Century Marks

Century Marks

Hope

The late Václav Havel, the dissident Czech writer who became his country's president after the fall of the iron curtain, differentiated between hope and optimism. Hope, he said, "is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . . It is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. . . . [Hope] is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out" (Pro Ecclesia, Winter).

Haves and have-nots

Economist Richard Wolff says that both rich and poor Americans tend to think of themselves as middle class, but the middle class has nearly disappeared. The businesses that had success catering to the middle class in the past—Sears, for example—are having difficulty today. Upscale boutiques and high-end department stores at the one end and discount stores at the other end are doing well (The Sun, February).

Teacher, teacher

A longitudinal study that followed students from fourth grade into adulthood gives empirical proof that good (or bad) teachers do make a difference. Having a good teacher in the fourth grade alone increases by 1.25 percent the likelihood that a student will go to college and decreases the chance by the same amount that a female student as a teenager will get pregnant. Having a very poor teacher is tantamount to a student's missing 40 percent of the school year, an intolerable truancy rate. Nicholas D. Kristof notes that the quality of public school education is hardly getting any notice in the primary campaigns. Improving the quality of education may be the most essential strategy for the nation's economic development and job creation in the future (New York Times, January 11).

Dead ringer

In a video shown by the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Burbank, California, congregants are reminded to turn off all cell phones and all electronic and messaging devices. The video warns that a fee of $25 will be assessed for a cell phone that goes off during announcements, $50 if it goes off during prayer concerns. Anyone whose phone goes off during the sermon . . . is going to hell (YouTube.com).

Unknown endings

George Kennan was arguably the greatest U.S. foreign policy analyst of the 20th century. He devised the containment doctrine in relation to the Soviet Union, a middle ground between war and diplomacy. When the U.S. was moving toward invading Iraq, Kennan warned: "War has a momentum of its own, and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end" (Foreign Affairs, January/February).