2019
May
07
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

At 46%, President Donald Trump now has his highest job-approval rating since taking office.

The latest Gallup poll shows the biggest boost comes from Democrats and independents. That’s a significant shift. Republican support has not changed.

What happened? Fear of a recession has ebbed. Hope has rebounded with a strong economy. On Friday, we learned that in the first quarter of this year, the gross domestic product grew at 3.2%, a more robust rate than expected. The U.S. unemployment rate also dropped to 3.6%, the lowest in 50 years.

But U.S. stock markets nose-dived Tuesday, surprised by Mr. Trump’s plans to raise tariffs Friday on $200 billion worth of products made in China. The president’s abrupt shift may reflected confidence that a strong economy gives the U.S. more leverage. China’s trade negotiators are scheduled to arrive in Washington Thursday.

If the economy remains strong, history suggests that bodes well for Mr. Trump’s 2020 reelection. And we aren’t likely to see Democratic candidates focusing on the economy as much as inequality – the widening gap between the wealthy and the middle class. If the president promises continued economic progress, expect Democrats to promise justice and fairness.

Mr. Trump’s job-approval ratings are still lower than those of any other president in recent history. But as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said recently, “People will vote for somebody they don’t like if they think it is good for them.”

Now to our five selected stories, including rebuilding trust after the U.S. measles outbreak, the shifting roles of women in Jordan, and how China’s dinosaur finds might spur the next generation of paleontologists.

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1. War without end in Gaza: Why Israeli army is battling the government

Civilian control over the military is essential in democracy, but what happens when the military’s stability plan is ignored by politicians? Our reporter says the Israeli military’s frustration over the Gaza conflict is coming to the surface.

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The burst of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the most intense since 2014, left 29 people dead, 25 in Gaza and four in Israel. “Until the Next Round” read a headline Tuesday in a leading Israeli daily, summing up post-cease-fire sentiment on both sides: The quiet will only be temporary.

Often obscured by that feeling of inevitability is a dispute between Israel’s military and political leaders over how to halt the Gaza rocket attacks. Army officials have repeatedly made the case that the best strategy includes easing the Israeli blockade that has crippled Gaza’s economy and left it near a humanitarian collapse.

Their approach, however, has been consistently rebuffed by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose allies fear concessions will be seen as giving in to terrorism. On Monday, the military’s frustration burst into the open. At a press briefing, an army official said fighting could resume within days if Israel did not ease conditions in Gaza soon.

“We are in the worst kind of situation in which there are sane people inside the government who cannot put into action sane policies because of political considerations,” says Shlomo Brom, a researcher and retired general.

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War without end in Gaza: Why Israeli army is battling the government

It’s being described now as Israel’s longest war of attrition.

Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamic group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, have been locked in conflict, punctuated with outbursts of violence, for more than a decade now.

Within 48 hours this weekend, Israeli television reports lurched from updates on incoming rocket barrages that kept tens of thousands inside bomb shelters, to images of black smoke floating over the Gaza Strip from retaliatory bombings, to announcements of a cease-fire.

The burst of fighting, the most intense since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, left 29 people dead – 25 in Gaza, both militants and civilians, including children; and four civilians in Israel.

Even before the cease-fire was called and it was considered safe to be outside, the first funerals were held, thronged by large crowds of mourners.

“Until the Next Round” read a headline Tuesday in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, efficiently summing up the sentiment on both sides: The quiet between Gaza and Israel will only be temporary. Many are suggesting this lull might be an especially short one.

Yet often obscured by the bellicose statements and feeling of inevitability that hangs over both sides is a long-running dispute in Israel between the military and intelligence establishment and the political echelon over how to halt the rocket attacks from Gaza.

Top army officials have repeatedly made their case that the best strategy is to ease the situation on the ground in Gaza while still maintaining military deterrence. That means, they say, responding to the rocket fire, but also significantly easing the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza in 2007 that has crippled its economy and left it on the precipice of a humanitarian collapse.

If Gaza continues to suffer, the security officials argue, so will Israel.

The military’s approach, however, has been consistently rebuffed by the increasingly right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition partners fear that any concessions to Hamas will be seen by the voters who just reelected them last month as giving in to terrorism. The Netanyahu government has already come under withering criticism for agreeing to the latest cease-fire too quickly.

Frustration goes public

But on Monday, the military’s frustration with its political masters burst uncharacteristically into the open. At a press briefing with Israeli military affairs reporters, an army official named only as an “unidentified security source” criticized the government, saying fighting could break out again within days if Israel did not ease conditions in Gaza soon, and urging diplomatic efforts to make that happen.

Army officials, in remarks in the same briefing that contradicted comments by government members, said the army was ordered to “achieve the necessary operational goals” before Israel’s Independence Day, which starts Wednesday evening, and before Israel hosts the high-profile Eurovision Song Contest, which starts in Tel Aviv next week.

Meanwhile the Israeli blockade has all but smothered Gaza’s economy. Conditions in the narrow sandy strip of 2 million people are dire, with shortages of electricity, food, medical supplies, and hope.

For the past year there have been weekly marches to Israel’s border area with Gaza by Palestinian protesters trying to draw attention to how difficult life has become inside. Scores have died in face-offs with Israeli forces.

From the military’s standpoint, that reality has to change.

Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Palestinian students are seen inside their damaged school next to a building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City May 7.

“I am completely frustrated because we are in the worst kind of situation in which there are sane people inside the government who cannot put into action sane policies because of political considerations,” says Shlomo Brom, a retired general who has served as the director of the army’s strategic planning and is now a senior research associate at the independent Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.

In the past, there would at least be one or two voices within Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet voicing support for economic development, but no longer.

The view from the base

“The perceived view of [Mr. Netanyahu’s] political base is that they essentially are not interested in betterment of the humanitarian or economic situation in Gaza,” says Eran Etzion, former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council. “They have a deep sense of victimhood and even a desire for vengeance among some, and understandably so – it’s not easy living under rocket fire, and addressing it is not an easy task for a far right-wing politician.”

Mr. Netanyahu built his career in part on saying “that we are the victims and the Gazans are the bad guys [for electing Hamas],” says Mr. Etzion. “So it’s hard to explain now why they should care for or take care of the Gazans. ... There’s a great degree of desperation and apathy vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue in general. The rocket firing from Gaza has gone on for the last 18 years, and people have basically become numb about Palestinians.”

Most Israelis view the country’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 as the end of Israel’s control of the overcrowded strip of land wedged between Israel and Egypt. They also tend to underplay the impact of the blockade and Israel’s ongoing control of Gaza’s borders, seafront, and airspace on Gaza’s high levels of unemployment and poverty.

This is the political narrative that the security establishment is up against, but as advisers who are charged with making assessments regardless of political factors, they see a deteriorating situation that needs to be addressed.

“So they are looking for ways to optimize the system, if you will, and the way to do it is to apply military pressure on the so called rogue organizations and differentiate between terrorists and innocent civilians,” says Mr. Etzion. What the military is advocating, he says, is to build “a system of carrots and sticks with both segments in the interest of stabilization.”

What Hamas wants, says Khalil Shikaki, a political scientist and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, is to build up a political economy again in Gaza. “This would give them the ability to properly govern Gaza, to provide jobs, to have exports and imports,” he says.

Specifically, Mr. Shikaki says, Hamas wants “to see some fundamental changes in the Israeli position that would for example let it gain access to cement, iron, or wood that Israel is refusing to allow into Gaza. They want access to a seaport, to an airport, so they can access exports to markets, and they want the ability to travel.”

The Hamas strategy

It’s a tricky game, blocked from all sides – including Hamas’ own Palestinian rivals in the West Bank, Fatah, who want to keep Hamas in a place of economic dependence. Currently the only official way for goods to get in or out of Gaza is through the border crossing with Israel, which wants to ensure it is not smuggling arms or bringing in materials that could be used to create weapons or more attack tunnels under the border.

But, argues Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the INSS, Hamas is seeing their low-intensity warfare strategy work. After rockets were fired in a recent round of fighting, Israel green-lighted an increase of funds from Qatar to Gaza, enlarged the fishing zone for Gaza fishermen, and approved additional civilian relief. It was Israel’s alleged foot-dragging on delivering these steps that is said to have contributed to this week’s fighting.

“Hamas is setting the rules of the game, they are composing the music, and at least for now seeing some real achievements,” Mr. Michael says.

Tania Hary, executive director of Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit that advocates for freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents, sees the Israeli government’s lack of a cohesive policy as reflective of Mr. Netanyahu’s preference for managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than solving it.

But this, she argues, is treading water between dangerous eruptions – ones that can easily spiral beyond what Israel or Hamas intends.

“What has characterized the last year is people [in Gaza] have lost hope. In the past people thought that reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, negotiations, or the United States or the international community might help. But things have now crystalized that no one is coming – no one is looking out for their interests.”

Waiting for ‘deal of the century’

Analysts say Mr. Netanyahu’s approach to Gaza should be seen within what they say is his wider strategy to eliminate the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Netanyahu does not appear to want to end Hamas rule in Gaza since it helps Israel avoid peacemaking measures that could pose political and security risks, analysts say.

When the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends in June, President Donald Trump is expected to unveil his long-awaited Middle East plan.

Eran Zinger, Arab affairs correspondent for Israel’s Kaan network, says he hopes it contains financial investment in Gaza and a road map to make Hamas accountable for an economically thriving Gaza. In a similar way, Hezbollah feels accountable for the welfare of Lebanon, he argues, which has seemed to be a powerful deterrent against attacking Israel.

“Hamas currently feels it has nothing to lose by attacking Israel” – a dangerous prospect for an Israel whose front against Hamas is its civilians.

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2. Russia’s Venezuela motives: It’s about the US, not Maduro

Historically, when Washington and Moscow have butted heads in a third-party nation, it’s been in a Cold War context. But our reporter says the core issue in Venezuela today is simpler: staking out turf.

David
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (r.) and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza shake hands after their joint news conference following talks in Moscow on May 5.

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With the attempted overthrow of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro thwarted, Russia seems to have “won” its proxy fight with the United States in Venezuela. But while the geopolitical debate over Venezuela might seem to have shades of the Cold War, for Russia it's really over a simpler matter: the issue of “meddling” in other peoples’ regions.

The U.S. has demanded that Russia stop getting involved in the Western Hemisphere in places like Venezuela. The Russians counter that the U.S. needs to end its two-decade-old binge of regime-change operations, which includes supporting anti-Moscow revolutions in Russia’s own backyard. But otherwise, who rules in Venezuela is of no special interest to Russia, experts say.

“The relationship that emerged between Russia and Venezuela was an accident. It was mainly the initiative of Hugo Chávez, who was seeking counterbalances to his country’s dependence on the U.S.,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of foreign policy journal Russia in Global Affairs. “Since Chávez died, and his successor has not proven so adept or popular, many in Moscow have been worried about our heavy investments in a potentially unstable regime.”

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Russia’s Venezuela motives: It’s about the US, not Maduro

Many of the hallmarks of a classic great power rivalry between Russia and the United States are on display in Venezuela’s ongoing crisis: competing proxy forces on the ground, diplomatic finger-pointing, and starkly divergent visions of world order.

But while it may look and sound like a Cold War standoff, for Russia it is really about the simpler issue of establishing rules for competing big powers in a post-Cold War world.

In Venezuela, and between the U.S. and Russia generally, there is no sharp ideological divide over world-shaping doctrines like communism versus capitalism. The substantial stake Russia has accumulated in Venezuela over the past two decades has much to do with geopolitical and economic opportunities, but Russian affinity for former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’ Bolivarian Socialism has no part in it.

Rather, the issue coming to a head amid Venezuela’s crisis is this: The U.S. demands that Russia stop meddling in the Western Hemisphere, or at least stop aiding regimes that are at odds with the U.S. National security adviser John Bolton recently went so far as to invoke the 19th-century Monroe Doctrine to justify that. The Russians counter that the U.S. needs to end its two-decade-old binge of regime-change operations, which includes supporting anti-Moscow revolutions in Russia’s own backyard.

Otherwise, who rules in Venezuela is of no special interest to Russia, experts say.

“The relationship that emerged between Russia and Venezuela was an accident. It was mainly the initiative of Hugo Chávez, who was seeking counterbalances to his country’s dependence on the U.S.,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal. “Of course this was enthusiastically supported in Moscow. But it should be pointed out that at that time, the early 2000s, Chávez was rich and could pay for Russian arms and advice. Since Chávez died, and his successor has not proven so adept or popular, many in Moscow have been worried about our heavy investments in a potentially unstable regime.”

Russia’s financial exposure in Venezuela is huge, including at least $17 billion in loans to purchase Russian weaponry and develop Venezuela’s oil industry. Most of those debts remain outstanding, and any new Venezuelan government might refuse to pay them back. Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft, is heavily invested in Venezuela’s PDVSA oil firm, which could also be in doubt after a regime change.

In one strange wrinkle, Rosneft took a nearly 50% stake in Citgo, the Venezuelan-owned, U.S.-based refiner and gas station operator, as collateral for a loan to PDSVA. That could create a national security dilemma for the U.S. if Russia tried to take ownership.

Regime change presently seems off the table, after several days of intense diplomacy that saw Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet with his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo in Finland (and with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Moscow for consultations). Russian analysts say they deeply doubt that the U.S. is planning a military intervention of Venezuela in the style of the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989-90. And, even if that happened, Russia would be unwilling to do much to oppose it.

Analysts say there are no Russian troops in Venezuela, but there have long been Russian military advisers with the Venezuelan army, and private contractors may also be operating there.

“There are Russian military personnel in Venezuela, but not very many of them,” says Vladimir Borodaev, an expert with Moscow State University. “They are mainly there to teach the Venezuelans how to operate the Russian air defense systems they bought. They don’t have any special role or influence.”

Two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers visited Venezuela last December amid a burst of media attention and official condemnation in Washington, but experts say it was just a public relations exercise, and the planes soon returned home.

Cuba and China also have major stakes in any Venezuelan outcome. The U.S. often seems to conflate that with Russian support for the government of Nicolás Maduro, especially Cuba’s involvement, but Russian analysts say Cuba has its own separate relationship with Venezuela, and there is little coordination with Russia.

“Even in Soviet times Cuba pursued an independent policy in Latin America,” says Mr. Borodaev. “They pretty much do what they want, and probably keep big secrets from us.”

At the heart of the political dispute between Moscow and Washington over Venezuela is the issue of “meddling” in other peoples’ regions. Andrey Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, which is affiliated with the Russian Foreign Ministry, says the U.S. is flouting its own principles of liberal world order when it demands that Russia stop supporting Mr. Maduro’s government.

“The traditional liberal position, supported by all U.S. presidents before Donald Trump, renounced all ‘spheres of influence’ and held that sovereign nations should make their own choices,” he says. “That’s the view behind NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, and U.S. claims that Russia’s strategic interests in places like Ukraine and Georgia are irrelevant. So, if we are talking about universal rules, those should apply to everyone, shouldn’t they?”

Ironically, Mr. Bolton’s reference to the Monroe Doctrine could provide a diplomatic opening to Moscow, which still clings to the idea of a Russian-led sphere of influence in its own former-Soviet region.

“This citing of the Monroe Doctrine is something quite intriguing, and it would be warmly welcomed in Moscow if we thought the Americans took it seriously,” says Mr. Lukyanov. “We could talk in that language with them. Of course, it’s funny that they say it, but nobody here thinks they mean it.”

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3. Beyond us and them, the role of trust in vaccine controversy

As the number of measles cases in the U.S. creeps ever higher, the already contentious vaccination debate has devolved into a battle between science and belief. But the larger issue, some observers say, has to do with trust.

David
Reed Saxon/AP
More than 100 students at the University of California, Los Angeles have been quarantined after an unnamed student was diagnosed with the measles. A resurgence of measles cases in the United States has added fuel to an already contentious debate over vaccinations.

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The United States is experiencing its worst measles year since 2000, with more than 750 cases reported so far. With that increase has come a renewed focus on those who delay or opt out of vaccinating, with angry rhetoric on both sides.

Those who comply with the required vaccine schedule often feel that vaccine skeptics are needlessly endangering the broader community. Non-vaccinating parents, meanwhile, can feel attacked and misunderstood. The reality, say experts, is more nuanced than the shrill extremes on social media might lead us to believe.

Yes, vaccine hesitancy, as it’s often known, is a serious issue. But the solution is rarely about shaming or even stricter mandates, but working to understand why that distrust exists in the first place.

“The history of public health is full of abuses,” says ethicist Mark Navin. It’s up to physicians and public health workers to restore that broken trust.

“Public health is not about convincing stupid people what they’re supposed to do,” says Professor Navin, “it’s about developing relationships and trust, and that takes resources and sustained efforts.”

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Beyond us and them, the role of trust in vaccine controversy

When it comes to the fraught topic of vaccines, Julie Rehmeyer is sometimes balancing on a razor-sharp edge.

She’s a science writer with an advanced mathematics degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also has many friends who, like her, have struggled with poorly understood diseases and share a distrust of the medical establishment as a result. For many that trust carries over to vaccines. Ms. Rehmeyer, whose memoir “Into the Shadowlands” chronicles her struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome, says she’s often hesitant to wade into the topic on public forums like social media because of how loaded it can be. But she also feels as if she occupies an unusual space in such a polarized realm.

“I value and respect people who don’t value and respect one another,” she says. “A lot of science writers don’t know anybody they respect who is hesitant about vaccines. ... Whether [those who are skeptical of vaccines] are right or not, this is an issue that deserves compassion and deserves to be taken seriously. It’s not the case that this is just a whole bunch of anti-science crazy people.”

The United States is experiencing its worst measles year since 2000, with more than 750 cases reported so far. The outbreak is due primarily to the fact that the disease has exploded globally, and international travelers have brought it back to the U.S. But it has spread in communities with low vaccination rates, including some in New York and Washington state.

With the increase in measles cases has come a renewed focus on those who delay or opt out of vaccinating, with angry rhetoric on both sides. Those who comply with the required vaccine schedule often feel that vaccine skeptics are needlessly endangering the broader community. Non-vaccinating parents, meanwhile, can feel attacked and misunderstood.

The reality, say experts, is more nuanced than the shrill extremes on social media might lead us to believe. Yes, vaccine hesitancy, as it’s often known, is a serious issue. The World Health Organization listed it as one of its 10 threats to global health in 2019. But, in the U.S. at least, broad compliance rates are high enough that there’s no large concern in most communities. And reasons for not vaccinating – or for simply feeling unsure about it – can vary widely, and often hinge on a lack of trust. The solution, in that case, is rarely about shaming, or even stricter mandates, but working to understand why that distrust exists in the first place.

“We have to reframe this debate,” says Bernice Hausman, a humanities professor at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine and author of the new book “Anti/Vax.” “Framing it in terms of misinformation and scientific illiteracy is not helpful at this point.”

Ultimately, says Professor Hausman, “vaccination controversy is not a scientific problem, it’s a social problem. ... We need people who understand how to understand culture, how to understand why people come to the beliefs they hold, and why it’s hard to change certain beliefs.”

A gap in trust

The science around vaccines is clear: They involve negligible risk and huge societal benefit, and in order to be most effective, they require the vast majority of a community to be vaccinated (for a disease like measles, the rate is about 95%). The most vulnerable members of a population are those with the most vested interest in their surrounding community getting vaccinated: those too young to be immunized or who have medical reasons to avoid vaccination.

But while it’s common to stereotype “anti-vaxxers” as selfish, science-illiterate, or believing in debunked studies like the one connecting vaccines with autism, many are, in fact, thoughtful, educated, or may have real reasons for their lack of trust. The portion of people truly unwilling to vaccinate, at all costs, is very small, say experts – perhaps 2% of the population. A much larger portion of the population – 40% to 70%, depending on the study – exhibits some degree of “vaccine hesitancy,” even though most fully comply with vaccine laws.

“There’s huge diversity in motivations,” says Mark Navin, an applied ethics professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, who has extensively studied vaccine resistance. Several of the biggest outbreaks this year occurred in Orthodox Jewish communities. That’s not surprising, he notes, given that these are insular communities with fairly frequent travel to Israel, one of the countries currently experiencing a significant measles outbreak. But just as telling, he adds, is the strained history that some of these communities have had with public health departments.

While there is every reason to trust government officials on vaccine safety, Professor Navin emphasizes, some of the underpinnings of broader distrust are legitimate: the opioid epidemic driven by big pharmaceutical companies; profit motives in that industry; poor information about things like water safety; or even unethical programs that targeted some disadvantaged communities.

“The history of public health is full of abuses,” says Professor Navin. “Given this history, and given this context of reasonable distrust, it’s helpful to begin by realizing there’s a positive responsibility on the part of physicians and public health and government to build this trust.”  

Instead of asking why people don’t vaccinate, he adds, it can be helpful to ask why so many people do. In general, the research shows that it’s because they trust their doctors, have no reason to worry, and have no history of bad treatment around vaccination.

“Public health is not about convincing stupid people what they’re supposed to do, but about developing relationships and trust, and that takes resources and sustained efforts,” says Professor Navin.

When the outbreak in Southeast Michigan occurred recently, he adds, health officials had an existing relationship with the rabbis, and within a period of a week got 2,000 members of the community to show up for MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) shots.

“Public health workers will tell you the most important thing in an outbreak is having good relations with the community,” says Professor Hausman of Penn State.

What’s changed?

While it’s getting increased attention now, the issue with vaccine hesitancy is hardly new.

“There has been vaccine resistance as long as there has been compulsory vaccination,” says Elena Conis, the author of “Vaccine Nation” and a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley. And many of the reasons for the resistance have remained consistent, she says: concerns about risks, concerns about incursions on personal liberty, and religious objections. (For example, some Christian Scientists choose not to vaccinate for religious reasons.)

What’s somewhat new in the latest incarnation, Professor Conis says, is the degree to which some social movements have given people a vocabulary for voicing objections and the number of vaccines that are now compulsory.

“We’re asking more of our citizens with respect to vaccinations than we ever have before,” she says.

Peter Borten, a doctor of Chinese medicine and acupuncture in Boulder, Colorado, notes that the aggressive vaccine schedule is one of the concerns he hears from patients who are hesitant to vaccinate. Many tell him that they don’t trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to clearly report vaccine risks. They may know someone who has had a legitimate complication from a vaccine or may have concerns about Big Pharma and “don’t trust that these companies care more about humans than profits,” he says.

He also acknowledges that the health risks from the diseases we vaccinate against, while low for most people, are higher for some vulnerable populations, like babies and pregnant women – another complicating factor. 

Dr. Borten and his wife have vaccinated their kids on a schedule that he feels minimizes the risk, but he says he still holds his breath when it’s time for his children to get another shot.

“The more I learn – and I actively try to stay well informed about it – the less opinionated I am,” writes Dr. Borten in an email. “In the end, the actual rate of vaccine complications is extremely low, and so is the risk of getting and being permanently injured by any of the diseases we have these vaccines against. This is important for people on both sides of the issue to remember.”

Fitting the message to the audience

Internationally, where vaccine hesitancy is a major reason for some outbreaks of disease, there’s a concerted effort to start addressing the problem, as well as calls for self-reflection on the part of the medical establishment.

“An anti-vaxxer in California, USA, for example, is vastly different from someone potentially exposed to Ebola in rural DR Congo. Yet there are similarities in their mistrust. A belief that vaccines cause autism or that Ebola is a government ploy likely has as much to do with wider grievances and distrust of authority as with the specifics of the scientific evidence and education,” opined a recent editorial in The Lancet, a premier medical journal. “Part of the problem is that a lack of faith in government, the health-care system, and pharmaceutical companies is not always irrational. ... It is impossible to build trust while at the same time abusing it.”

The medical community tends to shy away from social media programs, or from “softer” community engagement, but often that’s a more effective way to reach skeptics than just lecturing at them, says Heidi Larson, an anthropologist and director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, which monitors public confidence in vaccines around the globe and has developed an index that serves as an early detection of public concerns.

When there were big concerns in Denmark, Ireland, and some other countries around the HPV vaccine, which is recommended for adolescent girls to protect against cervical cancer, Dr. Larson says that the immunization program in Denmark brought together a group of young girls and helped them co-create a social media campaign. It was positive, pro-health, and the design and message were entirely created by the girls.

“It really helped,” says Dr. Larson, noting that Ireland then launched a similar campaign. “Kids can be real advocates. ... We need to think differently about how we engage with people from early on.”

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4. Jordanian men cheer working women. But will they help out at home?

Driven by economic need, more Jordanian women are finding freedom working outside the home. But male family members are often slower to adapt to this societal shift.

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Women have long pursued and excelled in higher education in culturally conservative Jordan, but few have continued on to have careers. Bowing to cultural barriers in some professions and owing to their duties at home, women overall have had low participation in the workplace. But rapid change is afoot. Despite a challenging economy and job market, rents and the cost of living in Jordan have skyrocketed. Second breadwinners are now a necessity.

Husbands, fathers, and brothers now enthusiastically encourage female family members to work. Young Jordanian women talk about internships, not marriage, after graduation. Yet social change at home is slow to arrive. Families are often unwilling to have men share in the workload at home.

“As soon as my mother-in-law sees my husband washing a dish or the neighbor sees him sweeping the balcony, they begin to intervene, tell him to stop and that I am being a bad wife,” says Um Mohammed, who runs and owns two beauty salons in Amman and takes a two-hour break each day to cook for a family of five. “We got to a point where we pull down the blinds and my husband sweeps in secret.”

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Jordanian men cheer working women. But will they help out at home?

Fatemah Hussein is one face of the new Jordan. A homemaker, cook, and caregiver, she has added another task to her list: factory-line worker.

“Our mothers and grandmothers kept a home and raised children,” Ms. Hussein says at a garment factory in central Jordan, taking a break at the factory day care to feed her infant son. “But we have two careers; full-time jobs at home and outside.”

Her workload speaks to an added strain being placed on Jordanian women, but she is determined. “We are in the 21st century,” she says, “and we are not going back.”

Women have long pursued and excelled in higher education in culturally conservative Jordan, but relatively few have continued on to have careers, and even fewer after marriage.

Bowing to a culture of “shame” surrounding certain professions and workplaces that were predominately male, and meeting the demands of child care and household duties, Jordanian women often worked exclusively in teaching, nursing, and government administration jobs.

That has kept women’s overall participation in the workplace low. But rapid change is afoot, driven by economics and need.

Government subsidies are down, and taxes are up. Even with wages largely stagnant and the unemployment rate hitting 18.6%, rents and the cost of living have skyrocketed. Rather than a source of debate, a second breadwinner is now a necessity.

Husbands, fathers, and brothers are now enthusiastically encouraging female family members to work, actively shopping around their CVs. Young Jordanian women talk about internships, not marriage, after graduation.

And Jordan’s government is on board, too, encouraged by International Labor Organization statistics showing women’s increased participation could boost gross domestic product by $8 billion a year.

Earning or just helping?

Yet social change at home is slow to arrive, and economic need is running up against family structures that are stubbornly patriarchal. Even as women’s parents, husbands, and brothers have a say in their professional lives, their families are also often unwilling to have their husbands share in the workload at home.

That puts women at a disadvantage as they move into a more accepting workplace.

Romouz Sadeq’s startup Mryati provides on-demand beauticians to the home via a phone app. Her all-women business employs 47 women, and aims to employ 100 by the end of the year. While husbands and families feel more comfortable with their wives and daughters working in an all-women business, they often dictate when and what type of bookings they take.

“Families want women to work, but they want to decide where and when they work,” Ms. Sadeq says from her Amman office. “It is a control many families are not ready to give up.”

Many women say their families impose similar conditions: same city, close to home, no late hours.

“The salary doesn’t have to be right, the location has to be right,” says Suhair, an unemployed 26-year-old who declined to use her full name. She says her family pressured her to turn down three job opportunities the past year as they were too far from home.

Multiple employers told the Monitor that their female employees often hand over their checks directly to their husbands or families, whether to pay off household debts or make car payments. This has led many to see their 9-to-5 jobs as a way of “helping out” their family, rather than a long-term career with progression and goals.

“Everyone needs to pitch in to help pay the bills,” says Mariam Ibrahim, 25, who works as an accountant at a company owned by a family friend for about $560 a month, which she says she applies to her family’s budget. “Now it is our turn.”

Social norms even lead upper-middle-class families and husbands to bar many women from traveling alone internationally or to other cities in Jordan for work-sponsored trainings, seminars, and conferences.

“By default, by [women] not traveling abroad, men tend to end up with better qualifications, contacts, and therefore opportunities than women,” says Ms. Sadeq. “Women more often than not end up stuck at the bottom of the organizational pyramid.”

Courtesy of the Hashemite Royal Court
Jordan’s King Abdullah visits a factory employing dozens of women in the northern province of Jerash May 2, 2018.

Matchmaking

While social stigmas around the workplace are dissipating, Jordanian women and advocates say greater career achievement has come with higher social expectations, even affecting marital prospects.

For decades, matchmakers and families would research a male suitor’s education, career, salary, and even health insurance before considering a marriage proposal for their daughter.

A suitor, in turn, would examine a woman’s values, religiosity, and education.

Now, some Jordanian men and their family browse young women’s CVs and even ask about their salary and career plans before a face-to-face meeting.

The entire equation has flipped; whereas before a working woman would at times be looked down upon as “selfish,” now an unemployed woman is considered an undesirable burden – all at a time when the economy has never been worse.

“Women’s unemployment is not just a national issue. In many households it is a crisis,” says Jawad Anani, former chief of the Royal Court and economic adviser, who most recently served as minister of state for economic affairs in 2018.

Before Mr. Anani finishes his sentence, his phone rings. It is yet another call from a man pleading for help in finding a job for his daughter who has a finance degree.

“When they say, ‘Help me, my daughter is sitting at home without a job,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I’m afraid my daughter will never get married,’” Anani says. “And that is both culturally a catastrophe and an economic burden.”

An unshared burden

Working married couples also struggle. Not all men are willing to share in domestic duties such as cooking and cleaning – mirroring the same adjustments American society went through in the 1970s and ’80s.

“It is great when a Jordanian man wants a wife who works – but we have to ask: are you also making his wife’s life or conditions better to help her access this job? Will you be willing to share household responsibilities more equally?” says Sahar Aloul of SADAQA, a Jordanian nongovernmental organization that advocates for fair and women-friendly work environments.

While some upper-middle-class working couples have a modern “partnership” approach, some women say they not only have to convince their husband to carry a greater share, but also must overcome pressures from their husband’s family, friends, and co-workers who would judge him for pitching in.

“As soon as my mother-in-law sees my husband washing a dish or the neighbor sees him sweeping the balcony, they begin to intervene, tell him to stop and that I am being a bad wife,” says Um Mohammed, who runs and owns two beauty salons in Amman and takes a two-hour break each day to cook for a family of five. “We got to a point where we pull down the blinds and my husband sweeps in secret.”

Outside the capital, women are often forced to rely on informal transportation: private buses, vans, and walking, sometimes taking up to four hours for a 45-minute journey.

This has allowed a patriarchal hold on some women to persist. Some Jordanian women say they must rely on fathers, husbands, and brothers to drive them to the workplace, allowing families to dictate when and where they work.

With a growing number of women competing over limited desirable jobs with “family-friendly” hours, less scrupulous employers have forced hundreds of Jordanian women to take less than the minimum wage in verbal deals, with private school teachers receiving as little as JOD80 ($110) a month.

Advancements

The path from employment to empowerment is rarely a straight line. But there are already signs that women in Jordan are overcoming obstacles to make strides.

Private school teachers have begun to organize and lobby employers to give them full pay, benefits, and parental leave. Similar awareness movements are fermenting in other women-dominated professions.

Hiring weekly cleaners, once a luxury reserved for wealthy Jordanians who imported full-time Asian domestic helpers, is now becoming more common for middle- and even working-class families in Amman and outside towns, as a rising number of Syrian refugees and Jordanian women clean homes to help out their own families.

“We worked hard in school, we studied to be the top in our universities – of course we want to have careers and enjoy the fruits of our labor,” says Ms. Hussein, the factory worker. “The only way for us is forward – and we are taking the country with us.”

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5. China is awash in dinosaur fossils. But who will dig them up?

Behind every headline-making dino discovery are months or years of work. But even further back is inspiration. China’s top paleontologists hope to sell a new generation on their field – and childhood wonder is a great place to start.

David
Lenora Chu
Chinese kindergartners visiting Shanghai’s Natural History Museum look excitedly ahead to the ‘Argentinosaurus’ just around the corner.

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Hordes of kindergartners flow toward the dinosaur section of Shanghai’s sparkling Natural History Museum, each child clutching hands with a pint-sized partner. “T. rex!” exclaims one tiny boy, pointing at the giant replica hovering over him. (Actually, it was an Argentinosaurus, not Tyrannosaurus rex.)

Today, the class is captivated. Will its interest last?

China has become a gold mine of fossil finds and now lays claim to more species discoveries than the United States. Liaoning province, for example, gave the world the first evidence that birds evolved from small meat-eating dinosaurs, and fossils out of neighboring Hebei province revealed a pivotal point in the evolution of flight.

But leading researchers worry over the pipeline of homegrown talent. The arcane routines of fieldwork and research are a tough sell to college students, especially in a heavily consumer society. It’s yet another paradox between the staggering opportunities offered by China’s size and scale, and a society that’s still adjusting to the G-forces of rapid development.

“Passion equals better science,” says Xu Xing, who has named more new species than any other living paleontologist. Now, he’s determined to spark that passion in new students. “The next generation is our hope,” he says.

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China is awash in dinosaur fossils. But who will dig them up?

China’s most famous paleontologists were accidental scholars.

The year Wang Min entered college, in 2005, China was still finding its way onto the dinosaur map. Competition on the national college entrance exam was fierce, Dr. Wang says, and choices were limited for people who scored in his range. He stumbled into geology and eventually became enamored with a subset of that department: paleontology.

When Dr. Wang decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the field, he didn’t tell his parents for years, until after he’d graduated and landed a job. 

“I didn’t want them to worry about my job prospects,” he says. “That would not be very helpful.”

What a difference a decade makes. Dr. Wang is now one of the country’s rising stars, having discovered the world’s oldest class of birds. Currently a researcher at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, he hints at another groundbreaking discovery to come later this year.

As Dr. Wang has risen, so has China, in the paleontological world’s regard: The country now lays claim to more species discoveries than the United States, and new finds are happening at an astonishing rate. Just a month ago, scientists announced a well-preserved Qingjiang site dating back 518 million years that contains many previously unknown species, as well as soft-bodied organisms such jellyfish, which are rarely fossilized.

Yet China’s leading paleontologists worry about the pipeline of native talent. As the world’s scientists flock to China for dinosaur digs, the field hasn’t drawn young Chinese, who are graduating into a society that prioritizes urban living and material wealth over the arcane routine of fieldwork and research. It’s yet another paradox between the staggering opportunities offered by China’s size and scale, and a society that’s still adjusting to the G-forces of rapid development.

“In today’s social environment [in China], it’s normal for children to like dinosaurs, but it’s not seen as normal for adults to like dinosaurs,” says Zhao Chuang, a Beijing artist who builds intricate dinosaur replicas for clients including museums and schools. “The public’s interest in paleontology isn’t big.”

Courtesy of Jingmai O'Connor
Jingmai O'Connor, a paleontologist at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Science, sits at the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature in Shandong province, China.

A national paradox

That’s a tough irony to swallow for a country that “has it all” when it comes to dinosaurs, writes Jingmai O’Connor of Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Indeed, China’s vast resources have produced extraordinary finds. Liaoning province – China’s veritable fossil gold mine – gave the world the first evidence that birds evolved from small meat-eating dinosaurs. Fossils out of neighboring Hebei province revealed a pivotal point in the evolution of flight. Other discoveries include the earliest animal embryos, and deposits of mammals that tell the story of the rise of the Himalayas.

China’s paleontological riches – and its potential – cannot be overestimated, researchers say. Take Anchiornis, a late-Jurassic era feathered dinosaur discovered in Liaoning. Over the mere decade since its naming, hundreds of fossils have been collected in China, and they’re all “greater than 90 percent complete, fully articulated and preserving feathers,” writes Dr. O’Connor in an email.

By comparison, we’ve known about the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex for more than a century. Yet there are only about 50 specimens, with the most complete skeleton logging in at 85%.

True to China’s commercial spirit, the dinosaur riches have turned legions of farmers, construction workers, and even provincial bureaucrats into amateur fossil hunters, looking to make a quick buck on the black market.

But they are day traders in China’s fossil ecosphere, not the professional scientists required for the painstaking work of excavation and research. And foreign scientists are “not allowed to freely collect in China,” Xiaoming Wang, paleontological curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, writes in an email. These circumstances make it especially critical that fossil-rich China creates homegrown paleontologists.

A quarter century ago, the popularity of the “Jurassic Park” films in the West drew hordes of young talent into the profession. But that didn’t happen in China.

Sparking curiosity

Museums are critical to nurturing interest, but institutions exist only in a handful of top-tier Chinese cities. “Kids need to be able to see ancient creatures, to be able to actively explore their interest – this is important,” Wang Min says.

Where there are museums – Liaoning province has about a dozen in various stages of development – there are often a lack of properly trained employees to build education programs. Another obstacle: The same consumerism that has catapulted Chinese buyers to the top of the luxury goods market makes lower-paying and relatively scarce academic jobs repellent. A Sina survey reveals paleontology ranks nearly 500th out of 1,433 college majors, sandwiched between “theater director” and “Sinhalese literature.”

On public interest, there’s work to do.

Yifan Xue, the poster child for lonely paleontology grads, insists things are looking up. In her graduation snapshot, she stands alone at Peking University looking somewhat piqued above the caption, “A group photo of paleontology majors, class of 2010.” It went viral. Nearly a decade later, she’s given up on paleontology and is studying for a Ph.D. in biomedical informatics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Still, Ms. Xue insists the field will be OK as long as it can attract “a few” passionate people. Unlike economics, law, or computer science, paleontology doesn’t directly push the development of society, and “it’s inevitably going to be less popular,” she writes in an email. “But that doesn’t mean paleontology is in crisis.”

Xu Xing, whose discoveries have made him a national treasure, was also an accidental scholar. When he was accepted to college, he was assigned to paleontology. Upon receiving the news, "I asked my high school teacher, ‘What's paleontology?’” he recalls. “Unfortunately he didn't know either.”

In the first years of his career, “I was just doing a job. ... I had to grow into my interest,” says Dr. Xu, who has named more new species than any other living paleontologist.

Yet “passion equals better science,” he says. He now considers his mission motivating young children and students to enter the sciences, and his writings about the link between dinosaurs and birds are included in every fourth-grade Chinese language textbook. “The next generation is our hope.”

Indeed, Wang Min says, there are side benefits to dinosaur study. “You may make more money in IT, but in paleontology you can get close to nature.”

Magical wonder

At Shanghai’s sparkling Natural History Museum on a Tuesday morning, dinosaurs’ magic was on full display.

A group of middle schoolers from a Tibetan county in Qinghai province filed in. Their county is among China’s poorest, and the dozen students were hand-selected by test scores to visit tier-one museums in Shanghai as part of a government-sponsored trip.

“I like gorillas,” one girl said while sauntering by a dinosaur exhibit. “Where are the gorillas?”

Yan Liming, president of the Qinghai Women’s Federation that helped fund the trip, walked behind her. These trips are critical to expose the children to concepts they’d only “read about in textbooks or see on television,” she says.

Behind the Qinghai group, hordes of kindergartners flowed toward the dinosaur section, each child clutching hands with a pint-sized partner. Teachers, some raising colorful flags high above their heads, barked orders.

“Look at the dinosaurs!”

“Hold hands!”

“Come see the dinosaurs!”

Bawanglong! – T. rex!” – exclaimed a tiny boy, pointing at the giant dinosaur replica hovering over him. Actually, it was an Argentinosaurus, not Tyrannosaurus rex.

No matter. The boy was here alongside his classmates, and all were completely captivated.

It’s a start.

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The Monitor's View

A surprise turn for rule of law in Myanmar

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After more than 500 days behind bars, two reporters from Reuters news agency who exposed a military massacre in Myanmar in 2017 were given a surprise pardon Tuesday. Their truth-telling about the killing of Muslim civilians had won them a seven-year sentence. Yet the best part of this story may be the probable reason for their release.

Their investigation into the killings during a military campaign against the minority Rohingya people served another cause in Myanmar: rule of law. The country, which is still dominated by the military, has seen only a limited return to democracy since 2015. Foreign diplomats and many others have appealed for the release of the Reuters reporters by appealing to the military’s own professed desire to improve rule of law. While the West did apply pressure on the regime, it also used discreet engagement, hoping to establish trust with the top brass by showing a mutual interest in better rule of law.

“This outcome shows that dialogue works, even in the most difficult of circumstances,” said Ara Darzi, the key negotiator for the journalists’ release.

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A surprise turn for rule of law in Myanmar

After more than 500 days behind bars, two reporters from Reuters news agency who exposed a military massacre in Myanmar in 2017 were given a surprise pardon Tuesday. Their truth-telling about the killing of Muslim civilians had won them a seven-year sentence on a charge that even the police admitted was made up. The two also won a Pulitzer Prize. During their long confinement, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had became symbols of the global cause for press freedom.

Yet the best part of the story may be the probable reason for their release.

Their investigation into the killings during a military campaign against the minority Rohingya people served another cause in Myanmar: rule of law. The country, which is still dominated by the military, has seen only a limited return to democracy since 2015. Dozens of journalists, for example, have been arrested. And the United Nations seeks accountability for what it calls a genocide against the Rohingya. To its credit, the regime did convict soldiers involved in the massacre uncovered by Reuters.

Foreign diplomats and many others have appealed for the release of the Reuters reporters by appealing to the military’s own professed desire to improve rule of law. While the West did apply pressure on the regime, it also used discreet engagement, hoping to establish trust with the top brass by showing a mutual interest in improving rule of law.

“This outcome shows that dialogue works, even in the most difficult of circumstances,” said Ara Darzi, the key negotiator for the journalists’ release and a British lord who has served on an international advisory group to help reform Myanmar’s government.

“This is a country that is trying to implement the rule of law,” he told the BBC. The release of the journalists, he added, is “a day to celebrate” Myanmar’s moves toward reconciliation.

Negotiations in difficult situations are often not a zero-sum game. They work best when one side seeks goodwill by listening to the other side’s deepest concerns. Away from the glare of publicity, talks can then focus on shared interests. And also produce surprise endings, such as freedom for journalists.

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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.

Lifting women up

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Today’s contributor explores how a spiritual view of identity can restore the dignity of womanhood and uplift men and women alike.

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Lifting women up

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I live in Mumbai, India, and have spent a lot of time thinking through issues surrounding women and the circumstances that keep them in impoverished conditions. In many cultures, including my own, progress is being made, but, even so, many women are still subject to limitation and treated like objects or doormats to be stepped on. At times it seems like an impossible situation.

Yet some years ago, when I began to read the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, especially “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” I found hope. Since then there has been a major change in my own life and in my ability to help other women. The dignity of womanhood needs to be restored to women, and I’ve come to understand that this needs to be done through spiritual means that uplift both men and women.

In the first chapter of the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, our origin as God’s children is explained. It says there that we all are created in God’s own image and likeness, male and female. From this, one can gather that God’s creation – male and female – is meant to express itself as God’s spiritual reflection, not be suppressed. This statement certainly speaks of equality, completeness, wholeness, with men and women having equal rights and privileges.

Representing the womanhood of God is not a punishment. Good is not something that belongs to some but not to others. God, in Her love and wisdom, recognizes and embraces all of God’s beloved children equally and universally.

Mary Baker Eddy is my role model because her life experience elevated every aspect of womanhood. As she grew in her understanding of her (and everyone’s) relation to God, our Father-Mother, divine and universal Love, her expression of that Love resulted in health and healing.

Centuries of discrimination in various parts of the world are breaking and will continue to do so. But prayer-inspired efforts to uplift women are still needed. However, I know from my work with different organizations that the consecrated prayer and dedicated efforts of many people are bringing much-needed steps of improvement in this regard.

For instance, an article in today’s Monitor Daily points to a decline in cultural stigmas and legal barriers to women in the workforce in Jordan. It is important to note, as the article does, that logistical challenges and other inequities remain for female workers; but there are also signs of positive change, of women overcoming obstacles. Each such instance, however small it may seem in the overall scheme of things, makes a difference because it has the effect of bringing out the spiritual fact of equality in our day-to-day experience.

I used to run a job placement service in Mumbai. When I met female job seekers, most of whom thought of themselves as inferior to men, I’d share ideas with them about their true, spiritual identity – about the need to value the qualities they included as God’s children and to accept their inherent ability to express those qualities. In these discussions there was always a positive response.

I also think of the experience of a friend’s mother, a senior citizen, who felt that as a woman she had nothing to offer the world. She was roused from this kind of thinking with the Bible verse “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten” (Joel 2:25). This promise enabled her to feel the love of the ever-present God, good. She realized that as God’s spiritual offspring she was as loved, cared for, and valued as anyone else. She began to take an interest in things around her and to express the Life that is God, good.

Soon she was able to unite with her son who was living in the United States. Before she left India to join him, she was able to take on what many Indians would consider a man’s role: selling property and hiring vendors to do work for her. She saw her completeness as God’s precious daughter and rejoiced in this new understanding.

The work of restoration and redemption begins in each individual consciousness as we let our hearts overflow with love and compassion – not just for women but for men, too. Let’s acknowledge everyone’s completeness and rejoice in the irreversible spiritual fact that we are all children of God, lacking nothing, free of any defect. Or, as Science and Health puts it, “Citizens of the world, accept the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God,’ and be free! This is your divine right” (p. 227).

Adapted from a July 13, 2006, article now located on JSH-Online.com.

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Viewfinder

Virtual monkhood

Ahn Young-joon/AP
Ten children have entered a temple for three weeks to experience a little bit of what monks’ life is like ahead of Buddha’s birthday on May 12. Here, the shaven-headed young boys wear VR devices to experience 5G service at LG UPlus 5G experience place in Seoul, South Korea, May 7.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( May 8th, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’ve got an audio interview with Ann Scott Tyson, who talks about what it’s like reporting in a part of China that feels like a war zone but isn’t the typical image of war.

Monitor Daily Podcast

May 07, 2019
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