Happy new year! This week, people around the world are getting haircuts, buying new clothes, and stocking up on treats to fête the Year of the Monkey, which begins Feb. 8. Businesses across China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and their respective diasporas have shut down for the holidays. All of China is on vacation, and its economy is at a virtual standstill.
But money is even more on people’s minds than usual. In the US, lines are forming out the door in certain banks, as lunar new year celebrants withdraw crisp new bills to give as gifts, tucked inside ornate red envelopes. Dumplings, lucky to eat because they look like gold ingots, must be prepared. Symbolically expensive gifts must be exchanged. And on the first day of the year, the truly superstitious must avoid any activities that suggest loss, including cleaning house, sweeping the floor or washing their hair.
It’s all in stark contrast to Western tradition, which upholds the Gregorian new year, Jan. 1, as a time of high-minded resolutions for self-improvement. To a culture that seeks passion and fulfillment from work, the open pursuit of money at lunar new year can seem existentially pointless (paywall) and even vulgar.
But the lunar new year is also a time to settle debts. Western governments have fretted over China’s slowing growth in part because well-being in the West is tightly intertwined with the pursuit of wealth in the East. And this year, China’s economic success story may finally be coming apart, which doesn’t make anyone smile.
So even if you don’t normally celebrate the lunar new year, consider stopping in a temple, lighting some ghost money, and making the traditional wish for ”恭喜發財,” or ”Happiness and prosperity!”—Caitlin Hu, Jennifer Chang, and Thu-Huong Ha
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Central Africa’s mysterious missing data. Ever wondered why the center of the continent is almost always grayed out on maps? Chris Groskopf did, and delves into the reasons why—despite no end of efforts by NGOs, international bodies, and governments themselves—the region remains so hard to get good data for. (And in another economic mystery, he explores why the American Midwest is the country’s most equal region.)
Meet Adolf Hitler, interior-design junkie. The “at-home interview,” the staple choice of politicians trying to look cuddly, began with none other than the world’s most notorious dictator, according to a new book. Anne Quito on the strange story of Hitler and his favorite tastemaker, one Gerdy Troost.
A Zika vaccine might come out of India. Bharat Biotech didn’t expect Zika to become a global health panic when it started working on a vaccine more than a year ago. Madhura Karnik profiles the Hyderabad-based company and explains how the search for a vaccine has proceeded.
Gun-control advice from a convicted murderer. John Lennon explains how he and people like him got the guns they used to commit their crimes: by means of a loophole in US law that permits “straw purchasing,” getting someone else to buy guns for you. Had it not existed, he might not have become a killer.
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The contested twin towers of Monrovia. Brooks Marmon at Roads & Kingdoms explores the troubled history of the capital of Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, by focusing on the storied E.J. Roye Building. It is at the center of a battle between various power factions, still bitter after years of war, while also being coveted by European and local investors keen to save it from ruin.
Europe’s lonely hegemon. Germany’s open-door policy for refugees under Angela Merkel, isn’t out of good-heartedness, says Thorsten Benner in Politico.eu. Rather, Merkel is doing it to keep the EU together, taking on the burden that other members of the bloc cannot bear. And as she did with the Greek debt crisis, once she thinks the threat to the union is past, she may abruptly withdraw the welcome mat.
The head scarf, on and off. In the New Yorker, Elif Batuman, New Jersey-born daughter of Turkish parents, asks questions of the head scarf she has never worn. Through it she examines Turkish history, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s politics, the satire of Michel Houellebecq, the literary woman, the doom of secularism, and her many taxi rides.
The New Hampshire primary has to go. Much attention is focused on primary candidates’ ability to win the first two races in New Hampshire and Iowa. But these states aren’t representative of the US as a whole. Dylan Matthews in Vox has a suggestion: start in the Bronx instead, about as populous as New Hampshire, but much more diverse.
Who needs predictive policing? The police in Ferguson, Missouri are trying to recover from the Michael Brown shooting and race riots by using Hunchlab. It’s software that uses big data to predict crime, allowing them to reduce patrols and potential friction with locals. The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah spends time with them and asks: Could it end up making things worse?
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Central African data, and unworn head scarves to email@example.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.