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Quartz Weekend Brief—Davos “brain break,” potent pot, dubious statistics, dating algorithms

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

American actor Goldie Hawn was in Davos yesterday, preaching the importance of “mindfulness” to a packed room. She’s been meditating since 1973, and is crusading for schools to give kids “brain breaks” where they take time to better understand their emotions.

Davos itself is billed as a sort of “brain break” for the world’s business and political elite, where they can focus on emotional issues that aren’t being resolved elsewhere.

Issues like Syria. Investor and philanthropist George Soros traditionally offers his view of markets at a dinner he hosts during the World Economic Forum meeting. This week he instead devoted the session to the crisis in Syria. Ex UN secretary-general Kofi Annan told the room the UN Security Council had “failed the world” in its handling of the issue.

Issues like employment amid the advance of technology. Attendees debated how many jobs would be left, and of what kind, as robots and other forms of automation reshape manufacturing and service industries. There’s little consensus.

And issues like data privacy. President Dilma Rousseff defended a proposal to require that Brazilians’ online data—such as their emails—be stored on servers located only in Brazil. Technologists meanwhile schemed about ways to encrypt and decentralize data so it’s beyond the reach of US spies and government regulators.

The truth is that Davos is more brain overload than brain break. Emotions run high around issues such as Iranian nukes, Ukrainian protests, and LGBT rights. Participants face marathon schedules of meetings punctuated by long security lines and icy pavement. The paranoia of overachievers looking for the ever-elusive perfect insight or networking opportunity is palpable.

Mindfulness is a worthy goal. Davos just might not be the setting for it.—Kevin J. Delaney

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Westerners will believe anything bad about China. The story that Beijing pollution is so awful that a giant screen now broadcasts sunrises in Tiananmen Square became a viral sensation, but it wasn’t true. Gwynn Guilford examines why people are so willing to believe China is a dystopian hellhole.

Prepare for the upending of the internet. This year hundreds of new “top-level domains” (like .fish, .family, and .jaguar) will go live. Leo Mirani explains the rush to grab them, and why Google wants to sell them. Meanwhile Guilford explains how they’ve already caused a geopolitical dispute.

Gentrification isn’t bad for the poor. A class war is erupting over spiraling property prices in San Francisco. Tim Fernholz looks back at some research showing that a city’s rising prosperity need not hurt the poorer; it’s just that cities often mishandle it.

Why Germans don’t care much for buying homes. In some countries it’s accepted wisdom that homeownership and overall prosperity go hand in hand. Not so in Germany. Matt Phillips delves into the surprising historical and economic reasons why most Germans prefer to rent.

Your pot may be getting more potent. The strength of alcoholic beverages is measured and regulated. The strength of marijuana isn’t, even where it’s sold legally. Rachel Feltman reports on a study suggesting that where marijuana is decriminalized in the US, the weed on sale tends to get stronger.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Why you should be careful with statistics. Two Princeton University researchers analyzed data from web searches to conclude that Facebook will lose most of its users by 2017. Facebook staffers riposted with “proof” that, based on search data, Princeton itself is on the verge of dying out.

The video game that plays on your psychologyDayz looks like a typical shoot-’em-up game. But unlike most, it has “permadeath.” Evie Nagy in Fast Company explains how that subtle twist in the rules has transformed players’ emotional experiences and their attitudes to one another.

The rift within the Palestinian cause. Hussein Ibish and Ali Abunimah are figureheads of the Palestinian intellectual diaspora. In Buzzfeed, Ben Smith explores the rift between them, which reveals much about the wider disagreements that hold back the Palestinian independence movement.

Obama, unmasked. David Remnick’s nearly 17,000-word profile of the US president in the New Yorker is at once intimate and clinical. Obama doesn’t like the schmooze; he keeps his inner circle close; he is not an absolutist on much. Rather, his take on much of US policy is like a Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated.

How a mathematician hacked the dating code. Chris McKinlay got sick of trusting to luck, so he wrote an algorithm to match him up with the most suitable women on OKCupid. As Kevin Poulsen relates in Wired, he found love—though he still had to meet 87 other women first.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, proofs that Facebook will fail, and dating algorithms to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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