5 smart reads for the weekend
A fawning 2010 profile of the disgraced David Petraeus. An exploration of the limits of computer security. And more compelling, of-the-moment stories to dive into
1. "David Petraeus's winning streak"
Mark Bowden, Vanity Fair
Last last week, CIA Director David Petraeus, a four-star general widely credited as his generation's greatest military mind, shocked the nation when he resigned his post amid reports of an extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. The media has spent the past week unraveling the increasingly complex case, with bizarre new details cropping up on a nearly daily basis. How did a man so revered fall so low? In a companion piece to "The Professor of War," an extended 2010 profile of David Petraeus in Vanity Fair, Mark Bowden discusses how Petraeus rose from his Little League days to the height of U.S. military command. Bowden's account is now laced with unintentional irony:
"In high school at Cornwall-on-Hudson, in the late 1960s, they gave David Petraeus the name 'Peaches,' because his cheeks were fair and rosy and incapable of sprouting more than a faint aura of soft fuzz, and because he was so resolutely wholesome. Nicknames stick when they capture something essential about a person. 'Peaches' would stay with Petraeus through his cadet years at West Point, partly because he never lost that freshness in his appearance, but partly also, one suspects, because the word as slang implies something too fresh and wholesome to be true. It was an early recognition that something about this boy was … well, Petraean."
2. "Opening night"Katherine Boo, The New Yorker
On Thursday, Katherine Boo won the National Book Award for nonfiction for her book Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, which chronicles the lives of several impoverished Indians living in the shadow of Mumbai's most luxurious hotels. In 2009, Boo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and a staffer at The New Yorker, earned acclaim for another portrait of impoverished Mumbai, set during the city's premiere of the film Slumdog Millionaire:
"Worldly Indians like to call Mumbai, the financial capital, their country’s New York City. That would make the airport area, in the suburbs, its Queens. Mumbai’s Queens, though, has more glamour. Around the hotels, stands of sleek office buildings are multiplying rapidly; one of them is named simply More. Gautam Nagar is named after the eight-year-old son of a scavenger who succumbed to pneumonia after one of the periodic slum demolitions. The community consists of approximately a thousand human residents; seventeen water buffalo; goats, dogs, and pigs; and two white horses striped to look like zebras—the handiwork of a once fearsome slumlord, now gone batty. The primary industry here is the gathering of airport garbage for recycling—work made a little less miserable by expanded global markets and India’s surging G.D.P. Over the past five years, there were enough water bottles, earbuds, Diet Coke cans, used tampon applicators, batteries, and copies of Indian Vogue to lift the majority of families over the World Bank’s poverty line, which is currently twenty-two rupees a day in India’s cities."
3. "Kill the password: Why a string of characters can't protect us anymore"Mat Honan, Wired
As technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, is there anything even the tech-savviest of us can do to protect our most personal information? Wired's Mat Honan, who suffered an extensive hack this summer, dives into the world of computer security — and concludes that even the strongest passwords are woefully inadequate to fend off modern-day hackers:
"This summer I learned how to get into, well, everything. With two minutes and $4 to spend at a sketchy foreign website, I could report back with your credit card, phone, and Social Security numbers and your home address. Allow me five minutes more and I could be inside your accounts for, say, Amazon, Best Buy, Hulu, Microsoft, and Netflix. With yet 10 more, I could take over your AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Give me 20—total—and I own your PayPal. Some of those security holes are plugged now. But not all, and new ones are discovered every day. The common weakness in these hacks is the password. It’s an artifact from a time when our computers were not hyper-connected. Today, nothing you do, no precaution you take, no long or random string of characters can stop a truly dedicated and devious individual from cracking your account. The age of the password has come to an end; we just haven’t realized it yet."
4. "The Bloomberg Way"James Bennet, The Atlantic
As Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg is accustomed to plenty of public scrutiny, but he's rarely faced as much attention as he has in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated many of the city's residents. As recovery continues, here's a recent, extended interview with Mayor Bloomberg, covering everything from his hands-on style of governance to his notoriously direct personal manner:
"You could look at Michael Bloomberg—astringent, profane, irritated by small talk, impatient with the politics of empathy—and see a plutocrat whose billions have given him the freedom to say and do whatever he wants, even to change the law to run for a third term as New York City’s mayor. Or you could look a little further and see a more interesting pattern: a man who turned getting shunted off the fast track at Salomon Brothers—over to information technology, no place for a fledgling master of the financial universe—into an opportunity, creating an entirely new approach to getting traders the data they needed; who took getting fired as a chance to gamble his payout on this idea; who then took the billions he made and chose not to embark on a lifelong vacation but to step into the least-forgiving political arena in the country; and who has since governed New York assertively, putting himself in the vanguard of a generation of mayors who, at a time when the federal government is paralyzed, are testing new approaches to education, transportation, and public health. You begin to see a guy, in sum, who thinks for himself, but not only of himself."
5. "Recollections of Lincoln"Henry Vilard, The Atlantic
On Friday, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln — a biopic of the iconic president, based partly on Dorothy Kearns Goodwin's bestselling Team of Rivals — expanded into wide release. Admiring critics have singled out star Daniel Day-Lewis for brilliantly channeling the accepted truth about President Lincoln. In 1904, journalist Henry Vilard recalled attending one of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates, which took place in 1858 in Freeport, Illinois for The Atlantic Monthly. Read his account of Lincoln, and, if you see the film, decide for yourself how closely Day-Lewis has managed to embody Abe:
"As far as all external conditions were concerned, there was nothing in favor of Lincoln. He had a lean, lank, indescribably gawky figure, an odd-featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face. He used singularly awkward, almost absurd up-and-down and sidewise movements of his body to give emphasis to his arguments. His voice was naturally good, but he frequently raised it to an unnatural pitch. Yet the unprejudiced mind felt at once that, while there was on the one side a skillful dialectician and debater arguing a wrong and weak cause, there was on the other a thoroughly earnest and truthful man, inspired by sound convictions in consonance with the true spirit of American institutions. There was nothing in all Douglas's powerful effort that appealed to the higher instincts of human nature, while Lincoln always touched sympathetic chords. Lincoln's speech excited and sustained the enthusiasm of his audience to the end. When he had finished, two stalwart young farmers rushed on the platform, and, in spite of his remonstrances, seized and put him on their shoulders and carried him in that uncomfortable posture for a considerable distance. It was really a ludicrous sight to see the grotesque figure holding frantically to the heads of his supporters, with his legs dangling from their shoulders, and his pantaloons pulled up so as to expose his underwear almost to his knees."