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29 November

In the headlines

The government has been accused of watering down its flagship Online Safety Bill after scrapping a rule obliging tech firms to remove “legal but harmful” content. Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan defended the omission as a “common-sense tweak”, amid concerns the original measure would have curbed free speech. The “golden era” of relations with China is over, Rishi Sunak has told business leaders in his first foreign policy speech. The PM said the UK had been “naïve” to pursue closer economic ties with Beijing and must replace wishful thinking with “robust pragmatism”. Gaslighting, defined as manipulating somebody into doubting their own thoughts, has been the most frequently looked up word in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary this year. Perhaps it’s a “reflection of the increasingly paranoid nature of online society”, says Patrick Kidd in The Times. “Mind you, that’s probably exactly what ‘they’ want you to think.”


A new war is brewing – this time with Iran

With the world preoccupied by Ukraine, another conflict is “ready to explode” in the Middle East, says Patrick Cockburn in the I newspaper. Last week, efforts to revive the 2015 deal between the US and Iran – scaling back the latter’s nuclear programme and allowing for international monitoring – collapsed spectacularly, as Tehran backtracked and announced plans to ramp up activities at its secret Fordow plant. It’s the latest in a string of escalatory events. First came the re-election of former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, a vocal opponent of any co-operation between the US and Iran. When he was last in office, Netanyahu doggedly lobbied then-President Trump for military action in Iran and trained his own air force for a potential strike.

Royal family

Human rights heroes? Come off it

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will receive a “coveted” human rights award next week for speaking out about the Royal Family’s supposed racism, says Sarah Vine in The Mail on Sunday. Fellow recipients include Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who’s spent the year with “bombs raining down” on him. “Quite how the Sussexes’ feats compare to defending your nation against a genocidal maniac,” I’m not sure. If the pair had even a “sliver of self-knowledge”, they’d politely decline the honour. But they won’t – not only because Meghan “can’t resist an opportunity to put on a fancy frock”, but because they truly believe they’ve faced “genuine oppression”.

From the archives

This video shows acrobats strutting their stuff at the top of the Empire State Building in 1935. “I’m amazed that their big brass balls didn’t drag them over the edge,” commented one Twitter user.

Inside politics

Liz Truss’s take on her defenestration, as revealed in the new biography Out of the Blue, is “better than I could have imagined”, says historian Sam Wetherell on Twitter. Having being forced to resign after just 44 days in No 10, she reportedly reassured teary-eyed staff with the words: “Don’t worry, I’m relieved it’s over… at least I’ve been Prime Minister.”


Everyone always bangs on about how many birds perish in wind turbines, says Michael Thomas in the Distilled newsletter. But fossil fuels kill far more. Mining for coal requires “mountaintop removal”, which destroys habitats. Burning fossil fuels causes acid rain, which is harmful to birds, and climate change, which is putting 12% of birds at “significant risk of global extinction”. Overall, a 2012 study at Vermont Law School found that fossil fuel power plants “kill 35 times more birds per unit of electricity than wind turbines”.

On the money

At the height of the Syrian civil war, says The Sunday Times, the Aga Khan received a Skype call seemingly showing the French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian: the French government, the billionaire was told, needed “discreet assistance” to ransom citizens captured by Islamists. The Aga Khan dutifully wired more than £17m to the account provided. The Turkish businessman Inan Kiraç sent “considerably more”, while the owner of the prestigious Château Margaux wine estate “chipped in with a few million”. But the man in the video wasn’t Le Drian at all – he was the French-Israeli con artist Gilbert Chikli. “Equipped only with a silicone mask of the minister’s face and his own considerable powers of persuasion,” he extracted €80m from his high-profile victims. It was “one of the largest – and most bizarre – frauds in French history”.


Netflix began as a mail-order DVD service, says Associated Press, and there’s still a “steady – albeit shrinking – audience” for that antiquated format. The business has around 1.5 million subscribers in the US, generating a decent $1bn in annual revenue. Amanda Konkle, one “diehard” subscriber from Georgia, says receiving discs through the post has an old-fashioned appeal. “When you open your mailbox, it’s still something you actually want instead of just bills.”


It’s the distinctive black layer of activated charcoal that runs through the French cheese Morbier, which has just been effectively trademarked after a decade-long legal battle. Judges ruled that Montboissié du Haut Livradois, a mountain cheese produced in the centre of France, can no longer be sold with activated charcoal in its middle because it looks too much like the sought-after Morbier. “The black line is our story,” producer Florence Arnaud tells Le Parisien. “It is the signature of our cheese.”


quoted 29.11.22

“Progress was fine for a while but it went on too long.”

Old saying