Century Marks

Century Marks

The few, the wealthy

A few very wealthy individuals and interest groups are drowning out the voice of the populace, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Princeton and Northwestern universities. They compared the public’s influence on nearly 1,800 public policy issues between 1981 and 2002 and found that when 80 percent of the public asked for change of some sort, they got it only about 43 percent of the time. A few elites and interest groups representing businesses are setting the direction of the country, according to the study. The authors call for campaign reforms that limit the amount of money the wealthy can contribute and a lessening of the inequality between the super rich and the rest of the population (Aljazeera.com, April 16).

Ageism?

The focus of geriatric doctors on testing for memory loss, which leads to possible diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, is part of a war against the old, according to Margaret Morganroth Gullette, resident scholar at Brandeis University. She likens it to educators being preoccupied with testing schoolchildren. “‘Dementia’ is a label that dehumanizes,” she says. What aging people need is social support, which itself can enhance a sense of well-being that contributes to better memory. “In thinking about memory loss, we do well to remember two simple precepts,” she says. “Do not panic about your own. Be gentle toward other people’s” (Interpretation, April).

Repurposed

HoneyMaid, maker of graham crackers, received many negative responses to its “This is wholesome” ad featuring a same-sex couple. Rather than backing down or counterattacking, HoneyMaid printed all the negative comments and had a collage made from them spelling the word love. Cheerios likewise doubled down when it received negative feedback to its ad featuring a mixed-race couple with a cute daughter. Cheerios ran a sequel to it during the Super Bowl (Washington Post, April 4).

Degrees of forgiveness

Two decades have passed since nearly a million people were killed in the Rwandan genocide. Photographer Pieter Hugo has been taking photographs of Hutu perpetrators alongside Tutsi survivors. In each case the perpetrators have asked for and the survivors have granted forgiveness. Hugo says the photos are very revealing: in some photos the subjects appear very comfortable with each other, in others there is noticeable physical and emotional distance between them. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” he says, adding that forgiveness isn’t motivated by benevolence as much as “a survival instinct” (New York Times Magazine, April 6).

Animal rights and wrongs

The food movement has called attention to the abuse of animals that are raised and killed on factory farms. But even farmers who raise animals in humane ways, in small-scale operations, intend for the animals to be slaughtered. Bob Comis, a professional pig farmer, asks how can he ethically raise pigs knowing that his ultimate aim is to kill and market them for consumption. “As a pig farmer, I lead an unethical life,” Comis confesses. “I am a slaveholder and a murderer” (American Scholar, Spring).