Quartz Weekend Brief—Government secrets, the baijiu bubble, marijuana as medicine, the real Khamenei

August 24, 2013
August 24, 2013

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Governments don’t like having their secrets leaked, and this week we saw the backlash. UK officials held David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, for nine hours under anti-terrorism laws; he was carrying materials from Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee whose leaks Greenwald has been publishing in the Guardian. The Guardian’s editor then revealed that a few weeks before, British agents had come to the paper and destroyed hard drives holding copies of leaked materials, supposedly so that they wouldn’t fall into “the wrong hands”. And Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, the US soldier convicted of handing files over to Wikileaks, got 35 years in a military jail. (She announced her female identity the day after the sentence.)

The secrets these government actions purported to control were already lost. The goal was to intimidate: To discourage anyone else from following the examples of people like Snowden, Manning, and Greenwald. But none of them addresses the true causes of the leaking: Too much information is classified, too many people have access to it, and it’s too easy to pilfer and send around the planet. Some would-be leakers may be intimidated, but not enough to make government secrets secure.

Overhauling secrecy procedures is a massive task. But data, like money, corporations, and even people, live in an increasingly borderless world. Governments, for the most part, don’t. One of our “obsessions” at Quartz, “Borders,” looks at how governments built to regulate national economies are struggling to deal with increasingly transnational economic activity. When it comes to controlling sensitive information, though, they are still further behind.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

What’s really behind Egypt’s turmoil. Yes, yes; dictatorship, religious factionalism, military brutality. But also: falling oil production, a booming population, spiking food prices, dwindling water supplies. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed explains why Egypt’s military has already lost the war that it began.

China’s latest asset bubble: rice wine. Gwynn Guilford on the Shanghai wine exchange where investors have poured money into overpriced, throat-searing baijiu, and how attempts by the authorities to prop up wine producers may only make the bubble worse.

What’s funded by petrodollars, but outspoken about climate change? Al Jazeera America, explains Todd Woody, which on its first day on the air this week devoted half as much time to climate change as its network news rivals did, combined, in all of 2012.

China is drowning the US in old plastic. Did you know that much of the plastic Americans recycle goes to China? Or rather, used to go.  A Chinese decision to ban imports of plastic that hasn’t been well cleaned and sorted is choking US landfills—and squeezing Chinese manufacturers.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer made $625 million by firing himself. We’d fire ourselves for a lot less.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? In the Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues that “because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women.”

We’re entering a golden age of user-interface design. A golden… what? Well, with our smartphones, computers, and cars, you might think the interfaces people use to control complex gadgets have already reached a zenith. But Cliff Kuang in Wired says that as these gadgets become more connected to each other, the growing complexity will cause design to leap to a whole new level.

Tim Cook’s quiet revolution at Apple. The man once known chiefly as “not Steve Jobs” has put his stamp on the company, making for a more mature and humble culture, says this Reuters profile, but we’re still waiting for the ground-breaking product that will show he hasn’t also squelched its ravenous ambition.

How marijuana acts as medicine. The cannabinoids in pot are similar to chemicals made by our own bodies that seem to play an important part in helping the brain overcome trauma, explains K.M. Cholewa in Slate.

Who is Ali Khamenei, really? A portrait of Iran’s supreme leader by Akbar Ganji in Foreign Affairs reveals him to be a complex man: one who thinks capitalism and the West are in decline, but sees merit in western science and loved western writers like Tolstoy and Victor Hugo in his youth.

Our best wishes for a restful but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, recyclable plastic, and user-interface designs to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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