Items tagged with: half
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19708742
Posted by pseudolus (karma: 19459)
Post stats: Points: 150 - Comments: 60 - 2019-04-20T20:39:19Z
#HackerNews #england #half #its #less #owned #population #researcher #says #than
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Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, insider accounts detail a string of failures
Article word count: 3668
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19539975
Posted by wallace_f (karma: 4240)
Post stats: Points: 131 - Comments: 58 - 2019-04-01T02:38:35Z
#HackerNews #2015 #and #billion #built #cross #dollars #for #haiti #half #homes #raised #red #six
The neighborhood of Campeche sprawls up a steep hillside in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. Goats rustle in trash that goes forever uncollected. Children kick a deflated volleyball in a dusty lot below a wall with a hand-painted logo of the American Red Cross.
In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor area, which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the project — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.
Today, not one home has been built in Campeche. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.
The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars.
The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.
The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.
After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.
Aid organizations from around the world have struggled after the earthquake in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. But ProPublica and NPR’s investigation shows that many of the Red Cross’s failings in Haiti are of its own making. They are also part of a larger pattern in which the organization has botched delivery of aid after disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. Despite its difficulties, the Red Cross remains the charity of choice for ordinary Americans and corporations alike after natural disasters.
One issue that has hindered the Red Cross’ work in Haiti is an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole, current and former employees say.
In a blistering 2011 memo, the then-director of the Haiti program, Judith St. Fort, wrote that the group was failing in Haiti and that senior managers had made “very disturbing” remarks disparaging Haitian employees. St. Fort, who is Haitian American, wrote that the comments included, “he is the only hard working one among them” and “the ones that we have hired are not strong so we probably should not pay close attention to Haitian CVs.”
The Red Cross won’t disclose details of how it has spent the hundreds of millions of dollars donated for Haiti. But our reporting shows that less money reached those in need than the Red Cross has said.
Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work. Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others, the Red Cross had its own significant expenses – in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget.
Where did the half billion raised for Haiti go? The Red Cross won’t say.
In statements, the Red Cross cited the challenges all groups have faced in post-quake Haiti, including the country’s dysfunctional land title system.
“Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relation to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges,” the charity said.
The group said it responded quickly to internal concerns, including hiring an expert to train staff on cultural competency after St. Fort’s memo. While the group won’t provide a breakdown of its projects, the Red Cross said it has done more than 100. The projects include repairing 4,000 homes, giving several thousand families temporary shelters, donating $44 million for food after the earthquake, and helping fund the construction of a hospital.
“Millions of Haitians are safer, healthier, more resilient, and better prepared for future disasters thanks to generous donations to the American Red Cross,” McGovern wrote in a recent report marking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake.
In other promotional materials, the Red Cross said it has helped “more than 4.5 million” individual Haitians “get back on their feet.”
It has not provided details to back up the claim. And Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister at the time of the earthquake, doubts the figure, pointing out the country’s entire population is only about 10 million.
“No, no,” Bellerive said of the Red Cross’ claim, “it’s not possible.”
When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the Red Cross was facing a crisis of its own. McGovern had become chief executive just 18 months earlier, inheriting a deficit and an organization that had faced scandals after 9/11 and Katrina.
Gail McGovern (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Inside the Red Cross, the Haiti disaster was seen as “a spectacular fundraising opportunity,” recalled one former official who helped organize the effort. Michelle Obama, the NFL and a long list of celebrities appealed for donations to the group.
The Red Cross kept soliciting money well after it had enough for the emergency relief that is the group’s stock in trade. Doctors Without Borders, in contrast, stopped fundraising off the earthquake after it decided it had enough money. The donations to the Red Cross helped the group erase its more-than $100 million deficit.
The Red Cross ultimately raised far more than any other charity.
A year after the quake, McGovern announced that the Red Cross would use the donations to make a lasting impact in Haiti.
We asked the Red Cross to show us around its projects in Haiti so we could see the results of its work. It declined. So earlier this year we went to Campeche to see one of the group’s signature projects for ourselves.
Street vendors in the dusty neighborhood immediately pointed us to Jean Jean Flaubert, the head of a community group that the Red Cross set up as a local sounding board.
Sitting with us in their sparse one-room office, Flaubert and his colleagues grew angry talking about the Red Cross. They pointed to the lack of progress in the neighborhood and the healthy salaries paid to expatriate aid workers.
“What the Red Cross told us is that they are coming here to change Campeche. Totally change it,” said Flaubert. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about. I think the Red Cross is working for themselves.”
The Red Cross’ initial plan said the focus would be building homes — an internal proposal put the number at 700. Each would have finished floors, toilets, showers, even rainwater collection systems. The houses were supposed to be finished in January 2013.
The Red Cross promised to build hundreds of new homes in Campeche but none have been built. Many residents still live in crude shacks. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)
None of that ever happened. Carline Noailles, who was the project’s manager in Washington, said it was endlessly delayed because the Red Cross “didn’t have the know-how.”
Another former official who worked on the Campeche project said, “Everything takes four times as long because it would be micromanaged from DC, and they had no development experience.”
Shown an English-language press release from the Red Cross website, Flaubert was stunned to learn of the project’s $24 million budget — and that it is due to end next year.
“Not only is [the Red Cross] not doing it,” Flaubert said, “now I’m learning that the Red Cross is leaving next year. I don’t understand that.” (The Red Cross says it did tell community leaders about the end date. It also accused us of “creating ill will in the community which may give rise to a security incident.”)
The project has since been reshaped and downscaled. A road is being built. Some existing homes have received earthquake reinforcement and a few schools are being repaired. Some solar street lights have been installed, though many broke and residents say others are unreliable.
The group’s most recent press release on the project cites achievements such as training school children in disaster response.
The Red Cross said it has to scale back its housing plans because it couldn’t acquire the rights to land. No homes will be built.
Other Red Cross infrastructure projects also fizzled.
A Red Cross effort to save Haitians from cholera was crippled by internal issues. “None of these people had to die,” said a Haitian official.
In January 2011, McGovern announced a $30 million partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The agency would build roads and other infrastructure in at least two locations where the Red Cross would build new homes.
But it took more than two and a half years, until August 2013, for the Red Cross just to sign an agreement with USAID on the program, and even that was for only one site. The program was ultimately canceled because of a land dispute.
A Government Accountability Office report attributed the severe delays to problems “in securing land title and because of turnover in Red Cross leadership” in its Haiti program.
Other groups also ran into trouble with land titles and other issues. But they also ultimately built 9,000 homes compared to the Red Cross’ six.
Asked about the Red Cross’ housing projects in Haiti, David Meltzer, the group’s general counsel and chief international officer, said changing conditions forced changes in plans. “If we had said, ‘All we’re going to do is build new homes,’ we’d still be looking for land,” he said.
The USAID project’s collapse left the Red Cross grasping for ways to spend money earmarked for it.
“Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this?? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?),” McGovern wrote to Meltzer in a November 2013 email obtained by ProPublica and NPR. “Can we fund Conrad’s hospital? Or more to PiH[Partners in Health]? Any more shelter projects?”
Jean Jean Flaubert says the Red Cross promised to transform his neighborhood. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about,” he said. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)
It’s not clear what helicopter idea McGovern was referring to or if it was ever carried out. The Red Cross would say only that her comments were “grounded in the American Red Cross’ strategy and priorities, which focus on health and housing.”
Another signature project, known in Creole as “A More Resilient Great North,” is supposed to rehabilitate roads in poor, rural communities and to help them get clean water and sanitation.
But two years after it started, the $13 million effort has been faltering badly. An internal evaluation from March found residents were upset because nothing had been done to improve water access or infrastructure or to make “contributions of any sort to the well being of households,” the report said.
So much bad feeling built up in one area that the population “rejects the project.”
The Red Cross says 91% of donations went to help Haitians. That’s not true.
Instead of making concrete improvements to living conditions, the Red Cross has launched hand-washing education campaigns. The internal evaluation noted that these were “not effective when people had no access to water and no soap.” (The Red Cross declined to comment on the project.)
The group’s failures went beyond just infrastructure.
When a cholera epidemic raged through Haiti nine months after the quake, the biggest part of the Red Cross’ response — a plan to distribute soap and oral rehydration salts — was crippled by “internal issues that go unaddressed,” wrote the director of the Haiti program in her May 2011 memo.
Throughout that year, cholera was a steady killer. By September 2011, when the death toll had surpassed 6,000, the project was still listed as “very behind schedule” according to another internal document.
The Red Cross said in a statement that its cholera response, including a vaccination campaign, has continued for years and helped millions of Haitians.
But while other groups also struggled early responding to cholera, some performed well.
“None of these people had to die. That’s what upsets me,” said Paul Christian Namphy, a Haitian water and sanitation official who helped lead the effort to fight cholera. He says early failures by the Red Cross and other NGOs had a devastating impact. “These numbers should have been zero.”
So why did the Red Cross’ efforts fall so short? It wasn’t just that Haiti is a hard place to work.
“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”
Lee Malany was in charge of the Red Cross’ shelter program in Haiti starting in 2010. He remembers a meeting in Washington that fall where officials did not seem to have any idea how to spend millions of dollars set aside for housing. Malany says the officials wanted to know which projects would generate good publicity, not which projects would provide the most homes.
“When I walked out of that meeting I looked at the people that I was working with and said, ‘You know this is very disconcerting, this is depressing,’” he recalled.
The Red Cross said in a statement its Haiti program has never put publicity over delivering aid.
Malany resigned the next year from his job in Haiti. “I said there’s no reason for me to stay here. I got on the plane and left.”
Transitional shelters like these on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince, paid for by the Red Cross, typically last three to five years. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)
Sometimes it wasn’t a matter of expertise, but whether anybody was filling key jobs. An April 2012 organizational chart obtained by ProPublica and NPR lists 9 of 30 leadership positions in Haiti as vacant, including slots for experts on health and shelter.
The Red Cross said vacancies and turnover were inevitable because of “the security situation, separation from family for international staff, and the demanding nature of the work.”
The constant upheaval took a toll. Internal documents refer to repeated attempts over years to “finalize” and “complete” a strategic plan for the Haiti program, efforts that were delayed by changes in senior management. As late as March 2014, more than four years into a six-year program, an internal update cites a “revised strategy” still awaiting “final sign-off.”
The Red Cross said settling on a plan early would have been a mistake. “It would be hard to create the perfect plan from the beginning in a complicated place like Haiti,” it said. “But we also need to begin, so we create plans that are continually revised.”
The Red Cross says it provided homes to more than 130,000 Haitians. But they didn’t.
Those plans were further undermined by the Red Cross’ reliance on expats. Noailles, the Haitian development professional who worked for the Red Cross on the Campeche project, said expat staffers struggled in meetings with local officials.
“Going to meetings with the community when you don’t speak the language is not productive,” she said. Sometimes, she recalled, expat staffers would skip such meetings altogether.
The Red Cross said it has “made it a priority to hire Haitians” despite lots of competition for local professionals, and that over 90 percent of its staff is Haitian. The charity said it used a local human resources firm to help.
Yet very few Haitians have made it into the group’s top echelons in Haiti, according to five current and former Red Cross staffers as well as staff lists obtained by ProPublica and NPR.
That not only affected the group’s ability to work in Haiti, it was also expensive.
According to an internal Red Cross budgeting document for the project in Campeche, the project manager – a position reserved for an expatriate – was entitled to allowances for housing, food and other expenses, home leave trips, R&R four times a year, and relocation expenses. In all, it added up to $140,000.
Compensation for a senior Haitian engineer — the top local position — was less than one-third of that, $42,000 a year.
Shelim Dorval, a Haitian administrator who worked for the Red Cross coordinating travel and housing for expatriate staffers, recalled thinking it was a waste to spend so much to bring in people with little knowledge of Haiti when locals were available.
“For each one of those expats, they were having high salaries, staying in a fancy house, and getting vacation trips back to their countries,” Dorval said. “A lot of money was spent on those people who were not Haitian, who had nothing to do with Haiti. The money was just going back to the United States.”
Soon after the earthquake, McGovern, the Red Cross CEO, said the group would make sure donors knew exactly what happened to their money.
The Red Cross would “lead the effort in transparency,” she pledged. “We are happy to share the way we are spending our dollars.”
That hasn’t happened. The Red Cross’ public reports offer only broad categories about where $488 million in donations has gone. The biggest category is shelter, at about $170 million. The others include health, emergency relief and disaster preparedness.
After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)
It has declined repeated requests to disclose the specific projects, to explain how much money went to each or to say what the results of each project were.
There is reason to doubt the Red Cross’ claims that it helped 4.5 million Haitians. An internal evaluation found that in some areas, the Red Cross reported helping more people than even lived in the communities. In other cases, the figures were low, and in others double-counting went uncorrected.
In describing its work, the Red Cross also conflates different types of aid, making it more difficult to assess the charity’s efforts in Haiti.
For example, while the Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)
The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.
The Red Cross also won’t break down what portion of donations went to overhead.
The Red Cross says that for each dollar donated, 91 cents went to Haiti. But here’s what actually happened in one $5.4 million project to improve temporary shelters.
Source: American Red Cross and ProPublica Analysis
Credit: Sisi Wei/ProPublica
McGovern told CBS News a few months after the quake, “Minus the 9 cents overhead, 91 cents on the dollar will be going to Haiti. And I give you my word and my commitment, I’m banking my integrity, my own personal sense of integrity on that statement.”
But the reality is that less money went to Haiti than 91 percent. That’s because in addition to the Red Cross’ 9 percent overhead, the other groups that got grants from the Red Cross also have their own overhead.
In one case, the Red Cross sent $6 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross for rental subsidies to help Haitians leave tent camps. The IFRC then took out 26 percent for overhead and what the IFRC described as program-related “administration, finance, human resources” and similar costs.
Beyond all that, the Red Cross also spends another piece of each dollar for what it describes as “program costs incurred by the American Red Cross in managing” the projects done by other groups.
The American Red Cross’ management and other costs consumed an additional 24 percent of the money on one project, according to the group’s statements and internal documents. The actual work, upgrading shelters, was done by the Swiss and Spanish Red Cross societies.
“It’s a cycle of overhead,” said Jonathan Katz, the Associated Press reporter in Haiti at the time of the earthquake who tracked post-disaster spending for his book, The Big Truck That Went By. “It was always going to be the American Red Cross taking a 9 percent cut, re-granting to another group, which would take out their cut.”
Given the results produced by the Red Cross’ projects in Haiti, Bellerive, the former prime minister, said he has a hard time fathoming what’s happened to donors’ money.
“Five hundred million dollars in Haiti is a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. I know more or less the cost of things. Unless you don’t pay for the gasoline the same price I was paying, unless you pay people 20 times what I was paying them, unless the cost of the house you built was five times the cost I was paying, it doesn’t add up for me.”
A resident in a Port-Au-Prince transitional shelter paid for by the Red Cross. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)
This story was co-published with NPR. Mitzy-Lynn Hyacinthe contributed reporting. Design direction by David Sleight, production by Hannah Birch.
Read about how the Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in PR Over People: The Red Crossʼ Secret Disaster. And about how the Red Crossʼ CEO has been serially misleading about where donorsʼ dollars are going.
If you have information about the Red Cross or about other international aid projects, please email [email protected]
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The inevitable result of financial innovation gone awry, which it ALWAYS does, is that it ALWAYS ends up empowering the State. When too clever by half people misplay the meta-game, that’s all the…
Article word count: 2738
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19332844
Posted by lrsjng (karma: 79)
Post stats: Points: 129 - Comments: 25 - 2019-03-07T21:48:27Z
#HackerNews #2018 #clever #half #too
The smartest animals on my farm aren’t my bees (although they possess the genius of the algorithm). It’s not the horses or the goats or even the dogs. The barn cat is pretty smart, but only in fairly limited circumstances, and the house cats are useless. Obviously it’s not the sheep or the chickens. Nope, the smartest animals on my farm aren’t really on my farm at all. They’re the coyotes who live in the woods.
My favorite example? We have a really big invisible fence for the dogs … covers about five acres. Yes, my farm is a great place to be a dog. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the technology of the invisible fence, it’s a buried wire that transmits a signal to a receiver placed on your dog’s collar. When the dog gets close to the wire, the receiver starts to beep, and when the dog gets all the way to the “fence” boundary, the receiver generates a small electric zap. I know, I know … it’s negative reinforcement and it’s a shock collar and all that. Don’t care. It’s fantastic for us and our dogs. But whether it’s a smart dog like Maggie the German Shepherd or a … shall we say … “special” dog like Sam the Sheltie, after a few weeks (Maggie) or a few hours (Sam) they will forget where the fence exists if they stop wearing the collar.
Not so the coyotes.
The coyotes know exactly where the invisible fence begins and ends, without the benefit of ever wearing a shock collar. How do I know? Because they intentionally leave their scat on their side of the invisible fence, creating a demilitarized zone as precise and as well-observed as anything on the Korean peninsula. Occasionally a coyote will try to test our dogs by leaving its scat juuusst over the line on our side of the DMZ. Our dogs, of course, just blithely ignore the provocation, not even knowing that they’re being challenged. My dogs are the Roadrunner in some real-life Looney Tunes competition with Wile E. Coyote, super-genius. The coyotes are scheming; my dogs have no idea what scheming is.
I feel bad for the real-life coyotes in exactly the same way that 7-year-old me felt bad for Wile E. Coyote and 30-year-old me felt bad for The Brain (not a coyote, of course, but still). They put SO MUCH EFFORT into their plans and machinations for taking over the world, and it all comes to naught in a world of Roadrunners, Pinkys, and dogs like my Sam the Sheltie.
I see myself in the coyotes. So do most people reading this note, I bet.
The truth is that domestication makes any animal dumb. You name the species — dogs, cats, cows, horses, sheep, pigs — human selection on “tameness” for thousands of years accumulates a wide array of traits, including floppier ears, shorter snouts, hair color variability and the like, most likely based on more basic inherited alterations in certain stem cell and stress hormone production patterns (see Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World, by Richard Francis, for a great read on all this). Different species show these external traits to different degrees. But the trait that ALL domesticated species demonstrate relative to their wild species is a smaller brain. I’d bet it’s happening with humans, too, but that’s just an observation for another day.
Unfortunately, coyotes are too smart for their own good. They are, to use the wonderful Brit phrase, too clever by half. They are, to use a post-modern, TV reality show lingo, not good in the meta-game. And the meta-game has turned against the coyotes with a vengeance.
Case in point — in our pre-farm life, where we had a yard like any other yard and were part of a neighborhood like any other neighborhood, we still had run-ins with coyotes. There were three or four of them roaming around one fall, coming in from the local nature preserve, and it became something of an issue in our small town. Warnings went out on mom chat groups not to let your small children play outside alone, much less your small dog or cat (yes, this was back in the day when it was not a blatant act of animal cruelty in Fairfield County, Connecticut to let your house cat go outside when it wished). Fortunately, clear instructions were provided through various channels as to how to protect your family.
Don’t yell at the coyotes. Half fill an empty coffee can with loose change and shake it at them. This will frighten them and they will run off.
Again, this is Fairfield County, Connecticut, where even owning a BB gun is enough to earn a lifetime ban from any play dates for your kids. It’s a far cry from growing up in Alabama like me or Texas like my wife, but when in Rome …
A few afternoons later the coyotes came wandering around our yard. We had (very) small kids at the time. So my wife dutifully brought out the coffee can she had prepared, and rushed out into the yard to confront the coyotes, shaking the coffee can like a madwoman. At which point the lead coyote, a female we think, sloooowly looked up and just stared at my wife. It wasn’t scared. It wasn’t frightened. It recognized immediately that there was absolutely zero danger posed by this human female gesticulating wildly and making a bizarre clanking sound with her hands. The message from that coyote’s stare was clear — is that all you got? Really? Almost derisively, the lead coyote sloooowly turned around and sauntered back towards the woods, leading the others away.
It was an alpha move. Smart, cool, totally in command. I’m leaving because I want to, at my own speed, and only because you’re annoying me with that ridiculous noise, not because I’m scared.
It was also a really dumb move for the meta-game.
What’s the meta-game? It’s the game of games. It’s the larger social game where this little game of aggression and dominance with my wife played out. The meta-game for coyotes is how to stay alive in pockets of dense woods while surrounded by increasingly domesticated humans who are increasingly fearful of anything and everything that is actually untamed and natural. A strategy of Skirmish and scheming feints and counter-feints is something that coyotes are really good at. They will “win” every time they play this individual mini-game with domesticated dogs and domesticated humans shaking coffee cans half-filled with coins. But it is a suicidal strategy for the meta-game. As in literally suicidal. As in you will be killed by the animal control officer who HATES the idea of taking you out but is REQUIRED to do it because there’s an angry posse of families who just moved into town from the city and are AGHAST at the notion that they share these woods with creatures that actually have fangs and claws.
The smartest play for coyotes in the meta-game is never to Skirmish with humans. Never. And if you find yourself in a Skirmish-with-Humans game, then the smart play is to act scared, to run away at top speed from a jangling coffee can. But no, coyotes are too clever by half, plenty smart enough to understand and master the reality of their immediate situation, but nowhere near smart enough to understand or withstand the reality of their larger situation. It’s their nature to play the scheming mini-game. They can’t help themselves. And that’s why the coyotes always lose. It’s always the meta-game that gets you.
Okay, Ben, entertaining as ever, but where are you going with all this?
Almost there. Before I pull this charming discussion of too clever by half coyotes back into the real world of markets, there’s one other (supposedly) clever, non-domesticated animal I need to introduce into this story. That’s the raccoon.
Coyotes have a roguish charm and bring something interesting to the world with their independence and scheming. Raccoons are simply criminals. And they’re not that smart. I’d put our barn cat up against a raccoon any day on any sort of cognitive test. We think raccoons are clever because they have those anthropomorphic paws and those cute little masks and even a Marvel superhero with its own toy line, but please. Raccoons are takers, not schemers. They’re killers, often for the sheer hell of it. Raccoons steal and kill way beyond what they need, and they do so in a totally wanton, non-clever way. I hate raccoons.
When they push their scheming and stealing too far, coyotes and raccoons ALWAYS end up getting killed by the farmer — regretfully in the case of coyotes, remorselessly in the case of raccoons. It’s not a cute Looney Tunes death, either. There’s no little puff of smoke and immediate reincarnation for these Wile E. Coyotes and Rocket Raccoons. Just blood and sadness.
That’s true on the farm and it’s true in the real world, too. And that’s how we pull this allegory together.
Every truly disruptive discovery or innovation in history is the work of coyotes. It’s always the non-domesticated schemers who come up with the Idea That Changes Things. We all know the type. Many of the readers of this note ARE the type.
Financial innovation is no exception. And this is Reason #1 why financial innovation ALWAYS ends in tears, because coyotes are too clever by half. They figure out a brilliant way to win at the mini-game that they’re immersed in, and they ignore the meta-game. Eventually the meta-game blows up on them, and they’re toast.
Reason #2? Financial innovation, more than any other sort of innovation, attracts the raccoons — con men and hucksters at best, outright thieves at worst. They infest financial innovation. And they can’t control themselves, so they always push it too far. They’re never content with stealing a little. Or even a lot. No, raccoons want it ALL.
Financial innovation is always and in all ways one of two things — a new way of securitizing something or a new way of leveraging something.
Securitization is a ten-dollar word that means associating something in the real world (a cash flow from a debt, an ownership interest in a company, a deed on a property, a distributed ledger mathematical calculation, etc.) with a piece of paper that can be bought and sold separately from that real world thing.
Leverage is a ten-dollar word that means borrowed money.
That’s it. There’s nothing new under the sun. Finding new ways to trade things (securitization) or new ways to borrow money on things (leverage) is what financial innovation is all about, and there are vast riches awaiting the clever coyotes who can come up with a useful scheme on either.
The biggest market disasters happen when both leverage and securitization get mixed up with the same clever scheme, as when new ways of leveraging and securitizing U.S. residential mortgages were developed in 2001, resulting in the creation of a $10 trillion asset class that utterly collapsed during the Great Financial Crisis. There were a lot of coyotes involved in so gargantuan an Idea That Changes Things, but most illustrative for these purposes is the Gaussian Copula formula published by David Li in 2000, the “technology” which allowed the securitization of pretty much any mortgage portfolio (prior to this most securitization was limited to “conforming” mortgages securitized by Fannie Mae and other government-sponsored mortgage agencies) and also the leveraging of those securities through tranching (splitting up the security into still more securities, each of which can be used as collateral for more borrowing, particularly those tranches with higher credit ratings). I wrote a bit about the Gaussian Copula in “Magical Thinking”, and if you want to learn more you can’t do better than Felix Salmon’s 2009 Wired magazine article — “The Formula That Broke Wall Street” — still my all-time favorite piece of financial market journalism.
The formula doesn’t look like much, does it? But this little equation made billions of dollars in profits for Wall Street through hundreds of clever coyote schemes. More than a few raccoons got involved along the way. And then it broke the world in 2008.
It’s what I’ll call “coyote-math”. The math behind blockchain and Bitcoin the Gaussian Copula and non-agency residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) is undeniable. It is a mathematical certainty that these securities “work”. Unless, of course, you have a government-led chilling effect on exchanges and network transactions a nationwide decline in U.S. home prices, in which case Bitcoin non-agency RMBS doesn’t work at all.
So what will does the aftermath of this classic example of financial innovation gone awry look like?
Blockchain The Gaussian Copula is still around. These things don’t get un-invented, and it’s still a very useful piece of code for certain applications. The truth about blockchain the Gaussian Copula is that it’s an Idea That Changes Things In a Modest Way, not an Idea That Changes Everything. It’s a modern algorithmic twist on letters of credit portfolio risk, and there are a few interesting uses for that. Just a few, but that’s okay. That’s still important. Just not as important as HODLers Wall Street thought it was.
As for the primary financial application that blockchain the Gaussian Copula spawned, Bitcoin non-agency RMBS is still around, too. The securitization of distributed ledger calculations non-conforming mortgages is something that market participants still want and still trade. It will NEVER be a $10 trillion asset class again, because the inherent flaws of this security have been well revealed. Turns out that Bitcoin a AAA-rated tranche of Alt-A mortgages wasn’t the store of value that coyote-math “proved” it was, to the detriment of individual institutional investors who put a significant portion of their portfolio into these securities, and to the ruin of those who used leverage to acquire these securities.
Many of the coyotes involved with this classic example of financial innovation gone awry are (professionally) dead. At the very least careers were permanently derailed, and entire coyote institutions, like Bear Stearns, were taken out into the street and shot in the head by animal control officers were merged into healthier financial institutions by government regulators as an example to other coyote institutions as a necessary measure for systemic stability. I miss Bear Stearns. The world is a poorer place for Bear Stearns not being in it.
Surprisingly few of the raccoons involved are (professionally) dead. In fact, more than a few of the financial hucksters involved with the run-up to the Great Financial Crisis are back to their old tricks with cryptocurrencies whatever the latest coyote innovation might be. This makes me VERY angry, and probably colors my view on blockchain financial innovation more generally. I wouldn’t miss the raccoons for a second if the animal control officers took them out, but somehow they never do.
And that brings me to what is personally the most frustrating aspect of all this. The inevitable result of financial innovation gone awry, which it ALWAYS does, is that it ALWAYS ends up empowering the State. And not just empowering the State, but empowering the State in a specific way, where it becomes harder and harder to be a non-domesticated, clever coyote, even as the non-clever, criminal raccoons flourish.
That’s not an accident. The State doesn’t really care about the raccoons, precisely because they’re NOT clever. The State — particularly the Nudging State — cares very much about co-opting an Idea That Changes Things, whether it changes things in a modest way or massively. It cares very much about coyote population control.
When coyotes play the Skirmish game, that’s all the excuse the State needs to come swooping in. And that’s exactly what is happening with Bitcoin what happened with non-agency RMBS.
What’s the alternative to playing Skirmish in the meta-game?
It’s this: to be an arborist.
It’s this: to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.
Coyotes can change the world. Coyotes WILL change the world. But not if they misplay the meta-game. Not if they hang out with raccoons. Not if they fetishize ANY financial instrument as an intrinsic aspect of a commitment to liberty and justice for all. Because it’s not.
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Wise words 2,000 years ago. Wise words today.
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Research puts a number on the proportion of people leaving full-time careers in science after the birth of their first child.
Article word count: 654
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19203458
Posted by chriskanan (karma: 3166)
Post stats: Points: 76 - Comments: 132 - 2019-02-19T22:20:31Z
#HackerNews #after #child #female #first #full-time #half #leave #nearly #science #scientists
A woman on maternity holding her baby looks at a painting in the State Hermitage Museum, Russia
Having a child can lead to scientists switching or quitting their careers.Credit: Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty
More than 40% of women with full-time jobs in science leave the sector or go part time after having their first child, according to a study of how parenthood affects career trajectories in the United States. By contrast, only 23% of new fathers leave or cut their working hours.
The analysis (see ‘Parents in science’), led by Erin Cech, a sociologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, might help to explain the persistent under-representation of women in jobs that involve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The study also highlights the impact of fatherhood on a career in science, she says.
Source: Ref. 1
Career versus family
Given that 90% of people in the United States become parents during their working lives, Cech and Mary Blair-Loy, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, sought to better understand what happens to scientists’ careers after they start a family.
They used the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System, a database provided by the US National Science Foundation that contains information from surveys of the US STEM workforce every two to three years.
From the 2003 data, Cech and Blair-Loy picked the child-free scientists in full-time employment and tracked their familial status in the next wave of the survey, in 2006. This gave them two groups of scientists to compare — 841 who became parents during this period, and 3,365 who remained childless throughout. The researchers also looked at how these individuals’ careers changed between 2003 and 2010.
They report that new parents are significantly more likely to leave a full-time science career for full-time non-science careers than their child-free colleagues^1.
By the end of the study period, 23% of men and 43% of women who had become parents had left full-time STEM employment. They either went part time, switched to non-STEM careers or left the workforce altogether. This compared to 16% of child-free men and 24% of child-free women. The team controlled for potential confounding differences between people with and without children.
For a subset of the people who had left science, the data set also included an entry on why they had left science. Around half of the new parents in this subset cited family-related reasons, compared with just 4% of people without children.
Taken together, these findings suggest that parenthood is an important driver of gender imbalance in STEM employment, the team says.
But Cech says that this the first time research has shown the proportion of new parents facing difficulties reconciling family life with science. She adds that there is a striking impact on new fathers as well as mothers.
“STEM work is often culturally less tolerant and supportive of caregiving responsibilities than other occupations,” Cech says. “So mothers — and fathers — may feel squeezed out of STEM work and pulled into full-time work in non-STEM fields”.
A ‘structural’ problem
Virginia Valian, a psychologist at the City University of New York, says: “The results showing that fathers also leave STEM reinforces the hypothesis that the problem is a structural one, in which dedicated professionals are not expected to have a personal life, and, indeed, are punished for so doing.”
Ami Radunskaya, a mathematician at Pomona College in Claremont, California, who mentors young female mathematicians, says women can become exhausted from constantly having to prove themselves in a professional environment that is, “at best, challenging to everyone and, at worst, openly sexist”.
“These young women are smart and tenacious,” she says. “When these young women start a family, they realize that this exhaustion and stress is not sustainable.”
Radunskaya suggests several measures that could help to improve the situation. Policies on family leave should send the message that having children is expected and accepted, for example. Senior researchers should mentor junior members of staff, and people should accept the challenges women in science may face. “We need to have candid, non-blaming conversations about [these issues],” she adds.
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While Amazon's cloud business was only 11% of its overall sales last year, it delivered more operating income than all other business units combined.
Article word count: 525
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19058702
Posted by petercooper (karma: 39213)
Post stats: Points: 154 - Comments: 56 - 2019-02-01T21:15:19Z
\#HackerNews #amazons #aws #drives #half #income #more #operating #than
For Amazon, the cloud is the little engine that could. Amazon Web Services comprised just 11% of the companyʼs overall sales in 2018, but delivered more operating income than all other business units combined.
In financial results delivered Thursday, Amazon Web Services Inc. drove $7.43 billion sales for the quarter ending December 31, up 45% from $5.11 billion year-over-year. (See Amazon Reports Q4 Sales Up 20% to $72.4B.)
Thatʼs the same year-over-year growth rate (Q4 2018 over Q4 2017) for AWS that it saw in the year-ago quarter (Q4 2017 over Q4 2016).
Operating income for AWS was $2.17 billion, up from $1.35 billion in the year-ago quarter.
For calendar 2018, AWS sales were $25.65 billion, up 47% from $17.45 billion year-over-year. Sales growth accelerated in 2018 over 2017 compared with 2017 over 2016, which saw 43% sales growth.
Amazon is cleaning up in the cloud, much as the authorʼs cat cleans itself in this Amazon box.
Amazon is cleaning up in the cloud, much as the authorʼs cat cleans itself in this Amazon box.
For AWSʼs sales growth to accelerate in that fashion is noteworthy because AWS is by far the leader in cloud market share, ahead of second-ranked Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) by a wide margin; accelerating growth speaks to overall strength for AWS and the cloud market in general.
Operating income for AWS was $7.29 billion in 2018, up from $4.31 billion in 2017.
AWS represents a growing share of Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN)ʼs overall revenue (by a smidge) -- 11% in 2018 compared with 10% in the previous year, and 10% in the fourth quarter of 2018, compared with 8% in the year-ago quarter.
And AWS is the lionʼs share of Amazonʼs operating income: Nearly 58% in the fourth quarter of 2018, and nearly 59% for the full year.
For Amazon overall, including its mainstay retail business, for the quarter, sales were up 20% to $72.4 billion after a strong holiday season. Net income increased to $3 billion in the fourth quarter, or $6.04 per diluted share, compared with $1.9 billion or $3.75 per diluted share in the year-ago quarter.
For the full year, net sales were up 31% to $232.9 billion. Net income increased to $10.1 billion, or $20.14 per diluted share, compared with $3 billion or $6.15 per diluted share in 2017.
The Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all products on Amazon globally, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in its earnings press release. "Alexa was very busy during her holiday season," he said.
For the first quarter of 2019, Amazon anticipates net sales of $56 billion to $60 billion, up 10-18% year over year. Operating income is expected to be $2.3 billion to $3.3 billion, compared with $1.9 billion in the first quarter of 2018.
Amazon stock traded at $1,634 after hours, down 4.93%.
Amazon is the second major US cloud provider to report quarterly earnings this month. Microsoft reported that Azure revenues rose 76% Wednesday -- not an apples-to-apples comparison with AWS, as Microsoft breaks out its cloud finances in multiple pieces and reports those pieces mixed in with other business units. (See Microsoft Azure Revenues Climb 76%.)
— Mitch Wagner Visit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on TwitterJoin my Facebook GroupRead my blog: Things Mitch Wagner Saw Executive Editor, Light Reading
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A lot of game developers say they want to unionize -- but will they?
Article word count: 679
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18991086
Posted by toufiqbarhamov (karma: 2066)
Post stats: Points: 105 - Comments: 106 - 2019-01-24T17:58:47Z
\#HackerNews #developers #game #half #nearly #unionize #want
MoviePass is planning to relaunch an unlimited movie plan
SoundCloud is losing its second and final co-founder
Tech companies spent more than $64 million on lobbying in 2018
Nearly half of game developers want to unionize
Jaguar tests self-driving cars that project their next move
Blue Originʼs latest New Shepard test flight hauled NASA experiments
The Polestar 2ʼs infotainment system is powered by Google
— Game Workers Unite UK (@GWU_UK) December 14, 2018
With all of this conversation swirling around studio life, the folks behind the Game Developers Conference added new questions to the seventh annual State of the Industry Survey, which included responses from nearly 4,000 developers. The questions were broad: should the games industry unionize, and will the games industry unionize? Forty-seven percent of respondents said yes, game developers should unionize, while 16 percent said no and 26 percent said maybe.
However, developers werenʼt exactly hopeful about unionization efforts. Just 21 percent of respondents said they thought the industry would unionize, and 39 percent said maybe. Twenty-four percent said it simply wasnʼt going to happen. One developer added the following thought: "There is too much supply: too many people want into the industry. Those who unionize will be shoved out of the way as companies hire those with fewer demands."
The survey found 44 percent of developers (from hobbyists to AAA) worked more than 40 hours per week on average. It also included a question about the maximum number of hours developers had worked in a single week over the past year. Just over 1 percent said they worked more than 110 hours in a week, while 6 percent reported working 76 to 80 hours, "suggesting that deadline-related crunch can go far beyond normal working hours," according to the survey.
Epic Games Store
GDC executive vice president Simon Carless told Engadget the survey team added the unionization questions because developers were asking for them.
"Since this is the first time weʼve started asking about the support for unionization among developers, we canʼt say for sure what the trajectory of support may or may not be," Carless said. "But we have seen a keen interest in discussing unionization from the game developer community. This is reflected in the fact that we now have a number of sessions that will be addressing the topic."
GDC 2019 kicks off on March 18th and Game Workers Unite will be there, alongside labor union organizers from other industries, starting conversations and getting folks involved.
"We have seen a keen interest in discussing unionization from the game developer community."
This yearʼs State of the Industry Survey collected a handful of other new statistics, including some dedicated to Steam and its fresh competition. The Epic Games Store went live in December, offering developers a revenue share of 88 percent, compared with Steamʼs long-standing offer of 70 percent. The new Discord store joined the party a few days later, promising developers 90 percent of all revenue generated by their game sales.
Steam has dominated the digital distribution market for roughly a decade, setting standards and making plenty of developersʼ dreams come true. However, Steam has become crowded, and the market is ripe for innovation and competition. Unsurprisingly, 47 percent of GDC survey respondents said they sold their games on Steam. Of those developers, 54 percent said Steam accounted for at least three-quarters of their total sales revenue; other storefronts generated less than 10 percent of overall revenue for most developers.
Hereʼs the juicy bit: The 2019 GDC survey also asked developers whether Steamʼs 30 percent cut was justified. Just 6 percent of respondents said yes. Roughly one-third of respondents said Steamʼs revenue-sharing model didnʼt make sense, 27 percent said it probably didnʼt, and 17 percent said they werenʼt sure.
One respondent offered the following advice for Steam: "Take less revenue from sales and curate their store better for visibility for real games."
In this article: av, business, discord, epicgamesstore, GameDevelopment, gaming, gdc, indie, personal computing, personalcomputing, steam, survey, tomorrow, union
[IMG]By Jessica Conditt @JessConditt
Jessica earned her BA in journalism from ASUʼs Walter Cronkite School in 2011, and sheʼs written for online outlets since 2008, with four years as senior reporter at Joystiq. She specializes in covering independent video games and esports, and she strives to tell human stories within the broader tech industry. Jessica is also a sci-fi novelist with a completed manuscript floating through the mysterious ether of potential publishers.
Yamahaʼs Sonogenic keytar is equal parts instrument and party trick
Amazonʼs all-female NFL commentary team will return next season
Andrea Kremer and Hannah Storm will again call ‘Thursday Night Football’ games.
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After well over 50 years, this Japanese experiment has produced some magnificent man-made crop circles.
After well over 50 years, this Japanese experiment has produced some magnificent man-made crop circles.