Economist 7/7/16

  1. MEDICINE has done a great job of reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke but less so with cancer. The main reason that cancer has been such a hard problem to tackle is a lack of basic understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms that drive it. The first medicines to tackle cancer, chemotherapies, came about during the second world war when it was discovered that people exposed to nitrogen mustard, a chemical similar to mustard gas, had significantly reduced white-blood-cell counts. Thus began an era of testing different chemical compounds to see if they would kill tumours.Much progress has been made since. Along with chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, these treatments—used singly and in combination—have led to a slow, but steady, increase in survival rates. Childhood cancers and breast cancers are much more curable now than they used to be.There is a great deal of promise from another new therapy, called immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. It has been successful in inducing long-term remissions of hard-to-treat cancers in about a third of patients in ongoing trials.
  2. Immediately after the British referendum, airlines were lumped in with banks and property firms as the shares to sell. IAG, the parent company of British Airways, has lost a third of its value since the results were announced on 24th June. That is only to be expected. It seems certain that outbound travel from Britain will take a hit. As the pound falls and the rest of the world becomes more expensive, and low business confidence causes firms to rein in corporate travel, fewer Brits will go abroad.With Brexit also likely to harm economies across the rest of the continent, Euromonitor is forecasting that by 2020 there will be 5% fewer visitors to Britain compared with if there had not been a vote to leave.That outlook might be overly pessimistic. The collapse in the pound will make Britain cheaper for overseas visitors. Americans in particular, who are among the highest-spending tourists in Britain, are likely to feel the benefit.
  3. To some audiences, orchestral conductors seem to dramatically wave their arms with no discernible effect on the music. In reality, conductors undergo rigorous conservatory training, followed by further feedback on the job as they move up the career ladder. But what, exactly, they learn remains a mystery to most non-musicians; and what constitutes good conductor training even more so. Yet there clearly is an efficient system in place at the Sibelius Academy; its graduates are consistently appointed to positions with prestigious orchestras.Unsurprisingly, students come from all over the world to study at the Helsinki conservatory. Of the programme’s 11 current students, seven come from abroad.
  4. Indeed, orchestral players often frown upon conductors who wildly wave their arms, as the beat and the interpretation can be conveyed with very small gestures. In conducting competitions audience members are often perplexed when the most exciting candidate doesn’t win, but his energetic movements may simply be a pointless show.In reality, the most important part of a conductor’s work happens not at the concert but during rehearsals. The omnipresent video recordings are a new element in the Sibelius Academy’s conductor training and, painful though they may be, the videos provide the student conductors with invaluable feedback and evidence of their performance.
  5. IN MARCH the White House announced that it was to release figures on drone strikes outside active war zones “in the coming weeks”. The numbers would break down the strikes, including casualty figures, in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.To the disappointment of human-rights campaigners, the two-and-a-half page report, released late last week, contains a mere three data points and did not mention where these strikes took place.According to the White House, between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants were killed in 473 drone strikes since 2009. By comparison, keeping in mind no independent group tracked strikes in Libya, and one didn’t track Somalia, the groups estimated that between 472 and 498 drone strikes killed between 2,296 and 2,944 militants.However, the variation in counts of civilian casualties is striking. The White House reckons between 64 and 116 civilians died since 2009. But the LWJ, NAF and BIJ counted at least 212, 216 and 321 civilian deaths, respectively, in the same time period.
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