Category - Essays and Reviews

Henry Kissinger and the true meaning of Bilderberg

It’s June, and you know what that means — Bilderberg season! Every year around this time, a selection of national and corporate leaders (and some of their biggest fans) get together for a no-holds-barred talk about running the world (and, some fear, running us).

It’s called Bilderberg because its first meeting was at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands. Without belaboring the history of the annual meeting (because, who cares?) the thing is an opportunity for representatives of various countries in North America and Europe to discuss the issues of the day. This year, topics including cybersecurity and the American elections are on the table. Of course, the attendees deserve close scrutiny; but they always deserve close scrutiny, whether they all go on vacation together or not. Continue reading on Medium

I Was A Teenage Transhumanist!

I recently reacquainted myself with Timothy Leary’s books when I wrote an article for The Kernel. In it, I took a critical look at some of the more ridiculous aspects of transhumanism — the five-figure corporate seminars, the technolibertarian greed, the bizarre belief that Technological Singularity is imminent — as well as some of the cooler, more down-to-earth folks that make up the scene. Or the meme. Or whatever it is.

Continue reading on The Conspiracy Review

All The President’s Hitmen

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The “covert” in covert ops doesn’t just apply to specific operational details. One of JSOC’s strengths is that it exists in a legal black box, where the executive branch rarely briefs Congress in advance of a mission, and “usually not afterward,” according to Priest and Arkin. Of course, some victories will be acknowledged — the White House started springing leaks as soon as Osama bin Laden’s corpse was dumped into the ocean — but it was some time before JSOC took any responsibility for Gardez.

Continue reading at The Verge

Being cynical: Julian Assange, Eric Schmidt, and the year’s weirdest book

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There is an unacknowledged political reality that permeates The New Digital Age, one that assumes that human beings assert no control over their destiny, that regulating people is “good” while regulating business is “bad,” that post-modernity means that humankind is destined to be cast adrift in waves of market innovation — submerged, in fact. And that’s exactly the kind of thinking that informs the policy recommendations of organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s the political realism that informs the mad politics of someone like Henry Kissinger, who earns pride of place not only as someone who wrote an inside-cover blurb for The New Digital Age (an august group that includes Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Elon Musk) but as someone who — unlike Julian Assange, who was interviewed then dismissed when his testimony proved inconvenient — actually received a few good-sized passages in the text. If this were an intellectually honest book, there would be dialogue, acknowledgement of opposing viewpoints. Instead, this is a manifesto.

A manifesto for what, exactly? I suppose we’ll have to ask Bill Clinton. Or the war criminal, Henry Kissinger. Or Madeleine Albright, once she’s done shilling for Herbalife.

Continue reading my review of The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen at The Verge

 

Two Interpretations of Timothy Leary

The following review first appeared in The Final Incident, the Deek Magazine anthology edited by Joseph L. Flatley, Matt Stroud, and Jesse Hicks.

The first exhaustive look at Leary, Timothy Leary: A Biography by Robert Greenfield, begins on a poignant note, where the young Leary hides on the roof to escape from his drunken father; and it ends on a note of righteous indignation. In between those two poles lay a phone book’s worth of vitriol. Greenfield obviously has some kind of searing hatred for Timothy Leary, which he may be too much of a gentleman to mention, but which nonetheless bleeds onto every page.

One could read the entire Greenfield book and think that Leary never had an original idea in his life, let alone author over thirty books. The Annotated Bibliography of Timothy Leary itself weighs in at over three hundred pages! True, some of Leary’s work can be difficult — and not in the good way; but even that stuff will often teach you something if you let it.

Continue reading on Medium

From the vaults: I’ll side with the vandals

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Timur was a fellow security guard at the art museum. A couple of times a week, he and I would grab a beer after work. He was exceedingly average in some respects: twenty-six years of age, a few inches shy of six foot tall, dishwater-blonde hair. He lived with his girlfriend, who was pregnant. Yet Timur was exotic in some ways, as well: he moved to America at thirteen, spoke a heavily accented English, and his demeanor reminded me of the sort of desperate teenagers that perform death-defying stunts on foreign-language YouTube videos. The way that he carried himself, his body might have been made to soak up tension. He spoke very little about his life, and his infrequent flashes of extreme rage made me wonder if he wasn’t spiritual cousins with Gary Gilmore.

Security work can make one batty. Imagine standing up straight in an airtight room, twelve feet square, for days on end. The tedium can have a violent impact on one’s mood.
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Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick

Kevin Mitnick is a liar. In fact, he wrote the book on lying (well, a book on lying, called The Art of Deception). I’m not trying to call his character into question, but the fact should be noted. In his younger days, Mitnick’s obsession with exploring telephone and computer systems allowed him to maintain a very casual relationship with the truth, one that found him impersonating cops and telephone company employees alike. His hacking was always more than just knowing his way around an operating system and exploiting security vulnerabilities — he could think on his feet and weave fictions out of thin air, which made him a natural “social engineer.” He probably spent as much time on the phone talking telephone companies and state agencies out of sensitive information as he did behind the keyboard, exploiting vulnerabilities in software.

While we can’t be certain of the extent of his exploits, an approximate list could include: breaking into computer systems owned by Sun Microsystems, DEC, NEC, Motorola, and Nokia; getting his hands on documents relating to Pacific Bell’s SAS (Switch Access Services, which could be used to wiretap phone lines); and of course a number of crimes related to his being a fugitive (including identity theft). Mitnick has always maintained that he never profited from his crimes — and there is no proof that he ever did. So how did he become “the most dangerous hacker in America?”

Continue reading on The Verge

The children of the Marx Brothers and Rambo

It’s 8am-ish (2pm-ish in Paris) and thirty-six degrees. I’m looking forward to a new episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia tonight. That show’s good for the soul. The characters have little use for consensus reality, so they’ve gone ahead and formed their own consensus (created a new reality). Sure, their delusion is only a symptom of a bigger problem, but who cares? Most great artists are “great” because they’re nuts. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Unless you consider the folks behind Reverend Jim great artists (except for Jimbo Belushi, of course — he’s top notch; really, really great).

But yeah, the Sunny gang… Every episode brings a new world, one that they suck everyone else into. And when they create new realities, new perceptions, it’s not the result of academia or heavy-handed anything, artsy-fartsy avante-garde bullshit, it’s the result of enthusiasm, lots and lots of enthusiasm, and naivete, bordering on the criminally stupid. They’re creating spectacles! Situations that can’t be analyzed away because they’re counter-intuitive, utterly goofy, and they defy analyses.

We could learn a thing or two from the gang. Because while the escapades they engage in turn the world upside-down, the characters responsible remain unchanged, pure. They’re the heirs of the Marx Brothers, raised in the age of Rambo.

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How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop

How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop
by Dave Tompkins (Stop Smiling Books; $35)

World War II increased the rate of human innovation to a pace unseen in any other period of history. New technology from the era includes everything from synthetic rubber to the atomic bomb to magnetic audio tape, which the Germans successfully kept secret until the war’s end. After the Reich fell, Lt. Jack Mullin of the US Army Signal Corps shot footage outside of Hitler’s home, grabbed one of the Fuhrer’s piano strings for a souvenir, and brought two AEG Magnetophons (along with fifty reels of Farben recording tape) back with him to the states. He then sold a reel-to-reel tape recorder to Bing Crosby, revolutionizing broadcasting and music-making in the process. Another device that made its debut in World War II only to be later adopted by the entertainment industry is the Vocoder.

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Rough notes on politics and Playbook

FOUCAULT: Your question is: why am I so interested in politics? But if I were to answer you very simply, I would say this: why shouldn’t I be interested? That is to say, what blindness, what deafness, what density of ideology would have to weigh me down to prevent me from being interested in what is probably the most crucial subject to our existence, that is to say the society in which we live, the economic relations within which it functions, and the system of power which defines the regular forms and the regular permissions and prohibitions of our conduct. The essence of our life consists, after all, of the political functioning of the society in which we find ourselves.

This is the thought process of someone with perspective. An activist might say something similar: someone who has no other recourse than to fight for justice. This is Politics as Self Defense, really.

What we get from Washington, however, however, is Politics as Sport.

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