Weekend edition—US-Iran tension, African innovators, the “nice” trap 

Good morning, Quartz readers!

It bears reminding that the US is the original aggressor in the current conflict with Iran.

First, a little background: In 2015, a half-century of tensions began to soften when the Obama administration, against many odds, struck a deal with Iran. The UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China (hardly the most agreeable bunch) all signed on as well. The US and its allies would lift economic sanctions, and Iran would halt any nefarious nuclear production. For a brief shining moment, the world felt a little more peaceful.

Then the US elected Donald Trump and everything went back to the way it was. The president reinstated sanctions, violating and effectively canceling the Iran deal. Trump’s actions sparked a series of back-and-forth microaggressions that taken together have brought the two countries to the edge of war. It all got particularly serious last weekend when Yemeni rebels, aligned with Iran and almost certainly with its help, launched sophisticated drone strikes on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields. Now the Pentagon is drawing up military responses.

Breaching the Iran deal, however, was just the latest US betrayal of Iran. The original sin took place in 1953, when the CIA organized a coup against Iran’s democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The popular prime minister had nationalized the country’s oil industry, wresting control of it from British petroleum companies. The response was hardly proportional.

The US helped the country’s king centralize power. His reign was marked by corruption and the crushing of political dissent. That behavior sparked the Iranian Revolution, which led to the rise of the Islamic Republic. The US and Iran have jostled ever since.

There will be a chance to ease tensions next week when the leaders of both countries attend the UN General Assembly in New York. (Sign up for a special-edition Quartz newsletter covering it.) But as with that CIA-backed coup of 1953, withdrawing from the Iran deal has empowered Iran’s hardliners and marginalized its moderates.

The fastest way to end this would be for Trump to swallow his pride and adhere to the 2015 deal. That, however, seems unlikely. —Pete Gelling

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Fighting addiction with connection. We may be hyper-connected by technology, but we are increasingly disconnected from one another, fueling widespread loneliness, isolation, and opioid epidemics. Jenny Anderson reports on a radical new approach to rehab, one centered on building authentic relationships for people who are dealing with addiction—and plenty who aren’t. The key is learning (or relearning) how to communicate in meaningful ways, and having plenty of opportunities to practice the skill.

Delivering success. What would happen to delivery companies like DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats if they were forced to reclassify their contract workers as employees under a bill signed into law this week in California? Alison Griswold takes a look at how delivery companies that use employees, including global parcel stalwart UPS, make the model work.

Long odds, local obstacles. Entrepreneurs and innovators face challenges wherever they operate. But in Africa, those challenges are often more fundamental than elsewhere: poor electricity supply, for example, or inadequate infrastructure. This year’s Quartz Africa Innovators list includes individuals who are taking matters into their own hands. Involved in everything from hydroponics to fashion to genomics, they show fresh thinking in nearly all aspects of life on the continent.

Cloak-and-dagger. China has long sought to acquire sensitive US military aerospace technology, and its agents in America try to stay hidden from authorities tasked with keeping export-controlled components from leaving the country. Drawing from a sealed federal complaint they obtained, as well as interviews with federal prosecutors, Justin Rohrlich and Tim Fernholz provide a detailed look at one of these secretive efforts, which entailed a cat-and-mouse-style undercover operation.

The problem with being nice at work. When women are friendly and warm at work, they’re often viewed as less competent—while women known for their competence are considered difficult and cold. Sarah Todd explains how this double bind is rooted in a culture that associates kindness with femininity and weakness—a bias that’s made contemporary work culture less functional, less fair, and ultimately less human.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Pulling the strings. Amazon has plenty of critics. One, a US nonprofit called the Free & Fair Markets Initiative, says it aims to raise awareness about “troubling trends across the economic landscape that undermine competition and growth.” It doesn’t list its funders, but according to James V. Grimaldi in the Wall Street Journal, they include Walmart, Oracle, and shopping mall owner Simon Property Group—all fierce rivals of the tech giant.

Confusion in the cockpit. In addition to technology flaws, inadequately prepared pilots were a key problem in the fatal 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. As William Langewiesch writes for the New York Times Magazine, the world has “a growing population of more than 300,000 airline pilots of variable and largely unpredictable skills.” That favors Airbus’s pilot-proof—rather than Boeing’s pilot-centric—approach to designing planes.

It’s gas, gas, gas. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas typically associated with the planet’s warming, but researchers are turning their attention to another one: methane. Levels of the gas, which has a more pronounced heating effect than CO2, are rapidly but mysteriously escalating—they’re literally and figuratively atmospheric. Reuters followed researchers to the Arctic Circle to witness them trying to find clues as to what’s behind the rise and what can be done to stop it.

Barely covered. Recently many Americans who thought they had comprehensive health insurance have found out they were wrong. Facing insurmountable hospital bills, some are suing the brokers who sold them their policies—and the platforms where the products were listed—for consumer fraud and negligent misrepresentation. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, many of the problems trace back to the Trump administration’s moves to weaken the Affordable Care Act—with slick operators taking full advantage.

Thought experiment. China is already ranked among the worst countries for journalists to operate in. But next month, the government will begin testing about 10,000 editors and reporters on their knowledge of president Xi Jinping’s political thinking, reports William Zheng in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. The program will go nationwide at some point, and press cards—essential for journalists in the country—will be issued only to those who pass the exam.

Correction: Yesterday’s newsletter stated the Nintendo Switch Lite can slide into a dock for TV gameplay. It cannot. 

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Xi Jinping maxims, and fully employed delivery drivers to hi@qz.com. Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.