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Armed man in bus behind SoPo Target prompts response

An armed man barricaded himself inside a bus in the Target parking lot in South Portland Monday afternoon, WCSH-6 news station reported. A SWAT Team responded, according to news reports.
By 8 p.m., the standoff was still underway, based on scanner traffic.
Emergency communications indicated that police were bringing in a negotiator and that the subject remained in the bus in the area of the Maine Mall. Target employees were allowed to retrieve their vehicles by passing through the "command perimeter," officials said as the incident continued.
At 8:15 p.m., officials said the subject was sitting in the door of the bus and that a breakthrough was possible.

Emergency communications indicated that the incident was over by 8:40 p.m. as the bus had been cleared and Target could pursue its removal through the civil process. All indications were that the standoff at Target in South Portland ended peacefully.

Shortly before 9 p.m., officials began to clear the scene, and at the request of Target, a wrecker was dispatched to the scene to remove a converted school bus/house camper, green and white and unregistered, according to emergency communications.

See The Portland Sun on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThePortlandDailySun?ref=bookmarks for updates.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 00:58

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FairPoint workers go on strike across New England

On Friday, nearly 2,000 employees of FairPoint Communications in northern New England went on strike, establishing picket lines at hundreds of work sites across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.10-21-14-fairpoint-strike
FairPoint Communications froze the pensions of nearly 2,000 employees who build, maintain and service telecommunications infrastructure throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, according to the unions, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
About two-thirds of FairPoint's almost 3,200 employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements as members of the IBEW and CWA, reported the site (http://fairnessatfairpoint.com/about) of the IBEW Local 2320—New Hampshire; IBEW Local 2326—Vermont; IBEW Local 2327—Maine; and CWA Local 1400—New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.
"The company has already stopped providing retiree health care and support for child and elder care," the unions reported. "Workers say that this is all part of FairPoint's plan to turn their good middle-class jobs into low-wage temporary jobs. ... Over the past six years, FairPoint Communications executives have led the company into a merger and bankruptcy, resulting in workforce cuts of almost 22 percent. In addition to cutting workers, FairPoint has outsourced jobs in violation of promises made to the New England communities that depend on those jobs."
FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said FairPoint is disappointed by the unions' decision to walk out, but the company has comprehensive plans in place to ensure continuity of service to its customers.
"We value every customer and it is important for them to know that we have comprehensive contingency plans in place to ensure the service they, and the economy and communities of northern New England, rely on continues without interruption," Beaudry said in a press release.
Residential customers who need assistance can call 1-866-984-2001. Business customers can call 1-866-984-3001.
"The previous contracts with our unions expired in early August and, unfortunately, despite months of negotiations the two sides remain far apart on the issues we think are key to the future of the company," said Beaudry. "While we have implemented our final proposals, we have always remained willing to negotiate and have committed to evaluate and respond to any counterproposal from the unions that meaningfully addresses the core issues of these negotiations. So far we have not received any such counterproposals."
Beaudry continued, "At no point in the negotiation did FairPoint propose to reduce base wages for existing employees. We sought instead to bring the existing health care and pension benefits in line with what we believe are mainstream for employees in the region, and transition union represented employees to the same or similar benefit plans as offered to other FairPoint employees, including management. We believe these changes are fair to our employees while enabling the Company to provide modern telecommunication products and services to our customers, communities and states at a competitive price."
Under the previous contracts, the company paid 100 percent of all healthcare premiums for its unionized workforce, provided unlimited paid sick days, a defined benefit pension plan with no employee contributions, and a 401K plan with a company match, FairPoint reported. In total, under the old agreements, the average wage and benefit costs for FairPoint's union represented employees in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont were approximately $115,000 per year — not including the future costs of pension and other post-retirement benefits, the company reported.
Beaudry concluded, "We are disappointed in the unions' decision to strike. In the meantime, FairPoint will focus on meeting the product and service needs of our customers."
Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler said, "Union members have the legal right to organize and to strike. I hope that Fairpoint will come to the table and make a fair offer to the workers, and I hope the workers will also be reasonable in resumed negotiations. This stalemate benefits no one. If I were governor, I would not be choosing sides, but I would be making every effort to bring the two sides together and to end the stalemate."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 01:03

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Black 47, at Asylum Thursday, capping a high-level career

Black 47, the "House Band of New York City," will play at the Asylum Thursday, Oct. 23, in one of the final shows of their 25-year career. After 15 albums and around 2,500 concerts, members of the Irish punk rock band are retiring from the stage and moving on to new pursuits.

Larry Kirwan, lead singer and songwriter, is also an author and playwright, and plans to use the upcoming free time to devote to his books.

The band has played in Maine before, at Brian Boru and at the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival. They named themselves after the worst year of the Irish potato famine. Formed in 1989 by Chris Byrne, an NYPD detective, and Kirwan, the band mixes thrashing sounds with political lyrics. Geoff Blythe (saxophones), Fred Parcells (trombone/whistle) and Thomas Hamlin (drums) are the other three original members. Joseph Mulvanerty (uilleann pipes/bodhran) joined when Byrne left in 2000, and Joseph "Bearclaw" Burcaw (bass) came aboard in 2007.

Speaking about his musical beginnings, Kirwan said, "We were radio people in Ireland back in those days — Radio Luxemburg, the BBC, Radio Erin, and if you were lucky AFN (American Forces Network) from Germany, soul songs on certain nights if the weather was right. On the BBC in those days, there wasn't a breakdown in programming. You'd get the Beatles next to Beethoven next to Miles Davis, a real musical education. If you got (to play) in a show band, you had to learn everything in the top twenty."

His father, Jim, was a sailor. "His music was tango and calypso. He sailed to South America; that's the music he brought back," Kirwan said. His mother, Ita, was into opera.

He contrasted his writing of plays with lyrics.

"A song is like a shard of thought coming out, like a fist coming out," he said. "A play has development. That's the difference with a play: everything has to work. Before I started writing plays, I wrote different songs. When I came to writing songs for Black 47, I had been out of music for some point. I had no idea I was writing songs in the same form as a playwright. Then I realized I was writing about characters."

His literary antecedents are William Butler Yeats, James Joyce and Patrick Kavanagh.

"I read Joyce every year in New York City on Bloomsday," he said.

His published writings include "Liverpool Fantasy (a play about an imagined Beatles reunion if things had been different), "Green Suede Shoes" (biography and rock n roll memoir), and "Rockin' the Bronx" (a 2010 novel).

The show at Asylum will feature songs from their final album, "Last Call" and "Rise Up," a new collection of 15 political and historical songs, something of a bookend to "A Funky Ceili."

"It was hard to do," Kirwan said of selecting 15 songs from their 50 or so that delved into politics and history. "I couldn't get it right. I decided to just go with the music side of the songs and forget about the politics, and there's a great swing to that album."

Kirwan reminisced a bit about hanging out with Joe Strummer, the lead singer for The Clash, who called Black 47 "the only band that matters."

"He was a very measured guy, deeply knowledgeable of music. He probably knew more about music than anyone I'd ever met. He was continually examining music. He'd come to Black 47 gigs. He loved to be there when we were doing new songs. He'd tell me where I got the insults from. I'd say, 'No, Joe. I've never heard of that guy.' He'd say, "Yes, but you have heard of this guy who listened to that guy.'"

Kirwan's sound was formed long before he met Strummer.

"That's what he liked about Black 47. There were so many Clash instrument bands in New York City. He liked that we weren't into imitating The Clash. We were doing our own thing. Bands who dressed like him drove him nuts," Kirwan said. "He used to come into a bar, Sophie's, near Avenue A and 5th street. He used to come in there, and everyone was pretending not to know it was him. He went over to the jukebox and played The Clash, yet when you talked to him he wasn't into The Clash. He was very deep, intelligent, wise, sharp in a lot of ways."

Kirwan said his band's final album, "Last Call," tried to feature the band as much as possible — "a little more musical, less lyrical — such a great band so I wanted to show that side of it." Also, as a fan of Bert Berns, he was trying to capture that sound on songs like "Salsa O'Keefe" and "Queen of Coney Island." Fans of Black 47 will get one last chance to see them rip it up, this Thursday at the Asylum.

Last Updated on Monday, 20 October 2014 22:35

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Descendant of Bram Stoker reflects on vampires, corpses and Mark Twain

"Dracula," the Bram Stoker gothic thriller that still scares readers today, got a few of its key elements from stories of vampires in New England, according to Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grandnephew and co-author with Ian Holt of "Dracula: The Un-Dead."10-21-14-TG-stoker

Stoker just came back from Guantanamo Bay where he entertained troops and students at the school there. "It was for morale and recreation," he said. "I was there for the literary and Halloween spirit."

Stoker was in Portland Monday night to kick off the screening of "Vampires of New England," a documentary by Historical Haunts. He talked about "Dracula" and its connections to New England.

"When Bram wrote 'Dracula' his writing experience was more than novels — he wrote a lot of newspaper articles and short stories. He also wrote 'Dracula' in the epistolary style. I'm convinced Bram's personal take on things was to make it realistic," he said.

One of his main elements of realism was based on news stories of vampire fears in New England at the turn of the century. People were digging up dead bodies to make sure the occupants were dead. When they showed some signs of life (hair or nail growth), people would cut out the heart to bury separately.

"When he went to America (1896), he picked up a copy of the New York World that showed genuine concern of a vampire scare," Stoker said. "There was alarm with allowing graves to be exhumed. It bore a striking similarity in Eastern Europe that the plague was causing similar things to happen, coughing up blood, the feeling of someone sitting on their chest, hallucinations. People knew later on it was consumption. When he saw that article, it was an 'Aha' moment for Bram, who was enamored of America."

Another article picked up what Charles Darwin was working on, Stoker explained. "He mentioned vampire bats in South America sucking the blood out of horses and dead bodies. He inserted the article in 'Dracula' almost word for word."

The descendant of the Irish writer also drew a connection between Mark Twain and his great-granduncle. "When Twain was living in Chelsea, London, the two of them shared this fascination with mysticism, science and technology," Stoker said. "Twain was trying to help invent this massive typewriter (the Paige Compositor) and corresponded with Bram about investing in it."

The younger Stoker has spent a lot of time researching his famous ancestor and his contemporaries. In Twain's "Pudd'nhead Wilson," he finds a line ("Faith is believing in things you know to be untrue") that shows up in "Dracula."

"Twain was a great observer of everything around him," Stoker said. "I believe Bram — from the lost journals I found — was a great observer as well, and was willing to do something about what he observed in terms of social and political issues. When I studied them both, it made sense to me them sitting around discussing things, the intersection of faith, religion, and science."

Stoker found these lost journals when he was doing the research for "Dracula: The Un-Dead." The handwriting was terrible, he said, so he took pictures of each page and got some help from Elizabeth Miller, a Canadian academic.

"She helped me decipher them. It took about eight months," Stoker said of the journals Bram kept while a younger man, working in Dublin.

"They offer rare insights into him," Stoker said. "There was very little source material in the first hand — 'Dracula' notes, and one article with the only interview with him."

In terms of the exhumations that vampire-fearing New Englanders performed in the late 1800s, Stoker says it's actually understandable.

"People want answers. It's our human nature to find the answers. If we can't get them readily, we look to science, or superstition, the town elder, or priests."


Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 01:03

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'Vampires of New England' explores grave matters

Historical Haunts screened "Vampires of New England" at Port City Music Hall Monday night, getting locals in the Hallowe'en spirit early with some ghoulish true tales of grave exhumations.

The film was the second in a series for the company, which plans to release historical horrors each year around this time. Last year, they released "The Curse of Micah Rood."

Anyone who missed the local showing, which featured a pre-film talk by Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker's great-grand nephew, can see it on their website, www.histhaunts.com, for $5.
Alec Asten, the director, first came to the state when he taught at the Rockport International Film and Television Workshop in 1992.

"I started as a course assistant, and worked up to become post-production manager," he said. "I stayed there for three years; I fell in love with your area."

Historical Haunts is based in Mystic, Conn. and the film company uses the macabre to teach kids of all ages, "basically using ghost stories to teach history, science, and literature," Asten said. "When we do a legend, we have three products: first the documentary, which is the truth behind the legend. Then, a narrative adaptation of the legend (like 'The Twilight Zone,' a half-hour emotional drama that reveals the fun of legend and lore itself. The last part is the creation of lesson plans. We work with schools, so they can use them as teaching tools for kids."

"Vampires of New England" took about three years to make, he said. Judith Nutkis, a co-founder of Historical Haunts, is a scientist and does the main work on research. She then worked with local educators and the Rhode Island Historical Society to develop lesson plans. Historical Haunts has been working with schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island so far, but would like to branch out into Maine.

"Vampires of New England" tells the story of the Tillinghast family who built the first wharf in Rhode Island. The father dreamed that half of his 14 trees would die. When six of his children died, and his wife became sick, he feared the dream was a symbolic portent.

He had his daughter Sarah exhumed. She was the first sister to die, but her corpse was found in good shape, with her hair and nails still growing. Fear started to swirl that she was a vampire so they removed her heart and buried it separately.

The film details the uses of folk medicine with magical elements from recipe books of supposedly learned physicians. There were recipes to cure deafness with a bat, or to crush baby birds into a bloody paste. Leeches were employed to bleed a patient's bad blood out.

The film also tells the case of Abigail Staples, who was reported to rise from her grave to prey on her sister, Lavinia. Their father asked the town council if he could dig her up. His request was granted if the exhumation was concluded with a minimum of scandal.

They found Abigail was in good shape, so they cut out her heart, liver, lungs (i.e. the vitals) and reburied them in a separate spot.

To the people of the day, what turned out to be consumption seemed to look like a vampire attack. The film goes on to credit Maine with taking over Rhode Island as the vampire hotbed of America.

Last Updated on Monday, 20 October 2014 22:31

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