Economist 1/28/16

  1. Itu Aba, the biggest natural island in the Spratly archipelago, in the much-disputed South China Sea. It is garrisoned by Taiwan, but also claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Philippines and Vietnam are incensed; China less so: it maintains the fiction that there is “one China”, and Taiwan’s territorial claims are its own. Mr Ma wants to show that the island can sustain human life, and so is entitled under international law to a 200-nautical-mile (370km) exclusive economic zone. He will also advertise his own “South China Sea Peace Initiative”, announced last May but largely ignored.
  2. The computer used a program, called AlphaGo, developed by DeepMind, a London-based artificial intelligence (AI) company bought by Google in 2014 for $400m. It took on Fan Hui, European Go champion, beating him 5-0, according to a report in Nature. Beating a champion at Go has long been considered a “grand challenge” in AI research, for the game is far harder for computers than chess. Go players alternately place black or white stones on a grid of 19×19 squares with the aim of occupying the most territory. The size of the board, and the number and complexity of potential moves, make the game impossible to play via brute-force calculation.
  3. While Germany is coping with a vast flood of Syrian refugees, France is attracting only a trickle.Overall asylum applications rose last year by 22%, but to just 79,000—nothing remotely close to the million-plus who registered in Germany. In 2015, 158,657 Syrians completed asylum applications in Germany, compared with only 3,553 in France. Last year the European Union agreed on a relocation programme to share 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece. By mid-January France had taken in only 19; another 43 arrived this week.The explanation seems to be a mix of migrants’ relatively weak ties to France, and the limited opportunities in a country with 10% unemployment.there is no French political appetite to speed matters up. The xenophobic National Front continues to shape the debate. In a recent poll, 60% of French said they do not want more refugees, and terrorism has hardened sentiment.
  4. Winemakers typically depend upon testing the level of sugar to determine if their berries are ready, but that is not terribly accurate. As pinot noir grapes reach late stages of maturity, the rate at which they gain sugars slows down just as the rate at which they accumulate the aromatic compounds that can grant wine a good “nose” goes up. And in wine, the aroma is a fundamental part of its appeal. Varying rainfall, temperatures and soil conditions all affect the rate at which aromatic compounds enter grapes.The researchers report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that they detected 49 aromatic compounds in the grapes from the two years during both the early and the late sampling periods. Most of these compounds remained at low levels throughout the growing period. However, four of them (ß-damascenone, which carries a floral and tea-like smell; vanillin, the key compound in vanilla; 4-vinylguaiacol, which smells like cloves, and 4-vinylphenol, which is reminiscent of spicy almonds) were found in much higher concentrations in the mature grapes than in the early-season ones.
  5. THE mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has spread to 22 countries and territories in the Americas, is terrifying to pregnant women and their partners. The virus may cause birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy.It started after a handful of governments advised women to delay getting pregnant. Colombia, which has the second-highest number of infections after Brazil, advised women to wait six to eight months. Jamaica issued a similar recommendation, even though no cases of Zika have yet been reported there. El Salvador’s government suggested that women should delay pregnancy until 2018.Some women find this advice rather bossy. Others say that governments have done little to help women control their fertility.The Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank, found that 56% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean are unintended.Rather than calling on women to delay pregnancy, Brazil is sensibly concentrating its efforts on the real culprit, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also carries dengue and yellow fever. The country had stamped out the menace by 1958 but let down its guard and allowed it to return.
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