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ALEX BEAM

A good year for recycling

The oddest piece of mail I received all year arrived about 10 days ago. It was a holiday card that came with a Netflix-like return envelope. On the back, it read: "Please use the resealable postage paid envelope to return this card . . . so it can be made into a new carpet tile." How wonderful, I thought. Remaking the world, one carpet tile at a time.

Yes, this was John Kerry and Teresa Heinz's holiday card, mailed to 60,000 of their closest friends. A spokeswoman for manufacturer Cradle to Cradle said their cards were printed on a plastic called SynCarta, and she has no idea how many were actually returned to Cartersville, Ga., for recycling.

This is certainly the kind of EC (Environmentally Correct) frippery I would cruelly mock, if I didn't own a shaving kit "hand-made from an actual highway billboard," or a shirt fashioned from 35 percent recycled bottle plastic. Maybe I will someday walk the carpet crafted from my own Christmas cards.

My favorite piece of incoming mail that could not be recycled into carpet tile came from Brown University professor Michael Silverman. He, like many others, objected to my trashing hip-hop research at major universities. . . . I think: "Yo Al lex , here be da word from Beige (we still be'nt Brown enuff, ya dig) on dat Heidegger [bad word] . First ob all, let's drop da Ali G [bad word], we both be white guys over 40, ya dig."

Silverman proceeded to attack what he viewed as my false dichotomy between the "high" culture taught at a classics-oriented school like St. John's College and the hip-hop jibber-jabber valorized at Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, and elsewhere. "It's not one or the other, Alex, it's how they interrogate one another, rub off against each other," Silverman concluded. "Abrasion and miscegenation. Lotsa [bad word] signifyin', ya dig?"

Responding to the same column, Thomas Arnold defended Cornel West, one of his favorite professors at Harvard. "I won't have someone insinuate he is assigning TV shows to watch instead of berating a class, as I heard him do once, by saying, 'You haven't read T.S. Eliot on 'Hamlet'? You haven't lived until you've read Eliot on Hamlet!!!' "

I did earn one canceled subscription last year, from former reader Philip Tansey , who took offense at a crack I made linking policemen and doughnuts. "Thanks once again for keeping alive the anti-police sentiment that permeates the Globe," he wrote. A few weeks later, I e-mailed him our front-page report on Boston police officer Terrence Burke's return from Iraq, "Hub Officer Gets a Hero's Welcome Home." Mr. Tansey seemed unmoved.

Serious people objected, as I knew they would, to my insistence that we tear down the eyesore that is City Hall. "You are wrong , of course , about City Hall," Peter Romanow wrote. "You are welcome to your opinion but it is an ill formed one and hidebound and backward." Chris Kent of Rye, N.H., piled on: "One immediate intellectual problem with not liking the way [City Hall] looks is that the clearly uneducated always agree, a sort of support stuck to the bottom of your shoe. There's not a guy hanging off of the back of a city trash truck that doesn't share your architectural analysis."

Not all the mail is hostile, of course. "YOU WIN BOLSHEVIK OF THE DAY AT THE GLOBE!! " Steven Carter wrote me after a column about beach restoration. I didn't know there was a contest, but it feels good to be a winner. Some mail is purely informational, like this missive I received in May: "I know you are a vegetarian and wonder if you could tell my wife and me about vegetarian restaurants in the Boston area. Thanks." I am not a vegetarian, but I admire Prince Charles. Is that the same thing?

An e-mail with the irresistible subject line "More Hitler Please" objected to my dismissal of the History Channel as "all Hitler all the time." "Actually," wrote Alan Nadel of Winchester, "the History Channel doesn't come close to supplying all my Hitler needs. So I'm thankful for the Military Channel. Why do I need so much Hitler? It's easy: It's all about good versus evil. Here's the best part: Evil got its [bad word] kicked! Good blew it away. And it really happened. Quite recently. Yea Good."

Yea good, indeed!

I have posted two podcasts of critical reader mail at boston.com/living, and plan to record more in the future. My e-dress is beam@globe.com.

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