Good morning, Quartz readers!
The Winter Olympics are now officially underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after an opening ceremony marked by extreme chilliness—actual and metaphorical.
These games are the biggest ever, with more than 2,900 athletes from 92 countries and territories (including six new ones, and unusually high participation from Africa). And they are certainly the most diplomatically fraught Olympics the world has seen in a while, coming after tense months of North Korean weapons tests and hawkish tweets from Donald Trump that set the world on edge.
Last night, the two Koreas closed out the opening parade of nations by marching under one flag. That display of unity comes after sustained overtures made by South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in. For months, the North seemed uninterested. It was only at the start of this year, and after many additional rounds of sanctions, that Kim Jong-un finally accepted the olive branch.
What can we hope for from these games—and after them?
The run-up to the event has been marked by the competing agendas of the nations whose athletes will be battling each other on the snow and ice.
There was the “state-promulgated sexism” of North Korea, whose delegation includes cheerleaders and a female orchestra that marched off a ship in matching winter coats. The color? Red, of course. Oh, and the North decided the eve of the games’ opening was the perfect time to hold a military parade.
There was US vice president Mike Pence’s warning that even though he was attending the opening ceremony, he wasn’t going to enjoy himself (or something like that). Instead, he’d be treating the occasion as work, a chance to send a message to North Korea that the time for “strategic patience” is over.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, there was the realization of the divide between an older generation who may still dream of reconciliation and younger people who are more cynical. Many in South Korea are uneasy over the unified team—and annoyed at the fact that some of their female Olympians will lose playing time to ice hockey players from across the DMZ.
It might seem unrealistic to imagine that the coming together of athletes from these nations at what some are calling the “Peace Games” can mean much, in the long run, for tensions in the region. And yet, last night’s opening ceremony was in itself a diplomatic achievement. Is it really all that foolish to pin some hope on moments of shared human transcendence offered by the twisting back flips of aerial acrobats, heart-stopping ski jumps, or the impossible perfection of a young figure skater’s triple axel?—Tripti Lahiri
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Putin’s controversial opponent makes a curious campaign stop. Most presidential candidates polling at 1% with six weeks until the vote wouldn’t decide to go for a love-in with their country’s biggest geopolitical rival. Not Ksenia Sobchak. In her room at Manhattan’s Four Seasons hotel, the socialite turned journalist turned politician talked Max de Haldevang through her six-year plan to upend Russian politics.
What do Syrian freedom fighters, Catalonian anarchists, and Korean gangsters have in common? Bitcoin, of course. Amir Taaki was an early bitcoin programmer who went dark, reappearing last year to reveal that he had been fighting ISIL in northern Syria. He spoke with Joon Ian Wong from Barcelona, where he is founding an institute for hackers aiming to overthrow the nation-state system (funded by cryptocurrency, naturally). While he was at it, Joon also got in touch with an anonymous Korean crypto-hustler who explained how he uses informal money-transfer systems and mafia connections to make easy cash arbitraging bitcoin.
The Indian government’s months-long struggle to curb cryptocurrencies. The need to regulate crypto has been a topic of open debate in capitals and central banks around the world. India, report Anwesha Ganguly and Nupur Anand, is talking tough—but hasn’t figured out how to walk the walk. Officials recognize the impracticality of a full ban, but don’t want to legitimize the assets with regulation, either. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi’s finance minister seems to want the most unlikely outcome of all: for crypto to just go away.
The Koreas marched into the Olympics together, but they’re still at war. Many South Koreans will remember, reports Steve Mollman, that the North “blew up a passenger plane ahead of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul because its demands to co-host the games hadn’t been met.” 60,000 people a day will be working in Pyeongchang to secure the games. As it turns out, getting athletes from the North to participate is a kind of security measure in itself—insurance against another rogue action.
The fight for gender equality is on. How do we get to a world where men and women have truly equal opportunities? We start by listening to women. In part one of Quartz’s year-long project, How We’ll Win, reporter Leah Fessler interviewed 50 visionary women, ranging from Tammy Duckworth to The Chi‘s Lena Waithe, and Jean Liu of Chinese ride-sharing service Didi Chuxing. They discuss the best advice they’ve ever received, their personal career lows, and what men can do to help create an even playing field. Looking for inspiration? Heed venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton: “I didn’t come here to get your scraps. I didn’t come here to get your pity or your charity. I came here to go toe-to-toe with you, head-to-head with you, and to take it all.”
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Water wars. The Wonderful Company owns 180,000 acres of of pomegranates, almonds, pistachios, and oranges in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley. Owners Stuart and Lynda Resnick sit atop a $4.5 billion private empire that controls its workers’ livelihoods and the fate of nearby towns. But the world’s largest irrigated farmers can’t control the thing they most desperately need: water. For California Sunday magazine, Mark Arax investigates how far the Wonderful Company is willing to go to keep its orchards flowering.
Demographics, automation, and inequality could dramatically reshape our world in the 2020s and beyond. A new report from Bain & Company looks at the future of the labor market and see a massive economic disruption on the horizon. Karen Harris, Austin Kimson, and Andrew Schwedel believe automation alone could erase 20% to 25% of jobs, hitting low and middle income workers the hardest, perpetuating a cycle that could lead to the return of 0% interest rates. Read on for guidance on how to adjust to a global business environment that now only “veers between extremes.”
Morgan Stanley’s CEO gives himself an A-minus. Australian-born Jamie Gorman was a McKinsey consultant turned Wall Street executive when he was tapped to replace John Mack in 2010. His first mission was to revamp the firm to become one of the winners of the post-financial-crisis banking industry. In an interview with Erik Schatzker for Bloomberg, Gorman surveys his kingdom and the global markets, giving some hints at what he believes the years ahead hold for both.
The Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang will only be used four times before being torn down. That’s good, according to Joe Eaton at CityLab. Hosting the games routinely costs countries billions of dollars—and that’s before factoring in the inevitable overruns. Most cities and host sites are left with hulking ruins that rapidly deteriorate into eyesores. With the economic boost of the games a dubious proposition at best, is it time to end the roadshow and find permanent host locations for the Winter and Summer Olympics?
Why the Brazilian rainforest keeps disappearing. In a word, development. Despite massive efforts to curb it, reports Stephanie Nolen for the Globe and Mail, “a chunk bigger than Prince Edward Island vanished last year alone.” This deeply reported piece is arranged around a drive down BR-163, the highway that “cuts a brutal path through Brazil’s conflicting ambitions: to transform itself into an economic powerhouse and to preserve the Amazon as a bulwark against climate change.”
Read Bill Gates’s new favorite book
The billionaire philanthropist has flirted with comics and graphic novels, writes Thu-Huong Ha, but he’s back to Big Ideas with Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Pinker argues that the world is happier and freer now than it has ever been, thanks to the Enlightenment ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress. The perceived bleakness and regression represented by wealth inequality, civil rights violations, tribalism, and Donald Trump, argues Pinker, shouldn’t distract from the progress humans have made overall.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, gold medals, and, why not, bitcoin, to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day, or download our apps for iPhone and Android. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Paul Smalera.