Sense and Nonsense

A Futbol Manager’s Philosophy: Jürgen Klopp Channeling His Inner Arsenal

Posted on July 30, 2016

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Arsène Wenger comes in for a lot of criticism about his stinginess. “It’s not even his money,” his critics say as they chastise him again and again for refusing to spend incredible sums of money for the next big thing, the next savior for the team.

But it has always seemed apparent to me that this debate simply indicated a difference in managing philosophy, itself suggesting a profound difference in worldview. Put simply, for Wenger, it is not the result; it is the journey. It is not winning at all costs, but how you win. It is not about a big payday or payoff, but how you got there. Not about achievement, whatever it is, but the life you lead.

Seems that Wenger is hardly along, as words this week by Jürgen Klopp make clear. In quickly commenting on Manchester United’s typically ostentatious purchase of a £100million Paul Pogba, he vindicated Wenger, and he proved that he really should be an Arsenal manager.

Other clubs can go out and spend more money and collect top players.

Do I have to do it differently to that? Actually, I want to do it differently. I would even do it differently if I could spend that money, yes. But if you bring one player in for £100million or whatever, and he gets injured, then it all goes through the chimney.

I want a special team spirit – I don’t feel it is necessary, I want it.

You can’t say at the end, ‘Only 11 best players will play together and let’s see what happens.’ The day that this is football, I’m not in a job anymore. Because the game is about playing together.

That is why somebody invented passes — so these players can play together. It’s not about running with the ball because you can do it all the time.

That is how everybody in football understands it. You always want to have the best, but  building the group is not my unique idea, it is necessary to be successful in football.

If you all swim in the same pool, the pool is too small – you all go for the same players.

There are a lot of players outside that pool — good players on to the next step in their career. We try to find them. The best player of the last season is good to know, but it is more interesting trying to find out who will be the best one next year.

If you knew it now, that would be a really cool transfer! It would be much cheaper too. That is what we work for.

It is not about being creative because creative is cool or something, it is about finding the players who can make the next step with us.

If I spend money, it is because I am trying to build a team, a real team. Barcelona did it. You can win championships, you can win titles, but there is a manner in which you want it.

Talking about the seven players he has brought in this season, Klopp said–

We know more about them than they can imagine.

We had a long trip with scouting so when you go and talk to the player you have already scanned him.

The most important thing is how they can play football: talent, skill, potential but then character is very important. Could we gather all the information on the character side? No.

I met all of them before we made the transfer and then it is about feeling the person behind the player. We tried to do our best and at this moment we feel quite confident it has worked.

The only chance to come into the team or stay in the team is about performing and doing the job,’ he said.

It doesn’t mean showing your best but showing your best for the team.

‘Sometimes it is the same, your best is best for the team but if you only show your best it cannot be the best for the team.

There is a lot of desire and good attitude and the working mentality is good.

We decided to push ourselves from the inside so we brought only quality in, we had only quality, kept only quality and gave (away) quality on loan or sold.

Push ourselves from the inside; only quality brought in; we had quality. Close your eyes, and you would think it was Wenger talking. Now, Wenger would never bring in seven players at once, but Klopp can be forgiven because the just got to Liverpool. My hope is that Jürgen takes over for Arsène, which will be in about four years, after Arsène’s next contract extension. Wishful thinking I’m sure because Klopp does not strike me as a manager who easily moves between League rivals.

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Sometimes People Have To Understand We Are Human Beings

Posted on August 12, 2015

Following football passionately as I have recently, it is somewhat unsettling to see the venomous, fickle criticism leveled at players by pundits and fans alike. People who are unlikely to have the heart, dedication and perseverance to walk in the shoes of their targets. It is so much easier to write, or talk, than to do. What is most remarkable is that the criticism, often hyperbolic, is quite unfair and mean-spirited, it’s central purpose to sell papers, or advertising, or a brand. It’s the time we live in.

Yaya Touré really seemed to suffer an extraordinarily bad year last season in this regard. Mario Ballotelli was far worse, and maybe one day I will write more about that, but today, I’ll pass on some words of insight and wisdom about footballing and life that Yaya said in an interview a day or so ago that you might want to hold on to.

I think last season people are talking all the time. For me I’m quite surprised. Last season was not the best season for us, but second in the table I think is not bad at all.

There’s been a lot of criticism about me but it’s not been a bad season. Twelve goals and I won the Copa for my country; it’s not bad at all. I know what I want, I know what I have to do, I don’t care what people are saying about me.

I’m not back – I’m always there. People have to understand football is not talking about one player, it’s about the team. The team did a massive job [against West Bromwich], we played very well, against a difficult side. West Brom have a good manager, good players and experience in the Premier League and the team played brilliantly. Full credit to the team.

Sometimes people have to understand we are human beings. Things can go wrong [even] when you are fully focused in your job, you love your job and want to win all the time. My job is to make people happy and myself happy as well.

Sometimes people criticise you unfairly. But we don’t care what they say. I love my job, I love playing football and I don’t worry about what people are saying about me.

Player of the Season: Francis Coquelin

Posted on June 3, 2015

Arsenal would be a disaster without Alexis Sanchez. He runs and runs and runs, as if he has something to prove. If all the Arsenal players had the heart and work rate of Alexis, the team would be invincible. Özil, after a second major injury in as many years, decided that he had to grow up a bit and came back a completely different player. He’s put on heft, and sometimes you have to look closely to confirm that it’s him you see chasing down the ball. Özil realized that he had to play the game in a different, more committed way if he was going to be successful. No room for prima donnas in the EPL. And this has made all the world of difference.

But none of this would have changed anything for Arsenal’s dismal fortunes but for Francis Coquelin. He has stopped the goals, virtually single-handily. Springing up everywhere, and anywhere, he intervenes in the other teams’ inchoate attempts to build, intercepting passes, tackling holding and attacking midfielders alike, all the while stunting threats before they materialize, and he has all by himself kept the Arsenal in games and propelled them to the front of the league. Without his intervention, without his omnipresent interference, countless, seemingly innocuous movements forward would have evolved into goals. He, like Alexis, has heart, and is fearless, but he cannot, alone, perform the vital organ transplant that Arsenal is is need of. Still too young, too technically underdeveloped, he cannot take over a game to provide the leadership and confidence that the Arsenal so plainly, desperately lack during crunch time. But this would make him Pirlo class, one in a million, which he may still become. But for now, for this season, Coquelin has been good enough to have saved the Arsenal’s season. He won’t get the credit he deserves, but this does not mean that he shouldn’t. Bravo, Mr. Coquelin, bravo.

 

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Racing to the Apple Watch

Posted on May 31, 2015

In case you’ve been under a proverbial rock, the new Apple Ads are quite something. The images and ideas that they convey are captivating. A big part of their success is the theme song, certain to become iconic, I would bet. Find myself fighting the urge to pick up one of these watches. Okay, it’s not that hard to resist.

Easily lost is Apple’s subtle signal to a multicultural society. If you actually see it, it’s bold: not just some ambiguous interracial hanging out, these are real couples, by all appearances appearing to engage on a serious level.  In two Ads (“Us” and “Rise”), I caught three such images.

 

 

What might seem a little disappointing was the lengths that Apple went through to make the images easy to miss — well, let’s be more frank, virtually hidden: they were quick, not well lit or blurred. I had to pull out my computer, and freeze frame the spots to confirm what seemed to flicker by me on the screen.

This does seem a shame in a way. But we all know that the bottom line is that a company wants even those uncomfortable or offended by the images to buy watches too. But for me, this makes all those other advertisers who stood up brazenly for the concept of the multicultural society we must become to survive even more impressive. We all know about the infamous Cherrios Ad that received such a racist backlash, and all they depicted was a mixed married couple who did not even appear in the same room. God bless them, Cheerios double-down in the face of the maelstrom.

There is another perspective, though. Maybe Apple’s comment was that such interactions are normal now, so they do not have to be highlighted. Avoiding a drum roll signals their fundamental acceptance. This is naive, of course. The people putting the clips together had to be very aware of what they were doing because it was a counter-choice: not the normal or expected one but something that they had to go out of their way to do..

In any event, the Apple Ads are only the most recent of an unacknowledged trend among our more progressive retailers for a while. Here is the first time I noticed it back at the end of 2013. From our friends at BR

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And here are some more . . .

 

 

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I Smell the Stink of Some Football Men

Posted on May 31, 2015

Wish I can say something that’s not been said about the most recent turn of events at the organization everyone loves to hate. FIFA members were indicted last week by the U.S. Justice Department, of all places. Something more than the obvious. How could Sepp Blatter not resign out of simple shame? But we’ve seen that before, truth be told. How could the members not vote him out out of simple dignity? Seen that before too. It seems it must be a completely corrupt, morally bankrupt organization. But life suggests it might be more complicated than that. Something, maybe, to do with all of the non-Western nations supporting someone who gave them a voice after decades in the wilderness when the Western nations ran FIFA. Sounds like an excuse, even to me. But I understand wildernesses, after all.

 

 

Arsenal’s FA Cup Win: Hollow Celebrations

Posted on May 31, 2015

There’s little like it. Grown men in absolute joy after winning a title. Jumping up and down like ten year olds. It forces a smile; the happiness is contagious.

But there is sadness in the Arsenal celebrations. Disproportionate, it borders on obscene. This is not the first time Arsenal have reacted to a victory as if they’ve been crowned kings of Europe. Or the Premier League. What is worrying is that they seem to mistake these victories as more sufficient than they are. Worse still, as if they indicate some achievement greater than they do. Some profound step on the road to some more meaningful place. But this has not been true, and no less so here. Arsenal beat a team that did not show up. A team they were supposed to dispatch with ease anyway, if Arsenal themselves just showed up.

And there are Arsenal’s problems in a nutshell: they relish in a glory unbefitting the occasion, and they are as likely to not show up, as do, particularly in important contests against big teams. Take the last four games of the season when they led Man City for second place with a game in hand. Arsenal then managed to lose one against a team much further down the league table and tie one (0-0) against another fending off regulation. We can almost count on Arsenal not to show up, I’m afraid. There is something deep, fundamental, crucial missing from the team. A big hole in its center where it’s heart should be. And these contortive celebrations after vanquishing sub-par opponents causes wonder whether Arsenal are aware of this at all.

 

 

The Fantastic Michael B. Jordan

Posted on May 31, 2015

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Been an MJ fan ever since haphazardly catching him in That Awkward Moment during a transatlantic flight. But like him even more after some rather simple, thoughtful comments in response to the vitriol he faces being cast as Johnny Storm . . .

This is a family movie about four friends—two of whom are myself and Kate Mara as my adopted sister—who are brought together by a series of unfortunate events to create unity and a team. That’s the message of the movie, if people can just allow themselves to see it.

Football’s Lonely Position

Posted on April 23, 2015

This past weekend, Reading’s goalie, Adam Federici, by all accounts, kept his side in the semifinal FA Cup game against Arsenal with save after save. Goalies have a way of single-handily changing a game in this way. I did not like Reading, to be honest. Their approach to Arsenal was to bully and foul — what we have grown accustomed to as teams’ general tactic against Arsenal. But Federici’s display was unaffected by this borderline thuggery. He was stellar and outstanding. Except for that final moment. When he wasn’t. When a ball dribbled slowly off his body and slower still across the magic line. Painfully slow but not slow enough for him to reign it back in. Like a missed two-foot put during a golf tournament’s playoff final hole, we wish that on no one. And we just do not want to win that way.

The marvelous images below capture all of those marvelous emotions that come in a moment like that. Federici’s inconsolable dejection. Teammates’ comparable deflation and misery. Subsequent real attempts at consolation. From mates, managers and, yes, the opposing goalie. But in the end . . . all alone.

Arsène Wenger: On Beauty, and Virtue, and the Journey

Posted on April 22, 2015

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‘This is Wenger: Pope Arsène, recently the Martyr of Islington, the Premier League’s last magical perfectionist, last crusading aesthete, last Catholic.’ Illustration: Jeffrey Decoster for Eight by Eight magazine

I spend so much time reading about Arsenal these days, it’s embarrassing. Of course it has a lot to do with their recent run of form. Actually, truth be told, the form is as miserably inconsistent as always; but they have been winning. And the chance of them ending up Second wakes me up at Four in the morning to watch the game. More truthfully, it is the glimpse of potential greatness that has me obsessed. I actually see the possibility of a title, with a few additions, and deletions. Gibbs and Ramsey and Wilshere, along with Mertesacker, Arteta are going to have to go. Cazorla was on my list but he simply cannot stay there with any good conscience given how well he’s played recently. But this I know is temporary, as I still find myself yelling at his missed goal opportunities.

What I have been more consistent with is my support of the man himself, Arsène Wenger. What is irrefutable to me is that he did not desperately rush to throw money at questionable acquisitions when the world came crashing down around him earlier this year, and last year, when everyone seemed against him (me included). He knew then that to do so not only wasted money but would create an unmanageable, intolerable glut of players, while simultaneously undermining their individual and the teams’ confidence. Look at us now. We have too many players, and we are going to have to lose a few we like. And some we won’t as much.

So, it’s fitting that we get these articles from time to time about the world-wind of controversy constantly surrounding the man, its peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows. The image alone is worth the shout out. And it’s good, real good, literary even. Mr. Miller can write. And, of course, he has already been criticized as more mere apologia.

But its points are solid. Wenger does not engage in hysterics, histrionics or excuses. He does not give in to the overwhelming implorations to criticize his team or others. He understands there is absolutely no value in that beyond the instant — like a premature ejaculation. Whether borne of time and experience, or innate, he has the calm, assertive confidence that one would do well to emulate. It is infuriating to some. But you can tell he sleeps well at night. It’s all quite Zen. It is an enviable way of being. Jose Mourinho is often, reasonably cited as the pinnacle of manager media spin. But you truly have to wonder if Arsène is the true master. He does not play the game, or rather, he plays it, out of compulsory obligation, on his own terms. And in leading this life of extreme integrity, he leads a better life, and his players that walk the same path love him for it. Those with different ambitions leave. We cannot blame them but how really have they done? Persie, Sagna, Nasri, Clichy, even Fabregas — bright flames that seem to have flickered in unexpected ways.

Most remarkable are the essay’s notations that Wenger could have left for the nouveau riche clubs with their ridiculous, pretentious, ego spending. He alone took on the project of an Arsenal transformation where other high-profile managers would never imagine it. Who even mock him to this day. He is Michael Crawley single-handily rescuing Downton Abbey from the inextricable decline of its aristocratic peers. Like Matt, he does it for love and passion. Not for Lady Mary, of course, but for passion nevertheless, of another kind: for the love of a game, the love of men who play that game, and a view of how life ought to be lived. Although betrayed by sons who have left for perceived greener pastures, Wenger has nevertheless stayed loyal beyond comprehension to players, one of whom has barely played in four years. Why? Principle. Beauty.

I’ve been inspired by people who just did not want to win for themselves but wanted to win with a certain style. [If a fan] wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘Oh! Today Arsenal play, I have a chance to have a great experience today,’ I’ve done my job. If we win the game – I’ve done a very good job. But at least I have to try to give people that level – that emotionally they will experience something beautiful.

Or put another way, “beauty is the job, victory the pleasant possibility. This is the most common and incisive of the anti-Wengerisms, that in tactics, transfers, and selections Arsenal too constantly pursue perfection and neglect the insulating virtues of their rivals.” I will take Arsène over Mourinho any day. For the latter, “victories belong to the manager, but the future health of the club belongs to someone else, owners or arriving billionaires or ‘directors of football.’ That isn’t Wenger.”

And I long not for the day he retires.

 

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In November, things were going badly at Arsenal: they’d conceded three times in the last 30 minutes to draw at home against Champions League minnows Anderlecht, lost away to Swansea after leading, and lost at home to a Manchester United side that had exactly two shots on target to Arsenal’s nine. It wasn’t at all exceptional, and to some Arsenal supporters that was precisely the problem: for the past decade Arsène Wenger’s side has been among Europe’s best footballers and among its worst winners.

Also infuriating to Arsène’s detractors was his post-match refusal to offer the improvised hysterics that usually follow one bad result, let alone three. Most big managers are sociopaths, and fans and media have learned to treat Mourinho-ish despair or Fergusonian recrimination as a necessary shamanism: the tantrum that presages imminent improvement.

But in interviews, Arsène only ever acts like Arsène. He listens faithfully, head canted forward like an Alsatian schoolboy nodding for communion. Before answering, he glances upwards quickly, looks beyond the camera, and answers in thick hammocks of French English. Between thoughts his head ticks like a Jesuit second hand. He smiles when he talks about his players, sneers a little when he’s lost, and smirks when he’s signed Mesut Özil.

Most of all, Arsène stays calm. In 17 years as Arsenal manager he’s arrived at a Vatican caginess: “There was a lot of quality in our game … we could have won easily … we [have] to keep faith and our belief,” he said after the United match. It was iconically Wengerish, both in its sensibility (they’d led two of three and nearly played United off the park before conceding an own goal and to a breakaway) and its emphasis on maintaining “faith” within the squad over offering catharsis to supporters – but it galls a fan when the constant prescription is to say a few Hail Marys, buy more replica kits, and show up again next weekend.

For better or worse, this is Wenger: Pope Arsène, recently the Martyr of Islington, the Premier League’s last magical perfectionist, last crusading aesthete, last Catholic. It’s not just his age, 65, nor the opulent fiefdom or the whispered politics, nor the dogmatic reluctance to purchase a defender, nor that Arsenal fans in equal parts consider him infallibly anointed or inoperably deluded. It’s his faith – his belief that there’s a code of rightness other than success; his Catholic claim that virtue, magic, and beauty might be more important than the trophy case.

It didn’t always look like it had to be a choice. In the 1998 run-in to his first Premier League title, or when his 2003–04 “Invincibles” won another undefeated, Arsène’s sides were both beautiful and dominant. He was a messiah from the future and Arsenal was the club of osteopathy, abstention, and sophistication, where banning Mars Bars from the team bus and passing quickly led directly to competitive success. Arsenal did well by living right.

Still, the stadium-building period was, in Arsène’s words, “the most sensitive and important of my career”. The Europa League is littered with clubs that were like Arsenal on the day Arsène arrived in 1996 — gallant old contenders owned by well-respected baronets, playing on cramped but hallowed grounds, splashing out a timid million here or there on an exciting Dutchman, and happy to contend for cups once or twice a decade, keep a tight back four, and polish the old trophies.

Arsène averted this toffee-coloured future, built a financially revolutionary stadium, and managed, incredibly, to keep the club in the Champions League throughout. But a decade of austerity remade the club – or unmade it, considering how many great careers were sold to pay for it, how many Invincibles retired at the clubs that bought them. Other clubs have Giggses, Gerrards, Terrys; Arsenal have only Arsène – the living codex, the insect in amber, the last ageing link to the Arsenals of Graham and Chapman.

If 2004–14 is the decade that’s made him papally essential, though, it also must have agonised him. On Sky or NBC he’s calmly satisfied with the current Arsenal, but can Arsène – enough of a competitor to win the league undefeated, enough of a perfectionist to call for league-wide grass height regulation – really have been happy with a decade of desultory fourths, watching Mourinho and Mancini lift the trophies instead? More than anything, Wenger seems to take joy in the development of players; worst must have been losing Cesc and Robin and Samir, all figurative sons, just as they were grasping their potential.

The proof of his faith is that, through all that, he’s stayed at Arsenal. Manchester City would have taken him sometime in those years they took the rest of Arsenal. Or Madrid, Bayern, PSG – at any he’d have had £100m every summer and a better chance to win the Champions League. He could have watched the world’s best arriving every year instead of leaving. Why stay? Willingness to suffer is a sign of faith. Nothing in Mourinho’s functionalist cosmology could justify captaining an austerity project – nor would most clubs have kept Abou Diaby, a player of enormous quality and character who’s played 22 games in the past four years, for anywhere near as long as Arsenal. Whether this reads as laudable loyalty or competitive irresponsibility is an open question, but Arsène’s decided: He’s stayed at Arsenal, persisted with Diaby, borne all the pain, because he believes in something. Arsenal is “the club of my life,” he says, the club that gave him a chance, the club he’s invested in rebuilding. The club that, at least for now, shares in his beliefs.

A puzzling faith?

What Arsène Wenger believes in on the pitch is beauty. “I’ve been inspired,” he says, “by people … who just did not want to win for themselves but wanted to win with a certain style. [If a fan] wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘Oh! Today Arsenal play, I have a chance to have a great experience today,’ I’ve done my job. If we win the game – I’ve done a very good job. But at least I have to try to give people that level – that emotionally they will experience something beautiful.”

Listen carefully: beauty is the job, victory the pleasant possibility. This is the most common and incisive of the anti-Wengerisms, that in tactics, transfers, and selections Arsenal too constantly pursue perfection and neglect the insulating virtues of their rivals. Each season’s collapses look the same – a small and wounded team pour forward elegantly, barely fail to score, and concede ugly, deflating goals on the counterattack. Arsène should coach a different way, is the suggestion. The pursuit of beauty ought to follow after the pursuit of victory.

The argument has power, partly because on the few recent occasions that Arsenal have played more pragmatically than usual, they’ve often looked quite good. In January, Arsenal won 2-0 at Manchester City – possibly their best league result in five years despite a Stoke-ish 35% possession. And since 2003 they have taken a ridiculous 22 of 24 points away from home when they’ve had 43% or less of the ball – when they’ve played like the away team. But even against City, Wenger admitted it was the players who’d demanded pragmatism: “The team sometimes needs to be reassured … your tactics have to be aligned with the feeling of the team.” Still, in most matches, Wenger’s Arsenal revert to a faith in possession, passing, and beauty.

It’s a faith that can be especially puzzling because football is an awkward place for the pursuit of beauty. The hands are the consensus sites of human beauty and intention – the primate-distinguishers, the opposable gripper-maker-doers. But in football, hands are legal for just a single player, in the most desperate moment of the game. Everything else is done with the feet – lumpy obliged balancers, appendages of comic accident and limit, required elsewhere regularly for standing-up purposes.

Foot-scarcity is football’s original sin – the awkward sentence no side can escape. A match is 90 minutes, and because attackers have to play the ball and defenders can just run, 88 of them are plotless jostling. But in those other minutes, when intention does emerge, the sport opens into impossible, epiphanic beauty. A triangle appears from unconnected points, a yard of space opens unexpectedly, an intended leg whips forth. It’s in these moments that football can be mistaken – however briefly – for a sport about perfection.

But if beauty in football is the obverse of rarity, every Arsenal fan knows that the price of rarity is accident. For every ’70 Brazil there’s a ’74 Oranje. For every Wilshere against Norwich there’s two years of ankle injuries, Diaby shattered by Dan Smith, Eduardo by Taylor, Szczesny and Koscielny slicing the League Cup to Birmingham. Teams – Barcelona, recently – win by playing prettily, but it’s treacherous. You can’t have all the ball, not against Chelsea or Inter, and the more you commit to having it, the more vulnerable you become without it. There’s a Grand Moff Tarkin arrogance in beautiful football, a doomed attempt to control a sport that’s fundamentally about how much you can do while standing on one foot at a time. The answer is – not everything. Football may require faith, but it’s a hard place to be faithful: here the ravings aren’t a prophecy, the bread does not become messiah’s flesh, the foot is never quite a pair of hands.

Poignant and infuriating, then, to watch Arsène’s decade-long attempt to teach his players’ feet to paint. Especially poignant, especially infuriating, to watch this in a world where cynicism about unmarketable virtue has become the safest, canniest stock response of all. Success is value, virtue is worth; beauty’s great if you can find investors. Otherwise it’s hubris, a vestige, a precious doomed indulgence you should flip for some defenders.

Arsène Wenger reacts during Arsenal's FA Cup semi-final win over Reading.

Arsène Wenger reacts during Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final win over Reading. Photograph: Michael Regan/The FA via Getty Images

Arsène Wenger reacts during Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final win over Reading. Photograph: Michael Regan/The FA via Getty Images

That’s one answer to football’s elemental tragedy: sell Mata, Matic-up your midfield, drop Oscar for the big games and bar the door. Admit the sport and world are fallen and win whatever following contingencies. But Arsène seems to have another answer – beauty as a valuable goal even in an accidental world. Last year Geoff Shreeves asked him about the 6-0 loss to Chelsea. Wenger reminded him that the same team drew away against Bayern and beat Spurs, “and of course everybody after says, ‘You were too open’ – all right, but before the game it was very difficult to guess, because we had as well to win this game … when you win a big game everybody forgets about it, when you lose a big game everybody says you should have played differently.” But the results, Arsène knows, are capricious – champions lose or draw about a third of their games against worse teams.

So what’s a manager to do? If the difference between first and third and fifth comes down, as it sometimes must, to who benefits from more own goals by Anton Ferdinand? Every manager wants to win, but every manager has something else in mind as well, a plausible precursor to victory that can be relied on week to week. Some cross, others hoist, some make chances, some want not to give them up. Arsène wants to play beautifully. Is that really so detestable? As a compromise, a consolation? Arsenal can’t always win, but they can always try to play well. Can always entertain. At least the losses were for something. If you’re going to lose, Arsène might say, why not lose while playing well? Why not lose expressing yourself rather than panting back and forth across your own 18-yard-line for 90 minutes hoping nothing beautiful will happen?

Wenger is maybe the last manager who’ll stay with one club long enough to be confusable therewith. Mourinho, Ancelotti, Pellegrini, even the monastic Guardiola all flit from club to club as frequently as players. Mourinho in his career has won the Champions League twice and left behind him a spiteful, pining Chelsea, an unfulfilled Madrid, and the trophied ruins of an Inter. In this model the victories belong to the manager, but the future health of the club belongs to someone else, owners or arriving billionaires or “directors of football”.

That isn’t Wenger – for an idealist, he’s paradoxically realistic. In the Emirates’ racing chairs on weekend afternoons Wenger seems a species of crusader, an aesthete hoping that eventually his Large Inside-Forward Collider will produce an all-whirring, all-passing singularity of simultaneous artistic and competitive excellence. But when he manages the club, Wenger is a similarly rare pragmatist, shrewd and self-sacrificing even beyond Daniel Levy: the man who sold Henry, Nasri, Vieira, Fàbregas, and Van Persie for a stadium project intended to ensure that future managers could compete with the leviathans. And over the past decade, the pragmatic virtues of the stadium project have taken precedence over the aesthetic virtues of the sporting side.

Compare: Mourinho is Wenger’s actual opposite on each of these counts – an appalling match-day pragmatist who’s almost never managed any club other than the richest in his league. Pulis, Allardyce, Hughes are twice as pragmatic, looking for a simple win on Saturday and always conscious of their budgets. Late-Ferguson was one of these as well, figuring just how little he could win with and just how ugly he could let the wins become. And Pep? Pep, who’s defined the last two World Cups and done what Wenger couldn’t in the Champions League? A double romantic, an aesthetic radical with unlimited transfer budgets at any club he chooses. Wenger’s the only Wenger left, the only romantic who does his own accounting, which maybe is why you’ll find an Arsenal kit in every bar in Brooklyn on a Saturday at 10am. Arsène is an artist with a day job.

What unites Arsène the aesthete and Arsène the mortgage payer is their shared indifference to winning. Not that winning’s unimportant, but he’s chosen consistently – whether by building a stadium or by not signing an experienced defender so that Calum Chambers could have games – to develop players or the club’s future instead of winning points in the present season.

Arsène knows that any good saint is remembered for the miracles rather than the daily sacraments. And the greatest moments in his career are emphatically not moments about victory. Victory is a brief thing, a trophy brandished from a bus and left to gather dust. But no other club in Europe has managed a self-improvement like the Emirates, a trophy that seats 65,000. And his most notable on-field achievement, the 49-game Invincible run, is less about the league title than the brief triumph over the surly incident by which teams lose. A religious experience, an ecstasy. A year-long suspension of the awkward rules of football, when Arsenal were blessed, when an assassin like Van Nistelrooy would sky a penalty just because they’d risen up above the sport itself. “The games the champions lose” are the death’s head in any sport, the grim reminder that no matter how much humans may become, we’ll always be subjects to some kind of chance – subjects of loss, and distance, and difficulty. Those are the rules, of life as well as football, and once, Arsène and his team managed to break them. Isn’t that suspension, that perfection, so much better than mere Mourinho-ish winning?

‘He’ll always be a Catholic’

In the end, maybe football is a little thing. A shoving of men, ending two hours after it begins. A reason to drink beer in the afternoon and yell at the television. A distraction from life’s other work, which at least ends a little less immediately. But if people care so much, then somehow it must extend. Something in football must walk out past the doors of pubs and stadiums, out into London and New York, and give us something that matters in our lives.

If Arsène extends, it’s because of the Catholicism – the argument on virtue as opposed to winning. Because what’s been happening lately has had a lot to do with virtue and with winning. Probably 2003 was the high point, winning-wise: Arsenal began their undefeated season, Roman came to Chelsea, the Premier League watching world got together and invaded a small country. Winning was ascendant; missions were accomplished; being first or wealthiest indicated a singularity of human excellence.

Arsène Wenger arrives at the Emirates before Arsenal's game against Burnley in November 2014.

Arsène Wenger arrives at the Emirates before Arsenal’s game against Burnley in November 2014. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

By the middle of the decade that victory in Iraq felt as transient as any Wembley afternoon for Pompey or Birmingham or Wigan – a nice day before the world went to hell. And by the end, economic winning seemed doubtable as well: the game was rigged, or winners were jerks, or they’d been cheating all along at everyone’s expense. Maybe there was such a thing as too much winning, too much emphasis on trophies and bonuses and competition.

Virtue hasn’t been looking like a very good alternative. There used to be – when Arsène started managing, in an older and less precarious economy – a tidy little path for Westerners from birth to death. One attended university, took a job, acquired mortgage, spouse, and offspring, mowed the lawn and punched the clock – all in exchange for a little safety, an adequacy of casseroles, weekends, barbecues, and then a pension. In that life, virtue mattered; it converted daily decency into a guarantee of something. But between 2004 and 2014 – for Occupiers, for millennials, for Arsenal – the guarantee doesn’t seem to have held. Football, like life, has often looked like a drama of virtue’s obsolescence. In this world winning seems important, even if it’s awful – four teams, the 1%, make the Champions League and the other 99% is in the relegation fight.

By now Arsène’s built his stadium and mostly paid the mortgage, and the wounds of all those filial departures are close to healed. In the past two seasons Arsenal have spent £132m, which is to say that for the first time in his career Arsène looks like he’s playing in the same league as everyone else, with neither the enormous rational advantages of his arrival nor the crippling financial constraints of the past decade. He’s just going to be a manager.

Except – he’ll never be just a manager. He’ll always be a Catholic, always insist on valuing something other than results. And so he’ll remain stubborn, remain only modestly interested in his defence, but also remain as fascinating and divisive as the church itself – to the wishers for virtue less a coach than a crusading saint, and to the desperate to win a despicable relic. Either way, judgments on Arsène say far more about the judges than they do about him – about our comfort with the idea that sport, or football, or life itself, can be worth our while even if it doesn’t end in victory. That to be beautiful, or to be decent, to improve ourselves or leave something for the future, might be as or more important than the trophy case.

This article originally appeared in issue 05 of Eight by Eight, a new quarterly magazine fusing long-form football writing with high quality illustration, photography, and design. Learn more about the current issue here, and follow Eight by Eight on Facebook and Twitter. Corley Miller is a fiction and non-fiction writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @amcorley.

The Look of Friends

Posted on April 22, 2015

Ronaldo gets such a hard time for being Ronaldo, and the insufferable Football press and punditry similarly take apart Bale and play up the tension between the two. But the look on Ronaldo’s face when Bale became injured this past weekend dismantles all that — I think. It is a look of genuine concern that is quite moving. This is exactly how your friend would look standing over you.

renaldo-bale 1

 

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Jon Stewart: Why I Quit The Daily Show (the guardian)

Posted on April 21, 2015

Best article so far on JS moving on — the Brits always seem to do things better. What is interesting, though, is Stewart offers us some ideas on when we all may want to move on—

It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’

Honestly, it was a combination of the limitations of my brain and a format that is geared towards following an increasingly redundant process, which is our political process. I was just thinking, ‘Are there other ways to skin this cat?’ And, beyond that, it would be nice to be home when my little elves get home from school, occasionally.

I’d covered an election four times, and it didn’t appear that there was going to be anything wildly different about this one. I also felt that, for the show, you don’t want to leave when the cupboard’s bare. So I think it’s a better introduction when you have something providing you with assisted fuel, like a presidential campaign. But really, the value of this show is so much deeper than my contribution.

3c4fa1f9-f998-4c93-bf17-0e316672bd75-2060x1236 Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 12.52.32 AM

There was no one moment when Jon Stewart knew it was time for him to leave what he describes as “the most perfect job in the world”; no epiphany, no flashpoint. “Life,” he says, in the lightly self-mocking tone he uses when talking about himself, “doesn’t really work that way, with a finger pointing at you out of the sky, saying, ‘Leave now!’ That only happens when you’re fired, and trust me, I know about that.”

Instead, he describes his decision to quit The Daily Show, the American satirical news programme he has hosted for 16 years, as something closer to the end of a long-term relationship. “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’” He slaps his hands on his desk, conclusively.

“These things are cyclical. You have moments of dissatisfaction, and then you come out of it and it’s OK. But the cycles become longer and maybe more entrenched, and that’s when you realise, ‘OK, I’m on the back side of it now.’”

Stewart and I speak twice in the space of a few months. The first time last October, when he flew from New York to London with his family for the premiere of his directorial debut at the London Film Festival. Rosewater is an engrossing and pacy film that tells the true story of Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari, who was arrested and tortured in Iran in 2009, after sending footage of street riots to the BBC.

The second time, we speak soon after Stewart announces his retirement from The Daily Show. He is in his office in New York, preparing to shoot a Friday-night episode, and the difference in his mood is striking. His voice is about an octave lower, and he sounds weary, weighed down.

But talking about his film in London, he is animated to the point of hyperactivity, gleefully pointing out the pretentious decor in the hotel room where we meet (“A photo of a submissive woman with a cigar in her mouth! Just what every room needs!”). He notes, in a tone that is both sincere and satirical, and that will be familiar to fans of The Daily Show, the lavishness of the food: “My compliments to the prop master, because that really is a beautiful tomato and mozzarella salad,” he intones solemnly to a bemused waiter.

Like every TV celebrity, in person, Stewart is both better-looking than you expect and smaller, with his long torso making up most of his 5ft 7in, giving the illusion of height from behind his studio desk. He is dressed casually, and after years of watching him on TV wearing a suit, seeing him in a T-shirt and casual trousers feels almost like catching my father half-undressed.

At 52, Stewart has the bouncy energy of a man half his age and, unlike most in the public eye, has an aversion to compliments. If I tell him I liked something about the film, he will immediately deflect the compliment and insist it was all down to Bahari, or the film’s star Gael García Bernal, or the crew. For all the claims of his detractors that Stewart is the epitome of East Coast elitism, there is more self-deprecating New Jersey grit here than arrogant Manhattan elan.

Much as he might wince to hear it, for the past 16 years Stewart has occupied a place in America’s cultural and political life far greater than the small audience of his cable show would suggest. The Daily Show’s simple format consists of a mix of reports from roving reporters (who have included Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver), monologues delivered by Stewart and an end-of-show interview. Over time, Stewart has evolved from a satirist to a broadcaster celebrated as the voice of US liberalism, the one who will give the definitive progressive take on a story.

His moving monologue after the Charlie Hebdo killings in January was widely shared; his frequent on-air support of Democrat senator Elizabeth Warren helped her evolve in the eyes of the public from Harvard professor to dream 2016 presidential candidate – particularly among those who find Hillary Clinton too centrist and hawkish. Stewart’s energetic campaigning on behalf of the 9/11 first responders (the emergency services who were first on the scene, many of whom later suffered debilitating illnesses), prompted the New York Times to compare him to Walter Cronkite and Edward R Murrow, the most revered newscasters in American history. It is a delicious irony that in the world of American TV news, one populated by raging egotists and self-aggrandisers, the person who is generally cited as the most influential is Stewart – a man so disinterested in his own celebrity, he often didn’t bother to collect his 18 Emmys, preferring to stay at home with his family.

When George Bush left office in 2008, some worried that Stewart would run out of material. This proved as shortsighted as the hope that Obama would be America’s grand salvation. Stewart, who describes himself as “a leftist”, has always hammered the Democrats with the vigour of a disappointed supporter, and subjected Obama to one of his most damaging interviews during his first term: the president admitted that his 2008 slogan probably should have been “Yes We Can, But…” At the time, Stewart laughed, but today he admits with a shrug, “It was heartbreaking. It’s generally heartbreaking – that’s what the gig is.”

Jon Stewart gave Barack Obama one of his toughest interviews, suggesting his 2008 election slogan should have been ‘Yes we can, but…’
Stewart gave Barack Obama one of his toughest interviews, suggesting his 2008 election slogan should have been ‘Yes we can, but…’ Photograph: Empics Entertainment

His seemingly effortless interview with Tony Blair in 2008 cut through Blair’s crusader mentality in a mere six minutes, as Stewart calmly rejected Blair’s theory that any kind of military action can keep the west safe. As Blair stammered, huffed and shifted in his seat, Stewart concluded that: “19 people flew into the towers. It seems hard for me to imagine that we could go to war enough, to make the world safe enough, that 19 people wouldn’t want to do harm to us. So it seems like we have to rethink a strategy that is less military-based.” This was Stewart at his best; it’s also fair to say that some of the interviews, generally those with actors and authors, seem like mere puffery, a point with which Stewart agrees (he embraces criticism as eagerly as he deflects compliments).

How often does he really connect with his interviewees? “Have you seen the show? Mostly, I’m not even listening. But I can bullshit anyone for six minutes.”

When we meet in October, I ask if he is thinking of leaving The Daily Show because he seems increasingly, well, bored, making frequent references to the fact he’s been doing the show “for 75, 80, 1,000 years”.

He bats away my question with a joke: “Are you offering me a job?”

Well, I might be able to get you Guardian work experience.

“Aww, I’m too shitty a writer for that.”

But he doesn’t reject the idea entirely (of leaving The Daily Show, that is. I think The Guardian will have to wait): “[If I left the show,] I would do what I’m doing. Whether it’s standup, the show, books or films, I consider all this just different vehicles to continue a conversation about what it means to be a democratic nation, and to have it written into the constitution that all men are created equal – but to live with that for 100 years with slaves. How do those contradictions play themselves out? And how do we honestly assess our failings and move forward with integrity?”

When I catch up with him again, I ask if he knew he’d be leaving when we had that conversation.

“No, no – but some of it had been in the back of my head for quite some time. But you don’t want to make any kind of decision when you’re in the crucible of the process, just like you don’t decide whether you’re going to continue to run marathons in mile 24,” he says.

He switches to a chewy exaggeration of his native Noo Joi-zy accent, deflating his seriousness with a comedy voice. “You wait until you’re done, you have a nice cup o’ water, you put the blanket on, you sit and then you decide.”

I had assumed that, as well as the metaphorical cup o’ water, he had decided to quit because he had so much fun making Rosewater. But Stewart says not.

“Honestly, it was a combination of the limitations of my brain and a format that is geared towards following an increasingly redundant process, which is our political process. I was just thinking, ‘Are there other ways to skin this cat?’ And, beyond that, it would be nice to be home when my little elves get home from school, occasionally.”

He has a 10-year-old son, Nathan, and a nine-year-old daughter, Maggie; Stewart and his wife, Tracey, have been married for almost as long as he’s been doing the show, after Stewart proposed to her via a crossword puzzle.

If anything, it was the prospect of the upcoming US election that pushed him to leave the show. “I’d covered an election four times, and it didn’t appear that there was going to be anything wildly different about this one,” he says.

Ah, but who could have anticipated the excitement over Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails?

“Anyone could, because that story is absolutely everything that it’s supposed to be about,” he says, with a groan; as a revelation, it managed to be at once depressing and completely unsurprising. “I also felt that, for the show, you don’t want to leave when the cupboard’s bare. So I think it’s a better introduction when you have something providing you with assisted fuel, like a presidential campaign. But really, the value of this show is so much deeper than my contribution,” he says.

Stewart likes to credit “the team”, but given that he has always been deeply involved in the script (unusually for a host), writing and rewriting drafts right up to the last minute, the show will be a pretty different beast without him. He has described his successor, the South African comedian Trevor Noah, as “incredibly thoughtful, considerate and funny”, and defended him when it was discovered, to widespread fury, that Noah had in the past tweeted offensive jokes about Jews, overweight women and transgender people.

The furore over Noah’s tweets reflects just how high Stewart has set the bar. There was such an outpouring of grief when he announced he was stepping down, that he mused on air the following day, “Did I die?” Even the normally dispassionate New Yorker magazine claimed, under the headline Jon Stewart, We Need You In 2016, “the last hope for bringing some rationality to the 2016 Presidential field died”. Not since Oprah Winfrey announced her retirement from network television has a US TV host’s departure received such international coverage, but Stewart bridles when I make the Winfrey comparison: “If Oprah can leave and the world still spins, I honestly think it will survive me.”

And it should be noted that not everyone was distraught. Fox News, displaying its mastery of making colour-based accusations about the kettle from its pot-based position, reported that Stewart was “not a force for good” and that his sustained criticisms of the right “had no foothold in the facts”. The Daily Show duly responded with a Vine of Fox News’ best factual distortions.

Jon Stewart's 2011 interview with Donald Rumsfeld
Stewart’s 2011 interview with Donald Rumsfeld is one of the few he now regrets: ‘I should have pushed, but he’s very adept at deflecting.’ Photograph: Comedy Central

Does he have any regrets? Stewart recounts one big disappointment – an anodyne interview with Donald Rumsfeld in 2011 that failed to claim the former secretary of defence’s scalp. “He just went into the general gobbledegook.” Stewart puts on a pretty good imitation of Rumsfeld: “‘Mnah mnah mnah, well, you have to remember, it was 9/11 mnah mnah.’ I should have pushed, but he’s very adept at deflecting.” He looks genuinely crushed for a moment, then rallies: “That interview with Rumsfeld went shitty, but it’s still just an interview. He’s the one who has to live with the repercussions of what he really did, so there’s nothing that could happen on my show that carries that same level of regret.”

In 2010, Stewart hosted a Rally To Restore Sanity in Washington DC, attracting 215,000 people, who cheered him on as he berated the media, or “the country’s 24-hour politico–pundit-perpetual-panic-‘conflictinator’.” I covered the rally for the Guardian and, as enjoyable as Stewart was, he didn’t look especially comfortable up on the stage, ginning up the people. He agrees that entering politics “is not my bag”: he’d rather make sense of the mess than get into it himself.

He can be brutal about the leftwing media, too (CNN has been a frequent target, for being mediocre and too attached to pointless computer graphics). MSNBC, the liberal 24-hour news network, is, Stewart says, “better” than Fox News, “because it’s not steeped in distortion and ignorance as a virtue. But they’re both relentless and built for 9/11. So, in the absence of such a catastrophic event, they take the nothing and amplify it and make it craziness.”

My biggest objection to Fox News, I say, is not the scaremongering, it’s the way it’s reshaped the Republican party. It will misrepresent social and economic issues, and promote the more extreme elements of the party, politicians such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, in a way that is hugely detrimental to American politics. (For the record, Rupert Murdoch disagrees, and last year claimed that Fox News “absolutely saved” the Republican party.) “Watching these channels all day is incredibly depressing,” says Stewart. “I live in a constant state of depression. I think of us as turd miners. I put on my helmet, I go and mine turds, hopefully I don’t get turd lung disease.”

With Maziar Bahari, the Iranian-born journalist imprisoned by Tehran for filming the 2009 anti-government protests.
With Maziar Bahari, the Iranian-born journalist imprisoned by Tehran for filming the 2009 anti-government protests. Photograph: Rex Features

Now that he is leaving The Daily Show, is there any circumstance in which he would watch Fox News again? He takes a few seconds to ponder the question. “Umm… All right, let’s say that it’s a nuclear winter, and I have been wandering, and there appears to be a flickering light through what appears to be a radioactive cloud and I think that light might be a food source that could help my family. I might glance at it for a moment until I realise, that’s Fox News, and then I shut it off. That’s the circumstance.”

About a week before we met last year, Piers Morgan, who had just lost his nightly interview show on CNN, loudly blamed news anchor Anderson Cooper, whose show ran before Morgan’s, for his low ratings. Stewart shakes his head in wonder at this claim. “That guy may be the biggest – I mean, isn’t there a room underneath the Tower of London where you can just lock him up? He’s upset because he got shit-kicked. Who’s he going to blame – himself? That would mean self-reflection, of which he is incapable.”

We talk a little about what were then mere rumours that phone hacking had taken place at the Daily Mirror while Morgan was its editor. (It has since been alleged in the high court that hacking was carried out “on an industrial scale” during Morgan’s tenure.) “Right, that is a guy who is a bad person, which is fine – bad people are everywhere,” Stewart shrugs. “But where does something like that come from? Is there a secret fountain of doucheyness somewhere?”

Since he asked, I tell Stewart how Morgan and Simon Cowell became friends in the 1990s, after Morgan helped promote the Cowell-produced singing duo Robson & Jerome in the Sun. When Morgan was fired from the Mirror, Cowell returned the favour by casting him as a judge on his talent shows and, in turn, introducing him to an American TV audience.

Stewart’s face is frozen into a parody of Munch’s The Scream, and he is briefly speechless. “Well,” he eventually says, “all I can say is, ‘Damn you Robson and whatever the other guy’s name was.’ Just awful.”

***

Jon Stuart Leibowitz was born in New York and raised in New Jersey, the son of a teacher and a professor of physics. He grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam war and Watergate, events that left him, he has said in the past, “with a healthy scepticism towards official reports”. He jokingly recalls the time his older brother fired him from his first job at Woolworths as one of the defining, “scarring events” of his youth. But his parents’ divorce when he was 11 was clearly more so, prompting him to drop his surname and eventually legally change it to Stewart. He has described his relationship with his father as still “complicated”. “There was a thought of using my mother’s maiden name, but I thought that would be just too big a fuck you to my dad,” he says. “Did I have some problems with my father? Yes. Yet people always view it [changing his surname] through the prism of ethnic identity.”

Jon Stewart with his children, Nathan and Maggie, in 2011.
Stewart with his children, Nathan and Maggie, in 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

So it was a family thing as opposed to a Jewish thing? “Right. So whenever I criticise Israel’s actions it’s [he puts on a Yiddishy accent] ‘He’s changed his name! He’s not a Jew! He hates himself!’ And I’m like, ‘I hate myself for a lot of reasons, but not because I’m Jewish.’”

After college, Stewart performed on the standup circuit in New York, landing his own talkshow on MTV in the 1990s. In 1999, he took over the then little-loved Daily Show on Comedy Central, turning it from hit-and-miss satire to the news- and politics-focused programme it is today. Coming to it at 38, he says, the job was so ideal, “I couldn’t have created one better”.

Since Stewart announced his departure, much has been written about him being the most trusted news source for young Americans. Stewart kiboshes this as “conventional wisdom. In the sea of information that surrounds people of that generation, I’d be truly surprised if their only news comes four days of the week, for a few minutes a night.” He laughs when I describe him as a celebrity (“I’m not Madonna!” he hoots, raising an eyebrow). The only restriction fame has put on his freedom, he says, is “I don’t hang out on the Upper West Side during Sukkot”. Isn’t he being a bit faux modest, I ask, especially when he insists that what he does is comedy and not news? That comes with a certain profile. He thinks about this for a few seconds. “It’s not that I… I mean, it’s satire, so it’s an expression of real feelings. So I don’t mean that in the sense of, ‘I don’t mean this.’ What I mean is, the tools of satire should not be confused with the tools of news. We use hyperbole, but the underlying sentiment has to feel ethically, intentionally correct, otherwise we wouldn’t do it.”

If Stewart ever needed proof that his show has an impact, he got it in pretty much the worst way possible in October 2009, when he discovered that Iranian guards had arrested Maziar Bahari shortly after he gave an interview to The Daily Show in Iran. “And not just Maziar, but everybody we interviewed there had been arrested. So, being American, we thought, ‘This must be all about us!’” he says.

The Daily Show spoke to the prisoners’ families and asked what they could do to help, and the response was unanimous: keep talking about the arrests on the show. So Stewart did. Ironically, the reason The Daily Show had gone to Iran in the first place was to undermine Bush’s description of the region as “the axis of evil”: Stewart wanted America to see a country populated by “people with families who are wonderful”. And although they found those, the project turned out to be, he says, “a very, uh, sobering experience”.

When Bahari was released after 118 days, Stewart learned that his Iranian guards had cited the (completely benign) Daily Show interview he gave as a justification to torture and imprison him. “And that,” he says, with some understatement, “just stunned me.”

Jon Stewart rally
At the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, in 2010. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

He and Bahari became friends; when Bahari was in the US, they would meet for breakfast in Manhattan, near Stewart’s Tribeca home. Bahari said he hoped someone would make a movie of his book about his experience, Then They Came For Me. Stewart helped Bahari contact screenwriters, only to find that most were already busy, and he started to get, he says, “impatient with the process”. So, over oatmeal in a coffee shop, he and Bahari decided Stewart would write and direct the film himself.

Rosewater focuses primarily on the relationship between Bahari (Gael García Bernal) and one particular jailer, played by Kim Bodnia (Martin in Scandinavian TV thriller The Bridge). The movie wears its liberal heart on its sleeve, but reins in the tub-thumping for the sake of the story. Experts in Iranian relations will no doubt find the depiction of the government a little simplistic, and Stewart, characteristically, agrees.

“Look, it’s a film about Iran made by a New York Jew – it’s going to be reductive for those who are from the region. But hopefully, for an audience that is more western and more accustomed to films like Not Without My Daughter, this will appear to be a relatively nuanced portrayal. I got a whole pantheon of Sally Field references in here,” he grins, tapping his head, a reference to the hysterically anti-Iranian 1991 film.

A more obvious criticism is the lack of Iranian actors: Kim Bodnia, as Rosewater, is Danish and Bernal is Mexican. Stewart, again, concedes the point. “If I was Iranian, I’d probably look at [Bernal] and be like, ‘Really? Those Rs? Come on, man.’ But Maziar was our touchstone, and if he wasn’t bothered by it, I wasn’t bothered by it. My original vision was, ‘Maziar, we’re going to do this in Persian and use real prisoners and it’s going to be only Iranians!’ And he was like, ‘Don’t you want people to see it?’”

He did, but ultimately not that many people did, at least in the US. The film got decent reviews, but made only $3m – it turns out not that many Americans want to see a film about an Iranian prisoner. For once, perhaps, Stewart was just that little bit too progressive, something he has joked about on The Daily Show, mock weeping.

How disappointed was he? “Oh, sure, I would have liked more people to have seen it. But it’s a ridiculous thing to say. We got to prepare this incredible meal and then at the very end say, ‘Aww, I wish more people came.’ I don’t actually feel that way. I always knew the movie wasn’t The Hunger Games. But I hope it finds a little foothold in the UK.”

For the next few months, Stewart will focus on The Daily Show, handing over to Trevor Noah later this year and trying to convince viewers that it will be just fine without him. He has, he says, “a couple of other projects on the burner” – he would like to make more films – and it’s impossible to imagine him in fallow retirement. But it won’t be quite the same for us fans, getting to watch him every night, having him translate the day’s news for us. Stewart would scoff, but, for liberals who care about American politics, his departure from The Daily Show marks the end of an era.

“Honestly,” he says, “the country will survive.” And he’s right, it will. But even as he says it, it sounds, somewhat heartbreakingly, as if he’s already out that door.

Rosewater is released on 8 May. The Daily Show is on Comedy Central (times vary).

Women We Love: The Women of Borgen

Posted on April 21, 2015

There’s a show that you should have seen. Quite the hit abroad, and to a much more limited extent here a year or so back, Borgen deserves a review time does not now permit. But that should not stop me from at least sending a shout out. A show about super sharp, ambitious, powerful, complex women, it was the “West Wing” of Danish politics. Smart, moral, hyper-liberal — it is a show of how those sharing that left viewpoint see themselves.

Prime Minister:     Great work, but I want the speech to be more ambitious.

Kasper Juul:     Fine. What do you want? Why should I vote for you? Have you got any agenda apart from clinging to power?

PM:     We’ve made a hell of a lot of changes this past year.

Kasper:     What do you want?

PM:     I want to tell the Danes they’re better than they think. They’ve forgotten that — in their quest for a new car and a cool kitchen — a great family, a mistress and a yacht. We’ve been busy pursuing our own happiness. And we feel unfairly treated if we don’t get it. But we can’t have it all.

Kasper:     Don’t make it a slap on the wrist. We want people to come together.

PM:     Danes are all for solidarity. They’re always ready to make sacrifices. But we lost sight of it. Now we just sing about it at funerals. “Fight and live for all that you love.”

Ironically, for the first two of the show’s three seasons, the answer to the essential question of any television series, “whose  show is it?” was Kasper, the male “spin doctor.” His enigmatic complexity, the slow unwrapping of its cause, and the wonderful, strained infuriating relationship he had with a television news anchor underpinned the moral, societal ambitions of the show, keeping us glued and waiting anxiously for more. Kasper is so cool, he makes smoking appealing (which his character does). When the creators unfavorably resolved and jettisoned that relationship, and Kasper, for the third season, the show fizzled and then soonafter disappeared altogether. But for two seasons, it was one heck of a ride.

But forget all of that, for now. Here are the marvelous women of Borgen: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Freja Riemann. Go check them out.

As for that speech referenced in the quote above, here that is:

“What ties a nation together? As a young student, I was there in the town square on June 26th, 1992. Denmark had just won the European Football Championship. That night I knew we were one people. One people who almost knew the national anthem by heart. We were amazed. The past 140 years had taught us we were a nation … of kind-hearted losers who were almost always beaten by the Germans. But suddenly we had beaten them.

“We’ve gotten used to the fact that we could have it all. Now that we aren’t as rich any more, we feel lost… and we worry about things that would never have mattered before.

“Each of us in Parliament… represents 30,000 Danes. They have invested all their hopes of a better future in us. More than anything else… we need to act responsibly way beyond party differences, short-sighted bloc politics, and smear campaigns. I believe we as humans need each other. I believe we belong together as a nation. I believe we are united by more than what separates us. I believe deep down we’re the same people… who all rejoiced that night in June in the town square.

“For those who have forgotten the lyrics… the anthem ends “Our ancient Denmark shall endure.” Let’s see to that… together. Thank you.

 

 

Dive for Dreams or . . . Drown in Life

Posted on April 17, 2015

Maybe I should be ashamed to admit it. But I am a Zac Efron fan. I know nothing about his High School Musical days. For me, it began with Charlie St. Cloud. Say what you will about that movie — I thought much more of it than many — it brought the following into a lot of lives . . .

dive for dreams
or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)

trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)

e.e. cummings

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David Brooks: The Moral Bucket List

Posted on April 17, 2015

David Brooks hits a home run. Would he stick to essays about living better rather than treatises on politics . . .

There is so much here that should be examined closely. The essentiality of humility and connection. We cannot walk alone, despite the cultural hype to the contrary. There is salvation in love outside ourselves . . . “should the stars walk backward” or otherwise.

 


 

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Credit Rachel Levit. Photography by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

So a few years ago I set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn’t know if I could follow their road to character (I’m a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am). But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like.

Credit Rachel Levit. Photography by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.

If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:

THE HUMILITY SHIFT We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.

SELF-DEFEAT External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage. Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.

THE DEPENDENCY LEAP Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift. This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success. This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside. But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.

People on this road see life as a process of commitment making. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.

ENERGIZING LOVE Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction. But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”

That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward. As she wrote, “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

She made unshakable commitments in all directions. She became a Catholic, started a radical newspaper, opened settlement houses for the poor and lived among the poor, embracing shared poverty as a way to build community, to not only do good, but be good. This gift of love overcame, sometimes, the natural self-centeredness all of us feel.

THE CALL WITHIN THE CALL We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.

Frances Perkins was a young woman who was an activist for progressive causes at the start of the 20th century. She was polite and a bit genteel. But one day she stumbled across the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and watched dozens of garment workers hurl themselves to their deaths rather than be burned alive. That experience shamed her moral sense and purified her ambition. It was her call within a call.

After that, she turned herself into an instrument for the cause of workers’ rights. She was willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, push through hesitation. She even changed her appearance so she could become a more effective instrument for the movement. She became the first woman in a United States cabinet, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and emerged as one of the great civic figures of the 20th century.

THE CONSCIENCE LEAP In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.

The novelist George Eliot (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was a mess as a young woman, emotionally needy, falling for every man she met and being rejected. Finally, in her mid-30s she met a guy named George Lewes. Lewes was estranged from his wife, but legally he was married. If Eliot went with Lewes she would be labeled an adulterer by society. She’d lose her friends, be cut off by her family. It took her a week to decide, but she went with Lewes. “Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done,” she wrote.

She chose well. Her character stabilized. Her capacity for empathetic understanding expanded. She lived in a state of steady, devoted love with Lewes, the kind of second love that comes after a person is older, scarred a bit and enmeshed in responsibilities. He served her and helped her become one of the greatest novelists of any age. Together they turned neediness into constancy.

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.

Those are the people we want to be.

_____________

Timmy . . . Go . . . Go

Posted on July 2, 2014

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Tim Howard did all he could to save the United States in a 2-1 loss to Belgium. Credit Jamie Mcdonald/Getty Images (NYT)

“Serious stuff. Howard did all he could to save his team in a 2-1 loss to Belgium, but he may ultimately have a much larger role: as a game-changer for soccer in the United States.

“Why? The answer is simple. Timothy Matthew Howard, a 35-year-old keeper from central New Jersey and a son of a truck driver, elicited more cheers than perhaps any other player in this World Cup for single-handedly holding off Belgium for most of the game. At a basic level, he was out there on his own, sacrificing his body to protect his country’s team when the other lines of defense had caved in.

“Howard could have stopped Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal during the 1986 World Cup. He could have kept Luis Suárez from taking a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder. He could have saved Bambi’s mother from dying, or Simba’s father in “The Lion King,” or the Titanic from sinking, or the movie rental company Blockbuster from falling into bankruptcy. He could have spared dinosaurs from extinction by batting away a giant meteor.

“He could have saved your parents’ marriage.

Jose Mourinho on Mesut Özil

Posted on June 26, 2014

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Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho hugs Mesut Özil of Arsenal

Mesut Özil is a player who requires “trust and confidence” in order to reach his best form, according to Jose Mourinho.

Özil, who is currently at the World Cup with Germany, experienced a difficult season first season in the Premier League after joining Arsenal from Real Madrid for a club-record £42.5 million fee.

He scored six goals and managed 11 assists in 37 appearances for the Gunners last season, but his level of performance in games against their title rivals was fiercely scrutinised by fans.

However, Mourinho insists it’s simply a case of providing the 25-year-old with the right man-management, and hinted neither the fans nor Arsene Wenger are doing enough to make his star man feel wanted.

“I learned with him because we were together for quite a long time, that he’s a very sensitive boy,” said Mourinho, who was speaking as Yahoo’s Global Ambassador.

“He needs confidence. He needs trust. He needs to feel that people is with him. When he’s on the pitch, every time he touches the ball, the ball goes beautiful.”

“And he’ll always finds the right man on the right place. So, sometimes, you don’t see him, sometimes he doesn’t go to screen many, many times. But when he goes he is a special player.”

It’s not so much Özil’s ability that was being criticised by the fans, rather it was his tendency to refuse to track back if he lost possession.

But the Portuguese coach finds it hard to understand why critics dissect Özil’s lack of defensive work.

He added: “I think it’s hard to criticise him, because Özil is Özil,”

“If you were expecting Özil to be super aggressive and to be running miles and miles from side to side and to show great enthusiasm and aggressiveness, this is not Mesut.

“If you are waiting for somebody where every time he touches the ball, the ball smiles. Every time he makes a pass, the ball goes with the right direction, the right speed, the right intensity, this is Özil.”

 

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Some Freedom for Lupita

Posted on April 13, 2014

Whether Lupita Nyong’o has permanently, or like past cultural phenomena, merely briefly, expanded conceptions of beauty is still to be played out.  But her arrangement with Lancôme means that she will never have to accept Hollywood drivel as her next project, should that notorious industry do, again, what it has done in the past, with such outside the box wonders.

 

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It goes without saying that when you’re handed the part of a lifetime, you play it to the hilt. In the case of Lupita Nyong’o, the 31-year old Oscar winner — born in Mexico, raised in Kenya, educated at Yale and vaulted to what seemed like overnight fame — the part of the slave Patsey in “12 Years a Slave” was just a preamble for a far larger role.

Unlike many ingénues struck by show business lightning, this one came prepared to turn her allotted 15 minutes into a more durable and moneymaking run. Rather than looking upon the grueling award-show season as a never-ending slog — a “Groundhog Day” loop of dinners and speeches and red carpet treks — Ms. Nyong’o and her management approached the five-month span between the film’s debut at the Telluride Film Festival (and gala premiere a week later at the Toronto Film Festival) and the Academy Awards with what, in retrospect, looks like military precision.

The actress Lupita Nyong’o at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif., in March. An Oscar winner, she has capitalized on her fame and gained financial power and cachet. George Pimentel/WireImage

The actress Lupita Nyong’o at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif., in March. An Oscar winner, she has capitalized on her fame and gained financial power and cachet. George Pimentel/WireImage

Few of life’s attainments are as good as an Oscar. But in an age of hyper-media, the ultimate prize may not be a gilded statuette for a single film performance but the career leverage, financial power and cachet to be gained from becoming an individual brand. Not long into the awards-season process, Ms. Nyong’o was snapped up by Miuccia Prada, a canny judge of popular culture and its metrics, and signed to be the face of Miu Miu. It was certainly a plum, and yet fashion ad campaigns are ephemeral, few celebrities lasting more than a season or so.

Lupita Nyong’o at the Marie Claire magazine Fresh Faces party. Credit Valerie Macon/Getty Images

The big prize for a rising star is not a fashion-house deal, but a beauty contract. And last week Lancôme Paris, the luxury cosmetics goliath, announced that it had signed Ms. Nyong’o as its newest celebrity face, adding her to a list of highly paid A-list alumna that have included Kate Winslet, Penélope Cruz and Julia Roberts.

“I’ve always said having this contract is winning the lottery,” said Isabella Rossellini, whose 14-year run with Lancôme allowed the actress, a single mother, to educate her two children and, she said, gave her “the freedom to make only the films that I liked and not the films I didn’t.”

By becoming a brand “ambassadress” for Lancôme, Ms. Nyong’o’s career has “totally changed,” according to Ivan Bart, the head of IMG Models. As the man who took a bosomy teenager with little more than a viral video to her credit and turned her into the branding phenomenon known as Kate Upton, Mr. Bart has a particularly shrewd perspective on the proper deployment of fame.

“The fact that Lupita won the Academy Award means she’s going to be offered more high-profile projects,” he said. “The fact that she has Lancôme means she’s never going to have to do ‘Porky’s 4.’ ”

Seen from afar, the journey of Ms. Nyong’o from unknown to fashion darling looked uncommonly organic and easeful. And without question, say those who have worked with the actress, her intelligence and composure, like her luminous beauty, are true and innate. Yet it takes more than talent and well-distributed pixie dust to seduce the public into viewing a woman who, by her own account, grew up insecure about her African cast of features and dark complexion — prey to the “seductions of inadequacy” — as the cynosure of all eyes.

“Lupita’s stylist and her team should be given a round of applause,” said Bethann Hardison, the modeling agent, fashion industry gadfly and a recently named recipient of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Founder’s Award, to be presented in June. “They put her right in your face and you couldn’t deny anything she did. That was genius.”

It was, in a way. No other actress within recent memory has commanded the red carpet as confidently as Ms. Nyong’o did during awards season, when usually performers enduring seemingly unending rounds of photo opportunities must consider themselves lucky to escape citizens’ arrest by the fashion police.

From Sept. 5, 2013, when the Toronto Film Festival opened, to the Academy Awards in early March, Ms. Nyong’o appeared at 66 separate events, which in terms of costume challenges is roughly the equivalent of being crowned prom queen three times a week for almost half a year.

“A lot of people think you just waltz onto the red carpet looking fresh-faced and fabulous,” said Micaela Erlanger, Ms. Nyong’o’s fashion stylist and a woman the Hollywood Reporter recently placed near the top of a list of the 25 most powerful in Hollywood. “But there’s a campaign behind it, a business behind it, and you’re focusing throughout on your message.”

No matter how gifted the raw material, Ms. Erlanger added, creating a coherent narrative for a budding star whose every appearance is another opportunity for brand building requires strategy. The challenge was heightened by the reality that filmgoers knew Ms. Nyong’o chiefly for her portrayal of a wretched character defined by slavery and dressed in rags.

“I was working with this brand-new actress who is beyond talented and who was being introduced to the world through this film,” Ms. Erlanger said. “She is multidimensional and has a lot to show.”

In the bigger picture as it evolved over months of microscopic scrutiny and blinding strobe lights, Ms. Nyong’o would be dressed and coifed and made up by a team that also included her hairdresser, Larry Sims, and her makeup artist Nick Barose in ways designed to convey “her sense of whimsy, her sense of glamour, a sense of the different characters she could play,” Ms. Erlanger said.

Almost from the start, reaction to Ms. Nyong’o indicated a star had been born. And high time it was, said Ms. Hardison, a longtime advocate for racial diversity in the spheres of beauty. “Here comes this little girl and she’s dark, you can’t deny it, it’s undeniable,” Ms. Hardison said. “Suddenly everyone is saying: ‘Whoa! Wow! She looks good in this stuff. She is model as muse.’ Once they got her out of the mud and the dirt and rubbed a little soap on her, got her up on the red carpet, everyone could see the girl has ‘it’ naturally.”

Although buzz about Ms. Nyong’o’s performance in the director Steve McQueen’s film reached Lancôme’s executives early, it was only after she became a consistent showstopper — now wearing burnt orange by Givenchy for the N.A.A.C.P. awards; now dressed in emerald Dior for the Bafta awards; now clad in cobalt blue Roland Mouret at the New York Film Festival; now captivating in a red capelet gown from Ralph Lauren at the Golden Globes — that they truly sat up and took note.

“I started checking online and YouTube,” Silvia Galfo, senior vice president for marketing at Lancôme, said by telephone from Paris.

“What was interesting was the build, was what whoever worked with her did, positioning her as a style icon,” Ms. Galfo added. “She came out of nowhere and suddenly you see her being the most coveted ‘It’ girl.”

It was as if, truly suddenly, the mysterious arbiters Ms. Nyong’o referred to in a moving speech written for the Essence Black Beauty Awards as “the faraway gatekeepers of beauty,” had become aware and realized what Lancôme executives also did when they signed Ms. Nyong’o to a contract likely to be worth millions (Lancôme declined to disclose precise terms). They awoke to “the deeper business of being beautiful inside,” as the actress put it in her Essence remarks, and the obvious truth that beauty has no single shade of skin color.

“It’s difficult to say what exactly we look for, though it’s not necessarily perfect beauty,” Ms. Galfo said. “We want women who have their own authenticity, and with Lupita, it was obvious from the first that she was not fake, that she was not someone hiding behind a great dress and great makeup.”

To the credit, in other words, of the people who spent five months putting the actress in that makeup and those dresses, their work remained largely invisible to Ms. Galfo and others. They stayed on the sidelines, allowing, as Ms. Hardison said, “Lupita’s little star to glimmer and shine.”

Café Girl: The Quintessential

Posted on April 12, 2014

The café seemed to just part when she walked in.  In that way that happens when everyone seems to look up at once.  Or inhale at the same time.  I noticed from a balcony at the back of the place, in between glimpses at The Economist, and thoughts about American democracy.  She sat next to me and did not look up for the next two hours.  I did.  It was as if . . . she were posing.  Quintessential Café Girl:  Café Babe.

 

What Umpires Still Get Right When They Get It Wrong

Posted on April 6, 2014

We act as if we tell ourselves enough times that it doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t. That if we tell ourselves that something crazy and unfair didn’t happen for that reason but some other, then we are right and it’s all good. But the truth is, in infinite, infinite ways, there is a difference. There are tiny (and not so tiny) pinpricks.

The race of the pitcher, we found, also mattered, but not as much as other factors. Umpires were 10 percent less likely to expand the strike zone for African-American pitchers than for Caucasian pitchers, but race did not seem to influence whether an umpire called a pitch a ball when it was actually a strike.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 9.12.38 PMTHIS season Major League Baseball is allowing its officiating crews to use instant replay to review certain critical calls, including home runs, force plays and foul balls. But the calling of the strike zone — determining whether a pitch that is not swung at is a ball or a strike — will still be left completely to the discretion of the officials. This might seem an odd exception, since calling the strike zone may be the type of officiating decision most subject to human foible.

In research soon to be published in the journal Management Science, we studied umpires’ strike-zone calls using pitch-location data compiled by the high-speed cameras introduced by Major League Baseball several years ago in an effort to measure, monitor and reward umpires’ accuracy. After analyzing more than 700,000 pitches thrown during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, we found that umpires frequently made errors behind the plate — about 14 percent of non-swinging pitches were called erroneously.

Some of those errors occurred in fairly predictable ways. We found, for example, that umpires tended to favor the home team by expanding the strike zone, calling a strike when the pitch was actually a ball 13.3 percent of the time for home team pitchers versus 12.7 percent of the time for visitors.30GRAYMATTER-superJumbo

Other errors were more surprising. Contrary to the expectation (or hope) that umpires would be more accurate in important situations, we found that they were, in fact, more likely to make mistakes when the game was on the line. For example, our analyses suggest that umpires were 13 percent more likely to miss an actual strike in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game than in the top of the first inning, on the first pitch.

We also found that the pitch count had an influence over the umpire’s perception of a pitch. When the count was 3-0, and another ball would end the at-bat, the umpires mistakenly called a strike 18.6 percent of the time, compared with a 14.7 percent error rate when the count was 0-0. But when the count was 0-2, with another strike yielding a strikeout, the umpires expanded the strike zone only 7.3 percent of the time, half the error rate for 0-0. The umpires, in other words, appeared biased against ending an at-bat.

The race of the pitcher, we found, also mattered, but not as much as other factors. Umpires were 10 percent less likely to expand the strike zone for African-American pitchers than for Caucasian pitchers, but race did not seem to influence whether an umpire called a pitch a ball when it was actually a strike.

In a way, it is surprising to find such nonrandom errors, because M.L.B. umpires are keenly aware that their ball-strike calls are being scrutinized and that they will be evaluated accordingly. They have an incentive to be as accurate as possible. And yet they still make routine errors behind the plate. We think that the sorts of errors we observed are not deliberate and may reflect an unconscious and biased decision-making process.

One of the sources of bias we identified was that umpires tended to favor All-Star pitchers. An umpire was about 16 percent more likely to erroneously call a pitch outside the zone a strike for a five-time All-Star than for a pitcher who had never appeared in an All-Star Game. An umpire was about 9 percent less likely to mistakenly call a real strike a ball for a five-time All-Star. The strike zone did actually seem to get bigger for All-Star pitchers and it tended to shrink for non-All-Stars.

An umpire’s bias toward All-Star pitchers was even stronger when the pitcher had a reputation for precise control, as measured by the career percentage of batters walked. We found that pitchers with a track record of not walking batters — like Greg Maddux — were much more likely to benefit from their All-Star status than similarly decorated but “wilder” pitchers like Randy Johnson.

Baseball insiders have long suspected what our research confirms: that umpires tend to make errors in ways that favor players who have established themselves at the top of the game’s status hierarchy. But our findings are also suggestive of the way that people in any sort of evaluative role — not just umpires — are unconsciously biased by simple “status characteristics.” Even constant monitoring and incentives can fail to train such biases out of us.

Technologically, Major League Baseball is in a position, thanks to its high-speed camera system, to enforce a completely accurate, uniform strike zone. The question is whether we, as fans, want our games to be fair and just, or whether we are compelled to watch the game because it mimics the real world, warts and all.

Brayden King is an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Jerry Kim is an assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School.

Marina Keegan: The Opposite of Loneliness

Posted on April 6, 2014

University | 3:10 am | May 27, 2012 | By Marina Keegan
Marina Keegan '12.

Marina Keegan ’12. Photo by Joy Shan.

 

The piece below was written by Marina Keegan ’12 for a special edition of the News distributed at the class of 2012′s commencement exercises last week. Keegan died in a car accident on Saturday. She was 22.

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers — partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts.

This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.

But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should haves…” “if I’d…” “wish I’d…”

Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.

But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.

We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.

When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy – and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to. Some of us have focused ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we want and are on the path to get it; already going to med school, working at the perfect NGO, doing research. To you I say both congratulations and you suck.

For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…

What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.

In the heart of a winter Friday night my freshman year, I was dazed and confused when I got a call from my friends to meet them at EST EST EST. Dazedly and confusedly, I began trudging to SSS, probably the point on campus farthest away. Remarkably, it wasn’t until I arrived at the door that I questioned how and why exactly my friends were partying in Yale’s administrative building. Of course, they weren’t. But it was cold and my ID somehow worked so I went inside SSS to pull out my phone. It was quiet, the old wood creaking and the snow barely visible outside the stained glass. And I sat down. And I looked up. At this giant room I was in. At this place where thousands of people had sat before me. And alone, at night, in the middle of a New Haven storm, I felt so remarkably, unbelievably safe.

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that.

We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.

“I Love You, I Love You”

Posted on April 6, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 8.30.53 PMAt one time, maybe still, you could have read everywhere about “The Secret” and “Law of Attraction,” and this ubiquity, and the mystical panacea they promised, resulted in an understandable, predictable backlash. But if you get beyond this, you will see that their essential principles merely recast basic tenets of various religions, philosophers and self-help books.

Akhil Sharma himself recasts these tenets quite nicely in The Trick of Life in this week’s NYT Sunday Review.  Lost in depression, inertia and the fear driving them, Sharma found the way out simply to “be outside myself” because “[m]y mind had become uninhabitable.”  This revelation came in the comfort he found in thinking about a loving friend during times of crisis; and he came to practice it daily by simply praying for others. Thinking of others gave perspective, proportion to his his struggles, making them less unique, less pressing.

His second practice, picked up from an actor, is to say “I love you, I love you” when speaking to difficult people or in difficult situations. It is difficult to attack, difficult to be antagonistic, mean or insensitive, difficult to make war when the brain is bombarded with nonstop internal entreaties to compassion. That is one practice that would change humanity. You should try it. And get your friends to.

*                                      *                                      *

SEVEN years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind. My thirty-seventh birthday had just come and gone, the end of 2008 was approaching, and I was constantly aware of how little I had managed to accomplish.

I would sit at my desk at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, and drink pot after pot of tea and try to write. The panic attacks came then. I would be staring at the screen, examining a paragraph that I had already rewritten 170 times. Suddenly the screen would start to ripple, as if I were peering through water, and I would feel a pain like a punch in the chest. Months passed this way. My chest felt constantly bruised.

One December morning, the crisis finally came. I had lain down on my living room sofa and found I could not get up. The idea of another year ending with the book not done overwhelmed me.

A day went by and then two. My wife would stand beside me with her face full of fear. Finally desperate, she phoned a good friend of mine. He drove in from out of town, three hours away, and took me for a ride in his car. I was like a sobbing infant on the ride, but my friend was like a father who drives till his child falls asleep, soothed.

Photo

Credit Eugéne Riousse

When I returned to my apartment, I lay down once more on the couch. Again I felt the weight of my stalled novel. But something had changed. My friend’s kindness kept drawing my attention, the way a piece of glass at the bottom of a stream can keep blinking in sunlight and pull your eye. Each time I thought of him, I was soothed.

A day or two after his visit, I got up from the sofa and walked down to the Hudson River, which I live not far from. I sat on a bench by the river and rested. I stared across it to the tall apartment buildings in New Jersey. Thinking of how people were living out their lives in those buildings comforted me somehow. I looked at the gray rushing water and its movement, the fact that it was coming from someplace and going someplace else also consoled me. It was then that I realized that I needed somehow to always be outside myself. My mind had become uninhabitable.

When I was 10 and he was 14, my older brother, Anup, dived into a swimming pool, struck his head on its bottom and remained underwater for three minutes. When he was pulled out, he could no longer walk or talk, could no longer feed himself, could no longer even roll over in his sleep. Only a few months before, he was heading to the Bronx High School of Science.

My parents are deeply pious Hindus. We had been in America for two years when the accident occurred, in 1981. And of course when tragedy occurs, even nonimmigrants and nonpious people find themselves turning to their most atavistic selves. My parents took Anup out of the hospital and brought him to our house. For the next 28 years, until he died, they tried to fix him through faith healing. Strange men — not priests or gurus, but engineers, accountants, candy shop owners — would come to the house and perform bizarre rituals, claiming that God had visited them in a dream and told them of a magical cure that would fix Anup.

Having grown up like this, among so many crackpot rituals, I find nothing alien in exploring oddball ideas. So, sitting on the bench by the river that day, I remembered having read in Reader’s Digest — a periodical my family has undue reverence for — that when you are feeling bad, one way to make yourself feel better is to pray for others.

I BEGAN to pray for the people who were passing by. I prayed for the nanny pushing a stroller. I prayed for the young woman jogging by in spandex. I prayed for the little boy pedaling his bicycle. I prayed that each of them got the same things that I wanted for myself: that they have good health, peace of mind, financial security. By focusing on others and their needs, my own problems seemed less unique and, somehow, less pressing.

After this, when I would sit at my desk, trying to write, and despair welled up, I knew what to do. I prayed. Not for myself, or for the ability to write, but for others, whether dead or alive, known to me or not: William Faulkner as much as the crazy old lady in the grocery store.

During my breakdown, many things, tiny things I had not even registered before, had begun to torment me with guilt. I used to steal Splenda from Starbucks. I would go into a Starbucks whenever I needed the sweetener and would take a fistful of packets, even when I didn’t buy a coffee. This had never struck me as especially wrong. Now, whenever I did this, my chest would tighten as if I was about to have a panic attack. I was also not an especially diligent recycler. But now, if I mixed plastic with metals, I had nightmares so severe that I would sweat all night. Waking from these, I found my fingertips so wrinkled that it was as if I had taken a bath, or swum in a pool.

The answer to these problems turned out to be very simple, so simple I had missed it all this time. I stopped wishing away the guilt and started acting in ways I didn’t need to feel guilty about, even a little. No more stealing Splenda. No more mixing recyclables.

All this praying and punctilious honesty might seem absurd, but it did let me finish my novel. The style of it is very different from my first. The nouns in my sentences used to fall in just a few places. Now they seem to bop around, nudging themselves into places I would never have thought to place them. Before, each paragraph had pushed the reader directly into the next. Now there is space between my paragraphs, and I have trust in my reader’s patience and generosity to stay with me, without shepherding him.

Just as my parents were always looking for ways, however ludicrous, to wake my brother, I find that I am constantly on the lookout for ways to keep my mind quiet, so that I might live and work in peace. Recently, I read an interview of an actor who said that when he needs to change his behavior toward someone, he merely thinks, “I love you, I love you,” as he is talking to the person.

I called my parents a few weeks ago on the second anniversary of my brother’s death. My father began telling me that he felt abandoned by my brother, that my brother’s dying feels like him leaving us. As he spoke, I started thinking: I love you. I love you. My usual response at this point would have been to tell my father that he needed to focus on the future, that what was past was past. Instead I told my father that he was wonderful, that he should think of how brave he had been to take care of his poor sick son for all those years, that his devotion had been heroic.

However odd my reasons may seem, I am glad that I said this.

Akhil Sharma is the author of the novel “Family Life.”

Heart and Spirit

Posted on March 30, 2014

In England, they call it spirit.  We call it heart.  José MourinhoYou can have all the skill, all the intelligence in the world, but without it, you will crumble.

Arsenal found some yesterday, tying Man City 1-1, both teams missing goal opportunities that could have won it. And yesterday, Chelsea, well, let’s let Mourinho tell it–

We lost against a team who are difficult, but against a team who were better than us in terms of spirit and mentality. That’s the last thing my teams are usually guilty of: normally, they don’t lose because the opponents are stronger in terms of spirit.”

Asked what had cost his side, Mourinho explained: “Mentality, and a little bit of quality. Mentality because the opponents beat us clearly on that: they were strong, aggressive, committed. Every one of them played at the top of their potential and that, in football, is important. And, after that, I think also we missed some qualities. The same qualities we’ve missed in every match we lost except Villa. At Stoke, Newcastle, Everton, Palace and drawing at West Brom … you try to find common points, and you do find them.

“Clearly we have some players because of their profile who find it difficult to perform in some kinds of matches. You have Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Gary Cahill and César Azpilicueta who perform in the sun, in the rain, on small pitches, on big pitches, against aggressive teams, against non-aggressive teams, against possession teams, against non-possession teams, and they perform every game from day one to the last day. And you have other players who are fantastic in some matches and disappear in others. You can find easily in these matches something in common. You can find it clearly.”

Asked what quality is required for his side, Mourinho said: “I cannot say in front of the cameras. I can write it on paper.” Offered a notepad afterwards, the Portuguese wrote “balls”.

So, what was Chelsea’s squad yesterday?

  • Petr Cech
  • Branislav Ivanovic
  • Gary Cahill
  • John Terry
  • Cesar Azpilicueta
  • David Luiz
  • Nemanja Matic
  • Frank Lampard
  • Andre Schurrle
  • Fernando Torres
  • Eden Hazard
  • Emboaba Oscar (s 45′)
  • Mohamed Salah (s 56′)
  • Demba Ba (s 70′)

Tiny Pinpricks that Disrupt, Distract and Debilitate

Posted on March 29, 2014

‘Enough is enough’: the fight against everyday sexism

Everyday Sexism extract 1
‘People didn’t want to acknowledge sexism, or talk about it. And it wasn’t just men who took this view; it was women, too.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Everyone has a tipping point. The funny thing is that when mine came, in March 2012, it wasn’t something dramatic. It was just another week of little pinpricks: the man who appeared as I sat outside a cafe, seized my hand and refused to let go; the guy who followed me off the bus and propositioned me all the way to my front door; the man who made a sexual gesture and shouted, “I’m looking for a wife” from his car as I walked home after a long day. I shouted back, “Keep looking!” but as I trudged home, I started for the first time really to think about how many of these little incidents I was putting up with from day to day.

I thought about the night a group of teenage boys had casually walked up behind me in the street before one of them grabbed me, hard, between the legs. I recalled the boss who’d sent me emails about his sexual fantasies and terminated my freelance contract with no explanation almost immediately after learning I had a boyfriend. I remembered the men who cornered me late one night in a Cambridge street, shouting obscenities, and left me cowering against the wall as they strolled away.

And the more these incidents came back to me, the more I wondered why I’d played them down at the time – why I’d never complained. The answer was that these events hadn’t seemed exceptional enough for me to object to. Because this kind of thing was just part of life – or, rather, part of being a woman. And I started to wonder how many other women had had similar experiences. So I started asking around. To my surprise, every woman I spoke to had a story.

And they weren’t random one-off events, but reams of tiny pinpricks – like my own experiences – so niggling and normalised that to protest about each one felt trivial. Yet put them together, and the picture was strikingly clear. This inequality, this pattern of casual intrusion whereby women could be leered at, touched, harassed and abused, was sexism. And if sexism means treating people differently or discriminating against them purely because of their sex, then women were experiencing it on a near-daily basis.

The more stories I heard, the more I tried to talk about the problem. And yet time and again I found myself coming up against the same response: “Sexism doesn’t exist any more,” people told me. “You’re uptight, or frigid… you really need to learn to take a compliment.”

People didn’t want to acknowledge it, or talk about it. And it wasn’t just men who took this view; it was women, too, telling me I was being oversensitive, or simply looking for problems where there weren’t any.

At first, I wondered if they were right. I thought I’d take a look at the statistics. I found that in this supposedly “equal” society, with nothing left for women to want or fight for, they hold less than a quarter of seats in parliament, and only four out of 22 Cabinet positions. That just seven out of 38 Lord Justices of Appeal and 18 out of 108 High Court judges are female. That in 2010 it was reported that the National Gallery’s collection of some 2,300 works contained paintings by only 10 women. That our Royal Society has never had a female president and just 5% of the current fellowship is made up of women. That women write only a fifth of front-page newspaper articles. That women directed just 5% of the 250 major films of 2011, down by nearly half from a paltry 9% in 1998. I found that on average more than two women are killed every week by a current or former partner, that there is a call to the police every minute about domestic violence, and that a woman is raped every six minutes – adding up to more than 85,000 rapes and 400,000 sexual assaults per year.

I didn’t for a moment think that the problem of sexism could be solved overnight. But nor did I see how we could even begin to tackle it while so many people continued to refuse to acknowledge that it existed. So, in April 2012, I started a simple website, everydaysexism.com, where women could upload their stories. Without any funding, or means to publicise the project beyond my own Facebook wall, I thought perhaps 50 or 60 women would add their stories. Stories began to trickle in during the first few days. Within a week, hundreds of women had added their voices. I started a Twitter account, @EverydaySexism, and found that people were keen to discuss the phenomenon there, too. Stories began to appear from America and Canada, Germany and France, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people started viewing the website each month. Within 18 months we had expanded to 18 countries. In December 2013 – 20 months after the project was launched – we had 50,000 entries.

I have been asked what has shocked me the most since starting the project. I think people expect me to say that it’s the stories of rape or violence. Those stories angered and devastated me, of course, but nothing has shocked me more than the thousands of entries from girls under the age of 18.

One day, in the early months of the project, I read two or three entries in a week from girls who had been subjected to leering and shouting from men in the street while walking home from school in their uniform. Dismayed, I posted a question on Twitter: surely this couldn’t be a common occurrence? By the end of the day, a deluge of tweets had confirmed that the experience was not only common, but almost ubiquitous. One post read: “I have had men say things like ‘Hello darling’ and ‘Sexy lady’ while walking home from school in my uniform.”

The obsessive focus on girls’ looks is particularly poisonous. One girl noted her bemusement at having her legs commented on, aged just 10: “I’d never thought much about my legs before, they were just something I walked on.” As girls hit the age of 10 or 11, this obsession with their appearance takes a distinctly sexualised turn. Suddenly they are defined not only by their looks, but also, more specifically, by what boys and men think of them.

This often translates into a single, all-encompassing quest for thinness. A 2012 report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Body Image revealed that girls as young as five are worrying about their size and looks, and that one in four seven-year-old girls has tried to lose weight. The Representation Project, a US-based campaign working to reveal gender inequality and shift public perceptions, has revealed that the number one “magic wish” for young girls aged 11 to 17 is to be thinner. It takes a while for that last figure to sink in. Just think of all the other things in the world that teenage girls could wish for.

One girl, aged 14, tells me that girls worry about their weight “all the time”: “The girls on the internet are perfect, and the girls know the guys talk about it and I guess they want to please the guy. If you don’t have a thigh gap, you need to get a thigh gap.” (For those not in the know, a “thigh gap” is achieved when a woman stands with her legs straight and together, and there is a gap between her thighs.) When I ask how the girls go about this quest for “perfection”, she confidently explains: “Year 7 or 8, it’s really common not eating, but when you get to 14 to 18, it’s more diet pills and exercising all the time.”

Another girl, a sixth former, meets me in a quiet north London cafe. “I don’t think I know any girls who don’t have some sort of self-esteem or body-image issues,” she tells me. “I have about six friends with eating disorders and so many friends who don’t have eating disorders but they’re disordered eaters – they’ll eat only fruit for a day or something. And so many people who just feel anxious about it – they won’t wear short-sleeved shirts because they’re embarrassed about their arms.” I ask her how far back the problem goes, and her eyes glaze as she recalls a childhood of intense self-scrutiny: “I remember being embarrassed about my thighs aged six. I remember girls comparing their bodies in the toilet in Year 5. I would have been about nine.”

She is beautiful, this 17-year-old girl who tells me: “I feel like people are watching me all the time, judging me. I never show skin or anything. I feel way too self-conscious to do that.”

I have never felt as angry or as frustrated as I did that afternoon, wishing there was anything in the world I could say to make this teenage girl realise how much she had to be proud of, and knowing that nothing I could say would change the way the world had made her feel about herself.

She attributes her own slide into the grip of an eating disorder, aged 15, to the increasing levels of street harassment she was experiencing at the time: “There was a man who ran his hand up my leg on the tube – that was one of the first times I came to London to stay with my sister. I felt embarrassed and scared… I didn’t want to make a fuss. Losing weight seemed like the appropriate reaction to being looked at as a sexual being. It’s kind of reclaiming your body, but in a really negative way. I remember feeling completely powerless.”

Every one of the girls I’ve spoken to described sexual harassment as a regular part of life. According to a 2010 survey by YouGov for the End Violence Against Women Coalition, nearly one in three 16- to 18-year-old girls said they had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. A huge 71% of all 16- to 18-year-olds said they heard sexual name-calling (such as “slag” or “slut”) towards girls at least several times a week. And yet it seems girls are being given neither the resources to deal with it, nor the information to understand that they shouldn’t have to face it in the first place.

They also then get ripped to shreds for being too sexy. Enormous pressure is put on very young girls to be sexually active, to give in to boys’ “demands” and to acquiesce to various requests. But the moment they comply, they face a stringent backlash.

Everyday Sexism extract 2 One 14-year-old girl says: “If you’re talking to a guy or you text with him, he will ask for a picture.” Photograph: Getty Images One 14-year-old girl tells me, “If you’re talking to a guy or you text with him, he will ask for a picture.” I ask why girls feel they have to comply. “You’d feel like you don’t want to let him down – you think he likes you for who you are and he promises not to show it to anyone, then you send the picture and then he’ll never speak to you again. The guy shows his friends and then the friend puts it up on the internet and then for the girls it’s horrible – her friends will turn against her and call her a slut, and the guys at school will all come up and say they saw the picture and she’ll lose all her friends.” As extreme as it sounds, versions of this story are relayed to me again and again, by girls from all backgrounds.

What makes the cycle of pressure and judgment even more powerful is that, thanks to social media, there is no escape from it, even at home. With this absolute internet focus comes instant, easily accessible porn. In a group interview, one sixth-form girl tells me: “The view of women through porn creates assumptions – it means [boys] just expect women will take it, the man’s in control; and I don’t think they can separate that the woman is acting and that isn’t what relationships are really like… most of the boys will probably have been watching it since about 14 – that’s how they learn about sex.” Another 17-year-old girl agrees: “Boys in my school were watching porn in Year 7, possibly earlier. They started circulating pictures. And they were also making rape jokes – like saying, ‘You’re so hot, I’d rape you.’ ”

In a heartbreaking Everyday Sexism Project entry, one schoolgirl wrote: “I am 13 and I am so scared to have sex it makes me cry nearly every day. We had sex education in Year 6 and I felt fine about it, but now some of the boys at school keep sending us these videos of sex which are much worse than what we learned about and it looks so horrible and like it hurts, and at night I get really scared that one day I will have to do it.”

Nothing has emerged more clearly from the Everyday Sexism Project than the urgent need for far more comprehensive mandatory sex-and-relationships education in schools, to include issues such as consent and respect, domestic violence and rape. It’s not just girls who need it. For boys, porn provides some very scary, dictatorial lessons about how they are expected to exert their dominance over women. It is unrealistic to expect them, unaided, to work out the difference between online porn and real, caring intimacy.

When we carried out an online poll, asking people whether their school sex-and-relationships education had covered issues such as domestic violence, assault or rape, more than 92% said these issues were never raised at all. These statistics were borne out by numerous entries from girls and young women feeling confused and anxious about sex and consent. Huge numbers simply had no idea they had the right to say no.

Young people need to be aware of the possibility that things could be different. It isn’t sweeping reform or mass changes of the law that we need now, but a change in ideas and inherited assumptions about rape, about body image and vulnerability. And that is something everybody can contribute to. Enough is enough.

The picture might seem depressing and at times I have felt overwhelmed. But setting up Everyday Sexism has also put me in touch with a number of inspiring young people who are passionate about changing things for their generation. Despite facing a barrage of pressures, they display tenacity, enthusiasm and courage in the battle for gender equality. They are our great hope..

• This is an edited extract from Everyday Sexism, by Laura Bates published next month by Simon & Schuster at £14.99. To order a copy for £11.99, including free UK p&p, call 0330 333 6846 or go to theguardian.com/bookshop.

Read more by Laura Bates in Tuesday’s G2, when she will also take part in an online Q&A at theguardian.com.

Images of Who We Are: Mother And Daughter, 37-Years Apart

Posted on March 29, 2014

by Ugne Henriko

black and white photo of mother and daughter

People often comment on the similarities between 25-year-old Lithuanian photographer Ugne Henriko and her mother Laimute Vasyliene, but it was completing the Mother And Daughter series that really brought it home. “My mother cried when she saw the pictures,” Henriko says. “She laughed and cried at the same time – she couldn’t believe it.”

black and white photo of mother and daughter

To explore the relationship between them, Henriko recreated images taken 37 years earlier, when her mother was an 18-year-old photography student in the Soviet Union. She not only wanted to explore the idea of being a “copy” of someone else, but also to observe the generational differences between them.black and white photo of mother and daughter

The images on the left were taken in 1975. My mum and dad were studying art at college. They took lots of pictures and there were boxes and boxes of them in the house when I was growing up. As a child, I used to go through them. In their university days, my parents were hippies, and it struck me how beautiful they looked, how happy… The picture of my mother eating an apple was taken on her 18th birthday.”

black and white photo of mother and daughter

But Henriko didn’t realise how much she resembled her mother until she was a teenager. “Sometimes I would scan the images and use them as my own photograph on social media.”

black and white photo of mother and daughter

When it came to doing her major project at university in Cambridge, Henriko knew she wanted to recreate some of her mother’s pictures. The pair have always been close – Henriko is the only daughter and has four brothers – and she asked her mother in Lithuania to send over all the pictures in which they look similar.black and white photo of mother and daughter

Henriko selected some, then set about scouring charity shops for clothes similar to those worn by her mother in the images. The pictures she would recreate would be dictated by the clothes she managed to find. Her favourite photograph from the set is the one where she mirrors her mother gazing out of the window. While much of Henriko’s other portrait work uses the backdrop of wild nature – windswept beaches, deserted woodlands – her next project will be more conceptual. “I am fascinated by the idea of intimacy, and I want to explore the relationships between people – friends, lovers, sisters…” she says. “Although I’m quite introverted, I find the idea of people sharing moments around me fascinating.”

Defining Cool: Patrick O’Neale, football coach, 45 (London)

Posted on March 29, 2014

I like to wear one thing that stands out – today it’s the boots, by Oliver Sweeney – and the rest I’m not worried about. I’m in trainers or football boots all week, so I like to have on a nice pair of shoes the rest of the time.

Today’s a Jimi Hendrix day – that’s what I’m listening to right now. I love the man, I love the guitar. When I’m cruising around, I like to plug myself in and get myself going.

I’m very much a family person. I live with my wife and two beautiful children. My nine-year-old son kiteboards, too. Right now, my perfect weekend would be spent with my family at the beach, or by our pool at the house, just chilling and listening to music.

Weekender: Patrick O'Neale

Good People Fail

Posted on March 29, 2014

Arsène Wenger

Been regretting my recent conclusion that Arsène Wenger should step aside because, frankly, he comes across as a good guy. A nice man.

I don’t know him, of course, but there has been nothing about the way he has conducted himself that suggests anything but a quality individual. He is thoughtful and reflective, balanced and nuanced. He suggests honesty, and the most important quality of all, integrity. You can have a coffee with him, or a pint, and likely find much to talk about. He strikes me as that professor we use to like talking to.

His pregame responses this week, in what promises to be another Man City blowout of the Gunners, remind me again of this. And, frankly, who am I — any of us really — to judge. The last is my favorite.

We are in a society where there are thousands of opinions every day. Some go for you and some go against you. It is a period where every game is a definite judgment for ever, but life is movement and life is change. It is having disappointments and transforming them.

I have given my word and I always respect my word. My word is my word. So will I definitely stay? Yes, unless I decide otherwise.

People who have managed zero games have opinions. We have to accept that. I have leaders in my team. We conceded the equaliser to Swansea with Kim Kallstrom, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in midfield. We had plenty of experience and you can still concede goals.

We have changed our style, having lost midfielders like Vieira and Petit. We don’t find them any more. But do we not play Fábregas or Wilshere because they are not as tall as Vieira? You have to take the players we have.

I question myself a lot. If I have one quality – or one flaw – it is maybe that.

Desmond Tutu – A God of Surprises: Do You Really Think God Would Say . . .

Posted on March 23, 2014

Archbishop Tutu: Yes. Do you really think that God would say, “Dalai Lama, you really are a great guy, man. What a shame you’re not a Christian.”?

[laughter]

I somehow don’t think so. I think God is just thrilled because no faith, not even the Christian faith, can ever encompass God or even be able to communicate who God is. Only God can do that.

Arsenal: Fourth at Best

Posted on March 23, 2014

wenger-epa_2860265bLast week I fretted that Arsenal’s squeaker victory over struggling Tottenham was a sign of being on borrowed time. And this weekend, the club celebrated its one thousandth game under Arsène Wenger with a shellacking–its own–from what they had declared, from coach to player, the most important game of the season. It was over in five minutes, with Chelsea’s second goal, and certainly within fifteen, when a red card for a penalty-area handball reduced the side to ten and the consequent penalty increased the lead to three. But to be frank, even the first goal seemed to give Chelsea an insurmountable advantage, and what happened in the next ten minutes just seemed to make it official.1898008_293503987470998_2090666596_n No need to watch any further. End result: 6-0.

So, what’s wrong with Arsenal? To tell you the truth, I think they’re all high. I am not sure what reality they are perceiving (or is it that that they are drinking the same stuff some commentators were–at least before this game). After the essential disaster that was the Tottenham game, they were taking selfies on the pitch in celebration, and their interviews were steeped in pride at how they held on. But such a victory would not have been how Chelsea or Liverpool or Man City would have done it. They score goals, and they would have kept coming, kept punishing, just as Chelsea showed Arsenal this past Saturday. Chelsea’s coach, Jose Mourinho, explained this attitude this way: “We come, the way we used to say in football: ‘We come to kill’ and in 10 minutes we destroyed. After that, easy.”

To be sure, Arsenal are missing a few important players due to injury, each important in their offense: Walcott, Özil, Wilshere and Ramsey.  And even though Chelsea were missing a few too, Arsenal’s mattered more due to their roles. But it wasn’t just offense that was the problem, as evident by the score. Their defense was as wholly as, well, Swiss cheese. There seems to be no midfield to slow and disrupt the other team much less control the ball and push forward.

I am not sure how to fix the mess that is Arsenal, and I am not sure that those who are now sidelined will be the salvation. To the contrary, any team looking this bad with a few missing players must search deep for the issue, and it seems it can only be that a bunch of new players are necessary.wenger2PA_2860044b This seems to be Arsenal’s conclusion too.

The other possibility  that I am drawn to is the metaphor created by the game itself. The one thousandth game for Mr. Wenger was a disaster. It is as if a sign from the universe itself: one (or more) games too many. He has not won any titles in nearly nine years now. He unfathomably relishes in victories that he should not (even an earlier celebrated victory over Liverpool looked shaky, and they too crushed Arsenal (5-1) in the rematch). Remember, standout Van Persie and Nasri wanted out of Arsenal because they did not see a future in the club. And I am beginning to believe, much as you may like the man himself, that there may be something in this. So are others.

Hate to end with a quote by Wenger’s nemesis, Mourinho again, but it really does some it up:

I admire him and I admire Arsenal, because it’s not possible to have 1,000 matches unless the club is also a fantastic club in the way they support the manager, especially in the bad moments – and especially when the bad moments were quite a lot. So I admire the manager and I admire the club.

Fighting the Good Fight: Bethann Hardison

Posted on March 22, 2014

But for individuals like Bethann Hardison, we would be a lot worse off. While the intractable persistence of  racism engenders cancerous cynicism and bitterness, pathological individualism and debilitating insularity, and, yes, self-hate in many, there are those who persist in little, seemingly insignificant steps that do matter, that are impactful, that are largely self-less, and that are just about doing the right thing.

There intense and noble actions seem ill-equipped to win the broader struggle, or even prevail permanently, lasting as long as the hyper-passionate, hyper-articulate individual — how we often we have read of some pioneer, some prior movement that has ultimately left the world little different, except for the few that were touched in their time. But those few lives do matter, and there was, although unfulfilled, a singular moment of revolutionary change. Against all odds, they tried, refusing, like the rest of us, to wallow in the futility of it all. It is the power of faith; it is the strength of leadership; it is the audacity of hope.

So, thanks, Ms. Hardsion. And to those like you.

Evan Sung for The New York Times

Evan Sung for The New York Times

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Men’s Men: George Clooney

Posted on March 20, 2014

George Clooney is the quintessential man’s man, don’t let anyone try to tell you different.  And they’re all really, really happy to see that he might have finally gotten over whatever has been going on to roll with a woman they quite expect him to . . . Amal Alamuddin is an English barrister who has handled cases before various International Courts, been an adviser to Kofi Annan, and represented Julian Assange. Bonafide Babe. Bonafide Brains.

Women We Love (Now): Professor Hill

Posted on March 17, 2014

She was a Yale Grad.  Professor of Law.  Worked in two positions for the government that involved caring about others. And she was treated very, very badly. Vilified does not quite convey it.

If you think about it, she really had no incentive at all to lie. Nada. Zilch. She didn’t even want to testify. Her accused, however, did have this incentive. And he testified with righteous indignation, passion, and the complete absence of shame. In retrospect, there can be no reasonable doubt left. You just don’t come up with that stuff out of whole cloth.

Silent, seething, petty and minor, Clarence Thomas is a man whose integrity few beyond his wife and some clerks still champion. For more than eight years he has said literally nothing on the Supreme Court’s bench, while, as faithfully, attending political fundraisers and events with zeal. In a person, he is everything that’s gone wrong with who we are. He is the epitome of what we have become.

Ms. Hill, for her part, stood her ground for the basic principles of respect and integrity, and transformed the nation in the process. A lot of us did not know it or want to believe it then, but she was very, very right: what Mr. Thomas did, reprehensible in its own right, went to the very question of “his ability to be a fair and impartial judge.”

ANITA-superJumbo

 

Arsenal v. Tottenham, 1-0: Living on Borrowed Time

Posted on March 17, 2014

1898008_293503987470998_2090666596_nIt is difficult to feel assured by Arsenal’s first North London derby victory yesterday over Tottenham at White Hart Lane in seven years.

There was nothing of the controlled, counterattack football of a Chelsea, which can make countering football seem dominant; but instead we witnessed a type of frantic, hold-on-to-your seats school-yard defense that prevailed in Man United’s annoying win over Arsenal earlier in the season: hanging on for dear life to a lucky first goal that came early the match, in this case around the minute mark. Lucky not in the sense that Rosicky’s goal was not brilliant, because surely it was, but lucky in the sense that Arsenal did not come close to scoring for the rest of the game.1970422_10152105838622713_1484049661_n

Indeed, the feeling you got from the rest of the Arsenal match was that of being on a roller coaster with the controls broken. I am not sure which game the NBC/SN commentators are watching sometimes when I hear assessments of Arsenal games, but they seem to spin much gold out of plain mediocrity. I get the same feeling when I hear them describe the play of my favorite player, Mesut Özil, who I think has not been the same player for weeks now.

The reality of Arsenal’s quality is that no one, not even the loopy NBC commentators, includes them among the three clubs (Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool) seriously contending for the title, despite Arsenal having lead the league for ninety days and being currently tied for second in points. Yes, even the team currently in fourth (Man City) is considered a more legitimate contender.

The problem today — the  problem with Özil — is that they seem to be lacking in what we summarily refer to as heart. Fearlessness. They are tentative and hesitant. They seemed focused on avoiding the mistake, the error. In itself not a bad thing, but when it takes on a life of its own, it becomes a debilitating aversion to failure, which, of course, will also avoid success. This aversion, I fear, betrays a team that is mediocre. Living on borrowed time.

Would you rather be lucky or good, is the perennial question. The answer, of course, is that you have to be both, unless you are extraordinary. Luck that runs out is that which is tied to the very ordinary.

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