“You are being watched... The government has a secret system, which spies on you every hour of every day.”
-Opening credits, Person Of Interest
Yesterday marked the end of the first year of the Edward Snowden revelations about the horrifying, beyond-the-ravings-of-the-worst-tin-hat-wearing-paranoid extent of American high-tech surveillance, particularly by the National Security Agency. The latest release tells of the extent to which the NSA is researching facial recognition - specifically, the Identity Intelligence project, which harvests millions of pictures of faces online in order to provide data to train their facial recognition algorithms.
In one of the more striking cases of fact and fiction intertwining, this scenario could have been taken wholesale from the CBS TV show, Person Of Interest. Created by Jonathan Nolan a couple of years before the Snowden revelations, the show initially tells of the efforts of the reclusive designer of The Machine (an artificial intelligence computer bought by the government for post-9/11 surveillance, deliberately restricted by its creator to only provide the social security numbers of those about to be involved in violent crime) to aid those who are deemed by The Machine ‘irrelevant’ to national security but still endangered.
Effectively splitting the concept of Batman between two people (the Inventor/Billionaire, portrayed by Lost’s Michael Emerson and The Warrior, in this case an ex-CIA wetworks specialist needing a new, less bloody purpose, played by Jim Caviezel), it brought a clever very-near-future science fictional edge to the idea of the vigilante hero. The show rapidly evolved - not unlike The Machine itself - from an entertaining weekly action/procedural show to one of the best examinations of the effect AI may have on humanity ever shown and a sly commentary on the modern surveillance state.
The Snowden revelations broke during the writing of the second season of the show, and influenced the series considerably. For their Season 3 Comic-Con presentation last year, the show gave away key fobs with the image pictured at right on them.
Nolan and fellow showrunner Greg Plageman have often spoken in interviews about how little fiction their technology actually has - Nolan in particular has often talked about how Google and other firms have spent billions on researching Artificial General Intelligence, whose algorithms can be put to many uses, both fair and foul. (One such interview is here - NB some spoilers for the series.)
Season 3 ended last month with a deepening of the government’s use of AI to detect possible terrorists, plunging headlong into a dystopian world where police and the military locate, detain and even kill those whose metadata is deemed Relevant by an unseen computer algorithm. And frankly, the show looks less and less like science fiction as it goes on.
In commemoration of the Snowden anniversary, a world-wide group of activists established the Reset The Net initiative, offering people free and open-source tools to better protect their identity. I use these tools - so should you.
And, as for facial recognition? Here the options are more limited - especially in the wake of anti-mask legislation which has appeared in several countries (restricting the rights of everyone from devout Muslim women to V-For-Vendetta-mask wearing Anonymous protesters). Possibilities include the CV Dazzle technique of using a combination of asymmetrical make-up and hairstyles to confuse the algorithms that detect faces, and these nifty Infrared LED caps which blind CCTV cameras. And, of course, the awareness that we are watched... the modern pantechnicon surrounds us, and it matters that we remember to look back. Though always, to remember the risks.
Person of Interest returns to TV in September. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Michael C. Ruppert was a well-known pundit, especially in online conspiracy theory communities, on CIA corruption, international politics, and energy and economic topics. Many of his ideas were controversial, provocative and emotionally-charged, and as such he offered a perfect personality to be explored in documentary format. And that's exactly what VICE did late last year, visiting him at his new home in the Rocky Mountains to interview and film him for the documentary Apocalypse, Man, "an intimate portrait of a man convinced of the imminent collapse of the world, but with answers to how the human spirit can survive the impending apocalypse".
The film was released in instalments on the VICE website earlier this year - I've embedded the first part at the bottom of this post, but to view them all and read the associated material, start with Part 1 at VICE and the rest will display automatically as you finish each part of the series.
Most people were first exposed to Michael C. Ruppert through the 2009 documentary, Collapse, directed by Chris Smith. Collapse was one of the scariest documentaries about our world and the fragile the state of our planet. It was also one of VICE's favorite films from the past ten years.
Michael was forced to leave the LAPD after claiming that the CIA was complicit in selling drugs across America, and he quickly became one of the most original and strident voices to talk about climate change, government corruption, and peak oil through his website, “From the Wilderness.”
Following the release of Collapse, Michael’s personal life underwent something of a collapse itself and he paid off all his debts, left behind all his friends, and moved with his dog Rags to Colorado, planning to commit suicide.
Michael Ruppert did indeed end his life, last month on April 13.
Intrepid chronicler of fringe culture (and Darklore writer) Adam Gorightly has a fantastic new project, a website (and future book releases) dedicated to documenting the origins and history of the Discordian Society: Historia Discordia. Discordianism is a philosophy - some might not even call it a religion - dedicated to the 'worship' of the principles embodied in the Greco-Roman goddess of chaos, Eris/Discordia (more cogently, Discordianism is somewhat of an 'anti-religion', rejecting dogmatism and parodying many of organised religions' more ridiculous practices):
And what are the Discordian Archives? Geez, I thought you would never ask.
The Discordian Archives are, of course, Greg Hill’s archives, who — along with Kerry Thornley — co-founded Discordianism in the late 1950s. Not only was Greg one incredibly gifted individual, but he meticulously saved damn near every project he ever worked on. And that was a good thing.
After his death in July of 2000, Hill’s archives were rescued from being potentially tossed into a dumpster by one Dr. Robert Newport, another seminal Discordian and good friends with Hill and Thornley. For a few years, Dr. Bob — as I fondly call him — entertained the notion of creating some sort of online Discordian Archives, but eventually became more interested in pursuing his passion of landscape painting. That’s where I come in. My name is Gorightly, I carry the Chao.
...In the years to follow, I periodically checked in with Newport inquiring if, at some point, I could use these materials to produce a book on the history of Discordianism. Newport, bless his heart, always gave the thumbs up to this potential project, which sat on the Gorightly Productions backburner for the next several years. Every now and again I would touch bases with Dr. Bob just to make sure he was still OK with my eventual use of the materials, and the answer was always positive and supportive. Then, in 2009, as I started getting a bit more serious about moving forward with the project, I yet again contacted Dr. Robert and as always he was totally down with whatever I wished to do. Additionally, Newport suggested that the next time I was down L.A. way I should drop by his place and he would give me the collection and “whatever else I wanted.” Granted, I’m a little dense at times, so I wasn’t quite sure what Newport meant, as I had assumed I’d seen the entire Discordian Archive contents back in 2001 at Wilson’s apartment. Never one to let an opportunity pass, I took Newport up on his offer, and — at that time, by the grace of Goddess Eris — he passed on several boxes of rare Discordian artifacts including the original versions of the Principia Discordia, editions 1 – 5.
At the top of this post is a video of Adam with the 'Bible' of Discordianism: the complete, 60 page first edition Principia Discordia (one of only five copies).
For updates regarding the Historia Discordia website and the related publishing project, follow @AdamGorightly on Twitter.
Link: Historia Discordia
Remember when we used to talk about those crazy government conspiracy theories of a total planetary surveillance system, like the Information Awareness Office? We were such dorks back then. But if you pride yourself on not being one of 'those' conspiracy theorists, you may not want to watch the video below (transcript here) from the recent 30th Chaos Communication Congress (30C3). In it, security researcher Jacob Appelbaum works through the various spying technologies and techniques currently being utilized by the NSA (as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, and a number of canny security researchers). If you're not a technology head, you may not understand everything that is said, but there are more than enough jaw-dropping revelations accompanying the talk to make it worth your while. I could pull out various items and focus on them, from iPhone pwnage through to suggestions that world leaders might be able to be assassinated through radiowaves (hello Hugo!), but that would do a disservice to the overall revelation: In short, the NSA wants, and pretty much now has, the capability to snoop on *everyone*.
I hope all of you, as citizens of the various nations of the world, take the time to watch it and see how your own tax dollars are being used to violate you and control you, and may even ultimately result in putting you at risk from other malicious agencies.
You can view videos from the entire conference here, or simply by searching YouTube for '30C3'.
With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy less than two months away, the Smithsonian Magazine has published an interesting article on the iconic 'Zapruder film' that ignited a virtual conspiracy industry. One part of the feature discusses the 'Umbrella Man' mystery - in particular a short documentary of that name made by film-maker Errol Morris - as an illustration of how sometimes conspiracies become like "a snake eating its own tail". The six-minute documentary Umbrella Man consists of Morris talking with Josiah “Tink” Thompson, one of the first and most respected of Warren Commission critics:
“So here is Tink,” Morris says, taking us back to Thompson’s Life magazine days, “hunkered down over the Zapruder film looking at it frame by frame by frame. And he notices there is a man, a bystander among the crowds waiting for the Kennedy motorcade—and he’s holding an umbrella. And indeed he looks really out of place.”
“Because the sun is shining.”
“The sun is shining. As I say to Tink, in my film, ‘it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood,’” Morris says in a wry Mister Rogers imitation.
“And the Umbrella Man became an icon of conspiracy theorists?” I ask. “They believe that when he raised the umbrella it was a signal for the assassins?”
“As in all of these theories, there are multiple versions, there are variants. There’s the version where the umbrella was a signal to the co-conspirators. There’s another version where the Umbrella Man himself is one of the assassins...with the umbrella.”
...In Morris’ film, Thompson discloses something I hadn’t known: that the Umbrella Man had eventually come forward and explained himself. “The Umbrella Man himself showed up to give testimony to the House assassinations committee,” Morris says.
And he reproduced a clip of his appearance before the committee in his Umbrella Man film. His name was Louie Steven Witt and he testified that he brought the umbrella on that sunny day because—wait for it—he wanted to express his displeasure with JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy.
“Who,” Morris says, “had been ambassador to England in the 1930s and [was] known for his policies of appeasement to the Third Reich.”
“Symbolized,” I say, “by the umbrella that Neville Chamberlain carried back from Munich, after Chamberlain claimed to have brought ‘peace for our time’ by letting Hitler swallow up half of Czechoslovakia, giving Hitler the impetus to launch World War II. The umbrella became the symbol of appeasement in 1938 and here in 1963, this guy carries an umbrella and thinks, ‘Whoa, people are really going to be blown away, this is really going to make a statement!’ And it turns out he becomes a symbol himself. It’s almost like history is a kind of snake swallowing its tail.”
“Part of the problem of rationality and irrationality—and it really is a problem—is how do you separate the two? Where is that line of demarcation between nutso thinking and good thinking?”
Which brings us to the double irony: Morris and Thompson’s attempt to nail down this one tiny factoid ended up getting them linked to the coverup by a conspiracy theorist.
Expect plenty more articles and news stories related to the JFK-assassination in the coming couple of months.
In today's WTF moment: the official Instagram account of the U.S. Air Force yesterday posted a picture of Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh donning...a Captain America-styled luchadore mask during a briefing.
Military Times also posted its own image of Welsh, who was talking at the Air Force Association’s Annual Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition.
Consequently, a few commenters on the Instagram account called the mask “creepy” and noted that “the regs” (regulations) probably don’t allow for masks in uniform.
Military Times reported: “Pointing to the ‘A,’ he said, ‘A is for Airpower.’”
To the contrary though, Business Insider’s own Paul Szoldra rightly noted that Captain America was in the Army, not the Air Force.
“Creepy” or not, generals of his rank can do stuff like this.
It's 6 pm and you're riding the subway back home. It's been a long, hard day & you feel your eyelids are getting heavy. Suddenly, just when you rest your head on the window & start to doze off, you hear a voice offering you a nice discount on a smartphone plan.
You lift your head startled, and the voice instantly disappears! You turn around to see if one of the passengers was talking to you, but everybody is silent.
You rest your head on the window again, and the voice returns, now telling you to consider a trip to Jamaica. WTF??!!
This episode, which seems straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel, could one day become a reality, 'thanks' to a technology that relies on the conduction of sound to the inner ear through the bones of the skull. Using the same principle, 2 German companies have released a video purportedly showing train commuters receiving audio messages through the vibration of the glass windows:
"Some people don't like advertising in general. But this is really a new technology. [It might] not only be used for advertising, but also for music, entertainment, mass transport information, weather reports and so on."
Because you know advertisers will never be satisfied until they can invade your very thoughts & dreams.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the answer is YES: they can hear your voice through the vibration of walls & windows, too:
Srsly, wiretap bugs are sooooo 1960's... but I guess some agencies are too nostalgic.
Guidestones is a web series that uses the enigmatic Georgia Guidestones as the basis for its conspiracy-themed storyline. You can watch the entire series on your computer at Guidestones.org for free, and/or purchase the entire series for download from iTunes. I've embedded the trailer above, and a synopsis below:
Based on true events, GUIDESTONES is the story of Sandy Rai (Supinder Wraich), as she and a fellow journalism student investigate an unsolved murder that sends them around the world in search of the truth.
Shot on location in Canada, the United States, and India, GUIDESTONES is a unique, interactive experience that combines narrative and documentary filmmaking techniques while blending mystery, action, and drama in a Da Vinci Code-style thriller.
Link: Watch Guidestones.
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Remember when President Obama was going to bring 'Change!' to the White House. Wondering where it all went wrong, with continued extra-judicial killings etc? Bill Hicks explains it all, very simply, above (NSFW language).
One of the more interesting modern mysteries is the case of the Toynbee Tiles - hundreds of anonymous messages embedded in the streets of numerous major cities. For those interested in going further down this particular rabbit hole, you can now download a documentary about the enigma - Resurrect Dead - from iTunes. Here's the trailer:
Most people don't notice the hundreds of cryptic tiled messages about resurrecting the dead that have been appearing in city streets over the past three decades. But Justin Duerr does. For years, finding an answer to this long-standing urban mystery has been his obsession. He has been collecting clues that the tiler has embedded in the streets of major cities across the U.S. and South America. But as Justin starts piecing together key events of the past he finds a story that is more surreal than he imagined, and one that hits disturbingly close to home.
The documentary's website also has a gallery of tiles found so far.