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17 May

In the headlines

Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where they held off Russian invaders for nearly 12 weeks. Some 260 soldiers were bussed out last night after surrendering; they will likely be swapped for Russian prisoners of war. Britain faces an “apocalyptic” rise in food prices, Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has told MPs. The country’s top bean counter says rising inflation – currently 7%, a 30-year high – will create a “very real income shock” for many households. Blackpool striker Jake Daniels has become the UK’s first openly gay professional footballer in more than 30 years. Coming out was a “massive relief”, says the 17-year-old. “The day after I told my mum and sister, we played Accrington and I scored four goals.”

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Sardinia’s favourite oligarch

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Italian authorities have seized $250m worth of Russian-owned real estate in Sardinia, say Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli in The Washington Post. But it’s not proving straightforward. First, figuring out how to manage all that property is a major “headache”. Italian laws require the government to maintain the value of any asset it freezes, and plenty of these villas cost several hundred thousand dollars a year to run. Second, hundreds of Sardinians depend on Moscow’s super-rich for work. Now they’re out of a job. “We ended up relying fundamentally on one world,” says Mauro Pili, the island’s former governor. “Once you close the tap, there’s damage.”


Autocracies are like “rotten trees”

It’s become something of a media cliché to moan about the “crisis of democracy”, says Simon Kuper in the FT. But what about the far worse crisis of autocracy? Observe the absolute “meltdowns” going on in China, Russia, Turkey and “arguably Africa’s biggest authoritarian state”, Ethiopia. We used to praise authoritarians in these places for their supposed efficiency. Their economies were growing faster than Western ones, and leaders were envied for their freedom to think long-term without having to mess around with pesky elections.

Tomorrow’s world

A super-advanced AI called Dall-E 2 generates images based on written descriptions alone. The pictures above are what it produced in response to the phrase: “Photo of a confident oversized grizzly bear dressed in an abstract high fashion outfit wearing sunglasses on the fashion runway at Paris Fashion Week.”

Quirk of history

In 1975, the jazz pianist Keith Jarrett arrived for a concert in Germany to discover that a mix-up had left him with a dud piano, says The Times. It was creaky and out of tune, with missing keys and broken pedals. Not wanting to let down the packed audience, Jarrett “was forced to innovate and to develop new ways to play”. The resulting recording, The Köln Concert, was nothing short of a “masterpiece” – and it became the biggest-selling solo jazz record of all time.

Eating in

Kendall Jenner has come in for an online ribbing after it became clear she has no idea how to slice a cucumber. In a recent episode of The Kardashians, the 26-year-old supermodel is seen struggling to chop the vegetable – her mum even asks the family chef to help. But I admire Kendall’s confused, abstract technique, says Mia Mercado in The Cut. “It is neither efficient nor safe, making this an act of bravery.”


A letter to The Sunday Times:

Lee Anderson MP says food banks are unnecessary, as with better cooking and budgeting people could make meals for 30p. I note MPs can claim £25 a day in subsistence allowance. In the interests of levelling-up, I suggest it is reduced to 90p a day.

Andrew Davidson, Harleston, Norfolk


It’s a tiny, 1:24 replica of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s old pad. Toronto-based miniature artist Heidi Athay has been documenting her construction efforts on Instagram. Everything has been miniaturised, right down to the samurai sword that was discovered in a living room drawer after Presley’s death.


Stage fright affects even the greatest actors: Laurence Olivier “suffered years of debilitating anguish” because of it. But David Tennant has what he says is a fail-safe way of dealing with the jitters – he eats exactly three squares of chocolate during the interval. “Being on stage is a bit like jumping out of a plane,” he tells the RSC’s podcast, Interval Drinks. “I try and nail down the things I can control.”


quoted 17.5.22

“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.”

Katharine Hepburn