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Category: Essay

A House by the Side of the Road (Newsletter)

My apologies for not writing in August. Not only was it beastly hot, I was extremely otherwise occupied packing and moving our stuff to a new house.

I knew it was bound to happen and put it off as long as I could, but buckled under rising home prices, mortgages, and peer pressure. It wasn’t the first time my spouse and I had committed to buying property but it was the first time our offer was accepted.

We dithered and negotiated over this and that for seven weeks before biting the debt bullet on a cute little mid-century cape in a modest but up-and-coming mill town 20 miles west of Boston. Sorting and packing and labeling and loading and hauling and unloading and distributing three tons of stuff took more than a month, leaving us with dozens of banana and banker boxes brimming with history to plumb and triage and keep or trash. The banana boxes at least found a good home in the barn of a coop that gleans otherwise wasted crops from local farms and donates them to food pantries and the like.

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On Making Black and Other Lives Materially Matter (newsletter)

Celebrating Black History Month reminds one that, like Dr. Martin Luther King, too many African Americans enter history before their time, felled by those sworn to serve and protect them. Their murders have fueled civil rights uprisings such as swept the country in June 2020, after police blithely took the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black martyrs. The Black Lives Matter movement these events crystallized may be changing things, but how much it has impacted communities across America is tough to assess, at least for me. I guess you have to be there to know.

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Remembering Forgotten Lore

As the year inexorably winds down to the orgies of consumption I sometimes call the holydaze, I find myself unaccountably nostalgic for the “old daze,” when my parents, grandparents, and perhaps an aunt, cousin or guest gathered around the table at my childhood home in Connecticut. Along with my parents and theirs, five of my twelve first cousins have since departed to their final destinations. Of the survivors, one of us lives close at hand and she’ll be with us on Thanksgiving, hopefully with stories. Her mom was a fabulous cook who threw large dinner parties I well remember that I’ll never upstage, even with Peking Duck as our main course. (Don’t ask why. It just happened that way.)

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“The freedom and exhilaration of moral insensibility” (Newsletter)

This is a difficult subject, but recently it’s been bothering me a lot and it’s all Steve Bannon’s fault.

Let’s say you hate something—anything from water pollution to child trafficking—with a passion. Maybe a kid you know got poisoned by PCBs or disappeared. You loathe it so much, you feel, that if you ever captured a trafficker or a polluter you would gladly torture him. Better yet, get someone else to do it and enjoy their suffering vicariously.

Maybe you wouldn’t get off on that, but mightn’t you titter at someone slipping on a banana peel? That’s a mild form of schadenfreude, and we’ve all felt it at some point in our lives. We’re talking about human

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The “Beautiful Madness” that is Exarcheia (newsletter)

Street map of Exarchia Neighborhood in Central Athens from openstreetmap.org
Street map of Exarcheia neighborhood in Central Athens from openstreetmap.org
“The walls here are like a daily newspaper, trying to make us get off the couch and roam the streets demanding all that is written on the walls.” — Níkos Tρavvós
Breathlessly stumble down the western flank of the Athenian tourist destination Mount Lycabettus and soon you’ll find yourself slack-jawed, taking in a part of the city that looks and feels a whole lot different from the tourist haunts just blocks away. You’ve entered the twilight zone, a compact triangular enclave called Exarcheia, home to artists, poets, intellectuals, immigrants, communists and anarchists, a creative churn of radical visions, defying authority, making its own rules, perpetually decolonizing itself. Wikipedia tells us that in Exarcheia:
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