Our 10 Must-Read Stories — the OZY Highlight Reel

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This week we met two fascinating women who are pushing legal boundaries. In Colombia, Fabiola Piñacué is making coca a consumer good, and has even confronted the government and drug traffickers about the plant, respected by many for its spiritual and medicinal qualities. In India, Sister Lucy Kalapura spoke out about a bishop accused of rape and was then dismissed by her congregation for “learning to drive a car, taking a loan to buy a car and publishing a collection of poems.” 

We also learned Indonesia’s secret for fighting forest fires and a CEO’s secret to happy workers (hint: Lighten up on the workplace rules). 

Read on for stories about Elvis’ last No. 1 hit, an amazing hike in the Czech Republic and a true crime podcast that’s twisting a knife in the genre.  Here are our favorites on OZY this week.

No. 1: Drugs Go Sober: Coca Tea, Anyone? She’s Fueling Your Morning, Not the Drug Trade

Why You Should Care: Fabiola Piñacué has made coca into a consumer good, and she’s pioneering the way for its legal future. 

Much more >>

No. 2: Hot Topic: As the Amazon Burns, Indonesia Shows World How to Fight Forest Fires

Why You Should Care: As California, Brazil and Europe struggle with forest fires, Indonesia could offer answers.   

Much more >>

No. 3: Only the Faithful: The Nun Who Was Banished for Learning to Drive

Why You Should Care: Sister Lucy Kalapura spoke out against a bishop accused of rape. Then the Catholic Church expelled her. 

Much more >>

No. 4: Keeping Tabs: The Rise of the ‘Granny State’ in America’s Nursing Homes

Why You Should Care: Surveillance might seem an easy solution to elderly abuse, but it’s more complicated than family members realize.

Much more >>

 

No. 5: By the Numbers: Mass Shooting Worries Are Worse for Minority Students

Why You Should Care: Students of color are responding to threats of gun violence in ways White students don’t. 

Much more >>

No. 6: Worldly Walks: Hiking in the Fairy-Tale ‘Narnia’ Hills of the Czech Republic

Why You Should Care: This breathtaking hike takes you to one of the country’s most impressive, yet lesser-known, natural attractions.  

Much more >>

No. 7: From a CEO Who Knows: Recession Recipe for Success? Go Remote

Why You Should Care: The firms that survive the next recession will embrace the lessons of the gig economy.

Much more >>

No. 8: Listen Up: The True Crime Podcast Where Killer Women Reign

Why You Should Care: Because the realm of serial killers and evildoers is not limited to men.   

Much more >>

No. 9: Behind the Music: The Song That Sparked Rock’s Most Unforgettable Comeback

Why You Should Care: The final No. 1 single of Elvis’ career turns 50. Here’s the story behind the hit.

Much more >>

No. 10: OWNing the Conversation: My Best Friend Thought I Was Too Fat … to Be in Her Wedding

Why You Should Care: Quinn Bartlett struggled with her weight and abuse by her mother. At 37, her search for love and acceptance is ongoing.

Much more >>

This Weekend: Your Guide to the Night Sky

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WHERE TO TRAVEL

Taipei — A Friendly Town. This Taiwanese city is easy and user-friendly, while being visually stunning and just a whole lot of fun. Check out the ubiquitous night markets, home of the city’s most iconic food (and often some unexpected arcade games). (Recommended by Alex Lau, Map Reader)

Sonamarg — Meadow in the Sky. This Himalayan hill station offers hiking and whitewater rafting for the adventurous along with unmissable vistas for the rest of us. The other main attraction: access to the Thajiwas Glacier, where you can trek via pony. (Recommended by Maroosha Muzaffar, For the Hill of It)

Český Krumlov — Town in a Time Warp. This medieval Czech Republic town (pronounced CHESS-ky KRUM-lov) has survived since the Middle Ages largely untouched, despite annexation during World War II and decades of Soviet occupation. Now its narrow streets have been largely restored for you to walk on while writing a ghost-filled novel in your head. (Recommended by Caroline Otto, Already Drafting) 

WHAT TO WATCH

Black Women OWN the Conversation — Let’s Talk. In a continuation of OZY’s Take on America town hall series, OZY and Oprah have teamed up to produce televised conversations where 100 Black women participate in a moderated discussion. Tune in on Saturday nights for the four-part series or catch up on episodes on Oprah.com. (Recommended by Charu Sudan Kasturi, Listening In)

The Magicians — Teen Wizards. This SyFy series is definitely one of the best shows you’re not watching. It follows Quentin, a nerdy grad student (in magic!), his best friend Julia and a cast of magical characters. Season 4 just wrapped this spring (we won’t spoil the twist) and season 5 has already got the green light. (Recommended by Karen Kunz, OZY Fan) 

WHAT TO DOWNLOAD

SkyView Lite — Look Up. Summer meteor showers have pretty much ended, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited about the night sky. SkyView Lite is the free version of this dynamite app, which lets you explore the firmament by pointing your phone at the sky and mapping out what’s up there. 

Click on various celestial objects to find out more about them, or set notifications for certain stargazing events like meteor showers. If you cram, you can be an expert by the time the Orionids (a meteor shower produced by stray particles from Halley’s comet) make their appearance in October. (Recommended by Barb Fletcher, Stargazer)   

AND WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T …

Let things blow up in your face. A New Hampshire man is facing charges after he drove a balloon-filled car with no lights at 3:30 am, causing the police to give chase. With his car stuffed with colorful balloons — for which there is still no explanation — 20-year-old William Riley fled police, drove home and crashed into his own garage. (NBC Boston)  

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.

Andrew Luck Just Reset the NFL Season

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This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.

Things done changed. One week ago, the Colts were a tasty Super Bowl sleeper pick with a young, nasty offensive line finally capable of protecting its future Hall of Fame quarterback. 

Then their luck ran out.

Andrew Luck’s decision to retire at 29, entering the prime of his career, was shocking but makes sense the more you think about it. Luck is opting to walk away with his body largely intact and inquisitive mind salvaged. It’s easy to imagine other players wanting to follow suit. 

Adding to that speculation was Rob Gronkowski’s recent emotional testimony about his own retirement. It wasn’t just his body breaking down, Gronk says; it was the unbearable mental toll of those injuries. We have reached a tipping point in how professional athletes discuss mental health, but few have the financial flexibility of Gronk (who’s made around $53 million in career earnings) or Luck (about $97 million). 

The ripple effects of Luck’s decision are readily apparent. The AFC South is Houston’s to win. Indianapolis will give backup Jacoby Brissett every chance to succeed in Frank Reich’s innovative system, but look for the Colts to be aggressive on the trade market. New Orleans’ Teddy Bridgewater could be a good fit for the Colts. Eli Manning and Case Keenum could also be stopgaps.

And those who follow Colin Kaepernick’s IG know he’s “still ready.”

Most importantly, though, Luck’s decision is another win for a quarterback who has had far better fortune in the league. With Luck retired, the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes II are the only true threat to ending Tom Brady’s reign of terror.  

 

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

College Football: No. 14 Utah at Brigham Young (Thursday at 10:15 pm ET on ESPN)

He’s a Pac-12 favorite and College Football Playoff sleeper, but can senior quarterback Tyler Huntley and Utah outlast in-state rival BYU in a brutal home opener? 

  • Utah (-6.5)

  • BYU (+6.5)

Major League Soccer: Atlanta United at Philadelphia Union (Sunday at 7:30 pm ET on ESPN+)

With less than two months remaining in the MLS season, the top two clubs in the Eastern Conference square off for the last time until a potential conference finals matchup. 

  • Philadelphia (+125)

  • Atlanta (+185)

Ones to Watch

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FC Barcelona’s first-team teen Ansu Fati during a home match Sunday against Seville’s Real Betis.

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Ansu Fati. On Saturday, 16-year-old Fati became the youngest player to play for FC Barcelona’s first team in 78 years. Born in the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, Fati moved to Seville, Spain, when he was 6 and quickly picked up football. “I’ve been in football for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like him,” his former coach, Jose Luis Perez Mena, told Diario AS. Fati joined Barca’s youth academy as a 10-year-old in 2013, rising up the ranks to the Barcelona B reserves. Aided by injuries to Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, the winger capped for the first team before ever suiting up for the reserves. Fati made his Barca debut on Sunday, coming on for Carlos Perez in the 78th minute of a 5-2 win over Real Betis. The historic debut nearly had a Hollywood finish when Fati dragged a shot attempt wide in the 86th minute. With the appearance, Fati became the second-youngest player to debut for Barcelona. After the game, the youngster shared an embrace — perhaps a nod to a future passing of the torch — with Barca captain Messi. Fati, who will likely head to the Barca reserves once Messi and Suarez return, is signed through 2022. 

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Napheesa Collier while playing for the University of Connecticut Huskies against the Maryland Terrapins.

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Napheesa Collier. A rookie forward for Minnesota, Collier has the four-time WNBA champion Lynx (16-15) on the verge of a playoff berth for the ninth straight season. The Lynx currently slot as the sixth seed, meaning they’d likely meet the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round. With 12.9 points per game, Collier ranks second among all rookies — and 21st overall — in scoring, second in rebounds (6.4 per game), fourth in assists (2.6 per game) and first in steals (1.9 per game). While those aren’t eye-popping stat lines yet, Collier has steadily anchored the defense and provided a level of consistency and floor leadership typical of savvy veterans. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The No. 6 overall 2019 draft pick was a two-time All-American, AAC Defensive Player of the Year (2019) and national champion (2016) during her four seasons at collegiate powerhouse UConn. As a duo, Collier and Chicago Sky rookie Katie Lou Samuelson scored the most points (4,688) in UConn history. With a professional playoff experience under her belt, look for Collier to elevate to All-Star status in 2020. 

A Big Apple Breakthrough? After a relatively predictable first two rounds of U.S. Open action in Queens, tennis fans would not be blamed for assuming that the Tennis Championships may once again come down to the dominant trio of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. That triumvirate has claimed 11 consecutive major tournaments — and 39 of 47 since Djokovic emerged in 2008. But will this be the Open that a new face breaks through? One name to watch is Daniil Medvedev. A 6-foot-6 Russian with a powerful game, Medvedev is hardly an underdog. The fifth-seeded Medvedev defeated Djokovic last week to win the Cincinnati ATP Masters 1000 and is the fourth favorite to win the Open, according to bookmaker William Hill (11-1). Medvedev has yet to advance beyond the round of 16 in a major, but a run of three finals in the past few weeks makes him a clear candidate to break through. Similarly, 21-year-old Alexander Zverev (No. 6) could push Nadal (No. 2), should they meet in the quarterfinals. On a much wider open women’s side, No. 8 Serena Williams is the clear favorite ahead of French Open champ Ashleigh Barty (No. 2) and reigning Open champ Naomi Osaka (No. 1). 

Prep Sports Involvement. For the first time in 30 years, participation in high school sports dropped, according to an annual survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The 2018–19 total of 7,937,491 participants was a decline of 43,395 from the previous school year’s record high. Of course, this could simply be a blip, but stark decreases in football have some concerned that the trend could continue. Participation in 11-man football declined for the fifth straight year, reaching its lowest mark (1,006,013 athletes) since 2000. Meanwhile, participation in boys six-, eight- and nine-player football — sports that emphasize less contact and groom athletes to shine in the spread offense — is up, and girls 11-player football has doubled over the past 10 years. Elsewhere, boys and girls lacrosse is up 19 percent, boys soccer is up 9 percent and boys volleyball is up 26 percent since 2012. Despite the concerns, 11-player football remains the most popular boys sport in America, followed by track and field, basketball, baseball and soccer. On the girls side, track and field (488,267 athletes) leads the way, with volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball rounding out the top five. 

Read This

If Coco Gauff Plays to Her Potential, Tennis Will Never Be the Same, by Nick Fouriezos/OZY

Gauff’s Wimbledon run this summer, in which she upset Venus Williams, may have raised expectations, but she has the opportunity to become a transcendent figure on and off the court. Just like her idol, Serena Williams.

Gone in 3.9 Seconds: Where the NBA Took JamesOn Curry, by Royce Young/ESPN

“You know, if you think about it,” Curry says now with a smile, “I’m probably the highest-paid player per second in NBA history.” Curry rose, he fell, he would be broke, he would be broken. But basketball would find a way to change JamesOn Curry’s life, just not in the way he ever thought it would.

Men’s Tennis Waits (and Waits) for New Blood, by Ben Rothenberg/The New York Times

Marin Cilic remembers looking up and seeing the confirmation that he had achieved a dream. His name on a screen with “Champion of US Open 2014,” after he defeated Kei Nishikori to claim his first Grand Slam title.

For Christian Yelich, Hitting Is Far From a Science, by Matthew Gutierrez/The Washington Post

See ball, hit ball. Christian Yelich’s mind is never cluttered with swing thoughts, launch angle or all of the intricate choreography it takes to square up a baseball. He needs to play without the noise, without judging every swing.

Don’t Miss

College football, and all of its bizarrely inspirational traditions, is officially back. Here’s why Clemson touches a rock. 

Playing Matchmaker: Indian Kids Arrange Marriages for Mom and Dad

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Tara Jadhav was 49 when she lost her husband. Married for almost 29 years, she started feeling the pangs of loneliness soon after her partner’s death. “I cried for months,” she says. Her son, Sushant Zala, and his wife, Neha, couldn’t bear the grief she was going through. So, they decided to convince her to remarry — and to help find her a match. “It was awkward at first,” says Tara, who’s based in Ahmedabad, India. But soon she agreed because, as her daughter-in-law put it, “she was still young.” 

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Tara Jadhav

Sushant and Neha discovered Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa, a nonprofit organization founded by 69-year-old Natubhai Patel that holds matchmaking events — called swayamvars — where senior Indians, typically older than 50, can meet and find a partner they want to live with. Tara met Dhanji Jadhav, a 57-year-old employee of the Indian multinational oil and gas giant ONGC at a swayamvar, and her son and daughter-in-law arranged their wedding. It was a dramatic twist on Indian tradition, where parents have for centuries been the ones tasked with finding partners for their kids and organizing marriages. But Sushant and Neha are part of a rising number of Indians flipping that equation on its head. 

Even today, the vast majority of Indian marriages — 88 percent, according to a 2018 study by the California-based Statistics Brain Research Institute — are “arranged,” which means parents tap family networks and friends to find a match for their kids. Remarriage, especially for senior women, has historically been frowned upon. Now, though, a growing number of nonprofits and private matrimonial services are emerging to help older, widowed Indians find love and companionship again. As with Tara, they’re relying on the kids of the widowed person to both convince them to remarry, and to arrange weddings. 

 

Take Secondwedlock.com, which has more than 320 active profiles of men and women between the ages of 40 and 70 seeking remarriage. The website allows users to short-list potential matches through multiple search criteria — from caste and age to educational qualifications and geographical location. Hyderabad-based matrimonial service Thodu Needa holds quarterly meetups where several hundred senior citizens typically show up. In Chennai, Vasantham Remarriage Services has already helped 31,000 couples find partners — about a third of them over the age of 60.

There is no shame in admitting that you feel lonely and that you need a partner.

Natubhai Patel, 69-year-old founder of Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa, a marriage bureau for seniors 

Since 2014, Ahmedabad-based Anubhandana Foundation has held matchmaking events in Indian cities for people between the ages of 50 and 60, usually welcoming more than 250 attendees. In Kolkata last year, the city’s sports journalists club held an event with a local NGO for seniors to find potential partners. An old-age home outside Kolkata called Thikana Shimla in 2016 started a service for seniors to find companionship and has since held meetups. They had 50 people over the age of 50 sign up for the service within a month of its launch. And Patel, who organized Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa’s first swayamvar in Ahmedabad in 2011, now travels across the country to help seniors find partners, and has held meetups in the states of Bihar, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.  

Indian society, says Patel, is slowly changing, which is why more and more widows, widowers and their kids are approaching his organization. “There is no shame in admitting that you feel lonely and that you need a partner,” he says. “It is as simple as this: When you feel hungry, we eat food. When you find yourself lonely, you know you need a companion.”

True, the number of older people getting married is rising elsewhere too. According to the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics, the number of British brides and grooms over the age of 65 went up by 46 percent between 2004 and 2014. But in conservative societies across Asia and Africa in particular, there’s a far deeper tradition — especially for women — of staying widowed. Many of these nations also lack strong social security networks for the elderly. Children are expected to take care of their parents in India and China. Without support from their kids, remarriage is often next to impossible in these countries. All of which makes the shift in India a potential model for other conservative societies. 

In fact, some of the remarriage services cropping up in India are being led by those who’ve seen their parents or in-laws struggle with loneliness late in life. Kumar Deshpande, a 41-year-old businessman from Mumbai, watched his father-in-law unravel into an emotional mess after his wife’s death some years ago. That’s when he decided to look for a partner for him. Given the taboo attached to widowers and seniors getting married in India, he faced criticism and opposition from his family. But he stuck at it, and “could see the change in him after his remarriage,” Deshpande says. Now Deshpande takes up similar cases in other cities and towns through his foundation Kumar Deshpande Foundation.

By helping their parents find partners, younger Indians with global aspirations also help relieve some of the social and emotional guilt they feel when they have to leave parents behind and shift countries for work or education, suggests Deshpande. “Children are eager to find their parents partners,” he says. Hyderabad-based doctor Venkateswara Reddy was 54 years old when he lost his wife. It was his U.S.-based son who convinced him to sign up on Secondwedlock.com. On the site, he quickly found his second wife, marrying a month later. 

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Tara and her husband, Dhanji Jadhav.

Others search for partners for parents or older relatives who may have been single for several years but struggle more with loneliness as they age. Mumbai-based Praveen Kumar Srivastava’s uncle had been alone for 32 years when the nephew approached Patel for help.  

For sure, the societal taboo against remarriage isn’t gone. “It is only because of society that [senior citizens] are scared to admit that they feel lonely,” says Mukesh Limbajia, a supervisor with Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa. That’s particularly so for women in India. On Secondwedlock.com, profiles of men outnumber those of women by a ratio of 5-to-1. “There are certain sections of society who still look down upon senior citizens getting married,” says Patel. “That needs to change.” 

Some worry about whether it’s really love that’s driving matches. “Is it because they need someone who can cook for them?” wonders Aaditya, a former volunteer with Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa who requested that his last name be withheld. After all, in India, women have traditionally been burdened with household and kitchen work. 

But Patel is convinced that loneliness and the search for companionship are the driving forces for most seniors to remarry. Because of the taboo associated with marrying late in life, the role of children will remain vital, Nandini Chakraborty, co-founder of matrimonial site marrygold.in once said. “It is less awkward for an elderly person to talk to his son or daughter than a stranger from a marriage bureau,” she says.   

And slowly, convincing parents is getting easier for their kids. With Tara, “it didn’t take a lot of convincing because she was feeling lonely,” says her daughter-in-law. “Today she tells me that she is happy.”

This Fungus Could Wipe Out Bananas as We Know Them

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A deadly fungus that threatens the future of the banana has reached Latin America, the leading exporter of the fruit to world markets.

The Colombia Agricultural Institute (ICA) has confirmed the arrival of Panama tropical race 4 (TR4), a soil-dwelling fungus that has devastated banana plantations in Southeast Asia over the past 30 years. The agency has declared a national emergency over the disease, which threatens the Cavendish banana.

The fungus threatens 95 percent of the world’s banana exports.

The Cavendish accounts for half of the global banana production. Latin America’s plantations are the source of two-thirds of the global banana trade.

“The first landing of TR4 in Latin America is a very serious issue. It is a disease that is very difficult to control and to manage,” says Gert Kema, a leading banana expert and the head of tropical phytopathology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who was part of the team that analyzed the banana plants from Colombia.

The fungus doesn’t affect humans, but infected plants stop producing fruit. Spreading through soil movement, which is typically caused by workers and machinery, TR4 has destroyed plantations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The disease was first detected in Colombia in June in the far northeast province of La Guajira.

 

In response, Colombia has increased sanitary controls at all ports, airports and border points. The ICA says it has eradicated plants in an area encompassing nearly 420 acres of quarantined plantations, adding: “The current challenge is to work on containment in La Guajira.”

Banana exports are an important source of revenue for many Latin American countries. Colombia is the region’s fourth-largest exporter of the fruit, behind Ecuador, which supplies more than a quarter of total exports, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Bananas are Colombia’s third-largest agricultural export.

The Cavendish variety is based on a single genetic clone, which means that it is vulnerable to epidemics. Before the Cavendish became the dominant variety, the Gros Michel was the most widely eaten banana. It was wiped out in the 1950s by the first strain of Panama disease.

While improved varieties of many fruit and vegetables are continually introduced, the banana industry has relied on the Cavendish with virtually no research and development going into new varieties until recently, according to plant experts.

If Latin America’s Cavendish banana plantations are destroyed, there is nowhere international fruit suppliers can turn to, says Kema: “We’re confronted with the fact that there is nothing [that can] replace [the Cavendish yet].”

At present, there is no effective treatment for Panama disease once it has infected a banana plant. Researchers are trying to speed up the breeding program to create a resistant variety with the taste and quality that consumers will accept — but, Kema warns, this will take at least five to six years.

Others are working on genetically modified versions of bananas and plantains, while Tropic Biosciences, an agritech startup based in the United Kingdom, aims to use new gene-editing techniques to develop a banana resistant to Panama disease.

Across the Race Divide: Black Moms, White Moms and an NYC Teachers Strike

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The year was 1968 and I had just moved to Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, with my 6-year-old son and his stepfather, my second husband. We moved into a brownstone rental apartment that — interesting historical note — was owned by the daughter of famed American historian Lewis Mumford and her husband and their two children, who lived downstairs.

The neighborhood itself was in transition. Mostly from an Irish and Italian working-class neighborhood to one populated by hippies, beatniks, academics and journalists — seemingly a fairly typical hodgepodge of New York intelligentsia. Of which we were very much a part: I was a guidance counselor with multiple degrees and my then-husband was a former community organizer-turned-journalist. 

But the unrest that had hit America wholesale did not miss New York. Tension over the more traditional and centralized teacher unions’ control of local schools rose, and communities affected by a de facto kind of segregation and lack of self-determination were in disagreement. So a massive school strike was called. Right at the start of the school year, thousands of teachers walked off and stayed off for well over a month.

Talking, planning, hanging out. Lots of us were young mothers so we all had skin in this game. Just some of us had different amounts and kinds of skin.

I was home on leave then, so some of the other mothers in the neighborhood and I decided to help mitigate any disruption students would face. We volunteered at the Board of Education, we tutored students and made sandwiches for the kids while Albert Shanker, head of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), battled it out with the community-controlled school board.

It was a fairly bloody fight. The community was squared off against the union, local rights against the teachers’ rights as workers and the changing face of race in New York where some Brooklyn neighborhoods had gone from African American populations of about 6 percent in the 1940s to well over that by 1970. Which is to say in neighborhoods like Brooklyn’s Brownsville, African American populations were more like 77 percent. Add to this, 19 percent Puerto Rican and it’s clear that it was much more than the neighborhood that was in transition. Also, the transition was much more than racial: Blue-collar workers, mostly the Irish and Italians who were moving out of our neighborhood, were being replaced by, well, us … white-collar workers. 

 

So it was a hothouse of concerns, from race to class, all fueled by a very ’60s kind of concern for resisting the “establishment,” whoever the “establishment” happened to be at the moment. We buzzed around and made as much of a difference as we reasonably could. Talking, planning, hanging out. Lots of us were young mothers so we all had skin in this game. Just some of us had different amounts and kinds of skin.

“Which PS [Public School] is Gene in again?” My friend Sally, a white-collar professional asked about my son, while the group had gathered one day. [Total disclosure: the “Gene” in question here is OZY’s editor-at-large Eugene S. Robinson.]

“Oh. He goes to the Montessori over in Park Slope.”

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The author in Cobble Hill, 1968.

Source Eugene S. Robinson

Which is just about the time the needle scratched off the record. You see, in 1968 a private school in the still very tony Park Slope was about as close to being a “sellout” they seemed to feel you could get. Though my son was in a truly integrated school (there were Black kids, White kids, kids from Vietnam, Puerto Rico, India, and it was run by East Indians who taught a rigorous curriculum), the fact that we paid for it and really had nothing but a civic stake in the strike rubbed them the wrong way.

Revved up on hippie politics, words like “bourgeois” were being thrown around and pressure was being put upon us. We were sellouts and were supposed to be with “the people.” All of their kids went to the public schools. And presumably, the integration that they seemed to think they were fighting for was supposed to benefit people like us and how could it benefit us when we weren’t there to benefit from it? Maybe it also felt a little weird that I was, either directly or indirectly, also helping them? I don’t know.

In any case, it got heated. Right up until I put my ideological foot down.

“I am not going to put my kid … my Black son … in a public school so he can be an experiment.”

They just had never seen it that way. And it seemed to be then (and sort of now) that when you’re an educated Black person a lot of times this supersedes your Blackness. Simply, they had just stopped seeing me as Black. “My Black son” had snapped them out of it.

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Eugene, aka Gene, Robinson.
Source: Irma Norman

Anyway, the strike ended, New York neighborhoods — and by extension, the New York school system  — continued fracturing, and we left Cobble Hill for Crown Heights and then finally Flatbush. By that time my son had been accepted into Stuyvesant High School, one of New York’s three specialized high schools that is currently in the midst of its own kind of struggle given that Black and Latino enrollment there is down in the single digits.

Mayor de Blasio has been talking about trying different things. Like changing the entrance exam to make it harder to game via expensive tutoring classes and so on. There’s also talk about opening it up to the top percentile of kids from junior high schools all over New York. Sans a test. The fact that the school has been majority Asian since Gene went there in the late ’70s also seems to bother some people.

But, you know, it doesn’t bother me. Call me a sellout, but really no one’s kids should be an experiment.

Healing Tattoos: She’s Inking a New Future for Trafficking Victims

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The soft, steady buzz of tattoo needles echoes in the distance. A pregnant Ally Burke leans against the wall in the hallway and slowly slides herself down to sit. She sighs deeply and closes her eyes — she just needs a minute.

Was it all worth it? Did the event actually work to raise awareness? Why did I wear these shoes? she asks herself.

Burke tries to quiet her mind, but it’s like a pinball machine with an unlimited supply of free turns. 

“Hey, are you Ally Burke?”

Burke opens her eyes and sees a 20-something woman standing above her. She has thick glasses, faded blue hair and bright, hopeful eyes. Burke thanks her for coming and gets a hug in return.

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Ally Burke with husband Morgan.

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She tells Burke she was once a victim of sex trafficking and then flips over her hand to show off the new tattoo on her forearm that Burke’s husband, Morgan, had just given her. It’s an arrow with the word ‘warrior’ written underneath.

“Getting this tattoo today was like therapy … it’s healing,” the woman says. “This tattoo will always remind me that I’m a survivor. I’m a warrior with so much more to give.”

If you know what to look for, it just might save a life.

Ally Burke

This was Ally and her husband Morgan Burke’s first event, called Tattoos for Triumph, to raise money and awareness to fight human sex trafficking, held back in January 2018. It’s not what you’d typically see in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, a town of about 26,000. But Ally, 32, has never really been one for typical.

“I’ve always been in love with tattoos,” Ally says. “It’s a great way to express yourself — like poetry on a body.” Plus, she adds, she met her husband when he gave her a tattoo.

 

Always the organizer among her friends, Ally and Morgan have worked on tattoo benefit events before, but this was different. They didn’t just give about 350 discounted tattoos, with proceeds going to a local women’s shelter and other organizations for trafficking victims. They also brought in speakers from the Department of Justice and human trafficking victims who shared their stories with a crowd of more than 500.

The statistics are difficult to assemble, but the most recent Global Slavery Index estimated that on any given day in 2016, 403,000 people in the U.S. lived under some form of modern slavery. Globally, about 80 percent of trafficking victims are women and half are children. It happens in every single state and cities both big and small.

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The line of people waiting to enter the Tattoos for Triumph event.

Burke was shocked when she first heard the scale of the problem from a friend, Nicole Galarno, who works for child protective services. She especially wanted the tattoo community to know because of one gruesome tradition: traffickers will take their victims to tattoo shops to “brand” them.

Morgan was oblivious to the practice just a couple years ago when a man showed up at his tattoo parlor with a young woman. She didn’t make eye contact and wouldn’t speak — not even to make small talk or share about the tattoo he was giving her. Instead, the man did all the talking and stayed close by to watch the entire time.

“I now know what that was,” Morgan says. “We need to get the word out across our community and unite to make it nearly impossible for traffickers to keep this practice going.”

As soon as the Burkes learned about this practice of branding, they spread the word in the tattoo community. They even started their own group called Shielding Survivors to give free cover-ups and tattoos to victims who have been branded — and connect them to other resources.

To date, they’ve given 22 tattoos to survivors, and they’ve also helped countless others by recommending resources, helping them find counseling and just answering their calls. As authorities and advocates call more attention to the issue, word is spreading: For example, there’s a workshop for tattoo artists in Nebraska to spot signs of trafficking and a program in Kansas to remove survivors’ tattoos.

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Examples of tattoos given to victims of human trafficking.

“We want everyone to know how serious and real this is, even in places you wouldn’t assume,” Ally says. “Anyone can help. Anyone can look for the signs of trafficking or someone who might be a victim. If you know what to look for, it just might save a life.”

Shelby, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, is a victim who received a tattoo at the event. She was first trafficked when she was 20. She was young … an addict … an outsider … an easy target. She spent years trapped in forced labor and drug smuggling before she finally got out in her early 30s. Her life is far from normal and she still has a lot of moments where she struggles, but she is incredibly thankful that people are talking.

“This is such a valuable event for our community,” Shelby says. “They have real resources for survivors. And they have help for people who still need to get out.”

Not everyone is on board though. Some tattoo artists don’t want to donate their time or even hear much about trafficking. Plus, Burke doesn’t get as much backing as she’d like. “I wish my county would support me,” she says, by letting her use the space for free or doing more to promote the events.

While Burke doesn’t have direct experience with trafficking, she does know everything that comes with being a survivor because she was raped nearly 10 years ago. Feelings of shame, sadness and fear sometimes haunt her today.

“It can come out of nowhere,” she says. “You question your identity. You get filled with paranoia. You have no feeling of self-worth. You never really completely heal from something like that.”

When Burke later found out she was pregnant from her rape, she knew she wanted to keep the baby. And even though she still has some bad memories of that time, she has a tattoo of an orange bird flying away and holding a diamond (Morgan’s birthstone) to always remind her that she’s a survivor.

Today the Burkes are a blended family of seven, with five kids, and they keep working to build their advocacy network. In addition to more tattoo events in Stevens Point and beyond, Ally hopes to start a shelter for victims of trafficking, sexual abuse and domestic assault. She wants to create a judgment-free place where victims know they can get help.

“After my rape, I went to a family shelter where I was processed, taken to a room and left there alone,” she says. “Nobody checked on me. Nobody offered any kind of direction. I vomited and cried and was paranoid and couldn’t sleep. I wanted help, but no one came. I was all alone.”

She thinks we can do better. Instead of hate and denial, we can give love and acceptance. And for some trafficking victims, we can give tattoos.

Read more: Modern-day slavery — the public markets selling girls for as little as $14.

Why Mexican Drug Farmers Won’t Forgo Getting High … on Revenue

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I arrived at Javier’s house in the mountains of Sinaloa after a two-hour drive from Culiacán. It was early February, so the punishing summer humidity had not yet arrived. The sleepy town where Javier lives with his wife and two children is a farming community, and it’s a world away from the brash, urban reality of Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa. 

Violence in Culiacán is so common that the city recently made headlines for having a week with no reported murders. 

Up in the mountains, Javier’s family has survived for generations by selling cannabis and heroin poppy paste to the cartels. As demand for both of those products plummets, could new, legal, non-high-producing plant products be his salvation from looming poverty?

The challenge is to migrate from the illegal cultivation of cannabis and opium to legal forms of cultivation.

Steve Rolles, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Javier was taught how to cultivate poppy and marijuana by his grandfather, and he and his son grow heroin poppy on a small plot of land an hour’s drive from their home. Outside Javier’s house are a few thigh-high cannabis plants, but he tells me that he stopped focusing on marijuana some years ago — state-level legalization in the United States sent the price of Mexican weed plummeting. Friends of Javier’s who still grow Mexican weed are struggling to sell it, he says; when they do manage to, it goes for a meager $25 per kilo (2.2 pounds).

Poppy was a cash crop until recently, but then the price for that fell too — thanks largely to the fact that American addicts prefer the deadly synthetic fentanyl over heroin, which is made from Javier’s kind of poppies. At the height of the poppy boom, a kilo of opium paste sold for nearly $1,900, but over the past three years, its value has dropped to just $500 in Sinaloa. In other Mexican states, reports suggest farmers are struggling to sell it at all.

 

So, could legalization and industrial cannabis be a good next step for farmers like Javier?

Decriminalizing production as well as consumption of marijuana in Mexico, for example, has been proposed as a means of reducing drug-related violence that has ravaged the country for years. Creating new, legal products that offer communities such as Javier’s and others around the region a way to make a living legally is a fundamental part of that.

A new focus on the value of products derived from cannabis and coca plants (coca is the base ingredient for cocaine) that don’t provide highs is part of the decriminalization efforts. The hope is that if farmers like Javier start to work for big industry, producing hemp instead of marijuana, it will take them out of the crosshairs of organized crime.

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The future could look bright if governments and the private sector cooperate with communities to provide them with the industry and support they need to switch from illegal to legal products. 

“The legal market [for cannabis] could be part of a wider type of development called ‘alternative development’ … which implies that communities that have involved themselves in the illegal economy try to find alternative crops or sources of income,” said Steve Rolles, from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, at an event on marijuana legalization earlier this year in Mexico. 

“With drugs, the alternative isn’t to move from farming cannabis or opium to coffee — the challenge is to migrate from the illegal cultivation of cannabis and opium to legal forms of cultivation,” Rolles said.

There’s a big chance that these new markets, which include medicinal and beauty products as well as plastics and clothing, could inject new money into Javier’s community. But some fundamental facts remain that threaten to leave the dynamics, violence and profits around illegal drugs unchanged.

“These [non-high-inducing] products aren’t really linked to the objective of bringing down violence in markets like Mexico — it’s more about profit. It’s not going to contribute to that initial objective,” says Tania Ramírez, from nonprofit Mexico United Against Crime.

First, non-high-producing products from coca and cannabis provide an alternative to producing communities, but consumers still want to get high. Much like the need for sex has for centuries driven prostitution, the desire to get high has made recreational drug use one of the oldest pastimes. A drop in demand for Mexican weed and heroin reflects a change in demand trends from American addicts as much as it does the impact of legalization in the U.S. Addicts are showing a preference for fentanyl over heroin because it is stronger, not weaker. But there hasn’t been a drop in the demand for mind-altering drugs per se. In the U.S., the biggest profits from legal cannabis are still from those that get you stoned. My point? The market for illicit, high-inducing drugs will remain no matter how many non-high-inducing versions of those substances appear on shop shelves.

Second, the lion’s share of drug-related violence doesn’t hugely affect farmers producing plants for drugs; it’s more a result of criminal organizations fighting for control of routes or local sales and distribution markets, or clashes between crime groups and government forces. The victims tend not to be farmers but cartel hitmen and operatives, lookouts and law enforcement officials. Thousands of innocent people have also been killed or abducted during the drug war, the victims of corrupt or inept law enforcement officials, and the cartels using terror tactics like the killing, torturing and abduction of local townspeople not involved in their criminal enterprises as a means of generating fear in communities they want to control.

Javier’s town is an agricultural community that buys and sells drug-producing plants much like it would avocados and tomatoes. Even if organized crime ceases to source products from farmers as it switches its focus to synthetics such as fentanyl and methamphetamine, which can be prepared from Chinese chemicals in clandestine kitchens, the conflict generated by gangs for market control will persist — just around different substances. Which means violence will persist.

“The demand for cocaine or marijuana isn’t going to come down because they can make soda drinks out of it,” says Ramírez.

For farmers like Javier, the future could look bright if governments and the private sector cooperate with communities to provide them with the industry and support they need to switch from illegal to legal products. But as long as consumers in every country in the world want to get stoned, there will always be a market for the drugs that do get you high.

Special Briefing: Why Campaign Promises Are the New Constitutions

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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’s happening? Critics are livid over British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move yesterday to suspend Parliament for five weeks, calling it an anti-democratic bid to derail alternatives to his Brexit strategy or thwart any attempt to unseat him. But he’s not alone: Leaders like Johnson are skirting traditional democratic trappings to make good on the lofty promises that vaulted them into office. Whether it’s President Donald Trump battling Congress to build his border wall or, more recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly retracting Kashmir’s autonomy, they’re using less-than-delicate means to achieve major policy goals. In the process, they’re tapping into a global mood that’s turning against traditional politicians and their oft-broken promises.

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a speech on domestic priorities at the Science and Industry Museumon in Manchester.

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Why does it matter? The notion of “democratic values” has long been central to most of the world’s successful nations. But through their aggressive actions, powerful leaders like Trump, Johnson and Modi are proving those values might be more malleable than anyone realized. Potentially problematic is that those practices — criticized by some but welcomed by others — pay political dividends. That raises questions over how far these leaders might go to satisfy their supporters, as well as what it could mean for democracy more broadly. Perhaps even more intriguing: Should they be held more accountable to their promises, or to the abstract principles of democracy often perceived as impeding, rather than promoting, concrete action?

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Getting tough. Johnson’s request, which was approved by Queen Elizabeth II, sparked widespread protests and an online petition that attracted more than 1.3 million signatures in less than 24 hours. Meanwhile, his opponents prepared to fast-track legislation that would extend the Brexit deadline if he fails to produce a workable withdrawal deal. Experts say Johnson has turned out to be not only more calculating and aggressive than many expected from the typically befuddled politician, but even outwardly “despotic,” if you believe his fiercest critics. It’s a stark contrast to his predecessor’s perceived timidity, as well as a clear display that he’s serious about seeing Brexit through — with or without a deal.

Pleasing the crowds. For decades, scrapping Article 370, which provided the predominantly Muslim region of Kashmir a special status, has been a campaign promise of India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. But knowing they’d need to do so surreptitiously, without consulting other opposition parties or Kashmiris, is what held them back — until now. Under Modi, the party that once cast itself as the more democratic and federalist of India’s two major forces has tweaked the Constitution and Kashmir’s status through military might and an internet clampdown. And if the celebrations in much of India are any indicator, the bold move could pay off politically for Modi. 

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviews a guard of honour during a ceremony to celebrate country’s 73rd Independence Day.

Source PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty

Legal means. Such strategies often seem to pay off in other ways. In Washington, where Trump forced the longest-ever federal shutdown this year over lawmakers’ refusal to fund his border wall, the pugnacious president was quick to declare a “big victory” of his own last month. That’s because the Supreme Court gave the Pentagon the go-ahead to continue funding the $2.5 billion effort to build the structure — one of his key 2016 campaign promises — following Trump’s declaration of a national emergency after failing to squeeze out the cash he wanted from Congress. While his administration still faces legal challenges over its controversial border wall, the episode helps reveal how it’s increasingly resorting to fighting for issues through the courts, rather than dealing with an uncooperative legislature. So far, it’s apparently a winning strategy.

WHAT TO READ

What Boris Johnson Did to the World’s Most Stable Democracy, by Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic

“The claim that Johnson is the sole legitimate executor of the people’s will is all the more preposterous because his democratic mandate is so tenuous.”

The Corrupting of Democracies, in The Economist

“Democracies are generally thought to die at the barrel of a gun, in coups and revolutions. These days, however, they are more likely to be strangled slowly in the name of the people.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Sturgeon: “This Is Not Democracy, It’s Dictatorship”

“This is about trying to stop a majority in Parliament coming together to avoid a no-deal Brexit. That’s the kind of behavior you expect to see in countries that are not democratic.”

Watch on The Telegraph on YouTube:

Siddhartha Deb: With Kashmir Crisis, India Reveals Its Democracy Is a “Sham”

“Modi and the BJP are giving supporters something to feel triumphant about by seeing the Kashimirs basically being turned into prisoners in their own home.”

Watch on Democracy Now! on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

High time? Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament has refocused attention on Britain’s unwritten Constitution, and even prompted calls to finally codify a set of rules similar to those found in most other Western democracies. But it’s no magic bullet: Others argue the flexibility that results from not having a Constitution is better suited to evolving political circumstances.