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1 December

In the headlines

Prince William’s godmother has resigned from the royal household for asking a black British charity founder at a Buckingham Palace reception “which part of Africa” she was from. Ngozi Fulani says she told Lady Susan Hussey, 83, that she was from north London, to which Hussey replied: “No, but where do you really come from? Where do your people come from?” Patients face a “postcode lottery” when they call 999 for an ambulance, say The Times. According to a new analysis, suspected heart attack and stroke victims in Cornwall wait an average of 1hr 41mins for paramedics to arrive, compared to just 19 minutes in Oxford. British artists had four of the 10 most-streamed songs on Spotify this year. Harry Styles’s As It Was (below) took the top spot with 1.5 billion plays worldwide. The others were Oxford indie-rock band Glass Animals, Elton John & Dua Lipa, and Kate Bush.


When did investors become such suckers?

It’s been a “lousy month” for the reputation of professional investors, says Brooke Masters in the FT. The collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX revealed that everyone from “racy hedge funds” to boring old pension managers had been throwing money at a firm with “weaker financial controls than Enron”. Then Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to 11 years behind bars for Theranos, her fraudulent blood-testing firm that suckered supposedly sophisticated investors including Oracle founder Larry Ellison and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Meanwhile many top crypto companies are teetering, despite being “backed by the best” of Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists.


Germany’s hypocrisy over Qatar

Germany has signed a huge new deal with Qatar to import two million tonnes of liquefied natural gas from the country every year for the next 15 years. It’s ridiculously hypocritical, says Ulf Poschardt in Die Welt. Our World Cup team has made a big fuss over being banned from wearing rainbow armbands to protest against Qatar’s anti-gay laws. But what’s the point of these gestures when our businesses are funding the regime through trade deals? Are we all to sit around wearing OneLove armbands to prove “how outraged we are” about Qatar’s rejection of human rights, while heating our homes with gas that funds this exact persecution?


The subject of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring may be one of art’s most recognisable faces, says The Cultural Tutor on Twitter, but she didn’t actually exist. The work isn’t technically a portrait, because it’s not of a real person. It’s a “tronie”: a painting portraying a “type” of person. The imagined figures in tronies can be allegories for a particular human state, which is why they’re often given “generic names based on the figure depicted or idea portrayed”, such as old woman, youth with violin, or Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer wasn’t depicting a living person, but rather “a feeling in human form”.


Not all football penalties are created equal, says Vox. Nearly a quarter of all World Cup spot kicks are aimed at the bottom left corner of the goal, but that’s a terrible choice, with just 63% of them making it into the back of the net. Far better, say number-crunchers, is bottom right: only 17% are aimed there but 74% go in. Best of all is the glorious top-right corner, which only 6% of penalty takers dare attempt – but 88% of those who try are rewarded with a goal.

Gone viral

TikTok activists are posting videos of themselves “dumpster diving”, says The New York Times, which involves scouring the bins of large retailers and posting “hauls” of the products they find needlessly discarded. Clips with the hashtag #dumpsterdiving have racked up over two billion views, showing bin raiders discovering everything from packets of salted caramel chocolates to $500 designer handbags. “To change behaviour,” says one, “it’s important to expose the wastefulness.”

Tomorrows world

A Hong Kong start-up is developing video games for dogs, says Axios. Joipaw’s brain-training challenges, which include whac-a-mole and pinball, are run on a custom drool-proof touchscreen: canine competitors bop the display with their nose and receive a treat when they complete a level. Researchers say these digital puzzles can boost a pup’s brain health, helping stave off illnesses like dementia. The biggest challenge is getting the pooches to pay attention at the start of each game: the best method developers have found is lathering the screen with peanut butter.

Quirk of history

Britain has endured some “embarrassing and undiplomatic” ambassadors down the years, says Ben Macintyre in The Times, but none compares to the “sheer vicious incompetence” of Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s envoy to Britain from 1936 to 1938. At a service in Durham Cathedral, he mistook the hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken for the German national anthem and made the Nazi salute. He did the same when George VI greeted him by reaching out to shake his hand, almost poking the King in the eye. Even the Nazis “loathed him”. When Göring told the Führer his ambassador was “a stupid ass”, Hitler replied: “But he knows quite a lot of important people.”


It’s French delegates at the UN celebrating the decision to grant UNESCO heritage status to the humble baguette. The ruling recognises the lengthy dough rolls – more than six billion of which are baked every year in France – as one of the abiding symbols of the nation. President Macron has described them as “250 grams of magic and perfection”. Bon appétit.


quoted 1.12.22

“Never feel remorse for what you have thought about your wife; she has thought much worse things about you.”

French biologist Jean Rostand