2022
January
13
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

January 13, 2022
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TODAY’S INTRO

Minnesota Vikings make a historic call

The Minnesota Vikings just did something no team in the National Football League has ever done. They have asked to interview a woman to become their general manager. 

Catherine Raîche is already the highest-ranking woman in America’s premier football league. She is the vice president of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles. Before that, she was the director of football administration for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. 

If chosen by the Vikings, Ms. Raîche would not be the first female general manager in NFL history. In the early 1980s, Eagles’ owner Leonard Tose chose his daughter, Susan Tose Spencer, to run the team for three years. She played a key role in rescuing the team from financial ruin. 

But Ms. Raîche does represent a rising tide for female coaches and executives in America’s four major sports, as our Kendra Nordin Beato wrote in her “Breaking grass ceilings” cover story last year. Two years ago, Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as their general manager, paving the way for the NFL and others to follow.

In one of her most recent tweets, Ms. Raîche highlighted that “there are now 130+ women working in the ‘football side’ of NFL teams” from administration to personnel to analytics. The hashtag? #TheBestIsYetToCome

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Governments try shame to boost vaccine use. Does it work?

Some governments are trying to stem the pandemic by shaming unvaccinated citizens into getting jabbed. There’s evidence that respectful dialogue might accomplish more.

Mark
Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters
People attend a demonstration to protest against a bill that would transform France's current COVID-19 health pass into a ''vaccine pass,'' in Paris, Jan. 8, 2022. The banner reads "No to vaccine pass."

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Anxious to stem the spread of the coronavirus, many governments are making life increasingly difficult for citizens who are not vaccinated. French President Emmanuel Macron said bluntly his policy was to “piss off” unvaccinated people until they felt obliged to have a jab; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has wondered aloud whether Canada “should tolerate these people.”

Vaccine skeptics see such an approach as an attempt to shame them into accepting inoculation. And experts say that sometimes that tactic backfires. “When you tell people what to do and that they should feel bad for not doing it because it’s hurting the team, one reaction ... is, ‘well, I’m not on that team,’” says Gregory Huber, a Yale professor who has studied vaccine takeup.

Other times, shaming has worked – in persuading people not to drink and drive, for example, or to give up smoking. But rather than ridicule vaccine skeptics, governments hoping to change their minds would do better to try quiet persuasion, health care expert Stephanie McClure suggests. “It’s about engaging in respectful dialogue,” she says.

Governments try shame to boost vaccine use. Does it work?

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When French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that his pandemic policy was intentionally to “piss off” the unvaccinated – a small minority of the population whose “civic-mindedness” he also called into question – he knew he was on safe political ground. A wide majority of French voters are also frustrated by those who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.

But if his goal was to shame those holdouts into rolling up their sleeves, it backfired with René-Charles Fleurisson, who instead went to a demonstration over the weekend demanding that Mr. Macron should be “everybody’s president.”

“It’s either we accept or we refuse, and if we refuse, we’re made to feel outside society,” says Mr. Fleurisson, braving wind and a cold winter drizzle in central Paris. The protest was one of dozens held in France Saturday that drew 100,000 people angry at what they call the increasing harassment of unvaccinated people.

At this point in the pandemic, a sense of global disappointment and uncertainty seems pervasive as COVID-19 case numbers skyrocket – despite the high vaccination rates in many parts of the globe that most national leaders see as essential. Some jurisdictions find themselves back in lockdown as hospitals are once again overburdened.

Where incentives and tighter restrictions have failed to convince everybody to get vaccinated, some leaders and their citizens are funneling their frustration into public blaming. But if shaming can sometimes be a motivating tool, it can also backfire by entrenching people into their own camps – especially at a time when social cohesion is as fragile as it currently appears in many countries.

“When you tell people what to do and you tell them they should feel bad for not doing it because it’s hurting the team, one reaction people sometimes have is, ‘well, I’m not on that team,’” says Gregory Huber, a political science professor at Yale University who co-wrote a report studying the types of messages that influence vaccine takeup.

“They might say, ‘I don’t feel shame. In fact, I feel alienated.’”

Blair Gable/Reuters
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference as the latest omicron variant emerges as a threat amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Ottawa, Ontario, Jan. 5, 2022.

Mr. Macron is not alone in employing centuries-old control measures to keep individuals accountable to the larger group. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a French-language interview during last year’s election campaign that resurfaced last month, called some unvaccinated people “misogynists” and “racists” and wondered aloud whether the country “should tolerate these people.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently lashed out at people opposed or hesitant about the vaccine spouting “mumbo jumbo” across social media. 

Whether this constitutes shaming – and whether it’s fair given the stakes – is a matter of heated debate. What’s clear is that leaders are taking little risk by publicly dissing unvaccinated people, since they are largely reflecting the dominant mood across social media, in the press, and among the general public.

A Toronto Star editorial this week called for Canadian provincial governments to come down harder on unvaccinated people, arguing that “it is their irresponsibility that is largely to blame for the restraints under which Canadians are currently required to live” and calling out their “demonstrably anti-social behaviour.” 

When Quebec’s premier, Francois Legault, proposed Tuesday that adults who are unvaccinated by choice should pay an extra tax to cover their potential health care costs, approval of the controversial idea spread like a brushfire on social media.

Shaming cuts both ways. Reports abound of moral posturing, of incidents when children have been humiliated because their parents have not allowed them to be vaccinated, of people ridiculed for voicing reservations about vaccine efficacy or safety as the pandemic morphs. In the United States, others cite the questioning of those with sincerely held religious objections. There are also many reports of unvaccinated demonstrators trying to shame or bully vaccinated people – by holding rallies outside hospitals, sending doctors death threats, or stalking the homes of politicians.

It is these fractures in society that may be showing us new limits of shame.

In many places, frustration has coincided with stronger control measures: People need a vaccine passport to participate in public life in Canada and much of Europe. Italy has made vaccination compulsory for people over age 50; and in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has threatened unvaccinated people caught outside their homes with arrest. 

Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters
People wait to get a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on the day Italy brought in tougher rules for unvaccinated people, at a Red Cross center by the main train station in Rome, Jan. 10, 2022.

Widening the requirements for vaccination certificates does appear to have increased vaccination rates in some instances, and shame can also work to a degree, says Harris Ali, a sociologist at York University in Canada.

Shaming people into not drinking and driving, or into giving up smoking, has changed norms over time, he says. In the case of a pandemic, where neighbors’ actions may affect others’ well-being, “many would agree the end justifies the means,” he says. In Ontario, where Mr. Ali lives, schools have closed so as to reduce the pressure on hospital intensive care units, which are disproportionately burdened with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

In France, Kevin Arceneaux, an expert in political psychology at the CEVIPOF research institute in Paris, says politicians have long used shame to enforce norms. 

“Shame can work in instances where people feel that negative social judgment about them does have an effect on them psychologically. Plenty of people have joined the army and fought in wars they didn’t want to in order to avoid shame,” he says. “I’m sure many people in France have gotten vaccinated because they don’t want others around them to judge them negatively.”

But in today’s siloed society, shame is a far less effective tool, it seems.

Dr. Huber’s study found that shame could only be a successful way of persuading people to get vaccinated when the subjects were embarrassed or judged by family or friends.

Leaders have a harder time invoking the “us” in nationhood now. “In the United States people say ‘don’t tell me what to do in terms of a vaccine. That’s not what it means to be an American,’” Dr. Huber says. “It’s a little different than Winston Churchill standing up during the Blitz and saying, ‘Look, we’re all in this together and we’re working against a common enemy.’ People don’t feel an allegiance to that larger whole,” which is “really what makes shame work,” he adds.

Mike Segar/Reuters
A woman holds a sign in the crowd as protesters demonstrate against mandates for COVID-19 vaccines as they rally outside the New York State Capitol in Albany, New York, Jan. 5, 2022.

Giovanni Travaglino, who teaches at the University of London, studied shame in three countries ranging from least to most individualistic: South Korea, Italy, and the United States. He says he was surprised to find that shame had equally little effect as a motivator in pandemic behavior across all the countries.

“What instead seemed to be more effective in getting people to comply with government recommendations was this idea that we are all in it together,” he says, “that we should take care of the people around us instead of creating an ‘us versus them.’”

David Colon, author of a book about political propaganda, says earlier French leaders would not have used the divisive language Mr. Macron chose, instead seeing themselves as “the presidents of all French people.” But governments have often scapegoated striking workers, accusing them of holding the country hostage.

“The point is to discredit the adversary,” says Mr. Colon. Once “it was the unions. Now it’s the unvaccinated who are presented as adversaries of society. The government is basically saying they’re not citizens, which is very harsh. It’s a way to unite as many people as possible” around the president.

Vaccine skeptics are not convinced. “This way of shaming people is dangerous because it makes it seem like the government wants us to disappear,” says Nadia, an English teacher at the weekend demonstration in Paris who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals at work. “We’ve seen this with yellow vest protesters, the unemployed, impoverished people. It’s part of Macron’s strategy to avoid addressing the larger issues our country is facing.” 

Rather than ridicule vaccine skeptics, governments hoping to change their minds would do better to try quiet persuasion, argues Stephanie McClure, who leads the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, team for CommuniVax, a national coalition advocating health equality for historically underserved minority communities. She says that her work in the health field suggests that shaming rarely produces long-term behavioral change.

She recalls one woman in her late 30s, a veteran who works in auto manufacturing. Last spring, she – like many of her peers – was adamant that she would not get vaccinated. But she was asked to keep a diary in which she recorded all the messaging on COVID-19 vaccinations that she received.

After talking with her employer and her health care provider, she changed her mind in the summer, having digested information she recorded as “life-changing.” 

“It is about engaging in respectful dialogue” over time, says Dr. McClure. “Not a lecture, not ‘I’m going to convert you.’” But rather, “‘let’s talk about what your concerns are.’”

Dominique Soguel contributed to this article.

Can Arab Gulf states entice Iran to cut a new nuclear deal?

Arab Gulf states have dramatically shifted their thinking about Iran. Suddenly, they may have the most to offer Tehran to help bring about compromise on a nuclear deal.

Mark
Majid Asgaripour/WANA/Reuters
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (right) meets with the UAE's top national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan (left), in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 6, 2021.

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Six years after denouncing the Iran nuclear deal, Arab Gulf states are encouraging their regional rival to return to the agreement and are embarking on a separate diplomatic push to induce Tehran to abandon both its nuclear pursuit and its interference in Arab states. Indeed, the Gulf states believe they have the most to offer Iran to entice it to compromise.

Behind their shift in thinking are the perceived failure of the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, a consuming war in Yemen, and concerns that ongoing instability not only threatens the Gulf states’ national security, but is bad for business.

The Gulf states’ consensus list of demands from Iran include the de-escalation of Sunni-Shiite sectarianism, ending Iran’s supply of ballistic missiles to its militia proxies, and halting its pursuit of weapons-grade uranium.

In return, Gulf states are offering an assortment of relief measures and trade and investment opportunities that could lead to the speedy influx of tens of billions of dollars into economically devastated Iran, with potentially hundreds of billions more long term.

“What Arab Gulf states want and what they can offer is well known,” says Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla. “At the end of the day, the important question is: What does Iran want from us?”

Can Arab Gulf states entice Iran to cut a new nuclear deal?

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As talks inch forward in Vienna between the West and Iran over reviving the accords constricting Iran’s nuclear program, a breakthrough may come from an unlikely place: Arab Gulf states.

Six years after denouncing the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration for failing to address Iran’s activities in the region, the states are encouraging Tehran to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

To do so the states, some of whom like Saudi Arabia have waged proxy wars with Iran, are embarking on a separate diplomatic push to induce Tehran to abandon both its nuclear pursuit and what they see as its interference in Arab states.

In their push for regional dialogue and cooperation, Arab Gulf states believe they have the most to offer Iran to entice the hard-line government to compromise at the negotiating table.

Behind the Gulf Arabs’ shift are several considerations: the perceived failure of the Trump administration’s yearslong “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran, with which the Gulf states were aligned; a consuming war in Yemen; and concerns that ongoing insecurity and the risk of conflict not only threaten the Gulf states’ national security, but are bad for business.

But the states’ transformation from nuclear talk holdouts to active participants was also made possible, say Gulf insiders and analysts, by the fact that this time around, the United States included them in the process.

Being briefed by the Biden administration and Europeans has allowed Gulf states to be secure in pursuing their own dialogue with Iran to cover areas a nuclear accord could not.

The Gulf states say they have consensus demands for Iran: the immediate de-escalation of Sunni-Shiite sectarianism; ending the supply of ballistic missiles to its militia proxies; curbing its interference in the internal affairs of Arab states; and halting its pursuit of weapons-grade uranium. 

In return, Gulf states are offering an assortment of economic and financial relief measures, as well as trade and investment opportunities, that could lead to the speedy influx of tens of billions of dollars into economically devastated Iran, with hundreds of billions of dollars in long-term potential.

“What Arab Gulf states want and what they can offer is well known,” says Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla. “At the end of the day, the important question is: What does Iran want from us?”

Diplomatic flurry

The flurry of diplomatic activity between Gulf countries and Iran has picked up as talks between the international community and Iran progress in fits, starts, and slowdowns in Vienna.

On Monday, Iran’s foreign minister noted “good progress” in Vienna due to “efforts made by all parties to reach a stable agreement.”

While the U.S. has welcomed the “modest progress,” it continues to push for a hard deadline to return to the accord within “weeks,” to prevent Iran from reaching a threshold ability to produce a nuclear weapon from sufficiently enriched uranium.

Iran’s government rejects imposing any deadlines or an interim agreement.  

Nariman El-Mofty/AP/File
Hassan Saleh, a Yemeni fighter backed by the Saudi-led coalition, following clashes with Iran-backed Houthi rebels on the Kassara front line near the oil-rich city of Marib, Yemen, June 20, 2021.

Yet talks between Iran and the Arab Gulf states are flourishing:

  • Iran-Saudi talks toward a rapprochement are entering their fifth round in Iraq next week.
  • On Monday, as part of a Gulf tour, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian arrived in Muscat to discuss regional de-escalation with Oman, a traditional mediator between Tehran and Washington. Separate Qatar-Iran talks are ongoing.
  • In December, the UAE national security adviser visited Tehran and met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Economic opportunity

For Iran, the Gulf’s financial and economic opportunities are unmatched.

Dubai is a significant export hub for Iran, a critical lifeline to the global economy amid financial and trade sanctions. The UAE is currently Iran’s second-biggest trading partner with $16 billion in trade in 2021, a figure that is expected to reach $18-$20 billion this year.

“The UAE and Gulf countries can offer a lot to Iran, which economically needs a lot of tangible things the Gulf can provide. We can increase trade, we can ease financial restrictions, we can exchange goods it desperately needs,” says Dr. Abdulla, the Emirati analyst.

Access to Saudi Arabia, the largest single market in the Arab world with a $782 billion GDP, would also be an immediate boon to Iranian exports.

Among other potential benefits to Iran:

  • The exploration and extraction of natural gas from concessions that have been locked in legal disputes between Iran and a UAE-based firm.
  • Sharing of Gulf know-how that could aid Iran’s oil industry.
  • Improved COVID-19 response: The UAE and Oman shipped medical supplies and ran humanitarian flights to Iran in 2020; Gulf states are now reportedly offering increased assistance and aid to Iran’s medical sector, pharmaceutical sector, and hospitals.

What’s more, Arab Gulf diplomats say they believe they can offer something intangible that Iran craves: respect as a regional player and an end to isolation in its own neighborhood. 

Increased cost of conflict

The shift in the Gulf states’ posture also follows a six-year period where military action against Iranian-supported Houthis in Yemen and a break-off of diplomatic ties did little to weaken Iran’s position.

Instead, from Syria to Iraq and Lebanon, Iran has become more entrenched and emboldened, with its militias becoming battle-hardened.

“The marginal gains for conflict overall have diminished, especially after the COVID-19 shock affected regional budgets,” says Dania Thafer, executive director of Gulf International Forum.

“The increased cost of maintaining conflict combined with the perceived U.S. disengagement of the region is a strong signal for Gulf states to pursue dialogue to find a new security arrangement,” she adds.

Arab Gulf countries’ bargaining position with Iran is limited by a hard fact: they need Iran too.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular want Tehran to pressure the Houthis in Yemen to engage in a cease-fire and dialogue to end the Saudi-led war in Yemen, Gulf diplomatic sources say.  

In addition, Riyadh and, to a lesser extent, Abu Dhabi are concerned about Iranian proxy Hezbollah’s ongoing domination of Lebanese politics and state institutions. They are also competing with Iran for influence in Iraq and Syria.

Then there is the prospect of armed conflict between either the U.S. or Israel on one side and Iran on the other. The UAE and Oman lie directly in the path of missiles; Abu Dhabi is reportedly concerned that instability and conflict would sink its service-based and globalized economy, which is reliant on the free travel of people and finances.

There is also an inherent time limit on the Saudi-Iran and wider Gulf talks: should the JCPOA be revived and sanctions lifted first, Gulf states will lose a lot of their bargaining leverage with Tehran, analysts say.

Despite the limitations, Gulf diplomats say their offer of economic opportunities is the best offer Iran can get and would be a huge windfall for Tehran. The question remains how Iran will respond.

Patterns

Tracing global connections

From the Olympics to FIFA, athletes grow wary of ‘sportswashing’

Winter Olympics in Beijing and the soccer World Cup in Qatar may burnish the international image of human rights violators. Athletes are braving their wrath to speak out.

Mark
Willy Kurniawan/Reuters
Activists take part in a protest against China's treatment of the ethnic Uyghur people and call for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, at a park in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan. 4, 2022.

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The Beijing Winter Olympics are just three weeks away, but the focus is not on skiing or snowboarding. It has been on sportswashing.

That’s the term human rights activists use to describe the mutual embrace between international sport and authoritarian states such as China. Events such as the Olympics, they say, sweeten the image of a regime that has stamped out democracy in Hong Kong, condemned Muslim Uyghurs to “reeducation” camps, and clamped down on any sign of citizen dissent.

The ruling bodies in sport, such as soccer’s FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, are reluctant to raise their voices, but athletes themselves are beginning to speak up.

A U.S. skater, Timothy LeDuc, talked last week about what he called “horrifying human rights abuses” in China; English soccer players will get a briefing from Amnesty International before deciding whether to stage protests at November’s World Cup in Qatar, a notorious human rights offender; and Formula One star Lewis Hamilton said last month he did not “feel comfortable” racing in Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are banned. He wore a rainbow-decorated helmet during his race.

These are baby steps, perhaps, but they are more than international sports bureaucrats have managed.

From the Olympics to FIFA, athletes grow wary of ‘sportswashing’

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The 24th Winter Olympics are only three weeks away, but the focus is not on skiing or snowboarding. It’s been on sportswashing.

That’s the term human rights advocates use to criticize the mutual embrace uniting international sport and authoritarian states such as next month’s Olympics host, China.

They argue that the Games, with their cuddly panda logo, will sweeten the image of a government that has snuffed out democracy in Hong Kong, condemned Muslim Uyghurs to “reeducation” camps, and tightened control over its citizens.

None of that is going to prevent the Games from going ahead. But the wider issue shows no signs of going away: whether international sporting organizations are allowing human rights violators to “refashion their images as glamorous sporting hosts,” in the words of a recent report by Human Rights Watch.

In fact, it’s likely to resurface again when the Gulf state of Qatar hosts soccer’s World Cup in November.

And while the organizing bodies, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, seem reluctant to raise their voices, there are signs the pressure may be mounting. It’s coming not just from human rights watchdogs, but from a new and potentially more persuasive source: athletes themselves.

Where the Olympics are concerned, the athletes have been largely quiet, perhaps focusing fiercely on being selected to compete, though U.S. pairs figure skater Timothy LeDuc spoke up last week about what he called “horrifying human rights abuses” in China against the Uyghurs.

The official line of the IOC, echoed by Beijing, has never wavered: China’s politics are none of our business. And more generally: politics and sports don’t mix.

Politics always at play

But politics have always been part of the Olympics. Even in democracies, the Games have been a conscious display of national self-confidence and pride. In the hands of autocrats, they’ve offered something else: a showcase for the autocrats-in-chief. The prime example was the 1936 Berlin Games, with crowds raising “Heil Hitler” salutes to the Nazi führer.

Protests aren’t new either. The most widely backed was in 1980, following U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s move to keep American and other athletes away from the Moscow Summer Games after Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Several dozen countries joined the boycott, among them, China.

This year, U.S. President Joe Biden and a handful of allies have stopped short of such a boycott, opting instead for a “diplomatic boycott,” meaning that leaders will not grace the opening ceremony.

In recent years, the IOC has sought to justify awarding the Games to nondemocratic states such as China and Russia as a means of encouraging reform.

Michael Sohn/AP
Protesters against the Winter Olympics in Beijing next month gather in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Jan. 4, 2022. They urged German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to diplomatically boycott the Games over the Chinese government's repression of Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Hong Kong.

Still, there are growing signs that sportswashing may be getting more difficult.

Partly, that’s because of the high-profile debate over Beijing 2022. Opponents have pointed out that the Beijing Summer Games in 2008 led to no political reform at all, and indeed have been followed by more repression.

But it was another Chinese controversy, tennis star Peng Shuai’s accusation that a top politician sexually assaulted her, that has done most to focus attention on the marriage between international sport and autocracies.

With Ms. Peng’s bombshell social media message deleted, and her name effectively expunged from China’s internet, the IOC hastened to limit potential damage ahead of the Winter Games. Its officials held a video call with her and, like China’s state media, reported that she was safe, and just wanted “privacy.”

But that didn’t work. As both male and female tennis stars took to Twitter in solidarity, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) did something extraordinary.

Like other international sports bodies, it’s been making a huge, and lucrative, bid to expand into China. But at the potential cost of tens of millions of dollars, the WTA announced it was scrapping its tournaments there until it could speak directly to Ms. Peng, satisfy itself that she was indeed fine, and secure an independent investigation into her allegations. That has not happened.

The WTA may be an outlier. It was founded by American tennis star Billie Jean King and has a history of activism on a range of political issues.

But its message resonated widely: that sports bodies should ­– and could – take a stand.

A growing trend

The trend toward athletes’ political involvement is also growing in other sports, among them soccer, with implications for the World Cup.

Since being awarded this year’s competition, Qatar has come under scrutiny on a range of human rights issues, especially its treatment of its nearly 2 million migrant workers who are key to building the Cup venues.

The Qatari authorities have introduced new legal safeguards, but rights watchdogs have said the new rules aren’t being fully enforced. Numerous injuries and deaths have occurred on the worksites.

Now, as the World Cup approaches, there are signs of assertiveness among the players themselves. In England, the Football Association has approached Amnesty International about making a presentation on Qatar to the national squad before the players decide whether to protest the country’s human rights record.

Other teams have already begun taking a stand. The national teams of Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway held on-field protests at the start of qualifying matches about the poor treatment of migrant workers. Denmark, after it qualified, announced an agreement with its corporate sponsors to replace the logos on players’ shirts with human rights messages in support of migrant workers.

And in another arena, Formula One racing ace Lewis Hamilton said before last month’s Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia that he did not “feel comfortable” racing in a country where same-sex relationships are illegal. He wore a rainbow-decorated helmet in support of LGBTQ rights.

These are baby steps, to be sure. But they are more than international sports bureaucrats have managed.

The Explainer

Does 5G dangerously crowd the spectrum? Federal referee may help.

5G service promises greater connectivity and opportunities for automation. A newly confirmed federal referee is a step toward making that happen by resolving tensions.

Mark

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The latest in a long line of concerns about the radio interference that 5G service rollouts might cause involved airline security – what effect, if any, the faster, more reliable service would have on airline altimeter signals. As a result, scheduled 5G service to more than 100 million cellular users was postponed until Jan. 19. 

In a word, the issue is spectrum – the range of invisible airwaves shared by various technologies. While the technological possibilities of 5G abound – from autonomous vehicles to smart cities and factories, which could make labor safer and more efficient – more effective governance of the spectrum is the key to realizing the potential.

Part of the answer, says Tom Wheeler, former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, is an interagency referee – a permanent position vacant since 2019 that was filled this week by the Senate confirmation of President Joe Biden's nominee, Alan Davidson. He will head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Department of Commerce.

Mr. Wheeler calls spectrum coordination a “whole-of-government activity,” noting that the Trump administration never delivered on a spectrum strategy. And the Biden administration has not yet, either. “The whole of government comes to a point at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”

Does 5G dangerously crowd the spectrum? Federal referee may help.

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Mike Blake/Reuters
Soaring above telecommunications wires, a Southwest Airlines jet approaches San Diego International Airport earlier this month. U.S. telecom companies, airlines, and government agencies have been wrangling over what – if any – interference new 5G services could have on aircraft altimeters.

For all the promise of making cellular service faster and more reliable, 5G – fifth generation – networks have been repeatedly tangled and delayed over issues with the airwaves on which the technology relies.

The latest controversy, postponing a Jan. 5 rollout of 5G service for over 100 million users, had to do with regulatory disputes between federal communications and transportation agencies about whether 5G signals might interfere with equipment used to help land airplanes.

Experts say this week’s Senate confirmation of a federal communications and information “referee” between all agencies, after a multiyear vacancy, may smooth coordination.

What caused the controversy?

In a word, spectrum – the range of invisible airwaves shared by various technologies.

The airline industry questioned whether the bands of the spectrum used by the companies for new 5G service scheduled to start Jan. 5 would interfere with those used by airlines for radio altimeters.

The issue had been brewing for months. A November article – “Will 5G mean airplanes falling from the sky?” – by Tom Wheeler, former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, concluded that more cooperation between industries was necessary. It’s an approach that helped solve earlier questions about signal interference with hearing aids, pacemakers, and electric wheelchairs.

Altimeter interference is a “valid” concern, says Monisha Ghosh, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, who worked as chief technology officer at the FCC until last June, but she adds that tests in other countries where 5G has been deployed did not show evidence of interference.

A letter from airline executives to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also questioned whether 5G would cause interference with air travel. Mr. Buttigieg, bypassing FCC jurisdiction, directly asked Verizon and AT&T to delay deployment. The companies obliged, resetting rollout to Jan. 19.

The Federal Aviation Administration reported last week that 50 U.S. airports will have buffer zones shielding altimeter equipment by this rollout date.

The solution to such controversies comes down to process, says Joe Kane, who studies spectrum policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. “This is something that should be going on between engineers figuring out how to make things work.”

That process is all the more important since many more 5G deployments are scheduled in 2022-23.

Frédéric Scheiber/Hans Lucas/Reuters/File
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is studying the use of 5G for remote working. Engineers at the company's St. Martin du Touch, France, flight lab work in an Airbus A350-900 test aircraft in January 2021.

What exactly is 5G?

“Never has a term been used so much and understood so little as 5G,” says former FCC chair Wheeler, now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. 5G, he says, is a technical standard that the public confuses for a product, such as a phone. Cellular provider marketing, he says, advertises 5G service when it isn’t widely available yet and consumers are still just using 4G.

5G operates on parts of the radio spectrum different from 4G’s in order to increase capacity and speed. But, says Mr. Wheeler,  “consumers are going to see faster speeds ... but if that is all that 5G delivers, it will be a disappointment” because it should open up opportunities for new apps not even conceived yet.

So what is the promise of 5G?

While the technological possibilities of 5G abound – from autonomous vehicles to smart cities and factories, which could make labor safer and more efficient – more effective governance of the spectrum is the key to realizing its potential.

Part of the answer, says Mr. Wheeler, is an interagency referee – a permanent position vacant since 2019 that was filled this week by the Senate confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominee, Alan Davidson. He will head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Department of Commerce.

“That’s where all this refereeing is supposed to take place,” says the former FCC chair.   

Mr. Wheeler calls spectrum coordination a “whole-of-government activity,” noting that the Trump administration never delivered on a spectrum strategy. And the Biden administration has not yet, either. “The whole of government comes to a point at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”

Tackling climate change is art, not just science

Artists often help people make sense of the world. As the impacts of climate change become part of daily life, more art is raising awareness and offering support.

Mark

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Across the creative world, a rising number of artists are focusing on climate. Mainstream pop stars such as Billie Eilish sing – and lobby – about it. Other performers, from Dar Williams to Tamara Lindeman’s The Weather Station, feature it on new albums. An increasingly popular utopian science fiction and art genre, called “solarpunk,” hinges around a new eco-friendly future.

At the recent COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, art and culture took a prominent role in several panel discussions. And now a Netflix comedy called “Don’t Look Up,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, is using an Earth-threatening comet as a thinly veiled metaphor for the issue. 

The trend is becoming more important not only to artists but also to climate scientists who see a need to stretch across disciplines to address what many see as an existential problem.

Ben Mylius, a writer and graduate student at Columbia University who helped found the school’s Climate Imaginations Network, says artists can challenge what he calls the “easy” climate storylines – despair or complacency. He says, “No one field, or industry, or way of seeing the world can see it all.”

Tackling climate change is art, not just science

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Courtesy of Cortada Studio
Artist Xavier Cortada has developed projects related to climate change, including the "Hello" project, which he presented at PortMiami in November. He says the projects weren't "about intimidating or sensationalizing or scaring you to death, but were about letting you know that you have agency.”

At the star-studded Art Basel fair in Miami Beach recently, amid the galleries and parties and installations, artist Xavier Cortada handed out name tags of a particular variety.

“Hello,” the stickers said. “My elevation is ...” He filled out his own with information for Miami, his hometown: 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) above sea level, an elevation clearly vulnerable to ocean rise caused by climate change. Mr. Cortada had passed out similar tags at the COP26 international climate gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall – a participatory art project, he says, that was meant to transcend individualism and build connections. “Hello, my fear is ...” read one name tag. “Hello, my hope is ...” read another.

“These badges served as an artistic way of just getting folks to communicate with each other and to share their humanity, their vulnerability, their perspectives,” Mr. Cortada says. And that, he says, is necessary to help fight climate change – the goal of his art ever since he traveled to Antarctica in the mid-2000s with a National Science Foundation program. There, he recalls, he was “horrified” to realize he was holding in his hands ice samples that could very well melt and be part of flooding of his city.

“It radically transformed my practice to one that was almost exclusively dealing with climate – not in a way to despair but to solve,” he says. “I created all these projects that weren’t about intimidating or sensationalizing or scaring you to death, but were about letting you know that you have agency. ... What I want is art that understands its role as a vehicle to engage others and to problem-solve.”

Across the creative world, artists are increasingly focusing their work on climate. Mainstream pop stars such as Billie Eilish sing – and lobby – about it, while other performers, from Dar Williams to Tamara Lindeman’s The Weather Station, feature it in new albums. It is central to a number of new fiction books, such as Booker Prize shortlist works “The New Wilderness” by Diane Cook and “Bewilderment” by Richard Powers. An increasingly popular utopian science fiction and art genre, called “solarpunk,” hinges on a new eco-friendly future. And now a Netflix comedy called “Don’t Look Up,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, is using an Earth-threatening comet as a thinly veiled metaphor for the issue.

“Increasingly, people are realizing we need these different levels of creativity – whether it’s scientific creativity or visual creativity,” says Caroline Juang, who is both an artist and graduate student in climate science at Columbia University’s department of Earth and environmental sciences. “We need to make visualizations of what the world could be.”

“No one field ... can see it all” 

The climate theme has even shown up at venues such as London’s Fashion Week, where this past fall the studio Atelier Tammam featured scientist Ed Hawkins’ “Warming Stripes” – a graphic blue-and-red-lined representation of increasing temperatures over time – on ready-to-wear capes, scarves, and dresses. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a recent theater production called “Wild: A Musical Becoming” revolved around climate anxiety, part of an intentional theater industry effort on global warming. And at the COP26 conference in November, art and culture took a prominent role in several panel discussions. 

Courtesy of Cortada Studio
Xavier Cortada shares his "Hello" project, asking people to identify themes related to climate change on special name tags, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall.

This broadened approach is becoming more important not only to artists but also to climate scientists themselves. More and more, those in academic settings say, researchers are stretching across disciplines and collaborating with a variety of artists in hopes of building a new type of response to what many see as an existential problem.

“What does it mean for people to work on climate?” asks Ben Mylius, a writer and graduate student at Columbia who helped found the school’s Climate Imaginations Network. “From the university perspective, it raises questions for every discipline. No one field, or industry, or way of seeing the world can see it all.”

Humanities and the liberal arts are well suited to address the ethical, moral, and political questions that inevitably come up with climate change, he says. Meanwhile, fine artists and writers can bring emotion and creativity that engage a wide audience, while also challenging what Mr. Mylius calls the “easy” climate storylines of despair on one hand, and a “techno-utopian, someone-else-will-save-you” complacency on the other. “How can we really bring our creativity to bear, telling stories of climate and the future that don’t take the easy way out?” he asks.

Artists focusing on ecological issues is not new, of course. Many have done so since the environmental awareness movement of the 1960s, points out Patricia Watts, founder and curator of Ecoartspace, a membership group for artists addressing environmental issues. But the number of artists getting involved has increased exponentially, she says, as the impacts of climate change – such as wildfires, floods, and other extreme weather events – become part of daily life.

Artists as problem-solvers

“As we grow more conscious of all the issues, there is more and more work being done, and more and more artists doing this work,” Ms. Watts says. And this growing creative movement, she and others say, is crucial for expanding the way society understands climate change – and possible solutions to it. “Artists can be divergent thinkers and problem-solvers,” Ms. Watts says.

The theatrical production “Wild,” which premiered last month at the American Repertory Theater, reflects this new grappling. It revolves around the tension between teenage character Sophia’s growing environmentalism and her mother’s desperation to save her family’s livelihood by selling their land to an energy extraction company. In one scene, Sophia sings a ballad, “Dear Everything,” while her mother, Bea – played by Broadway legend Idina Menzel – faces off behind her against Oak, her environmental studies teacher.

But the audience doesn’t see two “sides” onstage. They see a mother and teacher who both care about a young girl. Their different perspectives about climate change aren’t political.

“You can broach the issue and you can invite everybody to the table,” says New York-based playwright Chantal Bilodeau, founding artistic director of The Arctic Cycle, an organization that uses theater to foster conversation about climate change. “It doesn’t have to be, ‘We’re going to look at this from an ideological point of view.’ It’s just, ‘We’re going to look at this through a personal story, like how does this affect our lives?’”

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File
A yard sign stating that the area is 8 feet above sea level sits in front of artist Xavier Cortada's studio on Feb. 6, 2019, in Pinecrest, Florida. Mr. Cortada created an "Underwater Homeowner's Association," a kind of community installation to promote awareness about rising sea levels. Along with displaying the signs, participating homeowners discuss how their suburban community can prepare for the effects of climate change.

Since Ms. Bilodeau began The Arctic Cycle in 2008, the project has developed and produced new plays, hosted workshops, and maintained a network for artists who work in climate change. At the core of its work, she says, is the idea that creative storytelling can lead to more change than traditional advocacy. 

“If the first impulse is to solve a problem or to get people to do something, it can turn into really bad theater, because then you’re not using theater for what it’s meant, which is to help invite people into reflection or exploration of a particular issue,” she says.

That same mission of exploration anchors the Boston Children’s Chorus’ 2021-2022 season, “Now Is the Time.” The chorus has been performing songs with underlying messages of climate change, and has partnered with other organizations with similar goals. Members of the chorus also played a group of children onstage in “Wild.”

“There is a duality in our mission, not just to promote artistry, but then also to focus on issues of social inquiry and empathy and justice,” says Irene Idicheria, managing director of BCC.

To many artists, all this paves the way for people to take stronger or more inspired action in their lives. “I think there needs to be a strong activist component, and that artists need to understand the role and power of art in helping us really rethink and unveil what is obscured. Glamorizing and glorifying isn’t enough,” says Mr. Cortada, the Miami artist. “And I think there is a whole generation of artists that will understand that this is their duty.”

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Syria’s war victims as peacemakers

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For victims of Syria’s decadelong war, a verdict in a German courtroom Jan. 13 brings hope of someday healing their society. A judge found Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence officer, guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. He had been in charge of investigating activists – often with the use of torture – during the Arab Spring uprising. He later fled to Germany where he was discovered by one of his victims.

The trial was the first time that Syrians who had been wronged – 50 in all testified against him – could confront a perpetrator of the Assad regime’s atrocities. It was also a chance to affirm the dignity of victims, which is a key part of the justice eventually needed to prevent a recurrence of conflict in Syria.

The verdict in the German court is just a start to restore the individual dignity of those harmed by Syria’s war. It helps them to not be resigned to injustice, to bring forth more evidence, and to become agents for peace. Those most hurt by a war can be the ones who help end it. They might then be able to lose the identity of victimhood.

Syria’s war victims as peacemakers

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Fadwa Mahmoud holds an image of her husband and son who are missing from a Syrian prison since 2012 as she leaves a court in Koblenz, Germany, following the Jan. 13 guilty verdict against Anwar Raslan, a former officer of the Syrian intelligence agency, for crimes against humanity.

For victims of Syria’s decadelong war – including 6.6 million people in exile – a verdict in a German courtroom Jan. 13 brings hope of someday healing their society. A judge found Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence officer, guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. He had been in charge of investigating activists – often with the use of torture – during the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprising. He later fled to Germany where he was discovered by one of his victims and tried under a legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

The trial was the first time that Syrians who had been wronged – 50 in all testified against him – could confront a perpetrator of the Assad regime’s atrocities. It was also a chance to affirm the dignity of victims, which is a key part of the justice eventually needed to prevent a recurrence of conflict in Syria.

The verdict comes weeks after another German court convicted a fighter with the Islamic State group for the death of a girl from the Yazidi ethnic group in Iraq. Both verdicts reflect an effort in several European countries to capture and try those responsible for heinous crimes abroad. Even more so, the trials reflect a widening movement to work side by side with those victimized by conflicts to document atrocities in hopes of achieving justice and, perhaps, national reconciliation.

A group called Afghan Witness, for example, has begun to collect a body of evidence on human rights incidents under the new Taliban regime for potential use in future prosecutions. For the civil war in Myanmar, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners is relying on witnesses and open-source tools to gather information about atrocities committed by the ruling military and other groups.

Yet the scope of Syria’s long conflict could be the largest effort to assist victims through accurate documentation of reports of crimes and atrocities. In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to set up a special body to prepare evidence for the eventual prosecutions in Syria.

Listening to people who have been persecuted and allowing them to voice their suffering has proved to be an essential part of bringing peace to a conflict. Victim groups in Colombia, for example, were key players in negotiating an end to that country’s half-century war. Often, victims merely want the truth about what happened during a war. In seeking to break the cycle of bloodshed, they sometimes advocate for a balance between justice and the need for leniency and forgiveness.

The verdict in the German court is just a start to restore the individual dignity of those harmed by Syria’s war. It helps them to not be resigned to injustice, to bring forth more evidence, and to become agents for peace. Those most hurt by a war can be the ones who help end it. They might then be able to lose the identity of victimhood.

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.

Living love, wherever we are

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Wherever life may take us, our fundamental purpose is to reflect the healing, regenerating, spiritual love that Christ Jesus exemplified.

Living love, wherever we are

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Good old predictive text. That software designed to anticipate our responses based on language patterns doesn’t always get it quite right. Answering a tech’s query about my internet browser, I wrote, “Primarily, I am a Safari user.” My phone adjusted this to “Ordinarily, I am a sardine!”

While this was cause for hearty laughter, a more recent predictive text change gave me pause. Explaining why I wouldn’t buy a product sold exclusively in the United States, I wrote, “I live in London.” But the message crossed the Atlantic as “I love in London.”

What a lovely way to describe where we live! It’s the place where we get to live our love for family, friends, and an entire community. A hymn says,

Make channels for the streams of Love,
Where they may broadly run;
And Love has overflowing streams,
     To fill them every one.
(Richard C. Trench, “Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 182)

Wherever life takes us, we’re there to be a transparency for divine Love, God, whose pure affection and care are native to us as Love’s sons and daughters. “Make channels for the streams of Love” could even describe God’s blueprint for creation. God has created infinite channels to express Love’s inexhaustible love, and we’re each a unique channel. In fact, that’s all we are: a pure and spiritually perfect expression of God’s all-embracing love.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way. It can seem as though there’s a kind of mental character rewriter that constantly misrepresents us to ourselves. It might concede that we have a smattering of love in us but are generally sad, self-concerned, or even self-condemning mortals.

This claim would flip the immortal truth of being exemplified in the love lived by Jesus in 1st-century Judea. He said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Yet, so often when we think of our own perpetual spiritual oneness with God, it gets mistranslated to “I’m an isolated material selfhood cut off from good, God.”

The truth expressed in Jesus’ statement above is Christ, the message Jesus knew so well, which ceaselessly comes to each of us from the divine Mind, God. Its misrepresentation is from the godless false talker called the carnal, or mortal, mind. Every attitude, action, or circumstance detailing a separation from God, good, is mortal mind’s attempted rewrite of Mind’s flawless creation and Mind’s purpose for each of us.

Knowing this, and understanding that mortal mind is actually a term of convenience used to denote a mentality that has no genuine existence, we can take a thoughtful step back. We can affirm what’s truly going on: the forever unfoldment of God’s infinite spiritual goodness.

Mortal mind’s most ubiquitous rewrite tells us we’re self-serving mortals made up of fleshly elements subject to malfunction and decay. This manifests itself as egotism on the one hand and injury, disease, or deterioration on the other. Yet when we seek the unaltered and unaltering truth of being, we find the opposite message: We are changeless spiritual representations of God, immune to limiting, material conditions. Genuinely grasping this truth leads to regeneration and healing.

So we need to filter what we take in about ourselves. Here’s one way this is described in the textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy: “In Science, all being is eternal, spiritual, perfect, harmonious in every action. Let the perfect model be present in your thoughts instead of its demoralized opposite” (p. 407).

Jesus always had this perfect model in thought, with powerful impact. Faced with a man whose hand had withered, he asked him to stretch it out, and it was restored to full usefulness. Urged to accuse a sinner of her sins, Jesus instead sent her on her way uncondemned and empowered to see that she could cease sinning.

This was the acme of living love. And our willingness to follow in his hallowed footsteps, no matter how modestly, is our reason for being where we are. We are there to live the Christly love that Jesus exemplified.

If our thoughts tell us differently, that’s mortal mind saying we are sardines. And while spiritual reformation and regeneration are more demanding than simply laughing off a lie, the belief that we are self-centered mortals is provably as absurd as that predictive text. We are children of the living God. This is our enduring spiritual identity, and our purpose is to glorify God by uniquely expressing Love’s healing love, wherever we are.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Dec. 6, 2021, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Viewfinder

A different kind of roundabout

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
A large ice disk slowly rotates in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine, Jan. 13, 2022. Ice disks form as a result of a current and vortex under the ice.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow for our coverage on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the vaccination mandate for large employers. Until then, you can read about it and the latest breaking news on our First Look page.

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