HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

January 12, 2009
From the Editor

John Turner



At 6:30 this morning, with the thermometer at zero, I went out to shovel our driveway enough that my wife could make it out at 7:30. And that proved to be just the amount of time I needed. I have mixed feelings about shoveling snow. My first impulse is to hate it. But, then, I have to reflect, it is one of the few quasi-heroic things I do. It's not comfortable to roll out of a warm bed in the morning before it's fully light and go out into zero weather to clear away mounds of stuff that has many irritating qualities. It makes my back hurt; it makes me breathe hard; it freezes my fingers. But when I'm finished, I feel like I have actually done something. And that, all in all, is a good feeling.

There was a moving essay last week in the New York Times by Timothy Eagan titled "Hibernation Blues." It was about the effects of winter on the psyche and how one has to struggle against seasonal affect disorder. It was a readable piece, but you need to recall that it was written from Port Angeles, Washington, where they have no winter at all by Vermont standards.

The latest New Yorker (January 12th), has a fascinating article about Hannah Arendt, by Adam Kirsch. The title is "Beware of Pity," and it makes the point that the rejection of inwardness was constant in Arendt's work. She was contemptuous of psychological theory and thought we should direct our attention to the political, that is, the measurable, evident things that happen in people's lives. I sympathize with her to a degree, though I have generally thought that the interaction between the two calls for a kind of balance.

Roger Cohen, whom I regard as a sensible person, had a column in the New York Times about the situation in Gaza, which included this sentence: "The heroic Israeli narrative has run its course." If I were a citizen of Israel, I would spend some time thinking about that judgment, asking myself if it's true, and wondering about its meaning.

I have to spend some time this week reading Garry Wills's Nixon Agonistes because I am scheduled next week to talk about it as the Vermont Technical College Library. During Mr. Nixon's term of office most of my friends were avid Nixon haters. I didn't share their intensity and thought on many occasions it was driving them over an edge. I certainly did not consider voting for Nixon, but he didn't strike me as being worth hatred. I seem, somehow, to have escaped the malady of clothing the presidency with an aura of grandeur or myth. As far as I can tell, most presidents have been ordinary schmucks who needed to be watched because they had power. But they were not persons who would have caused me to quake had I been ushered into their presence. Clearly, Nixon wouldn't have had that effect on me and, actually, I don't think any of the others would have either.

The four teams left in contention for the Super Bowl are a curious bunch. I have no favorite among them. I have watched every Super Bowl so far and, perhaps, for that reason alone, I will watch the one upcoming. But I think I will watch it with a degree of dispassion rising above any other I have enjoyed.

When I send you my next note we will be one day away from the inauguration of Barack Obama as president. I don't think the crowd will be as big as was initially suggested because people have been scared away by the estimates. Still, it should be quite a gathering.


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