Economist 4/16/14

  1. When Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter as CEO, just after being appointed, the world’s oldest multinational was in crisis.The first is a classic lesson in core competences. Francis has refocused his organisation on one mission: helping the poor. One of his first decisions was to forsake the papal apartments in favour of a boarding house which he shares with 50 other priests and sundry visitors. He took the name of a saint who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile-detention centre.One is a brand repositioning. He clearly continues to support traditional teaching on abortion and gay marriage, but in a less censorious way than his predecessors (“Who am I to judge?” he asked of homosexuals). The other is a restructuring. He has appointed a group of eight cardinals (“the C8”) to review the church’s organisation and brought in McKinsey and KPMG (“God’s consultants”) to look at the church’s administrative machineryand overhaul the Vatican bank.
  2. The American tax code is a “known unknown”, in Rummiespeak. It is 70,000 pages long and might as well be written in Klingon. Few Americans have a clue whether they are complying with it. Some 90% of them (including Mr Rumsfeld) pay a tax accountant or use commercial software to help navigate it.
  3. AFTER 223 years New Hampshire is about to make adultery legal. A law in 1791 called for convicted adulterers to be paraded on the gallows for an hour and then “publicly whipped not exceeding 39 stripes” before being sent to prison and fined 100.More than 20 states still have laws against adultery. Colorado (the state of Gary Hart, whose adultery cost him dear in the 1988 presidential race) did not decriminalise it until last year. ? In the General Social Survey, 15% of wives and 21% of husbands admitted to it. But a separate survey found that 74% of men and 68% of women said they would indulge in an affair if they knew they wouldn’t get caught.
  4. Rocket scientists have therefore long dreamed of making something able to fly more than once. Such a reusable machine, they hope, would slash the cost of getting into space. The only one built so far, America’s space shuttle, proved a dangerous and costly disappointment, killing two of its crews and never coming close to the cost savings intended. The furthest advanced is SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, an internet mogul. On April 18th it is due to launch one of itsFalcon 9 rockets on a cargo-carrying trip to the International Space Station (ISS), something it has done twice before. The most notable are the four landing legs folded up along the side of its first stage. If everything goes to plan, once that stage has finished its job and detached itself from the rest of the rocket, it will fire its engines again.Instead of crashing into the sea, it will make a controlled descent, deploy its legs, slow almost to a stop off the coast of Cape Canaveral SpaceX already offers some of the lowest prices in the business. Itslaunch costs of $56m are around half those of its competitors. Mr Musk has said in the past that a reusable rocket could cut those costs by at least half again.
  5.  the heart of the Golden Triangle, where the three South-East Asian countries of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos adjoin their giant northern neighbour. It is an area that has long been synonymous with one thing: drugs.In 2013 poppy cultivation in Myanmar rose by 13% on the previous year, to 57,800 hectares (143,000 acres). This is well over double the total acreage in 2006, the year with the lowest level of cultivation. The combination of more cultivation and higher yields has resulted in a rise of over a quarter in opium production in Myanmar just since 2012, to some 870 tonnes.This quantity is worth about $500m—quite a lot in such a poor country.Cultivation has also increased, albeit more modestly and from a much lower base, across the border inLaos. Overall, whereas in 2005 the two countries produced 326 tonnes of opium, or 7% of that year’s world total, last year they produced 893 tonnes, or 18% of the total.Afghanistan continues to produce the lion’s share. China and various UN agencies to lure the hill farmers of Shan state away from cultivating poppies, the region accounts for more than nine-tenths of Myanmar’s poppy harvest.Furthermore, Shan state is also home to the largest number of “meth labs” in the region, makeshift and virtually undetectable premises that churn out methamphetamines; the most popular kind goes by its Thai name, yaba.Many households in Shan state are so poor that, given the chance, growing poppies remains the best financial option, whatever the risks. UNODC estimates that poppies provide typically half of a household’s annual income, or $920. China has at least 2m heroin addicts and possibly as many as 10m. Nearly all the supply comes through Yunnan province from the Golden Triangle.Yaba is cheap (about $1.50 a tab) and readily available. It is an easy shot of escapism for young women with few prospects other than becoming karaoke singers or prostitutes
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