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17 January

In the headlines

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has announced plans to freeze the BBC licence fee until 2024, and to scrap the payment entirely in 2028. It’s part of “Operation Red Meat”, a flurry of “populist announcements” to take the heat off Boris Johnson’s shaky position, says The Times. The PM is also putting the Royal Navy in charge of stopping migrants crossing the Channel. Two teenagers have been arrested in Manchester in connection with Saturday’s terrorist attack at a Texas synagogue. Malik Faisal Akram, from Blackburn, was killed during the 11-hour siege after he took several worshippers hostage. A man who joked on Facebook that “peas of all forms” should be outlawed and set on fire has been banned from the site for inciting violence, says The Sun. He’s appealing the decision.



Moral crusaders risk destroying all art

Art is no longer judged on its own merits, says Joanna Williams in The Times, but “according to the sins of the artist”. Last week a hammer-wielding maniac attacked a statue by sculptor Eric Gill outside the BBC’s offices in London. It’s a “beautiful” statue, but Gill, who died in 1940, sexually abused his daughters, his sisters and the family dog. Offensive behaviour, certainly, but does that give us the right to tear down his work? In 1967 the French theorist Roland Barthes argued for “the death of the author”, freeing artworks from the “tyranny of authorial intent”. Today’s artistic judgment boils down to a moral assessment of the “identity and intent” of the artist.


Teens cannot decide alone whether to change sex

There has been a “breakthrough” in the trans debate here in the US, says Andrew Sullivan in The Weekly Dish. In a first for the mainstream media, The New York Times has conceded that there is a growing divide among medical professionals over whether teenagers who undergo irreversible sex change surgery should first be screened for mental health issues. It’s astonishing this isn’t a given already. Some of the puberty blockers and other drugs used for these procedures can lead to “irreversible fertility loss”, along with “neurological damage, bone-density loss, and a permanent inability to experience sexual pleasure”. And their effects are almost never reversed. “In what other field of medicine do patients diagnose themselves, and that alone is justification for dramatic, irreversible medication?”


A man from Wellingborough is the proud owner of Britain’s oldest working toaster, says The Daily Telegraph. Jimmy James, 69, inherited the Morphy Richards machine in 1993 from his parents, who had been given it as a wedding present in 1949. That makes it 73 years old – four years older than its owner. I make the odd repair every few years, says James, but it still works perfectly. “We use it all the time. When I’m 6ft under my children will use it too.”

Global update

The island of Tonga remains virtually cut off from the rest of the world following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, a giant underwater volcano in the Pacific Ocean. The explosion, which was visible from space and heard nearly 6,000 miles away in Alaska, blasted ash almost 20 miles into the air and triggered a Pacific-wide tsunami. In Tonga, which was cloaked with ash and swamped by waves more than one metre high, it remains unclear how many people are missing or dead.


Prince Charles, who is exhibiting 79 of his watercolours at the Garrison Chapel in Chelsea until 14 February – the one above is of the south of France. “I took up painting entirely because I found photography less than satisfying,” he says. “Looking back now at those first sketches I did, I am appalled by how bad they are.”


On the money

Vaccine maker Pfizer is expected to announce that it made more than $80bn in revenue in 2021, says Reuters – the most a pharmaceutical company has ever earned. This year, revenue is predicted to top $100bn.

Quirk of history

In the Middle Ages, people divided their nights into two halves: a first sleep and a second sleep. The first typically lasted between 9pm and 11pm; the second began at about 1am. The period of wakefulness, known as “the watch”, was a “surprisingly useful window in which to get things done”, says Zaria Gorvett on BBC Future. People would add wood to their fire, say, or check up on farm animals. Some folk were more adventurous. One Luke Atkinson, in Yorkshire, is recorded as having “managed to squeeze in an early morning murder between his sleeps one night”.


Chinese authorities are doing their best to make the Beijing Winter Olympics a “zero Covid” event, says AP News. Athletes at the Games, which start on 4 February, have been told they must be vaccinated, wear masks indoors and outdoors – and clap for their teammates rather than cheer. It’s worse for locals. To stop the virus spreading before the Games, more than 20 million people have been locked down in six cities across China.


quoted 17.01

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Audrey Hepburn