Welcome to the weekend.
Settle down with a cuppa and catch up on some of the best content from our premium syndicators this week.
Quitting QAnon: Why it is so difficult to abandon a conspiracy theory
It took Leila Hay, a softly-spoken university student from northern England, less than 24 hours to become sucked into the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory during a lonely first coronavirus lockdown.
The bespectacled 19-year-old is just one of millions around the world who have followed the amorphous super conspiracy, which asserts that a whistleblower, “Q”, who has top-level US government security clearance, is slowly divulging the disturbing state of the world through a series of online tips. Although its main focus has been on the US, QAnon has drawn in supporters in dozens of countries.
But Hay is also one of those who have now managed to successfully tear themselves away from its clutches — a painstaking process of deradicalisation similar in some ways to the journey which some Islamist extremists have undergone over the past two decades.
For those who have left, their change of heart has often been aided by the fact that none of QAnon’s nearly 5,000 auguries have materialised. But the conspiracy theory still remains potent.
The Financial Times looks at while its prophecies have proven false, the pro-Trump movement remains popular globally.
Ready or not, Hideki Matsuyama is now a national hero in Japan
Hideki Matsuyama has never been a fan of the spotlight. Even as he rose to become Japan’s most successful male golfer, he did his best to avoid the attention lavished on the every move of other Japanese athletes who have shined on the global stage.
But with his win this week at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, the glare will now be inescapable.
The New York Times looks at how by winning the Masters, the publicity-shy golfer will face a news media spotlight that trails every move of Japanese athletes abroad.
• The sandwich economics of the Masters and Augusta National
Putin's secret army – and the chef he chose to run it
How did a former hot-dog seller turned billionaire restaurateur end up running an army of mercenaries on behalf of Putin? Meet Yevgeny Prigozhin, the man behind the shadowy Wagner Group that conducts black ops across the globe – from assassinations to election-rigging and cyberwarfare.
Larisa Brown of The Times investigates the former penniless convict who ended up becoming one of Russia’s most powerful men.
Sole survivors: Why active people have longer and happier lives
The statistics make grim reading. One in eight New Zealand adults is active for less than 30 minutes a week. Only 7 per cent of children meet the Ministry of Health guideline of at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day.
The constant invention of more labour-saving devices means that now even minor exertions, such as getting off the sofa to change the TV channel or walking around a video store to choose a movie, are unnecessary. We have created what medical journal the Lancet described as a “pandemic of physical inactivity”.
This lack of exercise is contributing to a burgeoning health crisis.
To get back in shape, Nicky Pellegrino of The Listener looks at how we need to remodel not just our bodies, but our cities and workplaces.
Inside the fight for the future of the Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal is a rarity in 21st-century media: a newspaper that makes money. A lot of money. But at a time when the US population is growing more racially diverse, older white men still make up the largest chunk of its readership, with retirees a close second.
Now a special innovation team and a group of nearly 300 newsroom employees are pushing for drastic changes at the paper, which has been part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire since 2007.
The New York Times looks at how a rivalry between editor and publisher stands in the way of the paper’s evolution.
Talking smack: The heroin-using professor promoting drug use
A US professor has accused researchers of overstating the harms of recreational drugs and admitted to regular heroin use.
Carl Hart, the Dirk Ziff professor of psychology at Columbia University, New York, would like to see heroin, cocaine, MDMA and crystal meth treated in a similar manner to how we treat alcohol. Not only that, but in his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing liberty in the land of fear, Hart admits to using a number of those drugs himself.
Andrew Anthony of The Listener talks to Hart about whether or not we’ve let fearmongering dictate drug policy in New Zealand.
The real royal crisis and the effect it could have on NZ
First things first: whatever we may think of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s supposedly momentous sit-down with Oprah Winfrey – major news event or public relations stunt, declaration of independence or war, soul baring or wallow in self-pity – the quasi-royal couple deserve thanks for driving the odious Piers Morgan off the air.
After that it gets problematic.
Paul Thomas of The Listener looks at how the Harry and Meghan show is masking a looming problem for the House of Windsor that could have a big effect on the New Zealand of the future.
• Why Prince Philip was elusive on screen
• How Prince Philip navigated the most challenging of corporate dress codes
Western warnings tarnish vaccines the world badly needs
Far beyond the United States and Europe, the safety scares engulfing the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have jeopardised campaigns to inoculate the world, undercutting faith in two sorely needed shots and threatening to prolong the coronavirus pandemic in countries that can ill afford to be choosy about vaccines.
With new infections surging on nearly every continent, signs that the vaccination drive is in peril are emerging, most disconcertingly in Africa.
The New York Times looks at how Western cautions on the vaccines risk igniting an explosion of damaging anti-vaccine fervour in the global south.
• AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots: What is known so far
• Did spotlighting a rare potential vaccine side effect put more at risk?
Shades of 2016: Republicans stay silent on Trump, hoping he fades away
Many Republicans are being forced to navigate the impulses of former president Donald Trump, who talks privately about running again in 2024.
To some extent, their posture recalls the waning days of Trump’s first primary candidacy, in 2015 and 2016.
Just like when Trump was a candidate then, rival Republicans are trying to avoid becoming the target of his attacks or directly confronting him, while hoping someone else will.
The New York Times reports.
• Opinion: What Bidenism owes to Trumpism
• The ‘complication’ of a lingering Trump
The only ones arrested after a child's rape: The women who helped her
She wore a ponytail and a red T-shirt, the words “Glitter Girl” sketched across the front.
Gripping her mother’s hand, she spoke softly, describing how she had been forced out of school by Venezuela’s economic crisis, and then was raped at least six times by a neighbourhood predator who threatened to harm her family if she spoke out. At just 13, she became pregnant.
With her mother, she sought out a doctor, who told her the pregnancy endangered her life, and then a former teacher, who provided pills that induced an abortion.
But ending a pregnancy is illegal in almost all circumstances in Venezuela. And now the girl was speaking up, she said, because her teacher, Vannesa Rosales, was in jail, facing more than a decade in prison for helping her end a pregnancy — while the accused rapist remained free.
The New York Times looks at how the young girl’s assault has forced a national debate about legalising abortion.
The vanishing billionaire: How Jack Ma fell foul of Xi Jinping
China’s most outspoken billionaire has gone silent. No one has seen Jack Ma at the business school he founded. Nor at his tai chi studio. His raucous speeches headlining an annual meeting of entrepreneurs in his home province of Zhejiang have been put on hold.
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping unexpectedly called off the blockbuster public offering of Ant Group, Ma’s payments and lending business, five months ago, Ma has made a single public appearance.
The Financial Times looks at how the Alibaba founder’s dramatic rise and fall illustrates China’s wary embrace of tycoons who power economic growth.
• Beijing hints at truce in war on Jack Ma’s business empire
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