Death in Brescia

Ed Vulliamy, in The Observer:

Within 17 days, another six people had been killed across the city, some murders so savage as to defy the imagination. A 23-year-old woman was strangled to death in a church by the sacristan, from Sri Lanka, while trying to light a candle to the Madonna – her corpse hidden behind a pulpit while Mass continued over two days. Next day, a renowned Lombard painter was stabbed to death by a youth from Morocco, whom he had admitted into his home. A Pakistani man was knifed to death in the street and an entire family – father, mother and son – was ritually tortured and executed, the woman and child having their throats cut in front of the father who was left to die slowly from a slash to his own throat.

Brescia was cast into, and remains in, a state of stupefaction; a vortex swirls around the charged themes of immigration, racism and organised crime; political leaders turn up the volume while demonstrators take to the streets. But the alarm bells ring beyond the ancient walls of Brescia.

The themes of immigration and integration – or lack of integration – are coming to dominate the lexicon of electoral politics across Europe, along with the advance of organised crime, and Brescia’s bloody summer is a distillation of that debate – both on the right, which has seized on the violence to try to connect immigration with crime, and on the left, as Brescia’s mayor endeavours to usher in a new approach to immigration and identity.


The real face of Boratstan


And then she takes us – Steve, my travelling companion, and me – into a cafe where we have a bit of cake.

‘What’s it called?’ I ask.

‘The cake? It is known as “nigger in the foam”.’

So, you see, wrong, wrong, wrong. Or, perhaps, just a little bit right. And although the sequences in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan, that purport to be in Kazakhstan were filmed in Romania, he didn’t pick Romania, or Belarus, or Uzbekistan. He picked Kazakhstan.

Poor Kazakhstan. First Stalin, now Borat. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the government and its blundering attempts to first sue Cohen and then hire a Western PR firm and launch a debunking marketing offensive – although the fact that Nazarbayev is alleged to have stashed $80m in an offshore account goes some way to mitigating my feelings in this.


Taking Terror Fight to N. Africa Leads U.S. to Unlikely Alliances

Washington Post:

Locked in a prison here, for now, is a desert bandit dubbed the “Bin Laden of the Sahara,” whose capture was secretly orchestrated by U.S. forces after a long chase across some of the most forbidding terrain on Earth.

Amari Saifi, 37, a former Algerian army paratrooper, was caught in 2004 after he and a band of rebel fighters kidnapped 32 European tourists in the Algerian Sahara and ransomed them for about $6 million.


Todd Heisler To Join New York Times Staff


Todd Heisler, a Rocky Mountain News photographer who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for his “Final Salute” photo essay, will join the photo staff of The New York Times.

Heisler, who starts in December, fills one of two staff photography openings at the Times. Recently, Ting Li Wang left to work in China and Paul Hosefros retired, according to New York Times assistant managing editor for photography Michele McNally.


A Look Into the Vault

The Moscow Times:

Sosnina said she had been particularly intrigued by the bottle of Yuzhny, or Southern, cologne sent to Stalin in 1949 by a resident of Kherson province in Ukraine. Now dried up to a thick sediment, but still fragrant when opened, the perfume was carefully stored in the Russian Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg. It was sent to Stalin with a message full of spelling mistakes, written with a sort of ink pencil that had to be licked in order to keep writing.

Sosnina speculated that the giver must have thought that Stalin would like the perfume and “maybe he would dab some on.”

She also expressed amazement at the way the humble present was treated by museum workers. “They didn’t burn it, they didn’t throw it away. They preserved it all these years,” she said.

So why did people send gifts to a faraway leader? “There are very few things that you could say were made under orders,” Ssorin-Chaikov said. “They are voluntary gifts, on the one hand. On the other hand, a lot of people were specifically thinking about a return gift.”

Among the gift-givers who had self-interested motives, few were as blatant as one Moscow hairdresser named Grigory Borukhov. In the early 1930s, Borukhov collected hair from his clients and used it to make a portrait of Lenin. After donating it to the Institute of Marx, Engels and Lenin, he began corresponding with Kliment Voroshilov, a member of the Party’s Central Committee, about his invention of portraiture using human hair.


Eugene Smith Fund 2006 : Paolo Pellegrin

Magnum Photos:

What happened in Manhattan in September of 2001 sparked a monumental response that affected the lives of most of the world’s inhabitants and continues to do so still today. Since that moment Paolo Pellegrin began a journey through the Muslim world and into the lives of it’s people, beginning, backwards, in Marseille: the historical entry port of Arabs bound for France and Europe, through to Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Darfur in Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and perhaps most importantly, Israel and Palestine. He also covered the recent month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah. The Eugene Smith Fund will help with the next chapters of this ongoing project.


Paolo Pellegrin Wins W. Eugene Smith Grant


“Paolo Pellegrin brings a passion and extraordinary eye to a story that has consumed the Western world since 9/11,” said Helen Marcus, president of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, in a press release. “He follows in Gene Smith’s footsteps bringing the world’s attention to a furious debate of historic proportions.”

A second award, the $5,000 Fellowship Grant, is being awarded to photographer Teru Kuwayama for his project, “No Man’s Land: Survival at the Ends of Empire,” an ongoing study of the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, including Kashmir. Kuwayama is a freelancer based in New York.

The grants will be given out Thursday night at a ceremony in New York.

Also to be awarded Thursday is the Howard Chapnick Grant for the Advancement of Photojournalism, which is going to New York-based photographer Michael Itkoff. The $5,000 grant will support the publication of the sixth issue Itkoff’s Daylight magazine.


Australian Muslim leader compares uncovered women to exposed meat


Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali delivered his comments in a religious address on adultery to around 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, but they only came to the attention of the wider public when they were published in the Australian paper today.

Sheik Hilali was quoted as saying: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside … without cover, and the cats come to eat it … whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab [the headdress worn by some Muslim women], no problem would have occurred.”


Mekanism Invader Skateboard


After their collaboration in 2005, Mekanism and Invader joined forces again. This time Invader created three original and unique skateboards for Mekanism. Each deck is covered by a mosaic made of real tiles and is signed, titled, dated and comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.


In the Land of the Taliban

NYT Magazine:

With the Americans on their way out and the NATO force not yet in control, the Kandahar Police were left on the front line: underfinanced, underequipped, untrained — and often stoned. Which is perhaps what made them so brave. One afternoon I ran into a group who said their friends had just been killed when a Talib posing as a policeman served them poisoned tea. A shaggy-haired officer in a black tunic was standing by his pickup, freshly ripped up by a barrage of bullets, and staring at my feet. “I envy your shoes,” he said, looking back at his own torn rubber sandals. “I envy your Toyota,” he said and laughed. And then looking at my pen and notebook, he said, “I envy you can read and write.” It’s not too late, I offered feebly, but he tapped his temple and shook his head. “It doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “I smoke hash. I smoke opium. I’m drinking because we’re always thinking and nervous.” He was 35. He had been fighting for 20 years. Four of his friends had been killed in the fighting the other night. He had to support children, a wife and parents on a salary of about $100 a month. And, he said, “we haven’t been paid in four months.” No wonder, then, that the population complained that the police were all thieves.

At Kandahar’s hospital I met a 17-year-old policeman (who had been with the police since he was 14) tending to his wounded friend. He was in a jovial mood, amazed he wasn’t dead. He said they had been given an order to cut the Taliban’s escape route. Instead they were ambushed by the Taliban, ran out of bullets and had no phones to call for backup. “We ran away,” he said with a nervous giggle. “The Taliban chased us, shouting: ‘Hey, sons of Bush! Where are you going? We want to kill you.”’


Museum Explores Peru's Shining Path

Washington Post:

Wooden miniatures celebrate the start of Shining Path’s war with the burning of ballot boxes in 1980, as Peru returned to democracy after more than a decade of military dictatorship.

A pair of Abimael Guzman’s thick, trademark spectacles and his collection of lapel pins of China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong, Shining Path’s inspiration, form the centerpiece of the museum, created by police after raids on rebel hideouts.

Including communist paintings, sculptures and flags given to Guzman by his followers, the artifacts show the now gray-haired 71-year-old as a heroic figure leading a war against Peru’s coastal elite, European descendants who have dominated the country since the 15th-century Spanish conquest.

“In the paintings, Guzman never holds a gun, only a book, even as he celebrates bomb attacks,” said museum curator Ruben Zuniga, a police officer who helped capture Guzman.


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Do it with Lights on or off?

Daily Sun, Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids:

What did I hear you say? This guy, you are very funny o! Kemi, come and hear. Repeat what you just said. He wants to know if you make love with that your whitie guy under bright light or in the dark (laughter). Tell him now, yeye girl.


Kool-Aid, Craziness and Utopian Yearning


“Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple”

Two of the five Jonestown residents who resisted Mr. Jones’s call and escaped into the jungles of Guyana after their loved ones died in their arms offer moment-by-moment accounts of this orgy of self-annihilation. The movie includes an audiotape of Mr. Jones urging them to “die with a degree of dignity” rather than “lie down in tears and agony.”

Death, he argued, was not that big a deal; it was just crossing a line. He heralded communal self-destruction as “an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

This is a movie to make you shudder. How many of us are so desperate for a charismatic leader claiming to have the answers that we will surrender our basic instincts for survival, along with our reason? This film paints a portrait of Mr. Jones, who died with his flock in Guyana, as a man with two faces. The appealing one was that of a trained Pentecostal minister, an idealist with polished oratorical skills. Growing up poor in Indiana, Mr. Jones was sensitive to the plight of African-Americans, and preached racial equality. His son Jim Jones Jr., who appears in the film, boasts of being the first black child adopted by a Caucasian in the state of Indiana.


Ultranationalists Gear Up for March

The Moscow Times:

Bringing Rogozin and other high-profile figures on board was meant to lend legitimacy to the Russian March, Belov said. “We had to show this wasn’t some small-time event organized by a bunch of vocational school students from the Moscow suburbs,” he said.

Last year’s march through Moscow’s center included skinheads touting banners that read “Moscow Against Occupiers” and “The Russians Are Coming,” and chanting “Russia for Russians,” “Moscow for Muscovites,” “Sieg Heil,” “Heil Hitler” and the Stalinist slogan “Death to the Enemies.” It was the biggest ultranationalist protest in at least a decade, with 2,000 to 5,000 people joining in, according to different accounts.

Experts on ultranationalism said this year’s demonstrations might look different from last year’s, but that the underlying ideology was the same. “In public, they all say that Nazi symbolism should be banned, but then they justify slogans like ‘Russia for Russians’ and ‘Beat up darkies’ by saying they aren’t Nazi slogans,” said Galina Kozhevnikova of the Sova center, a nongovernmental organization that studies xenophobia.


Stinkers of the Season

The Moscow Times:

Filipp Yankovsky’s “The Swordbearer”

The film’s hero, Sasha, is played by the lithe Artyom Tkachenko, who occasionally looks like a new version of the antihero that the late Sergei Bodrov Jr. played in Balabanov’s “Brother” films, but without any of the charisma. He has one distinguishing feature: a blade-like instrument that has been embedded — mysteriously, and unexplainedly — in his hand since childhood.

It’s the kind of protection device that Russian gangsters could only dream of, given that it vanishes at will. When required, it can wreak bloody havoc on a whole range of supporting characters, from prison guards to prisoners, as well as on some others who are closer to the movie’s main romantic action: a developing relationship between Sasha and Katya (Chulpan Khamatova, a talented actress who really should know better than to commit to this kind of schlock).

The final scenes, involving some spectacular helicopter shots, suggest that Sasha’s hidden talent could be an asset for the Russian forestry industry as well, as he manages to demolish a fair proportion of seaside trees in the film’s concluding chase.

For those who cherish graphic depictions of various kinds of severed limbs, there’s much to enjoy here (there are also some intriguing sex scenes for viewers who find that gushing blood isn’t enough). In terms of sheer sadistic effect, “The Swordbearer” competes with “Junk” and “Hunting for Piranha,” two other Russian films from earlier this year that stood out on the violence front — though given their disappointing results, it seems audiences aren’t exactly queuing up for gore. Perhaps a welcome thought if you’re coming home on a dark night.


Art flaps fade away, but Sturges and his nude photos thrive

SF Chronicle:

The photographs themselves, to my eyes, are more troublesome. The bodies on view, to a one, are all youthful, fit and lean. A warm bronze light prevails. But, somehow, in all this celebration of the body beautiful, there’s a nagging vacancy — in the models’ abstracted expressions and a slack structure and framing of the scenes. The elaborate picnic table shot seems artily contrived. So does the one of the two boys on the deck. Sturges’ photos have always looked a little stagey and arch to me, a little too studied in their bucolic innocence — of doorframe poses, riverside sun bathing or dogs casually flopped down at the feet of statuesque nudes.

Color presents fresh complications. Color literalizes, as it spells out every limb, hair and nipple in realistic, high-resolution detail. It challenges a photographer even more to discover an essence, to make us see the thing that’s plainly there but that we might not otherwise have registered. Sturges’ photographs just don’t do that very much. There’s something coy, whether by intention or not, about the way they invite us to puzzle out their meanings and then so consistently resist that kind of looking.

It’s not that Sturges exploits his subjects. Nothing in his work or history proves it. But he does expose them, without exposing much of anything about them. You don’t feel drawn into the mystery and wonder of the nudes he photographs. You see them and move on to the next and the next. Maybe Sturges just isn’t an especially good photographer — a possibility that he himself readily acknowledges. That doesn’t make him a pornographer by default. But it might make him a kind of poster boy for the dilemmas of photographic imagery in the Internet age. In the forthright yet strangely blank nature of his work, in its uncensored volume and digital technologies, Sturges presents the reflective image of a computer screen. Here, here it all is, his photographs say to us. Make what you will of them. That’s your private business, not mine.


Afghan kidnappers 'want convert'


The kidnappers of an Italian journalist in Afghanistan have offered to free him in exchange for a Christian convert who fled the country, an aid agency says.
Photojournalist Gabriele Torsello was seized last week while travelling on a bus in southern Afghanistan.

The kidnappers will free Mr Torsello, a Muslim convert, if Abdul Rahman returns from Italy where he was granted asylum earlier this year, the aid agency says.

Mr Rahman had escaped a possible death sentence for becoming a Christian.


9 Violent Psychiatric Patients Flee Hospital

The Moscow Times:

Moskovsky Komsomolets reported Tuesday that the patients became upset when the nurse on duty Thursday night barred them from watching a televised football game. The patients stormed the nurse’s station, threatened her with a sharp object and fled with the building keys, the newspaper reported.

The patients, all men aged 17-20, made their way past fences, a guard and a guard dog before forcing a man and woman out of their car and speeding off.
In an interview with the newspaper Tvoi Den, the driver of the car, Maxim Komkov, 22, said he had just started the engine when the patients, dressed in hospital gowns, set upon him and his girlfriend, Masha, saying: “Give us the car, homeboy. We really need it.”