Life in North Korea, Amazon’s last mile, and eight other stories you might have missed

A glimpse into living in North Korea.
A glimpse into living in North Korea.
Image: Reuters/ Damir Sagolj
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1. While we’re playing checkers…

Max Deutsch is a self-described speed learner. And he recently gave himself one month to learn to play chess…well enough to take on the world champion. “The unlikely series of events that brought him to this stage began last year, when Max challenged himself to a series of monthly tasks that were ambitious bordering on absurd. He memorized the order of a shuffled deck of cards. He sketched an eerily accurate self-portrait. He solved a Rubik’s cube in 17 seconds. He developed perfect musical pitch and landed a standing back-flip. He studied enough Hebrew to discuss the future of technology for a half-hour.” Did Max beat the world champion? That’s the wrong question. It’s about the journey. From Ben Cohen in WSJ: A Chess Novice Challenged Magnus Carlsen. He Had One Month to Train. (I once gave myself a month to update the contacts in my address book. That was in 1999, and it’s still a work in progress.)

2. Just say know

“Ms. Gregory is not the sort of person who pops into your mind when you think of Alzheimer’s — youngish, healthy and sharp-minded. But she represents a type of sufferer we are likely to encounter more and more: those grappling with the looming threat of the disease rather than the disease itself.” From the NYT Sunday Review: What if You Knew Alzheimer’s Was Coming for You? Soon, with simple blood tests, we might soon all know that—and a whole lot more.

3. Weekend whats

What to hear: This week, Jon Stewart stopped by Howard Stern’s studio where they talked about psychic costs of life on the internet, how to react to Louis C.K., walking away from a gig when you’re at the top, raising a kid with a health issue, and much more. It wasn’t a particularly funny conversation. But it was a great one—and further evidence that Stern is the best interviewer in media. By a lot.

+ What to read: My wife is the most voracious reader I know. While I’m skimming the headlines, she’s digging into an endless stack of top novels. So when she publishes her annual list of the 25 best fiction books, she means it.

+ What to stream: NextDraft-approved singer Benjamin Booker played a few songs on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, with an assist from Saundra Williams. You’ll want to be a witness

+ What to wear: If you’re planning to buy a new NextDraft t-shirt, today is the day to do it. Why? Because they cost three dollars more than usual. But wait. Those three dollars go to the excellent Donor’s Choose as part of Cotton Bureau’s give back Friday program. The shirts are still at steal (at 17 bucks) and besides, it’s for the kids!

4. Un, real

“We were told how great he was, that he could ride a horse when he was 5 years old and shoot a gun when he was 3. Of course we didn’t believe these things, but if you laughed or said anything, you’d be killed.” WaPo talked to 25 people who managed to escape from North Korea about what life is like under Kim Jong Un. (It pays to remember that we talk about raining down fire and fury on North Korea, most of the victims will be those who have been victims their whole lives.)

+ Reuters: Injured defector’s parasites and diet hint at hard life in North Korea.

5. Rat a tat tat

“The largest island ever cleared of rats, Australia’s Macquarie Island, is just 50 square miles in size. New Zealand is 2,000 times bigger. But, the country has committed to fulfilling its ecological moonshot within three decades.” From The Atlantic: New Zealand wants to eradicate all invasive mammal predators by 2050. “Gene-editing technology could help—or it could trigger an ecological disaster of global proportions.” (At this point, really, what’s one more ecological disaster of epic proportions?)

+ In other gene news, Gene Simmons has been banned for life from Fox News.

6. Top heavy

When we talk about the economic divide, there’s a tendency to write it off as something that has always been this way. But what we’re experiencing today, especially in America, is quite exceptional. “In the United States, the richest 1% have seen their share of national income roughly double since 1980, to 20% in 2014 from 10%. This trend, combined with slow productivity growth, has resulted in stagnant living standards for most Americans.” From NYT Upshot: Myths of the 1 Percent: What’s Putting People at the Top?

7. Putin it all on the line

“‘Putin kills people,’ Browder said to me one afternoon this autumn. ‘That’s a known fact. But Putin likes to pretend that he doesn’t kill people. So he tends to kill people he can get away with killing.'” From GQ: Bill Browder, Putin Enemy No. 1.

8. Your mile may vary

“Control over the manufacture, storage, sales, and shipping of an extraordinarily diverse set of products has led the company to expand into film and TV production, web hosting, publishing, groceries, fashion, space travel, wind farms, and soon, pharmaceuticals, to name just a few. It’s a new kind of company, the likes of which the American economy has never before seen and is legislatively ill-prepared for.” Gizmodo on Amazon’s Last Mile: “Who delivers Amazon orders? Increasingly, it’s plainclothes contractors with few labor protections, driving their own cars, competing for shifts on the company’s own Uber-like platform.”

9. The best defense is being offensive

“I’m gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.” ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham on the NFL’s biggest matchup of the year: Roger Goodell vs Jerry Jones. (Like many NFL matchups these days, most people are rooting against both sides…)

10. Bottom of the news

“Chances are high that the people in that diner thought they had never seen anyone like Jones before in their lives. But chances are almost as high that they have — possibly many times — and just never realized it. That is because Jones is inconspicuously one of the most prolific working actors in Hollywood. He’s approached Samuel L. Jackson levels of ubiquity, with over 150 credits spanning 30 years.” Buzzfeed: Meet Doug Jones, One Of The Biggest Movie Stars You’ve Probably Never Seen.

+ Reuters: One in three US adults  avoid talking politics over holiday season. (Two in three US adults are telling the truth…)

+ There’s nothing to fear but robots that can do backflips.

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.