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29 December

In the headlines

Russia has launched a massive strike of more than 120 missiles on Ukrainian cities. The five-hour barrage, which has left 90% of Lviv and 40% of Kyiv without power, came after the Kremlin rejected President Zelensky’s calls for peace talks in February. A union chief has warned that striking workers may soon join forces. Mark Serwotka, head of the Public and Commercial Services Union, says unless the government steps in, there could be a wave of “co-ordinated, synchronised and escalating” walkouts. The Royal Mint has unveiled the first collection of coins bearing King Charles’s portrait. The new pieces celebrate the NHS, JRR Tolkien, the Flying Scotsman, the Windrush generation and the King’s 75th birthday in November next year.


What we can teach America about religion

Britain’s politicians used to be less religious than the public, says Bagehot in The Economist. Clement Attlee, the postwar Labour PM, declared that he believed in “the ethics of Christianity” but not the “mumbo jumbo”. David Lloyd George, the Liberal leader, said “the thought of Heaven used to frighten me more than the thought of Hell”. These days, when only a minority (46%) in England and Wales are Christian and over a third are atheist, “the opposite applies”. Rishi Sunak is a devout Hindu and keeps a statue of Lord Ganesh on his desk in Downing Street. Boris Johnson has called himself a “very, very bad Christian”. If Keir Starmer wins the next election, he’ll be the first “avowedly atheist” PM for five decades.


After a so-so year in 2021, the art market “rocketed into an entirely new stratum of opulence” in 2022, says Artsy. Six pieces sold for more than $100m, up from just one last year. The most expensive were Andy Warhol’s 1964 Shot Sage Blue Marilyn ($195m), Georges Seurat’s 1888 Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) ($149m), and Paul Cézanne’s c. 1888 La Montagne Sainte-Victoire ($138m).


LitHub has compiled its list of the year’s “most scathing book reviews”. They include The New York Times on Jared Kushner’s Breaking History (“reading this book reminded me of watching a cat lick a dog’s eye goo”), and the LA Times on Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy of Modern Song (“I began to feel like a therapist, sneaking glances at my watch while the crackpot on the couch blurts one creepy fantasy after another”). Perhaps most brutal was the Times Literary Supplement’s verdict on Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise: “Anyone must have a brain of stone to finish it without shedding tears of relief.” Read the rest here.


Concealed below ground level in the Japanese city of Ube lies one of the most unusual properties in the world: a mud-covered maze of cavernous spaces, separated by concrete arched openings and stalagmite-like columns. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this subterranean abode was picked as the home of the year in a poll of Dezeen readers. Other favourites include “Analog House”, built in a Californian forest to maximise views and outdoor spaces, and “La Piedad” in Mexico, which has large windowless walls and rooms facing inwards on to planted courtyards. See the full list here.


Making headlines with celebrity-branded products can be a challenge, says Allie Jones in The Cut, which must be why famous people are launching “the most random products on earth”. This year, Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox unveiled a line of nail polishes (six pots for $90) which apparently imbue wearers with “strong sexual energy”, while Eva Mendes came up with “antimicrobial sponges” that supposedly fade in colour when they need chucking out. Wackiest of all are Brad Pitt’s $2,300 cashmere shirts, which are adorned with 11 hand-cut gemstones and crafted by a “holistic healer”. Frankly, finding the time to think up and promote “this level of absolute nonsense” is impressive.


This year saw some truly bizarre Guinness World Records, says UPI. They include: the most drinks cans placed on a person’s head using air suction (10); the farthest tightrope walk in high heels (639 feet, in four-inch stilettos); the largest gathering of people with the same first and last name (178 Hirokazu Tanakas in Japan); and the longest journey by pumpkin boat (38 miles down the Missouri River).


quoted 29.12.22

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

George Bernard Shaw