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North Korean Motorcycle Diaries
Corsicans Are Using Bombs to Protest Their Island Paradise
If you’ve never been to Corsica, you really should. The island, which lies just off the Italian coast, is one of the most beautiful places in the world; it’s covered in snowy mountains, picturesque little towns, and luxurious golden beaches. In certain months, you can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon; it really is paradise (if combining sunburn and heavy nylon jackets is your idea of paradise). However, perhaps its strongest sell is that it is, officially, the murder capital of Europe.
Last year, I went to Corsica to explore the island’s historical predilection for violence. A week before I touched down in Napoleon Bonaparte airport, two prominent Corsicans—a lawyer named Antoine Sollacaro and Jacques Nasser, head of the chamber of commerce—had been shot dead. I was there to try to figure out who did it (and to make a film about trying to figure out who did it). Murder isn’t shocking in Corsica; there have been more than 110 murders since 2008, the majority of them Mafia-style hits. “At the beginning of the week, we think, It’s strange; we haven’t had a killing yet," Gilles Millet, a local journalist, told me. "This society is soaked in death. You call someone to do something and they say, ‘I can’t. I have a funeral to go to.’ Death is part of [daily] life here."
I asked Gilles who he thought was responsible for the deaths of Sollacaro and Nasser. “Normally everyone knows who’s done the killings, but with Sollacaro and Nasser, we don’t know,” he answered. “Despite everybody usually knowing who did it, there have only been four prosecutions since 2008—out of more than 110 murders. There’s a culture of silence here. Nobody talks, partly out of fear, partly because it’s just not the done thing.”
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.
Thailand’s Anti-Government Protests Turned Deadly This Weekend
After months of relatively peaceful demonstrations and a week of massive anti-government rallies, protests in Bangkok have turned violent. Though nobody in Thailand seems particularly surprised, it’s not clear yet just how explosive things will get. The atmosphere in the city and the fact there were similar scenes just five years ago doesn’t bode well for a country in which power is concentrated in the hands of a few but desired by many. Many middle-class Thais are desperate to sever ties with exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who retains support among the country’s poorer rural population and—his opponents would argue—still exerts influence over the current government, ostensibly led by his sister, Yingluck.
The clashes began yesterday outside Ramkhamhaeng University, where anti-government students were holding a protest a stone’s throw away from a huge rally of pro-government “red shirts.” Strangely, considering the obvious potential for confrontations, there were only a handful of police positioned along the road between the two groups. When the fighting started, the police did very little to stop it. The students first attacked an individual red shirt who was walking past, then later a city bus full of passengers—smashing the windows and terrifying the people inside, who could be seen pleading to their attackers to stop.
Since Edward Snowden’s disclosures about widespread NSA surveillance, Americans and people everywhere have been presented with a digital variation on an old analog threat: the erosion of freedoms and privacy in exchange, presumably, for safety and security.
Bruce Schneier knows the debate well. He’s an expert in cryptography and he wrote the book on computer security; Applied Cryptography is one of the field’s basic resources, “the book the NSA never wanted to be published,” raved Wired in 1994. He knows the evidence well too: lately he’s been helping the Guardian and the journalist Glenn Greenwald review the documents they have gathered from Snowden, in order to help explain some of the agency’s top secret and highly complex spying programs.
East Germany’s Secret Police Used to Spy on Skateboarders
For whatever reason the public perception of skateboarding seems to have changed over the last decade. Skaters on TV aren’t obnoxious, glue-huffing wasters any more; they’re admirable young men building community skateparks on Google ads. But the sport, or the culture that goes hand-in-hand with the sport, at least, did used to be seen as more of a threat to all things wholesome.
One country where this held especially true was communist East Germany in the 1980s—also known as the German Democratic Republic, or GDR—before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Skateboarding was American, therefore subversive and dangerous, so the Stasi began monitoring the skating community to keep tabs on any potential troublemakers or ringleaders. The perceived danger quickly made its way into the state media. A news clip from the time instructs viewers that it is “our duty to protect our children and youths from [skateboarding],” meaning skaters were demonized and left to smuggle Californian-made boards over the border if they wanted to skate anything more advanced than a plank of wood attached to some rollerskate wheels.
German filmmaker Marten Persiel made a “hybrid documentary” about the history of skating in the GDR called This Ain’t California, which was released last year in Germany and gets its international cinematic release next month. The film was criticized on its release for its liberal use of reconstructions and the fact its lead character never actually existed, but Marten told me, “all the things that happen in the film are true stories.” He simply amalgamated them to create a lead character who he could hang the narrative from. And in a “hybrid documentary,” that doesn’t seem like too big of a deal.
I spoke to Marten about his film, skateboard smuggling, and hugely successful punk bands made up entirely of secret service agents.
Congress’s Drug Problem
On October 29, a 37-year-old Republican Congressman named Henry “Trey” Radel fucked up. He bought $260 worth of coke while at a restaurant in DC’s trendy Dupont Circle neighborhood, but the guy selling it turned out to be an undercover cop who was part of a targeted sting operation. When news of the “cocaine Congressman” was reported by Politico this week, a predictable sequence of events played out: a guilty plea, probation but no prison time, and an announcement that he has a drug problem and plans to take a leave of absence from his job while he seeks treatment for it. Presumably he’ll come back eventually, tell the press that he’s in recovery thanks to his family and the grace of God, and the Tea Partiers who elected him in Florida may even love him all the more for having faced down his demons so publicly.
Radel is hardly an important DC figure—he only got elected last year, and before this coke incident he was most known for loving hip-hop and making his own beats. His personal drama is mostly a sideshow, a story that will be forgotten then occasionally brought up as a funny anecdote: “Hey, remember that Tea Party dude who loved Tupac and got caught with cocaine?” It’s not even a story that lends itself to puffed-up allegations of Republican hypocrisy, since Radel has beenbroadly in favor of reforming failed drug war policies. (Though he did support drug testing for food stamp recipients, so maybe he’s into some icky poor-people-shouldn’t-do-drugs-but-rich-folks-can shit.) But one thing this incident shows is just how strangely the legal system works when it comes to drugs.