Quartz Weekend Brief—American panic, Kenyan Sinophobia, professional cuddling

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Panic isn’t pretty, but American political leaders have produced it in quantity since the attacks in Paris a week ago.

Rushing through a bill to limit Syrian refugees fleeing ISIL and Assad won’t protect Americans, though. And irresponsible rhetoric about Muslim ID cards and religious tests simply plays into the clash of civilizations that Islamist extremists would love to see happen.

So what can actually be done about the virulent ideological cocktail spilling out of a broken Middle East into the streets of Paris and Bamako alike?

Eliminating ISIL in its extremist sanctuary in Syria and Iraq will require untangling a lot of geopolitical and ethnic knots. Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic contender for the US presidency, has a plan for doing that. It is neither simple, nor even likely to succeed, but unlike calls to get tough on refugees, it gets at the real problem—the fragile authoritarian states succumbing in slow motion to their people’s political aspirations and to American bombs, creating space for Islamist rebels.

In other, more familiar words: it means nation-building (paywall).

The trouble is, of course, the US has shown neither the capacity or the political will for such lofty goals (and bloody costs) in Iraq or Afghanistan. On the other hand, as Barack Obama recently said, the only alternative his critics have suggested is to “deploy US troops on a large scale to retake territory either in Iraq or now in Syria.” And who wants that again?

All of which is just a way of saying that there are no easy solutions, and the worst thing politicians can do is pretend there are. Only history will judge whether Obama’s steadfast refusal to scramble his priorities in response to the spasm of violence—more a sign of ISIL’s limits (paywall) than its powers—is wise or foolhardy, but either way, he won’t repeat his predecessor’s mistakes.—Tim Fernholz

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The backlash against the Chinese in Africa. China’s economic expansion on the continent has brought with it a wave of blue-collar migrants seeking a better life. And they seem to be the easiest target for an anti-Chinese backlash, as Lily Kuo explains in the strange case of the 77 people sitting in a Kenyan jail, accused, improbably of being cyber-hackers.

Take the global financial literacy test. Ashley Rodriguez and Keith Collins recreate the five-question test that was put to 150,000 people in more than 140 countries last year. Can you do better than the average? We certainly hope so, because the average is really rather worrying.

Ben Bernanke on bubbles, bitcoin, and Republicans. Matt Phillips interviews the former Federal Reserve chair and learns why he lost patience with the party he once belonged to, why he neither knows nor cares whether tech stocks are overvalued, and how best to lead a roomful of very smart people during the worst financial crisis in living memory.

Bad news for tech stocks is good news for the rest of us. There’s been a wave of disappointing tech IPOs, price markdowns, and other jitters. These, Dan Frommer says, show the system is working as it’s meant to: Instead of broad swathes of retail investors losing their shirts, as in the 2000 bust, professionals are now setting the prices—and paying the price.

Your holiday drone-buying guide. Can’t decide which quadcopter is for you? It all depends whether you want to shoot a movie, fly a drone race, evade impending regulation, or just not hurt anyone. Mike Murphy reviews and recommends seven of the best.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

People will pay to snuggle. But Americans are really closed off to the idea of non-sexual touch, the founder of one cuddling business—there are 20 of them in all in the US—tells Priceonomics’ Zachary Crockett. His exploration of the pay-to-cuddle market reveals what it’s like to be a professional cuddler and offers a commentary on our basic human need for connection.

Citigroup’s Mexican money problems. At Banamex USA, signs of alleged money laundering on behalf of Mexican drug cartels were routinely missed. Alan Katz and Dakin Campbell of Bloomberg Markets tell the lurid backstory of the Citigroup subsidiary’s trouble getting to grips with illicit financial flows—a story, sadly, that is playing out at just about every big global bank these days.

Silicon Valley’s teen suicide surge. The rate of teenage suicides is four to five times higher in Palo Alto than the rest of the US, and two high schools there are having the second “suicide cluster” in ten years. For The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin looks at how teens in these schools deal with pressure from high-achieving parents, rigorous academic standards, and the far too common deaths of their peers.

Will AI save humanity or destroy it? The philosopher Nick Bostrom worries about trends that pose a fundamental threat to civilization. His biggest fear: super-smart artificial intelligence that decides it no longer needs humans. In the New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian profiles Bostrom and asks whether humanity can survive its own invention.

A bizarre passport plot. Across the Gulf states, passport problems plague all tiers of society: from nomads who never got citizenship to wealthy Arabs who struggle to open businesses abroad because of theirs. As Atossa Araxia Abrahamian recounts for the Guardian, one post-national entrepreneur found a fix: persuade the poor but paradisiacal Comoros Islands to sell its passports in bulk.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, drone recommendations, and blank Comoros passports to 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.