Good morning, Quartz readers!
As it goes to the polls today, Nigeria may superficially seem, as Western observers are so fond of saying, on the brink. The country’s 69 million voters are nearly evenly split between two bad choices. Incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan has seen the Boko Haram insurgency in the north achieve unprecedented power and levels of brutality on his watch (the Islamists may have kidnapped up to 500 women and children just this week), and his government’s corruption has shocked a populace that thought itself inured to its leaders’ pilfering. The challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, headed a brutal 20-month long military dictatorship in the 1980s which curtailed press freedom, locked up hundreds of people without trial, and had soldiers whipping civilians on the streets.
In personality, the two men are quite different. Jonathan comes across like someone with whom you might like to share a drink at a local beer parlor; Buhari, an ascetic disciplinarian, is more like the headmaster who’ll come round and confiscate the beers. On policy, it’s generally assumed that Buhari would be more effective against both Boko Haram and corruption. But with oil prices plunging (Nigeria relies on oil for 90% of its foreign reserves) and the naira dropping, whoever takes the helm will have difficult job.
As we’ve argued, however, Nigeria is a lot more resilient than it seems. And the bright spot of this election is that it is the first time an incumbent Nigerian president is in any danger of being voted out of power. Public debate is also rowdy and vibrant. The big risk of instability will be if one man is perceived to have stolen the election. The actual outcome, in some respects, matters less. Whoever wins will, after all, do only a middling job at best.—Yinka Adegoke
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
How shopping became entertainment. Analyzing the effects of falling prices, “fast fashion,” and online shopping, Marc Bain argues that they have conspired to turn the buying of clothes into an activity not so different from snacking or watching TV, activating the same compulsive pleasure centers—and of course generating vast amounts of waste.
“Defensive design” is offensive architecture. Unless you are homeless, a teenager, or a skater, you probably don’t notice the subtle curves, tilts, studs, and other features increasingly built into public furniture to deter what has been decreed antisocial behavior. Architect Selena Savić does, and analyzes its subtly degrading effect on society.
The humble bean, savior of humanity. Global warming could render large swathes of land useless for growing staple crops. Jack Aldwinckle visited a gene bank in rural Colombia where scientists, after combing through ancient beans, engineered a heat-resistant strain that could feed hundreds of millions of people.
The music industry’s big mistake. Record labels are squaring off for yet another fight with streaming music firms such as Spotify, and they’re probably going to lose, writes John McDuling. What’s more, bullish new projections of the size of the streaming market suggest they’d be wiser to back down and embrace it.
The language of air tragedy. Suicide? Murder? Terrorism? Jake Flanagin analyzes the sensitive semantics behind talking about the Germanwings pilot who deliberately flew his plane and its passengers into a mountainside. And Jason Karaian on the conflicting things an airline CEO must communicate during such a strategy.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Theory meets practice in Athens. For many of the voters who swept Syriza to power in Greece, the leftist party’s inexperience was a good thing—it wasn’t tainted by the past. But as Alexander Clapp explains in the London Review of Books, the new cabinet is packed with PhDs “more familiar with ‘governmentality’ than with governing.”
Biotech, Silicon Valley-style. As biotech stocks start to approach dotcom-level valuations, scientists are reaching for venture capital money. At Nature, Heidi Ledford describes I-Corps, an intensely practical boot camp for biomedical firms, where researchers are already abandoning promising science in favor of pitches with more market potential.
The murky market for pre-IPO stocks. It’s worth braving the Wall Street Journal’s registration barrier for Susan Pulliam and Telis Demos’s investigation of the middlemen helping Silicon Valley employees at hot tech startups cash out early. The result is a shadowy, ad hoc market where sought-after stocks of private tech companies are traded out of sight of regulators, other investors, and the companies themselves.
The life and death of a Russian female convict. Or as Ekaterina Loushnikova’s article on Open Democracy is titled, “Interview with a Murderer”—a woman who spent most of 53 years in the unspeakably brutal Russian prison system and tells a raw, personal tale full of both despair and humor.
How to teach evolution to creationists. James Krupa at Slate (in a piece adapted from Orion) recounts his experiences of teaching evolution at the University of Kentucky, and through them gives a clear-headed exposition of the basic point not only of evolution but of science in general, and why the “it’s just a theory” claim is so deeply wrong.
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