2019
October
28
Monday

Welcome to a new week. Today, we look at eradicating ISIS, fighting California’s fires, hiring Pentagon ethicists, engaging with immigrants in a mill town, and reclaiming African American cowboy culture. And make sure you check out the Viewfinder at the end of the package. Each day this week, we’ll hear from a Californian dealing with blackouts and the threat of wildfire. 

But before we get to that, let’s turn to Australia and one of its most iconic natural symbols, a huge sandstone mass soaring out of a flat landscape. This past weekend, a sign at the base of Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, signaled a new era: “No walkers/climbers. ... Permanent closure.”

In other words, for the countless tourists drawn to Uluru’s 1,140-foot peak, there would be no more scaling and sliding; no more “loving it to death,” as is sometimes said of America’s national parks.

But the move, which the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park approved unanimously two years ago, is rooted in a far deeper motive: respect for local traditions and spirituality that had long been trampled on.

For the local indigenous community, the rock is a sacred place they have tended for tens of thousands of years. And they’ve been successful at widening the circle of those who see it as something other than a place to conquer. To be sure, thousands of people scaled Uluru one last time in recent months. But two decades ago, 74% of visitors climbed; by 2015, just 16% did. Many now sign a “I have not climbed” register, experiencing the park in fresh ways.

And in an indication of how much outlooks have changed as indigenous rights have grown, pieces of rock once removed as clandestine souvenirs are being returned, along with letters of regret. They’ve become known as “sorry rocks.”

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1. ISIS after Baghdadi? Why experts urge sustained vigilance.

For organizations to endure, leadership and a compelling narrative can both be instrumental. The Islamic State has now lost its leader and the territory behind its narrative. But it still has a story to tell.

Amelia

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ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. But the conditions that created fertile ground for the Islamic State group’s appeal remain in place. The group still has a draw as an anti-establishment Islamism that stands up to oppressors; Syria continues to be mired in a civil war; and recent violence in Iraq indicates that governance there is deeply problematic.

A Pentagon report in August warned that ISIS had solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurgent in Syria. It estimated that ISIS likely retains somewhere between 14,000 and 18,000 members across the neighboring nations.

Lina Khatib, a senior analyst at Chatham House, warns that people in those countries in areas formerly controlled by ISIS are frustrated with their living conditions and with authorities’ neglect, making them vulnerable to ISIS recruitment.

“Without its so-called ‘caliphate,’ the ideological appeal of ISIS is greatly reduced,” she says. “But they are trying to compensate for that by rallying support through using narratives of revenge.” The death of Mr. Baghdadi, who was not crucial to the organization’s survival, “will not detract from its current attempts at a revival as it takes advantage of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria.”

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ISIS after Baghdadi? Why experts urge sustained vigilance.

So what happens to ISIS now?

The Islamic State group’s fortunes have whipsawed, from the dramatic collapse last spring of its self-styled caliphate, to the sudden window of opportunity created this month by the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria and the retreat of allied Kurdish forces, and now to the spectacular and unexpected death this weekend of its shadowy leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a U.S. raid in northwestern Syria.

But the basic conditions that created fertile ground for ISIS’s ideological appeal remain in place, experts note. The group still has a draw as an anti-establishment Islamism that stands up to oppressors; Syria continues to be mired in a civil war complicated by foreign interference; and recent violence in Iraq indicates that governance there is still deeply problematic.

Eradicating ISIS, experts warn, requires sustained effort and stability, two things that remain in short supply in Syria and Iraq.

While President Donald Trump has sought to cast the U.S. elimination of Mr. Baghdadi as more consequential than the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, author of “A Theory of ISIS” and “Understanding Al Qaeda” dismisses Mr. Baghdadi’s death as a strategic and security nonevent. Mr. Baghdadi, he notes, had become less consequential to the evolution and operation of ISIS after the 2017 loss of its so-called caliphate’s capital cities – Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

Mr. Baghdadi was a low-profile leader. He made his second and final video address in April after the fall of the Syria hamlet of Al-Baghouz, downplaying the importance of territory and highlighting instead the organization’s growing international reach. The last audio message attributed to him dates to mid-September, when he urged followers to redouble their efforts in “all aspects,” including preaching, media, military, and security activities.

“Even at the heyday of ISIS’s period of active operations, he was a shadowy figure never appearing so forcefully to lead operations as Osama Bin Laden had, or the second and third tier of Al Qaeda’s leadership a decade or so ago with Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarkawi,” notes Mr. Mohamedou, who teaches international history at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.

“The ongoing potential re-emergence of the group will be determined far more by a new generation of actors than the rearguard that he was representing for a while now,” adds Mr. Mohamedou. “The conditions that led to the emergence of ISIS in the early 2010s are all there almost 10 years later.”

Narratives of revenge

In addition to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the conditions encompass worsened mistrust between communities, unceasing foreign military intervention, weakened and underperforming states, corrupt and criminal leaders, and empowered and militarized armed groups, he says.

“To this must be added the desire for some former or new members of the Islamic State to reform it under a logic of ‘restarting the fight’ and reverting to the ‘golden age’ of the Mosul and Raqqa occupations circa 2014-2017,” he says.

Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, warns that many people in areas formerly controlled by ISIS in both Syria and Iraq are frustrated with their dire living conditions and with authorities who have largely neglected their needs. These grievances, she says, make some of them vulnerable to ISIS recruitment.

“Without its so-called ‘caliphate,’ the ideological appeal of ISIS is greatly reduced,” adds Ms. Khatib. “But they are trying to compensate for that by rallying support through using narratives of revenge.”

In the short term, she predicts, ISIS cells will conduct opportunistic attacks against civilians and military opponents to prove that ISIS is still relevant and powerful. The death of Mr. Baghdadi, who was not crucial to the organization’s survival, “will not detract from its current attempts at a revival as it takes advantage of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria.”

“The group’s local insurgent units understand how to work, and they can continue absent new guidance,” concurs Sam Heller of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which published a report this month on the threat ISIS continues to pose to Iraqis and Syrians, and could pose globally if it manages to regroup. The report highlights the destabilizing impact of Turkey’s invasion in northeastern Syria and the possible spillover of Iran-U.S. tensions in Iraq.

Ongoing insurgencies

A Pentagon report issued in August warned that ISIS had solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq, where it has established a stable “command and control node,” and was resurgent in Syria. It estimated that ISIS likely retains somewhere between 14,000 and 18,000 members across the two neighboring nations, among them up to 3,000 foreign fighters.

The report covered ISIS activity between April and June 2019.

“ISIS militants in both countries employed similar tactics of targeted assassinations, ambushes, suicide bombings in public places, and burning fields of crops, but did not carry out large-scale conventional attacks or attempt to take and hold territory for more than brief periods,” it noted.

Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units) is written over a wall painting of the ISIS flag in a home in the border town of Tal Abyad, Syria, Oct. 16, 2019.

The same report warned that despite moving underground in Syria and Iraq, ISIS “maintains an extensive worldwide social media effort to recruit fighters.” And it predicted that the removal or reduction of U.S. forces from Syria would cause U.S.-backed Syrian forces to find alternative partnerships and collapse the tentative democratic regional government structures that the United States had supported.

Indeed, Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria and the chaotic U.S. drawdown has forced the Kurds to pivot toward the Syrian regime and Russia. It has also forced them to shift resources and de-prioritize the control of detention centers and camps housing ISIS operatives, family members, and sympathizers. One of the most problematic detention centers for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is Al-Hol – home to more than 68,000 people, many of them ISIS family members that Western and other nations are unwilling to repatriate.

ISIS is already exploring the security gaps created by Turkey’s invasion to facilitate prison breaks. Two out of four escape attempts from Syrian prisons and camps have been successful this month. Five fugitives fled a detention center in Qamishli Oct. 11. Two days later, 850 fled the Ain Issa camp. Further escapes and prison breaks remain a distinct possibility – Mr. Baghdadi announced a jail break campaign in his final address.

“The question is not really whether we will see more escape, but rather what kind of a menace do they pose,” says Raffaello Pantucci, international security studies director at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London. “So far we have not seen that many plots around the world involving committed long-term fighters.”

Beyond the Kurdish zone

One challenge moving forward is that ISIS insurgent activity is concentrated in areas where the Kurds did not have a historic presence – removing the existential threat imperative that led to a sustained collaboration with the U.S. in the pursuit of other ISIS leaders and cells.

A region that has witnessed a “steady drumbeat” of insurgent activity, for example, is Deir Ezzor, where ISIS has capitalized on the frustration with SDF rule in Arab majority areas, according to the International Crisis Group. “The problem there is that ISIS went into the local population and it is difficult to separate them,” says Heiko Wimmen, who oversees Crisis Group’s Iraq/Syria/Lebanon project.

It remains to be seen whether the Syrian regime would be more successful at co-opting local tribes and keeping the problem to manageable proportions.

None of the analysts see the Russia-backed Syrian regime devoting much effort to fighting ISIS.

“Russia and the Syrian regime have done more to contribute to terrorism than to fight terrorism,” notes Ms. Khatib.

“The regime lacks the capacity to carry out any meaningful counterterrorism,” says Mr. Wimmen, noting bad blood accumulated after more than eight years of conflict, lack of resources, and lack of state capacity.

The Kurds celebrated with as much gusto as the U.S. the demise of Mr. Baghdadi, who blew himself up in a tunnel along with three of his children. Both duly credited their partnership for that historic moment. But with that alliance on the rocks, the incentives for Kurds to keep ISIS detainees and carry out counterterrorism efforts appear limited.

“The demonstrated unreliability of the United States certainly is no incentive for them to trust the latter to be a solid partner on such a crucial issue,” says Mr. Mohamedou.

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2. California fires: When disaster fans flames of inequality

Planned power shut-offs may become California’s new normal. That could have vast implications for the world’s fifth-largest economy, including exacerbating inequality – even as those with resources work to help their neighbors.

Amelia
Ann Hermes/Staff
Jim Budish stands with his dog, Tomi, in front of the inverter and Tesla power walls that are connected to the solar panels on his roof on Oct. 24, 2019, in Mill Valley, California.

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In California, churches are figuring out who in their congregation needs special help, phone trees are being activated, and grandchildren are checking on grandparents. Charging stations, where residents can power cellphones and laptops, have been available during outages. Homeowners with solar batteries are running extension cords for neighbors and offering space in freezers. In Marin County, a team of seven student nurses and an emergency medical technician knocked on doors of “medically fragile” people. 

That door-knocking is the kind of community effort that Californians are adopting in the wake of unprecedented pre-disaster blackouts that utilities say could last a decade. Around 2 million Californians lost power over the weekend as Pacific Gas & Electric cut electricity in a planned “public safety power shut-off,” while 180,000 residents fled the Kincade fire. Another mass outage is expected Tuesday.

The shut-downs have become a “civic engagement trigger that’s very different from how we live our lives, tucked away in our own homes, on our iPhones with Amazon, where you don’t need to know your neighbor,” says state Sen. Henry Stern.

Now, he says, people are being forced to get to know their neighbors – no matter who they voted for – and find out if they are OK.

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California fires: When disaster fans flames of inequality

California is under a state of emergency, ordering evacuations, battling fast-burning fires, and dealing with massive preemptive power outages. It is experienced with the evacuations and firefighting, which is complicated by seasonal high winds. The power outages, on the other hand, are something new here in the northern part of the state.

Around 2 million people lost power over the weekend as the mammoth utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, cut electricity in a planned “public safety power shut-off.” It is the second round of mass outages in less than a month, with another expected on Tuesday.

The utility, which sought bankruptcy protection due to the threat of suits from past fires, calls the outages the “new normal,” necessary to prevent its equipment from sparking a catastrophic fire under high-wind and bone-dry conditions. The fire-season shut-offs, says PG&E, could last a decade as it seeks to modernize its vast network.

If this is the new normal, it has broad implications for the vitality of the world’s fifth-largest economy – and for the people who live here. A big concern is that the outages will exacerbate inequity in the state. Those who can afford to independently power their homes and businesses with generators and energy-battery storage will do so, while vulnerable populations and mom-and-pop businesses are at risk.

“Rich people in California are going to go in that direction, and the real question is how should we help low-income people respond to this challenge,” says Michael Wara, director of Stanford University’s climate and energy policy program. “People are just beginning to understand the magnitude of the [blackout] impacts.”

The challenge is evident here at the foot of Mount Tamalpais State Park, affectionately known as “Mt. Tam,” just north of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. In Mill Valley, where Mr. Wara lives, several of his neighbors have solar power, including Jim Budish, who runs an insurance business out of his home.

Unbeknownst to many solar homeowners, however, panels are useless when the power grid goes down. Energy needs to be stored in batteries in order to keep flowing. That’s why, when Mr. Budish began to get notices about the possibility of frequent power outages, he invested in two Tesla batteries.

The batteries, large white panels mounted on the wall inside a garage shared with bikes and surfing body boards, were not cheap. Installation, plus other equipment, came to $17,000, which will be offset by a 25% tax break.

Still, when they got their first test a couple of weeks ago, not even his digital clocks blinked to indicate a temporary outage. He and his wife, who works with him, were able to run their five-bedroom home as before – the lights, the freezer, the pool pump. It worked seamlessly again when the power went out Saturday.

There is one major drawback: He has no internet, which seems to be connected to the grid. He uses his cell phone as a wi-fi “hot spot” but that’s proven unreliable. Without the internet, he headed to San Francisco Monday morning in search of a Starbucks so he could work – the reason he got his Tesla “power wall” in the first place.

Still, his neighbors with solar have been asking about his set-up. In fact, before this latest outage, one visited his garage. “He’s like, ‘How do I get this? Right now?’”

Mr. Budish has energy to spare, and that sparks a question for him: Why can’t he share his extra power with his neighbors – or with those less well-off?

“This may sound a little out of this world,” he ventures, waxing philosophical. “I look at energy that people use in their everyday lives kind of like health care. Everybody should have it. There shouldn’t be someone who doesn’t have power to their home because they can’t afford it.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
From left, Carla Wade, Demetriuse Coleman, and Kathy Duquia talk outside an apartment complex on Oct. 24, 2019, in Marin City, California.

“Who can afford to lose food?”

The residents of Marin City couldn’t agree more. Less than a 10-minute drive from Mr. Budish’s house, this community was once a diverse, thriving town that attracted African Americans and others to work in a nearby shipyard in World War II.

When that closed, job and housing discrimination prevented black families from moving. Today, this is a heavily African American, poor community, with no local grocery store, and many residents live in subsidized housing. They are surrounded by some of the highest-priced real estate in the nation.

Last week, women who live in the town’s Golden Gate Village apartments, sitting on the steps of their low-slung apartment houses, shared stories of what it was like when the power went off for the first time earlier that month.

Many people, they said, had just gotten their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program money and spent it on groceries. All of the perishables had to be thrown out. The weekly food pantry across the street, run by St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, also closed. Although it’s possible to apply for a food-stamp reimbursement, not everyone knows that.

“Who can afford to lose food? I hate to throw away food,” says Kathy Duquia, who lives on Supplemental Security Income, a federal program designed to help senior citizens, blind people, or people with disabilities who have little to no income.

Even worse was the $807 that Carla Wade had to spend on medicine that needed to be cooled. It was spoiled when her fridge cut off. Neither PG&E nor her health insurance could help her, she says.

“They didn’t give a rat’s tail about us,” says Ms. Duquia.

Ann Hermes/Staff
From left, Shronda Cage and Felecia Gaston of Performing Stars stand in front of a fresh produce truck that brings fruits and vegetables to the park once a week on Oct. 24, 2019 in Marin City, California. Ms. Gaston helped organize a community dinner for residents during the first blackout. Ms. Cage describes the power outages as “devastating,” while Ms. Gaston sees them as an inconvenience.

Unequal cost of disaster

Nationally, studies confirm the inequities of disasters, including after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf in 2005. According to an independent study by the Congressional Research Service, Katrina had a disproportionate effect on minorities and poor people living in the region. “Hurricane Katrina likely made one of the poorest areas of the country even poorer,” the report says.

Mr. Wara says this has come up frequently in the hearings of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery, of which Mr. Wara is a member. After a fire hits and a town has to rebuild, the effects on low-income Californians is “much more severe,” he says. They don’t have insurance. They don’t have living assistance after their home burns.

After a fire, rents get bid up, as they did when Santa Rosa suffered a destructive fire in 2017, he says. That region is again under siege with the Kincade fire, which has burned more than 66,000 acres and caused the evacuation of at least 180,000 people. “It magnifies inequality,” he says.

But rebuilding after a destructive hurricane, fire, or flood is not the same as dealing with widespread blackouts, says California state Sen. Henry Stern. The senator, who represents Malibu, lives in a district that has seen four destructive fires in three years – including the Saddleridge and Tick fires this month. Though not close to the scale of PG&E, Southern California Edison is also practicing public-safety power shut-offs, with about 25,000 customers without power as of Monday morning.

“Nothing is similar to this preemptive, before-the-disaster strikes” situation, the senator says, describing it as a new frontier. “There’s a group of [legislators] who have all been hit by these fires. We’re kind of banging our heads against the wall, to be honest.”

Governor Newsom has put together a new team to help lessen the impact of planned blackouts and announced $75 million for local and state governments to mitigate their effects.

Last week, state Sen. Stern and other lawmakers put out a framework for action that includes an aggressive shift toward community-based solutions that also help the most vulnerable, for whom keeping the power on is a matter of life and death. This includes a rapid move toward “microgrids,” very local sources of power that can run essential services like hospitals, nursing homes, and firehouses. Senators will return from recess to hold a hearing on the issue on Nov. 18.

“In my view, we need to identify everyone who is vulnerable down to a T, whether it is individuals at home or in a nursing facility or getting in-home care,” he says. “They ought to have access to solar and storage or fuel cells.”

Knocking on doors

Simply identifying – and alerting – especially vulnerable individuals is a task in and of itself. In Marin County, officials have found that many more medically fragile people need help beyond PG&E’s list of self-reported “medical baseline” customers who have signed up to receive discount rates and extra alerts about pending power outages.

By declaring a local health emergency at the first big power outage Oct. 9, Marin County health officials gained access to a federal database of Medicare patients who rely on equipment such as ventilators that need power to work. PG&E’s list reported 211 customers in need; the federal list had 324 – and even that was incomplete.

The county sent a team of seven student nurses, plus an emergency medical technician for oversight, to knock on doors of the “medically fragile” people on the federal list.

That door-knocking is the kind of community effort that Californians are adopting while politicians, regulators, utilities, and the private sector work toward more permanent solutions.

In Marin City, a group of community leaders organized a public barbecue at the town park during the first prescribed blackout – just in time for the return of power to turn the event into a celebration. Charging stations, where residents can power cell phones, laptops, and even electric generators, have been available during both outages.

Mr. Budish, meanwhile, loaned his gas generator to his neighbor across the street, ran an extension cord to his side neighbor, and offered his freezer to people who might need it.

Mr. Stern says that in his district, churches are figuring out who in their congregation needs special help, phone trees are being activated, and grandchildren are checking on grandparents.

The shut-downs have become a “civic engagement trigger that’s very different from how we live our lives, tucked away in our own homes, on our iPhones with Amazon, where you don’t need to know your neighbor.”

Now, he says, people are being forced to get to know their neighbors – no matter who they voted for – and find out if they are OK.

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3. As AI joins battlefield, Pentagon seeks ethicist

Artificial intelligence is making inroads in the U.S. military, transforming everything from helicopter maintenance to logistics to recruiting. But what happens when AI gets involved in war's grimmest task: taking lives?

Amelia

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The Pentagon is increasingly  incorporating artificial intelligence, including for what the military calls “maneuver and fires,” the part of fighting wars that involves targeting and shooting people.  

To help ensure that these machines behave ethically, the Pentagon is looking for an AI ethicist to join its new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

“We’re thinking deeply about the safe and lawful use of AI,” says  Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, in the briefing where he announced the position.

Navigating AI ethics for the Pentagon will require safeguarding human and civil rights while keeping pace with AI development in China and Russia, countries whose militaries appear less preoccupied with such rights.

Even if the Pentagon develops computer algorithms that are always able to distinguish between enemy targets and noncombatants, there is a risk in developing capabilities that are too effective, says Patrick Lin, a philosophy professor at California Polytechnic State University. 

“If you fight your enemy with honor and provide some possibility for mercy, it ensures the possibility for reconciliation,” says Professor Lin. “We have ethics of war in order to lay the groundwork for a lasting peace.”

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As AI joins battlefield, Pentagon seeks ethicist

When the chief of the Pentagon’s new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center briefed reporters recently, he made a point of emphasizing the imminently practical – even potentially boring – applications of machine learning to the business of war.  

There’s the “predictive maintenance” that AI can bring to Black Hawk helicopters, for example, and “intelligent business automation” likely to lead to exciting boosts in “efficiencies for back office functions,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan said. There are humanitarian pluses, too: AI will help the Defense Department better manage disaster relief.

But for 2020, the JAIC’s “biggest project,” General Shanahan announced, will be what the center has dubbed “AI for maneuver and fires.” In lulling U.S. military parlance, that includes targeting America’s enemies with “accelerated sensor-to-shooter timelines” and “autonomous and swarming systems” of drones – reminders that war does, after all, often involve killing people.

When he was asked halfway through the press conference whether there should be “some sort of limitation” on the application of AI for military purposes, General Shanahan perhaps recognized that this was a fitting occasion to mention that the JAIC will also be hiring an AI ethicist to join its team. “We’re thinking deeply about the safe and lawful use of AI,” he said.

As artificial intelligence and machine learning permeate military affairs, these technologies are beginning to play a more direct role in taking lives. The Pentagon’s decision to hire an AI ethicist reflects an acknowledgment that bringing intelligent machines onto the battlefield will raise some very hard questions.

“In every single engagement that I personally participate in with the public,” said General Shanahan, “people want to talk about ethics – which is appropriate.” 

A shifting landscape

Hiring an ethicist was not his first impulse, General Shanahan acknowledged. “We wouldn’t have thought about this a year ago, I’ll be honest with you. But it’s at the forefront of my thinking now.” 

He wasn’t developing killer robots, after all. “There’s a tendency, a proclivity to jump to a killer robot discussion when you talk AI,” he said. But the landscape has changed. At the time, “these questions [of ethics] really did not rise to the surface every day, because it was really still humans looking at object detection, classification, and tracking. There were no weapons involved in that.” 

Given the killing potentially involved in the “AI for maneuver and fires” project, however, “I have never spent the amount of time I’m spending now thinking about things like the ethical employment of artificial intelligence. We do take it very seriously,” he said. “It’s core to what we do in the DOD in any weapon system.”

Pentagon leaders repeatedly emphasize they are committed to keeping “humans in the loop” in any AI mission that involves shooting America’s enemies. Even so, AI technology “is different enough that people are nervous about how far it can go,” General Shanahan said. 

While the Pentagon is already bound by international laws of warfare, a JAIC ethicist will confront the thorny issues around “How do we use AI in a way that ensures we continue to act ethically?” says Paul Scharre, director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security.

It will be the job of the ethicist to ask the tough questions of a military figuring out, as General Shanahan puts it, “what it takes to weave AI into the very fabric of DOD.” 

Overseas competition 

Doing so will involve mediating some seemingly disparate goals: While most U.S. officials agree that it is important to develop the military’s AI capabilities with an eye toward safeguarding human and civil rights, these same leaders also tend to be voraciously competitive when it comes to protecting U.S. national security from high-tech adversaries who may not abide by the same ethical standards.

General Shanahan alluded to this tension as a bit of a sore spot: “At its core, we are in a contest for the character of the international order in the digital age.” This character should reflect the values of “free and democratic” societies, he said. “I don’t see China or Russia placing the same kind of emphasis in these areas.”

This gives China “an advantage over the U.S. in speed of adoption [of AI technology],” General Shanahan argued, “because they don’t have the same restrictions – at least nothing that I’ve seen shows that they have those restrictions – that we put on every company, the DOD included, in terms of privacy and civil liberties,” he added. “And what I don’t want to see is a future where our potential adversaries have a fully AI-enabled force – and we do not.”

Having an ethicist might help mediate some of these tensions, depending on how much power they have, says Patrick Lin, a philosophy professor specializing in AI and ethics at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. “Say the DOD is super-interested in rolling out facial recognition or targeting ID, but the ethicist raises a red flag and says, ‘No way.’ What happens? Is this person a DOD insider or an outsider? Is this an employee who has to worry about keeping a job, or a contractor who would serve a two-year term then go back to a university?”  

In other words, “Will it be an advisory role, or will this person have a veto?” The latter seems unlikely, Professor Lin says. “It’s a lot of power for one person, and ignores the political realities. Even if the JAIC agrees with the AI ethicist that we shouldn’t roll out this [particular AI technology], we’re still governed by temporary political leaders who may have their own agenda. It could be that the president says, ‘Well, do it anyway.’”

An ethics of war

Ethicists will grapple with “Is it OK to create and deploy weapons that can be used in ethically acceptable ways by well-trained and lawyered-up U.S. forces, even if they are likely to be used unethically by many parties around the world?” says Stuart Russell, professor of computer science and a specialist in AI and its relation to humanity at the University of California, Berkeley. 

To date, and “to its credit, DOD has imposed very strong internal constraints against the principal ethical pitfalls it faces: developing and deploying lethal autonomous weapons,” Professor Russell adds. Indeed, Pentagon officials argue that beyond the fact that it does not plan to develop “killer robots” that act without human input, AI can decrease the chances of civilian casualties by making the killing of dangerous enemies more precise. 

Yet even that accuracy, which some could argue is an unmitigated good in warfare, has the potential to raise some troubling ethical questions, too, Professor Lin says. “You could argue that it’s not clear how a robot would be different from, say, a really accurate gun,” and that a 90% lethality rate is a “big improvement” on human sharpshooters.

The U.S. military experienced a similar precision of fire during the first Gulf War, on what became known as the “highway of death,” which ran from Kuwait to Iraq. Routed and hemmed in by U.S. forces, the retreating Iraqi vehicles – and the people inside them – were being hammered by American gunships, the proverbial “shooting fish in a barrel,” Professor Lin says. “You could say, ‘No problem. They’re enemy combatants; it’s fair game.’” But it was “so easy that the optics of it looked super bad and the operation stopped.” 

“This starts us down the road to the idea of fair play – it’s not just a hangover from chivalry days. If you fight your enemy with honor and provide some possibility for mercy, it ensures the possibility for reconciliation.” In other words, “we have ethics of war,” Professor Lin says, “in order to lay the groundwork for a lasting peace.”

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A deeper look

4. Refugees poured into my state. Here’s how it changed me.

We can all make judgments from afar about what happens when lots of newcomers settle in a place. But in this story, we hear from a Mainer who tracked the transformation of a former mill town she knows well, and found herself debunking her own biases.

Amelia
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Students at Connor Elementary School line up to play a game during gym class. An influx of 6,000 Muslim immigrants has helped revive, and change, the former mill town of Lewiston, Maine.

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When Somali refugees first arrived in Lewiston in February 2001, Maine was the whitest and oldest state in the nation. But it offered safety, access to services, and a lower cost of living.

In 2006, The New Yorker bluntly called what was happening in the former mill town a “large-scale social experiment.” Yet I was seeing a slow, quiet shift – Somalis stocking shelves at the supermarket; white and black kids sitting together at the library; white people buying goat meat. After one member of a Somali kindergartner’s family came home to find “Get Out” scrawled on their apartment building, longtime residents helped paint over it. 

Lewiston is more vital now than two decades ago. Of the city’s 36,000 residents, 6,000 are African refugees and asylum-seekers. New immigrants work in health care, retail, industry, and food service. Yet Lewiston’s challenges mirror those in other places with large refugee communities. And some Lewistonians blame the newcomers for whatever still feels wrong in the city – too few living-wage jobs, dilapidated infrastructure, the pockets of poverty that took hold after the mills closed. 

You can view the arrival of Muslim and other African newcomers as part of Lewiston’s struggles. Or you can see them as the closest thing the city has to a solution.

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Refugees poured into my state. Here’s how it changed me.

Cynthia Anderson is the author of the new book “Home Now: How 6000 Refugees Transformed an American Town,” on which this essay was based.

When I was growing up, Lisbon Street in Lewiston was the center of the world. A few times a year, my family drove there from our village 45 miles up the Androscoggin River to shop and to see my great-aunt Nell. She’d moved to the city decades earlier; her husband worked in a mill there. Now in her 70s, widowed, she lived in a tidy duplex with an upright bass. During our visits she served lemonade and rolls hot from the oven. The bass grumbled whenever my sister or I plucked it.

In the early 1970s, Lisbon Street formed the spine of the small city. The sidewalks were filled with families and couples. After shopping for school supplies at Kresge’s, we’d head to Ward Brothers department store, where the saleswomen spoke English to us and French to each other. The smell inside Ward’s was a heady mix of everything the cosmetics counter had to offer, the carpet soft underfoot.

My sister and I didn’t know it, but even then Lisbon Street was in decline. The city’s glory years manufacturing textiles and shoes, decades that had brought trains filled with French Canadians in search of jobs, were fading as one by one the mills closed. Maine’s once-richest city – its Bates Mill the state’s largest employer for more than two decades – would struggle for years to come. The couples and young families were vanishing.

Yet whenever I came back to the fine old buildings and the river and the hills beyond, I thought, here is a place. Even at its nadir the city retained grandeur and suspense, like a stage between acts. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
People cross Lisbon Street, the main commercial thoroughfare in Lewiston, where many shops are owned by immigrants.

By the mid-1990s a tenuous renaissance was taking form with health care, banking, and other services beginning to fill the postindustrial void. Former mill spaces were converted into restaurants and galleries. Unemployment fell, though the population continued to dwindle and downtown remained stagnant. Of the families who stayed, half of those with children under age 5 lived below the poverty level.

Such was the situation in February 2001 when the first Somali refugees came north from Portland, 40 miles away, where housing was short. Maine was cold, and homogeneous (whitest state in the nation, also the oldest), but it offered safety and access to services, and a lower cost of living than large cities where the federal government had first resettled the refugees. Moving to the extreme Northeast was their choice. Jokes about the snow – like the one about the kid who ran inside to tell his mom he’d just eaten sugar from the sky – soon embedded themselves in Lewiston-Somali culture.

By the beginning of 2003, more than 1,400 newcomers had come to the city. They settled into triple- and quadruple-deckers. When I came north that spring to visit friends, women in hijabs were shepherding kids down streets that for years had been all but empty. It was an incongruous, surprising sight. On Lisbon, a few closed stores had reopened under Somali ownership. I went into one, bought cardamom, and wondered at signs offering translation and money-wiring services, and – back out on the sidewalk – at the palpable energy. In a place where businesses rarely stayed open after 5 p.m., these were still lit at 8:30.

Refugees kept coming. People I knew in Lewiston responded to the changes in accordance with their nature: curious or suspicious, or holding off on judgment. In 2006, The New Yorker bluntly called what was happening in Lewiston a “large-scale social experiment.” There were, after all, now several thousand African Muslims in an overwhelmingly white town not known as a liberal outpost.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Tresor Muteba, originally from Congo, bikes in downtown Lewiston.

 Yet I was seeing a slow, quiet shift – Somalis stocking shelves at the supermarket; white and black kids sitting together at the library; white people buying goat meat on Lisbon. A high school acquaintance who had a daughter in kindergarten with Somali children was happy about the new diversity. “I only knew white kids when I was growing up,” he said. After one member of a Somali kindergartner’s family came home to find “Get Out” scrawled on their apartment building, longtime residents helped paint over it. They worked late into the night, he said, so the message would be gone when kids left for school in the morning.

If there was a hostile undercurrent, and if some complained Somalis consumed the city’s resources, other Lewistonians were reaching out and seeking accord. In 2006, a man rolled a pig’s head through the doorway of a mosque. Residents rallied around the city’s Muslims. The deed was denounced, the offender criminally charged. But the act spoke to a bitterness that remains.

Lewiston today has one of the highest per capita Muslim populations in the United States, most of it Somali along with rising numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers from other African nations including Congo, Djibouti, Sudan, and Chad. What’s happening here is isbeddel, the Somali word for transformation.

In spite of occasional news reports to the contrary, things have mostly gone well. But Lewiston is not Utopia. The city’s challenges mirror those in other places with large refugee communities. It has struggled financially, especially early on as the needs for social services and education intensified. Joblessness remains high among the older generation of refugees; many elders still speak little English. The trauma of wars new immigrants escaped – loss of loved ones, sexual assault, years of privation – means that many bear heartache. For some in Lewiston, the long-term effects of trauma hinder acculturation, both for them and for their children. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Fourth graders at Connor Elementary School play recorders in music class.

Yet Lewiston is more vital than it was two decades ago. Of the city’s 36,000 residents, 6,000 are now African refugees and asylum-seekers. New immigrants work in health care, retail, industry, and food service. The first Somali American kids born in the city are high school juniors, and a new elementary school opened in September with a 900-student capacity – among the largest K-5s in Maine. 

I’ve been reporting on Lewiston’s transformation for more than a decade now. Early on, the narrative I embraced about Lewiston’s newcomers was of passive refugee-victims. The life they fled in Africa did leave considerable scars, but over time I came to see that the new immigrants were not passive. Their resilience has moved and inspired me. One early acquaintance, Fatuma Hussein, founded United Somali Women of Maine to promote gender equality. She’d come to the U.S. at age 13 from a Somali refugee camp. The first line in my Lewiston notebook was hers: “We are making new lives here.”

Fatuma has made a new life. She and her husband, Muktar, have eight children, from college-aged to preschooler. The organization she founded in 2001, known now as the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, is one of the city’s largest nonprofits. There are stresses: family responsibilities and a perpetually jammed schedule, plus funding pressures as other Somali nonprofits have cropped up. Then there’s Fatuma’s de facto role as spokeswoman. She’s become a voice of Somali women in Maine, asked to testify when the Legislature considers refugee-related bills and sometimes quoted by the media. That role has intensified in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election. More and more she feels like a mandated emissary of the Lewiston Somali community, demonstrating through action that Muslims are not to be feared.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Fatuma Hussein is founder of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, a nonprofit that supports refugees and immigrant communities. “In America, you can be whatever you want to be,” she says.

Fatuma admits her kids are under a lot of pressure. She wants them to earn A’s. Wants them to get into top colleges. To reflect well on the Somali community. And to be happy, of course. In America, you can be whatever you want to be. She tells them this a lot. But to get there, they have to study and do right. Whenever the topic of drugs comes up, Fatuma tells them she will kill them – she uses this word – if they ever get into that kind of trouble. She’s exaggerating but says, “I’d rather go to jail than see them having all this privilege and screw it up.”

Fatuma was 11, visiting relatives, when the Somali civil war erupted in 1991 after the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barre’s government. Her memories of what happened are fragments: being pressed into the back of a crowded flatbed truck, the truck tipping over, people on the ground, gunshots and smoke, bodies motionless. Fear in Utanga, the refugee camp where she wound up. Heartaching separation from her parents and siblings.

For Fatuma that time in Utanga, and the hard years in Atlanta when she arrived there as an adolescent with extended family, background everything. Her kids will have what she did not, and they will play their part in getting there.  

The lives of Lewiston’s new immigrants are complex, often delineated by loss. Like Fatuma, Jamilo Maalim was separated from her parents. She was a toddler when militants attacked the family’s village and relatives fled with her to a refugee camp in Kenya. She lived there eight years. I met Jamilo when she was 22, or maybe 23. (Record keeping, especially during escalations in the war, was haphazard, and many refugees don’t know their birthdate.) Her downtown Lewiston apartment was spare but comfortable, decorated with swags of plastic flowers and photos of her daughter and son. The living room held a leatherette sofa and TV, and a soft rug where the family sat to eat their meals.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Immigrant teenagers play soccer on a basketball court at a park in Lewiston.

Jamilo’s physical traits – the set to her chin, upright posture, a warm but searching gaze – suggest both sensitivity and grit. When she arrived in Lewiston as a 9-year-old, she entered third grade. She was quick – learned English easily, made friends, loved gym class. Yet she struggled at home, shuttled among relatives who sometimes harshly punished. 

At 17 she left school and moved to Massachusetts to live with a Somali boy she’d met online. She named the baby born that fall Aaliyah – Arabic for ascending. A year later, the relationship dissolved. Jamilo and Aaliyah wound up in a shelter for several months. After Jamilo returned to Lewiston with her daughter, her family pressured her into an arranged marriage. That ended after two years, just after her second child, Hamzah, turned 1.

In spite of the instability, Jamilo kept moving forward. She returned to high school while pregnant with Aaliyah, got promoted to team leader within weeks of a new job, and played on a women’s soccer team. Almost daily, her extended family pressured her to return to the marriage. She wanted to raise her kids, work, and find a man with whom she could have a marriage that felt mutual. She wanted to sort through her past and choose her future.

Inshallah [God willing], someday I will have a happy life,” she told me not long after her marriage broke up. 

Getting to know Lewiston’s Somali community, with its many strong, independent women, forced me to reevaluate my views on Muslim gender bias. It also made me wonder about what I’d absorbed – was still absorbing – about Islam overall.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Lula Abdi, originally from Somalia, helps kindergartners at Connor Elementary School learn their letters using clay figures.

 Some Mainers I know describe a reexamination of values that stem from what they see as cultural richness in new immigrants. One Lewiston man put it like this: “My Somali friends changed the way I [see things]. What matters are relationships. Material things do not equate with happiness.” His observations resonated with me. For close to two centuries in Maine, my family’s life revolved around community, family, and faith. The values we abided by resemble the ones many of Lewiston’s newcomers hold close today.

A sizable minority of Mainers remains unhappy about the presence of the city’s newest residents. Lewiston sits in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Mr. Trump won here in 2016, giving him his only electoral vote in New England. The expansion of the city’s services to include translators and English as a second language instructors is anathema to many, as is coexistence with Islam. In recent years, the region’s anti-Islam faction has gained momentum and new followers.  

Some Lewistonians blame the newcomers for whatever still feels wrong in the city – too few living-wage jobs, dilapidated infrastructure, the pockets of poverty that took hold after the mills closed. 

In truth, and in spite of what some might claim, there have been setbacks along the way – most recently when several young new immigrants were arrested in connection with the beating death of a man during a fight in the downtown park. That tragedy, which occurred in June 2018, prompted soul-searching among city leaders along with an investigation that so far has resulted in authorities charging one young person with manslaughter and two others with misdemeanor assault.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The Androscoggin River skirts Lewiston, a city of 36,000 that was once a hub of textile and shoe manufacturing.

But here’s the thing: You can view the arrival of Muslim and other African newcomers as part of Lewiston’s struggles. Or you can see them as the closest thing the city has to a solution. 

Phil Nadeau, the longtime deputy city administrator, was for more than a decade an outspoken advocate of the city’s rising population of refugees and asylum-seekers. In retirement he’s creating a website celebrating Lewistonian accord. “I love this place,” he told me of the city where he was born. “I want to make sure we go down on the right side of history.”

So much overlays the social landscape through which Fatuma and Jamilo and other new Lewistonians move. On a sunny autumn day in 2016, Jamilo hosted Aaliyah’s fourth birthday party at an orchard outside Lewiston. Most of the guests were Somali. Among the tree-lined rows, women hoisted kids onto their shoulders and handed them bags for apples. One woman’s fiancé – the only male guest – helped. “So many Eves, only one Adam,” another woman joked.

At the cash register, one of Jamilo’s friends commented that, because they were picking the apples themselves, she’d thought they were free. The cashier’s face hardened. “You shouldn’t take produce you can’t pay for,” she said.

Jamilo’s friend protested – she was paying; that’s why she’d brought her bag of apples to the register. If she didn’t have enough money, she’d take some out.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Immigrants from Egypt, Angola, Burundi, and other nations take an English language class.

The cashier narrowed her eyes. “It’s wrong.”

“I didn’t come here to steal your apples,” the friend said.

The cashier glared. The friend swore. The cashier threatened to call the police. Party guests backed away from the register. Jamilo and a friend hurriedly cleaned up the remains of the lasagna they’d brought.  

The party wasn’t ruined. The kids didn’t overhear the confrontation, and Jamilo shrugged it off. Her friend had a temper; the cashier was rude. Jamilo had dealt with worse.

A month later, Mr. Trump won the election. Jamilo texted me the next day. She was shocked by the outcome, she said, and worried for herself and other Muslims. Then she added, “God bless America! I still love this country!” That was Wednesday. The next day at noon she left work to go home and make lunch. As she stepped into a crosswalk, a motorist sped past and shouted at her to take off her hijab. Soon afterward Jamilo texted, “I’m terrified.”

A few days after the incident, though still shaky, she reiterated her love for the U.S. “This is my home,” she said.

Jamilo never thinks about leaving the U.S. After Mr. Trump was elected, Somali social media lit up with rumors. Muslims would be required to wear identification bracelets. They’d have to sign a national registry. Muslim men would be monitored. 

In the past three years, fear among newcomers in Lewiston has flowed and ebbed with the latest pronouncements out of Washington. But these are people who trekked miles across the desert, often under attack, to reach refugee camps where conditions were also perilous. Those who made it to the U.S. did so with a resolve that now characterizes their daily lives.

I first noticed this stoic reaction to what they considered bad news in the months after the presidential election. The new immigrants I knew worried about what was coming, yes. But there was a sense of continuity and a marked lack of bitterness. People were getting on with things, one man told me. In the months that followed, I saw it: Newcomers were quietly focusing on building their lives – on getting a new job, taking a college exam, preparing for a new baby. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Clothing with Somalia labels is popular in stores, like this one on Lisbon Street.

And on unity. “We need to come together. As community, as ‘we the people,’ it is our responsibility to fix the divide caused by our political leader,” community leader Abdikadir Negeye wrote in an opinion piece in the Lewiston Sun Journal. By “we the people,” Abdikadir means the state of Maine, the city of Lewiston – and its new immigrant community. 

Bridging differences is keenly personal to Abdikadir. He’s Somali Bantu, a marginalized ethnic minority. More than 2,000 Bantus live in Lewiston. Most descend from various African tribes whose people were captured and sold during the Indian Ocean slave trade. Even after slavery was abolished in Somalia at the turn of the 20th century, a vast class divide remained.

Direct yet tender, Abdikadir is married to Ikran, an ethnic Somali woman. He refers to it as a “mixed marriage.” Abdikadir’s family was OK with the union; hers pushed back and then relented. Abdikadir says he worried at first, when they were still engaged. But he loved Ikran. Their marriage would work. And so it has.

In the debate over the future of immigration in America, refugees and asylum-seekers are generally viewed as victims or as liabilities. Neither view encompasses the way I see new immigrants in Lewiston or the way they seem to see themselves: as initiators and collaborators. The proverb Iskaashato ma kufto – “If people support one another, they do not fall” – sums up the African way in Lewiston.

Tools in the new immigrant toolbox include consensus-seeking, de-emphasis on “being right,” and the goal of common understanding. In a public setting – say, a school committee meeting – newcomers feel the event should not adjourn until all who wish to speak have had a chance to do so. In part, this approach is cultural and ingrained. In part, it’s more newly acquired. Infighting – among clans, among ethnicities – has intensified Africa’s civil wars for generations. The newcomers know firsthand the costs of conflict. Those who made it to the U.S. want a fresh start – not unlike immigrants everywhere throughout the centuries.  

This much is indisputable: Before the arrival of its asylum-seekers and refugees, Lewiston was one more postindustrial city in slow fade. Now its newcomers are part of who it is – so too their life stories and their steady forward motion. 

New immigrant kids in Lewiston are Mainers now. They grew up with snow and the piercing blue of a winter sky. They wear wool hats with their hijabs and go to sleep at night with the nearby Androscoggin flowing beneath the ice.

 

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5. Hitting the trail to celebrate the forgotten history of the black cowboy

Did pop culture whitewash the Wild West? Cowboys were a lot more diverse than Hollywood would lead you to believe. Now, that culture is being reclaimed by thousands of people of color.

Amelia

When you picture a cowboy, a specific image probably comes to mind: Men wearing wide-brimmed hats, leather chaps, and spurred boots, riding through a dusty frontier town. You probably don’t picture thousands of mostly black men and women riding through rural East Texas, blasting country and rap music. Yet that is what descended on Columbus, Texas, in early August.

The gatherings, known as Creole trail rides, happen almost every weekend in Louisiana and East Texas. They are a decadeslong tradition rooted in the forgotten history of black cowboys in the American West, and they have been growing increasingly popular in the Deep South and across the United States. Part horseback riding, part rodeo, and part dancing to the Creole rhythms of zydeco, the annual Liz Cook Trail Ride celebrated its 25th ride in Columbus. 

That ride in particular is also about building up the black community. “This, I believe, will keep younger kids out of trouble,” says Kevin Tircuit, a truck driver from Houston who brought his horse Misty. “This is hard work,” he adds, “and it teaches them responsibility.”

“You have to have respect for these horses, for the land, for the people who throw the rides,” says Scotty Ferguson, a warehouse worker who drove two hours from San Antonio for the ride. “I’ve had trouble with my attitude, anger problems,” he adds, “and this has been a major calm-down for me.” – Henry Gass, staff writer; video by Jingnan Peng, multimedia producer

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The Monitor's View

Birds on a high wire

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The eerie, mournful wail of the common loon could go missing from Minnesota lakes later this century. Temperatures may just get too toasty for these black-and-white waterfowl with dramatic red eyes. Minnesota’s official state bird may be forced to flee north in search of cooler waters.

That’s just one possible outcome signaled in an October study of bird life from the National Audubon Society. Of 604 bird species it looked at, 389 are now at some danger of extinction by 2080. Though the specific reasons vary by species and locale, most are tied to the effects of climate change.

The report follows on another troubling study published in the prestigious journal Science earlier in the month showing North America’s bird population has plummeted in recent decades.

Shafts of light penetrate these dark forecasts. A few species, such as raptors and waterfowl, have actually shown gains.

Birds indeed are “canaries in the coal mine,” warning humans that something is going on that affects them, too.

The studies conclude that birds, like humans, benefit from the cutting of carbon emissions to slow warming of the atmosphere.

Time remains, along with plenty of good reasons, for humans to help their avian friends.

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Birds on a high wire

The eerie, mournful wail of the common loon could go missing from Minnesota lakes later this century. Temperatures may just get too toasty for these black-and-white waterfowl with dramatic red eyes. Minnesota’s official state bird may be forced to flee north in search of cooler waters.

That’s just one possible outcome signaled in an October study of bird life from the National Audubon Society. Of 604 bird species it looked at, 389 are now at some danger of extinction by 2080. Though the specific reasons vary by species and locale, most are tied to the effects of climate change, including more intense heat, heavier rainfall or more severe droughts, and sea level rise.

The report follows on another troubling study published in the prestigious journal Science earlier in the month. Its sobering statistic: North America’s bird population has plummeted in recent decades, with a loss of some 2.9 billion birds, a more than 25% drop that the researchers called “an overlooked biodiversity crisis.”

At stake is much more than bird-watchers finding that their guidebooks shrink in size as species vanish from the pages. 

“The landscape is not just changing for birds; it’s changing for everybody. Through the lens of birds, we can see how things are anticipated to change,” says Brooke Bateman, a senior climate scientist at Audubon. Birds indeed are “canaries in the coal mine,” warning humans that something is going on that affects them, too.

Many bird species, of course, provide direct, easy-to-understand help to humans. They eat insects that attack crops, pollinate flowers, and distribute seeds; scavenger species clean up carcasses and gobble up garbage.

As is often the case, shafts of light penetrate these dark forecasts. Two species that account for nearly 15% of the losses in the Science study – European starlings and house sparrows – constitute invasive species whose numbers many conservationists have wanted to reduce. Other species may have benefited earlier from humans shrinking forests and prairie land; these species’ numbers may only now be returning to levels seen before Europeans arrived. In addition, a few species, such as raptors and waterfowl, have actually shown gains.

The studies conclude that birds, like humans, will benefit from the cutting of carbon emissions to slow warming of the atmosphere. Some 300 bird species would be less likely to go extinct if the world stops at 1.5 degrees Celsius of additional warming rather than 3 C, the Audubon report found.

Beyond the cutting of carbon emissions, coastal birds can benefit from programs that protect beaches and marshlands from rising seas. And inland, help can be given to restoring habitats for grassland birds. Individuals can take steps such as de-emphasizing manicured lawns in favor of native grasses, shrubs, flowers, and trees that provide better bird habitats. 

Time still remains, along with plenty of good reasons, for humans to help their avian friends.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

We can help lessen evil

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Are we helpless in the face of evil? Not according to the Bible. We can make progress in ameliorating evil by challenging it on the basis of God’s allness – for our own benefit and the benefit of others.

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We can help lessen evil

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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The question of evil affects all of us. It’s not a subject that can be glossed over or avoided. But neither is it something to fear. The teachings of Christian Science offer a response to the challenge of evil, based squarely on the ideas and example of Christ Jesus, that can bring progress in ameliorating it, for our own benefit and the benefit of others.

Christ Jesus, who came to save humanity from evil in all its forms, was realistic about evil. He often sharply rebuked it, exposing the hypocrisy and cruelty of the religious leaders called Pharisees, for instance. He spared evil no condemnation. But his sense of evil was vastly different from the common view of it. He recognized the wickedness of it, but also the illusiveness of it.

Jesus saw all things from the standpoint of God, his Father, infinite Love. As the Son of his Father he possessed, without measure, the consciousness of good and its supremacy. He had a spiritual understanding of good’s all-power that gave him dominion over evil and the ability to free individuals from it.

One time, in rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).

A key point that Jesus was making was that evil has no basis in re­ality. “There is no truth in him,” he said. No truth – no reality – in evil. Referring to this Bible passage, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Jesus’ definition of devil (evil) explains evil. It shows that evil is both liar and lie, a delusion and illusion. Therefore we should neither believe the lie, nor believe that it hath embodiment or power; in other words, we should not believe that a lie, nothing, can be something, but deny it and prove its falsity” (“Christian Science versus Pantheism,” p. 5).

The truth of being is that evil can have no place in the universal government of divine Love. With Love being infinite and governing universally, evil cannot be a real presence. It can’t threaten Love’s universal family, which includes all of us. This kingdom of God, this allness of divine Love in which Love is supreme, is here right now. It’s something we can begin to understand spiritually, through our innate spiritual sense and love for God. And through prayer, we can prove Love’s presence and power increasingly, in proportion to our understanding of it.

To this end, our unselfish prayers for humanity are always needed. But the work of destroying evil begins right at home, with our daily demonstrations that prove the allness of good in our own lives.

If relations with a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor turn angry, hateful, or contentious, this is an opportunity to put down evil and prove what we understand of good’s supremacy. Reaching out unselfishly in prayer to the truth of being, we can let go of our reactions, fears, and resentments. Every child of God is the image of the one divine Mind that is God. We can allow the oneness of Mind and the unity of Mind’s ideas, Mind’s offspring, to fill our thought. Therefore we are all in accord with each other because we all express the same Mind. The perception of this, blended with charitableness and forgiveness, can restore normal, harmonious relations.

Each day can provide opportunities for putting down evil’s claim to reality. Our loving prayer, spiritual growth, and demonstration of truth destroy evil. They bring more purity, harmony, and goodness to our own thought and to the atmosphere of human thought more broadly, because more of Christ, Truth, is then shining in thought. Every demonstration equips us to help humanity more expansively by tackling prayerfully the larger issues of aggression, war, terrorism, crime, deprivation, and so on. Mrs. Eddy writes, “Finally, brethren, let us continue to denounce evil as the illusive claim that God is not supreme, and continue to fight it until it disappears, – but not as one that beateth the mist, but lifteth his head above it and putteth his foot upon a lie” (Christian Science versus Pantheism, p. 6).

This is something we each can do. In following the teachings and example of Christ Jesus, we can dedicate ourselves more faithfully to accepting, affirming, understanding, and proving the onliness of good. In this way, we move forward spiritually and are equipped by God to be of greater help to mankind.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Feb. 23, 2015, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Life in a wildfire zone

This week, we're adding voices to portraits of those affected by the California wildfires. Today, Crickett Weaver, a proud resident of Sausalito whose mother lost her house during the Paradise fire a year ago, describes what it has meant to adapt to a new normal during a forced blackout. Click on the photo to go to the full version of the Daily and hear her story.

Amelia
Ann Hermes/Staff
Crickett Weaver (right) and her husband, Jack Mullin, prepare for dinner using candlelight during the latest California blackout at their home in Sausalito on Oct. 27, 2019.

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( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 29th, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, we have a different kind of political story for you, about the folks who crisscross the United States for rallies, sleep in lawn chairs, and share Subway sandwiches. They’re the Trump superfans, who blend passionate allegiance to a cause with a sense of connectedness that’s increasingly rare in modern life. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 28, 2019
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