Category Archives: Quotes

The NFL Has Pimped Its Players for Too Long

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

In 1967, a retired pimp named Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck published a memoir about the sex trade called Pimp: The Story of My Life. While many American readers couldn’t see past the flashy clothes and immorality, the book’s revelations about the business of pimping have had wider implications. In The Baffler, Shawn Hamilton sees many disturbing parallels between professional football and the pimp game.

Football players and viewers are experiencing what can only be called an awakening. Using Slim’s story, Hamilton frames the NFL’s treatment of its players, and the players’ dehumanized status in the American economy, to that of sex workers to and their uncaring bosses. Players are physically groomed to work “a track” in “the game” with little to no hope of ever enjoying a fruitful retirement after their usefulness has expired. Players, like sex workers, are property, and owners protect their own long-term interests by colluding with each other. Worse yet, as NFL players take a knee, it’s clear that most owners refuse to recognize their players’ identity as black men in America, so power, privilege, and racism all play into the game. Few viewers want to see the politics that goes into their recreational viewing, so a lot of psychological grooming and PR is required to maintain the NFL’s pimp game. Now that players like Colin Kaepernick have helped further reveal the truth, American consumers have to make important moral decisions about whether they want to support this business’ wealthy owners, the pimps, or support the players who, like us, are cogs in an exploitive machine.

The league has its own fantasies to peddle. Its hustle is rooted in subtlety, in finding sweet spots that profit from, yet also transcend the zeitgeist. The league needs fans who will argue that they don’t want politics in the game—after their taxpayer dollars have been funneled into one stadium boondoggle after another. The league also needs fans who will buy a league jersey to support Colin Kaepernick, despite the suspicion that, as Kaepernick’s suit against the NFL claims, the team owners are blackballing him.

The lords of the NFL need a sports media propaganda arm that will recycle stories on the league’s behalf—stories in which coaches are cast as missionary workers going into the wilds of the inner-city and saving wayward young men by teaching them to play football; in which owners are credited with revitalizing communities after having demanded hundreds of millions in subsidies from those same communities; and in which the league is credited with patriotism for upholding the noble traditions of America’s game despite demanding millions of dollars from the Department of Defense in exchange for patriotic displays.

This is a delicate hustle that requires that owners speak in one voice—and pimp with an undeviating shared purpose. Too much attention to any one side of the equation ruins it: an open alliance with the Trumpites sends one message and creates problems; openly supporting the players sends another.

So, what are pimps to do?

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Server, Busser, Manager, Spy: Inside the High-Stakes World of Restaurant Oppo Research

With the rise of crowdsourced restaurant reviews on Yelp and its many peers, you’d think old-school, print-media critics would be a thing of the past by now. You’d think wrong: as Jessica Sidman shows in her Washingtonian story, restaurant owners go to incredible lengths to identify prominent critics like the Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema, in the hopes of manufacturing a flawless, multiple-star-worthy experience. A lot of the energy is spent preemptively, creating and updating dossiers with blurred photos of critics and detailed notes about their culinary (and other) quirks. But there’s also a field-level aspect to these operations — the intricate choreography that kicks into gear as soon as Sietsema or another top critic enters the house.

To communicate about a critic, some restaurants have their own code words. One Italian joint called Sietsema “Neapolitan,” because it didn’t sound too weird to say out loud in the open kitchen. Others, including the kitchens of Fabio Trabocchi, refer to Sietsema as “Papa Bear.”

“I heard ‘Papa Bear in the house,’ and it’s like a fire drill,” says a sous chef for one of Ashok Bajaj’s restaurants, which include Rasika and Bibiana. The sous chef was in the middle of butchering 150 pounds of salmon for a large banquet that night, but when the alert came in, sous chefs kicked line cooks off their stations and began preparing Sietsema’s lunch themselves. (In other kitchens, the executive chef might take over complete prep of a dish. That way, only one person is to blame if the review is terrible.) “It is a huge wrench in the operation, because what you’re basically doing is interrupting the regular flow of service to stop and concentrate on one table and the other tables surrounding.”

With the executive chef orchestrating, the sous chefs prepared triplicates of every component of every dish. Nerves, as always, ran high. “I’ve burned more shit trying to cook something perfect for Tom Sietsema than I ever would have if I didn’t know that he was there,” the sous chef says.

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Treating Drug Epidemics Requires More Than Changes in Law

AP Photo/David Goldman

For a small country, Portugal has a lot of scientific and anecdotal data to offer the world about protecting people from substance abuse. At The Guardian, Susana Ferreira spends time in Portugal’s north and south, examining the sweeping shift from a standard punitive approach to drug use to one focused on harm-reduction. Since decriminalizing drug possession and consumption in 2001, the country has staved off a massive drug epidemic and its associated issues, from HIV to overflowing prisons. Ferreira examines the subtle cultural shifts that underpin Portugal’s success: no longer thinking of soft versus hard drugs, no longer looking at drug users as ‘junkies,’ but as ‘people with addiction disorders.’ Success requires social services and as well as new ways of thinking, which are things the U.S. has long struggled with, but should strongly reconsider as we suffer our own opioid epidemic.

“These social movements take time,” Goulão told me. “The fact that this happened across the board in a conservative society such as ours had some impact.” If the heroin epidemic had affected only Portugal’s lower classes or racialised minorities, and not the middle or upper classes, he doubts the conversation around drugs, addiction and harm reduction would have taken shape in the same way. “There was a point whenyou could not find a single Portuguese family that wasn’t affected. Every family had their addict, or addicts. This was universal in a way that the society felt: ‘We have to do something.’”

Portugal’s policy rests on three pillars: one, that there’s no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individual’s unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.

“The national policy is to treat each individual differently,” Goulão told me. “The secret is for us to be present.”

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The Complicated Politics of Rescue and Recovery

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

As traffic fled Houston before Hurricane Harvey, a line of trucks towing small, flat-bottomed boats made their way into the city. The Cajun Navy would save hundreds of lives from flooded neighborhoods, and instead of rejecting their help, the government embraced it, entrusting much of the evacuation to this rag-tag band of individuals, preferring them over the Red Cross, and in some cases, the National Guard.

Miriam Markowitz followed the Cajun Navy for GQ in the days after the hurricane, when it became clear that the resources needed simply weren’t adequate. The Navy itself is small but organized. Begun in the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, it’s helped residents of Louisiana with almost yearly flooding, and travels to nearby states for help during big storms or hurricanes. It’s the kind of help that comes in the moment, and the Navy uses a walkie-talkie app to dispatch boats to specific locations. Even local Louisiana politicians are on board with the independent rescue squad:

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A Pact Between You, God, and the Dance Floor

Daniel Arnold / Topic

Bar and bat mitzvahs celebrate a time when Jewish boys and girls reach the age to observe Jewish law. These sacred celebrations can also be wildly expensive, even competitive, with families trying to make their kid’s event memorable enough to stand out during a season of bar/bat mitzvahs. Dancing is always part of the program, and getting people to dance, and dance wildly, can require some external direction. For Topic, Jen Doll spent a month attending bar and bat mitzvahs to examine the professionals who are called “party motivators.”

Doll attended celebrations with a few different motivators to see how they work across the range of Jewish denominations. Motivators are not only excellent dancers, they engage the audience and direct people to play games, and they keep the party going. Although some like Meir Kay are independent operators, some companies provide fancy sound systems and up to eight motivators. It’s a lucrative gig, but it’s not just a job any dancer can do. Motivating is a skill that requires natural charisma and energy, which you either have or you don’t.

I’m pulled into the circle and dance with them, my hair in my face, feeling sweaty and slightly silly but also exuberant and welcomed by the crowd of strangers. On the other side of the mechitza, Kay has fashioned a jump rope with black napkins and is using it as a dance prop. Leaving the circle, I hang out at the back of the room to watch him cycle through a range of moves, his feet in black Nike high tops, tirelessly moving to the beat as he makes his way around the men’s side of the party. He leads line dances and games like Coke and Pepsi, a bar mitzvah staple that involves running back and forth across the room depending on whether “Coke” or “Pepsi” is called. He passes out hats and sunglasses and glow sticks in neon colors, items he’s brought along to the event in a large box. Tzvi Hersh’s dad has put on a pair of hot pink sunglasses and is grooving to the music, a huge smile on his face. Men are being lifted onto other men’s shoulders; boys pose with Kay for photos to post on Instagram and ask for his autograph. He is a celebrity, the most popular person at the party—at least, if you don’t count the bar mitzvah boy. And maybe even if you do.

When we leave at around 10:30, Kay is still dancing wildly. “I hope I could always do this, even if I’m a bazillionaire,” he’d told me on the phone. “After every night I’m sweaty and exhausted. Once you get to the later years, can you keep up with the kids? I’m gonna ride the wave as long as I can.”

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Restoring Neon City

Photo by Philip Kromer CC-BY-SA 2.0

At Curbed, Stephie Grob Plante profiles the artists of Austin, Texas who create new neon signs and restore old signs to their former, glowing glory.

Sharon and Greg list signs of theirs that are gone like they’re listing names of the long dead. They’ve been making signs in Austin for three decades, and many of the businesses they’ve served have shuttered. South Congress Mexican restaurant Manuel’s was Sharon’s first neon sign, however, and it’s alive and kicking. “Same neon, still working, and it’s over 30 years old.”

The process of restoring the State Theater’s 1935 marquee blade was particularly intensive, say the Keshishians. For starters, the original neon letters were uranium, which isn’t made anymore for safety reasons. Greg and his team removed all remnants of the old neon; completely gutted the inside of the porcelain enamel sign, including the electrical wiring and neon transformers; shoved out 79 years’ worth of pigeon poop; replaced the electrical components; made the majority of the neon from scratch; and polished the porcelain enamel.

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Black Women’s Maternal Mortality Rates in the US are Staggeringly High

Pregnant African American mother holding her stomach

As part of ProPublica and NPR’s series on maternal care in the U.S., Nina Martin and Renee Montagne tell the devastating story of Shalon Irving, a vibrant 36-year-old epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who died three weeks after the birth of her daughter earlier this year. Irving was educated, insured, and well-supported by family and friends; still, she became a casualty of missed opportunities and neglect by healthcare providers. The story explores how a constellation of factors — not least of all bias in the healthcare system and the chronic stress of living with racism — combine so that black women are more than two times more likely than white women to die of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

By April 2016, Shalon had given up. She had a new boyfriend and she was on her way to Puerto Rico to help with the CDC’S Zika response, working to prevent the spread of the virus to expectant mothers and their unborn babies. There she discovered she’d gotten pregnant by accident. Her excitement was tempered by fear that the baby might have contracted Zika, which can cause microcephaly and other birth defects. But a barrage of medical tests confirmed all was well.

More good news: A few weeks later Pryor [Shalon’s close friend] learned she was pregnant, too. “All right,” she told Shalon, “let’s finally go after our rainbows and unicorns! Because for so long it was just dark clouds and rain.”

In reality, Shalon’s many risk factors — including her clotting disorder, her fibroid surgery, the 36 years of wear and tear on her telomeres, her weight — boded a challenging nine months. She also had a history of high blood pressure, though it was now under control without medication. “If I was the doctor taking care of her, I’d be like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a tough one,’” her OB-GYN friend Raegan McDonald-Mosley said.

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Things People Don’t Want Their Kids to Do

An obviously bored boy in a balcony box in 1948
Bert Hardy / Picture Post / Getty Images

At The Atlantic, Helaine Olen interviews philosopher Martha Nussbaum and law professor Saul Levmore about their new book, Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations About Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, & Regret. Their conversation takes on a number of taboo financial subjects, including some real head-scratchers about wealth like how “we need to remember that not all children have rich parents.”

The burden of managing wealth can apparently inspire some salty debates. You’d think, for example, that most parents would want their kids to volunteer, but if those children historically weren’t welcome in the workplace, Nussbaum says, “their time is really at a premium.” You might like to “imagine that you’re making the world a better place” while you’re alive, Levmore says, but “in a funny way, it’s easier to do that when you’re dead.”

You could give your kid some money before you die, but then you might have to “watch your kid not go to work every day, or watch your kid misuse the money,” or watch your kid audition for opera training:

Nussbaum: Why do I give to the Lyric Opera and not so much to other opera companies? It’s mostly gratitude for the involvement and the performances that I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Levmore: I do the same, but I don’t like it. I wish they’d just raise prices. I would much prefer that they just charge the price to keep it alive and if they couldn’t afford it, then things would close down or there’d be fewer of them. But I’m sure Martha and I disagree about this.

Nussbaum: Well, I disagree because I think the art form is really wonderful and very important and right now prices are already so high that young people are discouraged. So I want, really, to lower the prices.

Levmore: Nothing stops the opera from subsidizing young people if it’s a good investment. I don’t really see why taxpayers as a whole should be supporting the opera.

Nussbaum: They do have programs, not only to include new audiences but to train young singers. But that’s one of the things the philanthropy supports. And maybe that’s not ideal, but…

Levmore: No, I don’t think it’s ideal. You know a lot of these young singers are children of wealthy people.

Nussbaum: Many trained there are not the children of wealthy people. They win a nationwide audition in which five people win out of about 10,000 that initially complete.

Levmore: You should look at the numbers of where these people come from. Most poor people are immigrant families who wouldn’t want their kids training to become opera singers. It’s not a reliable source of income.

Nussbaum: Most people don’t want their kids to do lots of things. But they do it.

Levmore: They do? Not in my family!

Nussbaum: Ha! Well, I mean, look at my daughter: She’s working for animal rights, making a very, very low income.

Levmore: Yeah, she comes from a comfortable family.

Nussbaum: But what I’m saying is that artists and singers are drawn from all walks of life. Typically, they get their start when they’re in some undergraduate program and they learn that they have this wonderful talent. And then they might come from any kind of income class.

Levmore: Well, they’re wealthy enough to go to college.

Nussbaum: But I mean the state universities.

Olen: I want to jump in—you’re never going to agree on this, right? Let’s talk about why people often give more to charity as they get older.

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The Fabric of History

rows of colorful shirts hanging in a closet. six leather handbags sit on a shelf above.
Photo by Annelyse.be via Flickr (CC BY-NC SA 2.0)

Novelist Kirsten Tranter is cleaning out her closet, and wrote about it for Avidly. But how does the Marie Kondo method work for a “depressive personality…for whom joy is often an elusive feeling”? Rather than joy, she finds herself drawn to clothing that sparks affect — clothing that reminds her of who she is, what she’s experienced, and that life will go on.

I have moved a lot, both within Sydney and then overseas, back and forth multiple times between Australia and the US as I travelled for graduate school and then for my husband’s fieldwork and then for jobs, and other jobs, and sabbaticals, and other jobs. Clothes are relatively easy to pack and transport, less breakable than other objects, and perhaps that is why I have held on to so many of them; they provide a line of continuity between these multiple places and selves. They remind me who I am, where I have come from, where I have been, for better or worse. On the days the black dog visits and brings down that transparent wall of grey between myself and the distant land of the living where people walk around feeling things, where things matter, these belongings with history — any kind of history — remind me that life has been lived and felt, that maybe it will be again.

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The Soundtrack to Healing on the Road to Recovery

(Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

After his son died of a heart condition at age 5, James G. Robinson planned a month-long road trip across America to help his family begin to heal. What they discovered was that despite all the amazing monuments and curiosities America has to offer, the best times were spent in the car as a family, enraptured by Harry Potter audio books, quintessential sing-along road trip songs, and a playlist curated for each state.

After all, part of this trip was figuring out how to be together — as a family of four (rather than five), each of us wrestling with grief in their own way.

I’d brought along a secret weapon: the complete, unabridged “Harry Potter,” read by Jim Dale, spanning 117 hours over 99 CDs.

It was probably the most useful item we brought on the entire trip. We got through the first four books, 50 hours in all (leaving another 67 for our next trip). Our older son had read them already, but as the miles flew by he was just as rapt as the rest of us. The only problem: if we stopped before a chapter ended, the boys would refuse to leave the car, begging us to turn it back on by crying “Hawwy Potttoooo!” in mock baby voices.

I’d also created some Spotify playlists to keep us company, including an assortment of energetic road songs: The Muppets’ “Moving Right Along,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” Waylon Jennings’ “The Dukes of Hazzard Theme,” and Johnny Cash singing “I’ve Been Everywhere.” We played this every time we set out, and by the end of the trip, we were all singing it together; yelling extra loud each time Cash mentioned a place we’d visited, too.

To ease the pain, we decided to collect stones wherever we went, inscribing each with the place and date and setting it aside in a small canvas bag. When our son’s tombstone was finally set, we’d bring the bag to the cemetery and stack them above his grave, according to Jewish tradition.

The ritual of finding stones helped us evoke his memory and acknowledge his absence. By the time we returned home, we’d collected 12 pounds of assorted rocks and pebbles, as well as a crab shell and broken sand dollar that the boys found on the beach in South Carolina.

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