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APRIL 13, 2018 _ VOL.170 _ NO.13
President Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd
at a rally and concert in Moscow’s Manezhnaya
Square. The event celebrated the fourth
anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Illustration by Tracie Ching for Newsweek
For more headlines, go to
Six More Years
In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s reign will continue until
2024 and maybe beyond. What will that mean for
America—and the world?
APRIL 13, 2018 _ VOL.170 _ NO.13
NEWS DIRECTOR _ Cristina Silva
DEPUTY EDITORS _ Mary Kaye Schilling,
R.M. Schneiderman
In Focus
P. 40
04 Córdoba, Spain
Boys in the Hoods
06 Shubra al-
Khaymah, Egypt
Life of the Party
Gustavo Petro used to
be a member of M-19,
a center-left guerrilla
group. Now, he’s eager
to be president of
Colombia, and he has
a legitimate shot at it.
Trump Card?
Crying Foul
08 Politics
An Interview
With Colombia’s
Gustavo Petro
14 Middle East
The ‘Truth’ About
Syria’s Civil War
Breaking News Editor _ Juliana Pignataro
London Bureau Chief _ Robert Galster
Politics Editor _ Michael Mishak
Science Editor _ Jessica Wapner
News Editor _ Orlando Crowcroft
Gaming Editor _ Mo Mozuch
Deputy Editors _ Dante A. Ciampaglia (Culture)
Jen Glennon (Gaming)
Jason Le Miere, Katie Zavadski (Politics)
Jessica Lipsky (Breaking News)
Robert Valencia (World)
Associate Editors _ Hannah Osborne (Science)
Harriet Sinclair (Politics) Maria Vultaggio (Culture)
Amanda Woytus (Breaking News)
Social Media Editor _ Adam Silvers
London Sub-Editor _ Hannah Partos
Production Editor _ Jeff Perlah
Copy Chief _ Elizabeth Rhodes Ernst
Copy Editors _ Bruce Janicke, Kelly Rush,
Joe Westerfield
Contributing Editors _ Max Fraser, Owen Matthews,
Matthew Sweet
Video Producer _ Jordan Saville
Editorial Assistant _ Zola Ray
36 Space
Buying Real Estate
on the Moon
38 Research
Diamonds Are a
Geologist’s BF
39 Health
Grunt Workout
40 Drugs
Viagra’s Stiff
Director of Photography _ Diane Rice
Contributing Art Director _ Michael Bessire
Associate Art Director _ Dwayne Bernard
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Production Manager _ Helen J. Russell
Carlos Ballesteros, Meghan Bartels,
Nina Burleigh, Anthony Cuthbertson,
Chantal Da Silva, Janissa Delzo, Dana Dovey,
Gillian Edevane, Sean Elder*, Emily Gaudette,
Nicole Goodkind, Michael Hayden,
Katherine Hignett, Kristin Hugo, Josh Keefe,
Max Kutner, Jessica Kwong, Tracy Lee,
Sofia Lotto Persio, Tim Marcin, Melissa Matthews,
Cristina Maza, Anna Menta, Alexander Nazaryan,
Tom O’Connor, Callum Paton, Sydney Pereira,
Maria Perez, Tom Porter, Bill Powell, Greg Price,
Tom Roddy, Winston Ross*, Roberto Saviano*,
Zach Schonfeld, Damien Sharkov, Kate Sheridan,
Ryan Sit, Marie Solis, Jeff Stein, Janice Williams,
Christina Zhao (*Contributing)
42 Theater
Glenda Jackson’s
Return to Broadway
46 Movies
The Best Worst Film
48 Parting Shot
Abbi Jacobson
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In Focus
Boys in
the Hoods
People ask for forgiveness for their sins at an
annual Catholic Easter procession on March 25.
The ceremony, which occurs during Holy Week
in towns and villages throughout Spain, has
long featured penitents wearing conical hats,
or capirotes. Despite their resemblance to
the pointed hoods worn by the Ku Klux Klan
in America, the two outfits—and the groups
who wear them—are entirely unrelated.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
In Focus
Life of the Party
Trump Card
Crying Foul
Women dance outside a polling station
on March 27 during the presidential
election. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi won
re-election with more than 90 percent
of the vote, but most of his main rivals
are behind bars, and many Egyptians
reportedly were threatened and
bribed to participate in the voting.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife,
Ri Sol Ju, share a photo op with Chinese President
Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan. During
Kim’s surprise two-day visit, his first known trip
abroad since 2011, he reportedly reaffirmed his
commitment to denuclearization, though critics
remain skeptical. President Donald Trump has
agreed to meet with Kim by the end of May.
Stevante Clark addresses
fellow protesters on March
28 in response to the killing
of his brother, Stephon,
an unarmed AfricanAmerican who was shot by
police on March 18 in his
grandmother’s backyard.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
Supporters hold
signs for Petro
in Tunja, a city
northeast of
Bogotá, the capital.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
”The lack of reporters in Syria has led to
an even more fervent propaganda war.” » P.14
Waiting in the
(Left) Wings
Gustavo Petro used to be a member of a notorious Colombian
guerrilla group. Now, he’s running for president
more than three decades ago, the m-19,
politics. The 58-year-old served as a congressa center-left Colombian guerrilla group,
man in the early 2000s and later became mayor
stormed the Palace of Justice, the country’s top
of Bogotá—a term that almost ended in scandal.
court, to condemn then–President Belisario BetanIn 2013, Petro became embroiled in an alleged
scandal involving the city’s sanitation program
cur for allegedly violating a truce. A 28-hour siege
ensued, as militants squared off against the armed
that temporarily forced him out of office. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and he came back
forces, leaving dozens dead, the building burned
to finish his term.
and the country mired in chaos.
A month before the siege, in October 1985, the
But as Colombians get ready to vote on May 27, the
national army detained a young militant named
turmoil in neighboring Venezuela is getting more
Gustavo Petro—who was not part of the raid—and
attention than Petro’s time running Bogotá. Critics
tortured him for days at a cavalry school. After his
say he hasn’t adequately condemned the left-leaning
release, Petro helped craft a peace treaty between
movement chavismo, whose policies have arguably
the militants and the government.
created a humanitarian crisis along the Colombian
Now, he wants to be Colombia’s next president.
border. Petro argues otherwise, but this is no mere
As of publication, Petro, who is running for the proideological debate: In March, shots were fired at his
bulletproof vehicle during a campaign rally.
gressive Colombia Humana Movement, was slightly trailing Iván Duque, his staunchest
As the authorities continue to inrival. (Duque was nominated by Demvestigate what happened, Petro spoke
ocratic Center—a center-right party
to Newsweek about U.S. President
Donald Trump, the late Venezuelan
spearheaded by former President
Álvaro Uribe Vélez.)
leader Hugo Chávez and why politics
It’s not Petro’s first foray into
is a matter of life and death.
Let’s talk about Trump. How
would you deal with a U.S.
president who is increasingly
Trump’s actions [regarding stiff trade
measures, especially on Chinese
products] inadvertently would help
us because they allow us to impose
a tariff on basic imports on farm
products and industrial goods, which
are of interest to protect Colombia’s
agriculture and industry.
Would you also renegotiate the free
trade agreement Colombia signed
with the U.S. in 2006?
That would not be necessary from
a legal standpoint because of the
carbon tax [which measures greenhouse gas emissions on imports]—a
tariff I propose. Trump’s protectionist take helps legitimize Colombia’s
protectionism, but the position
I’m proposing, in the protection of
Colombia’s productivity, is founded
on mitigating climate change.
In recent years, Colombia has
witnessed a rise in coca
production. How would you
tackle drug trafficking?
We cannot base our agenda on narcotics like in past decades. The war
on drugs is a failure, and that is recognized in Colombia and in the U.S.,
and it has opened a floodgate of violence across the Americas, from Baltimore to Brazil. I propose an agrarian
policy I call land substitution and the
democratization of fertile land. Coca
leaves do not grow on fertile land,
and if farmers can be taken to arable
fields, they will produce basic agrarian goods that are more profitable.
How would you cooperate with the
U.S. when Attorney General Jeff
Sessions and Trump are intent on
pursuing a draconian drug policy
and even contemplate the death
penalty for drug dealers?
Populism can lead U.S. right-wing
factions to believe that stringent
penalties can end drug consumption. The fact that a death toll
reached over 60,000 [in 2016] due
to [overdose from illicit drugs and
prescription opioids] is a demonstration that the U.S. policy is a failure
and is leading to more deaths.
traditional political elites or the Trump
administration. The Venezuelan
regime, for its part, would not have
survived if the world had not had a
higher demand for oil. Therefore, the
discussion over Venezuelan politics
would have been very different
between the opposition and the
[Nicolás] Maduro administration
today, but there is a dispute over oil
revenues among interest groups.
Former U.S. Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson said Latin American
countries should not let China or
Russia erode their sovereignty.
Do you agree?
To think about politics as gray areas or
in a binary way is the worst approach
to understand societies. This is a naïve
policy and rather a stupid one. It’s
not about being allegiant to the U.S.
or Russia or China; it’s about forging
ties with the politics of life, meaning
those who want to mitigate climate
change for a better future.
During an interview with Univision’s
Jorge Ramos in March, your
detractors lambasted you because
you couldn’t answer whether
Chávez was a dictator. Do you think
this interview harmed your chances
of becoming president?
Not at all. I heard over the earpiece
“Is Chávez a dictator or not?” But I
differentiate the Chávez years from
Maduro’s—and whoever wants to
analyze Venezuela in depth must
establish that difference, which I
was not allowed to do.… If you ask
me whether Chávez was a dictator, I
would say no. If you ask me whether
Maduro is a dictator, I would say yes.
They are not the same in this case.
Let’s talk about Venezuela. What do
you think should be the role of the
U.S. in the humanitarian crisis?
The best role the U.S. should assume—
now, this is a suggestion because
I’m respectful of every country’s
sovereignty—is to stay away from
fossil fuel. However, this is not a
concept that’s being analyzed by our
“If you ask me whether
Chávez was a dictator,
I would say no. If
you ask me whether
Maduro is a dictator,
I would say yes.”
What makes them different?
During the Chávez tenure, he was
riding on high oil prices, and he could
wield political clout. Maduro, on the
other hand, is grappling with plummeting oil prices. Chávez allowed
some pluralism…because there was
a coup attempt in 2002 against him
and several other strikes. He had to
maintain or increase that pluralism.
Maduro, on the other hand, murders.
But during the Chávez years, there
were operating TV channels from the
opposition, for example.
But Chávez allowed the closure
of Radio Caracas Televisión, an
opposing TV channel, in 2007.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
VOTE FOR PETRO? Though critics
fear he’ll turn Colombia into the
next Venezuela, Petro, left, has a
legitimate shot at the presidency. At
bottom right, the 1985 siege.
But he sustained a degree of pluralism. Today, Venezuela can’t find
a solution to its woes. During the
Chávez years, there were elections;
he lost a 2007 referendum to stay
longer in power, but he accepted
his defeat. I can’t find opposition
members who would say that there
was a fraud during the times he was
re-elected, since there was some
sort of consensus that the majority
of Venezuelans were supporting
Chávez. And this is because oil prices
were high, turning Venezuela into a
bursting bubble—something Chávez,
unfortunately, did not foresee.
Chávez was aware that Venezuela’s
economy needed to be transitioned
from an oil-based economy to a
more diverse one, but he depended
even more on its petroleum until
the end of his term. Now, Maduro
makes the effort to sustain a higher
price of oil, and he does not allow
openness for a national dialogue
to solve problems. That’s what we
call a dictatorship.
So do you still support your claim
that Chávez was a good president?
That’s not what I said. What I’m saying is that Chávez was not a dictator. Whether he was a good or bad
leader, that’s up to the Venezuelan
society to decide. We did not see a
deep-seated authoritarian approach
under Chávez, despite aligning Venezuela with the Cuban model. Maduro fights for an increase in oil production, instead of contemplating
a transition to a more productive
economy—and he closed any democratic forums for social protests.
If you become president, how
would you deal with Maduro
while addressing Venezuela’s
humanitarian crisis?
From the Colombian perspective,
it’s all about staying away from coal
and oil. That would pave the way for
an exemplary model to Venezuela.
The richer we are, the more capable
we’ll be to help Venezuelan society…
stay away from oil. This can only
be achieved if Colombia shifts to a
more productive economy and supplies Venezuela with more food, so
we can curb such a massive exodus.
What is the Venezuelan problem?
It can’t untether from oil, but that
problem can only be resolved among
Your political adversaries could
bring up your former M-19 militancy
in future presidential debates. How
would you cope with those attacks?
The history of M-19 showed us that
peace is not a pact with guerrillas,
but an agreement with society in the
pursuit of social reforms to make
Colombia, one of the world’s most
unequal countries, into a fair one.
If we don’t recognize that this is the
root cause of drug trafficking, violence or poverty, then we’re having a
distorted view of our country.
If the Uribe-led conservative movement known as uribismo is defeated
and I win, we should discuss with its
upper echelon how we can peacefully move from an unproductive large
estate to a productive model.
Analysts believe that markets are
afraid of you. Should they be?
What a foreign investor wants is
harvests coca leaves in southwest
Colombia. Petro believes America’s
war on drugs has failed.
a clear set of rules, so here is mine:
Businesspeople dedicated to clean
energies like solar power are welcome. Those who want to help us in
the industrialization of food production are welcome. Those who want
to help us in the programming, web
and computer science business are
welcome. Now, when it comes to the
extractive business, such as ore mining in moorlands, fracking, oil and
coal exploration, then they will not
find a friendly government.
Another left-leaning candidate
in Latin America on the rise is
Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López
Obrador. Despite the Venezuelan
experience, do you believe that the
left still has a future in a region that
has probably grown weary of it?
“I no longer see
the world as right
versus left. The
world today sees
politics as a matter
of life versus death.”
I no longer see the world as right
versus left. The world today sees politics as a matter of life versus death.…
There are entities that support and
deepen wars, wall constructions,
xenophobia and fossil fuel economies. Those are the politics of death.
I don’t know López Obrador…but I’d
like to because we would have some
much to talk about. There could
also be a political change in Brazil if
[Luiz] Inácio Lula Da Silva manages
to run again.
This is also true of Peru. With
the ouster of President Pedro Pablo
Kuczynski and the fall of former
leader Alberto Fujimori’s ideology,
we can witness a beautiful opportunity for a progressive bloc’s rise. This
would be a completely different axis
from the one made up of Caracas,
Managua and Havana. My hope is
that this new dawn in Latin American progressivism is established in
a productive economy.
Would you renegotiate the peace
accord the government reached
with the Armed Revolutionary
Forces of Colombia (FARC) more
than a year ago?
The peace deal must be respected,
and they must be unvilified because
Colombians no longer believe the fallacy that our country was going to be
handed over to guerrillas. FARC, now
a political party, received a meager
50,000-vote tally in the congressional
elections. The treaty with FARC is not
a top concern for Colombians.
When the country votes in May,
do you think you’ll win?
Possibly. For the first time in five
centuries, a person who is not a
member of the elites that have ruled
the country has a chance to win
the presidency—that is, if I’m
not assassinated.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
SAVE 57%
“Journalism I don’t see elsewhere until later, if at all.”
Tourist Trap
Skeptical of media reports about Syria, small groups of Westerners are heading to Damascus
to see for themselves. Are they truth-seekers—or pawns of the regime?
it almost sounds like the
beginning of a joke.
A British priest, an American student and a Scottish baroness, among
others, were stuck at a border crossing. But the border in question is no
joking matter; it’s the one that divides
Lebanon from Syria. Skeptical of what
they’d seen and heard in the Western
media, these men and women had arrived here to learn the “truth” about
the then-six-year-old Syrian Civil War.
This was last year, and the group
was one of hundreds of tourist delegations that have tried to come to
Syria, many with permission from
the regime. Its organizer? Andrew
Ashdown, an Anglican vicar from
Winchester, a small town in southern England. Since 2014, he’s visited
Syria at least nine times on similar
tours. His personal highlight came
about two years ago when he unexpectedly met President Bashar
al-Assad. Many in the West consider Assad a monster, but Ashdown
feels differently. Stuck at the border
crossing, he was excitedly telling his
companions about his encounter.
“He was standing there surrounded
by all this grandeur, yet completely
alone,” Ashdown said. “I felt very
privileged. It’s terrible how the media twist things.”
Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, it has morphed from a
peaceful uprising against the government into a devastating struggle in
which both the regime and its enemies have sanctioned
rape and torture, according to the United
Nations. The carnage
has led half the counSALLY HAYDEN
try’s citizens to flee,
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
“I started…trying to
find alternative media,
which is really difficult.
I think I first started by
looking at TripAdvisor.”
with more than 5 million refugees
living outside of Syria.
Human rights groups say Assad
and his Russian allies have killed the
largest number of civilians, dropping barrel bombs indiscriminately, targeting hospitals and medical
centers, using chemical weapons
and carrying out a series of sieges to
starve the opposition into submission. Its most recent offensive, in
Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, has
killed more than 1,100 civilians since
mid-February, as the Syrian president continues to win back control
over his battered country.
It has never been easy for the press
to cover the conflict, but over time,
it has become even more difficult.
Syria was ranked as the fourth-mostrepressive country for media in the
world last year, according to Reporters Without Borders, which placed it
ahead of only Turkmenistan, Eritrea
and North Korea.
For Western journalists, it’s hard to
even get in. Certain outlets—including Al Jazeera and the National Geographic Channel—seem to be completely blacklisted. Reporters who do
get a visa are assigned government
minders, and they operate with the
understanding they won’t be allowed
back if they write anything negative.
The lack of reporters on the
ground has led to an even more fervent propaganda war—in Russian,
Iranian and other press outlets and
on social media—in which pro-regime pundits call humanitarian
groups like the White Helmets “terrorists,” and dismiss children killed
by chemical attacks as “actors.”
Western tour groups are increasingly playing a role in this battle over
information. Most seem to believe
that Assad should be allowed to deal
with the opposition as he sees fit.
They pay their own way, but members of the Syrian government often
organize visas, coordinate schedules and make themselves available
for meetings.
The phenomenon of Westerners
traveling to support repressive regimes is not new. Alberto Fernandez,
a former American diplomat stationed
in Syria in 1990, says it goes back to the
1930s, when Westerners traveled to
the Soviet Union for similar reasons.
“People…getting information from regimes or going on trips and allowing
groups are playing a role in the Syrian
propaganda war. Most seem to believe
that Assad, below, should be allowed to
deal with the opposition as he sees fit.
Opposite, a child in Eastern Ghouta.
themselves to be used by tyrants, that
has happened with every movement,”
he says. “That is true of Syria.”
While these trips draw together a
disparate collection of people with
varying motivations and levels of
knowledge of the region, all those
interviewed by Newsweek expressed
strong distrust of Western media.
And their access has made them increasingly influential online.
Take Miguel Valenzuela, a muscular,
29-year-old American living in Australia. He decided to come to Syria in early 2017 because he felt he was getting
only one side of the story. Two years
before, he visited Iran and says the trip
forced him to question many of his
preconceptions about the country—
from how welcoming civilians were to
how they felt about their leadership.
As Valenzuela started learning more
about Syria—both the war and the
nation’s history—he wondered if Assad was simply misunderstood.
“I started…trying to find alternative media, which is really difficult,”
he says. “I think I first started by looking at TripAdvisor.” On the travel site,
he saw postings saying “how beautiful
the country was and how free people
were…which contradicted the idea of
a brutal dictator.”
Next, he searched Twitter and
Facebook for people who had visited the country. He came across selfstyled activists and citizen journalists
who post frequently and conduct
interviews on alternative or Russian
state-controlled media sites. Valenzuela found them convincing but still
wanted to see for himself.
He tried getting a visa from the
Syrian consulate in Sydney, but it
kept canceling his appointments.
So he searched for another way. After Googling “Syria tours,” Valenzuela came across Jamal Daoud, a
Palestinian-Australian activist who
traveled to the country as early as
2013 with a group from Australia’s
short-lived WikiLeaks Party that included John Shipton, Julian Assange’s
father. Three years later, Daoud began
organizing tours to Syria under a
group called the Australian Social
Justice Network. Prices ran to $850
for a single room, Valenzuela learned,
flights not included. But he found it
reassuring that the money wasn’t due
until Syria approved his visa.
The next trip was advertised as
“celebrating Easter, celebrating Syrian Independence Day and celebrating the victory of Aleppo”—a Syrian
regime victory that ended a brutal
siege with a forced evacuation that
the United Nations considers a war
crime. Valenzuela signed up.
His visit was odd, he says. The tour’s
organizers gave him a government-issued press card saying he worked for
Daoud’s media company, even though
he wasn’t a journalist (he runs a supplements company). The group was
often joined by SANA, Syrian state
media, which filmed them making
visits to Aleppo and Damascus and
regularly encouraged attendees to
provide interviews about what they
heard and witnessed, including civilians’ concerns about rising food prices that were fueled by U.S. sanctions. “I
was blown away by the strength of the
Syrian people,” Valenzuela says. “And
also how real the war was.”
Among the tour groups that have
made it inside Syria, some show a
strong desire to help local people.
They donate money to charitable
causes in the country, and one cryptocurrency enthusiast even suggested
using bitcoin to get around U.S. sanctions. In October, a visiting Irishman
paid for a young girl’s heart operation,
while some have talked about going
back to Syria to volunteer as English
teachers, though whether they can get
a longer-term visa is another matter.
However, most of the Syrian refugees Newsweek spoke to have already
been forced to flee their home country, and they reacted with confusion
and resignation when learning about
these trips. “I think they don’t know
it, but it’s propaganda,” said a Syrian
who fled Damascus with his entire
family and asked to remain anonymous because he’s still worried about
retaliation. “These people who go
there, I think they would like to help,
to support the people, and they want
to see Syria…[but] the regime killed
half a million Syrians and 80 percent
of Syria is destroyed.”
Jalal Mando, a young actor from
Homs who was imprisoned for two
years for filming protests, said the
Syrian regime has always been good
at lying to people. “When I was in
prison, a lot of prisoners wanted reconciliation with the Syrian regime.
I saw many of them, and they were
killed under torture,” he said. “Bashar
al-Assad wants to deceive people by
creating an illusion for them.”
Syrian government employees
acknowledge a propaganda war is
going on, and they’re working hard
to help their side win. The government’s Ministry of Information is a
critical player in this battle. Ghassan Chahine, a Damascene with 40
years of experience in the Syria tourguide business, praised the ministry
for making his job easier. Sitting
One woman used
her student loan to
fund the $1,900
expected cost of
the journey (flights
not included).
in a courtyard in a boutique hotel
in Damascus’s party district, Bab
Touma, in October, surrounded by
guests visiting with another Western delegation, he said he was lucky
to have access to an “official voice”
for his country. He speculated that
tour guides elsewhere must struggle
without that guidance.
Before the war, 12 percent of Syria’s
gross domestic product came from
tourism. Damascus is one of the oldest cities on Earth and features one
of the largest mosques in the world.
The capital is also home to a bevy of
former tour guides struggling, like
everyone else, to comprehend what
has happened to their country. So
Chahine is pleased that business is
starting up again; in fact, he says, a
new delegation arrives every day.
“They want to see what happened,”
he explains, adding that it gives the
government and its supporters in Syria “a way to get our information out.”
Social media are a major channel
for pro-Syrian propaganda, and many
Westerners who go on these guided
tours post photos and commentary
about their trip on Facebook, Twitter
and Instagram. Several repeat visitors
have built up significant followings:
Ashdown has more than 2,500 Facebook followers. British-born Vanessa
Beeley, a self-proclaimed “independent journalist,” has 25,000 followers on Twitter. Canadian Eva Bartlett,
who blogs for Russia Today, a Kremlin
mouthpiece, has more than 75,000
followers across both platforms. All
three focus on similar topics, including discrediting the White Helmets.
They occasionally give talks across
the U.K. or U.S. and repeatedly say
their access inside Syria gives them
more credibility than reporters from
more mainstream groups, such as The
Guardian or the BBC.
Most reporters would disagree,
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
White Helmets pull a boy from a collapsed
building after a regime airstrike in Aleppo,
left. Below, Ashdown with Lebanese
police officers near the Syrian border.
and analysts say these Western visitor accounts are being amplified
by bots as well as some Christian
groups, which believe the narrative
that Assad supports religious minorities. “The space has become a fascinating, often frustrating one where
you’re seeing all these actors—good
and indifferent—attempting to use
these means to shape reality or misshape reality,” says Fernandez, the
former American diplomat.
Back at the Syrian border, the members of Ashdown’s contingent were
getting to know one another. Most
attendees were Christian. Some have
never been to the Middle East before;
others have no experience in a war
zone. One woman, a divorced mother who learned of the trip through
Ashdown’s Facebook page, used student loan money to fund the $1,900
expected cost of the journey (flights
not included). At least two had written
letters to family members to be
opened if they are killed while away.
But it seemed that Ashdown’s
contact—a high-level official in the
Syrian government—had mysteriously disappeared, along with the
group’s already issued visas. “Is it a
cock-up or conspiracy?” John Howard, a Methodist presbyter based in
the West Bank, quipped as he strolled
through the ruined Roman temples
at Hezbollah-controlled Baalbeck, in
east Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. “That’s
the question, isn’t it?”
By noon on the fourth day of waiting, Ashdown was passing around
whiskey while making plans to return
west to Beirut. People were becoming
frustrated. A few people began to express quiet doubts: Maybe the mainstream media reports were actually
correct? Maybe Assad was exercising
extreme control over information
while brutalizing his own people.
A week passed, but the senior Syrian
official never re-emerged to distribute
the final permissions, and the attendees—who had flown from as far as
South America—were left disappointed. In the end, a string of speakers, all
government supporters, traveled to
Lebanon to meet with them.
Among them was Mother Agnes
Mariam de la Croix. A Syria-based
Lebanese nun, she is best known for
conducting her own report into the
2013 East Ghouta chemical attack,
claiming the footage of it was fabricated and the children had been anesthetized to create it. (De la Croix had
no prior investigative experience.)
She also spoke about how the opposition had always been “terrorists,”
the “Mafia-like” nature of the media
and her theory that Saudi Arabia—
rather than Assad—was behind the
departure of Syrian refugees to Europe because it longs for the Islamization of the West. Then she attacked
the BBC, which she said lied about
conditions inside the country.
Most of those listening nodded
sympathetically, promising to
spread her message when they
returned home.
The Japanese Way: Monozukuri
and total quality control
When it comes to quality, nobody does it quite like Japanese mandufacturers
At the beginning of its rapid industrialization following World War II, Japan imported many concepts from
the United States and United Kingdom on factory management and
statistical quality control. But over
the proceeding decades, Japanese
manufacturers left its competitors
in the U.S. and U.K. behind, thanks to
their ability to produce high-quality
goods at a competitive cost.
Noted for his quality management innovations, Japanese organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa
(1915-1989) is considered a key
figure in the development of quality initiatives in Japan. During the
80s he released four books on the
topic of quality control.
“To practice quality control is to
develop, design, produce and service
a quality product (...) To meet this
goal, everyone in the company must
participate in and promote quality
control, including top executives, all
divisions within the company and all
employees,” he wrote in What is Total
Quality Control? The Japanese Way.
Companies like Toyota became
renowned for following such an
approach. The world-famous Toyota
Production System follows the principals of Monozukuri, which revolves
around the spirit of not only producing excellent products, but also the
ability to constantly improve the
production system and processes.
Japanese manufacturers both large
and small have adopted these principals of Monozukuri, which has
helped to set them apart from
their competitors when it comes
to quality.
“One of the main differences
between Japan and competing
countries such as Korea and China
is that we have good teachers and
leaders from companies like Toyota
and Honda that have taught Japan a
lot,” says Mr. Jumpei, Kojima President of IMV Corporation, which,
with its 350 employees, manufactures vibration testing systems and
measuring systems for the automotive, electronics and construction
“Because of the influence of
such companies, we kept growing
with repeated trial and error to
meet their high requirements. They
encourage and enable us to grow
Aside from an uncompromising
dedication to quality and reliability in
products and production processes,
Mr. Shinkichi Suzuki, President and
CEO of Kawakin Holdings Group,
says that another distinguishing
feature which sets Japan apart from
the likes of China and South Korea is
the fact that “Japanese corporations
make a lot of efforts in customizing
their products to fit to their customers’ needs.”
Through its subsidiaries, Kawakin
manufactures a range of high-tech
products that provide safety and
reliability in engineering fields for
buildings, bridges, industrial machinery, energy, automobiles, ships
and other sectors. These include
steel, iron and wax castings, rolled
steel, seismic isolation and vibration control systems for buildings
and bridges, hydraulic cylinders and
injection moldings.
“Our main competitive advantage
is our extensive and diverse product portfolio,” says Mr. Suzuki. “We
can adapt to all kinds of structures,
from bridges to buildings, including
schools, hospitals and factories. The
ability to offer to our customers so
many different components makes
us a one-stop shop. Instead of establishing business partnerships
with separate companies, Kawakin’s
customers can rely on us as a sole
provider for all products needed.”
“Japanese people are
perfectionists and as
such their work ethic
is to always strive for
Shuhei Toyoda, President.
Toyota Boshoku Corp.
“Before cars, make people” is
a famous quote of former Toyota
chairman, Eiji Toyoda; and “making
people” is certainly a priority for
Japanese companies like Toa Koki,
which manufactures engine components for both cargo and passenger ships for customers around
the world.
“We have the same mindset as
companies like Toyota and Suzuki.
We take good care of our employees,
especially our highly skilled employees and those with expert knowledge,” says company president, Mr.
Wataru Mitsutake.
“It is extremely important that
the top-level workers teach the
younger generation. Under this
training system, twenty-year-old
employees were ranked 8th at the
Monozukuri Championship in Japan
last year.”
Of course, for Japanese multinationals, training often involves the
training of staff in factories and subsidiaries overseas. These companies
ensure that the values of Monozukuri and high-quality standards are
adopted by their workers abroad.
“At Sanyo Chemical, we outsource some of our productions to
our overseas subsidiaries. It is essential that the high level of production and product quality is sustained
regardless of where the products
are made,” says Takao Ando, President of Sanyo Chemical Industries.
“We train our overseas staff
members to reach the same level
of education as our Japanese
workforce. This is the main way
we ensure our quality and technology is transferred to our overseas
affiliates. As part of the training
we have a special study, education
and motivational program, which
include experts introducing them
to Japan and ensuring that they
have the necessary knowledge
about technology and Japanese
“The Japanese value
system takes pride
in its own creation,
and the meaning
of Monozukuri is to
differentiate oneself
by reaching for
Kengo Fukaya, President
Japanese Monozukuri has faced
stiff competition from the likes of
China and South Korea in recent
decades, who can offer lower cost
products. In the forging manufacturing industry for example, China
now controls around 40 percent of
the global market share.
Ohmi Press Work and Forging has
been involved in the metal forging
business since 1951, making highquality parts for Japan’s famous
bullet trains, ships, the aerospace
industry and construction machinery. The company has seen firsthand the rise of Chinese competitors offering cheaper products. As
a result, Ohmi’s main goal has been
to use its 67 years of experience to
reduce its costs, while also maintaining and even improving the quality
of its products.
“It is clear that China and Korea
have a very large presence in this
market. However, there is no doubt
that Japan has a higher quality of
steel and other materials than any
of its competitors. In addition, it is
not only about materials but it is also
about the facilities and the factories
we have here in Japan,” says Ohmi
president, Koichi Sakaguchi.
“Japan cannot compete in terms
of price, or even quantity, but without a doubt, Japan has the advantage of the quality. Finally, there are
so many companies here in Japan
that are specialized in one area and
have many years of experience. For
me, these are the main advantages
of the Japanese forging sector compared to the competition.”
Another company involved in the
metal business, Okabe celebrated its
100th anniversary last year. The
company began as a manufacturer
of small bolts, but thanks to large
investments in R&D, is now a world
leader in the manufacturing of building structural products,
“Recently, we have focused on
producing products which are earthquake resistant. We have developed
acute expertise in technologies linked
to disaster prevention. By exporting
our historical knowledge, we will
contribute to the creation of a safer
and more prosperous world,” says
president, Mr. Makoto Hirowatari.
The company has had a presence
in the U.S. for 40 years through Okabe Inc., which distributes automotive parts. It expanded its presence
in the U.S. in 2002 by establishing
OCM, which mainly trades construction material. “The recognition of
our OCM brand has been successful and rapidly growing,” says Mr.
In 2005, it acquired Minneapolisbased automotive parts manufacturer, Water Gremlin, which has
also been a major success for the
company. Since then it has set up
subsidiaries in Italy in 2007 and
China in 2012.
“Japan has used the
supply chain system
driven by OEMs as in
the Toyota, Nissan,
or Honda supply
chains, and this
system continues to
provide high-quality”
Teruaki Nakatsuka,
President, JATCO
“Our main competitive advantage
is linked to the unrivalled quality of
our products. At Okabe, we put
quality on a pedestal, and our clients recognize us for this,” adds
Mr. Hirowatari. “Secondly, we treat
environmental friendliness with an
acute attention to detail. Complying
to environmental criteria is one of
our trademarks.”
Automotive industry
Car manufacturers like Toyota and
Nissan depend on local Japanese
original equipment manufacturers
(OEMs) to supply components for
their automobiles. These OEMs
must comply with Toyota and Nissan’ high standards of quality, which
means Monozukuri principals pervade the whole supply chains.
“Japan has used the supply chain
system driven by OEMs as in the
Toyota, Nissan, or Honda supply
chains, and this system continues to
work effectively and efficiently to
provide high-quality,” says Mr. Teruaki Nakatsuka, President and CEO
of JATCO, which produces continuously variable transmissions (CVTs,
a type of automatic transmission)
for Honda, Nissan and Suzuki.
“CVTs are very complicated
products that require Monozukuri
excellence. The beauty of the CVT is
its fuel efficiency and flexibility, and
it is in itself an ecofriendly product.
Better fuel efficiency will provide
significant value to society.
“CVT involves making the best
use of power from the engine to
provide smoother performance, so
all car manufacturers can benefit
from our new developments and
the results will be very beneficial
for the environment.”
“One good thing for JATCO is that
Nissan is the 75-percent shareholder
of our company. All transmission
“We are a smaller-sized
enterprise that is able
to oversee every detail
in the manufacturing
process, thereby
yielding higher quality
“Our main competitive
advantage is linked to
the unrivalled quality of
our products. At Okabe,
we put quality on a
pedestal, and our clients
recognize us for this”
Kazushi Abe, President,
Makoto Hirowatari
President, Okabe
companies need to work closely
with OEMs and partners, including
when they conduct R&D, as transmissions are long-term products.
We are lucky to have Nissan with
us. OEMs are front runners in adapting to new environments and new
Genchi Genbutsu means ‘Go and
See’ and it is a key principle of the
Toyota Production System and, indeed, the production systems of its
subsidiaries like Toyota Bokushu. It
suggests that in order to truly understand a situation one needs to
go to genba (‘the real place’) where
work is done.
“Toyota Boshoku firmly believes
in doing things in the way of Genchi Genbutsu,” says Mr. Toyoda. “It
is very important for everyone at
Toyota Boshoku to understand and
practice this philosophy. Japanese
people are perfectionists and as
such their work ethic is to always
strive for perfection and that is why
we excel in producing high-quality
Another Japanese automotive
supplier that strives for perfection,
as well as to create eco-friendly
Antoine Azoulay – Country Director
Aline Ouaknine – Project Director
Alexandre Marland – Editorial Associate
Sean Maplesden – Project Assistant
products, is FUJI OOZX. The company manufacturers engine valves,
which are a core part of a car engine and essential to overall engine
“The mass production of hollow
engine valves is our current challenge,” says president, Mr. Kengo
“For our company, the car of the
future is one that has engine valves
with the best engine efficiency and
high performance. At FUJI OOZX,
we believe that our technology will
open up new possibilities.”
The company has maintained
its leading position in product development based on its research
into raw materials, which are
supplied by its parent company,
Daido Steel.
“Our valve material is made of a
special kind of steel. Our parent company supplies these materials to us.
Our superior technology cools the
temperature of the valve, allowing
for greater performance and resistance,” explains Mr. Fukaya.
Mr. Fukuaya believes the true
strength of the Japanese people
– the search for creation and improvement – is most visible in the
manufacturing industry. “Since the
beginning of our history, Japan has
placed high value on teamwork,”
he adds. “This has created the concept of Monozukuri. This spirit, no
matter how big the company gets
in size, is highly valued. Toyota for
example, despite being enormous
in size, still applies the philosophy
of Monozukuri.”
While FUJI OOZX looks to develop high performance engine valves
for the cars of the future, Elastomix
is developing next-generation rubber materials for the electronic vehicles (EVs) that will become more
commonplace on the road in the
coming years.
“The trend now is shifting with
the rise of EVs and consequently
the requirements are changing.
EVs heat up much more than conventional cars and therefore rubber
compounds must be more heat-resistant. This new trend is affecting
not only Elastomix but the whole
industry,” says Mr. Kazushi Abe,
President of Elastomix.
“Unlike other players, however,
we are pioneering solutions for
electric vehicles. With our knowhow and dedicated R&D center,
we are developing new and better
performing materials.”
Elastomix has over 50 years of
experience in manufacturing rubber
compounds for the automotive industry, which makes up 50 percent of
its business. Aside from automotives,
its rubber compounds have various
applications: in structural joints, antivibration systems for buildings prone
to earthquakes, railways, gaskets,
seals and semiconductors.
Elastomix remains a relatively
small company, but for president Ka-
“There is no doubt that
Japan has a higher
quality of steel and other
materials than any of its
Koichi Sakaguchi, President,
Ohmi Press Work and Forging
zushi Abe, smaller means better:
“Our competitive advantage lies
also in the size of the company. Unlike many other very large companies in other countries which tend
to increase the output by lowering
down costs, we are a smaller-sized
enterprise that is able to oversee
every detail in the manufacturing
process, thereby yielding higher
quality products.”
“Its thanks to our continuous
communication with clients that
we ensure the highest quality of
our products and we are able to
customize every detail to match
the clients’ requirements. This is
what represents for me the Japanese seal of quality and what I
think puts Japanese Monozukuri
a step ahead of other global competitors.”
Monozukuri with a softer touch
Historically regarded as a hardware manufacturing nation, Japanese firms are combining their Monozukuri
philosophy with software advancements to create innovative products in the age of AI, IoT and cloud services
In the early 90s, some commentators tipped Japan to become
the world superpower in software
development, on the back of its
success in high-tech manufacturing. But ultimately, Japan was left
trailing far behind the U.S. in software innovation, as Silicon Valley
churned out software patents at an
incredibly faster rate than Tokyo.
The reason for this is mainly
attributed to Japan’s focus on
Monozukuri – making things like
semiconductors, televisions, hi-fis,
computers and advanced machinery. Japanese companies viewed
hardware as their strength and
put little value or emphasis on software as a value creator. “A Samurai
would never write software!” – so
exclaimed a senior executive of one
Japan’s largest electronics firm.
But the attitudes towards software have changed with growing
internet use and the increasing
importance of software, as well
as the advent of fourth-industrial-
revolution technologies such as AI,
IoT and robotics, areas in which
Japan aims to be at the forefront
over the coming years. Along
with advanced robotics, business
software is seen as a solution to
the country’s chronic labor shortage. The development of business
software is growing with some
of the country’s large electronics
companies buying into the sector.
As a result of these changes, the
Japanese software industry is set
to grow stronger in the future.
“Japan used to consider software as a mere accessory to the
main product; hardware. There
were times when it was very
difficult to charge for software
applications. Today, Japanese
corporations are growing increasingly aware of the significance of
software, and Japan is equipped
with the correct competitive technology to develop it,” says Jinya
Katsube, COO and Representative
Director of Zuken Inc.
“There are only a few
companies in Japan
that have technologies
in terms of both
device and application
technology required
for IoT, we are one of
these companies and
as such it is one of our
Mr. Shoji Tada, President and
CEO, Nippon Systemware
Zuken specializes in software
and consulting services for a wide
range of fields in the manufacturing sector, from electronics to
aerospace and automotive. The
company was a pioneer in the
development of CAD systems in
Japan when it was established in
1976. Four decades after, Zuken
has become a leading electronoic
design automation (EDA) provider,
employing 1,300 employees around
the world, including in the Zuken
SOZO Center in Silicon Valley,
which opened in 2013.
With the emergence of IoT, Mr.
Katsube foresees the use of Zuken’s
software to design the smart cars
of tomorrow: “IoT is having a large
impact in the field of engineering. When designing a smart car,
manufacturers will be required to
design a system that can effectively
be connected to its surroundings,
and I believe that this demand for
cross-device connectivity will be
Zuken’s future.”
Another company aiming to
gain from the emergence of IoT is
Nippon Systemware (NSW). Established in 1966, NSW has expanded
its business from software development to device development, system integration services, IoT and
cloud services that principally focus
on data center services.
“There are only a few companies
in Japan that have technologies in
terms of both device and application technology required for IoT, we
are one of these companies and as
such it is one of our strengths. Of
course, major Japanese companies
also have both of these sectors in
their divisions, but as a medium
sized company, we have the added
advantage of being able to make
faster decisions,” says Mr. Shoji
Tada, NSW’s president and CEO.
“At NSW, IoT usually covers
around 80% manufacturing businesses, cloud, data centers, original electronic manufacturers. Our
core is essentially software but we
oversee all these businesses in our
company, which gives a synergy
impact throughout the company.”
Going forward, the company also
wants to develop its capabilities in
AI. “We have tested a lot of programs
during the past year to bring AI into
the digital sector, and you can expect
to see more AI technologies to be released this year, including more selfdriving cars and other technologies
in this area,” says Mr. Tada.
“Going forward, we aim to further expand our business by utilizing new technologies and cultivated
know-how and organizational capabilities.”
Micro & Fine Technology made of
stainless steel wires
Finer than a hair, yet as
strong as steel: Nippon
Seisen adopts ‘Micro
& Fine Technology’ to
develop the world’s
thinnest stainless-steel
super-fine wires and metal
fibers, which have a range
of applications across
several industries
Japan is seen as a hub for highperformance, cutting-edge technologies, and this is also true in
the stainless steel wire and metal
fiber industry, where companies
are now required to make thinner,
stronger and more precise materials
for a range of demanding hi-tech
industries such as automotive, IT,
energy and healthcare.
A global leader in the manufacturing of stainless steel wires
and metal fibers, Nippon Seisen is
building on the technology it has
developed over its 66-year history
to supply high-quality, next-generation materials that support the
high performance of its customer’s
end products.
The company’s product portfolio
of what it calls ‘Micro & Fine Technology’ includes: the world’s thinnest stainless-steel super-fine wires
(which the company boasts are finer
than a strain of hair); high-strength,
heat-resistant stainless-steel spring
wires; and its ‘NALSON’ stainless
steel metal fibers. Available in cloth,
felt, knit, tape and other variations,
these metal fibers have the same
level of workability and flexibility as
a textile fiber, but with the added
strength of stainless steel.
Employing its superior stainlesssteel fibers such as ‘NASLON’, Nippon Seisen also manufactures metal
filters used in carbon-fiber manufacturing and ultra-high-purity
gas filters used for semiconductor
production equipment, which are
characterized by superior particle
removal capability and low pressure drop.
A special steel manufacturing
engineer by trade, the company’s
president, Mr. Motoshi Shinkai is
unequivocal about the competitive
advantages of his company and
Japanese manufacturing in general
over its regional competitors such
as China and Korea.
“When producing products that
require compactness, lightness and
high performance, it is a prerequisite to have a high level of skill
and cutting-edge technology that
includes material, processing technology, components performance,
production machinery, tools and
molds. Japanese manufacturing
superiority is in the high level of
communication and mutually supportive culture that exists between
extremely competent, specialty-focused small to mid-sized companies
specialized in material processing,”
he says.
The competitive strengths of
Nippon Seisen in particular lies in
its ‘Micro & Fine Technology’ and
cutting-edge product development
carried out in collaboration with
its customers, as well as its highquality raw materials. These materials are sourced from the best
Nippon Seisen’s stainless-steel super-fine wires are almost eight
times thinner than a strain of hair
special steel and alloy suppliers in
Japan, including its parent company
Daido Steel.
Indeed, Nippon Seisen’s cuttingedge products are the result of the
painstaking work of its R&D department, which has recently developed
a hydrogen separation membrane
(HSM) for high-purity hydrogen gas
production and purification. This innovation is already drawing interest
from those in the automobile industry developing hydrogen fuel cell
vehicles, and also has applications
in the oil & gas and semiconductor
“Our R&D is market-oriented as
we develop materials required by
society. Our target market is firstly
the automotive sector, then the
environment and IT, and finally the
medical sector,” says Mr. Shinkai.
“Even though stainless steel,
metal fiber and Micro & Fine Technology is a limited field, the range of
applications these products have is
huge. We have a wide range of highperformance, exclusive products
and we want to become a leader
in a global niche market.”
“Even though stainless
steel, metal fiber and
Micro & Fine Technology
is a limited field, the
range of applications
these products have
is huge. We have a
wide range of highperformance, exclusive
products and we want
to become a leader in a
global niche market”
Motoshi Shinkai,
President, Nippon Seisen
Sosei Water: an answer to fracking concerns?
An environmentally minded Japanese company has
developed a special water with unique properties that
allow it to be used to power engines and even as a
household cleaner to replace shampoos and detergents.
Now its founder, Mr. Toshiharu Fukai, believes Sosei
Water could also clean up the fracking business
For years, shale gas lay dormant in
rocks deep underground. Energy
companies knew it was there, but
because of the high mining costs,
nobody could find a way to make
money from extracting it. That
changed however when the U.S.
developed the technology to turn
hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”,
for shale gas into a profitable venture, and since then the industry
has grown rapidly.
The past few years for the
shale industry have been difficult
though, mainly due to restrictions
placed upon it by the administration of former President Obama
and the impact of the plummet
in oil prices. But shale drillers are
expecting to see somewhat of a
resurgence, thanks to the promining and deregulation policies
of President Donald Trump.
Advocates in the energy industry and political world like Mr.
Trump will no doubt point to the
economic benefits of fracking and
how the U.S. could achieve energy
security, boost tax revenues and
create jobs by increasing the production of shale gas.
But of course, there are those
on the other side of the argument
who believe the environmental
impact of fracking far outweighs
the potential economic benefits.
In order to blast open rocks to
release shale gas, an incredible
amount of chemical-infused water
is required in the fracking process.
The main concerns for environmental groups and community activists is that this chemical liquid
contaminates groundwater, drinking water, rivers and agricultural
lands. Furthermore, methane gas
emissions from fracking will spur
further global warming.
But one visionary Japanese
company believes it may have a
solution to the water contamination issues surrounding fracking.
Founded by Mr. Toshiharu Fukai,
Sosei World Co. has charged itself
with coming up with innovative
ways to dealing with some of the
biggest environmental challenges,
from CO2 emissions to chemical
pollution and water contamination.
The company has developed
a special type of water it calls
“Sosei Water”, whose unique
properties allow it to mix easily
with oil and dirt. Sosei Water’s
main application is as a powerful energy source. By emulsifying
it with fossil fuels, like heavy oil
and kerosene, without the use
of chemical emulsifying agents,
this “burnable water” can produce
as much energy as conventional
fossil fuel, but CO2 emissions are
sharply reduced.
“If you burn 100ml of fossil
fuel, you get 100 units of energy,”
explains Mr. Fukai. “You can also
get 100 energy units by burning
Toshiharu Fukai, Founder,
Sosei World Co.
a mix of 50ml of fossil fuel and
15ml of Sosei Water, which means
you are using half the amount of
fossil fuel for the same amount of
energy output.”
Due to its unique properties,
Sosei Water can also be used as
a powerful household cleaner to
clean dishes, laundry, hair and
skin – eliminating the need for
environmentally harmful detergents, shampoos and other cleaning products.
But now the company believes
this revolutionary water could
clean more than pots and pans;
it could also clean up the fracking
According to Mr. Fukai, Sosei
Water could be used to replace the
chemical liquid used in fracking,
which would end water contamination. The added incentive for
fracking companies, he adds, is
the fact that Sosei Water is not
just a greener option, it is also a
cheaper one. No chemicals mean
no chemical costs, and no time
and money wasted on separating
chemicals from the mined oil or
gas (a process which also emits
high levels of CO2). Considering
this separation process accounts
for about 40% of the total cost
of producing shale, fracking companies using Sosei Water could
potentially see massive savings.
Japan is also exploring its potential to produce shale. And following a meeting with Mr. Fukai
in January 2016, Japan’s Minister
of Economy, Trade and Industry is
very interested in the possibility of
using Sosei Water in fracking. So
too is Akita Oil Company, which
has been granted permission by
the government to restart operations on a shale project in the
Akita Prefecture. The project was
postponed for several reasons, but
the company is now looking at the
viability of using Sosei Water to
reduce costs and environmental
impact. Singapore and Malaysian
firms are also looking into the
possibility of developing shale
projects in the Akita area.
U.S. shale firms have yet to express interest in Sosei Water, but
Mr. Fukai’s company has been in
contact with some of them to inform them of its benefits. Perhaps
if Akita Oil Company has success
with it, American producers might
begin to take notice.
So, is it only a matter of time before Sosei Water could completely
replace the harmful fracking fluid
that has caused so many environmental concerns? Mr. Fukai
certainly likes to think so.
“I’m a Buddhist, and that’s
how I came up with this idea,”
he says. “I’m not a scientist. It
always starts with how to protect
this planet.”
Reducing CO2 emissions and the use of pollutants was the motivation for Sosei World Co. to
develop Sosei Water, whose unique properties enable it to be mixed with oil to run engines and
as a powerful household cleaner to replace environmentally harmful detergents, shampoos and
other cleaning products, helping to save you money, while saving the environment.
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Taking hold of the overseas opportunities
Japanese companies facing
the dilemma of decreasing
domestic demand are
focusing on strengthening
their presence in the
U.S., Europe and South
East Asia
The ASEAN, the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations founded in
1967, has become one of the world’s
most vibrant, dynamic, and competitive regions, where GDP growth has
surpassed any other region in the
world consistently over the last decade and continues to do so.
The ASEAN opportunity comes at
an ideal moment for Japanese companies across the board, as they look
abroad for sales growth to offset
the impact of decreasing domestic
demand due to Japan’s shrinking
and aging population.
“The negative demographic line
in Japan has reduced the demand
for frozen food. Therefore, the frozen food market has been evolving
thanks to emerging countries such
as China, South Korea, Thailand or
Vietnam, where increasing income
rate is coupled with clear demographic growth. In the future, it will
be our objective to respond to the
demands of these nations for frozen
food, a market which is bound to
increase in size and volume,” says
Mr. Toshio Yoshikawa, Chairman of
Yokorei, a multinational engaged in
import and export of agriculture and
seafood products and refrigerated
housing and transport.
To strengthen its presence in the
region, Yokorei last year invested in
Agrobest, a Malaysian back tiger
shrimp operation. Yokorei is also
targeting the U.S. and European
markets and has acquired Fjordlaks
Aqua and Hofseth International in
Norway, through its subsidiary Alliance Seafoods.
“One of the main milestones for
us was the M&A with Alliance Seafood, originally a trading company
specialized in the export business.
For our company to facilitate its
“Although there are
areas in South East
Asia that are growing,
there are still many
issues to be tackled
within the region”
Toshio Yoshikawa,
Chairman, Yokorei
overseas operations, it was crucial
to ally with a company that had
expertise in exportation,” says Mr.
“There is more room for growth in
Europe and in the U.S., where there
is tremendous demand for Japanese
culinary products. Although there
are areas in South East Asia that
are growing, there are still many
issues to be tackled within the region. While we will be focusing on
the Asian regions, I believe that the
European and the American markets have the greatest potential.”
Principally engaged in the manufacture and sale of packagingrelated materials for the food and
chemical industries, Ohishi Sangyo
is another company looking to expand its presence in South East Asia,
where consumer demand for higher
quality is increasing.
“In South East Asia, the packaging material business is developing similarly to the U.S. and to
the EU. Many consumer-packaging
players, such as Dai-Nippon, have
therefore moved to these areas.
Previously, we used newspapers
and basic materials for wrapping
and packaging. Today, consumers
require aesthetic and high-performance products,” says company
president, Mr. Norio Okubo.
“At Ohishi Sangyo, we have
already relocated our factories
to South East Asian countries,
where the labor force is more cost
effective. Japanese corporations
know that domestic demand is declining, and that applies to every
“Our products have great
performance unmatched
by our competitors. We
successfully expanded
into the overseas market
because of the uniqueness of our products”
Norio Okubo,
President, Ohishi Sangyo
business line. Therefore, our customers have moved from Japan
to Asian countries.”
As they have expanded their
presence overseas, both Yokorei
and Ohishi have ensured that they
provide their overseas customers
with the same level of quality that
their customers in Japan demand.
“For the food and chemical businesses, high-quality, performance
and reliability are required,” says
Mr. Okubo. “We specialize in creating stable, high-quality and technologically advanced products. We
provide to our clients the stability
required to attain a safe level of
“Japanese people are excessively
sensitive to the quality and safety
of their food,” says Yokorei’s Mr.
Yoshikawa. “It is impossible for
the frozen food market to evolve
without warehouses and freezers
where frozen food can be stored
with quality maintenance.”
“One of the most important
things for us when entering into the
U.S. and the European markets is
being able to offer a high-quality
product that enjoys clear traceability. Our strength lies in having
refrigerators that can maintain
high quality and low temperatures.”
Creating a bridge between Japanese and
American companies in the polyurethane industry
INOAC: a merger between innovation and action
Japan may not dominate the
market for hi-tech, end-user
products like it did in 80s or
90s. But Japanese-manufactured components and materials can still be found in a large
number of today’s tech gadgets,
as well as electronic equipment
and machines.
From iphones, to automobiles
and Japan’s famous ‘shinkansen’ bullet trains, Japanese firm
INOAC’s materials, derived from
polyurethane, rubber, plastic and
composites, are used in a number
of products and applications.
Celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2016, the company
was established in 1926 as a
manufacturer of bicycle tires and
tubes. From those humble beginnings, it has grown to become a
global conglomerate, producing
hi-tech materials for the automotive, IT, construction, cosmetics, medical and home decoration
industries across the globe.
According to a report by MarketWatch, the value of the global
polyurethane foam market will
grow from $46 billion in 2015
to $74 billion by 2021, propelled
by increasing demand and wide
application in a diverse range of
industries. This is good news for
INOAC, as it continues to expand
its global presence, in the face
of a dwindling domestic market
in Japan. Japan, however, still
remains the largest market for
its products, where it generates
36 percent of its sales.
“The polyurethane material has
many applications,” says its owner
Mr. Soichi Inoue, who has been
chairman of INOAC since 2000.
“We began by making very
simple products. Following this,
we supplied furniture and went
on to produce automotive parts.
We also make special parts
such as the SIM cushion for the
iPhone, and we have gone on to
make many other items. Over
thirty years ago, we established
a joint venture with the American company Rogers, and today
we are collaboratively making
special polyurethane products.”
INOAC has had a presence in
North America for more than
60 years. It established its first
sales office in the U.S. in 1966.
In 1985, it entered into its first
joint venture in North America
with Canadian company Intertec
Systems LLP, and a year later in
1986, established INOAC U.S.A.,
which was the same year it also
began business in Europe. The
North American market currently makes up 23 percent of
its total sales revenue, making it
INOAC’s second largest market
after Japan.
Since 1986, Mr. Inoue has
seen a number of U.S. presidents
come and go, but perhaps none
as unorthodox as the incumbent
Donald Trump. Nevertheless, he
is optimistic about some of Mr.
Trump’s trade policies, which he
believes will be beneficial for his
“My personal
philosophy is to get to
know the local people,
create mutual trust and
build friendships while
respecting the local
Soichi Inoue,
Chairman of INOAC
“His policies open up new
opportunities for the INOAC
Group,” he says. “We have a number of bases in North America,
and with President Trump’s policies, we are talking with our customers and suppliers in order to
work in close collaboration with
them. On the one hand, they provide us with new technologies
and manufacturing methods. On
the other hand, we handle production from our U.S. factories
and we provide them with basic
“We have been collaborating with BASF for years. Today,
BASF focuses on basic raw materials, which gives us excellent
opportunities for supplying parts
to the automotive industry. We
also make many components for
insulation and building materials.”
In times when technology
moves at break-neck speed,
particularly in industries such
as IT and automotives, INOAC,
like many of its Japanese peers,
stays ahead of the curve by investing heavily in R&D and innovation, making not only state-ofthe-art, but also environmentally
sound, products. Focusing its
R&D efforts on polymer products, INOAC performs research
using the most valuable two resources in the development of
high technology: creative scientists and the most sophisticated
“Supplying compound materials for the car industries is
difficult because of the rate
of innovation. Within a matter
of years, products can become
obsolete, so it is imperative to
be on top of innovation,” says
Mr. Inoue.
“Many people say INOAC
comes from my surname (Inoue), but that is not completely
true. The real origin of our name
comes from a merger between
INNO-vation and AC-tion. I
constantly ask our people to
keep this in mind, every day. I
was a mountain climber when
I was young. To a large extent,
you could say that I learnt my
management philosophy from
climbing mountains.”
In Russia, Putin’s reign will continue until 2024 and maybe beyond.
What will that mean for America—and the world?
A PR I L 13, 2018
Marc Bennetts
It was close to midnight on march 18,
and a triumphant Vladimir Putin
stood at a podium at his campaign
headquarters near Red Square. Dressed in a jacket
and open-necked shirt, Russia’s longtime leader
looked weary but satisfied. He had just secured a
fourth presidential term in a landslide election,
extending his rule for another six years, until 2024.
Undeterred by the freezing weather, his supporters in central Moscow waved flags and chanted, “Russia! Russia!” Despite allegations of widespread ballot-stuffing, demoralized opposition
activists stayed off the streets. For Putin, it was
the end to an almost perfect day.
As TV crews from across the world jostled for position, the Russian president spoke about a range
of issues, from Ukraine to China to the nerve agent
attack in southern England on Sergei Skripal, a
former Russian military intelligence officer who
once spied for Britain’s MI6. Putin dismissed British allegations that he had ordered the hit, which
left Skripal and his daughter hospitalized in critical condition. “Nonsense,” he said. “It’s unthinkable
that Russia would do this.”
And then, at the end of the news conference, a
journalist asked Putin something that was on everyone’s mind: Was this his final presidential term?
The former KGB man scoffed at the question. “Am
I supposed to sit here until I’m 100?” he replied.
“What you are saying sounds slightly ridiculous.”
Is it? Russia’s constitution forbids anyone from
serving more than two consecutive presidential
terms, but it says nothing about subsequent periods
in office. Putin served two presidential terms, from
2000 to 2008, before swapping jobs with Dmitry
Medvedev, the prime minister. And he remained
Russia’s most powerful politician before returning
to the Kremlin in 2012. There is, theoretically at
least, nothing but old age to stop him from pulling
the same trick again in 2030, when he will be 77.
Not surprisingly, Putin’s response did little to
console his critics—especially those abroad. His
re-election comes as Russia and the West continue
to face off over the wars in Syria and Ukraine, as
well as accusations of Kremlin plots to interfere
in elections in the United States and Europe. Will
the next six years be more of the same? Putin is far
from predictable; nothing he said or did before his
last electoral victory indicated that Russia would
seize Crimea or send mercenaries to support the
embattled regime in Damascus. But some analysts
say Russia’s president has no intention of backing
down in his increasingly risky standoff with the
United States and its allies; his domestic popularity and strongman image largely depend on his
confrontations with the West.
In Moscow after the election, state media and
pro-Kremlin figures were uncompromising in
their support for Putin. Margarita Simonyan, the
editor-in-chief of RT, the Russian state-funded TV
channel, described him as the country’s vozhd. That
Russian word means “father of the nation,” a term
reserved for such figures as Vladimir Lenin, founder
of the Soviet Union. “[Putin] used to be simply our
president, and he could have been changed,” Simonyan wrote in an article published on RT’s website.
“But now...we will not allow him to be changed.”
‘Extremely Dangerous’
weeks before the election, during
a bellicose speech in Moscow, Putin hailed what he called Russia’s
new “invincible” nuclear weapons.
The country, he said on March 1,
had been forced to create the advanced weapons, including nuclearpowered cruise missiles, in response
to American missile shields in Europe
and Asia. He also lashed out at what
he said was Washington’s refusal to
enter into new arms control talks.
“Nobody listened to us before,” Putin
said to rapturous applause. “Well, listen up now.” His speech was accompanied by an animated video, broadcast live on national television, that
showed Russian warheads raining down on Florida,
where President Donald Trump often spends weekends at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Though Trump has been unwilling to criticize
Putin directly, saying he wants to “get along” with
him, Washington’s relationship with Moscow is the
most contentious it has been for decades. Medvedev, the prime minister, described it recently as
“disgusting” and claimed that the American political establishment was sabotaging Trump’s efforts
to improve ties between the two countries. In February, the White House described Putin’s regime as
After Putin’s latest
electoral victory, many
wondered if he’ll ever
voluntarily give up
power. Above: Russian
servicemen in Crimea.
Right: Pavel Grudinin,
the Communist Party
candidate, who came in
second in the election.
A PR I L 13, 2018
a leading danger to international security. “Russia
has demonstrated its willingness to use force to
alter the map of Europe and impose its will on its
neighbors, backed by implicit and explicit nuclear
first-use threats,” said the Trump administration’s
review of its nuclear defense policies.
The Kremlin interpreted the statement to mean
that Washington now considers Moscow its main
long-term adversary, says Fyodor Lukyanov, head
of a Russia-based think tank that sometimes advises the Russian government. “We have entered
a state of Cold War,” he points out. “There is no
longer a mutual starting point from which to even
begin a dialogue. Both sides are taking impulsive
actions and reacting immediately to events, rather than implementing well-thought-out strategies.
This is extremely dangerous.”
Analysts say the likelihood of an open military
confrontation between the two countries remains
low. Yet in February, an American airstrike killed
scores of Russian mercenaries when they attempted
to seize a U.S.-protected oil refinery in eastern Syria.
(There were no reports of U.S. casualties.) The strike
marked the first time American soldiers had killed
Russians in a conflict since the end of the Cold War.
The Russian mercenaries were employed by the
Wagner Group, a shadowy, Kremlin-linked private
military contractor. Weeks later, The Washington
Post reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, who allegedly
controls Wagner, was in close touch with Kremlin
and Syrian officials ahead of the assault on the oil
refinery. It remains unclear whether Putin or other high-ranking Russian officials signed off on the
decision. The Kremlin downplayed the fighting and
made no move to carry out retaliatory strikes. Tensions remain high, however, with U.S. troops and
Russia-backed forces based a few miles from each
other in eastern Syria. On March 13, Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s military chief, said Moscow would
retaliate if the U.S. attacked Syria’s army.
Yet it’s in Ukraine where the biggest danger of
conflict between Washington and Moscow may lie.
For the past four years, Kiev and Russian-led separatists have been fighting a war, which has killed
over 10,000 people. The hostilities began in 2014,
when a pro-Western government came to power in
Ukraine, boosting the chances of the former Soviet
state one day joining NATO. Putin was horrified.
The Kremlin opposes Ukraine becoming a member
of that Western military alliance, mainly because it
does not want American troops on its borders. “If
there’s ever a real clash, it’ll happen in Ukraine,”
Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow
Center think tank, told the Meduza news website.
For Putin, Trenin said, Ukraine is a last line of defense against NATO.
The Trump administration announced in December that it would begin delivering lethal weapons, including advanced Javelin anti-tank missiles,
to Ukraine’s military. (The Obama administration,
concerned the move would ratchet up the conflict,
had resisted Kiev’s appeals for such weapons.) Moscow reacted with predictable fury to the Trump
administration’s move, calling Washington “an
accomplice in fomenting a war.”
Yet Trump and U.S. national security advisers
one member is an assault on all. It’s unclear if the
U.S. and other Western powers would be willing to
go to war with Russia to defend an Eastern European country many American citizens might have
difficulty finding on a world map. Yet the failure
to do so would destroy NATO as a viable military
alliance and represent a major success for Putin.
An outright Russian invasion of the region is unlikely in the immediate future, says Aliide Naylor,
author of The Shadow in the East, a forthcoming
book about Russia and the Baltic states. But all
three countries frequently accuse the Kremlin of
waging a low-level form of hybrid warfare against
them. NATO and Baltic officials say Moscow was
likely behind the jamming of Latvia’s mobile communications network ahead of Russian war games
in the region in September, while Lithuania has
The strike marked the first time American
soldiers had killed Russians in a conflict since
appear divided when it comes to Russia policy. On
March 20, the president congratulated Putin on his
re-election, reportedly ignoring warnings from advisers and briefing materials that said, “DO NOT
CONGRATULATE.” Officials perhaps felt doing so
shortly after a federal grand jury had indicted 13
Russians with interfering in the 2016 U.S. election
would send the wrong message.
Trump’s recent appointments of Mike Pompeo
as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser are unlikely to improve the situation:
Both men are Cold War warriors and longtime Russia critics. “The Kremlin sees the United States as divided,” says Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to
Ukraine and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “We should expect the
Kremlin will believe that this situation gives Russia
running room to push its agenda more aggressively.”
There is one obvious step Putin could take to
push back against NATO, experts say, but it’s fraught
with risk: attack one of the Baltic states (Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania), all former Soviet republics
that joined the Western military alliance in 2004.
According to NATO’s defense treaty, an assault on
many Western leaders would envy.
But for a Russian president with total
control over state media, it was worrisome. After the Kremlin annexed
Crimea, however, a wave of patriotism
swept Russia, and Putin’s ratings rocketed to over 80 percent, where they remain today. As numerous critics put it
at the time, it was exactly the kind of
“small, victorious war” that the ex-KGB
officer badly needed.
‘Putin’s Weak Spot’
Some analysts say
Putin’s popularity
largely depends on his
confrontations with the
West. Above: Ukrainian
soldiers wait on a road
that’s blocked by proRussia separatists. Left:
An anti-Putin protester
in Moscow in 2012.
faced frequent cyberattacks. Estonia says Russian
military planes have made a number of incursions
into its airspace in recent years: The most recent
alleged incident came on March 12. Moscow denied
the charge. “The prospect of Russian aggression in
the Baltics will be an enduring concern,” says Naylor. “At present, it is not in Russia’s interests to risk
attacking a NATO member, but this may change.
The West needs to be calm but extremely vigilant.”
Critics say Putin could order Russia’s army into
action to distract attention from domestic problems.
That’s something that has already worked for him on
two occasions. In 1999, when he was a little-known
and unpopular prime minister, Putin took control of
the Russian military’s campaign in Chechnya, where
he vowed to “rub out” militant separatists. Russians
loved his tough image, and his approval ratings shot
up, leaving him perfectly placed to succeed the ailing
Boris Yeltsin as president.
In 2014, ahead of the crisis in Ukraine, Putin’s ratings were hovering around 60 percent. That’s a figure
in 2012, when putin returned
to the presidency after a four-year
break, he appeared to cry with happiness—or maybe relief—at a victory rally near Red Square. But after
his win last month, Putin’s speech
was brief, almost boilerplate. Standing in front of flag-waving supporters near the Kremlin’s walls, he spoke
for less than three minutes. “We will
be thinking about the future of our
great motherland, about our children’s future,” he said. “Success awaits
us.” Then he exited the stage.
There’s a reason the two speeches
were very different. Six years ago, a newly confident
opposition movement staged massive protests in
Moscow over alleged vote fraud. For a few weeks,
it seemed as if the Kremlin’s foes had real momentum—perhaps even enough to topple Putin himself.
No more. Going into his fourth term, he is the
strongest he has ever been, at least domestically.
Russia’s government-controlled election committee
barred Alexei Navalny, the opposition figurehead,
from running for president, while a Chechen gunman shot dead Boris Nemtsov, another prominent
Kremlin critic, near Red Square in 2015. In the runup to the national vote, authorities jailed dozens
of opposition supporters, while pro-Putin activists
attacked them with impunity. Now that the vote is
over, critics fear the government is planning another large-scale clampdown on dissent. “The opposition has long been portrayed as national traitors
willing to sell their country out to the West,” says
Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst.
“It’s a tactic that Putin will continue to use.”
Putin has been accused of massive
personal corruption by opposition
figures such as Navalny, middle.
He denies the charges, but one
day he may be forced to answer
them. Above: Riot police in
Russia detain a protester. Below:
The residence of the Russian
consul-general in Seattle.
Of course, Russia does have domestic problems.
Poverty is rising, anger over high-level corruption is mounting, and there are frequent protests
throughout the country, although mainly over
local issues. On March 21, demonstrators at a rally
against a landfill site near Moscow attacked a city
official and hurled lumps of ice at Andrey Vorobyev, the regional governor.
But Western economic sanctions against Moscow over its actions in Ukraine have allowed Kremlin propaganda to blame falling living standards on
foreign powers, diluting public anger and boosting
a sense of resurgent nationalism. Far more effective, opposition figures say, are individual sanctions
against Putin and members of the Kremlin-linked
elite. Although Putin’s political and business allies
profess an undying love for Mother Russia, they use
foreign banks, and their children and grandchildren are educated abroad. They also purchase luxury property in the United States and Europe, where
they are free to feast on French cheeses, Spanish
ham and Italian tomatoes—all of which Putin has
banned domestically.
It’s figures close to Putin that Western countries
should be increasingly targeting, not ordinary Russians, opposition figures say. “When sanctions are
imposed against Putin’s establishment, this provokes a crack in his inner circle,” says Ilya Yashin, a
prominent anti-government activist. “This is Putin’s
weak spot. He wants to rule like Stalin but live like
[Roman] Abramovich,” he adds, referring to the
oligarch owner of Britain’s Chelsea FC soccer club.
Western critics also often liken Putin to Stalin,
portraying him as a malevolent chess master. Yet
those who have studied the Russian president say
that’s not quite true. “Sometimes Western policymakers tend to assume an overreaching strategy
to his actions, one aimed at undermining international rules,” says Anna Arutunyan, a senior analyst
on Russia for the International Crisis Group and
author of the book The Putin Mystique: Inside Russia’s Power Cult. “There is no such strategy. [The]
assumption that there’s a grand evil plan only feeds
the domestic myth of a Russia under siege.”
Instead, Arutunyan says, Putin is more opportunistic. As chaos swept over Ukraine after the 2014
revolution, he annexed Crimea. He wasn’t necessarily looking for a fight; he was gambling that the
West wouldn’t stop him. And he was right. “Putin,”
Arutunyan says, “doesn’t relish confrontation per se.”
Lukyanov, the Kremlin-linked analyst, says the
Russian president isn’t as powerful as the West
makes him out to be either. “He is portrayed as
some cynical figure who [personally] interferes in
elections all over the world, uses chemical weapons
in England and then sits around chuckling in the
Kremlin about it all,” Lukyanov says. “This is like
something from a James Bond film. But these kinds
of people don’t exist in real life.”
As U.S. intelligence agencies fret over potential
Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections
and beyond, pro-government figures in Moscow
warn that exaggerated Western depictions of Putin
and his global influence only increase the tension
between Russia and the West.
That tension escalated on March 26, when the
United States and European countries expelled
economic sanctions or diplomatic expulsions, his
downfall is more likely to come as a result of Kremlin
infighting. Unlike in most Western countries, where
leadership changes are generally smooth, presidential successions in former Soviet states are far riskier
affairs. Putin has been accused of massive personal
corruption by Russian opposition figures. He’s also
been accused internationally of war crimes over
the devastation of Chechnya and the downing of
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine by an alleged
Russian-supplied missile.
He denies these charges, but one day he may be
forced to answer them—in Russia or in an international court of law. It’s a danger that the Russian
president is all too aware of. “He has to ensure his
own personal security before he can give up power,” says Andrei Kolesnikov, a political analyst at the
Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
Putin’s situation is similar
to the one Yeltsin found
himself in almost 18 years
ago. Russia’s first president
was facing an investigation
into money laundering
allegations. In a move
aimed at guaranteeing
his freedom from prosecution, he installed Putin as his successor.
The gambit worked. And the former KGB
man has remained in power.
As Putin hunts for his own successor, his inner
circle is jockeying for position. But these influential figures—men such as Igor Sechin, the powerful head of Rosneft, Russia’s top oil producer—will
likely have their own ideas about who is best for the
post, says Gleb Pavlovsky, a former adviser to both
the Yeltsin and Putin administrations. “They have
to choose him a successor, but they can’t do this
openly,” says Pavlovsky. “Putin and his inner circle
will try to outwit each other, and the game will become very acute in the next couple of years. We are
entering a very dangerous period.”
For now, however, Putin isn’t going anywhere.
And some say it is naive to expect him to ever step
aside. “Let’s not have any talk about ‘another six
years,’” wrote Oleg Kozlovsky, a longtime opposition
activist, in an online post. “[Putin] will only leave
power when he dies, or when he is kicked out. And
neither event is tied to the electoral calendar.”
“Putin and his inner circle
will try to outwit each other.
We are entering a very
scores of Russian diplomats and spies over the Kremlin’s alleged use of a nerve agent against Skripal and
his daughter in Britain. The move dwarfed the scale
of similar Soviet-era expulsions and came just eight
days into Putin’s new six-year term of office. Afterward, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather
Nauert described Putin’s Russia as a “beast from the
deep sea” with “lots of tentacles.” Boris Johnson, the
British foreign secretary, said the expulsions were
part of an orchestrated effort to alter what he called
the Russian leader’s destructive mindset. “[Putin]...
wants to cause trouble wherever he can,” he said.
Moscow immediately vowed to retaliate against
the expulsions, which it did. On March 30, Russia
ordered dozens of U.S. and European diplomats to
leave the country, and many expect the crisis to continue. “We reserve the right to respond,” Nauert said.
“Russia should not be acting like a victim.”
Reach for the Czars?
although western leaders are increasingly
speaking about ways to weaken Putin through
East, West, Home Is Best
Growing number of overseas Chinese choose to return to their home country
and pursue their careers
n his 12th year in the United States, Zheng
Chunyang hit a ceiling. Zheng, a 42-yearold Chinese scientist in the application of
biomedical sciences, got his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Rochester
and pursued post-doctoral studies at Cornell
“Progress was gradual with an annual increase in salary. That’s what life was all about
there,” Zheng said. He also found it difficult to
think and live as an American. “I didn’t grow
up with American football,” Zheng said.
Because of a talent project of China, Zheng got
a chance to return to his home country in 2010.
Launched in 2008, the project mainly provides
assistance for native talent studying or working
overseas to come back to China and further their
research and entrepreneurship. Zheng received
4 million yuan ($633,443) as a start-up grant from
in March, Zheng came up with a proposal on
the development of the cosmetic industry.
In his opinion, the domestic cosmetics are
high in safety but must improve in advanced
technology. He also suggested that the
government guide the industry to increase
investment in research and development
the government.
He founded Robustnique Corp. Ltd. in the
Tianjin Binhai New Area in 2010. Everything
was built from scratch as he led his team in
the development of dozens of tool enzymes
which were then taken up by researchers and
other brands. Through innovative achievements, Zheng also established a successful
brand selling skin care products that have
since become popular among Chinese customers. The profitability of these popular
products is helping the company further their
other areas of research.
This year, Zheng’s achievements saw
him nominated as a member of the National
Committee of the Chinese People’s Political
Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top
political advisory body. At the annual session
of the 13th CPPCC National Committee held
A golden era
Zheng Chunyang at a laboratory in his company in the Binhai New Area in Tianjin
In 2008, two years prior to Zheng’s homecoming, 40-year-old Liu Yi quit a senior
position and a comfortable life in the United
States and returned to China to further his
career, as the environmental protection industry was just emerging in the country.
Ten years later, Liu believes he got the
timing just right with his return. “It’s a golden
era for startups here in China,” he said.
Having attained his master’s and doctoral degrees in engine energy saving and
emission reduction in the United States, he
spotted a high demand for exhaust treatment
in China as well as a huge market.
“As the number of automobiles in China
increased, pollution would get worse,” Liu
said. He then founded Act Blue, a company
specializing in exhaust treatment, in east
China’s Anhui Province shortly after he got
In the initial period it was hard to make
ends meet due to the small size of the market, as well as the high cost of R&D and a
shortage of equipment and trained professionals, which together applied mounting
pressure to Liu.
In spite of these challenges, he refused to
accept a venture capital investment of 45 million yuan ($7.13 million) from investors who
demanded he lower the emission threshold.
Liu wouldn’t be swayed, believing it of vital
importance to make the perfect product from
Liu Yi (left) introduces the latest technology
developed by his company to an inspection
group in August 2015
the very beginning.
The difficulties were far greater than expected, but Liu never lost faith in his original
“What touched me is that the government
offered great support, which helped our company to survive many difficulties,” Liu said.
Noticing his predicament, the Anhui
provincial government provided a loan of 20
million yuan ($3 million) and offered him a
building for his factory as well as housing facilities for employees.
After nine years of hard work, Act Blue has
developed a series of engine exhaust purification products targeting diesel, gasoline and
natural gas.
“Our products can remove 95 percent of
main pollutants from a car’s exhaust,” Liu said.
“Our partners include not only top Chinese
car makers, but also industry giants from the
United States and Japan.”
“I truly believe that one’s personal career
should be consistent with the requirements
of the era, and then you will make it,” Liu said.
This January Liu became a CPPCC National
Committee member, and he is glad for the
responsibility and opportunity to participate
in the administration of state affairs.
Liu was pleased to hear that this year’s
Report on the Work of the Government revealed plans to address the excess emissions
of diesel trucks in 2018, which will be another
way forward in the battle against pollution.
“The report made a summary of China’s
work over the past five years, and laid out a
blueprint for the future. In fact, it was in many
ways like my own work report about what I
have done in the past and what I plan to do in
the future,” Liu said.
Growing trend
In the past few years, Zheng has been
impressed by China’s entrepreneurial environment. “Those talent- and entrepreneurshiporiented policies can streamline procedures
with related departments also keen to help,”
he said, particularly in the five years after the
18th National Congress of the Communist
Party of China in 2012.
In the 2018 Government Work Report,
both Chinese with experience studying overseas and foreign talent are encouraged to
start businesses in China.
“Many overseas Chinese are now looking
By Li Fangfang
for a chance to come back,” Zheng said. “The
trend has changed.”
Some 432,500 people came back to
China after studying overseas in 2016, a
58.48-percent increase on 2012, according to a report published by the Ministry of
Education in January 2017.
In 2002, the second year after China’s
joining in the World Trade Organization, the
ratio of people who had gone abroad to those
who had returned was around 7:1, while in
the year 2010 the ratio was closer to 2:1, according to China Youth Daily. It stood at 1.28:1
in 2015.
“China’s development depended on a demographic advantage in the past, while in the
coming 30 years, our growth will rely on talented people and trained professionals,” said
Wang Huiyao, Director General of the Center
for China and Globalization.
In the 1960s, thousands of Chinese scientists gave up good living conditions and
sound research environments to come back
and made significant contributions to the
country’s development in science, economy
and defense. This is regarded as the first major wave of returning overseas Chinese.
Their spirit continues to affect younger
generations today. In Liu’s opinion, “Every
generation has their mission. The past is already gone; the future is ours.”
“In the past, people would talk about how
much a returned scientist had sacrificed for
the development of his
country. But times have
changed. Now we can
pursue our careers and at
the same time live a better
life,” Zheng said. ■
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Comments to
the Moon
As businesses eye the lunar landscape,
astronomers fret about losing the last
quiet place within reach
the barren moon is ripe for development.
A cellphone company is hoping to install outposts
for service there. Chinese graduate students are living in
simulated moon colonies. And President Donald Trump
wants America to return there in the early 2020s. All
these plans would interfere with the one many astronomers dream of: radio telescopes.
Radio waves, the longest in the electromagnetic spectrum, can cross the entire universe. That feature makes
them the best hope scientists have for studying the
beginning of the cosmos. Radio telescopes can pick up
faint signals from distant space, giving us clues to how
the universe works. The moon, say radio astronomers,
is ideal for that work. “The far side of the moon,” says
Joseph Silk, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University,
“is the best place in the entire inner solar system.”
On Earth, where the seven continents host more than
100 radio telescopes, those signals have an increasing
amount of competition; humans use radio waves to
communicate, drowning out the sounds of the universe.
Astronomers working with the Federal Communications Commission, which divvies up the radio band, are
pushing to keep science a priority. But such agreements
can’t save radio astronomy from all the interference.
That’s where the moon comes in. The logistics are
extremely challenging: Humans haven’t even set foot
on the moon since 1972. But Silk argues that building
the infrastructure needed for moon telescopes would fit
fairly smoothly into current Trump administration plans
to return to there. Robots could accomplish much of the
construction work, says Silk, who imagines covering a
large area with telescopes. “In principle,” he says, “there
should be no reason why we can’t do this.”
Except for all the would-be lunar businesses. These
new “space opportunities,” as Jill Tarter, an astronomer
at the SETI Institute, which is dedicated to finding intelligent life, calls them, “could very well pollute [the moon]
before we get a chance to exploit it for radio astronomy.”
To save our last chance for radio silence, commercial interests could establish a radio wavelength
timeshare with astronomers,
says Tarter. “The only opporBY
tunity that we have for that
kind of thinking,” she says,
“is the moon.”
A PR I L 1 3 , 2017
“The far side of the moon
is the best place in the entire
inner solar system.”
Radio telescopes
installed on the
moon may be even
more powerful
than those
here on Earth.
Diamonds Are a
Geologist’s Best Friend
Scientists solve a secret of the Earth’s crust with the help of a gem
william blake saw the world
in a grain of sand. Graham
Pearson, who teaches Earth and
atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta, sees proof of a
long-suspected geological theory
in a mineral. But not just any mineral: Pearson has wrestled a revelation from a crystal found near the
surface of the Earth.
The source of Pearson’s fascination
is calcium silicate perovskite, which
scientists estimate is the fourth most
abundant mineral on the planet. That
bountifulness means this compound
is crucial to the Earth’s lower mantle,
making it a source of great interest to
geologists. But despite its prevalence,
researchers like Pearson had never
been able to study the compound. In
fact, no one had seen it before.
That’s because at the surface of the
Earth, calcium silicate perovskite is
entirely unstable. The only place this
essential mineral normally exists
is buried 400 miles below ground,
where pressure squeezes the components together. There was just one
way to keep it stable enough for scientists to study, and that would require preservation in an “unyielding
container,” says Pearson,
“like a diamond.”
That’s exactly where
he and a team of international researchers
found it: in a diamond
from S outh Afric a’s
Cullinan Mine, famous for producing two of the largest diamonds in
the British crown jewels.
Finding the unusual mineral was,
says Nester Korolev, postdoctoral
fellow at the University of British
Columbia, “a complete surprise.” It
also, the authors noted in a paper
published in a March issue of Nature,
verified a theory regarding how the
Earth’s crust moves.
Diamonds, Pearson said in a statement about the discovery, “are really
unique ways of seeing what’s in the
Earth.” A close look at this particular gem and its calcium silicate
perovskite inclusion revealed its unusual past. The gem, the researchers
deduced, formed when a piece of oceanic crust sank from the surface of
the planet to about 500 miles below,
into the lower mantle, where it was
subjected to more than 24 billion pascals of pressure—roughly equivalent
to the pressure created by a stack of
paper 240 billion sheets tall, enough
to crush steel. Gradually, the diamond
ascended with a bit of lower mantle
encased inside, eventually ending up
half a mile below the Earth’s surface.
Such recycling—a piece of the
Earth’s crust descending into the
mantle and then rising back up
again—has been suspected but never confirmed. But the specific composition of the perovskite found in
the diamond, says Pearson, “provides
fundamental proof of what happens to the fate of oceanic plates as
they descend into the depths of the
Earth.” The same goes for the existence of calcium silicate perovskite,
which researchers believe makes up
more than 90 percent of the lower
mantle but has never been seen.
Now, they are sure it exists.
Pearson calls the discovery “a nice
illustration of how science works.” You
could also call it a gem of a find.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
Grunt Work
Making noises during exercise may serve a purpose
do you really have to grunt
during your workout? That
question, posed by many an irritated gym-goer, has also been asked
by a team of exercise scientists. Their
findings won’t settle the debate, but
they do confirm that grunting is not
just a sound but also a tool.
Among the professional sports,
tennis may have the most notorious grunters. Maria Sharapova,
Monica Seles and Serena Williams
have all been accused of distracting players with the loud cries they
emit when hitting a ball. In 2009,
Martina Navratilova called grunting
“cheating, pure and simple,” insisting that it muffles the sound of the
ball hitting the racket, which opponents rely on as a cue.
The pros aren’t the only complainers. Nationwide gym chain Planet Fitness prohibits grunting and will revoke the membership of a persistent
offender. The gripe among amateur
athletes is more relatable: Grunting,
they say, is just plain annoying.
Researchers at the University of
Hawaii at Manoa and the University
of British Columbia wanted to know
whether grunting serves a purpose,
be it as an exercise enhancer or a disturbance. In one experiment, 20 students at a mixed martial arts academy
kicked a 100-pound bag while grunting and also silently. An accelerometer attached to the bag enabled the
researchers to measure the force of
each kick. According to the results,
published in February in PLOS One,
the students moved the bag with
9 percent more force when they
grunted compared with when they
stifled their inner Sharapova. From
that result, the researchers concluded that these noises can serve a useful function during a workout.
The result supports prior evidence
that grunting boosts performance
when people are exerting their maximum effort. Syracuse University
exercise scientist Kevin Heffernan,
who was not involved with the new
study, thinks grunting may be more
of a reflex than a conscious choice.
“For heavy exercise, it’s
actually instinctive to
hold your breath,” says
Heffernan, “and give
that little grunt.”
The second experiment
probed the concentration issue. The
researchers asked 22 people to watch
video clips of a martial artist kicking
and then determine whether the
kick went high or low. Each of the 40
clips was played twice, either with or
without a loud burst of white noise
intended to simulate a grunt. Grunting negatively affected both attention
and response time. The participants
were slower to state the direction of
a kick when it was accompanied by
a grunt, and they had a harder time
saying its direction. In other words,
the grunt is potentially an excellent
weapon of mass distraction.
But, grunters, take heed: Your
vocalizations could harm you. The
breath holding that precedes a
grunt creates pressure in the chest
that pushes on the aorta. The resulting rise in blood pressure means
the heart has to work harder to
keep blood flowing, which could
lead to popped blood vessels. Alternatively, the person on the spin
bike next to you could smack you
with a sweaty towel.
Sharapova has
become known
for her hallmark
grunting on the
tennis court.
Stiff Competition
Twenty years after Viagra’s approval, the FDA is scrambling
to catch dangerous impostors
on march 27, viagra
celebrated its 20th anniversary. Over the past two decades, millions of men have taken the erectile
dysfunction drug, which rakes in
about $1.5 billion per year on average. In the process, the little blue pill
has become a cultural touchstone,
featured in rap lyrics, on TV shows
and in movies—even starring in one,
2010’s Love & Other Drugs.
And as with any classic, knockoffs
have followed. Sexual enhancement
supplements sold online and at corner stores promise performance
improvements without a prescription.
All a customer needs is
a working credit card
or the ability to ask the
cashier for Tyrannosaurus Sex or Stiff Nights
with a straight face.
These supplements, advertised
as “natural,” have the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration alarmed. In
violation of FDA regulations, many
brands contain a hidden and sometimes harmful modification of
sildenafil, Viagra’s active ingredient, or another compound found in
FDA-approved erectile dysfunction
medications. The FDA has been chasing the purveyors of these products
for years, but so far the effort has
only resulted in revealing the agency’s, well, impotence.
Among the compounds capable of
producing an erection, sildenafil is
the easiest to counterfeit. “The raw
materials are more readily available
and cheaper,” said Koh Hwee Ling, a
pharmacologist at the National University of Singapore.
But sildenafil carries serious side
effects when taken with certain
medications, such as dangerously
low blood pressure. “Let’s imagine
a sedentary 70-year-old gentleman
who suffers from coronary artery
disease,” says Dr. Edgardo Becher, a
urologist affiliated with the University of Buenos Aires. If he dies of a
heart attack after taking one of these
supplements, Becher explains, no one
will suspect that the pill caused his
death because the modified sildenafil
is not indicated on the label.
Tracing these hidden drugs to their
source—to the various distributors,
wholesalers and retailers around the
world—is often impossible, says Brad
Pace, who directs the FDA’s division
of nonprescription drugs and health
fraud. His group has had some
success. In 2011, Kelly Harvey, the
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
The little blue pill known as Viagra, left,
has transformed physical intimacy
for many men, becoming a cultural
phenomenon in the process.
owner of NovaCare, which sold
tainted sexual enhancement and
weight loss supplements, pleaded
guilty to six felony counts related to
the products and received a 36-month
prison sentence. And in 2016, following 29 consumer warnings and recalls
in 2010, a federal judge sentenced
Gustavo Barni, who owns Atlas Operations, a supplement supplier, to six
months in prison for fraud.
But as soon as one company is
caught, another replaces it. “It’s just a
cat-and-mouse game,” says Dr. Pieter
Cohen, an internist at Cambridge
Health Alliance who has researched
tainted supplements extensively.
In November 2017, the FDA issued
consumer warnings about more
than a dozen of these products, and
a settlement in March forced yet
another company to test its supplements before making more of them.
A pilot program to check packages arriving at international mail
facilities for suspicious goods found
119 products with sexual enhancement claims on the label, 95 of
which contained an undeclared
active ingredient.
Generic sildenafil, which came on
the market in December 2017, might
put a dent in counterfeit sales. The
more affordable price tag—$25 per
pill versus about $70 for Viagra—
could help consumers avoid shadier
supplements. And with these legitimate pills, the active ingredient is easy
to identify. Just look at the label.
Go With the Flow
sexual enhancement drugs do just what
they say: They enhance a natural process. An
erection aided by drugs like Viagra starts the
same way as an erection sans pharmaceuticals,
with a man getting turned on. That state releases
nitric oxide in a spongy tissue known as the corpus cavernosum, or, more plainly, erectile tissue.
The infusion of this colorless gas stimulates production of a protein called cGMP. When levels
of cGMP escalate, the walls of the arteries relax,
allowing more blood to flow into the penis.
But for some men, another protein, known as
phosphodiesterase type 5, can intrude. PDE-5
breaks down cGMP. And when levels of cGMP
plunge, so does the hope of an erection.
Viagra, Cialis and Levitra prevent PDE-5
from dismantling cGMP. With PDE-5 restrained,
levels of cGMP are free to escalate. And the more
cGMP there is, the more relaxed the arteries
become and the more blood can flow. That
simple mechanism has transformed life between
the sheets for millions of couples since 1998.
This (ahem) rise is not without its fall, though.
Commercial erectile dysfunction drugs carry
warnings against taking them simultaneously
with nitrates for chest pain since the combination
could cause blood pressure to plummet. That’s
because nitrates break down into nitric oxide—
the compound that stimulates production of
cGMP—and mixing these two medications
churns out too much cGMP. The protein left over
after the arteries are relaxed ends up dilating
blood vessels, and that widening forces blood
pressure to drop. In the best-case scenario,
a man may feel dizzy or lightheaded, but he
could also pass out—or even go into potentially
fatal shock. And that is not the sort of bedroom
surprise anyone is looking for. —K.S.
products secretly laced with drugs for livening up the bedroom aren’t just for men anymore. In April 2017, the FDA found two supplements
illegally containing hidden flibanserin, the active ingredient in Addyi, also known as female Viagra. The moniker is inaccurate: Unlike Viagra, which
works on a physiological level, Addyi increases desire by altering neurochemistry. So far, the results are far less spectacular: In a clinical trial,
women taking Addyi had only an extra half of a “satisfying sexual event” per month. —K.S.
Jackson in the
Edward Albee revival.
As “A,” she plays
the oldest version
of a woman in three
stages of her life.
in Winter
Glenda Jackson returns to Broadway after
30 years, in Three Tall Women. At 81,
she can still level a room with one glance
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
The Room is bad, but is it the best bad movie ever made? » P. 46
after 23 years as a member of the british
in Love was a watershed moment for many young
Parliament, Glenda Jackson returned to actwomen in 1969. She looks stunned. “Really? Why?”
ing as only she would, ferociously, as King Lear in
Because in a single performance, Jackson defied
an acclaimed 2016 production at London’s Old Vic.
every female stereotype. She listens intently, looking
That she vanquished Shakespeare’s mad king withvaguely flummoxed. “Good God,” Jackson says finally.
out any particular fuss made over the part being
Stereotypes and gender barriers continue to displayed by a woman was unsurprising to a Jackson
solve in her hands, yet despite her award-winning
completist. Consider her first starring film role,
turn in Lear, she isn’t optimistic about more thein Ken Russell’s Women in Love, an adaptation of
ater work. “I think parts for women of my years are
D.H. Lawrence’s psychosexual novel. What got the
well and truly finished,” she said in a 2016 interview
most attention when the film debuted was a homowith The Guardian.
erotic nude wrestling match between its male stars,
And yet, here is Three Tall Women. Albee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning piece is a veiled portrait of his
Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. Watching it now, that
moment seems quaint, as does the film. Jackson’s
domineering mother, who preferred horses to her
Oscar-winning performance, as Gudrun Branadopted son. She is played in three stages of her
life by Jackson (at 92, approaching senility with
gwen, Lawrence’s man-killer, on the other hand,
remains singularly fierce and brazen. She looks
rip-snorting rage), Laurie Metcalf (a cynical 52) and
like no movie star before her, and not many after.
Alison Pill (26 and full of hope). In Metcalf, Jackson
Reed, a lusciously handsome Michelhas found her match in dishing out conangelo statue come to life, famously
tempt with acidic eloquence. They also
fought Jackson’s casting as his lover,
share a gift for facial improvisation, riffsaying she wasn’t physically desirable
ing as others might with dialogue, resultMARY KAYE
enough. He was the movie’s putative
ing in unscripted moments of hilarity.
star, but it’s Jackson—with her splotchy
“Oh, she makes me laugh,” says Jackson.
skin and sharply angled features—that
“Is there anything she can’t do?”
you can’t take your eyes off. “Flat as a pancake, no
This isn’t Jackson’s first Albee role. She played
makeup, lank, unattractive hair,” a female friend
Martha in a 1989 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia
said of her in a 1970 Look magazine profile. “But an
Woolf? in Los Angeles—a production directed by
actress like Glenda makes you believe she’s beautiful.”
the playwright (John Lithgow played George).
“We didn’t get on,” she says of Albee. “He was so
Interviews throughout her career invariably
closed off.” And yet, he wrote female characters
make much ado about her disinterest in the trappings of female stardom: a bare-faced, sensible-shoe
of irresistible complexity. What is revealed in the
aesthetic that endures. For a recent New York Times
course of both plays is that the eviscerating verbal
portrait—heralding her return to Broadway after
missiles these women deploy shield deep wounds;
three decades, in a revival of Edward Albee’s Three
they are bullies, yes, but also victims.
Tall Women—she posed in a Tintin sweatshirt.
“Albee was quite categoric that Three Tall Women
(Somewhere, Frances McDormand was high-fiving.)
is not a revenge play [against his mother]. I think it
We met on an unreasonably cold Manhattan
is, but there you go,” says Jackson. “The really intermorning at a tea salon on New York City’s Upper
esting thing,” she adds, “is that right at the end of
East Side, a few weeks before Three Tall Women’s
his life Albee wrote—and I’m paraphrasing here—
March 29 opening. Jackson is late because she forthat he’d never met anyone who liked his mother in
got the appointment, and she is mortified. “Old
life, but he’d never met anyone who didn’t like her
age,” says the 81-year-old, with a roll of her eyes and
in the play. ‘What have I done?’ he said.”
a Brit’s tip of the chin, the multipurpose dismissal
It would be a mistake to assume that Jackson took this part, or any other, because of some
of anything regrettable. After she orders a pot of Earl
grand career plan. (When I mention the current
Grey tea, I mention that her performance in Women
“branding” trend, she nearly chokes
on her tea.) “I’m a jobbing actor. It’s
what comes through the door, if
anything comes through the door.”
She did not, for example, take the
part of Gudrun in Women in Love
because she was an uncommonly
strong female character. “Come on!”
she nearly barks. “I took it because it
was a job I was offered.”
Back then, Jackson had a young
son, Dan, with husband Roy Hodges
(they divorced, after 18 years, in
1976). She was a rising star in London, after her 1963 turn as Charlotte
Corday in Peter Brook’s groundbreaking production of Marat/
Sade, but actors weren’t paid much
in England at the time. The financial uptick only began with her
Academy Award win for Women in
Love. In 1971, she played Queen Elizabeth I in the BBC’s Elizabeth R—a
definitive portrayal that won her
two Emmy awards. John Schlesinger’s superb Sunday Bloody Sunday
came out the same year. The film,
about a young, bisexual man shared
by a male doctor (Peter Finch) and a
divorced woman (Jackson), remains
startlingly fresh. “Best bloody script
I ever read,” says Jackson.
She won her second Academy
Award in 1973, for the romantic
comedy A Touch of Class, co-starring
George Segal. Acting in Hollywood
“If you’re successful,
you’re the exception
to the rule. If you’re
a failure, well, you’re
just a woman.”
offered rewards well beyond a trailer
bigger than her flat back in London.
“When I began in the theater,” she
says, “it was fashionable for English
actors to pretend that the least
important thing in their lives was a
performance. ‘Oh, it’s just a play, darling.’ And here was George, for whom
acting was life and death, and he was
just amazing to work with. For me,
that was just glorious.”
Glorious, too, was meeting one of
her two childhood movie idols, Bette
Davis. The other was Joan Crawford,
and those infatuations make sense.
You can say of Jackson, just as she
once said of them, “They had a superb
sense of arrogance. When they walked,
they ground the poor earth beneath
their heels.” But Jackson won’t hear
of a comparison. “I was never a star,”
she insists. “I mean, Davis was a star.
That meant something.” Still, she
adds, tough women on screen, and
off, “always got their comeuppance,
didn’t they?”
Strong female characters are no
longer routinely punished, and that’s
an improvement. But, says Jackson,
“I find it very curious that given the
advances in women’s lives and capacity to actually speak up, that contemporary dramatists still don’t find
women interesting. Rarely is a woman
the dramatic engine of anything.”
jackson grew up in west england,
the daughter of a bricklayer and
a cleaning woman and the eldest
of four sisters. “I once accused my
mother of giving me an overdeveloped sense of responsibility too
early,” she says, “and she looked at
LOCAL HERO Jackson campaigns in
2010. The die-hard socialist gave up
acting for politics in 1992, serving as a
Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate
in the House of Commons until 2015.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
Clockwise from
top: Jackson (with
Reed) won her
first Oscar for
1969’s Women in
Love; her second
was for 1973’s A
Touch of Class; as
King Lear in 2016,
with Rhys Ifans.
me as if I was completely mad.”
That sense of responsibility, as well
as her unwavering socialism, eventually pushed her out of acting and
into public service. In 1992, she was
elected to the House of Commons as
the Labour candidate for London’s
Highgate and Hampstead, becoming
a regular critic of Prime Minister
Tony Blair. For over two decades, she
didn’t give acting a thought. Perhaps
it was because Parliament is its own
odd stage show; take a look at her 2013
speech on the occasion of Margaret
Thatcher’s death. As political opponents mercilessly hector her, she eloquently demolishes Thatcherism for
inflicting the “most heinous social,
economic and spiritual damage upon
this country.” As for Thatcher, she said,
“A woman? Not on my terms.”
Jackson says she had no experience of sexism in Hollywood, but “in
Parliament it was very obvious.” That’s
improved with more women entering
politics and younger men actively parenting. “But we still avoid what is the
basis of it all, that women are always
regarded as a representative of their
gender. If you’re successful, you’re
the exception to the rule. If you’re
a failure, well, you’re just a woman.
And that is throughout the whole of
society. Two women die every week
in my country at the hands of their
partner, usually male,” she says. “That
isn’t front page news, like sexism in
Hollywood, but it should be. And we
certainly haven’t changed the law with
regard to domestic violence.”
Having lived through one liberation movement, Jackson is circumspect about #MeToo and Time’s Up.
“The world has been the way it is for
ever so long. You cannot transform
it overnight,” she says. “It’s tiny, tiny
steps. Yes, there have been changes,
but we kid ourselves if we think
equality is here.
“What is forgotten,” she adds, “is
that women’s issues are linked to so
many other things that are happening in the world. My country is leaving Europe, for God’s sake! What’s
happening in your country, what’s
happening in Europe—the shifts to
the right are extremely concerning.”
For the moment, Jackson can distract herself with Three Tall Women.
When the limited run ends on June
24, she’ll return to her basement flat
in the London townhouse of her son,
a political columnist. There, she isn’t
an Oscar-winning actress ending
her nights with standing ovations,
or a former member of Parliament,
but the “rather boring” granny of an
11-year-old who mocks her technological ineptitude. “I once had to temporarily use a smartphone,” says Jackson
with a laugh. “My grandson gave up
on me. ‘I’ve told you how to do this
three times. Stupid granny!’”
Bad to the Bone
The Disaster Artist turned the making of a turkey into award-winning
gold. But is The Room really the best worst movie ever made?
on april 11, 2006, george hardy
woke up and discovered he was
a cult film star. This was odd for a
few reasons: Hardy is a dentist living in Alexander City, Alabama; he
has no serious acting experience;
and he hadn’t appeared in a movie
in over a decade. But that film—an
outrageously amateurish horror
disaster called Troll 2 (1990), which
features Hardy in a starring role—
had built up a remarkable cult following on the internet.
He learned this when a reporter
from Furman University’s school
paper called to ask if he’d be attending the Troll 2 cast reunion that
week. Cast reunion? Hardy was
bewildered. “If you don’t believe me,
go to IMDB,” the writer said.
Hardy did, and he found that the
event was scheduled for two days
from then, on April 13, in Provo, Utah.
“I said to myself, ‘I gotta do this.’ Spent
$750 on a flight. Jumped on a plane.
And it was the first screening ever of
Troll 2 on the big screen.”
“Big screen” is misleading. The
film was projected on a brick wall
in an abandoned building. And yet,
says Hardy, “when the
lights came on, I got
mobbed for autographs.
I thought, What in the
world is going on?”
That was more than a
decade ago, but it’s a moment he finds
himself thinking about a lot, ever
since last year’s The Disaster Artist—
recounting the tumultuous making
of 2003’s amateur classic The Room
(famously declared “the Citizen Kane
of bad movies”)—brought the glory
of so-bad-they’re-good movies to the
forefront of mainstream pop culture
with two Golden Globe wins and an
Academy Award nomination. Once
a Hollywood pariah, Room director
Tommy Wiseau was making high-profile appearances on late-night TV and
at the Globes, where James Franco
took home the best actor award
for his performance as the bizarro,
greasy-haired filmmaker.
Such notoriety has also reawakened the battle for the gold in the
Olympics of terrible moviemaking.
“I’ve seen a lot of other bad movies,
and I don’t think there’s anything
within 1,200 miles of the pure awfulness of Troll 2,” says Jason Wright, a
novelist and public speaker who
played a supporting role in the film.
“Maybe we’ll be talking about The
Room in 25 years, but I doubt it.”
Even Plan 9 From Outer Space
(1959), arguably the granddaddy of
all lovably crappy movies, received
a publicity boost recently, when one
of its actors, Conrad Brooks, died at
86. Plan 9 was directed by prolific
low-budget maestro Ed Wood, and
critic Michael Medved declared it the
“worst film ever made” in 1980. (Wood,
like Wiseau, eventually had his own
acclaimed film tribute, Tim Burton’s
Ed Wood.) But Plan 9’s cult popularity
surged long before the internet provided a space for bad-movie junkies
AMATEUR HOUR Franco won a Golden
Globe playing Room director Wiseau
in The Disaster Artist. Opposite: Two
of Troll 2’s goblins prepare for their
closeup on the Utah set in 1989.
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
to find one another. Troll 2 solidified
its oddball fan base in the early 2000s
and inadvertently helped establish
the blueprint for The Room’s remarkably obsessive followers.
Troll 2 was dreamed up by an
eccentric Italian filmmaker, Claudio Fragasso, who wrote the script
in broken English and reportedly
refused to let his American actors
correct the awkward-sounding lines.
He shot the film in Utah in 1989,
relying largely on local residents
like Hardy, who was handed the
lead with no prior acting experience.
(One “actor” filmed his part while on
leave from a nearby psychiatric hospital; he was a patient.)
The plot requires large quantities
of weed to comprehend fully, but in
brief, Troll 2 is about a young boy
whose family relocates to a sinister
town overrun by grotesque “vegetarian” goblins who transform humans
into plants before devouring them.
The boy is aided by visions of his
dead grandpa, who warns him about
the goblins’ evil intentions. (The
movie, by the way, has absolutely
nothing to do with 1986’s Troll or
“I don’t think there’s
anything that’s within
1,200 miles of the pure
awfulness of Troll 2.”
trolls in general; the distributor,
MGM, simply titled it Troll 2 as a
cheap marketing ploy.)
The resulting train wreck is
enormously entertaining thanks to
uproariously goofy visual effects,
goblins wearing what look to be Halloween costumes and remarkably
amateurish overacting that produces
unintended comedy. One particular
line delivery, in which a terrified teen
character shouts, “Oh my God!”—
stretching out the word “God” to four
agonizing seconds—has become a
popular internet meme.
Yet in a lengthy email to Newsweek,
Fragasso insists his movie has been
misunderstood; it was meant to be
a comedy. “I wanted to make people
laugh, and I succeeded,” he says. The
Room, he maintains, “has nothing in
common with my film.” (Indeed, The
Room is more of a melodrama whose
plot revolves around a love triangle.
And Wiseau, unlike Fragasso, had a
seemingly bottomless budget, thanks
to his own mysterious wealth.)
Michael Paul Stephenson, the
child star of Troll 2, first saw the finished movie when his parents gave
him the VHS tape as a Christmas
present. For years, he was deeply
embarrassed by it, especially when
it began to appear regularly on latenight HBO programming. “Every
Sunday, I would pull out my newspaper’s TV guide and hope that I
wouldn’t find Troll 2 listed,” he says.
Instead of the usual four stars that
run under reviews, there would be
“a little icon of a turkey,” signifying
the worst possible rating.
But as an adult, in the mid-2000s,
Stephenson began getting messages
from fans on Myspace. “They would
send photos of Troll 2 parties they
had in a basement or somewhere. My
first thought was, Why? This movie
should never be spoken about again.”
Eventually, Stephenson embraced
his childhood humiliation, and in
2009 he directed the documentary Best Worst Movie, tracing Troll
2’s meteoric rise from low-budget
mess to cult classic. In the film, a
pair of hardcore fans describe their
response upon meeting a Troll 2 virgin: “No matter what you’re doing,
you drop what you’re doing,” they
say. “We’re watching it now.”
Hardy acknowledges some sadness in the documentary, in the spectacle of once hopeful actors realizing
they have made a cinematic punch
line. But there is joy there too, in the
reaction of fans and the discovery
that pleasure has been provided,
as well as history made—even if it’s
dubious history. “People will talk
about Troll 2 and The Room forever,”
Hardy says with genuine pride.
Illustration by B R I T T S P E N C E R
Abbi Jacobson
it’s been said that comedy is harder than drama, which helps
explain why so many comedians, from Steve Martin to Kristen Wiig, have
aced dramatic roles. With the indie film 6 Balloons, now on Netflix, you can
add Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson to the list. First-time director Marja-Lewis Ryan’s
merciless look at the cost of enabling someone you love stars Jacobson as Katie, a
young woman desperate to keep her backsliding addict brother Seth (Dave Franco) from relapsing again. “It was a challenge to internalize all the emotions Katie
has bottled up,” says Jacobson, who gives a revelatory performance, conveying
years of entrenched anxiety, often with just body language.
The weirdly sweet Broad City—back for Season 5 later this year—is based on
the voracious friendship between Jacobson and co-creator Ilana Glazer. Like TV
“Abbi,” Jacobson is a self-deprecating sometime illustrator who loves comedy. So
while she enjoyed the challenge of a role “that really scared me,” she’ll stick to funny
for the near future. As long as Donald Trump’s in charge, she says, “I need to escape.”
“In my
day-to-day life,
constant chaos
is where I’m most
What attracted you to 6 Balloons?
I thought the script was beautiful,
and I related to the character.
Not in terms of her specific
situation, but I’m from the suburbs
of Philly, and the town I grew up
in was very affected by the
opioid epidemic. I knew a lot of
people who overdosed.
Even though it’s a serious
role, you bring a lot of comedy
to Katie—similar to Abbi’s
humor on Broad City.
My favorite dramatic movies have
moments of levity. You’re more in the
story when you see the full person.
Weirdly, I think Katie is more like
me in real life. She is constantly
playing this duality—on the one
hand, “Everything’s under control!”
but there’s anxiety looming. In my
day-to-day life, constant chaos is
where I’m most comfortable. So that
resonated with me. Also, the movie
takes place over one night, which I’m
used to doing on Broad City, where
each episode covers 24 hours.
Abbi hit a real low in Season 4. It
was sometimes hard to watch!
[Laughs.] You know, “Abbi” is known
for hitting those lows, but highs are
coming. We’ve been writing these
characters we love, and they’ve
been in a state of nongrowth for a
couple seasons. Now, we’re asking,
“What’s changing?” Abbi will start
dating someone, career moves
will happen—there’s growth in
Season 5. —Anna Menta
A PR I L 1 3 , 2018
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