HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

December 15, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner



I am back in Vermont after having been away for nineteen days. I can say one thing for certain: Vermont is different from California.

We returned to find our yard covered in snow and our walkways and decks in need of shoveling. I did some of the latter yesterday, and found it not as bad as you might suppose. Snow shoveling isn't fun for me. But it is invigorating.

Whenever I go on a trip, I ask myself how it would be to become a permanent traveler, to have no home, to be always on the move. I suppose it would have its charms, and, after a while, come to seem normal. But I don't think I'm quite ready to make that transition.

Our cat, Calo, seemed reasonably glad to see us. But she reminded me once again that cats probably don't have the same sense of time we do. For Calo, our being gone for nineteen days may be no different from when we just go out to the store for an hour or two.

Our Barnes and Noble in Burlington yesterday was far more crowded than it is normally. I'm beginning to think that most people see books not as documents to be read but as gifts for assuaging the holidays. While I drank my cup of Starbucks in the coffee shop I sat staring at a rack containing nothing but Rick Warren's The Purpose of Christmas. I had it in mind to thumb through it to find out what the purpose of Christmas is. But, then, coffee over, I forgot. Truth is, I saw no books that tempted me mightily. The offerings in a big, popular store like Barnes and Noble tell us something about the variety of thought that exists in society, and, for me, most of them aren't enticing. (I should add that I did see many books I like. But I already own all of them).

I have started in on Jane Mayer's The Dark Side. So far I haven't learned anything I didn't know already. But to see the hysteria of the Bush administrators all detailed in a single account is valuable. When you learn of it in drips and drabs from journalists, it's discouraging. But finding it all together tells you even more convincingly how crazy these people were. Every government has some maniacs. But Mayer's story leaves you thinking that in the Bush administration they made up at least 90% of the total.

At a mall in Annapolis where I go whenever I visit my brother, I found they have added a Sony store. And there you can see an array of Sony electronic readers. They don't make me regret purchasing a Kindle, because the process of acquiring books for the Kindle is easier. But the Sony readers themselves are much more attractive than the physical Kindle is. I wish Sony and Amazon had got together. They would both have benefitted from the alliance and would have delivered a more pleasing product to their customers.

The best quotation of the week, for me, came from Hendrik Hertzberg, about his service last year as a judge for the Duke Award (commemorating Duke Cunningham) for the "Best Testimonial Train Wreck." The runner-up in 2007 was Lurita Doan, former head of the General Services Administration. She was accused of violating the Hatch Act by organizing meetings in which the GSA employees were urged to vote for GOP candidates. Doan is, says Hertzberg, "a Republican the way some people are Shiites or Sunnis...." I liked the comment because I think it applies to far more people than just Lurita Doan. The Duke Awards for 2008 will be announced Wednesday on Talking Points Memo.

Now the Christmas season is upon us. I confess, I don't get as charged up about Christmas now as I used to. But, I'll do something and write to you again next week when Christmas will be even closer than it is now.


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