Saturday, the 15th of January

Talking Points

Cameroon skipper Vincent Aboubakar scored a brace against Ethiopia. PHOTO: Radio France Internationale
  1. The Africa Cup of Nations got underway in Cameroon
  2. The UN warned that millions of Afghans are about to starve
  3. A Syrian officer was jailed in Germany over war crimes
  4. Half of Europe is expected to get Covid in the next 6-8 weeks
  5. French teachers struck en masse over changing Covid rules
  6. Silvio Berlusconi saddled up for another tilt at Italy's top job
  7. As did Hillary Clinton, bizarrely enough, for America's
  8. Quebec raised hackles with its plan to tax the unvaccinated
  9. Magawa, the hero rat of Cambodia, died aged eight
  10. Djokovic/Australian Open update: still a complete mess

Dive deeper

The party is over. PHOTO: AP

Each December a certain august weekly newspaper publishes a profile on its country of the year. We take no pleasure in reporting the fact that, just two weeks into January, the United Kingdom has dropped out of contention for the 2022 award. Here's why...

Bring Your Own Boris

Boris Johnson has led Britain to the brink of a trade war with its closest allies and managed to galvanise both the Scottish independence and Irish reunification movements. But it was always going to be a party, wasn't it? Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Leader of the Conservative Party, and lover of a good knees-up.

The slow drip of leaks pertaining to the May 2020 Downing Street garden party has felt like a cruel and obscure torture device. Johnson and his spokespeople have tried to offer, then retract, every excuse under the sun. There was no party. There was something but it wasn't a party. There was a party but I didn't know about it. There was a party and I knew about it but didn't attend it. Drip. Drip. Drip. This week the prime minister stopped trying to outrun reality: he fessed up and apologised. In typical style he mostly apologised for other peoples' mistakes , but never you mind that. For once, his party isn't giving him the benefit of doubt: senior backbenchers have felt the mood in their electorates and demanded his resignation. Scottish Tories want to ban him from attending their conference.

So will he go? Rishi Sunak's "lukewarm" defence of the premier had pundits chittering. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear he wouldn't be taking a bullet for the PM until after Sue Gray delivers her pronouncement. Given the Chancellor of the Exchequer's name crops up in the short-list of Johnson's successors, this is natural. Another potential replacement, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, opted against trussing Johnson up on the spot. She sat beside him during the mea culpa but then offered tepid comments in support. Both would-be's have read their Sun Tzu: don't stick your knife in until the goose is cooked.

Which leads us to Sue Gray , and a curious observation. Despite being the direct descendants of the people who invented the English language (or at least cobbled it together from everyone else's), the British press does sometimes struggle to find the right words. Everywhere we look, Gray's inquiry is described as independent — an odd description given she is a Permanent Undersecretary to the Cabinet Office. Still, under such intense scrutiny it would take an exceptionally brave (and loyal) officer to completely fudge her report. Quite the opposite, she may need to broaden the terms of her inquiry on the go: the hits keep coming. News broke late in the week about another party in the basement of Downing Street on April 16. This shindig was apparently a going-away celebration for two staff. So of course it involved a surfeit of alcohol, much dancing, and a closure past midnight. Meanwhile, the rest of the country was under Stage 2 restrictions, with a ban on all indoor mixing.

Crowns and dunce caps

Internet culture is, by virtue of its mode of production, transient. Most ideas emerge and decay at a clip. But, on the odd occasion, something sticks. Take the English language compound 'failson' — the bumbling, rapacious, or witless male son to a family of notable wealth or power. History is littered with failsons, from Nero through to Flávio Bolsonaro. Naturally, monarchies have provided us a rich vein of failsons. You can see where this one is going, right? Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is the Platonic ideal of the failson. The royal family is an institution practically impervious to the notion of repercussions. It's fairly difficult to get fired, so long you don't, say, allegedly sexually abuse an underage girl who'd been sex-trafficked by a shadowy billionaire .

Yet here we are. During the week, a Manhattan district judge allowed Virginia Giuffre's case against Andrew to proceed. She alleges that Prince Andrew had sex with her when she was a 17-year-old and under the sway of the late Jeffrey Epstein and the lately incarcerated Ghislaine Maxwell. David Boies, who is acting on behalf of the plaintiff, indicated that she is not seeking a "purely financial settlement". Giuffre wants her story vindicated , which means a jury trial for the Prince, who wilted under the glare of his trial by media.

You may have noticed that we haven't opted for Andrew's honorific His Royal Highness. That's because, as of Thursday, he's been stripped of the HRH title . Gone too are his military ranks, patronages, and ducal duties. As the statement from the palace stated, he'll be "defending this case as a private citizen". Fleet Street's royal correspondents — an idiosyncratic corner of the trade — described him as being thrown under the royal bus. Losing the patronage of prestigious golf courses is a kind of secular defrocking for the Windsors. But Andrew hasn't been banished from the kingdom. He retains his position in the line of succession and, crucially, still appears to be funding his legal defence from his mother's private accounts. When all is said and done, a failson doesn't simply emerge from the ether. The Windsors have form in producing them.


The view from the Port of Los Angeles. PHOTO: Patrick T Fallon / AFP / GEtty

Petrol, protests, and Putin

Let's step behind the curtain for just a moment. This week the inkl team was discussing the latest wave of ghastly climate news. It's abundantly clear that audiences are becoming inured to the annual roll call of broken records. One of our curators had a novel suggestion — the font-size should increase every year that a new record is eclipsed.

A pair of data sets from America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have confirmed that...

2021 saw the hottest ocean temperatures in recorded history. It is the sixth consecutive year of record-breaking temperatures. Last year the oceans absorbed 20 sextillion joules of heat — the equivalent of 10 Hiroshima-strength atomic bombs being detonated, every second of the year .

90% of the heat that is trapped in our atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans in a "relentless" cycle. Increasingly hot and acidic oceans are killing marine life, coral reefs, and vital kelp forests. It is supercharging hurricanes and typhoons. It is melting ice-shelves from below.

Another report from the NOAA stated that...

The nine years from 2013 to 2021 each feature in the top-10 hottest years in recorded history. There is, according to modelling, a 99% chance that 2022 will also rank in that list. Last year the average surface temperature was 1.51°C above the 20th century average.

We are nothing but the sum of our actions. And so we must each ask of ourselves: What are our actions? Who are we voting for? What are we buying? Which companies are we holding shares in? What kind of garden are we planting? How challenging are the conversations we are having?

A figure worthy of the silver screen. PHOTO: Politico

The Technician

José Manuel Villarejo is a hulking, mysterious ex-policeman with an eye-patch. He has been at the centre of nearly every Spanish political scandal going back decades. Politicians stealing documents from other parties. Corruption in the royal family. Violent cover-ups of crimes by men in high places. These are not the set-pieces of an airport-paperback, but of the all-too-real Villarejo. The 70-year-old former police chief is accused of working as a blackmailer-for-hire among the upper echelon of Spanish society. He earned himself the faintly menacing nickname, "The Technician". He is currently standing trial on charges that could see him jailed for the term of his natural life. Last year Villarejo warned reporters of what was to come, "I am convinced that those who see me as a lamb who will quietly go to the slaughter are mistaken." It is all fabulously good fun — though not for the elite clients Villarejo secretly recorded.

The most explosive accusation so far is this: that Spain's secret service had prior knowledge of the 2017 Barcelona terror attacks and allowed them to transpire. The Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) has, for many years now, been heavily scrutinised over its links to Abdelbaki Es Satty, the mastermind of the attacks that left 13 dead and 130 wounded. As it happens Es Satty remained a CNI informant up until the day before the attack. He and his accomplices had been tracked — meticulously — by Madrid's spies as they prepared for the attacks. Why? Villarejo testified that Feliz Sanz Roldan, then-director of the CNI, "wanted to give Catalonia a fright, but miscalculated the consequences". You'll recall that at the time the Catalonian independence movement was in full swing. If the accusation is true, the consequences for Madrid will be devastating.

The best of times

Stunning. PHOTO: Jacinta Shackleton

A blanket octopus

These shimmering creatures are among the rarest in the world. A marine biologist snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef became just one in a handful of people who have ever seen a live specimen. The blanket octopus is also, hilariously enough, "the most extreme example of sexual size-dimorphism in a non-microscopic animal". That is, females can grow up to 2m in length, males just 2.4cm. Size doesn't bother the males, they are known to rip off the venomous bluebottle stingers and wield them as weapons!

Pig-headed? No, pig-hearted!

In a world first, a US man has received a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig . The highly experimental approach was a last-ditch effort after the patient was found to be ineligible for a human heart transplant. It breaks new ground in both the physical sciences and bio-ethics!

The worst of times

The home front in Tigray is dire. PHOTO: Getty Images

Drone war in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's armed forces have turned the tide in the Tigray insurgency with a fleet of foreign drones. The TPLF offensive has stalled and the humanitarian situation back home is drastic. So far this month government drones have struck refugee camps twice and a flour mill once, killing at least 70 and wounding far more.

Zip-cuffed and left to die

This week an Israeli raid into the West Bank left and 80-year-old Palestinian-American man dead. Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad was pulled from his car by soldiers, restrained, and then left outside the town of Jiljilya. He was found the next morning by villagers having died of a heart attack. Another daily indignity in the Occupied Territories.

Weekend Reading

The image

An Australian performance theatre outfit has elevated subtext to text with its latest piece: three women taking turns dancing atop a slowly-melting iceberg dangled over Sydney Harbour. Image supplied by The Guardian.

The quote

"The honest-to-God answer is I don't know whether we can get this done."

– US President Joe Biden concedes that his ambitious proposal to amend Senate filibuster rules is floundering. Having opposed efforts to kill the filibuster in the past, his failing voting rights legislation has made a convert of him . Biden has described GOP efforts to roll back voting rights as "Jim Crow on steroids". Strong words, but not ones he has backed up with meaningful or swift action.

The numbers

7% (more expensive cereal)

- Things are getting pretty pricey in the United States of America. Inflation has increased 7% year-on-year . At least half of that is driven by soaring energy costs and car prices (pay attention to those chip shortages). The US has not experienced a jump in prices like this since 1982.

$10,000,000 disappears from public coffers

- El Salvador's efforts to market itself as an early-adopter of cryptocurrencies is starting to look more like the canary in the coalmine. Last year President Nayib Bukele preened on Twitter about his government buying 1,391 Bitcoins. Since then Bitcoin has dropped 14% in value — just a cool $10m loss.

The headlines

"'The Data Are Pointing to One Major Driver of America's Murder Spike" The Atlantic . Prizes will be awarded to anyone who can correctly identify what that is without reading the article. (Hint: it rhymes with buns).

"Equality chief sees red over discrimination against the ginger-haired"

The Telegraph . Sometimes the low-hanging fruit tastes the best.

The special mention

This gentleman has invented what looks like the Smelloscope from Futurama . Good news, everybody!

A few choice long-reads

  • Everything you need to know from Businessweek: For Macron and France, it's the economy, stupide!
  • America has a lot of problems. The Atlantic wants to solve them all at once.

Tom Wharton