Commentaries

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was regarded by many as a truly nonpartisan judge.
Steve Petteway / U.S. Supreme Court

When I heard the news of Justice John Paul Stevens’s death, I'd just finished teaching a summer course on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

When Time Is Limited To Make A Point

Jul 23, 2019
Commentator Ilan Stavans sees the value in having a limit on how much we can say.
Ansgar Koreng / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/114240786@N08

This commentary will last a total of two and a half minutes. That is, I have 425 words to make my point. It isn’t much.

Walking A Mile In A Client's Shoes

Jul 15, 2019
People walking down a street.
Christopher Holland / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/christopherholland

There's a woman I've worked with who never stops moving. She might visit the program office in the morning for a few minutes. Then she’s out the door, two or three shopping bags full of belongings on her arm.

Cara McDonough wonders how to add something as monumental as solving climate change to her otherwise pretty mundane to-do list.
StockSnap/27574images / pixabay.com

We need to sign up for summer camp! I forgot to send that permission slip! Increasing drought means global unrest and potential war! We're out of laundry detergent!

Nurse logs like this one in a red wood forest near Mendocino, California, provide nutrients for life on the forest floor.
Tema Kaiser Silk / NEPR

Walking in a forest on a gusty day, I see lots of dead wood — branches snapping off trees, trees snapping in two — and I think of how productive these trees are. 

Pickled herring, among other food.
Blondinrikard Fröberg / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/blondinrikard

Improbably, one of the triggers that brings my father to mind is herring. 

Some words in Latin.
Kevin Wong / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/-marlith-

I was called one morning to substitute for a Latin teacher. I never studied Latin, so I was grateful she left me thorough lesson plans for the day. 

When Climate Change Denial Can Cost Us Everything

May 15, 2019
Glacial melt is contributing to rising sea levels around the world. This image shows Greenland's southwestern coastline during a 2015 survey as part of the Oceans Melting Greenland, or OMG, mission.
JPL Caltech / NASA

Most of us know it’s good to talk about our feelings. 

Pilot Jerrie Cobb tested to become the first woman in space. She died in March. Here she flies the Gimbal Rig in the Altitude Wind Tunnel in April 1960.
NASA

I first met Jerrie Cobb two decades ago at a space shuttle launch. Tall, lanky, unassuming, a person of few words — Jerrie was all but invisible to people intent on watching the countdown clock.

When Some American Heroes Looked Like The Enemy

Apr 30, 2019
Members of the Japanese-American 442nd Combat Team at attention on November 12, 1944. On May 1, 1944, the regiment left the U.S. for battlefields in Italy. It would become the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
US Army Signal Corps / Public Domain

Seventy-five years ago, on May 1, 1944, a unique group of American soldiers boarded transports at Hampton Roads, Virginia.  

A French press and oranges on a picnic table.
madame.furie / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/madame_furie


When I first began camping, it seemed like so much work. 

We Have A Language Problem

Mar 29, 2019
The Tower of Babel, depicted by Renaissance painter Pieter Breugel, figures in a Genesis story that seeks to explain why there are different languages spoken throughout the world.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder circa 1563-1565 / Public domain

Every night, I cuddle with my preschooler and I tell him he’s my prince. Not just my prince — “Mera shehaazda.”

The Smith College campus in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Patrick Giblin / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/inkyhack

 

A recent survey conducted by Smith College found that only a meager 3 percent of students identify as “conservative.” From over 1,000 respondents, only two identified as “very conservative.”

An Ode To Wooden Boats, Even Building Them

Mar 12, 2019
A group representing Renbrook School in West Hartford, Connecticut, races a St. Ayles skiff built at the school.
Mercedes Maskalik / Courtesy Toby Goodrich

Floating in a wooden boat soothes the soul.

A female cardinal.
Eric Kilby / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/ekilby

Birds in winter may be drab, like us, but they're there.

Arming Jewish Public Spaces? We Must

Feb 22, 2019
A star of David as an element of architecture.
zeevveez / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/zeevveez

Among the numerous worrisome aspects of Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency is the resurgence of anti-Semitism.

The Necco factory, which manufactured Sweethearts, closed its doors in 2018.
Brent Moore / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville

 


This Valentine's Day, I am heartless, a condition that also describes New England Confectionery Company, or Necco — the maker of Sweetheart candy, those small, chalky, heart-shaped confections that flood candy counters this time of year.

A still from the 1923 movie "The Ten Commandments" by Cecil B. DeMille.
Public Domain

Happy (belated) Public Domain Day!  Welcome, public, to 1923! Welcome, 1923, to the public domain!  

Scales of justice.
Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/mikecogh

 

While I’m not a fan of most of Betsy DeVos’s reforms, when it comes to Title IX, I’m in full support.

A scaled model of Wynn's planned casino in Everett, Massachusetts.
Jesse Costa / WBUR

Maybe I’m just a rube.

Making Massachusetts Schools Fairer

Dec 20, 2018
A student works on math.
Masslive / masslive.com/photos

We in Massachusetts need to address an issue that for decades has compromised our standing as an educational leader. Despite the strides we’ve made, our education system is not properly serving all our students.

A view from Mt. Greylock in western Massachusetts.
Charlie Kellogg / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/papa_charliegeorge

Standing on top of Mt. Holyoke, I can see Mt. Greylock to the west, and Mt. Monadnock to the north.

Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. Commentator Robert Chipkin recently noticed that students, staff and faculty there often hold doors open for each other.
Bpayne4001 / Creative Commons


Early in the morning or late at night, even in the most crowded times between classes, it is nearly impossible to approach an entranceway without someone holding the door open to let a nearby someone in.

Springfield Cemetery
Michael Carolan / Courtesy Michael Carolan

A household name across the country, Josiah Gilbert Holland sold over a half-million copies of his books in his lifetime.

Poppies.
Andy Powell / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/andypowe11

The Armistice ended what was called the Great War, or the War to End All Wars. The latter name didn’t stick. The war was eventually renamed World War I.

Solitary standing cornstalks in a field in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Martha Ackmann noticed many fields had a handful of stalks that hadn't been cut down, and wondered why.
Martha Ackmann / Courtesy Martha Ackmann

 


You’ve seen them, no doubt.  Those solitary corn stalks standing alone in a field. 

Reclaiming The American Flag

Oct 12, 2018
Bruce Watson in his Montague Center attic.
Paul Franz / The Greenfield Recorder / recorder.com

Shortly after the Fourth of July, I began flying the American flag from my front porch. Ever since, a 3-by-5 foot flag has waved on my street in Montague, Massachusetts. 

In A Year Of Reckoning, The Skies Are Full of Us

Oct 10, 2018
The Milky Way.
Abdul Rahman / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/yunir

“A woman in the shape of a monster / A monster in the shape of a woman / The skies are full of them.”

A beer sampler.
Quinn Dombrowski / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/quinndombrowski

I show my classes a picture of a bottle of Budweiser, and in the way they respond to it -- Budweiser, ugh! -- it strikes me that the landscape of American beer has changed a lot in the 20-odd years since I reached legal drinking age. 

A mountainside hemlock forest.
Nicholas A. Tonelli / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/nicholas_t

A search-and-rescue team carried me down on a stretcher. They hoisted me high up into the trail’s hemlock and spruce so I was surrounded by their needles and resin. 

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