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Best reads from the week of May 8-14, 2021

The top stories of the week included why the Olympic should be canceled and the DarkSide hack of Colonial Pipeline.

The Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower are illuminated with Olympic colours to mark 100 days countdown to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan
This story was published on our Quartz Daily Brief newsletter, The concise, conversational rundown you need to start your day.
  • Susan Howson
By Susan Howson

News Editor

Published

Good morning Quartz readers,

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) typically makes full replays of its press conferences available to watch on YouTube. But absent from the video of this week’s conference is the moment when a protester posing as a journalist snuck into the (virtual) meeting and yelled, “No Olympics anywhere! Fuck the Olympics!”

The protestor captured a sentiment that’s growing among public health experts, Japanese citizens, opinion writers, and more: The Tokyo Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin July 23, should be canceled.

Cases of Covid-19 are rising in Japan, forcing its government to issue a state of emergency that will last through at least the end of May. Only about 2% of Japan’s population of 126 million is fully vaccinated, and three separate polls taken by Japanese news organizations in the last few weeks found that between 60% and 70% of the country’s citizens want the Olympics nixed. On Friday, the CEO of Japan’s top e-commerce company said hosting the games would be a “suicide mission,” and IOC president Thomas Bach canceled a trip to Japan this week as a result of the state of emergency.

Yet the IOC insists that the Olympics will go on as planned, and it will take more than polls and petitions to sway the organization’s decision. Japan has already invested $25 billion into the games, 80% of which comes from its taxpayers. An estimate from economists at Kansai University revealed that the country could lose up to $41 billion (link in Japanese) if the Olympics are canceled.

If athletes start boycotting, or major countries pull out, that might be enough—but few athletes have broached the topic, and North Korea is the only country to have formally withdrawn. Another group that might move the needle is the games’ broadcast partners and sponsors. But given how much money NBC has spent on the games—$12 billion in combined rights fees for every Olympics between 2012 and 2032—that too seems unlikely.

Still, concerns over the Tokyo Olympics are not going away, especially because public health experts see the current Covid-19 protocols as inadequate. Spectators from outside the country are banned, and participants will be required to show two negative tests before arriving and then will be tested each day. But they will not be required to be vaccinated, nor will they have to quarantine upon arrival. And they will be discouraged, but not barred, from moving freely about the country. —Adam Epstein 

Five things from Quartz we especially liked

Cyber privateers. After hackers caused the largest gasoline pipeline on the US east coast to shut down on May 7, the FBI was quick to point to a suspect: DarkSide, a Russia-based criminal collective that frequently targets US and European companies. Groups like DarkSide are state-sponsored privateers of the digital age, given a fairly free rein in exchange for causing mayhem for Russia’s geopolitical rivals. But as Nicolás Rivero reports, with the Colonial pipeline attack, DarkSide may have gone too far even for its hosts. —Tim McDonnell, climate and energy reporter

Lockdowns 101. From Taipei, Leslie Nguyen-Okwu breaks down the resurgence in cases in Taiwan, where strict border closures, contact tracing, and quarantine policies in the first months of the pandemic helped stave off the kind of crisis that has affected some of its neighbors in Asia. How will one of the world’s only Covid-free havens handle its first lockdown? —Annabelle Timsit, geopolitics reporter 

Anatomy of an enduring TV hit. Never have I watched ABC’s long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, but as the show gets renewed for an 18th season, Adam Epstein has me thinking I should start. Even though Grey’s remains one of the most-watched series on US television, Adam explains that it is the last of a dying breed: a broadly appealing network drama amid a sea of reality shows and streaming content. —Kira Bindrim, executive editor 

Working from home isn’t conducive to gossip or teasing. Good-natured ribbing and harmless gossip are both important ways of bonding with colleagues. But as Lila MacLellan explains, it’s harder to interpret intent over Slack or email, and people are understandably worried about innocent messages getting blown out of proportion, screenshotted, and forwarded to the boss. All this means that when we’re working from home, we’re also playing it safe. —Sarah Todd, senior reporter

A digital continental divide. Digital privacy and security may seem like a universal right, but like so many aspects of our world today, they are controlled by multinational corporations. As Nicolás Rivero illuminates, your online privacy depends on your device’s operating system—and while Apple may be the preference in wealthy countries, most of the developing world runs on Android, and thus must wait for Google to bestow the freedoms enjoyed elsewhere. —Oliver Staley, business and culture editor

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One membership thing that made us 💉

The technology behind Covid-19 vaccines could spur advances in treating cancer, HIV, and rare diseases. Let’s take a look at genetic medicine, by the digits:

2: Vaccines using mRNA that have emergency use authorization in the US

9: Precision genetic therapies approved for use in the US

4: CAR-T therapies currently on the market, all to treat blood cancers

~4,000: Receptors our cells have, to which genetic drugmakers have to match proteins on the outside of their drugs

100s: Small biotech companies focused on delivering genetic medicine that have popped up globally since 2010

10: Vaccines for infectious diseases biotech company Moderna currently has in the works

$2.1 million: Lifetime cost of Spinraza, a genetic therapy approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, for a single patient

✦ Our field guide to the age of genetic medicine explains how drugs that tweak our DNA will usher us into a new era. And in that future, you’re going to want a Quartz membership to keep you up to speed. Try one free for a week.

We’re obsessed with Eurovision

A gif from an old Eurovision of four singers with the two men ripping off the women's longer skirts to reveal short ones underneath.
Image copyright: Giphy

Pop meets politics. With over 1,500 songs in its 60-year canon—and back in action next week after its first-ever canceled year—the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is one of the world’s biggest media spectacles. The competition draws hundreds of millions of viewers annually to watch more than 40 countries compete. It’s not just an absurdly fun time. In many ways, Eurovision is the history of Europe writ large in popular culture. In others, it’s an annual snapshot of the state of contemporary society. Admit it, you’re curious.

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Five things from elsewhere that made us smarter

Fighting words. Prepare to be awestruck by the late Choung Tai Chee, a naturally stylish tae kwon do champion who befriended Hollywood stars. His son, novelist Alexander Chee, remembers him in GQ with reflections on his tough and loving dad’s lessons for surviving war and hunger in occupied Korea and racist bullies in the US. Chee brings readers inside the anguish of specific questions about the violent threats Asian Americans face today. —Lila MacLellan, Quartz at Work reporter

The After Times. The 12-plus months of pandemic life might have you pining for the Before Times. Don’t let that blind you to the less than enticing parts of pre-Covid-19 life, writes Arthur C. Brooks in the Atlantic. He recommends listing what you did and did not like about your life both before and during the pandemic—and ditching what you didn’t like. —Ana Campoy, deputy finance and economics editor

Trent Alexander-Arnold is the model employee. He’s a young English soccer player who’s responsible for getting me out of my seat and making me dance across the room on several occasions. He is also an example, notes Jonathan Liew in the Guardian, of how new talent—in any industry—can be formed, maintained, mismanaged, and eventually, allowed to shine even in the most challenging circumstances. —Hasit Shah, news editor

Treasure right where you most expect it. Stuck together during the coronavirus lockdown, humorist David Sedaris rediscovers his partner of 30 years. “When not reading or cooking, Hugh goes to his studio and stares out the window, high on paint fumes, I’m guessing,” he notes. “Pearls,” the gem of an essay published in the New Yorker, is a tender and encouraging meditation on the many shapes love can take during a long relationship. —Anne Quito, design reporter

A hunger for normalcy. Working from home saves time and money, but we tend to forget about those who truly suffer when the office is empty. I refer, of course, to the giant human-eating snake who lives in the ductwork. The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri consults an expert who swears they are not one such reptile—nor a CEO who profits from an office full of people—about how we should go back to work with all available ssssspeed. —Susan Howson, email editor

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, love stories, and Eurovision votes to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Susan Howson.

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