Skip to main content
The Knowledge logo

12-13 March

Behind the headlines

The risk of nuclear war

Vladimir Putin announced two weeks ago that he was putting Russia’s nuclear forces on a “special combat duty regime”. This relatively meaningless gesture nevertheless ratchets up tension with the West, says Jeremy Shapiro in the Financial Times. Joe Biden has taken steps to dampen the nuclear mood, including the cancellation of a long-planned test launch of the Minuteman III ballistic missile. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said this move demonstrated that America was “a responsible nuclear power”.

Long read shortened

Our liberal world is falling apart

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proves anything, says Francis Fukuyama in the Financial Times, it’s that “we cannot take the existing liberal world order for granted”. Liberalism is a philosophy that “seeks to control violence by lowering the sights of politics”. It acknowledges that people will never agree on the most divisive topics – such as religion – but argues that they should tolerate people with different views to their own. It’s no coincidence that this open, accepting doctrine arose in 17th-century Europe, which was just emerging from 150 years of “unremitting religious warfare”. Likewise, its rebirth in the 20th century came after the horrors of the two world wars. The American-led liberal order was “institutionalised” with the formation of the EU, and received a “big shot in the arm” when communism collapsed around 1990.


The definition of a woman? Don’t ask me

This week on International Women’s Day, on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, host Emma Barnett asked Labour’s Anneliese Dodds a simple question, says Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph. Could she give a clear definition of the word “woman”? “Dodds prevaricated for what seemed like hours,” trotting out lines about how there were different legal definitions about what a woman actually is. Barnett tried again. “What’s the Labour definition?” Dodds said it depended on context.

Inside politics

Putin’s closest confidant

After Vladimir Putin, Yuri Kovalchuk is the second most powerful man in Russia, says Mikhail Zygar in The New York Times. The 70-year-old oligarch – who is the largest shareholder in Rossiya Bank – has been a trusted adviser of the president for decades. But in the spring and summer of 2020, Kovalchuk joined Putin quarantining at his luxurious dacha in Valdai and ever since, the pair have been “inseparable”. According to people once close to the president, Putin “no longer meets with his buddies for drinks and barbecues”. He’s terrified of covid and has cut off most communication with advisers and friends since the pandemic. Kovalchuk is his only real contact.


America’s apolitical sweetheart

When America’s most successful crime writer, James Patterson, paired up to write a book with Dolly Parton, he was apparently surprised the singer was so hands-on. He shouldn’t have been, says Laura Craik in the Evening Standard. Parton has always been business savvy. Born one of 12 children, she grew up “dirt poor” in the mountains in Tennessee and left for Nashville the day after she graduated from high school. After 10 years of gigging and grafting, Parton had her first hit with Jolene in 1974. Now, aged 76, she’s written around 3,000 songs, won 11 Grammys and sold more than 100 million records. And unlike other artists, Parton is meticulous about publishing rights and profits. (She refused to let Elvis cover I Will Always Love You because his manager asked for half the rights.) Her music catalogue is worth $150m and she takes in up to $8m in royalties a year.

Heroes and villains

Soap | Jeff Bezos’s tailor | the “Indiana Jones of the deep”

Soap, which is being shunned by an increasing number of celebrities. Ashton Kutcher says he washes his “armpits and crotch daily, and nothing else ever”, and Matthew McConaughey hasn’t used deodorant in 35 years. The latest soap dodger is Cameron Diaz, who says she has stopped washing her face as a rebellion against “the societal objectifications and exploitations that women are subjected to”. I worry about the effect on the young, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. “It’s hard enough to get teenage boys to wash as it is.”


The return of the miniskirt

Last October, Miu Miu released a $1,150 micro-miniskirt, says Eliza Brooke in The Cut. It was low rise, looked like a school skirt someone “had taken a pair of scissors to”, and was very, very short. Now it’s everywhere. Nicole Kidman wore it on the cover of Vanity Fair, Naomi Campbell in W, and Zendaya in Interview. There have been high street knock offs, DIY tutorials on TikTok, and even a fan-run Instagram account dedicated to tracking its course through culture.

Tomorrow’s world

A Los Angeles-based start-up wants to speed up the delivery of important items “by storing them in orbit”, says Daisuke Wakabayashi in The New York Times. Inversion, which has raised $10m in funding, wants to launch small suitcase-sized capsules into space. The idea is that these tiny containers could then re-enter the atmosphere when needed – delivering artificial organs to an operating room within a few hours, say, or field hospital equipment to remote areas of the planet. In the distant future, this technique could even yield “unimaginably fast deliveries – like delivering a New York pizza to San Francisco in 45 minutes”.


Quoted 13.3.22

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

American philosopher William James


THE COUNTRY HOUSE This “magical small estate” is one of the “finest surviving examples” of a Dartmoor Longhouse, says Country Life. Alongside the Grade II listed house, there are two cottages, a party barn and a traditional farmstead set in 30 acres of pasture, paddocks and woodland. The main house has three reception rooms, a garden room and four bedrooms. The cottages – one with two bedrooms and one with three – have recently been renovated. Exeter is 20 miles away. £3.5m.


quoted 12.3

“Be most slow to believe what we most wish should be true.”

Samuel Pepys


THE PIED-A-TERRE East Lodge was built in 1855 at the entrance of Paddington Old Cemetery in north London. Today, this rarely available Grade II listed house has been fully restored with a modern kitchen, two reception rooms and two double bedrooms with wood flooring. The large garden has a shed with potential to be converted into a studio. Queen’s Park, Kilburn and Brondesbury Park stations are all within walking distance. £1.1m.