Protests in Iran, California legalizes marijuana, and eight other stories you might have missed

Six days of demonstrations—which have left 22 people dead—show no signs of easing.
Six days of demonstrations—which have left 22 people dead—show no signs of easing.
Image: EPA/ STR
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1. The tipping joint

Happy New Year. Let’s take a (really) deep breath and get started with a comparatively light story that could have interesting ramifications in the year ahead. California rang in 2018 by making recreational pot legal. California is by far the biggest state to legalize marijuana and the next year will provide interesting clues about what such a move will mean for indoor farming technologies, investments in the space, alternative banking options for the mostly cash businesses, the sentence lengths for those currently serving time for pot-related incidents, and even tourism (the stores are welcoming out of state customers as well). We’ll also likely get a glimpse of which illegal drugs the cartels will push to make up for the loss in business, since there’s no way they’ll willingly cede a market this large. The only thing we know for sure is that NextDraft will definitely be funnier from here on out.

2. Everything is awesome

Tropical diseases are down. Four million people had their sight restored. “The cost of solar and wind plummeted by more than 25% in 2017, shifting the global clean energy industry on its axis.” I know, I know. 2017 seemed like a major jerk. But the year wasn’t all bad. Quartz takes a look at the 99 best things that happened in 2017.

+ Bloomberg: “Last year was unusual in one regard: there were no fatalities involving scheduled passenger jet airliners anywhere in the world.” On a less unusual note, President Trump rang in the new year by taking credit for the aviation numbers. (Looks like I picked the wrong year to stop sniffing glue…)

+ The Eurasia Group is out with its list of the top risks for 2018. And the MIT Tech Review has a list of six cyber threats to really worry about in 2018. (Pay attention to these as cyber threats are the ones that always seem to actually happen…)

3. Iran amok

Hundreds have been arrested and at least 22 people have been killed in Iran’s largest and most widespread protests since the 2009 election. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is blaming the protests on Iran’s enemies.

+ “It’s being fueled by the same type of anger and frustrations that fuel anti-government protests around the world: a combination of rising living costs, corruption, repression. But I think one thing that is somewhat unique about the Islamic Republic of Iran is that it’s not only politically and economically authoritarian, but it’s also socially authoritarian.” Slate: What Is Fueling the Protests in Iran?

4. Rocket man with a plan

Kim Jung Un started the new year by opening the door to direct talks with South Korea, and serving up the possibility that North Korean athletes would participate in the upcoming Olympic games in Pyeongchang.

+ “Mr. Kim, perhaps sensing the simmering tension between President Trump and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, called for an urgent dialogue between the two Koreas before the opening of the Winter Olympics in the South next month.” From the NYT: Kim Jong-un’s Overture Could Drive a Wedge Between South Korea and the US.

+ Part of the North Korean story could end up being about how the world will move forward in the absence of American leadership. That’s definitely what we’re seeing in China. From Evan Osnos in The New Yorker: Making China Great Again. “For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of ‘America First,’ that time has come far sooner than expected.”

5. Nerds gone wild

“If this were just confined to personal lives it would be one thing. But what happens at these sex parties—and in open relationships—unfortunately, doesn’t stay there. The freewheeling sex lives pursued by men in tech—from the elite down to the rank and file—have consequences for how business gets done in Silicon Valley.” “Oh my god, this is so f—ed up’: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side. (When I first started doing business in Silicon Valley, I was excited when startups would give me a free fleece.) Be sure to take note of the unwillingness of most participants to speak on the record. It turns out Silicon Valley execs still care about the importance of some personal privacy. Their own.

6. Soft(ware) skills

“He keyed into the computer: ‘Low risk.’ In the box where he had to select the likely threat to the children’s immediate safety, he chose ‘No safety threat.'” People who work in child protective agencies do their best to predict when a child is in imminent danger. But they’re only human. Can software do a better job? From the NYT Magazine: Can an Algorithm Tell When Kids Are in Danger?

7. Time change

“To every woman employed in agriculture who has had to fend off unwanted sexual advances from her boss, every housekeeper who has tried to escape an assaultive guest, every janitor trapped nightly in a building with a predatory supervisor, every waitress grabbed by a customer and expected to take it with a smile, every garment and factory worker forced to trade sexual acts for more shifts, every domestic worker or home health aide forcibly touched by a client, every immigrant woman silenced by the threat of her undocumented status being reported in retaliation for speaking up and to women in every industry who are subjected to indignities and offensive behavior that they are expected to tolerate to make a living: We stand with you. We support you.” From Variety: Hollywood A-Listers Launch Time’s Up Initiative to Fight Sexual Harassment.

8. It’s a mad mad mad mad world

“No president since opinion polling began in 1935 has had such poor numbers in his first year in office … Nor have we seen so unproductive an administration, with more unfilled campaign promises, than Trump’s. Trump also has the unenviable distinction of being the only first-year president to have his administration under scrutiny by a special prosecutor. This has been a year to remember in presidential history.” In Politico, a dozen historians attempt to answer the question: Was 2017 the Craziest Year in US Political History?

+ You can read that as a warmup for 2018 which has started with the familiar notes of Trump tweeting about Crooked Hillary and the retirement announcement from Orrin Hatch (which opens the door for Mitt Romney to finally come to Washington).

9. Water you thinking?

“The founder of Live Water, Mukhande Singh, started selling spring water from Opal Springs in Culver, Ore., three years ago, but it was a small local operation until this year. Marketing materials show Mr. Singh (né Christopher Sanborn) sitting naked and cross-legged on a hot spring, his long brown hair flowing over his chest.” Nellie Bowles in the NYT: Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid. Yup, Raw Water is a thing.

10. Bottom of the news

“Competitors sort keys. They pack trunks. They slalom through orange cones. They sprint across parking lots.” Welcome to the National Valet Olympics.

+ Scientists have created a drug that replicates the health benefits of exercise. (My New Year’s resolution was to find and take such a drug!)

+ “She started running in 2009, when her son, Gurdev Singh, 79, urged her to take up track and field.” NPR: At Age 101, She’s A World Champ Runner.

+ This week, many people are feeling a lot like Niagara Falls looks.

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.