DATE July 30, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Frank Owen, author of "No Speed Limit: The Highs and
Lows of Meth," on methamphetamine production and addiction
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Meth is the most talked about illegal substance since crack cocaine. `he
devil drug of the new millennium,' writes Frank Owen, in his new book, "No
Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth." Owen's book is all about
methamphetamine, why people take it in the first place and how it turns
against them. He looks at how bikers started to make and distribute meth, why
mom and pop meth labs developed around the country and how federal laws
succeeded in shutting down many of those labs. But there's still plenty of
meth out there. Much of the business has been taken over by Mexican drug
Frank Owen grew up in Manchester, England. He's written for The New York
Times, The Village Voice, Newsday, Spin, Vibe and Playboy.
Frank Owen, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. FRANK OWEN: Thank you.
GROSS: Now your introduction to meth wasn't as a journalist. It was as a
user years ago...
Mr. OWEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: Tell us what a meth high is like in the honeymoon phase.
Mr. OWEN: Well, the thing about meth is it actually doesn't get you that
high, except not in the conventional sense of the word, not in the dosages I
was using. It actually makes you feel more sober, it kind of focuses
concentration. You feel you have boundless amounts of energy. You feel
you're ready for any task. So it doesn't get you like stoned. You don't feel
out of it. It doesn't take you to some distant region of your mind. It's not
about losing control. It's exactly the opposite, and that was initially the
kind of, the appeal of the drug to me because I used it essentially as a
vocational aid, as a kind of work tool.
GROSS: Wait, it helped you write?
Mr. OWEN: Oh yeah, yeah. See, well, you know, most stimulants, like
cocaine, for instance, to me that blurs the senses. You can't kind of
concentrate. You have to do a line every 20 minutes. Meth is kind of like
set it and forget it. You can do it and you don't have to think about it for
eight hours. And actually it's been proven to, you know, focus concentration,
so you can read, you know, very dense tomes, very dense books, and you can get
through them very, very fast. It's very good for writer's block. You don't
get writer's block on meth. It also has this strange ability to make kind of
mundane work seem fascinating. So that was, you know, the initial attraction
of the drug to me.
GROSS: When did meth start to go bad for you?
Mr. OWEN: Well, you know, maybe three or four months into it. I mean, the
problem with meth is that, you know, after a while you suffer from these sleep
deprivation hallucinations. I mean, if you stay up for two or three days,
even if you're not on meth if you stay up for two or three days, you're going
to get some very vivid hallucinations. And that's not so much because of the
drug but because of the lack of sleep, and meth hallucinations are very real
and very scary. They're not like LSD hallucinations. I mean, on LSD you know
they're not real. Meth hallucinations seem like they're really happening.
And they're very much based in reality. They're not kind of freaky out there
kind of hallucinations. They're stuff that's basically, you know, elements
from your reality kind of, you know, exaggerated and made to seem fantastic.
GROSS: And when things started to go bad with you and meth, was it helpful
still for you as a writer?
Mr. OWEN: Well, you know, as with any drug, there's a kind of law of
diminishing returns, you know. It's always better at the beginning than it is
at the end. But, you know, as the drug took over, I mean, you know, I found
myself becoming very increasingly irritated at the world, very angry, getting
into fights with people. And, you know, what started out as something I did
to help me work actually ended up negatively affecting the work, you know. I
would kind of miss deadlines and things like that and, you know. And also the
effect on my health. I mean, I turned practically spectral from doing all
this meth. I mean, clothes that I'd bought, you know, that originally fit me
started to hang off me like funeral shrouds, you know.
And also the paranoia. I mean, you can get very, very paranoid on meth and so
I, you know, I'd imagine people following me in the streets. I'd think that
people were taking pictures of me from the fire escape across the streets.
You know, I'd hear voices in the hallway, children's voices whispering my
name, and I'd go out there and there'd be nobody there. So, yeah, I mean, you
know, the paranoia, the anger, all that stuff really starts to kick in and
then it no longer becomes a kind of vocational aid. It becomes something that
actually harms your vocation.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Frank Owen and he's the author of the new book
"No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth."
Your book is in part a history of meth...
Mr. OWEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...and, you know, you trace how it spread, and the accessibility of
meth has had a lot to do with how easy it used to be to make it.
Mr. OWEN: Right.
GROSS: Tell us about how meth is made and why it was easy before certain
prohibitions were put into effect, why it was so easy to create a home meth
Mr. OWEN: Well, it was actually the prohibitions that made it easier to make
meth because meth, in the old days, back in the '60s and the '70s, was a
complicated process. It was made using something called phenylacetone, P2P,
and you needed sophisticated laboratory equipment to make it. You couldn't
just cook it up at home. But basically the feds put P2P--made it a controlled
substance in 1980, and that forced underground chemists to find out another
way to make meth. And that's when they discovered how to make it using
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, and that's the so-called ephedrine reduction
method. That's what inaugurated this whole era of so-called kitchen
chemistry, because making meth with ephedrine is a lot easier to make than
with P2P. You can make meth using just ordinary household items, you know.
Stuff you can get at the drugstore. Stuff you can get at the hardware store.
But what's really interesting about that is that the ephedrine reduction
method actually makes the drug twice as powerful. So ironically, by cracking
down on the old biker meth, the P2P meth, they ended up producing a drug that
was not only easier to make but also was twice as strong.
GROSS: And it's made from the pseudoephedrine in cold medicine?
Mr. OWEN: Right, right. That's one way to make it. There are other ways.
But that's the way kitchen chemists--people who make it in the kitchen or in
their garage--that's out they make meth, yes.
GROSS: So was the chemistry part how to separate the ephedrine from the rest
of the cold medicine tablet?
Mr. OWEN: Yeah, I mean, it used to be easy because you used to be able to
just buy pure ephedrine tablets but what happened, of course, is that the
pharmaceutical companies caught onto the fact that people were using these
legal medicines to make meth. So they start adding all of these kind of
harmless additives so you basically, in order to make it these days that way,
you have to separate out all the gunk that comes with the ephedrine, which
actually takes longer than actually making the meth itself.
GROSS: In your book you write about the history of meth...
Mr. OWEN: Right.
GROSS: ...and it was legal for several decades. When was it legal, and what
was it used for?
Mr. OWEN: It was legal right up to 1970 and it was used for a wide variety
of ailments. Somebody once totted them all up and I think it was about 40, 42
different ailments, and it was used for everything from curing hiccoughs to
weight loss to treating alcoholism to treating heroin addiction to treating
Parkinson's disease. So it was initially regarded as something of a wonder
drug. But eventually, of course, it became really kind of America's first
lifestyle drug. After a while, most of the meth being consumed was things
like to lose weight, to gain a little bit of energy. Housewives used it a
lot, for instance, to treat depression. I mean, methamphetamine was
prescribed by doctors quite legally to pregnant women.
GROSS: Now, you write that, you know, as an underground drug, meth was at
first a biker drug.
Mr. OWEN: Right.
GROSS: How did it become a biker drug?
Mr. OWEN: Well, what happens is that a bunch of Korean War veterans in the
late '50s come back to the San Francisco Bay area, and doctors start
prescribing injectable methamphetamine to these heroin addicts to wean them
off heroine. Now again, I know that sounds incredibly strange, but some
doctors sincerely believed that by substituting a downer with a strong
stimulant, you can actually wean people off heroin. Now, of course, what
happened was all these heroin addicts became methamphetamine addicts. So the
California attorney general asked the pharmaceutical companies not to supply
injectable methamphetamine to California anymore, and they actually did that.
So basically methadrine, injectable legal methamphetamine, was withdrawn from
And in response, the first illegal speed labs--speed is what they used to call
methamphetamine--these speed labs sprung up in the San Francisco area, and
basically, I mean, the bikers weren't involved right in the beginning. It was
basically like Korean War veterans. But the bikers were employed essentially
as delivery boys. They were used to deliver the drugs throughout the rest of
California and also into the Midwest and throughout the rest of the United
States. Over time the bikers learned how to make meth, and so then they could
control the whole process. They basically made the drug and also transported
the drug across the United States, and then that's how they came to control
GROSS: And you say that there were a lot of biker labs in the Ozarks starting
in about the mid-'70s.
Mr. OWEN: Right. Right. Yeah, sure. I mean, especially for the old biker
meth, the meth that the Hell's Angels and the Pagans used to make, that was a
very smelly process. It was a big laboratory, and the chemicals used--I mean,
P2P was the main chemical used, it's a very, very smelly chemical. So they
needed rural areas and they needed rural areas with very sparse law
enforcement presence, and the Ozarks provided the perfect setting for that. I
mean, you know, the Ozarks has a long tradition with home distilling that goes
back, you know, centuries. So it kind of fit right in in the Ozarks. It was
easy to set these labs up there, to hide them, you know, in pig farms, or in
other, you know, out-of-the-way locations. So that's why, you know, I think
the Angels chose the Ozarks as a major manufacturing center.
GROSS: You describe someone named Bob Paillet as having decentralized the
local meth trade...
Mr. OWEN: Right.
GROSS: He started making meth himself, and his recipe became known as Nazi
Mr. OWEN: Right.
GROSS: What was different about his recipe?
Mr. OWEN: Well, what was different about his recipe was that it was a very
simple process. He claims that that's how the Nazis made meth during World
War II, the meth they supplied to their battlefront troops. I don't think
that's the case, though, but anyway the name stuck and basically what was
interesting about this method was it was a simple method that used anhydrous
ammonia, which had never been--and lithium metal--which had never been used
before in the United States. Now, anhydrous ammonia is a very common chemical
in the Ozarks in the spring growing season. You see these white tanks
everywhere which are full of anhydrous ammonia, and they're basically used to
fertilize the ground. So he, you know, invented this new way of making meth,
using this chemical that was very easily accessible in the Ozarks and he kind
of taught this method to other people he knew who went on to teach other
people who went on to teach other people. So it became like a giant pyramid
scheme. And so rather than having to buy meth from the bikers, people--you
know, meth addicts and meth users--could now make their own meth using
chemicals they could find just locally.
GROSS: But that was kind of dangerous not only because of the meth itself but
also because anhydrous ammonia is a very explosive chemical, so that means
that there was a very dangerous chemical around?
Mr. OWEN: Technically it's not explosive. It has a very low boiling point,
so basically what it does if it's exposed to air it turns into this kind of
noxious gas that, if it touches the skin, it kind of peels back the skin, so
you get--it's like cold burns, you know. It's like if you're in like a really
cold environment, it will kind of burn your skin, and if you inhale it into
your lungs, it will, you know, basically it will frost your lungs, you know.
So it doesn't explode. It's not an explosive. But it's very, very dangerous
and there's been numerous deaths reported, you know, because basically what
these people do is, they go to these tanks with a, you know, an empty fire
extinguisher or one of those propane tanks you get when you go camping and
they decant the anhydrous into these other containers. And if you don't do it
properly, the thing will, you know, or you inhale some of the fumes or it
leaks out, then it can quite easily kill you.
GROSS: I guess what you've told us about the Ozarks becoming a kind of
capital for meth labs explains how Missouri became such a central place for
Mr. OWEN: Right. I mean, there always was a meth culture in Missouri. I
think in the book you see that, you know, there was an article in Time
magazine from 1959, and it was about, in Oklahoma City, in Missouri, it's
about these teenagers, you know, injecting meth. And at the time you could
buy it over the counter from chemists. It was called a Valo inhaler and
basically, you know, people would use it legitimately for, you know, asthma
and breathing problems, and basically you would just break open the container,
and you would take the wick inside out which was, you know, full of pure
methamphetamine, and they would dunk it into a cup of hot water and then they
would, you know, take a syringe and slurp up the liquid and inject it into
their arms. So this was 1959, and this is Time magazine, so you've got to
figure if Time magazine discovered it in 1959, it was probably happening
several years earlier than that. So we're talking about a problem that had
been around for decades, but it was when everybody and their mother could cook
their own meth, that's when it really started to become, like a, you know, a
crisis in the Ozarks.
GROSS: My guest is Frank Owen, author of the new book "No Speed Limit: The
Highs and Lows of Meth." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Frank Owen, and his new book is called "No
Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth," and it's a history of meth.
You know, in writing about the history of meth, you say that during World War
II, all of the sides on the war were using amphetamines for their soldiers.
Can you tell us a little bit about how soldiers were using amphetamines in the
Mr. OWEN: Well, you know, amphetamine and methamphetamine, it had long been
known that they boosted energy, they decreased tiredness, they suppressed
hunger, they made you more aggressive. Perfect drug for the battlefield, you
know. Didn't have to eat. Didn't slow down. Could kill and kill and kill.
So, yeah, it was the perfect drug. It was also, you know, it was also a drug
that, as I said before, that focuses concentration. So they could actually
take the drug without getting too stoned, you know, because it wasn't as if
they were taking like, you know, 500 milligrams. They were taking pill form,
so it was like five, 10, 15, milligram doses. But methamphetamine seemed
particularly useful in a battlefront situation because of all reasons I cited.
GROSS: One of the people you write about was nicknamed Uncle Fester, whose
real name is Steve "Price-ler," is it pronounced? Price-ler?
Mr. OWEN: Preisler.
Mr. OWEN: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: And he was a meth cook in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and he had written a
guide for terrorists, teaching them how to make things like botulinum, rice
and sarin gas.
Mr. OWEN: Yeah. It's called silent death.
GROSS: And then he wrote a recipe book for meth...
Mr. OWEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...and that was called "Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture."
Mr. OWEN: Right.
GROSS: "A Handbook for Making Crystal Meth." So how did this book change meth
labs and meth distribution?
Mr. OWEN: Well, you know, up until that point, recipes to make meth were
essentially kind of like forbidden knowledge, you know? I mean, people passed
around these recipes, people paid for these recipes. They were, you know, if
you wanted to buy a meth recipe, it would cost you a lot of money, so "Secrets
of Methamphetamine Manufacture" basically was the first book that made these
recipes available to the general public, and also the first book where the
recipes actually worked because Preisler's a trained chemist so he actually
knows what he's talking about. Whereas, you know, before meth manufacturing
was a kind of, you know, this kind of practice that was surrounded in myth and
legend, you know. Some recipes might work. Other recipes wouldn't work, you
know. So he kind of almost codified the process of making meth, and, you
know, and the book sold a lot of copies.
And the book, you know, everywhere you go basically in the United States
anybody who's making meth in a home lab knows this book, has read this book or
learned to make meth using this book. I mean, there's two ways to learn to
cook. They look to cook by watching other people or they learn to cook by
reading this book.
GROSS: Did you meet Steve Preisler?
Mr. OWEN: Oh, yeah, yeah. Sure. We spent a boozy weekend together,
watching wrestling together at this local sports bar and talking politics and
yeah. He's a very ordinary guy, very blue collar guy, not at all weird, not
strange, not crazy. You know. He could be any blue collar guy in any small
town or any city in America except he writes these incendiary books that, you
know, drive the DEA crazy.
GROSS: Is he still making meth?
Mr. OWEN: No. Well, that's what he tells me. I mean, you know, I mean,
people speculate that he must have some meth lab hidden away because he
constantly revises the text, you know, because there's always like, you know,
new recipes, new ways of making meth, and so he's put out--I think he's on
his, what, sixth, seventh edition now. So people think, oh he must have a
meth lab somewhere. But, you know, he's followed constantly by the DEA and by
the local police, so if he really did have a meth lab I think they would
probably know about it so I take him at his word. He says he hasn't made meth
in well over a decade.
GROSS: Did he seem to have any regrets about having helped so many people
Mr. OWEN: No, he takes great pride in it.
GROSS: Why does he take pride in that?
Mr. OWEN: Well, you know, I think he sees--he's a kind of, I guess what you
would call a kind of right-wing anarchist, you know? He really hates the
government because, you know, the government put him in jail for six years for
manufacturing meth and he sees this as his way of getting back at the
government that, by teaching, you know, all these kids how to make meth, you
know, it's payback for what the, you know, for the six-year prison term he
did. You know, I mean, he doesn't--no, I mean, he takes no responsibility
whatsoever for the kind of negative consequences of this knowledge. As far as
he's concerned, he just writes the books and what people do with that
knowledge is up to them.
GROSS: Frank Owen's new book is called "No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows
of Meth." He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Frank Owen, author of
the new book "No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth." It's a history of
methamphetamine. Earlier we talked about how mom and pop meth labs developed
around the country, but new laws have succeeded in shutting down many of those
What are some of the ways that federal government and state governments have
cracked down on chemicals that are used to make meth?
Mr. OWEN: Well, basically, every chemical that goes to make meth these days
is controlled in some way or another. But the problem is, this is what they
call a supply-side measure, right? You can cut off the chemicals, but it does
nothing about the demand for the drug. So this recent round of chemical
controls, for instance, is the Combat Meth Act, which you may have heard of,
you know, and that basically--you know, if you go to Walgreen's or your local
pharmacy and you want to buy some cold medicines, you have to show ID and you
have to sign this form and you usually have to get it from the manager and
there's this whole rigmarole.
Now, the thing about that is--in one way, it's been incredibly successful.
There's been a huge drop-off in the so-called mom and pop labs, these
small-time independent operators. Massive decrease. But what's happened is,
that created a void, and so now the Mexican cartels have come in and they're
the ones now supplying all the meth. So what you have is, instead of a
situation where you have this patchwork quilt of local meth scenes with these
independent operators supplying these local markets, now you have a situation
which is actually more like the cocaine business. It's, this drug is made
abroad, then it's smuggled into the country. And so now you have, instead of
the meth trade being controlled by hillbillies and bikers, you have the meth
trade controlled by these very sophisticated Mexican poly-drug organizations,
very violent, whose leaders never even set foot in the country.
GROSS: So now that Mexican labs and the Mexican crime world has gotten
involved with making and distributing meth, that means if you're buying meth
that's from the Mexican labs, that you're kind of getting more connected to
the criminal underground.
Mr. OWEN: Right.
GROSS: And also the drug, I believe, has become more expensive?
Mr. OWEN: Much more expensive and much stronger. One of the ironies of
these attempts to suppress meth is the harder they crack down on it, the
stronger the drugs gets. This drug, this Mexican Ice that you can buy where I
am at the moment, in New York City, is $240 a gram and it's like anything from
92 to 98 percent pure. It will blow your socks off, you know. And it's much
more powerful than what these small mom and pop labs were making, you know.
And, you know, the Mexicans have quality control. Stuff that comes from the
small, independent operators, it varies greatly the potency of the drug, you
know. It all depends on the skill of the chemist. The Mexican cartels have
professional labs with professionally chemists and they're able to deliver the
strongest version of meth yet available to the American consumer.
GROSS: How is the Drug Enforcement Agency trying to deal with Mexican meth?
Mr. OWEN: Well, you know, a lot of it is diplomacy. I mean, you know, the
DEA has no jurisdiction in Mexico, so a lot of this occurs at the diplomatic
level with the State Departments and, you know, trying to get, you know, the
Mexican government to crack down on these guys. But, you know, it's not
hardly a secret that, you know, Mexico's a very corrupt country, and the
history of drug trafficking from Mexico into America is that these drug
traffickers are protected from on high. You know, the Mexican military,
Mexican police, Mexican politicians. So in order to eliminate Mexican meth,
you would literally have to reform, you know, the Mexican political structure
from top to bottom.
So there's a lot of talk about, `Oh, you know, we're going to extradite this
drug dealer and that drug dealer,' and you know, the Amezcua brothers were the
big kingpins of meth in the 1990s. I mean, they eventually imprisoned those
guys. Well, you know, these guys go to prison but it doesn't seem to stop
meth coming into this country. You know, you can take down, you know, a
couple of cartel leaders, and others will take their place. So it does seem
rather like kind of something of a losing battle.
GROSS: When you were researching the new Mexican meth...
Mr. OWEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ..you tried it.
Mr. OWEN: Yes.
GROSS: And I was kind of--reading your book, I was kind of...
Mr. OWEN: Mexican Ice, they call it.
GROSS: Yeah, reading your book I was wondering why you did that, since you
used to have a meth problem. Did you feel like it was dangerous to try it
again even if it was, in your mind, just research?
Mr. OWEN: Well, I wanted to try it because it was different from the meth I
used to do. The meth I used to do was the old biker meth and, you know,
people have been talking to me about this Mexican Ice and saying how powerful
it was and, you know, just how much more different it was from the old meth
and, you know, I was curious to find out, you know, just how powerful it was.
And I thought I was being very responsible. I mean, I just bought half a
gram. I mean, it barely covered the bottom of a bag, and I split it up into
eight lines and I had two lines a day for four days, and I thought, `What can
go wrong?' You know? These weren't like huge big lines. These were tiny
little lines. But you know, I underestimated just how powerful this drug was.
I mean, half a gram, you know? It nearly drove me crazy.
And it's kind of, you know, it was--rather than--that chapter. it comes at
the end of a chapter which says, you know, that the more they've cracked down
on meth, the stronger it's got, and rather than just kind of citing, you know,
`Oh, this is 98 percent pure compared to like it was 88 percent pure like 10
years ago,' I thought it'd be interesting just to show how powerful it was,
and I think that's what I did do. It's not something, you know, I would do
again in a hurry. It was extraordinarily powerful.
GROSS: Well, Frank Owen, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. OWEN: Thank you.
GROSS: Frank Owen is the author of "No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of
Coming up, what the iPod has to tell us about China, India and the global
economy. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Robyn Meredith, correspondent, author of "The Elephant
and the Dragon," on the rise of India and China and what it means
TERRY GROSS, host:
Robyn Meredith has been has been watching India and China transform their
economies and the global economy. She's a foreign correspondent for Forbes
magazine and covers both countries. She's written a new book called "The
Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What It Means for
All of Us."
Robyn Meredith, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with the iPod, because it's
connected to both China and India. Would you explain how?
Ms. ROBYN MEREDITH: Absolutely. The iPod is such a great example of
globalization today, and about how India and China are connected to the global
economy and to our daily lives. The iPod is a product so many of us Americans
use every day. But the chip that is the brains of the iPod was invented in
Hyderabad, India. I've actually been to the company that makes it. It was
invented in the basement of a bungalow of a neighborhood in Hyderabad. And
when you go there, they'll open up a closet, proudly, to show you that the
computers in their little bungalow will never go down. Why? Because there's
a stack of car batteries that serve as the back-up power in case the
electricity shuts off periodically in Hyderabad, which it is wont to do.
Nonetheless, a small group of people in Hyderabad invented the brains of the
iPod. They offered it to Apple. Apple said, `This is great,' and bought into
their vision of how you could really transform the music industry. Apple then
designed this beautiful product that has really revolutionized the music
industry, and it's interesting because the actual iPod itself is made almost
exclusively in China, often by Taiwanese and other foreign subcontractors. So
here we have what is happening more and more often for products sold in
America. We have a product, the idea of which has come from India, the
manufacturing of it takes place in China, and then it's shipped over to
America, where an American company distributes and markets it, and, by the
way, makes the lion's share of the profits from the product. The Indian
company gets paid. The Chinese and Taiwanese companies get paid, but the
lion's share of the profits stay with Apple.
GROSS: You know, your new book is about the economies of China and India.
What other connections do you see between the two? I mean, obviously, one of
the connections is that you've been covering both of them...
Ms. MEREDITH: Yes, of course.
GROSS: But there are other comparisons that you make.
Ms. MEREDITH: Well, sure. You know, it's funny. The biggest, most
important thing for me about India and China, the one thing about them that's
really similar is that they're these giant nations, each with more than a
billion people, that are embracing both globalization and capitalism at the
same time, and that--a change of that magnitude hasn't happened in a very,
very long time. Many economists say that the most recent event of similar
magnitude to shake the world economy was when America itself walked onto the
world economic stage. So it's very, very important, it's a very big change.
Aside from that, India and China are, in so many ways, absolute opposite. Of
course, India's democratic, China's authoritarian. But in many, many other
ways, they're as opposite as Ghandi and Mao.
GROSS: What are some of the ways that they're opposite?
Ms. MEREDITH: Well, when you go to India, you see just a riot of bright
colors, and you find a cacophonous nation. You know, one with 30 different
languages, including English. On the other hand, you also see airports and
roads that are just unbelievably shabby. The time zone in India mystifies.
It's a half-hour off from every place else in the world. So when it's noon in
Philadelphia, it's 9:30 at night in Bombay. It's very, very confusing.
China's the opposite of that. It's completely straightforward. The national
language is Mandarin. The clocks line up with the rest of the world. The
Communist Party runs the country with an iron hand. And the roads and
airports there are all brand new. That's really helping China connect its
factories with the world of consumers.
GROSS: So it's kind of paradoxical that the, you know, communist government
is making it easy for capitalists because everything is...
Ms. MEREDITH: Isn't it funny? I mean...
GROSS: Yeah, everything falls into line. Everything is done in a certain
Ms. MEREDITH: Exactly. Even the five-year plans, the old-fashioned
five-year plans of the Communist Party actually helped Western businesses
doing business there know what it is the Chinese government has as a priority
and know what they'll be spending money on. That makes it a lot easier for
GROSS: You give histories of how both India and China became global economic
powers and you compare their different approaches to getting there. You point
out in your book that India is the first place that white-collar jobs were
really exported to on a large scale...
Ms. MEREDITH: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...from the United States, and you say that that kind of white-collar
off-shoring, particularly in the high-tech industry, came about by accident.
What was the accident?
Ms. MEREDITH: Well, when America got caught in the Y2K scare, we worried
that when 1999 New Year's Eve rolled around and it became 2000, that our
computers would stop working, and suddenly there was a huge demand from
corporate America to reprogram their corporate computer systems so that they
didn't crash, and there weren't enough programmers in America, particularly
ones that used some older programs and were familiar with those to reprogram
all in time before midnight on December 31st, 1999. So a lot of that work was
outsourced, almost as an experiment, to India, and then when the work was done
successfully, American companies thought, `Hey, this is great. It only cost a
tenth of what it cost in the United States and it was done quickly, and the
quality was very high. What else can we start moving to India?' And then a
lot of computer work began to move to India, computer programming in
particular. Then, after the computer programming work moved, American
companies said, `Wait a minute. I bet we could do other things there.'
And so now, if you are an American and you didn't do your own taxes and you
hired a big accounting firm to do them for you, most likely your taxes were
prepared by an Indian accountant. The Hollywood movie that you're watching,
if it's animated, much of the animation may have been done in India rather
than at home in the United States. There are all kinds of jobs that you're
not necessarily aware of that are moving to India, and they're higher and
higher-level jobs. They're not just call centers in which people call 800
numbers and reach an operator in India. Those are moving, too. But the
economics make sense for a number of other jobs, and that's what's so
alarming, I think, about the global job market.
GROSS: That we're losing jobs in America to other countries?
Ms. MEREDITH: Yes, and simply that, you know, the economic transformation of
India and China means that suddenly we have a global job market. We didn't
used to have a global job market at all. It didn't exist. But in the last 10
years about a billion people have been added to the global labor pool, and
that's one out of four workers around the world. So all of those workers in
India and China earn dramatically less than Westerners, and I have seen this
on my many trips to India and China as a foreign correspondent, and it's
alarming to me because I don't think most Americans realize that this is
happening and that it's so easy for companies to move jobs around the world
and what it means is that Americans can no longer expect to earn 10 times more
than everyone else for the same work. We just can't.
GROSS: My guest is Robyn Meredith and she's a journalist with Forbes
magazine. She's an international correspondent and has been covering India
and China. Her new book is called "The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of
India and China and What It Means for All of Us."
You know, China's had this terrible crisis with the contaminated pet food and
toothpaste and defective products. The head of the Chinese equivalent of the
FDA was executed for taking bribes. Is execution typical in China for white
Ms. MEREDITH: It is, especially for corruption. China executes more
prisoners than any other country in the world. In fact, Beijing has been
trying to stamp down on the very prevalent problem of corruption for some
time, so the food and drug administrator who was executed was one of a number
of Chinese officials who have been executed as punishment for corruption over
the last few years, and the deterrent doesn't seem to be working too well,
because China has, and will have into the future, a really terrible corruption
problem. I don't see it being stamped out. Beijing has struggled with it for
years and years and years.
GROSS: Do you think that there's a fear now of the made in China label, and
that China's ability to export on the level that it has is going to be
affected by these recent scares, these recent problems?
Ms. MEREDITH: I think there should be a fear of the made in China label for
certain products. I'm very concerned about Chinese food--food grown in
China--and the reason is that, as we see, you clearly cannot trust Chinese
regulators to--you can't trust the stamp of approval of a Chinese regulator.
They're quite often corrupt around the country. Even Hu Jintao, the Chinese
president, would admit so. And I think that that's really worrisome.
The other big problem is the environment. Food that's grown in China, even if
it isn't contaminated with chemicals that are not technically allowed to be
used, is grown under acid rain in almost every corner of the country. China's
air is extremely, extremely polluted, and I just don't think that could be
good for us. So I think that the recent scandal and scare involving pet food
and tainted toothpaste was really, really useful both for American consumers
and American companies that are buying and importing Chinese goods and then
putting their label on them.. Because, for consumers, it's a wake-up call
that reminds you that you want to know where your food is grown and where some
of the more sensitive products you use, like toys that your children play
with, for instance, are made. And for companies, it's a wake-up call because
they need to know that it's their brand, the American brand, that will be
damaged if they don't rigorously test products that they're buying from China
and make sure that they're safe.
GROSS: Well, how does this affect what you eat and what you purchase when
you're in China?
Ms. MEREDITH: If you're in China, you can't really avoid eating food grown
in China, but I'm based in Hong Kong. I try to buy produce, certainly, and
any fish from Australia.
GROSS: Well, Robyn Meredith, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Ms. MEREDITH: Thank you so much, Terry. I really appreciate it.
GROSS: Robyn Meredith is a foreign correspondent for Forbes. Her new book
about India and China is called "The Elephant and the Dragon."
Coming up, actress Liv Ullman talks about director Ingmar Bergman. Bergman
died today at age 89. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Actress Liv Ullman talking about working with Ingmar
Bergman, who passed away today at age 89
TERRY GROSS, host:
"More persuasively than any other director, Ingmar Bergman has mapped out the
geography of the individual psyche--its secret yearnings and its
susceptibility to memory and desire." So wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New
York Times Magazine in 1983. The great Swedish director died today at the age
of 89. Bergman made more than 50 films, "The Seventh Seal," "Wild
Strawberries," and "The Magician," among them. His 1960 film "The Virgin
Spring" won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film as did his film "Fanny and
Alexander" in 1982. Bergman's last work before he retired from filmmaking was
"Saraband," made for Swedish public television in 2003. It starred his
long-time collaborator, the Norwegian actress Liv Ullman. She starred in many
of his films, including "Persona," "Shame," "Face to Face," "Cries and
Whispers," and "Scenes from a Marriage." She had a brief romantic relationship
with Bergman, and they had a daughter together. I spoke with Ullman about
Bergman in 1993.
What's the story of how you made your first film "Persona" with Ingmar
Bergman, who directed it, and Bibi Andersson, who co-starred with you?
Ms. LIV ULLMAN: Well, I'd been a known actress for many, many years,
actually then in Norway eight years, and I was a leading actress in the
National Theatre of Oslo. I'd done many Norwegian and Swedish films at that
time, and I met Bibi Andersson on the Swedish film and went to visit her in
Stockholm. And on the street, we were walking and we met Ingmar Bergman and
like in the book...(unintelligible)...it was Lana Turner, I was. Ingmar
Bergman looked at me and said, `Would you like to do a film with me?' And I
thought that was a glib thing to say. And so I just blushed and said, `Yes.'
But the film then that he had in mind where I had a small part, that never
happened because he became ill. But while in the hospital he had kept this
image of Bibi and me on the street and he had seen a photograph of us and
struck by our likeness. He was in the hospital and he wrote in a week a film
"Persona" based on the likeness between two women. And it turned out to be,
you know, a really very special film in film history. Today many have made
films like that. But at that time, it was a first, and it's a classic film.
GROSS: In "Persona" you play an actress who is very depressed going through
like an existential crisis and you've given up speaking, and Bibi Andersson
plays your nurse. There are many scenes in which you're staring into the
camera or staring just off into space, and there's just incredible intensity
on your face registering this absence, you know, this feeling of kind of
groping for meaning. What were you thinking about during those long scenes in
which the camera is just observing your naked face?
Ms. ULLMAN: Well, I don't really know--you know, I've seen the picture since
then and I was so young, actually, when I did it. I was 27, and the one thing
I did understand was that I was doing Ingmar Bergman, and that's what I
continued to do in a lot of the films, and just because he wanted to work with
me, he made the role into a woman's role instead of a man's role. I was too
young, really, to understand what an existential crisis was, and I was kind of
a happy person, and it hadn't occurred to me that one has such crises. And
today I understand much more, but I think my luck was that I somehow
recognized Bergman and saw it's him I'm portraying, so I watched him and I did
him on camera.
GROSS: What did you find in his face or in his body that you borrowed for
Ms. ULLMAN: Oh, this young boy--I saw a picture of him as a schoolboy when
he was 11, and you can just see this boy doesn't have many friends and he has
all these pimples, and it's just somebody wanting to come out and say, `Hi,
here I am. Please see me.' And that's what I saw in this grown man who was,
you know, 21 years older than me, and I borrowed that. So if you say I'm
looking intently into space and all that in "Persona," I think I was trying to
show this person, you know, wanting to communicate, wanting to be part of the
world but not knowing how to and then deciding, `I'm not going to speak. I'm
just going to go into myself and hide from people.'
GROSS: Now, you and Ingmar Bergman became lovers. Was it ever a strain
having a lover who was older and also the boss, the director? I mean, you
had--it's sometimes an awkward position to be in, to have the person who
you're most intimate with also be the person who's giving you directions.
Ms. ULLMAN: Well, I'll tell you, it wasn't like living with Bob Hope. And,
you know, when we met for breakfast, if he'd tell me about his nightmares. I
knew I was going to star in them, in his next film. And, actually, we did
"Persona," and then I only did two films for him while we lived together. The
bulk of the work we have done together was after our personal relationship was
all over. But those two films, oh, that was no fun, you know. The others,
when the day was over, they could go and have fun and be together and so, but
I had to go home with the boss. And this was really a boss, you know, in
existential crisis. And yeah, that was kind of tough.
GROSS: So was it any more relaxing to act after your relationship with him
Ms. ULLMAN: Yeah, well, I tell you, he's not as dark as his films seem to
say, nor, you know, while we're doing the films, even the dark ones. There is
so much laughter and fun working with Ingmar Bergman.
GROSS: Liv Ullman, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. ULLMAN: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Live Ullman, recorded in 1993. Director Ingmar Bergman died today at
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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