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Foreign Policy January - February 2017

FOREIGN POLICY is the premier, award-winning magazine of global politics, economics, and ideas. Our mission is to explain how the world works -- in particular, how the process of global integration is reshaping nations, institutions, cultures, and, more fundamentally, our daily lives.

United States
Foreign Policy
6 Issues

in this issue

1 min

KEVIN VAN AELST “Why are ships and boats referred to as ‘she’? Is R2-D2 male, or was that just the assumption that I made as a kid? Siri’s voice can now be switched easily to male, but why is the default female? These are some of the questions I asked myself as I put together the images. I still imagine machines like my laptop, my camera, and my thermostat as having brains inside their circuitry, and I have thought about the people who built those brains. Now I am wondering what kinds of identities and personalities devices are meant to have and what that says about the future. I like the idea of programmers making gender decisions—whether machines are male or female—as eff ortlessly and perhaps as arbitrarily as flipping a…

3 min
the mothers

In the foothills of the Chinese Himalayas, a matriarchy reigns. Straddling Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, Lugu Lake is a home of the Mosuo, an ethnic minority of around 40,000 people. For generations, women like Asa Nuja (left), 69, have been the heads of their Mosuo households, responsible for passing down property and family names. Children are bound to their mothers, who can change partners as they wish. Men may visit their current spouses only at night—a tradition known as “walking marriages.” Today, though, an influx of Han Chinese to the region and the flight of younger Mosuo from their villages are eroding an ancient way of life. Asa Nuja’s daughters have rejected walking marriages, choosing to leave their family home to wed Han Chinese men and commit to more traditional partnerships. German…

3 min
the needle exchanger marta nascimento

1 Cellphone I give our work number to anyone who wants it. Users call when they need new needles or a safe place to stay the night. One of my patients used to call frequently, threatening suicide. Eventually he went to an addiction rehabilitation program. 2 Pants We encourage users to collect their discarded material, but we help them. I always cover my legs when picking up needles to keep from getting stabbed. In summer, I wear loose satin trousers to stay cool. In winter, I prefer leggings or jeans. 3 Safety vest This helps users recognize me when it’s dark. I have to be careful, though, because police look out for it, too. Even though personal drug use is not a crime, users complain about police brutality. I try my best to avoid meeting…

1 min
visual statement

“American ideals are in tatters, with the rich living in policed penthouses and the poor against a backdrop of drought, disease, and poisoned water. Donald Trump was elected on a post-fact wave of anger to sort it all out, but he only aims to divide and profit from the scrapheap that Earth is fast becoming. His simplistic, violent rhetoric originates in his self-perception as a king. He believes that corporate might is an absolute right— no matter the destructive impact corporations have on the planet and its people. Will such an outrageous, belligerent soul ever compromise or embrace cooperation? Because he likely won’t, resistance is required. As Walt Whitman, the great American poet of democracy, wrote: “Unscrew the locks from the doors!/ Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!/ Whoever…

3 min
the slave insurance market

RECENT PORTRAYALS of American slavery— from 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained to Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams and Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton—have emphasized the brutal violence on cotton plantations in the years preceding the Civil War. What they miss is that during the same period, slaves that were engaged in other enterprises developed skills that placed them at the heart of industrial capitalism. Especially after the slave trade was outlawed in 1808, planters found ways to keep human bondage profitable, including smuggling, controlled breeding, and renting slaves to business owners. This last option became especially pervasive in Virginia and the port cities of the Ohio River and Atlantic Coast. A slew of industries— from blacksmithing and carpentry to largescale railroad construction, coal mining, and steamboat operations—were fortified…

5 min
fishy business

Performance- Enhancing Jolts WHILE TRAINING FOR the Rio Olympics last year, a few athletes donned headsets that zapped their brains. The Halo Sport, a $700 gadget that became available to general consumers in the fall, looks like a fancy pair of headphones that wouldn’t seem out of place in a gym. But rubbery electrodes tucked into the headband press against the top of the wearer’s head and send an electrical current through the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls voluntary movement. The stimulation, when sustained for 20 minutes, strengthens the neural connections between the brain and muscles. Initial research by the company indicates that when athletes later enter competition, they have souped-up motor memory. Elite athletes, including NFLlinebackers and Olympic sprinters, have endorsed the Halo Sport, proudly saying that…