Good morning, Q-MHI readers!
The point is approaching in the populist era when left- and right-wing parties become so extreme that they end up meeting, as if someone had grabbed the two ends of the political spectrum and bent it into a loop.
France is already there. For the first time in the country’s modern political history, candidates from both its mainstream parties are bracing to be knocked out of the presidential election, of which the first of two voting rounds is on Sunday.
The two front-runners are from outside the mainstream: far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has lured disenchanted voters from both left and right with her protectionist mantra, and Emmanuel Macron, a pro-market centrist who melts the hearts of urban progressives.
But a close challenger for third place brings the country’s extreme views full circle. In recent weeks, far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a tech-savvy admirer of Mao Zedong and Hugo Chávez, has shot up in the polls. His tirades against free trade and clubby elites are eerily similar to those of his far-right rival. Bankers, Mélenchon said at a campaign rally (paywall), are “parasites” on society who “produce nothing.” In an interview, Le Pen called for a return to “real economies, not Wall Street economies, but rather factories and farmers.”
Both candidates are pro-worker and anti-EU and favor chummier ties with Russia. The only major difference between them boils down to xenophobia. Le Pen, whose fear-mongering implicates French Muslims in the rise of ISIL, wants a blanket ban on immigration, while Mélenchon, born and raised in Morocco, preaches compassion for refugees (link in French), but better control over those who have yet to arrive.
The merging of their ideals speaks to the unraveling of left and right categories everywhere, as voters contend with the forces of globalization in everyday life. In France, the burning question is how to root its cherished culture in a destabilized world. The answer it comes to will transcend borders, setting a course for Europe, global markets, and modern politics for years to come.—Roya Wolverson
SOME THINGS ON Q-MHI WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
The Happiness Experiment. In a special series this week we examine happiness through lenses like economics and evolutionary psychology. Highlights include Nikhil Sonnad on how the Wikipedia page defining happiness has evolved, in a kind of Socratic dialogue, through thousands of edits; Meredith Bennett-Smith on why being grumpy in the workplace can make people more energetic and creative; and Michael Coren on the philosopher who is teaching Silicon Valley moguls to stop trying to optimize their lives.
The South American protestors who took Europe’s space program hostage. A protest movement against conditions in French Guiana blocked satellite launches in an attempt to attract France’s attention—and succeeded. Peter D’Auria reports from Kourou.
The enigma of Bashar el-Assad. Even now, Syria experts and former friends of his cannot fully agree on how the baby-faced, shy opthalmologist became one of the 21st century’s leading villains, as Max de Haldevang discovers.
America explained for foreigners. Wikitravel, the free, crowd-sourced travel guide, offers tips on speaking to women, coping with massive food portions, dealing with the police, and talking about politics. Thu-Huong Ha picks out the gems in a revealing look at the US through the eyes of other cultures.
January 2014-January 2017
Superficially, this can be seen in the color of the state. Satellite imagery compiled by Q-MHI show California, and especially the agriculture-heavy Central Valley, as a deeper shade of green now than at any other time since the beginning of the drought.
California’s six-year drought is finally over. Governor Jerry Brown largely lifted the state of emergency on April 7, but its impact will live on, as David Yanofsky shows in 93 maps and two charts.
How to game your airline. Airlines oversell seats on the expectation that some passengers won’t show up. But what if overbooked passengers band together to make the airline pay? Play our interactive game created by Emily Withrow and Adam Pasick to find out what happens next.
Iran’s remarkable transgender rights policy. The Islamic Republic is actually an accepting place for transgender people to live, as long as they get sex reassignment surgery. Neha Thirani Bagri explores trans life in Iran.
Children are learning about sex through porn. In the internet age, there is little parents can do to control what their children watch. Cassie Werber delves into how governments around the world are struggling to regulate this.
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
The end of Google’s first “moonshot.” Google once aimed to scan every book in the world and make them searchable. James Somers in the Atlantic traces the history of the modern-day Library of Alexandria that became Google Books, and the legal battles from authors and publishers that thwarted it. He writes, “Google did that thing where you ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and forgiveness was not forthcoming.”
The last thing about Rachel Dolezal that you’ll ever need to read. Dolezal is a white woman who famously lied about being—and continues to identify as—black. In a piercing interview with her, black writer Ijeoma Oluo concludes that Dolezal’s efforts to coopt blackness are the ultimate mark of white privilege.
Juicing the juicers. The internet reveled in Bloomberg’s revelation that food-tech startup Juicero’s $400 wifi-enabled juice press was basically pointless: The QR-coded juice packs could be squeezed by hand, serving up a potent metaphor for the tech boom’s glorification of disruptive but unnecessary products. Also: read the note from Juicero’s CEO and make up your own mind.
The shaky future of the blue-blooded crab. The biomedical industry captures about 500,000 horseshoe crabs every year to extract their blue blood, using it to detect the presence of dangerous bacteria in drugs and implants. Caren Chesler visits a crab phlebotomy lab for Popular Mechanics, and explains how, with surging demand and no regulation to speak of, the 450-million-year-old species is now in dangerous decline.
Left to right: Baratov, Dokuchaev, and Sushchin (Courtesy FBI).
How Russia handles its hackers. The US election hack and Yahoo’s massive data breaches were both sponsored by Russia, US intelligence agencies believe. But as Sheera Frenkel reports for Buzzfeed, what makes these hacks hard to pin down is the fluid, shifting relationship between the Russian state and cybercriminals it sometimes employs and sometimes pressures to help do its dirty work.