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Marty Martinez via AP

A window shattered by debris from one of the engines on Southwest Flight 1380 (Marty Martinez via AP)

Every good work

Heroic airline pilots and ordinary Chick-fil-A employees illustrate the glory of jobs well done

The big news story of the week is the remarkable heroism of Capt. Tammie Jo Shults—the Southwest Airlines pilot who calmly landed a heavily damaged jetliner with a single functional engine and a hole gaping in the side of the plane.

Sadly, one passenger died after an engine exploded in midair during the Southwest flight on Tuesday morning. Jennifer Riordan didn’t survive the blunt impact of debris that broke a window, despite the efforts of passengers who pulled her away from the hole and tried to revive her.

But by the time the plane made its emergency landing, Capt. Shults’ precise professionalism had saved 142 other passengers and the flight crew from what could have been a catastrophic crash. 

Moments later, Shults walked through the aisle hugging stunned passengers. 

“It was very touching,” passenger Benjamin Goldstein told The Dallas Morning News. “Here at the most crucial moment, she had the presence of mind and the courage to act with excellence as it was required. It’s a beautiful quality, and we have our lives to thank for it.”

A beautiful quality indeed.

Shults’ friends in her hometown of Boerne, Texas, said the quality was a hallmark of the Christian wife and mother of two, and that it extended beyond her successful career as a Navy and commercial pilot.

A fellow church member at First Baptist Church in Boerne told the paper that Shults had taught nearly every grade level of Sunday school in their congregation. Shults has helped at a school for at-risk kids, and she’s used a guesthouse on her family’s property as a home for victims of Hurricane Rita and for widows.

For Shults, a life of ordinary good works preceded an extraordinary day on the job last Tuesday. When a friend texted Shults to tell her she was praying for her, Shults replied: “Thanks. God is good.”

Simply doing a good job isn’t usually heroic, but if done well, the most ordinary work can bring glory to God as well. Still, not everyone sees the beautiful quality in every good work.

Last week, an over-the-top editorial in The New Yorker excoriated food chain Chick-fil-A for its newest restaurant in Manhattan. Writer Dan Piepenbring was clear about the roots of his disdain: “There’s something especially distasteful about Chick-fil-A. … Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with this suburban piety.”

He balked at the owners’ Christian faith and how the company’s corporate mission statement “still begins with the words ‘to glorify God.’” The satirical news site the Babylon Bee reliably offered a tongue-in-cheek response: “Evil Christians Oppress Secular New Yorkers With Delicious Chicken Sandwiches.”

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Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Wang Yu (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Lights, camera, propaganda

A recent report shows the Chinese government’s use of forced confessions

The first time the world saw human rights lawyer Wang Yu after her June 2015 arrest was on television four months later, when she strongly condemned her teenage son’s attempt to flee from China into Burma. “This kind of action is very risky and is illegal,” she said in a monotone voice.

Yet in a recently released report by Safeguard Defenders, Wang reveals what really led to the confession: Interrogators had been pressuring her to give a televised confession since July, she says, but each time she refused. Once, they even threw a black hood over her head and drove her to the CCTV television studio for a confession, but she threatened to kill herself. The interrogators brought her back to her cell. 

Only when they showed Wang pictures of her son, whom officials had caught trying to leave the country, did she relent. The interrogators told her only the leader of the Public Security Bureau would see the video, and that would help her son get out of trouble. They turned on a computer camera and said: “Look, you can see that we’re not putting you on television, if we were, we would be using a professional camera.”

She didn’t realize the video was broadcast on national TV, she says, until she was released the following August. 

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, televised confessions—which hark back to the “struggle sessions” of the Cultural Revolution—have become a common occurrence. Since 2013, the report found 45 high-profile confessions, including many from human rights lawyers, journalists, and Uighurs. Such individuals are often paraded on national television admitting that they hurt their country, countering criticisms from international media, and calling others to obey the law. These confessions break domestic and international laws, because they are filmed before trial and often even before a formal arrest.

Experts routinely note the confessions are likely made under duress. The new report solidifies that analysis through interviews with a dozen people who have either been forced to confess or had family members in that situation. The men and women share firsthand accounts of being handed scripts to read, having police direct them in how to act, and spending hours doing retakes until the government gets the exact footage it wants.

Some initially refused to confess, but interrogators used torture, threats, and intimidation to get them to speak. Interrogators falsely told some, like Wang, that the video would not be broadcast. In the confessions of detained rights defenders, the study found that beyond just confessing guilt, the detainees also often deny they are being mistreated, denounce “anti-China” forces, and defend the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. 

The first televised confession was of Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator detained in 2013. He says in the report that he agreed to meet with two or three print journalists, but refused to be put on film. Instead, on Aug. 26, 2013, guards gave him a sedative before bringing him into a room full of police officers and state media with cameras. They strapped him to a chair inside a cage with steel bars and asked him questions. Afterward, he says, when he saw clips of the confession, they had been deceptively edited and were “almost unrecognizable to me.”

Most of the confessions were aired on CCTV, and the rest on other media platforms based in Hong Kong and China. CCTV has expanded its market into foreign countries, so the forced confessions were broadcast on televisions around the world. Because of state media’s complicity in this illegal practice, the Safeguard Defenders report calls on the United States to force CCTV to register as a foreign agent and to sanction key CCTV executives.

You can download the report, Scripted and Staged: Behind the Scenes of China’s Forced TV Confessions, at this webpage

Flying veils: Apparently the new wedding trend in China is to have a wedding veil fly through the air (with the help of wires and ceiling rails) and gently fall on the awaiting bride.

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Sam Hodgson/The New York Times/Redux

Girl Scouts from Troop 6000 at a meeting in New York (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times/Redux)

Queued up for cookies

New York City’s first Girl Scout troop from homeless shelters has a cookie sale

A New York moment: The Girl Scouts of Greater New York designates troop numbers by the city’s five boroughs—1000 for the Bronx, and so on—but last year the organization started a Girl Scout Troop 6000, serving girls in the city’s homeless shelters. Troop 6000 now has 297 members from 14 shelters, according to Buzzfeed.

Girl Scouts of Greater New York covers their registration fees, and girls can stay in their chapter if their families leave the shelter system. This month the girls from the troop had their first cookie sale, at a Kellogg’s cereal store in Union Square. An aside: Yes, New York has a store where you can buy a bowl of cereal.

Last week I went to buy some Samoas, and when I walked up, I saw a line stretching around the block. There was a sign at the Barnes & Noble next door for a James Comey talk about his new book—maybe the line was for him? But no, New Yorkers wanted cookies from Troop 6000. 

I hopped in line with other cookie hopefuls. “Do they even need my help?” one lady asked before deciding that after all, she wanted cookies. A Kellogg’s employee peeked out of the store and asked if anyone was in line for cereal. “No?” he said. A homeless man had perched on a wall by the line, and the employee went back inside to bring the man cereal and a protein shake. 

Twenty-five minutes passed. Then another Kellogg’s employee came outside to break the news: The Scouts had to leave at 6 p.m., and we wouldn’t make it inside in time to buy their cookies. Come back early tomorrow to be sure to get cookies, she said. The troop has already met its initial sales goal: 6,000 boxes.

Worth your time:  

Great writing on minor league baseball players working for peanuts: “The line between the majors and the minors is as long as Interstate-55 from St. Louis to Memphis and as thin as the movement on a 100-mph sinker.”

This week I learned: 

C.S. Lewis was wounded in World War I, 100 years ago this month. 

A court case you might not know about: 

The Michael Cohen investigation isn’t just a Washington matter. There is daily drama in the Southern District of New York, from the Trump-picked Manhattan prosecutor recusing himself to President Donald Trump and Cohen asking a Manhattan judge for permission to screen materials seized by investigators. 

Culture I am consuming:

Ninotchka, continuing my Billy Wilder project. Wilder’s idol, Ernst Lubitsch, directed this gem, and Wilder was one of the screenwriters. The romantic comedy was released in 1939 right after World War II began, and it throws a lot of jabs at then-powerful Josef Stalin. Greta Garbo stars as a Soviet envoy on a mission in the capitalistic city of Paris. When she arrives, a porter offers to carry her bags. “Why?” she demands. “That is a social injustice.” 

The porter returns, “That depends on the tip.”

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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