Quartz Weekend Brief—SEC victories, jellyfish-ageddon, surveillance paranoia, Balthazar

October 18, 2013
October 18, 2013

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is reportedly just days away from a settlement with Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital, a hedge fund it alleges broke insider-trading rules.

That’s good news for Mary Jo White, who took over the agency in April. White has been adamant that malefactors admit wrongdoing—a new development for an agency that has typically sought no-fault settlements in lieu of lengthy legal battles. Last month the SEC got JP Morgan to admit it broke the law over its “London Whale” trading debacle. And the agency is likely to wring at least an admission of wrongdoing and $1 billion out of SAC; at best, it will be able to prevent Cohen from managing other investors’ money for a while.

But the SEC needs to be fierce without making a fool of itself. This week also brought the news that Mark Cuban, an internet billionaire and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks football team, was found “not liable” for insider trading in a nine-year-old case that he spent more fighting than he would have paid to settle. “I’m glad to be the person who can afford to stand up to them,” he told reporters after the verdict. And he complained that the agency won’t clarify its rules for those who worry about staying on the right side of the law, but “regulate[s] through litigation.” Cuban’s saga has apparently dissuaded venture capitalist Marc Andreessen from launching a hedge fund.

The SEC’s latest target is Wing Chau, a money manager depicted in Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short, as a pusher of the kind of subprime mortgage debt that brought the US financial system to its knees in 2008. If the SEC finally manages to bring people to book for the crisis, that will be White’s vindication.—Simone Foxman

Five things on Quartz we especially liked 

Prepare for the jellyfish apocalypse. Think they’re harmless as long as they don’t sting you? Gwynn Guilford explains how the floating blobs can decimate industries, capsize ships, and disable nuclear power plants, and how human activities such as fishing and shipping have accidentally triggered a jellyfish explosion that it may be too late to stop.

America’s 223-year-long love affair with debt has entered a scary new phase. Democracy was one of the things that made debt possible, explains Matt Phillips. But now the US democratic system’s ability to handle the debt accumulated by past generations may be running out.

How the Big Four accountancy firms cowed Britain. After the UK’s antitrust body walked back proposed reforms, Jason Karaian interviews chief financial officers to find out why the accounting giants are so entrenched that neither regulators nor clients can break their oligopoly.

We welcome our new robot coffee overlords. Christopher Mims waxes lyrical about the Briggo, an automated coffee kiosk more sophisticated than any barista, and asks whether the days of the cafe are numbered. Also: How Starbucks invented the improbable Pumpkin Spice Latte, a drink now so widespread it even has its own hashtag.

Could this man be the first to ever make a profit from fuel cells? They’ve been around for two centuries. They produce efficient, clean energy. They’ve never made any money. Leo Mirani talks to Chip Bottone, who thinks he can finally push the cost of fuel cells down far enough to make them worthwhile.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Think you’re smart enough to avoid surveillance? Meet the guy who microwaves his t-shirts to zap any hidden RFID tags. Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler on all the ways you can be spied on, even if you throw out your laptop, smash your cellphone, and log out of Facebook.

How a $30 pap smear came to cost $1,000. Using one telling example, Cheryl Bettigole, a doctor, explains in the New England Journal of Medicine how the US health-care system can inflate medical costs to insane levels by layering on unnecessary extra tests.

Science doesn’t correct its own mistakes nearly as well as it should. Science relies on researchers replicating the work of other researchers to weed out erroneous results. The Economist takes a long look at studies showing that this doesn’t happen nearly enough to eliminate a lot of errors, and especially false positives.

Why you’re so tired all the time. Do you know what “chronotype” you are? Maria Popova sums up the findings of Till Roenneberg’s book Internal Time, on how biology determines both how much sleep we need, and when. And for the BBC, Michael Mosley takes part in a study showing that just a little less sleep can wreak havoc not only with your mental function, but also with a host of genes that affect your health.

A high-end restaurant is a well-oiled machine. You’ll never look at your steak-frites the same way after reading this New York Times magazine piece about the 22 hours that Willy Staley spent in the snazzy bistro Balthazar (just opposite the Quartz office, as it happens) to see how its 150-200 staff serve 1,500 meals a day.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, sleep test results and Balthazar bar tabs to hi@qz.com. You can also follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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