Today’s five stories include an evaluation of what Saturday’s election means for Taiwan, a story on the impact of the airliner crash in Iran on Canada’s immigrant Iranian community, a deep look at America’s political tribalism, a profile of a would-be Steve Irwin who wants to save Thailand’s snakes, and a roundup of kids' books to inspire the budding scientist in your house.
Prince Charles seemed pleasant, but wary. He eyed the British reporters climbing into the trees.
It was a raw spring day in 1981 and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Lord of the Isles, etc. etc., was touring Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. He was on the last leg of a four-day swing through the states.
For myself and a British-born fellow Monitor reporter, Stephen Webbe, it was a chance to get out of the office and write a light feature about a royal who’d recently announced his engagement to young Diana Spencer.
For the royal press pack it was something else. What followed was a mild illustration of the sort of behavior that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, cite as a big reason why they’re going to “step back” from royal duties and spend time in North America.
As Prince Charles stood on the Williamsburg field, the U.S. reporters present swarmed toward the rope line, waving their notebooks and shouting two-part questions, as if it were a White House press conference, but outdoors.
The Brits whipped out step stools and ladders and swung them against a line of cherry trees, swarming upward as if they were attacking a castle. Their big news? Charles had reportedly just developed a bald spot, and they were desperate for photographic proof.
Prince Charles ducked back into an embassy limo. The press appearance was over.
Prince Harry and his family have suffered worse. Diana, his mother, was killed in a car crash as she fled paparazzi. And coverage of his biracial wife has been insensitive and at times even racist. Can they hide from it in Canada, or L.A.? Maybe to a point – but tabloids have travel budgets, and “Megxit” will remain an irresistible U.K. story.
2.For Canada, airliner tragedy in Iran is deeply personal
Canada may be thousands of miles away from the site of the Ukrainian passenger jet crash in Iran, but the tragedy is personal. Most of those on the flight were Canadian or had deepening ties to the country.
Chris Young/The Canadian Press/AP
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the plane crash in Tehran that killed all 176 on board, including 63 Canadians, a “tragedy that shocked the world.” But it is also very poignantly a Canadian tragedy, and a sign of the era.
The vast majority of passengers on the flight, which Western intelligence says was accidentally shot down by an Iranian missile, were families and students who had been visiting relatives in Iran and returning to Canada. Toronto, often dubbed “Tehran-to,” counts 100,000 born outside Canada, the second largest Iranian diaspora after Los Angeles.
Now Canada feels it’s getting dragged deeper into U.S.-Iran conflict. The flight took off just hours after Tehran launched missiles at U.S. forces on airbases in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general last week. Some here blame the U.S. as much as the Iranian regime for the tragedy.
“Yes I’m angry at the U.S.,” says Naseeva Ali, who was attending a vigil Thursday night. Her colleague at a Toronto accounting firm lost his wife and young daughter in the crash. “We just felt frozen when we found out,” she says. “I’m here to support him, and the children.”
They were doctors and accountants. They were pursuing lines of discovery in Ph.D. programs in medicine and science. They were young students with big ambitions.
The victims of the plane crash Wednesday morning in Tehran that killed all 176 on board, including 63 Canadians, were mourned at a vigil Thursday night in Toronto, one of several held across the country as candles flickered in the cold.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the crash a “tragedy that shocked the world.” Its repercussions are global. But this is also very poignantly a Canadian tragedy, and a sign of the era.
The vast majority of passengers were families and students who had been visiting relatives in Iran and returning to Canada. They were some of the very residents and immigrant families who have been held up as symbols of Canada’s embrace of diversity and multiculturalism while the U.S. shuts its doors.
And now, as Western intelligence indicates that it was not mechanical error but an Iranian surface-to-air missile that brought the Ukraine International Airlines plane down, Canada feels it’s getting dragged deeper into U.S.-Iran conflict. The flight took off just hours after Tehran launched missiles at U.S. (and Canadian) forces on airbases in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general last week. Some here blame the U.S. as much as the Iranian regime for the loss being mourned from one Canadian coast to the other.
“Yes I’m angry at the U.S.,” says Naseeva Ali, who immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago. Her colleague at a Toronto accounting firm lost his wife and young daughter in the crash. They had stayed in Iran for a few more days with family while Ms. Ali’s co-worker returned to his job. “We just felt frozen when we found out,” she says. “I’m here to support him, and the children. When I saw all those kids,” she says, “the generation we lost.”
Canada has increasingly become home for a new generation of Iranians. Toronto, often dubbed “Tehran-to,” counts 100,000 born outside Canada, the second largest diaspora after Los Angeles. The communities differ; the vast majority of Iranians in the U.S. immigrated during the 1979 revolution. Canada’s Iranian community is newer and thus closer to Iran, as immigration has remained more open here while the economic situation in Iran worsens, says Alidad Mafinezam, the president of the West Asia Council, which promotes exchange for diaspora communities. Of the 176 passengers, 138 were on their way to Canada, to visit relatives, study, or work.
“When Iranians come here as students, or permanent residents, the vast majority stay because of the difficulties of life in Iran. So we lost 138 current and coming Canadians,” he says.
Canada’s academic world has been particularly devastated. The number of Iranian foreign students, for example, increased by 48% between 2017 and 2018, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education. This follows a general uptick of international students in Canada who are finding a warmer welcome here than in the U.S.
That was underscored by the sheer collective talent – in science, medicine, technology, and entrepreneurism – that was Canada-bound on Wednesday.
Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a professor of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto, says the victim list reflects the diversity, whether religious, cultural, or professional, of the diaspora and counters stereotypes often perpetuated in the media of Iranians and immigrants generally, especially Muslims.
“Iranians may have one head in their religious textbooks, but they have another one in their physics books, and one in their architectural books,” he says. Canada has benefited from that diversity; he himself moved to Canada from the U.S., in part for family reasons but with relief after 9/11 as he saw American intolerance growing.
His university lost six students. The University of Alberta in Edmonton lost 10 members, from faculty to Ph.D. students. Across Canadian campuses flags were lowered to half mast.
Classmates of Arad Zarei, who was a senior in high school on the flight, clung together Thursday night, sharing turns holding a collage they made of the teen’s school pictures throughout the years or posing with friends. They say he wanted to be an engineer. “He was always optimistic about improving himself, inside and out,” says his friend Soroush Mirza. “I never saw him giving up.”
“He was the best person on earth,” added another of the dozens of schoolmates from Richmond Green Secondary School.
The grief is compounded by geopolitics and anger directed at both sides in the conflict. At the vigil Thursday night, angry shouts of “justice” punctuated the sorrow, just hours after Mr. Trudeau announced evidence that it was Iran’s fault, which Iran denies. And yet there is also blame directed at U.S. President Donald Trump for ordering the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and thrusting global diplomacy into turmoil.
Reporters tried to press Mr. Trudeau on what responsibility the U.S. bears for the tragedy; he reiterated that he’s awaiting a full-scale investigation. Canada finds itself in a vulnerable position, with severed diplomatic relations with Iran since 2012 and with a complicated relationship with its longtime ally under Mr. Trump.
But public opinion has already answered the question that Mr. Trudeau wouldn’t. Dr. Tavakoli-Targhi says that U.S. sanctions and restrictions, which have made the Tehran-Kyiv-Toronto route a popular, lower-cost alternative, also play a role.
“All of these sanctions that are imposed on Iran are also impacting the kind of routes that people take, the kind of options that people have for traveling, and then you have the kind of tragedy like this happening. … So many get killed because the option of traveling back to Toronto has become increasingly very limited,” he says. “No one is paying more for Trumpism than the Iranians who are living in North America and Europe and outside of Europe.”
“The tears involuntarily come out, because I see myself as having been on that flight,” he adds. “Everyone puts himself or herself in that position, ‘This could be me.’”
3.How political tribalism can lead to more political hypocrisy
With every tweet recorded, it’s easy to find examples of rampant political hypocrisy (especially of the other side). But sometimes what looks like hypocrisy is a misunderstanding of someone’s views.
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Today it seems, hypocrisy is particularly rampant – and there’s a reason. “It’s a function of our extreme partisan polarization,” says the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato. “Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics.”
In behaving hypocritically, each political “tribe” can argue it is serving a greater good: furthering its goals. During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, liberal feminists stood by him, despite his predatory history toward women. His support for women’s rights won him a pass.
For Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it meant blocking an Obama Supreme Court pick in 2016, saying voters should have input in an election year. When asked if the Senate would consider a high court nominee if there’s a vacancy in 2020, Senator McConnell didn’t hesitate: “Oh, we’d fill it,” he said.
“It is pragmatic for politicians to act like hypocrites during periods of hyperpartisanship, since they otherwise might be harassed or expelled from their group for disloyalty,” writes Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology.
Has hypocrisy reached the point where voters will just disengage? That’s hardly likely, given the strong views about President Donald Trump, for and against. Turnout in the 2018 elections was the highest for a midterm since 1914. Turnout in November could shatter modern records.
Hypocrisy in politics is a time-honored tradition. Republicans slam Democrats for doing and saying the very things they once did and said, and vice versa.
Years before he became president, Donald Trump railed against President Barack Obama’s aggressive use of executive power. Today, President Trump faces criticism for doing the same. President Obama ramped up drone attacks against militants and terrorists, but when Mr. Trump ordered the killing by drone of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who had much American blood on his hands, Democrats cried foul.
In 1998, Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York declared the impeachment of President Bill Clinton “an undoing of a national election.” Today, Republicans say the same of Democrats over the Trump impeachment, which Congressman Nadler – now Judiciary Committee chairman – calls “imperative.”
The list is endless. And the rise of the internet, which captures every tweet and video clip in perpetuity, makes it easier than ever to catch hypocrites in the act. Which is pretty much every politician, and plenty of voters too.
But today, it seems, hypocrisy is particularly rampant – and there’s a reason. “It’s a function of our extreme partisan polarization, and really, it justifies anything,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics.”
In behaving hypocritically, each political “tribe” can argue it is serving a greater good: the furthering of its political goals. During his impeachment, liberal feminists stood by President Bill Clinton, despite his predatory history toward women. His support for women’s rights won him a pass from them.
For Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it meant blocking an Obama Supreme Court pick in 2016, saying voters should have input in an election year. Yet when asked more recently if the Senate would consider a high court nominee if there’s a vacancy in 2020, Senator McConnell didn’t hesitate: “Oh, we’d fill it,” he said, to the surprise of no one.
“It is pragmatic for politicians to act like hypocrites during periods of hyperpartisanship, since they otherwise might be harassed or expelled from their group for disloyalty,” writes Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at New York University, in an email.
Indeed, the only House Republican to call for impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, was so ostracized by fellow Republicans that he quit the party and became an independent.
All the hypocrisy may seem enough to make one cynical. And some may wonder if the level of hypocrisy, on both sides, has reached the point where voters will just disengage.
That’s hardly likely, political analysts say, given the strong views about Mr. Trump, for and against. Witness the big turnout during the 2018 midterm elections – 49.2% of eligible voters, the highest recorded rate for a midterm since 1914.
Turnout in November could shatter modern records. But no matter the winner, expectations are low that today’s hyperpartisanship will end anytime soon. A recent Battleground Poll, sponsored by Georgetown University, found that the average American voter believes the nation is two-thirds of the way to the edge of civil war.
The poll also showed that voters hold contradictory views on what they’re looking for: More than 80% agree that political leaders should strive for “compromise and common ground” – but they’re also “tired of leaders compromising their values and ideals and want leaders who will stand up to the other side.”
The current standoff over impeachment presents a singular test of America’s ability to self-govern, as established norms – such as cooperating with subpoenas – fall by the wayside, says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
“We’re seeing a point at which we’re calling into question whether our institutions can function the way they were intended to function in a polarized age,” Professor Jamieson says.
But in other ways, commonly cited examples of hypocrisy may in fact represent a misunderstanding of the people who hold seemingly contradictory views. Strong support for Mr. Trump by white Evangelicals is one case, Ms. Jamieson says.
Mr. Trump’s morally dubious past, including marital infidelity and vulgar talk about women, may seem to disqualify him from support by religious conservatives. But that ignores the edict to “hate the sin, love the sinner” and the biblical tradition of forgiveness.
Furthermore, Ms. Jamieson notes, Mr. Trump is delivering for this key constituency – foremost, nominating anti-abortion judges. “He’s running on promises kept,” she says. “That’s the opposite of hypocrisy.”
The forgiveness argument plays down the recent mini-revolt within the evangelical world, as seen in the recent editorial in Christianity Today supporting Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, citing “gross immorality and ethical incompetence.” The editor-in-chief, Mark Galli, argued for consistency; the publication had supported impeachment for both President Richard Nixon and Mr. Clinton, also on moral grounds. But the Trump editorial was met with vocal opposition from white Evangelicals and only quiet praise – though the magazine did net 3,000 new subscriptions.
To Republican elites who oppose Mr. Trump, and are working for his defeat in November, evangelical supporters are a prime target.
The first video produced by the so-called Lincoln Project sews together clips of Mr. Trump speaking of faith – including his Jan. 3 address to Evangelicals in Miami – with clips of him crudely attacking opponents.
But such activism may be counterproductive. When presented with contradictory information, people are motivated to reduce feelings of discomfort, and “may therefore double down on their beliefs or ignore evidence that their behavior is inconsistent with the past,” says Professor Van Bavel, an expert on the “partisan brain.”
“Under conditions of polarization there is a strong pressure to follow the leader,” Mr. Van Bavel says. “This is especially true for people who have authoritarian tendencies. They loyally follow the leader and pressure others to follow the leader as well.”
Positions on issues – except for abortion – almost become secondary. “Everything is seen through the lens of how you view Trump,” says Republican pollster David Winston.
That explains how the president has been able to bend Republicans to new positions on tariffs, foreign policy, rising debt and deficits, and immigration. Amid polarization, there’s little room for dissent.
“Trump is partly a cause and partly a consequence of polarization,” says Mr. Van Bavel. “He was voted into office by the overwhelming support of Republicans, in part because many of them did not want to support a Democrat.”
“Once in office, Trump has been aggressively partisan in many of his actions,” he continues. “This has ensured that he maintains the fierce support of Republicans, even as it undercuts any potential support he might obtain from Democrats or independents. We are in a vicious cycle of hyperpartisanship that is self-reinforcing.”
Drivers of change
4.Thailand’s Steve Irwin wants to make snakes less scary
Fear can often be countered with knowledge, making people feel less helpless. In Thailand, Nirut Chomngam is helping residents learn to coexist with snakes.
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Snakes are a part of life in Thailand. Nearly 40,000 home invasions are recorded each year in Bangkok alone. Even though fewer than a third of Thailand’s 200 snake species are venomous, many Thais prefer not to risk it and kill any snake on sight.
Not if Nirut Chomngam can help it, though. The Thai wildlife expert has been traveling around the country at his own expense to teach villagers about the myriad snakes. He explains how to tell species apart, how to avoid provoking them, and what to do if you get bitten. As part of this work, Mr. Nirut has made nearly 300 Thai-language videos that have garnered more than 140 million views.
“Most Thai people are terrified of snakes,” he says. “But if they see me handle dangerous snakes safely, they can learn to understand these fascinating animals.”
Mr. Nirut’s work has resonated with Preeyaporn Wongsatiam, who lives in a northern province where snakes are plentiful. “I like every single video he makes,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot from them. If a snake comes to my house, now I know what to do.”
Nirut “Nick” Chomngam drops to his knees before a large monocled cobra. The snake raises its head and spreads its hood in warning.
A quick, well-aimed bite could land the Thai wildlife expert in trouble, but Mr. Nirut isn’t bothered. He slowly reaches out and touches the snake on the top of its head. The cobra doesn’t flinch.
“Snakes may look expressionless, but you can read their moods,” Mr. Nirut later explains.
If the cobra fixed its gaze on him and started flicking its tongue rapidly, that would indicate it was getting agitated. If it began hissing and pulled its head back, it would be ready to strike.
This cobra isn’t doing any of that. Next, Mr. Nirut lifts it up by the tip of its tail. Holding it gently, he allows the serpent plenty of wiggle room, and it swivels around inquisitively in his hand. Mr. Nirut’s cameraman zooms in for a lingering close-up.
It’s a wrap.
The footage, shot in a rural area outside Bangkok, will be showcased on Mr. Nirut’s YouTube channel where he has close to 900,000 subscribers. His nearly 300 Thai-language videos have garnered more than 140 million views, and counting, in a country of 69 million.
Mr. Nirut’s hands-on dealings with dangerous snakes may appear like the kinds of stunts Thai serpent handlers perform at “snake farms” for the benefit of gawking tourists. Yet he has a loftier aim than mere entertainment.
Dressed in his trademark black polo shirt, khaki cargo pants, and sturdy hiking boots, Mr. Nirut has been traveling around Thailand at his own expense to teach rangers, wildlife officials, and villagers about the country’s myriad snakes. Using slides, videos, and live animals, he explains how to tell species apart, how to avoid being bitten, and what to do if you get bitten.
“Most Thai people are terrified of snakes, but if they see me handle dangerous snakes safely, they can learn to understand these fascinating animals,” he says.
In each case, education is his mission. “Snakes are marvels of nature. They’re very important to the health of ecosystems, so we should protect them,” he says.
Crawling with 200 species
A change in people’s attitude should benefit snakes in Thailand, where more than 200 species are native to tropical wetlands, grasslands, forests, and seas. Of those, fewer than a third are venomous (about three times as many as in North America). Many Thais prefer not to risk it, though, and kill any snake on sight.
“Once I came across a snake and clubbed it to death,” attests Supachok Chumpet, who lives in Bangkok. “Later, I watched Nick’s videos and realized I shouldn’t have,” he adds. “I regret killing it.”
Many Thais have no choice but to coexist with snakes. In Bangkok alone, there are nearly 40,000 recorded home invasions by snakes each year. Thailand’s sprawling capital has been built on marshy ground that was home to countless slithering reptiles.
Although deprived of their natural habitat by encroaching development, the snakes have never left. They continue to inhabit patches of greenery, especially around the city’s many canals.
And many of them venture into gardens and houses for food and shelter. When that happens, panicked residents call fire departments for help. Pinyo Pukpinyo, a firefighter who specializes in catching snakes, answers up to 10 calls a day.
“Most people live next to snakes, whether they like it or not,” says Mr. Pinyo, who is stationed in a suburban area. “They don’t give any thought to snakes until one is in the house,” he adds. “Then they frantically try to find out on Google what kind of snake it is and call us to come and get it.”
Mr. Nirut regularly joins Mr. Pinyo in training sessions for Bangkok’s firefighters. “He’s spreading knowledge about snakes online,” the fireman observes. “Before Nick came along, snakes’ fate was to be killed instantly. Now, thanks to his videos, they have more of a fighting chance.”
Even those tasked with protecting snakes often can’t tell a deadly cobra from a nonvenomous rat snake. “Many wildlife rangers don’t know about snakes,” says Mr. Nirut, who worked part time as a ranger in a national park in central Thailand until six years ago, when he began making wildlife documentaries. “Their job is to protect wild animals, including snakes,” he notes. “Instead, they kill snakes out of fear.”
A YouTube star
Owing to his informative and engaging videos, Mr. Nirut has become a YouTube star in his homeland. He’s seeking to emulate his idol, the late Australian animal expert Steve Irwin, with his endeavors.
His boyish good looks and affable mien have added to his popular appeal. “In Thailand no one has done what he’s doing,” says Aganid Yankomut, a biologist who has accompanied Mr. Nirut on some of his field trips. “He’s especially popular with women,” she chuckles.
He’s certainly popular with Preeyaporn Wongsatiam, who lives in a northern province where snakes are plentiful. “I like every single video he makes,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot from them. If a snake comes to my house, now I know what to do.”
That includes staying calm, identifying the snake, and calling an expert snake catcher if need be.
Mr. Nirut has never been bitten himself – except on purpose. He once coaxed a nonvenomous sunbeam snake into biting him on a finger. He did so for a video in which he sought to dispel a widely shared misconception that the snake, which is common in Thailand, is highly venomous.
“Not even venomous snakes like cobras and vipers will trouble you unless you trouble them first so they feel threatened,” he says. “I want people to stop harming snakes and learn to coexist with them.”
His mission hasn’t always been a walk in the park, so to speak. Last year he contracted a severe lung infection during a weeklong stay in a forest in southern Thailand. “It hasn’t been easy for me, traveling around the country and spending a lot of time in forests,” he concedes. “But I want to help people, and I want to help snakes.”
Mr. Nirut’s videos are helping change attitudes, says Montri Sumontha, a herpetologist who works for Thailand’s Department of Fisheries. “Thai people have many false beliefs about snakes, which adds to their fear of them,” he says. Some locals believe that king cobras can magically appear and disappear; others think certain herbs planted around houses will keep snakes away.
“In Nick’s videos,” says Mr. Montri, “people can see with their own eyes how false such beliefs are.”
5.From rockets to cuddly foxes, bring out kids’ inner scientist
Books bring the wonders of the world to life for young readers. With quantum physics for babies and Darwin for tweens, these titles promise to cultivate the budding scientist in your house.
Children are born curious about the world, and there are few better ways to stoke their curiosity than with a good book.
Science books in particular have a way of opening new vistas, not just with the topics they reveal, but also in the ways they teach the scientific method. Over the past four centuries, that creative yet logical mode of thought has radically transformed every aspect of human existence.
OK, but which books to get? For this list, we’ve selected our favorite books published in the past three years for each age range. We aimed for books that include not just facts about the natural world but also stories that convey how scientists think about it.
Canadian physicist Chris Ferrie has written a series of two dozen or so Baby University board books with tongue-in-cheek distillations of complex scientific topics into simple words and pictures. “Rocket Science for Babies” covers the basics of aerodynamic lift and Newton’s third law. “General Relativity for Babies” discusses the relationship between mass and space-time. And “Quantum Physics for Babies” explains the quantum discontinuity. Your baby almost certainly won’t learn any science from these books, but if you’ve never taken a college-level physics class, you probably will.
Pre-K to kindergarten
How does an animal go from being wild to being domesticated? A breeding experiment in Siberia, now in its sixth decade, aims to answer this question by transforming wild silver foxes into domestic canines. Written by University of Louisville biologist Lee Dugatkin and Russian geneticist Lyudmila Trut, the experiment’s lead researcher, “Pushinka the Barking Fox: A True Story of Unexpected Friendship” presents young children with a gentler view of evolution, one that proceeds not through struggle and competition, but through affection and cooperation. “Love,” write the authors, “changes us.”
First to second grade
The relentlessly inquisitive Ada Marie Twist, the star of the 2016 children’s book “Ada Twist, Scientist,” is back with a roster of science experiments to conduct at home. With “Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists” by Andrea Beaty, readers can learn why the moon seems to change shape, how plants decompose, and what steps we can take to limit greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, readers will learn how scientists think, and about the difference between facts and feelings.
Second to third grade
Rocketry enthusiasts who are too young for Margot Lee Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures,” or the 2016 movie of the same name, should check out “Counting on Katherine,” Helaine Becker’s biography of Katherine Johnson, the African American mathematician whose calculations proved essential to the success of NASA’s Mercury and Apollo missions. Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, “Counting on Katherine” will take you from the early 1920s, showing Katherine as a young prodigy counting the steps up to church, to the 1970s, when her hurried calculations of orbital trajectories helped save the crew of Apollo 13.
Fourth to sixth grade
Dog lovers, or really anyone interested in how animals think, will enjoy “Inside of a Dog – Young Readers Edition” by Barnard psychologist Alexandra Horowitz. This 2016 adaptation of Horowitz’s 2009 bestseller, rewritten in simple yet lively prose for kids ages 8-12, examines the canine umwelt – the world as experienced “from the dog’s point of nose.”
Anyone studying the life sciences is best advised to begin with Charles Darwin. But young readers might face some challenges when reading the British naturalist for the first time. One, of course, is the casual racism and sexism typical of Victorian writers. The other is that Darwin uses lots of examples to make his case for evolution by way of mutation and natural selection. Adapted by Rebecca Stefoff and lavishly illustrated, “On the Origin of Species: Young Readers Edition” avoids these pitfalls, offering a tween-friendly version of Darwin that doesn’t get bogged down in detail yet is still more or less straight from the horse’s mouth (or finch’s beak).
Randall Munroe’s minimalist 2005 web comic “xkcd” has gained a cult following for its unapologetically nerdy humor. In “How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems,” he takes ordinary problems – how to move, how to fill a swimming pool, how to make friends – and uses them to create the most extreme scenarios. For instance, Munroe calculates that you could transport your entire house using two Boeing 787 engines, although he cautions that you’d probably want to add a third or a fourth for stability. “How To” also includes advice from Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who flew two NASA missions, on how to land the space shuttle in an emergency, and from Serena Williams on how to take down a drone with a tennis ball.
The Monitor's View
Sudan races for peace, then democracy
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In a country once known for genocide, Islamic dictatorship, and terrorism, Sudan is busy trying to be a model of peacemaking. Last week, for example, its new civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was in Darfur trying to end that region’s violent tribal conflicts. Yesterday, he led a peace mission to the Nuba Mountains, a rebel stronghold.
Africa’s third largest country is in the midst of a democratic revolution, the result of a nationwide uprising a year ago that led to the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir. An interim ruling council, which includes still-distrusted military figures, promises democratic elections in 2022. Yet that goal is hardly achievable without peace across a divided land of 40 million people.
Reversing the destructive policies of the Bashir dictatorship will not come easy. Mr. Bashir himself, along with many of his former colleagues in the armed forces, must still be tried for alleged atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet Mr. Hamdok says his first priority is spreading a culture of peace, bringing reformers and rebels together. Only then, after shaping a common Sudanese identity, can the country’s democratic revolution be complete.
In a country once known for genocide, Islamic dictatorship, and terrorism, Sudan is busy these days trying to be a model of peacemaking. Last week, for example, its new civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was in Darfur trying to end that region’s violent tribal conflicts. Yesterday, he led a peace mission to the Nuba Mountains, a rebel stronghold for more than three decades, “to end the suffering of our people in these areas.”
“This is the start of the new Sudan,” he told The Associated Press. “Together, we will make miracles.”
Sudan, which is Africa’s third largest country, is in the midst of a democratic revolution, the result of a nationwide uprising a year ago that led to the ouster – and later conviction for corruption – of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir. An interim ruling council, which includes still-distrusted military figures, promises democratic elections in 2022. Yet that goal is hardly achievable without peace across a divided land of 40 million people.
Mr. Hamdok, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, took office in August and quickly set an ambitious target of negotiating “comprehensive” peace agreements with five armed movements by mid-February. Last September, all groups signed on to a “Declaration of Principles” that lays out a pathway for talks. So far, with the help of Western countries as well as Ethiopia and South Sudan, most of the negotiations are largely on track.
The reason, claims Mr. Hamdok, is that the armed groups are responding positively to his promised “pillars” for peace. These include economic growth, better security, accountability for human rights abuses, uplift of marginalized groups, and a focus on root causes for conflict, such as land grabs and religious repression.
“You have here a change that is peaceful, that will give hope to that region of the world,” he told NPR last month.
Reversing the destructive policies of the Bashir dictatorship will not come easy. Mr. Bashir himself, along with many of his former colleagues in the armed forces, must still be tried for alleged atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere. And Sudan’s economy is weighed down by $60 billion in debt.
Yet Hamdok says his first priority is spreading a culture of peace, bringing reformers and rebels together. Only then, after shaping a common Sudanese identity, can the country’s democratic revolution be complete.
A Christian Science Perspective
‘Can I throw bricks?’
In any conflict, no matter how large or small, we shouldn’t underestimate the transforming power of choosing love rather than hate.
A young Christian protester in Hong Kong recently faced the moral dilemma of whether he should take part in the more violent actions being taken by some protesters. Knowing violence was wrong, but feeling helpless, he asked his pastor, “Can I throw bricks?”
Haven’t we all felt the impulsion to retaliate when we feel something is unjust? The Bible includes the story of a follower of Jesus who felt that way. The 26th chapter of Matthew describes how a multitude sent from “the chief priests and elders” came to take Jesus to hold him as a prisoner before delivering him to Pilate, the governor of Judea. When his disciple, Peter, reacted by cutting off the ear of a servant of the high priest, Jesus responded by healing the servant, putting into practice his own words, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
In both large and small matters, I have learned to trust the guidance in the Bible and in the book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy. Science and Health counsels: “At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil” (p. 571).
This admonition to know oneself is certainly a call to be aware of what might need healing in one’s own consciousness, such as a tendency to react angrily to injustice. But to me it’s also saying that I need to know myself as a loved child of God, made in His image. This understanding helps me see that I’m not a limited mortal with a limited, and sometimes over-emotional, point of view. Rather, as the child of an all-good God, I have access to all the goodness, wisdom, and grace that characterizes the nature of God and which enables us to “overcome evil with good.”
I had a small experience where I had to make a choice to either battle with someone or let God, divine Love, be expressed in me and guide me in what to say and do. Late one evening, I drove into my drive-in storage facility only to find I couldn’t get to my space because a large truck blocked the aisle. The owner refused to move. Unable to do what I needed to, my only way out of the garage was to back out through an entrance-only door in a complicated maneuver. As I did this, I ended up clipping a post in the narrow exit and damaging it.
The next day I reported it to the storage facility, but was told by the manager that the situation was my fault. She added that I would need to pay for a broken sensor on the post and would be locked out of my storage space until I had done so.
After a few irate phone calls back and forth, I knew my situation would only worsen if I pursued this course of action. Instead I decided to be obedient to Christ Jesus’ instruction that we love our enemies. I knew that in order to do that I had to release my view that God’s children could be locked in combat. God loves all His children equally, governing all of us in perfect harmony. This included not only the manager but also the man who had blocked me with his truck.
As I changed my focus from frustration and anger to forgiveness and love, I was gaining a clearer, spiritual view of everyone involved, including myself. We are all the men and women of God’s creating, and even a glimpse of this fact starts to dissolve any frustration or anger we might be feeling toward another. I was grateful to feel free from anger through this higher spiritual sense of my neighbor.
Then, an inspired thought came to me that this might be a woman who had been really nice to me a few years back. I was led to some old emails, and sure enough, it was the same woman who had offered to reduce my storage rent significantly so I wouldn’t have to move. I had written her a glowing note of appreciation for her kindness.
Not knowing if this woman would be at the storage facility, I nonetheless obeyed what I felt was divine guidance to go there and try to see her in person. She was there, and I went up and took her hand. Introducing myself as the woman she was fighting with on the phone, I told her that what I considered to be an angel message from God had reminded me of her kindness, and I was led to find my letter of gratitude to her. She was astonished and said, “Now that I know who you are, we won’t fight anymore … and I’ll make sure they don’t charge you anything for the damage.”
In Proverbs it says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6). When we obey the counsel to love those we seem to be in conflict with, it brings blessings.
Ice ice baby