Subscribe to Quartz feed
Quartz is a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.
Updated: 18 hours 17 min ago

The graphic art of everyday items in North Korea reveals the individuality hiding in a totalitarian state

18 hours 17 min ago

There is color, there is variety, and today, there is even competition in North Korea.

Amassed over the course of almost three decades, Nicholas Bonner’s Made in North Korea: Graphics From Everyday Life in The DPRK, recently published by Phaidon, is a vast collection of ephemera from the secretive state showcasing designs on everything from cigarette boxes to tinned fish to cosmetics. Bonner, a Briton with a background in landscape architecture, moved to Beijing in 1993 and in that same year founded Koryo Tours, which to this day continues to take foreigners to North Korea (as well as other adventurous destinations).

“Made in North Korea”

While North Korea is without a doubt the world’s most tightly controlled state, Bonner has sought, through the graphics and design of objects, to show that beauty, creativity, and individuality too proliferate there. Even a sheet of wrapping paper with a repeating motif of a Pyongyang architectural landmark, for example, should be admired for its “minimalistic simplicity creating beautifully rhythmic artwork,” he writes. The ego of the artist is not celebrated in North Korea, as paintings and other forms of art are seen as propaganda mechanisms to communicate a message, and are unsigned. Nonetheless, Bonner notes, designers of proletarian graphics, such as for water bottles, have been given awards.

Nor are North Korean graphic designers immune to the sorts of commercial pressures that exist elsewhere in the world. Bonner writes that in the mid-2000s, hand-designed graphics slowly started to give way to computer-designed images to easier serve the mass production of consumer goods in the country, whether that’s soft drinks, confectionery, or beer. Even in North Korea, “companies compete with each other, trying to make their product better than that of a rival”—indeed, recent defectors and researchers have suggested the growing presence of the market (paywall) in the country’s highly centralized economy.

It should come as no surprise that Bonner—who has also made a number of films about North Korea and helped bring Western films to the country—is a believer in engagement with North Korea rather than the kind of isolation being sought by the US and other countries today through increasingly severe sanctions. As a person committed to spotting the nuance and color in life in North Korea, Bonner, speaking recently in Hong Kong, said that he fears an increasingly “black-and-white” depiction of the country will prevail as tensions rise with Pyongyang over its nuclear program.

A boarding pass from North Korean national carrier Air Koryo, which does have a business class section. Mostly carrying North Koreans, on arrival at Beijing airport the Japanese government or press often arrange for their film crews to record who is getting off the plane. Air Koryo recently expanded into other business areas, such as taxis, petrol stations, tobacco, and soft drinks.

This box of candies emulates Western-style packaging, which even in North Korea is associated with luxury. The sweets are filled with ginseng-infused alcohol.

A packet of Hana cigarettes that promotes reunification. “Hana” means “one” in Korean, and in North Korea, the Koreas are always depicted as a unified country.

Face powder made with ginseng, a root grown in North Korea that is seen as a tonic with powerful healing properties. North Korean women, as in other Asian countries, also see having a white complexion as beautiful. It is often said in both North and South Korea that northern women are the prettiest.

Labels from bottles of Ponghak Beer. The beer is brewed in Pyongsong, a satellite city of Pyongyang. It is acknowledged for being good on tap but does not travel well as the beer is not pasteurized, hence the date marks in months along the top, and in days along the bottom of the label.

A salt packet from Air Koryo. Bonner notes that the graphic here suggests that even in a highly authoritarian state, where something like this would emerge from a manufacturing process overseen by layers of bureaucrats, there can be glimpses of playfulness—even if it’s on something as trivial as a condiment packet.

A series of commemorative stamps were issued in 1982 in North Korea to mark the birth of Prince William to Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Images of North Korean leaders, on the other hand, would never be shown on any products other than books that they wrote themselves.

North and South Korea speak different forms of Korean, both as a result of historical regional differences and the political partition of the country. This tin of squid is labeled as “Nak Ji.” In South Korea, squid is called “O Jing Eu.”

Gujarat elections: Manmohan hits back with gusto, as Modi’s Pakistan theory crumbles

18 hours 28 min ago

The ongoing electoral battle in Gujarat has resulted in a clash between two Indian prime ministers—one former, the other incumbent—casting a shadow on some high constitutional offices of the world’s largest democracy.

On Dec. 10, prime minister Narendra Modi alleged that Pakistan was trying to influence the results of the Gujarat polls by colluding with the Congress party. To make his case, he referred to a recent dinner meeting at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s New Delhi residence, attended by former officials from the neighbouring country and Indian guests such as former prime minister Manmohan Singh and a former army chief.

Modi’s broadside has now managed to provoke Singh.

Seen or heard even less since he lost power in 2014, Singh, much to the chagrin of the Modi government, manages to carry gravitas on the rare occasion that he speaks up. But then, these are also times when it doesn’t take much to project gravitas in India, just a little decency of tone and choice of words does the trick.

Desperate measures

“Sadly & regrettably, shri Modi is setting a dangerous precedent by his insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office, including that of a former prime minister and army chief…I sincerely hope that (the) prime minister will show the maturity and gravitas expected of the high office he holds instead of concentrating his energy solely on erroneously conceived brownie points,” a statement issued by Singh on Dec. 11 said.

He was responding to Modi’s allegations made a day earlier at an election rally in north Gujarat’s Palanpur town. The Indian prime minister cited “media reports” to insinuate that Pakistan was helping the Congress fight him and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“…a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house in which Pakistan’s high commissioner, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, India’s former vice-president and former prime minister Manmohan Singh were present,” Modi reportedly said. “On one hand, Pakistan Army’s former DG (director general) is interfering in Gujarat’s election. On the other, Pakistani people are holding a secret meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house…Don’t you think such events raise doubts here?” Modi said.

He was referring to a dinner meeting held at Aiyar’s home on Dec. 06, during the visit of Pakistan’s former foreign affairs minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. The meeting was attended by, among others, former army chief Deepak Kapoor, former foreign minister K Natwar Singh, and former diplomats Salman Haidar, TCA Raghavan, Sharat Sabharwal, K Shankar Bajpai, and Chinmaya Gharekhan, besides Singh and a handful of Pakistani dignitaries.

Modi’s allegation, coming amid the Gujarat campaign, was obviously well thought out.

The BJP faces palpable anti-incumbency in the western Indian state where the ruling party is desperate to retain power after 22 years of having been in control. Gujarat is also Modi’s primary claim to fame, courtesy his long track record as its chief minister. With the next Indian general election due in mid-2019, for the BJP and Modi, there can be no two ways about convincingly winning Gujarat. And what has added to their consternation is a new spring in the step of the Congress party in the state, particularly under its leader Rahul Gandhi.

So the prime minister has deployed the usual toolbox of Indian politicians—nationalist rhetoric, religious polarisation, and lampooning the Gandhi family. His innuendos about the Congress being in cahoots with the Pakistani establishment is a sure-shot way of polarising voters in a communally sensitive state that also borders the neighbouring country.

Yet, Modi’s electoral tactic is unprecedented because his allegations go beyond just the rival Congress. In broad strokes, they seek to tar constitutional posts, an army chief, and reputed senior diplomats with the “anti-national” slur.

Questions and more

The former prime minister’s ire was obvious. The Congress needs “no sermons on nationalism” from a party and prime minister whose compromised track record on fighting terrorism is well known, Singh’s statement said. “My track record of public service to the country over last five decades is known to everyone. No one, including shri Modi, can lamely question it to gain lost political ground,” he added.

To rub it in, he reminded the prime minister of some embarrassing tactical failures of his own. Singh cited Modi’s “uninvited visit” to Pakistan in December 2015 following the terrorist attacks in Punjab and Kashmir. He also reminded Modi how officials of the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, were allowed into the strategic Pathankot air base in Punjab, to probe a terror attack allegedly sponsored by the neighbouring country itself.

It is too early to say, but Singh’s strong riposte to Modi could also be a sign of changes afoot in the Congress party. After almost two decades at its helm, president Sonia Gandhi recently made way for her son, Rahul, to take charge—uncontested despite a show of following the electoral process.

Chosen by the senior Gandhi as prime minister in 2004, Singh’s two terms as the nation’s leader saw him being pilloried as a puppet of 10 Janpath, Gandhi’s New Delhi residence. Of late, Gandhi herself has been out of action mostly, with her son handling things long before officially replacing her. Now that Rahul is charge, his newfound energy and political approach could rub off on the party.

Singh’s vigorous comeback may be the first sign that the Congress is not going to lie low anymore as Modi runs rampage with rhetoric.

The Rohingya women, Putin’s strategies, and eight other stories you might have missed

Mon, 2017-12-11 17:14
1. Apocalypse chow

You’ve got the storms and the hurricanes. You’ve got the fires and the floods. And you’ve got a generalized (and not-unfounded) anxiety that 2017 has been coming for you—and that 2018 might be worse. In other words, it’s a good time to be in the survivalist food business. From Bloomberg: Delightful Holiday Dinner Ideas for the Apocalypse. “The scene evokes Willy Wonka’s factory in part because the workers are achieving Wonkian ends. As a kid, I spent hours imagining the sensations of Roald Dahl’s three-course chewing gum invention “made of tomato soup, roast beef and baked potato, and blueberry pie.” This, too, is an attempt to create an all-in-one meal that bears little resemblance to the foods it conjures—a product that when combined with a serving of hot water simulates a home-cooked dinner.” Just give me an everlasting gobstopper and some decent WiFi, and I’ll be fine…

2. Victim and criminal

“Even rape victims are sometimes killed by their own relatives, who believe the shame attached to rape is worse than the suffering of the rape victim. ‘In Afghanistan, we are both the victim and the criminal. I can’t even tell my own family that I quit because of sexual harassment. Western women are so lucky.'” The NYT: Harassment All Around, Afghan Women Weigh Risks of Speaking Out.

+ “The use of rape by Myanmar’s armed forces has been sweeping and methodical.” AP: 21 Rohingya women recount rape by Myanmar armed forces.

3. Sign of the Times Square

“One suspect is in custody after detonating a pipe bomb strapped to his body in a busy corridor of New York City’s subway system on Monday morning, injuring himself and three other people in what officials have called a terror attack.”

+ “A law enforcement source says suspect Akayed Ullah told investigators recent Israeli actions in Gaza are the reason he carried out this morning’s attack in New York City.” Here’s the latest on the Times Square subway incident from CNN.

4. Coup de Louisville

“Perhaps more than any other place in America, Louisville came to embody the contradictions of college athletics — a multibillion-dollar industry built on amateur athletes. The Adidas partnership was supposed to be a crowning achievement that validated the university as a national power.” ESPN’s look at how a midlevel school became The University of Adidas at Louisville. (It’s worth noting that while Louisville took a hit, Adidas is hotter than ever…)

5. The crimson tidal wave

“When Beverly Nelson told her story on CNN about the night in the 1970s when she says Roy Moore sexually assaulted her, her voice quavered, and tears streamed down her face. ‘Instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck,’ Nelson said, ‘to force my head onto his crotch.’ … Laughter breaks out around me.” Vox’s Brian Resnick spent the weekend talking to Roy Moore supporters in Alabama. Here’s how they see the world.

+ “I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better.” Alabama’s Richard Shelby speaks out against Roy Moore. Will that be enough? The splits among voting blocks are major and look pretty intractable. WaPo: Alabama’s desire not to be embarrassed may be the best thing going for Doug Jones.

+ Trump is less determined not to be embarrassed. Between a rally Friday night and a robocall over the weekend, the president has gone all in for Roy Moore.

+ “For us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is and especially how he views women, and for them to say ‘meh, we don’t care,’ it hurts. And so now it’s just like, alright, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again.” Three Women Who Accused Trump Of Sexual Misconduct Speak Out Again.

+ “Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously.” As a crazy year comes to a close, the NYT takes you inside Trump’s hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He spends 4-8 hours a day watching TV, and often Tweets at the same time. (I do the same. But I watch better TV and my Tweets haven’t set America back several decades.)

6. It’s a Vlad Vlad Vlad Vlad world

“The United States intelligence community is unanimous in its assessment not only that Russians interfered in the U.S. election but that, in the words of former FBI Director James Comey, ‘they will be back.’ It is a stunning escalation of hostilities for a troubled country whose elites still have only a tenuous grasp of American politics. And it is classically Putin, and classically Russian: using daring aggression to mask weakness, to avenge deep resentments, and, at all costs, to survive.” Julia Ioffe in The Atlantic: What Putin Really Wants.

+ For a quick overview of Putin’s strategies, listen to this excellent discussion between Preet Bharara and Garry Kasparov. Like all good prosecutors, Preet can get an amazing amount of information out of people with just a few questions. (And Kasparov is a particularly willing witness…)

7. Bone spur

Its “incredible run ended this morning with the release of a cheaper, generic version of the world’s first impotence-fighting pill. And what a run it was.” (It was more of a stand, than a run, but you get the point.) An Oral History of the little blue pill that changed sex and made billions. (Hey, you wanted more uplifting news…It’s just too bad I already used my everlasting gobstopper joke in today’s top item.)

8. The fire down below

“This could be something that happens every year or every few years. We’re about to have a firefighting Christmas.” Governor Jerry Brown calls the fires ripping across Southern California “the new normal.”

+ The fires “have destroyed more than 800 homes and buildings, forced at least 190,000 people to flee.” Here’s the latest from Buzzfeed.

9. Golden global

“The first movie theatres will be opened by March and it is intended that up to 2,000 screens will be in place within 12 years.” Saudi Arabia is lifting a 35-year ban on cinemas. (Too bad all the good stuff is on Netflix and HBO…)

+ Shape of Water and Big Little Lies lead the Golden Globe nominations. The Big Sick and Wonder Woman are among this year’s snubs and surprises.

10. Bottom of the news

“One day, he asked me, ‘How come I’m not on YouTube when all the other kids are?’ So we just decided — yeah, we can do that. Then, we took him to the store to get his very first toy — I think it was a Lego train set — and it all started from there.” Meet the
6-year-old who made $11 million in one year reviewing toys on YouTube

+ “If I can go back over there … you’ll see me talking to him, and sitting down and having dinner, a glass of wine, laughing and doing my thing. I guess things will settle down a bit and everybody can rest at ease.” Dennis Rodman asks Trump for formal role as North Korea envoy. (Trump could name Rodman as the ambassador to North Korea and it wouldn’t even crack this year’s top hundred weirdest stories…)

+ For the Good of Society—and Traffic!—Delete Your Map App.

Quartz now syndicates NextDraft, a daily roundup for the day’s most fascinating news curated by Dave Pell. Read the archive here. Sign up to get the newsletter or download the app here.

France is banning mobile phones in schools

Mon, 2017-12-11 17:02
On Sunday, France’s education minister announced that mobile phones will be banned from primary, junior, and middle schools, calling it a matter of “public health.” While phones are already prohibited in classrooms in France, starting in September 2018 students won’t be allowed to use them on breaks, at lunch, or between lessons either. “These days, the children don’t play at break time anymore,” Jean-Michel Blanquer said, according to the Local, an English-language publication. “They are just all in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view, that’s a problem.” Emmanuel Macron, France’s young new president, proposed a similar ban in his campaign earlier this year. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg also attempted a cellphone ban in 2006, but parents complained of inconsistent enforcement, and that they couldn’t contact their kids. Bill de Blasio, Bloomberg’s successor, lifted that ban in 2015, citing inequity (the policy was more heavily used in schools with metal detectors, which tend to be poorer). Now New York City principals devise their own mobile phone policies, or default to the standard: Students can bring their phones to school but have to keep them out of sight. Research is on Bloomberg—and the French government’s—side. According to a 2015 working paper (pdf) published by the London School of Economics, schools that banned mobile phones saw test scores for their 16-year-olds improve by 6.4%, or the equivalent of adding five days to the school year. “We found that not only did student achievement improve, but also that low-achieving and low-income students gained the most,” economists Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy told the BBC. It’s not yet clear how the French ban will work but, according to the Guardian, no one is happy about it, including the teachers union, parents, and (naturally) students. Teachers are concerned they’ll be required to search students to make sure they have left all phones in their lockers. “How is the school going to stock them? And how are they going to make sure they’re given back to the owner at the end of school?” asked Gérard Pommier, head of the Federation of Parents in State Schools. (In New York City, a cottage industry of cellphone storage popped up, charging students about $1 a day. Perhaps France will have to do the same, and Macron can also take credit for the birth of a new industry.) Blanquier seems unfazed by the discontent. “In ministerial meetings, we leave our phones in lockers before going in,” he said in September. “It seems to me that this as doable for any human group, including a class.”

Paris is beyond fed up with Airbnb

Mon, 2017-12-11 16:28

The City of Love has lost any love for Airbnb.

Paris is threatening to take home-sharing company Airbnb to court if it doesn’t take down hundreds of listings for apartments whose owners have failed to register with local authorities, AFP reports:

Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s deputy in charge of housing, Ian Brossat, told AFP the city had written to five holiday rental sites—Airbnb, HomeAway, Paris Attitude, Sejourning and Windu—to demand they remove properties whose owners have defied the city’s new registration requirements.

If they do not comply the city will take legal action, he added.

As of July, Paris was Airbnb’s biggest city, with 65,000 homes. That same month, the city council voted to require hosts to register with the town hall before listing an apartment for a short-term rental on Airbnb or similar website, beginning Dec. 1.

The city council vote followed a report in January from the Paris mayor’s office that blamed Airbnb for population declines in the heart of the city. Airbnb “has been a catastrophe for central Paris,” 1st arrondissement mayor Jean-François Legaret told Le Parisien at the time. Paris lets people rent out their primary residence for at most 120 days a year.

According to AFP, only 11,000 properties have been registered with Paris so far, less than a fifth of total listings. Paris officials have reportedly flagged around 1,000 Airbnb ads that are violating local regulations, plus a hundred or so each on four competing platforms. Owners who fail to register their apartments or exceed the legal limit can be fined up to €50,000 (about $59,000).

Airbnb couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Last month, ahead of the registration rule kicking in, Airbnb said it would automatically limit hosts in central Paris to renting their apartments for 120 days a year, in line with the city’s cap. Paris officials were unimpressed with this gesture, as Airbnb only volunteered to enforce the 120-day limit in the first four arrondissements, which don’t include tourist-heavy neighborhoods like Montmarte or the Left Bank.

“The law says illegal listings should be removed in all the arrondissements,” Brossat tweeted on Nov. 14. “Last I heard, the law of profit doesn’t trump the laws of the Republic.”

Airbnb, founded in 2008, used to flout home-rental regulations aggressively. In 2016 and 2017, the rules started catching up with it, from Paris to Barcelona to Santa Monica, California.

One concern for Airbnb is that these regulatory scuffles are starting to scare hosts and guests away from the brand. In November, analysts at Morgan Stanley noted a “surprising” slowdown in new Airbnb users in the US and Europe, citing increased privacy and safety concerns.

“Typically consumers become more comfortable with emerging technologies as awareness/testing/adoption grow,” Morgan Stanley’s analysts wrote. “This doesn’t appear to be happening for Airbnb.”

This is the most devious advertisement

Mon, 2017-12-11 15:41

Advertising on the internet has always been a slightly nefarious game, with banner ads offering pills that doctors hate and “one weird trick” diets that somehow the US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t know about.

But a new advertisement popping up on Instagram might have them all beat:

There is a fake hair on this ad to get you to swipe up.

Someone needs to stop these “growth hackers.” pic.twitter.com/FpqMdMOP2m

— Blake Robbins (@blakeir) December 9, 2017

This ad features a fake hair on the image, in an attempt to get people to swipe it away. On both Instagram Stories, and Snapchat, swiping up on an ad summons the advertiser’s website and will count as a coveted click-through for its metrics. While it might not lead to a sale, it’ll be a partial success for the advertiser, given how difficult it is to even get people to click on an ad in the first place. The average click-through rate on display ads across the web is a paltry 0.35%, according to the marketing company HubSpot.

Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested this was a Snapchat ad, when the design is actually for an ad on Instagram Stories.

We’re sending sugar into space so astronauts can grow rock candy

Mon, 2017-12-11 15:03

Scientists at NASA have loaded three pounds of Domino and C&H sugar onto a SpaceX Dragon rocket scheduled to launch into space tomorrow (Dec. 12) from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The package isn’t for satiating an intergalactic sweet tooth, though. The sugar—along with other cargo—will be transported to the International Space Station, where astronauts will use it in experiments. Specifically, they’ll grow crystalized rock candy with it, gathering data on how sugar responds to a zero-gravity environment.

Good morning from @NASA's Kennedy Space Center! We are T-1 day until the launch of @SpaceX's #Dragon to the @Space_Station. Weather is currently sitting at 90% “go” for liftoff at 11:46 am EST for Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. pic.twitter.com/tt3Tw4zHY7

— NASA Kennedy / KSC (@NASAKennedy) December 11, 2017

Meanwhile, back on Earth, high-school students in science and technology programs will be conducting similar experiments, only in an underwater setting to replicate a no-gravity environment. The plan is to track the data and analyze how the sugar responds to both conditions.

The experiment is made possible by two groups, Nanoracks and DreamUp, which through a successful Kickstarter campaign raised the funds to supply students with the $25 science kits needed for the work. Nanoracks makes products and provides services for commercial space ventures; in 2009 announced it had formed a partnership with NASA that would facilitate getting small shipments to the International Space Station for experimentation. DreamUp is a space-education company that Nanoracks spun off in order to further what they call a “space for everyone” educational program, to connect students to space.

“The exploration and utilization of space is now integrated into the very fabric of our societies,” the company has said. “How to leverage more fully the resources required to improve our lives here on earth is the overarching obsession for all us here at NanoRacks.”

Read this next: One man will decide if the art of skywriting lives or dies

Banned for more than three decades, cinemas will open again in Saudi Arabia

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:57

Saudi Arabia is re-opening itself to the world of cinema, lifting a ban on movie theaters that has been in place since the 1980s. Venues could be open as early as March.

Bitcoin futures had a strong debut, and traders don’t expect the bubble to pop anytime soon

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:57

Bitcoin futures had a strong debut on Monday (Dec. 11), surging 26% to reach $18,850 on the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). At the time of writing, January contracts had slipped slightly to $17,870.

Former Facebook executive has sworn off social media because he doesn’t want to be “programmed”

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:56

While Facebook’s business is booming and the company continues to expand its tentacles to every corner of the internet, its early employees and investors are growing more and more vocal about the damage it has wrought among its users.

Former Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya said that social media is “eroding the core foundations of how people behave” and that he feels “tremendous guilt” about creating tools that are “ripping apart the social fabric.”

During a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in November, Palihapitiya echoed the words of other Facebook dissenters who have recently taken their guilt and grievances public. (h/t The Verge)

“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed … but now you got to decide how much you’re willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence,” he warned the audience. He said he didn’t want to be programmed himself, emphasizing he “doesn’t use this shit” and his kids are not allowed to use “this shit” either—also recommending that everyone take a “hard break” from social media.

Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007, and is now the CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital, which he founded in 2011.

“The things that you rely on, the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created, are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth,” he said.

His fear is that bad actors can manipulate large groups of people, and that as users, we compound the problem in our quest to create an idealized version of ourselves:

We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, thumbs up—and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and that leaves you even more—admit it—vacant and empty before you did it, because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like “What’s the next thing I need to do now because I need it back?”

Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, spoke last month about the way the platform exploits human psychology, much in the same terms, and said the founders of the company “understood consciously” what they were doing.

Palihapitiya agreed that “in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds” they knew something bad could happen.

The man who solved a big puzzle about the tiniest particles in the universe

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:49

The theory of quantum mechanics supports the basis of modern technology, for everything from supercomputers and ultra-precise timekeeping to digital encryption. It describes the movement of photons, electrons, and other subatomic particles.

Understanding how subatomic particles function helps us understand physics on a much larger scale. Just after World War I, Max Born, a German scientist, cracked the code that would help future generations of scientists understand the laws of modern quantum physics. For this pioneering work, today’s Google Doodle celebrates the physicist on the 135th anniversary of his birth.

Who was Max Born?

Born in 1882, he was a physicist and mathematician whose work was instrumental in the development of the field of of “lattice dynamics,” the study of the vibrations of the atoms in a crystal, and was the first to surmise the way a metal reacts with a halogen (such as chlorine) to form an ionic compound, now known as the “Born-Haber Cycle.”

Later in his career, working with Werner Heisenberg (who later gained fame for the uncertainty principle), Born formulated rules to use quantum mechanics to explain how electrons move around the nucleus of an atom. For his pioneering work in the “fundamental research in Quantum Mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function,” Born was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in physics.

Born’s Rule

Born is best known for his development of the Born Rule, which uses probability to determine the location of wave particles in the quantum system.

Inspired by Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect, Born formulated the rule in a 1926 paper that attempted to solve the Schrödinger equation, a mathematical formula for studying quantum mechanical systems, for the scattering problem.

The only solution, Born discovered, was to calculate the odds of finding the location using a simple matrix instead of performing a series of complex equations. If you have all the probabilities across a set of potential results, you can understand what a wave system is doing without taking specific measurements.

Born’s rule states that if you square the magnitude of a wave function at a certain point, you’ll get the probability of finding a particle at that location (And almost a century after Born’s Rule was discovered, physicists don’t know precisely why [PDF] it works. They just know that it does.)

For Max Born superfans, Google is asking readers to try to spot the wave function in today’s Doodle, created by artist Kati Szilagyi.

Forced to flee

During the first world war, Born performed research duties as a sound specialist for the German army. After the war, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Göttingen, to chair the physics-theory department.

Göttingen developed an international reputation for physics theory under Born’s leadership, issuing doctorates to renowned mathematicians including Victor Weisskopf, Siegfried Flügge, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, and Robert Oppenheimer.

Born was suspended from Göttingen when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 because of his Jewish heritage. He fled to the United Kingdom, where he joined St. John’s College in Cambridge, and then worked as a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

He became a British citizen on Aug. 31, 1939, one day before World War II broke out. He stayed at Edinburgh for 20 years until 1952, when he retired to West Germany and continued his research until his death at age 87 in 1970.

Why Donald Trump wants to go back to the moon

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:46

Today Donald Trump will sign Space Policy Directive 1, an order to send humans back to the moon and beyond. A draft copy of the order seen by Quartz declares that “the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

It’s a bold promise, timed to the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17, the final human mission to the moon. It’s also a promise that has been made by three previous presidents, each of whom was defeated by the political and financial challenges of deep space exploration.

Trump isn’t having an easy time so far: His nominee to run NASA, Jim Bridenstine, faces opposition from lawmakers. And real questions about the US return to the moon will be answered when NASA’s next budget is written, not today. The US space agency has not designed a moon landing vehicle or other infrastructure for taking astronauts to the moon, and it will struggle to perform a moon landing during Trump’s term in office. (NASA’s current deep space exploration plan includes a new heavy rocket called the Space Launch System and a space capsule, called Orion, which will fly astronauts around the moon in 2019; it is also considering building a new space station in lunar orbit as a kind of stepping-stone.)

One advantage Trump has over his predecessors is an array of private companies investing in space exploration beyond low-earth orbit. NASA is already working with closely with lunar exploration companies like Moon Express, which received regulatory permission for a moon mission last year, and Astrobotic, a Carnegie Mellon spin-off that says it has a $1 billion manifest (pdf) to deliver to the lunar surface.

“A permanent presence on the moon and American boots on the surface Mars are not impossible,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, said in October; the company’s founder, Elon Musk, has said his next rocket will be designed around visiting the moon as well as his beloved Mars. “It’s time for America to return to the Moon—this time to stay,” Blue Origin executive Brett Alexander said in September, describing a lunar lander being developed by Jeff Bezos’ space company and promising additional investment if NASA was willing to partner with the firm. Meanwhile, Boeing’s CEO has promised the first astronauts to visit Mars will get there on one of his company’s rockets.

But why are so many interested in getting back to the moon, anyway?

Water and money

One irony about the Apollo astronauts is that they missed what newer robotic explorers didn’t: There is likely water, and perhaps quite a bit of it, on the moon.

The presence of water could make new activities: Cheaper long-term space habitation, thanks to the ability to grow food and create oxygen from water; and cheaper rocket propellant, if engineers can produce hydrogen and oxygen in space rather than bringing it up from earth. This could in turn bring futuristic business plans, like space tourism, asteroid mining, and orbital manufacturing, within reach of entrepreneurs. And, there may be other useful chemicals to be extracted from the moon, like Helium-3. George Sowers, who leads the space resources program at Colorado School of Mines, compares water on the moon to oil in the Persian Gulf, suggesting that there will be soon be an international scramble for claims on the moon.

Geopolitical tensions

Which brings us to a second motivator: China’s ambitious space program has announced that it wants to land humans on the moon by 2036. The European Space Agency has long argued in favor of a lunar village exploration concept. The US government doesn’t want to find itself left out a return to the moon, especially because American companies are likely to be among the first to stretch the current legal framework for space to its breaking point.

International space treaties, written in the early days of space exploration, leave much to interpretation and don’t account for commerce in space. Facts on the ground—or the lunar regolith—will matter in future debates over how people cooperate in space. US military is already talking up its new approach to space as a warfighting environment. Certainly, space entrepreneurs aren’t hesitant to invoke the international conflict. Robert Bigelow, who wants to build hotels on the moon, shared this slideshow during a recent conference to encourage the US to take action:

Exploration and science

There are plenty of people in the space policy world who think that humans should set their sights directly on Mars and not waste time with a return to the moon. Yet lunar missions could enable, rather than hinder, more ambitious journeys into space.

Returning to the moon could help researchers understanding the health challenges faced by people who spend a long time in space. If ideas about water on the moon prove true, manufacturing propellant there could enable cheaper missions to Mars. Building out scientific infrastructure on the moon could create new opportunities for astronomers to get a clearer picture of the universe and planetary scientists to learn about the history of the earth. There’s still much to learn about the earth’s most important satellite.

After cheating to sell diesels, Volkswagen wants to end diesel tax breaks

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:45

In an about-face that’s taking the industry by surprise, Volkswagen chief executive Matthias Müller told business daily Handelsblatt (paywalled link in German) that the German government needs to start phasing out its diesel fuel subsidies. The tax break, designed to boost sales of diesel cars, costs the government about €7.8 billion ($9.1 billion) a year.

Müller said Germany should question the sense of diesel subsidies. “If the transition to environmentally friendly electric cars is to succeed, diesel combustion engines cannot be subsidized like before,” he told Handelsblatt. “The money could be more meaningfully invested in the promotion of environmentally friendly drive technologies.”

Mueller, head of the world’s biggest auto group, took over when former CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned in 2015, after the company was busted by US regulators for rigging the software in VW diesel cars to give false emissions readings. The misconduct has cost VW more than €25 billion so far, though the carmaker wasn’t the only bad actor caught up in the diesel-emissions scandal. Daimler and Audi between them had to recall nearly 4 million diesels to fix the engine emissions.

Germany invented diesel technology, and it’s almost sacred to the country’s car giants. Some, including, Daimler and BMW, are still building diesel engines into their growth strategies.

However, with countries such as France and the UK threatening to ban diesel cars starting in 2040, and some German cities mulling a ban on older diesel engines, VW is clearly eager to shake off its shame. In September, it announced a plan to invest heavily in battery tech and said it will offer electric versions of all 300 of its car models by 2030.

The future of the formerly beloved diesel engine may be determined by consumers already voting with their wallets. With worries about nitrous-oxide emissions and the prospect of diesel bans (and being stuck with impossible-to-sell cars), people are deserting diesel in droves. Sales of new diesel cars in Germany dropped 17% last month to a market share of 34%, while gasoline car sales rose 28% to give them a market share of 61.7%. That trend is playing out across all major European car markets.

Bookstores may be dying, but fashion brands are giving them new life

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:20

The future of brick-and-mortar bookstores has been in peril for at least a decade. But whether you’re actually shopping for a book or not, you might actually find yourself wandering into a bookstore by accident. Because fashion brands, from French icon Sonia Rykiel to New York City-based Warby Parker, are curating books not as objects to read but as objects of décor.

The past 12 months have confirmed that in the age of Amazon Prime shipping, retail real estate is not doing well. That’s why beauty startup Glossier, one of the most buzzy e-commerce companies, opened a concept shop, dubbed an “offline experience,” in November 2017, and Everlane, which pledged to never open a physical store in 2012, just opened a New York City flagship. Brick-and-mortar shops are data troves for brands to gain insight on exactly how customers interact with the products. And a good book will keep a customer in the store for longer.

So, it makes sense that books—the original immersive “offline experience”—are the hottest accessories to fashion brands these days. The Sonia Rykiel flagship on the Left Bank of Paris since 1990, just steps away from Les Deux Magots, a café frequented by literary legends like Simone de Beauvoir and Ernest Hemingway, has 50,000 books sitting on ceiling-to-floor shelves, their spines creating stripes reminiscent of Rykiel’s signature pattern. Books as décor has been a feature of the Sonia Rykiel brand since the late designer first set up shop in 1968. There is erotica by the dressing rooms and large, heavy coffee books used as accents.

“We need the history as much as we need the fashion,” the brand’s artistic director, Julie de Libran, explained of the shop’s book-lined décor. Rykiel stores in other locations, such as Tokyo, London, and New York, have also followed suit with these literary-inspired accents.

Sonia Rykiel does not sell these books, but you can buy books at Warby Parker and Club Monaco. At Club Monaco’s New York City Fifth Avenue flagship, you will find a flower shop (Putnam & Putnam), a coffee shop (Toby’s Estate), and a bookstore (Strand). “We wanted to create a space where you don’t just come to buy a sweater, but are getting an education on art and culture,” Allison Greenberg, director of marketing and communications, told the New York Times in 2013. “You can have a cup of coffee or sit in the library and read a great book that is relevant to the Flatiron district.” The Strand bookstore is a New York City cultural institution with which any brand looking to succeed in the city would be lucky to partner, with 18 miles of books in its original Union Square location. It is a rare powerhouse in the independent bookstore world, making a tidy side business curating book collections for private homes and businesses—like Club Monaco.

This month, Warby Parker, the chosen eyewear brand for writers and those who want to look like writers, opened up two new stores in New York City, including one in Rockefeller Center that features a Stuart Davis kaleidoscope mural, in homage to the art deco heritage of Radio City. Both of these locations prominently feature books as décor—and books for sale. The brand itself has a literary heritage, as the name comes from two Jack Kerouac lesser-known characters, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker. Every new employee gets a copy of Kerouac’s novel, Dharma Bums, as a welcome gift. And since Warby Parker opened its first flagship store in New York City, you can ask for in-store book recommendation as easily as you can ask for eyewear consultations. Warby Parker is still primarily an e-commerce company, though.

‘It made sense to design our stores in a way that pays homage to great civic institutions like the New York Public Library,” co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal explained on the phone. There are color-coded books in blue and red that are selected to match the mural, and there are books for sale: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant, a former professor of Blumenthal’s at Wharton, is a bestseller for the shops.

Of course the bookshelves are also useful for at least one other key task—to display eyewear. “[They] functionally enable us to provide glasses at eye level that are well lit so that way people can shop,” Blumenthal said. “There’s nothing worse than shopping in a store that’s poorly lit.” Or poorly read, for that matter.

Trump’s budget cuts could make New York City commuters even more vulnerable to attacks

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:05

New York is more reliant on public transportation than other US cities and the attempted attack in the Port Authority this morning highlights the city’s vulnerability, security experts say. The Trump administration’s priorities, and the president’s on-going battle with America’s big cities over immigration, could make things more dangerous.

About 7.5 million Americans, just 5.1% of the country’s total, commute by public transportation every day (the vast majority of Americans drive to work instead). The New York City region is by far the most dependent on public transportation in the nation, with almost six times as many passengers than the next-closest region, Los Angeles.

Public transportation is controlled and policed by a patchwork of local and state governments, and sometimes even private owners. Many of these operators have been constrained by recent budget cuts, and face even more belt-tightening under the Trump-backed tax reform bill, which could trim state and local tax revenue. Much of the transportation was built long before terrorism was a serious concern, and modifying these networks would be costly, or nearly impossible.

The Metro-North railway system, for example, which carries about 300,000 people every weekday, stops outside of Manhattan at a series of open-air train platforms with no security whatsoever. There are no metal detectors or screening systems on any US subways, or at the entrances to most bus terminals.

Passengers take nearly 5.7 million rides a day on the New York City subway system, the most in the US, but far fewer than in Asian capitals including Tokyo and Seoul.

Extra security is built into new transportation networks: in New Delhi, India, for example, everyone who gets onto a city subway goes through a metal detector and their bags are x-rayed. Security on China’s trains includes luggage screening and limits on matches and lighters. Parts of New York’s subways, however, are over a century old.

On Monday morning, tuspect Akayed Ullah allegedly detonated a homemade pipe bomb in the subway tunnel between Times Square and the Port Authority bus terminal, injuring three. Police officers prevented a much more serious incident, however, because they stopped Ullah from detonating another bomb, the New York Daily News reported.

The time and place were carefully chosen, security experts say.

“It’s Monday morning at 7:30am. That’s not an accident,” said James Norton, a former Department of Homeland Security official who worked in the George W. Bush administration, and now heads Play-Action Strategies, a DC consulting firm.

Security costs money and slows commutes, and decisions about how much screening to put up on public transportation are made using a “risk formula,” Norton said. US public transportation owners have calculated that the most effective use of money was screening in aviation, and relying on backup like roaming federal security teams on trains and buses.

“We may have been lucky for the last 15 years, and its seems like the luck is running out,” Norton said, citing the two terrorism-related incidents in New York City in less than two months.

But the Trump administration has proposed a budget that slashes funds from some DHS anti-terrorism programs in order to fund a wall with Mexico, he pointed out. Incidents like Monday’s mean we “have to ask if that’s the best place to put the money,” Norton said.

Under Trump, the Department of Justice is also trying to cut security funding from so-called sanctuary cities, including New York, which refuse to enforce the administration’s policies on undocumented immigrants. After the Oct. 31 terrorism attack in New York that killed eight, New York senator Charles Schumer called on Trump to rescind terrorism-related budget cuts.

American Express won’t make you sign for your purchases after April

Mon, 2017-12-11 13:44

American Express has announced that the ancient way of proving authenticity—the signature—won’t be a part of your purchase process come April, matching similar moves by rivals such as Mastercard and Discover.

“Our fraud capabilities have advanced so that signatures are no longer necessary to fight fraud,” says Jaromir Divilek, a vice president at American Express. “The majority of American Express transactions today already do not require a signature at the point of sale as a result of previous policy changes we made to help our merchants.”

The retail apocalypse has furthered the death of the signature, since signing isn’t a part of e-commerce transactions.

Who it will help

The change will make life easier for cardholders who travel frequently and encounter payment processes that can differ widely. It also improves things for vendors, who can find the process of storing signatures frustrating. No matter which side of the counter you’re on, the aim is to make checkout now faster.

American Express has already rolled out the switch for select transactions and countries—signatures aren’t required for purchases under $50 in the US, under $100 CAD in Canada, and under £30 in the UK.

The company says it has deployed advanced machine-learning algorithms that allow for more rigorous detection of fraud without frustrating their consumers.

The technology that makes this possible

Payment technology has become somewhat seamless for consumers—and it’s made signatures pretty unnecessary. Three years ago, Apple Pay hit the market—and with it, a host of other contactless pay options like Samsung Pay, Chase Pay, Android Pay, Microsoft Wallet, Walmart Pay, and Kohl’s Pay. A mobile pay option—or any form of contactless pay—links your phone and a chip reader, transmitting your credit-card information securely in seconds. The upside is no finicky card reader, and no signature. BI Intelligence estimates that by 2020, $503 billion in transactions will be happening via mobile-payments tech.

Widespread adoption of EMV chip technology has also made a signature redundant. The microprocessor chip in an EMV card generates a distinct code for every transaction, so it’s difficult to link any given payment to your confidential card information. (Cards of the past generated the same number for every transaction, making it relatively easy to hack the network, steal your personal details, and use them.)

Chip-enabled cards abound

In October 2015, the US required all vendors to accept microchip-embedded cards. In the US, all American Express consumers have EMV chips enabled, and others, like Bank of America, have rolled out cards with chips too.

Visa is now the only major credit-card company that hasn’t announced plans to do away with the signature. That might change, since the company dispensed with signatures for most purchases under $25 back in 2010.

Even after April, American Express clients who want to keep collecting signatures will be allowed to. And American Express’s new policy won’t apply in places where the law requires a signature.

Microsoft is adding a cricket oval to its US campus in a nod to its south Asian workers

Mon, 2017-12-11 13:39

Cricket balls, cricket rules, cricket players—all feature prominently in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s recent book Hit Refresh. The CEO had once dreamed of becoming a professional player, and concedes that he was good enough to play for his public school in cricket-crazy Hyderabad in his native India. “I was an off-spin bowler, which in baseball would be the equivalent to a pitcher with a sharp breaking curveball,” he explains.

Nadella even recalls that he was playing with a Kookaburra cricket ball in his Microsoft office, as he usually does when he’s on the phone, when he was told that he’d been selected to lead the firm nearly four years ago.

Now, Microsoft is preparing to build a proper cricket oval at its US headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Plans for a new field, which will be one of only a few to exist west of the Mississippi, were recently confirmed in a LinkedIn post by Greg Shaw, a director at Microsoft’s office of the CEO, who also happens to be a cricket fan and cricket blogger.

“This may be the first proper, recreational cricket ground ever designed and built as part of a major corporate or community project in the United States,” he writes.

No more sneaking wickets onto the soccer field.

The oval, he continues, will “reflect the growing influence of employees from the cricket-mad nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa and England.”

Apparently, the push to build the pitch—part of a planned massive multiyear overhaul of the 500-acre campus—originated with employees. According to Shaw, cricket-playing staffers asked for the field, but so did soccer and baseball players who pleaded with Microsoft’s Bill Lee, director of real estate and the project’s manager, to give the cricket players their own spot so they’d stop sneaking their wickets onto baseball and soccer fields.

But one suspects that the pitch to build the oval wasn’t a hard sell to the company’s leader.

In his public engagements, Nadella often turns to cricket—not American sports like baseball or football— for metaphors that illustrate his leadership style with poetic allusions. In his book, one of his many literary references centers on cricket and his personal philosophy that the company must keep revisiting its original mission to stay centered as it finds its way forward:

In his novel Netherland, Joseph O’Neill describes the beauty of the game, its eleven players converging in unison toward the batsman and then returning again and again to their starting point, ‘a repetition or pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.’ I think of that metaphor of the cricket team now as a CEO when reflecting on the culture we need in order to be successful.

Given the famously passionate nature of cricket fans, who are estimated to number 2.5 billion globally, it’s easy to foresee how what may become the premier cricket oval in America could become a solid recruiting and retention tool for Microsoft.

In a year when anti-immigration sentiments in the United States have tarnished the “American dream,” this nod to what is still a little-understood, minority sport in the US is also heartening in its symbolism.

The New Yorker has cracked the code for literary virality with its short story, “Cat Person”

Mon, 2017-12-11 13:38

This post contains spoilers to Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person.”

The top story today on newyorker.com isn’t a deeply researched investigation on corrupt men, or 6,000 words on an inevitable natural disaster. It’s a piece of fiction that reads like a friend, colleague, or sister telling you an anecdote about bad sex in college.

Cat Person,” by Kristen Roupenian, is a short story in the December 11 issue of the magazine, published online Dec. 4. The story is about Margot, a college sophomore who, we can glean, is reasonably attractive, and Robert, an older man with whom she has text-based frisson, and, it turns out, not much physical chemistry. The series of thoughts and events Margot goes through in her brief, mostly digital, fling with Robert, is so commonplace, such a nonevent, that in real life it would be hardly worth mentioning. Yet in the voice of the narrator, Roupenian and the New Yorker have struck internet gold.

At time of writing, “Cat Person” is the most popular story on the New Yorker’s site. An interview with Roupenian is second. A New Yorker tweet of the story has 3,600 likes at time of writing, compared to 250 likes on the tweet announcing new fiction from Zadie Smith in March. A twitter account that just posts screenshots of men reacting to the story has 4,200 followers.

Many of the women reacting on social media seem to relate, however uncomfortably, to Roupenian’s Margot. She’s naive, insecure, occasionally aware of her sexual power, occasionally cruel, and inexperienced with knowing and saying what she wants. She’s overly emotionally accommodating to a man she’s just met, and constantly apologizes internally, blaming herself for perceived slights from Robert. At the climax of the story, she is turned off when she finally sees Robert undressed, doesn’t see a non-awkward way out, and has sex with him anyway–fantasizing about how she’ll look back on this moment with a future boyfriend and laugh.

A typical passage reads:

Margot laughed along with the jokes [Robert] was making at the expense of this imaginary film-snob version of her, though nothing he said seemed quite fair, since she was the one who’d actually suggested that they see the movie at the Quality 16. Although now, she realized, maybe that had hurt Robert’s feelings, too. She’d thought it was clear that she just didn’t want to go on a date where she worked, but maybe he’d taken it more personally than that; maybe he’d suspected that she was ashamed to be seen with him. She was starting to think that she understood him—how sensitive he was, how easily he could be wounded—and that made her feel closer to him, and also powerful, because once she knew how to hurt him she also knew how he could be soothed.

The writing of the story seems intentionally vague, borderline amateurish, and Margot’s reactions are cringe-worthily familiar. But the greater strength of the story is that you could swap out “Margot” and sub-in “I,” and the story could be, without much of a stretch, a first-person essay on Medium headlined, “The real reason women can’t ever break the cycle of self-blame,” or “Why I’m leaving Tinder.” Taken at face value, the story could be a very long Facebook status or a Reddit post, with a final line that winks exaggeratedly to readers ready to agree with the poster.

And indeed some commenters seem to be reading the story that way: Like any other piece of internet “content,” calling the story “a piece,” talking about the characters as if they are real. Some critics are treating “Cat Person” like it’s a clear cut argument against men—no matter how well-intentioned or flawed or overweight—and in support of all women—no matter how rude or inexperienced or self-satisfied—and not like a piece of fiction that can hold multiple interpretations.

Fans are sharing the story with the equivalent of arrows saying “IT ME,” confused men are posting comments that say the equivalent of, “Can someone explain this to me?” or “Margot can go screw herself, go Robert,” and critics are treating the story like a think-piece—remarking that the story seems tone-deaf on obesity and Margot’s privilege. The story captures that enviable beast that combines the “me too” share and the hate share. Because the characters are not real victims of assault, even more men than usual feel free to tell the fictional Margot she’s in the wrong, which drives more discussion and makes the story cycle more visibly through Facebook’s algorithm.


— Men React to Cat Person (@MenCatPerson) December 11, 2017


— Men React to Cat Person (@MenCatPerson) December 11, 2017

The timing, too, is key. Against the backdrop of endless real articles describing instances of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men, much of this story reads as true crime. A wary reader sees rape or assault lurking behind every early comment from Robert, the shadow of Harvey Weinstein or Louis CK cast by his repeatedly mentioned paunch.

We expect salaciousness and ready-made villains in our articles, so we feel a deep sense of foreboding as Robert buys Margot a lighter with a frog head, as he kisses her on the forehead and calls her “sweetheart.” And people (women) following real sexual allegations closely—reading them line by line to affirm the horror they know they’ve lived their entire lives—are used to quickly shooting off an email and link to their sisters, friends, colleagues, to say, “You have to read this.”

With the exception of the strangely stock share image for the story, “Cat Person” is veritable internet catnip. For most of the story, there’s an uncomfortable ambiguity that works as fiction. But as a short story on the internet in this moment, the overall concept works even better. Not because it’s an investigation of one particular named man. Rather, because it’s about so many unnamed women who’ve found themselves socially stuck, unwilling to make a man uncomfortable and afraid their rejection would have brutal repercussions—only to find out it’s just deep unease they’re left behind with. And it’s about the unnamed men listening and watching, uneasily.

This post has been updated to reflect that “Cat Person” was first published online on Dec. 4.

A breakthrough study could lead to synthetic DNA therapies for incurable genetic diseases

Mon, 2017-12-11 13:25

Huntington’s disease progressively robs you of your mental and physical faculties. Symptoms like depression and uncontrollable movements start between the ages of 30 and 40, and get progressively worse over the next 10 to 20 years. Although there are drugs to treat these symptoms, there’s no cure for the rare genetic disease, and it’s always fatal.

Huntington’s is caused by a single genetic mutation that leads to a buildup of dysfunctioning proteins in the brain. People with Huntington’s disease don’t produce a working huntingtin protein, which plays a vital role in nerve-cell communication. This wonky protein slowly kills off nerve cells in the brain.

Now, researchers from University College London report they’ve found a way to reverse the effect of this genetic defect—or at least slow it down—through an injection of synthetic DNA. In a small clinical trial of 46 patients, an injection of a synthetic molecule into the spinal cord appeared to stop the mutated huntingtin gene from producing the faulty protein. If it can keep the lethal protein at bay long term, the treatment could effectively cure an otherwise fatal disease.

Researchers working in other fields of degenerative disease are giddy with excitement about what the study means for future therapies with lab-made genetic material.

“I really think this is, potentially, the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative disease in the past 50 years,” John Hardy, a neuroscientist studying Alzheimer’s disease at the University College London not involved with the trial, told the BBC. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are both caused by buildups of harmful proteins in the brain; if a similar technique could be used to stop the production of these proteins, it could slow or cure these diseases (which are far more common than Huntington’s).

There are a couple of ways researchers can go about engineering treatments for genetic diseases like Huntington’s. All genes are responsible for coding for proteins, which do most of the work in the cells, organs, and systems in the body. Theoretically, you could tweak a problematic gene so it makes the right proteins That’s the approach of gene therapies like those already approved for certain types of cancer and genetic diseases like Hunter Syndrome and junctional epidermolysis bullosa. Or, you can leave the gene alone, and alter the way the body codes for the misshapen protein.

That’s how the researchers went after Huntington’s in this case. They created a snippet of synthetic DNA that messes with the messenger RNA responsible for translating DNA protein codes, effectively blocking the problematic huntingtin protein from every being made. The treatment is called Ionis-HTTRx and made by Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the Guardian reports,

Seventy-five percent of the 46 participants in the first-stage trial received an injection of Ionis-HTTRx in their spines (the others received a placebo injection). The authors report that these injections—the first of their kind tested in humans—lowered the amount of damaging huntingtin protein in participants’ brains. Their work hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, and it’s still too soon to see if it’s a complete cure for the disease. Roche, a Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company, has already paid Ionnis $45 million in licensing fees to conduct further studies on the drug.

There are only 450 North Atlantic right whales left and 17 died in 2017

Mon, 2017-12-11 13:14

Whales and humans have long had a complicated relationship. For centuries, we hunted the massive sea creatures for their oil and meat until they were almost extinct. That stopped last century when replacement materials made it possible to recognize the value of living whales. But human behavior still threatens some species with extinction.

This year, the North Atlantic right whale experienced what experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) call an “unusual mortality event.” Seventeen of these endangered creatures were found dead off the coasts of New England and Canada, and marine biologists on Dec. 5 (pdf) said that they believe the species could be extinct within 20 years if no official action is taken to save them.

In a presentation at last week’s New England Fishery Management Council Meeting in Newport, Rhode Island, NOAA’s Endangered Species Act consultant Mark Murray-Brown sounded a dire warning. He called on American and Canadian officials to work closely with commercial fisheries on efforts to protect the endangered whales. If they didn’t, he said, the North Atlantic right whale, which can weigh up to 150,000 pounds and grow as long as 48 feet (almost 15 meters), might disappear.

There are only about 100 breeding females of the species left, say scientists, and these sea creatures are increasingly being hit by commercial fishing vessels and getting caught in fishing gear like lines and traps. Of 17 dead right whales found this year, six were killed by blunt-force trauma, which NOAA believes was caused by collisions with vessels. In 2017, there were reports of five right whales freed from entanglements in fishing nets; three appear to have survived, but two have since died, scientists say.

The good news is that efforts to change commercial fishing methods have proven to save whales and can protect the endangered species. In 2009, North American fisheries were required to sink 27,000 miles of floating lines deep in the water in order to prevent such entanglements, and in 2014 nearly 3,000 more miles of fishing lines were removed from North American waters altogether. “We recognize and appreciate that the fishing industry has made many sacrifices to drastically reduce the number of lines in the water column, reducing the risk of serious injuries and mortalities to whales,” notes Murray-Brown in his presentation. But given the low birth rate of this whale species, “the current status of right whales is a critical situation,” he writes.

Murray-Brown is hopeful that further improving the management of commercial fishing methods and making fishing gear even safer for right whales will prevent their extinction. He believes if marine biologists and commercial fishing companies in the North Atlantic work together, they can prevent whale deaths by tracking the creatures, adding more lights to fishing equipment, changing vessel routes as necessary, and continuing to monitor line and trap placement.

Read next: California just got sued for letting its humpback whales die off