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The New York Times International Edition – March 07, 2018

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For Italians,
la dolce vita
turns angry
now an app
can create
fake videos
Beppe Severgnini
Contributing Writer
Tools make it fairly easy
to put one person’s face
on another person’s body
MILAN Judging by its voters on Sunday,
half of Italy is angry. It believes immigration is a bad thing, the European
Union is a lousy deal, Donald Trump is
an example of leadership and Vladimir
Putin is a good man.
One protest movement, Five Star,
which had made aggressive talk its
trademark for years, switched to a
gentler tone as Election Day neared and
polled 33 percent of the vote, which will
make it the largest party in our new
Parliament. At the same time, Italy’s
right wing coalition got 37 percent of the
vote — half of it from the League, a party
that campaigned obsessively on immigration (“Italians first!” — sound familiar?).
What happened
This week’s
to the happy Italelection
ians? Has la dolce
vita — the sweet life
— turned bitter?
with taxes,
For many people,
unfortunately, the
answer is yes. What
and immigrahappened on
tion from
March 4 is not
north to south.
unlike what happened in Britain
and the United
States in 2016: a frustrated major proportion of the electorate vented its
anger at being left behind by those they
perceive as privileged. First Brexit,
then a new president, now a new Italian
Parliament: all they needed was a
national election. Italy took a little
longer, but the direction of travel is the
same, and so are the vehicles: political
forces that transform disappointment
into votes.
Will the League and Five Star join
forces and form a government? While
the League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, has
ruled this out, it’s too soon to know the
outcome. The two parties share some
ideas and pet hates, but they are indeed
different. Geographically so for a start.
In Italy, changes in latitude bring
changes in attitude.
Mr. Salvini, 44, is from Milan, and did
very well in Italy’s affluent North,
where voters worry about their safety
and taxes. Luigi Di Maio, 31, the Five
Star leader, is from Avellino, near Naples. He conquered the poorer South,
and his movement won 50 percent of the
vote and every first-past-the post seat in
Sicily, where youth unemployment has
increased while incomes decreased.
The Italian South is indeed in trouble.
Italy’s economy overall is picking up, at
last, but between 2008 and 2016 per
capita G.D.P. in the Mezzogiorno, or
The New York Times publishes opinion
from a wide range of perspectives in
hopes of promoting constructive debate
about consequential questions.
era, a reflection of fear as much as loyalty. Even a move that could profoundly
reshape China’s destiny was opaque to
all but the few who work closely under
him in Zhongnanhai, the government
compound beside the Forbidden City
that is, for ordinary Chinese, an informational black hole.
“We know nothing about how this de-
The scene opened on a room with a red
sofa, a potted plant and the kind of
bland modern art you’d see on a therapist’s wall.
In the room was Michelle Obama, or
someone who looked exactly like her.
Wearing a low-cut top with a black bra
visible underneath, she writhed lustily
for the camera and flashed her unmistakable smile.
Then, the former first lady’s doppelgänger began to strip.
The video, which appeared on the
online forum Reddit, was what’s known
as a “deepfake” — an ultrarealistic
fake video made with artificial intelligence software. It was created using a
program called FakeApp, which superimposed Mrs. Obama’s face on the
body of a pornographic film actress.
The hybrid was uncanny — if you
didn’t know better, you might have
thought it was really Mrs. Obama.
Until recently, realistic computergenerated video was a laborious pursuit available only to big-budget Hollywood productions or cutting-edge
researchers. Social media apps like
Snapchat include some rudimentary
face-morphing technology.
But in recent months, a community
of hobbyists has begun experimenting
with more powerful tools, including
FakeApp — a program that was built
by an anonymous developer using
open-source software written by
Google. FakeApp makes it free and
relatively easy to create realistic face
swaps and leave few traces of manipulation. Since a version of the app appeared on Reddit in January, it has
been downloaded more than 120,000
times, according to its creator.
Deepfakes are one of the newest
forms of digital media manipulation
and one of the most obviously mischief-prone. It’s not hard to imagine
this technology’s being used to smear
politicians, create counterfeit revenge
porn or frame people for crimes. Lawmakers have already begun to worry
about how deepfakes could be used for
political sabotage and propaganda.
Even on morally lax sites like Reddit, deepfakes have raised eyebrows.
Recently, FakeApp set off a panic after
Motherboard, the technology site,
reported that people were using it to
create pornographic deepfakes of
celebrities. Pornhub, Twitter and other
sites quickly banned the videos, and
Reddit closed a handful of deepfake
groups, including one with nearly
100,000 members.
Before the Reddit deepfake groups
A billboard of President Xi Jinping greeting residents in Henan Province. Mr. Xi has done more than any of his predecessors to create a public persona as a man of the people.
Smiling face on a guarded man
Out of the public’s view,
Chinese leader’s decisions
unfold in utmost secrecy
One Sunday last month, China’s leader,
Xi Jinping, traveled to a village in the
mountains of Sichuan Province. He
wore an olive overcoat with a fur collar,
which he kept zipped up even when he
entered an adobe house to meet with villagers. Around an indoor fire pit, he sat
among a circle of people wearing traditional clothes of the Yi ethnic group.
“How did the Communist Party come
into being?” he asked at one point as he
extolled the virtues of socialism. Without hesitating, he answered. “It was established to lead people to a happy life,”
he said, and then he added:
“That’s what we should do forever.”
Mr. Xi’s remark — specifically its
open-ended pledge — suddenly resonates more deeply than before. Barring the unexpected, delegates at the
annual National People’s Congress in
Beijing that began this week will rubber-stamp constitutional changes that
will enable Mr. Xi to remain the country’s leader indefinitely by eliminating
presidential term limits.
Mr. Xi, who will turn 65 in June, has
done more than any of his predecessors
to create a public persona as an avuncular man of the people, even as he has maneuvered behind the scenes with a ruthless ambition to dominate China’s enigmatic elite politics.
The government’s propaganda apparatus regularly depicts him as a firm yet
adoring patriarch and leader who fights
poverty and corruption at home while
building China’s prestige abroad as an
emerging superpower.
Hagiography aside, what is striking is
how little is known about Mr. Xi’s biography as a leader, despite having held the
country’s highest posts since 2012 —
president, general secretary and commander in chief, among others.
Even the move to stay in power, announced on Feb. 25, caught many here
by surprise. It has shaken Chinese politics and stirred an unusual amount of
rumblings, if not open dissent. In hindsight, though, scenes like the one in
Sichuan have for years been building
the foundation for Mr. Xi’s elevation to a
status unlike any Chinese leader since
Mao Zedong.
In one recent video shown on state
television, he was depicted as the “arms,
legs and heart” of the entire nation. The
script evoked the “family-state” ideal at
the center of Confucianism, showing a
cutout of Mr. Xi guiding a bicycle with a
The opening on Monday of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, which is expected
to rubber-stamp constitutional changes that will eliminate presidential term limits.
young girl behind him. In the report
from Sichuan, part of a 23-minute feature that appeared on state television
two days later, not one but two villagers,
including an elderly woman, uttered the
same refrain on the theme.
“He is like our parents,” each said.
Out of public view, Mr. Xi’s deliberations and decisions unfold in utmost secrecy. Leaks have all but ended in the Xi
Art in the service of a deathly serious problem
Student workshop helps
to identify the dead by
reconstructing their faces
The final moments of life for the eight
border crossers whose remains were
found in the Arizona desert over the last
two summers will always be a mystery.
What is clear is the cause of death for
them, as for many migrants, recorded
by the Pima County medical examiner’s
office: “Heat stroke, exposure to hot environment.” “Hyperthermia due to exposure to the elements.” “Dehydration, hypotension and hyperthermia due to environmental exposure to heat in desert.”
The list goes on.
The desolation of their deaths in this
perilous corridor along the border is
compounded by another indignity: The
identities of these eight men remained
unknown. The traditional tools used by
medical examiners to identify human
remains, including DNA and dental
Y(1J85IC*KKNPKP( +%!z!?!#!"
Facial reconstruction of an unidentified
woman found in New York.
comparisons, had yet to yield any clues.
Now, a last-ditch effort to identify the
dead and help bring closure to their families has moved from the medical examiner’s office in Tucson to a more rarefied
setting: a workshop in facial reconstruc-
tion at the New York Academy of Art.
The class, taught by Joe Mullins, a forensic artist with the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children, focuses
on reconstructing the faces of migrants
who lost their lives in the desert. The
workshop reflects the growing sophistication of the field of forensic facial reconstruction — a fusion of science, art
and anthropology in which the skull is
used to build a face and to help investigators identify the dead. It is particularly helpful in cases of crime or mass
Young graduate students, whose rigorous classical training includes anatomy, are working with 3-D-printed replicas of the men’s skulls based on CTscans of the originals, which are considered forensic evidence.
Painstakingly rendered in clay applied onto the copied skulls, with marbles for eyes and a black Sharpie dot
marking the pupils, the students’ reconstructions are being exhibited in the
academy windows through March 29.
“We’re visual creatures,” said Bruce
Anderson, a forensic anthropologist
with the Pima County medical examiner’s office. “When we don’t have a viewable face,” because of decomposition, Dr.
Anderson said, “we ask artists to give us
the impression of what the person
looked like in order to draw attention to
a particular case.” The academy reconstructions have been posted on NamUs,
the National Institute of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons
The class comes at a sobering juncture. Migrant deaths along the United
States border with Mexico rose last year
despite a steep decrease in attempted
crossings, according to the United Nations Migration Agency. Since 2001, the
remains of roughly 2,800 migrants have
been found in Pima County alone, represented by a grim sea of red circles on
“death maps” produced by the Arizona
OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants.
Of these, roughly 1,000 people are still
unidentified. Stricter border enforcement and deportation policies have led
migrants to cross at more remote and
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Issue Number
No. 41,983
2 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
page two
A language divide in retreat
North Korea is said to be
willing to discuss nukes
Generational shift narrows
split separating Canadian
city’s ‘Two Solitudes’
Pyongyang ‘clearly stated
its willingness to
denuclearize,’ South says
On one side of a grand square near the
old Port of Montreal is a sculpture of a
Frenchwoman in a Chanel suit, clasping
a poodle and sneering at the Bank of
Montreal, a former symbol of British colonial rule built in 1847.
On the opposite end, a dapper Englishman, cast in bronze, holds a pug
and stares condescendingly at NotreDame Basilica, an emblem of French
Quebec’s influence under the Roman
Catholic Church.
The poodle and the pug stare longingly at each other.
The sculptures are a powerful metaphor for this city, which has long been
polarized by what the celebrated Canadian novelist Hugh MacLennan called
the “Two Solitudes” — the perception,
fair or not, that French- and Englishspeaking Quebecers coexist uneasily.
I recently returned home to Montreal
after 28 years abroad, curious to discover whether the two solitudes still existed.
After all, Montreal today, reflecting a
bilingual multicultural Canada, is a
swaggering metropolis of about 1.8 million people in the province of Quebec,
shaped by the forces of globalization
and immigration.
Yet Quebec’s longstanding cultural
battles over language still simmer. And
the city — with its Anglophone minority
and Francophone majority surrounded
by an Anglophone majority in the rest of
Canada — remains somewhat bifurcated. Still, if lingering divisions remain,
they appear to be predominantly along
generational lines.
When I came of age in the 1980s
around Westmount, a traditionally Anglophone enclave on the southwestern
slope of Mount Royal that gave the
world Leonard Cohen, Quebec had just
been consumed by a referendum on independence, and thousands of Englishspeaking Quebecers were leaving the
The stop signs in my neighborhood
were routinely vandalized to say “Arrête 101,” or Stop 101, a reference to Bill
101, a 1977 law that made French the official language of government and courts
in Quebec and requires that French lettering be twice as big as English on public signs and that immigrants send their
children to French-only schools.
While I studied Flaubert, learned
Quebec’s history at school and bantered
in French during hockey practice, I
spoke English at home, watched American sitcoms and lived in a separate but
parallel universe from my French Canadian peers.
After three decades, separatism is
largely in retreat. One in four Anglophones in Quebec marries a French
I live on Plateau-Mont-Royal, a predominantly Francophone neighborhood
in the east of Montreal. Twentysomething Francophone shopkeepers answer me in fluent English when I address them in French, and residents of
all linguistic persuasions seem more obsessed by their search for the perfect
latte than whether you order it in the
language of Shakespeare or Molière.
Recent census figures show that 45
percent of people in Quebec speak both
French and English.
Top, St. Laurent Boulevard has historically divided Montreal’s mostly French- and English-speaking districts. Above, sculptures of a
man with a pug, left, and a woman with a poodle, right, illustrate the view that English and French speakers coexist uneasily.
Xavier Dolan, 28, one of Quebec’s —
and Canada’s — most celebrated film directors, recalled that when his parents
lived in the predominantly Anglophone
neighborhood of NDG in the 1980s, his
mother couldn’t wait to leave because
she was taunted by Anglophones telling
her to “speak white,” a slur used to denigrate those speaking other languages in
Today’s younger generation, he said,
had discarded the hang-ups of their parents.
“There is a shift in the younger generation,” he said. “In my case, English
meant Hollywood, it was film, it was ‘Titanic,’ so I wanted to speak English as
quickly as I could.”
Brian Myles, the editor of Le Devoir,
the influential left-leaning Quebecois
daily, argued that the “two solitudes”
were a thing of the past.
“Today the French speak English and
the English speak French, and that didn’t exist when you had the two solitudes,” he said.
But he also cautioned that language
laws were still necessary to protect
French language and culture in Quebec,
because globalization and the internet
were eroding the language.
Snaking through the heart of Montreal is St. Laurent Boulevard, a long and
storied street peppered with Jewish delis, Portuguese chicken rotisserie joints
and former brothels reborn as luxury
condominiums. Historically, Franco-
phones lived to the east of St. Laurent
while Anglophones lived to the west.
Today, gaggles of French, English,
Chinese and Indian students sit
hunched over computers at cafes, chatting on Facebook or writing on Twitter.
But — a Berlin Wall of the mind
While the younger generation of Anglophone residents will confidently pronounce “St.-Laurent,” some of their parents stubbornly cling to “St. Lawrence.”
“You still have people on both
sides who can’t talk to one
another, but in everyday life the
barriers have come down.”
While Anglos read The Montreal Gazette or turn to the CBC for their news,
Francophones read La Presse or Le Devoir or watch TVA. Utter the name Xavier Dolan or Marie Mai, a wildly popular Quebec singer, to an Anglophone
Montrealer, and you risk being greeted
by a blank stare.
“It is taboo to talk about the two solitudes, because we are supposed to pretend that we all get along, when we are
in many ways still separate,” said
Heather O’Neill, a Montreal-based Anglophone novelist, who has daringly explored the city’s decadent underworld
from the perspective of French Quebecois characters.
When her daughter was 9, Ms. O’Neill
sent her to a French elementary school,
where, she recalled, she was chided by a
teacher for speaking English with a
Russian girl in the schoolyard.
Still, walking down St. Laurent Boulevard shows the unity, not the division of
the city.
Lenny Lighter, the owner of
Moishes’s, a fabled steakhouse on the
boulevard, which his father, Moishe,
won in a poker game in 1938, recalled
that when he was growing up in the
1950s, most of Moishes’s customers
were English-speaking Jewish immigrants. Today, he proudly noted, the
restaurant hosts dozens of young
French Quebecois each week.
“You still have people on both sides
who can’t talk to one another, but in everyday life the barriers have come
A few streets farther east on Avenue
du Mont-Royal, Marie Bouchard, a 23year-old political science student at Université de Montréal, was munching on a
sandwich at a cafe.
She said her favorite television show
was the British science fiction series
“Black Mirror,” while she loved French
Quebecois pop music and adored her
large group of Anglo friends.
“I love French, it’s my language,” she
said, quickly adding, “But if I only spoke
French, it would limit my horizons.”
Jasmin Lavoie contributed reporting.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has
told South Korean envoys that his country is willing to begin negotiations with
the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and that it would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while
it is engaged in such talks, South Korean
officials said on Tuesday.
During the envoys’ two-day visit to
Pyongyang, the North’s capital, which
ended on Tuesday, the two Koreas also
agreed to hold a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jaein of South Korea on the countries’ border in late April, Mr. Moon’s office said in
a statement.
“The North Korean side clearly stated
its willingness to denuclearize,” the
statement said. “It made it clear that it
would have no reason to keep nuclear
weapons if the military threat to the
North was eliminated and its security
If the statement is corroborated by
North Korea, it would be the first time
Mr. Kim has clarified that his government is willing to discuss giving up nuclear weapons in return for security
guarantees from the United States. Until now, North Korea has said its nuclear
weapons were not for bargaining away.
“The North expressed its willingness
to hold a heartfelt dialogue with the
United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with
the United States,” the statement said.
“It made it clear that while dialogue is
continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and
ballistic missile tests.”
On Twitter, President Trump welcomed what he called “possible
progress” with the North, though he
said it could also be “false hope.” He
said, “For the first time in many years, a
serious effort is being made by all parties concerned.”
The South Korean statement said the
two Koreas would begin working-level
discussions to prepare for the summit
meeting, to be held in the Freedom
House, a South Korean building in Panmunjom, the so-called truce village that
straddles the border. Before Mr. Kim
and Mr. Moon meet, the countries will
install, for the first time, a hotline by
which the leaders can talk on the phone
directly, the statement said.
The statement gave no indication that
North Korea would start dismantling
nuclear or missile programs anytime
soon. Nonetheless, the reported agreements are a major milestone in Mr.
Moon’s efforts to improve relations with
North Korea.
The top South Korean envoys who returned from North Korea on Tuesday —
Mr. Moon’s national security adviser,
Chung Eui-yong, and the director of the
South’s National Intelligence Service,
Suh Hoon — are expected to be sent to
Washington this week to brief the
Trump administration on their discussions with Mr. Kim.
Mr. Chung told reporters in Seoul, the
South Korean capital, that Mr. Kim had
been unexpectedly flexible. He said the
delegation had expected him to insist
that the South and the United States not
hold their annual joint military exercises, which were suspended for the
“Kim Jong-un simply said he could
understand why the joint exercises
must resume in April on the same scale
as before,” Mr. Chung said. “But he said
he expected them to be readjusted if the
situation on the Korean Peninsula stabilizes in the future.”
Mr. Trump has said that the United
States could talk with North Korea, but
“only under the right conditions.” American officials have repeatedly said they
can start negotiations with the North
only if it agrees to discuss denuclearizing. They have also insisted that the
North first take some actions that would
convince them of its sincerity.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera of
Japan, which has steadfastly supported
the Trump administration’s tough approach to sanctions against North Korea, struck a note of caution about
Pyongyang’s interest in negotiations.
“While talking about nuclear abandonment several times, it turned out
that North Korea didn’t halt its nuclear
development in the past,” Mr. Onodera
said. “We need to carefully assess if this
North and South dialogue will really
lead to the abandonment of nuclear and
missile development.”
China, which has pushed for direct
talks between Pyongyang and Washington for many months, had no immediate
reaction to the South Korean statement.
One Chinese expert on North Korea
characterized Pyongyang’s reported offer as “concessions that are dramatic
“It made it clear that while
dialogue is continuing, it will not
attempt any strategic
and significant.”
“It will be hard for the U.S. government to resist,” said the expert, Cheng
Xiaohe, of Renmin University in Beijing.
But Evans J. R. Revere, a former
State Department official who was involved in past negotiations with North
Korea, was less impressed. He said the
formula of denuclearization for security
guarantees had “been the basis of several sets of talks” between the two countries in the past.
“The U.S. has actually provided security guarantees to North Korea, including in writing by President Clinton,” Mr.
Revere said. “Such guarantees have
never been adequate or acceptable to
the North Koreans, just as the U.S. provision of alternative energy sources,
food and other assistance has never
proved adequate.”
He also noted that the moratorium on
nuclear and missile tests offered by the
North would not prevent Pyongyang
from continuing to build its nuclear arsenal, including by producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.
Even so, Mr. Revere said the Trump
administration would be hard-pressed
to reject the North’s proposal without
making it appear that Washington — not
Pyongyang — was the problem.
“With these developments, the door
seems wide open to a U.S.-North Korea
exploratory conversation if both sides
want one,” he said. The North went to
considerable lengths to meet the American demand that dialogue had to be
about denuclearization, he said.
The 10 members of the delegation Mr.
Moon sent to the North were the first
South Korean officials to meet Mr. Kim
since he took power six years ago.
Jane Perlez contributed reporting from
Beijing, and Motoko Rich from Tokyo.
Art students reconstruct the faces of desert’s victims
brutal terrain. “Anyone who spends regular time in this landscape does so with
the knowledge of the scale of death and
dying,” said Robin Reineke, the cofounder and executive director of the
Colibri Center for Human Rights in Tucson, an advocacy organization that reports on missing migrants and conducts
DNA searches. “It’s shocking given the
silence our country maintains on this issue.”
Remains are often scattered by vultures and other scavengers, which can
pick a body clean in a matter of days. “If
there is one thing more dangerous than
crossing the Sonoran Desert with a
smuggler, it’s crossing by yourself,” Dr.
Anderson said.
To a trained eye, the complex structure of the human skull offers a blueprint to the facial features of the deceased. “A skull is the foundation an individual’s face is built on,” said Mr.
Mullins, 47. “It’s like a house for your
The class began by analyzing clues:
The thickness of the lips, the shape and
placement of the eyes, nose and chin,
the earlobes, even the curve of the eyebrows are all revealed in the skull.
Forensic reconstruction experts like
Mr. Mullins, who specializes in age progression — for example, how a missing
child might look years later — seek out
distinguishing features, such as scars, a
broken nose, or, in one case, braces on
Antonia Barolini, in her studio at the New York Academy of Art, said she had chosen a
facial reconstruction workshop because she had dreamed about being an F.B.I. agent.
Students in the facial reconstruction class at the New York workshop are given skulls
from which to reconstruct the faces of unidentified dead people.
the teeth. He cautions students to leave
artistic license at the door. “You have to
have that artistic mojo flowing through
your veins,” he tells them. “But if you put
the wrong face on, that person is going
to stay lost.”
Reconstructing a face with scientific
accuracy involves rebuilding the muscles and soft tissue layer by layer, using
strips of clay. Then the students use cut
plastic straws placed on the clay to mark
to the Pima County medical examiner.
“He was younger than me,” Ms. Barolini
observed. “That part was real hard.”
The class, in its fourth year, grew out
of a working relationship between Mr.
Mullins and Bradley J. Adams, director
of forensic anthropology for the chief
medical examiner’s office in New York
City, which received a grant from the
National Institute of Justice to buy a 3-D
printer. “Facial reconstructions are in-
tissue depths, which are based on researchers’ averages for ages, genders
and cultural backgrounds. Antonia
Barolini, a 23-year-old painting specialist, said she chose the academy because
of Mr. Mullins’s class, having dreamed
about being an F.B.I. agent.
The skull she was working on had pronounced cheekbones, an uneven jawline
and a distinct overbite. The man was 18
to 22 years old when he died, according
tended to provide an investigatory lead
in cases that have gone cold,” Dr. Adams
said. “The hope is that someone who
knew the person will see the reconstruction, recognize some similarities and notify the authorities of a potential match.”
Karen T. Taylor, considered a dean of
the profession and a consultant for the
television show “CSI,” said the complexity of her rather esoteric occupation is
often underestimated, with police per-
sonnel sometimes taking on the reconstruction instead of trained artists who
work in tandem with anthropologists
and odontologists. Among professionals, the balance between artistic skill
and scientific standards continues to be
“Practitioners without artistic skills
produce less believable and realistic
faces, and practitioners without scientific rigor produce faces that are inaccurate and unreliable,” Caroline Wilkinson, director of the School of Art & Design at Liverpool John Moores University in England, said by email. She leads
a research-based “Face Lab” whose celebrity depictions have included Richard III, J.S. Bach, Rameses II and Mary,
Queen of Scots.
At the academy, as the faces created
by students took shape, the room began
to take on the feeling of a hallowed
space. “It’s kind of eerie,” said Michael
Fusco, 30, a student whose specialty is
painting. “They become people.”
Two of the eight migrants wound up
being identified independently of the
But the desert still contains untold
numbers of the missing. For Mr.
Mullins, the class represents a potential
to bring closure to loved ones of those
who perished, perhaps while seeking a
better life.
“It was a gamble that cost them their
lives,” Mr. Mullins said. “But it shouldn’t
have to cost them their identity.”
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WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 3
Fast-moving yellow fever menaces Brazil
Virus circles São Paulo
and Rio, threatening a
full-blown urban epidemic
“Good morning!” a loudspeaker blared
recently in the working-class São Paulo
suburb of Jardim Monte Alegre. “We’ve
got your yellow fever vaccine, and today
we’re going house to house! You better
wake up because mosquitoes never
Twenty health workers piled out of
cars. Though they laughed and chatted
with locals, their mission was deadly serious.
Brazil is suffering its worst outbreak
of yellow fever in decades. The virus,
which kills 3 percent to 8 percent of
those who are infected, is now circling
the megacities of Rio de Janeiro and São
Paulo, threatening to become this country’s first-blown urban epidemic since
Although there have been 237 deaths
since the hot season began, the fatality
rate will explode if the virus reaches the
slums and the clouds of Aedes aegypti
mosquitoes swarming there.
A. aegypti — known for centuries as
the fearsome yellow fever mosquito — is
also the chief spreader of Zika, dengue
and chikungunya. It breeds in barrels of
drinking water barrels and puddles that
form among street garbage, hides in the
dark corners of houses and often bites
several humans before laying eggs.
To head off a catastrophe, Brazilian
health officials are struggling to vaccinate 23 million people. But the effort has
been slowed by what critics call a series
of government missteps and the spread
of false rumors about the vaccine.
“When they stopped coming to us, we
started going to them,” said Nancy
Marçal Bastos, health and sanitation director for northern São Paulo. “People
have a lot of excuses for why they haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, but when
we show up, it’s usually easy to convince
The challenges are daunting.
In early 2016, the yellow fever virus
broke out of its usual pattern: limited
spread by forest mosquito species from
monkeys to loggers, hunters, farmers
and other residents of the Amazon basin. Instead, the virus began moving
south and east, following forest corridors inhabited by monkeys toward the
big coastal cities and triggering a public
health emergency.
Panicky Brazilians started shooting,
clubbing and poisoning monkeys in the
belief that this could slow the spread.
Actually, authorities said, that hurt efforts to track the virus, because monkey
deaths are used as an indicator of its direction.
Last year, it did not quite reach the cities — cases faded out by July as cooler
weather set in. Global health authorities
sighed with relief, hoping intense vaccination efforts would snuff the outbreak.
But that didn’t happen, said Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, chief of epidemic response for the Pan American Health Organization.
“There was lab-confirmed transmis-
Top, a nurse administered a vaccine against yellow fever in São Paulo, Brazil. There have been 237 fatalities in the current outbreak. Above left, health workers sang to wake up São
Paulo residents to be vaccinated, and right, a woman showed health agents documentation that said she shouldn’t receive the vaccine because of the other medications she takes.
sion during the winter,” he said. “So the
amount of virus around at the beginning
of the summer was already huge.”
The resurgent virus is now lunging
forward more than a mile a day, he said,
and efforts to stop an epidemic have become a race between the virus and the
This year’s caseload is 26 percent
higher than at this time last year, and
with more hot, rainy months ahead, the
figure is destined to increase.
This year yellow fever — named for
the jaundiced eyes and skin that are its
most common symptom — began killing
tourists, including visitors to Ilha
Grande, a tropical island south of Rio.
Two Chileans and a Swiss citizen died,
and visitors from France, the Netherlands and Romania fell seriously ill.
In January, just before Carnival season, another tourism lure, the United
States Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention raised its alert level, advising Americans headed for Rio, São
Paulo and several other areas to be vaccinated first.
Brazil makes its own vaccine through
a subsidiary of its Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, and much of this year’s chaos
could have been averted if the government had acted faster, critics said. Low
oil prices have hurt every sector of the
economy, and the country has had a series of distracting political crises.
“Brazil’s public health response was
very delayed,” said Dr. Karin A. Nielsen,
an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, who
does research in Brazil. “Monkeys were
dying in the wild two to three years ago.”
Dr. Jessé Reis Alves, a travel medicine
specialist in São Paulo, said the vaccination campaign should have been
launched “in a calm moment between
outbreaks.” Instead, he said, “they
waited for a new outbreak.”
In September, vaccinations were given to people living around forests near
São Paulo where dead monkeys were
found; the suburbs were targeted only
in November.
Initially, long lines formed at clinics,
and 85,000 shots were given in one
weekend. Then, on Facebook, YouTube
and other social media platforms, antivaccine activists — who previously
found little footing in Brazil — began
spreading terrifying rumors.
“Some people began trashing the vac-
cine, saying, ‘It’s going to kill you,’ ” said
Dr. Ernesto T.A. Marques Jr., an expert
in mosquito-borne diseases at the University of Pittsburgh. “It was picked up
in the media.”
The vaccine, invented in the 1930s, is
highly effective — one dose normally
provides lifetime protection. But it is not
harmless. It cannot be given to newborns or anyone with a compromised
immune system. It is given to people
older than 60, pregnant women, or children younger than 8 months only when
the risk of infection is high.
About one recipient in 100,000 suffers
a dangerous reaction like jaundice, hepatitis or encephalitis, Dr. Marques said,
and about one in a million dies. “If you
vaccinate 30 million people, you’ll get
about 30 deaths,” he said.
But if yellow fever infected 30 million
people, two million could die.
So, with the disease moving rapidly
forward, health authorities announced
that they hoped to inoculate 95 percent
of the population in 77 cities and towns
in the virus’s path — a total of 23 million
people, including 12 million in São Paulo.
But “they didn’t have 12 million shots
to give us,” said Dr. Wilson M. Pollara,
São Paulo’s health secretary. “So we’re
doing it in phases — two million at a
The global vaccine stockpile, overseen by the World Health Organization,
normally contains six million doses. But
Brazil has scaled up its production to
about 5 million doses per month and will
soon be able to double that, said Dr.
William Perea, the W.H.O.’s epidemic
control coordinator.
That should easily cover Brazil’s
needs for now, he said, so the global
stockpile will not be drawn down.
If necessary, it can be replenished;
the four makers together can turn out
100 million doses a year in an emergency, he said.
Meanwhile, to stretch the vaccine it
initially had on hand, Brazil gave out
one-fifth doses. That provides protection for at least a year and can be used in
emergencies, the W.H.O. says.
Thus far, however, only 5.5 million
people have been vaccinated. Despite
those low numbers, the Health Ministry
has pushed back against critics, insisting it followed international procedures.
“I don’t think there were mistakes or
delays,” said Dr. Renato Vieira Alves,
the ministry’s communicable disease
coordinator. “You can’t launch new vaccination campaigns in an instant.”
While the caseload is higher than last
year’s, it is only a fraction of the population at risk, he argued.
“Most of these new cases are occurring in areas where, until now, we didn’t
recommend immunization,” he said.
To overcome suspicion of the vaccine
and frustration with long lines at clinics,
vaccinators have begun going door to
door or using tents shifted from one
neighborhood to another. There, they
hope face-to-face chats will succeed
where other efforts have failed.
Lucia Elena de Paula, 36, explained
her fears to a nurse, saying, “I saw a video on WhatsApp with a girl who said she
was paralyzed after taking the vaccine.”
But after a few soothing words from a
staff member, she agreed to get the shot.
Shasta Darlington reported from São
Paulo, and Donald G. McNeil Jr. from
New York.
Turning the key before Saudi Arabia opens driving to women
“O.K. Come drive now,” said the trainer.
“Oh my God,” the architecture student replied.
She climbed into the driver’s seat, put
on her seatbelt, found the pedals, released the hand brake and put the car
into drive. Then she took a deep breath,
eased her foot off the brake and began
doing, for the first time, what women
will soon be doing all over Saudi Arabia:
“Is this O.K.?” the student, Rahaf
Alzahrani, 21, asked nervously as she
inched along.
“Yes. It’s O.K.,” the instructor said.
Three and a half months remain before the date when the rulers of this
promised to lift the longstanding ban on
women driving, and many here are already planning for what is sure to be a
major change in Saudi society.
Women’s universities have announced that they plan to open driving
schools, and car companies have shifted
their ads, seeking to profit from the anticipated flood of new drivers — and car
buyers — in this country of 32 million.
Uber, the online ride-hailing service,
is planning to recruit women to train
other women who aspire to be Uber
drivers, and some car dealerships have
set aside shopping hours for women.
Ford, Nissan, Jaguar and even CocaCola have sought to capitalize on the
buzz around women sliding into the
driver’s seat.
Saudi women are approaching the
change with a mix of enthusiasm and
apprehension, as was tangible on Monday on the campus of Effat University
here in the Red Sea port city of Jidda,
where a number of young women piloted cars for the first time.
The university may later open a formal driving school for women, administrators said, but it is waiting for the government to issue regulations. The students were taking part in a workshop offered by the Ford Motor Company Fund
to improve drivers’ safety. Since Saudi
Arabia does not yet issue licenses to
women, the course was aimed at women
who had no experience being in charge
of cars.
About 15 female students gathered in
a classroom for the start of one workshop. They all wore abayas, the baggy
gowns Saudi women wear to hide their
Women in the kingdom are
approaching the change with a
mix of enthusiasm and
forms in public. Most had their hair covered, and a few covered their faces, too.
Some wore tennis shoes and jeans underneath and lugged backpacks and
The workshop began with a brief talk
about road safety, car accidents and the
huge number of them caused by texting
at the wheel. Then the women broke up
for hands-on experience.
In an outdoor courtyard, they donned
goggles meant to simulate impaired vision from medication, drowsiness or
drunkenness, which is not usually a
problem in Saudi Arabia because alcohol is banned in the kingdom. Then they
had to pilot a small wheel on the end of a
pole across a map on the ground while
paying attention to streets, stop signs
and pedestrians.
But the real action was in an enclosed
parking lot nearby, where there were
real cars.
Groups of women sat in the cars while
instructors explained their features: the
gear shift, the gas and brake pedals, the
temperature gauge, the cruise-control
buttons, the turn signals and windshield
wipers. At one point, a student sitting in
a driver’s seat sprayed the windshield,
making all of the other women laugh.
Finally, the instructor told the woman
to put her foot on the brake and push the
ignition button. The car roared to life
and a smile bloomed on her face.
“All right!” she said, and the other
women clapped.
It is hard to overstate how much the
right to drive will change the lives of
Saudi women. Women were long kept
out of public life in Saudi Arabia, segregated from men in most settings, limited
to a small number of professions or encouraged to stay home, and forced to
rely on private drivers or male relatives
to pilot them around.
But much has changed for Saudi
women in recent years as they have
been allowed to work in new fields and
appointed to high-profile positions, and
have graduated in ever-increasing numbers from universities. Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s
de facto ruler, has spoken of the importance of increasing women’s role in the
work force as part of his effort to diversify the economy away from oil.
The women at the workshop all approved of having the right to drive, and
some had already set their sights on
specific cars. One wanted an Audi.
“It’s a strong car,” she said.
Another wanted a Mercedes, “like my
Yet another said she would send her
Indian driver home and drive his car.
Women taking driving lessons in Saudi Arabia that included in-car training, top, and
wearing goggles, above, to simulate impaired vision from medication or drowsiness.
They said being able to drive would
decrease their reliance on those who
now have to ferry them around, while
putting them in charge of their own
“I don’t want to drive just to drive,”
said Rehab Alhuwaider, 21. “I want to be
able to do my daily routine.”
She said she hated it when she wanted
to go to the gym in the morning and had
to wait for someone to drop her off. The
best part of driving, she said, would be
“feeling more freedom.”
But some were not sure they were
ready to face Saudi Arabia’s often ferocious traffic, or male drivers who have
no experience interacting with women
on the roads.
The workshop concluded with what
remains a rare opportunity for women
in Saudi Arabia: the chance to drive.
Before she got her shot behind the
wheel, Ms. Alzahrani, the architecture
student, said she had driven Jet Skis in
the Red Sea and motorcycles in the
desert, but never cars. The thought of
doing so made her nervous.
“I don’t know where the brake is and
where the gas is,” she said.
She started slowly, then rounded the
first curve, then the second. She approached a stop sign and hit the brake
too hard, causing the other passengers
to jolt forward. She laughed nervously
and then went forward again before
reaching the end and stopping with a
slightly lighter jolt.
“Praise God for your safety,” the instructor said.
“Yay me!” she said.
The drive had taken only a few minutes, but it had changed her outlook on
the whole endeavor.
“It was so amazing. I loved it,” she
said. “It felt good to be behind the
4 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
Italy’s surging populists run into political muddle
Rules aimed at blocking
extremists risk building
voters’ support for them
Another European election, another
scene of political carnage. The stunning
showing by the Five Star Movement and
other populist parties in Italy’s election
shattered the establishment and suggested that the country was on the cusp
of a political revolution.
Except Italy is Italy. A complicated
law passed last year — aimed at Five
Star — made it difficult for any single
party to win the election. Now, in typical
Italian fashion, there is a muddle: No
party, or coalition, has won enough support in Parliament to form a government, doubtless thrusting the country
into protracted negotiations over who
will govern.
Which is to say, things were going according to plan.
On a continent that has been torn
apart more than once by cataclysmic
wars, many countries have built in safeguards against political extremes. But
the question for Italy — and all of Europe — is how much longer these protections will hold.
Germany has a highly decentralized,
consensus-based system. France has a
two-step election that allows its citizens
first to vote their hearts, and then their
And Italy has its mess.
In an era of increasingly autocratic
leaders — with anti-democratic forces
sweeping up furious voters across Europe — some politicians have whispered
privately that although the results of the
election may be disastrous for Italy’s efforts at modernization, they may be
preferable for European leaders and investors afraid of a populist government.
But if there is one thing that Italian
voters — like those in numerous other
European countries — have made clear,
it is that they are sick of the political parties and their leaders that have created
a land of slow economic growth, lack of
opportunity for young people and
mounting public debt.
If it barricades the doors of power to
the Five Star Movement, the establishment runs the risk of exacerbating the
anger of its supporters and helping it
gain steam. And the danger of the long
political negotiations that seem to await
Italy is to extend the conditions that
have helped animate Europe’s populism
to begin with.
“The political parties in government
have sought ways — through changes to
the electoral law — to remain in power,
rather than allowing for the turnover
that is typical of democracies,” said
Emilio Gentile, professor emeritus of
contemporary Italian history at the University of Rome La Sapienza.
“Italy has been unable to create a system that would allow for more reliable
governability,” he added.
As a result of the electoral law passed
in October, Italians on Monday woke up
to headlines screaming, “Italy is ungovernable.”
Matteo Renzi, the leader of the country’s center-left party who once seemed
Matteo Renzi in Rome on Monday. Mr. Renzi, the leader of the governing Democratic Party, was forced to resign on Monday after the worst election showing in his party’s history.
A law passed last year — aimed
at the Five Star Movement —
made it difficult for any single
party to win the election.
to be the country’s future, was forced to
resign on Monday after the worst showing in his party’s history. Silvio Berlusconi, the octogenarian media mogul who
dominated Italian politics for a generation, was marginalized and missing in
It now falls to Italy’s president, Sergio
Mattarella, the keeper of its institutions
and now the nation’s most powerful person, to find someone who can put together a stable government that can survive
a confidence vote in the new Parliament,
which meets on March 23.
It doesn’t look easy. Any solution that
does not include the Five Star Movement or the League, the hard-right secessionist party, will raise questions of
democratic legitimacy.
“Mattarella can’t keep the populists
out,” Massimo Franco, a political columnist with the newspaper Corriere
della Sera, said in an interview.
“If he keeps the Five Star out, they’ll
say that they have twice the votes of the
League,” he continued. “If he keeps the
League out, they will say that their coalition has more than the Five Star. We
have two relative winners, that’s one of
the problems.”
Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star Movement’s candidate for prime minister,
made it clear on Monday that his party
wanted to run things.
“We are the absolute winners of these
elections,” he said in Rome at a news
conference, adding that the party, which
won about 32 percent of the vote, had tripled its number of lawmakers in the
houses of Parliament.
He said that unlike “territorial” parties, the Five Star Movement represented the entire country, a fact that “inevitably launches us to the government
of the country.” He made the pitch that,
since other coalitions lacked the numbers to govern, Mr. Mattarella should
give the Five Star Movement a mandate
to put one together.
While the Five Star Movement has resisted forming coalitions, he said his
party’s new status as Italy’s strongest
political force required it to be open to at
least talking with other political parties.
His statements still seemed to fall
short of signaling a desire to form a stable coalition, but rather openness to ad
hoc allies who would be willing to support his party’s program on an issue-byissue basis.
Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star Movement’s candidate for prime minister, has made it clear
that his party wanted to run things after it won the most votes in the election.
That is not something Mr. Mattarella
is likely to go for, and many think that
Five Star in fact may want to bide its
time while frustration builds, along with
its support, so that it can one day govern
But if Five Star wants a coalition now,
there are several areas of overlap, beyond populist appeal, between it and the
Both want to abolish laws that raise
the retirement age and make it easier to
hire and fire workers. Both want the
ability to raise deficits beyond the European Union limit. And both have raised
the possibility of holding a referendum
on whether to scrap the euro.
Speaking in Milan, Matteo Salvini, the
44-year-old leader of the League, said
his party, which had gained a dozen percentage points since 2013, was now the
driving force of a coalition that includes
Mr. Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, that
won 37 percent of the vote. He said he
would now seek like-minded supporters
in Parliament to reach a governing majority.
He called himself “proudly populist”
and insisted that children and European
leaders should not be afraid of him, but
that “parasites” should. He spoke
warmly about Marine Le Pen, the farright French politician, and admired the
“healthier and more courageous” ideas
of the Hungarian premier, Viktor Orban.
But he insisted that he would not join
forces with the Five Star Movement,
though together they would have a governing majority.
“No, no, no,” he said.
He was not the only one.
Mr. Renzi, announcing his resignation
as the head of the governing Democratic
Party, said he would leave once a new
government had been put in place.
In the meantime, he said, he would not
allow his party to join a government of
anti-European extremists and be a
“crutch to a government of anti-establishment forces” who, he said, stood for
closed societies, fake news, a culture of
fear, intolerance and hate speech. He
said the Democratic Party would move
to the opposition.
With some apparent relish, Mr. Renzi
noted that the populists who were now
struggling to find a formula that would
allow them to govern had campaigned
against a 2016 referendum — the defeat
of which cost him his job as prime minister — that would have simplified government. He called the populists “victims of their gimmicks.”
Mr. Berlusconi was licking his
wounds, too, apparently holed up in his
mansion outside Milan, where he received Mr. Salvini and complimented
him on his big win, according to a statement by Forza Italia.
The statement also blamed the party’s lackluster result on a “great disadvantage caused by the impossibility to
run for its leader, Silvio Berlusconi,” who
is barred from office as a result of a previous tax fraud conviction.
Other analysts attributed the poor
showings by the parties of Mr. Renzi and
Mr. Berlusconi to an anti-establishment
wave that the years of government by
muddle had only exacerbated.
“It says that the country over the
years has formed a sentiment of distrust
for politicians, their representation and
participation, and voters see in the offers of populist parties like the League
and the Five Star the chance to regain a
central role,” said Vera Capperucci, professor of political history at Luiss, a university in Rome.
But, she said, “Once these anti-establishment forces get into Parliament, the
tones get milder and more mature, they
undergo a political metamorphosis, they
lose their anti-system charge.”
The muddle strikes back.
Gaia Pianigiani and Elisabetta Povoledo
contributed reporting.
With China’s president, a smiling face on a guarded man
cision came about,” said Kerry Brown, a
professor at King’s College London and
author of a 2016 biography, “C.E.O.,
China: The Rise of Xi Jinping.”
He and other experts described the
extreme secrecy around China’s leader
— even where Mr. Xi lives is not broadly
known — as symptomatic of an affliction
that can often hobble autocratic leaders: living inside a closed bubble of selfaffirmation, echoed by yes-men (all
men, in his case).
“The reason it is hard to see inside,”
Mr. Brown said of Zhongnanhai, “is in
part because it is hard to see out.”
Secrecy certainly contributes to the
mystique of power in China, as elsewhere, but the closed and by all accounts small circle where decisions are
made could also lay the foundation for
challenges to his rule, especially if China
faces unforeseen crises in the years
ahead, experts say.
That could explain why the government seemed not to anticipate the opposition to removing the term limits, which
sent the censors into overdrive last
week, blocking mentions of words like
“my emperor.” The state news media
has since played down the issue as if it
were a small, routine matter.
“Chinese politicians value term limits
and retirement rules as protection for
their security against a leader who otherwise could ruin their careers at any
time,” Susan L. Shirk, a professor at the
University of California, San Diego,
wrote in an essay titled “The Return to
Personalistic Rule,” which appears in
the April issue of Journal of Democracy.
“Although the odds of success for an
elite rebellion may be low,” she went on,
“the more autocratically a leader behaves the more likely are other politicians to try to bring him down.”
It is difficult to measure popular opinion in China, but there seems to be little
doubt that the country’s economic and
political stability in recent years — bolstered by hagiographic coverage — has
Left, pictures of a young Xi Jinping on display in Liangjiahe, China, where he was sent during the Cultural Revolution. Right, Mr. Xi in 1988 doing farm work while visiting the countryside as a Communist Party official.
bolstered Mr. Xi’s efforts to consolidate
political power.
So has his campaign against corruption, which, according to Ms. Shirk’s
count, punished 20 members of the Central Committee or the Politburo and
more than 100 generals and admirals.
The campaign has had the dual benefits
of eliminating political rivals while delivering a populist message to ordinary
Chinese sickened by the flaunting of
wealth among the politically connected.
“The conventional theory is that the
party hates him but the people love
him,” said Richard McGregor, the author of “The Party: The Secret World of
China’s Communist Rulers.”
In his book, Mr. Brown writes that Mr.
Xi, unlike his predecessors, used his personal narrative to give himself “political
validation” that proved useful as he rose
through the ranks.
His father, Xi Zhongxun, was a military commander in the war against the
Japanese and then in the civil war that
brought the Communists to power. He
went on to become a senior government
minister, working in the propaganda
ministry when the younger Xi, the third
of four children, was born in 1953.
Mr. Xi grew up as a princeling of the
ruling elite, but in the fractious era that
followed, his father fell out of favor, targeted for humiliation in the Cultural
“The more autocratically a
leader behaves the more likely
are other politicians to try to
bring him down.”
Revolution and imprisoned. Mr. Xi was
also harassed — paraded by Mao’s Red
Guards, with his mother forced to join in
one public denunciation — before he
was, at 16, “sent down” to the countryside in the name of the revolution.
He spent seven years in Shaanxi
Province, but instead of recollecting the
experience as a punishment, he said he
was shaped as Mao evidently intended,
describing it as a lesson that made him
more confident and enlightened. He often describes himself as having been a
farmer for those seven years.
“I am from the grass roots, too,” he
told a group of farmers during a 2013 visit to Costa Rica in remarks shown in a
documentary on his diplomatic travels
that was broadcast in January. “I have a
natural bond with the common people.”
In the same way, he uses his brief
service in uniform — he worked on the
general staff of the State Council and the
Central Military Commission from 1979
to 1982 — to claim a military pedigree as
well, though he was more of a staff offi-
cer than a foot soldier.
With commander in chief being one of
his titles, he often appears in fatigues
when overseeing military parades,
which have become more prominent as
he has pressed ahead with a modernization program for the People’s Liberation
Army. Mr. McGregor, the author, said
that Mr. Xi’s predecessors were far less
personable and charismatic, especially
Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
“He presents much better in public,”
Mr. McGregor said. “Hu Jintao was, by
comparison, an automaton.”
Olivia Mitchell Ryan contributed research.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 5
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6 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
The lab is a dog’s world. Why so few cats?
Recently someone (my boss, actually)
mentioned to me that I wrote more
articles about dogs than I did about
cats and asked why.
My first thought, naturally, was that
it had nothing to do with the fact that I
have owned numerous dogs and no
cats, but rather reflected the amount of
research done by scientists on the
After all, I’ll write about any interesting findings, and I like cats just fine,
even if I am a dog person. Two of my
adult children have cats, and I would
hate for them to think I was paying
them insufficient attention.
But I figured I should do some reporting, so I emailed Elinor Karlsson
at the Broad Institute and the University of Massachusetts. She is a geneticist who owns three cats but does
much of her research on dogs. Her
research, by the way, is about dog
genomes. She gets dog DNA from
owners who send in their pets’ saliva
The research I have been interested
in and writing about involves evolution, domestication, current genetics
and behavior. And the questions are of
the What-is-a-dog-really? variety. Dogs
and cats have also been used as laboratory animals in invasive experiments, but I wasn’t asking about which
animal is more popular for those.
I had gotten to know Dr. Karlsson a
bit while reporting on research she
was doing on wolves. I asked her
whether there was indeed more research on dogs than cats, and if so,
“The research has lagged behind in
cats,” she wrote back. “I think they’re
taken less seriously than dogs, probably to do with societal biases. I have a
vet in my group who thinks that many
of the cancers in cats may actually be
better models for human cancer, but
there has been almost no research into
Better models than cancers in dogs,
that is. Dogs do get many of the same
cancers as humans, but in dogs the
risk for these cancers often varies by
breed, which narrows the target down
when looking for the cause of a disease.
Furthermore, said Dr. Karlsson, cat
behavior gets no respect.
“Non-cat people tend to laugh at the
idea of studying behavioral genetics in
cats, and the animal training world
complains that people tend to dismiss
cats as untrainable.”
Cats, of course, can be trained just as
any animal can. Dr. Karlsson unwittingly trained her cat to hop up on the
counter when she opened the door of a
cabinet containing goodies.
As to the cancers, Dr. Karlsson said
Kate Megquier, a veterinarian working
on a Ph.D. at the Broad Institute in
cancer genomics thought cat cancers
deserved more attention.
Dr. Megquier said “I’ve been studying a lot of the dog cancers,” but there
are reasons that studying certain
naturally occurring cancers in cats
could be valuable.
They get a lot of cancers called
lymphomas, she said, and “they certainly have something to teach us
about lymphomas.” They also get oral
cancers similar to ones humans get
and it’s possible, she said, that these
might be related to environmental
Researchers agree that canines
get the lion’s share of attention
from scientists, even though cats
may deserve attention.
toxins they pick up while grooming
Investigating that possibility “could
give us some insight into these cancers,” she said, helping pets and people. Dr. Megquier likes dogs, but is, by
her own account, “definitely a cat
Dr. Karlsson said that there are good
reasons dogs are studied so intensively. There are many more dog
breeds — about 400 compared with
about 40 cat breeds. That means more
genetic diversity, and better tools for
studying genomes.
She did note, however, that a new
reference cat genome is more detailed
than the most recent dog genome.
My next email was to Elaine Ostrander, at the National Institutes of
Health, who owns pet dogs and studies
dog genetics.
Her lab has identified eight genes
that play a big role in determining dog
size, the first being one important for
making dogs small. The lab has also
identified cancer genes shared by
human beings and dogs. In particular,
her lab identified a genetic cause of a
kidney disease common to German
shepherds before the same gene was
shown to cause the same cancer in
Dr. Ostrander replied to my email by
noting the attraction to science of the
many different dog breeds and the vast
range in dog size and shape. Some of
the genes that affect growth, she said,
affect “diseases of growth gone awry,
like cancer.”
In addition, she wrote, “dogs have
undergone this really striking bottleneck during domestication,” in which a
few ancestral wolves gave rise to all
domestic dogs. Later on Victorians
produced many breeds that have even
narrower bottlenecks, with much
Domestication, she said, has “happened in an amazingly short period of
time and we don’t understand all the
genetics associated with it.”
Some dogs suffer from behavioral
problems that look similar to human
problems like Obsessive Compulsive
Disorder. Those similarities, Dr. Ostrander said, provide “a great avenue
for learning more about ourselves.”
That pretty much stated the case for
dogs, I thought. Next, I called one of
the main people responsible for the
recent cat genome Dr. Karlsson was
talking about, Leslie Lyons at the
University of Missouri.
I asked her about there being more
research on dogs than cats.
“That’s absolutely true,” she said,
“for several different reasons.”
She agreed that the “the dog is a
great model for cancers,” she said. It’s
also true they have been domesticated
longer than cats, and have more
breeds, thus having a greater potential
for studying inherited diseases.
But she also said there are social
reasons having to do with popular
attitudes toward cats that spill over
into the realm of research. She said cat
lovers are not as interested as dog
lovers in fancy breeds — yet. Cats
could be bred in many different shapes
and sizes like dogs, she said, if there
were interest. “We could have a Chihuahua cat and a Great Dane cat,”
although, she said, “I think that would
be a little dangerous.”
She said research funds are much
harder to obtain for cats, even though
cats are superior to other animals for
studying some diseases, like polycystic
kidney disease, or PKD. “Let’s put
them in drug trials. We could fix the
cats and we could fix humans.” Dr.
Lyons keeps cats as pets and did mention, in an offhand way, during our
conversation the common observation
that “Cats rule, dogs drool.”
I also called Fiona Marshall, a bioarchaeologist at Washington University
in St. Louis. We had spoken a while ago
for an article I did on donkeys. The
domestication of donkeys is only one of
her areas of interest. She also studies
African cats and cat domestication and
was one of the authors of a paper
several years ago that dated the first
evidence of domestic cats to a 5,300year-old site in China.
She said that cats are rarer than
dogs in archaeological sites, partly
because they’re solitary and they don’t
seem to have been eaten as much by
ancient humans.
“I also think that there is a bias as a
result of medieval to later European
views of cats,” she said. “Cats were
considered to be bad animals because
they didn’t do what humans said.” And
yet, that is the source of their appeal
now for many people. Dr. Marshall
herself has pet cats.
And now the numbers: A search of
Pub Med, a database that includes
most biomedical journals, yielded
139,858 results for cats and 328,781
results for dogs. Google scholar results
were 1,670,000 for cats and 2,850,000
for dogs. These are simple searches, of
course, and don’t say much about the
kind of research that was undertaken.
As for journalism, my searches on
the news database Nexis for dogs and
cats kept returning more than 3,000
hits, which my screen warned me
would take a long time to retrieve. So
I settled for searches of “dog genome”
and “cat genome.” The result, 20 for
dogs, 6 for cats. The dog genome was
sequenced before the cat genome.
I would caution against concluding
anything based on this haphazard
browsing other than that the results do
back up the researchers’ sense that
there’s more research on dogs.
Also, a colleague raised a question
that didn’t occur to a single expert I
interviewed, which shows that devotion to science can sometimes limit
your point of view.
“Is it possible,” my friend, who has
had both cats and dogs, asked, “that
there are more dog studies because the
cats won’t consent?”
Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?
Glimpse of cosmic dawn
Out there
It was morning in the universe and
much colder than anyone had expected
when light from the first stars began to
tickle and excite their dark surroundings nearly 14 billion years ago.
Astronomers using a small radio
telescope in Australia reported recently that they had discerned effects
of that first starlight on the universe
when it was only 180 million years old.
The observations take astronomers
further back into the mists of time than
even the Hubble Space Telescope can
see and raised new questions about
how well astronomers really know the
early days of the cosmos and about the
nature of the mysterious so-called dark
matter whose gravity shapes the luminous galaxies.
“We have seen indirectly evidence of
very early stars in the universe —
stars that would have formed by the
time the universe was only 180 million
years old,” Judd Bowman of Arizona
State, the leader of the experiment
known as EDGES, for Experiment to
Detect Global EoR Signature, wrote in
an email. Dr. Bowman and his colleagues published their results in
The presence of stars manifested
itself as a telltale dip in the intensity of
a bath of radio waves, so-called cosmic
microwaves, leftover from the fires of
creation itself. The dip meant that
cosmic energy was being absorbed by
primordial clouds of hydrogen gas that
hung over the universe like a fog, but
whose atoms had been thrown out of
balance by the sudden presence of
The presence of the dip, at a characteristic wavelength of hydrogen, confirmed earlier predictions from models
of how and when the stars were born.
But the depth of the dip and the
amount of the absorption was a surprise. It suggested that the gas inhabiting the cosmos was only half as hot
as astronomers had calculated — only
about 3 kelvin above absolute zero, or
minus 454 Fahrenheit.
“This is difficult to explain, based on
our current knowledge and assumptions about astrophysical processes in
the early universe,” Dr. Bowman said.
One possibility, suggested by Rennan Barkana of Tel Aviv University in
Israel, is that the primordial hydrogen
could have gotten chilled by interacting with the dark matter that also
permeates the cosmos.
“If true, this would be the first clue
about the properties of dark matter,
beyond its gravitational pull, which is
how its presence has been inferred,”
said Dr. Barkana, who published his
idea in an accompanying paper in
How this all played out was the
result of a subtle dance of atomic
physics and thermodynamics — the
study of heat. In its early days before
the stars lit up, the universe was a fog
of hydrogen and helium that had been
synthesized during the first three
minutes of time and that was now
basking in the fading heat of the Big
Hydrogen in empty space is prone to
radiate radio waves with a wavelength
of 21 centimeters. At first the gas and
the microwave were in tune with each
other, and the hydrogen was emitting
just as much as it received from the
background radiation bath.
But when the stars began to turn on,
ultraviolet radiation from them altered
the energy levels of the electrons in the
hydrogen atoms, knocking them out of
sync with the microwaves. Since the
gas was already physically much colder than the radiation, it began to absorb the 21-centimeter waves from the
cosmic background, creating a deficit,
or a dip.
The shock was how great a dip that
was and thus how much colder the
hydrogen was than cosmologists had
Enter cold dark matter.
“The only known cosmic constituent
that can be colder than the early cosmic gas is dark matter,” Dr. Barkana
wrote in his Nature paper.
Astronomers know that dark matter
makes up about a quarter of the universe by weight — way more than
atomic matter — from its gravitational
effects on stars and galaxies. The
leading explanation has been that it
consists of clouds of subatomic particles left over from the Big Bang.
They’re called wimps, for weakly
interacting massive particles, and they
are hundreds of times as massive as a
hydrogen atom. Because these particles are so massive they are also slow,
or “cold” in cosmic jargon.
In theory, they should be passing
through our bodies and everything else
by the millions every second. But over
the last three decades increasingly
sensitive attempts to detect these
particles directly have failed, and
Size counts,
but waving
seals a deal
Male fiddler crabs are lopsided, with one
claw that seems about the right size and
one very large claw. As you might expect, one function of the larger claw is to
attract females. The males drum with it
and wave it when they see a female
among them.
The wave means: Come hither, and I
will dig a burrow for us and our eggs,
and we will populate the mud flats with
fiddler crabs uncountable.
Females prefer larger claws, as you
might expect from looking at the males,
and they have a thing for really fast wavers.
Sophie L. Mowles of Anglia Ruskin
University in Cambridge, England, and
her colleagues ran some tests with a robot claw to learn whether females noticed when males sped up their claw
waving. As the team reported in Biology
Letters, females preferred males who
picked up the pace.
The conversation with Dr. Mowles
was edited for length and clarity.
What is a fiddler crab’s life like?
They live in burrows, and you see them
only at low tide. At high tide, they go
back into the burrow, and they seal it up.
They feed on mud flats by sifting the
sediment through their mouth parts and
eating microorganisms.
The female has two little claws — normal-size claws for her — which she uses
to help in that feeding, helping to pass
the sediment up to her mouth. The male
has one that it uses for feeding. And the
other is huge. It’s greatly enlarged, to
the point that it can be approximately
half of his body weight. It’s often really
brightly colored as well.
Now, what the males do is that they
wave this claw in a species-specific pattern. So each species of fiddler crab has
its own kind of wave, and they do this to
maintain a territory, but also to attract a
What do females like in a male crab?
Size does matter. The females like larger
claws, which most likely indicate a male
The outsize claw of a male fiddler crab is
useful mainly in attracting females.
that’s big. He can offer her a big burrow,
because she goes into that to incubate
her eggs. Also, crustaceans continue to
grow for the majority of their lives, so a
bigger male is older, which means that
he’s a survivor, so he’d be a good one to
mate with.
And they prefer fast claw-waving?
They like males that wave and drum
more rapidly. And what we showed in an
experiment published in 2017 was that
these vigorous displays are very demanding and deplete a male’s stamina.
Males that wave rapidly or drum rapidly
have greater stamina.
We tested this by putting them into a
sprint track. We made them run after a
bout of these vigorous displays. Males
that signaled more vigorously were
speedier in the sprint trials.
We had robot replica males that we
could program to either escalate, as if
they are increasing their signaling, signal at a constant rate, or de-escalate, as
if they’re getting fatigued. We caught females wandering on the mud flat, which
usually means that they’re looking for
males, and presented them with these
robots and looked at the choices.
What we found was that they did, indeed, prefer the escalating males over
the ones that were slowing down. They
pay attention to changes in rate.
Were the females terribly disappointed when they realized they had
been tricked?
A radio telescope in Western Australia that picked up effects of the first starlight in the
universe, a mere 180 million years after the Big Bang, raising new questions.
theorists are beginning to consider
other more complicated models of
what they call “the dark sector.”
Now the EDGES observations might
have opened a new window into that
dark realm. And any progress in identifying dark matter could revolutionize
particle physics.
The idea that dark matter could
have cooled the primordial hydrogen
would imply that dark matter particles
are only a few times as heavy as hydrogen atoms, “well below the commonly predicted mass of weakly interacting massive particles,” Dr. Barkana
explained in his Nature paper. It would
mean that radio astronomers have a
way of getting a grip on dark matter.
None of this is for certain. Yet. Both
Dr. Bowman and Dr. Barkana emphasized that the observations need to be
confirmed by other instruments and
The EDGES result was based on
averaging observations over the whole
sky. But new projects in the works, like
the Square Kilometer Array in Australia and South Africa will be able to
measure these temperature discrepancies in different parts of the sky and
track the different evolution of dark
and luminous matter.
Once they got to the robot, they would
touch the base plate of it and realize
there was something wrong here — it
was not real. They would usually at that
point stop moving or run away.
Some of them responded as if it were a
real male crab, which is by tickling him.
What the females do is go up to the male
and use their legs on one side of their
body to tickle him. This communicates
to him that she’s interested in him as a
mate, and she’s not just trying to steal
his home.
Is there more to learn on fiddler crab
The fiddler crabs are like little invertebrate peacocks. Why is so much going
on there? Why has he got the huge tail
with all the colors, why does he have to
do a dance?
What is true with the fiddler crabs is
true with many, many other animals
throughout the animal kingdom that
perform either complex or even quite
simple courtship displays, like waving
claws. It’d be really interesting to tease
apart which bits exactly are important
to females.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 7
Flickering recovery for Puerto Rico
The power failure interrupted a meeting that David Rodriguez was having in
Caguas to discuss plans for a new business involving the sale of solar-powered
Mr. Rodriguez, who was born in
Puerto Rico and runs a telecommunications engineering firm in Rochester,
N.Y., returned to the island in December
to visit family. He was alarmed to find
his uncle living with a gasoline-powered
generator running inside the house — a
serious health risk. His uncle said he
was keeping the generator indoors because he was afraid it might be stolen if
it was outside.
That experience led Mr. Rodriguez to
start a company, InverSol, to make
small solar generators that can be installed on roofs and provide at least
some power during blackouts. The company eventually could employ up to 70
people and produce up to 7,000 generators a year for $2,000 each.
“We want to get some basic humanity
back,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
One challenge, however, has been
finding an undamaged location that can
be quickly converted into a factory. He is
working with PathStone to hire former
farmworkers who have experience using heavy equipment.
The search for qualified workers is
troubling a broad swath of businesses.
Frankie Vazquez Marrero runs a business that sells precast walls and structured steel. He employed 22 workers before Maria. Now he is down to three.
Many of his best workers left the island
or are trying to move into other industries.
He is still waiting for the company’s
insurer to cover some of its storm-related losses. “We lost our very best workers, and the new hires don’t have the
knowledge,” he said.
Things could be worse in Puerto Rico.
Auto sales were up 21 percent in January, in part because people needed to replace damaged vehicles, said José Villamil of Estudios Técnicos, an economic
research firm. Fewer people are falling
behind on mortgage payments, according to the data firm Black Knight. The
construction industry is growing.
At the investment conference, there
was much talk about how Puerto Rico’s
low-tax environment will draw investors from the United States and China.
Others were bullish about the island’s
growing reputation as a haven for cryptocurrency start-ups.
But many overseas investors are
waiting to see what happens with the island’s electrical grid and a moratorium
on home foreclosures that a federal
housing agency just extended until midMay.
Billions of dollars from Washington
are starting to flow, for rebuilding the
electrical grid and for housing and urban development projects. But the package is well short of the tens of billions
that experts have said are needed.
And insurance money is just trickling
in. So far, 299,999 claims have been filed
by homeowners and businesses but just
$1.7 billion in payouts have been approved, according to the insurance department.
Much of the federal money is being
dispensed as grants and loans that businesses and individuals apply for from
the Federal Emergency Management
Agency and the Small Business Administration, among others. The typical
household FEMA grant is a few thousand dollars.
Lawyers and community groups complain that FEMA has rejected about 60
percent of the 1.1 million household applications it has received. The agency
said that figure was misleading because
some rejected applicants had received
loans from the Small Business Administration or aid from other agencies.
One reason for the rejections is that
many Puerto Ricans cannot prove that
they own a home. Only 65 percent of
properties in the territory are officially
registered with the government. The
problem is especially acute in small cities and rural areas where there’s a
custom of property owners not recording titles to homes.
In Loíza, an oceanfront community of
30,000, damage to homes and businesses was extensive. Many small businesses in the town were closed for
months and may never reopen. Power
was restored to most residences and
businesses only in the first week of February.
Federal funds are only trickling into
Loíza, and housing groups said one reason for the slowness was the small proportion of homes there, perhaps 20 percent, that are officially registered. In a
makeshift FEMA center, agency workers allowed property owners to submit a
written declaration that they owned
their home. But advocates said some
were still being rejected.
The halting pace of the economic recovery worries business leaders like Eli
S. Sepúlveda Morell, an executive vice
president at Banco Popular, Puerto Rico’s largest lender. His biggest concern
is a shortage of qualified workers, especially in construction.
Mr. Sepúlveda Morell cautioned
against excessive pessimism about
Puerto Rico’s prospects. “But,” he said,
“it’s too early to be extremely positive.”
what I described. In its statement on
Friday it made a veiled threat: “Based
on our engagement conversations and
our long-term view of the company, we
may vote against specific directors or
we may vote against management on
shareholder proposals.”
BlackRock is a fiduciary so it must
make a financial case for such changes
— showing that taking those steps
would turn out to be more profitable in
the end. It can’t simply press for such
action on moral grounds.
But the evidence is already clear:
Remington, America’s oldest gun company, which since the Sandy Hook
Elementary School shooting in 2012
has struggled to gain access to the
capital markets or find any buyer, filed
for bankruptcy protection just two
days before the shooting in Parkland.
And retailers are already forcing the
issue: Companies like Dick’s, Walmart
and Kroger have raised the age for gun
purchases on their own.
Not to mention that consumer boycotts could hurt the bottom line of both
gun makers and retailers that don’t
take action on their own.
Gun makers may want to focus more
on what’s playing out with REI. The
outdoor retailer doesn’t sell guns, but it
said it would stop selling Camelbak
water pouches and Giro helmets because they are made by Vista Outdoor,
which does sell guns.
REI was direct in stating that it was
holding Vista accountable for its approach.
“This morning we learned that Vista
does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action,’’ it said in a statement last week.
“As a result, we have decided to place a
hold on future orders of products that
Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.”
It is not just BlackRock that has an
opportunity to use its ownership clout.
Goldman Sachs, for example, took a
stake in Cabela’s, the outdoor and
firearms retailer — which sells AR-15’s
— as part of a private equity deal it
financed last year when Bass Pro
Shops acquired Cabela’s.
Why Goldman Sachs, which has had
its own share of bad publicity over the
years and always talks about being in
the business of making sound judgments, would actively participate in a
deal for a major gun retailer is baffling.
(Several Goldman employees told me
there have been a lot of conversations
about how embarrassing it is that the
firm was involved in the transaction.)
But now that Goldman is involved, it
has a chance to use whatever influence
it can muster to bring about reforms.
The bank says it has been in touch
with Cabela’s management so we’ll
have to see what happens next.
For gun-control advocates, any
business that invests in gun makers or
retailers may seem an anathema. But
given the pressure already coming
from the outside, the best chance for
real change may end up coming from
those very same investors.
Five months after storm,
businesses still grapple
with a lack of electricity
The message coming out of an investment conference here in February was
simple and optimistic: “Puerto Rico is
open for business.” Attendees noted San
Juan’s crowded restaurants and trafficchoked streets. The capital city seemed
to be bustling.
But more than five months after Hurricane Maria plowed through Puerto
Rico, some parts of the island are still in
the dark. It is a long, long way from being back in business.
The annual conference itself — designed to showcase the United States
commonwealth’s business opportunities — had to be rescheduled because of
the slow pace of the recovery. As it was,
attendance was down. The billionaire
John A. Paulson, a major hotel owner on
the island and a featured speaker at previous conferences, wasn’t there. Nor
were other prominent hedge fund managers with investments in Puerto Rico.
Everywhere you look, there are reminders of how long it will take for the
economy to get back even to the beleaguered state it was in on Sept. 20, when
Maria hit as a powerful Category 4
The night before the conference
started, parts of San Juan were plunged
into darkness for several hours because
of an explosion and the resulting fire at
an electrical power station. The island’s
patchwork power grid remains fragile.
Hundreds of thousands remain without
Government relief workers have installed 57,000 blue tarps as makeshift
roofs on damaged homes across the island. There’s no plan for installing permanent roofs.
Major intersections in San Juan still
lack working traffic lights.
More than 10,000 small businesses —
nearly 20 percent of the island’s total —
remain closed. At the upscale Mall of
San Juan, two anchor stores — Saks
Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom — are shut
because of storm damage, although
Nordstrom may reopen in a few months.
Some hotel workers, cabdrivers and
bartenders in San Juan have been living
without power since September.
The most optimistic estimate is that
Puerto Rico faces a two-year economic
recovery. That assumes it can rebuild its
power grid, restructure its finances in a
court-supervised process and not get hit
by another devastating storm.
Before Maria, things were already
bad. Some 45 percent of the island’s 3.4
million residents lived in poverty, the
unemployment rate was 10.5 percent,
and more than 16,000 homeowners were
facing foreclosure.
“This is like the perfect storm of an
economic disaster,” said Javier E. Zapata-Rodríguez, deputy director of economic development for PathStone Enterprise Center, which advises small
businesses in Puerto Rico. “There is not
enough capital flowing, and a lot of small
businesses are closing up shop because
they were ailing before the hurricane.”
A major problem is that insurance
claims are being paid too slowly and 60
percent of household requests for federal emergency grants are being denied.
That means fewer dollars are churning
through the local economy, when not
Tarps like this one, photographed in December, have been installed as makeshift roofs on tens of thousands of homes. There’s no plan for installing permanent roofs.
David Rodriguez, center, started a company in Puerto Rico to make small solar generators. But he is having trouble finding an undamaged location for his factory.
much money is coming in from elsewhere.
Tourism, which accounts for about 6
percent of the island’s economy and supports more than 60,000 jobs, is all but
gone for this season.
Nearly a dozen big resorts in and
around San Juan — including El Conquistador, the Caribe Hilton, the Ritz
Carlton and El San Juan — are closed.
Many hotels that are open are filled not
with tourists but with relief workers and
government contractors who are staying at discounted rates.
An electronic sign outside the Condado Plaza Hilton, owned by the Blackstone Group, the private equity firm, pe-
riodically flashes: “Rooms for relief
work and government work available.”
Blackstone, which also owns El Conquistador, said it had been paying salaries and providing health benefits to
hundreds of furloughed workers.
Others associated with the tourism
business are just scraping by.
“Right now, 90 to 95 percent of our
business is down,” said Nancy Matos,
who with her husband owns GSI Puerto
Rico, which organizes outings for tourists. The 25-year-old business has been
hurt by limited access to El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rain forest that
suffered major storm damage. GSI,
which normally employs up to 80 peo-
ple, is down to about 30. The company
hopes to get some business from relief
As many as 200,000 residents have
left to live on the mainland. Some companies that are trying to reopen are
struggling to find people who can work
on construction projects or in factories
to produce steel.
A report last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that four
months before Maria, 36 percent of
Puerto Rico’s small businesses planned
to hire more workers and 50 percent
planned to invest in new equipment and
The storm laid waste to those plans.
In Ponce, a city on Puerto Rico’s
southern coast, PathStone is helping
200 small businesses get financing, find
workers and retrain them if necessary.
A few weeks ago, PathStone, in partnership with the New York Fed, staged a
daylong event for small businesses
seeking financing from banks and other
lenders. Representatives from 170 businesses showed up in search of help, Mr.
Zapata-Rodríguez said. About a third of
the companies that PathStone works
with in Puerto Rico do not have reliable
electrical power, he added.
The fragility of the power grid remains particularly frustrating. On
Thursday, hundreds of thousands of
customers — many in San Juan and
along the island’s northern coast — lost
power in the middle of the workday.
Generators considered optional before
Maria are now a necessity. Starbucks is
moving to ensure that most of its 26
stores in Puerto Rico, two of which are
still closed, have generators.
Big investors could sway gun makers
Andrew Ross Sorkin
Over the past several weeks, there has
been a lot of talk about investors ridding themselves of their shares in gun
manufacturers and retailers after the
school shooting in Parkland, Fla. A
number of public pension funds, like
those in the state of Connecticut, have
discussed selling their shares.
But here’s a counterintuitive idea:
Use those stakes in the gun industry to
encourage reforms.
That’s what Larry Fink, chairman of
BlackRock, the largest investor in the
world, has the opportunity to do — if
he is true to his word about holding
companies accountable to “not only
deliver financial performance, but also
show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
Mr. Fink repeated those words to me
last month when I wrote a column
about a letter he had delivered to the
world’s top executives in January,
pressing them on social responsibility.
It turns out that Mr. Fink’s firm is
one of the largest owners of gun manufacturers in the country. It wasn’t a
conscious choice by BlackRock; because BlackRock is the largest index
investor in the world and gun makers
are included in various indexes, it
owns large stakes in American Outdoor Brands; Vista Outdoor; and
Sturm, Ruger by default. None of its
actively managed funds — in which a
manager actually decides to make
investments in a particular company
— has a stake in a gun manufacturer.
So what can BlackRock reasonably
In a three-page paper issued Friday,
the firm said “we have reached out to
the major publicly traded civilian
firearms manufacturers and retailers
to engage in a discussion of their business practices.”
BlackRock says, for example, that it
is asking gun makers questions like,
“What steps do you take to support the
safe and responsible use of your products?” and “How do you assess the
financial, reputational and litigation
risk” of your product lines?
Mr. Fink deserves credit for pressing
companies on social responsibility. But
while engagement is good, there is real
opportunity to do much more.
BlackRock could make a reasonable
argument that between customer
blowback and the potential for regulatory pressure, it is in the financial
interests of everyone in the gun manufacturing and retail chain to reform
themselves voluntarily. And if compa-
A gun shop in Virginia. Big investors such as BlackRock, which is one of the largest
owners of gun manufacturers, could use their stakes in gun businesses to force change.
nies don’t take such steps, BlackRock
— and everyone else who owns shares
in these companies — could vote to
oust their boards of directors.
BlackRock has enormous influence
over both gun makers and retailers. It
could press them to raise the minimum
age for buying AR-15-style rifles to 25
years old and impose strict screening
and background checks that go far
beyond what is required by law. BlackRock could even push gun makers to
stop producing such weapons altogether.
It could also recommend that gun
manufacturers and retailers make and
sell “smart guns” employing technology that allows only the registered
owner to use it; that could prevent
children from using guns; and that
could reduce deaths and injuries related to stolen firearms. (No retailer has
ever sold a “smart gun” in the country,
in part because of pressure from the
gun industry and lobby. Where are you
Dick’s and Walmart?)
At the moment, BlackRock seems to
be doing a lighter-touch version of
8 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
Trump hates the trade deficit. Economists differ.
Many experts dismiss gap
as unimportant and tariffs
as a poor tool to close it
President Trump’s fixation with America’s widening trade deficit is fueling his
decision to impose stiff tariffs on steel
and aluminum imports. Only a small
group of experts share Mr. Trump’s fixation, and few see tariffs as an effective
tool to narrow the so-called trade gap.
America’s trade deficit is the gap between how much in goods and services
it imports from foreign countries and
how much it exports. Mr. Trump complains about the metric frequently, saying the trade imbalance is a measure of
America’s weakness on trade policy.
“We lost, over the last number of
years, $800 billion a year,” he said in the
White House on Monday, while defending his tariffs against criticism from Republican leaders in Congress. “Not a half
a million dollars, not 12 cents. We lost
$800 billion a year on trade.” He went on
to say that the country “lost $500 billion”
a year to China, though it was not clear
what figure he was citing, given that
America’s annual trade deficit with
China has never climbed beyond $375
Most economists do not see the trade
gap as money “lost” to other countries,
nor do they worry about trade deficits to
a large degree. That’s because trade imbalances are affected by a host of macroeconomic factors, including the relative
growth rates of countries, the value of
their currencies and their saving and investment rates. For instance, America’s
trade deficit narrowed dramatically
during the Great Recession, when national consumption faltered.
Mr. Trump has long argued that the
trade deficit hinders economic growth,
and that reducing it would accelerate
American job creation. Even those who
agree with that view say there are better
ways to reduce the imbalance than
through tariffs, which can backfire and
further widen the trade deficit if other
countries impose reciprocal tariffs.
“If you look across countries, there’s
no evidence that high tariffs reduce your
trade deficit,” said Joseph E. Gagnon, a
senior fellow at the Peterson Institute
for International Economics, and a coauthor of a 2017 book of recommendations on reducing trade imbalances.
“The trade deficit is a terrible metric
for judging economic policy,” said
Lawrence H. Summers, a Harvard economist and former director of President
Barack Obama’s National Economic
Council. Mr. Summers said tariffs would
actually increase deficits by making
American companies that ship steel and
aluminum overseas less competitive,
and by inviting foreign retaliatory tariffs against other exports.
An electronics factory in Shandong Province, China. Consumer goods like electronics and housewares account for much of the United States’ trade deficit with the country.
A year ago, Mr. Trump signed an executive order directing the Commerce Department and the United States trade
representative to conduct a 90-day review on the causes of America’s persistent trade deficits. That review has not
yet been released. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported last month that
the trade deficit grew to 2.9 percent of
gross domestic product in 2017, up from
2.7 percent the year before.
The deficit in goods alone with China
grew to $375 billion last year, an 8 percent increase from 2016.
The deficit in goods and services is on
pace to reach about $330 billion, depending on fourth-quarter data that has not
yet been reported, which would also be
an increase from the year before.
The tangible source of America’s persistent trade deficit with China is consumer goods: electronics, housewares
and so much else that Americans buy
regularly at Walmart or Costco. Those
deficits have been exacerbated, economists generally agree, through concerted action by the Chinese government to prop up exports, by holding
down the value of China’s currency and
directly subsidizing some exporting industries.
When it was admitted to the World
Trade Organization in 2001, China got
access to markets around the world and
in turn committed to opening its own
markets to countries such as the United
States, said Eswar S. Prasad, a trade
economist at Cornell University. “China
did not keep up its end of the bargain,”
Mr. Prasad said. “It did not provide easy
access to its own markets. And for a long
period after the Asian financial crisis —
2000 until the end of that decade — they
gave themselves a competitive advantage by holding down the value of their
The United States actually runs a
trade surplus in services with China, as
it does with many other countries, in
part by attracting Chinese students to
study at American colleges, which
counts as an export.
Mr. Prasad and most other trade experts say bilateral trade deficits are not
a good measure of whether countries
are living up to their promises on market access, or whether certain countries
are better negotiators of trade agreements.
They compare the global economy to
a neighborhood. Consumers might
spend a lot of money with a shopkeeper
who never buys anything from their
store in return, but they also receive
money from other customers whose
stores they never frequent.
“A bilateral balance doesn’t really tell
you anything about what the economy is
doing,” said Scott Lincicome, an adjunct
fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute,
“just like my bilateral deficit with my
grocery store doesn’t tell you anything
about whether I’m in debt.”
Mr. Trump’s own Council of Economic
Advisers, in a report last month, seemed
to play down alarms over bilateral trade
deficits. “The United States has a bilateral goods deficit and a services surplus
with many of its major trading partners,” council members wrote. “Overall,
the United States has a goods deficit and
a services surplus with the world. The
services surplus is consistent with the
structure of the private sector, which
has evolved during the last few decades
toward more services output as a share
of G.D.P.”
Economists who share Mr. Trump’s
concern with the overall trade deficit, or
at least some degree of it, say there are
better ways than tariffs to reduce it.
Dean Baker, a liberal economist who
writes frequently on trade policy, said
targeting currency values is the best
route; if other countries’ currencies
strengthen relative to the dollar, it becomes more attractive for their consumers to buy American exports.
Mr. Gagnon has a list of recommendations but said one dwarfs all others: reducing America’s growing federal budget deficit, which is fueling foreign investment in the United States as the government turns to other nations to finance its
“There are things we could do,” he
said, “but I hate to recommend them
when we’re not doing the most important thing, which is bring down our massive fiscal deficit.”
Mr. Trump, he noted, recently signed
sweeping tax cuts that will add an estimated $1 trillion to federal deficits over
the next 10 years, even after accounting
for the faster growth it could bring.
And now it’s fairly easy to make fake videos
were closed, they hosted a mixture of
users trading video-editing tips and
showing off their latest forgeries. A
post titled “3D face reconstruction for
additional angles” sat next to videos
with titles like “(Not) Olivia Wilde
playing with herself.”
Some users on Reddit defended
deepfakes and blamed the media for
overhyping their potential for harm.
Others moved their videos to alternative platforms, rightly anticipating that
Reddit would crack down under its
rules against nonconsensual pornography. And a few expressed moral
qualms about putting the technology
into the world.
Then, they kept making more.
The deepfake creator community is
now in the internet’s shadows. But
while out in the open, it gave an unsettling peek into the future.
“This is turning into an episode of
Black Mirror,” wrote one Reddit user.
The post raised the ontological questions at the heart of the deepfake debate: Does a naked image of Person A
become a naked image of Person B if
Person B’s face is superimposed in a
seamless and untraceable way? In a
broader sense, on the internet, what is
the difference between representation
and reality?
The user then signed off with a
shrug: “Godspeed rebels.”
After lurking for several weeks in
Reddit’s deepfake community, I decided to see how easy it was to create a
(safe for work, nonpornographic)
deepfake using my own face.
I started by downloading FakeApp
and enlisting two technical experts to
help me. The first was Mark McKeague, a colleague in The New York
Times’s research and development
department. The second was a deepfake creator I found through Reddit,
who goes by the nickname Derpfakes.
Because of the controversial nature
of deepfakes, Derpfakes would not give
his or her real name. Derpfakes
started posting deepfake videos on
YouTube a few weeks ago, specializing
in humorous offerings like Nicolas
Cage playing Superman. The account
has also posted some how-to videos on
deepfake creation.
What I learned is that making a
deepfake isn’t simple. But it’s not
rocket science, either.
The first step is to find, or rent, a
moderately powerful computer.
FakeApp uses a suite of machine learning tools called TensorFlow, which was
developed by Google’s A.I. division and
released to the public in 2015. The
software teaches itself to perform
image-recognition tasks through trial
and error. The more processing power
on hand, the faster it works.
To get more speed, Mark and I used
a remote server rented through Google
Cloud Platform. It provided enough
processing power to cut the time frame
down to hours, rather than the days or
weeks it might take on my laptop.
Once Mark set up the remote server
and loaded FakeApp on it, we were on
to the next step: data collection.
Picking the right source data is
Short video clips are easier to manipulate than long clips, and scenes
shot at a single angle produce better
results than scenes with multiple angles. Genetics also help. The more the
faces resemble each other, the better.
I’m a brown-haired white man with a
short beard, so Mark and I decided to
try several other brown-haired, stubbled white guys. We started with Ryan
Gosling. (Aim high, right?) I also sent
Derpfakes, my outsourced Reddit
expert, several video options to choose
Next, we took several hundred photos of my face, and gathered images of
Mr. Gosling’s face using a clip from a
recent TV appearance. FakeApp uses
these images to train the deep learning
model and teach it to emulate our
facial expressions.
To get the broadest photo set possible, I twisted my head at different
angles, making as many different faces
as I could.
Mark then used a program to crop
those images down, isolating just our
faces, and manually deleted any
blurred or badly cropped photos. He
then fed the frames into FakeApp. In
all, we used 417 photos of me, and 1,113
of Mr. Gosling.
When the images were ready, Mark
pressed “start” on FakeApp, and the
training began. His computer screen
filled with images of my face and Mr.
Left, a photo of Kevin Roose, one of the hundreds used to teach an artificial intelligence program to superimpose his face over that of
Ryan Gosling, center. Some frames weren’t entirely successful, right.
Gosling’s face, as the program tried to
identify patterns and similarities.
About eight hours later, after our
model had been sufficiently trained,
Mark used FakeApp to finish putting
my face on Mr. Gosling’s body. The
video was blurry and bizarre, and Mr.
Gosling’s face occasionally flickered
into view. Few would mistake the
person in the video for me.
We did better with a clip of Chris
Pratt, the scruffy star of “Jurassic
World,” whose face shape is a little
more similar to mine. For this test,
Mark used a bigger
data set — 1,861
People will
photos of me, 1,023 of
share them
him — and let the
model run overnight.
when they’re
A few days later,
Derpfakes, who had
also been training a
and dismiss
model, sent me a
them when
finished deepfake
they’re not.
made using the
footage I had sent
and a video of the
actor Jake Gyllenhaal. This one was
much more lifelike, a true hybrid that
mixed my facial features with his hair,
beard and body.
Derpfakes repeated the process with
videos of Jimmy Kimmel and Liev
Schreiber, both of which turned out
well. As an experienced deepfake
creator, Derpfakes had a more intuitive
sense of which source videos would
produce a clean result, and more experience with the subtle blending and
tweaking that takes place at the end of
the deepfake process.
In all, our deepfake experiment took
three days and cost $85.96 in Google
Cloud Platform credits. That seemed
like a small price to pay for stardom.
After the experiment, I reached out to
the anonymous creator of FakeApp
through an email address on its website. I wanted to know how it felt to
create a cutting-edge A.I. tool, only to
have it gleefully co-opted by ethically
challenged pornographers.
A man wrote back, identifying himself as a software developer in Maryland. Like Derpfakes, the man would
not give me his full name, and instead
went by his first initial, N. He said he
had created FakeApp as a creative
experiment and was chagrined to see
Reddit’s deepfake community use it for
ill. “I joined the community based
around these algorithms when it was
very small (less than 500 people),” he
wrote, “and as soon as I saw the results I knew this was brilliant tech that
should be accessible to anyone who
wants to play around with it. I figured
I’d take a shot at putting together an
easy-to-use package to accomplish
N. said he didn’t support the use of
FakeApp to create nonconsensual
pornography or other abusive content.
And he said he agreed with Reddit’s
decision to ban explicit deepfakes. But
he defended the product.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he
said, “and ultimately I’ve decided I
don’t think it’s right to condemn the
technology itself — which can of
course be used for many purposes,
good and bad.”
FakeApp is somewhat finicky and
hard to use, but it’s easy to imagine it
improving quickly. N. said that in the
future, FakeApp could be used by all
kinds of people to bring high-budget
special effects to their personal
Deep learning algorithms, he added,
were going to be important in the
future, not only as stand-alone apps
but as powerful components of many
tech products.
“It’s precisely the things that make
them so powerful and useful that make
them so scary,” he said. “There’s really
no limit to what you can apply it to
with a little imagination.”
On the day of the school shooting last
month in Parkland, Fla., a screenshot
of a BuzzFeed News article, “Why We
Need to Take Away White People’s
Guns Now More Than Ever,” written
by a reporter named Richie Horowitz,
began making the rounds on social
The whole thing was fake. No
BuzzFeed employee named Richie
Horowitz exists, and no article with
that title was ever published on the
site. But the doctored image pulsed
through right-wing outrage channels
and was boosted by activists on Twitter. It wasn’t an A.I.-generated deepfake, or even a particularly sophisticated Photoshop job, but it did the
Online misinformation, no matter
how sleekly produced, spreads through
a familiar process once it enters our
social distribution channels. The hoax
gets 50,000 shares, and the debunking
an hour later gets 200. The carnival
barker gets an algorithmic boost on
services like Facebook and YouTube,
while the expert screams into the void.
There’s no reason to believe that
deepfake videos will operate any differently. People will share them when
they’re ideologically convenient and
dismiss them when they’re not. The
dupes who fall for satirical stories from
The Onion will be fooled by deepfakes,
and the scrupulous people who care
about the truth will find ways to detect
and debunk them.
“There’s no choice,” said Hao Li, an
assistant professor of computer science at the University of Southern
California. Mr. Li, who is also the
founder of Pinscreen, a company that
uses artificial intelligence to create
lifelike 3-D avatars, said the weaponization of A.I. was inevitable and
would require a sudden shift in public
“I see this as the next form of communication,” he said. “I worry that
people will use it to blackmail others,
or do bad things. You have to educate
people that this is possible.”
So, O.K. Here I am, telling you this:
An A.I. program powerful enough to
turn Michelle Obama into a pornography star, or transform a schlubby
newspaper columnist into Jake Gyllenhaal, is in our midst. Manipulated
video will soon become far more commonplace.
And there’s probably nothing we can
do except try to bat the fakes down as
they happen, pressure social media
companies to fight misinformation
aggressively, and trust our eyes a little
less every day.
Godspeed, rebels.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 9
Preparing for the electric future
Look for vehicles from Volvo, Mercedes and Jaguar, some of which will be in Geneva
Mike Reid loves his cherry-red 2016
BMW 335i sports sedan, especially the
way this 2016 model accelerates and
zips around corners.
“It’s a fantastic car to drive,” said Mr.
Reid, an investment manager and a
part-time hockey player in Ann Arbor,
Mich. “The pick up is incredible.”
But when BMW starts introducing a
new generation of electric cars in the
next year or so, Mr. Reid is not likely to
be rushing out to the showroom. Although electric cars tend to have a lot of
torque, he’s just not sold on the idea of
plugging in and charging batteries.
“I wish there were something I could
get excited about, but I kind of like the
hydro-carbon-powered approach to my
transportation,” he said.
He added that he often headed into
the wilds of Michigan to hunt and hike,
places where he would be unlikely to
find a good way to charge the car. And he
said his neighborhood tended to lose
power during storms, which could
sometimes complicate charging at
“I’m just not sold on the reliability of
the technology at this point,” he said.
“Gas prices are pretty low. My car gets
good gas mileage. So electric vehicles?
No, I’m not interested.”
That type of sentiment presents a big
challenge for Europe’s luxury carmakers. Many automakers, including BMW,
Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche and
Volvo, are scrambling to produce lines of
electric, hybrid and plug-in models.
Some of this next wave will be on display at the Geneva auto show, which
opens to the public on March 8.
Among the models will be the Jaguar
I-Pace, a battery-powered crossover
that is something of a cross between a
hatchback and a coupe. Jaguar unveiled
the production version of the I-Pace last
week in Graz, Austria, in a bid to build
buzz ahead of the Geneva show.
The car is packed with advanced
safety and driver-assist technologies
and features two electric motors — one
to deliver power to the front wheels and
one for the rear axle. Together they are
rated at 394 horsepower. The car is expected to go 240 miles on a single battery charge, Jaguar said.
The small vehicle, with its short hood,
is also a jarring break from the classic
Jaguar look of a low, sleek roof line, long
hood and rounded back. “It’s quite distinctive,” Ian Callum, Jaguar’s design director, said at the Graz event. “It’s quite
different. It’s quite radical.”
The company is hoping the vehicle
will appeal to upscale buyers who want
to drive an upscale car that is also environmentally friendly. “It’s electric,” Mr.
Callum said. “Guilt-free.”
Volvo is expected to use Geneva to
show the V60 station wagon, a plug-in
hybrid and one of the models it is adding
as part of a plan to add full or partial
electric power to every one of its models
by 2019.
Volvo and its Chinese owner, Geely,
are also developing a new brand of elec-
tric cars to be sold under the Polestar
name. Details of the brand’s first model,
the Polestar 1, will be released at the Geneva show.
Audi is expected to offer showgoers
test drives of the E-tron all-electric
S.U.V. that is due in showrooms this
Those are only some of the electric
models European carmakers have in
the works. Daimler AG, the parent of
Mercedes-Benz, is spending $11 billion
to develop at least 10 new electric mod-
els, due on the road by 2022. Mercedes is
expected to market them under the
brand name EQ. BMW plans to introduce at least 12 electric models between
now and 2025, including a self-driving
car it is calling iNext. Before then, BMW
plans to introduce improved versions of
its i3 electric car and i8, an exotic sports
car featuring a hybrid powertrain.
While the company will continue offering cars powered by gasoline engines
for years to come, BMW expects electric
cars and hybrids to make up 25 percent
of its sales by 2025.
“At the core of our product offensive is
a clear focus on electrification,” Bernhard Kuhnt, chief executive of BMW
North America, said in January at the
Detroit auto show.
For the last several years, Porsche
has offered hybrid versions of its sports
cars and high-powered S.U.V.s, but in
2019 it is expected to add the all-electric
car Mission-e. To ease worries about recharging the car, Porsche has started to
install charging stations at its 189 dealers and at other locations in the United
“What we are doing here is creating a
new world for Porsche,” said Stefan
Weckbach, Porsche’s head of battery
electric vehicles.
Carmakers are developing all of these
models despite the reluctance of many
car buyers. In 2017, fewer than 15,000
battery-electric vehicles were sold in
the United States, less than 1 percent of
the total market. Only about 10,000 plugin hybrids were sold.
And manufacturers that have jumped
in early have had a bumpy ride. BMW’s
i3 has been a slow seller. Last year,
BMW sold 6,276 i3s, fewer than the
number of 3 Series sedans it typically
sells in a single month.
But one word convinces them that
they are on the right track: Tesla. It is
constantly on the minds of European
makers, who fret about losing to the upstart maker of battery-powered luxury
cars. Tesla sold more than 100,000 vehicles worldwide last year, making it a serious player in the upper-priced levels of
the auto industry.
The United States market is not the
reason Europe’s automakers are racing
ahead with electric technology, however. The European Union and China are
tightening regulations that force automakers to cut tailpipe emissions. For
years, many European manufacturers
were counting on selling a heavy mix of
diesel models to help them meet the
stricter targets.
But Volkswagen’s diesel scandal —
the company for years equipped diesel
cars with software that cheated emissions testing — has chilled sales and the
willingness of governments to accept
more diesels. Several large German cities have been pushing to ban certain
diesel vehicles from their streets, and a
landmark court ruing last month
cleared the way for them to do so.
Britain and France have said they intend to ban new diesel and gas cars by
2040. China has moved the same way on
tailpipe emissions and is shaping regulations to increase sales of electric cars
to combat the poor air quality in many of
its congested megacities.
Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of
Daimler, said it was unclear when the
market for electric vehicles would take
off, but he was certain it would.
“It’s like a bottle of ketchup,” he said
in a conference call in January. “It will
come. You just don’t know when and to
which extent when you shake it.”
Show time
Above, a car about
to be unveiled at the
2016 Geneva
International Motor
Show. Many automakers, including
BMW, MercedesBenz, Jaguar and
Volvo, are scrambling to produce
whole lines of
electric, hybrid and
plug-in models. At
left, the Jaguar
I-Pace electric
crossover, minus
the sheet metal.
Brands that define luxury
New bones
The 2018 Phantom
VIII is the first car
built on what RollsRoyce calls its new
Architecture of
Luxury, a highstrength aluminum
Rolls-Royce and Bentley provide a custom experience
Even the most common cars offer the
luxury of transportation, providing reliable and quick travel, assuming traffic
cooperates. But while many brands will
also get you to your destination in luxury, few will glide you there as if you
were the queen.
Most people will never ride in a RollsRoyce or Bentley, the English brands
long associated with royalty and extreme wealth, or actually ever see one.
But on the floor of the Geneva International Motor Show, the brands will be
showing the public what all the fuss is
The fuss begins as soon as you sit
down in one of these cars. The scent of
wood, the lamb’s wool carpet and supple
leather fills the interior. Doors shut
smoothly, powered of course. Foam
filled tires ban noise, as do hundreds of
pounds of acoustical material built into
the cars.
Rolls-Royce wheel hubs always display the RR logo upright, even in motion. If you find yourself in drizzly London or Seattle, look for the umbrella slot
in the door frame when exiting. You’re
Moving from a Chevy to any of the
well-known luxury brands such as Audi,
BMW, Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes is a
big step up, but the purchasing process
is the same.
You’ll choose from a dozen or so paint
10 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
Amid optimism, a look at what’s next
Powerful sports cars and lots of beautiful sheet metal
Whenever the international auto show
circuit arrives in Frankfurt, Tokyo or
Detroit, the exhibition halls brim with
national pride as the host nation’s automakers assemble elaborate displays.
But when the industry convenes to introduce its newest offerings in Geneva
each year, there are no native brands to
lay claim to a home-court advantage.
This unusual circumstance — neutral
territory in a sophisticated multilingual
city — confers a special character on the
Geneva International Motor Show,
which opens to the public on Thursday
after two days of press previews. The
show runs through March 18 at the Palexpo convention center.
Swiss prosperity, so evident in Geneva, sets the tone, and for the show’s
88th edition there is plenty of cause for
optimism. Passenger vehicle sales in
the European Union increased by 3.4
percent in 2017, topping 15 million for the
first time since 2007, and the trend continued into 2018. The year started with a
6.8 percent gain over year-ago sales in
January and 3.5 percent in February, the
increases coming largely from demand
for sport-utility vehicles.
The challenge of stricter carbon dioxide regulations is evident in a flood of
new fully electric vehicles and plug-in
hybrids, as well as a change in attitude
by the public toward diesel power. The
advance of electrification to crossover
vehicles, luxury sedans and even spinoff brands will be apparent to visitors
throughout the Palexpo arena.
Here is a rundown of what show visitors can expect to see in Geneva.
significant mainstream introduction
will be a new A-Class hatchback. That
will be in European showrooms this
spring and eventually make its way to
the United States.
Even to devoted fans of green vehicles,
the news that Mitsubishi has sold
140,000 plug-in-hybrid versions of its
Outlander crossover may come as a surprise; it’s been Europe’s best-selling
plug-in hybrid for the past three years.
The 2019 edition has more power, more
choices of four-wheel-drive modes and
greater battery capacity. On display, too,
will be the e-Evolution concept vehicle, a
futuristic (if squat) all-electric performance S.U.V. whose name might be a hint
that it’s intended to fill the gap left by the
death of the Lancer Evolution.
At any auto show, a visit to the Alfa Romeo display is always an immersion in
passionate Italian style. Especially
worth checking in Geneva will be the latest changes to the Stelvio S.U.V. and
Giulia sedans, both much admired by reviewers. Confirming that the passion
extends beyond thebody and interior
design is the performance story. At the
top of the Alfa food chain are the Quadrifoglio editions with twin-turbo V6 engines of over 500 horsepower.
Alpine may be part of the Renault family, but it has its own display in Geneva
— and a distinctive identity. The nameplate has been applied to lightweight
sports cars for more than half a century,
but its modern revival with the A110
dates back just two years. Think of it as a
French Porsche Cayman, with its midmounted turbo 4-cylinder engine and 7speed dual-clutch transmission. Two
new variations arrive in Geneva: the
lightweight A110 Pure and a touring-focused A110 Légende.
The esteemed British gentleman’s
brand hardly needs to remind enthusiasts of its status, yet the company keeps
delivering fresh variations and all-new
editions. At Palexpo, the latest Vantage,
powered by a Mercedes-AMG 4-liter V8,
will make its debut, taking care of the
entry end of the company’s range. Also
on hand for ogling will be the GTE racecar version of the Vantage, the DB11
Coupe and Volante, and the new Aston
Martin Red Bull Formula One car.
The center of attention at Audi’s display
is likely to be the fifth-generation A6,
which is sure to carry on the family look,
borrowing details from the A7 and A8.
The bigger story may be the tech features and the improved dynamics from a
new chassis that trims weight. There
will, of course, be E-tron design studies
from previous auto shows to examine,
the line of Q5 and Q7 S.U.V.s, and the RS
and R8 sports machines.
The Bavarians will arrive in Geneva
with a full complement of 5 Series and 7
Series sedans as well X Series S.U.V.s, M
cars and i models. BMW is expected to
have several surprises, but much of the
attention will be lavished on the world
premiere of the second-generation X4,
the coupelike utility vehicle that gives
away some practicality for fashion.
Speculation, and anticipation, run high
that a further development of the Z4
Concept, seen last summer at the Pebble
Beach concours, will be unveiled. The
show will also be a first opportunity for
most mortals to see the Roadster version of the i8.
On the streets of a wealth center like Geneva, Ferraris are simply special, not especially rare. But their mystique elicits
envious glances, so models like the 812
Superfast and Portofino (which replaces the California) can be expected to
be at the center of a swarm of admirers,
while more practical-minded oligarchs
might flock to the GTC4Lusso. Still, it
will be the new 488 Pista, pushed past
210 miles per hour by its 710-horsepower V8, that’s surrounded by the fantasyleague racers.
The latest Honda CR-V, which will be
available as a hybrid, will share floor
space with three concepts, the Urban
EV, Sports EV and NeuV EV. They are
worth a close look because Honda has
committed to delivering a fully electric
production model in 2019, and one of
these may well be the basis for that E.V.
There’s some fast and noisy fun from
Honda, too. The Civic Type R TCR, destined for the touring car racing series,
will be showcased, as will the NSX GT3.
Finally, a rugged edition of the Jazz
(known as the Fit in the United States)
will be introduced under the X-Road label.
The all-hands presence of Hyundai in
Geneva is a telling sign of the South Korean automaker’s continuing ambitions.
Several world premieres are on the automaker’s schedule, the most important
of which is the fourth-generation Santa
Fe crossover. Hyundai’s intentions to
expand its market footprint may be
more evident in the Kona subcompact
crossover, which gets a fully electric
version with a not-to-be-ignored 290mile range. For anyone who’s still not taking the company’s green theme seriously, the Nexo fuel-cell vehicle could
seal the deal. It’s built on a new platform
specifically engineered for zero-emissions hydrogen power. The Hyundai exhibit also offers an Internet of Things
cockpit display and a technical breakdown of fuel-cell operation.
few mountain trails, later this year.
The reason it seems that years have passed since we first heard about an allelectric crossover from Jaguar is because it has been years. Revealed as a
design study at the Los Angeles auto
show in 2016, the I-394, a likely competitor for the Tesla Model X, makes its production debut, and goes on sale, just before the show opens. Built in Austria on
a dedicated aluminum-intensive chassis
with a twin-motor 394-horsepower drive
system, the I-Pace will have a range of
240 miles. But while crowds cluster
around that shiny new object, savvy
show visitors can be taking in the delicious XJ sedan, F-Type sports car and FPace S.U.V.
The days when a Range Rover represented the most elite of all S.U.V.s faded
when the likes of Bentley and Lamborghini entered that market. So Land
Rover will be showing a new model at
the top of its line: the two-door Range
Rover SV Coupe, to be built in a limited
run of 999. The original Range Rover arrived as a two-door model, so this hyperluxurious new model, which seats four,
will serve as a fitting tribute to the company’s tradition.
As the genuinely international brand of
the Fiat Chrysler combine, Jeep continues to be a sales hit in markets well outside its American homeland. The Palexpo center will have samples of the
Grand Cherokee, Cherokee and Compass, and the new Wrangler.
Mass-market models will be the emphasis of Ford’s display, including a Euroedition of the new Edge, the new Ka+
Active and a sizable offering of updated
models, including the Mustang. Show
visitors may be walking right past all of
those cars, though, on their way to the
GT supercar, which will be shown in
road and racing configurations.
The Italian sports car specialist rarely
resists bringing some new variation of
an existing model to a showcase like Geneva, but the main attraction will be the
641-horsepower Urus, which the company calls a super sport utility vehicle (a
slippery slope in nomenclature, to be
sure). The 190-mile-an-hour Urus will be
prowling city streets, but probably very
Add Volvo to the list of automakers
starting E.V. sub-brands as a way to ride
the Tesla wave of popular acclaim. Polestar, an existing nameplate that Volvo
has used for performance models, is using the Geneva show to go public with
the Polestar 1, a 600-horsepower plug-in
hybrid coupe. The understated fourseater promises more than 90 miles of
all-electric range and will start production in 2019.
The push to be a something-for-everyone automaker continues to advance at
Porsche. Visitors will find Panamera
variants, including the not-a-stationwagon Sport Turismo, and a 462-horsepower plug-in hybrid, alongside the
Boxster, Cayman, Cayenne and Macan.
But center stage will be the 2019 911 GT3
RS, powered by a 4-liter nonturbo engine of 520 horsepower, the most powerful naturally aspirated engine ever fitted to a road-legal Porsche.
The PSA Group’s portfolio now adds the
former General Motors subsidiaries of
Opel and Vauxhall to the existing brands
of Peugeot, Citroën and DS. With an updated Peugeot 508 hatchback and the
new Rifter microvan, there’s plenty to
see this year. The French automaker describes the 508 as “radical” and “reserved,” a combination that’s pretty
hard to square, but whatever. The Rifter
departs from the usual packing-crate
motif with a more French interpretation
of the utility van, communicating an intent to instill urban appeal. There is a
four-wheel-drive version, naturally,
though that is just a design concept for
“Wait, did I get lost?” That’s what visitors who discover the hulking Ram 1500
pickup might wonder at Palexpo. FCA is
not only flexing its truck muscle here.
The 808-horse Dodge Demon will also
be shown in this land of high-price gasoline.
What was an upstart luxury brand from
the utilitarian Toyota company three
decades ago will soon have five utility
vehicles in its portfolio. The latest is the
UX crossover, arriving at the Geneva
show as a dialed-back version of the UX
concept unveiled in 2106 at the Paris
show. The UX takes on the distinctive
stance of recent Lexus sedans, notably
the LC, and would logically share a platform used by Toyota’s C-HR and Prius.
The Palexpo halls will also present the
first European sightings of the new RX
L and LF-1 Limitless concepts amid a
display that includes the current LS, LC,
RS and RX models.
The display for Maserati, which has a
prominent entry in the luxury S.U.V.
horse race, will be an important destination for many shoppers who want to consider the Levante. While there, the
Ghibli, Quattroporte, GT and GTC will
also be available to accept longing looks.
European shoppers will get the first look
at the wagon version of the Mazda 6 and
the Kai and Vision concepts. Also available for inspection will be the current
range of Mazda 2, Mazda 3, CX-3, CX-5
and MX-5 models, and the Skyactiv-X
engine that the company will be rolling
out as practical proof that electricity
isn’t the only answer to efficiency.
McLaren’s ranking in the universe of supercar builders takes another step up
with the Senna, its most muscular road
car, with a 789-horsepower twin-turbo
V8. Named for Ayrton Senna, who drove
to three championships for the McLaren
Formula One team, this beast will run
up to 211 miles an hour. Admirers can
look over the car, but shoppers may
want to avoid the heartbreak: The entire planned production of 500 cars has
already been sold.
The flood of new models from Stuttgart
in recent years shows no sign of abating,
so anyone walking through the auto
show displays will have lots to see. One
sure to generate buzz is the AMG GT
Coupe, a four-door version of the twodoor sports car. A 4-liter turbo V8 will
deliver 604 horsepower. The newest GClass S.U.V., shown this year in Detroit,
gets the AMG treatment with a 577horse turbo-V8, but perhaps the most
By the time the Palexpo center opens to
the public, a still-secret design study
that Renault says is “focused on shared
urban mobility” will have been unveiled.
Likewise, much of the display will be devoted to upgrades of current models
geared to city drivers. The Zoe, Europe’s
top-selling E.V., gets a more powerful
motor, and the Captur and Scenic models are upgraded with a new 1.3-liter engine developed with Daimler.
One of the most-anticipated cars at this
year’s show is a touring coupe that’s intended to fill the gap left by the cancellation of the much-loved Supra in 2002.
Developed jointly with BMW, the new
car — on display in Geneva as a racecar
proposal — is expected to also become
the next edition of the BMW Z4. There’s
more: Along with futuristic confections
like the Concept-i and Concept i-Ride,
Toyota will have the Aygo city car and
Mirai fuel-cell model.
Sales setbacks resulting from VW’s
diesel troubles are not keeping it from
looking ahead to a product line dominated by electric power. Leading that effort to change public perception will be
the I.D. Vizzion, the latest in a string of
I.D. concepts. This all-electric sedan is
aimed at the autonomous future — it has
no steering wheel or pedals.
There’s no question about Volvo being
on a roll, with enthusiastic receptions of
its XC60 crossover and S90/V90 models.
Beyond those favorites, Volvo adherents will be able to take in the sleek 2019
V60 wagon and XC40 crossover as well
as the XC90 S.U.V. and V40 wagon.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 11
Automotive sponsorships are so common among luxury watchmakers, they
border on the cliché. TAG Heuer, however, has an authentic connection to
motorsport because it became the first
watch brand to be associated with a
Formula One team when Heuer became the sponsor and official timekeeper of Scuderia Ferrari in 1971.
That legacy is on display this week
at the Geneva International Motor
Show, where the brand has erected a
3,300-square-foot stand presenting
historic and contemporary timepieces
as well as several racecars. Here,
Jean-Claude Biver, president of the
LVMH Watch Division and chief executive of TAG Heuer, explains the brand’s
new automotive partnership.
colors, perhaps four interior treatments
and a smattering of option packages.
The jump from the luxury level to ultrapremium is a huge financial and emotional leap, filled with decisions. Think
building a house with an architect. In
this strata, the old chestnut “what
money really buys is choice” could not
be truer.
In Geneva, the brands plan some surprises.
Rolls will be unveiling a feature that
will allow owners to display art in their
dashboard, and on the floor will be three
different Phantoms. Bentley will be revealing the plug-in Bentayga Hybrid
S.U.V. Also on the floor will be a Bentayga V8, Continental GT and the Flying
Spur by Mulliner.
The average Bentley sells for
$250,000, a Rolls-Royce $375,000. Rolls,
which is owned by BMW, offers about 60
leather options and about 30 variations
of wood. Ponder over 64 standard paints
choices and several dozen custom hues.
In total, a library of 44,000 colors are
available. Still on the fence? Shades can
be customized.
“Some clients are very decisive when
choosing the paint and interior, others
can take months,” said Mark Maakestad
of Bellevue Bentley-Lamborghini-RollsRoyce in Washington State. “Many of
these cars are rewards for selling off a
company or a milestone in life. They
want to get it right.”
It is possible to Lyft to a Rolls showroom and drive off in a Wraith that’s in
stock, but customization is what uber
luxury is about.
The sky’s the limit. Literally. Starlight
headliners that recreate the night’s sky
with pinpoint lights in the ceiling are
standard in a Rolls-Royce Phantom and
optional in most others. Astrology buffs
can even customize it with the exact
mapping of the heavens on the day and
Geneva bound The Continental GT will be on the floor of the Palexpo convention center.
Rolling art Thorsten Franck, top left, a product designer for Rolls-Royce, has done work on
the Gallery, above, which allows three-dimensional artworks of various materials to be installed behind it on the Phantom VIII, top right.
place where they were born.
The new 2018 Phantom VIII is the
first car built on what Rolls-Royce calls
its new Architecture of Luxury, a highstrength aluminum chassis. This twinturbocharged V12 leviathan has a starting price of about $450,000. Phantoms
are strictly bespoke, or custom made.
No two will be the same, unless a
customer orders copies.
Motorists tend to be happy with real
wood trim and stitching on the instrument panel. Phantom VIII owners will
soon have the pleasure of gazing upon
the Gallery, the new dashboard feature
being unveiled in Geneva. It’s a glass
panel that arcs fully across the dash, behind which owners can have commissioned art placed.
Have a small Picasso you cannot travel without? This is your ride. Imagine
the delight of kindergartners to find
their artwork immortalized in Mom’s
Phantom instead of the refrigerator.
Rolls will connect clients to artists working in ceramics or oil paint if they lack
classic art, or children.
Gerry Spahn of Rolls-Royce says a
few cars wander into the seven figures
when a client’s demands turn exotic. It
might mean custom sheet metal.
“Each of our cars is unique with 80
percent of them bespoke historically,” he
said. “We had an Asian buyer who
wanted 464 diamonds lacquered into the
wood interior trim. Silver or gold specks
can be embedded in the paint. We had a
client specify diamond dust in the
Rolls engineers took two months figuring out the process of keeping the finish smooth.
Matching the paint to a husband’s
wedding cummerbund or wife’s signature lipstick is possible. In the Britain,
Bentley said that a buyer cut off the
salesman’s tie for use as a color swatch,
saying it was his perfect exterior color.
Interior stitching can be specified to color, length and width. If a buyer’s favorite
tree is felled by lightning, its veneer can
be installed to keep its memory alive.
Chartreuse door panels with mauve
leather seats are possible, but the manufacturer may put its foot down. Jeff
Kuhlman, chief communications officer
of Bentley Americas, said: “We can do
anything, but we don’t do everything.
There was a gentleman who wanted ostrich leather seating, and we could provide that. Another wanted snakeskin,
but we felt it wasn’t durable enough for
our standards.”
Safety and government regulations
can also hinder customization. Mr.
Kuhlman said an Asian customer requested a glass dashboard enclosure to
display his finest whisky. This was rejected because the airbag could have
launched the spirits into the front passenger.
These two classic brands have
evolved to cater to modern clients.
When it arrived in 2003, Bentley’s Continental GT attracted more women and
reframed the Volkswagen-owned company toward younger millionaires. Its
Bentayga recently filled the brand’s
need for a sport utility vehicle. RollsRoyce will soon begin private showings
of the Cullinan S.U.V. that rides on the
same Architecture of Luxury as the
Phantom VIII.
Stuart Robinson, a semiretired real
estate investor of Snohomish, Wash.,
said that he and his wife, Jane, fell for a
2017 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge
with its striking rear-hinge doors.
“I’m in the garage a couple times a
day and walking toward the Wraith, I
get the feeling of, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I own it,” Mr. Robinson said. “It just
makes me wish for the next dry day to
drive it.”
This is your fourth consecutive year
exhibiting at the Geneva motor show.
Why is it important for TAG Heuer to
have a presence here?
It’s one of the major automobile shows
in the world, and, as such, it is already
important. No. 2: It’s important because it’s next door — we couldn’t be
closer. And No. 3, it’s important because since the end of the 1950s, TAG
Heuer has constantly partnered with
automobiles, mainly racing cars. Part
of our DNA is motorsport.
What’s new for this year?
We are revealing our partnership with
Aston Martin. It’s a double partnership: with the car company and with
its racing department. We will eventually make a watch with the racing
Why Aston Martin?
It has a bright, long history with racing. There are a lot of elements in the
past, as well as the future, that are
common to us. We also are exclusive,
we also are a luxury brand and a technology brand, but we also are a very
traditional brand. We have watches,
like the Monaco, which will turn 50
next year.
Formula One
The Aston MartinRed Bull RacingTAG Heuer RB14
© Didier Gourdon
12 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
The White House is a black hole
the president
Peter Wehner
Contributing Writer
Character is fate. That’s as true for a
president as it is for anyone else, and
so it’s no surprise that the Trump
presidency is engulfed in chaos.
The policy process is broken and
incoherent, with the White House
lurching from one position to another.
Factions are warring. Top aides are
embroiled in scandal and bailing out.
President Trump is escalating his
attacks on his own advisers, especially
his attorney general, and is increasingly isolated and embittered.
The Republican Party is learning
what should have been obvious from
the outset: Mr. Trump’s chaotic personality can’t be contained. Indeed,
combining it with the awesome power
of the presidency virtually guaranteed
he would become more volatile and
transgressive. His presidency is infecting the entire party.
In the realm of
policy, Mr. Trump is
reshaping some
Party once
traditional Republichampioned
can views. A party
the principles
that was once
firmly in favor of
of liberty
free trade is now
and limited
home to a president
who just announced
yet Mr. Trump
plans to impose
is indifferent
tariffs on steel and
to them.
aluminum and
declared: “Trade
wars are good, and
easy to win. Example, when we are
down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore — we win big. It’s easy!”
The Republican Party once championed the principles of liberty and
limited government, yet Mr. Trump is
indifferent to them.
Republicans once sought to
strengthen relations with Mexico;
today they delight in antagonizing our
neighbor. Not long ago, Republicans
made outreach to Hispanics a top
priority; today the signals that the
president and his party send are that
Hispanics are alien, unwelcome, nothing but trouble.
In 2012, Republicans defended Mitt
Romney when he said Russia was our
biggest geopolitical threat; today they
are wholly untroubled by its effort to
subvert the 2016 presidential election.
While they may not have always lived
up to their own ideals, Republicans
have long argued that human rights
should play a central role in American
foreign policy, from the presidency of
Ronald Reagan through George W.
Bush’s. Today human rights are
viewed at most as an afterthought.
On the flip side, Mr. Trump has
embraced conventional Republican
positions on taxes and deregulation, on
judicial appointments and social policy,
on health care and funding the mili-
tary. On policy, then, the marriage
between Mr. Trump and the Republican Party has become what marriages
often are, with each partner changing
the other in some significant respects.
But policy is hardly the whole story.
When it comes to the Republican Party
and Mr. Trump, the most profound and
dangerous shift has occurred not in
policy but in the province of disposition and demeanor, temperament and
cast of mind. This arena is more amorphous than policy but can be at least
as important.
At the national level the Republican
Party has become a destructive and
anarchic political force in American
The president and his acolytes are
championing conspiracy theories and
a sweeping, uncalibrated, all-out assault on our institutions. There is
reckless talk by Republicans about
“secret societies,” “silent coups” and
the “deep state.” Trump supporters
have engaged in a desperate effort to
discredit the Mueller investigation.
The president dehumanizes and
belittles his opponents and (at best
half-jokingly) accuses Democrats of
being “treasonous” for not applauding
him during his State of the Union
speech. Rather than nourishing a
sense of gratitude, he stokes grievances. And he tells lie after lie after lie
after lie.
One White House aide, asked by The
Washington Post whether John Kelly,
the president’s chief of staff, could
have been more truthful or transparent about the dismissal of the staff
secretary Rob Porter, answered honestly: “In this White House, it’s simply
not in our DNA. Truthful and transparent is great, but we don’t even have a
coherent strategy to obfuscate.” Could
there be a more emblematic statement
of the low point we have reached?
Yet most Republicans are silent,
their moral and civic reflexes seemingly dead.
All of this is antithetical to conservatism. On balance, Republicans are
seeking to conserve very little; instead
they have become the courtiers and
court pastors of a man who delights in
tearing things down. It calls to mind
the line spoken by Alfred in “The Dark
Knight”: “Some men just want to
watch the world burn.”
Now consider this: The Republican
Party once prided itself as a defender
of objective truth against postmodernism. Today, it has become the party of
perspectivism — the view, articulated
by Nietzsche, that all truth claims are
contingent on a person’s perspective
rather than on fundamental reality. “It
is our needs that interpret the world,”
Nietzsche wrote in “The Will to
Evangelicals who once professed the
importance of personal character and
“family values” now eagerly give the
president a mulligan for his immorality.
The national Republican Party, at
least for now, has become a vehicle
less for advancing high ideals than for
exercising raw power. Of course, political parties have always been about
the business of pursuing power, and
there’s nothing inherently wrong in
doing so. Power used in the right way
can advance justice. But something
very different is going on in the Republican Party today. It has become the
institutional expression of Donald
Trump’s distorted and impulsive personality.
There are notable exceptions to this
in the Republican Party, but that’s the
point. They are the exception rather
than the rule. Party leaders who were
once willing to challenge Mr. Trump, to
call him out now and then, are now far
more compliant and therefore far more
complicit. That’s because among the
Republican base, Mr. Trump was and
remains the people’s choice — evidence that, while the president has
accelerated the worst tendencies of the
Republican Party, he is not solely
responsible for them. He did not appear out of thin air.
The problem for the Republican
Party is that while President Trump is
popular with Republicans — 85 percent approve of his performance so far
— for most of the rest of the country,
he’s toxic. The trauma of the Trump
presidency is creating pushback.
Americans are longing for a more
ennobling, less exhausting political
Joe Trippi, the chief media strategist
for Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat who defeated Roy Moore last year
in a special Senate election, agreed
recently in an interview with Vox’s
Ezra Klein that people are tiring of the
incessant conflict created by politics
these days. “They don’t want to feel
this way,” Mr. Trippi said.
But as long as Mr. Trump is president, they will feel this way. He won’t
change, and neither will the Republican Party. That’s how institutional
corruption happens, from the top
a senior fellow at the
Ethics and Public Policy Center, served
in the previous three Republican administrations.
Why I am running for president of Venezuela
We can’t
boycott the
election and
let Nicolás
Maduro get
away with six
more years
in power.
Henri Falcón
registered as a candidate for the presidency of Venezuela. I am running for
president because I think Venezuelans
should have a choice of whether to
continue with the disastrous rule of
President Nicolás Maduro, or to support a route of inclusion, progress and
Some of my fellow members in the
opposition coalition have called for
boycotting the election, claiming that
misconduct by the regime makes a
free and fair vote impossible. They are
right in denouncing the abuses of the
government: Mr. Maduro has persecuted opposition leaders, banned
political parties, filled electoral institutions with his loyalists and blatantly
used government resources in his
campaign. Venezuela’s presidential
election will be played on an uneven
playing field.
Those who want to sit out the election argue that participating lends
legitimacy to a rigged process. They
also worry that the international support that the opposition has been able
to muster could wane as a result of our
These concerns are legitimate. But
we can’t give up and let Mr. Maduro
get away with six more years in power.
Choosing to fight under unfair rules
does not legitimize the rules: it affirms
our willingness to defend our rights.
And if the government decides to steal
this election, it can count on finding me
in the streets, by the sides of the brave
Venezuelan people, fighting for our
right to be respected.
My difference is one of strategy.
Electoral boycotts almost never work.
In country after country, opposition
forces that abandoned the field of
electoral competition have lost ground
President Nicolás Maduro at a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, last month.
and allowed rulers to consolidate
power. A comprehensive Brookings
study of 171 cases of boycotting around
the world found that 96 percent of the
time, the movements promoting the
boycotts did not see positive results.
When resistance movements decided instead to confront authoritarian
regimes at the polls — authoritarians
from Pinochet to Milosevic — they had
a much greater chance of producing
regime change. Governments do not
win elections during periods of hyperinflation — except when, as in Zimbabwe in 2008, the opposition makes the
fatal mistake of boycotting the vote.
Opinion surveys consistently show
that Venezuelans want to vote in the
coming elections. In a recent study
sponsored by the Washington-based
Atlantic Council, 69 percent of Venezu-
elans — and 58 percent of opposition
supporters — said they were willing to
vote, even with the regime’s abuses.
And 56 percent of opposition supporters said that they would vote even if
the opposition coalition alliance called
for a boycott.
I agree that divisions in the opposition are harmful to our cause. Still,
since the overwhelming majority of
Venezuelans want to vote, my responsibility is to stand by our people, even if it
means breaking with the minority that
wants to sit out the election. I will
continue to devote my efforts to convincing others to join our cause and
help it grow into the avalanche of votes
that will sweep Mr. Maduro out of
During his six devastating years in
government, Mr. Maduro has caused
the deepest economic contraction in
recorded Latin American history and
the world’s only hyperinflation in the
last decade. A worker earning a minimum wage can now buy less than
one-tenth of the goods and services he
could purchase when Mr. Maduro came
to power. Twenty-seven percent of
Venezuelans now eat fewer than three
meals a day — in contrast to 5 percent
when he took office. Venezuelans cannot stand for six more years of hunger,
corruption and incompetence.
The overriding priority of my administration will be to make sure that not
one Venezuelan child goes to bed without having eaten. I will seek international assistance — including from
bilateral and multilateral agencies — to
replenish stocks of food and medicines.
I will create a program of conditional
cash transfers with the objective of
eradicating hunger. I will also immediately free all the country’s political
prisoners, thrown in the government’s
dungeons for the sole crime of thinking
differently. These decisions are not
unrelated. As the Nobel economics
laureate Amartya Sen has shown, true
democracy is the best antidote to famine. Venezuelans want and deserve to
be free from oppression and free from
Venezuelans’ plight today is the
result of two decades of mismanagement. My country sits on the world’s
largest oil reserves and enjoyed a huge
oil boom from 1998 to 2012. Regrettably,
the money from that good fortune was
squandered and stolen. Venezuelans
deserve to have their public finances be
managed with honesty, responsibility
and common sense. We should partner
with the rest of the world to build a
dynamic economy that can deliver
equitable and sustainable growth.
Decades ago, our nation was a place
of refuge for those fleeing oppression.
In this dark hour, we have counted on
the help of many neighbors and friends
around the world who have supported
our fight for freedom. That solidarity is
now more critical than ever to restore
democracy in our country.
My plea to Venezuelans who oppose
Mr. Maduro’s despotic rule is to reach
across our divisions and reunite around
the common project of a better country.
But reconciliation begins with justice,
and those responsible for human rights
violations and corruption must be held
I am proud to have been born in the
country that spawned Latin America’s
independence movement. We now
head into our greatest challenge: one
in which we will show that the strength
of our people’s votes speaks louder
than the government’s bullets.
Lara State.
is the former governor of
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 13
Don’t worry about Trump’s tariffs
Josh Bivens
A.G. SULZBERGER, Publisher
DEAN BAQUET, Executive Editor
MARK THOMPSON, Chief Executive Officer
JOSEPH KAHN, Managing Editor
STEPHEN DUNBAR-JOHNSON, President, International
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ACHILLES TSALTAS, V.P., International Conferences
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JAMES BENNET, Editorial Page Editor
HELEN KONSTANTOPOULOS, V.P., International Circulation
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HELENA PHUA, Executive V.P., Asia-Pacific
KATHLEEN KINGSBURY, Deputy Editorial Page Editor
SUZANNE YVERNÈS, International Chief Financial Officer
A flood of
migrants and
years of
stagnation sent
parties reeling.
The Italian elections on Sunday were the latest powerful wave in a tidal turn of anti-immigrant, anti-European Union and antidemocratic fervor that has ravaged
European politics. The vote was a stinging rejection of
traditional parties, and of national leadership that has
been frustrated by a flood of migrants from Africa and
the Middle East and stymied by years of stagnation.
While the populist parties that were the two biggest
vote-getters were different in many ways, both want to
abandon the euro and support for migrants, and shared
conspiracy theories about bankers, vaccines and the
9/11 attacks.
The big winner, with about 32 percent of the vote, was
the Five Star Movement, a grass-roots mélange of libertarians, progressives, Euroskeptics and other disenchanted voters formed less than a decade ago by a
comedian, and now led by a 31-year-old college dropout,
Luigi Di Maio.
Next was the far-right League (formerly Northern
League) led by Matteo Salvini, 44. An enthusiastic fan
of Marine Le Pen’s National Front and Donald Trump,
Mr. Salvini fanned sadly familiar flames of nationalism,
ethnocentrism and xenophobia, promising, among
other things, “cleansing” Italy of immigrants, threatening force.
The League ran with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia
party. If there was a sliver of good news it was that the
party of Mr. Berlusconi, forerunner of today’s populists
who was forced out as prime minister in 2011 in a swirl
of sex scandals and legal troubles, took only 14 percent
of the vote.
The biggest blow was to the governing Democratic
Party, led by Matteo Renzi until his resignation on Monday. It sagged to a mere 19 percent of the vote. The
party, which has led Italy in a technocratic direction for
the past five years, pulled Italy out of recession and had
been trying to modernize its economy. But the nation’s
problems proved too great for it to resist the rise of
extremism and demagogy.
Italy now poses a major challenge to the European
project, already badly battered by the Brexit vote in
Britain and the illiberal drift of Poland, Hungary and
other East and Central European countries. That promise of instability and uncertainty is no doubt being celebrated in the Kremlin.
Last week President Trump announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum products, and the response
couldn’t have been more negative —
critics warned of trade wars, recession,
global instability. But the blowback is
overblown, and seems to constitute
reflexive anti-Trump sentiment rather
than careful economic reasoning.
To be clear, there’s plenty to hate
about the policy course charted by the
Trump administration. His anti-trade
stance is of a piece with an agenda
rooted in xenophobia and bigotry that
has favored the rich over low- and
moderate-wage workers. But despite
this record, and despite the neardogma status of free trade among
economic writers, the proposed tariffs
won’t end the world, and may even do
some good.
First, let’s take them for what they
are: temporary relief for specific sectors (steel and aluminum) facing a
specific problem (global excess production capacity, propped up by foreign governmental subsidies). America
has taken steps like this before, and
did not slide down any slippery slope
to autarky. This means that big-picture
principles — like, “Free trade is good,”
or, “Globalization decimated the American working class” — aren’t very
helpful in assessing them.
For example, America’s trading
partners have had to agree to increase
their levels of intellectual property
protection as a condition for more open
access to American markets in agreements like Nafta and the proposed
Trans-Pacific Partnership. Yet proponents of these agreements have felt
free to call them “free trade” treaties,
even as these agreements instituted
far higher levels of effective protection
for specific sectors (mostly pharmaceuticals and software) than what was
They’re not
announced this past
the end of the week for steel and
world, and
may even do
It seems clear that
some good.
protection for the
profits of pharma
and software companies agitates business writers and
some economic policy experts far less
than protection for manufacturing
sectors heavy with blue-collar jobs. Is
it any real shock that many believe
that the rules of the game governing
globalization have been rigged against
typical American workers?
If we accept for a second that inconsistently applied first principles won’t
get us very far in assessing the pros
and cons of last week’s tariff announcements, it’s worth thinking about the
specific challenges facing American
steel and aluminum producers and
how trade policy might help them.
Start with something everybody
agrees upon: Global steel and aluminum sectors have large amounts of
excess productive capacity. The problem is large enough that last year the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a report
on global excess steel capacity.
Generally, excess capacity pushes
down prices, and less efficient firms
that cannot make profits at these lower
prices simply go out of business,
pulling down capacity until it matches
demand. But foreign producers of steel
and aluminum, efficiently or not, have
often been insulated from this competitive winnowing by government industrial policy that props them up — a fact
bemoaned by both the G-20 and the
Obama administration.
The proposed tariffs can provide a
countervailing force against these
foreign subsidies and protect American
metal producers until a comprehensive
solution is found.
Am I confident that the Trump administration will back a smart and
efficient solution to the larger problem? Not really — but this doesn’t
mean we shouldn’t be happy to have
some breathing room to find one.
Some would argue that we should
just see foreign steel subsidies as a
boon for American consumers, who
can now enjoy lower prices driven by
cheaper steel. But here’s where the
relative size of these “killer” tariffs
becomes clear — we’re talking about
The president’s
praise of
Xi Jinping’s
rule goes
against basic
There’s something in President Trump that impels him
reflexively to celebrate the authoritarian model. At a
Republican fund-raiser on Saturday night, in remarks
reported by CNN, Mr. Trump lavished praise on President Xi Jinping of China, who recently consolidated his
power and moved to change the rules so he could effectively become “emperor for life.”
“He’s now president for life. President for life. No,
he’s great,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Xi to the Republican
donors, at a luncheon at Mar-a-Lago. Then he went on
seemingly to express interest in doing the same thing in
the United States so that he, too, could rule forever.
“And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”
Mr. Trump was surely joking about becoming president for life himself. But there can be little doubt now
that he truly sees no danger in Mr. Xi’s “great” decision
to extend his own rule until death. That craven reaction
is in line with Mr. Trump’s consistent support and even
admiration for men ruling with increasingly brutal and
autocratic methods — Vladimir Putin of Russia, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte in the
Philippines, to name a few.
As for Mr. Trump’s line about becoming president for
life: His audience was said to respond with laughter,
and let’s hope it was nervous laughter. They and we
have reason for anxiety. It’s not too much to say that as
the authoritarian model gathers strength abroad, democracy is under assault at home. The Russian government meddled in the 2016 election to help elect Mr.
Trump, and American intelligence agencies have said
they anticipate further Russian interference in the
midterms this year. Mr. Trump has remained strangely
indifferent to this meddling.
He has also proved ignorant of and impatient with
checks on presidential power, whether they be courts
that thwart his unconstitutional actions or a Justice
Department that won’t jump to his orders to investigate
political rivals.
When you consider that Mr. Trump lost the popular
vote by almost three million ballots, claiming the presidency only through the antidemocratic mechanics of
the Electoral College — not to mention with some help
from Russia — it may be understandable that he would
be uncomfortable with democracy. Ultimately it will be
up to the American voter, in 2018 and then 2020, to fulfill
Mr. Washington’s hopes for the resilience of the American system.
fractions of a percent in prices, one
way or the other.
And again, no one is telling pharmaceutical companies and their workers
that their protections need to be
stripped away so that others can enjoy
cheaper prices.
The real problem with last week’s
tariffs is that they’re an ad hoc and
insufficient ameliorative fix for continuing policy failures that have decimated American manufacturing employment for almost two decades.
The two main failures have been
macroeconomic policy that has accepted long and slow post-recession
recoveries, and exchange rate policies
that have allowed the value of the
dollar to stick at levels too high to
balance (or even nearly balance)
manufacturing trade flows. This means
that each job displaced by manufacturing imports is not balanced by a job
supported by manufacturing exports.
It’s tempting to evaluate economic
policy these days with a rule of “if
Trump is for it, I’m against it.” After all,
this rule would lead to the right stance
far more often than not. But a better
framework is to ask: “Is it good for the
bottom 90 percent of American workers and the families they help support?” And on this latter question,
criticism of last week’s tariffs largely
misses the mark.
is the director of research at
the Economic Policy Institute.
A steel plant in Pennsylvania. President Trump argues that free trade has hollowed out America’s industrial base and has saddled the country with huge trade deficits.
Italy’s five-star electoral performance
Roger Cohen
Italy can survive anything, having long
since lost any illusions about the world.
But its resilience will be tested by an
election that has given two out-withthe-bums parties 50 percent of the
vote, pulverized the mainstream,
prized vapid inexperience and seen
Steve Bannon emerge as a purported
expert on Tuscany.
Europe is split between its FrancoGerman liberal democratic core, led by
Emmanuel Macron and Angela
Merkel, and the angry illiberal movements ascendant in countries including
Hungary, Poland and now Italy. The
momentum is with the nativist insurgency, in part because the United
States under Donald Trump has vanished as any sort of counterweight to
European intolerance.
The United States as a European
power has been essential to European
stability, not least in Italy. That’s going,
or gone. Amnesiac Europeans seem
ready to play with fire. Trump, being
ahistorical, cares nothing for European
tragedy, only about European tariffs.
The tide that ushered the Five Star
Movement, a web-based party representing a ragtag band of disaffected
voters, and the anti-immigrant League
to victory has been rising for some
time. Italy took some 64 percent of the
186,000 migrants who reached Europe
in 2017 through Mediterranean routes.
It took the majority of these migrants
in 2016, too. Promised European solidarity has evaporated; relocations
have been scarce.
Italians, angered, have been looking
for scapegoats. Who better than wan-
dering Africans and the European
The center-left, as elsewhere in
Europe apart from Britain, collapsed.
The Democratic Party took just 18.7
percent of the vote and its leader,
former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi,
said he would quit. Not even Silvio
Berlusconi, whose resurgence had
been much mooted, could defy antiestablishment gravity. His center-right
Forza Italia won 14 percent.
The combined support of the two
centrist parties scarcely equaled that
of the Five Star Movement, “a typical
Italian product, with a little bit of everything, mostly incompetence,” as
Claudio Gatti, a prominent Italian
journalist, put it to me.
The party, whose core is a web platform called Rousseau that’s supposed
to deliver direct democracy, is a bynow familiar 21st-century political
product: tech-savvy, angry, sympathetic to Vladimir Putin, a vehicle for a
hodgepodge of resentments and “fake
news.” Its 31-year-old leader, Luigi di
Maio, who was chosen after a
Rousseau vote, stands for very little.
The party swept the poor Mezzogiorno, or southern Italy, where a
culture of dependency on state handouts is deeply ingrained; unemployment is high; and corruption is rife.
The money that long oiled the crony
politics of the South has dried out. The
Christian Democrats, patrons of that
system, are gone. The Five Star Movement has stepped
into a void with its
Italians opt
inarticulate ire and
for illiberal
its very southern
When TV was
what mattered,
Berlusconi, who still
owns several channels, was the man.
Now that the internet has risen, the
Five Star Movement is its natural
Italian child. The digital world was
supposed to bring people together. In
fact, social media has hurled them
apart, less bridge-builder than disintegrator.
In the north, it was the League that
triumphed – and was promptly praised
by the rightist French National Front
Supporters of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement in Rome last week.
of Marine Le Pen. Its leader, Matteo
Salvini, is an anti-immigrant bigot who
has called for cities to be “cleansed” by
the police. For Northern Italy, which is
rich, the Mezzogiorno, particularly
Sicily, was once “Africa,” a place from
which the poor came north seeking
jobs. Now Africa is Africa.
It will not be easy to form a government. The League and Five Star Movement have the numbers to govern, but
Salvini has waved away such suggestions. Steve Bannon thinks it’s a good
idea — “a bigger mandate to govern”
and presumably generate the havoc he
seeks. (Bannon was also impressed
that the League “got 20 percent of the
votes in Tuscany, which is traditionally
a turf of the left or the center left: This
is equivalent to Wisconsin going to
Trump,” as he opined to the Swiss
publication Die Weltwoche. Well, if you
insist, Steve; had never thought of the
Green Bay-Florence axis.)
Other possibilities, none of which
look stable, include a center-right
coalition that would need outside support to have enough seats to govern
and would presumably see the odious
Salvini as prime minister; a farfetched coalition of the Five Star Movement and the Left; or a German-style
grand coalition that, as in Germany,
would see the defeated mainstream
parties trying to govern and would
thereby fuel rage against democracies
that refuse to heed what voters say.
Putin is certainly happy. Trump is
likely happy. The giants of European
unity and freedom — Alcide De Gasperi of Italy, Konrad Adenauer of Germany, Robert Schuman of France —
are turning in their graves. The almost
three decades since the fall of the
Berlin Wall have been a long strange
trip to the politics of the mob.
The wise Mario Draghi completes
his term as governor of the European
Central Bank in October. He’s the best
answer to Italy’s problems I can see.
Rome has seen empires come and go;
it can see out the seven months until
14 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
A ranting old guy with nukes
Paul Krugman
Imagine that you’re listening to some
garrulous old guy in a diner, telling you
what’s wrong with the world — which
mainly involves how we’re being victimized and taken advantage of by foreigners. You hear him out; after all, there
have been approximately 17,000 news
analyses telling us that garrulous old
guys in diners represent the Real America.
Despite your best efforts to avoid
being condescending, however, you
can’t help noticing that his opinions
seem a bit, well, factually challenged.
No, we aren’t experiencing a huge wave
of violent crime carried out by immigrants. No, we don’t give away vast
sums in foreign aid.
And so on down the list. Basically,
what he imagines to be facts are things
he thinks he heard somewhere, maybe
on Fox News, and can’t be bothered to
O.K., in general we should be prepared to cut ordinary citizens a lot of
slack on such stuff. People have children
to care for, jobs to do and lives to live, so
we can’t expect them to be policy wonks
— although maybe they should have a
better sense of what they don’t know.
But what if the ranting, ill-informed
old guy who strongly believes things
that just aren’t true happens to be the
president of the United States?
Donald Trump’s declaration that he’s
ready to impose tariffs on steel and
aluminum is bad policy, but in itself not
that big a deal. The really disturbing
thing is the way he seems to have arrived at that decision, which apparently
came as a surprise to his own economic
In the first place, the alleged legal
justification for his move was that the
tariffs were needed to protect national
security. After all, we can’t be dependent
for our aluminum on unstable, hostile
foreign powers like . . . Canada, our
principal foreign supplier. (Canada is
also our biggest foreign supplier of
The point is that the rationale for this
policy was obviously fraudulent, and
this matters: It gives other countries
full legal license to retaliate, and retaliate they will. The European Union —
which is, by the way, a bigger player in
world trade than we are — has already
threatened to impose tariffs on HarleyDavidsons, bourbon and bluejeans.
Meanwhile, in the days since Trump’s
announcement, he’s tweeted out one
falsehood after another. And I don’t
mean that he’s been saying things I
disagree with; I mean that he’s been
saying things that are simply, flatly
wrong, even according to the U.S. government itself.
He has, for example, declared that
we have large trade deficits with Canada; actually, according to U.S. numbers,
we run a small surplus. The Europeans,
he says, impose “massive tariffs” on
U.S. products; the U.S. government
guide to exporters
tells us that “U.S.
exports to the EuroWhy you
pean Union enjoy an
should worry
average tariff of just
when Trump
three percent.”
talks tough
These aren’t pesky
and stupid
little errors. Trump —
on trade.
who can get comprehensive briefings on
any subject, just by
saying the word, but prefers to watch
“Fox & Friends” instead — has a picture
of world trade in his head that bears as
little resemblance to reality as his vision
of an America overrun by violent immigrants.
And his notion of what to do about
these imaginary problems amounts to
no more than a bar stool rant. “Trade
wars are good, and easy to win,” he
tweeted, where he clearly thinks that
“winning” means selling more to the
other guy than he sells to you. That’s not
how it works.
In fact, even if we could eliminate U.S.
trade deficits with tariffs, there would
be lots of unpleasant side effects:
sharply higher interest rates wreaking
havoc on real estate and those with
large debts (hello, Jared), and a sharply
higher dollar inflicting severe harm on
exporters, like many of America’s farmers. And a full-scale trade war would
disrupt international supply chains,
displacing huge numbers of workers:
The U.S. government’s own estimates
say that exports to the European Union,
Canada and Mexico support 2.6 million,
1.6 million and 1.2 million American jobs
Will Trump actually follow through on
his ranting? Nobody knows. Maybe the
adults in the administration, if there are
any left, will find some bright, shiny
objects to distract him — say, meaningless “concessions” by Canada and Mexico that convince him that he’s won big.
But whether or not the trade war actually happens, Trump’s display of belligerent ignorance ought to worry us a lot.
For one thing, talking tough and
stupid on trade in itself damages U.S.
credibility: If we go around threatening
our most important allies with retaliation against policies they don’t even
have, how can we expect them to trust
us — or support us — on anything else?
Beyond that, is there any reason to
believe that Trump’s belligerent ignorance stops with trade? Actually, we
know that he’s just as bombastic and
clueless (with added racism) when it
comes to crime, and there’s no reason to
believe that he’s any better on real
national security issues.
Listening to a garrulous old guy spout
nonsense is annoying in the best of
circumstances. But when this particular
old guy controls the world’s largest
military, nukes included, it’s downright
InterContinental London Park Lane
October 9-11, 2018
The chaos after Trump
David Brooks
What happens to American politics
after Donald Trump? Do we snap back
to normal or do things spin ever more
widely out of control?
The best indicator we have so far is
the example of Italy since the reign of
Silvio Berlusconi. And the main lesson
there is that once the norms of acceptable behavior are violated and once the
institutions of government are weakened, it is very hard to re-establish
them. Instead, you get this cycle of ever
more extreme behavior, as politicians
compete to be the most radical outsider.
The political center collapses, the normal left/right political categories cease
to apply and you see the rise of strange
new political groups that are crazier
than anything you could have imagined
If America follows the Italian example, by 2025 we’ll look back at Trump
nostalgically as some sort of beacon of
relative normalcy. And by the way, if
America follows the Italian example,
Trump will never go away.
Silvio Berlusconi first came to power
for the same reasons Trump and other
populists have been coming to power
around the world: Voters were disgusted by a governing elite that seemed
corrupt and out of touch. They felt
swamped by waves of immigrants,
frustrated by economic stagnation and
disgusted by the cultural values of the
cosmopolitan urbanites.
In office, Berlusconi did nothing to
address Italy’s core problems, but he did
degrade public discourse with his
speech, weaken the structures of government with his corruption and offend
basic decency with his Bunga Bunga
sex parties and his general priapic
In short, Berlusconi, like Trump, did
nothing to address the sources of public
anger, but he did erase any restraints on
the way it could be expressed.
This past weekend’s elections in Italy
were dominated by parties that took
many of Berlusconi’s excesses and
turned them up a notch.
The big winner is the populist Five
Star Movement, which was started by a
comedian and is now led by a 31-yearold who had never held a full-time job.
Another winner is the League, led by
Matteo Salvini, which declined to effectively distance itself from one of its
former candidates who went on a shooting rampage against African immigrants. Berlusconi, who vowed to expel
600,000 immigrants, is back and is now
considered a moderating influence. The
There won’t
respectable centerbe a snap
left party, like centerback to the
left parties across
Europe, collapsed.
we knew
Italy is now a
poster child for the
three big trends that
are undermining
democracies around the world:
First, the erasure of the informal
norms of behavior. As Steven Levitsky
and Daniel Ziblatt argue in “How Democracies Die,” democracies depend
not just on formal constitutions but also
on informal codes. You treat your opponents like legitimate adversaries, not
illegitimate enemies. You tell the truth
as best you can. You don’t make naked
appeals to bigotry.
Berlusconi, like Trump, undermined
those norms. And now Berlusconi’s
rivals across the political spectrum have
waged a campaign that was rife with
conspiracy theories, misinformation
and naked appeals to race.
Second, the loss of faith in the democratic system. As Yascha Mounk writes
in his book “The People vs. Democracy,”
faith in democratic regimes is declining
with every new generation. Seventyone percent of Europeans and North
Americans born in the 1930s think it’s
essential to live in a democracy, but only
29 percent of people born in the 1980s
think that. In the U.S., nearly a quarter
of millennials think democracy is a bad
way to run a country. Nearly half would
like a strongman leader. One in six
Americans of all ages support military
In the Italian campaign, we see the
practical results of that kind of attitude.
Voters are no longer particularly bothered if a politician shows dictatorial
tendencies. As one voter told Jason
Horowitz of The Times: “Salvini is a
good man. I like him because he puts
Italians first. And I guess he’s a fascist,
too. What can you do?”
Third, the deterioration of debate
caused by social media. At the dawn of
the internet, people hoped free communication would lead to an epoch of peace,
understanding and democratic communication. Instead, we’re seeing polarization, alternative information universes
and the rise of autocracy.
In Italy, the Five Star Movement
began not so much as a party but as an
online decision-making platform. It
pretends to use the internet to create
unmediated democracy, but as La Stampa’s journalist Jacopo Iacoboni told
David Broder of Jacobin: “In reality, the
members have no real power. In reality,
there is not any real direct democracy
within M5S, but a totally top-down
orchestration of the movement.”
In Italy, as with Trump and his Facebook campaign, the social media platform seems decentralizing, but it actually buttresses authoritarian ends.
The underlying message is clear. As
Mounk has argued, the populist wave is
still rising. The younger generations are
more radical, on left and right. The
rising political tendencies combine
lavish spending from the left with racially charged immigrant restrictions
from the right.
Vladimir Putin’s admirers are surging. The center is still hollowing out.
Nothing is inevitable in life, but liberal
democracy clearly ain’t going to automatically fix itself.
For Italians, la dolce vita turns angry
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Brenda Hagerty,
South, fell 11.3 percent (in contrast with
5.8 percent in Northern Italy). Today
Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all have a higher G.D.P. than the
Italian South.
Youth unemployment? According to
Eurostat, three of the four worst hit
regions in Europe are in Italy: Calabria
(58.7 percent), Sicily (57.2 percent) and
Sardinia (56.3 percent).
Women in employment? Only 31.7
percent in the South, 58 percent in the
North. People living in absolute poverty? Over 10 percent in the South, 6
percent in the Center-North. High speed
railroad tracks? Four times as much in
the North. Since 2003, Southern universities have lost 30 percent of their students, mostly because of poor academic
standards and emigration to Northern
Italy, Europe and beyond. Enrollment at
universities in the North dropped just 3
Southern voters know that Rome and
the central government are not the only
culprits. Local government is also to
blame. For the most part, it has been
shaped by traditional parties (Forza
Italia on the right and Democrats on the
left); it has proved often ineffective,
sometimes disastrous and corrupt. And
the ruling classes in Campania, Puglia,
Calabria or Sicily have done little to
raise the quality of life of their fellow
It’s no coincidence that voters in
those areas turned en masse for help
toward untested newcomers. “What can
be worse that this?” said an academic
from Naples who had seen a fat contract
for health equipment awarded to the
criminal organization known as the
Did Five Star promise to change all
this? Did it point out that half of all
buildings in the South last year went up
without proper planning permission
(compared to 5 percent in the North)?
Not really. It just offered voters a chance
to vent their frustration, and — perhaps
most important — offered a solution
from above: more subsidies, more
public money, even a reddito di cittadinanza, a salary for every citizen. Professor Roberto Perotti, one of Italy’s most
respected economists, in his recent
book Falso! (Fake!) claims that this
An activist wearing a mask of the Northern League’s Matteo Salvini in front of three
billboards reading “I said you stink. Now I want your vote. Why not, Southerners.”
would cost about 45 billion euros, which
Italy cannot afford. But this, apparently,
didn’t matter to Five Star supporters.
The North, by contrast, is doing well.
So why did it vote in large numbers for
Mr. Salvini’s League, choosing him over
its former idol, Silvio Berlusconi? Because Mr. Salvini talked about another
key issue: immigration from Africa and
elsewhere. Mr. Salvini, without offering
a solution, stressed over and over that
immigration was too high, and also
mismanaged. The League campaigned
in the roughest parts of Milan and Turin,
where newcomers are often involved in
petty crime.
It worked. The League’s vote was
higher wherever the number of foreigners grew faster. Today, 58 percent of
immigrants live in the North, compared
to 26 percent in the Center, 12 percent in
the South and 4 percent on the two
major islands. In Northern Italy, foreigners represent 11 percent of the
population, against 4 percent in the
The Italian North is also worried
about taxes and red tape. Mr. Salvini
took every opportunity to convince
small entrepreneurs that the League is
on their side. During the campaign, he
mixed common sense and ludicrous
A European rule states that invoices
must be settled within 30 days? He’ll
make sure it will be enforced (bravo).
Mr. Berlusconi, his ally and competitor,
promises a 23 percent flat tax, which
would cost the Italian public coffers 83
billion euros?
Mr. Salvini goes one further, and
promises a 15 percent flat tax (huh?). A
reform named after Elsa Fornero, a
former labor minister, raised the retirement age for both sexes to 67 by 2019
(and kept Italy from going broke in
2011)? He’ll scrap it.
“I’m proud to be called a populist, as I
like the people!” said an ebullient Mr.
“We achieved a post-ideological
result that goes beyond the right-left
divide!,” a euphoric Mr. Di Maio
Neither commands a majority in
Parliament, but they’ll try to put it
together. One of them, or both, may be
asked by President Sergio Mattarella to
form the next Italian government. Who
will cheer in the end, the North or the
South? And for how long?
is the editor in chief of
Corriere della Sera’s magazine 7 and
the author of “La Bella Figura: A Field
Guide to the Italian Mind.”
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 15
with France’s
On the penultimate night of fashion
month, amid the final paroxysms of designers attempting to define how women want to look today, there was a show
of a different kind.
Emmanuel Macron, president of
France, and his wife, Brigitte, hosted a
dinner at the Élysée Palace in honor of
the industry’s creatives. It was the fashion equivalent of the pre-Davos C.E.O.
summit that Mr. Macron engineered at
Versailles in January. News began to
leak out early in the week.
Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative director of
Valentino, who had come to Paris without a suit and had to go shopping at the
Valentino boutique, emailed Haider
Ackermann, creative director of
Berluti: “Are you going to the dinner at
the Élysée?”
“What dinner?” Mr. Ackermann replied. Then he got the invite. He had
gone to Los Angeles directly after his
own label’s show on Saturday to dress
Timothée Chalamet and Mahershala Ali
in Berluti for the Oscars, so after he got
them ready, he got back on a plane and
flew home. He wasn’t going to miss this
It was a big deal. French fashion hadn’t had this kind of official recognition
from the head of state since François
Mitterrand was president in the 1980s
(another ’80s revival trend! It’s inescapable). Natacha Ramsay-Levi of Chloé introduced herself to Clare Waight Keller,
formerly of Chloé and now of Givenchy,
because they had never met. Alber Elbaz hobnobbed with Vivienne Westwood. Joseph Altuzarra hung out with
Olivier Theyskens. At the head table,
Thom Browne sat near Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, who sat cater-corner to
Simon Porte Jacquemus and across
from Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior. And so
Among the very few designers missing were Nicolas Ghesquière of Louis
Vuitton and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel,
but then both had shows on the final day.
It was O.K.: They were represented by
their work. Mrs. Macron was wearing
an elaborate Louis XVI coat from Mr.
Ghesquière’s last collection, much to the
amusement of some guests (“You know
what happened to that king,” one said)
— though she accessorized it with her
own high heels, as opposed to the runway sneakers. Anna Wintour was wearing Chanel.
Before dinner (and after the family
photo), Mr. Macron made a speech welcoming everyone and encouraging
them to “choose France.”
“My deepest wish is that creators,
whether they come from India, Japan,
Africa, the United States or China, will
consider coming to our country,” he said,
President Emmanuel Macron of France and his wife, Brigitte, center, with designers
and fashion executives during a fashion week celebration at the Élysée Palace in Paris.
adding that at a time of looming threat
and rising nationalism, his choice was to
“be more open,” to “believe in Europe
and globalization,” because those values
were French values, and fashion was,
and could be, part of that.
In a room full of designers from all
over — many of whom had indeed made
Paris their adopted city — it struck a
chord. But then, it’s been a strikingly diverse season, in terms of both the model
lineup, which seems to have genuinely
become more variegated, and the
clothes. Change is on everyone’s mind:
good, bad, what have you. You could see
it on the catwalks that sandwiched the
You could see it, for example, on the
afternoon before the dinner at Giambattista Valli, king of the high/low party
dress, who opened his show not with a
flirt of chiffon but with a dark denim
boiler suit, and then interspersed
among the floral frippery and sequined
minidresses some 1970s leathers, mini
knit vests and long, narrow traveling
coats. It’s a promising direction: Here’s
hoping he does more of it, and that he
has the courage to leave some of the ruffles behind.
You could see it at Alexander McQueen, where Sarah Burton (who went
almost straight from her catwalk bow to
her place at the table close to Mr. Mac-
ron) took the idea of metamorphosis, of
emerging from the chrysalis, both literally and elegantly.
Tuxedo suits emerged from the exploded bindings of red leather corsetry.
Silk dresses and coats were marked by
monarch prints. A quilted green leather
parka had a collar that folded down to
frame the neck, like the upper wings of a
butterfly; zippers undone at the waist
dropped the coat’s skirt, suggesting the
lower parts. Elaborately embroidered
iridescent jeweled scarabs covered the
body of a sheer tulle dress. Floor-length
silk fringe created a motile surface on
capes and gowns, ever adrift in the
wind. A pink taffeta minidress sprouted
two enormous ruffs at the shoulders.
They looked as though they were about
to start flapping and fly away.
And you could see it Chanel, held the
morning after the dinner, though Mr. La-
gerfeld had a more somber transition on
the mind. Specifically a seasonal transition, a once-upon-a-time thing that
seems almost shrouded in myth these
days. So he took his audience, and his
collection, into the woods in his usual
way. The floor of the Grand Palais was
strewn with browning, fallen leaves and
tufts of moss, and surrounded by walls
papered with pictures of a bare-limbed
forest. The slightly sweet, cloying fragrance of rotting foliage hung in the air.
In the middle, a row of lone oaks
stood, dwarfing the models as they appeared, striding in flat shoes and boots
mottled in gold and bronze leaf. Their
twiglike silhouettes were drawn by long,
lean skirts and short boxy jackets, or tunics with unstructured peplums at the
hips over straight knee-length skirts.
The colors — in soft knits and tufted furs
and tweed bouclés and one Matisse-like
leaf print — faded into the ground like
natural camouflage. At the end, a series
of lacy dresses under Chanelized puffer
jackets looked so delicate they could
crumble at a touch, as if to remind everyone that change marks not only a beginning, but an ending.
Not that anyone was really thinking
like that at the Élysée, where Mr. Macron happily took selfies as requested
and where the dinner was buffet, so everyone was forced to mill around and
mix and not stand on protocol. And
where, in perhaps the most unexpected
fashion moment of the night, Stella McCartney Facetimed her father, Paul McCartney, so he could speak to Mr. Macron, and everyone converged, in a fit of
fandom for both, around her phone.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018 | 17
Marrakesh joins the art world map
The city is now home
to a private museum and
an outpost of a global fair
“If you come to Marrakesh, you don’t
come to see contemporary art,” Othman
Lazraq, president of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden told
journalists before the opening of his independent museum. “You come to see
camels and dancing ladies.”
Mr. Lazraq, 29, son of the multimillionaire Moroccan real estate developer
and art collector Alami Lazraq, might
have had his tongue firmly in cheek, yet
his remark summed up popular perceptions of Marrakesh.
Now the city, once the capital of medieval African empires, hopes to become a
destination for art. The Lazraqs’ museum, the first nonprofit museum of its
kind in North Africa, formally opened on
Feb. 24, one day after the inaugural 1-54
Contemporary African Art Fair started
at the La Mamounia Palace Hotel. The
openings filled the gap created by the
cancellation of the seventh Marrakesh
Biennale after its founder, Vanessa
Branson, withdrew her support.
“We thought it was important to show
contemporary African art in the African
continent,” said Touria El Glaoui, the
founding director of the 1-54 fair. The
fair, which was founded in London in
2013 and branched out to New York in
2015, now spans three continents. “But
we wanted to find a spot where visitors
can come to Africa and be O.K. with it,”
said Ms. El Glaoui, alluding to the relative stability of Morocco, whose monarch, King Mohammed VI, has his own
museum of modern and contemporary
art in the capital, Rabat. “We also need
African collectors to collect their own
art,” Ms. El Glaoui added.
Africa has been one of the art world’s
Next Big Things for a while. But owing
to the sheer scale, diversity and geopolitical challenges of the continent, African artists still struggle to achieve international recognition.
There are few more comfortable spots
than La Mamounia (Winston Churchill
was a frequent guest). The exclusivity of
the venue, as well as its iron gates
manned by security guards, certainly
made many European and American
visitors feel at ease. A significant proportion own properties in Marrakesh,
which has been a magnet for cultured
wealth ever since Yves Saint Laurent
made a home in the city.
“I prefer boutique fairs,” said Primo
Marella, director of the Primo Marella
galleries in Milan and in Lugano, Switzerland, one of just 17 exhibitors at 1-54.
“They attract fewer collectors, but they
are more specific.”
The Marrakesh fair attracted 4,000
visitors from Thursday through Sunday,
according to the organizers, less than a
third of the attendance at last year’s
London fair. But many were collectors
with plenty of money to spend.
By the end of Friday, Mr. Marella said
he had sold three textile wall hangings
by the Mali-based artist Abdoulaye
Konaté made specially for the fair.
Priced as high as 25,000 euros, or
around $30,000, they went to collectors
based in France, Morocco and Portugal.
Mr. Konaté’s enigmatic, politically
charged hangings, inspired by local textile traditions, first came to prominence
in the much exhibited Contemporary African Art Collection formed by the Italian businessman Jean Pigozzi. That collection, which still guides many buyers’
incursions into contemporary African
art, was formed in 1989 under the guidance of André Magnin, a French curator
and dealer.
Clockwise from above: “A Dinner in
Town,” by the collective Zbel Manifesto;
“Untitled,” a painting by Amadou Sanogo;
and “Calibrated Compositions III,” an
installation by Soukaina Aziz El Idrissi.
Mr. Magnin’s Paris gallery, Magnin-A,
was doing brisk business at the fair, having sold 10 works by Friday afternoon
for prices ranging from €2,500 to
€22,000, by artists such as J. P. Mika
from Congo and Amadou Sanogo from
Mali. The latter’s wry 2017 canvas, “Untitled,” showing a headless figure holding a paddle, sold for €16,000.
As these price points suggest, African
contemporary art tends to be more reasonably priced than equivalent work by
American or European artists.
Tunji Akintokun, an I.T. executive
based in London, described African contemporary art as “underestimated and
undervalued.” He flew to Marrakesh for
the fair, attracted by its North African
“Most of my collection is sub-Saharan,” he said. “It was an opportunity to
be educated, but also to look at the potential to buy.”
Mr. Akintokun said that he was negotiating to purchase of two North African
works for his collection, but he declined
to name the artists.
Mr. Akintokum might have been looking, for example, at photographs by the
Moroccan artist Walid Layadi-Marfouk,
22, who is based in New York. The London gallery Tiwani sold one of his photographs — of his aunt in his great-grandfather’s ancestral mansion in Marrakesh — for $5,000. Others were included in a survey show of works by 40
photographers, “Africa Is No Island,” at
the contemporary art museum.
Over 9,700 square feet of exhibition
space on two floors, the museum presents the most comprehensive overview
of how North African artists are responding to our times by showcasing
works from the 2,000-piece collection of
Alami and Othman Lazraq. Many of the
artists are from Morocco. For several,
plastic garbage has become the medium
— and the message — of the moment.
The Marrakesh-based collective Zbel
Manifesto, comprising Ghizlane Sahli,
Katia Sahli and Othman Zine, has used
“daily life garbage” to create an entire
dining room, complete with formal place
settings for the exhibition “Second Life,”
on the museum’s upper floor. Titled “Un
dîner en ville,” or “A Dinner in Town,”
the immersive installation is a lurid allegory of consumer excess.
Soukaina Aziz El Idrissi, on the other
hand, takes the ugliness of plastic waste,
then heats and weaves it into translucent hangings that lyrically reimagine
the carpets and textiles for sale in Morocco’s souks.
“In Morocco, carpets were art, until
Westerners came in and said they weren’t,” said Ms. Aziz El Idrissi, 30, who
trained at Central St. Martins college,
the London art and design college. Her
installation of hangings, “Calibrated
Compositions III,” is also on display on
the second floor. “We have too much
plastic,” said Ms. Idrissi, who in 2016
made a maze out of 17 tons of polyethylene bottles in Marrakesh to coincide
with the COP22 climate change conference. “Let’s stop.”
It’s easy enough see the disconnect
between internationally minded contemporary art shown in luxury hotels
and millionaires’ private museums and
the lives being lived in the surrounding
communities. The opening last fall of the
grandiose Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town — hailed as
Africa’s answer to Tate Modern — also
drew attention to this issue.
But Othman Lazraq, who is president
of his own museum, is eager to connect
with Moroccans and, possibly, to inspire
more of them to become artists. The museum runs an active program of artists’
workshops, talks and screenings for
schools and universities. It has also
started “La Chambre Claire,” a biannual
photography prize for emerging African
“Photography is the medium of my
generation. It’s the easiest way to see
things clearly.” Mr. Lazraq said, adding
that he wanted his museum to give African artists “a platform to be proud of
their roots.”
But gaining wider recognition remains a challenge for African artists.
Encouraging international visitors to
look at their art in Africa can only help
that process.
Voice that started out soft acquires some edge
Sophie Allison expands
her sound and lyrical
scope on her debut album
Love is no paradise in the songs of Sophie Allison, 20, who records as Soccer
Mommy. It’s a realm of misunderstandings, disappointments, unfulfilled longings and everyday betrayals, and Soccer Mommy’s songs recount them in a
haze of acceptance and resentment. “In
the summer you said you loved me like
an animal/Stayed beside me just
enough to keep your belly full,” Ms. Allison sings in “So Clean”; then she devotes the remaining verses to missing
him, predatory as he is, through the fall,
winter and spring.
Soccer Mommy joins a wavelet of
young women — along with Julien
Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski and
many others — who are using gentle
voices, pristine melodies and the expressive imperfections of indie rock for
songs that probe vulnerability and
trauma, self-sabotage and self-preservation. They are continuing a longstanding role of female singer-songwriters as
pop’s bearers of emotional sensitivity
and catharsis. But in the era of SoundCloud and Bandcamp, they need no
one’s help or permission to go public.
Whether anyone will listen is another
question, but Soccer Mommy got
Ms. Allison began posting home-recorded songs to Bandcamp as Soccer
Mommy in 2015, during the summer
when she was about to leave her hometown, Nashville, for college at New York
University. (She has since dropped out
and returned to Nashville to pursue her
music career.) As Soccer Mommy, she
wrote about leaving behind her first
love, about new independence and infatuations, about dodging the gaze of parents, about having to suddenly feel
“grown.” At first, with just a guitar, she
was lonely and forlorn above all; her
early digital EPs were titled “Songs for
the Recently Sad” and “Songs From My
But she soon gathered additional instruments and confidence, turning Soccer Mommy into an indie-rock band and
getting signed to Fat Possum. She reworked six Bandcamp songs and added
two newer, more assertive ones for “Collection,” released last year.
“Clean” — with nine songs and an in-
Sophie Allison, who records as Soccer Mommy.
strumental interlude — is billed as Soccer Mommy’s debut album, Ms. Allison’s first to be conceived as a whole
and recorded in a studio with backup
musicians and a producer. It takes pains
not to be at all slick. Ms. Allison’s voice
often droops a little flat, instruments
are hand-played rather than programmed, and the mix is proudly
smudgy. As if to insist that Soccer
Mommy is still loyal to low-fi, a few
songs flaunt deliberate studio glitches.
A demo take is suddenly spliced into
“Still Clean,” while in “Cool,” the sound
of a tape slowing down derails the big
rock buildup at the end.
But even as it clings to indie modesty,
“Clean” greatly expands the scope of
Ms. Allison’s songs in both words and
music. She’s not just sweet, sad and
lovelorn anymore. She’s riled enough,
amid the tangle of guitar lines in “Your
Dog,” to announce: “I want a love that
lets me breathe/And I’ve been choking
on your leash.” And she’s blunt and
skeptical enough to face her insecurities about whether she could possibly
live up to her boyfriend’s ex in “Last
Girl,” with a chorus that asks, even as it
echoes the beat of 1960s girl groups,
“Why would you still want to be with
me? She’s got everything.”
Infidelity also looms, in “Flaw” and
“Scorpio Rising.” She’s wildly attracted
to the guy in “Scorpio Rising,” but she
also clearly sees him eyeballing someone who’s “bubbly and sweet like a
Coca-Cola.” In “Flaw,” she’s the one who
strays, but, she sings, “I choose, choose
to blame it all on you/’cause I don’t like
the truth.”
On Soccer Mommy’s previous bandstyle recordings, songs tended to stick
to one sound from start to finish: a watery guitar strum, a certain band beat.
But “Clean” is full of changes, newly
willing to use contrast and dynamics.
“Blossom (Wasting All My Time),” a
song about “wondering if you really love
me” and finding someone better, starts
and ends with a strummed guitar, but
opens out depths of bass and reverberation along the way.
“Skin,” a song about deep physical
yearning — “I’m clawing at your skin
trying to see your bones” — juxtaposes
a stolid drumbeat with an octave-leaping vocal line and multiple tiers of guitars and glockenspiel, striving to incarnate the craving in sound. But she also
matter-of-factly adds, “I wish you also
felt like this.” Both cleareyed and passionate, she is growing up in public, unabashed.
18 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
How do you solve a problem like ‘Manhattan’?
and Her Sisters.”
“It was our courting ritual,” Ms. Arndt
said. “We’d grab Chinese, get the VHS
tape from the video store and watch
Woody Allen movies.”
The same could be said for untold
numbers of arty, intellectual, urban or
urban-aspiring men and women. For
years, quoting lines from “Manhattan”
or another film by Mr. Allen on a date
could be a romantic litmus test, a way to
find out if a potential partner also loved
E. E. Cummings, Paris, 1930s jazz and
the sophisticated, cultured world the
films often came to represent.
Perhaps because there’s a 14-year age
difference between Ms. Arndt and her
husband (she was 26 and he was 42
when they met 18 years ago), they didn’t
bristle at the director’s notorious casting of much younger leading ladies.
They also didn’t completely turn away
from the director’s films over his marriage to his stepdaughter Soon-Yi Previn, who wasn’t much older than Tracy
when their relationship became tabloid
fodder, in 1992.
But now that the #MeToo movement
is so prominent, Ms. Arndt said, “I’m rethinking my decisions about which artists to support and whether watching
Allen’s films is something we want to do
In the wake of #MeToo,
Woody Allen’s 1979 film
has taken on new meaning
“Manhattan,” Woody Allen’s cinematic
love letter to his hometown, was released in 1979 and nominated for two
Academy Awards the following year.
But you would think it belonged to the
2018 awards season, given how much it
is being quoted and discussed these
There was Seth Meyers, who hosted
the Golden Globes in January, inserting
a “Manhattan” joke into his opening
Last November, the writer Claire
Dederer published a 5,000-word, muchtalked-about essay in The Paris Review
in which she re-examined “Manhattan,”
a movie she had been “unable to watch”
for years.
Talking about the year in film, meanwhile, Greta Gerwig, who was nominated for two Oscars this year as the
writer and director of “Lady Bird,”
noted the way Mr. Allen’s movies, “Manhattan” among them, “have informed
me as an artist.”
Why is a 39-year-old movie that isn’t
available to stream on Netflix such a hot
topic? The answer has everything to do
with what else Ms. Gerwig said in an online interview conducted earlier this
year by The Times. While she grew up
on Mr. Allen’s movies, and acted in his
2012 film, “To Rome With Love,” in light
of continued allegations of sexual abuse
against the director, she said, “I will not
work for him again.”
Nor did she bump into Mr. Allen at the
Dolby Theater in Hollywood, where this
year’s Academy Awards were held. For
decades, he famously declined invitations to the event; he attended exactly
once, the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. But even if Mr. Allen had
wanted to go this year, he would hardly
have been welcome.
Since the #MeToo movement, his
once celebrated film “Manhattan” has
emerged as the archetypal work of
male-chauvinist art, a byword, for some,
for everything that’s wrong with Hollywood and the patriarchy. “The grown
women in ‘Manhattan’ are brittle and all
too aware of death,” Ms. Dederer wrote
in her essay. The piece was titled: “What
Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous
Even when the film hasn’t been directly under fire, it has been collateral
damage, as when “Manhattan” was
cited as inspiration for “I Love You,
Daddy,” the film by Louis C .K. that was
shelved by its distributor in the wake of
the comedian’s serial-masturbation
“Manhattan” practically seems engineered to provoke debate in the postWeinstein world.
Most glaring is its portrayal of a sexual relationship between a divorced 42year-old TV writer named Isaac (Mr. Allen) and a 17-year-old high school student named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). No characters in the movie
seem very troubled by the ethics of the
affair, nor did many critics at the time.
But the 25-year age gap, and the obvious
power imbalance, may make modern
viewers feel “a little urpy,” as Ms. Dederer put it, using a term for being on the
verge of vomiting.
For women who are reviewing their
own sexual histories and recalling inappropriate attention from much older
men, Isaac and Tracy are the poster couple for exploitive relationships. (That
If “Manhattan” is lately one of
Mr. Allen’s most disparaged films,
for decades it was among his
most beloved.
Clockwise from top, Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in “Manhattan”; Mr. Allen and his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, in 2017; and the film producer Charles H. Joffe, second from left,
Ms. Hemingway, center, and her father, Jack Hemingway, second from right, at a screening of the film in Cannes, France.
group includes Ms. Hemingway: In her
2015 memoir, she wrote that Mr. Allen
developed a real-life crush on her after
filming and wanted to take her to Paris.
She told him she wouldn’t go after she
realized they wouldn’t have separate
But as Lisa Schwarzbaum, the former
movie critic for Entertainment Weekly,
pointed out in an email interview,
“ ‘Manhattan’ was always about a middle-aged man with a high school girlfriend. Back then, ‘Manhattan’ was
made by Woody the Lovable Neurotic
Nebbish, and now it has been made by
Allen the Monster. And it’s the same
If the Isaac-Tracy relationship is so
troubling, why wasn’t it troubling two
years ago, when the New York Philharmonic put on a screening of the film with
live musical accompaniment, to a
packed house at David Geffen Hall?
Why was “Manhattan” for decades a
movie that men and women enjoyed
watching together?
Amy Arndt, who works for a software
company in Austin, Tex., and who was
once such a fan of Mr. Allen that she saw
his jazz band play at a local theater and
hung an autographed poster in her
house, is struggling with such questions. Ms. Arndt recently wrote on her
blog about the way that she and her husband, Tim, bonded over Mr. Allen’s
films, including “Sleeper” and “Hannah
If “Manhattan” is lately one of Mr. Allen’s most disparaged films, for decades
it was among his most beloved, selected
for preservation in the National Film
Registry, playing to adoring fans in revival houses, serving as a glorious advertisement for New York. Writing
about romantic comedies in The New
Yorker, in 2007, the critic David Denby
said that “Manhattan,” along with “Annie Hall,” took the form “to a level of rueful sophistication never seen before or
since.” Roger Ebert included the film in
his list of the “Great Movies.”
It isn’t just men who admired the
work, either. In 2011, on the style blog
Design Sponge, the writer Amy Merrick
showed readers how to get the “Manhattan” look in their apartments, swooning
over the black-and-white opening montage of New York landmarks set to
George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Ms. Dederer even admitted to being
“swept away” by that opening, before
nausea set in.
Ms. Gerwig has also, in the past, celebrated “Manhattan,” as has her
boyfriend and writing partner, the director Noah Baumbach, who once called
the film “epic.” Until recently, the couple’s relationship has played like a metatribute to Mr. Allen, with a marked age
difference (she is 34, he is 48), an eyebrow-raising beginning (Mr. Baumbach
was only recently separated from the
actress Jennifer Jason-Leigh when they
started dating) and their own blackand-white tribute to New York,
“Frances Ha.”
Given her recent comments, one presumes Ms. Gerwig would not view
“Manhattan” so rhapsodically these
days. In this regard, she would have another thing in common with Mr. Allen.
Speaking to the author Eric Lax for the
2009 book “Conversations With Woody
Allen,” the director expressed wonder
that so many people have made such a
big fuss about the movie over the years.
“People really latched on to ‘Manhattan,’ ” Mr. Allen said, “in a way that I
thought was irrational.”
From rural poverty to the halls of Ivy
Educated: A Memoir
By Tara Westover. 335 pp. Random
House. $28.
The United States has struggled with
the urban-rural divide for centuries,
stretching all the way back to when
Alexander Hamilton fixed his sights on
backwoods whiskey distilleries as a
revenue source for the new Republic,
prompting rebellion. But one could
make the case that the divide has
never consumed Americans as much
as it does today. The political parties
are aligned more than ever around
blue metropolises and red spaces in
between. Economic growth is now so
glaringly concentrated in certain urban
areas that it has reignited the age-old
debate over staying vs. going. Should
the young and ambitious from struggling small towns and cities be encouraged to seek their fortune in the hotbeds of dynamism and overpriced
Sunday brunch, or does this only sunder family ties and hasten the collapse
of the interior?
It was this dilemma that helped
make J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” a
runaway best seller in 2016 — the tale
of a young man who’d overcome the
dysfunctions of his transplanted Appalachian family to ascend to the Ivy
League and Silicon Valley, with plenty
of culture shocks along the way. Yet
Tara Westover’s new tale of escape,
“Educated,” makes Vance’s seem tame
by comparison. Where Vance wrote
affectingly of showing up at Ohio State
and Yale Law with the limited preparation provided by his middling schools
in Middletown, Ohio, Westover describes showing up in college with no
schooling at all. Where Vance describes a family contending with the
all-too-common burdens of substance
abuse, Westover lays bare a family
cursed by ideological mania and outlandish physical trauma. If Vance’s
memoir offered street-heroin-grade
drama, Westover’s is carfentanil, the
stuff that tranquilizes elephants.
The extremity of Westover’s upbringing emerges gradually through
her telling, which only makes the
telling more alluring and harrowing.
The basics are these: Now in her early
30s, she was the youngest of seven in a
survivalist family in the shadow of a
mountain in a Mormon pocket of
southeastern Idaho. Her father, Gene
(a pseudonym), grew up on a farm at
the base of the mountain, the son of a
hot-tempered father, and moved up the
slope with his wife, the product of a
more genteel upbringing in the nearby
small town. Gene sustained his growing family by building barns and hay
sheds and by scrapping metal in his
junkyard; his wife, Faye (also a pseudonym), chipped in with her income
from mixing up herbal remedies and
from her reluctant work as an unlicensed midwife’s assistant and then
During his 20s, Gene’s edgy and not
Tara Westover.
uncharismatic intensity morphed into
politically charged paranoia, fueled by
what the reader is led to presume is a
severe case of bipolar disorder. Around
the age of 30, he pulled his eldest children from school to protect them from
the Illuminati, though they, at least,
had the benefit of a birth certificate, an
indulgence the youngest four would be
denied. In theory, the children were
being home-schooled; in reality, there
was virtually no academic instruction
to speak of. They learned to read from
the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the
speeches of Joseph Smith and Brigham
Young. The only science book in the
house was for young children, full of
glossy illustrations. The bulk of their
time was spent helping their parents at
work. Barely into her teens, Westover
graduated from helping her mom mix
remedies and birth babies to sorting
scrap with her dad, who had the unnerving habit of inadvertently hitting
her with pieces he’d tossed.
Getting hit with a steel cylinder
square in the gut was the least of the
risks in the Westover household. The
book is, among other things, a catalog
of job-site horrors: fingers lost, legs
gashed, bodies horribly burned. No
pointy-headed bureaucrat could make
a stronger case for the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration than
do the unregulated Westovers with
their many calamities. Making matters
worse is Gene’s refusal to allow any of
the injured and wounded (himself
included) to seek medical attention
beyond his wife’s tinctures — “God’s
pharmacy” — a refusal that also
greatly exacerbates the effects of two
terrible car accidents. “God and his
angels are here, working right alongside us,” he tells Westover. “They won’t
let you get hurt.” When she gets tonsillitis, he tells her to stand outside with
her mouth open so that the sun can
work its magic. She does, for a month.
As time goes on, the conflict between
father and daughter gathers as inevitably as the lengthening autumn shadows from Buck’s Peak above. Gene’s
fervor and paranoia are undiminished
by the failure of the world to end at
Y2K, despite his ample preparations.
(Westover offers the pathos-filled
image of her father sitting expressionless in front of “The Honeymooners”
as the world ticks quietly onward.)
Meanwhile, she is starting to test the
boundaries of an upbringing more
tightly constricted than she can even
begin to imagine. Her venture into a
local dance class ends with her father
condemning the group’s painfully
modest performance outfits as whorish. Encouraged by an older brother
who started studying covertly and
eventually left for college, Westover
attempts to do likewise, reading deep
into her father’s books on the 19thcentury Mormon prophets. “The skill I
was learning was a crucial one, the
patience to read things I could not yet
understand,” she writes with characteristic understatement. (Only very
occasionally is Westover’s assured
prose marred by unnecessary curlicues.) As if her father’s tyranny is not
enough, she must contend also with
sadistic physical attacks from a different brother, whose instability was
worsened by a 12-foot headfirst plunge
onto rebar in yet another Westover
workplace accident.
Tara makes her first big step toward
liberation by, remarkably, doing well
enough on the ACT to gain admission
to the Mormon-owned Brigham Young
University in Utah. (“It proves one
thing at least,” her father says grudgingly. “Our home school is as good as
any public education.”) There, she is
shocked by the profane habits of her
classmates, like the roommate who
wears pink plush pajamas with “Juicy”
emblazoned on the rear, and in turn
shocks her classmates with her ignorance, never more so than when she
asks blithely in art history class what
the Holocaust was. (Other new discoveries for her: Napoleon, Martin Luther
King Jr., the fact that Europe is not a
country.) Such excruciating moments
do not keep professors from recognizing her talent and voracious hunger to
learn; soon enough, she’s off to a fellowship at Cambridge University,
where a renowned professor — a Holocaust expert, no less — can’t help
exclaiming when he meets her: “How
marvelous. It’s as if I’ve stepped into
Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion.’ ”
Westover eventually makes it to
Harvard for another fellowship and
then back to Cambridge to pursue her
Ph.D. in history. Even then, she’s not
yet fully sprung, so deeply rooted are
the tangled familial claims of loyalty,
guilt, shame and, yes, love. It is only
when the final, wrenching break from
most of her family arrives that one
realizes just how courageous this
testimonial really is. These disclosures
will take a toll. But one is also left
convinced that the costs are worth it.
By the end, Westover has somehow
managed not only to capture her unsurpassably exceptional upbringing
but to make her current situation seem
not so exceptional at all, and resonant
for many others. She is but yet another
young person who left home for an
education, now views the family she
left across an uncomprehending ideological canyon, and isn’t going back.
Alec MacGillis covers government and
politics for ProPublica. He is the author
of “The Cynic: The Political Education
of Mitch McConnell.”
20 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2018
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