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The Weekly Wrap for Saturday, 13 August 2022

The Question

What is the least edifying thing that can be (legally) posted online?

Talking Points

  1. There’s a new Public (Health) Enemy #1: the shrew
  2. Seoul is banning 'Parasite' basement apartments
  3. The world mourned, and celebrated, Olivia Newton-John
  4. Taylor Swift struggled to shake off a copyright infringement claim
  5. Disney+ waved a wand and soared past Netflix
  6. Germany inched closer to crisis as the Rhine dropped further
  7. The beleaguered beluga is now beyond the veil
  8. Ukraine destroyed a Russian airbase in Crimea
  9. Votes were tallied in Kenya's hotly-contested election
  10. Rainwater is now officially too toxic to drink

Deep Dive

Paradise breached. PHOTO: Bloomberg

You might have assumed that Trump demanding the Pentagon be more like "German generals in World War II" was enough for one week. Then Monday happened.

The place beyond the palms

The sprawling mansion Mar-a-Lago was erected as a refuge from the wilds of Palm Beach, Florida. Sea-to-Lake — a sense of tranquility rolls in on the breeze. In 1973, Marjorie Merriweather Post bequeathed her 126-room home to the government for use as a "Winter White House". But it was promptly handed back a few years later due to the eye-watering upkeep costs. In 1985, Donald J. Trump laid his eyes on the 62,500-square-foot seaside citadel. His initial offer of $15m was rebuffed, but Trump, the consummate businessman, purchased a block of land between Mar-a-Lago and the beach. His threat to erect a home that would block the ocean views was successful — he not only clinched the deal but also knocked 50% off the price.

A house that once was a home now became a going concern. After the purchase, Trump built the Mar-a-Lago club on the force of his name. For a modest initiation fee of $200,000 and annual dues of $14,000, members rubbed shoulders with the author James Patterson, the New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and the nondescript third Koch brother. Jeffrey Epstein was an esteemed guest… until he was banned for being a creep. Years later, during the Trump presidency, Mar-a-Lago once again became a house - the "Winter White House". From the comfort of his home, Trump ordered cruise missile strikes and hosted the likes of Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe. A modern day Camelot with a Six-Star Seafood Night every Wednesday on the patio. Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald will know what comes next.

Now, there's a sinking feeling at Mar-a-Lago. And it's not just because of the rising seas around the barrier island. On Monday, the FBI marched in with a warrant, and marched back out with 10 boxes of classified documents that Trump & Co. had casually picked up while exiting the Summer White House. Pocketing an odd souvenir from the office when one is let go may be a common practice, but this is pushing it. Still, the raid (bar the drilling of one safe) was a fairly civilised affair . Trump made some wry cracks about it in public ("another day in paradise") but privately accosted his inner circle, demanding to know which rat was wearing a wire.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

The raid also caused something of a stink among the tens of millions of people who back Trump. House GOP members berated the FBI. Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, who refers to the Biden administration as "the Regime", added "banana republic" to his repertoire. Some of the loudest Trump boosters made noises about resisting government overreach, as though this were another Waco or Ruby Ridge. Sadly but not unpredictably, a particularly impressionable person named Ricky Shiffer posted online about killing federal agents. He then tried to breach the FBI offices in Cincinnati with a nailgun and an automatic rifle, and was killed by responding police. How many more divine wind shooters are there waiting in the wings? Some of Trump's allies appear to be walking a very fine line between whipping people into a frenzy and criminal incitement.

Oddly, a report on Friday alleged that the raid was conducted to retrieve "classified nuclear documents" . That sounds ominous, but despite the hullabaloo, there's no chance this week’s events will deter Trump from making another run at the White House. Right now, if anything, it has bound Republicans even more tightly to their former (and, in the minds of some, rightfully current) president. Federal AG Merrick Garland popped his head over the parapet late in the week to confirm that yes, he had okayed the search and no, members of Congress shouldn't cast aspersions on the organs of government. Good luck with that.

Two days later, Trump made himself available for a deposition in New York AG Letitia James's multiyear investigation into the Trump Organization's unorthodox approach to asset valuation. Of primary focus is the alleged practice of inflating values to secure loans and deflating them to reduce tax burdens. Eschewing his own advice, Donald "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?" Trump kept schtum.

For now, as before, Trump continues to enthrall America’s (and the world’s) attention. He occupies the super-position: he was, is (to some) and may well again be, America’s president. But much falls on the midterms, and whether falling gas prices and outrage over Roe will be enough for the Democrats to retain their majority in the House.

Worldlywise

The peerless Serena Williams. PHOTO: Getty

The GOAT retires

Serena Williams announced that she is "evolving away" from tennis . There's an easy joke in here about conscious uncoupling, but the language is worth pausing on. It speaks to the force of her personality that one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport is not retiring, but growing out of it. When she does so, save for one unlikely final tilt at the US Open, Williams will have 23 singles Grand Slam wins against her name.

Some uncharitable Australians might quibble that she's still one behind Margaret Court, but Court won most of hers in an era before northern hemisphere pros travelled to the antipodes. Sure, Williams may not become equal-first, but she's first among equals.

It's also worth pausing on a number. Williams is 41. The same age as Federer (20 Grand Slams). Five years older than Nadal (22 Grand Slams). And six older than Djokovic (22 Grand Slams). Her first professional appearance was in 1995 - as a 15-year-old. Over the course of her career, she's risen to periods of total dominance , fallen away, and fought her way back several times. At the tail end of her last great spell, she won the Australian Open while 20-weeks pregnant. Such feats are mythos readymade. Get in quick if you want to witness her swan song at the US Open — ticket prices are soaring.

Gaza hammered with missiles. PHOTO: AFP

Gaza burns ahead of Israeli election

The latest Israeli assault on Gaza left scores dead and the enclave reeling. One of the world's most advanced military forces began a "preemptive" assault on the blockaded territory. In the crosshairs of Israel’s drone pilots were Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militants. One of the first blows killed a senior leader, Taysir al-Jabari, in Gaza City. A few days later, the IDF blew up an apartment block in Rafah, killing Khaled Mansour and several members of his family. In between, scores more were killed as Israel poured missiles into Gaza . PIJ responded with rockets of its own — a useless gesture given the proficiency of Israel's Iron Dome missile shield.

All-in-all, it was a typical outburst of ultra-violence. Episodes like this further Israel's military aims. They also serve as regular and ritualised collective punishment with a clear message for Palestinians: resistance is futile. Undergirding it all is the political capital to be eked out of such an assault. Prime Minister Yair Lapid is staring down the barrel of an election which may see his anyone-but-Netanyahu bloc replaced by Bibi himself. But given the military occupation of Palestine, every Israeli election is a khaki election. It takes something special to cut through. And the PIJ scalps are just that . Lapid correctly bet — no doubt aided by some backroom conversations — that Hamas would not retaliate if the strikes were limited to PIJ. A neat electoral win for Lapid, a consolidation of power for Hamas, and further entrenched hopelessness for Palestinians.

As we wrote after the last ruinous assault on Gaza in 2021: these regular assaults are the price Palestinian civilians pay for the world's inaction.

The Best Of Times

Conserving our past and their future. PHOTO: AAP

A strong death's head on its shoulders

Death's head hawk moths were introduced to the world via the throat of a murder victim in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991). A team at Germany's Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour has recently shown that there is a lot more to them than some heavy cinematic symbolism. Extremely delicate trackers placed on migrating hawk moths revealed their navigational prowess is equal to that of much larger birds. The study has shone new light on how finely tuned migrating animals are to our planet's magnetic field.

More of the world's best animal

Aotearoa New Zealand's endangered kākāpō are growing substantially in numbers. We'd say these perfect parrots were soaring, if only they flew.


The Worst Of Times

Not your friend, not private, do not like. PHOTO: Bloomberg

Another week, another headline...

News broke early in the week that a woman in Nebraska had been charged with two felonies for helping her underage daughter abort an unwanted foetus. Soon after, she was slapped with more charges related to procuring abortion pills, after Meta handed the mother and child's correspondence to the police. It cannot be stressed enough that you have no privacy on Facebook and Instagram — they are open books for the authorities.

The hits keep coming

To top off the week, it was also revealed that Meta employees received bribes in exchange for placing 20,000 adult content creators on a terrorism blacklist. There are now three lawsuits aligned on the same axis: that OnlyFans targeted its creators who were active on other online subscription sites. It's alleged that OnlyFans employees paid Meta staff to kill off the social media accounts of anyone who wasn't exclusively selling on OnlyFans. Cool companies!


Highlights

The Image

Masanobu Ogura does not have first-hand experience in carrying a child to term, but that's not stopping him from practising some empathy. The new minister responsible for addressing Japan's plummeting birthrate is wearing a special "pregnancy belly" suit to simulate the physical strain of the third trimester. Could this be missing piece of the puzzle? Eh. Photo supplied by Mainichi Shimbun.

The Quote

"I know that there'll be some people that are pissed off about it. People like Brontë historians will probably say, 'Well, that didn't happen.'"

Director Frances O'Connor correctly identifies that she's fabricated a steamy romance for Emily Brontë that the author definitely didn't have in her lifetime. This is either a delicate piece of redemption-through-imagination a la Ian McEwan's Atonement or an inelegant attempt to get bums on seats at the cinema.

The Numbers

$1,100,000,000 loss

- The popular cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase lost just over one billion dollars last quarter as lifeblood was sapped from the market. Trade volumes and revenue are down nearly by two-thirds, year-on-year. Greater fool theory reaches its necessary dénouement: no-one wants to buy your memecoins.

200,000 tonnes of copper (not pictured)

- Glencore has cut ties with a Chinese affiliate after it "mishandled" $490m worth of copper concentrate. A team of investigators has been despatched to the port city of Qinhuangdao to poke around the commodities warehouses. Hats off to whoever has managed to pocket a bulk carrier's worth of copper.

The Headlines

"In Italy, Where Pizza Was Born, Domino's Bows Out" The New York Times . Bella, ciao!

"University berated for allowing 'PhD in masturbation'" The Telegraph . Are there many that aren't?

The Special Mention

Rest In Pleats, Issey Miyake .

The Best Long Reads

The Answer...

A crying selfie of your boss posted to Linkedin just after he's fired you. It’s got to be right up there.

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