The best of the Economist, September 22, 2012

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The future of driving: Seeing the back of the carIn the rich world, people seem to be driving less than they used to. “I’ll love and protect this car until death do us part,” says Toad, a 17-year-old loser whose life is briefly transformed by a “super fine” 1958 Chevy Impala in “American Graffiti”. The film follows him, his friends and their vehicles through a late summer night in early 1960s California: cruising the main drag, racing on the back streets and necking in back seats of machines which embody not just speed, prosperity and freedom but also adulthood, status and sex.

Asbestos in Canada: Loved no more. It has long been an article of faith that the Canadian government, regardless of which party was in power, would defend the asbestos industry in the province of Quebec. Federal officials have fought for years to keep chrysotile, the type of asbestos mined in the province, off an international list of hazardous substances put together under the Rotterdam Convention. Federal (and provincial) funds went to the now defunct Chrysotile Institute, which advocated internationally for its “safe and responsible” use.

Lexington: There goes the neighbourhoodOur new Lexington worries about the consequences of uncivil politics in a civil country. The last time Lexington lived in America, he barely knew other residents in his Washington, DC street—an eclectic bunch of pensioners, hipsters and gay couples with small dogs. So it came as a surprise, returning from hospital with a newborn son, when the doorbell rang not once but twice, revealing neighbours with home-cooked food. In America, it was a normal act of generosity. In other capitals which Lexington has called home—Beijing, Brussels and London—it would be hard to imagine.

The business of sport: Greed v prideWhen muscular millionaires clash with brash billionaires. Few industries have worse labour relations than American professional sports. On September 15th the owners of the National Hockey League locked out their players, after failing to agree on a new contract. Fans howled that the entire 2012-13 ice hockey season might be lost, as it was in 2004-05. This is the fourth NHL lockout or strike since 1992, and follows lockouts by owners of teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL) in 2011.

CNN’s woes: Unbiased and unlovedLife is hard for a non-partisan cable news channel. An election should be good business for a cable news channel. Alas, this is less true if, like CNN, you try to be unbiased. When Mitt Romney says that 47% of Americans are moochers, or Barack Obama says that entrepreneurs didn’t build their own businesses, partisan viewers crave a partisan response. Either the candidate hates America or he is being quoted out of context.

Violin-making: Magic mushroomsViolins constructed from infected wood sound like those of Stradivari. A few years ago Francis Schwarze noticed something unusual. Dr Schwarze, who works at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, in St Gallen, knew that sound travels faster through healthy wood, which is stiff and dense, than it does through the soft stuff left by a fungal attack. But some fungi, he found, do not slow sound. Moreover, the acoustic properties of wood so affected seem to be just what violin-makers desire. So Dr Schwarze had some violins made from the infected wood and discovered that they sounded like a Stradivarius.


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