Saturday, the 25th of November
DEEP DIVE
How long do you think you could cope without the internet? We certainly wouldn't last long. Ubiquitous connectivity has engendered a startling level of dependence within us all, and the proliferation of internet-enabled devices around us is matched only by the vast range of human activities that we can now conduct though them.

And yet, despite its central role the internet remains a deeply turbulent, disruptive and destructive force. This week we've seen a number of stories that offer a glimpse of the high-stakes battles being fought and won behind that screen you are reading this on. And of the slow drift away from the utopian ideas that the internet was built on.
Ajit Pai is on the cusp of changing the internet. It might not be for the good.
Yesterday was Black Friday - and it was once again a stark reminder of the sheer scale and power wielded by some of the biggest internet giants. Across the world a great din rose as shoppers chased deals on this great commercial holiday. The term itself is an American export (it was invented in 1952 to signal the onset of the Christmas shopping period), but it has since become a global phenomenon.

Familiar scenes of excitable customers clambering into stores in an orgiastic crush of commerce are beamed around the world annually. But this American-as-apple-pie tradition has also been forever transformed by online retailing. The behemoth Amazon accounted for 30% of American e-commerce sales in 2016. The crowds are moving online and they won't go back. Last year Amazon raked in $3.3b in Black Friday sales and another $3.4b on 'Cyber Monday' in the US alone. It's expected that the company helmed by the world's richest man will beat those eye-watering figures by a whopping 20% this year - despite facing strikes in its Italian and German facilities. 

And yet, the current weekend-long spree is dwarfed by another retail contrivance; Single's Day in China. Initially established to encourage people to be proud of singlehood, the annual celebration on November 11 has been entirely coopted by online retail. China's biggest online retailer Alibaba made $25b across its websites on Singles Day this year. Even more interesting is the fact that 93% of purchases were conducted on mobile phones.

And still, Alibaba itself was beaten in the race to become the first Chinese company with a market capitalisation of $500b. That honour went to Pony Ma's Tencent which burst into the exclusive club this week, nudging out Facebook to become the world's fifth biggest corporation by market capitalisation. Tencent now sits amongst the rarefied air of America's tech giants. And as with Alibaba, Tencent's customers interact with the conglomerate almost solely through the screens of their mobile phones.

The trajectory of these technology powerhouses is arresting. The scale and speed of growth being achieved by them has never been seen before. Nor have governments or regulators ever had to contend with such rapid change. Which begs the question of whether these companies can be expected to regulate themselves.

Enter Uber. For the nth time this year the company was yet again at the centre of a scandal this week. The news couldn't have come at a worse time for Uber as it attempts to secure $10b in funding from SoftBank. New (and widely respected) CEO Dara Khosrowshahi disclosed that there had been a massive breach of the company's servers by hackers who had stolen the details of 57 million customers and drivers. The most galling fact is that the breach occurred last year and had been covered up by senior management. Needless to say regulators worldwide are opening investigations. Just a few weeks ago Facebook and Google too were hauled in for questioning, about their respective roles in the subversion of the US election and the Brexit vote. And Twitter even now sits in the penalty box for allowing online trolls and terrorists alike to use and abuse its services. So self-regulation clearly won't be the answer.

But even when they are forced to play by the rules these companies still find ways to bend them to their advantage. Right now a huge clash is looming in the world of entertainment. Having been hammered by the Silicon Valley disruptors who provide many of their core services for free, legacy telco operators in the US are playing one of the few cards they have left: defence. America's biggest internet service providers (ISPs) are in a race to buy up media companies and create hybrids that can stand a chance against competitors like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Back in 2009 Comcast had put the ball in motion by merging with NBC to create a vertically integrated operation that not only created content but also owned the pipes that distributed it to customers. Now AT&T is aiming to bring Time Warner under its wing. However, this week the Department of Justice sued to stop the merger on the basis of anti-trust violations. The tech giants are watching intently, having reaped the harvest of a soft regulatory environment for years; swallowing or crushing whatever was in their path.

On the other hand, AT&T (and Comcast for that matter) was also handed a huge victory this week when the Federal Communications Commission proposed to wind back Obama-era net neutrality protections. The restrictions have prevented ISPs from slowing down access to some sites (and charging companies that want to get back into the 'fast lane'). This means that ISPs will find themselves with a brand new revenue source - charging the very companies that have disrupted them.

Unsurprisingly, nearly all technology companies oppose the move, citing the deterioration of consumer services and experiences as the issue they are most worried about. In fact, this week India's technology minister told a conference that, "[the] internet is supposed to be democratic... therefore the right of access is non-negotiable". But his statement couldn't be more wrong. As Vladimir Putin might attest, the internet is anything but democratic.  

In the end, our rhetoric about the internet has always had a chimerical, wishful quality to it: more connections, more freedom, more communication, more choice, more entertainment. It's becoming evident that this transformative power is not without its drawbacks. And given the staggering concentration of power and influence among these corporations, it appears the situation will get worse before it gets better.
WORLDLYWISE
Mladic (centre) points towards Bosniak positions in 1994.
Mladic jailed - The last Serbian warlord of the Balkans conflict, Ratko Mladic, has been jailed for life by United Nations judges. He was found guilty on 10 counts of genocide, war-crimes and crimes-against-humanity for the conduct of his ultranationalist Serbian militia during the bloodletting from 1992 to 1995. Most charges pertained to his indiscriminate shelling of Sarajevo and to orders that led to the worst massacre in Europe since the Holocaust.

In the wake of General Tito's death, Yugoslavia was riven by ethnic and religious violence which left more than 100,000 dead and 2 million displaced. Ethnic cleansing also saw 50,000 women raped. It culminated in Mladic's forces capturing the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) town of Srebrenica in July 1995 and then brushing aside UN peacekeepers as they systematically murdered 8,000 men and boys. 

Understandably, the long-awaited justice this week for the man dubbed the 'Butcher of Bosnia' provides little catharsis for the survivors and relatives of his victims. 

Meanwhile, the war and its massacres remain a controversial topic in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosniaks and Serbs cohabitate peacefully today but a rump of Serbian nationalists (some in powerful positions) are engaging in historical revisionism. They deny Serbian involvement in massacres, and claim instead that the allegations are a Western fiction. Indeed, a fabricated sense of victimhood remains; just a short drive from Srebrenica's killing-fields are murals of Mladic and other Serbian war criminals. 
A dark week for Argentina.
Submarine tragedy - The Argentine navy has confirmed the deaths of 44 sailors and officers aboard the ARA San Juan, lost 270km into the San Jorge Gulf. On Thursday coastal hydro-acoustic listening stations detected a significant underwater explosion within the search grid. The announcement shattered the slim hopes that the San Juan would be discovered before its seven-day supply of oxygen ran out. Families of the victims have responded with a mixture of grief and rage: many believe they were fed false hope by the military.

An international search began on the 17th after the submarine lost contact and failed to surface. Brazil and the United States contributed significant assets to the hunt including submarine-detecting aircraft and unmanned submarines. The immensity of the search effort (over an area roughly the size of Spain) was made even more difficult by awful weather; 20ft waves hampered all but the largest ships. 

On the other side of the world another rescue effort is underway following a naval aircraft crash. A transport aircraft flying from the American garrison at Okinawa ditched into the Sea of Japan late in the week - so far eight of the 11 on board have been recovered alive. This is yet another humiliation for the US 7th Fleet this year; two separate collisions involving its guided-missile destroyers have claimed 17 lives. 
TRUMPETER
Trump delighted by the pardoned bird.
  1. Trump followed tradition by pardoning two turkeys
  2. He also reaffirmed a ban on importing elephant parts
  3. He marvelled at what he called 'invisible planes'
  4. The president defended Roy Moore from abuse allegations
  5. He attacked LaVar Ball for being 'ungrateful'
  6. His ghostwriter said Trump is 'scared' of African Americans
  7. Michael Flynn broke off ties with Trump's lawyers
  8. McMaster allegedly called Trump an 'idiot'
  9. He was lambasted for repatriating Haitians
  10. Tillerson may have ignored allies' use of child soldiers
THE BEST OF TIMES...
Stop killing bees with pesticides.
Pesticide breakthrough - It's surprising that so few people are concerned with the collapse of bee populations across the world (we're looking at you Monsanto). As has been said before; when they go, so do we. This week, a ray of hope; researchers are on the verge of developing a pesticide that targets pests without harming bees. Genius. 

Musk's big battery - Elon Musk has won a $50m bet with South Australia by building the world's largest lithium ion battery in under 100 days. In a game of billionaire bravado with Atlassian's Mike Cannon-Brookes, Musk agreed to build it quick or cover the entire construction cost himself. It's probably a good thing he won considering Tesla is burning through $10,000 a minute in its race to build the Model 3.
THE WORST OF TIMES...
Delhi's air pollution crisis.
India is choking - The end-of-harvest burn-off in northern India has created a chemical-laden smog over much of the country. The levels of particulate matter in Delhi's air is several hundred times the safety limit. The capital's air quality isn't great at the best of times but this season has been disastrous.

Trouble in paradise - The Russian-backed separatist region of Luhansk appears to have undergone a coup, although details are sparse. The region's strongman who declared independence from Ukraine several years ago fled to Moscow after his deputy surrounded government buildings with armed men. An already perplexing conflict has just gotten much more confusing. For now it remains Moscow's problem.
P.S.
Your weekend long read... After reading about Californian technology colossi wrestling with the rest of the world, we thought this piece from the Financial Times would be a perfect fit. It explores how they step on one another's toes - and how that makes them beatable. 

Enjoy your weekend. And please share this issue of The Wrap with friends and family if you found it interesting.

Thank you.