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11 March

In the headlines

The 40-mile Russian convoy to the north of Kyiv has dispersed, prompting speculation that it is planning to encircle and lay siege to the capital. There are also fears that Russia could be preparing to use chemical weapons in Ukraine, after Moscow accused the US of carrying out its own “military biological activities” in the country. “If you want to find out Russia’s plans,” says Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, “you should look at what Russia is accusing others of.” China has acknowledged the invasion as a “war” for the first time. The change in language signals that Beijing “may be seeking to put a little distance between itself” and Moscow, says The Times. Facebook is temporarily changing its hate speech policy to allow users in some eastern European countries to call for the deaths of Vladimir Putin and his soldiers.

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The West’s “economic nuclear bomb”

It may not get as much attention as the fighting on the ground, says Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, but the West has hit Russia with an “economic nuclear bomb”. The valuation of the Russian banks that were sanctioned or thrown off the Swift international banking system have totally tanked – the London-listed shares of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, have collapsed more than 99%. Ratings agencies have downgraded Russia’s status to “junk” and warned that the country may default on its debt. The dollar valuation of the ruble has fallen an astonishing 40% in a month. Companies are acting, too. McDonald’s, Starbucks and Coca-Cola have suspended their Russian operations. Boeing and Airbus, which built two thirds of Russia’s commercial airliners, are no longer providing maintenance or spare parts – meaning the planes will have to be grounded.


Beware of calling Putin’s bluff

The conventional wisdom about the war in Ukraine is that Vladimir Putin has “miscalculated”, says Lionel Barber in The Spectator. In this view, all his poorly executed blitzkrieg has achieved is a “reinvigorated” Nato and a barrage of economic measures. But what if it’s really the West which has miscalculated? What if all our sanctions and “intensified military aid” to Ukraine’s local resistance encourage Putin to double down and use a “weapon of last resort” – be it nuclear, chemical or biological – “even at the risk of World War Three”? It is tempting to assume Putin is bluffing, but his actions so far suggest the opposite. After a recent phone call with the Russian president, Emmanuel Macron concluded: “The worst is yet to come.”

Staying young

Even a short dip in cold water can raise your dopamine – the body’s happy chemical – to “ecstatic levels” two and a half times higher than normal, says Lesley Thomas in The Times. “That’s a greater increase than that given by cocaine, sex and even chocolate.” No wonder cold swimming is so “overpoweringly moreish”.

Great escape

Kristie Wolfe has created “some of the most popular and unique” properties on Airbnb, says Zachary Crockett in The Hustle. They include a “hobbit house” built into the side of a hill in Washington state, a converted fire lookout tower in the middle of a forest in Idaho, and a giant concrete potato previously used for advertising by the Idaho Potato Commission. The wacky homes are hugely popular: the one-bed hobbit house, which costs around $400 a night to rent, has a 430-day waiting list.

Eating in

Kardashian clan matriarch Kris Jenner has a “dish room” in her LA home – a large walk-in pantry which houses thousands of dollars’ worth of printed plates, Gucci coffee cups and Hermès teacups. “The collection is impressive if only because this woman lives in Los Angeles, where there are more earthquakes than there is rainfall,” says Mia Mercado in The Cut. “I fear that if you sneezed too aggressively in an adjacent room, you could break a $640 teapot.”


It’s the world’s longest car. Completed this month and immediately awarded the title by Guinness World Records, “The American Dream” measures more than 100ft from bumper to bumper, and can fit more than 75 passengers. The 26-wheel super-limo is based on a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. It has a large waterbed, swimming pool (with diving board), jacuzzi, bathtub, mini-golf course and helipad. Sensibly, they’ve built a hinge in the middle to let it turn corners.

On the money

Americans are shocked and appalled that petrol prices have passed the $4 a gallon mark. But as British journalist Mike Bird points out on Twitter, that’s still cheaper than they’ve been in the UK for decades – even at the absolute low in oil prices in 2009. Though as he notes: “obviously you guys need gas more for your six-hour drives to the local mall and your 1,600-mile commutes”.


quoted 11.03.22

“Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you.”

Aldous Huxley