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).

Faith factors

Americans have little difficulty accepting scientific conclusions close to human experience—that smoking causes cancer, that mental illness is a disease that affects the brain, and that there is a genetic code inside our cells. Americans have greater difficulty accepting scientific conclusions farther from our experience—about the big bang, evolution, and global warming. Belief in a supreme being, church attendance, and evangelical convictions all contribute to doubt about the big bang, evolution, and global warming, according to an AP-GfK poll (AP).

Second life

When Judith Valente started making regular visits to a Benedictine women’s monastery in Atchison, Kansas, she made friends with 90-year-old Sister Lillian Harrington. Valente asked Sister Lillian if she ever thinks of death. “I don’t think about dying,” she said. “I think about living.” At 75, after retiring as a professor of speech and drama, Sister Lillian reinvented herself as the “pilgrim minister.” She traveled to schools, parishes, and retreat centers where she dramatized Gospel passages and wisdom stories. She performed without notes or a script well into her nineties. She died soon after celebrating her 96th birthday in March (RNS).

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).