Economist 10/3/16

  1. LONG before the green movement existed, evolution discovered the virtues of recycling.Moreover, in an emergency, even components that are still working may be recycled in this way to provide energy needed to keep a starving cell alive, rather as someone facing extremely cold weather may choose to burn his furniture rather than freeze to death. The process is called autophagy (from the Greek for “self-eating”), and the elucidation of its details has been the life’s work of Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who is the winner of this year’s Nobel prize for physiology or medicine.Before Dr Ohsumi’s studies, biologists knew that autophagy was a two-step process. First, the cellular components to be recycled are enclosed in a fatty membrane to create another type of vesicle, an autophagosome.In particular, how autophagosomes formed was a mystery. It is for supplying those details that Dr Ohsumi has been awarded the prize.
  2. In the nearly 70 intervening years, the Supreme Court has issued a gaggle of rulings on the meaning of the First Amendment’s “establishment clause”. Prayer in school has been ruled out, as have stand-alone nativity scenes inside government buildings. But crèches, crosses and Hanukkah menorahs in public squares have been deemed acceptable. Meanwhile, monuments to the Ten Commandments have been subjected to a Solomonic split decision: such displays are fine near a capitol building but forbidden outside a courthouse.American courts have resisted putting the brakes on purely ceremonial religious references in government contexts. “In God We Trust” is staying put; nor will the judiciary admonish presidents for asking God to bless America.
  3. But in 2014, the Supreme Court significantly narrowed the scope of the establishment clause in Town of Greece v Galloway, a case asking whether a town board may open its monthly meetings with sectarian prayers delivered by local clergy. By a 5-4 vote, the court decided that the tradition passed constitutional muster. As long as the prayers do not “denigrate” attendees, threaten them with “damnation” or attempt to “proselytise” the audience, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, no harm is done.
  4. Half of an advertiser’s budget is wasted, says the industry’s favourite truism, but no one knows which half. Digital ads were supposed to help. Cookies and other tags would direct the right advertisements to the right people, based on their activity online. Digital tools would track which ads inspire consumers to buy products.But as advertisers have gained greater control in some respects, they have lost it in others. One fear is practical: that they are paying for online ads that consumers don’t see, either because they are shown to robots, or tucked in obscure slots.The first is that Facebook and Google have simply become too dominant. Last year the pair accounted for more than 75% of online-ad growth in America according to KPCB. The second concern is that ad agencies are not acting in their clients’ interests.In America an investigation backed by the ANA found that agencies were buying ad space and reselling it to clients at markups of up to 90%.
  5. Hygge is difficult to pronounce. (Try “hew-geh”.) It is also tricky to describe.Writers have tried “the art of creating intimacy”, “cosiness of the soul” and “cocoa by candlelight”. It is an attitude rather than a recipe, evoking relaxation with close friends or family. Many see it as a quintessential element of Denmark’s national character. There is some evidence for this: the Danes are Europe’s biggest consumers of candles, burning through about 6 kilogrammes (13 pounds) per person every year. Runner-up Austria manages just half that. Denmark often leads (highly subjective) rankings of the happiest countries, andhygge is being marketed as a way for foreigners to imitate the Danes’ balanced, relaxed, egalitarian lifestyle.Danes dislike acknowledging class differences, but his research finds that the habits of hygge vary by income and social status.Denmark’s own natives may rank it top for happiness, but the immigrants in the survey ranked it 60th in terms of friendliness, 64th for being made to feel welcome, and 67th for the ease of finding friends.
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