Author Archives: pappp

Matt Taibbi finally makes sense of the Pentagon’s trillions in off-books “budgetary irregularities”

Source: Boing Boing

Article note: The U.S. military-industrial complex truly is the world's most amazing display of the iron law of bureaucracy. The influence of that kind of lucre is so corrupting that the process of being selected and act of touching it to attempt an audit appears to instantly put an entity in on the grift. I absolutely believe it is possible-and-easy to over bean-count and get in the way of doing things more than you save, and also to under bean-count such that the grifting grows out of control. Somehow, via perverse incentive, the DOD has done both, and produced a system which spends an unreasonable amount of energy and money on obstructive bean-counting, without actually having any idea or control over the flow of resources.

The finances of the US armed forces have been in a state of near-continuous audit for decades and despite spending billions of dollars and thousands of person-years trying to make sense of what the military spends, we're no closer to an answer, and no one disputes that there are trillions of dollars' worth of unaccountable transactions (but importantly, not trillions of dollars in spending) that make it impossible to figure out whether and when and how the Pentagon is being ripped off, or wasting money, or both.

Enter Matt Taibbi (previously), who is one of journalism's princes of incandescent invective, a superb polemicist at short and longer lengths.

But that's only half of the Taibbi story: the other half is his uncanny knack for unravelling baroque scams, cutting through the mind-numbing complexity and getting right to the chase.

That's what he's done in The Pentagon’s Bottomless Money Pit, an 8,000-word explainer on the Pentagon's budget crisis that is one of the clearest pieces of financial writing I've ever read, drawing in the structural, economic, personal and historic elements that have created the "bottomless money pit" that is the US military.

The problem is a snarled knot of many smaller problems. For example, the Pentagon has terrible IT systems. Leaving a "quantity" field blank in a purchase order form caused the computer to place an order for 990,000 units, for a total of $3.5 trillion. The order never went' through, but the system also had no way to unwind the transaction, so it was just left on the books, and mysteriously deducted later, creating an accounting overhang a third the size of the US GDP.

When the military manages to actually order things, it doesn't keep track of things. Key military materiel like nuclear weapons have historically not even been assigned serial numbers or tracking tags (the Air Force once accidentally shipped nuclear nose-cones to Taiwan, where they were expecting a shipment of helicopter batteries) (oops).

To make things worse, the system is genuinely full of waste and pork, which any kind of real audit would uncover. The military contractors who benefit from these scams have gotten so rich from them that they can afford to buy key Congressmen on the relevant committees, and so every legislative attempt to force the military to genuinely account for itself has died.

Which is not to say that there haven't been audits. There have. These audits have run for years, cost billions (literally) and either concluded that the system was unauditable as it stood, and needed a complete overhaul; or have later been revealed to be fraudulent and had to be retracted.

And that's where those trillions have gone. The military hasn't lost trillions of dollars, but its books contain trillions of dollars' worth of transactions, only a small fraction of which are real, and the noise in the system lets grifter military contractors rip off the taxpayer for billions, and their campaign contributions have ensured that this will never be fixed.

The Pentagon just committed to giving billions more to Big Four auditing companies to conduct another audit, though the best we can hope for from all this is that they will simply repeat the conclusions of the other auditors who've gone before them.

The Defense Department, for the most part, does not know how much it spends. It has a handle on some things, like military pay, but in other places it’s clueless. None of its services — Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps — use the same system to record transactions or monitor inventory. Each service has its own operations and management budget, its own payroll system, its own R&D budget and so on. It’s an empire of disconnected budgets, or “fiefdoms,” as one Senate staffer calls them.

Instead of using a single integrated financial accounting system that would maintain a global picture of its finances at all times, the Pentagon built another bureaucracy to pile atop the others, called the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS. Created by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1991, DFAS is in charge of collecting financial reports from all the different fiefdoms at the end of each month. DFAS is like a tribune traveling on horseback at month’s end, collecting a pile of scrolls from each castle.

In 2013, Reuters published a brutal exposé showing how DFAS accountants conducted a mad scramble at the end of each month to try to piece together records of transactions to justify spending. But in thousands of cases a month, no records existed. “We didn’t have the detail,” one accountant explained.

Complicating matters is the fact that money is allocated to the military on different schedules. If Congress gives the Navy $53 billion for operations and maintenance, as it did this year, the service is expected to spend all that money that year. Such expenses — payroll is another — are called “one-year money.” Meanwhile, research and development might be “two-year money,” and contracting might be “five-year money.”

The Pentagon’s Bottomless Money Pit [Matt Taibbi/Rolling Stone]

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Google jumps into gaming with Google Stadia streaming service, coming “in 2019”

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: Oh boy, you can stream rented games at whatever shit latency (and, less importantly, bandwidth) your asshole ISP deigns to provide, until google abandons and then kills the service as they inevitably will. That sounds ... completely undesirable, like every other iteration of this idea.
The Google Stadia controller, which includes a few custom buttons. The service will also support wired USB controllers and mouse-and-keyboard controls.

Enlarge / The Google Stadia controller, which includes a few custom buttons. The service will also support wired USB controllers and mouse-and-keyboard controls. (credit: Google)

SAN FRANCISCO—At the Game Developers Conference, Google announced its biggest play yet in the gaming space: a streaming game service named Google Stadia, designed to run on everything from PCs and Android phones to Google's own Chromecast devices.

As of press time, the service's release window is simply "2019." No pricing information was announced at the event.

Google Stadia will run a selection of existing PC games on Google's centralized servers, taking in controller inputs and sending back video and audio using Google's network of low-latency data centers. The company revealed a new Google-produced controller, along with a game-streaming interface that revolves around a "play now" button. Press this on any Web browser and gameplay will begin "in as quick as five seconds... with no download, no patch, no update, and no install."

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Beto O’Rourke outed as Cult of Dead Cow member, phreaker and writer of screeds

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: I don't agree with all his positions, and I'm not sure how viable he really is on the national stage (dude lost to _Ted Cruz_), but frankly affiliation with CDC indicates, to me, a surprising amount of wherewithal for someone that deep in politics.
WATERLOO, IOWA - MARCH 16: Democratic presidential candidate and former Cult of the Dead Cow member  Beto O'Rourke greets voters during a canvassing kickoff event with state senate candidate Eric Giddens March 16, 2019, in Waterloo, Iowa.

Enlarge / WATERLOO, IOWA - MARCH 16: Democratic presidential candidate and former Cult of the Dead Cow member Beto O'Rourke greets voters during a canvassing kickoff event with state senate candidate Eric Giddens March 16, 2019, in Waterloo, Iowa. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman and Senate candidate and recently declared Democratic candidate for president in 2020, has been outed as a former member of what has been described as America's oldest hacking group—the Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC). O'Rourke admitted to his membership in an interview for an upcoming book, as Reuters reported in an exclusive based on the book.

O'Rourke's role in the group, starting in the late 1980s, was more focused on writing screeds for the CDC's text-file essays than hacking. O'Rourke, like other teens of the time, did find ways to avoid paying for long-distance dial-up phone service time to connect to bulletin board systems (BBSs) of the day across the country with his family's Apple IIe computer and 300 baud modem, which he often used to search of pirated games.

He eventually launched his own bulletin board system (BBS) called TacoLand, which Reuters' Joseph Menn reports was largely about punk music. "This was the counterculture: Maximum Rock & Roll [magazine], buying records by catalog you couldn't find at record stores," O'Rourke told Menn.

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School is all about signaling, not skill-building

Source: Hacker News

Article note: The author (an economist) oversells their case a little, but I don't fully disagree. My bad attitude about credentialism is both the source of most of my problems in academia, and the reason why I find teaching so compelling. I don't generally expect a lot of correlation between credentials and competence (Too many dumbasses with degrees and highly competent people with no formal credentials in my areas), BUT that isn't because of a _fundamental_ problem with college. Also helpful teaching at a school I have degrees from, it keeps me in the "If I let dumbshits through, it devalues all the other degrees from this program" mindset. A worthwhile college education is teaching you: - Intellectual and practical fundamentals in a field (underlying principles, terminology, etc.) - How to learn in a field (ties to the first) - Exposure to a field (what parts do you like working with. Enough of the other parts so you can work adjacent to them without being a menace. Etc.) - Buying you time when you can focus on self-development. - One last attempt to impose some general educational grounding to give you enough context to not be a goddamn idiot. - Demonstrating a minimum level of drive, follow-through, and social competence. Often, programs fall short, and higher ed as it currently exists deserves to die when it really does only serve as status signaling.
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Bribes to Get into Yale and Stanford? What Else Is New?

Source: Hacker News

Article note: That's pretty much how I feel about it. This particular round of greasy behavior doesn't seem out of place except it was just ham-handed enough to be technically illegal. I had classmates from high school where I'm pretty sure their parents spent more on standardized test coaching and application consultants and similar just-this-side-of-legitimate legs up than I spent on college. My contempt for prestige games and credentialism gets me in trouble enough without having it validated all the time.
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Nvidia to Acquire Mellanox for $6.9B

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Nvidia got a taste of that HPC lucre and needs to keep the gravy train rolling as their primary product gets less relevant? They're both well-known for ridiculous self-aggrandizing opulence, and price gouging high-end customers, so I suppose it's a good match.
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DRAM Prices in ‘Freefall’

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Hnnng. Consumer DRAM pricing has been excessive for years, I'd love to see another cheap-RAM era.
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Ghidra, NSA’s reverse engineering tool, is now available to the public

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Neat. I've taught myself a little radare2 for taking things apart, but when I get some time I'd like to poke through this, it looks like the decompiler is considerably more powerful and user-friendly. I'll also let others look over it and find out if/how it calls home...
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Google pay equity analysis leads to raises for thousands of men

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: I shouldn't look at the comments. I shouldn't look at the commen...GET THE POPCORN, I'M GOING IN!
Exterior of Google office building.

Enlarge / Google's main headquarters. (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

Google has given raises to thousands of men after an analysis of Google's pay structure found that the company would otherwise be underpaying those men relative to their peers, The New York Times reports. The analysis also led to raises for some women.

Google determines annual pay raises in a three-phase process. First, Google adjusts every employee's compensation based on standard factors like their location, seniority, and performance ratings. Managers can then seek additional discretionary raises for their best-performing employees.

Finally, Google performs a company-wide analysis to determine whether these raises are biased in terms of race or gender. If biases are detected, the disadvantaged workers are given additional raises to eliminate the discrepancies.

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The Prodigy’s Keith Flint remembered as a ‘true pioneer’ and ‘huge inspiration’

Source: The Week: Most Recent Home Page Posts

Article note: I've been listening to The Prodigy whenever I could have music on today since I saw this this morning. Damn they were a force. Liam Howlett was the musical genius, but so much of the aesthetic came from Keith Flit, and that aesthetic destroyed genres, and birthed others, and colored everything for those of us who spent the 90s immersed in "that computer shit." I hope he at least went out on his own terms.

The Prodigy vocalist Keith Flint has died at age 49, the band confirmed on Monday.

Flint was found dead in his home, with The Prodigy's Liam Howlett writing on Instagram that the cause of death was suicide, CNN reports. Howlett said he is "shell shocked" and "heart broken." On Twitter, the band remembered Flint as "true pioneer, innovator and legend," adding that he "will be forever missed."

Tributes poured in for Flint throughout the morning, with Supergrass' Gaz Coombes calling him "such a warm, sweet guy," Kasabian calling him a "beautiful man" and an "incredible pioneer," and The Chemical Brothers' Ed Simons saying he was "always great fun to be around." Many also thanked Flint for being an enormous influence on their lives, including Friction, who wrote, "I wouldn't do what I do without him and The Prodigy in my life. A huge inspiration to me and many others." Chase & Status agreed, saying that "we wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for Keith."

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