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18 November

In the headlines

“Red wall” voters are apoplectic after the HS2 rail link to Leeds was formally scrapped this morning. “We were promised a northern powerhouse, we were promised a Midlands engine… but what we’ve been given today is the great train robbery,” said Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, after his opposite number, Grant Shapps, confirmed the “rail betrayal”. Britain is “on target” to eliminate HIV by 2030 after a revolutionary treatment received the go-ahead, says Sky News. People with HIV can now have six injections a year to manage their condition, rather than daily pills. Helen Mirren will play former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in an upcoming biopic. The resemblance is “uncanny”, says a fan on Twitter. 

Comment of the day


Bleak is chic: why the French are always miserable 

“Why are the French so convinced that things are falling apart?”, asks The Economist. In a recent poll, three in four respondents said France was “in decline”. Talk shows rage about the country’s ruined language and landscape, lost jobs, squeezed incomes and dwindling global stature. Its people are fractious and divided, “if not on the verge of a civil war”, as a public letter from retired army officers suggested earlier this year.


I’d go to Austin in a heartbeat

The idea of an anti-woke college like the University of Austin should make me bristle, says Malcolm Gladwell in his newsletter Oh, MG. “My ideological leanings are to the left, and the people behind the University of Austin seem to be mostly conservative in orientation.” For a while, Steven Pinker had signed up to lecture. “I can’t stand Steven Pinker!” But, if I were an 18-year-old looking to go to university, my first choice would be Austin. “In. A. Heartbeat.”



On the way back

The Big Ben clock, which has been hidden in a converted cowshed in the tiny Lake District village of Dacre for the past three years. The Cumbria Clock Company, which restored the 162-year-old timepiece, took down all its signs to throw would-be thieves off the scent, says Kate Proctor in The House. Neighbours formed an “unofficial watch” and a group of nosy walkers were the only outsiders to spot the clock “ticking away in the test room”. The famous bongs will ring out again next early year.


Tomorrow’s rare “Beaver Moon” will be the longest lunar eclipse since 1441, when Henry VI was king. British stargazers will miss its peak, which begins at 9.02am and lasts for nearly three and a half hours. North Americans will have the best view when the Moon passes into blood-red light cast by the Earth’s shadow. Native American tribes used to set beaver traps in November to stock up on warm furs for winter, hence the name.

Tomorrow’s world

China has completed a giant passenger railway that circles one of the world’s largest deserts and will connect previously remote towns and cities. The Taklamakan Desert, in the country’s west, is nearly the size of Germany. Large sections of the 1,700-mile railway are elevated to deal with drifting sands caused by high winds. China wants to build 125,000 miles of new railway by 2035 – enough to circle the planet five times.

Love etc

A brothel in Vienna is offering customers a free half-hour session with a “lady of their choice” if they agree to have a Covid jab. Only 64% of Austrians are fully vaccinated, so the owners of Fun Palast are doing their bit to help. The jabs will be administered on site until the end of November.


American scientists have discovered that a finger click is by far the speediest body movement. Using high-speed cameras, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that the finger typically leaves the thumb 20 times faster than the blink of an eye.

Snapshot answer

It’s the remains of an ancient bristlecone pine, the oldest known tree species, with specimens living for up to 5,000 years. The roots of this tree in the White Mountains of California are decaying, revealing a white dolomite rock entwined within. It was photographed last year by Ben Horne, who was drawn to “the heart shaped opening”. His picture, Soul of the Ancients, was a runner-up in the 2021 Natural Landscape Photography Awards.


Quoted 18-11

“You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realise how seldom they do.”

David Foster Wallace