Economist 3/2/15

  1. Some 10-15% of the Westerners who have gone to Syria and Iraq to join IS are women, reckons Peter Neumann of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), a think-tank in London.Some travelling today are known to be from America, Britain, Finland, France, Germany and Sweden. As in the past, most are following their men. But many are single—a new trend.By establishing a caliphate, IS, unlike previous jihadist groups, is attempting to build a state. That has opened up roles for women. Fighting, though, is off-limits.If women cannot fight in Syria, why do they choose to go? Some express anger towards Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, for persecuting the Syrian people, or towards the coalition IS is fighting and the West more generally.
  2. Mr Jacab Zuma’s flagship policy in the face of a slowing economy and rising unemployment is to ban the foreign ownership of farmland in South Africa. A cornerstone of colonial rule and subsequently of apartheid (as well as resentment against both), was a land act passed in 1913 that prevented black people from buying land outside native reserves that made up just 13% of the country. More than two decades after the end of apartheid, the country’s white minority still owns most of the land.Now the government proposes to prevent foreigners from buying farmland as well as to restrict the size and number of farms that citizens may own.Restricting foreign ownership is not unusual: China, Argentina, Thailand and Canada’s prairie provinces are among the many places that limit land ownership by aliens.Some argue that proposed restrictions are more about politics than righting historical wrongs. Just 3% of total property in the country is in the hands of non-natives, according to Lightstone Property, a South African analytics company. More significant, however, is Mr Zuma’s announcement that land holdings even by citizens would be restricted to 12,000 hectares, which the government crudely described as being approximately the size of two farms. If a person owns more than this, the government will have the right to buy the excess land for redistribution.
  3. Known to the Chinese as Changbaishan, the mountain and its premium mineral water are the stars of the country’s frothing bottled-water market.In a country with just 7% of the world’s freshwater supplies but 20% of its population, cheaper bottles of water taken from river basins, lakes and underground, and of purified tap water, are even more popular than expensive mineral waters. In the past five years China’s guzzling of bottled water has almost doubled, according to Euromonitor, a research firm, from 19 billion to 37 billion litres.In 2013 the country overtook America as the biggest market for bottled water by volume, according to Canadean, another research group.Little wonder, then, that among China’s ten wealthiest people is Zong Qinghou, the founder of Hangzhou Wahaha, one of its best-selling bottled-water firms.Some of the largest brands have come under scrutiny: last December the authorities in Shanghai found that a quarter of bottled water sold locally—including by Hangzhou Wahaha—was contaminated with bacteria. National regulators have raised concerns about bottlers complying with laxer local standards (which allow higher levels of such contaminants as arsenic and cadmium) rather than their own, stricter standards.The government will implement a single national standard in May.Coca-Cola’s waters (including Ice Dew, China’s biggest foreign-owned brand) have 5.6%. Danone of France, which used to be in a joint venture with Hangzhou Wahaha but now operates alone, is close behind with 5.5%. Nestlé of Switzerland has 1.8%.
  4. FEW people had heard of Gemalto, the world’s largest manufacturer of SIM cards. Edward Snowden, a former employee of America’s National Security Agency, said that spies at GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent to the NSA, had stolen hundreds of thousands of the encryption keys hard-coded into Gemalto’s SIM cards, which are specialised chips that identify phones to phone networks. Armed with the keys, decrypting conversations and data from the phones in which they were installed would be trivial.Regardless of its scope, the Gemalto incident is a reminder that security has mostly been an afterthought in a booming industry.Fake base stations, which trick nearby phones into connecting to them, are a popular tool with the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies. Smartphones use a single cable to charge their batteries and to transfer data. That means that plugging in to unfamiliar charging points can be a security risk.
  5. Alejandro González Iñárritu on February 22nd after his absurdly and deliciously fearless “Birdman” won four Oscars, including best picture. It is the second year in a row that Mexican pluck has triumphed. In 2014 Alfonso Cuarón’s 3-D space-junk drama “Gravity” won seven Oscars, including the one for best director. Emmanuel Lubezki, both men’s wizard behind the camera, has taken best cinematographer for two years running. All three friends came of age in Mexico City in the 1980s, when mainstream domestic cinema was financially and creatively In America, where most Mexicans are noticed, if at all, sweeping floors and waiting at tables, such a masterful cleanup in Hollywood is a startling result.

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