Quartz Daily Brief—Ukraine fighting, US troops exit Afghanistan, Detroit demolition bill, insect snacks

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Retaliation in Ukraine? A strike against pro-Russian rebels who took an airport in Donetsk left more than 30 dead, and could escalate the Russia-Ukraine clash, or bring president Petro Poroshenko and Russian officials to the negotiating table.

A job opens up on the Federal Open Market Committee. After Jeremy Stein resigns from the board (paywall) of the US central bank to return to his previous job at Harvard, there will be three vacancies among the committee’s seven seats. Former Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer was confirmed to the board yesterday.

Edward Snowden speaks up. The NSA whistleblower filmed his first interview with a US television network in Moscow last week. Considering Snowden’s hour-long session at tech conference SXSW in March, some are asking whether the media is giving him too much airtime.

Affordable housing takes center stage. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund kick off the sixth annual Global Housing Finance Conference in Washington, in an attempt to bring more affordable housing to citizens across the globe. The conference will run until May 29.

While you were sleeping

China’s “golden era” for property ended. Vanke, the country’s largest property developer, is now making homes for owner-occupiers, not for investors. President Yu Liang said that the downturn is coming, and selling to buyers who want to live in the homes they purchase will be a source of stability for the company after decades of selling to those hoping to flip a home.

Obama mapped out Afghanistan troop withdrawals. All but 9,800 US troops will leave the country this year, and the rest by 2016, just before Obama leaves office in early 2017, the US president said. Republicans protested the idea, saying that hard-fought gains would be lost in a withdrawal.

New Zealand business confidence fell off a cliff. An 11 point drop in May, to 53.5, put business confidence at the lowest level since October, just a week after consumer confidence took a serious tumble. Higher interest rates, a strong currency, falling dairy prices, and a flat housing market are behind the change in sentiment.

Britain investigates GlaxoSmithKline. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office opened a criminal investigation into the drug maker and its subsidiaries, which is already facing fraud charges in China.

General Electric could partner with the French. CEO Jeff Immelt told French lawmakers that the company wouldn’t be against partnering with the government (paywall) in a deal with Alstom—a counter to Siemens, which has promised to create “two European champions of worldwide reach” (paywall) if it is allowed to buy Alstrom’s rail business.

US stocks hit a record high… Fresh off the back of its Friday peak, when it closed above 1,900 for the first time, the S&P 500 ended Tuesday at an all-time high of 1,911.91. The index was bolstered by a takeover bid for Hillshire Brands and strong economic data.

…and employment in some areas is near capacity. Employment in some regions and industries is nearly full, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank president Dennis Lockhart said. Loose monetary policy is still required to support other sectors, Lockhart said, adding he could tolerate inflation of 2.5%—higher than the Fed’s 2% target—to see more people in work.

Detroit’s demolition bill came in. The cost of dealing with the bankrupt city’s 85,000 substandard buildings could total $1.9 billion, or $2,600 per resident, according to a new report from the blight team tasked with the job. More than a fifth of all Detroit’s properties need some sort of repair.

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Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on why China’s war on pollution is bad for its economy. “Recent analysis of economic data by Wei Yao, an economist at Société Générale, found that “Chinese policymakers are getting serious about air pollution.” So serious, in fact, that those efforts are already hurting GDP performance—something the government has so far shown to be its biggest priority. Yao says GDP will slow 0.35 percentage points cumulatively from 2014 to 2017 because of air pollution mitigation efforts, and she expects the economy to take the biggest blow this year. The biggest indicator comes from China’s industrial output—the output of China’s manufacturing, mining and materials sectors—where growth has slowed significantly since September, when China’s cabinet rolled out its air pollution action plan.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

In support of the low-profile commencement speaker. There’s a lot to be said for speakers who don’t charge $35,000 to show up.

Ukraine’s new government should head east. It needs to stick to its promise to be inclusive towards the whole country.

The internet no longer serves the public interest. Tech giants’ relentless corporatization and winner-take-all attitudes are making a mess of the web.

“Global warming” is a more effective term than “climate change.” The latter is more accurate, but “global warming” sounds scarier.

Italy could teach European leaders a thing or two. While the rest of the EU was electing euroskeptic parties to the European parliament, prime minister Matteo Renzi’s centrists dominated the Italian vote.

Amazon is putting customers last. It’s punishing them for its failure to reach agreements with suppliers, and that’s going to lose it business.

Mixing football and politics is a risky game. Latin Americans no longer accept (paywall) that “football and glory are a plausible substitute for healthcare and good governance.”

Surprising discoveries

Skype will soon live-translate your voice. It’s already good enough to work from English to German.

Google’s next driverless car doesn’t have brakes or a steering wheel. There is a panic button though.

It can take 45 days to create a single corporate tweet. In this case, the tweet got zero retweets and two favorites.

Seoul is the most Starbucks-saturated city. With 284 locations, it just beats the second-ranked city: New York.

A farm that breeds insects for human consumption just opened in Ohio. Crickets, for example, are a high-protein snack.

Tinder is being overrun with tiger photos. So many men have posed with big cats (paywall) in their dating profile pictures that a backlash has begun.

Indonesia has the highest rate of entrepreneurs working in the shadow economy. For every legally registered business, there are 130 shadow economy firms.

American CEOs are earning more than ever. The median pay packet is now above eight figures, a 9% increase from the year before.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, corporate tweet advice, and insect snacks to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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Quartz Daily Brief—Ukraine tensions, Disney’s confidence, remembering García Márquez, another Earth

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

An escalation in Ukraine? Yesterday, after clashes in eastern Ukraine killed three, Russian president Vladimir Putin held a marathon news conference (complete with a guest appearance from Edward Snowden) that included provocative references to eastern Ukraine as “new Russia,” even as diplomats reached a pact aimed at de-escalation.

The search continues for survivors of Korea’s ferry disaster. Time is running out for the 271 passengers who may still be trapped in the semi-submerged vessel, and chances of finding survivors is “slim” officials say. The captain was away from the helm when the ferry capsized.

An election result in Algeria. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika looks set to win a fourth five-year term, and one aide has already declared victory, even though he has scarcely been heard from in two years (paywall) and had to vote from a wheelchair. In 2009, he claimed to have got 90% of the vote; some predict an 80% abstention rate this time.

Markets in many countries close for Good Friday. A happy Easter if you’re celebrating this weekend.

While you were sleeping

A potential bailout for Mt. Gox. Investors hoping to buy the troubled bitcoin exchange set up a website asking creditors to prevent liquidation. Savegox.com thinks liquidation would be bad for both investors and—quite rightly—bitcoin’s reputation.

Disney expects to defy the Netflix revolution. The company predicts high single-digit growth from this year through 2016 for its cable business, despite news that online services are killing cable.

An auspicious debut for Weibo. The Chinese social media service went public on the Nasdaq in New York, closing up 19% from its initial price despite weak initial demand and concerns about censorship by the Chinese government.

Ford and IBM were called to court, to face charges over apartheid-era business deals. The companies are accused of encouraging race-based human rights abuses in South Africa.

PepsiCo bet on a winning combination. The soda maker beat expectations with a first-quarter profit 13% higher than last year’s; a slight contraction in soda sales was more than made up for by the company’s huge snack food divisions.

Goldman Sachs’ beat expectations and killed it in investment banking. The Wall Street bank saw trading income continue its downward trend—Morgan Stanley was the only Wall Street bank this quarter to avoid trading losses—but beat expectations with one of its best-ever quarters of investment banking revenue.

Gabriel García Márquez died. The 87-year-old Colombian novelist, who won the 1982 Nobel for literature and whose writing reputedly outsold everything in Spanish except the Bible, succumbed in his Mexico City home. Here’s an obituary from the New York Times, and long interviews with him from the Atlantic in 1973 and the Paris Review in 1981.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on how sewage from China’s exploding population is feeding massive algal blooms. In July 2013, the biggest algal bloom ever recorded in China covered 28,900 square kilometers (11,158 square miles) of the Yellow Sea—meaning more than three New York City metro areas of ocean was carpeted in green muck—requiring Qingdao city officials to bulldoze 7,335 tonnes (8,085 tons) of beached scum. A similar incident almost shut down the sailing competition of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The army dispatched 15,000 soldiers to remove 1 million tons of algae, costing more than $100 million.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Prepare yourself for the coming global famine. Even without a Mao or a Stalin to help, climate change could make Malthus’s prediction come true.

Give up pushing for a Palestinian state. With peace talks foundering again, it’s time to switch gears and work towards a binational Jewish-Palestinian state.

How to prepare for American urbanization. Stop subsidizing the suburbs.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is a tech Machiavelli. She’s got a cunning plan to turn Apple against Google.

In the United States, even empiricism is an ideology. New news outlets that propose to do data-led journalism will still be seen as partisan.

Forget digital, land is the most precious commodity. In the age of information technology it is “inevitable” that we value most what that economy can’t create.

Surprising discoveries

Netflix got faster following its Comcast deal.Viewers got a lot less buffering once the company tied with the business that distributes internet.

An earth-like planet just 500 light-years away. Scientists say it’s in the “Goldilocks zone” for creating life: Just right.

The complete guide to structuring your workday. Why isn’t there more nap time?

If you “like” a company online, you might not be able to sue it later. On the legal implications of every click you make.

Christians save while abstaining during Lent. A clear conscience also adds a few hundred dollars in your pocket.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, land acquisition tips and Lent savings to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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Quartz Daily Brief—Japan’s GDP, riots in Venezuela, Snowden’s odd job, flappy apps

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Italy appoints a new prime minister. Matteo Renzi will become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister when Italian president Giorgio Napolitano asks him to form a government today—and its third consecutive leader to have been presidentially appointed, not democratically elected.

An improbable job offer for Edward Snowden. Students elect a rector for Glasgow University, and the NSA whistleblower is one of four public figures nominated. Snowden said he will take the post if chosen, though how he’d do the job from Moscow isn’t clear.

Social media hits the spotlight. The sixth annual Social Media Week kicks off in New York City, but attendees will be participating in 26 countries across the globe. Check out the full schedule here.

Over the weekend

Japanese exports disappointed. Fourth quarter growth expanded by 0.3% bringing GDP for 2013 to 1%, well below expectations. Exports picked up, but not by much—hinting at a new normal of sluggish shipments.

Turmoil was a drag on Thai growth. GDP accelerated by 0.6% in Thailand, slightly faster than the 0.3% economists predicted. But the political vacuum in the country has dented (paywall) investment in the country and its competitive standing.

Novartis took India to task over patents. The Swiss pharma giant called on US and European policymakers to “apply pressure” to India (paywall), which rejected Novartis’s application to update a patent on a cancer drug. India sets a high bar for patent approvals to make generic drugs more widely available.

Ukraine’s protestors called it a day… Anti-government protestors in Kiev called off their three-month long demonstration and agreed to clear occupied roads and municipal buildings after President Viktor Yanukovych promised to drop criminal charges against jailed activists.

… while riots escalated in Venezuela. Government supporters filled Venezuela Square, in central Caracas, responding to days of anti-government protests that resulted in the death of three people last Wednesday, for which opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is wanted by the police.

Merkel embraced a data fortress in Europe. Ahead of a meeting with French president François Hollande, the German chancellor voiced support for a plan to keep European data networks away from the Americans.

Kerry preached the green gospel in Indonesia. Before visiting national officials, the US Secretary of State implored young Indonesians to lobby their government for climate change action—and ribbed ‘flat-earther’ global warming skeptics.

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Quartz obsession interlude

Max Nisen on why an impending shift in how American doctors get paid won’t bring down healthcare costs. “Economists think that larger networks of doctors operating on the salary model, rather than fee for service, will improve care and reduce costs. But the reality is that the shift from private practices might accomplish neither end in the short run… Instead of changing incentives, many hospitals tack facility fees on to procedures, offer bonuses to physicians based on the billing they generate, and pressure doctors to suggest physical therapy and follow-on X-rays with even more costly MRI scans.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

San Francisco is losing its liberal leaning. Hyper-gentrification and the tech boom are pushing the city off its progressive perch.

High tech is losing its luster. Over the past decade, dynamism and entrepreneurship in the sector have been on the decline.

Bolivia’s turnaround. Once an economic basket case, the country is now a rare bright spot.

Bank CEOs are good value for money. Among the top British firms, financial services have the strongest correlation between executive pay and shareholder profit (paywall).

American workers’ job prospects are better than they look. The fears of stagnant wages and robots replacing people aren’t entirely justified.

Wall Street is far more boring than the movie The Wolf of Wall Street would have you believe. Most all-nighters are spent over Excel spreadsheets, not Quaaludes (paywall).

Surprising discoveries

Moments of creative genius usually come in your late 30s. Particularly for scientists, while artists peak even later in life.

Africa is the next frontier. For Kung Fu.

The paper lobby is trying to stop the US government from going digital. Big, glossy money props up Consumers for Paper Options.

Apple and Google are rejecting apps with “flappy” in their title. When imitation isn’t flattering.

Facebook can map your relationship. Posts increase in the run up to a relationship, then drop off once it’s official.

A computer could predict the next revolution. Algorithms have done better at spotting incipient insurgencies than human CIA analysts.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, Snowden job offers, and middle-aged eureka moments to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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Quartz Weekend Brief—Net neutrality, Google and Nest, the world in whisk(e)y, good toilets

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

The US this week showed its strangely contradictory approach to regulating the internet.

Yesterday, president Barack Obama gave his first comprehensive response to criticism of America’s electronic surveillance regime. He promised new checks to reduce the chance that innocent people around the world—and their leaders—are swept into nets meant for terrorists and criminals.

But those nets will still sweep. Obama endorsed the collection of information (“metadata”) about most electronic communications, if not their actual content. And many questions about the revelations from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden are still unanswered.

Yet while the the government is happy to flex its muscles in the name of national security, it seems to flinch from using them for the benefit of internet users.

Obama entered office endorsing “net neutrality,” the idea that broadband providers must treat all data on their networks equally. But regulators, rather than directly enforcing that rule by declaring the broadband companies “common carriers,” tried to implement it via a circuitous route. This week, as many predicted, a legal challenge—from telecoms giant Verizon—overturned that approach. The regulators could still choose to enforce net neutrality on the telecoms more directly. But will they, given that they have shied away from it up to now?

Those same broadband firms, unlike the newer data companies—Google, Facebook and the like—made barely a peep of complaint about the intrusive surveillance that Snowden revealed. It may be mere coincidence that regulators are so reluctant to impose their will on a sector so complicit in that surveillance. But it’s not an attractive-looking coincidence for Obama, and it doesn’t bode well for an open internet in the years ahead.—Tim Fernholz

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Understanding Google’s purchase of Nest. Why pay $3.2 billion for a company whose only products are an internet-enabled thermostat and smoke detector? Well, say Christopher Mims and Tim Fernholz, Nest is a foundation for the coming smart grid and for the internet of things, which means it could be bigger than Android. Plus, it has at least 100 ex-Apple employees.

Tiger mother, eat your heart out. Francis Thompson’s 12 children all paid their own way through college. He explains how he and his wife raised them. (A lot of self-teaching was involved, including how to wash toilets, build computers and fix cars.) We haven’t met the Thompson kids, but at least three-quarters of a million of our readers sure would like to.

The world’s taste for coffee and whisk(e)y. In a series of charts and maps, Roberto Ferdman reveals that Singaporeans are the world’s most avid guzzlers of Scotch whisky, Australians drink (just slightly) more American whiskey than Americans, and the world’s true coffee fiends are northern Europeans.

A final message for Ariel Sharon. In 2005 Gideon Lichfield went to Gaza to visit his cousins, religious settlers who were being evacuated in Israel’s “disengagement.” Last weekend Ariel Sharon, who orchestrated the pullout, died after eight years in a coma. Lichfield caught up with his cousins to find out what they would have said to the Israeli leader before he died.

Everyone who’s at Davos this year. David Yanofsky reprises our interactive graphic allowing you to search the elite conference’s 2,633 attendees by name, region, and other criteria. As one disappointed reader has already discovered, there’s nobody called Murphy.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

How to build a good toilet. What could be simpler than digging a hole in the ground? A lot, says Zach Gershkoff in the Atlantic. His experience of making pit latrines as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa informs an illuminating essay on the importance, and small miracles, of human sanitation.

The case of the missing heat. Climate-change skeptics have seized with glee on the fact that the overall global temperature has barely risen since 1998. Jeff Tollefson in Nature reviews the attempts of scientists to explain the hiatus—and explains why we might be about to see the heat come back with a vengeance.

Brain-death hangs in the balance. The medical consensus that a “brain-dead” person is, for all intents and purposes, truly dead enabled organ transplants that have saved countless lives. Now, writes Gary Greenberg in the New Yorker, a mix of religion, politics, the internet and new medical knowledge are conspiring to upset that consensus in the US.

Why you keep putting off your retirement planning, and that diet. Neuroscientists have discovered that we perceive our future selves as literally different people. Alisa Opar in Nautilus reports on some surprising tricks that are now being employed to get people to act more in their own long-term interests.

The movie Her isn’t about love, but interaction design. Spike Jonze’s tale about a man who falls head over heels with a computer operating system may seem to question the nature of relationships. In fact, argues Kyle Vanhemert in Wired, its predictions about how computer interfaces will work are far more radical and influential.

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

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Quartz Daily Brief—Oil earnings, Syrian weapons, Libor lawsuit, filthy spices

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Can Chevron top Exxon? Chevron is the last of the oil majors to report earnings for the quarter, and investors will be looking to see if it can beat Exxon’s production growth. Chevron hinted earlier this month that earnings could slump compared to the previous quarter, but consensus expects them to rise on a year ago.

Will RBS be dismantled? State-owned Royal Bank of Scotland reports quarterly results, and Britain’s finance ministry is expected to reveal whether it wants to break the bank up or create an internal “bad bank” for its problematic loans.

Iraq asks the US for help. Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki visits US president Barack Obama to seek  “a deeper security relationship” between the two countries. Translation: He’s needs help combating Al Qaeda and dealing with the conflict in Syria.

Millions of poor Americans get a little poorer. Extra funding allotted in 2009 to the federal government’s food-aid program expires, taking $5 billion out of benefit checks. And because families will have less money, some big retailers are bracing for a hit too (paywall).

While you were sleeping

China manufacturing marched onward. The HSBC purchasing managers’ index for October climbed to 50.9 on strong orders from the United States, and the official PMI hit an 18-month high. Strong PMI data were also seen in Taiwan, Vietnam, and South Korea.

East Turkestan group blamed for Tiananmen attack. China said the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was responsible for a suicide vehicle that killed three attackers and two bystanders; the embattled Uighur ethnic group is facing increased repression in the wake of the attack.

Syria smashed its weapons factories. Syria destroyed its equipment for producing chemical weapons, a day ahead of deadline, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Separately, Israeli warplanes bombed a military base near Latakia, Syria, targeting a shipment of Russian missiles that the Israelis believe could have been heading to Hezbollah.

Edward Snowden has a job. The NSA leaker was spotted by state TV in Moscow, where he will ”provide support and develop one of Russia’s biggest websites,” according to his lawyer, who didn’t name the company.

Paul Allen calls for Microsoft spin-off. The man who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates wants his former company to break off consumer-facing businesses like Xbox and search.

Fannie Mae sued banks over Libor. The US mortgage company is suing nine major banks for $800 million worth of losses due to their alleged manipulation of the Libor interest rate. Four of the banks sued have already settled with regulators and admitted wrongdoing over similar allegations.

OGX sold off some assets to cover its debts. The Brazilian oil and gas company run by the tycoon Eike Batista, which filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, agreed to sell its 67% stake in its natural gas unit to Cambuhy Investimentos, a Sao Paulo-based buyout firm.

US flyers get gadget reprieve—but no surfing. The US Federal Aviation Administration approved the use of electronic devices during take-off and landing, meaning passengers will be able to read, watch movies and listen to music. However, most in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t work below cruising altitude.

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Quartz obsession interlude

Matt Phillips on how Europe is the new Japan. “Recently, a concerted push of monetary and fiscal stimulus from Japanese officials—known as Abenomics—suggests that Japan could finally be breaking the deflationary cycle. Price levels have turned up markedly in recent months. For the global economy, that’s a good thing; a strong and vibrant Japan—still the world’s third-largest national economy—would provide another leg for the global economy to stand on. Unfortunately, just as Japan approaches escape velocity from the deflationary vortex, Europe is showing signs of what could be long-term economic trouble for the world economy.“ Read more here.

Matters of debate

Our consumer lifestyle is trashing the environment. And we’re heading toward peak garbage.

The US Middle East strategy could backfire. Obama’s approach of “strategic humility” is a formula for stalemate in Syria and continued growth for al-Qaeda.

Liberals created the Obamacare mess. Their attempts to avoid a conservative backlash ended up creating a law that has led to more public outrage.

Mexico shouldn’t privatize its oil industry. Increased oil revenue could raise corruption in Mexico to the level reached during its last oil boom, which eventually bankrupted the country.

Americans should adopt a Dutch mindset on marriage. Marriage isn’t a big deal in Holland, and if the US followed suit it could create a happier and more loving society.

Surprising discoveries

Hot and dirty. Twelve percent of spices imported to the US are contaminated with insects (both live and dead), animal excrement, rodent hairs, and other unappetizing materials.

Sriracha is saved. A judge denied a California city’s request to shut down the famous hot sauce’s manufacturing facility due to allegedly eye-burning emissions.

Obamacare’s dismal Day One. On the first day HealthCare.gov was open, it only signed up six people for health care coverage, according to a CBS News report.

Don’t over-deodorize. Eight students were hospitalized after someone sprayed Axe deodorant in a sixth-grade classroom.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, vermin-free spices and Edward Snowden sightings to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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Quartz Weekend Brief—Tech stories, e-bikes, drone warriors, mental cryptography

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

There were two big technology stories this week: Apple’s launch, with the usual glitzy fanfare, of its latest suite of iPads and Macs; and the latest Edward Snowden leak, revealing that the US National Security Agency was, at least at one point, tapping the phones of 35 world leaders, among them Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Wait—are these both “technology stories?” Yes, argues Dave Winer, godfather of some of the earliest web publishing software. Before even this week’s installment of Snowdenia broke, he tore into the tech media for paying too much attention to how the iPad has been getting gradually thinner and faster and not to how the NSA has been getting gradually fatter and more intrusive. Instead of fawning over the latest toys, he asks, why weren’t tech journalists tracking where each year’s computer-science graduates were going to work?

A fair question. There are three answers. Answer one: At least some journalists were paying attention. As media critic Jay Rosen points out, a massive, two-year investigation by the Washington Post in 2010 revealed much the same things as Snowden has this year about a surveillance state growing out of control. But it was little noticed. Rosen’s thoughts on why some stories break through to the public consciousness and others don’t are worth reading.

Answer two: Winer’s right. It’s much easier to churn out coverage of an iPad launch than track down government recruitment statistics—and a lot more people will read it. In today’s cash-strapped, data-driven world, that’s a hard incentive for most media outlets to ignore.

Answer three: What journalist covering national security cares about computer-science graduates? What journalist covering technology would think to investigate government hiring? The big issues facing today’s world cut across traditional journalistic specialties, or “beats.” The desire to break down those beats is one of the reasons we created Quartz.—Gideon Lichfield

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Five things on Quartz that we especially liked

Can 200 million Chinese be wrong about e-bikes? Nearly 30 million electric-powered bicycles were sold in 2012, but only 53,000 in the US. Heather Timmons examines why an efficient, cheap, environmentally friendly form of transport the world over is almost unheard-of in the world’s largest economy.

Meet the reluctant mogul behind the world’s coolest hot sauce. Sriracha has become nearly ubiquitous in some countries (it’s the chief spice in spicy tuna sushi rolls) but David Tran, who created the best-known brand of Sriracha, barely knows where his customers are. Robert A. Ferdman tried to pry a few numbers out of him.

Battling the scourge of high-frequency traders. Simone Foxman explains how a new trading market (or “dark pool”) launched this week could, by dint of simply moving some servers about, neutralize the strategies that high-frequency trading firms use to make vast sums at the expense of ordinary investors.

Are you a manfluencer™? A marketer noticed a trend, invented a word, and spawned an industry. Christopher Mims delves into the art of marketing products to men who, in the wake of the financial crisis, became stay-at-home husbands.

Never mind your computer—hackers could seize control of your body next. A growing number of us, explains Laura Hood, will soon have electronic devices implanted in our bodies—to monitor health, deliver medicines, and replace worn parts or lost limbs. And we’ll control them wirelessly. Guess what happens next.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The decline of Wikipedia. Since peaking in 2007, the number of active editors on Wikipedia has declined 40%. Tom Simonite in Technology Review examines how the world’s biggest experiment in crowd-sourcing turned into a forbidding, cliquish bureaucracy, and whether it can be saved.

Confessions of a drone warrior. Killing people through a computer screen on the other side of the world can, it turns out, have much the same effect as killing them face-to-face. The story of one American drone operator’s struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, by Matthew Power in GQ.

What it was like to travel through Iran in 1976 with Andy Warhol. Polo matches, swimming pools with Persian carpets next to them, and $10 plates of caviar. Not much art, though. Warhol acolyte and biographer Bob Colacello reminisces with the Asia Society’s Dan Washburn.

You’re doing cryptography in your sleep. It turns out that the way the brain processes certain information from your senses is a lot like the way cryptographers break codes. Virginia Hughes in Nautilus takes a look at how the discovery could help neuroscientists understand unusual brains like those of autistic people.

How to cheat your way on to a first-class flight. An in-depth look at how loyalty programs operated by airlines and hotels work—and occasionally screw up, to the benefit of those knowledgeable enough to game them. By Aaron Gordon as part of the Pacific Standard’s fascinating Cheating Week series.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Sriracha samples and first-class ticketing tips to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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Quartz Daily Brief—Carney’s talk-down, Syria’s imminent disruption, Nissan’s auto-auto, fetal vocabulary

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Keep Calm and Carney On. Bank of England governor Mark Carney is likely to talk down borrowing costs that have shot up due to strong economic data, and reiterate a pledge to keep interest rates at their current record low until unemployment falls to 7%.

Imminent military strikes against Syria. The US and UK are likely to launch limited strikes this week to punish the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, though the White House insists it is not looking for regime change in Damascus. Jitters over Syria sent the Nikkei to a two-month low as investors headed for safe havens, and oil prices hit a six-month high amid concerns that Middle East supplies could be disrupted.

Brazil mulls an interest-rate hike. The central bank, which has been grappling with high inflation and a plunging currency, will issue its decision on the nation’s benchmark interest rate. Economists expect the rate to rise from the current 8.5% to 9.5% by the end of the year.

Signs of strain in US housing. Pending home sales are expected to have declined in July, in one of the first signs that rising mortgage rates may be hurting the housing recovery.

While you were sleeping

US banks face big fines for mis-selling mortgages. US regulators are reportedly demanding $6 billion from JP Morgan to settle allegations it sold securities to government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac without checking their quality. And a judge has lifted obstacles to a government lawsuit that seeks $1 billion in damages from Bank of America on similar charges.

Obama’s surveillance review board got to work. The US president met with a five-person panel he appointed to review privacy issues related to the government’s surveillance operations, in an effort to win back some trust after a series of revelations by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Nissan challenged Google on autonomous autos. The car-maker pledged to put self-driving vehicles on the roads by 2020 (paywall) in a challenge to Google, which already has prototypes on the road.

The New York Times was hacked again. The Syrian Electronic Army, which supports President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, sabotaged access to the New York Times for several hours by attacking a company that manages the paper’s domain name requests. It appears Twitter may also have been a victim.

Bank of America settled on a discrimination lawsuit. The bank will pay $160 million to resolve accusations that its Merrill Lynch division discriminated against black financial advisers, over a thousand of whom banded together in an eight-year case against the bank.

Quartz obsession interlude

Matt Phillips on the steps India should take to stop its currency crisis. “The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) needs to put everything it’s got into intervening in the markets to beat back the speculators pushing the rupee lower. That means it has to draw a line in the sand and defend it by using its stockpile of foreign exchange reserves to buy rupees in the open market.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Microsoft’s next CEO should be LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner… He has exactly the right kind of vision that Microsoft needs.

…or former IBM chief Sam Palmisano. He has a proven track record of dealing with software, hardware and fractious global organizations.

The US recovery is slow and will stay that way for five years. The necessary process of unwinding excess borrowing by banks worldwide is delaying growth.

King’s “I have a dream” speech changed the surveillance state. It triggered one of the FBI’s biggest surveillance operations, an example of domestic security gone to excess.

Unlimited vacation time isn’t as great as it sounds. Employees end up taking less time off because it’s too hard to figure out how much to take.

Surprising discoveries

The Oxford dictionary has made some voguish additions. “Twerk,” “derp,” “selfie” and “phablet” have all been included in the latest online edition.

Babies start learning language before they are even born. A fetus can learn and recognize specific words in the womb.

A good reason to have science on your mind. Merely thinking about science can trigger moral behavior.

South Korean surgeons are pushing the boundaries of plastic surgery. They can carve permanent smiles into otherwise sullen faces.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, dictionary-worthy slang and intercepted Syrian phone calls to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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