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3 May

In the headlines

Russian naval ships were in the vicinity of Nord Stream 2 shortly before the gas pipelines were blown up in September. The discovery, made by a former British naval intelligence officer, offers “one possible lead” about who sabotaged the pipelines, says the BBC. Loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to America’s surgeon general, Vivek Murthy. He wants social isolation – which is linked to greater risk of heart disease, dementia and premature death – to be treated as a public health threat on a par with obesity. Uber has released its latest list of the weirdest items left behind in its cars. The 2023 Lost and Found Index includes a slab of bluefin tuna, six cheesecakes, 16 oz of fake blood, and a Danny DeVito Christmas ornament. See the full list here.


Fake books are becoming a common fixture in American homes, says The New York Times. The trend took off during Covid: people wanted literary classics lined up in the background of their Zoom calls, to make them look smarter and more worldly. One company, Books by the Foot, sells hefty stacks of tomes either to match a room’s colour palette – options include “luscious creams” and “rainbow ombre” – or to suggest an interest in specific subjects, such as modern art or gardening. Because the “books” are hollow, they can double up as storage containers.


France is gripped by a “vibecession”, says Lionel Laurent in Bloomberg – that is, people think things are going very badly. Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular pension reforms have the French “bemoaning what’s been called the worst political crisis since the Algerian War”. But the hard data is much more optimistic: France’s economy is outperforming Germany’s, the jobless rate is at its lowest in 15 years, and inflation is below the European average. “Conversations in restaurants often involve a lengthy analysis of la crise nationale over main courses, before complaining over dessert that travel spots are sold out.”


There is a new online obsession, says Celia Walden in The Daily Telegraph: diagnosing literary and TV characters with mental health conditions they don’t have. Lisa Simpson? Clever, rigid sense of right and wrong, social difficulties, focused on her hobbies – must be autistic. Jane Eyre doesn’t like small talk – autistic. The standoffish Mr Darcy? You guessed it. Same, apparently, for Ebenezer Scrooge (“much maligned, given he’s patently ‘neurodivergent’”) and Sherlock Holmes (Asperger’s, Savant Syndrome and bipolar disorder). Even Hermione Granger is supposedly “on the spectrum” – because she got “good grades”.

On the money

The secretive mountain kingdom of Bhutan has been quietly mining Bitcoin for years, says Forbes. Gushing rivers fed by ancient glaciers supply the secluded Shangri-La with “immense stores of hydroelectricity”, providing energy reserves that power the homes of all 800,000 residents and account for more than a quarter of the government’s revenues. Last week it emerged that officials have also been using these reserves for a state-owned Bitcoin mine – vast racks of energy-hungry computers that generate the cryptocurrency by solving complex mathematical problems.

Quirk of history

The choirboys at Westminster Abbey on Saturday will be hoping to be treated rather better than their predecessors at Queen Elizabeth’s crowning in 1953, says Patrick Kidd in The Times. “Their packed lunches included bottles of milk, which they were told to keep when empty in case they needed to spend a penny during the long service.”


They’re some of China’s ugliest buildings, as selected by architectural website The rogues’ gallery includes a Shanghai mall mimicking the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; a museum in Anhui province with a giant seated figure built into the side; and an opera house in Guangxi shaped like a metallic osmanthus flower. The country’s seismic economic growth has led to a proliferation of designs that “pursued oddity for the sake of novelty”, says the contest’s organiser – so much so that Xi Jinping has personally called for an end to “weird buildings”.


Quote 3.5.23

“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”