From Pittsburgh to the End of the World

Adam Parfrey writes of “individuals who have the audacity to consider themselves their own best authority, in repudiation or ignorance of the orthodoxy factories of the Church, University or State. The constructions of these folk researchers may often seem wildly amiss, laughable, disreputable, but are more revealing cultural barometers than the acculturated pabulum of compromised and corrupt professionals.” This type of “folk researcher” is an American institution, as exemplified by such eccentrics as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and C.T. Russell.

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Kicking A Man While He’s Down: Richard Mellon Scaife (1932-2014)


Here in Pittsburgh, one can almost be perversely proud that a man who leached so much poison into the earth owed his fortune and prominence to the city we call home. Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire philanthropist whose fortune was almost entirely misapplied, died 82 years too late on Independence Day, July 4, 2014.

Richard Mellon Scaife’s sins were many — at least the public ones, while his private life was a mess. But his lasting legacy will not boil down to any one action, whether it be bankrolling the “conservative intellectual infrastructure” behind the victories of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and the rise of the neocons (according to The Washington Post) or trying his damnedest to unseat a democratically elected President of the United States. In the end, Scaife will be remembered as one of the key figures in the re-imagining of American Politics as a zero-sum battle between ideologies.

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My friend Jason Louv did an excellent break down of the facts and myths surrounding Neurolinguistic Programming, and since this is a topic that interests me (and since he gave me a nice shout-out in the text!) I’m sharing it with all of you.

Something of an outgrowth of the weird loony-libertarian west coast of the 1970s, the founders of NLP originally hoped that human beings could be reprogrammed like solid state computers — using the power of language, and a methodology that completely underestimates the complexity and intelligence of people. Needless to say, some forty-ish years later NLP has been discredited as a therapy, although it seems to have achieved some usefulness as part of the arsenal of scammers, pick-up artists and marketing weirdos. It’s in this context that some background of NLP is probably quite useful. Even if you don’t believe that these tricks work, you’ll want to know when you’re encountering someone who thinks that they work… so you can avoid them at all costs.

Read ’10 Ways to Protect Yourself From NLP Mind Control’ at Ultraculture

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


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


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


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


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



From The Fountainhead to the Furries: Ten links for fans of Ayn Rand

I channel surfed upon a movie called Ayn Rand and The Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged this evening. Despite the kudos from Dennis Miller, it turns out that it isn’t very good. As usually happens when I’m in front of the TV, I ended up doing some research into the subject from the couch. This quickly led me down a “rabbit hole” of Objectivist weirdness.

Continue reading on The Verge

The End: A journey through America’s doomsday obsession

“The End” is a five-part series I wrote for The Verge documenting a diverse group of Americans connected by a common thread — each is here to warn us about the cataclysmic possibilities that the future holds. I was attracted to these people and their stories, as implausible as they might seem, because I think they say something about who we are and the times we live in.