HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

May 12, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


For the past week I've been working to help my daughter fix up her tiny kitchen in her little condominium on Connecticut Avenue. And doing it has focused my mind on the dollar. What a pitiful thing it has become compared to what it once was.

Originally, my daughter went to a kitchen place in Bethesda and asked for an estimate of what it would cost to renovate the room. And when the price came back, it was almost exactly fifteen times what my wife's parents paid for their house when she was a little girl. I know -- times change. But when an eight by seven foot kitchen costs fifteen times what a decent house once cost, and when that transformation has taken place over the course of a singe lifetime, it seems like the foundations of things are shaking.

By putting in a lot of our own labor, and by working some cabinets over rather than replacing them, we have now reduced the price to only four times as much as the parents ' house cost. And we feel like we've made a big bargain. We are -- all of us -- insane.

If you get a chance, read Michiko Kakutani's review of Fareed Zakaria's The Post American World, in the New York Times. It tells us that the United States can no longer dominate the world. But the phrase that caught my attention was that certain economic transformations about fifty years ago insured that Britain "was undone as a world power." The implication was that we have to be careful or we might be "undone" also. My question is, why should we care? When I visit England, I see a people who are at least as happy as Americans are, who are generally better educated, and who, in many ways, have a higher standard of living than we do. In thinking about them, I tend to say, "Bring on the undoing!" That, of course, is a thing a politician could never say, and I rejoice in my freedom to say it.

I noticed that Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler called Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post a scumbag. It's astounding how easy it is to become a scumbag nowadays.

It continues to be a deeply evil thing to exchange a word with either Hezbollah or Hamas. And, yet, neither organization shows any sign of going away. American diplomacy says we can humiliate them out of existence by holding them beneath our notice. But I wonder if that's the case.

The number of psychic injuries sustained by American military forces in Iraq is growing and their seriousness is increasing. If you want to know about them, look up Judith Broder of "The Soldiers Project." The effects of these injuries will be with the nation for the next fifty years but no one in the American government seems to particularly concerned about them. That should tell us something about the nature of our government right now.

Next week I'll be back in Vermont.

Write when you have a chance.

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