Skip to navigationSkip to content
STAR WARS

Quartz Weekend Brief—Al-Shabaab’s message, bird morticians, automated journalism, virtual Everest

By Quartz Staff

Good morning, Quartz readers!

It’s the terrorist equivalent of clickbait. With this week’s methodical, cold-blooded massacre of 147 people at a university in northern Kenya, al-Shabaab is vying with Boko Haram and the Islamic State to grab our attention with ever-greater outrages.

From the remote vantage point of the West, their similar tactics and ideology make these groups all too easy to lump together as merely different facets of global radical Islam. But each has its roots and the sources of its support in local misfortunes—ISIL in the patchwork sectarian strife of the Middle East, Boko Haram in the impoverishment of northern Nigeria, and al-Shabaab in the poverty and instability of Somalia, in which Kenya unwisely intervened in 2011—and they cannot be neutralized without addressing those local problems.

For African governments, meanwhile, it’s all too easy to err in the other direction, and treat groups such as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram as just the latest in a long history of rebel movements, to be either suppressed or bought off as circumstances dictate. That will not work either. Bribery does not sway these hardened ideologues, and brutality by government troops merely stokes the anger of the Islamists’ supporters.

This week Nigeria elected Muhammadu Buhari as president. His image as a military strongman has raised hopes that he can crush Boko Haram. But his real task will be to lessen the poverty and graft on which it feeds. Likewise, Kenya cannot combat al-Shabaab with an administration as corrupt and disorganized as the one it has now.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The legal battle for the soul of the battery. An arcane dispute over lithium-ion chemistry patents has reached court, and could determine who gets to tap into billions in profit from battery technology as electric cars go mainstream. Steve LeVine explains the nitty-gritty.

The bird morticians. Millions of migratory birds die each year flying into glass office buildings, and a group of activists in Washington, DC is going around collecting corpses in an attempt to convince architects and building managers to change their ways. Anne Quito looks at what they’ve been picking up.

A 40-year-old solution to bitcoin’s problem. In the 1970s, Wall Street came up with a single clearinghouse to fix a stock-trading system riddled with errors and shenanigans. Tim Ferhnolz explains why something similar—with more modern technology, of course—might rescue bitcoin, despite the cryptocurrency’s resistance to any form of central control.

The beautiful, bizarre Bahia Emerald. For 14 years a band of men have been trying to swindle each other for possession of a 180,000 carat, 840 lb (381 kg) chunk of gemstone. And now Brazil, where it was mined, is trying to get it back. Jenni Avins recounts the madcap story.

Quartz’s newest staff member: Marvin Prime. This week we launched an automated tech reporter who (that?) delivers his (its?) gnomic and occasionally brilliant insights straight to Twitter. And why not? As Marvin him/itself says, “Journalists are a rip off, yet people keep pouring money into them.”

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

How broken is US broadband? Very broken: The country where the internet was invented is also shockingly uncompetitive, find Allan Holmes and Chris Zubak-Skees for the Center for Public Integrity. Broadband providers seem to divvy up urban regions, often giving themselves near-monopolies, and prices are among the highest in the developed world.

Our solar system is more special than we thought. Studies of the 1,800 extrasolar planets found so far suggest that gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn are usually much closer to their suns than in our system, writes Brian Koberlein on Medium. And that means Earth-like planets at the right distance to support life may also be rarer than we thought.

Central Asia’s wealthy princelings. The political workings of the “-stans” are usually shrouded in murk, but as Casey Michel explains at The Diplomat, recent reports have shed an unusual amount of light on the extraordinary corruption and nepotism in their business deals.

A story of modern slavery—with a happy ending. An investigation by the Associated Press found that some 4,000 migrant fishermen had been pressed into slavery in Indonesia to catch the seafood that makes it to your plate. After the story emerged, officials investigated and began setting them free.

Scale Everest from your armchair. The Washington Post’s graphics team put together this virtual tour of the path from sea level to the summit. Even though climbing is as easy as swiping with your finger, you’ll still get a sense for how astonishingly high—and hostile—the mountain is.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, planet sightings, and Everest pictures to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief here, tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe & Africa, and the Americas.