This Weekend: Prepare to Fall Back in Love With Spider-Man

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WHAT TO LISTEN TO

Heavyweight — The Past Is Barely Past. This American Life alum Jonathan Goldstein is the creative, um, heavyweight behind this podcast, which takes creators back to problems or moments that have stuck with them from their pasts. It’s an extraordinary feat of storytelling and will keep you coming back for more … and more, and more. (Recommended by Marion Cunningham, Here for the Heavy Stuff)

The Breakfast Club — No, Not the Movie. Watch the movie if you want to — it’s great. But also listen to this pop-culture YouTube radio show, which has a raw, natural vibe and honest celebrity interviews you don’t want to miss. (Recommended by Bishop Walton, OZY Fan)

Duncan Trussell Family Hour — Trippy But Real. Trussell’s podcast is an earnest, personal dissection of the nature of existence that may sometimes make you feel like the only person at a party who isn’t high. Try the episode featuring Paul Selig, who claims to channel spirits … even if you don’t buy it, you’ll find yourself repeating his words in times of stress. (Recommended by Rich Burns, Expanded Mind)

WHAT TO READ

The Art of Racing in the Rain — A Dog’s Life. Meet Enzo, an aging mixed-breed dog who loves his owner, a race car driver, and muses a lot about the meaning of life. Be warned, this one’s incredibly sad — most good books about dogs are — but it’s lovely and meaningful too. This is the kind of book that will make you cry over your keyboard while tweeting “we don’t deserve dogs.” (Recommended by Diana Clephane, Dog Lover)

White Chrysanthemum — Devoted Sisters. The issue of so-called “comfort women,” who were kidnapped into sexual slavery by Japan’s army during World War II, has made its way into the headlines in recent years with the Japanese government’s official recognition of its history in 2015. But few accounts are as visceral and unflinching as this novel about two sisters, one of whom is abducted … while the other grieves and wonders if she’ll ever see her again. (Recommended by Sophia Akram, Storyteller)

WHAT TO WATCH

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse — The Best Comic Book Movie of All Time. There is one main problem with Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, and it’s that it will forever ruin every other comic book-based film for you. And in case you were planning to just watch it on the small screen, we wanted to catch you before it leaves theaters: This is a film to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Animated and explosively funny, it captures the snarky wit and visual grace that made Spider-Man such a beloved character … and then adds a bunch of other Spideys on top of that. While it’s a story that delves deep into Spider-Man’s mythos and the alternate comic book universes that have been created by the franchise over time, it’s done so skillfully that you don’t need any prior knowledge of Spider-Man to enjoy it.

Perhaps best of all are the chase scenes, which manage to be both exciting and hilarious. Then there’s the fun of gradually identifying each voice actor — can you work out which one is Nicolas Cage? (Recommended by Ned Colin, Spider-Fan)

And whatever you do, don’t …

Fill your bags with leeches. We can’t be any clearer than that. A Canadian man returning from a trip to Russia was caught with 5,000 live leeches, which he says he was transporting for personal orchid-related use. Authorities are still trying to find caring homes for 3,950 of the parasitic worms after some were taken in by museums. (Daily Mail)

SLIDE INTO OUR DMS

Do you have a killer potato salad recipe that you’d like to share? Think you discovered the next great jam band? Share your suggestions with us here at OZY! Email us: Weekender@ozy.com.

Zalmay Khalilzad Tests Whether Peace With the Taliban Can Hold

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OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.

Zalmay Khalilzad’s CV could register on the Richter scale, it’s that heavy. With a portfolio that covers behind-the-scenes strategizing with a succession of U.S. presidential administrations — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and now Donald Trump — the 67-year-old Khalilzad’s time in the trenches negotiating ways forward for a part of the world aggressively resistant to any kind of handling that’s not deft has been an accomplishment in and of itself. 

Khalilzad, now Trump’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department, is presently being blamed/credited for brokering the framework of a full military withdrawal deal in principle between America and the Taliban. After five days of meetings in Qatar, the new deal framework announced Monday — 17 years in the making — seeks to extricate American blood and treasure from Afghanistan, a country it only took the Soviets about a decade to figure out was somewhere they didn’t need to be. 

“No one has a monopoly on the diplomacy of peace,” Khalilzad said in a recent tweet. “And all have contributions to make.” A fairly anodyne statement for a country that is desperately in need of it. Afghanistan, a country of about 35 million people, has in military campaigns from Alexander the Great to the Brits to the Soviets to the United States lived up to its moniker as the graveyard of empires.

Khalilzad is serving up some realpolitik that’s hard to argue with.

So against a diplomatic stasis that saw the United States presence there become a political football in the 2016 campaign, and more recently former Defense Secretary James Mattis wanting to end the war but having no plans for a drawdown only to finally be outflanked by Trump, who declared Afghanistan a “total disaster” that we should leave immediately. Trump kicked in plans to do so, Mattis resigned, and via Khalilzad’s ministrations, we now have a framework with the militants agreeing to prevent Afghanistan from being a staging ground for terrorist groups like al-Qaida — largely who the U.S. chased into Afghanistan in the first place post-9/11.

Khalilzad, ethnically a Pashtun and religiously a Sunni Muslim himself, grew up in Afghanistan and moved to the U.S. for high school. He attended the American University of Beirut and the University of Chicago before climbing to the top of the Republican foreign policy ranks. He helped plan the launch of this very war for George W. Bush, then served as ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. After a decade out of government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pulled him back in last September. With some right-time, right-place politicking — and fluency in at least five different languages — Khalilzad fashioned as peaceful of a resolution to the conflict as we’re likely to get. And no sooner had he done so, in a region where second-guessing can’t be helped, did the second-guessing start.

 

Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, and now a diplomat in residence at Princeton, almost immediately bashed it in a Washington Post op-ed. “The framework was reached without the involvement of the Afghan government,” Crocker wrote. “[W]e were just negotiating the terms of our surrender.”

“It’s been 17 years already,” says Michael Doran, who served on George W. Bush’s National Security Council. “What are we trying to achieve?” A question ringing through foreign policy circles since the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. So while Khalilzad’s solution might have won the day, winning the battle is totally different.

Neither this nor a barely noticed suspected money laundering case that hit Khalilzad back in 2014 (and was subsequently dismissed) has slowed Trump’s embrace of the man and his pending solution. And at least for now, both sides are claiming “progress” has been made. While naysayers see this as little more than an acknowledgment that we’re not going to defeat them, Khalilzad is serving up some realpolitik that’s hard to argue with.

“Peace is America’s highest priority in #Afghanistan,” Khalilzad tweeted. “A goal we believe all Afghans share.” 

In 2016 Khalilzad, a married father of two, published a political autobiography, because of course he did. The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World packs all of Khalilzad’s beliefs in effective foreign policy and planning backed by bipartisan commitment in every one of its 336 pages. A careful reading of the last part of the title though sums it all up: through a turbulent world. Not past it. We should only be so lucky.

Mexico’s Economy Expands … for Men

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Beatriz Tumoine wanted to be a doctor. A gifted student, at 16 she won a place at the medical school of the prestigious Tecnológico de Monterrey university, about 220 miles from her home in Torreón, northern Mexico. But her parents would not let her enroll.

“My dad wouldn’t even consider it,” says Tumoine, now an executive at building materials group Cemex, one of Mexico’s most successful multinational companies. “I thought my grandfather, a doctor, would support me. But he said it was a very demanding career and, for a woman, may not be the best choice.”

Tumoine was devastated — but in provincial 1980s Mexico, she says, they “just didn’t know” any different.

“My dad raised his two youngest brothers — we grew up with them. He set them up in business, prepared them for life, being productive and having their own company,” she says. “He prepared me to be someone’s wife.”

In corporate Mexico, women hold nearly 40 percent of entry-level jobs, but that number dwindles to just 10 percent for executive roles. 

Since those days, Mexico has transformed from a closed economy into a manufacturing powerhouse with more free trade agreements than any other nation. But career prospects for women feel as suspended in time as the black-and-white images evoked in the film Roma, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood memoir.

“The drama is that things aren’t that different from Roma today,” says Tumoine.

Changing things is not just a question of social justice; it is an economic imperative. In a new report examining the state of women in the workplace in Mexico, McKinsey, the consultancy, reckons that closing the gender gap in Latin America’s second-biggest economy has the potential to boost gross domestic product by 70 percent, or $800 billion. However, it says it is easier to assess the size of the opportunity than to say when it could be achieved.

 

Why so huge? Because with only 4 out of 10 women employed outside the home, Mexico today has the second-lowest female participation in the workforce in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, behind Turkey, according to the report. Many of those women only work part-time in low-productivity sectors.

“It’s like driving Mexico on half an engine,” says Eduardo Bolio, one of the authors of the study, which surveyed 50 companies employing more than 1 million staff, with sales of 40 percent of Mexico’s GDP.

In corporate Mexico, women hold nearly 40 percent of entry-level jobs, but that number dwindles to just 10 percent for executive roles. Yet McKinsey says studies show more female managers can translate into a 55 percent higher profit margin and 47 percent greater return on equity, based on the experiences of 300 companies in 10 countries with data from 2007–2009.

Tumoine, 47, fell almost by accident into corporate life, finding a job in a manufacturing company as Torreón enjoyed a textile máquila (manufacturing for export) boom and ultimately ending up at Cemex — but her family found her choices alien. “More than opposition or resentment, a lack of interest or maybe ability to understand what I do is what I perceive,” she says.

The new leftist government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador — who has put women in senior roles in his gender parity cabinet — has pledged to make Mexico more prosperous and inclusive. But that did not stop him from reinforcing stereotypes by unveiling a government logo featuring only male national heroes when he took office in December.

When, in an attempt to strengthen core values, he reissued a “moral primer” penned by essayist and poet Alfonso Reyes 75 years ago, he addressed critics by adding a couple of token heroines to the logo on the cover. The 65-year-old president has also appointed a council of senior business leaders to advise him on strategy: Not one member is a woman.

However, one of his signature social programs, Young People Building the Future, which offers yearlong apprenticeships for 18- to 29-year-olds who are neither working nor studying, has unexpectedly tapped into the challenge of getting women into work.

Some experts questioned whether it would have much impact on the “neither/nors,” since nearly three-quarters of the target population are women at home looking after children or family.

“We talked to a lot of experts,” says Labor Secretary Luisa María Alcalde, who is herself 31. “They told us women wouldn’t enroll because they’re tied up in caring duties. But to our surprise, of the 1.1 million young people who have signed up so far, 60 percent, if not more, are women. This just shows us that there are many women who want to break into the world of work and are finding it very hard to do so.”

Paula Santilli, president of PepsiCo Mexico Foods, says she was delighted that men and women had similar ambitions of becoming executives, but that she “wanted to cry” at the 12-point gap between their expectations of achieving them. In fact, Mexican men are 88 times more likely to make it to senior executive roles than women, who earn only three-quarters of what men do if they get there.

However, Santilli is optimistic. She mentored 33 women in her company last year and has been a vocal “evangelist” sharing PepsiCo’s inclusion strategies with companies and even the central bank, where one of the board members is a woman. “I think Mexico is advancing very quickly,” she says.

Her advice to other companies is simple: Set a strategy and measure the results minutely. “You can have a modest or ambitious plan,” she says. “But you need to have a plan.”

Tumoine, now organization and HR global planning and development director at Cemex, says she “still didn’t have a plan for a career” when she graduated from business studies. She’s had to work out her own strategies.

Cemex offers flexibility and periods of leave — key to attracting and retaining women — which Tumoine took advantage of when one of her two sons needed medical attention. But she says she felt “bullied” by teachers at her children’s school, who wanted her to juggle work commitments around meetings they scheduled during office hours.

“I’ve been working on trying to be more assertive at work, but I never thought I needed to be with the school, or things that are not structured to support working mothers,” she says. She now tells teachers it is “disrespectful” to hold meetings in the middle of her working day, telling them, “We need to work together to motivate more women [to have careers].”

Mexico’s Congress has done that via a gender parity law — but the 85-year-old lower house speaker, Porfírio Muñoz Ledo, was criticized this month for telling a senator who ran over her allotted time while speaking with her 2-month-old baby in her arms: “There’s a limit to mother-child tolerance.”

According to a study quoted in the McKinsey report, 44 percent of Mexicans believe children suffer because of working mothers’ absence — indeed, Tumoine says other parents have refused playdates with her children because she would not be there. But, she says, they “have never missed out. I don’t feel I have fallen short on my job as a mom.” When one of her sons asked her if she suffered while he was at school, “I realized he knows I’m not here suffering at work,” she says. “I’m getting nourished.”

So can Mexican women have it all, juggling high-flying careers and motherhood like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had a baby last year? Many apparently think not: One study cited in the report found 64 percent of executive women did not have children, while 49 percent were single.

But the Secretary of Labor says there are plenty of women of child-bearing age in government. “It’ll happen — maybe even to me,” Alcalde says. “But I’m not promising anything.”

Gerald Everett Is the Perfect Tight End for the NFL’s Space Age

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When Gerald Everett was a high school basketball player, he was inelegantly referred to as a “tweener.” He was a 6-foot-2.5-inch forward pursuing a college basketball scholarship, but his ambition exceeded his reach. He was too short to play near the rim, not quick enough to play on the perimeter.

Everett wanted to create an opening for himself in big-time sports, and he was smart enough to realize he could waste his immense athletic ability by being stubborn about basketball. He took the tweener hint and changed sports. In his senior year of high school, Everett became a football player, and the NFL has evolved right into his lap.

The quasi–tight end for the Los Angeles Rams, Everett has a more elegant label these days — “hybrid” — because the NFL has become a “space” game, where teams are looking for big, fast people to exploit big, slow people in open spaces. The Rams made the now 6-foot-3, 236-pound Everett, a second-round draft pick in 2017, and he is an emerging star in the NFL’s space age. Now he is in the Super Bowl, hoop dreams long gone. “Sometimes you’ve got to give up your first love,” he says.

He has a done a great job in a shorter football career than most guys. He is starting to hit his stride.

Shane Waldron, Rams tight end coach

Everett is just big enough to be positioned tight to the line and block on running downs, and fast enough to split out and run right past the linebacker or safety trying to cover him on passing downs. Smaller, swifter defensive backs can’t tackle him one-on-one. As a hybrid, Everett allows the Rams offense to suddenly shift from one tight end and three wide receivers to a four-wide receiver set — sending opposing defenses scrambling. “In this business the more you can do, the better it will be for you,” he says.

Everett’s numbers were fairly modest this season in the imaginative offense of head coach Sean McVay: 33 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns. But Everett became especially valuable when Los Angeles receiver Cooper Kupp tore his ACL on Nov. 11 and was lost for the season. Eight days after Kupp’s injury, Everett caught three passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ epic 54-51 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. In Sunday’s big game, the Rams are hoping to use Everett to keep the New England Patriots defense off balance. “Ideally what we’re looking for is a matchup with him on a linebacker,” says Shane Waldron, the Rams’ tight end coach and passing game coordinator.

 

A Super Bowl requires no additional motivation, but Sunday’s colossus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is also a homecoming for Everett. He grew up on the south side of Atlanta, wearing No. 81 during youth football in tribute to former Rams receiver Torry Holt and former 49ers and Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. But Everett’s joy came from basketball. He played three years at Martin Luther King High School, then transferred to national powerhouse Columbia High School in nearby Decatur, which had six Division I basketball players on the roster.

Everett first caught the eye of football coaches while playing summer league basketball in 2012. “If you don’t have [a college scholarship] offer by your sophomore year in basketball, it’s probably not going to happen. He belonged in football,” says then head football coach Mario Allen. “He was raw, but you could look at his body frame and see that he was still growing. And he picked up things very fast. ”

Everett had some Division I recruiting noise around him, but major schools passed: Bigger tight ends were still the trend. So Everett bounced around, from lower-tier Division I school Bethune-Cookman in Florida to junior college powerhouse Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where he started to attract some notice. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which had a forward-looking offensive scheme and was in search of a hybrid tight end, offered him a scholarship.

“He was dynamic and great with the ball after the catch,” says Bill Clark, then the UAB head coach. “He was a three-play guy. Watch him just three plays and you could tell he could play.” But after just one season with Everett, UAB abruptly shut down the program because of its poor financial shape. Everett and several teammates moved on to the University of South Alabama.

Because South Alabama is in Mobile, where the Senior Bowl showcase for top college football seniors is played each year, Everett caught the eye of the game’s executive director, Phil Savage. Everett was an early invitee to the Senior Bowl. Savage advised NFL scouts to zoom in on No. 81. In a Tuesday practice before the game, scouts’ eyes opened wide as satellite dishes when Everett started snatching passes in heavy traffic.

Savage says 2017 had one of the deepest tight end draft classes in memory, and even with all the competition from players from major schools, the Rams tapped Everett in the second round. Everett’s obscure background left many observers scratching their heads at the choice. Sports Illustrated gave the pick a D-plus in its post-draft grades.

Everett’s rise has forced a re-evaluation of those quick takes, but he’s far from a finished product. And he still might not have the same ceiling as the more classically built (read: massive) players at his position. Just take a look at his opposing number on Sunday: the Patriots’ 6-foot-6, 268-pound Rob Gronkowski, one of the greatest tight ends of all time.

Everett has “got so much room to grow,” says Waldron, the Rams coach. “He has a done a great job in a shorter football career than most guys. He is starting to hit his stride.”

Reminded again about his dizzying path to the Super Bowl — two high schools, four colleges — Everett just grins. “It was a roller coaster,” he says. “You got to think ‘What’s the greater good?’ You’ve got to make the best decisions for yourself. You have to find a way.”

Read more: Why the Patriots’ running game — not Tom Brady — is their key to victory.

Why Half the Population Would Welcome a Sleep Divorce

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Each night, Kelly Kandra Hughes nestles under the weighted blanket of her queen-size bed around 9 pm. She usually reads before her husband, Heath, comes in to chat about their plans for the next day. If it’s been a long day, he’ll crawl into the bed and run his fingers through her hair. After kissing Kelly goodnight, he turns off the lamp.

When Heath goes to bed a few hours later, he heads into his own bedroom. The couple has been sleeping separately since about seven months into their marriage. Because Kelly has narcolepsy, her husband’s nighttime movements disturb her sleep. But recent studies suggest that their situation — which has been coined a “sleep divorce” — isn’t all that unique. In fact …

46 percent of Americans in a relationship would rather sleep alone at least some of the time, according to a 2018 survey. 

The survey of 2,000 people, conducted by OnePoll, found that 24 percent think sleeping separately can actually improve a relationship — even though those who slept in the same bed were twice as likely as their non-bed-sharing counterparts to rank their relationship happiness a 10 out of 10.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon: In the U.K., 15 percent of Brits surveyed said they prefer to sleep in a different bed than their romantic partner, according to a 2018 YouGov survey of nearly 2,100 British adults. Britain’s Sleep Council report found that the percentage of couples who sleep separately at least some of the time increased by 9 percent between 2013 and 2017, while the proportion of couples who always sleep alone rose from 8–12 percent. 

 

“If you’ve slept in your own bed your entire life, sleeping with somebody else in the same bed is a huge deviation from what you are accustomed to,” says Bill Fish, a sleep science coach who co-founded the Tuck Sleep Foundation. Habit formation becomes especially relevant as people marry later. Hughes is one example: She and Heath were 38 and 32 when they married, and she says they’d developed independent routines over decades.

Sleep disturbances, personal preferences and simple logistics play a role. For one, snoring: It’s estimated that partners lose up to an hour of sleep every night because of a significant other’s snoring. Other seemingly minor disturbances add up, particularly when partners operate on opposite timetables. Colleen Noon and her husband began sleeping solo initially because he was getting up several times a night to care for their infant son, and waking her in the process.

What’s more, people increasingly are bringing screens into the bedroom — but partners may prefer different content, or be unable to fall asleep when they want to. “I had to beg my wife to stop watching ER 10 years ago as I was trying to sleep because it was giving me the worst nightmares,” Fish says. On a physical level, blue light from mobile screens has been found to disrupt natural sleep cycles.

One tricky aspect of a “sleep divorce” is the link between sex and sleep. Most sexual encounters take place between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Circadian Rhythms. Plus, there’s the intimacy drawback: Bedtime could be the only time couples can have one-on-one time to catch up after the workday or caring for their children. Psychotherapist Fran Walfish says sleeping separately has put a wedge of distance between some couples she’s treated, adding there’s no doubt that the spontaneity and frequency of sex decrease for couples sleeping separately.

Noon, however, would push back on this rationale, as she says sleeping alone hasn’t disturbed her sex life. For solo-sleep couples, intimate moments don’t result from operating on autopilot; they require intentionality instead. Nonetheless, stigma still exists: Many judge sleeping apart as a sign of failing relationship health. But, Hughes says, “needing sleep is not a character flaw.” 

One of Hughes’ favorite rituals involves waking her husband up in the morning, hours after she’s already exercised, read and meditated. She brings the dogs upstairs and flips the lights on, snuggling into bed alongside him. To her, these moments of connection are meaningful precisely because she chooses them.

This Podcast Gives You the Straight Dope About Drugs

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Portraits of the war on drugs are woven into our cultural consciousness. A faceless drug user plunging a needle into arms covered with constellations of track marks, parks littered with syringes, a mourning family at a loved one’s grave. Of course, this coverage is important. In 2017, 72,000 people died of drug overdoses, and overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Yet these grim, one-dimensional portraits of drug users perpetuate stigma and harmful myths about addiction, focusing more on problems than solutions, valuing anecdotes over evidence. Narcotica, a new podcast that launched in May 2018, is giving the other side of the story — one that humanizes drug users and destigmatizes drug use. “We challenge a lot of media narratives because they get it so wrong,” explains host Troy Farah. “They repeat propaganda from cops and from the government who have an incentive to keep drugs illegal.”  

It’s their knowledge and  passion for drug policy reform that makes the pod so compelling. 

Farah, a California reporter with expertise in science, psychedelics and pharmacology, co-hosts the pod with two other journalists with extensive experience reporting on drugs and criminal justice: Christopher Moraff in Philadelphia and Zachary A. Siegel in Chicago. The trio are like smart, informed friends you hope to meet at a party.

And it’s their knowledge and passion for drug policy reform that makes the pod so compelling. Like in Episode 10, when Farah draws on his knowledge of policy and pharmacology to weigh in on the controversy surrounding kratom, a plant used to treat anxiety and pain. And in Episode 9, when Moraff, whose experience as a street photographer allows him to make strong connections with people, speaks with a mother grieving her son’s death by overdose. Siegel rounds out the group’s dynamic by openly sharing his history of opiate addiction.  

 

Each of the 10 episodes released so far explores complex stories of drug addiction, policy and research, but in a way that makes the heavy subject matter engaging — by showing the other side, by putting a human face on it. “The podcast allows us to paint a picture of this kind of life with more nuance than most media because you get to hear the voices and character of sources,” Moraff says. Narcotica’s sources include experts, doctors, researchers and people who Farah says media has historically left out of the equation — like drug users. 

Troy Farah

The shirt is a hint. Meet Troy Farah, a psychedelics expert. 

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The first episode, “Opioid of the Masses” (which the trio sees as their gold standard), challenges the dominant media narrative on the overdose crisis and the war on drugs, including weigh-in from drug users from Philadelphia. It also presents a compelling case for how fentanyl is not actually deadly to the touch — which could positively impact overdose victims by allowing first responders to begin treatment more quickly.

It’s important to note that Moraff, Farah and Siegel do not claim complete objectivity. Rather, they share the ways their own experiences have shaped their reporting. Case in point: Each speaks about their own drug use during an upcoming episode featuring Jerry Stahl, author of the influential addiction memoir, Permanent Midnight. Siegel explains that his own addiction with opioids has driven a lot of his journalistic coverage, but he also wants to make it clear that “just because someone has done drugs or had an addiction, that doesn’t qualify them as an expert on the subject or someone who can speak for the community.” Know what the medical literature says, he stresses, “know your science, chemistry and research.”

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Narcotica Episode 7, “Drug War Deja Vu,” was recorded at a panel Seigel moderated at the 12th National Harm Reduction Conference in New Orleans.

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People interested in public health, science and addiction will appreciate Narcotica for its rigorous reporting. Recovering addicts like me will love Narcotica for offering hope and a refreshing alternative to the stereotypical portrayal of drug use and addiction. The podcast is provocative, informative, even funny. And you’ll likely learn more than you thought you would about drugs. And that’s shining a much-needed light on the darkness of the drug crisis.

Is It Time for Courts to Stop Charging Bail?

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Every time New Orleans public defender Nia Weeks saw her 18-year-old client in court, she could see the fear in his eyes. He had been caught with a gun after already having one unlawful possession of a firearm on his record. Now he was awaiting trial in the same jail that housed many of the people he felt were trying to kill him. Weeks was trying to get him out so that they could proceed with his defense without him constantly looking over his shoulder. The teenager ended up spending five months behind bars because he couldn’t afford bail, released only once his case finally ended with a plea agreement.

Weeks’ client was far from an exception. There are nearly half a million people incarcerated across the U.S. without having been convicted of a crime, many of them because they can’t pay for their release. For decades, cash bail has faced criticism for allowing those who can pay to walk free while the poor remain imprisoned, at risk of losing their families, homes and jobs. Now a wave of criminal justice reformers has begun to change that.

An unprecedented explosion in so-called bail funds, organizations that post bail for poor people, is promising to reduce the inequity built into the cash bail system. The Community Justice Exchange, a loose collection of bail funds, has seen its membership increase from 15 funds in 2016 to around 50 today. Some carry tens of thousands of dollars, bailing out a couple of people each week; others have millions of dollars at their disposal. As the accused have their day in court, some of that money is returned, partially replenishing the fund.

That’s just the first step. These justice system reformers are working toward the abolition of cash bails. And public consciousness is moving with them: 57 percent of Americans favor ending the practice of jailing people who cannot afford cash bail before trial in all but extreme cases, according to a May 2018 voter survey by the Charles Koch Institute. 

The idea of poor people sitting in jail because they are poor is something that resonates.

Pilar Weiss, director, Community Justice Exchange

Politicians have also begun seeking the first meaningful reform of the cash bail system in three decades. In August 2018, California became the first state to end cash bail, after its appellate court ruled it unconstitutional earlier in the year. New York may soon follow after Gov. Andrew Cuomo began 2019 by asking the state legislature to end cash bail for most minor crimes. Last July, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand co-sponsored the End Cash Bail Act, which would prevent money bail in federal cases while providing grants to states that find alternative pretrial models. That followed a 2017 bipartisan bill backed by Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris and Republican Sen. Rand Paul to reform the bail system, although it didn’t go so far as to ban the practice. Sanders, Gillibrand and Harris are all expected to run for president, meaning bail will be a major point of discussion in the 2020 Democratic primary.

“People are grasping the narrative of economic inequity,” says Pilar Weiss, director of the Community Justice Exchange. “The idea of poor people sitting in jail because they are poor is something that resonates.”

 

A majority of the legislative efforts to end or reduce the influence of cash bonds have come from Democrats in the past two years. But with Republicans controlling the House for a decade between 2008 and 2018, those efforts have so far remained just that. With Democrats regaining control of the House in the December midterms, that might change, says Rep. Ted Lieu of California, a Democrat who introduced a No Money Bail Act in the House of Representatives in 2016 and 2017 that would cut off federal grants to states that don’t comply within a few years. 

“Now that we’re the majority, I think we have an opportunity,” says Lieu.

Ending cash bail doesn’t come without concerns. In California, critics worry about bias in the risk assessment tools used to help judges determine whether to grant pretrial release. A report published last summer showed that a similar Maryland program failed to decrease the pretrial jail population: Instead, it actually led to more people being detained at the judges’ discretion, without any option for pretrial release even if they could rustle up money to post bail. Meanwhile, mostly conservative critics of reform efforts say ending cash bail limits one of the major incentives for the accused to show up in court. Public research is mixed: In some jurisdictions, court attendance has held steady, but in others, it has dropped.

When Democrat Stacey Abrams campaigned for Georgia governor on a plan to end cash bail, her Republican opponent, and eventual winner, Brian Kemp pounced with a tweet noting that nearly 2,000 more people didn’t appear for their court date after Atlanta ended cash bail. “There can always be modifications, there can always be reforms, but no, I don’t support abolition,” says Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.  Another challenge for cash bail funds is that the average cost to post bond greatly varies by state, from $500 in one to $50,000 in another, Weiss says.

Even though some of the people temporarily released will commit crimes, there’s no logic in discriminating among them on the basis of their wealth, asserts Lieu. “There is no evidence linking how dangerous you are to how much cash you have on hand,” he says.

Weeks, the public defender, now heads the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund, which has bailed out more than 200 people in less than two years. New Orleans and the state of Louisiana have sought to reduce prison populations, and court commissioners are setting lower bails. And Weeks’ young client with the gun charge? She was able to work with the court to let him serve his last month on a work-release program that had him learning culinary skills at Café Reconcile, a job training nonprofit — at least during the day, he wasn’t in a jail cell just because he couldn’t afford freedom. 

Was This the First-Ever Sleep App?

Psycho phone 2

Imagine fading into a deep sleep as the sound of a slow, mechanical whirl gives way to a scratchy recording of a calm, yet droning voice. “Money wants me and comes to me; business wants me and comes to me; opportunities want me and come to me. I have abundance, and use it wisely.”

Creepy? Perhaps. But long before excessively stressed and sleep-deprived millennials began relying on various apps to doze off peacefully or improve their day-to-day lives, there was only Alois Benjamin Saliger’s “Psycho-Phone.” Developed in the late 1920s, this phonographic device played encouraging messages while listeners slept to supposedly help them become, as the saying goes, “a better you.”

Among the invisible searchlights, airplane engines and rapid-fire guns that Saliger reportedly claimed to have invented, the Psycho-Phone was his most beloved creation. Based on Thomas Edison’s phonograph, it featured a clock mechanism that allowed the device to play a 78-rpm record with a prerecorded voice continually throughout the night. It could also play a cylinder on which users could record their own messages if they were so inclined. 

Apparently designed to tackle the full spread of life’s pressing difficulties, the Psycho-Phone’s repertoire was thought to feature around a dozen theme-based recordings. 

The Psycho-Phone was undoubtedly a device for, and of, its time. Tim Fabrizio, a Florida-based historian of recorded sound, points to the New Thought movement of the late 19th century, which promoted spirituality and self-healing, as a potential inspiration for Saliger’s invention. Focusing one’s mental energy to achieve success and prosperity — economic and otherwise — was the movement’s primary goal. “All of this stuff came before the Psycho-Phone and suggested that, if one could have access to the subconscious mind, the effects were limitless,” Fabrizio says.

Apparently designed to tackle the full spread of life’s pressing difficulties, the Psycho-Phone’s repertoire was thought to feature around a dozen theme-based recordings. Among them were “Prosperity,” “Normal Weight,” “Mating” and “Inspiration.” It gets weirder when Fabrizio reads from the “Rejuvenated” script: “Your digestion is perfect,” the recording says, “and you have a thorough bowel movement every day.”

 

Despite the Psycho-Phone’s exorbitant cost — it sold for between $75 and $235 at the time, or roughly $1,120 to $3,500 in today’s dollars — Saliger claimed in 1933 to have sold more than 2,500 units. Hollywood actors, according to the tall, thin-lipped inventor, were some of his best clients. “He won’t name them, though,” wrote The New Yorker in October 1933 about his device. “Some folks don’t want it known that they gained wealth or happiness through a machine.”

But celebrities weren’t the only benefactors of Saliger’s Psycho-Phone, according to letters he allegedly received from satisfied customers. “One man wrote that he had got over melancholy spells and cleared up a skin condition; another found a business partner with $3,000; a third overcame an inferiority complex and was healed of a baseball injury,” The New Yorker documented. “Another chap wrote that a girl to whom he could not talk to without being ‘slammed or repulsed’ now was glad to see him.”

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Alois Benjamin Saliger in 1912

Source Wikipedia/Bain News Service

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Psycho-Phone didn’t have much staying power, and there’s scant information available about it today. But that hasn’t stopped amateurs from speculating: So mysterious is the Psycho-Phone’s legacy to some that a quick Google search reveals it’s often suspected to actually be a version of an invention — allegedly developed by Thomas Edison — for communicating with the dead. After all, historians say a belief in spiritualism surged around the time of World War I, partly as a reaction to the detrimental effects of industrialization and urbanization, as well as the heavy loss of human life.

No way, Fabrizio asserts with absolute certainty, having seen about 50 authentic Psycho-Phone units. “It appeals to someone’s private little crusade,” he says of the popular conflation. The rest of the folks who had the elusive device — at least before Fabrizio published information on it a decade ago — didn’t really have much of a clue what to do with it. “You could buy one for next to nothing,” he adds, ”and they’d show up at antique shows, and people would disparage them.”

So, if you ever find yourself an authentic Psycho-Phone, give it a proverbial whirl. You might just discover “a better you.”

Apartheid-Era Siege Mentality Still Drives South African Innovation

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In 1986, the late P.W. Botha, then president of South Africa, revealed the toll that the international oil embargo was taking on his pariah state. “There were times,” he told the Windhoek Advertiser, “that we had enough oil for only one week.” If necessity is the mother of invention, the isolation of apartheid South Africa had an unintended consequence: It spurred innovation.

The oil embargo encouraged Sasol, a domestic company formed in 1950, to commercialize its pioneering coal-to-liquids technology, itself built on work conducted by German scientists during World War II. The Fischer-Tropsch process, which Sasol honed to a fine art, enabled the country to survive sanctions by extracting fuel, naphtha, paraffin and a range of chemicals from coal.

Today, this and similar technology is used not only domestically but in countries as far afield as Nigeria, Qatar and Uzbekistan. During the Cold War, cut off from international suppliers, South Africa also built a sophisticated aerospace and defense industry, even developing a nuclear weapons program.

I think that frontier vibe is very much alive and kicking.

Alison Lewis, University of Cape Town

Those technological breakthroughs were part of what Alison Lewis, dean of the faculty of engineering at the University of Cape Town, calls a “frontier” mentality. “Under apartheid, there was a sense of ‘the world’s not going to help us. We’re just going to do our own thing,’” she says. “It’s controversial because it was the White Afrikaners who were doing the innovation.”

The challenge in postapartheid South Africa has been to harness that pioneering spirit to the benefit of all South Africans, particularly the Black majority, who were previously all but excluded from science and technology.

Using innovation as a tool to transform lives has been an explicit aim of the African National Congress. In a 1996 white paper, two years after it took office, the party laid out its vision. “The stimulation of a national system of innovation will be central to the empowerment of all South Africans as they seek to achieve social, political, economic and environmental goals.”

 

So how is it doing? The answer is that, although South Africa continues to produce significant work of scientific and practical merit, it could be performing even better. Despite significant advances, there are not enough Black South Africans at the cutting edge of science and technology, and innovation is not marshaled sufficiently to provide employment or to solve many of the country’s deep-seated social and economic problems.

In government-dominated areas such as power generation, where Eskom, the public electricity utility, has leaned toward nuclear over solar, innovation may, if anything, have gone backward. Technological advances in the mining sector have been hampered by unions’ demands to preserve jobs.

Nor has social innovation in areas such as city planning been obviously successful. Much of urban South Africa still suffers from the spatial segregation born of apartheid.

Still, Ivor Ichikowitz, founder of Paramount Group, a South African defense and aerospace company, says local engineers, scientists and businesses continue to break new ground. “The legacy from apartheid was this huge pool of human capital, which cost billions to develop over many, many, years,” he says. “Our universities and training centers continue to put out graduates who are more than capable of holding their own anywhere in the world.”

Ichikowitz cites the contribution South Africans have made in fields as diverse as GSM cellular networks, satellites, hydroponics, nutrient management and the automotive and defense industries as evidence that “this innovation mindset is still extremely vibrant.”

Much of the work, however, happens outside the country because of a lack of opportunities at home, he says. “I’m afraid we’ve suffered a massive brain drain over the past 20 years, though there have been enough people left to continue innovation at home.”

Naledi Pandor, previously minister of science and technology and now minister of higher education under the new administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa, sees signs of an upward trend. “We have made a commitment that there will be an increase to the budget of research, science and technology — which at the moment is below 1 percent of gross domestic product,” she says. The idea is to meet a long-standing spending target of 1.5 percent of GDP.

Pandor admits that schools are not teaching children well enough in mathematics and science. Indeed, the inability of the ANC to raise school standards for Black pupils is widely considered a major failing of the postapartheid era.

She does, however, point to projects such as the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope as proof of the government’s commitment to investment in science and its belief in the power of technology to positively to influence society as a whole.

Under the giant astronomy project, projected to cost some $2 billion, thousands of telescopes, located in both South Africa and Australia, would enable scientists to survey the sky faster and in greater detail than before. The enormous computing power mustered can already process big data in areas such as genomics and stock-trading algorithms.

Pandor says the number of Black postgraduates in science, engineering and technology has been rising steadily, though she regrets it is not always easy to retain people in the scientific system.

She says, however, that “we’ve grown our human capital and liberated science to focus on areas — including HIV and medical radioisotopes — of benefit to the broader population.” An example of homegrown innovation is H3D, a drug discovery unit at the University of Cape Town headed by Kelly Chibale, a professor in the chemistry department who escaped poverty in the Zambian copper belt to earn a Ph.D. at Cambridge University in the U.K. and forge a pioneering career in medical innovation.

At UCT, Chibale has marshaled public and private funding, including from Novartis, Celgene and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to create Africa’s first integrated drug discovery and development unit. In another African breakthrough, H3D put an antimalarial drug into Phase II clinical trials in 2017, in what Chibale hopes will be the first of many medicines it can push toward regulatory approval.

“People don’t expect Africans to lead innovation in the health space,” he says. What he calls “Afro-pessimism” is, he adds, not only a perception of Africans by outsiders, but also one held by many Africans themselves.

“They can’t think that a guy like me from the townships and the villages of Zambia can lead international efforts and do something that is truly world-class and innovative,” he says. “Our responsibility is not to argue with that. It is to say: ‘How do we change that perception by doing something?’”

A draft white paper on science, technology and innovation published last year acknowledges the shortfalls. Since the first white paper of 1996, it says, there has “been a threefold increase in publications, significant growth in the participation of the Black population and women in the research and development workforce and a rise in doctoral graduation rates.” However, innovation, measured in patents and products, has been “relatively flat.”

Lewis at UCT says her students face an uphill battle in applying their skills to the new South Africa. “Every single example of a bridge they look at comes from San Francisco or the Netherlands, so you have absolutely no idea what being an African civil engineer might look like,” she says.

But she has not lost faith in the idea that South Africans have a strong innovative mindset. “I think that frontier vibe is very much alive and kicking.”