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Friends! I hope you all had a wonderful summer. It's just about time for us to get back to it, but we have a small bit of "housekeeping" to announce before we do.

Juneteenth--also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day--is now a formal holiday nationwide, celebrating the emancipation of people formally enslaved in the United States. It's been a long time comin'.

Although I've lived for certain protracted periods in the country—once, notably, in New Zealand on a farm—I am undeniably and deeply a city girl. Specifically a New York City girl, I confess. Which may serve at least partly to explain why this week we're focusing on cities. There's a larger reason, though. The United States has always contained an internal dichotomy: cosmopolitan versus frontier mentalities, urban versus rural (and everything that that's metaphorically come to represent), east versus west (both now also versus "flyover" middle, for that matter). This has uniquely shaped people's lives in our Republic, because it's been there from the very beginning. For every city dweller among the Constitution's Framers, like Ben Franklin, there were three more farmers and plantation owners. Even otherwise urban John Adams had a farm (which of course Abigail tended). So this Republic was formed largely as an agrarian country—and therein lies the...

In the last four years, partisan politics have reached a new low in our nation. Everyone deplores this, but the American people made their preference clear in the last presidential election, with a landslide vote for Biden and the Democrats, against Trump and his party (whatever that is, the Republican Party or some nightmare of a Trumpist party). Agonies in the Republican Party become more evident every day. Is it time for a new party? A third major party? The revamping of the GOP? For that matter, united as they seem to be, Democrats also have internal fault lines—progressive versus conservative—within their fold. Since the 1850s, the Democratic Party—center left and liberal—and the Republican Party—center right and conservative—have formed our two-party system, with variations. (Third parties do operate in the United States and sometimes elect candidates to local offices, but have not made inroads per se nationally. The largest third party since...

Serious studies are being done on this by reputable sources. The Pew Research Center, The Columbia Journalism Review in partnership with the TOW Center for Digital Journalism, The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, etc. Let's “unpack” this, then, to use the common parlance, which sounds as if we all had newly arrived someplace when actually we've hardly budged from our homes all year, due to Covid. A few facts. Newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers continues to plummet, falling by around half since 2008. Within each of the industries analyzed by the Bureau of Labor statistics — newspapers, broadcast television, radio, cable, and digital — notable job growth occurred only in the digital news sector; since 2008, the number of digital newsroom employees has more than doubled, from 7,400 workers to about 16,100 workers in 2019. Sinclair, the pro-Trump, arch-conservative company taking over local broadcast news across the...

Let's begin by acknowledging gladly that 77 percent of all Americans support the legal right to abortion — that's seven in 10 citizens of the United States who believe abortion should remain legal and accessible. And let's acknowledge that telemedicine, for use with medication abortion, has been a boon to women. But let's also understand that Ohio has just banned the use of telemedicine for precisely that purpose. And let's further understand that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, states will be the main abortion battleground in 2021, that abortion rights are in grave peril, and that 2021 has already set a record in terms of abortion restrictions. An ordinance recently passed in Texas is one example, as are more under-the-radar local ordinances in other towns and cities. The Texas Legislature has approved first of its kind legislation for the tactics it uses to prevent access to abortion. It paves the way...

Let's explore the real origins of Mother's Day, observed yesterday. Not at all what you have been led to believe. Mother's Day began in the United States in the early 20th century. It's only indirectly related to the many traditional celebrations of fertility, maternity, and motherhood that have persisted globally over thousands of years, from the Greek worship of Cybele, to the Roman adoration of Rhia, and the Christian venerations of Mary. In fact, the most ancient traditions and representations are prehistoric, the Willendorf Venus, for example; they are all of a Great Goddess, a mother divinity, a fertility immortal, giving birth to the world in various forms — and to this day in the mountains of southern Spain, village women still kneel and murmur their Christian rosaries facing the full moon. Easter itself is derived from the name of the fertility goddess Oestre —hence all those eggs and...

Expectable clichés are mouthed in this country every time another atrocity is committed. Thoughts and prayers. Sympathies and condolences. Processing, trauma, healing, closure.

The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat half out of water, with my hook fast in a corner of his mouth. He didn't fight. He hadn't fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely. Here and there his brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper, and its pattern of darker brown was like wallpaper: shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age. He was speckled with barnacles, fine rosettes of lime, and infested with tiny white sea-lice, and underneath two or three rags of green weed hung down. While his gills were breathing in the terrible oxygen —the frightening gills, fresh and crisp with blood, that can cut so badly— I thought of the coarse white flesh packed in like feathers, the big bones and the little bones, the dramatic reds and blacks of his shiny entrails, and the pink swim-bladder like a big peony. I looked into his eyes which were far larger than mine but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with...