Economist 8/13/14

  1. The usual assumption is that bodily symmetry is a proxy for good health. Symmetry suggests orderly development in the womb and during childhood, and thus, the theory has it, captures a range of desirable things from good genes to infection-resistance. In the Proceedings of the Royal Society, by Nicholas Pound of Brunel University, London there was no correlation between health and symmetry.Dr Pound looked at the relationship between facial asymmetry and illness in more than 4,700 15-year-olds.  As far as susceptibility to infection is concerned, then, asymmetry is a useless indicator. They found an inverse relation between a child’s facial asymmetry at 15 and the results of an IQ test given to ALSPAC’s participants when they were eight.
  2. SOUTH KOREA, a dynamo of growth, is also afire with faith. About 5.4m of South Korea’s 50m people are Roman Catholics. Perhaps 9m more are Protestants, of many stripes. Yoido Full Gospel Church’s 1m members form the largest Pentecostal congregation on Earth. In the 18th century curious intellectuals encountered Catholicism in Beijing and smuggled it home. Confucian monarchs, brooking no rival allegiance, executed most early converts.Yet by 1945 only 2% of Koreans were Christian.Today 23% of South Koreans are Buddhist and 46% profess no belief.  But the world is now their oyster: only America sends more missionaries than Korea.
  3. The 480 high-speed trains (Trains à Grande Vitesse, or TGV) that radiate around France from Paris are struggling to remain in the black. Most of the lines are running at a loss and even the profitable ones are not earning enough to cover their cost of capital.SNCF boss Guillaume Pepy has pointed out how the rise of low-cost airlines in France has won them over half the air traffic at the expense of Air France. He sees no reason why TGVs should not be similarly squeezed as carriers such as easyJet, Ryanair and Vueling multiply their services in and around France. The other squeeze is coming from the rising track costs TGVs have to pay to Réseau Ferré de France, the owner and operator of the rail lines. This will continue even when RFF and SNCF’s train operating units (TGV, suburban and regional and freight) are brought under one holding company. About 40% of the cost of a TGV ticket goes to cover these track tolls, which have risen by over half in since 2007.
  4. Unlawful abductions, torture and killings of civilians have tainted the legacy of the war that George Bush brought to Afghanistan. But they are not a thing of the past. From 2009 to 2013 international troops killed at least 1,800 Afghan civilians, according to the report. Over this five-year period there were only six cases in which military officers or enlisted men were prosecuted for unlawful killings. In one of those six, Army Sgt Robert Bales was sentenced to life in prison without parole for shooting and killing 16 civilians in 2012. Amnesty also claims that in at least two cases, the American army covered up “abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes.”
  5. Almost everywhere women are in a minority in government cabinets.In a forthcoming paper, Maria Escobar-Lemmon and Michelle Taylor-Robinson of Texas A&M University compare the experience and accomplishments of the men and women among 447 cabinet ministers in recent administrations in five countries in the Americas: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and the United State, Although female ministers initiated fewer bills than comparable male ones, overall they were as likely to succeed. Nor was there much evidence of tokenism in individual countries among the five.

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