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).

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).

No more payback

When the patriarch Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt, he had a chance to retaliate against them for selling him into slavery. Payback—an eye for an eye—was the ruling ethic up to this point in the stories of Genesis. Instead, Joseph forgave his brothers and looked out for their welfare, ending the tit for tat. Old Testament scholar David Noel Freedman was once asked to sum up the whole Bible in a sentence. After a moment of reflection he said, “There is forgiveness” (Interpretation, July).