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When the time came for the five Olympic rings to make their debut at yesterday’s opening ceremony in Sochi, only four showed up. The conspicuous snafu threatened to solidify the perception of an Olympic Games in disarray and a city, once the favored beach retreat of Joseph Stalin, unprepared for a modern event of this scale.
But wasn’t it a foregone conclusion? As soon as Western journalists landed in Sochi, they began airing complaints—about ramshackle hotel rooms, murky tap water, and other inconveniences—that would fit well in the whiny review sections of TripAdvisor. The Twitter account @SochiProblems inevitably emerged to chronicle mishaps, many of them fabricated, for hundreds of thousands of followers. By the end of the week, even complications keeping the torch lit, which any smoker could tell you is just a fact of life, were being interpreted as incompetence.
Yes, these Olympics are still a work in progress. But the criticisms came off as petty, xenophobic, and—worst of all—superficial. From gay rights to political suppression, any number of issues seem more fit for discussion as the world turns its eyes to Russia. Who cares if the paint isn’t dry when, just to the south, a bloody occupation of Georgian territory persists? ”Lesson of Sochi: When hosting a major global event while also aiding an ethnic cleansing campaign abroad, put the reporters in nice hotels,” quipped the Wall Street Journal’s Tom Gara.
This is how the Olympics work: Trivialities must trump geopolitics for the games to go on. Maybe we’re being spoilsports, but it seems a shame that superficial storylines have been the focus so far. Westerners reporting on the spectacle may think it will embarrass Vladimir Putin, but in fact, it’s only likely to reinforce his isolationism. Take, for instance, his supposedly magnanimous release of political prisoners Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Pussy Riot in December: Who doubts that any threats to Putin’s rule will be locked up after the Olympic flame moves on? —Zachary M. Seward
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The embarrassing technicalities keeping India out of the Olympics. Three athletes are forced to compete under the Olympic flag thanks to the myopic vision and misplaced objectives of Indian sporting officials, writes Sharda Ugra.
In the future, we’ll all work less. Angst over the US welfare state distracts from a much bigger trend in the American labor market, argues Tim Fernholz.
What it takes to earn an after-work drink. Quartz’s Beer Index, by Ritchie King and Roberto Ferdman, approximates for 91 countries how long it takes someone making the minimum wage to earn enough to buy a brew at a local bar.
Behold: a cable box people actually like. Comcast, the largest cable operator in the United States, seems to have stemmed cord-cutting by making TV work like it should, writes John McDuling.
Better late than never. On Facebook’s tenth anniversary, Gideon Lichfield finally signed up for the service, reflecting on the privacy concerns that held him back and why they are no longer as relevant.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The history of Soviet sports. On the occasion of the Sochi games, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, presents an exhibition on sport politics in Russia.
Past is present. Massive digital archives will define our era: ”Suddenly we find ourselves living in an online realm where the old is just as easy to consume as the new.”
The state of US defense. Each branch of the military will struggle to define itself—in unique ways—as the country’s longest war comes to an end.
Inside a virtual-money-laundering scandal. “There is no face of bitcoin,” but one of the biggest faces of bitcoin was arrested last month: what it could mean.
How to measure the labor market. A debate over demographics and employment in the US reinforces the fact that you always have to watch the assumptions in your data.
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