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3 August

In the headlines

China is launching three days of live-fire military exercises near Taiwan, after Nancy Pelosi became the most senior US official to visit the island nation in 25 years. The House Speaker pledged that America would “always stand with Taiwan”, which Beijing views as a Chinese territory. Voting for the next Tory leader has been delayed by about a week, says The Daily Telegraph, after warnings from security officials that the contest was ripe for hacking by “nefarious actors”. The pause gives Rishi Sunak a much-needed chance to narrow Liz Truss’s lead, which according to a new YouGov poll has widened to 34 points. Somewhat incredibly, says The Guardian, one in 30 Britons still takes a CD player on holiday. One in 50 even lugs along a portable DVD player.

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US-China relations

A “reckless” visit to Taiwan

I have “a lot of respect” for Nancy Pelosi, says Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, but the House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan is “reckless, dangerous and irresponsible”. The most obvious reason is it risks dragging the US into conflict with China. Xi Jinping pointedly warned Joe Biden last week that “whoever plays with fire will get burnt”, and the White House national security team urged Pelosi not to make the trip. But Biden refused to press Pelosi himself because he didn’t want to look soft on China ahead of the midterms. So off she went. Sure, there’s an argument that what he should have done is “call Xi’s bluff and back Pelosi to the hilt”. But that might very well have led to “World War III”.


Are the Taliban harbouring more terrorists?

The world was stunned when Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals 11 years ago, says Jeff Greenfield in Politico. Sunday’s assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor and the co-architect of the horrific 9/11 attacks, will by contrast be a “second-tier” story. This is in part “a measure of success”: since 9/11, al-Qaeda has committed no major attacks on US soil, rendering it a relatively minor concern for Americans. The killing of al-Zawahiri is nevertheless a “clear achievement”. Just as Israel spent years hunting down “every one of the terrorists who killed its athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics”, America has had the “persistent determination” to avenge the deaths of 9/11 more than two decades later.


America is home to some striking water towers, says travel website Fifty Grande. Their peculiar shapes include an ear of corn in Rochester, Minnesota; a watermelon in Luling, Texas; and a peach in Gaffney, South Carolina (as featured in House of Cards). In Niles, Illinois, you’ll find the Leaning Tower of Niles, a 94-foot replica of the wonky Pisan monument.

Tomorrow’s world

Scientists at MIT have developed a stamp-sized ultrasound sticker that provides live, high-resolution images of a patient’s organs over 48 hours. Unlike the current method, which uses a bulky wand, the gadget can simply be stuck to the skin and remain in place while the wearer goes about their daily life. The tech whizzes hope their device will soon be available to take home while a doctor monitors it remotely.

From the archives

A tiny, 110-year-old article in a New Zealand newspaper has resurfaced thanks to its somewhat prescient headline: “COAL CONSUMPTION AFFECTING CLIMATE.”

On the money

During an office clear-out in 2013, computer engineer James Howells accidentally binned a hard drive containing 8,000 Bitcoins, worth about £150m at today’s prices. Howells believes the drive is buried somewhere in a landfill in Newport, south Wales, though the local council has so far denied his requests to retrieve it. But he has now secured £10m from venture capitalists for a hi-tech scheme to retrieve the lost crypto treasure, involving an AI-driven mechanical arm and robot dogs. The council is refusing to meet him to discuss the new plan.


It’s Pheasant Island, a 200m-long uninhabited strip of land shared by France and Spain. The lozenge-shaped outcrop, which lies in the Bidasoa river 20m from the French bank and 10m from the Spanish side, is owned by each country for six months of the year. The tiny territory was used as neutral ground for negotiations during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648); when the conflict ended, the two nations agreed to share it as a symbol of peace.


Quoted 3.8.22

“I like to have a martini. Two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”

American writer Dorothy Parker