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27 October

In the headlines

The US has carried out airstrikes on two military facilities in Syria used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in retaliation for recent attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militia groups. Lloyd Austin, the American defence secretary, says the strikes were “separate and distinct” from the situation in Gaza, and warned others against triggering “broader regional conflict”. Tory MP Crispin Blunt has been arrested on suspicion of rape and possession of controlled substances. The former justice minister, who has been suspended by his party, says it was he who originally brought the matter to the police’s attention, because he feared he was at risk of extortion. A surfer in Sydney had a fright when a baby whale leapt out of the ocean and landed on top of him. Jason Breen was wing-foiling when the humpback calf crashed into him, dragging him around 30 feet below the surface before he managed to escape.

Gone viral

Japan might bring to mind “sleek, futuristic glass buildings”, says Moss and Fog, “but there’s a lot of quirk as well”. A Japanese blog called Fujio Panda has photographed an assortment of “strange and adorable playground equipment” – all in various states of decay, but showing a “loving handcrafted feel”. See more here.

Global update

One of the weirder reasons that US conservatives support Israel is biblical prophecy, says Stephen Mihm in Bloomberg. “Christian Zionists” seize on a passage in the Old Testament they interpret as meaning that “the return of Christ would take place once the Jewish diaspora returned to Palestine”. In the 1890s, prominent Americans like JP Morgan and John D Rockefeller lobbied the White House to set up a Jewish homeland for this very reason, and the tradition continues among US evangelicals today. When Benjamin Netanyahu first became Israeli PM in 1996, “he immediately flew a contingent of Christian Zionists to Israel”, mindful of their influence with Republicans. It’s a match quite literally “made in heaven”.

Quirk of history

In the 1930s, the British aerospace firm Short Brothers invented a long-range sea plane that piggy-backed on a larger plane so that it could be launched in mid-air. The company’s Empire Flying Boats were capable of doing long-range routes around the British Empire, but could only get across the Atlantic if they replaced valuable cargo space with extra fuel. Launching a smaller plane from the roof of a larger one meant the former wouldn’t have to waste fuel getting off the ground, and could therefore make the rest of the journey with a full cargo hold.

Inside politics

Vladimir Putin has unveiled his latest “ridiculous” table, says Ian Bremmer on X (formerly Twitter): an over-sized rectangular number where he sits alone on one side and everyone else bunches up on the other. Since becoming extremely germophobic during Covid, the Russian leader has been pictured using an array of socially distancing furniture (pictured).

Tomorrow’s world

OpenAI’s ChatGPT usually politely refuses requests to provide harmful information – how to build a homemade bomb, say, or perform inside trading. But researchers have found a simple workaround, says New Scientist: use Google Translate to pose the question in a niche language. Zulu had the highest success rate, bypassing the chatbot’s safeguards 53% of the time, followed by Scots Gaelic (43%), the indigenous Asian language of Hmong (29%), and the South American tongue Guaraní (16%). 💬🧨


It’s “Britain’s loneliest sheep”, says The Times, which has been marooned on an inaccessible beach at the foot of a Highlands cliff for at least two years. When amateur kayaker Jillian Turner first spotted the Caledonian castaway in 2021, she “didn’t worry too much about it”, but on a recent trip past the same sandy spit she spotted a sheep with a fleece so shaggy it trailed along the ground behind it. A rescue operation is now being planned with drones to check on the Highland hermit’s health, and hopes that a dingy can be sent to reunite her with her flock.


Quoted 27-10-23

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

Historian Barbara Tuchman