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Tyson Barrie is a big x-factor for Maple Leafs

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The Tyson Barrie trade wasn’t just jaw-dropping and an inventive way to steal Free Agency Day headlines; it was also a catalyst for some fascinating debates about how valuable Barrie really is.

Some of the more intriguing Toronto Maple Leafs X-factors boil down to Barrie: how good is he really, and will Mike Babcock manufacture ways to get the most out of him?

If you’re the type to keep things really simple, you’ll note just how prolific a scorer Barrie has been from the blueline, and think that he’s grossly underrated. Barrie managed 59 points in 78 games last season, and had almost as many (57) despite being limited to 68 regular-season contests in 2017-18. Toronto Maple Leafs fans could be forgiven for drooling while imagining how the speedy defenseman’s numbers might translate to an already talented team.

Yet, for those who delve into deeper numbers, Barrie may actually be overrated, and open up a discussion about whether or not he’s much of a net positive for his team. By just about every shot-counting defensive metric, Barrie can at times be a disaster in his own end.

Really, assessing Barrie may come down to questions of taste and priorities. Barrie might be a right-handed shooting version of Roman Josi: a “roving” defenseman who controls the puck a lot, generates results on offense, but who’s overall positive impact can be questioned when you ponder puck possession stats, along with the conundrum: would his team be better off with a forward having the puck on his stick more than Barrie/Josi?

Like Josi, Barrie has shown positive traits when it comes to the transition game. Barrie’s particularly deft at exiting the defensive zone with puck control.

t’s useful to include a comparison to Jake Gardiner for a number of reasons, as Barrie essentially replaces Gardiner in 2019-20.

Barrie might even be a replacement as a go-to scapegoat, honestly. They’re both very useful defensemen who have their flaws, and those flaws get magnified in a harsh market like Toronto. It wouldn’t be one bit shocking if cameras fixated on Barrie during low moments in the same way they seemed glued to Gardiner after Game 7 gaffes.

Yet it’s their one fundamental difference that makes things especially intriguing, and Barrie an X-factor: Gardiner’s a left-handed defenseman, while Barrie shoots with his right.

Toronto was wise to add Jake Muzzin to a defensive group that saw a huge drop-off after Gardiner and Morgan Rielly, but ultimately, Muzzin was also a tad bit redundant, as all three shoot (and crucially, pass) left-handed.

Even if Barrie might end up being a downgrade from Gardiner, this boost in versatility could be big. It also presents Mike Babcock with a chance to prove that he’s worth the megabucks he’s been receiving from the Maple Leafs.

Theoretically, Babcock could use his experience and system to try to get the best out of Barrie. It’s probably a little much to imagine too much of a “teaching” situation for a defenseman who’s 28, but Babcock could optimize the situation with ideal zone starts, a defensive partner who is adept at denying entries to Toronto’s zone, and finding the right balance between Barrie’s aggressiveness and making safer plays.

Frankly, it’s also just as important that Babcock show patience with Barrie, who’s the type of double-edged sword who could drive a coach mad.

With Barrie entering a contract year, this is most likely to be a short experiment. We’re very much in “win now” territory for Toronto, though, so Babcock needs to get in the lab and use Barrie as a catalyst for a long-awaited breakthrough.

Venezuelan migrant who sings for tips gets shot at stardom after chance meeting

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When Mexican singer Mario Domm overheard a Venezuelan migrant crooning Domm’s own song in exchange for coins outside a restaurant in Bogota, Colombia, he was moved to tears by the young man’s powerful voice.

Now Domm is helping the singer, 22-year-old Alexander Beja, pursue his dream of musical stardom.

Beja is one of 1.4 million Venezuelans now living in Colombia, after fleeing a deep political and economic crisis in their home country that has caused long-running shortages of food and medicine.

The young singer arrived in Colombia last year and began to sing regularly on the streets of northern Bogota, in hopes of earning what money he could.

On the day last month when he was overheard by Domm, Beja was singing a tune called “Venezuela.”

“He had a voice like a bazooka,” said Domm, who founded the pop group Camila in 2005. “He has to use it.”

Domm bought Beja a mobile phone, and the two now talk daily to coordinate Beja’s planned September visit to Mexico, where he is set to record a duet with Domm.

“That’s when my life split in half,” said Beja, who walked and took buses for weeks to reach Bogota from his hometown of Maracay, near Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. He reunited in Colombia with two brothers.

“Honestly I can only say that there was a connection. I think my talent, more than singing, is in connecting with people, transmitting what I feel, and that’s what happened,” said Beja, sitting in the living room of the small apartment he shares with his brothers in Soacha, outside of Bogota.

“He cried and I cried.”

While he waits for a Mexican visa, Beja has continued to sing a cappella outside restaurants in tony parts of Colombia’s capital, where appreciative patrons deposit coins and small bills into his hat.

Beja earns about $15 a day singing. One of his brothers works in a restaurant, while the other works as a photographer.

Despite his current difficulties, Beja is confident he can reach musical stardom with help from Domm.

In the meantime, as he prepares for another day of singing, he urges his fellow migrants to keep their chins up.

“Don’t give up – it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

5 Ways To Cultivate A More Diverse, Inclusive & Equitable Energy Workforce

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When I assumed the role of CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association in January of 2017, I pledged to make diversifying the solar industry a top priority. No doubt, we still have our work cut out for us, but we have made important progress.

Last month, my organization issued a #DiversityChallenge, our call to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace, industry-wide and more. I challenged solar companies and other energy trade associations to join me in signing the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge. Nearly 100 organizations, including almost 80 solar companies, accepted our challenge and united with me in committing to the CEO Action pledge and vowing to work toward creating more diverse workplaces.

At SEIA, we’ve had difficult conversations with our board members about bringing more diversity to our board ranks, and we have substantially improved diversity and inclusion. But we’re simply not where we need to be, and it’s time for the solar workforce — and the energy workforce more broadly — to better reflect the communities we serve.

The reasons for this urgency are apparent. Diverse teams have a competitive advantage: According to McKinsey, companies that are ethnically diverse are 33% more likely to outperform their industry peers and have higher financial returns. The 2018 Women in the Workplace reportfound that in companies that lack diversity, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24% less likely; and LGBT folks are 21% less likely. And that lack of endorsement and validation has cascading effects on future advancement opportunities, an employee’s sense of inclusion in the workplace and, ultimately, on the organization’s success.

To achieve equity and inclusivity in the workplace, organizations must recognize that there are systemic forces that have contributed to a lack of diversity. A company’s culture reflects its leadership values, and is the heartbeat of any successful organization. Ideally, it drives inclusivity and can propel great organizations forward. But this isn’t always the case — the environment of a workplace can also hold its employees back.

Too often, ingrained practices leave talented people on the sidelines. Leaders must take steps within their own organizations that cement their commitment to more inclusive workplaces, both in the eyes of current and future employees.

To benchmark solar industry progress, we released a comprehensive diversity study with The Solar Foundation. The results weren’t pretty: More than half of men in the solar industry feel they have successfully moved up the career ladder, while only 37% of women feel they have and even fewer people of color feel they’re advancing.

To make lasting changes to company culture, you need buy-in at all levels of leadership, including the board of directors.

There are five clear ways to generate this kind of buy-in at every level, across an organization:

1. Make diversity and inclusion a core value: First and foremost, organizations need to make diversity and inclusion a core value that is reflected in mission statements and strategic plans. This includes incorporating diversity and inclusion into performance evaluations for managers and making diversity something that’s celebrated, not feared.

2. Include diversity and inclusion in decision-making: Diversity should be part of any major company decision. You should consider whether decisions are consistent with your diversity and inclusion values.

3. Spell out the business case: Understand and communicate why a diverse workforce is important to your organization’s overall success. Use data as a powerful, objective tool to secure support from skeptics.

4. Train leaders: Provide leadership training in diversity, inclusion, cultural competency and other diversity-related topics to help organization leaders build the skills needed to nurture an inviting work environment. Training sessions should include a discussion of the organization’s values, the value of a diverse workforce, the definition of diversity and inclusion and an open discussion of cultural differences, biases and stereotypes.

5. Challenge leaders to be role models: As role models, leaders should “live the values.” Leaders can endorse an organization’s diversity and inclusion goals and values. Employers can celebrate the leaders who are living these values to encourage others to strive toward this model.

Without commitment from senior leaders and the rank and file alike, lasting changes cannot be made. These five steps must happen in concert with a clear vision from senior leaders and a sustained effort to address systemic issues preventing progress. While senior leaders will most likely be the ones to kick-start these efforts, in order to be successful, employees will also need to take ownership of these values and goals. It’s on all of us to make changes, and I’m challenging other CEOs to join me in making diversity and inclusion a top priority.

Koji Igarashi tries Castlevania-inspired indie game

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Castlevania-inspired action game, Minoria is a 2.5D side-scrolling action game for PC, developed by Brazillian studio Bombservice and published by Japanese company Dangen.

As a spiritual successor to the Momodora series, Minoria is said to be a more aggressive take on the Castlevania genre offering a mix of weapon-based combat and magic.

“I’d say it’s a lot like [Castlevania] Symphony of the Night,” Igarashi says in the new video.

Minoria is out for PC now, with release dates for console ports to be announced at a later date.

What Jeffrey Epstein ‘could not buy, he forcibly took’: His accusers speak out in court

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Alleged victims of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself this month in his federal jail cell, shared their stories Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom.

The first accuser to speak, Courtney Wild, said Epstein sexually abused her for years.

His suicide “robbed” his victims of the chance “to confront him one by one” in court, she said. “For that, he is a coward.”

Another woman said Epstein was “strategic in how he approached us.”

“Each of us has a different story and different circumstances as to why we stayed in it,” the woman, identified in court only as Jane Doe 2, said. “It was like the analogy where the frog is in the pot and the heat goes up over time.”

More than 20 women either spoke in court or read statements.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who oversaw the case against Epstein before the financier’s death Aug. 10, invited alleged victims and their attorneys to attend the hearing after prosecutors asked that he scrap charges against the defendant since he is dead.

One woman, identified as Jane Doe 3, said she quit modeling after an encounter with Epstein.

Another told the court that she thinks Epstein’s victims “will never heal” from what they endured, a view echoed by others.

“He could not begin to fathom what he took from us,” one accuser said. “I am every girl that he did this to and they are me. Today, we stand together.”

Another woman, identified as Jane Doe 5, read a letter that she wrote to Epstein.

“I will never be able to get over the overwhelming emotions and embarrassment from that drama,” she said.

One woman said she almost died following an encounter with Epstein.

“He took me by the wrist. I was searching for words but all I could say was please stop, but that only seemed to excite him more,” Chauntae Davies said.

She also agreed with the other alleged victims that his suicide robbed them of justice.

“Every woman who is sitting in this room today, we have all suffered and he is winning in death,” she said.

Accuser Jennifer Araoz, who has previously said that she was manipulated to give Epstein massages that ended with him pleasuring himself, spoke through tears at the hearing.

“The fact he felt entitled to take away my innocence …. hurts me so very much,” she said.

Araoz’s lawyer said what Epstein “could not buy, he forcibly took.”

The lawyer asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to bring all of Epstein’s “co-conspirators to justice.”

Prosecutors said at the start of the hearing that a dismissal of the case against Epstein would not prohibit the government from investigating the alleged conspiracy related to the multimillionaire financier’s alleged sex trafficking.

“The investigation into those matters has been ongoing, is ongoing, and will continue,” a prosecutor for the Southern District of New York said.

Several accusers who spoke in court Tuesday named Epstein’s former longtime associate, Ghislaine Maxwell.

“We all know he did not act alone,” Sarah Ransome said, asking prosecutors to “finish what you have started.”

Theresa Helm said that Maxwell needs to be “held accountable.”

Another accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, said she was 17 when Maxwell allegedly recruited her. Giuffre said she was told that she could have a career as a massage therapist, but she instead became “a victim of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell and the horrible acts they committed against me.”

“I commend the prosecutors for the Southern District of New York for their ongoing pursuit of justice,” she said.

Maxwell, a British socialite, has been named in some court filings by women alleging abuse by Epstein.

A cache of court papers relating to a separate 2015 federal defamation lawsuit filed by Giuffre against Maxwell shows that she claimed in a 2016 deposition that Epstein and Maxwell groomed her to become a “sex slave” for high-powered men starting when she was 16.

Maxwell has not been charged with a crime and has not commented publicly since the papers were released earlier this month. Her lawyer also has not previously returned a request for comment upon release of the documents Friday and could not be immediately reached on Tuesday.

Previously, in a motion to dismiss the suit, Maxwell’s lawyers said Giuffre “produced no evidence substantiating any of her fantastical claims that she had been trafficked by Epstein, or by Maxwell.”

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Epstein’s death was “a rather stunning turn of events” and that giving the women a chance to speak was a matter of law and “respect.”

“I believe it is the court’s responsibility and in its purview that the victims in the case are dealt with, with dignity and with humanity,” he said.

Epstein, 66, was arrested July 6 on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. Prosecutors say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005. He was also accused of paying his victims to recruit others, allowing him to build a vast network of girls to exploit.

One accuser who wants to remain anonymous and is represented by lawyer Lisa Bloom, said in a statement prior to the start of Tuesday’s hearing that Epstein’s suicide “denied everyone justice.”

“I cannot say that I am pleased he committed suicide, but I am at peace knowing that he will not be able to hurt anyone else,” the woman said in the statement. “I do not want the narrative to be ‘those poor girls.’ … I want some sort of closure for those of us who will relive those horrible moments where we were assaulted, abused and taken advantage of by Epstein.”

Bloom announced prior to the hearing that none of her clients would be attending as they wish to remain anonymous.

Epstein was charged with one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking. He faced up to 45 years in prison if found guilty. He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.

His death in his jail cell was ruled a suicide.

He had been placed on suicide watch in July after he was found in his cell semiconscious with marks on his neck. He was later taken off suicide watch after being evaluated by a doctoral-level psychologist, the Justice Department said in a letter to Congress.

Spurs treading water

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Gregg Popovich is arguably the best coach in NBA history. Get him a few capable veterans, and he has guided to the Spurs to the playoffs. Every darn year.

He’s also 70 years old, which limits the value of a rebuild. Why waste seasons Popovich could prop up just to get young players he probably won’t stick around to coach? Might as well continue to enjoy the present.

So, the Spurs agreed to a contract extension with Popovich then commenced on a boring offseason – though one that included more action than desired.

The big prize was supposed to be Marcus Morris, a good forward who would’ve strengthened San Antonio’s rotation. But he reneged on his deal and signed with the Knicks. The Spurs are reportedly – and should be – pissed.

San Antonio traded Davis Bertans, a solid stretch four, to the Wizards to open money for Morris. That trade was already complete by the time Morris pulled out. Many top free agents were off the board.

The Spurs settled for Trey Lyles ($5.5 million next season, $1 million of $5.5 million guaranteed in 2020-21). He impressed a couple years ago, but he significantly regressed last season. There are reasons he was the fallback option.

At least San Antonio got a couple of more-ready forwards by re-signing Rudy Gay (two years, $29 million) and signing DeMarre Carroll (two years, $13.65 million followed by $1.35 million of $7 million guaranteed in 2021-22). Still, the plan was to get Gay, Carroll and Morris.

Mostly, the Spurs remain on the same course. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are still the headliners. All eight players who played in each of San Antonio’s playoff games return.

Still, there’s a tinge of a youth movement beneath the surface.

Dejounte Murray missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Derrick White emerged in Murray’s absence. Those rising point guards will be back next season, and it’s possible to envision a next era led by one – or if Popovich is creative enough – both.

For just the second time in the last three decades,* San Antonio picked twice in the first round picks. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they got those selections in a weak-looking draft. No. 19 pick Luka Samanic and No. 29 pick Keldon Johnson are fine, unspectacular prospects.

*In 2011, San Antonio traded for No. 15 pick Kawhi Leonard and drafted Cory Joseph No. 29.

The Spurs’ goal is clearly a record-breaking 23rd straight postseason appearance. That’ll be tough in a loaded Western Conference. But they’re content to try.

Students will have to meet new vaccine requirements next school year

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Hawaii students will have to meet new immunization requirements in the upcoming school year, including showing evidence of having received the HPV vaccine by the time they enter seventh grade, the state Health Department announced.

The new requirements apply to students entering childcare or preschool, kindergarten, 7th grade, and colleges/universities. The mandates are also for all students entering school in Hawaii for the first time.

And they’re aimed at bringing Hawaii immunization rules in line with CDC recommendations.

“The Department of Health is now updating our vaccine schedules to be in conformance with national recommendations. We haven’t done this in decades,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson.

“It now conforms with what most physicians are normally recommending in terms of vaccine schedules.”

Opponents of the new mandates, however, are concerned about possible adverse reactions.

They also question the safety studies done on vaccines.

“We feel like that’s just a basic human right to not ever have to be forced medicated with anything that carries potential risk,” said Kimberly Haine, a founder of the group Hawaii For Informed Consent.

Under the new requirements, all seventh graders will have to show that they’ve received:

  • The Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis)
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
  • And the meningococcal conjugate vaccine

When they were under consideration, the new vaccine requirements got pushback from some parents who don’t believe they’re safe. There was particular concern about the HPV vaccine requirement.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the CDC.

And the virus can lead to cervical cancer and other diseases. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the HPV vaccine for boys and girls at age 11 or 12.

“We’re getting to a point, I think, where we’re leading the nation in these types of initiatives to keep our population healthy,” said Anderson.

While the state says the HPV vaccine is safe after undergoing rigorous testing, critics disagree.

“It’s also not communicable in a school setting, so why are we forcing it to be a school requirement? If you really think that it could help prevent cancer, shouldn’t that be a choice?” questioned Haine.

The new requirements come as more parents opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their kids ― a trend that’s led to outbreaks of diseases like mumps and measles.

In Hawaii, the only allowable exemptions to the vaccine requirements are for medical or religious reasons. Despite the relatively narrow exemptions, figures released earlier this year show that at some Hawaii schools, a third or more of the children are unvaccinated.

Costco’s first China store was so popular it shut down traffic. But can it keep the buzz going?

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Costco has built a cult following in the United States — now it’s China’s turn. The country’s first Costco store is so popular that it had to shut down early on its first day because of too many shoppers.

The retailer opened its first physical outlet in Shanghai on Tuesday morning, and it quickly got too crowded to stay open.

“The store has been clogged up with crowds,” Costco said in a text message alert to its members in China. “To provide you with better shopping experience, Costco will suspend business in the afternoon. Please don’t come.”

Police were deployed to restore order and manage traffic jams around the store, with law enforcement urging people to remain calm.

“For your safety, we hope citizens who want to go to Costco can maintain a rational attitude about consumption and avoid going out during rush hours. Those who have already gone there, you must follow orders,” the Shanghai police said in a statement on its verified account on Chinese social network Weibo.

The photos posted by police with the statement included one of a sign Costco put up outside the store, which read: “The parking lot is full. It takes three hours to wait.”

The road ahead

While Costco has had an online presence in China for five years through a partnership with Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba (BABA), the new brick-and-mortar store in Shanghai marks a significant investment.

Costco’s annual membership program, which accounts for the bulk of its profit, is also cheaper in China — it costs 299 yuan ($42) compared to $60 in the United States.

But despite the early buzz around its Shanghai store, the US retailer will have to prove it can stick around for the long haul. It has to contend not only with global rivals like Walmart (WMT) and big Chinese players like Alibaba and JD.com, but also with China’s rapid economic changes and its growing online retail industry.

“There is big market potential for Costco in China, as its value for money strategy is attractive to many middle-class consumers,” said Michelle Huang, an analyst at Rabobank in Shanghai.

“Whether Costco can succeed in the long term depends how well it can adapt to China’s dynamic retail landscape,” she added.

Day one hype

While there are challenges on the horizon, the early hype around China’s Costco stores is very real.

Echo Zhou, a 28-year-old financial professional in Shanghai, said she arrived at 9:10 a.m., but didn’t make it to the parking lot until an hour later and finally got into the store around 11 a.m.

“The surrounding roads were paralyzed. The highway nearby was also congested,” she said.

“By the time I got in, there were crowds of old people who had already wiped out some shelves.”

Zhou said she decided to leave without buying anything as there was little room for shoppers inside the store, which was packed with crowds and the big shopping carts.

“I will give it another chance three months later as I’ve got the membership,” she added.

‘My Word Means Something’: Indie Dev Elaborates On His Viral Decision To Reject Epic Store Exclusivity

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In late July, Wlad Marhulets, the solo developer behind just-released horror game Darq, received the golden ticket: an email from Epic Games asking if he’d like Darq sold on their hugely popular online store.

It’s a deal a lot of other game developers have taken. Steam’s game store takes 30 percent of games’ sales and gives developers 70 percent; Epic takes just 12 percent. Epic also offers a cash advance to devs. Despite those favorable numbers, the downsides have been huge.

Epic often asks smaller studios for the exclusive right to sell their games, to the great chagrin of some gamers, who loathe the store’s lack of features relative to Steam and its upstart, money-fueled entry into the PC marketplace. Some just call the whole store “evil.” And after Ooblets developer Ben Wasser announced that the game would be sold exclusively on the Epic Games Store, and not on Steam, where fans had excitedly preordered the game, Wasser was attacked by what he called an “internet hate mob.” He’s not the only one. Metro Exodus, Borderlands 3 and other games’ exclusive deals with Epic Games have incited bubbling-over ire, too.

After all this, Marhulets’ golden ticket was looking more like a red mark. It didn’t help that the email arrived the the day before Ooblets’ exclusivity announcement, although Marhulets said in an email that his decision was “not based in fear.” After asking whether Epic Games’ offer necessitated exclusivity, and hearing that it did, Marhulets turned down the deal before even discussing money. Darq had been on Steam since November, 2018, and is also for sale on GOG. The horror adventure game was within the top 50 most wishlisted games on the platform before launch. “I felt going for an exclusivity deal would show that my word means nothing (as I just had promised the game would launch on Steam),” wrote Marhulets on Reddit. The positive response from fans was huge.

In a Medium post, Marhulets explained that he “never intended to become the face of the Epic Store exclusivity controversy.” Noting that accepting Epic’s offer might be right for other game studios, he expressed concern that bringing his game exclusively to Epic’s store would “forever ruin the credibility of my studio.” Marhulets also says he wishes that the Epic Store would let indie devs, and especially those with smaller teams, sell their games on their platform non-exclusively. Marhults posted an email exchange with an Epic rep saying that “We aren’t in a position to open the store up to games that simship,” shorthand for “simultaneous shipment.”

“I wish there wasn’t a double standard and indie developers were given an equal oportunity [sic] to sell their games across multiple store fronts, so the players can enjoy what they seem to want the most: a choice,” wrote Marhulets.

Reached for comment, an Epic representative told Kotaku that “We work with developers and publishers on a one-on-one basis and every situation is unique. We have a number of games from independent developers that are exclusive to our store, as well as a number of games that are available on other digital storefronts, including Steam. We have very limited release bandwidth and are definitely prioritizing games with opportunities for exclusivity and therefore significant Epic dev/marketing assistance. We consider many other factors as well, so there is no set formula.”

Marhulets said he “I never intended to become actively involved in the exclusivity discussion / controversy,” but wrote his Medium post to ensure his comments on Reddit weren’t taken out of context. He described all that’s been going on as “a lot of pressure.”

Darq’s Steam comments are dominated by grateful messages from fans and some derision for Epic. “I purchased a copy of DARQ to support this fine developer’s ethical business practices. Thank you for keeping your promises and taking a stand against store exclusivity. The world needs more folks like yourselves,” wrote one. “Support devs who keep their promises and stand up against evil. It also happens to be a great game so.. what are you waiting for?” said another.

“I intend to work in this industry for a long time and it’s important to me that my customers have the confidence that my word means something,” said Marhulets in an email. “As for harassing developers and sending them death threats for accepting exclusivity deals: there’s no excuse for it.”

Why it will take more than $20M to help Brazil put out Amazon fires

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An offer from the world’s richest nations to help Brazil stamp out the Amazon fires with $20 million in aid is a goodwill gesture, but it will barely make a dent in preventing further destruction of the rainforest’s vast and intricate ecosystem, observers who have studied the region say.

“Twenty-million dollars is a drop in the bucket,” said Robert T. Walker, a University of Florida professor who has conducted environmental research in the Amazon for 25 years. “It’s absurd to imagine logistically what effect it can have.”

But the money and what it represents — a concerted effort to protect the Amazon, and by extension, the health of the planet — remains embroiled by the political gamesmanship between Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The rancor was ratcheted up a notch this week when Bolsonaro appeared to comment on a Facebook post that mocked Macron’s wife, drawing a rebuke from the French president.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro was the one demanding an apology from Macron, and said he must retract past comments criticizing him before they can talk about Brazil accepting any money from global leaders, The Associated Press reported. Britain has also offered a separate $12 million in aid, while Canada has pledged another $11 million.

President Donald Trump has not offered any financial help, but tweeted Tuesday that Bolsonaro and Brazil have “the full and complete support” of the United States.

In turn, Bolsonaro tweeted: “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success” and the “fake news campaign built against our sovereignty will not work.”

Just how much money would be effective in the fight against the fires is unclear, but such an effort can cost governments billions of dollars a year.

In fiscal year 2017 — one of America’s most destructive wildfire seasons on record — the U.S. Forest Service spent more than $2.4 billion in firefighting costs. California alone saw more than 505,000 acres scorched.

The fires in Brazil, where a majority of the Amazon is located, have swept across more than 4 million acres, according to government officials. In neighboring Bolivia, more than 1.8 million acres have burned.

Brazil is using its military to fight the fires in seven states and deployed warplanes to dump thousands of gallons of water in the state of Rondônia, near Bolivia.

This year to date, almost 80,000 fires have been observed across Brazil, the most since at least 2013, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research.

While some of the blazes are due to uncontrolled wildfires, environmental groups say that many are the work of farmers who are clearing land illegally to be used for cattle and agricultural farming. They say those farmers have become more emboldened under Bolsonaro, who took office in January with the view that developing the Amazon would propel Brazil’s economy.

Most of the fires are starting in agricultural areas and are relatively easy to control and put out, said Rachael Garrett, an assistant professor of environmental policy at the Swiss university ETH Zürich and an expert in Brazilian land use. But when they escape from their intended locations, they grow much bigger.

“These large fires are substantially more difficult to put out,” she said, “especially when the agency in charge of fighting these fires has had their budget massively cut.”

September is the peak of the current dry season, and experts worry the fires will only grow further out of control in the coming month.

Walker said fending off these fires is extremely difficult because of how spread out the Amazon is, how decentralized the blazes are and the rough terrain that doesn’t easily allow for firetrucks on the ground.

“The nature of the beast in respect to fighting them is completely different” than in the U.S., he added.

Bolsonaro, who ran for president on a populist platform and antiglobalist wave, has generally rebuffed any aid from the international community, riding on the sentiment against the “colonialist mentality.” Brazil is a former Portuguese colony.

To get through to everyday Brazilians, world leaders need to drive home the message of respecting Brazil’s sovereignty, said Christie Klimas, associate professor of environmental science and studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

“Since the question of who owns the Amazon is a touch point in Brazil, it’s definitely worth the international community acknowledging that theirs is a gesture to help our global neighbors in an area where lives and land may be lost,” Klimas said.

But the idea that the Amazon must remain free from outside interests is misleading, given that Brazil’s meat and soybean production have a global reach and transnational companies have a stake in the region — driving the Amazon’s deforestation, Walker added.

Garrett said there’s a larger issue that still needs to be addressed: How to change the behavior of farmers who use fires to clear lands because they lack access to modern-day machinery and fertilizer.

“It’s very important that the international community acknowledges the reasons why farmers currently do what they do and offers to help them change their behaviors in ways that will improve farmers’ well-being,” she added. “Focusing only on telling farmers or Brazil at large what not to do and attempting to ‘save’ the Amazon without the cooperation of the farmers who live there just plays into the colonization narrative being put forward by Bolsonaro.”

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