Commentary Series

Mon-Thurs 8:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Sundays at 10:55 a.m.

More than 50 commentators provide perspective and opinion about current events, topics of interest, and often showcase the work of writers and storytellers. The VPR Commentary Series is produced by Betty Smith-Mastaler.

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Among the lilacs, tag sales and black flies, Memorial Day in Vermont invites us to ponder mortality, sacrifice, and the passage of time. “Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have,” Benjamin Franklin once declared, meaning, how do the living honor their dead?

Mares: Memorials

May 26, 2016

In nearly every Vermont village cemetery today, American flags flutter near weathered gravestones - with a few rusting five-star medallions nearby. A close look reveals the letters GAR, an abbreviation for the Grand Army of the Republic, founded by the Northern veterans of the Civil War - who collectively were a powerful political force until World War One.

May is National Foster Care Month. And while the month is ending, here in Vermont the need for foster parents, especially for infants and adolescents, just keeps on going – and growing.

Whether you chose not to work full-time while you were raising your children, or whether you were forced out of the full-time workforce by the crisis in affordable childcare in Vermont that we hear so much about, parenting is hard work.

Bill Eddy was an explorer of places and ideas. At Williams College he studied literature, poetry, and philosophy and it was then that he developed an intense interest in how the human mind looks at nature and how that perception evolves over human lifetimes and generations.

By age 29, Albert Schweitzer had constructed a life of comfort and respectability. He’d earned a Ph.D., worked as principal of a theological seminary, authored three books, and was recognized as Europe’s most celebrated organist and interpreter of Bach. In his thirtieth year, however, he learned that Africans were dying in vast numbers due to a lack of basic medical care.

Krupp: Brown Thumb

May 24, 2016

Another time, the woman who delivers my mail told me her husband won’t let her garden because she once pulled out a young clematis vine, thinking it was a weed. And these encounters got me thinking about how, for too many aspiring gardeners, life in the backyard can be a string of disappointments - where gardens are places where plants go to wither, and working with shovels and hoes is more like digging grave s than growing plants.

Shopping for salad fixings the other day, I saw a little freckled boy - he looked about six - reach for a big, red, beet. The grown-up pushing the cart picked up a few more. “Great,” she said. “You love these.”

In another aisle, though, another kid was having a tantrum because she couldn’t have a sugary cereal. Her weary mother gave in, and added it to the chips and sodas in their cart.

As those very different scenes suggest, some Vermonters are more interested in healthy foods than others. And that goes for schools, too, as well as families.

If you’re wondering why our bridges collapse, our trains collide, security lines stretch on, and our courtrooms have no judges … it’s because “potty politics” has become a more important legislative issue.

Recently, a northern goshawk attacked me for straying close to the nest. When I posted this to the local birding list-serv, experienced birders told me I shouldn’t be specific about location and behavior.


Like a lot of my fellow alumni, I’m saddened, but not really shocked by the news that Burlington College would be closing. Everyone is crushed.

Years ago in San Francisco, I knew a lot of people who were transgender, only we didn’t call it such back then.

Watts: Youth Flight

May 18, 2016

I’ve been thinking about the narratives focused on what it takes to keep our young people in Vermont. Consider the plans of three young graduates this spring.

The end of the school year is approaching, and with it the end of my first year of retirement after 43 years of teaching French to high-school students.

Recently, I was watching Dan Quayle on NBC News. It had been a while since I’d seen him.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said that “All biography is autobiography.” It’s usually taken to mean that in writing about other people, biographers reveal something about themselves - by the perspective they take, the elements of the person’s life that they focus on, and the interpretations they make of the person’s life. It might be thought of as a large but subtle Freudian slip.

When we travel to other states and mention that we live in Vermont, people immediately identify us with Bernie Sanders.

“Ah, you’re from Bernie Country,” somebody responded recently, speaking for most strangers we meet.

The Puerto Rican government recently defaulted on a 400 dollar million debt payment. Another 2 billion dollars default is expected on July 1st if Congress does not take action. In all, Puerto Rico owes its lenders more than 70 billion dollars that it cannot pay.

It began with slight rustlings over the winter. I ignored them until I found evidence of a mouse in a bureau drawer. Out came a snap trap and the next day the unlucky intruder was dispatched to the great cheese shop in the sky. The walls remained quiet for months until one early spring morning.

I wonder why we don’t treat housing vouchers like food stamps. Families who fall on hard times can get food stamps right away. But it can take years and even decades to get a housing voucher.