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23 March

In the headlines

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons, saying Russia would consider launching them if it faces an “existential threat”. Peskov also acknowledged that Moscow has not achieved any of its strategic objectives in Ukraine. Ukrainian troops are reportedly reclaiming key territory taken by the Russians, but they’re “running out of weapons”, says The Times. Tory MPs were still lobbying Chancellor Rishi Sunak this morning to scrap his planned national insurance hike in today’s mini-Budget. The Treasury has an unexpected “£50bn to play with”, says the Daily Mail, thanks to surging revenues from VAT, stamp duty and inheritance tax. The UK is enjoying its hottest spring since Dickens’s day 180 years ago, says the Daily Star. “Please sir, can we have some more?”

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Russian history

The feud that sank the Soviet Union

If Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin had got along, “the Soviet Union might still exist”, says Dominic Sandbrook in The Rest is History podcast. The pair had very different personalities: Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, was studious and idealistic; Yeltsin, the first president of the newly independent Russia, was an ebullient populist who had keen political ability but struggled with alcoholism. In 1987, under constant attack from communist reactionaries, Yeltsin resigned from the USSR’s politburo and tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself with scissors. While he was recovering in hospital, Gorbachev forced him to come along to a party meeting, pumped full of drugs, to be ritually humiliated.


What King Lear can teach doctors

Doctors and novelists have more in common than you might think, says Xi Chen in LitHub. Arthur Conan Doyle worked as a doctor before he wrote about Sherlock Holmes, Anton Chekhov practised medicine alongside playwriting, and James Joyce tried (and failed) to get into medical school three times. When Gertrude Stein was young, the philosopher William James encouraged her to study medicine to give her a better understanding of psychology. Stein agreed but dropped out in her fourth year because she was, according to one professor, “frankly openly bored”.

One of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe paintings is expected to fetch $200m when auctioned at Christie’s in May. That would make it the most expensive 20th-century work of art to sell at auction, and nearly double Warhol’s previous auction record of $105.4m. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) gets its name from the moment when performance artist Dorothy Podber shot a stack of Warhol’s canvases with a revolver – Warhol had thought she was going to “shoot” them with a camera.


Russians have been downloading copies of Wikipedia in case the Kremlin starts blocking access to it, says Slate. The whole of the Russian-language version of the site fits into a 29-gigabyte file, which has been downloaded 105,889 times in the first half of this month – a 4,000% increase compared to two months ago.


“There are, I realise, many pressing issues facing humankind at this exact moment in time,” says Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail. “That said, I feel someone still has to ask the question: why are shoes so ugly these days?” One glance at the runways reveals some “frankly revolting” rubber slingbacks from Balenciaga (at £450 a pop) and “grotesque” metallic ankle boots from Christian Louboutin (£1,095). I like bold footwear as much as the next woman, but “there’s a difference between a shoe with a bit of edge, and one that makes you look as though you’ve taken leave of your senses”.


After a month of being called “Wolf”, Kylie Jenner’s baby son has been renamed. “FYI our son’s name isn’t Wolf anymore,” wrote the 24-year-old on Instagram. “We just really didn’t feel like it was him.” Naturally, says Gawker, “the mind floods with questions”. What did they imagine baby Wolf would be like? What about this baby is not Wolf? And, most importantly, what is the baby called now?

Love etc

Picasso left a lasting impression on his lovers, says John Richardson in A Life of Picasso, his new biography of the artist. After Picasso’s death in 1973, the painter’s mistress, Dora Maar, a complex, “spiky” photographer, became an ardent Catholic. Her reason? “After Picasso, there is only God.”


It’s one of at least three artificial islands that China has constructed in the South China Sea – and now militarised. Missiles, jets and other hardware have been shipped onto the islands, which are positioned in ocean areas hotly contested by multiple south Asian states. China’s move breaks a promise President Xi Jinping made in 2015 that Beijing had “no intention” of militarising the sites.


quote 23.3.22

“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky