基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily – Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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TODAY’S INTRO

Why Dylan Thomas would be proud of 2020 grads

Today’s five selected stories cover navigating state and city job losses, the path to reviving global tourism, a new reason to buy local, creativity under lockdown, and a refining of Ramadan.

 

Have you noticed? There’s an emerging “do not go gentle into that good night” quality to 2020 commencement events. When the coronavirus closed schools, seniors saw a rite of passage, graduation day, snatched away.

Yes, adequate, even spectacular, facsimiles are happening online. For example, the digital capstone event hosted this past weekend by LeBron James and former President Barack Obama. Yet there’s a rumbling of rebelliousness, a rejection of the vanilla Zoom graduation.

You see it in the Texas high school principal who drove 800 miles to personally deliver every single diploma to 612 graduating seniors.

You see it at the Phoenix Raceway, where graduates from four Arizona high schools drove the track Saturday, taking one last lap as seniors before crossing the finish line.

You see it in Pennsylvania, where on June 5 the Hanover Area High School is going Hollywood. Their seniors will become big-screen stars at the Garden Drive-in Theater. Valedictorian speeches, individual honors, and slide shows will be projected on the theater’s screen. “This will be the most memorable graduation in school district history,” superintendent Nathan Barrett told CNN.

Undoubtedly. But principal Kevin Carpenter has an epic plan too. North Conway, New Hampshire, seniors will be social distancing June 13 with a chair-lift processional on their way to graduation on the summit of Cranmore Mountain. Where else would the Kennett High Eagles perch?

Dylan Thomas would approve: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

As states and cities tighten belts, another wave of job loss looms

As U.S. cities and states lose tax revenue, they’re laying off workers. Our reporters talk to elected officials and families about navigating the economic uncertainty.

-David

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As the pandemic-led lockdown slashes tax revenues, Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, has already furloughed a quarter of her city’s workforce and closed two of its golf courses, which probably means eight more unemployed city workers.

It's a challenge for government employees echoing nationwide from California (a proposed 10% pay cut) to Michigan (two-day furloughs per pay period). Ohio is in the thick of belt-tightening, with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine asking state agencies to prepare for possible 20% spending cuts.

Many fiscal-policy experts say the federal government should move ahead with a new aid package for states and cities – now under review in Congress. Otherwise, the result could be a large new wave of unemployment. In April, nearly 1 million state and local government jobs disappeared.

And government workers are cutting back. One furloughed Cuyahoga County worker, near Cleveland, who asked not to be named due to concern about his job, has put a wedding, honeymoon, and new home purchase on hold this year.

“I want to be cautious because I don’t know how extensive this will be,” he says. “Most of us are just grateful that we have a job.”

DEEP READ

It was an easy choice. The two city-owned golf courses were already losing money before the pandemic, so Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, closed them earlier this month to pare back expenses.

But the move is costing some workers their jobs. And tougher decisions lie ahead.

Mayor Whaley is weighing cuts of up to 18% for the city budget in the next fiscal year. She has already had to furlough 25% of the city’s workforce, as she struggles to maintain vital services in a city where the median household income, at $31,000, is about half the national average.

Dayton’s challenge, though particularly acute, echoes in cities and states nationwide as they see their local economies contract because of the pandemic-led downturn and rising unemployment. The upshot: At a time when the federal government is showering money on individuals and businesses, many states and cities will have to dig into rainy day funds, and cut back services and perhaps school budgets. And because they are obligated to balance their budgets, they will initiate a new wave of job losses – this time for public-sector employees.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

How severe the cuts and layoffs will be will depend on the speed of the economic rebound and the size of federal aid. The House has passed and senators have introduced measures to speed aid to cities and states. Many economists across the political spectrum expect a slow rebound.

“The rapid drain on state and local revenues is generally unprecedented,” says Brian Riedl, a fiscal policy expert at the conservative Manhattan Institute. “It’s almost guaranteed that states and cities are going to need another round of assistance.”

 

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his revised 2020-2021 state budget during a news conference in Sacramento May 14, 2020. His proposal includes a 10% pay cut for state workers.

States are already cutting back:

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom released a revised budget proposal last week, including a 10% pay cut for state workers, after the state’s coronavirus lockdown turned a surplus into a projected $54 billion deficit.

Michigan and Oregon are among the early states to furlough thousands of workers. State employees have to take extra days off unpaid to save the state money.

Many other states face a double whammy: a plunge in general sales and income taxes, but also revenues from battered mainstay industries like oil (for Louisiana), investment banking (New York), or tourism (Hawaii, Nevada, and Florida).

Ohio is on the leading edge of the problem. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is asking state agencies to plan for budget cuts of 20%. Ohio cities and towns are also feeling the pinch.

“The path forward without federal or state assistance is a very ugly path, and will be experienced broadly and deeply by the citizens of Dayton,” says Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

Honeymoon and new house? Not now.

Cincinnati and Columbus are among the places furloughing workers. So is Cleveland and the rest of Cuyahoga County.

That’s made many government workers nervous.

“I want to be cautious because I don’t know how extensive this will be,” says a furloughed Health and Human Services worker in Cuyahoga County, who asked not to be named due to concern about his job. He’d planned this year to have a wedding, a honeymoon in St. Thomas, and a new house – dreams now on hold. “Most of us are just grateful that we have a job,” he says.

Nationally, nearly 1 million state and local employees lost their work in April alone, out of a total 20 million such workers (13% of U.S. payroll employment as of January). The squeeze on the public sector can also dim the overall economy.

“State and local governments buy office supplies, and cars and trucks ... from the private sector,” says Elizabeth McNichol, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group on the political left. “They give assistance to people who spend money in their local communities.”

She says a top priority for Congress, alongside general aid to states and cities, should be funds targeted to ensure that Medicaid for the poor doesn’t run short. The CARES Act, passed by Congress in April, devoted $139 billion toward helping state and local governments, plus $11 billion to help U.S. territories, tribal governments, and the District of Columbia.

But those funds are largely intended to cover expenses directly related to the coronavirus outbreak. So places like Cuyahoga County, which qualified alongside states for a chunk of that federal aid, see fiscal gaps going unfilled.

Avoiding layoffs? 

Then there are small cities like South Haven, Michigan.

Even if a new round of federal relief targets localities with populations as small as 50,000 (the threshold for CARES Act eligibility was 500,000 residents), South Haven wouldn’t qualify. The lake-front community has barely 4,000 people and was already dealing with added budget pressures due to flooding caused by abnormally high water levels on Lake Michigan.

“We started building the budget in January with the assumption of having to invest between $500,000 and $1.5 million to combat the high water,” says Brian Dissette, South Haven city manager. “No one envisioned the COVID-19 situation or the potential for a recession.”

Amid all the uncertainty, he says, “we have told city council to expect amendments [to the proposed $46 million budget] throughout the year.” Budget cuts totaling $600,000 have already been made, including staff reductions.

Local governments are generally trying to make payroll cuts a last resort.

Not far from South Haven, Heidi Keister of Paw Paw, Michigan, is working limited hours as a legal secretary in the Van Buren County prosecutor’s office. Even as her hours have been cut, she is still drawing a full salary, which is very welcome to Ms. Keister’s family. Two family businesses – a coffee shop and a concrete business – have been shuttered amid a state closure of all nonessential businesses.

“This is really a good time to regroup and rethink life,” Ms. Keister says, adding that she now has more time with a 3-year-old granddaughter who is awaiting a medical operation. “People need to find the positive in all this. ... What’s more important in life? Is a job so important that it’s taking you away from your family? No, it isn’t.”

Some 250 miles away near Cleveland, the sidelined county employee takes solace in facing a furlough rather than outright severance from his job.

“It’s definitely unfortunate that we are furloughed. I definitely wish that we weren’t,” he says. “But there’s so many people in worse situations than I am in. I'm just trying to move forward the best I can.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Border-hopping without bubble-popping: A new COVID-19 strategy?

One path to reviving the global tourism industry involves creating bubbles, bridges, or corridors. That is, only allowing in visitors from “safe” nations. Will it work?

-David

TWO WAYS TO READ THE STORY

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For weeks, hundreds of millions of us have been living in bubbles the size of our living space, sheltering from the COVID-19 pandemic. The gradual end of lockdowns has meant the bubbles have grown more spacious for many. And now the bubbles are going international.

That could be key to limiting the devastating economic effects of the pandemic, allowing people to travel. And with the summer holidays coming up, the bubbles could be critical for tourism-dependent countries in Europe such as Italy, Spain, and Greece.

The idea is that countries where COVID-19 is rare, especially neighboring countries, should create “bubbles” together, permitting people to travel freely within them. Three Baltic states did that last week, New Zealand and Australia are working out their details, and Greece – a tourist destination par excellence – is trying to open “travel corridors” to largely COVID-free countries like Germany, Israel, and Cyprus.

There are practical problems in creating such arrangements and keeping them safe, and there are institutional problems, in Europe at least. The European Union, proud of its union-wide freedom for all citizens to travel, says that selective travel bubbles undermine that principle. But the EU may have to bend its rules, and its principles, if it is to keep hundreds of thousands of businesses alive.

DEEP READ

There’s an unlikely sounding new word in the COVID-19 lexicon that we’re likely to hear a lot more in the weeks ahead. And it reflects the mix of eagerness and apprehension with which countries worldwide are starting to reopen their economies in the age of the coronavirus.

The word is “bubble.” And the hope is that it will help restore some measure of international normalcy and limit the devastating economic effects the pandemic is having around the globe.

The word began its COVID life as part of a strategy for curbing the spread of the virus at the local level – from one household “bubble” to another. Yet now the idea is to create carefully defined “travel bubbles” to restore COVID-ruptured links between those countries that have weathered, avoided, or beaten back the worst of the pandemic.

The bubble concept got its start in the Pacific island nation of New Zealand, which has dealt with COVID-19 as successfully as any country in the world. With a population of nearly 5 million, it has had fewer than two dozen deaths.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with a mix of straight-talking urgency and empathy, convinced New Zealanders to think of each of their own households as bubbles. She stressed the danger of “popping the bubble” – both to themselves and their neighbors.

Then, earlier this month, with new cases there and in neighboring Australia down to a trickle, she floated the idea of a quarantine-free “trans-Tasman travel bubble” that might allow both countries to emerge from isolation – and, crucially, restart a deep-frozen tourism industry important to both economies.

Details still remain to be worked out: things like agreed testing arrangements and, presumably, provisions to deal with any new flare-ups or hot spots in either country. There have been suggestions that a New Zealand-Australia bubble might also expand to include other low-case Asian countries like Singapore and Taiwan.

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Ruth McDowall/Reuters

 

A travel advisory message is seen as New Zealand eases strict regulations implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus. New Zealand and Australia are discussing the creation of a "travel bubble" allowing each nation's citizens to enter the other one quarantine-free.

Given the economic importance of tourism and its associated industries – airlines and airports, hotels and shops and restaurants – the travel bubble idea is fast catching on elsewhere.

In Europe – where tourism is not only economically important but, in some states, critical – things are moving even more quickly.

Last week, the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, with a total of fewer than 150 lives lost to COVID-19, became the first to implement a travel bubble. Fellow European Union neighbors Finland and Poland, which have fared only slightly worse, may also be brought in.

Austria has signaled its intention to embark on a similarly selective opening to visitors, initially from Germany and the Czech Republic.

Even Britain, still struggling with its COVID outbreak and having formally left the EU, seems taken by the travel bubble idea. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this week floated the possibility, once the crisis at home was brought under control, of instituting “air bridges” to allow visitors from low-risk countries in the EU and beyond.

Nowhere in Europe is the need for such arrangements more urgent than on the EU’s Mediterranean flank. The economies of countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece are especially dependent on tourism.

Greece was among the first EU members to deal with the pandemic and proved one of the most effective. It has lost only around 160 lives to the virus. But the summer holidays are approaching and international travel is at a virtual standstill. Greece will face catastrophic economic consequences if foreign tourists cannot get to its beaches and classical ruins.

Greek officials have been consulting with several largely COVID-free countries – including Austria, Germany, Israel, and the neighboring island of Cyprus – with a view to reopening “travel corridors” of its own.

Two major obstacles have appeared on the path of the travel bubble. The first is practical: how to ensure that only residents of countries – or perhaps regions of countries – where COVID cases are low take advantage of the bubbles, and how to guard against new outbreaks.

The other obstacle is institutional, illustrating how the pandemic has placed deep strains on international governance as individual states focus on safeguarding their own populations.

Earlier this month, two European academics proposed dividing up Europe into sub-national regions – “green zones” where COVID is rare and “red zones” where it is still dangerous. Residents of green zones would be allowed to travel to other green zones.

They urged the EU to adopt and promote such innovative travel arrangements, especially since their effectiveness could well depend on EU-wide agreements on how to implement and monitor them.

The EU has always recoiled at arrangements that would undermine its emblematic commitment to union-wide freedom of travel. Last week, the union’s home affairs minister told the European Parliament: “Member states cannot open borders for citizens from one EU country, but not from others.”

But the economic realities – and the need to prevent travel from countries still struggling with COVID-19 – make it almost inevitable that the Baltic travel bubble will prove to be only the first among EU states.

The political challenge for the EU may now be to accommodate itself to such new pandemic realities, even at the cost of bending its rules and adapting its principles.

Where’s the beef? Pandemic exposes cracks in US food system.

Mostly, the U.S. food supply chain has been remarkably flexible and effective during the pandemic. But the crisis also points to the need to establish more robust local relationships to create a more resilient distribution system.

-David

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Matt Rourke/AP

 

As the pandemic takes a toll on the U.S. food system, farmers are having to get creative in ensuring that their produce makes it to consumers. In Lebanon, Pennsylvania, a message printed on bales near a farm reminds consumers to support dairy farmers, May 12, 2020.

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The coronavirus pandemic has rippled through the U.S. food chain and agricultural sector, often in divergent ways. Images of empty supermarket shelves and farmers plowing under crops have magnified the range of challenges that have befallen the American food system.

Throughout this, many agricultural economists point out, overall access to food for Americans has remained remarkably stable. But the challenges of food shortages, price fluctuations, and cycles of panic buying have been unnerving to many.

The food supply chain in the United States looks more like a massive spider web than a line. For the most part, that has created a system of plentiful and accessible food. But during this pandemic, some nodes of this supply web have turned into choke points, often because of policy decisions unrelated to agriculture.

This has led some to take a closer look at the country’s food supply chain – perhaps for the first time – and wonder whether there are ways it could be improved.

“Less than 1% of the American population works in agricultural production,” says Trey Malone of Michigan State University. “All of us rely on this system. And 99% of us don’t think about it.”

DEEP READ

Business is booming at Codman Community Farms in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of pasture-raised meat and eggs have been up some 500%, says Jennifer Hashley, who lives on the farm and directs a farming sustainability organization affiliated with Tufts University. It’s hard to keep the farm store stocked. People who have never bought locally are buying out eggs and lamb and lettuce.

“People are coming out of the woodwork to purchase directly from us,” she says.

The situation is quite different for the farmers Dermot Hayes contacts regularly in his role as professor in agriculture and life sciences at Iowa State University. There, facing a dramatic slowdown in processing plants, hog farmers have been making the excruciating decision of whether to slaughter and discard tens of thousands of piglets – next month’s food – or to dispose of fully grown pigs who should have been going to grocery stores. Either way, the economic and emotional impact is devastating.

“It’s truly awful,” Mr. Hayes says. “I’ve been on calls with them, and there are people crying on the phone.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Across the country, the pandemic has rippled through the food chain and agricultural sector, often in divergent ways. Americans are facing shortages of some staple foods, such as flour and dried beans. Price fluctuations, such as the dramatic spike in the cost of eggs last month, have fueled cycles of panic buying. Images of empty supermarket shelves and farmers plowing under crops have gone viral across social media. Farmers, meanwhile, are facing unprecedented financial challenges, even as some direct-to-consumer operations are flourishing.

Throughout this, many agricultural economists point out, overall access to food for Americans has remained remarkably stable. But the challenges and changes have been unnerving to many. And this has led some to take a closer look at the country’s food supply chain – perhaps for the first time – and wonder whether there are ways it could be improved.

“It’s incredible to think about how this system works,” says Trey Malone, an assistant professor and extension economist with Michigan State University’s department of agricultural, food, and resource economics. “Less than 1% of the American population works in agricultural production. All of us rely on this system. And 99% of us don’t think about it. This is one moment where you think, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know where this food has come from.’”

Cracks emerge

The food supply chain in the United States looks more like a massive spider web than a line. A research team at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign last year used multiple data sources to produce a map showing the flow of grains, fruits and vegetables, animal feed, and processed food items within the country. They found 9.5 million or so points of contact between different U.S. counties. A farmer might grow corn in one location, for instance, ship it to another state for storage, have it transformed into animal feed in a different county, then shipped elsewhere to a feedlot. The animals who eat that feed might be processed in yet another location, and then returned, shrink-wrapped, to grocery stores near the farm where the corn was first harvested.

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Look globally, and the situation gets even more complicated. The U.S. imports about 15% of its food, including just over half of its fruits and vegetables, and most of the coffee. It exports, in dollar terms, a bit more.

For the most part, this has created a system of plentiful and accessible food. But during this pandemic, some nodes of this supply web have turned into choke points, often because of policy decisions unrelated to agriculture.

When airlines, for instance, grounded flights, that also meant a slowdown in trade, explains Will Martin, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

“Half of the world’s air freight goes in the bellies of passenger planes,” he says.

When restaurants and schools closed to comply with social distancing orders, markets disappeared for farmers and processors. There are separate chains for the residential market and the “food away from home” market. And although the latter tends to be hyper efficient – producers can predict, for instance, how many wings American consumers will eat at restaurants during March Madness – it is also quite difficult to pivot. (When March Madness is canceled, the production chain can’t just shift to turn that chicken into boneless breasts sold at grocery stores.)

“It’s a totally different business model,” says Kathleen Finlay, president of the Glynwood Center for Food and Farming in Hudson, New York. “If you are a wholesale farmer, you’re growing a few crops and you’re selling a lot of it to a relatively small number of buyers. You don’t have ads. You don’t have a website. You don’t have a way for a person to buy food from you. ... It’s a totally different back end and production plan.”

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Joel Martinez/The Monitor/AP)

 

Farmworker Rosendo Aguirre wears a handmade mask as he and others prepare watermelons for harvest in Edinburg, Texas, May 12, 2020.

Think about eggs, says Jayson Lusk, head of the agricultural economics department at Purdue University. Some big egg operations only supply restaurants. Others produce only 50-gallon drums of liquid eggs to be used in cafeterias. These operations don’t have people to grade the eggs or put them in cartons for consumer retail. They can’t even get cartons because cardboard manufacturers can’t switch up their operations to make the correct packaging quickly enough. Add to that a rush of consumers baking at home and there is a temporary shortage.

“Everybody shows up in the grocery store buying eggs,” he says. “The industry wasn’t able to adapt to that.”

Finding flexibility

Glynwood and other groups, including Ms. Hashley’s New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, which guides newcomers to the agricultural sector, have been working with local farmers to figure out how to market directly to consumers. While they don’t suggest eliminating imports, either from across the world or across the country, they believe that establishing more robust local networks will lead to a more resilient system.

“The conventional food system that is homogeneous and centralized has vulnerabilities in lots of ways,” Ms. Finlay says. “We’re seeing it right now in meat production and processors.”

Last month, some of the country’s largest meat processing plants, which control most of the meat going into the country’s food system, stopped operation because of concerns about their workforce and COVID-19. That created not only a shortage of meat throughout the country, but what Professor Hayes describes as an “elevator effect” for hogs coming through the system. With farmers unable to ship their fully grown pigs to the processors, there was no room in their barns for the piglets that they had already contracted months ago to purchase. And so the animals piled up.

With such a small number of processors handling such a large percentage of the meat coming through the system, the impact was devastating, says Professor Hayes. Agricultural groups are working with the federal government to help get assistance to livestock farmers, and also ease regulations on smaller producers and processors so that ranchers and farmers can more easily sell directly to consumers.

But longer term, many experts say, there may have to be a debate about whether to bring more automation into animal processing, whether to create less efficient but more flexible processes for production, and how to mitigate the pandemic’s financial toll on farmers so that agricultural production doesn’t drop.

“We need to think long and hard about how we support our growers in the United States,” says Professor Malone.

Throughout all of this, Professor Lusk says, it will be important to keep in mind how well the American food system has done – despite the inability to find those dried chickpeas.

“I think the food system responded remarkably well to this totally unexpected, really abrupt change,” he says. “There’s food. People say, ‘Well, I had to do without my favorite brand a few days.’ It just shows how much we take for granted.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Creativity, COVID-19, and artistic endeavor

Our reporter spoke with artists about life under lockdown, who describe a period marked by an abundance of time and a scarcity of resources. The result? More experimentation, innovation, and new business ideas. 

-David

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

 

Brian Fox, shown in his studio in Fall River, Massachusetts, does high-profile work for sports and entertainment clients. During the pandemic, he’s had time to focus on his Vietnam War paintings.

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Janet Hayes has had to reinvent herself because what she did up until March – glass flameworking – isn’t available to her anymore. She teaches at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts school in Oakland, California. In a studio there, she uses a torch to melt glass to become sculptures such as paperweights or animal figures – or at least she did. Now she is making beaded jewelry instead.

“It’s a very domestic art; it’s not a studio art. And we’re all kind of living these domestic lives now, where we’re cooking, organizing, writing, mending clothes – so it fits well with all of that,” she says.

From studios to dining rooms turned workshops during quarantine, creative people are seizing a moment oddly marked by an abundance of time and a scarcity of resources. Artists are pioneering works they hope will be valued by an anxious world – and will soothe their own souls in the process.

“There is good study and good conversation that says, out of lament, out of crisis, out of grief – creativity flourishes,” says John Pfautz, who convenes the Center for Creativity committee at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. “Creativity finds a foothold in times like these.”

DEEP READ

The month of April was supposed to be full of travel and public events for artist Brian Fox, whose realistic depictions of pro athletes and rock stars make him a sought-after talent. But when everything was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, he suddenly found 50 to 60 hours a week to devote to projects that have deep meaning for him personally.

“I’ve got books full of ideas, but I’ve never had the time to take some of the best ones and ... really develop them,” Mr. Fox says at his riverside studio, where paintings of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler now share space with a life-size Vietnam War scene. A pile of sketchbooks, filled up since the pandemic began, reveals what Vietnam veterans have been telling him lately.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

“I want to tell their story,” Mr. Fox says. “I asked the veterans, What do you want people to never forget? They said, ‘Never forget the ones who never came home.’ It’s all about that.”

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

 

Artist Brian Fox's sketchbook is open to studies for a future painting on the Vietnam War.

From Mr. Fox’s studio in a converted textile mill in Fall River, Massachusetts, to dining rooms turned workshops during quarantine, creative people are seizing a moment oddly marked by both abundance and scarcity. With orders to stay home, they’re reveling in unexpected hours to finally finish, or at least advance, projects they’ve been keeping on the back burner. On a practical level, they’re also adapting to constraints, such as the need to make do with materials already at hand and to produce work that can be sold at lower price points.

“People are just going from one medium to another, doing whatever they have to do to survive,” says Gail Karr, chairwoman of the Northern New Mexico Fine Arts & Crafts Guild. “I don’t think anybody is expecting big bucks right away because nobody’s got them to spend” on artwork.

Artists are also pioneering works they hope will be valued by an anxious world – and will soothe their own souls in the process. Finding that sweet spot involves branching out beyond familiar creative processes.

“There is good study and good conversation that says, out of lament, out of crisis, out of grief – creativity flourishes,” says John Pfautz, who convenes the Center for Creativity committee at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and is co-chairman of the music department. “Creativity finds a foothold in times like these.”

That’s because artists embrace new perspectives, Professor Pfautz says, and they are currently investigating what the pandemic has upended. They’re also communicating losses that can’t easily be put into words, such as the regret felt by one tapestry-maker who can’t travel to see her grandchildren in Israel.

“Art speaks where casual conversation or typical letter writing doesn’t,” Professor Pfautz says. “The violin player who can’t perform. ... The tapestry-maker who can’t see her family. ... They all have a way of articulating that lament in a way that we can connect with.”

Embracing a pandemic rhythm in Santa Fe

Springtime normally means lots of packing, driving, and unpacking for Maria and Miro Kenarov, a married pair of Bulgarian-born artists who sell at regional art festivals from Houston, Texas, to Palm Springs, California. But when eight upcoming shows were canceled this year, they hunkered down in ways that are already shaping the arcs of their careers.

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Courtesy of the Kenarovs

 

Maria and Miro Kenarov, who before the pandemic traveled to art festivals to sell their work, are finding subjects – and inspiration – closer to home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

Ms. Kenarova, a ceramicist, has started working with a long-accumulated store of beads and stones to make necklaces. Another new collection combines clay, fused glass, and photos in mixed-media pieces for wall display. Constraint “is something that provokes my creativity: What can I add here to make it more interesting, or what can I experiment with?” she says.

Mr. Kenarov, a painter known for his desert scenes, sees a modified business model emerging around a greater online presence. For the first time, he’s begun selling his work at virtual art shows and exploring partnerships with online galleries. If he can replace some of his art-show income with online sales, he says, the couple won’t need to travel as much – and can spend more time in Santa Fe, New Mexico, actually making art. “We’ve been here 28 years, and I’ve never before had two months in the studio,” he says.

Dedication to routine, such as the Kenarovs’ 8 to 10 hours a day in the studio, enables creativity to flourish even in unnerving times, according to Jonathan Feinstein, a professor who teaches creativity and innovation at the Yale School of Management. He noticed in his course this spring that students who structured their days and maintained a discipline, such as practicing a musical instrument, were more relaxed and prolific. Others needed to establish habits to keep anxiety from interfering.

“With this pandemic, yes, we have more time, but how do we use the time?” Professor Feinstein asks. “Creativity does best when people have habits and routines.”

Goodbye melting glass, hello tiny beads 

Janet Hayes of Oakland, California, has had to reinvent herself because what she did up until March – glass flameworking – isn’t available to her anymore. She teaches at The Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts school in Oakland. In a studio there, she uses a torch to melt glass to become sculptures such as paperweights or animal figures – or at least she did. Gone, at least for now, is her access to various types of glass-working equipment, including a kiln where she’d make glass platters, bowls, and trays. Also gone is the sense of excitement and danger associated with molten glass.

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Courtesy of Ash Bowie Photo

 

Glass artist Janet Hayes has shifted to making jewelry while sheltering at home in Oakland, California, with her family.

“Once you melt the glass, you have to pretty much go with it,” Ms. Hayes says. “You have to allow it to flow the way it’s going to flow. The more complicated the pieces are ... the more opportunity for variations and chance to take over.”

Her impromptu replacement art form couldn’t be more different. She’s now making beaded necklaces and bracelets in the two-bedroom apartment where she lives with her husband and 10-year-old son.

Jewelry-making at a dining room table is just right for this moment, she says, because it meets the pandemic-season needs of her family. It allows her to stop and restart a project many times a day, which means she can manage at-home interruptions and tend to her son while he can’t go to school.

She’s confident students could learn how to make jewelry via videoconference, and hopes to offer online classes this summer if The Crucible remains closed.

And unlike hot glass, the materials are controllable – a good fit for disorienting times when almost everything else feels unpredictable. “It’s precise,” Ms. Hayes says. “It’s easy to control. And you can get incredibly detailed with it. It’s a very domestic art; it’s not a studio art. And we’re all kind of living these domestic lives now, where we’re cooking, organizing, writing, mending clothes – so it fits well with all of that.”

“Out of the man caves”

Even the most in-demand artists are balancing what’s fulfilling with what can pay the bills. Consider Mr. Fox, the Fall River painter whose commissioned work hangs in homes of clients like NFL star Tom Brady. His originals sell for $3,500 to $50,000, he says. But lately he’s been adding to a noncommissioned series of playful werewolf images that help broaden his appeal beyond his largely male clientele.

“That’s man cave material,” he says, pointing to his football paintings. “One guy who buys all this sports stuff bought four or five original werewolf paintings, big ones for $15,000 or $20,000 apiece, and he put them in his living room” where his wife and houseguests will see them.

“The werewolf broadens my commercial value because I’m now out of the man caves,” Mr. Fox says.

Yet even as they exploit new opportunities, artists say something bigger is also afoot. The pandemic has served up time to release a bit of what’s been waiting inside to come out. Now they’re glimpsing what they’re capable of creating – if only they had the time.

“We all have abilities, and we are not given those by mistake,” Mr. Fox says. “The original ideas I have, need to be explored. Otherwise I’d be wasting a God-given gift.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Not a hardship, but a blessing: Back-to-basics Ramadan

By design, Ramadan is a time of fasting, spiritual reflection, and charity. But for many, the Muslim holiday had also become a time of conspicuous consumption and social competition. Our reporter found that the pandemic has stripped much of that away.

-David

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters

 

Iraqi family members eat their evening iftar meal to break the fast during Ramadan in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq, April 27, 2020.

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In recent years, many Arab families were expected to whip up or order an Instagram-able feast to break the fast each night of Ramadan. To “keep up with the neighbors” and impress waves of guests, families would give rooms an entire makeover: new cushions, drapes, light fixtures. A new television. In some Arab countries, estimates of food waste during Ramadan reached 25% to 30%.

But this year, no guests are walking through the door. Salaries have been slashed, jobs furloughed. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic’s restrictions are stripping away a consumerist culture that recently had built up around an austere holiday of fasting. In its place, spirituality is refilling the void in a back-to-basics Ramadan.

“We don’t need extravagance for Ramadan,” says Mohammed, a retired clerk in Amman as he shops for pita. “We just thank God for our health, a home, and food to eat.”

“There is no need to go to a salon or dress up every night from home,” says Rana Masri, a nurse and mother in the West Bank. “This pandemic has been a reminder that outward appearances aren’t important. It is your faith and your heart that matters.”

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Traversing a downtown Amman market, Mohammed breezes right by what were once must stops for Ramadan: decor shops, sweets, colorful lights, tailors.

He is here only for the basics: bread.

With Muslims dealing with both social distancing and the growing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, many like Mohammed have a new perspective on the holy month.

“We don’t need extravagance for Ramadan,” the retired clerk says as he enters a bakery for a 75-cent-bag of pita. “We just thank God for our health, a home, and food to eat.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Indeed, the pandemic’s restrictions are stripping away a consumerist culture that recently had built up around an austere holiday of fasting and, with it, the social pressure to host and impress.

In their place, spirituality is refilling the void: The core tenets of prayer, reflection, patience, and charity are again the focus of a back-to-basics Ramadan.

From feast to frugal

One of the places where this shift is most visible is the home itself.

On Instagram and Facebook, in lifestyle magazines and on Youtube channels, pressure had intensified on Muslim families to serve elaborate fast-breaking sunset iftar meals with a perfect decor that would put Martha Stewart to shame.

In some Muslim communities, in order to “keep up with the neighbors” and impress waves of guests during the holy month, families would give rooms an entire makeover: new cushions, drapes, light fixtures, a fresh coat of paint, holiday-themed plateware, a new television.

Expenditures in Arab households would rise 30% to 50% during Ramadan, according to various estimates.

But this year, no guests are walking through the door. Salaries have been slashed, jobs furloughed; for some, there has been no income at all. Local markets have shortages, and economies from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon are in crisis.

“My salary has been cut in half; we don’t have savings to change the decor – and besides, no one is coming over,” says Murad Seif, a Jordanian plumber who last year purchased a new sofa and chairs prior to the holy month. He has only been back at work since last week, having had no income since March.

“Instead of wasting what little savings we have this month on something we don’t need, we will donate it as zakat to someone who can’t meet their basic needs,” he says.

Trips to the hair salon, manicures and pedicures, and new “Ramadan fashion” suddenly seem redundant and excessive.

“There is no need to go to a salon or dress up every night from home,” says Rana Masri, a nurse and mother from Nablus, in the West Bank. “This pandemic has been a reminder that outward appearances aren’t important. It is your faith and your heart that matters.”

Refocusing on prayer

In recent years there was no shortage of distractions for Abu Aamar’s family or for many others in the evenings following the iftar.

Nights, prime viewing time for Ramadan TV specials, were also filled with visits to shopping malls, amusement parks, cafes buzzing with live music, cinemas, street markets, friends and relatives, with some families splitting up to go their separate ways after clearing their plates.

基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

 

Before the pandemic, and during: Residents of Ezbet Hamada in the Mataria district gather to eat the sunset iftar meal during Ramadan in Cairo, May 20, 2019; the same area on May 1, 2020, as mass iftars were canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Now Abu Aamar, whose insurance office has been shuttered since mid-March, spends his afternoons and evenings reading “stories of the prophets” to his children and reciting with them the Quran.

“This Ramadan has given me a chance to slow down and talk to my children about the Quran and what questions they had,” he says. “We always took for granted that going to Friday prayers together each week was enough.”

The pandemic is also emphasizing patience, a critical trait for Muslims, particularly during Ramadan.

“In Ramadan, you are making forbidden to yourself what is usually allowed, with the point of drawing yourself closer to the consciousness of God,” H.A. Hellyer, the Arab world scholar and writer, says from Cairo.

“It should not normally be forbidden to leave the house, to congregate with loved ones, or go to a restaurant, but that is exactly what is happening now,” he says. “We are making these permissible acts also forbidden – and for many this is another lesson in self-control and reflection.”

“By and large, Muslim scholars are encouraging Muslim communities to recognize that even in times of trial, there are opportunities to deepen the spiritual life.”

Meanwhile, restrictions that have meant the temporary loss of the mosque for communities have put prayer squarely back in the home.

Amid lockdowns and night curfews, many households are praying together regularly at home for the first time.

Muslims believe Ramadan is when the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad; Quranic verses and sayings attributed to Muhammad urge Muslims to use the holy month as a chance to focus on scripture and its meaning.

Says Ms. Masri, the Nablus nurse: “Instead of discovering a new TV series, we are rediscovering our holy text.”

Food revolution

Then there is the food.

In recent years, many Arab families were expected to whip up or order in an Instagram-able feast each night: stuffed roasted lamb, sushi, chow mein, custard tarts.

Large iftars featuring multiple main dishes, sides, appetizers, and salads – a far cry from the dates and yogurt that the prophet Muhammad and his companions would rely on to break their fast – would lead to an estimated 25% to 30% food waste in Arab countries.

“You would have huge, massive buffet-style iftars; nobody can eat all that, so people threw away a lot of this food – which obviously is not in keeping with the spirit of Ramadan in the slightest,” Dr. Hellyer says.

“Now instead, you are seeing more people cooking just enough to eat. There is a lot less waste happening, and people are spending less.”

Even in Saudi Arabia, where oil wealth fueled a mass-consumerist culture that spread throughout the region, frugality is in vogue.

“Restaurants are open, but we are not ordering or purchasing expensive sweets. Everything this year is from the home,” says Ali al-Sultan, a marketing officer from Riyadh. Like many Saudis, he has become anxious over an oil price plunge and an economic crisis in his country.

“We are using local ingredients like wheat and yogurt and going back to the simple recipes of our grandparents from before there was wealth or restaurants,” he says. “This is not a hardship. This is a blessing.”

In Amman, Um Aamar has gone from cooking international dishes such as chicken curry or Iraqi fish to carefully measuring ingredients and relying on what is saved up in her pantry.

“Last night we just cooked leftover fava beans, scrambled eggs, and put olives, hummus, and labneh on the table for iftar,” she says. “We never felt so full or satisfied. Our children said, ‘Let’s do this every Ramadan.’”

In Tunisia, where many have been hit by the loss of tourism, some families have been pooling their resources.

“If we have extra chickpeas, we share with our neighbors; others distribute dates, others share their olive oil,” says Fadi, a driver, via phone from his home near Gabès in southern Tunisia. “Between all of us, we are full – thank God.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The Monitor's View

Europe’s Marshall Plan for its neediest countries

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One moment of extraordinary leadership during the pandemic came in mid-April with a moment of extraordinary humility. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, gave a “heartfelt apology” to Italy for Europe’s failure to support it when the coronavirus had overwhelmed the Italian health system.

“Now everyone has realized that we must protect each other,” said Ms. von der Leyen, adding that the apology must be followed up with results.

One month later, an extraordinary result has begun to emerge.

On Monday, the Continent’s two largest economies, Germany and France, proposed that the European Union provide $545 billion in grants to help the economic recovery and reconstruction of member states hit hardest by the virus. Top of the list are Italy, Spain, and Greece.

For Europe, a unifying moment was gained after it witnessed extreme suffering in Italy and then one leader apologized. Now the humble admission of indifference may result in a generous plan to make a difference.

DEEP READ

One moment of extraordinary leadership during the pandemic came in mid-April with a moment of extraordinary humility. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, gave a “heartfelt apology” to Italy for Europe’s failure to support it when the coronavirus had overwhelmed the Italian health system.

“Now everyone has realized that we must protect each other,” said Ms. von der Leyen, adding that the apology must be followed up with results.

One month later, an extraordinary result has begun to emerge.

On Monday, the Continent’s two largest economies, Germany and France, proposed that the European Union provide $545 billion in grants to help the economic recovery and reconstruction of member states hit hardest by the virus. Top of the list are Italy, Spain, and Greece.

The Franco-German initiative, which still requires approval by all 27 EU states, has been likened to the Marshall Plan, the massive aid sent to Europe by the United States after World War II. Yet the proposed grants would be more than three times that of the Marshall Plan in today’s dollars.

Besides the size of the proposal, the other extraordinary aspect is a humble acceptance by Germany to allow the European Commission to borrow the $545 billion on financial markets. As Europe’s wealthiest country, Germany has long opposed the EU taking on debt that it says would be paid back largely by German taxpayers. Until now the EU’s response to the crisis has been to offer only loans to member states, some of them with conditions.

 

To justify Berlin’s turnaround, Chancellor Angela Merkel explained that the damage from COVID-19 is the worst crisis that the EU has faced in its history. The Continent, which is the world’s largest single market, may be facing a long recession. “Such a crisis also requires the appropriate answers,” she said.

The pandemic was also not the result of any country’s failure to manage its economy well. This helps remove the “moral hazard” of the EU borrowing money and giving it to the neediest countries.

Germany and France want to strengthen European solidarity at a time when the economic downturn could add to the rise of populism and nationalism. The EU’s core mission is to prevent the kind of destructive nationalism that led to two wars in the 20th century. Its leaders also worry that one impact of the coronavirus might be a rise in economic inequality between states, perhaps leading to a split-up of the EU.

The plan to take on debt is seen as a “Hamilton moment” for Europe. In its early days, the U.S. gained a unifying identity when Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton arranged for the federal government to assume the debts of the states after the Revolutionary War.

For Europe, a unifying moment was gained after it witnessed extreme suffering in Italy and then one leader, Ms. von der Leyen, apologized. Now the humble admission of indifference may result in a generous plan to make a difference.

A Christian Science Perspective

Safe in the lions’ den

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When on the front lines of a situation involving the threat of contagion, one woman gained confidence in God’s protecting power as she reflected on the Bible story of Daniel in the lions’ den.

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There was a time I was asked to step in and serve on the front lines of a situation in which there was a lot of fear of contagion and spread of disease. Before going in, I found myself becoming fearful of catching the disease. The thought kept coming, “It feels like I’m walking into the lions’ den.” It was scary and unsettling. However, as the time approached for me to go, when that same thought came, a thought that followed gave me pause: “If that’s because it seems scary, you are missing the whole point of that story!”

It was in reference to the well-known Bible story about Daniel, a Hebrew prophet who was so devoted to worshipping the one God that he refused to stop praying to Him, despite the proclaimed punishment for doing so – being thrown into a den of hungry lions. That takes a lot of faith and trust! Daniel did end up being thrown into the den of lions, but he was completely safe and totally untouched. In fact, as he was being thrown to the lions, the king himself said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” (Daniel 6:16, New Revised Standard Version).

I began to really ponder what it was that made Daniel feel safe in this situation, and what made the king hopeful God could deliver him. In the story and throughout his life, it is clear that Daniel loved God and knew that God loved him. Daniel seemed to understand that there is a divine law of Love in operation at all times to guide and guard us, and that God, who is Love, would protect him as He had in the past. As “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, puts it, “The divine Love, which made harmless the poisonous viper, which delivered men from the boiling oil, from the fiery furnace, from the jaws of the lion, can heal the sick in every age and triumph over sin and death” (p. 243).

Daniel demonstrated his love of God through his faithfulness and obedience to God. He was upholding the First Commandment – which is to know, worship, and obey only the one all-powerful, ever-present God who is Love.

Thinking about this story made me wonder what I was being tempted to worship in the situation I was facing. I’ve heard it said that our God is whatever we think about most. So what was consuming my thought? Was it fear of sickness or contagion? Or was I trusting God, Love, to guide and protect me, no matter where I was, as the Bible promises? For instance, the Scriptures say “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1). I have had countless proofs of this – proof of God’s tender care and strong protection in both big and small situations. I knew I could look back on that record and understand that trusting in God now would bring about the same result.

 

As I prayed with these ideas before entering this situation, I felt the conviction that I could trust God with my health as I was serving my fellow man. I was there to bear witness to the fact that the people I was meeting with were also created in the image and likeness of God, whole and complete, as the Bible makes plain.

Science and Health states, “All of God’s creatures, moving in the harmony of Science, are harmless, useful, indestructible” (p. 514). The truth of our being as God’s children is that we cannot harm or be harmed by another of God’s creatures – whether that’s a lion or our fellow men and women. Through relying on prayer, I not only felt safe, but I was safe and protected. The people whom I was serving also found quick healing and gained a sense of peace from their fears.

Whether you are a front-line worker entering a situation with the threat of contagion or simply going to the grocery store, you do not have to be afraid. We can trust in the law of God’s love to protect each one of us. When we love and worship God alone and refuse to give power to anything but our one all-powerful, all-loving, ever-present God, the same sense of security that Daniel had, and proved practical, is possible for us today.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor’s coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There’s also a special free section of JSH-Online.com on a healing response to the global pandemic. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

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基督科学箴言报 The Christian Science Monitor Daily - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

 

Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

 

A Liverpool fan is held up as he looks over a fence to watch training at Melwood in England, May 19, 2020. Today was the first day Premier League soccer teams were allowed to hold small-group training, an early step in the process toward resuming the league season. Liverpool is in first place, with a 25-point lead before the pandemic stopped play.
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