Beat the tramp of revolt in the square!
AK-47s in an Iraqi grocery store, 2006. Photo by Christoph Bangert
Over 15 percent of the world's GDP comes from criminal activity. So comes the word from long-time journalist and crime investigator Misha Glenny.
Yes, that means that every time you put down a $20 bill for dinner, $3 of that comes from illegal activity: drugs, guns, smuggling, cyber-crime, you name it.
Think about that.What I'm trying to unravel is why exactly organized crime has boomed so much, so recently. One of the reasons, of course, is globalization. With more economic connections than ever before, and large underdeveloped swaths of the world desperate to escape poverty, so there's no shortage of opportunities and those willing to take advantage of it.
But there's another factor here as well: decades of attempts by nation-states to crush out certain activities by making them highly criminalized. The U.S. has led the way in this, especially with the War on Drugs, but they're far from the only state to try to put the lid on activities or products they view as undesirable.
Every time this happens, it creates a gap, and into that gap driven individuals or groups looking for quick money will race in, as the risk and rarity that come with making something illegal raise the selling price through the roof.
This happens even outside of products that are strictly illegal. To use an example fairly close to home, a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte made millions smuggling cigarettes. While it's perfectly legal to smoke or buy cigarettes, increasing taxation in most parts of the country made it well worth the cell's while to smuggle them to other states. This also, for some time, sailed below the radar for law enforcement, who were more preoccupied with hard drug trafficking.
Bureaucracy and force were the main methods nation-states used to bring some semblance of structure to vast areas and complex societies. Overall, those have been remarkably successful — look how well tribal or feudal systems have fared against it.
But the times are changing. Perhaps the first strain could be seen with the widespread failure of alcohol Prohibition in the early part of the 20th century. Looking back, it does seem like its collapse was the beginning of the end for the idea that if a state just passed a law — and enforced it — humanity could be increasingly perfected towards a noble, if utterly boring, ideal. Importantly, Prohibition also jump-started organized crime networks as we know them.
Desire and need are amazing drivers and as long as they exist, someone will find a way to provide. Recently, I've been re-reading W. Bruce Lincoln's Red Victory, the best account of the Russian Civil War I've found. The USSR, especially in its earliest days, was the epitome of the bureaucracy + force approach. Facing widespread shortages and possessing an apparatus who wouldn't hesitate to steal and ration any resource they found, it should have been the ideal time to enforce total control on the populace's economic activity.
Yet even when the people of Petrograd and Moscow had nearly nothing, the black market still thrived, trumping doctrine. The anarchist Emma Goldman reported of the open-air markets that "Here gathered proletarian and aristocrat, Communist and bourgeois, peasant and intellectual. Here they were bound by a common desire to sell and buy."
Eventually even Lenin and Trotsky had to rein in their desires for total control and allow the private markets some leeway.
Today, there's also an entire, legal, private economy that makes a great deal off criminal activity: or, more accurately, the increasingly large fights against it. Drug arrests keep the prison-industrial complex booming, and local criminally-connected paramilitaries and gangs simplify some matters greatly for corporations operating in the developing world. The same social problems caused by such activity also provide politicians with convenient boogeymen in their own searches for meaning and votes.
At the same time, this raises the Disruption Problem I've talked about before. Criminal organizations can rush into the gaps formed by the trembling remains of old-style nation-states and they can sure as hell disrupt the traditional economies and power structures, but they can't replace them with anything viable.
After all, that's not their goal. They're just out to gain money and power.
And for that the black market needs the law. What it makes difficult criminal organizations profit by making easier. It's clear that a radically different approach to law and trade (e.g. drug legalization, just to name one possibility) would be necessary to suck much of the power out of the cartels, smugglers and terrorists. It's also doubtful that we'll see those steps until matters get a good deal more desperate.
"You gentlemen can watch while I'm scrubbing these floors
And I'm scrubbin' the floors while you're gawking
Maybe once ya tip me and it makes ya feel swell
In this crummy little town, in this crummy old hotel
But you'll never guess to who you're talkin'.
No. You'll never guess to who you're talkin'.
Then one night there's a scream in the night
And you'll wonder who could that have been
And you see me kinda grinnin' at the window
And you say, "What's she got to grin?"
There's a ship, the black freighter
with a skull on its masthead will be coming in.
You gentlemen can say, "Hey gal, finish them floors!
Get upstairs! What's wrong with you! Earn your keep here!
You toss me your tips and look out to the ships
But I'm counting your heads as I'm making the beds
Cuz there's nobody gonna sleep here, honey.
Tonight none of you will sleep here.
Then one night there's a scream in the night
And you say, "Who's that kicking up a row?"
And ya see me kinda starin' out the window
And you say, "What's she got to stare at now?"
There's a ship, the black freighter
turns around in the harbor shootin' guns from her bow
Now you gentlemen can wipe that smile off your face
'Cause every building in town is a flat one
This whole frickin' place will be down to the ground
Only this cheap hotel standing up safe and sound
And you yell, "Why do they spare that one?"
Yes, that's what you say, "Why do they spare that one?"
All the night through, through the noise and to-do
You wonder who is that person that lives up there?
And you see me stepping out in the morning
Looking nice with a ribbon in my hair.
And the ship, the black freighter
runs a flag up its masthead and a cheer rings the air
By noontime the dock is a-swarmin' with men
comin' out from the ghostly freighter
They move in the shadows where no one can see
And they're chainin' up people and they're bringin' em to me
askin' me, "Kill them now, or later?"
Askin' me, "Kill them now, or later?"
Noon by the clock and so still by the dock
You can hear a foghorn miles away
And in that quiet of death I'll say, "Right now.!"
Then they'll pile up the bodies
And I'll say, "That'll learn ya!"
And the ship, the black freighter
disappears out to sea and
A local woman’s accusation that an off-duty Buncombe County Sheriff’s deputy threatened her in a case of road rage has sparked an internal affairs investigation. She has also sharply criticized the conduct of the Asheville Police Department, which responded to the call.
On July 9, Julie Brown, a Clyde resident, says she was driving home from work when a jeep cut her off at the intersection of Patton Avenue and New Leicester Highway. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to the 911 calls of Brown and the deputy.)
“He just moved over. There was no turn signal or anything and I was already slowing down for the light, so I had to stand on my brakes — I honked my horn, big time, because it scared the heck out of me,” Brown told Xpress. “I came to a stop and he jumped out of his vehicle, came over to mine. I hit the door lock, and he was screaming ‘what are you going to do’ at me. He tried the door handle, he punched on the windows. I couldn’t look at it. I was afraid the glass would break. I reached for my phone and called the police.”
She said the man then left and got back in his vehicle. She continued down the road, calling 911. According to her, the man continued to follow.
“He’s behind me now. I’m really freaking out, I’m scared to stop,” a distraught Brown says in the call. “He tried to pull me out of the truck. Now he’s behind me.”
Dispatchers told Brown to find a public place, and she turned her vehicle into the parking lot of a nearby Shoney’s restaurant, where she was met by Asheville police.
At roughly the same time, the man, an undercover narcotics sheriff’s deputy whose name is being withheld by the Sheriff’s Office, also called 911, saying that “I’ve got a vehicle here giving me the road rage, flipping me off. I don’t know what in the world’s her problem.”
The man adds that “I’m in my personal vehicle. I’ve got my family with me. She wants to act all stupid, so I want to show her how stupid she is when she finds out who I am.”
In the call, the deputy says that “I got over, I didn’t cut her off or nothing, and she gets right on my rear and she lays on the the horn. So I get out of the car to see what her problem is. She’s all cussing and raising Cain, so I’m like, I ain’t even going to deal with you, I’m just going to call.”
Later in the call, when the dispatcher says there aren’t any units nearby, the deputy replies “Well, she’s heading towards home. She lives in Clyde. So you can just cancel that. I’ll just get her tag number down and pay her a visit.”
The Buncombe Sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards is looking into the case, Sgt. Randy Smart confirmed, and the investigation is ongoing. Asked if the deputy getting Brown’s tag number and visiting her house would have been professional conduct, he replied “No, it’s not. I’m sure he was just rattled and wasn’t thinking clearly.
While ruminating on the anniversary of the moon landing, I remembered the above sequence from the glory days of Cartoon Network's Toonami block. The tagline (Space is the Place) stuck in my mind, as did the rat-tat-tat array of armadas, alien vistas and bitchin' 19th-century style military uniforms.
It should be noted that while many popular fantastic visions have turned inward or backward, to fantasy or apocalypse, anime, particularly the first wave introduced by Toonami, is rich in space epics. Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star and even the cynically perfect Cowboy Bebop all take for granted that humanity — however flawed, brawling and mad we might be — will reach the stars and keep on going. There's a vitality there that always brings a smile to my face.
Toonami did several of these promo sequences, usually on a similar subject, either philosophical (dreams!) or dramatic (amazing f'in robots!). They're good, and some of them are damned good. Besides for the space number above, my favorite is probably the sublime Mad Rhetoric [Walking Stick] piece below.
More of these gems below the jump.
"A reader is not supposed to be aware that someone’s written the story. He’s supposed to be completely immersed, submerged in the environment."
In 1955, The Lord of the Rings was published, and promptly changed fantasy forever. In its juggernaut status, the particular breed of epic it spawned often pushed aside, in the popular mind, any type of fantasy that came before.
Just what was that? Its rough-hewn predecessors took the form of hybrid stories rooted in fairy-tale, lurid history and the raw juices of pulp adventure. Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery romps are a perfect example — as are H.P. Lovecraft’s nightmares, for that matter. While the characters here may be connected to grand events, this was a fantasy of short stories, not novels. Instead of a painstakingly described mythos, this thrived on brain-watering mysteries and jolt endings.
Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth hit the stands in 1950. A collection of six perfect, interlaced stories set in a time when Earth’s sun is sputtering out and no line remains between sorcery and science, it didn’t exactly produce the literary paradigm shift that Tolkien did, but it has had its pull. Gene Wolfe, Tanith Lee and numerous other authors were influenced by Vance. Gary Gygax also drew heavily from it when crafting the magic of the original Dungeons and Dragons.
I’d read about it often before finally tracking down a tattered paperback copy (it seems to come in no other form). The feeling I got when I finally immersed myself in its pages was that, growing up, these were the fairy tales I’d always wanted.
In a happy bit of synchronicity, the New York Times just did a damn good profile of Vance.