Saturday, the 16th of April

The Question

How far into the past can we gaze?

Talking Points

Terror in the subways. PHOTO: AFP
  1. Frank James denied bail after shooting 10 in a New York subway
  2. British ISIS fighter El Shafee Elsheikh found guilty of killing hostages
  3. Oklahoma enacted a near-total ban on abortions
  4. Joe Biden accused Russia of genocide in Ukraine
  5. AMLO won a smashing 90% of Mexico's recall referendum
  6. North Korean hackers blamed for last months $620m crypto heist
  7. Lockdowns spread across China as Covid wave worsens
  8. Sri Lanka announced it would stop servicing foreign debt
  9. Deadly floods claimed 148 lives in the Philippines
  10. Le Pen and Macron duelled ahead of the run-off vote

Deep Dive

Are you having fun yet? PHOTO: Mic

Have you heard this one? Twitter's largest individual shareholder, its biggest troll, and the world's richest man walk into a boardroom meeting. The chairperson says, "Good afternoon, Mr Musk."

Everything happens so much

Just over a week ago Elon Musk launched his assault on Twitter. The world's richest man purchased 9.1% of the beloved — if slightly shopworn — social media platform. The Musk effect was immediate: Twitter's share-price jumped appreciably. 9.1% made him the largest shareholder by far and an invitation to join the board was proffered. But there was a catch, a requirement that he not increase his stake beyond 14.9%. All of a sudden the issue became knotty. As a director Musk would not be allowed to indulge one of his favourite pastimes: publicly criticising Twitter's leadership, direction, and performance.

Whether the reality sank in late, or it was misdirection the whole time, we may never know. But Musk declined to join the board. Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal announced the shock decision with the presage "There will be distractions ahead..." You bet there would be. That day Musk asked his 81 million followers, "Is Twitter dying?" Senior figures inside the company were aghast at the fractious dispute being carried out in realtime on their platform. Then came the bombshell a few days later: Musk made an offer to buy the whole ranch. Here was his note to Twitter Chairman Bret Taylor:

"I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy. However, since making my investment I now realise the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company. As a result, I am offering to buy 100% of Twitter for $54.20 per share in cash, a 54% premium over the day before I began investing in Twitter and a 38% premium over the day before my investment was publicly announced. My offer is my best and final offer and if it is not accepted, I would need to reconsider my position as a shareholder. Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it."

The man who bought the world

Now it gets really interesting. Can the richest man on the planet actually afford to drop roughly $36bn in cash on the other 90% of the company? Musk's $260bn fortune is mostly tied up in Tesla stock. He can sell a large swathe of it (and realise a jaw-dropping tax bill) but it's not clear whether Musk would take such a sizeable personal hit. Alternatively he could pledge some of those shares as collateral for a loan, though he has already pledged well over $100bn worth on other loans. And it's also not clear which banks would be willing to take on that bet given Tesla's volatility and the fact it's stock is not connected in any meaningful way to the fundamentals of the business. Insiders believe that Musk might be tapping like-minded private investors to help bear some of the load. But the risk is enough to make most people squirm, especially when someone as mercurial as Musk admits "I don't really care about the economics at all". This is personal, part of the billionaire's drive for more radically free speech online .

For all the bravado, his "best and final" offer may not be enough. The second-largest shareholder, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal flatly rejected it. And the board is believed to be working on a poison pill defence to make the acquisition prohibitively expensive. The definition of "the best interest of shareholders" starts to get very dicey when negotiations turn into a fusillade. No-one is going to walk away from this unscathed.

Elon Musk's relationship to Twitter over the years is best described as a tragicomedy. The hits are well-known: calling a hero of the Thai cave rescue a "pedo". Drawing credible accusations of stock manipulation by telling his followers that he had external financing to take Tesla private. Being forced to have his tweets fact-checked by a lawyer by the Securities and Exchange Commission over that very incident. Musk has used his considerable heft and following to boost various cryptocurrencies — interventions that have had clear impact on their values. He is simply will not log off.

But there's one element to the relationship that isn't as well-known. A recent study revealed that at Tesla's lowest ebb in 2013 (when its Model S's were catching on fire at an alarming rate) Twitter bots began posting a barrage of positive sentiments about the automaker . Just how much this digital rent-a-crowd helped lift a struggling Tesla and its founder is hard to gauge, but we'd wager Musk owes Twitter a debt of gratitude.


Will we see the Moskva rise on Sunday? PHOTO: Reuters

Divine Providence

In an earlier edition of the Weekly Wrap we learned about Patriarch Kirill of Moscow's attempt to provide some spiritual justification for the invasion of Ukraine. Let's find out whether the invocation has been felt on the battlefield. For most Christians this weekend is Easter (Eastern denominations celebrate it next week). A time to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Reflection and ritual connect Christians to one another and the teachings of Jesus. An auspicious time.

Much of the focus lately has been on the pivot of Russian invasion forces from northern to eastern Ukraine and the renewed violence that entails. But late in the week something notable happened: the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was sunk. Moskva, a powerful guided missile cruiser named for Russia's capital, went down with very little detail about how many of her 510 crew survived. Russian state media was quick to blame the accidental detonation of ammunition. Ukrainian state media insisted it was the two anti-ship missiles they hit Moskva with. Either way, a significant blow for Russia's ability to project power in the Black Sea.

But the story doesn't end there. A February 2020 news report from the Russian broadcaster TASS surfaced with an interesting detail. It concerns a fragment of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Russia's orthodox churches are in possession of several such relics: splinters of wood that are embedded in much larger objects for safekeeping. They are profound objects. And one of them, as TASS reported, happened to be kept in the chapel onboard the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. While we await more details, it's believed that part of the True Cross is sitting at the bottom of the Black Sea entombed by the Moskva. If that's not Divine Providence, nothing is.

Embattled but unrepentant. PHOTO: AP

The Party

The stories were damning this week: Boris Johnson is the first British prime minister to have committed a crime while in office. For the sake of accuracy he's the first PM caught committing a crime, but you get the point. Johnson has made it abundantly clear that partying with his colleagues while the rest of the country was locked down under strict health measures is a survivable. He's not going anywhere unless the Tories show him the door . And while there are persistent grumblings the PM remains steadfast.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was also handed a £50 fixed penalty notice for attending the same event but if the last few weeks have taught us anything it's that his wife is good for the money. Rishi Sunak's supporters spoke of a man in "agonising" rumination as to whether he should resign or not. And he may well have — he is a human with a complex inner life like the rest of us. But public figures are judged on their actions, and Sunak choose not to resign. There was another choice, as embodied by Lord David Wolfson. The now ex-Justice Minister penned a powerful resignation letter which is worth reading.

"Justice may often be a matter of courts and procedure, but the rule of law is something else — a constitutional principle which, at its root, means that everyone in a state, and indeed the state itself, is subject to the law. I regret that recent disclosures lead to the inevitable conclusion that there was repeated rule-breaking, and breaches of the criminal law, in Downing Street."

Now headlines are being soaked up by the UK's plan to mimic Australia's disgraceful offshore detention program by sending Channel-crossing migrants to Rwanda. Even senior Tories are calling out a dead cat strategy when they see one.

The Best Of Times

The holy grail is a beaker. PHOTO: Getty

Eternal youthfulness

In Cat Woman (2004), one of the silliest films ever made, a villainous Sharon Stone develops a beauty product which bestows eternally youthful skin on the user. Up until this week it was just a bad plot in a bad movie. But now... This week a group of scientists at Cambridge revealed they have reprogrammed mature skin cells to look and act like their younger selves . They applied a variation on the Yamaka process (by which cells are transformed into stem cells) to turn tired old skin-cells into the collagen-pumping fibroblasts. Touché, Sharon Stone.

You remember your cats name

And it remembers yours .

The Worst Of Times

After the flash flooding. PHOTO: AP

Hundreds dead around Durban

It rained and rained in KwaZulu-Natal province this week. Waters rose across the entire eThekwini metro area around the capital of Durban. Rivers slipped their banks and took hundreds of homes with them. Violent waters folded shipping containers like paper. 300 lives have been lost — an interim figure that will certainly grow. The help that arrived during the week was piecemeal: these South Africans are more or less on their own. More rain is on the way.

Tit-for-tat killings

A renowned Palestinian human rights lawyer was shot and killed during an occupation raid in Nablus this week. He was standing on the side of the road watching as an armed Israeli patrol sped by. The 34-year-old was shot in the chest for no apparent reason. Ramadan is traditionally a tense time but violence is spiralling after the terror attack in Tel Aviv. An eye for an eye.


The Image

Australian photographer Adam Ferguson won the Sony World Photography Awards this week with his arresting portraits. Pictured here are a father and son in a Juarez migrant shelter. Image supplied by The Telegraph .

The Quote

"[speaking in Mandarin]"

– Those versed in China's state language were left bamboozled by Ethan Hawke's character in Marvel's Moon Knight. The closed captions informed English-speaking audiences that Hawke was conversing with another character in Mandarin, but he is in fact mumbling vaguely Asian-sounding "gibberish".

The Numbers

$26.8m on thick men with earpieces and black suits

- In SEC filings it was revealed that Meta spends nearly thirty big ones on private security for the Zuckerbergs . Mark, known internally as "the eye of Sauron" — lovingly, he assures us — is concerned for his safety. For that kind of dosh Meta could just buy four M1A2 SEP V3 main battle tanks from General Dynamics, one each for Mark, Priscilla, and the kids, while still having a few million left over.

Annual US Consumer Price Index 8.5%

- Your paycheck isn't getting you as far as it used to, is it? March inflation was up 1.2% over the February figures. The drivers of inflation are known. What isn't is how AriZona iced tea , apparently immune to the vagaries of the macro-economic climate, is still 99 cents.

The Headlines

"Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid" The Atlantic . They can't blame it on leaded gasoline this time...

"Did everyone in Bridgerton have syphilis? Just how sexy would it really have been in Regency era London?"

The Conversation . Things weren't so glamorous before penicillin.

The Special Mention

What can we say about Gilbert? He was a strange little man who, in that ludicrous voice, delighted in telling first joke-in-poor-taste about 9/11 on national television while lower Manhattan was still coated in concrete dust. A comedic genius and national treasure . Vale, Gilbert Gottfried.

The Best Long Reads

The Answer...

With our memories, lifetimes. Through histories, millennia. In ice-core samples, epochs. But with the next generation of space-based gravitational wave detectors, like one the European Space Agency will launch in the 2030s, we will peer through deep-time and past the cosmic microwave background (the afterglow of the Big Bang which permeates everything). We may just see glimpses of the universe 13.8bn years ago .