Those of you who know me well are familiar with an interesting part of my life from 1993. I left Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I spent 8 months in a Xhosa tribal village in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.
When I arrived the young people in the village were delighted to see me. They were honored that a Europeans would want to live among them and come to understand them better. The older people in the village were sullen and skeptical. They kept calling me “baase” and “master.” When they did this I would smile at them and tell them that I was no one’s boss or master.
When I arrived in the village I felt self-conscious. I was six feet-tall and the average village inhabitant was five feet-tall. More obviously I was white and everyone else was black.
After about three days something miraculous happened. I stopped feeling self conscious. I stopped seeing the people in the village as black.I started to see them as people with strengths,weaknesses, and problems like all of we humans.
The people in the village were amazing. The average person only had two years of formal education. Yet everyone spoke English, Afrikaans (The Dutch language), Xhosa (their tribal language) and another tribal language like Zulu. They were not dumb or primitive. I felt sad that they had not had more chances in life.
I could write a book about my 8 months there. But it was one of the most beautiful and uplifting experiences in my life. It led to my being allowed to vote in the first all-race election in South Africa.
At about the same time a very idealistic 26-year old woman from Newport Beach,California, started to do the same thing in a township near Cape Town. Her name was Amy Biehl. She was a distinguished young academic with a bright future. Her experience did not have the happy ending that mine did. She was literally stoned to death by some inhabitants of the township.
What happened to Amy has haunted my psyche for 23 years. Why did she have to die and why did I survive the same experience?
Yesterday I was reading the New York Times book section. I discovered a book about Amy, her tragedy and what happened afterwards. The title is We Are Not Such Things. I was touched and bought a copy.
My dear friends the original Star Trek series premiers on Tuesday September 27, 1966. Its 50-year anniversary is rapidly approaching. I watched the first episode in my sister’s room on her small portable television. It was a hot and humid night in Houston. I fell in love and was mesmerized by the show. I have remained that way for 50 years. I’m delighted that it has “grown and prospered” over the years. Yesterday I went to see Star Trek Beyond. It was a pleasant surprise. It was faithful to the original show. It was brilliant and showed how much technical progress had been made in 50 years. Oh heck.. I loved it!!!
Like many great creations, Giles Price’s body of photographs documenting Olympic construction sites was the result of an accident, in this case a particularly gruesome one.
After leaving school at 16, in 1990 Price joined the Royal Marines to serve in northern Iraq and Kurdistan during the first Gulf war. It could have been the beginning of a long career in the military but four years later he fell ill after ingesting phosphate — a weapons’ component that damaged his intestines so severely he was forced into early retirement.
“How and where it happened I still don’t know,” says Price, now 43, looking out on to Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, where workers are rushing to erect the volleyball arena ahead of the 2016 Olympics. “We were operating in villages that were completely flattened by Saddam [Hussein], so maybe I touched something there or it was dust brought in by one of the helicopters.”
With the amateur snaps he had taken on the battlefield, he applied to study photography at the University of Derby and went on to work as a commercial and documentary photographer. Those early images from Iraq are now held by the Imperial War Museum in London.
His experience of war has continued to inform his photography, particularly his depiction of the building work in the lead-up to the London Olympics in 2012 and to this summer’s Olympics in Rio. Hanging out of helicopters as he did in the Middle East, Price has spent almost seven years capturing aerial shots of Olympic arenas and other related mega-projects at various stages of completion.
His photographs are striking standalone abstract compositions that supply revealing evidence of the construction process. But they are also records of humanity in extreme circumstances — testament to the Herculean efforts of the workers below as they battle not against the enemy but against the punishing physical environment.
“I wanted to create a legacy for the construction workers who felt like a forgotten army,” says Price, referring to his London series. “They spent seven years building the largest single development in the UK in 150 years and then, when the Olympics came along, everyone was focused on the athletes and celebrities.”
He set off for Brazil in 2014, intending to repeat the project in Rio. However, the realities that he encountered in South America’s first Olympics’ host city — corruption, inequality, broken promises and environmental destruction — instantly added a political dimension to his work, he says.
Initially the idea of taking aerial photos of the construction sites had come from necessity: gaining ground access was near impossible in London, as it proved to be in Rio. In Rio, however, aerial photography became a powerful tool to provide viewers with unfettered access to controversial sites, the details of which were not always readily available — an antidote to the “no comment” and half-truths peddled by the various authorities and companies in charge.
Flicking through the photos on his phone at the beachside café in Copacabana, Price stops at a bird’s-eye view of Rio’s new golf course. According to the authorities, the development is a historic achievement for the city and the sport — it will host the Olympics’ first golf tournament since 1904. But Price’s image shows the project for what it is: a golf course built in the middle of the city’s Marapendi nature reserve, largely to the benefit of a nearby luxury apartment complex.
Similarly, a shot over the Olympic Park clearly documents the removal of Vila Autódromo — a favela, or slum neighbourhood, that was largely demolished to make way for the Games in spite of desperate protests by its residents. Another shot shows a small oil spill in one of the city’s inlets that is invisible from the shore. The promised clean-up of Rio’s Guanabara Bay, where the Olympic sailing competition is due to be held, never happened.
Price has given his Brazilian series the title Morar Olimpíadas (roughly translated asLive the Olympics) — a play on the name of an Olympics favela upgrade programme that is also yet to materialise. While he also documents more positive elements of Rio’s preparations, such as the removal of a large motorway that once ripped through the city’s historic centre, the overall impression is unsettling.
For Rio, Brazil’s former capital, the Olympics were meant to be its 21st-century moment of glory, but over the past couple of years the city has been bombarded by one crisis after another. First came the country’s far-reaching corruption scandalsurrounding the state-owned oil company Petrobras. Then came the country’s deepest and longest recession in history, and then the global health emergency over the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has been linked to horrific birth defects.
In April, part of a cycle lane built for the Olympics collapsed into the sea, killing two men. Last month, Brazil’s tourism minister resigned over graft allegations, a day before Rio declared itself to be in a state of financial emergency as its hospitals ran out of even the most basic supplies. Over the following two weeks, an Australian gold medal-winning Paralympian, Liesl Tesch, was robbed at gunpoint in Rio; mutilated body parts washed up on Copacabana beach next to the Olympic volleyball arena; and, in a particularly bizarre incident, soldiers shot dead their own Olympics mascot, a pet jaguar, in northern Brazil. Eleven workers have died so far during construction work for the Games. In a fitting finale to the list of calamities, Brazil’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff is expected to be formally impeached around the time of the closing ceremony.
However, sipping on a freshly squeezed lemon juice in the sunshine earlier this month, metres away from where the body parts were found on Rio’s most famous beach, Price is typical of most foreign visitors to the city: he loves the place. “Rio is stunning,” he enthuses, “one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.”
When he was planning his first trip, Rio had begun to sound like a warzone — insurance companies charged him exorbitant rates on his equipment because of the city’s high crime rate, while friends and family warned him of various other deadly threats. But the only real difficulty he has encountered since his arrival, he says, is Brazilians’ general inability to speak much English.
As with the football fans who came to Rio for the 2014 World Cup, which was also hampered by protests and scandal, visitors to the Olympics will most likely return home tanned, hung over and thoroughly entertained. Perhaps the Games will even be heralded as the best Olympics ever, just as the World Cup was. Barring any major catastrophe such as a terrorist attack, Brazilians will probably congratulate themselves on delivering a great spectacle and move on.
Price, however, hopes that his aerial photographs will have a more lasting significance: as a witness to the money, homes and lives that were handed over to construct an event that, in the words of the International Olympic Committee, showcases the “best of the human spirit”.
Samantha Pearson is the FT’s Brazil correspondent.
‘Morar Olimpíadas, Rio 2016, Landscapes of transition and partition’, by Giles Price, with an introduction by Jules Boykoff, is published by See Studio, £30. For more details: gilesprice.com
Brazil probes Olympics threats after group backs Islamic State
July 19, 2016
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s intelligence agency said on Tuesday it was investigating all threats to next month’s Rio Olympics after a presumed Brazilian Islamist group pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) less than three weeks before the Games.
The SITE Intelligence Group that monitors the internet reported that a group calling itself “Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil” said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday that it followed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and had promoted IS propaganda in Arabic, English and Portuguese.
Brazilian authorities stepped up security measures following the truck massacre in Nice last week, planning security cordons, further roadblocks and the frisking of visitors in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics.
Police and soldiers took part over the weekend in drills near sports facilities and along transport routes.
The Games start on Aug. 5 and are expected to attract as many as 500,000 foreign visitors.
“All threats related to the Rio 2016 Games are being meticulously investigated, particularly those related to terrorism,” the Brazilian intelligence agency ABIN said in a statement when asked to comment on the previously unknown group’s claim of support for Islamic State.
“Many are dismissed and those that deserve attention are investigated exhaustively,” ABIN said. An agency spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the posting by the group presented a credible threat.
ABIN last month confirmed it had detected a Portuguese account on the Telegram app that was a channel for exchanging information on Islamic State but authorities said no threat had been detected of an attack in Brazil.
Since Thursday’s attack in Nice where a truck plowed through crowds during Bastille Day celebrations, Brazil has sought to reassure the international community that the Games will be safe and terrorist threats are being taken seriously.
On Monday, interim President Michel Temer issued a video message inviting foreigners to come to Rio and enjoy the Games and the beauty of the host city.
“We have reinforced security very much in the city and you can come without worries. You can enjoy the marvels of Rio de Janeiro and attend the Games,” he said in the brief video.
Brazilian security officials say they are in close contact with partner countries about any possible threats to the Games and have been monitoring chatrooms and other communications among suspected sympathizers of radical groups.
They said their biggest concern during the Olympics is not the threat of a coordinated attack by known militants but the possibility that a lone actor or group sympathetic to militant causes could seek to target the event.
Brazil will deploy about 85,000 soldiers, police and other security personnel, more than twice the size of the security deployment during the London Olympics in 2012.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Andrew Hay)
The Republican convention has left Wall Street banks on edge by embracing a populist proposal to break up big institutions, an idea loved by many Democrats that adds a new twist to the GOP under Donald Trump.
Defying nearly two decades of party tradition, the Cleveland convention adopted policies that include reining in banks by banning institutions that hold deposits from doing riskier investment banking, mirroring a law from the Great Depression. The policy platform was written by a committee of Republican lawmakers and officials.
The proposal to cut banks down to size has created an unexpected accord between the Republican and Democratic platforms as Hillary Clinton’s party — under the influence of her bank-bashing former rival Bernie Sanders — had made a similar call.
It signals that bipartisan enmity towards the biggest banks continues to run high amid widespread economic discontent, with many Americans still feeling the hangover of the 2008-09 financial crisis in which Wall Street played a fatal role.
Presidential candidates do not have to follow party platforms, but big banks will be troubled by the cross-party support for legislation inspired by the 1933 Glass-Steagall act because such ideas can gain a life of their own once in official documents.
Any prohibition barring investment bankers from operating under the same roof as federally insured deposits would pose an existential challenge to Citigroup, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and, to a lesser extent, Goldman Sachs.
The original Glass-Steagall act was abolished in 1999 when President Bill Clinton signed bank reform legislation that was crafted by Republican lawmakers and backed by many Democrats in Congress.
Aaron Klein, a former Treasury official in the Obama administration who is now at the Brookings Institution, said calls to reinstate Glass-Steagall failed to recognise how the world had changed, but tapped into an understandable strain of popular feeling.
“At the most simple level, the idea is that our grandparents put in place strong rules after the depression; we went away from those rules in the deregulation of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s; and we need to remember the wisdom of that generation,” Mr Klein said.
One line of a 54-page document which the Republican platform adopted on Monday says: “We support reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which prohibits commercial banks from engaging in high-risk investment.”
We support reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which prohibits commercial banks from engaging in high-risk investment
Tony Fratto, a bank ally and former Treasury official under President George W Bush, said: “Glass-Steagall is dumb politics and dumb economics … Returning to Glass-Steagall would be destructive and unworkable. As every analysis has demonstrated, Glass-Steagall would have done nothing to prevent the crisis. There is a lot in this platform to ignore.”
The Democratic platform, due to be adopted at the convention in Philadelphia next week, says: “Banks should not be able to gamble with taxpayers’ deposits or pose an undue risk to Main Street. Democrats support a variety of ways to stop this from happening, including an updated and modernised version of Glass-Steagall and breaking up too-big-to-fail financial institutions that pose a systemic risk to the stability of our economy.”
Glass-Steagall is dumb politics and dumb economics … Returning to Glass-Steagall would be destructive and unworkable
The inclusion of such language marked an important victory for Mr Sanders, a self-declared socialist, who is seeking to use influence wrought from his successful primary campaign to make Mrs Clinton take a tougher line on Wall Street.
Critics of the new Glass-Steagall movement point out that the act would have done little, if anything, to affect Lehman Brothers, the investment bank whose collapse precipitated the darkest days of the last crisis.
The top Republicans on banking policy in Congress — Richard Shelby in the Senate and Jeb Hensarling in the House of Representatives — have shown little enthusiasm for Glass-Steagall and have fought instead, unsuccessfully, to water down the Dodd-Frank post-crisis reforms.
Although unusual, it is not unheard of for a Republican to support a forced separation of deposit-taking and investment banking. In 2013, Senator John McCain, the 2008 presidential nominee, introduced a bill aiming to recreate Glass-Steagall in alliance with Senator Elizabeth Warren, the leftwing firebrand who has this year become one of Mr Trump’s most vocal critics.
Additional reporting by Ben McLannahan in New York
This world is mad, mad, mad.
I have a simple recipe to make this planet a better place. Abstain. Imagine if we stay home one day, all of us. Sit in the porch, drink a beer or a tea and kick back. A day with no work done, no murders, no war, no injuries. Nothing.
Now that I think about, that was the Sabath was supposed to be..
After the 2008 financial collapse, Elena and I found ourselves in an awful position. Our house had $845,000 in debt and was worth $390,000. We had also run up a large credit card debt while Elena was a medical resident earning a humble salary. Elena comes from a culture where people pay their debts and do not run to bankruptcy court.
We hired Alan Sherman and Mike Comfort of the Comfort Law Firm to save us from a disaster. It took some years of hard work and protracted negotiating. Creditors were paid off and now our house has a wonderful positive equity. Mike and Alan did an incredible job!
Yesterday I went to lunch with the two principals of the law firm and the wife of Mike Comfort. The subject of the current presidential election came up. Please bear in mind that I was at the lunch table with two political moderates and a political conservative and strong Donald Trump supporter. All at the table were well-educated and well-informed.
All along I have been warning people that literally anything could happen from now to November 8, 2016 when we go to vote for president. I did not mention my views. All three of them said what I have been saying all along-expect anything. They even warned of the possibility of an assassination.
I’m sad about the final prediction but delighted that more well-educated people agree with my prediction about this presidential election
Everyone is this tragedy of police shootings a critical point has been overlooked. If past cases are any guide, the families of the victims shot by police are going to file wrongful death lawsuits against the towns and cities that employed the police officers who did the fatal shootings. After some time the victim’s families will win a judgment in the range of $1,250,000 to $2,000,000 +. The municipalities involved will have to pay these families.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, believe it or not, is a fairly prosperous city. Such a payout will hurt the taxpayers in areas like reduced money for libraries, health care, road maintenance, clinics for the poor, school programs, etc.
The smaller town in Minnesota will suffer grievously. Such a payout will be a big part of their annual budget. Ironically police officers will be laid off, fire stations will close, other city workers might be laid off, etc. You could very well see a municipal bankruptcy here like what Stockton and Vallejo, California experienced.
In short, everyone suffers when a police person gets frightened and “shoots first and asks questions later.”
Once the United States’ largest private residence and the most expensive to build, today you could almost miss it. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, sits between the eight lanes of the I-280 freeway, a mobile home park, and the remains of a Space Age movie theater. The world has changed around it, but the mansion remains stubbornly and defiantly what it always was.
Each time I visit the Mystery House, I try to envision what this space must have looked like to the “rifle widow” Sarah Winchester, when she first encountered it in 1886—acre after acre of undulating orchards and fields, broken only by an unassuming eight-room cottage.
Legend holds that before the 1906 earthquake—when her estate was as huge and fantastically bizarre as it would ever be with 200 rooms, 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces, and 2,000 doors, trap doors, and spy holes—not even Sarah could have confidently located those original eight rooms.
Winchester had inherited a vast fortune off of guns. Her father-in-law Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the famous repeater rifle, died in 1880, and her husband, Will, also in the family gun business, died a year later. After she moved from New Haven, Connecticut, to San Jose, Winchester dedicated a large part of her fortune to ceaseless, enigmatic building. She built her house with shifts of 16 carpenters who were paid three times the going rate and worked 24 hours a day, every day, from 1886 until Sarah’s death in 1922.
An American Penelope, working in wood rather than yarn, Winchester wove and unwove eternally. She built, demolished and rebuilt. Winchester hastily sketched designs on napkins or brown paper for carpenters to build additions, towers, cupolas or rooms that made no sense and had no purpose, sometimes only to be plastered over the next day. In 1975, workers discovered a new room. It had two chairs, an early 1900s speaker that fit into an old phonograph, and a door latched by a 1910 lock. She had apparently forgotten about it and built over it.
In 1911, the San Jose Mercury News called Winchester’s colossus a “great question mark in a sea of apricot and olive orchards.” Over a century later, the San Francisco Chronicle was still baffled: “the Mansion is an ornately complex answer to a very simple question: Why?”
The answer: Her building is a ghost story of the American gun. Or so the legend went. A spiritualist in the mid-1800s, when plenty of sane Americans believed they could communicate with the dead, Wincehster became terrified that her misfortunes, especially the death of her husband and one-month old daughter, were cosmic retribution from all the spirits killed by Winchester rifles. A relative said many decades later Winchester fell “under the thrall” of a medium, who told her that she would be haunted by the ghosts of Winchester rifle victims unless she built, non-stop—perhaps at ghosts’ direction, for their pleasure, or perhaps as a way to elude them. Haunted by conscience over her gun blood fortune and seeking either protection or absolution, Winchester lived in almost complete solitude, in a mansion designed to be haunted.
I keenly anticipated my first visit to the Mystery House. I must have been hoping that the house would yield up its secret to me. At first glance I was deflated, for the unusual reason that from the outside, the house wasn’t entirely weird.
But the drama of this house, like the drama of Winchester’s life, was unfolding on the inside. A staircase, one of 40, goes nowhere and ends at a ceiling. Cabinets and doors open onto walls, rooms are boxes within boxes, small rooms are built within big rooms, balconies and windows are inside rather than out, chimneys stop floors short of the ceiling, floors have skylights. A linen closet as big as an apartment sits next to a cupboard less than an inch deep. Doors open onto walls. One room has a normal-sized door next to a small, child-sized one. Another has a secret door identical to one on a corner closet—it could be opened from within the room, but not from without, and the closet drawer didn’t open at all.
Details are designed to confuse. In one room, Winchester laid the parquetry in an unusual pattern: When the light hit the floor a particular way, the dark boards appeared light, and the light boards, dark. Bull’s-eye windows give an upside-down view of the world. Even these basic truths, of up and down, and light and dark, could be subverted.
The house teems with allusions, symbols and mysterious encryptions. Its ballroom features two meticulously crafted Tiffany art-glass windows. Here, she inscribed her most elegant clues for us. The windows have stained glass panels with lines from Shakespeare. One reads, “These same thoughts people this little world.” It’s from the prison soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Deposed from power and alone in his cell, the king has an idea to create a world within his prison cell, populated only by his imaginings and ideas.
Winchester’s mansion conveys a restless, brilliant, sane—if obsessive—mind and the convolutions of an uneasy conscience. Perhaps she only dimly perceived the sources of her unease, whether ghostly or profane. But she wove anguish into her creation, just as any artist pours unarticulated impulses into her work. Over repeated visits, I came to think that if a mind were a house, it would probably look like this.
The house is an architectural exteriorization of an anguished but playful inner life. Ideas, memories, fears and guilt occur to us all day long. They come to consciousness. If they displease or terrify, we brood or fuss over them for a while, then revise them to make them manageable, or we plaster over them and suppress them, or refashion them into another idea. One of the house’s builders recalled, “Sarah simply ordered the error torn out, sealed up, built over or around, or … totally ignored.” The mental and architectural processes of revision, destruction, suppression and creation were ongoing, and similar.
Perhaps the same mental process happens with a country’s historical narratives about its most contentious and difficult topics—war, conquest, violence, guns. The family name was synonymous by the 1900s with a multi-firing rifle, and the Winchester family had made its fortune sending more than 8 million of them into the world. It wasn’t crazy to think that she might have been haunted by that idea, that she might have perpetually remembered it, and just as perpetually tried to forget.
I’ve come to see the house as a clever riddle. Winchester made charitable donations, certainly, and if she had wanted to, she could have become a philanthropist of greater renown. But the fact remains that she chose to convert a vast portion of her rifle fortune into a monstrous, distorted home; so we can now wander through her rooms imagining how one life affects others.
Instead of building a university or a library, Sarah Winchester built a counter-legend to the thousands of American gunslinger stories. And in this counter-legend, the ghosts of the gun casualties materialize, and we remember them.