Quartz Weekend Brief—Europe’s problem child, China’s imperial ambitions, kidneynomics, metaphor design

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The euro zone, it’s fair to say, is hardly a happy family. And looming largest are the antics of a single problem child.

Greece has been a euro member for 15 years. As every parent knows, that’s around the time when things get difficult. The innocence of early youth, so full of promise and potential, gives way to sneering and sulking. Rebellious tendencies. Mood swings. Running with the wrong crowd. Wearing inappropriate clothing. Giving people the middle finger.

Greece has blown through its allowance, and then some. In search of more money, it is raising a stink, playing one relative off against the other. But after some bickering amongst themselves, the elders are now more or less united: The kid needs to learn to behave before they dip back into their wallets.

“I literally can’t even,” Greece says, slamming the bedroom door in a huff. “You brought me up this way, man. I’ve already suffered enough. What are you going to do about it? Throw me out?” And this week, for the first time, its European creditors said, “Yeah—we might.”

But therein lies Europe’s dilemma. If it doesn’t get tough on the wayward child, it might set a bad example for others with troublemaking tendencies. But what sort of message would it send to kick Greece out of the house—er, monetary union—altogether? Tough love is one thing, but this is heartless. Cowed and afraid, the bond between family members might never be the same. Some of them might storm off too. And what will the neighbors think?

For all the drama, most still expect the family to patch up its differences and make a deal. But maybe, as in so many households, they just need to grit their teeth and wait for the teenager to grow up.—Jason Karaian

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

China commercial-military empire. The Romans did it; the British did it; now China too is extending its power by building infrastructure around the world. Steve LeVine catalogues the Chinese-financed investments and explains how they add up to the most ambitious project of imperial influence in history.

The injustice of Harvard’s $400 million gift. Hedge fund magnate John Paulson’s recent donation to Harvard was bigger than the entire endowment of almost every historically black college in America. Melvin Backman makes the economic case for why those schools would have been more worthy beneficiaries.

Kosovo confronts its history of wartime rape. Hanna Kozlowska talks to Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, a Kosovan artist who is stringing up 5,000 dresses in the capital, Priština. Her aim is to start a discussion about sexual violence, the unspoken weapon in the country’s war, when up to 20,000 women are estimated to have been raped.

Don’t default on your student loan. A writer in the New York Times made waves with his call for US students to walk away from their debt. Shelly Banjo hits back, explaining why defaulting isn’t only bad for one’s own future credit, but won’t fix the problems with America’s bloated, broken system of educational debt.

The economics of not marrying your high-school sweetheart. In the latest of our QZ&A interview series, Matt Phillips talks to Nobel economist Alvin Roth, a world expert on ”matching markets,” which govern everything in our lives from kidney donations, to getting into college, to choosing a mate.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

What is code? You may not be able to write a line of code, yet you probably make daily decisions that depend on it. Bloomberg Businessweek’s latest issue is a single, 38,000-word essay by the programmer Paul Ford “demystifying code and the culture of the people who make it.” It’s well worth your time, which the story’s bot will calculate while you read—just one of many ingenious interactive elements. Read it on a PC for the full effect. (And once you figure out what code is, enjoy the story’s GitHub repo.)

Where car curves came from. Joseph Stromberg explains on Vox why the US auto industry went from streamlined Chysler Airflows to boxy and angular Chevy Caprices and back to bulbous Scion xBs. Surprisingly it has little to do with aesthetics and everything to do with government mandates.

A refugee’s journey to safety. The thousands of refugees dying in the Mediterranean have become statistics. Nothing makes their stories as real as this account of one Syrian man’s journey from Egypt to Sweden. The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley traveled with him to chronicle an odyssey of alternating hope and fear from one end of Europe to the other.

Comedy with Chinese characteristics. Traditional forms and government skepticism have defined comedy in China, but now American-style stand-up is finding fans there. Christopher Beam explores Beijing’s nascent comedy scene for the New York Times magazine to find out what gets a guffaw—and avoids the censors—in the People’s Republic.

How we create metaphors. Did you know there was such a profession as “metaphor designer”? Nor did we. This essay in Aeon by Michael Erard, a practitioner of the craft, explains a lot about why some images capture our minds, and will open your eyes to just how much the words you use to describe a thing shape the way you think about it—sometimes to other people’s benefit.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Chinese jokes, and well-designed metaphors to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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