Sunday Reads: Stop trying to make Fitch happen

Plus: Hiding your blue check

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5 things we especially liked on Quartz

💸 Grading on a curve. The Fitch Rating Agency’s decision to downgrade US government debt from AAA to AA+ came out of the blue—say what you will about America’s fiscal position, it’s better after this spring’s budget deal than it was six months ago. Nate DiCamillo reports that bankers and economists think the new rating isn’t merited on economic fundamentals, but there’s also the question of America’s creaky governance and the potential return of an erratic president Donald Trump in 2024.

🌐 Worldcoin comes to Kenya. The new cryptocurrency launched by OpenAI founder Sam Altman is intended to secure digital privacy for its users by scanning their eyeballs. Faustine Ngila stopped by a Nairobi mall where young people traded iris scans for free Worldcoins—“I need the money to settle some bills, we can talk about privacy later,” one said, but that’s exactly what data security experts (and fans of other crypto models) are worried about.


🐦 Check? Please! If there’s a symbol for the saga of Elon Musk’s Twitter, recently renamed X, it’s the blue verification badge. As Scott Nover explains, the anodyne identity verifier became a source of resentment among the unlabeled, who became free to purchase their checkmarks after Musk’s takeover. But the world has turned again, and try-hard paid users are targets of scorn. Luckily, they now have the option to hide the badge they once sought after.

🎁 Emotional giving. You’re probably familiar with “sadvertising”—tearjerker ads run for good causes—as a potent tool for fundraising. But it turns out other feelings can spark our generosity, too. Julia Malleck takes a look into the minds (and moods) of charitable gift-givers—and finds they all have something in common.


💷 They’re literally printing money over there. A pandemic doesn’t seem like a good time for the cash-printing business—especially since it took us awhile to figure out that covid wasn’t spread via surfaces. But De La Rue, the world’s biggest currency printer, made money (in both senses) hand over fist. Now that demand for crisp new bills to hide under a mattress has waned, the English company is trying to weather its post-pandemic hangover. Samanth Subramanian took a trip to the highly secure Basingstone plant to learn more about the state of the banknote.

5 great stories from elsewhere

🌡️ Heat reading. In 2023, it seems like nearly every day there’s a new headline about the “hottest day ever.” But given that weather records sometimes only date back a couple hundred years, if that, what do these records really mean? Vox consults climatologists and other experts about how historical weather patterns are determined, allowing us to put the current climate records into context.

🫣 Hired to hide. To all ye burnt out office dwellers, you may be envious to learn that there was once a very real profession in 18th century England where rich estate owners paid people to be on-site hermits. Their job responsibilities included: being alone, hanging out in gardens, and contemplating things (extroverts needn’t have applied). Smithsonian tells the fascinating, true history of Britain’s ornamental hermits.

🥤 Sip on this. The most reviled beverage equipment—plastic straws—have been banned in many countries and several US states. Paper and bioplastic alternatives, and sippy lids, have replaced the banished apparatus. But has the change had any impact? A story from Grist explains that though hailed as an environmental success, the anti-straw crusade has actually had mixed results.


🏄‍♀️ Surf’s up. Emma Larbi travels to the beaches of Morocco for Vice to cover the increasing number of women who have chosen to pick up surfing. Contending with negative reactions from the public, financial barriers, and family resistance, Moroccan women and girls are finding the sport a source of joy and freedom. The Moroccan government, as it turns out, is also on board with the trend.

⛺Champing. You’ve heard of glamping, but wait till you try out champing, i.e. church camping. It’s a whole new experience where you can rest in the vicinity of those who are resting eternally. With falling numbers in congregations, churches in the UK have begun offering their spaces as a form of lodging, in exchange for a relatively affordable fee. Feargus O’Sullivan for Bloomberg goes for a cheeky champ, and documents his experience.


What to watch for this week

Gif: Giphy

This week is a numbers game, and that game is: Let’s see what earnings and consumer spending habits have to say about the global economy.

  • Monday: Earnings data will be released for ​​Saudi Aramco, Tyson Foods, and Beyond Meat
  • Tuesday: United Parcel Service, Take-Two, Rivian, Bumble, and Lyft all report earnings
  • Wednesday: Earnings, earnings, earnings: Walt Disney, Sony, Honda
  • Thursday: Big numbers of this day include US inflation data and Alibaba’s earnings

Thanks for reading! Here’s to the week ahead, and don’t hesitate to reach out with comments, questions, feedback, Twitter alternatives, and spider games. Sunday Reads was brought to you by Julia Malleck, Morgan Haefner, Tim Fernholz, Gabriela Riccardi, and Susan Howson.