham Public Library, 217 Windham Center Road


MORE INFO: 892-1908;

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Book review: ‘The Life of the World to Come’ probes love and death heartfully Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 An entertaining protagonist pursues big questions after heartbreak.

“The Life of the World to Come” begins at the end. The reader is swiftly brought up to speed on Leo Brice’s charming but ungrounded relationship with Fiona Haeberle. Then, at the culmination of Chapter 1, it’s over. Fiona leaves, unceremoniously, and what follows is, as Leo puts it, “an epilogue.”

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The epilogue covers a lot of ground. Leo explores the afterlife through his relationship with a death row inmate. He charts new territory in communication with his housemates – an aging abuela and her dog. And he struggles with love – what it means, what it meant, what it could be.

Leo is a sharp, entertaining and melodramatic narrator. Sometimes, his hyperbolic statements border on irritating, but only because they’re real and familiar, the kind of familiar that’s uncomfortable to look at: “I was blown open when she left – blown open, and I couldn’t get closed. Everybody knows that, when you’re talking about a person, open things can get infected and closed things cannot. That’s basic medical science. And I lay there, open, taking in all the world’s bacteria.”

Writer Dan Cluchey tells a good story. He was born in Portland and, like his protagonist, graduated from law school. He was a speechwriter and adviser for the Obama administration. As a fiction writer, he scales vast ideas with levity and speed. He is adept at playing with words and their meanings, but it never distracts from the narrative. It only drives us deeper into Leo’s mind and a world where each sentence entertains.

Words become a parallel to the story, a way of highlighting Leo’s challenges and lessons. When considering Michael Tiegs, the inmate on death row, Leo says, “Now think of two people, and all of the damage that words can do. Contronyms carry their inner tension the same way that we carry ours, hunched on the fulcrum of context.… Michael Tiegs was about to change his meaning, maybe. For the scant months I’d known him, the words of his name had always been wholly attached to a living person – but here, now, he was poised at any moment to mean the precise opposite of that.”

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Michael Tiegs is the perfect counterpart to Leo’s desperate philosophical wonderings. The two meet when Leo is assigned to Michael’s case by The New Salem Institute, a nonprofit advocacy organization that provides legal support to death row inmates.

In the decade since he arrived in prison, Michael had read every book in the library and studied the history of world religions. He is neutral on the subject of his case and whether death will come sooner or later.

Michael provides Leo with an external release to the conversations going on in his head. As Leo says, “I was growing increasingly certain we shared questions.… We shared, at the very least, some fundamental mystery; we were dying to understand.”

In the end, Leo understands that he doesn’t get to know. What he does get, as narrator, is the ability to track the themes that he has uncovered in his epilogue, unveiling small but potent lessons for the reader.

He leaves us wondering about big questions even as we are satisfied by a surprising, well-crafted story.

“This is not the version where everything is okay.” Leo says. “This is the version where I ask if there is a version where everything is okay.”

Heidi Sistare is a freelance writer who lives in Portland. Contact her at:

Twitter: @heidisistare

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Concert review: Loud and energetic, Sleep rouses fans in Portland Sat, 25 Jun 2016 23:14:19 +0000 Cult bands don’t get much more cult-like than Sleep. The metal trio, founded in the early 1990s, has a rare mystique, marked by their major influence on new-millennium stoner rock, their classic albums and their epic record-label feuds (which can happen when you submit one 60-minute song as your album). In the late 1990s, they split – a career move than only enhances one’s myth – only to reform in recent years for sporadic gigs that have drawn pilgrimages by their fans.

On their recent tour, they made Portland’s State Theatre their only concert venue north of New York, and fans journeyed from throughout New England and Eastern Canada to attend. The merchandise table was perhaps the busiest the State has ever hosted – for the entire duration of the evening, the line went at least 10 deep, as fans bought T-shirts until pretty much everything was sold out.

The appeal of the shirts was obvious, as they were adorned with psychedelic artwork of dragons and spacemen that was reminiscent of the comics in Heavy Metal magazine – but in the context of the Sleep’s allure, they were also totems to affirm your allegiance, and prove you were part of one of their rare appearances.

The band opened the concert the same way it opened its 1992 album “Holy Mountain” – with “Dragonaut,” a radio-friendly song fueled by a funky, even danceable riff that does so little to mentally prepare listeners for what’s to come afterward that it almost feels like a sly joke. Once “Dragonaut” faded away, the tempo mostly slowed to a quagmire march, the clear hooks became obscured by smoke and anything else resembling a blues riff was buried under a mountain of sludge.

It was undoubtedly one of the loudest shows the State Theatre has put on in recent years, yet it never felt aggressive or punishing. Oddly enough, and perhaps true to the band’s name, the music was often relaxing. There were people slamming off of one another in a mosh pit throughout the evening and others crowd surfed during some of the more euphoric moments, but despite the potent energy, the music was also contemplative – apt for a band whose vocals are directly inspired by Gregorian chants.

From an instrumental standpoint, the band was as proficient as expected. Al Cisneros found numerous ways to coax sound from his bass guitar, sometimes deftly working both hands up the neck and wildly moving his fingers like a flamenco guitarist, and other times beating the instrument like a drum. There are many bassists with distinctive styles, but Cisneros is one of the few with a distinctive sound, in his case a tone somewhere between a bass and a buzz saw. Coupled with deep chords of Matt Pike’s guitar and doomsday cymbals from drummer Jason Roeder, it created a relentless swamp of sound that could occasionally shift dramatically when Pike would take a high-arcing solo or Roeder would rely more heavily on clean snare hits.

The result of those shifts is that half of the show sounded like dirt was being slowly shoveled on your head, and half sounded like nothing but open spaces and fresh air. There is something unquestionably life-affirming about that duality – there’s little wonder people travel from all over to experience it.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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Concert review: From Jimmy Dority, an amalgam of passions, molded into chamber pop Sat, 25 Jun 2016 22:25:31 +0000 If you’re confused about what indie classical music is all about, this will either help, or confuse you more.

Jimmy Dority, who celebrated the release of his album “Jimmy Do Right & The Pop Go Boom” at SPACE Gallery on Friday evening, recently completed his composition degree at the University of Southern Maine, where his teacher was Daniel Sonenberg, the composer whose opera “The Summer King” will be performed by the Pittsburgh Opera next spring. Among the works Dority completed as a student were a string quartet that was given a public reading by ETHEL, the New York-based new-music quartet, and “Columcille’s Farewell to Aran of the Saints,” a dramatic vocal setting for tenor and chamber ensemble.

But he also plays in several pop bands, including Lovers of Fiction, in which the drummer and principal composer is none other than Sonenberg. At SPACE, he played a set that anyone walking in off Congress Street would have described as pop, but which had interesting complexities that put it at the genre’s highbrow end.

The second-billed group, Woodpainting, is led by Akiva Zamcheck, who teaches musicology at New York University and whose compositions include “La Mort de Cléopâtre,” a colorfully gauzy, angular chamber orchestra score. Some listeners, though, know him as the leader of DTROTBOT, a band that plays jazz-tinged rock. On Friday, he presented a mini rock-opera.

Young composers are musical omnivores now. They embrace all musical genres, and when they sit down to write, the results can be anywhere on the stylistic spectrum. Unless you’re committed to only a part of that spectrum, this is an exciting development.

For the 12-song “Jimmy Do Right & The Pop Go Boom,” Dority assembled a 21-piece ensemble, with strings, winds, brass, guitars, keyboard and backing vocalists. He recorded the album live at the Mayo Street Arts Center in 2012, but did not release it until last week.

The songs are a fascinating amalgam of his passions, molded into appealing chamber pop textures. Many have the melodic and lyrical urbanity of French chansons, tempered occasionally by a bluesy growl, the arch lyrical touches you hear in Randy Newman’s or Van Dyke Parks’ music, or the laconic semi-spoken style of early Lou Reed. Some, like “Never Wanna Let You Go” and “What a World,” use a soulful lead vocal line, supported by backing vocals and grittier scoring, to hint at a 1960s Motown influence.

Dority is also an amusing painter of tone pictures. His “Drunken Waltz,” which he played here and on a recent television appearance, is certainly in a three-fourth waltz meter. But in his vocal performance, he toys so much with the music’s accents that you couldn’t possibly waltz to it, unless, perhaps, you were in the condition noted in the title.

Several songs show Brian Wilson’s influence, something Dority has acknowledged in interviews. In both their melodic contours and the textures of Dority’s deft wind and string arrangements, songs like “Kitty” and “Angelina” have the ambition and scope of Wilson’s “Pet Sounds” music. Vocally, Dority produces a homespun sound and is often at the edge of his range; but so is Wilson, these days. Oddly, given his skills as a guitarist, pianist and accordionist, he confined himself to singing on Friday, leaving the playing to his band.

Woodpainting’s set was devoted to “Woodpainting” (the group exists to play this work), a score based on the 1954 play by Ingmar Bergman that eventually evolved into “The Seventh Seal.” Fragments of “The Seventh Seal,” looped and manipulated as live video by Stephanie Elizabeth Gould, provided a backdrop for the narrative piece about a knight, his squire and Death.

The spare score, for guitar (Zamcheck), bass (Jeremy Robinson) drums (Peter McLaughlin) and vocals (Zamcheck and Jerusha Robinson), called to mind the arty, classical-tinged British folk-rock of the early 1970s. Its vocal lines don’t quite soar – they sometimes have a spikiness similar to that of “La Mort de Cléopâtre” – but they are engaging and expressive, and Zamcheck uses vocal harmonies to stress some of the more telling moments in his freewheeling lyric. Mostly, though, the music’s strengths are in its intricate guitar lines, shifting meters and drive.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: kozinn

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Photos: Vintage baseball clubs take the field in Cornish Sat, 25 Jun 2016 21:59:02 +0000 The New England Vintage Base Ball Festival got underway Saturday at the Cornish Fairgrounds, with three games played among six teams from New England and New Jersey, including Maine’s Dirigo Base Ball Club.

Organized by the town’s historical society and fairground committee to help restore and maintain the fairgrounds, the festival will continue on Sunday with more 1864-rules base ball.

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Kanye West’s latest video has nothing to hide Sat, 25 Jun 2016 20:15:21 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Kanye West has unveiled a video on a subject he knows something about: fame.

The video for a single titled “Famous” – unveiled Friday night at a promotional event in the Los Angeles Forum – features what appears to be a naked West with images of 11 other famous people, some of whom he has had good and bad relationships with, Vanity Fair magazine reported.

The celebrities, who appear to be naked in a huge bed with West, are his wife, Kim Kardashian West; former President George W. Bush; presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump; Vogue editor Anna Wintour; singers Rihanna, Chris Brown and Taylor Swift; singer, producer and West’s wife’s ex-boyfriend, Ray J; former girlfriend Amber Rose; transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner; and comedian Bill Cosby.

West included an image of Bush, who he famously criticized on national TV right after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Maybe in some alternative universe me and George Bush could have been friends. I could have been his O.J. Simpson black friend on the golf course,” West told the magazine in a phone interview.

As for including Cosby, who West once tweeted was innocent of sexual abuse allegations, the rapper said: “It’s not in support or anti any of (the people in the video.) It’s a comment on fame.”

– From news service reports

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Not too much of a big shot, Billy Joel jams with tribute band Sat, 25 Jun 2016 19:45:04 +0000 HUNTINGTON, N.Y. — Fans watching a Billy Joel tribute band were treated to a surprise appearance by the Piano Man himself.

Joel was in the audience Friday with his wife, Alexis Roderick, at a show in Huntington, New York, when he decided to join the band Big Shot for a three-song set.

Newsday reports Joel jammed on covers of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.” Joel wrapped up with “You May Be Right,” which Big Shot bandleader Michael DelGuidice blended with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.”

The native Long Islander told the crowd he lives “down the road” from the Paramount Theater, in Huntington, Long Island.

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Explore Bigelow Preserve, protected by voters 40 years ago this month Sat, 25 Jun 2016 19:20:23 +0000 0, 25 Jun 2016 15:21:03 +0000 Classic movies top the list of free fun to be had in Maine this summer Sat, 25 Jun 2016 19:14:51 +0000 0, 25 Jun 2016 15:26:32 +0000 Fraught with peril: Making a movie about writers and writing Sat, 25 Jun 2016 18:46:34 +0000 You’d think making a film about a writer and the writing process would be the last thing a director would want to do. After all, what is it like to be a writer? You sit at your desk, pounding away at your computer or typewriter, or writing on a yellow legal pad. Hour after hour. Day after day.


Yet films about writers, both real and fictional, have been a staple of the cinema for decades. Which means there’s something else besides the writing process that attracts our attention.

“Examining the world of a writer in isolation is potentially dramatically inert,” says Michael Grandage, director of “Genius,” in theaters now. The film explores the volatile relationship between editor Maxwell Perkins and author Thomas Wolfe. “Writing is a very lonely profession,” Grandage says. “In order for a film to work, you have to have some interaction with someone else.”

The bottom line: Whether it’s real-life writers like Truman Capote or fictional ones like Barton Fink, the process of dealing with editors, money problems, you name it, is key. As is the writer’s own personality. “When we handle a book ourselves, all we have is the relationship between the book and us,” says Grandage, “and any film that examines how we get to the book is of interest. The films that work are because they investigate the personality of the writer.”

That said, here are 10 films about writers that really work.

THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937) This best picture Oscar winner tells the story of the great 19th century French novelist (“Nana,” “Germinal”). It focuses on his involvement in the Dreyfus affair, which concerned a Jewish Army officer falsely convicted of espionage and sent to Devil’s Island. Zola’s very public denouncement of the Army high command and French politicians was exceedingly courageous.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) Unsuccessful screenwriter William Holden winds up being a kept man, courtesy of faded silent-screen star Gloria Swanson. Hired as a script doctor for her abysmal “comeback” film, things turn ugly when he decides to return to his old newspaper job.

THE FRONT (1976) It’s the blacklist era in Hollywood and TV, and writers deemed unemployable because of their political beliefs are looking for “fronts,” people whose names they can use to sell their scripts. Woody Allen stars as one such person, a small-time bookie trying to help buddy Michael Murphy.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979) Judy Davis stars in this Australian film about a headstrong young woman growing up in the Outback who longs to have a career as a writer. Despite strong opposition from her parents, she eventually succeeds. Based on a 1901 novel of the same name.

CROSS CREEK (1983) Mary Steenburgen stars as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of the children’s classic “The Yearling.” The film portrays her interaction with local residents in Florida, where she has purchased an orange grove, and which serves as the inspiration for her book.

BARTON FINK (1991) John Turturro plays a successful Broadway playwright who accepts a Hollywood screenwriting gig. But once in Tinseltown, and assigned to pen a wrestling film, he’s burdened with a severe case of writer’s block, aggravated by weird noises and a few strange characters he meets.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998) Another best picture Oscar winner, this fanciful tale features Joseph Fiennes as The Bard, falling in love with Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow, best actress Oscar) while writing “Romeo and Juliet.” Judi Dench won a supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth I.

WONDER BOYS (2000) Michael Douglas gives one of his best performances as a college professor unable to finish his second novel, while having an affair with the chancellor of his school (Frances McDormand). When his editor (Robert Downey Jr.) comes to town to see his new book, and becomes interested in a book one of his students (Tobey Maguire) has written, the you-know-what hits the fan.

ADAPTATION (2002) Giving new meaning to the term “meta,” Nicholas Cage stars as twin brothers, Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Charlie (the name of the real screenwriter) has been hired to write an adaptation of the hit Susan Orleans book “The Orchid Thief,” but when he realizes the book does not have a strong narrative, he develops a case of writer’s block. Chris Cooper won a supporting actor Oscar as the orchid-stealing protagonist of Orleans’ book.

THE HOURS (2002) Three women are interconnected through Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway” – a contemporary New Yorker (Meryl Streep), a 1950s housewife with an unhappy marriage (Julianne Moore) and Woolf herself (Nicole Kidman), struggling with depression while trying to finish her novel. Kidman won a best actress Oscar for her performance.


“Genius” tells the story of legendary book editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and his relationship with larger-than-life North Carolina author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). Famous for his work with Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce), Perkins helps the untamed Wolfe shape his massive manuscripts into the best-selling novels “Look Homeward, Angel” and “Of Time and the River.” The latter, which starts out as a 5,000 page whopper, takes more than two years of editing to whip into shape, which puts a strain on the relationships between Perkins and his wife (Laura Linney) and Wolfe and his lover (Nicole Kidman).

Eventually, however, the book, which Wolfe magnanimously dedicates to his editor, proves to be a critical and commercial success. But Wolfe, seemingly upset that some observers are giving Perkins too much credit for his fame, contemplates going to another publisher. The film ends with Wolfe’s death at age 37 from a brain disease, after he has written a moving letter to Perkins acknowledging all the editor has done for him.

“This isn’t a movie about a writer, it’s about the relationship,” says “Genius” director Michael Grandage. “The writing process has been done, and you open that process to the next stage, and that’s the other person, the tension, the relationship … You actually want in the cinema something to engage with, and the size of the personality is a way in. And Wolfe was outsize in shape, his egocentric nature, every part was extreme.”

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Reflections: During Ramadan, a prayer that we live together peacefully Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Like a thief in search of spiritual fulfillment, I tiptoe through the dark house, careful not to wake up its inhabitants. I pass the doors to silent rooms, filled with drowsiness, where my family is resting. It is almost dawn when while snacking and drinking water, I warm the leftovers and feel anxious as I prepare for a long day of fasting. I eat a meal that would be my last until sunset the next day.

I stand, facing east to pray, reciting the sacred chant, ancient words in Arabic revealed some 14 centuries ago that gave birth to Islam, the youngest Abrahamic religion. I imagine the poetic verses floating in the dark room, finding wings to rise up through the empty attic to the starlit Maine sky, to soar to the heavens above. I pray for those going without food, not by choice, all year round, for Ramadan, the month of blessing, is far from being a time of hardship but one to ask for atonement and find empathy for the poor and the hungry.

I go outside to sit, star-gazing and watching the sky change colors. The subdivision where I live is quiet and dark.

I recall the Ramadan of my childhood in Iran, in a faraway city, lost to a war that few remember now. There was a sense of exhilaration: Most adults were up, for the work hours during the Holy Month of Ramadan would be flexible, the elders would recite verses from the Qur’an, for the tradition called for the Holy Book to be read, sura by sura, chapter by chapter, throughout the month. No leftovers, for dishes special to Ramadan were made for the family.

Though as children we were too young to fast, we woke up to share in the revered occasion, knowing full well that hours later, there’d be a breakfast waiting for us, made by adults who were themselves fasting.

In the distant past, in bigger cities in Iran, the signal to stop eating and start the fast would be announced by the boom of a single cannon. In smaller towns, like ours, before the age of alarm clocks and radios, volunteers moved swiftly through the narrow and winding lanes of neighborhoods, beating the ground and the outside walls with long sticks, to wake up the households. Out of respect, they’d avoid houses belonging to the town’s Jewish, Armenian, Assyrian and Yezidi families, and those too old or ill to fast. Years later in America, I read about such time-tested reverence for one’s neighbors belonging to a different faith tradition in Ariel Sabar’s “My Father’s Paradise.” In the book, which tells the story of his Jewish father and ancestors living in Kurdistan, Iraq, Sabar vividly portrays an era, which though lasting until the 1950s and 1960s, is lost in contemporary consciousness, where the local Jewish inhabitants would not eat in the presence of their fasting Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. Similarly, Muslim men, greeting their Jewish neighbors on their way to the synagogue on a Shabbat, would put out their cigarettes. The story could have been the same in many parts of the Middle East, including Iran, where the children of Abraham were known to treat one another with care and respect. I recall the Middle East of my childhood, before being wrecked by the turmoil of invasions, occupations, and civil wars of recent years, as a paradise of sort.

Back inside the dark house, I bring my forehead to touch the floor in worship and humility. I pray for America, the open and inclusive society that it strives to be, to duplicate a time, similar to what existed in Kurdistan, Iraq, or Iran, or in the Muslim-ruled Spain of centuries ago, for the nation’s Jews, Christians, and Muslims, among others, to see each other as children of the same God and live together peacefully.

Reza Jalali advises Muslim students at the University of Southern Maine and Bowdoin College. He’s the author of “Moon Watchers, Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle,” a children’s book about Ramadan.

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Summer festivals in Maine: 40+ ways to celebrate Moxie, lobster, windjammers & more Sat, 25 Jun 2016 04:09:35 +0000 0, 25 Jun 2016 00:17:40 +0000 Ben Affleck stands by comments about NFL commissioner Sat, 25 Jun 2016 01:13:53 +0000 LOS ANGELES —Ben Affleck stands by his expletive-filled rant against the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell over “Deflategate.”

During an interview Wednesday on the debut episode of HBO’s “Any Given Wednesday,” the New England-raised Affleck passionately criticized the NFL and Goodell for suspending New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for using underinflated footballs during a 2015 playoff game.

The Oscar winner says on Twitter that he used the F-word 18 times during the five-minute diatribe. Upon reflection, he says, “12 probably would have been sufficient.”

– From news service reports

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Iowa’s governor ready to lead Bible reading marathon Fri, 24 Jun 2016 23:49:11 +0000 DAVENPORT, Iowa — Iowans are set to join Gov. Terry Branstad’s Iowa 99-County Bible Reading Marathon.

The Scott County event is scheduled to begin just after sunrise Thursday and run through July 3, The Quad-City Times reported.

Connie Johnson with the Bettendorf Baptist Church is leading efforts to find up to 300 people to read the Bible in 15-minute increments.

Johnson said sign-ups for the event have been light so far, but she hopes that family groups will get together to read the Bible aloud.

The event has gotten much attention online, and Branstad faces threats of lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa in Des Moines.

Locally, some faith leaders have taken issue with the idea.

Rabbi Henry Karp of Temple Emanuel in Davenport said the governor should keep events like this “religious neutral.” Karp suggested that it would be better to promote reading of other religious texts as well.

But Joe Gauthier, a practicing Buddhist from Davenport, said he has no problem with the event.

“I am glad that people want to bring spirituality to different spheres of life,” Gauthier said. “I don’t feel threatened or left out at all. And if people want to explore Buddhism, they are invited to visit.”

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In Armenia, pope denounces ‘genocide’ Fri, 24 Jun 2016 23:48:41 +0000 YEREVAN, Armenia — Pope Francis denounced what he called the ideologically twisted and planned “genocide” of Armenians by Ottoman-era Turks a century ago as he arrived in Armenia on Friday for a deeply symbolic visit to mark the centenary of the massacre and pay homage to the country’s steadfast Christian faith.

In the most carefully watched speech of his three-day trip, Francis ad-libbed the politically charged word “genocide” to his prepared text that had conspicuously left it out, listing the Armenian genocide alongside the Holocaust and Stalinism.

And rather than merely repeat what had said last year – that the slaughter was “considered the first genocide of the 20th century” – Francis declared it a genocide flat out, setting the stage for another Turkish protest after it withdrew its ambassador last year and accused Francis of spreading lies.

“Sadly that tragedy, that genocide, was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples,” he said.

“It’s so sad how, in this case and in the other two, the great international powers looked the other way,” he added, referring to the subsequent horrors of Nazism and Stalinism.

In the run-up to the visit, the Vatican had refrained from using the term “genocide,” mindful of Turkish opposition to the political and financial implications of the word given Armenian claims for reparations.

But Francis, never one to shy from speaking his mind, added the word at the last minute in a speech at the presidential palace to President Serzh Sargsyan, Armenian political and religious leaders and the diplomatic corps.

They gave him a standing ovation.

“One cannot but believe in the triumph of justice when in 100 years … the message of justice is being conveyed to mankind from the heart of the Catholic world,” marveled President Sargsyn in his speech to the pope.

Many historians consider the massacres of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians genocide. Turkey rejects the term, says the death figure is inflated and that people died on both sides as the Ottoman Empire collapsed amid World War I.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis always speaks of the need for reconciliation and that his declaration of a genocide must be taken in the context of recognizing a past horror to then move on in friendship and reconciliation. Lombardi denied that the Vatican’s diplomatic speechwriters had intentionally left the word out, saying they had intentionally left it up to the pope to decide what to say.

In a largely Orthodox land where Catholics are a minority, Armenians have been genuinely honored to welcome a pope who has long championed the Armenian cause from his time as an archbishop in Argentina and now as leader of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. His 2015 declaration that the massacres were considered a “genocide” sealed their affection for him.

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‘Hamilton’ segment to air on PBS’ ‘Great Performances’ in fall Fri, 24 Jun 2016 23:47:53 +0000 NEW YORK — Time has nearly run out to see the original “Hamilton” cast on Broadway, but a PBS special this fall on the Tony Award-winning musical will feature at least 15 minutes of performance footage with creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and his team.

PBS announced its “Great Performances” series episode featuring “Hamilton” months ago, but time has only increased its resonance. Since then, the show has won 11 Tonys, a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy.

Miranda, who performs in the starring role, has also announced he’ll be leaving the show July 9. So will prominent cast members Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, and Phillipa Soo, who portrays Eliza Schuyler.

All three, however, will be filmed and be part of the Oct. 21 PBS show.

The documentary “Hamilton’s America” will feature an abbreviated performance. The network is contractually limited to showing only 15 minutes of performance clips that were filmed early in the Broadway run. It remained unclear Thursday whether producers would try to push that limit. There are no plans as yet to televise the entire show on PBS or anywhere.

– From news service reports

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‘Mud people’ Filipino fest honors John the Baptist Fri, 24 Jun 2016 23:31:06 +0000 BIBICLAT, Philippines — Hundreds of Filipino villagers donning capes of banana leaves covered themselves in mud Friday in a ritual to thank their patron saint, John the Baptist, who they believe saved residents from killings by Japanese invaders in World War II.

The “Taong Putik” or “mud people” festival in Bibiclat village in northern Nueva Ecija province dates back to the brutal Japanese occupation of the Philippines, according to villagers.

Japanese troops gathered many of the male villagers in a Bibiclat church courtyard for execution by firing squad. But after women and children prayed to Saint John to spare them, a sudden downpour saved the men, villagers say.

The residents rolled in the mud in jubilation and have carried on the thanksgiving tradition ever since.

“They’re doing it yearly as a vow,” said parish priest, the Rev. Elmer Villamayor.

A mud-splattered participant said he prayed for sick relatives and another thanked God for curing him.

During the festival, men, women and children – some covered with capes from head to foot and with eyes peering from a cake of mud – collect candles from villagers along Bibiclat’s main street on their way to St. John the Baptist’s church to hear Mass. There they light the candles.

The Philippines is Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation. The spectacle reflects the country’s unique brand of Catholicism, merging church traditions with superstitions.

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