HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 23, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


Last week I hit a pot hole driving to the grocery store and it was so deep it broke the front right wheel on my car, not the tire but the wheel , split it right apart. After I had managed to put on the little spare that car companies supply us now and managed to get to my local tire store, I was told that the roads around Montpelier are providing them with lots of business. Would that it were only around Montpelier.

I have driven all over the British Isles, into tiny hamlets and moorland wastes, and I have never seen any roads that are as bad as the common roads of the United States are. Why is it that they can have good roads in England and we can't?

I read somewhere how much the people of the United States pay for car repairs necessitated by bad roads.  I've forgotten the exact number but it was vast, far more than it would cost to keep the roads repaired. But we can't have good roads because we can't pay taxes, as John McCain regularly reminds us. Actually, as you all know, we do pay taxes but they have to go for things other than having a decent infrastructure in this country. I wonder if others are getting as weary of this situation as I am.

An Associated Press article last week was titled, "Exams Prove Abuse, Torture in Iraq, Gitmo." It was about what physicians have found when they examined people who have been released from American prisons. I wonder how many taxes we've paid to render those people into the condition they now suffer. What do you suppose the hourly wage of the average torturer is?

I found a fine web site for those of you who have electronic book readers. Maybe everybody else knows about it, but I didn't. It's "Feedbooks.com." They have a great array of books, all of them without charge, and easily delivered to any common reader. It took me, for example, about 30 seconds to get War and Peace installed on mine. I recommend the site to all of you.

I saw two movies on TV this week, one of them pretty good and the other a real stinker. The good one was Woody Allen's Interiors, released in 1978, starring Diane Keaton, E. G. Marshal, and a very youthful Sam Waterston. The film is a nearly perfect rendition of what Friedrich Nietzsche saw coming into the modern world, the condition he called nihilism. Most of the characters in it had completely lost the ability to embrace life.

The stinker was Con Air, released eleven years ago and starring Nicholas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich. It was trumped up nonsense about prison inmates taking over an airplane that was transporting them someplace. I wonder why skilled actors lend themselves to such tripe. I guess the money is good and I don't suppose we should blame them for taking it.

Frank Rich had a pretty convincing column in the New York Times yesterday explaining why John McCain's emphasis on his Iraq policy won't help him in the general election. I hope Rich is right and that, in turn, requires hoping that the American people have learned something.

I read a notice of a new book by Maggie Jackson titled The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. We see more and more analyses saying that the way we are trying to live now will destroy our minds. Maybe it's just alarmism, but some of the arguments are intriguing.

My quotation for the week is from Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy, published in 1869: "The idea of perfection as an inward condition of the mind and spirit is at variance with the mechanical and material civilization in esteem with us, and nowhere, as I have said, so much in esteem as with us." Arnold, of course, was referring to the people of England in the 19th century. I wonder what he would say if he could take a look at American civilization in the first years of the 21st century. Perfection as an inward condition of the mind and spirit: sounds nuts doesn't it?

You haven't been writing to us as much as we need. Send us some letters, even if it's to chastise us. We'll be on the lookout.


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