Economist 5/24/14

  1. Pope Francis’s visit to Israel on May 25th is stirring ambivalence, if not soul-searching, about the Israeli state’s attitude to other religions, particularly Christianity.A ceremony was recently held in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to honour John XXIII, which organisers said was the first commemoration there of a non-Jew. He was praised for enabling thousands of Jews to flee from Nazi-occupied Europe. It was also noted that he was the nuncio to France who promoted the UN resolution in 1947, creating Jewish and Arab states in Palestine. The greater frequency of recent papal visits to Israel is proof of a sea-change in the Vatican. The restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Israel in 1948 came as something of a jolt to a church whose fathers condemned Jews to wander until they accepted the true Messiah. 
  2. One of the undersold boons of the internet is that it functions a bit like a permanent, rolling global coffee break. A good example of the result is OpenWorm, an informal collaboration of biologists and computer scientists from America, Britain, Russia and elsewhere.C. elegans is a scientific stalwart.On May 19th this group managed to raise $121,076 on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website. The money will be put towards the creation of the world’s most detailed virtual life form—an accurate, open-source, digital clone of a critter called Caenorhabditis elegans, a 1mm-long nematode that lives in the soils of the world’s temperate regions.  Despite 40 years of technological progress, C. elegans remains the only animal for which such a diagram is available.
  3. EVA ULLMANN founded the German Institute for Humour in Leipzig. It is dedicated to “the combination of seriousness and humour”. She offers lectures, seminars and personal coaching to managers, from small firms to such corporate giants.There is nothing peculiarly German about humour training. It was John Morreall, an American, who showed that humour is a market segment in the ever-expanding American genre of self-help.The issue is not comedy, of which Germany has plenty.At a deeper level, the problem has nothing do with jokes. What is missing is the trifecta of irony, overstatement and understatement in workaday conversations.
  4. THE Letpadaung copper-mine project in northern Myanmar has an image problem. The kidnapping by opponents of the mine on May 18th of three men working for a contractor to its Chinese developer, Wanbao, added to the impression of an unpopular project imposed on resentful locals by a greedy foreign firm. The kidnappers, who quickly freed their victims unharmed, had demanded the cancellation of a project that was already notorious. Wanbao is trying hard to get on with local people. Geng Yi, its local boss, says the firm spent $1.8m on “corporate social responsibility” work last year.
  5. On May 21st these showed that 93% of 313,000 valid votes had gone to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former field-marshal who as defence minister led the coup that toppled Egypt’s last elected head of state, Muhammad Morsi, in July 2013. In the immediate wake of the coup Mr Sisi denied any ambition to become president. His backers include not just Egypt’s powerful army and lumbering, 7m-strong civil service, but rich businessmen who own much of its press; minority groups made anxious during the brief rule of the Muslim Brotherhood ended by the coup.Reputed for his piety, Mr Sisi has insisted that a leader bears responsibility for moral values and religion. The role of the press, he says, is to forge national unity. During his term as defence minister, Egypt’s armed forces further entrenched their role in the civilian economy, adding giant infrastructure and housing projects to an already sprawling portfolio. Such deeply conservative instincts, reflecting the enduring legacy of decades of dictatorship and a state-led economy, play well with many Egyptians.

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