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25 March

In the headlines

The Ukrainian army is pushing back against Russian forces outside Kyiv, according to the Ministry of Defence, and has retaken several towns east of the capital. Russia is flying in “plane-loads of Libyan war veterans” and other mercenaries to shore up troop numbers, says The Times. Boris Johnson, who has pledged another 6,000 missiles for Ukraine, says the West must strengthen “the quills of the Ukrainian porcupine” to make it “indigestible” to Moscow. P&O Ferries chief Peter Hebblethwaite admitted to MPs yesterday that his company broke the law by firing 800 staff without any consultation – and said he’d do the same again. The only dock this “shameless pond life” should be allowed near, says the Daily Mirror, “is in a court”.

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Women’s sport

Whatever happened to feminism?

Every so often, a fashionable cause “pushes its luck too far”, says Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph. That’s exactly what happened last week, when the trans athlete Lia Thomas won the women’s 500-yard freestyle swimming race at the US national college championships. “Impossibly long of leg, lengthy of torso, flattish of chest,” Thomas looks very much like a “strapping young male” – which, of course, she was, until she started taking oestrogen and progesterone supplements a couple of years ago. Before that, she competed in men’s events for the University of Pennsylvania “with no particular distinction” – in one discipline she was ranked a lowly 554th. But now that she’s up against women, who didn’t benefit from the “huge skeletal and cardiovascular advantage a human being gets from going through male puberty”, she is smashing the competition.


Putin’s “old-fashioned” war

Vladimir Putin’s “obsession with history” is coming back to bite him, says Antony Beevor in The Atlantic. The Russian president doesn’t seem to realise how much warfare has changed: his invasion of Ukraine feels deeply old-fashioned. It’s most evident in Russia’s reliance on tanks. These lumbering vehicles were a “symbol of strength” back in the Second World War, but in recent conflicts they have proved “profoundly vulnerable” to drones and anti-tank weapons. Unsurprisingly, Ukrainian soldiers are destroying them “like ducks in a row”. Russian troops have been attaching odd bits of iron to their tanks’ turrets in the hope that the added metal might detonate anti-tank weapons prematurely. It’s the same shonky tactic the Soviets used back in 1945 – and it’s as useless now as it was then.


Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died on Wednesday, “knew how to deliver a diplomatic message without even saying a word”, says the South China Morning Post – she used decorative pins and brooches. When she learned that Russia had bugged a room in the State Department, for example, she went to her next meeting with Russian diplomats wearing a very large bug pin. “They knew exactly what I was saying,” she said.


At the Oscars ceremony on Sunday, a group of 25 top nominees in the acting and directing categories will each receive a goodie bag worth six figures, says Town & Country. Contents include a bottle of gold-infused olive oil, a small plot of land in Scotland and a complimentary round of liposuction.


Two hotels in Venice are giving guests water pistols to keep “thieving seagulls” at bay, says The Guardian. The toy squirters are orange – a colour the gulls are said to dislike. “As soon as they see the pistols, they fly away,” says Paolo Lorenzini, of the Gritti Palace hotel. “You don’t even need to use them, you just need to keep them on the table.”

Inside politics

To publicise his 5p cut in fuel duty this week, Rishi Sunak was pictured at a Sainsbury’s in London filling up a Kia Rio. Those sceptical that the richest member of parliament drives a £12,000 coupé were quickly proved right: it turned out that the Chancellor borrowed the car from a shop assistant called Connor. The episode should serve as a reminder to politicians, says Tom Peck in The Independent: having yourself photographed doing “entirely mundane things” invariably ends up with you making “a pantomime arse of yourself”.


It’s the Al Naslaa rock formation located deep in the Tayma oasis, Saudi Arabia. Nobody knows how the giant boulder was so neatly cleft in two, says Rachael Funnell in IFLScience, though it looks as though it’s been “split down the middle with the aid of an alien’s laser weapon”. Petroglyphs on the sandstone slabs depicting Arabian horses date back 4,000 years.


quoted 25.3.22

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Winston Churchill