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Is the pandemic killing the idea of the Commonwealth?

When Harry and Meghan went on U.S. television this month, Canada and other Commonwealth countries went through another short-lived debate about whether to move on from the British royal connection. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic may be raising even more pointed questions about the relevance of the institution that succeeded the British Empire.

Oprah Winfrey’s interview, which aired on March 7, certainly captured more attention than Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech to the Commonwealth, delivered on the same day. The theme of that speech was the “spirit of unity” in the face of the pandemic. “I hope we shall maintain this renewed sense of closeness and community,” she said.

A “Commonwealth Statement on COVID-19” issued in the name of all 54 heads of government made particular mention of “Small Island Developing States”:

“As Commonwealth partners, we must make a concerted effort, consistent with national capability, to find solutions to overcome these challenges, including … providing equitable access to essential medicines.”

Indeed, the idea of solidarity is evoked by the word “commonwealth,” which Merriam-Webster defines as a political unit “united by compact or tacit agreement of the people for the common good.”

But there’s a large gap between the language of Commonwealth solidarity and the reality.

Republic to the rescue

When a public health nurse became the first person in Jamaica to receive a COVID vaccine this month, her shot was a gift — not from the U.K. but from a republic that had once been a British colony itself.

India’s donation of 50,000 doses was “the best news I’ve heard in a very long time,” said Jamaica’s Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton.

Barbados’s PM Mia Mottley also had Indian PM Narendra Modi to thank for what she called “his quick, decisive and magnanimous action” after her country received 100,000 free doses.


Boxes of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative arrive at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, March 15, 2021. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

After he heard that 70,000 doses were on their way from India, Dominica’s PM Roosevelt Skerrit said that he “did not imagine that the prayers of my country would be answered so swiftly.”

Barbados and Dominica promptly sent some of the vaccines they’d received to Guyana and Saint Lucia.

India has vaccinated fewer than 2 per cent of its own people and now faces a rise in infections that has forced it to curb its generosity.

On a per capita basis, the U.K. is twenty times as wealthy as India and has vaccinated twenty times as many of its citizens — the highest percentage of any large nation. But India is the country sharing vaccines with Britain’s former colonies in the Caribbean.

The Commonwealth was an attempt to create something that would live on after the slow implosion of the British Empire that began with Ireland’s War of Independence in 1921 — and continues a century later with the more peaceful transformation of Barbados into a republic, scheduled to happen by November 2021.

The Commonwealth was created in 1931, the same year Canada gained more or less full legal autonomy from the United Kingdom.

Although it includes 54 countries, only a core group of 16 “Commonwealth realms” still recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state: Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu — and, of course, the U.K. itself.

Generous, but in other ways

It’s not that Britain has been ungenerous. In recent years, it’s been the most generous supporter of GAVI, the international vaccine alliance now leading the COVAX initiative to provide vaccines to poorer countries.

“The COVAX Advance Market Commitment is the global mechanism to help developing countries, including qualifying Commonwealth countries, access a coronavirus vaccine,” Tom Walsh of the British High Commission in Ottawa told CBC News.


Britain’s Prince William speaks to staff during a visit to the vaccination centre at Westminster Abbey, London, Tuesday, March 23, 2021 to pay tribute to the efforts of those involved in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. (Aaron Chown/AP)

“The U.K. is leading efforts for global equitable access to COVID vaccines and treatments. The U.K. is working closely with multilateral institutions such as the UN, G7, G20, and with WHO and international partners such as CEPI and Gavi, to ensure developing countries can access COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests.”

The Commonwealth is a multilateral institution of 54 nations. But it’s no longer the institution through which Britain conducts its most important business — nor does London feel particularly beholden to Commonwealth nations when it comes to vaccines.

Membership may or may not have its privileges 

At least one former European colonial power did choose to help its old colonies. Portugal is donating 5 per cent of the doses it receives under the EU’s vaccine-sharing scheme to its former colonies in Africa and East Timor. It made that decision even though those countries declared independence decades ago — and there is no Portuguese version of the Commonwealth.

New Guinea was a colony of Australia (not Britain) from 1906 until 1975. When COVID hit fully independent Papua New Guinea, Australia sent vaccines it had acquired in Europe and promised to send more.

“They’re our family, they’re our friends, they’re our neighbours, they’re our partners,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Something similar happened in self-governing Caribbean island countries that were once Dutch colonies, and that still recognize King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands as their head of state. Sint Maarten, Aruba and Curacao have received a considerable amount of support from the Dutch during the pandemic, including large shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.

(The three islands are neither colonies nor fully independent UN members. They are considered separate countries but constituent parts of a multinational Kingdom of the Netherlands that is a much closer association than the Commonwealth.)


Martyn Roper, the British governor of the Cayman Islands, receives his second and final dose of Pfizer vaccine on January 28, 2021. (Facebook)

Some Caribbean islands chose to remain full-on colonies of Britain, including the Caymans, the Turks and Caicos and Bermuda, and they have received vaccines from the U.K. with great generosity.

On March 10, Martyn Roper, the British governor of the Caymans, announced on his Facebook page that “by early May, all those over the age of 16 who want to be vaccinated could have received their second dose.”

But if being a colony during a pandemic has its advantages, mere membership in the Commonwealth doesn’t appear to come with any perks at all.

No reason to ask

Perhaps there is no clearer sign of the fading relevance of the Commonwealth than the fact that Britain didn’t offer to share vaccines with its sister nations — and those nations also didn’t bother to ask.

The office of Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand — the minister charged with bringing vaccines to Canada — told CBC News it’s their “understanding that the vaccines produced in the United Kingdom have been, and continue to be, intended for the U.K. population.”

Instead, Canada turned for help to the republic next door — the country that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls “our nearest ally and closest friend.”

And that friend obliged, although the United States has vaccinated a much lower share of its population than the U.K.

“It’s just wonderful that we’re able to come to an arrangement for 1.5 million doses coming into this country before the end of March,” Anand told CBC News.

And so Canadians will receive a solidarity boost of British vaccine … thanks to their American cousins.

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‘Boycotts don’t work’: Canada’s Olympic, Paralympic leaders dismiss idea of skipping Beijing 2022

With the next Winter Games in Beijing a year away, Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic leaders are dismissing the idea of a Canadian boycott even though human rights issues continue to plague China.

In an editorial published in the Globe and Mail and La Presse on Thursday, both David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Karen O’Neill, CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, left no room for doubt — Canadian athletes intend to compete in Beijing. The pair reiterated those thoughts in an interview with CBC Sports.

“We believe strongly in the power of sport,” Shoemaker said via Zoom. “We thought it was important to put a stake in the ground and to say we think these Games are meaningful. 

“We have very serious concerns and share the concerns of others about what’s going on in the host country, but we think our role here is to bring Team Canada to these Games, to be on full display, and be part of a conversation.”

There have been mounting calls for a sweeping boycott of the Beijing Games in light of the persecution of ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region as well as China’s crackdown on pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong.

WATCH | David Shoemaker on why Canada won’t boycott Beijing Olympics:

David Shoemaker, chief executive officer and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee tells CBC News’ Heather Hiscox that boycotts “do not work” and “it’s important for us to be part of the conversation and be there” in China. 11:39

The international organization Human Rights Watch declared in its annual report that China is “in the midst of its darkest period for human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.”

On Wednesday, a year out from the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony, a coalition of 180 groups, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs, Inner Mongolians and residents of Hong Kong opposed to the deterioration of human rights and increasing repression by the Xi Jinping-led Communist party, issued an open letter to governments around the world calling for a boycott.

From a Canadian perspective, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been detained in China on suspicion of espionage since 2018. This has substantially strained relations between the two countries.

Despite all this, the final declaration of the G20 summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in November, which was signed by the Canadian government, made no mention of support for an Olympic boycott as a means of redressing these issues.

“We look forward to the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022,” it said.

And while the COC and CPC’s declaration of intent to participate is meaningful, it is the federal government that can ultimately decide whether the nation’s athletes will take part in an Olympics.


People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou in 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

In Thursday’s joint publication, both the COC and CPC point to the power of the Games to bring the world together and to advance the interests of the global community by celebrating Canadian performances and values on the international field of play. They conclude a boycott is not the answer to the problems China faces.

“The evidence is overwhelming that boycotts, especially through the singular lens of sport, do not work,” O’Neill said. “It’s important for our whole community, our athletes, coaches and support people who have been through so much lately to put this on the table. This is where we’re at, here’s what we’re thinking, and here’s where we stand in terms of how we’re going to move forward.”

‘Boycotts don’t work’

Canada joined the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics in opposition of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviets led an Eastern-bloc boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“This is not theoretical or academic, we have a history of knowing that boycotts don’t work,” Shoemaker said. “We are assured that our government is addressing this on a government-to-government basis as a high priority. There are myriad tools available to the government to deal with this diplomatically.

“We do not see the logic that as a first order of business to re-set the relationship with China, and to send a message, that we should in effect punish 300 athletes and boycott the Beijing Games.”


Visitors to Chongli, one of the venues for the 2022 Beijing Games, pass by the Olympics logo. A coalition of 180 rights group on Wednesday called for a boycott of those Games tied to reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

When contacted, the athlete leaders of both the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams for Beijing 2022 applauded the pro-active approach taken by the COC and CPC regarding the question of a potential boycott.

“A boycott means turning our back on the situation. Let’s instead have conversations and work towards solutions,” said Catriona Le May Doan, the chef de mission for Team Canada in Beijing and a two-time Olympic speed skating champion. “The athlete’s role will be to showcase Canadian values and help build bridges as they have always done.”

Gold medal champion skier Josh Dueck will be Canada’s chef de mission at the Paralympics in China.

“Now more than ever we need to engage athletes to empower people,” Dueck said from his home in Vernon, B.C. “By asking athletes to withdraw from the Games we would take away their ability to compete but also to bring these difficult issues to light. That is unfair on both a personal and conversational level to the athletes.”

The message is clear. The people who run international sport in this country believe it’s far more prudent and responsible to attend the Games in Beijing than to stay home in protest.

“It’s difficult, it’s complex. In saying we think the right answer is that we go and compete in China, we’re not saying that we minimize the significance of the issues that are coming to the fore,” Shoemaker said.

“We think when faced with the choice between engaging and being part of a conversation, amplifying voices, and participating in these Games versus detaching, pulling back, distressing people and further polarizing around viewpoints, the choice becomes abundantly clear.”

O’Neill agreed.

“Showing up, being part of the conversation, and some of the solutions that build bridges is the way forward in terms of sport thriving,” she said. “Leading with a boycott of sport is just not the thing to do and historically has shown us that it will not move us to where we want to go.”

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NHLers weigh in on idea of an all-Canadian pandemic division

Mitch Marner was asked recently about the possibility of the NHL going with an all-Canadian division next season.

The league finished its pandemic-delayed 2019-20 campaign with tightly-controlled bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton to protect against the spread of COVID-19, but with the coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down and the border with the United States still closed to non-essential travel, a seven-team circuit north of the 49th parallel seemed likely.

“It would definitely be interesting,” Marner, a star winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs, said last month. “We’ve got to be ready for whatever happens.”

Well, commissioner Gary Bettman indicated this week the league is exploring the idea of temporary realignment in 2020-21.

And an all-Canadian division appears to indeed be on the table.

“We’re not going to move all seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th parallel … so we have to look at alternative ways to play,” Bettman said Tuesday as part of a virtual panel discussion during the 2020 Paley International Council Summit. “While crossing the U.S.-Canadian border is an issue, we’re also seeing within the United States limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states.

“It’s again part of having to be flexible.”

Bettman added the league, which is working closely with the NHL Players’ Association, is contemplating the possibility of a reduction from the usual 82-game schedule and the use of temporary hubs where teams would play a fixed number of games in the same location and then return home for a period of time before resuming action.

WATCH | NHL analyst Dave Poulin discusses NHL’s next steps:

The NHL had zero cases in the bubble during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but what’s next for the league? Andi Petrillo speaks with NHL analyst Dave Poulin. 6:03

It remains to be seen if Canadian clubs would set up in a hub or travel to individual cities, but if the Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks wind up grouped together, fans could be in for a treat.

“The Canadian teams are quite strong,” Montreal head coach Claude Julien said in October. “It might be a very competitive division. We know that Ottawa is being rebuilt — that doesn’t mean they aren’t competitive — but the other teams all believe in their chance to make the playoffs.

“People are likely to see very exciting and very competitive hockey.”

Six of Canada’s seven franchises took part in the summer resumption of play, with only the Senators on the outside looking in. There’s optimism in each city for whenever the league gets going — the NHL continues to target a Jan. 1 start date — and the temperature between rivals could be turned up with more games against the same opponents.

“It would be pretty cool, especially for Canadian hockey fans,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “It’ll be heated and it’ll be some good hockey if it happens.”

Rivalries galore

It also doesn’t hurt that some of the game’s biggest names — including Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Marner and Auston Matthews with Toronto, Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine — could be pitted against each other more often.

“It would be a cool experience,” Marner said. “We’ve just got to be ready for whatever happens.”

Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa usually play in the Atlantic Division, Winnipeg is in the Central, and Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary are in the Pacific.

WATCH | NHL reports no COVID-19 cases after 65 days in bubbles:

The Tampa Bay Lightning took home the Stanley Cup, but the NHL is also celebrating. There wasn’t a single positive COVID-19 test within the league’s bubble, which is being heralded as a win and as a model for sports going forward in the pandemic. 1:59

Senators forward Connor Brown, who was acquired from the Leafs in the summer of 2019, said he wouldn’t mind facing his old club a little more often.

“It would be interesting,” he said. “It’s all speculation, but it would be different.”

Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher added that, like the bubble concept used during the restart, players have to be prepared to adapt on the fly.

“If that is the case, an all-Canadian division, I think it would be pretty unique,” he said. “Pretty neat you to get to see those other teams a little bit more and have an appreciation for what they do. And at the same time, there’s a little bit of pride involved when you’re playing for your Canadian division.

“I’m sure everyone would have a little bit of motivation.”

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Microsoft’s Next Big Idea for Minecraft: Mandatory Microsoft Accounts

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Microsoft has declared that beginning in 2021, you’ll have to create a Microsoft account in order to play the game. Up until now, players with a Mojang account created through Minecraft: Java Edition were tied to a different authentication system than Minecraft: Bedrock Edition, which is what you get if you buy Minecraft through Windows 10 or play it on a console.

Microsoft’s public justification for this move is that it will improve the Minecraft experience for everyone. With this shift, Microsoft will finally implement two-factor authentication and offer improved parental controls. Players will also have the option to block others in chat or to ignore invitations from certain people.

This Has Nothing to Do With Safety

Security improvements and anti-harassment tools are always welcome, particularly two-factor authentication. That said, there is no reason why these changes had to be implemented via a mandatory Microsoft account. Players have been asking for things like two-factor authentication for years via tools like Google Authenticator, especially after Microsoft added the ability to spend real money in the Minecraft Marketplace.

There is a genuine improvement that Microsoft could offer Java Edition customers in exchange for compelling them to switch, but Microsoft explicitly isn’t offering it. According to the Minecraft Java Account Mitigation FAQ, “Java Edition will still only allow you to play with other players who have Java Edition.” Microsoft even admits that this is strictly an account front-end change in the FAQ, when it states: “There will be no changes to Java Edition besides the account move and the new security features. Java Edition will still be available, supported, and updated just as before!”

The good news is, PvP and modding in the Java Edition will remain completely unchanged. The bad news is, Microsoft has so little to offer, the company attempted to pre-empt the problem by hanging a lantern off it.

Spoiler: Your reward for doing this (in-game, at least) is a… free cape. Microsoft has not revealed if players will have any input into the design of their cape, or if literally every single player will receive the exact same model.

Minecraft Java players who migrate may be forced to choose new usernames if your old name is already taken or if it violates Microsoft’s naming policies. You will be able to retain your Minecraft Java name for in-game use.

Microsoft is likely making this move for several reasons. First, running one centralized login system is probably simpler than running two of them. Second, Minecraft’s player base skews young. As Chromebooks become a larger part of the educational curriculum, Microsoft can no longer count on the idea that people will just “encounter” the Microsoft ecosystem. Satya Nadella has made it clear that Windows is a secondary priority at Microsoft compared with growing Azure and that means growing the number of backend services that can run on it.

Now that Microsoft has bought Bethesda, I’d bet $ 1 it’ll only be a matter of time before the same thing happens again. Bethesda is another company with a devoted fanbase courtesy of series like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. Integrating players into the Xbox ecosystem is a way of creating brand stickiness. If you’re used to logging in with your Microsoft account (the theory goes), you won’t think much of signing up for other products and services that use it.

People aren’t going to like this shift, but there’s no choice short of cracking the game. Microsoft’s FAQs are very clear. If you don’t switch to a new account, you will no longer be able to play Minecraft at some point in early 2021.

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Trump floats idea of delaying Nov. 3 vote, but Congress controls election date

U.S. President Donald Trump is for the first time floating a “delay” to November’s presidential election, as he makes unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting will result in fraud.

The dates of federal elections — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November — are enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change. The Constitution makes no provisions for a delay to the Jan. 20, 2021, presidential inauguration.

Trump tweeted Thursday: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

His tweet came within the same hour of bad economic news. The government reported that the U.S. economy shrank at a dizzying 32.9 per cent annual rate in the April-June quarter, by far the worst quarterly plunge ever, as the coronavirus outbreak shut down businesses, has thrown tens of millions out of work and sent unemployment surging to 14.7 per cent.

Most grimly, more than 150,000 Americans have now died.

Reaction was swift on social media to Trump’s tweet on Thursday.

“This would be nothing less than a coup against the people of the United States and the constitution,” tweeted veteran California congresswoman Jackie Speier.


While Trump’s tweet was unsurprisingly condemned immediately by many Democrats, Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso also dismissed the suggestion. (Al Drago/The Associated Press)

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy was among the Democrats calling on Republicans to stand up to their party’s president.

“The President is attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the election — and indeed our democracy — by promoting an utterly baseless, hypocritical, and dangerous conspiracy theory,” Leahy tweeted. “All leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, must condemn his selfish recklessness and do so NOW.”

Wyoming Sen. Tom Barrasso, a Republican, did pour cold water on Trump’s suggestion in a televised interview.

“No, we’re not going to delay the election,” he told Fox Business Network on Thursday morning. “We’re going to have the election completed and voting completed by Election Day. It’s going to take awhile to get all the votes counted, I am certain.”

“We may not know on election night the balance of the House of Representatives or the Senate or the presidency, but we will not delay the election,” Barrasso said at another point.

Voter fraud rare

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting, even in states with all-mail votes. Five states already rely exclusively on mail-in ballots, and they say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn’t disrupt the vote.

Election security experts say that all forms of voter fraud are rare, including absentee balloting.

Twitter has previously affixed a warning to a Trump tweet about mail voting that contained dubious claims.

Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November’s election and the expected surge in mail-in and absentee voting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his re-election.

His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.

Trump and many members of his administration have previously availed themselves of absentee voting, but Trump has sought to differentiate that from a growing push by states to mail all registered voters either ballots or absentee request forms.

Last month, Trump told supporters in Arizona that “This will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country.”

Voters and public health officials have expressed concerns about the potential dangers for spreading the virus during in-person voting, and states have reported difficulty filling poll worker positions given the pandemic.


Cages loaded with ballots in United Postal Service bins rest behind a worker at a Board of Elections facility on July 22 in New York. During recent primaries in the state, some races required weeks before results were officially confirmed. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Legislative changes may be required in some states. According to a Yahoo! News report on Thursday, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania currently do not allow for election officials to start processing early ballots until Election Day.

There appears to be next-to-no appetite in the Capitol for a change to the Nov. 3 election.

Democrats have pushed to includes billions of dollars in the next coronavirus relief bill to fund election security and accessibility improvements for this year’s vote, but Trump and Republicans have so far resisted those efforts.

Postal Service concerns

In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump was evasive when pressed to answer whether he would accept the results of the Nov. 3 vote.

“I have to see,” he told interviewer Chris Wallace. “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no and I didn’t last time, either.”

Trump in fact set up a commission to examine his unfounded claim that “millions” of votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 were fraudulent. The commission quietly faded away, having not substantiated the claim.

William Barr, his attorney general, testified at a House committee hearing on Wednesday, without offering evidence, that “if you have wholesale mail-in voting, it substantially increases the risk of fraud.”

Democrats have also raised concern, given the likelihood of increased mail voting, over recent developments at the U.S. Postal Service.

There have been recent reports of increased delays in receiving mail amid budget concerns, while Trump has installed a Republican donor — Louis DeJoy, the husband of the incoming U.S. ambassador to Canada, Aldona Wos — to the USPS’s top post.

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‘Community’ Reunion: Donald Glover Pitches His Idea for a Movie

‘Community’ Reunion: Donald Glover Pitches His Idea for a Movie | Entertainment Tonight

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Miley Cyrus Admits Her Privilege Means She Has ‘No Idea’ What the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Really Like

Miley Cyrus Admits Her Privilege Means She Has ‘No Idea’ What the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Really Like | Entertainment Tonight

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Dell’s Alienware Laptop GPU Upgrades Are a Conceptually Great Idea

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Dell is now shipping GPU upgrades for the Alienware Area-51m that it launched earlier this year, making good its promise to provide upgrades for the laptop. The general inability to upgrade a laptop’s GPU is one of the most significant intrinsic weaknesses of laptops compared with desktops, at least where gaming is concerned.

While laptops are less suited to gaming than desktops for a number of reasons, most of these can be compensated for, particularly in 2019. Want a large display? Hook up a desktop monitor via DP or HDMI. Want a large built-in display and more room for cooling the CPU? Desktop replacements are your friend. But GPU upgrades, even for DTRs, have been vanishingly few and far between.

The Dell upgrade modules are built in the company’s proprietary DGFF form factor. In this case, a proprietary form factor isn’t really a problem. Laptop GPUs have never conformed to a single board design the way that desktop GPUs have, which is one of the reasons why there’s never been an upgrade market for these parts. There’s no guarantee that two Dell laptop GPUs built for two different laptopsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce will fit in the others’ chassis, even if the edge connectors use the same electrical standard. The price of the service includes professional installation; Dell isn’t willing to leave this process to chance.

The RTX 2070 and 2080 GPUs that the company is offering are intended as upgrades for the RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 models that have previously been sold. Here’s where things go a little off the rails. The RTX 2070 GPU is currently priced at $ 839, on sale from $ 1,039, while the RTX 2080 is priced at $ 1,139, down from $ 1,639.

That’s rather a lot of money, to put it mildly. The pricing isn’t as nuts as it first looks, however — not if you consider the price of buying a new Alienware Area-51m in the first place. The least expensive Area-51m starts at $ 1,999 and the $ 1,100 price for that upgrade RTX installation service is actually equivalent to the price of upgrading to an RTX 2080 when you buy the laptop today. In other words, if you’re an Area-51m owner who bought a 1660 Ti earlier this year and wants to step up to the RTX 2080 flavor now, Dell won’t charge you more to perform the upgrade than they would’ve charged you to install it at the factory — at least, not while this introductory pricing lasts.

No matter how crazy you think the price of the GPU is — and compared with the price of the RTX 2070S (RTX 2080-equivalent) it’s pretty crazy — it’s still significantly less than the top-end price of the laptop itself. The Alienware Area-51m’s baseline configurations range from $ 2,000 to $ 4,000, with a top-end price of around $ 4,600. It could theoretically be much less expensive to upgrade that laptop at, say, the three-year mark and keep using it another few years after that as opposed to buying an all-new system. Given that this is a capability being marketed to people buying high-end laptops, we have to evaluate it in those terms.

This is Dell’s own image for the “Unprecedented Upgradability” section of its web page. I’m amused because the GPU is the one component not depicted accurately (obviously the chip needs a board mount of some sort). Image by Dell.

The fact that Alienware systems support the Alienware Graphics Amplifier also takes some of the sting out of this type of positioning. It’s possible to hook an external graphics chassis to an Alienware system to tap the power of a desktop GPU, and the adapter is significantly less expensive, at $ 177. In other words, there are much more affordable ways to add graphics capability for owners who don’t mind moving the horsepower to a location outside the system.

The flip side to all of this is that it’s rather nuts to pay $ 1,140 for an RTX 2080 if you already own an RTX 2060 or 2070. Frankly, it’d be pretty nuts to pay that much money to upgrade from an RTX 1660 Ti to an RTX 2080. But the first run of GPU upgrades for this hardware family was always going to be the weakest upgrade tier. What matters far more is whether Dell continues to put effort into the program in the first place.

I’m not sure whether that will happen. OEMs aren’t particularly known for investing in their product families long-term, particularly when it comes to creating a market for an entirely new type of product. It could take a few years for a program like this to show benefits — and Dell might not want the program to work particularly well. It’s a vastly better deal for the end customer to buy a new GPU for $ 1,700 as opposed to a new top-end laptop for $ 5,000. Is it a better deal for Dell? That’s a different question.

In an ideal world, this would be the first step in rolling out upgrade options for all Alienware laptops, creating a major market differentiation for Dell gaming that other boutiques don’t offer and a meaningful value-add for Alienware boutique gamers. Whether it plays out that way, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Canada cool so far to the idea of Silver Alert system for missing seniors

A push to create a national Silver Alert system that would attempt to help locate elderly individuals suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia has so far been met with a cool response from jurisdictions across the country.

Even the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada has expressed a lack of enthusiasm for a system — similar to Amber Alerts for missing children — that could send out information to the public through smartphones, email, radio and TV networks.  

“We aren’t endorsing them because there isn’t robust evidence that they actually work,” said Mary Schulz, director of education of the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

But Schulz also noted that alert fatigue might be an issue in terms of “how much people will actually pay attention if they’re being bombarded with Silver and Amber and who knows what … other kinds of alerts.”

“We need really robust academic research to be done on these kinds of alerts before, I think, we would invest,” she said.

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, an estimated 564,000 Canadians are living with dementia. By 2031, this figure is expected to rise to 937,000 — an increase of 66 per cent.


Sam Noh has advocated for a Silver Alert program since his father disappeared after going for a walk in Coquitlam, B.C., in September 2013. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Sam Noh, an advocate of Silver Alerts, spoke to CBC News recently about implementing such a system. His father disappeared in Coquitlam, B.C., in 2013 and never returned. Noh said he heard people had seen his dad in the first day he went missing, but didn’t know how to report it.

“The chance of survival decreases after 24 hours. If we had the Silver Alert program, we could quickly spread that information about the disappearance,” Noh told CBC British Columbia’s All Points West

Sophia Aggelonitis, a former Ontario provincial cabinet minister who was responsible for the seniors portfolio, founded Silver Alert Canada and has been pushing for a nationwide program.

“Despite information about prevention strategies and the use of locating devices, seniors still go missing,” said Aggelonitis, whose own grandmother once wandered away. “A Silver Alert would be an addition to ongoing strategies.”

How such a system would work, and whether it would be similar to the Amber Alert system, would be up to the regions and dependent on the situation, she said.

“If a senior walks away, takes their car or is likely to travel by bus etc., each situation would determine the right type of alert to be issued,” said Aggelonitis. “I believe the best authorities to determine the type alert protocol would be the police.” 

Many U.S. states use system

Many states in the U.S. employ such a system, each with its own criteria as when to issue such alerts. In California, for example, an alert will only be issued if a missing person is 65 or older, developmentally disabled or cognitively impaired, and the law enforcement agency has determined that the person has gone missing under “unexplained or suspicious circumstances.”

States will use various means of informing the public that a person is missing, including “be on the lookout” broadcasts to other law enforcement, through the media, as well as dynamic-message signs next to highways.

But many of the systems in the United States are different from Amber Alerts in that they don’t sound an alarm on people’s mobile devices — something about which people have complained in Canada

To combat the issue of alert fatigue, some, like Noh, have lobbied for a localized or geo-targeted approach to Silver Alerts. In places like Florida, for example, the local law enforcement agency will activate a local or regional Silver Alert and determine the areas for activation.


Sophia Aggelonitis, a former Ontario cabinet minister, founded Silver Alert Canada and has been pushing for a nationwide program. (Sophia Aggelonitis/Twitter)

But Silver Alerts have yet to become popular in Canada.

In 2017, Alberta and Manitoba amended their Missing Persons Act to allow for Silver Alerts. The amendments allow police to activate alerts in certain circumstances involving vulnerable people with cognitive impairments and to provide the public with information about a missing individual.

Winnipeg Police Service Sgt. Rick McDougall said in the past year, their force has issued two such alerts and both were successful in helping locate the missing individuals.

In one case, an older gentleman had driven to a local shopping mall and then went missing. His vehicle was recovered but he was nowhere to be found and police later learned he was suffering from a cognitive impairment. 

“We issued media releases, as well as social media releases, immediately under the Silver Alert. And actually as a result of that, [he was] located … quite some distance away from where [he] went missing.”

Very different than Amber Alerts

McDougall stressed that the system is very different than Amber Alerts in that it disseminates information about a missing person to the public through the media and social media — and not through texts and alarms via mobile phones. Nor does it automatically interrupt public broadcasts. However, he notes, the media can choose to broadcast the information if they deem it appropriate.

Although Alberta now allows for Silver Alerts, the Calgary Police Service has so far not used them. A spokesperson with the force said their missing persons unit classifies elderly missing persons as high risk, especially those who have a history of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and that their cases are prioritized in regards to resources and response.

In Ontario, the provincial government explored the idea in 2011 but later shelved the proposal. In a statement to CBC News, the Ontario Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility said if someone with dementia goes missing, police treat it as an emergency, and if an alert is required, “the police will issue one similar to what was previously known as a ‘Silver Advisory.'”

Yet support for a nationwide system has failed to gain traction, says Aggelonitis.

Her organization launched an online petition for a Silver Alert system that was presented to the House of Commons last February. Months later, then-Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responded, saying that the federal government was instead developing a national dementia strategy.

Goodale also noted that officials who oversee the National Public Alerting System policy, which details the types of emergency alerts that can be sent through the system, had not been approached by any province or territory to amend their policy and utilize the system for Silver Alerts.


Amber Alerts in Canada now sound an alarm on people’s mobile devices. Based on the systems in place in some provinces and U.S. states, that’s unlikely to happen under a Silver Alert system. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Schulz, from the Alzheimer Society of Canada, said that instead of alerts, more focus should be placed on educating families and caregivers to be more proactive in ways to prevent their loved ones from going missing.

People also need to be more aware or look for signs that someone may be in trouble, she said, such as seeming to be out of place or perhaps being inappropriately dressed on a cold day.

“That societal issue is one that is really growing in momentum, where we are starting to appreciate that if there is someone who’s walking around in a housecoat in –25 degree weather, that there should be somebody that we can call,” said Schulz.

The Alzheimer Society has a partnership with MedicAlert, she said, which makes it rather simple if you encounter someone who seems in distress: Simply call the number on the bracelet. 

“These kinds of strategies — we need to make it easy for people to be helpful,” said Schulz.

Aggelonitis agrees that providing information about wandering-prevention strategies and locating devices is paramount, especially when someone is newly diagnosed.

“However, I also believe that these initiatives, in combination with a Silver Alert public notification system, will help find seniors … and isn’t that what we all want?”

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