In response to your Aug. 7 editorial "Poking the paper dragon": The keys to keeping Taiwan's open society and democratic way of life out of Beijing's unwelcome grasp are continued reform and wise political leadership within Taiwan itself and firm support from the United States. More political courage from the international community, especially from Taiwan's East Asian neighbors, would also help.
For now, at least, Beijing's claims to the island are more of a political and diplomatic phenomenon than a military threat. They play to a domestic Chinese audience to encourage an illiberal nationalism and intimidate the international community into refusing to engage Taiwan's government.
The survival of Taiwan as a state separate from the People's Republic of China is desirable not only for Washington, but for Japan and the aspiring democratic countries in East Asia. Yet it will continue to be at risk until Beijing abandons its threats and adopts a more pragmatic approach. Cooperation between the "two Chinas" is already reality, with Taiwanese investment of $100 billion on the China mainland and Taiwanese companies employing millions of Chinese workers. Political peace could naturally follow if Chinese leaders would be as flexible on their "renegade province" as they have been on many other issues, including diplomatic recognition of both North and South Korea.
Regarding your Aug. 12 editorial "End of the prison boom": It is unclear how an increase in prisoners even if it is a mere 1 percent indicates an end to the prison boom. But that point aside, your article fails to tackle the main problem Americans face with the prison population today.
Regardless of the number of citizens we are finding reasons to imprison, we have yet to deal with the number already there who will, over the next 20 years, be released. American prisons release 1,600 men and women every single day. The majority of these freed inmates went in as drug dealers or even just possessors and are coming out as violent criminals.
We can argue about how it is their fault for getting into trouble. Or we can boast about how we're only increasing our prison population by miniscule percentage points in recent years. But is that going to keep our streets safe? We need to stop pumping money into more prisons to accommodate nonviolent drug users, and start using it to refuel rehabilitation programs and postrelease support networks so that this significant segment of our population can finally begin contributing to society in a positive way.
Your beautifully illustrated article, "Heart of a suburb: the postmodern dump" (Aug. 8), reminded me how times have changed. As a cash-strapped college student in the '60s, I patronized several dumps near Boston in search of unburied treasure. Dump hunting then was less trendy and more dangerous. Upmarket dump sites like Weston required an admission ticket (usually a bag of trash) to get past the watchman.
Savvy dump hunters avoided hot merchandise by visiting after a long dry spell, when dumps were less likely to burn trash. Dump hunters were stigmatized as hippies or hobos, but I defied the stereotypes and struck it rich. During one visit to the Hingham dump, I rescued a full set of unbroken dishes and a drop-leaf dining-room table with four matching chairs. The hardest part was bringing them home in my Beetle.
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