Saturday, the 21st of May

The Question

What shouldn't you do if you plan on getting away with murdering your husband?

Talking Points

Tuk-tuks are redeuced to footpower in Sri Lanka. PHOTO: AP
  1. Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debts for the first time
  2. New Delhi recorded its hottest-ever temperature of 49°C
  3. Blackbox records suggest the China Eastern crash was intentional
  4. North Korea was flattened by rampant Covid infections
  5. And now we've got a new virus to worry about: Monkeypox
  6. Lebanon's election saw Hezbollah lose ground
  7. Next door Israel's government threatened to collapse
  8. A British Tory MP was arrested on rape allegations
  9. The Northern Ireland protocol looked on its last legs
  10. Canada became the latest country to try to expel Huawei

Deep Dive

Which way, Australia? PHOTO: ABC

As you read this, Australians are at the polls, munching on sausages (a quixotically Australian tradition), and electing a new government. The six-week campaign, offering more noise and irritation than substance, has seen the highest proportion of early votes in Australian history. The battleground issues have been cost-of-living pressures, soaring house-prices , and a nagging sense that things are going backwards. The politics of ennui, if you will. Australia may be a remote place, but this election is important no matter where you live - not least because of what it will mean for the climate, China, and the evolution of liberal democracies .

A sunburnt country

Australia is a test-case for how our species responds to climate change. It boasts some of the richest and most easily-exploited veins of mineral wealth imaginable. It’s a podium finisher for metallurgical coal, thermal coal, and liquified natural gas exports. It’s a simple economy: dig, drill, sell. Fossil fuels are responsible for three quarters of the national energy mix. Even as coal’s star dims (slowly, we might add) Canberra is ramping up the construction of numerous gas-fired power plants. All of this means that despite comprising just 0.3% of the global population, Australia contributes 1.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If you factor in the ‘consumption shadow’ of fossil-fuels exported from Australia, that figure is closer to 4% of global emissions: 13 times the proportion of its population.

The truth is that for all the sun-drenched advertisements, in climate terms Australia is a dirty country . In 2021 it had the world’s highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita from coal: double that of China. The total annual emissions per Australian are also the highest in the world: five times the global average. And Australians are footing a growing bill every year. The entire world watched in horror as 46 million acres of Australia burnt between September 2019 and March 2020. It was one of the worst fire seasons Australia has ever suffered: fifteen times more land was burnt than on Black Saturday in 2009. Much of the country is still scarred . Rainforests which had never burnt, burnt. This year, Australia’s east coast suffered its worst floods ever. In Lismore, the Wilson river rose by 13 metres to engulf the town. This is a country uniquely vulnerable to climate change, and also one of the prime movers exacerbating it.

A decade ago, a left-of-centre Labor (don’t ask about the spelling) government put in place an emissions trading scheme that was promptly ripped up by its successor. In the subsequent years of conservative rule Australia has been regularly named-and-shamed at international forums for its sluggishness on climate issues. Climate denialism is no longer palatable in most parts of the electorate, but delayism is alive and well. What gives many Australians hope is that Australia’s capacity to respond to climate change is still best-in-show. The land is richer than Croesus in beaming sun, gusting wind, and sloshing water. All that energy waiting to be captured! Australia is a stupendously privileged country which needs to wean itself off fossil fuels. How promptly it does so is a global concern.

Peril and opportunity

What about a front-row seat for dealing with the next global hegemon? China has a long history in Australia when stacked against European settlement (though both are mere blinks of the eye next to Australia’s 70,000 years of Indigenous history). After the convict imports from Britain ceased in the 1840s, it was cheap Chinese labour that helped build Australia. The Chinese dug up a good deal of the gold that transformed this colonial agrarian economy into a lavish resource extractor. That the railway sleepers and flagstones were laid in place by Asian labour never deterred the colony from viewing itself as a burgeoning white ethno-state. Fear of migration from China has been woven into populist stump speeches for well over a century. Today, Australia has relinquished its antediluvian policies to protect European dominance. In the process it has become one of the world's most multicultural projects. In 2020, some 29% of the population were foreign born, and half the country had at least one parent born overseas. While people born in China make up just 1.8% of Australia's population, the positive impact on its culture is seen everywhere.

Militarily however, Australia is in alliance with the United States. This means it actively participates in US efforts to hem Chinese forces in the South China Sea. Most recently, the sitting conservative government announced a very secret, very expensive, and very awkwardly handled, deal to get in on the American and British nuclear submarine program. The AUKUS deal promises to deliver these subsea wraiths to Australian shores at some point in the next few decades. What makes this particularly difficult for Australia is that China is its largest trading partner - by a wide margin. The prosperity that Australians have enjoyed over the last few decades can be linked, quite directly, to the booming Chinese middle class and to Beijing’s massive construction stimulus in the aughts and teens. China’s increasingly muscular foreign policy has thrown old arrangements off-kilter. By most accounts, China will be in command of the world’s largest economy within a decade. How Australia navigates this shift is not just of regional but global import.

How the democracy sausage is made

This election is also instructive for us all on another matter - how democracies evolve. Until now, Australia has been a political duopoly. Prior to the 1980s, the Labor party was the standard bearer for Australia’s working class, and the Liberal party its middle class and above. But Australia has not escaped the great inversion that has swept across liberal democracies everywhere in the last four decades. Today, the Liberal government speaks to an aspirational working class and lower-middle class voting bloc, while Labor has seized much of the educated, wealthier inner city ground. And as with the US and UK, the two major parties have become cultural entities. But interest in the two-party system has been sagging for over a decade. The current election poses an existential risk for both groups. Minor parties, on the left and right, have siphoned voters off the flanks.

The real threat to the sitting Coalition now comes from a handful of conservative independents who are campaigning on climate change and integrity in politics. They alone could send Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s team into opposition. There is also a reasonable chance that neither major party will win outright , and will have to cobble a minority government with smaller parties and independents. Both major parties view this as a poor outcome, as you might well expect. The data certainly doesn’t support their contention: the only hung parliament in modern Australian history was also one of its most productive . It passed more legislation than every other parliament bar one! How? Through compromise. And in an increasingly polarised political environment, one can’t help but feel that Australia could do with more of it .

But it’s also an exceedingly rare thing to see a duopoly fall — just look at how entrenched America’s is. Can Australia break the mould and chart a path towards a more inclusive and consultative democracy? Or will it, and the world, be up for more of the same? We’ll know in a few hours…


The evacuation of Mariupol. PHOTO: Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

Winners and losers

Last weekend the Ukranian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest with the track 'Stefania'. Within a few days they, and their compatriots, lost Mariupol . The country had mounted a stout defence, for sure, but one that had been grinding towards a logical conclusion for weeks. The entrenched defenders at the Azovstal Steelworks emerged from their tunnels and bunkers by the hundreds — at time of writing some 1,700. With an air of surrealism the surrender was described in the media as an "evacuation" or "withdrawal". Both words imply a level of agency that the Mariupol defenders, currently sitting in Russian detention camps, simply did not have.

As we've touched on before, a Ukranian emergency law banning the very mention of casualties and disposition negates any meaningful reporting. Without an honest appraisal of the war we are left with maps. These show a concerted Russian effort to move beyond the Izium salient and cut off Ukraine's defensive line at Severodonetsk. The battle for Donbas is increasingly an artillery war — hence the Americans rushing even more medium-range guns to the front.

Elsewhere, the flurry of activity evident early in the war is subsiding. Turkey is dragging its feet on Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO. It speaks to the — how can we put this politely? — diverse goals of NATO members that collective defence is a distant second to an extradition argument.

A site of profound hatred. PHOTO: John Normille / Getty

Cannonball news

And now let's whip across America in the news equivalent of the Cannonball Run. Residents of Buffalo, New York spent the week in mourning after murderous attack on the Black community. On Saturday the 18-year-old white supremacist Payton Gendron shot up a supermarket in a Black neighbourhood, murdering 10 people before handing himself over to police. He live streamed the entire killing spree. Much has been made of his incensed manifesto, access to legal firearms , and internet-fed hatred . But at his core Gendron embodied the rage felt by those whose ethno-state is faltering . There is a minority of people in America (not to mention Australia or South Africa) who have not come to terms with 20th century — let alone 21st century — demographics.

The following day, another mass shooting. This time at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, California. In this attack David Wenwei Chou, 68, killed one and injured five more in an apparent attack on Taiwanese nationalism . The Chinese-born resident of Las Vegas left a note in his car declaiming the island nation is actually part of Greater China. Curiously, Chou had lived in Taiwan before moving to the States. He too had a manifesto . It's a novel update on the incessant stream of mass shootings in America.

All this happened against the backdrop of an extraordinary baby formula shortage . We can talk about consolidation and supply-side issues until the cows come home but the most important factor in this product shock is two-thirds of American babies are partially or fully reliant on formula in their first six months. The primary reason behind that is American mothers receive a sum total of zero weeks paid parental leave from the federal government — it's an enormous ask to breastfeed in such conditions.

Finally, New Mexico is on fire , UFOs are back in the news , and Maddison Cawthorn found out just what it takes to get kicked out of the GOP — spilling the beans about drug-fuelled sex parties.

The Best Of Times

An Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin . PHOTO: Alamy

Subaquatic skincare routines

If your refinery's worth of cleanser, toner, serum, moisturiser isn't doing the trick can we recommend rubbing yourself on coral? Biologists from the University of Zurich have noted bottlenose dolphins in the Red Sea using specific corals to treat yeast and bacterial skin infections. The dolphins pick out specific sponges, leather corals, and gorgonian whip corals. All were discovered to have antibacterial, antioxidative, and even hormonal qualities: perfect for achieving the smooth skin dolphins need.

An appealing solution

The world's banana supply was nearly eradicated in the 1950s when a fast-spreading disease called 'Panama wilt' ran through the monoculture of Gros Michel plants. We obviously didn't learn anything because today's Cavendish varietal is just as prevalent and prone. But there's one crop out there which will not only outlive the banana, but may ameliorate climate-induced starvation in east Africa. May we introduce our one true prophet: the Ethiopian false banana .

The Worst Of Times

A truly demeaning affair. PHOTO: AP

Kamikaze fandom

The defamation trial we touched on last week is deeply funny. The Depp-Heard case is plainly distressing . The public unravelling of this toxic, violent relationship has prompted a furious response that is almost universally aimed at Amber Heard. This superb piece from The Atlantic details just how cuckoo bananas the Depp-fandom corner of TikTok has become.

Thrice-divorced-guy energy off the charts

Elon Musk reportedly exposed himself to a SpaceX flight attendant, wheedled her for sex, and then paid her $250,000 to shut up when she complained. He also offered her a horse (presumably after she told him to get on his - and get lost). Gross, undignified, and not a huge surprise.


The Image

A Mennonite community holds back the march of progress on their compound in Chihuahua, Mexico. Image supplied by Reuters .

The Quote

"The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq... I mean of Ukraine."

– Former US President George W. Bush proves once again that no-one can stick their foot in it quite like he can. From the mouth of another 75-year-old, it would be a funny faux pas. From his, it's grotesque.

The Numbers

A $7,800,000,000 disappointment

- Gabe Plotkin's Melvin Capital Management looked dead in the water after its position was blown up in the 2021 meme-stock Reddit army GameStop short squeeze (try explaining that sentence to someone from the past). But the highly-publicised multi-billion dollar loss was followed by a $2.75bn lifeline from Steve Cohen and Ken Griffin. Did it work? A resounding no. This week Melvin folded after 5 of its 6 major bets turned out to be lemons.

13,000 Airbnbs and nowhere to sleep

- New York City now has more holiday short-term rentals than it does apartments for lease. Something has gone drastically wrong.

The Headlines

"Frogs Keep Mating With the Wrong Things" The Atlantic . Ominous.

"Enter Stage Left: A Donkey Debuts at the Met Opera"

The New York Times . A scathing review?

The Special Mention

Vale, Vangelis . Your compositions were magic. No doubt there'll be more than a few champagne corks popped in your name in Cannes tonight.

The Best Long Reads

The Answer...

Writing a book called 'How to murder your husband' would have to be somewhere near the top of the list.