HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

December 31, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


I have no New Year's Resolutions to report nor do I have a summary of what 2007 meant in the annals of the years. Whether it was better or worse depends -- as always -- on where you stand.

In my own personal evolution I moved, perhaps, a little bit. I used to be convinced that history was the queen of studies and that nothing else approached it in importance. Now I am inching towards the thought that philosophy might stand above it. It is important to know what happened, but it may be even more important to think as hard as possible about what happened. Some would say the latter is also history, but some not.

Pascal says, "Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought." That latter pronouncement is the tricky one. Where does the "ought" come from? If I knew that, I could fix you right up.

I went to see Charlie Wilson's War last week. If I were thinking as I ought, I would have written a whole review of it. But here I can just say it certainly was entertaining, and that it provoked some thoughts. I am, though, a bit worried that the thoughts it will provoke in the minds of most movie-goers are not the ones they ought to be thinking.

The Iowa caucuses are coming up next week and they are seen as a very big deal. That pushes me to say I'm growing weary of Iowa and Iowans. If someone could explain to me why it should be the case that a person who goes to a caucus in a small Iowa town should have about three thousand times as much influence on who will be a national party candidate as an ordinary citizen in New York or Virginia then, maybe, I could revive my interest. But if I'm told it's because Iowans, being from the heart of the country, are thereby endowed with a deep, inexplicable wisdom and an unshakable morality, then I might not be able to keep my patience.

The best column of the year, for me, may have been one I read on the last day -- Reza Asian's piece in the Washington Post titled "He Could Care Less About Obama's Story." The "he" in question is a young man in a Middle Eastern country. The notion that he's going to have a different view of the United States -- should Obama become president -- because Obama's skin is a slightly different shade from previous presidents is, says Asian, ridiculous. I agree with him. It's going to take more than changes of physical appearance in American leaders to repair America's relations with the world. Many Americans, says Asian, don't want to accept responsibility for the mess we've made and start to clean it up.  They just want to slap on a new coat of paint.

I have been watching lots of football lately, and after I finish writing this I'm going to watch some more. If any of you think that's an evil and foolish waste of time, write to me and explain why. I will study your reasons and think about emending myself. However, I make no promises, especially with the NFL playoffs coming up.


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