Economist 6/22/16

  1. The leaders of the world’s 200m Orthodox Christians have rarely, in recent times, managed to speak together and address a clear message to humanity.It has been hard work because many of these churches are institutionally weak and beholden to geopolitics; some barely survived communism and others form tiny minorities in Muslim lands. Some liken the gathering to the last of the great doctrinal councils in 787; others compare it to more recent gatherings like one in Jerusalem in 1672.For the organizer, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who is first “amongst equals” in Orthodoxy, there were last-minute setbacks: four of the 14 churches that were expected to attend.One document approved by the Council this week (and endorsed earlier by the four churches which didn’t attend) looks at the world through an Orthodox Christian lens, using spiritual arguments to denounce inequality, the arms build-up and the ecological crisis as moral diseases.
  2. More than 11m Americans claim to have Scandinavian ancestry. This pales against the 46m who say they have German roots or the 33m who trace their ancestry to Ireland, but the 5m Norwegian-Americans are roughly equivalent to the whole population of Norway. No country, except Ireland, lost as high a percentage of its population to America as Norway. The scope of Swedish immigration is similarly vast: between 1880 and 1920 around 20-25% of the population left for America.Swedes and Norwegians left their homelands to escape grinding poverty, restrictions on religious freedom and the compulsory military draft. Arable land was scarce and few other jobs were available. The mass exodus, the often harrowing journeys and tough new beginnings made a deep impression on their collective psyche.
  3. Most Scandinavian immigrants managed to build better lives as farmers, mostly in the upper Midwest, where the landscape and climate resembled home, as fishermen on the north-west coast or with jobs in rapidly industrialising cities. Chicago was an especially popular destination for Swedes.Some of the newcomers from the North succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Charles Walgreen, the son of a Swedish immigrant, set up Walgreen’s, America’s largest chain of drugstores. Swedish-born Johan Nordstrom created Nordstrom, an exclusive retail empire. Eric Wickman founded Greyhound, America’s biggest bus line.The poverty rate of Americans with Swedish ancestry is only 6.7%, half the national average. Swedish-Americans are better off even than their cousins at home: their average income is 50% higher than theirs.Their success in America seems solidly grounded in old national virtues. They have more trust in each other and in government; they tend to obey rules.
  4. FLYING a helicopter is tricky, especially when hovering.Flying a drone, by comparison, is easy-peasy.One passenger drone currently undergoing flight tests is the Volocopter VC200 With 18 separate rotors it might seem to be an ungainly contraption, but its makers, e-volo, a company based in Karlsruhe, Germany, claim it is more stable than a conventional helicopter. It is certainly more straightforward to fly and can be operated with just one hand.The idea behind the Volocopter and similar craft under development is that, like a drone, they are packed with sensors, including gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers, which combined with an on-board computer system means the aircraft flies largely autonomously.The technology is sufficiently advanced that there is nothing to stop passenger drones taking to the air, provided they can meet the same safety standards as other light aircraft and are flown by trained pilots. At a price for a small machine that is likely to be similar to that of an upmarket car—and a fraction of the cost of a new helicopter—they could prove extremely popular in recreational and sport aviation.
  5. The next step is to persuade aviation authorities that because the craft are so heavily automated they can be safely and reliably flown by people with only a little training. Convincing officials of that could take a few years, but it is possible.Unmanned drones can already be flown under existing guidelines. This week America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalised its rules for civil drones weighing less than 55lbs (25kg). They must be kept in line of sight, below 400 feet (122 metres) and away from people. To use a drone for commercial purposes the operator must undertake an approved training course.The VC200 gained permission to fly from German authorities earlier this year. It has an all-in weight of 450kg and, in its present form, a flight duration of 30 minutes. After completing a series of flight tests the VC200 should be fully certified by 2017 in a category of aircraft known as an “ultralight”. The company have taken this route because it will get the VC200 into the air faster and allow valuable flight experience to be built up while discussions continue about creating a possible new class of aircraft for passenger drones.
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