WITH THE POLITICAL Ghost of Christmas Present whizzing around cutting the toes out of Christmas stockings so the goodies will fall out, it is difficult to know what to wish for this year. Certainly nothing solid.

This has been a weird run-up to Christmas, with the usual commercial message urging us to give generously crooning along concurrently with a new political message, more exciting to many, to take back quickly.Among the items mentioned so far as candidates for discard are, of course, welfare and anything at all like it, but also aid to the arts, mass transit, public television and radio and even the national parks.

We are, for a while anyway, in the embrace of a sour public ethic that holds that government is bad, and never worse than when it is doing something likable, because that misleads us into thinking well of it.

The word "amenity" used to be one of the commonplaces of our conversation as a people.

The word has a bright ring to it, like a quarter tossed onto a counter. It's one of those words that's fun just to say. It catches the light.

Amenities were one of the measures of how we were doing as communities and as a nation. We judged ourselves by them.

Yes, amenities were a little difficult to put a hard value on, but our public sense told us they counted and not just after everything else had been added up, either.

Did a community have attractive playgrounds? A good library? Did it set aside picnic space for family outings? Softball fields where the middle-aged could wind down from their youth?

Did it provide a decent place for the elderly to live when there was no other place? Were the schools topnotch, with new books and modern science labs? Did the town maintain a museum and support a symphony? (Or if not big enough for that, at least a band for summer concerts, with a showoff trumpeter?)

View Comments

We put similar questions to the nation.

Not only about whether the roads were paved - though certainly that - but also about whether our public buildings were handsomely, not just cheaply, designed.

Was the park system keeping up its treasures and adding new ones for the future?

Wishing simply for the word "amenity" to retain a place in our public vocabulary would seem something sufficiently vague to be safety hoped for this Christmas.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.