Economist 3/13/15

  1. The origins of this petrol black market in Benin lie less than an hour’s drive away, across Benin’s eastern border, in Nigeria, where imported fuel is sold at subsidised rates and the price paid by drivers is capped, thus generating a massive trade in illicit petrol. Known in Benin as kpayo, it is a third cheaper than the legal stuff; 80% of the petrol in Benin’s cars is said to have been smuggled in. Of the 2m or so barrels of oil pumped out of wells in Nigeria each day, as many as 400,000 are reckoned to be stolen, often with the connivance of politicians.Nigeria has consistently failed to fulfil a contract to supply Ghana with 120m cubic feet a day. Nigeria is also an exporter of insecurity, much of which can be traced to dizzying levels of corruption and political inertia.Piracy is another growing regional problem that can be blamed largely on Nigeria’s inability to police its oily creeks in the Niger delta.Nigeria also hurts the region with its protectionist trade policy. It bans the import of hundreds of goods, from cement to noodles. Yet Nigeria has failed to industrialise.
  2. The Baltic Dry Index (BDI), which tracks the cost of shipping iron ore, coal, grain and other materials hit a 30-year low. Yet its decline says more about the predicament of those who own the vessels that carry such cargoes than it does about economic growth or the prospects for world trade. For container ships, which move finished goods, and oil tankers the outlook is less gloomy.China’s economy is slowing. China absorbs three-fifths of the world’s ship-borne iron ore—the most commonly carried dry-bulk cargo—and a quarter of its coal. Cargo rates have foundered along with the share prices of shipping firms mainly because the growth of capacity has run ahead of the growth in demand. America’s shale-oil boom means it has fewer tankers heading in its direction—but much of the oil produced in the Atlantic basin is now making a longer journey to Asia, keeping tankers busy.As a result, for some oil tankers rates are at their highest since 2008.
  3. In the decade to 2013, Japan gave asylum to just over 300 refugees. In 2014, the number fell to 11. Last year, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people topped 50m worldwide for the first time. In Japan there were more asylum applications than at any time since the country signed the UN refugee convention in 1981.Once they arrive, asylum seekers can face a grim experience. Some are locked up for years while their claims are processed.
  4. Changes to immigration law in the 1960s triggered a decades-long surge in arrivals, taking the Hispanic population from just 7m in 1970 to 57m today in America, a number that is set to double by mid-century. Whites of European descent share is below two-thirds now, and the white majority is set to become a minority by 2044. Hispanics  are strikingly young, lowering America’s median age and offering workers to fill the labour market when other rich countries face greying decline.But five-sixths are legal residents and recent Latino growth has been mostly from births, not new arrivals.
  5. CHAMELEONS’ colour-changing ways are well-known, but precisely how they do it has remained a mystery until this week. They are far from the only animals with the skill: often deployed for camouflage, in reaction to stress, to warn predators, woo partners, or even to regulate temperature. In many cases the process starts in the eye, where the colours of the environment, a rival or a mate are acquired. That triggers a signal from the brain to other cells, called chromatophores, which initiate the change in hue.Other creatures use optical trickery in related cells called iridophores. In damselfish, light waves bounce between thin plates within these cells. The colour reflected depends on the spacing of the plates. The fish can precisely shift that separation across millions of cells by just billionths of a metre, all in under a second.
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