Where the Crawdads Sing — Secrets of the Marsh. In this stunning first novel, rural North Carolina of the late 1960s is the setting for both true crime and wondrous discovery. Delia Owens’ slow unveiling of her protagonist, a young girl who’s lived alone in a marsh for years, will stick with you, as will the murder mystery surrounding her. (Recommended by Diana Clephane, Doesn’t Live in a Marsh)
Complications — The Nuts and Bolts of Us. There’s no better guide to the bizarre, mysterious world of medicine than Atul Gawande, who’s both a surgeon and a New Yorker writer. Packed with real-world dilemmas and hard-to-crack cases, this is a brilliantly told, breathtaking dissection of medicine itself. (Recommended by Charu Sudan Kasturi, Chief OZY Scientist)
Knucklehead — Lawyer Jokes. This funny, rambling story about a Black attorney in the ‘80s and ‘90s is a Salinger-esque take on racism and masculinity. Author Adam Smyer’s voice is sardonic, smart and memorable as he narrates the journey of feisty Marcus, who moves to California and finds love … for a while. (Recommended by Eugene Robinson, Amateur Lawyer)
Lux Prima — Ultimate Collaboration. The best way to describe this album, the brainchild of Karen O and 19-time Grammy nominee Dangermouse, is that listening to it feels like a nighttime drive after it’s rained and the asphalt is shiny — and you’re wearing black eyeliner and leather because you’re just so cool. Imagine Serge Gainsbourg, but somehow modern and with even better vocals. (Recommended by Viviane Feldman, Extremely Cool)
’Cellophane’ — Body Anthem. FKA Twigs’ latest single is reminiscent of Björk but covered by a soul singer. That’s probably no coincidence — the director of the frankly stunning video accompanying the song is Andrew Thomas Huang, who collaborated with Björk. This is an incredibly stripped down song, relying only on Twigs’ delicate voice, but that’s really all it needs to be: It’s perfect just like that. (Recommended by Wade Best, Music Genius)
WHERE TO TRAVEL
Salton Sea — The Ghost of an Ocean. This California landmark isn’t for everybody. The massive lake sprang up after a heavy rain in the early 20th century, and briefly spawned a beachy fad for the area. But it’s now a ghost town for a reason: Pesticides from local farms ran off into the sea and killed the fish, leaving the whole area smelling like … well, dead fish.
This doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation. But the Salton Sea and the ghost towns nearby, which are beautiful, have become attractions for photographers and soul-searchers who want to see the nearly empty place just an hour’s drive from Palm Springs. (Recommended by Gwen Calderon, OZY Fan)
Book a drinking tour of North Korea’s highlands. The Hermit Kingdom is reportedly distilling its own whiskey — a first for the country — with plans to launch at the end of the year. But don’t worry, this whiskey won’t hurt your liver: Samilpo Distillery, which once launched what it claimed was a hangover-free alcohol, says it’s putting amino acids in the whiskey to combat the ill-effects of booze. Whiskey lovers may be more concerned, however, by the lack of transparency over which grain is being used. (BBC)
SLIDE INTO OUR DMS
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These NBA Finals carry history, and not because Golden State once again left the other Western Conference teams wondering why they even show up for work. For the first time since 2010, LeBron James is MIA. But another small forward with playoff history against these Warriors has picked up the torch. Particularly, Kawhi Leonard’s postseason qualms rest with fellow All-World small forward Kevin Durant.
In five of the past seven postseasons, Leonard’s San Antonio Spurs faced a team led by Durant (though Leonard sat last year out with an injury). The Slim Reaper is 4-1 — with Leonard’s one victory coming en route to his 2014 title and Finals MVP. You might have heard, though, that Durant’s strained calf is taking longer than expected to heal.
Every season since 2012, the NBA Finals MVP has been a small forward. With James, Leonard, Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the position has become the most dominant in modern basketball. But with reigning two-time Finals MVP Durant questionable to return, Golden State’s X factor is another dynamic forward who doesn’t quite fit the mold: Draymond Green.
At 6-to-1 odds to win Finals MVP ahead of Thursday night’s Game 1, Green has conducted Golden State like a maestro in Durant’s absence. Like Leonard, he’s an elite defender. And in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against Portland, Green and Steph Curry (oddsmakers’ Finals MVP favorite) became the first teammates ever to record a triple-double in the same playoff game. (Green had another triple-double in Thursday’s Warriors loss.) But in Leonard, Green has a foe that no one has been able to slow. Meanwhile, the one player with Leonard’s number?
Adley Rutschman is the best MLB Draft prospect since Bryce Harper … at least according to a Baseball America profile of the switch-hitting junior catcher from Oregon State. A three-year starter behind the dish for the Beavers, Rutschman is a rare five-tool catcher — Harper’s original position, you may recall. Rutschman’s speed, athleticism, arm and bat would translate to other positions — and a team might want to save his knees by moving him — but he’s also an excellent defensive backstop and game manager. After hitting just .234 as a freshman, Rutschman led Oregon State to a national championship while batting .408 last season. This year, he hit .419 with 17 home runs and is one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s highest honor. Like All-Star major league catcher Joe Mauer, Rutschman was a star football player in high school and even competed on the gridiron as a freshman at Oregon State. The Baltimore Orioles are expected to take Rutschman with the No. 1 pick in Monday night’s MLB Draft — but first, he has a national title to defend. No. 16 Oregon State opens NCAA tournament play at home on Friday against Cincinnati, the start of the road to the College World Series.
Stevie Wisz. Few things take precedence over open-heart surgery, but for Wisz — a senior outfielder at UCLA — winning an NCAA softball championship is one of them. Walking at graduation is the second. On Thursday afternoon, No. 2 UCLA began play at the Women’s College World Series against No. 7 Minnesota. With only eight teams remaining, the Bruins (51-6) are making their fifth straight WCWS appearance and nearing the program’s 12th national title. But while history is nice, the best story in Oklahoma City this year is Wisz. Diagnosed with aortic stenosis — severe narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve — when she was 1, Wisz wears a pacemaker to keep her heart beating. She underwent her first heart surgery when she was 9 and had a pacemaker installed at age 10. She picked up softball because she was instructed to eliminate sports requiring endurance. She walked on to UCLA’s team as a freshman and has primarily been used as a defensive replacement, making a home-run-saving catch against Florida in last year’s Women’s College World Series. This year, with her third major heart surgery on deck, Wisz postponed the operation in order to help the Bruins through the postseason. The 22-year-old will then walk at graduation on June 13 before undergoing the procedure on June 21.
A Boston triple? Shield your eyes, New Yorkers: Boston is nearing one of the weirdest and most enviable feats in sports. But the Bruins still have to get through St. Louis. In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Boston rallied from a two-goal first period deficit to win, 4-2, in a game that saw bodies flying everywhere. The outcome felt particularly devastating for the Blues, who scored the first goal for the 14th time in 20 playoff games. Prior to Monday night, St. Louis was 10-3 after scoring first. On Wednesday night, though, the Blues evened the series with a 3-2 win in overtime on the road, snapping Boston’s eight-game win streak. They now head back to Missouri having seized home ice advantage. The Blues are a slight favorite in Game 3, but bookmakers still favor Boston in the series overall. If the Bruins do indeed hoist the Cup, it would make Boston the first city in 83 years, and the first in the Super Bowl era, to simultaneously hold championships in the NHL, NFL and MLB. The only other two cities to accomplish “The Triple” were New York in 1927-28 (Rangers, Giants, Yankees) and Detroit in 1935-36 (Red Wings, Lions, Tigers). Surely, they were not at all obnoxious about it, either.
The traditional road to the pros. R.J. Hampton, the No. 5-ranked high school prospect according to ESPN, announced Tuesday that he’ll skip college basketball and sign a contract with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian National Basketball League instead. This comes one week after MLB prospect Carter Stewart skipped the baseball draft to sign a contract in Japan. While the NBA’s G League is offering six-figure deals to 18-year-olds who aren’t yet eligible for the NBA, and Stewart would have made a solid MLB signing bonus, these teens are looking outside of America’s shores not just for riches — but for their own development. And an athletics-oriented study abroad could well pay off. Hampton (an honor student, unlike past players like Emmanuel Mudiay, who took the foreign route after struggling with academic eligibility) was enamored with Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Dončić’s successful transition to the NBA this season from the EuroLeague. Hampton, who was weighing scholarship offers from Kansas, Texas Tech and Memphis, will make real money sooner — likely far more than the usual $100,000 rookie salary, plus a rumored shoe deal. But he’s also betting that bodying up with grown men Down Under will help him improve more than a season with better TV exposure in the one-and-done-dominated college game. Will other top prospects follow his lead? Unless they’re the next Zion Williamson, they’d be wise to consider it.
After a decade of year-round globetrotting as a basketball hired hand, Renee Montgomery decided enough was enough. She needed an offseason and a place to really call home. Most of all, she needed to start her life after basketball — while still playing basketball. According to her acting coach, she’s pretty good at this too.
At 11, Olivia Moultrie accepted a scholarship offer to North Carolina. At 13, she turned pro. Is her controversial path what American soccer needs right now? The results of her test case all depend on your opinion.
How did a junior college return man who hasn’t played football since 2016 end up at Cleveland Browns OTAs with a real chance to make the team? The NFL’s real-life version of Willie Mays Hayes begged and conned his way here, and he doesn’t plan on leaving.
If Kawhi Leonard is a monolithic wrecking ball, Pascal Siakam is the acrobat swinging from trapeze to trapeze, and they’re not always where he expects them to be. The Cameroonian defensive ace is learning that to be a true star, your game can’t have any holes.
Minnesota pitcher Devin Smeltzer made his MLB debut Tuesday in a 5-3 win over the National League-leading Milwaukee Brewers. A funky left-hander who was acquired from the Dodgers last offseason, Smeltzer had a 1.15 ERA in nine minor league starts this year. The only thing better than the New Jersey native’s stuff is the story of how he beat cancer and ended up playing with his childhood hero, Chase Utley. Check it out.
You probably recognize Arturo Castro, even if he can be hard to pin down. You might know him as Jaime, the amiable gay best friend and drug dealer on the oddball buddy comedy Broad City, or as David Rodriguez, the cocaine cartel scion from the action drama Narcos. Being so prominently associated with polar opposite roles on two drastically different series makes Castro something of an enigma — a character actor capable of assuming any supporting role.
In one sense, that’s all changing for the Guatemalan-born Castro, whose sketch comedy series, Alternatino, premieres June 18 on Comedy Central. He’s now firmly center stage, but he still shows range, taking on a full cast’s worth of diverse characters within each show, wigs and makeup wildly transforming the 33-year-old emerging star.
The result, he says, “is a love letter to my upbringing,” a blend of his first 19 years in Guatemala and the past 14 in New York. “I describe it like a party where everyone is invited,” he says. “You don’t have to be Latin, you don’t have to be from anywhere in order to enjoy it. You just have to enjoy laughing.”
It’s a natural platform for a performer who demonstrated his versatility long before he arrived in New York as an eager 19-year-old drama student. The family business is psychiatry, from his late father to his sister to his aunt. “I was always curious about the human psyche,” Castro says. “Acting or writing was just a way for me to relate to that.”
It wasn’t a direct path. Castro started out in law school in Guatemala but ditched it when he was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. By then, he was already something of a celebrity in his homeland.
As the host of Conexion, a weekly program on Guatemala’s public Channel Seven TV station, Castro presented viewers the latest in music and pop culture and occasionally conducted interviews with some of Latin America’s most iconic artists. Castro was 18 when he made his first appearance on the program, after years of performing in community theater, which he began at 12 years old.
When Castro and co-host Bryan Bojorquez, who today performs as an opera tenor, did their nervous first takes, the director asked for more energy, Bojorquez recalls. “When we felt more confident we started to make jokes, but Arturo was more physical, like Robin Williams,” Bojorquez says. “At the beginning, the producers were skeptical about the combination, but later they found it was working great and they gave us the green light.”
The music countdown show aired Saturdays at 8 am, so Castro’s friends didn’t watch: “They were hung over,” he says. But it proved to be a great training ground. “I tried elements of really offbeat humor,” he says. “I just had a blast going to a Shakira concert or doing little sketches.”
He would take pictures of fans who recognized him and send them to his mom.
Just a few years after MTV’s Total Request Live had made Carson Daly a household name among American youth, Conexion gave Castro his first brush with fame. Yet his favorite moment on the show went largely unnoticed by his audience and even his production crew. During a press conference with Mexican songstress Alejandra Guzmán, Castro shuffled up to the microphone and offered enough charm to earn a flirtatious wink from the Latin sex symbol. It was Castro’s first confirmation that he had the goods.
“He went crazy. We were just a couple of kids in front of a famous, gorgeous older woman,” says Bojorquez. “Arturo was asking all the production [crew] if they saw the moment she winked. Some of them were like, ‘No, I didn’t see it.’ And he was like, ‘Come on!’”
Two years later, with a thick Latin accent infused with a tinge of Canadian brogue (his stepfather is from Owen Sound, Ontario), a bright-eyed Castro was barely intelligible as he navigated New York’s acting community. Opportunities in television were simply not coming. His curtain calls were typically confined to sparsely populated productions and inspired street performance troupes.
Then came his Broad City audition in 2014, and everything changed. “The pilot leaked online a week before it premiered and I remember I was on the subway and this woman was like, ‘I’m sorry, are you on some sort of show?’” Castro says. He would take pictures of fans who recognized him and send them to his mom. “Once the first season premiered, I started seeing a shift,” he says.
Before long, he was simultaneously filming his dueling roles in Broad City and Narcos as well as appearing in the 2016 Ang Lee film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. With Alternatino and a role in the upcoming live-action production of the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp, Castro is going to have to get used to those subway encounters with fans.
Still, the success rate for new programs at any cable network is prohibitively low. For every Broad City, there is a slew of programs canceled before they have an opportunity to cultivate a sizable audience. And Alternatino is following in the large and hilarious footsteps of sketch programs like Chappelle’s Show, Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer — guaranteeing Castro comparisons that will be hard to live up to.
Brendan Fitzgibbons, a writer and performer on Alternatino who has collaborated with Castro since 2010, says the star is up to the challenge. “He doesn’t really have a comedy background — he has a drama background,” Fitzgibbons says. “I’m super impressed with how quickly he can adapt and acclimate to a comedy room.”
But as an immigrant working to establish his on-screen persona in a divided America, there’s a lot more than being a celebrity on Arturo Castro’s mind.
“The fact that I get a chance to speak to my experience in a time when there is so much misconception about who we are, it’s a great honor,” he says. “It’s an honor that I take very seriously … I hope I do right by the community. I tell a story with a lot of heart, and I hope that comes through.”
Matt Laslo teaches political communications at Johns Hopkins University’s Government and Public Policy program and is a veteran Washington correspondent.
President Donald Trump isn’t just upending constitutional order — he’s also helping to reorder the nation’s political press. The group once heralded as the Fourth Estate and now derisively dubbed “the enemy” is threatened regularly online by readers and distrusted at an alarming rate by Americans of all stripes. But the worst may be yet to come, and the backlash to Trump may have a lasting negative impact that reverberates through our democracy for a generation or more.
In the wake of the release of the Pentagon Papers (a leak of classified information about the Vietnam War that earned newspapers praise for exposing lies) coupled with the Watergate scandal (which led to Richard Nixon’s resignation and won The Washington Post a Pulitzer Prize), a new breed of reporters stormed Washington set on uncovering scandals while daydreaming of winning their own awards and plaudits.
“It inspired a lot of people to get into the business, and it inspired a lot of publishers and editors to hire investigative reporters and give them some leeway to break stories along the way,” says former U.S. Senate historian Don Ritchie. “So you do get these kinds of generational shifts.”
After Watergate, a younger, more progressive group of lawmakers — dubbed the Watergate Babies — were sent to Washington too, intent on sniffing out scandals and upending business as usual. They had a symbiotic relationship with the new generation of reporters, serving as sources.
Since then, the nation has seen a steady uptick in partisanship and division. There are many reasons for this, but the press has inadvertently helped drive the two parties even further apart by chasing scandals in Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The perpetual muckraking has reinforced partisan views that the other side is hopelessly corrupt.
But now the air in the press galleries is even thicker because Trump has made tropes like “fake news” and “enemy of the people” a part of the nation’s vocabulary. And that’s trickled down to the inboxes and social media feeds of many of the nation’s reporters, along with how reporters themselves see the world.
“One protester screamed ‘fuck you’ at the press vans as we joined the tail end of the motorcade. Though it’s unclear if that was intended for us or the president,” Steven Nelson of the Washington Examiner, who was on White House pool duty, reported on a recent Sunday as the president was leaving his golf course outside Washington.
My fear is that this generation of reporters will be forever shaped by being on the receiving end of some of the sharpest four letters in the English language. Sadly, that feels like the new new normal. If everything the president does is treated as a scandal, then nothing he does — even shooting someone on Fifth Avenue — will ever truly be seen as scandalous. The sky doesn’t fall five times in a week … unless you live on Twitter, and then the sky in Trump’s Washington falls five times a day.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talks to reporters after an interview with Fox News outside the West Wing.
Now, there have been actual scandals around almost every corner of the government since Trump entered the Oval Office. According to the federal Government Accountability Office, Housing Secretary Ben Carson violated the law with lavish office spending — and he still has his job. Former cabinet secretaries Tom Price (Health and Human Services) and Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency) left after reports of excessive spending on their own travel, while Ryan Zinke (Department of the Interior) peaced out amid a Justice Department corruption investigation.
But that doesn’t mean everything the government or the president does is a scandal. The murder of American military personnel and a U.S. ambassador in Benghazi during the Obama administration was a national tragedy, but it hasn’t proven to be the scandal conservatives and some of the media made it out to be. For years, reporters breathlessly speculated about whether Vladimir Putin had a compromising “pee tape” of Trump, a nugget Robert Mueller’s team found was likely made up.
And yet, once the press corps focuses an unflattering microscope on one administration, the natural inclination will be to do the same to the next one. But by running from scandal to scandal, they’ll miss the big picture.
Trump’s legacy may be tax cuts or even the most conservative judiciary the nation has ever known, but hopefully, he has not permanently reshaped the news media too. The press needs to constantly remind itself and the next generation of reporters that this isn’t the new normal. Government is not synonymous with scandal.
Chinese general Koxinga landed in Taiwan in 1661, when it was known as Formosa and controlled by the Dutch East India Company. Historian Xing Hang describes him standing outside a Dutch fortress, shouting: “Taiwan belongs to the government of China!” Fast-forward 358 years to this January, when Chinese President Xi Jinping stood in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and proclaimed, “It’s a legal fact that both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait belong to one China and cannot be changed by anyone or any force.”
Xi has repeatedly vowed to reunite Taiwan with China and is rapidly building a military capable of delivering on that promise. The modern conflict over Taiwan is the legacy of a civil war between the Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC), which today rules mainland China, and the nationalist Republic of China (ROC), which rules Taiwan and a few islands off the southeast coast of China. By some reckonings, that conflict began in 1949 when the ROC government, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan with the intention of one day expelling the communists and unifying China.
But they were far from the first. In his forthcoming book, The Making of the Chinese Navy, Bruce Elleman argues that “Taiwan has repeatedly been used as a sanctuary for the losing side in Chinese civil wars.” The story of the first such instance centers on Koxinga, a legendary ruler described in Chinese textbooks as a national hero for expelling Western powers from Taiwan.
When Koxinga claimed Taiwan had been Chinese territory since “ancient times,” he was the first of many who would make that claim.
In the mid-17th century, the Manchu invaded China from the north, defeating the Ming dynasty to establish the Qing dynasty. Loyalists of the old regime were forced to consider their dwindling options. Koxinga, or Zheng Chenggong, was a Ming loyalist with deep hatred for the Manchu invaders from the north, who had executed his father and driven his mother to suicide. Koxinga assembled a massive force to invade Taiwan, then only inhabited by the Dutch East India Company and aboriginal groups, with the intention of eventually restoring ethnic-Chinese control of China.
Despite being a Chinese nationalist, Koxinga himself was half-Japanese on his mother’s side. He was born in Japan and spent much of his childhood there. His father came from a family of powerful pirates with connections throughout the Western Pacific. Arriving in Taiwan in 1661, Koxinga defeated and expelled the Dutch East India Company, an act for which he is revered today. When Koxinga, railing against the Dutch, claimed Taiwan had been Chinese territory since “ancient times,” he was the first of many who would make that claim over the next three centuries.
Koxinga ultimately prevailed in what is regarded as China’s first major victory against the West. Under his leadership, Taiwan — known as the Kingdom of Tungning — was a melting pot of Japanese, Chinese and aboriginal culture, with influxes of people from as far away as Africa.
It didn’t last long: Koxinga died within a year of his invasion. Koxinga’s son Zheng Jing inherited the kingdom, overseeing a major shift in its orientation. While Koxinga probably intended to expel the Manchu from China and unite Taiwan with the mainland, his son Zheng Jing sought coexistence with the Manchu government, hoping for a tributary relationship and a divided China. Still, when a rebellion broke out on the mainland, Zheng Jing shifted his attention back toward fighting the Manchu. In 1680, he lost and fled back to Taiwan, where he died shortly thereafter. A succession struggle broke out, and the kingdom’s leaders faced pressure from the Qing to give up their kingdom on Taiwan. Barely putting up a fight, they shaved their heads in traditional Manchu fashion and surrendered.
Today, many see parallels between Koxinga’s story and Gen. Chiang Kai-shek’s retreat to Taiwan with his Kuomintang (KMT) party in 1949. “Both were beaten on the continent and on the run,” says Jerome Keating, a retired professor at National Taipei University. “They both had inflated beliefs in their destiny to be the hero to restore China’s greatness.” Tonio Andrade, author of The Gunpowder Age, points out that the names of their capital cities reflected this belief. “The Zheng [Koxinga] regime called their capital the Eastern Ming Capital, making clear that they felt it was the only legitimate capital of all of China,” says Andrade. “The KMT named Taipei the capital of the Republic of China, making clear that they thought of it as the only legitimate capital for China.”
From the fall of Koxinga’s kingdom until the present day, groups on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have jostled over Koxinga’s legacy, appropriating his legend for political purposes. “The interesting thing is the rhetorical utility — the way actors in the present have seen narratives about Koxinga as politically useful or resonant,” explains Michael Szonyi, director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. In 1950s Taiwan, Chiang Kai-Shek’s anti-Communist regime used the Koxinga myth as a morale-boosting device and source of regime legitimacy, according to Szonyi.
“Myths die hard,” says Keating. “The Chinese and some Taiwanese see Koxinga as a hero since he defeated the ‘foreign devils.’” The mainland Chinese Community Party (CCP) embraces the general emphasizing his Chinese nationalism and victory against the Dutch … even though he spent most of his life opposing a centralized Chinese government. Koxinga’s tactics for capturing Taiwan are currently being studied by the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army, Elleman says in his forthcoming book.
For China, the story of Koxinga is one of Chinese civilization prevailing against the West. But rather than expelling such powers, as Koxinga did, Taiwan today is growing closer to Western countries — particularly the U.S. — as it attempts to ensure a different fate for itself than that of Koxinga’s kingdom.
When Afton Vechery told her OB-GYN she wanted a fertility test, the doctor was puzzled. “Why would you want a fertility test if you’re not trying to get pregnant and you’re only 27?” she asked. Vechery wasn’t planning on having kids soon, but she still wanted to know whether her reproductive system was healthy. She ended up paying an infertility clinic more than $1,500 for the test, but she decided that there needed to be a better solution.
So in 2017, Vechery and her co-founder, Carly Leahy, launched Modern Fertility, an at-home test that can measure key fertility hormones — the same ones doctors test — for almost one-tenth the price: $159. But they didn’t stop there. Earlier this year, the startup conducted a detailed research project that showed how most American women don’t understand that a man’s age can also impact fertility. It’s just one of dozens of fertility tech companies that have emerged over the past five years that are now dominating the broader women’s health care technology market, a product category known as “femtech” — while also filling giant gaps in research that exist because of historical prejudices.
As of 2017, fertility tech startups had raised more than $548 million in funding, according to CB Insights. That’s compared to $20 million raised for menstrual health products, $28 million for sexual wellness technology and $228 million for pregnancy and nursing products. And there’s plenty of scope for expansion. Femtech firms received more than $400 million in funding in 2018 alone, according to PitchBook.
We can help be your fertility detectives.
Afton Vechery, Modern Fertility
The explosion in these fertility tech startups is spurred by a generation of couples who are waiting longer to have children. Modern Fertility, based in San Francisco, analyzes a small blood sample sent by mail for fertility hormones. The results provide details about fertility hormone levels and what they mean for ovarian reserve (egg count), egg freezing or in vitro fertilization. Since its launch, the startup has raised $7 million, and it gained more than $70,000 in preorder purchases within its first month.
Another company named Ava, meanwhile, offers the Ava bracelet. Worn at night, the bracelet measures different physiological signals in a woman’s body to accurately predict her ovulation window. In just two years, Ava has confirmed more than 19,000 pregnancies in women who tracked their ovulation using the bracelet. Mira, another firm, offers a registered medical device that measures fertility and tracks menstrual patterns. It claims 99 percent accuracy and has drawn thousands of users globally since releasing its product in September.
But these startups are at the cutting edge of more than just fertility tech. For most of the 20th century, the science community deemed women confounding test subjects for clinical trials due to their fluctuating hormone levels. It wasn’t until 1993 that U.S. Congress ruled women must be included in all National Institutes of Health clinical trials to account for physical differences between men and women.
These fertility tech companies are making up for the lost time by funding and conducting research on women’s reproductive health themselves. In the past three years, firms like Ava, Modern Fertility and Mira have all funded and carried out peer-reviewed studies that look beyond the efficacy of their immediate products, helping them with insights that could shape their future innovations — while also improving our broader understanding of women’s fertility and reproductive health.
“We can help be your fertility detectives,” says Vechery.
Lea von Bidder, who launched Ava in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2016 with three co-founders, wanted to better understand her body, though she wasn’t trying to get pregnant. Traditionally, most women used the “temperature method” to determine their fertile window: During ovulation, a woman’s body temperature slightly increases. But Ava — which now has offices in San Francisco, Hong Kong, Belgrade and Makati in the Philippines — published a study in April, along with University Hospital Zurich, that found that other factors besides body temperature indicate a woman’s fertile window, including heart rate, respiratory rate, heart rate variability and skin perfusion.
The Ava bracelet, which is regulated as a medical device by the FDA and costs $299, tracks these physiological parameters at night in real time, giving couples more time to try and conceive. “One of the reasons I’m here is to advance research,” says von Bidder. “If you want a free [menstrual] cycle tracking app, those exist,” she says, but fertility tech won’t grow without doing actual research. Ava puts 20 percent of the price of the Ava bracelet toward research and development in women’s health.
Vechery’s journey has been similar. Prior to launching Modern Fertility, she worked in health care private equity and noticed significant growth in products targeting couples experiencing infertility — which is one in every 8 American couples, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That experience really stuck with me,” Vechery says. Self-funded research by Modern Fertility earlier this year showed that while 86 percent of women understand that female fertility significantly declines between the ages of 35 and 39, only 28 percent know that a man’s age also impacts fertility. Now, filling that knowledge gap is part of the company’s endeavor, so people can make informed decisions about conceiving. Last year, the startup also published a clinical study in Obstetrics & Gynecology (“The Green Journal”), the official publication of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that showed the results of its test are consistent with a traditional venous blood draw.
Mira, which costs $199, will be releasing an artificial intelligence-powered tool next year to monitor fetal health during pregnancy. Like Ava, Mira predicts ovulation as well. While neither of these devices are approved as contraceptives, the ability to accurately track ovulation also lets you know when you’re not ovulating. “Many women don’t want to take hormonal birth control pills anymore,” says Sylvia Kang, who co-founded Mira headquartered in the Bay Area and Hangzhou, China. The company published research in 2018 demonstrating its device can predict fertility as accurately as laboratory-grade readers. Another study is currently underway comparing the accuracy of Mira to the popular consumer fertility device Clearblue Fertility Monitor. “A lack of research on reproductive health is one of the things that drove us to do our own research,” says Yazan Amro, Mira’s chief marketing officer. “We’re also bringing a novel concept to the market — the first of its kind,” Amro says, which requires scientific evidence to back it up.
That the majority of recent fertility research is conducted and funded by these companies internally raises questions about just how much it can be trusted. Independent studies by universities and external research labs will be required to ensure these products are backed by unbiased scientific research. That’s something these companies recognize and are increasingly prioritizing. Ava has already teamed up with University Hospital Zurich. And Mira is working with the Marquette Institute of Natural Family planning at Marquette University on their current clinical trials.
For sure, it’s unlikely these tests will ever replace a doctor completely. Dr. Mark Trolice, director of fertility care at The IVF Center in Orlando, Florida, says he’s seen patients have trouble detecting ovulation with kits like Mira and Ava when they were in fact ovulating. “Home tests can be a guide to timed intercourse,” Trolice says. “But they do not, and will not, replace the knowledge, direction and experience of a fertility specialist.”
Still, the results speak for themselves. At Ava’s San Francisco office, the walls are covered with photos of babies born to mothers who used the firm’s bracelet. The next step, says von Bidder, will be improving actual infertility treatments — a market that is set to reach $2.2 billion globally by 2023.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? In a late-night session yesterday, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted to hold an unprecedented second election within a year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure the support of a former ally, ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, for his right-wing coalition ahead of a constitutional deadline. By dissolving the Knesset, Netanyahu prevented President Reuven Rivlin from offering a chance to the opposition, led by the Blue and White Party, to form a government instead. But the move also plunges Israel into chaotic, uncharted territory at a time when the U.S. is hoping to take a fresh stab at a Middle East peace deal. The elections — Israel’s first-ever as a result of a prime minister’s failure to form a government — are now scheduled for Sept. 17, and Netanyahu will hold the post until then.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks to the press following a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset (Israeli parliament) on May 29, 2019, at the Knesset in Jerusalem. – Parliament voted 74-45 in favour of dissolving itself and setting elections for September 17.
Why does it matter? The failure to stitch together a workable coalition represents a setback for Netanyahu, whose Likud Party had won 35 seats in April elections to the Knesset. The Blue and White Party, led by former military chief Benny Gantz, also secured 35 seats. But gains by other right-wing parties that have traditionally teamed up with Likud led to expectations that Netanyahu would be able to muster a coalition of 61 parliamentarians needed to form the government in a 120-member Knesset. Now, Israel’s political chaos could undercut — or worse, leave stillborn — a much-vaunted peace plan for the region crafted by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. The collapse of the government also exposes Netanyahu to fresh scrutiny over corruption charges.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Plans on hold? On Sunday, the Trump administration declared that it would detail a new plan to kick-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at a conference in Bahrain next month. It disclosed that the plan would include billions of dollars’ worth of economic and developmental aid to the Palestinian territories, where per capita income is less than a tenth of Israel’s $40,000. But while a Netanyahu comfortably ensconced in power could have demonstrated political flexibility for potential peace talks, a fresh election campaign is expected to push him toward more extreme positions. He threatened, for example, to annex occupied parts of the Palestinian territories while campaigning in the run-up to April’s elections. That would make any negotiation a nonstarter. The new government in Israel is unlikely to take shape before October, when Trump would be in full-fledged campaign mode for his own reelection in 2020, with less authority to commit to a peace deal that the next U.S. administration might need to see through.
Jared Kushner participates in a panel discussion during the TIME 100 Summit 2019 on April 23, 2019 in New York City.
Corruption clouds grow darker. As if unprecedented political turmoil isn’t enough, Netanyahu also faces another battle that could define his legacy: potential indictment on an array of corruption charges. Alleged to have taken gifts from tycoons and doled out patronage in exchange for favorable press coverage, Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and blamed the accusations on a “witch hunt.” Still, upon the recommendation of Israel’s attorney general, he’ll face a pre-indictment hearing in mid-October — meaning the prospect of criminal charges will be looming over his campaign for a second time in the span of six months. The absence of a ruling majority in the Knesset until then also means Netanyahu will likely be unable to push through a proposed law critics say is aimed at shielding him from prosecution before the hearing — even if he returns to power in September. The effort has sparked discontent among liberal-minded Israelis, thousands of whom staged a protest in Tel Aviv last weekend against any immunity law.
Religion vs. power. The coalition talks collapsed after Lieberman insisted that the government accept a law he has proposed that would make military conscription mandatory for ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews. Likud had suggested tweaks to Lieberman’s bill and a road map toward mandatory conscription after the formation of the government. Netanyahu, known for his political survival instincts — he’ll be Israel’s longest-serving PM by September — is expected to use Lieberman’s intransigence to portray himself as a defender of conservative voters. The opposition will point to his willingness to plunge Israel into fresh elections — instead of allowing an alternative government to form — as evidence of political greed. Whichever narrative voters buy could determine whether 69-year-old Netanyahu’s political career gets yet another lease on life, or ends in ignominy.
“We saw an ashen-faced Bibi, ranting about the injustice done to him and the nation by Avigdor Lieberman. It was the Netanyahu we never see in public and only hear about in whispers. Unprepared and unscripted.”
“[W]e find ourselves today in an awkward situation: the time and place for rolling out the economic plan has been carefully chosen and set, and yet it might still occur during an election in Israel, after all.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Netanyahu Calls Lieberman a Leftist Following Decision to Dissolve the Knesset
“We will run a sharp and clear campaign, and we will win.”
Watch on Haaretz on YouTube:
Jared Kushner on His “Peace Plan” for Israel and Palestine
“There hasn’t been any breakthroughs in a long time, and the reality is that the situation is getting more and more untenable.”
Watch on the Middle East Eye on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Watch your words. With his father embroiled in one of the trickiest political situations of his career, Yair Netanyahu on Thursday appeared to let slip an uncomfortable truth: He tweeted that his dad agreed to a 2009 request by Lieberman to appoint an attorney general to exonerate the future defense minister, who was facing corruption allegations at the time. Three years after Yehuda Weinstein’s 2010 appointment, Lieberman was cleared of all charges. Weinstein called the younger Netanyahu’s claim “nonsense.”
When MacKenzie Bezos was just 6 years old, she wrote a 142-page book called The Book Worm. It was later destroyed in a flood, but she never gave up on her writing dreams. At Princeton, she studied under Toni Morrison, earning high praise from the literary legend, who once told Vogue that Bezos was “one of the best students I’ve ever had in my creative writing classes.”
MacKenzie went on to publish two novels, but we don’t know her as a novelist; we know her as the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. And since their split earlier this year, we know she’s one of the richest women in the world, with an estimated $36 billion net worth thanks to a 25 percent stake in Amazon. Mostly a private figure during the company’s meteoric rise, the Bezoses’ divorce has flung MacKenzie, 49, into the spotlight. This week, she added another credential to her résumé: tech philanthropist.
On Tuesday, Bezos announced she had signed the Giving Pledge, committing half of her assets — $18 billion — to charity in her lifetime or in her will. Her ex-husband, the world’s richest person, infamously declined to sign the pledge in the nine years since it was founded by acclaimed philanthropic billionaires Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. But less than two months into controlling her own fortune, Bezos signed on the dotted line.
MacKenzie was not only Amazon’s first accountant, but she also helped come up with the name.
This year’s Giving Pledge class includes, among others, venture capitalist Chris Sacca and his wife, Crystal, and WhatsApp founder Brian Acton and his wife, Tegan, bringing the total number on the tech-dominated list to 200 — or about 7 percent of the world’s billionaires. The Giving Pledge has come under scrutiny for being a noncommittal form of charity as there’s no accountability involved, while nonetheless netting some extremely friendly PR.
“It’s important to remember that philanthropy is a choice,” says Emily Scott, a philanthropy and financial navigator in San Francisco. “People could choose to not donate anything.” Scott says Bezos’ letter came off as genuine. “She has chosen to really speak from a place of recognizing her privilege.”
In her letter — which also drew a friendly tweet from her ex-husband — Bezos writes: “We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand” and vows a steady philanthropic process to“keep at it until the safe is empty.”
Born MacKenzie Tuttle in San Francisco and attending high school in Connecticut, it’s unlikely the future billionaire could’ve imagined such a life. After earning her bachelor’s in English at Princeton, she aspired to be a writer but got a job as an administrative assistant at New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw to pay the bills. It was there she met 30-year-old Jeff Bezos, a trained computer engineer serving as the fund’s senior vice president. MacKenzie told Charlie Rose in a 2013 interview that she fell in love with Jeff’s laugh.
The couple married in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1994 and then headed to Seattle, where Jeff incorporated Amazon that year. MacKenzie was not only the first accountant for the e-commerce startup, but she also shipped some of the first orders via UPS and helped come up with the name, according to The Everything Store by Brad Stone. As Amazon began to grow, she stepped back to focus on family and her writing career. In an attempt to maintain some normalcy as their personal wealth skyrocketed, she would occasionally drive her husband to work and their four children to school — three sons and one daughter adopted from China — in the family Honda, Stone writes.
In 2005, Bezos published her debut novel, The Testing of Luther Albright, to critical acclaim. Her second novel, Traps, was also well received in 2013. Her books have sold a few thousand copies. (Yes, they are still available on Amazon.) Bezos chose a traditional publisher for her own books, Harper and then Knopf, despite the fact that Amazon has a publishing arm.
An ardent supporter of Amazon over the years, Bezos once wrote a one-star review of The Everything Store on (where else?) Amazon, declaring it contained “numerous factual inaccuracies.” But perhaps her choice to stick with smaller publishers for her own work hinted at a larger desire for democratization. The book industry, of course, was the first victim of Amazon’s disruptive powers. She hasn’t revealed how she’ll donate her billions, though Bezos has been involved in anti-bullying efforts, founding a nonprofit called Bystander Revolution in 2014, where she still serves as executive director.
Scott says that if she were advising Bezos, she’d ask her the same questions she asks all her clients: “What are your values, what are your principles and what do you want to see happen?”
When they were married, the Bezoses pledged $2 billion to fight homelessness and gave millions to a nonprofit that gives college scholarships to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. But on her own, we don’t yet have a clear picture of what Bezos wants to see happen. She now has 18 billion ways to let the world know.
Clarity came at a young age for Phoenix Mercury wing Essence Carson, who realized as a teenager she could not choose between music and basketball.
So she took the extraordinary step of shuttling between two different high schools near her hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. At the Rosa L. Parks School of Fine and Performing Arts, Carson took general education courses but also played piano, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone and acoustic bass. A mile down the road, Carson played basketball at Eastside High School.
“Both are a part of me,” Carson says. “A lot of people would try to make me choose whether I was going to be an athlete or a musician. I just wouldn’t choose. I felt like there was a void.”
If I have the opportunity to learn it, why wouldn’t I?
But her first star turn came not from her music or her jump shot. In 2007, after radio host Don Imus called Carson and her teammates on the Final Four Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes,” Carson became the outspoken leader of that team and its poised face in a national news media firestorm, helping to organize a meeting with Imus after he was suspended.
With the benefit of hindsight, Carson says it was her first experience with bigotry up close and undeniable. “To be that young and stand for something, it really did a lot as far as shaping [my] mind and [my] character.”
Since then, she’s had a successful 12-year WNBA career — an All-Star appearance in 2011, a title with Los Angeles in 2016 — as she blossomed into a defensive specialist with a deadly three-point shot. But it was an injury that set her on her most fulfilling course at last.
Throughout her time in the league, Carson, 32, has released music as the recording artist Pr3pe (pronounced “Preppy”). But elbow surgery in 2017 left Carson unable to play professionally overseas — as most WNBA players do to supplement their income — and looking for a way to fill her time during recovery. A program put on by the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) helped her find a gig as an intern for Capitol Music Group under the ARTium Records label.
The WNBA and union staff identify three-month internship opportunities that are “meaningful and match their post-playing career interests,” says Jayne Appel-Marinelli, the WNBPA director of player relations. Carson, who interned alongside six-time WNBA All-Star Cappie Pondexter, dove into the thick of business operations, as her mentor, Lisa Smith-Craig, believed Carson’s music degree from Rutgers and abilities in recording would be a nice gateway into front-end production.
So she started working with streaming services such as Apple, Spotify and Tidal to deliver the elements they need, while she also managed relationships with video platforms for artists seeking to release music videos. It was heady stuff for an intern, but Smith-Craig says she saw in Carson a hunger for information and an overachieving nature.
“I hate to not be in the know or ignorance itself, just not knowing something because you don’t want to know,” Carson says. “If I have the opportunity to learn it, why wouldn’t I?”
After her three-month internship, “word got around that I was pretty good at what I was doing there,” Carson says, and she ultimately was chosen for a full-time position as manager of the distribution company Priority Records, a label that was instrumental to the launch of West Coast hip-hop starting with N.W.A. and has since been relaunched under Capitol. That meant in 2018, Carson was playing in the WNBA and working full time. She is doing the same this season from Phoenix.
Nneka Ogwumike, a teammate of Carson’s the past three seasons in Los Angeles, remembers enjoying the Pr3pe sound before her new teammate arrived. Ogwumike gained even more respect for Carson when the two would head out for parties thrown by the label and mingle with Carson’s colleagues in the industry, then she’d see Carson tapping away at her computer waiting for the drills to begin the next day at practice.
As president of the executive committee of the Players Association — which has been in a standoff with ownership that could lead to a strike at season’s end — Ogwumike recognizes that “because of the lack of financial opportunity in the league, we delve outside the ‘W’ to maximize our potential.”
Smith-Craig, now the senior director of Motown Records, saw the same hustle from Carson. The executive tried to make a point to congratulate Carson via text message after Sparks wins, but Carson consistently would beat Smith-Craig to the punch, sending out emails and fixing mistakes in production materials from the seat in front of her locker immediately after the final buzzer. Folks at the Capitol offices in Los Angeles got used to seeing Carson first thing in the morning on game days and then again between shootaround and tipoff. “She puts in 100 percent for the WNBA and the teams that she’s on and she puts in 100 percent for the job, so she’s giving 200 percent,” Smith-Craig says.
Yet learning to navigate music industry bureaucracy seemed to frustrate Carson early on, says Smith-Craig. And it required putting out less music as an artist herself, as she put more time into pressing professional commitments.
Carson decided not to join many of her colleagues to play overseas this past offseason. The opportunity to support up-and-coming artists(such as BJ the Chicago Kid or the Swedish singer Snoh Aalegra) help develop their careers and work in a business she loves has become bigger than basketball.
“There are many athletes that know that they are not only an athlete, they’re a human being that happens to play sports,” Carson says. “Now it’s about how are you going to make an impact on the world? You can’t do that just by sitting back and letting everything happen in front of you.”
OZY’s 5 Questions with Essence Carson
What’s the last book you read?Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki.
What do you worry about? Worry? That’s not in my vocabulary.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without? That’s not fair. I didn’t even choose one career, how are you gonna ask me to choose one thing I can’t live without? I can’t live without basketball or music.
Who’s your hero? My mom and my grandparents. They made so many sacrifices for me. My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and my grandparents just put everything that they had into raising me in the inner city in Paterson, New Jersey, where many people in that city don’t have much. But they made me feel like I had everything. They’re my heroes because they didn’t let me see them struggle.
What’s one item on your bucket list? To fix my eyes [Carson is known for her signature goggles on the court]. Technically they say I’m legally blind without my contacts or glasses.
Read more: She survived cancer to thrive in the WNBA. Now she owns a spa.