2021
October
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Monitor Daily Podcast

October 08, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Hamilton the donkey and hope for heritage breeds

Hamilton the endangered donkey will be 3 months old this Saturday.

He’s come a long way in a short time. When he was born in June, the folks at Arnold’s Rescue Center, his Vermont home, weren’t sure he’d make it, according to The Boston Globe. But he lived, and now he’s strong enough to nose a big blue ball around the refuge, ears flapping like a happy hound dog.

He loves the ball. He will play with it for hours. He’s bereft when it deflates.

Hamilton is rare because he’s a purebred Poitou [Pwa-too] donkey, one of only several hundred worldwide. They’re native to France, with big ears, big lips, and a distinctive adult coat.

He’s important because he was conceived using artificial insemination, the first time that’s worked with a Poitou in the United States. That promises a new way to save a draft animal enthusiasts have long tried to help.

Heritage breeds such as the Poitou are important in themselves, and as an artifact of agricultural history. The Livestock Conservancy defines them as animals you’d have found on your great-grandparents’ farm.

Holland chickens were self-foraging birds developed in the early 1900s. They’ve become rare as farms mechanized. Mulefoot hogs, whose ancestors may date to the 1500s, used to range free on open land. That practice, and the open land, no longer exist.

“Heritage animals once roamed the pastures of America’s pastoral landscape, but today these breeds are in danger of extinction,” says the Livestock Conservancy.

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A deeper look

One Western town’s solution to wildfires? Community.

As wildfires haunt the American West, Ashland, Oregon, has emerged as a leader in forest management. The city’s bipartisan approach hinges on a cooperative ethos that mitigates both fire risk and ideological divides.

Peter
Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Kit Colbenson of the U.S. Forest Service poses outside Ashland, Oregon, where tree thinning and brush clearing have reduced fire danger.

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As the West’s infernos outflank firefighters and overrun fuel breaks, Ashland, Oregon, has emerged as a leading light for its sustained, communitywide approach to wildfire prevention.

Since the late 1990s, acceptance among Ashland’s residents of the need for collective vigilance has grown in tandem with the number, scale, and intensity of infernos across the region. A strong consensus for practical measures to reduce fire risk reflects their cleareyed perspective that neither magical thinking nor ever more firefighters will avert catastrophe. 

“We try to help residents see that their own safety is linked to their neighbor’s safety,” says Brian Hendrix, the communities coordinator of Fire Adapted Ashland. “When everybody does a little, a whole lot gets done.”

The emphasis on collaboration has drawn together the city, U.S. Forest Service, and conservation groups to restore the town’s watershed. The innovative initiative has enabled the partners to treat 13,000 acres of land through prescribed burning, selective logging, and brush clearing.

“I won’t ever say we’ve got it all figured out,” says Chris Chambers, the wildfire division chief for the Ashland fire department. “But there’s been a commitment to finding common ground.”

One Western town’s solution to wildfires? Community.

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A municipal water tank built into the forested hills above Ashland offers postcard views of the mountain valley town on clear days. This warm September morning is not, alas, such a day. Wildfires burning elsewhere in Oregon and to the south in California have blurred the blue skies, turning the city into a soup bowl of ash-gray smoke.

Standing atop the storage tank, Chris Chambers points toward Hald Strawberry Park, visible through the haze about a half-mile away and encircled by homes. Drought has browned its grass and many of its pine and madrone trees. The parched land presents a fire threat to the town’s 21,000 residents – and, he explains, another chance to better protect them from the flames.

“I want to burn that whole thing. It’s an island of fuel,” says Mr. Chambers, the wildfire division chief for the city fire department, who wears a black face mask against the nose-stinging smoke. He intends to request approval from Ashland officials to treat the 25-acre park with prescribed fire to remove dead and excess vegetation. “There’s a choice: We can burn the land on our terms, or we can let nature burn everything – and we won’t like the effects.”

The prospects for his plan appear bright in a town that over the past quarter century has emerged as a leading light in the American West for its sustained, communitywide approach to wildfire prevention. Since the late 1990s, acceptance among Ashland’s residents of the need for collective vigilance has grown in tandem with the number, scale, and intensity of infernos across the region. A strong consensus for practical measures to reduce fire risk reflects their cleareyed perspective that neither magical thinking nor ever more firefighters will avert catastrophe. 

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Chris Chambers, wildfire division chief with Ashland Fire and Rescue, looks out over a 16,000-acre forested watershed that the city has been protecting from fire by thinning trees and brush.

“Calling these huge fires of recent years natural disasters – they’re very much not natural disasters,” says Mr. Chambers, who joined the fire department in 2002. His genial resolve in advocating for preemptive action exemplifies the cooperative ethos that has gained his hometown a national reputation for wildfire safety. “We have to think of these fires and climate change as human-made disasters and realize we can unmake them. And, really, we have to if we want to live in the West.”

This summer delivered more proof of that charred reality, with the state’s third-largest blaze on record burning 413,000 acres in a national forest 80 miles northeast of Ashland. Fires scorched 1.2 million acres statewide last year – the second-highest annual total in Oregon history – as the city endured a harrowing near miss when a blaze ignited along its northern edge the morning after Labor Day.

Propelled by ferocious winds, the Almeda Fire gutted the neighboring towns of Talent and Phoenix, leveling 2,500 homes. The calamity brought into tragic focus the principle of shared responsibility that Mr. Chambers and other fire safety officials promote as they seek to lower wildfire danger and enhance forest health.

The emphasis on collaboration has drawn together the city, U.S. Forest Service, and conservation groups to restore the town’s watershed, a heavily forested area that slopes down from the 7,500-foot peak of Mount Ashland. The innovative initiative has enabled the partners to treat 13,000 acres of land through prescribed burning, selective logging, and brush clearing.

Oregon Department of Forestry/AP/File
A firefighting tanker drops retardant over a blaze near Sisters, Oregon, on July 11, 2021.

Local officials have cultivated broad support in recent years to strengthen homebuilding and landscaping standards to improve wildfire safety. Fire Adapted Ashland, an education and outreach program, works with homeowners to safeguard properties and distributes small grants to individuals and neighborhood groups to replace flammable vegetation and trim trees.

The culture of solidarity in the former timber town, now best known for hosting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has attracted fire safety officials from other Western states and as far away as England and Spain. They learn that an informal policy to persuade rather than dictate guides the city’s strategy.

“We try to help residents see that their own safety is linked to their neighbor’s safety,” says Brian Hendrix, the communities coordinator of Fire Adapted Ashland. “When everybody does a little, a whole lot gets done.”

Ashland nestles in the southern reaches of the Rogue Valley between the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. Mount Ashland rises above the town to the west; a dormant volcano, Mount McLoughlin, looms to the east. The setting is a sylvan wonderland for hikers, bikers, and skiers, yet for all its grandeur, the area provoked a sense of unease in Kit Colbenson when he arrived in 2003.

“The hair would stand up on the back of my neck,” he says. “The forest was choked with overgrowth, and I couldn’t see how we could fight a fire in there.”

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
“We try to help residents see that their own safety is linked to their neighbor’s safety. When everybody does a little, a whole lot gets done.” – Brian Hendrix, who works for a city outreach program that helps homeowners protect their properties from wildfires

His job involved sliding down ropes from helicopters as a member of a Forest Service rappel team. Dense stands of trees – pine, fir, cypress, juniper, madrone – provided an endless supply of wildfire kindling. Moving through the thick understory sometimes required him and his crewmates to resort to “bull-elking,” tightening their hard hats before charging headlong into tangles of branches and bushes.

The conditions in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest illuminate an unforeseen legacy of the West’s timber wars in the 1980s and early ’90s. The bitter struggle over clear-cutting and spotted owl habitat in Oregon, Washington, and California resulted in tight logging restrictions on federal lands as popular sentiment shifted toward saving old-growth forest. 

In the ensuing decades, the ban on most timber operations – along with the enduring practice of extinguishing wildfires as quickly as possible – has deepened the crisis of ailing forests. The added impact of climate change and drought has burdened Western states with an estimated 6.3 billion standing dead trees. The competition for water and sunlight in clogged forests stunts the growth of young trees and diminishes the capacity of older, more fire-resistant trees to withstand flames and disease.

“The bias for a lot of the public is that any tree is a good tree,” Mr. Colbenson says. “But what you end up with is a forest that has more fuel and is more susceptible to big fires.”

The timber wars were still simmering when concerns started percolating in Ashland about an inferno roaring out of the foothills and into town. Forest Service and city officials raised the idea of restoring the 15,000-acre watershed through brush removal, controlled burning, and limited tree thinning to reduce fire danger and preserve the town’s sole water source at the time.

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
A charred log along a popular hiking trail in Ashland, Oregon, indicates the use of a controlled burn, which is one tool authorities enlist to reduce the threat of fires and enhance forest health.

The initial discussions elicited angry opposition from critics who suspected a Forest Service plot to revert to clear-cutting. Masked protesters stormed the agency’s local office in 1996 and warned the district ranger against cutting so much as a single tree. Sometime later, vandals dumped a large pile of dirt outside the Chamber of Commerce, an earthy message aimed at Sandra Slattery.

Then as now, Ms. Slattery, the chamber’s executive director since 1985, regarded a healthy forest as critical to the tourist town’s future. She ignored hate mail and threatening phone calls as she organized community forums and stressed the merits of ecological restoration to business leaders. Her pragmatic message that Ashland’s natural beauty nourishes its economic, cultural, and recreational vitality carries resonance a generation later.

“The reason people visit here and decide to live here and go to school here has to do with our surroundings. If we don’t take care of the land, they won’t come,” she says. “Hope is not a strategy.”

Years of meetings followed as federal and city officials sought input from environmental groups and timber interests to forge solutions. A mutual willingness to keep talking dissolved the distrust that prevailed at the outset, and by 2001, the Forest Service and Ashland had agreed to rejuvenate 1,500 acres in the watershed. A similar plan received approval three years later, and those efforts blossomed into the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project in 2010.

The city and the Forest Service formed the initiative with The Nature Conservancy and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, a nonprofit based in Ashland. The alliance has treated 13,000 acres on public and private lands with the aid of $28 million in federal, city, and private funding, plus another $6 million generated by tree harvesting. A water tax approved by the city in 2015 contributes almost $400,000 a year.

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Ashland, Oregon, lies in a forested valley, which is one reason the community has worked hard to reduce the wildfire threat.

The collaboration has won praise as a national model and subdued the town’s memories of the timber wars by striking a rare balance between ecology and economics. Environmentalists have come to accept that selective logging and brush thinning can increase the watershed’s resilience to fire while sustaining ample habitat for wildlife, and the funding has benefited timber companies that work under Lomakatsi’s supervision.

“I won’t ever say we’ve got it all figured out,” says Mr. Chambers, who envisions expanding the project area and treating portions of the land on a 10-year rotating basis. “But there’s been a commitment to finding common ground.”

The partnership offered a blueprint of sorts for a new statewide initiative created as part of a $220 million wildfire plan that Oregon lawmakers passed in June. The bipartisan measure established a grant funding program to assist communities with restoration of natural lands to bolster wildfire safety.

The destruction wrought by last year’s Almeda Fire magnified the urgency to reach consensus on prevention as the spiraling costs and limited effectiveness of wildland firefighting push Western cities and states to rethink tactics. “We’ve been having such a hard time getting people to agree because we’re carrying so much historical baggage from the timber wars,” says state Sen. Jeff Golden, the bill’s chief sponsor. A Democrat who lives in Ashland, he adds, “I think more people are finally seeing the need for a middle course on forest management.”

The hills above the city bear evidence of progress through compromise. On a recent morning before wildfire smoke shrouded the valley, Mr. Colbenson walked through a grove of ponderosa pine, the forest floor dappled with sunlight and patches of green grass and shrubs.

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Kit Colbenson of the U.S. Forest Service walks through a stand of ponderosa pine that shows the effects of tree thinning, brush clearing, and prescribed burns to create a healthy forest.

During the past two years, crews with the stewardship project restored the tract, cutting smaller and medium-sized trees to open space for mature trees to thrive. The teams thinned excess understory and applied prescribed fire to burn away dead needles and leaves and excess grasses.

The mosaic of treated and untreated land at once preserves biodiversity and reduces the amount of natural debris that feeds wildfires. The lower fuel load and the gaps between trees can prevent flames from climbing into the canopy, improving the odds of ground crews containing a blaze.

“In here, you feel like you have a chance against a fire,” says Mr. Colbenson, who a decade ago switched from dropping out of Forest Service helicopters to riding on one of its firetrucks. In winter and spring, he and his crew clear underbrush and conduct controlled burns in the foothills, and he has noticed a friendlier tone of late among the hikers and mountain bikers they encounter. He wonders if the watershed initiative, beyond healing the land, has begun to mend the Forest Service’s image.

“There used to be a lot of stares and people telling us to stop what we’re doing,” he says. “Now you get people telling you how much they appreciate the work.”

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
“The danger isn’t sometime in the future – it’s now. Our best chance is if we realize we all face the danger together.” – Becky Kilburn, a local resident who has taken steps to protect her house from fires

A line of 25 tree stumps parallels a wooden fence separating Becky Kilburn’s yard and her neighbor’s property. When she bought the ranch-style house in 2016, the Douglas firs planted by the previous owner stood 8 feet tall, forming a green wall that topped the fence.

Two years ago, recognizing that the firs posed a fire hazard to both homes, Ms. Kilburn and her neighbor split the $1,800 cost to hire a tree cutter. She later received a voluntary risk review from the fire department’s outreach program, Fire Adapted Ashland, to learn tips to make her house less vulnerable. The discussion motivated her to dispose of the bark mulch ringing the exterior foundation, install gutter guards, and clear dead grass from beneath the deck.

A retired information systems developer, Ms. Kilburn moved to Ashland from the East Coast with vague awareness of the city’s rising fire threat. The past five years have sharpened her sense of communal obligation. “The danger isn’t sometime in the future – it’s now,” she says. “Our best chance is if we realize we all face the danger together.”

Fire Adapted Ashland mapped the city’s wildfire risk in 2018 by performing a curbside review of each of its 8,000 homes. The snapshot assessments served as a prelude to local officials adopting an ordinance that placed the entire community within the wildland-urban interface, defined as areas where development meets natural lands.

The designation aided the city in enacting a ban on new plantings of firs, junipers, manzanitas, and other highly flammable trees and shrubs within 30 feet of residential structures. A related rule for new-home construction that went into effect Oct. 1 mandates use of noncombustible materials for roofs, walls, and other features.

Ashland lacks similar policies requiring the retrofitting of existing houses, except in extreme cases. The absence of such authority makes the town like any other in the West. What distinguishes its wildfire safety campaign is the ability of officials to coax residents to take precautions.

Mr. Hendrix, with Fire Adapted Ashland, embodies that polite persistence. Steering a fire department SUV, he ascends into the foothills along the city’s vertiginous roads, visiting homeowners who request a free risk assessment of their properties. He views his job not as an enforcer but as a translator explaining the concepts of “defensible space” and “home-hardening” in practical terms.

In almost every conversation, he emphasizes that even small home improvements and regular yard upkeep can buy precious minutes for residents to evacuate or firefighters to save their homes. “People see the effects of climate change and it can be pretty overwhelming,” Mr. Hendrix says. “This program helps them feel like they’re doing something.”

The popularity of the risk reviews has created a backlog, and to ease his burden, a team of trained volunteers will start handling assessments this fall. Their participation provides another example of the city’s we’re-all-in-this-together mindset that has earned Firewise status for three dozen Ashland neighborhoods. The national program bestows the appellation on places where residents follow a strategy for fire preparedness with the guidance of local officials.

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
“You can do all the right things to protect your home and still come back to nothing but your fireplace. But if you don’t do anything, then that’s for sure what you’ll come back to.” – Doug Kay, a homeowner in Ashland who volunteers to help residents mitigate fire dangers

In Mountain Ranch, the enclave where Ms. Kilburn lives, Doug Kay acts as a Firewise coordinator and one-person fire prevention crew, assisting neighbors with home and yard projects. He has installed fire-resistant gutter guards and deck screening, hauled away invasive blackberry bushes, and set up water drips in common areas to nurse trees through the drought.

A retired general contractor, Mr. Kay, a member of the city’s Wildfire Safety Commission, a citizens advisory council, traces his vigilance to the weeks after he and his wife moved to Ashland from Nevada in 2010. An arson fire ripped through a nearby neighborhood and destroyed 11 homes.

“You can do all the right things to protect your home and still come back to nothing but your fireplace,” he says. “But if you don’t do anything, then that’s for sure what you’ll come back to.”

The Almeda Fire that ignited on Sept. 8 last year reinforced the proximity of the threat. Helene Shoen recalls her low-level dread after waking to a hot, relentless wind that morning in Ashland. The conditions reminded her of the flame-stoking Santa Ana winds of her Southern California youth. A medical massage practitioner, she along with her then-husband owned a clinic in the adjacent town of Talent. Within hours, their building lay in ruins, one of more than 2,800 homes and businesses that the fire destroyed.

Andy Nelson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
The sun sets over the Ashland Springs Hotel and Varsity Theatre in downtown Ashland, Oregon. The southern Oregon community has enlisted many different groups to help safeguard homes and businesses and surrounding forests from the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

The strain of rebuilding the practice has depleted Ms. Shoen’s emotional reserves at times without plunging her into fatalism. She keeps her home’s rooftop and gutters clear of pine needles and pulls weeds sprouting around the deck. “Some people say there’s no chance of stopping something like the Almeda Fire. But you can at least try to stop fires from starting in your neighborhood,” she says.

An acceptance of living with wildfire that inspires action rather than resignation defines Ashland’s approach to prevention. As the West’s infernos outflank firefighters and overrun fuel breaks, the city has cast the destruction in Talent and Phoenix as reason for residents to join the cause.

“There’s a difference when people feel the threat and not only read or hear about it,” says Tonya Graham, a member of Ashland’s City Council. “Suddenly, after years of us trying to get their attention, they’re interested in what they can do.”

Ashland officials intend to continue relying on persuasive prevention. The city received a $3 million federal grant earlier this year to cover the costs of preparing defensible space around 1,100 homes and to replace shake roofs on 23 houses. A partnership between the city and an area real estate association seeks to educate potential homebuyers about fire risks. The Chamber of Commerce, under Ms. Slattery, promotes a Smokewise program that supplies air purifiers to seniors and low-income families and offers other safeguards for businesses. 

The support for Smokewise contrasts with the hostility she faced in the late 1990s, when vandals dumped dirt outside the chamber’s offices. “We didn’t back down then from what we thought was right,” she says, “and that’s still the case today.”

For Mr. Chambers, the native son devoted to protecting his hometown, the past two decades represent only the early stages of the effort to reduce wildfire danger and renew the watershed. He estimates Ashland has reached the quarter-way point – a sobering statement given that most Western cities lag decades behind on prevention.

He knows hope is not a strategy. If the wind had reversed direction a year ago, the Almeda Fire would have ravaged Ashland. He braces for the day when a blaze invades the hills above the city. “We’re not fully ready for it,” he says. “But we’re a lot better off than we were five or 10 years ago.”

Famine in Ethiopia: Is the world averting its eyes?

The U.N. secretary-general was “shocked” Ethiopia had expelled U.N. humanitarian staff, but the Security Council didn’t act. Has the world lost its devotion to the “responsibility to protect,” and if so, why?

Peter
Baz Ratner/Reuters
A woman carries an infant as she gets in line for food at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 15, 2021.

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Days after the United Nations issued a report on famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray province that faulted government obstruction of aid, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expelled seven U.N. humanitarian personnel.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres expressed shock, but the Security Council took no action. In fact, experts say, Mr. Abiy is finding he can act with impunity because no power on the international stage has the will or desire to stop him.

Not only have traditional defenders of international human rights tired of intervention, say the experts, but China and Russia have emerged as staunch and influential defenders of a government’s right to rule over domestic affairs without outside interference.

“What’s going on with Ethiopia is illustrative of two syndromes at work in various forms and with varying intensity in different places around the world,” says Michael Doyle, a Columbia University professor and former U.N. assistant secretary-general.

“One is about intervention fatigue and a growing sense post-Afghanistan that you can’t really make things better, so don’t get involved,” he adds. “And the other looks at China and Russia’s growing willingness to take sides, and declares there’s another game in town despots can turn to if they get any kind of trouble from the United States.”

Famine in Ethiopia: Is the world averting its eyes?

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Not so long ago, Ethiopia was a darling of the international community, an ethnically diverse country that had emerged from stifling communist rule with a model for building inclusive governance and equitable prosperity.

In 2019 the country’s leader, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, won the Nobel Peace Prize for pulling Ethiopia back from the brink of ethnic warfare and for committing to build a democracy through dialogue.

But these days, the Horn of Africa country is an example of another – darker – trend in global power politics, one that portends dire consequences for human rights and potentially opens the door to horrors like ethnic cleansing and genocide. It’s a door many experts thought was closing.

As his government carries out a scorched-earth war in the rebellious Tigray province, Mr. Abiy is finding he can act with impunity – spreading famine and attacking civilians in a way the United States says is approaching genocide – because no power on the international stage has the will or desire to stop him.

After Myanmar and Venezuela, Ethiopia has emerged, say African and international affairs experts, as Exhibit A for the faltering international defense of human rights and for the rise of enablers of gross rights violations.

A decade after the U.S. and European powers intervened in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya to stop a threatened massacre – an intervention that resulted in regime change – Mr. Abiy is operating in a very different global power environment, the experts say.

China’s role

Not only have the Western powers, the traditional defenders of international human rights, tired of intervention, but China and Russia have also emerged as staunch and influential defenders of national sovereignty and a government’s right to rule over domestic affairs – and the national population – as it sees fit and without outside interference.

“The ascendant idea a decade or so ago was that there were human rights standards and norms of behavior that leaders could be held accountable for, but more recently we’re seeing something very different,” says Michael Rubin, a resident scholar specializing in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa at the America Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington.

“Now there’s always someone who can give an aspiring despot support and even a sense of impunity,” he adds. “For the Ethiopians and Abiy Ahmed,” he says, “that power is China.”

Last week Mr. Abiy expelled seven senior United Nations humanitarian personnel, accusing them of aiding rebel forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which controls Tigray and formerly led Ethiopia’s government.

Days earlier, the U.N. had issued a report warning of famine across Tigray and accusing the government of stopping food, medical supplies, and fuel from entering the war-torn province.

The year-old war in Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, displaced 2 million people, and deepened what experts call “man-made famine.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “shocked” by Ethiopia’s action and demanded that the government reverse its decision. But when the Security Council took up the issue last Friday under “any other business,” no action was taken and no condemnation of Ethiopia’s expulsion of U.N. personnel was issued.

Afghanistan ... and the Cold War

For some experts, events in Ethiopia underscore two trends they see advancing in international affairs – both of which they see as welcome developments for the world’s authoritarian rulers and human rights violators.

“What’s going on with Ethiopia is illustrative of two syndromes at work in various forms and with varying intensity in different places around the world,” says Michael Doyle, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York and a former U.N. assistant secretary-general.

“One is the Afghanistan syndrome, and the other is the new Cold War syndrome. One is about intervention fatigue and a growing sense post-Afghanistan that you can’t really make things better, so don’t get involved,” he adds. “And the other looks at China and Russia’s growing willingness to take sides, and declares there’s another game in town despots can turn to if they get any kind of trouble from the United States.”

Baz Ratner/Reuters
People stand in line to receive food donations at the Tsehaye primary school in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 15, 2021.

Nowadays authoritarians and human rights violators have powerful options on their side, Dr. Doyle says, “which was just not the case in 2000 or 2005, or a decade ago” when the U.S. and European powers intervened to stop Mr. Qaddafi.

Today, leaders under pressure from Western powers can turn to Russia (Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela) or China (Myanmar’s military junta) to stave off any serious action against them. Not only does China bristle at the notion that any outside power has any kind of say in how it treats its Uyghur Muslim minority, some experts say, but it also wants to extend the principle of noninterference in another country’s sovereign affairs beyond its borders.

“Russia and China want to make a world safe for autocracy,” says Columbia’s Dr. Doyle.

Responsibility to Protect

How the world has changed. It was just in 2005 that U.N. member states approved the Responsibility to Protect. The new doctrine known as R2P declared leaders responsible for their citizens’ well-being, and moreover endorsed international intervention in cases of state-sponsored violence against the population.

“Basically R2P said to leaders, ‘You can do whatever you want, run your economy into the ground or whatever, anything except genocide, ethnic cleansing, and gross human rights violations,’” says Dr. Doyle, who was serving at the U.N. when R2P was negotiated. “It put a floor on the very worst government behavior,” he adds, “below which leaders could not go without risking international intervention.”

The West’s Libya intervention is seen by some experts as both the R2P doctrine’s zenith – and its undoing.

“Libya was the Responsibility to Protect gone awry,” says Mr. Rubin of AEI. “It left a bad taste and a reticence about regime change, and today Abiy knows that,” he adds, referring to the Ethiopian leader.

Noting that his sources tell him Abiy is preparing another major offensive into Tigray, Mr. Rubin says, “Abiy is getting to the point where he just doesn’t care what the outside world thinks, and he knows he really doesn’t have to.”

Limits of U.S. policy

Which is not to say that the U.S. and other Western powers have thrown in the towel. In April Secretary of State Antony Blinken named seasoned diplomat Jeffrey Feltman as special adviser on the Horn of Africa, an appointment largely intended to keep the pressure on Mr. Abiy. In February the U.S. accused the Abiy government of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Tigray.

Moreover, the Biden administration’s USAID administrator and prominent anti-genocide crusader, Samantha Power, has also focused attention on Ethiopia. But when she visited the country in August, she was notably denied a meeting with Mr. Abiy.

The result is that “U.S. policy becomes a little bit toothless,” says Dr. Doyle. “There are statements, occasionally even strong statements, and both Samantha and Jeffrey are perfectly capable of that, but in the post-Afghanistan fatigue I don’t see things ratcheting up much higher.”

Mr. Rubin says it would be wrong to conclude that Ethiopia is “completely in China’s pocket.” Mr. Abiy has been trying to execute a “balancing act” between China and the West, especially the European Union, he says. “Abiy doesn’t want to become too dependent on either,” he adds, “but as the conflict goes on, he’s also tilting towards the power he feels has his back.”

It would be equally wrong to conclude that all big-power cooperation on human rights issues is a thing of the past. Noting that the Security Council recently extended the provision for humanitarian corridors in Syria by six months, Dr. Doyle says, “Maybe that’s not a lot, but it’s something, and suggests international cooperation on these issues is still possible.”

But that may offer little consolation for populations facing state-sponsored violence and gross human rights violations, he says – or little sense of threat to despots.

“Qaddafi thought he could ‘get rid of the cockroaches’ with impunity, and it turns out he could not,” Dr. Doyle says. “But today he probably could get away with it – we live in a different world.”

It came from the (Red) Sea! Invasive fish spur creative responses in Cyprus.

Invasive fish species from the Red Sea threaten the Mediterranean. But scientists, fishers, and government officials are finding ways to mitigate their impact – if not turn them into dinner.

Peter

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Fishers in Cyprus are catching invasive fish from the Indian Ocean and Red Sea in place of calamari, sardines, and other traditional staples of beachside tavernas. Around 800 exotic species of marine life have entered the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal, posing acute challenges for the Cypriot fishing industry.

The exotic fish, drawn into the Mediterranean by warmer waters caused by global climate change, have disrupted the local fishing trade and are displacing the usual catches.

But scientists, fishers, and government officials have come up with ways to respond to the invaders. Bounties have been placed on the silver-cheeked toadfish, which are poisonous and tear up fishing nets. And fishers have turned the Pacific red lionfish into a profit-making catch.

How they adapt can offer lessons for the rest of the Mediterranean as the alien fish spread out into the rest of the sea, as they are expected to do.

“If we can keep track of the newcomers, if we detect them here, then other countries will have time to prepare for their arrival and adopt mitigating measures,” says Demetris Kletou of the Marine and Environmental Research Lab in Cyprus.

It came from the (Red) Sea! Invasive fish spur creative responses in Cyprus.

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Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters/File
Lionfish like these, caught near the Zenobia cargo ship wreck off Larnaca, Cyprus, on July 15, 2019, are not native to the Mediterranean Sea. But they have been showing up in greater numbers, disrupting the Cypriot fishing industry.

Blue and white fishing boats cluster in a busy harbor in Cyprus, their decks covered in ropes, baskets, and fishing nets. Fishers in sun-bleached caps sluice down the decks as cats forage for scraps in the shade – a typical Mediterranean scene.

What is much less typical is the catch these boats are pulling up from the ocean depths.

Cypriot fishers are snagging fish from the Indian Ocean and Red Sea in place of calamari, sardines, and other traditional staples of beachside tavernas. Around 800 exotic species of marine life, from fish to urchins, have entered the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal, posing acute challenges for the Cypriot fishing industry.

The exotic fish, drawn into the Mediterranean by warmer waters caused by global climate change, have disrupted the local fishing trade. Some of the new species are poisonous. Others damage fishers’ equipment. And they all are displacing the usual catches.

“Some fishermen are now reporting that their catches consist of mostly alien fish, or even exclusively alien fish,” says Nikolas Michailidis, from the Cyprus department of fisheries.

But scientists, fishers, and government officials have come up with ways to respond to the exotic species, ranging from killing them to eating them, that are allowing the fishing industry to adapt. And what they learn can offer lessons for the rest of the Mediterranean as the alien fish spread out into the rest of the sea, as they are expected to do.

Culling the toadfish

With temperatures rising 20% faster than the global average, the Mediterranean is the fastest-warming sea on the planet, the World Wide Fund for Nature warned in a report released in June.

The movement of exotic species has also been aided in recent years by the widening of the Suez Canal, which has changed salinity levels that previously acted as a barrier to aquatic migration.

That has allowed species like the much-loathed silver-cheeked toadfish to reach Cyprus. It is not only a prolific breeder and packed with a dangerous toxin, it also has powerful teeth with which it rips into fishing nets in order to get at the catch inside.

“They eat cuttlefish and octopus and calamari straight out of the net, before you can land it on the boat,” says Loucas Georgiou, a fisherman for 40 years who is based in the port of Ayia Napa in eastern Cyprus. “At depths of 200m to 300m, the sea is full of these fish.”

Nick Squires
Loucas Georgiou, a fisher in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, has seen his trade disrupted by invasive species from the Red Sea, particularly the silver-cheeked toadfish.

Matt Smith, a Briton who lives in Cyprus, often spots exotic species when he goes on diving trips. “I see a lot of silver-cheeked toadfish. They’re one of the most toxic fish in the world. They have teeth like a rabbit. And they don’t have any predators.”

“They’re very aggressive. They destroy the nets. They eat the catch inside. The species established itself really fast. They can eat anything,” says Mr. Michailidis. “The fish contain a paralyzing toxin – if you eat some, you stop breathing. A few milligrams can kill you.”

FisherS who catch them are paid a bounty of €3 a kilo ($1.57 per pound) to bring them into port. The toadfish are then incinerated in special furnaces, with around 50 tons burned each year.

Eating the aliens

In contrast to the unpalatable toadfish, Pacific red lionfish are eminently edible.

In fact they are delicious – once you remove the beautiful but poisonous spines that protrude from their brightly colored bodies. Fishers have learned how to do so safely, using knives and heavy, puncture-resistant gloves.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

A market for the fish is gradually developing across Cyprus, with restaurant owners putting lionfish on their menus. The “invasivore” movement – also seen in Florida, where lionfish spread after escaping aquariums – encourages an apex predator, humans, to gobble up the invaders before they can eat native species.

In addition, teams of volunteer divers are sent out to spear lionfish. There are also lionfish “derbies” – contests to see how many can be caught – open to all comers.

“Two years ago, fishermen were discarding lionfish. But we managed to raise awareness about the species and people realized that it is delicious. Now we are seeing that fishermen are getting a good price, around €15 a kilo, and I think that will continue to rise,” says Periklis Kleitou, a marine scientist from Plymouth University in England. “It’s only very recently that lionfish are being eaten here.”

He is part of an EU-funded project called ReLionMed-Life which aims to monitor and control the population of lionfish in Cyprus waters.

Lionfish are to some extent compensating for the fact that fishers are catching far fewer native species in the island’s waters. “Because Cyprus’ waters have been overfished, 70% of seafood is imported, so lionfish can be a solution in offsetting that,” says Mr. Kleitou.

But the overall effect of the alien species on the fishing industry, so far at least, has been negative, he says. “Some fishermen are saying their income has been cut by 50% because of the damage done to their nets by toadfish and the loss of their catch.”

Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters/File
Marine scientist Periklis Kleitou, shown here holding a lionfish off Larnaca, Cyprus, in July 2019, has been working to get people to eat lionfish. “Two years ago, fishermen were discarding lionfish. But we managed to raise awareness about the species and people realized that it is delicious."

There are glimmers of hope. Marine scientists recently discovered that some native species are starting to prey on the alien invaders.

In a scientific study published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science in July, scientists from Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Britain, and Malta noted that loggerhead turtles sometimes eat adult silver-cheeked toadfish, while juvenile toadfish are preyed on by dolphinfish and garfish. Pacific red lionfish are being eaten by octopuses as well as groupers.

Natural predation is promising, but it is not enough. “The relative paucity in natural, native predators of these two highly invasive non-indigenous fish species suggests that direct human management measures need to be implemented in order to control their Mediterranean populations,” the report said.

“Other countries will have time to prepare”

As scientists and fishers come to terms with the alien invasion, they are acquiring knowledge that will be valuable to countries elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

It is the countries at the eastern end of the sea that have borne the brunt so far of the phenomenon, but many species are moving inexorably west, toward Greece, then Italy, Malta, and Spain.

“If we can keep track of the newcomers, if we detect them here, then other countries will have time to prepare for their arrival and adopt mitigating measures,” says Demetris Kletou, a marine biologist from the Marine and Environmental Research Lab in Limassol, Cyprus.

He describes Cyprus as the “doorstep” of the Mediterranean – the first European country that these species reach after they swim past the coasts of Egypt, Israel, and Syria.

“With the sea warming as it is, Italy will probably be in the same situation as us in 10 or 20 years, for instance,” he says.

The incursion of new species may not be all bad for Cyprus and the wider Mediterranean.

“There are some people who say that the more species we have, the greater biomass and biodiversity there is in the sea,” says Mr. Michailidis from the fisheries department. “They can be a food source for native species. You can’t really control these alien species; it’s almost impossible. Most of them are here to stay.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Film

‘Mass’ filmmaker explores forgiveness and reconciliation after tragedy

Is it possible to heal and progress after a mass shooting? In an effort to understand the effects of such events, Fran Kranz wrote and directed the new movie “Mass,” which offers lessons for a divided world.

Peter
Courtesy of Bleecker Street
Ann Dowd and Reed Birney star in "Mass," written and directed by Fran Kranz. The drama explores the themes of grief and reconciliation through a plot where the parents of a school shooting victim and the parents of the shooter sit down to talk.

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In the new movie “Mass,” a couple whose son died in a school shooting come face to face with the parents of the perpetrator, years later. 

The film is the directorial debut of veteran actor Fran Kranz. He wrote the script shortly after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A new father at the time, he wondered how he would react if his child were caught up in such a tragedy.

“What would I do? How would I handle this? Could I face these people? Could I forgive them? How do you move forward? These were all things that I just needed to know about myself,” he says in a phone interview. “‘Mass’ is a meditation on all of that. It is me wanting to believe in forgiveness and wanting to believe in reconciliation. But not knowing how to get there.”

His research and writing led him to focus on the people most affected by mass shootings and how their lives unfold afterward. “That was the most important story I could tell,” he says.

“We can’t go back and change the past,” he adds. “But how do we promote a better future? How do we promote positive change?”

‘Mass’ filmmaker explores forgiveness and reconciliation after tragedy

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Fran Kranz had a young child at home in 2018 when 17 people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The veteran actor couldn’t let go of that event – or the idea of how to forgive in the face of it. 

“I was a new parent when the Parkland shooting happened. ... I was so upset, horrified, and angered. I just wanted to learn more,” says Mr. Kranz in a phone interview. “So I started doing research. I felt like I needed to because these things were affecting me differently now that I had a child.”

The result of that journey is “Mass,” Mr. Kranz’s debut as a writer-director. It sees couple Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), whose son died in a school shooting, come face to face with Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), the parents of the perpetrator, years later. For almost two hours, the quartet talk, scream, and cry as they relive the tragedy, offering viewers a cathartic experience that will leave them thinking about grief and reconciling for hours after the credits have rolled. 

Prior to researching mass shootings, Mr. Kranz had been fascinated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa – which between 1996 and 2003 aimed to heal the country by uncovering human rights violations during apartheid. Eventually, his focus on forgiveness and reconciliation morphed into a script. As he wrote, he began to wonder how he would react if his child were caught up in such a tragedy.

“What would I do? How would I handle this? Could I face these people? Could I forgive them? How do you move forward? These were all things that I just needed to know about myself,” he says. “‘Mass’ is a meditation on all of that. It is me wanting to believe in forgiveness and wanting to believe in reconciliation. But not knowing how to get there.”

Courtesy of Bleecker Street
Veteran actor Fran Kranz makes his directing debut with "Mass," whose script he wrote shortly after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

Mr. Kranz met with charities and groups, including Moms Demand Action, as well as parents of victims. He read every book and article about mass shootings he could find and watched documentaries, all so he could try to figure out how they have become so frequent. Ultimately, though, he became more and more focused on getting to know the people, the families, the children, and the teachers who had been involved. 

“That was the most important story I could tell – the people affected and the lives they’re living now. That was really all that mattered,” he says. “We can’t go back and change the past. But how do we promote a better future? How do we promote positive change?”

To achieve this, the filmmaker wanted to look at the aftermath of a school shooting from a different perspective. That’s why he set “Mass” several years after the cataclysmic incident.

“I feel like it’s easier for us to move on with our lives when the media stops covering something. I wanted to see these people years later,” he says. “To show just how lasting the effects are. My hope is that it pays a new kind of attention to the subject, in an effort to promote more positive change.”

Deborah Carr, a professor of sociology at Boston University, says that even though this sort of meeting typically wouldn’t be advised by professionals, there are potential positives to it. 

She acknowledges the risks involved, as the family of the victim might not get the answers that they’re looking for. “But it could go really well. It could be a case whereby both families speak their piece,” she says. “They grow to understand each other and become empathetic. They might come away, not necessarily with closure, because there is the belief that closure isn’t possible when you lose a child, but it might at least lead to understanding.”

Like Dr. Carr, Rachel Brandoff, an assistant professor and coordinator of the art-therapy concentration at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, is intrigued by the premise of “Mass” and the results that it could produce. In particular, she notes, it’s sometimes forgotten that both sets of parents are grieving the loss of their child. 

“The art of being a parent is not just seeing your child for who they are now in this moment, but imagining who your child can become and all of the wonderful things that you hope will be in their future. Both families lost that,” she says. “So there is potential to share grief, if the families can get past the unique circumstances of feeling like they lost their son as the fault of another.”

Even though “Mass” is set in a church, the writer-director says that he came up with the title for its secular meaning, “that of just people gathering together, the assembling of bodies,” he explains. Mr. Kranz, who was raised as a Christian but no longer practices, more than welcomes discussions about its religious themes, though.

“I want the audience to walk out asking about their own relationship with spirituality,” he says. “I think it’s healthy and important to have a relationship with the unknown and some kind of symbol that is outside of yourself. Because I think accepting that and exploring it leads to humility, which leads to interdependence.”

He doesn’t know if “Mass” actually offers concrete “solutions or explanations” for how communities, families, and survivors can try to heal from similar tragedies. He just wants viewers to realize that, while grief may not go away, you can certainly “live with it differently” and “don’t have to be at war with it.” 

Courtesy of Bleecker Street
(From left to right) Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney, and Ann Dowd talk together in a scene from "Mass."

Another of his aims is for “Mass” to encourage those who watch it to try to heal the huge divide that currently separates swaths of the United States. Like the four parents, he wants to see more people with different opinions come together to listen, empathize, and connect with one another. 

“I don’t have the authority or experience to craft how we could do that in this country,” he says. “It just feels so urgent and necessary to be able to talk, to be able to heal, and to be able to recognize a sort of shared common humanity so we can move forward. Because I worry if we can’t do that, if we just want to be at odds with one another, I don’t know where to find hope in a world that wants us to remain antagonists.”

“Mass” is available in theaters on a rolling basis starting Oct. 8. It is rated PG-13 for thematic content and brief strong language.

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The Monitor's View

Why Iraq enjoys a calm election

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Last year, violence marred more than half of the world’s national elections, the highest rate in four decades. This past Jan. 6, the United States saw its own election-related violence with the invasion of the Capitol by pro-Trump activists. Yet in Iraq, a country where the U.S. planted democracy, an election on Oct. 10 has seen little violence in the final weeks before the vote. That’s quite a change from the violence of the four previous elections since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The reasons for this progress are complex, but perhaps the strongest one is that young Iraqis rose up in 2019 to protest years of violent conflict and government corruption. The movement led to a major shift in how elections are held.

“If the balloting unfolds in a free and fair manner, without major violence, it may restore a degree of confidence in electoral democracy,” states the International Crisis Group in a report.

Iraq remains a nation fractured by tribes, religion, and ethnicity. Yet its young people, who voiced a demand for government to rise above those divisions, may be setting a new social contract. The relative lack of preelection violence is a sign that they are being heard.

Why Iraq enjoys a calm election

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AP
Employees of the Independent High Electoral Commission close a polling center after the end of early voting by the security forces in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 8.

Last year, violence marred more than half of the world’s national elections, the highest rate in four decades. This past Jan. 6, the United States saw its own election-related violence with the invasion of the Capitol by pro-Trump activists. Yet in Iraq, a country where the U.S. planted democracy, an election on Oct. 10 has seen little violence in the final weeks before the vote. That’s quite a change from the violence of the four previous elections since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The reasons for this progress are complex, but perhaps the strongest one is that young Iraqis rose up in 2019 to protest years of violent conflict and government corruption. In response, Iran-backed militias and the government killed hundreds of pro-democracy activists. But the movement did result in a new and reformist prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. And it also led to a major shift in how elections are held.

Under Mr. Kadhimi, the elections for parliament are being held early to meet the protesters’ demand. He has also beefed up security for the vote. The number of voting districts has been increased, putting a focus on independent candidates rather than on parties.

Polling stations will have five times as many foreign monitors as in the 2018 elections. Voters were given biometric voting cards to curb fraud. Political parties and candidates were asked to sign a pledge to reject intolerance and violence during the campaigning and voting.

Many Iraqis have emphasized the need for these elections “in order to move from a prolonged political standstill to finally addressing the urgent challenges facing Iraq,” says Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the United Nations representative to Iraq. According to a poll by the Al-Bayan Center for Planning and Studies in Baghdad, more than half of young Iraqis will not be voting for the same party or candidate as they did three years ago.

“If the balloting unfolds in a free and fair manner, without major violence, it may restore a degree of confidence in electoral democracy,” states the International Crisis Group in a report. And, according to Reuters, “Violent sectarianism is less of a feature and security is better than it has been for years.”

Iraq remains a nation fractured by tribes, religion, and ethnicity. Yet its young people, who voiced a demand for government to rise above those divisions, may be setting a new social contract. The relative lack of preelection violence is a sign that they are being heard.

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.

Making the most out of opportunities to grow

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Learning more about God and our nature as God’s children empowers us to overcome difficulties – as a man experienced after persistent pain arose in his stomach.

Making the most out of opportunities to grow

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

I was participating in a masters swim program and one day the coach said to me: “OK, it’s time for you to get out of your comfort zone! I want you to swim the fastest 50 yards you have ever done.”

Well, I had been swimming consistently for a good period of time and also working on improving my speed, so I was ready to go for it. I ended up swimming my best 50-yard time. That experience helped me to become more confident and to see that we each have unlimited potential to express strength and joy in unique ways.

And then, there are other times when making the most out of an opportunity to grow – striving to confront a challenge or problem with dominion over discouragement or fear – can be more difficult. That’s like one evening when I was faced with stomach pain. At first I thought it was just going to pass and all would be fine. However, that’s not what happened. The pain persisted and even became worse.

I realized I needed to pray to God. And that’s because I knew I could overcome this problem and be healed through God’s ever-present power. Christ Jesus’ supreme example and teachings have showed me this. I have also gained a strong conviction of this through my own practice and study of Christian Science, discovered by Mary Baker Eddy, who also founded the Monitor.

These words from Mrs. Eddy’s book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” came to thought: “Realize the presence of health and the fact of harmonious being, until the body corresponds with the normal conditions of health and harmony” (p. 412). And what is the basis for this guidance? The spiritual reality Jesus proved: that true health, harmony, and goodness originate in God, divine Spirit, who is fully good – not in matter.

So, health is a quality of God, our divine Parent. It must, therefore, also be an inherent quality of God’s spiritual, beloved offspring – that includes you and me.

I got started right away in prayerfully affirming that harmony is the eternal state of my being because harmony is the perpetual state of God’s nature. The material view of ourselves as suffering mortals who can experience pain is not the truth about us. It is a deception, a lie about our true, spiritual identity. And I was not going to accept it. Health and harmony naturally go together, and so I also reasoned that my health could be proved right there and then, because harmony is the fact of our being as God’s spiritual offspring.

The stomach pains immediately began to subside, and I was able to go to sleep for the night without any pain. I felt complete assurance that the problem had been healed by the power of God. And I gratefully awoke the next day free of any pain, which never returned. I also knew that I had grown even further in the spiritual conviction of God’s power in our lives.

Opportunities to grow can come in all kinds of ways and when we least expect them. Are we ready to make the most out of each one? That can happen as we are willing to acknowledge God’s ever-present power and our true being as God’s spiritual, beloved offspring.

Viewfinder

Balloon Fiesta rises again

Ann Hermes/Staff
Spectators watch at twilight as over 500 tethered balloons light up simultaneously at the Ballon Glow during the 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on October 3, 2021 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The event creates a coordinated light show for spectators as a Balloonmeister signals all the balloonists to simultaneously ignite their burners. The festival, which started up again after last year's cancelation, occurs from October 2nd through October 10.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

That’s it for the news. One note we’d like to add: On Friday two brave journalists, one from the Philippines and one from Russia, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work upholding freedom of the press. Monday is a federal holiday in the U.S., and we’ll send a special email to subscribers highlighting our coverage of Indigenous peoples. On Tuesday the Daily will return and will include our reporter’s story about her trip to the Arctic. 

More issues

2021
October
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