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Burdened by debt and unable to eke out a living, many farmers in India turn to suicide

Kiran Kaur surveys her family’s paltry plot of land in Mansa, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, and gestures dismissively at the three acres of wheat that will soon yield to cotton plants, which bring in little profit.

“Cotton is a complete failure for us,” she said. Prices are low, and the cost of producing the fibre is far too high.

It’s what drove her father, Gurnam Singh, to take his own life nearly five years ago on the same plot of land that defeated him, driving the family to the edge of economic ruin, she says. 

“Life is still very tough without him here,” Kaur, 25, told CBC News. “But that first year after his death almost destroyed me and my family. 

“I dropped my studies and sat at home. The world blacked out for me. I have no recollection of the 10 days that followed his death.” 

Many in Punjab grow water-intensive crops such as cotton, wheat and rice, which has pushed farmers to invest heavily in irrigation and pesticides to protect crops, often depleting their savings and adding to debt. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

What fills Kaur with guilt is that she didn’t see it coming. Her father was one of her best friends, and yet, he kept the crippling debt he was struggling to manage hidden from her and the family.

“When he died, things were falling apart,” acknowledged Shinderpal Kaur, Kiran’s mother.

She knew about the massive loans her husband had taken out to pay for their eldest daughter’s wedding and to cover medical treatment for Kiran. Even so, the notion that her husband would kill himself never entered her mind. 

“I never thought [the suicide crisis] would hit me,” Shinderpal said. “Not in my wildest dreams.”

The crisis is deeply felt in Mansa, one of the poorest districts in Punjab, which is often referred to as the country’s breadbasket, because of its rich soil and rice fields.

Kiran’s mother, Shinderpal Kaur, foreground, said the years without her husband have been excruciatingly difficult, as she worries about whether the cotton and wheat crops they are growing will be enough to cover the family’s bills. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Nearly every village here has had a string of suicides over the past few decades, but the problem goes beyond the district and even the state. 

Bankruptcy, debt major factors

As in the rest of the world, the agriculture sector in India is hit disproportionately hard by suicide. Sixty per cent of the country’s population works in agriculture.

The latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows more than 10,000 farmers and agricultural labourers killed themselves in 2019 — that’s 7.4 per cent of India’s total suicide victims. (As a comparison, students also made up 7.4 per cent while civil servants accounted for 1.2 per cent.)

That means an average of 28 suicides in India’s farming community every day.

WATCH | How one Punjabi woman is dealing with the death of her father:

Hidden behind the headlines of the massive farmer protests in India is a suicide crisis that’s devastating families. The latest numbers show 30 farmers die by suicide every day in the country. 4:00

While there’s rarely just one factor that leads to suicide, the root causes for the suicides among India’s farmers highlighted in the government’s data are mainly linked to despair over their livelihoods. That ranges from bankruptcy and debt to farming-related issues and crop failure.

The crisis is spread across two dozen of India’s states, with the highest number of agricultural suicides in the densely populated Maharashtra state. But it is particularly acute in Punjab, where farmer suicides have increased more than tenfold in the past five years.

The state was transformed in the mid-1960s by the Green Revolution, when the government introduced subsidies to encourage farmers to grow high-yielding rice and wheat varieties that eventually led to the country becoming self-sufficient in those grains. 

But over the years, problems started to accumulate. All those water-intensive paddy fields led to the depletion of the area’s groundwater. Many farmers poured money into digging deeper wells and into pesticides to protect their crops, but their costs spiralled, leading to crushing debt for many.

‘A social phenomenon’

Decades in the making, it’s such a deep-rooted crisis that many farmers take their own lives by consuming a pesticide called Sulfas. In Haryana state, the phrase “consuming Sulfas” has become shorthand for suicide. 

“It’s become a social phenomenon,” said Vikas Rawal, an economics professor specializing in agrarian distress at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. He noted that references to Sulfas have also turned up in songs dealing with the plight of India’s farmers. 

“It’s a loss-making enterprise, but these farmers don’t have anything else to do, so they just keep doing it,” Rawal said. Jobs are scarce, and many people are also reluctant to give up even the smallest plot of land their families own to work for someone else. Rawal said they end up having few options but to descend further into debt. 

He said up to 90 per cent of India’s farmers can’t cover the basic costs of fertilizer, seeds, pesticide and other equipment. 

“Your cost of production has gone up and then you’ve been made to compete with the world,” Rawal said, especially with the majority of India’s farmers tilling tiny plots of land.  

“That has squeezed incomes of farmers so much that basically they’re being forced to commit suicide.” 

‘We never had a happy day’

Kiran Kaur’s family in Mansa has been especially hard hit. Her father was one of three brothers out of four who took their own lives, leaving behind three widows and their young children. 

Kiran’s aunt Malkeet lost her husband to suicide 17 years ago, when their two sons were eight and 10 years old. The years since have been difficult, she said, wiping away tears, with a nephew taking care of the fields because her children were too young. 

Gurmeet Kaur, Kiran’s aunt, lost her husband to suicide two years ago, after struggling daily to turn a profit on their small farm. ‘We never had a happy day,’ she told CBC. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Malkeet Kaur’s husband killed himself 17 years ago in Mansa, leaving behind his widow, two young boys and persistent worries about repaying loans. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

It took five years before anyone explained to Malkeet how to apply for her government-issued widow’s pension. Once she got it, it only came intermittently, disappearing inexplicably for years at a time before being re-introduced. 

The pension is the equivalent of $ 12 Cdn a month.

“It’s a pittance and makes little difference anyway,” Malkeet Kaur said wryly.  

Another of Kiran’s aunts, Gurmeet Kaur, sat staring into the distance during our interview, clearly still mourning her husband, Gumdoor. He took his life two years ago, on New Year’s Day. 

“We never had a happy day,” Gurmeet told CBC. “The daily struggle basically destroys you.

“We used to think we were doing all this work for our children. But once the father dies, the children are burdened.”

She also said she felt betrayed by nature when bad weather led to crop failure.

No national prevention strategy

India’s suicide rate was 12.7 per 100,000 as of 2019, according to the WHO, but experts have said the actual numbers are likely far higher than the official figures because of the stigma in a country where trying to take your own life is still listed as a crime in the penal code. 

The country also lacks a national suicide prevention strategy, although some initiatives are folded into India’s mental health plan. In 2016, the Modi government introduced a crop failure insurance program in an attempt to address a spate of farmer suicides following a lengthy drought. 

WATCH | Indian farmers hold firm in protests over agricultural laws:

For nearly four months, farmers in India have held protests to oppose new agricultural laws they say will strip them of their livelihoods. But the government has only offered them only a few concessions, and the protesters say they won’t back down until there are more changes. 2:32

The fact that India, like nearly every other economy, has been hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdowns has drastically compounded the suicide problem, according to Rawal. 

He also fears the potential impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new farm laws, which have prompted months of protests, has also driven up suicide rates. 

In September, India abruptly transformed the way the country’s massive agricultural sector works, passing new laws that reduce the role of the government in grain markets in an attempt to modernize the industry. It’s a move the farmers fear will push prices down and further ruin livelihoods.

“Having fought for so long to survive … [they] just don’t see this government giving a damn about it,” Rawal said. “That’s forced some people to actually take their lives there in the protest sites or when they went back home.”

It’s estimated several hundred farmers have died at the three large protest camps currently surrounding India’s capital, New Delhi, but it’s unclear how many of those killed themselves.

Tens of thousands of India’s farmers have been camped out for months at several sites bordering India’s capital, New Delhi, in protest of the government’s new laws, which farmers fear will crush livelihoods. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

As a result of the severe backlash, the proposed laws are now on hold, but tens of thousands of farmers are still camped out in protest, pushing for a complete repeal of the legislation.

‘There needs to be reform’

The standoff is in its fourth month even though both sides know the system as it stands is unsustainable, said Harish Damodaran, agriculture editor at the daily newspaper The Indian Express. 

“Everyone agrees that there needs to be reform … that this cannot be sustained forever,” Damodaran said. “Even the farmers themselves.” 

But he said the Modi government’s error was not moving slowly and prioritizing financial incentives for India’s farmers to diversify the crops they grow. 

“It has to be done very sensibly, very carefully, very sensitively. No reform is possible without consulting the stakeholders,” Damodaran said. 

Many farmers across India are struggling with high debt to keep their farms going. More than 10,000 farmers or agricultural labourers took their own lives in 2019. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

The protesting farmers see the so-called black laws as a path to allowing large corporations in and a means to decimate the traditional “mandi” system, which guarantees a minimum price for their produce.

“We’re not going to leave until we get what we came here for,” said Surinder Singh, who has a small farm in Punjab, while sitting near his chai stand at Singhu, the largest protest site surrounding Delhi. 

“We know we’ll be here for the long haul, years if needed,” Singh said. He said the harvest will continue to be done by others at home, allowing the protesters to stay put. 

“We will win this war,” he said. 

Helping widows ‘to be heard’

Even with the regulated minimum price for rice and wheat in some areas, many farmers are barely making ends meet. The fact it could disappear is a devastating thought for many at the protests. 

Many don’t trust the Indian government, which has promised it will not get rid of the floor price. Kiran feels that fear whenever she walks around the protest camp. 

She often visits a community kitchen set up by a rotating group of widows at the Singhu camp. On one recent visit, the women were making rotis for other protesters, loudly joking that India’s prime minister should come visit and speak to them directly to truly understand the life of an Indian farmer. 

Kiran Kaur joins a group of widows making roti at the Singhu protest site, set up by farmers bordering the Indian capital. It’s part of the work Kaur does to support families left behind by suicide. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

After the loss of her father, Kiran started an organization to help widows in her home state. She now buses around Punjab, meeting widows and their families to explain the services available to them, and to emotionally support those “teetering on the brink” and contemplating suicide.

She sees it as another way to honour what her father would have wanted for her. 

“The government does not care,” Kiran said. “Nobody wants to talk to or listen to the widows or the families of suicide victims.”  

Hearing the stories, day after day, of widows struggling is not easy, but it gives Kiran strength. “It furthers my resolve to fight for them, to help them be heard.”

WATCH | The world reacts to farmers’ protests:

Supporters of farmers protesting for months in India are grateful for the international response to the movement. But there are others who think the outside world shouldn’t meddle with India’s affairs. 2:42

If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, help is available nationwide by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service toll-free at 1-833-456-4566, 24 hours a day, or texting 45645. (The text service is available from 4 p.m. to midnight Eastern time).

If you feel your mental health or the mental health of a loved one is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

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Earth Will Lose Its Oxygen in a Billion Years, Killing Most Living Organisms

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Humans haven’t been great for the health of the planet, but even if we pollute ourselves into extinction, Earth will continue on. It’s survived enormous asteroid impacts and megavolcanoes, after all. A few primates aren’t going to do worse in the long-run. The ultimate fate of life on Earth lies a billion years in the future. A new study supported by NASA’s exoplanet habitability research lays out how the sun will eventually bake the planet, turning Earth from a lush, oxygen-rich world to a dried-up husk with no complex life. 

NASA is interested in the future of Earth because it’s the only habitable planet we can study up close. As such, scientists have attempted to extrapolate the properties of Earth-like planets we might be able to detect from great distances. Kazumi Ozaki at Toho University in Japan and Chris Reinhard at the Georgia Institute of Technology created a model of Earth’s climate, biology, and geology to see how it will change. 

According to Ozaki and Reinhard, Earth’s oxygenated atmosphere is not a permanent feature. There was very little of it in the atmosphere until 2.4 billion years ago when cyanobacteria evolved to absorb carbon dioxide and expel oxygen — this is known as the Great Oxidation Event. This gave rise to all the forms of multicellular life we see on Earth today. There’s just one problem: the Sun. As stars age, they get hotter, and the Sun is about a billion years from roasting Earth. 

The study predicts that in a billion years, the Sun will become so hot that it breaks down carbon dioxide. The levels of CO2 will become so low that photosynthesizing plants will be unable to survive, and that means no more oxygen for the rest of us. When that happens, the changes will be abrupt. Ozaki and Reinhard say in the study, published in Nature Geoscience, that it could take a little as 10,000 years for oxygen levels to drop to a millionth of what it is now. That’s a blink of the eye in geological terms. Methane levels will also begin to rise, reaching 10,000 times the level seen today. 

Cyanobacteria like these oxygenated the atmosphere, but the era of oxygen may be fleeting.

This harsh, choking atmosphere will be incompatible with any multicellular life as it exists today. The globe will be given over to bacteria and archaea, the heartiest of living organisms to see the planet through the rest of its existence until it’s swallowed by the Sun. Even if more complex life did survive, it would be irradiated by the increasingly luminous Sun. Without oxygen, the ozone layer will evaporate and expose the surface to more intense UV radiation. 

Ozaki and Reinhard conclude that oxygen is an important biomarker, but it may not be a permanent feature of planets with life. That could change how we categorize exoplanets going forward — even without oxygen, there could be plenty of single-celled life.

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Prince Harry gets fresh about leaving royal duties, living in California

Prince Harry said he didn’t walk away from his royal duties, in an appearance on The Late, Late Show with James Corden that aired early Friday.

Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, stepped away from full-time royal life in early 2020. Buckingham Palace confirmed last Friday they will not be returning to royal duties, and Harry will give up his honorary military titles.

Harry told Corden he decided to step away from his work as a front-line member of the royal family to protect his wife and son, as well as his own mental health.

“It was stepping back rather than stepping down,” he said. “It was a really difficult environment, which I think a lot of people saw, so I did what any father or husband would do and thought, how do I get my family out of here? But we never walked away, and as far as I’m concerned, whatever decisions are made on that side, I will never walk away.”

Harry and Meghan moved from England to California last year.

Britain’s Prince Harry, seen with wife Meghan Markle, was interviewed by Late, Late Show host James Corden. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

The appearance on Corden’s show marked Harry’s first interview since his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, stripped the prince and his wife of their remaining royal duties. Corden’s segment trumped Oprah Winfrey, whose interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is scheduled to air March 7.

During the segment, Harry and Corden tour southern California in an open-top bus, at one point arriving outside the mansion where the 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was filmed.

“If it was good enough for the Fresh Prince, it’s good enough for a real prince,” Corden said.

The two then proceed to sing the show’s iconic theme song.

Views on The Crown

At one point, Corden asks Harry what he thinks of the Netflix series The Crown, which delves into the personal lives and public actions of the Royal Family. At times, the show has been criticized for its depictions of real people.

“Of course it’s not strictly accurate,” Harry said, “but loosely … it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everyone else, what can come from that.”

But he noted, “I’m way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the [media] stories written about my family or my wife or myself.”

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Microsoft’s Xbox Series X Review: The Living Room Gaming PC I’ve (Mostly) Always Wanted

Last year, not long after Microsoft announced the Xbox Series X, I declared that the upcoming console would “end” — I specifically did not say “win” — the PC/console war, not by beating the PC, but by effectively becoming a PC. At the hardware level, that’s more-or-less what has happened, and it’s particularly true in Microsoft’s case because the Xbox runs an OS based on Windows 10. Does it do what an HTPC/gaming PC does in a living room? I thought it would.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to put my theory to the test by evaluating the $ 499 Xbox Series X as an HTPC and downstairs gaming system replacement for the hardware I currently use for that task. Because I’ve never reviewed a console before and don’t have a handy PlayStation 5 to compare against, I’m going to evaluate the XSX explicitly from the viewpoint of a lifetime PC gamer considering the value and utility of the system. I’ll also have more to say about the system and some more direct comparisons at a later date when I am not responsible for two completely different reviews simultaneously.

This review does not focus on absolute image quality between Xbox and PC versions of a game. This is partly because virtually all of the truly next-generation games for Xbox Series X is still locked away, and partly because I just bought a 4K OLED and have only had a week with the Xbox Series X, which isn’t enough time for comparative analysis. Rendering a verdict without proper comparison risks mistaking improvements to the display with improvements to the image quality.

Specifically, I bought this OLED. LG CX 55-inch. It’s only been a week, but we’re very happy together.

Defining ‘PC’ in This Context

Conceptually, the Xbox Series X challenges the utility of a Home Theater PC, or HTPC, as well as a living room gaming PC (these are sometimes the same thing). HTPCs are pretty common in the enthusiast community, going all the way back to ATI and the days of their All-in-Wonder video capture card. An HTPC is typically (but not always) a secondary system attached to a TV rather than someone’s primary rig. They can be optimized for low power consumption and high storage capacity or kitted out more like gaming systems for simultaneous HTPC and high-end big-screen gaming capabilities. Content playback and gaming are the two markets where an HTPC would typically compete with a console and I’m comparing them on that basis.

What I Thought of Consoles Going In

Before starting this review, I thought of game consoles as a perfectly valid method of gaming, especially if you already had a lot of cash invested in the Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo ecosystems, but certainly not a preferable one. Console developers, in my opinion, were far too willing to tolerate low frame rates. The few times I picked up an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller, I felt like I was gaming on a mid-to-low-end PC.

Unlike some PC gamers, I do not and have never hated consoles, but I’ve rarely been impressed by them.

The Hardware

My first thought, when I saw the Xbox Series X, was “Awww. It’s cute.”

The Xbox Series X is an unusually shaped small form factor PC. It uses a single 130mm ventilation fan to cool the system and it’s very quiet. I never heard the machine while gaming or watching content, even with the TV volume low. The PlayStation 5 may yet prove to be a truly chonky boy, but the XSX is smaller than I expected it to be. If you’ve spent a few decades with an ATX tower of one sort or another cluttering up the living room, the Xbox Series X is a delightful step towards smaller solutions, not larger ones.

The Xbox Series X’s ventilation diagram. The invasive pool noodles shove their way through the console until they are transformed into a cooling mint tornado. Or something. Seriously though, this thing is whisper-quiet.

As far as backward compatibility goes, the Xbox Series X had no problem identifying and enabling an Xbox One controller. The two controllers feel identical, at least to my hand, but I’m not exactly a connoisseur of the art form. My significant other, who is also a PC gamer, commented that the rumble didn’t make her rings vibrate, which she appreciated.

It’s not directly germane since I’m not comparing against a PS5, but the 3,328 RDNA2 GPU cores are worthy of a desktop PC card — and will be mounted in them soon enough.

As far as technical specs, we’ve discussed both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 on more than one occasion. Microsoft went for an AMD Zen 3-based CPU, RDNA2 GPU, and fixed clock speeds for both, in direct opposition to Sony’s emphasis on variable clocking. There’ve also been some interesting remarks recently that confirm something we’d heard privately a few months ago: The Xbox Series X supports the full RDNA2 feature set, while the PlayStation 5 is supposedly based on RDNA (but with ray tracing still enabled). We don’t know enough yet to suss out the differences here, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Services and Gaming: Microsoft Makes a Hell of a Case

The Xbox Series X cold boots from an unplugged state in 20.58 seconds on average when measured from the moment the button was pressed, not when the screen activated. The total time to load a saved game and begin playing Fallout New Vegas was 47.48 seconds when completely unplugged. When I merely turned the console off at the switch (depressing the button until the light turned off completely), the resume time was 4.5 seconds. We can’t compare the Xbox initialization process exactly to the boot time of a PC, but those figures are solidly within the range of high-end desktops, depending on how many applications you load at boot.

Setting the console up with a Microsoft account is arguably less annoying than installing Windows 10 (this is not a high bar), and once you’ve got it configured, things happen fast. I saw Fallout New Vegas available via Xbox Game Pass and was jaunting through the Mojave within 15 minutes of creating my account. I’m not going to say a high-end PC couldn’t match the same time from OS installation to game creation, but you’d need to be using the latest version of Windows 10 with pre-loaded GPU drivers or willing to run unpatched to score equivalently.

When it comes to outfitting the console with a suite of common apps like YouTube, Netflix, and such, Microsoft lands firmly in “just works” territory. Netflix image quality is much higher on the Xbox Series X, even though my HTPC streams using Microsoft Edge. An apples-to-apples comparison of the exact same stream always favors the Xbox Series X. Given a choice between streaming a service over Xbox Series X or my own HTPC, I’d take the XSX, ten times out of ten.

On the whole, the Xbox Series X is a very effective advertisement for Microsoft’s entire gaming ecosystem. Xbox Game Pass gives a new player an instant library of titles to choose from, with multiple entries in popular genres. Setting up apps like Netflix to run on the console is trivial. Game load times seem equal to or better than what we’d expect from an equivalent PC.

This is the sort of feature Microsoft promised to deliver when it began marketing the Xbox Series X. It wasn’t a feature I was certain we’d get. As I said earlier, I don’t — or at least I didn’t — associate consoles with high-end performance.

How does it feel to play the Xbox Series X? It feels like playing a game on a high-end PC, with a heavy-duty CPU core backing it up. The caveat here is that the titles we had available to play for Nov. 5 reflect current-generation titles and don’t feature capabilities like ray tracing, but then again, you can’t run DXR on any other AMD GPU currently in-market, either. As next-generation games unlock we’ll be able to compare more effectively on that front.

Every common title that I’ve played on both console and PC felt as equivalently good to play on this console as on any PC, at least as far as the underlying hardware’s performance. Microsoft is still working out the kinks in its Quick Resume feature, but it’s incredibly quick in action: tap, tap, and boom — you’re in a different game. Alt-tabbing between different games on PC is a risky proposition at best unless you already know both applications behave nicely when loaded simultaneously. The fact that you can even try alt-tabbing between games without instantly crashing the system is itself an achievement — GPUs didn’t used to tolerate being used for multiple workloads simultaneously under any circumstances.

From where I sit, this is no small thing. Unless you consider the PS5 — and I don’t have one to consider — there’s no way to get this kind of performance at the $ 500 price point in the PC universe. If you have an otherwise high-end system you could certainly upgrade your GPU to equal or better performance for less than $ 500, but the Xbox Series X is quite aggressively priced for its hardware specs.

What I Didn’t Like

There are some distinct things I do not like about the XSX. First, there’s the controller. While I have absolutely no complaint about the Xbox Series X controller as a controller, I would like to point out to whatever god or gods might be listening that using analog sticks to control a first-person shooter is like taking away a person’s hands and giving them a pair of stupid meat flippers instead. Nothing makes a sniper kill more satisfying than trying to simultaneously maneuver the world’s least-precise instrument over a head that’s four pixels wide without standing up / opening your Pip Boy / accidentally shooting Sunny Smiles in the back of the head.

Controllers vex me, is what I’m saying. They vex me enough that the learning curve, at least in some games, feels more like a learning cliff. If you’re a lifelong PC gamer like myself, you should expect some transition pains. After a week, I’m still not comfortable in a lot of titles, and full mouse and keyboard support would go a long way to making the Xbox Series S / X feel like a welcoming home for PC gamers.

Another negative? No modding support on the XSX, at least not yet. Modding on consoles is still in its infancy, so a big support boost from Microsoft would probably help the idea take off. Mods are a very important part of gaming to me and I’d always keep a foot in the PC gaming ecosystem for this reason alone, even if I switched primarily to console gaming.

The last thing about the Xbox Series X that I didn’t like is its overall network usage. While this could be the result of a disagreeable interaction between the XSX and my router, it’s a terrible bandwidth pig. Some applications “share” bandwidth more easily than others, which is to say that some of them will tank your entire internet connection as they hoover data out of the internet, while some are better behaved.

The Xbox Series X is not well-behaved. I actually had to shut the console down at multiple points during simultaneous Zen 3 / Xbox Series X testing, in order to download benchmarks at any kind of speed. Eighteen minutes on a 12MB download doesn’t cut it. I’m open to the idea that this is a conflict with my router, but the situation is untenable regardless.

There currently seems to be no method of controlling the Xbox Series X’s bandwidth usage while downloading without doing it externally at the router.

Is the Xbox Series X a Better Living Room PC Than a Typical PC?

The question of whether the Xbox Series X is a better living room PC than a regular HTPC depends, I think, on what your needs are. If you’re into video editing, content remastering, or upscaling, you know there are a lot of players and plugins you can use to improve baseline image quality in various ways. If you have content in unusual or esoteric video formats, there’s almost certainly a codec available on PC to play it. Consoles are dicier in that regard, though both Microsoft and Sony support the most common video and audio codecs.

If Microsoft supported keyboard and mouse configurations out of the box across the entire Xbox product line, I’d be 100 percent sold on the idea of the XSX as a media playback and gaming machine. Seeing as I’m still on Team Meat Flipper, I’m a little more circumspect in my evaluation. Is the Xbox Series X better than the [Insert $ 1,000+ gaming PC] you can buy at [insert OEM / boutique builder]? Very possibly not. Is it better than any $ 500 gaming PC you’re going to find in-market any time soon? I’m comfortable saying yes.

I’m not going to try to predict how the Xbox Series X will perform against the PS5 or which console players will prefer, but as far as comparisons to an equivalently-priced PC are concerned, the Xbox Series X more than holds its own. I’m downright impressed by the overall value proposition of the console and its capabilities. Obviously, you won’t be running DaVinci Studio Resolve on an Xbox any time soon, but when evaluated in terms of streaming fidelity, the Xbox Series X wins. Evaluated against the gaming capabilities of a $ 500 PC build, the Xbox Series X wins.

Gaming on the Xbox Series X may not feel much like gaming on the PC, thanks to the difference in interfaces, but it offers all of the PC’s greatest strengths in terms of load times and frame rates. The platform overperforms its price point, and it’s impressed me as far as the overall ecosystem value. There are no weak points here, and no Kinect-style screwups to muddy the value of the system. It’s a much stronger offering than Microsoft launched in 2013, and I’m really curious to see if the company will manage to convert PlayStation 4 owners to its own ecosystem, or if it’ll mostly appeal to existing Xbox, Switch, and PC gamers.

I’ll have more to say in upcoming articles. As a newcomer to the Xbox Series X ecosystem, I’m impressed by what I’ve seen thus far.

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She’s 28, survived COVID-19, and is living in a long-term care home with 200+ violations

While living in long-term care for nearly four years, Chyanne says she’s seen bruises and injuries on her fellow residents. 

She alleges poorly-trained, stretched-thin staff struggle with routine tasks like safely moving patients.

And she’s photographed her home’s rotation of food to show how bland it is — some of the dishes in styrofoam trays feature fried meat; others include pre-packed fruit cups and muffins, with a single hard-boiled egg.

There’s also “a lot of death,” added Chyanne, whose identity CBC News is protecting for her privacy and safety.

“The person who’d ask what I did for the day, what movie I watched. They were like my grandmas and grandpas — 299 of them,” she said in a recent interview.

“I remember all the residents that die,” Chyanne added. “Because I’m young.”

Chyanne is 28 years old.

Soft-spoken with a sharp wit, the Toronto resident suffered a spinal injury four years ago. She has been living at Midland Gardens Community Care in Scarborough since 2017.

Not by choice, she says, though she knows her unusual circumstances give her a window into a system rarely seen up-close by anyone beyond staff and residents who are mostly elderly.

Over a five-year span, her home had 212 violations of the Long-Term Care Homes Act and Regulations (LTCHA), according to an analysis from CBC’s Marketplace.

That makes it the home with the most violations in Toronto — the third-highest in all of Ontario, behind Hogarth Riverview Manor in Thunder Bay and Earl’s Court Village in London.

Chyanne wasn’t surprised by the findings.

“I’ve been trying to get out of there since 2017,” she said.

85% of Ontario homes repeat offenders

On a damp, overcast afternoon, Chyanne has parked her electric wheelchair on a paved pathway in a park near the home, hoping for a bit more privacy than her bedroom provides.

She explains how someone so young wound up in long-term care: Chyanne grew up in the child welfare system, without family support. Then, in 2016 at the age of 23, she injured her spinal cord when the TTC bus she was on crashed, sending her flying. 

Her injury, coupled with a previous epilepsy diagnosis, means she not only needs a wheelchair, but also extra support for daily tasks like bathing.

That support, she says, isn’t always available at Midland Gardens, where she alleges staffing shortages and neglect were often the norm in recent years.

Over a five-year span, Midland Gardens Community Care in Scarborough had 212 violations of the Long-Term Care Homes Act and Regulations (LTCHA), according to an analysis by CBC Marketplace. (Sue Reid/CBC News)

Marketplace‘s analysis found that between 2015 and 2019, the home had various repeat violations of the LTCHA, which sets out minimum safety standards that every care home in Ontario must meet.

Those repeat violations included infection control issues, injuries due to falls, medication errors or storage issues, abuse, and neglect.

But Midland Gardens has never faced any consequences from the province.

The full Marketplace review looked at 10,000 inspection reports, and found more than 30,000 “written notices,” or violations of the act. 

It also revealed that of the 632 homes in the Ontario database, 538 — or 85 per cent — were repeat offenders, but there are virtually no consequences for homes that break that law repeatedly.

A meal served to residents at Midland Gardens, says Chyanne, a 28-year-old resident of the Scarborough home who took this photo and supplied it to CBC News. (Supplied to CBC News)

Home has taken ‘critical steps’ to improve, company says

Sienna Senior Living, the company that operates Midland Gardens and owns more than 40 other long-term care homes in Ontario and British Columbia, maintains “critical steps” have been taken to improve operations and ensure residents and staff are as safe and healthy as possible.

Those efforts include enhancing staff expertise, growing a personal protective equipment supply, and reinforcing infection prevention and control practices, noted spokesperson Swaraj Mann in a statement provided to CBC News.

“As an added measure, we continue to meet weekly to review all areas of compliance and we have assigned a compliance lead who is collaborating closely with the Ministry,” Mann said in an email.

Those preparations, taken over the past few months, were meant to get ready for the second wave of COVID-19.

While the Marketplace analysis looked at violation data up until the end of 2019, the start of this year marked the beginning of the pandemic, and the arrival of the new coronavirus in hundreds of long-term care facilities.

42 resident COVID-19 deaths

Midland Gardens experienced 42 resident deaths in the first wave, according to Ontario’s figures.

“When it first came into the home, I felt like I was in a fishbowl, waiting,” Chyanne recalled. “I knew I was going to get it.”

And she did. 

In early May, Chyanne said she lost her sense of smell and taste — early warning signs of the disease. But she alleges staff didn’t take it seriously at the time, and weren’t adequately equipped with personal protective gear.

On May 17, she had a fever that spiked to more than 38 degrees, prompting a nurse on-site to call an ambulance. 

Chyanne took this photo of her arm while in hospital being treated for COVID-19 in May. She’s not sure how long she was hospitalized, which included a stint on oxygen in intensive care. (Supplied to CBC News)

Chyanne wound up in a hospital for several weeks, including a stint in an intensive care unit, hooked up on oxygen but, to her relief, never a ventilator. She was discharged on June 10th. 

Now, months later, she’s still coping with breathing issues, and the day-to-day challenges of living in a home marked by so much death.

When asked by CBC News about Chyanne’s concerns over staffing, protective equipment, food options, and an overall lack of proper care at the home, Mann said Midland Gardens is “fully staffed” with adequate levels of personal protective equipment, makes a wide variety of meal choices available to residents, and has remained out of an outbreak situation since July 17.

‘No tolerance’ for abuse: LTC minister

According to Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health, part of Toronto’s University Health Network, longstanding issues in the long-term care system go far beyond any individual home.

“Before this pandemic, long-term care was really struggling in Ontario, in the sense that it’s a really underfunded system,” he said.

While the homes are “highly regulated,” they’ve long struggled with staffing shortages, Sinha said, and the challenges of caring for elderly residents with complex needs, including dementia. 

He also said there has been criticism of the provincial inspection process for years, both before and after Ontario scaled back from having at least one thorough annual inspection to a largely complaints-based approach in 2018.

Marketplace host David Common called into a news conference with Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton earlier this week to ask her to speak to the fact that despite orders that are available to inspectors, homes still appear to commit the same violations repeatedly.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s long-term care minister, answers questions during the daily briefing at Queen’s Park in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

“There’s no tolerance whatsoever for negligence or abuse,” she said, noting that she feels her government is prioritizing serious offences in their inspections. 

“They must be dealt with in a fulsome way.”

Chyanne isn’t sure that’s happening.

Bundled up in a blanket, with her face mask pulled down to take a sip of Starbucks strawberry-coconut drink, she reflected on her unique journey from being an accident victim, to a 28-year-old long-term care resident, to a whistleblower trying to call attention to what she sees as abuse and neglect.

She’s desperately hoping to leave Midland Gardens, and is stuck on a waiting list for another home better suited to her needs — and age.

In the meantime, Chyanne plans to keep fighting for “accountability.”

“I’ve been tasked with something that is so hard to accomplish,” she said. “The government has known for decades about the problems in these homes.”

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Rewind Wednesday: Long-distance running during social-distance living

Almost immediately, the Tokyo training went sour. We pushed more volume because the goals were bigger. I was exhausted in a way I didn’t remember being before Berlin. When I got tired while training for Berlin, I could rely on residual leg speed from the summer track season, but this time, I didn’t have the same fitness going in. When workouts went south, they really tanked, and left me tired for days. When my agent called to share the news that I didn’t get into Tokyo, I was somewhat relieved. We put in applications for some later marathons and waited to see what came back. Things got worse. A week of recovery did little to help my fatigue, then my foot flared up and I had to take a few days off, and the terrible workouts continued. We decided to put the marathon on the backburner, drop my mileage, and focus on the one race I did have planned — the Marugame Half Marathon in early February. Ironically, I had just started to come to terms with not doing a spring marathon when Nagoya offered me a spot on the line. Rich and I weighed the pros and cons. How realistic was the marathon at that point? The training had been difficult, but I still needed more marathon experience and I had some good volume from December under my belt. For whatever reason, targeting Nagoya felt right.

By the time I realized I was training for Nagoya I was already five weeks in and focused on the Marugame half marathon, which was quickly approaching. Reflecting on my experience from Berlin, I remembered to let the paces come to me — not the other way around. This meant removing some of the pressure I had put on myself to run the Canadian record. It meant enjoying the training more. We didn’t push volume as much, trusting the base I already had. When workouts started to go well, I didn’t take the same confidence from them because I felt more rested. When I went to Marugame and ran two minutes faster over the half marathon than in the Edmonton half (which I had run before Berlin) I came up with explanations that didn’t have much to do with fitness: I was more focused for the Japan race, the competition was deeper, my training was more geared to the half marathon than it was before Berlin, so of course I ran faster. Looking back, the signs actually pointed to my fitness being similar or better, but I didn’t dwell on it. Berlin, in my eyes, was still the perfect training block and Nagoya was the scrappy afterthought.

After Marugame my workouts continued to progress, but there were a few speedbumps: the jetlag set off GI trouble and I couldn’t get through a workout without having to stop — something I never dealt with before Berlin. Then it snowed in Vancouver, something our city doesn’t handle well. Then I dropped a cutting board on my toe. Then two weeks out of Nagoya, just as my gut issues got under control, I went on antibiotics for an infected blister. Nothing required me to stop training, they were just little adversities that required specific attention, and shifts in the plan. This was also when my experience from Berlin helped. I understood better that the marathon is not about one week of training, or one workout, it’s about the entire block. Even I could see at that point the training block was going well.

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Canadian soccer star Ashley Lawrence living through ‘unique time’ in France

At 24, Ashley Lawrence is the reigning Canada Soccer female player of the year — an influential fullback/midfielder who has already won 91 caps for her country.

But the Paris Saint-Germain player has other things on her mind these days.

“This is definitely a unique time we’re living in,” she said from Paris. “For myself during this period, I’m always someone who tries to practise gratitude and to really see what I do have. I think it’s definitely more of an eye-opener being at home inside during such a long period of time. It really makes you think.

“For myself, it’s recognizing that staying inside, it’s so important. It’s difficult for a lot of people, for some more than others, but it’s a sacrifice that is going to help us in the long term. I think that there is a silver lining in this for everyone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Staying inside saves lives and it’s true.”

Lawrence, a native of Brampton, Ont., elected to stay in France at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I thought that maybe it’d last a few weeks and then the season would pick back up,” she said. “And now it’s obviously a lot longer than that.”

Canadian teammates return home

Another major factor was she lives with her boyfriend. Had she been alone, she says she would likely have returned home. PSG striker Jordyn Huitema and Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan, fellow Canadian internationals, are back in Canada.

France has been hit hard by the virus. Life has changed.

“Right now, we’re at a point where it’s pretty restricted,” said Lawrence.

She can leave her home to go shopping for groceries and necessities but otherwise is limited to an hour a day outside and has to carry a document that shows when she left and why.

“So very strict, but for obvious reasons,” she said.

There are “enormous” lineups at stores, exacerbated by the need for social distancing and limits to the number of people inside. The good news is Lawrence lives in the Paris suburbs, so the situation is slightly better than downtown.

Lawrence, who gets the occasional run in, is eating healthy. Her boyfriend studied nutrition.

PSG has given her an indoor workout regimen, as has the Canadian national team. Canada has also organized webinar sessions so she can work out with teammates and the national team strength and conditioning coach.

“I think it’s great for motivation and to see that we’re all in the same position in different parts of the world,” she said. “[After] getting the news of the Olympics being postponed, collectively we’re still working towards a goal and that’s the [Tokyo] competition — but also our personal development every day. So that’s been really nice to get that support.”

Important games loomed

Another of the reasons she elected to stay in France was Paris Saint-Germain was facing a crucial time in its schedule. Second in the French league, PSG (13-1-2) was due to play league-leading Lyon on March 14, Bordeaux in the French Cup semifinal on March 21 and Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal on March 25.

“Definitely a critical time for us,” said Lawrence, who joined PSG in January 2017 after a successful collegiate career at West Virginia.

Lawrence vies for the ball with Chelsea’s Millie Bright during a match in March 2019. (Feanck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

With Paris Saint-Germain just three points behind Lyon (14-0-2), the top-of-the-table clash was a big one.

Lawrence has seen action in a variety of roles with Canada from fullback to winger and central midfielder. With PSG, she has been playing on the left side — as fullback and wing.

She feels comfortable in both roles but says she enjoys playing left back, which allows her to attack down the flank or cut inside and use her right foot.

“I think I can really add a lot to the fullback position and kind of reinvent it in different ways,” she said.

‘A helping hand’

These days Lawrence takes pride in the soccer community doing what it can to help during the pandemic, citing the likes of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo who have stepped up to assist with generous contributions.

But you don’t have to be a superstar to make a difference.

“A helping hand. I think that’s really what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s seeing a person and seeing how you can help them in any sort of way, and make a difference. It is a chain effect.”

Lawrence has been doing her bit back home for several years via Yes She Canada, which she founded to help connect pro players with young girls and mentor them through sports “show them that they can believe in themselves, that their dreams are possible.”

“As I continue to learn, I want to transmit those experiences onto the next generation.”

Her time in France has honed her French language skills, with Lawrence saying it is now the language used at home with her boyfriend.

“I struggled with it [at school]. I would say that I was starting from scratch when I first came over to France,” she said.

Canada’s Beckie re-signs with Machester City

Canadian international Janine Beckie has signed a two-year contract extension with Manchester City.

The 25-year-old’s current deal was to expire at the end of June.

“My agent called me a few times throughout the year to share some inquiries he had received from abroad but it has always been my goal to win the UWCL [UEFA Women’s Champions League],” Beckie said in a statement.

“We have built a squad who can compete for every title available in the women’s club game and that is the kind of team I desire to continue with.”

Beckie has already done her bit to help fill the Man City trophy case. In February 2019, she converted the decisive spot kick in a penalty shootout as City beat Arsenal to claim the FA Women’s Continental League Cup at Sheffield’s Bramall Lane.

A striker converted to wingback in the absence of the injured Aoife Mannion, Beckie has five goals and 10 assists in 21 games this season.

Beckie, who made her senior debut in November 2014, has 31 goals and eight assists in 70 appearances for Canada.

She had three goals in the Canadian women’s bronze-medal campaign at the 2016 Rio Olympics, setting a Games record for fastest goal just 20 seconds into Canada’s opening contest against Australia.

Beckie joined Manchester City in August 2018 from Sky Blue FC.

“She represents everything that we are about — a player who has the desire to win and improve, whilst always putting the team’s needs above her own,” said Gavin Makel, City’s head of women’s football. “There’s no doubt that Janine will continue to get better and better as she has done over the last couple of years.”

City currently tops the suspended FA Women’s Super League with a 13-2-1 record but exited the Champions League in the round of 16 at the hands of Atletico Madrid.

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