Saturday, the 11th of June

The Question

What's the surest sign that we are approaching the End Times?

Talking Points

January 6, 2021. PHOTO: AP
  1. The January 6 hearings became must-watch primetime TV
  2. FBI sued for $1bn over its botched Nassar investigation
  3. Americans could be forced to Mexico for safe abortions
  4. Twitter to provide Elon Musk an API of every tweet
  5. Apple muscled into the buy now, pay later space
  6. Boris Johnson survived a bruising confidence vote
  7. Russia closed in on victory in the Donbas
  8. Iran disconnected monitoring devices at its nuclear sites
  9. Bangladesh investigated the cause of a deadly container fire
  10. Myanmar’s rebels started their very own Phoenix program

Deep Dive

Six-time major champion Phil MIckelson. PHOTO: AFP

Saudi petro-billions, grasping champions, and a murder that just can't simply be swept under the rug. 48 years after the PGA Tour broke away, the world's leading golf organiser is suffering its own rebellion.

Golf, but louder

On Thursday, war came to a quiet corner of St Albans, Hertfordshire, just off the A14. Deprived of the peerless element of surprise, a dazzling display of airpower and a sheer numerical advantage was brought to bear. Grenadier Guards marched in tight formation as jets wheeled in unison above. A good show to boost esprit de corps. Then, at 2:15pm local time, the first shot in a new war - a shotgun blast - rang out across the green. That was soon followed by the sounds of 18 golfers teeing off simultaneously. The inaugural LIV Golf Invitational got underway and threatened to rip the sport asunder.

Who or what is LIV Golf? It's an entirely new organisation that threatens to blow up both the US PGA Tour and the European DP World Tour. Equal parts gaud and greed, it has found a fitting face (and possibly, fall guy) in Greg Norman. While a cronyms usually suggest history, culture, or at the very least conceptual depth, this one doesn't. The rather important-sounding LIV is simply the number 54 written in Roman numerals. 54 being the number of holes played over each three-day event. And Romans presumably being the inspiration for the marauding organisation.

The invitational in Hertfordshire was the first of an eight-event tour backed by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman's Public Investment Fund. The prize money is heavy enough to create its own gravitational field. While 14 Major Championships earned Tiger Woods a paltry $121m, LIV has offered ageing American champ Phil Mickelson a cheque for $200m, and 2020 Masters winner Dustin Johnson, $150m. Sadly, at least for the organisers, the journalists have not been willing to play ball. They keep bringing up tough questions about the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the LIVers keep flubbing their lines.

The tournament itself was a tasteless contrivance.There's a draft system that divides 48 players into teams of four and allots each one the worst name organisers can think of. To sex up what is objectively the least sexy sport on the planet, teams have been given names like Torque, Ironhead, Crushers, Fireballs, 4 Aces, Stinger... the list goes on; each entry lamer than the last. The tour's motto is 'Golf, but louder'. And here again the money is important because vast sums of it are destined to be siphoned off to all manner of advisors and consultants. All that said, the shotgun start was pretty neat.

The winner takes it all

Breakaway sport tournaments are nothing new. Northern English rugby clubs split off from Union and formed the professional Rugby League back in 1895. Kerry Packer draped international cricketers in garish colours for the World Series Cricket so he could dine on the broadcast rights. Billie Jean King's campaign for equal prize money took her to an insurgent tournament hosted by Virginia Slims. And, of course, who could forget the absolutely disastrous effort by several of the richest football clubs (and their backers at JP Morgan) to form the European Super League in 2021. There are only two fates possible: Saturn devouring his son, or Oedipus slaying his father.

LIV Golf is an existential threat to the PGA Tour and its being treated as such. Half an hour after tee-off on Thursday, 17 of the mercenary players were banned from competing in PGA Tour events. 10 had already handed in their memberships after being denied dispensation to attend Hertfordshire over the Canadian Open. So now we get to watch the carnage. LIV Golf has all the money in the world but it absolutely must convince more top-flight players to join the rebellion. Greg Norman boasted about offering Tiger Woods "high nine figures" to join. That the answer was a firm no speaks to a principle that goes beyond comfort.

Finally, it wouldn't be a cashed-up golf controversy unless Donald Trump's name cropped up. Naturally, his courses in Miami and Bedminster will be hosting two of the LIV events this year.


The Spanish galleon San Jose. PHOTO: AFP

Lost and found

When the Spanish ruled the world, great fleets of merchant vessels and warships plied the oceans. Each year, one would depart the imperial core for Veracruz, where it would load up on silver and gold. Then it would sail for Cartagena, where it would be laden with all the mineral riches of Potosi and Peru. These were the Spanish treasure fleets, the hooks which gutted the indigenous wealth of New Spain and Tierra Firme for two centuries. In 1708, with the war of Spanish Succession in full swing, one such treasure fleet was intercepted by the British off the coast of Cartagena. The flagship San Jose received a direct hit to its magazine and detonated, taking with it 200 tons of precious gems, gold, and silver. The wreck was discovered in 2015, but only revealed this week.

The Colombian navy released submersible footage of the San Jose and two more wrecks from the ambushed flotilla. At a murky depth of 950m the well-preserved wreck emerges as if from a dream. Barnacled and broken, it has lain undisturbed for three hundred years. The excitement about the find is palpable: the treasure onboard is valued at $17bn. A former Colombian president described it as "the most precious treasure ever found in the history of the world". Ivan Duque, who currently holds that office, calls it a "source of pride for Colombia, the Carribean, and the world".

Pride aside, who gets to keep it? The Spanish believe it theirs — but what the Spanish considered theirs led them to rape, slaughter, and enslave an entire continent. The Qhara Qhara nation in Bolivia has a claim too - that the minerals were mined by their ancestors under duress, and so should be returned to them. Meanwhile D uque does not need to be reminded that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Plug it in. PHOTO: Julien Warnand / EPA

Wants and needs

This week the European Union passed two inspired pieces of legislation. On Wednesday, a law to standardise consumer electronics chargers. A day later, an effective ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars after 2035. The latter also lifts the 2030 emissions reduction target imposed on carmakers from 37.5% to 55%, versus 2021 levels. And five years after 2030, it will become a legal impossibility to sell new combustion engine automobiles altogether. That this law passed 339-249 in Strasbourg, a few hours' drive from the homes of Europe's largest automakers, is astonishing. This is planned obsolescence in action.

But now, walk over to your miscellanea drawer (third or fourth, depending on preference). Slide it open and take a good look at that Gorgon's tangle of outmoded charging cords you've been hoarding. And smile - this too will soon be a thing of the past. In a bold move to iron out the inefficiencies of consumer capitalism, the EU is requiring the standard use of USB-C . This too is planned obsolescence in action.

Is obsolescence desirable and useful? That depends. Any border that's drawn is simply a reflection of the cartographer's priorities and values. The European Union has shown us theirs. Other examples abound: in September, Apple will roll out its iOS 16 update. iPhones produced before 2015 will not be compatible with the release. Admittedly, there are good technical reasons for this (Moore's law, for one). But there are far greater profits from selling new devices than, say, slimming down the architecture of an operating system to include as many older devices as possible. Apple has a reputation for, how shall we put this, accelerating the end-of-life-cycle of its products. In years gone by, warranties would be voided by any third-party repairs and battery replacement was nigh on impossible. Today, the company will begrudgingly send an at-home repair kit to you, but you'll need more than good luck to work it. Here again the EU is leading the way with its right-to-repair initiative.

The Best Of Times

She is both fantastic and giant. PHOTO: The Telegraph

Say "Hello, Fernanda"

A genetic test of Fernanda, a "fantastic giant tortoise" (Chelonoidis phantasticus) has proven her relation to the last of her kind which was seen in 1906. Conservationists were gobsmacked when this sprightly 50-year-old specimen of an apparently extinct species came ambling out of the bush. It's raised hopes that others may be found on the Galapagos island of Fernandina with an eye to creating a breeding program.

Beetle larvae can eat and digest polystyrene

It's about time something else in the animal kingdom eats as much rubbish as humans do.

The Worst Of Times

Endless scroll, thoughtless executive. PHOTO: Markus Mainka

Mum's not the word at TikTok

In October, ByteDance launched its e-commerce platform TikTok Shop in the UK. It's been a disaster. Significant cultural issues, along with untenable working conditions, have seen half the 40-person team resign . The troubles were best personified by the head of the project, Joshua Ma, who told staff that he didn't believe companies should offer maternity leave. What's good for head office is clearly not good everywhere.

The lonely brain

Social isolation has been shown to shrink the brain and increase dementia risk. Fears are growing that working from home may be more than just a psychologically isolating experience. The age of loneliness is having a measurable physiological effect on our most valuable organ. We are social animals, and no technology can replace human contact.


The Image

Celtics edge to within two wins of the NBA Championship after a win at home. Image supplied by USA Today Sports Media Group

The Quote

"Maite wore green, high-top Converse with a heart she had hand-drawn on the right toe because they represented her love of nature. These are the same green Converse on her feet that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her after the shooting. How about that?"

Uvalde-born actor Matthew McConaughey gave an impassioned speech at the White House decrying the lack of action on gun control.

The Numbers

32-hour work week

- What a way to make a living. 3,300 Brits from 70 companies are undertaking a six-month trial of a four-day work week with no reduction in full-time pay . It's the largest such experiment to date and will undoubtedly confirm what other studies in Iceland and New Zealand have found: improvements in both wellbeing and productivity.

An $88,625 re-release take

- Last week, Sony Pictures re-released vampire superhero film Morbius in 1,037 US cinemas . It flopped even harder on the second turn, bringing in around $85 per cinema. Now, it's not unheard of that fans rattling their cages in concert can convince a studio to save a beloved show slated for cancellation. But in this case, the social media campaign to bring Morbius back to the silver screen was so obviously tongue-in-cheek that it makes you wonder whether anyone at Sony had actually seen the film.

The Headlines

"'The Man Who Broke Capitalism — did Jack Welch destroy corporate America" Financial Times . Yes, he's not the messiah.

"Scientists create living human skin for robots"

The Independent . No, that's super weird, stop it now.

The Special Mention

Our Special Mention is awarded to Japan, which this week opened its borders to tourists, albeit under strict conditions. Anyone wishing to soak up the rich local culture (the Nintendo Museum, cartoon mascots for diaper companies, etc) will need to do so on a guided tour . The move coincided with a story of an American tourist in Rome throwing her e-scooter down the Spanish Steps in Rome, doing €25,000 of damage to the landmark. So we'd like to take Japan's wonderful idea and extend it further: all tourists from the States must be under the watchful eye of a chaperone at all times.

The Best Long Reads

The Answer...

A dwindling condiments shelf in your fridge/pantry. Climate change is threatening global tomato ketchup and sriracha hot sauce production. If these two utilities disappear then several billion people will be rudely awakened to the fact that their cooking isn't crash hot.