The abrupt announcement that the widely used, anonymously authored disk-encryption tool Truecrypt is insecure and will no longer be maintained shocked the crypto world–after all, this was the tool Edward Snowden himself lectured on at a Cryptoparty in Hawai’i. Cory Doctorow tries to make sense of it all.Read the rest
Over at Wink, Carla Sinclair reviews Brad Meltzer's History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, an illustrated book loaded with facsimiles of documents related to famous unsolved mysteries and cover-ups.
Whether you are a believer in conspiracy theories or not, History Decoded takes a fun look at unsolved history that reads like an intriguing collection of short whodunit stories. Author Brad Meltzer (who hosted History’s Decoded series) investigates the top ten most popular conspiracy theories in countdown order, starting with #10: Was John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln’s assassin) really captured, or was he working with the Confederate Secret Service who helped him escape? Meltzer also begins each theory with an envelope that contains copied documents (newspaper clippings, death certificates, ID cards) that you can pull out and examine for yourself.
Myles Power, a debunker who goes after junk science and conspiracy theorists, has gone after AIDS denialists and a terrible, falsehood-ridden, dangerous documentary called "House of Numbers," which holds that HIV/AIDS isn't an actual viral illness, but rather a conspiracy to sell anti-viral medication. The AIDS denial movement encourages people who are HIV-positive to go off the medication that keeps them alive.
The producers of "House of Numbers" have used a series of bogus copyright takedown notices to get Youtube to remove Powers's videos, in which he uses clips from the documentary as part of his criticism, showing how they mislead viewers and misrepresent the facts and the evidence. It's pure censorship: using the law to force the removal of your opponents' views.
Google and Youtube have some blame to shoulder here. They should not be honoring these takedown notices, as they are not valid on their face. However, the buck doesn't stop there. The DMCA's takedown procedures have no real penalty for abuse, so it is the perfect tool for would-be censors. What's more, the entertainment companies -- who are great fans of free speech when defending their right to sell products without censorship, but are quite unwilling the share the First Amendment they love so dearly with the rest of us -- are pushing to make censorship even easier, arguing that nothing should be posted on Youtube (or, presumably, any other online forum) unless it has been vetted by a copyright lawyer.
Update: Google has reinstated the video, and published this statement: "When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove it promptly in accordance with the law. We reinstate content in cases where there is clear fair use and we are confident that the material is not infringing, removing any associated copyright strikes.”
However, the "accordance with the law" business isn't the whole story. The law says that if Google is sent a takedown notice and they don't remove it, they could be sued along with the person who posted it. But it's up to Google to determine whether it believes the complaint holds water, and whether to assume the risk of disregarding it. IOW: Google could have left the video up, but at some risk of being named in a nuisance suit by some genuinely evil people. It decided that this risk was more costly than the likely temporary removal of the video.
They're probably right inasmuch as they will generally be let off the hook for this. However, to the extent that we -- the people who generate Google's income -- give them a good kicking when they make decisions like this, we will raise the cost of acting on obviously spurious copyright complaints. The higher that cost rises, the less censorship we'll see on Youtube.
Read the rest
Read the rest
Mirage Men is my friend Mark Pilkington's excellent book of the story behind the UFO story -- a history of disinformation, paranoia, hoaxers, espionage, and weird psy-ops. While researching the book, Mark and his co-conspirators conducted video interviews with kooky ET enthusiasts, conspiracy theorists, and former air force officers whose truths, if you believe them, are far stranger than the fictions you'll get from most UFO books. The result is a wonderfully weird and provocative feature documentary, also called Mirage Men. After a fantastic reception during its world premiere in England this summer, Mirage Man will have its North American premiere next week as part of Austin's Fantastic Fest 2013 film festival. Mark and his collaborators John Lundberg and Roland Denning will be in attendance at the screenings! To tease you, above are the first 3 minutes of the film… Mirage Men
Templar is a beautifully executed historical thriller written by famed game designer Jordan Mechner (who created Prince of Persia) and drawn by Leuyen Pham and Alex Puvilland. As the title implies, the story is a conspiracy thriller about the treasure of the Knights Templar, an order of Crusaders who were persecuted by the King of France in the early 1300s; rounded up, tortured, accused of gross and sinful deeds, subjected to show-trials and put to death. The story of the Templars has been told many times, and there are umtpy-leven conspiracy theories about what became of the treasure the order looted during the Crusades. Mechner and co have created a smashing addition to the canon.
Templar is a fictional account of the lives of some of the (real) Templars who escaped the king's roundup; in this telling, they become badass ronins who wander the land, determined to clear the order's name and reclaim its treasure. What flows out of this is a classic caper story filled with glorious and horrible swordfights, skullduggery, torture, romance, banditry, piety, bravery and treachery. I came to this not knowing much about the Templars and caring about them even less, but found that once I picked the (massive) book up, I couldn't put it down. This is some great and exciting storytelling.
If this sounds familiar, it may be because you read the first third of it in 2010, published as Solomon's Thieves (Templar takes the story to some very good places that Solomon's Thieves can't get to). You also may be familiar with the team from the Prince of Persia graphic novel (I confess I didn't like that one very much -- but I love this).
Though this is thoroughly fictionalized, the team are careful to mark out the bits that are historically accurate (to the best of anyone's knowledge, anyway), and they include a sweet little biography suggesting further reading. This is a great comic for grownups, but it's also a great way to introduce younger readers to medieval history.
Thrift-score: mad, wonderful scrapbooks of 19th C Texas butcher who loved flying machines, secret societies
Robbo sez, "Charles Dellschau, a retired butcher in Texas in the late 1800's created a series of scrapbooks: '2,500 intricate drawings of flying machines alongside cryptic newspaper clippings filled the pages, crudely sewn together with shoelaces and thread' - it's an astonishing collection of mystery and whimsey with loads of drawings and plans for arcane flying machines, a secret society and coded messages strewn throughout. The books were found by a junk dealer in the 1960's and are now valued at $15,000 - per page."
These are astounding illustrations and amazing fantasies; they've been collected in a book called THE SECRETS OF DELLSCHAU: The Sonora Aero Club and the Airships of the 1800s, A True Story, which includes a lot of commentary on Dellschau's work and context.
He began with three books entitled Recollections which purported to describe a secret organization called the Sonora Aero Club. Dellschau described his duties in the club as that of the draftsman. Within his collaged watercolors were newspaper clippings (he called them “press blooms”) of early attempts at flight overlapped with his own fantastic drawings of airships of all kind. Powered by a secret formula he cryptically referred to as “NB Gas” or “Suppa” — the “aeros” (as Dellscahu called them) were steampunk like contraptions with multiple propellers, wheels, viewing decks and secret compartments. Though highly personal, autobiographical (perhaps!), and idiosyncratic, these artworks could cross-pollinate with the fiction of Jules Verne, Willy Wonka and the Wizard of Oz. The works were completed in a furiously creative period from 1899 to 1923, when air travel was still looked at by most people as almost magical. Newspapers of that period were full of stories about air travel feats and the acrobatic aerial dogfights of WWI were legend.
Dreams of the Sonora Aero Club [John Foster/Design Observer]
Update: Here's an interesting, longer piece about Dellschau by Rebecca J. Rosen from the Atlantic
Max Barry's new technothriller Lexicon is a gripping conspiracy novel about a cabal of "poets" who have mastered the deep language of the human brain and can use it to boss the rest of us around. It's a pitch-perfect thriller, a jetpack of a plot that rocketed me from page one to page 400 in a single afternoon, and it kept me guessing right up to the end. Imagine Dan Brown written by someone a lot smarter and better at characterization and at hand-waving the places where the science shades into science fiction, and you've got something like Lexicon.
In particular, Lexicon captures a lot of the stuff that makes the myth of Neurolinguistic Programming so compelling -- the idea that smart people can figure out how to make others march in lockstep just by tricking their subconsciouses into thinking that that's what they wanted to do all along. And Barry carries through the power-fantasy to its inescapable end: a secretive, paranoid, power-maddened cabal that is its own worst enemy.
Full of surprises and grace notes, this is the kind of delightful thriller that's anything but a guilty pleasure, and just what you'd expect from the author of such great books as Jennifer Government and Machine Man.
I have a personal Facebook account, which I use to keep up with friends and family. Like many of you, I've also discovered that this gives me a peek inside the psyche of those friends and family — and one of the things that I saw was an interest (and sometimes belief in) conspiracy theories. It wasn't limited to the Right or the Left. And it definitely wasn't limited to people I love but consider a little "off", if you know what I'm saying.* Over and over, I saw perfectly rational, sane people, supporting and spreading ideas that, to me, seemed a little nuts.
And that made me curious: Where do conspiracy theories come from? The answer, according to psychologists and sociologists, is not "Glenn Beck's fevered imagination." In fact, the category "people who believe in conspiracy theories" can't even really be separated into The Other in a nice, neat way. If you look at the data, the people who believe in conspiracy theories are us. And those theories grow out of both historical context, our feelings about ourselves and the wider world, and the way that our brains respond to feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty. Here's a short excerpt from my most recent column for The New York Times Magazine:
While psychologists can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief. In 2010, Swami and a co-author summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal. They found, perhaps surprisingly, that believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular. Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.
Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action. Paul Whalen, a scientist at Dartmouth College who studies the amygdala, says it doesn’t exactly do anything on its own. Instead, the amygdala jump-starts the rest of the brain into analytical overdrive — prompting repeated reassessments of information in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative, to understand what just happened, what threats still exist and what should be done now. This may be a useful way to understand how, writ large, the brain’s capacity for generating new narratives after shocking events can contribute to so much paranoia in this country.
*This joke is totally going to get me into trouble. Dear friends and family: Trust me, you are not the one I'm referring to here.
A shape-shifting extraterrestrial was on President Obama's security detail during his APIAC speech on Sunday. Above is video evidence. And once you have been convinced, you may want to visit the video's YouTube page for valuable information about Jesus, Satan, cures for Cancer, and that "smoking is of the devil." "OBAMA ALIEN demon UFO ghost 666 devil SECRET SERVICE"
` Spocko sez, "Brilliant, and well made parody of the 9/11 video 'Loose Change.' It points out all the 'coincidences' in the destruction of the Death Star. Was it an inside job?"
An examination of some questionable events and circumstances leading up to the destruction of the Death Star, through the eyes of an amateur investigative journalist within the Star Wars galaxy. The focus is mainly on the connections between the people who created and operated the Death Star and those responsible for destroying it.
Remember the potential weirdo sex-dungeon in Houston's Hotel ZaZa? A reader with inside knowledge writes,
That "two-way mirror" in 322 hangs on the bathroom wet wall for the more spacious suite 321 next door. So in the "secret voyeur room" case, you'd be standing in the bathroom next door and looking through a piping chase full of sanitary and domestic water lines. The bricks are a veneer that they decided to stop at the frame of the mirror. It doesn't seem like this room was specially built for secret sex shows or whatnot. At least, no more than any other hotel room with potential for pinhole cameras and so on.
I think it really is just an awkwardly placed and sized room, dictated by adjacent suite and service elevator lobby/shaft requirements. (See attached snippet from floor plans.) The associated balcony sits in a corner, so it is in fact larger than the balconies in the adjacent conventional rooms, as the ZaZa rep claims. I have no explanation for why some owner, architect and/or interior designer thought this would be a good theme for a room, though.
A redditor called joelikesmusic reported that a friend of his had been checked into a weird, narrow dungeon-like theme room at the Hotel Zaza in Houston (it's got lots of theme suites -- I once stayed in their awesome space-themed one with my family, on the way to my honeymoon). When he complained, the front desk apparently told him that it was a mistake -- no one was supposed to use that room.
The ZaZa's management told the press that it was a "prison" themed room, and that there was no mystery, but intrepid redditors have been examining the pictures (especially the portrait of Jay Comeaux, a banking exec from the disgraced Stanford Banking Executive, and have been spinning out theories about secret societies and rituals in the comments.
However, one commenter called lejefferson makes a plausible case that the room is a sex-dungeon with a one-way voyeur's mirror, used by rich weirdos:
What person that you know keeps a creepy picture of a guy over their television. This is obviously a secret room either personal or for a small group of people for sexual liasons/ S&M prostitution or worse. The mirror and small space of the room also indicates there is a good chance that the mirror is two way and that people could pay to come watch the sexual/S&M events occuring. The photo of a Stanford Banking Executive, (Jay Comeaux), on the wall further indicates that this is a high society sex room. The fact that the clerk said, "This room isn't supposed to be rented out" indicates that there was a big mistake and they didn't want anyone to find out about the room. The bricks on the wall line up exactly with the placement of the mirror suggesting that they do not continue behind it but that this is a two way mirror.