Saturday, the 28th of May

The Question

When is revenge best served?

Talking Points

Cluster bombs used against Kharkiv. PHOTO: Ivan Alvarado
  1. Fighting around Severodonetsk reached "maximum intensity"
  2. Davos attendees pondered the pullback from globalisation
  3. Sue Gray's 'Partygate' report shamed Boris Johnson
  4. US billionaire Todd Boehly bought Chelsea
  5. Jack Dorsey logged off for good
  6. Beloved Goodfellas actor Ray Liotta died aged 67
  7. Colombia geared up for a generational election
  8. India sentenced a Kashmiri separatist leader to life
  9. Imran Khan delivered an ultimatum on new elections
  10. A faint ray of climate optimism emerged in Australia

Deep Dive

This old chestnut. PHOTO: AP

Your newsfeed is likely fuller than a centipede’s sock drawer with monkeypox case numbers and statistics. Should it be? Let’s do our best to answer some basic questions.

What is monkeypox?

The phrase “zoonotic infectious disease outbreak” surfaced in the news at the beginning of May and a collective shudder was felt across the globe. Just two years ago, Wuhan hospitals experienced a torrent of acute respiratory infections. Today, having been battered by successive waves of Covid-19 variants, the world is alert to new pandemics, although sadly still lacking the healthcare capacity to manage them. Cue rising anxiety. Luckily, your reflexive panic is more a reflection of modern news production than actual risk. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Monkeypox is, as the name strongly implies, a member of the poxvirus family . It is a double-stranded DNA virus which infects humans and animals alike. While monkeys get the naming rights (it was first identified in laboratory monkeys in Denmark), primates are not a natural reservoir for the virus. That dubious distinction goes to… *drumroll*... rats! The first human cases were discovered in the Congo Basin in 1970. Like the Ebola virus disease, monkeypox makes its way into human systems through contact with animals — often the consumption of bushmeat. Once in the body, it produces a high fever, painful lesions, and swollen lymph nodes. Indeed the effects appear similar to chickenpox (which, as it happens, is not actually a poxvirus). If left untreated it has a 10% mortality rate .

But never fear — this isn’t our first dance with the poxvirus family. Anyone who remembers where they were when the Berlin Wall came down will have a sense of how drastically smallpox scarred our species. Outbreaks plagued our species from at least the third century BCE. In the 20th century, smallpox killed 500 million people — ten times more than the second world war. A global public health campaign finally brought it to heel in 1980, but only after millions were left scarred. The upshot of all this is that the smallpox vaccine has an 85% efficacy rate against monkeypox !

Are you going to catch monkeypox?

Without getting into legal fine print, we can’t give you any medical advice; but we can say that the most likely answer to this question is a two-letter word starting with the letter N. That said, we're finding out that monkeypox can be a fairly tricky virus to keep a lid on : the incubation period can last two, and in rare cases, three weeks from infection. But compared to the super-transmissible Omicron Covid-19 variant, monkeypox is glacial. The vast majority of cases historically are zoonotic — human-to-human transmission requires extremely close contact (respiratory tract, broken skin, mucous membranes).

So what's all the hullabaloo about? Well, the curious thing about this outbreak is that in the past it has been rare to see monkeypox outside West and Central Africa . Now, nearly 200 confirmed and suspected cases have been discovered in non-endemic countries. That certainly sounds ominous, but let’s look at the facts. The proximity required makes sexual intercourse the most likely vector for transmission. And there are some reports linking the current outbreak to a pair of LGBT+ raves in Spain and Belgium. An uptick in international air travel in the northern spring has also helped giddy transmission.

Unfortunately there has been some hysterical reporting about said gay sex parties, especially in Britain where the outbreak is largest. Don’t be weird about it. As we're discovering, Victorian-era prudishness has a far longer infectious period than monkeypox. Two years of wall-to-wall pandemic coverage succeeded in obfuscating just as much as it elucidated. Hopefully calmer voices prevail this time.


Robb Elementary School after the bloodshed. PHOTO: Marco Bello / Reuters

The Uvalde massacre

There are levels to the revulsion.

First, to contend with the barbarity itself — imagining the very act of gunning down 10-year-olds and their teachers . Attacks like this one, and the monstrosity at Sandy Hook nearly a decade ago, scratch at our visceral sense of survival. One bleak headline read: A culture that kills its children has no future . Then, there's the revulsion upon realising that the killer was a product of their environment. It takes a village to raise a school shooter . The 18-year-old killer was relentlessly bullied in childhood for their speech impediment; later for their perceived sexuality. In the hollow aftermath of the attack, Uvalde residents continued to cling to the phrase "tight-knit community" — at least one thread went untended.

A sense of vulnerability abounds. The shooter spent 40 minutes murdering children while heavily-armed police outside cuffed their bereaved parents. Some parents evaded police and ran into the school to grab their kids. What use is body armour and an assault rifle if the instinct for self-preservation is stronger than the instinct to protect? This is not a new phenomenon: police responding to the Columbine massacre waited for hours to enter the school.

The tenor of debate is distressed, and distressing. Arm the teachers. Implement universal background checks . Fortify schools. End the filibuster . Disband the NRA. Lock doors. Write more scathing opinion columns. Pray. The final indignity is obvious: America, as presently constituted, is helpless to stop the bloodshed.

The answer, America, is elementary. Stop the guns, stop the killings.

Cool. PHOTO: Inverse

Message from the frontier

Voyager 1 is out yonder, and by that we mean some 24 billion kilometres away. A decade ago it breached the heliopause — the border separating our solar system from the inky interstellar maw. Incredibly, it is still transmitting signals back home. But they've gotten a little weird . The control system onboard appears to be in working condition but the telemetry readouts are returning random or physically impossible data sets. It is the first time a human object has made it out into the radiation-rich void. Perhaps, after 45 years of service, we should cut Voyager 1 a break. It's due to stop transmitting around 2025, but then faces a self-propelled journey into the depths of galaxy that could last for several trillion years .

After the retiring space shuttle Atlantis landed on July 21, 2011, NASA became a dependent. The only method left for delivering American astronauts and scientists to the International Space Station was aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. A pair of companies were selected to build replacements: Boeing, and an undercutting new-arrival called SpaceX. The latter became a household name - for explosions (early on), successful relaunches (later), and a mercurial media-obsessed mogul (throughout). Meanwhile, the aerospace giant lumbered from failure to failure. This week, after two aborted attempts, Boeing's Starliner capsule finally returned to Earth from the ISS after an uncrewed test mission . Lofted on a United Launch Alliance rocket (a cartel that Boeing is part of), the Starliner's success heralds a new era for NASA.

The Best Of Times

Shree and Rockwell share their work. PHOTO: Andrew Fosker

One for your booklist

Geetanjali Shree's novel Tomb of Sand is the first novel in an Indian language to win the International Booker Prize . The protagonist is an 80-year-old woman who slides into depression after the death of her husband. But what follows is, as the judging panel noted, an "enormously engaging and charming and funny and light" journey of self-discovery and renewal. The prize is shared with translator Daisy Rockwell whose "stunningly realised" work shepherded the wit and metre of Hindi into English.

Released red-footed

After two decades, the red-footed tortoise has returned to Argentina. The progenitors had to be rescued from pet captivity elsewhere on the continent. Now 40 of these charming plodders will roam Parque Nacional El Impenetrable. Let's hope it lives up to its name.

The Worst Of Times

Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral in Jerusalem. PHOTO: Amir Levy / Getty

Lies and lead

The Palestinian Authority investigation into the killing of acclaimed journalist confirmed what CNN and Al Jazeera film crews present had claimed . Shireen Abu Akleh was shot by Israel occupation forces . There was no exchange of gunfire with militants. Israel is refusing to hand over ballistic evidence which could match the bullet that was retrieved from Abu Akleh's head.

Haiti prisons "like a concentration camp"

Haiti's food and water scarcity is being felt dramatically in the country's jails. While a fifth of the prison population gets meals from family members, the remainder remain dependent on a government that cannot provide that necessity. One prisoner offered the simple plea: hoy no hay comida otra ves . Today, again, there is no food .


The Image

French tight-roper Nathan Paulin claims the world record for the longest crossing with his 2.2km walk to the delightful Mont Saint Michel. Image supplied by Radio France Internationale .

The Quote

"I'd advise the US to listen to a well-known Chinese song with these lyrics: 'For our friends, we have fine wine. For jackals or wolves, we welcome with shotguns.'"

– Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin tries out a little musical number after Joe Biden's unwitting (or dimwitted) intervention on Taiwan policy.

The Numbers

A 5,484-year-old tree

- In Chile's Alerce Costero National Park, named for the coastal species of Patagonian cypress that grows there, Dr Jonathon Barichivich discovered the ancient world. A core sample from an enormous, gnarled cypress revealed the tree known locally as 'great-grandfather' may predate the emergence of cuneiform in Mesopotamia, the birth of Shri Ram in India, and the Bronze Age. It is the oldest tree on the planet.

A 19% lurch downwards

- Shifting gears from the enduring to the transient: the broad rout of tech stocks has eliminated one-fifth of the value on the S&P 500. The tech-heavy index is captive to the vicissitudes of Amazon ( ↓36% ), Tesla ( ↓38% ), and Meta ( ↓45% ). You can either buy the dip or start practicing morse code.

The Headlines

"This 830-million-year-old crystal might contain life. And we're about to open it" WEKU NPR . Don't do it!!!

"Just give up on your sheet pans"

Salon . Say no more.

The Special Mention

Let's just get the record straight here: corruption among petty officials is a universal problem that leads to a breakdown in trust. It can also be pretty funny. Reports emerged this week of a Delhi official who would close a public stadium to sports teams hours early each night so that he and his wife could walk their dog in peace . The city administration reiterated that government stadia must remain open until 10pm nightly.

The Best Long Reads

The Answer...

19 years after the initial infraction . On Tuesday, an Islamic State-sympathiser named Shihab Ahmed Shihab Shihab was arrested for plotting to assassinate George W. Bush. The horrific violence of the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq may have had something to do with it. Revenge is a poor substitute for justice, but so are international war crimes statutes .