Century Marks

Century Marks

Stop the war

Since the 1980s the war on drugs has created what author Michelle Alexander has called a “permanent under-caste” of men, mostly black, who are convicted of drug offenses. There are more African-American men in the American corrections system now than were enslaved in 1850. The United States has a higher incarceration rate than Russia or China or other regimes considered repressive. Strained prison budgets are forcing liberals and conservatives to reconsider the laws that have led to the explosion in the prison populations. Frank Wolf, who’s been involved with the evangelical Prison Fellowship, is one of many conservatives now endorsing “smart on crime” strategies rather than “get tough on crime” strategies (Newsweek, June 19).

Crossing over

Maggie Callanan, a hospice nurse who has witnessed more than 2,000 deaths, says many dying people experience what she calls “nearing death awareness” (as opposed to near-death experiences). In this conscious state, the dying person often talks about deceased loved ones who are waiting for them or about preparing to go on a trip. Callanan advises caregivers and family members not to correct such claims but instead ask questions that allow the person to say more about their experience. Callanan, who has co-authored Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying, believes that patients in this state are getting a glimpse of the afterlife (Chicago Tribune, June 19).

Failed states

Since 2005 the Foreign Policy journal has published an index of so-called “failed states” compiled by J. J. Messner, a former lobbyist for the private military industry. The data used to compile the list are not made public. The concept of a “failed state” originated in 1992 in an article in Foreign Policy written by two U.S. state department employees. They argued that such states were incapable of being responsible members of the international community and needed the benign guardianship of Western countries. The concept of failed states is rejected by most political scientists, but it has helped provide a rationale for foreign interventions (Guardian, June 28).


Long-lasting loneliness can make humans sick and even cause death. Emotional isolation and lack of intimacy is as high a risk factor for death as smoking. The diseases that can be caused or exacerbated by loneliness are Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer. Loneliness is a “feeling that wreaks havoc on the body and brain” and has become “a public health crisis,” says Judith Shulevitz (New Republic, May 13).

Lost ethic

In a recent statement Pope Francis attributed a growing financial and economic crisis worldwide to a loss of solidarity within the human family and a rejection of an ethic of the common good. The income of a minority is growing exponentially, while that of the majority is crumbling, he charged. The free market economy denies the state the necessary right to regulate the economy for the common good. The pope commended the words of St. John Chry­sostom to financial experts and political leaders: “Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs” (VIS, May 16).