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21 March

Russia has been accused of carrying out mass abductions in the city of Mariupol. Putin’s troops are taking Ukrainian citizens to “filtration camps, and then relocating them to distant parts of Russia to work for free”, Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun tells Times Radio. “This is the logic of Nazi Germany.” Russia demanded the city’s defenders lay down their arms by 5am local time this morning, but Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said there would be “no talk of any surrenders”. As many as 300,000 civilians are thought to be trapped in Mariupol, 90% of which has reportedly been destroyed or damaged by the Russians. MPs are urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to slash fuel duty by at least 5p a litre, to help motorists tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Petrol prices have risen by about 20p a litre in the past month alone. Do it, Rishi, says The Sun. “Don’t be a fuel.”

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The West’s liberal delusion

If the war in Ukraine represents anything, says Rod Liddle in The Spectator, it’s “a comprehensive defeat for an ideology which its proponents once thought would be irresistible”. After the defeat of the Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama and other thinkers convinced themselves that western liberalism would spread “into every corner of the world”. The rationale was that globalisation – specifically, “the exchange of labour, multiculturalism and mutual interdependence” – would diminish the nation state, and therefore nationalism. It was, in Fukuyama’s infamous words, the “end of history”.


Treating workers with “casual distain”

When my grandfather died at sea, “boiled alive” when his ship’s engine blew up shortly after World War Two, his death was treated by the shipping company as a statistic, says Frank Cottrell-Boyce in The Observer. And that’s exactly “how P&O dealt with their employees last week”. In a pre-recorded video message, 800 of the ferry company’s staff were sacked with immediate effect. It is “a return to an age when workers were treated with casual disdain” – those 800 staff are being replaced by lower-paid Filipino crews who, like my grandfather, can be treated as statistics.

Inside politics

When the Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia sent a letter to all UN members regarding the situation in Ukraine, not everyone was impressed. Canada’s official UN Twitter account posted a photograph of the memo, with some “suggested edits” marked in red. Where Nebenzia has written that he is “reaching out to you with regard to an urgent matter related to the dire humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine”, the Canadians have added “which we have caused as a result of our illegal war of aggression”. Russia has accused Canada of “kindergarten-level” diplomacy.


Sensitive boffins at the University of Essex are demanding people stop correcting each other’s speech, in a bid to stamp out “linguicism”. According to the university’s Department of Language and Linguistics, there is no such thing as “correct” language – and nothing wrong with saying “aks” rather than “ask”, “ain’t” instead of “is not”, or dropping the “g” at the end of “ing”.

Love etc

Forget bridesmaids, says The Sunday Times. The latest wedding accessory is a “dogsmaid”. One British company, Heather’s Pet Care Services, offers a £480 “wedding woofers” package to get pooches ready to go walkies down the aisle. It includes a full bath and blow-dry, a floral collar arrangement and a colour-themed lead. When owner Heather Hull got married last year, her dachshund and three chihuahuas were carried down the aisle by her (human) bridesmaids. Hull’s retriever walked alongside them.


To identify Russian spies in Ukraine, soldiers are asking suspicious-looking strangers to pronounce palianytsia, the word for “loaf”, which Russian-speaking Ukrainians can say but Russians can’t. It’s a trick “at least 3,000 years old”, says Emma Duncan in The Times. The Old Testament recounts one Israelite tribe asking those who wanted to cross the River Jordan to say shibboleth (“ear of corn”), which their enemies, the Ephraimites, pronounced sibboleth. Some 42,000 “failed the test and were slaughtered”.


It’s three Russian cosmonauts who arrived at the International Space Station dressed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. When Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov emerged from their capsule, Nasa officials were said to have gasped. “Wow,” says former ISS commander Terry Virts on Twitter. “Just wow.” Artemyev, however, insists that the colour scheme is a nod to the university the trio attended.

Data update

Americans “vastly overestimate” the size of minority groups, says YouGov. When survey respondents were asked to guess the proportion of transgender Americans, the average response was 21%. The actual answer is 0.6%. Other wildly wrong guesses include the proportion of gay and lesbian Americans (estimate 30%, actual 3%), Muslim Americans (estimate 27%, actual 1%), and black Americans (estimate 41%, actual 12%).


quoted 20.3.22

“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

Walter Bagehot