New top story from Time: The Best Result of the Streaming Boom? America Finally Loves Foreign-Language TV

Are marriage thrillers over? If, like so many other HBO subscribers, you watched David E. Kelley’s plodding, egregiously anticlimactic Big Little Lies follow-up The Undoing—or Netflix’s unnecessary Rebecca remake, for that matter—you could be forgiven for assuming that the subgenre Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl revitalized nearly a decade ago had run out of ideas. Still, you’d be wrong. This week marks the premiere of my favorite variation on the theme in years: Losing Alice, a sultry, cinematic, psychologically rich drama that unfolds between a middle-aged filmmaker, her actor husband and a seemingly unstable young writer who wants them to bring her first screenplay to life.

Built around Daredevil alum Ayelet Zurer’s magnificently layered turn as the title character, the eight-part auteur project from creator, director and writer Sigal Avin is the kind of twisty, fast-paced mystery that will inevitably be described as addictive. And it is. But that undersells Avin’s achievement. Losing Alice, which comes to Apple TV+ on Jan. 22, avoids the crutches of second-rate thrillers like The Undoing: unbelievable coincidences, characters whose inner lives are black boxes, cliffhangers that appear out of nowhere at the end of one episode only to be dispatched within the first few minutes of the next. Instead, Avin patiently investigates the nature of relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, women of different generations, older men and younger women—and, in a stunning finale, between life and art.

Although it’s a shame the show hasn’t attracted more advance attention in the U.S., it’s also worth celebrating that Americans will have a chance to see it at all. Presented in Hebrew with English subtitles, Losing Alice comes to Apple’s streaming service from Israel—and is thus the kind of title that, as recently as a decade ago, struggled to find a home on stateside television. While generations of Americans have had access to British period dramas on PBS, Canadian teen soaps on cable and other Anglophone imports, networks shied away from subtitled fare. Our canon reflects that oversight: everything on TIME’s own top-100 shows list, published in 2007, is in English. But streaming has quickly remade the TV landscape. And if those changes haven’t all been positive, the vast catalog of foreign-language shows now available in the U.S. via mainstream streaming platforms might be the single best side effect of the paradigm shift.

NetflixPearl Thusi as Queen Sono

The reasons for this rapid influx are many. Traditional TV providers, from free, over-the-air broadcasters to cable companies, served geographically or linguistically distinct national audiences. (And when pay-TV creators like HBO and MTV went global, it was through discrete overseas spin-off channels.) Streaming, by contrast, was built to scale. Netflix, whose first exclusive offering, in 2012, was the bilingual Norwegian import Lilyhammer, is currently available in more than 190 countries. Now, in addition to licensing shows and movies in dozens of languages, it produces and co-produces them all over the world; last year, Netflix launched its first African original, the multilingual Queen Sono. Multinational conglomerates like AT&T subsidiary HBO Max have stocked the digital shelves of their newly launched streaming services with programming from international sister stations. Peacock has shows from corporate parent Comcast’s Spanish-language property Telemundo. And during the pandemic, foreign-language programming has helped to fill a gap caused by production shutdowns.

So far, the internationalization of TV has been a resounding success. Netflix announced in January that Lupin—a propulsive new crime drama that reimagines the classic French “gentleman thief” as a Senegalese immigrant (Omar Sy) plotting to avenge his late father—had cracked the U.S. top 10 and was on track to reach more viewers than last year’s English-language hits Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit. And as part of the long-tail economy that is Peak TV, hundreds of shows from abroad have won over Americans who’ve dropped cable and now stuff their streaming queues with romantic Korean dramas or chilly Nordic thrillers or kinetic Japanese anime.

Emmanuel Guimier/NetflixOmar Sy in ‘Lupin’

What has made Americans—who are notorious for failing to learn second languages, as well as for avoiding foreign films and literature in translation—embrace this stuff? For one thing, with megacorps like Disney pouring funds into an IP-heavy TV development strategy borrowed from their movie studios, foreign-language television is starting to feel like as much of a refuge as foreign-language cinema has long been from brainless, big-budget Hollywood spectacles. Lest we get too proud of our newfound sophistication, the shift also reflects Netflix and some other services’ choice to invest in dubbing rather than ask viewers to read subtitles—a business-savvy but artistically bankrupt decision that robs audiences of the original actors’ voices.

Still, even dubbed versions have something. International scripted series aren’t documentaries, of course. But they do reflect the norms of other cultures; they capture how people halfway around the world talk about politics and family and work and love. Netflix’s Weimar period piece Babylon Berlin and the Cold War thriller Deutschland 83, streaming on Hulu, are excellent German dramas that shed light on how that country has processed its dark 20th century. Gomorrah, a gritty Neapolitan gangster saga whose fixation on broken systems recalls The Wire (and whose third season just arrived on HBO Max), offers a window into the Italian criminal justice system. Shows made in places where white people aren’t in the majority can subtly shift a Western viewer’s perspective on race.

On top of the inherent benefits that come with enjoying good art, immersing ourselves in stories from faraway lands can illuminate the blind spots in our own perspectives. In a country obsessed with TV—where provincialism too often metastasizes into nationalism, and especially at a time when international travel is virtually impossible—the best thing our screens can do is open us up to the world beyond them.


New top story from Time: Union Membership Declined Again Last Year. But Here’s Why 2021 Could Be Good for Organized Labor

Labor unions in the United States haven’t had much good news in recent years, but this week may have provided some reasons for optimism. The rate of unionization in the U.S. increased in 2020 for the first time in over a decade, according to new data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Jan. 22, the same day as President Joe Biden announced two new executive orders aimed at increasing worker protections.

In 2020, 10.8% of American workers belonged to a union, up from 10.3% in 2019, the new BLS report found. Still, the picture is far from rosy. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country, the total number of workers in unions across the U.S. dropped by 321,000 to reach a low of 14.3 million last year.

Union membership has been declining in the U.S. for decades, and the 2020 data doesn’t fully reverse that trend. But it does show that workers belonging to a union saw fewer job losses amid the pandemic than nonunion workers.

This is partly due to unions’ strong engagement amid the pandemic, labor experts say. In industries ranging from health care to retail to food service to tech, workers banded together and frequently demanded better working conditions last year as COVID-19 devastated the economy and forced millions of businesses to close or change their strategies.

“Union members could hold on to their jobs because they can negotiate more creative solutions to economic challenges—furloughs or reductions in hours or even early retirement or other programs to try to avoid mass layoffs,” says Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University.

Also impacting the statistics, however, is the fact that COVID-19 hit industries with smaller union presences, such as hospitality and leisure, especially hard. About half of the increase in the unionization rate in 2020 was the result of the pandemic’s concentrated impact on less-unionized job sectors, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute. (The other half can be attributed to union workers faring better than nonunion workers in their same industries.)

Union membership increased among state and local government workers in the past year, a particularly notable development following the 2018 Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Supreme Court decision that said government workers who choose not to join unions could not be required to pay fees to cover collective bargaining costs. Some occupations on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic—such as health care support workers, transportation workers and those in education— also saw more workers join unions in 2020. But far more workers typically say they would like to join a union than are able to do so, Givan notes.

“Although the union membership numbers show some reasons for optimism, what they really show is how much work needs to be done,” she says. “Most workers don’t have straightforward access to union representation.”

Read more: The Challenges Posed By COVID-19 Pushed Many Workers to Strike. Will the Labor Movement See Sustained Interest?

This is part of what labor advocates are hoping the Biden Administration will address. Under former President Donald Trump, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency tasked with enforcing private sector labor laws, weakened many worker protections and was viewed by unions as hostile to their cause.

Biden, who promised before he was elected to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” has already taken action toward the goal of reversing the Trump Administration’s policies. In a series of moves applauded by union groups, Biden nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former union leader, to be his Secretary of Labor and, in his first two days in the White House, Biden fired Peter Robb, the Trump-appointed general counsel of the NLRB, as well as Robb’s deputy Alice Stock, after each refused to resign.

The move to fire Robb before his term officially ended broke with precedent, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Jan. 21 that Robb had not been upholding the NLRB’s objectives.

“A union-busting lawyer by trade, Robb mounted an unrelenting attack for more than three years on workers’ right to organize and engage in collective bargaining,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “His actions sought to stymie the tens of millions of workers who say they would vote to join a union today and violated the stated purpose of the National Labor Relations Act—to encourage collective bargaining. Robb’s removal is the first step toward giving workers a fair shot again.”

Biden also signed two executive orders on Jan. 22 intended to provide economic relief to families and workers. The first executive order will call on the Department of Labor to clarify guidelines that have forced Americans who refuse to return to work over concerns about COVID-19 to lose their unemployment benefits. The order also includes measures aimed at increasing food assistance benefits and economic stimulus checks. The second order, focused on federal workers and contractors, asks agencies to develop a plan to pay federal employees at least $15 an hour and revokes three Trump orders that weakened worker protections. It also eliminates the Schedule F classification which took away protections for some civil service employees.

These orders add to Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, but many of his ambitious goals will still need to make their way through Congress where Democrats hold a razor thin majority. Unions have expressed enthusiasm about Biden’s initial steps—especially the call to pay federal employees $15 per hour.

“Too often the Black and brown workers, especially women, who keep our government running behind the scenes have been ignored and their work devalued. These courageous workers have been speaking up and making their voices heard,” SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. “It’s a breath of fresh air to have a president who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them and we look forward to seeing what else comes from the Biden administration.”


Hank Aaron, Home Run King Who Defied Racism, Dies at 86 by Richard Goldstein

By Richard Goldstein

He held the most celebrated record in sports for more than 30 years.

Published: January 22, 2021 at 05:30AM

from NYT Sports


New top story from Time: Baseball Legend Hank Aaron Has Passed Away, But His Home Run Record Remains a Lesson in Courage and Commitment

With a single swing of a baseball bat through a misty Atlanta evening in 1974, a fast, gracious stroke that sent a ball soaring over the fence in left center field and knocked Babe Ruth right out of the record books, Hank Aaron—who died in his sleep on Jan. 22 at the age of 86—offered America nothing less than a remedy for its ills. He offered dignity and commitment over putrid cynicism, courage in the face of hatred.

The venom that Aaron faced in the early 1970s was strong as a he closed in on Babe Ruth’s then all-time career record of 714 home runs. Aaron received so much mail—much of it hate mail, filled with death threats—that the U.S. Postal Service gave him a plaque for the flood of correspondence, according to CNN.

“I hope you don’t break the Babe’s record,” read one note. “How do I tell me kids that a [slur] did it.” This note was signed: “KKK (Forever).” “You are not going to break his record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it,” read another. “Whites are far more superior than [slur] . . . My gun is watching your every black move.”

In the wake of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Aaron’s chase for the record laid bare the raw racism prevalent in the early 1970s, and which stubbornly persists today. “Hank Aaron’s home run record exposed America,” says Harry Edwards, the famed sociologist and activist who helped organize the Black power salute at the 1968 Olympics, “and the steepness of the hill to be climbed.”

But despite the deep personal toll the chase laid on Aaron, whose family was also threatened during the ordeal, there he stood on the night of April 8, 1974, bearing down on a fastball from Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Dowling, putting 715 into the books. Nearly one in four American television sets were tuned into watch Aaron make history. As he approached second base on his home run trot, stoic — Aaron might have smiled slightly — he slapped hands with Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes, who offered congratulations. As he rounded the base, two white young men, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, ran alongside Aaron. His bodyguard, up in the stands, considered reaching for the pistol in his binocular case. If Aaron, with tensions so high in Atlanta after receiving so many vitriolic threats, had slugged the teens, reasonable people would have understood why. But the pair just patted him on the chest and shoulder. Aaron kept his calm, continuing his march, undeterred, towards home plate.

“It is over,” said legendary Dodgers broadcaster/poet Vin Scully. “And for the first time in a long time that poker face of Aaron shows tremendous relief … What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”

“I’d just like to thank God it’s over with,” Aaron, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 from George W. Bush, said afterwards.

The racism he faced in the run up to the record might have darkened Aaron’s joy, but, for him, bitterness never lingered. He faced indignities all his life, growing up in segregated Mobile, Ala. “As a young boy, Henry would watch as his father was forced to surrender his place in line at the general store to any whites who entered,” wrote author Howard Bryant in his 2010 biography The Last Hero: A Life Of Henry Aaron.

“When I was growing up in Mobile, Ala., on a little dirt street, I remember my mother about 6 or 7 o’clock in the afternoon. You could hardly see and I’d be trying to throw a baseball and she’d say ‘Come here, come here!’ And I’d say, ‘For what?’ She said, ‘Get under the bed,’” Aaron said in a 2014 interview with CNN. “Then the KKK would march by, burn a cross and go on about their business and then she (my mother) would say, ‘You can come out now.’ Can you imagine what this would do to the average person? Here I am, a little boy, not doing anything, just catching a baseball with a friend of mine and my mother telling me, ‘Go under the bed.’”

As he emerged as a prospect while playing shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, at the age of 18, even scouting reports were laden with racism. “Negro ball players as a whole are front runners in my estimation,” read one report. “When ahead they look very good and very bad when behind. However this boy looks very good and if he can make the plays to his left and his right he could be the answer. I feel that he has the ability.”

In 1954, Aaron made his major league debut with the Milwaukee Braves and won Rookie of the Year honors. At six-feet-tall and with a slender frame, Aaron did not fit the prototype of the burly Ruthian slugger; much of his power derived from the speed of his wrists. Throughout his 23-year career, he displayed remarkable consistency, smacking between 24 and 47 home runs in 19 straight seasons. He hit 40 or more home runs in eight different seasons. He hit 44 in 1957 at the age of 23, when the Braves won the World Series, and he hit 40 in 1973 when he was 39. While Barry Bonds broke his home run record in 2007, under suspicion of steroid use, Aaron remains the all-time leader in career RBIs and total bases.

Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year on the ballot, Aaron spent much of his post-baseball life working in the Atlanta Braves front office and building a philanthropic legacy that includes his Chasing The Dream Foundation, which awards scholarships mostly to students attending small historically Black college and universities.

Even amidst the darkest days of the home run chase, Aaron sent letters to fans, thanking them profusely for supporting him. And while his ordeal brought out the worst in some people, his courage also taught millions about the value of acceptance, and respect for the challenges facing many Black Americans. Aaron paved the way for the embrace of a new generation of African-American athletes.

“He was told, ‘don’t take the field or be shot,’” says Edwards. “But he played, in stadiums filled with 50,000 people, out in the open by himself. With that kind of pressure on him, he still got it done. His courage and commitment speaks to the American saga. Over a period of time, this country came to see the broader contribution that Hank Aaron had made. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all of these athletes came through the door that Hank Aaron opened.”


New top story from Time: E-Bikes Are Taking Off—But We Need to Make Space for Them

This year has been a boon for bikes of all sorts. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many Americans to reconsider how they get around, it’s no surprise people turned to bikes—and e-bikes, which use electric motors to do all or most of the work for riders, have been a popular option for those looking to get into cycling without breaking a sweat. As someone who spent a few weeks this summer on VanMoof’s X3, weaving through obstructed bike lanes and past slower traditional cyclists, I learned something about the future of mobility here in New York: the city is far from ready for the e-bike revolution, and that’s true of most other cities, too.

In New York, the recently legalized battery-powered two wheelers were most often used by delivery workers. Now electric motors are available on consumer-facing bikes as well as shared options, like Citi Bikes. Folding bike manufacturer Gocycle says it sold out of its electric bikes it produced in 2020, while Dutch e-bike maker VanMoof announced the largest jump in sales it’s seen this past year. It makes sense: e-bikes are faster, more convenient, have better security features, and can give inexperienced riders the extra power they need to get over the next hill or avoid a nasty accident.

But urban biking, especially in New York, isn’t easy, as riders face roads blocked by delivery trucks and cop cars, unprotected lanes on narrow streets, bumbling tourists opening cab doors at the most inopportune times, and traffic laws that favor drivers. In order to encourage safer, more accessible biking, Dr. Brian Doucet, a professor of urban geography at the University of Waterloo, suggests building lanes with better protection for cyclists—putting the onus on designers rather than cyclists when it comes to rider safety.

“The real test should be if a six-year-old can ride side-by-side with their parents,” Doucet says. “Most bike lanes in North America don’t do that.” Wider, protected, continuous bike lanes and intersections would benefit all riders, not just those on e-bikes. Using car parking and more sturdy dividers as barriers, building bike parking corrals at intersections, and adjusting traffic light timing to give cyclists priority could all discourage the use of automobiles while accommodating cyclists.

Other cities are far ahead of New York and other American metropolises. In 2017, Beijing saw its first uptick in shared bike traffic, with an average of 6 million shared rides per day. In 2019, the Chinese capital opened its first cycling highway, an eight-mile protected bike lane designed to connect multiple cities. A major rollout of e-bike-friendly bike lanes is currently underway in Berlin, where leaders plan to build 10 new bicycle highways to spur commuter biking and reduce travel time by eliminating obstacles like stop signs and cars. The newly designed lanes will be wider for easier overtaking, illuminated at night, and protected from cars and pedestrians alike. Such lanes could be used not just by commuters but also delivery services using cargo bikes, as they are in famously bike-friendly Amsterdam.

Back in New York, city officials added 28 miles of bike lanes in 2020, bringing the total number to over 1,300 miles. But taken as a whole, much of the city’s cycling infrastructure can be seen as woefully incomplete when compared to the adjacent roads—over 6,000 miles of which criss-cross the five boroughs. “From the perspective of a map, it actually looks like a full network [of bike lanes],” says Doucet. “But when you actually cycle that space … you’re experiencing a very disjointed, disconnected network.”

Even if you don’t mind sharing the road with cars, many urbanites live above the first floor, and big elevators are a luxury—so an e-bike, which are often heavier than their powerless cousins, may leave you sweating when you have to wrangle it up to your apartment. The X3 I tried over the summer weighs as much as 50 pounds, and carrying that up three apartment floors was even worse than I thought it would be. Foldable e-bikes, like the Gocycle GXi, are somewhat easier to lug around, but generally don’t ride as well.

Then there’s the matter of parking while you’re out and about. In New York, where there’s little by way of secure bike parking to speak of, most riders—including delivery drivers and people in areas underserved by public transit—lock up their e-bike on the street and hope for the best. With a 27% increase in bike thefts but fewer arrests for bike larceny compared to last year, bikers can’t expect to recover their stolen wheels, and bike theft can be both discouraging and costly. Safe parking has only grown in importance as more people rely on more expensive e-bikes to get to and from places like work or school. But in a report detailing the state of bicycle parking in New York City, bicycle advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives found more than one vehicle parking spot per car registered in the city, while only one bike parking spot for every 116 bikes.

In 2020—when bike sales rose by 50%, according to the NPD Group, and bike use increased despite the pandemic-triggered drop in overall commuting—New York City failed to install a single new bike corral, according to public records. Installations of the publicly-shared Citi Bike system have helped encourage short-distance trips, with over 100 added over the past year, for 1,081 stations in total. But that doesn’t solve the problem for people like delivery workers, who use e-bikes constantly to get around the city, or people who own their own bicycles. “Not everybody wants to ride a Citi Bike, because they’re big and heavy,” says Jon Orcutt, head of cycling advocacy group Bike NYC. “And it definitely doesn’t solve the [parking] problem in your neighborhood.”

Bike parking startup Oonee is trying to solve that issue with its Pod system—a modular, security-focused parking structure that can be set up in a day and outfitted with security cameras, lights, and amenities like benches and green roofing. Oonee’s goal of improving bike parking for everyone is rooted in helping the city’s most vulnerable cyclists feel safe and secure whenever they have to leave their bike outside, says CEO Shabazz Stuart. “If you want people to ride bikes, it can’t just be about safety,” says Stuart. “You also have to make sure that riding a bike is as, or more convenient, than riding a car. And right now? Riding a bike is like the wild west.”

With the pandemic amplifying existing economic disparities between communities, adding bike lanes and parking— especially in low-income communities lacking other forms of safe or public transit—seems like an easy fix. Indeed, Stuart views the bike parking shortage as yet another problem exacerbated by race and class.

65% of our user base is non-white, and 50% is below area median income,” says Stuart, noting that bike thefts primarily affect people in low-income areas as well as delivery cyclists, who are often people of color. “When you ask working cyclists, ‘what’s it like to have your bicycle stolen?’ They say ‘it’s not just a setback, it’s going to cost me my job.’”