Economist 3/14/16

  1. IN BRITAIN there is roughly one doctor for every 350 people. There is a pretty good chance, therefore, of finding a physician among the passengers on most commercial flights. Thank heavens, because airlines lean on off-duty medical staff pretty heavily.A 2013 study by the University of Pittsburgh found that there was a medical emergency for every 604 commercial flights. Seventy-eight per cent of these were dealt with by medically qualified passengers who happened to be on board. Of the total, half were handled by doctors and 28% by nurses and the like.It is partly down to the happy probability of a doctor being on board that only 7% of flights on which there is a medical emergency have to be diverted.Some airlines reward medical professionals who step in during an emergency with a complimentary flight; others, such as Turkish Airlines, give doctors free air miles if they identify themselves before they board.
  2. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan of the Dera Sacha Sauda is far from the first religious leader in India to make money or a spectacle of himself. But his self-promotion via Bollywood-style films, music, gatherings like rock concerts and, since February, a line of some 150 consumer products, marks an important change. Mr Singh is one of a new, more sophisticated crop of godmen, as India’s press calls the country’s proliferation of spiritual entrepreneurs.An early mover is Ramdev, a teacher of yoga whose television lessons are credited with popularising the discipline among India’s fast-growing middle class. Ten years ago he launched a range of “ayurvedic” drugs and beauty products. More recently Ramdev’s brands have expanded aggressively into foods and detergents, competing directly with big multinationals.During one week in January his Patanjali brand was the top spender in Indian television advertising, beating such consumer giants as Unilever and Cadbury with a blitz of 17,000 showings. Annual sales have reportedly doubled in the past year, to nearly $750m.
  3. Ask citizens of the 53 countries that make up the Commonwealth what it is for, and most will shrug. Its most visible moment, which happens every four years, is a sports jamboree.The modern Commonwealth was born in 1949, partly thanks to Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first prime minister, who had declared his country a republic but wanted to stay friends with the former imperial power and other former British dominions.The Commonwealth’s purpose is twofold: to advance democracy and human rights; and to aid economic development. But on the first score it lacks a proper mechanism for enforcement. And on the second, it is not a big provider of cash.But under Mr Sharma the organisation is generally thought to have atrophied, especially as a vehicle for upholding democracy and human rights.Every two years Commonwealth heads of government meet for a pow-wow known by its initials, CHOGM, pronounced “choggum”.In the words of Hugh Segal, a former Canadian senator, the Commonwealth was “missing in action” over Sri Lanka, where 40,000 people are thought to have been killed by government forces at the end of the civil war in 2009.
  4. The Commonwealth has also suffered from its newer members’ perception that it is run by a coterie of “white” countries, led by Britain, Australia and Canada. To gain more clout it needs the biggest post-colonial members, particularly India, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa and Malaysia, to start participating more. But India’s prime minister has failed to attend the past three CHOGMs.Mr Sharma says that quiet persuasion has done more to advance democracy than public denunciation would have, for example in Guyana, where the government stepped down a year ago after narrowly losing an election.To give Mr Sharma his due, the Commonwealth acts by consensus.Even the democracy requirement is flexible; the sultanate of Brunei weirdly passes the test.But the ultimate glue of the Commonwealth has undoubtedly been Queen Elizabeth. The headship of the club will not automatically pass to her son and heir.
  5. Twenty20 cricket, a short form featuring two innings of a maximum of 120 balls each, is eclipsing Test cricket for thrills and spills and also for a sense of occasion. Test cricket lacks a showpiece global event to draw in casual fans; the latest World Twenty20 began in India on March 8th.The appeal of Twenty20 is simple: it is cricket—staid, old-fashioned village-green cricket—on speed. At its best, batsmen hit fours and sixes at will, bowlers deceive them with swing and spin, and the value of each run means that fielding is frequently jaw-dropping. Because every ball counts, a premium is placed on surprise and unpredictability; spinners with multiple variations have often been more successful than out-and-out fast bowlers.In a Test match, the single worst thing that a batsman can do is get out. This means Test match batting is by nature cautious. In T20, the worst thing a batsman can do is score slowly, which encourages batsmen to take risks and attack the bowling.Because of the success of the IPL, Twenty20 still feels like India’s game.

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