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13 January

In the headlines

After what was “probably the worst day” of Boris Johnson’s political career, his cabinet has given him its backing over his apology for “Partygate”, says Politico. The PM’s fate now lies with Sue Gray, the civil servant investigating the government’s various lockdown parties, says Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail. She’s a “tough customer”, but she may not be able to disprove his claim that he thought the May 2020 party was a “work event”. Prince Andrew will face trial for the sexual assault claims brought against him by Virginia Giuffre, an American judge has ruled. He denies the allegations. The world’s largest condom manufacturer, Karex, has confirmed that people have been having far less sex over the pandemic. The Malaysian company resorted to making rubber surgical gloves to prop up its business.


UK politics

Don’t replace Boris with a Thatcherite

Say what you like about Boris Johnson, but he has at least been pushing Conservatives in the right direction, says Matthew d’Ancona in Tortoise. Margaret Thatcher left office more than three decades ago, yet many Tories still view her low-tax, small-government principles as irreplaceable dogma. Johnson, like Theresa May before him, recognises that we live in a different world now. He is rightly relaxed about government intervention, especially on big infrastructure, the NHS and “levelling up”. That’s anathema to his party’s swelling libertarian faction, who claim the PM has been “captured” by the left, the “deep state”, his wife, or whoever. But the “principal problems of the next decades” – climate change, our ageing population, adapting to automation and AI – simply cannot be addressed with market solutions alone. Suggesting otherwise is “borderline bonkers”.


Putin’s real aim is to destroy NATO

Donald Rumsfeld, George W Bush’s defence secretary, liked to say “weakness is provocative”, says Bret Stephens in The New York Times. It’s the perfect explanation for our current “predicament” with Russia and Ukraine. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the Bush administration “protested but did almost nothing”. President Obama pursued a “reset” with Moscow, accepted a Russian offer of mediation in the Syrian civil war, and did “almost nothing” when Putin’s “little green men” seized Crimea in 2014. President Trump sought to block new sanctions on Moscow, although he was eventually overruled by Congress. And the Biden administration has waived sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, increasing Moscow’s “energy leverage” on Europe, and sent “paltry” amounts of military aid to Ukraine.


A California court has upheld the firings of two Los Angeles police officers who played Pokémon Go rather than responding to a robbery, says ArsTechica. Dashcam footage recorded Louis Lozano and Eric Mitchell mulling whether to acknowledge the call, before Lozano said “Aw, screw it”. The pair then spent more than 20 minutes on the popular augmented reality game, hunting down a “Snorlax”.

From the archives

Between 2015 and 2016, astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days on the International Space Station to record and study what prolonged spells in space do to the human body. To lighten the mood, his brother sent him a gorilla suit – which Kelly used to chase unsuspecting British spaceman Tim Peake around the craft.


Quirk of history

Anti-vaxxers are nothing new, says Patricia Fara in History Today. After Edward Jenner created the first smallpox jab at the end of the 18th century, there were anti-vax protests, anti-vax poems, and several anti-vax cartoons. This one from 1802 by James Gillray shows a malevolent Jenner and his pot of “Vaccine Pock hot from ye Cow”, surrounded by patients morphing into animals. The caption reads: “The Cow-Pock – or – the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!”


It’s Magawa, a mine-detecting rat who died this week aged eight. The African giant pouched rat had a glittering five-year career sniffing out landmines in Cambodia. By the time he retired in 2021, Magawa had covered 34 acres of land, discovering 71 landmines and 38 other unexploded munitions. As a thank you, the heroic rodent was awarded the animal equivalent of a George Cross in 2020.


For all the fuss about podcasts, there hasn’t been a new hit show for years, says Bloomberg. None of America’s 25 most popular podcasts in 2021 debuted in the last couple of years. The average age of the top 10 is more than seven years; three of the top five are more than a decade old. The reason is there are simply “more podcasts than ever” – Spotify alone hosts around three million.


For a better class of booze-based slang, “I bow to the Scottish”, says Carol Midgley in The Times. “Sottered, blootered, tooteroo and ‘mad wae it’” are still in circulation, but not as poetic, perhaps as some historic terms: “spifflicated (1906), jug-bitten (1630), temulentious (1652) and reeling ripe (1610)”.


quoted 13.01

“I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them.”

Susan Sontag