In defence of Britain’s best headmistress

🐓 Chicken chat | 🍺 AI ale | 🍊 Orange Peel Theory

In the headlines

Benjamin Netanyahu has told the White House he will reject any moves to establish a Palestinian state once the conflict in Gaza is over, in defiance of US foreign policy. The Biden administration says it will continue working towards a two-state solution, and that there can be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza when the war ends. Pubs should stop selling large glasses of wine to “nudge” British drinkers into boozing less, academics have claimed. In a four-week study involving 21 pubs, Cambridge University researchers found that removing the biggest glass of wine from menus cut the total volume drunk by 8%. Japan is hoping to become the fifth country to put a spacecraft on the moon, with its lunar lander set to touch down this afternoon. The “Moon Sniper” will attempt an unprecedented “precision” landing at about 3pm, in a target area the size of Trafalgar Square.


Birbalsingh: facing legal action. Britain's Strictest Headmistress/ITV

In defence of Britain’s best headmistress

The Michaela Community School in northwest London is a “phenomenon”, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. Students leave, on average, with better grades than most private schools, even though a quarter qualify for free school meals. When it comes to raising attainment, Michaela was recently ranked first out of 6,959 secondaries. So you’d hope the model thought up by founder and headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh would be copied and rolled out nationally. “Instead, she’s being sued.” Her crime? Standing firm on her strict policy of secularism, which she regards as the “glue that binds her multi-faith school together”.

At Michaela, there is “no form of separation or segregation”. Meat used to be served at lunchtime, but Hindus avoided the beef, Muslims the pork, and “pupils started to segregate”. So meat was taken off the menu entirely. Similarly, when one Muslim student started praying in the playground at lunchtime, then was joined by others, and then other Muslims started being pressured to join in, it was a “serious challenge to school culture”. The governors voted 11-1 to ban all prayer – and one student took legal action. Birbalsingh has been giving religious parents a “polite no” for years, whether it’s Christians who object to Sunday revision sessions or Jehovah’s witnesses who don’t like the witches in Macbeth. This, as she rightly points out, is how a multi-faith society can be made to work: everyone gives something up so we can all get along. The Tories often say they are “taking on the forces of identity politics” – but it’s the Birbalsinghs of this world who fight the battles. Let’s hope she wins.

Love etc

TikTokers have a new “litmus test” for whether a romantic relationship is solid, says Digg. According to “Orange Peel Theory”, you can tell how much your partner loves you by asking them to peel you an orange. If they’re happy to, all is well. If they decline? Brace yourself – things may not go the distance.

Global update

North Korea is acting in “highly unusual ways”, says Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times, so much so that two leading analysts think Kim Jong-un is planning a “surprise attack” on South Korea, and perhaps on Japan and Guam too. In recent years, Pyongyang has “bolstered ties with Russia, improved its nuclear weapon capabilities and escalated its rhetoric”. It announced this week it would take a “much harsher approach” to South Korea, and Kim has said his army is preparing for “a great revolutionary event” – phrasing that has previously been used to describe war with his country’s southern neighbour. This could all be bluster, of course – it wouldn’t be the first time. But North Korea hasn’t received much “high-level attention” lately. “It should.”


Understandable: chickens in Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (2023)

Most people can speak chicken, says Atlas Obscura. In a recent study, bird boffins found that 70% of participants could match a chicken’s cluck with the correct emotion. They each heard 16 coos, ranging from those on the happier end of the spectrum – like fast clucks and food calls, which make “a distinct ‘tuk, tuk, tukking’ sound” – to more melancholic numbers, including “low, growly gakels” and “wavering higher-pitch whine calls”. The humans were mostly able to decipher the clucks – including those who had never been around the farmyard fowl at all. 🐓


Shinzo Abe at the 2016 Olympics

Let’s champion what we’re good at

At the end of the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, says Stephen Bush in the FT, Japan’s then prime minister, Shinzo Abe, made a surprise appearance “dressed as Super Mario”. Whether or not Abe played video games himself was irrelevant – he was recognising the “cultural and economic power” of one of Japan’s most successful exports. If only Britain’s political class could do the same. This country has more professional game developer studios than anywhere else in Europe; our gaming industry is worth about £7bn and “enjoyed by more than half the population”. Yet not a single member of the House of Lords comes from that world. And Rishi Sunak’s interest in games – he’s a fan of Mario Kart – is usually cited as evidence that he’s just a big “nerd”.

Our politicians seem to dislike “almost everything” this country does well. “Video games are too nerdy. Bankers take too many risks. Universities let in too many immigrants. Lawyers are too litigious. Musicians and actors are too liberal.” Sometimes it’s party-specific: the Tories tend to stick up for financial services; Labour is less hostile to academia. But both parties prefer to imagine a UK of “smoke stacks and heavy industry”, rather than championing what we’re actually good at. They talk about the importance of growth, but insist it comes from “the right people, from industries that aren’t too uncool, or too liberal, or too Remain-y”. Beggars can’t be choosers. We need to celebrate and nurture our most successful industries, whatever they are – and stop pining after “heavy machinery”.


Food and drink

A Suffolk ale-maker has used AI to develop a new beer, says The Drinks Business. Nethergate Brewery used ChatGPT to produce what it describes as a “data-driven flavour profile” for the pale ale, aptly named AiPA. As well as a list of ingredients, OpenAI’s chatbot provided tips to help with the brewing process and marketing materials including website banners, a social media video and press releases. 🍻🤖


Snapshot answer

It’s an artist’s impression of a “new and mysterious object” discovered in the Milky Way, says Sky News. Space boffins believe the freaky phenomenon – which was spotted orbiting a collapsed star some 40,000 light-years away from earth – is either the lightest black hole ever found, or the “most massive” neutron star, or a combination of the two, or some “new exotic star variant”. But because they’ve never seen one before, it’s all just galactic guesswork.


“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
TS Eliot

That’s it. You’re done.