Weekend edition—The perils of apology, Olympic medal-counting, Japanese ruin-hunting

Good morning, Quartz readers!

This has been a week for saying sorry. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte apologized for being less than candid about being allegedly robbed in Rio. Donald Trump apologized, through gritted teeth, for sometimes saying “the wrong thing.” The Clinton Foundationapologized, sort-of, for receiving foreign donations from sometimes questionable sources. And the US State Department said, well, itwasn’t really a ransom, but, um, yes, we did withhold that $400 million for Iran until we got our hostages back.

But is public contrition a good sign? Not necessarily. As the Harvard Business Review noted in 2006, “leaders will publicly apologize if and when they calculate the costs of doing so to be lower than the costs of not doing so.” Japan’s famously elaborate corporate apologies are, as Bloomberg’s William Pesek wrote last year, “more about distraction than accountability,” a kabuki performance in which all those solemnly bowing executives “feign taking responsibility for crises, before returning to business as usual.”

So if there are more apologies, it’s probably not that people are being more honest about their failings, but simply that the cost of apologizing is going down. Tech startup mantras like “move fast and break things” or “fail fast, fail often” have permeated the broader culture. Failure is celebrated as a sign of strength. The cost of lying and being caught out or even publicly shamed is also plummeting, as both US presidential hopefuls and British Brexiteers have been learning to their delight.

This year happens to be the 40th anniversary of Elton John’s “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” In the public sphere, at least, it’s on the way to becoming the easiest.—Janet Guyon and Gideon Lichfield

SPONSOR CONTENT BY THE GOVERNMENT OF JAPAN

Japan’s economic growth model and advanced technology informs its development partnerships in Africa. This August’s sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Nairobi, Kenya will facilitate high-level discussions between over 6,000 world leaders from organizations like the UN, UNDP and African Union Commission. Focused on tackling economic development challenges, TICAD’s collective expertise will be crucial to implementing pathways to skill development and economic diversification.

FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED

More evidence against on-demand-everything. Alison Griswold explores the opaque but sometimes exorbitant pricing of Postmates, and argues that it’s another sign of the flawed economics of on-demand delivery. Startups “are falling short of their founding promise to make instant-anything cheap, and they don’t want customers to know.”

Joseph Stiglitz gets to say “I told you so.” He prophesied that the EU wouldn’t work, and that neoliberal economics would leave lots of people worse off and angry. Events seem to be proving him right. Matt Phillips interviews the Nobel economist about why bad ideas are so hard to dislodge once they get stuck in policy-makers’ heads.

How Darwin’s finches explain Japanese music sales. Japan has more music stores and CD sales than anywhere else in the world. Mun-Keat Looi looks into the history and economy of the industry, and argues that Japan’s reluctance to adopt downloads and streaming is just one more example of its peculiar isolation as an technological ecosystem.

Benvenuti to the hide-and-seek world championship. A small Italian party town that was abandoned after a landslide is having a renaissance, as the setting for the world’s biggest game of hide-and-seek. Annalisa Merelli talks to the organizers.

Our Olympic favorites. Kabir Chibber rounds up 10 of Quartz’s best on the Rio Games, including the physics of Simone Biles, why Brazilians love booing, and the financial burden of being a gold medalist. Plus, Selina Cheng on the democracies that have adoptedCommunist strategies for winning lots of medals, Ana Campoy on thescience of predicting medal counts, and Maria Thomas on theshameful way Indian authorities have treated their athletes.

FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER

Japan’s modern ruins are a time capsule for urban explorers.The bubble economy’s legacy of ghost towns, shuttered theme parks, moldering strip clubs, and over 8 million abandoned homes are an unspoiled wonderland for a new generation of urban adventurers. Tim Hornyak visits some for the Japan Times.

Walmart’s crime problem is driving cops crazy. Aggressive cost-cutting has led crime at Walmart stores to spiral. When you’re the biggest private employer in America, that’s more than just a local problem, as Shannon Pettypiece and David Voreacos explain in Businessweek.

How ISIL was born. It’s worth braving Foreign Policy’s rather tight paywall for this remarkable account by Harold Dornboos and Jenan Moussa, based on extensive interviews with an active Islamic State fighter, on the five-day summit of top jihadists at which the organization was founded in 2013. (Spoiler alert: Barack Obamawasn’t there.)

Read your tech news with skepticism. Tech giants limit access and manipulate what’s said about them to an unprecedented degree. Adrienne LaFrance, for Nieman Lab, argues for why journalists—and their readers—should be wary of old-fashioned product coverage, and look instead to merge an understanding of politics, society, culture and human rights with technology reporting.

Is it moral to have kids in the face of climate change? A Johns Hopkins University philosopher argues for childlessness, not only to slow global warming, but also to spare your potential progeny from living amid environmental devastation. Moreover, he has a plan for creating the necessary incentives. Jennifer Ludden profiles his quixotic campaign for NPR.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, insincere apologies, and pictures of Japanese ruins to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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