Jason Treit
874 stories

Rumored Chutes


For a piece published by The New Yorker back in October, writer Joshua Yaffa looked back at the history of his Moscow apartment complex, “a vast building across the river from the Kremlin, known as the House on the Embankment. In 1931, when tenants began to move in, it was the largest residential complex in Europe, a self-contained world the size of several city blocks.”

Among many other such stories and details, one stood out: the interior of the building, Yaffa learned, was allegedly used against the people who lived in it. He explains that, “throughout 1937 and 1938 the House of Government was a vortex of disappearances, arrests, and deaths. Arrest lists were prepared by the N.K.V.D., the Soviet secret police, which later became the K.G.B., and were approved by Stalin and his close associates. Arrests occurred in the middle of the night.”

However, it’s how the police were rumored to access individual apartments that caught my eye: “A story I have heard many times,” Yaffa continues, “but which seems apocryphal, is that N.K.V.D. agents would sometimes use the garbage chutes that ran like large tubes through many apartments, popping out inside a suspect’s home without having to knock on the door.”

This vision of vermicular control from within—of agents of the state sliding around within our walls and utility ducts like animals—is both unsettling and Kafkaesque, a nightmare and the setup for a surreal tragicomedy.

An undercover cop stuck in the walls between floors four and five for nearly three weeks is fed homemade soup by a young boy who takes pity on him, this unknown man caught in the fabric of the building and abandoned there by his superior officers out of embarrassment.

Gradually, the boy and this agent of the state strike up something like a friendship, sharing their hopes for the future, complaining about perceived limitations in life, confiding in one another about random things they’re both inspired to recall, and looking forward to future adventures—until, finally, one day after a shower leak raining down from a luxury apartment somewhere much further above, the man is able to slip free.

He slides into the boy’s room feet-first, covered in wood shavings and dust—where he promptly follows through on his initial mission and arrests the boy’s entire family.

Read Yaffa’s piece over at The New Yorker.

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18 days ago
New York, NY
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Naked suspects in bizarre Alberta kidnapping may have sipped trippy tea, relative says


By Chris Purdy - The Canadian Press

Thu., Nov. 9, 2017

LEDUC, ALTA.—The people charged in a bizarre naked kidnapping that ended in a car crash may have unknowingly drank some hallucinogenic tea over breakfast, says a relative.

RCMP have released few details about what happened Monday just before 10 a.m. in the community of Nisku, just south of Edmonton.

Three adults have been charged with kidnapping and resisting arrest. The matter was in court for the first time Thursday.

No one was hurt, but the case has made headlines around the world.

The relative said he wants everyone to know the accused are not bad people. They just had some trippy tea.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” said the man, who cannot be named due to a court publication ban protecting the identity of youths involved in the case.

“It’s a scary thought thinking, ‘Oh, let’s try this tea that we purchased.’ And then all sit down thinking they’re just going to have a nice morning and end up in that circumstance.”

He told The Canadian Press that his two daughters, who are 13 and 15, and his ex-wife were having breakfast with two friends — a man and his wife. The man had recently travelled overseas and brought back some tea from India. The relative did not know the name of the tea.

That kicked off the “whole crazy spell,” he said.

Mounties have said a man, woman and baby were forced against their will from a home in Leduc County into a BMW. Inside the car were five naked people. While the car was being driven, the abducted man, who was in the trunk, managed to escape. The woman and her baby then managed to get away.

The trio were picked up by a passerby, but his work truck was rammed from behind by the car.

When officers arrived, they pulled out the five naked people. The adults, who are 27, 30 and 35, were arrested, but the teens were not charged.

The relative said he laughed about the case when he heard it on the news, then was shocked to learn that his straitlaced daughters were involved.

“I was just like what the heck?”

He visited his youngest girl in hospital, who had been taken with some of the other suspects for treatment.

They don’t remember what happened, the man said.

“Whatever potency that stuff had obviously is making it so it’s just a big blur,” he said, adding blood tests were also taken at the hospital.

“Nothing came back like illicit drugs, so they figure it may have been some type of herbal drug or something.”

He said the three people who were forced from their homes — a man, his daughter and her six-week-old baby — are also family friends and aren’t holding any grudges. They probably opened their door that morning trying to help, he suggested.

He also believes the car rammed the truck because the tea made those inside think the family had been abducted by the truck driver — not the other way around.

“They were under the impression that they were saving that guy and the woman and the little girl.”

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106 days ago
Apparently Florida Man has nothing on Alberta Family.
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105 days ago
I really want to know what was in that tea

Knifepoint Horror: "staircase"

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117 days ago
Something spooky for your ears at whatever hour you stagger home tonight.
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Patreon's recent crackdown on adult content worries sex workers and creators of erotic art

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On October 17th, crowdfunding website Patreon amended the terms of its acceptable use policy as part of a wider program of reform. The new document was now much more proscriptive about what the site's users could and could not use its payments platform for. Beyond tightening provisions around hate speech and illegal content, the site essentially banned sex workers and adult content of a sexual nature. Patreon had always described itself as "not for pornography" but offered a broad latitude for projects that contained erotic content, and the change has caused much upset in the community that produces such material.

Despite Patreon's claims to the contrary, the site has clearly backed pornographers and sex workers in their projects. In 2016, the site very publicly enabled users to receive donations through PayPal subsidiary Braintree after a long battle with the e-commerce provider. It even emailed its adult content creators (a copy is available here), telling them that "as a company we are not happy with [PayPal's] lack of transparency since it impacts the livelihoods of Adult Content creators." Now, sex workers feel betrayed.

In her Open Letter to Patreon, artist Liara Roux describes that sense of betrayal, since Patreon had previously made moves to openly court sex workers. The artist even claims that the site offered tips on how adult content creators could use Patreon to fund movies and create websites to "reliably deliver rewards to our patrons." The letter, at the time of writing, had around 250 signatures from creators who feel that their livelihoods are now under threat.

Patreon's revised document not only excised references to erotic art, however, but also included a number of new provisions related to sex work. These included forbidding the use of Patreon donations to produce pornographic material, maintain an adults-only website or solicit money in exchange for a private webcam session. All of which were apparently endorsed by Patreon previously, and are key mechanisms to enable sex workers to get paid.

An excerpt from Patreon's previous policy that permitted sexual imagery.

Roux told Engadget that Patreon's stance has caused a great deal of nervousness for the sex workers and artists who use the platform. "They can't say they run a platform for niche artists and freedom of expression," Roux said, "and also arbitrarily decide what is and is not 'acceptable' adult content." The artist feels that any trust between the community and Patreon has now broken down as a result of the policy change. "The PayPal thing was huge," said Roux. "It was definitely a big part of them gaining our trust."

The only way that Roux can envisage Patreon becoming a trusted brand again is if the site says that it will welcome adult content and pornography onto its platform, even if that means placing it in a hidden, adults-only section. "It's going to be very hard to believe them," she added. "I've worked with them in the past on revising my portfolio, and they just changed the game again."

The fallout from Patreon's decision may mean that performers lose their entire income stream, since there are so few available options. "There are reasons porn is dominated by big companies," Roux explained. "It's very hard work to start your own site and start using a porn-safe [credit card] processor which is why you usually only see it from big stars." Patreon, she said, "was that niche platform where those just starting out could still find their audience." And there are very few alternatives available to those people who do not have the initial backing to launch such an enterprise.

Patreon's policy was expanded as the result of controversy the site found itself mired in over the summer. In July, Patreon was forced to suspend a number of accounts that it found had violated its content policies. Lauren Southern and the members of Defend Europe had their pages shut down after using pledged cash to attempt to block efforts to save refugees. Not long after, Patreon also withdrew funding to It's Going Down, a hardline left-wing news website.

In response to the backlash, Patreon CEO Jack Conte was prompted to post an explanation to YouTube. Conte explained that Southern and her colleagues "directly obstructed a search and rescue ship in the Mediterranean," a violation of the rules on threatening or harming others. Southern denied her involvement in the project, but Conte used footage Southern herself filmed to back his claim. Similarly, It's Going Down was suspended for doxing -- the practice of publishing an individual's address and phone number online -- and advocating a number of property crimes like "pouring concrete over railway tracks."

"The authority to take away a person's income is a sobering responsibility and it is not something to be done on a whim." —Patreon CEO Jack Conte

"We didn't properly invest in an external communications plan," said Conte, explaining Patreon's alleged lack of transparency. The CEO said that while the decision to take down the accounts was the right thing to do, failure to communicate that properly was not. The company affirmed that it would hire more human moderators in its Trust and Safety team, develop an appeals process and improve policy education. Conte even ends the video with the line "The authority to take away a person's income is a sobering responsibility and it is not something to be done on a whim."

On October 18th, Patreon legal chief Colin Sullivan posted a lengthy essay in which he talked about "taking a clearer stance on some fringe areas of adult content." Sullivan specifically mentioned taboo, illegal topics like incest, bestiality, sexual depiction of minors and aggressive sexual violence. But there is a disconnect between Sullivan and Conte's stance and the revised policy that was made available, because the new policy expressly bans activity that the site has previously had no issue with, as outlined in the penultimate paragraph in the relevant section:

"Lastly, you cannot sell pornographic material or arrange sexual service(s) as a reward for your patrons. You can't use Patreon to raise funds in order to produce pornographic material such as maintaining a website, funding the production of movies, or providing a private webcam session." —Patreon's revised guidelines

But as Motherboard's Lux Alptraum wrote back in 2016, a long-standing problem for creators has been Patreon's equivocation on what pornography actually is. The shorthand for what constitutes pornography in the United States comes from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in the 1964 case Jacobellis v. Ohio. The justice, when describing what constitutes pornography, famously said, "I know it when I see it."

Motherboard's report even drew attention to Four Chambers, which describes itself as "part art project, part erotica cinemascope" and would certainly constitute pornography in the eyes of plenty of folks. And yet, at the time, the page was apparently considered safe enough to remain. (Alptraum joked that the page "apparently gets a pass because the hard cocks and penetration are arty.")

We sat down with a Patreon spokesperson who declined to be named for the purposes of this interview. That person reiterated that "any kind of porn has never been allowed on Patreon." So why has the site, for so long, been silently (and sometimes vocally) accepting of accounts related to sex work? The spokesperson explained that Patreon's Trust and Safety team does not go "scraping the site" looking for accounts to suspend, and relies upon user-based referrals.

"The TL;DR is that if what you were doing before was okay, then probably what you're continuing to do is okay. And if what you're doing is in too much of a gray area, then we'll be reaching out." —Patreon spokesperson

Instead, the company has doubled its Trust and Safety team and has provided the email address guidelines@patreon.com for creators concerned that they now violate the rules. "Let me be clear," said Patreon's spokesperson. "We're not kicking off a bunch of creators en masse. Instead, we're telling creators that there are things about their pages that need to be updated." The spokesperson added that any creator who really is "concerned about how it's going to affect their page and career, just reach out to us. It's an open invitation."

Engadget presented Patreon's representative with pages* that, while adult in nature, violate only the new terms of service. One adult performer uses her account to create "sexy content for her fans." In addition, one of the reward tiers offered "personalized sexy pictures" and "access to a secret Instagram account." Higher-tier members were offered a "10 minute live webcam session, through Skype, once per month."

Interestingly, even though this account appears to violate both the conditions for pornography and using webcam sessions as an incentive, the spokesperson didn't feel like that the account would likely be deleted. That stance cannot be taken as a blanket statement that providers have nothing to fear, but also that the definitions are fuzzy. Because Patreon doesn't appear to have a strict definition of what constitutes pornography, it may be that the accounts affected are an order of magnitude smaller than it would appear.

The spokesperson also tried to reassure creators by saying that "the TL;DR is that if what you were doing before was okay, then probably what you're continuing to do is okay. And if what you're doing is in too much of a gray area, then we'll be reaching out." As before, the spokesperson added, if users are worried, they can contact the company at the aforementioned email address to receive "personalized guidance" about "what you need to do to make sure your page can stay up."

Despite Patreon's reassurances, the content creators now find themselves concerned that their livelihood could be stopped at any point. Girl on the Net is the pseudonym for a British sex blogger who uses Patreon to fund a project creating "audio erotica." The effort, which began as a way of enabling people with visual impairments to enjoy sexual content, has been running for less than six months. In that time, "the money I made from it meant that I could dedicate time to making a different, more accessible kind of erotic art," the blogger said. She added that she was "using Patreon exactly the way it was intended: to fund art for people who were interested in that kind of art."

The future of the audio erotica project now rests on whether Patreon judges it to be porn or erotica. Girl on the Net explained that, while this was a side project for her, "some of my colleagues have used Patreon to build a large platform or make a full-time living, and made Patreon a significant chunk of cash in the process." The blogger posed the question "We have to wonder how many platforms have to censor sex before we say enough is enough. How much of it has to disappear before you start to notice?"

There is a prolonged history of direct and indirect violence carried out toward the sex work community. As Liara Roux explains, "the people who are going to have the most trouble working with them will be the most vulnerable." She believes that Patreon's decision threatens "vulnerable people," including those who are "queer, trans and people of color," who are often the ones most in need of the resources to build their own platforms to produce content.

In the UK, a law banning the practice of "kerb crawling" -- driving a car slowly along the road for the purposes of solicitation -- has had disastrous consequences. A 2002 report by The Guardian found that sex workers in the city of Sheffield previously operated in a well-lit, non-residential street with CCTV cameras. But a crackdown on prostitution forced the sex workers to move to a poorly lit industrial estate with no security cameras. There was a commensurate spike in violent attacks and murder.

There is a similar program of antagonism against sex work in the online space. Financial institutions like PayPal, JPMorgan Chase, Visa, Mastercard and Square have all sought to eradicate commerce undertaken by sex workers. Our 2015 report on the issue found that the process of redlining -- a banking practice used to block service to black and Latino people, which was outlawed in 1968 -- is alive and well online.

As a key conduit between the traditional banking providers and the internet, PayPal has a big say in how e-commerce is conducted online. Its acceptable use policy prohibits the purchase of items that it considers to be "obscene," such as sex toys and other adult paraphernalia. In addition, users cannot use the service to buy "sexually oriented materials or services." That's why Patreon's victory enabling payments from the platform was such a big deal back in 2016.

Adam Grayson, CFO of the hardcore porn company Evil Angel, feels that there is a disproportionate amount of discrimination against the industry. "I would be more surprised if Patreon didn't take this stance," he told Engadget. "The financial industry always, almost without fail, discriminates against sex industries, legal or not. The time and energy our company puts into securing our basic banking needs is mind-blowing. And we're a pretty boring taxpaying employer which just happens to sell pornography."

On October 25th, Patreon published a response to Liara Roux's Open Letter, written by CEO Jack Conte. The CEO says that it "broke" his "heart" that the creators who signed the letter "expressed fear for their pages." Conte then reiterated that the site's position has not changed beyond a firmer restriction on the aforementioned illegal content. Conte again justified the action, saying that Patreon has always restricted pornography on its platform and added that the policy would soon include restrictions on "real people engaging in sexual acts, such as masturbation or sexual intercourse on camera."

"The financial industry always, almost without fail, discriminates against sex industries, legal or not." —Evil Angel CFO Adam Grayson

There does seem to be some dissonance between Patreon's stance, which is to restrict adult content, and the statements it is making. It claims to support creators and to not want to block accounts, but at the same time, it seems impossible that any sex worker or erotic artist can remain on the platform with the current policy framework.

The affected users remain unconvinced and posted a rebuttal to Conte's letter shortly after his note was published. The group believes that Conte's email has, if anything, made the situation worse than it already was. "We are sorry to hear that the way his company has handled our community 'bugs' him, but it's hard for us to have empathy for those in power while we are fighting simply to be heard, create and survive." Later, the group charged that "Patreon is saying that they believe sex workers unable to change or censor their work to fit new requirements should lose their income and that legal expressions of sexual creativity do not have a home on their platform."

"This email exemplifies the mentality of Patreon and other tech companies that their image, perhaps to investors or banking partners, is more important than the wellbeing of the legal content creators who rely on Patreon as a source of income and one of the only "safe" spaces for us."

*Engadget received assurance that pages discussed in the conversation would not be flagged to the Trust and Safety team, and we will not publish those specific addresses in this report.

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119 days ago
Hard to find much comfort in their Orwellian "of course you can keep making money in ways that have never been allowed on our platform" language. Whereas their recent turn against politically extreme creators seems piecemeal and reactive, this seems sweeping and preemptive. The best case for these creators is Patreon wants to keep financial censors off their trails with a policy of secret permissiveness, with otherwise legal porn and webcam sessions still safely accessible behind paywalls, NSFW tags, and plausibly deniable reward descriptions. That's a recipe for arbitrariness, though. It opens up a new attack vector against already vulnerable sex workers: literal readings of the Patreon ToS.

It's cases like these that get me thinking about the tradeoffs between today's ecosystem, where all it takes is the most risk averse link in a long chain of intermediaries to cut off the flow of money and ideas, and censorship-resistant alternatives that might make it harder to enforce laws.
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Diogenes of Sinope, the Publicly-Defecating Philosopher

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Described by Plato as “a Socrates gone mad”, Diogenes of Sinope is considered one of the most controversial figures in the history of philosophy.

Diogenes of Sinope was an ancient Greek philosopher who, at different points, allegedly lived in a wine barrel (some accounts describe it as a tub), urinated on guests at a banquet, defecated in the theatre, and was one of the few people who openly mocked Alexander the Great and stayed alive.

Although some believed him to be absolutely crazy, Diogenes was also one of the most respected and loved philosophers of the 4th century BCE, and one of the most famous founders of the ancient Greek school of philosophy known as Cynicism.

A lot of speculation surround the life of this controversial philosopher, since he left behind no first-hand accounts of his own life, or if he did, they’ve since been lost. And his larger than life persona probably produced many legends and tales. Nevertheless he is considered a very influential figure in philosophy.

Diogenes was born in Sinope (a city on modern-day Turkey). His father used to work with minting money, and Diogenes joined his father later on and began working with him. But they found themselves later on in a dispute with the law, after Diogenes (or his father, or both of them) began defacing money.

While some historians believe the motivations were purely political, others think the act may have been the result of an incident involving the Oracle of Delphi. Either way, Diogenes then fled Sinope, and headed to Athens.

In Athens, Diogenes took up somewhat of an unconventional way of life, and made it his mission to metaphorically deface the coinage of custom and convention, which he maintained, were simply lies used to hide the true nature of the individual.

Diogenes allegedly met Antisthenes in Athens who at first refused him as a student but, eventually, was worn down by his persistence and accepted him. Like Antisthenes, Diogenes believed in self-control, the importance of personal excellence in one’s behavior (in Greek, arete, usually translated as `virtue’), and the rejection of all which was considered unnecessary in life such as personal possessions and social status.

Diogenes started living in a barrel (some describe it as a jar, others as a wine cask or tub) at the Temple of Cybele. He got rid of his belongings, and maintained a diet of just onions. One day he saw a child cupping his hands to drink water, after that he threw away his own cup, remarking something along the lines of “A child has beaten me in plainness of living.”

The philosophy of Diogenes was more than justvan ascetic movement, he didn’t just renounce possessions; he preached obscenity, broke taboos, viciously attacked customs, and was relentlessly rude. For he considered, honesty to be a key value, and he saw Athenian customs and manners as a form of lie.

Many accounts depict him walking the streets with a lantern and shining it into the faces of passersby, apparently looking for an “honest man” or a “human being”.

Diogenes considered any act considered natural and acceptable in private (like urination and defecation), should also be considered natural and normal in public. he famously ate in the market place, something considered a taboo in that time, and when asked about this act he replied, “I did, for it was in the market-place that I was hungry.”

Diogenes could be considered in the terms of our day as a huge troll, a philosopher who used wit and mockery to challenge tradition, and prominent figures of his time. In one instance, after Plato had given Socrates’ definition of man as a “featherless biped” and was very much praised for that definition. Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato’s Academy, and said, “Behold! I’ve brought you a man.” After that incident, “with broad flat nails” was added to Plato’s definition.

On another occasion, a group of wealthy Athenians at a banquet began throwing bones at Diogenes, insulting him and calling him a dog. Diogenes then responded to this by lifting his leg and urinating on the banqueters.

Diogenes was often associated with dogs. He believed that human beings had much to learn from studying the simplicity of dogs, which, unlike human beings, had not ‘complicated every simple gift of the gods’. The terms ‘cynic’ and ‘cynical’ derive from the Greek kynikos, which is the adjective of kyon or ‘dog’.

Diogenes’ trolling and witty mockery weren’t just targeted at fellow philosophers and public figures. In which we remember one of the most discussed anecdotes in philosophical history, the meeting of Diogenes and Alexander the Great.

Word of Diogenes’ wisdom and peculiar ways reached the greatest military leader at that time, Alexander the Great. As a child, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle, and when he became a grown man he was learned man. But wisdom is addictive, and Diogenes intrigued the young commander.

Philosophers, and public figures used to come out to see their king and to offer him praise, gifts, and compliments. But Diogenes preferred to stay in his barrel, far away from this life. So Alexander decided to visit the great philosopher himself.

On that day, Diogenes was laying in the sun, enjoying the sunlight, when he heard movements of a large crowd, and trumpets signaling the arrival of a great man. Diogenes looked up, and saw Alexander with a number of his guards. He raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. Alexander greeted Diogenes, and praised his wisdom, then asked him if he wanted anything, in which Diogenes responded, “Yes, stand a little out of my sun”.

Alexander was shocked, but then laughed and said, “But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes.”

After spending years in Athens, Diogenes ended up in Corinth. According to a story which seems to have originated with Menippus of Gadara, he was captured by pirates during a voyage to Aegina and sold to a wealthy Corinthian named Xeniades. When asked if he had any skills, Diogenes replied, “That of governing men.” Xeniades liked Diogenes’ response and made him the tutor for his sons, and eventually Diogenes became like a member of the family.

Diogenes lived the rest of his days in Corinth, where he continued to live a life of poverty and simplicity. Although most of the accounts of him living in a barrel appear to be in Athens, there are some accounts of him living in a jar near the Craneum gymnasium in Corinth.

Just like his entire life, Diogenes’ death is also riddled with mystery and a matter of debate. He is alleged variously to have become ill from eating raw octopus, holding his breath until he died, or to have suffered an infected dog bite, but it is more likely that he died of old age.

Although Diogenes had requested his remains be thrown to wild beasts, his friends and admirers insisted he should receive a proper burial. A marble pillar and a statue of a dog above his grave.

We could learn a lot from this great peculiar philosopher, especially in a time and society filled with complexities and hardships.

I’m a 100 percent reader-funded writer so if you enjoyed this, and want to support me so I can continue to do what I do, please consider helping me out by sharing it around, following me on Twitter, and becoming a patron on Patreon.

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147 days ago
It's hard to respect modern trolls when they don't live in wine barrels or carry around plucked chickens to drive home a point or tell world leaders to get out of their sunlight.
147 days ago
Alexander was no dummy.
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Liisa, 26

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“Today my clothing was inspired by my stairway with light orange and light green walls. Actually this color mixture reminds me of puke. I am an active user of colors and I don't feel myself cozy in black. My forever sources of inspiration: monochromatism, retrofuturism, sex and fairytales.”

25 July 2017, Mannerheimintie

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160 days ago
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