Economist 2/16/16

  1. LAST autumn, FlyersRights.org, a non-profit organisation representing air travellers,drafted a petition to the American Congress demanding new guidelines for the minimum distance between rows in planes.Steve Cohen, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, introduced an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding bill last week that would have mandated a certain amount of legroom for passengers. The average distance between seat rows, he said, has declined from 35 inches before airlines were deregulated in the 1970s to 31 inches today, while the average seat width has fallen from 18 to 16.5 inches.The FAA requires that planes be capable of evacuation in 90 seconds or less, but the FAA hasn’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on airlines with a distance between rows of less than 29 inches. Some airlines fly with rows as close as 28 inches apart.The House Transportation Committee shot it down, by a 26-33 vote. By the same margin, the panel also rejected another amendment by the two lawmakers that would have forced the FAA to test the safety of these smaller airplane seats.
  2. The Mekong river runs more than 4,300 kilometres. It supports the world’s most productive inland fishery, and its watershed boasts stunning biodiversity. But Mekong countries—particularly China, Laos and Cambodia—treat the river as their own private battery.China has built six hydroelectric dams on its stretch of the Mekong; Laos and Cambodia plan another 11, along with dozens more on its major tributaries. Though power demand in the booming Mekong region is soaring, these dams will not come close to satisfying it. Instead, they threaten regional fish stocks and farmland, and may leave millions of people poor, hungry and displaced. China and Laos will reap the benefits; Cambodia and Vietnam will bear most of the costs.
  3. LAST June, a few months after Chadian forces had crossed into Nigeria to fight the Islamist insurgents of Boko Haram, two suicide-bombers detonated their belts in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, killing more than 30 people. Two days later Chad’s government banned the wearing of the burqa, the Muslim woman’s covering that hides even the eyes.A month after Chad’s ban, Cameroon did the same in its northernmost region following suicide-bombings by people clad in burqas. Now the ban has been extended to five of Cameroon’s ten provinces, including its two biggest cities. Niger’s government has banned the garment in Diffa, a southern region that has also been hit by Boko Haram. And late last year Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, said that a ban even on the hijab, which shrouds a woman’s head and chest but leaves her face on show, may be necessary if bombings persist.Even countries unharmed by Islamist terror are banning the burqa. Last year Congo-Brazzaville barred it in public places to “prevent any act of terrorism”. And Senegal, which the French security service says is vulnerable to an attack, is pondering a ban, too.
  4. Across the region around Lake Chad such rules have accompanied a stream of new security measures, including curfews, embargoes on motorbikes (the attackers’ vehicle of choice) and checks on cars with tinted windows. People in Congo-Brazzaville have been banned from sleeping in mosques.Most people in Chad, Senegal and Niger are Muslim, as are nearly a quarter of Cameroonians.Many Muslims in the region are Sufis, who wear colourful clothes, practise a mystical kind of Islam, and tend to see the full-face veil as drab and unAfrican.Ultra-austere forms of Islam, in particular the Wahhabist version, sprung up in sub-Saharan Africa only in the past few decades, as traders and students travelled to the Gulf and Saudi Arabia poured money into Islamist institutes and mosques.Though a small minority, fundamentalists are growing in number.
  5. JOURNALISTS often lament the death of the physical album at the hands of music streaming services.Yet musicians from all corners of the industry—mainstream, middle-tier, independent, up-and-coming—continue to create albums. They are artistic statements, and build a body of work that artists can not only be proud of, but build tours around.Spotify suggests that albums are still worth artists’ while on a fiscal level, even though they pay rights holders a seemingly measly sum of $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream. In 2013, they estimated that monthly royalties for a niche indie album were more than $3,000, $17,000 for a rock album, and $145,000 for a top-ten album.Fans who prefer full, cohesive albums to hit singles are significantly fewer, but they still exist. Often over 30 and nostalgic, they like to have something to hold and look at, as well as to listen to.The concept of belonging to a ‘tribe’ is still valid. Super fans buy to remember something they were there for.
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