Ask McArdle: How to buy that Banksy

And where is the 'deep web'?


What exactly is this “Deep Web” I’ve read about?

Are you in the market for a mercenary, dear madam? Because the Deep Web is best known as the home of Silk Road, a notorious online service similar to eBay—if that website trafficked in handguns, ecstasy pills and thugs, rather than vintage timepieces and Alf dolls. The FBI busted up the digital bazaar on Oct. 1, but not before it besmirched the good name of the Deep Web as a whole. Allow me to explain with a metaphor. Think of the Internet as a vast library, and search engines like Google as librarians striving to catalogue their holdings based on recommendations from other books (that is, links from other sites—my metaphor has clearly expired, like an overdue item). Some of the not-yet-indexed material may be illicit, but most of it is mundane: financial information, shopping catalogues and other data to which people rarely link directly. Things get slightly more exciting with pages that are intentionally hidden from traditional search engines. Silk Road, for example, could only be reached using a special browser that encrypts communication. Websites on this network use the fanciful “.onion” suffix, rather than “.com,” because they are wrapped in layers of encryption like the layers of the edible bulb. Once you’ve dug into “.onion,” you run the risk of encountering nastiness, from child pornography to message boards run by a full range of religious extremists. But its anonymity also allows journalists to continue working in nations with oppressive regimes and facilitates police investigations into illegal gambling sites and other unscrupulous ventures. The web is an undeniably deep but not always dark place.

The fridge life of foods: apples (eight to 12 months), butter (one to three months), cheeses (six to eight months), macaroni & cheese (up to five days), honey (forever)


How does one actually buy a Banksy painting?

The puckish street artist recently made it easier than ever when he placed 25 canvases of “spray art” on sale at a booth in New York’s Central Park for a mere $60 apiece. It sounds like a marvelous deal—and it was—but there was a catch: the sale was unadvertised and the patrons thought they were buying knockoffs. In the end, the anonymous Banksy collected $420 for eight paintings. (One woman negotiated a 50% discount.) But the unaware purchasers found themselves with pieces likely worth more than $30,000 apiece. If they do choose to resell them, the portable format will make it easier for them than others who accidently found themselves in possession of a Banksy. When a London resident sold a mural painted on his property in 2008, the nearly $400,000 price tag did not include the cost of replacing the wall to which it was attached. The same year, a farmer who allowed Banksy to deface his property for a photo shoot with the musical act Blur hoped to earn $82,000 for his mural. It didn’t sell, likely because it was attached to two square metres of concrete.

A $400,000 price tag on one Banksy mural didn’t include the cost to replace the wall it was attacehd to

I ate some old yogurt from the office fridge. Should I worry?

Mrs. McArdle often curtails my enjoyment of a tin of expired peaches with the words: “When in doubt, throw it out.” But the “best before” or “use by” date only indicates when a product is at its taste and nutritional peak; it has little bearing on safety. “There is no magic switch that turns food from being healthy to dangerous on its expiry date,” says William Navarre, a molecular geneticist at the University of Toronto. “Moreover, the vast majority of bacteria and fungi involved in spoilage are not toxic, but spoiled food will turn your stomach with smell and taste.” In short, if your snack doesn’t look or taste funky, it is likely fine to enjoy. Bonus snacking tip! Prof. Navarre says most home refrigerators are “usually a bit warmer than optimal.” Turn your thermostat down and the “food will stay fresher much longer.” Huzzah!

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything:

Illustration by Peter Arkle