HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 2, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


In the "Harper's Index" I read that 69% of Republicans believe in hell, whereas 52% of Democrats do, and only 45% of Independents. I wonder if there's a correlation between belief and the actual numbers of each group who are going there. It seems about right.

I was glad to see Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post say last week that U.S. policy towards Cuba is insane. This has been obvious for decades, but until recently it has been impermissible to say so. It's always an occasion for celebration when it becomes possible to speak the truth about anything.

Over the weekend, I watched the four-hour A&E showing of The Andromeda Strain. It wasn't a very good movie but there's always something a bit solemn about any depiction of the possible destruction of the human race. I think it's because it reminds us that probably, sometime, the human race and all evidence of its existence will be wiped out. That's a thought we don't know how to approach.

The "In Depth" episode of Book TV yesterday featured George Weigel, Catholic theologian and biographer of Pope John. People like Mr. Weigel depress me. I hate to see intelligence misused, or hemmed in. His thoughts about the nature of the medieval crusades struck me as particularly dismal. But the thing that discouraged me most about the program was that none of those who called in pointed out that his morality, which he is eager to proclaim, is based on putting human life into a subordinate position. That's certainly his right, but you would think someone would want to talk with him about it, and ask what it means. I guess I might be chided for not calling in, but the truth is I decided long ago not to participate in programs like that. I'm not sure why. I would just feel icky doing it.

I learned this week, listening to biographer Edward Renehan, that Jay Gould was a far more decent person than Cornelius Vanderbilt. For some, that may seem like a difference between a louse and a flea, but not to me. I like to know these things about America's past and its fabled figures. If we came to understand better who our notable people have been, it might help us to understand ourselves. It appears, at least, that Vanderbilt at came to some grasp of reality on his death bed. He told his physician that he had been insane on the subject of money all his life.

The big phrase of the week was "permanent campaign mode." It's a better phrase than we normally see being flung among the media.

The United States continues to oppose an international treaty banning cluster bombs. It's curious how our nation, despite being the greatest, and grandest, and most beneficent country on earth, keeps on being on the wrong side of issues of this sort.

George Bush went to Furman University and told the graduates there that in America we should have a community of responsibility. About that, I can say only, "Wow!"

My wife, daughter, and grandson are in Australia, and that has reminded me of how difficult it is to find a time to talk to people in that part of the world. It's fourteen hours later there than it is here. Still, I can report that using my new Skype phone calling service, I was able to chat agreeably for about five minutes with a young woman at their hotel for the happy price of about ten cents. I can fully recommend a system you can buy for less than two dollars a month and use to talk to people all around the world for practically nothing.

We are told that by next week the Democratic nomination will be decided. If that turns out to be true, we'll soon have a new climate in which to discuss our political affairs. I confess, I'm looking forward to it.

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