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- The issue that could cost Biden the election
The issue that could cost Biden the election
🧨 Blast fishing | 🥂 Saudi booze | 🖼️ Hunter's artworks
Iran has denied responsibility for the drone attack on a US military base in Jordan that killed three American troops and injured 34 others. US President Joe Biden has said the assault near the Syrian border was carried out by radical Tehran-backed militant groups, vowing to “hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing”. Disposable vapes are set to be banned as part of a push to stop young people using them, the government has announced. Other new measures, which will come into effect in the next year, include restrictions on sweet and fruity flavours and the introduction of plain packaging. A village in the Scottish Highlands has set the record for the highest January temperature ever recorded in the UK. The mercury in Kinlochewe shot up to 19.6C yesterday, making it hotter than Rome and the Côte d’Azur. 🏴😎
Razor wire by the banks of the Rio Grande. Robert Gauthier/LA Times/Getty
The issue that could cost Biden the election
Mass migration is the “biggest societal de-stabiliser of the 21st century”, says Douglas Murray in The Daily Telegraph. In the past three years, six million people have entered the US illegally from Mexico. The border states have “howled” as their communities have been “overrun”, but Washington has ignored them. So, in desperation, their governors have begun bussing tens of thousands of migrants to cities like New York and Chicago, and putting up their own barbed wire fences. After a Supreme Court ruling in their favour last week, federal officials have been taking down these fences – only for state officials to immediately try to put them back up again. This is not just a stalemate; “it is a farce”.
And it “could cost President Biden the election”, says The Economist. In 2016, Donald Trump rode “border chaos” all the way to the White House, campaigning as if record numbers of migrants were entering the country illegally. “That was not true then, but it is now.” And voters trust Republicans to deal with border security “by a margin of 30 points”, the party’s biggest lead on any issue. The unpleasantness of some of Trump’s efforts to deter migration – calling Mexican arrivals “rapists”, and so on – “radicalised” some Democratic lawmakers, so when they took power their instinct was to do the opposite of whatever Trump had done. As a result, they ditched some highly effective policies and illegal immigration surged. Biden is right to have quietly re-started work on Trump’s unfinished border wall. But if he wants to prevent his nemesis from replacing him in the Oval Office, he needs to do much, much more.
🛬🏜️ Most of those crossing the southern border come from south and central America, but tens of thousands now fly into the Americas from Russia (43,000 in the year to September 2023), India (42,000) and China (24,000), and then attempt a crossing. Often it is impossible to return them. “China will not take back its nationals if their applications are rejected.”
The winners of the 2023 Ocean Art underwater photography awards include shots of a group of whitetip reef sharks resting in Mexico; a cunningly camouflaged seahorse in Indonesia; an army of spider crabs in Australia; a pair of carp smooching in Slovakia; and a comically calm doctorfish trapped in the jaws of a lizardfish in Florida. See more here.
Rishi Sunak is “already known for his intense cycling workouts”, says The Sunday Times – but he’s also a fan of fasting. The PM doesn’t eat from 5pm on Sunday afternoons to 5am on Tuesday mornings, a 36-hour window of “intermittent fasting” which induces ketosis, where your metabolism burns body fat for energy. The practice has been shown to lower inflammation and help get rid of tummy fat, though for sweet-toothed Sunak it might be “particularly arduous”: he has a love of sugary pastries and imported Mexican Coca-Cola made with cane sugar.
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New York photographer Steve Birnbaum “painstakingly” tracks down the locations of musicians’ photoshoots, says The Guardian, then takes a picture with the original shot lined up in the foreground. He has tracked down Kurt Cobain’s Washington apartment, the fire escape behind Prince on the cover of Purple Rain, and a vertical railway behind Stevie Nicks. After being tipped off that the property was for sale, “he even got inside the apartment where all the photographs for Taylor Swift’s 1989 album were shot”. See more here.
Bullied for stating the obvious
Last week, says Sonia Sodha in The Observer, an employment tribunal judged that the academic Jo Phoenix was subject to a “targeted campaign of harassment” from colleagues at the Open University – a campaign the university itself was complicit in. What “put a mark on her back”? The view, shared by most Britons and enshrined in law, “that someone’s gender identity, or belief about their sex, cannot supersede their actual sex for all purposes in society”. For this, she was labelled as transphobic in an open letter signed by 368 of her fellow academics. One colleague said listening to a speech by Phoenix had made her “cry at work”; another likened her to “the racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table”.
This all added up to workplace harassment “so bad that it left her with PTSD”, and Phoenix resigned from the Open University in 2021. But the judgement against her old employer highlights the absurdity of the claim, made by many of her bullies, that believing biological sex is relevant “to some parts of life” is inherently transphobic. It’s also a reminder that “the free exchange of ideas is supposed to be sacrosanct” in a university. Shutting down debate around sex and gender fails vulnerable people: the children struggling with their gender identity; the female victims of male violence who need access to single-sex spaces. If leaders at organisations like the Open University fail to stand up for free debate, they will cede authority to “a small number of domineering bullies”.
Blast fishing is the real-world equivalent of “shooting fish in a barrel”, says Hakai Magazine. Also known as bomb or dynamite fishing, it’s when you throw explosives into the sea to stun or kill the fish, then scoop them up with a net. The technique has been around since the late 1800s, and is still common in places like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s obviously terrible for marine life: in Tanzania, where the practice is on the rise again, coral reefs have been “reduced to rubble”.
Saudi Arabia banned alcohol in 1952, says Popbitch, because one of the king’s sons “got hammered at a British diplomat’s party” and shot dead the host after he refused to pour him another drink. But the Gulf kingdom has announced that it will finally permit alcohol sales again, at a new booze shop in Riyadh. It’s only for diplomats, and purchases are controlled by strict quotas: individuals will be allowed to buy up to 240 litres of beer, 80 litres of wine or 40 litres of spirits a month. “Which works out at roughly 14 pints, 3.5 bottles of wine or two bottles of gin. Per day. Every day.”
It’s a painting by Joe Biden’s son Hunter, says The Washington Post. Newly released details from a Republican congressional investigation into the Bidens’ alleged corruption show that Hunter sold paintings for a total of $1.5m via the gallerist Georges Bergès. One buyer was the Democratic donor Elizabeth Naftali, who bought two pieces for a total of $94,000. She was later appointed by Biden senior to the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, though her lawyer insists there is no connection between the two.
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”