Good morning, Quartz readers!
Have we awoken in a cyberpunk fiction where countries and corporations do digital battles over perceived slights?
The massive online security breach at Sony Pictures, which revealed everything from undistributed films and embarrassing power points to salaries and social security numbers, could be a sea change in cyber attacks.
The mythology of the hack is cinematic: Sony’s new comedy “The Interview” is premised on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, which apparently led him to deploy a highly trained cadre of hackers to take down the company’s network and spread its secrets. (Kim must be sick of Hollywood—it wasn’t long ago that MGM changed the origin of the putative communist invaders in “Red Dawn” from China to North Korea to distribute the film in the lucrative Chinese market.)
North Korea has denied the incursion, and indeed some experts say the story is too good to be true. Meanwhile, a group called Guardians of Peace has taken credit for the hack, saying Sony refused to respond to unspecified demands. In this telling, Korean-language malware used in the hack is misdirection, a red herring to distract from the real perpetrators. If so, it’s good down to the last detail: The only unreleased film not to leak on file-sharing sites is “The Interview.”
The uncertainty underscores that when it comes to asymmetric troublemaking, wealthy countries and big corporations have yet to protect their vulnerabilities. “Cyberwar” is a silly notion, but we clearly need a better framework for online security so long as the economic pathways that allow a Japanese company to become a global entertainment colossus also allow it to get taken down by a group of hackers—even if it’s over a geopolitical slight in a rather dopey-looking film that seems likely to bomb at the box office.—Tim Fernholz
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The world’s first pipeline war is over. Russia has spent the past seven years trying to build a giant metal tube through which to move its vast natural gas resources across southern Europe. Steve LeVine has the history of Putin’s failed attempt to get that pipeline built, culminating with the Western sanctions that ultimately killed the dream.
America’s class problem. Upward social mobility was one of the key tenants upon which the United States was founded, but as Matt Phillips recently discovered, a poor Moroccan child in France has a better chance at escaping poverty than a child born into a poor family in Mississippi.
Keeping talented soccer players on US soil is hard. If you’re good at the sport most countries refer to as football, what incentive do you have to relocate to, or remain in, a country where people would rather watch athletes throw a spiral or score a touchdown? As Kabir Chibber notes, soccer talent rarely stays stateside for long.
It took 100 years for these Indians to get the recognition they deserved. When a group of Punjabi farmers met at the Finnish Socialist Hall in Oregon in 1913, little did they know their Ghadar Party’s movement—based on the belief that immigrant workers have the right to “lead a dignified and discrimination-free life”—would result in California declaring Nov. 1 as Ghadar Day a century later. Shwanika Narayan documented their journey.
Americans shouldn’t lose sleep over China’s economy overtaking theirs. For starters, it actually hasn’t, despite what you’ve been hearing. What should keep you awake, though, is the fact that China has been racking up trillions of dollars of debt that will likely never get repaid. Gwynn Guilford says this likely will lead to Japan-style stagnation in China’s economy.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Single-sex pseudoscience. At Slate, Lise Eliot argues that American public schools catering to the specific ways in which boys’ or girls’ brains are wired aren’t just likely in violation of federal law—they’re based on nonsensical findings, which are easy to believe if only because they so perfectly match gender stereotypes.
Dark times in space. If British and Italian researchers are correct in their conclusion that dark matter is being converted into dark energy, then the universe won’t behave the way we thought it would, and indeed may not have behaved the way we thought it had. Michael Brooks, in his science column at the New Statesman, warns that the findings would mean Earth is in for a sad, “inglorious finale in which dark energy’s repulsive power pushes everything interesting away from us.”
The risk-reward relationship is bunk. As Allison Schrager reports in Bloomberg Businessweek, 40 years of stock market data show that bets on riskier stocks—as defined by their vulnerability to broader swings in the market—generate lower returns than safer investments do. Factor in tail risk and the rewards become evident, but that’s not the kind of risk most investors base their picks on.
Demonizing drunkenness, through the ages. In The Appendix, Kristen D. Burton traces the origins of the 19th century temperance movement, gathering an impressive collection of the lurid warnings that teetotalers then delivered against the “demon drink.” As cheap liquor became more widely available in the US and UK, the damnations “had become a deafening clamor that came in the form of speeches, books, medical inquiries, and artwork.”
The despot’s dinner table. The authors of a new book about the eating habits of dictators recount some of the stranger examples for the BBC News Magazine. From Kim Il-sung ordering cooks to select rice grains individually, to the “famously flatulent” Moamar Gadhafi, the preferred menus of some of modern history’s most ruthless rulers reflected telling aspects of their characters.
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