Haze over Bohol pose health risk to residents

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol, Philippines --- Some Boholanos have complained of health problems as haze hovered over the island. Dave Albarado, 44, said he has experienced "runny nose, dry throat, cough, and allergies" since Sunday, Sept. 15. "I think the haze could have contributed to my allergies because I usually have them only for 24 hours. Now, it has persisted for days," he said. To protect himself from air contaminants, he decided to buy and wear a mask. "I am doing my best to stay indoors and take medicines to control the symptoms," he said. Residents have also taken to social media to relate how the haze has been affecting them as air quality continued to worsen. Some ...

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The small seaside town of Mallacoota, Victoria, during the Australian bushfires on December 30, 2019. | Courtesy of Jonathan Vea From leveled homes to volunteer relief: six Australians on the devastating impact of the fire crisis. For much of January, it’s been impossible to turn on the news without seeing bright red images from Australia of trees engulfed in flames, families being evacuated, and people in face masks braving thick walls of smoke. Videos of kangaroos looking for refuge on neighborhood lawns have gone viral, while images of koalas drinking out of rescue workers’ water bottles (perhaps dangerously) have tugged at heartstrings far and wide. Yet even as the Australian wildfires continue to be vast and devastating, it remains difficult to comprehend their full impact. Since the fires started in September, at least 27 million acres in the country have burned, 29 people have died, and an estimated 1.25 billion animals have been lost. On Thursday, several dangerous fires were still burning in New South Wales state and on the outskirts of Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Across Australia, communities have been formed and torched, shifted and brought closer together in the midst of danger and the unknown. But what has it been like to live through one of the most extreme fire disasters of our time? Six Australians shared their experiences with Vox. “A crowd of us watched in a numbed silence as houses exploded” On December 30, our family of four —my partner and our kids aged 14 and 12 — had just arrived in the small beachside town of Mallacoota, a popular holiday vacation spot. We knew bushfires were affecting other communities about 60 kilometers away, but we believed we were fine. While out fishing, a couple of hours from shore, a work colleague also holidaying in Mallacoota called. “Mate, this is serious,” he said. “That fire is heading here and we’re getting out now.” With a single road into and out of town through heavily wooded terrain, we realized our window of opportunity to get out was closing. It was a painfully slow trip back to Mallacoota on the hired fishing boat. Our discussions about options grewa little heated. The likelihood of being cut off and trapped in Mallacoota was high, but the consequences of being caught in a firestorm while driving out were more significant. Courtesy of Jonathan Vea Bushfires left several people marooned in Mallacoota, Australia. When we got back to our Airbnb, we packed up everything. We believed the safest option was to move swiftly to the town’s wharf. We found an ideal spot by the water’s edge with a low rock wall and parked the car. To protect ourselves from hot embers flying through the air, we wrapped ourselves in woolen blankets. Others nearby did the same. In the event of a firestorm, our final escape option was to jump in the water, shielding ourselves behind the rock wall. We waited on the water’s edge all night. The smoke was dense. Even though we were wearing swimming goggles, our eyes stung. Our throats were raw. To help us breathe, we used medical masks and a torn-up sarong wrapped around our faces. The next morning, a Mordor-like darkness settled over us. Hours later, it was replaced by red light, the firestorm hitting the outskirts of town. We heard loud, sharp explosions in the distance and realized they were gas bottles exploding. As they started to increase, we knew more houses were being hit. Across the water, we saw 30-meter flames jump from one section of bushland to others. A crowd of us, both locals and tourists, watched in a numbed silence as houses exploded. Many of those who had lost homes and animals were middle-aged sea changers who, just a day before, were enjoying their near-retirement. Now they were watching their hopes disappear. Once Mallacoota’s firestorm had passed, we looked around the town. Small fires were still burning. Many houses were completely flattened but some stayed intact. Strangely, there never seemed to be a half-burnt house — it was either completely destroyed or still standing. Our lovely little weatherboard Airbnb holiday home had also burnt to the ground. Over the coming days,we became accustomed to a war-zone-like atmosphere. Volunteer firefighting trucks continued to race around town suppressing spot fires. But there was an easygoing selflessness between people marooned in Mallacoota. Despite their personal tragedies, local workers and shop owners focused on the needs of others. The local IGA grocery store kept open, running their generator, feeding the community, and restocking their shelves as soon as the immediate danger passed. The pizza and coffee shop kept going right through, stabilizing community morale. The staff of the Mallacoota’s only hotel cooked meals for teams of firefighters, provided accommodations for many in need, and kept the bar open to help many settle their nerves. Over those dark smoky hours on the shorefront, we had made a little community built out of small kindnesses. When you’re cold and you haven’t eaten in a day, it means a lot when a complete stranger hands you a warm coffee or cold pizza. And when you can do that for someone else, that generosity quickly becomes infectious. Three days later, the Royal Australian Navy evacuated our family from Mallacoota. The evacuation was calm and well-planned. Though the ship was cramped, basic, and cold, the Australian Defence Force staff did their absolute best to make things as comfortable as possible for everyone, especially the pets. We felt lucky to be out of the elements. We knew families were still out there in other towns, sheltering on beaches in the open. Others inland were facing even greater uncertainty. Stepping off the vessel in Melbourne, we felt grimy,tired, and stunk of smoke. Lines of service buses and support welcomed us. We were truly grateful. —Jonathan Vea, environmental planner, Darwin, Northern Territory “We had no idea what to expect on our journey, but we knew we had to help” When our team, Sikh Volunteers Australia, found out that the bushfires were getting out of control in East Gippsland, we headed out in a van fully loaded with groceries, utensils, and cooking appliances. We had no idea what to expect on our journey, but we knew we had to help. On the way down, team members tried calling phone numbers on the websites of local councils and VicEmergency. We eventually got in contact with Neighbourhood House Bairnsdale and were informed that a major relief center was being set up at Bairnsdale City Oval for the people evacuated from the affected region. It was there that Sikh Volunteers Australia parked and ran our free food van from December 30 to January 14. For 16 days, we woke up at 4:30 am to prepare and serve breakfast by 6:30. While one team was serving at the relief center, a second team would start preparation of lunch and dinner. The food distribution would go on like this until 9:30 pm or even 11. We often got to bed around midnight. Help from locals, the Sikh community, and many others was abundant. People donated groceries and fresh veggies from their gardens so we could make stuffed potato bread with masala tea, veggie sandwiches, vegetable curries, pasta, and soups. During these 16 days of volunteering, our service team also came across a lot of heart-touching stories. There was a family living in the East Gippsland area since 1798 that had lost their home. There was a nurse who came by just to thank us without knowing that her own family was struck with disaster and staying at the relief center. Every day, our team met people who had lost their livestock and valuables, who were completely grief-stricken. But in those 16 days, we were also overwhelmed with the love, affection, and gratitude of the brave people in the community. We witnessed the strong will of Australians, the united spirit of Australian culture. In order to support people in bushfire-affected areas, we hope people visit these areas even after the relief work is finished. Let the people know in these areas that we haven’t forgotten about them. They are not isolated or left by themselves to restructure their hometowns. All of Australia supports them, shoulder to shoulder, and with God’s grace, we will construct again from the ashes. —Sikh Volunteers Australia, Devon Meadows, Victoria “We received a text message from our neighbor that her house, along with ours and many others, were gone” Our Mallacoota holiday was broken the moment when our neighbor informed us that the impending fire could not be stopped. With our only firefighting resource being three garden hoses supplied by town water (which historically fails in a crisis) and a house full of guests not used to this type of situation, we decided to follow government recommendations and evacuate early. We sent four of our guests into a hired vehicle toward Melbourne first. With four remaining adults and three dogs, and only a small pickup truck to get to our farm 500 kilometers away, we loaded only our essential traveling bags. We didn’t take any family possessions because, in our hearts, we truly didn’t think our house — built by my father with the help of my grandfather in the early 1970s — would burn. By 8 am, we were heading out of a town humming with anxious people and fire engines. As we left, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was it the right decision? Should we be staying to defend our property, or was that as foolish an option as the authorities would have us believe? Could I help others? Would I be putting the lives of my partner and friends at risk by leaving or staying? Was I acting cowardly? Courtesy of Neil Ward Neil Ward’s truck was completely gutted by bushfires in Mallacoota, Australia. Throughout my career in natural resource management, I have attended quite a few large fires, saved houses, and have even been stranded in front of a fire, but never had I felt such confusion as trying to resolve what seemed the sensible thing to do when my gut feeling was to stay and defend. Now I live with the knowledge that while all of my family and crew were evacuated safely, and we avoided being stranded on the beach with thousands of other tourists and residents, some people who stayed not only saved their homes but were instrumental in saving others. That night and the next morning saw the weather acting savagely and heard constant warnings of the fire approaching Mallacoota. We sat helplessly glued to the Emergency + app, watching the fire’s progress. First reports came in of an individual house burning in the town, then another, and another. Then it seemed the fire front swept in on both the northern part of town and the far southwestern corner, where our house was located. We waited and hoped. There wasn’t much else. Around 2:30 pm, we received a text message from our neighbor who had reliable news that her house, along with ours and many others in the same street, were gone. The hope evaporated. With a weird numbness, we phoned our boys and told them the sad news. The rest of the afternoon and evening, which was New Year’s Eve, vanished in an avalanche of phone calls and text messages regarding the fate of our house, neighbors, and friends. The depth of concern and commiserations were a tangible reminder of how important that house had been for so many of our friends and family, as a place of escape and sanctuary, laughter, warmth, revitalization and relaxation, an almost spiritual-like home base. Gone. Three weeks later, despite multiple road closures and long detours, police checkpoints and traffic controls, we have been able to return to Mallacoota. As we made the journey through hundreds of kilometers of blackened bushland, we were immersed in the reality of the extreme weather associated with a warming and changing climate. Between the mountains and the coast, from endless burnt forest to emerald green pastures and back to ash-covered moonscapes, we experienced temperatures of 37°C accompanied by howling hot winds that filled the sky with ash, burnt leaves, and bark. Smoke from nearby bushfires mixed with dust blown off overgrazed paddocks. Then further down the road, it was back to green fields and fruit still on the trees. What we had witnessed on our journey was a good preparation for what we knew would be a difficult visit. Yet our breath was still taken away at the sight of the destruction to our neighborhood. A scene that we generally associate with bomb attacks or the worst cyclone was laid before us. At our driveway, the sight of our truck completely gutted and distorted, and with its chassis laying on the ground, was immediate proof of the finality of the destruction. At first glance, all that remained where our house once stood was the iron roof, split and awkwardly draped and twisted over bent steel uprights. The walls and contents were completely swallowed by the fire. After a moment or two, we gathered ourselves and began to recognize the remains of our family home. Amongst the ash and debris, we found the most unlikely assortment of distorted household items: melted window glass laying in puddles stuck to tiles, forks and spoons welded together, delicate feathers of ash that were once books, light fittings hollow and black, rocks in the garden split and singed from the heat, and nothing that would adorn a table or serve a useful purpose again. As the rain stopped, we ended up with a handful of items salvaged that could help remind us of what was lost. A long walk along the empty beach and a nude swim in the beautiful green ocean began the process of washing away the ash, dust, and tears — of mending our hearts and helping us to begin the rebuilding of our new family home. —Neil Ward, natural resources and conservation manager, Chiltern and Mallacoota, Victoria “My kids are destined to spend another day indoors going stir-crazy” When you wake, even before you’re properly awake, the first thing you smell is the smoke. This is despite the fact the vents in the house are closed; the smoke still gets inside. In my living room, my three sons — ages 4, 2, and 5 months — are playing on the rug. They are destined to spend another day indoors going stir-crazy. We can’t let them go outside — with Air Quality Index (AQI) readings of 5,000, the air is 25 times what is considered hazardous (AQI 200). We live in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, which for weeks now has had the undesirable distinction of being the city with the world’s worst air. Positioned about 100 miles inland, Canberra is cursed to be in a valley that naturally traps smoke. The winds do the rest, with westerlies during the day tending to bring clearer air, while shore winds in the evenings blow smoke from east coast firegrounds into the city. Like a noxious tide going in and out, it’s a perfect atmospheric storm that has left Canberrans on edge. Courtesy of Peter Papathanasiou Smoke from the bushfires has made Canberra, Australia, “the city with the world’s worst air.” My mom, who lost her husband in 2016, continues to live in her own home of 60 years and is fiercely proud to do so. But she is also 89 years old and struggling, her lungs the most vulnerable of all. I go to check on her and take our air purifier. She tells me she’s been unable to sleep again, her eyes red and stinging, her throat burning, her voice hoarse. Department stores across the city have sold all their purifiers, while hardware stores have sold out of filter masks that offer protection from the ultra-fine bushfire particles in the air that lodge in the lungs and make breathing difficult. It’s stressful for all involved and has put a strain on our small city. The streets are deserted. Public pools and major tourist attractions closed. Sporting events have been postponed. Businesses and government departments sent their workers home. The national airline stopped all flights. The postal service halted all deliveries. Petrol stations sold out of fuel, supermarkets sold out of bottled water, and bank ATMs were emptied of cash. It’s the stuff of the apocalypse. Only time will tell how our long-term health is impacted. When I return home from my mother’s house one morning, my kids are enjoying theirbreakfast. They do not understand the climate emergency that is currently unfolding, the doom that lies ahead. But they will one day. Hopefully by then, it’s not too late for them to have a future. —Peter Papathanasiou, author of Little One and Son of Mine, Canberra “As a climate activist, I am not surprised. As wife of a volunteer firefighter, I worry.” As a climate scientist, I’m not surprised by the bushfires. What I am is exhausted. I am tired of repeating again and again about how climate change is already here and that we are to blame. What will it take for everyone to finally realize this, and by then will it be too late? As a wife of a volunteer firefighter, I worry. When is the next call? How long will he be gone for? Is he safe? This season he has only been out once, for which I feel grateful yet selfish. Many of his peers have been battling fires tirelessly for months. Away from their families, away from their income, trying to control the untamable. They are running on the smell of an oily rag, doing all they can to save life, property, and our precious bushland. Their resources are already so scarce; some firefighters have crowdsourced their own equipment. What will be required to protect us from the bushfires of the future? As a mom of two young girls, I’m also in despair. This is not the world I wanted for my kids, nor for their peers. Wearing masks because of poor air quality thanks to smoke from wildfires will be normal for them. They won’t be able to enjoy the great outdoors as much as we do now — it will just be too hot to leave the house in summer. I shudder to think about the impacts bushfires under 2°C or even 3°C of warming, which is expected by the end of this century, will have on their lives. They are too little to understand all this now, but I’m not looking forward to future conversations, where I’ll have to explain why we left them a world in poorer condition than what we inherited. As an Australian, I’m shattered. The fires have changed Australia forever. The wrath of climate change is no longer on the horizon. It’s here. —Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, climate scientist and senior lecturer at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Sydney, Sydney “I was determined to find a displaced family nearby who could stay at my lodge” Over the past four months, we Sydneysiders have slowly gotten used to the blanket of smoke we’ve been living under. We’re used to seeing people walking around with masks, of fire footage dominating the news. We’re used to seeing politicians point fingers and shift blame. But one thing I could never get used to is how this has devastated individuals and communities — and how it has also brought us together. Volunteering at a Christmas party for the homeless, I encountered a man crying in the corner of the room. I sat and listened to the raw emotion as he described how the fires have robbed him of his life’s work. How has a man like this found himself homeless? I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Watching the news suddenly felt different. I imagined his fear, others’ fear, their loss. I was flooded with empathy yet felt powerless at the same time. David Gray/Getty Images Firemen prepare as a bushfire approaches homes in the town of Bargo, Australia, on December 21, 2019. I have a vineyard with a lodge in the Hunter Valley. I no longer cared about the grapes we lost due to a combination of drought and smoke taint. I was determined to find a displaced family nearby who could stay at my lodge. I posted the offer on social media, and soon friends flooded the post, wanting to offer their homes to victims of the fires too. Before I knew it, I had a list of accommodation options and began organizing those in need with a place to stay. It makes me feel proud to be part of a community that bands together in times of need. Everyone wants to help, but they just can’t always figure out how. Last week I met with a man whom I placed in one of the homes. He told me how the surrounding fires felt like they’re closing in. The smoke made it near impossible to breathe, forcing he and his family to evacuate and flee. At the time, he had his mother staying with him and his two sons. I can’t even begin to imagine the fear and anxiety that gripped this family. Sadly, he will not be the last person to tell such a story. Fire season is far from over. Let’s keep helping. Let’s donate generously. Let’s offer support to these families, the rescue workers, and the hardworking organizations trying to save countless animals in distress. Let’s spread the links, stories, and social media posts that highlight those in need. I urge you to become part of the army of helpers in our community. You’ll really enjoy the experience. —Richie Harkham, winemaker, speaker, and philanthropist, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
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The trolley problem, a classic thought experiment in moral philosophy, was featured in an episode of “The Good Place.” | NBC A new study uses the famous trolley problem to show how our culture shapes our moral beliefs. Who’s more likely to throw you in front of a runaway trolley in order to save a bunch of people’s lives — someone from America or someone from China? That might sound like a bizarre question, but psychologists and philosophers are interested in it because it helps us get at an underlying question: To what extent does our cultural context shape our morality? We now have a ton of new data on this, thanks to a cross-cultural study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. By getting 70,000 participants in 42 countries to respond to sacrificial moral dilemmas — the largest study of this kind to date — an international team of psychologists was able to show how culture influences moral decision-making. Participants were presented with multiple versions of a classic dilemma known as the trolley problem, which asks: Should I make the active choice to divert a runaway trolley so that it kills one person if, by doing so, I can save five people along a different track from getting killed? The study found that participants from Eastern countries like China or Japan were less inclined to support sacrificing someone in trolley problems than participants from Western countries like the United States. Naturally, the next question is: What’s driving this cross-cultural difference in moral preferences? Does it have to do with each country’s religiosity? Its emphasis on individualism? Its gross domestic product? The authors suggest a different variable is doing most of the work here: relational mobility, or the ease with which people in a given society can develop new relationships. The study found that relational mobility was a strong predictor of the tendency to support sacrificing one person, even after controlling for religiosity, individualism, and GDP. If you live in a society with high relational mobility, like the US, you’ve got lots of options for finding new friends, so it’s not such a big deal if your current friends ditch you. But if you live somewhere with low relational mobility, you have fewer chances to develop new friends, so you’re going to be extra careful to avoid alienating your current ones. “People in low relational mobility societies may be less likely to express and even hold attitudes that send a negative social signal. Endorsing sacrifice in the trolley problem is just such an attitude,” the study says, adding that the pressure of living in these societies might make certain ideas “morally unthinkable.” The study shows that our beliefs about what’s moral are, at least to some degree, products of our cultural context. But, intriguingly, the study also shows that there are some universals in human morality. “This is something philosophers have disagreed on, with some saying ethics are universal and some saying it’s subjective,” co-author Edmond Awad of the University of Exeter told me. “It turns out there’s evidence to support both views.” Using trolley problems to find out what all cultures agree on — and where they diverge We often talk about the trolley problem as if it’s one thing, but there are actually multiple versions of the thought experiment. The researchers tested three versions — dubbed Switch, Loop, and Footbridge — which helped them to identify both cultural universals and variations in moral decisions. In the Switch version, a trolley is about to kill five workers but can be redirected to a different track where it’ll kill only one worker. In the Loop version, the trolley can be redirected to a side track that later rejoins the main track. On the side track, it will kill one worker whose body will stop the trolley before it can kill the five on the main track. In the Footbridge version, a large man can be pushed in front of the trolley. He’ll die, but his body will stop the trolley from killing the five workers on the track. PNAS Participants made decisions in three scenario variants: Switch, Loop, and Footbridge. It turns out that people across the board, regardless of their cultural context, give the same response when they’re asked to rank the moral acceptability of acting in each case. They say Switch is most acceptable, then Loop, then Footbridge. That’s probably because in Switch, the death of the worker is an unfortunate side effect of the action that saves the five, whereas in Footbridge, the death of the large man is not a side effect but a means to an end — and it requires the use of personal force against him. Regardless of the exact reasoning behind it, it seems this ranking pattern is a cultural universal in moral psychology (although it’s possible some not-yet-studied culture might turn out to have a different view). According to the study, this suggests we can chalk it up to “basic cognitive processes.” But where cultures do show variation is in how strongly they endorse or reject each sacrifice. You can believe it’s more moral to act in a Switch scenario than in a Footbridge scenario, but still be very against acting even in Switch, as participants in China and Japan demonstrate. Religious norms there may be playing a role. “Trolley problems result from trying to apply abstract rules to practical reasoning and require us to distance ourselves from all the potential victims,” said Philip Ivanhoe, director of the Sungkyun Institute for Confucian Studies and East Asian Philosophy, who was not involved in the study. “Both Buddhism and Confucianism take kindness or compassion as primary virtues, and no matter what one does in a trolley problem, one cannot be kind.” But the authors of the study suggest that low relational mobility may be playing a greater role, as it causes people to “experience greater pressure against holding opinions that mark them as untrustworthy.” They cite the findings of another psychologist, Molly Crockett at Yale University, who has shown that we’re much more inclined to trust — and therefore want to befriend, date, or marry — people who reject sacrifices for the greater good. “When it comes to sacrificial dilemmas,” Crockett told me, “we trust people a lot more if they say it’s not okay to sacrifice one person to save many others.” Whereas Crockett has demonstrated this to be true in Western societies with high relational mobility, the study’s authors suggest they’re expanding on her work by exploring the effect in Eastern societies with low relational mobility. The study has important limitations, but also important implications Despite its impressively large dataset, this study has a number of significant limitations. The participants were all volunteers in an online experiment: MIT’s Moral Machine website, which was initially designed to collect responses on the moral acceptability of decisions made by self-driving cars, but which also offered a “classic mode” allowing researchers to collect other sorts of responses. “Our sample is skewed in terms of age, gender, and education: We estimate that a third of our participants were young, college-educated men,” the authors note. They then acknowledge another problem: “We focused our analysis on relational mobility because of its theoretical interest, but one limitation of this strategy is that relational mobility has not been estimated yet in all of the countries represented in our dataset.” (Although we know from questionnaires how much relational mobility people feel they have in a given country, in some countries not enough people have filled out the questionnaires to ensure the data is robust.) On the plus side, the researchers are making their huge dataset public, so others will be able to use it and add to it. In the meantime, the study has important implications for how we understand our moral decisions. They don’t arise out of some universal, ahistorical, hermetically sealed realm of pure reason; rather, they’re shaped by cultural norms. The study may also have implications for how we program machines to make decisions in the age of artificial intelligence. Take self-driving cars, for example. “Sacrificial dilemmas provide a useful tool to study and understand how the public wants driverless cars to distribute unavoidable risk on the road,” Awad said. Should policymakers take into account how moral preferences differ across countries when regulating future programming? Will we want different rules for machines in different countries? These are still very much open questions. Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter and we’ll send you a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling the world’s biggest challenges — and how to get better at doing good. Future Perfect is funded in part by individual contributions, grants, and sponsorships. Learn more here.
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The UNHCR Defends Its Global Compact on Refugees
The World Is Turning Its Back on RefugeesIn December, Lama Mourad and Kelsey P. Norman argued that the UN Global Compact on Refugees has failed. “The well-meaning document sought to recast refugees as an economic benefit to nations that receive them,” Mourad and Norman wrote. “But by furthering the premise that refugees should be accepted because of their potential for self-sufficiency—rather than out of a commitment to upholding international norms and the rights of refugees—the global compact may actually worsen their plight.” It was surprising and disheartening to see Lama Mourad and Kelsey P. Norman get the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) so wrong. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) disagrees with the authors’ assertion that the GCR—adopted by the United Nations just over a year ago—has already failed. Such a verdict is, at best, premature in our view. More troubling, the authors claim that the GCR encourages countries to calibrate their response to refugees using economic, cost-benefit criteria. This notion describes almost precisely the opposite of what the GCR promotes and represents, as the compact itself makes clear. Section IB on “guiding principles” confirms our obligation to protect and assist all people fleeing war and persecution, whether those vulnerable individuals are in a position to boost a society’s economic bottom line or not.The article also understates the scope of the GCR, which is to establish a foundation for a qualitatively new, whole-of-society approach—to address record refugee flows in the world today by involving not just the traditional humanitarian specialists, but also global development actors, the private sector, and multilateral institutions. The GCR marks one of the most important advances in refugee protection since the middle of the last century. It is a blueprint for a genuinely new way to think about and respond to refugees with sustainable, predictable, and dignified solutions where both responsibility and, yes, potential economic benefits are shared more equitably. UNHCR agrees entirely with Mourad and Norman’s affirmation that seeing refugees solely through an economic lens is both inhumane and dangerous. That, however, is not what the GCR does and is not a reason to reject the global effort that the document represents: to find better ways of helping refugees and the communities that welcome them improve their shared lives.Christopher BoianSpokesperson, Senior Communications Officer, UNHCRWashington, D.C.Lama Mourad and Kelsey P. Norman reply:We agree with Christopher Boian and the UNHCR’s assertion that it may be too soon for a final verdict on the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), but we maintain that the GCR as a whole moves us further in the wrong direction. While Section IB on “guiding principles” may affirm the UN’s commitment to protecting and assisting refugees, which we commend, the guidelines on implementation in Section III either do little to change the existing system of global refugee protection, or place too much emphasis on encouraging states to consider the economic benefits that refugees bring to hosting countries.We also question whether the GCR, in its implementation, represents a “genuinely new way” to address the global refugee situation. Let us take, for instance, the 2019 Global Refugee Forum as a one-year benchmark on the status of the compact. The GCR established the forum to facilitate international cooperation, pledging to hold it a year after the adoption of the compact and subsequently every four years. In line with the broader goals of the GCR, the forum brought together a wider array of actors than is usually the case in conferences like this. However, reports from the event in Geneva portray the forum as a missed opportunity to take on issues of support, funding, and strategic action for the growing problem.The concrete outcomes that emerged at the forum concentrated on providing support to local host communities and refugees in situ, which does little to fulfill the GCR’s goal of shifting the balance of responsibility-sharing. Moreover, the 50,000 new resettlement spots pledged at the forum will not mitigate the trend in countries such as the United States of taking drastic steps to minimize resettlement; in fact, even if these pledges were added to 2019 figures on the number of refugees actually resettled (58,874), the total would still remain significantly lower than those resettled only three years earlier (126,291). The total number of refugees worldwide, meanwhile, has increased from 22.5 million in 2016 to nearly 26 million in 2018 (data from 2019 are not yet available, but given global displacement trends over the past year, there is no reason to expect that this figure has decreased).Finally, we do not oppose the expansion of alternative pathways to resettlement—such as scholarships for asylum seekers and work schemes—but believe that these initiatives should not come at the cost of expanding protection and access to asylum for all refugees, regardless of their economic and educational status or their geographical location. While adopting alternative pathways and involving new private-sector actors may supplement existing refugee-protection systems, this should occur in addition to, rather than in place of, the legal protection, resettlement spaces, and financial support offered by states. We need a reaffirmation of the political will of states to accept and admit refugees regardless of their ability to contribute economically to host countries. We do not need to further enshrine practices that distort what it means to be a refugee.
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Greta Gerwig’s fresh take on Little Women won’t win Best Picture, but it should
Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, and Eliza Scanlen in Little Women. | Sony Pictures Entertainment Our roundtable discusses the Oscar chances for Greta Gerwig’s beautiful adaptation of a beloved old story. Every year, between five and 10 movies compete for the Oscars’ Best Picture trophy. It’s the most prestigious award that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences gives out every year, announced right at the end of the ceremony. And there aren’t any set rules about what constitutes a “best” picture. It’s the movie — for better or worse, depending on the year — that Hollywood designates as its standard-bearer for the current moment. So the film that wins Best Picture essentially represents the American movie industry’s view of its accomplishments in the present and its aspirations for the future. Each year’s slate of nominees roughly approximates the movies the industry thinks showcase its greatest achievements from the past 12 months. And one thing that’s definitely true about the nine Best Picture nominees from 2019 is that, in tone and theme, they’re all over the place. The most-nominated film overall is also one of the year’s most successful commercially, and one of its most controversial. A beloved social thriller from Korea has reached the milestone of becoming that country’s first Best Picture and Best International Feature nominee. There are three historical dramas: one set during World War I, one that centers on a 1966 car race, and one that co-stars an imaginary Hitler. There’s a quietly funny drama about love and divorce and a revisionist history of Hollywood in the summer of 1969. The world’s arguably most influential living auteur made a gangster epic with eternity on its mind. And a critically acclaimed adaptation of a celebrated novel rounds out the group. In the runup to the Oscars on February 9, the Vox staff is looking at each of the nine Best Picture nominees in turn. What makes this film appealing to Academy voters? What makes it emblematic of the year? And should it win? Below, The Goods deputy editor Meredith Haggerty, Vox culture reporter Constance Grady, and Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson discuss Little Women, Greta Gerwig’s celebrated adaptation of the 1868 Louisa May Alcott novel. Alissa: I have all faith in Greta Gerwig, but even I was a little worried when this project was announced! I grew up reading the Little Womennovels and watching the film adaptations, especially the 1994 version, which was one of maybe six VHS films I owned growing up. But the new adaptationdelivered even better than I could have imagined. The cast is marvelous, but it’s Gerwig herself who really made it sing, finding a uniqueway into the story that preserved the joy of the earlier adaptationswhile also teasing out elements that were there all along but hadn’t been emphasized before. What for you were the film’s biggest revelations or realizations? What was the moment at which you realized what she was doing? Meredith: I’m a Little Women diehard — I grew going to Orchard House (I’m from the next town over), and I’ve seen almost every adaptation of the novel (including the very terrible modern version with the kid from High School Musical) — so when I heard about this one, it sounded like an incredibly promising addition to what I basically consider a genre. My biggest fear was my own high expectations, but it seriously delivered. For me, the biggest revelations were 1) Florence Pugh’s Amy (Constance, I know you identify as an Amy too; we will be getting into that), finally bringing justice to a misunderstood sister, and 2) the way Gerwig dealt with the role of money in the March family’s lives. I’ve seen arguments that the family March’s poverty wasn’t explored as much as it could have been, but I did feel like the incredibly limited choices for women and the pressure to save the family came across more than in other versions of the story. I felt their constraints in a way that, for whatever reason, seemed easy to ignore in previous takes on Little Women. It felt like this version was more about the little women making their ways in the world, as best they could, and a little less about that fantasy of home and family. I was in favor of it. Constance: For me, the point at which I started to “get” the movie was early on, the first time we cut between the washed-out light of the future — Jo living her bohemian life in New York, Meg in her drab poverty, Beth convalescing, Amy in Paris — and the warm, golden light of the past, with all the sisters talking over one another in eager, affectionate bursts while Jo burns Meg’s hair. One of the big problems with Little Women the novel is that everyone loves the first half, the part that Alcott wrote in a white-hot rush when she didn’t think it was ever going to become anything, and which seems to have been where she felt most creatively free. It’s the part where all the emotions are at their richest and strongest, and you get this sense of deep coziness combined with paralyzing constraint, and fury at that constraint, and that tension is what gives the book its power. But then you get to the next few sections, where everyone starts marrying off and dying and failing to live out their ambitious girlhood dreams. Those parts of the book are so bleak and unpleasant that generally, most Little Women adaptations will gloss over them as quickly as possible. But Gerwig weaponized that structural split. By starting the story in medias res, she heightened the nostalgia all Little Women fans feel for the novel’s first half, and she gave herself the space to explore all the sad conflicted feelings that the second half generates in ways that I have never seen anyone do before. Meredith: I know that as a kid watching the 1994 version, I didn’t really understand the stakes of womanhood in the 1860s. And I didn’t care — I was too busy being mad Jo didn’t end up with Laurie! I mostly tuned out after his confession of love. Jo’s life in New York was such an afterthought to me; Meg’s a mom and therefore super other to me, a child; Beth’s dead; and the Samantha Mathis version of Amy feels like barely more than a cameo. Grown-ups were boring, and thus the ending bored me. Now, watching this super-familiar text as an adult, in a version that cares more about their adulthoods, the characters just feel full to me. Their growth — especially Amy’s — feels real and earned and not like this mysterious thing that happens because time passes and you got a new nose. It makes me want to reread the novel, which I haven’t done since I was small. I felt like I “got” the time jumps right away, but I did wonder if that would come across to people who weren’t well-versed in the story. (Pugh’s bangs were incredibly helpful as well.) I admit I am still not sure I “got” the ending in the way many people do. Alissa: When I was in my early teens, I was also mad about Jo and Laurie not ending up together (as I know Alcott’s readers were!), but by my late teens, I was proud of Jo for not ending up with the nice boy who was in love with her, which might say something about me. I never totally bought Professor Bhaer and Jo together, but I could certainly see his appeal over Laurie; he liked reading books, for one, and seemed interested in Jo for who she was and not who he thought she ought to be, and also he took her to the theater. (I am aggressively a Jo, for the record.) I saw the movie asecond time with my husband, who is a very good movie watcher but had not seen or read the book before, and thus was not ready for, say, Beth to die, and screamed when Amy burned Jo’s novel. He didn’t have any issues with the time jumps, so I think some of the issue comes with people not being used to visual cues for that sort of thing. (I’ve also heard people say they didn’t understand that Beth was sick in both timelines, but that is sort of the point; present and past are meant to blur together, and the resonances between them are the point of this film entirely!) I also don’t think a little confusion is bad for an audience member, if it makes them sit up straighter and pay more attention to a movie that’s sometimes considered “just” a costume drama for girls. I think the ending and the economic aspect of the book go hand in hand, because the ending is all about Jo finding a way to dwell in the tension between artistic integrity and Making a Living, which sure feels relevant today. I started saying “oh, wow” about 20 minutes from the end, when I started to get a feel for what was happening, though I still can’t pinpoint the exact moment the narratives “split” from one another. What do you have to say about the ending, Constance? Constance: I’ve been excited about how Gerwig would handle Alcott’s notorious problem ending since well before I actually saw the movie — starting with when you saw it, Alissa, and I asked you how she did, and you told me that you thought I’d love it so much that you didn’t want to spoil it for me by saying anything about it. You were correct: I did love it with all my heart. (So much so that I wrote a whole explainer on it!) Part of what’s so interesting about the ending is that nearly everyone I talk to thinks it was very clear and straightforward, and also everyone understood it to mean something else. The first time I watched it, I immediately took it to mean that “our” Jo wasn’t truly marrying Bhaer, but that the entire umbrella scene was the edited climax of the novel she was writing, and that the two timelines split off as soon as we saw Jo get out of that carriage. (In the “real” timeline, I vaguely thought, probably she went and talked to Bhaer and they set up some sort of 19th-century free love situation so that Jo could have the romantic companionship she clearly craves without losing her freedom to marriage. Marmee probably has a birth control source, right?) I also thought that the distance between Jo the character and Alcott the author had entirely collapsed in that final sequence, and they had become one person for us. The movie, then, was about the act of writing Little Women and the act of adapting Little Women all at once, and about finding a way to do both commercially without completely sacrificing your artistic integrity. And then I started talking to other people about the ending, and learned that a lot of themhad taken the ending to mean that our Jo was marrying Bhaer — because why else would the movie’s structure foreground him so strongly? — but that she was choosing to give her character a different kind of ending. Or they took it to mean that Jo wasn’t marrying Bhaer, but that the entire movie was a fiction that the frame-Jo was writing for us. And all of them thought that their personal interpretation was very clear and straightforward and intuitive. Now, I think the ambiguity of the ending and how many possibilities it holds is one of my favorite things about it, and part of what lets the ending be so many things to all people. But what I love most about it is how it reframes Alcott’s decision to “sell out” by marrying off her heroine. Traditionally, that’s one of the things people dinged her for: I’m haunted by this line in that great arbiter of culture, Dawson’s Creek, in which a snooty elitist college student proves her snooty elitist bona fides by declaring Alcott a “minor writer,” because “most of what she wrote, she wrote purely for money.” That was what people took for granted about Alcott as recently as 1999: that she was a commercial and feminine writer, and as such, she was “minor.” Gerwig refuses to take that as read! Her take on Little Women insists that yes, it is commercial and yes, it is feminine — and that is part of what is so exciting and subversive about it. It’s such a risky, valuable take on this book. Meredith: I like the idea that the ending can be many things for many people! I loved it during the first viewing; I thought everything was real and that Jo-as-writer had skirted the need for a traditional marriage proposal with a highly romantic declaration in the rain — an important innovation in form that, in my reading, was also true to life. I did not think they married, necessarily, and I was happy with her cleverness. But on the second viewing, having read other takes about what was and was not happening, I was actually a little less satisfied. For that narrative split to really land, I wish that it came earlier, specifically right after Jo shut the door on Baehr. The whole family, Laurie included, encouraging her to go after him is such classic rom-com wish fulfillment that it makes sense it would be an invention. It’s Alcott creating the “sprint to the airport” scene. As much as I enjoy your interpretation, Constance (transcendentalist free love, why not!), it feels like what happens after that mad dash is sort of inevitable. If it’s fiction, it doesn’t even do explicitly do what Tracy Letts’s publisher Dashwood wanted. In real life, I’d imagine she wouldn’t chase him at all (in part because I do buy into queer readings of Jo!). It does, however, make sense that the absurdly idealized final family shots — including Jo’s fantastically modern pink smock dress — aren’t real in the same way that Jo watching her book come to life is, and the collapsing of Jo and Louisa was really interesting to me. Starting the film with Louisa’s name on the cover and ending it with Jo’s was an interesting choice ... one that I almost wish they had swapped around. Alissa: I’m so fascinated — I didn’t realize there were multiple interpretations of the ending, but frankly, I love that they all work! I don’t think it’s clear-cut. I like that. Cool! Can we talk about the character of Marmee? I read an interesting piece in the New Yorker about her, and I continue to have a lot of complicated feelings about Marmee. In this version, it became more clear to me that Marmee and Jo (like Jo and Amy!) are in a way meant to be versions of one another, two sides of a coin. What did you think about Marmee? Meredith: The new take on Marmee and her admission of anger was so fascinating to me. It’s a shame those lines have been left out of other adaptations! Seeing her onscreen as a whole person was a revelation; I wanted to know even more. I want a Marmee origin story, to see how she met and put up with Mr. March (*cough* Bronson Alcott *cough*). But my other thought — which should come couched in heaps of praise for America’s angel Laura Dern — is that no one has ever had a less New England energy. As one of my Little Women-loving friends said, she had California cool mom energy! Concord could never! Sorry to all my friends’ moms! Constance: I have … so many thoughts, y’all. First of all: Meredith is correct, Laura Dern is a national treasure and also slightly too glam for this role. Second of all: Marmee’s anger is so important, because Little Women is a book about not wanting to be a woman, and Marmee is our model of what being a woman looks like. I mean that in a few different ways. Little Women is most obviously about Jo’s frustrations with the limitations of femininity (as Meredith mentioned above, there’s a lot of space for a queer reading of Jo, and especially to read her as a trans man), but it’s also about her horror at the idea of growing up and ending childhood, at the idea of no longer being a “little woman” and becoming just … a woman. That’s part of why the nostalgia of Gerwig’s structure works so well: because it shows us how much Jo loves her childhood, and how cold and bleak adulthood can look by comparison. Within that structure, Marmee is both an ideal and a cautionary tale. She is the woman that Jo and all of the March sisters aspire to be, and she is also what they fear they will become. Because Marmee is good and kind and giving, and Marmee is also constrained and constraining. She is bound up by the world in which she lives, one in which her husband can lose all the family’s money and then leave her to raise four children on her own while he goes off to fight in a war. And she, in turn, passes those bindings along to her children, telling them over and over to be selfless, to smother their anger, to be good. No wonder Marmee is angry all the time, as bound up as she is — and no wonder Jo is terrified of growing up to be angry too. Meredith: If anything, I’d say Dern’s Marmee, while explicitly expressing her anger, felt less plausibly angry than other, more reserved Marmees. The lightest Marmee on record! But because of the excellent script, I do think you get so much of this. Marmee’s life really is what Jo is so desperately trying not just to avoid, but to talk Meg out of. Constance: Agreed. Susan Sarandon’s Marmee (in the 1994 movie) never talked about her anger, but she was very clearly feeling it. Dern’s Marmee is sprightly by comparison. Alissa: I (unfortunately) think we need to talk about something frustrating about this movie’s Oscar chances, which is its many Oscar nominations (including for screenplay, actresses, and Best Picture) that somehow omit Gerwig as director. There are a lot of weird factors going into who gets nominated for director, of course, and many worthy candidates — as well as many worthy women who directed outstanding films this year. Should we be mad for Greta? Meredith: I think it’s impossible not to be mad for Greta in a year when Todd Phillips is nominated. I’m not going to pretend I fully understand what a director does, versus a cinematographer, or an editor, etc., but the look and feel of this film worked so well for me — nostalgic enough to evoke warm feelings, but fresh for a very familiar story. If a director can be judged on successful vibes (can a director be judged on successful vibes?) and also on not, say, boring me to tears by being overlong and indulgent (ahem, The Irishman), she was robbed. Constance: I am absolutely mad for Greta, especially since only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director. (Gerwig is one of them, for 2017’s Lady Bird.) The Academy seems to pretty consistently treat movies directed by women as if they just sprang into the world fully formed, like Athena out of Zeus’s head, without any women around to birth them. That’s especially galling given the history of Little Women being treated as a lesser story because it’s for women and about women. I have discussed this history at more length before, but when Little Women first came out, just as children’s publishing was beginning to divide itself into “books for girls” and “books for boys,” it was considered to be the rare book to bridge the gender gap. It was so good that it transcended boundaries, and boys could read it without fear of being considered effeminate. Even Teddy Roosevelt, paragon of masculinity, read and loved Little Women. But as the lines between “girl books” and “boy books” ossified, “girl books” started to fall out of the canon: The general theory was that girls would be willing to read boy books, but boys wouldn’t be willing to read girl books. This theory is still largely held among children’s publishers, children’s librarians, and children’s teachers, but what goes unsaid was that it’s because femininity is considered degrading for boys while masculinity is considered aspirational to girls. And as girl books disappeared, Little Women disappeared, too, so now it’s considered a book that girls can read at home on their own and boys can safely ignore. And when it gets turned into a movie, boys can ignore that film — and the craft that went into creating it — as well. Alissa: Possibly the best thing for Greta in all this — and maybe the worst, I’m not sure — is that she’s become the poster girl for women directors who got snubbed, and luckily, it seems she has the wisdom, smarts, and grace to handle that position. Last question, and a short one: So with all this said, if there are one or two lessons that future book adaptations can learn from this Little Women adaptation, what would you say they’d be? Meredith: I think you should almost definitely cast Florence Pugh. (I’m only slightly kidding.) A book that’s beloved by audiences but was also complicated for the author is a tricky thing. Louisa reportedly hated the book! But the love and respect for the source material is just so evident here; you can better impose a new and interesting structure if it comes from deep and close reading of the book and its author and its time. Greta knew which strings she could pull, and she was able to bring in the reality of this book, the reality and frustrations of publishing as a woman, in a way that illuminated the original — while still bringing fans the moments and the family that they love. Also, stop adapting Little Women, probably. We’re good now. Constance: I think that what’s most successful about this adaptation is that it’s very much in dialogue with all the previous interpretations of Little Women that came before it. As you put it in your review, Alissa, it’s adaptation as (loving, respectful) criticism. I think that’s the smartest and sharpest way to approach source material that’s already been adapted a million times before, and I’d love to see the next, say, Pride and Prejudice take a similar approach: Rather than trying to overwrite everything that’s come before you, have a dialogue with it. Alissa: Agreed with you all. I also think that scrambling the structure of the story (which has been controversial, but to good effect, I think!) is a great way to keep people who are deeply immersed in the story before they even get to the theater engaged, unable to zone out. I have hope for the future of adaptations!
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Mom of overdose victim says drug company founder destroyed lives
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London Police Will Begin Using Real-Time Facial Recognition
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Coronavirus in China: Officials rush to build hospital in 10 days
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Pharmaceutical execs "got away with murder," says mom of overdose victim
Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor was sentenced to five and a half years for his role in bribing doctors to prescribe Subsys.
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