OhGizmo! Review: The ZEUS Thunder Vaporizer Pen


Vaporizers are all the rage these days, so we were excited to find out that ZEUS Arsenal was getting in on the action with the Thunder Pen Vape. It’s a relatively small vaping device with a cool PVD coating that’s super abrasion resistant. It measures around 6 inches in length with the wax tank attached, and about half an inch wide. Aside from being able to vaporize oils, waxes, concentrates and loose leaf herbs, it’s capable of handling propylene glycol “juices”, which turns it into a regular e-cig. That’s some pretty cool versatility. The battery is 650 mAh, which isn’t as large as some of its competitors but still lasts for a good 300-400 puffs. We’ve tested the unit for the last few weeks, and it’s quickly become our favourite way of consuming our consumables.

Read on for our full impressions.

The Hardware
Our review package contained the battery, as well as a tank for oil/”juice”, one for wax, and one for dry herbs. There was a spatula for various purposes, as well as the charger cables and instructions. The craftsmanship on the Thunder Pen Vape is amazing. The PVD coating feels cool and solid, and does resist the kinds of scratches you’d expect to see when carrying it in your pocket with your keys or loose change. That’s in sharp contrast with the rubberized finish on a lot of its competitors’ offerings. The oil tank contained two wicks, which would bring the liquids up to the heating element, while the wax tank featured a rather massive coil at the bottom of a small funnel-like opening.

The Performance
As an e-cig, we were pleased but not blown away. For anyone who’s used vape pens before, you should know there’s no variable voltage on this unit, nor do we know exactly the resistance figure so we can’t say if it’s a sub-ohm vape. Most likely not. The vapour quality however was excellent, but not exactly plentiful. Also, the tank featured one coil and a fiberglass wick, which (as any vaping enthusiast will tell you) ends up tasting a little off after prolonged use. We prefer wickless atomizers, but for the price and overall functionality that the Thunder offers, this is a small sacrifice.

As a wax vaporizer however, the Thunder excelled. It was a little awkward trying to get sticky wax directly onto the heating coil, but once there, performance was amazing. Vapour quality was top-notch, rich and consistent. Puff after puff produced the same results, up until the moment the battery died. We were worried upon finding out that it’s a 650 mAh battery in light of the 1,300+ mAh offerings from its competitors, but we found that it uses what capacity it has quite efficiently and rarely found ourselves lacking.

As an herb vaporizer, the Thunder was once again great. Loading and unloading the herbs was simple and quick, while the vapour produced was tasty and thick. We don’t know what temperature the vaporization process happens at, which is one of our only gripes, but we can’t say this was a big issue.

Overall we are more than happy with the Thunder Vape Pen from ZEUS Arsenal. From the packaging to the craftsmanship of the products themselves, you can see this is quality stuff and not some “Made in China, flea market” garbage. Carrying the pen in our pockets has become our favourite thing to do, as it’s very small, durable and discreet. For $100, you get more than your money’s worth.

[ Product Page ]

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Making the Case for Yan Gomes as the Cleveland Indians MVP

Perhaps the best move Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti made this offseason was inking Yan Gomes to a six-year, $23 million commitment.

After an unpredictable emergence as Carlos Santana’s backup behind the dish in 2013, the Indians took a shot on the least notable of last season’s Goon Squad. Gomes, who hit .294 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI for the Tribe in 88 games a season ago, was crucial during the Tribe’s magical run toward the 2013 postseason.

Despite such a small sample size of success, Gomes entered the season as the team’s primary catcher—mostly due to his defensive prowess and rapport with the Indians’ youthful staff members. Manager Terry Francona made it clear to Gomes this spring that he didn’t care what Gomes hit, largely because his main job was to run the pitching staff similar to the was Jason Varitek did it for Francona in Boston.

Much to the surprise of many around baseball, however, the 27-year-old Brazilian has transformed himself into one of the premier two-way catchers in the game.

In 128 games this season, Gomes has posted a slash-line of .284/.318/.475 while connecting on 19 home runs (including the towering blast above) with 66 RBI. Since the All-Star break, Gomes has tortured opposing pitchers to the tune of a .322 average with 22 extra-base hits and 30 RBI.

He just continues to get better.

In just his first full season, Gomes has posted the fourth-best average among big league catchers, the third-most home runs among AL catchers and the sixth-highest RBI total among all backstops according to ESPN.com. His caught stealing percentage (.333) and range factor (9.24) rank behind only Brian McCann for tops in baseball.

While Michael Brantley has undeniably led the charge for the Tribe all season long, it is Gomes whose contributions are most needed by the Tribe. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the first-year starter has hit a whopping .354 with 14 home runs in Cleveland victories this season while posting a mere .216 in losses.

In short, the Tribe offense goes as Gomes goes.

While Francona must get his catcher some time off, the skipper has found it difficult to take his catcher’s bat out of the lineup. As a result, Gomes has 27 plate appearances as a DH this season, where he has excelled with an incredible .500 average. Similar to Brantley, Gomes has found himself hitting all over the Cleveland lineup this season, notching starts in six different spots in the order.

Additionally, Gomes has been a catalyst in helping grow a revolving door of young pitchers—a group who have posted the best ERA in the big leagues since Aug. 9.

Gomes recently drew incredible praise from legendary Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Paul Hoynes, who wrote, “Traditionally the double play has been the pitcher’s best friend. Where Indians’ pitchers are concerned, it’s catcher Yan Gomes.”

While Cleveland’s pitching staff may have found a BFF, the organization might have found itself its MVP.

*Note: All stats from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MagicalButter Machine Makes Weed Butter For Fantastic Brownies


Making your own weed butter at home is no simple task. Your dwelling usually ends up smelling really strong, and it’s just a generally somewhat labor intensive process. Not so with the MagicalButter MB2. Looking somewhat like a teapot, you simply have to drop your herbs in, some butter, and press a button. The machine takes care of the rest, producing THC-infused butter which you’re then free to use in your various recipes. Magic cookies? Check. Magic caramel-wrapped stick of butter, Homer Simpson-style? Check.

Granted, it’s a little expensive at $175. But if you’re stayed away from baking your own magical goods because of the effort required to make the butter, here’s your solution. Incidentally, the MB2 is not restricted to making butter, but can also make oils and tinctures, is self-cleaning, and doesn’t look like anything a stoner might use. This way you can go somewhat incognito, if that’s your thing.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Uncrate ]

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West Africa on a hope and a prayer: the desperate efforts to contain ebola

The 16 August attack on an ebola clinic in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, is a sign of just how deeply western medicine is mistrusted.

Spread risk: a Monrovia classroom serves as a rudimentary isolation ward. Photo: John Moore/Getty
Spread risk: a Monrovia classroom serves as a rudimentary isolation ward. Photo: John Moore/Getty

Ebola, a virus with a 60-90 per cent death rate, has already killed at least 1,145 people in West Africa. There is no cure, which adds to the rising sense of fear in the affected countries and their close neighbours. There have been no confirmed cases yet in Gambia, but on crowded buses, crackling radio reports relay the latest death toll, a constant reminder that the threat is not far from home.

Having spread from a single Guinean village across swaths of Liberia and Sierra Leone and into Nigeria, this outbreak is the deadliest to date. There is little trust in doctors, a by-product of local traditions and popular reliance on faith healers. After months of bad news, many people lack hope.

The disease was first detected in February and was declared a Liberian national “public health emergency” by the president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in June. In early August, the World Bank pledged $200m to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, and the UK offered a further £3m in aid. Yet the death toll continues to mount.

The 16 August attack on an ebola clinic in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, is a sign of just how deeply western medicine is mistrusted. It is hard to convince people to put their faith in new medicine when it can offer no cure.

The fragile economies and weak infrastructure of many countries in the subregion also limit their ability to manage the disease. On average, West African states spend $100 per capita on health care each year – nothing compared to the $3,600 per person in Britain.

The slow response by affected governments hasn’t helped. Kudzi Makopa, a student volunteer from London, flew to Sierra Leone in late May. “When we arrived there, the disease was the subject of jokes among the general public and there was even a comedy film on the matter being sold nationwide,” he told me. “No one really believed ebola was happening because they’d never seen it, and they thought that witch doctors or God would send it away.” Today, posters and billboards line the streets of the capital, Freetown, reading “Ebola is real”, but perhaps it is too late.

In Liberia, experts called in by the government insisted that the first wave of a disease is often less destructive than those that follow, which arguably made the country’s response slower than it might have been. “We were acting appropriately. But because of weak health systems, the disease spread, and now we are responding again,” Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant minister in Liberia’s health department told me.

Gambia risks making some of the same mistakes. Despite its proximity to the epidemic, few plans have been put in place to combat the virus. There is no sign of the ebola isolation facility that was due to be set up months ago, and testing for the disease is not available in the country.

At the Medical Research Council in Fajara, on Gambia’s Atlantic coast, doctors are disappointed that promises of resources have not been met. Outside the hospital, crowds of patients, including rows of mothers cradling malnourished babies in their colourful wraps, sit waiting on benches in the heat. Should an ebola victim be treated inside, these walk-in patients would be turned away. Doctors say people are turning to prayer to deter the virus.

West African countries have tightened their border controls, but the World Health Organisation has said that official figures may “vastly underestimate” the spread of the virus, making it harder to contain. Despite the international attention, the measures in place to combat ebola are inadequate. It feels as though people are still waiting for some intervention, whether governmental or divine, to end this crisis. 

10 Fan Catches Better Than in the Actual Game

Are you too cool to bring your glove?

That's what most people say, which is why 99 percent of the time when a ball goes into the stands, an all-star-like display of clumsiness ensues.

No matter the excuse for unpreparedness, though, every fan wants to make a spectacular catch and hand the ball to the little kid next to them.  Darn societal conscience.

It's the hole-in-one of fandom, a cementing of team loyalty, and a complete crapshoot.  Some fans have risen above the fray, though, and into our hearts through impressive displays of athleticism and trickery.  Here is the handful of fans out of millions who inspire us to wield beers instead of gloves at the ballpark.

We thank you.

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OhGizmo! Review: The Herbalizer Stationary Vaporizer


Over the last few months we’ve been looking at an increasing assortment of vaporizers of all shapes and price points, from the stationaries to the portables. It’s been a fascinating and eye-opening journey because we’ve come to realize just what a wide impact on vapour quality and flavour each different device has. So when we were offered the opportunity to review the Herbalizer, the most expensive vaporizer on the market, we were stoked. After all, who wouldn’t want to see what a $729 vaporizer can do? Designed by two former NASA engineers, the Herbie promises unparalleled temperature control, consistent extraction, instant heat-up times, and a host of other features that help justify its premium price. It’s billed as the “first SmartVape”, and is designed, manufactured and assembled in the USA. The company is clearly going after the Volcano, and they’ve come out with guns blazing. Did they manage? Does the Herbalizer live up to its promise? Read on to find out.

The Hardware
The first thing you notice when you get the Herbalizer is the quality of the packaging: it’s premium. This goes a long way to give you an idea of the kind of attention to detail they’ve put into this product, and gives you an unboxing experience that will have you feeling good about your expense from the moment you break the seal.

The Herbie itself is rather small, measuring some 10 9 inches across and looking somewhat like an alien egg. Beneath it, still in the box, is a compartment with four pre-assembled balloons, each in their individual packaging, as well as the power cord. That’s it. There are very few accessories, nothing to assemble, and everything is ready to go from the moment you open the box. The idea is to get you from the box to the vaping in as little time as possible.

The unit is made from plastic, and features two nested lids to make space for what they’re calling a “mezzanine”. This is just an area where you can keep some herbs, some aromatherapy oils, a cleaning brush and some aromatherapy pads (more on that later). The vaping deck has a color LCD screen, two buttons (to pick the operation mode), a fan button, and a temperature rocker. It’s dead simple and there isn’t even an on/off switch; opening the lid turns the device on. Towards the bottom of the deck is the magnetic herb chamber holder, right above the patented halogen heating element. The herb holder itself has two rubber rings that allow you to hold it while it’s hot. Finally, there’s a silicone hose with a metal tip that wraps around, and stores within the periphery of the deck. Everything you need is right there, and you don’t need to assemble anything aside from connecting the hose or the balloon to the herb chamber.

Build quality on the lids is unfortunately not as perfect as we would have liked. Although minor, they don’t close flush and leave a little gap. It doesn’t affect operation in any way, but it’s a noticeable blemish on a premium product. We suspect that the plastic craftsmanship makes for some unwanted friction in the hinges, resulting in imperfect closure. But at this price we might have expected a sturdier and more reliable metal construction. In the end, however, it doesn’t matter because the meat of the product is in its operation.

The Operation
The heart of the Herbalizer is in its patented heating element. Featuring a powerful 300W halogen heating lamp, the machine is capable of reaching its target temperature in as little as 5 seconds! This is compared to the several seconds to several minutes other devices can take. More importantly, an advanced microcontroller is able to regulate and maintain target temperature with as little as 5F in variation. While the company was developing the product, I was told that testing of other devices revealed temperature fluctuations of as much as 80F in some cases, which (as we’ll explain shortly) can make it harder to get the kind of buzz you’re after.

You see, cannabis contains a myriad of molecules. While most people only think of THC, there are in fact a bunch of different cannabinoids and terpenoids and other compounds that contribute in different ways to how you feel after vaping. Each one of these molecules has a different vaporization temperature, and achieving and maintaining consistent vaping temps makes it possible to control more precisely the mixture of compounds you inhale. This point is crucial, and is the reason the Herbalizer is so different from other vaporizers: by controlling the temperature in this way, you can select how you want to feel. Looking for a picker-upper? Something that will have you be more alert? Stick with the lower tier of temperatures. Want something more relaxing, maybe to help you sleep? Pick the middle temperatures for a “balanced” high. And finally, if you’re looking for an intense high, crank the temps up to the higher third. Each zone is clearly defined on the LCD screen.

What’s more, the precise and consistent temperature makes for a much more efficient extraction process. We found that we were able to get about 50% more use from the same quantity of herbs than we could with other vapes. When a lower temperature range no longer produced any discernible vapour, increasing the temp slightly once again released vapour from the as-yet-unvaporized compounds remaining in the herbs. And we have to say, vapor flavour is wonderful, especially at the lower temperatures. As you gradually increase, you start noticing more complex aromas that linger in the nose, and it actually becomes possible to achieve some very consistent “tiers” of vapour.

Now, getting this vapour into your lungs can be done in any of three ways: by filling up one of the preassembled balloons, by using the whip or by simply going “freestyle”, which just means filling up your room with whatever comes out. We enjoyed the balloons very much, in particular because of the silicone valve, which could be opened and closed with a simple pinch of the fingers. Really, this is an outstanding feature, especially when compared to other vaporizers that either simply don’t have any valve, or feature switch operated valves that are much harder to access (only in comparison to these). We found that we could keep the bag full of vapour for hours, and take hits whenever we felt like without any effort.

The unit also features an aromatherapy mode. This works by soaking up one of the two porous metal pads with essential oils and placing it in the designated pad holder towards the front of the mezzanine. A strategically placed vent then directs warm air over the pad, releasing aromas in your dwelling for as long as you want. There’s a timer function that will shut things down after a preset time, if you want to fall asleep while being surrounded by soothing smells, for example. During our testing we found that this feature worked well… if not fantastically well. We would have liked for a stronger smell to fill the room, but this could be due to there being too much ventilation where we were. Either that, or maybe the circulated air needs to be slightly hotter, we’re not sure. Whatever the case, it does work and maybe our reservations are related to unrealistic expectations.

Operation using the whip is straightforward and efficient. The fan should be turned on while you’re pulling, otherwise you won’t get much vapor, but this also means you need to manually turn it off when you’re done if you don’t want to fill up your room with the smell or waste anything. Not a problem, really, but we still preferred balloon operation.

The Herbalizer is without a doubt a premium product. The experience of using it is like no other we’ve come across. It’s dead simple to operate and ridiculously quick to go from “off”, to a balloon full of vapor. There are no accessories to mess around with, and nothing to assemble or connect, really. The heating element is powerful enough to quickly reach and effectively maintain target temperatures, which makes for much higher quality vapor and a more efficient extraction process. More importantly, being able to select how you feel, through this granular temperature control, is wonderful. It seems like a gimmick, but it does work, we can attest to that.

The device looks great, and will attract comments and attention more than most other similar offerings. Yes, there are some minor construction flaws, but they’re aesthetic and affect the operation in no way at all. And sure, it’s an expensive product to own, but if you’re looking for a (perhaps “the”) superior vaping experience, the Herbalizer should satisfy you in spades.

+ Super quick heat-up times (5 seconds!)
+ Consistent extraction temperatures
+ More efficient extraction, making for less wastage
+ Premium look and operation

- Rather expensive
- Plastic hinges cause lids not to close properly

MSRP: $729 with a 2 year warranty, and a 5 year Quality Guarantee on the Limited Edition.

[ It can be purchased HERE at VaporNation ]

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Philadelphia Phillies’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 17

With the MLB non-waiver trade deadline looming on July 31, the focus around baseball tends to be on what major league teams will be doing to bolster their rosters. Whether it's by means of acquiring talent for the home stretch or for the future, many names will switch places over the next few days, if they haven't already.

In the case of the Philadelphia Phillies, who reside in last place in the NL East with a 46-59 record, any talent they acquire will be of the minor league and/or prospect variety. They will not be a team trying to trade prospects away because they aren't in any sort of playoff race and the farm system is too depleted to be able to sacrifice the little depth it has. Consequently, the Phillies prospects will continue to develop along their current tracks within the Phillies organization.

Without further ado, here's the Week 17 edition of Stock Up, Stock Down for the Phillies' top prospects.

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10 Realistic Trades Philadelphia Phillies Could Make at 2014 MLB Trade Deadline

During the MLB All-Star break, players and fans alike took a four-day breather from the rigorous 162-game season to celebrate the best players in the game and to focus on other priorities for a few days. From a fan perspective, this could not have been any truer for supporters of the Philadelphia Phillies, who have watched the team go 43-55 and sit 11 games out in last place in the National League East division.

Consequently, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has publicly said that changes are coming to this team (per CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury). Whether that's in the form of trades, minor league promotions or both, it's worth noting that this is arguably the most candid Amaro has ever been concerning the state of the team during his tenure as Phillies GM.

So where does Amaro go from here? It's almost a foregone conclusion that the Phillies will sell at this year's trade deadline. Given the lack of production on the major league team and the lack of offense and starting pitching depth throughout the organization (per Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer), the Phillies need to—and for once, likely will—make as many moves as possible to replenish the dearth of talent in the farm system.

Amaro's job could also hang in the balance of this trade deadline. In a radio interview with 97.5 The Fanatic's Mike Missanelli, Amaro was asked if he has been guaranteed an offseason to clean up this mess. Although Amaro did not explicitly say he has not been given that promise, he was dodgy in his answer and it led to an inferred conclusion that that is indeed the case.

This trade deadline is both the most important for the Phillies and for Amaro in recent history. On the brink of what will likely be a full-out rebuilding phase, the Phillies need to get pieces to jump-start the process.

Amaro is responsible for bringing in talent—and the right talent at that—to create the future for the Phillies. The difference between years past and 2014, however, is that Amaro has no margin for error. If Amaro makes even a slight mistake, it could mean the difference between his employment after 2014 and a new general manager at the helm in 2015.

Due to the Phillies' current state, all trades in this slideshow will be of the selling variety. The Phillies are not in a position to be acquiring talent by surrendering the few minor league pieces they have. There are no spare parts, and that's what needs to change going forward.

Please keep in mind as well that the following list of trades, which are based on rumor, speculation or both, are not all intended to happen. Rather, any of the following trades are meant to be feasible possibilities, but it's not like the Phillies will likely be making 10 trades in the span of roughly 10 days.

Ladies and gentlemen, with that in mind, here are 10 realistic trades the Phillies could make at or before the 2014 MLB non-waiver trade deadline.

*All prospect rankings and commentary are courtesy of Baseball America's 2014 Prospect Handbook unless otherwise noted. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Philadelphia Phillies’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 16

As the All-Star break has ended for the major leagues, so too has it ended for some of the upper minor leagues. Although the lower minors held theirs more than a month ago in some cases, prospects are nonetheless entering the home stretch of the 2014 season.

Concerning the Philadelphia Phillies' prospects, some are coming off of their respective level's All-Star games, while others haven't exactly been spectacular in recent days.

At the unofficial halfway point in the 2014 season, here's a look at what the Phillies' top prospects have been up to over the past week.

All prospects on this list have yet to make their MLB debuts. All prospect commentary courtesy of the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook and/or MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. All statistics courtesy of MiLB.com.

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5 Prospects the Philadelphia Phillies Should Give a Shot in the 2nd Half

In the midst of what is likely a lost season, the Philadelphia Phillies haven't had extensive experience with this situation in recent years. The 2012 season still showed some hope when the Phillies caught lightning in a bottle in September to get to an even 81-81 record, while last year's club found some winning ways in mid-June and mid-July before the wheels fell off.

In 2014, there has been no such luck. The Phillies won five in a row not too long ago, but they then proceeded to lose two straight before the All-Star break. While the Phillies aren't in as dire of straits as they were in their shockingly-poor 2012 campaign, it is clearer now that this team is producing to its potential, not underperforming as was thought to be the case back then.

Such circumstances mean that players will likely be traded come the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, while others could be shipped off in August through waiver deals. With vacancies emerging on the major league roster, opportunities will present themselves for prospects and minor league players to get a chance to impress at the major league level.

What would the Phillies have to lose? Absolutely nothing. Giving prospects a chance would allow the Phillies to get a long look at what they have so they can evaluate their talent, which helps for knowing how to approach the offseason and spring training in 2015.

Without further ado, here are five prospects the Phillies should give a shot in the second half of the season.

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Scouting Reports for Philadelphia Phillies’ Prospects in the 2014 Futures Game

Although the MLB All-Star Game typically and rightfully steals the spotlight during the annual All-Star break, an event just beforehand that slips under the wire is the Futures Game.

Showcasing the best prospects around the minor leagues and pitting them against each other on United States and international teams, the Futures Game offers the best opportunity for prospects to make impressions—good or bad—on the national stage.

Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies were represented by two prospects: starting pitcher Jesse Biddle, who would end up earning the win in the game, and third baseman Maikel Franco. This year, Franco returns to the Futures Game, while 2013 first-round pick J.P. Crawford will be one of the shortstops on the U.S. team and, at 19 years old, the game's youngest participant.

Despite coming off a four-game road sweep of the National League's best team, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Phillies haven't had a season with much to write home about. Thus, fans can only hope to get excited about the future, and the Futures Game gives fans a glimpse of future promise.

Here's an in-depth look at the Phillies' prospects who will be playing in the 2014 Futures Game.

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Ranking Philadelphia Phillies’ Best All-Star Game Candidates

The month of July in MLB is arguably the most significant month of the regular season. Not only does it mark the halfway point of the year, it also presents the MLB All-Star Game midway through (July 15) and ends with the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.

In the case of the Philadelphia Phillies, July has only brought a continuation of losing that closed out the month of June. While the Phillies won their first game of the month on July 3 by a score of 5-4 over the Miami Marlins, it was their first win in seven games and still came down to the ninth inning.

Before embarking on a current 10-game road trip, the Phillies came off a 2-6 home stand that saw them go from potential division climbers to permanent cellar dwellers.

It's been nothing short of negativity surrounding the Phillies over the last couple of weeks, but the bright side is that the All-Star break is rapidly approaching. Not only will it present a much-needed breather for the Phillies to attempt to distance themselves from losing baseball, it also gives fans the chance of seeing the team's best and brightest playing on the national stage.

While the Phillies don't have an incredible amount of All-Star talent, there is a player or two who could find himself playing in the Midsummer Classic. This slideshow will look at the Phillies' most likely candidates of playing in the 2014 All-Star Game, even if only a few are realistically going to be elected.

Without further ado, here's a ranking of the Phillies' best MLB All-Star Game candidates this season.

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The biggest myths about street-based sex work

No, not all prostitutes get paid loads - and they're aren't all on drugs or from Eastern Europe. To make better policy around street-based sex work, we must first understand the reality of what it involves.

The welfare of sex workers themselves needs to be the prime concern. Photo: Getty
The welfare of sex workers themselves needs to be the prime concern. Photo: Getty

On a typical Monday night, a colleague and I drive around Brixton Hill in a van. We meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds – women who are back at work a week after having a baby, some who only work occasionally, and some for whom this has been a way of life since they were thirteen. We do outreach with south London’s street-based sex workers, offering a harm reduction and support service to any of them who need it.

The van has an ample supply of condoms, clean needles, food and drink. From 10pm until around 1.30am, we do outreach with the women involved in street-based sex work in the area. Spires, the Streatham centre that runs the service, recently won an award for innovation in homelessness intervention for this Streetlink project.

I work in central London in impact investing – so I am a volunteer just for Monday nights, but I do every shift alongside a Spires staff member. She knows most of the women we meet by name – she can probably tell you all about their children too. She knows who has disappeared, who has been stabbed by a punter, and who is on the verge of a mental health crisis. In the winter, she knows who needs the coat, scarf or gloves she has brought with her for the women who walk up and down the hill even in the snow.

While doing this work, violent threats – and even violence itself – it not uncommon. We have to leave the keys in the ignition and the engine running so we can get away quickly from the dangerous situations that arise – but none of these things surprise me anymore. What is surprising is that organisations like these so often struggle to find funding, that some people rage at us for the work we’re doing (for “enabling” prostitution), and the complete lack of understanding and empathy we hear so often when we talk about our outreach work.

So many people have an opinion on sex work, yet most of them will say they have never even spoken to a sex worker.  While those making decisions about policy, local planning, housing and funding, have no conception of what sex work, particularly street-based sex work, entails, there can be no significant change that can genuinely improve the situation – so that eventually, we hope, projects like Streetlink will not be needed. Similarly, while those of us who donate to, invest in or support charities and charitable work do not understand the challenges faced by sex workers, it puts centres like Spires or Eaves’ Beth Centre - which need constant funding to reach the most vulnerable – at risk.

I am not talking here about all sex work; it is a hugely diverse industry, with women and men working at all kinds of levels and in all kinds of ways – self-employed, in women-run co-operatives, or through escort services. We are concerned with street-based sex work, one of the most dangerous parts of the industry, where the women (all those in the area we work are women) are mostly homeless, and very often extremely vulnerable.

In an attempt to shed a little more light on a topic – where really what we need is for sex workers themselves to have a safe platform to talk about this – here are some of the statements we come up against time and again, that damage the debate because they feed into these misunderstandings about sex work on the street.

  1. All prostitutes get paid loads

This is probably the most common thing to hear within the first few minutes of mentioning sex work. People have always heard that story about someone who became a prostitute to pay off her student loan – or they’ve watched Secret Diary of a Call Girl and extrapolate one particular, glamourised portrayal of part of the industry to be reflective of every person who works in it. Some even sympathise that “it must be difficult to persuade them to get another kind of job when this one pays so well”.

In street-based sex work, this is so very far removed from the reality.

In this case, we are talking about payments that range not from £500-£1,000, but from £10 (with a condom – maybe they’ll pay an extra £10 to take it off) to £40 from a “generous” punter. It isn’t glamorous, it isn’t lucractive, and it isn’t safe – and it won’t be safe until there are radical changes in policy, and in the way society treats sex workers and those who are homeless.  

This misunderstanding matters because it means that people do not understand why sex workers need support or outreach, and funding streams suffer. It means when sex workers advocate for change, people are not willing to listen, and it means when people like Spires are looking for funding, so often the money is just not there.

  1. They are all on drugs

Another common misconception – and one that often demarcates women into those “deserving” of help (those who are not spending their money on drugs) and those who are “undeserving”. Yes, many women in street-based sex work are struggling with addiction, to drugs or alcohol. This may be the reason they are in such a vulnerable position, or it may be the result of it. Very few women we work with inject or smoke heroin, something people are surprised to hear – but it should not matter.  Assuming that all sex workers on the street take drugs, or that those who do are somehow less deserving, grossly oversimplifies an immensely complex issue.

  1. But where are they from?

This one we know very well. When I say that most of the women we work with are British, people raise their eyebrows, lower their voices and say, “Yes, but where are they from?”. People usually assume these are migrant women, from eastern Europe, from Asia and sometimes from Africa. It is part of this idea that sex workers are not really “like us” – they are different, and to be different they must be from somewhere else as well. It also helps to absolve us a little; if there are vulnerable women working in such unsafe conditions, it must be because they’re illegal immigrants, or because they have been exploited or trafficked – not because of our policies that make sex work unsafe and sex workers vulnerable, or because of the benefit cuts that have forced them onto the street. Some of those we work with are migrant women – many of them are not.  

  1. It’s just pimps and gangs behind it all

Yes, some of the women we work with are being exploited by an individual or by a gang. But for many of them, it’s the usual every day inequality behind it – women who are or have been in abusive relationships, women who cannot afford their housing, or who do not have the support they need to sustain a job. Some women have severe mental health support needs that are not being met and do not have an alternative. While these inequalities persist, women will continue to work on the streets, where they are exposed and at-risk. Blaming it on gangs, pimps or “minders” obscures the complexity of the support needed by sex workers, undermines their agency and the choices they make, and ensures it remains only a question of crime, rather than a question of inequality, policy or labour rights.  

  1. They need saving (from themselves)

The moral question about sex work so often obscures the needs of those who are working. Very often the question is about how to help people choose a better life, how to show them that it’s wrong to sell their bodies.

Outreach work is not “saving” anybody. It’s harm reduction and giving information about local services – we support the women’s basic needs and provide contraceptives, as well transport so that sometimes we can drive them away from a violent punter to a place of safety (perhaps a relative or friend’s house). We link them in to health, benefits, rehabilitation and housing services – through brilliant providers like St. Mungo’s – but we are not there to save anybody from sex work. 

We are delighted when we are able to work with women who eventually find an alternative to working on the street. For some of them, this might mean re-entering education or training, and for some of them it might mean getting back on their feet, able to continue working in the sex industry but on their terms and in a safe, supported environment. There are no quick wins, and this is so important to understand if services like Streetlink are to receive the support they need to continue. Simplistic narratives about “saving sex workers” can obscure the realities of the situation, and put practical services that support the workers themselves at risk.

The women we work with do not need a lecture, or somebody to tell them what they should be doing. They need access to clean needles and rehabilitation when they ask for it. They need safe contact with their children. They need supported housing and health check-ups. They need a social security system that they can actually use.  

  1. Prison offers them the chance to recover, and rethink their lives

Another thing that they need is to report violence without fear of repercussions. While sex workers are being arrested for soliciting, while they are in and out of the criminal justice system, it is virtually impossible to build up a strong, long-term relationship where they feel able to ask for support when they need it, and where they are able to report the violent crimes of punters. It is hugely frustrating to make strides with a client and have to start again from scratch when they come back from a three month stay in prison.

People often suggest that in fact prison will help these women, giving them breathing space, time to think and time to ‘get off’ drugs.

Funded rehabilitation services that can work around chaotic lives help people to deal with drug or alcohol dependency. Genuine training, opportunities and supported housing help people deal with addiction. Having them constantly arrested for solicitation does not; it undermines any progress they have made with support workers and mental health professionals, and creates a divide between police forces, support services and sex workers themselves, who should be working together to deal with the violent crimes of some punters and some partners – and the exploitation and trafficking that do exist in the industry.

With all of the discussion about bringing in the Nordic model in the UK, the welfare of sex workers themselves needs to be the prime concern – not the reduction in the size of the sex trade, or in the number of punters.

The Nordic model penalises the demand for commercial sex (criminalising the punter) while decriminalising the selling of sex. It provokes heated debate from all sides; many see the criminalising of punters as key to reducing demand, leading particularly to a reduction in human trafficking. One worry from a welfare perspective, however, is that it can push sex work further underground and lead to less safety for the sex workers themselves. For many women, fewer clients might mean taking more risks; focusing on tackling the demand for sex work does not deal with the reasons some women are compelled to work on the street.

Certainly, though, there is a very positive side to the Nordic model; proper decriminalisation for sex workers is a key tenet – while “soliciting” is currently illegal in the UK. Decriminalisation would go some way towards creating a system that listens to the needs of sex workers and attempts to respond to them. It would mean that women could report violent attacks from punters without fear of repercussions and of being targeted for arrests when In the meantime, charities like Spires will continue to provide the practical services that sex workers need to stay safe on the street – I just hope one day they won’t be needed.

Clare Jones (@claremaryjones) works at ClearlySo and volunteers for the Spires Centre (@spireslondon), which supports homeless and disadvantaged people in south London