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1 December

In the headlines

The omicron variant might prove much less virulent than other Covid strains, but highly transmissible, says Professor Michael Barrett in The New Statesman. This may be good news – in a best-case scenario, it would sweep the world without causing serious illness, generating immunity “of a more profound and lasting kind than that conferred by vaccination”. The Hastings & St Leonards Observer reports that a mob on Hastings beach took the law into their own hands by blocking the launch of an RNLI lifeboat last month. In a sign of how high feelings are running about the migrant crisis, the crowd screamed abuse at the crew and said “Don’t bring any more [migrants] home, we’re full up”, an eyewitness told the paper. Heinz has produced 200 jars of mayonnaise mixed with Terry’s Chocolate Orange as a weird festive treat. “This mayo come as a bit of a choc,” says The Sun.

The pandemic

It’s crazy to punish South Africa over omicron

South Africa is paying a heavy price for “the good deed” of telling the world about the omicron variant, says Peter Coy in The New York Times. Many countries, including the UK and the US, are restricting air travel, pummelling South Africa’s already Covid-weakened economy. This sets a bad precedent. Dangerous variants need to be identified as early as possible so they can be contained while scientists investigate. If we punish those who reveal their existence, we’re only incentivising poor countries not to go looking, or to hide evidence if they find it.


Today’s young are as puritanical as the Victorians

Young people today are “sober and serious”, says Ed West in his Substack newsletter. Alcohol consumption has declined since the turn of the century, and my children are “shocked and scandalised” to see grown-ups occasionally smoke. The “raunchiness” of the 2000s is long gone: it feels unimaginable that businesses would take clients to strip clubs, as they occasionally did two decades ago. Puritanical as much of this seems, it has led to an undeniable improvement in social mores around racism and homophobia.




This infographic from the Euro Bird Portal shows recorded sightings of barn swallows across Europe in the 12 months to the end of November. Very sensibly, they head to South Africa when it starts to get chilly up north, then wing it back to Europe for a long, hot summer. For some reason they’re not keen on the west of Ireland. 

Quirks of history

Switzerland has accidentally invaded its tiny neighbour Liechtenstein three times since 1976, when troops got lost in the mountains and strayed over the border. The locals don’t seem to mind: in 1976 Swiss soldiers were offered drinks in the village they wandered into. “It’s not like they invaded with attack helicopters,” said a Liechtensteiner after the most recent incursion in 2007 – although there have been two accidental shelling incidents since 1968.


The University of Aberdeen has issued a trigger warning for Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Kidnapped, stating that it contains depictions of “kidnapping”. You’d have thought the title would be a giveaway, says the Daily Star. Apparently not. In the university’s staff guidance pack, lecturers are advised to “verge on the side of caution” and provide “warnings about what may be considered obvious”. Quite. 


British artist Stuart Semple has made the world’s “whitest white paint”, says Alice Finney in Dezeen. It’s called White 2.0, reflects 99.98% of light and is 50% brighter than the bestselling white paint. Semple previously made the world’s pinkest pink and the blackest black, which he has said can be bought by anyone – except Anish Kapoor. The 67-year-old sculptor owns the rights to the previous blackest black and churlishly refuses to let anyone use it. 


Quoted 01-12

“Science is not an exact science at the end of the day.”

Conservative MP Ben Bradley


Adrian Fisher is the “world’s leading maze-maker”, says Nicola Twilley in The New Yorker. The 70-year-old Briton has created 700 mazes in more than 30 countries. They include the maze at Blenheim Palace (which features on £5 notes); a labyrinth inscribed with religious quotations for a megachurch in North Carolina; a maze with an artificial volcano and lake for a Middle Eastern princess; and a vertical maze for a 55-storey skyscraper in Dubai.

Snapshot answer

It’s a “soft robot”, invented by researchers at Princeton University to pick up delicate objects. It works by inflating bubbles in “fancy balloons” that can bend and move. Traditional “rigid robots” are useful on the production line, “but they will not be able to hold your hands… without breaking your wrist”, says lead researcher Pierre-Thomas Brun. “They’re not naturally geared to interact with the soft stuff, like humans or tomatoes.”