Last year the ‘Ndrangheta—a criminal organization from Calabria, a region that forms the toe of Italy’s boot—raked in more than $75.3 billion. That’s equivalent to revenue of McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank combined, or 3.5 per cent of Italy’s GDP in 2013. It did this through, among other things, extortion, usury, gambling, prostitution, and the trafficking of both drugs and humans.
London Is Turning Into a Depressing and Dumb City of Living Stock Images
Every city has its visual cliches. The stereotypes, falsehoods and cheery slices of xenophobia sold to us on cheap postcards and in crap films that reduce the world’s great cities to a handful of worn out cultural cues. If you’ve never been to Paris, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all girls who look like Charlotte Gainsbourg skipping along the Seine in Breton tops, doling out filter-less cigs to homeless accordion players. When in actual fact, it’s more like a bunch of exchange students laughing at dachshunds and dudes who are still bang into Justice plying rich schoolgirls with shit MDMA.
For New York, the cliches are motor-mouthed cabbies and kids fucking around with water hydrants. For Barcelona, it’s psytrance beachbums and animal cruelty on La Rambla. Tokyo? Weird fish, games machines and businessmen throwing themselves in front of bullet trains.
But what about London? Pearly Kings and Queens? Pie and mash? Foxtons Minis tearing down Brixton High Street, on fire? Rita Ora?
So I decided to pull back for a moment, and consult Getty Images’ wide range of London stock photos. What do they see when they look at the UK’s capital?
The vast majority of the London stock photos on Getty are scenic wide shots of the city’s skyline, usually taken at sunset and very rarely from anywhere east of Tower Bridge. Of course, this makes perfect sense. If you’re a journalist writing something about London’s chronic housing crisis, or a body in the Thames river, or Millwall’s terrible run under Ian Holloway, you probably want to illustrate your copy with a picture of the Shard and a few anonymous riverside yuppie-farms when the sun’s going down.
From the outset, it’s clear that this is the London that Getty are most interested in selling to their customers, the London with all the big glass buildings and shimmering water, the one that girl from your school has as her Facebook cover photo, the one on the opening titles to The Apprentice. Not the one where there’s three Paddy Powers on a single high street, or the one of food banks, pigeons cannibalizing fried chicken bones and crack squirrels.
But this one, the nice one by the river with the big buildings.
The people in Getty’s pictures are predominantly happy young heterosexual couples who drink coffee, take selfies, and love life and London. And that’s fine. It’s not like they’re going to embark upon an investigative social project about co-dependent heroin addicts crying and vomiting in each other’s arms, or abandoned widows lying catatonic in single bedrooms in Catford.
The Bundy Ranch Standoff Was Only the Beginning for America’s Right-Wing Militias
For two decades the US government has tried to get Cliven Bundy to remove his cows from federal land, and for two decades the Nevada rancher has steadfastly refused, defying court orders and attempts to negotiate a settlement for the $1.1 million he owes in federal grazing fees. Finally, last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took matters into its own hands and started seizing cattle that had been illegally grazing on government property. Things went downhill from there.
What began as an arcane land dispute rapidly escalated into an armed standoff in the desert. A ragtag band of anti-government militants, Tea Party politicians, and Old West ranchers descended on the area, responding to a call to arms posted by the Bundy family on their blog and circulated throughout the internet by conservatives and libertarians. Spurred on by YouTube videos of physical altercations between federal agents and the Bundys, the protesters aggressively confronted law enforcement, which in turn escalated things by gathering a huge force of armed BLM rangers and FBI agents. On Friday, theFederal Aviation Administration placed a month-long flight restriction over the ranch after the Bundy family posted aerial photos of the assembled authorities.
For right-wing militias and paramilitary groups founded around a collective paranoid belief that the federal government is just looking for an excuse to impose martial law, images of armed federal agents forcibly seizing cows basically means it’s DEFCON 1. By Saturday, as many as 1,000 anti-BLM protestors from as far away as Virginia, New Hampshire, and Georgia had set up camp in Bunkerville, an arid patch of land where the BLM was rounding up the Bundy cattle. Packing handguns and assault rifles, the protesters carried signs featuring slogans like “Tyranny Is Alive,” “Where’s the Justice?” and “Militia Sighn In [sic],” and many said they were prepared for a shoot-out with the federal government. The mood was such that even Glenn Beck was wary of the crowd, announcing on his show that “there’s about 10 or 15 percent of the people who are talking about this online that are truly frightening.”
The internet was up in arms—sorry, paws—yesterday over a New Zealand pizza chain erecting a billboard to try and sell their smoked rabbit pizza that was plastered with rabbit pelts and the line, “Made from real rabbit. Like this billboard.”
My Top Secret Meeting with One of Silk Road’s Biggest Drug Lords
Dread Pirate Roberts captained a ship that many thought was unsinkable. But when the FBI seized the original Silk Road on October 1, 2013 ,and arrested the alleged kingpin—29-year-old Ross Ulbricht—the online drugs empire began to capsize. Its hundreds of thousands of customers scattered across the Deep Web, and up to seven known Silk Road vendors were identified and arrested.
As the chaos unravelled into the mainstream and stories of Dread Pirate Roberts’ (DPR) alleged murder-for-hire antics made headlines, one prominent Silk Road drugs syndicate sat in their European safe-house with a ton of opium and a decision to make—would they cut their losses and disappear into the ether while they were still ahead, or keep their lucrative online drugs network running in the midst of all this extra attention?
The displaced drugs syndicate, known on the Deep Web as the Scurvy Crew (TSC), decided to go back to work. For them, back to work meant laundering Bitcoins, vacuum packing drug parcels, and jumping the Moroccan border with bags stuffed full of uncut drugs. Silk Road may have died a sudden death at the hands of the authorities, but as one of the highest rated vendors before the FBI shut-down, the Scurvy Crew saw its demise as an opportunity to diversify.
After six months of negotiation, via encrypted email and several phone calls from throwaway SIM cards, the boss of the Scurvy Crew agreed to meet me. He told me he would explain to me the inner workings of his Deep Web drugs venture, from its humble beginnings to the near million-dollar profits it now apparently generates. Known to me only by the pseudonym “Ace,” the boss claimed to represent a new breed of drug dealer.
“I don’t do this just for the money,” he wrote to me via email. “I like to provide a premium service.”
The Rise and Rise of the UK’s Student Drug Dealers
If the greatest architects, theorists, and social planners who’ve ever lived were revived to design the perfect marketplace for drug dealers, they’d come up with a dorm. A nest stuffed with trainee adults, bankrolled by mom and dad, waiting like baby birds with their beaks wide open for their next life-changing experience. Dealers might not be allowed to actually vomit the drugs into the mouths of students, but dorms—which are often called “halls” in the UK—nontheless remain a drug merchant’s wet dream. Which is why they’ve been living in them for decades.
Nearly three quarters of Britain’s 2.5 million university students have taken illegal drugs. So it follows that somebody has to be there feeding the country’s future politicians, business leaders, and unemployed actors their weed, MDMA, cocaine, and ketamine (that last substance is up to ten times more likely to be used by students than non-students).
In fact, the student drug market is so sought after that dealers have been known to enroll in colleges specifically to take out student loans and sell drugs on campus. Then, of course, there are all the student dealers—those who begin their higher education with good intentions, but realize that working at a bar isn’t much fun and start selling drugs as a source of quick cash. If you live in halls and don’t know who this guy or girl is yet, take it as a sign that you should get some more friends.
Why Obama’s Regulators Let Wall Street Bankers Off Easy
If there’s anything more maddening than the sheer scale of the financial fraud that sent America and the rest the planet spiraling into the economic abyss in 2008, it’s the fact that no Wall Street bankers have gone to jail for causing the mess. As in zero, zilch, none at all.
So at his farewell party last month to celebrate a lengthy career at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—the US regulatory agency that supposedly keeps Wall Street in check—James Kidney, a trial attorney who had been hamstrung for years by indifferent bosses, broke his silence and went off on an awesome rant about how no one in the financial sector fears the body supposedly policing their behavior. The SEC, in essence, is a joke.
Describing it as “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney told an audience of fellow employees that they had dropped the ball because of a revolving door of corruption between the SEC and Wall Street megabanks. “I have had bosses, and bosses of my bosses, whose names we all know, who made little secret that they were here to punch their ticket. They mouthed serious regard for the mission of the Commission, but their actions were tentative and fearful in many instances,” he said.
An Expert’s Guide to Brothel Etiquette
Since last September, notices have started to appear in the windows of Amsterdam’s brothels. The flyers are there to advise potential customers of what does and doesn’t constitute appropriate behavior once they’re inside. In practice, this is a well-intentioned piece of bureaucracy. In reality, it’s something nobody is ever going to read. In fact, given the flyers’ size, the effects of a customer’s Dutch courage, and the other distractions in and around the window area, it’s unlikely anyone would even notice them. Which might be an issue for those of you who’ve never paid for sex before but maybe want to do so on your next trip to Amsterdam, or Nevada, or Cologne, without coming across as both an amateur and a dick.
I’ve been having sex with the “window girls” of Amsterdam for a while now, keeping a blogof all my experiences that led to my being interviewed by VICE last month. So instead of making you rely on the small print tacked up around the red-light district, I thought I’d use the knowledge I’ve picked up over the past couple of years to gift you my own informed guide to the etiquette of sleeping with a sex worker.
THE NEW GIRLS ARE AS MUCH IN THE DARK AS YOU ARE
If there’s one major thing I’ve learned from interviewing the girls I’ve met, it’s that they were as clueless at the start of their careers as johns are ahead of their first time. “You don’t know what to do; you don’t know what to charge,” they say. “The guys say it’s OK to do this and to do that, and you believe them.”
That said, the preconceptions of those guys who are new to the window experience can be more damaging, invasive, and just plain rude. “They come in and just grab,” I’ve been told on a number of occasions, usually accompanied by an eye roll.
As far as I can tell, that grabbiness is mostly fueled by the expectations young guys get from internet pornography, like that weird thing male porn stars do where they try to fit their entire hand in a girl’s mouth during anal sex. Unsurprisingly, this kind of behavior isn’t thought of too highly by the window girls. They’re selling their time and, with it, access to specific sexual acts; they’re not saying, “Give me €50 (about $75) and do anything that comes into your stupid fucking head.”
TREAT THE GIRLS AS YOU WOULD YOUR GIRLFRIEND (KIND OF)
Personally, I treat prostitutes as though they’re my girlfriends. But my relationship code is based on respect and concern for a partner’s well-being. I guess this piece of advice is dependent upon how you behave when you have a special person in your life. I’m going to assume that you’re a decent sort, and that your relationships to date haven’t been a shitstorm of domestic abuse, neglect, and psychological cruelty. If you wouldn’t treat a girlfriend that way, don’t treat a prostitute that way. These are basic people skills.
Will Unions Save College ‘Student Athletes’ from Poverty?
The 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament came to its frantic conclusion on Monday night, with hundreds of millions of dollars in bets, ticket sales, and ad revenue changing hands across the country as young men hurled themselves at each other in desperation on national television. In the end, UConn point guard Shabaaz Napier was basking in the glow of victory, smiling for the cameras with his teammates, which made it easy to forget that he recently expounded on the seedy underbelly of college sports in America.
"I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving," he told reporters in late March when asked about the Northwestern University football team’s ongoing effort to unionize.
In case you haven’t noticed, big-time college athletics is a pretty sordid business that rests on the exploitation of the labor of young men and women, many of them from poor backgrounds, under the auspices of the dubious “student-athlete” construct. Supposedly these kids are on campus to learn first and play second, ridiculous one-paragraph essays notwithstanding. But as has been repeatedly pointed out, the universities, coaches, and NCAA brass rake in huge profits each year—college sports is now a multibillion-dollar industry—while the kids who don’t make the pros (or suffer heinous injuries before they have the opportunity) are largely left high and dry.
Fed up with the status quo, the Northwestern Wildcats—a mediocre but widely identifiable Division I football program—filed with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to form a union and earn legal recognition as employees earlier this year, and, in what is being hailed as a potentially landmark ruling, they won. Now the students are set to vote on April 25 on unionization, and there is at least some chance they will embrace the opportunity, assuming the university overlords don’t scare them away from the idea. With employee status and union bargaining power could come protection for those with athletic scholarships from suddenly being cut off from receiving an education if they became injured or didn’t perform as expected—and maybe, further down the line, they could receive a real share of the cash generated by the massive advertising revenue their athletic endeavors make possible.
Four Years of Greek Austerity in Forty Pictures