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16 December

In the headlines

Russia has launched a massive missile attack on key Ukrainian cities and energy facilities. With temperatures plummeting below freezing, Kharkiv has no power and Kyiv has been hit with partial blackouts. Flu hospitalisations in England have jumped by around 40% in a week, says The Daily Telegraph, pushing levels eight times higher than anticipated. There are now more patients with the virus than with Covid on wards for the first time since the pandemic began. Donald Trump is getting into NFTs. In what he billed as a “major announcement” yesterday, the former president unveiled a range of $99 digital trading cards featuring him as a superhero, astronaut and racing car driver. “Don’t wait,” he wrote. “They will be gone, I believe, very quickly!”


When mums went on strike

British women could certainly be forgiven for following their lead. Statutory maternity pay is £156 a week, less than half the minimum wage. Nursery fees for children aged between 39 weeks and three years cost 65% of the average parent’s income, meaning many women are forced to choose between indebting themselves and dropping out of the workforce. And according to the ONS, mothers spend 77% more time than fathers looking after kids, and undertake 62% of the housework. That equates to £260 of work each week in unpaid domestic duties. So come on, fellow mums. Let’s down tools over Christmas – put our feet up with a mulled wine and let someone else take care of the last-minute shopping, the stuffing of stockings, and the supervision of “sugar-hyped children”. Maybe then people will realise how much “motherhood matters”.


We still don’t know if lockdowns work

A year ago today, “Britain was set to be locked down again for the fourth time”, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. The omicron variant was gaining ground, and the government advisory group Sage was predicting up to 6,000 deaths a day unless “interventions” were made. But when Rishi Sunak heard what was happening, he cut short a trip to California, flew home and threatened to resign as chancellor if lockdown was imposed. So the whole thing was called off, and Sage’s ominous forecasts never came to pass. The whole affair reveals a “massive flaw” in the government system: decisions are taken on unreliable science “with minimal scrutiny”.


The winners of the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2022 have been announced. The best overall photo went to Jennifer Hadley’s snap of a lion cub falling from a tree. Other category-toppers include a hippo yawning next to a heron (Jean Jacques Alcalay), some sassy gentoo penguins (Jennifer Hadley), and a winking owl (Arshdeep Singh). See the full list here.

Inside politics

A string of cancelled public appearances by Vladimir Putin is fuelling rumours he may be planning to “flee to South America”, says The Times. The Russian president has bowed out of his traditional ice-hockey match in Red Square (the one where everyone lets him score lots of goals), as well as his yearly press conference and Q&A session with the public. He may even skip his annual address to parliament. Some think the 70-year-old autocrat is sick: he has reportedly been visited by a cancer specialist 35 times in four years. But his former speechwriter claims the Kremlin has started “preparing safe havens” for Putin in Argentina or Venezuela, in case mounting anger over Ukraine forces him to flee the country. The plan is apparently codenamed “Noah’s Ark”.


The United Arab Emirates has the “world’s best passport”, says Bloomberg. The Gulf state’s travel document enables holders to enter 180 countries “hassle-free”, which is seven more than second-placed countries including Germany, Switzerland and South Korea.


Rome’s “hot priest calendar” is celebrating its 20th birthday next year, says The Guardian. A “cult souvenir” sold by the Eternal City’s tacky tourist shops, the €10 Calendario Romano features 12 dishy men of cloth against ornate liturgical backdrops. What few people realise is that they’re not actually all priests: photographer Piero Pazzi ­just randomly snaps men wearing religious-looking clothing. “Father March” in 2008, for example, turned out to be a Spanish estate agent. Order yours here.

On the money

American presidents are much richer than I thought, says Madison McGee in Buzzfeed. Only a handful have been worth less than $1m in today’s money. Some made piles of cash from slavery, such as George Washington ($525m) and Thomas Jefferson ($212m). The likes of Theodore Roosevelt ($125m) and George HW Bush ($27m) had massive inheritances. The only presidential billionaires were Donald Trump (so he says) and John F Kennedy (through his family’s trust). Even the man dubbed the “poorest president”, Harry Truman, pocketed $600,000 for his memoirs.


They’re “ice pancakes”, which appeared on a river in Glasgow during this week’s cold snap. The disks form when foam floating on the water’s surface freezes, and each chunk’s edges get rubbed away as they bump into one another.


quoted 16.12.22

“The secret of power is the knowledge that others are more cowardly than you are.”

German writer Ludwig Börne