Monitor Daily Podcast

September 17, 2019
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The return of hilarity with hoofs

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In today’s issue, our five hand-picked stories cover the rising stakes for stability in Hong Kong, new views on diplomatic progress, lessons from Hawaii on renewable energy, a new balance between privacy and accuracy in the U.S. census, and our 10 best books of September.

First, I’ve never giggled more while researching a topic.

After 24 years, cartoonist Gary Larson may be coming out of retirement. On Friday, “The Far Side” website was suddenly updated with a new cartoon of a cow frozen in a block of ice. The caption: “Uncommon, unreal, and (soon-to-be) unfrozen. A new online era of ‘The Far Side’ is coming!” 

“Far Side” fans are giddy. From 1980 to 1995, Mr. Larson’s daily cartoon appeared in newspapers around the United States. His comic genius revolved around sardonic, silly, and sometimes macabrely twisted views on life. His cast often included anthropomorphized cows, dinosaurs, and multieyed aliens. Oh yes, and beehive hairdo ladies. 

One of my favorites: A dog hypnotically whispering outside the bedroom window of two sleeping humans: “Puuuut the caaaaaat ouuuuuuut ... Puuuut the caaaaaat ouuuuuuuuut ...”

Arguably, more apolitical humor would be welcome. In the past year, The New York Times stopped doing political cartoons. Recently, anti-Trump cartoonists working for publications in Pittsburgh and Canada have been fired. In this era of political divisiveness, here’s something that could delightfully unite us in a good guffaw. 

Unless this is an epic Larson practical joke, I’m eagerly anticipating a fresh supply of hilarity with hoofs.

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Will Hong Kong rain on Beijing’s National Day parade?

As Beijing watches Hong Kong’s protests, what does it see? In part, a threat to the Communist Party’s – and China's – hard-won image of stability. 

Jorge Silva/Reuters
A protester protects himself with an umbrella during a demonstration near Central Government Complex in Hong Kong Sept. 15, 2019.

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Oct. 1, China’s National Day, is an opportunity to showcase the Communist Party’s strength. 

But this year, there may be some rain on Beijing’s literal parade.

In the last two weeks, pro-democracy demonstrators have booed the national anthem and burned Chinese flags, even waved American flags and the Union Jack. More protests are planned for Oct. 1 – an embarrassment to Beijing. But they also feed the party’s view that China faces a series of escalating risks, and must aggressively combat efforts to undermine its system. 

Beijing has described protesters as “thugs” conspiring with “black hands,” as activists seek support from Western countries. But as the movement persists, leaders have adopted a new strategy of “divide and conquer,” aimed at driving a wedge between peaceful and violent demonstrators. 

The crisis poses unique risks for Xi Jinping, who has centralized power to a degree not seen since Mao Zedong.

“By collapsing the boundary between the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping himself, Xi has gotten himself into a very messy situation with regards to Hong Kong,” says Charlie Lyons Jones, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “If the protests don’t subside before the anniversary of the 70th year of the People’s Republic, then that could be seen as a significant failure.”


Will Hong Kong rain on Beijing’s National Day parade?

China’s leaders plan to celebrate 70 years of Communist Party rule on Oct. 1 with a huge military parade showcasing tanks and missiles, a pageant of flag-waving youths, and a speech by party General Secretary Xi Jinping. But they are unlikely to stop a ragtag contingent of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong from raining on Beijing’s parade. 

In Hong Kong, demonstrations against the party’s encroachments on local autonomy are planned for National Day. As China’s flag rises over the territory to the strains of the national anthem, some citizens are likely to boo – as they did when the anthem played at a World Cup qualifying soccer match last week – or sing the ballad of their protest movement, “Glory to Hong Kong.” Already, this Sunday, protesters burned Chinese flags and ripped down banners congratulating the party for 70 years in power. Meanwhile, some waved American flags and British Union Jacks.

The clash of symbols and narratives could embarrass Beijing on a day meant to highlight the party’s success in modernizing the nation of 1.4 billion people. But it also feeds into the party leadership’s mantra that China faces a series of escalating risks – from the U.S.-China trade war and slower economic growth to unrest in Hong Kong – and must aggressively combat efforts to undermine its system and thwart its rise as a world power. And the crisis poses unique risks for Mr. Xi, who has purged rivals and centralized power to a degree not seen since Chairman Mao Zedong.

Warning of “unthinkably challenging” tests ahead, Mr. Xi stressed in a speech earlier this month that young officials must prepare for a long period of “struggle” – using the word scores of times in the speech at a party school. Doubling down on his priority of strengthening party rule, Mr. Xi used military metaphors to call for an “absolute determination to fight … any risk or challenge that endangers China’s Communist Party leadership and the socialist system” or “harms China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Hong Kong’s mass protests have been denounced as a threat to China’s sovereignty by Chinese officials and the party-run media, which describe the demonstrators as “radicals” and “thugs” terrorizing the city and conspiring with “black hands.”

Beijing’s warnings against foreign interference are growing as Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists have sought support from Western countries, including the United States, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers are advancing a bill – the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act – that would give the U.S. government tools for pressuring China to uphold Hong Kong’s promised autonomy.

“We are expecting this [bill] to be passed within this year,” said Nathan Law, one of several prominent Hong Kong activists who on Tuesday launched the Hong Kong Democracy Council, a nonprofit organization in Washington advocating for Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” model established in 1997, when China reasserted sovereignty over the former British colony.

“Now is the time for the free world to stand in solidarity with Hong Kong,” said Joshua Wong, a student leader during the 2014 Umbrella Movement who has been jailed repeatedly for his activism.

Hong Kong’s protests were triggered this spring by a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed individuals to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the party. The bill, since withdrawn, was seen as a threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong and part of an overall tightening of China’s grip on the territory. Protesters’ demands have expanded to include an independent investigation of police violence, amnesty for protest-related arrests, and universal suffrage.

Xi “on the defensive”

Mr. Xi has recently been hailed in party propaganda as “The People’s Leader,” with “leader” a title of high esteem previously used for Chairman Mao. But his unparalleled stature also means singular responsibility for both successes and failures.

“By collapsing the boundary between the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping himself, Xi has gotten himself into a very messy situation with regards to Hong Kong. There are few off-ramps if any, and Xi Jinping, I suspect, will have to shoulder some of the blame, if not all of it, himself,” says Charlie Lyons Jones, who researches China’s Communist Party and military at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank in Barton, Australia. 

“If the protests don’t subside before the anniversary of the 70th year of the People’s Republic, then that could be seen as a significant failure, not just for the Chinese Communist Party but for Xi Jinping himself,” says Mr. Lyons Jones. 

China watchers say Hong Kong is one of several issues that have stirred internal dissent against Mr. Xi’s hard-line approach. “It has put Xi Jinping on the defensive,” says Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, saying that Mr. Xi was already facing criticism from moderates for mismanaging the trade war, stalling economic reforms, and removing term limits for China’s presidency, an office he also holds.

Change of strategy

Both Beijing and Hong Kong’s leadership initially took an uncompromising stance toward the protesters’ demands, based on what Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam later admitted was a miscalculation of the depth of opposition to the extradition bill. 

“We were not sensitive enough,” Mrs. Lam told a private gathering of businesspeople last month, a recording of which was leaked to Reuters. Mrs. Lam admitted there exists a “huge degree of fear and anxiety amongst people of Hong Kong vis-à-vis the mainland of China.”

“The protesters have demonstrated more resolve than the Chinese Communist Party has, so the initial strategy of not acquiescing to the protesters’ demands seems to have backfired,” says Mr. Lyons Jones. “Xi Jinping is left with very few options on the table.”

Beijing moved to soften its stance toward Hong Kong, backing Mrs. Lam in announcing on Sept. 4 that she will formally withdraw the widely unpopular extradition bill. Meanwhile, Beijing modified its strategy, adopting a “divide and conquer” approach aimed at driving a wedge between peaceful and violent demonstrators.

“They think they can substantially reduce the popular support for the protests, then the people using force can be isolated, and … the authorities can use even stronger force to crush them,” says Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

Signaling this shift, a spokesman for China’s government office that oversees Hong Kong affairs, Yang Guang, stressed at a press conference that “many young students are involved in peaceful procession gatherings” in contrast to “a small number of thugs” and “militants” who have committed “horrendous acts.”

Since midsummer, clashes between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and Beijing supporters have been increasingly breaking out, such as at a Kowloon Bay mall on Saturday. 

Uncertain impasse

Still, experts question whether Beijing’s modified approach will succeed, especially given the widespread concerns in Hong Kong about escalating police brutality amid more than 1,400 arrests.

Hong Kongers’ aspirations for greater self-government make it likely that some level of protest will continue, while rising nationalist sentiment among mainland Chinese leaves Beijing disinclined to approve more concessions, analysts say. The impasse, they say, could have a greater impact on China’s future than Beijing’s leaders appreciate.

“The situation now is a bit dangerous, and everyone has to handle it very carefully,” says Yik Chan Chin, lecturer in media and communications studies at the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China.

Mrs. Lam’s leaked comments alleviated fears – stoked by widely publicized Chinese troop maneuvers and official warnings – that Beijing was preparing to use emergency powers to dispatch People’s Liberation Army troops to try to quell the demonstrations.

“They know that the price would be too huge to pay,” Mrs. Lam said on the leaked tape. Beijing’s leaders “are willing to play long ... so you have no short-term solution. Hong Kong suffers” economically.

“Maybe they don’t care about Hong Kong,” she added. “But they care about ‘one country, two systems.’ They care about the country’s international profile.” 


Tracing global connections

Diplomacy: When a winner-take-all approach risks losing big

It’s tempting to think diplomatic breakthroughs can be driven by taking unyielding stands. But that alone seldom works. It’s when leaders step back from hard lines that progress gets traction.


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Give-and-take diplomacy has lost ground in recent years to promises of crushing wins over rivals. Yet amid standoffs between Britain and the European Union, and between the United States and China, North Korea, and even Iran, finding a way forward through compromise appears again to be gaining. 

With Iran, President Donald Trump has shown signs of a change in tack. He called off a retaliatory strike after the downing of a U.S. drone in June. He floated easing sanctions, as well as meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. On North Korea, a third summit with dictator Kim Jong Un has been raised, despite the lack of progress toward “denuclearization.” On China, the Trump administration has shown signs of a readiness to retreat from the latest round of tariffs.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ramped up talks despite promises of a no-deal Brexit by Oct. 31. Though there has been no real progress, there’s an interest in avoiding further uncertainty. On both sides of the Atlantic, any renewed negotiations would have to scale back expectations or involve considerable give-and-take. And leaders will have to rise to another challenge: selling any agreement as a diplomatic and political win to those who had expected a winner-take-all outcome.


Diplomacy: When a winner-take-all approach risks losing big

Olivier Matthys/AP
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) walks with Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel prior to a meeting in Luxembourg, Sept. 16, 2019.

It may seem hard to imagine, with tension between the United States and Iran ratcheted up to its highest level in decades. But there have been signs across a range of world trouble spots that old-fashioned, give-and-take diplomacy could be poised for a comeback.

It’s been driven out of fashion, to put it mildly, by populist leaders promising both breakthrough solutions to their countries’ main international challenges and all-out wins over diplomatic rivals. Yet now – from Britain in its standoff with the European Union, to China, North Korea, and even Iran – there has been renewed talk of seeking some compromise way forward.

That won’t be easy. The biggest obstacles are political. Leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson have raised expectations of clear diplomatic wins, on their own terms. If they do change course, they’ll risk a backlash from more hard-line supporters. And they will need to find a way to sell any compromise as a victory.

For an example, look to Iran

The escalating crisis with Iran has provided a dramatic illustration of potential obstacles.

Late last year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program. He decried it as a weak-kneed lifting of economic sanctions that did not fully end Iran’s nuclear-weapons threat, its ballistic missile development, or its support for proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The administration adopted a “maximum pressure” policy of tightened economic sanctions.  

President Trump has, however, shown signs of a possible change in tack.

He ordered, but then stood down, a retaliation strike after the downing of a U.S. drone in June. In the past week, he has parted ways with the hawkish John Bolton, his former national security adviser, while also discussing the prospect of easing sanctions and a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations later this month.

The first backlash may have come from Tehran. If the U.S. is right in suggesting Iran was involved in last weekend’s attack on key Saudi oil installations, one catalyst may have been a desire by Iranian hard-liners to forestall any Trump-Rouhani meeting. Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made that position formal in a statement on Tuesday, conditioning any renewed U.S.-Iran talks on Washington’s return to the nuclear agreement.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s raising the idea of a possible counterstrike on Iran’s oil installations was an indication of President Trump’s need to be able to sell any change of approach politically.

Getting beyond ‘winner take all’

The same could apply to the possibility of a third summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, despite the lack of progress toward the goal of “denuclearization.” On China, too, there have been signs within the Trump administration of a readiness to retreat from the latest round of tit-for-tat tariff increases – though, as economic concerns mount, a return to more traditional diplomacy on that front would likely face less pushback.

Still, with the winner-take-all approach having failed to deliver its promised results, any renewed negotiating process would either have to scale back expectations or involve considerable give-and-take. Probably both.

In Britain, the prime minister has promised that his country will leave the EU by Oct. 31, even if he can’t reach an agreement on withdrawal terms – a so-called no-deal Brexit. But having been mandated by Parliament to seek an extension of the departure date if he can’t get a deal, he has ramped up talks. 

He, too, has essentially held out the promise of “winner take all” – by reiterating his determination to get out by the end of next month and saying, in effect, that it’s up to the EU to prevent a no-deal outcome by rewriting the compromise deal reached with his predecessor, Theresa May. 

There’s been no sign of real progress yet. But both sides do have an interest in avoiding further political and economic uncertainty around Brexit, and in moving on to the next stage: a transition period during which a new Britain-EU trade agreement would be negotiated. So it’s not inconceivable that some last-minute deal will emerge. If it does, it’s also possible it would win approval in Parliament, since many MPs would be relieved to have avoided the prospect of leaving with no deal at all.

The problem, again, is raised expectations. Mr. Johnson has repeatedly voiced his readiness to go for a no-deal – something the more hard-line Brexit supporters in his Conservative Party would actually prefer. If he does get a new deal, it is unlikely to represent a radical overhaul of Ms. May’s agreement. That might seem to them – and to the recently formed Brexit Party, which trounced the Conservatives in this year’s European Parliament elections – like a surrender.

The need, in other words, would be for Mr. Johnson to sell his agreement as a diplomatic and political win.

A deeper look

Will Hawaii lead the renewable revolution?

Hawaii positions itself as a pioneer in the quest for a future free of fossil fuels. How it deals with obstacles in its path to 100% renewable energy could hold lessons for the rest of the U.S.

Cathy Bussewit/AP
Dane Hew Len, an installer for RevoluSun, places a solar panel on a roof in Honolulu. Hawaii leads the nation in rooftop solar installation.

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Hawaii has its own reasons for wanting to ditch fossil fuels. With no energy deposits of its own, state residents bear the highest energy costs in the country. More broadly, the idea of shifting to a green energy economy fits well with the prevailing ethos of the islands: malama ‘aina, a Native Hawaiian term for environmental stewardship.

But even in this environmentally-conscious state, the path to 100% renewable energy is strewn with obstacles. Many will sound familiar to residents of other states. But some are unique to Hawaii. For one thing, this bejeweled archipelago has no means of transmitting electricity between its eight main islands, so each island will have to find its own path to energy independence. Another hurdle takes the form of an endangered bat the size of a salt shaker that is sacred to Native Hawaiians and drawn to wind turbines.

Still, advocates are confident it can be done and, for the sake of the planet, needs to be done, both here and across the country. As one state lawmaker puts it: “If we’re the only state that moves to 100% renewable energy, even if we did it tomorrow, it would mean nothing if everyone else didn’t come with us.


Will Hawaii lead the renewable revolution?

David Bissell’s Toyota Tundra crunches to a stop in the reddish dirt and gravel road as the first heads appear in the grass. A few sheep come into view, but, startled by the trucks, they skitter away through the unruly vegetation surrounding a network of solar panels. After a few moments, they calm and return to work, munching away on the island’s ever-present guinea grass.

These are the ovine foot soldiers in one of the most ambitious renewable energy revolutions in the United States. The Lawa‘i solar and energy storage project on the island of Kauai employs 300 sheep to keep the invasive guinea grass from engulfing the solar panels that supply 11% of the island’s electricity. This project is on the leading edge of a statewide effort to achieve 100% renewable energy by the year 2045. 

In 2015 Hawaii became the first U.S. state to mandate a total transition to renewable energy. With exceptionally high energy prices and an ingrained environmental ethos, Hawaii has positioned itself as a pioneer in the quest to move toward a future free of fossil fuels. But promises are easy to make. Achieving them is another story.

Lawmakers, energy providers, and communities around the country are watching to see if the 50th state will be able to make good on the pledge to become America’s first green energy economy. 

“We passed our [renewable portfolio standards] at a time when people said it was politically, technologically, and financially impossible,” says Hawaii Democratic state Rep. Chris Lee, an early booster of the state’s clean energy initiative. “No one had ever done the due diligence to figure out how this could be achieved.”

As the world confronts the possibility of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming in the next 15 to 30 years, the race is on here and around the globe to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Solar and wind power have become competitive with other energy sources only in the past few years, and the technology is rapidly becoming more reliable and cost-effective as battery storage improves.

California, New Mexico, Washington, New York, Nevada, and Maine have already followed Hawaii’s lead and adopted legislation calling for 100% reliance on clean energy by various dates in the future. A handful of other states have set less ambitious goals of between 30% and 50% dependence on renewables. Mr. Lee is working with legislators in half a dozen more states, including Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Colorado, that are exploring clean energy mandates of their own.

Yet the challenges facing all these states – as well as Hawaii – are numerous. All, for instance, will have to go through a substantial culture shift, encouraging changes in consumer habits and weaning utilities off conventional forms of energy that have been around for more than a century. All will have to overcome practical problems such as revamping electrical grids to keep pace with the proliferation of rooftop solar.

Yet Hawaii also faces challenges unique to itself. These include some as fundamental as the difficulty of transmitting electricity among the eight major islands that make up this bejeweled archipelago, and others as unpredictable as dealing with the presence of an endangered bat the size of a salt shaker that is drawn to wind turbines. 

Nathan Eagle/Honolulu Civil Beat
The Kahuku Wind Farm on Oahu’s North Shore has been operating since 2011. Plans are underway for a second wind farm at the site, though some residents oppose it.

Will Hawaii emerge as America’s king of green energy or just be a well-intentioned pretender to the throne?

Building momentum

Under the 2015 law, Hawaii must meet interim renewable portfolio standards of 30% by 2020, 40% by 2030, and 70% by 2040. Hitting these benchmarks, particularly the early ones, is considered crucial to the success of the program. 

“The key thing is to get started with steady, relatively quick growth,” says Rob Sargent, senior director of the Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy at the Denver-based nonprofit Environment America. Mr. Sargent says states that build momentum early – either through rate policies or legislative mandates, or as a result of simple market economics – end up achieving the most success later.

And Hawaii is doing well so far. By the end of 2017, the state was generating 28% of its utility sales from renewable sources, according to the Public Utilities Commission’s most recent annual report to the Legislature. Getting to the next goal, 40%, shouldn’t be too difficult, either.

“We’re pretty much going to blow that one out of the water,” says Scott Seu, a spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Co., the state’s largest utility, which serves Oahu.

For now, solar and wind power dominate the state’s renewable mix, having outpaced production from biomass, geothermal, and hydroelectric facilities. Yet the majority of the state’s electricity is still produced by petroleum- and coal-fired power plants.

With no fossil fuel reserves of its own, Hawaii has the highest energy costs in the country. There has always been an abundance of renewable sources to tap – sun, wind, waves, volcanoes – but it has taken a shift in political will and a drop in photovoltaic and turbine prices for the state to turn away from oil, gas, and coal.

“We’re trying to push ourselves to expand our thinking so we don’t approach the problem the same old way,” says Mr. Seu.

The Hawaii incubator

An assortment of fringe renewable energy projects is in various stages of development throughout the islands that could ultimately contribute to Hawaii’s green portfolio. This includes several efforts to harness one of Hawaii’s most abundant resources: the ocean. 

Researchers at the U.S. Marine Corps and the University of Hawai‘i at Ma–noa as well as private companies are exploring the potential of wave energy. The company Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning wants to use water pumped from the deep sea to cool buildings in downtown Honolulu, effectively eliminating 1% of the energy demand for the island of Oahu. Another Oahu-based company, Makai, is cultivating a process that uses the temperature differential between cold deep-sea waters and warm surface waters to generate energy.

SOURCE: Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning
Carlie Procell/Honolulu Civil Beat

“Hawaii is a great incubator because it’s small,” says Mr. Bissell, president and chief executive officer of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

In 2017, KIUC teamed up with Tesla, the electric carmaker, on a project to store power produced by solar energy in a large-scale battery system. The cooperative model made it easier to take a risk on a long-term project, Mr. Bissell says.

The co-op continues to lead the way in “solar-plus-storage” with the sprawling Lawa‘i solar farm here tended by the grass-shearing sheep. The nearly 200-acre network of glistening solar panels incorporates the world’s largest operational solar-plus-storage facility. It has the capacity to hold 100 megawatt-hours of electricity. Battery storage is crucial for any intermittent sources of power, like solar and wind energy, so utilities can provide power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

“These projects do more than bring in energy at night,” says Mr. Bissell. “They improve reliability because they can make up for outages in other parts of the system.”

Solar power is by far the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the state. 

J. David Ake/AP/File
The dense skyline of the Waikiki area of Honolulu is seen from the top of Diamond Head before daybreak. One company is researching using deep-sea water to cool buildings in the city.

While wind generation has gained a firm foothold in Texas, California, and several Plains states, it has found less traction in Hawaii. One reason: birds. 

Kauai, for instance, has long been a haven for two endangered species of seabirds, the Newell’s shearwater and the Hawaiian petrel. While both are present on other islands, they are more prevalent on Kauai where there are no natural predators. Conservationists and others worry about the turbine blades’ effect on seabird populations.

Oahu, on the other hand, has invested heavily in wind power, despite concerns from community members about the noise and what they perceive as the unsightliness of the massive blades. Another concern could prove to be problematic on the island, though: the deaths of the Hawaiian hoary bat, the state’s only native land mammal.

“Modern-day smokestacks”

The drive up Oahu’s iconic windward coastline starts on the ancient cliffs of Makapu‘u, luring tourists – or visitors, as Hawaii residents call them – to the sapphire and turquoise waters of Hanauma Bay. Long past the marine parks, the hushed Valley of the Temples, and the zip lines and ATV tours of Kualoa Ranch, the Kamehameha Highway gives way to coastal farms of macadamia nuts, taro, and passion fruit. 

Oahu’s North Shore was the last corner of the island to be settled by Native Hawaiians, but the first to be discovered by white settlers. In the 19th century, the rich agricultural lands tended by native residents were converted into sugar and pineapple plantations, transforming the region’s landscape, economy, and demography, as Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers arrived to work the land.

Plantations held their grip on the North Shore for most of the 20th century. But in recent years, residents have slowly begun to reclaim the land. The island’s last remaining sugar plantation closed in 1996. Community organizations founded with the promise of “keeping the country, country” have blocked most large development projects here, and small farms have once again begun to flourish. 

In 2016, Turtle Bay Resort relinquished nearly 500 acres of farmland to the Trust for Public Land and North Shore Community Land Trust, a victory for the sustainable agriculture movement that hopes to wean the state off dependence on imported produce. 

Cory Lum/Honolulu Civil Beat
“Windmills are modern-day smokestacks. If you think about it, 150 years ago people thought smokestacks were awesome because they symbolized progress.” – Gil Riviere, a state senator who opposes the creation of a new wind farm on Oahu’s North Shore

State Sen. Gil Riviere, a Democrat, worries that the state’s push for renewable energy could jeopardize that promise. As co-director of Keep the North Shore Country, he is on the front lines of the effort to block development of the Na Pua Makani Wind Project.

“Windmills are modern-day smokestacks,” says Mr. Riviere. “If you think about it, 150 years ago people thought smokestacks were awesome because they symbolized progress.”

In his role as a state senator, he hears a lot of complaints about windmills from his North Shore constituents. “We are very supportive of renewable energy,” says one of them, Te–vita Ka‘ili, speaking for his family. “However we have one major concern about industrial wind turbines. It has to do with the killing of the ‘ope‘ape‘a, or the hoary bat.”

Weighing just half an ounce, Hawaiian hoary bats are notoriously difficult to count, since they are solitary and easily disappear into treetop roosts. No one knows how many hoary bats call these islands home, but anecdotally, residents say they used to encounter more of them than they do now, according to Kristin Jonasson, a bat expert who spent a year and a half studying the tiny mammals.

Frank Bonaccorso/USGS
“It’s just sort of contradictory to me that we’re saving the environment by destroying the [hoary] bats.” – Tēvita Ka‘ili, cultural anthropologist at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, referring to the state’s only native land mammal

Wind developers expected that turbines would kill some endangered bats, but data from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has found that the mortality rate has far surpassed initial projections. An estimated 146 hoary bats were killed at the state’s five largest wind farms in just six years, 2.6 times the projected rate of 187 deaths over 20 years.

For many, the losses carry a heavy cultural burden. The hoary bat is sacred to many Polynesian cultures. It is considered one of the many manifestations of the Native Hawaiian Lono deity, and some Native Hawaiian families consider bats to be their ancestral guardians, or ‘aumakua

While Mr. Ka‘ili, a cultural anthropologist and chair of the Department of International Cultural Studies at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, lauds the motivation behind the push for wind power, he worries that it comes at too steep a cost. “It’s just sort of contradictory to me that we’re saving the environment by destroying the bats,” he says.

Clouds over solar

The push to tap the sun presents both problems and promise for Hawaii, too. The state leads the nation in rooftop solar installation.

Solar panels make long-term economic sense for homeowners in this sun-kissed paradise. A limited number of no-interest loans are available to offset installation costs, and residents can take advantage of state and federal tax credits (though federal incentives are set to phase out after 2019). 

While rooftop panels can yield major savings for homeowners, renters and people living in multifamily homes or condominiums typically can’t take advantage of those benefits. That disparity can deepen an already steep economic divide in a state where a billionaire can own an entire island while half of all residents live paycheck to paycheck.

The surge in solar panels has put a strain on utilities as well. The mismatch of timing between peak daytime generation and peak evening demand means that power generated from home solar installations can quickly flood the grid during the day. On Molokai, one of the smallest of Hawaii’s main islands, excess residential solar power flowing to the grid has actually become a safety concern, says Gregg Kresge, manager of renewable energy projects for Maui Electric Co., which serves the islands of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai. The issue has become enough of a problem that the company has a pilot program to provide batteries for residential use to avoid overloading the grid. 

Nathan Eagle/Honolulu Civil Beat
The Lawa‘i solar and energy storage project on the island of Kauai employs 300 sheep to keep invasive guinea grass from engulfing the solar panels that supply 11% of the island’s electricity.

Molokai was at one point projected to hit 100% renewable as soon as 2020. But after receiving stiff criticism for failing to solicit adequate community input before approving a solar power plant last year, Maui Electric has slowed its plans. 

Malama ‘aina

Similar sentiments emerged at a recent community meeting in Maui, which the company co-hosted with the Maui chapter of the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i and Maui Tomorrow Foundation. Residents and advocates expressed support for the 100% renewable initiative, but also concern that the goal should not be met at any cost. Many in attendance were reluctant to support wind farms out of concern for the islands’ endangered birds. Others urged the utility and the planning commission to put solar panels on rooftops and in abandoned lots before erecting massive solar farms on pristine undeveloped land.

Māui is a mythical figure in Native Hawaiian lore who has unusual powers. He can lasso the sun’s rays to slow its passage across the sky and lengthen the day.

At the recent community meeting in Maui, organizers opened with comments from Kapono‘ai Molitau, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, or kumu, who recounted the tale of Ma–ui. It was intended to show both the importance of the sun and the importance of being sensitive to native culture as Hawaii tries to forge a green future. 

Hawaii is the only U.S. state that has never had a white majority. While Hawaiian residents hail from around the world, many have adopted the native ethos of malama ‘aina, the idea of caring for the land in a way that won’t harm it for future generations. 

In the past, Hawaii’s utilities have faced sharp rebukes for failing to take into account the cultural needs of Native Hawaiians when developing other forms of renewable energy. On Kauai, hydroelectric projects that date back to the island’s plantation era drained streams dry when the water was diverted to support big agriculture. The siphoning led to the decline in traditional taro farming by Native Hawaiians, a practice that is only now seeing a revival. Some groups here oppose a plan by KIUC to maintain these hydroelectric projects for this reason.

“This is a perfect example of when we should chart a new path and not just do business as usual,” says Isaac Moriwake, Honolulu-based attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice. “We can meet the goals without having to trample on other people’s rights or prolong 100-year-old injustices.”

KIUC’s Mr. Bissell says the co-op is attempting to do just that by including Native Hawaiians in development plans for a new pumped-storage hydroelectric project on the west side of Kauai. Those plans are still in the early stages of development, but Hermina Morita, a former state legislator who is part Native Hawaiian, is encouraged by those efforts.

“I really see a lot of hope on Kauai,” says Ms. Morita, a former chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. 

In the end, Hawaii, like other states, will have many problems to surmount if it is to point the way toward a green economy of tomorrow. But advocates are confident it can be done and, for the sake of the planet, needs to be done, both here and across the country. “If we’re the only state that moves to 100% renewable energy, even if we did it tomorrow, it would mean nothing if everyone else didn’t come with us,” says Mr. Lee, the state lawmaker.

This story was a collaboration between The Christian Science Monitor and Honolulu Civil Beat. It’s part of a pilot exchange program between the Monitor and local newsrooms. The story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment. 

Privacy, accuracy, and the looming 2020 census

While accuracy is important in a head count, so is individual privacy. The Census Bureau is doing more to protect identities – but some are concerned the data won’t be as trustworthy.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
People walk through New York's Times Square on Aug. 22, 2019. With just a few months left before America starts taking its biggest self-portrait, the Census Bureau is grappling with a host of concerns about the head count, including how to ensure that it is secure and accurate.

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Data from the Census Bureau is used for everything from emergency planning to political redistricting. That’s why it needs to be accurate.

It also needs to be private. By law, census data needs to shield individual identities.

But as computers get faster and hackers develop new tools, it’s getting harder for census officials to balance accuracy and privacy. For the 2020 census, they’re turning to a cutting-edge concept used by Apple and Facebook: “differential privacy.”

This is a framework that introduces false data, “noise,” into census results, and then allows officials to examine how much security is added.

It’s like turning a dial. More noise equals more privacy, but less accuracy.

Census officials say they need this approach. They’ve long fuzzed data, but not formally. Old “disclosure avoidance methods” were “more art than science,” says chief scientist John Abowd.

But some users of census data are concerned results will become too inaccurate to use. Science, livelihoods, even lives might be at stake, they say.

“This is more broadly about trust in government. The most important thing for ensuring a fair and accurate count in 2020 is trust,” says Indivar Dutta-Gupta, of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.


Privacy, accuracy, and the looming 2020 census

Ten seconds pass as Joe Salvo considers how New York City, his longtime home, could prepare an emergency response strategy to a hurricane – without using census data.

He draws a blank.

“Where do you go first? Where you send resources that are by definition limited?” says the head of the population division at the city’s planning department. “We would try to come up with something to figure out where the resources should go, but it would always involve census data. There’s no other source like this.”

But soon that source might be less useful than it once was. Demographers, social scientists, and other data users like Mr. Salvo are concerned that their ability to draw upon 2020 census data for city planning and other routine purposes could be affected by a Census Bureau decision to adopt a more rigorous system to ensure and measure privacy for survey participants.

Census scientists say this framework – known as “differential privacy” – is necessary to help ensure hackers can’t take census data, mash it up with other public datasets, and identify individuals. But the shift has proved divisive. Critics argue that privileging the data’s privacy undermines its accuracy and utility and restricts the general public’s ability to access it. They say it could jeopardize everything from the data that cities use to prepare for natural disasters to the redistricting process that determines United States representatives. 

“It’s not just the most important source in the social sciences,” says Steven Ruggles, a University of Minnesota history and population studies professor. “It’s one of the most widely used scientific resources in the world.” 

The Census Bureau has long used ad hoc tweaks to balance accuracy and privacy in its data. Years of technological innovation and highly public data breaches have complicated that task. Switching to differential privacy allows the bureau to better see just how much privacy protection might be needed. While tightening up could rankle data users, a privacy breach could erode public trust – something in short supply since the Trump administration tried to defy the Supreme Court and add an unpopular citizenship question. 

“The census is only as good as the public’s willingness to participate, and that participation hinges significantly on perceptions that the Census Bureau will keep personal information confidential,” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former congressional aide for a House subcommittee that oversees the census. “If public confidence in the confidentiality of data erodes, then participation in the census will likely decline.”

The case for differential privacy

By law, the U.S. Census Bureau is required to protect the privacy of individuals and establishments, ensuring that they can’t be identified from census-released data.

That used to just mean withholding names. But as computers became more powerful, it became theoretically possible to combine outside databases such as property records, credit reports, and voter rolls with census data tables on age, ethnicity, geography, and so forth to try to get a statistical picture of actual Americans.

To guard against this, the bureau has long injected inaccuracies, or “noise,” into the data. It wouldn't release details on such efforts to prevent reverse engineering of the process.

The bureau’s old “disclosure avoidance methods” were “more art than science,” says John Abowd, the chief scientist.

Meanwhile, computer science has continued to advance. The bureau’s interest in differential privacy has been pushed in part by development of something called the database reconstruction theorem. This theorem holds that given enough information, researchers can take collections of summary tables and reconstruct them into approximate records of individuals.

The bureau has never had a data breach, but internal tests of the 2010 census showed that the bureau had been able to match the race and ethnicity of nearly 20% of the 308,745,538 people counted using publicly available information. Corroborating the data’s veracity required access to confidential bureau information, which limits the data’s utility and potential harm, but the very fact that the data was vulnerable frightened researchers across the field.

Guarding against this is a big reason the Census Bureau has turned to differential privacy, which offers data scientists a tantalizing prospect: a way to confidently measure the extent of data’s confidentiality.

Popularized by tech companies like Apple and Facebook, differential privacy is a system that formally injects noise into data and then produces a numerical value that describes how much privacy loss a person will experience with a given noise amount. The term “epsilon” is used to symbolize this value.

It’s a trade-off: More noise means more privacy, but less accuracy. Less noise means less privacy, but information might be more usable to researchers.

“The decision to balance accuracy with privacy is not a scientific or technical decision. It’s a political, moral, ethical decision,” says Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. “People whose lives, livelihoods, and well-being depend on the data will generally share both goals of ensuring that privacy is protected and that there is some accuracy. And we need to sort of think through where we strike that balance.”

Most people agree that the bureau needs stronger confidentiality protections, but there is still debate over how much noise to inject. Differential privacy will require the bureau to navigate the trade-off between privacy and accuracy, as one would fiddle with a knob to adjust the temperature of a bath. 

“When [the Census Bureau] puts out a public table, it can’t ignore the fact that someone could try to match things with outside data,” says Mr. Dutta-Gupta. “As far as I can tell, differential privacy is the only way to think this through. I think a lot of the concerns that people have about it could be addressed in part just by how you spend the privacy budget [and] where you set the epsilon.”

Why differential privacy may be an overreaction

Where the bureau sets the epsilon matters a lot to Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He uses a lot of redistricting data in his research and worries that differential privacy will introduce so much noise as to make it unusable. 

“It would be fine if it would behave like real data; I have no problem with that,” he says. “I just ... don’t know if it does [behave like that]. There still is some evidence that it doesn’t.”

Dr. Beveridge even suggests the bureau could be sued if the data is too fuzzy. Dr. Abowd downplays that concern and says redistricting data will be as robust as in previous censuses. What’s changed is that the noise injection is public.

Mr. Salvo of the New York planning department has accepted the inevitability of noise, but he wants the bureau to “empirically demonstrate that [the noise] will not damage what is the essence or the mission of the bureau: to give us data.” 

Other experts call it a “radical reinterpretation” that too greatly privileges confidentiality.

“I think the Census Bureau chief decision-makers are underestimating the possibility that there could be a real crisis in confidence if at some point in the future, it’s discovered that differential privacy caused the Census Bureau data to be relied upon when it was in fact not accurate,” says Jane Bambauer, a law professor at the University of Arizona.

In late September, the bureau will release test products based on the 2010 census to show how different levels of noise might affect the data. It has some data users cautiously optimistic, but the bureau won’t provide any answers for how differential privacy will apply to the more granular American Community Survey, which is more widely used by data users and the public.

“It would have been helpful for the Census Bureau to convene its key stakeholders who are data users and other experts in the technology and data fields before it publicly rolled out its plan for differential privacy,” says Ms. Lowenthal, the former congressional aide. “It would have been better to have more buy-in before announcing a plan and I think would have gone a long way towards ensuring public confidence in whatever final method the bureau settles on.”

To his credit, Dr. Abowd largely agrees with that assessment.

“It took awhile for all of us at the Census Bureau to understand how to message this to very diverse interest groups,” he says. “I think our willingness to continuously improve the way we’re doing that should be taken as evidence that we understand we haven’t always effectively communicated the message.”

What is decided here will have far-reaching consequences, says Mr. Dutta-Gupta.

“This is not just about the census, it’s about other surveys, it’s about future censuses. And this is more broadly about trust in government. The most important thing for ensuring a fair and accurate count in 2020 is trust.”


The 10 best books of September

Our back-to-school reading list includes some famous names, such as a Samantha Power memoir (“The Education of an Idealist”) and the first novel (“The Water Dancer”) by Ta-Nehisi Coates. We also review a portrait of devotion in “Out of Darkness, Shining Light,” by Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah.


The 10 best books of September

Courtesy of Macmillan Publishers and Hachette Book Group
“Condé Nast: The Man and His Empire” by Susan Ronald, St. Martin's Press, 448 pp. and “Akin” by Emma Donoghue, Little, Brown and Company, 352 pp.

This month's books are a feast for the intellect, including a highly anticipated fiction debut, a remarkable novel by a Zimbabwean writer, as well as the second compelling memoir by a former ambassador to the United Nations. Class is in session!

1. A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman

Amy Waldman sets her novel in an Afghan village where an idealistic young Afghan American woman, inspired by the work of a celebrity humanitarian, decides to visit. The book is both a coming-of-age story and incisive exploration of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. 

2. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Journalist Ta-Nehesi Coates brings his remarkable talent to his first novel, as he tells the story of Hiram Walker, a brilliant boy who seems to possess magical gifts. Born into slavery in 19th-century Virginia, Hiram survives a near drowning, an experience that emboldens him to try to gain his freedom. Using a whisper instead of a shout, Coates brings to life the experiences of those who were enslaved.

3. Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah

Petina Gappah’s work of historical fiction delves into the story of two African servants of famed 19th-century explorer David Livingstone. After Livingstone’s death, the pair are among those who transport his body, and his notes, 1,000 miles to ensure the body’s safe return to England. The novel glows with the insightful voices of the two servants and the strength of their devotion. 

4. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson exquisitely examines the (dis)connections of a Brooklyn family, tenuously held together by Melody, whose coming-of-age ceremony is just beginning in her grandparents’ brownstone. Through 21 spare, dazzling chapters, Woodson reveals the past and present, and hints at the futures of Melody, her family, and friends.

5. The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster
“The World That We Knew” by Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, 384 pp.

Into the recognizable form of a Holocaust novel Alice Hoffman injects magical realism in the form of a golem, conjured from sacred Hebrew words. The golem, a monster in the guise of a woman, is entrusted with the safety of a young Jewish girl. Hoffman delivers a lyrical novel that underscores what makes us human and calls out how we deny humanity in others.

6. Akin by Emma Donoghue

Noah Selvaggio is a set-in-his-ways retired chemistry professor. The last thing he needs is a call from social services asking him to temporarily foster his little-known, pugnacious, 11-year-old grandnephew, whose mother is in prison. A captivating tour of the French town of Nice follows, as they piece together a World War II-era family mystery.

7. Stealing the Show by John Barelli

Courtesy of Lyons Press
“Stealing the Show: A History of Art and Crime in Six Thefts” by John Barelli with Zachary Schisgal, Lyons Press, 240pp.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has been the scene of blockbuster exhibitions as well as fashion galas ... and, unfortunately, art thefts. John Barelli, the Met’s retired chief security officer, shares 40 years of insights into how the thefts occurred and how (most of) the art has been recovered. It’s an eye-opener into the inner workings of one of the world’s finest art museums.

8. Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser

This gripping biography of the iconic writer, intellectual, and social commentator is the first one to draw from Susan Sontag’s extensive private archives. It is fleshed out with dozens of interviews that combine to create a complex and challenging picture of her thought and legacy, as well as a reappraisal of her many works.

9. Condé Nast: The Man and His Empire by Susan Ronald

A groundbreaking new biography captures the impresario behind the publishing empire that includes Vanity Fair and Vogue. This big, glittering book provides a full and human portrait of Condé Nast. Lively, detailed descriptions of the early decades of the 20th century complete the setting of Nast’s life story.

10. The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power

Samantha Power was one of President Barack Obama’s ambassadors to the United Nations and won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for “A Problem From Hell.” In this memoir, she traces her life from her early years as an Irish immigrant all the way to the White House.

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The ‘cry’ in El Salvador to clean house

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Latin America must be doing something right about transparency and accountability in government. A rising number of people in the region tell pollsters they believe they can make a difference in the fight against corruption. A recent example comes from El Salvador, one of the region’s smallest and poorest countries.

A new president, Nayib Bukele, who enjoys 90% popularity, just signed an agreement with the Organization of American States to set up an international investigative body in El Salvador to battle corruption and reform law enforcement. The United Nations is eager to support it.

Mr. Bukele says the launch of the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador is a “cry” of the population. Thousands of Salvadorans flee the country each year because of violence. But it is corruption that fuels the criminal gangs and hinders police and the courts.

Integrity in government translates into saving lives. Ordinary people in El Salvador know that. And they chose a president who wants to make it happen.


The ‘cry’ in El Salvador to clean house

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele speaks at the Sept. 6 signing of an agreement to create the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES).

Latin America must be doing something right about transparency and accountability in government. A rising number of people in the region tell pollsters they believe they can make a difference in the fight against corruption. A recent example comes from El Salvador, one of the region’s smallest and poorest countries.

A new president, Nayib Bukele, who enjoys 90% popularity, just signed an agreement with the Organization of American States to set up an international investigative body in El Salvador to battle corruption and reform law enforcement. The United Nations is eager to support it.

Mr. Bukele says the launch of the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador is a “cry” of the population. Thousands of Salvadorans flee the country each year because of violence. But it is corruption that fuels the criminal gangs and hinders police and the courts. And it is a growing anti-corruption sentiment among voters that allowed Mr. Bukele, a former ad executive who promised clean governance, to defeat the country’s traditional parties in an election last February.

For now, the proposed body, known as CICIES for its initials in Spanish, would work only with police to strengthen investigations. Both the attorney general and the legislature have yet to back the project. The established parties in El Salvador might be wary of an independent CICIES run by foreign experts unearthing old corruption. 

A similar body set up in neighboring Guatemala in 2007 was fully independent and achieved remarkable success, but it was closed down this month after it began to probe President Jimmy Morales. Honduras opted for a weaker version of an international commission, although that body has introduced modern prosecution techniques.

If El Salvador’s politicians need any convincing about CICIES, they should note that the anti-corruption commission in Guatemala is credited with reducing homicide rates by an average 5% a year over the course of its work. Integrity in government translates into saving lives. Ordinary people in El Salvador know that. And they chose a president who wants to make it happen.

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.

There’s more to life than luck

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Struggling to make ends meet despite her best efforts, a woman turned to God for guidance. The result was inspiration that lifted her out of down-on-my-luck thinking and, soon afterward, into a whole new line of work.


There’s more to life than luck

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

It often seems that many aspects of life are determined by luck, that life is just a series of shots in the dark because there’s some unknowable element that defines circumstances and opportunities, either for good or bad. Is it possible to see past this unreliable and shaky viewpoint and experience more consistent good in daily life?

This was a crucial question for me during a very difficult year some time ago. A career pursuit wasn’t coming together. I was working seven days a week, exhausted, just trying to make ends meet. It certainly appeared I was a little down on my luck.

But countless times before I had sincerely turned to God in prayer, inspired by what I’d been learning in Christian Science about the nature of God as Love, and had found help and healing. I had glimpsed how natural it is for God’s children to feel Love’s tender care and presence and to listen for its plan, which includes only good. So I turned to God again in this situation.

There’s a Bible verse from the book of James that has consistently lifted my thought above a dark, uncertain, material perspective of opportunity and possibility. It says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (1:17). The Bible also says, “The curse causeless shall not come” (Proverbs 26:2), which means to me that we cannot be cursed because curses have no legitimate cause.

A deepening understanding and awareness of the spiritual fact that God, good, directs our lives enables us to feel the power of these promises. Divine Science, rooted in the Bible, gives the name Principle – among other names, such as Love, Life, and Mind – to God. This divine Principle is the one and only true source of each of us, and governs with the supreme authority of good.

And because God, Principle, is also divine Love, the only plan and outcome for His beloved children – you, me, and everyone, wholly spiritual and constituted of Love – is abundance, satisfaction, and progress.

The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, explains in her writings the importance of aligning thought with this spiritual reality. For instance, in her primary book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she says, “Accidents are unknown to God, or immortal Mind, and we must leave the mortal basis of belief and unite with the one Mind, in order to change the notion of chance to the proper sense of God’s unerring direction and thus bring out harmony” (p. 424).

During that year, I strove more diligently than ever to listen for divine Love’s direction day by day. This meant not giving in to anxious thoughts trying to run the show, like ruminating on how I would go forward or pay the bills. I recognized that these thoughts were not from God. I was dedicated to more fully understanding that no matter what it looks like at any given moment, God is in charge of all our lives, and that this spiritual fact is the reality.

And something totally unexpected happened. One night while I was praying along these lines, a certain idea for work came to my thought that had never occurred to me to pursue. I didn’t know what steps to take, but I felt it was a divine prompting, so I kept the idea close to my heart. Some months later I saw an ad in the newspaper for this exact work, and responded to it. I intuitively knew it was the right fit for me, and it turned out that I was offered the position right after the interview. This gave me a whole new perspective on possibilities.

That practical outcome was wonderful, but most importantly, I saw unreservedly that God is in charge of His creation, which we can experience in tangible ways. It’s a lesson I’ve continued to treasure since.

The feeling that our experience is determined by luck – whether good or bad – loses its seeming power and ability to dominate our lives when we dedicate thought to listening for and following God’s direction. Then we can say with the same conviction of the Psalmist, speaking of God, “Thou art good, and doest good” (Psalms 119:68). Following divine guidance, in which there is no chance, brings the certainty of untold blessings.


Mending the nets

Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Palestinian fishermen repair their net at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Sept. 16, 2019.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story about female Muslim comedians in America puncturing stereotypes.

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