Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

In August, a working person’s fancy turns to vacation.

At least, it might. It probably should. For many Europeans, it’s a given. Time off can be restorative for those who can afford to take it. Stop those push notifications, at least. Maybe try some forest bathing, a Japanese variation on a walk in the woods (no Fitbit, please).

The modern experience, of course, runs another way. Reports about the US president’s working vacation during White House renovations – round of golf, round of geopolitical sparring – come twinned with a new set of studies reinforcing that more than half of US workers leave vacation time on the table. By one account, more women than men surrender earned time off. 

Others take their time, but stay tethered. They don’t recharge. That dovetails with a myth of indispensability, and with an act of self-preservation: Keep spinning the plates during time away and reentry will be a little less bumpy.

The term “total work” – this one has German roots – describes the phenomenon of being subsumed by a job. Andrew Taggart wrote in Quartz this week about the resetting of priorities.

“Once we’ve gotten the knack for embracing the idea that certain things in life are wondrous because they’re not focused on getting through, onto, or ahead of something,” he writes, “we can turn our attention to ... inquiring into our own lives.”

Now, to our five stories of the day.

1. What happens when a president talks tough?

As Peter Grier reports, it depends a lot on the political status of the president – and on how the tough talk is interpreted at the receiving end.

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“Fire and fury.” “Locked and loaded.” President Trump’s threats to North Korea this week over its developing nuclear program have been extraordinarily tough. Will the harsh rhetoric deter Pyongyang? After all, US chief executives have long used strong talk to try and get adversaries to behave. In some instances – think the Cuban missile crisis – these demonstrations of resolve have contributed to geopolitical solutions. But few past presidential statements have been this inflammatory. And history shows that foreign leaders weigh other factors, such as a president’s perceived credibility and domestic popularity, when judging White House resolve. It’s also possible Pyongyang has judged Mr. Trump’s words as just the same old, same old. After all, North Korea makes lots of flamboyant threats itself. The Hermit Kingdom may hear “fire and fury” as mere noise. “For us this is incredibly novel and interesting and bizarre,” says Jonathan Mercer, a University of Washington political science professor. “We don’t know what it seems like to the North Koreans.”


What happens when a president talks tough?

When US presidents talk tough to foreign leaders, does it work?

This question arises, of course, due to President Trump’s strong rhetoric this week about North Korea and its developing nuclear program. First Mr. Trump vowed to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea if it threatened the US.

Then he doubled down, saying that his original choice of words might have been too tepid. At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, the president tweeted that if Pyongyang acts unwisely “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded.”

Presumably Trump’s point here is to make North Korea’s leaders think twice about continuing work on miniaturized warheads and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

(He may also want to project an image of firmness to a domestic audience; according to some accounts, the “fire and fury” line was an offhand ad lib.) If so, he’s doing something lots of other US chief executives have done. Presidents have long used what experts call “statements of resolve” to clarify positions and draw red lines in international disputes.

Presidents make these demonstrations of public firmness to try and get adversaries to behave in a manner the US wants. In some instances, such as the Cuban missile crisis, declarations of White House resolve have indeed contributed to geopolitical solutions, according to political scientists who study this topic. It’s not always empty bluster.

But few past presidential threats have been as inflammatory as Trump’s. And history shows that foreign leaders weigh other factors, such as a president’s perceived credibility and domestic popularity, when judging White House resolve and their own best course of action. Unsurprisingly, they also take military balance into account.

In the current situation it’s also possible that North Korea's President Kim Jong-un hasn’t noted Trump’s words this week as much different from past US statements. After all, Pyongyang makes lots of flamboyant threats itself. The Hermit Kimdom may register “fire and fury” as typical rhetoric.

“For us this is incredibly novel and interesting and bizarre,” says Jonathan Mercer, a University of Washington political science professor. “We don’t know what it seems like to the North Koreans.”

How tough is tough?

Presidents talk tough in all manner of ways. The spectrum of rhetoric ranges from explicit threats of force – think President George H. W. Bush vowing that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait would not stand – to more subtle statements that hint of force or other punitive action.

They do this in part because it plays well with their own supporters – and in part because it is one of their more effective tools. The US gets better outcomes in international disputes when the president makes more resolute statements, according to Roseanne McManus, an assistant professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, who studied the issue for her new book, “Statements of Resolve: Achieving Coercive Credibility in International Conflict.”

This is so because rival leaders recognize that resolute statements can box a president in, committing them to one course of action or another depending on what an adversary does. Their own credibility is at risk. So if a president presses ahead with firm rhetoric despite such risks, this can persuade adversaries of their resolve.

For instance, in 1961, John F. Kennedy made many public statements committing the US to keep troops in Berlin no matter what the Soviet Union tried to do to force them out. USSR leaders ultimately believed him, and backed off from their own threats of use of force.

The same thing happened in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Due to Kennedy’s public statements, as well as private negotiations and a naval blockade, “Soviet leaders became convinced that the Kennedy administration was resolved enough to attack Cuba and agreed to withdraw the missiles several days later to avoid war,” writes Dr. McManus in “Statements of Resolve.”

Not another Cuban missile crisis

The current situation is far different than those dramatic 13 days in October 1962.

For one thing, Trump’s threats are somewhat vague – is he threatening use of nuclear force, or not? What is his red line – more North Korean missile tests, or continued North Korean rhetoric, or what? In history, the more specific a US president’s threats, the better the outcome.

Trump’s statements are bellicose, and meant to be so. Or, as McManus puts it, his statements are “extremely resolved.”

“Trump is escalating things,” she says.

Plus, unlike JFK, the current president’s domestic support is suspect. He is feuding with a Senate majority leader of his own party. His approval ratings are very low. His White House staff has recently been in turmoil and his own cabinet has been contradicting him on certain aspects of his North Korean rhetoric. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has appeared to try and reduce tensions, saying it was OK for Americans to “sleep well at night.”

All these things may make it less likely that Trump can follow through on his threats.

“In terms of his domestic standing, it is not very great. That might be his biggest limiting factor,” says McManus.

How North Korea sees it

There is also the question of how the North Koreans are interpreting Trump’s threats in the first place, much less whether they believe he can carry them out.

Generally speaking, most US adversaries spend a lot of time studying how the US government operates, what the president and other political leaders are saying, and how that affects possible US international actions. Consider Russia – its hacking of the 2016 presidential election reflected a sophisticated understanding of the trends and forces of US politics.

Is North Korea that sophisticated? Nobody knows. They are opaque, a riddle wrapped in a mystery and stuffed in an enigma.

Given that, we have no idea how seriously they take Trump’s threats.

“It’s important to remember that credibility is in the eye of the beholder. It is not some objective property,” says Dr. Mercer of the University of Washington, who specializes in international security and political psychology.

Of course, it is not entirely clear what Trump’s threats are. And the fact that nuclear weapons are involved means that a miscalculation, however unlikely, risks terrible consequences.

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2. In Mosul, Iraq, ‘victory’ over ISIS – but threats linger

For this story, Scott Peterson went to Erbil, Iraq, to take the measure of the situation in Mosul, a city in which the Iraqi government has declared ISIS to be defeated. His report illustrates – in very human terms – that such declarations are seldom as definitive as they seem.

Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
An Iraqi girl named Amina recovered Aug. 10 from shrapnel wounds – either from coalition airstrikes or Iraqi artillery shells aimed at Islamic State militants on the roof of her family's house in Mosul, Iraq. The hospital in Erbil, Iraq, where she’s being cared for is supported by the Italian agency Emergency.

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For three years, the northern city of Mosul served as the main stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq. It was in Mosul that ISIS declared creation of the Islamic “caliphate” in 2014. So when, after a nine-month siege of the city, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “the failure and the collapse of the terrorist state,” it was a major victory for Iraq. Yet one month later, many of the 950,000 Iraqis who fled the fight for Mosul are returning to ruins still plagued by ISIS cells and booby traps, and civilians and security forces are still dying. “You can never guess what ISIS will do,” says one Iraqi police officer wounded while clearing a house in western Mosul to make it ready for returning families. “My friends say ISIS is still coming up from the rubble and out of the ground, and there is still fighting in this area in the nighttime.” Nevertheless, Iraqi security forces are determined to make progress. “Our mission was to clear houses before civilians come back,” says the policeman as he recuperates in a hospital in Erbil. “To say ‘Your house is good.’ ”


In Mosul, Iraq, ‘victory’ over ISIS – but threats linger

The first sign Ghaith Ali had that Islamic State militants were still active in “liberated” western Mosul was a mysterious square object on the floor of a house he entered to make it ready for returning families.

Suspecting explosives, the Iraqi policeman told the rest of his patrol to back away, but then he brushed up against the near-invisible tripwire. The blast burned his arm, sprayed him with shrapnel, and broke his leg.

The second sign Mr. Ali’s unit received of ISIS remnants was two days later, when a jihadist emerged from a basement hideout, bearing a rifle and combat vest laden with grenades, and raced to a rooftop to attack their checkpoint.

A woman spotted the long-haired militant and alerted the policemen, who crept upstairs and took him out with a grenade toss.

As Ali recovered in hospital, members of his unit sent him gruesome photos in hospital as proof of their conquest – and of the ever-present danger lingering in Mosul, which for three years served as the main ISIS stronghold in Iraq.

The slowly mounting toll from the building sweeps and searches for ISIS tunnels serves as a grim reminder that one month after victory was declared over ISIS in western Mosul, the process of making the city safe for its residents still faces perilous hurdles.

Nevertheless Iraqi security forces are determined to make progress, the culmination of a nine-month siege of Mosul that mobilized an alliance of 100,000 Iraqi security forces, Kurdish peshmerga, and Shiite militias backed up by US airstrikes.

Entire warrens of western Mosul remain sealed off by Iraqi forces, as mop-up operations continue and unexploded ordnance, bodies, and ISIS sleeper cells are identified and cleared up.

“Our mission was to clear houses before civilians come back, to say ‘Your house is good,’” says Ali, a short-haired young man with a thin mustache and slight build, speaking in an Erbil hospital for war victims run by the Italian agency Emergency.

“The threats are explosive devices and ISIS sleeper cells. You can never guess what ISIS will do,” says Ali, noting that the blast that disabled him some 19 days ago is just one of the hazards that still haunt the greatest victory by Iraqi forces in their two-year fight to crush ISIS and expel it from Iraq.

'Collapse' of terrorist state

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed victory in Mosul on July 10, declaring the “failure and the collapse of the terrorist state.”

Mr. Abadi also heralded a new mission to create stability and stamp out ISIS cells, which would require an intelligence and security effort “and the unity which enabled us to fight ISIS.”

But the 950,000 Iraqis who fled the fight for Mosul – where ISIS declared an Islamic “caliphate” in 2014 – are often returning to ruins still plagued by ISIS cells and booby-traps.

On Thursday, for example, two civilians were killed and three wounded by ISIS snipers while crossing a floating bridge that connects eastern Mosul – the half of the city that lies to the east of the Tigris River and was declared “liberated” in February – with western Mosul, according to Iraqi news reports.

Movement has been restricted in some areas over fears of ISIS cells attacking civilians trying to claw back normal lives and rebuild, even as daytime temperatures reach above 120 degrees F.

Iraqi police Friday reported killing three ISIS militants northwest of Mosul, and said a workshop for making rockets and explosive belts and containing hundreds of such devices had been discovered in western Mosul, Iraqi media reported. On Thursday, police said that since early July, 47 ISIS members had been killed or arrested and six booby-trap workshops had been seized, along with 192 explosive belts and tons of explosives and their ingredients, according to

United Nations officials say that new military operations to force ISIS out of Tal Afar, near Iraq’s border with Syria, and Hawija, west of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, could complicate relief and rebuilding efforts by creating a new wave of several hundred thousand more displaced Iraqis.

Lise Grande, the UN coordinator for Iraq, noted the risk to those still living under ISIS control since the Mosul fight came to an end.

Mosul is a “tale of two cities,” with life returning to eastern Mosul, Ms. Grande said Tuesday in Geneva. Yet in the western half, 15 neighborhoods are “completely destroyed” and the 230,000 civilians who left them “are not coming home anytime soon.”

She said it was “very clear” that the threat to civilians where ISIS still has strongholds had “increased dramatically."

ISIS fighters on the roof

That danger already struck for the family of nine-year-old Amina, in another example of how the post-liberation presence of ISIS has hurt Mosul civilians.

Three weeks ago, Amina’s aunt recounts, ISIS militants had taken up positions on the roof of the house where 14 members of the family lived in western Mosul.

Amina sits in her hospital bed, with bandages on both legs and under her chin from shrapnel wounds she suffered as a civilian victim of the military coalition’s violent efforts to dislodge the ISIS fighters. When she was first found, she cried and spoke for five days, explaining what happened.

But now for 10 days, she has spoken hardly at all. Amina does not smile once, as her aunt, Sahera – who lived in another district, but not the same house – tells the family’s story.

The first military strike – either by coalition aircraft or Iraqi artillery – appeared to target the ISIS fighters on the roof. It flattened Amina’s house, leaving three family members dead. Two days later, roughly on July 19, as the survivors were in a nearby street looking for new shelter, a second strike hit the house beside them.

Amina was wounded and lost consciousness, and woke as Iraqi security forces were evacuating the wounded. She survived with her 11-year-old sister Aisha and 1-1/2-year-old niece Baraa. Everyone else was killed, including Sahera’s 21-year-old daughter, Randa.

“My first reaction when I saw [Amina] was to hug her and cry. Then I asked about the family,” recalls the aunt, who now keeps watch at Amina’s bedside at the Emergency hospital in Erbil.

“We can’t go back to normal life,” says Sahera. “It’s a disaster that happened to us. The most difficult thing is they are dead. When you hear that, what can you do?”

ISIS rising from the rubble

In Mosul, the story of Amina and Sahera is all too common, even as the numbers could still edge higher.

“I believe the threat is not over, but it is getting less because a lot of Iraqi forces are there,” says Ali, the wounded policeman. “My friends [in the police force] say ISIS is still coming up from the rubble and out of the ground, and there is still fighting in this area in the nighttime.”

Several other wounded young men crowd around Ali’s bed to hear his story, and see mobile phone photos of the dead militant and a copy of the X-ray that shows the repairs to his broken leg.

One teenager was struck by an ISIS sniper in the cheek, breaking his jaw as he tried to escape. Another is in a wheelchair.

“I don’t think you will find another war like this anywhere else in the world, like Mosul, with fighters in tunnels, snipers, and chlorine gas,” says Ali, as the others nod in agreement. He looks at the wounds of the men: “Disasters.”


3. Parenting in the age of Instagram

‘I’m on social media every waking moment of my life,’ says Jake Lee, a California teenager. It’s not said as a boast. It’s what he sees as his reality. Today, getting a smartphone – and exploring digital self-expression – is a rite of passage for many American tweens and teens. Can they be encouraged to let go of the virtual world, occasionally, and engage in the real one? The answer is yes, found the Monitor’s Mike Farrell and Jess Mendoza, but agile parenting, and listening, are essential. Their story runs Monday. Meet the Lee family in this video preview.


4. In graying Japan, a pushback on ‘limitations’ of age

Japan leads the world in the percentage of citizens over age 65. But it's pulling ahead on another front: shifting perceptions of a time of life often associated with dialing back to one of renewal and fresh contribution – particularly among women.

Takehiko Kambayashi
After raising three children, Maki Gomi opened the Cafe Heartful Port in Yokohama City, a Tokyo suburb, in 2014. Some Japanese women in their 50s through their 80s are now choosing to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs.

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Café Heartful Port is just 300 square feet – in fact, it’s a corner of Maki Gomi’s home, in the “Hill of Hope” neighborhood of Yokohama, Japan. But since Ms. Gomi opened the cafe three years ago, it’s drawn more than 10,000 customers, from teens and parents with babies to older people. She’s one of many older Japanese women turning over an entrepreneurial leaf in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s, starting businesses that often wind up bringing isolated neighbors together, too. It’s all the more surprising considering that it's taking place in Japan, where full-time female employment lags behind that of other developed countries – an increasing problem as Japan's population rapidly “grays,” further shrinking the workforce. “It’s still very difficult for women to reenter the country’s workforce following the birth of a child,” says one researcher. But in the autumn of their lives, many women “finally reach a point where they can do what they want to do,” says one nonprofit director, who helps older women find work. “They want to make their desire a reality.”


In graying Japan, a pushback on ‘limitations’ of age

In this sleepy, mountainous city, 85-year-old Yoshiko Zakoji starts her day with exercises before cooking rice and simmering vegetables for pre-ordered boxed lunches – as she has done for more than a decade.

“I need to keep myself fit to continue my business,” says Ms. Zakoji, who owns a shop in Iida, located 110 miles west of Tokyo. She calls it Waraku: a name that evokes opening up to each other, and having a good time.

Zakoji opened the shop in 1992, after her husband’s retirement. She was a homemaker with no work experience, and 60 years old – just when her generation was starting to rely on the pension system.

Before opening day, she recalls, some people rolled their eyes. “What on earth are you going to start?” they asked.

Female entrepreneurs are not the norm in Japan, which, despite a push for “womenomics” from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has one of the biggest employment gender gaps among developed countries. About two-thirds of women now work, but more than half of their positions are part-time or “irregular,” and many women are expected to stop working after they become mothers.

But before long, Zakoji had built more than shop: she’d created a community. Waraku sells traditional food, boxed lunches, and handcrafted goods made by locals and acquaintances, including disabled residents. She set up a nonprofit, too, offering classes on pottery and flower arrangement. And when some locals started to frown at newly-arrived foreign residents – whose experiences reminded her of her own sister’s difficulties after moving to Canada – she was inspired to start an international exchange, where volunteers help tutor Japanese, math, and other subjects.

It’s a benefit for Iida and some of its most isolated residents. But Zakoji’s adventure also highlights that of a number of older women forging new paths through entrepreneurship – ventures that often bring isolated neighbors together, and are redefining what a rapidly "graying" society can look like.

She encourages other elderly people to start their own business, or play a larger part in their local communities.

“When people get together, something will start to happen, and something will be created,” Zakoji says. 

Uneven playing field

In Japan, people aged 65 or older will account for 38 percent of the total population in 2065, up from nearly 27 percent in 2015, according to the Tokyo-based National Institute of Population and Security Research. Statistics like that concern many economists, particularly paired with the country’s birth rate, one of the lowest in the world. They are an underlying impetus for “womenomics,” as low-immigration Japan considers how to boost its workforce.

But “women in the 60s these days have more strength than the same age group a decade ago,” says Atsuko Arisawa, the director of non-profit organization Rokumaru 60 – a play on the words for “six” and “zero.” The organization helps women, especially those in their 60s, improve job skills and find work or start their own business. 

Traditionally, Japanese mothers have most responsibility for child-rearing, while “salaryman” corporate culture keeps mostly-male workers at the office into late evening hours. But even when kids are older, or have left home, women seeking a career face an uphill battle. Last year, the World Economic Forum ranked Japan 111 out of 144 countries on gender equality.

“It’s still very difficult for women to reenter the country’s workforce following the birth of a child,” says Fumie Kuratomi, director of the Fukuoka Gender Studies Institute. “If you are a married woman over 35 in Japan, it’s hard to find even a temporary job.” 

Abe’s government is “far from serious about creating work-life balance for working mothers,” adds Ms. Kuratomi, who is also a sociologist at the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka.

In the autumn of their lives, many women “finally reach a point where they can do what they want to do after staying at home to raise children and take care of their husband,” says Ms. Arisawa, a former editor of a community newspaper. “They want to make their desire a reality.”

For many of these entrepreneurs, Arisawa says, making profits is not the first priority.

“So many women want to contribute to a community and bring pleasure to others,” she says.

Helping neighbors connect

In an area called “Hill of Hope” in the city of Yokohama, near Tokyo, Maki Gomi, who has long volunteered to help local elderly people, opened Café Heartful Port at her home three years ago.

Since its opening, the 300-sq.-ft. cafe has drawn more than 10,000 customers, from teens and parents with babies to elderly people, and holds seminars and small concerts to help residents interact with one another.

“We need to make community-building more interesting,” says Ms. Gomi.

With a community turning gray, and the number of nuclear families rising in a Tokyo suburb like Yokohama, such interaction is important. Elderly people and a family member looking after them can be isolated, says the mother of three grown children. Isolation is a problem for many young families, too: intense schedules that send kids straight from school to extra tutoring classes are common, leaving less time for activities that bring the generations, or the neighborhood, together.

Gomi had their first floor of the house renovated in order to launch the cafe, where she had cared for her aging mother-in-law until her death in 2011.

In September, the cafe will start a program to serve those with dementia and their family members, while they have already had a monthly program for children in low-income families.

“We need a framework in which residents can help each other,” Gomi says. “Building a community starts by raising local awareness of issues. A community problem should be solved within the community. It’s not a good idea to turn to authorities instantly.”

Time for second chances

Some women who have already built their career also embark on later-life businesses. In fact, “womenomics” may have benefited this group most of all: since Mr. Abe came into office, workforce participation rates for women between age 55 and 64 have jumped more than for any other age group. Many of those positions are part-time or irregular, however, and labor experts say it is particularly difficult for this demographic to secure regular jobs.

Ryo Tsunoi had a hard time getting rehired after resigning her job as a public school teacher for health reasons. After she had found nothing but menial jobs, she decided, in her 50s, to start her own business. Ten years ago, she set up her bagel shop in Saitama City, a suburb of Tokyo. It’s called Koharubiyori – a balmy autumn day.

The former primary school teacher stresses she has enjoyed her business “because I’m the one who decides everything.”

Ms. Tsunoi’s shop and her family’s support was even featured on national television.

“These days, more women want to become financially independent, so I’m often asked for advice,” she adds.

On the southern island of Kyushu, Hisako Takada’s dream also had to do with food. And now, in her early 60s, it has come true: she and her daughters have just launched their own restaurant, Hidamari, in the city of Taku, and a natural food store in neighboring Ogi City.

The family had to rent a space in a public building to run an eatery for 3-1/2 years. Today, they have their own: a converted 106-year-old home.

“My daughters have been inspired by other female entrepreneurs around here, and have become very serious about running this business,” says Ms. Takada, who used to be a product development manager of a major sushi chain restaurant. “We’ve received big support from locals as they think they have to revitalize this depopulated area.”

For Zakoji, whose business is marking its 25th anniversary this year, slowing down does not seem to be an option. She says there are still many more things to do, especially to keep up with the times: “I want to make a big change.”


On Film

5. A loving tribute to an old-school implement

Clackety-clack, the typewriter’s back. Well, it never went away for the collectors profiled in a new documentary. Reviewer Peter Rainer says he felt a little guilty writing this piece on his laptop. Enjoy.

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“Like a good Chevy, it holds up.” That’s master craftsman Ken Alexander, singing the praises of an old Smith Corona that sits in his Berkeley, Calif., repair shop – really more of a shrine – called California Typewriter. The charming Doug Nichol documentary by that name explores these clattering time machines through the eyes of some prominent obsessives. Tom Hanks is one of them. He owns 250 typewriters. Historian David McCullough uses the same Royal Standard he bought many decades ago because, he says, “there’s nothing wrong with it.” (He sees another value: Looking back at old typed documents, he finds “great value in mistakes, in seeing which sentences they cut out.”) Predictably, the tributes get a little loopy. Canadian collector Martin Howard talks of finding dead bugs deep inside his antiques. “A dry spider from the 1880s!” he gushes. “Nobody has raided the tomb!” Vinyl records are back. The slow-food movement is big. Maybe it’s time to go back to the future. Just make sure you know a good repairman.


A loving tribute to an old-school implement

The overlong but charming documentary “California Typewriter” is an ode to the iconic writing instrument. I have to say I feel kind of guilty celebrating it on my word processor. 

Director Doug Nichol started out making a movie about a small repair shop in Berkeley, Calif., called California Typewriter, which opened in 1949. Owner Herbert Permillion III and his trusty master craftsman, Ken Alexander, are surrounded in the shop by hundreds of typewriters of all styles, each with its own distinct personality. Speaking admiringly of an old Smith Corona, Alexander rhapsodizes, “Like a good Chevy, it holds up.”

Typewriter apostate that I am, I nevertheless have to admit that these are my kind of people. It turns out there are quite a few of them out there. Tom Hanks, interviewed at length, is one of them. He owns 250 typewriters, 90 percent of them in working order. He’s a coolheaded fanatic, singling out his favorites as if he were selecting fine vintages from a wine cellar. 

Should you ever befriend Hanks, his missives to you will be mailed, not e-mailed. “I hate getting e-mail thank yous,” he says. He just deletes them. The written ones, the good ones, he keeps. “You can create a document that will last forever!”

Historian David McCullough, who “likes working with my hands,” is another famous talking head in “California Typewriter” who unapologetically turns back the clock. He still uses the same Royal Standard he purchased many decades ago because, he says in that casually authoritative voice familiar from so many Ken Burns documentaries, “there’s nothing wrong with it.” His regret at the passing of the typewriter era is more than mere nostalgia. As he explains, with computers, you reword and delete as you go along. Not so with typewritten drafts. (Of course, if you own a printer, you can print out multiple drafts, but I digress.) Looking back at old typed documents, he says that “there is great value in mistakes, in seeing which sentences they cut out. Future historians will have nothing to check out.” Discussing the venerable subjects of his research, he wonders, “How will we be able to know how their minds worked?” 

Of course, it’s likely that historians had the same qualms when typewriters replaced quill pens in the 1880s, but no matter. To each his own.

Given his prolificacy, I was a bit surprised to find McCullough in the anti-word processor camp. No such surprise about the late Sam Shepard, who tells us that he was never comfortable with a computer screen. He thinks computers remove us from the tactile pleasures of writing. What he loved about typing is how “you can see the ink fly into the paper.” Shepard is among those who would “rather ride a horse than drive a car, but that puts you into a different relationship with the modern world.”

This whole typewriter adoration thing can get a bit nutty, and Nichol includes several of the more prominent obsessives, including Martin Howard, a Canadian who has been collecting typewriters, many going back to the 19th century, for more than 20 years. The holy grail for him is a Sholes and Glidden, the typewriter created by Christopher Latham Sholes (who thought, rightly, that his invention would emancipate legions of women from the drudgery of menial work by creating secretarial positions). We can see Howard eyeing one of these rare, encased beauties while visiting a typewriter museum. He hints to the curator about purchasing it. The hint falls on deaf ears.

My favorite bit of nuttiness from Howard comes when he gushes about finding dead insects in the innards of very old typewriters. “A dry spider from the 1880s! Nobody has raided the tomb!” 

Equally fixated is Jeremy Mayer, who buys up old typewriters and then – horrors! – dismantles them in order to refashion the parts as sculptures. He admits that, for some typewriter fanatics, what he does is sacrilegious, but, in a way, his own fanaticism matches theirs. He wants to bring “dead” parts to life, and some of his sculptures, with keys and carriages simulating rib cages, are weirdly ingenious. 

So is the clickety-clack music created by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, performed entirely on discarded typewriters.

Aside from concerts and sculptures, there may not be much of a future for typewriters. The last factory making them, based in Mumbai, recently shut down. Then again, vinyl records are making a comeback. The slow food movement is picking up speed. Typewriters are like time machines. Maybe it’s time to go back to the future. Just make sure you know a good repairman. Grade: B+ (This movie is not rated.)


The Monitor's View

A grass-roots model to counter words that incite

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As the United States and North Korea engage in a war of words, a new effort in Kenya shows how to train local peacemakers to guard against rhetoric that might incite violence. After a close election in 2007, the African country saw more than 1,000 people killed when politicians incited crowds to take revenge on political opponents. For this year’s Aug. 8 election, a new network of peace activists took proactive steps. With international support, they identified hot spots where violence might occur and identified local people held in high regard (“influencers”) to be ready to respond by phone, text, and social media to fake news, rumors, and hateful language. Many of these first-responders were able to resolve conflicts before the voting. Now, with the public receiving vote tallies for candidates, these peacemakers remain on the job. If they succeed, they could be a model for common people everywhere to counter words that incite violence – with actions that heal.


A grass-roots model to counter words that incite

When President Trump used words of violence – “fire and fury the world has never seen” – to threaten North Korea, many people rushed to calm fears that his nuclear rhetoric might become a nuclear reality. Journalists asked experts to assess the risk of war (and found little). China called for more diplomacy. Even Mr. Trump’s own secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, assured Americans that they “should sleep well at night” despite North Korea’s own threats and those of the US president.

In a world in which words that might incite violence can travel at the speed of a tweet, the need for calming voices is even greater than in the past. Facts must be checked quickly. Historical context must be provided. Adversaries who spout hate should be encouraged to find common ground. The social order that favors tranquility and the primacy of good must be asserted.

Such voices often need to be quick to respond. If someone stands up in a crowded movie house and yells “Fire!” when there is no fire – an illegal provocation in many countries – others must be ready to prevent a stampede to the exits. People of authority, such as police and schoolteachers, are taught to be alert for incendiary words and how to defuse a verbal altercation. Yet that responsibility of appeasing angry adversaries can fall on anybody, with words of violence often flying fast these days between smartphones or over satellite TV.

In Kenya, which held a tense election on Aug. 8, a novel experiment is under way to teach local people how to prevent postelection violence, especially when social media has become so pervasive.

After a close election in 2007, the African country saw more than 1,000 people killed when politicians incited crowds to take revenge on political opponents. Civic activists had to learn hard lessons. As Adams Oloo of the University of Nairobi writes in a new book: “Kenya has witnessed the rise of noninstitutionalized networks of groups and individuals that are struggling to expand understandings of politics and bring about social change in terms of behavior, relationships, and ideas.”

For this election, soldiers were certainly better ready to prevent violent protests. But perhaps just as effective is a new network of peace activists who are being proactive. With international support, they have identified hot spots where violence might occur and identified local people held in high regard (“influencers”) to be ready to respond by phone, text, and social media to fake news, rumors, and hateful language. A team of some 2,000 has been trained in mediation to deal with local disputes related to the election.

Many of these first-responders were able to resolve conflicts before the voting. Now with the public receiving vote tallies for candidates, these peacemakers remain on the job. They check facts, provide context, and act quickly to initiate dialogue. If they succeed, they could be a model for common people everywhere to counter words that incite violence – with actions that heal. 


A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

To lessen violence

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The teachings of Christ Jesus provide guidance for rejecting violence. In his words, known as the golden rule, Jesus instructed us all to treat others the way we’d like to be treated. “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” he said (Matthew 7:12). Jesus even told us to love our enemies. If we all did this, wouldn’t the possibility of any degree of violence have to retreat and disappear? Peace for mankind is more than just a wish. It’s something we can all participate in.


To lessen violence

Years ago as a graduate student I did a study of the relative effectiveness of violent and nonviolent means in the efforts of two Asian colonies to gain independence from their European rulers after World War II. One colony never resorted to violence, and independence was obtained after two years of negotiations. In the other colony, there were repeated outbreaks of violence from both sides over a four-year period, with no victory for either side. Eventually the colony achieved independence, but it wasn’t through violence; independence was gained through the political support from other countries and United Nations-sponsored negotiations – a nonviolent, peaceful approach. As I thought about this study recently, it spoke to me of how a peaceful approach to disagreements and our efforts to side with what is right has the support of the law of God – the law of good – which impels and accelerates progress.

We may never face violence in our individual lives at the level of warfare or physical conflict, but we all at times may be faced with violent thoughts – thoughts of hatred, malice, or ill will. Violent thoughts and words can be harmful and destructive to a friendship, a marriage, a family. And entertaining violent thoughts certainly doesn’t contribute in a positive way to the world. Are we diligent in rejecting such thoughts, thoughts which, if indulged, block divinely impelled progress, harmony, and spiritual growth?

In the Bible, Christ Jesus is recorded as teaching his followers what has become known as the golden rule. It instructs us all to treat others the way we’d like to be treated (see Matthew 7:12). That could include speaking to others the way we’d like others to speak to us, and thinking about others the way we’d like others to think about us. Obeying the golden rule, therefore, can be seen as a protection from the temptation to entertain harmful, violent thoughts or speak angry, violent words.

In urging humanity’s practice of the golden rule, Jesus was not asking us to do something we’re not capable of doing. In fact, Jesus’ life mission brought to light that man is the child of God – made in God’s image – and thus capable of fulfilling divine demands. When we acknowledge that we are all God’s spiritual offspring, we discover that it’s natural for us to think, speak, and act with genuine kindness and love toward each other.

Jesus also told his followers: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43, 44). This is God’s remedy for violence of any degree: to let His love for all His children, including ourselves and our fellow man, so fill our hearts with genuine love for one another that the possibility of violence – whether it is a thought, a word, or an act – retreats like darkness before oncoming light.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science, loved Christ Jesus’ teachings. She knew that following his example not only blesses one’s own life, but is also the most effective and powerful way to contribute to healing the world. She advised the members of her church to “strive to promote the welfare of all mankind by demonstrating the rules of divine Love” (“Manual of The Mother Church,” p. 45). Jesus, his disciples, and his followers down through the centuries have proved that living in accord with God, divine Love, certainly does “promote the welfare of all mankind.”

From schoolyard bullying to warfare between nations, religions, or ideologies, violence is disruptive to individual lives, neighborhoods, cities, and countries. And yet, every one of us can play a part in eliminating violence in the world by starting with our own thinking. Through prayer and obedience to the golden rule, thought is purified by the influence of divine Love. Such prayer certainly can uplift the atmosphere of thought in the world.

Does the idea of peace in our world seem beyond reach? Can individual prayers make a difference? When our own lives are sufficiently reflecting “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), we can be sure that our prayers for peace will make a difference. They will bless our homes and neighborhoods, and the wider world as well. Peace for mankind is more than just a wish. It’s something we can all participate in.



Company competition

Children watch a bodybuilding contest for tile-factory workers Friday in Majalengka, in Indonesia's West Java province. The event was among those staged to celebrate the run-up to Indonesian Independence Day, Aug. 17.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( August 14th, 2017 )

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Thanks for reading – or for listening – today. Come back Monday. Besides whatever the news brings, we'll be looking at Millennials’ plunge into library use. What draws them? Free space – and, yes, books. 

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