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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
September
21
Friday
Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Fred Rogers (that’s Mr. Rogers to most of us) famously used to say “look for the helpers” when news got scary. (Check out the Google Doodle today marking 51 years since his empathy-centered children’s show premiered.)

Stories of altruism floated like life rings across this week’s news.

If you sifted social media this week, then you probably saw the one about the Tennessee trucker who responded to a plea for help transporting shelter dogs from the North Carolina flood zone. He bought an old school bus and went back to continue the work.

That’s a low-profile rescuer deservedly getting noticed amid a high-profile event. What happens when the news energy ebbs?

Sometimes those at the center end up feeling forsaken. But sometimes assistance quietly keeps coming. This week a high-profile helper stepped up in Britain. A year-old tragedy there already feels distant: the Grenfell tower fire in West London that killed more than 70 people, displaced hundreds, and underscored deep social inequity.

There’s nothing unusual about celebrities backing a cause. But the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle to most of us) began quietly making visits to a community kitchen near the Grenfell site way back in January. (Its name, Hubb, means “love” in Arabic.) Her fundraising book of family recipes written by – and sold to benefit – that community comes out next week. 

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Now to our five stories for your Friday, including one on a nudge from Florence about rethinking an agricultural practice, and one on a nudge from high-schoolers about what true integration could look like. 

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1. Kavanaugh hearings: some see a process in need of new protocols

This week's chaotic events have elevated calls for clear guidelines for what to do the next time a nominee is accused of sexual assault or harassment. This piece looks at where some early ideas are pointing. 

Andrew Harnik/AP
Voting soon on a court nominee? Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa (l.), accompanied by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, the ranking member, speaks with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont (r.), during a Senate Judiciary Committee markup meeting on Capitol Hill Sept. 13 in Washington.

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When it comes to the Supreme Court confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, no one, Republican or Democrat, is happy. Prof. Christine Blasey Ford's accusations that Judge Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her when both were teens highlight a point made by Anita Hill in a New York Times op-ed. The law professor, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, wrote that the committee “still lacks a protocol” for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims. Her suggestions include input from experts in sexual violence to guide procedure and questioning of witnesses, investigation of allegations by a “neutral” body with experience in sexual misconduct, and a commitment to not rush the process. “It’s all ad hoc and making it up as you go along,” says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. As he and others acknowledge, this will not be the last time an allegation of sexual assault or harassment surfaces with a judicial or other executive nomination. “We know this is going to happen again, because it’s happening everywhere,” he says.

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Kavanaugh hearings: some see a process in need of new protocols

Republicans and Democrats can agree on at least this much regarding the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court: It’s a mess.

Republicans complain of Democrats’ 11th-hour leaking of a bombshell development and of delay tactics. Democrats complain of Republicans railroading their nominee and of unfair treatment of Prof. Christine Blasey Ford. The Californian, a professor of clinical psychology, has accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers at a party in high school.

“It’s all ad hoc and making it up as you go along,” says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, speaking of this week’s chaotic efforts on Capitol Hill to hear directly from Professor Ford. As he and others acknowledge, this surely will not be the last time that an allegation of sexual assault or harassment surfaces with a judicial or any other executive nomination. “We know this is going to happen again, because it’s happening everywhere,” he says.

The specifics of this case, and the warning bell it signals, highlight a point made by Anita Hill in her New York Times op-ed this week. The law professor, grilled by an all-male Judiciary Committee when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, wrote that the committee “still lacks a protocol” for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that arise during the confirmation process.

Her suggestions include: input from experts in sexual violence to guide procedure and questioning of witnesses, investigation of allegations by a “neutral” body with experience in sexual misconduct, and a commitment to not rush the process. Allowing only committee staffers to investigate is not adequate, she told the PBS News Hour this week. “I doubt they are qualified to carry out this investigation in a neutral way,” she said.

Democrats have been loudly echoing several of those points this week, demanding that Republicans slow down their drive to a hearing originally called for Monday morning, and calling on the FBI to do an independent investigation of Ford’s story, which they find credible.

“There needs to be an unbiased, full investigation of the facts” and a hearing with corroborating witnesses “so you can hear from all sides,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York at a press conference with Ford supporters from her former high school on Thursday.

“In the Anita Hill case, they didn’t give it enough time,” Senator Gillibrand said. “There were witnesses that wanted to testify, that were denied the ability to testify.” She called the GOP push toward a Monday hearing “bullying.”

That the committee needs a “protocol” to handle a matter such as this is a matter of dispute, including by some committee members. They point out that the powerful panel is quite capable of handling sensitive matters, including confidential ones, such as the July 30 letter that Ford wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, in which she outlined her story. The problem, says Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, is that the process was not followed.

Ford has said that at a party when she was 15 and he was 17, a highly intoxicated Kavanaugh pushed her onto a bed, groped her, and tried to take off her clothes. She also alleges that he covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming for help. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the accusations. Since Ford came forward over the weekend, her lawyer said, she has received death threats and has had to move out of her home and hire private security.

Process vs. confidentiality

Senator Feinstein, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, did not share that letter with anyone on the committee, honoring the confidentiality of the writer. But it leaked to the media last week – throwing Kavanaugh’s nomination into doubt and plunging Washington into a crisis about how to handle the new information.

“We have a process. Senator Feinstein basically defied that process by withholding the information that would have been investigated by committee staff,” says Senator Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee. “The FBI could have talked to alleged witnesses, but because that was not made public until after the FBI investigation had closed, until after the hearing, that’s what’s caused this situation.”

He went on to say that the committee “routinely” protects sensitive, personal information – in closed sessions, for instance.

That’s true, says Gregg Nunziata, former chief nominations counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and former policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida. While the committee may not have a process to deal specifically with sexual misconduct claims, he says it handles that and other sensitive allegations (violence, substance abuse, problems with truth telling) that come up when evaluating a nominee’s fitness.

The committee looks at “hundreds” of nominees each Congress, he explains. A small number of staffers with security clearance have access to FBI interviews secured in a safe. “I never once saw information in those files misused for political purposes or ignored,” Mr. Nunziata says, and he cites a “handful” of nominations that did not move forward because of troubling background information.

“I think if Senator Feinstein had raised this with Senator Grassley in July, the likely next step would have been asking the FBI to go out and investigate” Ford’s story, Nunziata says. Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa is the chairman of the committee and has said he cannot compel an FBI investigation because only the White House, which oversees the agency, can do that.

That is “outlandish,” says Lisa Graves, former chief counsel for nominations for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, when he was the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Over many decades, when committee members had a concern about a nominee, senators were able to ask the FBI to look into a matter, she says. If she could change the committee process, “the first order would be that any sensitive or serious allegations would be referred to the FBI as a matter of course. Period.”

From political skirmishes to procedural war

The FBI helps to protect the process from politicization – and the Judiciary Committee is without question the most politicized and polarized committee in the Senate. Resentments go back decades to the Democrats’ attack on Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987, with skirmishes turning to all-out political and procedural war over high court nominees at the end of the Obama administration, when Republicans declined to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. They left the seat vacant for a record 422 days, while now pushing to confirm Kavanaugh before the court sits on Oct. 1 – a month before the party’s political fortunes could change in the midterm elections.

Committee chairs are powerful people, but on this committee, that power is acutely felt by the minority, as Grassley calls the shots. He can overrule the minority, decide on witnesses, and, yes, decide whether there will be an FBI investigation or not. 

Should Feinstein have shared Ford’s letter? “She was between a rock and a hard place,” says Ms. Graves. “She wanted to keep the identity confidential. If she had shared it with Grassley, I think the information would have been shared directly with the White House.”

That, she says, would have denied Ford the chance to decide whether and under what conditions to tell her story, as well as informed a White House determined to confirm Kavanaugh “at any cost,” says Graves. 

“The bigger question,” she says, “is one of trust.”

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2. N.C. hog farmers’ conundrum: US loves pork, but not Big Pork

Even before Florence, the hog debate in North Carolina had come to symbolize larger environmental questions amid climate change. “I like to say that a hint to the wise is quite sufficient,” says one hog farmer. “Florence was a hint that was sent.”

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When North Carolina hog farmer Tom Butler began raising hogs two decades ago, he was taken aback by his neighbors’ negative reaction. Using a $300,000 grant, he capped the waste lagoons and attached a generator that converts methane into electricity. He now runs an electrical microgrid capable of powering 150 homes. But he is one of just a few farmers in the state to move away from storing and treating waste in open lagoons, more than 50 of which were inundated or overtopped during flooding from hurricane Florence. Hogs may ultimately not be the main contributors to the storm’s toxic legacy, given arsenic-tinged coal ash spills and the release of millions of gallons of raw sewage. But there is little doubt that Florence exacerbated a crisis for Big Pork. At Butler Farms, the capped lagoons kept stormwaters out. When North Carolina Speaker Tim Moore toured this week, there wasn’t much to see in terms of damage. Butler hopes that impressed the powerful Republican as the state ponders lagoon reform. “It is very complex, and we as growers and citizens of North Carolina are sometimes quite frustrated” that taxpayers and corporations haven’t stepped up to help the farmers, says Butler. “We know it will cost more, but people are willing to pay more for safe food and safe air and water.”

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N.C. hog farmers’ conundrum: US loves pork, but not Big Pork

Joey Carter had one terrible thought this week when he surveyed lagoons of hog waste filling to the brim on his farm in hurricane-struck Duplin County, N.C.: “Them things are going to bust.”

But the massive lagoons have held firm, even as the storm’s toll rises.

In Mr. Carter’s view, the fact that only 23 lagoons became inundated and 31 have overtopped is a sign of farm ingenuity in a state with 3,300 such lagoons across more than 2,000 farms. Some 5,500 pigs have died.

“We need an atta-boy for the job we’re doing,” says Carter. “We’ve been actively pulling the lagoons down and getting ready. In a normal year, we’re fine. But this is just a catastrophic event.”

In a peculiarity of hog farming, farmers don’t own the hogs; corporate processors like Smithfield do. But as hog stewards, farmers own the waste, some 15.5 million tons per year of which is stored and treated in large lagoons.

Even before Florence, the hog debate had come to symbolize larger environmental questions amid climate change.

“The focus on pigs is because they are more regulated, they are more visible, and they can stink, there’s no doubt about it,” says North Carolina State University environmental engineer John Classen, who focuses on the waste chain.

But that focus does underscore a greater point, says Professor Classen, that “we have been borrowing from the environment to cover part of our costs and we are now bearing those costs not just by damage to the environment, but in terms of people’s health and water quality.”

Hogs may ultimately not be the main contributors to a toxic legacy left by Florence, given arsenic-tinged coal ash spills and the release of millions of gallons of raw sewage from at least seven inundated water treatment plants.

But there is little doubt: Florence exacerbated a crisis for Big Pork.

America's sodden barbecue belt

Carter is its embodiment. He lost a lawsuit last month filed by neighbors, claiming his farm had become a nuisance. As a result, he is winnowing his herd down from 5,000 to zero. When Florence hit, he still had 1,000 head on the farm. In two weeks, they will all be gone, as will his income.

Carter is not a distant industrialist whose factories pollute isolated communities. He is the local fire chief. “I’m not a bad apple,” he says.

But even before pictures of overflowing lagoons, a rash of lawsuits were behind the troubled squints of hog farmers surveying their holdings, and pondering the future.

Farmers like Carter face a bevy of challenges, including urbanization, demographic upheaval, narrow margins, and climate shifts bringing more and bigger flood events. In that way, Florence may define more sharply the challenges for America’s sodden barbecue belt.

“I like to say that a hint to the wise is quite sufficient,” says hog farmer Tom Butler, who raises nearly 8,000 head of hog near the township known as Barbecue. “Florence was a hint that was sent. We should listen.”

Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa are pork powers, too, but North Carolina packs pork and people closer together than any other state. The cultural bonds are just as strong.

The culinary result can be tasted at shacks like the Pik-n-Pig in Carthage or Boss Hog's Backyard Barbeque in Washington: soft and smoky pulled pork bathed in vinegary “dirty sauce,” snuggled up on bacon-infused collards and pintos girded with ham hock.

“Pork has always been part of the culture down here, which is one of the reasons why its image is so complicated,” says Thomas Birkland, a political scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “Us city folks love our pork barbecue. But we also know it has to come from somewhere – and not just the supermarket.”

Taste plus affordability is why Americans eat 50 pounds of pork a year each. Pork is on such a roll that US production is expected to for the first time ever exceed that of beef by the end of this year.

But the steeper cost of pork is becoming more evident to people in North Carolina, where three juries in a row have ruled on behalf of neighbors of hog farms. That has clashed with deep-seated agricultural interests that still dominate the state’s gross domestic product. Instead of advocating large-scale reform, the legislature last year capped nuisance verdicts to protect farmers from what Carter calls “big-city lawyers.”

The storm focused that conflict. 

Hog farmers are part of a highly regulated industry using high-level engineering created by land grant universities. They have little incentive to befoul their own land or communal water.

The vast majority also cannot afford to install and maintain technologies that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Processors like Smithfield have been loath to make investments given global profit pressures. A $50 million industry settlement for projects to lower the farms’ environmental impact could help, but is ensnared in a lawsuit.

A hog farmer “isn’t some executive in Manhattan with a plant in Houston,” says Andy Curliss, the chief executive officer of the North Carolina Pork Council. “This is a farmer on land that has come down through his family. They are stewards. They care deeply about the water of the state. It is amazing to see them maligned.”

But cultural and hydrological standards may be shifting. Along with the lawsuit caps, the North Carolina legislature just announced a buy-out program that could remove several farms hit hardest by Florence.

Such acknowledgements come as a study by UNC epidemiologists found higher mortality rates among people living near hog farms, though it did not infer causality.

“The system is flawed even when it’s not failing in disaster,” argues Geoff Gisler, who leads the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Clean Water Program in Chapel Hill, N.C. “It is an everyday disaster for folks that live nearby.”

The state has had a moratorium on new hog farms since the late 1990s and has closed 330 lagoons. Meanwhile, farmers have halved the so-called feed conversion, reducing the amount of waste required per pound of meat.

There are still 3,300 lagoons, many of them in counties like Duplin, which saw disastrous flooding from Florence.

SOURCE: National Weather Service, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

And nearly two decades after the so-called Smithfield Agreement demanded that the pork industry come up with “superior technologies” to deal with waste, only 10 hog operations in the state have moved away from open lagoons. Ironically, the lack of industry growth in the state has stymied innovation even as it loses ground to other pork powers.

Classen says that until it is economically feasible to install technologies that don’t rely on lagoons, it is not fair to blame farmers.

Yet pressure is growing, from storms and demographic shifts. As North Carolina expects to add another 2 million people in the next decade, conflicts are increasing around Raleigh and Charlotte as traditional urban-rural dynamics become complicated by history, politics, culture, and cuisine.

“A lot of people move out to rural areas and suddenly realize that farming is not just a romantic way of life,” says Dr. Birkland at N.C. State. “It is a highly mechanized, highly capital intensive, loud and dusty industry that includes feeding operations and waste. That means you’ll always have conflict as the outer ring of urban areas start to move into agricultural areas.”

Changing hog farming

Mr. Butler, the Harnett County hog farmer, has experienced that tension firsthand. When he began growing hogs two decades ago, he was taken aback by the negative reaction from his neighbors. He was also embarrassed.

Using a $300,000 grant, he capped the lagoons and attached a generator that converts methane into electricity. Improvements over the years – including the addition of Tesla batteries – means he now runs an electrical microgrid capable of powering 150 local homes. The capped lagoons kept storm waters out.

Earlier this week, North Carolina’s speaker of the House, Rep. Tim Moore, toured Butler Farms. There wasn’t much to see as far as damage from the storm, which Butler hopes impressed the powerful Republican as the state ponders lagoon reform.

“It is very complex and we as growers and citizens of North Carolina are sometimes quite frustrated” that taxpayers and corporations haven’t stepped up to help the farmers change their process, says Butler. “We know it will cost more, but people are willing to pay more for safe food and safe air and water.”

At the same time, he says, “it’s not all the industry’s fault. Growers are kind of a breed of their own. They don’t like change. But in a lot of cases, growers do realize they have a real problem and they need help.”

SOURCE: National Weather Service, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. How ‘space tourism’ could alter the course of cosmic exploration

A ticket to the moon may seem like the ultimate billionaire's indulgence. But, as this piece explains, space tourism just might broaden horizons in space for us all.

SpaceX/Reuters
SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket (shown in this artist's rendering) may become the first commercial spacecraft to take civilians to space.

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Space travel has long been the domain of scientists, military personnel, and government officials, not well-heeled tourists. But that may be about to change. On Monday, spaceflight company SpaceX announced that Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has purchased the company’s first joyride around the moon. He's not the first space tourist and certainly won't be the last. Multiple companies are building luxury spaceships and space hotels with wealthy space tourists in mind. And an influx of these newcomers could launch human spaceflight into high gear and profoundly change space exploration. By purchasing high-priced tickets in advance, billionaires like Mr. Maezawa help fund the development of rockets that may boost the first humans to Mars and beyond. Such voyages by non-astronauts could also inspire others to think about going to the stars. And the more people who go, the better, says Alex MacDonald, a senior economic advisor at NASA. “The more people who are investing their own money in space exploration capabilities, the more people who are purchasing human spaceflight services, the more spaceflight activities we’re going to be able to engage in as a nation as a whole.”

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How ‘space tourism’ could alter the course of cosmic exploration

Yusaku Maezawa wasn’t selected by any agencies for space travel. He made the choice to go himself.

“I choose to go to the moon,” the Japanese billionaire entrepreneur proclaimed from a stage at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., Monday night. If all goes well, Mr. Maezawa will be SpaceX’s first paying customer to travel into space on a trip around the moon, perhaps as soon as 2023, and he wants to bring half a dozen artists with him.

Space tourists like Maezawa may become a regular fixture in the skies in the near future, as companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic all have stated ambitions to bring paying customers into space for the view and experience. Russian company Orbital Technologies also has designs on building space hotels in low-Earth orbit. All have announced timelines that fall within the next decade.

Space travel has long been the domain of scientists, military personnel, and government officials, not well-heeled tourists. But an influx of these newcomers might launch human spaceflight to the next level and profoundly change space exploration.

“It could be a very critical component” in advancing technology and expanding space travel, says N. Wayne Hale, a former NASA engineer who served as the space shuttle program manager and flight director and currently consults with the Special Aerospace Services. “It’s time we open this up to everyone.”

Civilians have purchased tickets to space before, but they’ve always hitched a ride with traditional astronauts. In the 2000s, seven millionaires and billionaires took trips to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. But in the past decade, numerous private spaceflight companies have forged ahead in developing a space travel industry that would give space tourism a place of its own.

If a steady flow of space tourists develops, that could open up more opportunities for scientists, says Greg Autry, who researches commercial spaceflight at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He compares it to Earth-bound air travel: “If the National Science Foundation had to develop an aircraft every time they needed to send some researchers off to explore something, we couldn’t afford to do hardly any science.”

But first the rockets and spacecraft that can safely carry humans into various parts of space must be built and tested. And that’s an expensive endeavor.

Could wealthy tourists cover that cost? That might be SpaceX chief executive officer Elon Musk’s plan. At Monday’s announcement, Musk estimated that the rocket that will boost Maezawa’s trip around the moon will cost somewhere around $5 billion to build. Both men refused to say how much Maezawa is paying SpaceX for the flight, but Musk did say that the amount was “non-trivial” and will have a significant impact on the development of the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket). Dr. Autry guesses it could be around $1 billion.

Chris Carlson/AP
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk, (l.), shakes hands with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, (r.), after announcing him as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Hawthorne, Calif.

The trick to making this model work, Autry says, is to sell more tickets to wealthy prospective space tourists. “If all they have to do is refuel this thing, and inspect it, and send it up again, like they say, it could just be a few million dollars per flight, and they could be charging hundreds of millions of dollars per passenger.”

There is precedent for this idea. Virgin Galactic has already sold nearly 700 tickets at $200,000 or $250,000 apiece for a suborbital flight that would take passengers to space for just a few minutes.

SpaceX, NASA and others have all explicitly stated goals to not only return humans to the moon but also to put boots on Mars and beyond. And all that action could help speed up schedules and advance the necessary technology, says Alex MacDonald, a senior economic advisor at NASA.

“The more people who are investing their own money in space exploration capabilities, the more people who are purchasing human spaceflight services, the more spaceflight activities we’re going to be able to engage in as a nation as a whole.”

Lighting the fire for spaceflight?

But sending more people hurtling off into space, particularly where few people have gone before, does pose a risk. And if something goes wrong, “it could have a chilling effect on the whole spaceflight industry,” says Mr. Hale, who knows all too well what effect disaster can have, as he was a manager of NASA’s Space Shuttle program during the Columbia disaster.

Still, Hale says, “The development of spaceliners, and letting more people go, and understanding how to build habitats and make accommodations are things that we’re going to need to know about in the future. So it can only be good.”

All the conversation around space travel could prompt a shift in societal consciousness, too, says Valerie Neal, chair of the space history department at the National Air and Space Museum. And that, in turn, could drive an expansion of space travel more generally.

That’s what happened with airplanes, at least, Dr. Neal says. In the 1920s, although only a select few were actually taking flight, people flocked to air shows and devoured news articles about daring flights to marvel at this new curiosity. A sort of “air-mindedness” developed, she explains. There was a sense of possibility about air travel.

“Something like ‘space-tourism mindedness’ might develop,” speculates Neal, “and become that same kind of enthusiasm and force of appeal and inspiration that people will aspire to have the opportunity to go into space.”

The pure thrill of space, the entertainment value, could in turn lead to other more serious uses for space travel, too, Autry says. He draws an analogy to what drove the popularity of personal computers early on: video games. Before personal computers started to be used in offices for business, people bought them for what was seen as trivial entertainment. That, Autry says, set the groundwork for the ubiquity of computers.

A similar thing could happen with space travel, he says. Tourism could lead to business ventures, which together could make for a sustainable economy, which could be the backbone of a human future in space.

We’re still very far from that future, and the role that space tourism may play is still a largely hypothetical one.

But, says Dr. MacDonald, “The more people that have experiences going into space, the more accessible the experience will be to all of us. And the more the perspective of being a human species on the third rock from the Sun in a broader cosmos, the more that perspective has a chance to become part of our more regular daily experiences.”

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to include Alex MacDonald's current title. He is the senior economic advisor within the Office of the Administrator at NASA Headquarters. He was previously the founding program executive of NASA's Emerging Space Office.]

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4. Ukraine’s old Orthodox divide gains a deeper political meaning

In an international conflict, one nation will often try to nullify the influence another has within its borders. But what if doing so means upsetting fundamental tenets like separation of church and state?

Marko Djurica/Reuters/File
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (r.) and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople hold a liturgy in the southern Serbian city of Nis in 2013.

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Since the Soviet era, Ukraine’s Orthodox community has been essentially split in two. On one side there’s the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which though functionally independent gives its spiritual allegiance to the Patriarch of Moscow. On the other is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP), a breakaway church with its own self-proclaimed patriarch but not recognized by the greater Orthodox community. Both have been jostling for the hearts and minds of believers in Ukraine for decades. But amid Kiev’s conflict with Russia, the religious turf war has become a political one as well. Backed by the Ukrainian government and Orthodox authorities abroad, the UOC-KP looks set for what would effectively be a hostile takeover of the UOC. That would mean the dissolution of the UOC, the seizure of its property by the UOC-KP, and – backed by force of law – the requirement that all Ukrainian Orthodox churches switch their allegiances to Kiev. People will have their weddings and baptisms in the same old church in the same old way. But some estimate that about one-third of UOC clergy will refuse to switch allegiances in an already troubled country, potentially leading to legal and perhaps physical conflict.

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Ukraine’s old Orthodox divide gains a deeper political meaning

For decades, Orthodox leaders have been at odds over where the loyalties of clergy in Ukraine should lie: in Moscow, or within Ukraine’s own borders. While deeply meaningful to religious authorities, it is the sort of complicated detail that ordinarily would be of interest to few outside Orthodox circles.

But now, the long-simmering jurisdictional dispute is coming to a head – and could add a new layer to Ukraine’s internal tensions amid its ongoing geopolitical strife with Russia.

Encouraged by the government in Kiev, Orthodox leaders in Ukraine are attempting to create a national church by severing the ties of many Ukrainian Orthodox churches to their traditional spiritual headquarters in Moscow. And with the foremost patriarch of the overall Orthodox Church apparently set to throw his weight behind Kiev’s cause, a new Ukrainian patriarchate seems likely sooner rather than later.

With a new national patriarchate, however, would come a hostile takeover of the country’s traditional Orthodox body by a newer breakaway church. And while the change would have no practical impact on parishioners – weddings and baptisms would go on the same way as before – it would likely result in a political schism, as churches that once spiritually allied to Moscow were legally forced to orient toward Kiev. The Orthodox debate would be subsumed by political concerns that should not touch it, critics say.

“We have separation of church and state in Ukraine, and any attempt by the state to meddle in our affairs would be reminiscent of totalitarian days,” says Vasily Anisimov, official spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. “Why our church doesn’t please the Ukrainian authorities is a mystery to us.”

Ukrainian Orthodoxy

The Orthodox world has 14 autocephalous – functionally independent but spiritually connected – units, mostly nation-based, each with its own local head, or patriarch. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church has no pope-like figure to definitively settle issues. But the Patriarch of Constantinople (now Istanbul, where the church was born) is considered “first among equals” and enjoys a few privileges as such.

About two-thirds of Ukraine’s 43 million people identify as Orthodox believers, although they are divided among three separate churches that do not vary in their beliefs or practices but which attract very different political passions.

The vast majority of parishes – about 7,000 out of a total 12,000 – are affiliated to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). The church is legally and financially autonomous, but has no patriarch of its own. Rather, it is part of the world’s largest Orthodox congregation, the Russian one, headed by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. In recent years the UOC has steadily been losing followers, but is still supported by at least 20 percent of Orthodox believers, mainly in the east and south of Ukraine.

Though it has fewer parishes, the breakaway Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) is in fact a larger congregation than the UOC: about a third of Ukrainian Orthodox believers. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the UOC-KP was formed under the leadership of the Soviet-era Metropolitan (Archbishop) of Kiev, Mykhailo Denysenko, who had failed in a bid to become Moscow Patriarch. He took the name Patriarch Filaret, the designated spiritual head of the new church. It is Filaret who is the primary spiritual figure behind the drive for a Ukrainian national church, which began in its modern form when Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.

There is also a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which was formed after the Bolshevik Revolution, and has the support of about 3 percent of believers. To confuse matters further, in the west of Ukraine (which was under Polish domination for centuries) there is also the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is basically Orthodox but owes allegiance to the pope in Rome, and commands the support of just under 10 percent of Ukrainians.

‘A united, equal Ukrainian Church’

The effort to create a unified, independent Ukrainian church has intensified greatly since the Maidan Revolution four years ago, and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, triggered violent geopolitical conflict between Moscow and Kiev.

Earlier this month Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople prompted what will certainly be a heavily contested process aimed at eventually granting autocephaly to Orthodox Ukrainians. He sent two leading Orthodox officials from North America, which is under Constantinople’s jurisdiction, to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and others to discuss the move. The Russian Orthodox Church, which accuses Bartholomew of having “pope-like ambitions,” heatedly disputed his right to initiate such a procedure, and dramatically broke off some contacts with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

It’s probably not as bad as it sounds, since the Kremlin has vowed to stay out of the quarrel, and there is little evidence that most Ukrainian believers care very much whether their local priest owes spiritual allegiance to a patriarch in Moscow or in Kiev. But with presidential and parliamentary elections on Ukraine’s 2019 horizon, it seems certain to be a fixture on the political agenda for some time to come.

“Ukrainian authorities regard Russia as an enemy, and the task of separating all Ukrainian churches from any ties with Moscow has become an important political goal,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. “They want the Ukrainian Church to be a national one, which is loyal to the national authorities. The Russian Orthodox Church would then cease to be a trans-national one, and become just another national one itself.”

The Kiev Patriarchate, which Filaret heads, has not yet been recognized as canonical (i.e. a legal jurisdiction) within the Orthodox community. The outcome that Mr. Poroshenko and Filaret are hoping for in this situation is that the entire Ukrainian Orthodox community will be declared by Constantinople as one united and independent Orthodox jurisdiction, with Filaret as its patriarch.

Four years ago in Kiev, as the current geopolitical crisis was breaking, Filaret sat down with the Monitor to explain his goals.

“This task of unifying has become urgent, particularly now that there is tension between Russia and Ukraine, and Russia committed aggression by annexing Crimea,” he explained. “We want a united, equal Ukrainian Church, which is independent of the Moscow Patriarchy. It will happen [amid these political events] because God creates such conditions that, even if [Moscow] doesn’t want it, they will come to it.”

Church and state

Yevgen Kharkovshchenko, chair of religion studies at Kiev National University, says the drive for an autocephalous Ukrainian church is a natural front in the ongoing struggle for Ukrainian independence. “This idea has a lot of supporters in Ukraine,” he says. “An independent state on its own independent territory has to have an independent church.”

He adds that it seemed unlikely to happen until the Patriarch of Constantinople stepped in and Moscow reacted with harsh countermeasures. “Now, for the first time, I am beginning to think that Ukraine will get its autocephalous church, after a thousand years of aspiration.”

Ukraine’s individual Orthodox churches have been battlegrounds for three decades already, as the Kiev and Moscow Patriarchates struggle to win the allegiance of each parish, which owns its own brick-and-mortar house of worship under Ukrainian law. But the creation of an autocephalous Ukrainian church would likely intensify that battle. And it would also likely spur President Poroshenko or the Ukrainian parliament to change the laws to make Kiev allegiance mandatory for all.

“Will politicians get involved? Of course they will,” says Mr. Kharkovshchenko.

The Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, former official spokesman of the Moscow Patriarch, argues that the ambitions of Bartholomew and Filaret are driving the present situation, and that it will only create more disunity in already troubled Ukraine. He says that most clergy and believers will probably accept whatever Ukrainian authorities demand, since it won’t affect church doctrine or religious practice. But it is estimated that about one-third of UOC clergy will refuse to switch allegiances, he says.

“So, even if this comes to pass, it will only create one more church jurisdiction, and that is not a step to unity,” Father Vsevolod says. “And if there is state involvement, with legal measures or pressures by local authorities upon parishes to promote Kiev affiliation, how is that a good thing?”

It is likely to take a long time, he adds, since there will be push-back, and it doesn’t suit most players – including Bartholomew in Constantinople – to see any of this quickly settled.

Mr. Anisimov, the UOC spokesman, sounds quite defiant. He says the church is already autonomous from Russia and has no connections with the Moscow Patriarch other than spiritual ones.

“I personally think this campaign for autocephaly has a lot to do with the upcoming election campaign,” he says. “Our Ukrainian authorities don’t have much to offer the people in their material realm, so Poroshenko wants to pose as the founder of a new church. Our authorities conceive of a church as a political organization, marching shoulder to shoulder with the state. But that road leads back to totalitarianism.”

“The authorities should concentrate on their tasks, which is things like ending the war and improving peoples’ lives,” he adds. “Our mission is to save souls. We don’t interfere with the state, and they shouldn’t interfere with us.”

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Learning together

An occasional series on efforts to address segregation

5. Integrated but unequal: inside a world laid bare by high-schoolers

Diverse, liberal communities can still harbor racism and inequity. Can the honest stories of young people compel adults to pay attention? A 10-part TV series is urging more conversations. 

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It’s a place that has avoided the racial isolation common in many schools and neighborhoods across the United States – Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) in the diverse Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill. Filmmaker Steve James and his crew followed teachers, students, and families at OPRF for a 10-part documentary called “America to Me.” It begins to unpack the complexities that arise and the damage that can be done when layers of racial bias and structural inequity linger, even in desegregated liberal bastions. Many of the protagonists in the series are students of color, and their interactions with teachers run the gamut from genuine friendship to awkward coexistence. In a related 10-city tour, communities are being encouraged to sign up to watch episodes and have conversations around issues raised in the series. Training sessions that prepare participants to lead discussions were designed to challenge people but not make them feel guilty. “It’s not about blame,” says Darnisa Amante, a facilitator. But “we do have to name that there is a whole system that creates inequity ... [and name] what part of that system we’ve embodied unknowingly.”  

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1. Integrated but unequal: inside a world laid bare by high-schoolers

Karen Bauerle has two children in school in Belmont, Mass., a wealthy suburb of Boston whose education system “could really benefit from some facilitation regarding issues of race,” she says. So when she heard about a chance to set up a “watch group” to discuss a new 10-part documentary that delves into race and educational equity, she eagerly signed on.

“People like myself, identifying as Caucasian,... need to be honest [about] the continuation of segregation in society, racism.... I want to be part of this change,” she says, explaining what brought her to the Boston Public Library Sept. 13 for a screening of an episode of “America to Me” – a kickoff event before the small watch groups start discussing the documentary and how it connects to their communities.

For the STARZ series, filmmaker Steve James and his crew followed teachers, students, and families at Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) in the diverse Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill. It’s a place that has avoided the racial isolation that’s common in many schools and neighborhoods across the US. But the series begins to unpack the complexities that arise, and the damage that can be done, when layers of racial bias and structural inequity linger, even in desegregated liberal bastions.

Participant Media and local partners are promoting “America to Me” in a 10-city tour – urging communities to use online toolkits that offer an episode-by-episode structure for conversations people are hungry to have, but perhaps lack a good recipe to follow. So far, nearly 8,000 people have signed up to participate in watch groups.

Many of the protagonists in the series are students of color, and their interactions with teachers run the gamut from genuine friendship to awkward coexistence. The stories of the chatty cheerleader, the biracial spoken-word enthusiast, the overscheduled wrestler, and so many more – full of universal angst, humor, and drama – will resonate widely.

“By walking in the shoes of these kids, you see the world through their eyes…. You can make visible … and make personal what otherwise feels like something happening to other people,” says Holly Gordon, chief impact officer of Participant Media, which also produced “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ”

A community screening 

In Boston, the 300-plus audience erupted with murmurs of dismay as a scene from episode 4 unfolded, with a white science teacher so eager to show his black students that he relates to them that he crossed the line into stereotyping and denigrating. He seemed utterly unaware how upsetting his words were, but for the audience watching the students’ faces, it was obvious.

“He just came at it all wrong,” said Lauren Reinhold after the event. She was one of several dozen young people recognizable at the screening by their red jackets with the logo of City Year, a youth service corps that supports urban schools. Ms. Reinhold is white and grew up in New Hampshire, and her training is preparing her for working with students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Courtesy of Kenny Vu Photography
City Year members sign up for the America to Me: Real Talk campaign – which delves into issues of race and equity – during a documentary screening Sept. 13 at the Boston Public Library. The event was organized by Participant Media and Boston School Finder, a group that helps parents make informed choices.

“A big part of it is humility,… not going into the classrooms with the idea that we’re going to ‘save’ the kids. We wear red jackets, not red capes,” she says.

Ms. Bauerle also cringed at the scene, but later confessed: “I’m afraid that I’m like that sometimes – that I can think I understand things about race when in fact, I’m just in my own echo chamber.”

She was eager to watch more episodes, and wondered if the teacher would redeem himself as the series unfolds.

“America to Me” is “an honest reflection of where we’re at right now, especially education and kids of color in the system,” said Jackie Robinson (no, he said with a smile at the inevitable question, it’s not a joke). An African-American from nearby Arlington, Mass., Mr. Robinson is friends with Bauerle, and they both attend a group that addresses social justice.

“A lot of materials we use to have these discussions are kind of dated, and this is something that’s actually happening now and it’s affecting our kids,” Robinson added.

Bauerle hopes to persuade some members of the Belmont school committee to watch the series. But her friend, Jill Clark, said there is some resistance to these conversations in well-resourced communities, because people often “pretend that our students of color are just going to act like our white students [and that] we’re at a level playing field, but that’s not true.”

The documentary doesn’t demonize anyone, but it brings up what can sometimes happen when schools don’t give staff adequate support.

Educators need “helpful professional development,” said Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, during the panel discussion. “You can’t just say, ‘Talk about race in class.’ That can do more damage than good” if not done well.

Kendale McCoy, a senior at OPRF when filming took place in 2015-16, came to Boston for the screening. While he experienced plenty of bias, he also credits his white English teacher for being fair and giving him a “second chance” when he was going through some struggles.

Since the film came out, “people are starting to maybe open their minds a little bit” to recognize racial bias at the school, he said.

Starz Entertainment
In the 'America to Me' documentary, Kendale McCoy (c.) describes how he has two sets of friends: one from marching band, which is mostly white, and one from the wrestling team, where more students are black. Attending a mostly white college this year, Mr. McCoy is facing new challenges around race.

Now a junior at Cornell College in Iowa, Mr. McCoy plans to become a teacher. “I knew how I wanted to be treated in high school, and I didn’t really get that all the time,” he said. “A big thing is holding all students to the same standard and treating them with respect.”

Training before talking 

The Saturday after the screening, Bauerle and about 60 other watch leaders showed up at the Boston Foundation for a four-hour training session, to prepare for leading discussions in the coming weeks. Darnisa Amante, co-founder and executive director of the Disruptive Equity Education Project (DEEP), promptly dove into the history of how education has sorted people in a way that reinforces inequities.

As they turned to understanding their biases and how these can affect other people, Dr. Amante spoke about her experience as a black woman who has a doctorate and wears her hair styled in locs that reach her waist – and how often people marginalize her by playing with her hair or commenting on how “articulate” she is.

Participants in small groups reflected on their biases. Carlos Sanchez, a Boston City Year corps member, said he found it “amazing to have a moment to sit with and to be able to start thinking about how to address and understand any implicit and internal biases that I might have.”

The training was designed to challenge people, not to make them feel guilty.

“It’s not about blame,” Amante says in an interview. But “we do have to name that there is a whole system that creates inequity ... [and name] what part of that system we’ve embodied unknowingly -- the assumptions we make, which students we think will be successful.”

For Boston, this new round of conversations, she says, “allows us to be hopeful.”

“America to Me” Real Talk screening events will be happening next in Los Angeles (Sept. 23); Washington (Sept. 27); Dallas (Oct. 3); Charlotte, N.C. (Oct. 10); Oakland, Calif., (Oct. 18); and Chicago (Oct. 25)

This is story is part of an occasional series, Learning Together, on efforts to address segregation

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The Monitor's View

Green light for reform of UN’s blue helmets

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World leaders will tackle many issues when they gather next week at the United Nations. None deserves more attention than fixing the activity that has embodied the UN’s highest ideals: peacekeeping. Today’s wars are different. They drag on longer. Many involve nonstate militants. Big powers tend to disagree more often on when peacekeepers are needed, or they add too many mandates to a mission. A minority of the UN forces have been involved in abuses of civilians. In addition, the United States threatens to cut funding. In recent months Secretary-General António Guterres has won commitments from more than 100 countries to a set of reforms that he says will make peacekeepers “fit for the future.” Those include more training, more diverse staffing, better equipment, more transparency, and more accountability. The first order of business in the coming days should be to earn full support for reforms that will ensure peacekeepers perform well in new types of conflicts. If peace is a universal ideal for the UN, it needs all of humanity and its peacekeepers to defend and protect it.

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Green light for reform of UN’s blue helmets

World leaders, including President Trump, gather at the United Nations next week to tackle a host of issues. Yet no issue deserves more attention than fixing the one activity that has embodied the UN’s highest ideals over seven decades: peacekeeping.

The blue-helmet soldiers and police who help keep war at bay and create space for political solutions are due for a 21st-century upgrade.

Today’s wars are wholly different than in the past, or they drag on longer. Many involve nonstate militants with little respect for the lives of UN soldiers or civilians. The big powers, too, disagree more often on when peacekeepers are needed or add too many mandates to a mission.

A minority of the UN forces have been involved in sexual abuses of the very civilians they were sent to protect. In addition, the United States, which is the largest contributor to peacekeeping, threatens to cut its $1 billion share.

Reform of UN peacekeeping began in earnest a year ago under a new secretary-general, António Guterres. He set a priority of preventing war – rather than reacting to it – through mediation and peacekeeping. “As bad as the situation is in many parts of the world, I am convinced that it is within our power to tackle and reverse these trends,” he said this week.

More than 96,000 UN soldiers and police are deployed in 14 missions from Africa to the Mideast and to Haiti. While their past work had notable lapses in judgment, such as inaction during massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia, peacekeepers of late have helped bring peace or relative calm to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and South Sudan.

In recent months Mr. Guterres has won commitments from more than 100 countries to a set of reforms that he says will make peacekeepers “fit for the future.” The reforms include more training, better equipment, more transparency in operations, and more accountability for mistakes. In addition, women now make up 21 percent of all personnel, although the pace of adding women remains slow.

In all, more than 3,700 blue helmets have died while serving over the past seven decades. One possible result of recent changes: Killings of UN peacekeepers dropped in 2018 compared to previous years.

The UN’s ability to quell conflict and intervene in fragile states, as scholar and UN watcher Richard Gowan notes, rests on an assumption of inevitable progress from “anarchy to some degree of sustainable order.” The first order of business at the UN in coming days should be to earn full support for reforms that will ensure peacekeepers perform well in new types of conflicts.  If peace is a universal ideal for the UN, it needs all of humanity and its peacekeepers to defend and protect it.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

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

Real manhood

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Today’s article explores the idea that the way to resolve conflicting concepts of manhood is to reach higher – to gain a spiritual understanding of man as created in the image and likeness of God.

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Real manhood

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Amid continuing revelations of sexual harassment and assault, there has been much discussion about masculinity. An article in The Christian Science Monitor late last year reported that, according to Michael Kimmel, founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University in New York, men are grappling with conflicting concepts of what it means to be a man (“In the #MeToo era, what does it mean to be a ‘real man’?” Dec. 26, 2017).

When he asked male cadets at West Point to define a “good man,” they listed such virtues as honor, integrity, duty, sacrifice, and willingness to stand up for the weak. Then he asked them to describe a “real man,” and the answers were quite different: to be tough and powerful, win at all costs, play through pain, and focus on getting rich and pursuing pleasure.

Professor Kimmel helps men sort out the differences between these two versions of manhood and put their focus on being the good man. This gave me a clue as to the need not only to expand our sense of what it means to be a good man, but also to totally redefine what a real man is.

Pondering the professor’s questions myself, I considered the idea that the way to resolve conflicting concepts of manhood is to reach higher – to gain a spiritual understanding of man as created in the image and likeness of God.

Christian Science teaches that God is the sole creator of the universe, including generic man – both male and female – and that man reflects God’s goodness. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, asks, “What is man?” Her three-page answer includes this statement: “Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique. He is the compound idea of God, including all right ideas....” It also contains references to “the real man.” She says, for example, that “Truth and Love reign in the real man, showing that man in God’s image is unfallen and eternal” (see pp. 475-477).

Love – a synonym for God – maintains its unfailing, tender care of man and all creation. Divine Love is expressed in spiritual power, love, health, and holiness. And Truth – another synonym for God – is expressed in wisdom, purity, and spiritual understanding. This spiritual likeness of Truth and Love is the real man, the true, spiritual identity of each man and woman.

This means we are all innately capable of thinking and acting from a higher sense of manhood than the material concepts of man embedded in current culture and regularly depicted in the media. The character of the man who understands and lives his real, spiritual selfhood includes humility, empathy, kindness, and forgiveness. Far from weakening his masculinity, these qualities strengthen and expand his expression of manhood, harmonizing his interactions with others.

Demonstrating the activity of pure good inherent in each of us involves letting divine Truth and Love fill consciousness and guide one’s thoughts and actions. The nature and thought of the real, spiritual man are expressed humanly as we are receptive to divine inspiration. As our perception of what we truly are as God’s reflection becomes clear, our inclinations to dominate, harass, or abuse others are annihilated. We are helped in this progress when we realize that God’s sons and daughters are complementary, not competitive or predatory. They enhance and enrich each other.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way,” the Bible says (Psalms 37:23). This is the starting point for discovering and demonstrating true manhood. It has the power of God, Truth and Love, behind it. And in truth, the good man is the real man – spiritual, strong, loving, complete, and content.

Adapted from an article published in the Sept. 3, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

An Iron Curtain reminder

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
Steel scaffolding surrounds figures depicting former East German border guards in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The city is preparing for October celebrations to mark the anniversary of Germany's reunification in 1990.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 24th, 2018 )

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Thanks again for being here. On Monday we’ll preview President Trump’s scheduled speech the following day at the United Nations and look at what it could say about America’s changing role in the world. 

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September 21, 2018
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