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VICE MAGAZINE VOLUME 11 NUMBER 11

FREE VOLUME 11 NUMBER 11

THE WHA DA FUG YOU LOOKIN’ AT? ISSUE

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Kyu-Boi, a Houston rapper, in his home, 2009. Photos by Peter Beste, from his long-awaited book Houston Rap, out November 30 from Sinecure Books.

VOLUME 11 NUMBER 11 Cover by Bruce Gilden

BLACK-GOLD BLUES The Hazards and Horrors of the Makeshift Oil Industry in Rebel-Held Syria . . . . . . . . . . . 24

UNACCOMPANIED MINERS Down the Shaft with Bolivia’s Child Laborers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

RIDING THE BAEKDUDAEGAN How a Group of New Zealander Bikers Planned a Road Trip Across Korea’s DMZ . . . . 30

SOUL ON FIRE California Is Burning—Can a Motley Crew of Prisoners Save It? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60

12 Masthead 16 Employees 18 Front of the Book 32 DOs & DON’Ts 36 Fashion: Let’s Trim Our Hair in Accordance with the Socialist Lifestyle 44 Fashion: Afternoon Delight 70 Li’l Thinks: Twitter Selves 72 Reviews 80 Johnny Ryan’s Page

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FOUNDERS Suroosh Alvi, Shane Smith CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER

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PHOTOS

Jean-René Augé-Napoli, Peter Beste, Jackson Fager, Bernard Gueit, Richard Kern, Abu Mahmoud, Gareth Morgan, Vier Pfoten, James Pogue, Mark Wallheiser

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othing quite illustrates the idea of the old ways being better than the new quite like a barbershop. Cleveland’s Salon & Cafe in Sydney’s Redfern is a prime example. We asked the head barber there some questions about keeping it classy. Is your barbershop a reaction against shortcut culture or have you always been a fan of traditions? Pat Cleveland: I’m intrigued by things that have stood the test of timeį and ideas that have been reõned down. I came to hairdressing because I enjoy the idea of it been a craùtį so I lean towards the latter. Is that why barbering has survived, people trust slow trends? We’ve deõnitely come to a point of slowing downį I think

people have fallen out of love with the idea of being busy to feel successful. People are genuinely looking for a bit more quality of life. I guess the experience hasn’t really changed. veah deõnitely and I think the whole experience of having a haircut is timeless, I think that’s part of the joy of it. Speaking of timelessness, are there looks you never want to see again? Fot speciõc hairstyles, if anybody really owns something it looks amazing. For me one of the sexiset things ever is when a girl has a shaved head. What bugs me is when something is on trend and everybody does it. You spend forever trying to talk people out of the haircut everybody else has.

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EMPLOYEES OF THE MONTH

JEAN-RENÉ AUGÉ-NAPOLI The first time Jean-René Augé-Napoli had a Kalashnikov pointed at him was five years ago in the tiny African nation of Comoros. At the other end of the gun was a policeman, and at that moment, Jean-René told us, he wasn’t scared and decided he could be a war journalist. He’s since spent time embedded with armies in Eastern Europe and has been reporting on Syria full-time since September 2012. For this issue he traveled to Deir ez-Zor, in the inhospitable eastern part of the country, and documented the horrific conditions of the makeshift oil-refining industry run by Islamist rebels with ties to al Qaeda—a dangerous story that took him months of research and reporting to uncover. See BLACK-GOLD BLUES, page 24

BERNARD GUEIT If you’re a non-fashion person, photo shoots are the best. People bring cakes and pastries and blast good music and no one touches any of the food because they are either handling, wearing, or trying to fit into beautiful clothes. You see a fashion spread, we see six hours with a box of croissants to ourselves. That was until Bernard Gueit came in with his “professionalism.” After helping him set up a shot, we’d retreat to what we assumed would be at least 20 minutes of leisurely snacking while he worked to get the result he wanted. Too bad this dude shoots faster and more efficiently than anyone we’ve ever worked with. I don’t think anyone ate more than two pastries all day. Bernard, you owe us a box of danishes. See LET’S TRIM OUR HAIR IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SOCIALIST LIFESTYLE page 36

HAYWOOD WATKINS III Haywood Watkins III is on the second stint of a cadetship that allows him to work in three cities of his choosing anywhere in the world. When we asked him why he chose Melbourne of all places, he gave a polite answer that pretty much boiled down to him thinking it “would be cool.” To be honest, we were expecting something a little more considered from someone who is basically on a global tour powered by his own mental aptitude. But hey—if it’s enough for the people at immigration, it’s more than enough for us. Haywood grew up in Richmond, Virginia and studied Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University before moving to New York last year. His has an extremely fast metabolism and his favourite thing in the world is Cinnabon, which we assume is some kind of bread-based snack.

MICAH GREENWOOD Micah Greenwood was born in Canada and grew up in Queensland and Fiji. He left school at age 16 to take a job smashing things with a sledgehammer and has never looked back. Micah joins us in the capacity of ad operations manager, meaning he puts ads into the computer in a way that makes you look at them. When he isn’t fiddling with your web browsing experience, Micah enjoys reading about serial killers on the internet (his tip for beginners: read up on Jeffrey Dahmer) and he balances out that hobby by looking at pictures of cats. It’s kind of a killer/kitty speedball and it seems to level him out OK. And if he does eventually wig out to a point where he can’t do this particular job any longer, there’s always his career back in sledgehammering.

LUEN JACOBS Luen Jacobs is our new Events and Marketing Co-ordinator, but people who recognise this photo might know her from her party and band booking venture, Hand Games. Luen is good at throwing the kinds of parties where someone sticks a microphones up their butt; a skill we hold in high regard in the VICE office. Despite being objectively young and successful, she actually started out idolising Madeline, the original coquettish French schoolgirl. According to Luen, she admired her strength to follow her instincts, climb all over stuff, and try new things. Sure that’s all very cute, but the rest of the office remembers Madeline for saying sassy shit to nuns. Given the scarcity of nuns in regular VICE life, it’s hard to say if Luen is living up to her childhood aspirations.

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F R O N T

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VOLUNTEER-RUN MORGUES ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA Australia’s Northern Territory is huge, sparsely populated, poor, and crawling with deadly animals. It’s not surprising, then, that it doesn’t attract many professional types. Types like, say, people who are good at managing morgues. As a result, the territory’s deadbody storage system is a mess. The morgues are staffed primarily by volunteers, and no agency is specifically in charge of them.

BY WENDY SYFRET Illustration by Rubber House

This is a problem, to put it mildly. An inquiry led last year by Northern Territory Ombudsman Carolyn Richards uncovered a host of horrible practices, like a body that got put in a courtroom when there wasn’t space for it elsewhere, and a corpse stored in a doctor’s kitchen for a week while he was away. Things haven’t gotten better since then, and in the past few months, the bodies of two Aborigines were placed in the wrong graves—an especially big deal because in that culture, being buried with your clan on tribal land is of the utmost importance. The bodies were reportedly exhumed and reburied, but the families never received an official apology. Also still waiting on a “We’re sorry” from the well-meaning but undertrained—or incompetent— morgue workers is the family of Charlton James, who committed suicide in 2011. Charlton’s body was taken to a morgue in the town of Kalkaringi, but after a power failure, the refrigeration system went down and his corpse was left to rot in the Outback heat. By the time his mother went to view the body, it was so badly decomposed that she couldn’t recognise him. Since releasing her report, Ombudsman Richards has retired and handed the issue over to the territory’s health minister, Robyn Lambley. When I called her office, I was told the morgues were being headed up by the local minister, Bess Price. After I asked her office what was being done about the morgue mess, they replied with a statement: “The safe and appropriate handling of deceased persons in remote areas is particularly challenging in the Northern Territory given the population spread over the Territory’s 1,349,000 square kilometers.” No kidding. They added that the territory government was “presently considering advice in relation to morgue services in remote areas,” which gets to the root of the problem—it’s difficult and expensive to provide services to people living far out in the bush. Even if there were enough money to train and pay morgue attendants and technicians, it’s not a job a lot of people want, especially professionals with degrees and licenses. As Richards told the NT News, “It is difficult enough to entice professionals to work in remote locations without storing dead people in their homes.”

Italy’s Miraculous New Tabloid BY CHIARA GALEAZZI Image courtesy of Miracoli

Italy’s former prime minister is a sex criminal, 42 percent of its young people are unemployed, and the country is currently going through its longest recession in 60 years. It would take a miracle to set Italy right, and that’s exactly what the country’s newest tabloid deals in. Miracoli (“Miracles”) is a 52-page weekly magazine full of stories about men healed by Lourdes’s water, nuns turning holy bread into meat in their mouths, and Italian celebrities revealing how saints / Mary /a pope saved or changed their lives. (Each issue also features a centerfold of a saint and a related prayer.) It first hit stands at the end of June and doesn’t have a website, but circulation is already at more than 70,000, which is remarkable in an era when print’s death rattle is louder than ever. I talked to Daniele Urso, Miracoli’s editor-in-chief, to find out more about Italians’ apparently bottomless spiritual appetites. VICE: Why a magazine about miracles? Daniele Urso: We thought it was hard to find a magazine that talks about hope. As a journalist, I acknowledge the fact that it’s easier to run bad news, and for this reason, we thought talking about miracles and people’s positive and marvelous experiences would be a suitable way to match an editorial project with a human need. The country’s [economic] crisis is one of many factors contributing to the rebirth of religious devotion. Has there been any reaction from the Catholic Church? The Church is ignoring us. We are getting great reactions from priests who are far from the higher spheres of the Vatican. Do Italians have a favorite saint? There’s a lot of devotion to Mary—she is usually the first one people refer to. Father Pio [a 20th-century Italian saint famous for bearing the stigmata who was accused of being a fraud] has a similar status. He is the religious figure of the moment because of his modernity and controversial status. What about Jesus or God? Mary is a mother, a pitiful character easy to relate to for our readers, who are mostly women—wives and mothers. The saints are human beings like us, and for that reason it is also easy to empathise with them. Jesus and God are seen as entities far from us, and God in particular can be frightening at times.

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THIS MACHINE FREES OPPRESSED CHICKENS Say you’re an animal rights activist—one of the militant-militant vegans, the ones who smear pig blood all over their bodies and launch themselves at scientists walking into testing labs. You hate pretty much all farms, and you especially hate farms that pretend to be nice to their animals, a.k.a. their slaves. But how do you prove that businesses selling “free range” eggs and chickens don’t treat their birds as kindly as they claim? Get yourself a spy drone, that’s how.

BY CARLY LEARSON Photo courtesy of Barry Anderson

Romanians Are Slaughtering Packs of Stray Dogs BY MIHAI POPESCU Photo by Vier Pfoten

At least, that’s the tactic used by Animal Liberation (no relation to the more famous, similarly named Animal Liberation Front), an Australian group that aims to “end the suffering of exploited and confined animals” and “challenge society on its views of all nonhuman animals.” The drone they use is a $16,000 “hexacopter” named Hecta that resembles a remotecontrol toy helicopter with six rotors outfitted with a $4,200 HD camera, a zoom lens, and a custom stabiliser. Mark Pearson, the executive director for Animal Liberation, purchased the drone in March and has taken it out twice. Already, he claims, they have found evidence of foul play in the fowl industry. “We flew Hecta over a chicken farm in New South Wales that claims to be free range,” he said. “After surveying the entire farm we didn’t see a single bird—they were all

locked inside.” The owner of the farm said the birds were temporarily inside because they were being dewormed, but Mark said he has shown the footage to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and hopes the government will intervene. What Mark and his band of activists are doing is completely legal so long as Hecta stays between ten and 30 meters above the ground, though farmers are understandably annoyed about being spied on and claim the noise from a drone freaks out their livestock. “I know some farmers who would have a go at the drone with their guns,”

In early September, stray dogs attacked and killed a four-year-old child near a park in Bucharest, Romania. That incident highlighted one of the biggest problems facing the capital city today, where about 64,000 ownerless canines roam the streets—in the first eight months of the year, 10,000 residents have been treated for bites, Bucharest City Hall told the Associated Press. In the days following the attack, the debate over these strays polarised Romanians. A law passed in September allowing shelters to kill dogs left unclaimed for two weeks sparked protests around the world. Meanwhile, some of the country’s more passionate strayhaters launched organised campaigns to exterminate the animals while they still roamed the streets. These vigilantes don’t care about putting the dogs to sleep humanely, either—the dog in the photo was found with his stomach cut on the streets of Galat¸ i, a southern Romanian city; sadly, a veterinarian was unable to save his life. For many, the act of killing seems to be more important than solving the issue. On a Romanian Facebook page whose title translates to “Stray Dogs, a Public Menace,” an antistray activist named S¸ tefan wrote, “The simplest and most effective way: a spray can and a lighter and you can take out a pack in under 20 minutes.” Jax Quake, another activist and probable sociopath, responded, “I tried a meat tenderiser, a steel chain, a bayonet, some antifreeze. But this idea is brilliant. There are still two dogs left alive on my block.” Animal rights activists and NGOs are trying to bring the people who act out their morbid fantasies to the authorities, but that’s easier said than done. “Unfortunately, even though killing or maiming animals is a crime, the judges always give people the minimum sentence, which is a fine of 100 euros,” said Livia Cimpoeru from the NGO Vier Pfoten, or “Four Paws.” “I’ve seen dogs get killed with

David Warriner, the president of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, told the Daily Telegraph. “You can’t have this stuff going around willy-nilly.” Unfortunately for Animal Liberation, Hecta broke after its first two flights. It has since been repaired, and Mark has big plans for the copter. “We know about certain farms where lambs are forced to live in high-density pens without any shelter from either the rain or the sun,” he said. “We know about farms where the sheep get fly strike [a parasitic infection] and it’s not treated. There are others where animals are left to die from starvation. We know of cattle farms where the animals are so crowded they can’t move. The heat from the sun, as well as the ground beneath them, can be unbearable.” Without proof, there’s little that can be done, but with footage from Hecta, Animal Liberation can take legal action.

bats in shelters, electrocuted in ponds, left to starve so they would eat each other, fed bait that had needles in it so their stomachs would rupture. One lady actually had her dog shot in front of her in downtown Bucharest with a hunting rifle. The killer told her that she should get a ‘normal’ dog.” Elena Blaj of Free Amely 2007, an organisation that provides shelter for strays and makes puppies available for adoption, believes that “there are mentally deranged people and deviants who are using the whole dog situation as a pretext to be violent and act out.” Andrei Stanca, the administrator of a Facebook group devoted to eliminating strays, disagrees. “We have a lot of examples from history when certain people use a social crisis to act upon their own sadistic tendencies,” he said, adding that he’s in favor of more humane killing methods: “Personally, I would put some rat poison in some chunks of meat and feed them to the packs who attack me every day when I leave my house.”

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The Bible Needs More Sex Scenes BY HARRY CHEADLE Book cover courtesy of Matthew Stillman

ARGENTINES NEED DOLLARS Argentina’s economy is in trouble. Thanks to President Cristina Kirchner’s protectionist policies, trade with other countries is restricted, inflation is high, and there is a shortage of dollars both in the government’s foreigncurrency reserves and on the street. That’s led to the government restricting people from trading Argentine pesos for dollars on the open market in what’s known as a “dollar clamp.” But to hear President Kirchner tell it, everything is hunky-dory.

BY DENISSE ESPEJEL Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/ Buenaventuramariano

* Some names in this article have been changed to protect those interviewed.

“There is no dollar clamp, I’ll tell you,” the president said in a rare interview on state-run TV in late September. “I just came back from New York City— it was crowded with really cool Argentine tourists waving hi. There is no dollar clamp.” At best the president is using tourists in New York as an economic barometer for her country; at worst it’s a bald-faced lie and an insult to Argentines’ intelligence. The fact is that residents who want to swap pesos for more trustworthy dollars have to go through an enormous amount of red tape and prove they are leaving the country. “If you travel to bordering countries, they’ll sell you local money; if you go to America, you get dollars,” said Marco Mora,* a government worker who recently went through the process. “But no matter your needs, they give useless amounts.” He ended up getting $85 for a 15-day trip to New York City, much less than he wanted. Even worse, the government won’t give Argentines cash; it deposits money directly into their bank accounts. That’s convenient for the government, which collects an extra 20 percent in taxes when its citizens use their credit or debit cards abroad. To get around these restrictions, a technically illegal but widespread black market known as the dólar blue (“blue dollar”) has emerged, where pesos can be traded for US currency. If you walk through Buenos Aires’s central business district you’ll find shady characters openly chanting, “Cambio, cambio”—“Exchange, exchange”—amid policemen and tax inspectors. “They know what’s going on,” according to Marcelo, one of the money changers, but they also know they’re powerless to stop all the illegal trading. The blue dollar is so out in the open that the exchange rate is published in newspapers and by a Twitter account (@DolarBlue) with more than 31,000 followers. At the time of this writing, the unofficial rate was 9.80 pesos per dollar and climbing, which is several pesos higher than the official government figure. If you don’t want to be cheated, you should know this constantly shifting number in advance. “Don’t expect good rates if you don’t call ahead,” Marcelo told me, before taking me to the 14th floor of a commercial building where there was a currency exchange operating behind bulletproof glass. It was a bit shady, but much preferable to dealing with the government.

By most estimates, the Bible is the most popular book of all time. A sprawling epic, it has been translated into every language spoken since Jesus was crucified and has changed countless lives. But does it need more fucking? That’s the question posited by Matthew Stillman, a 40-year-old self-proclaimed “Upper West Side Jew” who modified the book of Genesis in the King James version of the Bible to include more sexy bits. That’s not to say that his self-published book, titled Genesis Deflowered, is a XXX porn parody of the Bible. A passage describing Adam and Eve getting down to business reads: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed as they showed each to the other the firmness of their lands, and the wetness of their seas. They supped upon each other as if for foods. And the LORD God watched the sea swallow the land; and he saw that it was good.” Matthew says the chaste language reflects the style of the King James version, which he has always adored. “It would never ever say, ‘Adam bent Eve over a table and fucked her wet pussy,’” he told me. “Part of the conceit of the book’s idea was to meet the sexual imagery and storytelling on the Bible’s terms.” His inspiration was an erotic retelling of the time God put a baby in Mary that he found while surfing around Amazon. “I read the free selection of it and it was just awful, just embarrassing on all levels, terribly written and sloppy,” he said. “But it had almost 30 reviews and the responses to it were essentially, ‘This turned me on and made me love Jesus more.’” Matthew figured he could write better biblical erotica than that and came out with his version of Genesis in August. He’s received a bunch of attention since then, both positive and negative. After appearing on an online Fox News show to discuss his work, he got a bunch of hate emails and tweets. “Stuff like, ‘It’s a good thing I’m a Christian, because I’d come and get you,’” he told me. “Low-grade threats.” More seriously, Matthew’s brownstone in Harlem was vandalised in late September by a hater who scrawled BLASPHEMY on his front steps. He called the cops but seems pretty unconcerned about the incident. “I think that was [the vandal’s] one angry thing,” he said. “Nothing’s happened since.” Spray-can critics aside, Genesis Deflowered has gotten rave reviews from many Christians, according to Matthew. “I’ve had some naughty Catholics say, ‘This is really sexy because it doesn’t say anything,’” he said. “I had a nun who said that she thought it was incredibly beautiful and incredibly touching and made her look at the place of desire and faith in her life in a new way… I had a Jesuit priest who was gay but celibate cry to me and say, ‘I wish I had this book when I was young.’”

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13-11-12 7:03 PM


Smoke-spewing makeshift refineries dot the desert landscape around Deir ez-Zor.

BLACK-GOLD BLUES The Hazards and Horrors of the Makeshift Oil Industry in Rebel-Held Syria WORDS AND PHOTOS BY JEAN-RENÉ AUGÉ-NAPOLI

eir 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

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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. One such local is Ahmer, a 15-year-old I met on his way home from work. His face and clothes were stained with oil. “I never took part in the past year’s clashes,” he told me, suspicious of my question about the extent of his involvement in the revolution. “I only helped my father bring ammunition here and there in Palmyra, 135 miles away from Damascus, where fights are still going on.” Ahmer lives with his mother and two younger brothers in a room they rent from the man who owns the makeshift kerosene refinery where all three of the siblings work. The refinery owner buys his crude oil from the rebels and distills it into kerosene; Ahmer and his brothers earn just enough to pay for the room and food while enduring horrifying conditions.

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Krahim splashes crude oil on a rudimentary refinery tank to keep it hot enough to boil kerosene. He’s ten years old and works nine hours a day.

All day long, Ahmer helps to move barrels, which can weigh more than 200 pounds when full of crude, to and from a converted water tank suspended above a fire. The oil is heated until it begins boiling into vapor, after which it is pumped through pipes and into water-filled underground pits where, over time, it condenses into kerosene. It’s as rudimentary as the refining process gets, but the result is usable fuel. Krahim, Ahmer’s ten-year-old brother, has been tasked with perhaps the most hazardous assignment: his job is to throw and coat the inside of the tank with oil to keep its temperature above the necessary boiling point. For two hours I watched him at work, his feet inches from the flames, his head engulfed in crude oil fumes. His supervisor (whom I only spoke with momentarily and looked to be in his late teens) explained the process: “The higher the temperature, the higher the extracted kerosene’s quality,” he said, taking drags from a cigarette. The thing he didn’t mention is if the temperature rises too high, the gas could compress and violently blow up the tank. These explosions happen on a weekly basis, according to Abu Mahmoud, one of the few doctors in the area who haven’t closed their practices to get into the oil-refining game. Between home visits to patients, runs to the Iraq border to buy medical supplies, and responding to emergencies, Dr. Mahmoud is perhaps better informed than anyone of the entire scope of the Deir ez-Zor oil trade. He told me that approximately 6,000 people were working in the refineries, and that by his estimates somewhere around 2,000 of them were kids like Ahmer and

Krahim—many of them displaced war orphans whose parents were killed either by the regime or the rebels. “All the families [I knew] left Palmyra,” Ahmer said. “Sometimes, I recognise a kid or two I used to go to school with. They’re here, hidden amid the oil fumes. It’s weird—I don’t want to talk to them today, really.” Ahmer told me his father aided the rebels, and lots of the kids his age had parents who were pro-Assad. To avoid potential workplace conflicts, he said, it’s safer to avoid talking at all. In the landscape of Syria’s convoluted civil war, this makes Deir ez-Zor a sort of no-man’s-land where hard workers are accepted without much interrogation. It doesn’t matter much because odds are that most of these workers have sealed their fates. This is a fate all too real for Krahim, who was careful to pour the crude oil evenly across the tank’s sides to minimise the risk of blowing his head off. Every hour, he takes a second to wash off the layer of black dust that accumulates on his face. “I’ve seen many mutilated people, burned bodies destroyed by explosions,” he told me. Our conversation was soon interrupted by his coughing fits. While an official diagnosis would be the only way to be certain in Krahim’s case, oil-related illnesses are spreading in Deir ez-Zor. Thanks to the smoke and dust kicked up by the unregulated, unclean extraction and refining operations and the leakages that pollute the precious groundwater, the crude refineries’ pollution is spreading to the surrounding desert villages. Common ailments include persistent coughs and chemical burns that, according to Dr. Mahmoud, have the potential to lead to

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A young refinery worker suffering from chemical burns. Photo by Dr. Abu Mahmoud

tumors. He said that those who live in the immediate region are increasingly at risk to develop cancer, and some villages have now become uninhabitable thanks to all-too-frequent accidents. This contamination doesn’t just affect humans; in July, at the beginning of Ramadan, herds of goats died after drinking from a contaminated water table that was the only source of drinking water for three villages. “Oil-related disorders are only starting to appear among the desert inhabitants,” Dr. Mahmoud told me. “I sometimes feel overwhelmed,” he said. “What I learned in medical school is no longer enough to understand all the pathologies caused by oil and its exploitation in the region.” ast of Deir ez-Zor, near the Iraq border, lies the real money pit: the industrial oil fields. It’s here that Islamist rebel groups, including the al Qaeda–backed Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), extract the crude oil from the ground and bring it by truck to the hundreds or thousands of makeshift refineries scattered throughout the surrounding desert. Offices and dorms constructed and once owned and operated by Western companies have now been converted into dorms for radical jihadists. One afternoon during my trip, I made the half-hour drive out there with two members of the Free Syrian Army who aren’t directly aligned with the Islamists running the show, but have had no choice but to band together against the government. As we passed the village of P’settin, a set of giant white storage tanks appeared on the horizon. We pulled up to a roadblock,

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and my FSA guides advised me to stay in the car. “Even our generals are not welcome here anymore,” one said. After two hours of waiting, I was allowed past the barricade. I noticed the unexploded shells and craters lining the wall surrounding the compound—the regime had been carrying out weekly air strikes against these fields for the past several months. Silent men in camo pants lurked in the shadows, and I could tell my FSA companions were nervous, even as they showed me the bullet-hole-riddled pipelines that they swore were operational. Information about such activities in present-day Syria is dubious as best, but locals and my FSA contacts reported that these groups earn between $170 and $240 per refinery each month. I also heard there could be as many as 3,000 tanks, and based on the information available from reports released earlier this year on similar operations in Syria, my sources and I estimate the jihadists bring in somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million every month. Of course, no one but the principals of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS know exactly how much money they make from their makeshift refinery operations. Profits may pale in comparison to what the oil giants running the place were raking in, but the new management may be taking the long view. If and when al-Assad falls, the al Qaeda–supported rebel groups are aiming to still be in control of the fields, where they will be free to build a much more efficient and profitable refining operation. Their goal is a bleak proposition for everyone else involved: a future where the oil money that used to line the pockets of Shell executives goes toward constructing an Islamic state that will bubble up from the ashes of the old regime.

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The Arch of Reunification in Pyongyang, North Korea

RIDING THE BAEKDUDAEGAN How a Group of New Zealander Bikers Planned a Road Trip Across Korea’s DMZ BY TIM POOL PHOTOS BY GARETH MORGAN

or the past decade, New Zealanders Joanne and Gareth Morgan have been living the semiretired lifestyle of their dreams, traveling around the world on motorcycles alongside a few of their closest friends. They’ve traversed all seven continents on their bikes, with routes as varied as Venice to Beijing, Florida to northern Alaska, and South Africa to London, just to name a few. Gareth funds his own trips, many of which he uses to pursue philanthropic endeavors, particularly in the social-investment space. He is able to do so with money he’s made as an economist and investment manager—one who has earned the reputation for criticising unethical practices in New Zealand’s financial-services industry. In late August, the Morgans embarked on their most ambitious journey yet, at least physically. The real journey began years ago, when they decided they wanted to ride

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the Baekdudaegan, a mountain range that stretches the length of North and South Korea’s shared peninsula. After countless hours of negotiation and coordination with both governments, they were granted permission. It was, the Morgans believe, the first time anyone’s ever traveled through both countries like that since the partitioning of Korea in 1945. By making the trip they hoped to demonstrate how Koreans can come together over what they have in common. To symbolise this, the Morgans took some stones from Paektu, a holy mountain in the North, and brought them to Hallasan, a similarly sacred peak in the South. Joanne and Gareth shot the entirety of their trip, the footage from which they have kindly allowed us to cut into a short film that will premiere on VICE.com this month. In some ways, the footage makes the Korean coast look alternately like California, China, and Cuba. It’s a beautiful view few foreigners have seen, and even if planning the road trip straight through the Demilitarised Zone required working within parameters set by the highly choreographed and restricted confines of North-South Korean diplomacy, this was a journey worth documenting from start to finish.

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VICE: Do you think negotiating your trip constituted a form of diplomacy? Would you like to be viewed as diplomats? Joanne Morgan: Gareth as a diplomat is actually quite funny. Gareth says exactly what he thinks, and I definitely wouldn’t put him into any diplomatic role. Gareth Morgan: With this trip, the real point [for us] was just to understand the Korean people. What spins their wheels? What’s their sense of identity? How are they handling this 68year interruption to their 5,000-year history? Joanne: In the 80s, when I was standing in the DMZ on the south side looking across to the north, I saw a group of old men standing there gazing north and crying. It was very emotional and I couldn’t quite understand it. That’s always stayed with me, that huge longing that they had to reunite their families. What are your thoughts on the North Korean government? Gareth: [The West] doesn’t like the North Korean regime—but there are a lot of systems around the world that we don’t like, yet nations have normalised relationships with one another. Even though they’ve got totally different regimes than we have in New Zealand, we have pretty normalised relationships with China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—a whole lot of regimes that do not value human liberty and individual rights anywhere near as much as we do in a liberal democracy. North Korea fits into that camp. The interests of the state override the interests of any individuals. There’s no freedom of speech, there’s no freedom of association, and no freedom of representation. Those are all things that we, from the liberal democracies in the West, value hugely and would never give up. South Korea has really come from a dictatorship-type regime, and it’s moving more and more to a liberal-democracy ideal… The issue is, do we go forward with the relationship by isolating and escalating the differences, or is it better to engage and allow normalised relations to occur, particularly between the two Koreas? Through the osmosis that comes from trade, investments, and cultural relationships, the regimes will come a bit closer together perhaps. I think that’s what all Koreans want. Do you fi nd it strange that two New Zealanders were able to make a trip like this when the majority of Koreans would never be allowed to do so? Joanne: All the young people of South Korea [we’ve met] say, “We want to travel the whole Baekdudaegan as well; we want to travel the whole length of Korea.” And you could see that, apart from all the other issues with North Korea, they’re desperate to travel it. Gareth: They were quite disturbed about the fact that we’d been able to do this. And one of the projects that we’re looking at going forward is to actually get some motorcycles from Seoul and ride through the DMZ, up to Pyongyang, and back—with South Koreans with us. That’ll be a big breakthrough. How strict were the North Korean offi cials about letting you explore the mountains and seaside? Did they allow you to deviate from the predetermined path? Gareth: We chose the route we would ride, [but] we obviously had to agree on a route with the North Koreans many months in advance. We chose one that would follow the Baekdudaegan; that’s the part that binds [both] Koreas, and it was pretty symbolic to follow it. Once we were on the road, we were escorted the whole way by a ginormous motorcade with security vehicles in front of and behind our five bikes. We’ve been through China with the same sort of [escorts]. So we’re old hands—a standard tactic for us is for the last motorcycle to go quite slow so the sweeping vehicles behind them have to stay behind it…

That would open up a big gap in which the motorcyclists in the middle could stop and take photos. They woke up to that after a few days. They were generally quite tolerant, but there was no way we would’ve been able to turn off the road and go down on our own… The rationale they would give for that was [North Koreans] are not used to vehicles coming down the road, particularly big motorcycles and foreign vehicles. You’d come around a corner and there’d be animals or whatever on the road, and that was true—that’s a fair rationale. Joanne: Also, the children were fearful. They said to us that the children will see you and they will be fearful because they’ve never seen a foreigner before. Some of the areas we went to had huge crowds in the streets, and we’d slow down and wave to a kiddie or to a mother and child and some of them would be absolutely delighted and others would just be terrified. Gareth: This society has become, over 68 years, pretty selfsufficient, agrarian, and traditional. There’s not much machinery around at all because of the sanctions and so on. So there’s sort of a serene peace to the society in terms of the way they go about their daily tasks. It’s actually quite lovely. It’s like going to a medieval village. So I can sort of understand the issues there in terms of the disturbance we caused.

TOP: The Morgans pay homage to Kim Il Sung, the “liberator” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. BOTTOM: Five riders, four guides, and our host reach the summit of Mount Paektu.

Watch the Morgans and their friends roll through North and South Korea in a new episode of The VICE Guide to Travel this month on VICE.com.

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DOs

This is gangsta polka at its finest. You know that tuba’s been used to open some minds in more ways than one. Don’t front. Just bob your heads and show respect to the top brass, motherfucker.

I didn’t know that Sid Vicious fucked Rainbow Brite and they gave birth to the perfect small-town boy living in a lonely world! WHY?! WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME?!

You can be Parrothead wasting away in Margaritaville and still be cool—but only if you throw in a dash of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I have killed men. Men I had to kill. Men I was paid to kill. But these streets are mine. The sea is mine. And my people know me. They do not fear me. They only hold respect. And I walk. I walk. Move aside for a man.

You have to admire someone who has completely figured out how to make sure that stupid, loud, rich fucking brats don’t ruin the pool experience for the adults who need it most. Yes, he took a social hit and is now dubbed the “murderer at the pool,” but that is a noble sacrifice, indeed.

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DON’Ts

This is my trademark on the best way to hold two sticks. I hold two sticks like this here. In other news: my teenage daughter was told I’m dead.

Little bunny foo foo hopping in his poo poo.

I don’t think I’ll win best dressed this year at Shitbag Fest, but I think I’m a shoo-in for most disturbing next year.

Why do I kill, you ask? Wouldn’t you if someone had just waterboarded your lower back?

I gotta be honest here: I’ve been returned seven times. On the plus side, I can puke blood on command!

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There’s only one way you can get away with a leopard-print unitard while biking, and that’s if there’s real fur underneath.

What’s the diff between a drunk and a straight-up captain? It’s simple! GLOVES, BABY! BOAT GLOVES, BABY!

Yes, his body is doughier than Courtney Love’s pussy. There’s no denying that, OK? But it’s a lost art to be able to properly comb one’s hair postswim as if you’re Cary Grant on the smooth comedown of an acid trip.

It’s impossible to count the number of ways that this shitter could be a mystical experience.

This is what it means to be a citizen in its proudest and noblest form.

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DON’Ts

They call me Pumpkin Joe. Well… either that or Period Beard Joe. But I don’t think it sounds as good.

It’s so much fun dressing and acting like these kinds of whores rather than dressing like the whores we usually are in real life.

Shine bright like a diamond Shine bright like a star Shine red like a neck Shine red like an open pus-filled sore

Hahahaha! I’m so glad we came to Watch a Minority Drown night.

I don’t know what you bitches’ problems is. My buddy went all out and tucked in his Mountain Dew/piss-coloured tee into his hiked-up denims, and I got tits. What’s not to like?!

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LETâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S TRIM OUR HAIR IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SOCIALIST LIFESTYLE PHOTOS BY BERNARD GUEIT STYLIST: RAMONA TELECICAN

Pam Striped Dress, Pam Gold Dress

Art Director: Ben Thomson Hair: Nina Ratsaphong Makeup: Leonie Karagiannis Story/Stylist Assistant: Katy Roberts Production: Wendy Syfret Models: Madison (Maverick Models) and Zach (Chadwick Models)

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Handsom Polo, Kloke Shorts

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Madison: Kinoak Shirt, American Apparel Blouse, Kinoak Pants, Repetto Flats Zach: Jack London Bomber, Vans Shirt, Pam Pants, Vans Boat Shoes


American Apparel Sweatshirt, Handsom Shorts

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Handsom Shirt

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Romance Was Born Jacket, Fame Agenda Shirt

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Fame Agenda Jumpsuit

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American Apparel Shirt, Pageant Sweatshirt, Pam Pants

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AFTERNOON DELIGHT PHOTOS BY RICHARD KERN, STYLIST: ANNETTE LAMOTHE-RAMOS Fashion Coordinator: Miyako Bellizzi; Photo Assistant: Colin Sussingham; Shoot Assistant: Bobby Viteri Hair and Makeup: Ren Nobuko; Models: Asher Levine (asherlevine.com) and Franรงois Sagat (kicksagat.com)

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Diesel jacket, Issey Miyake jacket and pants; agnĂŠs b. coat, Vivienne Westwood MAN sweater, Diesel jeans


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Marc by Marc Jacobs swim trunks, Diesel necklace and bracelet


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Telfar speedo, Diesel ring; Diesel briefs and necklace, Telfar pants


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Telfar shirt, Dior Homme briefs; Marc Jacobs shirt, agnĂŠs b pants, Diesel necklace and bracelet


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adidas Originals sandals, Diesel ring; adidas Originals jeans, Diesel belt


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Diesel shirt, adidas Originals jeans, Dior Homme belt; IRO jacket, Mark McNairy shirt, Dior Homme jeans


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Etro robe, American Apparel shorts, Ray-Ban sunglasses; Vivienne Westwood MAN coat, Diesel briefs


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UNACCOMPANIED MINERS Down the Shaft with Boliviaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Child Laborers BY WES ENZINNA PHOTOS BY JACKSON FAGER

Jose Luis and his cousin, young laborers who work together inside the Cerro Rico mine

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n 1936, George Orwell visited a coal mine in Grimethorpe, England. “The place is like… my own mental picture of hell,” he wrote of the experience. “Most of the things one imagines in hell are there—heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and, above all, unbearably cramped space.” Orwell was a lanky guy, 6'3" or 6'2", and I am too. So I was reminded of his comparison recently while crawling through a tunnel as dank and dark as a medieval sewer, nearly a mile underground in one of the oldest active mines in Latin America, the Cerro Rico in Potosí, Bolivia. The chutes were so narrow that I couldn’t have turned around—or turned back—even if I’d wanted to.

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Orwell wasn’t the first to equate mines with hell; Bolivian miners already know they labor in the inferno. In the past 500 years, at least 4 million of them have died from cave-ins, starvation, or black lung in Cerro Rico, and as a sly fuck-you to the pious Spaniards who set up shop here in 1554 and enslaved the native Quechua Indians, Bolivian miners worship the devil—part of a schizophrenic cosmology in which God governs above while Satan rules the subterranean. As an offering to him, miners slaughter llamas and smear blood around the entrances to the 650 mineshafts that swiss-cheese this hill. Near the bloodstains, just inside the mine, a visitor can find beady-eyed statues with beards and raging boners—a goofy caricature of Satan known as El Tio, or “the Uncle,” to whom workers give moonshine and cigarettes in exchange for good luck. Before entering the mountain, I’d offered a small pouch of coca leaves to one of these little devils, requesting a bendiga, a blessing for my safety. A few hours later, I was hundreds of feet underground, shambling through three-foot-tall tunnels, bony knees bruising over hard rock. My guide, Dani, a miniature man with the strength and temperament of a donkey, had burrowed so far ahead that he’d disappeared into the darkness. I called out to him. When

he didn’t reply, my photographer Jackson turned to me and coughed. “I’m freaking out,” he said, and we soldiered on, trying to trace Dani’s path through the hot, sulfur-stinking tunnel. The Cerro Rico is collapsing. At its most productive the Rich Hill, as its name translates into English, yielded more than half of the world’s silver, bankrolled the Spanish empire for 200 years, and inspired a popular saying based on the name of the city where it’s located: “Worth a potosí,” as in, “That Escalade must be worth a potosí, hombre.” But after 500 years of exploitation, the hill—which, at almost 16,000 feet, is actually a gigantic mountain towering like a skyscraper above the ramshackle churches and plazas of this city of 240,000 people—is as exhausted as its workers. Today, it still produces a little tin, zinc, and silver, and 15,000 men continue to labor inside of it, but they’ve done such a thorough job that the Cerro Rico has become structurally unsound. “One of the fears,” Roberto Fernandez, coordinator of the labor rights NGO Yachaj Mosoj, told a reporter in 2010, “is that Cerro Rico is going to crumble like the Twin Towers, floor by floor.” In an attempt to calm Jackson’s nerves, I reminded him that tourists were taken into these mines all the time. I’d actually OPPOSITE PAGE, TOP: The Cerro Rico mountain— which miners also call the “mountain that eats men”— looms over the city of Potosí, Bolivia OPPOSITE PAGE, BOTTOM: A statue of a miner, holding a jackhammer and a rifle, at the miner’s market in Potosí THIS PAGE: A worker inside the Cerro Rico mine

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visited ten years ago. What I didn’t mention to him was that the depth at which we were spelunking was far beyond the limits recommended to study-abroad students. Jackson and I were on a mission to find child miners, 3,000 of whom are rumored to work in the Cerro Rico illegally. Their work is officially forbidden by the Bolivian government, so they tend to stay out of sight when foreigners come around. But Jackson was still nervous, with good reason—according to the most recent available statistics, 60 children died from cave-ins and other accidents in the Cerro Rico in 2008 alone. In a country as poor as Bolivia, just because tourists—or children—are allowed to do something doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Sixty children died from cave-ins and other accidents in the Cerro Rico in 2008, according to statistics. When we finally caught up with Dani, he had crawled his way to a group of working miners. Mazes of tiny tunnels led to large rooms carved out of rock, where silver veins have been dug out with hand picks, jackhammers, and sticks of dynamite. Five filthy and shirtless men stood around. Dani introduced us. “Osama bin Laden is hiding down here!” laughed a guy with a shovel, stripped to the waist. When I pointed out that bin Laden was dead, he seemed genuinely surprised. The men were in their 30s, they told me, and they’d been working together in the mines for about ten years, splitting the profits of the minerals they collected and sold. At best, they each made about $30 a day. They confirmed that there were children working down there but couldn’t say exactly where. But we didn’t talk long. It was nearing the end of the workday, they had just finished planting eight dynamite sticks in a nearby rock face, and they wanted to ignite it so they could go home—but they couldn’t, because they’d forgotten matches. “Captain America,” one miner said to me, “do you have any matches?” I didn’t. The only solution was for someone to scramble back up to the mouth of the mine—a half-hour journey at a steady clip—and retrieve some. And that’s how Dani, our trusted guide, abandoned us in the depths of the Cerro Rico. “I’ll go get some for you, brothers,” he told the crew before racing off into one of the feeder shafts and disappearing. They shrugged and returned to work. “Jesus,” Jackson said. “He really left.” “Yup,” I said. A few minutes later, I heard a sizzling sound. Jackson stared at me. Then we both looked to the corner of the chamber where dynamite fuses dangled from a wall like tampon strings plugging up a whole world of trouble. “Are they lit?” I asked one of the miners. “You bet,” he said. Apparently they’d found some matches after all. “When are they going to explode?” I asked. It seemed like a pertinent question, given that we were standing almost a mile underground, in a chamber full of dynamite, inside an already collapsing mountain. “Any minute, Captain America. You’d better run!”

’d gone to Bolivia because some NGOs and activists there have been trying—seemingly against all good sense—to lower the legal working age from 14 to six years old. And this was not the doing of mine owners or far-right politicians seeking cheap labor like one might expect. Instead the idea has been floated by a group of young people ages eight to 18 called the Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (UNATSBO)—something like a pee-wee version of the AFL-CIO—who have proposed a law that aims to allow young children to legally work. Bolivia’s congress is slated to vote on a version of the law as soon as this month. Why would an organisation dedicated to fighting for the rights of young workers want to lower the legal working age? Current regulations state that youth can begin work no younger than 14, but these laws are rarely followed. Bolivia is a nation of fewer than 11 million people. This includes approximately 850,000 children who work full-time, nearly half of whom are under 14. “They work in secrecy,” Alfredo, a 16-year-old who since the age of eight has worked as a bricklayer, construction worker, and currently as a street clown, told me when I met him at a cafe in El Alto, the teeming slum city just outside of La Paz, Bolivia’s capital. Outside in the street, children known as voceadores— “barkers”—leaned from buses and called out their respective destinations in the hopes of earning a few coins from sympathetic or illiterate passengers unable to read the signs. “And that secrecy,” he continued, “pushes these kids into the shadows, as if they were criminals.” As we ate lunch, Alfredo told me a story about his first experience of exploitation, while working making matracas, small music boxes, when he was 12. “The boss was refusing to pay me my wages,” he said, which amounted to about $3 per tenhour workday. “And I kept demanding my wages, and he kept saying, ‘I’ll pay you later, I’ll pay you later.’ After six months of this, he said I hadn’t done a sufficient job… as an excuse not to pay me.” If Alfredo had been working legally he would have technically had legal recourse to demand his back pay. “In the end, I got half of what I was owed.” Shortly thereafter, he joined UNATSBO. In 1910, at the tail end of the industrial revolution, somewhere around 2 million children in the US worked in coal mines, factories, and on plantations. A century earlier in England, more than 50 percent of the workforce in some textile and garment factories consisted of child laborers. The inspiration behind David Copperfield was Charles Dickens’s own experience working in a factory as a 12-year-old. “I know enough of the world now to have lost the capacity of being much surprised by anything,” he wrote, “but it is a matter of some surprise to me, even now, that I can have been so easily thrown away at such a young age.” But today, after two centuries of economic development, compulsory schooling, and restrictive legislation, less than 1 percent of the workforce in the Western world is made up of children, and the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Minimum Age Convention has codified these developments into a widely followed international agreement. In 1973, the ILO convention set the minimum working age at 15 (14 in some circumstances) and was ratified by 166 countries. Efforts to eradicate child labor in underdeveloped countries, however, have floundered. According to the ILO, there are still 168 million children in the world under the age of 17 working in every type of grueling physical capacity imaginable. In Africa, 59 million children work, or one out of five young people; in Asia, the workforce includes 78 million kids. In Latin

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America, it’s 13 million, or nearly one of every ten children. In Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, one of every three children works. According to the ILO, the total number of children working worldwide has declined since 1960, but rapid urbanisation has increased child-labor figures in many cities. Additionally, a 2008 study by the ILO projected that the global recession was likely to drive 300,000 to 500,000 new children into the Latin American workforce. The fact that so many children continue to work is, according to a joint study by economists at Cornell University, “a failure of stunning proportions.” Because so many of these kids work illegally, they are invisible, laboring in the shadows. It’s not just child miners, in other words, who work underground. NATSBO formed sometime around 1995 in response to the still-abysmal working conditions faced by young laborers in Bolivia. From the start it was composed of kids organising kids, voting for their own leaders and rules. Last year Alfredo, the street clown I had lunch with, was elected president of the El Alto chapter of UNATSBO. He had participated in a march on the president’s palace in La Paz in December 2007, with 1,000 other UNATSBO kids, to protest legislation proposed by Bolivian President Evo Morales that, if passed, would’ve raised the legal working age from 14 to 18. His fellow marchers wielded placards that read, if i don’t work, who will support my family? UNATSBO’s protest helped defeat the attempt to raise the working age to 18. It was a clear victory, but not the solution to Bolivia’s macro-socioeconomic problems. Luz Rivera Daza, one of UNATSBO’s fully grown supporters from the NGO Caritas in Potosí, where she works with unionised children, is part of a larger shift in the thinking among some Latin American intellectuals and activists about how best to respond to the realities of child labor in the 21st century. “If I tell kids to stop working in the mines, what can I offer them instead?” she told me when I visited her at her office in

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Potosí. “The families of these children may literally starve if they stop working—their wages help keep the families afloat. Restrictive laws hurt these children,” she said. “We need to eradicate poverty before we can talk about eradicating child labor.” Luz told me she hadn’t received pay for three months because a crucial grant to her NGO had failed to come through. “I don’t believe that work is bad for kids,” she said. “What’s wrong is exploitation and discrimination because you’re a child.” But when I asked Luz if she would allow her own children to work, she paused. “No,” she said. “I wouldn’t.” Mainstream regulatory bodies like the ILO and the UN agree with her on this last point. The ILO’s preferred policy position is total prohibition of all child labor performed by people younger than 14. “The dangers of allowing children as young as six to work are tremendous,” Jose M. Ramirez, head of the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour, told me. “If they’re working, then they’re likely not spending enough time in school. And while the immediate result of youth having jobs is that the children earn money, in the long run they lose money.” Another destructive effect, Jose pointed out, is that employers sometimes hire children instead of adults, depressing overall wages. This is precisely what happens in Bolivia’s sugarcane harvest, where child workers are known as cuartas, or “quarters”—meaning they’re considered one-quarter of a person and paid accordingly. Hacking away at reeds with machetes in extreme temperatures, they’re also, like many child workers, subject to physical and psychological harm. “Some say our attempts to eradicate child labor are culturally imperialist,” Jose said, pointing out another rift in the childlabor debate. In much of the world, the concept of childhood stems from the Victorian idea of the “walled garden”—the belief that kids develop best by being protected from the concerns of the adult world for as long as possible. Yet in Bolivia, where 62 percent of the population is indigenous, Quechua and Aymara Indian leaders celebrate child labor and don’t think children should be barred from contributing to their families’ livelihoods.

Alfredo, right, is the 15-yearold leader of the El Alto chapter of UNATSBO, the Union of Child and Adolescent Workers By day, he works as a street clown alongside his 12-year-old nephew.

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Though President Morales has been a strong advocate for protecting the cultural traditions of Bolivia’s indigenous groups, his administration believes that all labor by people younger than 14 should be explicitly banned. It’s not 100 percent certain what exactly is included in the current bill that UNATSBO has proposed to Bolivia’s congress, because as of press time it’s still not through the final phase of revisions. UNATSBO aims to explicitly prohibit the most dangerous jobs, like mining and sugarcane harvesting, and lower Bolivia’s minimum-age requirements. Mabel Duran, a specialist in the Bolivian Ministry of Labor, told me that President Morales’s administration supports updating the child-labor code to tighten restrictions on dangerous work but does not support lowering the age limit. She explained that her office carries out inspections, helps organise protests of businesses that employ young children, and investigates complaints about the mistreatment of child workers. But the government’s failure to enforce the existing laws gives legitimacy to the legalise-child-labor approach of UNATSBO. In Bolivia, UNATSBO and its various chapters have 15,000 members, and there are similar child unions in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Paraguay, and Nicaragua. As these groups grow in size and influence, a larger split between First and Third World child-labor advocates looms. While UNATSBO’s current bill may or may not pass in Bolivia’s congress, it likely won’t be the last attempt of its kind. he Sucre Cemetery grounds in Potosí—all glittering caskets and skeletal trees, with the snowcapped Cerro Rico looming in the background—are the closest thing to a public park in Potosí. There, I met two shy siblings, Cristina and Juan Carlos, where they work cleaning gravestones. Cristina, 16, started working when she was 13, and Juan Carlos, who is 13, started working when he was eight. Because of overcrowding, the caskets are stacked vertically, and Cristina and Juan Carlos climb ladders to polish or place flowers on graves for the elderly, who pay them about $2 to $4 per day in tips. They work for a few hours after school and from 6 PM to midnight on weekends. Half of their earnings go toward school supplies and clothes, and the other half is given to their father, a truck driver, to help pay for food and rent. They also said that their father has a new girlfriend and squanders some of his money buying her gifts. Cristina and Juan Carlos’s older brother, Jhonny, got Juan Carlos involved in UNATSBO. He had been working since he was eight or nine years old, but two years ago, at age 19, he committed suicide by hanging himself. At the cemetery, Juan Carlos took me to his favorite part of Sucre’s grounds—his dead brother’s gravesite, which he polishes as part of his routine. As he dolefully scrubbed the stones, I saw that a bottle of homemade corn brew—or chicha—lay beside Jhonny’s tomb because he was a fan of drinking. “There used to be a lot more kids at the cemetery,” Juan Carlos said. “But a lot of them have retired due to drugs and alcoholism.” While Juan Carlos polished away, Cristina led me to a part of the cemetery where the city’s miners were buried. It was a beautiful sepulcher, the Andes towering on the horizon. One wall read, the miner’s service to his community ends here. When I asked Cristina if there was anything she didn’t like about her work, she said that drunks and thieves sometimes sneaked into the cemetery at night and harassed her. “They call me a slacker,” she said, “and say that I’m just working for my own enjoyment.”

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When she was done polishing the miners’ tombs, I asked her if she ever thought about death, having spent so much time working in the cemetery. “I’m more afraid of life than death,” she said after a long pause. “Because in death, at least, you can rest with God.” n one of my last days in Potosí, I finally managed to arrange a meeting with a child miner who makes his living in the depths of Cerro Rico. Fifteen-year-old Jose Luis met me at his family’s shack in the working-class neighbourhood of San Cristobal. Their house rests on a steep, cobblestone slope shrouded in clouds. Like everyone else in the city, Jose Luis lives in the shadow of the Cerro Rico.

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Some child workers are known as cuartas, or “quarters”—meaning they’re paid one-quarter of a salary. On some mornings and nights he walks an hour up the dirt road to Cerro Rico before descending into the mine to work. “At first I was very scared,” he said, recalling his first day at the mine at age 11. “All that darkness is spooky.” A few years later he was in the tunnels sifting rocks when he spotted a group of men carrying a dead body. It was an accident, and that became his new fear: getting killed. “If you go up,” he said, “you don’t know if you will come back down.” Jose Luis works on a team with his father and cousins. He avoids the most dangerous jobs, like drilling, which fills the lungs with dust and leads to silicosis (and, eventually, death), and dynamiting, which can cause cave-ins. Instead he goes to the mines a few days a week after school to search for small bits of silver. He can earn up to $20 a day; often, however, he doesn’t find any valuable minerals and earns nothing. Unlike the laboring urchins that Dickens documented in 1800s England, who were exploited by sinister and unscrupulous industrialists, today’s child laborer is often self-employed, struggling to make a few bucks in an informal economy whose rules and rewards are ever changing. That’s why today’s child labor is so difficult to derail—there is no clear enemy besides poverty, plain and simple. After our interview, Jose Luis and I went down into the mine together. I wanted to see firsthand what his workday was like. He was chipper, and happy to have the company. It took about a half hour of crawling to the shafts where Jose Luis worked. I watched him, on his knees in a four-foot-tall cave as he chipped away at a rock face, scouring for silver. “You know this is dangerous, right?” I asked. “I do,” he said. “But I try not to think about it.” Dynamite blasts periodically erupted in the distance, and his dad and cousins arrived not long after we did. With them was another young miner, 12 or 13 years old, dressed in a pink jumpsuit and looking completely shell-shocked. He and six grown men had been upstairs drilling and dynamiting. He said that he’d dropped out of school two months before and had just started working the mines. “Do you like it?” I asked. “No,” was all he said. Delve into the mines with Bolivia’s young workers with our new documentary Child Workers of the World, Unite! this month on VICE.com.

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SOUL ON FIRE

California Is Burning—Can a Motley Crew of Prisoners Save It? WORDS AND PHOTOS BY JAMES POGUE, COLLAGES BY WINSTON SMITH 60 VICE

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ou always plead. Statistically speaking. There’s literally no end—today in the paper, they’ve got a quote from a guy doing life for armed robbery—to what they can do to you if you fight, and anyway most of the time they have the documents, the surveillance videos, the gun under the passenger seat, and you take what they give you. Because the number they come to you with—ten years with half, eight years at 80 percent, it’s all very baroque—is only the beginning. The higher the number, the rougher the yard, and in California, this second set of numbers—level-three yards, level-four yards—can denote their own kind of punishment.

Y OPPOSITE PAGE: Don Camp watches a stand of torching sugar pines.

Justin pled, and he had never heard of the Conservation Camp program when he and his wife, Kelly, were sentenced in Fresno County, California, for running a massive mortgagefraud operation. “They came into court wearing street clothes,” read the local ABC affiliate’s story on the hearing in which Justin was sentenced to almost ten years in prison, “but they left in handcuffs.” The article ran with a photo of the pair in court: Kelly looks straight at the judge, grim and defiant. Justin, turning abjectly toward his wife, slouching in a green polo under which protrudes a hint of potbelly, looks broken. When I met him in August, Justin—who asked that I not use his last name—was wearing an inmate’s orange jumpsuit, though we were 20 miles from the nearest prison. He was sitting at one of the long plastic dining tables in the center of the Tuolumne City Incident Command Post, an impossibly busy firefighting base built in a park in the center of tiny Tuolumne City, on the edge of the Stanislaus National Forest in California’s Western Sierra. A good third of the base was taken up by a series of white canvas tents, no bigger than tractor sheds, each housing 32 inmates. The rest of the base served as an operations center and home for the thousands of firefighters and support personnel working to contain the Rim wildfire, which was then exploding through the canopies of the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, its nearest edge only a few miles from our location. There were fire engines parked on the narrow streets—a precaution against the possibility that the fire might jump a nearby canyon and come rolling into town. The smoke was so thick that it burned our eyes. “My daughters basically know their parents are in prison,” Justin told me. “But if you ask, they just say, ‘Daddy’s a firefighter.’” Justin is part of California’s Conservation Camp program— a huge but little known joint venture between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency. The program, in place since 1946, disperses some 4,200 felons from California’s notoriously crowded and dangerous prisons and relocates them to 42 camps situated in rural, fire-prone areas ranging from the Oregon border all the way down to San Diego County. Given that Cal Fire only has about 4,700 full-time employees, inmate crews like the one Justin works on represent a huge portion of the state’s firefighting capacity. Inmates spend most of the year serving their time in the camps, building parks and doing other good works, but when a fire breaks out, they’re dispatched and live in an incident base until the conflagration is contained. Inmates are the state’s main source of so-called hand crews— the teams that do the roughest, and probably the most dangerous,

work of wildland firefighting: marching deep into burning forests where big engines and bulldozers can’t penetrate. Once there, they use chainsaws and hand tools to cut what is called the containment line—basically, a trench that a fire, if all goes as planned, can’t leap over. The teams that do this work for the federal government are known as hotshots, and tend to be thought of as heroes, like the 19 Granite Mountain hotshots who burned to death last June, working a fire in Arizona. Wildfires have been growing in size and frequency all over the west—a particular issue in California, with its huge rural and semi-urban populations scattered through forest, chaparral, and desert up and down the state. The combination brings on disasters like what’s known in Cal Fire lore as the “2003 Fire Siege” of Southern California—14 wildfires, 750,043 acres burned, 3,710 homes destroyed, a billion dollars in property damage, and 24 people killed, all in a single season. Meanwhile, budget cuts for rehabilitation programs and new sentencing guidelines have made a fiscal and moral disaster out of the state prison system. Spending on prisons has increased by 486 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 1980, and the system is now under federal receivership after repeated court rulings finding that crowding in the prisons amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. But California has always been a state built on easy reinvention and neat solutions, and when I first heard about the Conservation Camp program, I became enchanted with it as a typically Californian attempt to address two very 21st-century problems facing the state: taking an overabundance of prisoners and using them to tackle an overabundance of wildfires. I recently moved to California, seeking reinvention, and I became sort of unfashionably interested in the state’s attempts to address its various policy and ecological disasters. When the Rim fire—named for the Rim of the World Vista off Highway 120, near where a hunter’s illegal campfire burned out of control in August—broke out in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the preoccupation became something like an obsession. Without waiting for a magazine assignment or even getting any assurance from state officials that I’d be able to hang out with prisoners or see the fire, I loaded up my truck and drove to the Sierra. By the time I came to Tuolumne City, the fire had already spread at an almost unthinkable pace, shooting through the treetops in 30,000- and 50,000-acre leaps of “crownfire”—runs of flame tearing through the forest canopy. A 50,000-acre fire alone is something the US Forest Service would call a “major incident.” The Rim fire would eventually burn more than 250,000 acres, making it the third-largest fire in California history. Ecologists monitoring this section of the Western Sierra were already calling this fire “the Big One.”

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had driven up from Los Angeles, and calling from a truck stop in Modesto, I managed to get in touch with a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) lieutenant named Dave Fish, the commander of a residential inmate camp called Baseline. He grumbled, but said I could tag along. There were a total of 623 inmates fighting the fire when I arrived, most sleeping in the white tents at the incident base, but Lieutenant Fish had several 17-man crews living at the Baseline camp, just 20 miles down the road from Tuolumne City. The drive from Tuolumne City to Baseline is gently gorgeous, bringing you down through oak scrub foothills and then out an old country road through gold, rolling ranchland. On the way I saw hand-drawn signs, saying things like, thank u law enforcement + firefighters and your life is worth more than my house. If I’d had any preconceptions of a correctional institution, my arrival in Baseline camp was disorienting. I drove right through the gates, the camp looking less like a prison than a spread of ranch houses. There was no fence around the perimeter, and while there was a checkpoint at the entrance, it was unmanned and nobody searched me on my way in. Through the gate there was a koi pond designed, built, and maintained by inmates who slept in bunkhouses arranged around the main lawn—the 17 men on a fire crew sleep together, to build camaraderie. Lieutenant Fish, midsize and extraordinarily officious, met me on the lawn. Fish, as he’d said to call him, showed me around, and introduced me to an inmate named Washington, an astonishingly humble black guy from San Diego, 32 years old and months away from finishing a 12-year sentence for armed robbery. He spoke so softly that almost nothing he said got picked up by my recorder, and explained that the freedom of the camp surprised him at first.

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“When I got here, and there’s no walls?” Washington said. “After a decade?” He, like all the inmates, underwent a qualification process for camp that takes into account the seriousness of his offense and past behavior in the prison system. Murderers, rapists, and, well, arsonists, are excluded. Most of the inmates earn two days off their sentences for every day spent in the camp, but Washington’s judge had stipulated that he serve at least 80 percent of his sentence. “Camp or no camp, man—I’ve spent my entire adult life in prison,” he said. “I’ve never even been to a 21-and-up club.” Contraband was a problem, Fish explained. “You can have your homies drive right up and leave a cell phone, cigarettes, drugs, whatever in the bushes. Then you can use the cell phone to plan escapes, assaults on officers, whatever. You have a cell phone in camp, you’re gone. But we get a lot of them. “We had one guy who got busted with a phone under his sheets. An officer saw the glow. The guy jumped up, hit the officer in the face with his elbow, and just took off running. They caught him eventually. Now he’s back in prison, plus what he got for escape and assaulting an officer. You don’t last long if you don’t play by the rules here.” Washington’s crew was gearing up to go down to the fire, so Fish and I drove back together to the incident base in Tuolumne City where we had breakfast with another lieutenant, the commander of the Mount Bullion camp, 60 miles south of us in Mariposa County. He was serving as the CDCR’s agency representative and was the closest thing to the point man for all the various camp commanders and their crews on the fire. His real name was Chris Dean, but all his inmates seemed to refer to him simply as “the Loo.” He was massive, with a shaved head, ever-present sunglasses, and a horseshoe mustache—he

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could have done this, or he could have been an outlaw biker, but nothing in between. “Ask anyone in the Feds,” Fish said, as we ate hash browns, eggs, and bowls of fresh berries prepared by inmate cooks as breakfast for the whole camp. “They’ll say these guys do the same work as hotshots.” “But then if there’s things like our laundry is getting done,” the Loo added, “and the Cal Fire guys are waiting on inmate clothes to get cleaned, you think there isn’t going to be resentment against our guys? The prisoners? So we have to watch that sort of thing. I try to get our guys to chow early, so we keep out of the way of the professionals.” Fish then told me a story about an inmate who was killed somewhere in Southern California when a crew transport vehicle was hit by a Subaru that crossed a median. “It flipped, went down a ravine, and one guy had his skull crushed,” he said. “Now, a professional firefighter who dies like that is a hero. It’s in the line of duty. This guy who died, people see it different. But someone still has to call his mother.” Fires create a kind of general intimacy, sort of like that of an all-male college campus—the men tend to make friends quickly and rise to anger quickly, too. While I was there, at least one inmate would lose it with his captain and get sent back to prison, and a hotshot crew from Oregon was sent home after one of its guys lost his temper and at the very least spat in an official’s face, though there were several versions of the story going around. “It’s not just the inmates that get in fights down here,” the Loo said, as we finished our meal, “though, yeah, they fight a lot.” Fish interjected: “The thing is that it’s groups of men. Bunched together. Men fight each other.”

OPPOSITE PAGE: The southern end of the Rim fire

Ecologists monitoring this section of the Western Sierra were already calling this fire “the Big One.”

he Loo had a sort of intuitive wisdom beneath it all, and he was the one who surmised that I might be interested in Justin, the prisoner in for mortgage fraud, whom I met at the incident base later that afternoon. He was bald, and shy, the kind of person you imagine was probably called “sweet” a lot, growing up in Clovis, the twin city of Fresno. His parents taught at the local high school. He went on to Fresno State. He stayed in Fresno, took a job teaching junior high. He lived alone in a suburban apartment complex. He coached Little League. Justin led what seems to him to have been a troublingly mundane existence, until he met Kelly—the woman who would become his wife and co-defendant. He was 28; she was 23 and living in his same apartment complex. She seems to have brought something out in him that he, over the next two days, found essentially impossible to explain. “She was gorgeous,” he told me. “We did everything fast. Two months after we met, she moved in with me. Two months after that, we bought a house together.” Kelly worked as a mortgage processor. “Two months after that, she introduced me to some of the people she was working for.” These men were apparently Colombians, which is all I

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could get him to say about it. They asked them to move down to Temecula, between San Diego and Orange County, to start an office. “We became different people,” he said. “We bought cars, houses.” I asked what sort of cars. “Oh, you know, like, Lincoln Navigators.” I wrote this down. He thought for a moment. “I also had a Lamborghini Gallardo. Also a 1957 Porsche Speedster. When you have money you do things.” After a couple of years Justin and Kelly moved back to Fresno to start their own operation. They ran a real-estate office and signed dozens of people up for loans they couldn’t afford, or loans they didn’t even know they’d taken out. In one instance, they forged a stranger’s signature and took out a loan for a vacant parking lot in her name, according to news reports. Her bill was $1 million. Meanwhile, they lived a slightly paradoxical existence: they went to church, he started coaching baseball again. “It was crazy,” Justin said. “There were real-estate agencies involved, title companies involved, banks involved.” At the business’s peak they had 50 employees. He looked for people who spoke fluent Spanish. “I had this desire for them to be scared of me,” he said. “We were closing multiple loans under one person’s name at one time. When they came for us they said we were targeting the Hispanic community. That’s how they prosecuted us.” They were charged with 180 counts covering all aspects of their operation, and eventually pled to grand theft and admitted to defrauding the FDIC. They were offered a deal whereby the 16-year sentence initially offered to Justin would be reduced to nearly ten years with half the time off for good behavior, with the stipulation that Kelly plead guilty and agree to take at least two and a half years, to be served, because of crowding in the state system, in the Fresno County jail. It seems he had to talk her into it, but she took the deal, and now they communicate by letter once a month or so. “I try to tell her about where I am,” he said, “but you say things about the deer and the scenery, and she writes back, like, ‘Do you know what kind of hell I’m living in?’ So I keep some of it back.” After being sentenced, Justin was temporarily sent to Wasco, a prison north of Bakersfield, where he waited to hear what permanent prison he’d be sent to for the remaining five years of his sentence. “Wasco’s no joke,” he said. “I got there and saw the gun turrets up above, under that hot sun, and I thought, This is really serious. The lucky thing was that there was a riot. A few guys got stabbed. Everyone else went to the hole, and so I basically got to keep to myself.” He heard about the camp program from chatter in the dorms. He found out that he would have needed to serve three years on a level-three yard before he even qualified if he had been pinned with the 16-year sentence, but as it stood, he qualified immediately. He wrote the Loo letters from Wasco, asking to be accepted into the program. “You hear things,” he said, “about who’s a good commander, about where you want to be.” He

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OPPOSITE PAGE, TOP: Justin at the head of the line with another inmate, Jonathan Portillo OPPOSITE PAGE, BOTTOM: A hotshot out of Arizona uses a drip torch to ignite brush.

was accepted into the Conservation Camp program, and a few weeks later he was sent to Jamestown for training. “So from a 16-year bid, down to ten with half, and then with the camp time off I’m down to two and a half years,” he said. “That’s love.” We talked for hours, with the Loo sharing the table watching beneficently behind his sunglasses, occasionally offering a clarifying detail about prison life. The Loo remembered the letters when I asked him about them. He put on a slightly effeminate voice, “‘Please, Lieutenant Dean, please, please can I come to your camp?’ It was stuff like that.” We finished and I took off for Sonora, the closest thing to a big town nearby. I’d been drinking a strict limit of six Coors every night downtown at Zane’s Iron Horse Tavern, where by that time all the regulars knew me, if not by name then at least as the faggy-looking dude in cowboy boots from LA. My routine was that I’d leave Zane’s around midnight and drive back up past the incident base to the Black Oak Indian Casino, where I gambled to earn back the beer money I’d blown, and then, because I’d come up with $239 in my bank account and a hotel was out of the question, all the prices having been driven up by the crush of firefighters, I drove up into the Stanislaus where I’d find a dirt road, drive a half mile back just for the fun of the drive, and sleep in the forest. I had been trying to conceal my way of living from Fish and the Loo, who were serious men with a serious fire on their hands, but I smelled and had a lot of trouble hiding my hangovers. They were indulgent. he next day, Fish and the Loo helped arrange things so I could tag along to watch Justin fight the fire. Or, as it turned out, to start a fire in order to fight the fire—a counterintuitive sort of hair-of-the-dog method of controlling wildfires. I showed up at the incident base at about ten in the morning and met a large, serious Cal Fire officer named Don Camp, who they’d asked to take me to try to locate Justin’s crew at work. We set off in his Cal Fire Chevy Silverado, and went off-road to find them, following a path cut by a bulldozer deep into the odd mix of forest that makes up the Western Sierras’ lower montane, the forest zone that comes before you hit the real high alpine country—we rolled past Ponderosa pine and incense cedar, black oak, and manzanita, as we plowed through the forest. We drove for three hours and spent long stretches unable to find ourselves on the maps drawn up and issued every day back at the command post. Our Incident Action Plan, drawn up and issued every day like the maps, warned us that if the main fire—a couple miles away—plumed up, it could shoot sparks or small flames through the air and into the brush surrounding us, sparking smaller fires. If that happened, these so-called spot fires and the main fire would, looking for fuel and heat, tend to want to merge, burning out anything in between. This would, in the universally understated phrasing of wildland firefighters, “cause problems for us.”

T

We eventually found Justin’s crew, miles from the nearest road, working on what’s called a firing operation—which it to say that they were lighting a man-made fire to send back toward the main fire. The goal of this was to burn out at least some of the dry fuel between us and the main fire, so that, should the Rim fire reach this point, all of the trees and brush that might help fuel it would already be burned up. This stretch of forest was by now the critical front. The fire had been held everywhere else except for a rocky and uninhabited region called the Emigrant Wilderness, where it was likely to burn out on the rocks. But here it was marching toward a stretch of containment line protecting a string of towns along Highway 108. The fire command was worried that the line of bare ground protecting the road—the containment line—cut by inmate crews and bulldozers through the forest might fail to stop its advance, which could lead to nearby towns going up in flames. Making matters worse, the Incident Action Plan warned us that the moisture levels of the forest’s so-called thousand-hour fuels—mature trees that could theoretically burn for weeks— was down to a preposterously low 6 percent, creating a situation in which full-grown evergreens had the potential to explode like stands of dry brush. Justin was leading a crew of inmates that stretched along the containment line. He had just been made the crew’s swamper—the prestige position on a crew, the guy responsible for relaying his captain’s orders and keeping his fellow inmates in line. We shook hands, and it became a bit of a party when I took out the camera and started photographing—he and the crew hamming it up and crowding around as stands of Manzanita exploded in flame behind us. There were a couple young gangbangers from Echo Park and Boyle Heights, near where I live in Los Angeles, and we got into a detailed conversation about the Dodgers’ playoff chances. The disruption caused Justin and me to be yelled at by Don and the team’s leader that day, a Cal Fire captain named Barajas. Barajas, a gentle guy from Monterey Park in Los Angeles was, along with Justin and two other Cal Fire captains running the burning operation, the only supervision the crew had. There were no guards, and the Loo and Fish were back at the Incident Base. “When you get a guy messing around, causing trouble,” Barajas told me, “a lot of the time I don’t even have to deal with it. I mean, I can’t deal with it. We give these guys weapons.” As evidence, Barajas motioned to the inmates, who were now aligned behind Justin, marching in military order and carrying an armory of hand tools fit for a peasant revolt. It was hard to decide whether the situation was a wonderful advertisement for human nature or the product of some spirit-crushing effect the system had worked upon the men. Probably it was a combination of the two. “A lot of times, a guy who’s acting up will come back the next day with bruises everywhere,” Barajas continued. “And he says he fell in the shower. That means the other guys gave him

“When you get a guy causing trouble,” said Barajas, “I can’t deal with it. We give these guys weapons.”

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a beating. They really want to do well here. And if something goes wrong, people can die.” To get here, the crew had come down a steep set of forest roads, approaching the northern front of the fire from Highway 108, and when they’d reached a point where their crew transport vehicle couldn’t push on any farther, they marched, each carrying a pack weighing as much as 50 pounds, and wearing bright-orange Nomex fire-retardant gear. They were working a 24-hour shift—standard for Cal Fire crews—with no guarantee that they’d get a chance to sleep that night. Sometimes crews work for three days straight without leaving a wildland operation. “After three days,” Barajas said, “they’re required to have a shower.” Captains like Barajas, in theory, have nothing to do with corrections. If an inmate went for a bathroom break and ended up absconding into the woods there would be no one to stop him, and, in fact, no one with the responsibility to try. I asked Don and Barajas about this. In unison they waved at the forest and said, “Look around! Where’s he gonna go?” Then Don told a story. “I showed up at the camp one day,” he said, “and there was a black bear in the middle of the yard. These guys are from the streets, and they didn’t know what to do. So I went to take a look, and what had happened was that the bear had stole himself a trash bag full of pruno.” Pruno is illicit prison wine. “He was drunk off his ass, collapsed, in the middle of camp. All the guys were terrified. These tough gangbangers from the city. They’d never seen a bear up close.” Along with Don and Barajas there was also a tall and impressive Cal Fire captain named Loren, serving as the overseer on the operation. He—alone among all the people associated with the camp program I dealt with—was possessed of a contempt for the prisoners that took a moment to pick up on and then was unmistakable. When he needed a couple guys to cut down a dead tree, he called to Justin, who yelled back for a saw team to come with him. Everyone I had seen on the operation so far had been walking, if only because it’s hard to run with a 50-pound pack on your back and a chainsaw in your hand. So they walked. Loren gave a little laugh. “Move guys, c’mon, what is this?” he said. They broke into a waddling sort of trot. He gave another little laugh. “Better.” At this point we were moving very quickly, marching down the line, halting, lighting brush with little watering-can-like devices that dripped a flaming mixture of gas and motor oil. Marching, cutting, and burning, over and over. We were achieving an unexpectedly hot and complete (“clean,” in firefighter parlance) burn, given the conditions. Don said it was one of the best burning operations he had ever seen. While we walked I hung out with Justin, who seemed totally unbothered by the heat, by his pack, by the fact that he hadn’t sat down in six hours. A pine went up, with the special whoosh-crackle of a tree going, in half a second, from burning at its base to being totally engulfed. The guys were all cheering, rooting for the fire, an inversion. “Goddamn,” Barajas said. “I love that sound.” By now it was getting dark, and Don and I had to figure out how to get back to our truck and out of the forest. Loren gestured to Justin with his chin. “Just bivy down here,” he said. “Him and 30 guys would all love to keep you warm.” Justin didn’t react to this, if he heard it, and neither Don nor Barajas found the joke funny—nor would have the Loo or Fish, if they’d heard

it—which is really the only advertisement I need to give for the camp program or most of the men involved with it. Justin and I shook hands very formally. I asked if he was going to get any sleep that night. He didn’t seem worried about it. on and I drove back to the incident base and I spent a couple more days sleeping in the woods, visiting the Baseline camp, and hanging out down the road in Sonora, a little hill town full of the type of people who prefer to live in the hills and that’s hard not to like. The Rim fire is, as of this writing, still burning, though it’s mostly contained and most of the men I met have probably gone back to camp, or were assigned to a different fire. I’d been so taken with the program as a symbol of all the big dreams and little failures of the state, and with Justin’s own personal reinventionin-the-wild narrative that it was only under questioning from the craggy regulars at Zane’s that it occurred to me to think about what I had really learned from my experience. The whole Conservation Camp program raises some obvious questions about social control, the human spirit, and the nature of the modern prison—the first thing most people ask when they hear about incarcerated men risking their lives to fight wildfires usually being some equivalent of “Isn’t that barbaric?” and the second being, “Why don’t they just run away?” The answer to the first question seems basically to be no, because the answer to the second question essentially seems to be that most of the guys in the program want to be there. There are no unbrokenoutlaw types in the camps. The reasons for this have, in part, to do with the fact that you have to play ball to even make it into the program, and in part to do with the scary nature of California’s prisons—the Loo and Fish both gave me long talks about how things aren’t as bad as you hear, but what you hear is really bad—stabbings, sexual assault, racial divisions deeper than in any other system in the country—so we can maybe just split the difference. In any case, everyone I met was well aware of the dangers and physical demands of fighting these types of fires. They were happy to be there, and the ones who resisted got booted back to prison. This was true of thieves, repeat drug offenders, guys who’d been in the system most of their lives. The rehabilitation was a little unsettling to see in action— because any way you look at it, the effect seems to have been that a human’s capacity for will and defiance had been broken down through labor and identification with sympathetic authority figures, and to hear the Loo or Fish tell it, the effect rarely held for guys once they were released. “I get a lot of guys who ask me, ‘Hey, Loo, when I come back can I come to your camp again?’ I’m like, ‘Man, you’re missing the point here.’” But it still makes you wonder how a big, old earnest state program like this could be so little known and so rarely used as a template for other prisoner-rehabilitation programs. For reasons that CDCR had trouble elaborating fully the Conservation Camp Program is actually a couple hundred inmates under capacity. The better-known method to alleviate overcrowding in the prisons is to send low-level offenders to county jails, and the state is experimenting with sending inmates to private facilities out-of-state, which seems like an enormous missed opportunity. “I still have that ambition,” Justin had told me at some point, speaking to the darker impulses that led him to the camp in the first place. “But it’s tempered. Now what I want to do when I get out is join Cal Fire.”

D

The guys were all cheering, rooting for the fire, an inversion.

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LI’L THINKS: TWITTER SELVES BY KATE CARRAWAY, ILLUSTRATION BY PENELOPE GAZIN

More of Kate’s Li’l Thinks can be found at twitter.com/ KateCarraway.

Twitter, generally and probably temporarily, is uncomfortably easy. Like Sunday afternoons, like an unencumbered ego, anything at all can surge forward to fill the empty space, and everything will. On this particular platform there are fewer rules and better access and bigger fonts, and there is super obvious, super excellent usability and an ever-widening acceptance of Twitter—by adults, I mean, because kiddos prefer Instagram and Snapchat— that make for a looseness, a malleability, a tremulous potential that is realised by a cross section of people matched only by, I don’t know, iTunes? Twitter, as a platform and product and social network, doesn’t deserve what it usually gets, critically and collective-culturally speaking, which is either the Franzen-panic of people who don’t understand it, and don’t seem to want to understand it (but why? It’s so fun!), or the defensive, sometimes smug-ish ownership of Twitter (this also happens across the internet at large) and its socially mediated meritocracy by people who do. The most emphatic positions in favor of Twitter, and all that looseness, malleability, and potential, are so singular and insistent; it sometimes feels to me like online self-righteous FOMO-horror, like an inverse of the social-internet suspicious, a self-serving and anxious decision that Twitter is not an but the alternative to a scarily splintering and reforming cultural economy. It

also acts as some kind of necessarily profound sociocultural endgame and, at the same time, a venue where existing, maybe-exiting systems of value and rank are disappearing into smoke, where previous ways of having and sharing ideas are second to the specially Twitter-styled. This kind of defense always feels to me, to use an annoying objective-correlative, like a Britney Spears video, one (there are several) that takes place in some apocalyptic bathhouse environment—all dark but shiny, just deeply, teenage-ly satisfied in its big-talk retreat from the established cultural standards. This kind of stuff, the paradigmatic oppositions, online and print, old and new, whatever, persist even though they are thoroughly ahistorical and don’t really make any kind of sense. They also don’t address the truly important questions and arguments about what different media and cultural spaces offer, and to whom. Like, as a for-instance: regardless of everything it might give or take from writing and thinking and the physical and intellectual space to do it, Twitter is still very much about certain, if implied, hegemonies. That anxious, FOMO-y need to affirm Twitter as our thing leaves out how much of the Twitter experience, in particular when it comes to self-representation, is dictated by our little circles of whoever we do Twitter with, in the same way it always has been. Take Twitter bios. The Verifi eds are more sincere and sanded down in what they say about who they are, yeah, but the preferred mood of the ruling class— whoever gets play, exposure, and rewards on Twitter where they might not in a previous version of collective culture—is to offer little or no information, no location, nothing that reveals the inherent embarrassment of participating or trying or taking it seriously. The second most preferred is to have a lot to say but to do so fl atly, arithmetically rather than exponentially, probably because even being on Twitter is initiatory, an insistence of the self, rather than reactionary, which is historically cooler. What is read as “self-promotion” on Twitter is so revealing of the ways in which Twitter behavior is invisibly managed, despite being ostensibly free and open and weird. The attempts made to negotiate the self and the expression of the self within non-normie Twitter circles are cutely tentative, so obviously and Franzen-ishly aware of what it means to include this platform in a cultural identity. “Weird Twitter” and “Black Twitter” are similar, bad attempts to diagram the experience, or to surge forward and fill up what is, and is still supposed to be, a wide-open space. What Twitter can be is still so present—like, the @Horse_ebooks phenomenon of “art” or “bot” got emotions up!—but it’s mostly anxiety, felt and managed collectively. Which, in itself, is kind of sweet: on or off Twitter, what it means, and what it means for who we are, is a pursuit undertaken together.

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ON THE ROAD WITH BAD DREEMZ

4OˠNDOUTWHYAGEINGROCKSTARSWHOˡYINˠRSTCLASSARE ALWAYSREMINISCINGABOUTTHEIRDAYSTRAVELINGINDERELICT VANSWITHGRIMY SOAP AVOIDINGBANDMATES WEHITTHE ROADWITH!DELAIDEGARAGEACT"AD$REEMZ)STHEROADAS ROMANTICASTHESONGSMAKEITOUTTOBE$ODRUMMERS WASHMOREFREQUENTLYTHANTHEYCHANGETHEIRDRUMSKINS (OWMUCHINTERNALDAMAGECANADIETCONSISTINGOFITEMS BOUGHTFROMTRUCKSTOPSCAUSE,ETĈSˠNDOUTTOGETHER

WATCH NOW AT NOISEY.COM/DISORDER

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REVIEWS BEST ALBUM OF THE MONTH: PRIMITIVE CALCULATORS

HOPSIN Knock Madness

wordlessly plucked a french fry off our lunch tray and slid it between her plump lips and licked the ketchup off like it was Don Juan’s dick. It was at that moment we realised we never wanted to mean something to someone more in our entire stupid lives. LINDSAY WEIRD

Funk Volume

Every 16-year-old skate rat with a zit factory for a face and a dense thicket of unwashed pubes needs a guardian angel, and for that, God dooked this dog-log straight onto LA. If you think you might fit his demographic, steal the keys to your mom’s certified preowned Toyota Sienna, and scoot on over to the nearest Best Buy. Then go to Crate & Barrel, pick up a classic black-serrated chopper, and cut your face off. DANIA MEHBOOBY-PHAARTY

FUTURE Honest Freebandz/A1/Epic

Ever since I illegally downloaded this record, I’ve been guzzling codeine and popping MDMA like a sorority girl at Ultra. It’s made me realise a handful of fun facts about this strange world: 1) Future is my favorite rapper; 2) Future perfect isn’t a tense, it’s a sentence fragment I should consider revising; and 3) I can’t feel my dong when I pee. JERRY NATHAN

MIA Matangi N.E.E.T./Interscope

In the high school cafeteria of the music industry, MIA doesn’t sit at the table, she sits on it, spreadeagle. She’s unfazed by the popular kids, and so far removed from the normal drama of homework and friends we can’t help but sorta wonder if she’s even listed in the official registrar. She’s never been “nice” to us, of course— she’s never been “nice” to anyone—but one time she

DEATH GRIPS No Love Deep Web Harvest

Death Grips are like that psycho girl you dated in college who was the first person to ever tongue your butthole. It felt better than being on ketamine in space, but it came with the price of explaining to your parents why the nice girl you’ve been spending so much time with puked in their imitation Mycenaean vase. The Grips felt like life-changers when they dropped, but by now, we’re kinda over it and are ready to date erudite women who are sweet and do yoga and shit. JAWN F. KENNEDY

MOBY Innocents Mute Records

Sure, there’s world music nonsense in here and the vocal loops get on your tits, but there’s enough here that’s listenable. This isn’t a totally objectionable experience, it just takes a little bit of effort. Maybe you can distract yourself during the various “YEAHOOOOOOYEAHYEAHEHOOWOOWOAHHHOOOooo” gospel bleatings. Yeah, the strings and horns do sound like every video game ad to ever use slo-mo, but don’t worry about any of that, because “Don’t Love Me” is fun (if you disregard the background bleep-blorps) and Mark Lanegan sounds amazing. Well, at least until he mentions Jesus and clowns in the same song. Actually, fuck this album. ZANE DE COURCY

CREEP Echoes POD

I was just trying to find some bloody rap videos. Is that so unreasonable? Instead, I wound up stuck inside a four-hour internet sinkhole watching alien documentaries. I’m a sceptic, truth be told, but this kind of stuff will actually make you more anxious than smoking a bucket of buds with Tilda Swinton’s spidery fingers cradling you from behind. Sia also makes a cameo, which goes some ways towards explaining all the other freaky shit in the universe. MT

ICONA POP This Is… Icona Pop Atlantic Records

You really have to give it to them. Icona Pop’s This is… Icona Pop sure is accurately titled. That’s an achievement in this day and age, right? Opening with “I Love It”, which I think is about breaking up with some boring old guy and being super fun/hot about it, is an Internet Generation ode to youthful obnoxiousness. “I crashed my car into the bridge, I don’t care, I love it,” they sing, and I wonder, do you really not care? I would care heaps if I did that. Aside from the huge financial ramifications of such unnecessary vandalism, which Icona Pop can obvs handle, I would care about being so hyper wasteful—especially in relation to a bad breakup. The rest of the album fares better (except “Girlfriend”—please don’t ever listen to that song) although it does sound a lot like the soundtrack to a summer Coke ad. To be fair, it does make me want to hang out with shirtless hunks at the beach/barbecue/road trip and maybe even play volleyball and flip my really shiny hair in slow motion. That’s what I want all the time though. I don’t really know if they are good at singing. It doesn’t sound like they are doing much. But they are Swedish, and everyone loves Swedish people because they are better looking and less racist than us. SALLY BEAVER

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Photography: Jackson Fager

COMING SOON TO VICE.COM

13-11-15 3:53 PM


REVIEWS WORST ALBUM OF THE MONTH: BAD RELIGION:

MELVINS Tres Cabrones Ipecac

real shot in the arm to the world of experimental rock/ electronic punk, made even more exciting by the fact it’s made by a bunch of Australian music legends. Melbourne has produced so many shithouse examples of bands aping overseas acts. Primitive Calculators in 2013 sound like Primitive Calculators in 2013. Thank fucking Christ. MILES BROWN

BAD RELIGION Sometimes I feel like the rules of punk changed before I was old enough to play. It must have been sick 25 or so years ago to skate around all day, boozing, using, and listening to Melvins while spray-painting the words FAKE ABORTION CLINIC on anything that moved. This record is equal parts perfection and mind-numbing idiocy, but at least they’re touring with new material instead of trotting out the sort of ATP nostalgia trip that’s somehow considered acceptable these days. LINDSEY LEONARD

PRIMITIVE CALCULATORS The World is Fucked Chapter Music

Holy fucking shit. Primitive Calculators waited 35 years to release their first ever studio album, and it’s a total ball-tearer. The lead track “Dead” is four minutes and thirteen seconds of searing synth-punk that bursts from the speakers with more youthful exuberance and authentic punk energy than the entire audience of the Vans Warped tour multiplied by each other. Best known for being in Dogs In Space and that other movie about Dogs In Space, this band formed in Melbourne in 1978, made a few live recordings, relocated to London and promptly broke up in 1980. They reformed for ATP 2009, had some live albums reissued, and have been playing around the Melbourne experimental scene ever since. With so many new bands exploring the musical aesthetic of the early 80s for retro/fashion reasons, it’s inspiring to hear musicians from the actual era punch out a track that effortlessly vaporises the pretenders. Chapter Music has been behind these guys in a big way since reissuing their self-titled live album in 2004. Kudos to them for sticking with the band until this new release materialised. It’s a

Christmas Songs Epitaph

I really hate this. I don’t know what Bad Religion is thinking, but there’s no such thing as God. All this music and culture are distractions from the very real horror of human violence and depravity that squirms like a bed of writhing snakes under society’s civil veneer. Law and order is a collective dream we can awaken from at any time. Soon there will come a day when the poor and downtrodden will no longer be placated with food stamps; instead they will sup on your entrails and blood, boiling your premature babies in a cauldron of bullion and duck fat. You’re dialing 911, but I have different numbers: 9mm, 12 gauge, and AR-15. It’s gonna make The Turner Diaries look like The Wizard of Oz. BRADLEY “DIRTBOMB” BANKS

BITCH PREFECT Bird Nerds Bedroom Suck

I first saw Bitch Prefect with Super Wild Horses and Boomgates back in 2011. It was as tight as I was loose. The dudes make good music, but I’m pretty sure if you knew any of them in real life they’d be pretty bad for your health. When these bros jam they omit a hallucinogenic energy that makes you have life changing epiphanies. Halfway through listening to this record I had to call up my psychiatrist because I realised that holy shit I’m gonna die one day. Please end my meagre earthly belongings to Omar Souleyman and ask him to perform his Syrian brand of BDSM over my smouldering ashes. TRILLIAM BASINSKI

WOODEN SHJIPS Back to Land Thrill Jockey

While I listened to this album, I made a mental list of the dumb things that it reminded me of. Fastforward to an hour before deadline, and since truly being capital-F Funny is harder than fisting a pigeon, I decided to cut out the middleman and present the list to you, unedited: the fake band from a commercial for dick pills played through a cheap reverb amp; a much more boring version of the Brian Jonestown Massacre with less money for drugs and gear; a weak, shitty fart on weak, shitty acid. CHJRISTIAN STJORM

ANGIE Turning Rice is Nice

Everyday day I have 10,000 emails about new bands, and new albums, and new sports clearance warehouses with great deals on lightly used golf clubs and it all gets a bit suffocating. When I was sent this album it was a nice change. I could tell you about how this album is great, and raw, and how Angie is a such a musical staple in Melbourne, and why it’s great to see a strong woman make a great record; but I’d rather take the time to send her a message. Angie, if you’re out there: thank you for being you. DOCTOR MARTIN ESQUIRE

MAGIK MARKERS Surrender to the Fantasy Drag City

I used to use this band as my alarm clock throughout my mid-20s . That was a dark time for me. I remember one summer morning when I woke up and slammed my alarm clock on the nightstand while coughing cigarette butts out of my mouth . I stumbled into the living room to see the remnants of the jar of peanut butter I’d scarfed the night before—not by smearing it on bread,

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NOVEMBER WED 20th THE LAUGH STAND: the finest stand-up comedy with guest Tom Ballard + $5 Magners! THU 21st Machine Translations + Stolen Violin + Mezko FRI 22nd THE SLEEP WALKERS CLUB: Fabels + Burn Antares + The Naysayers psychedelic music & visuals until late! SAT 23rd UNI SHMOONEY: Sures + Jenny Broke The Window + Naughty Rappers Collective + Super Magic Hats (VIC) + Cull + Borneo $10 for students! THU 28th Belle Roscoe (FR) + I Am Apollo + guests FRI 29th NO GOOD LABEL LAUNCH: Simo Soo + Maatzi + Jasper Clifford-Smith + Golden Blonde + Scissor Lock + B. Deep + Black Vanilla DJs + Laprat$ + Nowhere Society + Leeroy Madrid SAT 30th Beastside + Mikeon + Prospecta + Meare + Laxe + Shazza T + host P. Smurf

DECEMBER THU 5th The Grease Arrestor + The Citradels + Virgo Rising SAT 7th Found At Sea + Guests THU 12th THE FOLK INFORMAL: the best in local folk in a cosy atmosphere! FRI 13th Hayden Calnin + Guests SAT 14th Solkyri + Kalacoma (VIC) + Pirate + Koranic + LUNCH BREAK: A live set presented by Albert’s every Wednesday from 1pm on FBi Radio or live at FBi Social! Coming up - Jenny Broke The Window + Saskwatch + Psychlops Eyepatch… + HANDS UP: Banging DJs every Saturday from 11:30pm until the early morning! Events are correct at the time of print. Check fbisocial.com for any updates!

FBi Social Level 2 Kings Cross Hotel 248 William St Kings Cross www.fbisocial.com // www.fbiradio.com

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REVIEWS BEST COVER OF THE MONTH: DEATH GRIP

or even using one of the knives lingering in the petri dish that doubled as my sink, but by sticking the TV remote into the jar and licking the peanut butter off the buttons like a hobo . I remember feeling like Magik Markers were my only friends, and looking back I’m pretty sure they were. JED LARSON

MAZZY STAR Seasons Of Your Day Rhymes of an Hour Records

When are you meant to listen to an album like this? While clenching a sharpened spoon and guarding the last bean in your bindle? While limping towards the burial of a Confederate sawbones? You can’t make it sleepy time music, because you’re tempting death with an un-erotic asphyxiation every time you wear ear buds to bed. I’m just going to keep this on my person, just in case I do something at dusk that requires outdoor squinting… burning locusts? ZANE DE COURCY

THE STEVENS A History of Hygiene Chapter Music

PEAK TWINS S/T Bedroom Suck

Little known fact: punk rockers have feelings too. No matter how hard you think you are or how many fucks you say you don’t give, there is not one person in the world that doesn’t enjoy taking time off from their ordinary life. If you fancy a little bit of R&R away from shitty piercings and that stupid leather jacket then this is the album to take. I’m not saying go on a beach holiday or whatever but—you know—pop an umbrella in your drink, Peak Twins in your cassette player, and lighten up for one fucking minute. TONGUE STUD

And they are about as joy as it comes. People are going to love this. Characters on TV are psyched about their upcoming montages. Seeing as I know nothing about this type of jam, the only comparison that comes to mind is to Winehouse. The only reason I like her though, I just fully accepted, is because she took heaps of drugs, which is an awesome thing to do. The Bamboos don’t appear to be cracked-out wastoids, but I can forgive them for that because I would rather listen to this album. Plus they don’t get around in soiled pink ballet flats. Why Amy!? SALTY DOG

MOUNT EEERIE Pre-Human Ideas Chapter Music

THE LOVE JUNKIES Maybelene MGM

There are so many different parts of this album that sound like the music from Lano & Woodley’s TV show that played whenever the boys got mixed up with some bad guys. It’s like it’s purposefully trying to get me to picture Wayne Hope as a gang leader in a leather jacket. If the members of this band are so young that they aren’t anywhere near old enough to get any of that reference, there’s the prospect they could become ok. If they’re not so doe-eyed, it’s a double urgh. ZANE DE COURCY

Ever wandered so deep into the woods that it took hours of following streams that at first led nowhere and then, eventually, to your escape? That’s how earlier Mount Eerie albums sound. This still sounds like getting lost, except this time you’re in the Viridian Forest (you know, from Pokémon), and all you can hear for miles are the robot voices of a million SmarterChilds and unanswered Missed Connections. It freaks me out and breaks my heart, but I don’t hate it because sometimes getting heart broken is just what you need to realise you’re a twat. CAROLINE RAYNER

PER PURPOSE Circle the Stains Bedroom Suck

I know a lot of Stephens but not all that many… Stevens. This might seem a bit trivial but I’m sharing it with you because I thought I knew these guys pretty well, but after listening to their album, apparently I don’t. This thing packs a whopping 23 songs into 42 minutes which is like—a new song every 80 seconds. Or something. Maths was never a strong point. Anyways it shouldn’t work that well, but the beauty of such an approach is that not one of these songs outstays its welcome, as if the band called it a day every time a new idea crept in. It’s a lot to take in but a good thing if you’re easily distracted—like me. Pass the Ritalin. Thanks. KNOWLEDGE TAKING PLACE

THE BAMBOOS Fever In The Road Pacific Theater

I was worried that Fever in the Road would be super funky and I would have to spend an hour with slap bass and would feel like I’m in The Conjuring for like, the fifth time this week. Turns out, The Bamboos are not creepy and aren’t out to get you. Their brand of pop/soul is easy to listen to even if pop/soul is not your jag. The babes in the band actually know how to sing, the songs are proper songs that sound worked on and finished.

The last time I was up in Brisbane I stayed with these guys. They were lovely and supplied me with a mattress and some DVDs of The Cure for a couple of nights. I also smoked my first bong in about five years in their backyard, which is pretty impressive since, as an adult, I hold a fair amount of disdain for the vile herb and Queensland. They showed me a really good time playing guitars and drinking beers and shit. One of them even gave me some Triffids albums on Cassette. Great guys with great taste. Brisbane is still shit. ZAYD THRING

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13-10-17 11:13 AM


REVIEWS WORST COVER OF THE MONTH: ICONA POP

SHEBEEN QUEEN

R. KELLY

S/T

Black Panties

Seventh Seal

RCA

ONE DIRECTION In no other world than the hipster’s world can this exist, let alone be played publicly. Shebeen Queen brings it home by: a) Studying their shoes; b) Recording this EP on a Dictaphone, by the sounds of it; and c) Also releasing it on (limited run!) cassettes. I mean what else do you want, man? The twanging on “Cruel” even sounds like the spokes of a slow-moving fixie. Listen closely and you can almost hear the first-year gender bending “Yeah, totally” chats these two transcendent bitches must have in between tuning their guitars wrong. TOBY MCCASKER

FEELINGS Be Kind, Unwind Create/Control

For a project that calls themselves Feelings, there isn’t much substance here. I’m not saying Be Kind, Unwind ought to be tugging heartstrings with moody string sections, but a little more oomph would be nice. It’s all quite polished and we know this guy is good at what he does (writing pop music, it would seem) but��� I dunno… just not feeling anything at all on this one. I’ve made better connections on Tinder. Bummer. JACK BLACK

THE ANCIENTS Night Bus Chapter Music

If I was in a band and I wanted a hot female multi-instrumentalist genius, I’d probably avoid names that sound like Yoko Ono—but I’m glad that Yuko Kono is in The Ancients. Moreover, I’m glad that the Ancients exist. They’re a delightful, albeit dirty, blend of Elliott Smith, Joy Division, and bunch of other stuff that they clearly like and I like the stuff they like so I like them. RADI SAFI

Midnight Memories Syco/Columbia

I would guesstimate that there are several hundred lucky girls across the globe who’ve done it (“it” being defined as “at the very least an OTPHJ”) with one or more members of One Direction. These girls are probably hoping that their super meaningful tryst has been immortalised on 1D’s second record—’cause that’s what the title suggests, right? And how cool would it be to be the subject of, or at least a fleeting, semen-stained mention in, a pop song?! Little do they know their moment has already been committed to tape. One Direction has been advised by their legal team to record every single sexual encounter they have with their groupies (whose IDs are naturally checked by security in advance). This is to avoid potential lawsuits, allegations of rape, etc.—I’m sure you understand. TAYLOR TAYLOR TAYLOR

AVRIL LAVIGNE S/T Epic

People used to get all pissed-off at Avril Lavigne because she didn’t know who the Sex Pistols were, but seriously, who cares? I can’t think of many things that are more punk than not knowing who the Sex Pistols were, and frankly, “punk rock” isn’t even a real thing. All I’m saying is that there are a lot of way better reasons to hate (or love, depending on your point of view) her, and one of them is the number she did on her exhusband, that dude from Sum 41. Have you seen him recently? He looks exactly like Richard Dreyfuss’s bloated corpse weeks after he was shot trying to escape a death camp, which makes her the Joseph Goebbels of the third floor of the mall. VINNIE VANNUCCI

If I could have lunch with anyone, it’d be the awesome new gay-abortion pope. My second choice would be R. Kelly, who I actually did meet earlier this year. All the other music writers out there had to wonder what his latest opus sounded like, but Kells himself showed it to me and it blew my mind all over my face and neck. Its quality proved this: there is no father to R. Kelly’s style (he is, however, everyone else’s father, in the musical sense and also in the he-probablyfucked-your-mom-and-he’s-your-dad sense). DREW MILLARD

KES Duets Polyester Records

Who remembers lyrics, right? A song like any piece of art is an attempt at the unexplainable. Strip away words and you may just come closer to the truth. The closest KES’s sixth album comes to words is the occasional breath between pauses on a harmonium. Let this be the score to your next trip and send me 1000 paper cranes as a thank you. I live at 123 Pleasant Crs. Narnia. RADI

HEIDECKER & WOOD Some Things Never Stay the Same Little Record Company

I almost gave this a Barfy because Tim Heidecker makes me uncomfortable. Yes, he’s a comedic genius on par with Voltaire or John Maynard Keynes, but I’m also suspect he’s the type of guy who calls customerservice lines on the backs of potato-chip bags so that he can relish some kind of fleeting human interaction while he touches himself (under the pants, over the briefs). Oh well, you win some, you splooge some. TIN MAN

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