Thursday, December 14, 2023

Art of the Scam


Critics at Large

By The New Yorker

George Santos and the Art of the Scam

The ex-congressman has already pivoted from politics to pop culture—and become the latest beneficiary of America’s enduring fascination with con artists. Are we the ones being duped?
Portraits of the hosts for Critics at Large podcast
Illustration by Miguel Porlan

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In the weeks since George Santos was expelled from Congress, his story has been funnelled straight into the entertainment pipeline, from a memorable sketch on “Saturday Night Live” and reports of a film in the works at HBO to his own exploits on Cameo, where he’s charging five hundred dollars apiece for personalized video messages. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz assess why Santos’s story resonates with audiences, and the enduring appeal of the scammer narrative, from Herman Melville’s “The Confidence-Man” to Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.” Scammers embody—and exploit—a central tenet of the American Dream: the promise of a brighter future awaiting those audacious enough to reach for it. But their stories can also expose the weaknesses at the heart of our institutions. Why, then, do we keep coming back for more? “The level of enjoyment that we gain from these depictions of scams doesn’t mean that the critique isn’t there,” Fry says. “It’s almost like we as audiences are also begging, ‘Please make this fun for us.’ ”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

“Every Day’s a Holiday” (1937)
“Inventing Anna” (2022)
“Telemarketers” (2023)
The Confidence-Man,” by Herman Melville
“The Dropout” (2022)
The Fabulist,” by Mark Chiusano
“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” (2019)
“The Music Man” (1957)
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946)
The “Simpsons” episode “Marge vs. the Monorail” (1993)
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)
“Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller” (2020 – present)

New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.

unlikely catalyst


McLaren’s F1 turnaround relied on an unlikely catalyst: New boss Andrea Stella

McLaren’s F1 turnaround relied on an unlikely catalyst: New boss Andrea Stella
By Luke Smith
Dec 12, 2023


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The contrast between Lando Norris’s demeanor after the first and the last Formula One race of 2023 was stark.

In Bahrain, Norris only qualified 11th before enduring a miserable race where a pneumatic leak forced him to pit every 10 laps to have his pressures topped up. After six stops, McLaren called the race and retired the car. Norris joked that plenty of practice for the pit crew was the only positive to take away.

Fast forward to Abu Dhabi. With a fuss-free run to fifth place, Norris equaled his worst result since Singapore, so strong was his late-season form. He missed out on fourth in the championship by a single point and scored more P2s than any other driver in 2023.

“If we were in Bahrain now, and I looked ahead, I was, like, dreading the season already,” Norris admitted.

“To come away with seven podiums and all the great moments we had, they were definitely not expected. I’ve got to thank the team for that.”

McLaren’s resurgence was one of F1’s biggest shocks in 2023. One of the sport’s most storied, successful teams looked bound for a rough season. At the car’s launch, the team freely admitted that it had missed its preseason development targets. McLaren risked sliding into midfield anonymity as Aston Martin leaped into F1’s lead pack.

It ended the year, arguably, with F1’s second-fastest car, only trailing the dominant Red Bull. Norris continued to prove his credentials as a future champion, spearheading McLaren’s efforts to return to the front. Ever his own harshest critic holding himself to an impossibly high standard, Norris was one of the few drivers to take much of a fight to Max Verstappen this season, even if it always ended in defeat.



Lando's long game: With patience and panache, Norris leads a McLaren revival

His new teammate, Oscar Piastri, the youngster the team fought so hard to sign, justified every penny spent paying out Daniel Ricciardo’s contract. He delivered the best rookie campaign since Lewis Hamilton in 2007 and impressed everyone with his calm, mature approach for a 22-year-old. The contractual tug-of-war that put him under a cloud last year was long forgotten.

“For us to catch Mercedes, for us to catch Ferrari in terms of pace — we’ve been behind them for two years,” Norris said. “I think it’s a good time for us.”

Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris emerged as (arguably) the best driver duo on the F1 grid. (Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The catalyst for that good time was Andrea Stella, who, in his first year as team principal, brought about necessary change for McLaren that can lay the foundations for an even brighter future.

The 2022 season disappointed McLaren’s senior management group, led by CEO Zak Brown. Beyond the drop to fifth in the championship, Brown didn’t like the team’s direction. When team principal Andreas Seidl departed for Sauber to head up preparations for Audi’s arrival in 2026, the appointment of Stella was a straightforward decision for Brown, who came to an agreement with the Italian off a single phone call.

The decision paid off handsomely. Brown identified Stella’s influence as crucial to arresting the team’s slide and sparking the upswing.

“It’s the same people, but it’s a different team,” Brown said. “It’s a different team because of the leadership of Andrea.”

When the MCL60’s shortcomings became apparent early in the season, Stella quickly identified the need for change within McLaren and instigated a new technical leadership structure. James Key departed as technical director and was replaced by a triumvirate that split duties into three areas: aerodynamics, car concept and performance, and engineering and design.

Stella encouraged a shift in the way the team designed the car. He wanted technical groups to be more focused on making a single area, such as the rear wing, the best it could be instead of dwelling on compromises, a style thought to be closer to Red Bull’s philosophy.

The changes bore fruit when the team’s first significant car upgrade arrived in Austria. Norris finished fourth, and the weekend marked the turning point in McLaren’s season. The team scored 17 points in the eight races prior, an average of 2.1 per weekend. In the next 14, it scored 285 — more than Aston Martin managed all season — and upped its rate to 20.4.

“(It’s) the same people that gave us the car for Bahrain that have given us the car the second half of the year,” Brown said. “The only difference is a new team principal, a new technical director structure, and a new head of aero.”

Externally, Stella seemed an unlikely figure to take the reins at McLaren. He joined the team in 2015 to oversee its race operations, rising to the role of racing director in 2019. While a popular figure behind the scenes with excellent soft skills to match his technical capabilities, he was hardly public-facing. Media activities weren’t his favorite way to spend time.

But he embraced every aspect of the team principal role. He continued to apply his strong technical skills and give clear, concise direction. Mindsets shifted away from dwelling on McLaren’s technical deficits, such as the lack of an in-house wind tunnel, and instead turned to making the best of what the team had. Human performance became a fresh point of focus.

It only took one phone call for Zak Brown to name Andrea Stella team principal. (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Because to Stella, F1 is about people. “It’s a highly professional business, highly competitive, but it’s run by humans and executed by humans,” he explained in October. “The foundations as to how you generate the positive feelings, the positive state of mind, in which people offer their best, they have to do with humans.

“Showing and proving confidence, proving the confidence, proving the trust, proving the belief, proving the spirit of being mates in this journey of McLaren toward winning races in the future — they are fundamentals. We want to leverage performance on these fundamentals.”

Making an F1 team successful goes beyond being a ‘nice guy.’ But Brown knew Stella had the skills and steel to back it up.

“I call him ‘The Swan’,” Brown said. “He looks like a nice guy, cruising above the water, but underneath, he’s paddling fast. He’s very tough, he’s very professional, very articulate in his delivery. He’s not political at all. He’s not got an ego at all.”

Was Brown surprised by Stella this year? “I think yes, I’m pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Not at what he’s brought to the table, but how quickly he’s had the impact that he’s had because I think we all see that the turnaround has been pretty awesome.”

Norris described Stella as “the producer of the set, and everyone else is the cast. You need everyone to work together very well. That’s what they’re doing. He’s done an amazing job.

“I’m very happy having him where he is. I couldn’t ask for a better team principal.”

Now that McLaren has caught up with Ferrari and Mercedes, the goal next year is to sustain it through the season — and try to bridge the gap to Red Bull at the front.

Norris and Piastri got close to Max Verstappen on occasion through the latter half of the year, scoring double podiums in Japan and Qatar — where Piastri won the sprint race, and Norris was one corner away from pole — as the high-speed tracks played to the strengths of the car. The big unknown is how others have worked in the background to develop for 2024.

“We know we’ve closed the gap to Red Bull,” Brown said. “What we don’t know is, have they been standing still? Have they been jogging? Have they been running as hard? I don’t think we’re going to know that until next year.”

But Stella will focus on making the best of the present, never thinking too far ahead. Even as the team closed on Aston Martin in the season’s closing stages, its ascension to P4 an inevitability, Stella never seemed to get too ahead of himself.

“I don’t look how far we can go,” Stella said before Piastri’s sprint win in Qatar. “I just look (at) what do we have to do now to go as far as possible?”

It’s a mantra that’s served McLaren well through 2023 and fueled its fightback. Now, it’s about turning that into longer-term success.

(Lead image: Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Luke Smith

Luke Smith is a Senior Writer covering Formula 1 for The Athletic. Luke has spent 10 years reporting on Formula 1 for outlets including Autosport, The New York Times and NBC Sports, and is also a published author. He is a graduate of University College London. Follow Luke on Twitter @LukeSmithF1


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Jeremiah S.

· Tue

Absolutely brilliant. As a newer fan to F1, I've mostly been focused on drivers and just enjoying the races... But this season, I really started to take a shine to McLaren as a team. Might even find myself wearing some Papaya Orange this next season!


Scott B.

· Tue

Strangely, this article omits Peter Prodromou, who was second-in-command to James Key in aero. Key was replaced by Prodromou in late March, at which point, the car started to develop. Original design = Key. Improvements = Prodromou. I've read that Stella is an engineer's manager - and it shows. Much like Ross Brown or Steve Jobs, it is not what you know, it is how you unlock it from your co-workers. Info is here:


Chris L.

· Tue

Luke, you highlight Red Bull as a contrast with McLaren's new "shared" technical leadership. Is that a coincidence because Red Bull is currently the benchmark, or a subtle nod to the Adrian Newey-McLaren breakup that shifted the F1 universe circa 2002?

(Newey left McLaren and joined the fledgling RB because of a feud with Ron Dennis. McLaren restructured the engineering division to diminish Newey's influence, installing an authority set-up that sounds remarkably similar to what Brown is doing now, only to knock the team from championship contention and begin the McLaren collapse).

It's like our broken hero has gone rummaging the basement vault, only to find the cursed gun he used to shoot himself in the foot all those years ago.

Good lord, it's too strange.

sexiest soccer player


Morning Briefing: Europe Edition

December 14, 2023

The world’s sexiest soccer player: From military service to Vogue cover star.

Cho Gue-sung on how his life has changed a year on from the World Cup

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 5: Guesung Cho of Korea Republic  during the  World Cup match between Brazil  v Korea Republic  at the Stadium 974 on December 5, 2022 in Doha Qatar (Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images)
By Nick Miller
Dec 13, 2023


Save Article

There can’t be many footballers who have gone from playing for a military team to the cover of Vogue in a few months.

But that’s just one of the ways South Korean striker Cho Gue-sung’s life has changed in the last year or so.

Last year was a decent one for Cho. He joined Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, one of Korea’s top teams, in 2020 but took a while to find his feet. He had been a defensive midfielder until only a few years before, moving up front to take better advantage of his 6ft 2in (188cm) height and pace, but he was still relatively young in the position.

As Korean players sometimes do, he used his mandatory period of military service as a bit of a reset, and to help improve his physical condition. He joined Gimcheon Sangmu — a team comprised of players on military service that was in the second tier at the time — on loan from Jeonbuk, where he rediscovered his form and started scoring goals again, which helped them win promotion.

He earned a call-up to the national team too and, by the latter half of the year, he had returned to his parent club, finished as joint-top scorer in the K League 1 (level with Joo Min-kyu) and established himself as one of the main forward options for South Korea as the World Cup in Qatar approached.

Cho in action at the World Cup last year (Khalil Bashar/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Even then, though, he was relatively low-key — “insignificant”, in his own words, mainly known by Korean football fans but not too many beyond that.

But then came the World Cup, and everything was different.

“There have been so many changes in the last year,” Cho, 25, tells The Athletic now, employing considerable understatement. “But I have enjoyed them.”

In Qatar, Cho was brought into the South Korea team for their second game, against Ghana, and he scored twice despite his team losing 3-2. But it was during the first game against Uruguay — in which he only played 16 minutes as a substitute — when the madness began.

That’s when people started to notice that he was, for want of a more elegant phrase, smoking hot. Shots of him sitting on the sidelines and warming up went around social media at pace, proving that if the internet is good at nothing else, it’s disseminating images of very attractive people.

TikTok was flooded with clips celebrating his beauty, videos of Cho doing such outrageously saucy things as walking down the side of a football pitch and sitting with his arms folded. It didn’t seem to matter what he was doing; the internet seemed to find even his most banal activities devastatingly sexy.

Before the tournament, he had about 20,000 Instagram followers. That shot up to about 1.6million during the World Cup, and peaked at about 2.7m after it. It didn’t seem to matter that he barely posts on it; any images of his broad shoulders and razor cheekbones were worth the follow.

Cho at a Louis Vuitton show in January (Han Myung-Gu/WireImage)

The story was that he had to turn his phone off for most of the tournament because dealing with notifications had become a full-time job, although Cho plays that down. “It’s been a bit exaggerated,” he says. “I already turned off my notifications (before the World Cup) so I could focus on the tournament.”

There was a danger that sudden celebrity and sex-symbol status could interfere with his focus, but Cho claims that the only pressure was self-imposed.

“There weren’t any obstacles during the World Cup. I was only focusing on football. I usually don’t care about people’s high expectations, but I put a lot of pressure on myself, which became a bit of a burden.”

Cho enamoured himself yet more to the watching public by briskly telling off Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo for not departing the pitch quickly enough when substituted in their final group game.

South Korea got through the groups but were knocked out in the round of 16, losing 4-1 to Brazil. Their World Cup was over, but things were only just beginning for Cho.

He became just the fifth man and the second sportsperson to ever appear on the cover of Vogue Korea, shot in moody black and white, holding a football but having carelessly forgotten to put a shirt on. His celebrity skyrocketed.

He was sought after for TV appearances, guesting on a Korean show called I Live Alone, which is designed to go behind the scenes of a celebrity’s life and is, apparently, not as bleak as its title suggests, and also the popular quiz show You Quiz on the Block.

He reached the level of celebrity where his personal grooming choices caused great furore. In September, pictures of his hair in cornrows sparked a lengthy internet debate. A poll saw him voted him the second-most desirable Korean male celebrity, behind only actor Song Kang. And, of course, speculation about his personal life became rampant, with a spike in stories linking him with assorted models and celebrities during and after the World Cup.

Cho seemed to deal with all of this relatively well, even though he did occasionally find it quite alarming. South Korea played a couple of games in the UK in September, and he couldn’t escape the attention there either.

“Since I became more famous, many people have recognised me. People were even recognising me when I travelled to London with the national team — that was really surprising.”

The forward celebrates scoring against Ghana at the World Cup (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Not so surprising is being spotted out and about back home, but it sounds like he’s in ‘causing a minor riot in a local coffee shop’ territory, even when he tries to go out in disguise. “When I am back in Korea, I wear a hat and a mask but people still recognise me,” he says. “One time, people started chasing me down the street. That was crazy.”

Thirsty members of the public weren’t the only people chasing him. After his goals for Jeonbuk and his performances in Qatar, the offers from people who wanted him for his goals rather than his looks came flooding in.

Cho, though, took his time. “In the winter transfer window, there were many offers from a lot of different clubs, but I waited until the summer. There were several unofficial offers, from England and Scotland. But once I made my decision, I stuck with it.”

Leicester CityWatford and Celtic were said to be among the many teams interested but, in the end, he made the perhaps slightly surprising choice to sign for Midtjylland in Denmark, who picked him up for a relatively modest £2.6million ($3.27m).

It’s tempting to wonder if he picked Denmark because, after his explosion of celebrity and inability to walk down the street without causing an incident back home, it is slightly more understated in terms of attention.

He says that wasn’t a factor, though. “I wasn’t afraid of the media attention, but I only wanted to focus on football. I wanted a club where I would start in every game. I was sure that Midtjylland could offer me that. Midtjylland was the most interested, so that’s why I picked them.”

Luckily, he knows a few people who have been in similar situations who can offer him advice on how to deal with the sudden fame. Regardless of how well-known Cho becomes because of his looks, it’s unlikely he will reach the god-like status of his international captain Son Heung-min.

Cho has benefited from a mentor, too — another countryman who became an icon in South Korea and was faced with the delicate decision of choosing the right club when moving to Europe.

“Park Ji-sung is a director of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, my old club,” Cho says. “He didn’t give me advice in terms of how to deal with fame, but he gave me a lot of advice about moving to Europe, about building a new life there. He told me to choose a team where I knew I would play, because that’s what he did when he moved to PSV Eindhoven.”

It looks like Cho made a shrewd choice. Midtjylland are top of the Danish Superliga as they break for the winter, and he has eight goals in 16 league games.

Who knows whether his footballing achievements will ever quite square with his levels of fame, but Cho doesn’t seem to be overthinking it.

“I consider how I lead my everyday life and being happy now, rather than looking to the future. I don’t think about that yet.”

(Top photo: Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images)

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Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Nick Miller

Nick Miller is a football writer for the Athletic and the Totally Football Show. He previously worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, ESPN and Eurosport, plus anyone else who would have him.


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Kazi Nabil N.

· Yesterday

Midtjylland is the new RB Salzburg. He chose well, and with sustained performances he can definitely get into Bundesliga/La Liga/Serie A with 2 years.


Jamie H.

· Yesterday

Fine, he's alright to look at but he's no Jimmy Bullard


Alex R.

· Yesterday

I read the notification with skepticism, but fair enough - that's a very handsome man. Very fun and interesting article.