Century Marks

Century Marks

Preliminary judgments

The poet W. H. Auden had a way of judging books that can apply to all kinds of art. "For an adult reader," Auden said, "the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don't like it; I can see this is good, and, though at present I don't like it, I believe with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don't like it" (quoted by Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Bad memory

When John Bowlin visited northern Romania and southern Moldova, he was struck by the fortresslike structures of many of the monasteries. Some of them are known for beautiful frescos that adorn the exterior walls. Bowlin was troubled by a recurring motif that showed the sack of Constan­tinople, with images of Christian martyrdom, Turkish cruelty and rabbis leading the charge against the city. When Bowlin asked about these images, he was told: "Remembering the dead helps us keep our enemies in mind" (Scottish Journal of Theology, February).

Locked up

"More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began," Michelle Alexander told an audience in Pasadena, California. Author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and a law professor at Ohio State, Alexander said most of the increase in prison rates among black and brown men is due to the war on drugs, which is conducted disproportionately in low-income communities among people of color. Men with felony convictions have difficulty getting housing and jobs once released, and 70 percent of them return to prison within two years (ushrnetwork.org).


The U.S. likes to think of itself as a nation that welcomes immigrants, but since 1950, 13 million more people have been deported than were granted permanent residency. The number of deportations is up in the past 20 years and is accelerating thanks to the Secure Communities program designed to deport people with criminal records. In reality, this program is deporting undocumented immigrants guilty of petty crimes. The Valenzuela brothers, for instance, have received notice of deportation hearings. Residents in the U.S. since 1955, the brothers are both Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which they claim led to their separate misdemeanors (Dissent, Spring).


The Tea Party slogan "Taking back the country" has also been used by liberals. A 1992 political button pictured Jerry Brown and Jesse Jackson and the words "Take Back America" (Brown had said he'd select Jackson as his vice presidential candidate if nominated for president by the Democratic Party) (Dœdalus, Winter).