2019
April
01
Monday
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

If those who ignore history risk having to repeat it, then those who’ve lived through its darker episodes seem lately to be the most inclined to help head off replays.

Consider John Sato. A 95-year-old veteran – one of two soldiers of Japanese heritage to serve in New Zealand’s army in World War II – he took a four-bus journey (then a walk) into Auckland March 24 to stand with Muslims after the Christchurch attacks.

“It doesn’t matter what their race,” he told reporters at a rally. “People are suddenly [realizing] we’re all one.” 

Consider a group of Japanese-American activists who, over the weekend, visited a World War II-era internment camp in Texas that once held some 4,000 people of German, Italian, and Japanese descent. Their ceremony reflected the spirit of their mission.

“Instead of being filled with hate,” an officiant remarked, “you are filled with compassion for others.” The activists were on their way to a federal facility in nearby Dilley, Texas, to place chains of origami cranes to show support for asylum-seekers being held there.

And consider an African nation that this week will look back – and forward. In playing host to regional youth games April 2-6, Rwanda also will mark the 25th anniversary April 7 of the start of its notorious period of ethnic bloodshed.

With an eye to other simmering regional conflicts, a Rwandan official said, the games will go beyond promoting the good values of the Olympics. “We will use the games to fight genocide ideology,” he said, “and [to] promote reconciliation and social cohesion.”

Now to our five stories for today, looking at perspectives on youthful masculinity, on homelessness, and on consumer responses to the streaming-media deluge.

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1. Cut defense to fund a border wall? How one Army town weighs the costs.

This story looks at competing ideas – both about security, and both rooted in conservative principles. We found a place with a real stake in the debate over which to prioritize.

Gregory Bull/AP
Construction crews replace a section of the primary wall separating San Diego, above right, and Tijuana, Mexico, below left, on March 11. The Pentagon has created a list of military construction projects that might be cut to pay for President Donald Trump’s goal of expanding walls along the border with Mexico. Recent polls have found a majority of Americans don’t support the idea of diverting military funds to the border, but not everyone worries military readiness will be hurt.

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President Donald Trump found a path toward his long-sought goal of building a wall on the southern U.S. border. But in declaring a border emergency, the president’s plan is to pay for $3.6 billion in new sections of border wall by postponing a number of planned defense projects.

In North Carolina, which bills itself as “America’s most military-friendly state,” that could mean things like a delay in replacing an elementary school on Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest military base by population. Near the Army base, many residents worry about shortchanging the needs of U.S. servicemen and women, and their families, or the local economy.

“We like to see our military protected,” and instead “they’ll be hurting,” says Kerri Ross, a longtime resident. Others doubt a border barrier will be effective.

But views are also heavily shaped by opinions about immigration. Many residents support the president’s move, saying the situation at the U.S. border is now a genuine crisis. Charles Hurlburt, an Army retiree and Vietnam veteran, says that without control of the border,  “you’ll lose control of the country.”

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Cut defense to fund a border wall? How one Army town weighs the costs.

At Fort Bragg, America’s largest military base by population, the upgrade of an elementary school could be postponed. Ditto for some refueling infrastructure at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. And funds for improvements at Camp Lejeune, a Marine base still struggling to recover after the damage of Hurricane Florence, are at risk.

President Donald Trump wants to fund an expansion of walls on the Mexican border by diverting some $3.6 billion in funds currently slated for United States military construction.

But the president’s push raises a question that has deeper resonance here in North Carolina (home to each of the bases mentioned above) and in other conservative-leaning states: What happens when a Republican president borrows money from one national-security effort to finance another one?

In the communities surrounding Fort Bragg, views of Mr. Trump’s stratagem are varied. Many worry about shortchanging the needs of U.S. servicemen and women, and their families, or the local economy. Others doubt a border barrier will be effective. But even here, in a place that advertises itself as “America’s most military-friendly state,” views are heavily shaped by opinions about immigration. Many residents interviewed support the president’s move, saying the situation at the U.S. border is now a genuine security crisis.

“He’s doing a great job and he better keep it up,” says Charles Hurlburt, a retiree near Fort Bragg who served 23 years in the Army, including during the Vietnam War. Without control of the border, he says, “you’ll lose control of the country.”

Will diverting money from military training facilities and children’s schools toward the border reduce national defense readiness? Mr. Hurlburt doesn’t think so, saying “we never lacked” when he was in the service, and that Mr. Trump “has done a lot for the military.”

On immigration, Mr. Hurlburt says more oversight is needed. “There’s a way to come to this country. And there’s a way not to come to this country.” His wife is from Panama, and he recounts that it was only after several years of marriage that she got citizenship. Given that so many have made lives in the U.S. after arriving illegally, he says those who are law-abiding and pay taxes “ought to be moved to the head of the line.”

Mark Trumbull /The Christian Science Monitor
A Sanctuary for Soldiers sign stands near the visitor's center in Fayetteville, the city near Fort Bragg. The city adopted this label in 2008, aiming to ensure military families felt supported in the community. The city is also home to U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum, focused on the fort's heritage and role within the military.

But views on the trade-off of border security versus national security span the map here, as elsewhere, depending in part on whether immigrants are viewed as industrious people fleeing violence and poverty or as free riders who use a porous border to game America’s welfare system.

“It’s a waste of money,” says military retiree Charles L. Miller, referring to the border wall. He voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but, as he stops to run an errand in the town of Spring Lake on the edge of Fort Bragg, he says the president’s emergency declaration is “overstepping his authority.”

It’s not that Mr. Miller doesn’t care about a secure border. “I just don’t think the wall is the solution,” he says.

A few miles away, Jeanine Dodson agrees with Trump’s border-funding plan, and she worries about the cost of immigrants to American taxpayers. As for concerns about cuts to military spending, she figures it’s at most a temporary setback.

“If we have border security and we stop feeding billions of dollars to illegals, then it wouldn’t take long” before the government has fresh money available for the military needs, she says.

Americans’ diverging views on immigration may be evolving alongside the security situation on the border. Although illegal border crossings are hovering near historic lows, March is on pace for 100,000 apprehensions by border authorities – the most in any month in more than a decade.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said last week that a “breaking point” had arrived. The Border Patrol is struggling with housing those who are apprehended and meeting the health needs of migrants who increasingly are families with children.

On Friday, President Trump announced plans to cut off foreign aid for three Central American nations – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – which are now the leading source of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border. Mr. Trump also threatened a move that would be economically damaging to both the U.S. and Mexico: close the southern U.S. border to trade and travel, unless Mexico does more to stop the immigrant flow.

Mark Trumbull /The Christian Science Monitor
Clinton Williams, a barber and church pastor near Fort Bragg, says President Trump is misguided to focus so heavily on border security, saying that Immigrants are just “trying to ... take care of their families.”

Many Americans are concerned about border security, but only 44 percent favor Mr. Trump’s idea of a new border wall, versus 51 percent opposed, according to an early March national poll by Monmouth University. When asked if they supported an emergency declaration so that military funds could be diverted to the border, support fell to 33 percent, versus 65 percent opposed.

While leaning conservative in many ways, North Carolina can be a swing state in presidential elections. Many in this region are more supportive of the armed forces than they are of Mr. Trump. Fort Bragg, near the city of Fayetteville in the center of the state, is the heart of the Army’s airborne and special operations forces. Fayetteville in 2008 began describing itself as a “sanctuary for soldiers,” signaling its efforts to provide special support to military families.

“We like to see our military protected,” says Kerri Ross, a longtime resident. “They’ll be hurting” because of his plans, she says. “The housing for our military families is atrocious.”

Part of a family with deep ties to the armed forces, she worries service members will be shortchanged because, in her view, “he wants a Trump Wall as a legacy.”

As for the border, “I’ve lived in California and Arizona,” Ms. Ross says. “People want in, and they’re going to find a way to get in.”

In his latest budget proposal, the president requested $8.6 billion in wall funding. But with little hope of that passing a divided Congress, he has also turned toward the use of military funds. The Department of Defense recently responded with a list of projects that could potentially be postponed, narrowing that list down to $4.3 billion in projects that would avoid cuts to military housing or dormitory improvements.

Still, many North Carolina civilians worry about the message sent by delaying military projects. “It’ll hurt us in the long run,” says Martin Lee, a Spring Lake resident who works at a nearby perfume factory. The military budget is “something he shouldn’t be messing with.”

Brent Sides, who unlike Mr. Lee was a Trump supporter in 2016, is also wary. On this early spring day, with the warm sun coaxing nearby buds and blossoms to open, Mr. Sides has just finished painting the outlines of some new parking spaces at a Food Lion near Fort Bragg.

He laments that Congress and the White House haven’t been able to strike a bargain on immigration and border policies.

“It’s coming to just butting heads,” he says of Washington politics. Although he calls enhanced border security “the right thing to do,” he says “it’s got to be a good plan.”

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2. ‘Anybody who’s ever been around Joe Biden has been touched by him – literally’

When it comes to classifying human interactions, is perception reality, or can generational differences come into play? Our Washington bureau chief takes a look at the issue. Her story’s origin: a personal encounter.

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It was a campaign moment I will never forget. I was in Connecticut covering the 2006 Democratic primary between then-Sen. Joe Lieberman and liberal challenger Ned Lamont. We were at an outdoor event in Glastonbury, the sun blazing overhead, when I noticed then-Sen Joe Biden of Delaware. I walked over and introduced myself. Senator Biden greeted me warmly – and then threw a sweaty arm over my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. I cringed a little internally; I had never met Mr. Biden before. But I chalked the overly friendly gesture up to his personal style, and maybe a generational difference.

Now the former vice president, likely about to launch another presidential campaign, is under fire for a way of interacting that to some women has come across as “handsy.” It bears noting that the charges pale in comparison with the actual cases of sexual misconduct by both President Donald Trump and President Bill Clinton. Mr. Biden has never faced allegations of marital infidelity and has a strong image as a family man.

But the space-invading critique points to a broader stylistic challenge Mr. Biden may face if he does run – a generational gap that could hurt him, particularly with millennials.

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‘Anybody who’s ever been around Joe Biden has been touched by him – literally’

It was a campaign moment I will never forget.

I was in Connecticut covering the August 2006 Democratic primary between then-Sen. Joe Lieberman and his insurgent liberal challenger, Ned Lamont. Then-Sen. Joe Biden, of Delaware, and a few other Senate colleagues were visiting from Washington to buck up their friend.

We were at an outdoor event in Glastonbury, the sun blazing overhead, and I noticed the senators standing around chatting. I walked over and introduced myself. Senator Biden greeted me warmly – and then threw a sweaty arm over my shoulder, and gave me a squeeze. I cringed a little internally; I had never met Mr. Biden before. But I chalked the overly friendly gesture up to his personal style, and maybe a generational difference. I proceeded to interview the senators, but the thing I remember most vividly is Mr. Biden’s sweaty arm.

As Gail Russell Chaddock, a longtime congressional reporter for the Monitor put it, “Anybody who’s ever been around Joe Biden has been touched by him – literally.”

Now the former vice president, likely about to launch another presidential campaign, is under fire for his physical style of interacting with others, a style that to some women comes across as “handsy.” Most seriously, he faces an allegation by a Nevada politician named Lucy Flores, who wrote Friday that Mr. Biden kissed and nuzzled her on the back of the head before a campaign event in 2014.

That was before #MeToo and today’s stricter societal standards for appropriate behavior, but by just a few years. Mr. Biden’s avuncular style long ago earned him the nickname “Uncle Joe.” Now, to some, he’s “Creepy Uncle Joe.” And his still-unannounced presidential campaign is facing its first crisis.

On Sunday, Mr. Biden issued a statement: “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”

Mr. Biden also put forth former female aides who defended his actions with Ms. Flores and, more generally, as a boss. And in one widely publicized example of allegedly creepy behavior, the woman involved has come forward on the side of the former vice president. In a post on Medium, Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, says that the image of Mr. Biden with her at her husband’s swearing-in – his hands on Ms. Carter’s shoulders and his head leaning in to whisper in her ear – is not a #MeToo moment, it’s a moment of support.

“The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful,” Ms. Carter writes, while making clear she is not passing judgment on Ms. Flores’ story.

In another photo, Mr. Biden is seen whispering in the ear of Delaware Sen. Chris Coons’ 13-year-old daughter, who appears uncomfortable when he kisses the side of her head. “She did not think of it as anything,” Senator Coons, a Democrat, told the Washington Post.

The Flores episode has quickly become fodder for Democrats already in the 2020 race. Biden defenders point out that Ms. Flores backed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016. Today, Senator Sanders says he believes Ms. Flores. (Women who worked on Senator Sanders’ 2016 campaign claimed unequal pay and sexual harassment by male campaign workers. Senator Sanders has apologized for the harassment and promised 2020 will be different.)

Mr. Biden’s relatively slow response may demonstrate the pitfalls of not having a campaign apparatus that’s fully up and running. But the former V.P. may face a bigger challenge over his handling of the 1991 Anita Hill hearings. During that episode, when then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas faced charges of sexual harassment by his former subordinate, Mr. Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He recently said he “wished he could have done something” – a response critics found weak, given the position he held.

Just as important, the attacks on Mr. Biden’s personal interactions may point to a stylistic challenge he faces if he does run – and a generational gap that could hurt him, particularly with millennials.

Mr. Biden is in his late 70s, not much older than President Donald Trump, but clearly from an era when alpha-male behavior was the norm in politics.

“It would be good if, every now and then, women just said, ‘You know, don’t do that. Keep your hands to yourself,’ ” says Deborah Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

It also bears noting that Ms. Flores’ charge against Mr. Biden pales in comparison with the actual cases of sexual misconduct by both President Donald Trump and President Bill Clinton. Unlike the two presidents, both of whom have reputations as womanizers, Mr. Biden has never faced allegations of marital infidelity. In fact, he has a strong image as a family man.

My own little story about Mr. Biden in 2006 is not a #MeToo moment. Far from it. Having been a reporter in the old Soviet Union, I know what inappropriate male behavior toward a female reporter looks and feels like. I just thought Mr. Biden was a character, and yes, a bit too touchy-feely for my taste.

Now, in the year 2019, we may be about to learn if Uncle Joe can bring his style up to date – and still hold on to his essential political quality as a “people person.”

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3. Beijing club promises parents it will make their boys into men

When the notion of “boys in crisis” is raised it generally points to a society wrestling with changing values, and issues beyond just definitions of masculinity. That’s the case now in China.

Yujuan Xie/The Christian Science Monitor
Members of the Beijing True Boys' Club play laser tag on the set of the movie ‘Wolf Warrior 2’ in the Huairou district of Beijing on Oct. 28th, 2018.

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A bus full of boys, members of the Beijing True Boys’ Club, are reciting their “men’s pledge.”

“There are three things we need to protect,” they chant. “Our country, honor, and aspirations.”

The club’s activities emphasize physical strength, agility, and courage, and include expensive military-style boot camps. They’re unusual extracurriculars, in a country where intense exam culture keeps many students studying around the clock. But the concerns that lead parents to entrust their sons to the Boys’ Club and its founder, Tang Haiyan, are common in China today. “Our boys have lost a lot of their inherent qualities – their masculinity, courage, sense of competition, responsibility, and adventurous spirit,” says Mr. Tang. “It’s like a wild tiger is caged in the zoo, and gradually becomes a big cat.”

His hypermasculine vision is certainly contentious. To plenty of observers, his approach seems harmful, or misguided at best.

“They are holding the idea of ignorance [from] hundreds of years ago,” says Professor Fang Gang, an expert on gender studies at Beijing Forestry University.

But many urban parents are anxious about their sons’ masculinity, in a culture where traditional ideas about male and female roles jostle with rapid social, political, and economic change. And the panic over masculinity may say just as much about how women are viewed in China – where about 115 boys are born for every 100 girls.

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Beijing club promises parents it will make their boys into men

Teams of preteen boys toting plastic laser-tag assault rifles take up position on their mock battleground, a street strewn with abandoned cars and debris.

“Start!” yells a trainer, unleashing a staccato of laser fire.

Eight-year-old Li Yuanhao, captain of the “Justice” team, takes two boys to hide behind a pile of garbage, directing others to distract the enemy. Ten minutes later, he has survived.

“I feel I learned a lot today,” Yuanhao beams, proud that he shot 10 opponents.

This is the “Beijing True Boys’ Club,” a for-profit group dedicated to training “manly” boys. There aren’t many like it, and plenty of people find its philosophy damaging – but here in China, the concerns that prompted it are common.

Today, the country’s boys are the subject of heated debate. Decades of family-planning restrictions have left China with about 115 boys born for every 100 girls, many of them their parents’ only children, and stereotypes about pampered “little emperors” remain. But urban parents, in particular, are voicing alarm over what they call “sissy” sons: a social panic that spurred this club’s creation six years ago. Today, it has trained an estimated 20,000 boys, ages 7 to 12.

“Our boys have lost a lot of their inherent qualities – their masculinity, courage, sense of competition, responsibility, and adventurous spirit,” says Tang Haiyan, the club’s founder, who blames the problem on a lack of male mentors. “It’s like a wild tiger is caged in the zoo, and gradually becomes a big cat.” He envisions his club as a natural reserve for boys, where they can “play boys’ games, do what boys do, and grow up like men.”

Traditional Chinese expectations around gender are still strong today: from pressures on women to marry young or risk being “leftover,” to men’s own pressure to own an apartment and car before engagement – a difficult feat in China’s most expensive cities. But social realities have shifted dramatically in the seven decades of rapid growth and development since the founding of the People’s Republic. Many children, for example, are enmeshed in a culture of round-the-clock studies, with little time (or space) for the physical activity that grounds some people’s views of masculinity.

And when such dissonances prompt anxiety, parents look to people like Mr. Tang to bridge the gap.

‘Who wants to be a soldier?’

The masculinity debate escalated last fall, when China’s state-run broadcaster aired a back-to-school show that opened with neatly coiffed, slender male celebrity singers.

Children in the audience swooned over their idols. But the act, which was mandatory viewing for elementary students and parents, provoked an outcry.

“This sick culture is having an inestimably adverse impact on teenagers,” wrote the editorial board of state news agency Xinhua, warning that such “weirdo,” “effeminate” role models would weaken the country.

Many images of male celebrities’ ponytails and earrings are now blurred out on Chinese state TV.

“Inviting those celebrities on the CCTV show is definitely wrong,” says Mr. Tang in an interview in his Beijing office. On the wall above him, large characters proclaim his club’s motto: “Cultivating Real Men for China.”

Yujuan Xie/The Christian Science Monitor
Trainer Zheng Rongyu asks members of the Beijing True Boys’ Club to line up before a laser-tag game in the Huairou district of Beijing on Oct. 28, 2018. The club tries to instill responsibility and toughness.

“If everyone is implanted with such ideas, who wants to go to work? Who wants to sacrifice their lives? Who wants to be a soldier?” he asks.

While Mr. Tang may come across as strident, his views are not so far from many Chinese citizens’, some analysts say.

“Most people still hold the traditional idea that men should be responsible, masculine, and be a head of a family, while women should be sweet, soft, and virtuous,” says Ding Yu, an associate professor of sociology and social work at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.

The club attracts mainly urban, well-off parents, many of whom say their boys spend too much time on school and homework while living overprotected lives in high-rise apartments. Though their stories differ, all of them argue Mr. Tang’s tough version of masculinity is indispensable.

Xu Hao, a working mom in Beijing whose 14-year-old son joined the club five years ago, says boys lack activities and are overprotected at school because parents are so serious about safety, since having one child is the norm.

Others fear that today’s young men have a lack of close male role models. Because her husband frequently works out of town, Zhang Haiwei says, she wondered how to “nurture my son’s masculinity without his father’s company.” After five years of classes, she says her son has more friends, and takes more responsibility for chores around the house.

Costly boot camps

Back on the bus full of boys, the day of the laser-tag game, Boys’ Club trainer Zheng Rongyu gives out instructions.

Mr. Zheng, a former flag-bearer with the People’s Liberation Army honor guard, asks an experienced boy to lead the group in reciting the club’s “men’s pledge.”

“There are three things we need to protect: our country, honor, and aspirations.... There are three things we need to control: emotion, language, and behavior.... There are three things we will have: flowers, applause, and brilliant [future]!”

Mr. Zheng, who has taken part in hundreds of official flag ceremonies, looks on approvingly. He joined the club in 2017 as a trainer, seeking to pass on his “positive energy” to the boys as a role model.

“Boys always have a dream, which is to pick up the gun,” Zheng tells the boys on the bus. But “we don’t need to talk about protecting and guarding our country now, because you are all young.”

The club also organizes military-style boot camps during holidays at locations ranging from desert and grasslands to the seaside. They’re not cheap: Camps cost around 6,000 yuan ($870), in a country where the per capita disposable income of urban households in 2017 was 36,396 yuan (around $5,250). Eighteen sessions at the weekend schools cost 10,000 yuan ($1,400).

Yujuan Xie/The Christian Science Monitor
Tang Haiyan sits in his office in Beijing, where the Beijing True Boys' Club motto "Cultivating Real Men for China" is embedded on the wall, on Oct. 16, 2018.

When Mr. Tang was growing up in the village of Qiqihar, a city in China’s far northeast, he and his friends would go into the wilds to catch cockroaches, birds, and fish. They wrestled in mud. A popular game was “human cockfighting”: jumping around on one leg, colliding into each other.

Mr. Tang says those games, which he now views in the context of “the male animal’s conquest of another,” had a great influence on his later life and career. So did his father, though he hit him twice – which Mr. Tang argues set him on the right path. Physical punishment has a role in discipline, he adds, “when male animals are unruly.”

Beyond boys

To plenty of observers, his approach seems harmful, or misguided at best. Physically punishing children always hurts their development, says Fang Gang, director of the Institute of Sexualities and Gender Studies in Beijing Forestry University. But he also critiques the club’s underlying ideas of masculinity, saying people who advocate it are out of step with mainstream international values.

“They are holding the idea of ignorance [from] hundreds of years ago. The world is cultivating multiple masculinities,” Professor Fang says. Gender is diverse and fluid, he adds, not starkly divided into stereotypical ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ ideals.

Feng Yuan, the co-founder of Equality, a Beijing-based NGO that focuses on women’s rights, also emphasizes that rigid concepts of gender are harmful for children. The qualities the club purports to develop – decisiveness, strength, bravery, and responsibility – are ones that everyone should have. “Everyone should be able to develop himself/herself according to his/her own interests and availabilities,” she says.

Some point out that panic over supposedly effeminate boys says just as much about how China views its girls. When people discuss the boys’ “crisis,” there’s an assumption that men are supposed to be superior to women, Professor Ding says – such as in academics, especially STEM subjects. Forty years ago, just 23 percent of Chinese university students were female. In recent years, that number has more than doubled, to about 52 percent.

Mr. Tang credits the book “Saving Boys,” first published in 2010, with inspiring him to create the True Boys’ Club in 2012. At the time, he was making a name for himself as one of China’s top coaches for schools’ American football programs. He learned to play as a student at Beijing Sport University, just as the sport was introduced in Chinese schools. Being constantly knocked down, and picking themselves up again, makes players mentally and physically strong, he says.

But when he picked up “Saving Boys,” he recognized concerns he’d had about his players. The book describes four crises in the lives of Chinese boys: physical, social, educational, and psychological. “The boys’ crisis is something that has never been seen in human history,” concludes author Sun Yunxiao, a researcher at the government-funded China Youth & Children Research Center. “Our future largely depends on the success of rescuing our boys.”

The book argues the exam-oriented education system is to blame, because boys easily get bored of sitting in the classroom and focusing on textbooks. Lagging behind girls in academics contributes to boys’ psychological problems, like low self-esteem, the book argues. 

There are other signs of backlash against women’s achievements – most infamously, perhaps, “virtue schools” and women’s classes whose main theme is telling women to be obedient, and focus on home and family duties.

“Men’s masculinity and women’s virtues are of the same discussion,” says Professor Ding. “Essentially, they are strengthening the traditional gender temperament: what men and women should be, what they should learn, and how they should behave.”

Tang, for his part, brushes aside criticism.

“We are training men for China. As for other people’s views on sissies, it’s their business,” he says.

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4. From living on the street, to getting paid to tell its tales

Combating homelessness – in Dublin or anywhere – requires pragmatism. But it also calls for shifting public perceptions of those affected: A life situation is not a deserved or defining state.

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Derek McGuire was born into homelessness, but he built a career, a family, and a life. Then it all fell apart.

But today he is working, leading tours around the neighborhood he knows intimately. His employer, Secret Street Tours, has launched an effort to make a dent in a national crisis: Homelessness in Ireland shot up by 14 percent in 2018. In greater Dublin, the number of homeless families increased last year for the sixth year in a row. The increases are largely driven by a shortage of affordable housing.

“You see a lot of homeless people on the street but rarely interact and talk with them,” says Tom Austin, one of the co-founders of the tour company. This is “a way for people to engage, ask questions, to understand that ... anyone can lose a job, fall out of a relationship, fall behind on mortgage payments. Without the right support network, that can be anyone. We're here about empowering them and giving them the skills to tell their own stories.” 

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From living on the street, to getting paid to tell its tales

Derek McGuire leads a tour around the Liberties, a working-class neighborhood of Dublin, covering centuries of history on a blustery day – from workers’ tenements to the handsome brick apartments built to improve their living conditions and a hostel for homeless men that still operates today.

That history is relevant in Dublin now, where a soaring rate of homelessness has become a national crisis. And Mr. McGuire is uniquely qualified to tell it. Born and raised in the Liberties, he’s experienced homelessness himself. His tour is part of a new initiative called Secret Street Tours, whose guides are people affected by homelessness. It aims to empower them with skills and opportunity, while also changing public perceptions of a pressing national issue.

McGuire is a co-founder and the organization’s first guide. “Two years ago, I thought all passion inside of me was completely dead. I had no motivation,” he says. “Since I started this tour, it’s completely and totally rejuvenated me. I feel like I’m living again, and I want to live again. I feel like I have a contribution to make.”

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Ireland shot up by 14 percent in 2018. In greater Dublin, the number of families entering homelessness increased last year for the sixth year in a row, according to Focus Ireland, a charity that works to end homelessness. The rise in homelessness is largely driven by a shortage of affordable housing.

In the past, many who found themselves without a home suffered from health or addiction issues, disabilities, or domestic violence. “All those problems are still there, but we’ve seen a massive amount of people who are just becoming homeless for economic reasons,” says Roughan Mac Namara, advocacy director for Focus Ireland. “Most people who are becoming homeless now, it’s because they’ve lost their accommodation in the private rent sector. Their houses are being repossessed, or they’re being evicted because they’re struggling with rent.”

Protests in Dublin are calling for rent control and more government housing. There have also been conflicts over forced evictions. Mr. Mac Namara says the government should build more social housing and tighten regulations to strengthen tenant rights.

Secret Street Tours is an effort to make a dent in the crisis. Co-founder Tom Austin came up with the idea after taking a similar tour in Vienna, and hearing what a difference it made in the life of his guide. He partnered with several co-founders and the Simon Community, another nonprofit working with the homeless. Mr. McGuire’s tour is currently the only one the group offers, but Mr. Austin is working to add another this month and hopes to recruit as many as 10 guides to give tours throughout Dublin and Ireland. He acknowledges it’s a small operation, but says he wants to make a “massive impact” on those with whom they work. The tour costs 10 euros, and after the organization’s small overhead, all proceeds go to the guides. Mr. McGuire receives a flat sum for each tour, while the rest of the money goes into a savings account for him.

Mr. McGuire developed the tour’s itinerary himself, focusing on the history of the hardscrabble neighborhood that’s home to the iconic Guinness brewery. He received training in public speaking through Secret Streets, and says he had to work on his confidence, though you wouldn’t realize it from the tour. His familiarity with the area lends authority and nuance, though he doesn’t focus on his own experiences.

“Each of our tours will be unique, developed in partnership with the guide,” says Mr. Austin. “We’re here about empowering them and giving them the skills to tell their own stories.” He also hopes to raise awareness and change perceptions. “You see a lot of homeless people on the street but rarely interact and talk with them.... It’s a way for people to engage, ask questions, to understand that ... anyone can lose a job, fall out of a relationship, fall behind on mortgage payments. Without the right support network, that can be anyone.”

For McGuire, it was a combination of such circumstances that led to him becoming homeless in 2014. It was a situation he’d worked hard to leave behind. “I was born into homelessness,” he says. “That’s probably why this particular journey resonates so much to me. I was born into one of those hostels set up for single women,” one of which was a stop on the tour. “We learned at a very young age about stigma, about carrying shame.”

But he went on to gain an education and worked for more than 20 years as an addiction counselor in a residential treatment center. He built a career, a life, and a family. When it all fell apart, “It was all the more terrifying, because I was coming into homelessness from the perspective of having walked for many, many years with people who had gone through homelessness and addiction issues,” he says. “I was completely and totally broken.”

By the time Mr. Austin approached him to become Secret Street Tours’ first guide, he says, “I had nothing to lose. I’ve felt the shame, I’ve carried the shame, I’ve carried the guilt. I carried it like I carried the haversack on my back.”

He now lives in temporary accommodation provided by a charity, and has less than two years to figure out his next steps. Secret Street Tours is helping with that, he says.

The work has given him a feeling of “I can do this. And I don’t mean just the tour, but life in general. The more I’m doing this, it’s connecting me with more people, and I have faith in my own abilities. I have a platform, and that’s what Secret Street Tours offered me. And it’s up to me about how I use it. I have a lot more ideas.”

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5. 570 channels – and something’s always on. Can viewers keep up?

How much choice is too much choice for consumers of entertainment media? As Apple ups its game, our new culture writer takes a look at the busy crossroads of buyer action and supplier output.

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Call it subscription fatigue. Afraid of missing out on hit shows and movies, viewers are loading up their TV screens with multiple portals, each one a gateway to seemingly infinite viewing choices. Now Apple is muscling in, too. Its newly announced platform is an all-you-can-watch buffet of shows starring Reese Witherspoon, Brie Larson, and even Oprah.

As non-cable options proliferate, so does anxiety about having to subscribe to multiple products to see favorite shows. Industry observers wonder if a saturation point is near, as more consumers evaluate their relationship with unlimited options. “I’m always questioning if it’s worth paying for these services,” says IT manager Dave Ross of Boston. “Where does it stop?”

For now, millions of viewers will continue to spend their evenings scrolling through the nearly 500 scripted TV shows currently in production. Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” encourages consumers to change their thinking when they feel overwhelmed. “The most important single step people can take is to learn to be satisfied with ‘good enough’ options,” he says, “instead of always needing the best.”

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570 channels – and something’s always on. Can viewers keep up?

When Taylor Parker and his fiancée recently changed internet providers, cable TV was bundled into their package. Four months on, they still haven’t plugged in the cable box.

That’s because they can barely keep up with Amazon Prime Video, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, Sling TV, and Starz. Last month, Mr. Parker added one more – CBS All Access, for the March Madness games. Cumulative cost? About $150 per month to watch two hours of television a week.

“Saying it out loud makes you feel like, oh ... I’m spending all this money for no reason,” says Mr. Parker, a tech-firm salesman in Redmond, Washington. “You end up paying more than you would when you’re cutting cable.”  

Call it subscription fatigue. Afraid of missing out on hit shows and movies, viewers are loading up their TV screens with multiple portals, each one a gateway to seemingly infinite viewing choices. Now Apple is muscling in, too. Its newly announced platform is an all-you-can-watch buffet of shows starring Reese Witherspoon, Brie Larson, and Oprah. As overwhelmed viewers struggle to juggle all the options, industry observers wonder if a saturation point is near.

“In one sense this is the best of times for consumers because they haven’t had so much choice, 300 streaming video services alone, on top of music services and gaming services,” says Jeff Loucks, co-author of the 2019 Digital Media Trends Survey published by the consulting firm Deloitte. But, he adds, “because they have so many choices, it can be hard for them to select among them. But also once they have them, it can be hard for them to find the content that they want while they are juggling these services.”

Deloitte’s annual survey discovered that, for the first time, more respondents (69 percent) had at least one streaming service subscription than have a cable or satellite subscription (65 percent). The survey reports that 47 percent of respondents are “frustrated” by the proliferation of services needing subscriptions in order to customize their viewing experience.

Even among couch potatoes, the overwhelming number of TV options – many of them seldom used – prompts the same kind of anxiety as expensive, infrequently used gym memberships. The worry for individual streaming services is that overwhelmed customers will finally cancel that monthly payment. After all, many have already cut the cord on cable. Many streamers, like Bostonian Rebeca Oliveira, have developed strategies to regularly streamline their a la carte television menus.  

“HBO, Starz, and CBS are recent additions due to our programming: “ ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Last Week Tonight,’ ‘American Gods,’ and ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ respectively,” says Ms. Oliveira, an executive assistant. “We cancel those when the shows are off the air and re-up when they’re back on. Netflix is on the verge of being canceled, especially following their cancellation of ‘One Day at a Time,’ but ‘Queer Eye’ and ‘Great British Bake Off’ are my favorite feel-good shows, so it’s still hanging on.”

Wooing viewers with originality

For streaming platforms, the challenge is to retain viewers by developing a deep slate of shows. In 2018, Netflix spent $8 billion on developing original content that now accounts for more than half its offerings. Amazon, Apple, Hulu, and others are in an arms race to sign big-name talent to supply must-see titles that roll out year round.

For example, Amazon Prime Video is developing “The Hunt,” a show about Nazi hunters in 1970s New York with director Jordan Peele (“Us,” “Get Out”). Hulu snagged Kristen Bell to revive cult detective series “Veronica Mars.” Apple TV+ has resorted to breaking out the big guns – namely Jason Momoa’s muscles – in the sci-fi warrior show “See.” Disney may be able top that: Its yet-to-be-unveiled streaming platform will include Marvel’s superheroes, Pixar’s movies, and the recently acquired 20th Century Fox library.

“Right now, all of these different high-profile content creators are aligned with different streaming services. But, at some point, all of the disassociation between streaming services and where they watch which content is really going to rattle consumers and frustrate them,” says Noelle Barnes, a marketing director in Bellevue, Washington, who worked for Amazon Prime Video when it launched in 2011.

The push to create original content has created a bubble and consumers may decide they’re overpaying, agrees Kevin McDonald, co-editor of “The Netflix Effect.” He anticipates a shakeout of the market and coming consolidation of some of the services.

“This could come crashing down, but behaviorally people have become accustomed to having access to all this stuff,” says Dr. McDonald, who teaches communication studies at California State University, Northridge.

‘Where does it stop?’

There’s another phenomenon at work: FOMO (fear of missing out). Streaming services work to prime the “must see” anticipation of their products. Amazon’s prequel series to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is still several years away but the buzz is already louder than an army of Orcs.

“I’m always questioning if it’s worth paying for these services,” says IT manager Dave Ross of Boston. “Where does it stop? It feels like everybody wants their own streaming service with their own exclusives now. We’ve learned to live with FOMO. There might be a show exclusively on a service we don’t subscribe to, and that’s OK. We’d rather keep the $10 to $20 a month and spend it on something more meaningful.”

For now, millions of viewers will continue to spend their evenings scrolling through the nearly 500 scripted TV shows currently in production. For many, the search ends up in a paralysis of indecision.

“The most important single step people can take is to learn to be satisfied with ‘good enough’ options instead of always needing the best because that in and of itself can limit the amount of time you spend searching,” says Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.”

A fan of binge-watching shows such as “The Wire,” “Better Call Saul,” and “True Detective,” Mr. Schwartz also tries to abide by his other piece of advice: “Go out and get some exercise.”

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The Monitor's View

This migrant surge calls for cross-border solutions

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With immigration facilities in the United States overwhelmed, now may be the right time for the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to agree on thoughtful solutions. Mexico has also made progress in recognizing that the flow of migrants effectively interferes in the domestic affairs of the U.S.

The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has signaled that in addition to respecting the human rights of migrants, it will beef up efforts to control migration flows. Just last week, Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Homeland Security chief, signed a “historic” law enforcement agreement with counterparts in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador designed to improve cooperation to stem irregular immigration. America’s southern neighbors are now quite aware of U.S. concerns.

Good solutions will not come from further threats or inflicting broader harm on any of the countries involved, such as closing the border. The urgent need is for wisdom in making decisions consistent with America’s highest ideals, the law, and the best interests of all involved.

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This migrant surge calls for cross-border solutions

With immigration facilities in the United States overwhelmed by thousands of Central Americans seeking asylum, now may be the right time for creative – and cross-border – leadership. The U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as other stakeholders, know where the problems lie. They just need to agree on thoughtful solutions.

There is plenty of blame to go around in the way governments have responded to the exodus of Central Americans, most of whom are fleeing violence, food scarcity, corruption, and poverty. The last big migrant surge spanned from 2013 to 2014, but the latest flow of families points to an urgent need for cooperation. All the countries involved can find constructive ways to respect laws, norms, and values rather than making the situation worse. A starting point is to agree that the difficult issues should not be used for domestic political gain.

One model of cooperation is a recent U.S.-Mexico agreement on increasing investment in southern Mexico and northern Central America. The various programs have yet to generate jobs to prevent people from migrating. Yet the serious work is beginning and shows promise.

Mexico has also made some progress in recognizing that the flow of migrants effectively interferes in the domestic affairs of the U.S. The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has signaled that in addition to respecting the human rights of migrants, it will beef up efforts to control migration flows. 

Mexico has been overwhelmed by the number of people crossing the southern border. It has been unable to manage well the migrants or to care for them. Many of the migrants can find quick transport northward, often provided by organized traffickers. Some are subject to violence along the way or near the U.S. border.

The northern three Central American countries continue to fall short of their basic obligations to deal with the criminal violence, poverty, and poor governance that prompt so many to flee. Correcting that is a long-term effort, but progress has been made. Various U.S. aid programs have helped specific areas, reducing crime and creating alternative income sources, for example.

Just last week, Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Homeland Security chief, signed a “historic” law enforcement agreement with counterparts in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador designed to improve cooperation to stem irregular immigration. However the U.S. is now threatening to cut off all aid aimed at helping to keep migrants at home.

Though the three countries are being lumped together, each has different urgent issues. Media reports suggest that most of the recent families arriving at the border are fleeing food scarcity in Guatemala. While in El Salvador and Honduras the danger motivating people to flee seems largely criminal violence. Assistance, aid, and requests for action need to be targeted appropriately to address the causes pushing migrants to leave.

In the U.S., the political debate has focused mainly on building out a border wall rather than seeking a bipartisan and comprehensive agreement to improve the immigration system. The most immediate need is to increase the number of federal immigration judges and other personnel necessary to improve and speed processing for asylum-seekers and to build and staff facilities to humanely house them while their claims are adjudicated.

America’s southern neighbors are now quite aware of U.S. concerns. Good solutions will not come from further threats or inflicting broader harm on any of the countries involved, such as closing the border. The value of trade between the U.S. and Mexico averages about $1 million a minute. The urgent need is for wisdom in making decisions consistent with America’s highest ideals, the law, and the best interests of all involved.

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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.

A way out of desperate straits

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Job loss, anxiety, and an inability to pay their family’s mounting bills left today’s contributor in a dark mental place. But the idea that we live “in the house of the Lord” was a light that gradually lifted the hopelessness and inspired solutions, paving the way for a complete turnaround.

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A way out of desperate straits

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Desperate straits. I had been laid off when my employer outsourced the work I’d been doing. As I looked for employment, I soon came to the realization that my computer skills hadn’t kept up with advancements in my field. Along with that situation was a long-standing fear that I had a condition called adult attention deficit disorder (ADD). I was often distracted and anxious, and I was sure this lack of focus had cost me several jobs along the way. Faced with a large family, mounting bills, and a deteriorating sense of self-worth, I was considering taking my own life.

Then I called a Christian Science practitioner – someone dedicated to healing through prayer. With calm assurance, the practitioner reminded me of the faithful sheep referred to in the Bible’s 23rd Psalm. The psalm talks about trusting in God’s loving and shepherdlike leadings, and dwelling “in the house of the Lord for ever.”

I considered the possibility that God had a place for me, too. But I was in a very dark mental place and still deeply concerned that I would never get out of poverty. One job came and went because I was unable to stay focused. My anxiety increased, but the idea of living “in the house of the Lord” – in God’s unending love, care, and intelligence – continued to be meaningful and helped keep me going.

Seemingly out of the blue, just a week before Christmas, I was called to work on a temporary basis for a computer company 3,000 miles from home. Leaving my family and going to the other side of the country was not an appealing prospect, but I felt inspired by God to take this path.

I borrowed money to pay for the gas to drive cross-country, but I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me: The project I was to work on was almost six months behind, I’d have to do the work of an entire team of consultants, I had only 10 percent of the knowledge necessary, and I wouldn’t even get my first paycheck for many weeks.

Besides being in over my head professionally, I still had to deal with the ADD symptoms. But the practitioner continued to point me to my true worth. As God’s children, we are naturally obedient to God, our Father-Mother, who created us as capable and valued.

Sometimes I would walk out of the shipping center and call the practitioner, saying, “I just can’t go back into that building. I just do not know what to do next.” Then she would remind me where I needed to start: with the knowledge that there is only one Mind, which is another name for God. As an expression of this Mind, each of us has all the intelligence, focus, and useful ideas we need.

I began to see that divine Love, God, was right there caring for me, day to day, thought by thought, even in the face of a crisis. Sometimes I was so tempted to admit I was a pathetic failure and to drive home to move my family out of a foreclosed house and onto the street, homeless. But at the same time, I received inspiration that helped me do the job – ideas that were practical but also “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), cutting through the chaos to the exact points I needed to see and understand spiritually. Solutions came, sometimes spontaneously, one of which actually saved the company’s computer system from unrecoverable loss.

Slowly but surely, I took one small step after another from ignorance to competence. After about five months, I was hired permanently. By the time six years had gone by, I had literally “written the book” on some technology topics that I couldn’t have even described, much less understood, when I started on this journey.

Divine Love has been my guiding, guarding Shepherd, leading me out of thoughts of suicide, depression, and fear of day-to-day subsistence living. I’m grateful to say I was able to catch up on our mortgage payments, sell our old house, and buy a bigger home for our growing family. But what I most appreciate is the remodeled dwelling of my own consciousness. I find that I am largely freed from fear when I recognize that my divine Shepherd is here.

God knows us, and we are His, and daily He “leadeth [us] beside the still waters,” giving us ideas and supply. God’s love and care are ours forever.

Adapted from a testimony published in the Dec. 2006 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

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Viewfinder

Coming soon: The biggest election in history

/Mahesh Kumar A./AP
A supporter of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party attends an election campaign rally addressed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Hyderabad, India, on April 1. India's general elections will be held in seven phases starting April 11. With more than 900 million eligible voters and more than 1 million polling stations, it is expected to be the largest exercise of democracy in the world.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( April 2nd, 2019 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Come back tomorrow. We’ll look at an emerging genre of writing that aims to vindicate the fundamental goodness of human society. “The benefits of the connected life must have outweighed the costs,” one scholar told our reporter, “otherwise we wouldn't live socially.” 

Monitor Daily Podcast

April 01, 2019
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