Economist 3/19/15

  1. Egypt has withdrawn from the continent. The relationship turned sour when Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s then president, was almost assassinated in Ethiopia in 1995. For the next 16 years Mr Mubarak shunned African summits.To get a sense of how much Egypt has withdrawn from Africa, consider that its trade on the continent accounts for less than 3% of its total.But after years of upheaval, Egypt is beginning to re-engage with the continent.Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s president, is focused on attracting investment. A much-touted investment conference in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on March 13th-15th will feature ten African heads of state. In May 26 African countries, including Egypt, are expected to launch a new free-trade area in Cairo.  Egypt sits downstream, so has little control over the Nile river’s flow. Nevertheless, it claims most of the water running into its dam at Aswan, based on a treaty it signed with Sudan in 1959.The old treaties were clearly unfair, and the dam’s significance was overstated, but the dispute nevertheless poisoned Egypt’s relations with its neighbours.
  2. India has 840m active mobile subscribers—the country is so vast that, to make it manageable, regulators divide it into 22 “circles”, or regional markets. In most circles there are at least eight mobile operators plying for custom. In contrast, other countries have found that between four and six companies is enough to keep prices in check while ensuring a decent level of service. India’s cut-throat market is a boon to its consumers, who enjoy among the lowest charges anywhere for calls and for data downloads .Some of the spectrum is new, but much comes from the expiry of 20-year licences sold in 1995, when the industry was in its infancy. That makes the auction a fraught affair for the three largest operators, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea, who together serve 58% of subscribers.Idea is the most exposed: 72% of its revenue depends on spectrum that is up for renewal, compared with 47% for Vodafone and 35% for Bharti.
  3. Neuroimaging studies reveal that the brain continues to mature as people enter their early 20s, and the regions responsible for controlling impulses and making plans—ie, the frontal lobes, home of the prefrontal cortex—are the last to develop. Specifically, the brain blooms with neural connections until a child reaches the age of 11 or 12, and then it selectively prunes away the underused ones, or “grey matter”, throughout adolescence. As the brain grows more streamlined, it becomes better at transmitting information. The remaining connections are then made more efficient by a process called myelination, which essentially insulates neuronal axons with a sheath of fatty cell material, or “white matter”. The process of replacing grey matter with white matter does not reach the prefrontal cortex until people are in their early 20s. Studies show a relationship between increased myelination and an improved ability to make decisions and control impulses. Some now argue that this science helps to explain why teenagers across cultures are not only moody and compulsive, but also especially likely to seek novelty, take risks and follow peers.neuroimaging research is still in its infancy. There is much about the brain that no one understands yet, and there is rarely a clear relationship between a particular brain region and a discrete function.
  4. Aaron Schock  announced his resignation on March 17th as Republican congressman for the state’s 18th district.Mr Schock, who is 33, was for a while the youngest member of Congress and remains the only one to appear semi-shirtless on the cover of Men’s Health magazine.This whirl of politics, jet-set travel and donor-stroking (he was one of the top five House Republican fundraisers in 2013) began to unravel in February, after his interior designer gave the Washington Post a chatty tour of Mr Schock’s offices on Capitol Hill.Mr Schock soon faced questions about $90,000 in campaign funds spent on private air charters, a taxpayer-funded private flight to a football match and unreported foreign travel.Less than 12 hours later he announced his resignation, calling all the attention too great a distraction from his public duties, and repaid all his expenses for official mileage as a congressman.
  5. IS differs from jihadist groups that have gone before, including its parent, al-Qaeda.But what most sets it apart is its claim to have restored the Islamic caliphate. The revival of a single state to rule over all Muslims, dating to Islam’s earliest days and abolished in 1924 by modern Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman empire.The caliphate has been pushed out of the Syrian town of Kobane by Kurdish fighters, backed by American air power. It is being squeezed in Tikrit (the tribal base of the former dictator, Saddam Hussein) by the Iraqi army and Shia militias co-ordinated by Iran. IS’s funds are dwindling, too. America and its allies have bombed lucrative oil facilities. And after Tikrit falls, there is Mosul—bigger and more important, with a population closely associated with IS. The recapture of Mosul is vital to puncturing IS’s claim to be a caliphate. Hardest of all is the insoluble problem of Syria. Even if Mosul can be retaken, IS or something like it will survive, certainly for as long as it enjoys an unchallenged haven in Syria. For the time being, nobody is even thinking of trying to eject IS from the Syrian city of Raqqa.Syria will not be pacified soon—possibly not for many years. Until that moment, IS can lurk there, controlling swathes in the east, destabilising Sunni areas of Iraq and biding its time until it has another chance to rise up.
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