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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.

2018
March
22
Thursday
Yvonne Zipp
Deputy Daily Editor

Picture a scientist. Lab coat or safety goggles? Microscope or telescope? Wild hair or no hair?

I’ve been picturing scientists a lot this week, thanks to a study in which researchers looked at 50 years of children drawing scientists.

About 3 in 10 students draw pictures of women. That’s good news, researcher David Miller says: It’s the highest percentage it’s been in five decades. 

In 1983, when Dr. Miller looked at about 5,000 children’s drawings done between 1967 to 1977, less than 1 percent of the students drew women. And all 28 of those artists were girls. Since then, 28 percent of children routinely draw women. The Draw-a-Scientist Test shows how stereotypes can change over time.

What’s changed? Not only are there more women working in STEM fields, they are also more visible, from efforts like 500 Women Scientists to the women computer scientists and their allies who, after a computer security conference announced just one female speaker out of 22, planned an alternate conference for the same day.

Take today’s Google Doodle. Katsuko Saruhashi was the first woman in Japan to earn a PhD in chemistry and studied radioactive fallout in the Pacific from US nuclear testing. (The Saruhashi Prize now is given to top natural scientists who are women.) NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson shot to such fame after “Hidden Figures” that toymaker Mattel modeled a doll after her. Marjory Stoneman Douglas is now also a household name, for tragic reasons, reviving interest in the conservationist’s work to save the Florida Everglades.

But my favorite picture is one I have not seen. “I still find myself choking up when I show it,” the BBC’s Quentin Cooper told New Scientist in 2011. Students drew a picture, got to meet a real scientist, and then were asked to draw another picture. One girl’s first picture was a man in a lab coat. Her second was of a smiling woman holding a test tube.

The picture’s caption was one word: “Me.”

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Now, here are our five stories for today.

1. China sanctions: Why talk of a trade war is premature

With President Trump announcing new trade penalties against China, fear of a trade war is growing. But it would take a lot of escalation for that to become a reality.

Yvonne
Laborers work at a Shandong Iron & Steel Group plant in Jinan, in China's Shandong province, last year. In addition to steel and aluminum tariffs, the Trump administration announced new trade penalties against China on March 22.
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Reuters
 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe Trump administration is pressuring China to reduce subsidies and other alleged unfair trade practices. Citing a large US trade deficit and national security concerns, President Trump signed a trade action Thursday to impose penalties on at least $50 billion in Chinese imports. The move means 25 percent tariffs on aerospace and other high-tech and communications goods, but China could retaliate with penalties on US aircraft or soybeans. Combined with other Trump actions on global trade, this has experts worrying about damage to the global economy. The phrase “trade war” is coming up more often. But it’s very rare for a full-blown trade war to happen. The last time was the 1930s, and it didn’t work out well for anyone. Many forecasters say this time around, what’s likely is higher-than-usual friction over trade, coupled with negotiations that may yield some concessions to the world’s giant importer, the United States. As trade law expert Nelson Dong says, “Neither the US nor China wants to create total economic chaos for the other or for itself, and both nations actually have a surprising degree of economic inter-dependence today.”

SOURCE: US Census Bureau
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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1. China sanctions: Why talk of a trade war is premature

The saber-rattling has been growing louder for months.

“We are losing to China,” US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer told a House committee on Wednesday.

“China is not afraid, nor will it dodge a trade war,” China’s former Vice Commerce Minister Wei Jianguo responded in an interview with Bloomberg.

On Thursday, the Trump administration pulled out its saber – announcing it would impose tariffs on at least $50 billion worth of Chinese goods pouring into the United States. That’s part of a gargantuan $568 billion trade deficit, the gap by which America’s imports exceeded its exports last year.

“It’s out of control,” President Trump said.

The list of specific Chinese products is expected in the next 15 days, after which the Chinese are expected to retaliate with similarly sized tariffs that will hit agricultural and other US goods flowing to China.

Although the sabers will be drawn, this is not a trade war – at least, not yet. The $50 billion in sanctions represent roughly a tenth of what China exported to the US last year. The tariffs don’t take effect until after a comment period in which the administration is expected to get a lot of pushback from industry, free-trade Republicans, and major trading partners.

“Pressure on the administration over this will be enormous,” says Edward Alden, a trade expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “There’s a lot still to play out.”

The administration is also trying to tamp down fears of a trade war.

Sanctions as bargaining tools?

“We will end up negotiating over these things rather than fighting over them, in my view,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at Thursday’s announcement.

The administration has plenty of justification taking on China, trade experts say, because China is playing by its own rules in trade. Rather than close down unprofitable state-owned factories, it has subsidized them and allowed them to glut world markets with steel, solar panels, and other goods. It has forced Western companies that want to sell in China to transfer technology to Chinese partners. And it has used licensing and other barriers to protect its industries from foreign competition.

Tom Donohue, President and CEO, US Chamber of Commerce, foreground, speaks as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (from l.), President Trump, and Karen Kerrigan, President and CEO, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, listen during a meeting in Washington on Oct. 31, 2017. The Chamber of Commerce warned Trump against slapping big tariffs on Chinese imports.
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Evan Vucci/AP

The problem, critics say, is the isolated way in which Mr. Trump has taken on China. Rather than working through the World Trade Organization (WTO), his latest moves represent an end run around a system that could provide useful leverage in the future. Rather than build a coalition of nations, many of which are also frustrated by China’s mercantilist ways, Trump is going it alone and alienating potential partners with threats of more trade actions against them.

“While it’s well past time to tell China ‘enough is enough,’ we caution USTR from imposing tariffs, particularly on producer goods like computers,” the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank, said in a statement. “These won’t bring production back to America, but they will raise prices, which will reduce capital investment, lower productivity, and weaken U.S. competitiveness.”

Signs of flexibility

Stock prices plummeted Thursday, with the trade sanctions contributing to a 724-point loss for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, its biggest in more than a month.

Nevertheless, the administration is showing some flexibility. USTR Mr. Lighthizer told a Senate panel Thursday that the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Australia would not be subject to recently announced US steel and aluminum tariffs, joining Mexico and Canada, which also have at least a temporary reprieve.

The biggest test of US intentions could come later this year, when the administration wraps up an investigation into China’s trade practices, especially its requirement that US firms in China transfer technology to Chinese partners.

“We believe the trade actions with the most significant potential economic and market impact – particularly the investigation into China’s use of American intellectual property – have yet to unfold,” Libby Cantrill and Tiffany Wilding of investment house PIMCO wrote in a blog post last week. “We could see President Trump imposing widespread tariffs, potentially even on consumer electronics (like phones), and scaling back Chinese investment in the U.S.”

Some experts remain optimistic that the economic stakes are high enough that neither country will rush toward a confrontation.

Interdependent nations

“Neither the US nor China wants to create total economic chaos for the other or for itself, and both nations actually have a surprising degree of economic inter-dependence today,” Nelson Dong, co-head of the Asia group at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, writes in an email. “My hope (and it is only that) and my own professional expectation is that there will be some very bruising, unpleasant and even damaging battles and certainly a great deal of aggressive and heated rhetoric but no true ‘trade war’ as such.”

But that hope depends on the idea that reason will prevail. And the Chinese are seeing the trade tariffs as only a part of a much larger US broadside against China, says Mr. Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations, who spent four days this week in China. “They are apoplectic over something that nobody in the United States has paid any attention to.”  

On Friday, Mr. Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act, which upgrades the kind of visits US officials can make to the island, which China perceives as a slap to its One China policy.

That move, combined with Trump’s branding of China as a “revisionist” power and the unprecedented scale of the trade sanctions outside international rules of trade, could stoke Beijing’s anger.

The last real trade war: 1930s

“None of us have seen this in our lifetime,” says Alden. When the Reagan administration confronted Japan over trade in the 1980s, it had specific demands it wanted addressed – not a vague economic target. When Congress enacted the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariffs in 1930, there were no global trading rules for the US to circumvent.

Those tariffs are often invoked as a warning against protectionism. But they didn’t spark the Depression, which was already under way, and they didn’t trigger a larger trade war, points out economic historian Douglas Irwin, a professor at Dartmouth College. The beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies erupted after a global financial crisis in 1931.

What the tariffs did do was lengthen the Depression, he argues, and cause Congress eventually to put trade in the hands of the president, who according to the thinking of the time would negotiate trade-liberalizing accords.

Staff writer Mark Trumbull contributed to this story from Washington.

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2. Facing an unseen Congo crisis, a local caregiver steps up

After years of turmoil, the script can seem familiar: militias, child soldiers, displaced people – and that hopeless sense of same old, same old doesn't help raise desperately needed aid for Congo. But quietly heroic help comes from people like Dr. Kumbu.

Yvonne
Dr. Elvis Badianga Kumbu sees patients in the child malnutrition ward of the Presbyterian Hospital of Dibindi, in the Congolese city of Mbuji Mayi. He says the number of severe malnutrition cases has tripled in the past year as conflict has spread across the region.
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Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
 

The 30 Sec. ReadElvis Badianga Kumbu folds his stethoscope around his neck, ending his rounds at this scruffy public hospital. “There is always a story,” he says of patients here in the malnutrition ward. “But now they are more terrible than before.” Until recently, the Kasai region didn’t rank high on a list of the world’s crises – or even Congo’s. But since 2016, more than a million people have fled their homes, fearful of both Congo’s Army and the motley assortment of militias fighting it. Compared with other humanitarian crises, even the one in the country’s east, Kasai has received little outside attention or aid. But local stories of generosity multiply – like that of Dr. Kumbu, who is always on call and whose hospital makes do with just a few hours of electricity per day. On tough days he wraps his arms around one of his five children and puts on an episode of his favorite anime show, before heading back to the hospital. Still, scattered among many difficult days are some that give him hope. Especially one in early January. 

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2. Facing an unseen Congo crisis, a local caregiver steps up

Dr. Elvis Badianga Kumbu can tell a lot about what’s happening in this part of Congo by the stories women tell him.

In normal times, as he presses his stethoscope gently against the chests of their wispy babies, the women speak of the personal tragedies that landed them here, in the malnutrition ward of a scruffy public hospital. They tell of husbands who died in car accidents, or divorced them, or simply went away to work in the local diamond mines and never came back. They explain how the money dwindled to nothing. How they cut back from two meals a day, to one. How finally, they – and their babies – ate nothing at all.

“There is always a story,” the doctor says, folding his stethoscope around his neck after rounds. “But now they are more terrible than before.”

These days, they often begin with a mother watching her village burn as she hid nearby, praying the baby wouldn’t cry and give them away. Or with the glazed eyes of a child soldier, pressing the tip of a machete against the baby’s soft head and barking a command: Run. They describe months in the grasslands, eating the rotting crops from abandoned farms and trying to hide – from Congo’s army and a motley assortment of militias fighting against it, and each other, here.

Until recently, Kasai – a diamond-rich swath of central Congo about the size of Germany – didn’t rank high on a list of the world’s crises. In fact, it didn’t even rank high on a list of Congo’s crises. Poor but peaceful, Kasai wasn’t the Congo of global headlines. There were no marauding militias or squalid settlements of displaced people, no horror stories of mass rapes and drugged child soldiers. 

Over the past year and a half, that has changed. More than a million people have fled their homes, and thousands have died. Meanwhile, international organizations struggle to win attention for what some foreign donors perceive as one more restive region in a nation full of them.

But for Kasaians like Dr. Kumbu, the idea that they can’t wait on someone else to save them is a familiar one. 

He takes home about $600 a month in salary, and sometimes goes a few months without being paid, but in 10 years has rarely thought of going anywhere else. “Of course, it’s true that we sometimes have to spend our own money in the hospital, but what we are called to do above all is to save lives, so we do it,” he says, a warm smile cracking his face. 

'Congo fatigue'

Aligned for decades with the political opposition, Kasai has never been of much interest to Congo’s national government, nor a prime recipient of its (limited) largesse. The few paved roads that run through the region are cratered with potholes as deep as small swimming pools. In province capital Mbuji Mayi, much of the city’s ramshackle infrastructure is left over from the days when it was a Belgian mining company town in the 1930s, and teachers, doctors, and nurses work in sagging buildings with few formal supplies. At Kumbu’s hospital, for instance, rats skitter across the dark wards, and the electricity comes on just a few hours a day. He is lucky if he sees running water at all.  

Organizations like UNICEF, the United Nation’s children’s fund, have tried for decades to sound the alarm about the poor quality of life here – half of the region’s children, for instance, are permanently stunted from poor eating. But what has mostly brought the most outsiders here is not to bring in aid, but to take away diamonds. 

But that status quo changed in August 2016, when Congolese security forces killed a powerful local chief in central Kasai, touching off a bloody conflict that quickly pulled many other regional leaders – and their many varied grievances – into its orbit. Since then, as many as 5,000 people have reportedly been killed and about 1.4 million people have fled their homes. UNICEF estimates that 400,000 children are now severely malnourished here – as many as in the entire country of Yemen.

Christophe Kayembe, a resident of the village of Kapangu in central Congo, says his village has welcomed new arrivals fleeing the conflict because 'like us, they're just trying to survive.'
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Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

And yet, compared to the humanitarian crisis there, or in South Sudan, or even in nearby eastern Congo, Kasai has received almost no outside attention, and nearly as little money. UNICEF’s current $88 million appeal for the region is only a quarter funded. And the World Food Program only has the funds to reach about 425,000 of the 3 million “severely hungry” people in the region.

“Our point is not that children could die here, it’s that many children are already dying,” says Christophe Boulierac, a spokesperson for UNICEF currently on mission in Kasai. “The time for discussion has passed; we have to act.”

On April 13, the UN, along with the European Commission and the Dutch government, will hold a pledging conference in Geneva for Congo, where it hopes to convince the world’s wealthiest countries and organizations to shake off their “Congo fatigue” and reach into their pockets again for a country that has spent decades in turmoil. (Last year, humanitarian organizations asked for about $800 million. They got half that. This year, they’re asking for twice as much.)

Being present

And so for now, Kasai relies on the people who do show up – like Kumbu, who shares a stuffy two-bedroom apartment at the hospital with his wife and five children and is on call every hour of every day. 

It’s also people like Narcisse Ngudi Kinzambi, a blue-eyed psychologist who drives out to the charred sites of recent firefights to collect child soldiers the militias left behind. In a year and a half, he has saved more than 200. Dozens now stay in brightly colored dorms in the transit center he helps run in Mbuji Mayi, their days a mix of hardcore counseling and the equally serious business of learning to be children again – playing soccer, drawing landscapes, singing. 

Look around in Kasai, and these stories multiply – tales of local generosity as vast and remarkable as the war is cruel and brutal. The families who take in children separated from their parents in the war, though they themselves barely have enough to eat as it is. The teachers who still show up to school each morning, though they haven’t received a salary in years. The villagers who make space for new arrivals fleeing the war in their own hometowns.

“Like us, they have seen terrible things,” says Christophe Kayembe, shrugging. In recent months, his village, Kapangu, has welcomed several new residents. “Like us, they’re just trying to survive.” 

Of course, war also tests the limits of altruism. Part of the conflict’s power has been to knot together many reasons people here are angry – among them poverty, political marginalization, ethnic divides, and local leadership tussles – into a kind of nebulous rage with no clear target. Militias have destroyed about 400 schools and 600 public clinics – the clearest symbols of state power here. But they also fight among themselves, torching villages and abducting children. Meanwhile, government security forces have looted entire villages under the auspices of searching for militants, slaughtering anyone who stood in their way. The UN has discovered more than 80 mass graves in the region.

“When a family reaches you, after all the terrible things they have seen, they trust you. For them, you are a brother and a father to their child, because you can take care of him,” says Kumbu. “When a baby dies in those circumstances, you want to cry with them, but you cannot. They need you to be strong.”

On those days, he says, he sometimes walks out of the ward and simply goes home. There, he wraps his arms around whichever of his five children is closest and puts on an episode of his favorite anime show.

Then, a few hours later, he heads back to the hospital and begins again.

Still, scattered among the many difficult days of work over the last year and a half are some that give him hope.

One in particular is seared in his mind. January 5, 2018. That morning, Kumbu was in town when he received an emergency call. He was needed urgently at the hospital. So the doctor dropped what he was doing and rushed back.

When he arrived, he ran straight to the patient, a woman in labor. Another doctor had already arrived to begin the delivery, so he stood back and talked her through it. Breathe. Push. Breathe. 

At 3:17 p.m. the baby arrived, squirming and pale, and the other doctor immediately handed her to Kumbu.

For the first time, he got a good look at his daughter, Prinelle, tiny and wailing.

“At that moment, I forgot everything else,” he says. “I felt the greatest joy.”

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3. For these gun owners, a core belief: Guns make us safer

Our next story was a real education for reporter Christa Case Bryant, who had never so much as held – let alone fired – a loaded weapon before this assignment. (Even water guns were banned at home growing up.) But as our Heartland correspondent, she wanted to better understand how gun owners see the gun control debate sparked by recent school shootings. What stood out to her was a way of thinking about society and government that places a premium on individual rights and responsibility.

Yvonne
Kristin Gromala (c.) and her daughter, Alexis, wait to pay for their target practice session with Michelle Carlson (r.), who brought her girlfriends to Thunderbird Firearms Academy in Wichita, Kan., to celebrate her birthday. It was Ms. Gromala's boyfriend, a law enforcement officer, who first taught Ms. Carlson the defensive shooting skills she wanted to acquire in order to defend her home and her son when her husband was traveling.
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Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
 

The 30 Sec. ReadWill restricting gun ownership make the United States safer? Gun owners say no, because they see firearms first and foremost as tools of protection. While some see their unwillingness to part with guns as a callous response to high-profile shootings, they say it’s exactly the opposite. “It’s because I’m compassionate about our kids that I think we need to protect them,” says Michelle Carlson, a mom and special-education teacher speaking at Thunderbird Firearms Academy in Wichita, Kan., where she brought a few girlfriends to celebrate her birthday with target practice. With more than 50 classes and a simulated “house” with movable partitions, the facility trains civilians in highly realistic scenarios in which adrenaline or fear could cloud decisionmaking. It also mentally steels them for being confronted by an actual attacker and potentially killing someone in order to defend themselves and their families. “We’re not trying to make G.I. Janes or G.I. Joes,” says owner Ryan Pennock. “We want to give them the proper skills so they can solve problems.”

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3. For these gun owners, a core belief: Guns make us safer

Michelle Carlson is warm and sweet – and good with a gun. A Glock 17, to be precise. It fits nicely in her long fingers. It also happens to be the preferred choice of law enforcement officers.

She didn’t grow up with guns, but five years ago – feeling a need to better protect her home – she went out for an afternoon with an officer to learn defensive shooting skills.

“Part of the reason I wanted to learn to do this is because my husband travels a lot,” says Ms. Carlson, who practiced shooting from all sorts of different positions – on her back, on one knee, and with one hand so she could use her other hand to hold back her special-needs child in the long hallway leading from his bedroom to the rest of the house. “If my son is home and my husband isn’t here, I want to know I’m somewhat capable of taking care of us,” she says.

For many gun owners, especially the 40 percent who are women, firearms are first and foremost tools of protection. These individuals seek not to kill, but to defend – though they see deadly force as justified when there’s a genuine threat to life.

So when confronted with the spate of school shootings, they advocate increasing armed defense rather than taking guns away from citizens, which they say would make America less safe. While critics see their unwillingness to part with guns as a callous response to the school-shooting epidemic, gun owners say it’s exactly the opposite.

“It’s because I’m compassionate about our kids that I think we need to protect them,” says Carlson, speaking at Thunderbird Firearms Academy in Wichita, Kan., where she had brought a few girlfriends to celebrate her birthday with target practice.

As a special-education teacher, Carlson strongly supports changing current rules to allow teachers who are so inclined to be able to use guns. Her friend Kristin Gromala advocates hiring unemployed veterans to protect schools, but also points out that in many rural areas even lunch ladies often have excellent shooting skills from growing up on farms. Ms. Gromala argues that ending the days of schools as gun-free zones would serve as a powerful deterrent. Her 12-year-old daughter agrees. “I’d feel safer if my teacher had a gun just in case,” says Alexis, who started learning to shoot at age 10.

Getting rid of the ‘dead rabbit’ reflex

Thunderbird, an $8.5 million facility that opened in 2015, is not your average gun shop.

They do sell guns; they have the most extensive selection of firearms in the state. They are also a firearms distributor for law enforcement agencies not only in Kansas, but Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa as well. And in 2016, owner Ryan Pennock and his then-director of training, Daniel Shaw, conducted special training for the Marine Presidential Guard at Camp David.

Owner Ryan Pennock established Thunderbird Firearms Academy in 2015 with a focus on defensive shooting skills. It's the largest indoor firing range in Kansas, and offers more than 50 classes. Mr. Pennock and his staff have trained the Marine Presidential Guard at Camp David, and provide civilians the opportunity to hone their skills in highly realistic scenarios in which adrenaline or fear could cloud decision making.
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Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor

In addition to offering the largest indoor range in Kansas, Thunderbird also houses classrooms – one set up with desks and chairs, another with tape on the floor marking out imaginary doors and windows, with red Xs denoting shooters. Here, students armed with pretend wooden guns learn the strategic thinking needed to clear a building. “We want to develop thinkers before we develop shooters,” says Mr. Pennock.

But it’s what happens behind the next door that sets Thunderbird apart from most facilities in the country.

In this 1,700 sq. ft. space, they can recreate the layout of your home with moveable partitions, and teach you and your spouse how to move through your hallways to your children’s bedrooms, defending yourself at every corner. For more advanced students, there are stairwells and an upper-floor window where a sniper could perch.

Staff play the bad guys while clients practice defending themselves, using real firearms that have been modified to shoot projectiles designed for such simulations. They hurt, but do not kill. There are also systems in place to create light, sound, smoke, fog, and big loud sounds. The idea is to provide experience dealing with highly realistic scenarios in which adrenaline or fear could cloud decisionmaking – and mentally steel clients for the moment when they might be confronted with an actual attacker, potentially killing someone while defending themselves and their families.

“We’re not trying to make G.I. Janes or G.I. Joes,” says Pennock. “We want to give them the proper skills so they can solve problems instead of laying down and going ‘dead rabbit.’ ”

The ‘self-preservation clause’ for the Constitution

The set-up looks like it’s designed for military special forces more than portly gentlemen or silver-haired ladies with lipstick.

But the clients here come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, many motivated by fear of a break-in or by knowledge of a friend or relative who was attacked, says Pennock.

While national murder rates are down, Kansas saw a 10-year high in 2016, the last year for which state data is available. In Wichita, a city of about 390,000 whose per capita murder rate is higher than that of Denver and Los Angeles, the upward trend continued in 2017.

In Thunderbird’s Handgun 1 class on a recent Saturday, instructor Andy Padilla, a retired Marine, tells participants that if and when they meet an attacker, they could be carrying grocery bags or playing with kids on a playground. He drills them over and over on removing the weapon from their holster and firing at an imagined attacker, represented here with faceless paper targets.

“We need to work to an efficiency level that’s pretty [darn] quick,” says Mr. Padilla. The goal: draw and fire – accurately – in less than a second.

For Greg Bettencourt, a grandfather and NRA member who is taking the course for the second time, the principle of protection afforded by the Constitution extends beyond himself and his family.

“For me, the Second Amendment was written for the right to bear arms so that a government … cannot take over and overthrow the current checks and balances,” he says, noting that oppressive regimes from Nazi Germany to Communist China have prevented the populace from possessing guns.

The Second Amendment reads: A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In Pennock’s eyes, the right to bear arms is crucial to preserving the other rights enshrined in the Constitution. He gives an example: If he were to speak on behalf of conceal and carry laws at the University of California, Berkeley, he would want private security to protect him against protesters. If the Second Amendment were taken away, or emasculated to the point where it was impossible to have effective private security, then he would be at the mercy of whether the government decided to protect his right to speak on a controversial topic. If not, he would be faced with a choice between free speech and his personal safety.

“The Second Amendment is the self-preservation clause for the Constitution,” Pennock says. “Once you start to dismantle that, it’s like Jenga.”

Seeking protection

Many supporters of the Second Amendment come from a way of thinking about society and government that places a premium on individual responsibility – from finances to firearms.

While they generally respect law enforcement, they see many agencies as overwhelmed. And even under the best of circumstances, how could officers protect them from the types of threats these individuals worry about, which often are over in as little as two minutes? As one bumper sticker puts it, “9mm: Faster than 9-1-1.”

For Christian gun owners, there’s an added dimension: Where does the Almighty fit in?

Sgt. Charles Lowe, a police officer in neighboring Missouri, has given thought to both issues. When he was ambushed by a shooter in downtown St. Louis several years ago, he credited divine intervention with saving his life.

“For me, I know ultimately God is my protection,” says Sergeant Lowe, who sees that protection as an outgrowth of the work he is doing – and his motives for doing it. “The Beatitudes say, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ I think we are doing the work of the Lord in keeping the peace in the community.”

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4. In tense south Lebanon, UN force proves it helps to just talk

Can something as simple as open lines of communications prevent the horrors of war? UNIFIL, which just turned 40, is a case in point. By regularly convening Israeli and Lebanese officers, the UN force has been credited with helping keep the peace in southern Lebanon amid escalating tensions.

Yvonne
 

The 30 Sec. ReadAfter 40 years, the first “I” in UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, has become something of an anachronism. And there are no illusions that the peacekeeping force can stop the militant Lebanese organization Hezbollah or Israel from waging war, should either side be determined. But it’s also clear that UNIFIL’s role as the host of monthly meetings between Israeli and Lebanese officers is vital in preventing misunderstanding or miscalculations from spiraling out of control. “The tripartite meeting mechanism is one of the most important confidence-building mechanisms UNIFIL has been using since 2006,” says the UNIFIL spokesman. “We have had over 110 meetings in 11-1/2 years, and no one has ever walked out, even during tense periods.” Indeed, this is one such period, with both Hezbollah and Israel girding for war. “I think UNIFIL does two things particularly well,” says a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, “communication and coordination, to decrease the risk of unintended escalation, and acting as a complicating factor to unilateral military action by Hezbollah or Israel due to their physical presence.”

Karen Norris/Staff
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4. In tense south Lebanon, UN force proves it helps to just talk

Tensions have risen between Israel and the militant Lebanese organization Hezbollah and its patron Iran this past year, prompting many on both sides to wonder if a new war will soon shatter a calm that has lasted more than 11 years.

Yet, ironically, despite the hostile rhetoric and concerns on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel frontier, traditionally a locus for violence, it is one of the quietest borders in the current turbulence that is the Middle East.

There are several reasons for this. One is that the promise of massive destruction to both Lebanon and Israel in the next war – worse even than both sides suffered in the summer of 2006 – has served as a powerful deterrence and ensured that the violence has remained mostly at the level of rhetoric rather than military action.

But away from the limelight, a United Nations peacekeeping force that has been deployed in south Lebanon for over 40 years is providing a discrete, simple, but effective means of preventing dangerous misunderstandings or miscalculations between the militaries of Lebanon and Israel: communication.

There are no illusions that UNIFIL (the first I stands for “Interim,” which long ago became an anachronism) can stop a war if one should arise. But its role as a host of monthly “tripartite” meetings between Lebanese and Israeli officers has helped prevent past moments of tension from spiraling into something worse.

“The tripartite meeting mechanism is one of the most important confidence-building mechanisms UNIFIL has been using since 2006,” says Andrea Tenenti, the UNIFIL spokesman. “We have had over 110 meetings in 11-and-a-half years and no one has ever walked out, even during tense periods. There’s really a will of the parties to use this mechanism and a will to maintain the cessation of hostilities.”

The meetings, usually held at the beginning of each month, are hosted by the UNIFIL commander and include small military delegations from Lebanon and Israel. They offer an opportunity to address any concerns that may have arisen in previous weeks along the Blue Line, the UN name for a boundary matching the international border behind which Israel was obliged to withdraw its forces in 2000, ending a 22-year occupation of south Lebanon.

“I think UNIFIL does two things particularly well – communication and coordination, to decrease the risk of unintended escalation, and acting as a complicating factor to unilateral military action by Hezbollah or Israel due to their physical presence and the potential for local clashes to carry an international cost,” says Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

UNIFIL, which this week marks the 40th anniversary of its establishment, currently deploys some 10,400 peacekeepers from 41 countries, including NATO members such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Turkey.

Fiery rhetoric as deterrence

It is also the only UN peacekeeping mission to boast a small navy, which plies Lebanon’s coastal waters in an attempt to ensure that no unauthorized weapons are smuggled into Lebanon in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions. Since 2006, more than 18,000 ships have been hailed by UNIFIL’s maritime component, and 11,000 referred to the Lebanese Navy for inspection, UNIFIL says. The peacekeepers have found contraband narcotics at sea, but, so far, no weapons.

Recently, tactical tensions along the Blue Line have flared with a decision by Israel to bolster its existing security fence with a concrete wall. Lebanon opposes the Israeli action, fretting that it will make a fait accompli an Israeli interpretation of the path of the international border that remains disputed in places.

Hezbollah has delivered its own warnings that it will not allow Israel to build walls inside Lebanon. In response, UNIFIL’s mediatory efforts stepped up significantly, with a total of four tripartite meetings in February instead of the customary one, and another two this month. In addition, the UNIFIL commander, a burly Irish general who has served several tours with the force in the past three decades, has held multiple bilateral meetings with Lebanese and Israeli officers.

In many respects, while the fiery rhetoric hurled by either side can sound alarming, it actually helps reinforce the strong mutual deterrence, reminding both sides of the cost of another war.

Local faith in Hezbollah

For the war-weary southern Lebanese, who in the last 11 years have experienced the longest period of calm since the 1960s, the prospect of yet another conflict is constantly at the back of the mind. But some prefer to remain guardedly optimistic.

“The feeling today is that because Hezbollah is strong that’s why we have not yet had a war,” says Hassan Balhas, a local administrative official, known as a mukhtar, in the Shiite-populated southern Lebanese village of Seddiqine. “If Israel feels that we are weak then they will attack.”

Seddiqine is well-acquainted with the past violence that has wracked south Lebanon. The village was under Israeli occupation between 1982 and 1985, then found itself on the frontline of an Israeli-controlled border strip until 2000. Around 80 percent of the village was destroyed during the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. The roads around the hill village are lined with portraits of Hezbollah “martyrs”: some of them sun-faded with time, and others freshly colored, depicting those killed recently in Syria, where Hezbollah has played an important role in supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

War may come to south Lebanon, but few believe that it will start here. Instead, many eyes are turned to the east, toward Syria, where Israeli airstrikes against targets related to Hezbollah, and more recently, Iran, run the risk of triggering an escalation that could quickly get out of hand. In February, in an exchange that began with Israel’s downing of an Iranian-built drone, Syrian anti-aircraft units shot down an Israeli F-16 jet in the first such incident since 1982. The crew bailed out and landed safely in Israel, Syrian anti-aircraft installations came under heavy attack, and the incident then quickly died down.

“What if the pilot had landed in south Lebanon and been captured by Hezbollah? What would the Israelis have done then?” asks Abu Ali Sweidan, a Lebanese who in the 1970s was a senior military commander in south Lebanon with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. “I think people are being too confident here. I worry about a war beginning in Syria then spreading here.”

Psychologically preparing for war

Hezbollah officials repeatedly say that a war is not likely, as Israel will not embark upon a conflict that it cannot guarantee winning. But Hezbollah’s fighters believe another war is inevitable, one for which they have been training for a decade and are now, they say, preparing for psychologically.

“We are preparing ourselves mentally because we know the next war will be completely different from the past. We know it will be very big,” says a veteran local Hezbollah official in south Lebanon, speaking on condition of anonymity. “In 2006, we were no more than 5,000 people. Now we are tens of thousands, and we have gained a lot of experience from Syria. In 2006, we could fire a missile into Israel and put a hole in the wall. Next time, just one of our missiles will bring down three buildings.”

The ongoing war preparations on both sides underline that while UNIFIL’s interlocutor role helps ease tactical everyday concerns along the Blue Line, its ability to maintain calm has its limits.

Says the Hariri Center’s Mr. Itani: “UNIFIL’s mere existence and presence have some value, but it operates at the mercy of the forces it is supposed to separate.”

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5. Math makeover: Colleges trade lectures for active learning

 If lectures aren't helping college students learn, some universities are asking, why do we keep using them?

Yvonne
 

The 30 Sec. ReadUniversities are looking for ways to have students arrive at college and not say, “Math? Ugh.” One initiative utilizes practices already supported in the K-12 grades, opting for group-work and hands-on learning over rote lecturing. The project, called Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning, was born out of a crisis in university math: Too many students, especially students of color, were either failing out or giving up. In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology sought to determine why. Their findings: The traditional math classroom dynamic doesn't appeal to a broad swath of learners. SEMINAL launched in 2016 with three universities and, as of February, has as many as 12 participating institutions. Ricardo Carretero, a professor of mathematics at San Diego State University, was skeptical about the active-learning approach at first. But slowly he began seeing changes. Students spoke up more frequently, became more creative with their approaches to solutions, and started to do better on quizzes. “Little by little,” he says, “I’m realizing how important it is in getting students motivated and engaged instead of being passive.”

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5. Math makeover: Colleges trade lectures for active learning

When Nathan Karas showed up to his first day of Intermediate Algebra at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the classroom didn’t quite look like what he expected.

For one, there weren’t any desks. Students collected around a handful of long tables. There also wasn’t a lecturing professor at the front of the room. Instead, an instructor and a learning assistant (LA) drifted throughout the class. And those other students Mr. Karas sat down with? They weren’t just his neighbors; they were his partners. Each table was expected to work, study, and take quizzes together, as a group.

UNL is part of an initiative that fosters active learning methods – such as those found in debate and collaborative problem-solving – in college math courses. The project, called Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL), was born out of a crisis in university math: Too many students, especially students of color, were either failing out or giving up. In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) sought to determine why. Their findings: the traditional math classroom dynamic – with a lecturing instructor and an emphasis on individual work – doesn’t appeal to a broad swath of learners.

Since then, academics across the country have been working to rethink what an accessible math class could look like.

“Those of us who have succeeded in mathematics know that you’ve got to take what’s in the book ... and really wrestle with it. Ask the what-if questions. Look at the hard problems,” says David Bressoud, professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and a SEMINAL advisor. “And that’s not how most students have learned how to study mathematics,” he says.

Active learning can have significant benefits for students, according to recent research. Those in active learning environments were about 33 percent less likely to fail in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, according to 2014 research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But for cash-strapped schools, implementing these practices can be seen as prohibitively expensive. And that’s where SEMINAL comes in. Kickstarted by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the program has provided funding and best practices training across the country. The Association for Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) oversees SEMINAL and launched the initiative with three universities – including UNL – in 2016. In February, nine additional schools joined the effort.

More attention in class

In Nebraska, Karas had always been interested in math, but he had a difficult time in high school and struggled with courses that felt like they sped through a crowded curriculum.

“I was just trying to get a C at least, just to graduate. I never felt like I could totally demonstrate my actual curiosity because the pressure and the feeling of being left behind was overriding that ability to feel accomplishment,” he says.

But in Intermediate Algebra, Karas thrived on the close connection to his professor and LA during class, and became a leader within his study group. The transition wasn’t always easy. If someone in his group didn’t show up, he and his peers had to work doubly hard to finish projects. But the intimacy of the class also meant that Karas felt seen in a way he hadn’t before. “You get paid much more attention to in this type of class,” he says.

Pass rates for the algebra class Karas took have increased from about 60 percent to about 80 percent since 2016, according to Wendy Smith, the associate director of the Center for Science, Mathematics & Computer Education at UNL and a SEMINAL coordinator. And now the program is becoming more intentional about where it concentrates its efforts.

An option for vulnerable students

The effects of active learning are most pronounced among students who are vulnerable to failing out, according to a 2014 study in the journal Innovative Higher Education. And that figure is especially important for students from underrepresented groups, particularly students of color.

Only 48 percent of students from a racial minority at the University of California-Los Angeles continued studying STEM courses through their senior year of college, compared with 74 percent of white students, according to a 2017 study from the university’s Higher Education Research Institute. White students from well-resourced backgrounds are far more likely to excel in a traditional lecture-driven environment, says Dr. Bressoud, because they’re equipped with greater literacy and confidence in math. And for prospective STEM professionals of color, he notes, seeing fields that lack racial representation can be a strong deterrent in itself.

SEMINAL’s nine new institutions represent a response to that unequal dynamic, says Howard Gobstein, the executive vice president of the APLU. The list includes California State Universities at Fullerton and East Bay, which both serve largely Latino populations, and Morgan State University, a historically black university in Baltimore.

“We didn't choose just all the most research-intensive, largest institutions.... We wanted to make sure that we were also selecting leadership institutions across various categories,” he says.

Faculty skepticism

When SEMINAL’s three core universities first began the program, the schools strategized on how to win over support from students, says Dr. Smith. But the biggest source of resistance actually came from faculties.

When Ricardo Carretero, a professor of mathematics at San Diego State University – another of the project’s founding institutions – learned about SEMINAL, he wasn’t convinced it would work. Facilitating active learning takes much more time than preparing lectures, he says.

“I didn't know about active learning the first time it was presented to me. I thought, ‘Well this is just nonsense, I just need to deliver a good class and with a good class I should be able to get the students to understand,’ ” he says.

But slowly Dr. Carretero began seeing a change in his students’ demeanors. They spoke up more frequently, became more creative with their approaches to solutions, and started to do better on quizzes. According to data provided by Carretero, average test scores in the active learning Calculus II course increased from 49.4 percent to 66.9 percent, from the fall of 2015 to the fall of 2017. Over the same time period, the rate of students earning lower than a C in the course dropped from 43.9 percent to 26.7 percent.

“Little by little I'm realizing how important it is in getting students motivated and engaged instead of being passive,” he says.

For Karas, who passed his Intermediate Algebra course and is now enrolled in College Algebra and Trigonometry, another active learning course, the effects of the program have been profound. Karas doesn’t know what he wants to major in, but he plans to continue on in the department. His success has opened a whole world of curiosity.

“It’s the difference between looking up at the top of a skyscraper and feeling the world from being at the top of that same skyscraper,” he says. “There’s so much more that is visible, there's so much more to think through.”

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The Monitor's View

Trump’s action on China helps all inventors

 

The 30 Sec. ReadPresident Trump’s decision to penalize China for stealing American intellectual property could have a big side effect. It may nudge China to better honor a global system that encourages individuals who invent a widget or create a great work to flourish. Many in China may actually welcome this US move. In recent years, Chinese companies have won intellectual property cases against their competitors. New legal protections have helped create a burst of innovation. China accounts for most of the billions of dollars the US economy loses annually to theft of its trade secrets. Correcting that will definitely help the United States. But most of all it will restore the integrity of global trading rules that rely on the idea that all humanity benefits when individuals can safely earn perks from their discoveries.

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Trump’s action on China helps all inventors

He did not frame it this way, but President Trump’s decision on Thursday to penalize China for stealing American intellectual property serves a purpose beyond merely helping the US economy.

It also could nudge China to better honor a cornerstone idea of the world trading system.

The idea is that individuals who invent a widget or create a great work serve a grand purpose for all by bringing forth a useful discovery. To nurture such progress, their work deserves temporary legal protections from theft.

That concept often gets lost in the hard-knuckle nationalism of today’s trade battles, especially when countries like China set forth big goals to dominate specific industries by almost any means. Chinese leader Xi Jinping even speaks of “foreign things for China’s use.” And in Mr. Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on Chinese goods and limit China’s investments in US technologies, he narrowly tries to protect America’s competitive edge in science and technology.

But his actions have the additional effect of affirming a global system that encourages individuals to flourish by rewarding their hard work and creativity through patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Original thought, expressed in individual achievements in science and technology, reveals infinite possibilities for humanity. To honor creative thinking is to nurture it.

Many in China may actually welcome this US move. In recent years, Chinese companies have won intellectual property cases against their competitors in court. And Mr. Xi himself has warned Chinese artists not to plagiarize the works of others.

The new legal protections in China have helped create a burst of innovation in industries. China is now the second biggest source of international patent applications behind the United States. It could become the biggest within three years, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The US economy loses an estimated $225 billion to $600 billion annually to theft of its trade secrets. Most of that loss comes from China through cybertheft and forced transfers of technology. Correcting that imbalance will definitely help the US. But most of all it will restore the integrity of global trading rules that rely on the idea that all humanity benefits when individuals can safely earn perks from their discoveries.

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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.

Thoughts worth thinking

 

Today’s column explores how increasing our understanding of God even a small amount can lead to healing.

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Thoughts worth thinking

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Have you ever thought of making a pie chart of the different kinds of thoughts you are thinking as you move through the day?

I recently did that as a fun little exercise, and by the end of the week it had revealed pretty clearly what I am interested in, and even what I love.

Initially, this exercise was just for the sake of observation and amusement. I wasn’t trying to change anything. I just wanted to be more aware of the different directions to which I was devoting my thinking. Since we literally think thousands of thoughts a day, as you can imagine, not all of the thoughts I was tracking were wonderful. But I made sure to acknowledge the good ones, too.

And I discovered something interesting: The nature of my thinking made a big difference in my experience. The correlation I discerned was that a spiritual thought – for instance, I spent time considering God’s nature as infinite love and goodness – actually led to more clarity and harmony in my day.

In order to make the mental shift toward this line of thinking, it wasn’t as though I needed to stop thinking or force my thoughts in a certain way. I just humbly opened my heart a little more to God’s presence, to the inspiration that I understand is always coming to each of us from the divine Mind.

That’s not to say God is responsible for all the thoughts we entertain. There’s a line in the Bible that says: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1). I think of the word “spirits” here as relating to different types of thinking and concepts, so this encouraged me to “try,” or examine, thoughts as they crossed my mental threshold. I realized that if they made me feel loved by God and closer to God, then they were divine – from God.

Along those lines, I’ve learned that it doesn’t do much good to dwell on fear, lack, or resentment. It’s not that we need to, or should try to, willfully force such thoughts out of our thinking or beat ourselves up over having them, but we can know that these are not thoughts that come to us from the infinite Mind. By opening our hearts to God’s nature and understanding our own nature as God’s expression, these unwelcome thoughts increasingly lose their hold.

Christ Jesus showed that we can all yield to the divine Mind in this way. He encouraged people to increase their faith and understanding, even if only by a tiny amount (see Luke 17:6), and he demonstrated the wonderful healings that can result. This still applies today.

A friend of mine once was told by an optometrist that she had something wrong with her eyes. She felt as though this prediction completely darkened her future, and indeed, her vision became worse and worse over a few months.

Then she began praying about it. That is, she started to open her thought to the idea that as God’s daughter, she was spiritual and whole. And as she explained it to me, she felt that “God was there telling me of my perfection … even though I felt far from perfect.”

That’s how God knows us. Not as material beings infused into imperfect matter, but as entirely perfect and spiritual. And as we yield to what the divine Mind knows, we realize that we can never be separated from God.

My friend shed tears of gratitude as she saw more clearly how the truth of God’s perfection was expressed in her, and over the next few weeks she continued to let this message of God’s goodness fill her thinking.

Within several months of the diagnosis, she’d had an inspiring and permanent healing, and even now she still takes time each day to pray to gain more understanding of her God-given spiritual wholeness. Had she tracked her “before” and “after” thoughts on a pie chart, I’m sure the change would have been impressive!

“To have one God and avail yourself of the power of Spirit,” it says in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy, “you must love God supremely” (p. 167). Even a slight but heartfelt increase in our desire to know God, and to acknowledge the spiritual perfection that God is constantly expressing in us, can open our lives up to big blessings.

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Meting out a resource

A woman fills plastic vessels with water from a shared tap in Bangalore, India, March 22, World Water Day. Bangalore is among 10 cities in the world that appear to be edging toward a water crisis. Today, some 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home, according to the United Nations. Safe access for all by 2030 has been named a Sustainable Development Goal. For ideas on taking action, go to worldwaterday.org.
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Aijaz Rahi/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 23rd, 2018 )

Yvonne Zipp
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for spending time with us today. Come back tomorrow. We're working on two stories ahead of this weekend's marches – one on how Florida's top-notch civics education helped mold the Parkland generation and a second looking at lessons from Europe on dealing with mental health issues.

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