Beyond the Government Showdown

Obama health

Obama health

Beyond the Government Showdown

Source Pete Souza/White House

Will they or won’t they? Everyone is paying attention to the showdown over the government shutdown tomorrow and is wondering what will happen. Will the government really close? Will there be any last-minute changes to the president’s Affordable Health Care Act? But I think it’s over, fait accompli. Sure, there may be a shutdown, but I don’t expect it to last long, and I don’t expect it to derail Obamacare. Whether the shutdown happens, whether it’s long or short, the reality is the president will get this done. 

Let’s not forget, this will be a huge accomplishment. Obama will pull off something that has eluded other presidents for more than 60 years. That said, I think he’s got something to learn from all this, and if he does, instead of being another lame-duck second-term president, Obama could once again upend history and finish as strongly as he started.

But first he should take some lessons from a few of his predecessors. He could also learn a thing or two from Senator Ted Cruz, the GOP firebrand behind the effort to defund Obamacare. Sound crazy? Hear me out.

The Mecca for Coffee in the Coffee Mecca

Looking as good as it tastes

You know about the big-box coffee sellers and their ubiquitous stores all over the globe. You may even be sitting in one now, perusing OZY and sipping on a delightful cup of corporate brew. Which is great for what it is, but maybe you’re looking for great and unqualified. Well, we’ve got it: One of the the best coffee shops in the great Pacific Northwest is probably one that you’ve never even heard of before.

Huh, what, who?

Started in 1995 in a small neighborhood of downtown Seattle known to the locals as Queen Anne, Caffé Vita’s reputation grew. So did their dedicated and tailor-made customer base, who resisted the purported best – or at least the most populous, Starbucks – in favor of what’s felt to be the best. “There was a guy on NPR talking about bananas,” said illustrator and coffee lunatic Jim Blanchard. “He said after tasting this certain type of banana he could eat no other. Ever. Again. Their coffee is like that.”The answer to all of the above: the Caffé Vita Roasting Company.

Today Caffé Vita operates nine cafes in the Pacific Northwest area, plus a rotisserie cafe in New York and a cafe in Los Angeles. Moreover, owner Mike McConnell was a pioneer of what’s known as the farm-direct movement of buying directly from the coffee growers themselves and promoting sustainable farming practices, as well as fair trade commerce with folks on farms in Brazil, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Panama and Sumatra. They roast all of their coffees on site and offer the customer the opportunity to learn about the coffee growing and roasting process, starting with the red coffee berry to the finished cup.

People in the know, know – and so do foodies and other epicures. Not just for the taste, or the eco-friendly, conscientiously minded business, but because the folks at Caffé Vita’s obsession for coffee is total: from the bean to the consumption of the end product and the environs it’s consumed in. Many businesses in the area stock their break rooms with Caffé Vita. With enticing original blends like Caffé Del Sol, Queen City and Caffé Luna, to name a few, you’ll undoubtedly fall in full-blown coffee love.

What kind of love? Try the newest, a Nicaraguan coffee from a farm called Santa Gema with a silky sweet body and a tart tangerine flavor. Or this coffee from the Congo that’s roasted just on the dark side of a medium roast with a full body and notes of cedar and molasses that finish with a ripe fruit or melon sensation.

For nonlocals, the coffee is available online, along with T-shirts, cups with saucers, even flip-flops. If you don’t live near one of their shops, you can still soak up their distinctly Northwest vibe. Last August, they launched “Steadfast,” a video series about local heroes like Edith Macefield, an 86-year-old woman who refuses, in a struggle against developers, to give up her house for $1 million.

Viva Vita!

The New Status Symbol for Cities

Woman looking at servers

Chief Digital Officers are hot. So hot, in fact, that there are now magazines, websites and even clubs dedicated to the profession. Market research company Gartner predicted last year that by 2015, 25 percent of companies would have a CDO, calling it the ”most exciting strategic role in the decade ahead.”

So, what does a CDO do exactly? The gig is part tech prowess, part digital alchemy. “The CDO’s job is to turn the digital cacophony into a symphony,” according to the Harvard Business Review

The gig is part tech prowess, part digital alchemy.

The role itself isn’t brand new. For years, businesses have been employing top geeks in an executive capacity to evolve and deliver the company’s digital strategies. What is new, however, is that large cities around the world, including Vancouver, Canada, and Brisbane, Australia, are starting to do it. These smart cities are hiring high-profile tech heads to boost their tech savvy – and get some serious digital business done. 

Take New York. Two years ago Mayor Bloomberg tapped firecracker Rachel Haot as the city’s CDO – the first city CDO in the world. Haot earned her nerd chops early. According to a 2011 interview with Vogue, she picked up her first Mac at 7 and designed a website – mostly fashion links – at a precocious 13. By the ripe old age of 29, she had already founded crowd-sourced GroundReport, a civic-journalism portal that enables breaking news reporting from anyone with a Wi-Fi connection. No wonder Bloomberg said of her arrival, “She isn’t entering this job walking into a headwind. She’s got a hurricane at her back.” 

Smart cities are hiring high-profile nerds to boost their tech savvy – and get some serious digital business done. 

Her goal: Make New York the country’s leading digital city through the marriage of industry and government. Not an easy feat, but Haot is not one to back down from a challenge. She credits her nana – “one of the only female union organizers in her town as a young woman,” who championed desegration and workers’ rights – as a main source of inspiration

In her two years on the job, Haot has been a cyclone of activity, bringing to fruition the strategies outlined in NYC’s “Road Map for a Digital City” – a document she put together within the first 90 days of her tenure. Under her leadership, access to free Wi-Fi has been expanded in subways and city parks, making the city more attractive to tech-industry workers. New York started an Academy for Software Engineering high school, the city’s social media audience has dramatically increased, and the digital infrastructure Haot helped set up prior to Hurricane Sandy worked to communicate emergency information to a much more plugged-in city.

Rachel Haot

Rachel Haot attends #UndocumentedNYC, in 2013

Source Getty

Hurricane indeed. 

Haot has set the bar high for CDOs following in her footsteps. Jessie Adcock was recently appointed as the inaugural tech head for Vancouver, B.C., likely the first-ever CDO for a major city in Canada. Even Toronto, the eighth-best city on the planet for startups, doesn’t have one. So, no pressure there.

Adcock starts work implementing the city’s digital strategy on October 15. Her main objectives: Increase Vancouver’s “digital maturity” and revolutionalize the way city hall conducts business. That’s quite a pair of deliverables, but for a digitally savvy self-starter – one who has a boatload of expertise in mobile, social media, e-commerce, analytics and website deployment – it’s an awesome opportunity. 

CDOs around the world are tasked with not only making their cities more tech-friendly for businesses, but with creating seamless, state-of-the-art digital experiences for residents and visitors.

Vancouver’s mayor Gregor Robertson says the position “is critical for making sure that we’re on the cutting-edge of new technology to serve our residents and businesses.” Adcock’s experience in several senior marketing and IT roles with global financial institution HSBC, plus experience in IT and management consulting, is bound to serve her well in one of Canada’s coolest new job titles. Stay tuned.

Also new to the scene over in Australia is Kieran O’Hea, Brisbane’s first CDO. In July 2013, Brisbane became the second city in the world (after New York) to appoint a chief digital officer. Like Haot and Adcock, O’Hea holds an impressive resume, earning his geek stripes working for various government departments and doing online project consultation for the European Commission.

So what made Brisbane jump on the CDO wagon so soon? The city was “inspired by New York,” O’Hea says. Brisbane needed to “find its place in the global digital economy, which is worth an estimated $20 trillion dollars.”  

Kieran O’Hea seated second from right at a speaking event

Kieran O’Hea, CDO of Brisbane, Australia, second from right

Source Neil Duncan

O’Hea’s goals for the city look like this: Make Brisbane a more tech-friendly place to live and foster a strong startup culture in the city. This means, over the next five years, doubling the number of Brisbane companies selling online and supporting 250 digital startups – hopefully those with global export potential. 

But dazzling up Brisbane’s digital factor is not just about businesses. O’Hea is looking to improve the overall online experience for residents and visitors to Brisbane, using “state-of-the-art digital services,” which will connect them to all the information they need to enjoy the city.  

Even if other cities around the world don’t have CDOs, they are exploring ways to improve their digital infrastructure and access to information. In his role as Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Secretary of Science and Technology, Franklin Dias Coelho is working to improve the quality of life for residents in Brazil’s second-largest city via new digital infrastructure and technological resource centers. As Rio looks forward to hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, all eyes will be on the city’s ability to seamlessly connect millions of visitors and residents with the information they need.

So, whether cities are in the beginning stages of making their towns more tech-tastic or well on their way to digital bliss, it’s clear: Municipal governments are paying attention. And they’re looking for the best-of-the-best nerds to lead the way. To the geek elite: Get your resumes ready. 

10 Rules for a Wedding Guest List

Wedding Reception fun!

The Emily Post Institute, America’s “definitive source” for social etiquette, has an entire website devoted to wedding etiquette. But the guidelines leave a lot to be desired, particularly for any of us planning weddings in the 21st century. 

How do you handle those difficult questions that the Post family never envisioned? For example, in the age of social media, how do you decide which of your several hundred “friends” to invite after you’ve posted your engagement photos online? Do you put anyone on a wait list? Having attended dozens of friends’ and family members’ weddings and seen these questions come up repeatedly, I decided to investigate what the relevant etiquette sources had to say on the subject. And finding them lacking, I ultimately came up with my own list of rules that I have been sending friends for years to help them in their quest to generate the best and most appropriate wedding guest list.

If you or your betrothed has had sexual relations with a person, then the one who did not engage in such relations has veto power over the invite.

First, start with a master list. This includes all the people you think you should invite, are thinking about inviting or whose wedding you (willingly) attended within the past two years. 

Then you start cutting. Here are 10 rules to keep in mind as you decide who makes the cut.

  1. If you live in the same city as the potential invitees and don’t see them outside of events organized by mutual friends, then you shouldn’t invite them. These are not your friends; these are your friends’ friends.  
  2. If when you visit the town where the potential invitees live, you don’t call them or plan to see them, then they shouldn’t be insulted when you don’t invite them to your wedding.
  3. If you wonder “What do they want?” when a person calls you, then they should not be at your wedding. 
  4. If you or your betrothed has had sexual relations with a person, then the one who did not engage in such relations has veto power over the invite.
  5. For co-workers, apply the “but for” test: If the company dissolved tomorrow, would you still be friends with them? But for your job, do you have anything in common? 
  6. If the potential recipient has never met your significant other (and especially if they don’t even know who they are), then don’t invite them. They shouldn’t meet your spouse at the wedding. That’s for your weird uncle.
  7. Family matters: If your parents want to invite friends of theirs that you do not know (or barely remember), then your parents should help offset the costs. It isn’t fair for them to ask you to play without helping to pay. If the bride’s family is paying for the wedding, she gets more invites than you do. If the bride and the groom are paying for the wedding themselves, they should share invites equally.
  8. When it comes to “plus ones” or guests of guests, “no ring, no bring” is a nice goal, but it isn’t realistic. People in your wedding party get to bring a guest, but for everyone else, if you haven’t met the person’s significant other or heard much about them, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to extend an invitation. Let the burden be on your guest to ask about bringing someone. “Plus ones” can drive the number of guests and the and cost of your wedding sky-high.
  9. For any potential invites still on the fence, think about your relationship with this person five years from now. Is there a chance you will look at wedding pictures and say, “Who is that? I cannot believe they were at my wedding!”
  10. For any other potential invitees on the margins, one final factor to consider is what kind of guest they would make. In particular, can they carry a table? Table carriers are those people who can play the role of MC/host because nobody knows each other, which is particularly good at a “leftovers” or “scrubs” table. Incredibly, many people just won’t bother to talk to fellow wedding guests at their table for hours unless they are prompted.

Like any set of rules, there are always exceptions, so use your best judgment. Finally, you need to be prepared for that incredibly painful moment when someone says, “Congratulations!  Am I invited?” Here’s a wonderful opportunity to deploy a phrase that you’ll use countless times after you have said your vows: “Let me check with my spouse/partner and get back to you.” 

What Makes Dhani Run?

Dhani Jones posing for a photo with a bowtie.

“Anger, mostly.” Dhani Jones doesn’t laugh when he responds matter-of-factly to the question, “How’d you manage to do it?”

“It” being playing linebacker in the NFL for 11 years, training in mixed martial arts or any of the half-dozen difficult and dangerous things he’s done, the most daring of which is periodically reinventing himself.

“You know what I mean,” says Jones. And we do. But it’s funny hearing this private school-educated child of privilege talk about anger, even if it might be better understood as “hunger.” It’s as solid an explanation as any for exceeding in excelling like he has.

Since no one starts life as a Renaissance boy, we bring you the moment that made Dhani Jones, the man.

The lure of using “Renaissance man” to describe a guy like Dhani Jones is almost irresistible. But since OZY’s aim is to show you not only what’s coming next but also how it got there, and since no one starts life as a Renaissance boy, we bring you the moment that made Dhani Jones, the man.

“My father was a retired Navy commander, and on every birthday of mine, he’d wake me up at midnight,” recounts Jones. “We’d drive around in the car and reflect on my life.” This wasn’t a typical fatherly reflection on how Dhani could suck a little less and clean his room a little more. No, they examined everything, including “the past year up until that point, with one clear-cut measure: Was it positive or negative?”

The year Jones turned 13 was particularly challenging with regard to misapplied anger and “running with a bad crowd.” Dhani’s father told him that he didn’t expect to see his son live to 18 if he didn’t change his friends. After some thought, Dhani did just that. His new friends? Sports.

Photo of Dhani Jones smiling on the football field as a Cincinnati Bengals

With the Cincinnati Bengals after a game against the Baltimore Ravens, 2009

Source Joe Robbins/Getty

Which is where the Renaissance-building begins: pre-med student at Michigan in the 1990s, playing classical piano, writing poetry, painting (canvases, not houses) and, yes, a Super Bowl in 2005. Ponder that as you tune in to Monday Night Football tonight. But unlike so many football players whose lives begin and end with the letters NFL, when Dhani hung up his jersey in 2011, he picked up another one and then another. First he was a rugby union player in England as part of his Dhani Tackles the Globe TV show, then he was author of The Sportsman: Unexpected Lessons From an Around-the-World Sports Odyssey. After that? He started VMG Creative agency with his brother, which reps everyone from Ralph Lauren to Capital One. And he has a clear, unquenchable thirst for more.

“I went to Montessori when I was a kid,” Jones says from his redoubt in Maryland. “And that was all about nonstructure as structure. And being open to the moment. I mean there are lots of talented people out there, as talented as me. But I am paying attention, and this quality of paying attention makes me sensitive to the great details of life, and life is nothing if not great detail. And being open to that.”

But I am paying attention, and this quality of paying attention makes me sensitive to the great details of life…

Here’s one detail that Jones never loses sight of: It may have been natural for his father to care about him, but what if everybody had the chance he had at 13? That’s what fuels his charity, the BowTie Cause, which funds a variety of programs but most significantly one that fosters youth talent. Of all of the things Jones does, he says, “This is the part I absolutely, positively feel driven to do.”

When you add to everything else the fact that Jones is edging toward the title of “most interesting man in the world” by hosting two shows on Spike TV (Playbook 360 and Nissan GT Academy), plus a third on Fox Sports 1 with Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley, it’s something of a relief to be able to report that the man does have a dark side — in the form of a misdemeanor arrest early in his career.

What for? Refusing to stop dancing in the predawn hours outside a Miami Beach nightclub.


Gritty in Pink

Mary Kay Ash

Even if you’ve never been invited to a “party,” you probably know the basics of the Mary Kay Way: the direct sale of cosmetics for women, by women, in living rooms and church basements across the country.

The job is easy enough: You buy the inventory “wholesale” from Mary Kay, try to sell it retail, set your own hours, enlist your friends, take a slice of their action, earn endless rewards, celebrate yourself at the annual Vegas gala and, if you’re good, receive a pink Cadillac just like the one once driven by the founder.  

This is Scientology with better makeup.               

She built a beauty empire on rewards, recognition and…pink.

As the company founded by Mary Kay celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it has never been more celebrated or castigated. Some call it a pink pyramid scheme (most Pink Ladies throw in the towel and the $1,800 worth of startup inventory early on), but for millions of women across the globe, it’s a ladder of opportunity. But either way, there’s a certain amount of genius behind it: 50 years before women were allowed in combat, Mary Kay Ash of Hot Wells, Texas, put a battalion of them on the front lines. 

A longtime Army wife, until her husband left her, the woman who would later become the “high priestess of pink” got her start in direct sales. For 25 years, she pawned books and housewares across Houston while raising three children. But by the late 1950s, she had smacked into the glass ceiling at the World Gift Corporation, and when she was passed over for further promotion in favor of a male colleague she had trained, she resigned in protest.

Mary Kay

Source Courtesy of Mary Kay

“I’ve been asked a number of times, ’How did you succeed so quickly?’” Mary Kay once remarked.  “The answer is, I was middle-aged, had varicose veins and I didn’t have time to fool around.” Stranded, in her mid-40s, with only $5,000 in the bank and her 20-year old son, Richard, to help her, she launched Mary Kay Cosmetics in Dallas in 1963. When her second husband died one month before the launch, she persevered, and within two years, the company’s sales eclipsed $1 million.

Mary Kay Ash died in 2001, but her legacy lives on today, for good or for ill, in the lives of millions of women. Her company has revenues of $3 billion per year, and its sales force includes more than 2 million consultants in 34 countries.

Success for the future Fortune 500 company also followed a number of shrewd sales tactics. Mary Kay ditched fixed sales territories in favor of hijacking old-fashioned social networks, built nested sales levels that combined the carrot of would-be riches with the stick of prepurchased inventory, and inculcated loyalty through regular recognition and making reps feel part of something larger than themselves.

Individual success was actually an advertisement for the brand: in 1969, she began awarding the famed pink Cadillacs to her best sales directors, a practice that — tens of thousands of cars later — continues to this day. Similarly, the annual Mary Kay Seminar, which began in 1964 with Mary Kay herself catering chicken and Jell-O salad for 200 people in a Dallas warehouse, has blossomed into a Vegas pageant attended by everyone from housewives to Harvard Business School professors.

So, what do you think? Doesn’t your skin feel amazing? 

Catch Up on OZY’s On-Air Stories

3 Photos from left to right: Couple chatting, Zach Galifianakis impersonator, Mario Joseph

OZY co-founder Carlos Watson joined Arun Rath on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered to share some of our favorite stories of the week.

On Wednesday we brought you the story of Mario Joseph, a human rights lawyer who is facing off against the United Nations to seek justice for Haiti. And that’s on top of summoning ex-dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to stand in Haitian court and face accusations of mass political violence. As our reporter Pooja Bhatia found, this provocateur is a fierce advocate driven by compassion and duty.

Sometimes it takes a heaping dose of bad luck to turn a person’s life around, maybe even set them on the path to stardom.

Sometimes it takes a heaping dose of bad luck to turn a person’s life around, maybe even set them on the path to stardom. Or faux stardom. That’s what happened to Thaddeus Kalinoski when he grew a lush beard, donned some reflective sunglasses and started fielding requests for autographs as ”Zach Galifianakis.” Next stop: Vegas, baby.

Matters of the heart were also on our mind this week, with our piece about a multitasking approach to the search for love called Spanglish Speed Dating. After all, what could be a better motivator to buckle down and learn another language than finding the right words to talk that new cutie you have your eye on? And if it doesn’t work out, hey, you still learned something! 

Keep coming back to see us for more stories of what’s new and what’s next, here on OZY and each Saturday on your NPR station.

The Evolution of Shonda Rhimes?

Shonda Rhimes portrait

I’ve spent every one of the last eight years with Shonda Rhimes.

I’m not talking about just one of her shows; I’m talking about all her shows. I screeched when Addison threatened Meredith and Derek’s relationship on Season 1 of Grey’s Anatomy. I held out against her for a few seasons of her spin-off, Private Practice, until finally succumbing and watching the show. I even ranted at the TV gods when Off the Map was canceled.

And then came Scandal’s Olivia Pope, with her white hat and her gladiators. Last spring, when Olivia gave her now-famous “Earn me” speech to Fitz, I stared wide-eyed at my TV screen. Finally! A glimpse of a new kind of heroine, one who stands up for herself and refuses to put up with a wishy-washy man.



The Big Speech

Olivia, sick of her on-again, off-again affair with the president of the United States, tells him, ”I am not a toy you can play with when you’re bored or lonely or horny. I am not the girl the guy gets at the end of the movie. I am not a fantasy. If you want me, earn me! Until then, we are done.”


This speech, delivered by the ridiculously talented Kerry Washington, seemed to be the antithesis of another famous Shonda Rhimes speech, one from Grey’s Anatomy. Meredith Grey pleads with Derek Shepherd to sign his divorce papers, ending his marriage to Addison. (Hey, Shonda, what is the deal with all the married men?) She says she is “so in” to the relationship it is “humiliating,” because now she’s begging. And then, of course, she begs: “Derek, I love you in a really, really big, pretend to like your taste in music, let you eat the last piece of cheesecake, hold a radio over my head outside your window, unfortunate way that makes me hate you, love you. So pick me, choose me, love me.”

In 2005 when I watched this, I melted. Yes, Meredith: You go for what you want. You demand that man. I mean, he’s Mc-freaking-Dreamy. I jumped onto AIM (yes, shut up) and posted the speech as my autoresponse, in a passive-aggresive attempt to send a message to whatever guy I had a crush on at the time. In 2013, as I rewatched the scene after being reminded of it by the “Earn me” speech, I cringed. Is she really begging for a man to choose her? How horrifying. (Ellen Pompeo agrees.) Has she no self-respect? No dignity? Then a thought hit me, a thought that betrayed my never-ending love for the dark and twisty Mer:

Is Olivia Pope > Meredith Grey?

At first glance, it might appear that there has been a huge evolution in Shonda Rhimes’ lead female protagonists. However, on Scandal, Olivia ends up having sex in the shower with Fitz after he struts over to her apartment, all “watch me earn you” and pointing out that he’s letting his wife reveal their affair, threatening his reelection and effectively choosing Olivia over the presidency of the United States of America. As a self-proclaimed Shonda Rhimes connoisseur, I thought, “This wine is getting better with age.” I mean, swoon, right?


Ladies and gents, this is what I like to call the “last 20 minutes” syndrome. We watch romantic comedies where the guy messes everything up for most of the movie, and in the last 20 minutes he apologizes with some grand gesture, and all is forgiven.

So, we’ve become a generation trained to wait for our Fitzes and our McDreamies to catch on to their mistakes and beg forgiveness. If he hasn’t come back and repented, it’s only because it isn’t our last 20 minutes yet.


The problem is compounded in TV, where lead couples are thrown together and torn apart with each season. Olivia said she’s not the girl at the end of the movie, but in that episode, that is exactly what she ended up being. Her and Fitz’s bounce back from the “Earn me” speech didn’t even take a whole episode. In Grey’s, Derek comes crawling back to Meredith with his own little “I chose wrong” speech, and they end up in Post-It note turned official wedded bliss. However – and listen up, because this is crucial:

Portrait of Shonda Rhimes

Source Fred Prouser/Reuters

Rhimes is not to blame; we are.

We’re the ones who ’ship these characters. We don’t ’ship independence and solitude; we ’ship Big and Carrie, Chuck and Blair, Sam and Diane. Kelly tried to pick herself over Brandon and Dylan on 90210 but ultimately ended up with Dylan. Many of us long for the repented bad boy, and TV sweeps are often full of reunions between the “but this time it’s different” couples. The reason Rhimes is so successful is that she gives us what we want: nuanced, flawed, hopeless romantic characters that cannot stay away from each other even if they know they should. If we are ’shipping these couples because we love the entertainment of their surreal plotline, then that’s fine, but let’s not confuse fantasy with reality. A grand gesture does not equate to bad boy/good guy conversion – all a grand gesture does is signal it’s the end of a Hollywood drama.

Rhimes is offering a temporary or transient rebellion with the ‘Earn me’ speech … Ultimately she has to backtrack.

Suzanne Leonard, an associate professor at Simmons College specializing in feminist media studies, pointed out the importance of giving Rhimes kudos for the “Earn me” speech as well as her non-traditional female characters. “Rhimes is offering a temporary or transient rebellion with the ‘Earn me’ speech or with how Olivia and Cristina [Yang] don’t want traditional lives. Ultimately she has to backtrack, because you of course have to put the hero and heroine together. But we have to give her credit for trying to script characters who at least give voice to something more. [Shonda]’s suggesting alternatives, but there’s a system she has to work within in order to have her audience love her. She can’t break the mold.”

Leonard is right, and maybe what I ultimately need from Rhimes is more rebellion. At the end of Scandal last season, Olivia had presumably left Fitz to focus on her coworkers/gladiators. Here’s what I hope: I hope that we see an independent Olivia, one who doesn’t need an up and down love life in order to be captivating. I hope that Olivia is adored by fans and applauded for her kick-ass fixing talents and not for her trysts with Fitz. Otherwise, what does it say about us? Can we please set a better example than a pathetic “Choose me” or undermined “Earn me” speech – both of which have already become memes and slogans for young men and women?

If we want stronger female protagonists we have to support – and not hate –  them when they are presented to us, instead of asking when the next Olitz shower scene is coming. We can’t just beg Shonda Rhimes for a more powerfully single Olivia.

We have to earn her.

Sanctioned Travel


The United States’ relationships with North Korea, Iran and Cuba are unhappy, each in its own way. North Korea’s totalitarian regime has nuclear weapons, and the intentions of its leader, 30-year-old Kim Jong Un, are opaque. Iran has a nuclear program, too, though its moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, aims to more than double the number of foreign visitors. Unlike Iran and North Korea, Cuba was never deemed part of an “Axis of Evil,” but the U.S. embargo against it — as well as travel restrictions — has outlived the Cold War by decades.

Yet American travelers can visit all of these supposedly forbidden places — legally — so long as they go with an authorized tour group. Ah, yes, but why go? Long Island physician Bimal Massand, who’s traveled to all three countries, quotes Mark Twain to explain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” With that in mind, here’s why you should go and how you can pull it off.

Photo of Iran

Shah Mosque, Iran

Source Getty


Why go:

The glories of this ancient civilization come alive in poetry, stunning architecture and landscapes that could give Provence’s a run for the olive groves. For all the splendor, prices are relatively cheap. A 10-day premium tour with New York-based Iran Custom Tours costs about $1,900, says owner Norma Lee Nichols-Madhavi. Forget “Death to America”: Iranians are warm, hospitable and not shy about inviting you over for tea and political debate.

Legal issues:

American tourists must travel with a government-authorized guide, but the guides aren’t suspicious minders and usually allow their charges ample freedom. Since the U.S. government doesn’t have consular relations with Iran, it can’t provide routine services or protection. The upshot: If you meet trouble, you’ll be in the hands of the Swiss.

Visas and arrival:

Tour companies handle visa applications; the process can take from a week to a month. The visa confirmation number, your passport and fees are sent to the Iranian Interests section of the Pakistan Embassy, then returned to you not long after. Matters may be trickier for Americans of Iranian descent or with Iranian family ties. Americans are fingerprinted at immigration, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will keep a copy of your itinerary.

What to do:  

Visit Isfahan, once the capital of Persia. Renowned for its gardens, covered bridges and Islamic architecture, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a Persian proverb has it, “Isfahan is half the world.”

What not to do:

Dress immodestly. No tight jeans, short skirts, or exposed arms. Women should wear a headscarf in public and, at certain religious sites, a chador. Still, don’t be a slob. “The Persian women are knockouts,” says Nichols-Mahdavi. “They’ve figured out how to take modesty and make it sexy.”

North Korea

Visitors paying respect to Kim II Sung, North Korea

Source Getty


With few exceptions (see: Dennis Rodman), Americans consider North Korea off limits, a Hermit Kingdom and one of most repressive regimes on Earth. It is an isolated, totalitarian state. Still, “a country is made of individuals,” points out Nicholas Bonner, head of Beijing-based Koryo Tours. Most of Koryo’s clients (including 500 Americans in 2012) shed their preconceptions in Pyongyang and return home with more questions than when they arrived: “Engagement just helps, on both sides.” With the government contemplating a special tourism zone and opening the country to tourism year-round, now may be the time to go. Just mind the nuclear threat.

Legal issues:

Americans must travel with a certified tour provider. Two Korean guides will accompany them at all times, except in hotel rooms. Are the guides watching each other, too, in case one of them says something untoward? “A North Korean would never say anything untoward to a stranger,” says Bonner.

Visas and arrival:

Apply through a certified tourist agency at least four weeks in advance. North Korea provides tourist visas of unlimited duration, but few tourists stay longer than six weeks. Your guides will keep your passport for the duration of your trip. 

What to do:

Visit the DMZ, or demilitarized zone. Hang out with your North Korean tour guides, since they’re some of the only Koreans you can talk to. See the annual Arirang Mass Games. The Mass Games take place in a 150,000-seat stadium, where on one side some 30,000 schoolchildren make giant, shifting backdrops from colored placards. On the field, thousands of gymnasts and dancers perform complex routines. “It’s an amazing human spectacle,” says Massand, who saw them in 2012.

What not to do:

The State Department warns that unescorted travel could earn you an espionage charge and a term at a labor camp. You could also get your North Korean guides in trouble. So don’t stray. Other no-nos: evangelizing, crossing the border without a visa, journalism and showing disrespect to North Korea’s leaders, past and present.

Street in Havana, Cuba

On the street in Havana, Cuba

Source Getty


Why go:

The embargo loosened in 2011, making it easier for Americans to get to Cuba legally. And there’s a lot to experience in this tropical country: glamorous if crumbling architecture, a warm if crumbling communism and nightclubs and outdoor concerts. Music wafts down Cuban streets. Since international tourism accounts for some 70 percent of their country’s income, Cubans know how to make travelers feel welcome.

Legal issues:

The U.S. embargo began more than 50 years ago, and though Obama’s Treasury Department has expanded licensing for Cuba tourism, restrictions remain. Most Americans must enlist with a government-licensed tourism company. Travelers face daily spending limits — the embargo is technically about money, not travel — and can’t withdraw money from banks or use credit cards. Travelers must also keep on their tour company’s schedule, at least during the daytime.

Visas and arrival:

You’ll get a visa if you’re traveling with a licensed company. Many Americans still go illegally, taking a flight from Mexico or Canada and not getting their passports stamped. But if you’re legal, you can take the half-hour flight from Miami. Expect plenty of hand luggage: Cuban Americans, who can travel under individual licenses to visit family members, often bear gifts of TVs, electronics and even toilets.

What to do:

Explore, make friends, strike up conversations. Unlike in North Korea, you’ll be pretty free to wander around during your off-hours,and Cubans don’t look askance at foreign tourists.  

What not to do:

Expect to go to the beach or do anything mindless or solitary. Government-sanctioned tour companies operate under “people-to-people” licenses, which require U.S. tourists to be on “a full-time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.” Frolicking in the warm surf, alas, doesn’t usually fit that bill.

Mark Twain vs. Winston Churchill

Young Winston Churchill in soldier's uniform

Before it was demolished in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building, the original Waldorf-Astoria had witnessed its fair share of history in four decades on Fifth Avenue. The largest hotel in the world at the time and the “cynosure of all things civilized,” as Al Pacino called it in Scent of a Woman, the glamorous venue had helped to advance everything from salad-making to the status of women (whom it admitted early on without male escorts).

Twelve years before it hosted the inquiry into the Titanic tragedy that killed its own founder, wealthy scion John Jacob Astor IV, the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom was the site of another remarkable historical moment. It was a meeting that embodied the collision of two centuries, of two empires going in opposite directions and of two great men with very different views on what makes a just war.

What prompted Churchill to come to America in 1900 was neither love of country nor fame but money.

By the time he set sail for New York on December 1, 1900, the 26-year-old lieutenant and war correspondent Winston Spencer-Churchill had enjoyed more privilege and suffered through more adversity than most of us will ever encounter. The grandson of the Duke of Marlborough and the son of a wealthy American heiress, Churchill was literally born in a palace. 

But after getting his education in such elite citadels as Harrow and Sandhurst, he spent most of his 20s in less idyllic surroundings like Sudan, Egypt and South Africa as an officer and, later, a war correspondent. And as would happen with JFK half a century later, Churchill’s pursuit of adventure and sense of duty would end up converting him into an involuntary hero after he made a daring escape from a POW camp near Pretoria during the Second Boer War.

Winston Churchill, young, in soldier's uniform

Source Corbis

So, during what would have been his first session in the House of Commons — a chamber he would dominate for most of the next 64 years — Churchill was a no-show. And while his two-month tour of the U.S. would net him over 1,200 pounds sterling (80,000 GBP today, or about $129,000), the young champion of empire encountered an American audience that was largely unreceptive to his views on foreign policy and other matters. And nobody would heap more cold water on the cherub-faced lieutenant than the living legend slated to introduce him at the tour’s maiden engagement in New York City.What prompted Churchill to come to America in 1900, though, was neither love of country nor fame but money. He had returned to England in 1899 as a war hero and a minor celebrity after his Boer War escapades, had authored a best-selling book and had been elected to serve his first term as a member of Parliament. But the independently wealthy MPs were not paid at the time, and Churchill – not content to rest on family money and aware that his earning potential as a celebrity lecturer was declining each passing day — decided to take his show on the road.

Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain as he was known to millions of admirers around the world, was in 1900 at the peak of his fame – and of his pacifism. Exactly 39 years older than Churchill, the great American writer had entered the world with Halley’s Comet in 1835 and would exit it — as he predicted – upon its next visit in 1910. Like Churchill, Twain was by the turn of the century not so much a man of letters as a hired gun of letters. After a series of bad investments in the 1890s had crippled his fortune, he had similarly embarked on a lengthy around-the-world lecture tour five years before.

Like Pacino, Twain was just getting warmed up.

Undoubtedly Twain was compensated handsomely for his appearance at the Grand Ballroom that evening. But the ornery, 65-year-old Southerner with the snow-white hair and moustache had no intention of just phoning it in before the fashionable audience of 1,200 that, as the New York Times reported, was “crowded to the doors.”

Invitation to Mark Twain and Churchill Event


Twain began his brief introductory remarks to the buzzing Manhattan crowd at 8:30 p.m. with an apparent olive branch to the distinguished visitor, remarking that “Mr. Churchill and I do not agree on the righteousness of the South African war, but that is of no consequence.” 

Next, the Lion of Hannibal, Missouri, proceeded to praise Churchill’s noble birth: “Mr. Churchill by his father is an Englishman, by his mother he is an American, no doubt a blend that makes the perfect man.”

But, like Pacino, Twain was just getting warmed up. After poking fun at his own brief military career — a two-week stint as a Confederate volunteer in the Civil War — Twain fixed his sights on his own country, musing that “America has thrown her doors wide open to all those who suffer or are oppressed, and who can put up the $50 admission.” A “red-hot imperialist” up until just two years prior, wanting “the American eagle to go screaming over the Pacific,” Twain had changed his tune dramatically, opposing America’s attempted annexation of the Philippines and becoming vice president of the American Anti-Imperialist League.

As the conquering hero looked on, Twain pivoted yet again on the Waldorf’s stage. He observed that Churchill “knew all about war and nothing about peace, [and that] War might be very interesting to persons who like that sort of entertainment, but he had never enjoyed it himself.” And just as “England sinned in getting into war in South Africa,” so the U.S., according to Twain, had sinned in the Philippines.

And then the kicker, as only Twain could deliver it: In a single turn of the knife, he repudiated his earlier praise of Churchill and skewered America, Britain and the man who would later embody the nation’s “special relationship” like no other. “England and America, yes we are kin,” Twain mused, “and now we are kin in sin, the harmony is complete, the blend is perfect, like Mr. Churchill himself, whom I now have the honor to present to you.”

By all accounts, Churchill was understandably slow off the blocks but overcame his slight lisp and his unkind introduction to lighten up the atmosphere with some timely humor. And, as he would demonstrate repeatedly in the next half century, the British Bulldog was more than up to the task of wading into a minefield laid by his predecessor. Ultimately, the future defender of the realm would win over the crowd not with a polemic but with a story, a compelling account of his escape over the walls of his prison while a sentry lit his pipe. It was a tale of intrigue, ineptitude and adventure worthy of, well, Mark Twain.

Three decades later in his autobiography, My Early Life (1930), Churchill would remark of his encounter with Twain that evening “Of course we argued about the war. …I think, however, I did not displease him, for he was good enough at my request to sign every one of thirty volumes of his works for my benefit.”

According to Churchill, on the first of those volumes, Twain inscribed “the following maxim intended, I daresay, to convey a gentle admonition”:

To do good is noble; to teach others to do good is nobler, and no trouble.

Churchill took note, and the world would take note of how well Britain’s future leader would hew to Twain’s advice. As another inscription read – this one in gilded Swedish 53 years later, on his citation for the Nobel Prize for Literature — Churchill’s “brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values” was his most enduring monument, the product of a man forged by war who would indeed prove to be a noble blend of words and action.