Century Marks

Century Marks

Assembly required

The Swedish furniture maker IKEA has designed a refugee shelter capable of housing one family. The structures are designed for assembly without tools and are transportable in a flat pack. The shelter uses technology that keeps the building cool during the day and warm at night, with a solar panel providing electricity. The units are being tested in a refugee camp in southeastern Ethiopia where there are about 190,000 Somali refugees, as well as in Iraq and Lebanon. When mass-produced, the structure will cost slightly more than a tent but will be more durable. It is estimated that 3.5 million refugees currently live in tents (Christian Science Monitor, June 19).

Security overkill

The immigration bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate significantly increases expenditures for border security. However, border security is already costing Americans $18 billion per year—more than the combined budgets of the FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshalls office, DEA and the Secret Service. There is one border patrol agent for every 500 feet of the Mexican border. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has more planes than the Australian Air Force and as many boats as the Russian Navy. The border fence costs $16 million per mile, which is $3,000 per foot (cambio-us.org).

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).