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Archive for October, 2014

Dave Ramsey’s second course – Legacy Central – is all about what you do after you become wealthy. The name of it derives from leaving a legacy to your heirs. What do you do after you have completed all seven steps?

We’re not through it yet, but we do follow most of the advice given in the videos. I think that what he says is true independent of the rationale given to support it.

But what I do find is that Ramsey spends a lot of time defending the idea that it’s okay to become wealthy, it’s not inherently wrong, and that acquiring wealth is Biblical – that is, the writers of the Bible are not against people becoming rich. I think he does this because he has a lot of detractors who claim that what he is teaching is contra-biblical.

I agree that it’s okay to become wealthy, it is not inherently wrong, but where I diverge from Ramsey is his view that the Bible does not treat rich people harshly; if it ever does, it’s that a person is rich and something else (e.g., greedy or self-centered).

I think it’s clear that the New Testament is especially harsh on wealthy people and very moderate on poor people. In the first lesson, Ramsey defends his beliefs by arguing that passages commonly used against rich people by opponents of rich Christians are misinterpreting passages:

  • In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus tells a rich man to give away everything he had. But the point of the parable is not that rich people cannot be saved (because camels cannot fit through eyes of needles) but that nobody can be saved except with God’s help. It is a not a story saying that rich people cannot be saved.

    While this is one interpretation, I can’t help but notice that Jesus said “How hard is it for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” rather than how hard it is for anyone to enter it.

  • In the story of the widow giving everything she had (Luke 21:1-4), Ramsey interprets this story by connecting it to Luke 20:45-46. In those verses, the teachers of the law are ripping people off, including widows. In the next verse, the widow gives her offering which is everything she had. Thus, the verse is not about praising the widow (because Jesus says nothing about her faith) but rather that the widow giving her offering is an example of the teachers of the law ripping people off.

Those are possible interpretations of those verses. However, Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament are always sympathetic to the poor and never to the rich:

  • In the Beatitudes, Jesus says blessed are the poor (Luke 7:20) for theirs is the kingdom of God, while woe to the rich (Luke 7:24) for they have already had their comfort. Jesus never mentions the faith of either one.

  • In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), it is the rich man who is condemned while the beggar who is saved.

  • In the parable of the rich fool, the man who tries to store up his crops losing everything (Luke 12:13-21).

  • Even in the story of Zaccheus, the tax collector who became a follower of Jesus, didn’t receive positive feedback from Jesus until after he said he was going to give away half his wealth and pay back those he cheated (that is, he was going to become less rich).

I don’t think Jesus unequivocally believed that the rich were inherently bad because his teachings on wealth are complex. He had to have had wealthy followers who would have supported his ministry, probably Mary Magdelene was one. Joseph of Arimithea who provided a tomb was similarly wealthy.

But you still never see Jesus teach that the rich shown in a positive light while at the same time the poor are shown in a negative light.

Yet it is true that Jesus gives the rich a much harder time than the poor. In so many of his teachings, it is what people do that makes the difference in whether or not they flee the coming wrath (e.g., the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matt 25:46 only those who do the will of his Father in Matt 12:50, also Matt 7:21).

So while I don’t believe Ramsey is wrong to say that there is nothing wrong with the acquisition of wealth, I do think he is stretching things to say doing so is Biblical. Being wealthy is neither good nor bad, it depends on what you did to get there, and what you do once you get there.

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A few years ago, the wife and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. It’s basically a 7 (?) week course on how to organize your finances. We took a bunch of the advice except for the following:

  • Use case for all purchases – I tried doing this for a while, it lasted about a month. It got to be a pain handling all those coins. The idea behind this is that if you use cash, you feel the pain of spending it more than if you were to use a credit card which causes you to spend more.

    This is true, when I use cash it “hurts” more to spend it.

    However, in addition to the inconvenience of cash, I found I wasn’t saving as much money. The reason is that unless I paid exact change, I was losing the change. For example, suppose that I bought something and it cost $4.53. I had the cashier a $5 bill resulting in $0.47 change. Most of the time I put that change into my pocket and then I’d lose it. In effect, I’d be paying $5 for a $4.53 item which is an overpayment of 10%.

    This happened over and over.

    The solution was to stop paying cash. Seems to be working for me.

  • Don’t use credit cards – This is another piece of advice that both me and the wife don’t use. Not only do we still use credit cards, we have cut back on our debit card use and increased our credit card use.

    We use them for the rewards points. While many credit card holders have reward points that expire, we’ve gotten very good at redeeming them. They don’t go to waste for us, and if we’re going to pay for things anyways, we may as well get a two-for-one.

    Signing up for credit cards over and over can hurt your credit rating. While true, it doesn’t matter for us. We don’t plan to buy anything on credit anyhow – not a car, house, boat or motorcycle.

Those are the pieces of advice that we explicitly decided not to follow. However, the paying off of debt we are following. It’s taking a while but we have managed to put at least one mortgage behind us (wife’s condo paid off in 2013).

One more to go.

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14 months ago, I started a program to more aggressively pay down my mortgage (that is, the wife made me start paying it down more aggressively). I feel like it’s taking forever.

At the current rate of pay-down, it will take another 4 years. The wife wants that increased.

I am unclear if this is a good idea. Why? Because the rate of interest on the loan is 3.875%. That’s a reasonable rate. However, my stocks average about 7% per year, after taxes. Should I divert funds away from investing in stocks – which returns more money – towards the mortgage which is a fixed rate?

On the one hand, I want to be debt-free.

But on the other hand, I understand the value of time; xx dollars put into my retirement fund today means more time to compound and grow for when I need it later in 25-30 years. Does it make sense to sacrifice $100,000 for zero-debt when that same $100,000 be worth much more by investing in the markets?

I have analysis paralysis and don’t know how to proceed.

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A few days ago, I posted my notes on Keith Alexander’s talk at MIRcon about the NSA. Today, here’s a blog post about the opposite point of view.

Yesterday, I came across an interview with William Binney, a former NSA analyst who resigned from the agency in 2001. He is a whistleblower who, unlike Edward Snowden, did go through the proper escalation channels when he felt that he found things that the agency was doing that was against the US constitution.

The interview is on Dan Carlin’s Common Sense podcast. I listen to Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast and it is very good, but I just discovered his Common Sense podcast. You can listen to the interview here:

If you’re opposed to what the NSA is doing in terms of data collection, you will no doubt agree with Binney and his views he discussed in the interview. He is very much against what the NSA is doing.

If you’re not opposed to what the NSA is doing, you will probably disagree with what Binney says.

Finally, if you’re a fence-sitter, you probably won’t hear that much to sway your position beyond what you have already heard in the media, news outlets, and other blogs.

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Last week, I attend MIRcon, Mandiant’s conference on Advanced Persistent Threats. One of the keynote addresses was given by Keith Alexander, the former head of the NSA. I enjoyed his talk, it was a good one.

What Others Are Saying

Here is Kelly Jackson Higgins’ take on his talk, from an article on DarkReading. Everything in the article is accurate:

* Former NSA Director reflects on Snowden Leaks
http://www.darkreading.com/analytics/threat-intelligence/former-nsa-director-reflects-on-snowden-leaks/d/d-id/1316466

Higgins’ main talking point is that Alexander and the NSA were trying to bring to the public attention the fact although that the United States is under constant attack from advanced persistent threats, the Snowden leaks ended up overshadowing any of the good work that the NSA was doing. The NSA is a professional organization and 3rd party auditing showed that what they did:

  1. Was authorized by Congress
  2. Was within the law
  3. Was 100% audited
  4. Even though they were audited afterwards, no violations ever came up that were not already self-reported
  5. The NSA is highly professional

That’s all I have to say about that, go ahead and check out the article.

My Impression of Others’ Impressions of the NSA

While I was in Washington, D.C., I noticed that there was more of “pro-America” feel, that is (and I am badly paraphrasing) “we understand that the NSA had to do what they did” perspective compared to where I live. Whereas on the left coast, Microsoft’s own top lawyer identified the American government as an advanced persistent threat [1], and you can read other technical blogs that are very critical of the US government’s actions (Google, Yahoo and Apple are all moving to encrypt their data in response to this), I didn’t find any of the anti-government sentiment at MIRcon.

I see this as either the attendees at MIRcon genuinely understand that what the NSA did is more nuanced, and a position of “The government should not collect any data” is too narrow a viewpoint; OR, representatives from these companies work with government and therefore their perspective is skewed; OR, I didn’t sample enough people to get a broader perspective.

In any case, that’s what I experienced.

My raw notes of Keith Alexander’s Keynote

I don’t have time to type this up into a more nuanced blog post, but here are my raw notes from the session.

—————

2014.10.07 – Keynote Keith Alexander

  • Keith Alexander – cyber security people are underpaid (he’s a funny guy)
  • CyberCommand was created based upon intrusion into DoD in 2008 (later believed to be the Russians), wake up call
    • Now Target, eBay, Home Depot, JPM; attributed to eastern Europe/Russia
    • Did you know 2014 (website, talks about rapid change in technology)
      • Top 10 in-demand jobs in 2013 did not exist in 2004. Half of college newbs tech knowledge will be out of date by the time they get to junior year. People being trained for a job that doesn’t exist today.
      • Talked about how using Watson, they can get cancer treatments figured out in 9 minutes rather than 30 days (important because that 30-days results in cancers metastasizing)
      • Within a decade, some diseases will be solved thanks to advances in technology
    • We created the Internet, we can secure it.
      • But what we have created, today, isn’t secure.

  • Pre-2007, Internet was used as a way of going out and exploiting (everyone was doing it)
    • Then in 2007 changed from exploitation to disruption (Estonia attacks), had to disconnect from Internet
    • Aug 2008 Georgia was hit with cyberattacks (coincided with attacks by Russia govt ground offensive), DDOS attacks
    • Tells of issue on DOD networks one Friday afternoon in 2008, some people found 1500 pieces of malware on classified network
      • Built a system to mitigate the problem at network speed.
      • NSA built the system in 22 hours (!!!)
    • In 2011, NSA took a look at DOD networks, 15,000 in all, discovered they have an indefensible architecture (opened up that bag… of fertilizer… can we give this back to the DOD? Nope.)
      • Created Cyber Command as a result. Our defense must be as good as their offense

  • Fast forward, actions in 2012 were timed to problems in the middle east
    • August: Attack on Saudi Aramco (DDOS coupled with a virus – destroyed data on 30k systems)
    • Over 350 DDOS attacks on Wall Street in the intervening one year. 2013: attacks on South Korea
    • Goes from stealing data to using the networks as an element of national power.
    • People attack cyberspace because that’s where the money and IP and secrets are

  • Cyber command
    • Joint taskforce to defend the DOD networks but when it came over decided to defend everything within the nation

      1. Need a defensible architecture – Too difficult to draw a picture of network without any situational awareness

      2. Training – Need to train at a classified threat, offense and defense need to be the same

      3. Command and control – How do we work together with govt and industry? There’s more industry by orders of magnitude, and exploitation surface is hundreds of time larger. Nothing prevents industry from working with govt for a common cause

      4. Cyber legislation – Didn’t really discuss this

      5. Signature based AV systems good for certain things but not for where we want to go. Need to have real time consumable threat intelligence; detect mitigate report at network speed; within and among networks. These are not technical challenges, it is culture and competitiveness. Just think if we were to work together. It will take several companies and a consortium to figure it out.
          

  • Q&A’s – Are we in a cyber war? When did it start? –> No, not yet but because of his definition
    • 22 cryptologists were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (doing some cyber stuff to change intelligence collection)
      Someone asked a question – what does the NSA collect on me? Metadata goes into business data FISA program
    • gave example (2009) of stopping an Al Qaeda operative in the Pakistan area who was talking to someone in the Colorado area (by email, gave phone number in email to FBI). FBI can take that and get the phone number from the phone and email provider. Talked about bouncing around from Colorado to New York and North Carolina, who were also in contact with other known terrorists outside (?) the US.
  • Q&A’s (Did Angela Merkel have anything interesting to say?)
    • If you talk to known high risk contacts, there is a good chance you will be flagged. But otherwise you are probably not going to be looked at. These programs help connect the dots. Everything in the program is audited 100%. Not one person was found doing anything wrong that hadn’t already been reported before.
    • ACLU did a review of the NSA (Jeff Stone), found NSA helped to thwart plots, operates a high degree of integrity and deep commitment to the rule of law
    • People who touch special data have to go through 400 hours of training (more than pilots)
        

Those are all of my notes.


 

[1] “Like many others, we are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures – and in our view, legal processes and protections – in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data.

If true, these efforts threaten to seriously undermine confidence in the security and privacy of online communications. Indeed, government snooping potentially now constitutes an “advanced persistent threat,” alongside sophisticated malware and cyber attacks.”

Brad Smith on the Official Microsoft blog
http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2013/12/04/protecting-customer-data-from-government-snooping/

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