Century Marks

Century Marks

Role reversal

President Obama, an admirer of Marilynne Robinson, recently interviewed the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist and essayist. He told her that he first read Gilead when he was campaigning in Iowa, and that one of his favorite characters in fiction is the Reverend John Ames, the central figure in the novel. Their wide-ranging conversation covered her upbringing in Idaho, Midwestern values, fear in public discourse, and what she considers an unappreciated university system. Robinson said she wrote the very first sentence of Gilead while waiting to meet her sons in Massachusetts. The male point of view that came to her was a surprise, but the whole novel grew out of that first sentence (New York Review of Books, November 5).

Deep pockets

A very small number of people contributed the preponderance of money to the presidential race through June 30. Only 158 families and the companies they control contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign. Most of this money comes from people who are involved in two industries: finance and energy. Most of these large donors are giving to Republican candidates, supporting candidates who promise to cut regulations on business, cut taxes on income and capital gains and inherited wealth, and pare back entitlement programs. Many of these families come from only nine different cities, some living in the same neighborhoods (New York Times, October 10).

Religious void

The world was caught off-guard by the rise of radical Islam, says Jonathan Sacks, former head rabbi of Great Britain, because it was captivated by a narrative that suggests secularism will eventually prevail over religion. Science, technology, free market economies, and even liberal democracy have failed to recognize that humans are meaning-seeking creatures who ask basic questions of identity: Who am I? Why am I here? How should I live? Extremist violent religion is a betrayal of the Abrahamic way, Sacks goes on to say. “Now is the time for us to say what we have failed to say in the past: We are all the children of Abraham. . . . We are blessed. And to be blessed, no one has to be cursed” (Wall Street Journal, October 2).

Making a killing

Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, earned the opprobrium of many when he hiked the price of a drug used to treat a life-threatening parasite from $13.50 a tablet to $750—an increase of 5,500 percent. Legally, pharmaceuticals can charge any price they like in the U.S., where clients pay on average double the amount for drugs compared to other developed countries. Pharmaceutical companies claim that developing new drugs is very expensive. However, nine of the ten top drug makers spend more money on marketing their drugs than developing new ones. Big Pharma has an unusually high markup for its products (The Week, October 17).


A Domino’s driver was left in tears when an Ohio congregation tipped her more than $1,000 after she delivered a $5.99 pizza. When she arrived with the pizza, the pastor invited her to the front of the sanctuary and told her: “We’ve been teaching our church this last month about being generous, and so we did something special for you today. We took up a special offering for a tip for you” (USA Today, October 14).