2021
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Monitor Daily Podcast

September 14, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Reporters on the job: How Gander captured one child’s imagination

I traveled for work to Gander, the Newfoundland town that welcomed stranded passengers during 9/11, and brought my child. That’s reality as a foreign correspondent, and I’m happy to report that from Dutch politicians to Canadian authors to Slovak mayors, sources have been universally awesome about it (even pre-pandemic, when we pretended our work lives were somehow divorced from our family lives).

I always bring an iPad and headphones. That’s our deal – watch as much as you want, so long as you don’t interrupt (and, please, never for Goldfish).

In Newfoundland, I took her to an interview with Oz Fudge, the retired police constable on duty in Gander that day 20 years ago. I had the supplies, and we met next to a playground. “Go have fun,” I nudged.

But then Mr. Fudge started talking. And wow, can Newfoundlanders weave a narrative.

He talked about his daughter who dressed up as Commander Gander (the town’s goose mascot) to entertain stranded children; he talked about kids who were off from school for the week, but instead of scurrying off they helped their parents care for others (thank you, Mr. Fudge!); he talked about the role he saw for himself in the community helping to shape the next generation (when teens would get their driver’s licenses, he’d pull them over to scare them just enough to stay within the limits next time – issuing tickets that read “STFD,” or “Slow The Fudge Down”).

She was enraptured – nary a snack request to be had. It became a window for me onto what has made the story of Gander on 9/11 so magical – even musical-worthy.

Newfoundland has whales, puffins, and Vikings. But it’s Oz Fudge who captured her imagination. She hasn’t stopped talking about him since.

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Vaccines, mandates, and backlash: The long US history

President Joe Biden’s mandates have supercharged America’s debate about vaccines and personal liberty. But a look at history can offer context and a calmer lens to consider what lies ahead. 

Sara

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The national leader decided he had no other choice. A fast-spreading malady threatened to shake America to its core. So he mandated widespread inoculation against it, though the process was relatively new, and he knew many might oppose his order.

2021? No, 1777, when Gen. George Washington ordered members of the Continental Army inoculated against smallpox. The United States has a history of mandating vaccinations. It also has a history of resisting them. President Joe Biden’s sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for COVID-19, and the opposition they have sparked, are hardly unprecedented developments in U.S. life.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from past efforts, it may be this: Such mandates generally aren’t a switch that creates instant change, once flipped. Personal values, fears, and political polarization all affect implementation. Follow-up is necessary. That may be especially true for President Biden’s orders, which could potentially affect 100 million people and have sparked widespread resistance in Republican-led states.

“These mandates are really just one piece of a larger puzzle of policy responses,” says Christopher Robertson, a specialist in health law and professor at Boston University School of Law.

Vaccines, mandates, and backlash: The long US history

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Seth Wenig/AP
Staff members at the Museum of Modern Art check visitors' proof of vaccination in New York, Sept. 13, 2021. The city is set to start enforcing rules requiring workers and patrons to be vaccinated to go indoors at restaurants, museums, and entertainment venues.

The national leader decided he had no other choice. A fast-spreading malady threatened to shake America to its core. So he mandated widespread vaccination against it, though the process was relatively new, and he knew many might oppose his order.

2021? No, 1777, when Gen. George Washington ordered members of the Continental Army inoculated against smallpox. The drastic action was necessary, General Washington wrote president of Congress John Hancock, and would not delay recruits entering service, as they already had to wait while “their cloathing Arms and accoutrements are getting ready.”

The United States has a history of mandating vaccinations. It also has a history of resisting them. President Joe Biden’s sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for COVID-19, and the opposition they have sparked, are hardly unprecedented developments in U.S. life.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from past efforts, it may be this: Such mandates generally aren’t a switch that creates instant change, once flipped. Personal values, fears, and political polarization all affect implementation. Follow-up is common. That may be especially true for President Biden’s orders, which could potentially affect 100 million people and have sparked widespread resistance in Republican-led states.

“These mandates are really just one piece of a larger puzzle of policy responses,” says Christopher Robertson, a specialist in health law and professor at Boston University School of Law.

Late 1800s vs. today

George Washington in some ways had many fewer variables in regard to vaccinations. He was a military commander who could order his soldiers to do things, and he was dealing with a relatively limited number of troops.

President Biden may instead face a situation more like the late 1800s, when U.S. opposition to vaccine mandates began to snowball. Some states, particularly in the West, banned such mandates. Others barely allowed them. Reasons for the backlash would sound familiar today: protection of personal liberty, suspicion that health care profits were the real goal, and concerns about vaccine side effects. 

Mr. Biden’s expansive rules would mandate that all private employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated, or to test for the virus weekly. That would cover an estimated 80 million Americans.

Workers at health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds would have to be vaccinated, covering a further 17 million people.

All federal workers and contractors must be vaccinated, with limited exceptions. 

The primary target of these orders may be people who aren’t entirely averse to being vaccinated, but haven’t done it yet. They can’t get time off, or don’t know where to go, or just haven’t bothered.

“A lot of people have just not gotten around to doing it. ... This will fully capture them,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, in a C-SPAN interview on Sept. 13.

It’s not clear how many people that might be. Polls show that around 73% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. According to a CNN survey released Monday, but taken prior to Mr. Biden’s announcement, 5% of respondents said they had not received even one shot yet, but would still try to get vaccinated.

Some 22% said they had no plans to try to get a vaccine. The administration is undoubtedly hoping that the prospect of losing their jobs might make some of these people change their minds.

OSHA’s new role

It’s going to be a challenge for the bureaucracy to get Mr. Biden’s vaccine orders up and running anytime soon.

In part that’s because a U.S. president doesn’t have the authority to just order the general population to get shots.

States and local governments do have that power, based on their inherent constitutional authority to police their citizens. In 1902, the Board of Health of Cambridge, Massachusetts, ordered that all citizens had to be vaccinated against smallpox. A local pastor refused to comply, on grounds that as a child he’d had a botched immunization. He argued that the law infringed on his personal liberty, and was “unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive.”

In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled against the pastor, saying that “the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint.” 

Subsequent court decisions have affirmed this, allowing states and localities to issue vaccine mandates for schools and universities.

President Biden’s orders last week instead involve a workaround. The administration is invoking the ability of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set workplace standards to order private employers to test regularly or require vaccination. OSHA must produce a preliminary rule on the issue, which will take several weeks. Then the rule will be implemented as quickly as possible.

“There is a provision in the law that allows it to operate on an emergency basis to issue something for six months when there is a grave danger,” says Debbie Berkowitz, a senior OSHA official in the Obama administration.

Tough details have yet to be settled. Who will pay for testing, if employees opt for that route? Will employees get time off for those weekly tests or to go be vaccinated? Will they get paid leave to recover from any vaccine side effects? If so, how much? What will constitute proof of vaccination? What’s the standard for religious and health exemptions?

Will companies comply? Administration officials say fines for flouting the rule will be high – upwards of $13,000 per incident. But OSHA isn’t a police force. Ms. Berkowitz says it would “take 160 years” for OSHA staff to visit every firm under its jurisdiction just once.

But generally speaking, once they know a rule is coming, employers just start complying with its intent, she says, especially in large workplaces.

And employers may benefit from standardized rules governing workplace vaccination status. Since the pandemic began OSHA has received many complaints about inconsistent mask use and other perceived problems related to COVID-19. To this point it has not had authority to step in. Companies can now point to the federal government as the entity to blame for crackdowns.

The mandates could also affect employment numbers.

“We have a lot of evidence that some of the continued labor market sluggishness is due to people kind of fearing going back to work,” says Matthew Johnson, an assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Public safety vs. personal liberty

Early polls indicate that President Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private employers is largely popular. A recent Morning Consult/Politico poll found 58% approval for the policy. Other main aspects of the Biden plan had similar support.

But attitudes about almost everything to do with COVID-19 response in America are split sharply along partisan lines. Across the country many Republican officials have reacted with seething anger about a mandate they feel strikes at citizens’ personal liberty.

“The vaccine itself is life-saving, but this unconstitutional move is terrifying,” tweeted GOP Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi following President Biden’s mandate announcement last week.

As Governor Reeves’ tweet shows, much of the Republican opposition walks a narrow space between two beliefs: the vaccine is good, but the federal government making you take it is bad.

Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, framed it in terms of striking the balance between personal freedom and public safety.

“We could save a lot of lives by lowering the speed limit to 45 [mph] on all of our roads. And if a state wants to do that, or a state legislature wants to do that, that’s their business,” he told a few reporters while on the way to a vote. “But if the president unilaterally decided to do it, I think that would be inappropriate.”

Like many Republican states, Louisiana has seen a significantly lower rate of vaccinations than coastal liberal states. But that rate was starting to go up, albeit gradually. Now, Senator Kennedy says he’s worried the president’s move will thwart that progress.

“I believe in the vaccine, I think the vaccine works, I wish everybody would take it, but I think this move by the president is going to be counterproductive. ... We’re going to end up spending the time in court, and the resources in court, that we could be spending trying to convince our fellow Americans to take the vaccine,” he said. 

Staff writers Dwight Weingarten and Christa Case Bryant contributed to this report.

Finding Resilience

For some seniors, pandemic trials have brought renewal

Pandemic society views older adults as a group at risk. But many have overcome labels of frailty. You can read more articles like this one in our Finding Resilience series. 

Sara
Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor
Sandra Bierman paints in an art studio at Frasier, a life plan community in Boulder, Colorado, on Aug. 20, 2021. During the pandemic, the professional artist was inspired to return to her craft after a nearly two-decade hiatus: “The creativity in there wasn’t dead."

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As older adults have faced increased social isolation, health officials have defined this age group as living in pandemic precarity. Yet many have demonstrated strength and resilience.

From an artist who picked up her paintbrush after two decades to a senior-home resident who now can’t resist serenading his neighbors, many older adults say trials in lockdown have unlocked a new chapter of personal growth.

According to one study earlier this year, 4 out of 5 respondents ages 50 to 80 reported their mental health to be as good as, or better than, 20 years ago.

These adults are sometimes able to “put things in context of an entire life history” and draw on past resilience, says Lauren Gerlach, geriatric psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Michigan, who contributed to the report.

To one pastor who survived a COVID-19 diagnosis, the idea of resurrection took on new meaning. It’s “an attitude of actually finding light where there’s darkness, finding hope where there is despair,” he says.

For some seniors, pandemic trials have brought renewal

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Purple, robin’s-egg blue, white. Sandra Bierman pours layers of paint onto a canvas, then tilts it so the colors run.

“This art room is a lifesaver,” she says at the sink, rinsing fingers of acrylics.

Following a career in telecommunications, Ms. Bierman launched another act as a professional artist known for figurative works. She stopped painting in the early 2000s, however, to devote more time to her husband before he died.

Now in her 80s, Ms. Bierman has spent the pandemic at a retirement community in Boulder, Colorado, where she grew depressed under the lockdown that began March 2020. Roughly a year passed, she says, before she conquered enough fear to leave her hallway.

Yet isolation also opened a new level of introspection. She says as months wore on she reflected on her goodness – her lifelong impulse to serve others. Volunteering to teach peers art classes via closed-circuit television last spring was proof. That September, she built up the courage to submit some past work to an anti-ageist birthday card campaign. She was accepted.

Inspired, she resumed painting after nearly two decades. That confirmed “the creativity in there wasn’t dead,” she says. “I still had that, and that was a jewel.”

As older adults have faced increased social isolation, health officials have defined this age group as living in pandemic precarity. Yet many like Ms. Bierman have overcome labels of frailty and demonstrated resilience. They say trials in lockdown unlocked a new chapter of personal growth. 

“It’s always been the case that most older adults are very resilient, and that’s true with this pandemic as well,” says Peter Lichtenberg, director of the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology. 

Winning

For a Maryland pastor, his rebound meant more than surviving the virus.

Would he ever swing a tennis racket again? the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Frazier wondered. After a COVID-19 diagnosis in summer 2020, he lay in the hospital unsure.

“I thought it was a death sentence,” he says.

Erika Page/The Christian Science Monitor
The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Frazier stands in the chapel where he preaches once a month at the Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Aug. 23, 2021. Since fully recovering from COVID-19, the pastor says he's found more empathy for fellow older adults he counsels who face difficult health and personal challenges.

Since leaving a lucrative corporate career in his 40s, Dr. Frazier has ministered through the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as director of pastoral care and counseling at Asbury Methodist Village, a continuing care retirement community in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Dr. Frazier had always considered himself a rock, spiritually and mentally. But during his COVID-19 challenge, he says he went through “spiritual chaos.”

“I was seriously depleted,” he says. “My faith was shallow and weak.”

But Dr. Frazier also considers himself stubborn. “I can’t go out like this,” he recalls telling himself.

In addition to his medical treatment, he dug down into his reservoir of spiritual strength, taking inspiration from his understanding as a Christian of the term “resurrection.” Beyond a physical transformation, he says, it’s “an attitude of actually finding light where there’s darkness, finding hope where there is despair.”

Then he realized something important: “I said, ‘I can’t preach that until I live it.’”

His health began to improve, and he decided to be transparent about the uncertainty he felt. This became fodder for one of his first sermons back.

When he returned to Asbury several weeks later, Dr. Frazier found that his experience of sickness helped him connect with residents through a greater sense of empathy, as many are battling illness and isolation themselves. Now, the pastor speaks from the heart when he says he understands.

He hasn’t considered retiring from work because he’s “enjoying it too much.” He’s also back on the tennis court twice a week – and winning.

Reserves of wisdom

In many ways, older adults have defied pandemic assumptions. In March 2020, “boomer remover” trended on social media as a nickname for the coronavirus. Yet that same month, scores of retired medical professionals returned to work at overwhelmed hospitals. 

Some federal officials who’ve led the national pandemic response are long past traditional retirement age – including the current and former president. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert, entered his 80s last year.

Research conducted during the pandemic points to pockets of older-adult resilience. A January National Poll on Healthy Aging reveals that among some 2,000 respondents ages 50 to 80, four out of five reported their mental health to be as good as, or better than, 20 years ago.

These adults are sometimes able to “put things in context of an entire life history” and draw on past resilience, says Lauren Gerlach, geriatric psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Michigan, who contributed to the report

“That resilience and wisdom that comes with aging, of having gone through tough times in the past and being able to get through it … I think can help put people in a better position in the face of stressors,” says Dr. Gerlach. Since the survey was a snapshot in time from earlier this year, she stresses the importance of continued monitoring. 

A currently unpublished study co-written by Dr. Lichtenberg at Wayne State University suggests a similar bright spot. It analyzed Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data from nearly the full first year of the pandemic for over 100,000 older adults of color. Across the Hispanic, Black, and Asian respondents ages 50 and up, rates of anxiety or depression appeared to decrease with age.

Food insecurity, job loss, and low income, however, suggested an association with high rates of mental health challenges. 

“Basic needs really are drivers of mental health problems. Not the only drivers, obviously, but quite significant,” he says. 

“Always singing”

When clouds of depression darkened days in lockdown, Eduardo González stared in the mirror and tried to think of what his grandfather would say.

Erika Page/The Christian Science Monitor
Eduardo González holds his guitar in the community room at Casa Iris, a residence for low-income Hispanic seniors where he lives, in Washington, D.C., Aug. 20, 2021. Mr. González says he pulled through a difficult period of depression during the pandemic with the help of group therapy and sharing his creativity with others.

The former chef in Washington remembers how his grandfather would coax him, a young boy in Mexico, to haul a heavy sack of corn as a lesson in persistence. During the pandemic, Mr. González meditated on these memories.

“You have to be strong, you have to keep going. Don’t be afraid,” he imagined his grandfather telling him.

Drawing on his past has helped Mr. González persevere through difficult days at Casa Iris, a residence for low-income Hispanic seniors, where he spent 10 months with limited access to communal areas. A local senior center where he took art classes also shut down.

“I was so depressed,” he says sitting in the Casa Iris community room, no longer used for storage as residents are welcomed back.

Staff noticed he was struggling and placed him in group therapy this April, which Mr. González says helped. But what really lifted his spirits over time was drawing on his heritage in ways that helped him connect with others.

When restrictions loosened at Casa Iris, he began playing guitar for other residents, brightening spirits with traditional Mexican melodies and other songs from across Latin America.

“I’m a bit of a showoff,” he says, a smile barely visible at the ends of his mask.

Like Ms. Bierman in Boulder, the octogenarian is sharing his talents with peers. At the senior center, which reopened in July, he’s teaching tunes to viejitas, as he calls them. He says it gives him courage to know that despite the darkness he still sometimes feels, he can help others strengthen their voice.

Pedro Lima, the property manager at Casa Iris, has noticed how music and art have brightened Mr. González’s demeanor.

“When he comes downstairs, he always has his guitar, and he’s always singing,” says Mr. Lima. He’s the proud recipient of a painting by Mr. González, who spends two hours a day – no matter his mood – with a paintbrush in hand.

Mr. González is currently painting an angel. He says it reflects the assurance that someone is watching over him.

Full days

Beyond maintaining regular sleep and healthy lifestyles, says Dr. Gerlach, pursuing activities that are personally meaningful – like volunteering – can help support and improve older adults’ mental health.

For Ms. Bierman, one such highlight has been biweekly virtual chats with family she misses in California and England. She took the initiative to set up the Zoom link. 

Full days at Frasier, her life plan community, also keep her spirits up. Beyond hours spent on personal art projects, she leads twice-weekly sessions in the art room and participates in a monthly, local poetry meet-up. She’s seeking more ways to volunteer, too.

“I just wish I were five people,” says the artist, white apron smudged with color. “There are so many things to do.”

Amid permafrost and tundra, Russians forge their own environmentalism

Promoting ecologically friendly practices is not easy in Russia. But in the country’s Arctic north, locals are finding inventive ways to change the public’s interaction with their environment.

Sara

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About two years ago, mass protests in the Russian region of Arkhangelsk forced Moscow authorities to abandon plans to build a giant waste dump near the village of Shiyes. The success of that “Stop Shiyes” struggle launched an ecological movement in the Arctic region and ushered in more environment-friendly local leadership.

It also planted surprisingly divergent ideas about how to turn that newfound consciousness into permanent ways people relate to the environment around them, utilize its resources, and manage the consequences.

For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer from the city of Severodvinsk, it served as inspiration to try and get into national politics in order to raise ecological awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, an Arkhangelsk doctor, went a different direction, eschewing politics for what she regards as the more influential realm of business. And Alexandra Usacheva heads Clean North, a group that interfaces between the public and local authorities to promote ecological education.

“The ‘Stop Shiyes’ campaign changed the popular mentality in this region,” says Ms. Usacheva. “All that attention made people think about the future. And some became really inspired to do something more.”

Amid permafrost and tundra, Russians forge their own environmentalism

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Fred Weir
Anastasia Trofimova stands in her shop The Green Point, Aug. 30, 2021, in Arkhangelsk, Russia. She was inspired by protests against the proposed Shiyes landfill to launch her business, which sells around 700 different products, all from natural or recycled materials.

Arkhangelsk, a Russian region almost as big as France that borders the White Sea, is a land of permafrost and marshy tundra, with stunted Arctic forest, rolling hills, and labyrinthine lakes and rivers. It’s been inhabited by Russians for almost a thousand years; Indigenous peoples, some related to Finnish Laplanders, have been there much longer.

People here are very conscious of history. Much of it revolves around their fragile Arctic habitat and the need to preserve it.

About two years ago, mass popular protest forced Moscow authorities to abandon plans to build a giant waste dump near the village of Shiyes in this Arctic region that had been intended to receive 2 million tons annually of the garbage overflowing from heavy-consuming Moscow. The success of that “Stop Shiyes” struggle launched a lasting ecological movement and ushered in the election of a more environment-friendly local leadership. It also planted surprisingly divergent ideas in some peoples’ minds about how to take that newfound consciousness and turn it toward a permanent transformation in the ways people relate to the environment around them, utilize its resources, and manage the consequences.

For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer from the closed naval shipyard city of Severodvinsk, it served as inspiration to try and get into national politics in order to raise ecological awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, an Arkhangelsk doctor, went a different direction, eschewing politics for what she regards as the more influential realm of business. And Alexandra Usacheva heads Clean North, a group that interfaces between the public and local authorities to promote ecological education.

“The ‘Stop Shiyes’ campaign changed the popular mentality in this region,” says Ms. Usacheva. “All that attention made people think about the future. And some became really inspired to do something more.”

“This victory will not last until we secure it”

Mr. Mandrykin, who was prominent in the anti-landfill protests, believes that until ecological awareness comes to the giant garbage-generating centers like Moscow, the threat to despoil other regions is unlikely to abate. With support from local environmental groups, he is standing as a candidate for the State Duma, in nationwide elections slated for Sept. 19.

Fred Weir
State Duma candidate Oleg Mandrykin, shown holding one of his campaign flyers on Aug. 30, 2021, in Arkhangelsk, says that only political representation in Moscow can achieve consistently pro-environmental policies for the whole of Russia, including his region.

In Russia, it’s almost impossible for an independent candidate – even one who’s emerged from a popular movement – to get on the ballot. So, Mr. Mandrykin has accepted the nomination of the liberal Yabloko party, one of a handful of “systemic” political parties: those with elected representatives in Russian legislatures, which have the right to field candidates without going through a punishing list of requirements needed to get registered. (Other such parties include the Communists, the nationalist Liberal Democrats, the social democratic Fair Russia party, and of course, the ruling United Russia party.)

Mr. Mandrykin says this limited political system has not served the residents of Arkhangelsk very well because the “systemic” parties tend to get co-opted by big business and Kremlin political interests, which exercise power on almost every level. Opinion polls suggest that he has a fighting chance to win on the back of his environmental activism and general fatigue with economic conditions in the region. He insists that if he makes it into the Duma, he’s going to find the ways to shake things up.

“There are six existing deputies from this region, not one of whom has ever said a word in support of our movement,” he says. “There need to be people in the Duma who come from the roots, and really speak for the majority of voters. After the success of ‘Stop Shiyes,’ we realized that this victory will not last until we secure it with political representation in Moscow.”

The Moscow government has pulled back from its plans to offload the city’s oceans of waste into landfills in far-flung places after popular protests in several regions, the biggest of which was in Arkhangelsk. But despite implementing a plan last year that requires garbage to be sorted into two categories – organic and recyclables – experts say it isn’t taking hold and, in any case, isn’t enough to solve the immense problem. Much of Moscow’s waste still goes into overloaded landfills near the city, such as one at Mikhali in the Kaluga region that receives 3,000 tons of garbage per day.

“We are convinced that garbage reform needs to be based not on creating more mega-dumps, but on comprehensive principles of recycling,” says Mr. Mandrykin. “We hear talk of plans. And something is being done. But I think the push has to come from below. People need to be involved. That’s why I am going into politics. It’s not just about garbage, it’s about making this system work for people. We’ve seen that the authorities will listen when thousands of people protest, but we need to translate that into real and permanent political power.”

The Green Point

Dr. Trofimova, who also took part in the “Stop Shiyes” movement, was enthused by the victory and decided that more needed to done. She and a few friends put their resources together, appealed to local producers and artisans for ideas, and started a shop to sell only natural or recycled products.

Now, a couple of years later, they have more than 700 items for sale, ranging from all-natural cosmetics issued from dispensers – to avoid plastic packaging – to recycled paper products, pens made from discarded toothbrushes, real soap, bags and facecloths made from old clothing, and lots of locally sourced art and handicrafts.

“Our main method of advertising is through social media. But when we launched, we were almost overwhelmed by the response,” she says. “For Arkhangelsk, it was a huge sensation.”

The shop, called The Green Point, is supported by environmental groups and nongovernmental organizations, and many of the workers who manufacture its goods are disabled or underemployed local people.

“We wanted to create something that is socially educational, that plays a role in changing consumption patterns and infusing ecological consciousness into daily life,” Dr. Trofimova says. “Of course we wanted it to be commercially successful, and it has been to some extent. But it has to be sustainable, tapping into and developing local sources, and involving local people as more than just customers.

“We’ve learned a lot, especially about marketing. You have to reach people with the right messaging, or it just won’t work. As a small entrepreneur I am hoping that, if it works here, we can expand to other parts of Russia.”

A mixed reception

Different paths to ecological activism appear to be greeted by local officialdom in contrasting ways.

Mr. Mandrykin, the Duma candidate, reports that he faces constant hostility from the authorities. He claims that his attempts to buy billboard space or advertise in local newspapers are always mysteriously thwarted. Aside from the very limited TV time allotted to each registered candidate, he says, “all we have is the internet; we get a lot of buzz on social media.”

Dr. Trofimova, the entrepreneur, says that “local officials don’t help us at all, but they don’t get in our way either.”

But Ms. Usacheva, head of the Clean North ecological group, says that her requests to authorities for access to schools to give environmental lessons, or appeals for help in organizing cleanup campaigns, are like pushing on an open door.

“Our authorities want to be helpful. They want to be seen to be associated with good ecological values,” she says. “It’s not political. I don’t even want to go into politics. In our time and place, there are more effective ways to promote the environmental principles that I believe in. Educate the youth today, and we will win tomorrow.”

In Gaza, a museum filled with history ‘picked up’ along the way

The Gaza Strip’s first private museum holds more than artifacts from six millennia of local culture. On display are the ingredients of identity – and a sense of belonging to the land.

Sara
Abdallah Al Naami
Al Qarara Cultural Museum co-founder Najla Abu Lahia holds up a copper pitcher at the museum in Al Qarara, Gaza, in late August 2021.

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Mohamed Abu Lahia first became interested in antiquities as an 8-year-old by finding artifacts on the ground on his way to and from school in Al Qarara. The town 15 miles south of Gaza City, until recently a farming village, sits on trade routes dating from the Bronze Age.

“I would stop many times on the way to school to look at strange, old items that I saw along the road. I fetched them on my way back home and would examine them in my room,” Mr. Abu Lahia says.

His wife, Najla, who studied art and archaeology at Gaza University, helped document and piece together the items they collected. Their labors led to the founding of the Al Qarara Cultural Museum, which showcases artifacts from across six millennia of history.

The museum’s founders hope to offer a counternarrative on Gaza, one linking past civilizations to the territory’s current inhabitants, and emphasizing Gazans’ rights to a contested land marred by modern politics and war.

Says Isam Abdel Ghafour, a museum board member: “We aim to send out a message that this tormented part of Palestine is ... also a place of a long and rich history that is worth seeing.”

In Gaza, a museum filled with history ‘picked up’ along the way

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On a small hilltop in central Gaza, a mile and a half from the Israeli border, lies a gateway to the past, and, some say, a modern-day cultural safe haven.

At the Al Qarara Cultural Museum, artifacts from six millennia stand side by side: Canaanite pottery, Roman coins, Byzantine mosaics, Crusader swords, turn-of-the-19th-century farming equipment, copper cookware, and traditional embroidered Palestinian thobe dresses.

Today, like any day, families, university students, and schoolchildren on a field trip and the odd passerby stroll past the displays showcasing a diverse history that pieces together what it means to be a Gazan. 

“Art and archaeology help interpret the past and provide us with a new insight,” says 20-something Mohamed Abu Said, while browsing the museum with his friend Shahad Safi. “My visit reshaped my understanding of Gaza’s history and a unique cultural identity I am really proud of.” 

Says Ms. Safi, “We should all be aware of our history in order to defend our right of being on this land.”

The initiative, Gaza’s first private museum and the second museum in the entire Strip, is the brainchild of Mohamed and Najla Abu Lahia, archaeology and culture enthusiasts who have long collected items of Gazan heritage and history.

Abdallah Al Naami
Ancient, hand-driven stone mills are on display at the Al Qarara Cultural Museum in Al Qarara, Gaza, in late August 2021.

The young couple decided to document, preserve, and display artifacts from a land that, despite capturing headlines for war, a blockade, and Hamas-Israel rocket fire, is literally bursting with history.

Mr. Abu Lahia first became interested in antiquities as an 8-year-old in Al Qarara by finding bits of pottery shards and stones on the ground on his way to school and back. Al Qarara, until recently a farming village located 15 miles south of Gaza City, is a historical settlement on trade routes dating from the Bronze Age.

“I would stop many times on the way to school to look at strange, old items that I saw along the road. I fetched them on my way back home and would examine them in my room,” Mr. Abu Lahia says.

His wife studied art and archaeology at Gaza University, and used her studies to help document and piece together the items she and her husband collected.

With cooperation from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the couple traveled across Al Qarara and beyond, looking for donations for the museum’s collection. The response, they say, was overwhelming.

Abdallah Al Naami
Husband and wife team Mohamed and Najla Abu Lahia at the Al Qarara Cultural Museum in Al Qarara, Gaza, in late August 2021.

“Al Qarara’s inhabitants wanted to actively take part in the project, and they helped us find ancient artifacts that we have here today,” Mr. Abu Lahia says.

Embellished with minute stone carvings adorning the walls, and encircled with Roman Corinthian columns, the museum housing the trove of antiquities is a former grain silo that is now a destination for visiting delegations, families, and school trips.

The Gaza Strip, a pivotal trade and migration crossroads between ancient Egypt, North Africa, and the Levant, was a key port and maritime trade center on the Mediterranean touched by many civilizations.  

The collection begins with the Chalcolithic period from 4000 B.C., and then on to the Canaanites, the Bronze Age civilization that lived in Gaza and much of the region encompassing modern Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Lebanon in the second century B.C.

Later eras showcased include the Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic, and Ottoman empires.

But visitors also gravitate to the modern-day collection of wooden plows, horse saddles, hand-woven baskets, and wooden and copper plateware, pitchers, and pots used by their grandparents only two generations ago.

The couple and the six other co-founders of the museum hope to take a traveling exhibition abroad to show the world another side to Gaza.

“We aim to send out a message that this tormented part of Palestine is not only a name synonymous with an image of violence, wars, blockade, and political unrest, but also a place of a long and rich history that is worth seeing,” says Isam Abdel Ghafour, a museum board member.

Through it, the museum’s founders hope to offer a counternarrative on Gaza, one linking past civilizations to the territory’s current inhabitants, and emphasizing Gazans’ rights to a contested land marred by modern politics and war.

Abdallah Al Naami
Roman columns on display at the Al Qarara Cultural Museum in Al Qarara, Gaza, in late August 2021.

Yet the blockade of the Strip and ongoing travel restrictions imposed by Israel on Gaza residents mean that the Abu Lahias and their collection dating back thousands of years cannot leave the Strip, take part in exhibitions, or reach an audience beyond Gaza. For now, the Abu Lahias and museum staff are focusing on the local community.

Plans are in place to expand the museum with funds from the A.M. Qattan Foundation, a Palestinian cultural and educational nonprofit organization based in Ramallah, in the West Bank.  

Although government officials admit that they lack the “funds and resources” to support the private initiative, they are offering their moral support to help bring history alive to the young generation of Gazans.

“We would like to attract our young people’s attention to their heritage and to take ownership of it and save it,” says Hiam el-Bitar, a researcher at the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry.

“It is not just history,” Ms. Bitar says. “it is an integral part of our national identity.”

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Germany’s best tool against Russian disinformation

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In a rare rebuke of Moscow last week, Germany accused the Russian security services of mounting cyberattacks on several members of parliament. It claimed the attacks were aimed at collecting personal information on the politicians for a disinformation campaign to influence Germany’s Sept. 26 federal election. With the outcome of the election uncertain, German leaders took the attack more seriously than previous ones.

Since 2015, Germany has been the main target of Russian disinformation in the European Union. One particular target group is young people, whose low voter turnout reflects their widespread disillusionment. Like other democracies, Germany realizes it cannot be mainly defensive against foreign disinformation. A better course is to build up social resilience to disinformation.

One of Germany’s new “positive” tools is the use of nonprofits to promote democratic participation among young people. The idea is to counter one of Russia’s main false narratives: that Germany’s democracy is rigged for the elite. If more young people join in politics and turn out to vote, they will realize the truth that the political system is available for them, too.

Germany’s best tool against Russian disinformation

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People watch the leader of the Green Party, Annalena Baerbock, speak in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 8.

In a rare rebuke of Moscow last week, Germany accused the Russian security services of mounting “wholly unacceptable” cyberattacks on several members of parliament. It claimed the attacks were aimed at collecting personal information on the politicians for a disinformation campaign to influence Germany’s Sept. 26 federal election. With the outcome of the election uncertain, German leaders took the attack more seriously than previous ones.

Since 2015, Germany has been the main target of Russian disinformation in the European Union. Russia’s goal, according to an EU report last March, is to cultivate distrust and “convince citizens that their participation in the democratic process is meaningless.” One particular target group is young people, whose low voter turnout reflects their widespread disillusionment. According to a 2020 survey by Vodafone, 73% of young Germans do not feel sufficiently represented in politics.

Like other democracies, Germany realizes it cannot be mainly defensive against foreign disinformation. Hackers are moving targets able to penetrate the tiniest openings in computer systems. A better course, says German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, is to pursue a “positive agenda” that builds up social resilience to disinformation.

One of Germany’s new “positive” tools is the use of nonprofits to promote democratic participation among young people. The nonpartisan group called Unmute Now uses bus tours to survey young people about their top issues, which include climate change, drug policy, and social justice. It also helps project young people into the current election campaign – literally. At night, it projects the faces of young people onto the facades of prominent buildings as a message for politicians to take them seriously.

The idea of such campaigns is to counter one of Russia’s main false narratives: that Germany’s democracy is rigged for the elite. If more young people join in politics and turn out to vote, they will realize the truth that the political system is available for them, too.

Western democracies, states a recent report by the Center for European Policy Analysis, must play “to the greatest strengths of free societies dealing with authoritarian adversaries: the inherent attraction, over the long run, of truth.” In Germany, a truth-affirming strategy has begun, focused first on its youngest voters.

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.

Timeless, tireless being

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Getting to know our true nature as God’s immortal children empowers us to overcome problems of all kinds, including age-related discomfort.

Timeless, tireless being

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

The Bible offers many shining examples of enduring vitality and strength that call into question the supposed inevitability of aging, deterioration, or any lessening of our talents and abilities. Caleb, said to have “wholly followed the Lord,” declared at 85 that he was as vital and fit as he’d been 45 years earlier when Moses sent him to “espy out the land” of Canaan (see Joshua 14:6-11). Moses’ own demanding mission leading the children of Israel to the Promised Land – a journey that ended with them wandering through the wilderness for 40 years – didn’t begin until he was 80. And several women in the Bible gave birth when well beyond typical childbearing years.

Is it equally possible today to be free of effects commonly associated with aging?

It is, through the acknowledgment of the spiritual fitness, vitality, and vigor that are ours as God’s wholly spiritual image and likeness. This is a key concept of the demonstrable theology of Christian Science: Perfect God, divine and immortal Spirit, made man – all of us – in His image; therefore, man is entirely spiritual, not material or a mixture of matter and Spirit.

In reality, every child, woman, and man has an immortal, spiritual identity. This true individuality is ageless, timeless, and tireless. As God’s spiritual creation we are not governed by calendars or clocks, milestones or deadlines, but by the divine law of limitless, eternally unfolding good.

Each of us can begin now to rightly identify ourselves as God’s child – full of strength, wisdom, and vigor. Our innate spiritual intuition, which God imparts, helps us separate the spiritual facts of being, which bring out harmony and immortality, from fictional, material beliefs, which always produce discord. This can bring healing to any problem.

Several years ago I suffered a chronic, age-related pain in my shoulder. One morning, after reading the weekly Bible Lesson from the “Christian Science Quarterly,” the spiritual truths I studied seemed to cut through apathy and I realized that I didn’t need to suffer from this discomfort any longer. This was the effect of the Christ – “the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 332).

A sense of God knowing me, loving me, and tenderly supporting me accompanied this demand for healing – this striving to better understand God and my present immortality as God’s image, or reflection.

The starting point of my prayer was rightly identifying spiritual existence as the present and only actuality of being, despite contrary testimony from the physical senses. I affirmed that God is divine Spirit and eternal Life, the sole cause and creator of the universe, which is entirely spiritual, not material. Spirit couldn’t and wouldn’t make anything capable of aging or decay or subject to erosion, loss, or failure. Spirit’s beautiful and pure spiritual ideas remain spring-morning fresh, tirelessly vital, forever immutable and new.

When thoughts such as “I’m getting older, so I ache” and “I’m in pain” come to us, we can immediately affirm the spiritual facts: “I am God’s immortal and ageless spiritual idea, so I cannot ache or be in pain” and “I am pain-free right now.”

Even before the healing was evident, I rejoiced to know my present immortality as a blessed and beloved child of God, including flexibility, resiliency, and graceful, effortless movement. Each time my shoulder ached, I would reject frustration, replacing it with a strong affirmation of my present and permanent health as God’s ever-fresh, ever-new, ever-vital spiritual reflection. This took persistence. But within a few days, the shoulder pain vanished, and it has not recurred. Joy and gratitude filled my heart when I realized I was free!

Then, early in 2020, pain in my hips made walking difficult. As I prayed along similar lines, full and pain-free movement was restored within days. Divine energy even put a spring in my step!

Age-related aches and pains – in fact, discomfort of any kind – can be healed through prayer in Christian Science. Discord is never part of our true being, and God’s tender love is perpetually available to answer our prayers for relief. The divine message of the healing Christ, Truth, rouses us from apathy and discouragement, encourages us to seek healing through a better understanding of God and our oneness with God, and frees us from suffering.

Now is the perfect time to understand, declare, and demonstrate man’s timeless, tireless being as God’s immortal idea.

Adapted from an article published in the Aug. 30, 2021, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Viewfinder

An artist’s final vision

Thibault Camus/AP
The "L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped" project by the late artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, will be on view from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3. It is shown here on Sept. 14, 2021. The famed Paris monument will be wrapped in about 270,000 square feet of silvery blue fabric and with 3,300 yards of red rope. The couple began collaborating on works of art in public spaces in 1961. For decades, Christo had thought about wrapping the Arc de Triomphe, making photomontage and collage versions of the idea in 1962 and 1988, respectively. That vision is now being fully realized.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today! Tomorrow, education reporter Chelsea Sheasley examines what a “win” looks like in today’s polarized school culture wars over masks, critical race theory, and gender identity.

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