[Plura-list] MK-Ultra and the brainwashing grift; Machine Democrats; Mattis Dover's spectacular animations

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Oct 9 12:09:52 EDT 2020

Today's links

* MK-Ultra and the brainwashing grift: Mind control rays are always

* Machine Democrats: Trump-voting ex-Dems are part of a great realignment.

* Mattis Dover's spectacular animations: Monochrom GIFs for the win.

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🪐 MK-Ultra and the brainwashing grift

If you meet someone who claims to have created a system for controlling
other peoples' minds, you know that they are:

a) Delusional;

b) A fraudster; and

c) A sociopath.

This goes for Rasputin, Mesmer, and self-satisfied Big Tech boasters who
claim that machine learning deprives of us our free will.

And it *definitely* goes for the CIA, whose MK-Ultra plot to perfect
mind control was a kind of ghastly running joke.

Writing in Jacobin, Alex de Jong offers a great potted history of
MK-Ultra and its architect, the US government chemist Sidney Gottlieb,
who, with "rehabilitated" Nazi and Imperial Japanese scientists,
performed secret brainwashing experiments.


The article is keyed to the upcoming paperback release of "Poisoner in
Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control," Stephen
Kinzer's award-winning 2019  book on Gottlieb and his brainwashing


The experiments were genuinely awful: from fogging the San Francisco Bay
with bacterial pathogens to dosing suspected spies with stimulants and
depressants to extract confessions from them, then secretly murdering
them and dumping their bodies.

It all kicked into high gear when Gottlieb encountered LSD, and began
nonconsensually dosing Americans with huge amounts of it, starting with
prisoners in an Appalachian addiction hospital, then branching out to
unwitting research subjects at MIT, Stanford and Johns Hopkins.

Then he hired sex-workers to entrap johns in NYC and SF, luring them to
rooms where they were kidnapped and megadosed with acid.

All that is terrible, but what's fascinating about it from a modern
perspective isn't merely their immorality, it's their scientific

These CIA experiments were undertaken in secret, and they were exploring
a hypothesis: is mind-control possible? Did American POWs defect to
North Korea because the Soviets had mind-control?

Over and over, the answer these experiments generated was a resounding *no*.

Everything they tried to do failed, repeatedly, dismally, and with
terrible human costs. And yet, at every turn, the scientists involved -
eminent scientists who'd done productive work in the nonsecret world of
peer review - kept telling themselves they were succeeding.

And so did their paymasters! The entire operation is an incredible
example of how the scientific method - and its transparency and
adversarial peer review - are what prevents scientists and funders from
falling prey to motivated reasoning.

Everything MK-Ultra did was a radioactively obvious failure, but all
these super-smart, powerful people repeatedly talked themselves into
viewing their experiments as success.

Their hypothesis ("Is mind control a thing?") was actually a conclusion
("Mind control is definitely a thing, and we have to figure it out").
But as we say in the crypto wars, wanting something badly is not enough.

All of this reminds me so much of Big Data and Big Tech, behavioral ads
and behavioral modification. Back when hard drives got cheap and the web
got wired for surveillance, the industry concluded, a priori, that with
enough data, intentions could be divined... and shaped.

We were presented with this in IPO documents and conference
presentations as a fait accompli, rather than as a hypothesis. The
companies attracted vast amounts of capital and built vast surveillance
and analysis systems.

For many of us, the existence of these systems was proof that they were
onto something: "No one would fund this if it wasn't producing."
Advertisers flocked to behavioral ads because they were convinced on
this basis that they must work.

The ad industry's most successful product, of course, is itself: its
ability to convince advertisers that it will spend its money wisely and
multiply it through scientifically proven marketing techniques.

Just as the CIA's most successful product wasn't mind-control, it was
the *idea* of mind-control, which excited the congressjerks who held
their purse-strings.

And, like Gottlieb, the ad-tech industry performed nonconsensual human
experiments. Remember back in 2012, when Facebook dosed 61,000,000
unsuspecting users with messages that were supposed to get them to vote?


And, like Gottlieb, they trumpeted this as a success! Those 61,000,000
interventions yielded an additional 60,000 votes - that is, a little
less than a *tenth of a percent* of people who received the dose changed
their behavior in a tiny way. *Success!*

Some people look at this experiment and recoil in horror at the thought
that Facebook has perfected a mind-control ray. I look at it and think,
well, the first time you exposed 61m people to a tactic, 0.1% of them

Many of those people will become inured with repeat exposure, so mostly
what this shows is that FB is really bad at doing what they charge
people money for: influencing its users' behavior.

But it also shows something else: that FB are monsters.

Because anyone who TRIES to build a mind-control ray is a sociopath.
Anyone who funds a mind-control ray is a sociopath. Anyone who invests
in a mind-control ray is a sociopath. Trying to make mind-control a
thing disqualifies you from participating in decent society.

But working in secret to do impossible, wicked things doesn't mean
you'll succeed. It means you'll probably end up kidding yourself, even
as you fail and fail and fail.

That doesn't make you harmless. Gottlieb and FB both destroyed the lives
they touched.

But it means we should address you as a sociopathic fraudster who got
high on your own supply - not as a supergenius whose secret invention
puts the future of human free will at risk.

The only people these evil clowns really manage to brainwash is
themselves and the people who pay their bills. Everyone else, they
merely torture.


🪐 Machine Democrats

Sometimes you have conversations that just stick with you. In 2006, I
went to lunch with Eric Flint at the World Science Fiction Convention in
Anaheim; we got to talking about Obama and whether he'd run for president.

All I really knew about Obama then was his 2004 DNC speech, which was
and is a remarkable rhetorical feat, full of inspiration and aspiration.
I said as much to Eric, who told me, basically, that I wasn't from
Chicago and so I couldn't understand.

He explained that Chicago Democratic politics were Machine politics, a
form of cynical, transactional politics that elevated power rather than
ideology, and that Obama's success in the Machine meant that he would be
a horse-trader, not a populist.

That conversation came back to me when Obama was elected and
unceremoniously shut off the server grassroots campaigners used to get
him elected, smashing a powerful popular movement into a collection of
atomized individuals assigned a new role: cheering from the sidelines.

I watched in the years after as Obama attempted to govern in
smoke-filled rooms where he and his rival power-brokers hammered out
deals, a strategy that *bombed*. The GOP had an unruly mob - the Tea
Party - who were all in on ideology, while all Obama had soaring rhetoric.

Republicans who gave Obama an inch got primaried by this activated,
frothing base. Meanwhile, the ideological and committed base that Obama
had mobilized in 2008 were stuck on the sidelines.

I never really understood Machine politics beyond a few cliches about
Tammany Hall and whatever I'd gleaned from watching Gangs of New York.

Today, I read "The Other Democratic Party," by Stephanie Muravchik and
Jon A. Shields:


It's an excerpt from "Trump's Democrats," their new book based on three
years of fieldwork living in historically Democratic counties that swung
for Trump in 2016.


The authors describe a kind of Democratic politics - and Democratic
voter - whose commitment to the party was based on Machine politics: the
"boss politics" of places like Ottumwa IA, Johnston RI, and Elliott
County KY.

These are places where top political offices are essentially hereditary,
and where elected officials routinely fill political appointments with
relatives and cronies - but also where party stalwarts and supporters
are "taken care of."

Where the local political boss has a weekly kaffeeklatsch in a diner
where you can petition to have your potholes fixed or to for a job in
the dominant industry. These bosses act like Trump.

I don't mean that they hand out favors in this gross, transactional way
(though they do), but also that they are bellicose, petty, vengeful, and
prone to vicious rhetoric about people who fail to show them "respect."

In any two-party system, each party will be a coalition: in the GOP,
it's bankers, racists, violent sociopaths and swivel-eyed religious nuts.

Historically, the Democrats were a coalition of southern aristocratic
white supremacists and northern labor movements.

LBJ's signing of the Civil Rights Act in 64 triggered a "great
realignment" with Dixiecrats mostly migrating to the GOP.

Today, the Democrats are still a fragile coalition, a fact that was
obvious during the primary.

But Muravchik and Shields suggest that the Trump election was another
kind of realignment, with the GOP going all-in on boss politics, and
drawing in voters - and politicians - who like that kind of arrangement.

They're saying that the GOP has become the party of Richard Daley, Jim
Traficant, and Rod Blagojevich - the party you vote for if you want
policy made by horse-traders in smoke-filled rooms who shiv their
enemies and reward their cronies.

But in a coda, they say that Trump is not great at boss politic. The
thing that made boss politics a staple for more than a century was that
bosses were effective - they actually made life better for the people
who paid them fealty.

Bosses actually cared about the people they bossed - it was a twisted
and flawed and often revolting love, but it was love nonetheless. Trump
barely bothers to hide his contempt for America and the people who vote
for him.


🪐 Mattis Dover's spectacular animations

Mattis Dovier is a French animator known for his spectacular, pixel-art
monochrome animations.


I learned about them this morning and even though i have a million
things I should be doing, I just keep scrolling through his endless Tumblr.


The glory days of Hypercard were something like this, filled with work
that made a virtue out of limitation.


Quintessentially cyberpunk in that they hint at a world where technology
is romantic, noirish, sexy and sinister.


I could look at these all day.



🪐 This day in history

#10yrsago Student finds GPS bug on car, uploads photo, FBI demands to
have their warrantless bug back

#10yrsago THE UNIDENTIFIED: dystopian YA about education transformed
into a giant, heavily sponsored game

#10yrsago HOWTO bake porridge in a pumpkin

#5yrsago Prisoners’ debate team trounces national champs from Harvard

#5yrsago T-shirt: Bugs and Gossamer as Han and Chewy

#5yrsago It’s been ten years since Sony Music infected the world with
its rootkit https://fsfe.org/activities/drm/sony-rootkit-fiasco.html

#5yrsago Court tells millionaire yoga troll Bikram Choudhury that poses
can’t be copyrighted

#1yrago The cloud vs humanity: Adobe terminates every software license
in Venezuela, keeps Venezuelans’ money

#1yrago Podcast: Why do people believe the Earth is flat?

#1yrago Facebook’s 2016 election billboards: Buy all your elections with
us! https://twitter.com/MarietjeSchaake/status/1180166896294887424

#1yrago How the “Varsity Blues” admissions scam punished deserving, hard
working kids so that mediocre kids of the super-rich could prosper

#1yrago After an injunction against Pacifica radio, New York’s WBAI is
back on the air https://twitter.com/2600/status/1181423565389942786

#1yrago Checkm8: an “unstoppable” Iphone jailbreaking crack

#1yrago Supreme Court greenlights lawsuit over Amazon’s wage-theft from
warehouse workers

#1yrago For the first time ever, taxes on the 400 richest Americans were
lower than taxes on everyone else


🪐 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism
(https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Waxy (https://waxy.org/).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 501 words (70648

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

Upcoming appearances:

* Wired Nextfest Italia, Oct 10,

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

Recent appearances:

* Off the Hook/Hacker Radio

* Library Leaders Forum: Ways to Better Serve the Public

* The Internet Is Broken, and ISPs Are to Blame (Gizmodo System Reboot)

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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