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International New York Times - 24 April 2018

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in Paris for
Mr. Macron
China feels
left aside as
North Korea
reaches out
Sylvie Kauffmann
Contributing Writer
If new alliances are formed
with the U.S. and South,
Beijing could lose its pull
PARIS On April 23, 2017, Emmanuel
Macron stunned the world by leading
in the first round of a presidential
election that had looked unwinnable by
him. He went on to win the second
round and carry his movement, En
Marche!, to a landslide victory in
parliamentary elections. France, the
new young president promised, was
finally ready to be transformed and
would soon be fit for the 21st century.
A year after his first victory, the
French president is on a state visit to
Washington, and is a changed man. He
has turned 40 and has toured the
world, where he can still bask in appreciation. At home, though, the glory is
largely gone. The president, who
prides himself on talking the talk and
walking the walk, has been pushing
reforms at a dizzying pace since he
A half-century
arrived in the
after France
Élysée Palace. But
erupted in
his fellow countryprotests, it is
men also like to
doing so again. walk their walk — a
But the
very different one.
True to their repugrievances
tation, they have
and demands
taken to the streets
are different.
to protest and resist
changes organized
from the top. It has
taken a full year for President Macron
to meet his moment of truth.
Spring is in the air and strikes are
back, as are anniversaries. One anniversary in particular is on some people’s minds: May ’68, which is widely
seen here as a cultural revolution.
Those protests started with a student
rebellion at the Sorbonne in Paris;
soon enough, the clashes spread and
the students were joined by workers.
Within weeks, a general strike paralyzed France and challenged President
Charles de Gaulle. The general never
fully recovered. He resigned the following year after losing a referendum.
Is French revolutionary fervor back?
In 1968, Mr. Macron had not yet been
born, but he does know what “convergence des luttes” means. Literally a
“convergence of struggles,” this slogan
epitomized the unity of bourgeois
students and the proletariat that made
1968 unique. Fifty years later, some
people at the far ends of the French
political spectrum still dream of its
magic. Indeed, there’s no shortage of
protest in France this spring, putting
Mr. Macron’s reformist agenda to the
Railway workers are staging a twoday strike every three days, trying to
The New York Times publishes opinion
from a wide range of perspectives in
hopes of promoting constructive debate
about consequential questions.
Outsourcing migration policy
E.U. is relying on Sudan,
where migrants are said
to be tortured by police
At Sudan’s eastern border, Lt. Samih
Omar led two patrol cars slowly over the
rutted desert, past a cow’s carcass, before halting on the unmarked 2,000-mile
route that thousands of East Africans
follow each year in trying to reach the
Mediterranean, and then Europe.
His patrols along this border with Eritrea are helping Sudan crack down on
one of the busiest passages on the European migration trail. Yet Lieutenant
Omar is no simple border agent. He
works for Sudan’s feared secret police,
whose leaders are accused of war
crimes — and, more recently, whose officers have been accused of torturing migrants.
Indirectly, he is also working for the
interests of the European Union.
“Sometimes,” Lieutenant Omar said,
“I feel this is Europe’s southern border.”
Three years ago, when a historic tide
of migrants poured into Europe, many
leaders there reacted with open arms
and high-minded idealism. But with the
migration crisis having fueled angry
populism and political upheaval across
the Continent, the European Union is
quietly getting its hands dirty, stanching
the human flow, in part, by outsourcing
border management to countries with
dubious human rights records.
In practical terms, the approach is
working: The number of migrants arriving in Europe has more than halved
since 2016. But many migration advocates say the moral cost is high.
To shut off the sea route to Greece, the
European Union is paying billions of euros to a Turkish government that is dismantling its democracy. In Libya, Italy
is accused of bribing some of the same
militiamen who have long profited from
the European smuggling trade — many
of whom are also accused of war crimes.
In Sudan, crossed by migrants trying
to reach Libya, the relationship is more
opaque but rooted in mutual need: The
Europeans want closed borders, and the
Sudanese want to end years of isolation
from the West. Europe continues to enforce an arms embargo against Sudan,
and many Sudanese leaders are international pariahs, accused of committing
war crimes during a civil war in Darfur,
a region in western Sudan.
But the relationship is unmistakably
deepening. A recent dialogue, called the
Khartoum Process, has become a plat-
Noted comic actors hone
their dramatic skills in
Netflix-produced movies
Y(1J85IC*KKNPKP( +?!"!$!=!/
A banner in Seoul, the South Korean capital, expressed hopes for a successful inter-Korean summit meeting. A grand bargain reversing 70 years of history appears to be a long shot.
A member of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces guarding migrants. “Sometimes, I feel this is
Europe’s southern border,” said an officer in the secret police who also patrols the region.
form for at least 20 international migration conferences between European Union officials and their counterparts from
several African countries, including Sudan. The European Union has also
agreed that Khartoum, Sudan’s capital,
will be the site of a nerve center for
countersmuggling collaboration.
While no European money has been
Seriously, they aren’t going for laughs
“Cargo,” a Netflix-made movie that will
have its premiere on May 18, has an exemplary slow-burn opening. On a quiet
river in the middle of a beautiful Australian landscape, Andy, played by Martin
Freeman, steers a houseboat. In its
kitchen area, his wife, Kay, feeds their
infant daughter. Things look idyllic. The
boat eases toward the shoreline; some
balloons in trees hint of a celebration.
Andy looks across the water at a patriarchal figure, who stares back, deadeyed.
The man raises his shirt to show a revolver tucked into his jeans.
Andy and his family, we learn, are
running out of food. Something catastrophic is afoot. The movie, directed by
Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke from a
screenplay by Ms. Ramke, keeps the exact nature of the calamity hidden for a
given directly to any Sudanese government body, the bloc has funneled 106
million euros — or about $130 million —
into the country through independent
charities and aid agencies, mainly for
food, health and sanitation programs for
migrants, and for training programs for
local officials.
As the North Korean leader Kim Jongun prepares for his meetings with the
presidents of South Korea and the
United States, China has found itself in
an unaccustomed place: watching from
the sidelines.
Worse, many Chinese analysts say,
North Korea could pursue a grand bargain designed not only to bring the isolated nation closer to its two foes from
the Korean War, but also diminish its reliance on China for trade and security.
Such an outcome — a reversal of 70
years of history — remains a long shot,
amid doubts about whether the North
would agree to relinquish its arsenal of
nuclear weapons. Still, China finds itself
removed from the center of the rapidly
unfolding diplomacy, and unusually
wary about Mr. Kim’s objectives in
reaching out to his nation’s two bitterest
Mr. Kim’s meeting with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, is set for
Friday, and a meeting with President
Trump — the first ever between leaders
of the two nations — is expected to follow in May or early June. In a sign of just
how much is suddenly on the table,
South Korea recently confirmed that it
was in talks with the North and with the
United States about signing a treaty to
end the Korean War, which halted in
1953 but never formally ended.
With events moving so quickly, and
Beijing finding itself largely left on the
outside, analysts said China and its
leader, Xi Jinping, must at least consider
what they called worst-case contingencies.
“The loss of prestige is a big problem
for China and Xi, who wants everyone
else to view China as an essential actor
of international relations, especially in
the Northeast Asian context,” said
Zhang Baohui, a professor of international relations at Lingnan University in
Hong Kong. “Now, suddenly, China is no
longer relevant.”
In a declaration over the weekend
that North Korea would suspend nuclear and missile tests, Mr. Kim spoke as if
the North were already a nuclear power
and no longer needed weapons tests, a
direct challenge to the Trump administration’s stated goal of denuclearization.
Washington has declared that the coming negotiations are about getting rid of
the arsenal.
Still, President Trump apparently
wants to claim a place in history as the
American leader who formally ended
the Korean War — even though he
tweeted on Sunday that he was not rushing into a deal. And Mr. Moon is eager to
Jason Sudeikis, left, Elizabeth Olsen and Ed Harris in “Kodachrome,” a father-and-son
reconciliation drama that is adapted from a 2010 article in The New York Times.
good long time. Long enough that I was
rather disappointed to find out . . . yup,
flesh-eating zombie pandemic. (It was
only two weeks ago that I wondered how
long it would take for every region in the
world to deliver its own zombie movie.
We now have southern Australia covered.)
But “Cargo” has more than a few terrifying, and provocative, tricks. In this
movie’s zombie pandemic, people who
are bitten don’t turn into flesh eaters immediately. When Andy is infected, he
has 48 hours to find a nonzombie guardian for his daughter. As it happens, the
Indigenous people of this region seem to
have a higher survival rate than others.
They have gone back to the “old ways,”
says Thoomi (Simone Landers, a newcomer who does excellent work), an indigenous teenage girl who befriends
Andy. These ways include body and face
paint to ward off the undead.
One of these survivors is played by
David Gulpilil, who made his screen debut in the 1971 film “Walkabout” and
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Issue Number
No. 42,024
2 | TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018
page two
Roots of Cambridge Analytica
Blind Paralympic runner
who won 8 gold medals
Advertising executive
was certain of the power
of subliminal messaging
Nearly three decades ago, an ambitious
young London advertising executive
named Nigel Oakes fell out with his
partners, two psychologists, over a central claim of his new business: That using the tools of social science, he could
plant motivations in people’s brains
without their knowledge, prompting
them to behave as a client wished.
The psychologists considered his
claims unscientific and severed the relationship. “He wanted to exaggerate
what was possible to do using psychology,” said Barrie Gunter, one of the psychologists. Adrian Furnham, the other,
said Mr. Oakes was convinced of “that
mystical, incredible power of the subliminal.”
For years, Mr. Oakes kept trying, convinced he was on to something. But
there was no breakthrough until the
United States and its allies occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and began looking
for contractors to win “hearts and
minds.” The ad man rebranded himself
as a psychological operations specialist,
founder of an organization called Strategic Communication Laboratories, and
money started to flow.
Today, Mr. Oakes’s SCL Group —
which spawned many smaller companies, including the American political
consultancy Cambridge Analytica — is
at the center of a trans-Atlantic scandal
over data mining and voter manipulation. Investigators have focused on Alexander Nix, the former chief executive
of Cambridge Analytica, who led efforts
to use personal data scraped from social
media in political campaigns.
Mr. Oakes, whose firm has held military contracts with the British and
American governments, has stayed studiously in the background. He was a star
witness in absentia last week at a parliamentary hearing in London, when an academic shared recordings of him speaking admiringly of the oldest and simplest way of shaping public opinion:
stirring up resentment toward a minority group.
Adolf Hitler “didn’t have a problem
with the Jews at all, but people didn’t
like the Jews,” he told the academic,
Emma L. Briant, a senior lecturer in
journalism at the University of Essex.
He went on to say that Donald J. Trump
had done the same thing by tapping into
grievances toward immigrants and
This sort of campaign, he continued,
did not require bells and whistles from
technology or social science.
“What happened with Trump, you can
forget all the microtargeting and microdata and whatever, and come back to
some very, very simple things,” he told
Dr. Briant. “Trump had the balls, and I
mean, really the balls, to say what people wanted to hear.”
Mr. Oakes did not respond to requests
for comment. A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica endeavored to distance the company from Mr. Oakes and
his comments, saying he “never had any
role at Cambridge Analytica, has never
worked for Cambridge Analytica and
did not work on the Trump campaign in
any way whatsoever.”
The company said his comments had
been made “in a personal capacity about
the historical use of propaganda to an
academic he knew well from her work in
the defense sphere.”
The hearings marked a sudden public
exposure for Mr. Oakes, an upper-crust
Englishman whose air of mystery was
also a selling point. From its inception,
the central promise of the SCL Group
was to shape public opinion without being seen.
Dr. Briant, who interviewed Mr.
Oakes repeatedly for her book “Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strat-
The offices of SCL Group in London. The company’s founder, Nigel Oakes, below right, and below left escorting Lady Helen Windsor
on a night out in 1985, was a star witness in absentia last week at a parliamentary hearing in London.
egies for Global Change,” said she suspected that for Mr. Oakes, the hearings
had been a painful experience.
“You need to bear in mind, these are
powerful, arrogant men,” she said.
“They think they own the world. I honestly think they thought they were invincible.”
As a young man, Mr. Oakes cut a rakish figure. Raised in rural gentility — his
father was once the high sheriff of Warwickshire — and educated at Eton, he
had “a kind of smoothness and charm
and charisma that you associate with
people who have that kind of education,”
his former colleague Barrie Gunter said.
After Eton, instead of continuing on to
college, he embarked on a racy career as
a disc jockey and music producer and
dated Lady Helen Windsor, a cousin of
Queen Elizabeth and 40th in line to the
The business idea he took to the team
of psychologists was “Marketing Aromatics,” a service that pumped in fragrances — of pine trees, the ocean, or
new-mown grass — on the principle that
“smells can influence attitudes and
therefore behavior.” Mr. Oakes was “a
young man in a hurry,” under pressure
to repay his investors, said Professor
Gunter, of the department of mass communications at the University of Leicester.
He was also worried about his lack of
a university diploma, pressing the professors to suggest a “short cut” that
would save him years of study.
“He was what the English would call
economical with the truth,” said Mr.
Furnham, a professor of psychology at
University College London.
They parted ways, the younger man
intent on building a company with a
strong research component, Professor
Gunter said, “designed in such a way
that if the client wanted, it could be used
to influence the subject and make them
do something.”
That company was Strategic Communication Laboratories, and its new targets — procurement officials in the
American and British militaries, and politicians in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean — were more responsive. Mr. Oakes
was able to leverage his aristocratic
background, attracting a list of prominent people, like Jonathan Marland, a
member of the British House of Lords
and former treasurer of the Conserva-
“These are powerful, arrogant
men. They think they own the
world. I honestly think they
thought they were invincible.”
tive Party, as shareholders in his venture. Lord Marland said he was steered
by a private equity firm to invest around
$70,000 in the company, which he said
was “set up to give people security and
military advice.”
An element of what Mr. Oakes offered
his clients was dirty tricks. In 2000,
Jeremy Wagstaff, an investigative journalist, encountered Mr. Oakes as an adviser to the president of Indonesia at the
time, Abdurrahman Wahid. Mr. Oakes
was paid $300,000 in cash for a twomonth campaign, Mr. Wagstaff said. It
was heavy on optics, featuring “a Tom
Clancy-style ops center with lots of
screens and people beavering away at
“The money was changing hands in
U.S. cash in sports bags, so it was a
somewhat unusual arrangement,” he
Mr. Oakes abruptly left Indonesia after Mr. Wagstaff reported in The Wall
Street Journal that he had paid several
thousand dollars to a nongovernmental
journalist’s organization, falsely claiming it was from the United States
Agency for International Development,
and that the organization had then put
out statements beneficial to Mr. Wahid.
Mr. Oakes denied claiming the money
had come from U.S.A.I.D.
By then, Mr. Oakes was pivoting to
counterterrorism, presenting a more sophisticated option for “hearts and
minds” campaigns than the blunt propaganda offered by public relations firms
and ad companies, said Dr. Briant.
“This pseudointellectual, academic
approach, it looked really good,” she
said. “You are creating a situation in
which behavior will change. That idea
underpins a lot of what they have developed since.”
By 2012, Strategic Communication
Laboratories was a trusted partner of
Britain’s Ministry of Defense, included
on the so-called “X list” of companies
“cleared to routine access to U.K. secret
information.” It was also providing
training for Britain’s 15th Psyops Group,
according to documents released this
month by Christopher Wylie, a former
Cambridge Analytica employee.
When Dr. Briant last met Mr. Oakes
for an interview, late last year, he was in
an expansive, boastful mood. Mr. Oakes
praised Mr. Nix, his younger colleague,
for expanding the company’s electoral
work swiftly, making it into “a very successful commercial entity.” But he credited himself with the big ideas behind
the firm’s work.
“If he’s the Steve Jobs, I’m the Steve
Wozniak,” he said, referring to the inventor who built the Apple computer.
“I’m the sort of guy who wants to get the
engineering right, and he’s the guy who
wants to sell the flashy box.”
He rolled his eyes a little at the controversy that had built up around Cambridge Analytica’s advance work for a
pro-Brexit campaign, a role which he
said Mr. Nix had inflated for commercial
Yes, the company had been branded
as using “pretty unethical ways of
achieving their results,” he acknowledged to Dr. Briant. But on the bright
side, he said, this was exactly what
many clients were looking for.
“People coming to us are not ethical,”
he continued. “I mean, frequently people come to us and say we’ve got so
many dirty tricks against us, we now
need to know the dirty tricks to go back.
Or we need to know how to counter the
dirty tricks and you guys seem to know
how to do it.”
Rob Matthews, a blind runner who won
eight gold medals for Britain at the Paralympic Games and broke 22 world
records, died on April 11 at a hospice in
Auckland, New Zealand, where he had
lived for the past decade. He was 56.
His wife, Sarah Matthews, said the
cause was brain cancer.
“One of the reasons I run is that it is
something I’m good at,” Matthews
wrote in “Running Blind” (2009), his autobiography. “I feel alive when I run.
When I was growing up, failing sight
made me feel clumsy and awkward, but
when I run I feel tall and graceful and
He lost his vision gradually to retinitis
pigmentosa — as his father did — so that
by the time he was 20 he was blind.
Attending the Royal National College
for the Blind in Hereford, England, he
ran and played goalball, a game in which
opposing teams wearing blindfolds (to
account for players with different degrees of visual impairment) try to roll a
basketball-size ball with bells embedded in it into each other’s goal.
After graduating he made a quick impression on the international sports
At the 1983 European athletic championships for the visually impaired in
Varna, Bulgaria, he won the gold medal
in the 800-, 1,500- and 5,000-meter races.
He then earned gold medals in the same
distances at the 1984 Summer Paralympics on Long Island.
Four years later, when the 1988 Paralympics were held in Seoul, South Korea,
he repeated the feat. He now had six
Paralympic gold medals.
Between those Games, Matthews set
a record for a blind runner in the 800 meters. He had dreamed of shattering the
2-minute mark for the first time, and at a
track meet in Brighton, England,
Matthews won the 800-meter race with
a time of 1:59:90.
“Now I was really on the same playing
field as quality sighted athletes,” he
wrote in his memoir, “and hoped I had
their respect as well as their admiration.”
Like others runners with his extreme
visual impairment, Matthews ran with a
guide, tethered by a short rope looped
around their fingers. A blind runner
needs to feel synchronized with his
guide to navigate a track with confidence and at optimal speed.
“I’m trusting this guy fully with my
life,” David Brown of the United States,
the Paralympic record-holder in the 100
and 200 meters, said in a telephone interview. “You want a guy who’s not only
in shape — who can run at your pace and
comfortably yell throughout the race in
front of 90,000 or 100,000 people. It’s
loud out there, and he’s my eyes.”
Matthews had more than 100 guides
over his long career, building relationships based on trust.
“Most of his guide runners became
lifelong friends,” Matt Lawton, one of
those guides, wrote in The Daily Mail
last week, “but the guy who ran him
straight into a lamppost on their first
outing together didn’t return for a second session. The poor chap was mortified.”
Robert Aubrey Matthews was born in
Strood, about 30 miles southeast of London, on May 26, 1961. His parents, Aubrey, a shorthand typist, and the former
Patricia Crow, a homemaker, met after
World War II.
“Dad’s blindness was never a problem
for Mum,” Matthews wrote in his memoir, “although it took her parents some
time to adjust to their daughter’s choice
of partner.”
Before his vision disappeared,
Matthews recalled, he could not see in
the dark, and bright light overwhelmed
him. His central vision worsened faster
than his peripheral vision. Still, he retained many memories of his past — his
sister’s blond hair and his father smoking a pipe. But the last image of himself,
he wrote, was of a “frightened 15-yearold staring back at me in the mirror.”
Running turned back the fear, he said,
proving that his father had been correct
when he told him that blindness was not
the worst thing that could happen to
Matthews returned to the Paralympics in 1992, in Barcelona, Spain,
where he won his seventh gold medal, in
the 5,000-meter race. He won his eighth
in 2000, at the Sydney Games in Australia, in the 10,000 meters. He also won four
Paralympic silver medals, including one
in the marathon in Sydney, and one
bronze, in the 1,500 at Barcelona.
He competed in his last Paralympics
in 2004, in Athens, without winning any
medals. The Games were held less than
a year after his first wife, Kath Stevens,
died of a blockage in her brain.
“Running is like a safety valve,”
Matthews told The Independent before
the 2004 Games. “It’s helped me keep a
measure of sanity over the last nine
months, and most importantly it has given me a goal.”
He married Sarah Kerr in 2007 after
moving to New Zealand, where she is
from, the previous year.
Besides his wife, he survived by their
two children, Molly and Thomas; his sisters, Angela Touni and Sue Angelini;
and his mother.
In New Zealand, Matthews became a
speaker and triathlete.
He also kept a blog detailing his fight
with cancer and his recollections. In one
post he remembered attending soccer
games with his father in Kent, England,
watching the local team, Gillingham F.C.
“This was our special father-son
bonding time,” he wrote, “and we went a
number of times when I was 8 years old.
Given I still had some useful vision, I
would act as Dad’s eyes, trying to identify players and explain what was happening. Although, to be honest, my eyesight was fading by then, and it was a bit
of a case of the blind leading the blind.”
Rob Matthews, right, ran with a guide in the 1,500-meter event in the 1996 Paralympics
in Atlanta. “Most of his guide runners became lifelong friends,” one of them said.
Seriously, they aren’t going for laughs
tralia-set cinema (his résumé includes
classics like “The Last Wave, ” from
1979, and the 1986 hit “Crocodile
Dundee”) has rendered him a genuine
icon. Mr. Freeman, who is an adept
comic actor, is always good playing an
ordinary Joe, and here he portrays one
in an extraordinary jam. The movie depicts his character’s heroism without
creating a “white savior” tale; instead, it
advocates community and communal
Two other recent Netflix-made movies feature comedy actors honing their
dramatic chops. In “6 Balloons,” which
had its premiere on April 6, Abbi Jacobson of the Comedy Central series “Broad
City,” plays opposite Dave Franco,
whose recent comedic turns include a
role in “The Disaster Artist” and voice
work on “BoJack Horseman.” Written
and directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan (who
is developing a reboot of the Showtime
series “The L Word”), the film tells a
fraught brother-sister story. Ms. Jacob-
The closing of a photo lab in Kansas that was the last to process Kodachrome film is the
hook for a road trip in the movie, with Ed Harris playing a photographer who is dying.
son plays Katie, a young Angeleno preparing a surprise Fourth of July birthday party for her boyfriend. Running
her errands, she makes the mistake of
picking up her brother Seth, portrayed
by Mr. Franco. A heroin addict who’s
detoxed, rehabbed and relapsed more
than once, he’s high again, with a toddler
in tow.
Katie jettisons her celebration plans
and tries to check Seth into a detox center, is turned away for insurance reasons, and seeks an alternative. As she
tries to help her brother she reflexively
lies to her friends and relatives. All the
while she tolerates his petty insults. A
recurring motif is a voice-over reading
from a self-help book, “Letting Go With
Love,” which compares the enabling relative’s plight to a person who repeatedly
boards a boat he knows is bound to sink.
Ms. Ryan, the director, extends the
metaphor by showing Katie’s car filling
with water as the words from the book
play on the soundtrack. The effect does
not quite work, but both lead actors ac-
quit themselves well, Ms. Jacobson especially. Her portrayal of a put-upon,
constantly heartbroken woman whose
concern for her brother places her in a
state of misery and danger is never
showy and always credible. Mr. Franco
is at his best when his character is at his
most crassly infuriating.
“Kodachrome,” which debuted on
Netflix on Friday, is adapted from a 2010
New York Times article written by A. G.
Sulzberger, who is now the publisher. It
is, without question, the greatest motion
picture ever made. (O.K., it’s not.) And
the movie’s primary narrative, a fatherand-son reconciliation drama, is not in
Mr. Sulzberger’s story about a Kansas
photo lab that, in its final days, became a
sensation for being the only facility still
processing Kodachrome film.
The closing of this real-life shop is the
hook for a road trip in the film. Ed Harris
plays Ben Ryder, a renowned photographer who’s dying; Jason Sudeikis is
Matt, Ben’s son, long estranged from his
father and struggling to keep his music
industry job in New York. Summoned by
Ben’s personal assistant, Zoe (Elizabeth
Olsen) to drive to the Midwest with his
dad, Matt flat-out refuses and isn’t shy
about communicating how much of an
affront he considers the proposal. But
when Ben’s lawyer, Larry (Dennis
Haysbert), dangles a career opportunity, Matt relents. And so the journey begins.
When Matt finally visits his father,
Ben is banging away at a drum kit,
which, it turns out, once belonged to
Matt. Ben chides Matt for giving up music. This is the kind of movie where you
just know you’ll see Matt behind that
drum kit before the end.
“Kodachrome” is several times too
slick for its own good; Mark Raso’s direction is a major culprit here. But the
writing, from Jonathan Tropper, is more
tart and frank than is customary in such
exercises, particularly in the exchanges
between Mr. Sudeikis and Mr. Harris. If
you’ve enjoyed these performers before,
you’ll enjoy them here.
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TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018 | 3
In Italy, cannabis with a wink and a nod
A statutory void opened
the way for a booming
sector of the economy
For the past year, small jars of cannabis
flowers have been flying off the shelves
of Italian specialty shops, a phenomenon that’s described as a “green gold
The hemp flowers — with names like
K8, Chill Haus, Cannabismile White
Pablo and Marley CBD — are sold under
the tag “cannabis light” because their
level of the psychoactive compound that
makes people high is a tiny fraction of
that typically found in cultivated marijuana.
But there’s a catch. The aromatic
hemp flowers must not be smoked or
eaten. Seeds, should there be any, must
not be cultivated. As the jars’ labels
sternly specify, the products are for
“technical use” only and “not for human
consumption.” Instead, they are sold —
as countless salesclerks will explain
with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink smile —
as “collectors’ items.”
Such is the current, perplexing status
of one form of legal cannabis in Italy.
Italy’s cannabis mania, as it has been
called, exploded after a December 2016
law regulating hemp production went
into effect, a series of norms meant to
help revive a crop that was once widely
cultivated in the country. In the 1940s, Italy was said to be the world’s secondbiggest producer of industrial cannabis,
after the Soviet Union. (Statistics for
China, also a major producer, do not exist.)
The law was created for farmers
growing industrial hemp, which has
only minute levels of the psychoactive
compound — tetrahydrocannabinol, or
THC — but has commercial uses in
products like food, fabrics, clothing, biofuel, construction material and animal
feed. The law did not regulate the use of
cannabis flowers, also known as buds,
and an entire economy emerged from
the legislative void.
Clockwise from above: A greenhouse at Canapa Mundi, a three-day trade fair in Rome that showcased hemp-based products; plants under grow lights at the fair; a visitor.
In the past year, companies packaging cannabis light have burgeoned, dozens of shops selling cannabis products
have opened, franchising brands have
taken off and many farmers have rotated their fields to produce one of the 64
varieties of industrial hemp certified by
the European Union.
Farmers’ associations see wide-scale
hemp production as one solution to Italy’s agricultural slump.
“We created an awesome phenomenon,” said Luca Marola, who is widely
credited with kick-starting the boom in
cannabis light, thanks in part to extensive media coverage of his company, the
Easyjoint Project. As of February, he
said, he had sold 17,000 kilograms, or
over 37,000 pounds, of flowers — an endeavor that Mr. Marola, a longtime activist for marijuana legalization, calls a
“form of civil disobedience.”
In the past century, marijuana and
cannabis became associated with illegal
drugs, effectively wiping out generations of tradition, said Gennaro
Maulucci, the main organizer of a hempbased trade fair in Rome. “We want to
dismantle that defamatory reputation,”
he said.
“It’s a new economy. It feels like Silicon Valley,” he added during the fair,
Canapa Mundi, which drew more than
30,000 visitors over three days in February. And in this process, he said, “even
cannabis light can contribute to the normalization of cannabis.”
The level of THC is under 0.2 percent
in cannabis light, compared with the 15
percent to 25 percent or more that is
typically found in cultivated strains of
marijuana, although street-level quality
China sidelined in Korea talks
edge toward the reunification of the two
Koreas. So China fears the outcome
could be either a North Korea or a unified Korean Peninsula leaning toward
the United States.
Since the 1950-53 Korean War, when
China fought on the side of the North
against the South and its ally the United
States, the alliances have been immovable. The North has provided a convenient buffer for China against having
American troops on its border; the
South serves as a base in the region for
the American military.
In negotiations over the denuclearization of the North, Beijing has to worry
whether all that could suddenly be in
play, Chinese analysts said.
“If a grand deal can be struck between
Kim and Trump, in the form of denuclearization in exchange for normalization
of bilateral relations, then Northeast
Asia may see a major realignment,” Mr.
Zhang said. “China does not run Kim’s
foreign policy, and they know that.”
The possible new alignment on the
Korean Peninsula that most concerns
Beijing is a loose unification between
North and South Korea with American
troops remaining in the South.
As part of its conciliatory moves before the meetings, the North has
dropped its demand for the departure of
the 28,000 United States troops stationed in the South as a condition for denuclearization.
“A unified, democratic Korea aligned
with the U.S. will be dangerous to the
Communist regime in China, though not
necessarily the Chinese nation,” said
Xia Yafeng, a North Korea expert at
Long Island University.
From China’s point of view, a favorable outcome from the meeting between
Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim may simply be a
less dangerous version of the status quo,
Dr. Xia said.
There could be a “nice photo” of the
two men, with vague promises from the
North Korean leader to get rid of his nuclear weapons, and then long negotiations in which China would have a big
say, he said.
What is curious is that China has for
decades favored a peace treaty to end
the Korean War. Premier Zhou Enlai of
China mentioned ending the Korean
“A unified, democratic Korea
aligned with the U.S. will be
dangerous to the Communist
regime in China.”
War in a 1971 interview with The New
York Times columnist James Reston, Dr.
Xia said.
China, however, has a very specific
view of what such a treaty would entail:
the withdrawal of American troops from
South Korea, which would leave both
Koreas leaning toward China.
“A peace treaty is good for China in
that it will presumably denuclearize
North Korea, and more important, it will
end the legality of the U.S. military alliance and troop presence on the peninsula,” said Yun Sun, a North Korea expert
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, left, met with President Xi Jinping of China in
Beijing last month. It may have been a maneuver to play China against the United States.
at the Stimson Center in Washington.
Since North Korea is looking for security guarantees from the United States
in return for denuclearization, that
guarantee “will hopefully include the
withdrawal of U.S. troops,” she said.
But, like his grandfather and father
who ruled North Korea before him, Mr.
Kim has shown signs of wanting to reduce China’s influence.
When the young leader made a surprise visit to Beijing three weeks ago to
meet Mr. Xi for the first time, the two
men seemed to repair somewhat the traditionally close relationship between
the two countries that had been in the
freezer since Mr. Kim came to power in
In fact, the visit was probably not so
much a gesture of rapprochement as a
deft move by Mr. Kim to play China
against the United States, just as his
grandfather had maneuvered between
China and the Soviet Union, Chinese analysts said.
Mr. Kim’s purpose was to give the impression to the Americans that he was
entering the meetings with China at his
back, they said. Mr. Xi accepted an invitation from Mr. Kim to make a return
visit to Pyongyang, but there were no
signs that would happen before President Trump meets with Mr. Kim, a Chinese government spokesman said.
Analysts say that since coming to
power, the young Mr. Kim has resented
his country’s almost total economic dependence on Beijing, which has only increased under the tough United Nations
economic sanctions that China voted for
last year.
About 90 percent of the North’s foreign trade in essential items — coal,
minerals, seafood, textiles — passes
through China, and China is its biggest
supplier of fuel.
At the urging of the Trump administration, China approved the sanctions
that have severely cut the North’s access to fuel and hard currency. North
Korean ties with China seemed to hit a
low, with Mr. Kim refusing to even meet
a Chinese envoy in November, and conducting a ballistic missile test instead.
Perhaps wary of alienating the North,
and unhappy with Mr. Trump’s decision
to impose tariffs on Chinese imports,
Beijing was no longer so willing to punish the North, Chinese analysts said.
There are already signs that trade is
picking up along China’s border with
North Korea, Chinese traders say, which
could mean a relaxing after six months
of a near total trade embargo.
Hours after the North’s announcement on Saturday of its suspension of
nuclear tests, one outspoken Chinese
state-run newspaper, Global Times, said
the United Nations should “immediately
discuss the cancellation of part of the
sanctions against North Korea.”
Further, the United States, South Korea and Japan should lift unilateral sanctions against the North, the paper said.
The jars of aromatic hemp
flowers, branded as “cannabis
light,” are sold as “collectors’
can be significantly lower in Italy.
Cannabis light has varying levels of
cannabidiol, or CBD, which proponents
say has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, without the psychoactive effects.
Some aficionados working for marijuana-promoting magazines have described the effects of cannabis light as a
taking-the-edge-off kind of buzz, without actually getting stoned.
Easyjoint’s website specifies that its
products must not be burned or eaten,
and that they are not medicinal. But in
an interview, Mr. Marola said cannabis
light had properties that could be effective in various instances.
“Fortunately, more people suffer from
insomnia and panic attacks” than amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou
Gehrig’s disease, for which medical marijuana is often prescribed, he said.
Medical marijuana should be reserved
“for those who really need a product
with high THC content,” he added.
The scientific community is still out
about the medical properties of
cannabis light. Medical marijuana, on
the other hand, has been increasingly
popular in Italy since it was approved in
2006, and demand now dwarfs supply.
Thousands of Italians use medical
cannabis to assuage the symptoms of
conditions like epilepsy, anorexia, anxiety, post-chemotherapy nausea and
muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, even if many doctors hesitate to
propose the treatment out of concern for
potential legal liabilities.
Annual consumption of legal medical
cannabis grew from 40 kilograms in
2013 to nearly 10 times that in 2017, “and
we still haven’t reached a plateau,” said
Col. Antonio Medica, the officer in
charge of the Military Chemical Pharmaceutical Plant in Florence. That
army-run plant is the only Italian
agency to produce medical cannabis,
and its first crop was distributed in 2017.
But because it cannot keep up with demand, the government also imports
cannabis from Holland and, as of January, from Canada.
Colonel Medica said he thought demand could further quadruple. “Doctors
have begun to see the importance of
medical cannabis,” he said.
There is no guarantee that the nebulous legal status of cannabis light will
survive the legislative leanings of incoming lawmakers. The two parties
most likely to govern Italy for the next
five years, perhaps together, have differing views on marijuana use: The Five
Star Movement is open to legalization;
the far-right League is against it.
A spokesman for the association that
represents licensed tobacco vendors
noted that a ministerial decision was
pending on whether cannabis light
would be recognized as a tobacco substitute and be subject to taxes. That would
mean cannabis light could be sold only
through licensed tobacco vendors.
In December, Paolo Molinari transformed his Rome bar into a Dutch-style
coffee shop (though no smoking was allowed), and began marketing his brand
of cannabis light, Erba di Roma, which
he said was popular with tourists.
He said he was concerned that the
cannabis light bubble could burst in Italy, but he was heartened by the growing
number of states that have legalized marijuana in the United States.
“Legalization there has created jobs,
reduced criminality and the contraband
of poor-quality marijuana, and it’s a big
tax boon for governments,” Mr. Molinari
said. “Why remove a substance that creates income for the state?”
Besides, he added, “people will use it
4 | TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018
Cuba sends a signal on diversity
The change in leadership
came with selection of
more blacks for high posts
As the departing Cuban president, Raúl
Castro, tells it, even too many of the radio and television newscasters in Cuba
are white.
It “was not easy” getting the few
black broadcasters now on the air hired,
Mr. Castro said in his retirement speech
last week, a remarkable admission considering the state controls all the stations.
So it was all the more extraordinary to
see how many women and Afro-Cubans
were chosen for positions in the highest
echelon of Cuban politics in the new government: Half of the six vice presidents
of the ruling Council of State are black,
including the first vice president, and
three are also women.
The new council will serve under the
new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel
That the first administration in 60
years without a single Castro would include so many women and black officials was notable in Cuba, where increasing business opportunities have
only swelled economic racial disparities. The move also signaled the growing significance of the Afro-Cuban
movement, marked in the past 20 years
by artists, hip-hop musicians and intellectuals who are more willing to speak
out about the problems affecting black
people on the island, experts said.
While official statistics suggest that
less than 10 percent of the population is
black, most estimates put the number
far higher.
The Cuban government under the
Castros has historically been viewed as
one made up mainly of white men, especially those of advanced age. Although
Afro-Cubans had generally held at least
one high-ranking position at any given
time, cynics dismissed them as symbolic figures.
Skeptics doubt that too much will
change to address the disparities faced
by many black people in Cuba, but even
some of the government’s harshest critics acknowledged that the diversity shift
was an important development.
“Yes, it has great significance,” said
Ramón Colas, a black anti-Castro activist who sought political asylum in the
United States in 2001 and now lives in
Mississippi. “The Cuban revolution has
historically been white, and seen from
the outside as a revolution by white
men, where black people were part of
the crowd, spectators who were silent or
applauded but never participated.”
Mr. Colas said the election, a process
in which Mr. Castro and the Communist
Party had full control, showed that the
former Cuban leader has “big ears” and
was willing to listen to the outcry from
black civic and arts organizations. But
he noted that it would be even more
noteworthy if the three black people on
the council pushed for racial equality.
“Wouldn’t it be great if they used those
positions to say, ‘As a black Cuban, I am
against injustice against black people in
Cuba’?” he said. “I doubt that they can
do that. They are not allowed. Fidel declared that racism is a problem that
If anything, Raúl Castro’s move to
shift high-ranking positions to black
leaders was an acknowledgment that
Paying homage to Fidel Castro at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana in 2016. White men dominated the governments of Fidel and Raúl Castro. Below, Cuba’s new president,
Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, left in the front row, at his inauguration last week with the six vice presidents of the ruling Council of State, half of whom are black.
“Even if this was windowdressing, it would mean they feel
the need to dress the window in a
certain color.”
racism and discrimination had not, in
fact, been solved by the revolution.
In his retirement remarks, Mr. Castro
said the struggle to move beyond percentages continued. “We still have the
battle of proportions not just in numerical aspects, but qualitative — in decision-making slots,” he said. “Three
women were elected vice president of
the Council of State, two of them black —
not only for being black, but for their
virtues and qualities.”
While inequality persists in the country, the Cuba led by Castros beginning in
1959 did make important strides for
black people.
Before the revolution, social stratification was profound, with black Cubans
open to far less opportunity and enduring far more discrimination than their
lighter-skinned fellow citizens. When
Fidel Castro came to power after the
revolution, one of his early edicts essentially sought an end to racism.
The result was that systemic racism
as it exists elsewhere in the Americas is
far less present in Cuba, and social and
educational opportunities generally are
more present for black Cubans, even for
those living far from the capital. For
many of the revolution’s proponents, it
was one of the major achievements at a
time when parts of the United States
were still requiring black people to drink
from separate water fountains.
Alejandro de la Fuente, a Harvard
University professor who has written
extensively on Afro-Cubans, said inequality diminished in several ways.
His research showed, for example,
that in the 1980s, the life expectancy gap
between black and white people was
better in Cuba than in Brazil or in the
United States.
But the improvements, brought on by
socialized education, were offset by the
economic nose dive Afro-Cubans faced
after the collapse of the Soviet Union in
the 1990s. More Cubans started living on
cash remittances sent from the United
States. And almost all the Cubans sending money from the United States were
Mr. de la Fuente noted that both of the
black women named to the council, Inés
María Chapman Waugh and Beatriz
Jhonson Urrutia, are engineers from
eastern Cuba, which makes them an example of the kind of educational mobil-
ity possible for black women in the country. Mr. de la Fuente said their promotions were largely symbolic, but still important.
“Even if this was window-dressing, it
would mean they feel the need to dress
the window in a certain color, and that is
something one would not have said 30
years ago,” Mr. de la Fuente said.
Only 9 percent of Cubans identified
themselves as black in the 2012 census,
a sign that most Cubans don’t see benefits to self-identifying as Afro-Cuban, he
said. Most estimates have the number of
black people in Cuba much higher.
Katrin Hansing, a professor at Baruch
College in New York who is studying racial inequality in Cuba, said the presence of more black people on the council
was likely to be met with a collective
shrug on the island.
The economic disparities have grown
so stark, she said, that more shantytowns are popping up on the outskirts of
big cities, and people of color largely
populate them.
“It won’t change their socioeconomically difficult lives,” Ms. Hansing said.
“The Communist Party will not change
because there are three more black people at the top.”
In Cuba, many people interviewed
agreed, and some did not even know the
changes had been made.
In the neighborhood of La Corea, marooned on the outskirts of Havana, most
people had more pressing concerns to
ponder than the racial balance of the nation’s top officials.
Heaps of trash were piled on street
corners, covered in thick swarms of
A water leak from a pipe beneath the
sidewalk flowed unchecked, leaving
pools and summoning mosquitoes.
In the largely black neighborhood,
residents were somewhat divided on the
meaning of the new racial composition
of the government. Manuel Garro
Gómez, 65, seemed to take the official
“Cuba says there is no discrimination
and that’s largely how it is,” he said. “Before the revolution, there was absolutely
no relation between black people and
whites. Today we mix easily.”
Down the street, Yasmani Santo, 30,
once informed about the change, said it
was a decent move. “This reflects the
population a bit more, which I appreciate,” he said. “But I’m not sure it will
change anything.” Referring to the
neighborhood’s dilapidation, he said:
“People come and make promises to fix
these things and nothing happens. Let’s
see if this new president does anything.”
Abraham Jiménez Enoa, a writer and
director at El Estornudo magazine in
Havana, said racism was a part of daily
life for black Cubans, no matter what the
state said.
When he has dated white women, his
friends offered snide remarks that he
was “trying to get ahead.”
He said the police were more likely to
stop a black person, especially one who
is carrying things like towels or sheets,
which are items often pilfered from hotels by Cubans without money to buy
their own.
In Old Havana last week, Josué Soto
del Sol, 10, smiled and then shrugged
when he heard about the appointments
of the three black leaders. “It’s good,” he
said. “We are all black in Cuba.”
Ed Agustin contributed reporting from
Havana. Azam Ahmed reported from
Havana, and Frances Robles from Miami.
Moral risk to E.U. in outsourcing migration policy to Sudan
“While we engage on some areas for
the sake of the Sudanese people, we still
have a sanction regime in place,” said
Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the
European Union, referring to an embargo on arms and related material. “We
are not encouraging Sudan to curb migration, but to manage migration in a
safe and dignified way,” Ms. Ray added.
Ahmed Salim, the director of one of
the nongovernmental groups that receives European funding, said the bloc
was motivated by both self-interest and
a desire to improve the situation in Sudan. “They don’t want migrants to cross
the Mediterranean to Europe,” said Mr.
Salim, who heads the European and African Center for Research, Training and
But, he said, the money his organization receives means better services for
asylum seekers in Sudan. “You have to
admit that the European countries want
to do something to protect migrants
here,” he said.
Critics argue the evolving relationship means that European leaders are
implicitly reliant on — and complicit in
the reputational rehabilitation of — a Sudanese security apparatus whose leaders have been accused by the United Nations of committing war crimes in Darfur. “There is no direct money exchanging hands,” said Suliman Baldo, the
author of a research paper about Europe’s migration partnership with Sudan. “But the E.U. basically legitimizes
an abusive force.”
On the border near Abu Jamal, Lieutenant Omar and several members of
his patrol are from the wing of the Sudanese security forces headed by Salah
Abdallah Gosh, one of several Sudanese
officials accused of orchestrating attacks on civilians in Darfur.
Elsewhere, the border is protected by
the Rapid Support Forces, a division of
the Sudanese military that was formed
from the janjaweed militias who led attacks on civilians in the Darfur conflict.
The focus of the group, known as the
R.S.F., is not countersmuggling — but
roughly a quarter of the human traffickers caught in January and February of
this year on the Eritrean border were
apprehended by the Rapid Support
Forces, Lieutenant Omar said.
European officials have direct contact
only with the Sudanese immigration police, and not with the Rapid Support
Forces, or the security forces that Lieutenant Omar works for, known as
N.I.S.S. But their operations are not that
far removed.
The planned countertrafficking coordination center in Khartoum —
staffed jointly by police officers from Su-
“The E.U. basically legitimizes
an abusive force.”
dan and several European countries, including Britain, France and Italy — will
partly rely on information obtained by
N.I.S.S., according to the head of the immigration police department, Gen.
Awad Elneil Dhia. The regular police
also get occasional support from the
Rapid Support Forces on countertrafficking operations in border areas, General Dhia said.
“They have their presence there and
they can help,” General Dhia said. “The
police is not everywhere, and we cannot
cover everywhere.”
Yet the Sudanese police are operating
in one unexpected place: Europe.
In a bid to deter future migrants, at
least three European countries — Belgium, France and Italy — have allowed
in Sudanese police officers to hasten the
deportation of Sudanese asylum seekers, General Dhia said.
Nominally, their official role is simply
to identify their citizens. But the officers
have been allowed to interrogate some
deportation candidates without being
monitored by European officials with
the language skills to understand what
was being said.
More than 50 Sudanese seeking asylum in Europe have been deported in the
past 18 months from Belgium, France
and Italy; The New York Times interviewed seven of them on a recent visit to
Four said they had been tortured on
their return to Sudan — allegations denied by General Dhia. One man was a
Darfuri political dissident deported in
late 2017 from France to Khartoum,
where he said he was detained on arrival by N.I.S.S. agents.
Over the next 10 days, he said, he was
given electric shocks, punched and
beaten with metal pipes. At one point
the dissident, who asked that his name
be withheld for his safety, lost consciousness and had to be taken to the hospital.
He was later released on a form of parole.
The dissident said that, before his deportation from France, Sudanese police
officers had threatened him as French
officers stood nearby. “I said to the
French police: ‘They are going to kill
us,’” he said. “But they didn’t understand.”
European officials argue that establishing Khartoum as a base for collaboration on fighting human smuggling can
only improve the Sudanese security
forces. The Regional Operational Center
in Khartoum, set to open this year, will
enable delegates from several European and African countries to share intelligence and coordinate operations
against smugglers across North Africa.
Gen. Awad Elneil Dhia, head of Sudan’s immigration police, says the country is an
effective partner for Europe and denies allegations of torture.
But potential pitfalls are evident from
past collaborations. In 2016, the British
and Italian police, crediting a joint operation with their Sudanese counterparts,
announced the arrest of “one of the
world’s most wanted people smugglers.”
They said he was an Eritrean called
Medhanie Yehdego Mered, who had
been captured in Sudan and extradited
to Italy.
The case is now privately acknowledged by Western diplomats to have
been one of mistaken identity. The prisoner turned out to be Medhanie
Tesfamariam Berhe, an Eritrean refugee. Mr. Mered remains at large.
Even General Dhia now admits that
Sudan extradited the wrong man — albeit one who, he says, admitted while in
Sudanese custody to involvement in
smuggling. “There were two people, actually — two people with the same
name,” General Dhia said.
Mr. Berhe nevertheless remains on
trial in Italy, accused of being Mr. Mered
— and of being a smuggler.
Beyond that, the Sudanese security
services have long been accused of profiting from the smuggling trade. Following European pressure, the Sudanese
Parliament adopted anti-smuggling legislation in 2014, and the rules have since
led to the prosecution of some officials
over alleged involvement in the smuggling business.
But according to four smugglers
whom I interviewed clandestinely during my trip to Sudan, the security services remain closely involved in the
trade, with both N.I.S.S and Rapid Sup-
port Forces officials receiving part of
the smuggling profits on most trips to
southern Libya.
The head of the Rapid Support Forces,
Brig. Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, has
claimed in the past that his forces play a
major role in impeding the route to Libya. But each smuggler — interviewed
separately — said that the Rapid Support Forces were often the main organizer of the trips, often supplying camouflaged vehicles to ferry migrants
through the desert.
After being handed over to Libyan militias in Kufra and Sabha, in southern
Libya, many migrants are then systematically tortured and held for ransom —
money that is later shared with the Rapid Support Forces, each smuggler said.
Rights activists have previously accused Sudanese officials of complicity in
trafficking. In a 2014 report, Human
Rights Watch said that senior Sudanese
police officials had colluded in the smuggling of Eritreans.
A British journalist captured by the
Rapid Support Forces in Darfur in 2016
said that he had been told by his captors
that they were involved in smuggling
people to Libya.
“I asked specifically about how it
works,” said the journalist, Phil Cox, a
freelance filmmaker for Channel 4. “And
they said we make sure the routes are
open, and we talk with whoever’s commanding the next area.”
General Dhia, the head of the immigration police, said that the problem did
not extend beyond a few bad apples. Sudan, he said, remains an effective partner for Europe in the battle against irregular migration.
“We are not,” he said, “very far from
your standards.”
Zeinab Mohammed Salih contributed reporting from Khartoum.
TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018 | 5
Fancy homes and rich friends
Ethics woes have echoes
in past of the environment
agency chief Scott Pruitt
Early in Scott Pruitt’s political career, as
a state senator from Tulsa, Okla., he attended a gathering at the Oklahoma City
home of an influential telecommunications lobbyist who was nearing retirement and about to move away.
The lobbyist said that after the 2003
gathering, Mr. Pruitt — who had a modest legal practice and a state salary of
$38,400 — reached out to her. He wanted
to buy her showplace home as a second
residence for when he was in the state
“For those ego-minded politicians, it
would be pretty cool to have this house
close to the capitol,” said the lobbyist,
Marsha Lindsey. “It was stunning.”
Soon Mr. Pruitt was staying there, and
so was at least one other lawmaker, according to interviews. Mr. Pruitt even
bought Ms. Lindsey’s dining room set,
art and antique rugs, she said.
A review of real estate and other public records shows that Mr. Pruitt was not
the sole owner: The property was held
by a shell company registered to a business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner.
Mr. Wagner now holds a top political
job at the United States Environmental
Protection Agency, where Mr. Pruitt, 49,
is the administrator.
The mortgage on the Oklahoma City
home, the records show, was issued by a
local bank that was led by another business associate of Mr. Pruitt’s, Albert
Recently barred from working in the
finance industry because of a banking
violation, Mr. Kelly is now one of Mr.
Pruitt’s top aides at the E.P.A. and runs
the agency’s Superfund program, which
is responsible for cleaning up some of
America’s most contaminated land and
responding to environmental emergencies.
At the E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt is under investigation for allegations of unchecked
spending, ethics lapses and other issues, including his interactions with lob-
byists. An examination of Mr. Pruitt’s
political career in Oklahoma reveals
that many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his
According to real estate records, the
2003 purchase of the house for $375,000
came at a steep discount of about
$100,000 from what Ms. Lindsey had
paid a year earlier — a shortfall picked
up by her employer, the telecommunications giant SBC Oklahoma.
SBC, previously known as Southwestern Bell and later as AT&T, had been lobbying lawmakers in the early 2000s on a
range of matters, including a deregulation bill that would allow it to raise rates
and a separate regulatory effort to reopen a bribery case from a decade earlier. Mr. Pruitt sided with the company on
both matters, state records show.
In 2005, the shell company — Capitol
House L.L.C. — sold the property for
$95,000 more than it had paid. While
shell companies are legal, they often obscure the people who have an interest in
them, and none of Mr. Pruitt’s financial
disclosure filings in Oklahoma mentioned the company or the proceeds — a
potential violation of the state’s ethics
The Oklahoma City deal, which has
not been previously reported, was one of
several instances in which Mr. Pruitt appeared to have benefited from his relationships with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner
while in state politics.
During his eight years as a Republican state senator, Mr. Pruitt also upgraded his family residence in suburban
Tulsa from a small ranch-style home to a
lakefront property in a gated community.
In addition, he bought a sizable stake
in a minor league baseball team, and
took a second job at Mr. Wagner’s corporate law firm.
Mr. Kelly’s bank, SpiritBank, would be
there for much of it — providing financing for Mr. Pruitt’s Tulsa home and his
stake in the baseball team, as well as the
mortgage for the Oklahoma City house.
Mr. Pruitt’s interactions with SBC also
show that his blurring of lines with lobbyists has roots in his Oklahoma years.
One of the issues at the E.P.A. that has
gotten Mr. Pruitt in trouble with government watchdogs involved his renting a
room in Washington for $50 a night from
the wife of an energy lobbyist who has
had business in front of the agency.
Lobbyists and others in Oklahoma
Scott Pruitt in the Oklahoma attorney general’s office in 2014. He now heads the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
None of Mr. Pruitt’s financial
disclosure filings in Oklahoma
mentioned the shell company
or its proceeds.
state politics who encountered Mr.
Pruitt recalled him as a tough competitor who always had his eye on a higher
office. Some called him a “Boy Scout”
who was stingy with his money, while
others said privately that he had exuded
a sense of entitlement — that rules did
not apply to him.
David Walters, a former Oklahoma
governor and a Democrat, described
Mr. Pruitt as someone who looked out
for himself over the needs of constituents, especially during his years as attorney general.
“I was disappointed to find him operating in a hyperpartisan manner and
seemingly representing corporate inter-
ests over Oklahoma citizens,” Mr. Walters said.
In response to questions submitted by
The New York Times about Mr. Pruitt’s
finances in Oklahoma, an E.P.A. spokeswoman said Mr. Pruitt’s business dealings with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner
“were ethical” and his stake in the shell
company “was a simple real estate investment.”
“Mr. Wagner and Mr. Kelly left highprofile positions in law and banking in
Oklahoma, to serve in the administration,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
“They are dedicated E.P.A. employees
who have earned the respect and admiration of E.P.A. career employees across
the country. They serve the country professionally, and transparently — and are
committed to ensuring the programs
they work on are successful.”
During his six years as attorney general, Mr. Pruitt blazed a path of spending
that holds new meaning now that his
E.P.A. expenditures are the subject of investigations and growing political outrage.
Mr. Pruitt moved the attorney general’s outpost in Tulsa to a prime suite in
the Bank of America tower, an almost
$12,000-a-month space that quadrupled
the annual rent. He required his staff to
regularly drive him between Tulsa and
Oklahoma City, according to several
people familiar with his time as attorney
And he channeled state contracts to
Mr. Wagner’s law firm, which was already doing business with the state.
From 2011 to 2017, state records show,
the attorney general’s office awarded
more than $600,000 in contracts to Mr.
Wagner’s Tulsa-based law firm,
Latham, Wagner Steele & Lehman —
greatly increasing work with the firm,
which had gotten a total of about
$100,000 over the four years before that.
These contracts are not competitively
bid. The additional expenditures reflected an approach, contentious even
among some fellow Republicans, to hire
private lawyers for state business, often
for cases challenging federal regulations.
“He said that these people had special
expertise that his agency didn’t have,”
said Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican former state representative. “He has an
army of lawyers with expertise. He didn’t have to spend that extra tax money to
hire another law firm. It didn’t seem frugal.”
Mr. Pruitt used the Bank of America
building as a base for his growing political ambitions. Oklahoma Strong Leadership, a political action committee he
formed in 2015 to help finance fellow Republicans’ campaigns, operated out of
the building.
The group shared a suite with another
PAC tied to Mr. Pruitt, Liberty 2.0, as
well as his campaign office.
Oklahoma Strong Leadership, funded
by private donors and corporations, also
appeared to support lavish travel and
An analysis of expenditure disclosures by the Campaign Legal Center, a
nonprofit group that pushes for stricter
rules governing money in politics,
shows that just 9 percent of the PAC’s
spending was devoted to other candidates.
The group found that the PAC had disbursed more than $7,000 for trips to Hawaii in summer 2015 and 2016, $2,180 of
which was spent at a Ritz-Carlton. The
PAC also put $4,000 toward dining, including a $661 meal at the Cafe Pacific, a
high-end seafood restaurant in Dallas.
The person who oversaw that spending, as the PAC’s treasurer and chairman, was Mr. Wagner.
At an energy conference in Kentucky
in November, Mr. Wagner reminisced
about his long relationship with the
E.P.A. chief.
“I’ve known Administrator Pruitt for
20-plus years, and had the good fortune
of being his business partner in a
triple-A baseball team and a former law
partner as well,” he said. “The idea that
the major influence at the E.P.A. is coming from the middle of the country is
something new.”
Steve Eder reported from Oklahoma City,
and Hiroko Tabuchi from Dallas. Kitty
Bennett, Doris Burke and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
Borrowing Trump’s sound and fury
Republican candidates
all over the U.S. are
parroting the president
Don Blankenship likes to believe he
knows something about rough justice
and who deserves it.
“We don’t need to investigate our
president. We need to arrest Hillary,”
one of his campaign ads proclaims,
mimicking President Trump’s crude
2016 rallying cry, “Lock her up!”
Mr. Blankenship, who has a respectable chance of winning the Republican
nomination for Senate in West Virginia
on May 8, is, in more ways than one, the
ideal candidate for the Trump era. He
spent a year in prison on charges rising
from the collapse of one of his coal
mines, which killed 29 people. Mr.
Blankenship nurses a deep sense of
grievance, and he has no political experience to speak of.
But he does have a natural inclination
for one of the most distinctive and defining contributions that Mr. Trump has
made to American politics: its sound.
In Republican races across the country, candidates like Mr. Blankenship are
parroting the president as they try to
prove to voters that they are cut from
the same cloth as he is. They recite the
Trump lexicon, spouting his trademark
phrases and slurs like “Drain the
swamp,” “Build the wall,” “rigged system,” “fake news” and “America first.”
They are channeling Mr. Trump’s belligerent and profane style of speaking,
seeking to capture that essential but elusive quality that matters so much to voters these days — authenticity.
And they wear his hats.
In Indiana, Representative Todd
Rokita, a Republican candidate for Senate, proudly slaps on a red “Make America Great Again” cap in a new ad as he
promises to “proudly stand with our
president and Mike Pence to drain the
Not to be outdone, one of Mr. Rokita’s
opponents, Luke Messer, tarred Mr.
Rokita as “Lyin’ Todd,” an echo of Mr.
Trump’s epithet for Senator Ted Cruz,
“Lyin’ Ted.” Mr. Messer’s gripe? Mr.
Rokita falsely claimed to have received
the president’s endorsement.
Representative Martha McSally, a Re-
publican who is running for the Arizona
Senate seat of Republican Jeff Flake,
who is retiring, offers a testimonial in
one of her campaign videos from Mr.
Trump about how “tough” and “real”
she is. She tells a story about how she
once told Washington politicians to
“grow a pair of ovaries.” As further proof
of her saltiness, Ms. McSally offers up
an old, bleeped out quote from a news
article. “McSally stood up,” the text onscreen reads, “and said let’s get this
‘@#$% thing’ done.”
Mr. Trump has so thoroughly rewritten the rules of engagement in politics
that restraint and polish have become
signs of weakness for many candidates.
No longer do they assume as they once
did that a special set of rules applies to
him, and that they would be punished
for trying to mimic his behavior.
“Today the goal is linguistic,” said
Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist
who specializes in the words and messages that candidates use. “We are no
longer rewarding policy; we are rewarding rhetoric.”
“On a personal level,” Mr. Luntz added, “it sickens me.”
Some Democrats have even begun to
believe this strategy has its merits. The
lofty approach of the Obamas — “When
they go low, we go high” — may be unrealistic as long as Mr. Trump is leading
the Republican Party.
Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to
Hillary Clinton, recently wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post that
advised Democrats running against the
president in 2020 to “swing at every
“Trump never says, ‘I’m not dignifying that with an answer,’” Mr. Reines
went on. “He has no dignity. He leaves
no attack unanswered. I spent 15 years
recommending ignoring stupidity. ‘It
has no legs. Don’t give it oxygen. There’s
no pickup.’ I was wrong.”
In an interview, Mr. Reines said he
was embracing this only as a “desperate
times calls for desperate action” tactic.
But as he spent time lately reading up on
the guerrilla strategies of World War II
resistance groups, one thing became
clear: “The bigger person will lose.”
Some Democratic politicians seem to
agree. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former
vice president, asserted last month that
he would have taken Mr. Trump “behind
the gym and beat the hell out of him” if
they were both still in high school. Other
Democrats like Senator Cory Booker of
New Jersey have displayed their aggressive side lately; Mr. Booker’s eruption at Kirsten Nielsen, the secretary of
Homeland Security, at a recent hearing
went viral.
For some Republicans, it is not
enough to merely talk like Mr. Trump or
say they will fight with him. They want
to take credit for his style.
“Someone told me the other day that I
was the first Trump, the Trump for Mississippi,” Chris McDaniel, a candidate
for Senate in Mississippi, said recently.
It doesn’t always work. Rick “I was
Trump before Trump was Trump” Saccone was defeated by a Democrat in
March in a special election in heavily
Republican southwestern Pennsylvania.
Corey Stewart, a failed candidate for
governor of Virginia last year, also tried
to tell voters, “I was Trump before
Trump was Trump.”
That all feels a long way from 2012,
when Republican candidates and “super
PACs” spent millions of dollars honing
carefully calibrated attacks on President Barack Obama that would not be
too harsh so as to alienate voters who
still liked him but had doubts, and not
too soft so as to lack a punch.
“There used to be a sense that if you
were that over the top, voters would
punish you for it,” said Russ Schriefer, a
Republican messaging expert who advised Mitt Romney and George W. Bush.
“Now, it is less about who’s more conservative,” he added, “and more about
who’s going to adhere to the Trump
agenda and the Trump ideology.”
contemporary and teacher,” not “Kepler’s contemporary and assistant.”
him in the 1960s; he had moved again, to
New York, in 1945.
• An obituary on April 16 about the filmmaker Milos Forman referred incorrectly to Mr. Forman’s biological father.
He moved from Czechoslovakia to Ecuador, not Peru, and he was not living in
South America when Mr. Forman found
• An article on April 13 on street food in
Bangkok misstated the name of the organization that announced it would ban
street food vendors. It is the Bangkok
Metropolitan Administration, not the
Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.
Don Blankenship, a Republican candidate
for Senate in West Virginia. One of his ads
says, “We need to arrest Hillary.”
• An article in the weekend edition about
renditions of the tale of Orpheus misstated the name of a chorus presenting
“Orfeo ed Euridice.” It is MasterVoices,
not Masterworks Chorale.
• The daily crossword puzzle on Friday
provided an erroneous clue for 11-Down.
The clue should have read, “Kepler’s
Quick, Simple Ways to
Enjoy a Mediterranean Diet
To find out more visit:
in collaboration with
6 | TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018
Great video, shot on your phone
on Androids
Pros and amateurs film
with the devices as quality
is added to convenience
I saw the recent instructions for
disabling autocorrect on an iPhone,
but what about those of us who use
Not long ago, a filmmaker wouldn’t
dream of shooting a movie on a phone
because the quality was so inferior to
what you could capture on pricier devices. But that’s changing. Consider
this: The most recent project from the
renowned American film director
Steven Soderbergh, “Unsane,” was shot
entirely on an iPhone.
Today, there are lots of reasons everyone from pro photographers to amateur
shutterbugs are using phones to shoot
video projects.
Like many of his peers, Christian
Nachtrieb, a Boston-based corporate
and wedding photographer, finds
phones aren’t just continuing to improve
in terms of quality, but they’re also extremely convenient. “It’s the readiness
factor. Having a phone right in your
pocket is a huge plus,” says Mr.
Nachtrieb, who might see a stunning
sunset, capture it on his phone, and then
splice it into a final wedding video. “No
one in a million years could tell the difference between our main cameras and
the iPhone.”
The exact steps vary based on your
device and the particular version of
Android you use, but for the typical
system, start by opening the Settings
app. On the main Settings screen,
choose Languages & Input. In later
versions of Android, select Virtual
Keyboard. When you get to the list of
keyboards and input methods, tap
Android (or Google) Keyboard. On the
next screen, select Text Correction.
The Text Correction screen lists
several controls, including a button to
turn off autocorrect. You can also
choose to enable or disable Android’s
help when you type .
On some Samsung Galaxy phones,
you can get to the keyboard software
by opening the Apps icon on the home
screen, tapping Settings and then
General Management. From there,
select Language and Input and then
On-screen Keyboard. Tap the name of
the keyboard you are using — usually
Samsung Keyboard or a third-party
keyboard app. The Smart Typing section of the Samsung Keyboard settings
has all the controls for predictive text,
auto replace (automatic correction)
and other tools.
What do such improvements in video
quality allow you to capture? In theory,
a good video. But that can mean many
things: Good on a technical level? Or,
perhaps, a clip that’s simply fun to
watch? First, let’s explore some of the
basic elements that make up good video.
Technical excellence in a good video
can be pretty easy to spot: We see examples of it all the time on television. During the 2018 Olympics, for instance, you
could watch skilled videographers shoot
breathtaking videos of athletes in spectacular settings. From a technical standpoint, here are some common elements
in those and other types of video that
you can apply to video captured on your
To create compelling video, compose the elements in a scene or
sequence deliberately. Use your phone’s
LCD the way a fine-art painter might arrange forms, colors, lines and textures
on canvas. (For more on composition,
visit Kyle Cassidy’s article on, which offers a wonderful
introduction to composition and compositional devices, like the rule of thirds, as
well as valuable tips, such as focusing on
people’s eyes in your video.)
Light not only defines your
subjects but also sets the mood or
evokes emotion. Experiment with light
and be aware of where your main light
source is. For instance, noon sunlight on
a cloudless day creates unflattering
shadows on your subject’s face, while an
overcast or cloudy day produces a softer, more pleasant-looking light. And remember what the film director Martin
Scorsese once noted: “Light is at the
core of who we are and how we understand ourselves.”
POINT OF VIEW: Ask yourself: “Where am
I pointing my camera lens and from
what angle?” Consider point of view figuratively, as well: “How will the video’s
point of view help me tell the story?”
Some videos are like selfies and use a
very subjective point of view to connect
viewers to the story. For other videos
you might want a more detached, less
personal point of view. And when shooting small children or babies, get right
down on the floor to shoot.
A video can resonate for reasons
other than exquisite technique. The subject might be funny, or the story simply
thrilling, sad or even chaotic. Sometimes, a powerful video, though technically flawed, still draws us in by other
means. Two film sequences come to my
mind that illustrate this point.
The first, the apology scene from “The
Blair Witch Project,” presents a visually
awkward composition, in which the subject’s face is dramatically cropped. Also,
What to do
after a hack
Using a phone to record video in 2016 of Hillary Clinton in Michigan. “It’s the readiness factor,” one photographer said, on the advantage of filming with a cellphone.
The recent film “Unsane” by the
American film director Steven
Soderbergh was shot entirely on
an iPhone.
the lighting and audio are lousy. Yet, the
monologue, a horror-film soliloquy of
sorts, conveys intensity, mystery and a
baroque quality. You can almost feel the
presence of a dark force outside the visual frame.
In the second sequence, the “I just
wanna go the distance” sequence from
the movie “Rocky”, the video subtly elevates an ordinary moment of doubt. It’s
an exceptionally quiet moment, where
Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky, lies down
next to Talia Shire, as Adrian, telling her
he can’t beat the champ. For nearly two
minutes, the camera slowly pans in as
the fighter utters his thoughts. What
transfixes us is primarily the audio,
since there’s little action. Yet it’s visual,
too. I can’t help thinking of it as an updated version of the intensity and pathos you see in the ancient Greek sculpture, “Dying Gaul.”
So, good video obviously operates on
a very visual level, but it can be driven in
nonvisual ways, too. Keep your eyes
open for such opportunities.
Before taking video on your phone, set it
up properly. One important setting is
video resolution, which refers to how
large your movie will be. Two common
resolutions are 1080 HD and 4K, which
is the larger of the two.
Next, check the frame rate, which sets
how many individual frames per second
(fps) your video records. Common settings are 30 fps, 60 fps, and less commonly, 24 fps. The higher the number,
the smoother-looking video you’ll
produce. Most video is shot at 30 fps or
29.97 fps (in the United States), although 60 fps will show smoother, less
jittery video when depicting action. But
some videographers, like Mr. Nachtrieb,
prefer filming in 24 fps, which mimics
the frame rate used in cinema films.
Each of these two settings affects
some visual or audio component of your
project. They also can determine the final file size of the video. For instance, a
five-second video shot at 4K-resolution
will be roughly four times the size of the
same segment shot in 1080 HD resolution. “When it comes to resolution,” Mr.
Nachtrieb says, “it’s always going to be
a compromise between your storage capacity on your phone and the quality
resolution you want. I try to shoot 4K
whenever possible.”
says. “It may seem rudimentary, but it
makes a big difference. Phone lenses
generally have optical image stabilization built in, so they’re pretty stable already. But using two hands produces
even steadier footage.” It also avoids
what he calls the Jell-O effect. “If you’re
moving the camera around too quickly,
it can have a wavy quality to it.” Using
two hands lessens the chance of creating this effect.
Mr. Nachtrieb recalls
how he and a friend were shooting the
same subject one day, but his friend’s
lens was dirty, which produced blurry
video. “Make sure your lens is clear. If
it’s not, carefully clean it with a microfiber cloth.”
Shooting video on a phone isn’t the most
intuitive experience. That’s because
phones were designed as multipurpose
devices, which also means they lack
some important features, like a handgrip or optical zoom, which gets you
closer to your subject without degrading
image quality. (Instead, phones mostly
use digital zoom, which often degrades
image quality. So, avoid zooming in digitally. Instead, “zoom with your feet” or
simply walk closer to your subject, if you
can.) Here are several tips for getting
better results:
Be sure to orient your
phone horizontally. “When I’m watching
the news and there’s footage from a bystander that’s in portrait mode,” Mr.
Nachtrieb says, “that’s an immediate
signal that it’s an amateur video.” He
says that while Instagram and Snapchat
seem to be “aiding and abetting” users
to create more portrait or vertically oriented footage, it’s best to avoid it.
“Avoid having a
window or light source behind your subject, since he or she will look silhouetted,” Mr. Nachtrieb says. Instead, have
the light source more to the side of you
or behind you.
“Always have two
hands on the phone,” Mr. Nachtrieb
Nachtrieb suggests tapping on your
phone’s LCD (on the point you want to
focus on), which will lock focus on
Google Android devices, or holding your
finger in place, which locks focus on the
Apple iPhone. “In low light, your
phone’s camera will hunt for focus.”
That makes it look less professional.
Most phones let you also lock or manually adjust the exposure, too.
Most video
pros say good-quality audio is essential
for powerful video. The good news is
that the microphones on smartphones
have improved in recent years. What’s
more is that audio accessories, such as
Bluetooth microphones, can make the
audio in your video projects sound outstanding (which we’ll get to in a moment).
Here are two audio tricks: Borrow a
second phone, start recording audio,
and place the phone in your subject’s
pocket. “Then, shoot video on your
phone from far away,” Mr. Nachtrieb
says. “You can always sync up the audio
tracks later in video editing.”
And when interviewing subjects,
don’t interrupt their replies, Mr.
Nachtrieb says.
Many smartphones come with some
powerful video features, including
modes that appear to slow down or
speed up time, which are more commonly known as slow motion and time
lapse. The former captures video at an
accelerated frame rate; when played
back at normal speed, action in the video
appears much slower than real time.
With time lapse, a lower frame rate is
used. When it’s played back at normal
speed, action moves much faster than in
real time. Both can produce compelling
If you’re not happy with the hardware
features on your phone, there are accessories to expand its capability and, in
some cases, the quality of your video,
particularly if you’re interested in vlogging.
Here are a few products to consider,
courtesy of our colleagues at Wirecutter,
The New York Times Company’s product review site:
ACCESSORY KIT LENSES: Wirecutter testers
like the Moment wide-angle lens, $100.
The lens attaches over a phone’s camera
lens to give you a wider shot without
drastically degrading image quality.
The Shure MV5, $99, is a
great microphone for use with a smartphone.
The Joby GorillaPod 1K Kit,
$35, keeps your phone steady when
shooting in low light or time-lapse.
A stand-alone camera can really improve your video. When you’re ready to
shoot with something other than your
phone, here are some models that
earned top ratings from Wirecutter:
Sony a5100 is the best entry-level mirrorless camera, $500, and the Canon
EOS Rebel T5i is the best entry-level
DSLR. Mirrorless cameras blend portability with powerful picture-taking sensors, while DSLRs are unmatched when
it comes to photo quality — but are
larger, bulkier, and more expensive.
Could you please review best practices if one’s email is hacked? Is
changing the password for that email
If you still have access to the compromised account, changing the password
is one of many steps you should take to
protect yourself. If you are having
trouble regaining control of the account, visit your mail provider’s site
for instructions on recovering your
Your account may have been hacked
through malicious software, so scan
your computer for malware and viruses with a security program. If you
do not have security software installed,
you can use Microsoft’s built-in Windows Defender or Microsoft Security
Essentials. Avast and AVG are among
the many companies that make free
basic antivirus software for Windows
and Mac. Malwarebytes has free and
trial versions of its malware-scanning
program for Windows and Mac that
can work alongside antivirus software.
You should also update your computer
and devices with the latest security
Next, check your mail settings to
make sure nothing has been changed
— like copies of your messages set to
forward to an unfamiliar addresses,
unfamiliar entries in your address
book, or new links or information
added to your email signature file.
Take this opportunity to change and
update your security questions and
While you are in your mail settings,
set up two-factor authentication or
two-step verification if you have not
already and the feature is available
from your mail provider. J. D. BIERSDORFER
something between a mirrorless and a
portable point and shoot, check out the
Sony RX100 Mark IV, $900.
something that can travel with you and
take a few bumps and drops? Try the
Olympus TG-5, $420.
Turning on an extra layer of protection
can help protect against hackers.
Some assembly required: Call the robots
Robots have taken our jobs, learned our
chores and beaten us at our own games.
Now researchers in Singapore say
they have trained one to perform another task known to confound humans:
figuring out how to assemble furniture
from Ikea.
A team from Nanyang Technological
University programmed a robot to create and execute a plan to piece together
most of Ikea’s $25 solid-pine Stefan
chair on its own, calling on a medley of
human skills to do so. The researchers
explained their work in a study published in the journal Science Robotics.
“If you think about it, it requires perception, it requires you to plan a motion,
it requires control between the robot
and the environment, it requires transporting an object with two arms simultaneously,” said Dr. Quang-Cuong Pham,
an assistant professor of engineering at
the university and one of the paper’s authors. “Because this task requires so
many interesting skills for robots, we
felt that it could be a good project to push
our capabilities to the limit.” He and his
This robot, created by researchers in Singapore, took 20 minutes and 19 seconds to
make and execute a plan to assemble an Ikea chair.
Nanyang colleagues who worked on the
study, Francisco Suárez-Ruiz and Xian
Zhou, aren’t alone.
In recent years, a handful of others
have set out to teach robots to assemble
Ikea furniture, a task that can mimic the
manipulations robots can or may someday perform on factory floors and that
involves a brand many know all too well.
“It’s something that almost everybody is familiar with and almost everybody hates doing,” said Ross A. Knepper, an assistant professor of computer
science at Cornell University, whose research focuses on human-robot interaction.
In 2013, Mr. Knepper was part of a
team at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology that presented a paper on
its work in the area, describing the
“IkeaBot” the team created, which
could assemble the company’s Lack table on its own.
But chairs, with backs, stretchers and
other parts, pose a more complex challenge; hence the interest of the
Nanyang researchers.
Their robot was made of custom software, a three-dimensional camera, two
robotic arms, grippers and force detectors. The team chose only off-the-shelf
tools, in order to mirror human biology.
“Humans have the same hardware to
do many different things,” Dr. Pham
said. “So this is kind of the genericity
that we wanted to mimic.”
Also like humans, the robot had a little
help to start: It was fed a kind of manual,
a set of ordered instructions on how the
“This task requires so many
interesting skills for robots.”
pieces fit together. After that, though, it
was on its own.
The robot proceeded in three broad
phases, spread out over 20 minutes 19
First, like humans, it took some time
to stare at the pieces scattered before it.
The robot spent a few seconds photographing the scene and matching
each part to the one modeled in its “manual.”
Then, over more than 11 minutes, the
robot devised a plan that would allow it
to quickly assemble the chair.
Finally, it put the plan in motion over
the course of nearly nine minutes. The
robot used grippers to pick up the wooden pins from a tray and force sensors at
its “wrists” to detect when the pins,
searching in a spiral pattern, finally slid
into their holes.
Working in unison, the arms then
pressed the sides of the chair frame together.
The robot didn’t succeed right away.
There were several failed attempts
along the way, and researchers tweaked
the system before the robot was finally
able to assemble the chair on its own.
The accomplishment was the culmination of three years of work, but the
team is eager to see what else it can automate, Dr. Pham said.
With the help of experts in artificial intelligence, the researchers may be able
to create a robot that can build a chair by
following spoken directions or by watching someone else do it first, he said. Or
maybe, he said, they’ll eventually develop one that assembles furniture in a
way that is truly human: by ignoring the
manual altogether.
TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018 | 7
Dodging tariffs with a 4,000-mile detour
Chinese brokers disguise
origin of U.S.-bound goods
shipped via third countries
Want to avoid American tariffs? In
China, a company called Settle Logistics
says it knows a way.
Specifically, that way goes through
Malaysia — a 4,600-mile diversion compared with sending a shipping container
from China straight across the Pacific to
the United States. But when the Chinese
products that are aboard arrive at an
American port, they will look as if they
had come from Malaysia, according to
the company and will be spared tariffs
aimed at Chinese goods.
“For those unfair trade barriers targeting our industries from certain countries,” Settle Logistics says on its website, “we can adopt other approaches to
bypass those trade tariffs in order to expand markets.”
Such zigzagging routes are called
transshipments, and President Trump
has used them to justify the trade fight
he has picked with a number of countries. They could also take on new relevance, should the United States and
China carry out their threats to levy a total of more than $200 billion in tariffs
against each other.
Mr. Trump imposed tariffs last month
on steel and aluminum imports almost
no matter where they come from, citing
transshipments, though he later carved
out temporary exemptions for some
countries. He argues that China uses
transshipments to send much more
steel to the United States than trade
data suggests and that broad tariffs are
needed to stop it.
“If you talk China, I’ve watched where
the reporters have been writing 2 percent of our steel comes from China. Well,
that’s not right,” Mr. Trump said last
month. “They transship all through
other countries.”
The scale of such tariff-dodging isn’t
clear. Based on available data, many
economists don’t believe that it plays a
major role in American trade. For example, the United States imports only modest amounts of steel from Malaysia,
Vietnam, Indonesia or other Southeast
Asian countries that are popular stops
for freight forwarders like Settle Logistics.
Still, the shadowy world of transshipments and other trade trickery is set to
get a much closer look. Transshipments
are likely to be a major part of any negotiations between China and the United
A clothing factory in Beijing. Exporting goods from China to the United States by way of Malaysia can cost twice as much as shipping them directly, but it might avoid high tariffs.
“It is the U.S. government’s role
to judge which country the
products are originally from and
whether this business is legal.”
States aimed at settling their trade dispute. They could also figure into conversations with Europe, South Korea, Canada and other major partners looking to
extend their exemptions from Mr.
Trump’s steel tariffs. The governments
may need to be on alert to make sure
they do not become way stations and anger Washington.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of
Canada announced on March 27 that his
country would enact a series of regulatory measures to block transshipments.
By contrast, South Korea has insisted
that it makes sure the true origins of
cargo are accurately identified and that
tariffs are paid.
Transshipments are perfectly legal in
most cases. The problems occur when
somebody disguises the country of origin, which is illegal in the United States
and elsewhere.
“Products requirement: Do not have
a ‘Made in China’ logo,” says the website
of one Chinese freight forwarding company, CT-Chan, that promises it can help
manufacturers avoid American tariffs.
Transshipments and relabeling aren’t
the only trade dodge, and China by no
means has a monopoly on them. American steel and aluminum companies
complain that some basic metal is sent
to other countries for minimal processing before it is shipped to the United
States. Critics say big multinational
companies use an accounting trick
called transfer pricing — a common way
to dodge taxes — to avoid paying higher
tariffs when shipping goods between
their international subsidiaries.
The network of Chinese brokers that
bypass tariffs in the West by shipping
goods through other countries is extensive and highly developed. The company websites boast of sending steel,
aluminum foil, clothing, solar panels
and even stainless steel sinks to the
United States and Europe while evading
Many of the brokers try to shield
themselves from criticism in China by
wrapping themselves in nationalism.
Top & Profit International Forwarding
in Shenzhen says on its website that it is
“breaking the barriers of international
trade and anti-dumping to let Chinese
products enter international markets
CT-Chan, based in Guangzhou, advertises that “transshipment is the only
way to avoid high tariffs and import limits.”
Top & Profit, CT-China and China’s
Commerce Ministry, which oversees
trade, declined to comment.
The freight companies say they use a
variety of techniques. Settle Logistics,
in Hangzhou, says on its website that its
works with a factory in Malaysia and
can obtain Malaysian certificates of origin for goods made in China.
Brokers also describe breaking up
larger orders into a series of shipments
from ports scattered around China. The
goal is to reduce the odds that American
trade associations might detect big shipments and report them.
On its website, Settle Logistics says it
encourages companies to comply with
trade regulations. John Zhao, one of the
owners of Settle Logistics, said he was
providing a needed service by creating
alternative routes to the American market.
“If Chinese enterprises cannot export
their products to the U.S. and they are
not qualified to build factories overseas,
we can offer help to them,” he said.
The shipments meet Chinese export
regulations when they go to places like
Malaysia, Mr. Zhao said. After that, he
said, “it is the U.S. government’s role to
judge which country the products are
originally from and whether this business is legal or not.”
American customs officials said in a
written reply to questions that the
United States had “a sophisticated targeting process to identify countries,
manufacturers, importers and shipments that are at high risk.”
The services aren’t cheap, but high
tariffs can make them appealing. Shipping goods from China to the United
States by way of Malaysia costs $3,000
to $4,000 per 40-foot shipping container,
at least $2,000 more than shipping directly to the United States, brokers said.
The extra costs include $500 for a Malaysian certificate of origin, at least $950
for unpacking goods in Malaysia and repacking them in different containers
and $600 or more for the additional sea
Malaysian trade officials said the
country did not have a specific law
against tariff circumvention. Still, it has
laws against the falsification of documents and requires companies to manufacture products there to obtain local
certificates of origin.
A new era of tariffs could make transshipments even more appealing. Brokers described receiving up to 10 times
as many phone calls for price quotes as
usual in the past several weeks, as trade
tensions between Washington and Beijing heated up.
Stamping out such transshipments
could prove difficult. The United States
made a big effort in the late 1990s to address the relabeling in Hong Kong of
garments that had been made in mainland China, said Patrick Conway, a textiles trade specialist.
But after American officials gathered
enough evidence to put companies on a
watch list, the companies quickly disappeared, said Mr. Conway, chairman of
the economics department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Some of the same people involved
emerged later, but at other companies.
“We can anticipate a game of Whac-aMole,” Mr. Conway said.
Ailin Tang contributed research.
Swindlers make very quick bucks with digital transfers
Big banks are making it easy to zap
money to your friends. Maybe too easy.
Zelle, a service that allows bank
customers to send money instantly to
their acquaintances, is booming. Thousands of new users sign up every day.
Some $75 billion zoomed through Zelle’s
network last year. That’s more than
twice the amount of money that
customers transferred with Venmo, a rival money-transfer app.
But the same features that make Zelle
so useful for customers, its speed and
ubiquity, have made it irresistible to
thieves. Hackers and con artists have
used the system to steal from victims —
some of whom had never used Zelle or
even heard of it until someone used it to
clean out their bank accounts.
Interviews with more than two dozen
customers whose money was stolen
through Zelle illustrate the weaknesses
that criminals are using in focusing on
the network. While all financial systems
are susceptible to fraud, aspects of
Zelle’s design, like not always notifying
customers when money is transferred
— some banks do; others don’t — have
contributed to the system’s vulnerability.
And some customers who lost money
were made whole by their banks; others
were not.
For the banks, Zelle is a big — and
must-win — bet on where money is
headed. As consumers become increasingly accustomed to splitting dinner
checks, paying for their coffee and hailing an Uber without touching paper
money, banks are rushing to stake their
claim on the wallet of the future.
In recent years, apps such as Venmo
(which is owned by PayPal), Popmoney,
Square Cash and Apple Pay have made
digital cash transfers quick and simple.
Banks were falling behind. So they
joined up to create a rival product, run
by Early Warning Services, a Scottsdale, Ariz., consortium that is jointly
owned by seven large banks.
Last June, Early Warning introduced
Zelle. It is built directly into each bank’s
mobile app, making the system easy to
use for customers — or thieves who gain
access to their accounts.
The scale of the problem is hard to
pinpoint, because Zelle is fairly new and
banks do not report much data about it.
But banking analysts say they have
seen some alarming incidents.
Jane Butler, of Downington, Pa., lost $2,500 in a con that employed Zelle, a service that
allows bank customers to instantly send money to acquaintances.
“I know of one bank that was experiencing a 90 percent fraud rate on Zelle
transactions, which is insane,” said
Genevieve Gimbert, a partner in PwC’s
financial crimes unit. Most banks have
strong authentication and fraud-detection controls for Zelle, she said, but some
“just implemented it without any protections” like two-factor authentication
and user-behavior monitoring.
Zelle said the problem was under control. “There are very few incidents,” said
Lou Anne Alexander, Early Warning’s
head of payments. “When there is a
problem, we and the banks are proactive. It’s not something we’re putting our
heads in the sand about.”
Eighteen banks in the United States,
including most of the biggest players,
are using Zelle, and 70 more are setting
it up. Collectively, they connect about
half of the traditional checking accounts
in the United States.
Cash transfers within the network often take place within seconds — much
faster than on most of its rival payment
services. That has made it more difficult
for banks to halt or reverse illicit transactions.
Security is a cornerstone of Zelle’s
marketing campaign. In one TV commercial, Daveed Diggs, an actor and
rapper known for “Hamilton” and
“black-ish,” is encouraged to pay for
playoff tickets through Zelle by another
actor who raps: “You can send money
safely, ’cause that’s what it’s for, and it’s
backed by the banks, so you know it’s secure.”
But the system has had problems. Brian Kemm, a Bank of America customer
in Pasadena, Calif., lost $300 because of
a misdirected payment.
To transfer money through Zelle, the
sender enters the recipient’s phone
number or email address.
Zelle is built on the assumption that
each of those identifiers is unique to one
Last November, Mr. Kemm tried to
send cash to his mother, Carol Kemm,
who is also a Bank of America customer.
He typed in the mobile phone number
Ms. Kemm had been using for at least
three years and hit “send.”
“She told me she didn’t get it, and my
first thought was, ‘Mom, you’re not being very tech-savvy,’” Mr. Kemm said.
“Eventually, after a few days, I realized
it really didn’t get there.”
When he called Bank of America’s
customer service line, he learned that
the $300 had been transferred — to a JPMorgan Chase bank account, whose
owner had registered the same phone
number Ms. Kemm used. He said he had
been told that there was nothing Bank of
America could do to get his money back.
Mr. Kemm filed a police report and a
fraud claim with Bank of America. On
Nov. 30, the bank sent him a reply: “Our
records indicate that we initiated the
Brian Kemm, a Bank of America customer in Pasadena, Calif., lost $300 when a Zelle
transfer to his mother went awry. He was reimbursed.
transfer in accordance with your instructions. As a result, your account will
not be credited for this claim.”
After being contacted for this article,
Bank of America said it would make a
refund to Mr. Kemm.
“In general, in cases in which the mobile number was previously registered
to another person and directed to that
account, we’ll work with the receiving
The catch is that the banks that
use Zelle consider a transaction
fraudulent only if the customer
did not authorize it.
bank to reverse the transaction,” said
Betty Riess, a bank spokeswoman.
Another Bank of America customer,
Heather Pocorobba, went hunting on
March 18 for tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert. On Craigslist, she found
two good seats for $260. The seller suggested she pay with Zelle.
“I naïvely believed that since my bank
uses it, the accounts must be connected
to real people, with some sort of protection built in,” Ms. Pocorobba said.
As soon as she sent the cash, the seller
stopped answering her text messages.
She never got the tickets — or her
money back. She reported the fraud to
the police and her bank.
Bank of America’s fine print about
Zelle tells customers: “You are protected by the same security you’re used
to where you will not be liable for fraudulent transactions.”
The catch is that the bank, like all the
others that use Zelle, considers a transaction fraudulent only if the customer
did not authorize it. When a customer
knowingly sends money to someone, the
bank offers no protection.
“We’re committed to ensuring consumers are aware of potential scams, including reminding them that Zelle is intended for sending funds to friends, family or people they know,” said Ms. Riess,
the Bank of America spokeswoman.
Bob Sullivan, an author who specializes in cybercrime and consumer protection, said he was stunned by how
poorly the banks had communicated
Zelle’s risks.
Craigslist, PayPal and Venmo faced
early criticism for leaving users vulnerable to fraud. In response, each made
changes. Craigslist, for example, added
a warning about scams on every sale
listing. PayPal increased the protections
it offers on some digital sales and provided a detailed disclosure about what
transactions it will and won’t protect.
And Venmo — which, like Zelle, does
not protect users if a seller does not deliver what they promised — upgraded
its security policies in 2015 to better detect fraud, including by notifying
customers when someone adds an email
address or new device to their account.
This year, the Federal Trade Commission criticized the company for not having those protections from the start.
Customers have to hunt on Zelle’s
website to get to this red flag: “Neither
Zelle nor the participating financial institutions offer a protection program for
any purchase or sale conducted using
Zelle.” Some banks, such as JPMorgan,
don’t notify customers when new recipients are linked to their Zelle accounts.
David Nowicki, a BB&T customer, discovered in March that someone had
gained access to his online accounts and
used Zelle to steal $4,000. Mr. Nowicki
said he had never received any email or
phone notifications about the transactions, or about a new computer gaining
access to his account.
After he filed a fraud claim with
BB&T, and a police report, the bank refunded his loss.
“Clients are protected and reimbursed for any unauthorized transactions,” said David R. White, a BB&T
BB&T sends email notices about Zelle
transactions, Mr. White said. Mr. Nowicki, however, said he was certain he had
not received any.
Jane Butler, a Wells Fargo customer
in Downingtown, Pa., first heard of Zelle
when it was used to steal $2,500 from
her bank account.
The con was elaborate. First, a phishing email that appeared to be from Wells
Fargo tricked her into entering her bank
ID and password into a fraudulent website. The next day, Ms. Butler got a call
that appeared to be from Wells Fargo’s
fraud department.
The number she saw displayed on her
phone screen matched the phone number on the back of her bank card — but it
wasn’t her bank on the other end of the
The caller tricked her into handing
over one-time passcodes that provided
access to Zelle, which was then used to
make six transfers from her account,
ranging from one penny to $999.98.
Wells Fargo reimbursed Ms. Butler.
Cory McWilliams, a Wells Fargo
customer in Houston, said that thieves
had called him and fooled him into giving them authentication codes texted by
the bank and then had stolen $1,000.
“The banker I spoke with was not surprised at all,” Mr. McWilliams said. “He
stated he was aware this sort of scam
was going around.”
8 | TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018
An emergent force at Facebook
While Ms. Brown has helped Facebook mount its charm offensives at industry events, her efforts to remake
Facebook’s relationships with publishers has meant cutting back her visibility
to the broader public.
“There was a time you couldn’t turn
on a TV and not see Campbell Brown,”
said Ben Winkler, chief investment officer for OMD, a global media agency.
“Since she went to Facebook, Campbell
Brown is where?”
Former news anchor
pushes her publishing
vision at the social network
It was another terrible day for Facebook
and the company had dispatched Campbell Brown, its head of news partnerships, to do some damage control.
In mid-March, Ms. Brown took the
stage at a conference in New York about
the future of the media industry. In front
of a room full of editors and advertising
executives, she immediately faced a
question about Facebook’s latest scandal: The company had sent a letter to
The Guardian threatening a lawsuit if
the newspaper published a report on improper harvesting by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica of the
data of millions of the social network’s
“If it were me, I would have probably
not threatened to sue The Guardian,”
Ms. Brown said, with a Southern lilt in
her voice and the easy charm of a onetime broadcast anchor. “Probably not
our wisest move.”
Some in the audience shot surprised
glances at one another. That Ms. Brown
was so willing to buck Facebook’s
tightly controlled messaging — and do it
in the middle of a news cycle that kept
getting worse — made some wonder if
she had gone rogue.
“Is she on her way out?” Emily Bell, a
professor at Columbia Journalism
School who had been on stage with Ms.
Brown, wondered later. “She is one of
the few people from Facebook who will
voice what sounds like disappointment.”
Ms. Brown, 49, a former CNN and
NBC anchor, wasn’t out at Facebook. Yet
she has long had to grapple with questions about whether she really has influence at the social network.
Since joining the Silicon Valley company in 2017 to repair its frayed relationship with the news media, many have
considered her little more than window
dressing. Others see her as a more insidious figure — a telegenic personality
with close ties to conservative figures
who can offer Facebook’s outreach the
veneer of journalistic credibility. To
them, she is an ambassador from a dictatorship, willing to deliver bad news
with a smile and some canapés. No matter their view of her, almost all question
what influence she has at a company
where the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has viewed news — both making it
and displaying it — as a headache.
But a year and a half into her tenure,
Ms. Brown, who became a school-choice
activist with close ties to conservative
politics after her TV career, is emerging
as a fiery negotiator for her vision of
Facebook as a publishing platform, according to interviews with more than 30
people who work or who regularly interact with her. This month, Hollywood Reporter named Ms. Brown one of this
year’s 35 most powerful New York media figures.
Facebook — with its reach of more
than 2.2 billion users — already holds
enormous power over the news that
people consume. But now it is making its
first venture into licensed news content.
Facebook has set aside a $90 million
budget to have partners develop original news programming, and Ms. Brown
is pitching publishers on making Facebook-specific news shows featuring
mainstream anchors, according to two
people involved in or briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the details were confidential.
Once those shows get started, Ms.
Brown wants to use Facebook’s existing
Watch product — a service introduced
in 2017 as a premium product with increased curating that has nonetheless
been flooded with far-right conspiracy
programming like “Palestinians Pay
$400 million Pensions For Terrorist
Families” — as a breaking news destination. The result would be something
akin to an online competitor to cable
Ms. Brown is also pushing paywalls
for publishers on the social network, another first for a company that has long
avoided circulating any content that users would have to pay for.
“This is us changing our relationship
with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before; it’s having a point of view,” Ms.
Brown said in February at a tech and
media conference where she discussed
how Facebook planned to de-emphasize
low-quality news and could even begin
paying some publishers.
Whether all these changes last — or
even get implemented — are open questions. Facebook has started down the
road of editorial control before, only to
change course. The company laid off a
group of editors in 2016 after a controversy over its Trending Topics items and
replaced them with an algorithm that
automatically surfaces the top news of
the day.
And with recent changes that have
lowered the visibility of hard news in
Facebook’s News Feed, frustration
within the media industry is mounting.
Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.’s executive chairman, has called for publishers
to band together to force Facebook to
pay for news content.
Ms. Brown declined to speak on the
record, but some Facebook colleagues
spoke about how she had navigated the
relationships with the news media and
inside the company, even as the social
network’s own rapport with journalism
remained uneasy.
Clockwise from top: Campbell Brown, whom Facebook hired in 2017 to help repair a frayed relationship with the news media; in Lesotho with, from left, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates
and Bill Clinton, for NBC in 2006; with her husband, Dan Senor, left, and Eric Schmidt of Google; Ms. Brown at work at CNN in 2008; Sheryl Sandberg, a close associate.
“Campbell leads a critical piece of our
business,” said Dan Rose, Facebook’s
vice president for partnerships. “She’s
been incredibly effective, and she’s just
getting started.”
Ms. Brown was born into a tight-knit Roman Catholic family in 1968 in Ferriday,
La., population about 5,000. Her father, a
local politician and state insurance commissioner, once served a prison stint for
lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation during an inquiry related to an insurance company.
In her youth, Ms. Brown was kicked
out of an all-girls boarding school for
sneaking off campus to a party. She
spent two years at Louisiana State University before attending Regis University, a small Jesuit school in Denver. Afterward, she moved to what was then
Czechoslovakia for two years to teach
“To deeply understand
American journalists, having
a TV personality is not really
the first place you would go.”
English before returning to the United
States and beginning a television news
career, going from a local station in Topeka, Kan., to Richmond, Va., then Baltimore.
Her approach on camera was confrontational, yet likable. In 1996, she got
a call from NBC News.
“There was something about her on
screen that indicated she was a person
who could make you feel comfortable —
the nice girl next door you could talk to,”
Neal Shapiro, then president of NBC,
said in 2003.
At NBC, she became a political campaign reporter, covering George W.
Bush’s run for the presidency in 2000.
With her best friend and fellow reporter
Anne Kornblut, she started “Chick
Chat,” a social group for female White
House correspondents that drew political guests, as well as charges of elitism
from those it excluded.
While in Iraq in 2004 for a story on the
Abu Ghraib prison complex, she met
Dan Senor, chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Ms.
Brown asked him out and they married
in 2006. They now have two sons, ages 8
and 10. Ms. Brown converted to Judaism, her husband’s religion, before their
marriage, and friends said the couple is
known for hosting raucous seders with
skits and singing.
Mr. Senor now works for Elliott Management, the hedge fund of the conservative billionaire Paul Elliott Singer, and
is a power broker in the Republican
fund-raising world, as well as a frequent
guest on morning news shows.
In 2007, Ms. Brown joined CNN as a
prime-time anchor but struggled for
good ratings. She quit three years later
with a statement that criticized her fellow CNN anchors, saying that she could
not compromise her desire for honest,
unbiased reporting.
“Shedding my own journalistic skin to
try to inhabit the kind of persona that
might coexist in that lineup is simply impossible for me,” she wrote.
Some have said her behavior now,
seemingly throwing Facebook’s strategy of silence under the bus, mirrors
that letter.
But after leaving CNN, Ms. Brown did
shed her journalistic skin, and turned
herself into a political animal.
Ms. Brown became an activist focused on education. She fought teachers’ unions, a tactic some friends think
was meant to position her for a run for
office. A New York Magazine profile
once posed the question, “How did an
ex-news anchor become the most controversial woman in school reform?”
“She was a celebrity in ed reform,”
said Eva Moskowitz, the founder and
chief executive of the Success Academy
Charter Schools, where Ms. Brown is a
board member. “We just didn’t have people of her prominence before.”
Ms. Brown also started an education
news site called The 74 Million, which often reports on issues involving teachers’
unions, and an advocacy group called
The Partnership for Educational Justice, which funded a lawsuit against
teacher tenure. She served on the board
of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation
for Children. (Ms. Devos has funded The
74 Million.) When President Trump
nominated Ms. DeVos to be secretary of
education last year, Ms. Brown wrote an
op-ed in her defense, calling Ms. DeVos
a “friend.”
By then, Facebook was in crisis mode
over how it handled news.
In mid-2016, Facebook was grappling
with criticism that its Trending Topics
team of editors was choosing to feature
left-leaning content and leaving out
right-leaning posts. A few months later,
the term “fake news” would crash into
the lexicon after the presidential election.
Ms. Kornblut, who had left the Washington Post to go work at Facebook with
Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief
operating officer, called Ms. Brown in to
help rebuild news relationships and
ease tensions with an agitated media
world. Ms. Brown’s hiring was announced in January 2017.
Many in the news business were immediately skeptical about what Ms.
Brown might do.
“If you wanted to deeply understand
American journalists, having a TV personality is not really the first place you
would go,” said Tom Rosenstiel, execu-
“We see some small movement
in the right direction in terms
of at least improving
tive director of the American Press Institute, a nonprofit that supports news
media with research and training.
At Facebook, Ms. Brown became part
of an informal cadre on the company’s
business side known as the FOSSes, or
“Friends of Sheryl Sandberg.” But close
association with a powerful figure
within the company does not assure her
of success.
When it comes to decisions related to
publishers, the power at Facebook has
traditionally been more with the product staff members, who tend to be
aligned more with Mr. Zuckerberg and
cloistered from meetings with partners,
according to several media executives.
Google has a similar power dynamic
but, publishers said, a more robust partnership structure and easier contact
with product teams.
“She’s smart, but we’re different
beasts,” Richard Gingras, the vice president for news at Google, said of Ms.
Brown. “I’m in a fortunate position
where I’m involved with the product. I
can make change. I feel for her, I really
The answer, it turns out, was close to
home. Editors talk about Facebook as an
authoritarian regime or perhaps an
ideological cult, and they call Ms. Brown
its emissary.
She takes those ambassadorial duties
seriously. She’s a regular figure in the
New York media scrum, such as a recent
Pulitzer reception at the media hot spot
Michael’s. She also hosts frequent media and Facebook mixers at her airy
apartment. At these events, attendees
are met with wine and hors d’oeuvres
(seared tuna, and a cheese and cracker
buffet). Guests describe Ms. Brown as
“a hoot” with a sharp humor. When she
calls the party to order, the group sits
around her living room on cowhide seats
and polished wooden stumps.
Ms. Brown typically has a guest of
honor from Facebook, such as the chief
product officer Chris Cox, and allows
questions. If she deems a question too
challenging for the guest, she pushes
back against the inquisitor — her go-to
is some form of the retort, “Really?”
The gatherings are frequently a who’s
who of the news media, mixing long-established outlets with digitally focused
newcomers. The guest lists have included Ben Smith, the BuzzFeed editor in
chief; David Remnick, the editor of The
New Yorker; Nick Thompson, the editor
of Wired; and the Vox publisher Melissa
Bell. One editor, who asked not to be
identified because these parties are off
the record, said he had felt “humiliated”
afterward, having been reminded that
the power of traditional publishers is
The gatherings are the first outreach
Facebook has made to the New York media world — a world that is increasingly
beholden to the company’s power.
“I know a lot of publishers there, they
have to manage good relationships in order to survive, let alone thrive,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade association serving
digital content companies. “It’s not getting better.”
Some said Ms. Brown has had more
influence on Facebook than they expected, citing the introduction of paywalls and the prospect of the company
paying for content.
“I think she’s been a stronger figure in
that role than any platform has ever
had,” Mr. Smith said.
As much as those soirees may include
needling from her, Ms. Brown’s daytime
meetings with publishers tend to be
more overtly contentious. At one recent
meeting, two publishers complained
about having lost a lot of online traffic
after changes to Facebook’s News Feed.
According to one publisher who was
present, Ms. Brown told them the company would give them more traffic if
they stopped doing clickbait.
Still, the media industry has been so
beaten down by Facebook that some
said they were happy just to have someone in the company who talks to them.
“We see some small movement in the
right direction in terms of at least improving transparency,” said Jim
Bankoff, chief executive of Vox Media.
There had not been “real movement in
terms of providing better business opportunity,” he added. “But at least we’re
being listened to.”
Ms. Brown recently helped arrange a
meeting between Mr. Zuckerberg and
several members of The Washington
Post management team: Martin Baron,
the executive editor; Fred Ryan, the
chief executive; and Shailesh Prakash,
the chief product officer. The group discussed whether a Facebook user should
hit a paywall on Post content after clicking on three, five or 10 articles. Mr.
Zuckerberg said 10, but The Post executives wanted a paywall to start after 3
articles, according to a person who was
in the meeting.
Ms. Brown went for the middle
ground, pushing Mr. Zuckerberg to give
The Post a test run of paywalls that kick
in after three and five Post articles are
read. She won. Since March 1, The Post
has been doing just that, according to
Mr. Prakash. “She’s helped us,” he said.
But Ms. Brown’s biggest project is developing a news apparatus within Facebook’s premium video section, called
Watch. She is negotiating with BuzzFeed, Vox, CNN, Fox News and others to
partner on creating about a half-dozen
Facebook-exclusive shows, which will
debut in May and June.
Building off these shows, Ms. Brown
is pushing to create a curated breaking
news destination and envisions a cohesive daily Facebook newscast using
partner content highlights — paid for by
Facebook, made by media partners, and
edited by a growing editorial team, according to a person familiar with her
Discussing Facebook’s reticence to
put paywalls in and engage with publishers transparently, Ms. Brown said at
the February media and tech conference that it had taken too long for the social network to come around to a workable news strategy. “I’m having a hard
time with patience right now,” she said.
“And I know publishers are too.”
TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018 | 11
A bit of earthly hope
Richard Conniff
Contributing Writer
America abhors impeachment
Charles M. Blow
Folks, have a seat and get some tea. I
have something to tell you that you
may not want to hear: Everyone still
hoping for Donald Trump’s removal
from office is hoping against the odds.
Yes, Trump is wholly unqualified,
lacking in morality and character, a
consummate liar and surrounded by
corruption. Yes, every day that he
occupies the presidency he is a threat
to this country, its ideas, conventions
and comity, but also arguably to the
safety and security of the world itself.
But, although a perspicuous case can
be made for his removal, that is an
uphill battle because enough of the
public and the political class abhor
impeachment and find removal to be
extreme and indecorous, even for a
compromised president.
It is possible that Trump could be
impeached if the Democrats take the
House of Representatives (odds are
that they will) but a conviction in the
Senate (where odds are the Republicans will retain a majority, however
slim) is all but impossible.
A note of historical relevance: America has only ever impeached two presidents (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and
Bill Clinton in 1998-99), but in both
cases the Senate refused conviction,
meaning that both men remained in
Richard Nixon, whose name and
legacy is often invoked relative to
Trump, resigned before the House
even voted on his articles of impeachment.
In each of these cases, it’s important
to examine how politicians and the
public responded to the possibility of
Johnson was a Democratic president
when Democrats were the racist conservatives and Republicans were the
abolitionist liberals. He became president because he was vice president
when Lincoln was assassinated. (Yes,
Lincoln had chosen a vice president
from the opposing party and from a
Southern state for strategic reasons.)
The Civil War had just concluded
and Reconstruction had already begun.
But Johnson, the racist that he was,
opposed many aspects of Reconstruction. As the Senate website points out:
“Johnson vetoed legislation that Congress passed to protect the rights of
those who had been freed from slavery.
This clash culminated in the House of
Representatives voting, on Feb. 24,
1868, to impeach the
president.” Both the
America has
House and Senate
were controlled by
But here is the
but both
hurdle that the
founders built into
the process to make
in office.
it nearly impossible
to remove a president: While it only
takes a majority of the House to impeach a president, two-thirds of the
Senate must vote to convict in order to
remove the president. In the Senate,
the three articles of impeachment that
were voted on all fell short by one vote,
and that is because seven Republicans
switched sides and voted with the
Democrats for acquittal.
One of those Republicans, Senator
James Grimes of Iowa, explained his
actions this way: “I cannot agree to
destroy the harmonious working of the
Constitution for the sake of getting rid
of an Unacceptable President.”
Even a Supreme Court associate
justice, David Davis, a Republican who
had served as Lincoln’s campaign
manager, reportedly opposed Johnson’s impeachment, even though he
believed him to have “qualities totally
unfitting him to be the ruler of a people
in the fix we are in” and calling him
“obstinate, self-willed, combative, slow
to act” and in possession of “no executive ability.”
Johnson was impeached before the
advent of modern polling, but that
polling did exist when Nixon resigned
and Clinton was impeached.
It is important to note in Nixon’s
case that the televised Senate Watergate hearings had started and the
Saturday Night Massacre occurred in
1973 and yet the percentage of people
saying he should be removed from
office never rose above the 30s that
year, according to Gallup. It wasn’t
until after the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment
that a majority of Americans thought
he should be removed.
In the case of Clinton, who was also
acquitted, Gallup reported:
“Bill Clinton received the highest job
approval ratings of his administration
during the Lewinsky/impeachment
controversy. As the Lewinsky situation
unfolded, Clinton’s job approval went
up, not down, and his ratings remained
high for the duration of the impeachment proceedings.”
It is quite possible that trying to
impeach and remove Trump could
have the opposite effect than the one
desired: It could boost rather than
diminish his popularity and an acquittal by the Senate would leave an even
more popular president in office.
The very thought of a possible impeachment is already being used to
inject some needed enthusiasm into
the Republican base ahead of the
Liberals have a tremendous opportunity this election cycle to fundamentally transform the topography of the
political landscape and send a strong
and powerful signal to Washington that
the Resistance is a formidable force.
But that only works if success is not
restricted to and defined by Trump’s
Springtime in Paris for Mr. Macron
force the government to give up an
ambitious overhaul of the national
railway company, the SNCF, and disrupting the lives of millions of travelers; they say they are prepared to
continue their protest until July. Air
France pilots are also on strike, but for
a 6 percent wage rise. Lawyers have
been demonstrating in the streets of
Paris to protest a proposed reform of
the court system. There is rising discontent among the staffs of public
hospitals and nursing homes affected
by budget cuts. Angry pensioners feel
unfairly targeted by taxes. In western
France, the riot police have clashed
with ecologists illegally occupying an
area where an airport was supposed to
be built, even though the plan has been
scrapped. Motorists are furious at a
proposed speed limit of 80 kilometers
(50 miles) an hour outside urban areas, to replace the current 90.
And, of course, protests have
reached universities. Another of Mr.
Macron’s reforms aims to make the
clogged admission process more selective. Protesters, who see this as an
attack on the sacrosanct principle of
equality, have occupied a handful of
colleges. The police have been sent to
evacuate the highly symbolic Sorbonne
and some other sites.
In a three-hour television interview
on April 15, a journalist (who happened
to be one of the former revolutionaries
of May 1968) asked Mr. Macron
whether he was trying to re-enact 1968
“through repression.”
“Rather than En Marche, shouldn’t
your party be called En Force?” the
journalist wondered sarcastically. The
president rejected the analogy; this is
not the legendary “convergence of
struggles,” he claimed, not even “a
coagulation of discontents.”
Mr. Macron is right: 2018 is not 1968.
It is probably not even 1995, when
Prime Minister Alain Juppé had to
give up his own reform of the SNCF
after three weeks of strikes by railway
and public transport workers.
In May 1968, France enjoyed a 5
percent economic growth rate, and its
population was young. It had fewer
students — most of them sons and
daughters of the bourgeoisie — and
more industrial workers. Trade unions
were strong. The biggest union, the
C.G.T., was closely linked to the Communist Party, which garnered about 20
percent of the vote. Far-left groups
were led by charismatic figures. May
’68 was not only the French version of
the rebellious mood throughout Europe
and America; it was a revolt of 20year-old baby boomers against the
grip and conservatism of the Gaullist
Mr. Macron,
often accused
shaped by World
of being
War II and
arrogant or
France’s Algerian
condescending, war. Their dream
of breaking free
now acknowwas, in the words
ledges the
of the French
feeling of
intellectual Rayinjustice
mond Aron, a
generated by
“lyrical illusion.”
the economic
Fast-forward to
the 21st century:
France is part of a
much more integrated Europe, in which it has a shared
currency with 18 other countries. It has
just recovered from a devastating
global economic crisis. Globalization
has disrupted the job market, leaving
trade unions weaker and divided.
Unemployment averages 9 percent,
higher education has been widely
democratized and immigration has
changed the social fabric. The Communist Party and its ideology have collapsed. So has the Socialist Party. At
the first round of the 2017 presidential
election, nearly half of the votes went
to populist and anti-establishment
candidates. French society has never
been so fragmented.
And there lies the danger. Sociologists note that while today’s protests
do not spread, they tend to be more
violent. Mr. Macron, often accused of
being arrogant or condescending, now
acknowledges the feeling of injustice
generated by the economic imbalances. “I hear the anger,” he acknowledged on television last week. He hates
being called “the president of the
wealthy” for lifting a tax on wealth.
“The wealthy don’t need a president,”
he responds. “They manage very well
on their own. I am the president of all.”
But the anger he hears, he says, will
not deter him from pushing ahead with
reforms. “France is a house whose
foundations have been eroded,” he
insists. “We need to fix the house.” The
French philosopher Monique CantoSperber disagrees. “French society
cannot be fixed like a house,” she says.
“It is much more complex.”
It is definitely more complex than 50
years ago. The 1968 barricade-stormers
were looking ahead; they wanted to
deregulate the future and overthrow de
Gaulle. The strikers of 2018, mourning
the golden age of the welfare state, see
deregulation as a threat and de Gaulle
as an icon. Mr. Macron tells them that
world is gone, but he reverts to a
Gaullist posture when dealing with the
protesting ecologists and radical students. One of the best known student
leaders of May ’68, Daniel Cohn-Bendit,
also known as “Dany le rouge” (Red
Dany), today supports Mr. Macron.
Like most Western nations today,
France is divided and anxious. President Macron, on a mission to transform
his country, now experiences the discontent firsthand. This is his first serious crisis, and he knows that if he loses
this battle, his reform agenda will be
largely defeated. The stakes are that
is the editorial director and a former editor in chief of Le
Before the environmental activist and
gay rights lawyer David Buckel set
himself afire in Prospect Park in
Brooklyn on April 14, he wrote a letter
explaining that he had chosen his
“early death by fossil fuel” as an act of
protest against the environmental
catastrophe that we are bringing upon
ourselves and the planet. It was a
horrifying end, not least because in life
Mr. Buckel had successfully taken on
issues as seemingly intractable as the
legalization of same-sex marriage. If
someone so capable had given up on
the environment, one woman remarked to a Times reporter, “What
does that mean for the rest of us?”
I was thinking about Mr. Buckel and
about despair a few nights later, over a
drink with Joe Walston of the Wildlife
Conservation Society. As director of
that organization’s worldwide field
conservation work, Mr. Walston routinely comes face-to-face with the dark
forces of human overpopulation, mass
extinction of species, climate change
and pollution. But he is also the coauthor of a paper being published this
week in the journal BioScience that
begins with the uplifting words of
Winston Churchill to the British nation
in June 1940, under the shadow of the
Nazi conquest of France: “In casting
up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye,” Churchill declared, “I see
great reason for intense vigilance and
exertion, but none whatever for panic
or despair.”
Mr. Walston and his co-authors go on
to argue against the increasingly common view that these are the end times
for life as we know it. Instead, they
suggest that what the natural world is
experiencing is a bottleneck — long,
painful, undoubtedly frightening and
likely to get worse in the short term —
but with the forces of an eventual
breakthrough and environmental
recovery already gathering strength
around us.
Mr. Walston sipped his beer and
listed what he called “the four pillars”
of conservation in the modern era — a
stabilized human population, increasingly concentrated in urban areas, able
to escape extreme poverty, and with a
shared understanding of nature and
the environment — “and all four are
happening right now.” He singled out
the trend toward urbanization as the
biggest driver of environmental
progress, bigger perhaps than all the
conservation efforts undertaken by
governments and environmental
groups alike.
Cities have of course endured a
reputation for much of the industrial
era as a blight, the stinking antithesis
of conservation. “But what happens in
urban areas?” Mr. Walston asked. New
arrivals from the countryside “get
better access to medical care, they
experience decreased child mortality
and in time that leads them to have
fewer children” — the so-called demographic transition — and those children go on to better schooling and
potentially more rewarding work lives.
The pace of the global movement
away from rural areas and into urbanized areas — a category that includes
suburbs and small
towns as well as
Over time,
city centers — is
startling. In my
migration to
own lifetime, we
cities could be
have gone from 30
a driver of
percent of the
environmental world’s population
living in urban
areas to 54 percent
today, with the
likelihood that the
number will rise as high as 90 percent
later in this century.
Unfortunately, that means the bottleneck will get worse over the next few
decades, according to Mr. Walston and
his co-authors, because urbanization
imposes short-term costs, including an
increase in overall consumption. But it
also leads to reduced per capita energy
consumption, as well as reduced birthrates, and it reopens old habitat in
abandoned rural areas to wildlife.
That’s already begun to happen in
Europe, where wolves, bears, lynx,
bison and other species have moved
out of protected areas to re-wild a
densely populated (but highly urban)
continent. If we can hold on into the
next century, Mr. Walston said, urbanization could set up the conditions for
that sort of recovery worldwide.
Holding on for another century is of
course no easy thing. It will require the
kind of “intense vigilance and exertion” Churchill called for in the dark
early hours of World War II. We will
need to undertake a far more concerted effort not just to establish protected areas, Mr. Walston said, but to
ensure that they still contain the
species said to be living there, as the
stock for an eventual recovery. (“Protected area” is now often a euphemism
for empty forests and oceans.)
It will demand significant action to
reduce our dependence on fossil fuels
and slow the rate of climate change,
because recovery will not happen if we
cook the planet in the meantime. Finally, it means working to improve the
cities of the world and their ability to
provide the basic ingredients of public
health — and the demographic transition — including sewage disposal,
garbage removal, clean water delivery
and a continuing connection to the
natural world.
That thought brought me back to
David Buckel. After retiring as a civil
rights lawyer, Mr. Buckel devoted
himself to exactly the kind of work Mr.
Walston and his co-authors talk about.
He made city life better by developing
compost programs and collaborating
with urban gardeners around New
York City, with a particular focus on
low-income neighborhoods.
Maybe in the end he believed his
work was too modest. Or maybe he
shared in the widespread sense of
depression and futility because our
decidedly un-Churchillian federal
leadership seems intent on actively
worsening problems like species extinction, climate change, public health,
you name it.
Ultimately, we have no way of knowing if Mr. Buckel’s suicide was a pure
act of protest or one partly influenced
by other factors, like mental or emotional illness. But those looking to find
meaning in it should emulate his life,
not his death. They should stand up in
ways large and small to help life on
Earth through the current dreadful
bottleneck. They should act now so
some future generation — our grandchildren of the breakthrough — will
look back at what we have done with
something bordering on gratitude.
It’s a stretch to imagine anyone ever
saying of us, “This was their finest
hour.” But at least they will know that
we lived in such a way as to avoid
utterly laying waste to the planet.
is the author of “House
of Lost Worlds: Dinosaurs, Dynasties
and the Story of Life on Earth.”
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next, we’ll help you
make sense of it.
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12 | TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018
Butler rekindles Wolves’ postseason fire
On Pro Basketball
MINNEAPOLIS The All-Star forward
Jimmy Butler comes across as the
proudest former resident in the history
of tiny Tomball, Texas. What he doesn’t
advertise in his Twitter biography, but
also doesn’t dispute, is that he grew up
dreaming of becoming a Houston
Rocket, like his hero Tracy McGrady.
“It was Houston everything for me,”
said Butler, who grew up in Tomball,
roughly 30 miles from Houston’s city
center. “Whatever sport I was in love
with at the time, I wanted to be playing
for the Houston Rockets, Houston
Astros, Houston Texans. I was Houston to the death.”
Butler was recounting his childhood
history in a mostly empty Minnesota
Timberwolves locker room late Saturday night, having just inspired the
Timberwolves to a stirring postseason
victory over (you guessed it) his boyhood favorites.
Something else Butler didn’t deny
after Minnesota’s first home playoff
date in 14 years: Beating top-seeded
Houston in Game 3 of this first-round
Western Conference matchup, which
cut the Rockets’ series lead to 2-1,
pleased him even more than he had
thought it might.
“Being in the playoffs, for this organization, that’s big in itself,” Butler said
after amassing 28 points, 7 rebounds
and 5 assists — as well as a fresh ankle
injury to go with a nagging wrist problem — in the Timberwolves’ 121-105
triumph. “To be playing against Houston and a lot of guys I really respect on
the opposing team, it means a lot, too.
“A team that close to my hometown,
to get an opportunity to beat up on
them a little bit, I’m taking it.”
How much longer the Timberwolves
can hang with the 65-win Rockets most
likely hinges on the outcome of Game 4
here in Minneapolis on Monday night.
Chances are Minnesota will not be able
to outshoot their longball-happy visitors at 3-point range, as the hosts
unexpectedly did in the first N.B.A.
Butler, left, with Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the younger Minnesota Timberwolves
players for whom the more experienced Butler was acquired to serve as a mentor.
Jimmy Butler, left, said he was enjoying the playoff challenge against the Houston Rockets, the team he once dreamed of playing for.
playoff action at Target Center in some
5,075 days. But credit Butler and Co.
for rebounding nicely from two dispiriting losses in Houston and, at least for
the moment, foisting some angst back
onto the heavy favorites, whose offense, by typical Rockets standards,
has underwhelmed.
The Timberwolves were 30-11 at
home during the regular season and
predictably looked much more comfortable in their own arena than they
had in Houston, particularly the postseason newcomers Karl-Anthony
Towns (18 points and 16 rebounds) and
Andrew Wiggins (20 points on just 11
shots, including four 3-pointers). A
resurgent Derrick Rose chipped in 17
points in 21 minutes off the bench, but
Butler, as ever, was Minnesota’s tonesetter. He scored 11 points in an ag-
lar-season games and nudge them into
the West’s last playoff berth. The Timberwolves, who had slid from third to
eighth in the conference standings and
went 8-9 without Butler, watched him
pour in 31 points on April 11 in the
club’s regular-season finale at home
against Denver. That overtime victory
sent Minnesota to the postseason for
the first time since its 58-win team in
2003-4 advanced all the way to the
Western Conference finals.
“I’ve played with a lot of All-Stars,”
said the Minnesota reserve center Cole
Aldrich, who counted Kevin Durant,
Russell Westbrook and the Rockets’
James Harden as teammates when he
broke into the league with Oklahoma
City in 2010-11. “And Jimmy is one of
the best — not only on the court but off
the court.”
shouted into the phone, during a break
from his work as a television broadcast
host. “It’s going to melt the city. The
Target Center will be on fire. The Garnett Center will be on fire.”
The ever-passionate Garnett went
on to explain that, during the Timberwolves’ run of eight successive playoff
berths from 1997 through 2004, he
would often joke with his longtime
teammate (and future coach) Sam
Mitchell that he planned to lobby the
organization to officially change the
name of the building in his honor.
The Timberwolves opted instead for
a $150 million Target Center renovation
and a draft-night trade with Chicago
last June to reunite Butler with Tom
Thibodeau, the hard-driving Minnesota
coach and team president for whom
Butler played in Chicago. The idea was
that Butler, along with the subsequent
veteran additions of Taj Gibson, Jamal
Crawford and another Game 3 standout, Jeff Teague, would show the precocious Towns and Wiggins how to win.
Said Butler: “As long as we keep
growing as a unit, we’ll be here for
years. I’m glad everybody came out
and showed a lot of love. This is a big
fanatic sports town and they deserve
nights like this.”
No. 2404
Created by Peter Ritmeester/Presented by Will Shortz
(c) Distributed by The New York Times syndicate
gressive opening quarter after taking
just six shots in Game 2 and, more
important, played all but two minutes
and 34 seconds of the second half
despite badly twisting his left ankle
shortly before halftime.
“Don’t know what you’re talking
about,” Butler said in an attempt to
shut down questions about his latest
ailment. He refused taping or treatment of the ankle and wouldn’t say
much about his taped-up shooting
wrist, either, insisting that injuries can
be blocked out if you “tell your mind it
doesn’t hurt.”
Not that you’ll find many locals
prepared to dispute Butler’s claims.
The city is his after Butler, 28, shook
off a 17-game absence following
surgery on his left knee Feb. 25 to play
in the Timberwolves’ final three regu-
Referring to his first season with the
Timberwolves in 2016-17, before Butler’s arrival, Aldrich added, “Our culture is a lot better now.”
Aldrich grew up in nearby Bloomington, Minn., and was a teenager in
2004 when the Timberwolves —
coached by another Minnesota native
in Flip Saunders and featuring the star
trio of Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell
and Sam Cassell — made the best
playoff run in franchise history. So, like
Butler, Aldrich found himself flashing
back to his youth Saturday night.
Aldrich said he was in the stands on
May 29, 2004, when the Wolves captured Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against a Los Angeles
Lakers squad led by Shaquille O’Neal
and Kobe Bryant, and coached by Phil
Jackson. It was the Wolves’ last postseason win before Saturday.
“A long time coming,” said Aldrich,
who never left the bench in this Game
3 but had an enviable vantage point for
Minnesota’s uncharacteristically blistering 15-for-27 shooting from deep.
The most accomplished player in
Timberwolves annals offered a refresher on what to expect from a postseason crowd in Minneapolis.
“Leave your coats outside,” Garnett
Fill the grid so
that every row,
column 3x3 box
and shaded 3x3
box contains
each of the
1 to 9 exactly
For solving tips
and more puzzles:
No. 2304
CROSSWORD | Edited by Will Shortz
Fill the grids with digits so as not
to repeat a digit in any row or
column, and so that the digits
within each heavily outlined box
will produce the target number
shown, by using addition,
subtraction, multiplication or
division, as indicated in the box.
A 4x4 grid will use the digits
1-4. A 6x6 grid will use 1-6.
For solving tips and more KenKen
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KenKen® is a registered trademark of Nextoy, LLC.
Copyright © 2018 All rights reserved.
Answers to Previous Puzzles
33 Company with
numbered sheep plush
1 Johnny of “Chocolat”
and “Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory”
the American League
36 Eldest of Chekhov’s
“Three Sisters”
10 Lose control on ice,
14 Unit for surveyors
15 “Fear of Flying” author
16 Dubliner’s home
17 Author of “American
Polish seaport
The year 205
Furniture superstore
Dos x 5
Bracelet fastener
Star of “Mandela:
Long Walk to
with “to”
domain: Abbr.
49 Machine that
produces power
25 “Jerry Maguire” Oscar
53 Patti Page song that
begins “It was winter
when you told me you
were leaving”
32 Teri with a big
“Tootsie” role
Solution to April 23 Puzzle
disproved by 17-, 25and 43-Across?
13th-anniversary gift
Belief systems
What birthday cake
candles represent
Brylcreem amounts
Mortise’s partner
64 Passed with flying
Ever’s partner
46 Approach furtively,
Yoga surface
54 Continues
55 John Donne quote
34 Southernmost team in
5 Pieces in the game
Stationery color
Ready for surgery
Sessions of Congress
They’re likely to get
into hot water
Form letters?
Green: Prefix
Drink made with red
wine and fruit
24 Modern hotel room
10 Emmy winner Ward
11 Oven for pottery
12 Apt name for an
25 Colombian city that
13 Rolltop, e.g.
18 Humor columnist
27 Largest group of
19 Genesis garden
23 Pedal attachment on a
racing bike
hosted the 1971 Pan
American Games
26 Impulse
Portuguese speakers
28 Menaces of the deep
29 “Memory” singer in
30 Hunky-dory
31 Deli loaves
32 One of two words
added to the Pledge
of Allegiance in 1954
35 Wasn’t a straphanger
40 Primitiveness
41 Software
add-ons that offer
extra features
44 Paula who wrote “It
Ain’t All About the
45 Some sibs
46 Egyptian peninsula
47 Mao and Xi, in China
48 She might check for a
fever with her hand
50 Fashion designer
51 Time being
52 Over and done
56 Visualize
57 Santa ___, Calif.
58 Negative conjunction
TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018 | 13
Protesters invade the gallery
An exhibition in Germany
focuses on the universal
subject of politics in art
A sea of 100 multicolored banners in the
atrium of the Schirn Kunsthalle in
Frankfurt, roughly assembled using
plywood, fabric and adhesive tape, provides the first indication that this art
gallery is in protest mode. The 2015 installation by the British artist Phyllida
Barlow is a pertinent symbol of our turbulent times — an epoch of #MeToo,
Black Lives Matter, marches for women
and in defense of science, and demonstrations against gun violence.
Held down with red and orange sandbags, Ms. Barlow’s banners are devoid
of slogans or symbols, which serves this
topical, ultracontemporary, international exhibition well. The show, called
“Power to the People,” focuses on the
universal subject of politics in art, not on
the political issues themselves. Its
achievement is that it takes a step back
and shows how art can reflect our political world.
“Artists are asking some very fundamental, very interesting questions,”
Martina Weinhart, the curator of the exhibition, said in an interview. “We don’t
want to answer them — we want to raise
The question posed in the first room of
the Schirn show is an unnerving one in
an era characterized by rising authoriNORBERT MIGULETZ/SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT
Clockwise from top: “Untitled: 100banners2015,” by Phyllida Barlow; “Marks of
Democracy/Portraits of the Voters”
(2002), by Osman Bozkurt; “Angela
Davis” (2017), by Katie Holten; “5000
Likes” (2015-16), by Mark Flood; and an
image from the video installation “Ballerinas and Police” (2017), by Halil
tarianism, populism and a flood of “fake
news”: Are we entering a postdemocratic age? A large installation by the
Belgian artist Guillaume Bijl recreates
voting booths from Austria, Azerbaijan,
China, Finland, Japan and Morocco. In a
museum context, staged with dramatic
lighting against dark walls, the booths
look like cheap relics from a bygone
chapter of history.
History was the starting point for
“Power to the People” — the slogan, after all, harks back to the 1960s and ’70s.
The original idea for the show was for an
exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 youth movement,
Ms. Weinhart said. “But then I quickly
took a step further, because the times we
are living in now are just as interesting,”
she added. “Perhaps there is even more
upheaval now than there was then.
There is an incredible energy that is setting something in motion, and that is reflected in art.”
She pointed out that some critics have
even suggested that today’s protests are
works of art themselves. In The New
York Times, Holland Cotter described
the Women’s March on the day after
President Trump’s inauguration as “the
largest work of political performance art
ever,” saying it was “deeply felt, smartly
choreographed” and “memorably costumed.”
Katie Holten was at that march, wearing a “pussy hat” and carrying a homemade banner. The 42-year-old, an Irish
citizen who lives in New York and describes herself as a “visual artist and resistance fighter,” took photographs at
the Women’s March and the March for
Science months later, which she assembled into collages titled “We the People,”
featured in the Schirn exhibition.
In the past, Ms. Holten’s art focused
primarily on environmental subjects. “I
have kept away from economics and
politics because that is not my personal
interest,” she said in a telephone interview. But since Mr. Trump’s election
campaign, that has changed, she said.
“Some days, I was at six rallies,” she
added. “It has never been like this before.”
Ms. Holten’s series of 10 pencil portraits, titled “She Persisted” (2017), features women who faced down adversity,
including Anita Hill, Emily Dickinson,
Chelsea Manning and Harriet Tubman.
“My work has never included anything
human before,” Ms. Holten says. “The
portraits were a form of meditation, a
way of taking a break from making signs
and going out on the street. But it was
also a reminder that there are people
who have dealt with and are dealing
with obstacles. There is hope.”
The contribution of the Texas-based
artist Mark Flood is more topical than
he could have imagined when he created it. “5000 Likes” (2015-16) satirizes
Facebook in a way that resonates today,
as the company confronts the fallout
from revelations that Cambridge Analytica exploited the data of up to 87 million Facebook users.
“A mere 70 likes are enough to allow a
computer analysis to produce a personality profile,” the catalog says. In a parody of social media superficiality, Mr.
Flood created thousands of small-format paintings bearing the word “LIKE,”
and visitors to the exhibition are invited
to place them in front of artworks that
appeal to them.
Three Turkish artists featured at the
Schirn remind us that political resistance can be dangerous in many parts of
the world. Ahmet Ogut’s “The Swinging
Doors” features two riot shields attached to either side of an entrance. They
can be pushed open from either direction, like a classic saloon door. Leaning
against the shields to pass through the
doors gives the visitor a sense of what it
is like to confront the police as a defenseless demonstrator. Returning in the
other direction is to feel the fear of riot
police officers facing mass protests with
just a club and a sheet of thick plastic as
Nasan Tur’s video installation
“Preparation No. 1” projects six films of
a man energetically but meticulously
getting ready for something, perhaps a
demonstration. In furtive close-up
shots, he packs a heavy chain, tests a
megaphone and marks a map in the
semidarkness of a room with lowered
blinds, as though working undercover.
“Ballerinas and Police,” a 2017 video
installation by Halil Altindere, addresses the innocence of some of the
demonstrators who took part in the
wave of protests in Turkey that began in
Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013. Dancers in
white tutus perform to Tchaikovsky’s
“Swan Lake” in a bleak urban setting.
As heavily armed police officers — also
wearing ballet shoes — try to disrupt the
performance, the dancers continue to
“With the uprising, there was an immediate polarization,” Mr. Altindere
said in an interview. “It started with the
politicization of the young generation,
and it quickly turned into a more violent
environment. I wanted to show innocence and oppression, the fragility of everyday life in that situation.”
Mr. Altindere publishes a contemporary art magazine in Istanbul, and his
work, which has been featured at the
Documenta art exhibition in Kassel,
Germany, and at the Berlin Biennale, focuses mainly on political themes.
“Censorship is highly possible” in Turkey today, he said. “But it is important
that artists should not start exercising
self-censorship. In this show, you can
see that even in the most oppressed
countries, artists manage to express
their opinions.”
At one point in Mr. Altindere’s video,
laser beams shooting from the ballerinas’ eyes appear to paralyze the police.
It’s a hint at the power of art to confront
authority and its ability to force change.
“It’s really hard,” Ms. Holten said.
“We just have to keep doing what we
Princeton to name two spaces in honor of slaves
The decision comes
months after revelations
about its racial history
Five months after the release of sweeping research into its deep historical connections with slavery, Princeton University has announced that it is naming two
prominent spaces in honor of enslaved
people who lived or worked on its campus.
Both spaces will be the first such commemorations on a campus dotted with
statues and other physical markers honoring slaveholders, a university spokesman confirmed.
A publicly accessible garden between
the New Jersey university’s main library and the main commercial street of
the town of Princeton will be named for
Betsey Stockton, an enslaved woman
born around 1798 who worked in the
home of one of Princeton’s early presi-
Above, James Collins Johnson, a fugitive slave employed on campus for 60 years. Right,
Betsey Stockton, an enslaved woman who worked in the home of an early president.
dents, became a missionary in what is
now Hawaii and later helped found the
town of Princeton’s only public school
for African-American children.
An arch that students pass through at
ceremonial occasions, including graduation, will be named for James Collins
Johnson, a fugitive slave from Maryland
who worked as a janitor and vendor on
campus for 60 years and in 1843 successfully defended himself against an extradition trial after a Princeton student
identified him as a runaway.
Princeton’s decision is the latest turn
in the continuing debate over how
American universities should reckon
with their often buried racist histories,
whether by adding new memorials or
removing honors to former slave owners and white supremacists like John C.
Calhoun, whose name was removed
from a residential college at Yale last
At Princeton, the commemorations of
Stockton and Johnson were recommended by a university committee on
naming, which was created in the wake
of intense national debate in 2015 over
the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, a former
Princeton president who, as president of
the United States, presided over the segregation of the federal work force.
The university declined to remove
Wilson’s name from its prestigious
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and
International Affairs, as some students,
who at one point occupied the university
president’s office, and outside critics
had called for. Instead, it has begun adding honors for a diverse group of people,
including the novelist Toni Morrison
and the West Indian economist Arthur
Lewis, two longtime Princeton faculty
members (both Nobel laureates) for
whom spaces were renamed last year.
Martha Sandweiss, the Princeton history professor who led the slavery research project (which began before the
Wilson outcry, and was undertaken independently of the administration), said
it was “thrilling” that the names of
Stockton and Johnson, currently little
known on campus, would become part
of Princeton’s “common DNA.”
“We can have one conversation about
what to do with sites named for people
connected” with slaveholding, said Professor Sandweiss, who was not a member of the naming committee. “But a
positive way to move forward is to also
think about who and what is not represented, and how to make Princeton a
richer commemorative environment.”
14 | TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018
David Foster at Town Hall in New York this month before a performance of “An Intimate Evening With David Foster — The Hitman Tour.”
‘I gravitate toward schmaltz’
David Foster has produced
hits for Whitney Houston,
Celine Dion and on and on
David Foster, the Jerry Bruckheimer of
power ballads, likes to say that he
hasn’t seen the inside of an elevator in
more than 30 years because he’s afraid
of hearing his own music.
Millennials know him as the former
stepfather to Gigi and Bella Hadid and
as a background player on “The Real
Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Before
all that, he produced Whitney Houston’s world-famous rendition of “I Will
Always Love You.”
He’s won 16 Grammy awards and
worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Neil Diamond, Toni Braxton,
Barbra Streisand and Lionel Richie,
often on songs that topped charts and
divided critics.
Audiences can even see him perform
some of the ballads he’s produced,
including Celine Dion’s “The Power of
Love,” along with Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” and Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” while he’s on
tour in the coming months, performing
at theaters around the United States
with a band of singers and musicians.
You’ve written disco classics for Cheryl Lynn and produced Whitney Hous-
ton’s biggest hit. Do great pop songs
share a secret?
I don’t know. I can only say that I
gravitate toward schmaltz. I’m a commoner, not an elitist. Years ago, Rolling
Stone said I plunged the dagger into
Boz Scaggs’s white suit, but I thought
we did a good album together. Boz
liked it. So I’m not a Rolling Stone
favorite. It’s O.K.
Rolling Stone magazine also called
you the master of “bombastic pop
kitsch.” What was the song that cemented that? Was it Chicago’s
“You’re the Inspiration”?
No. I would say it was Earth, Wind &
Fire’s “After the Love Is Gone.”
You’ve said that Maurice White, of
Earth, Wind & Fire is the singer you
learned the most from. Why?
Because he did jazz, pop, R&B, country. Because you name the genre and
he could do it.
Tell me about Celine Dion. When she
walks into the studio, does that voice
just come soaring out?
Celine Dion is the person every singer
should study, whether you like her
singing or hate it. How she’s raised her
children. How she’s been in her marriage. How she’s been in her shows.
How she takes care of her voice. How
she treats people. And yes, when she
opens her mouth that voice just comes
You’ve also been quoted saying that
you love her because she does what
she’s told.
For a guy like me who wants to get his
licks in, it’s great. She can interpret
exactly what I want at all times. She’s
so amenable. I think that’s to her credit. When I asked Whitney for something, she would give me something
different. Sometimes it was better,
sometimes it was not as good. But it
was never what I imagined.
Did you feel you knew Whitney Houston?
I felt I did not. We never had an argument. We never had a problem. But it
was not like Natalie Cole, where we
were great friends right up until she
And you did how many songs with
Over the course of 20 years.
It was a surface relationship. I don’t
read anything into the fact that we
weren’t close. Don’t you have people
you work with who you don’t really
Different levels of success. Different
level of tragedy. Who was the most
difficult superstar to work with?
I’m not answering that, but it’s none of
the obvious people. It’s not Whitney.
It’s not Natalie. It’s not Madonna.
Although Madonna was not always
nice to you when you collaborated on
her ballads collection in 1995. She
was constantly telling you how uncool
you were.
She was right. I was uncool. Madonna
was also a great co-producer. She
arrived at 9 a.m., was there until the
very end, and had great ideas about
how to make the music sound better.
What’s in that sandwich?
Turkey, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and
heroin. Want some?
No, but I’d bet there are no opioids. In
fact, I think you are probably one of
the rare people who’s succeeded in
the music business without ever
doing drugs.
That’s basically true.
Can you remember any occasion
when Barbra Streisand was not exacting?
Ladies and gentlemen, sometime in
David Foster’s distant past there was
a puff of a joint.
You know the answer to that. I could
say to Barbra, “If you come to this
party tonight, and just shake a few
hands and take a few pictures, your
album will come out at No. 1. These
people can help you.” “I don’t care. I
don’t want to go.” You say, “But Barbra, for sure. It’ll make your album
come out . . . ” “I don’t care. I don’t
want to.” But she’s a really true friend,
and she usually ends up being right. I
will tell you that she’s not the person
you asked about. She just doesn’t
compromise. She believes compromise
breeds mediocrity. I agree, though I
haven’t always operated accordingly.
A few times. But that’s all. I was raised
to not disappoint my parents. I had a
great upbringing on Vancouver Island.
I was in Chuck Berry’s band at 16.
There was nothing but sex, drugs and
rock ’n’ roll, and I never took part.
So the worst compromise you made
Deciding to do this interview. Use that.
Also, in the ’80s I did a bunch of
projects in Japan just for the money.
When you make decisions based on the
money, it never really works.
Although you made up a little for that
by appearing on reality TV. And you
got a tattoo on your hand.
Ten years ago, my stepson started
carrying a camera around saying,
“We’re going to get a TV show going.” I
said, “If you can get that TV show on a
network, whatever it is you’re trying to
do, I will get the same tattoo you have
and I will be on your show.” And sure
as hell, they sold a reality show about
our family to Fox and I wound up with
this tattoo. That’s how both things
Linda Thompson, a singer and actress, whose other ex is Caitlyn Jenner. After that, you married Yolanda
Hadid, who became a cast member
on “The Real Housewives of Beverly
Hills.” A show you appeared on with
some regularity.
I wanted to be supportive. And I think
about it like this. I’m currently working
with Michael Bublé. Would he really
say, “I was going to call him to do my
new album but then I saw ‘The Real
Housewives of Beverly Hills’ and
thought, not that guy. Never again”? I
doubt it. But your question seems to be
implying something. What do you
I would imagine there’s an upside to
these shows or you wouldn’t be on
No. There is no upside. Besides maybe
more Instagram followers. It’s not a
good look.
Now you’re in the tabloids dating
Katharine McPhee.
Well, that we won’t talk about.
Why? The two of you have been photographed together kissing outside
restaurants in Los Angeles. It’s not a
The show was called “The Princes of
Malibu,” and your wife then was
At some point, you can’t keep going in
back doors. At some point, you’ve got
to live your life. But I did learn one
thing over the last five years. Never
talk about your personal life.
to the national stage. Wright recalls
the 2016 video of Sen. Ted Cruz wrapping a strip of bacon around the barrel
of an AR-15, pulling the trigger, peeling
the bacon off the smoking gun and
eating it with a plastic fork. “The object of the video apparently was to
show a jollier and more human side of
the candidate,” he writes, knowing he
doesn’t have to say more than that; the
senator, the bacon and the gun have
done all the work.
But the book isn’t only about current
affairs, and Wright — who was born in
Oklahoma and moved to Abilene, Tex.,
as a child in the 1950s — weaves in his
own intimate history with the state. He
fled Texas after high school, doing
“everything I could to cleanse myself
of its influence.”
That influence included its long
shadow of racism. In 1845, the bankrupt Texas Republic chose to be annexed by the United States as a slave
state; the alternative was a bailout
from the British, which would have
preserved Texas’s independence but
required it to switch to a system of
non-slave wage labor. Texas, at this
crossroad and others, chose slavery
every time.
Wright has ancestors who fought for
the Confederacy. In Abilene, he kept a
portrait of General Robert E. Lee on
his bedroom wall. He would later cover
the civil rights movement for The Race
Relations Reporter in Nashville. “I still
feel ashamed of the prejudices that I
struggled to shed,” he writes. He doesn’t say much here about that struggle,
though in his 1987 memoir, “In the New
World,” he explores his Texas upbringing with vulnerability and candor.
Since returning to Texas in 1980,
Wright has lived in Austin, the state
capital, that which serves as a scapegoat for state lawmakers who routinely
attack the city in showy attempts to
establish their conservative bona fides.
They’re almost as fixated on Austin as
they are on California. To them, as
Wright puts it, “Austin is a spore of the
California fungus that is destroying
Wright doesn’t counter the moral
panic with moral panic. His tone is
gentle, occasionally chiding, and he
seems most comfortable in the center
lane, allowing the road hogs to pass by
while he holds steady at the wheel.
Certain readers might crave more
righteous anger from someone writing
about Texas, especially now, when
there’s little room for agreement and
plenty at stake. But Wright’s project is
perspective, not conquest. In a chapter
on Texas culture, he praises the work
of contemporary artists who have
returned to their Texas roots “with
knowledge, self-confidence, and occasionally, forgiveness.” “God Save
Texas” is his vivid bid to do the same.
The Lone Star State laid bare
God Save Texas: A Journey Into the
Soul of the Lone Star State
By Lawrence Wright. Illustrated. 349 pp.
Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95.
Lawrence Wright’s new book begins at
a truck stop and ends in a graveyard.
The subtitle of “God Save Texas” is “A
Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star
State,” but Wright, having spent most
of his life in Texas — embracing it,
rejecting it, defending it to naysayers
even as it lets him down — wants to
show how this soul isn’t as abstract
(and therefore incorruptible) as the
mythmakers like to believe. It’s too
rooted in the place’s particulars for
that. Even the Buc-ee’s outlet at the
truck stop is a gigantic repository of
meaning: “It is the largest convenience store in the world — a category
of achievement that only Texas would
aspire to.”
“God Save Texas” is full of such
commentary — affectionate and genial,
yet dry as desert scrubland. Wright’s
previous books include investigations
into Al Qaeda (the Pulitzer Prizewinning “The Looming Tower”) and
Scientology (“Going Clear”). His prodigious output also includes film scripts,
plays and features for The New Yorker,
where he’s a longtime writer. This
omnivorous sensibility suits his latest
subject, helping him to capture the full
range of Texas in all its shame and
glory. His new book is both an apologia
and an indictment: an illuminating
primer for outsiders who may not live
there but have a surfeit of opinions
about those who do.
“One can’t be from Texas and fail to
have encountered the liberal loathing
for Texanness, even among people who
have never visited the place,” Wright
explains. “They detect an accent, a
discordant political note, or a bit of a
swagger, and outraged emotions begin
to flow.”
Which isn’t to say he thinks the
outrage is entirely baseless. Liberals,
he says, are justifiably fearful. “Texas
has been growing at a stupefying rate
for decades,” accumulating more congressional seats and electoral votes,
“moving further rightward and dragging the country with it.”
But that rightward tug has more to
do with gerrymandering and cynical
pols than with demographics. The state
is becoming more urban and less
white. “It should be as reliably blue as
California,” Wright says. “Instead, it is
the Red Planet in the political universe.”
Wright rattles off the familiar stereotypes: “cowboy individualism, a kind
Lawrence Wright.
of wary friendliness, superpatriotism
combined with defiance of all government authority, a hair-trigger sense of
grievance, nostalgia for an ersatz past
that is largely an artifact of Hollywood.” He concedes they’re all true.
But they’re not all there is. “God Save
Texas” also depicts “a culture that is
still raw, not fully formed, standing on
the margins but also growing in influence, dangerous and magnificent in its
The book rambles far and wide, and
it’s a testament to Wright’s formidable
storytelling skills that a reader will
encounter plenty of information without ever feeling lost. A bride and
groom emerging from a chapel leads to
a disquisition on the Spanish conquistadors and the explorer Cabeza de
Vaca; a chapter on Texas radio turns
into a discussion of Texas gun laws and
a consideration of Texas snakes.
“It sometimes seems that every
living thing can bite or poke or sting or
shoot you,” Wright says of the state
where he lives. He has a deep knowledge of the terrain; he has been hoarding details over a lifetime, consulting
history books, his reporter’s notes, his
own memories and what one imagines
is a massive clippings file of truly
strange stuff.
Politicians offer up much by way of
raw, often confounding, material.
Sometimes all Wright has to do is relay
the facts, arranged just so, and the
hypocrisies come shining through.
Describing the Republicans’ obsession
with their failed “bathroom bill,” which
would have forced transgender people
to use the restroom that corresponded
with the sex on their birth certificates,
his deadpan delivery cuts deep: “Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is under
indictment for securities fraud, added,
‘This is a spiritual war.’”
Other details showcase what Wright
calls the “burlesque side” of Texas
politics, which sometimes finds its way
16 | TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2018
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