What's the Difference Between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

Curiosity is a good quality, but what about when it is prompted by violence? Such is often the case with ethnic and religious divisions. It would be nice if people were intrinsically interested in the difference between Catholics and Protestants or Hutus and Tutsis, but most aren’t. It sometimes take a tragedy to make people curious. Sadly, that’s the case for the divide between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. The cycle of violence between them has been going on for more than a thousand years. What caused the bitter divide?

What Explains the Tension Between Taiwan and China?

The road from Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport to the capital, Taipei, looks like the sort of highway you would see anywhere else. However, in Taiwan, things are not always what they seem. Sections of this road double as runways. They aren’t normally used for planes, but they are ready in case Chinese missiles ever destroy the country’s conventional airstrips. Cruise missiles stand ready in unmarked trucks. City neighbourhoods hide tanks. There is a hollowed-out mountain with room for on hundred fighter jets. The shoreline boasts an oil-filled pipeline ready to greet invaders with a wall of fire. Taiwan has good reason to be nervous.

Why is Russia So Big?

If you visit russianrailways.com, you can buy a ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok. It’s a journey of almost 6,000 miles that takes you across eight time zones all the way to the Pacific Ocean in seven days. Russia is much larger than any other country. The next three biggest—Canada, the USA, and China—are less than 60% its size. Why is Russia so big?

Why is the Israel-Palestine Conflict So Hard to Resolve?

“Look, this isn’t rocket science!” We hear the phrase from teachers when they want their students to know when an issue isn’t that complex. But there’s a problem with this phrase: it implies that rocket science represents the ceiling of human intelligence, and in using it we leave our rocket scientist professors without a complex problem of their own to which they can refer. So here’s a phrase that might be helpful: “Look, this isn’t the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!” Is it really that bad?

Why Are There Protests in Venezuela?

Daniela Ruiz rubbed her wet eyes and drank some more of her coffee. She was reading about yesterday’s demonstration on social media and in the international press. There was no point checking Venezuelan media—they had to be favourable to Maduro’s government so would either ignore the protests or make up some false story. But Daniela had been on the street yesterday and seen the blood. Her country had more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia but last year food had been so scarce that 75% of the population lost weight.

Why Don't Cuba and the USA Like Each Other?

For more than fifty years now, the US and Cuba have snarled at each other across the Florida Straits. Havana is one of the few airports in the world won’t come up on expedia. American credit cards don’t work there. US law prohibits all trade with the island—the United Nations has regularly said this is illegal, but the American government doesn’t care. The bad blood is thick and old. Why?

How Did China Become So Powerful?

Once upon a time there was a beautiful kingdom called China. It had stunning mountains, gorgeous valleys, and hundreds of miles of coastline. Its government was sophisticated and efficient. Its leaders dressed in silk.  It was the wealthiest country in the world. Alas, the beautiful kingdom’s glory did not last. Foreigners invaded the land and exploited it. The people tried to resist foreign domination—their failure only made their condition worse.

After a century of humiliation, China is once more a major player in world affairs.It is the world’s second largest economy. 700 million people have escaped poverty. How did China do it?

Why is Latin America Poorer than the United States?

It is hard to believe how much richer the United States is than Latin America. Each year, the US economy generates more than three times as much wealth as the twenty countries of Latin America combined. Before Columbus arrived in 1492, the largest, wealthiest, and most technologically advanced societies were in South America and modern-day Mexico. What changed? Why are garages in the US larger than many homes in Latin America?

Why is Africa Poor?

75% of the world’s poorest countries are in Africa. More than 25% of Africans are malnourished. 30% lack access to clean water. In 2016, Africa’s GDP per person was $1,809—barely 10% of the world average.

Why is Africa so poor?

Why is South Korea So Rich?

The competition for Korea’s most famous cultural export is now closed. With more than 3 billion views, Gangnam Style has done more to put South Korea on the map than anything else. The video portrays South Korea as confident, stylish, and prosperous—and that’s accurate.

What’s remarkable is how quickly South Korea became one of the most advanced economies in the world. In 1960, the average South Korean was poorer than the average person in Senegal, Honduras, or the Philippines. Today, they are more than ten times richer. How did that happen?

What is the Electoral College?

Every four years, people all over the world watch as the results of the American presidential election come in. By the end of the night, the result is usually clear but how the process actually works is anything but. The source of confusion is the Electoral College. To win, a candidate needs to have 270 votes in the Electoral College. But what is it? What is the relationship between the few hundred voters in the Electoral College and the tens of millions who went to the polls on election day? It seems a bizarre way of choosing the president of the most powerful country in the world.