National / International News

To Make Bread, Watch The Dough, Not The Recipe

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:15

One man's quest for the perfect loaf took him to Paris, Berlin, California and Kansas. What he learned can't easily be captured in words. It's a feeling in your fingers that comes from experience.

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Obama: Ebola Policies Should Support Health Care Workers On Front Lines

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:52

The U.S. policies, said Obama, should be crafted to avoid discouraging workers from going overseas to help curb Ebola outbreaks.

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AUDIO: Authors auction character names

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:47
Some of the biggest names in literature auction off the chance for members of the public to lend their name to a character in the writers' forthcoming works.

VIDEO: Emin: 'I am on the side of women'

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:39
Artist Tracey Emin says she is "on the side of women" after people "wilfully misunderstood" her on the issue of being an artist and a mother.

Michael Lewis: Wall Street is "lost"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:23

Wall Street today is lost and searching for its role, according to author Michael Lewis.

"Technology has created a world that's very hostile to intermediaries in most industries. And Wall Street has fought to preserve its position as an intermediary where it's really not necessary in a lot of cases," he says. "It's actually, probably, in decline."

Lewis — perhaps best known for two books later adapted to film, "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side" — used to be a financial trader. He left after three years and wrote a tell-all, his first book, "Liar's Poker." 

Twenty five years later, the book has been reissued. And while he's continued his deep look at finance with his recent book "Flash Boys," it's strange how the world Lewis depicted in the late '80s feels oddly familiar. 

Listen to the full interview in the player above or read the transcript, which has been edited for clarity.

Kai Ryssdal: This book was not received the way you thought it would be... you thought it would be a cautionary tale.

Michael Lewis: It had the opposite effect of what I expected. I didn't think of it as a moralistic tale about Wall Street ... but I did think that for someone who had some other idea of what to do with their lives, it would demystify it, and maybe they could go on and do what they were supposed to do.

Instead, I swear after six months, I had a thousand letters from kids saying, "I'm a junior at Ohio State and I've read your how-to book about how to get ahead on Wall Street. Is there anything you left out? Because you made me even more interested in doing it."

KR: And you know why, right? Because you talk about making money come out of a telephone.

ML: Not only do I make money come out of a telephone, but I clearly have no idea what I'm doing. The combination is like catnip for a male in college. He has no idea what he can do, he has no sense of himself in the marketplace, and then there's this thing... they give you lots of money even though you don't know what you're doing? It created a stampede.

 

KR: And you say "male" intentionally because at the time this book was written, females in this business were few and very far between.

ML: True. I would say that even now, [women are] kept far from the risk taking. It's still a very male-dominated business. At the time, yes, my training program at Salomon Brothers was 85 to 90 percent guys.

KR: And very fraternity house-like, I mean, the description of some of the guys sitting in the back row of that training class throwing spitballs. 

It was considered normal and acceptable to order a stripper up on the trading floor. 

KR: It seems like very little has changed. The essence of what happens on Wall Street, 25 years later, seems sort of to be the same.

ML: There's a timelessness about it isn't there? There are a couple of things that I think are a little different, but it's by degree, not kind. I think that the street has gotten much, much better at disguising what it does because it's gotten so much more complicated. All of a sudden, you're looking at a truly opaque black box when you're looking at something that used to be as simple as the stock market. 

The other thing is this idea of "too big to fail." That did not exist when I wrote the book. There was a sense that even my firm, Salomon Brothers, could fail. And now, if you're in the equivalent of Salomen Brothers today, you're in a place that, basically, you sense, won't be allowed to fail.

KR: You say that these guys are working harder at establishing a public persona, but I wonder if that doesn't lend itself to a real difference, actually, between Wall Street then and now. Wall Street then was sleazy, with strippers on the trading floor, as you said. Now, it just seems a little sinister, because we're supposed to believe that they're out for the common good.

ML: I think there has been much more attention paid to how things seem, rather than how things are, then there was then. There are phalanxes of corporate PR people. People inside these firms, no way are they going to talk to a journalist. You've got a much slicker corporate exterior now and a much more careful presentation of self. 

One of the things that was kind of lovely about the world I described in Salomen Brothers in the '80s was that the people kind of were how they seemed. There wasn't a lot of hypocrisy. You might approve or disapprove of the gambling and the strippers on the trading floor. But there was a certain integrity to it [laughs].

KR: And what is it now? What is Wall Street now?

ML: Lost. It has a very unclear sense of its purpose in the world. Technology has created a world that's very hostile to intermediaries in most industries.  And Wall Street has fought to preserve its position as an intermediary where it's really not necessary in a lot of cases. It's sort of like clawing to preserve its revenues and its profits at a time when it's actually, probably, in decline. 

KR: Do you re-read your own writing at all?

ML: It's funny you ask, I got on the plane coming to New York the other day, and I thought, I gotta re-read this thing. I've never re-read it.

I opened it and thought, "I'm so bored with myself. I can't do this. I just can't."

The only other time I'd done this, I put it on my lap when the paperback came out in 1990, to re-read it before I went on my paperback tour. And the guy in the seat next to me saw it and said, "I read that. Cynical bastard." I put it away and didn't read it then.

So I have not actually re-read it, but I vaguely remember what happened to me [laughs].

Noriega fails to sue Call of Duty

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:19
The former dictator of Panama, Manuel Noriega, fails in his attempt to sue Activision after a character based on him appeared in a Call of Duty game.

Giant tortoise 'miraculous' recovery

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:16
A new study confirms that giant tortoise numbers on one of the Galapagos Islands have bounced back thanks to captive breeding.

Day in pictures: 28 October

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:03
24 hours of news images: 28 October

Should Twitter have to measure up to Facebook?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

If "A Tale of Two Cities"were written today and Charles Dickens chose social networkers, instead of cities, as his subject, the opening line might go a little something like this:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of metrics.

“If you are a social network, the two most important metrics for you are your user base and the level of engagement of the users,” says Shaym Patil, Vice President of equity research at Wedbush.

The value that Wall Street places on a social network like Twitter or Facebook is primarily based on its MAU’s, or  monthly active users--the more active users, the more potential for ad revenue.  This is why when Twitter announced its third quarter earnings  Monday, its stock took a hit.  

Investors are worried that Twitter’s user base isn't growing fast enough. It’s not anywhere near the gold standard of social media companies, Facebook. Twitter’s active user base is about one fifth of Facebook’s

But Nathan Eagle,  CEO of Jana, a mobile marketing platform, is skeptical of the one metric fits all approach. “Twitter and Facebook have different models and they are going after different things,” says Eagle.

Twitter, for example, doesn't just sell ads. It has a whole suite of developer tools it sells to companies like Jana. It offers tools for detecting crashes and monetizing, for example.

These are parts of Twitter’s business model that aren't reflected in the MAU numbers. As a result, Nathan Eagle thinks Twitter should have its own more sophisticated metric for assessing its value.  “MAU’s are at least a proxy for success,”  But says Eagle, “I do think that we will come up with more nuanced metrics.”

Until that more nuanced metric arrives, the almighty MAU will likely reign supreme. Or, as Dickens said, Twitter and Facebook will continue to live, “for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

 

 

 

VIDEO: How British troops help Afghan dogs

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00
Fergal Keane follows Tony Lewis as he visits a centre that is helping Afghan dogs - including one that his son adopted before he was killed in action in Helmand in 2011

CNN takes the Empire State Building

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

CNN announced its election night plans Tuesday: the network will take over the Empire State Building to display U.S. Senate vote results.

As results come in, a vertical LED-illuminated "meter" atop the spire of the building will ascend in either red or blue.

Once a meter reaches the top of the spire, that party will take control of the Senate.

Who will win? Apparently CNN will decide.

 

 

What the end of Quantitative Easing will and won't mean

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

Quantitative easing – it’s fun and accessible and all the cool kids are talking about it, right?

“Believe it or not, I tend to try not to talk about Quantitative Easing at cocktail parties,” says Ann Owen, an economics professor at Hamilton College. “But just a real brief explanation is that it’s a way for the [Federal Reserve] to increase the money supply by buying bonds.”

The Fed generally has two focus areas: employment and inflation. Historically, a main tool to keep each in check has been setting interest rates through its Federal Funds Rate. But back in 2008, the Fed decided it needed something more and QE was born.

Six years later, the Fed is widely expected to announce the end of QE after its Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

Owen says while ending QE may sound like a giant leap, it's actually a relatively small step because the Fed now has a balance sheet worth over $4 trillion.

“That’s money that in the banking system and will hopefully finds its way into the economy, says Michelle Girard is the chief U.S. economist with RBS. “As long as those reserves aren’t taken back out, through asset sales or other methods of shrinking the balance sheet, then the reserves that have already been created are still able to boost economic growth.”

Think of the Fed as a jogger who’s not slowing down or speeding up, but keeping the same pace – and there’s still a long road ahead.

The economy is clearly in a better place than it was when QE started.

But Morris Davis, a professor at Rutgers University and a former economist at the Federal Reserve Board, says he’s skeptical about how much of that is due to the bond-buying program.

“We can debate its effectiveness and we should debate its effectiveness,” he says. “But going forward, we’re going to see a lot more of this, actually, by Central Banks all around the world and I think we’ll point back to this episode as having led the pack.”

After QE, the Fed still has its more traditional tool – interest rates. Davis says it’ll probably be a while before the Fed feels comfortable enough to start raising its Federal Funds Rate in any meaningful way. 

As Great Barrier Reef Ails, Australia Scrambles To Save It

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:55

One Australian report estimated the reef had lost more than half its coral since 1985. The government is considering a new 35-year plan to rescue the reef, but some say it falls short.

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VIDEO: 'I left my fiancée to be a barber'

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:49
A hairdresser in Egypt says she is proving people in Egypt who think a woman who works as a hairdresser is not decent wrong.

Mother 'takes baby son to Syria'

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:46
Police investigate reports a Birmingham mother has travelled to Syria with her one-year-old son to support Islamic State militants.

Caption competition: CERN seeks help

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:44
The scientists have an archive of around 250,000 pictures taken between 1955 to 1985 they want to identify - and they want the public's help.

Italy 'to continue' migrant rescues

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:38
The Italian navy says it will continue search and rescue missions for migrants in the Mediterranean, amid concern about EU budget cuts hitting rescues.

Huge march against Burkinabe leader

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:23
Tens of thousands of people protest in Burkina Faso's capital against moves to extend the president's 27-year rule, amid clashes with the security forces.

£872m budget cut planned for NI

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:20
Northern Ireland Finance Minister Simon Hamilton proposes cuts of up to £872m in his draft budget paper, the BBC learns.

Canada 'grateful' to Cpl Cirillo

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:19
Canadian PM Harper tells mourners the nation is deeply grateful to Cpl Nathan Cirillo, the young soldier killed by a gunman in Ottawa last week.
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