PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Quantum Computing Nears a Quantum Leap (Maria)

The author writes, “A new class of powerful computers is on the brink of doing something important: actual useful work. Quantum computers have the potential to solve unsolvable problems and break unbreakable encryption, but getting them to the point of reliability remains an enormous engineering challenge. But the companies — and countries — that figure out quantum will take the lead in a new era of computing. Quantum computers — which harness the weird and difficult physics of the quantum world — have experienced a number of notable improvements in recent weeks.”

Why the US Is a Failed Democratic State (Gerry)

From The New York Review: “The State Department is hosting a democracy summit this week. Representatives from around the world will assemble, virtually, ‘to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal.’ For the United States, the state.gov webpage declares, ‘the summit will offer an opportunity to listen, learn, and engage with a diverse range of’ democratic actors. America will also, the page continues, in what is certainly the money quote of the whole conference, ‘showcase one of democracy’s unique strengths: the ability to acknowledge its imperfections and confront them openly and transparently, so that we may, as the United States Constitution puts it, “form a more perfect union.”’ I’m not certain who precisely is going to be showcasing our own ‘imperfections.’ The agenda online is incomplete. But it is right that we ‘confront’ these ‘imperfections’ ‘openly and transparently.’ Because what’s most striking about America’s understanding of our own democracy is our ability to see what’s just not there. We are not a model for the world to copy. The United States is instead a failed democratic state.” 

One Way to Reform the House of Representatives? Expand it. (DonkeyHotey)

The authors write, “Americans observing the members of the House of Representatives in action generally don’t end up wishing there were more of them. The House is dysfunctional and intensely polarized. Its members often seem like the embodiment of what has gone wrong in our politics, and the institution is deeply unpopular. And yet, for just that reason, it is time to expand the House. The framers of the Constitution assumed we would do that regularly, but we have now failed to do so for more than a century. In the first Congress, there were just 65 House members, each of whom represented about 30,000 Americans. As the nation grew, the House expanded by statute after every decennial census throughout the 19th century. It reached its current size in 1913, when each of its 435 members represented about 210,000 people. But the number of members has not increased since then, even as the country’s population has more than tripled. Each member now represents about 760,000 Americans. And that has changed the very meaning of representation in Congress.”

‘Women Are Capable of Doing This’: The Doctor Defying Local Laws to Provide Safe Abortions by Sea or Mail (Dan)

The author writes, “It’s Sunday morning, less than a week after the US supreme court signaled that it was ready to pave the way for new restrictions on abortion rights in the US, and I’m on the phone with a Dutch abortion provider who has watched the proceedings from half a world away. Dr Rebecca Gomperts tells me that she’s shocked with the situation in Texas, which recently enacted a near total ban on legal abortion — not because the state government passed the law, but because doctors in the state are largely complying with it. ‘I would have thought that all these clinics would have said, “We’ll just do it,”’ she tells me.”

The Webb Space Telescope Will Rewrite Cosmic History. If It Works. (Sean)

The author writes, “The James Webb Space Telescope has been designed to answer many of the core questions that have animated astronomers over the past half-century. With a $10 billion price tag, it is one of the most ambitious engineering initiatives ever attempted. But for it to achieve its potential — nothing less than to rewrite the history of the cosmos and reshape humanity’s position within it — a lot of things have to work just right.”

Police Hunt Burglar Who Packed 15 Royal Pythons Into Wheeled Holdall and Made Off Through Cemetery in Warwickshire (Dana)

The author writes, “Police are trying to find 15 royal python snakes which were stolen during a burglary. The reptiles were put into a wheeled holdall and snatched from a property in Rugby, Warwickshire.”