Century Marks

Century Marks

More stuff

Compulsive consumerism has come to dominate British family life, according to a study done by UNICEF UK. One mother reported that she thought her three-year-old son would be bullied if he didn't have a Nintendo DS games system at home. Parents are putting long hours into work and giving their children consumer goods as compensation. Children interviewed in the study said they would prefer more time with their parents. "We are probably the most secular society in the world, we do not have the counterbalance of religion," says Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood. From the time they are born children get the message that "the one thing that matters is getting more stuff" (Telegraph, September 14).

Food stuff

Global food prices have spiked twice in the last three years largely for two reasons, according to a study released by the New England Complex Systems Institute: increasing diversion of grain to ethanol production and speculation in the commodities market. Ethanol this year will consume 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop, which constitutes 16 percent of world corn production. With the deregulation of commodity futures in 2000, the futures market has become another place for speculative investments, resulting in huge spikes in food commodities. The authors recommend two steps to bring down and stabilize food prices: restore financial regulations in the commodities market and end ethanol production. "There is a moral imperative," says one of the authors of the paper (fastcompany.com, September 22).

A bit of parsley

The U.S. Senate begins every session with a prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the partisan bickering ensues. The prayer is led by Chaplain Barry C. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist who rose to the rank of rear admiral as a navy chaplain. His prayers typically call for unity, respect for one another, and reconciliation. Black is not disturbed by the fact that the Senate rarely heeds his petitions. The rancorous speeches made on the floor of the Senate are usually prepared before he gives his opening prayer, he says. Peter Marshall, Senate chaplain in the 1940s, says he was the equivalent of parsley—just there for decoration (Washington Post, September 21).

A penny saved

Jane Ngoiri is a 38-year-old single mother, a prostitute-turned-businesswoman in Kenya. Having been nudged out of the family when her husband took a second wife, she turned to prostitution to support her children. She eventually joined an antipoverty organization called Jamii Bora ("good families" in Swahili), which encouraged her to save her money. From her savings she bought a sewing machine, using it to make two or three smaller dresses out of used wedding gowns. From her profits she bought a house in a safe neighborhood and sent her children to school. Microsaving is turning out to be more effective than microlending (Nicholas D. Kristof,
New York Times, September 14).

Killing the death penalty

In response to two executions on September 21, one in Georgia and the other in Texas,  more than 200 Catholic theologians have signed a petition calling for the end of the death penalty in the U.S. They speak a particular word to fellow Catholics: "The Eucharistic celebration calls Catholics to remember all crucified people, including the legacy of lynching, in light of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ" (catholicmoraltheology.com).