2019
September
27
Friday

Today’s five stories look at the alternate worlds of opinion amid impeachment, the stakes in Afghanistan’s presidential election, a civil debate over an old Moscow beer plant, how culture shapes our hearing of music, and a Ugandan man’s walk to fight deforestation.

First, some thoughts on the value of being present. 

Over the summer, Matt Dickinson and his wife, Alison, took many weekend trips to New Hampshire – home of the first primary – to watch Democrats campaign for president. They saw Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, and several others. Like a good reporter, Professor Dickinson understands the benefits of being there and soaking it all in. And when you’re a political scientist at Middlebury College in neighboring Vermont, it’s almost a no-brainer. 

His goal was to listen. How are the candidates selling themselves? What are voters asking them? 

“Impeachment just didn’t come up,” he told me. 

There was lots of policy discussion and candidate pitches around electability. But the ultimate sanction against an American president – to threaten expulsion via the constitutional process of impeachment in the House and, if successful, a trial in the Senate – wasn’t top of mind. 

Now it is, following an explosive whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of support for an impeachment inquiry. All eyes are on public opinion. Which argument – for or against – will carry the day? Our lead story today explores sentiment around the country. Meanwhile, the Dickinsons plan to keep visiting New Hampshire and observing campaign events. Their next trip should be especially interesting. 

Share this article

shadow

1. Trump, impeachment, and US voters’ alternate realities

With impeachment, the division between conservative media and the legacy news media promises to be so wide it is already as if viewers were living in alternate worlds. Is there a way to bridge that divide?

Linda

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

At the Mall of New Hampshire, Charlie sits on a bench. Asked about impeachment, he says he’s against it, because he voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.

“The Democrats will do anything. ... I hate to say it, but they don’t have any morals,” Charlie says.

He watches mainly Fox News because he feels he gets a “better picture” of what’s going on. 

Catherine Handy believes people who watch only Fox are the ones getting a limited picture. She had a family member who watched only Fox. She got them to branch out to NPR, PBS, and MSNBC, and now they regret their vote for Mr. Trump.

Trump voters have the country’s interests at heart, she says. “The people who are pro-Trump are very patriotic. If they really knew what he was doing, they would be as enraged as the rest of us who are in the know,” Ms. Handy says.

Welcome to Impeachment Autumn, 2019.

As Washington struggles with high-stakes drama the nation’s citizens sometimes seem split into polarized camps that view the situation through different lenses. That division is shaped in part by party identification. But it is also due to the fact that those on opposite sides of the debate rarely consume the same news sources.

Collapse

2. Trump, impeachment, and US voters’ alternate realities

Paula Blasik is reading a tablet in the food court of the Mall of New Hampshire when a reporter asks her about Washington’s sudden plunge toward an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

The longtime Granite State resident says that she’s against it. “From the moment he won, you heard about impeachment,” she says. Democrats in Congress “have spent a lot of time and money not doing their job,” she adds.

Where does she get her information on U.S. politics? Ms. Blasik, a long-time independent who voted for Mr. Trump, says she watches all the news channels but always comes back to Fox News, because she feels it best enables her to make up her own mind.

Ed Thomas has a very different point of view. Readying his fishing bait on the docks at Tybee Island, Georgia, he says he’d been waffling on whether to impeach the president or let the people oust him on Election Day. But after seeing the latest headlines he now is now leaning toward impeachment of a president he calls “nasty and divisive.”

“Get rid of him, I say,” says the resident of Daytona, Florida. Mr. Thomas’s go-to source of political news, he adds, is MSNBC. 

Welcome to Impeachment Autumn, 2019.

As Washington struggles with high-stakes drama the nation’s citizens sometimes seem split into polarized camps that view the situation through different lenses. That division is shaped in part by party identification, or partisan leaning derived from personal characteristics. But it is also due to the fact that those on opposite sides of the debate rarely consume the same news sources.

With impeachment, the division between conservative media such as Fox News and radio host Rush Limbaugh and what has long been known as the legacy mainstream news media already promises to be so wide it is as if they were living in alternate worlds.

It’s a split that could help President Trump. Conservative outlets have for the most part aggressively defended the White House against House Democrats’ impeachment push. That’s a factor that didn’t exist during Watergate.

If he’d had Fox, “I honestly think Richard Nixon would have survived,” says Brian Rosenwald, author of “Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took over a Political Party That Took Over the United States.”

Bryan Woolston/Reuters
A supporter of President Donald Trump attempts to remove a sign from the hands of a protester that called for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and impeachment of President Trump during a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug. 1, 2019.

Until this week poll data showed that generally impeachment was unpopular with U.S. voters. But the revelations that in a phone call President Trump pushed Ukraine’s leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and charges that he withheld U.S. aid to Ukraine to compel such an investigation, have begun to substantially change American public opinion.

An NPR/PBS Marist poll from earlier this week showed 49% of respondents support a House impeachment inquiry, and 46% oppose such a move. The results of a Politico/Morning Consult survey from the same time period were 43% for an impeachment probe, and 43% against.

Pollsters cautioned that the numbers on impeachment questions are almost certain to jump around in coming weeks, depending on poll timing, wording, and the degree to which the public is paying attention to events.

“It’s just the beginning,” said Marist Poll director Barbara Carvalho in a Marist “Poll Hub” podcast.

American political media this week reflected a similar split. Friday morning on CNN’s website the lead headline was “Pelosi says Attorney General has gone ‘rogue.’” At the very same time, on the Fox News website was a somewhat opposite line: “Trump, allies escalate attacks over Ukraine call furor.” 

Conservative talk host Rush Limbaugh was even blunter. “Pure, unadulterated lies,” read the top of his website. For his listeners, he did not need to identify which side he saw as lying.

“A bigger split than usual”

“In the conservative media world, scandals are fusing here,” says Dr. Rosenwald, a University of Pennsylvania political historian whose book “Talk Radio’s America” follows the development of the symbiosis between the GOP and conservative outlets. 

Conservatives have long charged, with little evidence, that Mr. Biden headed off Ukrainian investigation in his son Hunter Biden’s activities. A thinly sourced right-wing conspiracy theory also holds that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that was behind the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign officials. Mr. Trump asked for investigations of both these things in the July phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart.

The mainstream media, for its part, puts little credence in these charges, says Dr. Rosenwald. Many outlets perhaps feel they focused too much on Hillary Clinton’s emails, and not enough on President Trump’s background, in 2016. As a result, so far they are not being swayed by the Republican attempt to frame the Ukraine situation as something that’s largely about Mr. Biden, his son, and past actions.

So between conservative and mainstream media “you’re going to see a bigger split than usual,” says Dr. Rosenwald. “Right now the MSM has no patience for GOP spin.”

View from Sauk County

The upper Midwest states, the swing region that tipped the White House to Mr. Trump in 2016, is watching the week’s developments closely as well.

Sauk County, Wisconsin, is a battleground county in a battleground state. In 2016, Mr. Trump surprised pollsters by winning Wisconsin with a 1% margin. Sauk County’s margin was even thinner. The president won it with fewer than 200 votes out of nearly 32,000 cast.

This week’s revelations that Mr. Trump urged the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival may swing that vote the other way in 2020, says Mark Greenwood, leaning against the lunch counter of the Greenwood Cafe in Reedsburg, where he serves as manager and cook. 

“I think this is the final nail in the coffin,” says Mr. Greenwood, who voted for both of the Presidents Bush as well as Barack Obama but has consistently opposed Mr. Trump. “This again shows that the guy has no deference for any type of law.”

But it will be a close vote, he adds, because the county is a patchwork of red and blue. Cyclists share country lanes with pickups. People walk their dogs on a leash at one residence, while down the road farm dogs roam free. Adjacent to Dane County, home of the state capital and the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus, Sauk County has seen an influx of people from Dane, who build homes in and around Sauk’s many dairies and grain farms, but still commute to the city.

“As goofy as Trump is, there are a lot of people who like him,” says Mr. Greenwood.

At the Mall of New Hampshire

Back at the Mall of New Hampshire, Charlie (who did not give his last name), sits alone on a bench, an empty ice cream cup next to him. Asked about impeachment, he says he’s against it, because he voted for Mr. Trump in 2016.

“The Democrats will do anything. ... I hate to say it, but they don’t have any morals,” Charlie says.

He watches mainly Fox because he feels he gets a “better picture” of what’s going on. But occasionally, Charlie says, he tunes into MSNBC.

“I do watch it sometimes, just to make sure I’m right about it being too liberal,” he says.

On the other hand, Catherine Handy, walking through the mall with a friend, believes people who watch only Fox are the ones getting a limited picture. She had a family member who watched only Fox News, and voted for Trump, she says. She got them to branch out to NPR, PBS, and MSNBC, and now they regret their vote, she says.

Trump voters have the country’s interests at heart, she says, but their support for the president is based on limited information.

“I think the people who are pro-Trump are very patriotic. If they really knew what he was doing, they would be as enraged as the rest of us who are in the know,” Ms. Handy says.

Staff writer Laurent Belsie contributed to this report from Wisconsin’s Sauk County.

shadow

2. At stake in Afghan vote: presidential vision, and legitimacy

The struggle for democracy doesn't end with the right to vote. To navigate Afghanistan’s future as it confronts the Taliban, the president elected Saturday will also need to be seen as legitimate.

Linda
Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
An election commission worker in Kabul, Afghanistan, prepares ballot boxes for Saturday's presidential election, Sept. 26, 2019.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

The stakes could hardly be higher in Afghanistan’s presidential election Saturday. With the U.S. having suspended nearly a year of talks with the Taliban, responsibility for finding peace now falls more squarely on the Kabul government. Whoever wins Saturday will have to use the legitimacy they gain from it to preserve the Afghan state from further Taliban military advances.

Threats to security are very much in play. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the vote, and have bombed election rallies. Face-to-face campaigning has been limited. Key candidates have been forced to convene virtual rallies, often addressing their supporters via video link. Already the security clampdown has begun in Kabul and other urban centers, and from senior officials to mosque clerics, everyone except the Taliban have called for a large turnout.

“The Taliban will still say that it is not a legitimate government, that it is not a legitimate president, that only a few urban centers voted ... and that it was fraudulent,” says Masood Karokhail, head of a Kabul-based group that facilitates peace and rebuilding efforts. “So we are all a bit skeptical about the result, and that’s what scares me.”

Collapse

At stake in Afghan vote: presidential vision, and legitimacy

Afghanistan has never seen a vote like it.

The presidential election being held Saturday – largely in urban ‘bubbles’ – is defined by insecurity, doubt about the integrity of the result, and concern it might extend Afghanistan’s forever war, not end it.

Campaign posters plaster the capital, but Taliban insurgents have vowed to disrupt the delayed vote, have bombed election rallies, and said the process serves only “the ego of a limited number of sham politicians” and wastes “time, money, and resources.”

Key candidates have been forced to convene virtual rallies, often addressing their supporters via video link, or speaking to small, hand-picked groups from the safety of fortified compounds.

Actual face-to-face campaigning has been limited, especially for President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival, the country’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. The two have been bound by an awkward, power-sharing arrangement brokered by the United States since they came out on top of the last disputed presidential contest in 2014.

But this time the stakes could not be higher for Afghanistan’s future. Whoever wins this vote will have to use the legitimacy they gain from it – tempered by the credibility they lose, depending on the rancor over the outcome – to preserve the Afghan state from further Taliban military advances and chronic insecurity, and possibly negotiate a cease-fire and peace deal.

Responsibility for finding peace now falls more squarely on Kabul, after President Donald Trump this month abruptly ended nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban talks to end America’s longest-ever war. So far, the Taliban refuse to talk to what they dismiss as a corrupt “puppet” government.

Warnings about fraud

“Will the election give the legitimacy to the president?” asks Masood Karokhail, head of The Liaison Office, a Kabul-based group that facilitates peace and rebuilding efforts.

“The Taliban will still say that it is not a legitimate government, that it is not a legitimate president, that only a few urban centers voted, even that there were only one million or two million votes, and that it was fraudulent,” says Mr. Karokhail. “So we are all a bit skeptical about the result, and that’s what scares me.”

Many of the 16 candidates have already issued warnings about fraud, and analysts expect technical difficulties with biometric and other voter data. Parliamentary elections last October, delayed for three years, were marred by violence and irregularities, to the extent that Mr. Ghani called them a “catastrophe.”

Already the security clampdown has begun in Kabul and other urban centers, and from senior officials to mosque clerics, everyone except the Taliban have called for a large turnout.

“This time around security is a lot worse, so the number of voters has shrunk,” says a Western official in Kabul who asked not to be named. “People might think, ‘Ghani’s going to win,’ or, ‘Ghani’s going to commit fraud and he’s going to win anyways.’ I think a lot of people are not going to show up.”

Corruption is so pervasive that the U.S. last week cut more than $160 million in direct funding, the bulk of which was earmarked for a large energy project, and the remainder for Afghanistan’s procurement authority.

“We stand against those who exploit their positions of power and influence to deprive the Afghan people of the benefits of foreign assistance and a more prosperous future,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The U.S. also suspended cooperation with an official body monitoring corruption, saying it is “incapable of being a partner.”

Differences on peacemaking

Insecurity has meant that some 2,000 polling stations out of 7,400 will be closed Saturday, most of them in Taliban-controlled areas. Nearly 10 million Afghans are registered to vote, but only 39% voted last October, compared with 58% in the first round of the last presidential election in 2014.

For those who do show up at the polls, the top contenders see their role in peacemaking differently. Mr. Ghani, an economist and former World Bank official, has packed his administration with young technocrats, and worked to break tribal links inside government.

But he strongly took issue with the U.S. approach of directly negotiating with the Taliban. He criticized the resulting withdrawal agreement, in which his government played no part, before Mr. Trump nixed it.

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Election posters for presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah are draped over a building under construction, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 23, 2019. Millions of Afghans are expected to vote Saturday, but security is expected to be an issue with the Taliban warning voters to say away from the polls.

Mr. Abdullah was a senior member of the Northern Alliance that, backed by the U.S. military in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, forced the Taliban from power in late 2001. He has failed to win previous presidential contests. But before the latest U.S.-Taliban talks collapsed, he made clear he was willing – if he won the presidency – to step down, if necessary, for peace.

Mr. Abdullah “would give up his presidency to make way for an interim government.... He is not as power-hungry as Ghani is,” says the Western official.

“Ghani seems very adamant that he will win, stay for another five years, then his peace plan will be implemented,” says the official. “So the Taliban are concerned, rightfully so, because they are saying: ‘Well, we are not surrendering. This is going to be a new situation, so your peace plan we’re not really interested in.’ And [for] people who are suffering, Afghan security forces, another five years until there is actual peace, is not going to be possible.”

Civilian casualties

The toll has already been high. Earlier this year, in a bid to show that Afghans were taking the lead from foreign troops in the fight against Taliban and Islamic State militants, Mr. Ghani said 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he became president.

Civilians are often caught in the fighting, or have been targeted outright by the Taliban or ISIS. The United Nations stated that in 2019, for the first time, more civilians have been killed by the U.S. and Afghan forces than by insurgents.

Triumphant after the collapse of the U.S.-Taliban talks, an Afghan government spokesman suggested the Taliban “honeymoon” was over.

But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the opposite was true, claiming that 70% of Afghan territory “is with us,” and noting that the arch-conservative militants control the levers of violence.

“When they go to the Kabul Airport, which is a few kilometers from the presidential palace, they go in a helicopter,” Mr. Shaheen told Al Jazeera less than a week after the talks halted.

“That means we are also prevalent in Kabul city. So, whose honeymoon is over?” he said. “It is in Kabul, [where] all the NGOs and people ... want our permission, and we facilitate NGO movement from one province to the other, even in Kabul city. So you can now imagine whose honeymoon is over, [and who are] the real people of the country, the master of the country.”

While some lessons have been learned from previous election failings – such as pre-positioning voting materials early enough to avoid Taliban interdiction – poor preparation of biometric verification “suggest the likelihood of renewed chaos,” notes a report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based think tank.

“Urban warfare”

Chronic insecurity has also changed the dynamic, with violence since 2014 causing urban centers to swell, says The Liaison Office’s Mr. Karokhail.

“This election, broadly speaking, will be fought in urban centers. It’s going to be urban warfare,” says Mr. Karokhail. “But in the provinces it is very difficult to judge, because some districts are very insecure. Let’s say polling stations in the district center may be secure, but how do you come to them from your village, which may be under Taliban control?”

Even if people manage to vote, they will return to their Taliban-controlled village with fingers dyed with election ink, he says, and there have been past reports of finger cutting. Campaigns have never been more restricted in their ability to reach voters.

“The election is disconnected, and that’s where the actors who are creating insecurity in Afghanistan are successful in creating democracy as something more you watch on television and your mobile phone rather than interacting physically with it,” says Mr. Karokhail.

“The gap – because of insecurity – has increased, and that’s another reason why the gap between the state and the population is increasing,” he says. “A governor cannot openly visit the shops, and the shopkeepers cannot easily access the governor.” After “maybe 10 shopkeepers, the 11th may be a suicide bomber.”

shadow

3. A corner of Moscow fights to keep history from being built over, literally

While political speech is tightly controlled in Russia, there is increasing room for apolitical civil debate. That is what’s happening around the development of the old Badaevskiy Beer Plant site in Moscow.

Linda

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

A coalition of small-business people, local residents, and newly elected opposition deputies of the Moscow City Council is uniting to stop a mega-development project in a picturesque corner of central Moscow. It’s the sort of apolitical, grassroots civic movement that may be familiar in the West, but is new – if seen with increasing frequency – in Russia today.

One of Moscow’s biggest developers, Capital Group, plans to build huge apartment blocks, raised by 30-yard columns, on the site of the former Badaevskiy Beer Plant, a rare example of 19th-century industrial architecture. But despite the company’s suggestion that the site is largely derelict, it currently houses more than 50 thriving small businesses; some have spent millions of dollars restoring large sections of the old factory. They all received eviction notices ordering them to leave by Oct. 15, without compensation.

“We won’t leave,” says Oksana Skolotina, owner of the Mayer Art Gallery at the site. “It’s not just about all the money we have invested here. We are struggling against arbitrary decisions made by big business and the authorities working hand in glove.”

Collapse

A corner of Moscow fights to keep history from being built over, literally

For the past two decades, the technocratic leadership of Moscow has remade the face of the city under development priorities set by a partnership between big business and the authorities. And while that has resulted in many widely acknowledged achievements, officials have moved ahead without paying much attention to public input.

Activists now want that to change, and the battle over the Badaevskiy Beer Plant could be the moment.

A coalition of small-business people, local residents, and newly elected opposition deputies of the Moscow City Council is uniting to stop a mega-development project in a picturesque corner of central Moscow, whose plan calls for building a vast luxury housing complex on stilts atop a rare and protected gem of 19th-century industrial architecture. It’s the sort of apolitical, grassroots civic movement that may be familiar in the West, but is new – if seen with increasing frequency – in Russia today.

The $750 million project by one of Moscow’s biggest developers, Capital Group, is bold and unorthodox, and is the design of a noted Swiss architectural bureau. It has already excited plenty of controversy on its architectural merits since being made public last year. But the plan to eclipse a beloved historical monument, the Badaevskiy plant, under a forest of columns that will hold up huge apartment blocks has also annoyed local residents and elicited angry responses from historical preservationists.

Despite the company’s suggestion, repeated in some media, that the site is largely derelict, it does currently house more than 50 thriving small businesses, including restaurants, art galleries, sports clubs, and shops that employ hundreds of people. All of them signed long-term leases with the property’s owners in recent years, and some have spent millions of dollars restoring large sections of the old factory.

But over the summer they all received eviction notices ordering them to leave by Oct. 15, without compensation. The developer’s agents cite a clause in the fine print of their leases enabling this measure, and are threatening to switch off the heat and electricity to the complex for those who refuse to comply. The small-business holders are up in arms.

“We won’t leave,” says Oksana Skolotina, owner of the Mayer Art Gallery, who also holds leases to other parts of the former factory. “It’s not just about all the money we have invested here. We are struggling against arbitrary decisions made by big business and the authorities working hand in glove. ... We have a unique chance to turn this around, and we will be using every possible means, from court challenges to petitions to protests to stop this.”

“We are dealing with a whole system”

The developer, which has not yet completed the formal process of getting permission to proceed with the project, appears to be in a great hurry to force the existing tenants out of the property as quickly as possible. Ms. Skolotina says that negotiations with the company’s agents, in which tenants begged for a one-year extension so they might recoup some of their investments, were summarily brushed aside.

Most say this could not be happening if top officials in the Moscow government had not tacitly assured the Capital Group that getting final approval for the project would be a mere formality. But that was before the stunning results of the Sept. 8 Moscow elections, which saw opposition candidates win nearly half of the city council’s 45 seats. Though the council has little actual power, the status of a city deputy provides an important public pulpit, as well as the right to view official documents and ask the government hard questions.

District 42, which contains the Badaevskiy plant, is a mainly middle-class downtown area centered around the avenue of Kutuzovsky Prospekt, which has reliably elected pro-government deputies in the past. But after a summer of angry middle-class protests against electoral manipulations by the Moscow government, local residents came out on Sept. 8 to vote for anyone except a candidate associated with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. They overwhelmingly elected Ekaterina Engalycheva, an outspoken and dynamic young Communist who, as a district councilperson in recent years, has cut her teeth on sometimes successful opposition to big-business encroachments on Moscow’s historic neighborhoods.

“This is not just about the Badaevskiy plant. We are dealing with a whole system, in which endless constructions are causing conflicts all over the city,” says Ms. Engalycheva. “Look at this Badaevskiy project. They want to disrupt this neighborhood with a thicket of 35-meter-high legs with ugly, big housing units on top. Small businesses have just put the Badaevskiy territory into order, and now they are being told they must leave, without any remuneration for their losses. In light of the government’s constant claims that it wants to support small business, this looks bizarre at the least,” she says.

“This place is not a wasteland”

The Badaevskiy Beer Plant was built in several stages beginning in 1875, and three of its core buildings are still on the city’s list of protected architectural monuments. The brewery itself was finally closed down in 2005. The state owns the land, and the owners of the building who granted long-term leases to the currently besieged tenants are mostly unknown, represented by a hired agency. Most admit that their leases contain a clause entitling the agency to evict them in the event of a major construction project.

But at least one tenant, Mikhail Semyonov, who has created a popular art cafe on the territory, insists that his lease – good until 2023 – contains no such clause.

“The owners clearly knew that a big housing project was in the works here, but they decided to rent out the premises to small businesses to make some money in the meantime,” says Mr. Semyonov. “As soon as people settled in and renovated the premises, they decided they needed the territory. I think this represents a real abuse, and maybe fraud.”

The Capital Group’s project includes plans to renovate the three protected buildings – while demolishing the rest – and hand them over to new businesses, including a microbrewery to preserve some semblance of historical continuity.

In an unsigned statement in response to questions from the Monitor, Capital Group lauded the Swiss design as a constructive way to save the old buildings while creating a modern, green, and publicly accessible space in a long-neglected corner of the city. It made no direct reference to the site’s current tenants or the imminent threat of eviction facing them. “Any project with outstanding architecture will inevitably find both supporters and critics,” it says. “And this project to redevelop the Badaevskiy plant is really unique.”

The main objection of architectural critics is that the vast housing-complex-on-stilts will obscure and dwarf the remaining structures, while totally changing the district’s traditional look. Some also warn that local infrastructure is not designed to handle a huge increase in inhabitants, especially given the traffic jams that already clog Kutuzovsky Prospekt on most days.

“There are laws to protect this plant, but under pressure of an omnipotent investor, Capital Group, the number of protected objects on this territory has already been considerably reduced,” says Natalia Dushkina, a professor at the Moscow Architectural Institute.

“The desire to have spectacular architectural creations on the Moscow skyline has apparently prevailed. But there are a lot of questions about the experts who took part in this process. The way they have treated these historical buildings is a direct violation of ethics, at the very least. The project itself is really weird. The plant, or whatever will be left of it, will be lost somewhere amid all those huge legs holding up big apartment blocks,” she says.

Many of the tenants say they are preparing for a battle.

“We are bringing photographers, public figures, and journalists here to show them that this place is not a wasteland, but a living space filled with cultural life and community activity,” says Ms. Skolotina, the art gallery director. “We are organizing petitions, letter-writing campaigns, flash mobs, and if it comes to that, we will stage pickets. We’re not going to leave. We will fight.”

shadow

4. Pitch perfect? How culture shapes the way you hear music

Nature versus nurture: It's not an either-or proposition. When it comes to music, scientists are finding that acoustics, biology, and culture interact in complex ways.

Linda

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

If you play a middle C on a piano and then play a high C two octaves higher, it will feel like you’re playing the “same” note. 

But is that true for everyone? A study published last week in Current Biology suggests that octave equivalence may be a product of Western culture, and the results add a new layer of cultural influence to our understanding of how we perceive music.

To study people whose ears have not been molded by Western music, researchers visited the Tsimane’, a remote indigenous tribe in Bolivia. There, they asked participants to listen to a simple tune and sing it back in their own vocal register. 

From a Western perspective, the Tsimane’ would sing off-key, which sounded as right to them as octave equivalents do to Westerners.

How we hear music, it seems, is as much a product of our cultural lens as our biology.

“There’s something very substantial about your experience and exposure,” says Nori Jacoby, the study’s lead author. “It’s really transforming your mind in a way that you basically hear things in a different way.”

Collapse

Pitch perfect? How culture shapes the way you hear music

Take a moment to find a song you know where the singer hits some ridiculously high notes and – don’t be shy – sing along. Just belt it out. If you like pop, try Ariana Grande’s “Imagine.” If you’re into Mozart, try Edda Moser’s rendition of the Queen of the Night aria from “The Magic Flute.” Or maybe Dimash Kudaibergen’s “Unforgettable Day” if Kazakh fusion is your thing. Don’t worry about everyone else on the bus. Tell them it’s for science.

Chances are that, unless you happen to be a highly trained vocalist, you’re not quite hitting those high notes. Instead, you probably had to drop down an octave or three.

But, even as you’re singing along in a lower register, you’ll know intuitively whether you’re producing the “right” notes. If Ariana sings a high C and you sing a middle C, two octaves lower, you’ll sound consonant. If you miss the mark and sing a C sharp instead, the glares from your fellow commuters will intensify.

Octave equivalence – that unshakable feeling that notes separated by an octave are really the “same” note – is such a fundamental feature of our music that it’s nearly invisible. When we think of it at all, it’s tempting to see it as natural, something encoded into the physics of acoustics and hardwired into the biology of human hearing.

Every known human culture produces music, and it’s tempting to focus only on the universal elements, to see music purely as a matter of biology. Alternatively, given the vast range of musical systems across cultures, it’s also tempting to see all music as culturally contingent.

But it might actually be more complicated than that. A study published last week in Current Biology takes aim at the taken-for-grantedness of octave equivalence. The research offers a glimpse at the perplexing and often counterintuitive ways that nature and nurture play off one another. 

“When you look at human behavior, on the one hand you see commonality, on the other hand you see differences,” says Nori Jacoby, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, and the study’s lead author. “The question is not whether it’s either-or. The question is within the more refined details.”

Courtesy of Josh McDermott
Eduardo Undurraga, an assistant professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, runs a musical pitch perception experiment with a member of the Tsimane’ tribe of the Bolivian rainforest.

Do re mi ...

Western music is built around octaves, and it has dominated the globe to such an extent that it’s hard to find people whose musical sense hasn’t been shaped by it. 

In an attempt to find ears unsullied by Western musical conventions, the researchers traveled to the Bolivian lowlands, home to the Tsimane’ (pronounced chee-MAH-nay), a remote indigenous people. There, researchers asked participants to listen to a simple tune of two or three notes – the tune could come from any octave within the range of human hearing – and to sing it back in their own vocal register. 

Western participants typically reproduced the tune with the “same” notes, that is, an exact number of octaves above or below the tune they heard. The Tsimane’ did not.

“We are really getting into the question of what people hear,” says Dr. Jacoby. “There’s something very substantial about your experience and exposure, and it’s really transforming your mind in a way that you basically hear things in a different way.”

The authors point out that there is indeed an objective physical relationship between notes separated by octaves: Every note is double the frequency of the note one octave below it. The A above middle C, widely used as concert pitch, is 440 hertz. The A above it is 880 Hz and the A below it is 220. But we only become attuned to this relationship, they say, through exposure to certain kinds of music. 

“There is something very special about the octave in terms of acoustics and biology,” says Josh McDermott, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and one of the paper’s authors. “There are these natural mathematical relationships that exist, and that probably does predispose musical systems in various ways.”

But, he says, “those relationships don’t really seem to be evident to people unless they engage with one of those musical systems.”

Music to whose ears?

Dr. McDermott is also the author of a 2016 paper in Nature that found that the Tsimane’ had different perceptions of consonance and dissonance than Westerners. To Westerners an interval of seven half steps played together (C and G, for instance) sounds pleasing, while an interval of three whole steps (say, C and F#) sounds harsh. To the Tsimane’, Dr. McDermott and his colleagues found, they sound equally pleasant.

The researchers suspect that these differences in perception arise as a result of the music that we’re exposed to. Tsimane’ music, they note, is typically performed solo. Because Tsimane’ musicians aren’t required to harmonize with each other, they may have never developed an ear for octaves.

What the researchers found most surprising, however, were not the differences, but the similarities. Even though humans can hear frequencies of up to 20,000 Hz, most Western instruments have an upper limit of about 4,000 Hz. Above that, the notes become too tinny to discern the difference.

The Tsimane’ have the same upper limit as Westerners, researchers found, even though their musical instruments tend to top out at lower frequencies. 

“The most striking thing to me is how they found these incredibly clear universals across these two cultures,” says Samuel Mehr, a researcher at Harvard University who studies music from around the world

“We’re open to the possibility that there are no strong universals, that there’s tons of variability,” he says. “But this paper [suggests] that it’s something in the middle, where there are some biological constraints, there’s some learning, there’s some culturally determined features of perception by virtue of having experience with a particular thing or no experience with that particular thing.”

But the only way to determine which aspects of music are universal and which ones are culturally specific, says Dr. McDermott, is to go into the field and listen to the notes people produce.

“You got to do the experiments, right?” says Dr. McDermott. “Reality is always a little more interesting than what you might imagine.”

shadow

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. Uganda’s forests are disappearing. He’s fighting back.

Around the world, environmental activists are often targeted for speaking out. Where does the courage to keep going come from? For some, it’s the idea that we don’t really own this earth; we take care of it for the next generation.

Linda
Liam Taylor
William Amanzuru looks at a felled Afzelia africana (African mahogany) tree in Adjumani district. The Ugandan government has banned the cutting of this species.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Uganda has lost more than 60% of its forest cover in the last 30 years. Ask about why, and fingers often point to the little guy: a poor man with an ax clearing land for farming, or a refugee woman collecting firewood.

But much of deforestation, environmental workers say, is thanks to a lucrative, illegal logging trade. Speaking out can bring harassment – but William Amanzuru is undeterred.

Mr. Amanzuru’s network, Friends of Zoka, is determined to protect the Zoka Forest, near the border with South Sudan. In March, he and a handful of companions spent 14 days walking to raise awareness, visiting schools, churches, and mosques along the way. Deforestation has scrambled weather patterns here, where most people are farmers struggling with rains that come too soon, too late, or not at all. 

It can be dangerous work, but Mr. Amanzuru’s loved ones are his inspiration. “When I look into the faces of my children, I ask myself: Is this the world I will leave for them?” he says.

“Friends of Zoka is all of us,” says Stephen Drani, paramount chief of the main ethnic group in Adjumani District, where the forest lies. “We are just custodians. [The environment] belongs to the dead and it belongs to the unborn.”

Collapse

Uganda’s forests are disappearing. He’s fighting back.

When a tree falls in the woods, William Amanzuru hears it. 

Illegal logging is big business in northern Uganda, where clusters of trees dot the sunbaked grasslands. And Mr. Amanzuru listens for it all: every roar of a chain saw, every shady deal.

His network, which calls itself Friends of Zoka, stretches from his home district of Adjumani to villages on the far side of the Nile. They share news by phone and on WhatsApp, tracking a trade they say involves soldiers, officials, and tycoons. 

Roughly 63% of Uganda’s forest was cut down between 1990 and 2015, according to a report from Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment. Meanwhile, deforestation has added to climate change and scrambled local weather patterns. Most Ugandans are farmers, struggling with rains that come too soon, too late, or not at all.

The Zoka activists are all volunteers, and they face harassment for speaking out. Mr. Amanzuru, who also works as a policy officer for a small nongovernmental organization, gets death threats, and has moved his family hundreds of miles away for safety. 

His loved ones are his inspiration, he says. “When I look into the faces of my children, I ask myself: Is this the world I will leave for them? Because I inherited a better world from my dad. ... My entire life was dependent on the environment.”

Saving a forest

Ask about deforestation in Uganda, and fingers often point to the little guy: a poor man with an ax clearing land for farming, or a refugee woman collecting firewood. In Adjumani – where refugees from South Sudan almost outnumber Ugandan citizens – the competition for trees is intense. 

But Mr. Amanzuru encountered a more complex story in Zoka Forest, a state-managed reserve covering 24 square miles in Adjumani district. It was 2015, and he was trying to bridge community divides in the surrounding area, where the government was evicting people from a wildlife reserve.  

There was timber-cutting in the forest, he learned. But it was being led by work teams with machinery: bulldozers, crane loaders, power saws.  

“Now tell me,” he asks, “can a local person like me afford to hire equipment worth 2 billion shillings [$540,000] to be parked in the bush?”

And there was another puzzle. Although logging is prohibited in forest reserves, and although there are several roadblocks on the way to the capital, Kampala, his investigations revealed that much of the timber was making the journey unimpeded.

Mr. Amanzuru says the trade is controlled by army officers and businesspeople who use connections to buy off forestry officials, local functionaries, and the police.

His claims have some support. In 2016 the minister for the presidency, Esther Mbayo, told Parliament that 30% to 50% of the forest had been depleted, including by illegal lumbering that involved “security personnel, some politicians, [forest] officers, timber traders, charcoal dealers and the locals.” 

Stephen Galima, coordinator of natural forests management at the National Forestry Authority, says illegal logging in Zoka has been done “both by soldiers and the locals. ... There are those who use their positions for selfish gain.”

As they learned more, Mr. Amanzuru and his friends created Friends of Zoka to share news about the forest. They spoke on radio talk shows, visited local politicians, and campaigned against a rumored plan to sell off part of the forest to growers of sugar cane.

Last year a national television station came to Adjumani and interviewed Mr. Amanzuru. The reporters went undercover, tracked the journey of a log truck, and filmed the district police commander taking a bribe.

Mr. Amanzuru and Mr. Galima say that the destruction of Zoka has now been reduced, but illegal loggers have shifted to community lands outside the forest reserve, harvesting rare hardwoods that they export to China and Vietnam.

One morning, Mr. Amanzuru follows a tipoff, driving for an hour along ocher roads fringed with a hundred shades of green. 

A local man is scared to show him the logging site, but it is not hard to find the fallen tree. The government has banned the cutting of this species, Afzelia africana.

There is time for a few photographs, and then Mr. Amanzuru must leave. That evening men came to the village asking who had been looking at their trees, one of his informers tells him later.

“We are custodians”

Adjumani town, the district hub, is a small place: a few rows of shops that rapidly give way to maize fields. At restaurants, free bottles will appear at Mr. Amanzuru’s table, in attempts to coax him to give up his work. When cajolery fails, he says, loggers turn to hostile phone calls and physical threats.

Loggers become rich, explains James Anzo, a recent graduate who is part of the Friends of Zoka campaign. “Someone comes and tells you: ‘Why are you doing this. Don’t you want to get money? You are living in a grass-thatched house!’

“We believe it’s not living in a grass-thatched house but the values you subscribe to that matter.”

Mr. Amanzuru’s home has been broken into multiple times. Last year he pulled his children out of school after being warned of a plan to kidnap them, and his family made the painful decision to relocate to a distant part of the country.

Mr. Amanzuru is not alone, says Stephen Drani, paramount chief of the Madi, the main ethnic group in Adjumani. 

“Friends of Zoka is all of us,” he says. “It’s not just William and a few people, it’s all the Madi people. ... We are just custodians. [The environment] belongs to the dead and it belongs to the unborn.”

But Angelo Izama, a political analyst who knows Mr. Amanzuru well, warns of the challenge the activists face.

“I think their lasting legacy will be to make the ordinary person aware that the trees are important,” he says. “But it’s a whole kind of different activism to roll back these entrenched syndicates.

“This is not only about timber. The syndicates are doing other things: land grabbing, cattle theft, charcoal burning.”

Corrupt trade straddles the border with nearby South Sudan, he explains.

Mr. Amanzuru is undeterred. In March, with a handful of companions, he spent 14 days walking to Adjumani from Kampala, nearly 300 miles, to raise awareness of deforestation.

They planted a ceremonial tree at the environment ministry and then trod the dusty road north, holding meetings and visiting schools, churches, and mosques along the way. 

In May Mr. Amanzuru won a Human Rights Defenders’ Award, presented annually by the Norwegian ambassador and the European Union delegation in Uganda. Now, he is spending a few months in the Netherlands to get some respite from the threats, at the invitation of a Dutch nonprofit.

“The more I persist it may give courage for others to join,” he says. “I know it’s a fight I cannot finish, but my determination is that I can push it for somebody to come and start from where I’ll be leaving, and it continues. The environmental fight should not stop at this generation. It should be a mantle that we keep passing on.”

shadow

The Monitor's View

Spain starts to lose fear of the past

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

In a unanimous ruling from Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco will be exhumed from the monument known as the Valley of the Fallen. The timing of the ruling, 44 years after Franco’s death, may seem odd. Yet it could be a sign that Spain is finally confronting his legacy. Most Spaniards have resisted addressing the decades of fascist rule or dealing with those still affected by it.

Any country with a checkered past has struggled over how to view its sins. Postwar Germany stands out as a model of repentance that earned forgiveness and turned the country toward peacemaking. The same should be true for Spain – a state with the second-highest number of disappeared in the world.

Moving Franco’s body is no solution, but combined with recent attempts to recover historical memory, it’s a start. Famous for forgetting, Spain is trying to remember. And with memory comes a sense of justice, even if delayed.

With Spanish nationalism again on the rise, the best way to counter lingering resentments is honest reflection. Unearthing long-buried bitterness allows reconciliation. History can be healing. Spain now seems ready to review it.

Collapse

Spain starts to lose fear of the past

In a giant mausoleum for those who died during the Spanish Civil War, there are more than 30,000 graves but only two with names. Soon there will be only one. After a unanimous ruling from Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, the remains of Francisco Franco, dictator from 1939 to 1975, will be exhumed from the monument known as the Valley of the Fallen.* Franco commissioned the site to commemorate the victims of a war he helped begin. It’s now widely seen as a fascist monument.

The timing of the ruling, 44 years after Franco’s death, may seem odd. Yet it could be a sign that Spain is finally confronting his legacy. Most Spaniards have resisted addressing the decades of fascist rule or dealing with those still affected by it. Among the world’s democracies to emerge from dictatorship, Spain is the only one that never investigated its state terrorism.

During the country’s democratic transition, reformers adopted an unwritten “pact of forgetting.” They believed ignoring the evils of fascism would allow the country to move forward. They said Spain wasn’t ready to confront its past. Neighboring Portugal had tried the opposite and almost entered a civil war. Spain’s transition was widely successful, but its fascist monuments and mass graves remained.

The decision to exhume Franco’s remains is in part a political strategy by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez ahead of November elections. Supporters, however, say it will help right an unjust historical record; opponents say it opens old social wounds. Lost in the disagreement, though, is the peaceful way it is being handled. Franco may be a fraught topic, but no one is afraid of another civil war.

Any country with a checkered past has struggled over how to view its sins. Postwar Germany stands out as a model of repentance that earned forgiveness and turned the country toward peacemaking. In 2015, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier counseled Turkey and Armenia – two countries with decades of bad blood – on how Germany repaired its relationship with France. “After a difficult century, we have reconciled by not keeping silent about our historical responsibility,” he said, but by “working through the horrific things that happened.”

Just after World War II, Germany didn’t immediately address its people’s mixed complicity with Nazism. The process only started in the 1960s, when Cold War-era West Germany was capable of an honest review. It took responsibility, repented and reconciled. Germans realized few would benefit by hiding from the war’s atrocities.

The same should be true for Spain – a state with the second-highest number of disappeared in the world. Many Spaniards with relatives who suffered during the civil war or fascist rule still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. These parts of the collective memory have mostly been lost or forgotten. Moving Franco’s body is no solution, but combined with recent attempts to recover historical memory, it’s a start. Famous for forgetting, Spain is trying to remember. And with memory comes a sense of justice, even if delayed.

Franco relied heavily on nationalist appeals to Spanish history, often twisting the past to justify atrocities in the present. He made millions of Spaniards complicit in his harsh rule. Franco was a military general but history was his greatest weapon.

But if history divides, it can also unite. With Spanish nationalism again on the rise, the best way to counter lingering resentments is honest reflection. Unearthing long-buried bitterness allows reconciliation. History can be healing. Spain now seems ready to review it.

 

*The other named remains are those of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of Spain’s fascist party.

shadow

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.

Comfort after a loved one passes on

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 2 Min. )

Grief does not have to overwhelm us when we lose someone dear to us. We can cherish the memory of all the good they expressed – goodness that can never be lost because its source is God.

Collapse

Comfort after a loved one passes on

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

Recently I lost my dear sister, who was also my best friend. We had shared a very precious relationship and companionship. Naturally, this was a big adjustment in my life.

But I have found much comfort and guidance in these words by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science: “When the light of one friendship after another passes from earth to heaven, we kindle in place thereof the glow of some deathless reality” (“Pulpit and Press,” p. 5).

Through study of the Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s writings, I have learned that the light that loved ones bring into our life, illumining it with blessings and much joy, can never really be lost. It continues to shine because the light of good, which comes from God, is everlasting.

Yes, those we love may no longer be personally present with us, but we can cherish the grateful memory of all the good they expressed – ­goodness that has its source in God and is therefore eternal, not confined to a human personality. Goodness can never be lost because it is a spiritual attribute of God and is forever reflected by each one of us as God’s spiritual ideas, or children.

If a dear friend or relative moves to a new neighborhood, city, or country, often that individual remains as close in our thoughts as when he or she lived nearby. The glow of this one’s individual identity is not dimmed by a change of physical location. Similarly, when an individual has passed on, this one too can remain as “close” as ever in our thoughts, because his or her individuality is spiritual and immortal and lives on. It can never be destroyed. Our true essence, or identity, is not material, but reflects eternally the Life that is Spirit, God.

Christ Jesus declared, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). These ideas have indeed comforted me, bringing the healing of grief over my sister’s passing.

Grief does not have to overwhelm us when loved ones pass from our view; we can instead maintain a heartfelt gratitude for all the good they shared with us, knowing that they are continuing to experience that good. We can be confident that everlasting Love is with them still, even as that divine Love, God, is with us. We can “kindle … the glow of some deathless reality” in our thoughts of them.

As we grow spiritually in this understanding, we will no longer mourn but be truly comforted in every remembrance of them.

Adapted from an article published in the Aug. 12, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

shadow

Viewfinder

Photos of the week, Sept. 23-27

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Photojournalists strive to capture moments that tell a full story, bringing news from the remotest corners of the globe in an instant. Through them we learn more about the world, and ourselves. Here is a roundup of photos from this week that Monitor photo editors found the most compelling.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( September 30th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you’ll come back Monday when correspondent Doug Struck looks at how editors and publishers are trying to save local news – and maybe democracy.

Monitor Daily Podcast

September 27, 2019
Loading the player...

More issues

2019
September
27
Friday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.