2019
July
26
Friday

Welcome to the Monitor Daily! Today we launch our ocean series, “Peering into the deep”; examine why Puerto Ricans cried, “No más”; and look at the “sober curious” approach to avoiding alcohol, traditional horse racing in South Africa, and Quentin Tarantino’s new film.

But first, startling fact No. 1: Fish chatter – and honk and grunt.

Startling fact No. 2: There are people who study fish sounds.

Earlier this week, Monitor reporters Eva Botkin-Kowacki and Rebecca Asoulin headed to Cotuit, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod to interview Rodney Rountree, one of the world’s few fish listeners.

From 7 to 10 p.m., when the cusk eel chorus was supposed to reach its height, they sat on the town dock with Dr. Rountree, donned earphones attached to a hydrophone, and heard, well, not very much. The eels were unusually silent that night.

“The fish noises that we did hear were largely honks from toadfish,” says Eva, “and some grunts as well.”

“I love diving, being underwater,” says Rebecca, “When you’re down there, you can’t hear because you’re underwater. So that was the first time I heard the ocean in any sort of meaningful way.”

Dr. Rountree records the sounds – he even catches fish and puts them in a miniature kiddie pool, so he can “audition” them. The idea is to connect the sound with the fish so he can pick out mating and distress calls and begin to understand how fish react when disturbed by predators – or humans. Stay tuned for an audio story from that trip in a later installment of our oceans series.

Humans search space for extraterrestrial life, while “we have this alien world right here on Earth, the ocean, particularly the deep sea, that we know so little about,” Eva says. “That’s my main takeaway from [this series]. The more that I learn, the more I realize just how amazingly diverse life, ecosystems, habitats are right here on Earth.”

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1. Puerto Rico protests: With governor gone, this is ‘just the beginning’

Governor Rosselló’s resignation was about more than a trove of offensive messages. Puerto Ricans were protesting years of mismanagement. But many demonstrators were reclaiming something, too: a sense of their own power.

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For Puerto Ricans who protested day after day demanding not just a governor’s resignation but a clean sweep of a political culture, it was one particular message that energized a still-suffering people to reclaim their dignity. In it, the governor and his privileged buddies appear to mock Hurricane Maria’s dead.

“Don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?” the former chief financial officer said in a chat message, in a reference to the overloaded morgues. The “crows” were apparently media and other critics of the government’s recovery efforts.

“People can take many things. We Puerto Ricans have lived for a very long time under a lot of bad governments and with a lot of indignities, but this was just too much,” says Yolanda Gonzalez, an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico.

While the derisive chats galvanized a movement, many other factors contributed to the movement: a succession of ineffective governments, corruption scandals, and the island’s economic retreat to the point of bankruptcy.

“We’re not done,” says Jose David Colon Vega, a high school teacher. “It’s up to us to write a new history for Puerto Rico that is based on progress, civil rights, and wellness for this island we love.”

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Puerto Rico protests: With governor gone, this is ‘just the beginning’

First there was Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in September 2017 with a near-knockout blow.

Then this month came the political scandals, revealing a self-serving and aloof governing clique that in many ways had squandered the island’s post-Maria recovery effort.

Two of the U.S. territory's top officials and several of their associates were arrested by the FBI earlier this month and charged with misuse of federal aid. That was followed in short order by the publication of a trove of derogatory, callous emails between Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his close circle of male aides that exposed an out-of-touch government.

But when Governor Rosselló announced Wednesday, after two weeks of unrelenting street protests, that he will resign from office Aug. 2, it underscored that while the one-two punch of Maria and ineffective, arrogant governance may have knocked the people of Puerto Rico down, it has them anything but out.

Indeed, for some who have protested day after day, demanding not just a governor’s resignation but a clean sweep of a decades-old political culture, it was more than anything else one particular message that energized a still-suffering people to reclaim their dignity. In it, the governor and his privileged buddies appear to mock Maria’s dead.

“Don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?” the Rosselló administration’s former chief financial officer said in a chat message with the governor and 10 other top aides, in a reference to the bodies that piled up after Maria, when overloaded morgues were unable to handle them. The “crows” were apparently media and other critics of the government’s recovery efforts.

“People can take many things. We Puerto Ricans have lived for a very long time under a lot of bad governments and with a lot of indignities, but this was just too much,” says Yolanda González, an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Education who joined her neighbors in a nightly round of pot-banging to let “Ricky” (as Governor Rosselló is known) know that they weren’t going to take it anymore.

“It was so hurtful. It showed such a lack of compassion and solidarity to make fun in that way of all those people who died after Maria because of that group’s inaction and an unresponsive government,” she says. “That’s when people said, ‘No, no more – we must change this.’”

Time and again, people have referred to that one exchange, amid a chat full of misogynistic and homophobic rants, as the drop that made the public fury spill over.

“There are so many elements to explain this public uprising against the governor and what he represents, but it was this mocking of those most affected by Maria that was the last straw,” says Ricardo Barrios, an associate of the Asia and Latin America program at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. “For people who had lost loved ones for lack of an effective disaster response, this was no laughing matter.”

Salt in the wound

While the derisive chats galvanized and sustained a movement, many other factors contributed, some reaching back to well before Maria, says Mr. Barrios, who is Puerto Rican.

He cites a succession of ineffective governments, corruption scandals, and the island’s economic retreat to the point of bankruptcy. Not insignificant, he adds, is the fact that Mr. Rosselló’s father, Pedro Rosselló, was a governor in the 1990s who endured a number of corruption scandals.

“Many people thought the father should have served time like some of his cabinet members did, and there was this sentiment that ‘We’re not going to let another Rosselló get away with it,’” he says.

But like many Puerto Ricans, Mr. Barrios says that corruption, ineffective governance, and a detached political class have existed for a long time and probably would not have led on their own to a governor’s downfall. It took Maria and above all the trauma of an absent government in the recovery phase to seal Mr. Rosselló’s fate.

“It was in the aftermath of Maria that the triggers of this movement we have now sprang up and developed,” says Yazmin Maldonado, a social community psychologist in San Juan who has been a daily participant in the protests that Puerto Ricans refer to simply as la marcha.

“The government’s absence in the aftermath of Maria really shook people, but it also convinced many people that they would have to manage for themselves, and that encouraged a new sense of community among sectors of society and a desire for new tools to get us out from under Maria,” Dr. Maldonado says. “But then people started coming together to see if those same new tools could be used to get us out of our long political crisis.”

“People learned from the recovery period that there were many things we could do without the government; there was this sense about a government that didn’t seem to be operating that ‘We don’t need them anymore,’” says Dr. González. “That became very dangerous for Ricky when the corruption and chats started coming out.”

Another critical piece of the post-Maria movement was the growing independent media, ranging from personal blogs and community websites to startup publications disassociated from the island’s traditional political parties and power circles. 

“We're experiencing a historical moment in Puerto Rico, and real journalism is needed,” says journalist Sandra Rodríguez Cotto, who reported on over 50 pages of the chat on July 10. When the Center for Investigative Journalism obtained and published nearly 900 pages of chats July 13, that got the protest ball rolling.

Then there was the fact that the movement was led not by politicians, but by artists of particular inspiration to the island’s young, including Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, Calle 13, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

For some Puerto Ricans, the fact that the corruption charges involved education funds made them especially damaging, given the island’s post-Maria experience.

“We’re not talking about complex movements of cash from the treasury, or some really complicated tax-evasion scheme. This was $15 million in education [and health] funding siphoned off to people in the governor’s circle at a time when schools were closed and Puerto Ricans were being told there was no money to open them back up,” says Mr. Barrios.

“This affected the most vulnerable people on the island, the children, and you also have to remember that thousands of families had left [for Florida and other places in the mainland U.S.] because they were desperate to get their kids in school,” he adds. “The involvement of education funding was like a stab to the heart. It really brought the corruption home to everybody.”

“We found a new strength”

One thing the post-Maria months of no power, closed schools, and undelivered food and rebuilding supplies taught many Puerto Ricans was not so much that they could get by without government, some marcha participants say, but that they deserved not just a new government – but a new kind of governance.

Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/AP
Shoes placed by protesters, representing people who died during Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, sit in a circle in La Rogativa Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico, July 18, 2019. Protesters called for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign for weeks, after the leak of messages in which he and top aides made misogynistic slurs and mocked constituents.

“I truly believe that Hurricane Maria came to Puerto Rico to open our eyes to the unacceptable realities that we have been living with for many years,” says José David Colón Vega, a high school Spanish teacher who has been active on social media to keep information about the demonstrations flowing.

“What I think is so important is that through the experience of Hurricane Maria, we found a new strength, and that is what has allowed us to rise up against corruption, bad politics, and all kinds of discrimination – including against the poor. Before we were not a united people,” he adds, “but after Maria we have found our voice.”

Mr. Colón, who is diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, says that one reason the officials’ chats were such a mobilizing factor is that they demonstrated such detachment from the solidarity and compassion that had blossomed across Puerto Rico in Maria’s wake.

“As a human being with a disability, I felt so offended by those comments about women, about people from the LGBT community, even about a blind person,” he says. “But I know I’m not alone. The huge demonstrations day after day showed the world this new spirit of Puerto Ricans caring about each other.”

Perhaps most inspiring to Mr. Colón is that the nightly marches he watched on his computer were conducted not with rancor and vindictiveness, but with a sense of joy – with music, with creative chants, and with that newfound solidarity.

He admits he’s a little concerned that, now that Ricky is leaving office, some Puerto Ricans will consider the job done. Not so, he says.

“I think we have to see this moment as just the beginning,” he says, noting that he plans to do what he can as a teacher to keep the spirit alive with young people.

“We’re not done,” he says. “It’s up to us to write a new history for Puerto Rico that is based on progress, civil rights, and wellness for this island we love.”

Danny Jin contributed reporting from Boston.

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Peering into the deep

Discovery beneath the waves

2. Into the twilight zone

Humans like to think they have conquered every corner of the planet. But in reality we know little about the world’s largest biome: the ocean. Part 1 of “Peering into the deep,” a five-part series exploring our evolving understanding of life beneath the waves, examines the ocean's "Twilight Zone."

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

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For most people, the ocean is a world almost as alien as the moon, a smooth surface that makes a pleasing backdrop to a sunset or a fun playground for kids on the beach. As scientists’ understanding of this world evolves so too do people’s perceptions.

For the researchers engaged in unraveling these mysteries, this is an age of discovery. New technology is enabling them to look deeper and farther and to understand places and interactions that until recently were entirely unknown. 

Aboard the Rachel Carson, scientists watch live video feeds from a remotely operated vehicle descending through the little understood Pacific mid-waters. They are studying a twice-daily swell of tiny critters traveling up and down the water column – likely the largest migration on Earth.

These scientists are the first to say they’re just beginning to understand the complexities of life beneath the waves. The ecosystems of the deep sea, for instance, can be as different from each other as forests and grasslands and deserts are on land, says oceanographer Lisa Levin.

“There’s an endless array and we’ve just scratched the surface,” she says.

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Into the twilight zone

Some 20 miles off the Monterey Bay coast, Kelly Benoit-Bird lights up as a delicate, pink creature drifts onto the screen in front of her. After asking the drone pilot to zoom in for a closer look, she calls out, “A cockeyed squid! I’ve never seen one before.”

Dr. Benoit-Bird is on board the Rachel Carson, watching intently as live video streams in from the Ventana, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) descending through the “twilight zone” of waters deep below the ship. 

The robotic envoy’s mission: to glean insights into the twice daily swell of tiny critters traveling up and down the water column – likely the largest migration on Earth. The excursion is another data collection point in a long-running experiment to monitor these waters and to better understand the mysteries that lie beneath the surface of the sea.

The ocean covers more than 70% of the planet’s surface, constitutes 95% of its living space, contains 97% of its water, and is critical to life on Earth in myriad ways: as a source of food and oxygen, and as a driver of our climate.

But for most people, the ocean is a world almost as alien as the moon, a smooth surface that makes a pleasing backdrop to a sunset or a fun playground for kids on the beach. As scientists’ understanding of this world evolves – from shallow coral reefs to the depths beyond sunlight, from the complex living ecosystem to the ocean’s importance as a carbon sink and a climate regulator – so too are people’s perceptions of this unfamiliar world.

“The ocean is the most important thing you rarely think about,” says Janis Searles Jones, CEO of the Ocean Conservancy, an advocacy group. “You need a healthy ocean to have a habitable planet.” 

An age of discovery

Getting people to care about that ecosystem has at times been an uphill battle, she says, but new research and scientific exploration have helped more people understand just how dynamic and varied an ecosystem the ocean is, and how vital it is to life on Earth, both for people who live near the ocean and for people who live thousands of miles away.

“The coolest thing about the ocean is you can still find new creatures you’ve never heard of or seen before,” she says. “Deep-sea creatures are beyond your wildest imagination, the stuff of science fiction or cartoons or dreams.”

Amanda Paulson/The Christian Science Monitor
Researchers aboard the Rachel Carson zoom in on live video of a cockeyed squid streaming from the remotely operated Ventana on June 4, 2019, in Monterey, California.

For the scientists engaged in unraveling those mysteries, this is still an age of discovery. New technology is enabling them to look deeper and farther and to understand places and interactions that until recently were entirely unknown. 

The equipment aboard the Rachel Carson and at today’s dive site is a testament to that technological progress. In addition to the remotely operated Ventana, autonomous underwater vehicles travel untethered, programmed to take measurements and collect video and water samples. An undersea cable on the seafloor nearly 3,000 feet below the surface powers acoustic sensors, tracking both ocean sounds and movement of organisms in the water above it.

As the ship heads to the dive site, Samuel Urmy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, points out the acoustic data, updating in real time, that shows how the mass of tiny creatures migrates between the mid-ocean and the upper ocean every morning and evening – equivalent, for them, to completing a 10K race twice a day.

Despite the wealth of data now available, these scientists are the first to say they’re just starting to scratch the surface of understanding the complex web of interactions between predators and prey in this mid-water zone. 

“This is hugely unknown, so it’s exciting,” says Dr. Urmy.

And the more scientists learn, the clearer it becomes that the ocean, while incredibly resilient, is facing massive threats: from climate change and plastic pollution to overfishing and drilling for oil and gas.

The vast unknown

For many years, the deep-sea floor was once thought to be a largely barren environment. But in recent decades researchers have discovered thriving – and highly varied – habitats rich with biodiversity, says Lisa Levin, an oceanographer with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has been studying the deep sea for almost four decades. 

The ecosystems of the deep sea can be as different from each other as forests and grasslands and deserts are on land, Dr. Levin says. Scientists are just beginning to understand the “superpowers” that enable animals to survive in these extreme conditions: withstanding the hottest water, the lowest oxygen, the highest pressure.

“But at the same time that we’ve discovered all this biodiversity, we have begun to look to the deep ocean for resources,” says Dr. Levin. “Sometimes we’re destroying things before we even begin to discover them.”

What becomes increasingly clear with each discovery is just how much we still have to learn.

“The more we measure, the more we find things that – wow, we didn’t know the ocean worked that way,” says Mark Abbott, president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

On the Rachel Carson, there is a palpable sense of excitement when the Ventana gets lowered into the water and the dive begins. The scientists may not be down in the ocean depths themselves, but immersed in the images in the ROV control room – and directing the ROV pilot to shift the view, or collect water samples, as Pink Floyd and Tom Petty play softly in the background – it feels as if they’re down there, too.

“Without the ocean, we’d already be toast”

Dr. Benoit-Bird, an expert on using acoustics to understand animal behavior in the mesopelagic zone and the director of this dive, characterizes these dives as “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of intense excitement.” On this dive, she loved seeing the cockeyed squid, and she’s struck by the diversity of species seen: jellyfish and shrimp, tiny anchovies and hake, copepods and pteropods, and giant larvacean houses.

The mesopelagic region – the ocean’s middle zone, or twilight zone – is hugely unexplored, says Dr. Benoit-Bird. “But these animals are an active conveyor belt moving hundreds of meters each night, moving all this carbon,” she adds, noting that the estimated biomass of the mesopelagic is now being revised, and may be 10 or even 100 times greater than was previously thought.

Dr. Levin says that thrill of discovery and sense of wonder continue to motivate her as well. Humans have seen only about 5% of the seafloor, she notes. “Every time we look at new places, we discover new things.”

Amanda Paulson/The Christian Science Monitor
Crew aboard the Rachel Carson get ready to lower the Ventana, a remotely operated vehicle that can dive thousands of feet below the surface, into the waters off the coast of California's Monterey Bay, June 4, 2019.

In January, Dr. Levin was on a research cruise off the coast of Costa Rica when she discovered that fish lay their eggs in xenophyophores – fist-sized single-celled creatures that have long fascinated her. “For a long time I’ve studied [these giant protozoa] as little hotspots of biodiversity,” says Dr. Levin, her voice lighting up with the joy of discovery. “But having a fish use a single-celled organism as a nursery habitat is pretty amazing. ... It’s a small discovery, but it’s not an insignificant thing.”

When people ask her why the ocean and deep sea matter, Dr. Levin says she points to the climate system – “without the ocean we’d already be toast” – and the incredible biodiversity that hold pharmaceutical and bioinspiration potential: sea corals that are a template for bone implants, sponges with superconductor powers, microbes that absorb carbon dioxide.

“There’s an endless array and we’ve just scratched the surface,” says Dr. Levin. “There are also functions and services [the ocean provides] that we haven’t even discovered yet, that we don’t know that are important. And some people believe it’s just our responsibility to take care of life on the planet.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct Janis Searle Jones's title at the Ocean Conservancy. She is the CEO.

This story is the second installment of “Peering into the deep,” a five-part series on the ocean. 

Part 1, which you just read, dove into the ocean’s “twilight zone,” where a conveyor belt of tiny critters transport carbon up and down the water column each day.

Part 2 highlights the surprising discovery of vibrant coral communities thriving in the seemingly inhospitable deep.

Part 3 features an emerging technology that is enabling researchers to survey fish populations using a small sample of water. 

Part 4 explores how discoveries of life in the deep sea are informing the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Part 5 will be an auditory treat featuring the mysterious sounds of the sea, from grunting haddock to singing cusk eels.

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3. No drink? No problem. Behind the ‘sober curious’ movement.

In a culture in which drinking goes largely unquestioned, the sober curious movement is gaining ground and encouraging people to reexamine why we imbibe. 

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It’s a consumption paradox: Americans are drinking more, but at the same time, interest in the sober curiosity movement is swelling. Dry bars, zero-proof tipples, and even alcohol-free Mardi Gras celebrations have gained steam. 

Made popular by a 2018 book of the same name, “sober curious” suggests a mindful reexamination of why one imbibes. In practice, that could mean ordering off the mocktail menu. Or aiming for moderation. Or simply questioning drinking culture.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the movement coincides with Americans’ growing obsession with wellness. By extension, those who are sober curious have tended to frame not-drinking as a personal health choice, rather than a moral one, as a more socially acceptable approach.  

As sociologist Jamie L. Mullaney says, onlookers may be more inclined to accept explanations for not-doings because “we’re increasingly tuned in to the ways in which excess – whether it’s food or substances or even technology – can impact health.”

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No drink? No problem. Behind the ‘sober curious’ movement.

Megan Zavieh is perfectly fine ordering water at the bar, thanks. No, she’s not pregnant. And no, she hasn’t battled with booze. Ms. Zavieh has seen how easily alcohol seeps into the social and work life of the legal profession, a norm that starts in law school. At the umpteenth conference cocktail hour, fellow lawyers have confided to her that they too wished alcohol were less ubiquitous.

“I’m never the one who wants to get drunk,” says Ms. Zavieh, a mom of four in Georgia and the founder of Zavieh Law. As a runner, she’ll forfeit drinks ahead of races to boost her fitness, and loves the way abstaining makes her feel. As a legal ethics attorney, she’s seen how problem-drinking can lead to lawyers “dropping the ball on their clients.”

Ms. Zavieh says she’s no teetotaler. But she advocates for an appraisal of the legal profession’s relationship with alcohol, and for accommodating abstainers with more options. While talking about consumption in moral terms “kind of falls on deaf ears,” she takes inspiration from the growing diversity of meal options available for people with food sensitivities.

“It seems like we’d have a bit more of a receptive crowd to talking about alcohol consumption in the context of health,” she says.

Ms. Zavieh had been “sober curious” long before learning the term. Made popular by a 2018 book of the same name, “sober curious” suggests a mindful reexamination of why one imbibes. In practice, that could mean ordering off the mocktail menu. Or aiming for moderation. No matter where imbibers first learned to say “cheers,” they likely didn’t learn to question drinking culture.

A health, not moral, choice

Observers like Ms. Zavieh see the bubbling up of this “sober curious” era coinciding with Americans’ growing obsession with wellness. By extension, framing not-drinking as a personal health choice – rather than a moral one – may seem more socially acceptable.

Research by sociologist Jamie L. Mullaney bears this out. In her 2005 book, “Everyone Is NOT Doing It: Abstinence and Personal Identity,” Dr. Mullaney explored commonalities between dozens of people who abstained from “expected doings.” Whether opting out of sugar, smoking, or sex, her interviewees offered a range of reasons for abstinence – and confronted a fair share of bewilderment.

“We expect a lot of abstainers,” she says. “We want them to account in some way.”

Yet even when personal reasons for abstinence were complex, Dr. Mullaney found that people often framed their abstinence simply in terms of health when asked to explain their behavior.

“The fact that others back off with their questioning when abstinence is framed in terms of health suggests to me that it is a legitimate contemporary cultural frame,” adds Dr. Mullaney, who teaches sociology and anthropology at Goucher College in Baltimore.

She says onlookers may be more inclined to accept explanations for not-doings because “we’re increasingly tuned in to the ways in which excess – whether it’s food or substances or even technology – can impact health.”

Paradoxically, the swell in sober curiosity comes as Americans up their libations. A federally sponsored study in JAMA Psychiatry found that alcohol use rose by 11% between 2002 and 2013. Women, racial minorities, older adults, and people with lower levels of education and income experienced the greatest spikes in high-risk drinking. Separately, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 6 U.S. adults binge-drink nearly once a week.

That said, U.S. teens are consuming less alcohol overall, Pew Research reports. And alcohol manufacturers are getting curious – and creative – about the sober market.

Faced with declining beer sales, alcohol brands like Heineken and AB InBev (maker of Budweiser) have begun to adapt by investing in low- or nonalcoholic drinks. Beverage startups like Seedlip, a U.K. purveyor of nonalcoholic spirits, are weighing in, too. Urban centers have seen a rise in “dry bars,” even if their zero-proof pours are as pricey as cocktails.

The increasing bounty of virgin drinks seems to mirror the mainstreamification of what used to be niche food, like vegetarianism or veganism.

“I think about living”

Societal trends notwithstanding, Dr. Mullaney makes clear that abstaining is a privilege for those who can actually choose.

“We cannot ‘abstain’ from doing things that we cannot do or that we are prevented from doing,” she writes in her book. That’s why some in long-term recovery from substance use repel the idea of sober curiosity as a fad.

“I don’t think about not drinking. I think about living,” says Chris Marshall, founder of Austin’s alcohol-free Sans Bar. With the help of 12-step groups, Mr. Marshall has been in long-term recovery since becoming sober over a decade ago.

“There’s nothing trendy about choosing to stay sober, because for me and millions of other people, this is life and death.”

While he worked as a substance use counselor, Mr. Marshall witnessed several clients make great strides toward sobriety, restore family relationships, return to jobs, only to relapse as they’d “fall back to the same social circle.”

“As a counselor, I could only help until about 5 o’clock every weekday,” he says. 

Anyone can attend Sans Bar, even if it means staying sober for just one night. Mr. Marshall welcomes what he calls a “sobriety spectrum,” acknowledging a flexible space between those who must abstain completely on one end and those who are sometimes sober on the other.

In addition to the Austin location, Sans Bar has sister bars in Missouri and Massachusetts, and Mr. Marshall has taken the project on a national tour. He attests to the drinks’ deliciousness – his current favorite is the “I Love You So Much,” Sans Bar’s spin on a piña colada. But he says the real aim is cultivating an alcohol-free community capable of “heart-to-heart connection” on a Friday night.

In March, Mr. Marshall brought Sans Bar to Missouri through a pop-up event offering an alcohol-free alternative to Mardi Gras sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse St. Louis, an organization focused on youth prevention. More than 300 people turned up.

“It far surpassed our expectations,” said NCADA’s executive director Nichole Dawsey, who’s noticed an uptick in St. Louis’ nonalcoholic scene. “At one point I looked around and realized I didn’t know anybody. For an executive director of an agency, that’s kind of a big deal.”

NCADA chose to stick with the Sans Bar model of avoiding nonalcoholic drinks that appear to mimic beer, though there are varying opinions within the recovery community on the efficacy of zero-proof drinks and dry bars.

“Sober bars are a relatively new phenomenon,” says George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “So I’d say there’s no consensus simply because it hasn’t been studied.” For someone in recovery, frequenting dry bars could test self-regulation, says Dr. Koob, but the community that’s gained can also be a powerful reinforcer for sobriety. 

Plus, the sober curious movement could help destigmatize those for whom sobriety isn’t a choice. Like Sans Bar’s founder, Ms. Dawsey supports sober curiosity in the spirit of inclusivity.

“This movement – not a trend – it’s about darn time,” she says.

For resources on alcohol use, consider Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline and treatment locator at findtreatment.samhsa.gov and 800-662-HELP.

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4. Xhosa horse racing survived apartheid. Its next test: popularity.

In the instant that a racehorse thunders by, what do you see? Beauty, talent, cruelty? To many Xhosa men in South Africa, racing is about both tradition and opportunity: a way to follow their fathers’ footsteps, while building a better future.

Christopher Clark
George Gibson readies one of his horses for a race, at his homestead in the rural village of Cebe, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. Horse racing has been an integral part of Xhosa culture in this region for more than 200 years.

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As the clock counts down to race time, 14-year-old Lubabalo Gibson looks calm – not so surprising, perhaps, since he’s been racing horses since he was 5.

This is traditional horse racing, Xhosa-style. It’s a 200-year tradition, with roots in South Africa’s tangled colonial history, and a common rite of passage among rural Xhosa men here on the country’s Wild Coast region, a hilly stretch along the Indian Ocean.

Traditional racing has done more than survive; in terms of audience, it’s thriving, and may even be the country’s fastest-growing sport. Some fear its newfound popularity – and money – will change the spirit of racing itself. But in a country where youth unemployment sits at more than 55%, young jockeys have a palpable sense of what success could mean for them and their families – and how they could challenge stereotypes, too.

Back on his father’s homestead, packing a tattered leather bag with gear for the day’s races, Lubabalo points to a noisy diesel generator that keeps the lights on.

“That came from my winnings,” he says. “As the eldest son, when my father is gone, I will be the one to take care of the whole family.”

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Xhosa horse racing survived apartheid. Its next test: popularity.

As a strong southeasterly wind whips through the small village of Cebe, George Gibson takes one of his prize racehorses by the reins and walks it across the soft, gray sand toward the Indian Ocean. 

With the incoming tide washing around their ankles, Mr. Gibson pauses, lifts his head skyward, and calls on the spirits of his ancestors in his native isiXhosa, punching the air with a clenched fist and raising his voice above the roar of the waves. 

“The final judgement will be made! The final judgement will be made!” he shouts. 

“We have come to ask for you to bless our journey, and we have come to ask for success in today’s race. May our horses race the best race of their lives.”

For almost 200 years, traditional horse racing has been part of the fabric of Xhosa culture in this hilly region along South Africa’s Wild Coast. Its origins are interwoven with the colonial conflicts of the early 19th century, when the amaXhosa, as the Xhosa people are collectively known, acquired horses and rifles from roaming Dutch traders in a bid to repel the advancing British cavalry.

The amaXhosa had long held races with cattle, but primarily ranked cows by their appearance in full flight, rather than which bumptious bovine was first to cross the finish line. When drought and disease decimated cattle populations at the turn of the 20th century, horses’ roles expanded beyond war.

But today, it’s not just locals who are watching: Traditional racing may even be South Africa’s fastest-growing sport. With new popularity come new opportunities for making money – and, some traditionalists fear, changes to the spirit of racing itself.

And all those pressures will be riding today’s race alongside Lubabalo, Mr. Gibson’s son: 14 years old and already a prodigy.

Christopher Clark
Two young jockeys cross the finish line in a recent traditional horse race near the market town of Butterworth, South Africa.

Four generations

Mr. Gibson, a quietly intense man, shares his passion for traditional racing with at least three generations of Gibson patriarchs before him – a common family thread among rural Xhosa men, for whom horse racing often serves as a rite of passage.

“My father’s father raced horses, then my father took over from him. When I was a young boy, I was a jockey. Then I taught my sons how to jockey,” he recalls. “This sport is very important to all of us as Xhosa people.”

But today, its visibility is spreading far beyond. Attendance at races has tripled in the past five years, soaring as high as 30,000 people, according to Craig Paterson, a researcher at Rhodes University who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on traditional racing.

That boom is particularly noteworthy given its near total collapse during the blood-soaked final throes of apartheid in the early 1990s, when the threat of civil war loomed large across much of rural South Africa.

Horse breeder Mahlubi Puzi remembers that dark period well. He also recalls days when he would go hungry to make sure that his horses could be fed. But however dire things seemed, Mr. Puzi says he remained steadfast in his belief that his beloved sport would recover. 

“Traditional horse racing has had many highs and lows,” he says, “but it has always carried on.” 

Today’s revival is fueled in part by sponsorship from the Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts, and Culture, and the South African Racing Association, Mr. Puzi says. 

But there’s another explanation, Dr. Paterson says, born of disenchantment with South Africa’s persisting inequalities.

“When I look at traditional horse racing today, I get this feeling that it’s almost like a commemorative ritual ... like a constant performance of a way of life and of a kind of harking back to an idealized time,” he says. “There is this growing idea that there was something better or something different that people are almost trying to re-perform as a reclamation of their heritage.”

The reinvigoration has piqued the interest of the burgeoning black business elite, as well, with cultural tourism companies, gambling outfits, and corporate event-organizers eager to cash in. Many of racing’s older custodians fear that such attention could threaten the soul of the sport.

“It becomes about the extremes of winning at all costs,” Mr. Puzi says. “The love of the horse, which has been the entire essence of the sport, is fading. Now it’s becoming more about what the horse can do to get money for their owner.” 

Put to the test 

But younger participants see potential, in a country where youth unemployment sits at more than 55%

Back in Cebe, Lubabalo already has a palpable sense of what success could mean for his family. As he packs a tattered leather bag with his jockey gear for the afternoon’s races, he points to a noisy diesel generator that keeps the lights on. 

“That came from my winnings,” he says. “As the eldest son, when my father is gone, I will be the one to take care of the whole family.”

It’s an hour and a half’s drive along rutted dirt roads from the Gibson homestead to the race venue, just outside the small market town of Butterworth. Mr. Gibson parks among scores of horse trailers on the edge of a curved hillside, a natural amphitheater for the races. An expectant crowd has already gathered close to the finish line of the 1,400-meter track, flanking two parallel rows of painted car tires that mark out its course. 

Lubabalo changes into his jodhpurs and signature baggy bright-yellow racing jersey, then sits in the back of the car to wait. He looks calm, perhaps unsurprising considering he’s been racing since he was just 5 years old – not uncommon for a traditional jockey. 

But the stakes are likely higher than Lubabalo realizes. For Mr. Gibson, his eldest son’s continuing success is protection against the social ills that consume many young men here.

“My biggest concern was the crime I saw around me and all the young people who get hooked on drugs and alcohol,” he says. “And so I decided that my son must have something to help him put food on the table one day, while also occupying his time outside of school. Many boys like him can be kept busy by this sport. It can save them.”

There’s also a burden of hope that young stars can challenge views in the predominantly white professional horse-racing community.

“Those people, they see horses that are sold to black people as horses that are going to die. They perceive our sport in a very negative way,” Mr. Puzi says. “They don’t understand that when these horses arrive in our hands, they become family members. We look after them better than they were ever looked after in the stables of the formal racing sector.”

As the midday heat begins to subside and dark, ominous clouds gradually roll in from the coast, Lubabalo hoists himself onto his father’s horse. Mr. Gibson tightens the saddle and checks the stirrups as a crowd of men forms and begins to sing isiXhosa praise songs, harmonizing in a low baritone.

The competitors trot across the open field, taking their place at the starting line. 

After a couple of false starts, the race gets underway, and Lubabalo quickly pulls out in front of the pack. As the sound of galloping hooves approaches the finish line, the spectators whip themselves into a growing state of frenzy.

As he often does, Lubabalo crosses the finish line first. 

Mr. Gibson runs through the cloud of dust that trails behind his son, shouting at the top of his lungs: “The judgement has been made!”

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On Film

5. Tarantino turns his lens on Hollywood. Nostalgia and good casting ensue.

The paradox of the Tarantino oeuvre, notes film critic Peter Rainer, is that it is highly derivative of other movies and yet the films seem distinctly his.

Andrew Cooper/Sony-Columbia Pictures/AP
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a fading TV actor in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
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Tarantino turns his lens on Hollywood. Nostalgia and good casting ensue.

When I heard Quentin Tarantino was making a movie about the Charles Manson murders, I flinched. Gifted as he is, I’ve always found the violence in his movies to be cringe-worthy because so often what we get are flagrant fantasias without any comprehension of what violence can actually do to both victims and perpetrators. Missing from Tarantino’s mindscape is the psychological consequence of violence. 

His new film, “Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood,” is a multilayered narrative that draws on the Manson murders while primarily focusing on the relationship between Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) – a fading TV Western star whose career has been reduced to guest villain appearances and the occasional starring role in low-grade spaghetti Westerns – and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s longtime stunt double and best buddy. A Vietnam veteran, Booth is rumored to have killed his wife years before and gotten away with it.

Taking a cue from its title, the movie is pitched as a species of fairy tale. The re-creation of Los Angeles circa 1969 is both scrupulous and dreamlike, but because we know the Manson murders are in the offing, the atmosphere has a noxious charge. We are supposed to regard the Hollywood we see as the era’s last stand of innocence before the lights went out. 

Considering that the year depicted was not long after both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot, with the Vietnam War raging, this swan song to innocence comes across as a bit air-headed. Likewise, Tarantino’s take on the alcoholic Rick – that he was a casualty of the increasing impersonality of the entertainment industry – is directly at odds with the reality of a time when the vastly money-losing studio system first opened its doors to a new generation of personal filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, and many others, directors who had a large influence on Tarantino. 

In terms of creative influences, though, Tarantino’s abiding love is for schlock, especially chopsocky movies and spaghetti Westerns, both of which are amply referenced in the latest film. Most of what is referenced, however, are low-grade TV shows like “Mannix.”  

The fact that Tarantino was only 6 when the movie’s events take place underscores the unreality of his nostalgia. What’s more, he appears to value schlock as aesthetically invigorating. He celebrates it and bemoans its passing. When Rick cries that he’s “not the best anymore,” the implication is that he once was. 

The paradox of Tarantino’s oeuvre is that it is highly derivative of other movies, mostly genre pulp, and yet the films seem distinctly his. He is the most influential director of his generation because he ranges promiscuously through pop culture and brings to his borrowings an incendiary force. But the transformations he wreaks on pop culture – like his antebellum blood bath “Django Unchained,” or his World War II actioner “Inglourious Basterds,” – are fairly simpleminded. Compared to how, say, Jean-Luc Godard or François Truffaut transmogrified their pulp sources, it’s child’s play. 

“Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood” does have much to recommend it: Although DiCaprio seems miscast as an aging, washed-up actor (mostly because he never seems to age), Pitt, in a rangy, lived-in performance, is marvelous. As Sharon Tate, Margot Robbie is quite touching as the film’s golden emblem of innocence. In a wonderful scene, she sits in a public theater playing one of her movies and beams at the audience’s enjoyment.

Few directors can draw out tension in a scene with as much brio as Tarantino. What’s missing, for want of a better term, is a sense of aesthetic responsibility. In “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino turned the Holocaust into a pulpy revenge fantasy and in his new film, he does the same thing with the Manson murders. For all his stylistic sophistication, he remains Hollywood’s reigning adolescent. 

Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.  

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The Monitor's View

An Arab template for peaceful handovers of power

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In an Arab world long on one-man rule but short on peaceful handovers of power after an election, this moment should not go unnoticed: On Thursday, the first freely elected president of Tunisia, Béji Caïd Essebsi, died. On the same day, under a democratic constitution, the head of the legislature temporarily took over the office. Plans to elect a new president are already in motion.

No protests, no gunfire, no military coup.

Tunisia is again a template for other Arab nations in how to avoid the trap of personality-based or militaristic rule and the upheavals they bring. After the 2011 Arab Spring, it was the only Middle East or North African country to topple a dictator and then lock in basic freedoms and fair elections. Now after eight years it has passed a key test by preparing a peaceful transition.

Tunisia, which was the birthplace of the Arab Spring, may face other tests in the years ahead, perhaps even in how it conducts the coming election. Yet it has laid many cornerstones to sustain elected government. Now it is adding another one with a transition to a new president.

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An Arab template for peaceful handovers of power

In an Arab world long on one-man rule but short on peaceful handovers of power after an election, this moment should not go unnoticed: On Thursday, the first freely elected president of Tunisia, Béji Caïd Essebsi, died. On the same day, under a democratic constitution, the head of the legislature temporarily took over the office. Plans to elect a new president are already in motion.

No protests, no gunfire, no military coup.

Tunisia is again a template for other Arab nations in how to avoid the trap of personality-based or militaristic rule and the upheavals they bring. After the 2011 Arab Spring, it was the only Middle East or North African country to topple a dictator and then lock in basic freedoms and fair elections. Now after eight years – a short time to root any new democracy – it has passed a key test by preparing a peaceful transition.

To put some context around this feat, recall that Syria, Libya, and Yemen are in civil wars, Egypt has returned to military dictatorship, and many Arab monarchies still exist. Algeria and Sudan are in difficult transitions from authoritarian rule. Meanwhile Iraq, despite the strong influence of Iran, can claim similar peaceful transitions.  

Since adopting a new constitution in 2014, Tunisia has had successive prime ministers. But a central figure has been President Essebsi, whose political pedigree extends back to the country’s six decades of one-man rule. After being elected in 2014, he stepped up to the task by reducing the power of the Islamist-inspired party Ennahda, and presiding over many reforms, notably for women, as well as helping launch a “war on corruption.” He was called “the father of consensus.”

Yet Tunisia, which was the birthplace of the Arab Spring, may face other tests in the years ahead, perhaps even in how it conducts the coming election. Islamic militants still threaten violence. And the economy has not improved since 2011, lessening popular support for democracy.

Yet it has laid many cornerstones to sustain elected government. Now it is adding another one with a transition to a new president. This will help further cement the idea in the Arab world that a free and equal people can pick their leaders without losing their heritage or culture.

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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.

Incurable food allergy healed

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When a young woman was faced with a serious and incurable condition, the realization that God did not create disease brought complete and permanent healing.

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Incurable food allergy healed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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A few years ago, when I was 13, doctors diagnosed me with a serious and incurable disease. I was told to stop eating lots of foods, such as bread and other baked goods, and refrain from eating any grains and products that might contain grains. Such a strict diet and constant oversight by doctors and specialists, who kept saying how dangerous my condition was, prompted my mother to start looking for a way to find healing spiritually (since physically it was impossible).

Fortunately, a friend told her about Christian Science. We started attending church, and I began going to Sunday School. Gradually, I began to understand that disease, sin, and death are not created by God, as Christian Science teaches, and therefore do not have the reality that they seem to claim. Instead, this disease was no more than an illusion of the physical senses keeping me from seeing what was true.

Focusing only on the good that God creates, I started getting rid of negative thoughts and gained confidence that I could be healed. But not until I fully understood that God is Life, that I am His reflection, and that His reflection cannot be sick, did the disease yield.

It has now been over two years since I felt any discomfort or pain. And what a joy it was for me, and what happiness for my mother, when during a mandatory medical exam at school, doctors announced that I was absolutely healthy!

Adapted from a testimony published in the online Russian Herald of Christian Science and the Sept. 17, 2012, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

The rodeo where they say ‘yahoo,’ not ‘yeehaw’

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
It’s called the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” And indeed, the Calgary Stampede, a 10-day rodeo celebrating western agriculture in Canada, is an exuberant competition complemented with cultural events and some of the craziest foods out there (think of a hot dog wrapped in a pickle with a Snickers nestled in it before being fried in a tortilla shell). The Calgary Stampede Showband, a group of youths that performs across the grounds each day, is a heartwarming spectacle that makes even the most urban of visitors sentimental about farm life. The rodeo and chuck wagon races are the signature events, but the latter was marred by tragedy this year when six horses had to be euthanized after being injured during the race. These events attract not only enthusiastic crowds in the stands but also animal rights activists on the sidelines. The Stampede is also considered the political event of the year. Free pancake breakfasts, hosted across this city in Canada’s conservative heartland, are the place for politicians to be seen. Yes, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an appearance, in a cowboy hat of course. As they say in these parts, yahoo! – Sara Miller Llana
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( July 29th, 2019 )

That’s all for today. Check back Monday when we look at a new generation of rural young people returning to the farm. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

July 26, 2019
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