Saturday 31 August 2019

‘I understand my wife’s lived experience better’: Meet the men who have taken their wives’ surnames

An estimated 3% of men choose to turn gender stereotyping on its head when they get married. Why – and do any of them regret it?

What’s in a name? While marriages between opposite-sex couples have been in gradual decline in the UK since the 1970s, with nearly 250,000 marriages in England and Wales in 2016, the vast majority of wives still take their husbands’ names. Although there are no statistics available for the UK, only 3% of men in the US changed to their wives’ surnames, a 2016 study found.

For Nick Black, the decision to take his wife’s name was part of a wider refiguring of his family’s identity after he got married last year. “I was never that wedded to my former surname, Earley,” he says. “I’m part of a compound family, and have a sister by birth and two siblings by marriage, so we have always had different names. For me, family isn’t tied to a name. My wife, on the other hand, is from a very small family, and so it was more important to her to keep her name.”
 Jade and Charlie Shaw on their wedding day. Photograph: Jerry Syder

Although Nick’s father was taken aback when Nick first mentioned the name change, and initially responded with silence, he says the ensuing reactions have been generally positive, with his wife’s colleagues even labelling him a “modern man”.

“There’s a bit of wistful sadness to be losing something you’ve had with you for your whole life,” he says. “But now, when I use Black, I get that warm feeling of being reminded that I’m married. It wasn’t a huge leap for me, and I would like to think both partners in a relationship would be respectful of the significance of each other’s names, regardless of any wider gender politics.” However, Nick does think that a new wife being expected to take her husband’s name is a worrying continuation of the notion of possession. “The whole practice is so archaic,” he says. “I didn’t even tell my parents before I asked Laura about it, and I didn’t have any intention of asking her dad, either. It didn’t feel appropriate because it’s a decision for me and her.”

In 2017, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Rachael Robnett, conducted a study into how perceptions of men change based on the names their wives take. The results were, perhaps unsurprisingly, reflective of gender norms. Men whose wives chose to keep their own names were viewed as “timid”, “submissive” and as holding less power within the relationship. “Women are perceived as more powerful if they keep their names, and we were shocked at the pervasiveness of gendered stereotypes when it comes to men,” Robnett says. “It will take a long time for men taking their wives’ names to catch on, as heterosexual traditions are so embedded. You’re more likely to see people turning away from marriage rather than trying to reform the institution itself.”

 Mark Cashion – born Polack – with his wife, Megan. Photograph: Mark Cashion
For 60-year-old Mark Cashion, his former surname made him the butt of taunts for the first half of his life. Born Mark Polack – a pejorative term for Polish immigrants in the US – the link to his father’s Polish heritage is one he had grown to hate because of his name. So when he married Megan 20 years ago, he took her surname.

“My previous name was so preposterous and such a burden, I couldn’t wait to get rid of it,” Mark says. “All my uncles anglicised theirs to Pollock, but my dad was a proud fool and wanted to keep it. I was always Polack at school and that really cut me deeply – it meant I had no positive relationship with this name, and I didn’t have much of a relationship with my father, either. When we got married, it just made much more sense to take my wife’s.”

His family’s reactions to his decision were mixed, though. “Initially, I thought he was joking,” Megan says. “But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. My family has deep roots in our area of New Jersey, and there weren’t any men in my family. So the name would have died if I had changed mine.” Despite being “uber-conservative”, Megan’s father was also OK with the name change. His sister called him a “renaissance man”, although his brother was less flattering at the time. “It felt like such a huge weight had lifted,” says Mark. “I sat at my kitchen table and practised writing my new name, and how I wanted to sign it. Women have been doing this for generations, but I didn’t know how much work it would be: new passport, new bank account, new everything. But it was all worth it.”

Even Mark’s brother had a change of heart, and when his first daughter was born, he gave her his wife’s surname. “What a hypocrite,” Mark laughs.

British-born Adam Kustura met his now-wife, Arnesa, when they were living in the US. After they married, they moved to the UK with Arnesa’s daughter. “It wasn’t meant to be a big statement,” Adam says. “Marriage as an institution is so old-fashioned, but it was a necessity for us – we at least thought we would modernise it somewhat by me taking Arnesa’s name. She is from Bosnia and has strong ties there, so I wanted to take the same name as her and her daughter to make us more of a family unit.”
 ‘I have to spell the name out now …’ Adam and Arnesa Kustura.
Kustura is, in fact, Arnesa’s stepfather’s name; one she adopted in her early 20s. “He shaped my childhood and my persona in many ways,” she says. “When Adam decided to take it, it brought things full circle because he chose it and I chose it, and with it we have been able to forge our own familial identity.” There has also been the unexpected consequence of Adam exchanging his British-sounding birth name – Cross – for the Bosnian one of Kustura, in that people have begun to ask him the eternal immigrant question: “Where are you from?”

“That has been a funny thing, encountering that confusion where people can no longer place me,” he says. “I have to spell the name out now, too, but apart from that, nothing has really changed. If anything, I understand my wife’s lived experience much better.”

For some men, the decision to take their wife’s name begins as an aesthetic one. “Shaw sounded so much cooler than my then name, Morley,” says Charlie Shaw. “My wife, Jade, and I felt the whole tradition of her taking on my name was antiquated, so we wanted to make a stand against that.” Yet, in taking on his wife’s name, Charlie ended up discovering more about his own family identity. “My grandfather actually did the same thing – Morley was his wife’s name, and he took it because he was Greek and at the time, just after the second world war, there was prejudice against Greeks because Greece was Nazi-occupied,” he says. This prompted Charlie to take a DNA test and trace his Greek heritage – the Aspioti family. “I discovered a whole branch of my dad’s side who we didn’t know existed. It led to a big opening up to my familial lineage and tracing back to my great-great-great-grandfather who was a knife thrower – said to be the best in Europe,” he says. “It has been really great for my dad since his died when he was a baby, so somehow taking on my wife’s name has revealed so much of his family to him.”

What is clear is that for these men, the decision to take on their wives’ names is more nuanced than just protesting against patriarchal systems or responding to their wife’s choice to keep her own name – albeit one from her father. “People get roped into traditions that don’t always make much sense,” Mark says. “When the priest announced us at the end of our wedding as Mr and Mrs Cashion, people gasped and thought he had made a terrible mistake. Now, there is a lot more tolerance and understanding of the fact that people should be free to make their own decisions.” Arnesa adds: “Women should do what they feel is best for them. If you want to take your husband’s name, that’s fine, but so is him taking yours or both of you choosing different ones. People make it out to be this hugely important thing when really it’s just a name; it’s what you do with it and how you give it meaning that truly matters.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Friday 30 August 2019

The mystery of the Himalayas’ Skeleton Lake just got weirder

Every summer, hundreds of ancient bones emerge from the ice. A new genetic study helps explain how they got there.

Nestled in the Indian Himalayas, some 16,500 feet above sea level, sits Roopkund Lake. One hundred and thirty feet wide, it is frozen for much of the year, a frosty pond in a lonely, snowbound valley. But on warmer days, it delivers a macabre performance, as hundreds of human skeletons, some with flesh still attached, emerge from what has become known as Skeleton Lake.
Roopkund Lake, in the Indian Himalayas, is frozen for much of the year. But in warmer months it delivers a macabre performance, earning the nickname Skeleton Lake.CreditCreditAtish Waghwase

Who were these individuals, and what befell them? One leading idea was that they died simultaneously in a catastrophic event more than 1,000 years ago. An unpublished anthropological survey from several years ago studied five skeletons and estimated they were 1,200 years old.

But a new genetic analysis carried out by scientists in India, America and Germany has upended that theory. The study, which examined DNA from 38 remains, indicates that there wasn’t just one mass dumping of the dead, but several, spread over a millennium.

The report, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, has led to a “far richer view into the possible histories of this site” than previous efforts provided, said Jennifer Raff, a geneticist and anthropologist at the University of Kansas who was not involved with the work.

Anthropologists have known about Roopkund Lake for several decades, but little was known about the provenance of its skeletons. Rockslides, migrating ice and even human visitors have disturbed and moved the remains, making it difficult to decipher when and how the individuals were buried, much less who they were. “In a case like this, that becomes impossible,” said Cat Jarman, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Bristol in England who was not part of the research team.

Genetic analysis has helped make some sense of the jumble of bones. The researchers, led in part by Niraj Rai, an expert in ancient DNA at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences in India, and David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard University, extracted DNA from the remains of dozens of skeletal samples, and managed to identify 23 males and 15 females.

Based on populations living today, these individuals fit into three distinct genetic groups. Twenty-three, including males and females, had ancestries typical of contemporary South Asians; their remains were deposited at the lake between the 7th and 10th centuries, and not all at once. Some skeletons were more ancient than others, suggesting that many were interred at the lake lifetimes apart.

Human skeletal remains at Roopkund lake. A new genetic study partially identified some of the individuals: young and old, some interred long before others, none of them related.CreditHimadri Sinha Roy
Then, perhaps 1,000 years or so later, sometime between the 17th and 20th centuries, two more genetic groups suddenly appeared within the lake: one individual of East Asian-related ancestry and, curiously, 14 people of eastern Mediterranean ancestry.

How all these individuals met their end is anyone’s guess. There’s no evidence of bacterial infections, so an epidemic was probably not to blame. Perhaps the challenging high-altitude environment proved fatal.

The earlier study, of five skeletal samples, found three with unhealed compression fractures, perhaps inflicted by huge hailstones, although that conclusion is open to debate. In any case, across a range of centuries “it’s hard to believe that each individual died in exactly the same way,” said Éadaoin Harney, a doctoral student at Harvard and the lead author on the study.

The individuals included children and elderly adults, but none were family relatives. Chemical signatures from the skeletons indicate that the individuals had significantly different diets, adding support to the notion that several distinct population groups are represented.

If accounts of their journeys exist somewhere, none have been uncovered so far. “We have searched all the archives, but no such records were found,” said Dr. Rai.

The researchers note that Roopkund Lake is situated on a route known to modern-day Hindu pilgrims, so perhaps some of the South Asian individuals died while taking part. But that is less likely to explain the presence of individuals from the distant eastern Mediterranean.

Perhaps they weren’t actually Mediterranean migrants, Dr. Jarman said. Their genetic ancestry resembles that of present-day people from Greece or Crete, but current distribution may not apply to ancient populations. Regardless, this group came from somewhere far from Roopkund Lake, for reasons unknown.

Maybe the site held significance for groups with various religious beliefs, said Dr. Jarman. Maybe some of the skeletons were brought for burial, possibly to be left in the lake. Or maybe there were ill-fated explorers — driven by a desire to see a spectacular mountain range, killed by their own curiosity.

A few answers have begun to emerge, at least. Archaeology is full of such enigmatic sites, Dr. Reich said, and when science comes along and digs in, “it enriches the story in immeasurable ways.”

(Source: NYT)

Thursday 29 August 2019

Nigeria goes three years without a case of polio

Nigeria has gone three years without a case of polio, putting it on the brink of being declared free of the disease.

This is a dramatic change from 2012 when the country accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide, the World Health Organization has said.

The head of the primary health care agency, Dr Faisal Shuaib, said Nigeria had reached a "historic milestone".

But it will be several months before the country can officially be labelled polio-free.
Polio can only be prevented through immunisation

The first criteria, no case for three years, has been achieved.

But now the WHO needs to make sure there is a robust surveillance system in Nigeria to be certain that there are no further cases of the wild polio virus, chairman of Nigeria's polio committee, Dr Tunji Funsho, told BBC Newsday.

Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have witnessed a case of polio - in Borno state, in the north-east. Outside of Nigeria, the last case on the continent was in the Puntland region of Somalia, in 2014.

Insecurity in the north-east of Nigeria had hindered the polio vaccination programme, but success in fighting the Boko Haram militant group has been cited as one of the reasons behind getting polio under control.

In addition, officials have said that political support and an injection of funds have also helped.

In 2018, there was a total of 33 polio cases confined to just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

An achievement for Africa
Anne Soy, BBC News, Nairobi

This is not just a milestone for Nigeria but also for the rest of Africa.

The newly re-appointed WHO Africa head Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the continent is "on the verge of an extraordinary public health achievement; one which will be our legacy to our children and children's children".

But health experts urge caution.

They must first be sure that every part of the continent has been reached and no cases have been missed.

For now, there are renewed calls to vaccinate children against polio.
Health workers have been vaccinating people against polio across northern Nigeria

It has taken the effort of thousands of volunteers who have risked their lives in some instances to deliver the much-needed vaccines to all parts of the continent.

But "to end polio, at least 95% of children must be vaccinated, no matter where they live," says WHO head of polio eradication Michel Zaffran.

What is polio?

  • Polio, or poliomyelitis, mainly affects children aged under five
  • It is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours
  • Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pains in the limbs
  • One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised
  • Today, only two countries - Afghanistan and Pakistan - remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988

Source: World Health Organization

(Source: BBC)

Trump could win again

He’s unpopular, scandalous, and a bigot, and we may be sliding into a recession. But that might not matter.

here are many reasons President Donald Trump might lose reelection in 2020. He is deeply unpopular. Most Americans abhor his bigotry. His administration has been plagued by all manner of scandals. He has failed to live up to his many grandiloquent promises. The country may be sliding into a recession.

Put all of this together, and it’s easy to imagine Democrats riding a big blue wave to the White House next year. But I fear that it is somewhat more likely that Trump will be able to declare victory on November 3, 2020.

Trump’s approval ratings are the most commonly used metric for how likely he is to win reelection. At first sight, they hold a lot of comfort for the president’s opponents. According to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, for example, more Americans believe he is doing a poor job as president than believe he is doing a good one: About 54 percent disapprove of his performance. Only 42 percent approve of it.

Not only is Trump very unpopular, but his unpopularity is also unlikely to reverse anytime soon. After all, his approval ratings have continually been underwater since the second month of his presidency, and have fluctuated remarkably little since then.

But Trump’s persistent unpopularity is not nearly as big a bar to reelection as many assume. It’s striking, for example, that Trump’s approval ratings are, at this point, very similar to those of two recent presidents who went on to win reelection by resounding margins. While 42 percent approve of Trump’s job performance, just 43 percent approved of both Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan at the same stage in their first terms.

What’s more, Trump actually appears to be more popular today than he was on the day he beat Hillary Clinton. We can get a sense of how his standing with the public has evolved since the 2016 campaign by looking at his personal favorability ratings. An average of 41 percent of Americans now say they have a good impression of him, while an average of 55 percent say they have a bad impression, for a negative balance of 14 percent. In the last polls taken before the 2016 election, an average of 38 percent of Americans saw Trump favorably, and an average of 59 percent unfavorably, for a negative balance of 21 percent.

Since an election is a choice rather than a referendum, it is misleading to focus primarily on an incumbent’s approval ratings. In 2016, Trump was elected despite being deeply unpopular for the simple reason that his opponent was also deeply unpopular. For Trump to lose his bid for reelection in 2020, voters don’t just need to dislike him; they need to dislike somebody else less. Is that likely to be the case?

The obvious way to gauge how Trump fares compared with his competitors is to ask Americans whom they intend to vote for in a direct matchup. As of now, such general-election polls show a mixed picture. Joe Biden handily beats Trump. Bernie Sanders also tends to lead Trump, albeit by a considerably smaller margin. But all the other major candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg, tend to run head-to-head with the president: While they narrowly lead Trump in many polls, they trail him in many others.

As Nate Silver has shown, it would be a serious mistake to assume that head-to-head polls taken at this early stage are a reliable guide to the future. After all, polls taken at the end of the year preceding presidential elections have, on average, been about 11 points off the final tally.

It would also, however, be foolish to disregard head-to-head polls completely. As partisanship has deepened over the past decades, early polls have come to be more accurate. In the five elections since the turn of the millennium, they have been off by an average of 6 percent; in the past two elections, they have been off only by an average of 2 percent. While these polls cannot predict the future, they provide an important check on our intuitions.

What we know so far is perfectly compatible with Democrats winning a resounding victory or Trump securing reelection by a comfortable margin. Right now, public opinion gives, at best, a very small advantage in the national vote to Democrats. Since the electoral college is, as in 2016, more likely to favor Trump than his opponent, that is very cold comfort.

A lot can change—in either direction. But there is one final reason to think the president’s chances of reelection are better than meets the eye.

Trump is a known quantity. After three years in which Democrats have—for good reason—attacked him from every possible angle, it is difficult to imagine that they might suddenly succeed in changing how most Americans feel about him. What new angle of attack is supposed to turn against Trump voters who have so far stuck with him?

By contrast, so far Republicans have not had the need or the occasion to concentrate their attacks on any one of the 16 Democrats running for the party’s nomination. Once they do, they are likely to decrease the popularity of whoever ends up emerging as the victor.

This is especially true if the eventual Democratic nominee has come to national prominence only over the past few years—for instance, Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg. But the conservative attack machine might also affect opinions about candidates who have been in the public eye for much longer, such as Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. Remember, when Clinton stepped down as secretary of state, in February 2013, nearly two-thirds of Americans had a favorable view of her. By the fall of 2016, when she was the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency, just over one-third of Americans retained a positive view.

Since 1945, nine presidents have sought a second term in office. Of these, six were reelected. Two of the remaining three, George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford, had succeeded presidents of their own political party, so they were essentially seeking a third or fourth term in office. The only president to lose a bid for reelection after winning power from the opposite party was Jimmy Carter—and he was facing unusually heavy headwinds due to a combination of an economic crisis at home and national humiliation abroad.

Trump is, of course, an abnormal president. And so it is perfectly possible that he will, in the end, also prove abnormal in a more prosaic way—by losing his bid for reelection.

But what is eminently possible need not be likely.

(Source: The Atlantic)

Shipping containers used to house homeless children

More than 210,000 children are estimated to be homeless, with some being temporarily housed in converted shipping containers, a report says.

The Children's Commissioner for England says that as well as the 124,000 children officially homeless, a further 90,000 are estimated to be "sofa-surfing".

Her report tells of families housed in repurposed shipping containers and office blocks, and whole families living in tiny spaces.

Councils blamed a £159m funding gap.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said anyone who feels they have been placed in unsuitable accommodation should request a review.

'Blisteringly hot'
The report, entitled Bleak Houses, found the use of shipping containers as temporary accommodation was leading to cramped conditions and inhospitable temperatures.

One mother told the report's authors she had to sleep with the front door wide open in the summer and her baby got heat rash - but in winter it was too cold.

Often, the units have not been properly designed with children in mind, the report found, with ovens and other dangers too close to the ground and in reach of very young children.

The Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, who visited children affected by homelessness, said it was sad and surprising to learn of the new developments councils were turning to in order to deal with the problem.

"Office block conversions, in which whole families live in single rooms barely bigger than a parking space, and shipping containers which are blisteringly hot in summer and freezing in the winter months," she said.

The report does not contain data on how many councils are using shipping containers to house families, but it said areas where this happens include Brighton, Cardiff, Ealing, in west London, and Bristol.

Bristol City Council said it did not direct families to the containers and only provided land for them, and the units were instead operated by a charity.

The Children's Commissioner also expressed concern about families living in converted offices.

In Harlow, Essex, 13 office blocks have been converted into more than 1,000 individual flats.

In one such building, Templefields House, some units measure 18 sq m and are being used to house whole families, with parents and children sleeping in a single room also used as the kitchen.

The average size of a home in England and Wales is 90 sq m.

In the area surrounding another building, Terminus House, also in Harlow, crime rose by 20% in the first 10 months after tenants moved there in April 2018.

Office block conversions are often located on or near industrial estates, presenting risks to safety, and are far away from shops and other amenities.

Living in the developments can also be a "stigmatising experience", the report said, with children being referred to as "office block kids".

This was "compounding their sense of isolation and difference to their peers".

B&Bs are also being used as temporary accommodation, creating "intimidating and potentially unsafe environments" for children.

The bathrooms in B&Bs are often shared with other residents and vulnerable adults, including those with mental health or drug abuse problems.

Ealing Council, which has converted shipping containers into temporary housing, says the accommodation is much better than standard B&Bs with shared facilities.

It says it has been pushed into using novel solutions because of the wider housing crisis.

Of the 2,420 families known to be living in B&Bs in December 2018, a third had been there for more than six weeks - despite this being unlawful.

Analysis in the report, released on Wednesday, found that in 2017, around two in five children in temporary accommodation had been there for at least six months.

Around one in 20 - an estimated 6,000 children - had been there for at least a year.

The figures used for the analysis of those in temporary accommodation relate to the end of 2018, while the number of those estimated to be sofa-surfing are taken from an official household survey for the year 2016-17.

At risk
The report warns that a further 375,000 children in England are in households that have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments.

This means thousands more are at financial risk of becoming homeless in the future.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing and homelessness charity, Shelter, said no child should be spending months, if not years, living in a shipping container, office block or emergency B&B.

She said the charity constantly heard of struggling families being forced to accept "downright dangerous accommodation" because they had nowhere else to go.

She said housing benefit must be increased urgently and that three million more social homes needed to be built.

Local Government Association housing spokesman Martin Tett said councils desperately wanted to find every family a secure home.

"However, the severe lack of social rented homes available in which to house families means councils have no choice but to place households in temporary accommodation."

He highlighted a £159m funding gap in councils' homelessness services budgets, and urged the government to fund and give back councils their historic role of building homes with the right infrastructure required.

The DCLG spokesman said the government had invested £1.2bn to tackle all types of homelessness which had helped reduce the number of families in B&B accommodation.

(Source: BBC)

Emperor Showa prevented from expressing remorse over war in '52, newly disclosed documents reveal

Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa, wanted to express his regret and remorse over World War II in 1952 but was stopped from doing so by the prime minister at the time, newly disclosed documents showed Monday.

The records detailing exchanges between the emperor and Michiji Tajima, the first grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, provide further evidence to support the view that the emperor may have sought to apologize over the war.

The documents, disclosed by public broadcaster NHK, which obtained 18 notebooks from Tajima’s family, showed the emperor saying on Jan. 11, 1952, “I just think I really need to include the word remorse” in a speech during a ceremony in May that year to mark Japan’s regaining of independence.

An item dated Feb. 20 the same year also quoted the emperor as saying, “If we reflect, we have all done bad things, so please write well and include in the upcoming speech the meaning that we must all reflect and not repeat them.”

But Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who was consulted by Tajima, opposed the emperor’s plan to publicly express regret and remorse, saying it could prompt people to say he was responsible for starting the war.

Yoshida also said he no longer wanted the emperor to mention the war or Japan’s defeat.

His opinion was passed on to the emperor through Tajima, and the subsequent speech delivered by the emperor at the ceremony did not include the words regret or remorse.

The documents also showed the emperor reflecting on the path toward Japan’s defeat, saying “no one could stop the military,” particularly by the time Hideki Tojo was serving as the country’s prime minister.

Tajima was chief of the imperial household office from 1949 to 1953. In his notebooks, he wrote down details of conversations with the emperor during his service.

Under the prewar Meiji Constitution, the emperor, once considered divine, had supreme control of the army and navy. The emperor today is defined under the postwar Constitution as “the symbol of the state” with no political power.

In 2003, a draft of an apology speech believed to have been in preparation for Emperor Showa after the war was discovered by former Sophia University lecturer Kyoko Kato when she was going through documents left by Tajima.

The draft speech, which mentions “deep shame” due to “my fault,” was estimated to have been written around the autumn of 1948, and indicated that he may have been planning to admit responsibility for the war and apologize to the Japanese people.

A slew of other documents, including diaries of the emperor’s close aides, have shown the emperor was uneasy with Japan’s drift to war but was too weak to alter the course of events, and was in anguish in his final years for being blamed for his role in the war.

A diary of late chamberlain Shinobu Kobayashi revealed in 2018 that the aging emperor was haunted by talk of his wartime responsibility following the war.

The emperor said during his final years that he did not wish to live much longer as he would only experience more anguish at sad events and being blamed for his role in the war.

“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload. It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing,” the emperor was quoted as saying in a diary entry dated April 7, 1987.

Emperor Showa fell ill during a party celebrating his birthday on April 29, 1987. Although he recovered after undergoing an operation, he died on Jan. 7, 1989.

(Source: JT)

How life became an endless, terrible competition

Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.

n the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.

Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.

Today’s meritocrats still claim to get ahead through talent and effort, using means open to anyone. In practice, however, meritocracy now excludes everyone outside of a narrow elite. Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale collectively enroll more students from households in the top 1 percent of the income distribution than from households in the bottom 60 percent. Legacy preferences, nepotism, and outright fraud continue to give rich applicants corrupt advantages. But the dominant causes of this skew toward wealth can be traced to meritocracy. On average, children whose parents make more than $200,000 a year score about 250 points higher on the SAT than children whose parents make $40,000 to $60,000. Only about one in 200 children from the poorest third of households achieves SAT scores at Yale’s median. Meanwhile, the top banks and law firms, along with other high-paying employers, recruit almost exclusively from a few elite colleges.

Hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity. According to one study, only one out of every 100 children born into the poorest fifth of households, and fewer than one out of every 50 children born into the middle fifth, will join the top 5 percent. Absolute economic mobility is also declining—the odds that a middle-class child will outearn his parents have fallen by more than half since mid-century—and the drop is greater among the middle class than among the poor. Meritocracy frames this exclusion as a failure to measure up, adding a moral insult to economic injury.

Public anger over economic inequality frequently targets meritocratic institutions. Nearly three-fifths of Republicans believe that colleges and universities are bad for America, according to the Pew Research Center. The intense and widespread fury generated by the college-admissions scandal early this year tapped into a deep and broad well of resentment. This anger is warranted but also distorting. Outrage at nepotism and other disgraceful forms of elite advantage-taking implicitly valorizes meritocratic ideals. Yet meritocracy itself is the bigger problem, and it is crippling the American dream. Meritocracy has created a competition that, even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.

But what, exactly, have the rich won? Even meritocracy’s beneficiaries now suffer on account of its demands. It ensnares the rich just as surely as it excludes the rest, as those who manage to claw their way to the top must work with crushing intensity, ruthlessly exploiting their expensive education in order to extract a return.

No one should weep for the wealthy. But the harms that meritocracy imposes on them are both real and important. Diagnosing how meritocracy hurts elites kindles hope for a cure. We are accustomed to thinking that reducing inequality requires burdening the rich. But because meritocratic inequality does not in fact serve anyone well, escaping meritocracy’s trap would benefit virtually everyone.

Elites first confront meritocratic pressures in early childhood. Parents—sometimes reluctantly, but feeling that they have no alternative—sign their children up for an education dominated not by experiments and play but by the accumulation of the training and skills, or human capital, needed to be admitted to an elite college and, eventually, to secure an elite job. Rich parents in cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco now commonly apply to 10 kindergartens, running a gantlet of essays, appraisals, and interviews—all designed to evaluate 4-year-olds. Applying to elite middle and high schools repeats the ordeal. Where aristocratic children once reveled in their privilege, meritocratic children now calculate their future—they plan and they scheme, through rituals of stage-managed self-presentation, in familiar rhythms of ambition, hope, and worry.

Schools encourage children to operate in this way. At one elite northeastern elementary school, for example, a teacher posted a “problem of the day,” which students had to solve before going home, even though no time was set aside for working on it. The point of the exercise was to train fifth graders to snatch a few extra minutes of work time by multitasking or by sacrificing recess.

Such demands exact a toll. Elite middle and high schools now commonly require three to five hours of homework a night; epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned of schoolwork-induced sleep deprivation. Wealthy students show higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than poor students do. They also suffer depression and anxiety at rates as much as triple those of their age peers throughout the country. A recent study of a Silicon Valley high school found that 54 percent of students displayed moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80 percent displayed moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

These students nevertheless have good reason to push themselves as they do. Elite universities that just a few decades ago accepted 30 percent of their applicants now accept less than 10 percent. The shift at certain institutions has been even more dramatic: The University of Chicago admitted 71 percent of its applicants as recently as 1995. In 2019 it admitted less than 6 percent.

The contest intensifies when meritocrats enter the workplace, where elite opportunity is exceeded only by the competitive effort required to grasp it. A person whose wealth and status depend on her human capital simply cannot afford to consult her own interests or passions in choosing her job. Instead, she must approach work as an opportunity to extract value from her human capital, especially if she wants an income sufficient to buy her children the type of schooling that secured her own eliteness. She must devote herself to a narrowly restricted class of high-paying jobs, concentrated in finance, management, law, and medicine. Whereas aristocrats once considered themselves a leisure class, meritocrats work with unprecedented intensity.

In 1962, when many elite lawyers earned roughly a third of what they do today, the American Bar Association could confidently declare, “There are … approximately 1,300 fee-earning hours per year” available to the normal lawyer. In 2000, by contrast, a major law firm pronounced with equal confidence that a quota of 2,400 billable hours, “if properly managed,” was “not unreasonable,” which is a euphemism for “necessary for having a hope of making partner.” Because not all the hours a lawyer works are billable, billing 2,400 hours could easily require working from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. six days a week, every week of the year, without vacation or sick days. In finance, “bankers’ hours”—originally named for the 10-to-3 business day fixed by banks from the 19th century through the mid-20th century and later used to refer more generally to any light work—have given way to the ironically named “banker 9-to-5,” which begins at 9 a.m. on one day and runs through 5 a.m. on the next. Elite managers were once “organization men,” cocooned by lifelong employment in a corporate hierarchy that rewarded seniority above performance. Today, the higher a person climbs on the org chart, the harder she is expected to work. Amazon’s “leadership principles” call for managers to have “relentlessly high standards” and to “deliver results.” The company tells managers that when they “hit the wall” at work, the only solution is to “climb the wall.”

Americans who work more than 60 hours a week report that they would, on average, prefer 25 fewer weekly hours. They say this because work subjects them to a “time famine” that, a 2006 study found, interferes with their capacity to have strong relationships with their spouse and children, to maintain their home, and even to have a satisfying sex life. A respondent to a recent Harvard Business School survey of executives proudly insisted, “The 10 minutes that I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.” Ten minutes!

The capacity to bear these hours gracefully, or at least grimly, has become a criterion for meritocratic success. A top executive at a major firm, interviewed by the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild for her book The Time Bind, observed that aspiring managers who have demonstrated their skills and dedication face a “final elimination”: “Some people flame out, get weird because they work all the time … The people at the top are very smart, work like crazy, and don’t flame out. They’re still able to maintain a good mental set, and keep their family life together. They win the race.”

A person who extracts income and status from his own human capital places himself, quite literally, at the disposal of others—he uses himself up. Elite students desperately fear failure and crave the conventional markers of success, even as they see through and publicly deride mere “gold stars” and “shiny things.” Elite workers, for their part, find it harder and harder to pursue genuine passions or gain meaning through their work. Meritocracy traps entire generations inside demeaning fears and inauthentic ambitions: always hungry but never finding, or even knowing, the right food.

The elite should not—they have no right to—expect sympathy from those who remain excluded from the privileges and benefits of high caste. But ignoring how oppressive meritocracy is for the rich is a mistake. The rich now dominate society not idly but effortfully. The familiar arguments that once defeated aristocratic inequality do not apply to an economic system based on rewarding effort and skill. The relentless work of the hundred-hour-a-week banker inoculates her against charges of unearned advantage. Better, then, to convince the rich that all their work isn’t actually paying off.

They may need less convincing than you might think. As the meritocracy trap closes in around elites, the rich themselves are turning against the prevailing system. Plaintive calls for work/life balance ring ever louder. Roughly two-thirds of elite workers say that they would decline a promotion if the new job demanded yet more of their energy. When he was the dean of Stanford Law School, Larry Kramer warned graduates that lawyers at top firms are caught in a seemingly endless cycle: Higher salaries require more billable hours to support them, and longer hours require yet higher salaries to justify them. Whose interests, he lamented, does this system serve? Does anyone really want it?

Escaping the meritocracy trap will not be easy. Elites naturally resist policies that threaten to undermine their advantages. But it is simply not possible to get rich off your own human capital without exploiting yourself and impoverishing your inner life, and meritocrats who hope to have their cake and eat it too deceive themselves. Building a society in which a good education and good jobs are available to a broader swath of people—so that reaching the very highest rungs of the ladder is simply less important—is the only way to ease the strains that now drive the elite to cling to their status.

How can that be done? For one thing, education—whose benefits are concentrated in the extravagantly trained children of rich parents—must become open and inclusive. Private schools and universities should lose their tax-exempt status unless at least half of their students come from families in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution. And public subsidies should encourage schools to meet this requirement by expanding enrollment.

A parallel policy agenda must reform work, by favoring goods and services produced by workers who do not have elaborate training or fancy degrees. For example, the health-care system should emphasize public health, preventive care, and other measures that can be overseen primarily by nurse practitioners, rather than high-tech treatments that require specialist doctors. The legal system should deploy “legal technicians”—not all of whom would need to have a J.D.—to manage routine matters, such as real-estate transactions, simple wills, and even uncontested divorces. In finance, regulations that limit exotic financial engineering and favor small local and regional banks can shift jobs to mid-skilled workers. And management should embrace practices that distribute control beyond the C-suite, to empower everyone else in the firm.

The main obstacle to overcoming meritocratic inequality is not technical but political. Today’s conditions induce discontent and widespread pessimism, verging on despair. In his book Oligarchy, the political scientist Jeffrey A. Winters surveys eras in human history from the classical period to the 20th century, and documents what becomes of societies that concentrate income and wealth in a narrow elite. In almost every instance, the dismantling of such inequality has been accompanied by societal collapse, such as military defeat (as in the Roman empire) or revolution (as in France and Russia).

Nevertheless, there are grounds for hope. History does present one clear-cut case of an orderly recovery from concentrated inequality: In the 1920s and ’30s, the U.S. answered the Great Depression by adopting the New Deal framework that would eventually build the mid-century middle class. Crucially, government redistribution was not the primary engine of this process. The broadly shared prosperity that this regime established came, mostly, from an economy and a labor market that promoted economic equality over hierarchy—by dramatically expanding access to education, as under the GI Bill, and then placing mid-skilled, middle-class workers at the center of production.

An updated version of these arrangements remains available today; a renewed expansion of education and a renewed emphasis on middle-class jobs can reinforce each other. The elite can reclaim its leisure in exchange for a reduction of income and status that it can easily afford. At the same time, the middle class can regain its income and status and reclaim the center of American life.

Rebuilding a democratic economic order will be difficult. But the benefits that economic democracy brings—to everyone—justify the effort. And the violent collapse that will likely follow from doing nothing leaves us with no good alternative but to try.

(Source: The Atlantic)

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Trump ‘suggested firing nuclear weapons at hurricanes to stop them hitting US’, report claims

‘Needless to say, this is not a good idea...’

Donald Trump suggested firing nuclear weapons into hurricanes to prevent them hitting the US, reports in Washington claim.

The president is said to have raised the idea of bombing hurricanes with senior Homeland Security and national security officials on numerous occasions, dating back as far as 2017.

“I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” one source told US news website Axios the president had asked during a hurricane briefing at the White House.

The source said the briefer was “knocked back on his heels” as Mr Trump went on to suggest dropping a nuclear bomb in the eye of an off-shore hurricane would disrupt its formation.

“People were astonished,” the source added. “After the meeting ended, we thought, ‘What the f***? What do we do with this?’”

The briefer is said to have told the president they would “look into” the possibility.

Later, other officials were also reportedly briefed on the president’s remarks, which were recorded in a National Security Council (NSC) memorandum.

Another NSC memo from 2017 also reportedly details Mr Trump asking whether hurricanes could be bombed with conventional weapons in order to prevent them hitting the US.

“His goal – to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland – is not bad,” another senior White House official, who had been briefed on the president’s remarks told Axios. “His objective is not bad.”

Far from being a revolutionary, the idea of using nuclear weapons against hurricanes has a remarkably long history.

As far back at the late Fifties, scientists and government agencies in the US had floated proposals for exploding nuclear devices to break up large storms.

In 1959, meteorologist Jack W Reed suggested submarines could be used to launch warheads into the eye of a hurricane, one of several “peaceful” applications he imagined for nuclear weapons.

Today’s meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) however have less enthusiasm for nuking weather systems.

“Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems,” NOAA says on its website.

“Needless to say, this is not a good idea.”

Mr Trump later tweeted: "The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!"

(Source: Independent

Nuclear weapons and hurricanes don't mix, NOAA advises

Using nuclear weapons to destroy hurricanes is not a good idea, a US scientific agency has said, following reports that President Donald Trump wanted to explore the option.

The Axios news website said Mr Trump had asked several national security officials about the possibility.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the results would be "devastating".
Hurricane Florence battered the US East Coast last year

Mr Trump has denied making the suggestion.

Hurricanes typically affect the US east coast, often causing serious damage.

It's not the first time the idea has been considered.

Following reports of Mr Trump's suggestion, the hashtag #ThatsHowTheApocalyseStarted has been trending on Twitter.

What effect would nuking a hurricane have?
Mr Trump asked why the US couldn't drop a bomb into the eye of the storm to stop it from making landfall, news site Axios said.

The NOAA says that using nuclear weapons on a hurricane "might not even alter the storm" and the "radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas".

The difficulty with using explosives to change hurricanes, it says, is the amount of energy needed.

The heat release of a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes.

Even though the mechanical energy of a bomb is closer to that of the storm, "the task of focusing even half of the energy on a spot in the middle of a remote ocean would be formidable", it adds.

"Attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a chance to grow into hurricanes isn't promising either," says the NOAA.

"About 80 of these disturbances form every year in the Atlantic basin but only about five become hurricanes in a typical year. There is no way to tell in advance which ones will develop."

How long has this idea been around?
The idea of bombing a hurricane has been around since the 1950s when the suggestion was originally made by a government scientist.

During a speech at the National Press Club in 1961, Francis Riechelderfer, head of the US Weather Bureau, said he could "imagine the possibility of someday exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea".

The Weather Bureau would only begin acquiring nuclear weapons when "we know what we're doing", he added, according to National Geographic.

The NOAA says the idea is often suggested during hurricane season.

George Washington University Professor Sharon Squassoni says the idea stems from the Plowshares Program of the 1950s when a "laundry list of different weird... fantastical, slightly crazy" uses for nuclear weapons was devised by government researchers.

In nearly 20 years, the US exploded 31 warheads in 27 tests in order to test whether America's nuclear arsenal could be used to excavate canals or mines, or create a harbour for ships.

As the dangers of radiation became more clear, the notion was dropped, Prof Squassoni tells BBC News, adding that current international treaties would ban the US from exploding a nuclear weapon in a hurricane.

Several other outlandish ideas have been floated in recent years, including one Facebook event calling for US gun owners to "shoot down" Hurricane Irma in 2017 with bullets and flamethrowers.

The event attracted 55,000 people to sign up and was taken seriously enough by one Florida sheriff that he issued a stern warning on Twitter saying: "You won't make it turn around & it will have very dangerous side effects."

When is the US hurricane season?
The Atlantic Hurricane season runs from 1 June until the end of November. The peak of the season comes in September when sea temperatures are at their highest.

Tropical Storm Dorian is currently swirling towards the Caribbean islands and is forecast to become a hurricane by Tuesday, and will threaten the US island territory of Puerto Rico in the coming days.

When asked for a comment by BBC News, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the agency is focused on Dorian and deferred questions on the "topic of hurricanes and nukes" to the NOAA guidelines.

The NOAA warned earlier this month that conditions were now more favourable for above-normal hurricane activity. It is predicting between 10 and 17 named storms, of which 5-9 will become hurricanes, including 2-4 major hurricanes.

Four named storms have formed so far this year. They were Andrea, Barry, Chantal and Dorian.

(Source: BBC)

Amazon fires: What is happening and is there anything we can do?

Why people should be worried about the blazes and increased deforestation in Brazil

What is happening in the Amazon?
Thousands of fires are burning in Brazil, many of them in the world’s biggest rainforest, which is sending clouds of smoke across the region and pumping alarming quantities of carbon into the world’s atmosphere.

Does this happen every year?
Yes, but some areas have suffered far more than usual. In the worst-affected Brazilian state of Amazonas, the peak day this month was 700% higher than the average for the same date over the past 15 years. In other states, the amount of ash and other particulates in August has hit the highest level since 2010.

What is the cause?
Most of the fires are agricultural, either smallholders burning stubble after harvest, or farmers clearing forest for cropland. Illegal land-grabbers also destroy trees so they can raise the value of the property they seize. But they are manmade and mostly deliberate. Unlike the huge recent blazes in Siberia and Alaska, the Amazon fires are very unlikely to have been caused by lightning.
 A satellite image shows smoke rising from Amazon forest fires in Rondônia state, Brazil. Photograph: Reuters

Is the entire forest ablaze?
No. Satellite monitoring experts say the images of an entire forest ablaze are exaggerated. A great deal of misinformation has been spread by social media, including the use of striking images from previous years’ burning seasons. This week, there are more large fires in Colombia and eastern Brazil than in the Amazon. Most of the agricultural burn-offs are in deforested areas. But there are also fires in protected reserves.

Do we need to worry about oxygen?
No. Although some reports have claimed the Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, it is not clear where this figure originated. The true figure is likely to be no more than 6%, according to climate scientists such as Michael Mann and Jonathan Foley. Even if it were accurate, the crops being planted in the cleared forest areas would also produce oxygen – quite likely at higher levels. So although the burning of the rainforest is worrying for many reasons, there is no need to worry about an oxygen shortage.

So should we still be concerned?
Extremely. The fires are mostly illegal and they are degrading the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon sink and most important home for biodiversity. They also contribute to a more important trend, which is an alarming rise in deforestation. Scientists say the Amazon is approaching a tipping point, after which it will irreversibly degrade into a dry savannah. At a time when the world needs billions more trees to absorb carbon and stabilise the climate, the planet is losing its biggest rainforest.

How much forest is being lost?
In July, deforestation spiked to a level not seen in more than a decade. According to preliminary satellite data from Brazil’s space agency, trees were being cleared at the rate of five football pitches every minute. Over the single month, 2,254 sq km (870 sq miles) were lost, a rise of 278% on the same month last year. Scientists say this year could be the first for 10 years in which 10,000 sq km of Amazon are lost.

The situation was far worse in the 1990s and early 2000s. But Brazil won international kudos after that by slowing deforestation by 80% between 2005 and 2014. This was done with strict monitoring, better policing and stiffer penalties. But that system has been eroded in recent years and many fear a return to the alarming levels of forest loss that occurred two decades ago.

Is this the fault of the Brazilian president?
Jair Bolsonaro has made things a lot worse by weakening the environment agency, attacking conservation NGOs and promoting the opening of the Amazon to mining, farming and logging. The far-right leader has dismissed satellite data on deforestation and fired the head of the space agency. But it is not solely his fault. The agricultural lobby is powerful in Brazil and it has steadily eroded the protection system that was so successful from 2005-2014. Deforestation crept up in the past five years under the previous presidents Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer. The rate has accelerated rapidly in the first eight months of Bolsonaro’s rule. But this is not just about him, politics or Brazil. There are also huge fires in Bolivia, which has a leftwing populist president.

What is the outside world doing?
The UN secretary general and many world leaders and celebrities have expressed concern. The Amazon will be high on the agenda for G7 leaders at a summit in France this weekend. They are likely to make a strong statement condemning the recent increase in deforestation and urge Brazil to restore the Amazon protections that previously made the country a global environmental leader.

Is that enough?
No. The priority should be building a buffer against the tipping point and drawing down emissions, which means not just protection of the Amazon but massive reforestation. This will require far more financial support than anything seen until now. For this to be effective, governments will also need to align their environment and trade policies. Currently countries like the UK spend small sums on overseas conservation, then promote billions of dollars worth of trade in beef, soy, timber, minerals and other products that undermine Amazon protection efforts. Politicians should also listen more to the voices of the people who live in the forest, such as indigenous groups and riverine communities.

What can individuals do?
The most important actions are political and collective. Join a party or campaign group that makes the Amazon a priority. Through these groups, urge your elected representatives to block trade deals with countries that destroy their forests and to provide more support for countries that expand tree cover.

Apart from this, donate to organisations that support the forest, forest dwellers and biodiversity, including Instituto Socioambiental, Amazon Watch, WWF, Greenpeace, Imazon, International Rivers and Friends of the Earth.

As consumers, think twice before buying Brazilian beef or other products unless certified by groups such as Rainforest Alliance. The Amazon connection is not always obvious.

(Source: The Guardian)

Amazon fires: Angola and DR Congo 'have more blazes'

The severity of fires in the Amazon has prompted a global outcry. But, amid the protest, some are questioning how this compares with the rest of the world, with surprising results.

The issue has got people checking out Nasa's maps of fires around the world. When you look at the map from Sunday, it clearly shows more fires burning in central Africa.

Over a period of two days last week Angola had roughly three times more fires than Brazil, according to data Bloomberg news agency obtained from Weather Source.

The data said there were 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 fires in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, compared with just 2,127 fires in Brazil.

This has shocked many on Twitter.

A Brazilian tweeter hit out at French President Emmanuel Macron, who described the fires in the Amazon as an "international crisis", accusing him of ignoring blazes in Africa.

On Monday Mr Macron announced that the leaders of the G7 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US - would release $22m (£18m) to help fight fires in the Amazon rainforest.

But then he drew attention to the African fires.

"The forest is also burning in sub-Saharan Africa" he tweeted.

Mr Macron added that he was "considering the possibility of launching a similar initiative" in sub-Saharan African to that announced for the Amazon.

The vital bits of information the maps from Nasa do not show is whether they are grassland or forest fires and how big the fires are.

Observers point to similar fires two years ago which, Nasa said, appeared to have been started on purpose.

The suggestion is that farmers have cut down some of the vegetation and set fire to the rest in order to clear the land to plant crops.

The farming technique, known as slash and burn, is controversial as environmentalists warn it can lead to deforestation, soil erosion and a loss of biodiversity.

But it is the cheapest way to clear land, has the advantage of killing disease and the ash provides nutrients for future crops.

So burning fields remains popular among farmers.

It happens every year ahead of the rainy season, which is expected to start in Angola and DR Congo in the next month or so. This could go some way to explaining why the fires have not attracted much attention.

(Source: BBC

Brazil’s President is actively trying to destroy Amazon rain forest, leaked documents show

The documents show arguments put forward by Jair Bolsonaro that a strong government presence in the Amazon region is important to prevent any conservation projects going forward.

Intending to build bridges, motorways, and a hydroelectric plant in the rainforest, the Brazilian government hopes to ‘fight off international pressure’ to protect the Amazon, according to the leaked information.

As reported by The Independent, the plans were leaked to political website openDemocracy and include PowerPoint slides believed to have been presented at a meeting in February between Brazilian government officials and local leaders in Para state, which is home to the Amazonia National Park.

During the meeting, Brazilian ministers put forward projects planned for the region by President Bolsonaro’s government, with one slide mentioning a priority to strategically occupy the rainforest.

The slide reads, as per openDemocracy:

Development projects must be implemented on the Amazon basin to integrate it into the rest of the national territory in order to fight off international pressure for the implementation of the so-called ‘Triple A’ project.

To do this, it is necessary to build the Trombetas River hydroelectric plant, the Óbidos bridge over the Amazon River, and the implementation of the BR-163 highway to the border with Suriname.

The ‘Triple A’ (Andes, Amazon and Atlantic) project is a conservation effort led by the organisation Gaia Amazonas, which aims to conserve 265 million square kilometers of jungle and ‘the lungs of our world’.

But now Bolsonaro, Brazil’s controversial far-right president, appears to be sabotaging this effort as devastating fires rage through the Amazon. Fires which are causing a loss equivalent to three football fields per minute, according to the latest government data.

The rainforest – which covers northwestern Brazil and extends into Colombia, Peru and other South American countries – has been burning for weeks, plunging Brazil’s Sao Paulo into darkness and devastating the Amazon.

If the fire continues to burn at its current rate, this will be the first month for several years in which Brazil loses an area of forest bigger than Greater London, with many fearing it will never be able to recover.

According to the latest data from Brazilian satellites, as per The Guardian, 1,345 square kilometres of the region were cleared in July – a third higher than the previous monthly record under its current monitoring system, the Deter B satellite system, which started in 2015.

Bolsonaro yesterday (August 22) claimed his government ‘lacks the resources’ to extinguish the fire, although environmental groups are now placing the blame for the devastation directly on him.

Richard George, head of forests at Greenpeace, told The Independent:

The whole area around the Amazon has been highly volatile with loggers and farmers, and Bolsonaro has absolutely lit a torch under that.

The fire currently sweeping through the rainforest reportedly took hold after farmers announced a coordinated ‘day of fire’ on August 10, due to the president giving the go-ahead for farmers and illegal loggers to enter indigenous communities.

The Amazon rainforest provides 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen, Business Insider reports. However, if it continues to burn it would not only stop producing this oxygen and supporting wildlife, but it could also worsen climate change by triggering a ‘doomsday dieback scenario’.

This would ultimately result in dry leaves which, as well as being unable to absorb as much carbon, would be much more flammable and likely to spread fires – potentially causing the release of 140 billion tonnes of carbon stored in the Amazon into the atmosphere. As a result, global temperatures could rise even further.

Since the public were made aware of the devastating fire, millions rallied together to sign a petition urging the Brazilian government to ban the burning of the Amazon – something which could easily play a detrimental role in the climate emergency we are currently facing.

(Source: Unilad)

What we deserve

My mother, Dania, is eleven in this photograph. It was taken in the Dominican Republic in 1965, four years before my father married her and then brought her to New York City, separating her from her family. Her parents were the ones who made her do it, though she was still a child. They did it because it would eventually mean the rest of the family could immigrate, too.

This photograph is one of the few of my mother at that age. She’s wearing her Sunday dress and knee-high white socks. On her left are her three brothers: Rolando, Johnny, and Andres. On her right is her sister, Isabel, smiling, embraced by their father, who looks off in the same direction as the littlest brother. What are they looking at? Who else is there? They are all dressed up, so it’s either one of those rare planned visits or a festive occasion. Perhaps it was one of the many times my father would stop by with his entourage of brothers to woo my mother. On these visits, they were fed by my grandparents, who looked up to the brothers who traveled to New York City to work at restaurants, factories, and hotels. My grandmother would make my mother dress up and sit pretty for him. In this photograph, my grandmother, Leoncia, turns her body away from the camera, looking sternly toward my mother whose body is stiff, her arms long and straight, by her side. My mother’s dress is a little girl’s dress with its high waist, square neck, and puffed short sleeves. The hemline, midthigh, looks like she’s outgrowing it. My mother’s focused, soulful eyes look straight at the camera. What does she know? More to the point, who is she looking at?


I was reminded of this picture, and this moment in my mother’s life, the other week when children were separated from their parents in Mississippi during ICE’s largest statewide scoop in U.S. history. Eleven-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio was captured crying on camera, advocating for the freedom of her father, who was taken away along with 679 other undocumented immigrants, many of whom had already established their lives in the United States. She’s wearing a striped pink-and-white T-shirt, her long dark hair pulled back away from her face. A 12 News microphone is recording her, most likely without parental consent. She says to the world about her father, “He’s not a criminal.” When I look at the video of Magdalena, I see a child who needs her parents.

My mother was eleven, Magdalena’s age, when my father first proposed to her, promising her a better life. What did she know? He was old enough to be her father. It’s possible that Magdalena’s father migrated to protect his daughter. My mother’s family was in such desperate financial circumstances that sending her away was better than keeping her, no matter what awaited her in the United States. In a flash, the innocence of both Magdalena and my mother was stolen. They were pushed into adulthood by forces greater than themselves, to fend for their lives.

People judge immigrant parents for putting their kids in danger when they undertake the journey to cross the border. For many years, I vilified my grandmother for marrying off my mother, for not giving her a choice, for coercing her to sacrifice her body, desire, and liberty. She was just a child. But then I think my grandmother was trying to save her. These parents today, like Magdalena’s, make difficult choices for their children.

In 1965, post-Trujillo Dominican Republic, during the occupation by the United States, my mother and her family lived in the countryside, Los Guayacanes. Trujillo’s thirty-one-year dictatorship systemically and culturally encouraged the notion that women are inferior to men. And the vulnerabilities women faced then are still real today. In the Dominican Republic, according to a 2014 report from Centro de Estudios Sociales y Demográficos (CESDEM), 20 percent of teenage girls are likely to become pregnant, and abortion is illegal. If employed, women get paid a fraction of what men are paid. One in three women, according to the UN stats, experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and the fourth leading cause of death is femicide. In 2017, UNICEF reported that one in ten girls are married or living with a partner before the age of fifteen. And World Bank reports that one-third of girls in Dominican Republic are married before they turn eighteen.

What my grandmother may not have known is that for women in the United States, the statistics aren’t much better when it comes to sexual assault, abuse, and violence: one in four girls are sexually abused; one in six women are victims of attempted raper or rape. Machismo in the United States is just as toxic. So why immigrate when it’s clear that immigrant women are vulnerable and largely unprotected no matter where they go?

Because of my mother, everyone in this family portrait immigrated to the United States. My mother, while working full-time in a factory, put herself through college and received a degree in accounting, which landed her a job at a small company where she worked for twenty-five years. My grandmother Leoncia, my grandfather Andres, and aunt Isabel, all worked in factories with health benefits and a union up until retirement. My uncle Johnny trained as a mechanic and received disability benefits until he passed away. The youngest in the photo, Rolando, earned multiple graduate degrees and currently works as a teacher in New York City.

I have an eleven-year-old child. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have no choice but to give him away, not knowing if or when I will see him again. I can’t imagine what it’s like not to have the power to protect my child.


What you cannot see by looking at the photograph:

You can’t hear the merengue or bolero music that undoubtedly plays from a small battery-operated radio. The sweet and rotten smells of passion fruit and mangoes that overwhelm the yard. The burning wood, the roasting potatoes, the faint scent of cow manure, the gamey goats tied up to the fence. You can’t see the hardwood dining room chairs that were brought out from inside so the visitors could sit. The pesky mosquitoes, the chirpy birds, the harsh sun, the thick humid air that makes everything sticky and salty. The tire swings, the rusted bikes, the loud freight trains carrying cane that rolled by the house. The dress my mother is wearing is yellow, not white. It was her one dress, a hand-me-down from her sister. She wore it for every special occasion.

My mother may not have escaped and I didn’t either—we are both survivors of abuse and assault. When my mother thinks about the sacrifices she has made, she says that at least we all have some financial stability and education. Sometimes she tells me things like, “What you can’t see is that we were dying of hunger,” and, “If it wasn’t for me where would my brothers be today?” Often, around the dinner table, when my father’s name comes up, my family will still praise him for saving them from a life of extreme poverty. I have to remind them that it was my mother who did all the paperwork and who saved money for all the immigration application fees.

More than fifty years after the photo of my mother was taken, I look at the video of Magdalena, pleading for help, from us, from politicians, from anyone. I think of the thousands of children being held in detention waiting to see if they will be deported or reunited with their families. So many girls are still forced to grow up quickly and make sacrifices and impossible choices. When you don’t have to look through the lens of desperation, it’s easy to question and condemn these so-called choices, but so often it’s children, girl children, who bear the burden.


When I look at this photo of my mother, I might be looking at her look at my father, the man who will bring her to America. I am looking at the eyes of a child who understands she has no choice in the matter. My mother has said that poverty and the will to survive gives you no choice. If it wasn’t my father, it could have been someone worse.

But also, what if she’s looking into the camera, a portal that can see far into the future, and who she is looking at is me? Can she, at eleven, see that one day she will live a life where she is not beholden to any man, that she will raise two children on her own, that her son will study physics and become an IT engineer and her daughter who will become a tenured professor and a published author?

What I wish to say to that girl, my mother as she was then, in this picture:

I am so sorry for all you will lose to give me what I’ve got. I am forever grateful. And still you deserve more. Our girls deserve more. Our children deserve more.

(Source: The paris Review)