2016 Didn’t Totally Suck

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It’s hardly a surprise that people have taken to social media to raise a collective middle finger to the annus horribilis of 2016.

Americans who expected Hillary Clinton to float above the glass ceiling this year are licking their wounds, and half of Britain remains gobsmacked by Brexit. Add to that terror and tragedy — in Aleppo, Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Berlin and countless other places. Another blow? The multitude of cultural heroes who took their final bows: Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Prince, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Wilder … the list goes on. There was Zika, and there was lead in pipes.

I join you wholeheartedly in chilling the bubbly to slide away from the Year of the Monkey and into 2017 in style and celebration — or just plain sloshed. And yet: The past 12 months have not been without silver linings.

For Humanity

For starters, look north. Canada got a hot young prime minister hellbent on lifting the liberal mantle for North America, and Monsieur Trudeau’s countrymen have proven model citizens in their approach to accepting Syrian refugees. “Public demand for refugees to come here is outpacing the government’s,” says Jeremy Lüdi, senior editor and analyst for Global Risk Insights, referring to complaints by Canadians who feel like they’ve waited too long for Syrians they already agreed to sponsor. Likewise, Germany willingly accepted more than a million refugees, and Austrian voters said nein to far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer

Just the fact that the Iran agreement has survived this long is a positive thing, given how controversial it was.

Then look south, and to normalized relations with Cuba for the first time in decades. We’re seeing the dawn of a new era — both for Cubans gaining access to the U.S. market, says Lüdi, and the American Cuban community, who can now more easily enjoy visits with extended family.

ISIS is on its back heels, territorially speaking. Thanks to the allied push against the so-called caliphate, ISIS holds just slightly more than half the territory it initially seized in Iraq, where soldiers are dismantling the jihadists’ stronghold in Mosul, and Syrian Democratic Forces have begun to retake Raqqa. “Loss of territory has translated into a loss of prestige and loss of charisma for the group,” says former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, noting that recruitment is a mere fraction of what it once was. ISIS-held towns in Libya also have been retaken, meaning they’ve lost their main place for regrouping outside Iraq and Syria. 

Then there’s the much-touted, and maligned, Iran nuclear deal. While it may be just a “tiny opening wedge” toward change, says McLaughlin, the outlook now is better than in the past. “Just the fact that the Iran agreement has survived this long is a positive thing, given how controversial it was,” he says — though President-elect Trump and Israel certainly take dimmer views.

Colombia, unlike Britain, didn’t let a public referendum and initial political defeat for the government stop them. Voters shot down a peace deal with the FARC just days before Juan Manuel Santos nabbed the Nobel Peace Prize for it. So politicos made a few changes to get a positive parliamentary vote for the deal. This “persistence stands out,” says McLaughlin. He adds that while the peace deal may not cure the underlying political tensions that led to violence, it’s certainly “better than war.”

Another one for the plus column? The fact that countries like Jordan and Lebanon have borne the brunt of massive influxes of refugees and hung on without descending into chaos. Morocco and Tunisia have also done well — the first a monarchy that’s listening to the needs of its people, the latter the most successful example of transformation after the Arab Spring. Sure, there are tensions, says McLaughlin, “but their democratic system hasn’t been subverted.” 

While international financial markets hemmed and hawed over Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, the Islamic finance Sukuk Market boomed, helping diversify investment for West African Islamic countries. This, says Lüdi,  helps these countries wean themselves of dependence on institutions like the IMF and World Bank.

Right here at home, the U.S. has managed to confine the threat of terror to lone-wolf actors. For as horrific as the attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino the year before were, “we’ve continued to skate through without something on the scale of 9/11,” McLaughlin says. 

For Mother Nature

Despite the drop in oil prices this year, which one could assume would make oil consumption more appealing, it’s been a great year for cheap, renewable energy. “Green energy investment is still higher than oil investment and it’s accelerating at a higher pace,” says Lüdi, noting that “the generating power equivalent to all of Africa came online just with green energy.” This trend is likely to continue as the technology becomes even cheaper, making it easier for businesses to implement more environmentally friendly technologies. Urban mining is also taking off, he says, with more firms diving into the game of mining landfills for recoverable resources — “a good counter to our throwaway culture,” Lüdi says. 

For Redemption and Fun

For all the grief foisted upon Brazil this year — from poor Olympic preps to Zika, and with the 2014 World Cup loss to Germany still fresh on their minds — the country joyfully redeemed its honor, clinching men’s gold in the 2016 Olympics soccer final with Deutschland. And if nothing else made you smile this year, Lüdi suggests you look back on the year of Joe Biden memes. His favorites? All the ones relating to nuclear launch codes. Oh, wait, maybe that isn’t so funny after all. But hey, at least we’re not at war with China, North Korea or Russia … yet. 

For all these reasons and many more — please add yours in the comments below — 2016 didn’t totally suck.

Why 2016 Was a Banner Year for Tech

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Flaming phones and fake news aside, 2016 was a banner year for technology’s biggest names. Some tech titans stepped out of their gilded Silicon Valley silos and entered the political fray with government backdoor battles or Thiel-size donations to Donald Trump. Others bled into pop culture, as the world collectively lost their minds over Pokémon Go and HBO’s viral comedy series Silicon Valley finally reached peak geek. But of course, innovation doesn’t happen only in Silicon Valley and a few bold moves elsewhere in the world truly jetted us into the future, despite not making headlines. So, here are the up-and-comers and little-known trends you may have missed this year.

The Dawn of Driverless Trucks 

Google’s slick driverless Sedans weren’t the only cars to hit the roads this year. So did their lumbering, gas-guzzling cousins — trucks. If the sight of a giant 18-wheeler barreling toward you sounds frightening, then brace yourself. These trucks are already speeding down highways in Nevada, Ohio and California and are poised to win the self-driving race — driver not included. Meet the quiet architect behind the movement: a soft-spoken, bespectacled man who once fought in the Israeli Army and masterminded Google Maps.

How Drones Will Transform This Massive Continent 

Once known solely as war machines, drones now have an unlikely ally in Africa. Rwanda, a nation no bigger than Maryland or Haiti, is leading the world in leveraging these zippy aerial vehicles for development and health care. In a country where easy and painless access to remote villages is hard to come by, drones have delivered life-saving medicines to those who need them most. Rwanda is even set to hold the world’s first drone port by the end of 2017 and these little bots are critical to vaulting the nation’s humanitarian efforts ahead, despite the lack of infrastructure for transportation. In short — no roads, no problem. Start sending in the drones. 

The Legal Powerhouse Who’s Fueling Airbnb

You may not recognize her name, but Belinda Johnson is turning the once stuffy legal profession on its head. No longer the purview of nerdy coders, Silicon Valley has opened its doors to an outpouring of lawyers like Johnson who help startups navigate thorny, gray areas. In many ways, tech companies enter unknown territories before laws are even in place to regulate them, which makes for some heated battles between a fast-moving tech world and often slower-moving government. So, when Airbnb goes to court, the always polished Johnson is on speed dial, ready to nail ’em and carve out public policies where none existed before. One of the first executive hires at Airbnb, the legal powerhouse is now being hailed as the next Sheryl Sandberg.

The Next Frontier In Medicine: Paging Dr. Robot

In Singapore, R2-D2 may soon diagnose your cancer. The tiny island has long been on the bleeding edge of technology, and robots are no exception. Going beyond the cold, mechanics of surgery, robots are now entering more human-centric arenas inside hospitals and clinics as — gasp — warm and friendly caregivers. Terminal patients can share their final wishes on their deathbed with a steely bot while more chipper dancing droids can assuage the fears of kids who are getting their yearly shots. The prospect of a robot takeover inside these places of healing may be unnerving to some, but an even scarier issue looms large: Could robots take better care of Grandma than you?

 

Extra! Extra! Favorite Long Reads From Around the World

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Nearly every Sunday, OZY brings you an extra-special treat: long reads. Extra love, extra visuals, extra storytelling from all corners of the globe. In 2016, we delved into the evolution of feminism in China; joined pilgrims in search of nirvana in India; and documented one man’s unlikely quest to save tiny forest elephants in Gabon. Discover those and more below.

Could Women Rule Communist China?

Onstage, celebrity Joy Chen is like a walking exclamation point. She speaks in rolling torrents and flashes a brillant white smile. Her poise and polish are hallmarks of her much-vaunted sisterhood — call them the Alpha Females of China. Today, a hushed audience of tens of thousands of white-collar women — all young, educated, urban and all in black pumps — are eagerly eating up every word of her feminista rallying cry. “We don’t want to survive in society,” she says. “We want to lead society.”

It’s a brazen decree with a lot of lofty ideals behind it. But with doe-eyed looks and a certain gal pal appeal, Chen is a modern-day Joan of Arc. If anyone could launch a feminist crusade in China, it’s Chen. “It will take a revolution from within,” she says, a la Gloria Steinem.

One Last Pilgrimage Before Dying

Walking through the sun-saturated courtyards of Mumukshu Bhawan, one encounters an array of pilgrims as varied as if Chaucer himself had written them. There’s an orange-clad sannyasi — an old man who has given up family and possessions to wander through jungles and cities subsisting only on alms and spirit. A widow, abandoned, she says, by her spiritually bereft sons. A retired intellectual pondering atoms and the self. A middle-aged electrician who tends to the buildings and its elders with equal affection.

Mumukshu Bhawan translates to “seeker’s place,” but it goes by other names: Mukti Dhaam, meaning “place for freedom,” and, caustically, Hotel of Death. This spartan complex, which staff say is about a century old, is a kind of spiritual old-age home. Located in the holy city of Varanasi, it opens its doors to those looking their impending deaths in the face.

Can This Woman Predict Campus Rape?

There is a college campus near Jessica Ladd’s apartment. She can watch the students, antlike, moving in patterns. They’re racing to orgo labs and lectures on structuralism; they’re decked out for the opening of a friend’s gender-bending play. They’re getting wasted at frat parties and texting their roommates from outside their dorms. They’re experimenting with sex and vulnerability and trust and consent — and sometimes, these tests take a dark turn. “I’m like, ‘I’ll protect you,’” she says in a mockingly deep-throated vigilante voice. “I’m kind of like Batman.”

On a Quest to Save the World’s Most Elusive Elephants

As a field biologist, Lee White had spent years traversing some of West Africa’s most obscure rain forests, cataloging flora and tracking groups of chimps and gorillas. But all the while, he was hoping for a glimpse of something else: the rare forest elephants of the region.

Smaller than the giant elephants we know, these pachyderms are famously elusive loners that prefer the cover of shaded forests to the open plains. But their ranks are dwindling, and today they’re found only in a few West and Central African countries. They’re so difficult to spot that scientists count them by tracking their dung. Indeed, White had never come closer to them than their excrement until he arrived in Gabon in 1989. Armed with his trusty binoculars and GPS, he drove into the dense Gabonese forest, and within 10 minutes of maneuvering through the foliage, he spotted one: a female forest elephant, with its long, downward-pointing tusks and distinctive oval ears. The majestic creature was as surprised as White — she charged his car.

Mom Was Beating Cancer — Then I Locked Her in a Psych Ward

Everyone has a limit. Mom breached hers well after her cancer diagnosis. Not when she underwent surgery or chemotherapy, or when, between the chemo rounds, she showed up to manage her gift shop — wearing gloves and a surgical mask to defend against germy customers and their dirty money. And certainly not when she drove herself to and from the hospital for exhausting cycles of radiation. But after all of that, perhaps because of all of that, once she had completed her last treatment, my mother decided it was time to shutter her store of more than 20 years. The fiercely independent woman would at last face the dreaded R-word: retirement.

She hasn’t gotten there yet.

In Japan, Tattoos Are No Longer Just for Gangsters

Late on this night in Tokyo, the Romanian tattoo artist known simply as Dali still hasn’t left his parlor. The dude is busy. His clients come in for all sorts of designs. Many women want a meaningful phrase or a couple of Kanji characters inked. Guys come in for tribal patterns or, Dali’s favorite, biomechanical work — using some machinery that moves sleekly with the body. It isn’t until nearly 11 p.m. that Graphic Tribe Tattoos, Dali’s studio in Shibuya, finally goes quiet.

Dali’s clients are a mix of expats and Japanese folks, but either way, he probably shouldn’t have so many of them. In Japan, tattoos have long been culturally verboten — so much so that three years ago, a Maori woman from New Zealand was rejected from entering a bathhouse (where customers bathe in the nude) for her ink. Last year, an Australian woman reportedly suffered the same fate. The cultural aversion to tattoos in Japan isn’t mere insensitivity or conservatism. Traditionally, this island nation has associated body art with the yakuza, the famous and dangerous Japanese Mafia, who ink up upon joining their organized-crime ring, in part to keep them loyal to the clan.

Is the World Ready for an African Superhero?

In many ways, Wale Williams is your typical superhero. He begins life as an ordinary, utterly insignificant young man. Until, in the year 2025, Wale’s genius father mysteriously disappears, and Wale, in his search to find him, discovers a suit his dad left behind that gives the wearer special powers. When a villainous army of skeletal drones invades shortly after, the 20-something uses his newfound powers to — spoiler alert — save the city. He is a protector of the innocent. Defender of the helpless. Destroyer of all evil. You get the picture. Tell us, though, where does that boy in your mind’s eye come from?

Down to Business in 2016

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Ross Baird is sick of hearing about big bets on startups in New York and San Francisco, so he’s ponying up for the underdogs in between, from New Orleans to Richmond, Virginia. Reporter Leslie Nguyen-Okwu takes us into the Hong Kong office of Kathy Xu, the female Warren Buffet of China. Then there’s a conversation with one of the littlest-known minds in finance: the man behind the mobile money revolution in Kenya that came way before Apple Pay or Venmo. 

OZY brings you the stories you need to get ahead — wherever in the world they may come from.

The Young Venture Capitalist Betting Big on Middle America

Want to change the world? Solve the biggest problems facing society in education, health care, food, energy and resource use? Silicon Valley claims it wants to. And yet. There’s something a bit off about where the Valley sends its money, notices venture capitalist Ross Baird.

“Seventy-eight percent of startup investment goes to three U.S. states,” the 31-year-old tells me, citing 2015 figures from the National Venture Capital Association. That statistic is Baird’s favorite, and it also sums up his mission: to bring Valley-style innovation and entrepreneurship to places like Richmond, New Orleans and Louisville, Kentucky. Silicon Valley may well be the hotbed for consumer tech, but Baird isn’t after the next Tinder or GrubHub. Instead, he’s eyeing companies that can solve what he identifies as more important problems, including the water, energy and education spaces. His backers hope these companies are billion-dollar opportunities in the waiting.

The Woman Warren Buffet of China

In a cream-colored Hillary Clinton-esque suit, Kathy Xu looks like she means business — billions of dollars’ worth. Her heavy perfume has a whiff of what we’d imagine sweet, cold cash smells like, and she wears her pearl necklace like a polished medal. Don’t get on her bad side, I’m told, because she swings like a sledgehammer.

They don’t call her Tie Niangzi, or the Iron Lady, for nothing. The Hong Kong–based venture capitalist is the founder and president of the Capital Today Group, one of the world’s leading investment firms. As one of China’s most respected investors, she is bankrolling the future of the country’s internet.

The Stealth Entrepreneur Behind One of the Biggest Innovations in Finance

Plenty of entrepreneurs hew to form. They puff their chests, they bluster, they pitch idea upon idea that will change the world.

Then there’s Nick Hughes. The man is reticent, calm and so behind-the-scenes that he can come off as a bit of a wallflower. At investor meetings, “we’d have to prop him up with a bunch of espresso,” half-jokes his business partner, Jesse Moore. Which is all the more interesting because the British entrepreneur is utterly, demonstrably audacious. With a mobile-payments platform called M-Pesa, Hughes has busted genres, created something entirely new and changed the lives of millions and millions of people. And he and his small team at Vodafone did it in 2007, years before Apple Pay and Venmo. Now, in an Elon Musk–type move, Hughes is on to a new venture that would upend another couple of sectors — energy and finance — and leapfrog the West along the way. The question is: Can Hughes do it again?

The Man Behind the Most Important Chart of 2016

You may know the name Thomas Piketty. His work launched him to prime time as the “rock star economist”; his sultry French accent and general attractiveness helped of course. You may not know the name of his intellectual counterpart: Branko Milanović. Balding and bespectacled, the 63-year-old looks much more like a gloomy scientist than a revolutionary.

Nonetheless, Milanović is an heir to the great social scientists of yore — Smith, Marx, Keynes and Hayek — and part of a merry band of economists, Piketty included, who are rescuing their profession from popular irrelevance. His contribution? A single chart that describes 30 years of world economic history. Some have called it the most important chart in economics, but it has an even catchier nickname: The Elephant Curve.

How to Live in Asia Without Stepping Out of Your Apartment 

It takes me more than two hours to reach the office of Mumbai-based startup Fynd, which sits about 10 miles from my house. As the car moves, inchworm-like, along roads turned into parking lots, I wonder about the millions who make these sorts of treks every day, here and in other packed Asian cities — Bangalore, Bangkok, Jakarta. I gaze thoughtfully at the many storefronts I drive by: sizable malls and high-end clothing shops, hole-in-the-wall tailors and fast-food joints. Practically every block has its mom-and-pop grocer. It would seem that in a city like Mumbai, one can find almost anything within grasping distance — fancy food, street food, fresh vegetables; retail outlets, electronics stores — except that Mumbai has a tendency to turn a simple errand into a hair-tearing quest.

When I arrive (late) at Fynd to meet its CEO and founder Harsh Shah, he’s too polite to wave a giant, triumphant flag with “I told you so” emblazoned across it. But it is exactly my experience that is fueling the growth of Shah’s company and others like it. Fynd is one of many so-called hyperlocal delivery startups dotting the Asian landscape that’s ushering in a new luxury market, based on the principle that one never need leave home.

Your 2016 Athletic Review: OZY’s Best Stories in Sports

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The past year was a massive one in the sports world, both on the field and off. From curse-breaking championships and breakout Olympic stars to debates over player safety, silent protests and MMA unionization, OZY was there — looking both forward and back — to bring you thoughtful sports coverage unseen anywhere else. Stay tuned, because we’re hitting hyperdrive in 2017.

For now, here’s a recap of our favorite stories of the year. 

Can Her Sports Coverage Make You a Better Person?

It’s a name that novices and experts alike should know: Kate Fagan. The former University of Colorado basketball player has established herself as a force to be reckoned with at ESPN, where she hosts a podcast and pens feature stories for ESPNW, cohosts Will and Kate on ESPN Radio and appears frequently on Around the Horn, the ESPN’s popular debate program. Along the way, Fagan has become a vocal referee, opining on the very human side of sports and calling foul on sports Neanderthals all over.

Which Leader Snubbed Jesse Owens? Hint: It Wasn’t Hitler

We went way back on this one — all the way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Jesse Owens was among the first of many African-American athletes who fought for racial justice through sports. He has become an American hero, synonymous with success, courage and righteousness — and rightly so. But, apparently, there’s a bit of myth mixed into his legend. As the story goes, after Owens won his third gold medal of the Olympics, Adolf Hitler refused to shake his hand — not wanting the humiliation of acknowledging a Black athlete’s brilliance. That turned out to not be entirely true and, unfortunately, a much greater snub awaited Owens at the White House.

Should the NFL Come With a Surgeon General’s Warning?

Football is a dangerous sport. You know this, we know this and the football players risking their health on a daily basis across the country certainly know this too. The debate surrounding head trauma and player safety in contact sports — primarily football — dates back to some sketchy studies conducted by the NFL in 2003. But, in fact, there are lessons to be learned from another wildly popular, life-threatening industry decades prior: cigarettes. Should football in 2016 be treated like the cigarette industry in 1964? Is a surgeon general’s warning necessary for awareness to truly resonate?

America’s Best Chance at Boxing Gold?

From the streets of Newark to Virginia to fights across the globe, Shakur Stevenson has transformed into one of the best young boxers on the planet. OZY caught Shakur while he trained at the Team USA headquarters in Colorado Springs prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics. While Stevenson, 19 and weighing in at 123 pounds, didn’t take gold, he did impress the boxing world, beating older, seasoned opponents en route to a silver medal (America’s best finish since 2004) in the highly competitive bantamweight division. Boxing legend Floyd Mayweather flew to Rio and praised Stevenson, calling him “the next Floyd.” Stevenson turned pro immediately following the Olympics and, after turning down Mayweather’s TMT promotion, signed a managerial deal with his hero, light heavyweight champion Andre Ward.

Why 3-Point Shots Drain Bank Accounts

Relax, moneybags, this one’s not about your gambling habits. Nope, OZY discovered that the three-point shot actually correlates to players’ poor spending habits. With teams like the Warriors and Houston Rockets breaking long-distance shooting records seemingly every other day, this trend demands extra attention. The Deep Ball Renaissance is upon us, but, considering that long-range shooting requires extreme confidence and a near-absence of conscience, that might not be best for some players’ retirement plans.

Why Unionized Cage Fighting Is a Terrible Idea

Every athlete deserves to get paid fairly, especially those who punch each other in the nose for a living. With Ari Emanuel’s William Morris Endeavors’ recent $4 billion purchase of the UFC, mixed martial arts’ premier fighting promotion, one major debate of 2016 became if, and how, fighters should unionize. The question here is “What’s fair?” OZY’s resident fight expert, Eugene S. Robinson, points out that while the cause is noble, a shady messenger has likely doomed the Mixed Martial Arts Athletic Association’s quest for fair earning.

When Baseball’s Best Player Refused to Play

Vida Blue was Major League Baseball’s breakout rookie star in 1971, leaving spectators breathless every time he took the mound. By midseason, he had posted a 17–3 record and was asked to visit the White House by President Richard Nixon. In fact, it was that meeting with Nixon that would come back to haunt his Oakland A’s. The president inspired Blue to seek a sizable raise — after all, $25,000 was far from a star salary, even back then. A public holdout ensued and, somehow, a steel company got involved too.

 

Culture Mavenry in the Year That Was

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The swaggiest beats are coming out of Atlanta. New York’s been taken over by a yarn bomber. L.A.’s art scene is hot thanks to one gallery owner. Korean-American food is rising because of an upstart bro in his twenties. Hollywood has a new comedian to worship.

These are the highlights of 2016’s year in culture. (Of course, there were many more great stories to come out of the world of books, Hollywoodmusic and food … but you can explore on your own.) Scratch the surface below — you deserve a break from the Christmas fighting and 24/7 political news coverage. 

Crochet Queen: London Kaye

It’s 10 a.m. in Brooklyn as London Kaye slips into a REDValentino shirt. Just shy of her 28th birthday, the bright-eyed artist giggles when asked about the garment’s provenance. “It’s a London Kaye original,” she sings. “They just sent them over.” The new capsule collection from the couture label isn’t cut from beaded chiffon, lace or organza — it’s hand-knitted yarn, designed by Kaye herself.

Boy, can artist Derek Fordjour remember the first time he met Michelle Papillion. They were in a room full of big names and up-and-comers at the estate of a very important Black artist. Papillion stood up in her purple pants and great shoes and proclaimed: “I run a gallery in the hood.” Since then, Papillion’s gallery has shifted quarters, but not too far, and today you can find it below a neon sign — PAPILLION, it spells, in flamingo-pink capitals — in Leimert Park, Los Angeles.

Dirty South: Atlanta’s Premier Producer

It’s no mistake that Steven “SauceLordRich” Bolden was born on May 3. Sharing a birthday with musical icons James Brown and Damon Dash is, the prolific producer believes, more than a casual connection — it’s a sign of his musical destiny. He also told us to “never trust a man in music,” although he assured us he’s an exception because he’s not in music — he is music.

The Korean-American Anthony Bourdain

Deuki Hong’s parents hate his food. It’s too heavy. It’s too salty. Once he cooked them a special dinner for their wedding anniversary. They tossed the food after a bite. Hong’s parents are in the minority, however. At 26, Hong heads up his own kitchen at Baekjeong NYC, the It Scene of Manhattan’s Koreatown. By day, the casually dressed foodies swan in, plunking down 30 bucks for an entrée. At night, the big-name chefs — Anthony Bourdain, David Chang — take over and turn the place into an after-hours club that serves just the right kind of food. Hong has recently published his first cookbook, perhaps of many.

Don’t Call Him the Next Aziz Ansari

As Ravi Patel reviews the lines at the top of his curriculum vitae — actor, producer, writer, snack-bar entrepreneur — he sums them up in an unlikely, unassuming fashion: “I’m at the cusp of an existential crisis.” We could say the same of Hollywood these days. It’s been a banner year for conversations in Tinseltown about actors like Patel: Asian-Americans, long underrepresented in both cinema and television, often mocked, and now seeing a rise in prominence in media thanks to comedians like Mindy Kaling and this year’s Netflix star Aziz Ansari.

The Man Behind the Next Game of Thrones

From the shrieks and the crowds, you might expect to be at a boy band concert. There’s a sense that everyone here will later regale friends and coworkers, boasting, “I was there.” When? When Amish Tripathi took the stage at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival to speak of God, good and evil, the many incarnations of ancient tales and the future of this nation of 1.3 billion people. Only in India could a writer who began with a tome on good and evil and ended up writing an action tale of the gods be a best-selling prophet; his sagas now reach some 3 million readers.

Why We Love Science — and You Should Too

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2016 was a hot year for science. And when it comes to some of the brightest minds, you heard about them on OZY first. We brought you the Vatican’s in-house astronomer, two millennial geniuses and a pediatric geneticist who’s changing how we think about science and gender. On the horizon, it seems? A potential way to alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s, open-sourcing cures with old experiments and kicking antiobitic resistance to the curb. As 2016 comes to a halt, read up on the highlights from last year and what their stories might mean for the next 365 days.  

The Modern Master of Sex

Little Drian Juarez didn’t play like other boys. Instead of Tonka trucks and wrestling, he preferred Barbie dolls and dressing up in his mother’s clothing. Whenever he asked for a dab of her lipstick, she told him it was “inappropriate for little boys.” Other kids made fun of everything from his mannerisms to his tone of voice. Some threatened to beat him up. “Something is wrong with me,” he thought. “Something is different.”

Juarez was born male, but he felt female.

Eric Vilain, a pediatric geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles, probes the brain and genome for what determines whether Juarez and others feel male or female, and whether they’re attracted to the same or opposite sex. Last June, Vilain’s lab presented a model to predict homosexuality, and he hopes to test whether kids can outgrow gender dysphoria, challenging the recent push among parents to help them transition as early as possible. In fact, he remains skeptical of the very concept of gender identity, a stance that has sparked controversy in the communities he studies. READ MORE.

This Millennial Might Be the Next Einstein

One of the things the brilliant minds at MIT do — besides ponder the nature of the universe and build sci-fi gizmos, of course — is notarize aircraft airworthiness for the federal government. So when Sabrina Pasterski walked into the campus offices one cold January morning seeking the OK for a single-engine plane she had built, it might have been business as usual. Except that the shaggy-haired, wide-eyed plane builder before them was just 14 and had already flown solo. “I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Peggy Udden, an executive secretary at MIT, “not only because she was so young, but a girl.” READ MORE.

The Vatican’s In-House Astronomer

To get to Brother Guy Consolmagno’s office, you take a train heading southeast from Rome. It winds its way away from Vatican City for an hour, into a bucolic setting that holds Lake Albano and the tiny town of Castel Gandolfo. Once you get off the train and walk through the streets, you look for a little bronze plaque whose Latin simply reads “Specola Vaticana.” Open the doors and you’re in the Vatican Observatory — a secret lab in a volcanic crater, just what every budding scientist dreams of. READ MORE.

The Doctor Who Wants You to Be a Research Parasite

No one needed to drag 12-year-old Atul Butte to Macy’s. At the time, department stores carried some of the latest and greatest in technology, aka personal computers, and young Atul was smitten. He’d bring spiral notebooks from home filled with computer programs and type the programs in code while his parents — from India, settled in South Jersey — did their shopping. 

After Butte’s parents splurged on a new Apple II Plus, the rest was history: a computer science degree from Brown, summers at Apple and Microsoft, an M.D. (inspired by National Geographic articles on medical technology). Throw in a Ph.D. from MIT, for a whopping 17 years of post–high school education, and you’ll find that Butte is still tinkering. Only now he’s at the cutting edge of medicine and big data. READ MORE.

The Solution to More Antibiotic Resistance — More Antibiotics? 

Have some pity for your ancestors. Prior to the remarkable medical advances of the past hundred years or so, life was nasty, brutish, short and utterly terrifying — it’s a wonder anybody ever left the hovel. Sexually transmitted diseases were incurable and often fatal, up to 25 percent of mothers died in childbirth and a scrape could lead to a deadly infection. Thankfully, the Age of Antibiotics dawned in 1928 when Alexander Fleming fooled around with some mold juice at a London hospital and ended up with penicillin, transforming medicine and vastly improving the lives of billions. But humanity now is teetering on the edge of a new era: the Age After Antibiotics, as increasing numbers of bacteria develop resistance to increasing numbers of drugs. 

Are you scared yet? The medical community is. Scientists are scrambling to find solutions to this urgent public health concern, and some new research suggests a surprising potential solution: even more antibiotics. READ MORE.

The Millennial Astrophysicist Who Found a Planet With Math

Konstantin Batygin made the decision of which college to attend with the intention of keeping his band together. (When a guy at Costco recognized him from a rock show, he thought, “With this kind of momentum, we can’t quit!”) Day One at UC Santa Cruz, an unknown “drifter” told him, “You should do astrophysics — that shit is dope.” He did so. Today, his office has thug-life posters on the door and big-kid toy planes on the shelves. He wears a shark-tooth necklace, and he uses the word hashtag out loud. Oh, and this millennial just turned the astrophysics universe upside down when he predicted the existence of a new planet in our solar system. READ MORE.

Could Light Alleviate Alzheimer’s Symptoms?

Around the time he was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, 55-year-old Brian Leblanc spent all day “just doing nothing.” The former marketing and public relations executive dozed in his recliner, often for hours at a time. At night he felt restless. He awoke at 3:30 every morning, unable to fall back asleep. He forgot to eat and shed more than 50 pounds. One day, unable to recall whether he had eaten lunch, Leblanc made a decision. “I didn’t want to go down that hole any longer,” he says. “I decided I’m going to do something each and every day to make a difference.” READ MORE.

A Sneak Peek at 2017’s Political Season

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Election years naturally dominate the headlines, but this one dominated hearts and minds perhaps like none before it. The reason? Because it wasn’t just the leader of the United States that was at stake, but America’s very vision for itself. Whatever worldview you have, though, there are reasons to be hopeful as the New Year approaches. Here are a few things to think about as the calendar flips. 

The Ascendant Politicos to Watch in 2017

One positive twist for progressives: A set of trendsetting legislators were elected, creating a government that further reflects the people it works for. Kamala Harris, daughter of Indian-American breast cancer specialist Shyamala Gopalan, will be the first Indian-American U.S. senator, after dealing with complex issues around fracking, water wars and big bank culpability as California’s attorney general. Catherine Cortez Masto will join her as the first Latina senator. This election also witnessed a host of LGBT candidates run for office in places as disparate as Arizona and Florida

Pennsylvania Attorney General–elect Josh Shapiro steps into an office previously mired in corruption and malaise; if he’s successful, it could springboard him to a national office. If you want to see Bernie’s revolution continue, watch his creative director Arun Chaudhary and former NAACP director Ben Jealous lead the way.

There are many Republicans who will help dictate the tone for the nation, from Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to David Perdue, the Georgia senator whose own rise mirrored Trump’s. Folks like Jim Bridenstine, who hopes to launch an American space renaissance, and Warren Davidson, who steps into John Boehner’s shoes, will have a pivotal voice in the U.S. House of Representatives. Most interesting of all may be those who eloquently opposed Trump, and who will now be asked to work with him, from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse to Club for Growth President David McIntosh

The Ideas to Look Ahead to

The next Congress and President Trump will need to deal with the danger of ISIS and emergence of Russia as a world player (and election-tampering threat), plus domestic issues, from the cost of cars to the reimagining of health care. Republicans will finally have a chance to reshape the country to their liking — while Democrats will look at ways to erase the Electoral College, among other things, to avoid a repeat of this election in 2020. 

How Did We Get Here? 

If you’re still wondering, take a look back at election night, and follow the sequence of events that led a lifelong Democrat in Tampa to wave her flag behind Donald Trump. Consider the Obama voters who backed Trump in the millions. And remember the road map for a Trump comeback that we laid out this summer, back when his election hopes seemed dismal at best.

Take Care of Yourself

For many of us, this year was tragic for more reasons than a chaotic and divisive election season. There are those who are no longer with us, and then there are those of us who carry our wounds into the New Year. If there’s any lesson we learned this year, it’s that politics goes on regardless of what is going on in our personal lives. Take time to relish the important things, and we wish you a happy end to the holiday season.

Here’s Where to Go for 6,000 Ramen Shops

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Kurokawa Yusaku has his routine: At lunchtime, he ducks out of his office and heads for one of his favorite ramen shops. He picks out his order on the vending machine that dispenses order tickets (standard ordering practice at any ramen joint). He likes his broth thick and rich, and prefers tonkotsu, the kind made with pork bone. 

But he has a staggering number of options for where to play out this routine. According to the Japanese-language restaurant site Tabelog:

There are 6,000 ramen noodle shops in Tokyo

… and more than 20,000 in Japan. That’s over half as many restaurants as there are in Manhattan, period, according to the New York City Department of Health. Sure, this is for a city of about 13 million people, many of whom, says ramen blogger Brian MacDuckston, will chow down on a bowl of the noodle soup two or three times a week, paying little more than 1,000 yen ($9). But that only begins to capture the ubiquity — and uniqueness — of ramen food culture here. 

For one, ramen is a thoroughly new-school food, MacDuckston explains over steaming bowls of veggie ramen (a rarity, but possible, as your herbivorous correspondent discovered) at Soranoiro, in the Chiyoda neighborhood. It became popular only after World War II, he says. Modern sushi, in comparison, has been eaten since the 19th century, and tempura took off in the 17th century. But in a matter of decades, it’s become a staple. For 27-year-old Yusaku, a meal at a ramen joint is hearty and practical: “It’s easier to come here alone,” he says, gesturing around the shop — Chabuton in the Shimokitazawa neighborhood, where he works. Today, for 750 yen (less than $7), he’s slurping down a satisfying meal and doesn’t need a date. Not the case if he were to pop into an izakaya, or gastropub, instead. 

Tokyo-ites love to eat out. The teeming city is full of apartments with small kitchens, and ingredients are expensive, MacDuckston says, so restaurant culture abounds. And it’s a foodie’s paradise, with 13 three-star Michelin restaurants and more than 200 with one or two stars. Among the latter category is a single ramen spot, Tsuta, which received the honor for the first time this year. But although ramen is spreading as a global phenomenon, attracting the attention of gourmands worldwide, MacDuckston warns us not to get too wild about experimentation. Some restaurants, hoping to seem innovative and fancy, throw things like filet mignon on top of ramen. MacDuckston’s take: Toppings are well and good, but the true test of ramen is the broth. That said, he’s seen some crazy things, like foie gras ramen and bitter chocolate ramen. 

Ramen comes in many iterations — that pork bone style, tonkotsu; miso-broth-based; shoyu-based, with a soy sauce flavor — and MacDuckston says you can find almost all of them in Tokyo. But some remain outside the city’s grasp, like yatai-style noodles, made on the street, often found in Fukuoka. 

The problem for Yusaku, though, is that there’s a little too much available. “I used to eat ramen two or three times a week,” he says. “Now I eat it all the time.” He pinches his stomach, where a little roll of fat rests above his pant line. “It’s getting really bad.”