Century Marks

Century Marks

Desperate messaging

While opening a Halloween package purchased at Kmart, an Oregon mother discovered a handwritten letter in which the writer said he was imprisoned in a work camp in northeastern China. The inmates there, the writer charged, worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and were tortured by sadistic guards. The letter drew international attention, but the writer remained a mystery until a Beijing resident came forward anonymously and admitted having written the letter when he was an inmate in a work camp. He is a member of the Falun Gong, a group outlawed by the Chinese government (New York Times, June 11).

New day in Iran?

The election of the moderate candidate Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran may provide an opportunity for the West to recalibrate its approach to Iran. Rouhani appealed to reformists and centrists, while the conservative vote was split between five candidates. The president-elect recently affirmed a proposal that the 2003 fatwa banning the development of nuclear weapons be turned into a secular document binding the Iranian government. It’s hoped that Rouhani’s election will also help ease tensions between Sunnis and Shi‘as in Syria and Iraq (Guardian, June 16).

Take the bike

A four-wheel-drive SUV costs on average 75.7 cents per mile to drive, compared to a sedan which averages 59.6 cents. A bike costs only 10 cents a mile to ride. If instead of driving Americans would take one four-mile round-trip bike ride per week, they would burn 2 billion fewer gallons of gas a year—a savings of $6.6 billion based on gas prices at $3.64 per gallon (Bicycling, July).

Fact check

In a New York Times column lamenting the declining influence of religion, pundit David Brooks wrote: “In Corinthians, Jesus tells the crowds, ‘Not many of you were wise by worldly standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. . . .’” The author, of course, was not Jesus but the apostle Paul. Where were the Times’s fact-checkers? (dotCommonweal, June 14).

Risky crossings

Immigrant deaths at the Mexican border rose by 27 percent in 2012, according to the National Foun­dation for American Policy, with nearly 500 people being killed. It’s a consequence of crackdowns in border towns, which has pushed risk takers into much more dangerous and inhospitable desert regions (Reason, July).