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VICE: Season Two Episode 3 Review

By Jef Dinsmore on Mar 31, 2014 to Vice


Overview: Cities like Detroit and Cleveland are at the forefront of a new phenomenon: scrapping. People left behind are literally ripping apart old schools, houses, hospitals and factories for raw materials to hawk to local scrap yards for cash. Scrap metal is one of the United States’ biggest exports, with billions of dollars’ worth traveling to China every year, where it’s invested in their infrastructure. The price for a pound of copper, for example, is about five times more than it was in 2002. Correspondent David Choe looks at the life cycle of scrap metal, from the people who risk their lives to find it, to the yards that buy it, all the way to the Chinese traders who take it back home to build their economy.

After a long and costly war in Afghanistan, American foreign policy has taken a drastically different approach to dealing with suspected Taliban insurgents. In place of the old “boots on the ground” strategy, President Obama has increasingly relied on reVICESeason2_dronemote-controlled drone warfare, in which operators thousands of miles away eliminate targets with the click of a button; their only interaction with the battlefield is through a screen. Drones are touted as a surgical weapon that keeps soldiers out of harm’s way. But for innocent victims described as “collateral damage,” drone strikes are hardly precise. Correspondent Suroosh Alvi investigates the effects of drone strikes in Pakistan, where extremism and militancy are only growing in the wake of Obama’s drone campaign.

Expectations: This episode falls into a loosely defined theme for me. Both segments fall into the category of ‘concepts I heard a bit about, but don’t fully understand.” That makes my expectations quite easy to define. I am looking for clarification. I heard of Scrapping and understand it is illegal, but it wasn’t until recently that I heard instances of it in my state, though nowhere nearby (hell, hardly anything is nearby here.) I have a strong sense from the upcoming clips that we will see the practice carried out to its extreme levels and I am going to be surprised of what I learn.

Drone attacks are another concept you hear about in the news when they, meaning the government or the media, declare that a top Taliban official has been taken out by an attack. You can quickly process that news and move on not really understanding the details or the ramifications of such a strike. VICE will surely clarify and I can already tell that it is not going to bode well for them or us. I’m looking for clarity on both these issues and I’m about to get it.

VICESeason2_DavidChoePicGut Reaction: We start with American Scrap. It is reported by correspondent David Choe.  

 Mr. Choe (pictured) is best known as a muralist and graffiti artist. He also has dabbled in travelogue journeys across America and a podcast. There is even a documentary out there about his artistry called Dirty Hands. So what is he doing on VICE? He has a video show at called “Thumbs Up!” I’ve seen it and it is pretty good so it was just a natural that he crossed over to VICE on HBO. He offers a rather dashing, fleeting and daring approach to his reporting and is outright jocular at times. That style can be observed in AMERICAN SCRAP as well.  


I got a real education on scrapping, that’s for sure and Choe covered it thoroughly too.  In this piece he travels to more than one city and scrapyard to get the full story. Along the way we meet scrappers of all types: we witness the one who says ‘it is all good because he isn’t hurting anybody to make his buck’, to the dude who knows he is a criminal and is okay with it because ‘you got to do what you got to do’ and the hardcore dawg willing to risk life and limb to steal scrap from a scrapyard and Choe is right there breaking & entering right along with them.

I guess in one sense I must be naive because I never realized how gutted out some urban centers are; how cleaned out of every bit of metal down to the copper wiring the infrastructure is. It is sobering and sad that these cities are crumbling within. And the next time I hear of the city 2 ½ hours away getting stripped down I will know just what it is all about due to this report from VICE; including how much the Chinese will pay when they come a calling. Amazing!   VICESeason2_Alvi

Children of the Drones reported by VICE co-founder Suroosh Alvi.

With all respects to Mr. Alvi, but whenever he reports anything I know it is going to be chilling. In Season One he filed a story about the oil pirates of Nigeria and the uprising in Egypt and he was in the thick of it both times. And he goes into the belly of the beast this time as well – he sees Taliban recruitment first hand. And it appears that a driving factor towards healthy recruitment is because of action the United States takes.

Let me back-track a bit. The save and easy way to take out our dangerous enemies is via a remote control missile strike. Our correspondent talks to a specialist in that very tactic. Here is a clip.

Those strikes however take out civilian lives and that in turn raises the ire of the people. In Pakistan when that anger is raging it boils over into resentment against the U. S. and as fuel for the Taliban to recruit followers. Mr. Alvi goes into the heart of this hatred and talks to people opposing the drone attacks and he even goes to the heart of the wellspring of Jihad’s incubation – a school that instills the hatred. As I stated above this clarification is chilling – we are continuing to fuel the hatred of the U. S. and aiding the growth of the Taliban.

One other point that allows this point to be made clear and this segment quite interesting is that Suroosh Alvi, a born Canadian citizen, is able to fit into this locale and get the interviews he does because of his Pakistani descent. He knows where to go and how to behave that grants him the access to reveal these truths. It was an exciting, and once again chilling, piece for VICE on HBO.   

In Conclusion: I must say that it is episodes like this one that really makes me appreciate VICE. It is amazing how in a brief 15 minutes per segment, give or take, that they can distill the topic down into the concise report that they do. It takes subjects that you only have heard references of and brings them into perspective so adeptly. Now there is absolute zilch I can do about any of the global situations evidenced in this show, but it does make me feel more connected to my world. It makes me feel more of a global citizen and not just a small-town yokel. I appreciate that and I hope that others who experience VICE do as well. To conclude this week’s subject matter we now go to…  


They offer some follow-up questions to our correspondents about their report. First is David Choe.

It is a most interesting and controversial practice. It is a victimless crime an helps the environment, but is it really helping places like Detroit? There is no clear cut answer. Next are Alvi’s concluding thoughts.

One thing we learned there was how the VICE cameras were able to get into the difficult places by aligning with a respected Pakastani and opening the door for Suroosh to get this impactful story. We now conclude with the sneak peek at episode four. Thanks for taking the journey with me this week and don’t forget that you can see this episode on HBO playing this week and on HBOGo. Peace.

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