Economist 4/2/15

  1. SAUDI ARABIA’S recently enthroned King Salman pulled off a striking diplomatic coup last month when he gathered a ten-country coalition of Sunni states to bomb the upstart Shia rebels in Yemen known as Houthis. Saudi Arabia is usually shy about speaking loudly and taking part in military action. Its uncharacteristic assertiveness may be a sign of the influence of the new king’s son and defence minister, Muhammad, who is in his 30s. Sunni states no doubt want to draw a line against further encroachment by Iran, which exerts strong influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.Politically nimble as King Salman’s team may be, the real test will be the outcome of the military action and whether it can stabilise his poor, tumultuous southern neighbour. During its latest foray into Yemen, in 2009, the Saudi army achieved a draw at best against the Houthis, then confined to their northern stronghold.Ultimately Yemen will have to be pacified by a political agreement. King Salman seems bent on reinstalling Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the internationally backed president. The trouble is that Yemen’s Zaydis represent only about 40% of its population, so the Houthis will be hard to exclude.
  2. Shabab emerged from the ruins of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a grassroots religious movement that in 2006 reclaimed Somalia from years of rule by warlords. After a few months in charge, an American-backed Ethiopian invasion smashed the ICU. Its armed wing then transformed into a powerful guerilla force. At its zenith in 2009 Shabab controlled almost the whole of southern Somalia and all but a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu. For years it harboured one of the masterminds of the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and in 2012 declared its allegiance to Al-Qaeda. Shabab suicide bombers killed 74 people in a pair of suicide attacks in Uganda during the 2010 World Cup final. But the Westgate attack, though less deadly, is its most high-profile operation to date.Shabab has never launched a successful attack outside East Africa and is less likely than ever to do so now. The 22,000-strong African Union force in Somalia has beaten the Islamists back from Mogadishu and a string of other towns.Shabab is losing on the battlefield and in the media. Its brutality looks almost old-fashioned in comparison to the actions of IS.
  3. New data from the Census Bureau show that seven of the ten fastest-growing counties in America by population are in the South (defined here as the 11 states of the old Confederacy plus Kentucky and West Virginia). Southerners still earn less than the American average, since the region has a lot of poor people. But the cost of living is low.The number of graduates in Charlotte, North Carolina rose by 50% in the decade to 2013; Baton Rouge, Nashville and Tampa each gained 35%.In the 2000s, eight of the top ten states for Hispanic population growth were in the South.Later this year Airbus will open a $600m plant near Mobile, Alabama, not far from its rival Boeing in North Charleston, South Carolina. Volkswagen is expanding its car plants in Chattanooga. South Carolina makes more tyres than any other state: both Michelin and Continental have their North American headquarters there. Southern governors nearly all say that firms find their states congenial because of low taxes, weak unions and light regulation. This is partly true, as Texas’s recent record of job creation shows.
  4. Racism still casts a shadow. In 2014 40% of America’s 784 hate groups were based in the region. Yet the gap between black and white household income is lower in the South than in America as a whole. Public health care is stingier in the South than elsewhere. Of the 13 southern states, only Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia have expanded Medicaid.On standardised maths tests for 13-year-olds, southern states cluster at the bottom, though Texas, Virginia and North Carolina are slightly above average.Atlanta exemplifies both the virtues and the failings of the South. Its 5.5m residents live near the world’s busiest airport. Several local firms are world-class: Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, UPS. The city also has more black businesses and millionaires than any other in America.Atlanta is also America’s most unequal city, according to the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. Households at the 95th percentile make 19 times as much money as those at the 20th. This gap correlates with race: black families in Atlanta are almost three times as likely to be poor as white ones. And Atlantans are not very socially mobile.Those born into the poorest quintile have only a 4.5% chance of making it to the top quintile.
  5. ORTHODOX Christians will not celebrate Easter until April 12th. But for Western-Christians Holy Week is nearing its end, and today marks the beginning of the high point of the year: the triduum, the Latin name for the three days that included Jesus’s passion, crucifixion and resurrection.  Why do we celebrate “Maundy” Thursday, “Good” Friday and “Easter”?Moving to a different kind of weirdness, many an English-speaking Christian has wondered why the darkest day of the Holy Week, on which Jesus suffered and died, is called Good Friday. Most Romance languages (again) merely call it Holy Friday.Only Dutch, among the major western European languages, joins English in calling it “Good Friday”. Of course the sacrificial story is essential to the Christian version of salvation, but the mild and boring “good” is not the word that springs to mind.Finally there is Easter. Most European languages directly borrowed a Biblical word. Passover, the main Jewish spring festival commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, is known in Hebrew as pessach and Aramaic.In the eighth century, the monk known as the Venerable Bede wrote that speakers of Germanic languages, such as Anglo-Saxon, even after accepting Christianity, had continued calling the month surrounding Easter Eosturmonath, supposedly after a goddess Eostreas pascha.
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