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22-23 January

Behind the headlines

Bumbling Biden is no match for Putin

Nobody knows whether Russia will actually invade Ukraine, says Dominic Green in the Daily Mail. But in a “mumbling, stumbling performance” at his first press conference since November, Joe Biden gave Vladimir Putin the green light to do so. If the Russians made only a “minor incursion”, he declared, America and her allies would “end up having a fight about what to do and not do”. In other words, Putin is “welcome to sink his teeth” into Ukraine – just as long as he doesn’t take too big a bite. This wasn’t an “unfortunate one-off”. Whenever the “gaffemeister-in-chief” pokes his head above the parapet, aides hang on his every ill-considered word, issuing “clarifications” of his addled thoughts in real time. Twice last year, Biden threatened to upset the “nuclear-tipped balance of power” in the Pacific by making unscripted commitments to defend Taiwan – in both cases leading to frantic backtracking by officials. The White House is in denial, but everyone can see the sad reality of a president in “obvious mental decline”.


quoted ford 22.1

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you’re usually right.”

Henry Ford

Love etc

A romance sealed in blood

When Megan Fox started going out with the singer Machine Gun Kelly, the actress gave him a necklace with a vial of her blood dangling from the chain. “Some people give, like, a handkerchief to their partner or whatever,” Kelly told reporters. “She gave me her DNA.” This week, the pair got engaged in a similarly bloody fashion. “Just as in every lifetime before this one and as in every lifetime that will follow it, I said yes,” wrote Fox on Instagram. “And then we drank each other’s blood.”


The brainbox of the deep

Octopuses are, like us, highly intelligent beings, say Emily Knight and Becky Ripley on BBC Radio 4’s NatureBang. But our brains have evolved very differently – hardly a surprise, given that our last common ancestor was a “flatworm that trawled the sea floor around 750 million years ago”. An octopus has a central brain wrapped around its throat, but its eight arms are also packed with neurons, allowing them to act independently. A severed arm can think and theoretically hunt by itself – so before the arm dies, an octopus can exist “in two places at once”.


quoted Johnson 22.1

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

Samuel Johnson

On the money

Ten-year-old Texan Ryan Kaji has been playing with toys on YouTube “since Barack Obama was in the White House”, says Jay Caspian Kang in The New York Times. It’s been time well spent. His videos – ranging from toy egg hunts to a “dunk tank challenge” – have racked up nearly 50 billion views. The likes of Amazon, Walmart and Nickelodeon pay handsomely to promote their products to his 31.5 million YouTube followers. And the 10 separate YouTube channels that make up “Ryan’s World” raked in more than $250m last year. Ryan’s parents have made the most of their son’s success. “I always wanted to live in Hawaii,” says Ryan’s mum. “Now that we can afford it, we thought, why don’t we just do it?”


Why critics are blind to the truth

American critics are losing their marbles, says Yair Rosenberg in his Deep Schtetl newsletter. Many are convinced that JK Rowling’s views on transgender issues have rendered Harry Potter toxic and unpopular – the “neoliberal fantasy of a transphobe”, as one writer put it. Others say Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has fallen from grace because he cast too many light-skinned actors in his musical In the Heights. But back in the real world, these two cultural icons remain as popular as ever. Miranda’s soundtrack for the new Disney film Encanto displaced Adele at the top of the album charts. The Harry Potter books are still international bestsellers – along with Rowling’s detective novels and new children’s story – and the Broadway show is a hit too.

Eating in

The Tories have released a cookbook, says Angela Hui in Vice. In Corridors of Flour, Theresa May contributes a recipe for scones, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen one for vegetarian lasagne, and David Cameron a spin on Italian sausage meat pasta – essentially a River Café rip-off ruined by half a pint of double cream. From Boris Johnson is a recipe for cheese on toast that ends: “Eat quickly before you are caught.” Caught doing what, exactly?


The country house

Once a vicarage and chapel, this wisteria-clad family home sits in a secluded spot in the village of West Hill in Devon. It has spacious living areas and four bedrooms, with one and a half acres of land and glorious views of the hills beyond. There’s also an outdoor pool, studio and orchard. Exeter and the coast are both under 30 minutes away by car. £1,175,000.

The townhouse

If you don’t mind sleeping inside an optical art installation, look no further than this Grade II listed house in the coastal market town of Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. The current owner, artist Tod Hanson, has covered every inch of two of the five bedrooms with his artwork. The remaining rooms, spread over five storeys, retain their original panelling, floorboards and fireplaces. The town’s railway station is within walking distance, with trains to London taking three and a half hours. £400,000.