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International New York Times - 27 April 2018

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is no lock on
in a killing
in Malaysia
Ruchir Sharma
Contributing Writer
With Angela Merkel and Emmanuel
Macron visiting Donald Trump this
week, much of the commentary has
focused on how wildly different the staid
German chancellor and the globally
minded French president are from the
mercurial American president. But the
three do share one trait: They are all
unpopular at home despite the good
economic times.
This is new. For most of the postwar
era, voters in the big democracies rewarded leaders for strong economies
and punished them for policies that hurt
growth. Now the link between good
politics and good economics seems to
have broken.
Last year, the global economy was
finally accelerating out of the long torpor that followed the financial crisis of
2008. Unemployment hit lows not seen
in decades, and inflation all but disappeared. Yet by
January, my index
In many
of approval ratings
for leaders in 20
major democracies
showed their averis down, wages
age rating hitting a
are up and
new low of just 35
inflation is low.
percent, down from
But leaders
a peak of more than
face low
50 percent a decade
President Trump
is Exhibit A of this
fraying connection
between politics and economics. Surveys of consumer confidence show that
Americans haven’t felt this good about
the economy since at least the height of
the dot-com boom in 2000. Yet Mr.
Trump’s approval ratings have hovered
around record lows for this point in any
president’s first term. Many commentators assume this is because Mr. Trump’s
divisive personality has overshadowed
the strong economy.
But personality can’t explain the
struggles of Chancellor Merkel, who is
as bland as Mr. Trump is controversial.
Germany is enjoying a recovery even
more surprisingly robust than the
United States’. Yet in September Ms.
Merkel led her party to its worst showing since 1949, and her approval ratings
remain depressed.
The same decline has bedeviled Mr.
Macron and other decidedly mainstream leaders like Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau of Canada and Shinzo
Abe, prime minister of Japan. Yet none
of these leaders comes close to matching President Trump for outrageousness. All three are seen as
Hamas figure was targeted
by Israeli agents in an
Asian capital, officials say
declining industrial past often eclipse
the interests of new and expanding businesses. Time and again, economic facts
are no competition for sentiment and
“Some industries that are economically insignificant have enormous public resonance,” said Bronwen Maddox,
director of the Institute for Government,
an independent think tank in London.
“And because of that, they have political
influence that is way out of proportion.”
It isn’t fishermen who are pushing for
a kind of exemption from Brexit. It is a
Fadi al-Batsh, a well-liked electrical engineering lecturer and a family man, always had a smile for his friends and students in the seven years since he moved
to Malaysia from his native Gaza.
Last Saturday, as he walked outside
his apartment building in suburban
Kuala Lumpur, he was gunned down in a
hail of at least 14 bullets by two men on a
It was the Palestinian man’s undercover job that had put him in the cross
hairs: intelligence officials described
him as a technology expert for the military wing of the Gaza-based Hamas
Malaysian officials said the attackers
were “most likely born in the Middle
East or in the West” but would not directly say who they thought was behind
the killing. Mr. Batsh’s family blamed
Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.
That claim has been confirmed by
Middle Eastern intelligence officials,
who said the killing was part of a
broader operation ordered by the
Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, to dismantle
a Hamas project that sends Gaza’s most
promising scientists and engineers
overseas to gather skills and weaponry
to fight Israel.
Malaysia may seem like an odd place
for a battle between Israel and Hamas,
but it has long served as a way station
for extremists — including some of the
plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on
the United States — and is known as a
transit hub for illicit goods.
Mr. Batsh, who in 2013 co-wrote a paper on drone applications, had been sent
there to research and acquire weapon
systems and drones for Hamas, the intelligence officials said, speaking on
condition of anonymity to discuss a classified program.
Mossad has been particularly interested in Hamas’s advances in unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles, the officials said, which could be
used to attack Israeli targets more effectively than the rockets Hamas has used
during its last wars with Israel.
Israel has distanced itself from allegations that it was responsible for Mr.
Batsh’s death. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman placed the blame for the
assassination on internal rivalries
within the Palestinian leadership.
The killing of Mr. Batsh, 34, in the
Kuala Lumpur suburb of Gombak,
known locally as Little Arabia, is bringing to light not only the increasing presence of Hamas and other groups here,
but also Malaysia’s emergence as an epi-
Clockwise from top: An auction in Grimsby, England, where the processing industry is thriving and fish from all over the world are gutted, packaged and sold to wholesalers; a
closed store in the town’s central shopping area; and a boat on the Grimsby docks, where there are 70 processing warehouses employing 5,000 workers, but few fishermen.
Clinging to a seafaring past
In supporting Brexit, town
chose nostalgia for a dying
industry over today’s reality
The New York Times publishes opinion
from a wide range of perspectives in
hopes of promoting constructive debate
about consequential questions.
There aren’t a lot of fishermen left in this
town in North East England, once home
to one of the largest fleets of trawlers in
Britain. But nostalgia for the fishing in-
dustry permeates the place. So it
seemed inevitable that 70 percent of residents voted to leave the European Union. Britain’s fishermen have complained for years about regulations imposed by Brussels.
The surprise came later, when a local
business group began lobbying to avoid
tariffs, customs and the other burdens
imposed by departure from the European Union. Social media scorn ensued.
In thousands of tweets across the country, the people of Grimsby were derided
as dummies and hypocrites. Either they
wanted the upsides of Brexit with none
of its costs, or they hadn’t grasped the
harm that leaving would cause until it
was too late.
“Grimsby residents branded ‘idiots’
for Brexit vote as seafood industry
seeks free trade deal,” read a headline in
a local newspaper.
Actually, what happened here is more
about hearts than minds. The vote to
leave was a vivid demonstration of the
way emotions can transform politics
and affect the economy. It’s a phenomenon found in countries around the
world, including the United States,
where the legacy and the romance of a
She conquered opera and an ‘impossible’ role
The soprano Pretty Yende
reaches high to portray
the crazed heroine Lucia
When the soprano Pretty Yende was
training in the young artist academy at
the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, coaches
suggested she study the title role of
Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
“I thought they were crazy,” Ms.
Yende said recently.
She had some good reasons: Her
young voice was lusher and more velvety than most Lucias, the part’s florid
coloratura was difficult for her and her
upper range was insecure. “I could
barely sing a high C,” she recalled.
But it was more than vocal reticence
that gave Ms. Yende pause.
“I thought it was an impossible role
for me,” she said during an interview at
the Metropolitan Opera in New York,
where she sings Lucia through May 10
after triumphing in the part in Paris and
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Pretty Yende backstage at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where she has the title
role in “Lucia di Lammermoor,” a performance the South African feared as a student.
Berlin. “I asked my teachers, ‘But who
looks like me and sings this repertoire?’”
At 33, Ms. Yende has become one of
the most accomplished and charismatic
coloratura sopranos of her generation.
Last season at the Met she appeared in
three productions.
She will be the soloist in the Met Orchestra’s concert at Carnegie Hall on
June 5, singing Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate” and the solo in the finale of
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Next season she stars in “La Fille du Régiment”
and “Les Pêcheurs de Perles.”
But when Ms. Yende was growing up
in a Zulu-speaking home in South Africa,
the daughter of a businessman and a
teacher at a primary school, she was
aware of few role models for a black girl
who wanted to be an opera singer. As human beings, she explained, we are inspired by the “pictures” of life we see.
“I guess at the time I hadn’t seen so
many on the world stage like me,” she
said. Singers like Leontyne Price and
Kathleen Battle had by then paved the
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Issue Number
No. 42,027
FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018 | 3
The Thais keeping Chinese opera alive
A community has formed
around one of the world’s
oldest dramatic art forms
“Anywhere they play in Bangkok, I’ll be
there,” said Warin Nithihiranyakul, 73, a
dedicated fan of the Sai Yong Hong Chinese Opera troupe for more than 10
years. While waiting for his friends to
arrive, he helps out by setting up red
plastic chairs for the audience to watch
the evening’s performance just south of
Bangkok’s Chinatown.
A devotee of 11 years, Wandee Tengyodwanich, 62, unwraps several small
plates of Chinese dough sticks and cake,
passing them around to her friends in
front of the stage before the show. She
says that Sai Yong Hong is the best Chinese opera in Thailand because it invests in very elaborate costumes. She
and her friends go to see the group a
couple of times a year. They eat and
catch up as they reminisce about the
first time they saw Chinese opera as
They are part of a shrinking community of people that has formed around
Chinese opera in Thailand. They are
preserving a cornerstone of culture and
heritage that began in China during the
Tang dynasty (618 to 907), making it one
of the oldest dramatic art forms in the
Like much of Chinese opera throughout the world, the performances are a
product of a large Chinese diaspora. Sai
Yong Hong is one of about 20 Chinese
opera troupes in Thailand. The audience
consists mostly of older Chinese-Thai
adults, some of whom take their grandchildren to connect with a cultural memory that has been passed down for generations.
Chinese migration to Thailand can be
traced to the 13th century, according to
the Minority Rights Group.
With about 14 percent of the population ethnic Chinese, according to World
Population Review, Thailand is the
home of one of the world’s largest Chi-
At left, the Sai Yong Hong Chinese Opera troupe performing in Bangkok. Right, an actress moments before going onstage. Actors spend hours applying makeup, transforming into gods and goddesses, heroes and villains.
nese communities outside China.
On a recent afternoon, actors spent
two hours applying layers of makeup
backstage, transforming into gods and
goddesses, heroes and villains from Chinese folklore and mythology — although
some scripts are adaptations of Indian
movies. At around 7:30 p.m., the actors
and actresses of Sai Yong Hong took the
stage, and the performance began before an audience of about 60 people.
The show mixes elements of martial
arts, singing and dancing, with music
played on traditional Chinese instruments like the hammered dulcimer and
the four-stringed pipa. The songs are delivered in Teochew, a dialect of southern
The sound of cymbals crashes
through the night, echoing through the
courtyard until the performance winds
down, around midnight.
Sai Yong Hong is one of the bestknown troupes in Thailand. It has 34 actors, five of whom are from China and
the rest from Thailand. The manager,
Tatchai Obthong, 52, said that when he
was younger a troupe would have about
100 actors and the crowds were much
“I didn’t like it — it was loud and
scary,” he said of the first time he saw a
Chinese opera as a child. Mr. Tatchai,
who is Chinese-Thai, has been in the industry since he was 7.
His mother had left his father and was
struggling with a gambling addiction.
She took her young son, a fan of martial
arts movies, to see a Chinese opera performance. At the end of the night, his
mother told him that he was going to
stay with the troupe. “I was sold by
mother for 6,000 baht,” he said — today,
that’s not quite $200.
Mr. Tatchai remembers that it was
hard for him to adapt because he wasn’t
allowed to speak Thai and had to learn
Teochew, but he quickly realized that to
survive he had to learn the craft and the
He began by serving as a roadie and
eventually went to work with a Chinese
opera company in Singapore, where he
learned more about the performance aspect. He has worked for the past 12 years
in Thailand.
Performances are free — they are
commissioned by Chinese shrines in
Bangkok and elsewhere in the country.
“We don’t perform for people, we perform for the gods,” Mr. Tatchai said.
Sai Yong Hong transports its stage
with a six-wheeled truck and reassembles it at each location. The whole troupe
gets paid 20,000 baht per night.
For many of the actors, the stage is
home. “Now it’s a high season, so we
travel together all the time,” Mr. Tatchai
said. After the show, some will sleep under the stage or set up tents nearby.
One performer, Somsak Saetae, 62,
has been an actor with the group for
more than 10 years. He has been in the
industry since he was 8 and has seen it
“In the past, women couldn’t set foot
on the Chinese opera stage, and all the
performers were men,” he said. “Women could not even touch the shrine; only
men were allowed.”
Today even some of the male roles are
played by women, like Malee Saewong,
53, who has been a part of Sai Yong Hong
for four years but has acted in troupes
since she was 14.
Prasong Piewnen, 56, is the group’s
cook, her husband is a musician and her
daughter an actress in the troupe. Ms.
Prasong, who watched over her sleeping grandson after the show, said that
she was used to this way of life.
“If I stay at home, it’s just too quiet,”
she said.
As the Chinese opera community
ages and audiences dwindle, there is a
fear that the art will die out. Performers
face uncertain futures, but Mr. Somsak
said that he wanted to continue performing as long as he could.
“In this industry, when you retire you
just simply say to the gods, ‘You know
I’m getting old now. Please protect me
until the end,’” he said.
Mr. Tatchai has seen the changes as
well, and he said he thought the industry
would continue to get smaller but would
not go away.
“As long as Chinese shrines exist and
people continue praying,” he said, “the
Chinese opera will be here.”
Sea of skullcaps in Berlin
But show of solidarity
after assault on Israeli fails
to dampen Jewish fears
After an attack on a young Israeli wearing a kipa in a trendy Berlin neighborhood, the leader of Germany’s largest
Jewish organization urged Jews to wear
baseball caps instead. It was just too
dangerous, he said, to walk around
openly with a kipa, or skullcap, a sign of
In a country that has spent 70 years
fighting the legacy of the Holocaust, the
backlash was swift: We are all kipa
wearers. Berliners, including the mayor,
and other Jewish groups participated in
demonstrations in which people of all
faiths donned skullcaps in solidarity.
“Today the kipa is a symbol of the
Berlin that we would like to have,” Mayor Michael Müller told a crowd of hundreds of people outside the Jewish community center in western Berlin. It is, he
said, “a symbol of tolerance.”
Officials from Chancellor Angela
Merkel’s government, political parties
from the far right to the far left and the
Turkish community attended the rally
this week. Smaller demonstrations were
held in the eastern cities of Erfurt and
Potsdam, as well as Cologne in the west.
The suspect in the attack last week in
the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood is a
19-year-old Syrian refugee, who has
been arrested and charged with attempting serious bodily injury. The victim was struck with a belt while the attacker could be heard on a video yelling
“Yehudi,” or Arabic for “Jew.” The incident challenged the city’s recently won
reputation for diversity and raised the
painful question of whether, even today,
Jews could feel truly safe in Germany.
On Tuesday, the head of Germany’s
Central Council of Jews, the largest umbrella Jewish organization in the country, warned Jews against openly wearing skullcaps. The official, Josef Schuster, urged them to “wear a baseball cap
or something else to cover their head instead.”
The comment triggered an angry response from international Jewish
groups, who decried it as an indication
of failure on the part of the German authorities.
“The fact that the head of the Central
Council of Jews in Germany has advised
against wearing a kipa in public must
serve as a final wake-up call for German
and European society to take action,”
said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress.
Jews say discrimination is
part of daily life in Berlin.
Despite the demonstrations on
Wednesday, many among the more than
100,000 Jews who now call Berlin home
worry that the outward display of solidarity will remain largely symbolic.
They do not expect it to change the
threats they face daily, in a political climate in which the far right has been resurgent and incidents of anti-Semitism
and racism have increased, even in a
city that celebrates diversity as key to
its modern identity.
“It’s nice, it’s meaningful, to see people stand up and say that Jewish life
should be here,” said Andrew Mark Bennet, a doctoral law student in Berlin and
a member of its youngest Jewish Orthodox community. He came to Berlin from
Maryland, by way of Israel. “But at the
end of the day, tomorrow I’m still putting
a cap over my kipa, because it’s not safe
Hundreds of people all faiths wore skullcaps during a demonstration in Berlin after an
assault that led one Jewish leader to urge Jews to wear baseball caps for safety.
to walk the streets of Berlin with it.”
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989,
Berlin has seen a flourishing of Jewish
life. An Orthodox community was
founded in 2013. Kosher stores and
restaurants have sprouted, and young
Jews and artists have arrived from Israel. But even as Berlin has welcomed
the return of a culture the Nazis sought
to eradicate, Jews living in Berlin say
discrimination, both subtle and violent,
is part of daily life.
The federal German government has
sought to respond. Felix Klein, the
newly appointed commissioner for antiSemitism, plans to establish a national
network to help identify causes of discrimination and racism targeting Jews
as a key first step in combating the problem.
“We need to quickly establish a system where victims can turn to to report
incidents,” Mr. Klein said. “Because in
order to develop an effective strategy to
combat anti-Semitism, we need to know
exactly where it lies.”
Many point to the arrival of more than
a million migrants and refugees, many
of them from the conflict-ridden Middle
East, who have been taught to hate Jews
and seek Israel’s demise. However, police statistics from 2017 show that of
1,453 anti-Semitic crimes, nine out of 10
were attributed to members of far-right
or neo-Nazi groups. Anti-Semitism has
also become more prevalent in pop culture.
Germany’s Music Industry Association announced on Wednesday that it
was scrapping its annual music prize,
the Echo, after outrage over its decision
to award a trophy to a rap duo whose album included a song about how their
bodies are “more defined than
Auschwitz prisoners,” and another, in
which they vow to “make another Holocaust, show up with a Molotov.” Numerous internationally recognized musicians, including the orchestra director
Daniel Barenboim, have handed back
their prizes in protest in recent weeks.
Along with the arrival of the refugees,
Germany has also recently experienced
the rise of a far-right political party, the
Alternative for Germany, whose leaders
have for the first time questioned the
country’s post-World War II culture of
remembrance. Together, these forces
have caused a shift in what is acceptable
in German society.
Michal Friedlander, a curator at the
Jewish Museum, said she recently
found herself seated in a first-class train
carriage next to a German man reading
a newspaper article about the anti-Semitic attack in Berlin. Without being
asked, the man turned to her and explained what he would do to all of the
Jews and Arabs living in Germany, demonstratively drawing his finger across
his throat. “This is the shift,” said Ms.
Friedlander, who has lived in Berlin for
17 years. “People are not ashamed to say
these things out loud.”
Tel: +44 (0)20 7290 1536
4 | FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018
Japan fears losing out in talks with North Korea
Speed and unpredictability
of diplomacy by allies
leave Tokyo unsettled
Amid hurried preparations for the
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s upcoming meetings with the presidents of
South Korea and the United States, even
the dessert menu is making Japan nervous.
Upon learning of South Korea’s plans
to serve Mr. Kim a mango mousse decorated with a map of the Korean Peninsula that includes islands over which Tokyo claims sovereignty, Japan’s Foreign
Ministry lodged an official complaint
with its neighbor.
What might seem like a petty protest
over dabs of icing speaks to long-simmering tensions between the two allies,
but also anxiety in Japan that it is being
left out as high-stakes talks with Mr.
Kim on the fate of his nuclear arsenal begin.
The disputed islands, in the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula,
are known as Dokdo in Korea and
Takeshima in Japan. South Korea regularly depicts the islands on official maps,
and Japan just as regularly protests.
Japan’s unease extends beyond the
mousse maps, of course. Given the
speed at which the summit-level diplomacy is playing out, Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe of Japan has been working
overtime to make sure his country is not
Last week, he traveled to President
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm
Beach, Fla., to secure Mr. Trump’s
agreement to seek the total abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in his talks with Mr. Kim,
and to press for the return of Japanese
citizens abducted by the North decades
This week, in a phone call, Mr. Abe
asked President Moon Jae-in of South
Korea, who was set to meet with the
North Korean leader on Friday, for a
similar commitment.
In principle, both Mr. Trump and Mr.
Moon have agreed to Mr. Abe’s requests.
But given how unpredictable at least
two of the players are, Japan is by no
means assured that it will be happy with
the outcome.
In general, the Japanese are very
skeptical that North Korea would stick
to any deal, given its history of going
back on commitments to stop its nuclear
“We never trust the words of North
Korea,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior
research fellow at the Sasakawa Peace
Foundation in Tokyo. “What we can
trust is the actions of North Korea. That
is probably a sentiment shared among
all Japanese, including ordinary citizens.”
And while Japan is accustomed to
dealing with mercurial North Korean
leaders, Mr. Trump represents a new
volatility from the American side.
“With this President Trump, there is a
sense in Japan that he has a little bit different sense of the alliance,” said Fumi-
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Trump in Florida last week. Analysts in Japan doubt the country’s security will be a priority in Mr. Trump’s talks with North Korea.
aki Kubo, a professor of political science
at the University of Tokyo.
Under Presidents Barack Obama,
George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan,
said Mr. Kubo, the sense was that “if
your ally is in trouble, you feel that you
must help your ally. But in this president, if your ally is in trouble, it might
suggest that this is a good time for him
to exploit this ally.”
Analysts said that Japan’s biggest
worry might be an impulsive desire on
Mr. Trump’s part to declare a quick victory, even at the cost of Japan’s or the
Japan will be watching for
concessions on the American
military presence on the Korean
peninsula, analysts said.
region’s security. Though Mr. Trump has
said that he is committed to North Korea’s complete denuclearization, Japan
is concerned he might accept something
short of that.
“I think it may be that the Abe cabinet
is still a little nervous that Trump is still
going to say, ‘See, I did it,’ claim a win
and walk away,” said Sheila A. Smith, a
Japan expert at the Council on Foreign
Relations in Washington.
Mr. Kim’s recent announcement that
North Korea no longer needs to test nu-
clear weapons or long-range missiles
has left Japan acutely concerned that
the North intends to keep what nuclear
weapons it already has, and to maintain
its arsenal of short- and medium-range
missiles that can reach Japan.
An editorial in the right-leaning daily
Yomiuri Shimbun called Mr. Kim’s announcement “a tactic to weaken the
pressure of the international community’s sanctions,” adding that “there was
no mention of any intention to abandon
nuclear and ballistic missiles” in the
Japanese officials “are trying to keep
the conversation very focused on what
‘denuclearization’ means,” Ms. Smith
said. “The experts that have been here
before have had these conversations
multiple times. They understand that
when Kim Jong-un is talking about denuclearization he doesn’t necessarily
mean the same thing that we mean, so
there’s a lot of pressure to just put the
brakes on, be cautious, make sure you
know what you’re doing.”
Commentators in Japan speculated
that Mr. Trump might also see some value in keeping Japan nervous.
“For President Trump, it may be favorable to keep Japan feeling left behind
and facing a threat,” Park Il, an economics professor and expert on the Korean
Peninsula at Osaka City University, said
on a Tokyo Broadcasting System news
The mango mousse that offended Japan because it showed islands, known as Dokdo in
Korea and Takeshima in Japan, over which Tokyo claims sovereignty.
program. “Japan will possibly have to
buy more weapons for whatever price
the United States sets.”
Besides the security concerns, the return of the Japanese citizens who were
abducted by North Korea in the 1970s
and ’80s is a top priority of Japan and
Mr. Abe in particular.
Mr. Abe scored what appeared to be a
diplomatic victory at Mar-a-Lago when
Mr. Trump promised he would raise the
issue directly with Mr. Kim.
“We’re going to do everything possible to have them brought back,” Mr.
Trump said in a joint news conference
with Mr. Abe.
Analysts said that the most Mr.
Trump could do is mention the ab-
ductees, and that it was extremely unlikely he would insist on any specific action. “You had Trump voicing and saying the words that Abe wanted him to
say,” said Jeffrey W. Hornung, a political
scientist at the RAND Corporation.
But if Mr. Kim offered, for example, to
extend a testing freeze for a year but insisted the United States set aside any
demands about the abductees, “would
Trump say, ‘Nope, sorry, you’ve got to do
the abduction issue too?’ ” Mr. Hornung
“I can’t imagine Trump, who wants a
success here and who really wants the
big win, throwing away any big deal,” he
Mr. Moon has also said he would raise
the issue of the Japanese abductees in
his meeting with Mr. Kim on Friday.
But with South Korea talking about
negotiating a peace treaty to formally
end the Korean War, analysts said Japan
would be watching closely for signs of
concessions on a bigger issue: the
United States military presence on the
Korean Peninsula.
Although Mr. Kim has said he would
not demand the withdrawal of American
troops as a prerequisite for discussing
the North’s nuclear program, some supporters of Mr. Moon’s liberal administration have long wanted the United States
to reduce or withdraw its presence in
the South, where about 28,500 American
troops are stationed. Such a move would
alarm Japan, which benefits from
United States military protection in the
Analysts in Japan also worry that
South Korea, in an effort to unify the
peninsula, could start to pull away from
the United States and be drawn further
toward China, a North Korean ally.
“If South Korea becomes a Chinese
ally in the most extreme scenario, how
can we defend ourselves?” said
Narushige Michishita, director of the
Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute
for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
“We would be put in a very, very difficult position,” Mr. Michishita said. “If
the Korean Peninsula gets inside the
Chinese sphere of influence and there
are no U.S. forces on the peninsula, life
for the U.S. and Japan would be very difficult, but especially for Japan.”
Hoping to have some say in the course
of events, Japan has been seeking to set
up its own summit meeting between Mr.
Abe and Mr. Kim. So far, the North has
not responded.
Analysts said that Japan may get its
moment if the North indeed comes out of
isolation, and starts looking for financial
support to fulfill Mr. Kim’s promise of
building the country’s economy.
“If North Korea is serious about having a totally different life from now on,
they need some financial help from
someone, and it must be, in the end, Japan,” said Mr. Kubo, the University of
Tokyo professor.
Japan, which until its defeat in World
War II ruled the Korean Peninsula as a
colony, paid reparations to South Korea
in 1965 but has yet to pay any to the
North, Mr. Kubo noted. “So then, logically, they should be interested in talking with Japan in the end.”
Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo.
Middle East intrigue behind an assassination in Malaysia
vides humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
“For him, for all the Palestinians here in
Malaysia, this is normal.”
Over the weekend, a mourning tent
was set up in the Jabaliya refugee camp
in Gaza, where Mr. Batsh grew up. Ten
masked members of the Qassam
Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, were
stationed in front of the tent, a positioning that usually denotes the death of
a top fighter.
Banners hung in the tent described
Mr. Batsh as an “engineer commander”
for the Qassam Brigades and “our martyr to God.”
center of international intrigue.
This was the second high-profile assassination in the Malaysian capital in
little more than a year. In February 2017,
Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of the
North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, was
killed at Kuala Lumpur International
Prosecutors said that two women
smeared a deadly nerve agent on his
face. The women, from Indonesia and
Vietnam, are on trial for his death, but at
least seven North Koreans suspected of
being linked to the killing escaped or
were allowed to leave the country, officials said.
Malaysia is also known as a port for
contraband, from North Korean weapons to endangered animal products and
illegally felled trees.
“It has been a permissive environment for many rogue actors, as long
as their focus was not directed within
Malaysia,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in
Washington who studies Southeast
Asian security issues.
Malaysia’s government has for decades been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause: It has no diplomatic relations
with Israel, and Prime Minister Najib
Razak visited Gaza in 2013 at the invitation of Hamas, which governs the territory. The intelligence officials said that
Hamas, in recent years, had begun seeing the country as an ideal place to incubate its research ambitions.
In another case, in 2010, Palestinians
who had been sent to Malaysia trained
in paragliding as a potential tool for attacks, according to a statement from the
Israeli secret service. Malaysian officials denied any involvement in such an
The United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, the dominant party in
the coalition that has ruled Malaysia
since independence, has maintained relations with an unusual array of political
organizations around the world. Until
the airport assassination last year, for
instance, UMNO sustained a formal re-
Malaysia’s government
has for decades been
sympathetic to the
Palestinian cause.
Mourners carried the body of Fadi al-Batsh in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In Gaza, Hamas militants attended a gathering for him.
lationship with North Korea’s ruling
Workers’ Party. Malaysia was one of the
few nations in the world that North Koreans could enter without a visa.
The relationship between UMNO and
Hamas is even more overt. Representatives from Hamas are invited every year
to UMNO’s party conference.
Colleagues and students of Mr. Batsh in
Malaysia, where he lived with his wife,
Enaas al-Batsh, and their three young
children, characterized him as a kind
professor who was dedicated to improving life in Gaza. His public research focused on renewable energy, and he
spoke about wanting to bring abundant
electricity to a Palestinian territory always short of power.
Mr. Batsh won scholarships from a
Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, the
first Arab to earn such an honor. In 2016,
Mr. Najib, the Malaysian prime minister,
presented Mr. Batsh with an award.
“I don’t know about his politics back
at home, but I know that he was a very
big inspiration for all of us for making it
out of Gaza and succeeding in Malaysia,” said Jailani Othman al-Kathery,
a Yemeni English teacher who attended
a mosque in Gombak where Mr. Batsh
taught Quran classes and served as an
Mr. Batsh told friends in Malaysia
that he had narrowly avoided an attempt on his life while still living in
Gaza. In 2014, his uncle, Tayseer alBatsh, the Gaza police chief, was nearly
killed by Israeli airstrikes. Eighteen
members of the Batsh family died in
those raids.
But Mr. Batsh did not dwell on his
family’s tragedy, his friends in Malaysia
said, though he wrote social media posts
criticizing Israel over the conflict with
“Most everyone in Gaza has lost a
member of the family,” said Hafidzi Mohammed Noor, chairman of Humanitarian Care Malaysia, a charity that pro-
Another relative of Mr. Batsh’s was
said by family members to be a commander in Islamic Jihad, a separate militant group that operates in Gaza.
On the day he was killed, Mr. Batsh
was supposed to travel to Istanbul to attend an academic conference. One Middle Eastern intelligence official said that
Hamas’s efforts to cultivate its scientists
living abroad were directed from Istanbul, and that Mr. Batsh was scheduled to
meet with the head of the unit, Maher
Salah, upon arrival in Turkey.
Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials said that Mr. Batsh may
have been involved in negotiating North
Korean arms deals through Malaysia.
Egypt recently seized a shipment destined for Gaza of North Korean communications components used for guided
munitions, they said. One intelligence
official said that Mr. Batsh had helped
mediate the deal.
Although such weapons are under international sanctions, the United Nations said in a report last year, a shell
company run by North Korea’s intelligence agency had been selling militarygrade communications systems from
Malaysian officials rejected that report. And this week, officials here would
not comment on the claims that Mr.
Batsh had been researching or trying to
buy weapons systems.
Mr. Batsh is not the first Hamas-linked
engineer to be targeted abroad.
In 2011, a Palestinian electrical engineer named Dirar Abu Sisi was abducted in Ukraine and ended up in an Israeli jail several days later. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison for aiding
Hamas in its manufacture of missiles,
among other convictions.
In 2016, Mohammed Zawahri, a
Tunisian scientist and Hamas military
commander who was said to be developing aerial and underwater drone warfare technology, was shot dead in the
Tunisian city of Sfax.
This January, a car bomb injured Mohammed Hamdan, a Hamas operative
who was said to be building a workshop
to produce missile parts and drones in
Sidon, Lebanon.
This week the Malaysian police said
that the motorcycle used in Mr. Batsh’s
killing had not been stolen. They released a photograph of one of the suspects, a pale-skinned man with a beard,
and said he was probably still in the
Mr. Batsh’s body was released by the
Malaysian authorities on Wednesday,
and a funeral prayer was held at the
Gombak mosque where he served as an
At a news conference on Tuesday, his
widow said she would return to Gaza
with their three children. She added that
she would continue her own doctoral
studies through an online course: Education, she said, was her husband’s passion.
Hannah Beech reported from Kuala
Lumpur and Ronen Bergman from Lima,
Peru. Reporting was contributed by
Sharon Tan from Kuala Lumpur, Iyad
Abuheweila from Gaza and Richard C.
Paddock from Bangkok.
6 | FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018
Swindled on Facebook by fake Zuckerbergs
Scammers impersonate
social media executives
to prey on the vulnerable
A Facebook notification on Gary Bernhardt’s phone woke him up one night
last November with incredible news: a
message from Mark Zuckerberg himself, saying that he had won $750,000 in
the Facebook lottery.
“I got all excited. Wouldn’t you?” said
Mr. Bernhardt, 67, a retired forklift
driver and Army veteran in Ham Lake,
Minn. He stayed up until dawn, trading
messages with the person on the other
end. To obtain his winnings, he was told,
he first needed to send $200 in iTunes
gift cards.
Hours later, Mr. Bernhardt bought the
gift cards at a gas station and sent the
redemption codes to the account that
said it was Mr. Zuckerberg. But the requests for money didn’t stop. By January, Mr. Bernhardt had wired an additional $1,310 in cash, or about a third of
his Social Security checks over three
Mr. Bernhardt eventually realized
that he had been the unwitting victim of
a scam that has thrived on Facebook
and Instagram by using the sites’ own
brands — and its top executives — to
lure people in. At a time when the real
Mr. Zuckerberg has vowed to clean up
Facebook, the Silicon Valley company
has failed to eliminate impostor accounts masquerading as him and his
chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg,
to swindle Facebook users out of thousands of dollars.
An examination by The New York
Times found 205 accounts impersonating Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg
on Facebook and its photo-sharing site
Instagram, not including fan pages or
satire accounts, which are permitted under the company’s rules.
At least 51 of the impostor accounts,
including 43 on Instagram, were lottery
scams like the one that fooled Mr. Bernhardt.
The fake Zuckerbergs and faux Sandbergs have proliferated on Facebook
and Instagram, despite the presence of
Facebook groups that track the scams
and complaints about the trick dating to
at least 2010.
A day after The Times informed Facebook of its findings, the company removed all 96 impostor Mark Zuckerberg
and Sheryl Sandberg accounts on its
Facebook site. There were 109 fakes on
Instagram, which were removed.
“Thank you so much for reporting
this,” said Pete Voss, a Facebook spokesman. He could not say why Facebook
had not spotted the accounts posing as
its top executives, including several that
appeared to have existed for more than
eight years. “It’s not easy,” he said. “We
want to get better.”
Facebook requires people to use their
authentic name and identity. Yet the
company has estimated that perhaps 3
percent of its users — as many as 60 million accounts — are fake. Some of those
accounts are disguised as ordinary people, and some pretend to be celebrities
such as Justin Bieber.
Bogus accounts bearing the likenesses of the Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have scammed users. The New York Times found 205 imposter accounts.
Many of the internet protocol
addresses of the fake accounts
have been traced to Nigeria
and Ghana.
In congressional testimony this
month, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook
was improving its software to automatically detect and remove such accounts.
Facebook officials have said the company blocks millions of fake accounts
trying to register each day and analysts
said the social network has improved its
efforts to remove the accounts.
“Fake accounts, over all, are a big issue, because that’s how a lot of the other
issues that we see around fake news and
foreign election interference are happening as well,” Mr. Zuckerberg told
lawmakers, adding that Facebook is hiring more people to work on reviewing
But major holes remain. Interviews
with a half-dozen recent victims — and
online conversations with nine impostor
accounts — showed that the Facebook
lottery deception is alive and well, preying particularly on older, less educated
and low-income people.
The Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl
Sandberg impostor accounts typically
use the executives’ pictures as profile
photos and list their Facebook titles.
Some post manipulated images of people holding oversize checks. The names
of Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg are
sometimes misspelled, or use parentheses and middle names (Elliot for Mr.
Zuckerberg and Kara for Ms. Sandberg)
to evade Facebook’s software.
Many of the impersonators had dozens to hundreds of followers; several
had thousands. They are aided by a network of other sham accounts with generic names, such as Jim Towey and
Mary Gilbert, which purported to be
“Facebook claim agents.”
The scammers seek victims who,
based on their Facebook and Instagram
profiles, seem vulnerable, said Robin Alexander van der Kieft, who manages
several Facebook groups that track the
scams. The various fake accounts share
information about successful shakedowns and continue pouncing on those
victims, he said. He has traced many of
the internet protocol addresses of these
fake accounts to Nigeria and Ghana.
The pitch often begins with an unsolicited “Hello. How are you doing?” on
Facebook or Instagram. The fake accounts then proceed, sometimes in broken English, to inform people of their
enormous Facebook lottery prize.
After several messages between The
Times and a fake Sheryl Sandberg account on Instagram last week, the impostor offered $950,000 and a new car
via the “Facebook splash promotion
When asked for proof the account was
Ms. Sandberg, the scammer sent a
Photoshopped identification. “I want
you to know that this Promo is 100%
Real and Legitimate and the Government are aware of this Promo you don’t
have to be skeptical all you just have to
do is to follow all instruction giving to
you okay,” the account added.
Three days later, the account said it
needed a $100 iTunes gift card to process
and activate the winning A.T.M. card.
(iTunes gift cards can quickly be redeemed and traded on the black market
for cash.)
After initially resisting, the sham Ms.
Sandberg agreed to a phone call, adding
“I’m not the one that will be speaking to
you O.K.” Seconds later, a call arrived
from a number with a 650 area code —
Silicon Valley.
“You have to be careful, there are lots
of scam artists,” a man said in accented
English after he was informed that he
was speaking with The Times. He added, “All I’m trying to do is get your winning package.”
The Times reached out to more than
50 impostor accounts. Most messages
went unreturned. None that replied
broke character.
The charade has ensnared people like
Donna Keithley, 50, a stay-at-home
mother with four children in Martinsburg, Pa. In March 2016, an account with
the name Linda Ritchey messaged Ms.
Keithley “on behalf of the Facebook
C.E.O Mark Zuckerberg” to pass on
word of her good fortune: $650,000 in
lottery winnings. Ms. Keithley wired
$350 — a delivery fee — the next day.
That began a monthlong saga. According to a 28,000-word transcript of a
Facebook Messenger conversation between Ms. Keithley and the account, the
scammer repeatedly played on Ms.
Keithley’s Christian faith to get her to
send more money.
“Are you good Christian with god
fears?” the Linda Ritchey account
asked. “Can you trust me and also have
believe in me?”
Over the next month, Ms. Keithley received not only Facebook messages but
a call from a Mr. Zuckerberg impostor
who assured her the lottery was real.
She even heard from a Facebook account masquerading as Eileen M.
Decker, the former United States attorney in Los Angeles, asking for $205 to
process her winnings.
The Times found at least five Facebook accounts posing as Ms. Decker and
advertising government grants, another known scam.
Ms. Decker told The Times that she
has tried to get Facebook to remove the
accounts, but the site wanted a picture
of her government-issued identification
to do so. She refused. “To me, they’re not
a trusted source,” she said. She added
that she had contacted the F.B.I. and
hired a lawyer.
Ms. Keithley’s scammer ordered her
to open new credit cards and bank accounts, and even to get a loan using her
husband’s 2001 Ford Taurus as collateral.
Midway through the month, she said,
she had a minor stroke because of the
By April 2016, she had used her family’s tax refund and loans from relatives
to pay the scammer $5,306.43 — much of
it in money transfers to the name Ben
Amos in Lagos, Nigeria.
“It just devastated the whole household,” said her husband, Tim Keithley, a
security guard who was making $10 an
hour at the time. The ordeal was so
costly, Ms. Keithley said, the family’s
telephone service was shut off. They
also had to go to a food bank.
While Ms. Keithley still gets messages from accounts claiming to work
for Facebook, she said she is now wiser.
“Lord as my witness, no one’s getting
any more money from me,” she said.
After they are duped, victims may
struggle with what to do next. Mr. Bernhardt, the retired forklift driver, said he
didn’t know how to report the scammers
to Facebook.
Ms. Keithley said she had called a
number for Facebook that she had found
online, though she was not sure the
number was authentic.
She also reported the scam to the local
police, who said they couldn’t help, and
to the Pennsylvania attorney general.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania attorney general said that the office did
not have a record of Ms. Keithley’s report.
The spokesman said the office
planned to contact her.
Others said they regularly report
scammers to Facebook, but the company can be slow to act.
Kathryn Schwartz, 55, from Lodi, N.J.,
said she has been in credit-card debt
since she lost $1,742 trying to claim bogus Facebook lottery winnings in 2016.
She said she has since been barraged by
scammers and regularly reports them,
including in messages to the real Mr.
One Facebook account named Mary
Williams recently messaged Ms.
Schwartz, saying it would help her claim
her winnings. A review of the account
showed that in March it had renamed itself, purporting to be a Boise, Idaho, native who works at Facebook. Years of
posts before that depicted a man in Nigeria.
When Ms. Schwartz posted on Facebook last week that Mary Williams was
a con artist, the account left a comment:
“You think you are smart but you are
not. If you were smart why were you
scammed.” The emojis tacked at the end
of the message were crying with laughter.
Mr. Bernhardt said that since he
wired his last payment to the Mr.
Zuckerberg masquerader in January, he
has heard from two other Mark Zuckerbergs, one Sheryl Sandberg and other
accounts promising him winnings in return for more cash.
No conversations have gone as deep
as with his original scammer. “I thought
we were getting real close,” Mr. Bernhardt said. “He started calling me Mr.
Gary and I started calling him Mr.
He said he had told his scammer
about growing up in a foster home and
his dream of owning a house on a lake.
“They sucked me in because they
knew my dreams,” he said.
Workers could fix the tech industry
The Shift
Dear tech workers,
Long year, huh?
I get it. Your industry is under siege.
Whether you work at an established
giant like Facebook or Google, a private company like Uber or Palantir, or
a lesser-known start-up, it feels as if
you’re being attacked from a thousand
directions. People are comparing your
companies to Big Tobacco, and Congress is accusing your executives of
undermining democracy, poisoning
users’ brains and censoring content.
All of a sudden, Silicon Valley —
once the golden child of American
industry — has become a villain. Some
of the backlash probably feels excessive. After all, the tech industry still
creates useful things and employs lots
of decent and ethical people. But I’ve
talked to a number of tech workers
recently, and I’ve seen you wrestling
with your consciences. Some of you
have stopped wearing your company
T-shirts around town, fearing dirty
looks from strangers. Others have
taken extended vacations after a particularly shameful scandal, or asked
for a transfer within a company. More
than a few of you have had awkward
conversations with your parents.
Here’s the thing, though. You don’t
have to keep your concerns bottled up.
You are your employers’ most valuable
assets, and your bosses are desperate
to keep you happy. As tech companies
take on increasingly vital roles in
global commerce and culture, you have
the power to shape the way they operate and the ethical standards they
If you want change, all you have to
do is organize and speak up. In most
industries, rank-and-file workers don’t
have much say. The power of organized labor in America has been
shrinking since the 1980s, and other
than a few notable teachers’ strikes
this year, large-scale collective action
is rare these days.
But tech is different. Unlike factories
or airlines, tech companies live and die
on their ability to attract and retain top
talent. A shortage of skilled workers
has led to lucrative bidding wars,
tipping the balance of power in workers’ favor. Because many of them are
attracted to altruistic missions — and
unhappy or morally conflicted workers
can easily find other jobs — executives
are compelled to listen to them.
“Tech workers are the only point of
leverage on these big companies,” said
Maciej Cegłowski, the founder of the
social bookmarking service Pinboard.
Mr. Cegłowski, who has started an
advocacy organization called Tech
Solidarity, said that the typical instruments used to rein in corporate misbehavior — customer boycotts, shareholder activism and outside regulation
— aren’t likely to work on the largest
Silicon Valley companies.
Instead, change at these companies
will need to come from the inside.
“Even a couple hundred employees
working in concert could bring a site
like Google to its knees,” Mr. Cegłowski
Some tech workers are already
starting to flex their muscles. Employees of large tech companies led an
effort to oppose the travel ban announced by President Trump last year.
A shortage of skilled workers
at technology companies has
led to lucrative bidding wars,
tipping the balance of power
in workers’ favor.
And employees of Facebook, Google,
Intel, Cisco and Stripe attended a
demonstration at the headquarters of
Palantir to protest the company’s
development of surveillance technology for federal immigration enforcers.
Just this month, more than 3,000
Google employees signed a letter
objecting to the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that could
use artificial intelligence to improve
the accuracy of drone strikes.
But these are just warm-up skirmishes. For maximum impact, tech
workers will need to scrutinize not just
their employers’ government ties, but
their products, business models and
basic standards. And they’ll need to do
it in public.
Recall what happened at Uber. Women inside the company complained for
years about the problematic behavior
of Travis Kalanick and other company
leaders. But it wasn’t until Susan
Fowler, a former Uber engineer, published her story of sexual harassment
that things changed. Without Ms.
Fowler’s brave disclosure — and her
colleagues’ willingness to back her up
after she went public — it’s entirely
possible that Mr. Kalanick would still
be Uber’s chief executive and the
company would still be run by boorish
Typically, when workers speak out or
organize, it’s because they want higher
wages, better working conditions or
stronger job security. Those aren’t
your problems. You probably work
manageable hours in tastefully decorated buildings with free food, ergonomic desk furniture and plentiful
amenities. Your compensation is generous. And you’re in little danger of
being fired or retaliated against, especially if you’re part of a large group.
The possibilities for you are so much
greater. What if Facebook employees
publicly took their executives to task
for neglecting the real-world violence
their products are causing in places
like Myanmar and Sri Lanka? What if
Google or Twitter employees threatened to walk unless their executives
took major action against radical extremists and hate speech? What if Apple
employees insisted that the company
stop parking billions of dollars in offshore tax shelters, or Amazon engineers threatened to quit unless the
company paid its warehouse workers
higher wages?
And that’s before we even get to the
thorny ethical debates surrounding
technologies like artificial intelligence,
in which companies’ goals — amass
huge amounts of data to help train
increasingly sophisticated machine
learning models — may be at odds
with what’s good for society.
There are few signs that Washington
is capable of policing the use of emerging technologies. And while companies
like Google have formed their own A.I.
ethics groups, those groups are ultimately powerless if executives decide
to ignore their advice.
That leaves an opening for you.
“It’s not clear where the pressure’s
going to come from otherwise,” said
Leslie Berlin, a Stanford historian who
has studied Silicon Valley’s labor culture.
Some tech workers are already
making noise about unionizing, and
service workers at several tech companies have already joined unions. But
even if traditional labor unions don’t
take hold in Silicon Valley, there are
still plenty of avenues for influence.
The Tech Workers Coalition, a group of
concerned industry employees, has
chapters in San Francisco, Seattle and
San Jose, and a group called Tech
Action began meeting in New York this
year. The Center for Humane Technology, a group of ex-tech workers, has
been pushing for ethical product development. These groups are still small,
and none has produced concrete results yet. But they are early signs that
greater political consciousness is stirring in the industry.
In a tech-dominated world, when the
decisions made by a handful of Silicon
Valley executives have the ability to
reshape nations and transform billions
of lives, there’s no better time to stand
up. Together, you can encourage your
employers to behave in ethical and
humane ways, and blow the whistle
publicly when they fall short.
Organizing yourselves to push for
change isn’t just a viable option — it
might be the only way out of this mess.
FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018 | 7
Economy too hot? Not to many workers
Policymakers worrying
about the possibility of a
new recession in America
Ann Jacks quit her job as a restaurant
chef in North Carolina, started her own
business and worked 80 hours a week
for two years, before exhausting herself
and her patience. She shut down the
company and, in November, returned to
her old job. It paid a dollar an hour more
than it had when she left it.
Ms. Jacks, who now earns $22,000 a
year, is one of many Americans still
waiting to feel the effects of an improving economy nearly a decade after the
Great Recession. “I don’t see evidence
of the wages getting higher, except for
specific types of jobs, like management,
banking,” she said. “My attorney friends
aren’t hurting.”
Yet Federal Reserve officials are beginning to worry about a possibility that
seems remote to American workers who
still feel left behind: the danger of the
economy’s running too hot, destabilizing financial markets and setting off a
rapid escalation in wages and prices
that could put pressure on the central
bank to slam the brakes on growth.
Officials at the Fed have in the past
few weeks intensified a public and private debate over how close the economy
is to “overheating,” a condition in which
abnormally low unemployment can set
off spikes in inflation and destabilize financial markets.
The United States Commerce Department reports its first estimate of firstquarter growth on Friday, and economists expect it will be around 2 percent,
short of the 3 percent that President
Trump has promised will deliver large
wage increases across the board. Forecasters expect growth to accelerate later this year, though. Those predictions,
along with a recent uptick in the inflation rate, are prompting some Fed officials to push the bank to raise interest
rates faster than it has been doing, to reduce the risk of overheating.
Fed officials have raised their benchmark interest rate to a range of 1.5 to 1.75
percent in a series of carefully orchestrated increases. Their most recent economic projections suggest they expect
A retail corner in Manhattan. With expectations of accelerating economic growth in America, some Federal Reserve officials are calling for faster increases in interest rates.
to raise rates two more times this year
and three times next year.
While officials worried about overheating are pushing a faster pace of increases, other officials say it’s way too
early to turn down the heat on the economy — and on workers who are still
waiting for big wage increases to show
up. Both camps say they are concerned
for workers like Ms. Jacks.
“When we think about the economy
from the aspect of monetary policy, we
can’t get it right for everybody,” Eric
Rosengren, the president of the Federal
Reserve Bank of Boston, said in a recent
interview. “We can get it right for the
overall economy.” He is among those
pushing for faster increases in interest
rates than some of his colleagues would
prefer, in part because he fears a situation in which rapid inflation would lead
the Fed to raise rates drastically, tipping
the economy back into recession.
In that case, he said, “the people who
feel already like they’re not keeping up
with the rest of the economy would probably be the first ones laid off in an economic slowdown.”
Other Fed officials want to let the
economy run hotter, longer, contending
that economic data suggests today’s low
unemployment rates are not necessarily harbingers of high inflation.
Charles Evans, the president of the
French titan faces bribery inquiry
In France’s cutthroat corporate world,
the billionaire Vincent Bolloré has a reputation for being untouchable.
He rules a business empire that includes the global advertising agency
Havas, a controlling stake in the media
conglomerate Vivendi and rail and port
monopolies in Africa. To advance his interests, he has cultivated relationships
with presidents and other powerful figures on two continents. And his company has stifled scrutiny of its operations by suing journalists investigating
claims of corruption.
That aura of invincibility appears to
be in jeopardy, as judges in Paris have
placed Mr. Bolloré under formal investigation after the police questioned him
for two days over accusations that he
had helped the presidents of two African
nations gain power in exchange for lucrative business contracts.
The inquiry could result in criminal
charges against Mr. Bolloré, who is
known as the King of Africa for the vast
business dealings that have won him untold riches in former French colonies.
A Havas executive, Jean-Philippe
Dorent, and a top Bolloré Group official,
Gilles Alix, have also been questioned
by the police, who searched the Bolloré
Group headquarters outside Paris this
Investigators from France’s financial
crimes unit are examining whether a
subsidiary of Havas, whose clients include luxury brands like Calvin Klein
and Valentino, facilitated the elections
of the presidents of Guinea and Togo and
underbilled them for advertising work
during their campaigns. Prosecutors
are investigating whether the deals
paved the way for Bolloré Group, a holding company that manages Mr. Bolloré’s
sweeping infrastructure interests, to
run container ports in the two countries.
In a statement, the Bolloré Group acknowledged the formal investigation
and said that Mr. Bolloré “continues to
be presumed innocent” and would “now
have access to this dossier (of evidence)
whose content he had no knowledge of
and will have the opportunity to answer
these unfounded accusations.” In a
statement on Tuesday, the company had
denied all wrongdoing and had said it
was cooperating with the inquiry.
Last week, Mr. Bolloré unexpectedly
appointed his son Yannick to serve in his
place as chairman of the Vivendi board.
The younger Mr. Bolloré also leads
Mr. Bolloré’s prolonged detention is
unusual in France, where top executives
rarely face legal scrutiny.
The case has renewed attention on the
cronyism that persists between members of the French elite and African leaders and on both parties’ mercantile am-
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago,
warned in a speech this month that Fed
officials should not assume that just because low unemployment brought double-digit inflation in the 1970s and ’80s,
the same situation would occur today.
He suggested that structural changes in
the economy, such as a disconnect between the areas where job openings are
and where prospective employees live,
and the reluctance of workers to move to
chase those openings, could be distorting the labor market.
“While it is incumbent upon policymakers not to forget the painful lessons
of the 1970s and 1980s, we are living under different circumstances today,” Mr.
Evans said. “I think we have the opportunity to more patiently read — and react to — the incoming data. That is, I
think we can undertake more moderate
monetary policy adjustments today
than often was the case in the past.”
White House officials side firmly with
the “not overheating” camp, arguing
that Mr. Trump’s mix of deregulation
and tax cuts will increase investment
and productivity in the economy, yielding faster growth while suppressing inflation.
The group of Fed officials worried
about overheating point to several economic data points. The unemployment
rate is 4.1 percent, near the lowest level
recorded in a half-century, and it is below what Fed officials judge to be the
sustainable long-term unemployment
rate. Forecasters expect the recent injection of fiscal stimulus, from tax cuts
and increased federal spending, to drive
that rate down even further.
Inflation expectations are rising in financial markets, as measured, in part,
by how much the government must pay
investors to borrow money. Stock values
remain high by historical standards,
even with the recent slips in the market.
Many Fed officials worry that raising
rates too slowly would risk having to
move quickly in the event of an inflation
spike or financial turmoil. Such abrupt
action, they fear, could snuff growth and
plunge the economy into a recession.
Other officials, such as James Bullard of
the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
and Neel Kashkari of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, say officials
should keep to the current course of rate
increases, particularly because inflation
remains below the Fed’s target of 2 percent annual growth.
Polling and interviews suggest that
American workers are worried about
rising prices but far more concerned
about job and wage growth. In polling in
March for The New York Times by the
research firm SurveyMonkey, 62 percent of respondents said consumer
prices had risen faster than wages over
the preceding year. Only 4 percent said
inflation was the largest economic problem facing the country. Twenty-five percent named the cost of health care as the
largest economic problem, 21 percent
said the gap between the rich and everyone else, and 10 percent named stagnant
wages and benefits.
Constance Bevitt, who does freelance
work in Montgomery County, Md., said
Fed officials were wrong to be worried
about overheating. “When they talk
about full employment, that ignores almost all of the people who have dropped
out of the economy entirely,” she said. “I
think that they are examining the problem with assumptions from a different
economic era. And they don’t know how
to assess where we are now.”
Ms. Jacks said she was struggling
with a low salary after closing her locally sourced food company and returning to restaurant work. She also said she
had noticed vacancies in the industry
going unfilled, because restaurants
could not find workers. Their owners,
she said, cannot afford to raise wages in
order to attract talent.
Vincent Bolloré, center, who is known as the King of Africa for his vast business dealings in former French colonies, with his sons Cyrille, left, and Yannick.
bitions in Francophone Africa.
The case is unfolding as Nicolas
Sarkozy, the former president of France
and a close friend of Mr. Bolloré’s, is being investigated on suspicion of accepting millions of euros in illegal campaign
financing from the Libyan dictator
Muammar Gaddafi. Mr. Bolloré was previously accused of helping to facilitate
the financing, but was not charged.
One of the matters involving Mr. Bolloré now under scrutiny is connected to
Alpha Condé, a Guinean politician who
is believed to have befriended Mr. Bolloré while he lived in political exile in
Paris in the mid-2000s.
A billionaire is accused of helping
the presidents of two African
nations gain power in exchange
for business contracts.
After Mr. Condé returned to Guinea to
seek the presidency in 2010, an international Havas unit helped guide his campaign and is alleged to have underbilled
him for its services. After Mr. Condé
won, the Guinea government transferred an agreement to run the container-port terminal at Conakry, Guinea’s capital, to the Bolloré Group from a
French rival.
The deal, first reported by the French
newspaper Le Monde, added a strategic
jewel to the Bolloré Group’s network of
assets in West Africa, where it has a virtual stranglehold on much of the transporting of billions of euros worth of
cargo. A map of the group’s holdings
shows a web of Bolloré-run roads, railways, waterways, airports and ports
that covers two-thirds of the continent
and employs more than 25,000 people.
A similar pattern emerged in Togo,
another former French colony. There,
the same Havas unit was said to sup-
port, with below-market-rate services,
the re-election of President Faure
Gnassingbé in 2010.
A few months before Mr. Gnassingbé,
who has close ties to Mr. Bolloré, won a
second term, his government awarded a
contract for the container port at Lomé,
the country’s capital, to the Bolloré
In its statement on Tuesday, the Bolloré Group said it had originally gotten a
contract to operate the port in 2001, long
before Havas was doing business in
Guinea. In 2013, Havas stopped doing
political consulting for French and African figures.
The Bolloré Group has routinely sued
French and African media outlets for
defamation over reports on its business
dealings on the continent. Journalists at
Canal+, a French television channel
owned by Vivendi, have accused Mr.
Bolloré of using his influence to try to
suppress an investigative report about a
popular revolt against Mr. Gnassingbé
in Togo. Two producers were fired after
the report aired in December.
The suits filed by Bolloré Group have
challenged the media outlets France Inter, France 2, Rue89 and Mediapart,
among others. Those reports included
pieces alleging that workers at the company’s Socapalm and Safacam units,
which operate palm oil plantations in
Cameroon, were being exploited.
Since 2009, the Bolloré Group has
brought more than 20 defamation suits
involving over 40 reporters and nongovernmental organization activists in
France, according to Sherpa, a French
anticorruption organization that pursues humanitarian abuses by corporations. “Because of their systemic nature,
we regard these legal actions as ‘gag
suits,’” Sherpa said in a statement.
The Bolloré Group has said the suits
were meant to combat what it described
as biased reporting.
Celebrate the beauty
of the innovative &
sustainable new luxury
1 2 3 JUIN
8 | FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018
Marijuana to enhance
the runner’s high
Arugula tops a pecan pear cake with blue cheese mousse at Gramercy Tavern in New York. Miro Uskokovic, the pastry chef, said he seeks to add “a little different note” to desserts.
Eat your veggies. For dessert.
There’s more sweetness
than most people realize
in many vegetables
Struggling to cut down on added sugar
and get more vegetables into your diet?
Take a lesson from some of the best
chefs in America and try eating vegetables for dessert.
Chefs are pushing the culinary boundaries of traditional desserts, reducing
added sugars and experimenting with
the natural sweetness of corn, carrots,
fennel, squash, sweet potatoes and
other vegetables. At the restaurant
Gwen in Los Angeles, a deliciously
sweet roasted artichoke, celery sorbet
and green olives with crème fraîche
cheesecake have appeared on the dessert menu. At Blue Hill in New York City
last autumn, diners delighted in the natural sweetness of a honeynut squash
with ice cream, parsnip cake and naturally sweet carrot sorbet.
“We’re shooting for a pastry kitchen
that doesn’t gratuitously use any sugar
because there is so much natural sweetness in the fruits and vegetables we
use,” said Dan Barber, the Blue Hill chef
and co-owner who works with the pastry chef Joel De La Cruz to create veggie-focused desserts. “We like looking at
vegetables in a new way.”
At Gramercy Tavern in New York, pecan pear cake is served with arugula
and blue cheese mousse. A grapefruit
panna cotta includes cilantro and avocado, and a popular green curry ice
cream sundae gets its kick from curry
made with chiles, cilantro, lemongrass
and other traditional Thai ingredients.
“We always want to use something
that makes sense and adds a little different note to a dessert,” said Miro
Uskokovic, the pastry chef at Gramercy
Tavern. “And many vegetables — carrots, celery, beets, sunchoke — have so
much sugar. You can manipulate them in
such a way that it eats like a dessert.”
While it may sound far-fetched to
serve vegetables for dessert at the family table, chefs say the lesson for home
cooks is to recognize the high sugar content in many vegetables and cook them
in a way that enhances the food’s natural
Too often, home cooks take a puritanical approach to vegetables in a quest to
make them more healthful, serving
them without butter or sauce and cooking them only briefly.
“It’s as simple as cook the heck out of
At Empellón in New York, corn ice cream tacos rely on the sweetness of corn to create a more sophisticated version of the ice cream
truck Choco Taco, and avocado purée replaces the heavy cream in this cool dessert that mimics the appearance of a real avocado.
root vegetables,” Mr. Barber said. “I like
the idea of root vegetables simply
roasted for a long time. You’re getting
out all the water you can and caramelizing all the sugars. Add a scoop of ice
cream, and it’s a great experience.”
For Blue Hill’s squash dessert, the
honeynut squash — a smaller, sweeter
relative of butternut squash — was
roasted for several hours, scooped out
and dried further on the stove top. “Every bite you are taking is squash times
800 percent,” Mr. Barber said. “If it was
picked at the right moment, it bombs
Squash “bombs with sweetness”
if picked at the right time.
with sweetness. That’s true of parsnips,
celery roots and beets as well.”
Although we tend to think of vegetables as a savory food, every vegetable
has a natural range of sugar that can
vary based on the soil and growing conditions, how recently it was picked and
whether it was in the ground during a
A food’s sugar content is measured on
a Brix scale (named after Adolf Brix, the
German chemist who first measured
sugar in plant juice) — the higher the
number, the sweeter the food.
For instance, sweet corn can average
about 10 on the Brix scale, but can go as
high as 24, putting it in the same range
as grapes, oranges, papayas and pineapples. Carrots can range from 4 to 18 —
similar to kumquats, mangoes and raspberries. Bananas and melons can measure 12 to 14 on the Brix scale, along with
tomatoes, sweet potatoes, English peas,
beets, broccoli, celery and cucumbers.
Most experts agree that fresh vegeta-
bles sold at farmers’ markets are likely
to have higher Brix scores than those
bought at grocery stores.
During cold weather, root vegetables
like carrots and parsnips convert starch
to sugar to prevent freezing, resulting in
a sweeter taste. As a result, a carrot or
parsnip picked after a freeze will have a
higher sugar content than those harvested before the freeze.
In an experiment at Blue Hill at Stone
Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., the farm
harvested different sections of a carrot
plot each week. Some of the carrots
went through three freezes before harvesting. The sugar content jumped from
3 or 4 Brix in the early batches to 7 in the
later-harvested carrots. The restaurant
created a “high-Brix” carrot sorbet
served with parsnip cake or purple
sweet potato sorbet.
Chefs note that not every vegetable
works alone as dessert. Recently during
a master cooking class, Mr. Uskokovic
tasted a dessert made with radicchio,
simple syrup, macadamia nut cream
and wild rose flavors. “It was beautiful
and delicious, but I think it needed more
sugar,” he said. “It was too borderline
Alex Stupak, the founder of Empellón
in New York, said that culture plays a
role in our feelings about vegetables.
Rhubarb, for instance, is a vegetable traditionally used in desserts, even though
it can be bitter. By comparison, tomatoes (technically a fruit) and celery aren’t “dessert” foods, but they can actually
be sweeter.
“I’ve never been a huge fan of
rhubarb, but I’ve reached for celery
over and over again,” Mr. Stupak said. “I
think it has brilliant effects in the dessert world.”
At Empellón in New York, diners have
been served corn ice cream tacos (a
more sophisticated version of the ice
cream truck Choco Taco) and banana
ice cream topped with a tuile ribbon of
roasted parsnip. One of the signature
dishes at Empellón is made with avocado, a savory fruit rarely used in dessert. Mr. Stupak’s creation is essentially
a parfait glacé, a French iced dessert
typically made with egg yolks, sugar,
heavy cream and flavoring, but in the
Empellón version, avocado purée replaces the cream, and the final dessert is
shaped to look like exactly a real avocado, including the dark skin.
“I love tasting avocado in the sweet
context,” Mr. Stupak said. “If you really
eat an avocado and close your eyes and
taste it, the flavors are subtly nutty and
almost anise-like or fennel-like.”
Mr. Stupak noted that carrot cake,
while popular, doesn’t really taste like
carrots. “Something like a carrot sorbet
or carrot ice cream gets much closer to
transmitting the flavor,” he said. He said
he once served a carrot ice cream made
with carrot purée and many people
thought it had the orange and vanilla flavors of a creamsicle. “I love that, because they are tasting facets of a carrot
they haven’t tasted before,” he said.
Mr. Stupak said he happily mashes
and purées vegetables at home that he
turns into cakes and cookies for his two
young children. “It’s a very clever way
to get someone to eat their vegetables,”
he said.
And if you try cooking a vegetable for
dessert and it’s not quite sweet enough
for your palate, Mr. Barber has an easy
fix. “For the home cook, I don’t have a
problem putting sugar on vegetables for
dessert,” he said. “The sweetness will
still be a lot less than a conventional dessert.”
The ultramarathoner Avery Collins,
among the fastest in the world, is not shy
about appearing in photographs holding
a bong. The first time he tried running
after using marijuana, he said, he realized “it allowed me to be very present
and not to worry as much about overall
times and what’s going on with the run.”
Mr. Collins, a 25-year-old from Colorado Springs, is one of a likely legion of
athletes who use marijuana as part of
their training — although he’s one of the
few fast enough to get an endorsement
deal from an edibles company.
While there are no statistics about
how many runners smoke a bowl before
hitting the trail, as Mr. Collins often
does, marijuana is the second most
widely used drug among athletes after
alcohol, according to the American Journal on Addictions.
Runners say cannabis and cannabis
products make their long runs more enjoyable. Many say that pot helps them to
recover from hard workouts and races
“You have two different reasons potentially for using cannabinoids,” said
Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania
Perelman School of Medicine who also
works with pharmaceutical companies
and nonprofit groups doing cannabinoid
research. “One is to enhance your ability
to train. The other is recovery oriented.”
On the federal level in America, the
purchase, possession or use of marijuana is illegal, considered in the same category as heroin, LSD and ecstasy. But attitudes about marijuana have been rapidly changing in recent years, with former stalwart opponents to legalization
like John A. Boehner, the speaker of the
House from 2011 to 2015, announcing on
Twitter “my thinking on cannabis has
evolved.” Marijuana is legal at some level in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. Sixty-one
percent of Americans now say marijuana should be legalized, up from 31 percent in 2000, according to the Pew Research Center.
It’s also not prohibited for recreational use in the eyes of the World AntiDoping Agency, whose World Anti-Doping Code is used by the United States
Anti-Doping Agency, International
Olympic Committee and International
Paralympic Committee. In 2013, the organization raised the threshold limit of
the cannabis metabolite carboxy-THC
that could be found in an athlete’s urine
from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150.
That’s significantly higher than levels
set by some professional sports organizations in the United States. The threshold is 15 in the National Basketball Association and 50 in Major League Baseball, for example.
WADA’s decision to raise the threshold “means that athletes using the substance in competition will be detected,
while the chances of detecting out-ofcompetition use,” which is not prohibited, “are substantially reduced,” said
James Fitzgerald, senior manager of
media relations for WADA.
Studies on the effects of marijuana on
athletes are sparse. “Most of the work is,
at the moment, observational, looking at
people who use and don’t use and com-
paring them,” said Dr. Bonn-Miller.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of funding for this.”
A 2017 survey in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found only
15 published studies that investigated
the effects of cannabis and its main psychoactive ingredient, THC, on exercise
performance. “It is generally considered that THC won’t improve aerobic
performance and strength, and my review confirms that impression,” said Dr.
Michael C. Kennedy, a cardiologist, clinical pharmacologist and associate professor at the University of New South
Wales and St. Vincent’s Hospital Medical School, who conducted the review.
He doubts claims that it helps with recovery and improves concentration, and
says that athletes who tout its athletic
virtues are just promoting cannabis use.
“It will not make you faster, it may slow
you down and certainly should not be
used if there is any possibility of heart
disease,” Dr. Kennedy said. Indeed,
some studies have linked marijuana to
hypertension and other heart risks.
But Dr. Bonn-Miller believes that
from a physiological standpoint, the relationship between marijuana use and
running makes some sense. “There’s a
lot of overlap in terms of the pathways
that are activated between what’s
known as a runner’s high and the high
“It allowed me to be very present
and not to worry as much about
overall times and what’s going on
with the run.”
that comes from THC,” he said. “Both of
those involve activation of the endocannabinoid system, so it’s not too surprising that THC might be used to enhance the runner’s high that’s gained
from endurance exercise.”
Runners also report using products
with cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonpsychoactive component of marijuana that
has anti-inflammatory properties, for
recovery. The CBD is usually applied
through an oil. “It lowers the amount of
many, many pro-inflammatory cytokines — things that our body makes
naturally in response to any inflammation response,” said Dr. Orrin Devinsky,
director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy
Center at NYU Langone Health.
Scott Dunlap, a 48-year-old ultrarunner who once ran a race in a marijuana
leaf costume, says he will use an edible
or vape marijuana after a long race. (He
tried it once during a run and said he
wound up “lost and hungry.”) He doesn’t
see using marijuana after running a
race as all that different from drinking a
beer — except that a lot of races provide
beer free.
The 420 Games, which has events in
California, Colorado and Pennsylvania,
gives out samples — sometimes marijuana, but more often oils and creams
containing CBD — in places where they
are legal, though the sponsors say they
are not intended to be used at the event.
“I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite events of all time,” said Mr.
Collins, the ultrarunner, who has served
as a spokesman for the event.
Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A
Love Story.”
Runners say cannabis and cannabis products make their long runs more enjoyable.
Many say that pot helps them to recover more rapidly from hard workouts and races.
Keep moving to save your heart
Does heart disease run in your family?
You could most likely slash your risk of
developing or dying from heart disease
if you are physically fit. Being strong
helps too.
Those are the findings of the largest
study to date of the associations between exercise, fitness and cardiac
Its results also indicate that, regardless of our genetic inheritance, all of us
can benefit by moving more.
There is considerable interest today
in understanding what the gene variations we carry can tell us about our
health, heritage and possible future
risks for a wide variety of diseases.
Researchers have begun using a
technique called genome-wide-association studies to tease out such risks.
Basically, they map people’s entire
genomes and crosscheck that information against health outcomes to see
whether people with gene snippet A
also have heart disease or Alzheimer’s
or breast cancer or another disease.
Heart disease has naturally received
particular attention from genetics
researchers, since it kills more people
worldwide than any other disease. In
the past few years, geneticists have
isolated a number of gene variations
that are strongly associated with serious heart conditions and can be pinpointed with genetic testing.
But some past studies have hinted
that people’s lifestyles, including how
they eat and exercise, can ease even
strong inherited risks for heart problems.
Most such studies have examined a
range of lifestyle issues.
For the new study, which was published this month in Circulation, researchers at Stanford University and
other institutions decided to focus
specifically on the role of physical
Because they also wanted to include
a large and varying group of people in
the study, they turned to the trove of
data gathered in Britain in the U.K.
Biobank, which houses health information about more than 500,000 men and
women who were between ages 40 and
69 at the study’s start in 2006.
All of the participants had provided
blood and saliva samples for genetic
testing, filled out extensive questionnaires about their exercise and other
health habits, and in some cases,
sweated on a stationary bike or treadmill and later squeezed a vise-like
gadget to quantify their aerobic fitness
and muscular strength. Some also
wore activity monitors for a week to
objectively track how much they
The researchers zeroed in on the
482,702 men and women in the study
who had had no known heart disease
at the start, genetically typing their
tissue samples, looking for various
snippets of genes known to raise heart
disease risk. They also stratified them
into three groups, based on how fit and
strong they were.
Then they checked to see whether
any of the men and women developed
heart disease within the next six years
or so. Many did, according to their
health records, especially if they carried any of the gene variants associated with cardiac conditions.
But physical fitness changed that
calculus significantly, the data showed.
Those men and women with the
highest aerobic fitness halved their
statistical likelihood of developing
heart disease, no matter how worrisome their genetic profiles, the scientists found.
In essence, if people were fit, they
were less likely to have heart problems
than someone who was less fit, even if
their genes predicted heart disease.
Stout grip strength likewise reduced
cardiac-disease risk, although not quite
to the same extent.
“What this tells us is that you can
mitigate some of your genetic risk for
heart disease by being fit, no matter
how high that risk may be,” says Dr.
Erik Ingelsson, a professor of medicine
at Stanford who oversaw the study.
The data intimate, too, that the
amount of fitness required is not huge.
The people in the high-fitness group
“were not athletes,” Dr. Ingelsson says.
The study can’t tell us, though, precisely how much we need to exercise
to get the best protection against genetic heart disease, he says, because
the number of people who wore fitness
trackers was too small for such determinations.
The study raises new questions
about the complicated interplay of
genes, environment and lifestyles. Like
heart disease risk, aerobic fitness and
muscular strength each can be affected
by genetic inheritance, Dr. Ingelsson
says, and certain gene variants involved in physical fitness might alter
the workings of other variants affecting heart disease risk.
Diet, smoking, weight and other
aspects of health and lifestyle can also
change how some genes affect other
FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018 | 13
For ‘Avengers,’ a daring ending
The filmmakers pushed
to conclude the franchise
in two parts — and won
Everything ends, even if it might not feel
that way right now for Joe and Anthony
Russo. More than a year into the making
of “Avengers: Infinity War,” these directing brothers were shuttling around
the Walt Disney Studios here one
evening in March, putting the finishing
touches on their latest superhero blockbuster.
The tasks that awaited them were
mostly routine and unglamorous: rerecording dialogue with Elizabeth Olsen,
who plays the Scarlet Witch; taking
their last looks at a new trailer for the
film, which has opened around the world
this week and sets up a battle royal in
which every costumed champion in the
Marvel universe must defend it against
a genocidal titan named Thanos.
With these duties out of the way, the
Russo brothers have one more assignment to complete: successfully bringing
the curtain down on the most lucrative
franchise in Hollywood history.
The 18 movies that preceded “Infinity
Top, the directing brothers Anthony, left,
and Joe Russo in their offices in Los
Angeles. Left, superheroes from their
new “Avengers” film: from far left in
foreground, Danai Gurira, Chadwick
Boseman, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Sebastian Stan. Above, Josh
Brolin as Thanos, the movie’s archvillain.
War” were a risky feat unto themselves:
a multihour narrative in which each installment handed off to the next —
sometimes elegantly, sometimes awkwardly — and events in previous
episodes had lasting effects on those
that followed.
Now Marvel is trying something
equally unprecedented and potentially
far riskier. In “Infinity War” and a subsequent “Avengers” movie that will open
in May 2019, the Russos need to seamlessly incorporate dozens of major characters, all while bringing the franchise
to a satisfying conclusion.
“We’re not making any bones about
the fact that we’re ending the first 10
years,” Joe Russo said later that night.
“That’s what we pushed for.”
This was hardly the outcome that the
entertainment industry anticipated
when the Marvel studio kicked off its
current campaign in 2008 with “Iron
Man” (considered a second-tier character at the time, but one of the few whose
rights it controlled).
A decade later, the runaway success
of that film laid the foundation for a pantheon of Marvel movies, including “Captain America,” “Thor” and “Guardians
of the Galaxy.” These films revitalized
the careers of enduring actors like
Robert Downey Jr. (as the billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man)
and raised the profiles of relative unknowns like Chris Evans (as the supersoldier Steve Rogers, alias Captain
The studio has breathed lucrative
new life into its decades-old comic-book
properties and built a ravenous fan base
for each new character it introduces at
the multiplex. (Witness the $1.3 billion
global box office for its latest hit, “Black
Panther,” which opened in February.)
Now Marvel says it wants to clear the
table it has spent the last 10 years arranging and make way for something
“Telling a great story requires a great
ending,” Kevin Feige, the Marvel Studios president, said. “When you dedicate yourself to that, it shifts the way
you think.”
Audiences are about to find out what
finality looks like for a motion-picture
money-minting machine: Will the story
actually come to a conclusion? Will
characters die, and will actors leave the
Whatever the answers, they have already been reached with the help of the
Russo brothers, two of Marvel’s most
consistent and diligent — if not widely
recognized — filmmakers.
When they finish their “Avengers”
movies, which they shot back to back
over 18 months, the Russos will complete their own improbable arc, from indie-cinema oddballs to TV comedy moguls to directors of possibly the biggest
franchise in movie history.
The brothers — Anthony, 48, the bespectacled brainstormer, and Joe, 46,
From left above, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong and, in adjacent photo, Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Bautista,
Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff. Below, from left, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Tom Hiddleston.
the square-jawed pragmatist — have
contrasting but complementary energies. As Mr. Downey described them,
Anthony is “a bit more reflective, a yin
guy,” while Joe is the intense yang of the
partnership: “Bitcoin was invented to
keep Joe Russo from killing himself during the last 20 percent of the shoot,” Mr.
Downey said.
When they’re together, Mr. Downey
added, “It’s like the two of them make a
third thing that’s better than any one
person could be.”
The Russos grew up in Cleveland,
where their father, Basil M. Russo,
served as Democratic majority leader of
the City Council. When the city went into
an economic tailspin in the 1970s and
’80s, the brothers immersed themselves
in movies and learned to appreciate
their creative isolation.
As Anthony Russo explained it, “The
virtue of growing up in the industrial
Midwest is you have nothing to rub up
against you and no one to tell you that
you can’t do what you want to do, because nobody’s doing anything. You can
just be a dreamer.”
They spent three years and $30,000
writing and directing an independent
feature, “Pieces,” about three brothers
— also named the Russos — who dabble
in crime. Despite some withering reviews — Variety called it an “unabashed
vanity project” — “Pieces” caught the
attention of Steven Soderbergh at the
1997 Slamdance Film Festival.
With his help, the Russos made their
first studio movie, a comic crime caper
called “Welcome to Collinwood,” with
George Clooney, William H. Macy and
Sam Rockwell. But it flopped at its release in 2002.
For the next several years, the Russos
focused on directing television shows,
including “Lucky,” a short-lived FX series, and “Arrested Development,” the
rapid-fire satire that became a cult hit on
Despite critical acclaim, “Arrested
Development” got notoriously low ratings. But the Russos said this lack of attention was a blessing in disguise, allowing them to experiment with narrative,
tone and pacing, unencumbered by interfering network executives.
“Telling a great story requires a
great ending. When you dedicate
yourself to that, it shifts the way
you think.”
“They so didn’t get the show that they
really didn’t care what you did,” Anthony Russo said, adding, “It was a huge
creative upside.”
The Russos used NBC’s “Community,” another well-reviewed comedy with
a meager viewership, to stage elaborate
tributes to “Star Wars” and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. It was there
that their work caught Marvel’s attention.
At the time, the studio was generating
hits with its earliest superhero offerings, made by established filmmakers:
“Iron Man,” directed by Jon Favreau,
and “Captain America: The First
Avenger,” directed by Joe Johnston. But
Marvel wanted to expand its portfolio
rapidly and bring in TV directors.
Marvel also wanted to shift the tone of
its “Captain America” movies, starting
with the 2014 sequel, “The Winter Soldier.”
“The first one was a fairly patriotic,
gung-ho World War II movie,” said
Christopher Markus, who wrote the
“Captain America” films with Stephen
McFeely. “You can’t make a string of
those before you get slightly nauseous.”
The goal of “The Winter Soldier,” Mr.
Markus said, was to show Captain
America “losing faith in all the institutions that had made him, giving you a
way to see him as relevant in the modern era.”
The Russos envisioned “The Winter
Soldier” as a modern-day upgrade of espionage thrillers like “Three Days of the
Condor,” and the studio responded
strongly. When the movie sold $714 million in tickets worldwide, Mr. Feige said
the Russos “redefined the franchise —
not just the Cap franchise but all the
Marvel movies going forward.”
“They found a way to keep the wonder, keep the spectacle, but ground it
even more in realism,” Mr. Feige said.
“Which is a word I use lightly when it
comes to our movies.”
The Russos succeeded again with
“Captain America: Civil War,” an overstuffed 2016 sequel in which the Black
Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a
new incarnation of Spider-Man (Tom
Holland) were introduced, and the adventurers took sides in a conflict between Cap and Iron Man.
Even before “Civil War” became a
$1.15 billion global smash, Marvel had
already started putting the pieces in
place for what Mr. Feige called “the big
finale of the initial story line we were developing.”
The plan was ambitious: Mr. Markus
and Mr. McFeely would write two
“Avengers” movies, generated from a
60-page manifesto they started working
on in 2015. All the major Marvel heroes
had to be accommodated, and still more
characters would be introduced. “Not
every scene can be 25 people in a room,”
Mr. McFeely said. “You’re going to have
to make kickball teams and then have a
With scripts in hand, the Russos
would film these movies consecutively.
In Mr. Feige’s mind, there were no other
directors who could handle the task of
doing “three straight years of filmmaking.”
Mr. Feige said, “There are two of
them, which helps. But their individual
stamina is unmatched.”
The Russos moved from Los Angeles
to Georgia for two years, where “Avengers: Infinity War” and its sequel were
shot, principally at Pinewood Atlanta
Studios. (They estimate that they took a
break of about three weeks between
filming the two movies.)
They said making the movies this way
was an irresistible challenge — one that
has been attempted by very few directors, including the Wachowskis (the
“Matrix” series) and Peter Jackson (the
“Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” franchises) — and a test of their fortitude.
Describing the process, Anthony
Russo said: “You’re a really good marathon runner and you know how to train
for it. All of a sudden, you’re running a
double marathon. You can’t really understand it until you do it.”
The Russos acknowledge that the
films were made this way, in part, for
economic reasons: It’s cheaper for Marvel to hire actors — dozens of them,
some of whom are very costly — for
months at a time rather than make individual deals for each movie.
Though they must serve many corporate masters at Disney and Marvel, and
Mr. Feige is known for having a strong
hand in his films, the Russos say they
were given the latitude to make the
movies they wanted to make.
“It’s no different than making any
kind of narrative in a medium where
capitalism thrives,” Joe Russo said.
“You have to have a Zen resilience about
what it is that you want to do, and then
do a really good job at it. And everybody
stays out of your hair.”
Mr. Downey, who first worked with
the Russos on “Civil War,” said they
were well served by their TV training,
which has taught them to be quick and
At any given moment on these films,
Mr. Downey said, “we’ve got 80 things
that are going to blow up, collide — story
points that are all about to happen at
once.” When one of the Russos had a
new idea, he said, they would approach
him with a gentle query: “Let me pitch
you this.”
“No one takes it personally, and then
the idea emerges,” Mr. Downey said. “It
ends up an amalgam of everything that
didn’t hit the floor.”
The Russos aren’t revealing much
about how, exactly, their “Avengers”
movies will bring closure to this phase of
the Marvel cinematic saga. (They
wouldn’t even disclose the title of the
movie that follows “Infinity War,” protesting that even that much information
would be a spoiler.)
“Ultimately,” Joe Russo said, “what
you’ll see by the end of the movies is,
what does it cost to be a hero in a world
where there are no easy answers? I
think that’s the world we live in.”
Death is a staple of comic books. Beloved characters are killed off all the
time, sometimes replaced by successors
who inherit their costumes and identities: Bucky becomes the new Captain
America; Jane Foster the new Thor.
There’s no reason to believe that their
motion-picture counterparts aren’t similarly mortal and similarly interchangeable.
Mr. Evans has made no secret of his
desire to move beyond the “Captain
America” movies. Meanwhile, Mr.
Downey — who introduced himself in a
phone interview as “Robert Downey Jr.,
retired film actor” — is already working
on his next prospective tentpole movie,
“The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle.”
He talked about his time with Marvel
in retrospective tones, and reflected on
an encounter with Keanu Reeves, who
at the time had just finished making the
first “Matrix” movie.
“I was like, ‘Hey, dude, how’d it go?’”
Mr. Downey recalled. “He said, ‘I’ve
been on another planet.’ Right now, I’ve
been on the planet Dolittle for a while.
Being detached from it has given me a
lot of warmth, affection and objectivity
about this past decade.”
Of course, the Marvel engine will keep
chugging away. “There will be more
movies with some of these characters,”
Mr. Feige said, “and with lots of new
Disney’s pending acquisition of Fox
would add even more familiar heroes to
Marvel’s toy chest, including the X-Men
and Fantastic Four. But Mr. Feige said it
was “way too soon” to make plans for
these properties.
“We’d love to have all the characters
back,” Mr. Feige said. “It’s a dream. But
we’re plenty busy with the next five
The Russos, too, are preparing for
their post-“Avengers” lives. They have
established their own production company, Agbo Films, whose executives include Mr. Markus and Mr. McFeely and
which has already secured $250 million
in private Chinese funding.
The brothers are elliptical about
whether there are more Marvel movies
in their future. “We wanted to maximize
our options as storytellers and artists,”
Anthony Russo said. “We’ve structured
our business life in a way to support
that. It can be, or it can’t be. We’ve kept
all options open.”
Joe Russo said there were still some
“very personal projects we want to
make,” adding that he and Anthony
wanted to nurture up-and-coming filmmakers just as Mr. Soderbergh provided
support for them. “We owe a karmic
debt to the universe because of what
Steven did for us,” he said.
The reality, though, is that the Russos
are not even finished with “Avengers.”
With “Infinity War” in release, there is
still a whole additional movie for them to
construct from untold hours of raw
footage, a task that they estimate will
take them at least until the end of the
year. “There are months of work left on
it,” Anthony Russo said. “It will be very
cathartic for us to come out the other
end. That’s when our brains can open up
to what’s next.”
14 | FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018
Rising choreographer’s latest leap
The dances in ‘Carousel’
on Broadway show that
Justin Peck is still growing
When Justin Peck emerged as a professional choreographer in 2012, he
seemed immediately a master of his
trade. His dances for the new revival of
the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical
“Carousel,” at the Imperial Theater on
Broadway, are yet another feather in
his cap. Though just 30 years old, he’s
already acquired such renown that, in
Matthew Lopez’s new play “The Inheritance” (now at the Young Vic in London), “the latest Justin Peck” is spoken
of as a must-see New York artistic
Mr. Peck remains a dancer (soloist
rank) at New York City Ballet, where
he has been the resident choreographer since 2014. He makes at least
two new ballets for the company (and
others around the world) each year,
often to new or modern music. His
works, polished and contemporary, are
energetic through each individual body
and in striking ensembles; and they
often ask gender questions, with both
opposite-sex and same-sex pairings.
His main dance language is ballet. But
he has also set dancers moving with
tap steps in sneakers; in “Carousel,”
they’re sometimes barefoot.
In almost every piece he tackles, he
adds to his already impressive accomplishments. In “Carousel,” he and the
director, Jack O’Brien, handle dancers
so that there’s no clear division between them and other actors onstage.
And yet he gives us real dance virtuosity and ensembles containing speed
and elaborate geometry. Still, though
exuberantly executed, the dances don’t
stay with me as most of this “Carousel”
The hardest part of “Carousel” for a
choreographer to bring off is the Act II
ballet, witnessed by the dead Billy
Bigelow. He sees Louise, his teenage
daughter, becoming an angry and
bitter outsider, alienated from the
social world of her upbringing. This
psychodrama can easily seem the most
dated part of “Carousel.” Film exists of
the original choreography by Agnes de
Mille. It looks creaky now, making its
points all too obviously and clearly
influenced by Martha Graham and
Antony Tudor, the two masters of
psychological choreography and social
But even de Mille’s tendency to
overemphasize catches the dream
quality that earns this ballet a special
place in the overall drama of “Carousel.” Kenneth MacMillan — the
master of sex, violence and acrobatic
lifts in late 20th-century choreography
— went further when he made the
dances for Nicholas Hytner’s 1992
production (which reached Broadway
in 1994). (MacMillan’s “Carousel” pas
de deux still makes a vivid impression
when performed out of context, as it
did when the Royal Ballet brought it to
New York in 2015.)
(Andrei Chagas), beautifully timed to
the music, are caught in formally academic-ballet terms — notably, an upright lift in which one leg is classically
extended to the side, as if catching
both her expansiveness and her aspiration to orthodoxy. Wanting fulfillment in love, she behaves like a ballerina in her partner’s arms.
Still, the de Mille and MacMillan
versions have more sheer force. Mr.
Peck fills in the “Carousel” prescription fairly, correctly, inoffensively.
He’s usually at his best with ensembles and with male dancers. That’s
generally true here. As Jigger Craigin,
Amar Ramasar (another import from
City Ballet) has several jumping
phrases in which the way he immediately rebounds back up into the air and
onto the beat is breath-catching. A
male ensemble in “June Is Bustin’ Out
All Over” begins with a terrific “helicopter” jump (the working leg sweeps
out and round while the dancer is in
the air, then carries him into further
Nowhere in “Carousel” do we ever
feel a dance is a mere divertissement
or set piece. The numbers keep changing format. In the high-energy “Blow
High, Blow Low,” a dance for 11 men
becomes one for 10, then subdivides
into smaller groups before suddenly
swelling to 14. Masculine, maritime
energy bursts forth throughout this
item: Though on dry land, these men
become sailors, nets, ropes, voyagers.
More remarkable yet, at several
points throughout the show, is Mr.
Peck’s talent for complex group tableaus. This is at its most poetic when
Billy and the Starkeeper (John Douglas Thompson) make their way
through one formation after another, as
if through shifting strands of mist. But
other, larger-scale patterns also show
true mastery.
Dance phrases are all admirably full
bodied and three-dimensional, with
upper and lower halves of the body
equally active. The long-term effect,
however, often becomes rhythmically
overwrought: Mr. Peck seems to be
stressing too many points per phrase.
The overall impression of these
dances only adds to my sense of Mr.
Peck’s skillful anonymity. Though I
love some of his work, I still can’t
recognize any Peck hallmarks or characteristics. I keep finding more to
admire in what he can do; I remain
largely unsure of who he is.
Before long, heartbreak is piled upon
heartbreak. When she’s imprisoned,
Romy is a single mother with a young
son named Jackson. Her mother cares
for the boy until she dies in a car crash.
After that, Romy has no idea what
happens to him, nor do we. She’s lost
her parental rights; Jackson vanishes
into foster care.
Other characters are folded into the
mix. Chief among them is Gordon, a
stalled young academic who teaches in
Romy’s prison. He brings her books;
he begins to have feelings for her. Also
there’s Doc, an imprisoned cop who
went rogue. The scenes of his nasty
past life are so pulsing you start to
think that Kushner has a hard-boiled,
Charles Willeford-type thriller in her.
Kushner’s portrait of life inside the
women’s prison is grainy and persuasive. It’s all here: the lice treatments,
the smuggling of contraband in rectums and vaginas, the knifings, the
cliques, the boredom, the heinous food.
About a grim hunk of Thanksgiving
Day meat, one inmate comments,
“People say it’s emu.”
Kushner smuggles her share of
humor into these scenes. Like Denis
Johnson in “Jesus’ Son,” a book this
novel references, she is on the lookout
for bent moments of comic grace.
In one scene, the inmates decide to
throw a party and begin to surrepti-
tiously save their meds in order to
crush them into a punch. Romy gives
this tipple a name: “a short island iced
tea.” Another of this novel’s memorable
characters, a butch lesbian named
Conan, goes on a woozy riff about how
cows are righteous because they dress
in nothing but leather.
If these prison scenes have a flaw,
it’s that Kushner has clearly done so
much research that it weighs her down
a bit. It’s as if she feels compelled to
report everything she’s learned.
“The Mars Room” is a major novel, a
sustained performance, one that
broods on several exigent ideas. The
sense of constriction I mentioned
above plays out in many ways. Nearly
every character has had radically
limited options from birth.
Romy had academic promise as a
kid but threw away her chance to go to
college. After high school, she waits
tables in an IHOP. When she goes to
Walmart to buy shoes for the job, she
can’t help but deliver a profound, classbased riff on the type of shoes sold
there, made for dead-end jobs and just
a step above the footwear issued in
institutions like prison. They’re nearly
training shoes, she thinks, for incarceration.
There have always been echoes of
laconic but resonant writers like
Robert Stone and Don DeLillo in Kush-
ner’s prose. In “The Mars Room,” she
dwells as well on Dostoyevskian notions of evil. There are so many types;
so few are recognized.
“There were stark acts of it: beating
a person to death,” Gordon, the academic, thinks. “And there were more
abstract forms, depriving people of
jobs, safe housing, adequate schools.”
In “Naked Lunch,” William S. Burroughs put this idea in slightly different words: “The face of ‘evil’ is always
the face of total need.”
There’s an extended and winning
juxtaposition, in “The Mars Room,” of
the writing of two men who sought
escape from society’s constraints:
Henry David Thoreau and Theodore J.
Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
Kushner quotes Kaczynski at some
length, and the idea is floated that
these men are not so different as it
might seem. Kushner makes one want
to learn about Kaczynski all over
“The Mars Room” moves cautiously
and slowly. It prowls rather than races.
It is like a muscle car oozing down the
side roads of your mind. There are
times when you might wish it had
more velocity, more torque, yet there
are reasons it corners cautiously.
Like someone wary after a bad
accident, Romy says, “I did not see any
doom in the road.”
Top, a “Carousel” number. Above, Justin
Peck. Left, the actors Jessie Mueller,
Brittany Pollack and Joshua Henry.
Vulnerable, ardent, defensive, Louise
— danced by Brittany Pollack, a City
Ballet soloist — encapsulates the inner
conflicts that make “Carousel” so
touching. Her darker feelings are
shown with an expressionistic blend of
upper-body gesture and lower-body
steps; the most rapturous moments of
her duet with the Fairground Boy
From strip club to prison cell
The Mars Room
By Rachel Kushner. 338 pp. Scribner.
The title of Rachel Kushner’s new
novel, “The Mars Room,” refers to a
San Francisco strip club. It’s not just
any strip club, either. The Mars Room
is “the worst and most notorious, the
very seediest and most circuslike place
there is.”
The book’s central narrator, Romy,
works there giving lap dances. She has
a sense of humor about the place. “If
you’d showered you had a competitive
edge at the Mars Room. If your tattoos
weren’t misspelled you were hot property. If you weren’t five or six months
pregnant, you were the it-girl in the
club that night.”
You sense early in this novel that
you’re entering Mary Gaitskill, Denis
Johnson and Charles Bukowski territory. Sexual and moral boundaries will
be transgressed; every shirt sleeve
will be a crusty shirt sleeve, every
piety an impiety, every angel a grievous angel.
That the novel’s cover image is a
well-known photograph by Nan Goldin,
the downtown laureate of sex and
death and youth and needle tracks, is
another tell, at least for those readers
who don’t mistake the young woman in
the 1992 photograph for the actress
Elisabeth Moss.
“The Mars Room” is the follow-up to
Kushner’s “The Flamethrowers”
(2013), one of this decade’s indelible
novels. That novel has a sense of escape, of IMAX Western vistas. Its
protagonist, Reno, is a young woman
who races a Valera motorcycle on the
Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
“The Mars Room,” on the other
hand, is all about constriction. Like
Alfred Hitchcock in many of his best
films, Kushner works here in close
quarters. This novel shifts from the
strip club to a more claustrophobic
venue: a California women’s prison in
the Central Valley where Romy is sent
— she gets two consecutive life sentences — after killing a sicko who
stalked her.
This novel has many angles, many
tempers. We witness Romy’s anarchic,
drug-addled, near-orphaned childhood
in San Francisco. Kushner offers a
great, subversive portrait of that city.
This section reads a bit like a left coast
retelling of Jim Carroll’s classic about
teenage life on Manhattan’s mean
streets, “The Basketball Diaries.”
Rachel Kushner.
Romy’s San Francisco “was not
about rainbow flags or Beat poetry or
steep crooked streets but fog and Irish
bars and liquor stores all the way to
the Great Highway, where a sea of
broken glass glittered along the endless parking strip of Ocean Beach.”
Like Reno, Romy knows cars. Before
she is sent away, she only slightly
improbably drives a 1963 Chevrolet
Impala, as magnificent a thing as God
ever deposited onto four wheels.
FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018 | 15
The whisky chronicles
The industry is growing,
but little has changed on
the Scottish island of Islay
We were driving on what is locally
known as the Golden Mile, a stretch on
the wind-pummeled, rugged island of Islay off Scotland’s southwest coast that
includes three time-honored, world-renowned distilleries that most Scotch
whisky drinkers would recognize by
name — Ardbeg, Lagavulin and
It was shortly after 9 a.m. on Islay
(EYE-lah), and just over a hilly green on
the right, the waves of the Atlantic were
lapping against the rocky coastline. To
the left were vast expanses of farmland,
peat bogs and intermittent homes. We
slowed down as a majestic Highland
cow crossed the road in no particular
Aside from the fact that the road, a
mere gash in this ancient landmass, is
now paved, the landscape looks much as
it did in the 1880s when Alfred Barnard
traversed it in a horse-drawn carriage.
Barnard, a handlebar-mustachioed
Briton, worked for Harper’s Weekly Gazette, a drinks trade magazine that still
exists as Harpers Wine & Spirit. He
wanted a thorough education on the
whisky industry to have a solid foundation for his work, so he went on a nearHomerian odyssey through Britain.
He visited 161 distilleries (129 in Scotland) and chronicled the journey. His voluminous entries were printed in the
magazine and published in 1887 as “The
Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom,” a doorstop of a book.
Leafing through its pages today, the
book serves as evidence that the Scotch
industry innovates and grows without
actually changing much.
Among nations with a history of
whiskey-making like Ireland, Canada
and the United States, Scotland is by far
the most prominent. In 2017, over 85 million cases of Scotch were consumed
globally. Compare that with 44 million
cases of American whiskey and 28 million of Canadian whisky and just under
nine million of Irish whiskey, according
to the Scotch Whisky Association, a
trade group.
At the moment, Britain’s northernmost country boasts 126 Scotch whisky
distilleries. Fifteen of them have opened
in the last three years, and more are at
various stages of development.
Islay, known as the “Queen of the Hebrides,” is the southernmost island of the
Inner Hebrides, accessible by ferry and
plane. It remains unique among the
Scottish regions in that its whiskies are
characterized by smoky, peaty flavors
and aromas. Many consider it an acquired taste, but for those who have acquired it, like myself, Islay is pilgrimageworthy, much like Bordeaux is for
oenophiles, and like those wine-producing regions where vineyards dominate the landscape, the local drink is
more than just a drink on Islay.
Barnard’s tome reads like a travelogue. Writing in the first person, he
captured the lush scenery, encounters
with distillery managers and workers,
road conditions, even the weather. Yet
he makes ”no pretension to literary merit,” as he fastidiously documented the
distilleries’ technical details like capacities of grain storage units and sizes of
buildings and machinery.
Seven of the nine Islay distilleries
Barnard wrote about are still operational. Two closed in the mid-to-late
1900s, when demand for single malt
Scotches (whisky made from 100 percent malted barley at a single distillery)
declined as a result of changes in taste
and fashion. Single malts long have
been and still are largely used for
blended Scotches, which are single
malts blended with grain whisky; the
pop appeal of single malts is a relatively
new phenomenon.
When I first visited Islay 12 years ago,
I was just starting to write about the
spirits industry for magazines and
newspapers. I took it upon myself to
study the myriad details of production
and, as it turned out, learn of Scotland’s
colorful history while at it.
What strikes me now as much as it did
then as I walked through grand still
houses and cold, dim barrel warehouses, the air heavy with evaporated
spirit that’s called the angels’ share, is
how unchanging whisky-making remains.
This is despite how much the Scotch
industry has grown. Distilleries are
building new warehouses for aging
whisky around the island and adding
stills. And while automation has slightly
reduced the need for as much hands-on
labor, there’s no way to accelerate production, which consists of grinding
malted barley into grist, cooking it in
water, adding yeast to ferment the mixture into a beer, distilling it to concentrate the alcohol and letting it rest in oak
casks for up to several decades.
And the old-worldliness of it all suffuses Islay, which exists on the fringe of
modernity. There’s a local paper, The
Ileach, but it comes out “fortnightly.”
There are public buses, but they double
as school buses on weekdays, because
on an island with a population of only
3,500, you can get away with that. Some
people still heat their homes using peat:
decayed, millennia-old vegetal matter
that’s used here to fuel fires to dry barley, infusing the air with heady smoky
aromas that define Islay whiskies. Many
Clockwise from left: Bowmore at dusk on the island of Islay, Scotland; visitors on a tour
of Lagavulin; barrels lining the outside of Bunnahabhain, which opened in 1881.
will tell you they never lock their doors.
But now, as ground breaks on new distilleries around Scotland — and the
world — it feels as if another golden age
is upon us.
Barnard’s exuberance and chattiness
made me think he’d be a charming companion, so when I traveled to Islay in the
winter of 2016, I packed his nearly 500page tome along with my rain gear in
preparation for the island’s blustery
winter conditions. As it turned out, a
Victorian view of Islay is pretty modern.
The four-mile road to the village of Bunnahabhain (BUNE-ah-hab-hain) is narrow, steep and serpentine. When the distillery of the same name opened in 1881,
the owners constructed the path to the
main road for horse-drawn carriages to
bring coal and barley to the facility. Today, however, 40-foot trucks use it to
take whisky away to be bottled.
The narrow road made for a hair-raising encounter on a drive up the hill, as an
enormous truck careened down it.
When my friend Jeroen Hanselaer, a
Belgian photographer, and I reached the
top, a sweeping view of grand Victorianera buildings and a tremendous pyramid of empty oak barrels stacked sixhigh-by-13-long came into sight down a
shallow slope to Bunnahabhain Bay.
We parked and followed Barnard’s
path through the stone “noble gateway”
into a courtyard surrounded by gray
production buildings. “Some say it feels
Barrels in the warehouse of Ardbeg.
like a cathedral, some say it reminds
them of a prison,” Robin Morton, a stillman, told me with a hearty laugh.
Morton spends much of his day at a
computer screen, which, he’s quick to
point out, only monitors the stills’ activity, not controls it. So to heat the stills, he
walks over to the steam wheel and
cranks it. Nonetheless, that monitor
does make things a little easier: When
he started, he had to measure the flow
rate of the spirit with a wood stick. Now
he reads the measurements from the
glowing screen.
As far as Scottish island distilleries go,
Bowmore is practically urban. Built in
1779 in Islay’s capital village of the same
name, it’s a collection of whitewashed
buildings on four seaside acres, just off
the main thoroughfare, which is lined
with a bustling grocery, a hardware
store, gift shops and a bank.
In the cement-floored malt barn, a single beam of light streaming through a
small window gave the large, stark room
the luminosity of a Vermeer painting. A
man was pulling a rake-like instrument
across a barley-strewn floor, making
furrows so air could circulate through
the germinating grains. Bowmore is one
of the few distilleries in Scotland to use
the old-fashioned floor-malting method.
Today this part of the malting process is
typically done in industrial-size drums
at giant plants.
Heather, my genial guide who wore
stylish glasses and her hair in a loose
pony tail, scooped up a fistful of barley
and instructed me to crush a single soft
sprouted granule between my fingers —
the “maltster’s rub.” It was silky and
chalky, moist enough to absorb the peat
smoke that ultimately gives whisky its
characteristic flavor.
After wandering through the still
house and the cold, dark warehouse
known as the No. 1 Vaults, which has
been used to age whisky since Bowmore
was founded in 1779, making it reportedly one of the oldest maturing warehouses in the world, my friend and I
kicked back in the modern but cozy tasting room, which has expansive floor-toceiling windows overlooking the sea. I
sipped the 12-year-old single malt, the
youngest sample in the tasting flight of
four — a softly peated drink that smelled
of sea spray and grain.
During Barnard’s visit here, he wrote,
“The Distillers say the proximity to the
sea favours the various processes of
malting, brewing and distilling.” As I
watched the mist fly off the swirling
“white horses,” local parlance for the
waves of the cobalt Atlantic as they
crest and slam against the shore, I appreciated one of Islay’s whiskies’ most
crucial ingredients: the local air.
distillery, which opened in 1881, was
abandoned in 1994, then resurrected by
an English wine merchant in 2001.
The craggy ruins of Dunyvaig Castle
that captivated Barnard are still a vision
of faded majesty as we approached Lagavulin, the last distillery on my visit.
Perched on a peninsular rock, the ruins
dominate the distillery’s seaside panorama.
The crash of the waves was drowned
out by a mechanical rumble when my
tour guide, Georgie Crawford, the distillery manager, led us into the mill room
where a lofty antique-looking steel contraption pulverizes barley into a coarse
powdery grist. It always amazes me
that these fine particles will become elegant, complex Scotch whisky.
Ms. Crawford, affable yet matter-offact, put a handful of milled grain on a
screen in a shoebox-size, weathered
InterContinental London Park Lane
As we approached Ardbeg, a cluster of
buildings with pagoda roofs that appears like an oasis of civilization amid
expanses of green hills, Barnard’s description rang clear: “a lonely spot on
the very verge of the sea, and its isolation tends to heighten the romantic
sense of its position.”
After being led through a few more
equipment rooms, we emerged into a
sunlit room with a pitched churchlike
In front of us were six huge washbacks, vessels in which yeast feasts on
sugary solution, generating bubbly activity on the golden liquid surface as it
turns starch into alcohol.
Through a small window, far past
those low cresting “white horses,” I
could make out Northern Ireland’s hills
of Antrim. Long before trucks existed,
the narrow pier right outside was the
primary access to the rest of the world:
Barley and yeast came off boats, whisky
was sent out. It was easy to envision the
ships in gridlock on the now bare waters.
This distillery’s whitewashed buildings
with turquoise-framed windows surround a small courtyard with an entrance just off the main road that runs
along the shoreline. Observing the
scene from the mash house, Barnard described it as “one of the finest and most
healthy spots on the island.”
I peered down into the mash tun, a
massive iron vessel where giant curved
rakes revolved through seven tons of
grist steeping in 21,000 liters (or nearly
5,550 gallons) of piping hot water, giving
off a heady peat smell that called to
mind a smoldering seaside campfire
and hot tar.
This porridge-like mix would become
Octomore, the smokiest single malt on
the planet. Spending time in a room
heavily infused with the aroma of
smoked grains cooking made my sweater smell like iodine and ashes for days. I
found it delightful.
A study in gears and grace, the nearly
seven-foot deep mash tun is the stuff
steampunk dreams are made of: a contraption of cast iron, steel and bronze.
The nearly 150-year-old machine is one
of several pieces of equipment that was
restored to its Victorian-era glory. The
wood box, shut it and shook it — 50 times
up and down, 50 times side to side. This,
she explained, is how they make sure
each batch of barley isn’t too fine or too
coarse, quite a remarkable thing to do
by hand, considering Lagavulin makes
2.4 million liters of spirit annually. (It
was merely 284,000 liters in the 1800s.)
“Sometimes the most basic thing can
do the job you need to do. You can get a
machine, but we trust our guys to count
to 50,” she said with a merry shrug.
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16 | FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018
The Spirit of Travel
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