Century Marks

Century Marks

Slippery slope

According to Cul­len Murphy (God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World), the church did no worse in using torture than modern states, and there is some evidence to show that the church behaved better. The church put limits on the use of torture: how severe and how often, when it could be used and by whom. But the limits could be stretched. If a second session of torture was prohibited, its use was sometimes construed as the continuance of a previous session (American Scholar, Winter).

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).

From savage to terrorist

Americans like to think of themselves as compassionate and generous, and they often are. But when it comes to the casualties in other countries caused by U.S. wars, says John Tirman, Americans tend to be ignorant at best and callous at worst. By one estimate, American wars since 1945 have taken the lives of 6 million people, both civilians and soldiers. An early 2007 poll asked Americans how many Iraqis had died in the Iraq War. Their average answer was nearly 10,000 when in fact the actual number was in the hundreds of thousands. Historian Richard Slotkin says this neglect of casualties on the other side stems from what he calls the "the frontier myth." This is the notion that righteous violence is justified to subdue or annihilate savage peoples. Today we call them terrorists (Washington Post, January 8).