Who's killing Putin's enemies?

The Observer:

One day, at the Ninth Municipal Hospital in Grozny, the Chechen capital, Anna Politkovskaya encountered a 62-year-old woman named Aishat Suleimanova whose eyes expressed ‘complete indifference to the world’, as she wrote in a typical piece. ‘And it is beyond one’s strength to look at her naked body. She has been disembowelled like a chicken. The surgeons have cut into her from above her chest to her groin.’ Two weeks earlier, a ‘young fellow in a Russian serviceman’s uniform put Aishat on a bed in her own house and shot five 5.45mm bullets into her. These bullets, weighted at the edges, have been forbidden by all international conventions as inhumane.’

In the west, Politkovskaya’s honesty brought her a measure of fame and a string of awards, bestowed at ceremonies in hotel ballrooms from New York to Stockholm. At home, she had none of that. Her excoriations of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, ensured isolation, harassment, and, many predicted, death. ‘I am a pariah,’ she wrote in an essay last year. ‘That is the result of my journalism through the years of the second Chechen war, and of publishing books abroad about life in Russia.’


For Youths, a Grim Tour on Magazine Crews


In Collinsville, Ill., Daniel Burrus scrolled through digital photographs of bloodied faces as he described how, on a crew he helped manage for several years, men who missed their sales quota were forced to fight each other.

In Flagstaff, Ariz., Isaac James sat with his wife and newborn daughter as he told how he and others on his mag crew — as they are typically called — stole checkbooks, jewelry, medicine-cabinet drugs and even shoes from customers’ homes.

Last October, Jonathan Gagney joined a mag crew to escape the “crack scene” back home in Marlborough, N.H. But one night last month, he called this reporter from a bus station in St. Petersburg, Fla., to say he had just sneaked away from his motel to run away from his crew.

“All I know is this guy got beaten and there was blood all over the motel wall,” Mr. Gagney said, his voice shaking.


In Somalia, Violence Is Status Quo


It is hard to believe, but Somalia is actually becoming a more violent and chaotic place. This is not how it was supposed to be. Nearly two months ago, an internationally supported transitional government ousted the Islamist movement that ruled much of the country and steamed into the capital with great expectations. But confidence in the government —which was never very high — is rapidly bleeding away.

Somalia seems to be just shy of total collapse — again — because the Ethiopian troops who provided the muscle to throw out the Islamists have already begun to withdraw, yet none of the peacekeepers promised from other African countries have arrived.



A Photo a Day:

Since October 2001, besides a couple studio shoots, I have not used a strobe once. Why? First, I want to document reality and that includes the light, If something happens in a dank dark room, I don’t want it to look pretty, I want it to look dank and dark.

I also am very confident in my ability to find light in low light situations. I shoot a lot of photos and if 98 out of 100 have motion blur, it always seems that the two sharp ones are the best moments.

Another reason is that I hate using a strobe in a situation where I am trying to be stealth. The less attention I get the better.Here.

Lights, Bogeyman, Action


But the source of his dark-hued lens on life, Mr. Fincher suggested, might be as simple as that original bogeyman. “It was a very interesting and weird time to grow up, and incredibly evocative,” he said. “I have a handful of friends who were from Marin County at the same time, the same age group, and they’re all very kind of sinister, dark, sardonic people. And I wonder if Zodiac had something to do with that.”

Mr. Fincher was first approached about “Zodiac” by Brad Fischer, a producer at Phoenix Pictures, with a script by James Vanderbilt. It was based on two books by Robert Graysmith, a former San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist who became obsessed with the Zodiac, and who built a case against one suspect, now dead. Mr. Fincher said he wanted Mr. Vanderbilt to overhaul the script, but wanted first to dig into the original police sources. So director, writer and producer spent months interviewing witnesses, investigators and the case’s only two surviving victims, and poring over reams of documents.

“I said I won’t use anything in this book that we don’t have a police report for,” Mr. Fincher said. “There’s an enormous amount of hearsay in any circumstantial case, and I wanted to look some of these people in the eye and see if I believed them. It was an extremely difficult thing to make a movie that posthumously convicts somebody.”


Anna and the Astronaut Trigger a Week of Tabloid News


For the first time this year, “tabloid gold” fever seized at least some of the news media last week in a significant way, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index from February 4 to February 9. Though it only made up two days of coverage, the sudden death of the Playmate turned heiress turned reality star was the No. 3 story in the news last week, almost edging out a bloody week in Iraq.

And that may be understating the feel of the coverage. The bosomy blonde’s demise consumed a staggering 50% of the cable newshole PEJ examined on February 8 and 9. Those are levels reminiscent of those pre-9/11 celebrity sagas—think Princess Di and JFK Jr.


Paperboy gets tossed this week


The game, originally released in 1984, featured a bicycle-handlebar-shaped controller that was used to control a neighborhood newspaper-delivery boy. As gamers tried to keep customers happy with well-placed newspapers, they could also earn points by preventing thieves from breaking into homes, knocking over tombstones, or breaking the windows of nonsubscribing houses.

The Xbox 360 version will be updated with a new cooperative multiplayer mode, as well as “modernized” audio and “new artwork.” Paperboy will be available February 14 at 1 a.m. PST for 400 Microsoft Points ($5). For more information, read GameSpot’s previous coverage.


From Subculture to Major Industry: Mike Warnke and The Roots of Christian Stand-Up Comedy

WFMU’s Beware the Blog:

Mike Warnke is one of the most famous figures in American Christianity. However, unless you’re a Christian, a Satanist, a scandal fiend, obsessive internet troll, or a vinyl collector, there is still a good chance you don’t know his tale. Mike Warnke is a stand-up comedian. A Christian stand-up comedian. And despite a scandal-ridden career that would put Jim Bakker to shame, Warnke alone is responsible for what has turned into an enormous multi-million dollar industry – Christian stand-up comedy. Kinda nutty, ain’t it?

In reality the Mike Warnke story has been recounted several times over the past decade and, yes, we’re about to go through it again. This piece is more than that, however. It is a history of Christian stand-up comedy, from its roots in ventriloquism to its modern day standing as perhaps the wealthiest of all weirdo subcultures.


Mexican drug war's brutality celebrated on YouTube

LA Times:

In 2005, the Dallas Morning News obtained a copy of a DVD showing unknown kidnappers interrogating four men allegedly working for the Gulf cartel. One of the captives is executed on camera. A Mexican official told the newspaper that video was part of a rival cartel’s “counterintelligence strategy.”

The video of that killing has shown up in several YouTube postings, including one that threatens revenge for the killing of singer Valentin “The Golden Rooster” Elizalde, whose narcocorrido ballads were taken up as anthems to Sinaloa cartel leader Guzman.

“This is directed to all those who call themselves Zetas … and to the Gulf cartel,” the YouTube video begins in a hip-hop cadence. “You’ll pay with your lives for what you did to our Golden Rooster.”

A 30-second video of Elizalde’s autopsy in the border city of Reynosa after his slaying in November circulates widely on the Internet. As of Wednesday, one version on YouTube had been viewed more than 850,000 times.


A former Blood explores the roots of our nation’s longest-running war

LA Weekly:

Bastards starts in the present, then leaps back to the great African-American migration from the South to the West in the mid 20th century. It chronicles the racism black folk encountered upon their arrival, and how they slowly carved neighborhoods and communities of their own. News to many will be the fact (also detailed in a comprehensive 2006 report on the history of the Bloods and the Crips by Sheriff’s Department gang expert Detective Wayne Coffey) that white gangs — with names like the Spook Hunters — planted the seeds of modern gang strife in L.A. when black school kids banded together to protect themselves from attacks. By the time white flight solved the problem of white gangs, black gangs like the Slausons, the Farmers and the Gladiators began to turn on one another.

The axis of the film, however, is the new life it breathes into the not-altogether-novel argument that the federal government, and the FBI in particular, pitted the Black Panther Party, and its L.A. leader, Bunchy Carter, against Ron Karenga and his US (United Slaves) movement, leaving both movements in ruins and creating a devastating political and cultural — not to mention spiritual — void in the local African-American community. Bastards is filled with fantastic gangsta-on-the-street interviews, archival photos and news footage, and interviews with Geronimo Pratt, other black activists and L.A. historian Mike Davis. As it unfolds, it presents an ever-deepening perspective not just on gang lore but on the black experience in Los Angeles, with its ripple effects on the national stage.


Fake Alfa in police net

Daily Sun, Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids:

A fraudster known as Kamoru Adeyemi who specializes in duping people through mystical means has had his secrets blown open. The police nabbed him when he was about to collect a supposed gold necklace from his victim, a 16-years-old girl.

The police who acted based on information by the girl’s father swung into action and got him trapped. The family gave the police the information when they noticed that their daughter had given the sum of N2.3 million to Adeyemi. Adeyemi currently in detention at Lagos State Criminal Investigation Department where investigations are still on as to the whereabouts of his accomplice one Olomu who disappeared when the police came calling. Police investigation reveals that Adeyemi and his group had been making use of a hose and a Koran to produce voice, which Adeyemi would tell his victims, belongs to God.


Azamat Clothed

LA Weekly:

As we’ve seen from British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, one actor’s deadpan dedication to heavily accented cultural naiveté in the face of unsuspecting victims can do wonders. But actor Ken Davitian, who played Borat’s bearded and oversized film producer, confidant and combatant, Azamat Bagatov, already knew the power of anonymity before he’d ever heard of Cohen or Borat, because it won him the job.

“I didn’t break character,” says Davitian, 53, of his audition. The breakdown called for a “frumpy Eastern European” man who didn’t understand English. But instead of showing up as his needy American bit-player self and then performing the role for a casting camera, Davitian arrived as a bewildered foreigner sporting baggy threads, a gruff demeanor and a parlance inspired by his Armenian relatives. Outside the audition, among fellow actors he recognized from the ethnic-part circuit, all dressed as themselves, he kept up the act. “One of the guys came up and said, ‘You really want this part.’ ”

Inside, Davitian didn’t even hand over a real résumé. “I had a white 8-by-10 that was folded in my jacket pocket,” he says. “I took it out, straightened the creases and gave it to them, and you could see in their eyes, ‘How did this guy get in?’ From what I understand, they thought, ‘This is so sad. Let’s just go through with it a little bit and ask him to leave.’ ”


The long awaited… Magnum Photos Blog

Journal of a Photographer:

I was assigned to create the Magnum Blog… The first step back home was to do a layout and design for it. Once the design was ready I started the technical implementation. That proved to be a bigger challenge then I expected. I mean this was not the first blog I set up but I implemented many new features and techniques that I did not use before or that I did not use in the same way.

The new Magnum Blog is ready, approved and online now which means that my part in creating a blog for Magnum is over. By declining the job Magnum offered me a few months back, I gave away the chance to administrate the blog. To find topics, talk to photographers about ideas for stories, motivate them to write their own articles from the field, invite authors to join, make sure that the blog evolves.


Prewar Intelligence Unit at Pentagon Is Criticized


The long-awaited report by the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, was sent to Congress on Thursday. It is the first major review to rebuke senior officials working for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the way intelligence was used before the invasion of Iraq early in 2003.

Working under Douglas J. Feith, who at the time was under secretary of defense for policy, the group “developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and Al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers,” the report concluded. Excerpts were quoted by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who has long been critical of Mr. Feith and other Pentagon officials.


Cranberg wants a serious probe of why the press failed in its pre-war reporting

Nieman Watchdog:

The shortcomings of Iraq coverage were not an aberration. Similar failure is a recurrent problem in times of national stress. The press was shamefully silent, for instance, when American citizens were removed from their homes and incarcerated solely because of their ancestry during World War II. Many in the press were cowed during McCarthyism’s heyday in the 1950s. Nor did the press dispute the case for the fact-challenged Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led to a greatly enlarged Vietnam war.

The press response to the build-up to the Iraq war simply is the latest manifestation of an underlying and ongoing reluctance to dissent from authority and prevailing opinion when emotions run high, especially on matters of war and peace, when the country most needs a questioning, vigorous press.


In Books, a Clash of Europe and Islam


The resulting stir within the usually well-mannered book world spiked this week when the president of the Circle’s board, John Freeman, wrote on the organization’s blog (bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com): “I have never been more embarrassed by a choice than I have been with Bruce Bawer’s ‘While Europe Slept,’ he wrote. “It’s hyperventilated rhetoric tips from actual critique into Islamophobia.”

The fusillade of e-mail messages on the subject circulating among the Circle’s 24 board members mirrors a larger debate over a string of recently published books that ominously warn of a catastrophic culture clash between Europeans with traditional Western values and fundamentalist Muslims — books including “Londonistan” by Melanie Phillips, “The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion” by Robert Spencer, and “America Alone” by Mark Steyn.