Why the Sochi Olympics Are the Most Expensive in History
The Olympics are as much about money as they are about sports. Between broadcasting rights, merchandising, sponsorships and construction of the Olympic venues themselves, there’s a lot of money to be made. In the case of Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, there’s more money to be made than ever before, especially if you’re a friend of President Putin.
The 2014 Winter Games have cost Russia about $50 billion, making them the most expensive in history. Corruption watchdogs say it’s ordinary Russians who will end up footing the bill for this excess, not private investors as Putin has suggested.
We went to Sochi to investigate the claims of corruption and kickbacks, tour some of the most expensive Olympic venues ever built, and talk to Sochi residents who have been pushed aside to make room for Putin’s man-made mountains of money.
I Have a Chinese Banknote That Everyone in China Is Scared Of
I have a very special Chinese banknote. It’s only worth ten Yuan, but it might be the most precious object I own. The front of the note shows a drawing of the former leader of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong. Rumor has it, he spent every night with the young, virginal daughters of different farmers, because he believed popping cherries was the key to eternal youth. But that little factoid is not what makes this banknote so special. What’s special about my banknote is that in China—a country where everything is about money, money, and more money—nobody accepts the damn thing. It’s practically worthless. And I now understand why.
During a recent reporting trip to China, I found myself with a group of journalists and Chinese fixers sitting in the biggest mall in Shanghai eating shitty pizza at a fake Pizza Hut. When it was time to pay for the food, we all pulled out our cash. Amy, a Chinese student who showed us around, took the stack of bills and handed it to the waitress. Not long after that she came back with one piece of legal tender in her hand, stammering that the restaurant didn’t accept the cash because it was a “bad note.” I asked why, but she wouldn’t say. “Later, later,” she told me. When she offered up the bad banknote to my group, I snatched it up.
In 2009, I moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to New York City to “make it” as a photographer, a process that involved living in an apartment the size of a hallway with a view of a brick wall. I was broke, lonely, and desperate for work, when out of the blue I was contacted on Twitter by someone who went by the name C. S. Leigh.
Through the omniscient and infallible knowledge database that is Google, I learned that C. S. Leigh was a film director and a curator. An image search revealed photos of a balding, almost spherical man with black-rimmed glasses and a double chin. He told me he liked my stuff, and before long, I had agreed to take some photos for an art magazine he was putting out.
It seemed like the best thing that had ever happened to me. I did a fashion shoot featuring models in clothes from threeASFOUR and Chado Ralph Rucci and portraits of world-renowned perfumer Frédéric Malle and artist Meredyth Sparks. There was talk of my going to Paris and London for the Frieze Art Fair and Fashion Week, or perhaps attending Coachella to photograph bands for his magazine. It was as if C. S. had opened a door to the exclusive world of art and fashion and quietly slipped me into the front seat.
Military Police Are Killing the Cambodians Who Make Your Clothes
Four people were killed and 21 more injured in Cambodia this morning, when police opened fire with AK-47s into a group of protesters. The deaths come after months of tension and escalating violence between the authorities and garment workers, who are demanding higher wages.
Things came to a head on Thursday evening, when a police battalion in Phnom Penh were beaten back from an apartment block that had been seized by protesters during a day of demonstrations. By this morning, the military cops were engaged in a standoff on Veng Sreng Boulevard—one of the main roads out of the Cambodian capital—and the makeup of their opponents was a curious one. The factory workers, 90 percent of whom are women, had at some point been replaced by groups of metal pole- and machete-wielding young men, gathered together behind rows of Molotov cocktails.
At some point, the military police chose to respond to a barrage of rocks, bricks, and flaming bottles with gunfire. A nearby clinic that had refused to help the injured was ransacked. One of the injured was a pregnant woman who had been trying to escape the chaos.
The Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media: Interns
Editor’s note: For years, VICE has used part-time unpaid interns—a practice that we recently halted. Our current policy is to pay interns $10 an hour and limit them to 20 hours a week during the school year and 25 hours a week during the summer.
I was 21 years old when I took out my earring, combed my hair, and tried concealing my distaste for power and Washington, DC, in order to ask questions at press conferences. It was the summer of 2006, and I had just left college to go work for a small, do-gooding nonprofit that covered Capitol Hill for public radio.
I went through the whole experience of being a journalist in the nation’s capital: attending deadly boring policy luncheons, interviewing near-dead lawmakers and dead-inside lobbyists, and dying a little inside myself every time I saw my work “edited”—turned into shameful garbage—before going on air.
Like any other reporter, I pitched stories at morning meetings and then did the legwork to put them together, in the process learning the job. While my gut impulse at first was to righteously confront the powerful with strident questions highlighting their logical inconsistencies and factual errors, I soon found it was often smarter to affect an earnest demeanor just a hair shy of sarcastic. You need to let the person being interviewed explain why he is terrible, which is more easily done when he thinks you are stupid or on his side.
Black Gold Blues: The Hazards and Horrors of the Makeshift Oil Industry in Rebel-Controlled Syria
Deir ez-Zor, Syria’s sixth-largest city, is also the country’s oil capital. For four decades, the al-Assad regime (first run by Hafez, and now by his son Bashar) struck deals with Western oil companies like Shell and Total that resulted in the extraction of as much as 27,000 barrels of black gold from the sand every day. A pittance compared with other Middle Eastern countries’ production, but it made Syria a bona fide oil-exporting nation. At least this was the case until international sanctions were imposed in 2011 in response to the regime’s crackdown on the antigovernment protests, which quickly morphed into a civil war.
Located in the middle of the desert and less than 100 miles from the Iraq border, Deir ez-Zor dominates the eastern portion of the country and has had a long, fruitful relationship with the petroleum industry: before the war, its 220,000 inhabitants often worked for oil companies as engineers, technicians, and laborers.
Downtown Deir ez-Zor is still home to many modern glass-walled buildings erected by Western firms, but in the past two years, they’ve been largely abandoned as the battles between the rebels and al-Assad’s forces, each of whom hold portions of the city, have left them pockmarked, windowless, and scarred.
When I visited Deir ez-Zor in September, there were snipers lurking on roofs as combatants exchanged fire from Kalashnikovs, mortars, and heavy machine guns below. Beyond the city limits the suburbs give way to the mostly empty desert where the oil wells are located and where the rebels—most of them hard-line jihadists, and many of them with ties to al Qaeda—are in complete control. It’s a very different place than it was prerevolution, but it is still an oil town, albeit one of an entirely new sort. Instead of multinational corporations, it’s now the Islamist rebels who are providing jobs to the locals.
Did Robotraders Know the Financial Crisis Was Coming?
f you asked a stranger on the street to describe what the stock market looks like, most would probably mention a bunch of sweaty white-shirted types shouting and furiously gesticulating in a Wall Street trading pit. The more erudite might include references to retired rich people playing with their money over the computer or offices full of overworked geeks glued to multiscreen terminals.
These days the reality is that the average trader doesn’t have eyes or hands or emotions. They only have the numbers. Commodities markets the world over have been hijacked by robots or, more specifically, algorithms that can scan data and trade stocks so quickly that their meat-brained creators often can’t keep up with what they’re doing.
High-frequency trading (HFT) accounted for about half of US stock-exchange trades in 2012—approximately 1.6 billion shares a day, according to estimates cited by Bloomberg Businessweek. In many ways, these algorithms mimic human traders’ transactions buying and selling stocks among themselves, though to make trades as quickly as possible, they are equipped with only the most rudimentary analytic tools. Unlike human traders, whose actions are often undergirded by real-world data like a company’s reported quarterly profits or losses, algorithms react only to real-time market movement, and some scientists and analysts now say that all their unsupervised activity might be a problem.