Century Marks

Century Marks

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).

Covering religion

Jon Stewart, host of the humorous Daily Show, appears to be a nonpracticing Jew, but his show covers religion better than any other TV program except for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, claims Mark Oppenheimer. Writers for the Daily Show find humor in the finer points of religion rather than in caricatures of it. Sometimes the beliefs or practices of religion are shown as bizarre, but often it’s the antagonists of religion who are made to look silly. In one sketch, a Muslim woman’s application to become a foster mother is rejected because she won’t allow pork products in her house. The episode helped to explain Muslim dietary practices while making the foster agency’s objections look ignorant and bigoted (Religion & Politics, May 1).

Divine spark

The word asylum means shelter or protection from danger. One of the first asylums was called the Retreat, and it was established by Quakers in 1796 in York, England. The Quakers, seeing a divine spark in everyone, tried to remove the stigma then attached to the mentally ill. The Retreat emphasized friendship with the insane and incorporated exercise therapy, pet therapy and occupational therapy. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Quakers opened a similar facility in 1817, inspiring similar ventures in the next few years in Boston, New York, Hartford and Charleston (American Scholar, Spring).


Ken Bennett, Arizona’s secretary of state, threatened to keep President Obama off the ballot this fall unless it was proved that Obama’s birth certificate is not a fraud. In response, an online petition was begun, garnering 18,000 signatures, requesting that Bennett certify that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, is not a unicorn. Bennett called the probe ridiculous, but he also withdrew his threat to take Obama off the ballot. In March, a California group filed a suit that would require all presidential candidates to certify their citizenship. In addition to raising the usual—and long since disproved—claim that Obama was not born in the U.S., the suit raised questions about Romney’s birth certificate, since his father had spent some time
as a child in Mexico (Washington Post, May 29).

Snake handler

Mark Randall Wolford, a snake-handling preacher from West Virginia, died last month from a rattlesnake bite during a religious meeting. As a boy Wolford had watched his own father, also a snake-handling preacher, die an agonizing death from a snakebite. Snake handling by Pente­costal preachers began in an east Ten­nessee church in 1909. The practice is based on Mark 16, which promises that followers of Jesus will be able to handle snakes and drink “any deadly thing” without being harmed (MSNBC News, May 30).