Friday, July 22, 2016

ONE WORLD OF PAIN AMONG MANY


I've been surfing the Web and reading about the crimes against humanity perpetrated in Fallujah, Darfur, and Bagram (among other places), but has anyone heard about this? From Human Rights Watch, "D. R. Congo: Tens of Thousands Raped, Few Prosecuted" (3/7):

In eastern Congo's conflict, government troops and rebel fighters have raped tens of thousands of women and girls, but fewer than a dozen perpetrators have been prosecuted by a judicial system in dire need of reform, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on the eve of International Women's Day.

The 52-page report, "Seeking Justice: The Prosecution of Sexual Violence in the Congo War," documents how the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken insufficient steps to prosecute those responsible for wartime rape. Human Rights Watch called on the Congolese government and international donors, including the European Union, to take urgent steps to reform Congo's justice system

Despite the peace agreement and broad-based transition process in the D.R. Congo, which began in 2003, soldiers of the national army and armed groups continue to perpetrate sexual violence in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale. In 1998, armed conflict broke out among the Congolese government, several neighboring countries and various rebel factions. Since then, combatants on all sides have subjected tens of thousands of women and girls -- as well as a far smaller number of men and boys -- to sexual violence...

...

An increasing number of victims of sexual violence are demanding justice. "My husband does not want to live with me any more because I was raped by the Mai-Mai," said one woman who, along with 11 others in Shabunda, South Kivu, was gang-raped by combatants belonging to the Mai-Mai, a local Congolese armed group opposed to foreign occupation. "The perpetrators must be punished," she said... (#)

I wonder how many right-wingers who, reflexively turning away from similar crimes Americans are committing, would read something like this and be appalled at the savagery? Assuming, of course, they bother to give it a thought in the first place -- I don't read or hear much about what's been going on in Sudan, for instance, in the mainstream media.

Skin color probably plays a good-sized part of it (and our collective hypocrisy is obvious), but I think it goes deeper than that. There's an underlying indifference to human suffering that gives rise to personal acts like rape and general ones like war. And it spreads like a virus: The evil we do almost always lives on after us, starting with the immediate victims of our evil, who act in kind toward still others. Sometimes it all boils over in one place, and then the rest of us wonder how so much evil could be concentrated in one spot.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

IF IT'S BROKEN, BREAK IT SOME MORE...

One of the items in Bush's recent State of the Union address that went almost totally unnoticed is his creation of yet another federal bureaucracy: The Department of Corruption, Bribery, and Incompetence. The Onion has the details:
...The Scandal Secretary wil log all wiretaps and complaints of prisoner abuse, coordinate paid-propaganda efforts, eliminate redundant payoffs and bribes, oversee the appointment of unqualified political donors to head watchdog agencies, control all leaks and other high-level security breaches, and oversee the disappearance of Iraq reconstruction funds. He will also be responsible for issuing all official denials that laws have been broken.
"Many of the current scandals in Washington are crucial to the success of my priorities for the nation," Bush said. "The Department of Corruption will safeguard these important misdeeds.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card characterized the president's announcement as part of a larger effort to usher in a "new era of scandal management."
"The entire DCBI budget will come from private donors and investors, through an illegal slush fund," he said. "The money we'll save by eliminating redundancies and reducing scandal-related overhead will come back to citizens tenfold in the form of offshore corporate tax savings"...
Well, the current system just isn't working the way it used to. But Bush & Co's solution to everything -- keep adding red tape until the system doesn't work at all -- may have finally found the problem it was destined for. This could be Bush's true legacy: The Dems couldn't shut his presidency down, so he did it himself...
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AND NOW, ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE MULTI-POST BOOK REVIEWS...

On March 26, 2001, a young Houston native with an MBA from the University of Texas, Brian Cruver, started working at the biggest and best corporation in his hometown. The opening price of Enron's stock that day was $61 even, its closing price was $61.48, and its trading volume was 4,112,900 shares. And Enron's future was looking brighter all the time. For an ambitious business grad like Cruver, this was a dream come true. His job description was "product development manager," his product was credit risk, and he and his team members worked to develop ways of selling credit risk derivatives to people looking for -- get this -- protection against third-party bankruptcies.

On March 26, 2002, Enron was a standing ruin, its stock opened and closed at twenty cents, its trading volume was a few million shares, Cruver hadn't sold a single credit risk derivative in several months (Enron was clinically dead, but irony was alive and kicking), and he figured he should shave soon. He was also mulling over whether to write a book about the most recent -- and the most physically, emotionally, and psychologically taxing -- year of his life.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with Cruver's first day on the dream job:


...Like anyone from Houston and anyone who went to business school in Texas, I had always known that Enron was the ultimate launching pad for a business career. Highly respected, bitterly admired -- if you were craving the fast track, you dreamed of working at Enron. Everyone knew it, and everybody talked about it: the people of Enron were simply "the best and the brightest"... and now, I was finally one of them...
The excitemnet was mixed with a wave of relief. Finally, I would get instant respect from family, friends, business associates, and complete strangers. Finally I could just say "Enron" and not have to explain where I worked. Everyone would be impressed.
I had taken a couple of risks after B-school.
First I joined a small, babyish trading firm on the other side of downtown Houston. Even though the firm was owned by Shell, it simply couldn't compete (with Enron, that is) and quickly fell apart.
Then I wasted a year of my life creating www.startup-without-money.com. No explanation needed on that one.


(Unless you wonder why irony seems to follow this man around like a shadow...)

With Enron, I finally felt like my days of high risk were over. It was time to get back on track and reap steady rewards from the dues I had paid -- the time and money I put toward getting an M.B.A., the years of grinding away at Excel spreadsheets. Finally, I was ready to sprint down the path to my success. I had just hit the jackpot in the form of a safe, secure job at the seventh biggest company in America...


Back then, Enron was hiring people at an astonishingly fast rate. So fast, in fact, that it had its own New Employee Waiting Area. Cruver and some forty other people were hired on the same day. He would later learn that mass hirings were typical at Enron -- as well as mass firings. (This is not to be confused with the very mass layoffs that would come in November. These firings were peer-reviewed, and all Enron employees were required to participate in the process. Not kidding. More on that later in this series...) He would learn lots of strange things about his new company during his brief stay. In the meantime, Cruver was simply, and happily, overwhelmed.
The group's orientation would last eight long hours. During their lunch break, Cruver's new boss, Greg McLainey, came down from the trading room to talk with him. McLainey was also the man who'd hired him for the credit risk management position. For that reason, he had something to say... 


McLAINEY: "There's something I need to tell you about. I'm telling you because I don't want you to be caught off guard."
ME: "All right."
McLAINEY: "There was a slight mix-up in the hiring process."
ME (frozen stare): "This is a joke, right?"
McLAINEY: "No."
ME: "Uhhh..."
McLAINEY: "It's no big deal. We're going to keep you. I just wanted you to know because some people aren't really happy that you're here. I want you prepared because they'll probably say something to you."
ME: "Are you telling me you didn't want to hire me?"
McLAINEY: "No, I wanted to hire you. It's just that the group really hadn't agreed to hire you.
ME: "Interesting."
McLAINEY: "Just think of it like you're adopted."
At that moment I heard a "pop" -- the sound of my bubble bursting. I was thinking that April Fool's Day was not for another week...
...
The rest of the afternoon was a blur; I could think about nothing but my conversation with McLainey. When the time came to head upstairs to my new desk and my new career at Enron, I had a whole new type of energy. It wasn't the "I made it" energy from before, but more of an "I'm pissed" energy. All I could do was bite my tongue and act professional.
One of the best business skills I have is the ability to hide my emotions and what I am really thinking. So when I finally met with the people in my group, I was able to smile and say "Hello," "Hi," and "Nice to meet you" -- while in my head I was greeting them with "Bite me"...
At least Cruver wasn't the only one at Enron with those "skills."

He's a trooper, though. His first rule for conquering corporate America is, "You can't go home until everyone else above you in the organization has gone home." On day one, he stayed until everyone except the head of his group, one Doug Waterston, had left. No cigar, but close -- and a sure-fire way for a new kid to win many a brownie point.

Still, while his first day had been disappointing, as he headed off to his car, Cruver decided that it didn't really matter. Enron was, plain and simple, a way cool place to be a part of. In addition to Enron being the seventh largest corporation in America, lavishing its employees with fat salaries and year-end bonuses, and matching fifty percent of every dollaran employee put into his 401(k) (which I interpret as a red flag -- where in the hell would that much free money possibly come from?), there were... the Star Wars motifs...

Enron was the Dark Side of the Empire, the dominant force in the energy universe, taking control of everything in its path, relentlessly gobbling up other companies and assets. The Dark Side could manipulate anything -- from politicians, to suppliers, to regulators, to entire commodity markets. Other companies were simply helpless against the sheer size and strength of Enron's wicked force.
Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling was known as Darth Vader, a master of the energy universe who had the ability to control people's minds. He was at the peak of his strength, and he intimidated everyone. He had been lured over to the Dark Side from McKinsey & Company in 1990.
Chairman Ken Lay, a bit past his prime, was the Emperor. He had trained Skilling, and was now unleashing him on the rest of the energy industry as part of a master plan. Lay had built the Empire to its current strength. Now Skilling was running the place, but the Emperor was still the boss.
Enron headquarters in Houston was the Death Star. All of Enron's competitors were lined up and down Smith Street, watching helplessly as the Death Star grew, and grew, and grew. Their only hope was to destroy it while it was still under construction.
The Star Wars theme was actually well received by people inside Enron. They didn't really mind being the bad guy, as long as it meant they were all-powerful and dominant. I didn't mind joining the Dark Side either -- after all, the Emprie offered great pay and excellent benefits...


For a while.

* * *


Tomorrow: Cruver's second rule for conquering corporate America, and how Enron became the Dark Side...

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why mobile apps are a safe bet for the gambling industry

The gambling sector is one of the biggest mobile app success stories in terms of creating real value for customers and real revenue for companies who execute their strategies correctly.

Apps World Europe, one of the world’s leading multiplatform apps events, is returning to London Olympia on 29-30 November, to learn more about how you can benefit from the explosive trend in gambling apps, visit: http://www.77dewa.net
Apps World Blog caught up with one of the UK’s leading app developers, 77dewa , which has produced apps for a number of major players in the gambling industry, to find out how the sector has grown recently and discuss how gaming brands are taking advantage of this lucrative new channel.
The UK is a global centre for online betting and gaming operators, and as such, companies like 77dewa are at the forefront of the fast growing mobile gambling sector; with operator and software clients from around the world, including UK based companies who are market leaders in recently regulated countries like Italy.
Slow out of the traps
Mobile was slower to take off in the gambling sector than many had predicted, with a lot of the early gaming apps delivering little in the way of brand identity or unique usability; in fact most offerings constituted poorly optimised versions of brands’ desktop websites.
“Mobile gambling has been tipped to take off several times over the past decade, and although, under the radar to most observers, operators have taken, and continue to take, significant revenues through Java apps on small screen feature phones,” says One of their developer, one of the key figures in 77dewa’s project team.
However, while the technology may have been slower to catch up, the nature of betting and gambling lends itself to the mobile experience; and according to research released earlier this year, UK mobile gambling revenue more than doubled between 2009 and 2010 to £41m. The industry, it seems, has tipped the odds.
Since the iPhone launched in 2007, operators like William Hill, Ladbrokes and Betfair have begun to take real advantage of the channel, consistently reporting multiplying revenues and new users through their mobile operations.
The availability of widespread 3G, WiFi connectivity and sophisticated large screen smartphones and tablets has allowed operators and content providers to deliver engaging mobile apps that bring the action to players wherever they are.
Regulation and legislation
With issues around regulation never far from the heart of the gambling industry, some have expressed concerns that regulatory constrictions, not just from government but app stores too, could stifle the impressive growth we’re currently seeing.
The Mubaloo team, however, works on the belief that technology and development expertise can effectively balance the legislative pressure. “The gambling industry is used to regulation, and the operators understand they need to be just as responsible with their mobile apps as with high street stores and websites,” says Mapperson.
Working closely with operators, Mubaloo has implemented a number of features, such as restrictive geo-tagging, which ensures mobile gambling is only done in jurisdictions where the operators are licensed, and by age verified users.
In terms of the two main app stores, Apple’s App Store is the more gaming friendly. It puts all gambling apps through a legal process which ensures that all compliance is in place, though this can often be a frustratingly long process.
Google have taken a different approach; blocking all gambling apps from the Android Market, as they don't check individual apps. “This is unfortunate,” says Mapperson. “But Android apps can be distributed directly via websites, 3rd party app stores and SMS, which makes the impact more just about app discovery.”
The new game
Gambling brands have begun to realise that their mobile apps need to offer as many of the features of their online offering as possible while staying true to the brand identity which these firms work so hard to cultivate; all within a user interface which is optimised for the small screen and individual device.
“Operators now want apps that stand out from the crowd and offer unique benefits, such as live in-play systems, personalisation and social elements,” says Mapperson. “Our clients want to make sure they create apps which are functional and easy to use, while taking advantage of the device features available.
“Apps have to be fast and fluid. Often gambling apps are integrated with multiple back end systems for odds, user accounts and payments; so the development of the app needs to be efficient to deliver a seamless experience for the user.”
App development, app store acceptance, branding and cutting-edge functionality are all part of the packed agenda at Apps World Europe on 29-30 November at Olympia, for more details on why you should attend, and to register your place, visit: http://www.77dewa.net/
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