The most expensive Winter Olympics in history has kicked off in Sochi. The details of the Opening Ceremony were kept largely under wraps, and will show on U.S. television Friday night. For those who aren’t worried about spoilers, The Guardian live-blogged the event. The head of the Games insists that Sochi will be “the safest place on Earth” in the coming weeks, but even as they officially began, so too did the threats and fears — a Sochi-related hijacking scare on a Turkish airline caused an emergency landing.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The Obama administration has condemned Russia for disseminating a private conversation between two U.S. diplomats about the crisis in Ukraine. In the discussion, Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, appears to dismiss the role of the EU with some highly undiplomatic language. The recording was posted on YouTube on Thursday and tweeted by at least one Russian official. Nuland has reportedly apologized, and while the incident is unlikely to damage the strong relationship between the EU and U.S., it has further strained Russian-American ties.
More than 2,000 people were evacuated from downtown Hong Kong after the discovery of a World War II explosive at a construction site. Bomb disposal officers working with police managed to deactivate the device without having to carry out a controlled explosion, which could have caused substantial damage. Cold temperatures didn’t help the delicate efforts. The bomb, weighing almost a ton and containing 450kg of explosives, is believed to have been dropped by the U.S. in 1945 during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.
Promoting freedom of faith is a central goal of U.S. foreign policy, according to the President. In his speech at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, Obama focused on threats to religious freedom around the world. He highlighted the imprisonment of American missionaries in Iran and North Korea, and criticized the governments of China, Egypt and Sudan. He also discussed how his faith had led him to public service and said he was looking forward to meeting Pope Francis, whom he praised for his egalitarian views.
Protests over transport costs turn violent in Rio. (The Guardian).
UN welcomes chance to evacuate civilians from Syrian city of Homs. (DW).
World Bank discusses energy impact of water shortages. (The Guardian).
Israel breaks up Palestinian protest camp. (CNN).
Italian authorities rescue more than 1,100 asylum seekers off coast. (Al Jazeera).
Every summer, the Museum of Modern Art introduces a new design to its outdoor pavilion. This year a group of Brooklyn architects will build a series of sinuous towers made with bricks grown from mycelium, the thread-like underground section of fungus. “Mycotecture” has been previously used to make ultra-sustainable packaging and insulation. The towers will not only filter the summer heat, they will also be organic, sustainable, and best of all, compostable. With all that going for it, the pavilion will no doubt be welcomed as a champignon exhibit.
Researchers in Texas and Sweden report that teens who don’t get enough sleep are four times more likely to develop depression than those who do. The circadian rhythm changes during puberty, making it difficult for teenagers to catch enough Z’s. Seventy percent of high schoolers don’t get the recommended 9-10 hours. Surprisingly, the research shows that sleep shortage, lack of exercise and excessive Internet use are as likely to cause depression as drug misuse and truancy. Teens now have the perfect retort to accusations of laziness — sleeping in is medically advised.
Classical composer Mamoru Samuragochi was dubbed the “Japanese Beethoven” when he continued to produce mesmeric compositions long after losing his hearing. But Samuragochi — who became deaf at the age 35 — has admitted that he has not composed his own music since 1996. Music teacher Takashi Niigaki has come forward as the true source of some of Samuragochi’s most-celebrated works, including the ”Hiroshima Symphony No. 1,” dedicated to those who lost their lives during the atomic bombing in 1945. Samuragochi has apologized through his lawyer, saying he is “deeply sorry” for betraying fans.
Sotheby’s auction house in London has sold Camille Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee De Printemps for a staggering $32.5 million. Under the hammer, the artwork enjoyed fast-paced bidding, quickly exceeding its $11.5-$18 million estimate and eventually selling for almost five times the price of Pissarro’s next-most valuable work. Once owned by prominent German-Jewish art collector Max Silberberg, the work had to be sold when the Nazis rose to power. Sotheby’s suggested that the painting’s history would increase its value, and described the piece as “one of the greatest Impressionist works” it had auctioned in the last decade.
There’s no doubt that professional athletes are physically much fitter than the average Joe, but top performers have also been found to be more attractive. In a study of Tour de France cyclists, biologist Erik Postma asked participants to rate the attractiveness and masculinity of riders on a scale of one to five. He presented their portraits without disclosing how well each athlete had performed. Postma discovered that the 10 percent of riders who performed best in the Tour scored 25 percent higher than the 10 percent of riders who came in last.