Category Archives: Ulacia

The Internet Is Your Worst Enemy if You’re a Criminal Informant

You don't need fancy hardware to look up court cases in prison. Photo by Spencer Grant/Getty

This story was co-published with the Marshall Project.

The online age has brought new dangers to government informants and their families. Now suspicious co-defendants, or friends of those who believe they have been sent to prison with evidence supplied by a "cooperator," can, with a bit of googling, access information in case files that may reveal what deals have been made with prosecutors and blessed by trial judges. This information, which a decade ago could only be obtained by laborious hands-on research, has caused growing concern for the safety of informants and the ability of prosecutors to strike plea deals for cooperation.

Between the spring of 2012 and the spring of 2015, federal judges reported at least 571 instances of "harms or threats" to government cooperators, according to a new survey commissioned by the Federal Judicial Center, the research and education agency of the federal judicial system. There surely are more, unreported instances of violence as well. During that time, the FJC reports, at least 31 informants were murdered, in and out of prison, by people who obtained information about their plea deals from unsealed court documents or transcripts of court proceedings.

More common are violent acts designed to intimidate informants and their families. "The home he and his family resided in was shot up the day before he was scheduled to testify," one FJC respondent noted. " burned his house down," responded another judge. Also common are online or other verbal threats to informants. "Name posted on Top Snitches Facebook page," one judge told the FJC. "Told family members to put his name on," another judge reported. Sometimes, the response is more traditional: "Fliers posted in his neighborhood that he cooperated," one judge reported.

The problem is so pervasive, evidently, that a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative arm of the federal judiciary, is calling on all federal trial judges to impose new secrecy rules that would uniformly shield information about cooperators from public view. In a June 30 letter sent to all federal trial judges and clerks, Judge William Terrell Hodges, a federal trial judge in Florida who chairs the Conference's Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, told his colleagues that:

... the harms to individuals and the administration of criminal justice in this instance are so significant and ubiquitous that immediate and effective action should be taken to halt the malevolent use of court documents in perpetuating these harms consistent with each court's duty to exercise 'supervisory power over its own records and files.'

The problem is particularly acute in prison, Judge Hodges wrote, because "new inmates are routinely required by other inmates to produce dockets or case documents in order to prove whether or not they cooperated. If new inmates refuse to produce the documents, they are punished." "If they are identified as cooperators after arriving in prison, in many cases the only effective protection available is to move the threatened inmate into a segregated housing unit or solitary confinement," Judge Hodges wrote.

Currently, each federal judge has her or his own set of "local rules" designed to keep certain sensitive information out of public view. Where informants may be put at risk, judges will consider requests to seal the records, allowing access only to prosecutors, defense attorneys, and court clerks. Some judges have expansive secrecy provisions that hide a great deal from the public. Some slightly less so. Some have no standing rules at all but resolve informant issues more informally.

The new recommendations suggest that all trial judges keep a "sealed supplement" in the record of each criminal case that would contain "documents or transcripts that typically contain cooperation information." Whenever a case ended with a plea agreement, a separate, sealed supplement would describe the terms of cooperation, or declare that no cooperation took place. The Judicial Conference committee asserts that "any member of the public who reviews the docket would be unable to determine, based on the plea agreement, whether a given defendant has cooperated."

Many defense attorneys and free speech advocates say that the proposed new rules are troublesome (and perhaps unlawful) for at least two reasons. First, they say, creating a sealed annex in every case could deprive the public, and the media, of basic information that goes beyond the issue of cooperation. Second, several defense attorneys told me this week the proposed new rules could have the perverse effect of making life even more dangerous for informants; the existence of sealed supplement would mean every inmate was presumed to be a "snitch" unless proven otherwise. And such proof would be hard to come by with the information sealed.

"Maybe a lawyer would read a docket entry that says, 'SEALED SUPPLEMENT, REQUIRED IN EVERY CASE,' and draw no inference, but the bullies who pick on others in federal prisons don't see it that way," David Beneman, Maine's federal defender, told me. "They assume when it says sealed, this person is an informant." The proposal, if implemented, "will multiply the number of inmates at risk exponentially without protecting anyone," Beneman says. And he should know. The sealed supplement system now being pitched nationally was once in place in Maine. It didn't work and has been scrapped, Beneman said, in favor of the more traditional case-by-case evaluation by judges and lawyers of how best to protect those at risk.

Several lawyers I spoke to said a better way of addressing danger to informants is to tackle the pervasive violence in prisons.

About a third of all federal trial courts already have in place some form of the proposed secret handling of informant details, said Charles Hall, a federal judicial spokesman. Some judges already employ local rules that are far broader than the ones the Judicial Conference recommends, which means the adoption of uniform standards in some cases would make more information more publicly available in those jurisdictions.

Katie Townsend, litigation director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told me this week that if implemented the proposed new rule would eliminate the "broad disparity" that now exists from federal courtroom to federal courtroom around the country. But she said:

If this rule is adopted, it will deprive the public of key information needed to understand and evaluate how the criminal justice system is operating, both in individual cases and as a whole. Because cooperation (or non-cooperation) can often have a significant impact on whether a defendant pleads guilty, or whether a defendant receives a lenient or harsh sentence, depriving the public of this information in all cases will prevent the public from ever knowing the reasons that a criminal defendant received the sentence he or she received. That is completely antithetical to the idea of a transparent criminal justice system.

The great majority of criminal cases are resolved by plea deals, and many of those are based at least in part on a willingness to cooperate. "A rule that automatically seals everything in all court records related to any defendant's cooperation or noncooperation with law enforcement" flips on its head the presumption of access the law requires, Townsend said.

The proposed new rule will be reviewed by the Judicial Conference and likely opened up for public evaluation, before federal officials make any final decisions.

This article was originally published by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the US criminal justice system. Sign up for the newsletter, or follow the Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.

I Can’t Keep ‘Headlander’ Out of My Mind

All screens via Evolve PR/Adult Swim

Lately, my idle mind's found itself filling up with thoughts of a new, original sci-fi video game. You know, when drifting off on the train, taking a shower after nowhere close to enough sleep, glossing over in front of weeknight TV. Of how much I want to get back at it in the moments where I can't, how it's hooked me after the smallest taste. It's the work of an indie studio with a strong following, and its looks are immediately striking, setting it apart from any game of its kind on the market. And no, it's not No Man's Sky.

Headlander is the latest game from the Tim Schafer–founded Double Fine, whose Broken Age adventure of 2015 was one of the biggest Kickstarter successes ever seen (here's VICE speaking to Schafer and actor Elijah Wood, last year). This is no crowd-backed venture, however, with Adult Swim Games on publishing duties. Given these companies' previous form for singular, nudging-on-surreal gaming experiences—Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, Robot Unicorn Attack, Jazzpunk, I could go on but let's stick to the game at hand—it was inevitable that their first collaboration would be a game apart. And "apart" is a conceptual tenet that's been incorporated into the way Headlander plays, too.

'Headlander,' gameplay trailer

Sporting a retro-futuristic aesthetic, like 1960s Star Trek beamed into a present of PlayStation 4s and PCs via a stopover in Blake's 7, Headlander's unique twist on the metroidvania genre of two-dimensional exploration, and unlocking areas you've already seen the way to once will literally see you lose your head. After selecting from one of a handful of different faces to play with, you realize that you have no body whatsoever. Instead, you propel your helmeted head around the environments, connecting with and taking control of robotic bodies in order to complete puzzles and traverse the sprawling, map-essential stages. Sometimes this means popping off the noggin' that's already in place, and you can achieve this a number of ways, my favorite being to suck it from its shoulders, super-powered vacuum cleaner style.

The body you're controlling has a bearing on what areas you can access, with doorways color coded to match your attire—your head alone cannot pass, unless zipping through after a well-placed laser shot (which can be directed to bounce off walls). Sometimes there are ways around, though—sucking the cover from a handy vent can open up shortcuts and reveal stat upgrades to boost shields, increase speed and firm up each new body's resistance to exploding. It's all very simple to read, with objectives clearly marked and power-ups self-explanatory, while menus fit the feel of the game without any confusing icons cluttering up the screen.

There's plenty for your fingers and thumbs to do, and the action can get pretty intense as the enemy Shepherds—the game's name for the robots gunning for you, all of which are controlled by a nefarious AI by the intriguing name of Methuselah (check your nearest Bible)—increase in numbers, rooms locking down until all combat is calmed. The controls can get a little fiddly sometimes, as the button to aim your weapon-cum-skeleton-key contraption also sees you duck into cover (in a fashion reminiscent of Roll7's Not a Hero, but without the bloodlust), but quick restarts after each demise—and there'll be a few, accompanied by a psychedelic ripple of colors—ensure that frustration is rarely an issue. Die, retry, die, retry, done it: The core cycle of risk and reward in Headlander is a better greased machine than, say, Titan Souls, which infuriated (me, anyway, in a recent Vita revisit) with its slow turnarounds between boss retries.

Also: There is dancing, some wonderfully thick carpets, a Southern-drawling AI called Earl who's on your side, a psychotic chess player (sort of), and escape pods that look like a dick and balls. Though, the whole game's about giving head, right? So the occasional aesthetic nod to the male body's most sensitive parts comes with the territory. But it really is the head alone, apart from anything else, that makes this game—it's simply never not fun jetting your voiceless dome from point A to point B, dodging all manner of deadly things as you soar.

New, on Motherboard: What Do Retro Gamers Make of the NES Classic?

It's another cracking independently made game, then, in a year already enjoying its share, from Oxenfree to Firewatch via Hyper Light Drifter and Inside. The tone is playful, the visuals hypnotic, the gameplay hook flexible (want to take control of a robot dog, sentry gun or cleaning drone? Not a problem), and the difficulty curve just right—so far. I need to stress that last part because I'm not much more than three hours deep into Headlander, so it all might fall apart soon. I'm not expecting it to, though, as everything I've seen up to this point has had me itching to return to proceedings whenever possible.

Which I might just do tonight, given No Man's Sky isn't out until next week. Consider this your recommendation to do likewise, too.

Headlander is out now for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 4. More information at Adult Swim.

Read more video games articles on VICE here, and follow VICE Gaming on Twitter at @VICEGaming.

Before ‘No Man’s Sky’ There Was ‘Noctis’

All screenshots by Dylan Roberts

After traveling several miles over the plains, I scramble forward and head through the forest. The leaves are a magnificent shade of violet, the ground is covered with a blanket of familiar green grass, and small birds fly overhead. There are bizarre creatures, with silhouettes that evoke earth creatures such as frogs and birds, but which are decidedly alien in origin. As I exit the thicket, there is a nearby mountain over a few more hills, and since I've already come so far, I scale it.

I take a few panoramic photos from the summit, catching the trees, hills, and animals I'd passed on the way to the peak. I look at my computer's clock. I've spent about 7 hours playing Noctis, and it's now about 4:30 AM. I consider the merits of sleeping, but it's a day off, so even though the sun is rising I decide that a few more hours wouldn't hurt.

Noctis (which released for PC all the way back in 2000) lets you explore a vast, procedurally generated galaxy in your ship, the Stardrifter. As you travel from planet to planet, you catalog the many sights and wonders and upload your findings to a multiplayer starlog file for others to see. If that sounds strikingly similar to No Man's Sky, you're not alone. With NMS still a week away, I turned to Noctis to scratch my intergalactic travel itch, but in the end, I respected the game on its own terms.

All I "discovered" were some big holes in this barren rock, but I feel awesome.

I've always had a fascination with exploring game worlds. When I was a kid, I wondered what was beyond the invisible walls of the games I was playing. Of course in most games, what you see is what you get, and out of bounds there is nothing but a skybox and a void. But because Noctis uses procedural generation to create a near-endless galaxy of planets, there are no invisible walls here.

When I start Noctis for the first time, I really have no clue what I am doing, blindly wandering the ship and still trying to get used to the strange controls. I spend about five minutes reading a user guide compiled by the community that teaches me the basics of what to do. While I normally don't really care about reading guides or manuals, I would recommend it for Noctis, as the ship has a lot going on. After I feel I'm comfortable with knowing how to refuel, how to land, and all the rest of the operations, I dive in.

The first thing that I learn is that all of the Stardrifter's functions are handled by what amounts to an in-game touchscreen on the primary window of the ship. The second thing I learn is that space is silent. Unlike NMS (which has a procedural score made by 65daysofstatic) Noctis is completely absent of sound. Flying around this large galaxy with no music is definitely something that needs to be fixed, unless you really want to exemplify how lonely and empty it is in space.

The only music I found appropriate was something that matched the retro look, and so I quickly compiled an exploration playlist of music that evoked a sense of relaxation, futurism, nostalgia, and just a little bit of dread to keep things interesting. My playlist was ultimately made up of vaporwave and synthwave artists, both genres that compliment the 90s operating system feeling of Noctis. In a way, I feel that the game also complimented the music by adding new meaning to it, either due to convenient timing or just new associations that I developed while listening.

Noctis has quite a few planet types, ranging from crater covered rocks and lush forest worlds teeming with simple life, to ocean covered planets and gas giants that are magnificent to behold but obviously not explorable—but the first planet I land on is fairly insignificant. It's a mostly brownish gray surface, with no clouds to obfuscate my sight back into space. "Lost in Time" is playing and completely sets the mood for this empty planet. As soon as my lander opens, I charge northward, jumping as I go since the planet has rather low gravity. I load into a new area and realize I am standing on the edge of a giant crater. I take some panoramic photos—one of my favorite features of the game, since the low resolution makes standard photos incredibly small. I move to the northern end of the map, and the next screen is littered with smaller craters, some overlapping and some independent, but each unique.

All I "discovered" were some big holes in this barren rock, but I feel awesome. I take about ten more photos and then call my lander. I leave the planet filled with excitement and determination to keep pushing on to see what other wonders are in store for me.

My next destination is a bright pink gas giant. The surface is smooth, and while I can't land on it, I don't regret the trip at all. I rotate around it a few times, stepping out onto the roof of my Stardrifter, trying to line up the perfect photo. That's Noctis.

Part of what makes me feel so happy about these discoveries is that feeling of having discovered something, of having been the first to see it, and that's the major appeal of Noctis for me. These unique geological formations, from the volcanos, to the forests, to the craters—no other person has ever seen these. This feeling of being able to see something unique, even in a video game, is the reason I love this game so much.

After a few real-life days of drifting once more, having particularly bad luck finding anything explorable, I begin to orbit a cracked white ice ball. Ice planets are supposed to be boring and dull, the flattest planets in terms of their generation rules—but I want to find the exception to the rule. Besides, even the flat ice sheets on their own are quite beautiful! When I land, Market World is playing, and even though this isn't a giant mall planet, it works. The tone of songs like "Endless Staircase" and "Shoppingtimes" just feel right alongside the flat, featureless plains of ice. Over ten minutes pass, and I'm starting to think maybe ice planets really are the least interesting worlds. A few more steps, though, and something large draws into the game world, off in the distance, sticking sharp out of the ground: A craggy mountain!

I take multiple snapshots, but as I do so:

"Noctis has stopped working."

Sadly, this is not an unfamiliar message, as Noctis was not made for modern systems. While one of the best community releases does have a version that can run on a 64 bit system, it still sometimes crashes. The game does autosave, though, and I've learned that as soon as I see something neat, to screenshot the hell out of it.

I got what I came for, though, and satisfied, I head for the next adventure. These are only a fraction of the experiences I got to have in Noctis. I've sat on hilltops looking at red lakes, climbed over mountains just to end up in a deep chasm that formed on the opposite side of it, jetpacked over a windy ocean world with bright green water forming waves.

Just in time for No Man's Sky, Noctis has revitalized my feelings for procedural generation and exploration titles. I don't know if future exploration games will hit me quite as much as Noctis has, but from all the sights, feelings, and fun that it has brought me, I don't expect to stop playing it anytime soon.

Follow Dylan Roberts on Twitter.

Bill Bratton Is Leaving an NYPD Under Fire

New York City police commissioner William Bratton is joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio during a news conference Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

When New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton's resignation was announced Tuesday, it marked another successful stint atop America's largest police department for the veteran cop. But the man is dipping his beak back into the private sector amid swirling corruption probes and fresh policy demands from Black Lives Matter activists in a city with a dense history of racially charged police killings.

Bratton started his 46-year career in law enforcement as a beat cop in Boston, eventually heading the city's department. In New York City, where he will continue running the show until next month, he climbed the ranks to become commissioner under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1994. During that first stint atop the NYPD, Bratton helped popularize the "broken windows" approach to policing, which holds that going hard after minor or even petty crimes like vandalism can reduce more serious and violent offenses like rape and murder. The approach remains highly controversial among academics and activists alike, though Bratton's fans point to massive drops in NYC crime rates in the 1990s as evidence of its genius.

The commissioner's first stint in New York was also marked by pushing the department toward a data-driven system called "COMPSTAT," which tracks crime at the hyper-local level and has since been embraced nationally. The two approaches—and subsequent plunges in violent crime—helped make Bratton America's first modern superstar cop, landing him on the cover of TIME in 1996. (The magazine appearance is often rumored to be the reason Giuliani forced Bratton out that same year.)

In 2002, Bratton became the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and the only person to have ever held the top position in both LA and New York. There, he was tasked with reforming a troubled department enduring federal oversight and earned some praise for engaging with critics early and often.

In between stints as America's most famous police boss, Bratton traversed the so-called revolving door typically associated with politicians like Eric Holder, who famously and controversially worked for Wall Street–friendly law firms before and after serving as US attorney general. The mixed career brought some scrutiny to Bratton when Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed him again in 2013; at the time, he was tied to multiple companies trying to partner with the department, like ShotSpotter, a series of sensors that help police locate where a gun has been fired. The commissioner stepped down from all three positions at great financial loss, though ShotSpotter was adopted by the department last year.

Bratton will reportedly move to a gig at Teneo, a global consulting firm whose success has rested in no small part on its close ties to former president Bill Clinton.

Although Bratton is known as a remarkably successful cop, one offshoot of his broken-windows philosophy has been "stop and frisk," a tactic used heavily in the city's outer boroughs and deemed unconstitutional in 2013 for basically consisting of racial profiling. Since then, the NYPD has required beat cops to hand out receipts when stopping and frisking, which revealed officers often can't articulate why they stop the people they do.

Critics also say broken windows was instrumental in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. The 43-year-old black man, suspected of the quality-of-life crime of selling illegal cigarettes, was killed after being placed in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white. A searing video of the encounter helped galvanize the then-nascent Black Lives Matter movement.

Today that movement is looking increasingly like a nascent political party. On Monday, more than 50 groups associated with BLM released a list of demands that include reparations for mass incarceration and the demilitarization of police. Around 200 protestors also occupied City Hall Park in New York holding signs with messages like, "We see police get away with murder" and demanding Bratton be fired.

Bratton will pass the reins to NYPD chief of department James O'Neill––a move unlikely to quell activists's concerns given his long tenure as a uniformed cop. And while this week's long-planned protests almost certainly had nothing to do with his resignation, there is some precedent for Bratton at least being sensitive to a changing cultural landscape. He first applied for the police chief job in LA right after the Rodney King riots before taking his name out of the running because the political climate called for a black candidate.

O'Neill, meanwhile, has been instrumental in getting the NYPD to move toward a model of neighborhood-based policing. In the fall, 51 percent of precincts will have implemented his approach, de Blasio told reporters Tuesday, and the success of his tenure will rest in large part on bridging the gap between people of color and police.

Of course, given that some senior NYPD officers are currently under investigation for allegedly accepting money, diamonds, and sexual favors in return for police escorts, cleaning house might need to take priority.

"O'Neill is completely capable of taking over the department and moving forward," says Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD detective sergeant and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "But remember, he's taken over a department where the entire upper echelon is suspected or being suspected of taking bribes and gifts. He has his work cut out for him."

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

America’s Oldest and Longest Performing Drag Queen Is Still Kicking Ass

Darcelle at her Showcase. Photo courtesy Greg Pitts

The first day that Walter Cole ever wore a dress, he entered the apartment of his friend Roxy Neuhardt, whose dining room table was covered in tubes and compacts. The year was 1967. Over the next two hours, Roxy artfully painted the cheeks of his 37-year-old companion, who was closeted with a wife and two kids at home.

The pair were preparing for a Halloween costume ball at the hotel where Roxy worked as a dancer. Roxy had convinced Walter to go in drag, inviting him over before the party to put finishing touches on his debut ensemble, and as he dabbed sponges and brushed over the fine lines of his friend's young wrinkles, he had no idea how fully Walter would come to embrace drag.

Before long, Walter would be standing uninhibited on bar tables as a glittering, fully realized drag queen. And by no stretch would he have imagined that four decades on, at 85 years old, Walter would still regularly grace the stage as the oldest female impersonator in the country, or that their budding love affair would last more than 45 years, and that together they'd operate what's now considered the longest-running drag revue in the country.

In fact, it's likely that none of Walter's friends could have envisioned he'd soon become the outspoken, over-the-top character known as Darcelle XV.

"Darcelle is glitz, glamor, and comedy—overdressed, over-jeweled, and with hair way bigger than it should be," Walter tells VICE. She's a diva he's honed onstage for nearly as long as the gay liberation movement has existed.

Walter and Roxy invented the identity of Darcelle together, naming her after the B-list French actress and stripper Denise Darcel. But the character's primary inspiration emerged from Gracie Hansen, a Pacific Northwest burlesque legend. Bedecked with rhinestones and a busty standout alongside shapely showgirls, Gracie would greet her audiences with brash theatrics, yelling, "Hiya, suckers!"

Hansen would later go on to run for governor of Oregon in 1970, on the platform that she was "the best politician money can buy." She ended up placing third in the democratic primary.

Darcelle with her cast. Photo courtesy Greg Pitts

Hansen was also the inspiration for Darcelle's comedic swagger—it certainly didn't emerge from his timid offstage personality. "Darcelle is completely different from Walter," he says. "Darcelle can do anything—and she gets away with it. Walter's hesitant. But when you're overpowering onstage, you can say just about anything you want."

In time, distinctions between Darcelle and the man beneath the makeup would blur. Nearly everyone in Portland soon came to know him simply as Darcelle, and over the years, he emerged as a key ambassador for Portland's LGBTQ community. From the same stage in the same club Walter has operated for over four decades, he's witnessed firsthand the story of queer America, from the Stonewall riots to the AIDS epidemic to marriage equality today.

The same year he first wore a dress, Walter purchased his then-rundown bar in Portland's dilapidated Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood. He'd operated several businesses previously, including Portland's first coffeehouse and a basement jazz club. But those ventures soon fell victim to urban renewal, and he was forced to move to what was then the city's skid row.

Before it became the Darcelle XV Showplace, as it's known today, the bar catered to lesbians. While 1960s Portland boasted several gay bars and bathhouses, lesbians had only the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood to call their own. At first, it was a part of town Walter's friends were unwilling to hang out in.

Darcelle and friends. Photo courtesy Greg Pitts

Its stage was a four-by-seven-foot banquet table, and that's where Walter began hosting shows. He'd sew dresses and make hats by day while Roxy choreographed the night's entertainment. With homosexuality still widely considered a mental illness and LGBT harassment the status quo, Walter and the club's other performers knew the risks of openly performing drag.

"When we started, we didn't even walk outside in drag. This was our safe zone," he says. "That was about the time Stonewall was happening. We just didn't chance it."

Darcelle's personal brand of activism soon came in the form of sequins, makeup, and hair. She volunteered countless hours throughout the years for thousands of charitable events, using her status as the grand dame of Portland drag to support causes important to the community. And during the height of the epidemic, the club was available free of charge to any fundraiser for HIV/AIDS.

By celebrating all things glamorous and queer, she encouraged generations of misfits to love themselves with pride. And while Darcelle's wiseass quips haven't ceased, the audience has changed dramatically since the late 60s.

"It was almost more fun when it was, 'Oh, look, drag!' It was an intrigue," Walter says. "It's still exciting and people love it, but now it's no longer an intrigue."

A different kind of crowd now flocks to Darcelle's Showplace. "Some of these people come from different backgrounds," says Walter. "Perhaps they're religious, and they come in and think we jack off onstage—pardon me, masturbate onstage—and that we have two heads because we're queer. But we don't give that kind of show. Our show is geared toward everyone."

Darcelle on stage. Photo courtesy Greg Pitts

Drag stage performances have changed over the years as well. Drag queens no longer simply imitate women; today's characters are complex riffs on drag icons that have come before. In that sense, Darcelle has almost single-handedly paved the way for generations of Portland performers.

"Darcelle made drag as it stands possible to all who followed," says Kevin Cook, better known as his drag persona Poison Waters, who has performed at Darcelle's for more than 25 years. "There will always be new queens and new styles, but classic drag like Darcelle's has and always will stand the test of time."

Photo courtesy Greg Pitts

Even empresses get the jitters, and Walter still gets nervous before he performs. "I stand backstage before I go on with butterflies," he says. "Audiences are different; you just never know."

But there's one thing he's sure of: "There's no such thing as a bad night for Darcelle. There's only a bad night for the audience." After 85 years, chances are he's caught on to something.

Follow Jon Shadel on Twitter.

Is Flossing Bullshit?

In a bombshell piece of investigative journalism by Associated Press reporter Jeff Donn, Americans learned on Tuesday that more than a century's worth of admonitions from dentists about how important it is to grind strands of filament into your gums a couple times a day until you bleed might just be bullshit.

Donn pressed the American Dental Association (ADA) to explain its conclusion that "flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums." He also tried to find the federal government's scientific basis for putting flossing in the list of dietary guidelines proffered by the Department of Health and Human Services every five years since 1979. It turned out there was practically no hard science involved in either one.

The ADA's representative "acknowledged weak evidence, but he blamed research participants who didn't floss correctly," writes Donn. The federal government, meanwhile, removed the guideline after Donn inquired, and when he asked for an explanation, the Fed "acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required."

So is flossing a waste of time?

According to Los Angeles dentist Alessandra Raschkovsky, the Fed's removal of its flossing recommendation was dead wrong. "I can't understand why they did that," Raschkovsky told VICE. Raschkovsky said she'd observed cases in which flossing made no difference. "Some people are lucky. They have good genes, so they don't floss. But the majority needs to."

But the AP isn't the only entity to question the flossing doctrine. A 2011 piece of meta-analysis published by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews also investigated flossing's efficacy by compiling data from 12 different trials. In the end, that team found "weak, very unreliable evidence from 10 studies that flossing plus toothbrushing may be associated with a small reduction in plaque at 1 and 3 months."

When pressed for proof of flossing's effectiveness, floss manufacturers Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson both made questionable scientific claims, according to the AP. Johnson & Johnson simply claimed flossing fights plaque without backing it up at all, and the study Procter & Gamble used to defend itself had already been debunked by Cochrane's 2011 report.

But if that leaves you ready to repurpose your dental floss into a popcorn necklace or a prison garrote, you may want to keep shoving it in between your teeth for a couple reasons.

The Cochrane study may have dismissed most claims about dental floss regarding tooth decay, but it also adds that "the review showed that people who brush and floss regularly have less gum bleeding compared to toothbrushing alone." So if you don't like your gums to bleed, you might still want to make flossing a priority.

Raschkovsky told VICE she has personally observed a reduction in gum bleeding in patients who began a new flossing regimen. But the real difference, she said, came from the measurements of patients' unhealthily wide "gum pockets"—an indicator of gum disease.

"I've seen people with 6 millimeter pockets reduced to three—a big improvement," Raschkovsky said, adding, "and that was in people who had always brushed before, and then started flossing."

But Raschkovsky said that for the seriously floss-phobic, tools other than floss can produce a similar effect to classic flossing. "I have patients who refuse to floss," Rashkovsky said." They start using a Waterpik, and it's a tremendous difference."

And Water Pik, Inc.—the makers of Waterpik, a brand-name water-flossing tool—stands to benefit if Americans ditch their string. They've already been on the war path against regular floss since at least last September. In celebration of their product being added to ADA's page on healthy habits for people under 40, Water Pick, Inc. crowed that Americans should buy their device instead of floss. "here is no evidence to support recommending string floss, with the possible exception to those who have perfectly healthy gums and can master string flossing at a very high level (and that's a very small group)," their advertisement claimed.

Still, despite the change in the federal guidelines, Raschkovsky plans to keep giving patients that classic dentist's bargain: Floss, or face a reprimand at your next visit. "Some people lie," she said, claiming that she can spot the difference between a flosser and a non-flosser.

But, she joked, "the gums don't lie."

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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election: Why Even Republican Millennials Hate Trump

It's not hard to hate Donald Trump. He's loud, he lies all the time, he's casually bigoted and prone to attacking people of color—he's like that fictional "racist uncle" trope trotted out for articles about surviving Thanksgiving, only breathtakingly real in his angry orangeness. Dislike for Trump cuts across many lines, but one group of voters he's doing particularly bad with are young people—even young Republicans.

A survey by Public Policy Polling released last week shows the depth and breadth of Trump's millennial problem. That poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 5 points among respondents overall—but that gap grew to 15 points—45 percent to 30 percent—among voters under age 30, with 35 percent of that group still undecided or opting for a third-party candidate.

The results echo those of a poll on millennial attitudes released by Harvard's Institute of Politics this spring, in which just over half of young Republican respondents—57 percent—said they planned to vote for Trump, compared to a full 83 percent of young Democrats who said they planned to vote for Clinton. More damningly, for Trump, the survey found that the Republican nominee is so toxic among 20-somethings that more than one in ten of those who identify with his own party admit that they would cast a ballot for an Establishment Democrat than Trump.

You could blame this trend partly on the banner Trump is running under. For years, Republicans have catered to a base of older, conservative white voters, while mostly ignoring millennials; in 2012, Mitt Romney got just 30 percent of the under-30 vote. But that was against Barack Obama, whose powerful speeches about the American Dream and general with-it-ness were political aphrodisiacs for younger voters. In 2000, George W. Bush split the youth vote with Democratic candidate Al Gore, your dad's most boring friend, and Ronald Reagan was actually pretty beloved by younger voters. The GOP isn't inherently unhip; it's just refused to modify its positions as the younger generation—which tends to be racially diverse, tolerant of homosexuality, down to smoke some weed—has come of age.

Jack and David Cahn are a set of precocious millennial twins writing a book about their generation. They told VICE that some Republican policies, like gun rights and charter schools, are attractive to millennials, but that Trump has gotten in the way of the party's ability to attract younger voters.

"On the one hand, the GOP continues to brands itself as the party of climate deniers, immigrant haters, and gay bashers. That's not helping them win millennial votes," David said. "On the other hand, Donald Trump is the ultimate anathema, not only to centrist millennials, but also to Republicans. The three core millennial values are optimism, tolerance, and authenticity. Trump's attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, mocking of disabled people, and refusal to denounce the KKK violate these values to the extreme."

Clinton doesn't have Obama's gift for uplifting rhetoric, and many young people aren't particularly drawn to her: The same Harvard study found that Bernie Sanders was the only candidate from either party to earn a positive net rating among under-30s. The leadership of the Democratic Party is old and getting older. So 2016 seems like it could have been a chance for the GOP to bring millennials into the fold. Instead, it nominated a man that two-thirds of voters under 30 believe he's a racist.

A Time magazine article about young people at the Republican National Convention claimed that most millennials in attendance weren't Trump voters; in fact, many were, like other Republicans, openly wondering if they could support a man who says such noxious things publicly. That lines up with exit polling from the GOP primaries, which found that on Super Tuesday at least, millennials were the least likely Republican cohort to vote for Trump.

"Younger conservatives are libertarian-leaning," Cliff Maloney, the executive director of the conservative group Young Americans for Liberty, told VICE. These young Republicans "not only want the government's hands out of their wallets, they want the government out of their bedrooms as well."

Maloney said that "pro-liberty" young people who backed Ron Paul in 2012 tend to support politicians like Ron's son Rand, a Kentucky senator, and other Paul acolytes like Reps. Thomas Massie, of Kentucky, and Justin Amash, of Michigan, both of whom have adopted libertarian-leaning stances during their terms in Congress.

"When Republicans embrace technology and innovation, support free speech, advocate for a sober foreign policy, and real criminal justice reform—they win," Maloney said. "Those topics are important to young people, and when Republicans abandon them, they lose any shot at youth support."

Trump, who is now running as the "law and order" candidate, has said he wants to make it easier to sue newspaper for libel, talks openly about torturing suspected terrorists, and has feuded with some of the tech sector's most prominent leaders. In other words, the problem isn't that Trump has lost young undecided voters and young people of color—it's that he risks losing even young Republicans.

In May, after it became clear Trump would be the Republican nominee, Katrina Elaine Jorgensen, the communications chair for the Young Republicans National Federation, resigned her post in protest. "I cannot live with being seen as supporting a candidate I truly feels tramples on all of our values," she wrote on Facebook.

She might be one of the most vocal young Republican #NeverTrump-ers, but she's not alone.

"Unfortunately, a Trump loss in 2016 is unlikely to push the GOP to adopt more millennial-friendly platforms on issues from weed to immigration and the environment," said David Cahn. "Republicans will use Trump as an excuse for the party's loss, instead of recognizing that Trump is only part of the greater problem, which is that GOP is out of touch with the beliefs of the next generation."

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