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).

A personal matter

In Eich­mann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt argued that Adolf Eichmann and other Nazi leaders responsible for the Holo­caust weren’t hate-filled, anti-Semitic monsters but ordinary human beings. Arendt’s book remains as controversial now as when it was first published serially in the New Yorker 50 years ago. Gershom Scholem, a childhood friend of Arendt, has accused Arendt of insufficient love of Israel. Arendt said that she has never tried to deny her Jewishness, but that she has never loved any collective, be it Israel, Germany or America. “I indeed love ‘only’ my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons” (American Scholar, Summer).


Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, was falsely accused last August of burning pages from the Qur’an and was imprisoned for two weeks. It is believed that she has learning disabilities. While charges against her were dropped, the family moved to Canada after receiving numerous death threats. A Muslim cleric was subsequently accused of framing the girl (BBC News, June 29).