Most Western-world obervers' first reaction upon seeing that photo of two nearly-adjacent toilets in the Olympic Biathlon Center in Sochi is a cringe. Second, for many, comes this thought: Russia is paying $50 billion to prepare for these Olympics, and this is the result?
BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg took the photo, and it's getting retweeted worldwide as an example of either corruption, incompetence, or extraordinarily unusual closeness among the Russian people. Is it that, or is this a case of cultural differences?
"But the toilets in Sochi will create a sense of community!" wrote former chess champion Garry Kasparov on Twitter. "This is what $50+ billion gets you!"
Business Insider pegged Sochi's cost at the most expensive in Olympic history. The Beijing Olympics ranks second at $42 billion, and then it's a steep dropoff to the third: Athens 2004 at $18 billion.
On the other hand, this is at least in part a cultural phenomenon. Vasily Konov, editor of Russia's R-Sport news agency, noted that similarly-designed toilets exist in soccer stadiums and other public locales around the country.
Are twin toilets a major issue? Of course not. But $50 billion is as big as it gets, and if this is symbolic of a misguided use of that money, that is indeed a major issue. We're two weeks from finding out just how worthwhile that $50 billion is. If nothing else, visitors to Sochi can discuss the topic while taking care of other business.