We talk about community a lot, online and off, and created an award-winning reference on the subject, too, the Encyclopedia of Community. One of the things we had in mind was the TV show “Cheers,” many people’s idea of community–a place where everybody knows your name. Well, it’s really true here in Great Barrington. There’s a lovely bar right under my office (the Celestial Bar at Castle Street Cafe, if you’re passing through town), and Mike and Sally not only know our names but what we drink.

But there’s another angle to this. What if no one can remember your name? I was embarrassed a couple weeks ago when talking to an English colleague: I didn’t know who the current leader of the Conservative Party was. “Say no more,” said my friend. Given my strong ties and frequent visits to the UK, he thought this a bad sign for Michael Howard.

It gets worse. David and I were in Boston last week. A young Englishman at the next table was lecturing his companion on British politics, and seemed happily confident about the possibility of the Conservatives retaking Parliament. “Well,” he said in response to her question, “there’s Tony Blair for Labour, and Michael -” He paused, stuttered, hemmed, and shook his head in frustration. At last I took pity. “Howard,” I said. Doesn’t say much for his chances, does it, if no one knows his name?