Christmas edition—Jesus as refugee, Spotify’s magic, ISIL’s Hollywood inspiration

Note: Because of Christmas, this edition replaces the daily brief. Normal service will resume on Monday.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

As your social media contacts must have reminded you by now, Christmas truly is the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge. Recent forensic research suggests that Jesus looked very much like the men that so many in the predominantly Christian Western world are frightened to let into their countries. Even in photos of the refugees, there are striking echoes of biblical iconography.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This is at the very core of Christian values: love your neighbor as yourself—and as your god.

And yet Westerners are, by and large, keeping refugees at bay, bargaining their quotas down, as if the world’s 2.2 billion Christians had never been taught the story of Joseph and Mary being refused accommodation because they were poor strangers.

Perhaps instead we can show mercy for mothers breastfeeding their children on a cold beach, for men who nearly drown trying to swim to shore, for children who have no choice but to follow their parents in chasing a future—any future, anywhere.

These people are the real-life versions of the icons that Christians have come to associate with the passion of god as a human. Let us recognize them as such. Let us acknowledge, once and for all, that being a refugee—of war, poverty, or discrimination—is a sheer function of luck, and we did nothing to deserve our better fate. Whenever and wherever humanity is suffering, we are involved, and the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.—Annalisa Merelli

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

This was the year we agreed to genetically engineer our children.“Designer babies” are still a long way off; but, argues Akshat Rathi, the UK’s decision this year to allow mitochondrial replacement therapy was a turning point, because it means revisions made to human DNA will get passed down through the generations.

China’s year of financial scams. Dodgy investment schemes robbed Chinese investors of about $24 billion this year alone. Zheping Huang and Echo Huang round up the scandals and analyze the mixture of growing prosperity and weak regulation that leads people to get fleeced with such regularity.

Infectious bacteria are winning. Drug-resistant bacteria could be killing 10 million people a year by 2050, thanks to over-prescription of antibiotics and the slowing pace of new drug discoveries. In an interactive graphic, Keith Collins explores why our biggest weapon against bacterial disease has become so weakened.

Where ISIL gets its inspiration. You’ll be taken aback when you see Nushmia Khan’s video, which juxtaposes clips from Islamic State recruiting videos with Hollywood action movies and shoot-’em-up games. It leaves no room for doubt: the jihadists have appropriated Western commercial imagery of violence to appeal to young minds.

The technological magic of Spotify playlists. The streaming music service sends personally curated playlists to 75 million users each week—and it’s uncannily good. Adam Pasick goes deep into Spotify’s deep-learning algorithm to understand how it understands him so well.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The great Republican revolt. In the Atlantic, former Bush speechwriter David Frum explains the rise of Donald Trump as a backlash by the Republican base against the party’s takeover by billionaire donors, and lays out options—none of them comfortable—for its future. Read it in conjunction with Peter Beinart’s essay on why America as a whole is moving left.

Christmas in the world’s biggest shopping center. Yiwu Market is a gigantic collection of buildings in China’s Zhejiang province, where the cheap goods that stock the world’s budget stores are sold. In this text-and-photo dispatch (a year old, but worthy of revival) by software developer and blogger Dan Williams, it’s a surrealistic, depopulated zone outside of normal time and space, the metaverse of the global consumer economy.

Walter Pitts, the most brilliant scientist you never heard of. This tale of an astonishing polymath who helped lay the foundation for modern computing, and his tragic self-destruction, is a parable about the fragility of genius. Our friends at the Browser gave Amanda Gefter’s story in Nautilus the “Golden Giraffe” award for best writing of the year.

Living as a damaged woman. Female genital mutilation isn’t something that only happens to children in jihadist-run African villages. This account by Mariya Karimjee, a middle-class Pakistani-American, of trying to explore her sexuality as an adult after having had her clitoris removed as a child is one of the year’s top picks from our colleagues at This., and deservedly so: It’s clear, eloquent, and absolutely searing.

Best of best-ofs. Just in case you don’t have enough to keep you occupied over the holidays, here are the best-of-2015 lists from some of our favorite curators: Longform, Longreads, the Guardian’s excellent Long Read section, and the Sunday Long Read. If listening is more your thing than reading, here are the 50 best podcasts, chosen by the Atlantic (plus 11 more). And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t tout the year’s best reporting on Quartz.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, long reads, and more long reads to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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