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The practical guide to mid-pandemic sex, because abstinence isn’t cutting it

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I have a confession: I’ve had sex since social distancing began. With someone I met on Tinder, someone I don’t live with. And I know friends doing the same. 

With the pandemic still a major concern across the United States, people having sex or even just wanting to have sex may feel shame — even more shame than usual in this Puritanical wasteland. We’ve been told to abstain from pleasure and release at a time where we need it most. 

We’ve also been given almost no guidance about how to safely have sex in the time of social distancing. As of publication, the CDC hasn’t released safe sex practices specifically about having sex during the pandemic, apparently assuming those without a live-in partner will be celibate in the meantime. 

Well, telling people to be abstinent doesn’t work. The failures of abstinence-only sex education have been proven time and time again, and experts reiterate this point. “Abstinence-only education has never worked in any setting,” Holly Bullion said in a phone call to Mashable. Bullion is a nurse practitioner and director of clinical quality at Texas Health Action, a non-profit that operates a sexual wellness clinic called Kind Clinic. 

“Now that we’re half a year into a pandemic, it’s definitely not going to work.” So why do authorities like the New York City health department think that telling its residents that “they are their safest sex partner” is going to keep them satisfied? 

It is, of course, true that solo play or virtual sex are the safest routes right now, but for many that simply is not a realistic or sustainable solution. Telling sexual adults to not have sex at a time when we’re not only socially isolated but also increasingly anxious and depressed is only going to result in shame — and perhaps even drive people to engage in riskier behavior if they feel the need to be dishonest for fear of “being found out.” 

In addition to offering masturbation as a tactic, NYC Health also offered glory holes as an option. Glory holes themselves aren’t a problem; they are actually a safe route and can get people off. The problem is that the concept of mid-pandemic safe sex practices has been largely turned into a joke, with suggestions being doled out that aren’t helpful for the average horny person who can’t drill a hole in their rented bedroom wall. 

The lack of actual best practices for safer sex is partially why Kenneth Play, who was called “the world’s greatest sex hacker” by GQ, partnered up with Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, Chelsey Fasano, and Karen Ambert MD, MPH to create a vital guide: Smarter Hookups in the Time of COVID-19

“We wanted to write this guide because pleasure is a right, and a deep need”

“We wanted to write this guide because pleasure is a right, and a deep need,” the introduction states, “and because we believe that the best way to ensure safety is to offer realistic guidelines. Telling people not to have sex just doesn’t work.”  

Smarter Hookups, which launched on Thursday, emphasizes the irony in the lack of guidance. We’re more lonely and in need of pleasure and intimacy, yet no one has told us how to process it in a practical matter. We — those without live-in partners, those who may have multiple partners, those who just want to get off with someone else — deserve sex and intimacy, even in a pandemic. (Dare I say, especially in the pandemic.) 

Play said the difficulty they had handling the coronavirus lockdown within his sex-positive community Hacienda (14 people living in a three-family home) is what inspired the guide. “Even though we are all highly practiced negotiators of measures related to sexual health, we still struggled navigating our group living situation during the Coronavirus pandemic,” he said in a press release. “This inspired me to create a framework for navigating this challenging time for everyone else debating similar considerations.”

Here are some sensible tips to help ensure that you can also have a responsible mid-pandemic sex life. 

Questions to ask yourself first

The pandemic has ushered in an era of radical honesty — not just with potential partners, but also with ourselves. In some ways, navigating sex during the pandemic is similar to what we did before. Only now the focus is on contracting coronavirus as opposed to an STI. (Though, of course, it’s still possible to transmit STIs and proper precautions should be taken on those fronts. Don’t forget to continue using your normal method of birth control, as well.) But the risk of exposure is even more amorphous now. So if you’re considering having a sexual partner (or multiple partners) that you don’t live with right now, here are questions Vrangalova recommends you ask yourself:

  • What are the actual risks? This includes rates of infection in your community; your possible exposure, which depends on your behavior; and the likelihood of you developing serious symptoms.

  • How comfortable are you with these specific risks?

  • How much are you willing to uphold specific protocols and risk reduction strategies? 

Then when you factor other people into the mix, you need to consider how comfortable they are with both your behavior and attitude on the matter. Basically, what is your tolerance for risk? If you’re going to be lax about COVID guidelines while a potential partner is more stringent, you may not be a good match.

Levels of radical honesty

Smarter Hookups broke down everyone you interact with into three different levels. Level 1 is your most intimate group: Roommates and lovers, those who have highest likelihood of transmission. Level 2 is friends you see and co-workers if you have to go into the office; this is a moderate level of transmission risk. Level 3 is the wider public, those you have the lowest amount of contact with (and, hopefully, are maintaining a distance of six-or-more feet from and wearing masks around). 

As you’re sharing the most infectious behaviors (everything from sharing the same air for a prolonged period to kissing and exchanging bodily fluids) Level 1, you need to have the most open and honest communication with those people. Not only that, but you should negotiate and reach a level of consent with each member to this group. 

“Regardless of what you all collectively decide to do, one thing that is clear is that there should be a form of contact tracing and transparency that occurs within this group, exactly like what would happen in regard to STIs,” the guide reads. “Essentially, if one of you gets sick with or tests positive for an active Covid-19 infection, everyone within this level should be informed, and should take subsequent precautions.”

The practical guide to mid-pandemic sex, because abstinence isn't cutting it

Image: vicky leta / mashable

This isn’t unlike a polyamorous scenario. Bullion said that besides oneself, virtual play, and a live-in partner, a polyamorous-type pod is your next best bet: A mutually exclusive group where everyone knows each other and everyone is on the same page about sexual contact and following guidelines.

Smarter Hookups also recommends a pod-like structure with six to 12 people — enough where everyone can communicate openly. Of course, you don’t have to be sexually involved with everyone in the pod either. 

If you and a partner want to swing, the guide recommends choosing one other couple rather than changing it up each weekend. 

Everyone in Level 1 — roommates, your pod, swinging buddies, etc. — should know about each other in detail. How many people are in Level 1? How often are you seeing them? What behaviors are you, and they, engaging in? If members of Level 1 have different risk tolerances, the full guide has suggestions on how to proceed. 

For those in Level 2, you don’t have to share everything that you do with Level 1 folks, but you should still be honest. If you are, for example, making out with a bunch of strangers, it’s best to inform Level 2 that you’re engaging in high-risk behavior. While you don’t have to go into detail about said behavior, you have an ethical responsibility if you’re potentially putting someone at risk.

If possible, make guest lists for parties and other functions in order to establish a level of contact tracing. Again, take note of how many people you’re coming into contact with and examine your behavior. How many people are in your Level 2? How often do you see them? Do you wear masks? 

For Level 3, the onus is on you to be responsible. Follow protocols and definitely stay home if you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms. 

A note on COVID-19 testing and sex

While one might consider getting tested for COVID-19 regularly the best route to take in order to keep their partner(s) safe, Bullion said otherwise. Rather, screening questions (and being honest about the answers!) similar to the Mayo Clinic’s self-assessment tool can better gage safety. These questions include: Have you or any of your partners been recently diagnosed? Do you have any symptoms?

“COVID testing…isn’t as helpful as doing a screen that says, ‘Have you had contact with anyone with confirmed COVID in the past 14 days? Have you had any of these 20 symptoms in the past 14 days?'” she said. 

Further, Bullion doesn’t recommend getting tested unless you believe you’ve been exposed. The test should be for those who are high-risk — like essential workers and their families, those who’ve been exposed, and those who have symptoms. 

“Getting COVID testing done every month doesn’t matter for any day after the time you were tested,” she commented. “The test doesn’t change any of those questions that we should be asking ourselves and trying to ask people that we might be potentially engaging in any kind of sexual activity with.” 

“Getting COVID testing done every month doesn’t matter for any day after the time you were tested”

As COVID-19 has been traced in semen and feces, there are still unanswered questions about how the virus is spread. Since it may not just be in the respiratory droplets, a negative test isn’t the end-all. 

Sex parties and casual sex

Just as the rich are paying $500 a pop for rapid COVID-19 tests to party in the Hamptons, some sex parties are cropping up doing the same thing. According to Bullion, the least safe sexual encounters right now are with one or more partners you don’t know — and rapid tests aren’t to be trusted. 

“You can test negative for COVID on a rapid test and still have COVID,” she warned. “It might just be that you don’t have enough of the virus in your nares [nostrils] yet for it to pick it up.” Screening is better than no screening, but it can give a false sense of security. 

In terms of casual sex with someone you don’t know, the ideal would be that they’re as open and honest as you. As this may not be the case, Smarter Hookups says to assume you’re at high risk for developing COVID-19 if you engage in this behavior. Thus, let Levels 1 and 2 know about this. Using physical barriers, like wearing a mask during sex (as Dutch sex workers are doing), could also help prevent the spread.

What about if you’re immunocompromised?

“Just because we’re immunocompromised does not mean that we don’t deserve to have sex,” said Bullion. “It’s about setting tighter ground rules for yourself and your partners.” 

In addition to being more stringent about their partner guidelines, Bullion also said the ideal scenario is a small group of known partners. She recommends “mask sex” or positions that limit face-to-face contact if you go maskless, like doggy style and reverse cowgirl. 

Immunocompromised or not, sex is an important outlet for many people. We’ve been isolated for months and at this point, perhaps quarantine fatigued. “For people who are out there thinking about having sex again, or who are already having sex, it’s just about knowing where your resources are and making informed decisions,” said Bullion. 

You don’t have to feel shame for wanting or having sex amid the pandemic, but you should be armed with good information and do your best to follow best practices. As Bullion commented, “The joy of sex — and everything, we do right — is about making informed decisions.”

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Global Stocks Fall as Virus Cases Surge: Live Updates

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In 2007, Steve Jobs, left, Apple’s co-founder, invited Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, to join him to explain how Google would work on the iPhone.
Credit…Tony Avelar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For 15 years, Apple and Google — Silicon Valley’s two most valuable companies — have been partners in one of the most lucrative business deals in history: an agreement to feature Google’s search engine as the preselected choice on Apple devices, including the iPhone.

The deal, updated over the years, has been worth billions of dollars to both companies, but it is now in jeopardy after the Justice Department filed a landmark lawsuit last week that accused Google of using illegal tactics — like the rarely discussed pact with Apple — to protect its monopoly and choke off competition in web search.

Apple and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, compete on plenty of fronts, like smartphones, digital maps and laptops. But the rivalry has been put aside when it suits their financial interests.

Nearly half of Google’s search traffic comes from Apple devices, according to the Justice Department, and the prospect of losing the Apple deal has been described as a “code red” scenario inside the company. When iPhone users search on Google, they see the search ads that drive Google’s business. They can also find their way to other Google products, like YouTube.

In exchange, Apple receives an estimated $8 billion to $12 billion in annual payments.

After a meeting in 2018 between the companies’ two chief executives, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, a senior Apple employee wrote to a Google counterpart that “our vision is that we work as if we are one company,” according to the Justice Department’s complaint.

The Justice Department argues that the arrangement has unfairly helped make Google, which handles 92 percent of the world’s internet searches, the center of consumers’ online lives.

In Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, the government is renting empty apartments and subletting them as subsidized housing.
Credit…Armando Franca/Associated Press

Long before the coronavirus swept across Europe this spring, many cities were complaining that a proliferation of short-term apartment rentals aimed at tourists through platforms like Airbnb was driving up housing costs for locals and destroying the character of historic districts.

Now that the pandemic has all but cut off the steady flow of visitors, many European cities are seizing an opportunity to push short-term rentals back onto the long-term housing market.

In Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, the city government is becoming a landlord itself by renting empty apartments and subletting them as subsidized housing. In Barcelona, Spain, the housing department is threatening to take possession of empty properties and do the same.

Other city governments are enacting or planning new laws to curb the explosive growth of rentals aimed largely at tourists. Amsterdam has banned vacation rentals in the heart of the old city, and Paris is planning a referendum on Airbnb-type listings.

When tourists are plentiful, renting a property on a short-term basis can be more lucrative for owners than a long-term tenant, something that city governments say has distorted housing markets in cities where supply is already tight.

“We entered the pandemic with a huge pressure on our housing market, and we cannot afford to exit the pandemic with the same set of problems,” said Lisbon’s mayor, Fernando Medina.

The city has started signing five-year leases for empty short-term rental apartments. These properties are then sublet at lower prices to people eligible for subsidized housing. The city government has set aside 4 million euros, or about $4.7 million, for the first year of subsidies.

The program is aiming to attract 1,000 apartment owners this year, and has drawn 200 so far. Mr. Medina said he was confident that the plan would meet its goal, since a quick rebound in tourism seems increasingly unlikely as the pandemic drags on.

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5 Strategies from Ancient Chinese Warfare to Help Us Thrive in Changing Times

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October 26, 2020 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Although there have been record-highs in the “frothy” stock market, entrepreneurs and around the country are seriously struggling. In the , as of September 13, 2020, total revenue decreased by 20.6 percent compared to January 2020

In addition, the number of small businesses still open decreased by 23.6 percent compared to January 2020, and restaurant diners are down 40 percent from last year. It appears that those stimulus checks went into stock on your Robinhood account and not your favorite sushi restaurant or local retailer.

Regardless, these percentage drops have made it abundantly clear that now is the time for everyone to take a step back and re-evaluate their business strategies. Because I’ve been in the space for more than 10 years, this seemed like the right time to pull out one of my favorite tools from the innovation toolbox — the 36 stratagems.

Kaihan Krippendorf, a best-selling author in the strategy and innovation space, put together a framework for coming up with new and strategies using tricks from ancient Chinese warfare.

Related: 10 Positive Leadership Books to Motivate and Inspire You During Difficult Times 

As I revisited them, I realized they couldn’t be more relevant today, so I picked five that are particularly applicable to business in the current era. Hopefully they’ll spark some innovation or help you reinvent your business — perhaps in a way you hadn’t considered before. 

1. Relax while the enemy exhausts himself (以逸待劳)

Reduce your overhead or move to a variable cost model to wait out the storm. Shut the doors for a while, take a vacation, rest up, conserve cash and plan your new strategy upon return. Reinventing your cost structures in your business could allow you to hang on to your cash reserves, help you refresh your mindset and plan while your competitors are burning cash by the day.

Here’s a good practical example of this stratagem: 

A restaurant closes down for three months and uses the time to complete renovations, redo the menu and prepare for an optimized takeout experience. All the while its biggest competitor across the street remains open and drains its cash reserves running business as usual. 

This strategy does have risks and implications, as you may have to lay off or furlough employees in the meantime, which is difficult but might help sustain your business in the long run. Further, you have to make sure that the hibernation time is used effectively. If the boards are on the windows but nothing is happening inside, you’re just wasting time with no end benefit. 

Related: New Survey Finds Nearly Half of Small-Business Owners Don’t See a Need for Physical Stores (Infographic)

2. Sacrifice the plum tree to gain the peach tree (李代桃僵)

This is what we call a “loss-leader strategy.” Typically, this involves a company selling a product or service for a reduced price knowing that it will bring greater dividends in the future. 

A recent example is Headspace, a mindfulness app, has been offering free subscriptions for a year to people who are currently unemployed (no verification required, just honor system rules). The idea here is that this will lead to many more subscribers for Headspace afterward, and it also does good for those who are struggling — it’s an investment worth making on multiple levels. 

3. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat (顺手牵羊)

Use this as an opportunity to take a pole-position. There is a small window where you can reinvent your business to solve a problem created by a crisis before your competitors see it coming. Being a small business, you are more nimble and quick than the big guys. Spot an opportunity to solve a problem with your assets and unfair advantages.

There have been many instances of this stratagem being utilized (whether the business owners are aware of its origin or not) due to the pandemic. For example, a distillery and grill in Portland turned producer of hand sanitizer when restaurants began to close their doors, and an engineering and design company based in London pivoted to create modular outdoor spaces for socially distant seating and dining areas to help restaurants reopen. 

Both companies saw a hole in the market that they could fill and readjusted their business model to fill it. 

4. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul (借尸还魂)

Take a concept from the past that is newly relevant again. My favorite example of this is the full-service gas station. People don’t want to touch gas pumps or leave their cars, so there is new value placed on amenities that were once viewed as outdated. 

And on a similar note, there’s already been a resurrection of drive-in movies and other live events like concerts and stand up comedy shows. Audience members can view their chosen from the comfort of their own vehicles just like the good old days of drive-ins. Instead of applause, audiences are flashing their lights and honking their horns. 

People are adapting to the moment we are in rather than fighting against the chaos. Think retro rather than archaic. 

Related: 4 Tips for Tapping Into the Niches Created by Covid-19

5. Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief (擒贼擒王)

As of July 2020, there were around 30 million unemployed persons in the U.S., and that number was on the rise. The first wave of layoffs was localized to the travel, service and retail, entertainment, and hospitality industries (among some others), but it is projected that six million more layoffs might be coming — and this time it will affect white-collar employees and potentially those in upper positions.  

This gives you an opportunity to snag the talent and leadership departing from companies at a colossal rate. It’s an opportunity we haven’t seen in over a decade of tight labor markets, and these leaders are looking for a place to land. Fresh faces in leadership bring about , and some other company’s loss could be your gain. 

Don’t let uncertainty paralyze you — move forward

Despite the hit to the broader SMB landscape, as you’ve read there are some great stories of strategy shifts that have helped some creative entrepreneurs not only survive, but thrive. 

On top of that, there are those riding the waves of unexpected changes, such as the influx of Zoom and other virtual meeting options, with humor and enthusiasm — including one company that is offering virtual tours of its farm and guest appearances by goats and other livestock during conference calls and online learning sessions (for a small fee of course). It might not be pilfering a goat per se, but it definitely embodies the concept of getting creative.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, or lemon hand sanitizer if the situation calls for it. Volatility and change drive innovation; it’s been this way as long as great minds have been at work in the name of progress and technology. In fact, Isaac Newton formulated his theory of gravity when he was working from home due to the plague, which means the rest of us have no excuse.

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Japan’s New Leader Sets Ambitious Goal of Carbon Neutrality by 2050

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TOKYO — Japan will be carbon neutral by 2050, its prime minister said on Monday, making an ambitious pledge to sharply accelerate the country’s global warming targets, even as it plans to build more than a dozen new coal-burning power plants in the coming years.

The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, laid out the goal during his first major policy speech since taking office in September, when Japan’s longest-serving leader, Shinzo Abe, abruptly resigned. The announcement came just weeks after China, Japan’s regional rival, said it would reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2060.

Addressing Japan’s Parliament, Mr. Suga called for the country to “be carbon neutral in 2050,” a declaration that drew loud applause from lawmakers. Achieving that goal will be good not only for the world, he said, but also for Japan’s economy and global standing.

“Taking an aggressive approach to global warming will bring about a transformation in our industrial structure and economic system that will lead to big growth” in the economy, he said, answering critics who have warned of the economic consequences.

ImagePrime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan giving his first policy speech during a special session at the lower house of Parliament in Tokyo on Monday.
Credit…Kazuhiro Nogi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Japan is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It had previously said it would go carbon neutral “at the earliest possible date,” vowing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Japan now joins China, the largest polluter, and the European Union in promising to bring their net carbon emissions down to zero. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, made his country’s pledge last month during the United Nations General Assembly.

The two announcements from Asia’s largest economies reinforced just how much of an outlier the United States, the world’s second-largest carbon emitter, has become after President Trump moved in 2017 to pull the country out of the Paris agreement. Joseph R. Biden Jr., his challenger in the presidential election, has vowed to restore the United States’ participation in the accord.

Japan’s decision was most likely driven by a combination of domestic and external political pressures, said Takeshi Kuramochi, a climate policy researcher at the NewClimate Institute in Germany.

While environmental groups have long argued that the country needed to speed up its progress on reducing emissions, momentum toward the move has been building in recent years, “especially in business and finance sectors,” Mr. Kuramochi said.

Mr. Suga probably also felt it was important not to cede leadership on the issue to China, he added. As a developed nation, Mr. Kuramochi said, it would be “somewhat embarrassing for Japan to have a net zero emissions timeline later than China.”

Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

It is not clear whether Mr. Suga’s commitment is feasible, and he offered few specifics about how Japan would reach its goal, saying only that he would harness the power of “innovation” and “regulatory reform” to transform the country’s energy production and usage.

Achieving the new timeline will require a major overhaul of Japan’s infrastructure, which is highly dependent on carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels. The country has made steady progress in reducing its emissions, but still generated 1.06 billion tons of the gas in the one-year period that ended in March 2019, placing it among the top 10 per capita emitters.

“When you look at Japan as an economy, there’s a lot of considerations that have to go into formulating this ambitious goal,” said Jane Nakano, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It would require a much deeper look into the resources that Japan has, perhaps the way that different sectors have been operating,” she said, adding that “not just the government, but many business entities and industrial stakeholders” would also need to commit to achieving net zero by 2050.

By the early 2000s, Japan had made substantial progress in curbing carbon dioxide emissions through the use of nuclear power. But the meltdown of a nuclear power plant in Fukushima after a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 led to a widespread shutdown of the country’s energy-producing reactors, which had generated roughly a third of Japan’s total power supply. Only a handful of the plants have since restarted.

Credit…Aaron Sheldrick/Reuters

Short on energy sources, Japan decided to reinvest in coal. It has planned or is in the process of building 17 new coal-burning power plants, even as other major economies are moving away from the power source.

Japan currently plans to reduce — but not eliminate — its dependence on coal, decreasing its contribution to the country’s electricity production from 32 percent in 2018 to 26 percent by 2030, partly by shutting down inefficient plants.

The country has also vowed to end contentious government subsidies for the export of coal-fired power technology to developing nations, where the use of coal for electricity continues to rise. Japan is currently supporting three such projects and says it will consider financing more only in “exceptional” cases.

Further efforts to decrease Japan’s domestic commitment to coal will likely meet powerful resistance from Japanese industry, which is still heavily dependent on the fuel. Still, Mr. Suga’s announcement may cause the country to rethink its commitment to coal in favor of cleaner, more diverse energy sources.

Japan is already considering a substantial increase in its supply of wind and solar power, and it is also looking at newer, less-established technologies, such as plants that burn ammonia or hydrogen.

Credit…Koji Sasahara/Marubeni Corp., via Associated Press

Restarting nuclear power plants may also be on the table, despite widespread public resistance to the idea. In his speech on Monday, Mr. Suga said that Japan would continue to develop nuclear power with “maximum priority on safety,” a remark that drew a round of boos and hisses from members of Parliament.

Some parts of the country will have a head start on Mr. Suga’s overall climate pledge. Movement toward the new goal had already started on the local level, where 150 municipal governments have pledged to be carbon neutral by midcentury.

Major corporations such as Toyota and Sony have committed to similar timelines for zeroing out their emissions.

But even if Japan achieves its goal, it will not by itself be enough to halt or even slow the current trend of global warming, a goal that requires a global effort.

Japan is already feeling the consequences of climate change. Rising temperatures across the country have contributed to deadly heat waves. And scientists say that global warming also contributed to the size and intensity of the devastating typhoons that struck the country last year.

Preventing a climate catastrophe will require “a transformation of the energy system that has underwritten modern society,” said Kentaro Tamura, director of Climate and Energy Area at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Kanagawa, Japan.

“There’s no question that having to make such a drastic change in the extremely short period of just 30 years is very difficult,” he said.

But, he added, “I’m optimistic.”

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