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7 December

In the headlines

China is lifting its strictest Covid controls after landmark protests rocked cities across the country. People who test positive but only show mild symptoms can now isolate at home rather than in a state quarantine camp, and a negative PCR test will no longer be necessary to enter most buildings. Democrats have cemented their control of the US Senate by winning a bitterly fought run-off election in Georgia. Raphael Warnock’s victory over Herschel Walker gives Joe Biden’s party an outright 51-49 majority in the upper chamber, making it easier for the President to appoint judges and control the Senate’s powerful committees. Britain faces a “pizza crisis”, says the Daily Star, after farmers warned that the soaring cost of fuel and fertiliser will cause a shortage of tomatoes. “Ain’t no topping us now.”


How The Guardian silenced me

The “invisible committee of the righteous” has branded me a transphobe, says Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph: “my standing up for women and my belief in biology makes me so”. That’s why I stopped working for The Guardian, and why Hadley Freeman has also left after 22 years there. What upsets me is “the absolute dereliction of basic journalism by the left-wing media”. The lie at the heart of it is that there is no conflict between trans rights and women’s rights. But there is. That conflict is ripping apart the SNP, whose leader Nicola Sturgeon wants to make it easier for people to change gender without a medical diagnosis. It has also divided the Greens and, in effect, ended the Women’s Equality Party. Half of Labour privately think women can’t have a penis but they “won’t say it publicly”.


Showdown in the Pacific

If you were asked to name a country with “zero strategic significance”, says Gideon Rachman in the FT, “the Solomon Islands might sound like a good shout”. A remote Pacific archipelago of around 1,000 tiny islands, with perhaps 700,000 people scattered across them, the Solomons seem “safely distant from great power politics”. But the tiny nation has become a crucial flashpoint in the strategic rivalry between China and the West. After years of neglect by Australia and the US, its government signed a “security pact” with Beijing in April, potentially opening the door to a Chinese military base on the islands. Washington sent diplomats to try to repair the damage, without success; Australia’s foreign minister called the security deal her country’s “worst foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since World War Two”.

Gone viral

Photo app Lensa AI has rocketed to the top of Apple’s App Store charts – above the likes of TikTok and Instagram – thanks to its new artificial intelligence selfie generator, “Magic Avatars”. Users upload 10 to 20 photographs of themselves, and the app produces hundreds of fake selfies in styles including pop art, fantasy, and anime. Download the app here.

On the way out

Airplane mode, which may become redundant now that the EU has given the go-ahead for airlines to provide passengers with in-flight 5G. The rule change, which will come into force by next summer, will allow travellers to make calls as well as stream films and music with their mobile data. The original phone ban was introduced to prevent signals interfering with the plane’s control systems, says El Pais, but airlines will use a specific 5G frequency band to ensure that’s not an issue.


The Spacruzzi is an “electric propulsion, self-heating, self-cleaning hot tub boat”. In other words, says Cool Material, it’s what you get if you want to float about in the lap of luxury without shelling out for “what most of us would call a yacht”. At around £40,000 it’s certainly not cheap, but if you’re in the market for a floating hot tub, what did you expect? Order yours here.


It’s no secret that Julia Roberts is a long-time fan of George Clooney, says Alice Cary in Vogue, “but no one could have predicted the way she chose to make that plain”. At Sunday’s Kennedy Center awards in Washington, the actress wore a satin Moschino dress decorated with framed pictures of Clooney’s face: as Dr Doug Ross in ER; accepting an award at the Golden Globes in 2015; and vintage photos from his younger years.


The quotation collector Nigel Rees has an excellent story about a Nativity production in Norwich, says Patrick Kidd in The Times, during which one of the wise men forgot his lines. “We bring you gold,” the first magus declared. “We bring you myrrh,” said the second. And then there was a long pause. Finally, the young actor went for: “Frank sends his love.”


It’s Jonathan the giant tortoise, the oldest land animal in the world, who celebrated his 190th birthday last weekend. The venerable reptile has lived on Saint Helena for the past 140 years, after being given to the governor of the South Atlantic island as a gift. He was five when Queen Victoria took the throne and has lived through the administrations of 39 US presidents. Vets say the randy old boy has lost no interest in mating.


quoted 7.12.22

“The poor object to being governed badly; the rich to being governed at all.”

GK Chesterton