Quartz Weekend Brief—the Syria war, Microsoft’s future, India’s abyss, powdered cockroaches

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

Hope and history won’t be rhyming this weekend. Many world leaders have prefaced grand deeds with these words from “The Cure of Troy” by Seamus Heaney, the Nobel-winning Irish poet who died this week. But if American missiles fly to Damascus, they will carry no tidal wave of justice.

The attack’s only goal is to deter Bashar al-Assad and other lunatics from using chemical weapons. Barack Obama’s repeated assertions over the past two years that “Assad must go” have stopped. If Assad kills another 100,000 Syrians by conventional methods, so be it; the West will not interfere.

If the attack achieves its aim, that of course will matter. But the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, public cynicism, and recession-strained national budgets have cut the West’s swagger; how ironic that the people most in favor of intervention are now the French. (“Our oldest ally,” said US secretary of state John Kerry, in a mischievous dig at the British parliament’s vote not to join forces with the US.)

Considering the outcome of Iraq, this shift in mood is welcome. A military adventure in Syria would be disastrous, and if there was ever a point when outsiders could have toppled Assad without triggering a vicious civil war (doubtful), it’s long past; the rebellion is now dominated by jihadists. But as much as Obama’s cruise missiles signify a resolve to deter the use of chemical weapons, they also mark a glum acceptance of how little else the West can do. Heaney’s next stanza has never rung so hollow:

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.

—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Everything that’s wrong with Microsoft and how to fix it. In a three-part series, Christopher Mims examines the company’s culture under outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer, a seven-point plan for the next CEO to turn it around, and the lessons Google can draw to avoid becoming the next Microsoft.

India’s economy on the edge of the abyss. After the rupee suffered its biggest one-day fall in a decade, Nandagopal Nair and Matt Phillips analyze the perfect storm now facing the Indian economy, what’s in store if things go on this way, and what India can do to fight it.

Why Tesla’s got its sights set on… Norway. It has oil, but it also buys more electric cars per capita than anywhere else in the world and its subsidies to an electric-car owner can top $8,000 a year. Leo Mirani examines the country’s car policies and their sometimes controversial effects.

Google’s real plans for Glass. Don’t expect a world in which your fellow commuters are filming your every move, writes Simone Foxman. The kinds of apps being developed for Glass suggest it’s going to be a business product, not a consumer one.

China’s roaring cockroach trade. Gwynn Guilford on the breeders who rake in up to $89 per pound of pulverized roaches—for medicinal purposes, of course.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

So you want to start own your currency? Brett Scott, a reformed derivatives broker, explains in Aeon how Bitcoin and other new currencies—including ones that anyone can create—are changing the basic trust relationships that underlie all money and, in doing so, might make economies more resilient.

Economists can’t even agree on what’s wrong with economics. In the New York Times, Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain argue that the problem with economics is that, unlike real sciences, it has no predictive power. Rubbish, says Paul Krugman: The problem is economists who deny the evidence when predictions turn out to be right.

Medium, a radical experiment in both publishing and management. Is it a blogging platform or an online magazine? Is it a company or a collective? Two looks at Medium, a year-old site that is upending a lot of assumptions about what a media business is and how to run one.

Why black Americans are still poor. As the US marked the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, the New Yorker’s Vauhini Vara looks at why legal gains won by the American civil-rights movement haven’t translated into economic equality.

The power of architecture to make a man—or to break him. Rachel Swan in SF Weekly traces the history of prison design and the enormous influence that it can have over whether inmates reform, re-offend, or lose their minds.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thoughtful weekend. Please send any news, comments, cockroach pulp and new currencies to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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