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28 March

In the headlines

Joe Biden made a “potentially World War Three-triggering blunder” by appearing to call for regime change in Russia, says The Spectator. In an ad-libbed moment at the end of a speech in Warsaw, the US president said Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”. Aides insist the slip doesn’t represent official American policy. Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, has warned that Russia is trying to split the country “in two” like North and South Korea. Since Putin has failed to take Kyiv, says Budanov, he is rethinking his plan for a full occupation. Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage at last night’s Oscars, after the comedian made a joke about his wife’s hair loss. Smith apologised to the Academy and his fellow nominees when later collecting the award for Best Actor – or, as the New York Post calls it, “Best Smacktor”.


The monarchy

My advice to the royals

“Poor William and Kate,” says Clare Foges in The Times. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are clearly decent people, but on their Caribbean tour they “looked like relics”. The almost universally negative coverage of the trip will be “gratifying” for those who have long wanted to abolish the monarchy. But for ardent royalists like me, it’s a worry. Support for the royal family has fallen since Prince Andrew’s “car-crash interview” on Newsnight and Prince Harry’s with Oprah; a clear majority of 18-to-24-year-olds now favour an elected head of state. With the Queen, alas, showing signs of mortality, “republicans are sharpening their guillotines”.


Zelensky on Biden, Boris and Macron

Volodymyr Zelensky doesn’t pull his punches about the West’s leaders, says The Economist. In an in-depth interview, Zelensky accuses Emmanuel Macron of refusing to help arm Ukraine because he’s “afraid of Russia”. Germany, meanwhile, with its “long relationship” with Moscow, is making the “mistake” of viewing the situation “through the prism of the economy”. Joe Biden is becoming increasingly engaged, but he may be among those “who don’t mind a long war because it would mean exhausting Russia”. At least Boris Johnson “is definitely on our side”, sending mountains of weapons and emphatically “not performing a balancing act”.

Inside politics

In 1976, the Queen presented the French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, with a labrador puppy – and told him it didn’t speak French. According to Robert Hardman, who has written a new book about the Queen, the hound was duly addressed in English for the rest of its life.


It’s a box of moon dust samples that Neil Armstrong collected in 1969, when he was the first man to set foot on the moon. The samples were later lost, and eventually turned up in the hands of a lawyer from Illinois, who bought them in an online auction for $995. When she sent them to Nasa for authentication, the space boffins refused to give the samples back, but she successfully sued for their return. The collection goes on sale at Bonhams next month and is expected to fetch up to $1.2m. Put your bid in here.


The moment in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice when Mr Darcy, played by Colin Firth, emerges sodden from a lake and bumps into Elizabeth Bennet was once voted the most memorable scene in British TV drama. Now, Firth’s wet shirt – long since dried out – is going on display at the Jane Austen’s House museum in Hampshire, as part of an exhibition on Regency underwear. Visitors are asked to “peek, with great respectability”.


The intelligence of birds is vastly underrated, says Henry Mance in the FT. Study after study shows that corvids (magpies, ravens and the like) and parrots are as capable as primates at using tools to solve problems. Japanese carrion crows have learned to place walnuts in front of cars waiting at traffic lights – when the lights change, the cars crack the nuts open for them. They’re also inquisitive: Alex, an African grey parrot who died in 2007, was “the first known non-human to ask a question”. After being placed in front of a mirror, he looked at himself for a few moments and asked: “What colour?”

Quirk of history

Anyone calling for Russian artists to denounce their president would do well to read Isaiah Berlin’s account of a visit made by Shostakovich to Oxford in 1958, says The Economist. At any mention of current events, the composer fell into “terrified silence”, Berlin wrote. “I have never seen anyone so frightened and crushed in all my life.”

Love etc

In 2018, all Hawaiians received an official smartphone notification about an incoming “ballistic missile threat”. It was declared a false alarm 38 minutes later – but that was long enough, says photographer Maddie McGarvey on Twitter, for my brother’s neighbour to get into the bath with a mattress over his head, take a shot of whisky, and text his ex-girlfriend that he still loved her in case they all died. “False alarm on the nuke but they got back together!”


quoted 28.3

“The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.”

Helen Keller