Economist 2/23/15

  1. A firm now called Gogo, purchased a thin sliver of air-to-ground spectrum in the United States, and began service in 2008, deploying dozens of ground stations that point upwards at aircraft, rather than downwards at people on the ground, and use a variant of 3G mobile-data technology called EV-DO. Service was extended to Canada in 2014. This provides enough bandwidth for e-mail and basic web browsing.After Boeing’s early, failed attempt, satellite equipment became lighter, cheaper and more capable, and newer planes are designed to accommodate Wi-Fi gear. Several firms now operate in-flight internet service via satellite; some own the satellites, like Panasonic Avionics (United’s contractor for its newer internet service), while others, such as Row 44 and OnAir, license the necessary capacity. Gogo has added satellite-based internet to its options.
  2. IT IS often described as the world’s biggest recurring movement of people: a 40-day period spanning the lunar new year (which fell on February 19th this year), during which astonishing numbers of people travel to join distant family members to celebrate the “spring festival” in China. Officials call this period chunyun, or spring transportation.This year the projected number of journeys on public transport during chunyun, which will end on March 15th, is nearly 2.9 billion, a 10% increase over the comparable period a year ago.Many of the journeys involve mingong, or peasant workers, as the nearly 300m migrants from the countryside who work in urban areas are often snootily called.Children and parents stay in the villages, because a fragmented social-security system makes it difficult for migrants to enjoy subsidised education and health care in the cities.Alibaba says there has been a “tremendous increase” in the number of elderly parents travelling from their rural homes to industrial centres such as the southern city of Guangzhou to spend the festival with their children.
  3. THE Kurds, at least 25m-strong, are one of the world’s most numerous peoples without a state. Today the Kurdish Region of Iraq, home to at least 6m people, is independent in all but name (see article). It is that benighted country’s only fully functioning part.A sustainable economy is within the Kurds’ grasp. They are exporting increasing amounts of oil, and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad has at last agreed a formula that will let them keep the lion’s share of the profits. Soon they hope to produce 800,000 barrels a day, worth $17 billion a year at today’s prices.Democracy is established, though still rough-edged. Iraqi Kurdistan has regular elections, a boisterous parliament, an array of political parties and a raucous media.Turkey and Iran have long been opposed to an independent Kurdistan carved out of Iraq, lest their own Kurds try to follow suit, if Iraqi Kurdistan becomes a magnet for neighbouring Kurdish rebel movements.Western countries should make plain that an independent Kurdistan will get no help if it stirs up secessionist Kurds across its border.
  4. Under American law, mutual funds that advertise past performance are required to use set time periods of one, five and ten years. Unsurprisingly, funds tend to advertise more heavily when their performance has been good. The industry spent $28.5m on advertisements about their returns in 2005 but only $1.6m in 2009, after the financial crisis had laid waste to stockmarkets.So a fund that has a great-looking ten-year record might have had a stellar 2014 or a dismal 2004 that no longer shows up in the numbers. The latter is dubbed a “horizon effect”.Some academics are not convinced that investors should pay any attention to past performance, since almost no fund managers consistently beat the market.
  5. Parents pay fees of as much as 180,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan ($29,000 to $48,000) to American and Chinese companies to help polish their children’s applications for Ivy League universities.They even assume students’ identities in e-mail correspondence with universities. Some agents charge fees (of up to 100,000 yuan, or $16,000) only if a client’s application for a “top 50” American university is successful.The cheating goes well beyond embellishing credentials. Some students pay for advance copies of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).Two companies in Beijing started by Americans, InitialView and Vericant, as well as the Council on International Educational Exchange, an American NGO, offer to conduct video interviews with candidates in China to help American universities get a better understanding of the students.
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