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It’s hard to keep track of who loves freedom.
Take Donald Trump. Months into Hong Kong’s protests, pundits condemned the US president’s silence on the issue. CNN later reported that Trump promised Chinese leader Xi Jinping that, to push trade talks forward, he would not back the pro-democracy movement. He also asked Beijing to investigate two political rivals, senator Elizabeth Warren and former vice president Joe Biden.
Yet it seems that vice president Mike Pence read a recent call for a return to hypocrisy in public life. In an Oct. 24 speech, Pence said Trump “from early on” told the Chinese to back off, and credited him for the withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill at the heart of the conflict—a victory actually paid for in the blood, sweat, and tears of demonstrators.
Pence also righteously criticized the NBA and Nike for bending to Chinese demands. Those accusations fell flat with the knowledge that Trump essentially did the same thing weeks before.
The vice president offered similar rhetoric at a meeting of space agency leaders Monday, calling for cooperation with “freedom-loving nations.” The international crowd got a kick out of that, since Russia remains America’s biggest partner in space—not to mention Trump’s obvious preference for authoritarian leaders over democratically elected ones.
But China, a major space power, was largely excluded from the ostensibly apolitical conference due to wrangling over visas. Beijing said the US had “weaponized” visas, while US conference organizers blamed late applications. Whether this diplomatic gamesmanship is trade war posturing or part of the White House decision to recognize China as a “strategic and economic rival,” in Pence’s words, is hard to say.
China is stifling freedom at home and abroad, and abusing the international trade system. There is much work to be done defending the basic rights of people to live and speak freely. But can a White House unable to decide from week to week whether it supports ethnic cleansing in Syria, or if the brutal state-sponsored murder of a journalist is acceptable, make that case? —Tim Fernholz
5G fail. This week Nokia’s share price saw its steepest drop in decades after the telecom equipment maker announced disappointing quarterly earnings and a dismal outlook. A key factor: the arrival of 5G, which was supposed to be a bonanza for the Finnish company. As Gwynn Guilford writes, Nokia’s struggle to develop 5G products inexpensive enough to win customers reveals the dilemma of market dominance: that maintaining captive sources of revenue eventually makes it hard to stay profitable.
Tarnished shields. Last year, 268 US border officers were arrested on charges ranging from fraud to sexual assault to capital murder. Justin Rohrlich obtained an internal Customs and Border Protection report revealing that criminal misconduct by CBP and Border Patrol employees is at a five-year high. The unredacted 68-page document calls the numbers “unacceptable,” but a hiring surge ordered by Donald Trump will likely make matters worse.
The new science of talent. There’s a world beyond today’s blunt instruments for measuring skills and potential. Will it allow us to screen doctors for empathy? Let India relax its high-stakes testing culture? Give everyone the kind of insight the NFL gets when it comes to assessing potential recruits? Follow our latest series to put these questions to the test.
A rare win. Biogen announced this week that it had a positive late-stage clinical trial for an anti-Alzheimer’s drug. The results are a beacon of hope for the field, which hasn’t seen a new treatment since 2003. But one drug is hardly the end of the disease: Given its complexities, a single therapy won’t work for everyone, writes Katherine Ellen Foley. Researchers need to double down on efforts to treat dementia from all angles.
Why Silicon Valley is obsessed with pirates. “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy,” Steve Jobs told a scrappy band of Apple employees in 1983. In the decades since, pirates emerged as the unofficial mascot of Silicon Valley. As Sarah Todd explains, the metaphor offers insight into the particular style of bold, countercultural entrepreneurialism that shaped contemporary tech culture—and eventually fueled the public backlash against it.
Weighty issue. With their forest homes increasingly fragmented, endangered Asian elephants resort to raiding crops, which pits them against farmers. Last year in Sri Lanka, altercations between elephants and humans killed over 300 pachyderms, and about 70 people. For the New Scientist and Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Rachel Nuwer writes about a method involving electric fences that’s helping beasts and people get along.
There’s discourse, and the Discourse. Starting in 2012, “the Discourse” governed the part of Tumblr prone to arguing over societal issues. Now, posits Nathaniel Friedman in the New Republic, we’re in the golden age of that subculture, which has since moved largely to Twitter, where the US president wields his megaphone and where much havoc is wreaked, tweet by misleading, infuriating, simplistic, addictive tweet.
Prominent pupils. Aside from dominating headlines, Brexit has also focused attention on Eton College, a 580-year-old elite boarding school for boys. Many of the key players in the drama were educated there, including prime minister Boris Johnson and his predecessor David Cameron, who called the original referendum in 2016. The Wall Street Journal reports on the roles played by the “old boys” of Eton in the interminable Brexit struggle.
Disorienting decade. As the 2010s draw to a close, it’s worth pondering what changes the decade has wrought. Katherine Miller, writing for BuzzFeed News, argues that one of the biggest shifts is our altered sense of time, noting the algorithmic timelines adopted by social networks and the ability to stream nearly any media from any era anytime. As she writes, “we operate inside a technological experience that moves forward and back, and pulls you with it.”
Just a little boost. The arguments against doping in the sports world are widely accepted. But some athletes are now experimenting with “neurodoping,” in which mild electrical stimulation to the brain supposedly makes it easier to access energy and strength during competition. Skeptics abound, but with no known health risks, why not? For Outside Magazine, cyclist Alex Hutchinson gives it a spin and ponders the ethical implications.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, pirate flags, and electrode kits to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.