Century Marks

Century Marks

Good questions

"Is it fair that David Letterman makes 700 times more than a schoolteacher?" Michael Sandel, government professor at Harvard, asks his students that question in his popular course on justice. Sandel's lectures on justice, which can be accessed via the Internet, have given him nearly rock-star status in Asia. On a lecture tour in Japan, the free tickets to his talk that were distributed via a lottery were scalped online for as much as $500. Sandel began that lecture by asking, "Is ticket scalping fair or unfair?" Sandel believes a renewed interest in justice indicates that people are recognizing that economic values do not by themselves produce happiness or a good society (Thomas Friedman, New York Times, June 14).

Boxed in

St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, Louisiana, opened a woodshop in 2007 to sell handcrafted cypress caskets that are less expensive than caskets purchased at funeral homes. The abbey hoped the sales would finance medical and educational needs for more than 30 monks. The state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors issued a cease-and-desist letter to the monks, but the abbey defied the demands and began selling the caskets anyway. Last August, the abbey filed suit, challenging a Louisiana statute that prohibits the sale of caskets by non­licensed funeral directors. Abbey representatives testified that it does not aspire to function as a funeral home by offering funeral services or embalming remains (RNS).

Mormon mainstream?

Mor­monism is the fourth-largest denom­ination in the country; two Mor­mons are running in the Republican primary for the presidency; and the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon recently won nine Tony Awards. Yet other signs suggest that Mormonism is still outside the mainstream. A Pew poll found that a quarter of respondents say they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is a Mormon. When Newsweek contacted the 15 Mormon members of the U.S. Congress, only four were willing to speak on the record about their faith (Newsweek, June 13 & 20).

Subversive prayer

When the late Abraham Joshua Heschel was asked by a journalist why he was demonstrating against the Vietnam War, Heschel said: "I am here because I cannot pray." He went on to explain: "Whenever I open the prayerbook, I see before me images of children burning from napalm." We ­shouldn't pray, he said, while we remain silent about the atrocities committed by our government in our name. "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive" (Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings, Orbis).

Watchdogs missing

A report from the Federal Communications Commission concludes that a dearth of in-depth news reporting exists at the local level, which means that the public has lost a way of holding government, businesses and schools accountable. Cable news and the Internet provide more news options than ever, but they are not filling the void left by the contraction of newspapers. "The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism—going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy—is in some cases at risk," the FCC report says. Staffing levels at local newspapers have fallen by more than 25 percent since 2001 due to the weakened economy and to declining revenues from advertisers that have switched to the Internet (AP).