Saturday, the 17th of March
Welcome back.

This week we passed a small but gratifying milestone: inkl is now read in 210 countries around the world. The whole team would like to extend a 'happy reading' to our new inklers in Haiti, Kiribati, Benin, French Polynesia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Cook Islands, Turkmenistan and Equatorial Guinea.

Here at inkl we are continually amazed at how our little news app has spanned the globe. And we are grateful to each of you for telling your friends and loved ones about us. Thank you. And please keep doing that - it means a lot to us.

Tom Wharton & the inkl team
This week one of the great physicists of the 20th century passed away. Professor Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) leaves the legacy of an impulsive genius who overcame Lou Gehrig's disease for decades longer than anyone had imagined he could.

He was a child born into a world at war. One who cast his gaze across the universe. A scientist whose sense of competitiveness bordered on bullishness. And a man who struggled to speak but whose every word was carefully heard.  
A fallen star. PHOTO: AFP
A large part of Hawking's mystique comes from the fact that the branch of theoretical physics in which he distinguished himself is impenetrable to those who don't speak its language. Becoming the doyen of a subject as abstruse as black holes (phenomena that - by definition - cannot be observed) requires an extraordinarily powerful imagination. 

Hawking - like his contemporaries and successors - spent a career trying to bridge the chasm between Einstein's theory of general relativity (big physics) and the current paradigm of quantum mechanics (small physics). These incompatible views of our universe which have vexed physicists for almost a century find a collision point in the singularity of collapsed stars. And it's in this vicinity that Hawking spent his entire career. 

His biggest achievement was arguably the proposition that black holes - contrary to contemporary thought (including much of his own work) - lose mass through the leakage of heat energy. The orthodoxy held that the collapsed star at the centre of a black hole, infinitely small and infinitely dense, was so powerful that it sucked everything including light into its orbit. Yet Hawking fastidiously prodded and poked that notion until, in a moment of genius, he applied the second law of thermodynamics to black holes. In doing so he not only made significant progress towards proving that black holes lose energy through entropy, and thus shrink, but also (briefly) brought together two schools of physics.  

Fittingly, that leaked radiation is now known as Hawking's Radiation. If it is eventually observed (which it may well be in the near future) then Hawking's contribution will be lauded all the more. But what earned Hawking fame down here on Earth, far from the outer reaches of space were his human qualities, his foibles, his idiosyncrasies. 

The fact that he was diagnosed with a severe motor neurone disease in his university years is now well known, not least because it was the subject of a 2014 movie (The Theory of Everything). Reduced to near-total paralysis, Hawking was given just a few short months to live. But those months eventually stretched out to half a century. Digging through the obituaries and hagiography this week we discover a man who was certainly brilliant but also one whose impulsiveness nearly cost him his scientific reputation on numerous occasions. He also displayed a stubbornness that bordered on obsession, but some of his greatest discoveries came from (begrudgingly) proving that his own ideas had been wrong.

Hawking's ability to explain science helped people approach it (we wouldn't go as far as to say demystify it). It was his wit more than his genius that saw his 1988 book A Brief History Of Time become an international best seller. He was famous also for his many memorable cameos in popular culture; on Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory, and The Simpsons. 

In a surprising twist Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's death. And he died on the 14th of March, which is not only the 139th anniversary of Albert Einstein's birth but is also known as 'pi day' (3.14). Even more surprising was the fact that one of his greatest regrets was not having run over Margaret Thatcher's toes with his wheelchair. 
European and American leaders round on the Kremlin. PHOTO: The Independent 
Displays of solidarity - From the epicentre of sleepy Salisbury an international incident has grown and grown. With a few notable exceptions within the Labour Party, Britain has rounded on Russian President Vladimir Putin as the prime suspect in the Novichok nerve agent attack on the Skripal family. And Number 10 has expelled 23 diplomats from the Russian embassy in London, a move that will no doubt be reciprocated in Moscow. 

On Thursday Theresa May was joined by her French, German and American counterparts in issuing a sharp rebuke to the Kremlin. In the halls of government and the institutions that shape western power (NATO, the EU, the UN) the anger is palpable. Yet beyond the cursory expulsion of officials from either country there are few ways for May to press her attack. Yet press it she must; a national security issue (bread-and-butter for conservative governments) may be just what her government needs in order to improve its standing with voters.

In a fiery session at this week's Security Council meeting on Syria, the United States delegate Nikki Haley unleashed a typically bellicose threat of American intervention. Despite a recent history of lacklustre responses from the White House, it appears as though the tide is turning on Russian scepticism in America. A new (albeit watered down) tranche of sanctions was deployed against the Russians for meddling in the 2016 US election. Yesterday the New York Times reported that US officials are squarely blaming Kremlin hackers for multiple cyber attacks on America's energy infrastructure. And just a few days ago the Pentagon accused Moscow of complicity in Bashar al-Assad's atrocities.

Even as the Korean peninsula quietens down, the faint pounding of war drums in Europe grows louder.
Seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. PHOTO: Reuters
The art of killing the deal - Californian chipmaker Qualcomm had 117 billion reasons to acquiesce to larger rival Broadcom's takeover bid. The deal - which epitomised the phrase 'hostile takeover' - would have created a giant in the global semiconductor industry. But on Monday Donald Trump killed it. Trump blocked the deal on national security grounds, citing an ongoing investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). So how did the biggest deal in the history of the tech world unravel?

When Broadcom CEO Hock E. Tan floated an offer to Qualcomm last year (US$70 per share) he succeeded only in enraging the company. Everyone from Qualcomm's CEO to its board and investors saw it as a low-ball offer. They also felt that a sale would lead to a future in which short-term profits would be prioritised over research and innovation. They dug their heels in, even as Tan increased the bid to $82 per share. As Tan's negotiations failed he went down the well-trodden path of the corporate raider: he sought to force out Qualcomm's board and replace them with deal-friendly directors. But just as they were winning the battle of the board, Qualcomm retaliated by playing their trump card (pun intended).

Consolidation has been the modus operandi of semiconductor producers for several years now; Broadcom itself was bought out by Avago in 2015 for a whopping $37b (the largest tech deal at that time) and moved its corporate headquarters from the Golden State to Singapore. And therein lay the problem. In a highly unusual defensive move, Qualcomm submitted its own deal to CFIUS for review, and also out-spent Broadcom 100-to-1 on lobbyists on the Hill. With its army of paid Beltway insiders stirring up concerns that a successful Broadcom takeover would threaten US dominance in the 5G network, Qualcomm successfully saw off its would-be raider. 

Qualcomm has written the playbook, and now undoubtedly more companies will cynically seek to use Washington to block unwanted mergers and acquisitions.
Farewell to all that. PHOTO: Bloomberg
Elsewhere in Washington - Even seasoned pundits were left reeling by the week that's been; a new contender for 'most dysfunctional week of the current administration'. Hold onto your hats... 

On Wednesday Donald Trump stooped to a new low by firing the US Secretary of State via Twitter. Rex Tillerson had been on the outer following reports last October that he said the President was a moron, and after clashing with the President on North Korea and the Iran nuclear deal. Tillerson's tenure as top diplomat was rendered doubly ineffective by his cost-cutting initiatives which gutted the State Department's middle management. Now with his departure the Iran nuclear deal is looking more precarious than ever.

Tillerson's replacement is Trump's CIA director Mike Pompeo; a man far more amenable to the White House's policy positions. And for the first time ever the top job at Langley has been passed to a woman, Gina Haspel. But critics say that the limited benefit of having broken this glass ceiling is outweighed by the fact that Haspel cut her teeth running one of the CIA's secret torture prisons in Thailand. 

And now, reports suggest that National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster is also on the chopping block.

Meanwhile, the Stormy Daniels story has not only stuck around, but intensified. She has been fighting trench warfare in the courts with Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the man who bought her silence. It wasn't clear whether or not the truth would ever get out. But Cohen made the misstep of also launching a libel suit against news website BuzzFeed over their coverage of his role in the affair. Seizing the opportunity, BuzzFeed's lawyers are now using the discovery process to demand Daniels produce any and all evidence of her interactions with Cohen and Trump. These are rumoured to include sexually explicit photographs of the 45th POTUS. Anticipating that the legal footwork pays off, CBS has pencilled in a tell-all interview with Daniels on the 25th of this month.

Lastly, the Democrats actually won a race in Pennsylvania, flipping a Republican seat that overwhelmingly voted Trump in 2016. 
New killings threaten to plunge another region of Kashmir into armed rebellion. PHOTO: EPA / EFE
  1. The suicide note of an official accused of tampering records has plunged Shinzo and Akie Abe back into the depths of the cronyism investigation
  2. The retail powerhouse that defined toy shopping for more than a generation - Toys 'R' Us - announced the closure of stores all over the globe
  3. The newly re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepared to shutdown her French counterpart's push for fiscal consolidation in the European Union
  4. Pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong only regained two of the four seats they lost in government after Beijing forced several lawmakers out in 2017
  5. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vowed that his country will build nuclear weapons if Tehran does
  6. Poor communications caused a US-Bangla flight to plunge off a runway in Kathmandu on Tuesday; killing 51 of the 71 people onboard
  7. Students from 3,000 schools across America staged a mass walk-out for 17 minutes in memory of the 17 students slain in Florida last month.
  8. Japan's anti-trust police raided Amazon's offices after claims that the online retail giant had forced suppliers to pay for Amazon's own discounts.
  9. Turkish troops augmented by radical militias and ex-ISIS fighters encircled the Kurdish city of Afrin and cut off water supplies in preparation for a ground assault
  10. Myanmar signalled a willingness to take back just 400 of the 8000 Rohingya that have signed up to be repatriated back to Rakhine State
They're back after a long hiatus. PHOTO: ABC
Cross-Tasman hops - After introduced foxes wiped out the Eastern Quoll from Australia more than half a century ago few thought that it would ever return. Yet in some much needed news for the country's paltry environmental record, an intensive breeding program has seen their return. The spotted marsupials were airlifted from Tasmania to Jervis Bay, South of Sydney. If the program is a success it may show that the tides have turned on the damage of introduced pests.

Flying taxis - Think of Bruce Willis in the Fifth Element. Well, aesthetically you are a mile off but it looks like we are finally headed into the future! Google co-founder Larry Page is working hard in New Zealand to launch his company of pilot-less flying rotorcraft. It apparently is quiet enough to put on top of carparks! Amazing!
Stop drinking these. PHOTO: Rex
Plastic water hazards - How many reasons do you need to stop buying single-use plastic bottles of mineral water? Here's one more: a recent study in the United Kingdom has shown that nearly all brands surveyed were contaminated with harmful plastic microplastic flakes to one degree or another. Bad for you, bad for the environment!

Great, Good, Gone Forests - A new WWF study has found that if climate change drives a temperature rise above 1.5c then the world's great forests will lose at least half their plant species. The Amazon, the rainforests of Indonesia, the Daintree in Australia or the dense jungle of central Africa. All of them will suffer grievously in a warming globe. Considering that these carbon sinks are already being pushed to the brink, that's not a good prognosis.
Your weekend long read... An exceptional long (and we mean long) read from the Financial Times. In the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan, the Fukushima power plant was fatally compromised. Looking back we ask, did the evacuation make things worse?

What we're watching... If you can get your hands on it watch Samuel Moaz's scintillating, darkly stylised war-drama 'Foxtrot'. It is a deeply beautiful view of war, trauma and memory. A Grand Jury Prize winner from the 2017 Venice Film Festival.