Economist 11/6/15

  1. ON NOVEMBER 5TH Britons up and down the country will light bonfires and set off fireworks to mark the execution of Guy Fawkes, a 17th-century Roman Catholic terrorist. More recently activists have appropriated the day as one of mass protest.In 1605 Fawkes was part of a Roman Catholic group that plotted to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of parliament. The “Gunpowder plot” was intended to kill King James I, a Protestant, and install his nine-year-old daughter on the throne to rule as a Roman Catholic monarch. But an anonymous letter describing the plans was sent to the King. Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the House with 36 barrels of gunpowder nearby.The government was particularly heavy-handed in its treatment of the group in order to try to deter future terrorist attempts. The tradition of lighting bonfires and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes began shortly after the foiled plot.
  2. In the 1980s graphic novelists Alan Moore and David Lloyd created a comic strip, “V for Vendetta”, in which the main protagonist is a cloaked anarchist who wears a grinning, moustachioed Guy Fawkes mask.The authors wanted to celebrate Fawkes by turning him into an anti-hero for the modern age.Two years later, in January 2008, Anonymous launched “Project Chanology”—a coordinated attack on the Church of Scientology’s website which they deemed to be censoring information. Rule 17 of Anonymous’s code of conduct, circulated to protesters before its “first real life public demonstration” on February 10th 2008 states: “Cover your face. This will prevent your identification from videos taken by hostiles”. For those who chose to wear masks the decision was simple: taking inspiration from the last scene of the film, in which a crowd of Guy Fawkeses watch the Houses of Parliament explode.
  3. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ) tries to control the price of its product much as OPEC does that of oil.Its members—and all syrup producers in the province must join or risk having their output seized by FPAQ’s enforcers—are subject to quotas. Any excess syrup is put into FPAQ’s stockpile, and producers only get paid for it when it is sold, often years later. The intention is to keep prices high and stable by limiting supply.Quebec is the Saudi Arabia of syrup, accounting for 71% of global production. But in a bittersweet echo of the oil price run-up of recent years, high prices have encouraged the development of new supplies. America’s maple-syrup harvest grew from 21m pounds (7.2m litres) in 2012 to 35m in 2014. The state of New York alone has more maple trees than all of Quebec, although few of them are tapped.Moreover, keeping maple syrup expensive limits demand and encourages substitution.
  4. Losing the right to drive is, for many elderly people, as traumatic as being widowed.licensing is usually a binary decision: either someone is permitted to drive or he is not. But this is silly. Reactions slow with age, but do so gradually. Eyesight deteriorates similarly.One answer would be customised licences that, for example, prohibit long-distance driving but permit trips to the supermarket. But knowing how to tailor these licences to individuals requires a sophisticated and systematic way to assess people’s capabilities. And that is the purpose of DriverLab, a simulator being built at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, in Canada.Changing the law to allow restricted licences to be issued on the basis of a test like this would, though, depend on its working in practice. Initially, therefore, Dr Fernie envisages that DriverLab’s customers will be the elderly themselves, or possibly their concerned children.
  5. ONE issue that virtually every Democratic presidential candidate has weighed in on this year is the wage gap between the sexes. The most commonly-cited statistic is that women make just 77 cents for every dollar men do, with the implication being that the 23-cent gap is a result of discrimination. While the statistic is accurate, interpreting it requires some nuance: at least some of the gender pay gap can be explained by differences in things like the number of hours worked or type of careers each gender pursues.What is tougher to determine is if women make less for “same work”: studies tend to rely on data from the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labour Statistics which are reliable but lack detail.A new report from PayScale, a jobs website, takes a stab at this very problem. According to their data, female doctors make 29.2% less than their male counterparts, but that gap shrinks to just 4.6% after introducing the controls. This in part because women are more likely to work in paediatrics, while men are more likely to work in the better-paid field of surgery.
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