Quartz Weekend Brief—Brazil’s turmoil, Spotify’s hipsters, robot hotels

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It seems to be reversal-of-fortune time in Latin America. Argentina has settled its battle with bondholders and is already preparing to re-enter the bond markets after 14 years as a pariah. Its president, Mauricio Macri, who has pushed aggressive reforms in his three months in office, is being hailed for making the country a “rare bright spot” (paywall) in emerging markets.

Brazil, on the other hand, is bracing for a weekend of unrest after ex-president Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva was briefly detained—the latest step in a corruption probe that is inching closer to his protégée, president Dilma Rousseff. The country is heading for the worst recession in a century. And if the Zika epidemic scares visitors away from the Olympics in Rio this summer (even though the risk then will be lower), things could get even worse.

But the story here isn’t so simple. In Argentina, Macri’s reforms face stiff opposition, especially from unions. His predecessors in power are already complaining that he’s using the courts in a vendetta against them, which amounts to a warning that they could do the same to him. In any case, top-down reforms like his are little match for entrenched corruption and cronyism.

Brazil’s turmoil, on the other hand, is the result of an ambitious investigation into just that kind of corruption and cronyism. Political opposition could still slow or blunt it, but the probe is too far along to be derailed altogether. In Argentina, a corresponding attempt to clean out the muck at the heart of the political system hasn’t even begun.

Brazil may have to spend some time in political and economic purgatory; Argentina may be due for a spell in the sunny uplands. But like so many of their regional brethren (just look at Colombia, which was once a basket case, and Venezuela, which once wasn’t), they’ll change places again, in time.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

How rocket scientists solved the exploding airbag problem. Takata’s faulty, and occasionally lethal, airbags have caused the biggest vehicle recall in history. But as Tim Fernholz writes, the company couldn’t work out what was wrong, until it hired a bunch of experts in aerospace propulsion.

The conversational gender gap. Why do some first-date conversations go so horribly wrong? Elizabeth Weingarten interviewed psychologists, counselors, dating experts, and explains that often, men and women have totally different ideas about when to ask questions, and even what conversation is for. (Same-sex couples have fewer such problems.) She offers some tips for avoiding breakdown.

Spotify’s involuntary hipster army. Adam Pasick, who has previously reported on what makes Spotify’s playlists so damn good, delves into how the algorithm stays cutting-edge. It scours the internet to work out what some 50,000 “tastemakers” are listening to, and repackages their choices for Spotify’s audience.

Why perfume commercials are so incredibly awful. Marc Bain takes a tour through the deep, subliminal cues embedded in the lush, soft-focus, unrelentingly bizarre world of fragrance advertising. Weird as they are, he reports, these “psychosexual dream narratives” seem to be quite effective.

The economics—and strategy—behind the rise of Donald Trump. Matt Phillips interviews Branko Milanovic, author of a new book on inequality, about how economic trends have created the alienation that breeds support for Trump and other populists. And Tim Fernholz offers a playbook on how to Trump might, against all common sense, become the first American dictator.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Ground zero in the war against Zika. The only hope right now is to fight the mosquitoes that spread the virus. Stat’s Karen Weintraub describes an expensive experiment in which scientists infected mosquitoes with a bacterium that cuts their lives short. Stat also has moving reports about what it’s like to live with Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly, both of which are now thought, in some cases, to be due to Zika.

The land that no country wants. Bir Tawil is a sliver of land sandwiched between Egypt and Sudan, but claimed by neither country for convoluted historical reasons. It’s drawn adventurers who dream of establishing emirates, republics, or kingdoms. Jack Shenker planted his own flag at Bir Tawil, and wrote about the surreal journey for The Guardian, and about the volatile, delicate nature of borders.

When the Big One hits Houston. ProPublica and the Texas Tribune employ state-of-the-art storm modeling to illustrate how unprepared Houston is for a major hurricane. Their investigation shows how a direct hit could kill thousands, cripple the US oil and gas industry, and destabilize the national economy. On top of all that, NASA’s Johnson Space Center would be completely underwater.

Enjoy your stay at Japan’s robot hotel (beep bloop). At the Henn-na Hotel near Nagasaki, an automated velociraptor will check you in and robot porters carry your luggage. It may sound like a mere novelty, but Gideon Lewis-Kraus in Wired suggests the price and efficiency of robot hotels could change the industry–at least for the masses. (The wealthier prefer a personal touch.)

Seeing the way forward when you learn you’re going blind. Chris Maury writes on Medium how a diagnosis of macular degeneration changed the way he works and lives, but most importantly, helped him envision ways to improve technology for people like himself in a world increasingly reliant on information emitted by slick glass surfaces.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Spotify playlists, and automated hotel greetings to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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