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14 January

In the headlines

Downing Street staff held two lockdown-busting parties on the night before Prince Philip’s funeral last April, says the Telegraph. An attendee was sent to a nearby Co-op to load up a suitcase with bottles of wine, and festivities ran “well beyond midnight”. At one point, revellers broke a garden swing belonging to the PM’s son. Prince Andrew has been “throne out”, says Metro, after the Queen stripped him of his royal and military titles. He will now have to fight his sexual assault case in the US as a “private citizen”. Microsoft Word wants to correct your anti-woke biases as well as your spelling, says the Mail. Its new “inclusiveness checker” will suggest changing “mankind” to “humankind”, and “Postman Pat” to “Postal Worker Pat”.



Don’t trust the BBC’s doom-mongering

The BBC “could barely conceal its satisfaction” reporting Britain’s 150,000th Covid death, says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. We’re the very first country in Europe, health reporters gushed, to notch up so many “coronavirus corpses”. What they fail to mention is the vast divergence in how different countries count Covid deaths. Because, in reality, “two out of every five deaths ‘with Covid’ have little or nothing to do with the virus” – the UK’s measure includes all deaths within 28 days of a positive test. The figures to watch are “excess deaths”, on which we are nowhere near the top of the “fatal league table”.


The bitter cost of the American Dream

On a “raw” Washington DC evening in winter 2018, my Uber passed a beggar “in the sludge” outside, says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. My American companion wondered aloud, “in a sorrow-not-anger kind of way”, how someone could have made such self-defeating “choices”. This wasn’t malevolence. It was a very American kind of innocence. The country was founded on the idea “that one’s life is wholly self-authored”, and its citizens put “unthinking but deep trust” in the market as a meritocratic system. If you believe there is a solid link between effort and reward, “you must believe – you must – that rough sleepers have it coming”. Mental illness, birth into a hopeless family, or “mid-life tumbles down the potholes of circumstance” are no excuse.

Quirk of history

Thomas Edison was said to interview potential research assistants over a bowl of soup, says Inc. magazine. The inventor wanted to see if they added salt and pepper before tasting their soup or afterwards. Premature seasoners failed the test, as it showed they were overly reliant on assumptions and lacked curiosity.


A blanket octopus – named for its wide, iridescent “cape” – has been spotted in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. “The vibrant colours are just so incredible, you can’t take your eyes off it,” marine biologist Jacinta Shackleton tells The Guardian. She believes there have been only three sightings of the rare creature in the reef before hers, as it generally spends its life in the open ocean.

Tomorrow’s world

A Turkish farmer has strapped virtual reality headsets to his barn-bound cows to make them think they’re in a meadow. Izzet Kocak says it has improved the herd’s mood, making them less stressed and increasing their individual milk output. The setup has uncomfortable parallels with The Matrix, says Zack Zwiezen on the gaming website Kotaku – a film in which humans are plugged into a virtual world while their bodies produce energy for machine overlords.



It’s the prototype of a giant energy storage system in Switzerland, designed to solve a major problem for renewables: how to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. When energy supplies are high, Energy Vault’s 75-metre-tall cranes lift 35-ton concrete blocks into the air. Then, when supplies are low, they allow a block to drop to the ground. As each one falls, the crane’s cable unspools – rotating a turbine that produces enough electricity to power a thousand homes.


Inside politics

When I dined with Vladimir Putin in 1992, he told me Russians had their own way of resolving legal disputes, says former White House aide Harald Malmgren in UnHerd. If a dispute concerned a significant amount of money or property, Putin explained, the two sides would typically send armed representatives to dinner. Facing the possibility of a “bloody, fatal outcome”, both sides would always find a mutually agreeable solution. “Fear provides the catalyst for common sense.”

On the money

Amazon Prime has become a “lifeline” for an isolated Inuit community in northern Canada, says The Times. In 2012, the high cost of shipping meant that residents of the remote city of Iqaluit were paying £29 for four rolls of loo paper. Now that Amazon delivers there, the city’s 7,000 residents can pay just £45 a year to order everything at normal prices.


quoted 14.01

“What makes equality such a difficult business is that we only want it with our superiors.”

French dramatist Henry Becque