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 10/13/15

  1. Over the past few months most of Latin America’s currencies and stockmarkets have suffered a battering. The IMF now expects the region’s economy to contract slightly this year.What went wrong in Latin America? The short answer is China’s slowdown, which has punctured commodity prices and, with them, exports from and investment in South America.In some cases the woes are mainly self-inflicted. Brazil and Venezuela kept spending even after the commodity boom began to subside. Both are now suffering deep recessions.From the Panama Canal north, the region’s economies are tied much more closely to the United States than to China. Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean are net commodity importers.Well-managed economies in South America, such as Peru, Chile and Colombia, are adjusting gradually to a harsher world. They are still growing, albeit at only 2-3%, because they have been able to apply a modest amount of monetary and fiscal stimulus.
  2. THE arguments over Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union are heating up. On October 12th the cross-party “In” campaign was formally launched under the label “Britain Stronger in Europe”.The chairman of the campaign is to be Lord Rose, a former chief executive of Marks and Spencer, itself a quintessentially British retailer.He has the support not just of the three living former prime ministers, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but also of a clutch of other pro-EU business figures, including Richard Branson.When David Cameron, the prime minister, eventually calls the in/out referendum on EU membership that he has promised to hold before the end of 2017, the Electoral Commission will officially designate one campaign on each side.Mr Cameron is refusing to say when he might hold the referendum. He has embarked on a renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership that he hopes will form the basis of a government recommendation to remain in.The prime minister knows that Brexit would be at best economically risky and at worst seriously damaging, driving away much-needed foreign investment.
  3. In Yemen’s Sana’a civilian life has disintegrated due to on going war between Houthi rebels and Saudi backed coalition. People sleep and wake up to the sound of air raids.The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that as of October 4th a total of 5,462 people have been killed and 26,447 injured since the fighting flared up in March. But the UN warns that these numbers are a gross underestimate.Locals think life is returning to medieval ways, as jobs are few and much of the day time is spent stocking up on fuel, food, water and firewood. There is a shortage of cooking gas. Sana’a has electricity for just one hour every five days.At one petrol station in the Haddah district of Sana’a, vehicle owners wait for days to buy fuel in queues that stretch for a kilometre or more.
  4. On September 13th the Dutch Safety Board made public the results of a 14-month-long investigation into the physical cause of MH17’s crash. As expected, it concludes that a Russian-made BUK missile brought the plane down. The report is an exemplar of European technocratic neutrality: meticulously detailed and devoid of emotion.The board delineated a 320-square-kilometre zone from which the missile might have been launched.The attempt to place blame will come only next year, when a separate criminal investigative team completes its work.
  5. China is now the world’s second-largest economy and aspires to be a global power. Its working-age population is shrinking, yet it remains stubbornly reluctant to accept new entrants.It was different with the Vietnamese. At the height of the exodus, 100,000 people entered China through the border town of Dongxing in Guangxi—ten times the local population.They were later settled in six provinces.The government gave the new arrivals housing and jobs, many of them in state-run farms or factories set up especially for the Vietnamese.Even the Vietnamese have had difficulties. Many are poorer than Chinese-born locals whose command of Mandarin and better contacts in southern China’s factory boomtowns have given them a leg up.Aside from the Vietnamese, China has only 583 refugees on its books—most of them from Somalia and Nigeria. This year about 60,000 Burmese poured across the border into China to escape fighting between rebels and government forces.Refugees from North Korea never even get shelter. China calls them “criminals” or “illegal economic migrants”—partly because it remains an ally of North Korea, but also because it fears attracting a lot more of them.

Economist 8/11/15

  1. There is ample circumstantial evidence of the damage Uber has wrought on New York’s yellow-cab industry. The average price of one of the city’s 13,771 medallions (licenses to drive taxis) has fallen from an average of $1m during the summer of 2014 to $690,000 over the past three months, an aggregate loss of some $4 billion of value.The best news for the Uber camp is that the advent of its service has coincided with a significant increase in the total number of rides in New York. Although Uber has not shared statistics for 2013, a leak to Business Insider last year revealed an average of 140,000 Uber trips per week in the city during December 2013. Assuming a steady compound growth rate during the past two years, that suggests that there were 333,000 Uber rides in June 2013. Adding that to the 14.4m yellow-cab trips that month yields a total of 14.7m. In contrast, by the same month of this year, the combined sum for Uber plus traditional taxis was 15.8m. This 7.5% increase in two years makes clear that the market is not zero-sum.However, the figures also suggest that the majority of Uber’s growth has come from substituting for taxis rather than from complementing them. While Uber expanded approximately tenfold over the past two years, from a bit over an estimated 300,000 rides in June 2013 to 3.5m in June 2015, yellow cabs’ hail volume has fallen by 2.1m during the same period.
  2. A recent spike in the number of migrants in Calais attempting to clamber onto trains or lorries bound for Britain has spooked politicians on both sides of the water. Fences have been erected and extra police dispatched. The estimated 3,000 people in the camp amount to between 1% and 2% of the illegal immigrants who have reached the European Union by sea this year alone. The few hundred that try (and usually fail) to sneak across the Channel each night pale next to the numbers of illegal immigrants in Britain who have overstayed their visas. But the dramatic images suggest that politicians are not in control of their own borders, a message toxic enough to force changes in government policy.many migrants will take big risks to reach one European country over another.As they slipped through rich countries with an obligation to consider asylum claims, refugees in effect became economic migrants.
  3. THE civil war in Yemen, in which a Saudi-backed coalition has been battling Iranian-supported Houthi rebels, took a new twist this week. On August 2nd the coalition landed at least one armoured brigade at the southern port of Aden.Two days later, bombarded from the air and heavily outgunned, the Houthis had fled into the surrounding hills and pro-government forces were back in charge of the strategically important base.Despite official claims that the Saudi and UAE forces are only there to help train local anti-Houthi fighters, there is little doubt that the high-tech weaponry is being operated by professionals. They are being helped by tribal fighters who support the internationally-backed government that the Houthis drove out.
  4. DO FRIENDS of the opposite gender distract teenagers, hampering their academic performance? It may seem obvious, at least to paranoid parents, and yet it is hard to prove. Simple analysis of a survey of American schoolchildren conducted in 1995, for example, suggests no link between the proportion of a girl’s friends who were boys and her grades. Boys with lots of female friends actually achieved better results than those with fewer.A new paper* by Andrew Hill of the University of South Carolina, however, digs deeper into the data, and comes to a different result.He finds that for every 10% more children of the opposite sex among a student’s friends, his or her grade-point average (GPA) declines by 0.1 (GPAs range from 0 to 4).Below the age of 16, the effects are restricted to science and maths, but beyond 16 they spill over to English and history as well. Girls seem to be more prone to distraction, though Mr Hill cannot muster the statistical power to be certain. This tentative result is consistent with other studies that find that girls gain more from moving to single-sex schools.

Economist 4/2/15

  1. SAUDI ARABIA’S recently enthroned King Salman pulled off a striking diplomatic coup last month when he gathered a ten-country coalition of Sunni states to bomb the upstart Shia rebels in Yemen known as Houthis. Saudi Arabia is usually shy about speaking loudly and taking part in military action. Its uncharacteristic assertiveness may be a sign of the influence of the new king’s son and defence minister, Muhammad, who is in his 30s. Sunni states no doubt want to draw a line against further encroachment by Iran, which exerts strong influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.Politically nimble as King Salman’s team may be, the real test will be the outcome of the military action and whether it can stabilise his poor, tumultuous southern neighbour. During its latest foray into Yemen, in 2009, the Saudi army achieved a draw at best against the Houthis, then confined to their northern stronghold.Ultimately Yemen will have to be pacified by a political agreement. King Salman seems bent on reinstalling Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the internationally backed president. The trouble is that Yemen’s Zaydis represent only about 40% of its population, so the Houthis will be hard to exclude.
  2. Shabab emerged from the ruins of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a grassroots religious movement that in 2006 reclaimed Somalia from years of rule by warlords. After a few months in charge, an American-backed Ethiopian invasion smashed the ICU. Its armed wing then transformed into a powerful guerilla force. At its zenith in 2009 Shabab controlled almost the whole of southern Somalia and all but a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu. For years it harboured one of the masterminds of the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and in 2012 declared its allegiance to Al-Qaeda. Shabab suicide bombers killed 74 people in a pair of suicide attacks in Uganda during the 2010 World Cup final. But the Westgate attack, though less deadly, is its most high-profile operation to date.Shabab has never launched a successful attack outside East Africa and is less likely than ever to do so now. The 22,000-strong African Union force in Somalia has beaten the Islamists back from Mogadishu and a string of other towns.Shabab is losing on the battlefield and in the media. Its brutality looks almost old-fashioned in comparison to the actions of IS.
  3. New data from the Census Bureau show that seven of the ten fastest-growing counties in America by population are in the South (defined here as the 11 states of the old Confederacy plus Kentucky and West Virginia). Southerners still earn less than the American average, since the region has a lot of poor people. But the cost of living is low.The number of graduates in Charlotte, North Carolina rose by 50% in the decade to 2013; Baton Rouge, Nashville and Tampa each gained 35%.In the 2000s, eight of the top ten states for Hispanic population growth were in the South.Later this year Airbus will open a $600m plant near Mobile, Alabama, not far from its rival Boeing in North Charleston, South Carolina. Volkswagen is expanding its car plants in Chattanooga. South Carolina makes more tyres than any other state: both Michelin and Continental have their North American headquarters there. Southern governors nearly all say that firms find their states congenial because of low taxes, weak unions and light regulation. This is partly true, as Texas’s recent record of job creation shows.
  4. Racism still casts a shadow. In 2014 40% of America’s 784 hate groups were based in the region. Yet the gap between black and white household income is lower in the South than in America as a whole. Public health care is stingier in the South than elsewhere. Of the 13 southern states, only Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia have expanded Medicaid.On standardised maths tests for 13-year-olds, southern states cluster at the bottom, though Texas, Virginia and North Carolina are slightly above average.Atlanta exemplifies both the virtues and the failings of the South. Its 5.5m residents live near the world’s busiest airport. Several local firms are world-class: Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, UPS. The city also has more black businesses and millionaires than any other in America.Atlanta is also America’s most unequal city, according to the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. Households at the 95th percentile make 19 times as much money as those at the 20th. This gap correlates with race: black families in Atlanta are almost three times as likely to be poor as white ones. And Atlantans are not very socially mobile.Those born into the poorest quintile have only a 4.5% chance of making it to the top quintile.
  5. ORTHODOX Christians will not celebrate Easter until April 12th. But for Western-Christians Holy Week is nearing its end, and today marks the beginning of the high point of the year: the triduum, the Latin name for the three days that included Jesus’s passion, crucifixion and resurrection.  Why do we celebrate “Maundy” Thursday, “Good” Friday and “Easter”?Moving to a different kind of weirdness, many an English-speaking Christian has wondered why the darkest day of the Holy Week, on which Jesus suffered and died, is called Good Friday. Most Romance languages (again) merely call it Holy Friday.Only Dutch, among the major western European languages, joins English in calling it “Good Friday”. Of course the sacrificial story is essential to the Christian version of salvation, but the mild and boring “good” is not the word that springs to mind.Finally there is Easter. Most European languages directly borrowed a Biblical word. Passover, the main Jewish spring festival commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, is known in Hebrew as pessach and Aramaic.In the eighth century, the monk known as the Venerable Bede wrote that speakers of Germanic languages, such as Anglo-Saxon, even after accepting Christianity, had continued calling the month surrounding Easter Eosturmonath, supposedly after a goddess Eostreas pascha.

Economist 3/26/15

  1. SAUDI Arabia was only going to tolerate the advance of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen for so long. Early on the morning of March 26th the kingdom said it had launched a military operation to push back the Houthis and reinstate the “legitimate government” of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.They also targeted military bases controlled by loyalists of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president. He was ousted in 2011 and subsequently has been backing the Houthis as they have taken over swathes of the desperately poor country of 24m. In 2013 the Houthis burst out of their stronghold in northern Yemen and moved south to Sana’a, eventually seizing it in September last year. The Houthis, a religious revivalist group turned militia, are backed by Iran, a Shia power, with which Saudi Arabia, a Sunni bulwark, competes for regional hegemony. For the Houthis, the Saudi-led operation is a public-relations coup. They have long accused Mr Hadi of working for the interests of foreign powers. Yemen is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda’s deadliest branch, and Islamic State (IS).
  2. IN 2014 asylum applications to rich countries reached their highest level for over 20 years, according to data from the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. Around 866,000 applications were lodged, a 45% increase on the previous year. Two-thirds of those were in the European Union.Southern Europe saw a particularly sharp rise, with applications to Italy doubling to 157,000, as more refugees risked crossing the Mediterranean. The last time asylum-seeker applications in the rich world reached this level was the start of the Bosnia Herzegovina conflict in 1992. The causes are unsurprising. Jihadists in Syria and Iraq have displaced millions (but only a small share of those fleeing get as far as Europe). Human-rights abuses in Eritrea sends a streams of refugees through Sudan to Libya and then across the sea to Europe. Disillusion and economic stagnation in the Balkans have sent thousands north.Those who manage to lodge applications in rich countries are the fortunate minority. In 2013 over 50m people were involuntarily displaced worldwide, of which 17m were refugees and only 1.2m asylum seekers.
  3. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that among people who have tried illicit drugs, about two-thirds began with marijuana. Hardly anyone jumps straight in at the deep end: less than 1% of drug users reported that their first-ever outing was with heroin or cocaine.The other argument is social: smoking marijuana, a banned substance, gets youngsters in with the wrong crowd, making them more likely to flout other laws. Breaking one taboo makes it easier to break another.he first argument is in Mr Christie’s favour. Exposing more people to marijuana, as legalisation probably would, could prime more brains to enjoy other substances.But the second argument rather undermines Mr Christie’s position. To the extent that marijuana acts as a social gateway to other drugs, legalisation slams that gateway shut. In Colorado and Washington—and, soon, Alaska and Oregon—marijuana is sold not by drug pushers but by heavily regulated dispensaries, which sell only one drug.If marijuana were a gateway to harder drugs, one might expect those drugs to become more popular too. Yet during the same period, consumption of most other substances actually fell. The number of monthly cocaine users dipped from 2.1m to 1.7m.
  4. HUMANS can digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in milk, only with the help of an enzyme called lactase. But two-thirds of people stop producing it after they have been weaned. The lucky third—those with “lactase persistence”—continue to produce it into adulthood.Pre-colonial countries in western Europe tended to have the highest rates of lactase persistence.A one-standard-deviation increase in the incidence of lactase persistence, in turn, was associated with a 40% rise in population density. People who could digest milk, the theory goes, used resources more efficiently than those who couldn’t.
  5. In Poland 15% of respondents admitted to paying a bribe in the past year; in nine out of ten cases it was for health care. Some Polish hospitals allow women to deliver by Caesarean section on demand, for an off-the-books fee of up to 1,000 zlotys ($266). One survey found that Poles consider health care the second-most corrupt area of public life after politics. Even in Estonia, where the e-health system is widely praised as a model of transparency, a hospital director lost his job in 2011 for demanding 4,000 kroons ($362) and a bottle of cognac from an elderly patient to remain in hospital.Doctors in much of central and eastern Europe argue that abysmal wages in official health-care systems leave them no choice but to demand payments on the side.In Romania, resident doctors at public hospitals earn just €200 ($220) per month, while specialists earn €500. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 7,000 Romanian doctors—30% of the doctors in the country—emigrated between 2011 and 2013, according to the head of the country’s college of physicians. More than 2,000 of them now work for Britain’s National Health Service.

Economist 9/17/14

  1. Houthis, a revivalist movement for the Zaydi form of Shia Islam that has lately grown in strength from its base in the north of Yemen is squeezing the government by holding Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, to ransom. They have brought in supporters and mounted an escalating series of sit-ins and crippling roadblocks to force concessions from the beleaguered president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The trouble is that the feeble Yemeni state is bankrupt. Mr Hadi, who must juggle demands from other factions, including Sunni Islamists, while also pursuing a war against al-Qaeda terrorists in the south, cannot afford to appear weak.More pressingly, the Houthis’ tactic risks sparking clashes in the capital, and perhaps all-out mayhem on a scale not seen since Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president of three decades, stepped down in November 2011 after a year of mass protests and street battles (and the near-assassination of Mr Saleh).
  2. Like other batteries, Li-ions consist of two electrodes (an anode and a cathode) separated by an electrolyte.. Charging the battery drives positively charged lithium ions in the electrolyte to the negatively charged anode, where they accumulate. The process also creates heat,which for the most part is easily dissipated. But a battery that is charged for too long can form spindly lithium dendrites, or crystals, on the anode, which can cause a short-circuit. They can lead to “thermal runaway” and occasionally fires. Such fires are why Boeing 787s were grounded in early 2013 Despite this risk, the ultimate goal for many scientists is to build a commercially viable battery containing yet more lithium, as the anode itself. Lithium-metal anodes have the highest energy-storing capacity of any known material and, because lithium is the least dense metallic element, a big power-to-weight ratio too.
  3. The death toll from the Ebola virus is continuing to grow alarmingly. On September 9th the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it had recorded 4,293 cases in five west African countries, of which at least 2,296 people had died. In Liberia the disease is spreading quickly. The country’s existence is now “seriously threatened” as the functions of state are disrupted, Brownie Samukai, Liberia’s minister of national defence, said this week. The health system, already weak, is breaking down. At least 160 Liberian health-care workers have contracted the disease and half of them have died. Ebola is also spreading in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and a case has been reported in Senegal. This is the worst-ever outbreak. Yet even though the disease was discovered almost 40 years ago, there are no licensed treatments or vaccines.The reason Ebola is so deadly is that the virus is good at tamping down the innate immune response to viral infection, says Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain. Last week the first phase 1 clinical trials started in America for a vaccine developed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). In parallel, a British group is planning tests using volunteers in the UK, the Gambia and Mali.
  4. Ernst & Young, a consultancy and accounting firm, estimates that Islamic banking assets grew at an annual rate of 17.6% between 2009 and 2013, and will grow by an average of 19.7% a year to 2018.Most of the world’s Muslims are not so devout that they completely abjure conventional finance: even in Saudi Arabia, the assets of Islamic banks account for barely half of all banking assets. Islamic Banking has grown into a global industry, with total assets of around $2 trillion. Most of that (nearly 80%, according to Malaysia’s central bank) is entrusted either to Islamic banks or to the Islamic units of conventional banks. The rest takes the form of sukuk, Islam’s answer to bonds (15%); Islamic investment funds (4%) and takaful, the Islamic version of insurance (1%). In 2012 Iran accounted for 43% of the world’s Islamic banking assets, with Saudi Arabia (12%) and Malaysia (10%) ranking second and third.In an Islamic mortgage, for instance, a bank does not lend money to an individual who buys a property; instead, it buys the property itself. The customer can then either buy it back from the bank at a higher price paid in instalments (murabahah) or make monthly payments to the bank comprising both a repayment of the purchase price and rent until he owns the property outright (ijara).Bahrain’s central bank issued the first sovereign sukuk in 2001; from 2002 to 2012, annual issuance grew at an average rate of 35%, from $4 billion to $83 billion.Western firms are also beginning to usesukuk to raise money.
  5. In America the Confucius programme has been widely welcomed by universities and school districts, which often do not have enough money to provide Chinese-language teachers for all who need them. But critics like Mr May believe China’s funding comes at a price: that Confucius Institutes (as those established on university campuses are known) and school-based Confucius Classrooms restrain freedom of speech by steering discussion of China away from sensitive subjects.n June the American Association of University Professors called for universities to end or revise their contracts with Confucius Institutes (America has 100 of them) because they “function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom”.Through the Hanban, a government entity, China provides the centres with paid-for instructors and sponsors cultural events at them. Its spending is considerable, and growing rapidly. In 2013 it was $278m, By the end of 2013 China had established 440 institutes and 646 classrooms serving 850,000 registered students. They are scattered across more than 100 countries, with America hosting more than 40% of the combined total.

Economist 5/11/14

  1. A global survey by Queen Mary University in London in 2010 of general counsels and legal-department heads found that 40% most frequently did business using English law and another 22% American, generally the law of New York state.Of the world’s 100 highest-grossing law firms, 91 have their headquarters in one of the two. America’s legal sector is bigger than the GDP of Peru; though much of that is because of Americans’ litigiousness, a good chunk comes from foreign workParties to a cross-border deal must decide not only which country’s law governs it but how disputes should be resolved. Firms are increasingly opting for private arbitration, which promises confidentiality, speed and lower costs than going to court—and here London and New York are less dominant.The Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce is among the world’s biggest centres, and Stockholm was a popular venue during the cold war. Among the most successful is Singapore, whose dedicated arbitration venue, SIAC, opened in 1991. Singapore’s government exempts arbitrators from income tax and expedites entry for participants in hearings.Last year they were parties to a third of its 259 new cases.With 260 new cases last year, Hong Kong matches SIAC for size. Arbitration is essential for cross-border deals involving China.English law remains prevalent in Asian arbitration, accounting for 32% of cases at SIAC (most of the rest are under Singaporean law and involve at least one local party).
  2. The emergence of Nigeria’s Boko Haram (an armed group whose name literally means “Western education is forbidden”) reflects “dynamics” which are common to Muslim communities all over the world, writes Ms Hirsi Ali.Meanwhile a prominent religious-freedom advocate has denounced the State Department for being slow to designate Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organisation” (it did so last November) and reluctant to accept that the group’s motivation was religious.
  3. Many gamblers believe winning streaks, known as “hot hands”, are real, and that if they are in such a streak it makes sense to keep on betting. Conversely, many also believe bad luck is sure to reverse itself not merely by reverting to the mean, as a statistician would predict, but to the extent that the gambler will recoup his losses. This is known as the gambler’s fallacy.The explanation of the puzzle, Ms Xu and Dr Harvey found, was not that Lady Luck actually does smile on winners and frown on losers. Rather, as winners’ winning streaks increased in length they started choosing safer and safer odds, which led them to win more often, though less profitably. In contrast, those who had experienced a losing streak went for ever riskier bets, making it more likely the streak would continue.
  4. WAR often makes people patriotic. But Yemeni, on the whole, have recently been sceptical of it. They tend to condemn American drone attacks on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the local offshoot of the jihadist group, deeming them counter-productive and a violation of Yemen’s sovereignty. Moreover, many Yemenis distrust their own army, seeing it as divisive and ineffective.But they seem to be reacting more favourably to the latest offensive against AQAP’s strongholds in the south, which started on April 29th. This time ordinary Yemenis seem to have rallied behind their national army.Many Yemenis admit that AQAP thrives on the poverty and unemployment that have long dogged the country.
  5. South Sudan,Kerry warned on arrival in neighbouring Ethiopia on April 29th, was at risk of sliding into genocide.In the meantime the UN has tried to persuade Mr Kiir and Mr Machar to meet face to face. Among other things, a 30-day “tranquillity period” has been suggested. A ceasefire agreed to in January broke down almost immediately.Western diplomats privately blame Mr Kiir for overreacting to provocations by his ambitious former deputy but do not think Mr Machar launched a coup. American officials have endorsed Kiir as South Sudan’s rightful leader.But some diplomats suggest a compromise figure may have to emerge. Mr Amum hails from the Shilluk, one of South Sudan’s minority tribes, so he is seen as relatively neutral between the two largest ethnic groups, Mr Kiir’s Dinka and Mr Machar’s Nuer, who together have done most of the killing.