Economist 5/6/14

  1. Permitting a town to kick off its monthly board meetings with Christian prayers, for Mr Borowitz and the dissenters in Town of Greece v Galloway, is an abandonment of the rule against the “establishment of religion”, the first command of the first amendment to America’s constitution. In the eyes of a majority of the Supreme Court justices, however, the town’s tradition simply pays homage to the nation’s hallowed heritage of prayer in legislative settings. Tevye would be proud.his is the crux of the problem with Justice Kagan’s admirable wish for equal democratic citizenship unsullied by sectarianism: it would put the town board of Greece in charge of defining and policing religious diversity. For a body that should be concerned with cutting away the shrubbery obscuring stop signs, that’s a tall order.       
  2. “Despite believing handling cash, bank notes or coins to be unhygienic and dirty, only one in five wash their hands after holding cash.” This bombshell comes from a survey of 9,000 people in 12 European countries commission by MasterCard, a big payments processing company.MasterCard does not hide its purpose: to scare people into using germ-free “contactless” payments in preference to cash. Last year it and Oxford University disclosed that the average European bank note contains 26,000 colonies of bacteria. The grime on old notes is mainly made up of sebum (an oily secretion found on skin and in earwax), a biologist reports. 
  3. THE first stockmarket index fund was created more than 40 years ago, in 1973. Two years later Jack Bogle of Vanguard launched the first index fund for retail investors. Dismissed at the time as a folly, the fund started with $11m in assets; it now runs $166 billion, on which the annual costs paid by investors are less than one-fifth of a percentage point. That compares with the 1-2 points a year that investors can pay for active fund management, where the experts try to beat the index.Two things have held them back. One is distribution: the people who sell funds to investors have had little incentive to sell cheap ones.The other problem is a belief that investors can do better than the index by picking a hot fund: money for old hope.The change is happening. First, more advisers are being paid a fee by their clients, rather than taking a commission from the fund provider.
  4. SINCE January 1st 3,551 people have been killed by gun violence in America, according to the Gun Violence Archive.o. As it happens, guns that work only when they are in the hands of their legal owners do indeed exist. Armatrix, a German company that makes a .22-calibre “smart gun”, had plans recently to begin selling them in America. But then something odd happened: the very people who were trying to bring these guns to market began receiving threats from gun enthusiasts.A particular area where the National Rifle Association appears to be giving ground involves the rights of spouses accused of domestic abuse. Bills to disarm people convicted of (or under restraining orders for) domestic abuse are pending in 14 states, and have been enacted this year in Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The New York Times speculates that the NRA’s sudden sympathy for domestic-abuse victims has something to do with the importance of female voters in this election year, and the advocacy of a gun-safety group called “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America”.
  5. THE biggest engineering companies nowadays prefer to talk about “additive manufacturing” rather than “3D printing”.Whereas hobbyist-scale 3D printers typically build a product by squirting out blobs of plastic, a technique called selective laser melting zaps successive layers of powder with a laser or ion beam, hardening only certain bits.A pioneer in making the selective-laser melting equipment used in factories, SLM Solutions of Germany, will float on the Frankfurt stock exchange on May 9th.In gas turbines, the blades move at the speed of sound and heat up to 1,400°C. The elaborately shaped components are hard to design and costly to make. But Siemens, a big industrial group, is using SLM Solutions’ machines to cut the cost and the time needed to replace the blades on customers’ turbines when they break. 

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