Economist 1/21/15

  1. For most of its history, Islam has had a deep aversion to the lifelike portrayal of animate beings, especially human beings, and above all to the representation of Muhammad, the messenger of God—or indeed any of the preceding prophets. Muhammad, the messenger of God is reported to have spoken harshly to a man who made his living through art. “Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah till he puts life in it, and he will never be able to do that.” This is taken to mean that for a human, to try “making” a new being is usurping God’s role—and is in any case doomed to fail.The belief is most strongly held by the Sunnis who form the great majority of the world’s Muslims, especially the more puritanical and zealous groups such as the Wahhabis who dominate Saudi Arabia. Shia Islam is much more open to the depiction of human beings, up to and including Muhammad himself. This difference fuels the zeal of violent Sunni groups like Islamic State who have destroyed Shia shrines and images, claiming in doing so to be purifying their religion of idolatrous accretions.
  2. POPE FRANCIS broke the papal record for crowd-pulling this week when at least 6m Catholic faithful attended an open-air service he led in a Manila park on January 18th—more people than live in Frankfurt, Toronto, or Libya. The current head of the Catholic Church broke a record set by Pope John Paul II in 1995, when at least 4m attended a service of his, in the same park.About four-fifths of the nearly 100m people who live in the Philippines are Catholic. Spanish conquerors brought the religion in the 16th century.What makes Filipinos stand out among Christian-majority populations is their ardent expectation that piety and morality will be rewarded on earth, not just in heaven.
  3. A study of staff at a range of German workplaces, carried out over three years by Hans-Georg Wolff and Klaus Moser of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, found a positive correlation between the amount of effort the workers said they put into building contacts—inside and outside their offices—and their pay rises and career satisfaction.The first principle for would-be networkers is to abandon all shame. Be flagrant in your pursuit of the powerful and the soon-to-be-powerful, and when you have their attention, praise them to the skies. Academic research has found that people’s susceptibility to flattery is without limit and beyond satire.But shamelessness needs to be balanced with subtlety. Pretend to disagree with your interlocutor before coming around to his point of view; that gives him a sense of mastery. Discover similar interests or experiences. People are so drawn to those like themselves.The second principle is that you must have something to say. Success comes from having a well-stocked mind, not just a well-thumbed Rolodex.The third principle is that you need to work hard at networking. Swot up in advance on the most important people who will be at an event. If you manage to meet them, follow up with an e-mail and a suggestion to meet again.
  4. Premium carmakers have been busily launching an unprecedented number of new models.But a carpark-full of new models are also being launched for the very wealthiest drivers.There are three main reasons behind the push. First, growing wealth has boosted demand for the most luxurious or speedy vehicles over the past decade. Rolls-Royce and Bentley both sold a record number of cars in 2014.Second, bosses of car firms that make cheaper models believe that fast and fancy cars can help to put a shine on their brand, luring in younger buyers and encouraging others to trade up.Third, and most important, profit margins on luxury vehicles are high—as much as 15% for Ferrari and 10% for Rolls-Royce.
  5. WHEN China started opening up in 1978, its first economic reforms included raising the prices it paid to farmers for their crops. The decision, not surprisingly, led to bumper harvests. Controls on procurement prices for most farm products were eventually scrapped—but not on tobacco leaves. Only this year, nearly four decades later, will the government at last stop fixing their price.Tobacco companies remained exclusively in state hands. Prices of the leaf were set in order to assure farmers of an income and dissuade them from switching to other cash crops. Local governments wanted to boost tobacco farming, not least because of the taxes it yielded.China’s 5m tobacco farmers now produce more than 3m tonnes of tobacco a year, 43% of the world’s total—more than the combined output of the next nine tobacco-producing countries. China is home to a third of the world’s smokers, most of them men. Thanks to low sales taxes, cigarettes have become more than twice as affordable since 1990.Because sales are assured and prices set, farmers produce too much low-quality tobacco.

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