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8 December

In the headlines

In an attempt to defuse a growing row over a leaked video in which No 10 staff joked about a party last Christmas, Boris Johnson apologised in Parliament “for the impression that it gives” – though he still denies a party took place. Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi tweeted overnight: “Every minister, parliamentarian & staffer at the #downingstreetparty must resign NOW.” South African scientists say the omicron variant has a higher transmission rate than delta, but early data suggests it causes less severe illness. Australia took a wicket with the first ball of the Ashes series, then bowled out England’s cricketers for a paltry 147.  

Comment of the day

US politics

Joe Biden’s worst nightmare

While the Chinese panda prowls ever closer to Taiwan, the Russian bear is stalking Ukraine – and Joe Biden’s “worst nightmare” is that they pounce at the same time, says Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald. You can tell he’s worried because he’s held crunch summits with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin within three weeks of each other “to avert disaster”. The stakes are high: war games conducted by the Rand Corporation show that the US could defeat Russia or China singly, but “gets its ass handed to it” in simultaneous conflicts.


It’s not a man’s world any more

It’s “no picnic” being a man these days, says Andreas Kluth in Bloomberg. The US saw a record 100,000 drug deaths this year, about 70% of them men. The Chinese government is looking at ways to strengthen the “yang spirit” associated with masculinity, as Beijing worries that the nation’s boys have become “effeminate”. But perhaps the most important “vector of change” for men is the rise of robots. The biggest losers as a result of automation are the blue-collar manufacturing workers who are being replaced with machines – “and those workers are overwhelmingly men”. In the service sector, where “people skills” are prized and women thrive, robots aren’t yet a threat.



Inside politics

The No 10 Christmas party scandal was mentioned last night on the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity (watched by about five million people). “Good evening, Prime Minister – for now,” hosts Ant and Dec declared. Twitter also had its fun. “Imagine a party good enough to be worth all this,” says writer Dorian Lynskey. Comedian Rufus Jones has proposed a new name for the Tories: “The Christmas Party.”

Tomorrow’s world

The number of large US companies using “productivity trackers” – software to keep an eye on employees working from home – has grown by 60% during the pandemic, reports Slate. They monitor mouse movement, track websites visited and take sporadic screenshots. Law firms are even dabbling with facial recognition software that logs when employees are away from their screens.

Staying young

GPs will soon be prescribing free boxing classes for women suffering from depression and diabetes. I’ve been boxing for five years, says Polly Vernon in The Times, and can assure you there’s nothing better for your “body and soul”. “Boxing has made me a happier person. A better person. A bigger person – emotionally, and in biceps, bum and thighs.”


Quoted 08-12

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of dealings with men.”

Joseph Conrad

Snapshot answer

It’s a computer-generated image of an “indestructible” structure the University of Tasmania is building on the Australian island next year to gather data about climate change. The “Earth black box” is the size of a bus, with an independent power source and 3in-thick steel walls. Should the climate apocalypse arrive, what’s left of humanity will be able to pore over its accumulated technical readings, newspaper headlines and social media posts.

Quirks of history

A “white elephant” refers to a possession that is “unwanted, expensive and difficult to maintain”, says Matthew Sweet in The Economist. The phrase can be traced back to the kings of Siam (now Thailand), who used the gift of an albino elephant as an “extravagant form of punishment”. Too sacred to be put to work, the beasts did nothing but consume their owner’s resources and defecate in his courtyard.