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Pei-Shen Qian was a quiet, unassuming neighbor — but according to a recent New York Times article, he was responsible for dozens of modernist forgeries that, together, netted more than $80 million. In his youth, Qian had been part of an experimental art movement in China, but friends say he had become frustrated with the American art market in recent years, selling art on the street and working briefly at a construction site. According to a recent indictment, he responded by turning to fraud, painting forgeries of "undiscovered masterpieces" by famous painters like Jackson Pollock and Barrett Newman and selling them to art dealers beginning in 1994. The scheme caught the FBI's attention in 2009, when questions were raised about the authenticity of some of Qian's work, and one art dealer has already been indicted for peddling Qian's fakes. But while the FBI has caught up with many of Qian's art-world accomplices, the forger himself is still at large.

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Original author: 
Mansi Thapliyal

For four days, I met parents of girls who had gone missing. Every story was different, every story was equally sad.

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Original author: 
WSJ Staff

In today’s pictures, Palestinian protesters take cover in the West Bank, a man floats in a dinghy through the streets of Buenos Aires, militia members help farmers pick tea in China, and more.

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China’s communist leaders are promising to revolutionize the world’s second largest economy and move on from being the world’s workshop. Unlike most communist governments, China’s one-party state has survived by embracing capitalism to deliver new wealth. Chinese officials recently reported they would reach their target for annual economic growth of 7.5 percent this year despite [...]

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Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Fort McKay: Sleeping With The Devil

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For thousands of years the Cree and Dene people of the Athabasca River in Northern Alberta have watched, as the tarry sands along their banks oozed into the river and stuck to their feet.

In the 1950s Premier Earnest Manning was devising a plan to detonate an atomic bomb underground, in an attempt to extract these difficult deposits of oil. At that time the Reserve of Fort McKay, situated 63 km North of Fort McMurray, had no roads connecting it to the rest of Canada. They lived from a traditional lifestyle of hunting and trapping, but as 83-year-old elder Zackary Powder says, it’s not like it used to be, everything has changed.

Today the worlds largest and most environmentally destructive oil extraction project, the Alberta Oil Sands, surround them. Where trappers cabins once stood are now toxic lakes of mine tailings, and endless moonscapes that have been stripped of their bitumen-laced sand with electric shovels five stories high.

Aware to the futility of resistance, the people of Fort McKay decided to partner with industry in 1986. Entrepreneurial endeavors, employment and industry compensations have provided economic prosperity the likes of which few Canadian First Nations have experienced. It is said to be the richest reserve in Canada, but the people here know their prosperity is not without consequence. As elder and former Syncrude electrician Norman Simpson says, sometimes you have to sleep with the Devil.

Stories of moose hunts and life in the bush are told with enthusiasm and pride, but, as industry grows, the land succumbs. The rivers and fish are poisoned, their tap water is no longer potable, the animals are keeping their distance, and the quality of wild meat is in question. Cancer, respiratory disease, drug addiction and other illnesses plague the community. In a country where the norm for reserves is high poverty, unemployment and dismal housing, Fort McKay is marketed as a success story, but the people here know the truth is much more complicated.

 

Bio

Aaron Vincent Elkaim (b.1981) is a documentary photographer, whose work has earned international recognition.

Aaron received a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Film Studies in his hometown of Winnipeg, Canada, before he found photography.

Currently based in Toronto, Aaron approaches his subjects through an anthropological lens with a focus on cultural and historical narratives that reflect and inform his own sense of the world. Though born of individual experience, Aaron’s work seeks to provide its audience with new and varied perspectives on the complexities of humanity and its environment.

His work has been exhibited at Fotographia International Photography Festival in Rome, Voices Off Rencontres d’Arles, the NY Photo Festival, and the Reportage Photography Festival in Australia. His Clients include the Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press, and the Wall Street Journal.

Aaron is a founding member of the Boreal Collective.

 

Related links

Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Boreal Collective

 

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Confession. I see the East Coast today and feel something (among many other things) unwelcome: jealousy. I moved back West only a month ago, leaving behind Maryland after five years. The landscapes and psychic geography are still fresh in my mind, and, for the past four days or so, the entirety of my online social life has revolved around Hurricane Sandy: stories, photos, worried exchanges; flickering lights, wine, Scrabble. Biking to the bar against solid sheets of water; planning Christmas decorations for downed trees; infrastructure losing the battle. I’m missing out on something, a chance to scratch that ugly itch for doom, to feel the unique and terrible pleasure of catastrophe.

It is terrible, of course. People are dead, at least 17 at last count, while many billions of dollars in damage has been done. That misery is real, and all of the blood and money extracted by any disaster comes from somewhere also very real. But the pull persists. Think of staring at the burning towers of 9/11 — and staring and staring and staring. Or at a car accident or fire-gutted building or train derailment. The feeling isn’t entirely repulsive. I’m not even sure it’s mostly repulsive. Isn’t that awful?

Maybe, but also maybe not so much. There’s a great many reasons why we love disasters, and none of them have to do with enjoying the suffering of others. So take some comfort. We’re not into disasters because we’re secretly evil villains; we’re into disasters (in large part) to connect to others. At the very root of human morality isn’t supernatural dictates — it’s empathy, or the ability to share in the experiences of others.

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of gawking at an auto wreck, your eyes passing a little too non-nonchalantly over the ambulance lights and crumpled car-frames and sizzling flares, when, unexpectedly, you meet the gaze of a victim. And you’ve gone cold, like a trapdoor opened in your body letting out all of the warm feelings and comfort in a gush. It’s not the feeling of being “caught,” rather it’s the feeling of connecting. We’re neurologically constructed to do this, put ourselves within the perspective of another.

We don’t enjoy that perspective, but, like a great many creatures, we need it. It’s fundamental to pro-social behavior, or the things we do to help to help others. Those things keep societies together, and societies keep their constituents alive and breeding longer. So, yes: evolution. We stare because we want to empathize and, at the very end of things, to survive.

But before you get to the end of things, you have some great stuff, like community and generosity. Which are things usually pretty well hidden behind a veil of assholedom and routine. But then something happens and people feel impelled to get together into groups — maybe just for boozing and board games — and maybe offer up their couch and electricity to someone they don’t know very well. Or maybe even do something really brave and selfless. The sky’s the limit.

Metro-North plus boat, via MTA

There’s other reasons we love disasters that are maybe more psychological. Perhaps there is a dark side. Psychologist Eric G. Wilson writes:

[Carl Jung] maintained that our mental health depends on our shadow, that part of our psyche that harbors our darkest energies, such as murderousness. The more we repress the morbid, the more it foments neuroses or psychoses. To achieve wholeness, we must acknowledge our most demonic inclinations.

Yes, I took pleasure in my enemy’s tumble from grace. No, I couldn’t stop watching 9/11 footage. Once we welcome these unseemly admissions as integral portions of our being, the devils turn into angels. Luke owns the Vader within, offers affection to the actual villain; off comes the scary mask, and there stands a father, loving and in need of love.

Empathy doesn’t usually extend to things, but our fascination with catastrophe sure does. Some of the most alluring photos from Hurricane Sandy are totally empty landscapes: the waterfalled construction site of the World Trade Center, a flooded FDR, empty Grand Central Station. We’re attracted to these in part because they’re empty. They are vulnerable.

Which is crucial because, in a city, it’s these landscapes that run us. There’s that odd, dull terror of urban claustrophobia, that we’re not in control. All of these buildings and tunnels we’ve created in the general interests of civilization, but we’ve also given up quite a bit to their grid-lines. There’s power and possibility in a big storm. Loss of control is its own power. And sometimes we don’t realize how disempowered we feel in the city, no matter that cities are where we go to feel just the opposite (to find possibilities). To, ahem, paraphrase the Anarchist Cookbook (with a wide variety of apologies), when outcomes are uncertain, anything is possible.

I think that’s true. Last night, in the depths of the storm, maybe you didn’t know how today would look. You had some idea, of course, but compared to last Tuesday, today was wide open. That’s pretty important. Even if your life in New York City is perfect and awesome and every day is ice cream and puppies and big fat checks, without possibility — even if most of them are bad — something isn’t quite complete.

Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.

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The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, located in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. As well as producing electricity, the dam is intended to increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods downstream by providing flood storage space. China [...]

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