The origins of the Mafia are somewhat vague, partially because it has never actually been a united organization. It is believed to have formed as early as the 13th century in Sicily, when village elders (the heads of the prominant local families) would organize the men of the area to provide food and supplies for those displaced by the French army by raiding and pillaging French supply depots. Thus the key components of secrecy, criminal activity, and feudal-type structure all developed early on. Over the years various mafia families took greater control over the Italian countryside, selling surplus raided food to other regions of Europe in exchange for other supplies. It wasn't until the rise of Mussolini that that the government even attempted to take action against the mafia. When he was taken from power at the end of WWII many anti-Mussolini activists, including mafia members, were put into positions of power.
Meanwhile, the mafia was exported to America with the immigration of many Italians around the turn of the century. In particular, Don Vito Cascio Ferro is believed to have created the first American mafia in 1893. The mafia became powerful during Prohibition in the 1920's, and was believed by many to be closely tied to the labor movement and the AFL-CIO. Beginning in the 1970's the American government cracked down greatly on mafia activities and it has largely gone underground, despite the popularity of movies like The Godfather and TV shows like "The Sopranos".
Hypodermics on the Shore
Vacationing on the (New) Jersey Shore has long been a tradition for many New York families. In the summer of 1988, however, the beaches became contaminated by a growing volume of assorted garbage. Commonplace garbage such as beer cans and styrofoam containers were mixed with more ominous objects including as sullied tampons, bloodstained bandages, and especially used hypodermic needles. Given the concern with AIDS and drug use at the time, this incident was considered a terrible lapse of government responsibility.
Police officials searched for months before coming up with the culprit. As it turned out, New York municipal garbage was being shipped out by the millions of tons in barges and dumped 106 nautical miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. Usually the Gulf Stream pushed the majority of it to the north, where it would sink (relatively) harmlessly to the ocean floor. Some freak change in the current patterns in 1988 apparantly brought a portion of the city's garbarge drifting back to its own backyard. Although little is now heard and one might assume the problem has been solved, anecdotal evidence at least suggests that hypodermics on the Jersey Shore are still a regular occurance.