22 Jul

Readabee 22nd July 2019

1. Why Afghanistan’s government is losing the war with the Taliban

Afghanistan – Corruption | The Economist | May 16th, 2019

Both groups take money from drivers on the road, says Muhammad Akram, leaning forward in a black kurta; both are violent. But when the Taliban stop him at a checkpoint, they write him a receipt. Waving a fistful of green papers, he explains how they ensure he won’t be charged twice: after he pays one group of Talibs, his receipt gets him through subsequent stops. Government soldiers, in contrast, rob him over and over. When he drives from Herat, a city near the Iranian border, to Kandahar, Mr Akram says, he will pay the Taliban once. (1500 words)

2. The Supreme Court blesses a cross-shaped war memorial in Maryland

America – Justice | The Economist | June 20th, 2019

To glance at the vote in American Legion v American Humanist Association, a 7-2 ruling handed down on June 20th, one might get the impression those differences have been largely ironed out over the 72 years since the court first addressed the meaning of the Establishment Clause in a school-bussing case from New Jersey. That impression is misleading. American Legion is no picture of judicial consensus: in additional to the plurality opinion six justices wrote separately to dissent or clarify their views. (1100 words)

3. Why some American states are locking up toddlers

America – Justice | The Economist | May 23th, 2019

In fact, when she sees one she tends to burst into tears—because, unlike most people in prison, she is ten months old. Natalie Myers, Ada Lynn’s 23-year-old mother, was pregnant when she was imprisoned for vehicular homicide. Washington is one of just a few states that offer residential nurseries for women who give birth while behind bars. Ms Myers loves the programme. “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she says. “I always thought I’d never be a functional person because I dug myself into such a hole. (500 words)

4. American religion is starting to look less exceptional

America – Religion | The Economist | April 27th, 2019

About a quarter of the total population, and about a third of those who became adults in the new millennium, identify with no creed. Some new figures suggest the flight from organised religion is even quicker than previously thought.The share of Americans who acknowledge being members of a religious group is falling much faster than the proportion who, perhaps loosely, hew to one faith tradition or another. Comparing 2016-2018 with the last three years of the 20th century, declared participants in organised religion have plunged by nearly 20 points to 52%. (400 words)

5. China’s grand, gloomy sci-fi is going global

China – Sci-Fi | The Economist | June 20th, 2019

Billions die, as to turn the Earth into an effective mobile ark, its natural rotation must be halted. The resulting tsunamis wipe out entire continents, and with them all life not safely ensconced underground.This is the plot of “The Wandering Earth”, a Chinese film adapted from a short story of the same name by Liu Cixin, China’s leading writer of science fiction. After taking over $700m in cinemas, mostly in China, it launched on Netflix in May, making it the first Chinese sci-fi movie to go global. (1200 words)

6. Magic mushrooms, illegal in most places, may have therapeutic uses

Drugs – Psilocybin | The Economist | June 8th, 2019

“When I was under stress, I reacted with fear and anxiety. I always regretted my responses, but I couldn’t override them. After a mushroom journey, I found new ways to respond that included compassion and empathy.” That is why Mr Plazola joined Decriminalise Nature Oakland, a group which this week persuaded the council of the Californian city in effect to tolerate the consumption of magic mushrooms and other psychoactive plants and fungi. Last month Denver voted to do the same, but just for magic mushrooms. (2000 words)

7. The rising cost of education and health care is less troubling than believed

Economics – Inequality | The Economist | June 20th, 2019

Once upon a time a ticket to the cinema cost just five quid, and a hogshead of mead but a farthing. Of course, savvier youths know how to debunk such tales. Adjust for inflation and many things are cheaper than ever. Since 1950 the real cost of new vehicles has fallen by half, that of new clothing by 75% and that of household appliances by 90%, even as quality has got better. Tumbling prices reflect decades of improvements in technology and productivity. But the effect is not economy-wide. Cars are cheaper, but car maintenance is more expensive, and costs in education and health care have risen roughly fivefold since 1950. (900 words)

8. Phones and washing machines must be made to last, MPs say as Government launches inquiry into ‘Tsunami’ of e-waste

Environment – Waste | The Telegraph | July 26th, 2019

Mary Creagh, who is launching the enquiry, has said that while in the past technology was built to last, now it is built to degrade in order to produce profit for tech companies. The Labour MP told The Telegraph: “30 years ago, things were built to last, I had a dishwasher I gave to my sister that was 30 years old. Why is it that dishwashers that are built today break after 10 years? They are designed to break down because this creates profit for the companies. “Fridges, freezers, kettles and phones cause a tsunami of e-waste”. (600 words)

9. Struggling with style

Gender – Dress | The Economist | May 2th, 2019

What does a casual dress code mean in practice? The happy medium between looking like Kim Kardashian or Hagrid the giant is hard to pin down.Goldman Sachs has just implemented a “flexible dress code” although the executive memo noted gnomically that “casual dress is not appropriate every day”. Besuited corporate clients might not take kindly to investment-banking advice offered by someone wearing a tank top and ripped jeans.It makes sense that banking would be one of the last bastions to fall to the advance of casual workwear. (700 words)

10. Women’s football is flourishing, on the pitch and off it

Gender – Sports | The Economist | June 24th, 2019

Between 1921 and 1971 the Football Association (FA), which governs the sport in England, prohibited women from using the grounds of professional men’s teams, claiming that the sport was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. (Perhaps the men in suits had been irked by the enormous crowds, sometimes exceeding 50,000, that had flocked to women’s games during the first world war.) A similar ban in Germany was lifted in 1970. In 1972 the United States passed Title IX, a law that banned organisations that receive funds from the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sex. (1400 words)

11. Military spending around the world is booming

Geopolitics – Arms | The Economist | April 28th, 2019

Military spending as a share of global GDP has fallen in recent years, but that offers little reassurance in a world of rising geopolitical tension.The spending boom is driven, above all, by the contest between America and China for primacy in Asia. Start with America. In 2018 it raised its already-gargantuan defence budget for the first time in seven years, ending an era of belt-tightening imposed by Congress. The boost reflected the Trump administration’s embrace of what it calls “great power competition” with Russia and China—requiring fancier, pricier weapons—in place of the inconclusive guerilla wars it had fought since 2001.America’s military heft has no equal. (1000 words)

12. America is deploying a new economic arsenal to assert its power

Geopolitics – Trade | The Economist | June 6th, 2019

His method has turned out to be a wholesale weaponisation of economic tools. The world can now see the awesome force that a superpower can project when it is unconstrained by rules or allies. On May 30th the president threatened crippling tariffs on Mexico after a row over migration. Markets reeled, and a Mexican delegation rushed to Washington to sue for peace. A day later preferential trading rules for India were cancelled. Its usually macho government did not put up a fight and promised to preserve “strong ties”. (1100 words)

13. Big tech and the trade war

Geopolitics – Trade War | The Economist | May 23th, 2019

Most firms and investors are betting on a long struggle between the superpowers but not a sudden crisis or a financial panic. As the conflict over the tech industry escalates, however, that assumption looks suspect. On May 15th America’s Commerce Department said that companies would need a special licence to deal with Huawei, China’s hardware giant, which it deemed a threat to American interests (it later said the order would not take full effect for 90 days). Fears that other Chinese tech firms will be blacklisted have caused their shares to tumble. (800 words)

14. How the U.S. Could Lose a War With China

Geopolitics – War | The Atlantic | July 25th, 2019

And the United States could very well lose.That’s a concern among current and former defense officials and military analysts, one of whom told Breaking Defense earlier this year that in war games simulating great-power conflict in which the United States fights Russia and China, the United States “gets its ass handed to it.”Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum last week, Admiral Philip Davidson, who oversees U.S. military forces in Asia, called China “the greatest long-term strategic threat to the United States and the rules-based international order.” He described China’s rapid military buildup in nearly every domain—air, sea, land, space, and cyber—and said that while China’s capabilities don’t outnumber America’s in the region for now, it’s possible they could overtake the United States’ within the next five years.But the sheer number of ships, missiles, planes, and people doesn’t tell the whole story. (1400 words)

15. A policy U-turn puts Hong Kong’s leader in a precarious position

Hong Kong – Democracy | The Economist | June 20th, 2019

Organisers said 1.9m people joined the second of these demonstrations—a turnout that was all the more remarkable given that the government, less than a day earlier, had made a humiliating U-turn to placate the protesters. Critics of the Communist Party’s tightening grip on Hong Kong feel they have gained a rare advantage. The leadership in Beijing has suffered an embarrassing blow.Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, says she will give up—at least until next year—her efforts to secure the passage of legislation that triggered the unrest: a bill to allow criminal suspects to be extradited to the Chinese mainland. (1700 words)

16. Why Japan’s Rail Workers Can’t Stop Pointing at Things

Japan – Trains | Atlas Obscura | March 29th, 2017

White-gloved employees in crisp uniforms pointing smartly down the platform and calling out—seemingly to no one—as trains glide in and out of the station. Onboard is much the same, with drivers and conductors performing almost ritual-like movements as they tend to an array of dials, buttons and screens. Japan’s rail system has a well-deserved reputation for being among the very best in the world. An extensive network of tracks moving an estimated 12 billion passengers each year with an on-time performance measured in the seconds makes Japanese rail a precise, highly reliable transportation marvel. (700 words)

17. Why Julian Assange should be extradited

Media – Censorship | The Economist | April 17th, 2019

Mr Assange was “no hero”, said Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s foreign secretary. Nonsense, retorted Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, he “told us the truth about what was actually happening in Afghanistan and in Iraq”. Ecuador’s president complained that Mr Assange had repaid his country’s hospitality by smearing faeces on the embassy wall. These soundbites miss the point. America accuses Mr Assange of hacking Pentagon computers. Does that charge justify his extradition?To be sure, Mr Assange’s legacy deserves scrutiny. (800 words)

18. How ad hominem arguments can demolish appeals to authority

Philosophy – Logic | Aeon | June 5th, 2019

As a result, parents were encouraged to talk with their children about smoking. One of the Surgeon General’s tips for parents is to ‘set a positive example by being tobacco-free’. But what if parents are smokers, too? What if children respond to their parents’ plea to refrain from smoking by saying: ‘You use tobacco, so why shouldn’t I?’This retort is an example of ad hominem argumentation. Arguments against the person are attempts to undermine what someone says, not by engaging with what is said but by casting aspersions on the person who says it. (1300 words)

19. Huawei is at the centre of political controversy

Privacy – Cybersecurity | The Economist | April 27th, 2019

Like China, the firm, which was founded in 1987, began at the bottom of the value chain, reselling telephone-switching gear imported from Hong Kong. Also like China, it was not content to stay there. These days its products—from smartphones to solar panels—are sleek, high-tech and competitive with anything its rivals can produce. As a result its revenues have soared, hitting $105bn in 2018 (see chart 1). Huawei, and its mother country, have become technological pacesetters in their own right. The firm employs 80,000 people in research and development alone. (2600 words)

20. Online identification is getting more and more intrusive

Privacy – Cybersecurity | The Economist | May 23th, 2019

Passwords help. But many can be guessed or are jotted down imprudently. Newer phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers often have beefed-up security with fingerprint and facial recognition. But these can be spoofed. To overcome these shortcomings, the next level of security is likely to identify people using things which are harder to copy, such as the way they walk.Many online security services already use a system called device fingerprinting. This employs software to note things like the model type of a gadget employed by a particular user; its hardware configuration; its operating system; the apps which have been downloaded onto it; and other features, including sometimes the Wi-Fi networks it regularly connects through and devices like headsets it plugs into.The results are sufficient to build a profile of both the device and its user’s habits. (900 words)

21. Knowledge for it’s own sake?

Science – Funding | Cognitive Edge | October 6th, 2007

CERN, you will recall, is where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a particle accelerator that is 27-kilometer in circumference, is being built in order to test for the existence of a tiny and elusive particle, the Higgs Boson. And also one of the most expensive. How does it do this? By emphasizing the value of knowledge for its own sake, of man’s understanding of the universe and of his place in it. By smashing particles into each other at speeds close to that of light, scientists at CERN, probe the innermost nature of matter, the origins of the universe, etc. (600 words)

22. What’s the point of theoretical physics?

Science – Funding | The Conversation | February 12th, 2016

Discoveries such as gravitational waves and the Higgs boson can inspire wonder at the complex beauty of the universe no matter how little you really understand them. But some people will always question why they should care about scientific advances that have no apparent impact on their daily life – and why we spend millions funding them. Sure, it’s amazing that we can study black holes thousands of light years away and that Einstein really was as much of a genius as we thought, but that won’t change the way most people live or work. (800 words)

23. Mandatory registration for drones by year-end as police investigate recent incursions

Singapore – Drones | Channel News Asia | July 8th, 2019

“This will ensure that drone operators are made aware of their responsibilities and undertake to conduct their activities in a responsible manner,” said Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min in Parliament on Monday (Jul 8). The Government is also looking into increasing penalties for errant drone users, he said. Currently, offenders can be jailed for up to 12 months and fined up to S$20,000. Responding to questions filed by several Members of Parliament (MP) on the recent drone incursions near Changi Airport, Dr Lam said the police investigation is ongoing. (800 words)

24. Singapore minister spreading disinformation about drug policy

Singapore – Drugs | Asia Times | July 17th, 2019

In a country that pushes a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and still maintains the mandatory death penalty for some drug offenses, it’s high time this dangerous rejection of evidence be called out. The costs of drug law reformsShanmugam claims the social costs of decriminalization have been underplayed. For example, he asserts that drug mortality rates in Portugal increased 150% between 2001 and 2008, after drugs were decriminalized. It was impossible to find a source for this claim. In reality drug-related deaths in Portugal have actually drastically decreased from 80 per million in 2001 to 4 per million in 2017. (600 words)

25. MHA explains why Nigerian spared death sentence for importing about 2kg of ‘Ice’

Singapore – Law | Channel News Asia | July 8th, 2019

He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher De Souza. Mr De Souza asked whether there was a need to review the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act in light of the Court of Appeal’s judgement in the case. He also asked how the presumptions in the Act will continue to function as “key legal tools to battle trafficking within, into or through Singapore”. Adili Chibuike Ejike, who was arrested at Changi Airport in November 2011 with methamphetamine – commonly known as Ice – concealed in the inner lining of his suitcase was acquitted in May after the Court of Appeal heard his case in the High Court. (700 words)

26. New jobs can be created through technology, but workers need help retraining for these positions: Chan Chun Sing

Singapore – Tech | Channel News Asia | July 9th, 2019

In an interview with Arnold Gay and Yasmin Jonkers on CNA938’s Asia First, Mr Chan said that the way to get these workers ready is to “retrain them as fast as possible”. He gave the example of how staff who previously worked as bank tellers have now been retrained to be customer relations officers, involved in selling insurance and wealth management products. “Their previous jobs have been displaced by technology, but they have been retrained by the banks, together with the Government, to take on new jobs, and it is very exciting to hear how people in their 40s, 50s are able to take on new roles,” he said. (800 words)

27. Pet-ownership is booming across the world

Society – Pets | The Economist | June 22th, 2019

As he watches the happy, free-running animals, he reflects on how dogs’ lives have changed. Mr Salomón, who was born in the northern state of Sonora, recalls that his grandmother had two dogs—a black one called Negro and a white one called Güero, meaning pale. They were seldom allowed in the house. And today? Recently he attended a birthday party for a friend’s dog, with a cake, candles and a party hat for the pooch.In South Korea, some people who keep cats refer to themselves not as “owners” or even “parents”—a more condescending term that appeared in America in the 1990s and has spread. (1800 words)

28. Pets have gained the upper paw over their so-called owners

Society – Pets | The Economist | June 22th, 2019

Opposable thumbs, cranial size, altruism and cooking all played a part, but central to the naked ape’s success was its ability to dominate other species. Bovids, equids and, in particular, canids, were put to work by H. sapiens; felids always took a slightly different view of the matter, but were indulged for their rodent-catching talents.As humanity has got richer, animals’ roles have changed. People need their services less than before. Fewer wolves and bandits meant less demand for dogs for protection; the internal-combustion engine made horses redundant; modern sanitation kept rats in check and made cats less useful. (600 words)

29. How the pursuit of leisure drives internet use

Tech – Economics | The Economist | June 8th, 2019

“Something about the internet,” Ms Sharma, a 40-year-old child-care worker, recalls. She had no particular interest in this internet thing. But she liked the idea of learning something new, so she went along. She and a handful of women from nearby villages were all given a smartphone and some basic lessons in how to use it.“First we had to learn how to turn it on and off,” says Santosh Sharma (no relation), a 24-year-old schoolteacher from the neighbouring village. Once they had mastered that, they got down to the essentials: “How to take a selfie, WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, how to search.”That was in September 2016, when nobody in the villages had a phone. (3700 words)

30. Will a robot really take your job?

Tech – Robots | The Economist | June 27th, 2019

No report or conference presentation on the future of work is complete without it. Think-tanks, consultancies, government agencies and news outlets have pointed to it as evidence of an imminent jobs apocalypse. The finding—that 47% of American jobs are at high risk of automation by the mid-2030s—comes from a paper published in 2013 by two Oxford academics, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. It has since been cited in more than 4,000 other academic articles. Meet Mr Frey, a Swedish economic historian, in person, however, and he seems no prophet of doom. (1000 words)

WhatsApp chat