All posts by Zhloar

Mogadishu Book Fair Resumes after COVID-19 Lockdown Postponement

Somalia’s annual Mogadishu International Book Fair has resumed following the suspension of the event last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions were applied to the invitation-only event this year in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The sixth edition of the Mogadishu book fair was a big distraction for residents of the capital, Mogadishu, away from the political tension linked to disagreements over the ongoing parliamentary elections in the country.

This year’s book fair was limited to a few people, especially authors, due to the coronavirus pandemic. But according to the founder of the fair, Mohamed Diini, organizers are already working to accommodate more people next year.

“In essence, we really are doing about 10% of what we did and, ultimately, we just wanted to do something, even if it is little so that next year, we can go back to our previous state, Insha Allah,” Diini  said.

Selected students from Mogadishu schools were invited this year to the children’s corner, where they enjoyed reading, storytelling and cultural tales.

Hanan Abdi Tahlil from Mogadishu International School is one of them.

She said she is very happy and excited to take part in the Mogadishu book fair this year, adding that they enjoyed storytelling from Cigaal Shidaad and Wiil Waal fictional tales among others. She also said she was looking forward to attending next year.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, who is busy resolving an electoral-related stalemate, congratulated the organizers of the book fair.

In a tweet, the prime minister stressed the need to encourage the pen and the book to replace arms and tribalism.

Traditional Wrestling Continues as a Friday Fixture in Kabul

Through clouds of billowing dust, two men circle each other warily before one plunges forward, grabbing his rival’s clothing and, after a brief struggle, deftly tackling him to the ground.

The crowd, arrayed in a circle around them, some sitting on the ground, others standing or clambering onto the backs of rickshaws for a better view in a park in the Afghan capital, erupts in cheers. Victor and vanquished smile good-naturedly, embracing briefly before some of the spectators press banknotes into the winner’s hand. 

The scene is one played out each week after Friday prayers in the sprawling Chaman-e-Huzori park in downtown Kabul, where men — mainly from Afghanistan’s northern provinces — gather to watch and to compete in pahlawani, a traditional form of wrestling. 

Although the Taliban, who took over Afghanistan in mid-August, had previously banned sports when they ruled the country in the 1990s, pahlawani had been exempt even then. Now, just over three months into their new rule of the country, a handful of Taliban police attended the Friday matches as security guards.

The matches are simple affairs. There is no arena other than the broad circle formed by the spectators. The competitors, barefoot in the dust, all use the same tunics, one blue and one white, passed from one athlete to the next for each match. Each competitor represents his province, with the name and province announced to the spectators by the referee.

Each match has four rounds, and the winner is the first who can flip his opponent onto his back. A referee officiates, while judges among the crowd deliver their verdicts in cases when there is no obvious winner. Many end in ties.

“We provide this facility so our people can have some enjoyment,” said Juma Khan, a 58-year-old judge and deputy director of last Friday’s event. A security guard at a market during the day, the former wrestling athlete has been judging competitions for the past 12 years, he said. Just like his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before him. “It’s our culture.”

Most athletes and spectators spend two to three months in the Afghan capital working — as manual laborers or in hotels, restaurants and markets — before heading back home to their families for a few weeks. 

Pahlawani provides a few hours of much anticipated entertainment. The men gather in the dust-blown field that is Chaman-e-Huzori park at around 2 p.m. every Friday and stay until sunset, with around 10 to 20 young men coming forward from the crowd to compete.

Then, as the sun sets behind Tapai Maranjan hill in the background, the competitors are finished. In the blink of an eye, as billowing dust swirls around speeding rickshaws, their horns blaring, the crowd melts away for another week.

Absence of Dissident Artist’s Works Spurs Fears of Hong Kong Art Censorship

Art censorship in Hong Kong is “very much real,” an expert said after the city’s much-anticipated art gallery opened recently without showcasing some expected artworks by a Chinese dissident.

The former British colony’s largest art museum, M+, opened Nov. 12 to great fanfare, but also heated debate because of its failure to exhibit two of famous exiled artist Ai Wei Wei’s artworks in a donated collection of celebrated Swiss art collector Uli Sigg.

Among the collection of contemporary Chinese art from the 1970s to the 2000s, Ai’s Study of Perspective: Tiananmen, a photo that features Ai’s middle finger in front of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and Map of China, a sculpture made of salvaged wood from a Qing Dynasty temple, have been under review by authorities since March this year, essentially barring them from display.

That came two weeks after M+ director Suhanya Raffel guaranteed that the gallery would show Ai’s art and pieces about the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, according to The South China Morning Post.

In the same month, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said the authorities would be on “full alert” to ensure museum exhibitions would not undermine national security, after pro-Beijing lawmakers said the artworks at M+ caused “great concerns” to the public for “spreading hatred” against China, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

In a September editorial in local media outlet Stand News, Ai called the government’s decision to shelve his two pieces “incredible.”

“The Study of Perspective series I started at Tiananmen Square 26 years ago once again became the testing ground for an important change in history, and a convincing note for China’s political censorship of its culture and art,” Ai wrote. Other images in the series featured the middle finger in front of the White House, the Swiss parliament and the Mona Lisa.

Sigg donated over 1,400 artworks and sold 47 pieces to M+ gallery in 2012, before the city experienced political turmoil from the 2014 Occupy Central movement, the 2019 anti-government protests and implementation of the controversial national security law last year.

 

Sigg originally wanted to make mainland China home to his collection, but no art galleries there could ensure that his artworks, including Ai Wei Wei’s, would be displayed without restriction, according to SOAS University of London art history professor Shane McCausland.

“Hong Kong’s legal framework at the time promised that these artworks could be shown…[but] policy on display will have changed dramatically after the national security law came in,” McCausland told VOA.

The head of the West Kowloon Cultural District, Henry Tang, said ahead of the M+ gallery opening that the board would “uphold and encourage freedom of artistic expression and creativity,” but added that the opening of M+ “does not mean artistic expression is above the law.” He also denied that the two artworks put under review meant they were illegal.

However, such an ostensibly normal bureaucratic act from the government is China’s usual form of censorship, McCausland said.

“It’s often unclear even to the initiated, where the boundary lies, as it moves all the time. The laws are framed in vague language: they often appear to be applied arbitrarily and randomly. …The application depends on the [Chinese] leadership from the top, where there is a degree of sensitivity to criticism and intolerance of critiques,” he said.

 

The city’s freedom of artistic expression has been declining since the national security law took effect last year, according to a local independent performance and dance artist who asked that she only be identified by her initial, “V.”

“This [the ban] did not come as a surprise – some artists’ works that might be considered sensitive are not allowed to display recently after the national security law was out, not to mention M+ is a government venue,” V told VOA.

Self-censorship has become a norm in Hong Kong’s art circles, V added.

“The atmosphere has been rather tense. Some movie screenings had to be canceled. Now we still want to voice out our views, but we start thinking about if we should express in a very edgy way, or if politics is the only way for us to express,” she said.

A new film censorship law came into effect in November that aims to “prevent and suppress acts or activities that may endanger national security.”

The supposedly autonomous region is now on track to mirror mainland China’s propaganda and censorship, McCausland said.

“Essentially Hong Kong is poised to become very similar to the framework within the rest of China, with artists being vigilant and constantly watching the moving sense of what’s OK and becoming attuned to when the likelihood is high of the system kicking in with legal ramifications, such as house detention or other judicial options that are open to the authorities, which they are happy to use to ensure the public discourse of harmony,” he said.

Growing art censorship is expected to intensify the talent drain in Hong Kong, which has witnessed an exodus to Western countries, including Britain and Canada, since the start of the 2019 anti-government protests, the art expert said.

“We know there was an astounding majority in favor of democracy – the views of the people were very clear but now you are hearing and seeing the space for expression has been closed down, and often in a heavy-handed way,” McCausland said.

The University of Hong Kong, one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious educational institutions, has ordered the removal of a sculpture commemorating the student victims of the Tiananmen crackdown since October. The university cited “the latest risk assessment and legal advice” as the reason for the request to take away the iconic statue that has been in place for the last 24 years.

“Being an ‘artivist’ [activist artist] is not easy anymore – I started thinking about the role I should play in this era. … I can’t say for sure I will go, but some of my artist friends left because funding has become more challenging,” V said. 

 

 

 

 

 

Alec Baldwin Denies Responsibility for Fatal Shooting on Movie Set

Alec Baldwin Thursday denied responsibility for the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of his Western movie “Rust,” saying he would have killed himself if he believed the shooting was his fault.

In an emotional television interview, the actor said he did not pull the trigger on the gun he was holding during a rehearsal, and that he did not think he would be criminally charged in the case.

“I feel someone is responsible for what happened, but I know it isn’t me. I might have killed myself if I thought I was responsible, and I don’t say that lightly,” Baldwin told ABC television’s George Stephanopoulos in his first public comments about the Oct. 21 shooting on the set near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was wounded when the gun fired off a live bullet.

The incident, including how live ammunition made its way to the set, is still being investigated by authorities in New Mexico. No criminal charges have been filed.

Baldwin had been told the gun was “safe” by crew members in charge of checking weapons. 

“I’ve been told by people in the know… that it is highly unlikely I would be charged with anything criminally,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said he “would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them.”

In his first public description of what happened, he said the Colt revolver went off when he was cocking the gun and rehearsing camera angles with Hutchins.

“In this scene, I am going to cock the gun. I said, ‘Do you want to see that?’ And she said yes. So I take the gun and I start to cock the gun. I’m not going to pull the trigger. I

said, ‘Did you see that?’ She said, ‘Well just cheat it down and tilt it down a little bit like that’. And I cocked the gun and go, ‘Can you see that? Can you see that? And I let go of the hammer of the gun and the gun goes off.”

Baldwin said he first thought Hutchins had fainted and it wasn’t until hours later that he was told she had died. He said he “couldn’t imagine” ever making a movie that involved guns again.

The actor, best known for TV comedy series “30 Rock,” has been widely criticized for not checking the gun thoroughly himself. But he insisted in the interview that was not the actor’s job.

“When that person who was charged with that job, handed me the weapon, I trusted them… In the 40 years I’ve been in this business all the way up until that day, I’ve never had a problem,” he said.

Two crew members have filed civil lawsuits accusing Baldwin, the producers and others of negligence and lax safety protocols on the set. But Baldwin said he “did not observe any safety or security issues at all in the time I was there.”

Suspect Arrested in Death of Philanthropist Jacqueline Avant

A 29-year-old man has been arrested in the death of philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, who was fatally shot this week at the Beverly Hills home she shared with her husband, legendary music executive Clarence Avant, police said Thursday.

Aariel Maynor, who was on parole, was taken into custody early Wednesday by Los Angeles police at a separate residence after a burglary there, Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said. 

Police recovered an AR-15 rifle at that home that was believed to have been used in the shooting of Jacqueline Avant. Maynor accidentally shot himself in the foot with the gun, police said, and was being treated before he could be booked into jail. 

Authorities said they did not believe there were any other suspects in the Avant case, and Stainbrook said there were no outstanding threats to public safety. 

Police had not yet determined a motive or whether the Avant home was targeted. It was not immediately known if Maynor had an attorney. 

Maynor has previous felony convictions for assault, robbery and grand theft.

Police were called to the Avants’ home early Wednesday after receiving a call reporting a shooting. Officers found Jacqueline Avant, 81, with a gunshot wound. She was taken to the hospital but did not survive. 

Clarence Avant and a security guard at their home were not hurt during the shooting. 

Reported shooting

An hour later, Los Angeles police were called to a home in the Hollywood Hills — about 7 miles (11.27 kilometers) from the Avant residence — because of a reported shooting. They found Maynor there, as well as evidence of a burglary at that home, and took him into custody. 

Jacqueline Avant was a longtime local philanthropist who led organizations that helped low-income neighborhoods including Watts and South Los Angeles, and she was on the board of directors of the International Student Center at the University of California-Los Angeles. 

Grammy-winning executive Clarence Avant is known as the “Godfather of Black Music” and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. The 90-year-old was also a concert promoter and manager who mentored and helped the careers of artists including Bill Withers, Little Willie John, L.A. Reid, Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. 

Tributes to Jacqueline Avant poured in from across the country. She was remembered by former President Bill Clinton, basketball icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Democratic Representative Karen Bass of California and music star Quincy Jones.

UK Court Backs Meghan in Dispute over Privacy with Publisher

The Duchess of Sussex on Thursday won the latest stage in her long-running privacy lawsuit against a British newspaper publisher over its publication of parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.

The Court of Appeal in London upheld a High Court ruling that the publisher of The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline website unlawfully breached the former Meghan Markle’s privacy by reproducing a large chunk of the handwritten letter she sent her father, Thomas Markle, after she married Prince Harry in 2018.

Associated Newspapers challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal, which held a hearing last month. Dismissing the appeal, senior judge Geoffrey Vos told the court Thursday that “the Duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the letter. Those contents were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest.”

The publisher said it was “very disappointed” and was considering an appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court.

In a statement, Meghan, 40, condemned the publisher for treating the lawsuit as “a game with no rules” and said the ruling was “a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right.”

“What matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create,” she said.

Associated Newspapers published about half of the letter in five articles in August 2018. Their lawyers disputed Meghan’s claim that she didn’t intend the letter to be seen by anyone but her father.

They said correspondence between Meghan and her then-communications secretary, Jason Knauf, showed the duchess suspected her father might leak the letter to journalists and wrote it with that in mind.

The publisher also argued that the publication of the letter was part of Thomas Markle’s right to reply following a People magazine interview with five of Meghan’s friends alleging he was “cruelly cold-shouldering” his daughter in the run-up to her royal wedding.

But Vos said that the article, which the Mail on Sunday described as “sensational,” was “splashed as a new public revelation” rather than focusing on Thomas Markle’s response to negative media reports about him.

In their appeal, Associated Newspapers had also argued that Meghan made private information public by cooperating with Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, authors of “Finding Freedom,” a sympathetic book about her and Harry.

The duchess’ lawyers had previously denied that she or Harry collaborated with the authors. But Knauf said in evidence to the court that he gave the writers information, and discussed it with Harry and Meghan.

Knauf’s evidence, which hadn’t previously been disclosed, was a dramatic twist in the long-running case.

In response, Meghan apologized for misleading the court about the extent of her cooperation with the book’s authors.

The duchess said she didn’t remember the discussions with Knauf when she gave evidence earlier in the case, and said she had “absolutely no wish or intention to mislead the defendant or the court.”

Meghan, a former star of the American TV legal drama “Suits,” married Harry, a grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, at Windsor Castle in May 2018.

Meghan and Harry announced in early 2020 that they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They have settled in Santa Barbara, California, with their two young children.

In her statement Thursday, Meghan said she had been subject to “deception, intimidation and calculated attacks” in the three years since the lawsuit began.

“The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public [even during the appeal itself], making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers — a model that rewards chaos above truth,” she said.

Associated Newspapers had argued the case should go to a trial on Meghan’s claims against the publisher.

Associated Newspapers said in a statement Thursday that it believed “judgment should be given only on the basis of evidence tested at trial,” especially since “Mr. Knauf’s evidence raises issues as to the Duchess’s credibility.”

Lawyer Mark Stephens, who specializes in media law and is not connected to the case, said he believed the publisher will appeal, though it would be unusual for Britain’s Supreme Court to take such a case. He said the publisher could also try to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

“There’s an issue of principle here, which is whether this case should be finished before a trial without disclosure, without testing the evidence,” Stephens said. The ruling did not settle questions about whether the letter to Thomas Markle was “always intended for Meghan’s side to publish and to leak and to use as briefing material,” he added.

Associated Newspapers “have a right to this trial, and I think that that is just going to protract the pain for Meghan Markle,” Stephens said.

Actor Baldwin on Fatal Movie Set Shooting: ‘I Didn’t Pull the Trigger’ 

Alec Baldwin said he did not pull the trigger of the gun that killed a cinematographer on the movie set of “Rust,” while investigators in New Mexico zeroed in on how live ammunition may have found its way to the set. 

Baldwin, who was holding a gun he was told was safe when it went off, spoke in his first full interview about the October 21 shooting. 

“Well, the trigger wasn’t pulled. I didn’t pull the trigger,” the actor told ABC television journalist George Stephanopoulos, according to an excerpt released on Wednesday of the interview, which is to be broadcast on Thursday. 

“I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never,” Baldwin added. 

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was wounded in what Baldwin had previously called a tragic accident on the set of the Western movie he was making near Santa Fe. 

The Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department said on Wednesday that it had no comment on Baldwin’s statement. It was not known whether authorities were pursuing an accidental discharge scenario. 

No criminal charges have been filed. Investigators have been focusing their efforts on how live bullets, rather than dummies, got onto the set. 

Court documents released on Wednesday showed they found “Rust” documents and suspected live ammunition for a revolver like the one Baldwin was using during a search this week at the premises of an Albuquerque supplier of props and weapons for movie sets. 

The supplier, identified as Seth Kenny, earlier told police he believed the live bullets found on the set may have been “reloaded ammunition” that he previously had acquired from a friend, according to the documents. Reloaded ammunition is made up of recycled components, including bullets. 

Kenny could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. 

Baldwin, best known for playing an egotistical TV network executive on the TV comedy series “30 Rock,” has kept a low profile since the accident at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe. 

Baldwin, who was the star and also a producer on the low-budget Western, “went through in detail what happened on the set that day,” Stephanopoulos said on Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show ahead of the interview broadcast. 

Two crew members have filed civil lawsuits accusing Baldwin, the producers and others on the production of negligence and lax safety protocols. The producers have said they are conducting their own internal investigation. 

Jacqueline Avant, Wife of Music Legend, Killed in Shooting

Jacqueline Avant, a Los Angeles philanthropist and the wife of music legend Clarence Avant, was fatally shot in Beverly Hills, California, early Wednesday, according to authorities and a Netflix spokeswoman. 

Netflix spokeswoman Emily Feingold confirmed that Jacqueline Avant was killed in the shooting. Avant’s daughter, Nicole, is married to Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer. 

Jacqueline Avant, 81, was a local philanthropist who was the president of the Neighbors of Watts and served on the board of directors of the International Student Center at the University of California-Los Angeles. 

Her husband, Clarence Avant, is known as the “Godfather of Black Music” and was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris were among those who paid tribute to him in a video made for the induction ceremony in October. 

Nicole Avant, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas from 2009 to 2011, is now a film producer whose work includes a 2019 Netflix documentary about her father, “The Black Godfather.” In an interview with NBC News about the documentary, she praised her mother.

“My mom is really the one who brought to my father and our family the love and passion and importance of the arts and culture and entertainment,” she said. “While my father was in it, making all the deals, my mother was the one who gave me, for example, my love of literature, my love of filmmaking, my love of storytelling.” 

Beverly Hills police have not identified Jacqueline Avant as the victim in Wednesday’s violence. They have said only that detectives were investigating a shooting that killed one person.

The coroner’s office has not yet officially identified the person, either, but said the victim was reported as a woman in her 80s. 

The suspect or suspects fled the scene and have not been found, Beverly Hills police said in a news release. 

Police received a call at 2:23 a.m. reporting the shooting in a neighborhood. Officers found a person with a gunshot wound, who was later pronounced dead. 

The shooting was reported on the street where the Avants live, according to voter registration records. 

The police chief was expected to hold a briefing later in the day with more information. 

The Avants were married in 1967. They had two children, Nicole Avant and Alexander Du Bois Avant. 

Clarence Avant, 90, is a Grammy-winning executive, concert promoter and manager who mentored and helped the careers of artists including Bill Withers, Little Willie John, L.A. Reid, Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. 

He founded Sussex Records and Tabu Records in the 1960s and 1970s and was the chairman of Motown Records in the 1990s. 

Basketball icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson wrote on Twitter that he and his wife were devastated by the news of Avant’s death, calling her “one of our closest friends.” 

“This is the saddest day in our lives,” he wrote. 

U.S. Representative Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, said she was heartbroken by the violence. 

“Mrs. Avant was a force of compassion and empowerment locally and nationally for decades, as well as a model of service and giving back to those who needed it most,” Bass wrote on Twitter. 

Josephine Baker Gets France’s Highest Honor

The late American entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker has become the first Black woman to be inducted into the Pantheon in Paris, the highest honor that France bestows.

Legendary entertainer Josephine Baker famously sang that she had two loves — “J’ai Deux Amours” — my country and Paris.    

She was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, but having come to Paris to perform, she reveled in life here, free of the institutionalized racism and segregation at home.    

Baker quickly became the darling of Parisian society, as people flocked to see her perform in her trademark banana skirt, or in shimmering sequins at the city’s nightspots.     

She made France her home, dividing her time between Paris and a fairytale castle she bought in southwest of the country.    

Baker became French by marriage — and as soon as World War II began, she joined the French Resistance, famously saying “I want to give myself to France, do what you want with me.” 

Her fame served her well —she was able to pass coded messages in her music scores without being stopped.    

She hid Resistance fighters and fleeing Jews in her castle.    

She also fought against racism in the U.S., becoming active in the civil rights movement.  

Her family said it saddened her that she had to leave home to be treated as an equal. 

On Tuesday, she became, the first Black woman, the first American and the first professional entertainer to enter the Pantheon, reserved as the final resting place for just dozens of France’s greatest, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie.    

The moving ceremony was led by French president Emmanuel Macron, who called Baker an “exceptional figure” who embodies the French spirit.

 

He noted that she fought for the freedom and equality of all. 

Outside, her music played to the crowds who had come to watch this historic moment.  

At the request of her surviving children, Baker’s remains will stay in Monaco where she was buried. 

Instead, a plaque was placed on a cenotaph containing soil from the four places dearest to her heart: St Louis, Paris, her castle and Monaco. 

Jury Seated in Trial of Former ‘Empire’ Actor Jussie Smollett

A jury was seated Monday to hear the case against Jussie Smollett, who says he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago that authorities say was a hoax concocted and staged by the former “Empire” actor.

Two brothers, who worked with Smollett on the TV show, say he paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers on a frigid night in January 2019. The men now stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors this week.

Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago on Monday with his mother and other family members, is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been charged with felony disorderly conduct. The Class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted, he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service. 

Twelve jurors plus three alternate jurors were sworn in and were expected to begin hearing opening arguments late Monday in a trial Judge James Linn said he expects to take about one week. During jury selection, Linn asked potential jurors if they have been the victim of a hate crime, if they have watched “Empire” or “TMZ,” a program and website about celebrities, or if they belong to any civil rights or pro-police organizations. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom, and the proceedings are not being livestreamed, unlike in other recent high-profile trials. 

Whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will take the witness stand where they are expected to repeat what they have told police officers and prosecutors: They carried out the attack at Smollett’s behest.

Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty supply shop hours earlier. 

Smollett’s attorneys have not spelled out how they will confront that evidence, and the lead attorney, Nenye Uche, declined to comment ahead of this week’s proceedings. But there are clues as to how they might do so during the trial. 

Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from an area resident who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night. 

She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.” 

Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers. 

Given there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements that they participated in the attack, it is unlikely that Smollett’s attorneys will try to prove they did not take part. That could perhaps lead the defense to contend that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack at the hands of the brothers, perhaps with the help of others, who now are only implicating the actor so they won’t be charged, too.

The $3,500 check could be key, although Smollett says he wrote it to pay one of the brothers to work as his personal trainer. 

“I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that,” said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense attorney not involved with the case.

What they will almost certainly do is attack the brothers’ credibility, reminding jurors that they are not facing the same criminal charges as Smollett, despite admitting they took part in the staged attack. 

“Everything Smollett is responsible for, they are responsible for,” said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago-Kent College of Law and is not involved in the case.

Finally, Smollett’s career could take center stage. Prosecutors could make the same point that then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson made when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: Smollett thought the attack would win him more fame and a pay raise.

But Lopez said the defense attorneys might ask the jury the same question he asked himself.

“How would that help him with anything?” he asked. “He’s already a star.” 

 

Merriam-Webster Chooses Vaccine as the 2021 Word of the Year

With an expanded definition to reflect the times, Merriam-Webster has declared an omnipresent truth as its 2021 word of the year: vaccine.

“This was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s announcement. 

“It really represents two different stories. One is the science story, which is this remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed. But there’s also the debates regarding policy, politics and political affiliation. It’s one word that carries these two huge stories,” he said.

The selection follows “vax” as word of the year from the folks who publish the Oxford English Dictionary. And it comes after Merriam-Webster chose “pandemic” as tops in lookups last year on its online site.

“The pandemic was the gun going off and now we have the aftereffects,” Sokolowski said.

At Merriam-Webster, lookups for “vaccine” increased 601% over 2020, when the first U.S. shot was administered in New York in December after quick development, and months of speculation and discussion over efficacy. The world’s first jab occurred earlier that month in the UK.

Compared to 2019, when there was little urgency or chatter about vaccines, Merriam-Webster logged an increase of 1,048% in lookups this year. Debates over inequitable distribution, vaccine mandates and boosters kept interest high, Sokolowski said. So did vaccine hesitancy and friction over vaccine passports.

The word “vaccine” wasn’t birthed in a day, or due to a single pandemic. The first known use stretches back to 1882 but references pop up earlier related to fluid from cowpox pustules used in inoculations, Sokolowski said. It was borrowed from the New Latin “vaccina,” which goes back to Latin’s feminine “vaccinus,” meaning “of or from a cow.”  

The Latin for cow is “vacca,” a word that might be akin to the Sanskrit “vasa,” according to Merriam-Webster. 

Inoculation, on the other hand, dates to 1714, in one sense referring to the act of injecting an “inoculum.”

Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster added to its online entry for “vaccine” to cover all the talk of mRNA vaccines, or messenger vaccines such as those for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. 

While other dictionary companies choose words of the year by committee, Merriam-Webster bases its selection on lookup data, paying close attention to spikes and, more recently, year-over-year increases in searches after weeding out evergreens. The company has been declaring a word of the year since 2008. Among its runners-up in the word biography of 2021:

INSURRECTION: Interest was driven by the deadly Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol. Arrests continue, as do congressional hearings over the attack by supporters of President Donald Trump. Some of Trump’s allies have resisted subpoenas, including Steve Bannon. Searches for the word increased by 61,000% over 2020, Sokolowksi said.

INFRASTRUCTURE: President Joe Biden was able to deliver what Trump often spoke of but never achieved: A bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law. When Biden proposed help with broadband access, eldercare and preschool, conversation changed from not only roads and bridges but “figurative infrastructure,” Sokolowski said.

“Many people asked, what is infrastructure if it’s not made out of steel or concrete? Infrastructure, in Latin, means underneath the structure,” he said. 

PERSEVERANCE: It’s the name of NASA’s latest Mars rover. It landed Feb. 18, 2021. “Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, with a name that embodies NASA’s passion, and our nation’s capability, to take on and overcome challenges,” the space agency said.  

The name was thought up by Alexander Mather, a 14-year-old seventh-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. He participated in an essay contest organized by NASA. He was one of 28,000 K-12 students to submit entries. 

NOMAD: The word had its moment with the 2020 release of the film “Nomadland.” It went on to win three Oscars in April 2021, including best picture, director (Chloé Zhao) and actress (Frances McDormand). Zhao became the first woman of color to win best director.  

The AP’s film writer Jake Coyle called the indie success “a plain-spoken meditation on solitude, grief and grit. He wrote that it “struck a chord in a pandemic-ravaged year. It made for an unlikely Oscar champ: A film about people who gravitate to the margins took center stage.”

Other words in Merriam-Webster’s Top 10: Cicada (we had an invasion), guardian (the Cleveland Indians became the Cleveland Guardians), meta (the lofty new name of Facebook’s parent company), cisgender (a gender identity that corresponds to one’s sex assigned at birth), woke (charged with politics and political correctness) and murraya (a tropical tree and the word that won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee for 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde).

Louis Vuitton Star Designer Virgil Abloh Dies After Battle With Cancer

Virgil Abloh, fashion’s highest profile Black designer and the creative mind behind Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections, died on Sunday of cancer, Vuitton’s owner LVMH said.

The French luxury goods giant said Abloh, 41, had been battling cancer privately for years.

“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” LVMH’s billionaire boss Bernard Arnault said in a statement.

Abloh, a U.S. national who also worked as a DJ and visual artist, had been men’s artistic director for Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury brand, since March 2018.

His arrival at LVMH marked the marriage between streetwear and high-end fashion, mixing sneakers and camouflage pants with tailored suits and evening gowns. His influences included graffiti art, hip hop and skateboard culture.

The style was embraced by the group as it sought to breathe new life into some labels and attract younger customers.

In July this year, LVMH expanded his role, giving him a mandate to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond fashion.

LVMH also bought a 60% stake in Abloh’s Off-White label, which it folded into the spirits-to-jewelry conglomerate.

“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” a message posted to his Instagram said. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”

Abloh drew on messages of inclusivity and gender-fluidity to expand the Louis Vuitton label’s popularity, weaving themes of racial identity into his fashion shows with poetry performances and art installations.

With an eye to reaching Asian consumers grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the designer sent his collections of colorful suits and utilitarian-flavored outerwear off to Shanghai last summer, when many labels canceled fashion shows.

“Virgil Abloh was the essence of modern creativity,” said an Instagram post by Alexandre Arnault, one of Bernard Arnault’s sons and executive vice president for product and communications at U.S. jeweler Tiffany, which LVMH bought this year.

Hong Kong Protest Film Wins at Chinese-Language ‘Oscars’

A documentary about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong won a high-profile award Saturday in Taiwan at the Golden Horse Awards, the Chinese-speaking world’s version of the Oscars.

Kiwi Chow’s “Revolution of Our Times” was named best documentary, prompting a long round of applause and shouts of support for Hong Kong from audience members at the glitzy event in Taipei.

Chow, who sent a pre-recorded message from Hong Kong expressing thanks for the award, dedicated the film to Hong Kong’s people, saying he hoped it would bring them some comfort.

“I cried a lot when I produced this film; several times I comforted myself with this film, to express my anger, hatred, to face my fear and trauma,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Native Hongkonger Chow’s film follows several protesters and documents clashes with police during the 2019 demonstrations, and he has previously told Reuters he hoped the documentary would help the pro-democracy movement live on.

It was shown at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in a surprise addition to the lineup. China introduced a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong over a year ago to crack down on what it deems subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Since then, cinemas, universities and art galleries have canceled screenings or exhibitions of protest-related works. The protesters have won broad support and sympathy in democratically-ruled Taiwan.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, in 2019 blocked the country’s movie industry from participating in the Golden Horse Awards, which were founded in 1962 and take place annually in Taiwan.

Beijing’s move followed uproar in 2018 in China and among Chinese stars at the awards ceremony after Taiwanese director Fu Yue made comments in support of Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.

How White House Thanksgiving Menu Evolved With Times

Most Americans don’t have oysters on their Thanksgiving table, but, for a time, the mollusks were a key ingredient on the White House holiday menu. 

“Oyster stuffing and various oyster elements were always included, especially in the later 19th century. Oysters were very popular,” says Lina Mann, a historian with the White House Historical Association. “I think that the location of Washington, D.C., near the Chesapeake Bay, which was a huge oyster hub, made it more of a regional sort of thing, but that has died out over the years.” 

In addition to oysters, White House Thanksgiving meals have included other regional foods such as rockfish from the Potomac River, turtles from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and cranberries from Massachusetts.

Because the holiday is often a more private affair, the White House Thanksgiving menu is not set. Presidential families often spend the day away from the White House, either out of town at their own private homes or at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. 

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan spent Thanksgiving at his California ranch. The menu included turkey, cranberries, cornbread dressing, salad, mashed potatoes, monkey bread, string beans with almonds, and pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. 

In 1996, President Bill Clinton enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends at Camp David, where they ate turkey; dressing with bread stuffing; giblet gravy; mashed potatoes; sweet potatoes; green beans; cranberry mold; a relish tray of pickles, celery, tomatoes, green onions, green and black olives, and carrots; fruit salad; cranberry salad; and pecan and pumpkin pies. 

In 2007, also at Camp David, President George W. Bush and family feasted on a meal that included turkey, jellied cranberry molds, whipped sweet potato soufflé and pumpkin mousse trifle. 

No matter where the commander in chief spends the holiday, turkey is usually on the menu and has been since the 1870s. 

“You have a man named Horace Vose, who is the quote, “poultry king of Rhode Island,” and he starts sending, in 1873, all of these turkeys to the White House,” Mann says. “He does that for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and he does it for 40 years until he dies in 1913. So, there is this kind of precedent of the public sending presidents various birds to their table.” 

But people haven’t always sent poultry. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge received an unusual offering from a supporter in Mississippi. 

“They were sent a raccoon that was supposed to be served on his Thanksgiving table,” Mann says. “But the Coolidge family decided they didn’t want to eat the raccoon. So instead, they ended up making her a family pet. They named her Rebecca and then eventually Coolidge, for Christmas that year, got her a collar that said, ‘White House Raccoon’ on it.” 

What presidents eat for Thanksgiving can also depend on what is going on in the country. In 1917, during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson remained in Washington and focused on having a more economical Thanksgiving. 

“So, they’re eating cream of oyster soup with turkey trimmings and vegetables, pumpkin pie for the very simple menu,” Mann says. “First Lady Edith Wilson wanted to abide by various food conservation programs that were spearheaded at the time.” 

There were also more austere Thanksgivings during the Great Depression and World War II. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family dined on “clam cocktail, clear soup, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce, Spanish corn, small sausages and beans, sweet potato cones, grapefruit salad, pumpkin pie and cheese, coffee, and ice cream.”

This year, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are spending Thanksgiving on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, a family tradition since 1975. The first lady recently shared Thanksgiving recipes, including her grandmother’s savory stuffing featuring stale Italian bread, with the Food Network.

“Food is love — and gathering together this year for Thanksgiving is healing for our hearts,” Jill Biden said. “The family recipes passed down through the generations, the fun traditions that continue, and the meaningful blessings shared, all keep me filled with gratitude.”