Special Briefing: A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

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? Capping a stunning season for both teams, the Kansas City Chiefs will face off against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV Sunday in Miami. While the Chiefs (favored by 1.5 points) will appear in the big game for the first time since 1970, the 49ers are making their fifth appearance — and gunning for their first win in 25 years.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 19: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after a play against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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Why does it matter? It’s not just the national championship on the line: Each squad sports a uniquely talented quarterback who represents a different vision for the all-important position. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, 24, shows how dual threat QBs are increasingly in vogue, while the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, 28, proves why the steady hand of a dependable (if not exactly flashy) system thrower matters. Whoever wins may have the last word on which style thrives in the future.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Boy wonder. Mahomes is already an NFL great after just two seasons as a starter. Bouncing back from an early-season knee injury, last year’s MVP established himself as the fulcrum around which head coach Andy Reid’s “air raid” offense has swung. But he’s also wowed fans and analysts with his uncanny athleticism, such as zig-zagging his way 27 yards into the end zone to push the Chiefs over the Tennessee Titans in the conference title game. It’s the same kind of flair showcased by likely 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson, as well as soon-to-be-drafted college talent Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama.

Learning from the best. Then there’s “Jimmy G” — in many ways, the polar opposite of Mahomes. Rarely throwing deep and almost never rushing, he’s a quarterback’s QB: Staying cool behind the line of scrimmage, he watches and waits for receivers, a smart game manager whose accuracy and poise under pressure recalls a certain other quarterback lifted from obscurity by New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. In fact, Tom Brady even texted Jimmy G., who served as a backup to the legendary QB, this week to wish him luck. At Super Bowl media night, Garoppolo said: “Your past is always part of you.”

AFC Championship - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO – JANUARY 19: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs scrambles at the beginning of a 27-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

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Coach vs. coach. It’s not just two very different players going head-to-head this weekend. Having racked up 221 career wins, veteran yet innovative coach Reid is hoping for his first-ever victory in a title game he hasn’t been to in 15 years. On the other sideline will be third-season newbie Kyle Shanahan, whose father, Mike, led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl victories in the late ‘90s. Reid’s an old dog who’s always learning new tricks, while 40-year-old Shanahan is the play-crafting prodigy who’s already cementing an impressive legacy.

Enjoy the show. Let’s not forget halftime, though: Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will both hit the stage — the first time a pair of Latinas have headlined the coveted event, with 100 million people watching. Both performers can draw on decades of hits, and they represent a nod to Miami’s large Latino population. In recent years, the half-time stage has become a controversial choice for some artists, considering how the league handled the Colin Kaepernick protests (among too many other controversies to count). But last year, the NFL signed a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation label to improve its live events and “amplify the league’s social justice efforts.” Turns out, Shakira is managed by Roc Nation.

WHAT TO READ

Kansas City’s Sack-Master Is the Super Bowl X Factor, by Jeff Fedotin on OZY

“The pivotal task of taking on San Francisco’s bruising rushing attack falls to the Chiefs’ defense, with the 26-year-old [Frank] Clark as its beating, bombastic heart.”

Film Study: 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo Is Far More Than a Game Manager, by Ben Volin in The Boston Globe

“He was the only quarterback to finish in the top five in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdown passes. When called upon, Garoppolo carried his team.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Super Bowl 2020 Is Defining Moment for Patrick Mahomes

“There’s only so much in this game he can control, and if you’ve got this 49ers meat grinder offense…it doesn’t matter what Mahomes can do.”

Watch on NBC Sports on YouTube:

Does Jimmy Garoppolo Get Enough Respect?

“When Jimmy G. plays, they win. When Jimmy G. doesn’t play, they lose. That is just how it goes.”

Watch on The Pat McAfee Show on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Money shot. A 30-second Super Bowl ad went for as much as $5.6 million this year — and brands continue to spend big on production too. Jeep, for example, is rolling out Bill Murray, since the game’s taking place on Groundhog Day. Yet football won’t provide an escape from politics: Both President Donald Trump and billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg plan to air campaign ads during the game (Trump will actually run two). For the latter, who’s already dumped more than $200 million on TV ads, it’s a chance to introduce himself even more widely (and to get under the former’s skin).

This Weekend: Parasite, But on a Futuristic Train

WHAT TO WATCH

Snowpiercer — Bong Joon Ho’s Training Wheels. If you loved Parasite (and if you didn’t, you shouldn’t admit it) but still have trouble with subtitles, try this English-language film from the same director about a future in which all of humanity lives on a class-segregated train. (Recommended by Ned Colin, Class Warrior)

Little America — Immigrant Stories. This Apple TV series — which was renewed for a second season even before its January premiere — tells the varying stories of immigrants to the United States. Through the eyes of families, students, asylum-seekers and more, it’s a beautifully written take on the modern American Dream (and its hardships). (Recommended by Stan Durbin, OZY Fan)

Biutiful — The Joys of Sorrow. Javier Bardem gives a stunning performance in this film about a middleman in the Spanish immigration industry who finds out he’s terminally ill. The script delves into his moral dilemmas and his acceptance of mortality. (Recommended by Mat Nashed, Moral Compass)

WHERE TO TRAVEL

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Galle, Sri Lanka — Your February Escape. If it feels like winter will never, never end, perhaps you are in the same phase we are: googling photos of the most beautiful, light-filled beaches and hammocks. Current obsession is Galle, a sandy destination that’s a three-hour drive from Colombo with stunning Dutch colonial architecture and even more incredible scenery in the form of surfing waves and diving spots. There’s also a huge flea market every weekend. Bonus: It’s pronounced “Gawl,” which means lots of opportunity for puns about having the gall to do things. (Recommended by Pallabi Munsi, Beach Goddess)

Roros, Norway — Snowville. On the other hand, you can lean into the February of it all with this tiny, charming Norwegian town. Once a mining hub, it’s now an old-timey tourist hot spot with a focus on sustainability. Check out the colorful houses, picturesque farms and local copper mine, which you can visit to learn about the Scandinavian mining industry. (Recommended by Anna Davies, Snow Queen)

WHAT TO READ

The Far Field — Coming of Age. Kashmir has dropped out of the headlines since last summer, but this prize-winning debut novel will bring it roaring back into your consciousness. Heroine Shalini, reeling from her mother’s death, attempts to track down an old family friend in Kashmir … and finds the consequences are more than she ever imagined. It’s a tragedy of an outsider not understanding how things operate for others — and a person of privilege coming to terms with everything they don’t know. (Recommended by Maroosha Muzaffar, Kashmir Forever)

AND WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T…

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Turn your back on the pigs. A South Carolina farm has put out a call for volunteer “piggy cuddlers” to help with 100 pigs recently rescued from an animal hoarder. The cuddlers, who must be at least 16 years old, will be helping to socialize the pigs and give them cookies as the sanctuary searches for their forever homes as family pets. (UPI)

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.

Kashmir’s Latest Casualty: Tourism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has repeatedly insisted that Kashmir is back to “normalcy” five months after the region’s special status was withdrawn and senior political leaders were locked up.

But data released under the country’s Right to Information (RTI) Act by the Kashmir Tourism Department suggests that tourists — Indian and foreigners alike — aren’t buying the government’s narrative. It reveals the dramatic scale of the blow to the tourism sector in the valley since August 2019, when the government read down Article 370 — which gave the region some autonomy — and imposed a lockdown on the erstwhile state. It also suggests that one of Modi’s ministers lied to India’s Parliament about the issue.

Between August and December 2019, just over 43,000 tourists visited Kashmir, 86 percent less than the 316,424 arrivals in the same period in 2018.

On Aug. 2, 2019, via an official order, the government cited “terror threats” to suspend the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath Temple and ask all tourists to leave the Kashmir valley. The government kept the order in place until Oct. 9, when it was lifted.

As per the information released under RTI, the number of tourist arrivals in August was 10,130. By way of comparison, the corresponding figure for arrivals in 2018 was 85,534; in 2017, it was 164,395. Tourist arrivals fell further in September to a mere 4,562. The number rose marginally in October, to 9,327. Tourism barely revived through November and December, with the arrival figures for these months at 12,086 and 6,954, respectively.

Srinagar Tourism Travel Restrictions Lifted

SRINAGAR, INDIA – OCTOBER 10: Tourists at Nishat Garden on October 10, 2019 in Srinagar, India. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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The cumulative figures for the August–December 2019 period stand at 43,059. This is a fall of 86 percent compared with 2018, and a fall of 93 percent vis-à-vis 2017 (611,354 arrivals).

These official figures bear out what Sheikh Ashiq, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), said earlier this month when he estimated a 90 percent decline in tourism and livelihoods linked to it. The KCCI has put the losses to Jammu and Kashmir’s economy since August at more than $2 billion.

Meanwhile, the government has steadfastly refused to acknowledge any economic hurt. Minister of Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel in November told Parliament that there was no data on the impact on tourism, concealing information provided to his ministry by officials in the Jammu and Kashmir administration about a 71 percent decline in tourism revenue.

In the valley, the losses translate into vanishing earnings, job losses and salary cuts. Khurshid Ahmad, an employee of a travel agency in Srinagar, says he has been working for half pay since August. Ahmad estimates that the agency has suffered losses of $280,000 in the past months. He adds, “I am just glad I have not been laid off … like so many others in this industry.”

Ramneek Kaur, who runs a hotel in Pahalgam, says that 2019 “has been the worst year in recent times.” In September and October, she says, things turned desperate and she had to lay off service staff because of poor business. “With so much political turmoil, and restrictions on the internet, not many tourists will risk coming here,” she says.

The government has announced the opening of internet services at 2G speeds in the region, but has restricted access to a “whitelist” of 300 websites. People in the valley report internet to be intermittent. The government continues to restrict most social media and messaging platforms.

Kaur worries about what this year will bring, saying, “I know of people who are selling their properties, and are defaulting on loans. We are all stuck, and even if we want to make any investment or business plans for 2020, there is so much uncertainty.”

Why Black Women Are Aging Alone

“I was probably one step away from being out here on the street.” 

Karen Jennings had hit rock bottom. Four years after the market crash of 2008, her life savings and investments were gone. She’d been forced to sell the house she’d co-owned and lived in with her aunt and mother, who by then had died. 

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Karen Jennings is an academic coach for The Carrington Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

Source Andrew Mangum for OZY

Jennings has always taken pride in holding steady jobs — jobs she has loved — like teaching and working at a parish. But in 2013, the Virginia native declared bankruptcy. As an only child who never married or had children, Jennings — now age 65 — had few relatives to lean on for support. “Friends could only help me … so far,” she says. “What family I had — they tried to help me every way they could, but they couldn’t.”

Jennings is part of a growing number of Black women who are aging alone. By 2060, 1 in 4 Americans will be 65 years or older, according to the Census Bureau. Gaps in the U.S. health care system mean that family members often need to provide medical, emotional and financial support to keep their elders alive. But research published in 2017 by American and Canadian sociologists shows that elder Black U.S. women face a “kin gap” — meaning they are without a partner, children, siblings or parents who are still alive — at rates higher than other demographics.

That gap’s also widening faster than for other communities — 2.2 percent of Black women and 1.7 percent of Black men were “kinless” (also called “elder orphans”) in 2015, compared to just over 1 percent of White women and less than 1 percent of White men. These figures are projected to hit over 7 percent for Black women and nearly 6 percent for Black men by 2060. That means 1.6 million Black women — the size of Philadelphia‘s population — will be living without kin by then.

These sweeping demographic shifts have been decades in the making, say experts. Rising rates of “gray divorce” of older couples in long-term marriages, an elevated divorce rate among same-race Black couples compared to White counterparts and lower marriage rates in the Black community are contributors. Family formation patterns among today’s older adults were shaped by mass incarceration in the 1980s and 1990s, when the prison population quadrupled, disproportionately impacting men of color. Meanwhile, the economic burden of aging alone is compounded by the wealth gap Black women have faced for decades due to systemic racism. 

I don’t want to be in an apartment dead for days and nobody knows me.

Karen Jennings

Growing economic independence over time has empowered women to leave unhappy relationships or avoid them altogether. But less robust kinship networks are also dismantling one of the pillars of support Black women could count upon, says Ashton Verdery, a sociology professor at Penn State who co-authored the research. “We didn’t bake that into our system,” Verdery says. “It’s incredibly expensive to age alone.”

It’s also riskier for one’s health. For those in same-race partnerships, a broadening “kin gap” coincides with a widening life expectancy gap between Black women and men — a disparity already larger than in other communities. Black women today outlive Black men 10 percentage points more than in 2011, on average, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But living longer can mean spending more time in a “kinless state,” says Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green University. 

“Gains in life expectancy don’t mean living more years disease-free,” says Brown, noting that many now spend old age managing chronic diseases like dementia, cancer and heart conditions. Beyond not having kin to help, loneliness in itself is a threat: Stronger social relationships reduce the risk of mortality by 50 percent, research shows.

Black Americans face more lifetime stress than White Americans because of racial inequality, discrimination and segregation — stress that also strains relationships, says Debra Umberson, co-director of the Aging and Longevity Center at the University of Texas, Austin. They’re more likely to prematurely lose close family members, including children, Umberson notes. “Stress, family disruption, grief and loss, and incarceration can create new economic strains and interfere with one’s ability to work.”

Those economic pressures can further tilt a playing field never level to begin with. An analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that single boomer women of color lost 38 percent of their wealth between 2006 and 2012 — four times the percentage loss for White women during those recession years. Boomers, like Jennings, lost that financial net just as they needed to prepare for old age expenses, from accessible home modifications to medical costs not covered by Medicare.

Meanwhile, their social support is shrinking too. Without kin, friendships and community relationships are crucial. For Jennings, now a part-time teacher, a tight-knit group of five female friends — along with school colleagues and her ironclad church community — have been a source of joy. When a friend died three years ago, she was devastated. “She was my rock,” says Jennings, who lost another close friend last September — a scene she stumbled upon herself. “Another friend and myself, we found her,” she recalls.

Physicians must be made aware that older adults could lack people at home to monitor their health, experts say. Another solution could involve facilitating tailored one-on-one care that doesn’t require unpaid family caregivers or exorbitant costs — almost like a wedding planner, says Verdery. But half of older adults living alone had incomes below the “Elder Index” — a measure of the income required by those who are 65 or older to continue living independently — in 2019, according to AARP research.

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Karen Jennings wears a personal safety device and posts often on Facebook to reassure friends that she is safe.

Source Andrew Mangum for OZY

Verdery points to a model France implemented after a deadly heat wave in 2003 killed thousands — including many seniors — where local governments keep a database of elderly residents and make regular phone call check-ins. “The challenge is to balance a sense of urgency with strategic efforts to put long-term, lasting solutions in place,” says Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation. She cites AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect Connected Communities program, which helps residents in senior living communities use voice-activated devices to stay in the loop about community activities.

Of course, some contributors to kinlessness, like gray divorce, aren’t all harmful. Increased female participation in the labor force has enabled older women to exit or avoid unsatisfying marriages more easily. That’s particularly important as life expectancy rises. “If you’re 65 years old and no longer happy in your marriage,” Brown says, two decades could be “a long time to spend with someone you’re not in love with anymore.”

Jennings, for one, dated throughout her adult life but didn’t want to marry after watching what her mother went through when she split up with Jennings’ father, who she says was an alcoholic. “I like to do things my own way, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I enjoy my solitude,” Jennings says. She cherishes the freedom to spend her time how she wants: working with students, playing the piano and using the Master’s degree in theology she earned at age 50 (“I kept a 3.95 average,” she says proudly). She hopes to someday travel to Quebec, though paying off her car is her priority this year.

Still, Jennings lives with lingering worry. She wears a personal safety device and posts often on Facebook to reassure her friends that she is safe. But her apartment complex is quiet, and she doesn’t know her neighbors well.

“That scares me more than anything,” says Jennings. “It frightens me that the older I get, I don’t want to be in an apartment dead for days and nobody knows me.”


Their Take on the Arab Spring Is Remaking Musical Theater

In the climax of We Live in Cairo, a two-act musical retelling of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the young activist Amir sings: “… and our country is screaming, Tahrir is now and now is here. We’ll wait an hour, a day, a month, a year. We have cracked the wall of fear and we’ll see it crumble.” The band breaks into a raucous vamp, as footage from Tahrir Square is projected on the tent that engulfs the theater. This stage, with only eight people, transforms into a scene of millions of Egyptians protesting to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak.

Brothers Daniel and Patrick Lazour are taking a daring approach to bring American audiences inside the Arab Spring uprising, from the visuals to using Egyptian instruments like the darabukka and the dud in the score.

They’re not so much trying to entertain you. Patrick describes their mission as bringing “a grassroots nature to theater and theatrical activism,” a style that has been lost with increasingly commercialized theater. After Cairo’s well-received extended run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the brothers hope to stage their own uprising on Broadway. They seek, Patrick says, to “pull the elastic of what theater is and bring pertinent issues that aren’t considered in the land of theater to the forefront of people’s minds.”

[A musical is] a weird experimentation that breeds a deeply emotional, personal experience in a room full of people.

Patrick Lazour

The siblings grew up in central Massachusetts, sons of a half-Lebanese American family. Their interest in musicals started young, inspired by the 2005 movie Chicago. They wrote their first musical in middle school for a competition. Although their 15-minute musical was disqualified because Patrick had transferred to another school, they still knew it worked when one of the moms in the audience said, “This is really cute.” “Cute” sent them on to write musicals at a community theater. Their biggest hit was Robynn McCree, an adaptation of Julius Caesar that focused on Irish politics during turn-of-the-century Boston.

Today they live together in New York, where they collaborate on their shows, write music and host “loose clothing parties,” where partygoers wear comfortable clothing so they can dance freely. 

According to Patrick, 28, they view a musical as “a weird experimentation that breeds a deeply emotional, personal experience in a room full of people.” Daniel, 25, points out that they want to “make the niche no longer niche” by creating community among audience members to discuss subject matter that is “dealt with behind closed doors.” In their partnership, Patrick takes charge of the playwriting and lyrics, while Daniel leads the music.

The inspiration for Cairo, which tells the story of six Egyptian university students whose lives become intertwined with the uprising and the troubling fallout that followed, was a photograph in The New York Times. Patrick saw it during a class at Boston College and was struck by the image of young revolutionaries gathered around a red laptop; the image is replicated in one of the central scenes of the show.

The musical earned them a Richard Rodgers Award, which provides funding for promising composers and playwrights to allow their work to be produced. For the Lazours, the 2016 award led to a residency at the American Repertory Theater, a Broadway training ground for Tony Award-winning shows like Pippin (2012) and Porgy and Bess (2011).

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‘We Live in Cairo’ had a well-received extended run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Source Evgenia Eliseeva

Cairo has an unusual score — both in terms of style and its use of traditional instruments. Madeline Smith, music director of Cairo, points out that going outside convention can feel like a “theater knock-off.” But “the Lazours have escaped this somehow [and] as a result, listeners from all backgrounds find their score both familiar and fresh,” she says. “Instead of a show that relies on pastiche or stereotype, they’ve created the sound of one globalized youth.”

It’s made a mark, particularly among those who experienced the uprising themselves. “The Lazours’ musical is so important because the event isn’t quite historical,” says Ganzeer, an Egyptian street artist and activist who goes by a single pseudonym. “Recent events are proving that the revolution is far from over. Such dramatizations are an instrumental tool in tipping Egypt’s fate from dictatorship to democracy because it’s able to provide a powerful yet condensed depiction of the series of events that led to ‘how we got here,’ so to speak, combatting the amount of propaganda being churned out by the Egyptian state.”

Ganzeer helped develop the musical, along with Harvard public policy professor Tarek Masoud, to make sure it was true to the experience on the ground in Cairo. After their residency in Cambridge, the brothers took the show to the American University in Cairo, breaking the normalized cultural silence about the uprising.

Painting such a realistic picture can sometimes lose the audience. Boston Globe theater critic Don Aucoin was dissatisfied with the second act of Cairo, writing: “Revolutionaries are often at a loss when a revolution is over; similarly, it becomes clear that the musical’s creators have not figured out a way to make post-revolution disillusionment dramatically compelling.”

Nonetheless, Aucoin’s critique plays directly into what the Lazours seek to create. They see their shows as an act of “awareness.” And their work always has an activist component. 

Last year the Lazours held concerts in New York and Boston to raise awareness of the conditions for artists and others under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. During these concerts, they invited revolutionaries to share their stories on stage. In January, they teamed up with musical activist Ramy Essam for a New York concert commemorating the nine-year anniversary of the Tahrir Square protests.

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The brothers backstage at a performance in Brooklyn with singer Ramy Essam and his girlfriend, Sanni Kahilainen.

As future stages for We Live in Cairo are still in the works, the Lazours have begun work on another musical, which focuses on the development of cancer research and patient care throughout history. Their newest project is a folk album entitled Freres, which unpacks their experiences in activism, queerness and masculinity. In all, the Lazours’ work is meant not only to affect others but also to change their own perspectives. “We become better people when we write about these very private issues,” Patrick says. The challenge extends to their audience as well.

The Oil Boom You Haven’t Heard Of

Picture the early days of an oil boom: What comes to mind? The parched plains of Texas, or the forested Pennsylvania towns near the site where U.S. oil was first drilled? Or maybe the Middle East, where the mid-century discovery of black gold in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries transformed them into monarchic petrostates. 

Perhaps it’s OK if you forgot Azerbaijan, whose first oil well was said to have been drilled more than a decade before American tycoon Edwin Drake dug for crude in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. It probably wasn’t much to see: Under Russian oversight, a clunky mechanical boring device pounded its way some 70 feet into the ground in the settlement of Bibi-Heybat, on the Absheron peninsula that juts out in the Black Sea.

But not long after, the Caspian region’s cultural and economic fabric was altered by one of history’s most dizzying oil rushes. It’s one that helped make Baku, the modern-day capital, a cosmopolitan hub whose urban landscape is marked by a rich mixture of European and Middle Eastern architectural influences. There, oil fueled the first truly global rush that attracted investors and workers from around the world. If you were among the international elite at the turn of the 20th century, “Baku was as common a name as New York or Paris,” says Ivan Rupnik, author of Baku: Oil and Urbanism.

By 1900, Azerbaijan was pumping half the world’s oil, exceeding the U.S. output.

The fact that oil was buried just beneath the Caucasian soil was never a secret. In fact, says historian Audrey Altstadt of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, word spread among medieval-era travelers to the region about the substance’s purported therapeutic qualities. But up until the 1830s, when the Turkic region was conquered by Imperial Russia, the oil seeping through the surface was simply dredged out by European traders on their way to Central Asia or India, then carried out in animal skins.

As Russia planted its stakes in the area, drawing up administrative regions and establishing the ruble as a local currency, proper exploration began. Early on, Altstadt says, the getting was so good that “they didn’t know what to do with all this oil,” which came gushing from the ground uncontrollably. 

Then came better technology, either borrowed from the West or modeled on Western exploration gear. By the 1870s, the Russian press was awash with mentions of the mad rush that was gripping Baku, Altstadt says, which by this point was an emerging southern bastion of the Russian Empire. “The attraction that everybody had to oil really led to incredible immigration to the city,” she says. Among them were two Nobel brothers, Ludvig and Robert, who set up the Branobel oil company in 1879. Ludvig and his sons soon took over operations, powering a local industry that would literally reach global proportions: By 1900, Azerbaijan was pumping half the world’s oil, exceeding the U.S. output. 

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World’s first oil well drilled at Baku, Azerbaijan, 1847.

The effects on Baku, already an established commercial outpost at the time, were significant. Besides boosting local development — one of the Russian Empire’s first-ever telephone systems was installed in Baku — the rush also brought a delightfully chaotic mixture of cultural influences to the city. Even today, depending on which block you’re standing on, and in which direction you’re looking, you might find architectural similarities to Iran, southern France, Vienna or Berlin, says Rupnik, an associate professor of architecture at Northeastern University. “It sort of defies simple categorization,” he says, “which is what makes it so interesting.”

It wasn’t only the urban landscape that changed. So dynamic was local society, OZY reported last year, that the era spawned the Muslim world’s first-ever democracy. Though short-lived, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918-20 reflected the cosmopolitan nature of budding capitalist society — one that was ultimately undone by the Soviet occupation that followed.

Nor was there only one oil boom in Azerbaijan, which spent decades as a Soviet republic before becoming an independent country in 1991. In reality, Rupnik says, it experienced three, each of which left an indelible mark on Baku and the rest of the country: the late 19th century; the Soviet era, when Azeri oil powered the communist superpower; and the 21st century, which saw the country reestablish itself on the world stage as a petrostate in its own right.

These days, oil-rich Azerbaijan is searching for ways to modernize its economy. That, analysts say, may prove tough, especially since the autocratic regime under President Ilham Aliyev hasn’t proven willing to do the same politically. But if history is any guide, it’s never too late for radical transformations.

Desperately Seeking an Oscar Date With Cybill Shepherd

“You still not watching TV these days?”

The phone crackled to life from some street corner where he was, to some street corner where I was answering.

A Boston transplant to Los Angeles whose head was healthily zapped by the change of locale, he (let’s call him Mark) would call me irregularly, always at the oddest hours. He was tall, talkative and very definitely, for L.A., edgy. He didn’t call often, but there was always ample cause to take his calls very seriously. And I did. See, he was like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption: He was a “make-things-happen” cat. And he did.

“Because if you did, you’d see my new friend there …”

I hadn’t had a TV to watch since the birth of my first kid. I didn’t want my kids to be able to look at TV before they could read, and I was actively resisting Hollywood messaging. But I wasn’t media-blind, and my obsession for film had set me up for this one. Who was the friend?

The Oscars were coming up. I had never been, and surely she, Cybill, needed to take me.

“I think you’d be more familiar with her mom,” he said and, without waiting for me to ask who that was, he added, “Cybill Shepherd.”

He said a bunch of other stuff, very little of which I remember because I was, sadly and not so surprisingly, sunk deep in cinematic revelry. The Last Picture Show, The Heartbreak Kid and, finally, Taxi Driver, a New York staple and a must-see (47 times is a not-so-liberal guesstimate) for first a disaffected teen and then the transplanted New Yorker that I am.

De Niro, Shepherd And Scorsese On Set

Director Martin Scorsese (right) directs Robert De Niro and Cybill Shepard in “Taxi Driver.”

Source Fotos International/Getty

You see, Cybill Shepherd never did the execrable television show Moonlighting. Not in my world. In my world, she was freeze-framed and delicately balanced in the rarefied space of being both sexy and sexual and not giving a shit about either because she was smart enough not to.

“You still there?”

Oh, was I. Shepherd studied with acting great Stella Adler, she was friends with Orson Welles, she refused to have sex with Bruce Willis and she was a self-admitted goddess-worshipping pagan. It wasn’t love I was in exactly, but it was the kind of affinity that made me surprised we didn’t already know each other. At least that’s what I was thinking that made me ask what I did then, almost in jest.

“She ask about me?”

“Ha! What? No! Are you crazy?” He laughed and then the humble-brag kill stroke. “We were in the hot tub and she was complaining about not having a date …” Now I think he was just hot tubbing with her daughter, but while skirting by the obvious answer to the crazy question I saw it all playing out in front of me. The Oscars were coming up, I had never been and surely she, Cybill, needed me to take her. Or her to take me. Or whatever.

You see, it’s this kind of thinking, visionary in the extreme — in that I was probably seeing things that weren’t there — that’s accompanied other bold and decisive turns of history.

“Ha-ha-ha-ha … you are crazy. And yet somehow also serious. But because it’s you, I’ll ask,” Mark said. He hung up without waiting for a response and there I was, planning what I was going to wear to the 82nd Academy Awards in an effusive burst of cart-before-the-horse-level thinking.

Inglourious Basterds‘ Christoph Waltz was nominated as a naughty Nazi. Kathryn Bigelow got a nom for The Hurt Locker. Stanley Tucci was there too, for The Lovely Bones, and I saw him all the time at the UFC. So yeah. I’d, like, have someone to talk to as well.

Or rather I’d have people to talk to while I chatted with Cybill. So she’d not think I was poorly placed in this community of luminaries and damned-near luminaries. And had I not also, actually, in real life chatted with Halle Berry, hung out with Billy Bob Thornton, insulted Samuel L. Jackson, got thrown out of Laurence Fishburne’s private cigar club, caught contact highs at Larry Flynt parties with LSD proselytizer Timothy Leary? I had. So showing up as Cybill’s arm candy, or she as mine? Not that nutty.

“You talk to her yet?” For sure, I had become that guy now. Your name flashes on the screen display and people sigh and roll their eyes and don’t answer their phones. But March was coming, and even though it was the end of December, people were making plans. I was making plans. I was leaving messages about the plans I was making.

“A friend of mine snuck into the Oscars just by showing up well-dressed and handsome with a halfway decent ride,” I said in another unanswered message. That could be me and Ms. Shepherd.

It took thirteen messages and a handful of emails before I finally heard from him. I had started to feel like Travis Bickle, Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver. The unrequited, lovestruck cabbie. Though, as I said, it wasn’t so much “love” as it was a deep-seated and not entirely logical belief that no one who had been wise enough to avoid sexual contact, as laid out in her autobiography, with Jack Nicholson should ever have to spend a night at the Oscars without someone who could take the possibly still-fuming Nicholson in a scuffle.

“So?”

“So, what?”

“What the hell you think I’ve been calling for?!”

And in a perfect moment of Hollywood jiu jitsu, this: “Clementine thought it was hilarious.”

Clementine was her daughter, and for a moment in time, ever so briefly, she was amused at the prospect of me taking her mother to the Oscars.

Baby steps.

There’s always next year.

Kansas City’s Sack-Master Is the Super Bowl X Factor

If you’re trying to figure out how the Kansas City Chiefs made their way to the Super Bowl, a good place to start would be early in the second quarter of their Nov. 18 game in Los Angeles, when defensive end Frank Clark barreled into the Chargers’ backfield.

The Chargers were at that point up 3-0, dominating in yardage and just 25 yards from the Chiefs’ end zone. Then Clark dipped his left shoulder to beat left tackle Trey Pipkins off the edge and swat Philip Rivers’ right arm, forcing a wounded duck of a pass that Derrick Nnadi intercepted. That play helped turn the game and jump-started the first of Kansas City’s eight straight wins. “It changed a lot,” Clark says. “That play happens, and then you start the momentum, the whole shift change.”

The spotlight in Sunday’s Super Bowl will rightly be on the majestic Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s potent offense. But the pivotal task of taking on San Francisco’s bruising rushing attack falls to the Chiefs’ defense, with the 26-year-old Clark as its beating, bombastic heart. In fact… 

The Chiefs are 8-1 this year when Clark records at least one sack.

“That’s a good number,” says Chiefs defensive line coach Brendan Daly, who was unaware of the stat.

Earlier in the season, Clark’s numbers were less impressive and so were the Chiefs’: Clark had just one sack through the first six games, and Kansas City was just 4-2. It was particularly disappointing when you consider the investment the Chiefs had made in Clark.

Because the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Clark combines energy and passion with excellent body control, quickness off the line and the ability to dip his body, the Chiefs paid handsomely for his services. They not only traded a 2019 first-round pick, a 2020 second-round pick and swapped 2019 third-round picks with the Seattle Seahawks for him, but they also rewarded him with a five-year, $104 million contract that included more than $60 million in guaranteed money.

We’ve got the most swag in the NFL.

Frank Clark, Kansas City defensive end

That made Clark’s slow start all the more concerning. “There’s a number of factors,” Daly says. “There’s an element of a new scheme and feeling his way through those type of things.”

There was also his health. A pinched nerve he suffered in his neck during a preseason practice kept getting worse. He tried to fight through it, but what started as a sore arm and neck led to a “fireball feeling” and numbness when he got hit. “I didn’t know what to do,” Clark says. “I had a lot of people even tell me that I shouldn’t play football for the rest of the season.”

NFL: JAN 29 Super Bowl LIV - Chiefs Press Conference

Clark speaks to the media prior to Super Bowl LIV. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Instead he didn’t play in weeks 8 and 9, working with the Chiefs’ training staff. “I took those two weeks off, and I came back stronger than ever,” he says. “I feel excellent, man. I feel like $100 million. … I feel 100 percent better.”

The same could be said for the Chiefs’ D. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, they were allowing an average of 21.4 points. Since Clark came back in Week 10, they have allowed just 17.6 points. “I truly believe that we’re one of the best defenses in the NFL — if not the best,” Clark says, “in the second part of the season.”

He wore sunglasses and a huge diamond necklace emblazoned with his daughter’s name, Phoenix, during Super Bowl Media Night in Miami. As an outspoken leader of the defense, Clark is known for his brashness. “We’ve got the most swag in the NFL,” he says. “We play with more championship swagger than anybody, man.”

But Clark backs up his talk. He made the Pro Bowl this year and had eight regular season sacks — then added four more in the playoffs. But he is more than just a pass rusher. “You can get enamored with sack numbers. He’s had a much bigger impact than just the sacks,” Daly says. “There’s certainly been some quarterback pressures, some really good run plays that he’s defended extremely well.”

Ahead of the AFC Championship Game, Clark said of rushing champion Derrick Henry: “I see no difficulty in tackling him.” Then he and his fellow Chiefs smothered the Tennessee star, holding Henry to just 69 rushing yards after he’d been putting up monster games for weeks.

It’s all part of a steadily improving run defense. After allowing 186, 180 and 192 rushing yards in successive games, the Chiefs clamped down late in the season. Now their opponent is the 49ers, who finished fourth in the NFL in offense and just finished bulldozing the Green Bay Packers for 285 yards on the ground in the NFC Championship Game.

The 49ers are well aware of what they’re up against. “I’m very familiar with Frank from his time in Seattle,” San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley told reporters. “He’s a hell of a player, a guy that plays with relentless effort the whole entire time. So he’s a huge challenge.”

Clark can’t wait. “I’m going to be past sizzling at that point, 400 degrees boiling,” he says. “And we’re going to be ready to go at it, baby.”

German Greens Are Embracing an Old Enemy: Big Business

When Germany’s Greens drafted their first party program 40 years ago, their contempt for business and finance was evident on almost every page.

The manifesto called for the breakup of large corporations into “manageable” units run by workers and demanded the creation of “economic and social councils” to control the private sector. Economic policy would be guided by a simple principle, the paper said: “We are against any kind of quantitative growth, especially when it is driven by pure greed for profit.”

Four decades and countless ideological splits later, the Greens have come to see things a little differently. Today — as opinion polls suggest the party is on track to return to power in Germany’s next government — its leaders insist they view business not as the enemy, but as a much-needed partner in the fight against climate change.

They [the Greens] now see business not as an enemy but as part of the solution.

Joachim Lang, BDI industry federation

Green speakers appear regularly at business meetings — party co-leader Robert Habeck was in Davos on Tuesday — while chief executives and industry lobbyists are welcome at party conferences. In 2018, the Green parliamentary group launched a business advisory council that features senior executives from the likes of BASF, Munich Re, Thyssenkrupp and Bosch. 

“We are not prepared to compromise on our political goal, especially when it comes to climate change,” says Katharina Dröge, a Green member of Parliament who serves as the party’s economic affairs spokeswoman. “But we are ready to talk about how best to achieve that goal. If industry comes up with a better instrument than the one we have in mind, we are ready to change course. That is new for the Greens.” 

Joachim Lang, the managing director of Germany’s powerful BDI industry federation, says business leaders have noticed a shift in tone.

“We have seen over the last year or two that the Greens’ interest in business has risen sharply, especially at the senior levels [of the party]. They now see business not as an enemy but as part of the solution, which is of course the way business sees itself. But there is also a greater readiness on the business side to talk to the Greens and be open to their ideas.” 

The Greens’ political advance suggests one reason for the rapprochement with business. The latest surveys suggest the party would win 21 percent to 23 percent of the vote if an election was held today, ahead of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and second only to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

One way or another, the Greens are likely to play a crucial role in the next German government — either as a strong partner of the CDU or leading a left-wing alliance with the weakened SDP and the far-left Die Linke. 

“A lot of companies see that the chance of us being in government is growing,” says Dröge. “What we are telling business leaders is, ‘We want to govern.’ And if we are in government, we want to implement our policies quickly. So let’s have the debate about these policies now.” 

It helps that climate change, the Greens’ signature policy, has become a corporate priority. German utilities such as RWE and Eon, once prime targets for environmental campaigners because of their reliance on coal and nuclear energy, have shifted resources and attention to renewables. The influential BDEW federation of energy companies is headed by a former Green politician. On some policy issues, notably the campaign to expand onshore wind farms, the Greens and Germany’s energy industry are shoulder to shoulder. 

Then there is generational change. “When we sit together with people from industry, they tell us that their kids, too, go to the Fridays for Future demonstrations,” says Dieter Janacek, another Green MP and the party’s industrial spokesman. “The debate has really changed. There is a consensus now that we have to fight climate change, but also that we must have a positive economic story to tell.” 

Greens and German business federations are also closely aligned on the need for a sharp rise in public investment. All want the government to abandon its commitment to balanced budgets and raise spending to stimulate the economy and improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure. Berlin’s run of record budgetary surpluses, Dröge says, is “macroeconomic nonsense.” 

If the Greens do end up in government next year, they will come armed with ample executive experience. The party is in ruling coalitions in 11 of Germany’s 16 federal states. In Baden-Württemberg, home to Daimler, Porsche and Bosch but also a traditional Green stronghold, they have led the government for the past nine years. 

“There was a lot of uncertainty on the business side when the Greens came into government in 2011. But after a while that gave way to relief,” says Peer-Michael Dick, the director of the Baden-Württemberg employers’ federation. “It turned out that the government had competent ministers who were ready to listen. They work hard and you can trust their word.”

He adds: “But you cannot compare the Greens in Baden-Württemberg with the Greens in Berlin. At the federal level, the party is much more to the left.”

The BDI’s Lang, too, sounds a note of caution. “There are still essential areas of policy where business and the Greens have considerable differences, for example on tax policy or consumer protection,” he said. “Despite the recent rapprochement, this will be a long road.”