I’ve been slacking on blogging but only because I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Well, that and the fact that yesterday morning I was crossing a busy intersection in LA and I see a van speeding towards me really fast off a left turn and all I can do is put my hands out to motion him to stop and he ended up braking just in time, but not quite in time enough to keep me from getting some bruises on my shins. I got hit by a car. Holy shit. It was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’ve been posted up for the past two days pondering my own mortality, and it didn’t help that Steve Jobs, who many people thought was immortal, just passed away. Rest in peace, Steve.
So my run-in with a beat-up old van in a beat-up LA neighborhood reminded me that life is short and awesome and I’ve got to do with it as I will. I want to be a writer who covers the strange and the ignored in this world, the things that are crazy and complex and Good Morning America is not going to be doing a segment on anytime soon. As I’ve said from the beginning, crime and corruption is one of those topics.
Book Review: McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny
When I saw McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld (Vintage) while browsing through Amazon, I was smitten. A look at crime across the globe and its growing influence and sophistication? Wow! It took me a few months to get through it, since the book is quite dense, not in the manner of writing, but because of sheer volume of information and analysis, and it’s not bedtime reading. However, having finished it, I would recommend it as a must-read book for anyone who wants to learn more about how our world works. Glenny is an investigative reporter and journalist, which makes the book read like a very long, interesting first-hand article that would fit in at Wired magazine or The New York Times. Starting out in Eastern Bloc nations after the fall of Communism in the late 80s, Glenny investigates why organized crime became so powerful in these nations and continues to be so. A weak government or lack of government at all creates a vacuum for protection rackets and organized crime, and both of these thrived in Russia and the former Eastern Bloc following the fall of Communism. There, a few oligarchs became superrich by effectively transferring the assets of the state into personal wealth. And they used the protection rackets to help them who in turn also became crazy rich and powerful. Glenny covers events that took place in the region from this perspective and it will be very different from any historical coverage you’ve read previously.
Glenny covers patterns of crime, claiming that the mainstays of all organized crime around the globe are narcotics, cigarettes, people trafficking, prostitution, energy brokering and arms dealing. But there is much, much more to the book as he investigates Africa and especially South Africa, the Middle East and the money laundering capital of the world (Dubai), Colombia and finally Japan and China. The topics are so broad, from BC Bud in Vancouver being trucked to the States, to the growing threat of cybercrime and the shift from ego hackers (the ones who plant viruses in your computer that shut everything down or pop up 1,000 windows) to criminal hackers who go after bank accounts and sensitive information.
In short, reading this book changed my understanding of how the world runs, what has influenced the development of countries and regions, and what my own consumption does for organized crime. I just want to end with this quote from the book by Lee Timofeev, which sheds light on the failure on the war on drugs:
Prohibiting a market does not mean destroying it. Prohibiting a market means placing a prohibited but dynamically developing market under the total control of criminal corporations. Moreover, prohibiting a market means enriching the criminal world with hundreds of billions of dollars by giving criminals a wide access to public goods which will be routed by addicts into the drug traders’ pockets.
I haven’t read a lot in this genre of investigative non-fiction, and some people criticize this book as trying to take on too much. But it’s a great place to start if you are interested in the large problems facing people and societies around the world.