Amid a struggling global economy, this uncertain political age and a global pandemic, what we need are solutions. Need some peace in which to conduct your work? We’ve got closet offices. Struggling with inhibitions? Listen to what a nude comedian has to say about that. While you’re at it, fix your workplace culture by “killing it off” and writing its obituary. Today’s Sunday Magazine also has ideas on how to correct environmental wrongs, with cars racing against climate change and scientists saving sharks by battling fish and chips. So put on your tool belt and get ready to do some repairs — right into a new year that can’t come fast enough.
Nick Fouriezos, Senior Reporter
1. Green Demons
These race cars have more than a need for speed. They’re also saving the planet. Companies like Barcelona-based QEV Technologies are not just winning electric racing competitions like the Formula E championship — their innovations are also being used to develop big transportation projects, like a $17 million euro investment from the European Investment Bank in electric buses for developing nations. Higher-voltage engines, once confined to race cars, are now evolving “from race to road” in high-end brands like the Audi e-tron. And they are taking a cue from their fossil fuel predecessors, where motorsports often were the testing ground for new consumer market innovations.
In South Africa, Cape Town’s False Bay used to be a treat for shark watchers — the place to see great whites, with more than 10,000 recorded shark predations between 1996 and 2018. But last year, not a single instance was documented, putting a $60 million local tourism industry at risk. Government scientists have a culprit: orcas. But other researchers suspect the disappearing act has more to do with overfishing of their smaller cousins that commonly serve as shark nip. The sharks’ decline began with a peak in catches of smooth hound and soupfin sharks, species that great whites love to munch on. The problem? Humans love to eat them too, with Australia imports of these fish and chip favorites surging. So far, the South African government is loath to step up. But if it doesn’t soon, the credits may just roll on South Africa’s shark-sighting industry: Fin.
Ironically, President Trump’s bombast (and the riotous support he enjoys from his supporters) may serve as valuable arrows in President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy quiver once he takes office in January. From China to Iran to Venezuela, Biden will confront a range of American adversaries eager to return to negotiations with the U.S. By offering some concessions from Trump’s positions, Biden can demand a change in behavior from Beijing, Tehran and Caracas. Even with allies like the EU and NATO, Biden can — simply by not being Trump — secure better deals for America while also restoring old partnerships critical to U.S. interests. Central to Biden’s negotiating position will be the lurking threat that if these countries don’t play ball and end up weakening him, it could facilitate a return to power for Trumpism in America.
Speaking of foreign policy, Biden — and the world — is closely watching South Africa, where an internal leadership struggle has emerged. President Cyril Ramaphosa is targeting his own ANC party with a corruption charge against Ace Magashule, the nation’s second-most powerful leader. Ramaphosa claims the goal is to bring greater transparency — and experts agree that, given a host of corruption scandals, a reformer mindset is needed. But skeptical political watchers wonder if this is just a naked power grab by Ramaphosa against his biggest political opponent. Complicating things further? Magashule does have a bit of a dirty reputation, with the book Gangster State comparing him to a Mafia don. This struggle between the ANC’s top two leaders could shape the future of South Africa’s leading party — and settle the direction of the country itself.
Two years ago, Mark Robinson was a furniture factory worker, but now he’s the lieutenant governor-elect of North Carolina. The first-time politician’s wild path into politics began with a viral video of the conservative Black man passionately defending gun owners at a city council meeting in Greensboro. The 52-year-old’s story of going from foster care and deep poverty to blue-collar success appealed to voters, who selected Robinson despite also reelecting Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to the top job. Now, Robinson will be tasked with working across the aisle to get things done, which could be particularly challenging given earlier offensive comments about LGBT people, among other things, on social media. However, Robinson insists he is sincere in his desire to represent all North Carolinians, and the history lover is seizing his opportunity to make history himself as the Tar Heel State’s first Black lieutenant governor.
While Biden won the presidency, how productive he can be will depend largely on the outcome of two runoff Senate races in Georgia in early January. A Democratic Senate would allow Biden to quickly (and effectively) pass legislation pertaining to voting, police brutality, coronavirus relief, stimulus aid and much more. But a Republican Senate, with the famously hardball Cocaine Mitch at the helm? Not so much. So the nation turns its head toward Georgia, the state that made headlines for turning blue but is still full of conservative-leaning voters. Many of them are in the suburbs of Atlanta, that “City Too Busy to Hate” — and they may have despised Trump but may not be so opposed to more traditional, business-oriented Republicans like David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
The worst incident of election violence in American history happened a century ago on Election Day, 1920, in the town of Ocoee, Florida. The victims were hundreds of Black residents, and the perpetrators were their white neighbors. And the reason was that Black citizens had gone to the polls and tried to vote. OZY offers a three-part podcast that delves into the family stories of this horrific tragedy.
Going to the store and blindly choosing a wine because you’re charmed by the label feels antiquated now, thanks to our friends at Bright Cellars. These MIT grads created a custom algorithm that finds the perfect wine for you. Just take their palate quiz and you’ll get wine selected just for you delivered to your doorstep. Sign up now to get $45 off your first order of 6 wines.
In Ghana, there’s a farmer. In Paris, there’s an investor who’ll finance seed, fertilizer, machinery and labor. That’s where Desmond Koney’s Complete Farmer comes in: His “crowdfarming” platform connects farmers, investors and buyers, and the eventual crops — from soybeans to ginger to tigernuts — get shipped around the world. It’s a big boost for Koney, a “city boy” who “failed woefully” at running his own farm. Now he aims to take his “Airbnb land model” global.
It began as a getaway for Robbie Friedman. Working from home while selling his startup, the entrepreneur couldn’t take calls in his crowded home in Columbus, Ohio — so he built a garden shed as a work cave. Envious neighbors started calling, and soon Friedman had another lucrative business: selling the ootBox, a deliverable workplace smaller than a parking space. And he wasn’t the only one looking for a small, solitary space. In a recent survey conducted by collaborative videoconference company Owl Labs, 15 percent of remote employees reported that they almost always work in their closet. Pandemic or not, it may be tough to slam the door on this trend.
Nothing sobers you like a near-death experience. That’s what happened when Alfred Nobel, the Swedish dynamite inventor and arms manufacturer, was mistakenly pronounced dead by a French newspaper. Reading his own obituary, which declared that the “merchant of death is dead,” caused him to rethink his legacy, leading to his creation of the Nobel Prizes celebrating humanity’s achievements. Similarly, some efficiency gurus say companies and organizations struggling to build a healthy culture would do well to confront their demons before they suffer an untimely death. What better way than to ask their employees, those who know those demons — and angels — best, to write an obituary? At best, the process can clarify a company’s purpose and direct it toward a more meaningful future.
While the title may feel a bit too real during COVID, try out this British film and enjoy a privilege denied to Northern Irelanders when it was first released in 1936. It was originally banned by authorities as Irish Republican propaganda. A love story set against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence, the film opens with an Irish Republican Army ambush of a police convoy carrying two of their captured members, and was released in America as River of Unrest.
Like Barbra Streisand before her, Rekha Shankar just wants her humor to be taken seriously. But that’s difficult, considering she’s the 20-time Punderdome 3000 champ. Yep, puns, and lots of them. Still, despite disappointing her parents by riffing on bowel movements rather than becoming a doctor, the Indian American is racking up credits, from Netflix’s Magic for Humans, which premiers next year, to Kal Penn Approves This Message and an ensemble role in another forthcoming sketch show, Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun. Set to perform in the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal as part of a “New Faces” showcase next summer, Shankar is defying expectations, bringing comedy’s so-called lowest form of humor to new heights.
There are a lot of “how to” lists on the internet. But what the world really needs? More “how to suck less” lists. In this one, Danni Zamudio talks about the tricks of the trade as a comedian who maybe, sometimes, totally, also strips during her shows — teaching you how you, too, can make people laugh while in the nude (and not for the, ahem, usual reasons they laugh at you in the nude). Her first tip: Find something that pains you. Seems easy enough, and revealing.
To celebrate the return of The Carlos Watson Show, OZY’s partnering with Hulu to bring you a dose of reality with some of the most important cultural figures of our time telling the untold struggle behind their success. Find out why the LA Times calls Defining Moments With OZY “the most important show of 2020.” In Episode 7, learn about the talent, ambition, suffering and luck that made John Legend.