Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

Website URL:

Opening Worlds: What to expect from the Page Burner Reading Series

Waking Windows is more than just a music festival; it's marketplace for ideas.

The Page Burner Reading Series returns to make this part of the festival's mission crystal clear.

Organized by local musician and writer Nat Baldwin (you might know him as the bassist for the Dirty Projectors) the reading series bounces across three venues (Local Sprouts, Tandem, and One Longfellow), and offers listeners glimpses into multiple different worlds.

Baldwin, who's put together the past two reading components of Waking Windows, said that this year will be different. Instead of featuring work that matches his general aesthetic — abstract fictional poetry — Baldwin aimed to diversify the talent, both stylistically and with the writers themselves.

Both fiction and non-fiction works from 15 writers of various ages, races, and genders will be presented to listeners at less than 10 minutes a piece, in a bid to leave them with thoughts unfamiliar, yet inviting. And if guests walk briskly enough, they'll easily hear all 15 perspectives, because although the three-hour show is spread out across three venues, they're all very close from each other, and scheduled consecutively.

We caught up with Nat Baldwin, who put together this series while knee-deep in the pursuit of an English degree at USM, to learn what he hopes listeners will get from it all.

This interview has been edited for grammar and clarity. 

In what ways will this edition of Page Burner be different from ones in the past?

For starters, this will be the first one I'm reading at. I'm going to read a short from my first book, The Red Barn.

We (read at) the Jewel Box the last couple of years. But in order to make the event open to all ages, which was important to some of the other organizers, we switched venues this year to Local Sprouts.

Also, stylistically it was a bit narrow in previous years and geared a little bit more toward my own personal tastes in fiction and poetry. We're bringing in different kinds of voices this year. I wanted to bring in people that wrote more nonfiction, essays and did stuff that was more political, socially conscious.

That's what I'm most excited about actually, broadening the aesthetic spectrum.

Why do you think that's important?

What's really cool, is bringing in a bunch of different people and creating a little community for the day. The more diverse that can be, on all levels, it will just widen the connections that are possible.

Tell me a little bit about the performers.

Peter Markus is coming to read and he's someone I've been a fan of for a really long time. I was a student in his online fiction class, back when I started writing my own fiction. It was really inspiring. The book that I just put out, The Red Barn, stems from a lot of what I learned in his class.

Peter's fiction is really like nothing else. He has a unique, minimal voice. Very musical. Simple but beautiful. He does weird things. He wrote one book a couple years ago that's all made up of monosyllabic words, and those restrictive practices often yield unusual results.

I'm aware that Peter Marcus and Robert Lopez will be the only two readers from out of state. Who do you think will standout locally?

I'm really excited about (Phoenix columnist) Shay Stewart-Bouley's reading. When I was starting to get my ideas together for this event, she was the first person that came to mind. She'll bring in work that speaks to the moment politically. What she's doing is really important.

Katy Mongeau is reading at One Longfellow Square. She does really interesting hybrid works, somewhere between prose and poetry, very nonlinear and fragmented. Strange, but in the best way possible.

LaLa Drew (also a contributor to the Phoenix) will stand out. I saw them read a collection of poems/essays at their event at SPACE Gallery recently [a program called Bloodletting]. That was great.

Considering that you've made a conscious effort to bring in writers that speak to this specific moment in time, what do you think about the connection between art and politics?

All art is political. If you're avoiding making a statement, that's a statement too. Even the most abstract poetry that isn't overtly addressing social issues, is still inherently political because of the aesthetic choices. Abstract writing resists those traditional narrative arcs and hierarchal structures.

What's your ideal writing environment?

A very quiet, dark room. That's probably standard. I've tried listening to music while I write, but it never became a regular practice. Sometimes minimal musicians like Terry Riley or Phillip Glass — static, drone-like ambiance — works.

I can't do coffee shops. Even when I'm home alone with the blinds drawn and the lights out, I put ear plugs in. I block any distractions out and immerse myself in whatever world I'm trying to access.

What do you hope listeners of the Page Burner series get from the whole experience?

The best thing about this festival is drawing connections between all the different arts. What that can do is it allows for the element of surprise. With so much going on that it feels chaotic, but there's a lot of power and energy in that.

Bringing a literary element to a music festival allows people to see and make the connection between literature and music. There is so much crossover. Reading aloud can be musical and have a rhythm.

The Page Burner Reading Series | 1:00 pm at Tandem, 742 Congress St. Featuring: AFRiCAN Dundada, Vivian Ewing, Niles Baldwin, and Samuel James | 2:00 pm at One Longfellow, 181 State St. Featuring: Nat Baldwin, Katy Mongeau, Robert Lopez, Debra Spark, and Peter Markus | 3:00 pm at Local Sprouts, 649 Congress St. Featuring: Henry Finch, Emily Jane Young, LaLa Drew, Mira Ptacin, and Shay Stewart-Bouley 

  • Published in Features

Culture of Excess: The Strangest Products On The Cannabis Market

Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to consuming cannabis, I’m perfectly satisfied with a simple, tightly rolled joint. Clean bowls/pipes are nice too. Much of everything else — gravity bongs, CBD oil vaporizers, crazy edibles, and water-soluble THC capsules — seems a bit excessive. After all, I’m usually just trying to make a book or movie more interesting with a delicate buzz, not blast myself to the point where I’m sinking into the couch with drool hanging out my mouth.

But naturally, there are many different kinds of cannabis users. And it seems that the free market, as it typically does, has catered to just about every type of stoner out there. Many consider this a good thing, and admittedly I too am consistently amazed by the creativity of some products emerging from the cannabis market, but I often ask myself: does the world really need this? Adding to the weirdness of it all is the fact that some Americans out there are making money off of something like cannabis body butter, while 500,000 others are arrested each year for possessing essentially the same thing, but in plant form.

Despite the inequalities, and decadent nature present in some aspects of the cannabis market today, I’ve accepted the fact that it’s society’s growing hunger for products, however superfluous, that fuels this market of oddities. Yet I still wonder, which of these bemusing products I’ve featured below, tempts you to purchase? 

The Cereal Bowl Water Pipe Hybrid Nobody Asked For

columns cerealbowl

Taking the phrase “wake-n-bake” a little too seriously, one glassblower out of Washington created a bong that doubles as a cereal bowl, and sells them now at $90 each.

Admittedly, it looks functional and expertly made, but I must ask: who asked for this? Who out there has poured their cereal in the morning and lamented that they couldn’t take a hit of cannabis in between spoonfuls? Besides, at a 2 cup capacity, the creator of the cereal bong clearly underestimated the appetites of its potential buyers.

But my biggest gripe with this piece is how hard it must be to clean properly. Seriously, who’s going to want to eat their breakfast out of glassware that’s smelly and caked in dark weed resin?

The Completely Unnecessary iRollie OG2 Phone Case

columns irollie

The creator of the iRollie G2 wanted to make a discreet way to store his stash and roll joints on the go, but all he really accomplished was making his phone twice as hard to fit in his pocket. This clunky piece of cheap plastic is selling for $49 online right now.

Featuring a mini rolling tray, a smell-proof storage compartment, and a hole to funnel loose flowers into, the iRollieG2 snaps onto the back of your phone ensuring everything you need to get high is right in your pocket.

But I gotta ask, can’t it just wait until you get home?

Or at the very least, if you truly need to spark up at a moment’s notice, pack a dugout like the rest of us.

Marijuana Scented Candles Are Silly, Right? 

columns candles

Perhaps I’m just humorless and marijuana-scented candles would actually make a great gag gift, but I don’t see the appeal.

These ones from Celebrescents are going for $15 each on Amazon and promise to fill the room with the skunky aroma of freshly ground herbs. If you’re the type of person that would buy this, I doubt your house is void of that particular smell anyway.

Strange But Probably Awesome: Cannabis Sex Oil

columns foria

As a male who can’t experience the potent sensation of what’s called the “weed butter vagina experience,” I’m not about to shame it for existing. After all, when applied topically to sensitive areas, cannabis oil can double as a medicine, dulling pain and relaxing muscles. But a highly raved about cannabis sex oil by Foria makes it on this list anyway for being downright unusual.

Marketed as a natural lubricant and aphrodisiac, this oil allegedly heightens arousal and leaves one with a body high before and after orgasm, because apparently sex without cannabinoids is a bit subpar.

For Saltier Munchies: Marijuana Beef Jerky

columns reefjerky

It’s been common knowledge for decades that you can make a marijuana derivative of anything that requires butter/fat/oil in the cooking process. But seriously, just because you can make something, doesn’t mean you should.

Nevertheless, the Badfish Company’s marijuana-infused beef jerky, aptly called “Reef Jerky,” has been a popular item since it launched in 2014.

 Francis Flisiuk can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cramped Docks: Fishermen Petition the City Council To Halt Non-Marine Development

Last week, 90 fishermen in Portland signed and submitted a petition to the city asking leaders to do something about the dwindling amount of space on the working waterfront due to tourism, traffic, and rapid nonmarine development that they say makes their job much harder.

Whether it’s because of a literal lack of space both on the water and on the streets where their bait trucks drive, or the rising cost of parking, these fishermen feel like they’re being pushed off the wharves they depend on because of the perception of a preference the City Council has for nonmarine development. They say the city is overlooking a 400-year-old industry that plays a vital role in Maine’s economy.

Current zoning rules require that nonmarine developments and parking be built at least 150 feet away from the piers. But these fishermen want the new projects on the Wharf side of Commercial Street — which include hotel, shopping, and office developments — to be halted. In the petition, they named three developments in particular: 58 Fore Street, Union Wharf, and the Rufus Deering Lumber Yard.

“With the three proposed developments on that street, industry will come to a standstill, as it does on some days,” reads one section of the petition. “The very life blood of Portland will cease to flow if these developments are allowed to happen.”

According to Keith Lane, a lobsterman who signed the petition, the amount of lobster, bait and herring that move through the Portland waterfront is valued at about $64,800,000 each year.

Willian Needelman, the city’s Waterfront Coordinator, said that the petition will be considered during the public comment period of a Planning Authority’s land-use review session. He also said that nonmarine developments on Commercial Street are necessary because they provide the revenue needed to prevent the fishing piers from succumbing to “catastrophic collapse.”

“The idea and the intent [behind current zoning regulations] is to provide a balance and a financial stable condition for the piers, which is an ongoing process,” said Needelman. “We understand there are congestion issues. We’re undergoing a welcome development boon, but with that there are growing pains. We need to continue to evaluate the street and the piers on a season to season basis whether the balance is working.”

  • Published in News

Latest Republican Effort To Repeal and Replace Obamacare Would Be Worse For Maine Than Just a Straight Repeal, Study Says

An analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the Republicans last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would — if passed — likely be “even more damaging than a straight repeal-without-replace bill” (which the Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated would leave 32 million people without health insurance).

According to the report, the new bill, H.R. 1628, sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) would cost Maine $115 million in federal dollars in 2026 and an additional $1 billion in 2027, risking health care for hundreds of thousands of Maine.

This loss, according to the report, would result from the new bill collapsing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies and replacing them with “inadequate block grants” designed to give states freedom to implement their own healthcare system. But because those grants aren’t based on fixed percentages, they don’t factor in a state’s actual healthcare costs, which critics say would leave high-cost states like Maine and Massachusetts much worse off.

“The block grant would not adjust based on changes in states’ funding needs, and it could be spent on virtually any health care purpose, with no requirement to offer low- and moderate-income people coverage or financial assistance,” wrote a spokesperson for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in a press release.

Like previous GOP healthcare reform efforts, the $1.2 trillion Graham-Cassidy bill would call for a cap and cut to federal Medicaid per-beneficiary funding for tens of millions of seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children. The bill would require insurers to pay a higher premium for pre-existing conditions and would also defund Planned Parenthood for one year.

A lot has to happen before this bill could become law. It still has to be scored by the CBO and it’s not clear whether it will muster the support of 50 Senators in time before it goes to vote on September 30. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and John McCain were key Republican opposition votes during the last repeal-and-replace effort, and they might provide opposition again.

news susancollins

Maine's Senator Susan Collins could be a key Republican "no vote," but as of now, her position on the Graham-Cassidy healthcare reform bill remains unclear. 

After The Hill reported that Cassidy said that he’s whipped up support for the bill by “up to 48 or 49 fellow Republicans,” many mobilized in opposition across the country; here in Maine, people have been filling Senator Collins’ voice mailbox with messages urging her to vote no on September 30. According to a spokesperson for Collins, she’s still waiting on a CBO score before publicly voicing her position.

“Almost every aspect of this bill is terrible,” said Mike Tipping, the Communications Director at the Maine People’s Alliance. “This is going to be really close; they only need 50 votes. This could get passed. It’s a huge immediate threat and Mainers need to call Collins right now. She must oppose this loudly and unequivocally.”

  • Published in News

Housing First: One Apartment Building Geared Toward The Formerly Homeless Completed Amidst Other Ongoing Projects

Barriers that slowed the construction of two new housing projects on the peninsula have now been lifted after the Portland City Council voted unanimously on a series of affordable housing amendments earlier this month.

First proposed by the groups Portland Housing Authority, Preble Street, Homeless Voices for Justice, and AARP, the package of reforms relaxes density and height restrictions and aims to incentivize nonprofit housing projects on the peninsula and along busy traffic corridors like Forest Avenue. These changes are expected to give developers more leverage when it comes to competing with others over the $3 million dollars of highly sought-after MaineHousing tax credits, which typically fund large portions of these projects.

Under these amendments, the Portland Housing Authority is allowed to continue its efforts to build a 55-unit apartment building in East Bayside on Boyd St., and a 100-unit building in East Deering on Front St.

"The new changes do allow us to have more density and thereby economy of scale," said Jay Waterman, the Development Director at the Portland Housing Authority. "This reduces our cost per unit. While this is Portland Housing Authority land for this project, the higher density will generally help non-profit affordable housing developers compete with market rate and commercial developers for scarce land in Portland. This zoning change has a direct impact on Portland’s ability to compete for funding for affordable housing projects when up against other towns in which it is often less expensive to build."

The City Council also voted 8-1 on separate density bonuses related to "Planned Residential Unit Developments" (PRUDs), which are campus-style housing developments and due to their requirement of several contiguous acres of land, can’t be built on the peninsula. Councilor Justin Costa was the only one who voted no because of a "concerning lack of design standards" that call for integration with the surrounding neighborhoods.

“In my view, that would simply give the Planning Board more options when reviewing particular development proposals, and it would help assuage the concerns of neighbors in many off-peninsula neighborhoods while still allowing projects to move forward,” said Costa, who’s working with the PHA to build the 100-unit complex on Front Street. “I’m absolutely supportive of affordable housing development on the peninsula; what I voted against has literally zero application to development on the peninsula.”

Huston Commons Opens 

Elsewhere in Portland, a new apartment building opened its doors on what its builders are calling the “most humane and cost-effective solution to chronic homelessness.”

The Preble Street Homeless Shelter in partnership with Avesta Housing unveiled Huston Commons last week, which will provide housing for 30 formerly homeless individuals with chronic health issues.

“The men and women at Huston Commons have not known stability or security for much of their lives,” said Mark Swann the Preble Street Executive Director in a press release. “But in this supported environment, tenants no longer have to deal with the stress and danger of the streets and begin to hope, to heal, to work on recovery, and create community. Even just after a month, you can see — often literally — what a difference a home makes.”

Huston Commons will house three veterans, eight women, 12 people who have been living and sleeping outside for years, and 13 “long-term stayers” in the local shelter system. 

“Portland’s affordable housing and homeless crisis is as challenging as we have ever seen. Huston Commons will change 30 lives, more than any other housing initiative this year,” said Avesta Housing President & CEO, Dana Totman.


  • Published in News

Binge On This: What's New On Netflix This Fall

Though many of us sell the pleasant fiction that we spend our autumn moments outside, embarking on foliage hikes, spooky road trips and bonfire adventures, let’s confront a more likely reality. We’re going to spend a great deal of time in front of a screen.

Although we deeply encourage our readers to enjoy Maine autumn in all its resplendent beauty, we've made peace with the fact that Netflix holds a big chunk of our daily attention hostage.

So get excited for your next loafing-around session with our curated preview of the best shows and movies coming to Netflix this fall.


For fans of bizarre humor: Portlandia – Season 7 (out now)

netflix portlandia

You’d think in 2017 that jokes about quirky hipsters would have gone stale, but the new season of Portlandia proves that’s not the case. This may be their strongest season yet. Follow the delightfully eccentric Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein as they play a roster of colorful fictional characters keeping the “other Portland” charming and weird. And because of the unique sketch comedy format, the show’s accessible to casual viewers. If you want to get crazy and start watching on Season 7, you wouldn’t miss much. Portlandia doesn’t really have an overarching plot, instead it opts for loosely strung-together vignettes that peek into the lives of recurring characters.


For nostalgic millennials: Disney’s Pocahontas (September 14)

netflix pochantos

If you’re a millennial like me, it’s likely that you once collected VHS tapes of Disney’s classic feature films. Remember the adorable, boxy cases they came in? Times have changed, and those tapes are probably collecting mold in our parents’ basements. At least those animated gems exist in the cloud. Netflix offers Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, and on September 14, Pocahontas on its streaming service. But if you want to paint with all the colors in the wind, do so this year, because rumor has it that Disney plans on launching its own streaming service in 2018, meaning all of its content will be pulled from Netflix eventually.


For the cautiously optimistic: The Magic School Bus Rides Again (September 29)

netflix magicbus

I’m hesitant to recommend the reboot of The Magic School Bus because Netflix doesn’t have the greatest track record resurrecting childhood classics (looking at you Mystery Science Theatre 3000). But the trailer looked promising, so at the very least, this revival’s pilot deserves your attention. The physics-defying Magic School Bus will ride again to such fantastical places as far-out galaxies and the inside of atoms for new adventures designed to get young kids excited about science. This time Ms. Frizzle will pass the keys to her technologically improved bus to her sister, voiced by Kate McKinnon. Despite being a grown-ass man, I’ll be tuning in and singing along to that classic theme song as soon as this show premieres.


For a heavy dose of Roman drama: Suburra Season 1 (October 6)

netflix suburra

Netflix is debuting its first Italian production in the form of a Suburra, a 10-episode first season that explores the links between politics, organized crime, and the Catholic Church in modern day Rome. The trailer previews what looks to be a gritty, chaotic, and thrilling look at the seedy underbelly of surface-pretty coastal Italy. If you dropped House of Cards recently because America’s real-life politics provides enough anxiety, consider replacing it with this show. Because if political scandals, corruption, and state-sanctioned violence are your go-to forms of entertainment, Suburra will offer that without feeling too close to home.


For a disturbing look inside insanity: Mindhunter (October 13)

netflix mindhunter

Producer David Fincher, known for the superb psychological thrillers Seven, Gone Girl and Fight Club, is debuting his latest work this month: a Netflix drama that explores the minds of serial killers and other sociopaths. Set in 1979, Mindhunter will follow two FBI agents (played by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) as they question America’s most infamous serial killers in an attempt to understand their psyche. Along the way, they’ll stumble upon some troubling revelations about what pushes people to commit unspeakable acts. This detective drama will be perfect for the creepy season because there’s nothing scarier than man-made — and all too real — horrors.


For a return to the Upside Down World: Stranger Things Season 2 (October 27)

netflix strangerthings2

When the first season of Stranger Things was released last year, it was met with widespread critical acclaim. From the show's lovable (and extremely talented) child actors, to its plethora of science fiction/horror references, to its beautiful cinematography and '80s aesthetic, there’s a lot to love. Fans are awaiting the release of the second season with bated breath because there are still so many questions that need answering. Thankfully we won’t have to wait long to return to this creepy universe and uncover more of its supernatural mysteries.


For some good ol’ fashioned revenge: The Punisher (November)

netflix thepunisher

He’s coming to collect. Having first appeared in Marvel’s Daredevil and later in the Defenders, the morally questionable crime fighter the Punisher is finally getting his own show. Jon Bernthal is reprising the role of this ultra-violent vigilante who’s haunted by the memory of his murdered family as he wades through the criminal underworld of New York City. Stunningly choreographed street fights can be expected, but also some deep questions about how to deal with grief. Because the Punisher, a/k/a Frank Castle, sticks out in the crowded Marvel universe of crime-fighters; he doesn’t have superpowers, he doesn’t have a costume, he’s just a tortured man drowning in a world of darkness and despair. Will he soldier his way out of it? Or become one of the very monsters he fights? I can’t wait to find out.


For a historical mystery: Alias Grace (November 3)

netflix aliasgrace

Based on Margaret Atwood’s award winning novel (and true events) Alias Grace follows Grace Marks, a young, poor Irish immigrant who was accused a murdering two of her employers in 1843. Is she guilty? The viewer is left wondering as the show flashes back and forth in time, piecing together Marks’s involvement in the grisly crime. If it’s anything like the book, this six-episode mini-series will have viewers questioning whether their memory can be trusted.


For a high-stakes fantasy escape: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (November)

netflix pirates

What happened to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? It used to be so good, but now its old tricks seem like tropes. Perhaps fans have grown tired of the drunk and clumsy Jack Sparrow — or maybe Johnny Depp himself is just not as charismatic as he used to be.

Whatever the problem with the series is, the third and fourth Pirates installments were met with tepid reviews, so Disney decided the world needed a fifth, this time with Javier Bardem — whom you might remember as the stone cold antagonist from No Country For Old Men — as the villain. Bardem’s probably the most compelling part of this film, so if you’re going to watch this played-out CGI fest, do it for him. His performance of the undead pirate Salazar does give this film some redeemable qualities.


For an introspective space adventure: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (November)

netflix guardiansgalaxy

On the surface, the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy is about just that: guarding the universe against cosmic destruction at the hands of omnipotent aliens. This film does that very well, with the dazzling visuals and fluid choreography that Marvel’s known for. But a closer viewing of this hilarious and action packed adventure film also prompts questions that are quite deep for a standard superhero flick: Who can you trust when everyone’s self-interested? Can you change where you’ve come from? I won’t spoil the plot twist ending, but if you’ve got daddy issues, you may be crying by the time the credits roll.

  • Published in Screen

Two Sides, Zero Compromise: Can Centrism Bridge the Political Divide?

Leaders of the Maine Centrist Project are aware that centrism is something of a dirty word in America’s highly-polarized political environment.

“When did compromise become a bad thing?” asked Dave McConnell, an attorney from Falmouth and one of the founding members of the Portland chapter of the Centrist Project. “Both sides of the aisle see a movement for people in the middle as a threat.”

And while centrism does garner some flak from right-wingers, mostly from those opposed to the idea of even collaborating with Democrats, most of the critique around the position comes from progressives who largely believe that centrism is dysfunctional and nothing more than neoliberalism rebranded.

Political writer John Nichols wrote in the Nation earlier this year that “The Democratic Party Must Finally Abandon Centrism,” arguing that it’s been the status quo since Bill Clinton popularized it back in 1992. Since then, Democrats have lost over 1,000 seats in the House and Senate.

Rajshree Chandra, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, critiqued centrism recently in the Wire writing that its core component — posturing itself in a pragmatic middle space between two extremes — actually draws harmful false equivalencies of groups and ideas.

“Centrists hate to take sides even when a principle is at stake,” she writes. “In general, they tend to be less transparent and definitely less consistent than the principled ones.”

After last month’s domestic terror attack in Charlottesville in which President Trump placed the blame on “many sides,” seemingly putting neo-Nazis on the same moral plane as anti-fascist protesters, progressive voices online took that as an example of the problems with centrist thinking.

centrist cartoon

A series of political webcomics titled “Famous Moments in History, Reimagined By Centrists,” drawn by Kasia Babis, went viral on Twitter that week and summed up the dominant critique of political neutrality in 2017: one panel shows a would-be centrist standing behind Hitler saying “I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” atop another panel depicting a centrist standing between two crowds of people — KKK members and anti-racist protesters — with a silly grin and a sign that says “Compromise?”


But according to McConnell, neutrality is not what centrism is about at all.

“Centrism does not mean staking out some arbitrary position in the middle of every topic,” said McConnell. “To take the Charlottesville example, when you’ve got neo-Nazis on one side, to me there is no middle ground. We’re not about being a neutral Switzerland in every issue; we do take positions on certain issues.”

McConnell says that the Maine Centrist Project was born in 2013 out of similar frustrations Americans had back in 1992, when Independent candidate Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote — arguably the most successful centrist presidential candidate in modern U.S. history. Before the results came in, political journalist E.J. Dionne predicted a yearning for a “new political center” where “conservative values were mixed with liberal instincts.”

news centristWashington
The Centrist Project wants to break the "dysfunctional two-party system."

McConnell says the same yearning is happening now because many Americans are fed up with “a broken two-party system”, and the extreme ideological convictions within it that result in a “lack of civility and collaboration.”

He used climate change and health care as examples of this inability to make bipartisan progress. He says Republicans won’t advance climate change legislation, and Democrats won’t budge on Obamacare reform, disagreements that result in little progress on issues that are divisive to many Americans. (However, the political experts cited earlier would likely label that comparison as another false equivalency on the grounds that there's nothing comparable about the acknowledgment of a scientific reality and the unwillingness to toss out a major legislative effort without a plan for adequate replacement.)

“In this current political environment, every problem becomes just another opportunity for short-term political point-scoring,” said McConnell.

Instead, McConnell said that centrism — or as he calls it, the “un-party” — offers an “approach to government, not an ideology.”

In Maine, the largest block of eligible voters, close to 40 percent, are unenrolled in a political party. McConnell believes that the demand for ideological purity on both the right and the left has led to this disillusionment, especially among millennials.

But this lack of a clear dogma within centrism is precisely what some progressives believe makes the movement so politically ineffective and morally devoid. How can a political group function if it solely relies on tension between the right and the left? While a call for politicians across the aisle to work better together might be considered laudable, would it be better received from a party that had its own unique set of values?

On their website, the Centrist Project does list what they consider to be the organization's key common sense principles: fiscal responsibility, social tolerance, environmental stewardship, and economic opportunity.

“[Independent Senator] Angus King is a perfect example of the type of politician we’d like to see more of,” said McConnell. The Maine Centrist Project supports the Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes, who they’ve endorsed as a candidate for the governorship.

“Terry is a public servant and a problem solver who has a proven capacity to bring people together and get things done,” said Nick Troiano, the executive director of the Centrist Project.

Hayes, along with Independent State Representatives Kent Ackley, Kevin Battle and Owen Casas spoke at an event organized jointly by the Maine Centrist Project and Maine Independents at the University of Southern Maine last Tuesday, in an effort to bring more local voters to this “sensible middle ground.”

“It’s great to be a part of a growing movement that’s about making government work for people and solving problems,” said Kyle Bailey, the chair of Maine Independents. “We’re opposed to the process that fuels loyalty to party over country. That’s what’s happening right now, and it’s toxic for democracy.”

Francis Flisiuk can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Published in News

Free Knowledge: Eight Podcasts You Should Download Right Now

It’s nice to see the popularity of podcasts take off — the same amount of people that use Twitter listen to them, which is something like 57 million Americans — because it’s one of the best forms of free infotainment.

It’s also a particularly useful way to transform mundane moments in the day to an engrossing time you’d rather prolong than go to class. And from commutes and workouts, to chores and work-study, students experience a myriad of those dull moments, making podcasts an essential way to maintain sanity and banish boredom.

But for the uninitiated, jumping on the podcast train can be daunting, considering there’s about 250,000 of them spread out across Apple, Google, and Spotify’s markets.  

So as part of our student guide, we thought we’d send you in the right direction with eight podcasts you should download right now.


Hardcore History

podcasts DanCarlin

At first glance, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series looks quite intimidating. There are no guests, interviews, or pre-recorded material; it’s just Carlin taking listeners on a massive journey through the annals of history for about 3-6 hours.

But don’t be fooled by perceptions of a dry history lecture, because Carlin’s show is non-fiction storytelling at its most exciting. The host, a 49-year-old historian with a clear passion for it, doesn’t flatly recite names of figures, dates and events, but rather he unfolds the pivotal moments in our history that changed our collective destiny, and traces how they affect us in the present. Along the way, Carlin attempts to answer some big questions: Why are genocidal leaders considered “great?” Is there are a limit to human depravity? What would today’s Americans do if they were living in Nazi Germany? And perhaps most intriguing, how can we even be sure our version of history is really what happened?

It’s thrilling, brilliantly paced material. It’s also extremely dark and fascinating in a macabre, voyeuristic kind of way. Carlin, with his gravelly, ominous voice, doesn’t censor any grisly details from his sweeping retellings of mankind's most bloody moments. He’s covered with meticulous detail and almost cinematic flair such historical events as Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, the Mongol Invasion, the Black Death plague, World War II, the Protestant Reformation, and the race to build the world’s first atomic bomb, to name perhaps his most well-received episodes.

We'd put his show at Game of Thrones level captivating. There are many of the same elements: epic battles, political intrigue, assassinations, conspiracies, honorable heroes, despicable villains, and philosophical quandaries. There may not be dragons, ice zombies, or even visuals at all, but Hardcore History lingers in the mind longer, because the awesome stories it tells actually happened.

With Friends Like These

podcasts withFriendsLikeThese

After Trump won the election, former members of Obama’s staff Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett felt they had to do something to combat the level of vitriol, divisiveness, and alternative facts coming out of the new administration. So they turned their feelings of hopeless into action and launched a company called “Crooked Media,” with a number of different podcasts under the name, all of which have risen tremendously in popularity over recent months.

One of the podcasts in the Crooked Media family, With Friends Like These, could perhaps be the best new political show to come out this year.

As the name is supposed to suggest, the podcast brings a wide range of guests on to talk about socio-cultural-political topics like religion, feminism, immigration, protests, sexuality, the prison system, healthcare, and race relations, to name a few. Hosted by the journalist and critic Ana Marie Cox, the show is built around uncomfortable conversations that in many ways, attempt to grapple with the state of America today: what do we do with the fact that one-half of the country wants virtually nothing to do with the other half?

Each week, Cox moderates (and sometimes leads) a discussion between two people that would likely never talk amicably to one another in the real-world, and it’s equal parts revealing and enthralling.

Pod Save The People

podcasts podsavethepeople

Don’t watch political pundits on TV; save time and brain cells by downloading our second recommendation from the Crooked Media empire: Pod Save the People. It’s hosted by writer, blue vest lover, and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, who amplifies perspectives that demand attention.

When he’s not dropping cold hard truths on Twitter, this Bowdoin College graduate heads to the studio to try and answer the questions that most are too scared to even ask: what does the future of “the Resistance” truly look like? How do we reform a poisoned criminal justice system? What are the links between the NFL and white supremacy? How will the rap industry decouple itself from misogyny and homophobia? Why are healthcare and housing social justice issues? Are white people prepared to discard some of their privileges in the fight against racial injustice?

But most importantly, Mckesson and his guests will help you, the listener, learn how to leverage knowledge and privilege to make a difference in your community. Staying woke starts with Mckesson.

Global News Podcast

podcasts globalnews


Here’s something most people on both the left and the right can agree on: mainstream media sometimes sucks. And although some would still label BBC as agenda-driven, we happen to think they’re honest, objective, and less guilty of sensationalism as other outlets.

Everyday BBC puts out two 20-minute podcasts, smartly edited with high-profile interviews from around the world, that review the most important news stories of the day. It’s a perfect way for a student to stay informed on events that matter. Think about how much time students waste reading nonsense clickbaity pieces, or even worse, outright false or politically-motivated stories.

Cut the bullshit, and start your day listening to BBC. That way you can unplug from the madness that is international news for the rest of the day (which is highly recommended, by the way) after having armed yourself with only the most relevant bits of current events.

Myths and Legends

podcasts mythsandLegends

Consuming hot takes on today's socio-political arena is a satisfying guilty pleasure, but a well-balanced podcast diet also calls for a dose of fiction, and in this case, fantasy short stories.

Myths and Legends is pure fun. For 30 minutes host Jason will take you out of this mundane world and into ones where gods cast spells, water demons eat children, and a forest hut runs on chicken feet, using his often humorous retellings of centuries' worth of mythology.

And we can’t stress this enough: these aren’t the fairy tales you’re used to. When told true to the source material, stories from the Arabian Nights, ancient Greek poems or Brothers Grimm stories, for example, are way more outrageous, surreal, and violent than you might have remembered them.  

But what we love most about Myths and Legends is that it doesn’t just surprise us with exciting versions of the stories we thought we knew, it also offers seldom-heard gems sourced from spots like Korea, Mexico, Romania, Egypt, Japan, West Africa, and Russia.

Strap in for adult story time.

Waking Up Podcast

podcasts wakingUp

While neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris might not be universally loved, his fairly nascent podcast is growing in popularity for a reason: he’s sharp as a knife, enviously eloquent, and a lightening rod for thought-provoking discussions.

Harris interviews a guest — usually an academic or author — for about 60-80 minutes, and unpacks some hugely important, potentially volatile topics like: the moral implications of genetics, the history of violence, the threats that might come with artificial intelligence, immigration and terrorism, the validity of IQ, cyber-security, gender differences, the economics of climate change, the role of consciousness on quantum mechanics, the problems with religion, and the very nature of truth itself.

Harris treads on some super thorny, sometimes unstable ground with his show, but navigates across so methodically and confidently that not much is lost on the listener or left to desired after the interview ends.

The success of the Waking Up podcast points to the demand media consumers have for long, uncensored conversations with smart people trying to make sense of the world without getting hysterical.


podcast Radiolab

NPR’s Radiolab has been the king of podcast downloads for quite some time now, with well over a million downloads an episode. While mainstream opinions don't often yield the best results, they do in this case. Each episode of Radiolab is heavily, expertly produced and only rolls out about once a month.

But with Radiolab’s production values so high, editing so slick, and interviews so compelling, the wait is completely worth it.

This podcast excels at sound design, meaning it's structured as a multi-layered mix of on-the-ground soundbites, ambient music, effects, interviews, and quips from the two charismatic hosts: Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. The format is really fun and will likely hold your attention hostage for the duration of the episode, which typically runs around 50 minutes.

So what’s it about? Just about anything really! It seems the only prerequisite for topics is that it has to be insanely interesting and viewed through an academically objective lens. The two hosts offer true stories from around the world, encouraging listeners to unravel the mysteries of life hidden in plain sight. Episodes have taken listeners inside history’s craziest con, top-secret ceremonies, gamma radiation labs, North Korean prisons, medicine cabinets, fake newsrooms, underneath the Earth in microscopic biomes, and the political thicket of the most controversial Supreme Court case.

This show probably won’t ever fall out of our favor, and its vast archive of gripping non-fiction stories are right at your fingertips so you can get obsessed too. 

Star Talk Radio

podcasts StarTalkRadio


Last on our list is a podcast that asks listeners to ponder their place in the universe.

It turns out, according to the famous astrophysicist and host of the show StarTalk Radio, Neil Degrasse Tyson, we aren’t special at all in the grand scheme of things. But still, there must be a reason why we’re compelled to gaze up at the stars and contemplate the nature of reality. Right?

Tyson’s mind-melting show reminds us that humans are technically just a means for the vast universe to think and observe itself. Humans time on Earth has only taken up a lightning fast moment when measured against the history of the universe. Across the blackness of space, we occupy just a tiny part of it on a pale blue dot.

For the unimaginative, this can be unsettling and frustrating, but to the curious, it can be liberating. Consider the fact that the seven most common elements in the Universe are all found in our bodies presents a comforting relief from the nauseating immensity of space and its infinite mysteries; the universe is within us.

Each week or so Tyson explains some insanely deep concepts in a remarkably accessible way. No, you won’t be able to fully comprehend string theory, or what happens inside the event horizon of a black hole, but Tyson, along with another scientist or two, can lay the groundwork for understanding these wondrous realities.

This podcast is perfect for a hungry mind desperate to swap out thoughts of earthly dramas for cosmic ones. 


  • Published in Features

Peace On Campus? After past incidents, USM offers several diversity initiatives

Administration at the University of Southern Maine has spent a great deal of time and resources addressing issues around free speech, diversity, and inclusion on their campuses after weathering two semesters worth of sporadic protests and serious criticisms.

The last two semesters there were fraught with at least three anti-Muslim hate incidents, and two appearances from controversial speakers (Rep. Larry Lockman, a known xenophobe back in February and Gov. Paul LePage back in April) which sparked action from a couple hundred students, and discussion on how the administration should respond to students and speakers on campus who espouse viewpoints that make minority students feel unsafe.

There were many flashpoints in this long-gestating series of conflicts, but what’s important to know for the present moment is this: although USM markets itself as a “University of Everyone,” and admitted 30 percent more students of color last year, some returning to campus this fall are unsure if they’re truly safe and welcome.

“I can't promise you that there won't be other examples of hate, I'm sure there will be, coming into the new semester,” said the President of USM Glenn Cummings. “But the question we must answer is how are we going to execute our responsibilities in the fairness of justice?”

Last year, the student group Students For #USMFuture, which was behind most of the uproar over the hate-instances, presented the administration with a list of demands on the grounds that they weren't doing enough keep students safe from what they perceived as a growing presence of sentiments aligned with the “alt-right.” According to Cummings, USM is a “University in transition” and staff is working on implementing at least 9 of their demands in an effort to recommit the institution to its values of diversity and inclusion.

“Last year was a significant growth period for us on issues of diversity and inclusion. My own thinking on this has evolved,” said Cummings. “The university is not just a place for the free exchange of ideas, it's also a community.”


The President of USM, Glenn Cummings. Photo Courtesy of USM/Rene Roy. 

For Cummings, fostering a healthy campus community starts with a different approach on how to handle invited speakers that some students find threatening.

Cummings is willing to host speakers at USM from most political backgrounds (liberal, socialist, conservative, libertarian, etc.), but he said from here on out ones that make students particularly uncomfortable won’t be given a completely free platform like Lockman had when he spoke on the "dangers of immigration" unfettered for over an hour.

“I’m not going to make it easy for them,” he said.

For example, if Cummings could re-do the Lockman event, which he admits he was completely unprepared for, he said he’d make him “debate the Dean of the law school,” or “sit on a panel of five people that aren’t racist,” so his hateful remarks weren’t met without challenge.

“I want a more sophisticated policy where we can have free speech but not be disrespectful,” said Cummings. “Free speech is not as pure and simple as some academics make it out to be sometimes.”

Back in July, the Phoenix sat down with Cummings and several other faculty and staff to get a preview of what those changes are as students enter in the fall semester. Here’s what can be expected:


USM's Portland campus from the air. Photo Courtesy of USM.

Confirmation That Student Anger Is OK

Firstly, Cummings noted that while it’s important for a University to maintain civility, it should also provide a space where students feel they can safely vent their frustrations. While Cummings doesn’t fully support the no-platform movement and will discipline students should they obstruct a future speaker or Student Senate meeting, he said there will be other places on campus for angry voices to be heard. For example, all green spaces on campus are free to use for a non-violent protest.

The challenge for administrators, Cummings said, is creating an environment that's collegial and respectful but at the same time acknowledges that people are angry.

The Multicultural Center in the Woodbury campus could be another safe place to unpack any intense responses to hate and intolerance. The center has a new coordinator, Anila Karunakar, who believes that free speech is not equal for everyone in America. Because underprivileged populations don’t enjoy the same totality of free speech as others do, she says USM offers a space where students of color, or other marginalized communities, can truly speak their mind.

“When I see the anger in protest, I think it's a good thing,” said Karunakar. “It means students can trust us with their emotions, anger, and struggle.”

Accommodations For Muslims and LGBTQ Students in the Woodbury Campus Center

The old Student Senate office, which served as a target of protest after a racist graffiti was found scribbled on the wall and some senators attempted to cover it up, has undergone a transformation.

Officials are working on installing a wash and prayer room there for USM’s Muslim students to feel more comfortable. One’s going up in Glickman Library too. Also in the works are gender-neutral bathrooms throughout campus.

A Year Long Convocation On The Intersection Of Race And Democracy

On September 29th, the University will kick off a special convocation with a keynote speech by Manbo Dòwòti Désir, a scholar and human rights activist who has spent 40 years documenting the artifacts attached to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Throughout the year, public panel discussions and events will be hosted at USM around the topic of “Race and Participatory Democracy,” aimed at defining what is a healthy democracy and how the ordinary citizen fits into it.

“I hope there will be tension in terms of what is presented,” said Dr. Leroy Rowe, a professor of African American history at USM. “We want to demonstrate the power of the individual to change democracy.”

But who’s going to be leading these conversations?

A More Diverse Staff

Rowe said that “students want to see more diversity in terms of who's standing in front of the podium in the classroom,” and it would seem that USM has addressed that by hiring several new faculty of color, including a new member of the mental health counseling team.

On top of that, the University's search committee is now required to undergo an implicit bias training before scouting for new professors.

“We’ve got new bodies on campus, but also new courses that speak to a wide array of challenges and problems,” said Rowe.

Two New Minors And Several New Relevant Courses

USM has added several new course offerings around the topics of race, gender, and class differences; the Anthropology department now offers a Social Justice minor after receiving a $600,000 grant from the National Education Association, and the History department now offers a Race and Ethnic Studies minor.

The Provost and Vice President of Student Affairs Jeannine Uzzi said adding these options was important because students need to understand “that there are real differences between the perspective of those in majority versus those in a minority.”

“Are faculty really prepared to be in the weeds with students on a daily basis on these difficult questions?” asked Uzzi rhetorically during the interview. “Maybe they're not. We’ll see.”

An Effort To Hold Leadership Accountable

In the wake of the controversy around the Student Senate’s complacency toward the graffiti incidents, starting this semester, student leadership is required to report any instances of hate, both physical and nonphysical, should they observe any.

Any newly appointed Senators are now subject to a day-long training around topics of civility, tolerance, and implicit bias.

A New Debate Series Aimed At Bridging The Political Divide

Central to all these initiatives is an effort to unite the campus as a cohesive community that respects one another despite any political differences. USM hopes to encourage within its student body not just diversity of immutable characteristics, but diversity of thought.

Noting that the University has a responsibility to also represent its conservative students, Muna Adan, Chair of the Student Senate, mentioned a new series of campus events she helped launch called “Candid Conversations” where people of all political persuasions will debate over big, albeit polarizing ideas.

Adan, who during the controversy with the Senate was called “every name and label in the book” by protesters, said some of them aren’t interested in talking and have lost patience with the call for civility and dialogue.

“It's kind of hard to have conversations with people,” said Adan. “I was told that it's no longer time for conversations, it's time for action.”

But Adan, along with her colleagues in the Senate and University administration, believe that challenging opinions with rhetoric is more productive than shouting them down with insults.

And referring to the students that still have particularly sensitive grievances with campus culture, Adan urged that they get out and run for Student Senate, or at the very least, vote.

“We just have to bring people together,” said Adan. “And if you want to make a difference this most effective way to do so is from within.”

  • Published in News

Trump's proposed elimination of the J-1 work-and-travel visa would affect Portland businesses like CIEE

Last week, the Trump administration declared an intention to eliminate the J-1 visa program, which since its in inception in 1946 has created a way for hundreds of thousands of foreign-born people to live and work in the U.S. before returning to their home country.

The Council On International Educational Exchange (CIEE), a work/travel/internship program for international high-school and college students, relies on four of the five J-1 visa categories slated for review including summer work travel (SWT), intern, trainee, camp counselor, and au-pair.

But now that the news of these potential cuts has broke, folks working at the CIEE headquarters — which is based in Portland — are concerned for the future of their organization.

“Cutting the J-1 visa would destroy our dream and our mission,” said Mustafa Al-Taie, who works as a customer service rep, assisting students from around the world through CIEE. “There would be a struggle that’s for sure. The company would probably shrink in size and employees would be laid off.”

Although these cuts are unconfirmed at this point, they are part of a broader review on foreign workers by the Trump administration, which kicked off back in April when they unveiled a new executive order titled “Buy American, Hire American.” That order targets the H1-B visa specifically and wants to require that employers vigorously screen for undocumented applicants because of the perception that large numbers of cheap foreign workers drive down wages.

But it’s important to note that although CIEE relies on the J-1 visa, the organization does not provide a path to immigration or to America’s labor market.

During an interview with the Phoenix, Al-Taie noted the irony that Trump’s selling these revisions as ways to increase wages and rates of employment, when in fact they’d lay off hundreds of workers (not just at CIEE, but any organization that relies on the J-1 visa) and deprive American employers of the seasonal workforce their business needs.

“The administration is saying 'Buy American, Hire American', but it’s not like Americans won’t be impacted,” said Al-Taie. “These employers really rely on our support to provide them with these young, eager workers. Otherwise, they’d be out of business.”  

“The typical job length is so short that the impact on the labor market is very small,” said Phil Simon, the vice president of CIEE’s work exchange programs. “In fact, we’d argue that we have a positive impact.”

According to a report by the research firm EurekaFacts, half (50.8 percent) of surveyed employers stated that the absence of SWT participants would have a big negative impact on their revenues.

Last week the Los Angeles Times shed light on just two of the many industries that could be affected by the absence of cheaper foreign workers: ski resorts and national parks, where about 12,000 J-1 visa carrying people work around the country. Without the seasonal help, employers are worried about taking a big economic hit.

In 2016, there were 1,730 camp counselor program participants and 2,550 summer work travel participants in Maine, mostly in customer service positions.  

“They come here and work seasonal jobs that most American kids would probably not want to do,” said Al-Taie. “And then after they work for four months, they usually spend their earned money here in America during their one-month grace period. They pay taxes too.”

In 2016 participants of the CIEE’s SWT program contributed about $509 million to the U.S. economy, but its value, Al-Taie says, extends beyond just an economic one. The CIEE and other cultural exchange organizations that sponsor the J-1 visa often write in their mission statements that their programs function as a vital tool in foreign diplomacy.

“At CIEE, we believe that by building mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and people of other nations, we are all stronger, safer, and more prosperous,” wrote a CIEE staffer in a press release.

The same report cited earlier found that after living and working in America, 76.1 percent of SWT participants reported that they returned home with a deeper understanding and appreciation of American culture. And during a time where, according to the Pew Research Center, only 49 percent of global audiences are favorably inclined toward the U.S., compared to 64 percent two years ago, many are considering the work of cultural exchange vital.

“It’s eye opening for a lot of students to experience a different culture and learn more about Americans outside of Hollywood,” said Al-Taie. “They go back to their home country as an ambassador for the U.S.”

As someone who’s emigrated from Babylon Iraq to Portland in 2007, Al-Taie understands the immense value in experiencing America first hand. Al-Taie got his degree in Education from the University of Southern Maine and enjoys his work at CIEE because he gets to help young people from around the world achieve their life goals. It reminds him of the time he grew up in war-torn Iraq, listening to Michael Jackson, watching Hollywood movies, and yearning for his own chance at achieving the American dream.

He hopes that the J-1 visa remains protected, so he can continue to do the work he does empowering youth from around the world.

“I’m helping them achieve what I achieved,” said Al-Taie. “It’s so great to pass that on, and let them explore what America’s all about: hardworking people.”


  • Published in News
Subscribe to this RSS feed