Economist 9/17/14

  1. Houthis, a revivalist movement for the Zaydi form of Shia Islam that has lately grown in strength from its base in the north of Yemen is squeezing the government by holding Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, to ransom. They have brought in supporters and mounted an escalating series of sit-ins and crippling roadblocks to force concessions from the beleaguered president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The trouble is that the feeble Yemeni state is bankrupt. Mr Hadi, who must juggle demands from other factions, including Sunni Islamists, while also pursuing a war against al-Qaeda terrorists in the south, cannot afford to appear weak.More pressingly, the Houthis’ tactic risks sparking clashes in the capital, and perhaps all-out mayhem on a scale not seen since Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president of three decades, stepped down in November 2011 after a year of mass protests and street battles (and the near-assassination of Mr Saleh).
  2. Like other batteries, Li-ions consist of two electrodes (an anode and a cathode) separated by an electrolyte.. Charging the battery drives positively charged lithium ions in the electrolyte to the negatively charged anode, where they accumulate. The process also creates heat,which for the most part is easily dissipated. But a battery that is charged for too long can form spindly lithium dendrites, or crystals, on the anode, which can cause a short-circuit. They can lead to “thermal runaway” and occasionally fires. Such fires are why Boeing 787s were grounded in early 2013 Despite this risk, the ultimate goal for many scientists is to build a commercially viable battery containing yet more lithium, as the anode itself. Lithium-metal anodes have the highest energy-storing capacity of any known material and, because lithium is the least dense metallic element, a big power-to-weight ratio too.
  3. The death toll from the Ebola virus is continuing to grow alarmingly. On September 9th the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it had recorded 4,293 cases in five west African countries, of which at least 2,296 people had died. In Liberia the disease is spreading quickly. The country’s existence is now “seriously threatened” as the functions of state are disrupted, Brownie Samukai, Liberia’s minister of national defence, said this week. The health system, already weak, is breaking down. At least 160 Liberian health-care workers have contracted the disease and half of them have died. Ebola is also spreading in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and a case has been reported in Senegal. This is the worst-ever outbreak. Yet even though the disease was discovered almost 40 years ago, there are no licensed treatments or vaccines.The reason Ebola is so deadly is that the virus is good at tamping down the innate immune response to viral infection, says Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain. Last week the first phase 1 clinical trials started in America for a vaccine developed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). In parallel, a British group is planning tests using volunteers in the UK, the Gambia and Mali.
  4. Ernst & Young, a consultancy and accounting firm, estimates that Islamic banking assets grew at an annual rate of 17.6% between 2009 and 2013, and will grow by an average of 19.7% a year to 2018.Most of the world’s Muslims are not so devout that they completely abjure conventional finance: even in Saudi Arabia, the assets of Islamic banks account for barely half of all banking assets. Islamic Banking has grown into a global industry, with total assets of around $2 trillion. Most of that (nearly 80%, according to Malaysia’s central bank) is entrusted either to Islamic banks or to the Islamic units of conventional banks. The rest takes the form of sukuk, Islam’s answer to bonds (15%); Islamic investment funds (4%) and takaful, the Islamic version of insurance (1%). In 2012 Iran accounted for 43% of the world’s Islamic banking assets, with Saudi Arabia (12%) and Malaysia (10%) ranking second and third.In an Islamic mortgage, for instance, a bank does not lend money to an individual who buys a property; instead, it buys the property itself. The customer can then either buy it back from the bank at a higher price paid in instalments (murabahah) or make monthly payments to the bank comprising both a repayment of the purchase price and rent until he owns the property outright (ijara).Bahrain’s central bank issued the first sovereign sukuk in 2001; from 2002 to 2012, annual issuance grew at an average rate of 35%, from $4 billion to $83 billion.Western firms are also beginning to usesukuk to raise money.
  5. In America the Confucius programme has been widely welcomed by universities and school districts, which often do not have enough money to provide Chinese-language teachers for all who need them. But critics like Mr May believe China’s funding comes at a price: that Confucius Institutes (as those established on university campuses are known) and school-based Confucius Classrooms restrain freedom of speech by steering discussion of China away from sensitive subjects.n June the American Association of University Professors called for universities to end or revise their contracts with Confucius Institutes (America has 100 of them) because they “function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom”.Through the Hanban, a government entity, China provides the centres with paid-for instructors and sponsors cultural events at them. Its spending is considerable, and growing rapidly. In 2013 it was $278m, By the end of 2013 China had established 440 institutes and 646 classrooms serving 850,000 registered students. They are scattered across more than 100 countries, with America hosting more than 40% of the combined total.
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