What the two men in this photograph are doing is now illegal in Russia. Amidst an alarming—and frequently violent— government crackdown, being out, or simply supporting gays and lesbians, can now get you thrown in jail, beaten up, or worse. On the eve of the Sochi Olympics, Jeff Sharlet embeds with the new enemies of the state and reports on life in the Russian underground.
In the past few years, I’ve bought eighty-one leather jackets. Dozens of boots and leather gloves. I’ve purchased pants that cost $5,000. I own a $22,000 coat. This winter I took a tour of Milan’s Fashion Week (all expenses paid by Gucci, in appreciation of my many, many purchases), where I spent tens of thousands more and began to seriously grapple, once and for all, with a compulsion that could cost me more than just my life savings. My name is Buzz Bissinger. I am 58 years old, the best-selling author of ‘Friday Night Lights,’ father of three, husband. And I am a shopaholic.
By day they work as computer programmers and stock boys and academics. But at night they are known as urban explorers. The Brooklyn Bridge, London’s Shard, Notre Dame—each structure is an expedition waiting to happen. Each sewer, each scaffold, each off-limits site is a puzzle to solve. No wonder the cops are after them. Matthew Power embeds with the space invaders and sees a world—above- and belowground—that the rest of us never knew existed.
The butler did it! That was the tabloid take on the unprecedented breach of security that shook the Vatican last year, when a trove of secrets plucked from one of the most impenetrable places on earth—the pope’s private quarters—was leaked to the media. But why did he do it? And did he act alone? Sean Flynn digs around the Vatican’s strange, cloistered world and unravels a cloak-and-dagger scandal that’s a lot more layered than the Church would have you believe—and that may be just the beginning:
A man was sitting in the chair. He told Nuzzi he had worked inside the Vatican for about twenty years. He professed to be a devout and pious Catholic, which Nuzzi would come to believe because the man quoted Gospel passages and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI from memory. The man was uncomfortable meeting with a journalist, but he said his conscience left him no alternative. There are scandals in the Holy See, he told Nuzzi, hypocrisies and frauds practiced upon the Church, and even upon Benedict himself, that he could no longer abide.
The man said he had documents that would prove the truth. He had collected memos and letters for years, and he would give them to Nuzzi. But their meetings could never become known. They could never speak on the phone or communicate by e-mail. They would meet only in person, on a prearranged schedule. Also, the man wanted a code name.
"Maria," the man suggested.
Nuzzi smiled. He liked it. Maria, he thought. The messenger above suspicion.
It’s something we’ve all been meaning to do. The father-son bonding adventure. You know: The big fishing excursion, The road trip down Route 66. Last year, Wells Tower took a completely different approach with his dad: Burning Man, the world’s largest chemically enhanced self-expression festival. They went to witness the Slut Olympics. They went to see the art. They went to discover what draws 60,000 people to one of the least hospitable places on Earth. Then they set up camp and took off their clothes.
Some of his friends and teammates remember Anthony Wayne Smith as a strange and volatile guy, prone to paranoia and outrageous lies. Others recall a gentle giant who gave to charity and mentored kids. None would have predicted that he’d retire from football to a life of arson, torture, and murder—but that’s exactly what prosecutors allege. As the former defensive end (57 1/2 career sacks) waits trial for four killings over a nine-year span, Kathy Dobie unravels a life that made his violence on the field seem like child’s play:
On a cool, drizzly February night in 2003, at one thirty or so in the morning, a police officer cruising down Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica spotted flames shooting horizontally out a window of the Simply Sofas furniture showroom. From overhead he could hear popping sounds as the fire leapt up to eat at the power lines in the street outside. Inside, the blaze spread quickly, engulfing upholstery and wood, roaring up through the roof and melting the metal skin right off the loading dock door.
The fire was almost immediately deemed suspicious. Firefighters reported the strong smell of gasoline, and when investigators were able to get inside the building the next day, they found three “firebombs”—five-gallon plastic water jugs cut off at the neck, stuffed with paper and filled with gasoline. The evidence was gathered and sent to the lab.
Five months later, Sergeant Robert Almada, the police investigator for Santa Monica’s Arson Squad Task Force, walked into the interview room at the police station on Main Street with every reason to believe things were going his way. He had motive—revenge—and he had the kind of physical evidence almost never left behind in a fire: thirty pieces of gasoline-soaked mail, each addressed to the suspect or his wife. (In the heat of the blaze, the firebombs had caved in on themselves, preserving the magazines and catalogs and envelopes inside.) That suspect, one Anthony Smith, six feet four inches and over 320 pounds, a 36-year-old former defensive end for the L.A./Oakland Raiders, dwarfed the little table in the room.
The doctor who helped track down Bin Laden is now in prison. Matthieu Aikins travels to Pakistan to investigate:
The Big House no longer looms above the neighborhood outside Abbottabad; the military razed the compound last spring, and in its place lies an empty field. But its presence lingers indelibly on the quiet streets, where residents stop and eye strange cars warily. In the center of the plot, where the living room might have been, a busted water line burbles freely out into the grass, and women from the poorer houses come in their colorful robes to collect clean water from what was once Bin Laden’s personal supply.
As Nader and I neared the site, we saw a black late-model Toyota Hilux with an extended cab idling by the road. I noticed Nader tense as we cruised past it. We drove around the corner, parked on a side street, and then walked down the same path Afridi had used to approach Bakhto and Amna as they waited, over a year before, at the door of Bin Laden’s house.
Every September, a quiet, churchy city in the American heartland undergoes a Technicolor transformation. Art pops up everywhere—paintings, giant insect statues, experimental happenings. Sidewalks and parks turn into open-air museums; taverns become galleries. A huge pot of money is dangled before the artists, $250,000(!) for the grand prize. And here’s the best part: You know who gets to pick the winner? You do. Matthew Power reports:
By September 29, 370,309 votes had been cast, and DeVos held a press conference to announce the ten finalists. The public would have six days to choose the $250,000 winner. Among the chosen: Rusty, the giant found-object puppy; the even more giant welded-steel praying mantis; the Tim McGraw–surfer Jesus mosaic; Gerald Ford; a crying octopus carved out of driftwood; a collection of chain-saw-carved bears; and a living statue of the sort you see in the piazzas of Europe, a dude dressed like a construction worker, covered in copper body paint and standing atop a scaffold.
The general critical consensus was that Rick DeVos’s grand experiment in letting public opinion determine the outcome had yielded up a torrent of kitsch—the “crazy crap” he’d asked for. Twitter was not kind. “Looks like the DeVos family is going to be seriously overpaying for some bad art. #artprize.” “Before announcing the #ArtPrize Top 10, Rick DeVos said it is not about the Top 10. I now understand why he said that.”
I found Paul Amenta in the dark and empty Site:Lab a few days later. Not a single Site:Lab piece had made the cut. “Don’t even get me started,” he said, shaking his head. “I had this moment where I had to switch gears, ‘cause if I didn’t I would go crazy.” He had dedicated months of his life to preparing the space and persuading artists to come exhibit. I asked him if he’d try again, and he laughed bitterly. “I couldn’t get the artists to commit to a thing like this, given what happened with the voting.”
This was exactly what he meant when he talked about the public fucking it up. He told me when DeVos had made the top ten announcement, the skies over Grand Rapids had blackened, and a windstorm with thunder and lightning had swept through the town. “It was freaky. Like God was registering disapproval or something.”