Secret Lives

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Nobody truly interesting is ever entirely as they seem. Everyone has secrets — but some people have secret identities, and we’re not talking about Batman. The people in this series on “Secret Lives” are spies, killers, national heroes and film footnotes, a motley crew that has one thing in common: They all lived a completely different life behind the scenes.

Charles Lindbergh’s Secret Double Life in Germany

A national hero, the groundbreaking pilot was also known as a family man. Turned out, he was a multiple-family man: He had several children by multiple women across the Atlantic, a fact unknown to the world until his kids came forward after their mother’s death.

Pham Xuan An: The Spy Who Tricked America

This Vietnamese journalist was the first Vietnamese person hired by Time magazine to cover the Vietnam War. He was also a pioneer in a key spy program run by the Vietnamese government, which sent him to train as a journalist and used him to direct American press coverage — and thus American public sentiment — over the war.

Luca Brasi Sleeps With the Fishes No Longer

Leonardo Passafaro, aka Lenny “Bull” Montana, was a security guard for a mobster on the set of The Godfather when he found his true calling: acting. One actor down due to unfortunate circumstance, Montana was called in to play a mobster … and eventually left his life of crime for the silver screen.

One of America’s First Nursing Homes Was a Killer’s Playground

Amy Archer-Gilligan was a pioneer in the health care industry, opening what’s thought to be one of America’s first nursing homes around the turn of the century. She was also a killer, suspected of dozens of murders, largely by poisoning. She lives on though in a Cary Grant movie that fictionalized the story as a black comedy.

More Secret Lives

Tips for Leading a Secret Double LifeOur guide to what would-be double lifers are risking.

Leading a Double Life as a Member of the MobJoe Pistone, aka Don Brasco, risked his life to go undercover.

Russia’s Cross-Dressing War HeroAleksandr Sokolov proved himself on the battlefield in the early 19th century … while hiding the fact that he was born a woman.

Was This Blond Bombshell the CIA’s Secret Weapon? Candy Jones was a pinup girl. But she also claimed to have taken LSD as part of secret CIA experiments.

A Year After Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia Appears Untouched

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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

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

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What happened? One year ago this week, Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 59, walked into his country’s consulate in Istanbul and never came out. The details of Khashoggi’s brutal murder leaked out in the days and weeks that followed, but despite initial outrage against Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman, who’s suspected to have ordered the killing, the case doesn’t seem to have damaged his regime. In fact, he’s closer than ever to President Donald Trump’s administration. 

Why does it matter? On Sunday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared on 60 Minutes and accepted blame for the murder. Sort of: He actually said he bears “full responsibility” not because he ordered the killing but because it “was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.” The CIA has said it believes MBS ordered the killing himself, and while Saudi Arabia put 11 people on trial in secret for the murder, nobody has yet been convicted. Meanwhile, Trump has lauded the Saudi leader for modernizing the kingdom and for supporting U.S. industry by buying American military equipment — and even more important, he’s indicated that he’ll let Saudi Arabia lead the way on policy toward Iran after an attack on Saudi oil facilities this month.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

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A woman holds a portrait of missing journalist and Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi reading

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Emboldening strongmen. Saudi Arabia has been known for its brutal detention and treatment of activists. But crossing a border to murder Khashoggi on Turkish soil was crossing another line — one that worried dissidents in exile the world over when Saudi Arabia saw few repercussions for the journalist’s death. This spring, a Palestinian activist in exile in Norway was whisked into hiding by authorities after the CIA passed on information that Saudi officials might be targeting him. Meanwhile, the Saudi government is reportedly attempting to lure some of its exiles home — in part to keep them from bad-mouthing the kingdom abroad as it attempts to rebrand itself as a modernizing state. 

But not all strongmen. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s jailed many of his internal critics, has been labeled a strongman himself. But this week he stood up for Khashoggi in a Washington Post column, promising to keep pushing for answers (like who authorized the murder) and accusing Saudi Arabia of letting killers operate with impunity. 

Civil society. Saudi Arabia’s made some cosmetic strides when it comes to human rights, like lifting a ban on women driving, but the Khashoggi killing likely intensified scrutiny of other human rights abuses there, including the torture of detainees who protested sexist laws. However, the lack of follow-through — and gruesome details of the killing — likely had a chilling effect on the country’s fledgling civil rights movements. Still, there are signs of hope: Last week the U.N. voted down a Saudi attempt to derail a human rights investigation in Yemen.

Next steps. Khashoggi’s case may not have been resolved, but it also hasn’t disappeared from the public mind. U.N. special rapporteur Agnès Callamard, who led an investigation of the case, is still calling for an official U.N. probe, for CIA files on Khashoggi to be declassified — and for the world community to hold MBS to account by moving the November 2020 G20 summit from its scheduled location in Riyadh. And just like Ukraine, Saudi Arabia could be wrapped up in impeachment proceedings against Trump: According to recent reports, the White House took extra steps to conceal the content of calls between Trump and MBS — raising investigatory antennae on Capitol Hill.

WHAT TO READ

‘See You Soon,’ He Smiled, Then Walked in to Meet his Saudi Slaughterers, by Jonathan Rugman in The Sunday Times

“Who knows where he is? I don’t want to think about it. Not having his body to bury makes me wonder if he is going to come back — if I might run into him again.”

Turkish Newspaper Reveals Khashoggi’s Last Words, in the Associated Press

“Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi urged his killers not to cover his mouth because he had asthma and could suffocate.”

WHAT TO WATCH

The Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi

“People still don’t understand how this happened.”

Watch at the Washington Post on YouTube:

Saudi Crown Prince Takes ’All the Responsibility’ for Khashoggi Murder

“It happened under my watch.”

Watch at France 24 on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Opposition. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke out against continued U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, linking Trump and MBS and citing reports of human rights violations (including Khashoggi’s murder). That calls into question whether Saudi Arabia’s long-standing relationship with the U.S. would fare well under Trump’s successors.

Five Impeachment Witnesses to Watch

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The impeachment train has left the station. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s declaration last week that the House would move forward on an impeachment inquiry lacked legislative substance, it served to set in motion a targeted inquiry into whether President Donald Trump abused the power of his office in trying to get the government of Ukraine to help his campaign.

Thursday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Robert Maguire was just the start. No one is sure where this process will go in the coming months, but here are five people we’d be interested to see in the witness chair — and what they might offer.

Rudy Giuliani

The former federal prosecutor became the tough-on-crime mayor who cleaned up New York City in the 1990s, then “America’s Mayor” for his poised handling of the 9/11 attacks. He ran for president in 2008, but the campaign flopped, and he was memorably skewered by none other than Joe Biden, who said Giuliani’s campaign was nothing more than “a noun, a verb and 9/11.”

Today Giuliani, 75, is ubiquitous on TV as Trump’s personal lawyer and has the confidence of the president — but he’s also the one who lit the fuse on l’affaire Ukraine. It was Giuliani who first started blabbing to the press about visiting Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Biden family, and the phone call transcript shows Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Giuliani, while a complaint by a government whistleblower outlines his extensive involvement.

 

“In fact, I’m the legitimate whistleblower that I have uncovered corruption that the swamp has been covering up effectively for years and the State Department, you know, asked me to do this,” Giuliani told Fox News last week. 

Michael Gerhardt, a leading constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, says Giuliani could be a “hostile witness,” not unlike former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, whose recent testimony in the House Judiciary Committee was a certified circus. But Giuliani could still be valuable: “He might reveal things, even unwittingly,” Gerhardt says. And there’s much more to be learned about whether and how the official resources of the U.S. government were put to use for campaign purposes.

Kurt Volker

On Thursday, in one of Giuliani’s most memorable recent TV appearances, he showed off a text message from Volker, the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, saying he’d enjoyed their breakfast and connecting Giuliani with top Zelensky adviser Andriy Yermak. The text was dated July 19, six days before Trump’s infamous telephone call.

By Friday, Volker, 54, had resigned his post as special envoy. The longtime diplomat was a specialist in European policy, and President George W. Bush appointed Volker as U.S. ambassador to NATO in 2008. He left government to get into lobbying, while also serving as head of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, a Washington-based outpost of Arizona State University.

In 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reeled him in to work on Ukraine policy as a part-time special envoy, an unusual arrangement that allowed Volker to keep his other positions and made him effectively a volunteer for the U.S. government. He worked on brokering peace in the simmering war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists, but to no avail. 

According to the whistleblower complaint, Volker met with Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv the day after Trump’s phone call to advise them how to “navigate” Trump’s requests — including an investigation into the Biden family. House Democrats are interested to learn more about those conversations. 

Marie Yovanovitch

The woman who Trump described to Zelensky as “bad news” was recalled as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine abruptly in May — two months before the infamous phone call. 

Yovanovitch, 60, was a career foreign service officer appointed to the job at the tail end of the Obama administration in 2016. She became the subject of a conservative media firestorm this spring after she publicly urged Ukraine to do more to fight corruption … this after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had been tossed in jail in part for concealing the millions he earned from lobbying in Ukraine.

Yovanovitch, who grew up in Connecticut and had served as ambassador to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, reportedly ran afoul of Ukraine’s new government by pressing for more investigations, so it started a campaign against her, painting her as partisan. It worked, as Donald Trump Jr. at one point called Yovanovitch a “joker” on Twitter. Now she’s one of a handful of key State Department figures set to be deposed for the impeachment investigation, and could help shed light on U.S.–Ukraine policy at a critical moment.

The Whistleblower

So far, via The New York Times, we know this person is a male CIA officer who at one point was detailed to the White House. From the complaint, we know he’s a strong writer. And we know he almost single-handedly set impeachment in motion by filing this complaint. So will we ever hear from him in public? 

Michael German, a former FBI whistleblower who now is at the Brennan Center for Justice and has worked with other government whistleblowers, says the convoluted process means the person’s identity is almost certainly well-known within the intelligence community. That means the effort to smear him will be well underway.

“We’re already seeing it,” German says, pointing to Trump and others labeling the whistleblower as a partisan and challenging his credibility by pointing out that he wasn’t even on the infamous phone call (even though the White House transcript of the call neatly matches the whistleblower’s report). “There’s a saying in the FBI: ‘Nobody’s administratively pure,’” German says. “Everybody has made some kind of mistake that normally would be ignored or received just a light sanctioning that now will be amplified into some major misconduct.”

John Bolton

The former national security adviser has been mostly silent since he was forced out on Sept. 10. By then the whistleblower complaint was already roiling the White House. Bolton is someone well-placed to know about all of this as head of the National Security Council and a well-trained bureaucratic operator.

“These folks might have a lot to share,” Gerhardt says of Bolton and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who left in August. “And the president no doubt will order them not to speak, but … it’s fairly clear to me he can’t do that.”

Bolton, 70, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush and the hawk to end all hawks, clashed with Trump on any number of issues. The reported last straw was Trump’s attempt to invite the Taliban to Camp David.

Now Bolton is in position, if he so chooses, to strike back.

No Fancy Dress, Please: China Turns Screws on Costume Dramas

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With full-size replicas of palaces from China’s imperial past, the world’s largest film studio is normally teeming with actors making historical costume dramas that are wildly popular with the country’s television audiences. But as the Communist Party prepares for the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, Hengdian World Studios, a complex covering 11 square miles in the country’s east, is eerily quiet.

China’s top media regulator last month announced a 100-day ban on broadcasts of dramas judged to be “entertainment-focused,” singling out costume dramas, which celebrate what the party sees as the country’s decadent pre-communist past, and “idol dramas” — soap operas starring celebrities. Instead, the National Radio and Television Administration ordered the production of 86 dramas focusing on the Communist Party’s achievements, such as its victory in China’s civil war, its technological and military triumphs and the positive impact of recent economic reforms on ordinary people.

“I haven’t got any work at all this year,” says Li Jin, a member of a group of amateur actors known as the “Hengdian drifters,” who live near the studio and normally find roles as extras.

There is an effort to curtail what has been perceived as junk-food content  …  to refocus people on more ideological content.

A Chinese entertainment industry executive

Entertainment is just one of the industries feeling the fallout from preparations for China’s National Day, which culminates in a military parade in Beijing on Tuesday. The government has tightened internet censorship across the country and increased efforts to interfere with internet services used by individuals and businesses to evade the country’s “Great Firewall” of blocked websites. Online celebrities in China who sometimes appear in revealing clothing on local equivalents of YouTube and Instagram have been warned not to appear “too sexy” during the National Day period, according to online marketing executives. “It’s being enforced at the platform level,” says one executive who did not wish to be identified.

The Beijing government said on Sept. 15 that flying pigeons, kites, drones and balloons would be banned in seven districts to ensure safety ahead of a military parade on Oct. 1. In Tangshan, China’s biggest steel-producing city, which is near Beijing, steelmakers have been ordered to cut production to ensure blue skies in the capital for the parade, at which President Xi Jinping is set to address the nation.

 

But the entertainment industry has felt a more severe impact. Communist Party officials began to turn against costume dramas after Story of Yanxi Palace, a tale of backstabbing imperial concubines, attracted 530 million online views per episode last year. Costume dramas attract huge audiences in China for their sensational soap opera themes, love affairs and murder plots that draw on nostalgia for China’s imperial past — all elements that have attracted the ire of censors, according to industry insiders.

“There is an effort to curtail what has been perceived as junk-food content  …  to refocus people on more ideological content,” says one entertainment industry executive, adding that historical dramas threatened the viewership for communist-related material. “If you have a choice to watch a historical drama about Mao Zedong, or who a prince is having sex with, what are you going to watch?” the executive asked. 

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“If you have a choice to watch a historical drama about Mao Zedong or who a prince is having sex with, what are you going to watch?” 

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The Chinese Netflix equivalent iQiyi, which last year reported a big revenue boost from Story of Yanxi Palace, this year is focusing on Me and My Motherland, a series in which celebrities comment on short videos about the country’s progress since 1949.

“We needed to capture young people’s attention while showing respect and saluting the country for its 70th anniversary,” Wang Zhaonan, iQiyi editor in chief, told the state-run Global Times newspaper.

In cinemas, National Day releases focusing on patriotism include The Climbers — about a Chinese team that ascends Mount Everest — and The Chinese Pilot, a heroic tale of aviation.

Analysts expect box-office receipts over the National Day holiday week to reach up to 4 billion RMB ($562 million) compared with 1.9 billion RMB last year. But tighter film censorship this year ahead of National Day has hurt business for several film companies.

Shanghai-listed Hengdian Film and Television, which owns the studio complex, said last month its net profit had fallen 24 percent in the most recent quarter from the same period of the previous year to 173 million RMB.

“Since the ban on historic dramas, the industry has been going downhill this year, and a lot of people have left. I may return to my home city next year,” says Hengdian actor Ma Bin. “It’s become a ghost town here.”

Volkswagen’s Best-Selling Product Is a … Sausage

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While thousands of cars roll off the production lines at the headquarters of Volkswagen each day, a group of German butchers huddles around a table at lunch to carefully inspect, smell and taste test a different product: the day’s freshly produced currywurst sausage.

Currywurst — essentially a grilled bratwurst smothered in a mix of ketchup and curry powder — is one of Germany’s most popular foods, and at Volkswagen canteens in the northern German city of Wolfsburg in the state of Lower Saxony, that holds particularly true. At 70 million square feet, the Wolfsburg plant is the largest factory in the world, with 60,000 employees. So big that an internal butchery churns out 6.7 million Volkswagen-branded currywurst sausages annually.

In fact, the Wolfsburg factory produces eight times more currywurst than cars. 

And 40 percent of those sausages — 2.5 million in 2018 — are consumed at German Volkswagen plants alone. At the Wolfsburg factory, the sausages — along with a Volkswagen currywurst sauce — are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner at its more than a dozen restaurants and canteens. But since the company’s internal butchery started to produce the sausage in 1973 using a secret recipe that incorporates pork belly and cheek, bacon and curry spices, the Volkswagen currywurst has become so popular that the vast majority is now sold via a major supermarket chain and consumed by households across the country. A package of five sausages and a bottle of Volkswagen spiced ketchup costs around $10. 

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Volkswagen currywurst sausages. 

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The sausages are either around 5 inches or 10 inches long, “and if you string all of them together, you’d have a chain that would stretch from Wolfsburg all the way to Barcelona,” says Volkswagen spokesperson Torsten Cramm.

Unlike his predecessors, Dietmar Schulz, current head of food production at Volkswagen, doesn’t get the meat from a company-owned farm anymore, but it’s still regionally sourced, and he says that he’s proudly responsible for a sausage that is popular even in southern Germany’s Bavaria, famous for its own sausage culture — specifically Weisswurst sausages.

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Curry sausages with ”Volkswagen Originalteil” (literally: ”original part”) written on them. 

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To 55-year-old Schulz, currywurst is an iconic German meal. “It’s really just a sausage, but it is popular throughout all classes of society. Everyone loves it, even high-level managers who would otherwise eat some truffle dish,” he says. A butcher by training, Schulz says that he’s been eating the Volkswagen sausages long before he came to work at the factory seven years ago, pointing to the synergies between the relatively low-fat sausage and the sauce, which has an intense curry flavor with a tinge of spiciness. A vegan currywurst was introduced in 2010.

 

While currywurst and currywurst soup are daily staples at the more than a dozen restaurants and canteens that serve employees at Volkswagen Wolfsburg, last year the company celebrated the 45th anniversary of its sausage production with special dishes like a currywurst burger and a currywurst pizza. Volkswagen’s museum showcased the history of its currywurst alongside iconic cars like the Volkswagen Beetle and the hippie-era bus. Before that, the Volkswagen currywurst was already featured in Berlin’s currywurst museum, which opened in 2009 but closed down last December.

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Volkswagen currywurst sausages at the German car manufacturing plant in Wolfsburg

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According to legend, Herta Heuwer, the owner of a food stall in Berlin, invented the currywurst in 1949 out of necessity and lack of other ingredients. British soldiers stationed in the already divided city had given her curry powder; she mixed it with ketchup, creating a sauce that could mask the low-quality ingredients of postwar sausages. In that sense, the currywurst was a trailblazing invention that soon tied into the German Wirtschaftswunder — the rapid development of Germany’s economy after World War 2, says Meike-Marie Thiele, the creator of the currywurst museum.

“It was this idea that we will prevail, and the fact that it’s a dish for ordinary Germans, just like the VW was meant for ordinary people,” she says. “It’s the same mindset, and that’s what makes it such a perfect match.”

How Big Does a Breast Have to Be to Save Your Relationship?

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When More Than Enough Is Too Much

EUGENE, SIR: Is there something I could do if my lover is too large? I can’t get anyone to take this/me seriously, but our relationship is great in every way but this one, and now he’s starting to feel rejected. I have fibroids, which makes it worse. We’re at the point now where it’s just easier to do other things than have sex, but I don’t think this is a long-term solution. We’re in our late 20s and this might be leading to marriage, but I don’t think I should marry a man who I have an iffy sexual relationship with, even if it’s not either of our faults really. What I want to know is: According to what I have heard, pregnancy sometimes makes fibroids better. Is that true? – X-Tin

Dear Rin Tin: I can feel you thinking, and I sympathize/empathize as I do with most gamblers because this is a calculated and high-stakes play you’re thinking of pushing. It IS true that fibroids are known to shrink after pregnancy, according to doctors, as soon as three to six months after birth, and that 70 percent of women who had fibroids and then had kids saw them shrink by 50 percent or more. But there’s still that niggling 30 percent. If you’re part of that 30 percent and you never normalize post-pregnancy, what are you left with? And what’s he left with?

Sure, you could fellate him if coitus continued to be a problem, but again, that’s not a long-term solution.

If I were you — and not only am I not you, I’m also not a woman and no kind of doctor just to be clear — I’d experiment with different positions to see if you can mitigate his mass. While you can manage girth issues with the strategic use of lubrication, depth can’t be changed since the length is what it is. However, counterintuitively, if he posts up behind you and you stagger your legs, with one forward and one a bit behind it, you can minimize length issues.

Moreover, having to manage this should do the best thing of all for you two: get it out in the open so both of you can start talking about it. Problems moving toward solutions feel better than problems that are steadfastly remaining problems. Give it a try before you use Thor’s Hammer of pregnancy to handle anything romantic. Good luck.

 

Phone Sexy?

EUGENE, SIR: I ran across your section a day or so back and am very interested in following you and receiving your advice column or just general info on sex! I am a divorced White male in my 40s. Since my wife left me, I’ve tried sex with some guys and I guess I’m bi. I want attention and to give attention to females, but there are not that many in my area. Do you know of any lonely women who might enjoy helping me to get off doing phone sex? – RJ-BRT

Dear Ribbit: I imagine I know lots of people, lonely and not. Bi and not. Men and women or not. And while my shingle is hung out very specifically so you can find your way to me, advice is very different from “Sex With Eugene” as Tinder/Grindr. In the most modern of terms, I’ll respond to your request for phone numbers/emails with a counter-request: a little effort, please. Though I suspect this was a humblebrag about your newfound bi status, the reality is that you requested WOMEN. For some variation of sex. Which would make me? Some variation of a pimp.

Which I am not because, if you hadn’t heard, pimping ain’t easy. And it’s ethically questionable. 

So I’ll suggest the current catch-all for kink: the Internet. There you should be able to find women more than happy to indulge your interest in aural kink. Hope that helps.

Who the Boob Belongs To

EUGENE, SIR: I want to get breast reduction surgery and have unexpectedly run into some real resistance from my normally levelheaded boyfriend. We’ve been together four years, but he says that if he got a tattoo (we are both tattooed) that he’d consult with me because this would be something that I’d have to look at forever, in a best-case scenario, so naturally he’d want to make me part of the decision-making process. But, he says, my “one-way decision-making process” just “feels” bad to him. It’s not like I’m going from huge to tiny. I am going from huge to a little less huge and am pissed off that he’s repackaged his fetish as a relationship issue. I actually can’t even believe I’m writing about this. Thoughts?  – Name withheld by request

Dear Busted: If he was indeed repackaging his continued interest in you continuing to have large breasts as a relationship ploy, then, yes, that would be dirty pool that you’d be justified in being pissed about. It would show an awareness of a lack of sincerity in the endless seesaw between your needs and his interests. But maybe he’s just confusing your needs as just interests and hence the failed tattoo comparison. And while I hear about very few health issues attached to having tattoos, I hear about many attached to large breasts. 

However, if he wants to be made more a part of the process, start dragging him along to your doctor’s appointments. And your physical therapy appointments. And your shopping trips where you try to find clothes that fit and bras that work. And have him massage your aching back whenever it’s aching. Get him to put some real skin in the game, so to speak. Develop some empathy muscle. That should take about as much time as it takes to schedule your surgical procedure for your breasts that, the last time I checked, were part of your body.

OZY Goes Behind Deutschland’s Walls in States of the Nation: Germany

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Thirty years ago, Germans tore down the Berlin Wall, symbolically ending the Cold War and setting the stage for the reunification of East and West Germany. Those feverish days, captured in countless films, songs and other works of art, seemed to herald the victory of openness and the defeat of restrictions on the movement of people.

Yet today, Germany is grappling with myriad new barriers and disruptions in its politics, economy, culture and technology that are promising to shape its future, while also impacting its immediate neighbors, Europe and the rest of world. Some of these “walls” are being torn down while others are being built. With States of the Nation: Germany, OZY’s latest major global project, we’ll help you make sense of it all.

Over the next six weeks leading up to Nov. 9 — when the demolition of the wall began in 1989 — OZY will report untold and surprising stories from each of Germany’s 16 states, capturing the hopes and challenges of its diverse regions. Our reporters are crisscrossing the country to capture its changing landscape, spanning migration and music; politics and pubs (really unlikely ones); cars and casinos; tech and travel; food and forests. With stories on hidden trends, upcoming personalities, pathbreaking innovations, stunning stats, fascinating experiences and forgotten nuggets from history, we’ll take you on a ride through a Germany you never knew until now.

Unearthing diverse narratives about a country isn’t easy. But it’s in our DNA. 

It’s a journey you don’t want to ignore at a time the nation stares at a cocktail of challenges unlike any it has faced since reunification. The country is the world’s fourth-largest economy and one of the engines of global exports. But its economy has now contracted for two quarters in a row, its automobile sector is in trouble, and the threat of a recession is growing. How Germany’s industrial hubs respond could influence what the global slowdown will look like.

For several years now, Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel has been Europe’s steadiest pillar, a force around which the Continent’s collective hopes have often revolved. Now, that role appears in doubt, with questions surrounding the health of Merkel — who has been in power since 2005 and plans to step aside in 2021.

 

The country is at the center of one of the great debates of our times: migration. Four years ago, Germany welcomed more than a million refugees fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, emerging as a model for a humane, modern nation-state. Then, under pressure from a rising right, it clamped down on new asylum claims and struck a deal with Turkey to keep fresh refugees away. Still, the ultraright Alternative for Germany (AfD) continues to rise in state after state while the traditional centrist parties lose ground.

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Frankfurt’s financial district skyline

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Some of those political tensions are also reflective of a deep economic divide not dissimilar from what many other major democracies are facing. Germany’s wealthiest province, Hamburg, has a per capita GDP higher than Singapore’s (the world’s seventh-wealthiest country), while its poorest state, Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania, would rank 33rd if it were a country — on par with Slovenia. The country’s approach toward migrants and its domestic political churn will both hold examples for other nations where populism is also growing.

At the same time, Germany remains a major hub of technology and entrepreneurship. The next generation of pathbreaking German innovations might soon find their way to your living room or on your phone. And Berlin’s status as Europe’s “capital of cool” remains unchanged.

Unearthing diverse narratives about a country isn’t easy. But it’s in our DNA. After the 2016 elections showed many Americans didn’t know their own neighbors and so were surprised by the outcome, we reported from each of the 50 U.S. states in our first States of the Nation edition. Then in 2018, we went a step further, reporting from more than 200 countries and “not-quite countries,” like Kurdistan and Kosovo, shattering stereotypes and introducing hidden cultures, trends and personalities to our global audience. And earlier this year, our reporters spread out across India’s 36 states and union territories to give our audience a glimpse of the choices the country and its diverse parts were making in the run-up to the world’s largest-ever democratic exercise

Join us again and let us be your guide to a fast-changing Germany.

This Hockey Streaming Star Gets Sponsored Like a Player

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Andrew Telfer and his wife, Mel, just moved into a new house. But one key renovation is still needed.

“I get a little bit too hyped, screaming at a nice goal,” he says. “Then I wake her and that’s not the best. I’m working on soundproofing my basement.”

Telfer, 25, is better known as “Nasher,” hockey influencer extraordinaire. And by “nice goal,” he is talking about his virtual skills.

Nasher straddles the boards between video games and real life. He has a YouTube channel with 285,000 followers, where he posts both gaming clips from EA Sports’ NHL series and IRL (in real life) hockey trick shot videos. On his Twitch channel, he spends most nights — except when his hometown Columbus Blue Jackets are playing — streaming NHL video game content to his 30,000-plus followers. 

With hockey, I feel like it’s a bit lacking on the content side.

Andrew “Nasher” Telfer

Now, Nasher is getting sponsored like a real-life NHL player. This month, he announced an exclusive apparel and equipment partnership with hockey brand Bauer. He also recently engaged in sponsorship deals with Gatorade, Adidas and SeatGeek. (The amounts of those sponsorships were not revealed.)

Nasher, who grew up in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, Ohio, is a lifelong hockey fan, quite literally: The family had a Pittsburgh Penguins game on TV the moment he was born. When the Blue Jackets made their debut in 2000, 6-year-old Nasher, whose gamer name is derived from former Columbus winger Rick Nash, was in attendance.

 

However, Nasher found his expertise in virtual hockey. While in high school, he experimented with his own content creation but was afraid to show friends his YouTube channel. “It was kind of embarrassing,” he recalls. But he found friends who shared his interests in college at Ohio State, streaming his gameplay when he could escape class or the library.

After graduating with a marketing degree, Nasher landed a job as a customer care advocate at the corporate headquarters of Wendy’s near Columbus. He had a wife, an education and a job. 

But he still had a dream, and a Baconator was not part of it.

Unnamed 3

“He’s not just an NHL video game influencer; he is an overall hockey influencer,” says broadcast partner Arda Ocal.

Mel would see him get home from a night shift then continue to work on his YouTube channel until the wee hours. Mel, a dietitian, assured her husband the two could start their lives on her salary. So he quit his Wendy’s job after six months to go into content creation full time in 2017.

“The first week I did that, that’s when I saw the most growth on my channel,” he remembers. “Quitting my job and uploading four to five videos a week, I saw that people wanted more content and I could finally give it to them.”

At this point, he spends most of his days shooting and editing videos — virtual and IRL, a GoPro strapped to his head at a local roller rink. At night, he fires up his Xbox for thousands of concurrent viewers. He’s also hosting a series of community NHL video game tournaments with WorldGaming Network on Friday nights.

“He’s so multifaceted,” says Ricky Hildebrand, digital marketing manager at Bauer. “Through some of our brand research, we saw kids aren’t just interested in pro athletes. Some don’t have dreams of playing in the NHL. They just play hockey because it’s fun.”

Nasher is Bauer’s first digital content endorser. He’s something the brand (founded in 1927) has never seen but knows it wants. Thanks to streaming and social media, digital influencers like Nasher can directly reach consumers similar to many professional athletes. 

“I think it’s about time,” says esports consultant Rod “Slasher” Breslau. “Sports esports have a long way to go to catch up to traditional esports, but one of the benefits to sports games is such a crossover between the real-life equipment and real-life brands.”

hockey gamer v1

When Breslau mentions “traditional esports,” he is talking about high-revenue communities around such video games as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and DOTA. According to StreamElement, Twitch viewers watched 9.36 billion hours of content in 2018 — 1.36 billion of which belonged to Fortnite. The highest-ranking sports game was FIFA 19, at No. 18. 

Breslau says Fortnite superstar Ninja was getting as much online engagement as LeBron James or Cristiano Ronaldo at points last year. Nasher can’t come close to that — his Twitch following ranks No. 6,330 — but he provides a direct link to the younger audience hockey-related sponsors want to reach.

In addition to his streaming, he serves as a commentator for the NHL Gaming World Championship (GWC) esports competition, where he’s swarmed for selfies. “If there’s a hockey audience, people will recognize him,” broadcast partner Arda Ocal says. “He’s not just an NHL video game influencer; he is an overall hockey influencer.” That’s true for players too. He’s streamed with Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski. Minnesota Wild forward J.T. Brown, who met Nasher at All Star Weekend last year, pops into the comments. “I chirp him a little bit but try to keep it friendly,” Brown laughs.

As the NHL season opens on Wednesday, the Bauer money will help Nasher get “bigger and better” with potential trick shots involving shooting pucks onto a boat. ”A lot of other sports have people that are innovating and trying new things,” he says. “With hockey, I feel like it’s a bit lacking on the content side.”

Other brands can study this example as a way to get into the esports/streaming sponsorship sphere. However, like every partnership, there is a risk.

“Gamers are a fickle audience,” Breslau notes. “Fans, when they see ads on Twitch for brand deals, even if it’s authentic but it’s lame, it’ll still be feasted upon in the chat and social media and people will say, ‘Sellout.’”

At least for the time being, Nasher is a sellable voice for hockey fans — one they’ll hear loud and clear, even from a soundproof basement.

This Might Be the Most Eco-Friendly Scuba Dive Resort on Earth

Maharajaecodivelodgesharetheheart

What struck me most about the dive was the silence. Without another boat on the bay or another soul in sight, there was a quiet serenity that made this bucket-list trip — to a remote island on a revived coral reef — that much more meaningful. Below, immersed in the clear water, I was welcomed by a rainbow of rare inhabitants: tiny colorful nudibranchs, gigantic manta rays and a rainbow of sea stars.

This is Raja Ampat, Indonesia, an archipelago with some of the richest marine life on the planet. There are more than 1,300 varieties of fish and 75 percent of the planet’s hard coral species here. At its heart is the MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge, whose mission is to be one of the most eco-friendly dive accommodations on Earth. Through conservation efforts in the sea and earth-friendly living on land, the resort has created a refuge for all manner of sea creatures and the opportunity to experience them as ethically as possible.  

Maharaja over the ocean bungalows 1 copy

The MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge has five round wooden bungalows, called Honais, which are built over the ocean.

Source MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge

Mahasti Motazedi created the resort because there was nothing like it in existence. Motazedi, who is a master scuba diver trainer and has been diving for 12 years, was looking for a place where diving respects the natural environment and doesn’t leave a footprint. “I didn’t find a place like this, so I decided to create it,” she says. Although diving is all about enjoying underwater life, it often leaves a negative impact — like leaked boat fuel, destruction of coral, fishing and trash left behind — on the environments that host that life.  

 

After a year’s search in Raja Ampat, Motazedi purchased the tiny heart-shaped Dokri Island in Batanta from local Papuan families. MahaRaja opened in 2018 with the goal of having minimal impact on the natural surroundings and marine life, while also operating in harmony with the Papuan community. Wood was sourced from 100 local families in order to distribute payment as well as lighten the impact on forests. At least one member of every local family now works with the lodge, and employees are taught English and given the chance to train to become certified dive masters.

Hermit crab (2)

From top: A hermit crab and a damselfish.

Source MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge

Accommodation is eco-friendly and traditional. There are five Papuan round wooden bungalows, called Honais, which are built over the ocean and offer biodegradable toiletries and solar lanterns — the complex is mostly solar-powered. When guests register, they are required to take a pledge, agreeing to respect all marine life, leave all coral untouched and leave no trace. That even means no sunscreen, which can pollute the water.

Divers can expect to spot everything from a blacktip shark to a dugong, from Bryde’s whales to crocodile fish.

You can get some mineral-based, eco-friendly sunscreen on the wooden boats used to explore off-site diving areas. But you’re likely going to spend your time at one of the four dive sites on the reef, accessible via swimming from the beach or jetty — the longest in Raja Ampat — which is built past the edge of the reef to protect the coral, which was nearly destroyed by dynamite fishing.

Underwater is a vibrant feast for the eyes. Divers can expect to see everything from a blacktip shark to a dugong, from Bryde’s whales to crocodile fish. During fluorescent night dives, blue UV torches — which marine life cannot see — are used to observe psychedelic coral, sleeping fish and lionfish. Sometimes staff and guests spot marine life they’ve “never seen before” on the reef, says Bernard Rumbewas, the director of the lodge. Since opening, they’ve seen 20 new marine species appear in the area, and a 400 percent increase in those they’ve been monitoring, such as the batfish, reef shark and bumpheads.

Blue spotted sting ray

Blue-spotted stingray

Source MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge

Because the location is so remote, it can be challenging and time-consuming to receive goods. The resort also still relies on fuel that is purchased from other islands in the archipelago — the boat batteries are charged with a generator — but Motazedi hopes to remove all fuel from the island and install a solar charging station. 

The MahaRaja’s conservation efforts might be serving as an example to other diving sites in the Coral Triangle (the western Pacific Ocean marine area). Two have recently closed over accumulated environmental damage caused by tourism. The Beach-famous Maya Bay in Thailand has shut indefinitely until the area has been rehabilitated. Komodo Island in Indonesia is expected to close its doors to tourists by January 2020 — the natural habitats for Komodo dragons and hundreds of aquatic species are under threat. 

Dive sites

A map of the four dive sites at MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge.

Source MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge

Motazedi likes to see MahaRaja as the “last paradise on Earth for scuba divers.” It’s a place where you can deeply connect with nature without the whir of boat motors and plastic trash floating by. You might even spot a whale shark or an orca. 

Go There: Maharaja Eco Dive Lodge

  • Location: Fly to Domine Eduard Osok Airport in Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia. From there, guests are picked up by the resort and taken to the lodge by (pink) boat.
  • Cost: A “Short Stay Package” (5 day, 4 nights) costs 325 EUR ($360) per person per night, and includes four meals, which are vegan. The per-person cost reduces with the number of people in your party.
  • Pro tip: If you can get a group of 10 or more together, you have the whole island to yourselves.

Donald Dossier: Who You Gonna Call?

Trump wires

The Kremlin is concerned. 

On Friday, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov mused that it was “quite unusual” for the White House to release a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems,” Peskov said.

The precedent-shattering release of the call between Trump and Zelensky this past week will have a lot more effects than simply sending impeachment-palooza into high gear.

Wouldn’t it be something to listen in on Trump’s calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman?

Democrats will spend the next several weeks digging into Trump’s request for a foreign power to undertake a politically helpful investigation — and what kind of incentives might have been attached. But one of the most critical lines in the history-making whistleblower complaint comes in the appendix, after the tipster describes efforts to conceal the Ukraine call: “According to White House officials I spoke with, this was ‘not the first time’ under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this code-word-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information.”

That’s one hell of an eyebrow raiser.

Trump’s interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin have been put under a microscope since day one, with the cloud of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election hanging over this presidency, so that’s an obvious one for the White House to stash away from prying eyes. But there are many more world leaders who could be nervously reviewing their Trump interactions. Let’s take a completely hypothetical look.

 

Narendra Modi touched down in Houston just a week ago for a megarally with Trump before 50,000 fans — in which India’s prime minister lavished the president with praise. Reeling in fiscally conservative suburban Indian Americans could help Trump in key states (like suddenly competitive Texas) and congressional districts in 2020.

And what could Modi get in return for his election assistance? Trump so far has had little to say about Modi’s crackdown in Kashmir. The Express Tribune newspaper in Pakistan reported last month that the U.S. would cut $440 million in aid to India’s chief enemy — though America still sends Pakistan about $4 billion a year.

Wouldn’t it be something to listen in on Trump’s calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman? The president seemingly cared little about the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year — even after his intelligence services tied it directly to MBS — and vowed on Twitter to do essentially whatever the Saudis wanted after a military strike against key oil-producing facilities this month.

What could be in it for Trump? The Saudis have a well-documented fondness for staying at Trump properties, as well as money to burn for all sorts of other endeavors.

Great Britain’s Boris Johnson and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu are both chummy with Trump, ideologically simpatico and control two of the world’s foremost spy agencies — which can always come in handy.

And don’t think these leaders don’t know the risks that lie in these secrets spilling out. It could well make Trump’s foreign counterparts less candid in the future, a potentially harmful outcome for diplomacy.

House Democrats have vowed to focus narrowly on the Ukraine call, as it seems to present the clearest case for impeachment so far, and to move speedily. Given the high likelihood of Democratic bumbling and overreach to Trump’s political benefit, the tack makes political sense.

But if the president happened to conduct foreign policy to suit his personal interests more than once, it’s probably worth finding out — even if it makes foreign capitals quake with fear.