Saturday, the 10th of February
As you read this issue of inkl's Weekly Wrap in your warm surrounds spare a thought for the excitable souls who have signed up to attend the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics... in a specially-built outdoor stadium where the temperature is -20°C.

Coverage of the Winter Games is usually not a patch on the Summer Games. But this year may be different.
Faster, Higher, Stronger, Colder. PHOTO: AFP
The Other Games - Here we go again. 2,952 athletes from 92 countries (mostly the cold ones, with some notable exceptions) have gathered in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 23rd Winter Olympics. Here athletes will hurl themselves at terrifying speeds down pristine white slopes, soar through the air against breathtaking backdrops, and glide across vitreous ice as they compete in 102 different events. And hundreds of millions of people around the world will watch, cheer and tear up at the glory and the spectacle of Olympic competition.

According to the International Olympic Committee over the coming fortnight we'll see "the best in international cooperation and friendly rivalry". We may indeed: Koreans from both sides of the demilitarised zone are marching (or will have marched by the time you read this) under a single flag at the Opening Ceremony. It is only the third time that the unification flag (a blue Korea on a white background) has been used in the last 30 years.

The "Olympic Spirit" - Given that the United States (a South Korean ally) was threatening North Korea with nuclear annihilation (and vice versa) just a few short months ago, the thawing of relations between North and South has been an astonishing development. North Korean athletes will not only compete in a variety of sports, but most importantly will also contribute ice hockey players to a joint Korean team. It will be a truly special sight to see a unified Korean sports team take to the ice.

Alongside the North Korean athletes and a 230-woman-strong cheering squad, some high-ranking officials will also be in attendance. Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, has been granted leave to watch the Games (sanctions against her travel have been waived). There are high hopes that she will take part in unofficial negotiations on the sidelines of the Games. 

But progress is slow on the Korean peninsula where no sign of detente can exist without a countervailing show of force. Just yesterday the wide boulevards of North Korea's capital were flooded with tens of thousands of soldiers, tanks and missile launchers in a typically bellicose parade. To top it all off, South Korean security services are working around the clock to prevent cyber attacks from their hacker opposites on the other side of the border. 

Left out in the cold - Of course, it wouldn't be an international sporting competition without a huge doping scandal. The Russian Federation has been banned from competing at the Pyeongchang Games because of a long and well-detailed state-sponsored doping program. So 100 Russians were scheduled to compete under an Olympic (rather than their national) flag. But just this week the IOC upheld bans on 47 of these athletes. This most recent clash between the IOC and the peak sporting tribunal, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, has once again revealed deep flaws in the global anti-doping effort.

Put simply, the blame doesn't rest solely with the Russians. The IOC is perpetually mired in controversies ranging from corruption to complicity in doping scandals. It is an archaic institution that saps host cities of wealth and rarely delivers on its economic promises. Even now there are several international investigations into the (plainly corrupt) bidding process for the Olympics. 

A kind word - For the organisers on the ground, for whom trouble has already begun. 1,200 security personnel were discharged from their duties after they fell sick with a strain of Norovirus. Officials are working frantically to keep the illness out of the Olympic Village. And remember, enjoy the Winter Games while you can. Climate change is thinning out an already short list of suitably snowy host cities. 
This is what a "correction" looks like, apparently. PHOTO: Washington Post
Global market rout - It seems like only yesterday we were covering a booming US equity market and asking how long the party would last. Well this week may have provided an answer: not long. A report predicting that soaring company profits would be allocated to higher wages (and thus raise the risk of inflation) was all it took to unbalance the US market last week. Since then volatility has been the word of the hour. The S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite all suffered body blows this week. The Dow dropped 1,000+ points on Monday, and then again on Thursday, wiping out all the gains made this year. It's a 10% drop from the record high of just a month ago.

Finance heads describe this phenomenon as a 'correction'; a period of realignment that occurs when an overvalued market builds up too much steam. But that is usually a drawn-out affair, and quite different from the brisk and violent drops we've witnessed this week. A second set of tremors rattled indexes again later in the week as the Bank of England forecast an earlier and larger interest rate rise than had been expected. This led to a domino effect across the world with Asian markets hit the worst. China's relatively stable two-year winning streak was snapped and it too is headed towards a 10% drop.
Turning the capital to rubble. PHOTO: Al Jazeera
Bloodletting in Ghouta - This has been an utterly catastrophic week in Syria. Fighters and civilians alike are being slaughtered in a rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus. Indiscriminate shelling and Russian airstrikes have extinguished at least 220 civilian lives in just four days. The horrors being inflicted upon the men, women and children of Eastern Ghouta would qualify as war crimes - even with the strictest definition of the term. 

The 400,000 residents of Ghouta have stubbornly resisted Bashar al-Assad's forces since the beginning of the war. Consequently their home has been the site of multiple chemical weapons attacks (including the deadliest in decades; a Sarin rocket attack in 2013 that killed over 1,000 civilians). Ironically, Eastern Ghouta was named one of Syria's de-escalation zones over a year ago.

In Deir ez-Zor province the US-backed (and Kurdish-dominated) Syrian Democratic Forces were involved in a rare clash with regime troops. A misguided regime assault on SDF positions prompted a ruthless response that killed over 100 attackers. Only one SDF soldier was injured.

Also this week, international opinion turned against the Turkish assault on Afrin after it was revealed that Ankara has recruited ex-ISIS fighters in its campaign against the Kurds. Lastly, the two remaining British-born ISIS executioners known as 'the Beatles' were captured by the SDF in the North of Syria.
A perilously tilting tower in Taiwan. PHOTO: AFP
  1. A major earthquake struck the Taiwanese city of Hualien; 10 people died (many in the hotel above) with 7 more still missing
  2.  A political crisis unfolded in the Maldives this week as President Abdulla Yameen imprisoned dissenting judges
  3. Samsung heir Jay Y. Lee was freed from prison after a controversial decision from an appellate court
  4. The United States government shut down (again) after bipartisan opposition derailed budget negotiations
  5. German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally stitched her coalition together after making significant cabinet concessions
  6. The International Criminal Court began preliminary investigations into the Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte's barbaric drug war
  7. The L.A. Times was sold to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong following a period of conflict between staff and management
  8. Embattled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange suffered another setback when a British court upheld his arrest warrant
  9. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu conceded that he will be indicted in a pair of anti-corruption cases that have netted key allies
  10. UK white nationalists were left red-faced when it was revealed that the first humans to habitate the island were coloured
This is an actual REAL photo. PHOTO: SpaceX
This is ridiculous - This week Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launched its largest rocket: the Falcon Heavy. The enormous space craft was powered by three distinct, reusable engines. The launch was streamed live and thousands of people around the world watched in awe as the two "side cores" of the Falcon Heavy landed side by side in perfect synchrony. 

This wasn't just a test launch either: having breached the upper atmosphere the rocket released its payload: a cherry-red Tesla convertible replete with a mannequin (a.k.a. 'Starman') in a sleek new space suit. While the (space) roadster missed its initial trajectory (it was due to orbit Mars for one billion years) it was last seen heading towards the Asteroid Belt with great aplomb. The car won't make it all the way there however, and will loop back around on its next orbit, coming within 28 million miles of the Earth in 2021.
This is an absurdity. PHOTO: The Independent
Disaster Capitalism 101 - The more one learns about Washington's response to the Puerto Rico aid effort; the more frustrated one gets. A contractor with a staff of one was awarded a $156m contract to deliver 30 million meals to the devastated island after Hurricane Maria. Instead, the contractor delivered on just 50,000 of those meals. This is a chilling mix of ineptitude and predatory contracting.

A violent history - This week the last surviving ISIS attacker from the 2015 Paris attacks went on trial in Brussels. For the residents of the ethnically diverse suburb of Molenbeek, it has cast the spotlight back onto a struggling community. The neighbourhood has had to come to terms with its history of radicalisation, and the possibility that young men are still being radicalised today.
Your weekend long read... A North Korean spy blew up a passenger jet in 1988 to disrupt the Seoul Olympic Games. She was pardoned and settled in the South after her release. This article poses the question: is it possible to forgive her?

Have a great weekend!

The inkl team