Remember the State of the Union? President Trump’s speech was only last Tuesday. But already, in news terms, it seems the semidistant past.

It’s been superseded by big events that combine catchy elements of our polarized, Facebook- and Twitter-dominated culture.

Take the confrontation between Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief, and the owners of the National Enquirer. Mr. Bezos accuses the Enquirer of blackmail, saying it threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he stopped his investigation of the tabloid.

It’s a story that combines a billionaire’s private life with allegations of criminality at a publication that has links to President Trump and Saudi Arabia. If it were fiction, it would be dismissed as over the top.

Then there’s the bizarre implosion of Virginia’s state leadership. What started out as an apparently simple tale of the governor’s racial insensitivity in his medical school yearbook has morphed into a larger tale of persistent, systemic racism that involves a number of top officials and crosses partisan and political lines. (See our top story today.) 

And Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker appeared before the House Judiciary Committee today. He denied talking about the Russia inquiry with the president. It’s the first big clash of House Democratic investigation efforts.

Now to our five stories for your Friday. 

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1. What Virginia scandal could say about Democrats’ future

The Democratic strategy in 2020 leans heavily on those outraged by President Trump’s views on racial and gender issues. That makes Virginia a litmus test for what the party thinks it can forgive – and what it can’t.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters/File
Then-Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (c.) celebrates with Lt. Gov.-elect Justin Fairfax (l.) and Attorney General Mark Herring at Mr. Northam’s election night rally in Fairfax, Va., in November 2017.

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The Democratic Party’s metamorphosis ahead of the 2020 elections has reached a crossroads in Virginia. The governor and attorney general have admitted to wearing blackface decades ago, and the lieutenant governor is facing accusations of sexual assault.

For a party seeking to energize voters outraged by President Trump’s stance on racial and gender issues, do such transgressions cut too deep? Or does it matter that the incidents of racism are in the past and Gov. Ralph Northam has since established a record of supporting core Democratic causes? The answer will echo beyond Virginia, further defining the identity of the party seeking to unseat Mr. Trump.

But Virginia offers a window into the struggle. The message that emerges is one that has defined politics in recent years: a demand for authenticity and honesty. One community activist in Richmond says it would have made such a difference if Governor Northam had owned up to his ignorance or prejudice and given a better account of how his views have changed. “He could have done that in a very powerful way.”


What Virginia scandal could say about Democrats’ future

Joshua Cole has fond memories of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) of Virginia.

Back in 2016, when Mr. Cole was an assistant at the statehouse clerk’s office and Mr. Northam was a state senator, Northam “remembered my name immediately,” Cole says. “He would talk to me every day.”

A year later, when Cole decided to run for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, he was happy to support Northam′s own campaign for governor by knocking on doors, rallying supporters, and actually voting for Northam. Though he lost his own race, Cole was thrilled when Northam was elected governor.

Now Cole is president of the Stafford County branch of the NAACP, and he says he doesn’t believe Northam is racist, despite a photo on the governor’s 1984 yearbook page that shows one person, ostensibly in costume, in Ku Klux Klan robes and another wearing blackface. But he still thinks Northam should resign.

In the space between those two viewpoints is the challenge facing the Democratic Party in the age of President Trump.

Since the racist photo surfaced, other scandals have followed here. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is facing two allegations of sexual assault, and state Attorney General Mark Herring has confessed to wearing blackface as a teenager for a rapper costume.

For a party determined to energize voters outraged by Mr. Trump’s handling of racial and gender issues, these transgressions cut deep. The sexual assault allegations, if true, would be a violent crime, but anything that smacks of racism or sexual misconduct is devastating.

Yet when do past mistakes – which are often just a Google search away – justify ending a career? Some in the party worry that they are potentially losing another leader who has generally fought hard for the liberal cause.

In that way, Northam’s resignation is really about the identity of the Democratic Party. On one side are those who say Democrats have started on a slippery slope, risking alienating moderates and weakening the party. Others say the only way to earn voters’ trust is making sure leaders are held to a moral standard in line with modern Democratic values.

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Joshua Cole shares his thoughts about Virginia politics at a cafe in Richmond, Va., Feb. 6. Mr. Cole, president of the Stafford County NAACP and a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates, is among those calling for Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to resign after a far-right website published a racist photo from the governor's 1984 medical school yearbook page.

Conversations with black and white voters in Virginia who have previously supported Northam show this split, with views varying regardless of race. But they also point to something deeper. What most hurts Cole is not necessarily the photo itself, but how the governor handled the situation. When the news first broke, Northam apologized for the “clearly racist” photo. The next day he backtracked, saying he wasn’t actually in the picture. Then he admitted to having once worn blackface to dress up as Michael Jackson in a dance competition.

What Cole wanted was honesty and accountability.

“As a black person who grew up here in Virginia ... it didn’t satisfy me,” he says. Northam had plenty of chances to come clean during the campaign, he says, when the debate over the symbolism of Confederate battle flags and monuments was a major talking point.

“To me, that would have been a prime opportunity [for him] to say, ‘And I know, because I’ve been through this. This is what I’ve done,’ ” Cole says.

That idea runs through many conversations.

Ladelle McWhorter, state chair of the community advocacy group Virginia Organizing, grew up in Alabama and remembers what it was like when the Klan was active.

“White people in the South knew better than that,” she says, recalling the discomfort she felt seeing fellow white Alabamians don the robes of the Klan. “You knew what those symbols meant, and if you deployed them it was for a reason. And if you challenged them or at least avoided them, that was for a reason, too.”

She voted for Northam and says it would have made such a difference if he’d acknowledged his ignorance or prejudice and given a better account of how his views had changed.

“He could have done that in a very powerful way,” says Professor McWhorter, who teaches on gender and sexuality at the University of Richmond.

Down the hall from McWhorter’s university office, Robin Mundle taps away at her computer keyboard. When the administrative assistant first saw the photo of Northam, she didn’t believe it was real, she says. Even now, she doesn’t think Northam should be forced to step down.

People are products of their time, Ms. Mundle says. Owning slaves and having an affair hasn’t stopped Thomas Jefferson – a Virginian – from being revered in American history. And while she’s not proud of the statues of Confederate veterans, Mundle understands why they still stand.

“I’m not saying what Northam did was right. I was very disappointed in him and I still am,” Mundle says. “He has to eat a lot of humble pie. But I don’t think he should resign over this.”

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
A woman walks down the steps of the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond, Va., Feb. 6. For the past week, Virginia leadership has battled a series of scandals that began when a far-right website published a racist photo from the Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) 1984 medical school yearbook page.

Downtown, across the street from the statehouse, Lewis Holley mans the reception desk at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The retired federal worker is also willing to give Northam the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Holley says his age has helped him see how values change over time, how what used to be OK can become unacceptable.

“If you look hard enough you’ll find something against anybody and everybody,” he says. “ I don’t think we should rush to judgment.”

Others calling for Northam to stay have taken the argument further, saying this is the perfect moment for hard conversations about race and history.

Republican state Sen. Richard Stuart, who worked with Northam in the senate, says the governor is a man of honor and integrity and deserves the chance to work through his mistake. “So many people, if they are accused of racism … are afraid to have that discussion,” he says. But “with any tough subject, you’ve got to be willing to talk about it.”

“If he resigns, we’ll never hear from Ralph Northam again,” adds Herb Jones, a Democratic candidate for state Senate. “This is an opportunity to move this state and this country forward. The last thing he needs to do is quit.”

And there’s a sense that outrage and punishment come too swiftly, alienating crucial voters who feel disoriented by rapid cultural change.

“We do get outraged pretty fast, and many times it’s unjustified,” says Cole, the Stafford County NAACP president. “So for those who are saying, ‘Be cautious,’ I hear you.”

But if the Democratic Party wants to stand for inclusivity and differentiate itself from its opponents it needs to hold leadership to the highest standards, Cole adds.

Besides, Northam doesn’t need to be governor to do good. “You can still be a great community leader as a private citizen,” Cole says. “Get out there and raise some money for some of these African-American communities. Keep staying in the light.”

“What people are looking for in leaders is moral transparency,” adds Cornell William Brooks, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mass., and a former NAACP president who was born and raised in the South. “This is a moment for us to come to grips to the fact that we are not the country we should be. But we have the moral agency to be the country we aspire to be.”


2. An afterthought no more? California to flex muscles in 2020 primaries.

By moving up its primary date, the Golden State could help shape the Democratic nomination process – and possibly elevate its own Sen. Kamala Harris. Or it could find itself marginalized once again.


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Unlike past presidential cycles, when Californians have voted near the end of the primary contests, next year they will go to the polls on March 3. Voting just after the earliest states have cast their ballots, California could for the first time in years play a decisive role – and possibly slingshot native Sen. Kamala Harris toward the Democratic nomination.

Still, the home-state advantage is unlikely to give Senator Harris a lock on the state’s huge cache of delegates, since California’s Democratic primary is not winner take all but distributes delegates according to the vote in each congressional district. And going up against a native Californian could cause other candidates to essentially write off the state, as happened in 1992, when the Democrats all but conceded Iowa in advance to then-Sen. Tom Harkin, who won its caucuses easily but did not advance to win his party’s nomination.

“California’s a black hole” for presidential campaigns, sucking up time and resources, says John Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “One possible outcome is that the other candidates may say, ‘Look, let’s let Kamala Harris be the favorite daughter, and we can save our money for other states.’ ”


An afterthought no more? California to flex muscles in 2020 primaries.

Like the bodybuilders on Venice Beach, the state of California is looking to flex its muscles, but in presidential politics.

Unlike past cycles, when the Golden State has voted near the end of the primary contests – after the nominees were already essentially known – in 2020 California will vote on the March 3 “Super Tuesday,” just after the earliest states have cast their ballots. Not only that, but the top tier of Democratic candidates features one of California's own, Sen. Kamala Harris, setting up the possibility California could slingshot her toward the nomination.

“After years of being a stepchild in the process, California is now poised to throw its weight around,” says Phil Trounstine, co-editor and publisher of Calbuzz.

But California’s power play may yet fizzle.

The state has tried moving up its primary before, and it didn’t make a decisive difference. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry was already the de facto nominee by the time California backed him in March. In 2008, Republican John McCain had already won New Hampshire and South Carolina when California voted along with 23 other states in a February “Mega Tuesday.” He won most of the primaries that day, going on to win the nomination.

Moreover, while Senator Harris could get a big boost from California, it’s an open question whether her home-state advantage would give her a lock on the state’s huge cache of delegates. California’s Democratic primary is not winner take all; Democrats divvy up the Golden State’s delegates proportionately according to the vote in each congressional district.

“Everyone thinks we’re this monolith and that all of our delegates are a real pot of gold.” says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a longtime observer of California politics, now retired from the University of Southern California. “We have proportional allocation. Nobody’s going to win California outright.” In 2016, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both won more than 200 delegates here.

Going up against a native Californian could cause other candidates to essentially write off the state, as happened in 1992, when the Democrats all but conceded Iowa in advance to then-Sen. Tom Harkin, who won its caucuses easily but did not advance to win his party’s nomination. 

The sheer size of California makes it very expensive to campaign in. Spanning the geographic terrain through television advertising is a costly lift for a campaign, and reaching people by social media is costly as well.

“California’s a black hole” for presidential campaigns, sucking up time and resources, says John Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “One possible outcome is that the other candidates may say, ‘Look, let’s let Kamala Harris be the favorite daughter, and we can save our money for other states.’ ”

Others say that top-tier candidates will have to contest the state, given its sheer number of delegates – more than half the total number of delegates in the other Super Tuesday states combined. 

Harris has generally won praise for starting strong out of the gate, despite having to walk back a recent town hall comment that she favored eliminating private health insurers with “Medicare for all.” More than 20,000 people rallied for the former prosecutor at her campaign kickoff on Jan. 27 at Oakland’s city hall – blocks from where she was born to her Indian mother and Jamaican father.

Only in the Senate two years, and in the minority party at that, she’s drawn national attention with her sharp questioning of President Trump’s nominees, notably Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She’s also won three statewide races, two for California attorney general and then the US Senate.

While some progressives question her law enforcement record and others wonder about her authenticity, Professor Pitney describes her as Reaganesque in charisma. “I know it’s a weird analogy, but she has a very clear ideological position, and she can be very critical of the incumbent administration – but she does it with a smile,” he says. “The charisma factor is not to be ignored.”

Still, she’s facing formidable opponents, in a crowded field that is getting bigger by the day, with the wealthy former Starbucks chair Howard Schultz hovering as a possible independent candidate and Democrat Joe Biden still undeclared. The former vice president is particularly well-liked in California and a friend of labor.

Robert Shrum, who advised the Kerry and Al Gore presidential campaigns, believes that the foremost question for Democratic voters next year will be who can best beat President Trump. And while he doesn’t know who has the best shot, he does believe his old friend and former client Mr. Biden could do it. Biden appeals to base constituencies and could also do well in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where Harris is untested and which come after the California primary.

If Harris is to be successful, he says, she must do well in the earliest states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. If not, Californians may decide they’d rather back whoever is seen as the frontrunner.

“I would argue that California moving up doesn’t diminish the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire but actually increases it,” says Shrum, now at the University of Southern California. “If you don’t come out of the early primaries as one of the three or four people who’s really in contention for the nomination, then I think it will be very hard to do well in California.”


3. Spaces safe from trauma: Healing a generation wounded by Boko Haram

This is the story of the thousands of women and their children, born of sexual violence, whose abduction did not capture headlines, and who all too often no one welcomes home. But maybe that can change.

Andrew Esiebo/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Fatima, who was kidnapped and severely abused by members of Boko Haram, sits with her son, Mohammed, who was born while she was in the militants’ custody.

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“The child of a snake is still a snake.” It’s a phrase people commonly use here to describe children like Mohammed. His mother, Fatima, was abducted by Boko Haram, pressured into marriage with a fighter, and barely survived her escape.

But for Fatima, and many other survivors, coming home was hardly a refuge. The young women and their children are frequently shunned, with neighbors blaming them for the abuse they suffered, or even accusing them of being spies for insurgents. Many mothers struggle to accept their children, who were often born of rape.

Today, though, Fatima is one of a small number of success stories, in still-nascent efforts to help women heal and rejoin their communities. Not everyone who participates is transformed. In fact, most aren’t. Some husbands or families simply won’t accept their wives or daughters back. But for others, the groups give an accepting space to recover, forge new friendships, and step toward the future. “She’s a very strong woman and a resilient lady,” psychologist Patience Shikson says of Fatima, “because she has been through hell and survived it.”


Spaces safe from trauma: Healing a generation wounded by Boko Haram

Fatima portrays little emotion as she describes how she came close to killing her own son. Wearing a black headscarf that accentuates her dark, almond-shaped eyes, the 18-year-old Nigerian is lovely, although the raised scars than run down the left side of her face, neck, and body – scars she got escaping from the brutal terrorist group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria – suggest some unspeakable horror. 

“I did not like the boy in any way,” she says softly of her son, Mohammed. “I didn’t want to have eye contact or even see the child. I tried to murder him, to poison him. God must have intervened, because people wouldn’t have been powerful enough to stop me.” 

Fatima is subdued and matter-of-fact during the several hours we talk about her ordeal. We are sitting on a mat on the dusty ground in an open-air tent that does little to abate the relentless heat in Bakassi camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and the birthplace of Boko Haram. But when someone fetches Mohammed, now 4 years old, from school, her face opens into a broad smile. She laughs as she swings him over her shoulder and tickles him, and he giggles with delight. “I don’t want anything to come between us,” she says through an interpreter. 

Fatima is one of the small number of success stories in the still-nascent efforts to help the girls and young women who were abducted by Boko Haram heal and rejoin their families and communities in northeastern Nigeria. The initiatives are considered essential to saving a potentially lost generation of young women and children and to stabilizing communities that are still struggling to overcome the near-constant conflict here in Africa’s most populous nation. 

This is not the story behind #BringBackOurGirls – the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls from Chibok whose kidnapping by Boko Haram sparked an international social media campaign to rescue them. It is the story of the thousands of others and their children, like Mohammed, born of sexual violence, whose abduction did not capture headlines and who all too often no one welcomes home. 

The children are considered irretrievably damaged, with the “bad blood” of their fathers coursing through their veins, destined to become Boko Haram fighters as well. “The child of a snake is a snake,” a common saying goes. For Fatima (who last name was withheld for her safety) and other mothers, their children can be a cruel reminder of the violence they suffered and an additional source of discrimination. Some have tried to abort their babies. 

The mothers, many no more than children themselves, are shunned by their husbands or fathers or mothers and forced to live in isolation in the squalid camps that have mushroomed around Maiduguri. On top of the widespread stigma against victims of sexual violence in this traditional, patriarchal society, the survivors face an additional burden. Many people fear that the “Boko Haram wives,” as they are derisively called, have been radicalized and are spies for the insurgents or may even kill them – fears that are compounded by Boko Haram’s practice of using girls as young as 10 as suicide bombers.   

Andrew Esiebo/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
The Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, a mélange of tin-roofed shelters, houses more than 26,000 people displaced by fighting in northeastern Nigeria.

The people’s worries are understandable, says Cindy Chungong, country manager for Nigeria for International Alert, one of a handful of nonprofits that in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are working to reintegrate victims into communities. People have suffered tremendously at the hands of Boko Haram. Many witnessed their family members and neighbors slaughtered, their cattle stolen, their crops and livelihoods destroyed. But still, “it is absolutely traumatizing for those girls and women [to be rejected], especially if they have been raped and are having difficulty accepting the child,” says Ms. Chungong. “It is just heartbreaking....”

Their suffering is part of the collective nightmare that has gripped northeastern Nigeria for a decade now – in which virtually everyone has been affected. What’s unusual about the crisis is that some of its most severe effects are psychological, says Feargal O’Connell, who heads the Nigeria program of the nonprofit International Rescue Committee (IRC). “The depth and breadth of trauma cannot be underestimated at an individual or community level,” he says. And for the girls and women who have returned from Boko Haram, Mr. O’Connell adds, it is “trauma layered upon trauma.”


Borno State, where Fatima was born, is a parched swath of the Sahel in the northeastern-most corner of Nigeria. Abutting Lake Chad on one side, it shares borders with Niger and Cameroon, which the insurgents cross freely, terrorizing the population on each side. It is a world apart from the carefully planned streets of the country’s capital, Abuja, or the sprawling, chaotic port city of Lagos some 760 miles away in the relatively prosperous, largely Christian south.

The north is a no man’s land, the mostly Muslim population long ignored by their government, desperately poor, with abysmal health conditions and high illiteracy. With no jobs and few prospects, young men are easy prey for extremist groups such as Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terrorist groups on the planet, which espouses violence and its own twisted version of sharia (Islamic law).

“There were incredible levels of deprivation in northeastern Nigeria before the crisis,” O’Connell says. “That is the root cause.”

Boko Haram emerged as a force in 2009. At first, its attacks were small and sporadic, targeting mainly police and the military. But soon it spread across Borno and into the adjoining states of Yobe and Adamawa as the group expanded its caliphate. During their rampage, the militants pillaged and burned schools, clinics, and entire villages. They murdered men, conscripted boys to kill their own people, and abducted girls and women, who are used as sex slaves or forced to marry Boko Haram fighters.

The insurgency has claimed nearly 30,000 lives, according to some estimates, displaced 2 million people across three northeastern states, and left 7.7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. More than half of the displaced are children, according to Milen Kidane, head of child protection at UNICEF in Nigeria. And there is no end in sight: Despite government claims to the contrary, terrorist attacks and atrocities have intensified in the past few months and, with the recent murder of two aid workers, some humanitarian groups have suspended operations in parts of Borno.

Still, Boko Haram did not garner much international attention until the 2011 bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja. It gained even more notoriety with the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014. (Many of the Chibok girls have been freed, but about 100 remain in captivity.)

A 2016 assessment by International Alert, in partnership with UNICEF and other groups, punctured the myth of the happy reunion of the survivors with their families and communities. Studying conditions in four camps for those who have been internally displaced, they found instead that the girls and young women faced additional emotional abuse and sometimes violence when they returned.

Andrew Esiebo/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Vehicles dart through one of the gates leading into Maiduguri, a city of more than 1.1 million people.

Those who were gone for several years and who were married to combatants face the worst discrimination, Chungong says. Locals often assume that because they didn’t escape, they must be sympathizers. Some women did join Boko Haram willingly, although Chungong questions how “willing” it really is in a culture that dictates you follow your husband or risk being killed. “I mean, they weren’t physically forced, but it was under tremendous pressure a lot of them went.”


Fatima’s life is divided into before and after. Before she lived in a quiet village in Marte and helped her family on their farm. During the chaos of Boko Haram’s attack, as villagers scattered, she and another girl found themselves in a car with three men escaping to nearby Dikwa. But the insurgents overcame them, murdering the men and taking the two girls to Sambisa Forest, where Fatima was held for three years. 

At first Boko Haram kept her and other new captives separate from the militants, but she eventually agreed to marry the fourth in command. She says she had no choice – she was terrified. “Marriage is a kind of protection for you,” says Patience Shikson, a clinical psychologist who formerly worked with the small nonprofit Neem Foundation and who also served as our interpreter on this visit to the camp. “You don’t touch someone else’s wife.”

Fatima tried to escape three times, only to be caught and returned to the forest. On the fourth attempt, the insurgents were not so kind. They tied her and another girl up and dragged them behind motorcycles and left them for dead.

After she regained consciousness, bloody and weak, Fatima saw her baby nearby. “My mind told me I should just leave him,” she says. But she relented and struggled to carry him to a nearby village, where people cared for them. Fatima still does not know whether the other girl survived.

The Nigerian military sent Fatima to a transit center in Maiduguri, where newly freed or escaped captives are sheltered for several months and treated. Then she was transferred to Bakassi camp, where people from Marte have been relocated. The camps are organized by place of origin – entire villages have been transplanted – which is a mixed blessing, Chungong says: You are returning to your community, but everyone knows you have been with Boko Haram. And that makes the rejection even more painful. 

Bakassi houses more than 26,000 people who have fled the violence carried out by both Boko Haram and the military. They are crammed into a messy mélange of flimsy tents or unfinished buildings. Except for a few struggling tufts of grass, everything is dust, which clogs your nose and coats your ankles. To get anywhere, you have to sidestep fetid puddles. Food and water are scarce, and proud, once self-sufficient farmers are reduced to relying on handouts. The toilets are communal pit latrines, which sometimes overflow and are not safe for women or girls at night. 

Once at Bakassi, Fatima says she was especially branded by her scars, which are a visible reminder of where she had been. “People would become irritated just looking at me,” she says. Her family refused any contact, the community shunned her, and she was forced to live alone with Mohammed in a segregated part of the camp called Sambisa, after the forest where she had been held. Some people called her a demon; her son was denigrated as a “hyena among dogs.” Other mothers would not let their children play with him, and some women would not even be in the same tent with her – all of which compounded the trouble she was having in accepting her child. Desperate, she tried to take his life.

When her parents learned of it, they took him in but still wanted nothing to do with their daughter. At this point, Neem stepped in. The group is unusual in that it tries to foster reconciliation by offering intensive, one-on-one psychological counseling for children and young adults, like Fatima. 

Andrew Esiebo/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Girls participate in a bonding and reintegration activity, organized by the nonprofit Neem Foundation, at the Bakassi camp.

The community leaders are the entry point into the programs, says Emmanuel Bosah, who runs Neem’s rehabilitation and reintegration program – they know every child who returns from the forest and the troubles they face. Neem, UNICEF, and other groups rely heavily on these respected elders and religious leaders, who they train to help heal the psychological wounds. 

“Religious leaders use a lot of imagery about forgiveness and putting yourself in the shoes of another person,” says Chungong of International Alert. “This is both Christian and Muslim, because we have displaced people of both faiths.” 

Initially, Fatima rebuffed Neem’s overtures. But one day she came on her own and then agreed to join a peer support group. “These are essentially safe spaces where women and girls who have returned from Boko Haram can come and talk to others who had similar experiences,” says Chungong. “Before, they used to feel so traumatized and so stigmatized that they just kept everything they were feeling to themselves.”

Gradually, the nonprofits bring into the group other young women who were not associated with Boko Haram but who have also seen horrors and may well have suffered sexual violence. “They get to hear, sometimes for the first time, what other women went through and realize they are just as much victims of the conflict as they are,” Chungong says. 

In her individual sessions, Ms. Shikson says, Neem helped Fatima understand that “she needs her child, and he can be a source of comfort, a source of joy. She has learned to accept that.”

The groups also work with families. They try to get the parents to understand that their daughters are victims and that they are doing the best they can to rebuild their lives under tragic circumstances.

Acceptance can be especially hard for husbands. If a wife returns with a child, or pregnant, they often don’t consider how it happened. “It is almost irrelevant if it was by rape or choice,” Chungong says. “It’s just ‘I cannot be a father and welcome a woman who is carrying someone else’s child.’ ”

The leaders preach a similar message to community members. They tell them that the children born in captivity had no say in how they came into the world, and what’s important is how people raise them, not their bloodline.

Some communities are surprisingly pragmatic. They realize that if they don’t accept these young women they may go back to Boko Haram – and some have. Similarly, if communities reject the children, they may indeed grow up and join a militant group.

Not everyone who goes to these sessions is transformed. In fact, most aren’t. Some husbands or families simply can’t or won’t accept their wives or daughters. “We are quite realistic,” says Chungong. “We don’t think just because a father says, ‘OK, I accept you or you can come live in my house,’ that she is welcome or well-treated, or that long-term change has happened. But over time, we hear some positive results.” 

In its programs, International Alert has reached about 7,000 girls and young women who survived Boko Haram. The group estimates that some 200 families have taken back their daughters and wives.

Fatima’s family now welcomes her. She can visit freely, eat with them, and sometimes spend the night. But because the family is crowded into one small shelter, she resides separately with Mohammed. Other children now play with him.

With a quiet smile, she says she dreams of being a doctor or a nurse, but for now she has no way out of the camp. She has had no education and is not comfortable attending the basic classes UNICEF offers to young children who have never gone to school. She wants something better for Mohammed. She takes him to school each day in the community outside the camp, borrowing a bicycle if she can, and pays for his education largely by selling half of her food rations. 

Fatima is still being treated for depression, but is sleeping better now. Like many others who have returned, however, she tires easily and suffers from chest pains and what Shikson describes as panic attacks.

But Fatima is strong, Shikson says, affectionately stroking her arm and occasionally resting her head in Fatima’s lap as we talk. “She’s a very strong woman and a resilient lady – because she has been through hell and survived it.”


Andrew Esiebo/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Asamau, who was abducted by Boko Haram, sews a cap that she will sell to help sustain her living at the Bakassi camp for displaced people in Maiduguri.

Others are not so fortunate. Also in Bakassi we meet a young woman named Asamau. Tiny, with an angelic face, she looks closer to 14 than the 18 years old she is. As Shikson begins to narrate her story, Asamau starts crying uncontrollably and crawls off to the corner of the tent. “She is in crisis,” Shikson says. “She’s battling with how to cope with life without her mother, without anyone around her, because her father was killed in her very presence and her mother has now rejected her and gone away.”

When Asamau returned from Boko Haram with a baby girl, her mother initially accepted them. But then the mother met a man who wanted to marry her and take her from the camp. When he learned her daughter had been with Boko Haram, he would not let Asamau join them. Her mother left without telling her.

Asamau’s baby died at age 1. She now lives alone, isolated. Her only friend is Fatima.

“She should not be alone, with no one to talk to,” says Shikson. She was hoping to find the young woman a foster family, but the day we talked, Asamau was still waiting for her mother to come for her.

Since then, Mr. Bosah says, Asamau has been in one-on-one counseling at Neem. She still lives alone, but the suicidal thoughts she has been struggling with have ebbed, he says, and she is now more hopeful.

With its intensive approach, however, Neem can reach only a fraction of those in need. The Yellow Ribbon Initiative that Fatima and Asamau are part of has helped 1,500 young people who were scarred by violence and associated with armed groups, not just Boko Haram but the vigilante group that has sprung up to fight them and also the military. Yet Bosah estimates that more than 10,000 children and young adults require support in Borno alone. “There is a huge, huge void,” he says. 

Counseling programs get just a tiny fraction of the funding that other initiatives do. The humanitarian situation in northeastern Nigeria is so acute that most international aid goes to food, shelter, medicine, and other life-saving needs. 

As of December 2018, programs aimed at addressing so-called gender-based violence in northeastern Nigeria had received only 6.2 percent of their funding from the international community. That’s about $2.5 million out of a total of $1 billion requested for the crisis overall. “I am completely dumbfounded” that it can be so low, IRC’s O’Connell says.

Andrew Esiebo/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Boys who were once abducted by or persuaded to join Boko Haram do a bonding exercise at the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri.

An even tougher problem looms – the return of boys and young men who were abducted or persuaded to join Boko Haram and became fighters. While community members and families can sometimes be convinced that the women and girls who were seized were victims, it is far more difficult to get locals to accept the return of boys and young men “who willingly picked up arms and who came and slaughtered people,” as Chungong puts it. Indeed, some of them have been killed when they return. But, UNICEF’s Ms. Kidane emphasizes, no matter what crimes they committed, any child is still a victim. 

Aid groups are beginning to recognize the importance of reintegrating boys back into communities. Neem is spearheading one such effort at Bakassi camp.

On the day we visit in August, we see a group of about 15 young boys sitting in a circle facing inward, with their bare feet touching. The children have all been held by armed groups and have been used as child soldiers or domestic servants. The space created by their feet in the middle symbolizes unity, Shikson explains. The boys are singing: “Together we can overcome. We are brothers. We are still one. By coming together we have conquered.”

And they are smiling.


4. Out of the shadows: Historical female artists finally shine

A cursory look through art history may suggest that women have not played a significant role. New research shows otherwise, but doing justice to forgotten female artists requires more than identifying them.


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Go to a solo exhibition at the biggest art museums today and the artist on display is most likely to be a man; only about one-fifth of such shows at New York’s MoMA, Paris’s Centre Pompidou, and the Tate Modern in London featured women artists in recent years. Go back further in time and it becomes harder and harder to find female artists or their work. But that isn’t because they don't exist. They’ve just been forgotten.

Efforts like the nonprofits Advancing Women Artists and AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions are putting female artists back into the spotlight. AWA has restored more than 60 paintings by around 20 different women painters from the Renaissance up to the 20th century. AWARE, meanwhile, has created an index of 20th-century female artists and their work so that information about them can be quickly accessed and put into a greater historical context.

AWARE co-founder Camille Morineau says she sees signs of progress in the growing interest of art collectors, museum directors, and the broader public in female artists, particularly the newer generation which is much more conscious of questions of gender.


1. Out of the shadows: Historical female artists finally shine

For centuries they were consigned to historical oblivion, their paintings and drawings squirreled away in dusty repositories.

But now, long-forgotten women masters are being drawn out of the shadows by a dedicated band of art experts and enthusiasts. In Italy, France, and Britain, female artists are taking center stage as part of a broader push to rectify the gender imbalance in art history.

“We’re reclaiming history centimeter by centimeter,” says Rossella Lari as she applies paint from a minute brush onto damaged parts of a 22-foot-wide canvas. The restorer has spent the last couple of years in a low-key studio near the medieval walls of Florence bringing back to life “The Last Supper,” a painting by a 16th-century Dominican nun named Plautilla Nelli.

The restoration of this masterpiece – the only known Renaissance rendition of the famous New Testament scene by a female artist – marks the most ambitious project to date undertaken by the nonprofit Advancing Women Artists (AWA). It will be placed on permanent display at the Santa Maria Novella Museum in Florence this fall.

“I’ve walked many kilometers back and forth in front of this painting,” says Ms. Lari. “If I step back and look at it, it gives me a headache, it’s such a big challenge. But I’m happy to be in Nelli’s presence every day.”

AWA was established in 2009 by an American philanthropist, Jane Fortune, nicknamed “Indiana Jane” by one arts magazine for her intrepid unearthing of lost treasures. She died last year, but her mantle has been taken up by her longtime collaborator, Linda Falcone.

Ms. Falcone says the women artists of the Renaissance represent “a hidden page in history.” Female artists of the Renaissance faced great challenges; they had no legal standing of their own, they could not join guilds, and they could not train as artists.

AWA has restored more than 60 paintings by around 20 different women painters from that period up to the 20th century. Among them are Violante Siries Cerroti, who painted for the Medicis, and Artemisia Gentileschi, who was the first female member of Florence’s Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, Europe’s earliest drawing academy. Despite the considerable success enjoyed during their lives, these women artists were largely forgotten in later centuries, eclipsed by the male artistic geniuses of Italy’s Renaissance era.

It is not just the female masters of Renaissance Florence who have been overlooked. London’s National Portrait Gallery is presenting this year the first major exhibition to focus on the undercredited women of the Pre-Raphaelites circle, a radical artistic movement that was born in 1848 England amid mass industrialization. The exhibit devotes particular attention to key muses, models, and artists, including Evelyn de Morgan, Effie Grey (Lady Millais), and Joanna Wells.

For too long the Pre-Raphaelite movement has been seen as a movement of “fired up, sexy young men,” says curator Jan Marsh. “In fact, the whole movement was sympathetic and welcoming to women.” Elizabeth Siddal, the model of John Everett Milliais’s famous “Ophelia,” will be presented for the first time as an artist in her own right in the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibit.

“One of the problems with women artists is that they are very modest in their aspirations,” says Dr. Marsh. “They always get obscured.”

Meanwhile, the Tate Britain will be highlighting women’s contribution to key moments in the history of British art since 1960 in its free display Sixty Years. Assistant curator Sofia Karamani stresses the importance of showing that “art history can be told by women artists only, despite the longstanding weighing on male artists.”

In the context of British art, she points to women artists who have finally come to prominence in their senior years, among them Rose Wylie and Phyllida Barlow. The display also showcases the work of younger generation artists like Charlotte Prodger, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Lindsay Seers who use a range of media and technologies to tackle contemporary issues like identity, homosexuality, and mental health.

Restoring knowledge of women artists

The urge to determine how many women artists are lurking in the shadows of art history – and ensure female artists are not overlooked today – drove Paris-based Camille Morineau to create AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions in 2014.

The idea took shape several years earlier when she did the hanging for “elles@centrepompidou,” an exhibition dedicated solely to 20th- and 21st-century female artists in the collection of France’s national modern art museum, Centre Pompidou. “We literally pushed away men artists from the permanent collection,” she recalls. It brought to light 350 works of 150 female artists, filling more than 86,000 square feet.

Ms. Morineau realized then how little information there was on women artists, even on those who have been recognized as driving forces in the avant-garde.

“It was twice more work to write about these artists, to organize the narrative, to create the theories or intellectual context,” she says. “That experience showed me that the lack of information was crucial to explain the absence of female artists from museums, galleries, art collections. Because even if you're interested, there's no way you can find a woman artist on a specific subject or even if you want to show a period or a technique.”

AWARE notes it took 50 years for the spotlight to shift from the works of Robert Delaunay to his Ukrainian-born wife, Sonia, an equally important creative force behind France’s Orphism art movement, a colorful offshoot of cubism. Ms. Delaunay made history as the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre in 1964. French-American Louise Bourgeoise was 96 by the time the Centre Pompidou put together a retrospective of her work. She helped galvanize the feminist art movement of the 1970s.

The 21st century paints a brighter picture of progress, but the gender gap remains. Between 2007 and 2017, less than a fifth of solo exhibitions were devoted to women artists at New York’s MoMA. The numbers are hardly better across the Atlantic: less than 20 percent at Centre Pompidou and a bit more at Tate Modern in London, according to 2015 statistics published in ARTnews.

Morineau sees signs of progress in the growing interest of art collectors, museum directors, and the broader public in female artists, particularly the newer generation which is much more conscious of questions of gender. She is just finished showcasing the work of transvestite artist Grayson Perry at The Monnaie de Paris, where she is the director of exhibitions.

Asked who her favorite female artist is, Morineau finds it impossible to settle on just one.

“That’s the problem – or the beauty of it, or the scandal,” she says. “It is not like a few hundred.... It’s a few thousand that have been completely missed.”


5. Can old-fashioned journalism combat fake news?

The prevalence of misinformation on the internet is legitimately troubling, but could attempts to remedy the problem fall prey to all-too-human biases?


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Fiction masquerading as news has persisted since the early days of the printing press. But the ease of publication in the Digital Age has made it all the more difficult for readers to sort reported, objective journalism from the chaff of hoaxers and propagandists.

Recent years have seen attempts to draw political maps of the media landscape, but efforts to alert readers to bias are susceptible to internal biases as well. Bias, however, is different from outright misinformation. To help people distinguish the genuine from the ersatz, journalist, lawyer, and entrepreneur Steven Brill teamed up with former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz to create NewsGuard, a company that has so far produced “nutrition labels” for 2,200 sites.

NewsGuard’s methodology is a decidedly old-school approach to a new problem. Instead of using algorithms or other machine-learning tools, NewsGuard has paid dozens of journalists to dig into each site and to contact news organizations for comment. Some critics caution that the effort borders on censorship, while others describe the effort as “sensible” and a “valuable service.”


Can old-fashioned journalism combat fake news?

Google “What is fracking?” and one of the top results will be what-is-fracking.com, a cleanly designed website that explains that extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water, does not pollute the air to a significant degree, and helps raise wages in local communities.

What the site doesn’t explain is who published it. The only hint is a copyright notice, in 10.5-point font at the bottom of each page, linking to “api.org.”

“I don't care what you think of fracking,” says journalist, lawyer, and entrepreneur Steven Brill. But, he says,“you should know that this website, which reads like The Economist, is owned and operated and published by the American Petroleum Institute.”

Whether created by spammers, grifters, conspiracy theorists, or propagandists, sites that conceal or play down their ownership and financing, blend news with advertising, and routinely publish misinformation are widespread on the internet. And it’s not always easy to distinguish these sites from the ones operated by those acting in good faith.

“There are so many sites now that it’s hard to know which ones are credible and aren’t credible,” says Lisa Fazio, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who studies how people process information. “It takes a lot of effort and cognitive brainpower to really think through our prior knowledge on a topic, so we tend not to do that.”

Fake news is, of course, nothing new, nor is the feeling that misinformation is prevailing. Outright lies and misleading narratives masquerading as facts have persisted since the early days of the printing press. But the ease of publication in the Digital Age has made it all the more difficult for readers to sort reported, objective journalism from the chaff of hoaxers and propagandists.

Recent years have seen attempts to draw political maps of the media landscape, but efforts to alert readers to bias are susceptible to internal biases as well. For instance, AllSides, a news aggregator that presents news from across the political spectrum, labels MSNBC, the television network that in 2003 canceled Phil Donahue’s show for being too liberal, as being on the far left. It places Newsmax, a conservative news site that in 2009 laid out how a military coup could be the “last resort to resolve the ‘Obama problem,’ ” in an equivalent position on the right.

Other efforts to map media bias fail to capture the political stances of the publications they rate. For instance, the popular “Media Bias Chart” created by Ad Fontes Media places the liberal-leaning online news magazine Slate to the left of the unabashedly progressive TV and radio program Democracy Now!, a rating that is laughable to anyone familiar with both news outlets.

Ordinary people are, on average, good at identifying media bias, says Gordon Pennycook, a psychologist at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. His research, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that non-experts across the political spectrum tended to rate mainstream news outlets more trustworthy than low-quality or hyperpartisan sources.

“But,” he says, “they aren't so good at determining the quality of mainstream sources.”

Other efforts to rate the credibility of news outlets rely on machine learning. In 2016, Google gave more than $170,000 to three British firms to develop automated fact-checking software.

An old-school approach

To help people distinguish the genuine from the ersatz, Mr. Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz created NewsGuard, a company that has so far produced “nutrition labels” for 2,200 sites, which Brill says account for more than 96 percent of the online news content that Americans see and share. In January Microsoft’s Edge browser included NewsGuard’s technology on mobile browser (Edge users can turn it on in Settings). Desktop users running Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers can install NewsGuard as a plugin.

NewsGuard’s methodology is a decidedly old-school approach to a new problem. Instead of using algorithms or other machine-learning tools, NewsGuard has paid dozens of journalists to dig into each site and to contact news organizations for comment. The nutrition labels, which detail each site’s ownership, history, advertising policies, and editorial stance, can run more than a thousand words.

“When we started talking to tech companies about it, they were horrified at how inefficient it is,” says Brill. “It's actually highly efficient and is the only way to achieve scale.”

Users with the NewsGuard extension will see a badge appearing on their browser toolbar and next to some hyperlinks – a green one with a checkmark for sites rated as credible, a red one with an exclamation point for those rated as not, and a yellow Thalia mask for satire sites like The Onion and ClickHole. Click on a badge, and you’ll see how NewsGuard rates the site according to nine criteria, including objective measures like whether it clearly labels advertising or provides biographies or contact information for the writers, as well as more subjective ones like “gathers and presents information responsibly.”

A screenshot showing NewsGuard's rating system for news outlets.

NewsGuard awards full marks to mainstream news sites like The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post. (The Christian Science Monitor also gets top grades.) Far-right sites like Breitbart and InfoWars get failing grades. Not surprisingly, what-is-fracking.com also gets a red badge.

Human-powered, with human biases

NewsGuard’s rating system occasionally produces results that have raised eyebrows. Al Jazeera, the Qatari state-funded news outlet credited with helping to spread the 2010-11 Arab Spring protests, gets a failing grade for not disclosing its ownership and for painting Qatar in a favorable light. Boing Boing, a 30-year-old webzine generally held in high regard by tech journalists, is also tagged as unreliable for blurring the lines between news, opinion, and advertising, claims that Boing Boing’s editors have disputed.

Because it’s powered by human beings, NewsGuard can fall prey to the same human biases that afflict news organizations. For instance, NewsGuard’s label for The New York Times includes a discussion of the 2003 Jayson Blair scandal and the discredited reporting in 1931 by Stalin apologist Walter Duranty, but it contains no mention of the paper’s reporting before the US-led invasion of Iraq, in which the Times, by its own admission, was insufficiently critical in accepting official claims about weapons of mass destruction.

When asked why no mention of the pre-invasion reporting was on the label, Brill said, “It should be there; it will end up there.”

Adam Johnson, an analyst for the nonprofit media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, says that NewsGuard fails to account for how mainstream news outlets can manufacture false narratives.  

“If any other country used a fake-news plugin to flag false information,” he continues, “we would call it what it is: censorship.”

Brill acknowledges that NewsGuard’s isn’t a panacea. “We are not solving all the problems of the world,” he says. “If we existed in the run-up to the Iraq war, you would not have seen a red mark” on the Times’s reporting on WMDs.

But, he says, his company offers an improvement over how social networks like Facebook and news aggregators like Google News determine which news sites are credible. Those companies keep their process secret, they say, so that people won’t be able to game their system.

“We love it when people game our system,” says Brill. “We now have 466 examples of websites that have changed something about what they do in order to get a higher score.”

“To me [NewsGuard] sounds very sensible,” says Professor Pennycook. But, he says, “the people who are going to go out of their way to install this thing, they’re not the people we’re worrying about.”

NewsGuard’s labels may represent a less heavy-handed way of dealing with misinformation than what some Silicon Valley companies have proposed. In 2017, for instance, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said that it should be possible for Google’s algorithms to detect misinformation and delist or de-prioritize it on search-engine results pages, an approach that Mr. Johnson calls “creepy and dystopian.”

“I don’t really believe in de-prioritizing,” says Brill, who says he would be uncomfortable licensing his technology to companies that would hide sites flagged as unreliable. “Our view is that people ought to have the chance to see everything.”

Still, NewsGuard’s ranking system, if widely adopted, would likely influence whether people choose to read or share certain stories. In a Gallup poll commissioned by NewsGuard, more than 60 percent of respondents said they were less likely to share stories from sites that were labeled as unreliable.

It’s this binary approach to news that rankles Johnson. “People aren’t children,” he says. “They should be able to navigate information online without a US corporate, billionaire-funded report card telling them what’s real or not.”

Robert Matney, the director of communications for New Knowledge, an Austin-based cybersecurity company that the US Senate commissioned to investigate Russia’s efforts to influence US politics, notes that the strength of companies like NewsGuard lies not necessarily in their ratings, but in the way they educate the public.

“Encouraging news/media literacy by enabling consumers to learn more about sources is a valuable service,” he writes via email.


The Monitor's View

A princess upends Thailand’s old guard

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Ubolratana Rajakanya, the oldest daughter of Thailand’s revered late king, has announced she will run for prime minister. She will do so with a party that’s popular with the poor. Her candidacy marks the first time a senior royal will participate in an election. It also sends a signal to many Thais about the people themselves being the font of a nation’s sovereignty, based on each individual’s sovereignty. If she wins the March 24 contest, then Thailand may finally move beyond rule by gun or rule by semidivine inheritance. Having a prime minister that most Thais regard as a beloved princess could challenge the military, which has threatened the constitutional monarchy over the decades. For democracy to become deeply rooted in Thailand, people must be allowed to see themselves as equal participants in shaping their society rather than be compelled to look to royal authority or to generals who regard themselves as the source of social order. However the coming election shakes out, Ubolratana has taken a bold step in running as a mere citizen. For that she deserves a bow.


A princess upends Thailand’s old guard

Societies long governed by a powerful hierarchy, such as a monarchy or military brass, often place a low value on individual citizens being self-governed and equal. In Thailand, which still has a mix of both types of rule, such a legacy got turned upside down on Friday.

Ubolratana Rajakanya, the oldest daughter of the late and much-revered king, announced she will run for prime minister in an election next month. And she will do so with a party popular with the poorest of the poor, the Thai Raksa Chart party.

Her surprise candidacy will be the first time a senior member of the highly respected royal family will participate in an election. At a deeper level, it sends a signal to many Thais about the people themselves being the font of a nation’s sovereignty, based on each individual’s sovereignty.

In announcing her candidacy on Instagram, Ubolratana illustrated the point: “I’d like to exercise my rights and freedoms as a citizen under the Constitution.” Her newly adopted party also expressed hope that her leadership would bring reconciliation to a sharply divided country.

If she wins the March 24 contest, Thailand may finally move beyond rule by gun or rule by semidivine inheritance. It could more firmly plant itself as being ruled by ballot.

The Southeast Asian nation has had a dozen military coups since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932. After a brief period of relatively free democracy starting in the 1990s, the military has taken power twice, in 2006 and 2014. It set up a new Constitution to ensure it keeps power through the Senate. Having a prime minister that most Thais regard as a beloved princess – the first child of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej – would possibly be a severe challenge to the military. She will be running against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the governing junta.

Ubolratana has a history of breaking from the monarchy. She relinquished her royal titles in 1972 and lived in California with an American husband until a divorce two decades ago. She has since revived her reputation in Thailand as a singer, actress, and activist. Her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, dislikes her electoral bid.

For democracy to become deeply rooted in Thailand, people must be allowed to see themselves as equal participants in shaping their society rather than be compelled to look to royal authority or to generals who regard themselves as the source of social order. However the coming election shakes out, Ubolratana has taken a bold step in running as a mere citizen. For that she deserves a bow, although not of the royal kind.


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.

Embracing, rather than bracing for, Mondays

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Today’s contributor shares some spiritual ideas that inspire her to greet each new day with joy and an expectancy of good.


Embracing, rather than bracing for, Mondays

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Sometimes it can feel as if we need to brace ourselves for Mondays – marking the end of the weekend and, for many, the start of a new working week.

Thinking about this recently, I just felt so grateful for what I’ve learned in Christian Science about God as the source of our well-being, caring for all of us, the spiritual offspring of divine Truth, Life, and Love. This understanding inspires me to greet each new day with joy and an expectancy of good.

Here are some ideas I’ve found especially encouraging in starting each day on upward wing:

This is the day the Lord has made;
Be glad, give thanks, rejoice;
Stand in God’s presence, unafraid,
In praise lift up your voice.
– Laura Lee Randall, alt., “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 585, © CSBD

(No dreary Monday there!)

And in Mary Baker Eddy’s textbook on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she includes a “Glossary” chapter that offers spiritual explanations for biblical concepts. There we read such things as:

DAY. The irradiance of Life; light, the spiritual idea of Truth and Love.
p. 584

MORNING. Light; symbol of Truth; revelation and progress.
p. 591

(No dreariness there, either!)

Each of us can make a conscious decision to welcome into our day the divine light that brings inspiration and progress – whatever day of the week it may be.



Security at sea

Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
Pakistan Navy personnel carry national flags of the more than 40 participating countries, including the United States, during the opening ceremony of its multinational exercise, AMAN-19, in Karachi Feb. 8. ‘Aman’ is an Arabic word related to safety and peace. It is used in Urdu and Persian languages.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

In Our Next Issue

( February 11th, 2019 )

Come back Monday. We’ll look at the 40th anniversary of Iran’s revolution, a milestone that’s also a window into the thinking of the regime and its subjects at a time of great soul-searching.

And here’s something extra for your weekend. Intern Clarence Leong reports and shares photos from Dorchester, Mass., where a sizable Vietnamese-American community lives. Many had gathered for Lunar New Year to celebrate, honor traditions, and feel connected to family and loved ones far away.

Monitor Daily Podcast

February 08, 2019
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