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Roman Abramovich. Alamy Stock Photo
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: The leaked files that raise more questions about how Roman Abramovich funded Chelsea FC

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. China’s ghosts

An interesting read about the prevalence of superstition around death in China’s urban cities and what has caused it.

(The Guardian, approx 16 mins reading time)

I have been conducting anthropological research in China since the late 1980s. Back then, I lived in a rural area of Shandong province, at a time when few non-Chinese had the opportunity to live in a Chinese village. I came to Shandong province to investigate patterns of social interactions among village families, and it was here that I was first exposed to rural funeral practices, which are relatively similar across China. After someone dies, the deceased’s body is typically kept at home in a coffin – sometimes made from cedar, now often refrigerated – for a few days between the death and the funeral. People come by and pay their respects to the body, give a gift, and offer condolences to the family. The funeral itself is organised and conducted by familial elders. After the funeral, the body is either buried intact on village land or first cremated and then buried. But in all my time in rural China, I never heard anyone complain that their neighbour might be keeping a dead body at home. I never heard anyone say that the fields where they worked – and where their relatives were buried – were “haunted”.

2. Roman Abramovich

28-february-2022-roman-abramovich-chelsea-fc-file-photochelsea-owner-roman-abramovich-watches-the-last-chelsea-home-game-of-the-seasonchelsea-v-sunderland-0premier-league-stamford-bridge Roman Abramovich watching the last Chelsea play Sunderland in Stamford Bridge at the last home game of the 2017 Premier League season. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Secret offshore payments, questions over signings and a link to Moscow – a cache of leaked documents have raised questions about whether Chelsea FC breached European football rules during then-owner Roman Abramovich’s time there.  

(The Bureau of Investigative Journalism/The Guardian, approx 9 mins reading time)

Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea for £140m in 2003 and quickly flooded the club with cash in a relentless push for success. The “Roman empire”, as some fans dubbed it, only fell when Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine led to Abramovich being placed under sanctions by the UK, ultimately forcing him to sell. Files analysed by the Guardian and TBIJ as part of the Cyprus Confidential investigation shed light on apparently hidden payments linked to pivotal moments in his trophy-laden tenure. The material, which comes from a Cypriot offshore services provider called MeritServus, was shared with the ICIJ by the nonprofit group Distributed Denial of Secrets.

On 18 July 2017, the files show, an Abramovich-owned company called Conibair Holdings, based in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs), signed an agreement with Federico Pastorello, an Italian football agent. The Italian has been described in multiple reports as being close to Antonio Conte, the former Chelsea manager, and has spoken about the manager’s contract negotiations in the media. Conibair agreed to pay Pastorello £10m for a 75% stake in Excellence Investment Fund (EIF), a business based in the US state of Delaware, documents suggest. That same day, Chelsea announced that Conte, who had just guided the club to the Premier League title, had signed a new £9.6m-a-year contract.

3. Deepfakes

As warnings continue about the dangers posed by fake videos created using AI, Daniel Immerwahr chronicles the history of photographic manipulation and speaks to a computer scientist on whether we should be too worried just yet.  

(The New Yorker, approx 17 mins reading time)

There is a small academic field, called media forensics, that seeks to combat these fakes. But it is “fighting a losing battle,” a leading researcher, Hany Farid, has warned. Last year, Farid published a paper with the psychologist Sophie J. Nightingale showing that an artificial neural network is able to concoct faces that neither humans nor computers can identify as simulated. Ominously, people found those synthetic faces to be trustworthy; in fact, we trust the “average” faces that A.I. generates more than the irregular ones that nature does.

This is especially worrisome given other trends. Social media’s algorithmic filters are allowing separate groups to inhabit nearly separate realities. Stark polarization, meanwhile, is giving rise to a no-holds-barred politics. We are increasingly getting our news from video clips, and doctoring those clips has become alarmingly simple. The table is set for catastrophe. And yet the guest has not arrived. Sensity conceded in 2021 that deepfakes had had no “tangible impact” on the 2020 Presidential election. It found no instance of “bad actors” spreading disinformation with deepfakes anywhere. Two years later, it’s easy to find videos that demonstrate the terrifying possibilities of A.I. It’s just hard to point to a convincing deepfake that has misled people in any consequential way.

4. Gun violence

community-members-pay-their-respects-at-an-impromptu-memorial-at-monroe-park-where-18-year-old-high-school-graduate-shawn-jackson-and-his-father-36-year-old-renzo-smith-were-gunned-down-following-the Community members pay their respects at an impromptu memorial at Monroe Park where 18-year-old High School graduate Shawn Jackson and his father, 36-year-old old Renzo Smith were shot following a graduation ceremony for Huguenot High School in June 2023. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Almost 30 students have died in gunfire in Richmond, Virginia in the last three years. The Washington Post spent a year in one of the city’s high schools to document the strategies it is using to protect its students from gun violence. 

(Washington Post, approx 16 mins reading time)

Richmond’s strategy for student safety mixes traditional elements, such as school police officers, with newer ideas — like Short’s job shadowing dead students. Starting in 2018, the district reorganized its staffing and systems to become “trauma-informed,” an approach that emphasizes responding to students with empathy. This meant training educators how to handle children’s emotional breakdowns, hiring more mental health and social workers and establishing districtwide and school-based “crisis response” teams. These include psychologists and behavioral specialists. The day after Jaden died, leaders of the district-wide team traveled to Huguenot’s campus and set up camp in an empty conference room, waiting to see if anyone needed help.Under the new approach, Richmond converted spaces once used for student suspensions into “restorative rooms,” where children could go to calm down if they were disrupting class. It turned school security staffers into “care and safety associates,” dressing them in casual polos and tasking them with bonding with students. And the district launched daily “community circles” in which students share issues they are facing inside and outside the classroom.

5. Emerald Fennell

The director behind Promising Young Women chats about her upcoming film, Saltburn. Billed as Brideshead Revisited with a dark twist, the film sees Barry Keoghan’s character drawn into a world of envy, desire and privilege. 

(The Atlantic, approx 8 mins reading time)

The movie follows Oliver (played by Barry Keoghan), a northern-English first-year student at Oxford who becomes infatuated with Felix (Jacob Elordi), the dazzling, frivolous heir to an aristocratic family whose stately home gives the film its title. Fennell has long been fascinated by outsider narratives such as Brideshead Revisited and Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels, and she’s drawn in particular to the yearning at their core—a kind of want so intense that it can easily turn dangerous. “When you look at online trolls, so much of the root of that is desire,” Fennell said. “So much of it is a furious kind of weird death-love … the fetishy relationship that we have with the things that we want, and then the way we immediately deflect that into disgust.” Saltburn’s exploration of that psychology seems pulled directly from classic 20th-century novels—Oliver is a character who could fit into virtually any historical moment—even as its visual preoccupation with the aughts alludes to that decade’s powerful influence on our understanding of intimacy and longing.

6. The US Space Force

president-donald-trump-greets-gen-jay-raymond-after-being-named-the-first-chief-of-space-operations-and-first-member-of-the-united-states-space-force-friday-dec-20-2019-at-hangar-6-at-joint-base-and President Donald Trump greets Gen. Jay Raymond after being named the first Chief of Space Operations and first member of the United States Space Force in 2019. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The secretive sixth branch of the US military was authorised by Congress and signed into law by then-president Donald Trump in 2019. But what does it actually do? Jon Gertner finds out. 

(The New York Times Magazine, approx 18 mins reading time)

The main focus within the Space Force is on observation and deterrence — nobody wants a space war, I was reminded frequently. But the force has a capacity to mobilize when necessary. At Peterson, I visited an electromagnetic-warfare center, a building not far from headquarters — but ringed with surveillance cameras and an additional perimeter of high fencing — where men and women train to unjam signals that may be intentionally interfering with American planes, ships and ground troops. “It would be like watching TV and you can’t get the signal,” Lt. Col. D.J. Thomas, who leads the team, told me. In emergencies, Thomas said, his guardians would pack up a pair of portable dish antennas and a customized computer console at a moment’s notice (a combined unit that struck me as fitting easily into a minivan) and ship out to remote locations all over the world.


various-cut-diamonds-synthetic-cubic-zirconia Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A longread from 2021 about a crime family based in Germany, a billion-dollar jewel heist and the race to catch the thieves.

(GQ, approx 29 mins reading time)

Syndram, who’d been the Green Vault’s director since 1993, was horrified and mystified: The museum, Syndram would later tell a reporter, had in recent years conducted tests of its security system and determined that all was working perfectly. What could have possibly gone wrong?  When news of the heist hit the press, the robbery was described as one of the most costly art heists in history. Reports valued the looted treasure at as much as $1.2 billion. That figure was debatable, but the scale of the loss was staggering, and Syndram knew a detail that made the problem much, much worse: None of the art was insured. The premiums on a collection that valuable would be too taxing for the museum to handle.

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