Archive - 2013

The cult of Cthulhu: The strange story behind the real-life followers of H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon

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Forty-one years ago in New York City, a man known only as Simon walks into a witchcraft supply shop with a cardboard manuscript box, the kind of thing you see in library rare book departments. He estimates that the work in his possession is six or seven hundred years old.

Simon is a Slavonic Orthodox priest, a student of the occult, but until he walked into that shop he didn’t know anything about H.P. Lovecraft, a writer of “weird fiction” (the literary forefather of both science fiction and horror). Neither had he heard of the Necronomicon, a book that the author had invented for his stories. It’s supposed to be an incredibly powerful grimoire, or collection of spells and incantations, and as Lovecraft was in the habit of blending reality and fantasy in his books — even going so far as enlisting other “weird” writers to expand on his characters and locations in their own stories — more credulous readers came to believe that the Necronomicon was real. It was as if Luke Skywalker was real, or the flying skateboards from Back To The Future were real.

Continue reading at The Verge

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

 

Income At Home, Herbalife, and the $8 billion pyramid

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Written with Matt Stroud. Additional reporting and significant editorial heavy lifting by Jesse Hicks.

This one focuses on the business practices of the company responsible for all those terrible Income At Home ads, and makes the case that for-sale “business opportunities” are the real source of Herbalife’s wealth. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds!

Following the publication of this story, the company, an off-shore shell corporation in Barbados named Centurion Media group, switched its affiliation from Herbalife to something called Vemma. And by “following the publication,” I mean, “the very same day.”

The fact that Vemma is basically “Herbalife without all the negative media attention from hedge fund managers and federal investigative agencies,” as we write in an update to the story, says a lot about Herbalife, and the real source of its profits.

As Frank Kern, one of the stars of “Scamworld,” once said: “The product is really irrelevant.” 

Continue reading at The Verge