Economist 2/15/16

  1. FEW places still capture the romance (and frustration) of the early days of flight quite as Africa does.Yet African airlines feel like a prop-blast from the past in regrettable ways, too. In most places, schedules are about as reliable as they were when planes could take off or land only in clear weather. Tickets are costly. Routes are convoluted.Most airlines are state-owned and protected from competition. Like a lot of national carriers elsewhere, they tend to be chronically unprofitable and to need frequent bail-outs from taxpayers.Across Africa, airlines wanting to fly new routes from one country to another need the agreement of both governments first. Getting this can take years of lobbying and, in some cases, bribes. If the airline is not owned by one of the two states, its chances of winning permission nosedive.
  2. Lousy air links inhibit trade, exports and investment. In many parts of the world air travel grows about twice as fast as GDP.The lesson from other parts of the world is that when markets are freed, fares fall. This stimulates a huge increase in air travel and gives a boost to all the businesses that depend on mobility. In African countries that have liberalised a bit, this has indeed happened: after a bilateral open-skies deal, fares between South Africa and Zambia fell by almost 40% and passenger numbers rose nearly as much.In 1988 most African governments signed up to the Yamoussoukro Declaration, pledging to open their skies. To date not one has done so fully (although some, such as South Africa, have opened up a lot).
  3. For every dollar earned by a white non-hispanic man in full-time work, the average white woman in America earns 78 cents, and an average Latina woman only 56 cents. Gay men are no exception to this: even knocking out the influence of factors like education and experience they earn less on average than straight men, by around 5% in France and the UK, and 12-16% in Canada and America. But one minority group seems to do better than others: lesbians.Research into this area is tricky; getting decent data is hard, and asking people to reveal their sexual orientation can be even harder. One possibility is that lesbians might face positive discrimination, perhaps if employers expect them to be more competitive and more committed to work than their straight female colleagues.Another idea is that lesbians are responding to the gender of their likely partner. They might have to work harder to plump up household income in the absence of a male partner. Or, it could be that in same-sex couples women find it easier to shrug off expectations that they will take on the bulk of childcare or household chores.although they might earn more than straight women, they still earn less than men. Poverty rates among lesbian couples are 7.9%, compared to 6.6% among different-sex couples.
  4. Today London is home both to Mr Putin’s cronies and to opponents of his regime trying to lay the groundwork for the day it vanishes.The most prominent political exile is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs until the government seized his companies and jailed him in 2003. Freed in 2013, Mr Khodorkovsky now calls London home.Unlike many earlier dissidents, Mr Khodorkovsky is not directly working to hasten the regime’s end. Instead he aims to nurture a new Russian political elite, so that when the transition comes.As for what might bring about that change, Mr Khodorkovsky does not think it will be elections. Either Mr Putin will anoint a successor, or there will be “a revolution, with luck a bloodless one”.One obstacle to building a post-Putin elite is that many of the young people who might form one are leaving the country. The Soviet Union of the 1970s and 1980s prevented its citizens from defecting, forcing young, independent-minded people to sit tight and hope for change. In contrast, Russia has kept its borders open, letting the steam escape.Most young Russians in London are neither exiles nor oligarchs, but professionals in search of the careers and intellectual fulfilment they can no longer find at home.
  5. According to the Civil Aviation Authority there were 1,440 reports of lasers being pointed at planes in Britain in 2014, the last full year for which there are data. That compares with 746 in 2009. It is not only a problem in Britain: 312 British planes were targeted overseas in 2014. And in America there were a 3,894 cases in 2014.The rise in attacks has coincided with high-powered lasers becoming cheaper. For less than £10 ($14), it is now possible to buy a gadget that purports to have a range of several miles.The problem is not caused by the laser being pointed directly into a pilot’s eye, but from the beam dispersing on the windshield. This causes a brief, dazzling flash and can lead to momentary “flash blindness”.The quality of glass that can filter out laser beams is improving.. Airbus, meanwhile, has been testing a thin film that can be laminated onto the inside of a plane’s windshield without hindering visibility. Such solutions, though, tend to tackle only one colour of beam. That is usually green, the most frequently used in attacks.So stricter regulation is also needed. Limiting pointers’ power is a sensible place to start. In America pointing a laser at a plane is a federal offence for which perpetrators can be jailed for up to five years. In Britain, prosecutors must prove that the person at the foot of the beam intended mischief; just being caught shining it at an aircraft is not enough.

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