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The Morning Grumpy – 5/29/13

29 May

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. But first, let’s see what’s new with Advice Mallard.


1. Brad Riter and I sat down with Buffalo Mayoral Candidate Sergio Rodriguez to discuss his background, aspirations, and various parts of his campaign platform. Most of the previous coverage dedicated to Rodriguez has been of the “inside baseball” political variety and not anything substantive, so we took a different tack. I hope you enjoy it.

2.Matt Taibbi continues his excellent reporting on the American economy with a look at how the Federal Reserve is radically experimenting with our financial system while Congress is paralyzed with nonsense.

This whole debt debate really began devolving in earnest into total mindlessness once people like Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn started likening the government spending deficits to family budgets, pushing to “make Congress live under the same rules as families across the country and treat the federal budget like the family budget. Families have to live in their means and so should Congress.” Not paying our government obligations, Coburn said recently – remember, this is a U.S. senator talking – might be a “wonderful experiment.”

Comments like these led to Tea Party protesters descending upon Washington screaming about how not raising the debt ceiling is like giving your kids the bad news that they can’t afford to go to the movies – difficult but necessary, a kind of homespun tough love, except that a global superpower intentionally defaulting on its sovereign debt is actually way closer to an act of apocalyptic suicidal madness than it is to good parenting. (“It would be the financial-market equivalent of that Hieronymus Bosch painting of hell,” said JPMorgan Chase chief U.S. economist Michael Feroli.)

The national debt is totally unlike a family budget for about a gazillion reasons, not the least of which being that families cannot raise money by fiat or deflate the size of their debt unilaterally and that family members die instead of existing infinitely. Comparing your family budget to the sovereign debt of the United States is a little like comparing two kindergartners tossing a paper airplane to the Apollo 11 mission. It’s an automatically bogus argument, which raises the question of why it’s made so often, and not only by Republicans of the Coburn type, whom we expect to be clueless dopes. In fact, the overuse of this loony household analogy just proves that when it comes to debt, people may have ideas, but nobody knows exactly what he or she is talking about.

I can’t believe this is the Congress we’ve elected.

3. Think a complicated password keeps your data and personal information safe from hackers? Wrong. Ars Technica provided a a list of encrypted passwords to some credible hackers and asked them to see if they could crack those passwords. The results weren’t pretty.

The list contained 16,449 passwords converted into hashes using the MD5 cryptographic hash function. Security-conscious websites never store passwords in plaintext. Instead, they work only with these so-called one-way hashes, which are incapable of being mathematically converted back into the letters, numbers, and symbols originally chosen by the user. In the event of a security breach that exposes the password data, an attacker still must painstakingly guess the plaintext for each hash—for instance, they must guess that “5f4dcc3b5aa765d61d8327deb882cf99” and “7c6a180b36896a0a8c02787eeafb0e4c” are the MD5 hashes for “password” and “password1” respectively. (For more details on password hashing, see the earlier Ars feature “Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger.”)

The Ars password team included a developer of cracking software, a security consultant, and an anonymous cracker. The most thorough of the three cracks was carried out by Jeremi Gosney, a password expert with Stricture Consulting Group. Using a commodity computer with a single AMD Radeon 7970 graphics card, it took him 20 hours to crack 14,734 of the hashes, a 90-percent success rate. Jens Steube, the lead developer behind oclHashcat-plus, achieved impressive results as well. (oclHashcat-plus is the freely available password-cracking software both Anderson and all crackers in this article used.) Steube unscrambled 13,486 hashes (82 percent) in a little more than one hour, using a slightly more powerful machine that contained two AMD Radeon 6990 graphics cards. A third cracker who goes by the moniker radix deciphered 62 percent of the hashes using a computer with a single 7970 card—also in about one hour. And he probably would have cracked more had he not been peppered with questions throughout the exercise.

Passwords are ultimately an elaborate theater of security. At a minimum, you should be changing your passwords every thirty days, refrain from recycling your passwords, and not never daisychain (i.e. use the same password for multiple accounts). You should also use two-factor authentication when possible, but be mindful that if someone really wants to crack your account, they can probably do it if they put their mind to it.

4. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive fighter jet ever built. Let’s break down the the numbers.

45:  The states over which Lockheed and its subcontractors and suppliers have spread the F-35 work.
133,000: The number of jobs the F-35 currently supports, according to Lockheed Martin.
2012: Year in which full-rate production was set to begin.
2019: Year in which full-rate production is now scheduled.
$233 billion: Estimated total cost in 2001.
$397 billion: Current estimated total cost, according to the Washington Post.
That’s one pricey plane.

5. The rise and fall of the charming American man.

Only the self-aware can have charm: It’s bound up with a sensibility that at best approaches wisdom, or at least worldliness, and at worst goes well beyond cynicism. It can’t exist in the undeveloped personality. It’s an attribute foreign to many men because most are, for better and for worse, childlike. These days, it’s far more common among men over 70—probably owing to the era in which they reached maturity rather than to the mere fact of their advanced years. What used to be called good breeding is necessary (but not sufficient) for charm: no one can be charming who doesn’t draw out the overlooked, who doesn’t shift the spotlight onto others—who doesn’t, that is, possess those long-forgotten qualities of politesse and civilité.

Still, charm is hardly selfless. All of these acts can be performed only by one at ease with himself yet also intensely conscious of himself and of his effect on others. And although it’s bound up with considerateness, it really has nothing to do with, and is in fact in some essential ways opposed to, goodness. Another word for the lightness of touch that charm requires in humor, conversation, and all other aspects of social relations is subtlety, which carries both admirable and dangerous connotations. Charm’s requisite sense of irony is also the requisite for social cruelty

Am I charming? No. I should work on that.

Fact Of The Day: Tomato ketchup was popular before fresh tomatoes, which were believed to be poisonous

Quote Of The Day: “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.” -Warren Buffett

Song Of The Day: “Hooray For Me” – Bad Religion

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