Monthly Archives: November 2014

Apple’s $100 Billion Waste: Tim Cook’s Single Biggest Mistake As CEO


I am a big fan of both Apple and Tim Cook. I have been for a while. I said Cook would do a great job as CEO 6 months before Steve Jobs died and defended his record 2 years ago when people were saying he wasn’t “innovative” enough.

However, I do have a big problem with one choice Cook has made over his tenure as CEO of Apple. It’s not the lack of a bigger screen iPhone sooner or his original choice of head of Apple Retail before Angela Ahrendts. It’s his decision to spend $100 billion and counting of Apple cash on a capital return program.

The program was announced in April 2012. It was the first time since 1995 (before Jobs returned to the company) that Apple had paid a dividend. To date, it’s been estimated that Apple has used more than $100 billion of its cash on dividends and stock buybacks. To me, that’s madness.

Prior to Cook’s decision to start spending cash on dividends and buybacks, Apple was content to let it accumulate on its balance sheet. The company had gone through a near death experience in 1997 and obviously wanted to ensure it had a sufficient cash cushion to continue to fund its operations in case the markets ever turned against it.

By 2012, lots of Wall Street analysts had begun complaining that Apple simply had too much cash sitting idle on its balance sheet and it should either invest it through R&D or M&A or return it to shareholders.
There are generally 3 points of view regarding Cook’s decision to start this capital return program:

(1) Carl Icahn and most other observers affiliated with Wall Street think it was smart and, if anything, hasn’t gone far enough. more…


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Justifying Homicide: Why Darren Wilson was never going to be indicted for killing Michael Brown. 

An opinion By

Demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown in August with the two main slogans “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Justice for Michael Brown.”

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The first Ferguson protests had two slogans: “Hands up, don’t shoot”—referring to Michael Brown’s final actions before he was killed—and “Justice for Michael Brown.” And when you asked protesters what they meant by “justice,” they replied with a plea for accountability. In their minds, justice could only come with an indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him. No, he probaby wouldn’t go to prison. But if nothing else, an indictment would show that Brown’s life mattered. That the lives of people like Brown matter. And that their communities deserve answers and explanations for police violence.

On Monday night, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCullough told Ferguson that after three months of deliberation, the 12 members of the grand jury had its decision: Darren Wilson would not be indicted. In his statement announcing the decision, McCullough explained that the grand jury considered five separate charges—ranging from manslaughter to first-degree murder—and that the jury was convinced by the available evidence that Wilson had reasonable grounds for shooting Brown, and wasn’t liable for a crime.

None of this was a surprise. It’s extremely rare for a police officer to face an indictment for a shooting, much less criminal punishment. “The FBI reported 410 justifiable homicides by law enforcement in 2012,” noted Talking Points Memo in an August story following the events in Ferguson, “The number of indictments appear to be minimal after a TPM review of available press reports.” And it’s not just shootings; earlier this year, Georgia police mistakenly raided a home and seriously injured a young child. Prosecutors convened a grand jury, and the grand jury voted against an indictment. “The drug investigation that led to these events was hurried, sloppy, and unfortunately not in accordance with the best practices and procedures,” wrote the grand jury in its decision. Still, no one from the police force was held accountable.

The truth is that the law gives wide berth to the police’s use of deadly force. Just two months before Brown was killed, the Supreme Court gave its ruling in Plumhoff v. Rickard, where the plaintiffs were suing after police officers ended a high speed chase by shooting 15 rounds into the car, killing the driver and a passenger. The court held that this wasn’t “excessive force” in violation of the Constitution, affirming years of deference to police departments. “It stands to reason,” wrote the justices in a 9–0 opinion, “that if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”

Beyond this, there are the general standards for use of deadly force by police, which give wide latitude to officers who use their weapons. The Supreme Court allows police to use their weapons in two circumstances: To defend their lives and to stop an escaped felon. If Wilson believed that Brown was a felon—or committed a felonious offense—then he was justified under existing law. And if Wilson believed he was in danger of losing his life—a belief that only has to be “objectively reasonable,” not likely or even possible—then, again, he was justified under existing law.

When you add this climate of legal deference to the particular circumstances of the grand jury trial—including McCullough’s reputation for supporting police officers, and his decision to avoid a recommendation for charges—the non-indictment was almost inevitable. Barring something extraordinary, Wilson was going to walk free. The judicial system as we’ve constructed it just isn’t equipped—or even willing—to hold officers accountable for shootings and other offenses. Or put differently, the simple fact is that the police can kill for almost any reason with little fear of criminal charges.

Which is to say this: It would have been powerful to see charges filed against Darren Wilson. At the same time, actual justice for Michael Brown—a world in which young men like Michael Brown can’t be gunned down without consequences—won’t come from the criminal justice system. Our courts and juries aren’t impartial arbiters—they exist inside society, not outside of it—and they can only provide as much justice as society is willing to give.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that gives dignity and respect to people like Michael Brown and John Crawford and Rekia Boyd. Instead, we’ve organized our country to deny it wherever possible, through negative stereotypes of criminality, through segregation and neglect, and through the spectacle we see in Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area, where police are empowered to terrorize without consequence, and residents are condemned and attacked when they try to resist.


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Stray Dog Follows Adventure Race Team for 430 Miles


In a heartwarming story tailor-made for the start of the holiday season, a stray dog followed a team of athletes throughout its grueling 430-mile adventure competition in the Amazon rainforest.

The dog, later named Arthur, came upon Team Peak Performance, a Swedish team competing in the Adventure Racing World Championship, while the athletes were sharing a meal in advance of a 20-mile race stage through rough terrain in Ecuador.

One of the athletes, Mikael Lindnord, took pity on the scraggly pup hovering near their table and fed the dog a meatball.

And that meatball made them friends for life, as far as Arthur was concerned.

VIDEO: Dogs Have Feelings, Too

The extreme sport of adventure racing blends biking, hiking, and kayaking in a grueling athletic stew that challenges even the fittest of humans. Imagine being a scruffy stray dog trying to keep up. But keep up, Arthur did. The dog followed the athletes as they got up to leave that first meal, and he never stopped following them — swimming alongside the boat when the team kayaked, and taking on muddy slopes when the athletes hiked.

Arthur stayed alongside the team for the rest of the competition, but not without cost to his well-being. Though the team helped Arthur as best as it could during the event, after the six-day race was finished the dog required veterinary attention.

Arthur’s hard work and heart-tugging loyalty paid off, though: Lindnord decided to adopt the dog and bring him back to Sweden.

For a series of amazing photos documenting Arthur’s journey, check out the Daily Mail’s complete story.


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Americans love the Thanksgiving myth. But food folklore masks a painful reality

Family Saying Grace at Thanksgiving Dinner
by Michael W Twitty –
None of our culinary traditions were really just shared or contributed – and they certainly were not ‘gifted to us’

Americans love our origin myths – like the comforting one that, before the conflicts, wars and slavery started, there was an idyllic moment in which the “Pilgrims” and their indigenous welcoming committee sat down in a peaceful potluck of multicultural exchange, each contributing something old to the new.

But Thanksgiving is hardly the only celebration of the idea of culinary “contribution” – there’s a similar narrative about the plantation South, where African foods appear in the culinary narrative, as though they were proffered to white Americans through an altruistic cultural exchange program.

The superstar Southern chef, Sean Brock, even recently described the presence of the West African rice in lowcountry Carolina foods as “gifted to us”, without ever asking who “us” is.

And beyond the United States, many nations explain their cuisines by saying that certain groups “contributed” or “brought” certain ingredients, foods or recipes and deposited them, as it were, into some mythical bank of gastronomic knowledge as part of a bizarre barter in the social contract.

But let’s be clear: none of our culinary traditions were ever really just shared or contributed – and they certainly weren’t “gifted”. That latter term is especially galling, since my ancestors in the Carolina lowcountry were coerced through forced labor and with the threat of physical punishment to provide every iota of value from their expertise in rice culture and cuisine to their white owners; it was hardly a gift.

At a time when we are culturally bound to reflect on gratitude, awareness, goodwill and peace, we would do well to get real about how specific ethnic food traditions actually do become part of a larger whole. The stories and fakelore used to paint over realities of history mask painful truths.

With Thanksgiving, for example, we celebrate and think of it in elementary school terms because it has always been a holiday of socialization. It brought the nation back together after the Civil War; and, as part of American“civil religion”, it served to incorporate immigrants at the dawn of the 20th century – European ones, anyway – into a national culinary narrative, complete with a prescribed meal and myth of contribution, sharing and, yes, gifting. The Thanksgiving with which many of us grew up was an exercise in sculpting a myth almost as comforting and sleep-inducing as the food.


The truth is rather different.

The Pilgrims didn’t encounter a group of Native Americans blissfully unaware of white people. On the contrary, Tisquantum (whom we know as “Squanto”) had been captured, brought to Europe, enslaved and found his way back to his home – but not his people, who died en masse of smallpox during his forced absence – by the time the Pilgrims landed on this continent, and he was already familiar with English, Christianity and how Europeans operate when it comes to politics and money. The Native Americans of the first Thanksgiving were not “noble savages” in feather bonnets sitting down to a stone-age-meets-Renaissance potluck: it was, instead, another moment in the rapid-fire creation of Atlantic cultures and cuisines.

We have always created new selves – new societies – through food. People have been captured and enslaved and, by and by, their food shortcuts or bittersweet delicacies become hits among their oppressors or their fellow oppressed. Poor or underclass people of multiple groups operated (and still operate) in informal spaces of exchange where cultures mix-up – not in some grand peaceable kingdom, but rather in an unsanctioned, unauthorized chaos. People who deemed themselves conquerors found themselves conquered by the sheer mass of the oppressed, and met it with social resistance and rejection; while devouring their culinary identity.

Because of these cultural slights of hand we forget what an incredible debt the Thanksgiving Table owes to First Nations peoples – from sweet potatoes and potatoes to cranberries, turkey and corn. By the same token deep fried turkeys, cornbread stuffing, candied “yams” and other “Southern” foods are thought of as uniquely “American” when they are really more food-prints of the African and African-American culinary legacy. To the extent that Thanksgiving leaves room for more inclusion of international comfort food, this holiday has become a repository of where we’ve been and what we ate there.

With all the attempts to destroy cultural and culinary amalgamation through assimilation, we are lucky to be able to enjoy the boundless multicultural feast we take for granted every time we sit down to eat. Our culinary bounty was not born in a rare moment of quiet before the storm of history caught up; it emerged from small moments fraught with emotion and complexity in which disparate food traditions merged and became, in time, codified. It was an Irish woman with a Jewish friend next door in New York’s tenements; a black girl living on a Scots-Irish farm in Tennessee; a Native American elder cooking for a white family in what’s now Massachusetts; and generations of school children swapping lunches that made all this possible. The generosity, the attempt at humanity, the moments of discovery and wonder despite perceived boundaries – those are what we should all truly be thankful for.


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Top 10 Stores For Best Black Friday Deals (Surprise: Not Walmart!)


With one week to go until the biggest shopping day of the year, you’re probably being deluged with Black Friday ads, promotions and coupons in your email inbox and mailbox. It can be tough to figure out how best to apportion your holiday gift budget to secure the best deals.

WalletHub is here to help. The personal finance site surveyed 5,525 Black Friday ad scans from 22 of the country’s biggest U.S. retailers, including the world’s largest store chain, Walmart, and competitors Kmart, Sears and more.

WalletHub’s data gurus calculated the average discount offered by each of these retailers on Black Friday, weighted based on the pre-discounted price of each sale item in order to give more credit to stores discounting higher-ticket products like electronics or jewelry.

Their results show mall stalwarts JC Penney JCP +0.55% and Macy’s M +0.76% offering the most impressive savings, with an average discount of 65.44% and 53.52% respectively. Pharmacy chain Rite Aid RAD +0.54% comes in third, with grocery store Meijer ranked fourth and Sears fifth. Here are the top 10:

JCPenney: 65.44%

Macy’s: 53.52%

Rite Aid: 53.34%

Meijer: 50.85%

Sears: 50.19%
Walgreens: 46.74%

Office Depot ODP NaN% and OfficeMax: 43.89%

Ace Hardware: 41.01%

Kohl’s: 39.89%

Staples: 38.56%

Missing from this list: Walmart, which came 18th on WalletHub’s list, offering an average savings of 32.16%, below the 39% average of these large retailers surveyed. Costco’s Black Friday discounts also proved disappointing per this study, with an average markdown of 21.14%.

Bargain hunters might be wondering where online giant figures among these brick and mortar competitors.

“Amazon did not provide all the requested info for all their Black Friday deals. As a result some deals could not be included in the calculations,” writes WalletHub’s Richie Bernardo. Other retailers who wouldn’t play ball: Apple, Home Depot, IKEA and Lowe’s.

Check out WalletHub’s detailed findings, including more of this year’s laggards, here.


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How Climate Change Will End Wine As We Know It

Hotter and less predictable temperatures mean that much of the world’s premium wine regions are now under threat and new ones are emerging. How the wine industry is — and isn’t — reacting says a lot about the future of agriculture.posted on Nov. 20, 2014, at 6:29 p.m.

How Climate Change Will End Wine As We Know It


“All the grapes were ripening at once,” Wendy Cameron recalls of the harvest that was the wake-up call.

Cameron is head winemaker at Brown Brothers, one of Australia’s largest and oldest wine producers. In her 16 years there, Cameron had seen changes — hotter summers, harvest dates inching earlier. While heat waves aren’t unheard of in Australia, the one they had during the late summer of 2008 was unlike anything she’d ever seen: It was over 105 degrees for 10 days straight.

You can’t just leave ripe grapes on the vine — their sugars will get too high, yielding wines that are too alcoholic. Too much sun exposure can also affect flavor, and eventually grapes will begin to raisin. Everything had to be harvested at once, Cameron knew, but they only had so many employees. The winery was designed to handle a limited amount of production at a time. They didn’t have enough refrigerators. They didn’t have enough water. (Water prices hadtripled over the past year.) Those were taxing, frightening days, and Cameron says they got through it pretty well, all things considered. But it made her wonder about the future of Australian wine and whether the vineyards would remain cool enough to survive.

Two years later, in 2010, Brown Brothers’ chief executive Ross Brown announced the purchase of a large vineyard in Tasmania, an island 150 miles off the southern coast of Australia. Long thought to be too cold to make quality wine, that too had been changing in recent years. “’We want to position ourselves to combat global warming,” Brown said at the time of the sale, a statement that garnered headlines — and upset many.

“I know Ross got some calls that were utterly scathing,” Cameron says. Others, especially others in the wine business who’d likewise seen the writing on the wall, praised his candor, albeit quietly. “People said, ‘Wow. I can’t believe you’ve done that, it’s so progressive and forward and good on you.’”

“Climate change isn’t a straight line,” Cameron says. “It goes up and down. There were a couple of years there where, certainly as an industry, we had a bit of a taste of what it might be like. The Brown Brothers have just celebrated their 125-year anniversary. My job is to give them the right information so we can be viable in another 125 years.”

The question is how difficult a task that will be, not only in Australia and other hotter wine-producing regions, like southern Italy, Spain, and California’s Central Valley, but throughout the wine world. A splashy, controversial study published last year by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that in major wine-producing regions, the area suitable for viticulture — wine-grape growing — is threatened. By 2050, such terrain will decrease by between 19% and 62%, under a business-as-usual carbon emissions scenario, and between 25% and 73% if carbon emissions increase, which some argue is more likely. The U.S. government’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, which lays out in spectacular detail and no uncertain terms what our country should anticipate in terms of climate change, summarizes American wine’s situation thusly: “The area capable of consistently producing grapes required for the highest quality wines is projected to decline by more than 50% by late this century.”

The story of how wine will react to climate change is one small but telling piece of the larger one of how agriculture as a whole will endure. But researchers are looking at wine specifically because for this slow-moving, climate-sensitive industry, anticipating how to properly adapt will be a particular challenge.

You can’t just move Napa or Bordeaux a few hundred miles north. Even a small change in overall temperature, or increased instances of extreme weather, will throw wrenches into the hard-won understanding producers have of their grapes, land, and climate — and of how to coax from that combination the best possible beverage. It’s not all bad news: A changing climate means that colder regions like Tasmania — and England, Scandinavia, and British Columbia — now have shots at becoming major wine players like never before. Will these new wine regions actually be able to replace the ones that have been cultivated for decades and in some cases centuries? Or will fine wine be something we lose to climate change?

Innes Lake Vineyards in Australia. Flickr: minerva95aus/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) / Via Flickr: 9822025@N04

“We chose wine because it’s a canary in the coal mine,” says Rebecca Shaw, who co-authored the PNAS paper. Shaw is the associate vice president and senior lead scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. She and her collaborators, most of them academics, sought to understand how agriculture at large will adapt to climate change. We’re chatting in a conference room in the EDF’s downtown San Francisco 28th-floor offices. The Bay Bridge looms in the window behind us, defogging itself over the course of our conversation.

On a map, the world’s wine regions are particular little bands that fall in between the 30th and 50th parallels, the majority in highly biodiverse Mediterranean climates. This is because, as crops go, quality wine grape vines are super finicky. They need a cold — but not too cold — winter. They need a mostly frost-free spring during which their buds can safely emerge. They need a long, sunny growing season and eventual temperatures that are fairly warm — but not so hot that the grapes will sunburn or ripen too quickly. They need a fluctuation between daytime and nighttime temperatures, which enable the development of compounds that eventually become the complex flavors in a fine wine. Wine grapes are prima donnas; you don’t give them exactly what they demand, they don’t perform. Complicating things further, there are many different kinds of wine grapes, called varietals, like chardonnay, merlot, or riesling, which are even more particular about where and under which conditions they’ll best grow. Go over a certain threshold of temperature? You can’t grow pinot noir. Go under? You can’t ripen cabernet sauvignon.

This fussiness also makes wine grapes especially useful for gathering data about weather: Each vine is like a remote sensor out in a field, and the behavior of wines across a region can paint a picture as to a given season’s weather. European vintners have been keeping records for about a thousand years, which is one way climatologists have learned about Europe’s historical climate, including the Little Ice Age that struck the continent between 200 and 700 years ago.

Figuring out which grapes perform best where is painstakingly slow: It takes five to seven years for a newly planted vineyard to begin producing grapes suitable for winemaking. It takes years more still before vines produce good or, with luck, great — or, with further luck, excellent — fruit. The best fine wine, and certainly the world’s most expensive wines, come from regions or even individual rows of vines that have been cultivated for so long, whose behaviors are so well understood, that extremely high-quality grapes — and therefore extremely high-quality wines — are more or less guaranteed. (Certain European wine regions are steeped in so much tradition they’re recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.) In Europe, the identity of a wine is so tied to a fixed place that the wines themselves are named after where they’re made: Chianti is from Chianti, Champagne from Champagne. (If Americans played by the same rules, we’d call Napa Valley wines Napas.)

Worldwide, winemakers aspire to create wines that best express the personality of a given area’s climate and weather, a concept called terroir, or the taste of the place. A given wine is thought of as an expression of a given geography’s climate; much the way that you can’t make New York bagels in Iowa, the idea is you can’t make a Burgundy anywhere but.

How Climate Change Will End Wine As We Know It

Shaw says that’s the other reason they chose to focus on wine — people care about where their wines originate. “No one cares about where their corn comes from, nobody cares about where their wheat comes from,” she says. Wine consumers — especially in America, where wine is often believed to be snobby, unapproachable, or expensive — tend to be conservative in their selections and have internalized the idea that some wines from some places are better bets than others. Chances are, even if you prefer boxed wine over bottled, you might scoff at a wine from New Jersey.

In their study, Shaw explains, they wanted to look at the extent to which the wine industry would have to move poleward — further south in the Southern Hemisphere, further north in the Northern Hemisphere — as a result of the changing climate, and then what the impact would be upon that movement on existent ecosystems. What is the potential conservation impact of vineyards being planted in Tasmania, or British Columbia, or England? Their paper specifically mentioned the potential effects upon a giant panda habitat in China and in the Yukon-Yellowstone corridor. “Bid adieu to Bordeaux, but also, quite possibly, a hello to Chateau Yellowstone,” the The Guardian quipped in response.

Shaw expresses frustration that many in the press were distracted by the detail in their report about the pandas and missed the bigger stakes. “One of the major focuses of our work is to feed the planet without killing it,” she says. “How does agriculture need to change? What are the incentives that need to be put in place that won’t undermine the long-term sustainability and don’t create more environmental harm?”

Wine isn’t actually food, though. Especially if we’re talking about fine wine, it’s a luxury.

“Wine is food to many cultures,” she responds, adding that most crops both deliver sustenance and are meaningful culturally. Corn is meaningful. Rice is meaningful. Humans have been cultivating wine for 8,000 years. “You can get into an argument about what’s food and what’s necessary and what’s not necessary,” she says. “The bottom line is wine is a very, very important part of many, many cultures.”

There’s a touch of emotion in her voice as she says this. We could live in a world without wine, of course, but would we want to?

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

This year has been one of the driest in California’s history, and on the radio, there’s no end to the talk about the low snowpack, the parched reservoirs, the depleted Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. Though it’s late February, the hillsides are tawny, not green. When I drive to Wine Country, many are quick to offer their opinions that the drought isn’t caused by global warming. Strolling through his blocks of chardonnay, one grizzled grower in Sonoma, who declines to be interviewed when he learns my line of questioning, whistles dismissively, “I guess everybody has to do something.”

In Napa, I meet with David Graves, who co-owns a winery called Saintsbury. Graves and his business partner met while graduate students at UC Davis in the late ‘70s — Graves’ background is in biology — and have been making climate-sensitive pinot noir and chardonnay here since 1981. The vineyard is gorgeous in the misty morning; blackbirds alight above the rows.

He is jolly and peppers his speech with quotes and anecdotes and jokes. Steel tanks loom overhead and two dogs pace around a tennis ball by our feet. We’re talking about how grape growers and winemakers have to be risk-averse given that they get only a single shot each year to make do with what that year’s weather produced. “If I were going to culinary school, if my sauce curdles, it doesn’t cost a year’s wages to do it again,” he says.

He recalls once visiting a cousin who’s a brewer. His cousin excused himself for a moment — someone had added too much water to a batch of beer and rather than boil it down, elected to just throw it all out and start again. Graves laughs: “I said, ‘This is a dream!’”

It’s vital, in other words, that Graves understand what’s happening in his vineyard, which he says isn’t warming.

Some researchers, in particular a Southern Oregon University climatologist named Gregory Jones, argue that Napa has been experiencing overall increased temperatures. In the ’80s and early ’90s, long before there was scientific consensus concerning climate change, Jones was looking at the question of how it might affect wine-grape growing. (Jones had done his dissertation in Bordeaux, and his family owns a winery in Oregon.) “I didn’t think we really knew enough about the basics,” he explains over the phone.

To Jones, it wasn’t hard to see that warming had already been affecting wine: “If you go back to Burgundy 10 years ago or Germany 10 years ago, they’d have one good vintage in eight or nine or ten. It was because they were variable and much colder,” he says. “And today they have seven or eight or nine good vintages in 10.” This matches what he’s witnessed in Oregon: “In my region, 50 years ago it was difficult because there was too much frost and a longer growing season. Bingo — we can do it.” Another way to trace climate change’s effect on wine already, Jones argues, is the increased alcohol levels in wines around the world — warmer years mean more sugar in the berries, as they’re sometimes called, which means more alcohol in the wine. (Others would argue that it’s simply become fashionable to make more alcoholic wines.)

David Graves, convinced he hasn’t seen a warming trend, partnered with a climate researcher named Dan Cayan at University of California, San Diego, and a trade group called the Napa Valley Vintners, which represents about 400 of Napa’s wineries. The data they gathered was more localized than Jones’. Their study, which hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that the warming trend in most non-urban parts of Napa Valley over the last 60 to 80 years has been “significantly less” than what Jones had claimed. (I later ask Cayan about the fact that it hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal. “That’s partly my own fault for being a slacker,” he says, adding that there is additional work they are doing, in terms of sourcing and then cleaning up the data they’re gathering.)

Red shows area currently suitable for wine grape growing that will be unsuitable by 2050, according to the PNAS study. Green shows areas that will remain suitable for wine grape growing through 2050. Blue shows areas that will be suitable for wine grape growing by 2050.Conservation International

“I really, really don’t want to give aid and comfort to climate-change denialists,” Graves says. All they wanted to do was shrink the proverbial pixel size: “Let’s get the resolution so we’re not in a grid that’s a hundred kilometers by a hundred kilometers, we’re in a grid that’s five kilometers by five kilometers. And ultimately that really matters because that could be the difference between you growing pinot noir and syrah.”

Graves says, in fact, he’s seen a cooling trend in his vineyard in recent years; whether that’s a short-term thing, he doesn’t know. And it’s true that the world will not warm uniformly. Some areas will encounter colder temperatures, or wetter ones, or extreme weather like heat waves or hail. Ultimately the scariest thing for grape growers and wine makers is uncertainty or large variation year to year. Graves and the polite Napa Valley Vintners representative I sit down with later that day say they don’t plan to use the data they’ve collected to model Napa’s future; climate modeling is expensive.

But it’s also not hard to intuit why producers and the NVV might not want more press about how their $50 billion valley, the crown jewel of American wine, is screwed. What they seem to want is a little impossible: to acknowledge that climate change is real, but that somehow they will be unaffected. (And on some level, isn’t that what we all want?)

Gregory Jones thinks people are simply afraid of speaking publicly, lest they inspire backlash like Ross Brown did after his Tasmanian purchase: “I’ve had conversations with the biggest winemakers in Napa,” he says. “I don’t have conversations with them at their front door, I have conservations at their back door.”

Regardless, there is a generally split opinion between what researchers and what industry professionals are saying (or are willing to say). Many took issue with the PNAS estimate — a potential 25% to 73% loss — when it was a published and covered in the mainstream press. As pre-eminent wine writer Jancis Robinson says over email, “I think those proportions are way too high, but I have certainly witnessed considerable changes.”

Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford professor who studies climate and food security and who has published several papers about climate change’s effects on wine, says there are a few big things we can take away: “I’m confident that we’ll see increasing temperatures in the areas that are currently the high-value, high-quality growing regions.” He goes on, “I’m impressed with human ingenuity and the ability of humans to succeed in a variety of environments.”

Worldwide, grape growers and winemakers are already adapting, as they always have, to a given year or month or day’s varying demands and challenges. There are things they can do in the case of really hot weather. They’re managing canopies to increase air circulation around berries. They’re spraying vines with what’s basically wine-grape sunscreen. They’re in some cases going to turn to technology — remote sensors or drones to help monitor vineyards and use water resources more intelligently, or even cloud seeding to artificially create rain. In some cases, they are starting to replant vineyards to varietals that they anticipate will better handle the increased temperatures to come.

Many of the biggest players in American wine are starting to look into what their options will be as things worsen. One of the largest domestic producers, Constellation, has partnered with a research extension of the University of California system to identify less commonly known varietals that are more suitable to a hotter, drier climate, especially in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where much of our supermarket wine originates. There are rumors of others — the largest producer, Gallo, and another giant, Bronco, which sells two-buck Chuck — experimenting with varietal cultivation and genetic modification to the same end. (Neither company responded to interview requests.) Inexpensive mass-market wines are also going to be less susceptible to climate change because they’re already so loaded up with additives, like powdered tannins, a super-concentrated grape juice called Mega Purple that adds color, and what’s essentially liquified oak chips. (And bottles aren’t labeled with ingredients, meaning consumers are often unaware of whether their wines are natural or full of additives.) These wines are less about terroir and more about drinkability attained as cheaply as possible.

Throughout the world, some big producers are looking into and purchasing sites in cooler areas, as Brown Brothers did in Tasmania. J. Barrie Graham, a banker with experience in financing and advising Northern California wineries, says no one was thinking or talking about global warming seven or eight years ago when making long-term financial decisions. “I would say now it’s a very common discussion.”

For now, David Graves says he’s not doing anything significant to react to potential changes in climate in southern Napa: “In the 25-year time frame, I’m ready to say probably we’re not going to see a radical change.” He adds that there are other potential changes that could threaten Californian wine — first among them the scarcity of water, changing consumer tastes, and changes in immigration that will affect California wine’s primarily Hispanic labor force. He then sighs. “Beyond that, from, say, 2040 on? All bets are off.”

“I’m reminded of two things,” he says. “One is that Harry Truman famously said he wanted a one-armed economist so the economist couldn’t say ‘on the other hand.’” His loud laugh echoes through the high winery roof: “The other thing is what Keynes is reputed to have said: ‘In the long run we’re all dead.’”

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

Nowhere is the story of what is going to happen to viticulture if nothing is done to curb climate change more starkly painted than in Europe. Europe is the world capital of wine, home to France, Italy, and Spain, the world’s first three largest producers, respectively. (The U.S. is fourth.) Most — and some would argue all — of the world’s best wines are produced there. In many European nations, laws govern which varietals can be grown where, at what density vines can be planted, whether irrigation is allowed, whether the addition of sugar is allowed — it goes on and on. Additives? Out of the question. Such laws seek to protect regional products but may end up having the opposite effect.

A much-repeated example is that in Burgundy, France, growers grow pinot noir as their red grape. If pinot noir is no longer optimal in Burgundy, growers won’t be able to switch their vineyards over to different red grapes and sell them as anything but cheap table wines — forgoing the hundreds or thousands of dollars that fine Burgundies can fetch. “As one of my colleagues in Germany likes to say, ‘Europeans are growing grapes and making wine in a cage,’” Gregory Jones says.

Jean-Marc Touzard, economist and research director at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, says they’ve observed the effects of climate change on wine since the 1980s. For example, “The vine matures faster because of higher temperatures. In Languedoc Roussillon, the harvest used to be in September, now it’s at the end of August.” Hotter, more compressed growing seasons have also affected the wines themselves — acidity is lower; sugar and therefore alcohol are higher. Flavor profiles are changing.

That said, Touzard argues that the laws are starting to evolve, offering the example that in some southern growing regions, they now allow irrigation — “under certain date restrictions” — something that before would have been unheard of in French wine. It’s of course debatable whether this change, which to an outsider may sound insignificant, is enough.

Two things are clear: In France and around the world, it’s going to be the small producers, the ones with fewer resources to purchase new vineyard sites, or replant, or survive a few bad years, that are at greatest risk. In Europe especially, these are sometimes single-man operations. They make a handicraft. A wine blogger I speak with, Bertrand Celce, travels to France (and elsewhere) discovering and documenting the efforts of such producers. He says some grape growers he’s encountering certainly are pessimistic. Wet conditions, for example, means an increased instance of disease, something such producers — who don’t use herbicides — have limited means to combat.

“The problem is they have to do more work,” Celse says. “They have smaller surfaces, but they tend to have little employment.” If the case study of American Prohibition serves as an example, the end result of global warming will be a wine scene that is more homogenous in terms of style, and owned by fewer, richer players. Eventually, when the best wines in the world become more scarce, the bottles remaining will become even more valuable, meaning fine wine will be even more of a luxury commodity than it already is.

And yet, in more northern parts of Europe, in countries that have never been viable for commercial viticulture — and perhaps have long envied their neighbors — some see an opportunity.

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

The fall day I visit Denbies Wine Estate, in Surrey, England, is comically beautiful: blue skies punctuated by clouds fluffy as sheep. The parking lot is full. I am made to follow a flock of mostly gray-haired, mostly British couples as they’re led into an octagonal movie theater where a loud video explains the winemaking process, then down a corridor past the winery itself. The guide is chirpy and her rather unnecessary-seeming headset malfunctions. At the end of the tour we are poured three wines and shepherded into a gift shop where the women browse tea towels and Christmas ornaments with furrowed brows and the men stand about with hands in pockets. What’s most remarkable, to me, aren’t the wines but the fact that this is the sort of bustling touristy affair I’d expect to find in Napa or Mendoza.

Victor Maguire is courteous and wry and leads me on a tour of the estate in a sputtering Land Rover. He’s worked at Denbies, which was founded in the late ’80s and is one of the largest vineyards in the country, for nearly a decade. While grapevines have been cultivated in England for a millennium, the practice has always been marginal, a cottage industry. The problem had always been it was a little too cold, a little too wet, for a consistently good crop.

But in the last few decades, England has witnessed something fairly spectacular: the first real emergence of a commercial wine culture. New wine regions often make their name on a particular wine or two, and England’s is sparkling wine. We are geographically not all so far from Champagne, and the soils here are very similar. Climate change means that England will become “increasingly more ideal than Champagne” for sparkling wine, Maguire says.

As numerous people in the English wine industry point out during my visit, sparkling wine was most likely invented here, in 1662. The producers of Champagne then began replicating the process, which they dubbed the méthode champenoise, or Champagne method. There is some perhaps perverse excitement, then, at notion that the French are at risk of losing their viticulture and the English might take up that mantle. (The English have wanted this for some time: When he financed his settlement at Jamestown, King James sent along French vignerons and required each homesteader to carry with him several cuttings of French wine grapes to plant, hoping his new colony would crush the French wine industry. This project failed, and the Virginians soon instead became all about tobacco.)

The day before, I visited a shop in London that sells only English spirits and wine — a whole wall of them. There are 400 vineyards in the country — though many fewer wineries — and perhaps more importantly, English producers are being recognized internationally for their quality: Four won gold medals at the International Wine Challenge this year. And indeed, some of the sparkling wines I tasted were superb.

As Maguire grips the Land Rover’s steering wheel and we wend through the rows, I ask him what he thinks of the possible effects of climate change on French wine. He pauses. “There is a school of thought that Champagne in 50 years will not have the ideal climate,” Maguire says judiciously, with a small smile. He then talks more freely about the hard weather France has seen of late. This year, for the third vintage in a row, for example, Burgundy lost a significant portion of its crop to hail, and the Languedoc was hit by the worst flooding in 60 years.

“It’s happening already, and we know that the continental growing and ripening seasons are becoming more compressed,” he says.

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

Harvest is underway at Denbies. We pass a group of laborers as they relax and lunch in the sunshine. But isn’t it a bad thing, I ask, if we lose French wine?

“I don’t think we’re losing France,” he replies. “I think they’ll have to learn to compensate.” He adds, “I think it’s great that English wine now has a place in the European arena.”

The problem, though, is that England or Tasmania is probably not going to be able to ever reach the level of output as the great traditional wine regions of the world. There’s the additional problem of styles. As wine writer Jancis Robinson points out to me, these newer regions “make completely different sorts of wine. Cool-climate wines are very different in style from those produced in the hot, dry regions under threat.” The latter produce larger-bodied reds. Most importantly, though, whereas the French or the Italians or the Spanish have been perfecting what they do for centuries — and wine is an integral part of each of those cultures — these new wine regions are in their relative infancies. People are still figuring out what works best and where, and that trial and error can take lifetimes.

If all of New York bagels were about to disappear forever, how much of a silver lining would it be if there were new opportunities for bagels in Des Moines? Especially if in this metaphor, there were bagel shops that had been perfecting their crafts for not just decades but in some cases centuries? This is the scariest part of global warming: the fact that we won’t be able to undo the damage done, that we won’t be able to extricate Venice, or New Orleans, from the sea. Their disappearance will be a net loss, regardless of what mountainside civilizations will someday rise.

Maybe we aren’t afraid enough. Or maybe we are too afraid. Maybe it’s just wine.

We turn another corner. Robust rows, their berries full and heavy, surround us. Maguire stomps his foot on the break and we lurch to a halt. His mouth falls open.

“The fruit looks spectacularly good!” he exclaims. “I’ve never seen it look so good!”


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‘Normal Barbie’ is curvy with (optional) acne and cellulite

Normal Barbie

The Washington Post asked for children’s reactions to “Normal Barbie,” created by Nickolay Lammily with the proportions of an average 19-year-old.

Graphic designer Nickolay Lamm has proven, once again, that the anti-Barbie makes for good business.

After his crowdfunding campaign in March raised more than $500,000 from nearly 14,000 backers, Lamm built a Barbie based on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s data measurements of an average 19-year-old woman.

The result: a 5-foot-4 brunette with a 33-inch waist and articulated wrists, knees, elbows and feet, to help her do, you know, what people do: walk.

With the tagline “Average is beautiful,” the Lammily dolls went on sale to the public on Thursday. They cost $25 each, and additional sets of clothes and accessories run from $17 to $27. And then there are the “Lammily Marks,” a $6 set of 38 reusable stickers offering another dose of reality: cellulite, stretch marks, acne and “booboos,” such as stitches post-appendectomy. (There also are a few less jarring stickers, such as glasses and freckles and blushing.)

Lamm told Salon that he got the idea for the stickers from a tweet by Demi Lovato suggesting that some Barbie dolls be made with cellulite. And he wants parents to see them for their symbolism: “That reality is beautiful.”

The buzz around the Lammily dolls is yet another hit to the Barbie empire, which many believe has struggled to adapt to the new realities of 21st-century young girls — and their mothers, who now have other options. Consider the rise of GoldieBlox, a toy company designed to get young girls interested in engineering, which even picked a fight with Barbie in a recent advertisement for its new action figure.

In October, Mattel reported a 21 percent drop in third-quarter profits, compared to the same quarter last year.

And even Mattel’s most recent attempt at inserting Barbie in the national conversation around women and tech has been the subject of scrutiny.

The newly released book, titled “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer,” shows Barbie learning to program. The central conflict: While learning, the buxom blonde accidentally installs a virus on a computer and has to tap her two male friends to help her out. Barbie says she was only creating designs and that she needs “Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.”

“Barbie’s combination of ineptitude and manipulation underscores dangerous stereotypes, whereby our value and power lies in our charms vs. our intellect,” city of Seattle startup liaison Rebecca Lovell, an advocate for kids’ coding education, told Bizwomen sister publication the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Want to see how a group of second graders actually reacts to “Normal Barbie”?Click here to see a Washington Post video.

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Stop Trying to Save the World: Big ideas are destroying international development

By  –

It seemed like such a good idea at the time: A merry-go-round hooked up to a water pump. In rural sub-Saharan Africa, where children are plentiful but clean water is scarce, the PlayPump harnessed one to provide the other. Every time the kids spun around on the big colorful wheel, water filled an elevated tank a few yards away, providing fresh, clean water anyone in the village could use all day.

PlayPump International, the NGO that came up with the idea and developed the technology, seemed to have thought of everything. To pay for maintenance, the elevated water tanks sold advertising, becoming billboards for companies seeking access to rural markets. If the ads didn’t sell, they would feature HIV/AIDS-prevention campaigns. The whole package cost just $7,000 to install in each village and could provide water for up to 2,500 people.

The donations gushed in. In 2006, the U.S. government and two major foundations pledged $16.4 million in a public ceremony emceed by Bill Clinton and Laura Bush. The technology was touted by the World Bank and made a cameo in America’s 2007 Water for the Poor Act. Jay-Z personally pledged $400,000. PlayPump set the goal of installing 4,000 pumps in Africa by 2010. “That would mean clean drinking water for some ten million people,” a “Frontline” reporter announced.

By 2007, less than two years after the grants came in, it was already clear these aspirations weren’t going to be met. A UNICEF report found pumps abandoned, broken, unmaintained. Of the more than 1,500 pumps that had been installed with the initial burst of grant money in Zambia, one-quarter already needed repair. The Guardian said the pumps were “reliant on child labour.”

Gideon Mendel/Corbis
PlayPumps were going to harness the energy of children to provide fresh water to sub-Saharan African villages. They didn’t.

In 2010, “Frontline” returned to the schools where they had filmed children laughing on the merry-go-rounds, splashing each other with water. They discovered pumps rusting, billboards unsold, women stooping to turn the wheel in pairs. Many of the villages hadn’t even been asked if they wanted a PlayPump, they just got one, sometimes replacing the handpumps they already had. In one community, adults were paying children to operate the pump.

Let’s not pretend to be surprised by any of this. The PlayPump story is a sort of Mad Libs version of a narrative we’re all familiar with by now: Exciting new development idea, huge impact in one location, influx of donor dollars, quick expansion, failure.

I came across the PlayPump story in Ken Stern’s With Charity For All, but I could have plucked one from any of the dozen or so “development doesn’t work” best-sellers to come out in the last ten years. In The Idealista kind of “where are they now?” for the ideas laid out in Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of PovertyNina Munk discovers African villages made squalid by the hopes and checkbooks of Western do-gooders. Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’sPoor Economics finds dozens of “common sense” development projectsfood aid, crop insurance, microfinanceeither don’t help poor people or may even make them poorer.

International development is getting it from all sides. Governments and rich people (“major donors” in NGO-ese) are embracing terms like “philanthrocapitalism,” “social entrepreneurship,” and “impact bonds,” arguing that donations are investments, not gifts. Australia and Canada have done away with their international development agencies altogether, absorbing them into mega-ministries covering foreign affairs and trade.

I am conflicted about this moment. I have worked at international development NGOs almost my entire career (primarily at two mid-sized human rights organizationsone you’ve probably heard of and one you probably haven’t). I’ve been frustrated by the same inefficiencies and assumptions of my sector that are now getting picked apart in public. Like the authors, donors, and governments attacking international development, I’m sometimes disillusioned with what my job requires me to do, what it requires that I demand of others.

Over the last year, I read every book, essay, and roman à clef about my field I could find. I came out convinced that the problems with international development are real, they are fundamental, and I might, in fact, be one of them. But I also found that it’s too easy to blame the PlayPumps of the world. Donors, governments, the public, the media, aid recipients themselvesthey all contribute to the dysfunction. Maybe the problem isn’t that international development doesn’t work. It’s that it can’t.

In the late ’90s, Michael Kremer, then an economics professor at MIT, was in Kenya working on an NGO project that distributed textbooks to schools in poor rural districts. Around that time, the ratio of children to textbooks in Kenya was 17 to 1. The intervention seemed obvious: Poor villages need textbooks, rich donors have the money to buy them. All we have to do is link them up.

But in the early stages of the project, Kremer convinced the researchers to do it differently. He wanted to know whether giving kids textbooks actually made them better students. So instead of handing out books and making a simple before-and-after comparison, he designed the project like a pharmaceutical trial. He split the schools into groups, gave some of them the “treatment” (i.e., textbooks) and the others nothing. Then he tested everyone, not just the kids who got the books but also the kids who didn’t, to see if his intervention had any effect.

It didn’t. The trial took four years, but it was conclusive: Some of the kids improved academically over that time and some got worse, but the treatment group wasn’t any better off than the control.

Then Kremer tried something else. Maybe the kids weren’t struggling in school because of what was going on in the classroom, but because of what was going on outside of it. So again, Kremer split the schools into groups and spent three years testing and measuring them. This time, the treatment was an actual treatmentmedication to eradicate stomach worms. Worm infections affect up to 600 million children around the world, sapping their nutrition and causing, among other things, anemia, stomachaches, and stunting.

Once more, the results were conclusive: The deworming pills made the kids noticeably better off. Absence rates fell by 25 percent, the kids got taller, even their friends and families got healthier. By interrupting the chain of infection, the treatments had reduced worm infections in entire villages. Even more striking, when they tested the same kids nearly a decade later, they had more education and earned higher salaries. The female participants were less likely to be employed in domestic services.

And compared with Kremer’s first trial, deworming was a bargain. Textbooks cost $2 to $3 each. Deworming pills were as little as 49 cents. When Kremer calculated the kids’ bump in lifetime wages compared with the cost of treatment, it was a 60-to-1 ratio.

This is perfect TED Talk stuff: Conventional wisdom called into question, rigorous science triumphing over dogma. As word of Kremer’s study spread, he became part of a growing movement within international development to subject its assumptions to randomized controlled trials.

Dozens of books and articles (and yes, TED Talks) have tracked the rise of the randomistas, as they’ve come to be called. The most prominent of these, and the most fun to read, is Poor Economics, sort of the Principia Mathematica of “obvious” development interventions tested and found wanting.

If someone is chronically malnourished, to pick just one example, you should give them some food, right? Duflo and Banerjee describe dozens of projects finding that, when you subsidize or give away food to poor people, they don’t actually eat more. Instead, they just replace boring foods with more interesting ones and remain, in the statistics at least, “malnourished.”

In Udaipur, India, a survey found that poor people had enough money to increase their food spending by as much as 30 percent, but they chose to spend it on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals instead. Duflo and Banerjee interviewed an out-of-work Indonesian agricultural worker who had been under the food-poverty line for years, but had a TV in his house.

You don’t need a Ph.D. to understand the underlying dynamic here: Cheap food is boring. In many developing countries, Duflo and Banerjee found that even the poorest people could afford more than 2,000 calories of staple foods every day. But given the choice between the fourth bowl of rice in one day and the first cigarette, many people opt for the latter.

Even in countries where development projects worked, where poor people went from hungry to nourished, they weren’t more likely to get a job or make significantly more money. All the appealing metaphors of NGO websites and academo-best-sellers“the poverty trap,” “the ladder of development”go limp under the magnifying glass of actually being tested.

EvidenceAction/Stephanie Skinner
Deworming treatment had impressive results on education in Kenyabut programs elsewhere aren’t being as rigorously monitored.

Armed with his rigorously gathered results, Kremer founded an NGO, Deworm the World. He launched it at the 2007 World Economic Forum and committed to deworming ten million children. He was feted by the Clinton Global Initiative; GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson pledged $600 million worth of deworming treatments a year, enough for every infected primary school student in Africa. The World Health Organization issued a statement of support. Kenya asked him to help create a national program to deworm 3.6 million children. Two states in India initiated similar programs, aiming to treat millions more. The organization now claims to have helped 40 million children in 27 countries.

But wait a minute. Just because something works for 30,000 students in Kenya doesn’t mean it will work for millions of them across Africa or India. Deworm the World’s website talks a lot about its “evidence-based” approach. (It has now been folded into an NGO called Evidence Action.) Yet the primary evidence that deworming improves education outcomes is from Kremer’s single Kenya case and a post-hoc analysis of deworming initiatives in the American South in 1910. In 2012, the organization said that it had treated 17 million children in India, but didn’t report whether their attendance, school performance, or graduation rates improved.

I keep thinking I’m missing something really obvious, that I’m looking at the wrong part of their website. So I call up Evidence Action and ask: Are you guys really not testing how deworming affects education anymore?

“We don’t measure the effects on school attendance and school performance,” says Alix Zwane, Evidence Action’s executive director. At the scale they’re going for in India, entire states at a time, splitting into control and treatment groups simply wouldn’t be feasible.

Kremer tells me that enough trials have been done to warrant the upscaling. “There’s more evidence for this than the vast majority of things that governments spend money on.” Every time you want to build a new road, you can’t stop to ask, Will this one really help people get from place to place?

“Meanwhile,” he says, “there’s a cohort of children that, if you don’t implement the policy now, will go through years of schooling without treatment.”

It’s an interesting questionwhen do you have enough evidence to stop testing each new application of a development idea?and I get that you can’t run a four-year trial every time you roll out, say, the measles vaccine to a new country. But like many other aid projects under pressure to scale up too fast and too far, deworming kids to improve their education outcomes isn’t the slam-dunk its supporters make it out to be.

In 2000, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a literature review of 30 randomized control trials of deworming projects in 17 countries. While some of them showed modest gains in weight and height, none of them showed any effect on school attendance or cognitive performance. After criticism of the review by the World Bank and others, the BMJ ran it again in 2009 with stricter inclusion criteria. But the results didn’t change. Another review, in 2012, found the same thing: “We do not know if these programmes have an effect on weight, height, school attendance, or school performance.”

Kremer and Evidence Action dispute the way these reviews were carried out, and sent me an upcoming study from Uganda that found links between deworming and improved test scores. But the evidence they cite on their own website undermines this data. Kremer’s 2004 study reporting the results of the original deworming trial notesin the abstract!that “we do not find evidence that deworming improves academic test scores,” only attendance. Another literature review cited on Deworm the World’s website says, “When infected children are given deworming treatment, immediate educational and cognitive benefits are not always apparent.”

Then there’s the comparison to textbooks. Kenya, it turns out, is a uniquely terrible place to hand out textbooks to kids and expect better academic performance. When Kremer reported that textbooks had no overall effect, he also noted that they did actually improve test scores for the kids who were already at the top of the class. The main problem, it seems, was that the textbooks were in English, the second or third language for most of the kids. Of the third-graders given textbooks, only 15 percent could even read them.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, a series of meta-analyses found that textbooks were actually effective at improving school performance in places where the language issues weren’t as complex. In his own paper reporting the Kenya results, Kremer noted that, in Nicaragua and the Philippines, giving kids textbooks did improve their test scores.

But the point of all this is not to talk shit on Kremerwho has bettered the world more with his career than I ever have with mineor to dismantle his deworming charity, or to advocate that we should all go back to giving out free textbooks. What I want to talk shit on is the paradigm of the Big Ideathat once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket.

EvidenceAction/Stephanie Skinner

There are villages where deworming will be the most meaningful education project possible. There are others where free textbooks will. In other places, it will be new school buildings, more teachers, lower fees, better transport, tutors, uniforms. There’s probably a village out there where a PlayPump would beat all these approaches combined. The point is, we don’t know what works, where, or why. The only way to find out is to test these modelsnot just before their initial success but afterward, and constantly.

I can see why it’s appealing to think that, once you find a successful formula for development, you can just scale it up like a Model T. Host governments want programs that get more effective as they get bigger. Individual donors, you and me, we want to feel like we’re backing a plucky little start-up that is going to save the world. No international institution wants to say in their annual report: “There’s this great NGO that increased attendance in a Kenyan school district. We’re giving them a modest sum to do the same thing in one other district in one other country.”

The repeated “success, scale, fail” experience of the last 20 years of development practice suggests something super boring: Development projects thrive or tank according to the specific dynamics of the place in which they’re applied. It’s not that you test something in one place, then scale it up to 50. It’s that you test it in one place, then test it in another, then another. No one will ever be invited to explain that in a TED talk.

The last NGO I worked for had 150 employees and a budget of more than $25 million. Employees were divided into “program staff” (the people researching, coordinating, and implementing our mission) and “overhead staff” (the fund-raising, human resources, and accounting departments helping them do it). Like most NGOs, we bragged to our donors that we had low overhead, that their dollars and euros and kroner and francs went to “the cause” and not to our rent or our heating bills. And this was, at least on the Excel sheets, true. Most of our money went to researcher and project manager salaries. The fund-raising, H.R., and accounting departments could have each fit comfortably in a minivan.

The problem is, those overhead tasks don’t disappear just because you don’t spend money on them. Someone has to monitor the accounts, find new donors, calculate taxes, organize the holiday party. Centralizing these tasks in dedicated departments, hiring specialists, getting good at them, that would have looked like bureaucracy. So instead, we spun them out to the entire staff: We assigned researchers and project managersanthropology majors mostly, some law school dropoutsto do our H.R., accounting, fund-raising, and project evaluations.

The outcome was as chaotic as it sounds. Want to hire someone? You’ll need to write your own job ad, find job boards to post it to, and, in some cases, update the standard employment contract yourself. Want to issue a press release about the results of the study you just performed? Write it yourself and start sending it to journalists. Hopefully you know a few.

The downsides of this approach were most obvious in fund-raising. If there’s one thing donors hate, it’s paying us to find more donors. So every program staffer was responsible for raising (and accounting, and monitoring, and reporting) funds for their own projects. Staff members spent days doing the same donor research (“which foundations fund work on water scarcity?”) that a colleague across the hall did last week. Without a centralized staff to coordinate pitches, we contacted the same donors dozens of times with small-fry requests rather than combining them into one coherent “ask.” (One employee, legend had it, asked Google if they could Google Translate our website as an in-kind donation.)

No one had any expertise in writing grant proposals, conducting impact assessments, or managing high-maintenance funders like the European Commissiontraining courses would have counted as overhead spending. We missed opportunities for new funding, we bungled contracts we already had, and we turned donors against us. Every staff meeting, one or two people announced they were leaving. “I wasn’t hired to spend my day fund-raising” were the most common eight words at farewell parties.

My experience wasn’t unique. Stern cites the example of the American Red Cross, which sent confused volunteers, clueless employees, and, bafflingly, perishable Danish pastries to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina because it hadn’t invested in training its U.S. staff in actual crisis response. A buddy of mine works at an NGO with 150 staff where the H.R. department is exactly one person, and she’s also the receptionist.

It’s understandable that donors are paranoid about overhead. The last few years have seen charity after charity busted for blowing donations on corporate junkets, billboard advertising, and outright fraud. Some breast cancer charities pay telemarketing companies 90 cents of each dollar they raise just to raise it. Greg Mortenson, he of the Three Cups of Tea school-building empire, had to pay $1 million back to his own charity when a Jon Krakauer exposé revealed that he was spending donations on a never-ending book tour and pocketing the proceeds.

Dan Pallotta, who spent the ’90s and 2000s running a $300 million breast cancer and AIDS charity, has produced two books arguing that this obsession with overhead keeps charities from reaching the scale required to take on large problems. Pallotta uses the example of two soup kitchens: One spends 60 cents of every donation dollar on “programs” (i.e., soup), while the other spends 90 cents.

According to the conventional wisdom of donors and charity rating agencies, your donation is better spent on the organization where only 10 percent of spending goes to overhead. But using this one number ignores much more important indicators of the charity’s impact. Is the soup nutritious and warm? Is it getting to the right people? Does the kitchen open on time every day and have kind, professional staff? And, hang on, do free warm meals even help people escape poverty? Providing decent service, targeting handouts, testing these assumptionsthese things cost money, whether donors like it or not.

Paul Hackett/Corbis

So charities hide overhead, like we did, in overburdened program staff, untrained volunteers, and external consultants. Just as deworming millions of children is different in kind, not degree, from deworming a village of them, running a large, professional charity is completely different from running a new, start-uppy one. Small-scale projects (installing one PlayPump, say) can keep their overhead low through charismatic leaders, passionate staff, and long-standing relationships with the communities they’re seeking to assist. Large-scale projects require stuff like budget managers, reporting frameworks, light bulbs, and, yes, a goddamn holiday party.

Pallotta’s Uncharitable has a nice example of what this looks like. His first cross-country AIDS ride had 39 cyclists and almost zero overhead. The group was small enough to sleep in gymnasiums, to rely on churches and good samaritans to provide food and hot showers. If supplies fell short, they could knock on doors asking for help or, in a pinch, put up their tents in backyards. He raised $80,000.

By the 2000s, the rides were attracting an average of 3,000 riders. A group that size requires a logarithmic increase in organization and supportrenting out whole campgrounds, professional catering, dedicated medical and legal staff. Overhead costs ballooned to 42 percent of each donation. But each ride raised $7 million.

As with the actual aid projects themselves, the success of a charity depends on specifics, not a single, one-size-fits-all indicator. Charities do all kinds of stuffconduct research, train local NGOs, build infrastructure, give away goats. For donors to truly determine how well they’re doing it, they’d need to come up with a customized report card for each charity.

For a soup kitchen, it would be the stuff I just mentioned: Do they open on time? How’s their soup? For an NGO that, say, monitors government infrastructure projects for corruption, it would be things like, What percentage of projects are they assessing? Are their assessments yielding correct information? Is this information being communicated to the communities affected by corruption?

Judging charities like this, on the impacts of their work and whether they’re addressing the problem they set out to solve, yields qualitative information, sentences, and observations that can’t be compared across charities. Given the millions of international development NGOs with their upside-down hats out (the IRS, Stern notes, approves 99.5 percent of charity applications), it’s faster and easier to measure them all by the same standard.

This is why donors love overhead. It’s one number that allows you to compare the soup kitchen with the anti-corruption think tank. It smells all rigorous and objective, but it doesn’t require any actual work. Charities provide their own overhead figures, after all, just like they write their own annual reports and produce their own little Kony 2012 fund-raising videos. International development NGOs aren’t always obligated to issue audited accounts. Some of them report no overhead at all, the institutional equivalent of “I didn’t inhale.”

I’m not going to propose a cute little solution here to make this easier for donors, or suggest some “right” overhead percentage. For most charities, 10 percent overhead probably isn’t enough, and 90 percent is just fucking around. But the whole point is that we shouldn’t pick just one number to stand in for efficiency. We’re always arguing that, if rich countries want to solve the problems of poor ones, they’re going to have to spend time getting to know them. It’s time we apply the same logic to the agencies we dispatch to do the job.

Dertu isn’t a place very many people go on purpose. Located in northeastern Kenya, close to the Somali border, and next door to a sprawling refugee camp, in 2004 it was little more than a rest stop, a place for the local pastoralists to refresh their animals and catch up on local news. Its chief attraction was fresh water from a UNICEF-drilled borehole in the clay. Of the few thousand people living there permanently, more than 80 percent relied on food aid. Ninety percent were illiterate.

This is the “before” picture of Dertu that Jeffrey Sachs found when he initiated his Millennium Villages Project there in 2006. Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, became a Bono-approved development celebrity with his book The End of Poverty, a screed against the rich world’s complacency in letting easily solvable problemsmalaria, literacy, clean waterdamn an entire continent to misery.

Sachs’s book tour culminated in the establishment of the Millennium Villages Project, an ambitious plan to jump-start development with a huge influx of cash, in-kind support, and infrastructure to some of the poorest settlements in the world. Sachs’s premise was that millions of people, dozens of countries, had fallen into the “poverty trap”: Living in substandard housing leads to problems concentrating at school. Which leads to not graduating. Which leads to working in low-skilled jobs. Which leads to living in substandard housing. And on and on.

The only solution, Sachs argued, was to dramatically boost people to a level where they could start to develop themselves.

This is, it turns out, an incredibly persuasive idea, and in the two years after the book came out, Sachs raised $120 million (including $50 million from George Soros’s personal checkbook) and identified 14 villages throughout sub-Saharan Africa to test his theory.

As described in Nina Munk’s The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, things looked promising in Dertu at first. Sachs convinced GE and Ericsson to donate medical equipment and cell phones. He hired local managers who knew the culture and language to ensure his project was responding to Dertu’s needs. His teams built housing, schools, roads, health clinics. They set up a livestock market to attract farmers from all over the region.

But soon, the momentum faltered. Without electricity to run it or specialists to maintain it, the advanced medical equipment gathered dustin Kenya, that means literally. The managers of the project, so knowledgeable about the local culture and mores, eventually succumbed to them, doling out benefits on the basis of tribal favoritism and tit-for-tat back-scratching. The borehole broke down and water had to be shipped in by truck.

The core of the problem, as Munk describes it, was that Dertu became a sort of company town, with the Millennium Villages Project providing the only reliable source of employment, benefits, and public services. Thousands of new residents came from the nearby refugee camp and other parts of Kenya, seeking jobs or handouts. Where Dertu was once a stopover for nomads, the influx of donor money, the improved infrastructure, the free housing and education and health care, had given people a reason to stay. Sachs’s funding couldn’t keep up. And eventually, it ran out.

In an interview about her book for EconTalk, Munk describes what Dertu looked like the last time she saw it, in 2011:

They were now really living in a kind of squalor that I hadn’t seen on my first visit. Their huts were jammed together; they were patched with those horrible polyurethane bags that one sees all over Africa. … There were streams of slop that were going down between these tightly packed huts. And the latrines had overflowed or were clogged. And no one was able to agree on whose job it was to maintain them. And there were ditches piled high with garbage. And it was justit made my heart just sink.

This is the paradox: When you improve something, you change it in ways you couldn’t have expected. You can find examples of this in every corner of development practice. A project in Kenya that gave kids free uniforms, textbooks, and classroom materials increased enrollment by 50 percent, swamping the teachers and reducing the quality of education for everyone. Communities in India cut off their own water supply so they could be classified as “slums” and be eligible for slum-upgrading funding. I’ve worked in places where as soon as a company sets up a health clinic or an education program, the local government disappearswhy should they spend money on primary schools when a rich company is ready to take on the responsibility?

There’s nothing avaricious about this. If anything, it demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit we’re constantly telling the poor they need to demonstrate.

My favorite example of unintended consequences comes, weirdly enough, from the United States. In a speech to a criminology conference, Nancy G. Guerra, the director of the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Delaware, described a project where she held workshops with inner-city Latina teenagers, trying to prevent them from joining gangs. The program worked in that none of the girls committed any violence within six months of the workshops. But by the end of that time, they were all, each and every one, pregnant.

“That behavior was serving a need for them,” she says in her speech. “It made them feel powerful, it made them feel important, it gave them a sense of identity. … When that ended, [they] needed another kind of meaning in their lives.”

The fancy academic term for this is “complex adaptive systems.” We all understand that every ecosystem, each forest floor or coral reef, is the result of millions of interactions between its constituent parts, a balance of all the aggregated adaptations of plants and animals to their climate and each other. Adding a non-native species, or removing one that has always been there, changes these relationships in ways that are too intertwined and complicated to predict.

Guillaume Bonn/Corbis
Jeffery Sachs, friend of Bono and director of the Millennium Villages Project, addresses more than 4,000 people in Uganda.

According to Ben Ramalingam’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos, international development is just such an invasive species. Why Dertu doesn’t have a vaccination clinic, why Kenyan schoolkids can’t read, it’s a combination of culture, politics, history, laws, infrastructure, individualsall of a society’s component parts, their harmony and their discord, working as one organism. Introducing something foreign into that systemmillions in donor cash, dozens of trained personnel and equipment, U.N. Land Roverscauses it to adapt in ways you can’t predict.

A friend of mine works at an NGO that audits factories in India and China, inspecting them for child labor, forced labor, human-trafficking, everything celebrities are always warning us about. I asked him if, after ten years of inspections, conditions have gotten any better. “Yes and no,” he said. “Anytime you set a standard, some companies will become sophisticated to meet it, and others will become sophisticated to avoid it.”

So international development sucks, right? I’ve just spent thousands of words telling you all the ways the incentives of donors, recipients, and NGOs contradict each other. Why not just scrap it altogether?

Because I don’t think that’s the conclusion these examples suggest. I think they suggest something much less dramatic: It’s not that development is broken, it’s that our expectations of it are.

First, let’s de-room this elephant: Development has happened. The last 50 years have seen about the biggest explosion of prosperity in human history. China, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, Mexicothese aren’t the only countries where you’d rather be born now than 50 years ago. Even the poorest countries in the worldBurundi, Somalia, Zimbabweare doing way better on stuff like vaccinations and literacy than they did earlier in our own lifetimes.

You sometimes hear this Cambrian proliferation of well-being as an argument against development aid, like: “See? China got better all by itself.” But the rise of formerly destitute countries into the sweaters-and-smartphones bracket is less a refutation of the impact of development aid than a reality-check of its scale. In 2013, development aid from all the rich countries combined was $134.8 billion, or about $112 per year for each of the world’s 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. Did we really expect an extra hundred bucks a year to pull anyone, much less a billion of them, out of poverty?

Development, no matter how it happens, is a slow process. It wasn’t until about 30 years after Mao’s death that China’s per capita GDP reached lower-middle-income status. The country’s growth is arguably the fastest of any country’s since we, as a species, started gathering economic statistics. Even in the most cartoonishly successful scenario imaginable, countries like the Central African Republic (per capita GDP: $700, adjusted for purchasing power), Burundi ($600), and the Democratic Republic of Congo ($400) will take decades just to reach the point where China is now.

The ability of international development projects to speed up this process is limited. Remember how I said the deworming project had a 60-to-1 ratio between the price of the pills and the increase in wages for the kids who got them? The increase was $30. Not $30 per year. The kids earned $30 moreover their lifetimes as a result of the deworming treatment. You find this a lot in the development literature: Even the most wildly successful projects decrease maternal mortality by a few percent here, add an extra year or two of life expectancy there.

This isn’t a criticism of the projects themselves. This is how social policy works, in baby steps and trial-and-error and tweaks, not in game changers. Leave the leaps and bounds to computing power. If a 49-cent deworming treatment really does produce a $30 increase in wages for some of the poorest people on Earth, we are assholes for not spending it.

And this is where I landed after a year of absorbing dozens of books and articles and speeches about international development: The arguments against it are myriad, and mostly logistical and technical. The argument for it is singular, moral, and, to me anyway, utterly convincing: We have so much, they have so little.

If we really want to fix development, we need to stop chasing after ideas the way we go on fad diets. Successful programs should be allowed to expand by degrees, not digits (direct cash payments, which have shown impressive results in Kenya and Uganda, are a great candidate for the kind of deliberate expansion I’m talking about). NGOs need to be free to invest in the kinds of systems and processes we’re always telling developing countries to put in place. And rich countries need to spend less time debating how to divide up the tiny sliver of our GDP we spend on development and more time figuring out how to leverage our vast economic and political power to let it happen on its own.

As Owen Barder, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (from whom I stole many of the ideas in this essay), puts it:

If we believe that trade is important, we could do more to open our own markets to trade from developing countries. If we believe property rights are important, we could do more to enforce the principle that nations, not illegitimate leaders, own their own natural resources. … If we believe transparency is important, we could start by requiring our own companies to publish the details of the payments they make to developing countries.

PlayPump International, the charity I started with, doesn’t exist anymore. The pumps, however, are still being installed by Roundabout Water Solutions, an NGO that markets them as a “niche solution” that should only be installed at primary schools in poor rural areas. Four years ago, the same evaluations that so harshly criticized the rapid expansion of the project also acknowledged that, in some villages, under the right circumstances, they were fabulously helpful.

In 2010, “Frontline” interviewed the director of PlayPump about its failures, and he said, “It might have been a bit ambitious, but hey, you gotta dream big. Everyone’s always said it’s such a great idea.”

And it was. But maybe when the next great idea comes along, we should all dream a little smaller.


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Three top sales blunders




So…you have all these leads and you’re breaking your neck trying to make a sale.  You got your top hat and tap dancing shoes on – but STILL don’t seem to be impressing anyone. Why are none of these leads converting?!


Well, it could be because you’re making one (or all!) of these three top sales blunders! Check it out:


  1. You don’t really know your audience. You can give the best sales pitch ever about why your paper is better than your competitors. But if you’re talking to a company that just went paperless – you’re spinning your wheels, my friend.


  1. You’re not following up fast enough. We live in the age of Twitter, where the average attention span is 8 seconds…literally.  71% of leads are lost by not following up quickly. You don’t have time to put the best prospects into slow nurture cycles. Move it or lose it!


  1. You give the customer too many options. You can’t just market everything to everybody. Studies show that if you give people too many options, they won’t choose anything at all!


Mintigo has set out to change the lives of sales teams everywhere by solving these problems with smart data. In fact Oracle’s Marketing Cloud and Eloqua system  use Mintigo to be the data-brain for their new AppCloud, which uses predictive marketing!


Almost every growing business has experienced a breakdown between the marketing and sales departments. Some companies generate thousands of leads per month that simply do not convert into paying customers because A) they’re attracting the wrong kind of leads and / or B) they are so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, that they’re not following up with the right ones. What good is all that marketing if you can’t show an ROI?


To bridge this gap, Mintigo’s predictive marketing technology basically goes into your company’s CRM and pulls data about your leads from all over the internet to create a complete customer DNA. This could be information like, what software their business uses, what types of hiring are the doing, how much they spend on Google Ads every month, and so on.


This information completes the profiles of your leads and then scores them based on how likely they are to buy your product. That way, your sales team can focus their time on going after the top leads (who will most likely convert), instead of wasting a bunch of time on dead end leads.


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Philae lander sends back first ever image from comet

Picture shows bumpy surface of 67P where Philae touched down after anxious overnight wait following gaps in communications
Philae lander ‘stable’: follow the latest developments
Philae's CIVA instrument captured this image of its landing site
The European Space Agency’s Philae lander has sent back the first ever image from the surface of a comet.

The picture shows the cracked, bumpy surface in monochrome, with one of Philae’s three legs in the bottom left of the frame. It is not yet clear whether the leg in the image is actually touching the surface. What is certain is that Philae is not level, and may be wedged into a pit.

“We’re either looking into a ditch or we are against a wall,” said ESA Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor.

Comets are often described as “dirty snowballs”, irregular blocks of ice covered with dust and rocks, but no human craft has ever reached the surface of one before.

Scientists re-established communications with Philae on Thursday after an anxious overnight wait while its mothership Rosetta, which relays the signals to Earth, dipped below the comet’s horizon.

Magnetic field data from Philae’s ROMAP instrument analysed overnight revealed three “landings”. The first was almost exactly on the expected arrival time of 15:33 GMT. But the anchoring harpoons did not fire and Philae rebounded.

In the weak gravity of the comet it took about two hours for the lander to return to the surface. It touched down for a second time at 17:26 GMT, then bounced again before finally coming to rest at 17:33.

Philae space lander sends back first image of comet landing – video
Esa scientists described the lander as “stable” on Thursday morning despite concerns following the touchdown on Wednesday afternoon. It emerged that a harpoon which was meant to tether it to the surface of the 2.5 mile-wide comet had failed to deploy.


The first image from the surface is in fact a mosaic of two images taken by the lander’s CIVA (the Comet Infrared and Visible Analyser) camera. It shows one of Philae’s landing legs and the craggy surface. ESA had been expecting a view of the horizon so the scientists believe the craft is not on a flat surface.

“We are definitely not in the open,” said Fred Jansen, ESA Rosetta mission manager.

This presents a danger to the mission which has an initial battery life of about 60 hours. After that it must switch to rechargeable batteries and rely on solar illumination to keep it powered, so if it is stuck in a trench it may not be able to receive sunlight.

Discussions are already taking place about whether deploying the lander’s drills and other moveable parts could move it into a better position.

Four other pictures from CIVA have been downlinked. These will be released at 13:00 GMT on Thursday. They will form the first 360° panorama of the surface. The Guardian has been told by an ESA official that there may be no horizon visible in those either.

Engineers are currently investigating the best way to pinpoint the location of Philae. They are planning to use the radar instrument Consert (Comet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission), on both Rosetta and Philae, to triangulate the position.

During the decent, Concert showed that the lander was just 50 metres adrift from the targeted landing spot. ESA had planned for an error of up to 500 metres.

Science data is flowing in, although the communications link between Philae and Rosetta remains intermittent at times.

“We have telemetry and massive data already. This is a success,” said Jansen.

The safe, if precarious, touchdown of the lander gives scientists a unique chance to ride on board a comet and study from the surface what happens as its activity ramps up as it gets closer to the sun. The £1bn ($1.58bn) Rosetta mission aims to unlock the mysteries of comets, made from ancient material that pre-dates the birth of the solar system. In the data Rosetta and Philae collect, researchers hope to learn more of how the solar system formed and how comets carried water and complex organics to the planets, preparing the stage for life on Earth.

Space agencies have sent probes to comets before, but not like this. In 1986, Nasa’s Ice mission flew through the tail of Halley’s comet. In 2005, the agency’s Deep Impact spacecraft fired a massive copper block at comet Temple 1. But none before now has landed.

The feat marks a profound success for Esa, which launched the Rosetta spacecraft more than 10 years ago from its Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. Since blasting off in March 2004, Rosetta and Philae have travelled more than 6bn kilometres to catch up with the comet, which orbits the sun at speeds up to 135,000km/h.

“We are the first to do this, and that will stay forever,” said Jean Jacques Dordain, director general of Esa.

A picture acquired by the ROLIS (ROsetta Lander Imaging System) instrument on the Philae lander, showing the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko during Philae’s descent from a distance of approximately 3 km from the surface.
A picture acquired by the ROLIS (ROsetta Lander Imaging System) instrument on the Philae lander, showing the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko during Philae’s descent from a distance of approximately 3 km from the surface. Photograph: European Space Agency//AFP/Getty Images


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