Good morning, Quartz readers!
“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” That’s Oscar Wilde in his 1889 essay, “The Decay of Lying.” Considering the most dominant cultural expression of our time seems to be the endless stream of movies set in the Marvel Comics universe, it’s no wonder Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are morphing into real-life superheroes before our eyes. This week, Bezos’s Amazon unveiled a slew of products that bring affordable Alexa AI technology even deeper into our homes—right onto nightstands, even. Musk, our non-fictional Tony Stark, has come up with Mark 2 of his plan to colonize Mars. While he’s at it, he’s promising rocket-ship rides between cities right here on Earth.
As I write this, I’m excited to go to my nearest Whole Foods and buy some steak for dinner. I wonder whether Bezos’s price cuts since acquiring the high-end grocery chain (known as “Whole Paycheck,” even by its CEO) have extended to animal protein, and when lab-grown meat will make the butcher counter obsolete. As I mull ribeye v. porterhouse, Musk is coming to Puerto Rico’s rescue, sendingTesla battery packs to the hurricane-stricken island. He leapt into action as Donald Trump’s White House had to be poked and prodded into grudgingly waiving outdated regulations to extend desperately needed aid.
But, superheroes can’t fix all our problems, especially if they’re more interested in celestial bodies. “It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base by now,” Musk says. What would be even nicer to have in 2017 is an Earth free of another horrific refugee crisis born of religious persecution, which is what’s happening as the Rohingya flee Myanmar. While we beg Jeff Bezos to throw Amazon’s clout behindfixing the health-care industry, it’s also worth remembering superheroes tend to attract supervillains. So, maybe the future of the human race shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of our friendly neighborhood billionaires.—Paul Smalera
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
The old origins of new meat. After hotshot food startup Hampton Creek revamped its board, it started gobbling up patents and IP for lab-grown meat, including an original patent that the Indonesian-born Dutch soldier Willem van Eelen dreamed up in a 1930s prisoner-of-war camp. Chase Purdy dives into the unlikely history of the man known as the “godfather” of meat growing technology, bringing readers to the moment of its, uh, conception.
Germany’s cultural values are the opposite of Silicon Valley’s.The Free Democrats, or FDP, won 10% of the vote in Germany’s election with a platform that boasts a distinctly startup-style, tech-friendly ethos. But Rebecca Schuman writes that the vast majority of Germans aren’t eager to emulate Silicon Valley culture, with its emphasis on careerism and individual success. “To most of Germany, the hagiography of bootstrap capitalism is not just morally wrong,” she writes, “it’s incomprehensible.”
What the world’s financial bigwigs think about bitcoin, in emojis. If you’re a business titan, you’d better be prepared with a considered view on bitcoin. Joon Ian Wong and John Detrixhe break down the opinions of the likes of Warren Buffett, Ray Dalio, and Jamie Dimon on a scale of 🤑, 🤔, or 😰.
A shoplifting solution was ruled “textbook extortion.”Corrective Education Company, which contracts with big retailers like Walmart, offers the accused a choice—get turned into the police, or pay hundreds of dollars for a “restorative justice” course. Hanna Kozlowska reports that critics, including a California judge, say the approach can too easily strip people of their rights.
Tough times in AMERICA! America in 2017 is a divisive, messy, baffling place. So is AMERICA!, a chain of USA-themed airport and casino gift shops whose merchandise has become starkly political since 2016. Corinne Purtill traveled to Las Vegas, the headquarters of AMERICA!, to see how the story of a divided nation plays out in tchotchkes and t-shirts.
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
“Made in Vietnam” now applies to your information as well as your t-shirt. Facebook and Google have powered the rise ofEnglish-language content farms around the world. The sites churn out articles on seemingly random topics—Native American subjects are unusually popular—and are often plagiarized, or just plain fake. That’s worrisome, explains Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman, for content that focuses on health, for instance, or, say, politics.
Why environmental activists shouldn’t talk about overpopulation. More people use more resources, but Vox’s David Roberts explains why it’s dumb to make a big deal about it: “Talking about population growth is morally and politically fraught…the best ways of tackling it (like, say, educating girls) don’t necessitate talking about it at all.”
Humanity’s demise may be lurking in complex software. Our way of thinking about engineering failures no longer works. Software, unlike mechanical systems of the past, confers infinite flexibility—and just as many ways to fail, from crashed 911-call systems to uncontrolled acceleration in Toyota cars. As we build systems beyond our ability to fully test and understand, James Somers at The Atlantic explores how software engineers may have to give up codingto regain control over their world—and ours.
How I learned to worry about the Bomb. Perhaps because the leaders of two of the world’s nuclear powers are exchanging playground insults with each other, Nickolas Roth at Belfer Center’s Project on Managing the Atom and Matthew Bunn of the Harvard Kennedy School felt now would be a good a time to remind us what happens at ground zero of a nuclear attack. In an article published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Roth and Bunn describe inhorrifyingly captivating detail the sheer destructive power of even the smallest, most elementary of nuclear devices, and what the effects would be if one were set off in a major urban center.
The emotional labor that women do at home. In the 21st century most enlightened men understand that they’re expected to contribute to raising the kids and doing household chores. But as Gemma Hartley writes in Harper’s Bazaar, a lot of men still rely on their wives and girlfriends to tell them what to do, leaving women stuck in the thankless, exhausting position of household manager. “I don’t want to micromanage housework,” Hartley writes, explaining her frustration when her husband says he’s happy to clean up after himself—if she asks. “I want a partner with equal initiative.” The stakes of the issue go to the heart of gender equality, and whether we want a new generation to grow up believing that it’s a woman’s job to silently, sweetly clean up.
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