Century Marks

Century Marks

Nothing special

One of the most discussed commencement addresses this year was titled “You are not special.” It was given by David McCullough Jr., a popular teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. “If everyone is special, then no one is,” he told the graduates. “By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.” When the speech went viral, McCullough was subjected to numerous media interviews, including an appearance on CBS’s This Morning. McCullough encouraged graduates to pursue learning for its own exhilaration, not for material advantage. “I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its significance”  (YouTube, June 7, and Newsweek, June 18).

Race factor

People are notoriously reluctant to reveal racial prejudice when completing a survey. One new way to measure racial prejudice is to analyze racially charged Google searches. Since 2008, “Obama” has been a prominent name in such Internet searches. West Virginia is the state with the highest racially charged search rate. Other centers of activity include western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi—all areas where Obama did worse in the 2008 election than John Kerry did in 2004. Without the race factor, President Obama would have won the electoral vote by an even wider margin than he did. In 2012 the race factor could cost him crucial states like Florida, Ohio and possibly Pennsylvania (New York Times, Campaign Stops, June 9).

Speech isn’t free

Residents of Middleborough, Massachusetts, voted by a greater than 3–1 ratio to ban swearing in public. The proposal to ban public profanity came from the police chief. The fine for the violation will be $20. The ban, officials said, is not meant to curb private conversation, but rather loud profanity used by teens and young adults in parks and other public places (AP).

Element of luck

When Michael Lewis graduated from Princeton with a degree in art history, he decided he wanted to be an author even though he had never published a word in his life. One night at a dinner he sat next to the wife of an executive at Salomon Brothers, an investment bank. She pressed her husband to give Lewis a job, and that job gave him the subject for his first book, Liar’s Poke, which sold millions of copies when he was just 28 years old. Speaking to graduates at Princeton this year, Lewis said that successful people take credit for their own success, not realizing how much of it is due to luck—like sitting next to someone at a dinner party. Lewis said that “with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky” (www.Princeton.edu).

Heaven above or below?

In a symposium on whether heaven really exists, atheist John Derbyshire says, essentially, no. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says that heaven misses the point of religion. While he doesn’t deny its existence, he says that as a Jew his job is to think about this world rather than the next. He wants to make the earth itself more heavenly without any thought of reward for having done so. Jonathan Aitken, the Christian contributor to the symposium, shares his near-death experience and asks whether people who have had such an experience get a glimpse into the afterlife. Recognizing the paucity of biblical material on heaven, the longing for such an afterlife comes when we begin to ask, Is this life all there is? Heaven may be a space rather than a place. “Heaven is where God dwells,” says Aitken, “and its population will be full of surprises” (American Spectator, June).