HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

July 16, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


Yesterday was the annual Liberty Street yard sale. We had thought we might drag some stuff out but as the time approached we discovered we didn't have sufficient will. We had to leave the burden to others.

I walked next door, where Carolyn told me everything for neighbors was free. So, I picked up Ronald Hingley's anthology of eight short works by Fyodor Dostoevsky and brought it home. In the introduction I learned that Dostoevsky had no interest in human tranquility whatsoever. In that respect, he was quite different from me. I'm fascinated by the concept of tranquility and wonder continually about how it might be achieved. But so far I haven't figured out a way.

I began to read the first selection -- The Double -- a 141 page tale about Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, a minor official in the Russian bureaucracy who occupies rooms on the fourth floor of a large tenement house in St. Petersburg. I've read only about 12% of Mr. Golyadkin's story and the main thing I've learned about him so far is that he confirms Mr. Hingley's assessment that Dostoevsky takes no interest in tranquility.

Here in Vermont we've been having a lot of rain, so much in fact that there were floods in Barre and Williamstown and up and down Route 100. No flooding reached Liberty Street. In fact, if a flood ever made it here it would mean that Montpelier had descended into near complete disaster. We're quite a few feet above the river and I would guess that at least half the town is well below us.

I don't know if the rain has disturbed my tranquility or not. I do feel bad for the people who were flooded, and it would make me happy to be able to sit out on my deck in the sunshine. But the main thing agitating my mind about the rain has been a suspicion that it signals an onset of dramatic and unpleasant weather brought on by the discharge of unnatural particles into the air. That's what industry -- as we call it -- does.

The Bush administration has been reluctant to admit that air pollution is having any effect on anybody. That's because it is supported by people who are making money off the process of pollution. But the evidence is mounting so fast that now even Republicans will say that, maybe, something ought to be done. That, in a way, is the most radical thing that has happened in this country for decades.

I wish that the testimony of Richard H. Carmona, the former Surgeon General, about how he was pressured by Republican operatives to put a pretty face on nasty health issues, had received more attention than it did. The number of people who have suffered because the government under Bush's direction has refused to apply scientific findings to the people's well-being can never be tallied. But if it could, I suspect it would rise well beyond the number slaughtered in Iraq. Should that disturb my tranquility -- or yours?

Or should we just say, "Well, that's the way things are?" Or figure that God has decreed everything? Questions of that stripe are bound to foul up your tranquility.


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