(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Cold War

“It may be roundly asserted that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve”*…

But sometimes it takes lots of ingenuity… and often, a great deal of time…

The United States National Security Agency—the country’s premier signals intelligence organization—recently declassified a Cold War-era document about code-breaking.

The 1977 book, written by cryptologist Lambros Callimahos, is the last in a trilogy called Military Cryptanalytics. It’s significant in the history of cryptography, as it explains how to break all types of codes, including military codes, or puzzles—which are created solely for the purpose of a challenge.

The first two parts of the trilogy were published publicly in the 1980s and covered solving well-known types of classical cipher. But in 1992, the US Justice Department claimed releasing the third book could harm national security by revealing the NSA’s “code-breaking prowess“. It was finally released in December last year. 

A key part of Callimahos’s book is a chapter titled Principles of Cryptodiagnosis, which describes a systematic three-step approach to solving a message encrypted using an unknown method… 

See how those three steps work at “Declassified Cold War code-breaking manual has lessons for solving ‘impossible’ puzzles.”

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we ponder puzzles, we might send intelligent birthday greetings to Alfred Binet; he was born on this date in 1857. A psychologist, he invented the first practical IQ test, the Binet–Simon test (in response to a request from the French Ministry of Education to devise a method to identify students needing remedial help).

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“Great changes, even in the field of science, are always preceded by a certain carnival consciousness that prepares the way”*…

 

Puppet

 

After receiving our 7,482nd corporate email about “Our Covid Response,” we knew we had to do something. That something was hose down the internet machine with brake cleaner and go make something… behold! Art!

While you’re at home flattening the curve, why not take a break from your rigorous nap schedule to make a puppet show?

Entries to our contest must be original work and less than 1 minute long. Extra points for:

• all homemade and recycled props

• pyrotechnics

• involving children and/or pets

• non-professional jingles.

Remember, basically anything can be a puppet: Peanut shells, over-ripe tomatoes, political regimes. Be creative!

Our top prize is a t-shirt and $100 gift certificate to Dean’s Car Care, and the runner up gets $50 gift certificate and some oily rags…

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From’s Portland’s Dean’s Car Care (“Buy Less, Fix More”), the “Socially Distant Puppet Show.”

 

* Mikhail Bakhtin

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As we lend a hand, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that CIA director Allen Dulles launched the secret program Project MKUltra.  Its aim was to develop a perfect truth drug for interrogating suspected Soviet spies during the Cold War, and to explore other possibilities of mind control, including the manipulation of foreign leaders (indeed, several schemes to drug Fidel Castro were devised).

Techniques explored included the covert administration of high doses of psychoactive drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, electroshocks,  hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, and other forms of torture.  Many of the experiments– especially those involving drugs– were conducted on unwitting test subjects.

The project ran until 1973, when most project documentation was destroyed on the order of CIA director Richard Helms.

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A declassifed copy of one of the few surviving MKUltra files

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Merdre!”*…

 

If you were to browse a British newsstand in the early 1980s, you might have discovered a rather unusual magazine.

Called Protect & Survive Monthly or “PSM”, it aimed to teach people how to survive the almost unthinkable – nuclear war.

“How many citizens would know what to do to protect their own lives and loved ones?,” wrote editor Colin Bruce Sibley in the maiden issue. And how many, he asked, would look dumbfounded to the skies, “waiting for a ‘convenient’ bomb to explode above their head and blast them into eternity?”…

What’s old is new again: check out a publication offering detailed advice about how to prepare for nuclear war – it makes for timely, fascinating and occasionally morbid reading: “The bleak, chilling magazine for nuclear doomsday preppers.”

* Alfred Jarry, the opening line of Ubu Roi (and a deliberate misspelling)

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As we duck-and-cover, we might send painfully-prescient birthday greetings to Alfred Jarry; he was born on this date in 1873.  A Symbolist poet and critic, he is probably best known for his play Ubu Roi.  But he might more deservedly be famous for his creation of ‘pataphysics, a movement resurrected at the dawn of the Cold War (by the likes of Raymond Queneau, Eugène Ionesco, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, and Marcel Duchamp)… and surely due for another revival about now.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves”*…

 

… or at least that’s the idea.  Here, another of our occasional looks at the intellectual history of the cultural moment that we’re in:  how a concern with Commies in California’s universities led to “Cold War philosophy”– the yoking of rational choice theory to the scientific method– and how it embedded the free-market mindset in US society:

Cold War philosophy also influences US society through its ethics. Its main ethical implication is somewhat hidden, because Cold War philosophy inherits from rational choice theory a proclamation of ethical neutrality: a person’s preferences and goals are not subjected to moral evaluation. As far as rational choice theory is concerned, it doesn’t matter if I want to end world hunger, pass the bar, or buy myself a nice private jet; I make my choices the same way. Similarly for Cold War philosophy – but it also has an ethical imperative that concerns not ends but means. However laudable or nefarious my goals might be, I will be better able to achieve them if I have two things: wealth and power. We therefore derive an ‘ethical’ imperative: whatever else you want to do, increase your wealth and power!

Results of this are easily seen in today’s universities. Academic units that enable individuals to become wealthy and powerful (business schools, law schools) or stay that way (medical schools) are extravagantly funded; units that do not (humanities departments) are on tight rations. Also on tight rations nationwide are facilities that help individuals become wealthy and powerful but do not convey competitive advantage on them because they are open to all or most: highways, bridges, dams, airports, and so on.

Seventy years after the Cold War began, and almost 30 after it ended, Cold War philosophy also continues to affect US politics. The Right holds that if reason itself is rooted in market choice, then business skills must transfer smoothly into all other domains, including governance – an explicit principle of the Trump administration. On the Left, meritocracy rules: all three of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees attended law school at either Harvard (as Obama himself did) or Yale (as Hillary Clinton did). The view that choice solves all problems is evident in the White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s presentation of the Republican vision for US health care, at his press briefing last March 23: “We’ve lost consumer choice … The idea is to instill choice back into the market.”…

How this happened and what it wrought– the remarkable (but true) tale in its entirety: “America’s hidden philosophy.”

* Richard Feynman

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As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Congress authorized “In God We Trust” as the U.S. national motto.

The phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.   But it didn’t appear on bills until 1957…

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“A murderer is less loathsome to us than a spy”*…

 

If You See Something, Say Something

Here are a few suggestions of what Americans can report to the FBI:

1. Any information about espionage, sabotage, and subversive activities. The FBI is as close to every person as the nearest telephone. See the front of any telephone book for the FBI’s number.

2. Don’t worry if the information seems incomplete or trivial. Many times a small bit of information might furnish the data we are seeking.

3. Stick to the facts. The FBI is not interested in rumor or idle gossip. Talebearing should always be avoided. The FBI is not interested in what a person thinks but what he does to undermine our national security.

4. Don’t try to do any investigating yourself. Security investigations require great care and effort. The innocent must be protected as well as the guilty identified. That is the job for the professional investigator. Hysteria, witch-hunts, and vigilantes weaken our internal security.

5. Be alert. America’s best defense lies in the alertness of its patriotic citizens.

The atmosphere of aggressive concern– if not paranoia– over “foreign” threats that’s so pervasive today is, in fact, nothing new.  The passage above is an excerpt from J. Edgar Hoover’s 1958 opus Masters of Deceit, which combined a flaming warning of the Communist threat with a painfully-specific how-to manual for combating it.

MoD was required reading for countless junior high school students across the U.S.– inclusding your correspondent, for whom it was the text in a six-week “special unit” on Communism, mandated by the Florida State Department of Education.

[via Lapham’s Quarterly]

* Honoré de Balzac

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As we watch both our borders and our backs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1950 that a US Navy Privateer with 10 people on board flew from Wiesbaden, West Germany, to spy over the Soviet Union. Soviet reconnaissance spotted the plane over Latvia. and Soviet La-11 fighters shot down it down just off the coast, over the Baltic Sea.

A U.S. Navy Privateer in flight

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

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