Following the Taliban

After Afghanistan, where next for global jihad?

The biggest danger is in poor, unstable states where insurgents already control territory


In yemen they set off fireworks; in Somalia they handed out sweets; in Syria they praised the Taliban for providing a “living example” of how to “bring down a criminal regime” through jihad. 

Around the world, jihadists were elated by the fall of Kabul. 

Through willpower, patience and cunning, a low-budget band of holy warriors has vanquished America and taken charge of a medium-size country. 

To Muslims who yearn to expel infidels and overthrow secular states, it was evidence that God approves. 

The ripple effects could be felt far and wide.

In the next few days President Joe Biden will have to sort out the mess he has created at Kabul airport, where throngs are clamouring to flee. 

It is a dangerous moment for his presidency. 

In the longer term the world must deal with the boost to jihadism from America’s humiliation. 

The chief risk is not that terrorists will use Afghanistan as a base from which to strike the West, as they did on September 11th 2001. 

Such attacks are harder now, since rich countries have better security. 

Besides, the Taliban are unlikely to tolerate big training camps for global-minded terrorists, as they crave recognition and aid.

Granted, some feel a duty of hospitality to foreign Sunni jihadists, and some will aid their militant cousins in Pakistan, making that nuclear-armed state even less stable. 

But outside Afghanistan, the main ripple effects will be psychological. 

The Taliban’s triumph will fire up jihadists in other countries, and spur recruits to join them. 

Some who live in rich countries will be inspired to commit acts of terrorism there. 

It does not take many such attacks to sow a sense of fear or roil domestic politics.

Even worse will be the effect in poorer, weaker states, where jihadists aspire not merely to kill but to control territory, or at least prevent the government from doing so. 

In places like Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Mozambique, they already do. 

In several other parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, they threaten to. 

Many are asking: if our Afghan brothers can beat a superpower, surely we can beat our own wretched rulers?

Jihadists are not all the same. 

Many disagree about doctrine. 

Many hate and fight each other. 

Supporters of Islamic State deride the Taliban, absurdly, as American stooges. 

One of the first things the Taliban did in Kabul last week was to pull the leader of Islamic State in South Asia out of jail and kill him.

Most jihadist groups are motivated primarily by local grievances: a predatory government, an ethnic or sectarian divide, infidel intruders. 

Yet they also tap into a global narrative. 

On their phones they see daily evidence that the oppression they face at home is part of wider pattern of persecution of Muslims, from the gulag of Xinjiang to the hellscape of Gaza. 

When jihadists anywhere succeed, they feel pride—and a call to action.

Bad government creates an opening for jihadism. 

When a state is unjust, its citizens may imagine that one run by jihadists might be better. 

Even if they do not take up arms, they may quietly support those who do. 

Many rural Afghans decided that Taliban justice, though harsh, was quicker and less corrupt than government courts, and that Taliban checkpoints were less plunderous. 

This is one reason the Taliban’s final march to power met so little resistance. 

The other was psychological: they won because when America pulled out Afghans did not want to die fighting for a lost cause. 

Similar principles apply elsewhere. Jihadists in north-eastern Nigeria are hard to beat because locals detest the central government and army officers sell their own men’s weapons to the guerrillas and pocket the cash.

Once jihadists win power, however, they find that their ideology makes governing hard (see our Special report on the Arab world). 

Their desire to create a perfectly pious society, and ruthless intolerance of deviation from that ideal, make pragmatic compromise tricky. 

Islamic State’s rule over a big chunk of Iraq and Syria lasted only three years. 

Its habit of drowning people in cages alienated a potentially sympathetic Sunni population. 

So did its failure to foster economic activities other than looting and kidnapping. 

It scared outside powers and Shia Iraqis so much that they clubbed together to crush it.

The Taliban were also dreadful rulers when they last ran Afghanistan. 

Much depends on whether they have learned from their mistakes. 

If a group of jihadists could not only seize a country but also run it tolerably well, jihadists everywhere would see it as a beacon. 

Senior Taliban are at pains to seem pragmatic and insist they will respect human rights. 

But rocky times lie ahead. Taliban footsoldiers are already committing atrocities. 

Many urban Afghans, who have tasted the freedom to dress, work and study as they please, even if they are female, despise the new regime. 

Because reserves are frozen in America, it is short of cash. 

The Afghan economy has seized up; prices are soaring. 

The Taliban have yet to unveil good ideas for reviving it. 

Instead they bluster that skilled Afghans must not emigrate. 

Skilled Afghans may have other ideas.

One lesson of the Afghan fiasco is that what happens in far-off failing states matters not only to the people who live there, but also to the rest of the world. 

Calamity in Kabul today means bigger refugee flows, more jihadist attacks and a greater chance that other Islamist insurgencies will prevail. 

That could destabilise a large number of countries, endangering both locals and the foreigners who visit or do business there.

Another lesson is that a purely military approach to fighting jihadism does little to make the ground less fertile for it. 

The long-term solution is to build less awful, less exclusive states. 

If the old Afghan government had been less corrupt and less inept in dealing with tribal power-brokers, it might have proved more resilient. 

Likewise, if northern Mozambique, southern Thailand, Kashmir or the vast expanses of the Sahel were more benignly ruled, they might not be havens for jihadists.

Improving governance is hard, not least since many countries vulnerable to jihad are also racked by climate change. 

More frequent droughts add to discontent and stir conflicts over water and pasture. 

Donors can offer advice and cash, but ultimately it is up to locals to build institutions that work. 

Unless existing states provide basic services and something resembling justice, the jihadists’ siren song will always sound seductive. 

Jackson Hole

Central banks should make clear what QE is for, and then reverse it

Monetary policy has become a mudd


On august 26th central bankers will gather for their annual Jackson Hole jamboree with the shine having come off their record. 

A year ago they had forestalled a financial crisis during the pandemic’s first wave. 

Today an inflation surge has made a mockery of the Federal Reserve’s forecasts; a parliamentary committee has said that the Bank of England has a “dangerous addiction” to buying bonds; and everybody expects the European Central Bank (ecb) to undershoot, over a period of years, its shiny new “symmetric” inflation target of 2%, unveiled in July.

The disquieting sense of monetary powerlessness is compounded by the spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus, which threatens to raise prices and depress global growth. 

Monetary policy cannot do much about port terminals closing because of outbreaks—as China’s Ningbo-Zhoushan did on August 11th—nor about Australia and New Zealand returning to lockdowns. 

In America consumer confidence tumbled in the first half of August. It was not for want of monetary stimulus.

Yet the trickiest challenge facing central banks is when and how to reverse the past year-and-a-half of quantitative easing (qe), the buying of long-term bonds using newly created money. 

On current forecasts rich-world central banks’ balance-sheets will have reached a combined $28trn in size by the end of the year, about two-fifths of which is attributable to qe during the pandemic. 

Critics says central banks face a “qe ratchet” because their bond holdings only go in one direction: they surged after the global financial crisis and never fell much before the pandemic struck. 

Even many emerging markets, now grappling with an inflation problem, have dabbled in qe and must soon decide its future.


Debate over qe within central banks is dominated by short-term considerations about the need for stimulus. 

Yet there is only weak evidence that accumulating or holding bonds helps economies much when, as now, financial markets are calm. 

The trouble is that investors have been encouraged to interpret decisions about qe as a signal about when central banks might raise interest rates, a policy whose effects are more tangible. 

The resulting sensitivity of interest-rate expectations to qe announcements makes the policy hard to unwind. 

The Fed is nervous about triggering another “taper tantrum”, the episode in 2013 when the suggestion that it might curtail its bond-buying shook markets. 

In the euro zone things are further complicated because qe has also had the side-effect of mutualising some of the debts of member states.

Central bankers should be explicit about the purpose and effectiveness of qe. 

Buying bonds is an essential tool for stabilising financial markets in a crisis like that of spring last year. 

But it is increasingly clear that it should fall to government spending or tax cuts to rescue the real economy when interest rates have already reached zero. 

Today’s economic data bear that out: one reason America has a troublesome price surge while the ecb’s inflation target looks unfeasibly high is that America has had much more fiscal stimulus—cumulative qe, as a share of gdp, has been similar. 

Being explicit about which tools serve what purpose, and playing down the perceived link between bond-buying and interest rates, would let central banks unwind qe.

That would be welcome because of qe’s long-term downsides, of which there is growing awareness. 

One danger about which The Economist has long warned is that bloated central-bank balance-sheets are a threat to the stability of the public finances. 

Purchases of long-term bonds are paid for by creating central-bank reserves—electronic cash which carries a floating rate of interest (commercial banks hold these reserves and receive any interest). 

Should policymakers need to raise interest rates to fight inflation, the new reserves will become costlier to service. 

Because central banks are owned by governments—Britain’s has explicitly underwritten qe—any such burden will ultimately fall on taxpayers.

A rapid exit from qe would remove that danger. 

But the overarching goal should be to recognise the tool’s limitations and consequences. 

At present central bankers do not want to talk down their own firepower and do not see it as their job to take account of qe’s fiscal threat. 

Instead the state should take an integrated view of its finances. 

That may involve redesigning how institutions work, by giving governments the job of weighing up the policy’s costs and benefits. 

At the same time, central banks might be given an advisory role on the size of government deficit that would help stabilise economies in a downturn. 

As it is, the justifications for qe have become murky, as have the interactions between fiscal and monetary policies. 

It is time for transparency and a clear division of labour.

Charlie Watts Is a Jazz Drummer: The Lost ‘Rolling Stone’ Interview

In a previously unpublished interview from 2013, Watts goes deep into his favorite drummers, what the Stones do better than the Beatles, and outlasting almost every band

By MIKAL GILMORE 

     Watts on stage with ABC&D of Boogie Woogie in London, 2013 


In 2013, I interviewed the Rolling Stones for this magazine as the band prepared for the next leg of their 50th anniversary tour. I’d talked to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood before, but never Charlie Watts. I was excited by the prospect: For more years than I could count, I had wanted to be able to sit in a room and talk with him about jazz. I got to do that, but the section I wrote about him didn’t make the final story.

After I learned Watts would not be joining the Stones on tour this fall due to a health issue, I went back and reread the section, expanded it with some more passages from the interview. Now, on the heels of Watts’ death at age 80, I offer it in full. The piece raises a question: Are the Rolling Stones still the Rolling Stones without Charlie Watts? There can be no doubt that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards feel this demise immensely, since they have loved the man and have appreciated — for well over half a century — what he meant to their sound and history. They have carried indelible ghosts before, but Watts’ passing is a crushing loss. He was absolutely central to the Rolling Stones’ history, sound, and identity. 

— Mikal Gilmore


Charlie Watts is a jazz drummer. 

When he joined the Rolling Stones in 1963, in his early twenties, he had doubts about casting his lot with an outfit that — though a self-described blues ensemble — would quickly be identified as a teen-adored rock band, like the Beatles. 

He had drummed with bandleader Alexis Korner in London’s blues scene — which the Stones emerged from — but he always saw himself playing jazz. 

In 1965, he would publish an illustrated children’s book about bebop alto-saxophonist Charlie Parker, Ode to a High Flying Bird. (Much later, in 1992, he would record an album devoted to the late alto saxophonist, A Tribute to Charlie Parker With Strings.) 

Keith Richards has said he considers the Stones a jazz band — at least onstage — because of Watts.

It was Richards, Watts tells me, who taught him new ways to hear rock & roll: “While they were all going on about John Lee Hooker and all these other marvelous people [like] Muddy Waters, I’d be putting Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins in. 

That’s what I was into when I joined the Rolling Stones, that’s what I used to listen to. 

Keith taught me to listen to Elvis Presley, because Elvis was someone I never bloody liked or listened to. 

Obviously, I’d heard ‘Hound Dog’ and all that, but to listen to him properly, Keith was the one who taught me.”

Watts also began listening to New Orleans musicians who played rock & roll and R&B as well as jazz. 

“Like Earl Phillips, Jimmy Reed’s drummer. 

Earl Phillips kind of played like a jazz drummer,” he says. 

“Another New Orleans drummer, Earl Palmer [who played with Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, and Little Richard, among others], always thought of himself as a jazz player — and, in fact, he was; he played for King Pleasure.”

Watts came to see how jazz and rock & roll emerged from similar backgrounds, sometimes played by the same players: “It’s quite a normal mixture in New Orleans for the drummers — somebody like Zigaboo [Joseph Modeliste, drummer for the Meters]. 

He could play bebop but also could play second-line rhythms. 

Ed Blackwell was a revolutionary drummer with Ornette Coleman’s quartet, and he was what we would call a jazz player, that’s what he did, that’s what he was. 

But he could play a New Orleans second line because he was from New Orleans.”

Watts has recorded 10 jazz albums on his own, in a wide variety of styles, starting in 1986 with Live at Fulham Town Hall, by the Charlie Watts Orchestra — an oversized orchestra that included seven trumpeters, four trombones, three altoists, six tenors, a baritonist, a clarinetist, two vibraphonists, piano, two basses, Jack Bruce on cello, and three drummers. 

It was abundantly arranged, and some of it — “Lester Leaps In,” with a massive tenor conflagration — was played at breakneck clips. 

In addition, he has issued recordings with a tentet, a quintet, plus a big band (which played versions of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Paint It, Black”); has recorded two Charlie Parker tributes; and has released two luxuriantly scored sets of American Songbook standards — Warm & Tender and Long Ago & Far Away, both featuring longtime Rolling Stones backing vocalist Bernard Fowler. 

On the vocal albums, Watts muted his rhythms into a faded heartbeat, guiding songs of longing and loss. 

His most adventurous work, though, was a sweeping tribute to jazz drummers, in collaboration with drummer Jim Keltner — who has played with Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Delaney & Bonnie, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Gábor Szabó, among numerous others.

When I meet Watts in a Beverly Hills hotel’s small, comfortable conference room, he is dressed in a fine gray suit, a couple shades darker than his swept back hair. 

He sits with his legs crossed, and his hands crossed at his wrists above them. 

I tell him I especially like the sprawling and ambitious Charlie Watts-Jim Keltner Project, on which the two played a series of nine tributes with such titles as “Kenny Clarke,” “Roy Haynes,” “Max Roach,” and “The Elvin Suite.” 

They didn’t attempt to emulate the drummers they were recognizing — though in the case of “Airto,” they fairly reconstructed the sound that the Brazilian percussionist evoked in Miles Davis’ 1970s ensembles.

For the most part, though, Watts and Keltner’s dedications were impressionistic constructions that caught something of the essence of the nine drummers they paid homage to, utilizing unusual instrumentation as well as occasional loops and electronics, plus West African-sounding rhythmic undertows. 

I tell Watts I especially liked the tracks named after Art Blakey and Tony Williams, and he seems surprised and grateful that an interviewer knows the album.

For me, Watts’ jazz recordings stand on their own yet also deepen an understanding of his place in the Rolling Stones. 

When you hear Watts drum with his stunning tentet on Watts at Scott’s, it’s as if all the beats withheld over the years from his work in an electric-blues and pop band have suddenly fallen into place. 

You can imagine superimposing one perspective over the other, and there you have it: A full picture of the history of drumming emerges in these recordings, as it developed in the blues-based formations of Blakey, Max Roach, and — a major touchstone for Watts — Elvin Jones, and finally informed the razor-edged swing that Watts instilled in the Rolling Stones, then winds up some place altogether different in his epic with Keltner.

Watts talks about seeing Tony Williams in the young drummer’s early years with Miles Davis. 

“He was so unlike anybody else,” he says. 

I mention that during an interview with Williams he once told me that the single influence who opened him to drumming so wide was Keith Moon. 

Watts’ eyes grow wide, and he leans his head rearward as if taken aback: “Blimey.”

When I thought about it, I say, it made sense. 

“Not to me,” says Watts. 

“Keith Moon, there was a character. 

Loved him. 

There’s only one of him. 

I miss him a lot. 

He was a very charming bloke, a lovely guy, really, but quite…”

Watts pauses to make a “whew” sound. 

“But he could be a difficult guy, really. 

Actually, there wasn’t only one of him. 

He was more like three people in one. 

He used to live here in Los Angeles for a while, in some of his madder days. 

God, I remember being here once with him when he tried to turn me on to chocolate ants; he was walking about with tins of chocolate ants. 

That’s what I mean. 

He was not your regular guy, in that way, but he was, in his heart, a nice guy. 

I always got on well with him.”

Watts shakes his head and smiles at the memory. 

“He was an amazing drummer with Pete [Townshend]. 

I don’t know if he was a very good drummer outside of Pete,” he adds, laughing. 

“A lot of guys, I don’t think, would have liked playing with him. 

He didn’t play real time or anything. 

He wasn’t funky or anything. 

He was a whole other thing. 

He was on top of everything, and maybe that’s what Tony liked, but you’d never think that Tony was like … I would have thought Roy Haynes was his big influence.

“Tony Williams was a lovely man, too, and he was writing some great stuff at the time he died. 

He was getting out, writing more than just playing. 

Brilliantly, he was writing brilliantly. 

He was very young when he joined Miles and became this iconic figure. 

I saw him when he was 18, I think, in London, the first time, when he had the black kit, and nobody played like that. 

Years later, when he died, I saw the brilliant Roy Haynes do his gig at Catalina’s, and I suddenly thought of Tony as an extension of Roy, which I never realized before. 

When Tony came to London in the Sixties with Miles, like I said before, he completely blew everybody away, because nobody played like that. 

They didn’t ride that way or do things like that. 

Then I saw his band Lifetime, of course, with Larry Young and John McLaughlin. 

I went with Mick Taylor to see that. 

It was fantastic. 

The three of them were incredible.”

Mainly what Watts talks about that afternoon is durability. 

I tell him that I’m not aware of any other drummer — at least not a well-known one — who has played with a musical unit for 50 years. 

For that matter, the only other band I can think of that ran that long was the Duke Ellington Band, from 1924 to 1974. 

Watts seems a little surprised as he pores over the thought of being the single longest-lasting band drummer in history. 

“Many guys have drummed 50 years,” he says, “but I guess it’s true, what you say. 

When we were going along through the years and people would say, ‘God, you’ve been going for 20 years,’ or something, my stock answer in those days was, ‘Yeah, but Duke Ellington has been going 40-something years.’ 

Of course, he never had the same band, really. 

He had a lot of the same guys in and out. 

The wonderful Sonny Greer was with him for, blimey, from when he was in his twenties; he must have been 30 years with him, easy, up to the 1950s. 

Then Ellington swapped a lot of drummers around. 

So, no, there haven’t been … I don’t know what that means, actually, 50 years with one band.”

It must mean that you really like it.

“Well, yeah. 

Also, I prefer bands to … I’m not Buddy Rich, I’ve never been a jazz musician that’s in a book that you ring up to do a gig. 

That would worry the life out of me, turning up and playing with people for the first time. 

I’ve never had that virtuosity. 

It takes about three or four gigs before I feel comfortable. 

Most of the drummers I love, really, are band guys, like Sonny. 

They’ve been in units for a while. 

It doesn’t happen so much nowadays. 

Roy Haynes, he’s been in so many great, great bands. 

Or the bands have been great with him in them, under great leaders — Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Gary Burton. 

Stan Getz had one of the great bands with him. 

There’s also a great record with Monk that he did, I think it’s one of the Five Spots. 

It’s amazing, really. 

There’s a great album he did with Coltrane called To the Beat of a Different Drum. 

Roy is an amazing guy who plays now as well as he’s ever played. 

If any young person asked me who they should follow in one’s life, I’d say Roy Haynes. 

He’s eternally young — there’s absolutely nothing wayward about him. 

He’s at an age where most guys are not even bothering with it, really. 

But you put your arm around him, he’s solid. 

He’s a fantastic man, and a very, very charming guy, beautiful man.

“When the Rolling Stones started, all those other bands were obviously going — they were big — and now we’ve gone past them in years, in longevity. 

This is nothing to do with fame and fortune or greatness. 

It’s just longevity, actually, and suddenly we’ve gone past them.”

I point out that probably nobody has drummed so hard, so relentlessly and fiercely as Watts over a lifetime. 

“That’s a drummer’s lot,” he says. 

“When you’d see Otis Redding, that band live, those tempos.… He was entertaining, doing it all, but he could stop during a sax solo or something. 

That drummer, though, was going the whole bloody time. 

It’s what you do. 

The drummer is the engine. 

It’s worse when you get tired and have a lot of the show still to do.

“There’s nothing worse than being out of breath or your hands are killing you, and you still have a quarter of the show to go. 

That’s the worst one. 

When you were young, you’d have a drink to get through that, but now I couldn’t do that. 

I like to be over-ready for things. 

That’s really one of the reasons why I started to play jazz — the love of it was another — but it was to do other things while we weren’t on the road, because we’d work for two years, and you’d be great at the end of it, and you wouldn’t work for another year or so. 

I like to do something to keep my hands going, really.”

There had been reports about tensions between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. 

Were there any doubts about the 50th-anniversary tour happening?

“Not to me, but to many people there was a doubt. 

The two big offenders of that virtually lived together when they were kids, didn’t they? 

They lived down the road from each other. 

It comes from all that. 

They’re like brothers, arguing about the rent, and then if you get between it, forget it. 

They leave you high and dry. 

I think it’s part of being together for 50 years. 

Keith couldn’t say things in his book without knowing Mick that well. 

I haven’t read it, actually. 

I just heard things he’d said, and it’s what he felt.

“I always thought we should do something for the 50th year, which Bill Wyman informed me actually is this year — it wasn’t last year. 

I was very in favor of doing a show, or a few of them. 

It’s all right to do three numbers, but by the time you’ve rehearsed, paid for everybody, it’s like a juggernaut, our thing. 

It’s not just me and Keith turning up and having fun, although that really is what it is, but the whole thing of it turns into a production, so you generally have to do two or three shows to pay for thinking about getting it together.

“The shows in London and New York were good, and sort of spurred this on. 

I hope this is as comfortable as that was, because that was really comfortable to do. 

I like it when you can see the end of it. 

When you have an endless list of dates — 50 shows in America or something — you just look at it and go, ‘Oh, Christ.’ 

But it’s very tempting to carry on, once you’ve started that. 

As Keith would say, ‘Why don’t we do more?’ 

It’s logically the thing to do, because the start-up is the hard thing on your body. 

So obviously, nonstop is the best thing. 

We’ll see.”

Are the Rolling Stones the best at being the Rolling Stones when they’re on tour or onstage?

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

Yeah, we are a live band. 

We always have been, even in the early days. 

The Beatles were fabulous in a studio, getting their songs together, but we were much better at entertaining — we were more raucous. 

I think we’re a better live band than a lot. 

For your ego, there’s nothing nicer than driving down Santa Monica and hearing yourself on the radio, especially if it’s a new record. 

But the real fun is on the stage.

Keith [Richards] is very much like playing with a jazz guy, very loose. 

He can go anywhere, and if you follow him and it’s right, it’s something special. It’s very easy to play with him.

“That’s why I like jazz and why I prefer playing in clubs, because it’s more immediate. It’s just what I like. 

And I think everybody does, probably apart from Mick, who’s more about songwriting, that sort of thing. 

I’m sure Keith prefers playing live to the other stuff.” Watts laughs. 

“People would look at us and hear the music and think, ‘God, why do you bother to rehearse for that?’ 

But we always do, and we always have.”

Every night, I offer, it seems like there’s breathing room, there’s a chance for something a little different.

“A lot of that comes from Keith, really. Keith’s very much like playing with a jazz guy, very loose. 

He can go anywhere, and if you follow him and it’s right, it’s something special, which is kind of what happens with jazz in its moments, really. 

He’s very much like that. 

It’s very easy to play with him. 

You can go anywhere, really, sometimes. 

Roy Haynes told me you had to be quick with Bird [Charlie Parker], because he was so quick thinking, his little inflections and that. 

Keith’s kind of like that. 

I don’t mean Keith’s like Charlie Parker, but it’s the same feeling. 

It can go somewhere quick, and if you go with it where he thinks it should go, it’s a lot of fun. 

That’s why it’s loose. 

Sometimes we don’t go with it, and it falls apart.”

Is “going with it” more difficult on large stages in arenas?

“You can hear better, obviously, in a smaller room, except now the stage equipment is so advanced. 

In the early days, Keith used to have his Vox amplifier on a chair, tilted up so I could hear him. 

He still does, actually — he has it right by my hi-hat, so I can hear him. 

In the early days, when it was what I call the Beatle period, which was all screaming girls, you couldn’t hear a bloody thing, but I had to really hear him to know where the song is, because in those days, you didn’t have very good PA. 

I couldn’t hear what Mick was singing, really. 

Now, it’s quite sophisticated, but also it’s incredibly loud. 

When a band like ours goes into a small club, it carries half of that with it, and it’s miles too loud for me in a club. 

We never used to be like that. 

It’s very difficult to suddenly jump from that huge stage down to that. It’s pretty hard.”

Keith Richards tells me, more than once, that Watts is essentially the reason that he still plays with Mick Jagger, and the reason the Rolling Stones endure so well and renew so effectively. 

Jagger, too, has said he can’t imagine the band continuing without Watts. 

The Rolling Stones could survive the loss of guitarists Brian Jones and Mick Taylor, and the departure of bassist Bill Wyman. 

They can withstand years of a world’s distance apart from one another. 

But they can’t imagine truly being the Rolling Stones without Charlie Watts. 

Watts is similar-minded: “They are the only people I want to play rock & roll with.”

Much of this is to say that when the Rolling Stones play music together, when they walk onstage together, they are an interesting coalition of history, musicianship, personality, pain, loss, joy, daring, change, and — most important — roughhewn fellowship.

By this time, the longevity of the Rolling Stones has become as distinguishing a characteristic of the band’s history as their blues-indebtedness and all the notoriety and rebelliousness that put them on the map in the first place. 

That longevity, of course, has taken its toll — at moments their union seemed strained beyond any hope of repair. 

Yet they know there’s an alchemy at work between them, a collective mystery that is beyond their individual talents or reputations.

Past that, none of the three original members — Watts, Jagger, Richards — is at ease offering insight into why their legend and appeal survive so potently, but they realize that it endures when they are together, especially in the presence of an audience.

“We’re very, very fortunate,” says Watts. 

“I’ve always felt that folks have liked this combination of people. 

Mick, Keith, Brian, and Bill: People turned up to see them. 

First it was 100 attending, then it was 200, then it’s a lot. 

People love looking at Mick Jagger and watching what Keith’s doing. 

I don’t know why, but they do. 

I mean, I do know, I know how good Keith is, and I know Mick is the best frontman going now that James Brown and Michael Jackson have gone. 

Being out there, he’s the best. 

He takes it deadly seriously, as well; he keeps himself together. 

He looks great — everything you could want. 

You wouldn’t expect them to turn up to see me — it’s, like, 200 people — but the Rolling Stones say they’re doing something, and we get more people standing outside, listening to our rehearsals, than I do in a club listening to me do a set. 

It’s something that I’ve got no idea why.” 

Uruguay roils Mercosur bloc with search for outside trade deals

South American country’s move raises tensions ahead of presidential summit

Benedict Mander in Buenos Aires 

Relations within Mercosur were strained after a pro-market and reformist government led by Luis Lacalle Pou came to power in Uruguay last year © AFP via Getty Images


Uruguay has signalled its intent to seek trade deals outside South America’s leading trade bloc, Mercosur, threatening a fresh crisis for the group ahead of a presidential summit on Thursday.

Uruguay said it would begin bilateral trade negotiations with other countries, after failing to reach an agreement on lowering tariffs and facilitating deals with third parties during a preliminary meeting of foreign ministers on Wednesday. 

The agreement had faced stiff resistance from the leftist government in Argentina.

Although Uruguay underlined that it remained a “full member” of Mercosur, the announcement marked a clear break with practices and traditions followed over the past 20 years by the customs union, which requires approval from other members if any country wants to cut deals with third parties.

“It is with more integration, not less, that [Mercosur] will be in better conditions,” said Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, during his opening address at the summit on Thursday, underlining the importance of consensus among the bloc’s members and adhering to its rules — remarks that appeared aimed at Uruguay’s unilateral move. 

The 30-year-old bloc, whose members also include Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, has been beset by tensions since signing one of the world’s largest trade pacts with the EU in 2019.

The centre-right Uruguayan government’s push to make the trade bloc’s rules more flexible, aimed at modernising the group, are broadly supported by Brazil and Paraguay.

But they could also raise tensions as Argentina hands over its temporary six-month presidency of the bloc to Brazil on Thursday.

After a rare and brief overlap of pro-market political leaders in Mercosur’s historically protectionist two main countries, Brazil and Argentina, relations between the alliance’s members have deteriorated since the return in late 2019 of a leftist government in Argentina led by Fernández, who has sparred publicly with far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

Bolsonaro — who has called Fernández a “red bandit” — has previously threatened to leave Mercosur if Argentina causes trouble. 

Diplomatic relations with Brazil worsened last month when Fernández made controversial remarks suggesting that Brazilians originated from the Amazon jungle, while Argentina had been largely populated by European immigrants arriving by boat.

The bloc’s relations were strained further after a pro-market and reformist government led by Luis Lacalle Pou came to power in Uruguay last year, replacing a leftist coalition that had governed the country for the previous 15 years.

Lacalle Pou and Fernández traded barbs at Mercosur’s last presidential summit in March, when the Uruguayan leader urged the group to allow more freedom for its members to negotiate free trade agreements. 

“If we are a burden, take another boat,” Fernández responded at the time.

The picture has been further complicated by political dynamics — with important elections on the horizon in both Brazil and Argentina — and the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic in Latin America. 

Where Is the End?

Patrick Watson


You may not remember World War II, but you know broadly how it went. 

We’ve all seen the movies.

The US part was quicker than many think. 

Pearl Harbor was December 1941. 

Germany surrendered in May 1945, just 41 months later. 

The Pacific war continued another three months, then it was over.

But at the time, no one had a schedule. 

The end date wasn’t marked on their calendars. 

They knew only that the country was at war and it would end someday, hopefully soon.

The world is now about 20 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A few months ago, many thought vaccinations meant victory. 

Everyone would get a shot, herd immunity would follow, the economy would recover and all would be well.


Source: Wikimedia


Yet here we are, still battling a microscopic virus as it fills our hospitals and slows our economy. 

Many scientists think the virus will gradually become “endemic,” staying with us but in a less severe form.

This different kind of war won’t end with a surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship… and we may be less than halfway through.

Brutally Effective

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, as our enemy is formally known, has murky origins but originally appeared in China. 

The Chinese government responded aggressively. 

Unlike the US, China had real lockdowns. 

They were brutal but effective.

Now China has only sporadic outbreaks, which are addressed swiftly. 

John Browning of BANDS Financial, a commodity trader living in Shanghai, sent me this note last week.

Here in Shanghai, following a routine test every 3 days, a female nurse at Songjiang Central Hospital was diagnosed with COVID on Wednesday morning. 

By 6 pm Wednesday, 10 close contacts of the nurse had been placed under quarantine, a further 66 close contacts of the 10 and another 7,347 related personnel had all been tested. 

All the places the nurse visited during the past two weeks have been placed under close management and have been disinfected and her apartment block and its occupants quarantined for 14 days.

Here's a news story with more details. 

That kind of quick response has costs, but it is one reason China’s economy is again growing far faster than ours.

You might say this is easy for China, where they lack Western-style civil liberties. 

But New Zealand is almost as thorough and has been largely COVID-free for months. 

A new outbreak last week spurred another nationwide lockdown, which will likely be short because it was imposed so quickly. 

Speed matters.


Source: NARA

Linear Solutions

Here in the US we took a different approach. 

Many of us don’t like staying home, closing businesses, wearing masks, or having our movements monitored. 

So we put all our chips on the vaccines.

That’s not entirely crazy. 

It makes sense to exploit your strengths, and the US excels at drug development. 

We also had the manufacturing capacity to make a lot of doses quickly.

So our strategy (using the word loosely) became “hold the line until vaccines save us.” 

But then we didn’t even hold the line very well, as seen in last winter’s surge.

Nonetheless, by mid-2021 even many cautious people were relaxing. 

The end seemed in sight.

That conclusion may have been hasty. 

The vaccines seem pretty effective (but not perfect) in preventing severe illness. 

But no one is sure they will remain so, and the larger-than-expected number who haven’t received the shots have no protection at all.

As a result, the latest wave is again stretching hospital capacity. 

The problem is not just beds, but trained staff. 

Here in Texas, our governor is hiring temp agencies and opening antibody infusion centers.


Source: Twitter


Treating the sick is good and necessary but it’s a linear solution to an exponential problem. 

COVID can infect people faster than we can add treatment capacity. 

Better to protect people from catching the virus in the first place.

We know how to do that. 

It requires some adaptation and a little sacrifice. 

But for whatever reason, the US can’t seem to make it happen.

Halfway Through

So back to the question: When (and how) will this end? 

And what does it mean to the economy?

Note: How it will end is a different question from how we wish it would end. 

We can’t go back and change what already happened. 

We can only think about the road ahead.

Here’s my best-guess outlook.

  • Herd immunity isn’t happening.

We aren’t vaccinating fast enough even in developed countries and have barely started in most of the world. 

And even if we could vaccinate faster, the virus is evolving.

That means we will keep playing whack-a-mole with new variants and more vaccines. 

Outbreaks will come and go. 

We’ll have scary times and periods when we feel pretty safe, until the virus recedes to an endemic background level.

  • The economy won’t grow much, but won’t crash, either.

The businesses that are still around have figured out how to operate within the (usually mild) restrictions that pop up occasionally. 

Supply chain snarls and labor shortages will remain problematic. 

Industries that depend on personal presence (restaurants, travel, etc.) will keep suffering.

  • The health effects will have financial effects.

Lower life expectancy, higher health risk, and falling birth rates all have big consequences for the insurance industry, for example. 

And we’ll have to figure out how to care for millions of “long COVID” patients with varying degrees of long-term disability.


Source: Our World in Data


  • International travel restrictions will force countries to become more self-sufficient.

This was already happening for different reasons; COVID will accelerate it. 

That will affect trade surpluses/deficits, currency flows, and interest rates.

Historically, those often lead to international tension and sometimes conflict. 

That’s unlikely now… but not impossible.

All this will unfold over several years, meaning the pandemic will probably last longer than the US was in World War II. 

I think we are less than halfway through. 

On a World War II scale, we’re somewhere in 1943. 

D-Day hasn’t even happened yet.

I’d like to be wrong on all this. 

But if I’m not, we face a longer war than many presently expect.

Rising Malnourishment

Global Food Prices Spike in Response to the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in rising food prices around the world. Developing countries are particularly at risk - and progress made on global malnourishment has been reversed.

By Nicola Abé und Sonja Peteranderl


Michelle Davids doing her shopping in Cape Town, South Africa. She hardly afford to buy vegetables any longer. Foto: Brenton Geach / DER SPIEGEL


Michelle Davids has largely cut vegetables from her family’s diet. 

She doesn’t buy any fruit anymore either, it’s too expensive. 

"Meat is completely out of the question,” she says. 

She used to splurge on a barbecue for her family twice a month. 

"Now, that’s a possibility maybe once every three months,” says Davids, a 32-year-old police officer from Cape Town, South Africa.

Instead of "normal chicken,” she now buys reconstituted meat. 

"I know vegetables would be healthier,” 

Davids says. 

But if she has to choose between an avocado and a loaf of bread, she’ll take the latter, plus some cheap peanut butter. 

"At least that fills us up for a few days,” she says. Powdered milk for her two-year-old daughter is also no longer affordable.

Michelle Davids, a policewoman in Cape Town, can no longer afford to feed her family vegetables. Foto: Brenton Geach / DER SPIEGEL


The pandemic has radically changed the family’s life. 

Davids’ husband lost his well-paid job guiding tourists through Cape Town, and with only one source of income remaining, the family had no choice but to move back in with Davids’ parents, along with their two daughters, Kenya, 2, and Cassidy, 14. 

Now the four of them live in single room in the low-income suburb of Sea Winds. 

Still, says Davids, a sturdy woman with kind eyes, she’s grateful that her police job is secure.

The story of the Davids family could be retold millions of times around the world. 

The beginning of the pandemic translated into the end of income for huge numbers of people, especially in emerging and developing countries. 

At the same time, food prices have risen dramatically. 

It is a worrying combination, and one that experts are keeping an eye on. 

One of the United Nations’ most important development goals is that of eliminating hunger in the world by 2030, but the pandemic has pushed that goal further into the future.

Women in Nigeria harvesting rice. Foto: Thomas Imo / Photothek / Getty Images


The situation "is setting us back a full decade,” says Ervin Prifti, an economic analyst at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

Together with two colleagues, Prifti has analyzed past data and determined that economic growth is the key factor for reducing malnutrition and real income losses lead to hunger.

According to their analysis, over 60 million additional people worldwide could potentially have slipped into a state of malnutrition or hunger in 2020 alone. Other estimates put the number as high as 130 million. Prifti’s team warns that food insecurity is "one of the most dramatic collateral damages of the current pandemic.”

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, 680 million people were suffering from inadequate nutrition. 

Seven African countries – including South Sudan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia – in addition to Syria and Yemen in the Middle East – have been especially hard hit, as have Haiti and Afghanistan. 

A new report from the aid agency Oxfam shows that the number of people facing severe hunger around the world has increased sixfold from the end of 2019 to June 2021. 

"Conflict regions continue to be at the highest risk of a hunger crisis,” according to Moniko Tothova, an economist with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).


But now the problem threatens to spread massively, with dramatic consequences. 

Malnutrition can lead to social unrest in the short term, Prifti says. 

And on the long-term, reduced productivity is a potential consequence, as are limitations on development for people and countries.

The FAO’s Food Price Index increased by 31 percentage points between March 2020 and June 2021. 

Although this represents the average price importers have to pay – and not retail prices – the increase for staple foods is reflected in the world’s supermarkets and market stalls. 

South Africans, for example, now have to spend 30 percent more for tomatoes, vegetable oils and beans than they did a year ago. 

In Brazil, people are complaining about the rising price of beef, chicken and rice, and in India, the traditional dal soup is now considerably more expensive.

Various global and local factors play a role in the rise in consumer prices. 

As South African agricultural scientist Wandile Shilobo puts it: "Pandemic meets climate change.”



The rise in food prices began before the COVID-19 crisis, as IMF analysts point out in a blog post. 

But at the beginning of the pandemic, lockdowns, food hoarding and export stops for rice and wheat disrupted supply chains and led to price increases.

And then there are the increased prices for transportation, which also impact consumer prices. 

The cost of transporting freight by ship has more than doubled in the last 12 months and many passenger flights, which were also used to carry food, have been eliminated. 

A rise in gasoline prices and the emergence of regional shortages of truck drivers has also made road transport pricier.

A food market in Lagos, Nigeria: "We expect further food price increases in the coming months.” Foto: Adekunle Ajayi / NurPhoto / Getty Images


Meanwhile, demand for agricultural commodities has remained high, partly because China decided to fill up its stores and, for instance, buy up large quantities of soybeans. 

An increased demand for biodiesel has also pushed up the price for vegetable oils.


At the same time, extreme weather disrupted palm oil production in Indonesia, for example, and other climate phenomena have produced droughts and poorer harvests in many export-heavy countries, like Brazil and Argentina, as well as in Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

The latter factors have so far mainly affected the price producers can charge for their goods, which has risen by over 40 percent. 

"However, this development is only trickles down to consumers in part, and only gradually, and so far has barely become apparent,” says Prifti. 

"So we expect further food price increases in the coming months.”

Food inflation is not the same in all areas of the world. 

Developing and threshold countries tend to be hit much harder, particularly when they are heavily dependent on imports.

Whereas local production remained relatively constant, since agricultural workers tended to be excepted from quarantine rules, according to FAO economist Tothova, the lockdowns did have a significant effect on supply chains and local transportation. 

That led to shortages, which resulted in price increases for fruit, vegetables and cereals. 

Many street vendors were unable to work for extended periods, markets closed down and people had to do their shopping in expensive supermarkets.


As a result, prices in sub-Saharan Africa rose up to 200 percent in some areas. 

Famine is now looming "because incomes have collapsed at the same time,” Tothova says. 

The continent is also experiencing a third wave of COVID-19.

The situation is especially critical in several countries in the Global South and the Middle East, such as Nigeria and Lebanon, where economic crises are colliding with hyperinflation and currency devaluations, which make food imports more expensive. 

This is likely to cause further problems in the coming months, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, which heavily rely on these imports.

A soup kitchen for the needy in Sao Paulo. Foto: Alexandre Schneider / Getty Images


To cushion the food shock and its consequences, Prifti’s team of IMF researchers believes that increased government spending in the form of financial support for the poorest would be appropriate. 

It’s generally not the case that food is in short supply, it’s just that people cannot afford it, Prifti says. 

Many countries implemented a form of unconditional basic income in the crisis.

Brazil, for example, paid out emergency aid to people in need during 2020. 

South Africa had a similar program, in which the poorest residents received 350 rand ($25), but that has since been discontinued. 

"What pains me the most is that many countries here simply don’t have the financial means to set up programs like these,” says Shilobo, the South African agricultural economist.

Children standing in line in Michelle Davids' street to receive food handouts. Foto: Brenton Geach / DER SPIEGEL


Despite her own hardships, Davids, the police officer in Cape Town, has started a small aid program for needy children in the neighborhood. 

Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, she gives out food in front of her house to up to 150 hungry children lining up with Tupperware they’ve brought from home. 

Davids solicits donations on Facebook, and from that she buys chicken, bread, whatever is cheap. 

"I do what I can,” she says, "but sometimes it just gets to be too much.”


For our Global Societies project, reporters around the world will be writing about societal problems, sustainability and development in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. 

The series will include features, analyses, photo essays, videos and podcasts looking behind the curtain of globalization. 

The project is generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

domingo, agosto 29, 2021

CELLS AND HOW TO RUN THEM / THE ECONOMIST

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Cells and how to run them

All life is made of cells, and cells depend on membranes


The chemical reactions on which life depends need a place to happen. 

That place is the cell. 

All the things which biology recognises as indisputably alive are either cells or conglomerations of cells (viruses fall into disputable territory). 

Since the middle of the 19th century the cell has been seen as the basic unit of life.

A cell requires something to keep its insides in and the outside out. 

That is the role of the cell membrane, a flexible film made largely of lipids. 

These are smallish tadpole-shaped molecules with heads that are comfortable in water and twin tails that shun it. 

When put into a watery solution they naturally form double layers in which the water-tolerant heads are on the outside and the water-wary bits on the inside. 

Some plant, fungal and bacterial cells employ more rigid structures, called cell walls, as further fortifications beyond their membranes. 

But it is the membrane which defines the cell.

What is more, the disposition of membranes determines what sort of cell it is. 

Some creatures use membranes chiefly to define their perimeters. 

These are called prokaryotes, and come in two varieties, bacteria and archaea. 

In others they are also used to create structures within cells, notably a nucleus to contain the dna on which genes are written. 

Such cells may have ten or 20 times more membrane within them than they have defining their surfaces. 

They are called eukaryotic, Greek for truly nucleated. 

Creatures made from them are eukaryotes.

The world’s prokaryotic cells vastly outnumber their eukaryotic cousins. 

Your own body has roughly as many single-celled prokaryotes living on and inside it (mostly in the gut) as it has eukaryotic cells making up muscles, nerves, bones, blood and so on. 

Some parts of Earth’s biosphere, such as the ocean floors, contain more or less nothing but prokaryotic life.

But almost everything you have ever looked at and recognised as alive—all the animals, plants, fungi and algae—has been composed of eukaryotic cells. 

Such cells are typically a lot larger than almost all prokaryotic ones and are capable of a far greater diversity in both form and function. 

Their versatility is seen in the wide range of shapes they take, from the conjoined starbursts of nerve cells to the creeping mutable blobbiness of amoebae.

Even prokaryotic cells, though, are big compared with the molecules they contain. 

A bacterium two millionths of a metre long encompasses around 3m protein molecules as well as the dna which describes them, the rna necessary to make use of those descriptions and the various smaller molecules that proteins stick together and break apart in the course of their duties. 

The membrane of such a bacterium, moreover, contains around 20m lipid molecules.

But if you were to synthesise all the molecules found in that bacterium in a laboratory (quite possible, in theory) and pop them into a bacterium-sized bag you would not get a bacterium. 

You would get an itsy bitsy mess. 

A cell is not just a set of contents. 

It is also a set of processes running alongside each other. 

The only way to create a cell in which all the necessary processes are up and running is to start off with another such cell in which they are already doing so.

Feed a bacterium with the nutrients it needs and as it grows it will synthesise a copy of the dna molecule on which its genome is stored. 

When it is big enough to have made a complete copy of that dna it will split into two, with one dna ending up in one cell, and the other in the other.

As it is for bacteria, so it is, mutatis mutandis, for all other life, for ever and ever, amen. 

Life is made of cells, and cells from pre-existing cells. 

The 30 trillion cells of which a human body is composed can in almost every case be traced back to the single fertilised egg which started it all (the exception is a condition known as chimerism in which two embryos fuse in the womb early on in development).

Of all the processes that continue from cell to cell as life goes on, none is more fundamental than those which provide life’s energy. 

These are completely dependent on the membranes in cells. 

Conditions on the two sides of a membrane will almost always be different; different molecules will be present in different concentrations. 

The laws of thermodynamics, though, take a dim view of different concentrations of something being next to each other. 

Small molecules and ions that are more frequent on one side of that membrane than the other will diffuse across it in an attempt to even things up. 

Proteins embedded in such membranes pump molecules in the opposite direction to maintain the distinction between inside and out.

It is by setting up a gradient of hydrogen ions—hydrogen atoms with their electrons pulled off—across a membrane that living things put energy into a chemical form which they can use. 

This process depends on sets of proteins called electron-transport chains. 

These proteins are embedded in the membrane.

Electron-transport-chain proteins pass electrons to each other in a way that causes hydrogen ions on the inside of the membrane to get moved to the outside. 

The ions thus build up outside, which means that nature’s tendency to even out concentrations requires some of them to get back inside. 

This they do by means of a magnificent protein called atp synthase, or just atpase. 

Molecules of atpase provide channels through the membrane which it is easy for the hydrogen ions to flow through. 

This flow yields usable energy, like the flow of water through a watermill.



That is not an idle metaphor. 

atpase has several parts, one of which can rotate with respect to the others. 

As the ions flow through the protein they spin this rotor at a speed of 6,000rpm. 

If you could hear them at work they would be humming at something like the G two octaves below middle C. 

Another part of the molecule uses the kinetic energy of this spinning rotor to affix phosphate ions to a molecule called adenosine diphosphate (adp), thus making adenosine triphosphate, or atp—cell biology’s near-universal energy carrier.

In almost all instances where a cellular process requires energy, that energy is provided by breaking atp back down into adp. 

Adding an amino acid to a growing protein uses up roughly five atps. 

Synthesising membrane lipids costs about one atp for every two carbon atoms used. 

A bacterium doubling in size uses about 10bn atps to build all the molecules it needs, meaning every one of the 10m or so adp molecules the bacterium contains is turned into atp and broken back down again 1,000 times during the process.

To keep the atpase whirring, the cell requires a constant flow of electrons along its membrane-bound electron-transfer chains. 

There are two ways of creating such flows: respiration and photosynthesis.

Respiration breaks molecules of glucose down into carbon dioxide and water through a suite of reactions called the citric-acid cycle. 

A glucose-molecule’s worth of electrons typically pushes ten hydrogen ions across the membrane in which the respiratory electron-transfer chain is embedded. 

As they flow back through the atpase they can generate 20 atps.

Photosynthesis uses the energy of sunlight to liberate electrons from water molecules, thus creating oxygen and also hydrogen ions ready for pushing across the membrane. 

Some of the atp made this way powers a process that combines those ions with carbon-dioxide. 

A few more chemical reactions produce a sugar such as glucose, which then goes on to be built into all the other molecules from which life is made. 

Photosynthesis builds up the world’s biomass; respiration breaks it down.

Once upon a time

In a prokaryotic cell the membrane in which electron-transfer proteins sit is that which surrounds the cell. 

In eukaryotic cells respiration takes place in intracellular structures—organelles—called mitochondria. 

These consist of folded-up membranes rich in electron-transport chains. 

Containing lots of mitochondria (in humans, hundreds or thousands per cell is not uncommon) means such cells can generate a great deal of atp. 

If all the membranes in your body’s mitochondria were joined and spread out flat they would cover several football fields.

Under a microscope, some mitochondria look a lot like bacteria. 

This is not a coincidence, it is a family resemblance. 

When Earth was a bit more than half its present age, which is to say around 2bn years ago, two prokaryotes, one from the archaea and one from the bacteria, contrived to merge. 

How, exactly, they did so is far from clear. 

But that merger created something truly novel: the first eukaryotic cell. 

Mitochondria are descendants of the bacterium involved, a descent demonstrated incontrovertibly by the fact they still have remnant genomes of their own which are distinctively bacterial. 

In human beings these little mitochondrial genomes are the only dna not sequestered on chromosomes in the nucleus.

All the mitochondria in all the eukaryotes in the world date back to that merger. 

Similarly, chloroplasts—the organelles of photosynthesis found in plants and algae—date back to a later event in which a eukaryote engulfed a photosynthetic bacterium. 

Many eukaryotes remained single-celled, and do so to this day. 

But others began forming colonies which permitted division of labour between cells and encouraged the development of specialised body parts called organs. 

Which are the subject of next week’s Biology brief.