Economist 7/28/16

  1. JUST like cooking a culinary masterpiece, making a hit Broadway show requires the right ingredients.On the whole musicals tend to be more lucrative than plays, especially if they are based on Disney movies. Using data from the Ulmer Scale, an index which rates Hollywood actors on their “bankability”, we found that having a big movie star boosted income tremendously.Factors outside the producer’s control also affect revenues. We found that productions which eventually win major Tony awards, performed better in their first year, though newspaper reviews seemed to matter less.shows tend to do better around Christmas and New Year. Even though its turnover has been artificially suppressed by its producers’ reluctance to raise ticket prices too sharply, “Hamilton” already has a strong claim as the most successful Broadway show of all time, and is on pace to shatter all existing records.
  2. Lawyers and indigenous leaders have long called for government action to cut Australia’s high rate of aboriginal youth imprisonment.The Northern Territory, a federal dependency, has one of the worst records. Indigenous people are almost a third of the territory’s population, compared with 3% for Australia as a whole. But they account for 96% of youngsters aged between 10 and 17 in detention.Nationwide, Amnesty says young indigenous Australians are 26 times more likely to be in detention on an average night than their non-indigenous counterparts. The high detention rates echo broader problems: indigenous Australians are poorer, unhealthier and do worse in school than their compatriots. 
  3. LUFTHANSA lowered its revenue forecast last week amid declining bookings, particularly on long-haul flights to Europe, citing “increasing political and economic uncertainties.” “Luxury Awaits Above the Clouds” is the title of Lufthansa’s Airbnb listing, the first flight to be offered on the site, according to Quartz , which first reported the curious manoeuvre. Simply posting it to Airbnb required some creative contortion on the part of the airline, which had to check all the boxes required for more typical Airbnb hosts.The listing, of course, is little more than a gimmick. Airbnb charges a hefty fee for bookings, and it’s hard to imagine anyone paying that when they can book for free on more traditional platforms.Still, it is not inconceivable that the model could change. As more travellers, and business travellers in particular, look to Airbnb instead of hotels, booking sites like Orbitz and Priceline that can package flights and lodging lose some of their appeal, since they don’t have options for private accommodation.
  4. 1MDB was launched in 2009, the year Mr Najib became prime minister of Malaysia. It was supposed to bring investment to Malaysia by forging partnerships with foreign firms. But by 2014 it was struggling to service debts of more than $11 billion. Questions about it multiplied last year when it was discovered that around $700m had entered Mr Najib’s bank accounts shortly before a close election in 2013. On July 20th America’s Justice Department began proceedings to seize more than $1 billion of assets, which it alleged had been purchased with funds siphoned out of the firm. It is the largest single action the department has ever launched.The goodies concerned include luxury properties, artworks by Van Gogh and Monet, and a jet, according to court filings. Authorities say 1MDB’s money was also spent on gambling and used to make the “Wolf of Wall Street”, a film about a high-living swindler starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was made by a production company co-founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.
  5. Rajinikanth is no preening Bollywood star, but a balding 65-year old doyen of Tamil cinema who has acted in over 200 films, generally playing a lovable rogue. He is paid around $10m-12m a picture for this shtick.Whatever the storyline, Rajini’s movies tend to do well. His recent release ‘Kabali’, raked in $16m on its opening weekend in India and another $12.6m overseas, smashing box-office records. On Friday July 22nd, tickets fetched 1,500-5,000 rupees ($23-$75) on the black market. Indeed, for all his onscreen brio and dash, the bus conductor-turned-superstar is a courtly man off it. He wears a white dhoti, drives his own car, sports no makeup, donates money to charity and pleads with his fans not to treat him like God.

Economist 7/27/16

  1. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria is 31st from the bottom.Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, wants to change this.Many locals think the problem reached unprecedented heights under the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan. In March an official audit found that the state-owned oil company withheld over $25 billion from the public purse between 2011 and 2015.Since Mr Buhari came to power in May 2015, dozens of public officials and their cronies have been arrested by a beefed-up Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The most famous of those, the former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki, is charged with dishing out $2 billion worth of fake contracts for helicopters, aeroplanes and ammunition. Under new management, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has grown slightly less opaque: it now publishes monthly financial reports.
  2. His political opponents, who ruled Nigeria for 16 years until 2015, call the campaign a witch-hunt. The EFCC is yet to send down any of its most influential adversaries. Most government agencies, including the one that collects taxes, do not make their budgets public. Nor do most state and local governments, which suck up about half of public revenues.The finance minister, Kemi Adeosun has struck thousands of ghost workers off the public payroll. Her “treasury single account” may be the biggest coup of all. It replaced a labyrinth of government piggy banks, giving Nigeria more control of its earnings. Financiers reckon that it could serve as a lesson to others in West Africa as well.
  3.  In a bid to convince the country that his wife is a caring as well as a clever woman, Mr Bill Clinton combined folksy story-telling with patient exposition.There was politics in Mr Clinton’s decade-old memories, as when he described driving his future wife home to her family in suburban Illinois, and waxed lyrical about its post-war prosperity.Daring the crowd to lose interest, the former president told stories about his wife holding a listening tour of all 75 counties of Arkansas to investigate pre-school education. But all the folksiness was building up to a point. If the country is anxious and unhappy and longing for change: “She’s the best darn change-maker I have ever met in my entire life.”Will this work? Mr Clinton is a fine speaker and explainer of things. But is he tackling the right problem?But critics do not think his wife is lazy, or stupid. They think she is a crooked schemer, and a big-government liberal who wants to tax them, regulate business into ruin and take away Americans’ guns.
  4. Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Salfit and the surrounding villages are suffering through a months-long drought. Most of Israel’s water is artificially produced. About a third comes from desalination plants that are among the world’s most advanced. Farmers rely on reclaimed water for irrigation. Israel recycles 86% of its wastewater, the highest level anywhere; Spain, the next best, reuses around 20%.None of these high-tech solutions helps the Palestinians, though, because they are not connected to Israel’s water grid. They rely on the so-called “mountain aquifer”, which sits beneath land Israel occupied in 1967. The 1995 Oslo Accords stipulated that 80% of the water from the aquifer would go to Israel, with the rest allocated to the Palestinians. The agreement, meant to be a five-year interim measure, will soon celebrate its 21st birthday. During that time the Palestinian population in the West Bank has nearly doubled, to almost 3m. The allocation has not kept pace.On average they get 73 litres per day, less than the 100-liter minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation.Israel’s water authority sells the Palestinians 64m cubic metres of water each year. It says they cause their own shortages, because up to a third of the West Bank’s water supply leaks out of rusting Palestinian pipes.
  5. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that, at least in America, the most common causes of Stress  are to do with money, work and family. Women report being more stressed than men and are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Men may also be more likely to conceal their distress. Black and Hispanic Americans, as well as poor people and parents, also report higher levels of stress. In 2015 half of Americans starting university reported being stressed most or all of the time.n 1979 Peter Nixon, a consultant at Charing Cross Hospital in London, described a “human function curve”: a moderate amount of stress, such as a deadline or race, was now understood as not just harmless, but beneficial.Recognising that stress can be beneficial seems to help in two main ways. People who have a more positive view of stress are more likely to behave in a constructive way: a study by Alia Crum of Stanford University’s Mind and Body Lab.In less extreme situations, the body and brain should react somewhat differently. When people perceive they are being challenged rather than threatened, the heart still beats faster and adrenalin still surges, but the brain is sharper and the body releases a different mix of stress hormones, which aid in recovery and learning.

Economist 7/26/16

  1. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in response to a column asserting that “terrorism has a lot to do with Islam”, Jonathan Laurence argues (link to English translation) that the present-day pathologies of European Islam are a kind of aftershock from a century-old mistake. In the summer of 1916, the British government and its war allies began fomenting an Arab revolt against the political and above all, spiritual authority of the Ottomans. This brought about the British-led capture of Jerusalem and the collapse of Ottoman dominion over Islam’s holiest places, whether in the Levant or Arabia. As an alternative to Ottoman rule over the Arabs, the British initially backed the Hashemite dynasty which still reigns over Jordan; but the ultimate beneficiary was the royal house of Saud which took over Mecca and Medina in 1924.
  2. This brought to an end a period of several decades in which the caliphate (a spiritual role which the Ottomans combined, until 1922, with the worldly rank of sultan) had a generally benign effect on global Islam. From at least 1870, British diplomacy tried to shift the centre of gravity in global Islam from the Turks to the Arabs. The Dutch tried to stop their Muslim subjects deferring to the caliph in their public prayers.But when Turkey’s new secular nationalist rulers finally abolished the office of caliph in 1924, their job was made easier by the fact that European powers had been sabotaging the sacred office for decades.As Mr Laurence sees things, the abolition of the old caliphate created a vacuum that has been filled, over the subsequent century, by much darker substitutes, up to and including the new caliphate proclaimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State.It’s naive to imagine that today’s European Islam can be hermetically sealed from the countries where Islam predominates. One way or another, Muslims in Europe are going to be touched by ideas and styles that emanate from countries where their faith predominates.
  3. This year alone, 25 tonnes of “iron harvest” has been exhumed from the erstwhile battlefields. Experts reckon it could take another 500 years to clean up the mess. In Europe, nowhere are the scars of war more visible than in Germany. During the second world war, American and British forces pounded Europe with more than 2.7m tonnes of explosives, half of which were dropped on Germany. Even today, more than 2,000 tonnes of unexploded munitions are dug up annually and all construction sites need to be certified as cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO).In the same war, Germany responded by pummelling Britain with 24,000 tonnes of materiel, one-tenth of which did not explode. Today they are ticking time-bombs.Defusing any bomb is risky business, but it is harder still when the detonator rusts or is damaged. One method involves pumping a saltwater solution through the fuse, to neutralise the chemicals meant to trigger an explosion. Another technique works much like a pressure cooker’s regulator, leaking controlled quantities of trapped steam.There has been little progress in the development of better ordnance detection. The most common technique is to look for them manually, with metal detectors. The process, although accurate, is tedious and carries a high risk of false positives.
  4. Mr Donald Trump has stood firm on at least one proposal: his wall.The border between the United States and Mexico stretches 1,989 miles (3,200km), but the wall itself needn’t be as long thanks to the preponderance of natural borders such as the Rio Grande. Assuming a length of 1,000 miles and a height of 40 feet (12 metres), Bernstein reckon that the wall would require $711m worth of concrete and $240m worth of cement. Including labour, the total cost of between $15 billion and $25 billion is a bit more than Mr Trump’s suggested $10 billion.As it is not economically feasible to transport cement and concrete across great distances, the biggest business beneficiaries will likely be within 200 miles of the border.
  5. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials.Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used.The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion on British arms.Together with the ground war and the Saudi-led blockade, it has devastated infrastructure in what was already the Arab world’s poorest country, displaced over 2m people and brought a quarter of Yemen’s population of 26m to the brink of famine.Negotiations aimed at ending the war resumed on July 16th in Kuwait.Yemen’s president-in-exile, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who hopes to install his own government, has dismissed the UN envoy’s proposals for a power-sharing administration.The bombardment has dented the fighting strength of Saudi Arabia’s foes—the remnants of the Yemeni Republican Guard under the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Houthis, a northern Shia militia. But it has failed to break the deadlock or expel them from Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

Economist 7/25/16

  1. THE decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to impose a blanket ban on the Russian Olympic team, as recommended by the World Anti-Doping Agency, was met with disappointment yesterday.Russia is not the only culprit. Thirty-six athletes from 17 nations tested positive for a variety of banned substances including clenbuterol, stanozolol and methylhexaneamine at the 2012 games.Of all the summer Olympics held since 1968 only one has resulted in no drug violations being discovered, Moscow in 1980. Independent analysis since then has suggested that 19 podium placed winners used banned substances.
  2. BACKSTAGE at many of Britain’s summer music festivals, suspicious pills and powders seized from tents are analysed by lab technicians. Usually it is to advise on-site doctors and police on what symptoms to look out for in people who become unwell. But this year, a non-profit organisation called The Loop manned a tent where partygoers could drop off their drugs anonymously, before returning later for the results. As police turned a blind eye, technicians analysed nearly 250 drug samples, mostly of ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine.Or at least, that was what they claimed to be: in reality the bags of “MDMA crystal” being sold for £50 ($66) per gram turned out to be brown sugar; some suspiciously hard, grey pills were made of concrete; and several samples of “cocaine” and “ketamine” were in fact ground-up anti-malaria tablets.But does the testing encourage more drug use? It is too early to say, but there is some evidence that it does the opposite. After getting their results back, only half of those at the Secret Garden Party said they would take the drugs.
  3. Last week an Afghan refugee stabbed and axed four train passengers and another on a platform. Then a depressed German teenager of Iranian descent went on a shooting rampage in Munich, wounding more than 30 and killing nine, then himself.Later, another Syrian refugee, fearing deportation, swore allegiance to Islamic State and blew himself up outside a concert, injuring 15 others. Naturally, there is panic every time. But Germans catch themselves quickly after each disaster. Embodying this stoicism is Marcus da Gloria Martins, Munich’s police spokesman, who has resisted a tsunami of disinformation on social media, calmly sorting fact from fiction.Some of this is terrorism, some of it violence even more senseless; Germany’s sober and measured responses are becoming a model for dealing with all of it.
  4. HOW do you measure the well-being of a country’s citizens? Looking at wealth alone is clearly not enough.Boston Consulting Group (BCG) attempts to answer this question with its “Sustainable Economic Development Assessment” (SEDA). This year’s report, published on July 21st, encompasses 163 countries or territories and looks at each country’s performance across three measures: economics, investment and sustainability.The usual suspects occupy the top spots, with Norway reaching the maximum of 100 in the normalised scoring system, as it has every year since SEDA was launched in 2012. It is followed by northern European states and other developed countries. Petro-states such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, two of the wealthiest countries in the world, come in at 25th and 26th respectively. The United States’ relatively poor standing at 19th reflects its high income inequality as well as its low health and education scores.BCG also compared financial inclusion (the percentage of individuals aged 15 or over with a bank account) against each country’s SEDA score, revealing a clear relationship.The report’s authors found that countries with higher financial inclusion generally had higher well-being than their peers at a similar income level.
  5. As recently as the mid-2000s, Mr Xi was still little-known. His glamorous folk-singing wife was far more famous. The somewhat liberal leanings (by the party’s highly illiberal standards) of Mr Xi’s late father, a party grandee, provided one of the few available clues. It has proved highly misleading. Mr Xi has presided over the toughest crackdown on dissent in years.His wish to purge the party of the egregious corruption that has permeated it at every level seems evident: his campaign against graft has been the most sustained and wide-ranging of any waged by a Chinese leader since the party seized power in 1949.Mr Xi may in the end turn out to be more of a reformer than his frequent hardline rhetoric, his hammering of civil society and his tiptoeing round all-powerful state firms may suggest.A dwindling band of optimists pin their hopes on a crucial party congress late next year, at which Mr Xi will preside over sweeping leadership changes and set out the party’s goals for the remaining five years of his rule (assuming he accepts the norm of a ten-year limit on the general-secretaryship).

Economist 7/20/16

  1. Today there are more reasons than ever to treat nerds with respect: never mind the fact that every company is clamouring to hire them, geeks are starting to shape markets for new products and services.But nerds’ influence now goes well beyond technology. They hold greater cultural sway. “Silicon Valley”, a show on HBO which will soon start filming its fourth season.Nerds carry more clout in part because their ranks have swelled. IDC, a research firm, estimates there are now around 20m professional and hobbyist software developers worldwide; that is probably low. Geeky, addictive video games are drawing more into the fold. Each month at least 70m people play “League of Legends”, a complex multiplayer online game; that is more than play baseball, softball or tennis worldwide.As a result, companies had better pay attention to the rise of a “nerd economy” that stretches well beyond their direct technology needs.
  2. At the beginning of the convention, Donald Trump’s campaign manager said that his candidate was planning to copy Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, presenting himself as the law-and-order candidate.The country described within the Quicken Loans Arena is very different. It is a lawless, borderless place, threatened by terrorists and run by crooks. The most memorable moments of the first evening came in painful speeches given by bereaved parents, whose children had been killed by illegal immigrants or by terrorists in Libya.This stuff was interspersed with bizarre moments from some formerly famous people, notable only for their willingness to say nice things about the nomineeThus far this convention has suggested that the Trump campaign is too strange, amateurish and pessimistic to triumph.The Republican nominee, he concluded, has the ability to create the conditions that favour him, by encouraging disorder and then promising to dispel it, in a way that no other candidate could.
  3. J.D. POWER, a market-research company, has released the 2016 results of its annual hotel satisfaction survey for the United States, Canada and Mexico.  Contentment among customers is at an all-time high, and has risen for four years in a row.But the report also contains some bad news. It is going to become increasingly difficult to impress guests with perks they have come to take for granted.The biggest problem for the hotel industry is a demographic one. According to the survey, satisfaction is significantly higher among guests who are members of a hotel’s reward programme.But while 66% of hotels’ baby-boomer clients are rewards members, and 56% of Generation Xers are, just 39% of millennial guests have signed up for a scheme.
  4. Call it the Airbnb effect, perhaps. As another Gulliver recently reported, the use of Airbnb properties by business travellers around the world more than tripled last year. Partly, that’s because hosts have become better at catering for those on corporate trips.But largely, it’s because the travellers themselves want a more engaging experience than hotels typically offer.They want to stay in lively neighbourhoods rather than hotel districts, and to be able to cook meals if they are staying for more than a couple of nights.The Ritz-Carlton was the most beloved luxury hotel group for the second consecutive year, earning the highest score in the survey’s 20-year history. It was trailed by Four Seasons and JW Marriott, with the Grand Hyatt and W Hotels receiving the lowest luxury scores. Omni got top marks among “upper upscale” hotels for the second year running, with Kimpton in second and Sheraton at the bottom. Hilton Garden Inn was the top choice among upscale hotels.
  5.  Although global defence spending grew by just 1% last year—after five years of severe budget cuts in many countries—the global market for missiles and missile-defence systems is racing ahead at around 5% a year.Mounting armed conflicts around the world, and the persistent threat of global terrorism, are partly responsible.But governments also see missiles as a way of reducing civilian casualties in warfare. While traditional aerial-bombing tactics often kill more civilians than hostile combatants, missiles are much more effective at hitting their target without collateral damage.America and China are developing competing hypersonic missiles that can travel at five or more times the speed of sound.And to avoid the need to carry bulky ammunition at sea and in the sky, directed-energy weapons (powered by electricity) that look like the laser guns from “Star Wars” films are being developed.

Economist 7/19/16

  1. Tallies by the Washington Post show that police shot and killed 990 people in America in 2015 and 552 people so far this year.In 1985, the Supreme Court considered the case of Edward Garner, a 15-year-old boy who was shot and killed by police after he ignored calls to “halt” and fled on foot from the scene of a burglary. The officers pursuing Mr Garner (who was later found with a stolen purse and $10) did not believe him to be armed, and indeed he carried no weapon. But Tennessee law, codifying a long-standing common-law rule, held that “[i]f, after notice of the intention to arrest the defendant, he either flee[s] or forcibly resist[s], the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.” By a vote of 6-3, the justices found that legal standard too permissive.The upshot of this legal framework is that police need simply to be reasonable. The standard’s ambiguity explains why it is notoriously difficult to prosecute officers involved in seemingly rash lethal encounters.
  2. SINCE the 1960s, whenever Turkey’s meddlesome generals have seized power, Turks have accused America of being responsible. After the botched coup attempt on July 15th by a cabal of mid-ranking generals and junior officers, the old reflex appeared again.The  biggest source of friction is the presence in America of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who leads a secretive Muslim sect, and whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the failed putsch.Since 1999 Mr Gulen has been living in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania. For years, Mr Erdogan has accused the imam, a former ally in his battle to declaw the army, of seeking to topple his government. The Turks demand that America hand him over. Yet Turkey has not formally requested Mr Gulen’s extradition; the file, over 1,000 pages long, has yet to be fully translated into English.Western diplomats reckon it will be padded with outlandish, conspiratorial claims, and that federal prosecutors will throw it out.
  3. Today Turkey  is seen as a buffer between Europe and the Middle East, with its homicidal jihadists and millions of Syrian refugees. And continued access to Turkey’s Incirlik air-base is vital to the American-led war effort against Islamic State (IS). Some Western officials worry that Turkey will seal off the base if America refuses to hand over Mr Gulen.Turkey’s relations with America were already strained by America’s support for the Syrian Kurdish militia groups known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG are widely seen as the most effective force fighting IS in Syria, but they are closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed guerrilla movement that has been fighting the Turkish state for decades in the name of Kurdish autonomy.Turkey views the YPG as terrorists too, and has repeatedly asked America to ditch them, only to be snubbed each time.
  4. AMERICA’S temporary help industry first emerged after the second world war, when companies like Manpower and Kelly Girl Service began “renting out” office workers on a short-term basis. In those early years, temps numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Today, the industry employs some 2.9m people, over 2% of America’s total workforce. Since the country’s economic recovery began in 2009, temporary employment has been responsible for nearly one in ten net new jobs. But as temping has grown, the quality of the jobs it provides has deteriorated. According to government statistics, temps earn 20-25% less per hour than their permanent counterparts in similar roles. And few are covered by health-care or pension plans.Many of the costs that employers of temps avoid, such as health insurance, are now borne in part by taxpayers in the form of increased social-benefits spending. Temp work may also suppress the wages of permanent employees.
  5.  London has become the tech capital of Europe: according to one study, more than 1,000 tech investment projects were located in London in 2005-14, many more than the next-most attractive city, Paris (381), or indeed the whole of France (853). Britain attracted £524m of investment in financial tech (fintech) alone in 2015.Following the referendum, however, the mood has changed.That is largely because tech companies rely heavily on the free movement of labour for their success. Half of TechHub’s members in London are non-British, and almost one-third are from continental Europe, a pattern repeated across most of the industry.Furthermore, fintech startups could be hit by the withdrawal of “passporting” rights in Europe, whereby London-based firms can sell financial services throughout the EU.With London’s future under a cloud, other cities have pounced on the opportunity to supplant it as Europe’s next tech capital. Paris is one candidate; Berlin also has its eyes on the prize. 

Economist 7/18/16

  1. This week, came news that the 82-year-old Emperor of Japan Akihito would like to retire.The reign of his father, Hirohito, coincided with Japan’s transformation from militarist empire to modern economic powerhouse. Akihito’s own reign since 1989 oversaw a period of gentle economic decline and diminished capacities.Now pneumonia, prostate cancer and heart surgery have weakened him.A law must first be passed to allow Akihito to step down—nothing like this has happened in modern times. As for his son and successor, Prince Naruhito, he may struggle in the role. The royals are virtual prisoners of the Imperial Household Agency, the gnomic bureaucracy that runs the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. It has treated Naruhito’s wife, Masako, a former diplomat, as an imperial birthing machine, and she has grappled with depression.
  2. THIS spring the world’s first Hello Kitty-themed train began service in Taiwan. It proved so popular that almost all the head-rest covers on the seats were snaffled by passengers on the first day. Last week EVA Air, Taiwan’s second-largest airline, announced that it would increase the number of Hello Kitty flights to Paris.The craze is about more than infantile consumerism: Hello Kitty has become an unlikely token of Taiwanese identity. She is part of a wider embrace of Japan’s kawaii, or “cuteness”, culture. And this is a way for the Taiwanese to define themselves as different from China, which lays claim to their island, by cleaving to Japan, their former coloniser.The obsession is thought to have been started by McDonald’s, a fast-food chain, which gave out Hello Kitty toys with its meals in August 1999. Its supply of half a million toys ran out in just four hours. Later that year Chunghwa Telecom sold out of 50,000 telephone cards within five minutes of making them available.
  3. THE murder on July 10th of Kem Ley, an independent-minded commentator who castigated the ruling party and the opposition alike, has jangled nerves ahead of local elections next year and a general election the year after in Cambodia.Mr Ley criticised politicians in general, but he singled out Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) for particular contempt.Shortly before his death Mr Ley had spoken at length about the Global Witness report which claimed that the prime minister’s family had acquired assets worth at least $200m, in one of the poorest countries in Asia.Mr Hun Sen’s relatives have vilified the report.A Nazi-style cartoon depicting America, Britain and Russia as threats to peace in Cambodia began circulating on social media, with local English-language newspapers and Global Witness portrayed as villains.Mr Hun Sen and his party are facing their toughest test. Attitudes have changed a lot since the civil war ended. A younger, more educated generation has grown up. Two-thirds of Cambodia’s 16m people are under 30. In the most recent general election, in 2013, many voted for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Since then many of its politicians have been beaten up, jailed and sued.
  4. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international tribunal in The Hague, has declared China’s “historic claims” in the South China Sea invalid. It was an unexpectedly wide-ranging and clear-cut ruling, and it has enraged China.The case was brought by the Philippines in 2013, after China grabbed control of a reef, called Scarborough Shoal, about 220 miles (350km) north-west of Manila.China claims it has such rights in the South China Sea, and that they long predate the current international system. Chinese seafarers, the government says, discovered and named islands in the region centuries ago. It says the country also has ancestral fishing rights.These rights are said to exist within a “nine-dash line.It is a tongue-shaped claim that slurps more than 1,500km down from the southern coast of China and laps up almost all the South China Sea.
  5. The court comprehensively rejected China’s view of things, ruling that only claims consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) were valid. Under UNCLOS, which came into force in 1982 and which China ratified in 1996, maritime rights derive from land, not history. Countries may claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 200 nautical miles (370km) off their coasts, or around islands. Based on this, the tribunal ruled that the nine-dash line had no standing. The judges wrote that there was “no legal basis” for China to claim historic rights within it. UNCLOS, they said, took precedence.The court ruled that China had been building on rocks that were visible only at low tide, and hence not eligible to claim territorial waters.China refused to take any part in the court’s proceedings and said it would not “accept, recognise or execute” the verdict.It is thought unlikely that China would quit UNCLOS: that would reinforce the impression that China is a law unto itself and do grave damage to its global image.More likely is that it will set up an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea, like the one it declared over the East China Sea in 2013 after a spat with Japan over islands there.