Ferguson: A Country Divided

police in riot gear observe protesters

British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow got it almost right in his 1956 line in the sand The Two Cultures, when he posited that Western culture had bifurcated, almost hopelessly. But while he saw the divide being between science and the arts, a deeper and darker strain emerges in America that sees itself riven, way too frequently than is comfortable, along lines that run the rough straits between urban and suburban, blue and red, white and black, smoldering and non-smoldering.

But understanding the complex mechanics of race, power and entitlement in Obama’s America sits somewhere beyond the familiar boogeymen, our us’s versus thems. It requires looking into our not-so-distant past of not learning from a history that we seem doomed to repeat. The most recent in pre-Ferguson memory?

April 29, 1992: The Los Angeles civil disturbance to some; riots to others. On March 3, 1991, after motorist Rodney King was stopped for speeding and subsequently beaten by five cops for upward of 10 minutes, America got to witness at least a portion of the beating filmed by nearby white resident George Holliday. Again and again, all of America got to see King tasered, kicked in the head and beaten with batons before being tackled and then handcuffed.

Four cops drew assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force charges that saw a hospitalized King left with a fractured face/skull, broken bones and teeth, and kidney damage. The watercooler conversation was on. Because that’s what it was at first. Though police defense attorneys claimed that the video didn’t tell the whole story, they got the trial moved to Simi Valley — a stroke of pure defense genius, as the jury of peers would be drawn from neighborhoods where lots of cops retired to. 

But it was still chatter. Until April 29, when the verdict came down by a jury of 10 whites, one Latino and one Asian. The very black mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, called bullshit on the verdict, as did the very white president, George H.W. Bush, who said in a speech to the nation, “Viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video. Those civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I, and so was Barbara, and so were my kids.”

Which mattered not at all to the feet on the street and the people they were connected to, who decided to register their cognitive dissonance and displeasure in a formula both tried and true: They flipped out, and in six days more than 11,000 people were arrested, more than 2,000 injured and 53 dead. Price tag? At least $1 billion in property damage. So the beat goes on. 

The very black mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, called bullshit on the verdict, as did the very white president, George H.W. Bush …

And depressingly on: In 1989, Miami saw the Overtown Riots kicked off when a cop, who was later convicted, shot and killed a black motorist. And in Miami again, Overtown actually, nine years earlier, four cops were acquitted after beating speeding motorist Arthur McDuffie to death. The result: one of the worst race riots in American history. The year 1967 saw the Newark Riots, sparked by two cops beating a cab driver whom they stopped for passing them, and in the end stretching the tape at six days, 26 people dead, 725 people injured,1,500 jailed and property damage exceeding $10 million.

Moving back through the 20th century, the riots occur with disturbing similarity, and these would be only the ones that involve members of the Thin Blue Line between civilized folk and criminal citizenry — cops and black folks. Like in Ferguson. And like in Ferguson, in just the last few months: John Crawford shot by cops in Walmart while chatting on his phone and buying a BB gun. Tamir Rice, a Cleveland 12-year-old with a water pistol that was confused with a gun, shot at a playground. And the former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, contributing to the unspoken but well-heard dialogue by claiming that white cops are needed to stop black folks from killing other black folks, presumably by shooting them.

Through it all this: Black teens are killed by cops 2.3 times more often than their white counterparts. And these figures are from Fox to counter the assertion in Slate that that kill rate is 21 times higher for black teens. These are facts we can live with, and proof of that is that we have lived with them. But what it seems we can’t live with? That these actions are not often seen as wrongdoing until the needle gets moved to the tune of millions of dollars of damage, dead people and cities in flames.

… actions not seen as wrongdoing until the needle gets moved to the tune of millions of dollars of damage, dead people and cities in flames.

While we understand that being a cop is a hard and often thankless job, and know that not many of us go to work in places where people hate us for doing our jobs, we do expect our highly trained police to a better job than the recently convicted Michael Dunn, who shot some teens for playing loud music, or the exonerated killer of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman. And if they don’t, we expect repercussions commensurate with the law.

In Ferguson, Missouri, a grand jury has just found Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed the unarmed teenager Michael Brown, not worthy of indictment. The jury, composed of nine white and three black folks, didn’t have to come back with a unanimous verdict. Only nine had to agree or not agree on a charge, and what was agreed on here, that Wilson should not be charged, is just now filtering out to the streets. There are all kinds of lessons that may be learned — maybe the hard way, maybe the easy way. But the sentiment settling down around the issue remains: There’s got to be a better way.

Drew Lock: The Next Tom Brady, Maybe

Portraits of Drew Lock, quarterback at Lee's Summit High School, Lee's Summit, Missouri.

Eric Thomas, head football coach at Lee’s Summit High School in Missouri, says he remembers the precise moment he thought quarterback Drew Lock might be something special.

It was during a preseason team camp heading into the 2010 season, under the lights of a college campus and Lock, not even yet a freshman, had the reins of the JV squad for the very first time and was marching the Tigers down the field. Thomas kept calling in the same run-oriented play, but instead his QB continued to go with option two and chuck it for positive gains. Finally at the goal line, a run seemed the natural choice, so Thomas pulled in his new signal-caller and suggested a hand-off. The young kid’s next move? Nod yes, but go throw a touchdown. “That was probably the first time we really realized the possibilities with him,” Thomas tells OZY.

Pressure makes me perform.

– Drew Lock

Since that time, it’s been a rapid ascent for this baby-faced 18-year-old with shaggy brown hair and a Midwestern drawl, with his daring flashes of brilliance combined with a remarkable throwing arm. Obviously, it’s waaaay early to know who from the ranks of incoming first-year college folk will have a shot at NFL stardom, but this 6-foot-3, 205-pound stud has certainly attracted the attention of a lot of the experts. The clearest sign was how he spent this past summer, at a super-selective football camp in Oregon known as the Elite 11. You practically have to be heir to the Heisman to get in this all-quarterback retreat, which has hosted such Heisman Trophy winners as Matt Leinart, Troy Smith and Tim Tebow, as well as future NFL draft picks like Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck. 

“Drew Lock is an NFL prospect the day he steps on campus,” Trent Dilfer, retired 13-year NFL quarterback and head of the Elite 11 camp, said to theSaint-Louis Post Dispatch earlier this month. “He’s one of my 10 favorite kids I’ve ever worked with.”

 

That campus will be the University of Missouri, where his father played offensive line in the ’80s. There, fans may be treated to some eye-opening stuff, from an athlete who was also recruited to play in college (because of course he was) for his abilities as a shooting guard in basketball. Indeed, the tale of Lock may reaffirm how well the skills of a multi-sport athlete, in his case on the hardwood — precision footwork, quick releases and clutch decision-making — translates so well onto the gridiron.

Specific to Lock’s skill set, which has already drawn comparisons to the Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers, a first-round draft pick, league MVP and Super Bowl champion,  Dilfer says that Lock has a “no-flinch mentality” — that he’s in control and nothing unnerves him no matter the gravity of the situation — as well as an ability to extend the play with his athleticism both in and outside the pocket, skills that give him a real shot at the NFL.

Lee's Summit High School quarterback Drew Lock runs the ball against Hickman High School on Friday. Lock threw four touchdowns against the Kewpies

Drew Lock runs the ball against Hickman High School.

Source columbianmissourian

Naturally, a lot can happen in the course of a college career. Including injuries. But for now, Locks tells OZY he thrives on pressure: “Pressure makes me perform.” He points to the opening game of his sophomore season, when he was extremely nervous in his first varsity start but led the Tigers to a decisive 45-14 win. “I threw three touchdowns and ran for two,” he says matter-of-factly. By the end of that season, against rival Blue Springs — the state champs that year as well as the next — Lock had solidified his place on the national radar as a prospect to watch.

“People that saw the score the next day pretty much thought we were playing basketball instead of football.” The game ended with an 84-62 loss, but Lock threw for six touchdowns and more than 300 yards with Mizzou scouts on hand. “That’s when it kind of hit me that when the pressure’s on, I guess I can play a little bit.” You think?

In his junior and senior seasons, Lock approached a combined 6,000 yards through the air to go along with 63 touchdowns (plus eight on the ground) against just 12 interceptions, and completed passes at better than a 60 percent clip. And Lee’s Summit had its strongest title run in years last season following an 8-1 start, although this season, at 4-6, was perhaps one to forget. Lock doesn’t see it that way, though, saying he wouldn’t trade the experience for any other, that before he takes on his next challenges of trying to crack the lineup at Mizzou before starting down hard-charging, five-star defensive ends from the likes of Alabama, Auburn and LSU breathing down his neck, he’d want to face the most adversity possible.

Portraits of Drew Lock, quarterback at Lee's Summit High School, Lee's Summit, Missouri.

Drew Lock, quarterback at Lee’s Summit High School, Mo.

Source Chuong Doan for OZY

As he prepares for next year, Lock is looking ahead, way downfield as any good quarterback would. Meanwhile, Eric Thomas, his high school coach, is looking back with a wisp of nostalgia. “This is going to sound kind of funny,” he says, “I’m kind of looking forward to coaching a high school quarterback again. With Drew this year, I felt like I was coaching a college quarterback.”

It probably won’t be long before Lock’s college coaches just two hours down the road at Mizzou feel the same way, that despite his age he may already play like a pro.

Photography by Chuong Doan for OZY

The Black Friday of Guns and Drones

A bunch of bullets and magazines on a table

It’s Black Friday and Americans want to know one thing: Will I survive the scrum? Other than survival, those who brave Wal-Mart will mostly have their sights on big-ticket electronic items, like ultra-high-definition televisions and mini-tablets. But there’s more on shoppers’ minds than pixels and screen size. These hot products from Black Friday last year, which were not named Samsung or Apple, may point the way for this year’s shopping frenzy. Buckle up.

Ready, Aim, Firearms

Guns are hot. Since President Obama’s 2012 re-election, firearm sales have rocketed. On Black Friday after the election, 154,873 FBI criminal background checks were run, the third-highest single day on record. Last year, 144,758 were issued. Congratulations, Obama, according to Townhall, you are the “best gun salesman in U.S. history.” Advertisers are taking note. Until last year, guns were nowhere to be found on FatWallet.com, a popular online coupon site, says Brent Shelton, an online shopping analyst for the company. Now guns and ammo have their own subsection, and you can expect two to three pages of coupons, he says. “Before it was a bit more family friendly, but now advertisers are blatantly offering guns and ammo,” he says. Expect more of the same this year, Shelton predicts.

A Tale of Two Toys

If you’ve been itching for Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, here’s a world title bout worthy of pay-per-view — toys. The fighters couldn’t be more different. In one corner: the defending champ and crudest game on the planet, Cards Against Humanity, which sits atop Amazon’s best-seller list. Last Black Friday, CAH made the game $5 more expensive — and still boosted sales. How much in sales? One estimate says the company shipped a half-million games in its first two years, but a spokesman said that was “completely pulled out of their ass.” In response to an attempt to wrangle some hard figures, the company sent OZY a video of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

A table with a hand of Cards against humanity layed down

Cards Against Humanity.

Source Zlatko Unger/Flickr

In the other corner, the princesses from Disney’s Frozen. The corporation that wants to own your kid’s imagination has sold 3 million dresses from the film’s princesses this year alone. And though Disney has refused to release sales figures for the dolls (more cordially than CAH), Sean McGowan, a senior analyst at Needham & Co., estimates the company will rake in $300 million on the playthings alone — half during the holiday season. But the two products don’t exactly target the same customer. “Some people still don’t know about Cards Against Humanity,” says McGowan. “And that’s probably a good thing.”

Wal-Mart’s Biggest Seller 

In the megastore, start with tablets: 1.4 million sold. Dolls were still more desired: 1.9 million. Televisions, obviously: 2 million. But for all of Apple’s sexy ads and the Hollywood obsessions of young girls and boys, nothing could touch the retail giant’s most in-demand product: towels. Wal-Mart sold 2.8 million towels for $1.74 a pop last Black Friday — more than the population of Jamaica. Shelton says that the number of deals for products under $20 on FatWallet.com for this year’s Black Friday is unprecedented. Online stores are trying to reproduce the effect of cheap goodies lined enticingly along the checkout counters of brick-and-mortar shops, he says. 

The Drones Are Here 

Like duct tape and GPS, drones have finally made their way from obscure military technology to consumer wish lists. Just type “I want to buy” into Google. What more proof do you need? Drone company Parrot raked in $34.75 million in revenue from drones last quarter, up 130 percent from 2013. While drones weren’t flying off the shelves last Black Friday, this one will be different, especially with the price tags of some models dipping to $50, says Shelton. Credit Amazon’s hyped delivery-by-drone and Facebook’s Internet-by-drone initiatives with helping American buyers think beyond just military uses, he says. But watch out if you get one. The National Transportation Safety Board just ruled that Federal Aviation Administration regulations apply to how you fly the thing.

Photography by Shutterstock

Jewelry That Turns You Into an Alt-Energy Source

An illustration of the circulatory system

With sharp needles that pierce the body’s veins and tiny spinning wheels powered by human blood, Naomi Kizhner’s new leechlike line of jewelry takes wearable tech to a whole new kind of scary.

Now, Kizhner’s blood-sucking jewelry is not really a solution to our fossil fuel addiction. But her three-piece jewelry set, Energy Addicts, can indeed turn the body into a power supply. One accessory, the E-Pulse Conductor, embeds its gold biopolymer pincers into the wearer’s back and harvests energy from the spinal cord’s electrical signals. Others use the hydro-turbine Blood Bridge wheel or the electromagnet Blinker to create kinetic energy from the pulse, blinks and other involuntary movements.

It’s a post-humanistic stab at pre-empting the looming global energy crisis and provoking discussion around the world’s shrinking supply of nonrenewable energy, says Kizhner, a 32-year-old industrial designer at Jerusalem’s Hadassah College. Plus it gave her an outlet for her dark humor. While Kizhner admits that her jewelry line is not designed to be a practical solution, it does evoke a dystopian future where people might allow themselves to be harvested for energy. “It’s a tall question,” she said. “Will we want to sacrifice our bodies for this goal?”

Energy harvesting jewelry

One of Naomi Kizhner’s jewelry designs incorporating the wearer’s blood circulating through the piece.

Other energy-harvesting devices exist in the market. For example, self-powered wristwatches that use kinetic energy as a power source have been sold to energy-savvy folk for decades, and the U.S. Army just began using electricity-generating backpacks that produce up to 35 watts of electricity (enough to power an average-sized fridge) from human walking. But so far, hardly anything is as invasive as Kizhner’s blood-feasting accessories.

The science is not so far-fetched, according to Sarah Heilshorn, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University. Harnessing energy from the human body generates only tiny amounts of power, but the technique can solve real-life issues, she says: “This idea has been around in the biomaterials community for a while.” She points to an energy-harvesting device in the works from the University of Illinois, the University of Arizona and Tsinghua University in China that uses the heartbeat to power a pacemaker, sans battery. This new development could have lifesaving implications, since typical pacemakers run out of battery power every six to 10 years.

But John Kymissis, an electrical engineering professor and energy-harvesting expert at Columbia University, argues there’s no real way that Kizhner’s creations can work. He estimates that eyelids put out 500 millinewtons of force, or 0.5 watts, which is not even enough to power a small device. Even tapping into the pulse’s reservoir of energy is “particularly tricky,” he explained, because any interruption to the blood flow could create blood clots and other serious health problems.

For now, Energy Addicts remains a wacky idea. Will we be adorning ourselves with Kizhner’s bioengineered jewelry any time soon? The jury’s still out. But at least it’s one quirky way to stay off the grid.

Cover image by Shutterstock.

Sergei Nikitich Khrushchev: Mother Russia’s Inheritor

soviet leaders outside on a march

Dr. Sergei Nikitich Khrushchev’s voice takes me back to a childhood spent watching Cold War-era spy films. It is raspy, Slavic, heavily accented and somehow — here I betray my own prejudices — sinister. Sergei was 18 when his father, Nikita, succeeded Josef Stalin to become first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. By Sergei’s 20th birthday, Nikita was the leader of the USSR. An armistice in Korea was still two months away, Elizabeth II had just been crowned and television was still in black and white.

Today, the 79-year-old and his wife, Valentina, live, improbably, in Rhode Island, far from his father’s legacy. But the silver-haired former rocket scientist is often asked to lecture about Soviet-Western relations, particularly now Russia has intervened in Ukraine, where the senior Khrushchev was governor for 12 years.

He became an American citizen who would soon vote for Barack Obama.

Sergei arrived in the United States in 1991, a fateful year for European Communism. So indelible was Soviet paranoia that for 27 years after his father was ousted, the Kremlin refused Sergei permission to travel abroad. But change came with Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership. The Russian words glasnost and perestroika became familiar to Western news audiences, and travel restrictions were relaxed. Sergei visited the U.S., where he spoke at a dinner for the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. In the audience was Thomas J. Watson Jr., founder of the institute and former president of IBM; Watson invited Sergei to join the institute as a senior fellow, and he accepted. “By then it was clear the Soviet Union was heading for disaster,” he recalls. Sure enough, three months after he left, the Soviet Union collapsed, taking with it his job at Moscow’s Control Computer Institute. At 56, Sergei was unemployed and his country was in turmoil. He fled — to Brown, and eight years later, along with his wife, he became an American citizen who would soon vote for Barack Obama. “It’s a change,” he admits, “but no bigger than when I changed my career from rocket scientist to computer scientist.”

Sergei is an oddity. Very few former Soviet citizens — let alone children of some of the most important leaders in the country — made their way to the United States, says Margaret Peacock, a professor of European history at the University of Alabama and the author of a book on American and Soviet childhoods during the Cold War. Most immigration, she said, went from the USSR to the United Kingdom or Eastern Europe. Sergei’s rarity makes him “an important person in world history himself,” she said, a bridge builder. “Most Russians view Sergei as important to the late Soviet period of transition — and see Nikita as the crazy guy who opened the Pandora’s box.”

Nikita, in Sergei’s telling, was a rough-hewn factory worker, barely educated. In history’s unfavorable telling, he’s a man who took part in Russia’s civil war, during which the intelligentsia were rounded up and killed, a man who confiscated crops and witnessed his population starve. Sergei, by contrast, is a quiet intellectual, soft spoken and contemplative. As a boy he says he enjoyed no special privileges, traveling by bus and train, mixing with normal kids from workers’ families. “I had no bodyguards, no limos,” he tells me. “My father always said to me, ‘Never forget that I am Khrushchev and you are just a citizen.’ ” But the family was by no means down to earth, says Peacock. “On the surface it was humble, but the Khrushchev family, along with all the other elites, were provided with a standard of living the standard Russian had no access to.”  Sergei speaks fondly of his schooldays — schools Peacock reminds us were privileges in themselves — of studying Shakespeare, Jack London and Mark Twain. He did well there, at university too, and went on to work on the space program, serving Mother Russia well. To hear Sergei remember a humility to his childhood is to witness one of the central contradictions of the communist story of history.

soviets leaders ride the transit in the 1950s

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (left) on a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco with his son Sergei (standing, in light-colored suit) and their American guide, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge (front right) in 1959.

Yet this is a soft, almost nostalgic Sergei. There is another version of him — a scholar, who went from writing his father’s memoirs in the late 1960s to penning his own works on everything from computer science to history. Says William Taubman, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer of Nikita Khrushchev and a political scientist professor at Amherst College: “He is a lovely, sweet man dedicated to telling his father’s story — but far from blind to his father’s flaws and sins.” 

Nikita Khrushchev, 1894–1971

  • After Stalin’s death, Khrushchev becomes leader of the Soviet Union in 1955.
  • A year after taking office, Khrushchev denounces Stalin in the “Secret Speech,” which many see as the beginning of the end of the USSR.
  • The boisterous leader initiates the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, a 13-day confrontation that brings the United States and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.
  • In 1964, Khrushchev resigns under political pressure after showing erratic behavior and a series of policy failures.

After rocket science, Sergei made his way into a less sexy field: computing. “It was absolutely not secret work,” he swears. He collected energy usage data in Ukraine, contributed to earthquake prediction models and frequently worked with Americans “even in the worst time of the Cold War.” But he was never wholly satisfied. While helping his father write his memoirs, Sergei began to think deeply about his fellow countrymen. It bothered him that the Soviet Union was so far behind the U.S. in terms of living standards, and he wanted to know why. But a career in public service was out of the question. “It was against the culture. After the revolution it was no longer possible to inherit your father’s position,” he says, referring to the abolition of Russia’s royalty in 1917, followed by the installation of a communist government. The message, he recalls, was clear: Politics would be a “bad choice” because a political dynasty would “remind them of the monarchy.” Sergei had to be, as he puts it, a “self-made man.” He has not entirely succeeded in that latter. He will, in part by choice, always live in his father’s shadow.

Now, Russia is not a superpower.

– Dr. Sergei Nikitich Khrushchev

But that shadow casts Sergei as uniquely placed to comment on recent events, on Vladimir Putin’s expansionism and the hand-wringing it has provoked in the West. I ask about the fate of Ukraine, where he lived until he was 14. The removal of President Viktor Yanukovych was, he says, “like the tea party storming the White House and saying, ‘We will put our own president in power, and we will ban the Democratic Party because they are bad people.’ ” He sighs. “Removing Yanukovych meant destroying a political system that’s been put in place over the past 20 years. I think it is craziness.” This is unsurprising from a man who regards Putin as a “reformer.” On Crimea he says, “The people voted to join Russia, and we have to respect this.” On Western sanctions he is uncompromising: “Mr Putin is the leader of Russia, and Russia would never surrender!” Still, Sergei disagrees with Gorbachev’s assertion, made at a recent event marking 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, that “the world is on the brink of a new Cold War.” For Sergei, it’s simple, and he doesn’t need to be a politician, just a quiet, retired scientist living far away from his homeland, to see: “Now, Russia is not a superpower.”

As we end our chat, the old man sounds enviably content, sitting in his comfortable suburban house, speaking in warm, almost avuncular tones: “Right now I am sitting here looking into my backyard and the sun is high.”

Meghan Walsh contributed reporting.

Movies to Stream This Holiday Weekend

A young woman sitting in a movie theater with popcorn

Whether it’s inclement weather or an overstuffed belly keeping you inside the house this holiday weekend, chances are you could use some entertainment. Here are some top movie picks from OZY writers over the past year, from little-seen gems to classics worth revisiting. And we’ve even dug around to make sure you can stream them at home or anywhere your day off takes you.

Escape

Set in the world’s only nation to measure prosperity in terms of its citizens’ happiness, Travellers and Magicians follows a pop-culture-obsessed official from a small mountain village on his quest to leave Bhutan and chase the American dream. Beautiful, insightful and very funny. Available on iTunes and Google PlayRead the full review here.

A road trip of a very different kind drives the action in Crystal Fairy, starring Michael Cera as a tourist on a spontaneous pilgrimage for psychoactive Chilean cactus. Co-star Gaby Hoffmann steals the show as his oft-nude, hilariously antagonistic hippie companion. Available on AmazonGoogle Play and iTunesRead the full review here.

Classics

Yes, it’s already time to refer to ’90s films as “classics.” Revisit the military courtroom drama A Few Good Men to see how well Tom Cruise and Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue have aged. But first go behind the scenes and learn how this blockbuster started out as a few scribbles on cocktail napkins. Movie available on Google Play, Amazon and iTunes. Read the full backstory here.

But if you want to laugh like it’s 1996, we recommend watching the comedic revenge fantasy The First Wives Club. The outfits are divine, the jokes are rude and the actors have a ball — especially in that final, inspirational song and dance through the streets of Manhattan. Available on Amazon, iTunes and Google PlayRead the full review here.

Jack Nicholson wearing a formal Marine uniform

Source Getty

For something far grittier, we point you in the direction of 1992’s Bad Lieutenant, starring Harvey Keitel (whatever you do, don’t watch the remake). Keitel plays an addicted, corrupt Bronx cop speeding into a downward spiral in front of an unflinching camera. Available on AmazonGoogle Play and iTunes. Read the full review here

If you prefer more history with your grit, try a true classic: All Quiet on the Western Front. This World War I saga about a band of young German school friends includes agonizingly realistic war scenes and has been stirring emotion and controversy since its release in 1930. Available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Read the full review here.

 

Documentaries

In his 2011 documentary, filmmaker and New Jersey native Vikram Gandhi poses as a guru just to see what would happen. In Kumaré, he ends up out guru-ing the gurus. Available for download, on iTunes and on Amazon. Read the full review here.

The major beats of the boxing legend’s story are well known, but in the 2014 documentary I Am Ali director Clare Lewins offers a personal, intimate look at the champ through archival family recordings and rarely told tales. Available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Read the full review here.

Love and Romance

In a sublimely messy, multilayered valentine, writer-director-editor-star Terence Nance explores the universal experience of falling hard for someone and trying to imagine what’s going on in that person’s head. His debut film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, is a true romance. Available on iTunes and Google Play. Read the full review here.

Finally, for something completely new, check out the interactive film The And. The producers filmed 30 couples asking and answering tough relationship questions with heart-wrenching honesty. Watch clips on our story page, or go to the website, answer a few questions about matters of the heart and see a custom-made clip just for you.

Why the Ivies Make Millions on Endowments … and You Don’t

college buttons of Harvard and Yale universities

The author is an investment lawyer in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Every year at this time come reports of the latest annual investment performance by leading university endowments. As always, there’s a media splash focused on the relative returns of top colleges in tones reminiscent of the sports pages. For example, The Wall Street Journal just ran a story, with the headline “Harvard vs. Yale: Which is the Best Investor” — with its box score (Yale leads, 19-10-1, since 1985). One Harvard alum is quoted as saying, “For some alumni, the important thing is how big the endowment return is. For others, it is more important to just beat Yale.”

The sports analogy is all too common in the world of university investments. When he was hired, an investment officer at Ohio State told me he received one simple message from a university trustee: “I don’t care how you do just as long as you beat Michigan.” But the Sturm und Drang seems overblown considering that university returns are typically well ahead of relevant public benchmarks. Harvard’s reported return for the year ending June 30 was 15.4 percent. How far ahead of your portfolio is that? Wouldn’t you hire Harvard to manage your money if you could? 

The best investment minds are in high demand, of course, and a university has obvious advantages.

Thus begins for many individual investors the second stage of this annual announcement: hand-wringing and self-recrimination. How did our returns fail so miserably, again, versus the top universities? One might call it “Ivy League performance envy.” 

students run on a football field

Fans run onto the field to celebrate Harvard’s victory over Yale University.

Like many neuroses, though, this one is treated by looking at the facts. That is, to borrow a phrase from Fitzgerald, universities are different from the rest of us.  Yes, they have more money, as Hemingway would respond. But they also invest it differently, and they invest it differently because they can. Let’s look at how they do it.

“Mom, I Got Accepted at Harvard! (To Manage Its Money)”

The best investment minds are in high demand, of course, and when it comes to choosing clients, a university has obvious advantages over you or me. Whether a money manager is an alum or simply as a supporter of higher education generally, she can feel good about helping a college succeed financially. Or, for a manager seeking social status, amassing universities and other classy clients — museums, hospitals and the like — can be the ticket to the society page. This is what tax lawyers call “psychic income,” or what you and I would call bragging rights. 

The average return on investment for the Ivies was 17.9 percent, with an average total endowment of $14.25 billion. 

Yale University – Gain: 22 percent; Total: $23.9 billion

Princeton University – Gain: 19.6 percent; Total: $21 billion

Dartmouth College  – Gain: 19.2 percent; Total: $4.5 billion

Columbia University – Gain: 17.5 percent; Total: $9.2 billion

University of Pennsylvania – Gain: 17.5 percent; Total: $9.6 billion

Brown University – Gain: 16.9 percent; Total: $3.2 billion

Cornell University – Gain: 15.8 percent; Total: $6.2 billion

Harvard University – Gain: 15.4 percent; Total: $36.4 billion

by Nathan Siegel

 

 

 

Long-Term Focus

The opportunity for a status jolt as I just described might help a university get in the door with a top money manager. But what the best universities offer is something more important to most managers’ business: College endowments invest for the long term. A university’s desire for “intergenerational equity” — so that the benefits of a healthy endowment (scholarships, quality faculty, a functional physical plant) are best poised for future generations — means a focus that allows a manager to pursue a multi-year strategy or ride out short-term market volatility. This makes university money more stable capital. More stable money means a reliable fee base and less distraction from having to find new clients. 

Patience

Even the best money managers have rough spots. As long-term investors, endowments can overlook poor short-term performance versus the overall market or a manager’s benchmark. Endowments are also more immune to market volatility than the rest of us and may even welcome it. During last month’s brief market swoon, a top endowment officer at a Southwestern University told me, “Now is when we excel. We’re the ones who run into the burning building.”

Locking Up Capital — for Years

Universities can invest in multi-year strategies without access to their capital. Real estate, private equity and venture capital all typically lock up client cash for five to 10 years, or even longer. This makes sense given the nature of these strategies. A VC firm that is building up new businesses can’t give back cash or profits until after the businesses become viable, which may take years, or never. For that reason, these strategies can last as long or even longer than many marriages, and it’s often even harder for the “spouse” (the client) to get out if things go bad. Therefore, clients typically will invest with private-strategy managers who can show the promise of outsized returns to offset the risk of locking up client capital for years. This is known as the “illiquidity premium.”

Similarly, universities may directly invest in illiquid strategies, say by developing real estate themselves. This takes the kind of capital, patience and skill that most individual investors lack.

 

 

Hedge Funds

Yes, you were expecting this one. But it’s a fact that universities were among the first and most successful investors in this asset class as it gained traction in the late ’80s and ’90s. Indeed, the so-called “Yale model” for endowment investing features hedge funds as a prominent element in the overall asset allocation. Being among the first and most prominent hedge fund investors, Yale’s endowment, led by the legendary David Swensen, has found great success by backing many of the best hedge fund managers during and following the asset class’s infancy.

It’s time to stop comparing personal returns to those of endowments. 

But good luck trying to get in on this: Most hedge funds are not offered to retail investors. Under securities laws, hedge funds can be offered generally only to institutions and high-net-worth individuals, in part because of their risks and the need to lock up an investor’s funds for long periods.  

reflection of a cafe at the campus of yale university

Patrons sit in the cafe of Atticus Bookstore, which overlooks the Yale Campus on Chapel Street in New Haven, Conn.

Idea Factories

Universities have business schools with investment experts generating ideas. They regularly hear from alums and others at banks, think tanks and elsewhere who are leaders in the investment community. Their endowment offices can mull all of these ideas for the best strategies. 

I get investment ideas from my brother-in-law. Enough said. 

Fees

Thanks to proponents like John Bogle of Vanguard and Jason Zweig of theWall Street Journal , retail investing has become more and more fee conscious. There is plenty of data to show how low-fee investing through index-based funds and ETFs offers the greatest chance of the best returns for people investing for retirement. Just this week the WSJ reported on the continuing retreat from higher fee mutual funds. 

Contrast this with institutional investors like universities. Since many of the best investment firms can ignore the retail market, they can charge high fees to institutions based again on the promise of outperformance, often buttressed by their historic returns. Thus, institutions can bear the historical “2 and 20” model as it has evolved more or less over the years. (“2 and 20” means the investment firm collects a 2-percent annual fee on assets under management as well as 20 percent of profits.) Since universities can still beat public benchmarks after the fee “haircut,” the fees can be absorbed, offering top investment firms outsized revenue versus peers who cater to retail investment.

So Stop Moping

It still might be fun to root for your university’s endowment to excel. After all, good performance is a good thing. More money helps the institution, its students and its faculty. But it’s time to stop comparing personal returns to those of endowments. Instead the key is to focus on following the sound advice offered by folks like Bogle and Zweig to retail investors: Save more; keep fees low; don’t chase outsized returns if you have to pay outsized fees; be patient during short-term downdrafts.  

And don’t listen to my brother-in-law. 

The GOP’s Latino Problem Could Get Even Worse

Man surrounded by man flags

Now that the Republicans will control Congress for the next couple of years, the GOP is unlikely to tackle its so-called “Hispanic problem,” anytime soon. (Indeed, the Party is lining up against President Obama’s recent immigration order.) Until recently, another group — largely white and male — also struggled to increase the number of Latinos in its ranks: America’s religiously unaffiliated. 

The number of Hispanic American “nones” — those who say they have no particular religion, or are atheist or agnostic — is growing at a clip that would make GOP operatives green with envy. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion18 percent of Hispanics are not affiliated with any religion.

Put differently, almost one in five Hispanics now say they have no religious affiliation — almost as many as the approximately one in four who identify as Republican (many of whom are Cuban Americans). 

And the ranks of the Hispanic nones are growing quickly, nearly doubling from 10 percent in 2010, with the most pronounced jump occurring among younger Latinos. A whopping 31 percent of those aged 18–29 say they are religiously unaffiliated, about two-thirds the number of those who say they are Catholic (45 percent).

Only a fraction of the Hispanic nones identify as “atheist” (68 percent of all nones believe in God), but the growth in the number of nones mirrors a larger national trend: According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 17.8 percent of all Americans said they were nonreligious. 

The growth of the Hispanic nones, experts say, represents a “catching up” to the broader U.S. trend, particularly among younger Hispanics. “It used to be that Latino identity meant a Catholic identity,” Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, told the Religious News Service. “That is no longer the case.”

The trend also means that the number of Hispanic nones has now surpassed those who say they are evangelical Protestants (16 percent), which could have some significant political consequences, particularly for Republicans. For example, according to the 2013 Hispanic Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 80 percent of Hispanic nones favored same-sex marriage, while only 21 percent of Hispanic evangelicals did. A similar gap exists when it comes to abortion (69 versus 25 percent) and other social issues.

So while Hispanics may not be lining up to buy the latest Richard Dawkins book, the growth of the left-leaning Latino nones suggests that the Republican Party’s “Hispanic problem” has yet another obstacle to overcome. And given broader trends, it may not be long before the real question facing the GOP is how to address its “nones problem.”

*This piece was originally published June 18, 2014, and was updated on November 27, 2014. 

Mike Dolce Wants to Make You UFC Fit

Mike Dolce

My workouts are usually limited to the gym, ice rink and occasional Tough Mudder course. Not usually my living room, where I had Mike Dolce — a shave-headed, shirtless 38-year-old man with visible, enviable abs — bark orders at me via my flat screen.

“We’re not done,” Dolce’s gravelly voice piped through my speakers.

My hardwood floors were. Yes, Dolce made me sweat so much my laminated lumber had become treacherous with puddles of perspiration, even if my mixed martial arts-inspired punches and kicks were nowhere close to the Ultimate Fighting Championship he’s trained for over the years. I was watching (and awkwardly tossing around fighting moves to) UFC FIT, Dolce’s pivot from an MMA diet guru toward becoming a mainstream fitness authority.

We are going to find out soon if this will be a commercial success or something that is just a technically sound product. I think it’s going to be killer.

P90X was created by an actor,” Dolce, ever the self-marketer, told OZY. “Insanity was created by a dancer. Do you want a program that was built by an actor or a professional who does this every day?”

At $120, UFC FIT, launched last fall, is priced the same as those two programs and will get a huge marketing push over the next several weeks.

“We are going to find out soon if this will be a commercial success or something that is just a technically sound product,” Dolce said. “I think it’s going to be killer.”

Mike Dolce

Mike Dolce

Source Getty

Nearly a decade ago, he started on this path when he quit his job as a tax assessor in his native New Jersey and was hired by Portland-based Team Quest as both a fighter and strength and conditioning coach. Dolce proved to be a capable fighter with a 12-10 record, but he found his niche: designing diets and workouts for others.

Dolce, who at 198 pounds is about 90 pounds lighter than his days as a bureaucrat, first penned 3 Weeks to Shredded, basically a pamphlet on how to cut weight fast, which he first handed out to those at the gym. It’s hard to find now, but if you’re lucky, you can have it for $499 on Amazon. Shredded became the basis for The Dolce Diet. Other books (250,000 sold in total) and a podcast (The Mike Dolce Show) followed.

As far as his diet goes, he’s big on “earth-grown nutrients” (basically, organics) and hates all things processed. 

But you can add Dolce’s exercise tapes to your roster of living-room-workout options — though it may be hard to shell out the $$ at a time when YouTube-led exercise is so plentiful. Me? I’m a convert. My floors aren’t.

 

Mormon Mad Men: Hold the Whiskey + Cigarettes

Vintage photo of a door to door salesman pitching to customer

Once upon a time, when you wanted to learn how to be good at business, you started by selling. Whether you learned by selling lemonade, Girl Scout cookies, knives or magazine subscriptions, there was, and is, an agreed-upon wisdom among smart business minds that learning to sell stuff translates pretty well into learning to sell yourself, your product, your business or even a still-nascent business plan.

But for all the companies like Xerox or IBM, Google and Dropbox — and even leading MBA programs — which you’d expect to deliver rock-solid sales training, there’s one place where you might be very surprised to find it on offer.

It’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — LDS for short.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know about the two years most young Mormons devote to their missions — it’d be hard not to by now. But what I’m getting at isn’t the obvious fact that the Mormon Church has become a marketing machine in recent years (despite a relatively small number of global converts). It’s a lesson in transferable skills that applies to everyone, whether or not you’re one of the world’s 15 million Mormons. Here it is: Getting out into the world at a young age and doing something that’s potentially scary and unstructured is the best preparation there is for entrepreneurship.

Sales: An evergreen training ground

First of all, it’s important to realize that being good at sales doesn’t just mean becoming the Michael-Scott-regional-manager. I picked the brains of CEOs, entrepreneurs and top managers at investment banks. And they agreed: Selling is an integral skill in entrepreneurship, not just in middle management. From Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, to Lars Dalgaard, a former SAP executive and partner at Andreessen Horowitz, to Ginny Rommetty, CEO of IBM, to Bill Campbell, the CEO-whisperer of Silicon Valley, it’s people who understand sales who are rising to the top these days.

Despite the stereotype of the guy lugging around a set of encyclopedias, sales isn’t just door-to-door. It’s about building a business. It’s about, as one landmark Harvard Business Review study argued, having the right balance of empathy and ego — of understanding others and having an earnest desire to prove yourself. Just take advertising, which makes up 96% of Google’s revenue — plenty of what goes into powering that ad machine is great young salespeople.

“Many big companies have salespeople at their front helm,” said George Slessman, friend of OZY and CEO of IO, a data storage company. “Larry Ellison is an incredibly capable salesperson. Joe Tucci is, too. Ultimately, having the experience of doing something uncomfortable or scary or that you may not entirely want to do is a trait we’re losing in our society. Much of being an effective salesperson means not getting rattled, not getting taken aback by being questioned or in an unsafe place.” 

man in orange shirt and shorts knocking on door

A small army of salespeople pitch Vivint Solar, the fast-growing rooftop solar installation and financing business, founded by a former Mormon missionary.

Source Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask yourself what the following men have in common? Bill Marriott (chair of Marriott International), David Neeleman (founder of JetBlue), Gary Crittenden (former CFO at Citigroup) and Mitt Romney. All hugely successful — and all former Mormon missionaries. 

 

 

Paving your own path

Ryan Smith is the 34-year-old CEO of Qualtrics, an online survey software company that turned down a $500 million acquisition offer earlier this year. In September, they raised a $150-million round of funding by Insight Venture Partners, Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital, valuing the company at more than $1 billion. Smith jauntily swears that his mission to Mexico was “just like any other life experience.” Except that he had to save to pay his own way. Which is a big task for a pre-teen to undertake in advance of the mission — raising nearly 10 grand to cover the cost of two years, all before the age of 19. 

Or take one of America’s most famous Mormons, Mitt Romney — who may have had a comfortable time in a Parisian mansion on his mission, but who was vaulted into a leadership role and ran the mission like a business, telling his team to pull from the self-help/business-advice book Think and Grow Rich and encouraging them to set more demanding goals. (“Mission years are the best years in part because they are the hardest years,” Romney told the 2013 graduates of Southern Virginia University.)

“It can be a lonely life, being an entrepreneur,” said Derek Andersen, founder of the Palo Alto-based StartupGrind. “And being a missionary, too, can be a very lonely experience.” 

But if you can make the lonely times turn you into a maverick? That’s a winning recipe.

Tiger Woods-laser-focus

Headshot of Ryan looking into camera

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith and serial entrepreneur Davis Smith (no relation) both went on missions to Latin America – Ryan to Mexico and Davis to Bolivia. Both said they learned how to talk to strangers, how to pick up a language, and how to approach someone with whom they didn’t have much in common. A missionary’s schedule is unrelenting: up daily at 6, bed by 10, with no break for two years. Sounds a lot like building and nurturing a new company. And what’s required in both cases is a kind of evangelistic belief in what you’re doing — the kind of belief that might seem irrational to others.

“I had to learn to deal with rejection pretty quickly,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to be self-motivated and you’ve got to put on your big-boy pants. I’m in the middle of Mexico City — one of the most dangerous cities in the world — and trying to make my own way. It was this maniacal focus. No watching TV. No doing anything else. A lot of companies and people don’t ever realize what that real Tiger Woods-type focus is. It’s learning that — and learning to laugh at yourself for a little bit … and being able to live with uncertainty.”

Making your own structure

Other than knowing you’ll be on a mission for two years, both Smiths agree that’s where the structure ends.There’s no secret sales handbook that provides missionaries with guidelines for how to spend their days, aside from some language training. Instead, teams of two come up with a plan and execute on it. For Ryan Smith, that plan included a lot of knocking on doors — the old-school tactic that still serves a purpose — and in fact is a skill plenty of LDS-trained missionaries cashed in on later.

And, as it turns out, excellent training for building Qualtrics, a company that’s trying to beat out better-funded competitors like SurveyMonkey with a dazzling sales team.

Ideas are born every day — for a company, for conversion — but consistently and tirelessly pushing through daily goals is a lot less common, and a whole lot tougher.

In the early days of his mission, Ryan recalls, “I thought, ‘If I go and put my head down and work hard, I’ll feel rewarded.’ I’d think, ‘I’m going to go contact 50 people today.’ … Whatever it was, I thought, ‘Look, I can go do this very specific thing.’ The goal wasn’t ‘conversion’ in the abstract. And what’s funny is I find myself, years later, setting those exact same goals as a CEO.”

Goals for young LDS missionaries can range from the utterly simple (“I’ll cross the street to talk to the old woman sweeping her front stairs”) to the far more complex (“It’s time for a bigger event to bring together 50, a hundred people”). The latter’s tough to accomplish, but, former missionaries say, you build to it.

There’s even some surprising management training wrapped up in the mission: “No one’s getting paid, and you can’t get rid of people if you don’t like them,” said Davis Smith, most recently CEO of a gear company called Cotopaxi.

And a heads-down attitude is what it took for Ryan Smith’s company to thrive — eventually. Entering the data market in 2002, they were early, a little too ahead-of-the-curve, so they never tasted the overnight success of a Snapchat. For Qualtrics, it was more like 10 to 12 years, in Smith’s estimation, of pure bootstrapping. And all the while? It took a lot of hang-ups and lot of cold-door-knocks selling what most didn’t believe in.

Update: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the official name of the Mormon Church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (colloquially, the LDS Church), not the Church of Latter Day Saints.

*This OZY encore was originally published Feb. 27, 2014.