Quartz Weekend Brief—The new cold war, hydrogen-powered cars, the drone upheaval, blood taboos

March 14, 2014
March 14, 2014

The US has promised Russia “very serious” consequences if it annexes Crimea after this Sunday’s referendum—the outcome of which is a foregone conclusion—on joining Russia. But how serious?

Well, not very. Here’s a list. Kicking Russia out of the G8. Not letting it into the OECD. Targeted asset freezes and travel bans. Tougher rules on trade with Russian firms. Maybe an arms embargo. But most of these are symbolic or limited in effect. The “nuclear” options, such as cutting Russia out of the world financial system, carry risks: Europe depends too much on Russian gas. (As for sending in troops—forget it.)

And then? Will Russian troops now massing on Ukraine’s eastern border invade? Take Donetsk, Kharkiv? Perhaps. As Quartz’s Steve LeVine wrote this week, Western strategists have badly underestimated president Vladimir Putin’s willingness for confrontation.

But so far, his actions have been rational: There’s been no real cost. Russian public opinion will probably preclude too vicious an assault on brother Slavs (by contrast with those shifty Georgians). At any rate, the goal isn’t territory, it’s influence; Putin will take as much as he can get away with and as little as necessary to keep Ukraine off balance.

And then what? The warnings of a “new cold war” are legion (and not particularly new). But if Putin has shown one thing, it’s that he’s not afraid of a cold war; indeed, he looks back on the last one fondly, as a time of Russian power and greatness.

So maybe a cold war is coming. And maybe that’s just something to shrug and accept. After all, look at how the last one ended.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Hydrogen-powered cars will drive Elon Musk crazy. After the hype over electrics, next will be the year cars running on hydrogen fuel cells start to go commercial. Todd Woody shows that what are often touted as complementary technologies may actually prove deadly rivals, and delves into the economics of the new green craze.

What happens when Korea’s crazy rental market starts to go south. More than half of Korean renters don’t pay rent, but instead lend their landlords a large share of the apartment’s value—the Jeonse system. But as the savings rate has plummeted, Matt Phillips explains, the whole system may be at risk of unraveling.

How Urban Outfitters plans to get back its fashion sense. The retail chain once called “recession-proof” is faltering. John McDuling looks at how it lost traction with young buyers and what it’s doing to win them back—especially the hipsters.

Drones will cause a social upheaval like we haven’t seen in 700 years. Noah Smith argues that weaponized drones will do to people with guns what people with guns did to archers in the Middle Ages, with profound consequences for the nature of warfare, the power of the state, and the very possibility of personal freedom.

The complete guide to listening to music at work. Adam Pasick looks at how different kinds of music affect your productivity and mood, and suggest some genres and artists. There’s also a 23-track Spotify playlist picked by Quartz staff.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The un-glamour of shipping. Reviewing Rose George’s book about the industry, Maya Jasanoff in the New York Review of Books describes how the shipping container has changed the maritime life from one of a certain raffish charm into a tough, dangerous, poorly regulated treadmill in which crews see little of the world outside their massive vessels.

How Target got hacked. Despite getting alerts from its in-house security system, Target did nothing as hackers siphoned off the credit-card data of 40 million customers. Businessweek’s team doesn’t find out why, but it does a good job of revealing how the hack worked and how “carders,” and the black market for their stolen data, operate.

How Disney enabled an autistic child to talk. This made us both smarter and weepier: The remarkable New York Times magazine account of how, after severe regressive autism destroyed their son’s ability to use language, Ron Suskind and his wife found a way to re-animate it, using dialogue from the Disney films that he was obsessed with.

The costs of the blood taboo. The same Rose George who wrote about shipping (above) visited Nepal and Bangladesh for Mosaic Science to look at how a social taboo against contact with menstrual women damages their health, education, and earning power—a good argument for why not all cultural traditions should be respected.

Why good managers are so rare. A poll by Gallup found five basic traits that make a good manager—and that only one person in 10 possesses them all, and 82% of the time, companies fail to choose managers with the right talents. Randall Beck and James Harter in the Harvard Business Review look at the implications for how firms are run.

Correction: In last weekend’s brief we said James Palmer’s article on Han-Uighur relations in China was from 2009; it was actually published in September 2013.

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

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