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20 September

In the headlines

Rishi Sunak plans to soften some of the government’s net zero targets, including delaying a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, and slowing the phasing-out of gas boilers. The decision has divided opinion among Tory MPs, while the carmaker Ford has complained that it sends mixed messages to businesses. Britain’s inflation rate fell to 6.7% in August, the lowest level since February 2022. The unexpected drop means the Bank of England is less likely to raise interest rates at its next scheduled meeting tomorrow. The two “alien” bodies recently presented to Mexico’s congress have intact skeletons and were not assembled from other bones, according to doctors who scanned the remains. TV professor Brian Cox thinks samples should be sent to 23andMe, the DNA testing company, to prove they’re not human.


Shortly after World War Two, says Air Mail, the US embarked on a massive embassy-building programme in capitals around the world. They chose ultra-modern designs by top architects like Walter Gropius and Eero Saarinen to portray America as a progressive, forward-looking nation, in contrast to the “repressive, Communist Soviet Union”. More than just places where you applied for visas, these buildings were used to establish US soft power, with auditoriums, libraries, and art exhibitions where locals “could learn more about the benefits of an open, modern America”. Sadly, after 9/11, and previous terrorist attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, these “open, porous buildings” became obsolete. The embassies that replaced them are “large, closed, and highly secure compounds”.

Inside politics

The Tories have got the working classes all wrong, says Philip Collins in The Times. They think they will win over Red Wall voters by promising to stop the boats and end cancel culture. But working-class conservatism isn’t rooted in doom and gloom – it’s rooted in aspiration. These people want a better job, a higher income, a nicer house; they’d be “delighted” if their sons or daughters were able to “join the metropolitan elite”. Margaret Thatcher understood that, with her emphasis on “thrift, discipline, work and order”; so too Boris Johnson. Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, appears intent on dialling up the hostility towards immigrants. It won’t work. Because working-class conservatives are all about hope, not fear.

Tomorrow’s world

Live-streamers who sell products on camera are huge business in China, says MIT Technology Review. The top names can flog “more than a billion dollars’ worth of goods in one night” and attain the status of movie stars. But if you scroll through Taobao, a Chinese e-commerce platform, you’ll notice that many of them “seem slightly robotic”. That’s because firms are increasingly hawking their wares using “AI-generated clones of the real streamers”. The process, which costs about $1,000, requires only a few minutes of sample video. Your “deepfake” can then be automated to say whatever you want – though they aren’t quite advanced enough to lie on a sofa or bed to show off its comfiness. Yet.


A team of students from Imperial College London are aiming to become the first non-governmental, non-commercial operation to launch a reusable rocket into space. If all goes well, their Aurora rocket will blast off from California later this month and cross the 100-kilometre-high Kármán line, widely recognised as the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. The 12-metre-tall craft will be powered by what the group says is the most powerful engine ever built by amateurs.


To the FT:
Your reviewer tells readers that Erda, the earth goddess, was made up to look “quite a fright” (“Das Rheingold, Royal Opera review”, 12 September). This is not so. I wore no make-up – the “fright” look is all naturally mine.
Erda (Rose Knox-Peebles), London


It’s an Azores bullfinch, which has staged a remarkable comeback. Back in the 1990s, says Smithsonian Magazine, the so-called priolo was one of Europe’s most endangered songbirds, with only around 100 breeding pairs left on the Portuguese archipelago. But thanks to a dogged conservation effort focused on habitat restoration, numbers are now up to around 1,300, and the population trend has been stable for eight years. “We hope by hearing the story of the Azores bullfinch,” says project leader Azucena de la Cruz, “people are inspired to adapt it to species in their own land.”


quoted 20-9-23

“One of the delights known to age, and beyond the grasp of youth, is that of Not Going.”

JB Priestley