The best of the Economist, October, 2012

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Textbooks round the world: It ain’t necessarily so, The textbooks children learn from in school reveal and shape national attitudes—and should provoke debate. Parisians are in a tizz about capitalism. New Yorkers get stressed about sex. In Seoul and San Antonio, Texas, 11,000km apart, citizens fret about the relationship between humans and apes. What goes into school textbooks—and, even more, what is left out—spurs concern and controversy all over the world.

Germany’s army: No shooting please, we’re GermanGermans still have a uniquely complicated relationship with their soldiers. Not long ago wearing a uniform around an average town in Germany could get you beaten up; and even today it draws frowns, says Jan Ströhmer, a naval commander in Kiel. That is because many Germans, at least in the former West, have since the second world war been militantly pacifist. In America signs vowing that “We support our troops” adorn porches and cars. In Germany the most striking thing about the army is how invisible it is.

Link rot: Cut short?The danger of short web addresses. Link rot afflicts the connective tissue of the internet. If sites rejig their content carelessly, useful web addresses (technically known as URLs) may bring up only an error message. A technical glitch on October 8th at Twitter brought an ominous outbreak of link rot, when the microblogging site’s t.co link shortener suffered a 40-minute outage.

The innovation race: How not to be left behindIt is not surprising that Americans regard their country as an innovation goliath. The world’s brightest scientists compete to study at its universities, its feistiest entrepreneurs dream of moving to Silicon Valley and its savviest consumers buy its iPads and software programs. The Russians claim to be building their own equivalent of Silicon Valley by the name of Skolkovo. You only have to imagine Americans talking about building a United States equivalent of Skolkovo to see how thoroughly they thrashed their former rival at the innovation game.

Cramming for quiz shows: Babbage in “Jeopardy!”, How, precisely, do you go about cramming sundry trivia for a rapid-fire quiz show? Your correspondent asked himself the question in July when, having taken an online screening test in early 2011 and auditioned that August in Seattle, he received a call saying that “Jeopardy!”, an American quiz show, would like him to appear.

Gene therapy: Hello mothers, hello fatherA technique intended to eliminate mitochondrial diseases would result in people with three genetic parents. Is it possible for a child to have three parents? That is the question raised by a paper just published in Nature by Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University. And the answer seems to be “yes”, for this study paves the way for the birth of children who, genetically, have one father, but two mothers.

Access to the polls: Counting voters, counting votesDiscouraging citizens from voting is not good for democracy. Skin colour and poverty kept Raymond Rutherford’s parents, black South Carolinians who lived in the first half of the last century, from voting. Civil-rights legislation ended de facto racial bans in the 1960s. When South Carolina first passed its voter-identification law, Mr Rutherford feared a clerical error would keep him from voting.

Bangladesh and development: The path through the fieldsBangladesh has dysfunctional politics and a stunted private sector. Yet it has been surprisingly good at improving the lives of its poor. On the outskirts of the village of Shibaloy, just past the brick factory, the car slows to let a cow lumber out of its way. It is a good sign. Twenty years ago there was no brick factory, or any other industry, in this village 60 kilometres west of Dhaka; there were few cows, and no cars. The road was a raised path too narrow for anything except bicycles.


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