2021
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23
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Monitor Daily Podcast

September 23, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

What is she?

Trudy Palmer
Deputy Daily Editor

I got that question a lot after adopting my daughter. As an infant, she hadn’t fully grown into her “color,” but she didn’t exactly look white, either. So people wondered what she was. Too often, I indulged the question, when all it deserved was the obvious answer.

“What is she?”

“A baby.”

On good days, I didn’t let it bother me. On not-so-great days, I got annoyed. Here was this cute-as-can-be baby girl, and people were focused on the fact that we didn’t match.

As she grew older and her skin naturally darkened, we looked more like the African American mother-daughter pair people expected, so the questions ceased.

I flashed back on those early days when I saw the results of a recent Gallup Poll on interracial marriage. What was once perceived as an egregious mismatch is now widely accepted. Specifically, of the 1,007 adults across the United States polled by phone in July, 94% approve of marriages between Black people and white people. That’s up from a mere 4% in 1958, when Gallup first asked the question. In 1968, a year after the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage, 20% of Americans approved of the practice. By 1992, when my daughter was born, 48% approved.

In short, the country is catching up to what has always been true: Love bridges racial differences. That’s true among friends, parents and children, husbands and wives.

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‘Who will rebuild the country?’ Educated Afghans’ stay-or-go struggle.

Some Afghans who fled their homeland wrestle with feeling they have betrayed their country. Others who are staying wonder how much they’ll be allowed to help. 

Trudy
Laura Hasani/Reuters/File
People evacuated from Afghanistan arrive at Pristina Airport in Kosovo, Aug. 29, 2021. The Taliban takeover of Kabul was greeted by a massive brain drain.

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The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has shattered the dreams of a generation of Afghans who had hoped to help end 40 years of fighting and bring their country into the modern era. But it has also forced many to choose between a personal desire to flee for safety and a sense of obligation to serve their country.

For educated women, there seems to be no choice. The Taliban are re-imposing harsh restrictions on their role. Many young people, even those still in Afghanistan because they had no way to flee last month, cannot imagine a future in the sort of country the Taliban seem to envision.

But going into exile is never easy. “You are in a paradox,” says Ayesha, a university graduate who did not want to reveal her real name for safety reasons. “You feel like you are betraying your country by leaving. Yet, if you don’t leave, you are wasted here.”

Ayesha had planned to stay. One month into Taliban rule, she is trying to flee. “This is one of the most difficult choices I ever experienced,” she says.

‘Who will rebuild the country?’ Educated Afghans’ stay-or-go struggle.

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It became a regular ritual for Ayesha. As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan in early August, every day she found herself saying goodbye to another young, well-educated friend who was fleeing the country.

The day before Taliban forces took Kabul, one of those departing friends asked Ayesha when she herself would go. She grew angry as they sat in a restaurant, and said she would not leave.

“We shouldn’t abandon our country when it needs us more than any other time,” Ayesha, a university graduate, remembers telling him. “You will just be wasted in another country.”

She has since changed her mind, afraid that as an educated woman under Taliban rule she will be silenced, so she is seeking a way out of the country. “This is one of the most difficult choices I ever experienced,” says Ayesha, who asked that her real name not be used for her own safety.

Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer in transitional justice at the American University of Afghanistan who comes from an Islamist political family, felt obliged to make a different choice.

“I thought that if I could reconcile the two very different worlds I belong to, then maybe Afghanistan had a chance,” says Mr. Baheer. He is staying, for now.

The lightning-quick Taliban takeover of Afghanistan prompted an unprecedented brain drain of Afghanistan’s best and brightest, as tens of thousands of them were evacuated from Kabul last month. But many of those who stayed, voluntarily or otherwise, find themselves torn between a personal desire to flee to safety and a sense of obligation to serve their country.

“You are in this paradox,” says Ayesha. “You feel like you are betraying your country by leaving. Yet, if you don’t leave, you are wasted here. You are nobody.

“I am scared of silence, of not being allowed to speak up,” she adds. “I am scared of being erased.”

“Best and brightest” gone

The Taliban’s victory has crushed the dreams of a generation of Afghans who had hoped to help end 40 years of war and usher their blighted nation into the modern era, but now face a deeply uncertain future. Their departure would make governing the country more difficult, as hard-earned technical expertise and know-how evaporate.

The resulting heartbreak is obvious in Albania, where several hundred of the 122,000-plus Afghans evacuated by the United States have been welcomed before beginning new lives in America.

“I see people here from the [Afghan] Ministry of Finance, from treasury, from defense, from USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), the U.S. Embassy, media and U.N. agencies,” says a former deputy minister who fled from Kabul under fire with his two young children, and is now in Albania.

“They are the best of the best, some of the brightest people that Afghanistan had,” says the U.S.-educated Afghan and former Fulbright scholar, who asked not to be named because of family members still at risk in Afghanistan. Their absence “is going to affect the ability of the new authorities in Kabul to establish a functioning state ... that can deliver,” the former official predicts.

Franc Zhurda/AP/File
Evacuated Afghans arrive at Tirana Airport in Albania, Aug. 27, 2021. Some wrestled with a sense they were betraying their country by fleeing the Taliban.

After Kabul fell, Taliban leaders called on educated Afghans to stay and help rebuild the country, promised a general amnesty, and vowed that “no one will knock on your door at night” seeking retribution.

And yet Afghans say that activists, journalists, former officials, and anyone who had ties to U.S. and Western organizations – people routinely threatened by the Taliban throughout their yearslong insurgency – are still being hunted by Taliban fighters going door to door.

Some Afghans are nevertheless fighting the brain drain by staying, in the hope they can act as bridges between the worldviews of the austere Taliban and ordinary citizens.

“Some of us had to take a bet on the Taliban, because we don’t have any other option” but to build such bridges, says university lecturer Mr. Baheer.  

Some people leave Afghanistan, he says, and others stay but live in denial, as if the Taliban had not taken power. “But the truth is, they are here, and the only way to move forward is to try to facilitate a transition, a reconciliation,” he says. “It’s obviously a very difficult bet to make because circumstances change every day, and our hope levels keep wavering.”

Who will rebuild the country?

Other Afghans are not willing to give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt.

“As a young person, of course I want to make my own country, to make my family and people proud. I want to bring change,” says a 19-year-old high school graduate in Kabul, whose dream of applying for college in the U.S. has been shattered.

“If everyone leaves, then who will stay to rebuild the country?” the young man wonders. “That question always comes to my mind. But the Afghanistan I see in the future is completely different from what the Taliban sees. And if I want to change it, if I want a better Afghanistan, the Taliban do not care about that.”

“The Taliban are different in thoughts, in beliefs, and all the things that they stand for are in contradiction to us,” he adds. He is now hoping to accept a university scholarship in India.

One women’s rights activist in the northwest city of Herat, in hiding while she finds a safe way to flee, has reached the same conclusion. Friends have been detained by the Taliban, and she knows of door-to-door searches for activists like her.

Her family demanded that she burn the many certificates she received while working with U.S. and Western organizations. With tears in her eyes, she says, she hid them instead.

To her they represented two decades of hard work, trying to empower women. Such work is no longer possible under the Taliban, and she sees no alternative to exile.

“When I was an activist, when I was busy with my activities, I was alive,” she says. “These last three months, it’s like I am only breathing. I cannot do anything for myself, for my community. It’s like I am not alive.”

“I know that in their hearts ... everyone who has left the country are still in Afghanistan and all thinking about how we can be back and help our beloved country,” says the activist.

“I think they have no option other than to stay alive [abroad], or stay in the country ... silent and hidden for a lifetime.”

Why some Pacific powers may be siding with US against China

The evolution of a grouping of maritime powers in the Indo-Pacific region toward a security focus on China risks relegating its other goals, including the promotion of democratic norms.

Trudy

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The Quad, which groups the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, began as an ad hoc humanitarian mechanism. Now it appears to be taking on the form of a security counterweight to China, the dominant economic power in Asia. 

On Friday, President Joe Biden will host Quad leaders at the White House, one week after Australia announced a nuclear-powered submarine deal with the U.S. and United Kingdom. 

Analysts say that a growing emphasis on confrontation with China could dilute the Quad’s identity as a grouping of four democracies promoting common values and liberal international principles. Some warn that its militarization could set off a round of nuclear proliferation in an already volatile region.

But there is widespread agreement that Quad powers that once prioritized diplomatic engagement with China have had to reassess their strategy in the face of Beijing’s increasingly assertive foreign policy and rapid military buildup. “I see China as the godfather – or the midwife, pick your analogy – of the Quad,” says Ramesh Thakur, an Australian academic who runs a nuclear nonproliferation center in Canberra. 

Why some Pacific powers may be siding with US against China

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The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP/File
Clockwise from top left, President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison appear on the monitor during the Quad summit at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on March 12, 2021.

For President Joe Biden, convening a White House summit Friday of a once-obscure Indo-Pacific grouping of countries is all about signaling a post-Afghanistan shift to Asia and confronting an increasingly aggressive China.

By doing so, he is pushing on an open door: America’s “Quad” partners – Australia, India, and Japan – have all undergone their own pivots in weighing the risk of provoking Asia’s economic powerhouse against the benefit of closer U.S. alignment, including on security.

“The summit is further evidence ... of the turning point that the Quad represents for Indo-Pacific relations and for the era of intensifying competition with a more assertive China,” says Dhruva Jaishankar, executive director of the Observer Research Foundation America, a private Indian think tank in Washington.

“In all four countries there are internal debates over how much you should engage with China versus how much you should compete with China,” he adds. “And in all four, engagement with China has proven to have its limits, [strengthening] the hand of those advocating a tougher, more balancing position.”

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue began as an ad hoc humanitarian assistance mechanism following the deadly 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Its shift toward permanent status and closer security cooperation is not without risks, some experts warn. What some see as the Quad’s creeping militarization could open the path to a U.S.-led cold war with China – a path Mr. Biden asserted in his United Nations speech Tuesday that the U.S. is not seeking to take.

Moreover, some see China responding to a coalition it has always disliked by cultivating its ties with Russia, Pakistan, and Iran to form a potential counterweight in another cold war echo.

Others worry the emphasis on confrontation with China could go too far, diluting the Quad’s identity as a grouping of four democracies promoting common values and liberal international principles such as the rule of law, transparency, and freedom of maritime navigation. And they warn that the form the militarization is taking could set off a round of nuclear proliferation in an already volatile region.

“The intention from Japan’s perspective will be to stand up to China’s provocations while not making the Quad too confrontational,” says a Japanese diplomat who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

“A military flavor”

Still, it’s China’s behavior over the last decade – border skirmishes with India, economic retaliation against Australia for its support for human rights in China, militarization of the seas near Japan – that has led to a more muscular Quad, observers from all four countries say.

“There is more of a military flavor” to the strategy behind the Quad, says Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and who served in the White House when the Quad was formed in 2004. “But I think that’s in response to what Beijing is doing.”

Friday’s first-ever in-person Quad summit is not expected to deliver many concrete actions. The leaders will endorse a semiconductor development initiative aimed at securing supply chains and easing a global semiconductor shortage, White House officials say. A Quad plan to supply a billion COVID-19 vaccines to Southeast Asia by the end of 2022, first announced in March, is expected to get a new impetus. Mr. Biden said Wednesday that the United States would donate an additional 500 million doses through the end of next year.

But it’s the four regional powers’ newfound common purpose in standing together as maritime powers to confront an increasingly forceful China that will steal the show.

That is especially true after the agreement announced last week between the U.S., Australia, and the United Kingdom to supply Australia with eight nuclear-powered submarines.

The trilateral defense deal – awkwardly known as “AUKUS” – is not directly related to the Quad. But the timing of the announcement a week before the Quad summit, and the involvement of the U.S. and Australia, convince some experts that America’s Indo-Pacific partners are taking their gloves off to square up to China.

The nuclear submarine deal is about “the ability to sink the Chinese navy in 72 hours” and thus constitutes “a new level of deterrence,” Matthew Kroenig, a former senior Defense Department official, said shortly after the deal was announced.

Australia shops for subs

While all Quad members have shifted in their perceptions of China over the past decade, Australia’s about-turn may be the most dramatic.

As recently as the Obama administration, Australia was seen to be studiously limiting its military cooperation with the U.S. to avoid alarming China. In 2011, it opted for a revolving, limited deployment of Marines over the permanent basing of U.S. troops on its soil.

Now it has signed an accord that promises an unprecedented level of U.S. nuclear technology transfer and confirms the U.S. as Australia’s security guarantor, some analysts say. The U.K.’s involvement is also significant: It has expressed interest in working with the Quad in Asian waters.

None of which might have happened, these analysts say, if not for Beijing’s own behavioral shift over the last decade.

“Quad 1.0 was interred by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s willingness to pull Australia out in 2008 in recognition of China’s sensitivities and with hopes of developing mutually beneficial relations with China,” says Ramesh Thakur, emeritus professor at the Australian National University in Canberra and director of the university’s nuclear nonproliferation center.

“But then as much as anything else it was Australia’s growing discomfort with China’s rapid military expansion and its ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy over recent years that led to the Quad 2.0 we’re seeing today,” he adds. “It’s in that sense that I see China as the godfather – or the midwife, pick your analogy – of the Quad.”

Nuclear proliferation concerns

Still, some experts worry about the consequences of the sale of high-tech, highly enriched uranium-fueled submarines to a privileged member of an exclusive regional club in a region that already has four nuclear-armed powers – India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea.

“If [AUKUS] is handled well there could be benefits, but at the same time is anyone asking the question, what is the impact of saying only Australia is going to get nuclear submarines, and not South Korea? Does this prod South Korea further to consider going down the nuclear path?” says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Education Center in Washington.

One possible solution, he says, would be to consider modeling the new subs after the International Space Station in the sense that South Korean and Japanese personnel might be allowed to participate in crewing the subs.  

Beyond the AUKUS submarines, some regional analysts worry that the Quad’s shift to focusing on countering China could undermine the group’s emphasis on the values they share and seek to promote in the Indo-Pacific region.

Already, some India analysts say that the Biden administration – which criticized its predecessor for coddling dictators – is biting its tongue about India’s democratic backsliding under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Why, they say? So as not to alienate a Quad member and key partner in the Indian Ocean and Asian subcontinent.

CSIS’s Dr. Green says discord over democratic values is unlikely at Friday’s summit. But he says the issue could come to a head later this year when President Biden announces attendees at his virtual summit on democracy in December.

“It seems the White House is going to set a very high bar for which countries can be invited” to the summit, he says. “That’s a bit awkward for the other members of the Quad, [as] the Japanese, Australians, and Indians would prefer a much more inclusive and relaxed definition of democracy.”

Even some experts who worry about the repercussions of the growing militarization of the Quad say they see ways that the AUKUS agreement could allow for the grouping to reemphasize its roots in meeting human needs and cooperation among democratic powers.

“The potential is there for the Quad to detach itself from the military dimensions of regional relationships like AUKUS to be a coalition that emphasizes humanitarian assistance and cooperative efforts like the vaccine initiative,” says Dr. Thakur. “Such a focus on common political values would certainly resonate around the Indo-Pacific.”

Behind extension of paternity leave in Europe, a generational change

In some European countries, paid paternity leave is the law of the land. While that has obvious benefits for families welcoming a newborn, research suggests it may have long-term advantages as well. 

Trudy
Colette Davidson
Alice and James Hagger pose for a photo at home in Paris, Sept. 19, 2021. The couple is trying to find their rhythm as Mr. Hagger goes back to work after taking advantage of France's new measure that extends paternity leave to 28 days.

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While U.S. federal law mandates no paid family leave, it’s a different story in Europe, and not just for working mothers. Paternity leave is increasingly the norm. And a European Union law that takes effect next year requires all member states to provide a minimum of 10 days to fathers.  

France and Spain already exceed this minimum, the result of a generational change that has shaped public policy. In Spain, fathers now get 16 weeks off, fully paid. 

Advocates say paid paternity leave can help to close the childcare gender divide. Studies show that early involvement by fathers leads to more equitable sharing of parental duties and that increased father-child bonding promotes infant development, says Ariane Pailhé, a researcher in Paris. “This last argument has been particularly convincing for politicians.”

James Hagger took a month off this summer to help take care of his newborn son. Now he’s back at work in Paris. Still, he wishes he had longer. “It’s as if the government thinks that after one month, everything is sorted out,” he says. 

Behind extension of paternity leave in Europe, a generational change

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Alice and James Hagger seem surprisingly bright-eyed after a month of little to no sleep. As their newborn son dozes angelically in a stroller, they order coffees and croissants at their neighborhood cafe in Paris. Ms. Hagger has just dropped off their 3-year-old son at his preschool. Mr. Hagger is spiffed up to go to work, his first week back after a month of paid paternity leave.

“I’m in total parental burnout,” says Mr. Hagger, who runs a production company in the French capital.

He benefited from a new French measure that went into effect July 1 that doubled the length of paternity leave to 28 days. The increase puts France on par with five of Europe’s most generous countries in providing paternity leave.

The couple still wishes that Mr. Hagger had more time off. “The other morning, I was about to leave for work and I saw Alice’s face, how much she was struggling to handle everything, and I called to say I wasn’t coming in,” he says. 

“With a second child there’s more work to do,” says Ms. Hagger. “A month is too short.”

Paternity leave is in sharp focus across Europe ahead of a deadline next April for European Union nations to provide a minimum of 10 days leave for all new fathers. France and Spain already exceed this minimum: Spanish fathers now qualify for four months off with full pay. 

These progressive policies, experts say, reflect generational changes in both societies, as well as serious thinking into how workplace laws can help to close the childcare gender divide by prodding fathers to use their leave in full. The shift is driven both by labor economics – the financial support that parents need to stay in the workforce – and research into the crucial role that at-home fathers play in infant development. Studies show that early involvement by fathers leads to more equitable sharing of parental and other household duties over time. 

“For several years now, feminists, women, and researchers, but also fathers, have taken a stand in favor of paternity leave,” says Ariane Pailhé, a senior researcher on work-family balance and gender at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) in Paris. “This decision reflects a change in the perception of fatherhood. There is an underlying trend towards active parenthood and fatherhood.”

The experience of Scandinavian countries and Germany shows that paternity leave promotes greater father-child bonding. “This last argument has been particularly convincing for politicians,” she adds. 

Adding up the costs

Paternity leave policy varies widely across the world. In the U.S., it is an unpaid option rather than a federal right, though several states have introduced paid paternity leave. The average leave for fathers in wealthy nations is eight weeks, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Advocates say the economics of paid family leave add up, as seen in the experience of countries like Sweden and Finland, which have expanded parental leave for men and women for the past two decades without sinking their economies.

“It pays for itself,” says Gary Barker, chief executive of Promundo, a U.S.-based nonprofit which studies global fatherhood trends. “It doesn’t keep men back in their careers. We don’t stop being productive because we take off the extra time.” 

Mr. and Ms. Hagger would like to see more flexibility given to working French parents with small children, including the option to work part time after their statutory leave ends. Mr. Hagger complains he spent his month off dealing with paperwork and is still in “survival mode.” 

“It’s strange. It’s as if the government thinks that after one month, everything is sorted out,” says Mr. Hagger. “Sometimes it seems like the laws are made by people who’ve never had children.”

Courtesy of Miguel La Orden
Miguel La Orden plays with his 3-year-old daughter Ana and 6-month-old son Jorge at a playground near his apartment in Madrid.

Enjoying a relaxed, summer, poolside afternoon with his wife, 3-year-old daughter Ana, and baby boy, Miguel La Orden knew his life in Madrid was about to get hectic. His wife went back to work in mid-August so he is overseeing the transition of Ana to preschool while his son Jorge, who was born in February, settles into daycare. 

Come November, Mr. La Orden will return to his job as a health care economist. “By the time I get back to work, they will have had a chance to settle in,” he says. “[Paternity leave] is a right that belongs to me and I would be stupid to waste it,” he says. 

He and his wife have equal parental time off and benefits thanks to a Spanish law that came into effect in January 2021. The law provides 16 weeks of leave to fathers that can be taken in chunks: Mr. La Orden stayed home for eight weeks right after his son was born and saved the rest for after his wife resumed her publishing job.   

“There is greater awareness today that parenting is a shared task ... and this type of leave helps push that forward,” says Mr. La Orden. 

And time with a newborn is priceless. “Seeing how he starts to develop, move, and make gestures, those are definitely things I would not have wanted to miss because I am working,” he adds. 

Spain’s four months of fully paid parental leave is more generous than that of Nordic countries like Sweden and Iceland, which offer 12 weeks at 80% of salaries. Mr. La Orden’s salary is also untaxed while he’s a stay-at-home dad. “I get more money than if I were at the office,” he says.

Centuries of Spanish machismo may die hard, but social policy is pushing in the opposite direction, says Gerardo Meil, head of sociology at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. “Ten years ago, it was unthinkable that paternity leave would be equal to maternity leave in Spain,” he says. “The unequal sharing of family responsibilities is decreasing over time.”

Dividing family leave

Nordic countries, however, still offer more time overall than Spain as they provide several weeks that can be taken either by the mother or father. By contrast, Spain gives both parents the same benefits. 

“Nordic countries have configured leave on the basis of the family,” says Irene Lapuerta Méndez, professor at the department of social work at the Public University of Navarra in Spain. Whereas “the goal [of Spanish policymakers] is to motivate fathers to use” all their leave.

Dr. Mendez says international studies suggest men make very little use of caregiving leave when the pay is less than 80% of their salary and when this is configured as family rights rather than individual rights. 

“No country in the world configures vacation rights on the basis of the family and asks couples to figure out how they will take it. Why should it be less when it comes to rights around childcare?” she asks.

Mr. Barker says that the two policies that work best in terms of getting men to change diapers and burp babies are subsidized child care and expanded paternity leave. Companies in Europe that already cover maternity leave must get used to doing the same for men taking paternity leave, he adds. 

“The main issue is the worry in men’s heads that we won’t seem like competitive, dedicated workers, that our income and our critical career trajectories will suffer if we take extended leave,” says Mr. Barker.

Pushback in the workplace

While Spain and France have both seen men take a greater role in child raising, experts say men still tend to put their careers first and do not take all their statutory leave. While the effects of expanded leave for fathers haven’t been studied, Spain previously had a higher uptake of leave than France, according to 2019 data compiled by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. In general, the likelihood of men taking leave increases with the number of children that they have fathered. 

Mr. Hagger owns his company so he doesn’t face pushback for taking extended leave. Ms. Hagger, however, says she’s worked with men who have been chastised for taking time off. Her brother-in-law was pressured into taking his paternity leave later in the year, even after his wife gave birth to twins. “His boss said, ‘Now is not a good time. You can take it in six months,’” she says.

That wouldn’t fly under France’s new policy, which mandates paternity leave must be granted during the first week after birth. This could have an impact on career trajectories: Studies show the more children French women have the more likely they are to exit the workforce. But men are more likely to be promoted because they are perceived as the primary breadwinners.

And while new fathers may be at home more, the greater burden still falls on their female partners, says Dr. Pailhé, of INED. “Gender stereotypes are still very strong [in France], care work is still perceived as feminine while playing and horseplay are perceived as masculine.”

Still, the law reflects social changes in France that elevate the parenting responsibilities of fathers.

“There’s been a progressive repositioning of fatherhood since the 1970s. Back then, we heard the term ‘the new father’ – aka, the father who invested time in his children,” says Gérard Neyrand, a sociology professor at the University of Toulouse, who studies family life and parenthood. “Now, that concept is the norm, in all strata of the French population.”

#TeamUp

How energy-efficient buildings could lead to safer streets

Instead of feeling helpless in the face of climate change, Donnel Baird is taking action, with initiatives that ripple out from energy-efficient buildings to safer communities.

Trudy

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Over the past decade, Donnel Baird’s company, BlocPower, has retrofitted more than 1,000 buildings in New York and has begun branching out to bring heating and air conditioning improvements to other cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. 

“For me, morally and ethically and as a father,” Mr. Baird says, “we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. now, and there’s no better path to dealing with climate change other than by greening buildings.”

He says his secret sauce is building trust in low-income communities by partnering with houses of worship. “A local pastor or rabbi or imam can help generate goodwill for our business,” he explains. “And from there, we work with individual homeowners.” 

But Mr. Baird’s ambitions go beyond retrofitting buildings to retrofitting inner-city communities. On Sept. 15, he and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $37 million climate tech workforce program to bring 1,500 jobs to communities fighting gun violence.

This initiative is also a solution to another problem that vexes Mr. Baird: job and wealth creation in communities of color. 

“We must train our young people – even those who might have been in prison – to be plumbers and welders and electricians,” he says. “We need skilled workers in America.” 

How energy-efficient buildings could lead to safer streets

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Ann Hermes/Staff
Donnel Baird, founder of BlocPower, speaks on Sept. 20, 2021, during a tour of environmental upgrades his company made to Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx, a borough of New York. The tour, organized for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan (third from left), was followed by a discussion of environmental justice and the future of clean energy.

This week, world leaders are gathered at the United Nations General Assembly for Climate Week NYC 2021, in search of unifying strategies to solve a series of daunting challenges related to climate change and the pandemic. The official overview reads, “The choices we make will either secure human, economic and environmental health for generations to come, or reinforce old patterns that are destroying nature and driving societal division.” 

The urgent need for deep cuts in emissions follows an International Energy Agency report predicting that global energy-related carbon emissions will surge in 2021, as coal, oil, and natural gas usage returns from last year’s unprecedented declines during the height of the pandemic.

But at the same time, some seven miles north of the U.N., Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, the Biden administration’s top environmental regulator, toured planet-saving remedies recently installed at Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx. From the church’s new, more energy-efficient boiler to the Wi-Fi supernode on the roof, Mr. Regan saw firsthand the impact of Donnel Baird’s innovative approach to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re in a complicated moment,” Mr. Baird says. “Companies, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and governments are trying to figure out what we can do to address climate change. For me, morally and ethically and as a father, we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. now, and there’s no better path to dealing with climate change other than by greening buildings.”  

Over the last decade, Mr. Baird’s company, BlocPower, has retrofitted more than 1,000 buildings in New York and has begun branching out to Oakland, California; Los Angeles; Chicago; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; and Washington.  

I first learned about Donnel Baird from Lynn Schenk, director of Harvard Business School’s Business and Environment Initiative. She puts Mr. Baird at the top of her list of “climate change heroes.”  

Clay Nesler, global lead for buildings at the World Resources Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, says Mr. Baird’s company offers “a really thoughtful solution.” He was unable to name another U.S. company or individual having a similar impact on upgrading the efficiency of old buildings. 

“Buildings are the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, more than transportation,” Mr. Nesler says. “The technology solutions are there. They pay for themselves by lowering the costs of utility bills. The challenge is finding financial models to pay for the upfront costs of retrofitting.” 

Ann Hermes/Staff
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx is shown on Sept. 20, 2021. BlocPower, a startup that retrofits buildings, installed LED lights, a Wi-Fi supernode, and an energy efficient boiler at the church and connected school.

Before retrofitting, build trust

So what is Mr. Baird’s secret sauce? Why does he appear to be a unicorn in the field of retrofitting? 

“I guess I’m dumb and stubborn,” he says, laughing. “I know other CEOs who have tried to build what we’re building but they’ve moved on.”   

Mr. Baird believes his success starts with building trust in low-income communities, using a community organizing technique he learned before and during the “Obama for President” campaign. Specifically, he partners with religious organizations.

“Community organizing teaches you how to build trust where people have lost faith with many institutions,” he explains. “We partner with houses of worship because it helps us build that trust. A local pastor or rabbi or imam can help generate goodwill for our business. And from there, we work with individual homeowners.” 

A Duke and Columbia Business School alum, Mr. Baird uses software to identify opportunities for heating and air conditioning improvements and, after making them, redirects the energy savings to homeowners and his investors. “We have been conservative in our estimations for customers, but we are proud that we’re generating 10% to 70% savings in energy costs and consumption,” he says.

Armed with millions of dollars of Wall Street financing (secured after 200 initial rejections), he has the upfront funds needed to seed BlocPower’s activities. But he admits that after a few years of profitability, he has been plowing his own proceeds into growing the business.  

U.S. focus on climate change intensifies

Some 15 years ago, former Vice President Al Gore sounded the climate change alarm with his Oscar-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” On Sept. 14, Mr. Gore noted the anniversary when he addressed a virtual audience for the Ocean Conservancy. Mr. Gore thinks that now, finally, the U.S. is nearing a political tipping point on climate change. “The impacts are hard to ignore,” he told listeners. “One out of three Americans has endured a weather disaster within the last 90 days!” 

Mr. Gore and Ocean Conservancy CEO Janis Searles Jones pointed to progress within a number of sectors. Industries are becoming more sustainable and efficient, she said, specifically citing shipping. And she praised movement in the investor community, a few days after Harvard University, for example, announced that it would no longer invest in the fossil fuel industry.  

The former vice president heaped praise on young people rising up as well as on the climate and environmental justice movements. He cited the Black Lives Matter movement and numerous campaigns against environmental racism in states like Tennessee and North Carolina, and in Louisiana’s so-called Cancer Alley.

Alicia Powell/Reuters
BlocPower founder Donnel Baird poses in Brooklyn, New York, next to equipment his company uses to create and power clean energy, March 18, 2021.

Beyond buildings to communities 

That brings us back to Donnel Baird. His ambitions go beyond retrofitting buildings to retrofitting inner-city communities as well as individual lives. On Sept. 15, he and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $37 million climate tech workforce program to bring 1,500 jobs to communities fighting gun violence. 

Said the mayor: “They’re not just jobs, they’re good paying jobs, they’re green jobs, they’re jobs with a future.” 

Said Mr. Baird: “We have a team in Queens right now, helping to dig out a homeowner where her home’s been flooded. In the Bronx we’re installing a community-owned internet system, so that up to 200,000 low-income families have free access to the internet. … We have workers in this program who are in Brooklyn visiting buildings ... where we’re going to move those buildings from burning oil or gas to 100% clean electricity.” 

Mr. Baird’s workforce initiative is a solution to yet another problem that vexes him: job and wealth creation in communities of color. As he explains, “We have a shortage of skilled construction workers in America. There can be a three-month wait for a plumber! We must train our young people – even those who might have been in prison – to be plumbers and welders and electricians. A welder can earn $100,000 a year. We need skilled workers in America.”

But Mr. Baird’s ambition and influence extend beyond the United States. He is scheduled to speak at a climate change conference in Portugal next month, before traveling to Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November. WRI’s Clay Nesler tells me the global convening will focus on buildings on Nov. 11, the first full day devoted to the topic since the Paris accords were signed in 2015. 

“The United States has made commitments that we will pay in and help other countries reduce their emissions,” Mr. Baird says. “And we haven’t. I want to see how seriously to take all of this.”   

Despite juggling greenhouse gas-reduction innovations, interconnected routes to progress in inner-city neighborhoods, and working to save the planet at macro and micro levels, Mr. Baird appears undaunted.

Jacqueline Adams is co-author of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive.”

‘Mudlarks’ dig up London’s past on the banks of the River Thames

For some Londoners, poking around the shores of the River Thames for lost artifacts, aka mudlarking, isn’t just a pastime. It’s a way to escape the hustle of urban life and relieve the tensions of the pandemic.

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Michael White/Courtesy of Lara Maiklem
Lara Maiklem hunts for objects along the River Thames foreshore. Mudlarking, as the hobby is known, has been her passion for 20 years.

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Britain’s rivers, particularly the River Thames, have long been the site of “mudlarking,” an 18th-century scavenging profession turned modern pastime that involves looking for ownerless objects that have been lost, discarded, or displaced. Amid the pandemic, mudlarking has become an escape from the monotony of lockdowns and the peril of crowds – as well as a window onto the past and a break from urban life.

The Port of London Authority, which issues mudlarking permits for people to hunt for archaeological objects along the Thames foreshore, has seen numbers increase significantly during the pandemic. Last year the PLA issued 1,363 permits, up from an even 1,000 in 2019 and double the number issued in 2018.

Lara Maiklem has amassed a global following as a mudlark, with some 175,000 followers across social media keeping track of her latest finds on the shores of the Thames. Silver rings, Roman coins, and fragments of pottery dating back to the Iron Age are among some of the common items found. They are usually fragments thrown away by Londoners of the past, she says.

“I kept going back to the river and every time I seemed to find something different,” says Ms. Maiklem. “It just became my go-to place to escape.”

‘Mudlarks’ dig up London’s past on the banks of the River Thames

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It was almost 20 years ago when, waiting for a delayed friend, Lara Maiklem found herself by the River Thames at low tide. Stepping off a set of creaky wooden steps onto the muddy shore, she found the discarded, disused stem of a clay pipe.

Little did she know that her moment of curiosity would spark into an obsession for “mudlarking,” an 18th-century scavenging profession turned modern pastime that involves looking for ownerless objects that have been lost, discarded, or displaced, often by a beach or by the side of a river.

While Ms. Maiklem was unable to find in London’s parks the solitude she had enjoyed on the farm of her youth, she found it in London’s river. In that “ribbon of tranquility cutting through the city,” she says, she would regularly look for a treasure-trove of objects retelling the history of London. In doing so, she quenched her thirst for peace.

“I kept going back to the river and every time I seemed to find something different,” says Ms. Maiklem. “It’s thoroughly addictive because it’s like a great lucky dip, you just don’t know what you’re going to find next or what the tide will wash up. It just became my go-to place to escape.”

And during the pandemic, mudlarking has become that much more important for Londoners looking to escape the monotony of lockdowns and the peril of crowds. It provides a window on the past and a break from urban life.

“Ten feet above you at street level, it’s manic. But by the riverbank, there are only five or six people at most,” says Joe Allen, a mudlark for five years. “There’s a sense of being back in time, in the old London before new housing developments existed.”

Flocking to mudlarking

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Britain’s first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, he inadvertently brought London’s famous river to an abrupt standstill. The River Thames was as quiet “as it’s ever been in 2,000 years, left to itself, returning to nature so quickly because there were no boats,” says Ms. Maiklem, author of “Mudlarking: Lost and Found on The River Thames.” The lack of river traffic, though, meant that silt simply settled, leaving the shore harder to explore for local mudlarks wishing to take their permitted daily walk in lockdown.

Courtesy of Lara Maiklem
The River Thames becomes quieter by Greenwich, whose foreshore is shown here, and the bustle of the city is reduced to silence.

As restrictions eased, mudlarking as a pastime – already popular before the pandemic – boomed. The Port of London Authority, which issues mudlarking permits allowing people to hunt for archaeological objects along the Thames foreshore, issued 1,363 such permits last year, up from 1,000 in 2019 and double the number issued in 2018.

By law, mudlarks must report finds that are 300 years old or more, and anything of archaeological importance, to the Portable Antiquities Scheme run by the British Museum. “It’s really important to record what people find because it’s part of our collective history,” says Ms. Maiklem. She urges mudlark newcomers to act like custodians and to “keep a story alive” by sharing objects with other people.

Indeed, she has amassed a global following doing just that, with some 175,000 followers across social media keeping track of her latest finds in the muddy, windy mouth of the River Thames. Silver rings, Roman coins, and fragments of pottery dating back to the Iron Age are among some of the commonly found items. They are usually fragments thrown away by Londoners of the past, the equivalent of modern garbage, she says.

More unusual items include an impression of a dog paw in a medieval tile, “frozen in time.” More recently, she discovered a rare 15th-century pilgrim badge originally from a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary – the equivalent of a modern tourist souvenir. “It’s thought that when they got back to London, they would ritually bend them in half. People have been making offerings to the River Thames forever,” says Ms. Maiklem.

The Thames has a long history of churning up religious artifacts. It has been a sacred river ever since the first hunter-gatherers offered precious stone tools to the spirits they believed dwelled within it. Today, people throw all manner of modern religious objects, such as Islamic and Jewish amulets, into the Thames. By far the most common sacred objects found by mudlarks are from Hindu rituals. Indian oil lamps, called diya, are often found in autumn around Diwali, the Festival of Lights.

“Solitude and ‘me time’”

Michal Knap started browsing the shores of the Thames in June 2020, three months into Britain’s first lockdown. Business and the frenetic pace of work life pre-COVID-19 had left him no time for it. When life came to a standstill, Mr. Knap took the opportunity to fulfill his ambition of “pretending to be an archaeologist.”

He says it also provides a source of community and belonging, particularly as he is deaf. “But mudlark communication can be difficult, too ... because the tide always turns quickly and many people don’t have the time to speak slowly or write in that environment.”

Courtesy of Lara Maiklem
Lara Maiklem holds a Georgian halfpenny she found on the foreshore of the River Thames. Coins are a commonly found item on the banks of the capital's river, with some dating back to the Roman era.

Mudlark Mr. Allen runs an online community where mudlarks share photos of their finds. He has noticed a growth in online mudlarking forums and groups since the pandemic started. His own Thames Mudlarking group has attracted “a few thousand members” including many abroad, especially in the Netherlands and United States, he says. He works in the heart of London on a daily basis and says mudlarking offers “a different perspective” from the frenetic pace of city life.

For Ms. Maiklem, mudlarking offered the chance for “solitude and ‘me time’” after giving birth to her children, a time “where no one has any demands.”

The increased interest in mudlarking has brought some problems, worries Jane Parker, who says she makes necklaces from objects found by the river only after “thoroughly checking to see if it’s allowed” to keep her discoveries. She fears that newcomers are attempting to mudlark without the right permits from local authorities.

“It’s like going into a front garden, taking someone’s garbage and saying, ‘Look what I found,’ without permission,” says Ms. Parker.

Nonetheless, serial mudlarks like Ms. Maiklem say they believe their pastime can give a sense of hope in “very uncertain times.”

“A lot of people are looking for a connection, an explanation, or some hope for the future. I get a great deal of comfort from looking back because it makes you realize that we haven’t changed,” she says. “We might be wearing different clothes and speaking a little bit differently, but we’ve all got the same hopes and fears. People fall in love, they have their hearts broken.”

“We’ve been through worse. The human condition doesn’t change,” she adds. “The evidence that we will get through this is hidden in the mud.”

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Look who’s defending the rights of Afghan women

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Since taking power five weeks ago, the Taliban have not put gender equality high on their priorities in Afghanistan. Yet in coming weeks as the country faces emergency levels of hunger, the Islamic group could see the rights and roles of women in a new light.

One by one, foreign aid groups with long histories of working in Afghanistan are insisting on clear guarantees for their female Afghan staff to work freely in delivering goods and services, especially to other women. From the Norwegian Refugee Council to CARE International, relief groups have set a red line for gender rights.

This principled stance by the humanitarian aid community reflects three decades of work to shift global thinking about women’s rights. It also reflects faith in Afghan women to insist on the rights and freedoms they enjoyed under nearly two decades of democracy.

Look who’s defending the rights of Afghan women

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AP
Displaced Afghans distribute food donations at a camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 13.

Since taking power five weeks ago, the Taliban have not put gender equality high on their priorities in Afghanistan. No woman sits on the interim Cabinet, for instance. Girls are barred from high school. Yet in coming weeks as the country faces emergency levels of hunger, the Islamic group could see the rights and roles of women in a new light.

One by one, foreign aid groups with long histories of working in Afghanistan are insisting on clear guarantees for their female Afghan staff to work freely in delivering goods and services, especially to other women. From the Norwegian Refugee Council to CARE International, relief groups have set a red line for gender rights.

“If women are prevented from delivering humanitarian services, we become complicit in the entrenching of gender inequality,” says Anita Bhatia, deputy executive director of United Nations Women. For his part, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council that aid must be delivered “without ... discrimination.”

This principled stance by the humanitarian aid community reflects three decades of work to shift global thinking about women’s rights. It also reflects faith in Afghan women to insist on the rights and freedoms they enjoyed under nearly two decades of democracy.

The Taliban are definitely listening to the international community, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told The Associated Press. “Yes, there are no women yet [in the Cabinet],” he said. “But let us let the situation evolve.”

The Taliban already know they are failing. Only 5% of Afghans have enough to eat, according to the U.N. And as their forces took territory over the past year, millions of Afghans fled their homes. An estimated 80% of them are women and children.

While the Taliban may claim a legitimacy to rule by claiming to be unassailable religious scholars, their tenure could also depend on the informal consent of the Afghan people.

Besides foreign aid workers, the Taliban also need cash. Before they took power, Afghanistan thrived on about $8.5 billion a year in foreign assistance. Almost all of that has dried up. The United States has frozen $7 billion in Afghan foreign reserves held in New York.

In recent days, the U.N. has lined up $1.2 billion in donor pledges for aid to Afghans who face drought, hunger, and the pandemic. With most of those in need being women and girls, female aid workers will be essential in delivering that aid.

Both the world and Afghanistan’s roughly 40 million people have shifted on women’s rights since the Taliban last ruled in the 1990s. It will take persistent foreign insistence to shift the Taliban, too.

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.

Good that’s never wasted

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Events in Afghanistan and elsewhere may beg the question, Can good be wasted or lost? An Iraq War veteran explores how recognizing God as the source of limitless good lifts dismay and frustration that would hamper progress.

Good that’s never wasted

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

With the sudden fall of the government in Afghanistan, a fundamental and troubling question has come to mind for many veterans of the United States military’s role in that country and in Iraq: Can all the good we accomplished in our missions there be wasted or lost? The temptation to be angry, to despair, or to be frustrated can feel overwhelming at times.

I’ve found that the Word of God can help us navigate these waters. The Bible has many accounts of individuals dealing with similar questions. For example, at one point the prophet Elijah became so dejected and despondent in his ministry that he requested of God to die in humiliation because he thought all his hard work in service of God had been wasted. But Elijah was given compelling proof of the divine power. God then told him that there were thousands who remained servants of God, so his good work wasn’t in vain (see I Kings 19). In fact, the legacy of that good continues to this day, blessing countless people.

Whatever our ministry or profession, the fundamental understanding of the origin and continuity of good is key to healing any sense of having wasted one’s effort. Are human beings the source and continuity of good, or is God?

The discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes of God, “The Scriptures name God as good, and the Saxon term for God is also good. From this premise comes the logical conclusion that God is naturally and divinely infinite good” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 26).

Because God is infinite, wholly good, and the only source of good, good is actually ever present. All that is genuinely good is as eternal as its Maker, and therefore cannot be wasted or lost.

And being of God, Spirit, such good is therefore spiritual, and can’t be bounded by time or space. Therefore, the good that God bestowed years or millennia ago is still blessing all of God’s creation today because it is still present – and still powerful. There can never be a place or a time when and where infinite good, God, is not fully present and active.

A deeper understanding of these divine truths provided great guidance and protection to me during my three military deployments to Iraq years ago. For example, during my first deployment I did a lot of work with local Iraqi elected officials and tribal leaders to help rebuild their communities. Projects included building various structures, establishing agricultural co-ops in rural areas, and creating job programs for local youth. Yet the good accomplished in our work wasn’t primarily about the physical outcomes. It was about the integrity, goodness, and honor that were demonstrated. And since its source is God, it can never be taken away from us.

That’s true for Iraq and Afghanistan, too. Whether goodness was expressed through military or non-military personnel, locals or foreigners, it can never be lost any more than rain can go back into the sky once it has fallen and watered the ground! The ground usually needs more rain at another time, but the rain that fell did its job. It is always right to do good, to express the love of divine Love.

I feel that Christ Jesus spoke to this point when he said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

When we think good originates in human beings instead of in God, then we are laying up treasures where “moth and rust doth corrupt,” and we won’t be able to understand how and why the good will endure. But when we recognize that God alone is the source of good and that everyone, as God’s child, reflects that good, then our treasures of good accomplished are safely in heaven – in the present and eternal consciousness of God’s goodness – where nothing can corrupt or steal them. This applies to everyone, everywhere.

Recognizing this helps uncover and stem thoughts like dismay, frustration, or anger that keep us from seeing God’s ever-good activity, empowering us to have an immediate, continual, and enduring impact for good, wherever we may be.

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Handful of hungry birds

Georg Wendt/dpa/AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets a kick out of feeding Australian lorikeets at Marlow Bird Park in Marlow, Germany, Sept. 23, 2021.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Trudy Palmer
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow for a great mix of articles on topics ranging from the debt limit debate to a new book on Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Washington bureau chief Linda Feldmann hosted a Monitor Breakfast Thursday with Rep. Adam Schiff of California. Here’s a Q&A with the House Intelligence chairman about the need to protect American democracy.

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