More bad sex in Westeros: Why the recent “Game of Thrones” love scene left us wanting

Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm and Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei in "Game of Thrones"

Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm and Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei in “Game of Thrones” (Credit: HBO)

As many “Games of Thrones” viewers likely know by now, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) finally knocked sandals in the season 7 episode “Stormborn.”

“Thrones” viewers have been speculating as to whether the pair would ever make the beast with two backs since Grey Worm, the Unsullied Commander turned Queen’s guard to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) began working closely with Missandei, Dany’s “all business, no party” translator.

In the limited number of scenes where the pair engage in discussions that have nothing to do with their employer, Missandei and Grey Worm have subtly expressed how much they care about one another. One such moment occurs in an earlier season as Missandei helps Grey Worm to learn the common tongue. Last year Grey Worm busted out with a joke and was delighted to have made the woman he pines for laugh. For many people, the question wasn’t whether they would do the deed, but how, exactly, they would accomplish said act.

Turns out the answer was, very quickly and unrealistically.

Let me pause for a moment and observe that these scenes aren’t comfortable for most people to write about, and that’s triply true for people like me who clench up every time the warnings that air prior to any “Game of Thrones” include nudity or sexuality. It’s not that I’m a prude. It’s because sex, as it’s presented in this series, tends to be transactional or strained or is violence masquerading as sex. There’s not much veritable intimacy in Westeros world; instances in which sensuality is presented in the context of pleasure or romance are rare and fleeting, and definitely not meant to entice viewers like me.

Therefore the significance Grey Worm’s and Missandei’s love scene — and it was a love scene — cannot be underplayed. Yet as it was presented onscreen, it was pretty darn underwhelming.

Sparked on the eve of battle, Missandei goes to Grey Worm’s room and chastises him for failing to bid her farewell. He explains that she is his weakness, the only thing in the world that he’s afraid of losing. And then he rushes in and plants a kiss on her that looks a tad aggressive. She halts him . . . and then disrobes.

Here’s where a person can see the “Game of Thrones” equations kicking in. From director Mark Mylod’s point of view we saw both characters topless, and both fully exposed from the behind. But the scene direction skews the experience to cater to male concepts of sexuality foremost; Missandei strips, then takes off Grey Worm’s shirt. She moves to undo his pants, and he stops her. She reassures him by telling him she wants to see him.

The point of this scene is in that line. Two marginalized characters are viewing each other completely, and without armor or bindings. The power in that moment could have been augmented by letting the audience see through their eyes. Yet, we did not. As Missandei unfastens Grey Worm’s belt, the scene cuts to a tight shot of the frightened, vulnerable expression on the soldier’s face. What is he scared of, exactly? Who knows. We never got the front view.

This tells us what we already know, that full frontal nudity is a condiment “Game of Thrones” reserves for the men in its audience. A bare-chested Grey Worm is nice for the ladies, sure, but what does it say that the fact that Missandei was able to remain covered up until now represents a small win? (And now Emmanuel’s bare breasts can join the boob quilts adorning the walls of countless fanboys.)

However, in the view of “Game of Thrones” producers, to show Grey Worm’s castration scars would emasculate him, even though his actions up to that instant fit the common idea of what masculinity entails. He’s a gentleman, a skilled fighter and as he explains to her, the bravest of his fighter — and Missandei responds by lovingly pulling Grey Worm into bed after she drinks in the sight of him.

Looking at this from a wider contextual lens, the fact that the act was consensual and made Missandei’s pleasure central to the scene counts as a rare positive depiction of sexuality in Westeros. Salon deputy culture editor Gabriel Bell points this out in his recent take on the moment.

“While it’s a positive and empowering thing that she — ahem — got off, it’s also a bit odd. These things don’t normally happen your first time out.” Except, he adds, on a drama where virgin men regularly exhibit supernaturally endowed sexual prowess.

Not at all coincidentally, “Game of Thrones” hasn’t had a woman direct any episodes since its fourth season, and has featured a woman on its writing staff since its third. And there are no scenes in “Game of Thrones” where the show’s lack of female influence is more apparent than the ones involving depictions of carnal pleasure.

I’m talking about the moments where pleasure is the focus and intent — when Daenerys wields her power inside the tent she shared with Khal Drogo in season 1 (that is, after she’s had enough of him forcing her through the act nightly). Or when Robb Stark and his wife Talisa consummate their rule-breaking romance, or the hungry joy with which Ygritte and Jon Snow take each other in that cave north of the Wall. Those were all quick, explosive acts structured to rival Big Screen Sex, love scenes that don’t require much to get the job done.

In contrast, I can only think of one scene where a woman sexually objectifies a man for her own delight, and that is when Dany orders her lover Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) to strip for her. Which he does, and we get to observe . . . for about two seconds.

Knowing all of this, the coupling of Grey Worm and Missandei presented a different challenge as well as an opportunity: Since Grey Worm is a eunuch, there’s no way the two could ever go straight to pound town. As Dany points out in season 4, even if both the “pillar” and the “stones” are missing, there are plenty of other ways to physically express themselves. They could, you know, do stuff.

But the script went the obvious and illogical route, showing the virginal warrior skipping all the bases to slide straight down Missandei’s pioneer trail with his face, making use of everything he learned about the clitoris in Unsullied Human Sexuality Class.  Apparently this exists.  Another victory, right? I mean, a sizable portion of the male population in the real world either has no idea how to find the little lady in the boat or simply denies she exists at all. But Grey Worm does. Grey Worm has a strategy!

Nevertheless, that’s precisely the reason the “Stormborn” interlude ultimately dissatisfies. Even with this as its climax, the moment fails to integrate Missandei’s desire into the proceedings and, by proxy, the desires of both male and female viewers. Because if you care about these characters getting together at all, the nature of that affection likely is rooted equally in romantic ideals and pure inquisitiveness.

Plus, virginal fumbling can actually be quite seductive, a fact that “Outlander” viewers know quite well. The first season episode titled “The Wedding” framed the entire hour around the consummation of the union between its characters Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe). It was Jamie’s first time, and their initial try at the act was awkward. But then they connected after talking and negotiating and touching — lots of touching. The slow-handed segment of their wedding night only took about six minutes to portray, and what a six minutes it was. And it began in the same place as the “Game of Thrones” couple’s night of passion does, with Claire telling Jamie, “Take off your shirt. I want to look at you.”

That episode, by the way, was both written and directed by women, proving that the term isn’t called “the female gaze” for nothing. We want to see.

In the view of the men who created “Stormborn,” we did.

And the view left us wanting.

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Sean Penn directs “The Last Face” like it’s his last chance

Javier Bardem as Miguel Leon in "The Last Face"

Javier Bardem as Miguel Leon in “The Last Face” (Credit: Saban Films/Kelly Walsh)

 The seven extremely pretentious minutes that comprise the pre-credit sequence of director Sean Penn’s ambitious romantic drama “The Last Face,” are practically a warning to audiences about the badness to come. These scenes, full of didactic dialogue by writer Erin Dignam, are so heavy-handed and execrable, that it requires a fortitude perhaps only found in the African relief aid doctors that are the subjects of this film to get through all 130 minutes without wincing.

“The Last Face” opens with text over a map of Africa that describes “corrupted innocence” and “the brutality of love between … a man … and a woman” (ellipses theirs). Then there is a discussion between Miguel (Javier Bardem), a doctor, and Wren (Charlize Theron), a South African director of Medecins du Monde, the international relief aid agency her father founded, about a concert to raise awareness for the crises in Africa. Miguel wonders why entertainment is needed to make people listen. Wren responds, without irony, that the concert “reminds them what human nature is capable of.”

Then Penn borrows from Terrence Malick’s playbook. A ticking clock sounds, hands are embraced, a tear falls, and other impressionistic images follow: lantern balloons float through the night sky, a voiceover talks about saving the world. There is the concert, which includes an elaborate onstage sand painting, and a quote proffered from one of the Brontes. Viewers should away in droves.

“The Last Face” is the worst kind of good-intentioned noble failure, one that muddles its message because it tries too hard to tell it. Penn rubs the audience’s nose in graphic medical procedures or scenes of bodies wounded from being used as human shields, covered in flies as Wren retches at the horror. Penn displays faces of tearful African children so often one expects Sally Struthers to interrupt the action with an impassioned Christian Children’s Fund plea. (And if she did, it would be subtler). Penn even has his son Hopper Jack Penn, playing a character named Billy Boggs, telling Miguel that the African woman Miguel danced with was “raped from vagina to anus, but she’s dancing!” as if to emphasize the remarkable resilience of the suffering Africans.

That scene actually gets worse, and the film gets much worse. There are confusing rebel attacks (rebelling against what?) shot with slow motion and played out in silence. There is a scene in which Miguel hands an earbud to a recovering African patient, telling him the Red Hot Chili Peppers “is the best medicine.” Later, the same RHCP song, “Otherside,” is used in a comic sequence where Miguel traps Wren’s head in the window of a moving car before they stumble upon rebel war atrocities.

Penn does not seem to know how to shoot the action scenes. A roadside ambush in the rain should be urgent and stressful, but it feels contrived; it lacks power and emotion. Likewise, an emergency C-section of a woman with a neck wound — performed at night with only helmet lamps — should be intense, but Penn’s nose-rubbing approach makes it simply unpleasant.

The filmmaker is no better with the love story. Miguel’s big seduction of Wren may be one of the goofiest moments in this or any film. The lovers vigorously brush their teeth while staring at each other through a beaded curtain. It gets downright ridiculous, and unsexy, when they start gargling.

“The Last Face” toggles back and forth in time as Miguel wants to deliver a letter to Wren about their relationship. She is reluctant to read it and gives him the “You don’t LOVE me! You don’t KNOW me!” speech. His impassioned response — done with Bardem’s seductive blend of charm and conviction — is accompanied by a boisterous soundtrack that dilutes any involvement with the characters. Miguel and Wren are symbols, not people. She is the daughter of privilege, wrestling with her father’s ghosts and her mother’s affairs. He is an orphan who put himself through medical school. So much for backstory. Let’s move on to the love triangle.

In what may be the most head-scratching moment in the film — and that is really saying something — Wren’s French cousin Ellen (Adèle Exarchopoulos) drops a pair of bombshells on the couple that are potentially devastating. It would spoil the drama to reveal the detail, but suffice it to say, it involves a major heath issue of concern to African populations (and the rest of the world). It also gives the film another Big Important Message with which to cudgel viewers. Perhaps this subplot was included because Penn and Dignam didn’t want to leave anything out. It’s pretty clear this film isn’t getting a sequel.

“The Last Face” hoovers up every issue it can in an effort to ask the question, is aid to war-torn foreign countries valuable at all as long as there is no solution to the fighting (Insert Middle East parallels here). The film presents various sides of this argument — that it is futile to help; that announcing that aid is pulling out still raises awareness; that it is essential to be there regardless of what gets done — but because it is so preachy audiences are not required to think or decide for themselves. Even when a situation develops where there is only enough blood for one of several patients and someone decides to “play God,” viewers are spoon-fed the answers.

The film’s climactic dramatic moment is even further beyond the pale. This scene, which involves a child being corrupted by rebels who force him to abuse his father, ends with such an over-the-top melodramatic moment, that the martyrdom allegory Penn and Dignam have been (over)reaching for falls way short into bathos-land. The “tragedy” of this finale feels more like relief in that it signals the film will soon be over.

Though not before Wren’s impassioned public speech about war, poverty, natural disasters, and disease attacking the dreams of African lives in particular, and the rest of the world in general. Cue Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” playing on the soundtrack.

“The Last Face” goes for emotional broke whenever Penn can; the result is vertiginous. He features swirling cameras as he documents the horrors of war-torn Africa. He includes images of over-emoting actors that look like they should be magazine ads. He features on-the-nose songs by Eddie Vedder and Mary J. Blige, among others. But most egregiously, the black, African bodies are used to show suffering while the white characters yet again act as their saviors.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and “The Last Face” is a six lane highway, directed by Sean Penn.

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Arcade Fire: Content kings or killed by content?

Arcade Fire performs onstage.

Arcade Fire performs onstage. (Credit: AP/Dawn Fletcher-Park)

When Arcade Fire released their first major label album (“Funeral”) in 2004, critics were quick to fall in love. In hindsight, it seems like doing so was easy, almost obvious. The band’s sound, with its global and electronic influences coupled with the unique voices of husband-wife singers Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, was fresh. But the band’s spirit was familiar. Every note sounded earnest and urgent, tinged with desperation, hopefulness and tragedy.

“Funeral” was ambitious both as art and as pop. It contained four songs with the same title and it also contained a big, undeniable anthem (“Wake Up”). The band was immediately compared to groovy art-rock bands like the Talking Heads, and was soon thereafter anointed the heirs to heart-on-their-sleeves rock legends like Bruce Springsteen and U2.  

From an outside perspective, it has always seemed like Arcade Fire has aimed to cut the difference between the two sides — art rock and arena rock — and tip the scales away from the direction they’re leaning in any given moment. In 2010, Win Butler, the band’s lead singer and leader, reflected that, “Even when we started out playing little art galleries in Montreal, we’d pick up on a certain level of cool stand-offishness in the crowd and just try and break through it. We wanted to connect with the audience in a way that other groups we played with didn’t seem to really care about.”

Of course, on a subsequent tour Arcade Fire would bring the art galleries to the masses, performing arenas with giant papier-mâché masks over its members’ faces.  

The masks may have added a layer between the band and its fans, but they were also theatrical, the sort of grand carnivalesque gesture that you’d expect from Arcade Fire. The band’s recent antics, though, have been harder to square.

In the leadup to Arcade Fire’s fifth major label album, “Everything Now,” the band has pressed select all on meta marketing. It has produced a sugar cereal, USB fidget spinners, satirical Kendall and Kylie Jenner t-shirts and, most recently, a satirical website called “Stereoyum” (a play on the music site Stereogum). The site is full of Arcade Fire content; it is to Stereogum what Clickhole was/is to Buzzfeed. Headlines include “Remember when people used to play Rockband?”; “Advertorial: How to get the cheapest flights guaranteed”; and “Premature Premature Evaluation: Arcade Fire Everything Now.”

That last piece is ostensibly the reason the entire site exists. The article is just what it says it is — an especially premature review of Arcade Fire’s new album — that cleverly preempts criticisms by satirically making them before critics. Thinking of trying to make sense of the way Arcade Fire gave several songs on “Everything Now” the same title? You might feel silly doing so after reading Arcade Fire’s analysis: “There are three songs called ‘Everything Now’ and two called ‘Infinite Content,’ and clearly they’re meant to provide some kind of throughline.”

How about weighing the influence of producer Thomas Bangalter (of Daft Punk)? Well, consider what Arcade Fire has to say: “The impact of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter will be discussed at length, with at least 10 words about him written for every one that mentions the record’s other producer, Pulp’s Steve Mackey.”

The entire project is a pretty spot-on parody — both of the internet generally and of album reviews specifically (I’d be lying if I said reading the premature premature evaluation didn’t alter a few lines in my only kinda premature evaluation). It is not, however, the first stunt of its kind. Earlier this year, Father John Misty preempted his third studio album, “Pure Comedy” (which the premature premature evaluation predicts will slot a few spots above “Everything Now” in end-of-year-lists) with a similarly meta and sardonic mini-documentary and essay.  

As with Father John Misty, Arcade Fire’s paratextual content relates to the themes of “Everything Now.” The album is largely about navigating the digital age. “Infinite content, we’re infinitely content” is a line that will surely jam itself into your noggin and sing to you until you replace it with a DJ Khaled hook. Butler sings that song (“Infinite Content”) twice — first fast and then slow — but he does so playfully.  

But “Everything Now” overwhelmingly reflects a cynical attitude towards all that the internet hath wrought. On “Signs of Life,” Butler sings “Those cool kids/ Stuck in the past/ Apartments of cigarette ash/ Looking for signs of life/ Looking for signs every night/ But there’s no signs of life.” And the songs bookending “Signs of Life” are about media saturation killing originality and mediated conceptions of happiness leading people to kill themselves.   

It’s all a pretty big bummer — not least because of who is singing these songs and performing these stunts. “Pure Comedy” was in line with Father John Misty’s cynical jester brand. But sincerity has always been an integral component of Arcade Fire’s music. To watch Arcade Fire thumb its nose at the world like this is like hearing a parent swear for the first time.

All of which might lead someone to the conclusion that now, 13 years after “Funeral,” Arcade Fire is in the old man stage of its career arc, barking about how much the world has changed since its members were kids. That would be a fairly easy bit of content to create. But the truth is that when you clear the unceasing drumbeat of posts and takes — in fairness: some of which comes via the band — you’re left with music imbued with an extraordinary amount of life. Arcade Fire comes out hot; a short intro is followed by three songs with beats that will pop you at the knees. The sixth song, “Chemistry” will do the same, while transporting you to the islands. And, man, Regine Chassagne’s saw of a voice never ceases to cut me in half (“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” is the band’s best song in my book), and that’s as true on “Everything Now” as it has been on any previous album (particularly on “Electric Blue”).

“Everything Now” is a terrific album. (I imagine I’ll be ranking it higher than “Pure Comedy,” for what it’s worth.) I just wish enjoying it didn’t require breaking through the band’s cool stand-offishness.

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WATCH: Remembering Princess Diana, fun mum and Enya fan

NickKentAshleyGethingCOVER2

Drawing upon previously unseen family photos and footage, as well as interviews with those who knew Diana best, the new HBO documentary “Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy” is an intimate look at the private side of one of the 20th century’s most famous women. It also marks the first time Princes Williams and Harry have spoken in depth about their relationship with their mother, their grief for her — and the ways they’re trying to carry on her work.

“Salon” spoke recently with director Ashley Gething and executive producer Nick Kent on the making of the film and the legacy of the princess.

How did you create such a candid look at the royal family?

Ashley Gething: We went to meet the princes at Kensington Palace thinking maybe we were making a film about [Diana’s] work and her legacy in the world. At that point they said to us, “Actually, we are happier to make a film that’s more personal. …” The whole process of this year that our film records is this process of recollection. 

What the interviews record is that first awakening of memories, some of which are very sad and some of which are very joyous.

How is Diana’s impact still felt behind palace doors?

Nick Kent: She really tried to give [her sons] as normal an upbringing as she could under the circumstances. And you can see the way that Prince William and Kate are bringing up their own children, that they’re very much taking on board the lessons that William learned from his upbringing under Diana.

A big part of this film is about a universal subject — how do you keep alive the memory of someone you’ve loved and lost?

Watch our conversation on more about Diana’s private life. 

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4 reasons why you should not be browsing the internet without the Disconnect app

Disconnect App

Disconnect App

In a time when cyber-attackers are becoming more sophisticated every day and net neutrality regulations are constantly under fire, it’s a good idea to invest in some web-surfing safeguards. And when it comes to Internet security, Disconnect is second to none. Read on to discover why The New York Times, LifeHacker, PCMag, TechCrunch, and Ars Technica have all featured this all-in-one app.

1. It improves browser speed

Under normal circumstances, your everyday web browsing is subject to infiltration by various trackers and malware, which can drastically slow down your devices. Disconnect blocks tracking requests from connecting to your devices, which increases website loading speed and decreases battery drain.

2. It secures your data

While some web tracking exists merely to serve you more specifically targeted ads, there are more nefarious forms of tracking that aim to harvest your private data without your consent. Disconnect hides this data from companies, government agencies, and cybercriminals, allowing you to browse in peace.

3. It cloaks your identity

Wherever you roam on the web, you leave behind a trail that your ISP and other interlopers can use to identify you. Disconnect’s VPN technology encrypts your internet connection and masks your IP address, so you can maintain the privacy you deserve.

4. It unlocks blocked content

There’s nothing more frustrating than being locked out of a website, service, or app simply because you’re browsing from a different part of the world. Disconnect hides your location, so you can watch region-blocked content to your heart’s content.

You can get your lifetime subscription to Disconnect here, for only $49 — a major reduction from the regular price of $500.

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Kid-friendly “Emoji Movie” parodies “The Handmaid’s Tale” in jarringly insensitive tweet

The Twitter account for "The Emoji Movie" posted this parody poster and promoted the tweet on July 24, 2017.

The Twitter account for “The Emoji Movie” posted this parody poster and promoted the tweet on July 24, 2017. (Credit: Salon/Twitter)

Today in unfolding PR disasters: the marketing team behind “The Emoji Movie” — a computer-animated kids’ movie about anthropomorphic digital hieroglyphs, in which Patrick Stewart plays a piece of poop — posted a promoted advertorial tweet in which marketers inserted cutesy emoji into the poster for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian television series about a patriarchal society in which women are sex slaves and treated as chattel.

emoji

As of 7:00pm eastern time, the tweet was still live.

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” a very R-rated Hulu show based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, has had an outsize effect on culture this year. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election and the ongoing GOP war against women’s reproductive rights, many saw parallels in the patriarchal authoritarian world the show depicts and the real-world political attacks on women. In the show’s universe, “handmaids” are the term for the fertile women who are kept and raped by men of high status so that they can bear them children; the red outfits and lampshade-like hats, as depicted in the tweet from “The Emoji Movie” above, are the garb that handmaids are forced to wear.

The symbols of handmaids have become so potent that some have staged protests around the country wearing the handmaid dresses, to symbolize the silence and subjugation of women at the hands of a patriarchal political class. When Donald Trump spoke in Poland earlier this month, one group of dissidents dressed as handmaids in protest of the Trump administration’s policies towards women.

Given the heavy political implications and the show’s depictions of sexual violence, one would think it wouldn’t be a great object of parody in order to promote a summer popcorn flick marketed to families and children.

Predictably, many commenters immediately dragged the film’s marketers for their cringeworthy ad campaign.

 

 

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How changing your diet could save animals from extinction

Tree frog

(Credit: Trond Larsen)

Transforming large swaths of the tropics into farmland could render almost one-third of wildlife there extinct, new research suggests.

From the Amazon rain forests to the Zambezi floodplains, intensive monoculture farming could have a severe adverse impact on wildlife around the world.

Wildlife would disappear most dramatically in the remaining forests and grasslands of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The greatest species loss would occur in the Peruvian Amazon basin where as many as 317 species could vanish as a result of agricultural development.

As a doctoral researcher at Humboldt University Berlin, I studied human food consumption, land use and how they affect wildlife. Our research was published July 17 in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

While human population has doubled since 1970, the number of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians have dropped by more than half. At its root, this widespread environmental destruction is a result of our growth as a species and increasing food consumption to sustain ourselves.

Although climate change casts a shadow over future conservation efforts, farming is the No. 1 threat to wildlife. We have already altered some 75 per cent of the ice-free land on this planet. If we continue along our current course, we will need to double our crop production to feed a growing world population that demands more resource-intensive foods such as meat and dairy.

Africa at risk

Our research shows that Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly at risk of harmful agricultural development. This region is at the crossroads of economic, demographic and agricultural growth, and minimizing potential effects of agricultural change there is an urgent challenge.

This becomes more worrying when considering the percentage of land that is currently at risk (i.e. natural but arable) and not protected against future development. Four-fifths of the regions we identify at risk of farmland expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa are unprotected. This is less than half of the 43 per cent protected in Latin America.

Some may mistakenly believe that protecting land from farming is about preserving wildlife habitat while local people go hungry. But it’s not a binary choice. Instead, the goal is to ensure an ample supply of nutritious food while at the same time conserving the most biodiverse and unique places on Earth. This is possible if we try. Knowing in advance what areas are most at risk allows us to better plan for a more sustainable future.

Aside from protecting land, food can be grown at little to no cost to biodiversity. For example, small-holder agro-ecological farming, which uses diverse cropping techniques along with fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides, can produce large quantities of nutritious food at little to no cost to wildlife.

We need to increase awareness of agro-ecological farming methods and secure local people’s land-holder rights — a crucial step to preventing large foreign corporations from buying up land for monoculture farming.

Communities adopting agro-ecological techniques is a win-win solution that goes a long way towards sustainably feeding the world without pushing wildlife towards extinction.

What can policy makers do?

Current large-scale conservation schemes are based on factors that include past habitat loss and the threatened status of species, but none include the potential for future land-use change. We need to do a better job of predicting future pressures on wildlife habitat, especially because timely conservation action is cheaper and more effective than trying to fix the damage caused by farming. Our research takes a step in this direction.

We also show which countries could do with more support for conservation initiatives to protect land and find ways to sustainably grow food. Suriname, Guyana and the Republic of the Congo are just a few examples, as well as a number of countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa that are at the centre of high agricultural growth, low conservation investment and very high numbers of species that could be lost due to agricultural development.

Since most agricultural demand comes from richer nations, those countries should provide education and support for sustainable farming methods and locally led conservation efforts.

What can you do?

All of this raises the question: How can we eat well without harming wildlife? One simple step we can all take right now that would have a far greater impact than any other (aside from having fewer children): Cut out the grain-fed beef.

The inefficiency of feeding livestock grain to turn them into meals for humans makes a diet heavy in animals particularly harsh on the Earth’s resources. For example, in the United States, it takes 25 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. Pigs have a grain-to-meat-ratio of 9:1, and chickens are 3:1.

Imagine throwing away 25 plates of perfectly good food to get one plate of beef — the idea is absurd and would likely be news if done en masse. But that is precisely what we are all unknowingly doing by eating resource-intensive meat. Articles on food waste seem half-baked when keeping in mind the bizarre grain-to-meat ratio of many of our most popular meats.

There are ways in which farmers can raise livestock with little to no environmental damage, particularly when land is not overgrazed and trees remain on the landscape. Indeed, in some remote areas grazing cattle are a crucial source of food and nourishment. Unfortunately, the industrialized feedlot model that relies heavily on grain makes up the overwhelming majority of the meat in your supermarket. That is the kind of farming that our research investigates.

Livestock and deforestation

To make matters worse, the grain we feed animals is the leading driver of deforestation in the tropics. And it’s a hungry beast: our cows, pigs, and poultry devour over one-third of all crops we grow. Indeed, the grain we feed to animals in the U.S. alone could feed an additional 800 million people if it were eaten by us directly — more than the number of people currently living in hunger.

Livestock quietly causes 10 times more deforestation than the palm oil industry but seems to get about 10 times less media attention. While it’s certainly true that avoiding unsustainable palm oil is a good idea, avoiding eating animals that were raised on grain is an even more effective conservation tactic.

Feeding the world without damaging nature is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces. But with a little foresight, better land governance and some simple meal changes, many of the solutions are at arm’s length.

The ConversationFor wildlife’s sake, go forth and enjoy your veggie burgers.

Laura Kehoe, Researcher in Conservation Decision Science and Land Use, University of Victoria

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The strange bargain of “Shark Week”: Salon talks to a marine biologist about Discovery’s annual event

A view of a great white shark.

A view of a great white shark. (Credit: Discovery Channel)

Sharks are what’s known as a “celebrity species” amongst biologists, conservationists and, perhaps this goes without saying, the entertainment industry. Even when “Shark Week” isn’t in full swing, as it is right now on both Discovery Channel and Nat Geo Wild, these marine wildlife superstars are famous enough to capture our collective imagination, inspire donations to fund their preservation, and play upon our anxieties.

The sinister mystique surrounding these creatures is why “Shark Week” came into existence in the first place, and it remains a summertime TV tradition nearly 30 years later. Since 1988, Discovery’s week-long primetime event reliably lures in viewers and ad revenue for the network. And its arrival also leads people to question whether this celebration is doing more harm these days than good. To answer that question, Salon reached out to marine biologist Chris Lowe, who is the director of the Shark Lab at California State University at Long Beach.

Lowe lends his expertise to “Sharks and the City: LA,” which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Discovery. Because of this, a reader might suspect, is where he falls on the pro-con spectrum of the “Shark Week” debate. But not so fast — Lowe also is a researcher and educator during the 51 weeks of the year that Discovery’s event programming isn’t airing.

“In many ways it keeps me busy,” he told Salon. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I think there are probably better ways to keep me busy.”

While Lowe sees merit in Discovery’s efforts to raise awareness about sharks behavior and habitats, “the flip side of this, and I know this sounds weird, but my biggest battle right now isn’t dispelling myths about sharks, it’s dispelling myths about shark research funding,” he said. “I think Discovery has kind of made it more difficult. We’re constantly grubbing for money to do this work, and the reality of it is at the state and federal levels, sharks don’t get a lot of money unless they’re endangered or we eat them.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund there are more than 400 types of sharks in existence right now, although the count is wildly imprecise. What we do know is that many of these populations are endangered or threatened, and their decline is deleterious to the heath of our oceans’ ecosystem. These apex predators keep other populations in balance, and they also mature very slowly and produce fewer offspring relative to other marine species.

Between falling victim to being accidentally caught by commercial fishing vessels and hunted for their fins, the central ingredient in a pricey soup that’s popular in Asia, some 100 million sharks are killed each year.

The majority of “Shark Week” fare plays into the popular image of sharks as the manhunters of the sea. That’s why these days Discovery primarily focuses on the entertainment value of sharks, with science serving as an auxiliary to that idea. The channel has learned from its low point in 2013, somewhat, when it passed off pure fiction as a documentary about a prehistoric 50-foot-long shark titled “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.”

The resulting backlash pushed Discovery to refrain from passing off fantasy as fact in these shows.  Instead, “Shark Week” markets itself with celebrity stunts. This year’s Week kicked off on Sunday with a widely promoted race between Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps and what ended up being a computer simulation of a great white shark. While that should not have surprised anyone, apparently a few people were ticked off at witnessing what they saw as false advertising.

Maybe they’ll be comforted by knowing they can count on the entertainment integrity of “Shark Week” programs as “Alien Sharks: Stranger Fins,” “Devil Sharks,” “Shark Storm” and “Sharkmania.”

Nat Geo Wild’s “Sharkfest” offers “Tiger Shark Terror,” “Shark Swarm,” “Shark Frenzy!” and three episodes of “When Sharks Attack” on Friday.

Don’t forget that these join a pantheon of shark horror movies starting with “Jaws” and more recent titles such as “The Shallows” and “47 Meters.” And on August 6, Syfy’s own summertime shark tradition returns as “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming” makes its debut.

“At least ‘Sharknado’ is kind of campy, right?” Lowe said. “There’s nothing realistic about it at all, which means in my opinion, the public can look at that and go, “Well that would never happen.” But with things like ‘The Shallows ‘and ‘47 Meters,’ what makes those scarier to the public is the fact that there’s a little bit of reality in there, and then of course there’s a bunch of unrealistic things about shark behavior that we’ve been trying to dispel.”

Addressing the Discovery and NatGeo practice of giving their shark-focused documentaries titles that resemble B-movies, “that recipe has been effective in terms of getting people to watch, but it does make my job harder because we need to get people to overcome that fear, and it’s hard to do when every summer the same formula of movie comes out over and over again portraying sharks as they’re gonna hurt you,” Lowe explained.

“Nonetheless,” Lowe continued, “if I can interject some science into it and try to get people to look at sharks differently based on what we really know about them, then that interest may actually eventually turn into concern and willingness to protect them.”

Based on its description “Sharks and the City: LA” may speak to a positive story about sharks; Lowe is noticing that populations in the U.S. are recovering. What this means is there’s an increased likelihood that Americans may interact with sharks in the ocean.   “We want to start to make people aware of the fact that they may see a shark in the wild [but that] doesn’t mean that they’re going to be bitten, even though that kind of connotation is in much of that programming,” he said.

Of course, Lowe added, when sharks do bite people, that creates a national news feeding frenzy. But those incidents bring him back to his original point: “Answering those key questions about what sharks do, and why they do what they do, and how can we keep people safer — that requires funding, but nobody wants to pay for it.”

Conservation efforts, he explained, are privately funded by a range of groups, most of which do not give money to science. For that matter, neither does Discovery Channel.

“The one thing about National Geographic that’s always been great is they offer grants. I can apply to Nat Geo for a grant, and they in turn get first dibs on any video, pictures, things like that,” Lowe said. “We’ve been pushing Discovery hard to do the same thing, and I think it would be great if they did. That’s a great way to support and promote shark research and conservation, and they would have things to show in the future.”

A bright development for which Lowe gives Discovery credit is that he’s noticed that most of its “Shark Week” line-up features credible scientists. “In the past, that hasn’t been the case,” he said. “People who [would] go out and swim with sharks a few times were calling themselves experts, and Discovery was billing them as that. And that was just wrong. At least now there’s a group that legitimately does shark science, and it’s always that battle that we have, to try to keep it toned down and keep that educational message there.”

Having said that, the week is closing out with “Shark School with Michael Phelps,” an hour in which the experts dispelling the myths and common misconceptions about sharks receive lower billing.

“Their argument is it’s about entertainment, and I always say that’s fine,” Lowe said. “Just be careful when you start to call this education because that’s where as an educator I have to kind of step in and go, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s really focus on education if you want to go that direction.’”

Source: New feed

More talk, less action

Couple drinking coffee and talking

(Credit: Getty/courtneyk)

Once upon a time romance began with a chance eyelock from across the bar, a quick flash of a smile, or an accidental-but-not-really graze of the fingers. From there a good wit or a sincere compliment were rumored to take the initial attraction to the next level in a dizzying flood of feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters. A connection is concretized with a conversation that leaves you wanting more with each word.

Nowadays, however, conversations are stymied due to an increased dependency on social media and digital devices. From a romantic standpoint, phones and apps often serve as a panderer to fast and effortless hook-ups that leave people wanting more not due to quality, but rather deficiency of substance.

A new survey called “Conversation Nation” by dating app Plenty of Fish reveals the depths of American singles’ desire to connect on an intimate level that doesn’t have everything to do with sex. In fact, 90 percent of respondents reported great conversation as being the top marker of a great date. Face-to-face conversations illuminate a potential partner’s intelligence and sense of humor, which are both desirable traits that also serve to make people seem more attractive.

But something strange is going on, especially with Generation Z. While 87 percent of Gen. Z respondents said they prefer in-person conversation with someone they’re interested in, 62 percent said they’re too nervous for face-to-face conversation. Generation X and boomers reported less anxiety by comparison (32 percent and 26 percent), but the reasons were the same across the board. All three groups reported fear of rejection and not knowing what to say as the reasons for being hesitant to start a conversation. It’s hard to curate a conversation IRL as it’s happening.

Awkward and uncomfortable in-person interaction extends beyond romantic interest. Survey respondents reported a reduction in things like everyday manners, with 66 percent agreeing that common courtesy is a lost art. The cause for losses in conversation and courtesy is due in large part — you guessed it — to our phones. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents believed technology has negatively impacted our ability to have meaningful face-to-face conversations. This occurs because people have become conditioned to check their phones 76 times per day, a rude distraction for any interlocutor. Additionally, excessive phone use causes a person to become accustomed to keeping their head down, which of course greatly reduces eye contact and one’s level of comfort with it. And quite simply, our phones have made us terrible at communicating out loud and in person.

It’s easy to spot: social media influencers with thousands of followers on the ‘gram whose conversations largely consist of the phrase “yeah, for sure!” before an awkward scramble to retrieve their phone to check for the third time in two minutes.

Another reason for decline in in-person conversation is reduced ability and willingness to listen. How often do we absorb a friend’s or lover’s words instead of waiting for an opportunity to jump in? Are we all guilty of dismissing someone’s feelings or news as easily as we scroll through a user’s social media pages? It’s not surprising that selfie culture has lead to self-destructing social skills but it’s sad to think we’ve willingly enclosed ourselves to the confines of our phones, head bowed enough to update the digital world on what we’re doing but not enough to see where we’re going.

Source: New feed

Inside the right-wing fight to stop the next conservative media conglomerate

Trump TV

(Credit: Getty/vladakela/Joe Raedle/Salon)

Newsmax Media, the operator of a popular conservative website and a fledgling rival to Fox News, is asking federal regulators to delay the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s offer to purchase the local television company Tribune Media. In a new filing with the Federal Communications Commission, Newsmax argued that the Sinclair-Tribune merger would be unprecedented and deserved additional government scrutiny.

“This current transaction overturns more than three decades of bipartisan consensus and rulemaking, as well as Congressional intent, while raising serious competitive concerns,” the company wrote in a formal letter to the FCC.

“I think the Sinclair merger with Tribune raises very serious concerns about competition and media diversity,” Newsmax CEO and founder Chris Ruddy told Broadcasting and Cable, a television industry website which first reported on his company’s opposition to the deal.

“President Trump himself warned about the ‘concentration of media power.’ The Commission and public need sufficient opportunity to carefully review this precedent-setting deal,” Ruddy continued.

Although it makes most of its money selling newsletter subscriptions and dietary supplement pills, in 2014, Newsmax began trying to expand into cable television in the hopes of leveraging its dedicated fan base of elderly Americans. The site also offers a printed weekly news magazine.

Newsmax joined the American Cable Association, Dish Network, and the liberal group Public Knowledge in asking the FCC to give extra time to evaluating whether the merger should be permitted. Last April, the agency voted to restore an arcane rule which allowed media companies to claim a “discount” on stations that broadcast over UHF which had been removed during the Obama administration by Democratic members.

Getting the “UHF discount” back in place was something that Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch had been seeking since it was removed. Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. had also made a bid for Tribune but its offer price was too low for the local television company.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a private company owned by the family of its founder Julian Sinclair Smith, has recently come under intense scrutiny from liberal activists who claim the station company is biased toward Republicans. All Sinclair stations are required to run commentary segments which feature two conservative commentators, one of whom, Boris Epshteyn, is a former adviser to President Donald Trump. The company does not feature any left-leaning commentators in a similar fashion.

Sinclair has denied allegations of bias, insisting that its coverage is fair. In an internal memo to company employees which Politico reporter Hadas Gold published last week, Vice President of News Scott Livingston said that the commentary segments are clearly labeled as such and do not come anywhere close to offsetting the amount of time Sinclair gives to the views of left-leaning commentators like Whoopi Goldberg, George Stephanopoulos, and Stephen Colbert.

“Mark and Boris’ commentaries provide a viewpoint that often gets lost in the typical national broadcast media dialogue,” Livingston wrote. “Boris Epshtyen worked in the Trump White House, a fact that Sinclair makes no effort to hide, and provides a unique insight that viewers can’t find anywhere else. The presence of former administrative personnel serving as news commentators is a well accepted practice in journalism.”

Currently, Sinclair owns over 170 local television stations across the country, broadcasting to about 40 percent of American households.

Tribune Media owns 39 local stations. It also owns the basic cable channel WGN which media observers have speculated could become the foundation of a Sinclair competitor to Fox News. The company also owns a large stake in the Food Network.

Source: New feed