Good morning, Quartz readers!
The World Cup is moving to the knockout stages today and, as is the case when countries face each other in sporting events, the geopolitics off the pitch occasionally spilled onto it.
Germany was knocked out of the World Cup, with the defending champion’s trouble mirroring the tough week the country faced at home. Chancellor Angela Merkel was on the backfoot as she spent most of it battling her interior minister over illegal immigration. The national team’s loss magnified questions over its unity after several of its stars of Turkish descent were seen posing with Turkey’s leader ahead of the World Cup, with Ilkay Gündoğan calling him “my president” to enormous backlash.
England faced off against Belgium in a terse affair on Thursday, at a key moment in EU history as the effects of Brexit are still very much up in the air. At a summit, British prime minister Theresa May smiled awkwardly as she was given a Belgium shirt by her counterpart ahead of the game. (This is the same team, you’ll recall, whose fans were heard screaming, “Fuck off Europe, we’re all voting out!” during the Euros tournament ahead of the Brexit vote.)
To top it off, two Swiss players tried to revive the Kosovo conflict of 1999 in a game against Serbia; the players, both ethnic Albanians, were fined for their actions, as were the Serbs were for suggesting the referee should be put on trial at the Hague. And racist chants were lobbed at Sweden’s Jimmy Durmaz, who was born in Turkey.
Perhaps, then, it’s a good thing that Italy, a soccer superpower, and the US, an actual superpower, failed to qualify for the World Cup, considering the turmoil both are facing at home. Each is wrestling with how to deal with immigration as nationalism sweeps across both countries.
But the cross-pollination of fans in Russia also bred unlikely partnerships as smaller nations succeeded. Mexican fans stormed the South Korean embassy, hoisted the ambassador on their shoulders, and paraded him about town (paywall) when his countrymen managed to defeat Germany—thereby securing Mexico’s survival—even though Korea had nothing to play for but pride.
The world rallied around Egypt and Mo Salah—a rare superstar who is beloved across the globe and is also Muslim–even though the country couldn’t secure a point at the tournament. And fans from Japan and Senegal set an example for the rest of the world, staying behind after their matches to clean up the stadium—win or lose. Many neutral fans from larger soccer superpowers have fallen for countries just supremely happy to be at the World Cup, like minuscule Iceland with their Viking-clapping fans or the joyous Senegalese team.
At a time of increased divisiveness, when more people and politicians are questioning the values of globalization, it’s great to see people across the world put aside their differences and embrace each other. On this occasion, it’s the so-called smaller countries that are showing the world how to do it.—Mike Murphy
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
COBOL blues. In one of our Obsession emails, Justin Sablich breaks down Common Business-Oriented Language, the ancient computer code from 1959 responsible for powering $3 trillion a day of US commerce. Indulge in a brief history of code that powers our banking system, a retelling that includes an odd tombstone and an Australian meltdown.
The history of stress. Hans Selye, the Hungarian-Canadian scientist who gave the world its modern understanding of stress as a biological function, never meant for the word to take on such a negative connotation. Lila MacLellan argues we’re still missing out on some of stress’s benefits because of our misunderstanding of his theories.
Instagram is a load of “pronkstilleven.” Which means “showy still lives,” a kind of painting made by the 17th-century Dutch to show off their style and wealth. As Jenni Avins says, it’s also a good name for many of the pictures that resonate on Instagram, noting that painters like Pieter van Roestraten and Adriaen van Utrecht were really the influencers of their day.
Facial recognition is here to stay. It’s a dual-use technology, meaning its implementation can have positive or negative impact depending on how it’s used. Dave Gershgorn explains why facial recognition’s usefulness to the civilians at Google and Apple makes it even more enticing to the security services.
Brazil’s audacious plan to lift children out of poverty. How do you solve the problem of endemic inequality? Jenny Anderson reports on a wildly ambitious national program that’s set to offer parent coaching to four million low-income pregnant women and their children by 2020.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
How to have a civil discussion about toddler prisons. The Onion tackles the absurd horror of modern American politics with a deadpan set of suggestions, including “Recall that violently rejecting a tyrannical government goes against everything our forefathers believed in” and “Realize that every pressing social issue is solved through civil discourse if you ignore virtually all of human history.”
The hunt for an extinct animal. The last known Tasmanian tiger died in 1936, making the species an iconic victim of humanity’s ecological recklessness. In the New Yorker (paywall), Brooke Jarvis investigates the creature’s history, and the people who desperately seek to prove that we did not wipe it out entirely.
Blockchain isn’t a revolution. Debates around cryptocurrencies and similar technologies are lively—and somewhat misinformed. In this Medium post, Kevin Werbach explains the difference between cryptocurrency, blockchain, and crypto-assets, arguing that we must disentangle the three phenomena before making any judgements.
Who’s faster, humans or horses? Normally, “horseracing” entails teams of riders and steeds competing together, but every year in Wales, the two jockey against each other for the title of faster species. Harry Harris of Vice follows the 21-mile race as over a thousand people and 65 horses strive for glory.
An international digital heist is still underway. This Bloomberg article reads like the plot of a hit thriller (paywall): An advanced cyber-syndicate known as Cabarnak has robbed $1.2 billion from banks across the globe. Now, even with their leader behind bars, as Charlie Devereux, Franz Wild, and Edward Robinson write, new attacks are in progress.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Tasmanian tigers, and lists of the best Dutch influencers of 1874 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 also written by David Wexner and edited by Kabir Chibber.