Century Marks

Century Marks


An upstate New York man filed a $3 million lawsuit against a Roman Catholic church after a 600-pound stone cross fell and crushed his leg. The man had regularly prayed at the church for his wife’s recovery from cancer. As a gesture of thanks for his wife’s recovery, the man offered to scrub down the large cross which stood outside the church. While he was cleaning the massive crucifix, it came unhinged from its mount and toppled onto him. The 45-year-old father of three, who had no health insurance, lost his leg in the accident


Jamie Barden, a psychologist at Howard University, tried an experiment with students. He told them a story about Mike, a political fund raiser. Mike had a serious car accident after drinking at a fund-raising event. A month later, Mike made an impassioned statement on the radio against drunk driving. Barden asked the students if they thought Mike was a changed man or a hypocrite. The students were two and a half times more likely to say that Mike was a hypocrite if they were told he belonged to a political party different from their own (New York Review of Books, November 8)

Independent study

The One Laptop per Child organization dropped off computer tablets in two remote Egyptian villages. The tablets were preloaded with alphabet games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings and other programs. The organization wanted to see if children could teach themselves to read without any help from instructors. Within five days the kids were using 47 apps each, after two weeks they were singing ABC songs, and within five months they had figured out how to use the camera (MIT Technology Review, October 29).

Strangely familiar

The King James Bible, Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer shaped the English language more than any other literature. The BCP, which is celebrating the 350th anniversary of its 1662 edition, was largely the work of Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VIII. Cranmer borrowed freely from the Sarum Missal, the Latin liturgy that the English Catholic Church had used for centuries, and he wrote many original prayers and collects. Cranmer wanted this prayer book to be for the people, not just the priesthood, so he used ordinary phrases and biblical similes, some of which live on in our language today (“for better, for worse,” “from ashes to ashes,” “peace in our time”). Echoes of the BCP can even be heard in the writings of secular authors like Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett (New Yorker, October 22).

Keep it short

A vicar asked the duke of Wellington what he would like his sermon to be about. “About ten minutes,” the duke replied (Tolstoy on War, edited by Rick McPeak and Donna Tussing Orwin).