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All the week’s wisdom in one place
10-16 December 2021

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Behind the headlines

Inside politics

Kamala Harris’s staff troubles

Kamala Harris has an unfortunate track record of burning through senior staff, say Cleve Wootson Jr and Tyler Pager in The Washington Post. The US Vice President has lost four aides this month, including her communications director and press secretary. One former aide from before she became Veep has accused Harris of being a “bully” who constantly dished out “soul-destroying criticism” and wasn’t “willing to do the prep and the work”. Another compared her management style to that of Donald Trump. All this makes for a stark contrast with her boss: many of Joe Biden’s staff have worked with him for decades.

Zeitgeist

The problem with unisex loos

Had anyone told us a decade ago that cultural change could be charted by the signs on public toilet doors, we would have laughed in disbelief, says Celia Walden in The Daily Telegraph. But now earnest “gender-neutral restroom” signs in the US include interlinked “Mars” and “Venus” symbols, and “baffling illustrations of stick men/women clad in the kind of half-skirt, half-trouser ensembles that belong on a Paris runway”. Thankfully the newest gender-neutral signs are more humorous: “We Don’t Care” or “Whatever, just wash your hands”.

Quoted

quoted mance 10.12

“To be fair, with all the best parties, no one is quite sure whether they happened.”

The FT’s Henry Mance on Twitter

Noted

noted Wall Street 10.12

Wall Street bank executives have been encouraging younger employees to dress down when they come into the office because of rising street crime in New York. One top banker has apparently taken to carrying a Taser on his commute.

Life

West Side Story

The real fights were behind the scenes

Steven Spielberg’s new version of West Side Story has just arrived in cinemas. I hope the director had a better on-set experience than the original cast, says Richard Morrison in The Times. I met the four men behind the 1961 movie-musical and was stunned by the egos. There was Leonard Bernstein, the classical composer; Arthur Laurents, the hard-bitten leftie screenwriter; Stephen Sondheim, the twentysomething lyricist; and Jerome Robbins, the talented but dictatorial director. They were all Jewish and secretly gay, and they all hated each other.

Jeremy Strong

Maddening his Succession co-stars

Jeremy Strong doesn’t style himself as a Method actor, says Michael Schulman in The New Yorker, but he certainly seems like one. The 42-year-old, who plays angst-ridden middle brother Kendall Roy in Succession, is devoted to his character. He bases his moods on Kendall’s moods and tries not to speak about Kendall in the third person. It’s an approach that has left many of his co-stars exasperated. “I just feel that he just has to be kinder to himself,” says Brian Cox, who plays his patriarch father, Logan. “And therefore has to be a bit kinder to everybody else.”

Quoted

quoted nigel Slater 10.12

“It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.”

Chef Nigel Slater

After Hours

Film and TV

And Just Like That

Seventeen years after Sex and the City left our screens, it’s back with a new 10-part reboot, says Adam White in The Independent – and it’s a triumph. And Just Like That doesn’t feel like “cloying nostalgia-bait” or a “sad rehashing of the past”. It knows its main characters are older, whiter and completely out of step – and it revels in it. Miranda has gone back to school to study human rights law, having realised that merely “wearing a pink pussy hat” doesn’t actually do a lot for women. Carrie is a regular guest on a podcast fronted by a “queer, non-binary Mexican-Irish diva” named Che.

Books

What the critics liked

Writing a biography about Greta Garbo is complicated, says Robert Gottlieb in his new book on the actress. The Swedish star was famously reclusive. She arrived in Hollywood in 1925, made a couple of dozen movies, then, at the age of 36, stopped acting. She lived alone for another 50 years before dying in 1990. It was a strange and quiet end for a woman who was so captivating on screen. “She offered the world intense emotion and great aesthetic pleasure,” says Gottlieb. “But she didn’t offer herself.”

Noted

noted placebo 10.12

The placebo effect is real: in 51% of cases, says FiveThirtyEight, “fake surgery for problems such as knee and shoulder injuries – with anaesthetic and incision, but nothing more – works just as well as the real thing.

The country house

Picasso and Henry Moore both visited Chiddingly, East Sussex, and Peter Pan author JM Barrie lived nearby. Built circa 1574, the Grade II* listed Manor House is a short walk from the village’s pub and a 15-minute drive from Uckfield station, for trains to London. It has five bedrooms, electric gates and 1.2 acres of gardens. £2.5m.

The hideaway

Princess Margaret described the Caribbean island of Mustique as “the only place I can relax”, and you’d have no trouble unwinding at Tanama, a five-bedroom villa with a pool and a grand pavilion that’s perfect for parties. You can walk to the airstrip for private flights to the larger islands. $7.75m.

The cottage

You can see the Three Peaks from Wildman’s Barn, on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Set in 3½ acres, it has four bedrooms, a double-height living area and a self-contained one-bedroom annexe. Clapham station, a mile away, has trains to Leeds and Lancaster. £800,000.

The townhouse

On the banks of the River Cherwell, in the North Oxford conservation area, this Edwardian house has four bedrooms, an Aga, mature gardens and a vast games room with a roof terrace on the second floor. You can walk to chichi Summertown and the prestigious Dragon prep school is on the doorstep. £4m.

The pied-à-terre

Pevsner described the Beaux Arts building in Holloway, north London, as “an angular version of Edwardian baroque… with brick channelling and a hint of Lutyens”. This one-bedroom flat has an open-plan living area, a study and a parking space; the owner can use the gym, communal gardens and concierge service. £500,000.

Quirks of history

quirk white elephant 10.12

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.

Money

On the money

Charity’s no act for Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen has turned himself into a “not-for-profit actor”, he tells The Big Issue. The 52-year-old got the idea while helping to organise the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff in 2019, when funding for the £2m event fell through at the last minute. He put everything he had into keeping it going, “all my money” – he sold two houses, one in the UK and one in the US, and moved back to his native Wales. “It was incredibly scary and stressful”, he says, “and I’ll be paying for it for a long time.”

Weather

Dec 7: Kuwait City, 24C ☁️

Dec 8: Brighton, 8C 🌊

Dec 9: Lake Tuz, Turkey, 6C ☀️

Dec 9: Rome, 13C 🌪

Dec 9: Vosges Mountains, France, 5C ❄️

Dec 10: Byron Bay, Australia, 31C 🐫