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16 December

In the headlines

“It’s Boris versus the scientists,” says the Daily Mail, as Professor Chris Whitty warns the public to scale back their Christmas plans, while the PM insists he won’t cancel parties or close hospitality venues. Business leaders are panicking about a “worst-of-all-worlds scenario”, says Alex Wickham in Politico, where Brits choose to stay home but the government provides no financial support for affected industries. The Bank of England has raised interest rates to 0.25% – the first increase in more than three years. From Saturday, France will ban all travellers from the UK unless they have a “compelling reason” to visit – not tourism or work. Bruce Springsteen has sold the publishing rights for his life’s work to Sony for a reported $500m. Bob Dylan, who flogged his back catalogue to Universal last year, only bagged $300m. 

Comment of the day


We shouldn’t send Assange to America

Julian Assange is an unappealing character, “to put it mildly”, says Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times. The WikiLeaks founder has voiced support for French far-right firebrand Marine Le Pen and clearly has an appalling attitude towards women. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the British court ruling last week that he can be extradited to America on espionage charges. He published half a million secret documents revealing that the US military covered up the killing of 15,000 Iraqi civilians. Any journalist offered that sort of information doesn’t just have a right to publish it, they have a “duty”.


Is wokeness on the way out?

Has the tide turned against wokeness? There are certainly signs of a backlash, says Ed West in his Substack newsletter. A recent “parental revolt” against critical race theory in schools saw the election of a Republican governor in Virginia. “But the fact that wokeness is very unpopular doesn’t mean that it won’t win.” The US civil rights movement was not widely liked at the time: in 1964, only 16% of Americans said mass demonstrations had helped the cause of racial equality, while 74% said they had hurt it. But just a generation later, Martin Luther King was the closest thing America had to a patron saint.



On the money

Guitarist, songwriter and producer Nile Rodgers is selling dozens of his guitars for charity at Christie’s in New York today. He co-founded the disco group Chic in the 1970s and produced hits such as David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Madonna’s Like a Virgin – the instruments on sale are “estimated to have been played on more than $1bn worth of music”, says Imani Moise in the FT. One guitar he’s not selling is the Fender Stratocaster he bought in a pawn shop almost 50 years ago: that’s thought to have been played on records worth $2bn. 

Tomorrow’s world

Half of today’s five-year-olds can expect to live to the age of 100, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity. They are likely to spend 60 years of their lives working – 20 years longer than the average person today.

Quirks of history

This week in 1931, Winston Churchill was hit by a car in New York, says historian Dan Snow on Twitter. He emerged with a few nasty scars and a doctor’s note advising him to drink “indefinite” amounts of alcoholic spirits, “especially at mealtimes”. 


Tom Hanks, when he was a 17-year-old student in 1974, wrote to George Roy Hill, begging the Oscar-winning director to “discover” him as an actor, says Shaun Usher in the Letters of Note newsletter. “I am not built like a Greek god, and I can’t even grow a moustache,” admitted Hanks. “But I figure if people will pay to see certain films (The Exorcist, for one) they will pay to see me.” Besides, he concluded: “I do not want to be some big time, Hollywood superstar with girls crawling all over me, just a hometown, American boy who has hit the big-time, owns a Porsche, and calls Robert Redford ‘Bob’.” 


Quoted 16-12

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

Orson Welles

Gone viral

Ten years after his death, journalist Christopher Hitchens has become an unlikely YouTube star. He’s part of a trend for watching male intellectual celebrities, also including Jordan Peterson and Douglas Murray, “destroying idiots in bite-sized video clips” that rack up millions of views, says Tomiwa Owolade in UnHerd. As a boy, I held Hitchens in similar regard to James Bond. He was a suave, worldly “18th-century-style iconoclast, a public-school Voltaire, who took down sacred cows” such as Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, Diana, Princess of Wales and God.

Snapshot answer

Taking the first letter of each word in the clue reveals the seasonal secret: “CHRISTMAS.”