Saturday, the 20th of April

Talking points

The 'symphony of stone' meets another element. PHOTO: EPA
  1. Parisians mourned as the 13th-century Notre Dame cathedral burnt
  2. Peru's ex-President García suicided to evade arrest
  3. Ex-VW chief Martin Winterkorn charged over 'dieselgate' fraud
  4. Indonesia's Jokowi thought to have won a thumping victory
  5. Fighting around Libya's capital claimed dozens of lives
  6. 29 tourists died in a shocking bus crash in Madeira
  7. Egyptian parliament rubber stamped Sissi rule until 2030
  8. Foxconn's Terry Gou weighs a bid for Taiwan's presidency
  9. Japanese authorities began removing fuel rods from Fukushima site
  10. Bangladesh scandalised after victim of sex crimes found murdered

Deep Dive

The war inside your phone. PHOTO: Dado Ruvic / Reuters

This week Apple and Qualcomm settled a $1b lawsuit in the United States and agreed to drop all their lawsuits against one another. For Apple – a hard-charging company that is not used to losing legal disputes – it represents an uncommon surrender. And Qualcomm may just have reshaped the entire modem industry in its favour on the verge of the 5G revolution. 

Global battle

For a pair of companies that are meant to be business partners Apple and Qualcomm have spent a good deal of time at each others' throats over the last two years. Their legal stoush across the globe had halted the sale of iPhones in China and Germany, frozen Qualcomm's share-price and threatened Apple's entire supply chain. But to understand why the pair were suing and counter-suing one another, we need to understand who they are and what their relationship is.

Let's start with Apple. The company is a behemoth that sells computers, songs, apps, credit cards and a broad range of technology accessories. But the jewel in its crown is the smartphone. And the "smart" part of a smartphone refers to its internet connectivity, a technological phenomenon furnished by tiny modems that allow the phone to connect to external networks. This is where Qualcomm comes in. It is a Silicon Valley chipmaker that builds and sells those all-important modems, including state-of-the-art 5G models. And Apple is its largest customer. But, Qualcomm does more than just sell modems. It also licenses access to patents that stem from its technology. 

The heart of the matter

Apple has argued for years that Qualcomm has deployed its patents in an unlawful manner, allowing it to maintain hegemony over the American microchip industry. Qualcomm has responded in kind, arguing that Apple owes it a percentage of all iPhone sales since its ubiquitous smartphones use multiple Qualcomm patents. Indeed, prior to the lawsuit Apple used to pay Qualcomm $7.50 per handset. Seeking to reduce its reliance on its supplier, Apple announced that it would instead work with Intel to procure modem chips for its 5G phones. But Intel was rumored to have had difficulties in producing those chips.

This week, just as the billion dollar lawsuit was headed to a San Diego courtroom, Apple settled. Its decision involved an undisclosed payment (estimated at $5-6 Billion) from the phone-maker to the chip-maker. The payment is for royalties that Apple had stopped paying when the legal battle began. And is it believed that Apple will also now pay a higher sum in royalties to Qualcomm going forward (estimated at $8-9 per handset). The companies have also signed a brand new six-year contract.

The future of 5G

The decision has not just smoothed over relations between two companies, it has also upended Intel. On news that Qualcomm had signed a multi-year deal to supply its 5G chips to Apple, Intel conceded defeat. An Intel spokesperson announced that it was hitting the brakes on developing its own 5G mobile chip. Needless to say Qualcomm's share-price soared 30% on the good news. 

Despite trying to squeeze Qualcomm, Apple would have have known all along that Intel was struggling to produce a 5G chip at commercial scale by next year. But it needed that chip: its competitors Huawei and Samsung are releasing their 5G phones this year. In the end, the logic of the market won out.

This was the second big win for Qualcomm in as many years. Last year the company deftly flexed its political muscle by encouraging the Trump administration to block Broadcom's takeover bid. Following this week's settlement, one analyst noted that "modems are the sport of kings". Given their centrality to just about all technology going forward, we agree. And after this second big victory we'd argue that Qualcomm is winning it. 


Barr comes out to bat for the President. PHOTO: The Mirror

Some holds Barr-ed

When U.S. Attorney General William Barr submitted his summary of the Mueller report we were left with more questions than answers. Those questions demanded answers, so even as Trump thundered "no collusion", the Democrat-majority House began prising the report from the AG's grip. Hindsight affords us a vantage point to look back at the summary and see it for what it was: an exercise in narrative control. Even on Thursday this week Barr delayed the release of the report until after a press conference in which he sought to establish extenuating factors (like "frustration") for Trump's actions.

And then America got its first taste of the full report, which contained enough tasty morsels to whet the appetites of both the never-Trump camp and the forever-Trump camp. It found that on no less than ten occasions Trump had acted in a way that could amount to obstruction of justice. On each occasion Trump had sought to personally or indirectly (through instructions to aides) curtail, slow or stop Mueller's investigation. The report left the door open to pursue impeachment hearings"The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law." 

Barr and his deputy Rod Rosenstein don't concur. The two leading figures of the US Department of Justice disagree with the Mueller report on points of evidence, hurdles, and legal theory. The president's supporters also relished the fact that Mueller found no direct evidence that anyone in the Trump team displayed any sign of collusion (despite being "receptive" to Russia's efforts to sway the election).

Which leaves us where? Well, Republicans can point to the AG and claim the president has been exonerated. On the other hand Democrats can quote the Mueller report and demand that Congress initiate an impeachment investigation. But 18 months prior to the next election, and with a Republican-controlled senate, its likely that an impeachment resolution would fail - and cause serious injury to Democratic hopes for 2020. 
Not pictured: zombie pig. PHOTO: Reuters / Daniel Acker

An Easter weekend miracle

The current paradigm of brain science holds that our most complex organ suffers catastrophic failure on a cellular level when starved of oxygen for mere seconds and minutes. The study of stroke victims has taught us this much: brain death is swift, complete and irreversible. But this week a study published in the science journal Nature has chipped away at that paradigm.

At risk of over-simplifying what is clearly an extremely nuanced topic: a group of scientists partially reanimated the brains of 32 pigs some four hours after the animals were decapitated at a slaughterhouse. The Yale scientists (mad or otherwise) responsible for breathing life back into lopped off mammal brains have developed a synthetic blood that is packed full of chemicals that halt cellular degeneration. The results are truly astounding: the degeneration was halted and even reversed in spectacular ways. Brain cells began consuming oxygen and glucose again and neurons displayed "spontaneous synaptic activity".

The authors of the study were quick to point out that the brain activity fell far short of the kind of organised synaptic activity that characterises perception and consciousness. But no amount of expectation-setting could dent the news value of such an incredible story. The news sparked a frenzied race amongst the world's newspaper editors to think of the best pun, which of course was "Frankenswine". It kicks open the door to an entire new realm of possibility for the study of stroke and transplants. How's that for an Easter weekend story?

The Best of Times

Good bird. PHOTO: Don Merton / AFP

Waddling towards a brighter future

The Kākāpō parrot of New Zealand is a wondrous creature; stout in proportion and magnificent in plumage. While many news organisations have indelicately described it as the "world's fattest parrot", we prefer the epithet "world's best parrot" (no citation needed). These large, flightless, nocturnal creatures spend their lives shuffling around the antipodean underbrush. Lives often endangered by predators like possums and European-introduced rats - there are just 147 of the rare parrots left. However, it brings us great joy to report that this year the Kākāpō enjoyed a record-breaking breeding season.

A commitment to democracy

The Indian elections are underway and while many stories highlight the dizzy scale of the affair, this one is about a single voter. India's commitment to enfranchisement and access is legendary; electoral rules stipulate that no voter should be made to travel more than 2 kilometres to a polling booth. High up in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh this principle is elevated to an ideal. The town of Malgam has one (yes, one) registered voter. And so this week a team of three election officials began a four-day, 480 kilometre trek into the mountains in order to set up their polling station.

The Worst of Times

Sol Pais. PHOTO: AFP

Wasted youth

The 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre should have been a moment of solemn reflection. Rather, it was marked with panic and danger in Colorado. Just days earlier an 18-year-old named Sol Pais had flown in from Florida with dark intentions. The traveller landed in Denver and bought herself a 12 gauge shotgun - one of the weapons used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold back in 1999. Little known to her was the fact that police had been tracking her movements and monitoring her increasingly troubling social media posts.

The would-be killer did not make it anywhere near Columbine High School. The city was sent into lockdown as police searched for her. When they finally caught up with her at the base of Mount Evans, she had already turned the shotgun on herself. While details are still emerging as to her mental state it is clear that the isolated young woman had become "obsessed" with Eric and Dylan. She is not the only one; the pair – who started what has become a national tradition of school shootings – have inspired fans and copycats all across the world. Hers is just the latest broken life in the uniquely American tragedy of school shootings that began twenty years ago and continues unabated.

Weekend Reading

Quote of the week

"Clearly, there were a lot of mixed feelings. No one wants to win an award for something that kills five of your friends."

– Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell reflects after winning a special Pulitzer Prize for covering a massacre in their own newsroom. The morning after a gunman claimed the lives of five Capital Gazette staff, their colleagues put out their newspaper on time.

Headline of the week

Japanese chemistry professor made his students produce MDMA in 'Breaking Bad'-style lessons

The Independent

Special mention

A special mention this week goes to Australia. Over the past two decades one of the only truly bipartisan policies of Australian governments has been to deny Timor-Leste the precious natural gas resources that it owns. They've spied, jailed whistleblowers, creatively redrawn maps and fought a shameless legal rearguard action.

Now to this list we can add incompetence. Canberra has gone into 'caretaker' mode ahead of its upcoming federal election in May and so is now unable to ratify the much fairer deal that Australia was forced to sign in 2018. 

Some choice long-reads

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please devote some time on this holiest of weekends to watch the highlights of the Champions League quarter final between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. It is simply a joy for any lover of sport.

As the great Gary Lineker put it, "This game is fantastic. Thoughts at this time are with all those that don’t like football."

Tom Wharton