HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

April 16, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


I complained a little about the weather last week, and the weather decided to get back at me. Last Monday it was merely uncomfortable. Today, it's atrocious. The only positive thing for us was that much of the moisture falling out of the sky came in the form of rain rather than the fifteen inches of snow that was predicted. So we managed to get by with only about six inches of the solid stuff.

The Sunday morning talk shows yesterday were all pretty droopy except for the McLaughlin Group, where the panelists went apoplectic talking about Don Imus. Never before have I seen McLaughlin let things get that out of hand. Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation interviewed Dick Cheney. The latter, as usual, was less than a devotee of the truth. I'm uncertain what the purpose of listening to the vice president might be, unless it's to see whether he can say something even more loopy than he has said before. On the Chris Matthews Show, all the panelists agreed that Paul Wolfowitz is done for at the World Bank. I hope they're right, but I don't suppose I'm as sure as they are. The best thing I heard came from George Will on This Week, when he noted that Don Imus was a purveyor of adolescent vulgar humor to a niche market. I wish we could all learn that about the various shock commentators. Then we could see them as merely funny and ridiculous, playing to uninformed bigots, which would be good for us and, probably, for them too. I know there are some who object to people becoming rich and famous for doing idiotic things. But if we follow that view consistently we'll have to shut down our entire economic system.

The 60 Minutes segment last night about Bard College's program for teaching convicts was interesting. It's ironic that prison may be one of the few places where students can get a genuine liberal education anymore. There seems to be little taste behind bars for how-to courses, where what you learn is likely to be obsolete and useless by the time you take the exam.

I knew the Bard College president Leon Botstein slightly years ago, but I had not seen him for quite a while. It was bothersome, as usual, to observe what time does to physical characteristics. I think the time has long since passed when we ought to have done something about that. We need a program that will stop physical aging after forty-four, which continues to strike me as about the time when appearance is best. I could settle for fifty, though. But nothing beyond that.

My interesting book of the week is Andrei Markovits's Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America. I saw Mr. Markovits on Book TV talking about his thesis, which is that European dislike of America is different from the rest of the world's dislike. The rest of the world is opposed to us because we really do bad things to them. But we don't do bad things to the Europeans. Their dislike of us is a deep-seated prejudice that has operated almost since Europeans settled North America. Markovtits is partly right about that. There is a snobbish tone about Americans among the European educational elite (it operates to some extent in Great Britain, but it's not as strong there as in France and Germany). Whether it comes simply from differences in taste or from arrogance is an iffy question. I doubt you can separate response to policy from prejudice as cleanly as Markovits thinks you can. And he seems to undermine his own thesis a bit by admitting that since the advent of the Bush administration the hostility towards Americans by Europeans has become radioactive. I suppose he would say that policy differences wouldn't have become so emotional if the underlying prejudice weren't already there. Despite my slight differences with Markovits, he strikes me as a bright guy, one whose book I'll try to read.

I continue to hope for spring, and, even, to have a bit of faith that it will come.


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