Monday Sunrise Briefing: Nationwide protests for accountability

Demands for justice and accountability fueled street protests in dozens of U.S. cities this weekend that were mostly peaceful by day but often erupted into violence after dark. The scale of the anger over police brutality, sweeping from coast to coast, rivaled the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam War eras

The violence this weekend was frequently blamed on the far left (Antifa), the far right (white supremacists), and “outsiders.” After the looting, volunteers turned out en masse to sweep the streets of debris in Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. In a few cities, police were seen kneeling with – or marching alongside – demonstrators. Curfews imposed in major cities appeared to somewhat reduce the looting, vandalism, and fires. But the National Guard has been activated in at least 15  states and Washington, D.C. More than 4,400 people were arrested this weekend, according to the Associated Press. 

 The “I can’t breathe” protest also went global, including demonstrations in London, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, and Berlin.  Russia, Iran, and China seized on George Floyd’s death as emblematic of American racism and hypocrisy. “Should Beijing support protests in the U.S., like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?” asked one Chinese editor.

 2. An emerging partnership. This weekend saw another successful milestone in the transition to a government-commercial partnership in reaching space. On Saturday, two American astronauts were lifted into space aboard a SpaceX rocket. On Sunday, the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the International Space Station and docked automatically, no human pilot needed. It was the first time a privately built and owned spacecraft carried astronauts to the space station in its more than 20 years of existence. NASA considers this the opening move in a cooperative business revolution, with the next stops being trips to the moon and Mars.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Thousands of people in Florida watch as the SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, Saturday, May 30, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Shown here are spectators on a bridge in Titusville, Florida.

Look Ahead

Monday, June 1

Let the games begin, again. NCAA student athletes are allowed to return to their respective fields of play. Colleges are opening facilities for player-organized practices, as a similar reopening takes place among professional teams.

Tuesday, June 2

Democracy in a pandemic. Presidential primaries are scheduled for seven states (Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Dakota) plus the District of Columbia. Many states are allowing mail-in voting.

Thursday, June 4

Judicial watch. Three white Georgia men are scheduled to appear in court today for a preliminary hearing into the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging. 

Gender equality history. On this day, 100 years ago, the U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. It wasn’t ratified until August of 1920.

Friday, June 5

First out of the gate. Universal Orlando plans to reopen today with mandatory face masks and temperature checks for guests. It’s the first Florida theme park to reopen. Walt Disney World says it plans to reopen on July 11. 

Saturday, June 6

DNC sneak preview? The presumptive Democratic nominee will close out the Texas Democratic party’s online state convention. It could be a test run for a digital national convention for the party, scheduled in August. 

Generosity Watch

Famous Toastery via Facebook.

An anonymous couple left a $1,000 tip at the Famous Toastery restaurant in Wilimington, North Carolina, on May 23, 2020.

Leaving a big tip is one way to show appreciation for people in the service sector who have been out of work or working fewer hours during the pandemic lockdown.

Last week, Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Andre Drummond left a $1,000 tip for a waitress in Delray Beach, Florida, which left her “shaking” and with “tears of happiness.”

Almost two weeks ago, former NFL star Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson expressed his gratitude at Havana’s Cuban Cuisine in Cooper City, Florida with a $1,000 tip on a $37 meal.

That kind of generosity means a lot to those struggling in the restaurant industry. Here’s another $1,000 tip left with a twist.  On May 23, a couple left a big anonymous “thank you” for a meal at Famous Toastery in Wilmington, North Carolina. What happened next took it to another level. The $1,000 tip was shared with the entire staff – the front and back (kitchen) staff, according to the restaurant’s Facebook post. 

There’s so much kindness in this world. There really is,” Jamie Kloiber, the owner of the breakfast eatery told WECT-TV news.

Hidden gem

Start your week with a recent story that inspired Monitor readers:

Opera alfresco: How a Seattle singer shares his gift during COVID-19

Sneak preview

In tonight’s Daily Edition, watch for the next story in our leadership coverage: Why Ohio’s Republican governor is now the most popular in the nation. 

Finally, check out the Monitor’s selected stories from Friday’s subscription-only Daily Edition:

  1. Despite furor, accountability lags for police. Here’s why it might change.
  2. How long can Americans live in a state of emergency?
  3. ‘Friendliest boundary in the world’ divides families in pandemic
  4. ‘It’s just chaos.’ One family’s struggle to make the new normal work
  5. A new stone soup: Idle restaurants fire up to feed the hungry

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

This is a beta test – an experiment with an early Monday news update. Please give us your feedback via the link below and let us know what you think. Thank you!

Jillian Edwards’s New EP Delivers Peace Amidst Chaos

Singer/songwriter Jillian Edwards’s voice is laced with joy even as we talk about how different life has been during quarantine and what it’s like to debut her EP without the conventional publicity events such as touring and in-person interviews. Her schedule is just as packed however, staying at home with her husband (Will Chapman of indie rock band Colony House), a growing and active toddler, and fielding questions about her life and new project, Meadow.

It is crazy times. It’s my first release of music in a handful of years and the timeline for it kept getting kind of moved around for reasons out of our control. And now it’s getting released in the middle of this crazy time in the world and it feels right, honestly. I’m glad that I am not ultimately in charge of all that. The Lord has been so gracious in His timing.

The elements of Jillian Edwards’s story are like the description of a Hallmark movie of the week. A gutsy move to Nashville from her native Texas in order to follow her dreams might sound like a leap of faith, but Jillian didn’t dive in without vetting the Craigslist apartment and gaining full parental approval.

I just felt like home. I dunno, it felt so clear to me. This is where I needed to be.

After graduating from Baylor University and settling in Nashville, Jillian spent time crafting her songwriting skills and making music. Years of dedication started paying off as others took notice, and several of her songs appeared in commercials and popular television shows including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Nashville,” and “Pretty Little Liars.”

I loved making music. I was playing shows and recording and writing all throughout college. I guess I released one record during college and through that record I made connections with some really wonderful people. That’s what got me interested in Nashville because they were based there. So, I went back and finished my senior year at Baylor. A few days after graduation I drove back to Nashville and had a house lined up and was just ready to be there. There’s a lot of Texas people in Tennessee, actually. They feel similar in some ways, Dallas and Nashville, kind of like sister cities. There was never really any fear attached to the move. My mom and dad are just incredible. I had this clear calling and desire to do music forever. They were a huge piece of me feeling so comfortable to make the move, and I had some wonderful friends here with me. It was pretty much the stereotypical “load up my car and bring my guitar and drive to Nashville.”

Her project Meadow, she says, is a deeply telling collection of melodies and lyrics which attempt to give voice to the state of her mind and heart. I was privileged to be able to preview it before speaking with Jillian, on a night when insomnia took hold and my brain refused to settle down. The choice of title, Meadow, truly exemplifies the EP’s atmosphere. The movements of the music ushered in a feeling of peace and rest. The track “Whisper Hymn” is a perfect example.

All of the songs I really wanted to, just like you’re saying, usher in peace. The EP is called Meadow because meadow is the name that I’ve given this secret place of abundance that we have in the life of Christ within us. We have access to full peace that surpasses all of the circumstances we deal with.

“Whisper Hymn” – that very first song, is really just a little stream of consciousness. It’s not very long, but it felt like the first step onto this path of peace and of proclaiming God’s promises. Experiencing what it is to be His child and be totally cared for, to be safe to ask questions, and walk through scary and confusing times and feel taken care of by Him.

I asked Jillian about a post she shared on Facebook where she stated “What if I’m so hungry for affection because God desires to fill me with himself? So now this hunger is a blessing rather than a burden.” It’s a recurring theme on the EP.

It’s a recurring theme in the songs because it’s a recurring theme in my life! I want to be all about surrendering myself to be kept by Christ and to fully live in what He has done for me, to let Him speak for me and who I am and embrace my weaknesses. Because His strength lies there. Instead of trying to muster up all my own strength – that’s just exhausting. It’s not my nature to sit back and release control and give my consent to someone else to take over. But it is the divine nature to do that. So, I’m trying to live in that place. “Abide” is a big word in my life and sort of encompasses that theme as well.

Another song from the EP, “But I Know You,” was released as a single. The lyrics question the purpose of struggle, but also affirm belief in God’s lovingkindness:

I don’t know the mystery of your ways  
I don’t know the purpose of the pain  

But I know You…

…I am held in Your love and You won’t let go 
I know you and that’s all that I need to know

“But I Know You” is a song that I wanted to use to speak truth to myself and to anyone who’s in the middle of the questions of life – when something happens in your life that makes you feel out of control and have no idea what’s going on. God is still who He says He is and His promises are still true. Faith – it’s being sure of what we hope for. By faith, I do not have to know the answers. All I have to know is my heavenly Father because I know who He is. He is good and He’s for me. “But I Know You” helps me remember that and hopefully it can help someone too.

Check out Meadow on any streaming service and the video for “But I Know You” below!

The 10 best books of May to enjoy in the fresh air

Travel to Algeria or to Jane Austen’s village, go deeper into current events, or become engrossed in the lives of the powerful, with the books that appealed to Monitor reviewers this month. 

1. A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason

This collection of nine stories captures characters in the midst of remarkable experiences: a hot air balloonist investigating the upper atmosphere, a French telegraph operator discovering companionship deep in the Amazon, a bug collector corresponding with Charles Darwin. Daniel Mason conveys more in a short story than many authors manage in an entire novel.

2. Our Riches by Kaouther Adimi

Kaouther Adimi writes about the famed Les Vraies Richesses bookstore in Algiers, Algeria. Plundered by French colonial forces in the 20th century, it is now the setting for another effort to suppress culture and free thought. The novel celebrates bookstores and the power of the written word.

3. The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha

New York City after the 2008 financial collapse provides the setting for Christopher Beha’s modern-day morality tale in which algorithmic thinking clashes with impulsiveness. Cleverly written with poetic overtones, the narrative provides engaging twists and turns.

4. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

“Rodham” by Curtis Sittenfeld, Random House, 432 pp.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel poses the question, what would have become of Hillary had she not married Bill Clinton? “Rodham” moves from her graduation from Wellesley College through an alternate universe of personal and political highs and lows. It’s a peculiar fantasy, but one that will resonate with readers who think Hillary got a raw deal.

5. The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson

When eccentric matriarch Helen Miller dies, she leaves her estranged family with a secret treasure – the missing Florentine Diamond. Faults and foibles come to light as the Millers discover that love, family, and forgiveness may be more valuable than a vast fortune.

6. The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Natalie Jenner’s lovingly crafted debut novel weaves together the post-World War II lives of lost souls in Chowton, England, who find renewed life and happiness in uniting to preserve author Jane Austen’s cottage as a museum. Dodging personal regrets, small-town gossip, and unfortunate schemes, they ultimately find that friendship wins the day.

7. In Deep by David Rohde

At the heart of President Donald Trump’s claims that a “deep state” is conspiring to undermine his presidency are long-standing debates over executive power and checks and balances. Pulitzer Prize winner David Rohde’s lucid investigation of the role unelected intelligence and military officials play in policy is a timely and compelling read.

8. The Hour of Fate by Susan Berfield

Historian Susan Berfield writes a fascinating account of the clash between two of the biggest personalities of the Progressive era –President Theodore Roosevelt and financier J.P. Morgan – in a fight over whether the United States would be controlled by government or business interests. 

9. Pelosi by Molly Ball

Courtesy of Macmillan Publishers

“Pelosi” by Molly Ball, Henry Holt and Co., 368 pp.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has long been vilified by the right and often underappreciated by her own party. But between her willingness to stand up to President Donald Trump and her ability to wrangle votes with LBJ-like mastery, her stock has risen. Journalist Molly Ball’s sharp, admiring biography shows how the tireless, dauntless Pelosi became the most powerful woman in politics.

10. Dark Mirror by Barton Gellman

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barton Gellman writes an insider account of the breaking of Edward Snowden’s story and its wider implications for the modern world, all told in prose as gripping as a spy thriller.

Rocketing toward history: Why spaceflight still captivates America

For the first time, two astronauts are set to climb aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and rocket off into space. If all goes well with the mission, scheduled for Wednesday, it will be the first time humans have launched into orbital space from U.S. soil since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. 

As many grand endeavors were being canceled or postponed due to the novel coronavirus, NASA weighed the risks but ultimately decided to go ahead, with caution. The mission aims to lay the groundwork for the next era in human spaceflight: one in which space travel isn’t just for government astronauts or scientists, but more like air travel today, with trips operated by private companies available to anyone who purchases a ticket. And such an expansion, say spaceflight advocates, would move humans toward perhaps becoming a multiplanetary species.

“It’s an important inflection point,” says Sean O’Keefe, who led NASA during the George W. Bush administration. “This is much akin to the transition when the first civil aviation aircraft took off decades ago after many decades of it being exclusively a public endeavor.”

While most earthly attention has been on the pandemic over the past few months, NASA and SpaceX have been taking steps toward what could be the next great leap for humankind. 

Two astronauts are set to blast off from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday, May 27, as a final test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. If the mission is successful, it will be a big moment for the American space program – both private and governmental. It will be SpaceX’s first launch with a crew on board, and the first time humans have launched into orbital space from U.S. soil since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. Since then, American astronauts have traveled to the International Space Station aboard Russian spacecraft.

This week’s launch aims to lay the groundwork for the next era in human spaceflight: one in which space travel isn’t just for government astronauts or scientists, but more like air travel today, with trips operated by private companies available to anyone who purchases a ticket. And such an expansion, say spaceflight advocates, would nudge humans toward perhaps becoming a multiplanetary species.

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

As many grand endeavors were being canceled or postponed due to the novel coronavirus, NASA weighed the risks but ultimately decided to go ahead, with caution. The pandemic has raised questions about what aspects of modern society we value – and human spaceflight is no different. 

“The last thing we want to do is shut down everything that is aspirational and inspiring in our society while so many of us have to hunker down,” says Greg Autry, who researches commercial spaceflight at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

Balancing risks and rewards

If all goes according to plan, the so-called Demo-2 mission will carry two veteran NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, to the International Space Station. The pair is set to join the current ISS crew of three – one American astronaut, and two Russian cosmonauts – and will probably stay for a month to four months. Their return will also be a significant test for the Crew Dragon spacecraft, as reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere is a fiery affair.

This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company’s Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

This endeavor has been in the works for years, and under normal circumstances such a milestone launch would generate large crowds on nearby Florida beaches. Given the pandemic, NASA has asked that people stay away, and instead experience the launch virtually

As for the team making the final preparations for the launch, as many as possible have been working from home and the others have been masked and arranged to stay 6 feet away from one another. NASA typically quarantines astronauts in the days before they fly to the ISS, but this time they’ve been isolating for weeks. 

NASA’s decision to go ahead with the launch amidst early pandemic lockdowns initially surprised Lori Garver, who served as deputy administrator of NASA during the Obama administration. But, she says, as it became clear that the pandemic was something that society was going to be grappling with for a long time, she began to think, “Well, when are we going to be able to do it?” After all, the ISS needs a crew to continue operating. The Russians were still blasting off, but NASA had been aiming to scale back on buying seats on their Soyuz capsules.

Indeed, the U.S. presence on the ISS is seen as essential, agrees William Russell, who oversees audits of space programs for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

As a nation, we have invested billions of dollars into the space station and committed to maintaining projects designed to support that program. “It is something that NASA has prioritized,” Mr. Russell says. “If you think back to the government shutdown, this program maintained operations during that, too.”

This test launch aims to kick off NASA’s new commercial crew program, in which private companies (Boeing is also developing a crew capsule) become the space agency’s ferry service. If successful, this program would not only bring down the cost of delivering U.S. astronauts to the ISS, it would also make it possible for the spaceflight companies to sell trips to space to other sorts of travelers in the future.

“It’s an important inflection point, if you will, of now seeing the opportunity for commercial transportation of humans into space,” says Sean O’Keefe, who served as administrator of NASA under former President George W. Bush and is now a professor at Syracuse University. “This is much akin to the transition when the first civil aviation aircraft took off decades ago after many decades of it being exclusively a public endeavor.”

This launch, Mr. O’Keefe says, is a significant step toward making space travel as ubiquitous as air travel is today. “In the greater scheme of things,” he says, “this continues the march of the kinds of things that we do as humankind to access space.”

The allure of human spaceflight

Many of NASA’s exploration and research goals can be achieved using robotic spacecraft today – and much of it is, says Roger Launius, a former chief historian of NASA and author of several books on spaceflight. So, he says, “The larger question has to be asked, why is it important to do it at all? Why do we need to send people up there at all? … It is not an easy answer.”

There have been many different reasons for nations – particularly the United States – to pursue human spaceflight capabilities over the years. Initially, one big motivation was to display technological prowess and assert itself on the global stage outside of war. Because human spaceflight is an extremely difficult feat, it continues to hold such regard, says Mr. Launius, and regaining that capability also will mean retaining that prestige.

But, many say, there’s also something less tangible driving humanity’s desire to push into the final frontier. 

Indeed, if this new model of making space travel commercial is successful and eventually nonastronauts and nonscientists do travel to space more readily, it could mean a fundamental shift in humanity. Our species would have expanded into a vast new territory in a more permanent way. 

“I would contend that ultimately this is about becoming a multiplanetary species,” capable of moving between worlds readily, says Mr. Launius. It will likely take generations, “but the sooner we get started, the sooner we can actually achieve this.”

For some, this is about expanding future possibilities for humanity. “If we stay here on Earth, we’re going to play a limited resource game, and we’re going to pollute the environment and we’re going to utilize what resources we have and we’re going to fight over them,” Dr. Autry says. “When you open up a new frontier, you create vast new wealth.”

But it also might go deeper than that, suggests Mr. O’Keefe, pointing out that Homo sapiens is the only species known to have expanded across the entire globe and settled into the many diverse (terrestrial) environments on Earth.

“We’ve explored large swaths of this planet in order to advance, to improve, to expand, to do better,” he says. “This is yielding to that same instinct that has been kind of ground into human nature.”

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

Opera al fresco: How a Seattle singer shares his gift during COVID-19

Before COVID-19 shut down performances, Stephen Wall had appeared in 99 productions at Seattle Opera. It’s “mildly driving me crazy,” says Mr. Wall, a tenor. “We baseball fans prefer round numbers.”

But the stay-home order hasn’t meant an end to singing, after all. Each weekday, Mr. Wall has stepped into his yard, shared a bit of opera history, translation, and humor, and burst into song for an appreciative audience gathered below – safety spaced six feet apart. 

The new tradition started almost by accident. But it’s yet one more creative new way for performers to connect people with the arts in Seattle and around the world, at a time when cultural organizations are suffering.

“It’s like a gift,” says Mr. Wall. That gift also returns the bounty he’s seeing and experiencing himself. For instance, the Brooklyn landlord of his daughter, an aspiring actress, just forgave her three months’ rent. And his singing has brought unexpected healing. His estranged brother reached out from Maine. 

“It’s something to offer, and I hope it would inspire people to say, ‘What do I have to offer?’, particularly in these strange times,” says Mr. Wall.


Promptly at 5:00 one sunny afternoon, veteran Seattle Opera singer Stephen Wall steps out onto his raised front lawn – a grassy impromptu stage – drawing a scattering of applause from scores of people gathered along the tree-lined street below.

Neighbors sitting in lawn chairs, parents pushing strollers, dog-walkers and a couple on a tandem bicycle – all arrange themselves, safely spaced six feet apart, and excitedly await the show in the waterfront community of Ballard.

A seaplane flies by overhead, a dog lets out a single yap, and then all falls silent as the portly, grey-bearded Mr. Wall launches into the Verdi aria “La Donna è Mobile.” For a few minutes, his soaring voice seems to lift the audience up and away from earthly concerns – like a kite on the wind.

“It’s like a gift,” says Mr. Wall, a classically trained tenor from Connecticut, who followed his wife Ginna, a nurse, to Seattle in 1979 and made a home here. “It’s something to offer, and I hope it would inspire people to say, ‘What do I have to offer?’, particularly in these strange times.”

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

With Seattle Opera and so many arts venues shut down, creative new ways for performers to keep sharing their gifts are springing up all around Seattle and indeed, the world.

Amid Seattle’s lockdown, a drive-in dance show called “Cooped Up” allowed people in cars to watch dances unfolding in yards, porches, and windows. Arts Corps, an award-winning group, has distributed arts kits to child care centers in low-income neighborhoods. And many have pivoted to put classes, exhibits, and performances online – from classes by Pacific Northwest Ballet, to streamed Shakespeare plays.

They’re keeping people connected with the arts even as the region’s cultural and science non-profits suffer, with nearly 5,000 people laid off and revenue losses estimated at more than $133 million this fiscal year alone, according to the Seattle-based arts advocacy and grant-making group ArtsFund.

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor

Seattle Opera tenor Stephen Wall performs a mini-concert in his yard in Ballard on April 20, 2020. His last song is always “Nessun Dorma,” an uplifting aria from Puccini’s “Turnandot” that describes the victorious dawn.

“There’s an incredible amount of resilience and responsiveness by the cultural sector,” says Sarah Sidman, vice president of strategic initiatives and communications at ArtsFund. “We are seeing cultural non-profits, whose mission is to serve the community, pivoting to make sure access to the arts is not restricted.”

Mr. Wall’s 20-minute performances, held each weekday, began almost by accident in April. He’d been teaching online music lessons all day in a curtained room, and stepped outside for a break.

“When I finally emerged from my Hobbit hole, I realized it was a beautiful day,” he says, and set out a speaker to play some jazz standards, thinking no one would mind.

On the contrary, people stopped to listen, or gave him a thumbs up. “That’s not a typical Seattle vibe,” he says. “Seattle is a little introverted, but everyone was just ready to interact.”

A few days later, he opted to sing a few numbers himself. People applauded, and asked for more. And so, Mr. Wall’s mini performances began, news spreading by word of mouth.

Martha Strickland, a teacher, lives one block away and first heard the singing on a walk with her daughter Ada and husband Greg. The family was hooked, and have returned for every performance since, pulling three-year-old Ada in a red wagon.

On this warm spring day, Mr. Wall ends the Verdi aria with a striking high note.

“Bravo!” Ada cries out. Everyone laughs and claps.

Ada, wearing pink heart sunglasses, enjoys a large lollipop during performances. “We’ve upgraded to lollipops because she keeps shouting ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’” Ms. Strickland confides.

As more children attend, Mr. Wall has pulled stunts such as his dramatic Figaro entrance: riding out on a bicycle from the side yard. (“Figaro also swings in on a rope, which I am not up to,” he says.) He donned a lion costume to sing “If I were King of the Forest” from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Whoever’s in the audience, Mr. Wall introduces each song with a bit of history, translation, and a light sense of humor. “For today I am picking mostly fairly cheerful songs for obvious reasons,” he says, “but when dealing with opera, eventually you are going to have to get around to something tragic.”

He paints a scene from the 19th century Italian opera “Pagliacci,” when a clown must perform just after learning of his wife’s betrayal. “Even though your heart is breaking, you must do the show. Perform! Laugh, clown, laugh!”

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor

Martha Strickland, a teacher, with her three-year-old daughter, Ada, and husband, Greg. They live a block away from Seattle Opera tenor Stephen Wall and have attended many of his front-yard performances.

The doleful clown holds special meaning for Mr. Wall, as he explains later, recalling watching his mentor, Richard Knoll, play the role at Kansas City’s Capri Theater in 1971. “That was it for me,” he says. “Seeing him thrill an audience with that – the theatrical catharsis that the people felt that night with that incredibly over the top, melodramatic story – I thought, that’s pretty cool.”

“I have been working on that ever since,” he says wistfully. “It’s like having a coin collection, you carry it with you the rest of your life, and you just keep enriching the value of what it means to you.”

To his audience – a family gathered on the balcony next door, a woman relaxing on her porch swing, the lady in a straw hat sitting on the curb lawn with her white dog – Mr. Wall’s joy in performing comes through.

“It’s just a beautiful thing,” says Sofia Zieve, who came from northeast Seattle for the concert. “I love that he was able to express himself and do what he loves – it was a two-way street.”

Mr. Wall’s gift also returns the bounty he’s seeing and experiencing himself. For instance, the Brooklyn landlord of his daughter, an aspiring actress, just forgave her three months’ rent.

And his singing has brought unexpected healing. His estranged brother reached out from Maine. “We have reconciled,” he says, choking up.

“You hear these stories, and tell these stories, and you can start crying,” he says. “Am I a wreck? No, it’s the words coming out of your mouth are just miraculous… you can’t even believe your own ears,” he says.

At Seattle Opera, Mr. Wall has appeared in 99 productions over 39 seasons (which, he says, “is mildly driving me crazy. We baseball fans prefer round numbers.”). He looks forward to the reopening, but for now has carved out a niche in Seattle’s “new normal” arts scene.

His last song? As always, it is “Nessun Dorma,” an uplifting aria from Puccini’s “Turnandot” that has inspired millions in Italy and around the world in recent weeks, describing the victorious dawn.

“All’alba,” he sings, with arms raised high. “Vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!”

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

In Afghanistan, promises of a peaceful reprieve in honor of Eid


The Taliban and Afghanistan’s president announced late Saturday a three-day cease-fire ahead of a major Islamic holiday that begins Sunday to mark the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

The Taliban order, which was soon followed by an announcement via Twitter from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announcing the government “extends the offer of peace,” comes just days after U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul and Doha.

Mr. Khalilzad on his trip urged both the Taliban and the Afghan government to reduce violence and move ahead with intra-Afghan negotiations, a key pillar of a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban signed in February to allow American troops to leave Afghanistan. The deal was also touted at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance for peace after nearly four decades of war.

The Taliban’s cease-fire announcement follows an Eid al-Fitr message from the Taliban leader which said the insurgent group was committed to the peace deal, was not seeking to monopolize power, and promised to guarantee the rights of women and men under an Islamic system.

The directive ordered Taliban fighters not to fight but also not to fraternize with Afghan national security forces. The instructions seemed intended to avoid images that circulated during the last cease-fire in 2018, also during Eid celebrations, including Taliban fighters sharing ice cream and laughing with Afghan national security force soldiers.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the announcement and urged all parties “to seize the opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Mr. Guterres, who called for a cease-fire in all global conflicts on March 23 to tackle the coronavirus pandemic stressed that “only a peace settlement can bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan” and said that “the United Nations is committed to supporting the people and government of Afghanistan in this important endeavor,” the spokesman said.

In instructions issued Saturday, Taliban fighters were told “not to attack the enemy in any place but if there is attack from enemy in any place then a befitting defensive response shall be given.”

The order also warned Taliban fighters against entering “enemy” territory.

Since signing the peace deal with the United States, the Taliban have not attacked U.S. and NATO troops but have staged numerous attacks against Afghan National Security forces.

The peace deal calls for the full withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops by the end of next year but only if the Taliban honor their commitment to fight against terrorist groups and guarantee that Afghanistan cannot be used as a staging ground of attacks against the United States and its allies. The agreement also calls for talks between Taliban and the often-bickering political leadership in Kabul to decide the future of a post-war Afghanistan. It also calls for the release of prisoners by both the government and Taliban as a good will gesture ahead of the talks.

An increase in attacks claimed by the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, including a horrific attack on a maternity hospital in the Afghan capital last week, blamed on the IS affiliate, has given an urgency to finding a settlement between the government and Taliban. U.S. Department of Defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, said the Taliban is seen as an asset in the fight against IS in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan welcomed the cease-fire announcement saying “we reiterate our call for the militaries of all sides to reduce violence to allow the peace process to take hold.”

This story was reported by the Associated Press.

On #143Day, Pennsylvania shows kindness cannot be locked down

On Pennsylvania’s second annual 1-4-3 Day, residents focused kindness on first responders and essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Points of Progress: Global decline in deforestation, and more


Deforestation has slowed over the past five years, according to a United Nations study released May 7. From 2010 to 2015, the Earth lost approximately 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of forest every year. In the past five years, that number has dropped to 10 million hectares. The new Global Forest Resources Assessment shows forest loss rates are inconsistent around the globe. Researchers took into account major losses in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth has exacerbated forest loss, but found an encouraging trend worldwide. This is partly due to a significant decline in deforestation in South America, and more trees being planted in parts of Europe and Asia, which saw net gains in total forest area. More forests also now have sustainable management plans, according to assessment coordinators. (ReutersFood and Agriculture Organization)

1. United States 

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP/File

Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter holds up her portrait. Wells posthumously received the highest honor in journalism for her reporting on lynchings during the Jim Crow era.

Ida B. Wells, a pioneering journalist and civil rights activist of the late 19th and early 20th century, has been awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. The special citation acknowledges her “outstanding and courageous reporting” on lynchings in the postwar South – reporting that placed her own life in danger and was widely criticized by mainstream media at the time. In the first 100 years since the prestigious award was founded in 1917, 84% of Pulitzer Prizes went to white people, and mostly men. Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times, who won in 2020 for an essay as part of the 1619 Project on America’s origins as a slave nation, said Wells is “the most boss black investigative reporter and one of the most boss investigative reporters in the history of our country.” (Financial Times, The Pulitzer Prizes)

2. Central and South America

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, located in Costa Rica, held a hearing in January on sexual abuse of girls in a school setting, in the first case of its kind the court has taken up. The case is the result of 18 years’ effort by Ecuadorian Petita Albarracin, who maintains her daughter was sexually abused by the vice principal and doctor at school beginning when she was 14. Her daughter died by suicide when she was 16. Three out of 10 students ages 13 to 15 have experienced sexual harassment in schools in Latin America, according to UNICEF. This case could lead to the first standard for protection from sexual violence at schools for all 23 member states of the court. The case was filed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2006 after the Ecuadorian authorities failed to investigate Ms. Albarracin’s daughter’s death. The court is expected to rule on the case within a year. (The Guardian, Reuters, Organization of American States)

3. Iceland

Icelandic whaling companies have temporarily halted whaling for the second year in a row. Iceland has continued the practice (along with Norway and Japan) despite the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. The two Icelandic whaling companies both announced a stop in operations for the year 2020. Although the companies’ decision to halt killing whales is largely for economic reasons, it underscores the decline in whale meat consumption and rise in whale watching tourism. In 2018, Iceland’s whale watching industry drew 345,000 tourists, a notable increase from 72,000 tourists in 2003. In 2017, the industry brought in $26.5 million, according to a report by the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies. (Forbes, Mongabay)

4. Germany

Martin Meissner/AP/File

A rainbow flag flies over the annual LGBTQ parade in Germany, July 2019. The country recently banned gay conversion therapy for minors.

The German parliament has banned the use of so-called gay conversion therapy on people under the age of 18. It is the fifth country to prohibit, for minors, the controversial practice of attempting to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, following Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, and Taiwan, plus 20 states and some cities in the United States. Studies show that conversion efforts can increase the risk of depression or suicide among young people, and although the therapy has been debunked by experts around the world, the practice remains legal throughout much of Europe. Germany’s new law prohibits conversion therapy advertisements aimed at minors, and makes it illegal to administer to adults who have been forced, tricked, or threatened into seeking services. (CNN, NBC)

5. Africa

Baz Ratner/Reuters/FIle

Black rhinos in Africa, an endangered species, are gradually increasing in number.

Africa’s black rhinos are slowly increasing in number, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Between 2012 and 2018, the population grew by around 785 rhinos. The gradual increase is a result of a number of conservation efforts including stronger law enforcement operations. “It is essential that the ongoing anti-poaching measures and intensive, proactive population management continue, with support from national and international actors,” said Grethel Aguilar, acting director-general of IUCN. Poaching seems to have declined in the past few years, since its peak in 2015 when an average 3.7 rhinos were killed daily. All three subspecies of black rhino are now on the rise. Black rhinos remain critically endangered, however. (The Guardian, IUCN)

A knight in shining kindness

Be flexible. Be bold. Be quicker than you think you can be.

In the COVID-19 era, this is the advice now commonly given to charities and philanthropists. The crisis demands generosity on a mass scale and in creative ways.

And then there’s Capt. Tom Moore, the example of all that.

Or as of May 20, Sir Tom Moore.

The 100-year-old war veteran in Britain has become a global hero for his inspiring spirit of giving, so much so that Queen Elizabeth knighted him Wednesday for his exceptional initiative in fundraising.

In April, Sir Tom set out to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday with the goal of raising $1,250 for health workers in Britain. He was boldly challenging himself to be as flexible at home with a walker as he was challenging others to be flexible and bold in their donations.

He not only completed the laps ahead of time, but also caught the world’s imagination. He ended up raising more than $43 million and counting. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called him “a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus.”

Sir Tom tapped into a rich vein of humanity during a time of great need. “This started as something small and I’ve been overwhelmed by the gratitude and love from the British public and beyond,” he said. “Everybody has some kindness somewhere.”

Around the world, giving of all kinds has shifted into a different gear to respond to the health and economic crisis. Many governments have set up special foundations to funnel private donations into causes that fill the gap in safety nets. Billions of dollars are being raised to find a vaccine for the coronavirus. Food banks around the world report unprecedented demand – and unprecedented giving.

The United Nations estimates that a quarter of a billion people will require urgent food aid by the end of 2020. Billions already need help of some sort as a result of the pandemic and the economic fallout. Those responding to the need must be flexible, bold, and quick.

After Sir Tom thanked the queen for being knighted and the public for its generosity, he wrote on Twitter: “I will remain at your service.”

Indeed, his example can’t help but inspire all of us to greater service.

What are birds doing? David Allen Sibley knows.

Many of us have been homebound this spring, which sharpens the joy of backyard birdwatching. In a season too often defined by isolation, the arrival of a cardinal or blue jay just beyond the window is a hopeful reminder of continuity and connection. Even in the midst of our current troubles, it seems, nature carries on.

It’s in this spirit that “What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing – What Birds Are Doing, and Why,” David Allen Sibley’s new primer on all things ornithological, is likely to find an especially receptive audience right now. Sibley is best known for the series of bird guides he launched in 2000. Like others in the genre, the Sibley guides are small enough to slip into a coat or knapsack. But “What It’s Like to Be a Bird” is a big coffee table book meant for indoors. An afternoon with this sprawling volume on my lap was a lovely way to tolerate a day of social distancing.

The other plus is seeing Sibley, a bird artist as well as a writer, work on a larger scale. Like the late naturalist Roger Tory Peterson, whose field guides defined American ornithology for generations, Sibley has an exacting eye for detail. But to accommodate the miniature format of his identification manuals, Sibley’s bird pictures are usually not much bigger than a postage stamp.

“What It’s Like to Be a Bird,” though, gives Sibley’s artwork ample room to spread its wings. The heads of his snow geese, swans, and ducks seem to approximate life-size, each one rendered in Sibley’s signature gouache technique, a variation of watercolor that shimmers with radiant color. Sibley, like John James Audubon, is especially drawn to the faces of birds, and in his renderings, as in Audubon’s, they look almost human. His roadrunner, dining cheerfully on a lizard, seems as familiar to us as a fellow customer at a neighborhood diner. Sibley’s kingfisher, perched in a posture of expectation on a branch, reminded me of a child waiting for a school bus.

In hinting at human qualities in his birds, is Sibley reflecting reality or distorting it? It’s a question he puts at the center of “What It’s Like to Be a Bird,” which argues that while birds aren’t people, they might be closer to us in the way they think and feel than we often assume. “One of the themes that impressed me … is that a bird’s experience is far richer, more complex, and more ‘thoughtful’ than I’d imagined,” he tells readers.

“Birds are making decisions all the time,” Sibley notes. In building nests, for example, they appear guided not only by instinct, but by an intelligence actively navigating a range of choices. “The chickadee that flies to your birdfeeder and grabs a seed is making choices about which seed to choose, and whether to hide or eat it.”

Originally conceived as a book for children, “What It’s Like to Be a Bird” was eventually reimagined to reach readers of all ages. Happily, its ideal of simplicity remains intact. Unlike “The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior,” a 2001 work that was encyclopedically dense, this new book is a breezy read. It can be dipped into casually, lively facts alighting like sparrows on every page.

We learn, for instance, that birds lose 10% of their body weight each night. “If you ‘ate like a bird,’” Sibley writes, “you might eat more than twenty-five large pizzas each day.” Because water refraction distorts the location of fish, much as a pencil in a glass of water looks bent, egrets must use a complicated stance to correct for the illusion when hunting prey. Doves and pigeons don’t bob their heads because they’re goofy; the head movement is synchronized with their gait to help keep their vision fixed on what they have to see. Birds have another clever trick. “Bird sleep is quite different from ours,” Sibley writes, “and they can put half of their brain to sleep while continuing activity with the other half.”

Should an insight in “What It’s Like to Be a Bird” seem worth revisiting, be sure to bookmark it. Inexplicably, the book has no standard index, which limits its use as a reference work. Maybe that’s forgivable, since the abiding impulse of “What It’s Like to Be a Bird” leans toward pleasure rather than practical application.

In a spring shadowed by the darker mysteries of nature, Sibley’s book is a welcome occasion to connect with the more pleasing puzzle of what our feathered friends are up to. We’ll probably never know exactly what it’s like to be a bird, which is part of their inexhaustible appeal.