Lessons from Marx. In the fall of 1857, the Bank of England faced a big problem. Its bullion reserves were slipping away, thanks to financial problems and bank failures in the United States and Scotland and the jitters brought on by the Crimean War. By law, the value of its bullion determined how much paper currency it could issue, so the bank’s dwindling inventory was causing it to cancel some of its notes. On Nov. 5, bank directors took a dramatic step: They raised the bank’s “rate of discount”—effectively, the interest rate that it charged other banks for borrowing money—from an already high 8 percent to 9 percent. After a few days, that went up to 10 percent. The bank’s hope was that if lending slowed down at least for a little while, market conditions might calm down, and the bank could stabilize its bullion-to-paper ratio to the point where it could issue currency and credit on more favorable terms. — The Big Money

Upholding the rights of prisoners. The U.N.’s human rights chief says millions of people around the world are unjustly imprisoned. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says this includes over a million children who are often held in the same conditions as adults despite being entitled to special protection under international law. Pillay says governments should remember that even those prisoners who are rightfully imprisoned have human rights and must be protected from physical, sexual and emotional abuse. — International Herald Tribune

Saudi women risk all in fashion statement. For years, the only thing sold openly in Saudi stores selling women’s cloaks were of the all-black, drab covering variety. Now, streaks of vibrant color, bands of glittering crystal _ even sheaths of sexy leopard skin prints _ are showing up on the racks. And that’s not all. Women are snapping them up and even sometimes wearing them in public. For stores to openly stock the new generation of cloaks, or abayas, and for some women to wear them in public are not just fashion statements. They are risky acts of defiance in a nation where the powerful religious police have for years raided stores to confiscate “illegal” abayas as part of their mandate as guardians of the kingdom’s rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings. — Huffington Post

What the West makes of Chinese science. Until fifty years ago, it was widely assumed that China had no tradition of scientific thought and innovation. Meticulous observation and reasoned deduction were taken to be European traits, as was the application of scientific principles to industrial production. The Chinese were supposed to be good at imitating, not originating; and the notion that the West’s scientific and industrial revolutions owed anything to the East’s inventiveness seemed laughable. We now know better. Ancient China’s precocity in almost every field of scientific achievement has since been acknowledged – in medicine, metallurgy, ceramics, mechanics, chemistry, physics, mathematics. Ridicule has turned to awe, tinged with trepidation.– Times Literary Supplement [via 3QuarksDaily]

Peter Fray

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